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CD reviews: Pace never drags on rich 'Triumph'

| Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011

'Triumph of the Heavy'

Marcus Strickland (Strick Muzik)

"Triumph of the Heavy" could be a master's thesis for a reed player. The energetic, lively, two-disc set by Marcus Strickland is a display not only of excellent play, but rich compositional technique. One disc is a collection of 10 originals done for a traditional woodwind-piano-bass-drums quartet. The other has seven pieces for a sax-bass-drums trio and is more forward-looking, built around songs that are vehicles for improvisation rather than melody. Strickland wrote all but one track for each disc. Both feature Strickland's twin brother, E.J., on drums and Ben Williams on bass, while David Bryant sits in on piano on the foursome recording. The use of a pianist seems to spell the difference. The chordal nature of the keyboard adds a little stricter definition to that recording, while the trio outing is more open. Both are commendable performances by all involved.

— Bob Karlovits

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'Dancing with Duke: An Homage to Duke Ellington'

John Brown (Brown Boulevard)

'Conveyance'

Morten Schantz Trio (Daywood Drive)

Piano trios can fade easily into tributes to boredom, so it is exciting when the small ensembles attack their music with excitement. Bassist John Brown and pianist Morten Schantz succeed in such fervor on their current albums. Brown's group stands out particularly well on "Dancing With Duke" because he is focused on doing classic jazz material that has become the subject of some cliches. A big part of that success is pianist Cyrus Chestnut. He offers great work throughout, but particularly on "Isfahan." Brown is a strong leader, and is never better than on his bowed "Solitude." Schantz's trio also succeeds with newer material and originals on "Conveyance." Supported by the aggressive drumming of Janus Templeton, the trio offers music from Bono's "Love Is Blindness" and Peter Gabriel's "Downsize-Up" to Schantz's mid-tempo, evocative "Black Sea." In the middle is a version of Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing" with a curious groove. The two trios never stop working.

— Bob Karlovits

'Here for a Good Time'

George Strait (MCA Nashville)

As a title for George Strait's new album, 'Here for a Good Time" is a bit ironic. Sure, the always-smooth Texan delivers some rousing honky-tonk-flavored romps, including the title track and Delbert McClinton's "Lone Star Blues." The set, however, is defined more by pensive ballads -- "Drinkin' Man," "Poison" and Jesse Winchester's "A Showman's Life" -- in which the mood is decidedly less than cheery. Strait's now-30-year recording career has been marked by unwavering artistic integrity and commercial clout, and, like his impeccable appearance -- crisp shirt and jeans and cowboy hat -- that shows no signs of changing. If anything, the singer sounds newly invigorated, as evidenced in part by his renewed interest in writing. He co-wrote seven of the 11 songs here, and they stand up to the work of such top-notch writers as McClinton and Winchester.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

'The Old Magic'

Nick Lowe (Yep Roc)

"Prepare yourself for some blues to descend," Nick Lowe warns on "Stoplight Roses," the exquisite ballad that opens his new album. We probably didn't need the warning. Since he rebooted his career with 1994's "The Impossible Bird," the 62-year-old Brit has eschewed the exuberant roots-rock and winking, ironic tone of his "Jesus of Cool" days for a mellower and more emotionally direct style that suits his dominant new persona -- lovelorn and reflective. He's aided in that endeavor by a spare but resonant accompaniment, largely grounded in country-soul. Just in case, he does summon the old pep a couple of times, with "Checkout Time" and "Somebody Cares for Me." They break the languid pace, but they don't really break the overall mood. While others are painting the town, the solitary singer, as he puts it in another number, reads a lot.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

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