(Bad Boy **1/2)
Anyone who needs to be clued in as to what made the Notorious B.I.G. a great rapper can get that schooling here. The precise diction, the rugged rhythmic command, the deeply relaxed flow of "the heavyset one, with the big gun and sweet tongue, shakin' down everyone" is in evidence on both trademark jams like "Juicy" and the immortal "Hypnotize." But is this the most effective place to get a Biggie education? Hardly. For that, try Biggie's own, either
Ready To Die
Life After Death
(1997), or the 2007
collection. For hardcore Christopher Wallace fans, however, the soundtrack to George Tillman Jr.'s biopic does have some juicy extras: three bare-bones demos of "Microphone Murderer," "Guaranteed Raw," and "Love No Ho" - plus the bruising new "Brooklyn Go Hard" by Biggie"s follower-in-rhyme Jay-Z, with reggae toasting from Mount Airy's own Santogold.
- Dan DeLuca
Bossa Nova Stories
(Blue Note ***)
There are more than a few jazz musicians with classical chops and vice versa. The Marsalis brothers and Yo-Yo Ma spring immediately to mind. But Eliane Elias goes one step further. The São Paulo-born pianist/singer makes music with both classical sensibility and jazz sounds hard and soft. But it's her take on bossa nova that is most intriguing. Elias brought to
(1998) both complexity and samba-riffic subtlety. On
Bossa Nova Stories
she adds warm strings to Jobim's becalmed "The Girl From Ipanema" and Harry Warren's plucky "The More I See You." Backed by a capable ensemble (including bassist Marc Johnson and harmonicat Toots Thielemans), Elias gently kicks up her heels on piano. While dancing, Elias sings in Portuguese the likes of "Chega de Saudade" and "Minha Saudade." Elias may have a paper-thin voice, but Astrud Gilberto was no Aretha Franklin, either. More than Elias' previous efforts,
is playful. Brava.
- A.D. Amorosi
The Airing of Grievances
One could be forgiven for being suspicious of a band named after Shakespeare's most violent tragedy and whose song titles allude to Breughel, Keats and Camus (the latter song going so far as to include a recitation from
). Pretentious stuff? Not at all, in the hands of this North Jersey punk quartet fronted by 23-year-old Patrick Stickles. He sings with a furious quaver that immediately recalls Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, and Oberst's Desaparecidos side-project is a good reference point for these hyperventilating, fist-pumping, life-or-death anthems.
The Airing of Grievances
also recalls Springsteen, the Replacements, Ted Leo, younger peers such as the Gaslight Anthem, and, for their overmodulated rave-ups, Neutral Milk Hotel. The allusions, musical and lyrical, are fun, but they're only footnotes to Titus Andronicus' galloping, smart and passionate anthems.
- Steve Klinge
Río de los canasteros
(World Village/Nuevos Medios S.A. ****)
As a potent interpreter of flamenco's bottomless gypsy soul - traditionally or in adventurous hybrids - Spain's Amador is a unique triple threat. The guitar is, of course, central to flamenco conception/expression, and the 35-year-old Andalucian plays well. (Interestingly, he first appeared to many as a precocious drummer in his older brothers' landmark '80s flamenco-blues-rock band Pata Negra.) As a singer, Amador cuts loose in a moving, cracked-voice style that can recall no less than the late, great modern cantor Camarón de la Isla. And he is self-evidently the flamenco pianist of this era, probing deeper than ever on his latest album. Amador translates his Spanish heart through the ivories, working in impressionistic jazz touches on trad alegrías and bulerías that can evoke Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, even justify a "gitano Ray Charles" tag. Although flamenco guitar master Tomatito and vocalist La Susi shine as guests, the record's core track is Amador's homage to "nuevo flamenco" artist Manzanita, passionately covering the deceased innovator's "Suena mi guitarra" with only voice - and piano.
- David R. Stampone
Rockin' the Blues:
Live in Germany 1964
This live set is well-timed to take advantage of the interest in Chess Records that might be piqued by the new movie
Howlin' Wolf may have been the most feral of bluesmen, but there was also a lot of finesse to the legendary artist born Chester Burnett. The nine tracks here reveal both sides of the Wolf. With backing that includes his longtime guitarist, Hubert Sumlin, as well as Chess stalwart Willie Dixon on bass and Sunnyland Slim on piano, the nimble Wolf not only rocks but also swings the blues with such numbers as "Shake It For Me" and "Howlin' for My Darlin'." He also dives into the anguished laments "I Didn't Mean to Hurt Your Feelings" and "Going Down Slow." Not the most incendiary Wolf, but still scary great.
- Nick Cristiano
Even after he left Washington's still-going Nighthawks in 1987, Jimmy Thackery continued to specialize in his own brand of blues-rock. In recent years, the guitar-slinger and his band, the Drivers, have put on the brakes, so to speak, and broadened their palette. It's a welcome evolution that continues on
The bedrock blues-rock still turns up on "That Dog Won't Hunt" and "Just a Feeling." But from there, Thackery veers off into the Chuck Berry rock-and-roll of "Promised Land" (the only nonoriginal); a surf instrumental ("Landlocked"); a slice of hillbilly jazz (the instrumental "You Got Me"); and some down-home swamp flavor ("Eat It All"). The increasing soulfulness that Thackery has been bringing to his music of late is highlighted by the lyrical ballad "Blink of an Eye."
The crowning moment of saxophonist Joshua Redman's new CD comes during a simple rendition of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Dubbed "Moonlight" here, the take is surprisingly poignant and devoid of much soloing, yet its grandeur is undeniable.
That it's also the product of double trios - two basses and two drummers with Redman on top - shows the risks taken here by Redman, the son of saxophonist Dewey Redman and a major label leader since 1993.
Redman plays five tracks with this unusual entourage, expanding dramatically on his acoustic trio release,
, of 2007. The double trios inject some new daring in Redman, who acknowledges online that "sometimes I'm guilty, with my recordings, of having too clear a plan. This time I said, 'Hey, I just have to let go.' "
Redman plays pretty on such tunes as "Faraway," the mystical "Through the Valley," and "Just Like You," one of the double trio ditties. But there's also lots of opaqueness. Sometimes it's just irritating, as on parts of "Insomniac." The double trios sound too crowded on "March," and it's just hard to hang in there on the later sections of the boppish "Round Reuben." Even those tunes have compelling parts. But a strong plan can be good to have.
- Karl Stark
With Friends Like These
Big bands live - though the players may have other jobs. Reed man Ed Vezinho, an Atlantic City jazz veteran, and lead trumpeter Jim Ward have been fronting a big band for more than 25 years, largely in the South Jersey-Atlantic City area. Here on their third recording, the point isn't to break new ground so much as to gracefully present a collection largely of standards and originals by Vezinho, who teaches composing, arranging and conducting at Rowan University's Maynard Ferguson Institute of Jazz.
The title track, with its more electric sound, is a funky calling card and good for the mix. J.S. Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire," simply titled "Joy" on this CD, is a good-natured riff on a classical chestnut, while Philly tenor guru Larry McKenna drops some of his magic dust on Lerner and Loewe's "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."
Other worthies include Rowan jazz director Denis DiBlasio on baritone sax and another Rowan prof, George Rabbai, on flugelhorn, dressing up a sprightly "Once I had a Secret Love." Yet another A.C. sax vet, Michael Pedicin, lays out his pretty logic on "All the Way."
Why isn't this done more often? France's three great early 20th-century composers each wrote one string quartet, and they fit tidily on a single CD in this first international release by the celebrated young French quartet. The disc's opening Debussy moments aren't hugely promising, but all the performances shape up into convincingly incisive, strongly characterized readings. Ravel, in particular, has rare emotional intensity.
But the ultimate attraction here is the seldom-heard Faure quartet, which has never been recorded so charismatically. Usually, it comes off as the deathbed whispers of a maddeningly ethereal composer (It's Op. 121, after all). But Quatour Ebene externalizes lots of untapped substance, including the remarkably witty ending of the last movement: Faure came up with several endings and, with a virtuosity never heard earlier in his long creative life, decided to use them all.
- David Patrick Stearns
Evgeni Koroliov, piano
(Medici Arts DVD **1/2)
Konstantin Lifschitz, piano
(VAI DVD, ****)
Bach's music is such a complete experience unto itself, why would anybody watch as well as listen to a performance in a home listening situation? These two DVDs offer wildly different answers. The message from Koroliov's
is "Don't bother." There's virtually no visual interest, and the music doesn't fare much better: Though he's a reputable Bach specialist, this performance lacks emotional and intellectual vitality.
The Lifschitz disc isn't just a prize, it's a bargain: the entire
is on a single DVD - an extremely watchable one, thanks partly to interesting camera work in an inviting stage setting (at the Miami International Piano Festival) with atmospheric lighting and large potted plants. That wouldn't count for much were Lifschitz not so completely into his Bach zone. Though not very photogenic, he's magnetic, his middle-weight sonority and near-infallible technique a clear prism for his personal and often profound relationship with this music. Though preludes are more often revelatory than the fugues, there's a consistency to his invention and polish that defies the live-concert circumstances. Warning: He mixes the two books of the
, juxtaposing how Bach explored a given key signature at different points in his life.