(Universal Republic ***)
nolead ends Nas and Damian Marley are both veteran recording artists and sons of famous fathers. Nas' father is instrumentalist Olu Dara, and Marley's is reggae icon Bob Marley. Each has long outrun the legacy of his family. Yet with this collaboration, poetic hip-hop MC Nas and dance-hall mouthpiece/producer Marley go beyond genre and heritage to fashion a world music that borrows as much from Queensbridge as from Kingston.
The spaciousness of dub, along with the catchy hooks and subtle rhythms of dance hall, figures prominently on Distant Relatives. Marley's supple touch (he produced most of this) gives Nas' incendiary rants a lightness of being - sexuality, even - that much of Nas' work usually lacks. The lyrical flow of "Friends" oozes through Marley's cinematic soundscape and lingers through its lolling pulses playfully. The murky jazz of "As We Enter" samples Ethiopian composer Mulatu Astatke for cool ruminations on guns and ganja.
For all Distant Relatives' sweeping sonic mastery and simmering lyricism, there is a sociopolitical consciousness to the proceedings that's happily never preachy. While Nas angrily takes on the pop-cultural myths of Malcolm X and other standouts on the riveting "Leaders," the rapturous "Strong Will Continue" is regal and spirited.
- A.D. Amorosi
nolead begins Band of Horses
nolead ends nolead begins Infinite Arms
nolead ends nolead begins (Columbia ***1/2)
nolead ends Each of the first two Band of Horses albums, though solid, contained a stellar track that overshadowed the rest. Infinite Arms lacks a song like "The Funeral" or "Is There a Ghost," yet it's the Horses' most satisfying and tuneful album, start to finish. It features a new five-member lineup - Ben Bridwell is the sole constant from the band's first album - and lusher production, with Beach Boys harmonies, Band-like organ, and thickly layered guitars supplementing the Americana twang and supplanting the indie rock, each of which has been part of the band's métier. There's less My Morning Jacket and more, much more, Jayhawks to this one.
Although the band shows it can rock out on the churning "NW Apt." and the Neil Young-indebted "Laredo," the dominant mood is sunny, pastoral, and uplifting, as in the breezy "Dilly" and the floating, airy title track. Bridwell's songs are still open-ended and cryptic, but it's easy to get wrapped up in Infinite Arms.
- Steve Klinge
nolead begins The Dead Weather
nolead ends nolead begins Sea of Cowards
nolead ends nolead begins (Third Man **1/2)
nolead ends Even when Jack White takes a backseat - as he's done as a producer, as a member of the Raconteurs, and occasionally in the White Stripes - he still seems like the one driving. As the drummer and a vocalist in the Dead Weather (a supergroup that also includes the Kills' Alison Mosshart, Queens of the Stone Age's Dean Fertita, and the Raconteurs' Jack Lawrence), White hands things over (sort of) to Mosshart, whose pacing and delivery made the band's 2009 debut a fine slab of creepy murder rock. Sea of Cowards works best with Mosshart at the helm; she's a better singer and knows how to counteract the Sabbath-style riffs and organ blasts (of which there are many). White is all charge, and songs like "Gasoline" and "Looking at the Invisible Man" get unbearably messy. We get lots of scenery and no direction. It's enough to make one wish that White would make a full-flamed stoner-metal album, instead of hinting at the possibility.
- Michael Pollock
nolead begins CocoRosie
nolead ends nolead begins Grey Oceans
nolead ends nolead begins (Sub Pop ***)
nolead ends This fourth album from the American-born Casady sisters is no less artfully weird than previous efforts, just more maturely contemplative. Shifting to Sub Pop after Touch and Go lamentably suspended releasing new music last year, the French-based duo's division of labor remains the same. Bianca (a.k.a. Coco) - she of the unconventional, Joanna Newsom/Bjork-ish speak-singing - works percussion and odd instruments; her older sister, Sierra (a.k.a. Rosie), supplies guitar, piano, and more along with a soaring, operatically trained soprano voice. (The nicknames and thus the band name are from their mother, artist Christina Chalmers.) The contrasting vocal blends give CocoRosie their core identity. Redolent in quasi-trip-hop and neo-New Age sounds, the new record was tracked during fruitful stays in Buenos Aires and elsewhere. New cohort Gael Rakotondrabe, a keyboardist/composer from the tiny Indian Ocean island of Réunion, contributes to the worldly if idiosyncratic ambience. On "Undertaker," however, the sisters, of Syrian-Native American ancestry, take things home: The song builds off a rediscovered old tape of their mother singing in Cherokee. Beautiful.
- David R. Stampone
Live on the Sunset Strip
nolead ends We already have ample documentation of Otis Redding's incendiary power as a live performer - the Stax/Volt tour of Europe, the Monterey Pop Festival. Still, Live on the Sunset Strip manages to add a significant new chapter to his immortal legacy.
The two-CD set presents, for the first time, complete sets from Redding's three-night stand at West Hollywood's Whisky A Go Go in April 1966. In this intimate club setting, we get to hear the soul titan build a full show. And what a show - or shows. Backed by a nine-man band, including horns, Redding is loose but focused, interacting with both the musicians and the audience. Mixing pleading ballads ("These Arms of Mine," "Chained and Bound") with gospel-infused roof-raisers ("I Can't Turn You Loose," "Respect"), Redding is at his "got-ta, got-ta" grittiest, exuding utter command and sweat-soaked charisma. "Sure was a groove that time," he says after a blistering take on the Stones' "Satisfaction." "See how hard we have to work to eat?" No question he earned his money.
- Nick Cristiano
nolead begins Mike Stinson
nolead ends nolead begins The Jukebox in Your Heart
nolead ends nolead begins (Stag ***1/2)
nolead ends Long a leading light on the Los Angeles country scene - Hollywood hillbilly Dwight Yoakam recorded his "Late Great Golden State" - Mike Stinson is now based in Texas. That's where he cut this new album, produced by dynamic Lone Star country-rocker Jesse Dayton.
Stinson's own new take on "Late Great Golden State" is just one of the many standouts on The Jukebox in Your Heart, a set of terrific, 100-proof honky-tonk. Stinson turns a memorable phrase ("If you're going to leave, slip my mind for me"), spins fresh variations on age-old themes ("I Will Live to Drink Again"), and lays his heart on the line ("May the jukebox in your heart play a song of mine tonight").
All of which proves that, when it comes to being a saloon-song poet, Stinson is nothing like the loser he so vividly portrays in "Stop the Bar," the one who vows, "I'm going to quit while I'm behind."
Vertical Voices: The Music
of Maria Schneider
nolead ends Maria Schneider is an elite jazz composer and arranger who parlayed early work with the arranger Gil Evans to become a major voice in the music. Hers is not a singing voice, but a heady big-band concoction that veers classical in some ways.
So when vocalists Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh proposed wordlessly singing her music with a jazz quartet, it was a radical idea. Schneider's work doesn't equate to standards.
Somehow it works. The two, who are married and teach vocal jazz at California State University, Sacramento, create a chorus effect through the mysteries of studio multitracking that enhances the soaring effect in Schneider's music.
Sometimes their work evokes the lightness of past vocalese performers such as Lambert, Hendricks & Ross - albeit in a more updated way. "Dança Illusoria" is one frothy example, and it builds to a pleasant climax, as does "Hang Gliding." Other times they're quite elegiac, as on Schneider's "Sky Blue."
Pianist Frank Kimbrough and guitarist Ben Monder create the elegant framework, along with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Clarence Penn. Schneider's music doesn't leave you humming, but this unusual outing might.
- Karl Stark
nolead begins Michael Simon
nolead ends nolead begins New York Encounter
nolead ends nolead begins (Fresh Sound **1/2)
nolead ends The Philly jazz scene has long benefitted from the Latin jazz swagger of pianist Edward Simon and percussionist Marlon Simon. Now comes younger brother Michael Simon, who moved outside the family orbit by relocating to the Netherlands in 1993. He received degrees in trumpet - and later composing and arranging - from the Rotterdams Conservatory.
His second CD features his formidable brothers along with an impressive Latin jazz cast including alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón and bassist Andy González.
The set would be notable for the personnel, but Michael Simon takes an intelligent approach. The set is cool and inviting. Sometimes the melodies get a bit academic, but they're never dull. Tunes such as "House of Thoughts" go through cool evolutions, and much of the session would sound good as a movie soundtrack.
"Equanimity" is dreamy and melodic, while some tangy rhythms inform "Sabor Íntimo."
The Simon clan got its Latin jazz lineage from father Hadsy Simon, a guitarist and singer back in Venezuela. Michael more than holds his own.
Christopher Purves, Tassis Christoyannis, Dina Kuznetsova, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Adriana Kucerova, Bulent Bezduz, and others. Glyndebourne Chorus, Vladimir Jurowski conducting. Richard Jones, stage direction.
(Opus Arte DVD ***1/2)
nolead ends nolead begins London Philharmonic Orchestra
Brahms's A German Requiem
nolead ends nolead begins Stephane DeGout, Elizabeth Watts, London Philharmonic Choir. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conducting.
nolead ends nolead begins (LPO ***1/2)
nolead ends In a delicious recording-industry fluke, the two top candidates for the Philadelphia Orchestra music directorship - Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Vladimir Jurowski - have come out with near- simultaneous discs with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Principal guest conductor Nézet-Séguin's new recording of the Brahms German Requiem shows his background as a choral conductor - he attended Westminster Choir College - in the rhetorical detail he gives to the text, allowing the piece to achieve a rare level of intimacy while maintaining the grand scale of its performing forces. Soloists have both vocal splendor and dramatic commitment, but what feels like a distant microphone placement blunts the effect of Nézet-Séguin's purposeful pianissimos: Instead of drawing the ear closer, you're kept at a distance. Also, those who like their Brahms tidy won't love this live recording's occasional glitches.
Opera is Jurowski's most natural habitat, and he is unquestionably at his best in Verdi's most intricate score, maintaining the cogency of a string quartet but allowing enough room for the good-to-excellent cast to vocally project their characterizations. On the theatrical side, Richard Jones adds plenty more layers, updating the production to a lot of cinematic character-types from the famous Ealing Studios comedies of the 1950s, creating a veneer of middle-class respectability that makes the comedy feel more outrageous. American viewers may feel that they're missing some of the humor, but there's plenty more to enjoy, including Christopher Purves' Falstaff, which is wonderful whether or not you realize he's riffing on the persona of comic actor Robert Morley.