Thursday, September 3, 2009

Casual Listening - Bernstein Mass, James Moody, Bela Fleck

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

September 4, 2009

! Bernstein: Mass – Jubilant Sykes, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop conductor

A new recording of the least-performed work of one of America’s most beloved composers is in itself a cause for celebration. It’s an immense piece – full orchestra, adult choir, children’s chorus, and rock band – with some amazingly difficult music and a rebellious social message. It also contains moments of such beauty as can bring you to tears. Jubilant Sykes is an inspired choice in the role of the celebrant, and his interpretation brings both an expanded dynamic and emotional range to the work. The supporting cast often surpasses but sometimes under-reaches the mark set by the original recording. Some extremely quiet passages demand that it be listened to at full volume, so be aware it’s designed for your stereo system, not your ipod. All said, you’ll thank yourself spending two hours with this recording.

Listen to Bernstein: Mass “A Simple Song

* James Moody – 4A (jazz)

Even at 85, years old, Moody’s tone on tenor sax is blazing. With a simple quartet and a set of such standards as Round Midnight and Stella by Starlight, he once again proves himself worthy of the moniker “living legend.”

Listen to James Moody “East of the Sun

Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain, Edgar Meyer – The Melody of Rhythm (classical)

Blistering virtuosity on a newly composed triple concerto for banjo, bass, and table drums, accompanied by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. It’s often over even my head, but there’s still some powerful new music here. Hussain’s drumming is wondrous, and between the pitched drums and the banjo (which itself contains a drum), the paradox implied in the title is well-explored.

Listen to Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain, Edgar Meyer – “The Melody of Rhythm, Mvmt. 2

Susana Baca – Seis Poemas (Latin)

An emotionally packed short set from a fantastic Peruvian folk singer. The lyrics come from poems of another Peruvian singer, Chabuca Granda. The language is exquisite, and the voicing even moreso.

Listen to Susana Baca “Resbalosas

Drive-By Truckers – The Fine Print (Country)

When your B-sides are as good as the ones collected on this album, you can begin to legitimately stake your claim as king of the hill in alternative country. Ragged guitars, mournful pedal steel, and lyrics that read like short stories are DBT’s calling cards, and they’re all powerfully in evidence here.

Listen to Drive By Truckers “George Jones Talkin’ Cell Phone Blues

The Black Crowes – Before the Frost…Until the Freeze (rock)

Three-quarters of this double-album is skippable, but the five remaining songs would make an EP than points to a powerful new direction for the Black Crowes. In place of the vocal high-wire act that characterized their early records, they’ve come done in the fertile soil of folk Americana. To the extent they continue down this road, they’ll find themselves in the illustrious footsteps of The Band and moving toward the psychedelic folk that’s increasingly being rediscovered by younger bands. Here are my picks for an EP:

Listen to The Black Crowes:

What is Home

The Last Place That Love Lives

Aimless Peacock

Garden Gate

Shine Along

Juliette Lewis – Terra Incognita (rock)

Perfect punk attitude in the vein of Patti Smith. She shows herself to be a woman not afraid of her own voice.

Listen to Juliette Lewis “Ghosts

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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