Category: Album review

Album review: Billy Hart's 'All Our Reasons'

April 10, 2012 |  9:00 am


Billy Hart, "All Our Reasons" (ECM)

An enduring, engaging presence behind the drums who has recorded with Wes Montgomery, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis (as a hired hand on the 1972's landmark "On the Corner"), 71-year-old Billy Hart sees no reason to rest on his laurels.

Here on a lush reconvening of a band that came together on the 2006 album "Quartet," Hart leads with a steady, almost invisible hand that gives his younger, high-profile collaborators ample room to stretch.

Pianist Ethan Iverson is best known for co-leading the witty, boundary-shredding jazz group the Bad Plus, but here his playing remains in a more contemplative place, particularly on "Ohnedaruth," one of his own compositions that nods toward John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" with an insistent, multidirectional patter from Hart and an understated lead from saxophonist Mark Turner.

A notable bandleader in his own right, most recently with the trio Fly, Turner's trademark reserve is a highlight on his slow-burning composition,"Wasteland," but it's Hart who owns some of the record's most memorable turns with the knotty "Duchess" and the opener "Song for Balkis."

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Album review: Chano Dominguez's 'Flamenco Sketches'

March 29, 2012 | 10:49 am

'Flamenco Sketches,' Chano Dominguez

Blue Note

More than 20 years after Miles Davis' death, it's almost bigger news when a month passes and a reissue or tribute to Davis' music isn't released. Still, this seven-track live set from 2009 led by Spanish pianist Chano Domínguez reveals there's yet more undiscovered territory in these well-worn songs, proving that it's not necessarily the tributes to the iconic trumpeter that are the problem, it's the skill and imagination going into them.

Opening with an expansive, 16-minute take on "Flamenco Sketches" from Davis' landmark "Kind of Blue" recording, Domínguez begins the album with a lush solo that accelerates into a simmering flamenco groove that develops into a hip-swiveling maze of handclaps and sparkling piano flourishes.

Songs from "Kind of Blue" do much of the heavy lifting here with a take on "Freddie Freeloader" reframing the song's breezy refrain with a percolating rhythm from bassist Mario Rossy and percussionist Israel "Paraná" Suárez, and the typically slow-burning "All Blues" gains a hotter pulse and a rhythmic hitch that twists the song into a head-bobbing dance number.

Rossy also leads a rubbery, quickened take on the familiar intro of "So What," which Domínguez quickens into a raucous stomp atop a maze of pattering percussion. It's still Miles, but it's miles away from what's already been done.

Domínguez performs live as part of the Jazz Bakery's Moveable Feast series on Saturday, March 31 at 8 p.m. Zipper Hall at the Colburn School 200 S. Grand Ave., L.A. $30


New CDs: 'Miles Davis Quintet: Live in Europe' and 'Miles Espanol'

Album review: Esperanza Spalding's 'Radio Music Society'

Robert Glasper's 'Black Radio': Is all that jazz?

-- Chris Barton

Jazz album review: Jenny Scheinman's 'Mischief & Mayhem'

March 7, 2012 |  9:45 am


Jenny Scheinman, "Mischief & Mayhem" (Jenny Scheinman)

Another of those albums that sounds a little scarier in name than reality, this project led by New York-based violinist Jenny Scheinman earns its two-pronged label with occasional dips into unstructured noise and a rock-like drive.

But the group is just as marked by a thoughtful sense of atmosphere and lush, inviting composition, which admittedly looks much less cool on a CD cover.

Also featuring two fellow artists with West Coast roots in bassist Todd Sickafoose and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, Scheinman's take on rustic violin jazz feels informed by elements of country and folk but doesn’t stay in one place long. “A Ride With Polly Jean” -- inspired by an imagined California road trip with indie songstress PJ Harvey -- carries a light, contemplative vibe atop Scheinman's gliding violin and an airy pulse from drummer Jim Black.

Though Cline's unique guitar alchemy has a reputation for scraping the edge of the universe, here he stays back with a well-mannered grace, releasing a few electronic squiggles that sound like a dial-up modem arguing with a scrambled radio transmission.

“Devil’s Ink” seamlessly transitions from Scheinman's spookily atmospheric beginnings into a twisted funk groove carried by Black and Sickafoose, and “Ali Farka Touché,” a loping, joyful tribute to the late Malian guitarist, leads with Cline’s bent twang before the song gathers around Scheinman’s swerving melody.

Clanging, metallic tones from Cline in the Eastern-tilted "Sand Dipper" and the chugging edge of “The Mite" bear out the record's implied promise of playful anarchy, but those listening beyond the surface will hear an album that goes well beyond words.


Album review: Tim Berne's 'Snakeoil'

Jazz review: Trio M at the Jazz Bakery's Movable Feast

Jazz Bakery to join forces with Angel City Arts' Jeff Gauthier

-- Chris Barton

Album review: Tim Berne's 'Snakeoil'

February 15, 2012 | 11:15 am

Album review: Tim Berne's 'Snakeoil'

Tim Berne, "Snakeoil" (ECM)

A fiery saxophonist who came to prominence in the unhinged downtown New York City scene in the '80s, Tim Berne superficially doesn't seem a natural fit with the often contemplative pace of recordings on the German label ECM.

Yet despite Berne's raucous recent output that included last year's bracing live set with Nels Cline and Jim Black, "The Veil," the two seemingly divergent aesthetics merge gracefully on an album that balances lush composition and free expression.

With more than half of its songs flirting with the 15-minute mark, "Snakeoil" has little interest in bite-size statements, preferring to allow Berne and his bandmates ample room to uncover their own paths. On the spacious "Spare Parts," this translates into Berne alternating with bass clarinetist Oscar Noriega on duets with drummer Ches Smith before the two horn players reunite over a pattering, insistent rhythmic foundation. Elsewhere Berne's knottier impulses come to the foreground with "Not Sure" and the more frantically paced "Scanners," which grows steadily more complex around pianist Matt Mitchell's off-center drive.

The album shows a contemplative side of its own on "Spectacle" and the slow-burning "Simple City," which finds Berne's saxophone occasionally recalling the nimble turns of John Lurie. Think of this as Berne uncovering a new way to get downtown.

Tim Berne will perform from "Snakeoil" on Feb. 25 at the Blue Whale, 123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St., Suite 301, L.A. 9 p.m., $10,


Jazz review: Trio M at the Musicians Institute

At 93, Gerald Wilson makes Grammys a family affair

Jazz review: Endangered Blood at the Blue Whale

-- Chris Barton

Album review: Kronos Quartet: Music of Vladimir Martynov

February 8, 2012 | 10:00 am

Kronos Quartet with Joan Jeanrenaud
Kronos Quartet: Music of Vladimir Martynov


The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s addictive three-week Mahler Project is over. Now what? There is always cold turkey. But there is also, courtesy of the Kronos Quartet, Mahler methadone.

In the string quartet "Das Abschied," by a 65-year-old spiritual Russian composer too little known in the West, Vladimir Martynov extends the final passages of the last measures of Mahler’s symphonic song cycle “Das Lied von der Erde” to a heavenly length of 40 minutes.

This is Mahler for those who never want one of his most movingly ethereal passages to stop.

Also on the recording is another magnificent example of how Martinov’s mystical obsession with time and history music has led him to step outside of reasonable temporality and human concerns. He is, in his own description, a "posthumous" composer of “post-opus” music.

In this spirit he wrote his "Schubert-Quintet (Unfinished)," a stirring meditation on Schubert’s magnificent Quintet in C, three years ago for Kronos and its former cellist, Joan Jeanrenaud. It is not so much a post-opus as a Postmodern, Minimalist masterpiece. The performance, exquisitely recorded, is radiant.


Music review: Kronos reunites with former cellist in Berkeley

Alice Tully Hall offers Vladimir Martynov and Philippe Herreweghe

Music review: Kronos Quartet gives West Coast premiere of Steve Reich's 'WTC 9/11'

-- Mark Swed

Photo: The Kronos Quartet with Jean Jeanrenaud in the world premiere of Martynov's "Schubert-Quintet (Unfinished)" in Berkeley in 2009. Credit: Los Angeles Times.


Album review: Michael Slattery's 'Dowland in Dublin'

January 31, 2012 | 12:45 pm

Michael Slattery
Michael Slattery: "Dowland in Dublin"

ATMA Classique

The supposedly dour John Dowland is thought to need all the help he can get. His early 17th century songs have been sometimes jazzed up and sung by Sting, even. Still, Michael Slattery, the American tenor of Irish descent (who, as the sailor, was the first singer heard in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Tristan Project” seven years ago) has some cheek. He and the Canadian early music ensemble La Nef have given a selection of Dowland's very British songs an Irish lilt. And an Indian drone too, with a shruti box that is meant to be used for chanting.

It works. Dowland’s tunes are sturdy, able to thrive on a lively lilt or bring a sentimental tear to the eye when offered with sweet Irish melancholy. Slattery sings with a feel for period style and the pub, and La Nef crosses genre divides with similar ease.


More classical album reviews

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Michael Slattery. Credit: Ned Schenck.

These classical CD box sets make great gifts

December 16, 2011 |  4:16 pm

When investing in a CD set for a gift, it’s not a bad idea to go for a sure thing. These are, or will become, classics. They’re for keeps.

The Decca Sound


The Decca label became favored for its high fidelity in the early LP era, to say nothing for its vast, if often British-centric, artist roster. The 50 choice releases from the past half-century, each disc in a cute original album sleeve, are a feast. Famous recordings include excerpts from George Solti’s “Ring,” Benjamin Britten conducting his “War Requiem,” and Zubin Mehta’s  great “Turandot” with Sutherland and Pavarotti. But that’s only the beginning.

Beethoven: The Symphonies. Riccardo Chailly conducts the Gewandhaus Orchestra.


Decca is still at it. Although Beethoven symphony sets are common enough, Chailly’s rhythmic exhilaration and ear for orchestral color provide a spectacular freshening act. The recorded sound is terrific and the symphonies seem to leap out with magical immediacy from whatever digital or analog  device you favor.

Rossini: “William Tell”

(EMI Classics)

It’s been a while since Rossini’s epic and too-little-produced (especially in America) last opera has had a new recording. This one which comes from Rome’s Santa Cecilia Orchestra, is highlighted by Antonio Pappano’s compelling conducting and boasts a capable cast headed by Gerald Finley’s Tell. But the main accomplishment is to remind us of what wonderfully characterful music this opera contains.

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Tuneful tidings: The best new holiday albums

December 16, 2011 |  6:00 am

The economy and the state of the nation wax and wane, but through it all, Americans still find meaning in the December holidays. That includes reconnecting with our favorite music and looking for new musical expressions of Christmas and Hanukkah. For recording artists, the Holy Grail is a Christmas release that the public will return to in coming years. There may not be a new “White Christmas” this season, but the 2011 season gives us some fine new jazz and vocal albums.

****‘A Child Is Born,’ Geri Allen, Motema

This well-considered program brilliantly stitches together familiar traditional Christmas and gospel songs, primarily played by pianist Geri Allen. She interprets from the heart (Thad Jones’ title cut, “Amazing Grace”) and arranges with her head in a quietly masterful display of artistic conception.

**‘Christmas Time is Here (and Chanukah and the Solstice)’ Lisa B, Piece of Pie

Pop singer Lisa Bernstein’s slightly nasal voice is something of an acquired taste on these well-toasted chestnuts. Her lower register serves her best on “Hine Ma Tov,” with a shimmering, layered orchestration by co-producer Jim Gardiner. Her own tunes aren’t likely to become standards, though “Holiday in Oakland” funks along easily.

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Album review: Josh Nelson's 'Discoveries'

November 21, 2011 |  9:00 am


"Discoveries": Josh Nelson (Steel Bird Music)

In L.A. native who's been a fixture around town with the likes of Peter Erskine, Anthony Wilson and veteran trumpeter-vocalist Jack Sheldon, pianist Josh Nelson sounds poised for national prominence on his fifth album as a bandleader, "Discoveries." Though packed with nods to the vintage sci-fi of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne both in song titles and an eye-catching cover, the album feels grounded in the now, with rich ensemble playing and a gracefully ambitious compositional voice.

With drummer Dan Schnelle providing a compressed percussive foundation reminiscent of the textures used by Brad Mehldau on his influential 2002 album "Largo," "Jogging Day" finds Nelson's piano weaving between a glossy chorus of horns, while the skittering rhythm of "Memorial" features a similar sort of drive lightened by the airy nonverbal vocals of Vanessa Robaire. Trumpeter Dontae Wilson gets a head-turning moment to shine on the contemplative title track, and "Sinking Ship" finds Nelson's lively piano pushing the group forward opposite Brian Walsh's bass clarinet in a restlessly evolving melody that features an acrobatic solo by trombonist Alan Ferber. Sometimes it's amazing what you can discover in your own backyard.

[For the Record Nov. 22: An earlier version of this post misidentified drummer Peter Erskine as Steve Erskine.]


Album review: Christian McBride's 'Conversations with Christian'

Saxophonist Miguel Zenon mines the Puerto Rican songbook

Influences: Ben Jaffe of Preservation Hall Jazz Band

-- Chris Barton

Album review: Ernest Bloch, Landscapes

November 15, 2011 |  9:00 am

Official Photo 2011 - Galatea Quartet
Ernest Bloch: Landscapes
(Sony Classical)

It's about time that someone went to bat for Bloch.

The Swiss-born composer who was born in 1880 and immigrated to the U.S. during World War I, is mainly remembered for his Hebrew rhapsody, “Schlomo.” But there is far more to a composer who straddled the Romantic and the Modern, and who had a big influence on many American composers, teaching in Cleveland, San Francisco and Portland, Ore.

He wrote five really good mature string quartets, all neglected. But it is the idea of the young Galatea Quartet, which champions new Swiss and German music and plays Pink Floyd on the side, instead, to introduce Bloch through small chamber pieces that show the gamut of his styles and flair for evoking nature. The playing is imaginative and the music haunts. Included is also the first recording of a teenage string quartet that gives near Mendelssohnian promise of a major composer to come.


Album review: Pärt: Piano Music

More album reviews from Times writers

-- Mark Swed

Photo: the Galatea Quartet. Credit: Raphaël Fleury


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