This week, my favorites cover a wide range of styles—jazz piano, soul-jazz, country-soul, pop-rock and what used to be known as hillbilly"...
Leslie Pintchik—In the Nature of Things (Pintch Hard). There's a Bill Evans quality about Pintchik's jazz piano. She listens to herself, she embraces space and keeps things spare except for the beauty of her chord voicings and improvised lines, and she swings by making strategic use of pedal tones—building ideas in a succession of statements. And like Evans, the result is achingly beautiful. I truly felt throughout the album she was having a late night conversation with me, the listener, a level of intimacy that is rare today in jazz. Start by listening to I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face, the album's only standard, and then sample her originals. Everything here is perfectly articulated. Not bad for someone with a masters degree in 17th century English lit.
Theo Croker—AfroPhysicist (OKeh). Croker, the grandson of jazz trumpeter Doc Cheatham, has unleashed a bristling, soul-jazz tapestry on his third album, produced by Dee Dee Bridgewater for her DDB Records and distributed by OKeh. Covers of Stevie Wonder's Visions, Michael Jackson's I Can't Help It and Buddy Johnson's Save Your Loe for Me, which Nancy Wilson recorded with Cannonball Adderley in 1961, are hugely inventive. With focused intensity and a large, riff-driven band behind him, Croker is striving to re-invent the trumpet, giving it an almost electric guitar appeal. Dig Realize and It's Not You It's Me (But You Ddin't Help). Heat applied evenly produces hip results.
Roy Orbison—Mystery Girl (Sony Legacy). There's an unmistakable link between Orbison and New Wave bands of the late 1970s like the Talking Heads. Orbison's pained sensitivity, high register vocal and high-drama attack all turn up in David Byrne. In fact, Psycho Killer at times sounds like an Orbison song played backward. For me, Orbison's greatest work and one of country-rock's most underrated albums is Mystery Girl, recorded in late 1988 and released a month after Orbison's death in January 1989. The album has been remastered and reissued as a deluxe edition with a documentary DVD. Every single song is out of the park, including the submissive You Got It, the mellow California Blue, the country-soul opus The Only One and punky (All I Can Do Is) Dream You. The original album is here along with studio demos.
Holly Hofmann—Low Life: The Alto Flute Project (Capri). If you love jazz flute, you'll dig this album. The alto flute is the Lauren Hutton of the instrument—a deeper, rounder sound than the concert flute. The alto flute also is curved at the end, giving notes a heftier feel. Hoffman here swings songs, going underneath where the flute normally plays to provide melodies with an interesting texture. Hoffman is backed by Mike Wofford (piano), John Clayton (bass) and Jeff Hamilton (drums), with Anthony Wilson (guitar) on four tracks. Sample the walking-tempo Make Me Rainbows and the ballad Farmer's Trust.
Billy Joel—A Matter of Trust: The Bridge to Russia (Sony/Legacy). In 1987, Billy Joel performed in Moscow at behest of the Kremlin. The result was the Soviet Union's first fully staged high-energy rock show. On this new set of two CDs and Blu-Ray DVD, all the hits are here along with an eager crowd. In an age when Russian nationalism seems to have overtaken Russia's youth culture and passion for all things Western, the video is something of a throwback to a time when rock was a potent ambassador and sales tool. The deluxe set is here.
Hank Williams—The Garden Spot Programs, 1950 (Omnivore). Back in 1950, radio was the Internet. TV may have been just getting its start in larger markets, but radio was still the way most families in rural areas stayed connected and were exposed to new music. In the Midwest and Southwest, that often meant country artists like Hank Williams. Though independent radio stations were sprouting up all over the country, most weren't part of a vast network—meaning one artist couldn't appear on multiple stations at once. So transcription services sold pre-recorded material to regional stations for airplay at their convenience. In February 1950, a series of 15-minute transcription segments by Williams appeared on KSIB-AM in Creston, Iowa, on behalf of Naughton Farms, the sponsor and one of the ecountry's leading nurseries. Though the Williams transcriptions were sold to many stations, only KSIB's discs survived. This CD's sound is so clean and clear, you'd think you were sitting in the studio's control room. You'll be taken back to an era when music was about storytelling and a song reminded you where you were from.
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