Music Review

Austerity Styles

lamentateArvo Pärt: Lamentate (ECM)

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (born in 1935; he turned 70 on Sept. 11) has found considerable success with his austere style. After first gaining notice as a Serialist composer incorporating stylistic collage, he took two sabbaticals, partly because the Soviet government approved of neither his Serial tendencies nor his religiousity, partly to rethink his style. Starting in 1976, he pioneered a lean, meditative style he dubbed Tintinnabuli (think of lots of bells chiming).

Von Iva: Live at Cake Shop, NYC, 14th September 2005

VON IVASome people still think that rock and roll is a boys’ game. Women have always made rock music, but they’re often stereotyped, trivialized, or badly marketed while they’re doing their best work, and quickly forgotten when they leave the public eye. There are a few moments that stand out in this history, however, moments when women have created songs or performances so transcendently rock that they can’t be forgotten. My personal list includes Joan Jett singing “You Don’t Own Me,” Patti Smith singing “Gloria,” Tori Amos grinding on her piano bench while snapping, “So you can make me cum, it doesn’t make you Jesus,” and Kathleen Hanna working the stage topless, with “slut” scrawled across her chest.

Jagged Dancing

mark_stewart.jpgMark Stewart: Kiss the Future (Soul Jazz) One critic called his music "Polemical noise-funk with a hip-hop reggae feel," which certainly covers a fair amount of territory but still can't encompass all of Mark Stewart's facets. He's been largely ignored in the U.S.; proudly English culture, in-your-face politics, and British dance music are all hard enough sells, but combining all three guarantees a low profile on this side of the Atlantic.

Charles Gayle: Shout! (Clean Feed)

Shout!The saga of Charles Gayle is a long and winding tale full of highs and lows. The fluctuations are mostly not in quality (he has made just two subpar albums out of twenty-two he's led from 1988 on), but in media and record label attention to his talents. He was a big story in the '90s (well, on the NYC avant-jazz scene), often with weekly gigs at the Knitting Factory, but then he became dissatisfied with his approach and began experimenting, musically and in terms of presentation, withdrawing from regular performance while he did so. In recent years, he has been working on combining the precision of bebop with the intensity of free jazz.

Gary Higgins: Red Hash (Drag City)

Red HashWe have been flooded with reissues of “forgotten psychedelic classics” in the past few years. Some of them are good, lots of them are fun, and many demonstrate why they were forgotten. Few are classics. Now here comes Drag City, a Chicago label more associated with the current alt-rock scene, surprisingly touting this extremely obscure 1973 psych-folk album by a New England hippie, Gary Higgins. Even more surprisingly, this IS a classic.

So how could the folks at Radioactive have missed it?!? One reason, perhaps, is that the only overtly psychedelic musical touches – really pretty mild – are a few keyboard riffs spiced by Terry Fenton with pitch slides (“It Didn’t Take Too Long”) and some creative organ registrations (check out the tinkling notes on “Stable the Spuds”).

Jenny Lin: Preludes to a Revolution

Jenny LinAn intelligently constructed program, especially if it's based on a compelling concept, is almost as important to a recital album as the quality of the playing. Jenny Lin, one of the finest classical pianists in New York (and that's saying something), has a winning concept here. As Luca Sabbatini, the author of the program notes, writes, "small forms -- preludes, etudes, nocturnes, poems, character pieces, etc. --  often served their creators as a space which fairly encouraged aesthetic revolutions and other breaches of convention..." Listening to this mostly chronological program from beginning to end, one hears the piano's vocabulary expand radically over the space of 17 years.

Wayne Shorter Quartet: Beyond the Sound Barrier (Verve)

Wayne ShorterHalfway through his fifth decade in the public eye, Wayne Shorter sounds like as much of a jazz giant as ever: a superb composer and the architect of an elliptical improvisational sax style that has grown more and more influential. It's the latter facet that is emphasized on this album of concert recordings from the past three years.. The formation of a new quartet has seemingly invigorated him, and Shorter clearly inspires his younger sidemen to take risks -- Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, and Brian Blade never seemed all that progressive before, and this is their most interesting playing.

Nouvelle Vague: S/T (Luaka Bop)

Nouvelle VaguePaul Anka doing a swing album of alternative rock songs turned out to be a bad idea, because the people involved didn’t treat those songs with respect and/or understanding. Get this disk instead. Nouvelle Vague is a French band with two clever producers at the helm and rotating eight breathy-voiced female singers (supposedly picked because they were unfamiliar with the original versions); they play a series of familiar punk and new wave classics in bossa nova style. Every song remains immediately recognizable (not true on Anka’s album) and most are sung (or at times recited) quite earnestly, with the drastic exception of the Dead Kennedy’s “Too Drunk to Fuck,” which is giggled through with full awareness of its inherent sarcasm and as an expression of the protagonist’s inebriated condition.

Jack Rose: Kensington Blues (VHF)

Jack RoseHands down one of the most intricately beautiful instrumental albums of the year so far. Jack Rose (of Virginia neo-psych band Pelt) is not only a guitar virtuoso of the highest order, an adept finger-style picker in the Rev. Gary Davis/John Fahey tradition (he covers the latter’s “Sunflower River Blues”), he’s an imaginative genre-hopper who – like Fahey in his later years – can make his acoustic guitar an instrument for meditative psychedelia, even make it sound like a sitar.

Aside from the Fahey cover, all eight tracks on this solo excursion are originals, starting out in a mostly traditional vein and then, on the second half of the disc, mixing in the raga influence on alternating tracks.