Music Review

My Morning Jacket: Z (Ato/BMG)

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The songs that My Morning Jacket create, set against lush pastoral backdrops, have always been infused with something beautiful and serious and notoriously impossible to categorize. Their earlier full-length recordings, Tennessee Fire and At Dawn -- this reviewer is an avid fan of both -- were songs hung loosely, then held together in a delicate fashion by Jim James's reverberating vocals, the yearning poetry within each song, and the band's ability to extend songs into instrumental meanderings without losing their structural integrity. And while this latest release -- Z (ATO/RCA/BMG) -- is certainly a well-made rock record and may please some with its smoothed-out production and electronic dabblings, it's an unfortunate step down from the band's earlier sensitivity. No poetry and whiskey here, rather a washboard approach to the songwriting and sound that doesn't do the band proper justice.

Bill Evans: The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 (Riverside)

EvansWhen I reviewed the most recent Paul Motian Trio album awhile back here on CultureCatch.com, while putting his career in context I of course made reference to his time in the Bill Evans Trio, especially the edition with bassist Scott LaFaro. And now here comes a three-CD set compiling everything extant from their peak moment: June 25, 1961, "live," just ten days before the tragic death of LaFaro in a car crash.

Bob Dylan: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (Columbia Legacy)

dylanThis is the soundtrack to the new Martin Scorsese film, just shown on PBS, that focuses on Dylan’s rise to fame. With some slight adjustments, Columbia has turned it into Volume 7 of its Bootleg Series of Dylan rarities; which it fits well since all but two of its tracks are previously unreleased (at least officially; bootleg collectors will be familiar with much – although not all – of what’s here).

Disc one is acoustic performances, mostly solo, including recordings made before Dylan moved to New York. It reaches all the way back to 1959 for what’s called “most likely the first original song recorded by” Dylan, “When I Got Troubles,” fascinating for the way Dylan sings in a sweeter, less cutting voice.

Portastatic: Bright Ideas (Merge)

PortastaticSuperchunk frontman/Merge head honcho Mac McCaughan reactivates his side project for another perky album of power pop a la Big Star (and acolytes such as The Apples in Stereo, the Elephant 6 scene, etc.). The chiming, jangling guitar sound (plus melodica on one track!) and stuffy-headed vocals mostly stick to the charmingly sunny side of things, although there’s sometimes a hint of more serious things in Mac’s lyrics. Anyone who’s a fan of chirpy, melodic indie-pop can put this on repeat play and be happily entertained for hours. - Steve Holtje

Jazz's Holy Grail!

monkThelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane: At Carnegie Hall (Blue Note)

There's a lot of hype for this recently unearthed (at the Library of Congress) Voice of America tape of two short sets as part of a November 29, 1957 benefit. It may sound like exaggeration. But not when you hear the music. Background: Thelonious Monk was one of the harmonic architects of bebop, yet never fully a bopper himself, too original and rhythmically idiosyncratic to fit into what became sleekly formulized.

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.