Category: Music reviews

Expectations, Frustrated and Fulfilled: the album 4 by Beyonce Knowles, featuring “1+1” and “Love on Top” and “I Was Here” and “Run the World (Girls)”

Some of the songs (“Countdown” and “End of Time”) on the album have a brassy, multi-rhythmic quality that I identify with southern brass bands—is that part of (the Texan) Beyonce’s genuine taste?—but the sound could be something one of her producers scavenged from Scandinavian dance music or elsewhere, eager or desperate for a unique sound.

Two Men In Love (I Didn’t Know You Were That Black): Rahsaan Patterson’s music album Wines & Spirits; and Jericho Brown’s poetry book Please

What separates human accomplishment and failure? In the slinky, seductive “No Danger,” using rhythm as a sign or symbol of desire, Rahsaan Patterson describes love as protection against the cruelty of indifference; but in the song that follows, with a theme of unhappiness, “Pitch Black,” a cross of rock and funk, featuring Patterson’s low voice, a fat slow beat, and guitar feedback, there are “pitch black panic attacks.”

The Elegance of Empathy and Ethics: Be Good by Gregory Porter

On most of the songs on Be Good, Gregory Porter is joined by pianist Chip Crawford, bassist Aaron James, drummer Emanuel Harrold, Kamau Kenyatta on soprano saxophone, Keyon Harrold on trumpet, Yosuke Sato on alto saxophone, and Tivon Pennicott on tenor saxophone.  In the mid-tempo, rousing “Mother’s Song,” praise of a mother’s love and lessons, the saxophone is a strong presence, and the percussion sure.  The world’s ability to do damage, the sabotage and subterfuge love must face, is the subject of “Our Love,” which has the gospel touch of a bluesy piano. 

Lena is the Best: Lena Horne’s album Stormy Weather, featuring “Summertime,” “Mad About the Boy,” “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home,” with “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” and “What’s Right for You (Is Right for Me)”

Miss Lena Horne was one of the great entertainers of the twentieth century.  I can recall hearing her name often when I was a boy in the American south, and after I saw her in the western film Death of a Gunfighter (1969), her face haunted me; and I recall as well the excitement she inspired in New York with the 1980s Broadway presentation The Lady and Her Music, the vinyl recording of which I loved (I still remember her saying that she did not want sweet, hard life to pass her by)—and I regret not seeing her at The Supper Club in Manhattan in the 1990s, but I had tickets to see Jeff Buckley around the same time and thought I should not be greedy—I was wrong.

Feeling at One with the World: Van Morrison’s Moondance

The Belfast-born George Ivan Morrison grew up loving jazz and blues recordings; and as a boy Van Morrison learned how to play guitar, saxophone and harmonica, and he quit school to play music, even traveling in Europe, before returning to Belfast, where he started a music club.  His band Them achieved some popularity in the mid-1960s, but he was soon performing alone, launching his solo career with “Brown Eyed Girl” in 1967.  Morrison created the experimental album Astral Weeks in 1968, and then Moondance in 1970. 

Masculine Instrumentality; or, Actions Speak: Accelerando by the Vijay Iyer Trio

Iyer emphasizes music as action; and that fits in with the sense of force the listener hears in the trio’s work. The album cover has a piece of art—it is called “Mother as a Mountain,” a 1985 wood and gesso piece by Anish Kapoor—and it looks like a monumental presentation of a woman’s most private part, but a feminine spirit does not seem to guide the music. Rather, this is very masculine work.

Flowers for Nat: David Murray Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole En Espanol

There is strong ensemble playing in the downbeat, sad “No Me Platiques,” in which the saxophone blares and also creates small, intricate patterns; and an emotional intensity emerges, with long, plaintive saxophone lines near the end. “Black Nat,” the one song David Murray wrote for the collection, mostly fits with the other music here, and has a lot of energy, though its wildness seems a bit beyond Cole’s customary cool control.

Bright, Dark Herald: Concerto in One Movement, and Symphony in E Minor by Florence Beatrice Price, performed by the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble

I suppose that I was surprised by that antique quality—a particular sweetness, a setting of the strings—as Florence Beatrice Price is an African-American artist, and I often associate that with immediacy, modernity. In fact, I can hear in her concerto a melody that sounds familiar, possibly bearing some relation to what one might hear in the American songbook of the twentieth-century’s first half: something beautiful and firm but perhaps too accessible, too slight.

After Conflict, Understanding: Big Grenadilla and Mumbai by Evan Ziporyn, with Sandeep Das, and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, conducted by Gil Rose

Before Headley was apprehended as a criminal, he was mapping out a proposed attack in Copenhagen.  Years later, the American, experimental classical musician Evan Ziporyn has created and made public a musical work, Mumbai, inspired by the violent assault in that great, troubled city, partnered with another composition, Big Grenadilla, a clarinet concerto.

Laughter, Love, Loss, Legacy (The Music Remains): Leaving Eden, a song collection by the Carolina Chocolate Drops

One of the most significant statements on Leaving Eden is fiddler and singer Rhiannon’s song “Country Girl,” an affirmation of the family, work, and natural resources to be found, nurtured, and relished in country life.  “All day I dream about a place in sun, kind of like the place I’m from,” sings Rhiannon, in a song that I believe will be returned to again and again by different singers.