There are few artists with the skill or substance to bring people together; and Adele is one of the special ones. Her album 21 is full of good songs, particularly “Rolling in the Deep,” “Rumour Has It,” “Don’t You Remember,” “Set Fire to the Rain,” and “He Won’t Go.” May time and grace be on her side.
Billy Hart, a musician and a teacher, the kind of talented and developing journeyman without which jazz could not exist, periodically works with saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Ethan Iverson, double-bassist Ben Street as part of a quartet, beginning almost a decade ago. The quartet’s saxophonist Mark Turner also works with a trio called Fly, and pianist Ethan Iverson with The Bad Plus, and bassist Ben Street with Danilo Perez, Sam Rivers, and James Moody; and with Billy Hart they get to play with someone whose history is deep in jazz.
James Brown is said to have added something unique to a popular music tradition that includes musicians and performers such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, John Coltrane, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Smokey, Marvin, Diana, and Stevie, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Roberta Flack, Donna Summer, Minnie Riperton, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Beyonce Knowles. Yet, Brown’s work was not always popular; it was done first for a minority of people and its appeal gained force and range.
On Elastic Aspects by the Matthew Shipp Trio, featuring bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey, the composition “Mute Voice” is a pretty piece, although its notes seem half-articulated, clipped before they are allowed to achieve fullness or resonance. Banging, rumbling, sounding more like experimental music than traditional jazz is “Explosive Aspects.”
The sound is exalted and exultant but it also seems focused on something troubled, worrying—as if a great spirit had been hurt and was grappling with the pain. Complex emotion, complex sounds—the many labels for structural movements in classical composition are an indication of how difficult it is to organize and perceive complexity.
The Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’s always wordless “Vocalise” is, also, a bit heavy, somber. Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) used modern harmony within traditional form, writing songs, concertos, and operas (one opera was The Miserly Knight, and he created a cantata based on Edgar Allen Poe, The Bells).
Daniel Knox is a bit of a paradox, presenting to the world songs that speak of the hopelessness of self and society. “Ghostsong,” with its old-fashion masculine voice, is a hateful tribute. The attitude is one that recurs throughout the album. One imagines that there must be some truth to the attitude, but, also, that the attitude is heightened for dramatic effect. “I make enemies everywhere I go” and “it’s human to feel cheated” and “I leave victims in my path” are some of the assertions in the song “I Make Enemies,” which is given a jaunty rhythm, akin to a brassy anthem from a theater musical. The narrator of the song feels crowded, inconvenienced by other people.
Billy Joel claims that tenderness is more common than truth in his downbeat, string-laden ballad “Honesty,” which he sings with a full-throated intensity that verges on bombast, although the simplicity of the theme, the actual necessity of truth, justifies the expression of passion. Paul McCartney’s influence is perceptible in the piano arrangement in the story-song “My Life,” about the sudden shifts, the instability, in American lives as well as the quest for individuality (there is a direct relationship between the quest and the instability; and the song’s observations are funny).
Spiritual desolation is expressed by the lonely simplicity of “The Plaint,” written by Henry Purcell, containing the lines, “I’ll hide me from the sight of day, and sigh, and sigh my soul away.” We may want to be alone, but others do not always let us alone. The question “Who shall I say is calling?” is asked in the composition “Who by Fire.” In Leonard Cohen’s “Who by Fire,” a well-known song, incantatory, the lyrics suggest the different circumstances of address, as if in private or public ritual; and it is great having it near the beginning of If Grief Could Wait, adding energy and mystique.
In the song the time is late and Rene Marie is ready for home, love, rest, as “tomorrow is already today.” I began by commenting that Black Lace Freudian Slip is a master class in good, possibly great, singing; and my hesitation was due to my perception that a definitive assertion of rare and important quality—of greatness—can be off-putting when it comes blunt and fast, but this is what I think: Rene Marie is a great singer.