Category: Music reviews

Cuban Pianist, International Treasure: Bebo Valdés

t is a mastery, elegant and elegiac, of the “the cultivated and the popular,” in an album of “thirteen pieces exemplifying Cuba’s major musical genres, starting with the emergence of a recognizably Cuban music in the mid-19th century,” in which the songs “are presented more or less chronologically—contradanza, danza, danzón, bolero, guaguancó,” an album that promises to become a pleasure and a defining reference for others, as much as it has been a joy for pianist Bebo Valdés.

Humor, Outrage, Vulgarity, and Intense Rhythm: Fishbone’s Still Stuck in Your Throat

Listening to Fishbone’s Still Stuck in Your Throat, I hear punk rock, jazz, Caribbean rap, rhythm and blues, and even something I might call a ballad, but I hear little that I can recognize, even generously, as funk: which to me signifies not only a heavy, thick musical groove but the most expansive sensuality. Fishbone is a lot of things, including sexual, but sensual? I don’t think so.

Instruments Made of Ice: Terje Isungset, Two Moons

Terje Isungset’s Two Moons is the kind of work that compels one to ask, What is music? Is it all sound, any sound? Is it whatever sound is intentionally made; and made by a self-described musician? Is it organized sound? Sound intended to be pleasing to the ear; or, simply, sound intended to be contemplated as music?

The Beautiful Music of the Son of Ali Farka Toure: Vieux Farka Toure

I do not know the language, or languages, in which Vieux Farka Toure’s songs are written so I cannot discuss their meaning: I can only suggest something of what they sound like and their effect on one listener. This is music of many delicate notes, notes like softly splashing rain, refreshment for a dry season.

Evidence: Fine Young Cannibals’ The Raw and the Cooked, Hootie and the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View, and Lenny Kravitz’s Greatest Hits

Listening now to Lenny Kravitz’s Greatest Hits—which I picked up at some point, I cannot remember exactly when—I find that there are only a couple of songs (“Again” and “Heaven Help”) that have a power, the style and sensuality, equal to his image. There are performers whose glamour, promising so much, makes it difficult for us to allow them dull music (I think of Diana Ross, Prince, Jennifer Lopez, Eric Benet, and Beyonce). Glamour is treacherous that way.

The Uses of Belief: Susan Werner, The Gospel Truth

Love, instinct, doubt, and the wonder of nature: all part of life, all objects of contemplation—do not deny them, do not simplify them, advises Werner. On “Don’t Explain It Away,” Werner’s singing is well modulated, with a nuance that is the exact opposite of what one expects of a rhetorical inclination or tone; and although the album does not sound explicitly rhetorical it is rhetorical.