Dead Can Dance
3 stars (out of 4)
"Anastasis" is the Greek word for "resurrection," which makes it a more than fitting title for the first album in more than a decade from the Australian duo of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, who trade beneath the beautifully esoteric band moniker Dead Can Dance.
From the beginning, Dead Can Dance crafted sprawling, horizontally rather than vertically expansive compositions tinged by a goth-infused mysticism and peppered with elegant melodic detail. In the early 1990s, the group was considered part of the world-beat movement, but it is now easy to see that, while musical tourism is part of what Gerrard and Perry do, there's more to it than that. Elements of trance, ambient and trip-hop forms are liberally sprinkled throughout the group's new platter, and help to ensure that "Anastasis" comes awfully close to being a transcendent masterpiece.
The word that insistently comes to mind when listening to Perry's baritone intonations during the lengthy, ominous, billowing opener "Children of the Sun" is epic. Following that majestic incantation with the pastoral sounds heralding "Anabasis" is a masterful touch -- the wash of sustained keyboard strings sets up a keening, eastern-tinged vocal performance from Gerrard. The song flows toward the first of many emotional and sonic crescendoes that are strategically placed throughout "Anastasis," providing the album with a sense of forward momentum.
Later, the hallucinogenic groove propelling "Opium" forward prevents anything like torpor setting in. The song serves as an ample appetizer preceeding the main course that is "Return of the She-King," another elegant sprawl, with synths imitating Scottish bagpipe lines, and the low rumble of bass notes acting as so much distant thunder. Once again, Gerrard knocks it clean out of the park, her voice coming across as a rather lovely hybrid of Kate Bush-like ethereality, and the gorgeously odd vocalisms of Cocteu Twins siren Elizabeth Fraser.
A more than welcome return, then, from a band that helped pave the way for the modern ambient and trance movements.
-- Jeff Miers
The Guarneri Quartet
Mozart: 6 String Quartets dedicated to Haydn and the String Quintets
[Sony Classics, six discs)
As a teenager I obsessed over Mozart, and these Guarneri Quartet recordings were the ones that I found at Sattler's and that I listened to constantly, until I could hear them note for note in my head. I still have the vinyl set, with its hip black 1970s cover, now dog-eared and very well-loved.
Even in the cooler digital format, the loveliness comes flooding back. The musicians of the Guarneri played beautifully together, and their balance shines through in Mozart, the most transparent music ever. There is nothing mechanical about their playing. Arnold Steinhardt, the legendary first violinist, had a vulnerable quality to his tone -- in the famous start to the "Dissonance" Quartet, you hear the sound tremble a little, and it touches your heart. Cellist David Soyer's playing had a cool gutsiness that you hear in that scraping, percussive figure Mozart gives him in the slow movement of the A major quartet. You can listen to these performances for years -- a lot -- and never get sick of them. I know because I have.
The quintets are, for me, a different case. My teenage box set of this music, which I ended up with thanks to the same beginner's luck, was by the Budapest Quartet with Walter Trampler on the extra viola. These Guarneri recordings are live and date from the mid-'80s. They feature Ida Kavafian, Steven Tenenbom and Kim Kashkashian, and they are new to me. But there is the same Guarneri appeal -- the same easy virtuosity coupled with a touch of recklessness. Now and then you catch an imperfection. The music rolls on.
And what music -- one Mozart biography I read, instead of using an opening quote, printed out the first measures of the Andante from No. 6, K. 614. Steinhardt's expressive voice and the unique gifts of his colleagues, make this superhuman music human.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
Joey DeFrancesco, Larry Coryell and Jimmy Cobb
3 1/2 stars
A trio made in heaven -- or at least whatever functions in heaven as everyone's favorite nightclub heir to "the chitlin circuit."
Here is about as fine an ad hoc jazz organ trio as you could invent: Joey DeFrancesco, the greatest living apostle of Hammond B-3 fire and brimstone (and in an era of Dr. Lonnie Smith at full gallop, that's saying something), the great and too infrequently heard guitarist Larry Coryell and drummer Jimmy Cobb, who went from Sarah Vaughan to rhythmic anchor of Miles Davis' band on the most famous and arguably beloved record in the history of jazz "Kind of Blue."
That's three generations of jazz supremacy combining about as easily and infectiously as three musicians could. Johnny Mathis' old title tune, turns into a funky club wail. Benny Golson's ultra-groove tune "Five Spot After Dark" is gorgeously rescued from semi-obscurity (it's way too cool a tune to be heard as seldom as it is) and is set on fire by DeFrancesco while Cobb, with characteristic poise, blissfully lays back.
There's a version of "Wagon Wheels" which is unlikely to replace Sonny Rollins' on his classic "Way Out West," but it's choice merriment over an abundance of drum comedy by Cobb. Coryell's tune in tribute to his leader "Joey D" is as seemingly effortless as irresistible tunes get. (Coryell -- who can do almost anything on his instrument -- throws in some Wes Montgomery octaves with almost contemptuous ease. So, too, does he rejoice in some Pat Martino power-legato.)
The pleasure of these musicians in each other's company is palpable all the way through. So much bliss combines on this that there's even something charming about DeFrancesco's often-dicey trumpet playing on "Old Folks."
Pure organ trio joy.
-- Jeff Simon
Spirit in the Room
3 1/2 stars
Even when he became a big pop star and the quintessential Las Vegas showman in the '60s, with hits such as "It's Not Unusual" and "What's New Pussycat," Tom Jones was a more than credible singer of blues and R&B. It's a talent he revealed again on 2010's great, gospel-drenched "Praise and Blame," and more recently on his Jack White-produced cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Evil."
On "Spirit in the Room," the 72-year-old Welshman tackles bluesman Blind Willie Johnson's "Soul of a Man," but he also ventures into different territory. Most of the material comes from contemporary songwriters such as Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Tom Waits, Richard Thompson and Joe Henry.
Jones shows the old sexy strut on Wait's boastful "Bad as Me," but mostly he takes an understated approach that reflects the stripped-down but evocative arrangements. The mood is often autumnal or reflective, but thanks to Jones' unerring and worldly-wise interpretations, the performances still pulse with spirit.
-- Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer