David Byrne & St. Vincent
Love This Giant
Sometimes it feels as if it's David Byrne's world, and the rest of us just happen to live in it. Byrne is pop music's anti-ego, an artist whose seminal work with Talking Heads presented him as an intellectual with guitar and pen in a room full of raving and drooling punk rockers, a cool and detached observer of the culture's fringe minutiae, the stuff most folks weren't paying much attention to during the late 1970s and '80s. Somehow, that pioneering work ended up framing the most interesting movements in popular music from the '90s forward. Just as it's impossible to imagine the assimilation of world-beat influences into the mainstream without Byrne's work, it's equally pointless to ponder the existence of, say, Radiohead, in a world where Byrne and Brian Eno's "My Life In the Bush of Ghosts" was never released.
When Byrne reteamed with Eno for 2008's "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today," he simultaneously proved his continued relevance as a contemporary artist and paved the way for what seems, on paper at least, to be a strange collaboration with modern experimental pop auteur St. Vincent, aka singer, songwriter and guitarist Annie Clark.
Clark and Byrne followed the Byrne/Eno model embraced by "Everything" with their "Love This Giant."
They shared demos, germs of ideas and skeletal structures by exchanging digital files via email, working separately, before collaborating in the corporeal sense. The pair then enlisted a horn section to aid them in the creation of elaborate brass arrangements.
This last point is key, for "Love This Giant" revolves around the horns, which act as the primary harmonic information throughout the record. These are not R&B or funk horns, and there are no horn solos, per se. Rather, the skeletal rhythm arrangements - mostly constructed around loops - are granted skin and sinew by the brilliantly orchestrated brass. The cumulative effect is at once avant-garde and eminently tuneful.
Byrne's lithe but always ironically distanced tenor is married with graceful ease to Clark's voice. The two never get in each other's way. One of the strongest Byrne tunes on the album, "I Should Watch TV," finds Byrne double-tracking his own vocal harmonies, while Clark concentrates on jagged electric guitar bursts; the circular chord progression of "Lazarus" is served by alternating verses from Byrne and Clark. The elegiac, mournful "I Am An Ape" finds Clark breathily supporting Byrne's singing at the outset, before the piece moves into a danceable groove, as the singers join together to push the melody skyward. Clark's "Weekend In the Dust" turns the tables, placing her vocal front and center, while Byrne offers instrumental support.
Throughout all of this, it is the manipulation of space - the "air" in the arrangements, so to speak - that provides the album's continuity. It's a minimalism that moves with a dancer's grace.
What an unusual and beautiful collaboration. Proof, too, that music doesn't acknowledge age - Byrne is 60, Clark 30, but throughout "Love This Giant," they sound ageless.
- Jeff Miers
The Master Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
2 1/2 stars
In the realm of great composer/director partnerships in movie history, Paul Thomas Anderson and Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood are beginning to climb into the rarefied ether where Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann dwell with Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone and Steven Spielberg and John Williams.
The hugely awaited "The Master" opens next Friday with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams, but Greenwood's superb soundtrack was released Tuesday. Anyone expecting Greenwood's music to have an obvious connection to his music as Radiohead's guitarist simply doesn't remember how extraordinary his music was for Anderson's previous film "There Will Be Blood." His musical blood type as film composer is more like, say, Krzysztof Penderecki than it is John Williams.
Because the film is a period story about post-World War II cults in America, the disc also contains the era's pop music that is used with wickedly savage irony in the movie - Ella Fitzgerald's "Get Thee Behind Me Satan" (unforgettable in the film), Jo Stafford's "No Other Love" and Helen Forrest's "Changing Partners." As immensely talented as Greenwood is, it is, to be frank, the film's period pop music that gives the disc a separate and distinct personality apart from the film - especially when Amy Adams' version of "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" melds into a dissonant fantasia of desire.
- Jeff Simon
Our Path to This Moment
The Rob Schep Big Band plays the Music of Ezra Weiss
3 1/2 stars
This is one of the most significant jazz albums of the year so far. If anything proves that orchestral jazz - which usually has to be recorded in Europe with one of the stellar radio-supported jazz orchestras there, no matter what Americans sit in - is alive and well and polished to a fine sheen here, too, it's this. It proves that jazz that is directly contiguous with jazz education doesn't need to be the slightest bit academic.
Pianist/composer Ezra Weiss is still under 40 and has played with Billy Hart and Antonio Hart, among others. The trouble is that even though he's been writing music for a full jazz orchestra since he was a student at Oberlin, it is only on this disc where he gets a full hearing for his orchestral compositions and arrangement in performances recorded with highly polished sheen.
As a composer/arranger, Weiss is clearly in the Gil Evans/Gary McFarland post-Ellington mode, i.e. a serious composer of jazz pieces of heft and variegated color, rather than a neo-swingmaker full of trumpet screaming and unison section punching. He likes his brass choirs to sing far more than yelp or scream and his guest star, trumpet player Greg Gisbert plays eloquent solos on top of them.
Weiss solos on his clean, fresh arrangement of the Sammy Cahn-Jule Styne "It's You Or No One." He's no grandiloquent key-gobbler or thunderer, but a thoughtful phrasemaker of the Marcus Roberts sort. He's a jazz mind, rather than a musical technique or force of nature.
The playing of his arrangements by Schep's Big Band is nothing but loving.
As beautiful as it is, it doesn't reveal itself completely on just one listening either - a rare pleasure for a still-emergent jazz talent.
Del Tredici: Gotham Glory- Complete Piano Works Volume 1
3 1/2 stars
No one would dream of ever making it a contest, but if anyone ever did, David Del Tredici would have to be accounted by far the greatest neo-Romantic of all the glorious, challenging and climate-changing musicians who ever functioned as creative associates at the University at Buffalo.
A blindfold test, for instance, of this disc's opening "Aeolian Ballade" from 2008 would probably find most experienced classical listeners slightly dumbfounded by the fact that composers still write music like this in the 21st century and do so, to boot, with such panache, It is, of all things, a prelude and fugue.
While best-known for his vocal music and "Alice" works after Lewis Carroll, he is a composer of altogether spellbinding piano music, very much worthy of pianist Marc Peloquin making his piano music a project.