Petra Goes to the Movies
Here is one of the supreme lunatic pleasures of the recording world, thus far in 2013.
Singer Petra Haden is the daughter of the great jazz bassist Charlie Haden – (who deservedly won a Lifetime Achievement Award amid the undeserving multitudes at the recent Grammys). What that means is that she’s one of triplets and, in fact, the sister-in-law of actor and consummate rock ’n’ roll clown Jack Black (see, or rather hear, Tenacious D).
She’s recorded several albums thus far, but nothing quite like this. Her previous solo voice-over beauty was a tribute to the Who’s classic LP “The Who Sell Out” but, believe me, it doesn’t begin to prepare you for the exhilarating nuttiness of this, which is a delight literally hitherto unimaginable.
I first encountered some of it in a movie theater as background music while we all waited for the feature film to begin. What they played was Haden’s overdubbed a cappella version of Bernard Herrmann’s theme music for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” What on earth, I wondered, was that – the Swingle Singers alive and well and doing the theme music for “Psycho?” No, it was Haden, like a member in good standing of the movie-loving Haden family (listen to daddy’s jazz quartet versions of great film noir themes with the great L.A. saxophonist Ernie Watts), transforming tremendous film music into wild and woolly vocalises full of energy, longing, eroticism, giddiness and pure craziness.
Her taste in what to perform couldn’t possibly be better – Herrmann’s music for “Psycho” and “Taxi Driver,” Ennio Morricone’s sublime music for “Cinema Paradiso” and “A Fistful of Dollars,” Bob Telson’s “Calling You” from “Baghdad Cafe,” John Williams’ “The Planet Krypton” from “Superman” (which sounds hilarious in Haden’s version) and, among so many others, even a semi-straight version of “Goldfinger.”
One needn’t be a movie fanatic to love this disc, but it can’t hurt. It is so clearly a gloriously eccentric labor of love that it is, I think, completely irresistible.
No surprise, of course, that her cause is helped out by her father, guitarist Bill Frisell and, on “Calling You,” jazz pianist Brad Mehldau. When you’ve grown up around the greatest musicians in jazz, of course, they’re going to show up for a project like this.
– Jeff Simon
Joshua Bell Conducts Beethoven Symphonies No. 4 and 7
The Academy of
St. Martin in the Fields
These are terrific Beethoven symphonies, crisp and crunchy like an iceberg lettuce wedge. The idea of superstar violinist Bell conducting is not as bold as you would think: It has been observed that chamber orchestras who ostensibly perform without a conductor are in fact following the concertmaster – so there is, in effect, a conductor.
Bell clearly gets pleasure out of leading the strings, and the rest of the orchestra, in a concertmaster role. His celebrity lends glamour to the CD, as does the marvelous 1970s graphics, which make me think of old vinyl records. The only trouble I have with this recording is it’s predictable, and that’s a fault of our time. You have to make a case for recording two Beethoven symphonies over again, when they have been recorded a million times before. And so the music sounds overengineered, a touch self-conscious. Some phrases are just too cut, too sculpted, and I found them distracting, as if they were intended to point out to me that every other performance I had heard in my life was lacking. Otherwise the music has a good energy. I do think Bell is wasting himself a bit. Other conductors (or concertmasters, whatever) can lead great Beethoven symphonies, but nobody plays the violin the way he does.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
True, Richard Thompson’s 14th solo album does contain more expansive lead guitar work than fans of the 63-year-old fretboard fiend have heard in quite some time. Credit that in part to producer Buddy Miller, a like-minded Nashville cat who’s a perfect fit for the acerbic Brit.
Still, “Electric” is somewhat misleadingly titled, since it’s rife not only with plugged-in rockers such as “Stony Ground” and “Good Things Happen to Bad People,” but also deftly picked acoustic ballads and brooding bummers like “Salford Sunday” and “Another Small Thing in Her Favour,” not to mention the closing “Saving the Good Stuff For You,” as tender a love song as the former Fairport Convention folkie has written.
Still consistently excellent, after all these years.
Aruan Ortiz and Michael Janisch Quintet
Banned in London: Live at the London Jazz Festival
Major jazz news: Greg Osby lives!
And still plays – and records too, despite his all-too-long absence from major jazz recording.
Here is a powerful live recording from what seems to be London’s premier jazz club, the Pizza Express, from a first-rate jazz quintet that begins its set as if it were Jazz Messengers’ heat circa 1966 and ends up to be a specimen of European post-bop for the 21st century.
Osby remains a cool, thinking musician’s player, but the mixture of his ordinary temperature with the hot circumstances of this recording is almost perfect for reintroducing to the jazz world a terrific musician whose fretfulness and feistiness sadly took him outside the public favor that his playing so often deserved. Lord knows it does here.
This is a fine Mid-Atlantic jazz quintet with classically trained Cuban pianist Aruan Ortiz, Wisconsin-born bassist Michael Janisch, trumpet player Raynald Colon (born in France, living in Barcelona) and the great and very busy contemporary drummer from Fort Worth, Texas, Rudy Royston.
Just because this group plays Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” and Monk’s arguably most beautiful tune “Ask Me Now” doesn’t mean that its versions are quite like any you’ve heard before. Despite some pitch problems during the ensembles, everyone is fine here during the solos, especially Osby and pianist Ortiz.
Bach: The Six Partitas for Keyboard, BWV 825-830
This is glorious music, ordered, clear, therapeutic. David Korevaar teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He seems to have led a charmed life, showing talent at an early age and studying with Earl Wild at 13. He has issued albums on Wild’s private label, Ivory Classics. It’s hard to get a handle on anyone’s personality – musicians’ bios are all about which competitions you won and who your teachers were – but I imagine Korevaar has an ordered, scholarly personality. He takes a contemplative approach to this transparent music. It’s like passing a couple of hours on a sunny winter afternoon, bright and calm. It’s fun how when he takes a repeat, Korevaar throws in extra ornaments. Very pretty.