Two and a half stars
In which Snoop Dogg is reborn as the Rastafarian reggae artist Snoop Lion. This has “train wreck” written all over it, yes?
Well, no, in fact. “Reincarnated” is a riot. And Snoop’s stoned and sleepy rap style works incredibly well when layered atop reggae and dancehall grooves.
There’s nothing too particularly heady or heavy going on here, with the exception of the excellent pro-gun control paean “No Guns Allowed.” Rather, Snoop just sounds like he’s chillin’ with some friends, and finding sustenance in the ebullient bounce and let-the-sunshine-in ethos of this Jamaican-born form.
We must credit the production of Diplo’s Major Lazer team for much of the music’s magic, naturally. They keep the grooves moving in a spacious manner throughout, and they dress Snoop in the finest reggae-based threads here, particularly during the album’s strongest tracks – the aforementioned “Guns,” and the rump-shakers “Get Away,” “Rebel Way,” “Torn Apart” and “Here Comes the King.”
Snoop is taking some heat from critics – and fans on message boards – for quite suddenly seeing the reggae light and embracing Rasta. I say, lighten up. “Reincarnated” is good summer music.
One caveat: Cameos are de rigeur on hip-hop recordings, nauseatingly so. They are the aural equivalent of the drunk obnoxious dude at the party who insists on name-dropping all the famous folks he supposedly hangs out with. (OK, OK, so you know Jack White! We get it - you’re cool!) Snoop doing the in-studio hang with Akon and Busta Rhymes is one thing, but sharing the mic with Miley Cyrus is close to unforgivable. For shame!
– Jeff Miers
Three and a half stars
Quick: What did Charlie Parker, Ben Webster and Stan Getz do that John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Lester Young never did?
Answer: record a classic jazz album with a string orchestra.
Just to make sure that he joined Bird, Ben and Getz on their side of the discography and not Coltrane, Sonny and Prez, Joshua Redman will release an album of ballads Tuesday which is sometimes exquisite and never less than exceptionally beautiful.
The saxophone-and-strings album is so perilous (they don’t always end up as towering jazz masterworks a la Getz’s “Focus” with Eddie Sauter) that a smart soloist needs all the close friends he can get around him. And that’s where Redman’s ballad disc is so much smarter than so many of his forebears. His producer – and pianist on the disc – is his old friend and combo-mate pianist Brad Mehldau.
Redman was a featured soloist on Mehldau’s 2010 terrific orchestra disc “Highway Rider.” What he says now of “Walking Shadows” is that he’s wanted to do this for a long time.
You can listen to what he does here and take that to the bank. The arrangements are by Mehldau, Redman and composer Patrick Zimmerli and, despite different pens, are uniformly fine. But it’s Redman’s purity as a player and his canniness at picking the repertoire here that make this one of the best of its kind in a very long time.
There are great “standards” here from everybody’s favorite source, The Great American Songbook (“Stardust,” “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” “Easy Living”), there are jazz standards on the highest possible level (Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”) and there are modern standards only a fool would argue with (“Let It Be,” John Mayer’s “Stop This Train”).
But most impressive of all, Redman and Mehldau’s originals aren’t at all out of place in such Parnassian compositional company.
With bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade, Redman was surrounded by some of the oldest friends he has in the jazz recording world. The result is a saxophonist’s unmitigated triumph in a form that has caused nothing but stumbles from far greater musicians.
One of the jazz discs of the year, to be sure, by year’s end.
– Jeff Simon
Cello Concerto, Serenade, Lonely Waters, and Whythorne’s Shadow
Performed by Guy Johnston, cello, the Ulster Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta, conductor
Three and a half stars
For a couple of years now, JoAnn Falletta has been music director of the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland, and she has joined the orchestra in spotlighting composers of local pride. One of these is Ernest Moeran.
Moeran was kind of a tragic figure – he sustained head injuries while serving in World War I, injuries that dogged him his whole life. His marriage collapsed because of his constant drinking, and his last years (born in 1894, he died in 1950) were fought with ill health.
You sense next to none of this trouble in his music. His cello concerto, written for his wife, Irish cellist Piers Coetmore, has an achingly lovely Adagio. The movements that frame it have shadows of war but are also filled with Irish folk music. It’s a good concerto, better than a lot of the things we hear, and the young cellist Guy Johnston gives it depth and sincerity.
Moeran’s Serenade reflects his friendship with Peter Warlock. Both composers loved to look back to the Renaissance, and the dances Moeran presents, engaging and nostalgic, made me think of Respighi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances” and Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin.”
The rest of the music on the disc also embraces folk music. The musicians show a good spirit – God love them, because like many orchestras, the Ulster Orchestra has its share of financial troubles. It is easy to see how this music by this forgotten Irishman would benefit from Falletta’s flair for drama and light.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
River Edge, New Jersey
Two and a half stars
Who can dislike a fluent jazz pianist who wants to make a trio version of – are you ready – Harry Nilsson’s “One” because he remembers it so well from the Three Dog Night version of his youth?
Or, yes, for that matter Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl From Ipanema”?
While, get this, at the same time, “covering” Bjork’s “All is Full of Love”?
Comprising the rest of it, Cunliffe tells us, are originals based on people in his life, from trombone players he used to jam with in Van Nuys to “Sweet Andy” dedicated to Andrew Simpkins, the bassist for the Three Sounds and Sarah Vaughan.
River Edge, N.J., you ask? It’s where the studio of the late Manfred Knoop was located, where the disc was recorded.
What Cunliffe rather conspicuously lacks in piano trio excitement, he makes up for in good taste.
His bassist is Martin Wind and his drummer is Tim Horner.