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Rock

Deep Purple

Now What?!

[Ear Music]

Four stars

“Now What?!” fully qualifies as a late-career masterpiece from Deep Purple. It’s stuffed to the brim with music that is everything most modern rock fails to be – inventive, vibrant, daring, eloquent, diverse, virtuosic and genre-busting. It is also a beautifully produced recording, one overseen with what was obviously extreme care and concern by legendary producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”). At heart, it’s an album that calls into question exactly what is meant by the term classic rock, which today more often than not conjures images of bands well past their prime touring the outdoor summer show and casino circuit playing songs from a distant heyday.

Deep Purple is not one of these bands. Most of its members are in their late 60s, yes, but living off of the past is not in the group’s playbook. Of the 19 studio albums Deep Purple has recorded since its formation in 1968, “Now What?!” ranks among its very finest.

The band’s current lineup – singer Ian Gillan, bassist Roger Glover, drummer Ian Paice, guitarist Steve Morse and keyboardist Don Airey – has been in place since 2002, following the departure of founder and keyboardist Jon Lord, who died in 2012. Gillan, Glover and Paice are fully tenured members whose talents grace all of the band’s finest work. Morse, whose solo work and efforts as leader of the Dixie Dregs made him a legend long before he joined Purple, has been on board since the 1996 release of “Purpendicular.” The albums released since Morse joined represented significant rebirth and forward motion for the band, as its urgent commingling of hard rock, blues, jazz and R&B opened up to accommodate elements of folk, country and progressive rock. “Now What?!” is the feather in the cap of Morse-era Deep Purple’s work.

It begins with “A Simple Song,” bassist Glover’s diads providing a reflective grounding for a supple introduction, Gillan’s remarkably lithe, full-bodied tenor floating into the mix with a stately motif, before the whole band kicks into a heavy, mildly Eastern ensemble riff that is pure Purple. “Weirdistan” continues along a similar route, as the Paice/Glover rhythm section lays down another exotic stomp, Gillan’s doubletracked vocal weaving between taut organ and guitar stabs to spin a lovely yarn concerning a commingling of souls from different cultures. “Out Of Hand” is heavy and agile, its exotic riff bouncing around an urgent melodic line from Gillan, who seems to have set his sights on corrupt bankers, or perhaps the gluttonously wealthy in general.

“Blood From a Stone” offers lithe jazz-blues, with stunning electric piano work from Airey. “Body Line” is heavy funk-soul, powered by Paice’s dynamic press rolls and relentlessly danceable groove. “Apres Vous” is heavy prog-rock that somehow incorporates inflections of R&B in the groove and in Gillan’s impeccable vocal, before Morse and Airey perform ensemble figures of jaw-dropping virtuosity.

It’s thrilling, the whole lot of it, a fiery and confident rock music that might serve as a tutorial on aging in rock ’n’ roll with grace, dignity, imagination and fire intact. Perhaps most significant among its merits is the way that “Now What?!” places Deep Purple firmly in the present tense, as a band that celebrates its past without needing to rely on it. Superb, in a word.

– Jeff Miers

Classical

Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles

Angels and Saints at Ephesus

[Decca Universal]

Three and a half stars

It’s not every day that NPR and Catholic Radio cross paths, so listen up. The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles are a youthful order of American nuns, part of a new wave of traditional Catholicism that has especially been attracting the young. They’ve been featured by all kinds of media including not only NPR and Christian stations but the Washington Post and USA Today. You won’t find these nuns on the bus, you’ll find them in their Missouri priory, chanting the Divine Office in Latin eight times a day. Clearly they could be doing a lot worse.

Their debut release, “Advent at Ephesus,” spent six weeks at No. 1 on the classical charts. Their new disc, “Angels and Saints at Ephesus,” features 17 sacred pieces, some in English but most in Latin. Two hymns in English a lot of people might recognize are “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and “O God of Loveliness,” the ancient Crusaders’ Hymn.

It’s all polyphonic music, not Gregorian chant, and you can tell just by listening that the singers are young. They recorded the music at their priory, and they have a very relaxed, cheery, serene way of singing that gives this ancient music a contemporary sound.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

Jazz

Emily Bear

Diversity

[Qwest/Concord]

Three stars

You have to ask yourself – does the world really need an 11-year-old jazz pianist?

The answer, up to a point, is: “Yes. Musical prodigies seem to be eternal.”

Jazz, too, may need it a little – just for the attention such sweet freaks draw to their musical forms.

Emily Bear writes much of her own music, of which it would be foolish to expect much. After all, the fact is that the baby Mozart – who was writing music at an age when many aren’t all that long out of diapers (his first symphonies were written at age of 8) – wasn’t much more than a capable pro forma composer as a little boy, not the great and seemingly tireless genius who later wrote “Don Giovanni,” the “Jupiter” Symphony and the posthumously published Requiem.

So let’s hear it without qualification for adorable little Emily Bear, an 11-year-old composer/pianist whose first disc has her barefoot on the cover with her hair in a bun and her polished toes pointing toward the keyboard of the upright piano she’s sitting on.

She made her debut at the grand old age of 6 on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” She appeared on the show five more times in the next two years.

Her mentor for her first disc is no less than Quincy Jones, who is happy to say for publicity purposes “I am at once astounded and inspired by the enormous talent that Emily embodies. She is the complete 360-degree package, and there are no limits to the musical heights that she can reach.”

What you can’t deny here, though, is that you’re listening to a wildly, insanely talented 11-year-old – her pop/classical compositions are very schematic and pretty, never original or beautiful; her jazz performances swing quite nicely and impress enormously but never dazzle or make you gasp the way some jazz pianists can do when they first hit the world on disc (think, for instance, of Gonzalo Rubalcaba or Hiromi Uehara).

But hey, she’s only 11. By the time she’s the age when most pianists are just becoming known, heaven only knows what she’ll be doing.

In the meantime, Jones and friends want the world to see exactly how seriously they take this phenomenal wunderkind. Fine young classical cellist Zuill Bailey is featured on four of her original compositions and great young drummer Francisco Mela is the anchor of her jazz trio (Carlitos Del Puerto is the bassist).

So sure, it’s a display disc from a lovable and somewhat amazing child who hereby promises a remarkable future. All that’s required of us is that we continue to pay attention.

– Jeff Simon