Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette
Yes, you could easily say that describes almost everything recorded in the 30-year history of Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio on ECM. But something rather quietly stupendous has been happening to the Jarrett ECM discography since the label celebrated its 40th birthday four years ago.
Every ECM Jarrett disc these days seems to belong at the top of the musician’s vast recorded output, even if it’s his European Quartet (with Jan Garbarek) from decades ago and rescued from the vault or this magnificent 2009 live concert recorded in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Everything on this is on the highest imaginable level of jazz piano trio music. But the crown jewels of the disc – and they belong at the top of Jarrett’s output in the past decade or so – are the two pieces from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” There’s a 19-minute version of “Somewhere” as great as it’s ever been on a jazz disc, because it rocks into one of Jarrett’s most inspired ostinato trances called “Everywhere” (listen to someone in the trio’s exultant laughter when they finish playing).
It’s followed immediately by a joyful and roaring version of Bernstein’s “Tonight” that sounds as if the trio was so musically high from its version of “Somewhere” and “Everywhere” that they figured one great Bernstein tune performance deserved another.
Even before that, everything on this festival performance is the Jarrett Standards Trio at the top of its epochal game – one of their best recorded performances of Miles Davis’ “Solar,” a sensitive, almost painterly “Stars Fell on Alabama” (where Jarrett phrases like a painter daubing a canvas in impressionistic heat), and a version of “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” where he and Jack DeJohnette delay the straight ahead 4/4 improvisation until a mutually perfect sense of proportion says they no longer can.
And yes, there are more than a few ecstatic vocal cries, moans and growls from the pianist at the keyboard (who was, no doubt, writhing there in his accustomed and continually startling style).
It makes no difference how many stars we offered in our disc rating system – four or 104. Jarrett’s “Somewhere” would belong at the very top.
– Jeff Simon
Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood’s Lady Antebellum is either everything that’s wrong with contemporary country music, or the greatest thing this side of Taylor Swift, depending on whom you ask.
The band’s high-gloss country-pop is purposefully edgeless and middle-of-the-road. It’s heavy on the beautiful vocal harmonies and glib relationship-based lyrics, and decidedly light on dusty, rootsy verisimilitude of classic country. For the millions who purchased the band’s first three albums, none of this appears to be a problem. For anyone who wonders when country music became smooth adult contemporary with a slight Southern twang, this Lady is a tramp.
It’s not really possible to criticize the band from the standpoint of craftsmanship. Its fourth album, “Golden,” is well-written pop music, beautifully recorded and flawlessly presented. It opens with one of many potential hit singles, “Get To Me,” with Scott’s emotion-soaked lead vocal receiving ample harmony support from Kelley and Haywood. The tune, like the majority following it, boasts a midtempo gait placing it in the neighborhood of both ballad and windows-down summer radio anthem.
“Goodbye Town” finds Scott tackling the lead vocal in a Keith Urban-esque slab of melodic country-rock. It’s neither remarkable nor awful. “Better Off (Now That You’re Gone)” packs in a touch of the harmony-laden jangle perfected by the Mavericks, and rather handily provides the album with its peak performance.
On balance, most of “Golden” is fairly innocuous. Its musicianship and songwriting can’t be fairly lambasted, but its lack of depth keeps it mired in mediocrity just the same.
– Jeff Miers
Life in This World
Long before Will Calhoun was the drummer in the rock group Living Colour, he was an aspiring jazz drummer listening to Daddy’s bebop records. What he’s done here is surround himself with some of the greatest of all jazz musicians – bass players Ron Carter and Charnett Moffett, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, trumpet player Wallace Roney and pianist Marc Cary – for a disc that, however drummer-heavy it may be, is as convincing a jazz disc as any by a musician with a much purer jazz pedigree. Listen to Calhoun play up tempo behind Cary on Tony Williams’ specialty piece “Spectrum” and you’ll hear a jazz drummer who’s long been screaming to be let out, not a rock drummer who’s just figured out how to play this music.
Of his stay in Africa in the mid-’90s, the drummer has said: “It was a culture shock in the best way. Little children would walk by and clap out the patterns to show me what I was doing wrong.”
This, to be sure, is School of Miles jazz-making in 2013 – tunes associated with Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter, Coltrane’s “Naima” (given a Latin rhythm) and Wallace Roney’s trumpet playing that more than a few times sufficed for Miles as his stand-in. What Calhoun does behind Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” makes it one of the freshest versions of a Monk tune you’ve heard in a long time. Superb disc.
Mount Rushmore and Other Works
Performed by organist Paul Jacobs, the Pacific Symphony and Chorale conducted by
Carl St. Clair
As Michael Daugherty’s career has proceeded beyond his beginnings, the question it raises increasingly is this: Can there be something in 21st century symphonic culture that’s musically akin to pop art?
If you listen to Daugherty’s previous “Metropolis” (i.e. Superman) symphony, you’ll get one answer. If you listen to the works on this disc, you may come up with an entirely different one.
Daugherty’s musical rendering of “Mount Rushmore” begins with George Washington and a version of William Billings’ hymn “Chester” that only underscores how much more convincing and less banal it was when William Schuman did it in his “New England Triptych.”
For all the elemental appeal of Daugherty’s symphonic works here, the element of banality seems to be inescapable throughout the first two thirds of the disc. Whether it’s the Rushmore music or “Radio City,” which he calls “a symphonic fantasy on Arturo Toscanini, who conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra from NBC Studio 8-H at Rockefeller Center in New York City, in live radio broadcasts heard by millions across America from 1937 to 1954,” it evades consequentiality. Except for the third piece, “The Gospel According to Sister Aimee” about “the rise, fall and redemption of Aimee Semple McPherson,” it all sounds like decidedly mediocre music for films you’d forget seeing in two months.
Best, by far, is the McPherson music, which not only includes some dramatic asperity but features pianist Paul Jacobs on a splashy organ part. In Daugherty’s case, the price he’s paying for writing assimilable symphonic music is becoming increasingly steep.