Robert Pollard, “Honey Locust Honky Tonk” (GBV). Robert Pollard unleashes music at an alarming rate. He’s indefatigable, and he expects the same untiring commitment from his fans, although even the most ardent among them must find it a challenge not to suffer from Pollard Fatigue. Since the beginning of last year, the recently reactivated Guided By Voices, one of the classic cult bands of the last two decades, released four albums and an EP, and now comes another Pollard solo album, his third in the same period, and by some counts his 23rd solo set. “Honey Locust Honky Tonk” is yet another example of Pollard’s strengths, with surprisingly few diversions into his weaknesses. The 17 brief songs are lyrically cryptic and musically direct, with 44-second fragments (“I Have To Drink”), fitful ballads (“Circus Green Machines”) and full-fledged anthems (“Flash Gordon Style”), and with few half-baked lo-fi diversions. It’s no radical departure, but the already converted will find it another satisfying collection from indie-rock’s most prolific hero. ΩΩΩ (Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer)


Slaid Cleaves, “Still Fighting the War” (Music Road). Although he’s from Maine, Slaid Cleaves now hails from Austin, Texas, and he has an abiding love for the Lone Star State, as he shows on the jaunty “Texas Love Song” and “God’s Own Yodeler,” his tribute to the late, big-voiced country singer Don Walser, “the Pavarotti of the Plains.” As the album title indicates, however, Cleaves has some deeper and darker themes to explore, and the folk-country troubadour does so with his usual sharpness and grace. “Still Fighting the War” lays out the debilitating costs to veterans, “Welding Burns” is an empathetic portrait of his hardworking father, and “Rust Belt Fields” confronts bitter truths more with resignation than anger (“No one remembers your name just for working hard”). In his understated way, Cleaves is just as powerful when dealing with matters of the heart on “Without Her” and “I Bet She Does,” or pondering his own end on “Voice of Midnight,” where he declares, “I’ll take my comfort in song.” Easier to do when the songs are as good as those here. ΩΩΩ½ (Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer)


Neil Cowley Trio: “Live at Montreux 2012” (Eagle Records). You’ve never heard of Neil Cowley, you say? You’ve never heard him play? Oh yes you have. He’s the pianist on the two gigantic hit albums by Adele, which makes him as heard and beloved as any pianist you’re liable to hear. This may be the truest and best amalgam of jazz and rock that you’ve heard from an acoustic piano trio since Ramsey Lewis decided to take on the R&B classic “The In Crowd.” What Cowley does with ostinatos and pedal points is so much more raw than McCoy Tyner or any of the thousand jazz pianists playing McCoyisms, that it will take you only a couple cuts on this disc, I think, to forget the rock jazz of Bad Plus entirely. “On Rooster Was a Witness” and other tunes, Cowley’s trio is playing with a string quartet, which makes this music as well-worked out as rock. And when you hear Cowley’s positively mad bashings on single notes and chords, you’ll have no trouble understanding that he used to play with the Brand New Heavies. At the same time, there is, with all the thunder and bashing, a good deal of delicate and gossamer melodic finery on this disc. Everything about it is raw and primitive but it’s very impressive too, no matter how you’re coming to it. ΩΩΩ½ (Jeff Simon)


Mike Wofford, “It’s Personal” (Capri). And indeed it is. Mike Wofford has been one of jazz piano’s best linear thinkers for at least four decades now without ever quite amassing the reputation of a jazz star. What he does on this highly unusual solo piano disc is give you music you’d never hear this way otherwise – a solo piano version of Jackie McLean’s “Little Melonae” (where it sounds better than most horn versions), Dizzy Gillespie and Gil Fuller’s “I Waited for You,” Johnny Carisi’s “Springsville,” tributes of his own to Earl Hines, his wife, Holly, and Cole Porter. Would you believe one tune “Candle” that, according to Wofford, reminds him of the music of Morton Feldman? Well, that’s here, too. An extremely fine solo piano disc from a player usually in the shadows. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)


Hush Point (Sunnyside). I love a lot of this disc. It’s the last thing I ever thought I’d hear from advanced jazz musicians in the 21st century. What it means is that we now have conclusive proof that Jimmy Giuffre lives – not as a living, breathing musician perhaps (he died at 86 in 2008) but as a continuing influence on brainy jazz musicians who love the music he played in the ’50s, when he was proving conclusively that music of immense swing and beauty could be produced at volume levels a fraction of that produced by other bands. What you’ve got here is a quartet as pianoless as a Giuffre group, with drummer Vinne Sperazza playing brushes most of the time and trumpet player John McNeil and alto saxophonist playing together and around each other as Giuffre once did with his friend Shorty Rogers. And just in case you need reinforcement of the idea of Giuffre’s influence, there are two Giuffre tunes here: “Iranic,” which opens the disc, and the most famous Giuffre tune of all, “The Train and the River.” Do not expect jazz of swagger or raised profile of any sort (not even Milesian or MJQ-ish ballad playing). Trumpet player John McNeil, in particular, announces with every note that compared to him, even Chet Baker was a show-off virtuoso. At the same time, it’s chamber jazz of commitment, intelligence and total charm from the disc’s beginning to its end. ∆∆∆½ (J.S.)


Ailyn Perez, “Poeme d’un jour” (Opus Arte). Soprano Ailyn Perez has a voice so dusky it sounds like a mezzo. She collaborates with pianist Iain Burnside in a bouquet of sultry summer songs about love by Spanish and French composers. I grew up listening to the lieder of Strauss and Mahler, so that colors my taste, and the songs on this disc I liked most were by Reynoldo Hahn. His music is so melodic and the piano accompaniments are so simple and so good. Other songs on the disc, which include Fernando Obradors’ “Canciones clasicas espanolas” and Joaquin Turina’s “Poema en forma de canciones,” strike me as nebulous. Perhaps repeated listening will help. I am guaranteed that because this CD is stuck in my car’s stereo. I will report back. ΩΩΩ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Shirley Verrett, (Edition, three CDs). Shirley Verrett’s name isn’t heard much these days, but in the 1960s and for some time afterward, she was a major figure in the vocal world. Her stunning mezzo soprano voice, so full of strength and presence, still astounds. This triple-CD set includes “Singin’ in the Storm,” made up of songs of social consciousness; a Carnegie Hall recital from 1965 with songs of Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Aaron Copland; a disc of Spanish songs by de Falla, Granados and Turina; and a disc of sacred music by Vivaldi. The first disc is the weakest. It’s not all bad – the spiritual “O Freedom,” simply presented, is lovely. But the arrangements tend to fly off the tracks. With their melodramatic key changes and choral accompaniments, they’re too overwrought for today’s sensibilities. The lieder recital shows in a different way how fashions have changed. The songs seem slower than you hear now, and Verrett and her accompanist, Charles Wadsworth, bend the tempo as they feel like it. Notice I say “accompanist,” not today’s hip term, “collaborative pianist.” That was then, and you can tell Verrett is in charge. In Schubert’s “Serenade,” for instance, Wadsworth starts out briskly, and she imposes on him a much slower pace. Throughout the songs, Verrett’s phrasing is impeccable, and sometimes unusual. The Spanish songs, lush and sensual, are made for her voice. And she has a wonderful sense for sacred music. She has the gift of giving the music reverence without excessive solemnity. Mozart’s “Alleluja” is a joy. Verrett, who died in 2010, was a rare talent. She should be remembered, and this collection reminds you why. ΩΩΩ (M.K.G.)


Mozart, “La Betulia Liberata,” Coro e Orchestra dell’Oficina Musicum conducted by Riccardo Favero (Brilliant Classics, two discs). Here’s a Mozart classic you don’t often get to hear. “La Betulia Liberata,” based on the gripping dramatic events of the Book of Judith, was Mozart’s only oratorio. He wrote it in his mid-teens for performance in Salzburg. The liner notes to this performance, first released in 2006, do a great job of selling the music. They point out how Judith’s magnificent character shines in the rich harmonies and robust music Mozart gives her, how this drama anticipates Mozart’s great operas, and how it reflects the richness of the musical life in Salzburg. The town is often vilified, because Mozart, young and restless, wanted to get out. But Mozart would not have been Mozart without the Catholic Church, and Salzburg, a church stronghold, had a constant need for music for an endless cycle of Masses and feast days. It had rich orchestral forces, kept the Wunderkind busy writing and performing, and left him with a lifelong love of church music. The singers are no one I had heard of, but the recording was made by Italians in Italy, where “La Betulia Liberata” was commissioned. The music has an attractive light and bracing feel. Even the concluding chorus, which as the notes say could make you think of Bach chorales, shines. I could have done without the recitatives, but I guess they have to be there in the interest of completeness, and you can skip through them. This is music it would be nice to know better, not just for reasons of history, but for fun. ∆∆∆½ (M.K.G.)