Magna Carta Holy Grail
It’s possible to pare down the gist of “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” the 12th solo studio album from New York rapper/businessman/new dad Jay-Z, to three simple words uttered in a track called “Tom Ford.” “I’m so special,” declares the rapper, 43, and anyone who stayed up late to hear the record, issued first through a computer app available only to owners of a particular brand of smartphone, isn’t in a position to argue. He’s the man who can sell a million records with a minion’s flip of a switch.
In addition to his wife being Beyonce, what kind of “so special” is the man born Shawn Carter, exactly? Oh, he could go on and on. “It’s Bordeauxs and Burgundies,” he explains (dismissing Riesling in the process), while a minimal rhythm snaps around him. He later adds that he’s the type of guy who’ll spend “all my euros on tuxes and weird clothes – I party with weirdos.” Jay-Z partying with weirdos is always a good thing, especially if said sonic freak is Timbaland, a producer responsible for some of the best beats of the past two decades. The team is best known for an early Jay-Z classic, “Big Pimpin’,” among others, but they had a falling out a few years ago. They’ve reconciled and harnessed this creative juice to construct some truly cool tracks – while lyrically traveling the world.
Throughout “MCHG,” beats jiggle with synthetic energy courtesy of the master of genre. Combined and at their best, as on “BBC” and “Heaven,” the producer and rapper move with the coordination of expert magicians juggling champagne bottles and knives.
They sample Biggie Smalls’ grunt on “Jay-Z Blue,” and its effect is spine-tingling. Justin Timberlake cameos and quotes from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the opening track. Jay-Z cites a line of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” on “Heaven,” begins the awesome “Versus” with a line from A Tribe Called Quest. He samples Faye Dunaway’s “No wire hangers ever!” meltdown from the film “Mommie Dearest.”
The lyricist also juggles names: Over a 16-song album that could have been cut to a dozen, Jay namedrops Julius Caesar, Pablo Picasso, Lucky Luciano, Mark Rothko, Billie Holiday, Jean-Michel Basquiat (and his graffiti alter-ego SAMO), Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson and the “Mona Lisa.” He rhymes “Leonardo da Vinci flows” with “Riccardo Tisci Givenchy clothes.” But to what end? Other than to amaze us with his opulence, good fortune and undeniable skills, the answer is elusive. Despite its name, “Magna Carta Holy Grail” seems unconcerned with delving too deeply into either the democracy or the faith that the two objects symbolize. It certainly is shimmering, heavy and at times sonically stunning, and Jay-Z can toss a brilliant metaphor like it’s nothing. But a true masterpiece harnesses intellect and adventure to push forward not only musically but also thematically. Which is to say, sure, call it a Picasso – but just don’t compare it to “Guernica.”
– Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
Deep, deeper, deepest: Daughn Gibson’s baritone rumbles low, way down in Waylon Jennings-Sleepy LaBeef territory. He has a resume suited to a country-noir experimentalist tough guy. He used to man the counter in an adult bookstore, work as a long-haul trucker and play drums in the heavy-rock band Pearls & Brass, back when he went by his given name, Josh Martin. “Me Moan” is his second solo album. Sometimes Gibson’s stylized, stentorian delivery gets lugubrious (see “All My Days Off”). But he has a way with a melody and an alternately jaundiced and bemused eye for the seedy underbelly of this sordid existence, and “Me Moan” is a grower.
— Dan DeLuca (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Spirit of Sound
Feel free to impart a nice decorous “wow” if so inclined. Especially when the extraordinary bassist Charnett Moffett plays “Lonely Woman” by his drummer father’s old friend and most important employer, Ornette Coleman.
A “cinematic free/world/jazz adventure” they’re actually calling this thing which is, perhaps, a wee bit more gilding than this lily ought to have to suffer. But the disc is exceptional for a very simple reason: Moffett is such a remarkable bass player that the tedium that so often encompasses records by jazz bassists simply doesn’t begin to apply here.
He’s playing all kinds of basses here – upright acoustic, piccolo bass guitar, fretless electric. Add Indian drones, first-rate piano solos by the estimable Marc Cary and strong tenor saxophone playing by Oran Etkin and you’ve got a rare bassist’s disc indeed.
It’s very much a Moffett family product. Says Charnett “My son Max, who plays drums and who co-produced this project with me, studied drums with his grandfather Charles at a very early age. My daughter Amareia is one of the featured vocalists ... And my wife Angela provided a beautiful foundation for it all with the tamboura.”
One of Moffett’s best.
– Jeff Simon
It’s the great American tenor saxophonist’s tradition: If you’re feeling unappreciated in America and want to experience love go to Scandinavia. Stan Getz did it, Ben Webster and Dexter Gordon, too.
The latest is, perhaps, the most relaxed tenor saxophone melodist America has at the moment, Scott Hamilton, whose warm, breathy tone takes off from Webster and Buddy Tate and plays music whose sweet and lovely lyricism avoids urgency as if it were some sort of terrible jazz indiscretion which shouldn’t be permitted among grown musicians.
Hamilton first visited Sweden 30 years ago. What he does here is play with some fine Swedish musicians (especially pianist Jan Lundgren) on a whole program of tunes associated with Sweden. And if that sounds as if it guarantees a highly recondite form of jazz tedium on disc, the disc is quite the opposite – a definite charmer of mainstream jazz that’s timeless now and would have been timeless 50 years ago.
The young it-pianist Conrad Tao annoyed me recently with his pretentious CD “Voyages.” This modest disc makes me appreciate him more. Gordon Getty, the octogenarian composer/oil tycoon, writes witty and often lovely music that looks backward to the 19th century. You can do that when you’re an oil tycoon, thumb your nose at academia.
Of course you also need talent to write music in the style of Schumann, Ravel and other masters whose inspirations shine in Getty’s work. Tao’s crisp precise playing brings out the music’s arch sweetness and makes a strong case for how good it is. I could see the components of the “Homework Suite,” music dating from Getty’s student days, entering the mainstream repertoire, as a curiosity and on its own merits. I admire Tao for championing this music. However handsomely he may have been paid – you have to wonder – it’s revolutionary to be associated with a composer who writes, as Getty does: “Whatever it was that the great Victorian composers and poets were trying to achieve, that’s what I’m trying to achieve, and in pretty much the same language.”
– Mary Kunz Goldman