Peter Gabriel: And I’ll Scratch Yours
3½ stars (Out of four)
Peter Gabriel always has been an artist concerned with “the big idea,” be it a prog-rock concept album, a complete collection where the drummer is forbidden to use cymbals, or an entire song-cycle dealing with the dissolution of a marriage. Several years ago, Gabriel initiated yet another grand concept – he’d pick a favorite song from an artist whose work he respected, interpret that song, and then ask the artist to return the favor. “Scratch My Back,” the collection of Gabriel’s interpretations of tunes by the likes of David Bowie, Paul Simon, Talking Heads and the Magnetic Fields, emerged three years ago and was an artistic and critical success. Now comes the payback.
Right off the bat, “And I’ll Scratch Yours” is notable for including one of the last recordings of Lou Reed’s life, a raw, liberal interpretation of Gabriel’s transcendent “Solisbury Hill.” Here, Reed’s uber-distorted guitar sits atop a stark drum loop. The song’s lyric – particularly the last verse, with its “You can keep my things/They’ve come to take me home” – is lent additional poignancy by Reed’s passing shortly after the recording session.
Elsewhere, David Byrne has a blast with the sinister “I Don’t Remember,” transforming Gabriel’s original tale of alienation into a synth-heavy, bubbling and gurgling funk-fest. Bon Iver gives his earnest best to the heart-rending “Come to Talk to Me,” lending a banjo roll and stark string-synth to one of Gabriel’s most gorgeous melodies. Joseph Arthur mutates “Shock the Monkey” from its original techno/art-rock guise into a dark ballad untethered to strict rhythm. Arcade Fire’s “Games Without Frontiers” suggests how powerful this band might be if it had material this strong to work with on a regular basis. Elbow delivers one of the few interpretations on “And I’ll Scratch Yours” that sticks to Gabriel’s original arrangement, and also offers the finest singing on the collection. Vocalist Guy Garvey has long displayed indebtedness to Gabriel, and this lovely version of “Mercy Street” comes across as more tender tribute than radical reinvention.
It’s a testament to the strength of Gabriel’s writing and his decades of sonic innovation that such a disparate group of artists has been able to find inspiration in his work. The songs are what endure here, their compositional and emotional resonance providing a thread of continuity through the various interpretations. This song exchange project has yielded some deeply moving results. Now, for an album of new material from Gabriel, perhaps?
– Jeff Miers
The World According to Andy Bey
In jazz’s version of its New World Order, there are so many good – and even great – singers around that many of them are actually male, despite the great preponderance being women seeking a fraction of Diana Krallhood or Norah Joneshood. Even so there is no living male jazz singer who can really compare, at his best, with the expressivity of Andy Bey.
Which is why his newest disc is both important and a disappointment. Before you listen to it, you think you’re going to be in deepest and most profound Bey territory where no other living male jazz singer resides. And that is singing and accompanying himself on piano with starkest emotional minimalism. It’s the setup of the very best Bey discs.
Take a closer look – and listen – and you’ll find that five of the songs on this disc are philosophizing originals of the sort he used to sing with Horace Silver, when Silver decided to propound his philosophy through song lyrics. To Bey’s credit, they’re not of the empty and stentorian sort of the worst of Horace back then in that unfortunate phase. But nor, for all their freedom of form, are “There’s So Many Ways to Approach the Blues” and “The Demons Are After You” a fraction as meaningful and powerful as their titles might lead you to believe.
It’s the standards – “But Not for Me,” “S’Wonderful,” and an ultra-slow “It Never Entered My Mind” – where you hear the extraordinary and haunting gift of a great jazz artist who, of course, abjures the word jazz, as so many of jazz’s artists have from Duke Ellington on.
“Dedicated to Miles” is a wordless scat confirming how great he can be outside minimalist ballads. To be sure, there is great music on this disc. It’s Bey, after all. When it’s more philosophical discourse than music, though, it’s hard not to think the great singer is getting a bit lost.
– Jeff Simon
Rick Stotijn, double bass and The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
The cover of this CD is a rather alarming picture of a dapper gentleman dancing with a svelte lady who – oh, wait, the lady is a bass! The players seem a strange group to be playing Piazzolla. Rick Stotijn is Dutch, and his colleagues are Swedish.
It works, except for when the compositions don’t. We hear a lot of Piazzolla’s “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” and I am starting to think it is overrated. Nothing against Piazzolla – I love “Oblivion” and some of his other pieces – but his “Four Seasons” grow grating. On the other hand the Divertimento Concertanto for Double Bass and Orchestra by movie composer Nino Rota remains a pleasure all the way through, with its delicate orchestration and colorful bass part. Stotijn and the Swedes give it a lighthearted, airy feel, nicely balancing the solo bass with the various woodwinds so no one instrument jumps rudely out at you.
The mood changes completely for Six Popular Spanish Songs, by Manuel de Falla, arranged for harp and double bass. You will want to adjust your set – the volume that worked for the Rota won’t work for this. Once you adjust, though, it’s pretty music, with the double bass much more lyrical than you would expect. It’s like a deep cello, and Stotijn handles it beautifully.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
It’s not exactly a new story: that if you played any number of cuts on this disc for a 21st century jazz listener in a blindfold test, our phantom listener wouldn’t necessarily guess whether it was recorded last January (which it was) or 40 Januarys ago.
Not that bad a thing really, any more than, say, a suspense movie would be if it looked just like a Don Siegel movie. Tim Warfield is a tenor player Art Blakey would have liked and so is Herb Harris, who contributes vocal falsetto obligatos and two straight vocals to the disc along with his robust tenor.
Sure, there’s a bit of “outside” gruffness to some of the tenor playing here (these are men who’ve heard their Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders), but it’s straight-ahead mainstream post-bebop as it has been since the mid-’60s. It swings and gets the job done.
Harris produced the disc, wrote the songs and clearly inspired Warfield, one of the best tenor saxophonists in current jazz, though not one we hear on disc these days often enough. It doesn’t hurt to have Kevin Hays (one of Sonny Rollins’ favorites these days) on piano, either.