The Afghan Whigs
“Do the Beast”
No one this side of Nick Cave does rock noir like Greg Dulli.
Dulli and the Afghan Whigs emerged from the same soil as what came to be known as grunge, but there was always something exceedingly sinister – more hypnagogic, less druggy – about Dulli and the Whigs. That something set the band apart from its peers, with the possible exception of Mark Lanegan and Screaming Trees. It also didn’t hurt that Dulli was weaned on old-school R&B and Motown, a fact that always provided the Whigs with an unstudied soulfulness lacking in self-consciousness.
We thought the Whigs were done, for good, but a thoroughly unexpected gig shared with Usher during last year’s SXSW Festival lit a fire under Dulli, and voila, we now have “Do the Beast,” the first Afghan Whigs album in 16 years.
And a beast of an album it is. Moody, dark, sometimes disconcertingly intimate, this is Dulli at his creepy best, howling in a nicotine-damaged rasp or whispering menacingly in a melodically contoured near-croon, as the song demands.
Everything is in place, except for the presence of original Whigs guitarist Rick McCollum, who appears to be wrestling with personal demons at present. Dulli accounts for what could have been a considerable hole in the guitar department by crafting some of the most involved arrangements of his career. He also has a few guests stop by, to add sugar to the strong black coffee that is his singing voice, among them Van Hunt and Joseph Arthur.
One of the many projects Dulli has been involved in since the original demise of the Whigs is the Twilight Singers. That band’s 2004 release “She Loves You” offered an incredibly doomed and evocative take on Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” that might be seen as the template for much of what comprises “Do the Beast.”
The Dulli-McCollum guitar interplay may be missing, but it is largely made up for by Dulli’s flair for the sonically cinematic. Witness the sinister strut of “Parked Outside,” the twisted take on 1960s pop that is the falsetto-inflected “Algiers,” or the grimy soul-rock that informs “The Lottery,” all of which sound like severely amped-up Twilight Singers tracks. And that’s a compliment.
Most reunions of bands from bygone eras feel gratuitous, forced, cash-grabby. Not this one. “Do the Beast” smacks of vitality.
– Jeff Miers
A great jazz disc predicated on one of the most heartening jazz revivals in many years. In consort with some newly released music from Jimmy Giuffre’s early ’60s trio, here is much-praised current trumpeter, composer and jazz thinker Dave Douglas paying tribute to the music of the great Giuffre, which has persisted since the ’50s being one of the hardiest underground enthusiasms in all of jazz.
Douglas discovered that tenor saxophonist Chet Doxas harbored a mutual reverence for Giuffre’s music. Doxas for Giuffre’s early ’60s trio with bassist Steve Swallow and pianist Paul Bley, Douglas for the Giuffre trio with Bob Brookmeyer and Jim Hall. (Says Douglas: “Showed how a band can swing so hard without always being driven by the drums or playing ferociously energetic all the time. That trio was so smooth.”)
So here playing irresistible versions of Giuffre classics like “The Train and the River” and his famous version of “Travelin’ Light” are musicians also playing some new Douglas and Doxas compositions. Swallow plays bass for them and Doxas’ drummer brother Jim evens the pianoless quartet out in a way that honors Giuffre’s huge but subtle propulsion. Terrific stuff.
– Jeff Simon
“Beautiful Jazz: A Private Concert”
French pianist Jacob has been one of the most beautiful pianists post-Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett for a long time. What has obscured him somewhat until his first solo piano disc is that he was the pianist and music director for a while for Tierney Sutton, whose brilliance as a jazz singer has been to fit in with Jacob’s arrangements as if she were part of the band and not the “star” singer. He’s now working with Betty Buckley. In the past, he’s played with everyone from Flora Purim to Benny Golson.
For his first solo disc playing a Hamburg Steinway Model D in Los Angeles, “I thought it would be interesting to work on some of the music that initially drew me to jazz. ‘Tea for Two’ because it was the first song I learned to improvise on. ‘My Romance,’ ‘I’m Old Fashioned’ and ‘One Note Samba’ because they take me back to when I was first studying jazz.”
To make sure you really know all corners of his frame of reference, there’s a buoyant performance of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” along with Igor Stravinsky’s F-Major Etude no. 4.
Mozart Piano Concertos 14 and 27
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Neville Marriner
These are straightforward, polished, conservative performances no one can argue with. Jacoby plays these beautiful concertos straight and with impressive precision. There is such a thing as being weighed down with too much precision, and sometimes her articulation is so studied that it verges on ponderous. I got that feeling in the last movement of No. 14, a concerto I love. Though the slow movement is gorgeous, the tempo of the last is just a touch too slow for me, and between that and Jacoby’s correctness, the music never takes wing. Good for them for including this concerto, though, as well as the Rondo K. 382. The sound is rich and warm.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
“Graceland: Recorded Live On Stage in Memphis”
[RCA Victor/Legacy two discs]
The disc doesn’t say “Elvis Presley” on it, merely “Elvis.” Who else would it be recording on stage in Memphis in 1974 with a picture of Elvis’ manse Graceland? Added to the original vinyl version on this deluxe two-disc package are all kinds of prime-time rarities from 1974, including all the tracks not originally included in concert at the Richmond Coliseum on March 18, 1974, and five tracks recorded in Hollywood in August that were meant as “reference tracks” for a Memphis gig. How can you resist Elvis in rehearsal asking his musicians “Well, what can we screw up next?” and playing with lyrics? The Elvis in Memphis concert rocks and rocks hard on home turf. You’re listening to a reasonably happy man with a bloodstream that’s letting him do his work and do it well.