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Young the Giant

Mind Over Mattter

[Fueled by RamEn]

3 ½ stars

I’ve been blindsided. There was just no way to be prepared for the growth exhibited by Young the Giant between the band’s 2010 debut and “Mind Over Matter,” its sophomore nod. That first record had its moments, to be sure, but its default setting seemed to be an only slightly above run-of-the-mill alternative rock. The eccentricities littered scattershot through the record were anomalous, and didn’t seem to be pointing in any specifically northward direction.

And yet, here’s “Mind Over Matter,” a record that sees this California band leaping from undistinguished C student to top of the honor roll in the mere three years between its debut effort and this epic-leaning collection.

YTG has a formidable weapon in singer Sameer Gadhia. He is unassuming on the concert stage, but throughout “Mind Over Matter,” oozes a blend of confidence and creativity that acts as an emotional conduit to the heart of the music. Gadhia moves between earnest tenor and keening falsetto with ease and grace – see the wonderfully surprising bridge that helps to make “Anagram” a brilliant slab of progressive pop music – and he is able to follow the abundant harmonic and rhythmic shifts favored by his bandmates with a seemingly offhand assurance throughout the album.

The twin guitars of Jacob Tilley and Eric Canata create a subtle wash of arpeggios and angular rhythms, but with each listen, you’re drawn deeper into their web. Witness the 5-plus minute “Firelight,” a veritable master class in understatement and the art of unfolding. The guitars lead the way here, in a manner not unlike the modus operandi espoused by the National on last year’s “Trouble Will Find Me.”

There are not many bands from YTG’s generation that have been able to display the sort of growth writ large by “Mind Over Matter.” Are the band’s peers simply not trying hard enough? Do they lack the talent? Is growth and forward-motion not a part of their vision? Who knows. But for the musical class of 2014, the bar has been raised substantially by “Mind Over Matter.” “Good, but not great” is no longer good enough.

– Jeff Miers

Jazz

Arild Andersen

Mira

[ECM]

3½ stars

Funny thing about Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen. At age 68, his international profile has been raised to the highest point it has probably ever been. And that’s despite his near ubiquity in European jazz over the decades and frequent appearances on ECM.

Which is another way of saying that Andersen’s discs in America, since his 2008 pianoless trio disc “Live at Belleville,” have been making their biggest impact in the last couple of years. When ECM celebrated its 40th anniversary, it was Andersen’s large orchestral composition “Celebration” (conducted by Scottish tenor player Tommy Smith) that was the ECM celebration year’s signature disc.

Andersen and Smith are obviously a gilt-edged mutual admiration society. This is Andersen’s pianoless trio in its first studio recording. The drummer, as always, is Paolo Vinaccio.

What is so impressive on this ballad disc is not only the hugely underrated playing by tenor saxophonist Smith, but the unusual focus on the non-virtuoso bassist leader. That gives the saxophone trio sans harmony instrument a completely different form from what we’ve become used to in the discs of Sonny Rollins and his worshipful progeny.

The constant emphasis on the bassist’s stately lines against the tenor’s improvisations on ballads and midtempo swingers gives it all a rare sound. And Smith is superb no matter what he’s playing – Andersen’s tunes, “Alfie,” Japanese shakuhachi flute.

Vinaccia is solidly atmospheric, but this stately show is all Smith’s and Andersen’s. Superb.

– Jeff Simon

Jazz

Barbara Levy Daniels

Love Lost and Found

[BDL Productions]

3½ stars

Barbara Levy Daniels was 12 when Ray Charles, asked to hear her audition, told the record label to sign her right away. Performing under the name Barbara Lyons, she traveled between Buffalo and New York City, where her projects included recording a children’s album for Woody Herman’s bass player, Chubby Jackson. Now, as the liner notes to this record put it, “she is performing regularly again, having graced stages as nearby as New York State and as distant as Cuba and Vietnam.”

Levy Daniels always has been a reliably good singer, but now she is sounding better than ever. Her voice has depth and is under control, and she shapes her notes and phrases with a natural, conversational grace. She has a crackerjack group led by pianist John DiMartino, whose feather-light touch frames her nicely. Cornetist Warren Vache is commendable because he does not dominate. He plays often with a mute and always poetically. Guitarist Paul Meyers, bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi complete the group.

The repertoire, all romantic standards, is just enough off the beaten track to be interesting. The blue “It’s the Talk of the Town” is something you don’t hear too often, and Levy Daniels sings it mournfully against muted tones from Vache. Rodgers and Hart’s “My Heart Stood Still” is another undersung gem. I was hoping for a slow “There Will Never Be Another You.” I’m not asking it be a dirge, but I don’t understand why vocalists always insist on singing this sad song in an uptempo, peppy style. But there is a lot that’s affecting about this record, which ends with a nostalgic “For All We Know.” The singer’s husband, Errol Daniels, took the beautiful picture of her on the cover.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

Jazz/Broadway

Donna Vivino

Beautiful Dreamer

[Ghostlight Records]

3 stars

Broadway singer Donna Vivino made her debut at age 8 as young Cosette in “Les Miserables,” but is better known more recently as Elphaba in “Wicked.” She has a voice that’s high and clear, and from her Broadway experience Vivino knows how to make it sound strong or fragile as the situation demands.

She does a lovely job with standards like “My Romance,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” – all conventional arrangements, but well done. Vivino also does an affecting job with two mournful pop numbers, an ultra-slow “Rainy Days and Mondays” – an unconventional, inspired choice – and Randy Newman’s lovely “When She Loved Me.”

On the other hand, I couldn’t stand the funky “Over the Rainbow.” It’s contrary to the spirit of the song, which would have been so pretty if she had just sung it straight. The frenetic “Castle on a Cloud,” too, doesn’t make the most of Vivino’s talents. Jerry Vivino plays the flute and he wants to do that growly, funky stuff with it, which must be why those songs were there. Jerry Vivino also plays tenor sax and clarinet and you hear a lot from him throughout the album. Finally, Vivino does sing Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer,” just her and a piano and the ubiquitous flute, and it’s very pretty.

– M.K.G.