David Crosby, “Croz” (Blue Castle). David Crosby’s first solo album in 20 years flies in the face of the old saw that rock’s first great generation, most of its members now in the area of 70 years of age, can do nothing but imitate past triumphs and, more often than not, fail at the effort. Crosby should be dead at this point, to say nothing of making sturdily elegant jazz-inflected folk rock of the first order – he’s been a major drug casualty, and a successful liver transplant recipient, among many other things. The odds have been against the man for a good 30 years now. And yet, with “Croz,” everything we love the man for – indelible vocal melodies, sublime harmonies, smart and sophisticated chord progressions, and a laid-back sense of the groove that screams an echo-laden “California!” from the depths of Laurel Canyon – is abundantly displayed. In fact, the album does what Crosby Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) have not been able to do in the recording studio for decades – it presents song after song that celebrate its creator’s past, instead of leaning on it as a crutch. Crosby had help here, in the form of his son, the supremely gifted James Raymond, whose piano playing provides “Croz” with much of its glimmer. (Raymond and his father perform together regularly in the band CPR.) Guest guitarist Mark Knopfler sprinkles his magic dust when called upon to do so, too, as does trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. The cameos add to “Croz’s” magic, but that magic would be there without them, because the true stars here are Crosby’s still beautiful singing and still interesting songwriting. As a solo artist, Crosby will most likely be remembered principally for the 1971 cry for help that was “If I Could Only Remember My Name,” an album that perfectly encapsulates the era in which it was birthed. “Croz” does not have the scruffy, narcoticized, first-take-is-good-enough vibe that helped make “If I Could Only Remember…” a classic – it’s instead a more polished affair. However, fans of that record will likely agree that this is some of the finest music Crosby’s name has been associated with – CPR aside – for decades. ΩΩΩ½ (Jeff Miers)

Vintage Pop

Tony Bennett, “The Classics” (RPM/Legacy, two discs). A lot of people are going to be in for a surprise here. Tony Bennett himself selected the contents of these two discs and he’s giving you the whole career here, whether people will be comfortable or not. Protoplasmic Tony Bennett was a strenuous pop balladeer who was, in some ways, close to the Michael Bolton of his day i.e. a semi-lisping figment of Mitch Miller’s anti-rock crusade known for singing notes that sounded like hernias waiting to happen. A good third of the comedians in America did full-on lisping imitations of Bennett hits. And then composer/critic Alec Wilder and his school noticed decades ago that he’d become one of the hippest protectors of the Great American Songbook we’ve ever had and ever will have. And that’s where we’ve been for the last few decades – revering this great American treasure whose early work was so different from the one we know now. His early career “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Stranger in Paradise,” “Because of You” and “Rags to Riches” are pure pop melodrama. “Blue Velvet” is years before Bobby Vinton and makes Bobby Vinton sound like a silly kid (probably the point of including it). Late-life Tony (i.e. after “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”) accounts for seven of the 17 selections on the first disc. On the second, you get excellent duets – “New York, New York” with Frank Sinatra (a song that belies his methods), “Evenin’ ” with Ray Charles, the dreaded “What A Wonderful World” with k.d. lang, “Smile” with Barbra Streisand etc. A very gutsy retrospective in its way, which is all to the good. I wish they’d found room for those great records he made with W.D. Hassett for his Improv Label e.g. his duets with Bill Evans. Even more do I wish they’d found room for Tony’s own commentary. ΩΩΩΩ (Jeff Simon)


Jeff Ballard, “Time’s Tales” (Okeh), James Brandon Lewis, “Divine Travels” (Okeh). What a remarkable way these two discs are to continue the rebirth of the Okeh label, so famous in its early 20th century heyday for giving us classics by Louis Armstrong and what were then called “race records.” A label that gave us towering early jazz and great early blues and R&B is hereby giving us some of the more ambitious records in current jazz. Drummer Jeff Ballard’s debut disc as a leader, “Time’s Tales,” is an unusual and brilliant trio disc with burning alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon and guitarist Lionel Loueke. Ballard is no kid. He just turned 50 and calls this disc, with everything from African rhythms to an avowed affection for heavy metal, “a telling of my times up until this point.” As fine as he is a drummer under other circumstances, his trio here with a couple of jazz’s younger and more creative musicians – Loueke and Zenon – is some of his (and their) best on disc. Interesting if not quite on the same level is the second disc of young tenor player James Brandon Lewis, who was born in Buffalo in 1983, was steeped in the church, studied with Carol McLaughlin, graduated from the Buffalo Academy of the Visual and Performing Arts and then met some of the best jazz has to offer at Howard University. He lives in New York now, has performed with former Buffalonian avant-garde legend Charlie Gayle as well as Dave Douglas, Marilyn Crispell, Gerald Cleaver and William Parker. Most of this is a pianoless trio with bassist Parker and drummer Cleaver and a couple cuts with poet Thomas Sayers Ellis. ΩΩΩΩ for Ballard, ΩΩΩ for Lewis. (J.S.)


Amy Cervini, “Jazz Country” (Anzic). A major charmer, this. And not exactly in any genre easily pigeonholed either. Only jazz discs record bassists as faithfully as Matt Aronoff here, but then acoustic guitarist Jesse Lewis is somewhere smack in the middle of the highway between jazz and Nashville. Drummer Matt Wilson produced it, Anat Cohen and Marty Ehrlich guest on it, but the songs are by Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Carrie Underwood and Neil Young. “Tearing down boundaries” is what Cervini calls her life work. “A reminder of Duke Ellington’s old axiom that there’s just two kinds of music, good (music) and bad (music.)” The good kind here, from start to finish. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)


Vivaldi, “The Four Seasons: The Vivaldi Album” performed by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by David Lockington (E One). A capable performance of Vivaldi’s beloved “The Four Seasons,” which epitomized the music about which Igor Stravinsky was immortally said to have remarked, “it’s not true Vivaldi wrote 500 concerti. He wrote the same concerto 500 times.” Along with it, Anne Akiko Meyers adds Arvo Part’s “Passacaglia,” which was inspired by baroque music and all three parts (in overdub) of Vivaldi’s Triple Concerto in F-major RV 551. The publicity for the disc says that the 1741 “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri violin she plays has been called “the Mona Lisa of violins” but Meyers’ own playing contains an uncomfortable amount of vibrato, I think, for this music. Other performers do it better. ΩΩ½ (J.S.)


Moeran, In the Mountain Country performed by the Ulster Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta (Naxos). As music director of the Ulster Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director JoAnn Falletta has been exploring the music of Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950), a composer with Northern Irish roots. Moeran’s music could make you think of his countryman Sir Hamilton Harty and Harty’s “Irish Symphony,” which we heard at the BPO’s season-opening gala a few years ago. I remember thinking that Harty’s music was full of reels and folk melodies but struck notes of nostalgia. Moeran’s music does something similar. His music is splashy but it also has soul. Moeran’s life was marred by tragedy. He was injured in World War I and was never the same after that, and his increasing drinking brought about the end of his marriage. Considering these misfortunes, it is remarkable that his music sparkles so much. It has its shadows and jarring moments, but its charms eclipse them. This disc begins with the extroverted “Overture for a Masque” and continues with an atmospheric six-minute piece, “In the Mountain Country.” I like how this piece begins, with a subterranean rumble and an ascending clarinet. The focal point of the disc are the Rhapsodies No. 1 and 2, as well as a third Rhapsody written in 1943 for piano and orchestra. Benjamin Frith is the pianist on this very Irish-sounding piece. The orchestration is creative and the piano interacts beguilingly with all the instruments and has some very lovely lines on its own, lines that Frith delineates with delicacy. The music is very of its era, showing the influence of Rachmaninoff as well as Irish melodies. Popular in its day, it deserves to be heard more often. ΩΩΩ½ (Mary Kunz Goldman)