Jack White is starting to sound an awful lot like the neighborhood curmudgeon, the old crank sitting on his front porch with a 40-ounce bottle of cheap beer, screaming “Get off my lawn!” at the kids. On “Lazaretto,” his second solo album-proper, White comes off like a mess, a man coming apart at the seams, angry at the world and befuddled by its ways. The disorganized heap of songs that comprise this new album sound as if the prime motivation behind their creation was not love, or art, or even money, but simply plain old spite.
And yet, this is some of White’s best work, as contradictory as such a statement might sound. He is, after all, a hoarder, a collector of the ephemera of some bygone age that may or may not have existed, when the men dressed like gangsters, women hung around as lovely arm-dressing, and the guitars were made from materials you could pick up at the local junkyard. White’s notion of “authenticity” seems to prize the urgency of punk, the primal intensity of dirty blues and the offhanded arrogance of garage-rock naiveté above all things. He’s not so much a composer as he is a rearranger of previously existing artifacts. So the Elmore James-meets-the-MC-5 strut and grind of “Lazaretto’s” opener, “Three Women,” is White doing what White does best. It’s a trifle of a song, and its lyrics – which seem to boast of the narrator having women in various ports of call, though it’s not at all likely White is being autobiographical here since he tends to favor play-acting over personal revelation as a lyricist – are close to banal. But it has an abundance of gritty, greasy and grimy charm.
The balance of the album finds White in full-on howling garage-blues persona, and features some truly disturbing guitar playing, of the sort that might peel the paint off your walls. (This is one of White’s true gifts – his ability to channel rage through blistering blues-based guitar solos played on junk-shop guitars.) The odd bits of balladry offer balance for an album that favors the explosively disgusting guitars propelling “High Ball Stepper” or the shock therapy disguised as music that is the gloriously greasy title tune. “Just One Drink” is White getting his “Exile On Main St.” on, and it works. “Alone In My Room” is slightly off-kilter roots music with one of the album’s strongest melodies gracing a fairly conventional song structure. “Want and Able” sends the listener on his way with the closest thing we’re likely to get from White resembling genuine tenderness.
– Jeff Miers
The Original Mob
You might well ask “how did the drummer on ‘Kind of Blue’ – the classic jazz record of all classic jazz records – wind up leading a band with the jazz pianist generally thought to be the greatest of his generation?”
Simple, as drummer Jimmy Cobb explains it about what he considers the “original” of several Cobb bands called Cobb’s Mob.
He was teaching at New York’s New School some 20 years ago and, “I’d pick some tunes and the guys would pick some tunes and we’d let everybody play as much as possible. Then I would critique what I thought they needed to do. That’s how I met Peter Bernstein and Brad Mehldau. Peter I was attracted to right away because I thought he sounded a little to me like Grant Green and I thought that was kind of unusual for a young guy … I’d ask (Brad) to play every time because he kind of sounded like Wynton Kelly to me.”
Through bassist John Webber, they got a gig at the Village Gate and, voila, the very first of Jimmy Cobb’s Cobb’s Mobs. And then Mehldau went and got himself famous, which kind of ended his role as a sideman.
But here’s a quartet with the old drum master and three young musicians who revere his history with Miles Davis and in that great quartet with Wes Montgomery and Wynton Kelly. Here they all are from February in Smoke Jazz Club and you’ll notice two immediate things. First, how genially supportive Mehldau is as a “sideman” in this group. (He, like the others, only gets one composition on the record; Cobb gets two). And most significantly, how much more prominent and aggressive Cobb is in his ninth decade on earth. No more laid-back playing behind the beat the way he did with immortality in Davis’ groups. This is a master of his instrument with players he’s having a grand time with taking a role both prominent and creative as can be, without overwhelming anyone.
Great multigenerational jazz.
– Jeff Simon
Soloists, Academic Choir and Symphony Orchestra of the All-Union Radio
[Melodya, 2 CDs]
Russian music has a special hallucinogenic streak all its own. And the wonderful and underappreciated composer and piano virtuoso Anton Rubinstein found a wonderful subject to capitalize on this strength: a demon from hell who falls in love with a Georgian princess.
You know the drama won’t end well. Just to give an impression of what is in store, peripheral cast members are identified as “Evil spirits, angels, voices of nature, Georgians, Tatars” – and the crashing choruses and brooding arias live up to that promise.
Conducted by Boris Khaikin, the music grips you from the word go, with its dire opening triplets, rising and falling, sweeping and plunging. It is fun to listen while contemplating Rubinstein’s sternly focused face. He looked like Beethoven, and he let the rumors swirl that he was Beethoven’s illegitimate son. This opera is a wonderful period piece and so evocative of czarist Russia. The recording was made in 1974, but the sound is alive.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
Weird Scenes from Inside the Gold Mine
[Rhino/Elektra, two discs]
Time hasn’t been as kind to the Doors as it might have been. “Weird Scenes from Inside the Gold Mine” was the second Doors compilation album released after Jim Morrison’s death and this, its first appearance on compact disc, comes a year after the death of keyboardist Ray Manzarek.
In the cold light of a new musical millennium, “Strange Days” doesn’t sound all that strange anymore. On the other hand, courtesy of the incendiary once-visionary napalm finale of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse, Now,” “The End” has a huge zeitgeist resonance it doesn’t entirely deserve strictly from the music alone. (“All of the children are insane/waiting for the summer rain” is a couplet that desperately needed history for italics.)
Poet/celebrant/self-immolator Morrison, too, loses a bit in the transition from the group’s best (“L.A. Woman,” “Riders on the Storm,” “Love Her Madly,” “Break On Through”) to its very middling middle (“Who Scared You,” “Love Street”). Morrison, oddly, is better in the middle the cruder he is: “(You Need Meat) Don’t Go No Further” and “Maggie McGill.” If he hadn’t been in such a hurry to “take the highway to the end of the night,” we would never have lionized him for thinking “music is your only friend/until the end.”
He was a good poet (“cancel my subscription to the resurrection”) who was so interested in his own end that he seemed a much better one just by dying. He’s imprisoned by his era and place now – not a terrible place to be but maybe you don’t want to think too long and hard about what might have become of him if he’d had the misfortune of growing old.