cd re­views

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JaMIe lIdell Brad Mehldau

High­way Rider (None­such)

High­way Rider, pi­anist-com­poser Brad Mehldau’s sec­ond date with pop pro­ducer Jon Brion (the first was on 2002’s Largo) will frus­trate at­tempts to name a “best track.” Per­haps it’s the ex­tended “We’ll Cross the River To­gether,” a richly episodic piece full of ex­cit­ing or­ches­tra-pi­ano tex­tures. Yes, this two-CD set in­cludes a full or­ches­tra, con­ducted by Dan Cole­man, sup­ple­ment­ing Mehldau’s well-known trio with bassist Larry Gre­nadier and ei­ther Jeff Bal­lard or Matt Cham­ber­lain on drums. Sax­o­phon­ist Joshua Red­man plays on most songs. “Don’t Be Sad” opens in solemn, solo-pi­ano mode, Mehldau del­i­cately poignant, and then ex­pands into a cheer­ful, soar­ing theme, the or­ches­tral strings lay­ered with Red­man’s tenor search­ings. The quiet, puls­ing ti­tle track has the leader play­ing a light, stately theme in de­light­ful coun­ter­point. His solo is pure Mehldau, with fleet arpeg­gios, sin­gle-note re­peats, and mul­ti­ple soft ven­tur­ings, all es­tab­lish­ing a kind of mag­i­cal mood that be­comes more fer­vent be­fore the end. On “The Fal­con Will Fly Again,” Mehldau is con­tra­pun­tally bouncy, and Red­man takes flights on reedy so­prano, while a seg­ment re­plete with loose, joy­ful vo­cals is rem­i­nis­cent of the mu­sic of Maria Schneider. An­other strong ref­er­ence ap­pears in “Now You Must Climb Alone,” a purely or­ches­tral piece that re­calls the dis­so­nant, mys­te­ri­ous beauty of Charles Ives. Mehldau’s writ­ing for strings is pow­er­ful and lush. This is in­spired, in­ter­est­ing mu­sic. — Paul Wei­de­man

Com­pass (Warp records) Jamie Lidell has never suf­fered from a lack of con­fi­dence. It takes hubris for a white singer from Eng­land to em­u­late the likes of Otis Red­ding, and even more to make it work by sheer force of per­son­al­ity. On Com­pass, Lidell at­tempts his most dar­ing feat yet: he gets ugly. Gone is the gor­geous pro­duc­tion that helped his ear­lier work soar — in its place is a grimy hash of bass gui­tar and drums recorded at lev­els that al­ways seem to be on the verge of clip­ping. On “Your Sweet Boom,” Lidell even dis­torts his golden voice un­til it’s al­most like rusty cop­per. Is it the soul-mu­sic an­swer to The Flam­ing Lips’ Em­bry­onic? It of­ten sounds that way. It’s also Lidell’s best ef­fort yet, an ad­ven­tur­ous set of songs that never feels overly rev­er­en­tial in the way his work of­ten does, even as it touches on Marvin Gaye’s ca­sual cool or Ste­vie Won­der’s in­tri­cate bal­ladry. The only downer is when Lidell re­sorts to shout­ing rather than sing­ing. His deeper tones are much more pleas­ing than his up­per reg­is­ter, but he still in­sists on oc­ca­sion­ally belt­ing it out. On the fi­nal track he takes the op­po­site ap­proach, clos­ing the al­bum with tape hiss and a faint whis­per. For a crooner like Lidell, it’s a bold choice, and a beau­ti­ful fi­nale.

— Robert Ben­ziker

SlaSh Slash (dik hayd records)

It takes hubris for

Jamie Lidell, a white singer

from Eng­land, to em­u­late

the likes of Otis Red­ding,

and even more to

make it work.

Tophat­ted for­mer Guns N’ Roses gui­tarist Slash has re­leased his first of­fi­cial solo al­bum. On it, he proves that he can still rock as hard as he did when GNR was de­cent — you know, be­fore the 17-year pro­duc­tion of the band’s fi­nal al­bum, 2008’s sur­pris­ingly good Chi­nese Democ­racy. Slash’s gui­tar play­ing hasn’t suf­fered with the pass­ing of time, and here we’re privy to some of his best fret­work since 1987’s Ap­petite for De­struc­tion. From blues, pop­punk, and metal to stan­dard hard rock and acous­tic in­die folk, Slash re­mains at the top of his game. Each of the al­bum’s 14 tracks in­cludes a guest vo­cal­ist. For­mer GNR bassist and cur­rent Vel­vet Re­volver band mate Duff McKa­gan makes an ap­pear­ance with Dave Grohl (Foo Fight­ers) on “Watch This Dave.” The hard­est-rock­ing tracks are hit or miss, and the wildly vary­ing qual­ity of fea­tured-artist vo­cals is to blame. “Ghost” with vo­cals by The Cult singer Ian Ast­bury teases and pleases with its an­themic, 4/4-sig­na­ture rock­a­bil­ity. Rocco DeLuca’s breathy, vi­brato-flecked so­prano voice matches beau­ti­fully with Slash’s acous­tic work on “Saint Is a Sin­ner Too.” Un­for­tu­nately, Ozzy Ozbourne’s frog-throated con­tri­bu­tion to “Cru­cify the Dead” and An­drew Stock­dale’s (Wolf­mother) sing­ing — scream­ing, ac­tu­ally — on “By the Sword” are unin­spired. Mak­ing up for these weak­nesses are Motör­head front­man Lemmy Kilmis­ter’s gut­tural rants on “Doc­tor Al­ibi” and Iggy Pop’s cus­tom­ar­ily sneer­ing, ni­hilis­tic rage on the al­bum closer, “We’re All Gonna Die.” — Rob DeWalt

BIBer Mensa Sonora (Cedille) The mid-Baroque com­poser Hein­rich Ig­naz Franz von Biber is most ven­er­ated for works con­nected to re­li­gious prac­tice, such as his sump­tu­ous Masses and his med­i­ta­tions on the rosary cast as vi­o­lin sonatas. But he also pro­duced sec­u­lar pieces for his em­ployer, the prince-arch­bishop of Salzburg. The most in­stantly en­gag­ing of these are the six in­stru­men­tal suites he pub­lished in 1682 un­der the ti­tle Mensa Sonora (Mu­si­cal Ta­ble), in­tended to ac­com­pany courtly din­ing. Since not all of us keep mu­si­cians at the ready in our din­ing rooms, this en­chant­ing CD may prove as use­ful as it is el­e­gant. The suites, com­pris­ing dance move­ments and “sonati­nas” of strik­ing in­ven­tion, com­bine whimsy with warmth and qual­ify as feel-good Baroque mu­sic of un­mis­tak­ably high cal­iber. They are usu­ally con­sid­ered cham­ber works, but Baroque Band, a pe­riod-in­stru­ment group founded in Chicago in 2007 by the Bri­tish vi­o­lin­ist Garry Clarke, ex­am­ines these suites in a new light as or­ches­tral pieces. The en­sem­ble is tech­ni­cally im­pres­sive and mu­si­cally in­sight­ful, with the larger forces adding heft with­out sac­ri­fic­ing trans­parency. The re­lease also in­cludes Biber’s fa­mous La Bat­talia, a wild and wacky piece that de­picts episodes of war­fare, from the assem­bly of the troops to the laments of the wounded mus­ke­teers. — James M. Keller

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