‘Let England Shake’ is a gorgeous collection that taps into some very unlikely sources for rock music — the rise, fall, and stasis of Britain through the ages.
Bach Partitas 3, 4 & 6
(Azica) The pianist Jeremy Denk made a tremendous impression with Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata in a recital at Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival last summer. Now he seems to be everywhere. He released a powerful yet poetic recording of that work in October on his own label, Think Denk Media, and now Azica Records has issued his absorbing reading of Bach’s Third, Fourth, and Sixth Keyboard Partitas. You may not love his Bach interpretations, but you ought to hear them anyway. This is Bach viewed through the prism of what a piano can do, and when Denk is seated at the keyboard a piano can do a great deal indeed. Tone and articulation rule the day here, both rendered with consummate shading and control when he is at his best. That best is to be found in the Third and Sixth Partitas, which happen to be in minor keys and respond most effectively to the dramatic slant of his approach. In the Fourth, which is infused with subtle French style, he seems a tad precious, inclined to impose more on the score than it can comfortably bear. But the minor-key suites are brilliantly conceived and sharply polished, and the disc builds to a gripping account of the Gigue of the Sixth Partita, in which Denk’s intellectual posture seems perfectly matched to Bach’s bizarre, futuristic counterpoint. — James M. Keller
MOGWAI Hardcore Will Never Die, but You Will ( Sub Pop) One of the first things you notice about Mogwai’s awesomely titled Hardcore Will Never Die, but
You Will is that the Scottish band really knows how to use a studio. This is an album that’s meant to be played loud, and not just because it rocks — and it most assuredly rocks — but because increased volume reveals deeper textures. You’ll frequently find hidden sounds and buried countermelodies that enhance the overall power of the composition. Unfortunately, the music occasionally sounds dated. Some bits, like the electric metronome and computerized vocals in standout track “Mexican Grand Prix,” sound like what the imagined future of music sounded like back in the late 1990s, rather than what music sounds like now. It’s worth noting that Mogwai was at the forefront of futuristic rock back then, and elements like the majestic sway and stomp of “Rano Pano” will no doubt remind fans of — or introduce new listeners to — the band’s greatness. There are juicy cuts to be found on Hardcore, particularly those that prioritize the rhythm section, but it all feels so familiar that it’s hard not to wish the band had used its studio prowess to show us something new. — Robert B. Ker PJ HARVEY Let England Shake ( Island/ Def Jam) Recorded in a 19th-century clifftop church in Dorset, this new album by PJ Harvey finds the hard-rocking chanteuse digging deep into centuries of England’s history. “Goddam’ Europeans/ Take me back to England/ And the grey, damp filthiness of ages,” she sings in “The Last Living Rose.” This beautiful album fuses clanging guitars and American 12-bar blues with a deep and poetic sense of medieval British history in a way that hasn’t really been done since Led Zeppelin’s heyday. Much of the lyric writing is top-notch, and Harvey comes across as an indie-rock Philip Larkin locked in a love-hate relationship with her mother country. In the album’s title track, she croons, “The West’s asleep / Let England shake/ Weighted down with silent dead.” While there’s a return to the stripped-bare style of her 1993 classic Rid of Me, Harvey also experiments with a surreal palette of world-music styles. Russian folk-music stylings show up on “In the Dark Places,” while Irish military bugle calls play over the angular guitars on “The Glorious Land.” On “England,” Harvey samples the haunting vocals of early-20th-century Iraqi singer Said El Kurdi. This is a gorgeous collection that taps into some very unlikely sources for rock music — the rise, fall, and stasis of Britain through the ages.
— Casey Sanchez
BENITO GONZALEZ Circles (Furthermore) If you love your jazz piano à la McCoy Tyner, try this CD by a true disciple. Benito Gonzalez, born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, grew up grooving on Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Bud Powell, but the Tyner influence is crystal clear when you listen to Circles, his second disc. “People talk about McCoy Africanizing the piano, making it a percussion instrument,” Gonzalez says, “and I feel very comfortable playing in that style. It feels very natural.” The Circles band is dynamite. Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and bassist Christian McBride keep the stew simmering and popping for Gonzalez and the album’s rotating horn players. On the exhilarating title track, it’s Myron Walden on alto (at one point heralding in the heights with wild trills) and Ron Blake on tenor. On “Taurus,” tenor saxophonist Azar Lawrence gets his chance, taking turns flying with the leader, who channels Tyner with pounding block chords contrasting with breakneck, arpeggiate work in the right hand. “Elvin’s Sight” has Lawrence waxing Coltrane-ish with cascading “sheets of sound.” With a few exceptions — “Let’s Talk About You and Me” is slightly more restrained and lyrical, “Faces” a synthy interlude, and “Elise” a lovely song for Gonzalez’s daughter — the remainder of the work here ( including an arrangement of Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner,” the only non-Gonzalez composition) continues the adventure begun at the top. — Paul Weideman