JAZZ ORCHESTRA Treelines
( Justin Time) A significant big-band album with few notices in the U.S. (no mention, inexplicably, at allmusic.com or allaboutjazz.com), Treelines is Canadian saxophonist/composer Christine Jensen’s fourth album as a leader. Ten years in the making, it features her sister, Ingrid Jensen, on trumpet and fluegelhorn, and an 18-piece orchestra. “ Dancing Sunlight” is full of excursions and climaxes in a cavalcade of joyful horns — including Ingrid and two tenor players, Joel Miller and Chet Doxas — plus incisive playing by bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Martin Auguste. Most of the songs here fit in with the bandleader’s theme: a tribute to the trees of her native British Columbia. “Arbutus” is a brightly conceived ode to the madrone tree, with Donny Kennedy beautiful on alto sax. “Red Cedar” is based on Christine’s memories of climbing big cedar trees as a child. She could never reach the top, and that frustration is reflected in the spirit of Erik Hove’s alto solo at the end. Miller’s “Dropoff” is about wading in the ocean and coming to a point where the sea floor disappears and you experience what he calls “taking the leap of buoyancy.” The disc’s departure, “Dark and Stormy Blues,” is both angular and whimsical, including a wah-wah mute solo by trombonist Jean-Nicolas Trottier. On “Seafever,” Christine plays gorgeous soprano on a memorable melody, a dedication to her mother. This is fine group jazz. — Paul Weideman
Born With Stripes (Dead
Oceans) Some albums walk. Some r un. Born With Stripes is an album that saunters, like it’s bringing you a cool pitcher of lemonade on a hot, humid afternoon. The San Diego group’s 2008 album
Living on the Other Side languished on my shelf until I tossed it in the car stereo one hot morning, and the sunshine daydreams of the Grateful Dead vibe suddenly made sense. Stripes is more tonally similar from start to finish than that more eclectic album. For example, the seductive opener, “Don’t Know Who We Are,” melts into the countrified “I Like the Way That You Walk,” with the shuffling beat only accelerating by a step. The band later slips into prolonged psychedelia (in a song called “Kaleidoscope,” naturally), and yes, a sitar will make a cameo before the record is through. For the most part, the shifts are subtle, and it’s all about that sweet tempo, maintained by a robust rhythm section, shakers, twangy guitars, and vocals that aren’t in any hurry to get anywhere. The lyrics are gestures of the “I’m a boy and you’re a girl” variety, but they’re about conveying mood rather than provoking thought. This album is for driving with the windows down, with sunshine on your forearm and someone you love in the seat beside you. — Robert B. Ker
‘Born With Stripes’ is an album that saunters, like it’s bringing you a cool pitcher of lemonade on a hot, humid afternoon.
ALBÉNIZ Spanish Music for Classical Guitar (Telarc) The guitarist David Russell included several pieces by Isaac Albéniz on his Santa Fe recital on April 8. Four days later, his all-Albéniz CD hit the streets, including the items he played here as well as quite a few others. All 15 of the pieces on the CD were originally composed for the piano, a fact that goes oddly unmentioned in the accompanying 12-page booklet. His recital program, however, declared that the Albéniz arrangements are his own, and they are masterly indeed. These short works have always sounded perfectly suited to the piano, never more than when played by Alicia de Larrocha (whose recordings remain widely available). But listening to them on guitar, one would not imagine that these weren’t their original settings, even though Russell’s transcription involves revoicing the music to fit within a more restricted compass. Telarc brings excellent engineering to bear in capturing Russell’s voluptuous tone. His playing, always meticulously clean and gracefully nuanced, allows for considerable rhythmic freedom while never losing sight of a phrase’s trajectory. Albéniz composed several of the selections to depict specific Spanish places, allowing listeners to enjoy a travelogue on Granada, Cádiz, Cataluña, and, in the most extraordinary piece on the disc, Córdoba, which is accorded a six-minute tone poem. Also here is a smiling rendition of the composer’s famous Tango, a perennial encore for good reason.
— James M. Keller
I WAS TOTALLY DESTROYING IT Preludes (Greyday
Records) When I heard I Was Totally Destroying It’s John Booker snarl, “I’ve got a wrecking ball, but it won’t save the world. I may hate myself but I hate you all so much more,” on Preludes’ opening track (“Wrecking Ball”), I worried that I had hitched a ride along the indie-rock parade route through AngstyGuy, U.S.A. I’m relieved to report that this North Carolina ensemble knows how to steer off that tired course and deliver a solid platter of melodic pop rock that will have you digging in your vinyl bins to give 20thcentury albums by The Cure, Posies, Talk Talk, and The Cranberries a proper dusting off. Booker and co-lead vocalist, Rachel Hirsh, have versatile pipes that usually work best in tandem, and thankfully, Preludes is heavy on vocal harmonies and duets. “Control” and “The Key & the Rose” are instant pop-rock anthems, complete with jangly interludes and choral shouts à la Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’ n’ Roll.” The album trots along at an easily digestible pace, but when track nine, “Fight/Flight,” unfolds, the brilliance and power of IWTDI’s songwriting and arranging is laid bare. On it, Hirsh’s voice is reminiscent of Siouxsie Sioux’s in the 1980 song “Happy House,” gliding between banshee wail and whispery caress to stunning effect. Culled from a collection of songs Booker had on the back burner,
Preludes is good news for fans of original, irony-free power pop. Great news for IWTDI fans: the group has a second full-length studio album slated for release later this year. — Rob DeWalt