al­bum re­views

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( 4AD) It ’s ap­pro­pri­ate that Mer­rill Gar­bus ( aka Tune­Yards, which she spells tUnE-yArDs) opens her sopho­more record with “My Coun­try,” a song that flips the patriotic an­them “Amer­ica (My Coun­try, ’ Tis of Thee)” into an ac­count of ro­man­tic long­ing and child­hood mem­o­ries. It’s as if she’s plant­ing a flag in new ter­ri­tory and draw­ing up a charter of her own mu­si­cal nation. While re­call­ing women who have melded the per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal, such as Ani DiFranco and M.I.A., Gar­bus is able to craft mu­sic as out­sized as Björk’s with a frac­tion of the bud­get. On “Gangsta,” she even belts out in­stru­men­tal ac­com­pa­ni­ment sim­i­lar to the Bomb Squad’s pro­duc­tion for Pub­lic En­emy. The range and char­ac­ter in her voice are her great­est as­sets, and she uses them to sing pri­mar­ily of power strug­gles both po­lit­i­cal and sex­ual. In “Riotriot,” her pro­tag­o­nist fan­ta­sizes about the po­lice­man who ar­rests her brother. In “Doorstep,” a show­stop­per of a song high­lighted by wist­ful African melodies, her pro­tag­o­nist mourns for a lover who is shot by a po­lice­man. It’s an open artery of a vo­cal per­for­mance, one that never fails to prompt goose bumps. With her re­mark­able de­but, Gar­bus’ am­bi­tion be­lies the low-bud­get, found-ob­ject qual­ity of the mu­sic, as if she were a child try­ing on clothes that are much too big. Now that the clothes fit, one can only won­der how far she’ll grow. — Robert B. Ker


Found (Obliq­Sound) Jazz phe­nom Gretchen Par­lato sings here with her trio: pi­anist Tay­lor Eigsti, bassist Der­rick Hodge, and drum­mer Ken­drick Scott. The se­lec­tion is var­ied, from sev­eral Par­lato orig­i­nals to cov­ers of songs by Mary J. Blige, Am­brose Ak­in­musire, Bill Evans, and the Brazil­ian samba mas­ter Paulinho da Vi­ola. First up is Sim­ply Red’s “Hold­ing Back the Years,” which Par­lato ren­ders in her sin­gu­lar style: quiet, breathy, and fre­quently us­ing her voice as a rhythm in­stru­ment. On the leader’s “How We Love,” Hodge switches from stand-up to elec­tric bass, and Eigsti, here on Fen­der Rhodes, of­fers a de­light­ful solo that’s rem­i­nis­cent of Re­turn to For­ever. Par­lato min­gles in the high­est notes with the tenor sax of guest Dayna Stephens on Wayne Shorter’s “Juju.” For da Vi­ola’s “Alo, Alo,” she sings in Por­tuguese (which she loves do­ing) ac­com­pa­nied only by per­cus­sion (part of which is her own vo­cal per­cus­sion, dou­ble-tracked). This is the third CD for Par­lato, daugh­ter of long­time Albuquerque-area jazz bassist David Par­lato, since she won the Th­elo­nious Monk Jazz Vo­cals Competition in 2004. (For a taste of her early, New Wave-type mu­sic, check out www.gretchenpar­ and “The Other GP” link, where you’ll hear fun songs like “Messy Girl” and “Lit­tle Teeth.”) The Lost and Found of­ten has an ethe­real qual­ity, but the del­i­cate vo­cals are an­chored by her weighty im­pro­vi­sa­tions. This is mag­i­cal stuff. — Paul Wei­de­man

The range and char­ac­ter in Tune-Yards’ voice are her great­est as­sets, and she uses them to sing pri­mar­ily of power strug­gles both po­lit­i­cal and sex­ual.

CHOP CHOP The Spark (Arch­en­emy) In in­die mu­sic cir­cles, space-rock opera is all the rage, but it re­mains a field dom­i­nated by men and en­sem­bles led by them. Pok­ing through the gen­der same­ness is Cather­ine Ca­vanagh, aka Chop Chop, whose whis­pery, echo­ing voice rises del­i­cately over quasi-psychedelic in­stru­men­ta­tion fed through Pro Tools 8 and Rea­son soft­ware on an iMac. Blend­ing folk with con­tem­po­rary com­po­si­tional tech (drum ma­chines, synths, sam­ples), The Spark — Chop Chop’s third full-length al­bum — presents a sci-fi tale of a damsel in dis­tress. A teen wallflower named Carolyn is kid­napped by aliens (“Steal Her in the Night”) and sub­jected to cruel sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ments (“Slav­ery”) while an evil changeling takes her place on Earth (“The Shapeshifter De­cep­tion”). Carolyn es­capes with the help of a ray gun-tot­ing hero (“Es­cape”), and they be­come lovers. Carolyn, now a cy­borg, rushes to Earth to lead the hu­man race in a war to take back the planet (“Carolyn Goes Home,” “Rev­e­la­tion,” “Above the Earth,” “Vic­tory”). Nar­ra­tive com­par­isons to The Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show are un­avoid­able, but Ca­vanagh steers clear of the dark camp and sex­u­al­ity that so de­fines Rocky Hor­ror’s bizarre tone and rau­cous rock ’ n’ roll at­mos­phere.

The Spark is ethe­real bliss with a touch of harm­less preschool story time, thanks in large part to Ca­vanagh’s gift for turn­ing her col­or­ful imag­i­na­tion into elec­tro-pop songs that ex­ist not to in­tim­i­date, shock, or pos­ture, but sim­ply to en­ter­tain.

— Rob DeWalt

ANNA NE­TRE­BKO Sta­bat Mater: A Tribute to Per­golesi

(Deutsche Gram­mophon) Ev­ery so of­ten a record­ing ar­rives that can only be coun­te­nanced with a ques­tion: Why does this ex­ist? Gio­vanni Bat­tista Per­golesi was an 18th­cen­tury com­poser of his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance but not great prac­ti­cal in­ter­est. Last year the world largely ig­nored the ter­cente­nary of his birth. One of his most widely known works — prob­a­bly his best — is his Sta­bat Mater for so­prano, mez­zoso­prano, and string orches­tra, but be­fore we get to it on this all-Per­golesi CD, we must wade through two unin­spir­ing sec­u­lar can­tatas and an or­ches­tral sinfonia. Deutsche Gram­mophon is de­pend­ing on the star power of so­prano Anna Ne­tre­bko to sell this, and that might suc­ceed, as you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily know un­til af­ter you buy the disc how ut­terly un­suited her voice is to this reper­toire. Six col­umns of pro­gram notes say al­most noth­ing about Per­golesi but lots about Ne­tre­bko’s risk tak­ing, her ris­ing to the chal­lenge, her “per­fect, ra­zor-like trills” — which is to say, the notes are a work of fic­tion. Her hoot­ing, in­flex­i­ble voice re­minds one of the brash stri­dency cul­ti­vated by Rus­sian so­pra­nos in the Soviet era, and she dis­plays not a shred of aware­ness about 18th-cen­tury style. Her mezzo-so­prano col­league, Marianna Piz­zo­lato, is a per­fect match, sad to say, and the Orches­tra dell’Ac­cademia Nazionale di Santa Ce­cilia, con­ducted by An­to­nio Pap­pano, does not ex­ceed its usual medi­ocre stan­dards. Some tribute. — James M. Keller

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