ROBERT GLASPER, Black Radio III (Loma Vista Recordings). Keyboardist Robert Glasper’s musical pendulum tends to swing between jazz and R&B/Hip-Hop successfully regardless of where it stops. Black Radio III is Glasper celebrating the R&B side with a sound that would flow nicely from the speakers of a home stereo in the late 70’s or 80’s. That’s not to say the sound is old. It just puts off that attitude. A cavalcade of musical guests dot the album, highlighted by Lalah Hathaway and Common’s appearance on “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” a gloriously soulful cover of a Tears for Fears classic. Glasper doesn’t just have a gift. He is a gift.
STICK MEN, Tentacles (MoonJune Records). By this time, one knows what to expect when enjoying the collective efforts of Tony Levin (Chapman Stick), Markus Reuter (Touch Guitar U8), and Pat Mastelotto (drums). Airtight arrangements, high-wire musicianship, inventive soundscapes … it’s all here. This time, it’s packed tightly into an EP that seems to move much too quickly. But it’s a fun-filled ride. Levin surprises (slightly) by adding the Touch Guitar U10 to his arsenal, but it’s not like he can’t handle it. His vocals have been kicked up a notch on the title track, and “Company of Ghosts” provides its share of thrills, too. Fans new and old will get what they pay for, and it’s well worth the price.
STEVE VAI, Inviolate (Favored Nations). There are far worse things a musician can do than sound like himself. This is doubly true of that sound can be declared “signature.” Steve Vai has a signature sound that has been pouring out through amplifiers for 40 years(!) now. To his credit, that signature sound remains inventive and continues to evolve. Inviolate is worth the price of admission for its opening track, “Teeth of the Hydra,” which is more than merely an ominous title. The Hydra is a three-necked instrument custom made Vai by Ibanez. It has 7-string guitar, 12-string guitar (half of it fretless), bass (half of that fretless, and harp strings, which Vai uses all at once to play the cut. It takes a special level of talent to conceive of such an instrument, let alone play it! But play it his does, setting the tone for the rest of this fine album.
HANIA RANI, Music for Film and Theater (Gondwana Records). Uber-talented keyboardist Hania Rani has assembled music from her soundtrack work to create an absolutely gorgeous suite that hovers somewhere between classical and post-rock, never landing in either place. Rani’s keyboard skills are evident not only because of what she plays, but what she doesn’t play. She is highly adept at getting out of her own way and letting the composition breathe. This is equally evident in the music she wrote for string quartet and quintet. Because of this, the music sounds as though it floats on a cloud, passing gently by and allowing you to take in each sound with feeling rushed over overwhelmed. One cannot help but be moved by the emotion emanating from the speakers, with the film/theater production becoming almost an afterthought because of it.
NUBYA GARCIA, Source (Concord Jazz). This generation of jazz artists have shown the presence of mind to put aside “purist” thoughts of traditional jazz and let their music be influenced by a variety of “outside” sources, making the jazz they create sound fresher and more innovative. Tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia has a sound derivative of no one as her jazz sound (augmented with vocals and the occasional special guest instrumentalist) borrows bits of reggae, African, and soul without becoming smooth jazz to create a highly revolutionary, yet completely grounded body of work. The title track is the album’s highlight, containing a truly groovy jazz and reggae mashup. This music is groovy and fun!
MICHAEL GIACCHINO, The Batman: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Watertower Music). Two notes. That’s all the main theme is given in the latest dark and gritty incarnation of The Dark Knight’s accompanying music. (It’s actually four notes played, but only two tones.) But those two notes do more than an adequate job of bringing forth the sense of foreboding meant to strike fear in the hearts of the criminals of Gotham City. Like Batman himself, this music lurks in the shadows waiting for that accidental misstep. Then it’s on you with relentless abandon. It’s vengeance! Michael Giacchino is given a wide berth to express himself on film and CD (this is a two-disc set) express himself via the length of a three-hour film. While sweeping in scope, the music rarely makes its way toward the light. The dark is where this music’s brilliance lies. And that’s where it should be.
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