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Letters 04-21-2014

An Exercise of Power

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Ross Boissoneau - February 17th, 2005
The Manhattan Transfer - Vibrate - Telarc

From the opening of the relaxed but jaunty “Walkin’ In New York,” the Transfer seems intent on delivering its most listenable set in some time. Trumpet great Lew Soloff delivers some screamers, but the focus is on the quartet of nonpareil singers, as it should be. The exotic strings of “Greek Song” stand in contrast to lyrics extolling Barnes & Noble, while the title track similarly juxtaposes lyrical references to cell phones, karaoke and Britney Spears with instrumental backing that brings to mind a Parisienne coffeehouse, complete with accordion. Elsewhere there’s some vocalese, classic material by Gershwin and Jobim, and the joy of hearing four of the finest singers in the world enjoying themselves as they harmonize.

Jesse Cook - Montreal - Narada

If there’s a more exciting guitarist on the planet, let him or her stand up. No volunteers? That’s not surprising, as Canadian flamenco/world/jazz guitarist Cook has been wowing audiences for the past several years. “Montreal” is his first live album, following a quintet of studio efforts. Cook doesn’t even play on the opening “Beloved,” instead relying on the 11-percussionist samba squad to set the mood, before he roars through “Rattle and Burn.” Cook can play it slow as well, as he aptly demonstrates on tracks such as “Cascada,” which also features violinist Colin Barrett. But it’s at his uptempo best that he succeeds in whipping the crowd into a frenzy, as on “Breezes from Saintes Maries,” “Jumpstart” and especially “Mario Takes A Walk.”

Andy Summers - The X Tracks - Fuel 2000

Former Police guitarist has left the reggae/power pop sound of his former band far behind since the group’s demise. He’s dealt in heavy electric rock with Robert Fripp, new age, even contemporary takes on classic jazz by Thelonius Monk and Charles Mingus. “X Tracks” is a collection of hits and misses from his solo work over the past couple decades, complete with a cadre of guest stars. “Big Thing” originally featured Herbie Hancock, then slamming drummer Bernie Dressel in this power trio version which includes licks from “Sunshine of Your Love.” Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” is given a loving treatment by Summers and crew, including rapper Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest. “Round Midnight” features old mate Sting, while “Weird Nightmare” is sung by Debbie Harry. Not pop, not jazz, not rock, Summers is blazing his own trail.

Michael Whalen - My Secret Heart - Narada

Pianist Michael Whalen’s new album is subtitled “Romantic Meditations for Ambient Piano.” That’s a pretty fair encapsulation of this instrumental outing that often brings to mind Eno’s definition of the genre (music that must be as ignorable as it is listenable) while at other times is almost lushly romantic. That’s “almost,” because most of the time the piano lines are fairly spare, with wispy synthesizer backing that’s so soft it’s nearly unnoticeable. Not the type of recording you’re likely to put on at a party, but for mood music, or music to simply hold back the noise of the day, it’s hard to top. And among its brethren, it’s both more engaging and more enjoyable.

 
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