New music

Reviews of this week's CD releases


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POP / ROCK Japanese Breakfast

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/06/2021 (432 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


Japanese Breakfast

Jubilee (Dead Oceans)

One minute you’ve never heard of someone, the next they’re the “artist of the moment.” So… Michelle Zauner, a 32-year-old Korean-American singer-songwriter and author (Crying in H Mart) who grew up in Eugene, Ore., is Japanese Breakfast, a solo project she began in 2013 while still a member of a band called Little Big League.

Jubilee is Zauner’s third Japanese Breakfast record and it’s a deliberate about-face from the previous two, Psychopomp (2016) and Soft Sounds from Another Planet (2017), which explored the grief, pain and aftermath of losing her mother to cancer and making her way in the world as a young adult, feeling bereft and adrift. This album, though, is her attempt to embrace the joy of life and love; to explore, as she asks in opening track Paprika, how it “feels to be at the centre of the magic, to linger in tones and words.”

Her answer, in 10 succinct songs that clock in at just over 37 minutes, is that it feels pretty damned good. Zauner and musical collaborator Craig Hendrix craft indie pop at the experimental end of the spectrum, bringing synthesizers, strings, horns, guitars and a traditional rock ‘n’ roll rhythm section to bear on tunes that are carefully and artfully assembled and crafted. The aforementioned Paprika is the album’s bellwether, a celebration of life featuring a martial beat, exultant horns and sweetly sung vocals.

From there, Jubilee slithers through a variety of modes and sensibilities. Be Sweet is an out-and-out pop tune, anchored by a slinky, fluid bass line. Kokomo, IN is a jaunty, acoustic-rooted exploration of the feeling of letting someone go so they can shine elsewhere; Posing in Bondage is a misdirection of a title, as the song itself is about the closeness of a healthy relationship, while Tactics is a spare, piano-and-strings ballad that may seem incongruous with the rest of the record but hints at even greater depth and potential. ★★★★ out of five

STREAM THESE: Paprika, Be Sweet, Posing in Bondage

— John Kendle


Alan Jackson

Where Have You Gone (ARC/Capitol)

The “you” in Where Have You Gone is country music itself. In the title song and leadoff cut of his first album in six years, Alan Jackson laments what he sees as the disappearance from the radio of the country verities: fiddle and steel, “words from the heart… sounds from the soul.” And he vows: “I won’t let them fade.”

That’s no surprise coming from the superstar who for three decades has deftly melded country traditionalism and commercial accessibility. And it’s not the first time he has taken a shot at a Nashville establishment he views as betraying the music’s roots. Remember his duet with George Strait, Murder on Music Row.

Throughout the 21 songs on Where Have You Gone, most written by Jackson, he lives up to his pledge, and with impressively consistent results considering it is essentially a double album.

He chronicles the joys and pains of everyday life with plainspoken grace against generous helpings of fiddle and steel. Among the most touching numbers, two of them, You’ll Always Be My Baby and I Do, are described as having been “written for daughters’ weddings,” while Where the Heart Has Always Been was “written for Mama’s funeral.”

This being country, there are also plenty of references to booze: Wishful Drinkin’, Way Down in My Whiskey, I Was Tequila, Beer:10.

In Back, amid a litany of staples of country life (”Bourbon on the table, Jesus on the wall”), Jackson sounds uncharacteristically boastful: “Back, I’m bringing country back/ Back where it belongs, back on track.” We’ll see, but he himself has never lost the faith, nor the fire to keep his aim true. ★★★1/2 out of five

STREAM THESE: I Do, Wishful Drinkin’

— Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer


Yelena Eckemoff

Adventures of the Wildflower (L&H Production)

Pianist/composer Yelena Eckemoff was classically trained in Russia before moving to the United States with her family. Since then she has developed a constantly growing and well-earned jazz reputation. This album is arguably her most ambitious and extended. Her pattern over her last few releases has been to develop a theme through the scope of the compositions. This two-CD album builds on the thematic style by basically following a sequential story. The music follows the growth of her columbine flowers from planting and germination through all the seasons and complexities of the garden environment to the eventual end of the life cycle. Eckemoff’s compositional skills are wonderful here – evocative, sensual, moving and gentle as needed. Rain opens with obvious “rain drops” and develops into the complete feeling of the nourishment of this garden necessity.

Eckemoff has the backing here of a Finnish quintet: Jukka Perko, saxes; Antti Lötjönen, bass; Panu Savolainen, vibraphone; Olavi Louivuori, drums; and Jarmo Saari guitars, theremin and glass harp. They are a treat, working with this material in complete empathy with the topics and Eckemoff’s direction. Titles are simple and define the mood of the track: Chickens, Thundershower, Winter Slumber, Waking Up in the Spring all set the mood clearly. Drought is tense and dissonant in an extended description of troubled emotions.

While beautifully melodic, the harmonic variations, dissonant passages and rhythmic changes are fully contemporary. The effect in all cases, however, is to make you smile or recognise the intent of what are lovely tone poems. The flitting ¾-time of Butterflies is perfect. The tangible truth here is that these compositions and the skill with which they are presented show a real love of the concept and the theme. Eckemoff has developed into a major compositional force in the jazz world as well as bringing exceptional pianistic skill. This is a beautiful release. ★★★★1/2 out of five

STREAM THESE: Hummingbirds, Winter Slumber

— Keith Black


Les inAttendus

L’art de la Fugue — Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080 (Harmonia Mundi)

This upcoming release celebrates the genius of J.S. Bach, with the baroque master’s music still able to miraculously shapeshift to various guises and unusual ensembles even in 2021.

French group Les inAttendus take their turn tackling Bach’s keyboard work The Art of Fugue, now arranged for an unexpected combination of accordion (Vincent Lhermet), seven-string bass viol (Marianne Muller) and baroque violin (Alice Piérot), showcasing the full spectrum of tonal colours and intricate contrapuntal writing of this iconic, albeit incomplete, work, penned in the composer’s final decade.

One of the most ear-opening surprises with this disc is how easily and seamlessly the instruments blend together, and particularly the “newer” accordion with the ancient period instruments, allowing each of the 18 tracks to simply wash over the ear.

Highlights include Contrapunctus VI with its French-style dotted rhythms infusing the performance with stylistic bounce. Others are an equally playful Contrapunctus IX, in which each of the instruments skips together, weaving their individual voices into one sonic tapestry. A later fugue in three parts, XIII also features nimble runs in the violin and the steady presence of the viol, underpinned by the accordion and displaying each player’s technical prowess.

There will always be purists who rail at transcribing the great classics for varying combinations and permutations of instruments, and particularly for one typically associated with popular street music, including the bordellos of Argentina. Still, this adventuresome group only proves the malleability, once again, of J.S. Bach’s timeless music, which still resonates today, able to transcend time and space for new generations to enjoy. ★★★★ out of five

STREAM THIS: Contrapunctus IX a 4, alla duodecima, from Bach’s The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080

— Holly Harris

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