Reviews of this week’s CD releases
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/11/2021 (558 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Things Take Time, Take Time (Milk! Records/Mom + Pop/Marathon)
Live in the moment. Be thankful. Feel the feels. Write letters. Make lists of things to look forward to. Relax.
Courtney Barnett’s new album is all about learning how to live; both with and by herself.
A convincing argument can be made that Barnett’s first records were explorations and exorcisms of her anxieties and insecurities. Remember “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you” (from Pedestrian at Best)? Or the song Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence, from the 2018 album Tell Me How You Really Feel?
The touring cycle for that record wrapped up in 2019 and found the Australian singer-songwriter essentially homeless and alone after her long-term relationship had ended. Barnett set herself up in the Los Angeles area, began writing songs and, as wildfires devastated her home country and the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic began, she returned to Australia and rented a flat in Melbourne, where she used the extended lockdown to work on new songs and to develop a more centred approach to life — one encapsulated by the title of her third full-length project as well as in many of its 10 songs.
Fans of Barnett’s earlier material may complain she doesn’t indulge her rocking side here (although the extended guitar break on Turning Green is marvelous) but, by choosing to work with drummer/producer Stella Mozgawa (Cate Le Bon, Warpaint) instead of her usual collaborators, Barnett deliberately steps outside her comfort zone. TTT,TT offers a quieter groove, replete with synths, piano, Omnichord and, to the shock of some, even a drum machine (a logical consequence of lockdown composition). Just as the musical settings are softer, Barnett’s sung-spoken lyrics are kinder, gentler and, heaven forbid, even positive. Many feel like letters, addressed to loves both old and new (on Before You Gotta Go and Here’s the Thing) and which also assure friends and family that, while she may not be around all time, she’s learning that everything will eventually be OK (Take it Day By Day and Oh the Night). All it will take is time. ★★★★
STREAM THESE: Rae Street, Before You Gotta Go, If I Don’t Hear from You Tonight
— John Kendle
First Flight To Tokyo: The Lost 1961 Recordings (Blue Note)
Clearly the jazz world generally has a terrible filing system. “Lost” albums are discovered in a basement or garage almost every week. The good news is that when they are found, the jazz world can get a real gift from an earlier day — gifts like this one from a concert in Tokyo 60 years ago.
Drummer Art Blakey was known as one of the best and most important mentors in the jazz world. His Jazz Messengers band was the springboard for dozens of musicians who went on to greatness. This band, from 1961, had Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Lee Morgan on trumpet, Bobby Timmons on piano and Jymie Merritt on bass and, with Blakey, was among the first groups to tour Japan. (As a sidebar, Morgan was shot dead a few years later at age 33 by his common-law wife.)
Over two CDs, the band stretches out on a number of well-known tunes, such as Moanin’, ‘Round About Midnight, and A Night in Tunisia. The opening track establishes Blakey’s credentials with a bookended five-minute drum solo in a 22-minute version of Now’s the Time.
Blakey also has a standard spoken introduction pattern that he uses for the other tracks. The solos, especially by Morgan and Shorter, are wonderful and no doubt reflect the audience’s huge enthusiasm for their acclaimed favourite jazz band. Each of the seven major tracks are well over 10 minutes in length, which allows everyone to develop extended improvisational ideas. An example is Shorter’s solo on Dat Dere that is almost Coltraneish as he winds up harder and harder. The connection with the audience is tangible and has moments like the end of A Night In Tunisia, where each member is showing off in an extended coda. The audience loved it.
Much to enjoy here other than the obvious historical significance. Let’s be glad it’s not “lost” anymore. ★★★★1/2 out of five
STREAM THESE: Dem Dere, Moanin’
— Keith Black
Bach: Clavier-Übung II, Chaconne Aya Hamada (Evidence)
This simply titled, one-word album Bach belies the complexity and enduring charm of the baroque composer’s contrapuntal masterpieces, brought to life by Japanese-American harpsichordist Aya Hamada.
However, she also purposefully explores the role of transcription in Bach’s work, including the always appealing, three-movement Italian Concerto BWV 971 and one of the album’s cornerstones, Overture in the French style BWV 831, written for keyboard although originally designed to capture the fuller ethos of the orchestra. The latter selection particularly showcases her artfully executed ornamentation, with each of its dance-inspired movements infused with idiosyncratic dotted rhythms, while the former, and especially its Presto finale, bristles with energy.
A particular highlight is Hamada’s brilliant realization of Toccata BWV 912, which takes a deeper dive into how florid improvisation informed Bach’s compositional style, delivered with crisp articulation and thoughtfully chosen tempi. Her choice of the Neuchâtel Museum’s Ruckers harpsichord lends authenticity, right in tune with these timeless works.
One of the more intriguing offerings is American harpsichordist Skip Sempé’s keyboard incarnation of the Chaconne in D minor from Bach’s Violin Partita BWV 1004, showing that the arguably maligned art of transcription is alive and well in the 21st century. Sempé’s vision provides a tasteful unfolding of the original string work, with Hamada tossing off the single-movement piece’s rapid-fire runs and figuration with aplomb, her plucked instrument a convincing stand-in for its string cousin despite the inherent disparities of its less nimble dynamic palette. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THIS: Italian Concerto BWV 971
— Holly Harris
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