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Reviews of this week’s CD releases

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POP/ROCK Wet LegWet Leg (Domino)

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POP/ROCK

Wet Leg
Wet Leg (Domino)

“I’m not sure if this is the kind of life that I saw myself living,” is a line that jumps out from Too Late Now, the 12th and final song on Wet Leg’s self-titled debut album. The tune itself begins with pulsating, New Order-ish bass and synth and a robotic observation on the ennui of young adulthood before it breaks down into its catchy bridge, sung-spoken by Rhian Teasdale, and reconstitutes itself as a buzzy guitar-pop tune.

In many ways, Too Late Now encapsulates the Wet Leg esthetic — sardonic lyrics that gently mock the silliness of love and youth culture matched with an unironic musical celebration of all the best elements of new wave and indie pop-rock. It’s a sound that captured the attention of the world last summer, when their joyous first single, Chaise Longue, became a massive hit, followed in September by the darker but just as catchy Wet Dream.

Musical partners Teasdale (she’s the dark-haired one) and Hester Chambers certainly couldn’t have foreseen the life they’re living now. They are the current darlings of indie rock, playing a high-profile North American tour and making the rounds of all the late-night talk shows. The university friends from the Isle of Wight, just off England’s south coast, decided to join forces just three years ago, after each had spent time performing solo. Their first demos captured the attention of powerful London manager Martin Hall (Manic Street Preachers), who got them signed to Domino before they’d written a full album’s worth of songs. And now here they are — after all the hype, their debut record presents them as the finished article, delivering 12 three-minute modern pop gems that should leave everyone wanting more… and a chaise longue. ★★★★1/2 out of five

STREAM THESE: Ur Mum, Loving You, Too Late Now

John Kendle

 


 

JAZZ

Lynne Arriale Trio
The Lights Are Always On (Challenge Records)

Wisconsin-born pianist/composer Lynne Arriale has a lovely touch on the keyboard that always communicates a sense of peace and stability. Like a number of recent albums reflecting the reality of the pandemic and world events, she has compositions that reference the current reality by naming and celebrating the “heroes” who are making a difference in our world. The gentle touch remains while the message is in the intensity of the tunes, on which she’s joined by bassist Jasper Somsen and drummer EJ Strickland.

The album’s title is part of a quote from a surgeon named Prakash Gada from Tacoma, Wash., who is one of Arriale’s heroes. Gada says, “I am back at work after COVID… No matter what happens, no one works at home. The lights are always on. Babies are being born; bones are being set. This hospital, this profession… we are in a league of our own; we’ll take care of you, I promise. I stand next to the most fearless people I have ever seen.”

I put in the whole quote because it is also true of heroes here. The music celebrates heroes of every stripe with a quiet power that is totally accessible and delivered by all three players, who deliver a serious mood throughout. There are bluesy numbers like Sisters and an exuberant dedication to late U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — The Notorious RBG. Arriale captures some of the angst of contemporary America with complete skill and grace. Into the Breach is a reference to the folks who intervened on Jan. 6 last year to protect the U.S. Capitol. Walk in My Shoes is dedicated to civil rights icon John Lewis.

Appreciation and pain are both prevalent in this album. Yet it maintains a sense of optimism within a structure of melodic direction and recognition of the “angels” in our midst. A beautiful release. ★★★★ out of five

STREAM THESE: Heroes, The Lights Are Always On

Keith Black

 


 

JAZZ

Brad Mehldau
Jacob’s Ladder (Nonesuch Records)

Brad Mehldau’s new album includes a cover of the Rush song Tom Sawyer, which brings to mind Mark Twain, which brings to mind a quote attributed to Twain regarding the music of Mahler: “It’s better than it sounds.”

That critique could apply here.

Mehldau is perhaps the most lyrical jazz pianist of his generation. He’s also drawn to a genre that could be called restless-soul music — challenging, experimental, boundary-defying material, such as Jacob’s Ladder.

The 70-minute set features pretty piano, yes. There’s also anguished screaming, squawky sax, mysterious meter, reading from scripture and shouted German philosophy. It’s odd and uneven, and no one will complain it’s too short.

Even so, Mehldau’s ambition is to be admired, and prog rock fans will likely love it. He draws on Genesis — the book and the band — as he considers our climb toward heaven and our relationship with God.

Rush is a recurring touchstone, and there are also nods to Yes, Bach, math metal, David Byrne, Tropicália, free-jazz funk and video games. Guests include Chris Thile and Cécile McLorin Salvant, but Mehldau does the heavy lifting — on one cut he plays 11 instruments and contributes layered wordless vocals.

With music, however, as with spiritual matters, sometimes less is more. The conclusion of the final tune features an ordinary 4/4 beat and three-chord pattern explored by Mehldau’s solo piano. Like Mahler at his best, it sounds heavenly. ★★★ out of five

STREAM THIS: Tom Sawyer

— Steven Wine, The Associated Press

 


 

CLASSICAL

Nazareno!
Bernstein, Stravinsky & Golijov
London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle (LSO Live)

If you’re looking for a jolt of high-octane energy, you will find that — and more — on this May release.

The album celebrating the marriage of classical and jazz musical forces highlights lesser-known works by Bernstein, Stravinsky and Golijov, with the London Symphony Orchestra led by Simon Rattle. Each of the three idiosyncratic works teems with exuberant spirits, fuelled by often fascinating, jazz-flavoured harmonies and inflections.

The disc begins hot out of the gate with Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, composed in 1949 for American bandleader/saxophonist/clarinettist Woody Herman by a youthful Leonard Bernstein, and dedicated to equally iconic jazz clarinettist Benny Goodman.

The orchestra, now morphed into big band, swings hard during the opening Prelude for the Brass, capturing the esprit of mid-20th-century America, while tossing off its wild syncopations like child’s play. The subsequent Fugue for the Saxes, similarly fuelled by propulsive rhythms, features close-knitted saxophones, while attesting to the renowned conductor’s brilliance as a composer. Rattle skilfully navigates the abruptly shifting tonal textures during the finale, Riffs for Everyone, before a final, piercing burst of sound.

Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto, also composed for Herman’s band in 1945, features LSO principal clarinettist Chris Richards who, like the rest of the orchestra, handles the inordinately difficult score’s demands with aplomb. Only the central Andante provides a measure of relief, with the saxes introducing its bluesy, opening theme.

The title track, Osvaldo Golijov’s Nazareno, penned in 2000, features the vibrant rhythms of his birthplace, Argentino. The internationally renowned French piano duo of sisters Katia and Marielle Labèque easily holds its own throughout this special arrangement for two pianos and orchestra by Gonzalo Grau dated 2009. Highlights include the opening Berimbau, the more introspective Sur, Tormenta y Quitipla, and the fiery finale, Procesion, the latter pulling out — literally — all the bells and whistles. ★★★★ out of five

STREAM THIS: Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, composed by Leonard Bernstein and performed by the London Symphony Orchesta led by Sir Simon Rattle

Holly Harris

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