Reviews of this week’s CD releases
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UK Grim (Rough Trade)
The North American equivalent of post-punk rap combo Sleaford Mods might be Run the Jewels — a pair of righteous, battle-scarred musical warriors who combine hit-making beats and rhymes with ferocious social criticism at just the right moments. Like RTJ’s Killer Mike and El-P, the Sleafords — vocalist Jason Williamson and producer beatmaker Andrew Fearn — deliver a vibrant sound and furious political and cultural message that demands to be heard and respected.
And so we come to the duo’s eighth album, on which Williamson and Fearn double-down on their indictments of ‘Great’ Britain, haranguing and mocking a society in which the ruling classes have bankrupted moral decency, lining their own pockets while clinging to power in ever-comical fashion.
Williamson lays the state of his nation out clearly (albeit in a thick Nottinghamshire accent) on Right Wing Beast, in which he addresses the masses who escape their lives and drown their sorrows down the pub:
“But what’s gone on, what can I see?
You’re all getting mugged by the aristocracy
But what’s gone on, what can I see?
You’re all getting mugged by the right wing beast, yeah.”
Rants such as this can get old quickly if they aren’t delivered with humour and imagination, and Williamson and Fearn know this all too well. Fearn’s minimalist, synth-and-samples music varies in tone, tempo and scope — from the ominous ’80s-synth-band-meets-Dragnet vibe of the album opening title track to the adrenalin-fuelled post-punk riffing of Pit 2 Pit. Williamson, too, regularly shifts his scope and subject matter — from personal reflections on his shopping addiction during the lockdown to swipes at other bands (DIWhy) and recollections of childhood Christmases (I Claudius). They even bring in Dry Cleaning’s Florence Jones to add deadpan surreality to Force 10 From Navarone, while Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction joins in on So Trendy.
Through it all, though, the challenge of Sleaford Mods’ music remains the same: it’s grim, mates, so what are you gonna do about it? ★★★★1/2 out of five
STREAM THESE: UK Grim, Force 10 From Navarone, Tory Kong
— John Kendle
Endless Summer Vacation (Sony)
Miley Cyrus’s hit Flowers made even those in a stable relationship sing out loud with conviction. The full album is much more than a break-up anthem; it’s a rebirth. While spring alone seems still so far away, Cyrus’ Endless Summer Vacation feels like a hot summer day. Starting with the chart-topping Flowers, she bids farewell to an old love and begins with contagious confidence and independence. “Yeah, I can love me better than you can,” she sings. As the sun gets brighter it’s time to wear Rose Colored Lenses. The third track is an upbeat but still mellow song, overflowing with sexy and loving lyrics: “We could stay like this forever, lost in wonderland/With our heads about the clouds, falling stupid like we’re kids/Wearing rose coloured lenses.”
The album features two collaboration tracks: Thousand Miles sees the artist singing alongside Americana star Brandi Carlile, while Muddy Feet is with pop artist Sia. Thousand Miles is infused with Carlile’s folk style, a familiar place for Cyrus.
The day leaves space for the night, and the album gets racier and dirtier, kicking off the evening with River. “I feel you everywhere. Your face is all in my hair/Covered up in your sweat. It turns me on that you care, baby,” she sings.
Like the artist, Miley Cyrus’ albums can’t be put into a box. The singer likes to experiment with different sounds and genres over her more than a half-dozen records. Violet Chemistry is a pop song with electrifying dance notes, a worthy soundtrack for a nightclub dance floor under neon lights.
As the sky gets soaked in a ruby sunrise, high heels are carelessly in hand to allow for a more comfortable barefoot walk home, in solitude. “Am I stranded on an island? Or have I landed in paradise?” she sings in Island, a song about her isolation being a blessing in disguise.
Finally, the album ends where it began, with a melancholic unplugged demo version of Flowers flipping the confident opening on its head to create a sad, soulful coda: to the listeners, and to Miley’s old loves. ★★★★ 1/2 out of five
STREAM THESE: Violet Chemistry, Flowers
— Martina Rebecca Inchingold, The Associated Press
Jane Bunnett and Maqueque
Playing With Fire (Linus Entertainment)
Saxophonist/flutist/leader Jane Bunnett is appropriately called a national treasure. She and her husband, Larry Cramer, have worked tirelessly to support and encourage Cuban music and musicians in every way possible. David Virelles, Dafnis Prieto and Yosvanny Terry are but a few they have supported. While mentoring Cubans was not always a popular move, it never slowed her passion to work with the musicians so often overlooked by the U.S. jazz community. She was awarded an Order of Canada in 2004 to recognize these efforts.
Lately she has formed and worked with an all-woman band called Maqueque (pronounced Mah-keh-keh), apparently loosely translated as the energy of a young woman’s spirit. This new album is the third release by Maqueque and has a developmental and expanded focus in that the women in the band now include Zimbabwean vocalist Joanna Majoko, Toronto-based guitarist Donna Grantis, and 19-year-old violinist Daniela Olano, sister of pianist and co-founder Danae Olano. Others are drummer Yissy Garcia, bassist Tailin Marrero, and percussionist Mary Paz.
As with earlier releases, joy and energy pour out of this group. If Afro-Cuban music was ever seen as a basically male genre, that opinion is simply exploded here. The addition of vocalist Majoko changes and augments the chemistry somewhat, and guitarist Grantis presents an exciting dimension.
The music is largely original with several covers. One is the Bud Powell tune Tempus Fugit that has a Bach-like piano intro before it takes off into the melody with Bunnett’s flute and wild scat overlay. The other cover is Monk’s Jump Monk. Sierra is a mid-tempo melody with beautiful solos and rich ensemble playing. Guitarist Grantis and pianist Olano are standouts here. Throughout the album the rhythms are addictive within a range of tempi and mood.
Afro-Cuban jazz has always been an important part of the jazz scene. Thanks to Bunnett, these women add a wonderful addition to that tradition. ★★★★1/2 out of five
STREAM THESE: A God Unknown, Sierra
— Keith Black
Schubert: Piano Sonatas D537 & 959 (Hyperion)
This new Hyperion release features internationally acclaimed pianist Garrick Ohlsson performing two Schubert piano sonatas, including his Piano Sonata in A major, D959, written during a final burst of creativity mere months before his untimely death in 1828.
Piano Sonata in A minor, D537 provides the first taste of the Grammy-award winning musician’s sensitive artistry. Ohlsson, renowned for his performances of Chopin, is notably the sole American to have won first prize in the International Chopin Piano Competition in 1970, among many other accolades and awards.
He immediately displays his technical prowess during its opening Allegro ma non troppo, allowing its themes to ebb and flow as though lines in poetry. The following movement Allegretto quasi andantino unfolds as a well-paced rondo as he carefully articulates its primary theme. The pianist navigates the more turbulent waters during finale Allegro vivace, rife with pregnant pauses and abrupt modal shifts punctuated by bursts of conviviality.
The second offering, Piano Sonata in A major, D959 further showcases his technical prowess, including the opening movement Allegro’s striking octave leaps in the bass. The Andantino provides lyrical contrast as a melancholic barcarolle, its melodic lines carefully voiced by Ohlsson, before becoming broken by more violent interpolations. The Scherzo: Allegro vivace pops with ebullient high spirits, until listeners are brought full circle with the Rondo finale, in this stirring last ode and testament by a composer who left this mortal coil well before his time. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THIS: Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A major, D959, Andantino
— Holly Harris
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Updated on Thursday, March 16, 2023 7:32 AM CDT: Changes tile photo, changes preview text