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This article was published 30/1/2020 (445 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
POP / ROCK
Jeff Lynne’s ELO
From Out of Nowhere (Columbia/Big Trilby Records)
In his nearly six decades as a musician, Jeff Lynne has carved out a substantial slice of public consciousness with his music. He has made his mark on pop music for all eternity, whether as a member of the Electric Light Orchestra’s hit-making machine in the 1970s or as a member of the Traveling Wilburys and album producer (George Harrison, the Beatles, Tom Petty).
On From Out of Nowhere, Lynne has re-imagined the previous incarnation of ELO into a solo project. The record is all about keeping the flame alive for the ELO sound; while there’s a boatload of hummable melodies here, Lynne has found a familiar, comfortable groove and plans on staying there for a while.
First, he plays everything here save one piano solo by his longtime keys man Richard Tandy and some shaker and tambo work by album engineer Steve Jay. This means, save a bit of synthesized orchestra sounds on a couple of tracks (Help Yourself, Losing You), we are missing that formerly fulsome ELO ensemble sound. Also in keeping with Lynne themes are his songs about rain (Down Came the Rain) and bad luck in love (Losing You, Help Yourself, Goin’ Out on Me). Whether these themes have been done better by Lynne on previous recordings is a moot point: here they are again.
His 2017 concert at Wembley Stadium for 60,000 adoring fans is the subject of the sweet Time of Our Life, where Lynne proclaims, "Sixty-thousand rocking out and singing loud, I had to shout, and best of all they seemed so happy just being there." It’s a lovely sentiment, but unless you actually were there, it seems a bit over the top. On the requisite rockers (One More Time, Sci-Fi Woman, Time of Our Life) Lynne proves he has lost none of his fire at 72 years old; even though he is treading water here, From Out of Nowhere continues to engage on some level.
★★★ out of five
Stream these: Down Came the Rain; One More Time
— Jeff Monk
POP / ROCK
Manic (Capitol/Virgin EMI/Universal)
Halsey (a.k.a Ashley Frangipane) first came to my attention in 2015 when Apple Music was in its infancy and the debut of her New Americana single was heavily promoted on Zane Lowe’s show. The tune was OK, if rather typical of the pop world’s writing-by-committee approach, but it hinted at a unique personality and I noted her as one to watch. (It didn’t hurt that her stage alias is my mother’s maiden name.)
The Chainsmokers’ 2016 hit, Closer, kept Halsey in the public eye and her second album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, released in 2017, established her as a bona fide star, even if her music still felt more like "product" than "art."
However, the success Halsey has enjoyed brings a certain freedom with it, and she uses that to her advantage on her just-released third full-length. Sure, she shares executive producer credit with au courant popmeister Benny Blanco, but the point of this record seems to be revealing as much of Halsey/Ashley as they can (underscored by the fact the first of the 16 songs here is called Ashley).
For the most part, the pair succeed in making this a wholly Halsey album, and they’re best at it when they eschew many of the big music trappings of modern pop in favour of low-key synth moods, coloured by melodic background keys and infectious percussive elements, all while floating along on deep rich grooves. There will be some who listen to this album’s opening three songs (which include Clementine and Graveyard) and will be almost taken aback by the arty breathing space in the music and the starkly confessional intimacy of the lyrics.
That sensibility is retained through the rest of the material, even as Halsey brings elements of roots and country to bear on a couple of songs (You Should Be Sad, Finally//Beautiful Stranger), and invites friends and personal heroes such as BTS, Dominic Fike and Alanis Morissette to help out on three "interludes." Despite such trappings, Halsey insists on peeling her lyrical onion throughout Manic, a move that should earn her many devoted believers.
Stream these: Clementine; I Hate Everybody; Without Me
— John Kendle
The classic jazz trio usually has a piano lead with bass and drums mainly accompanying. Nothing wrong there, but contemporary jazz trios are redefining the sound and the relationship among the musicians. This debut album of the Toronto trio Local Talent is an example of possibilities. Pianist James Hill has electric bass player Rich Brown and drummer Ian Wright here as they mix acoustic and electric components beautifully.
The title refers to a neighbourhood in São Paulo, Brazil, where Hill lived and composed much of the album’s material. The music reflects influences from Latin to classical to rock in patterns that appear simply logical and appropriate. The electronics are usually under-emphasized, and there is an egalitarian feel to the involvement of the members.
Bassist Brown exemplifies the melodic capacity of the electric bass opened up by such folks as Jaco Pastorius, meaning the melodic lines are interchangeable among the members. The best of current trios (think the Bad Plus, the former EST) expand the moods and potential of new ideas with solid adherence to basic jazz styles. From the haunting title track to the warmth of the gentle Sailing At Night, this fine album left me wanting more and hoping the trio will stay in business.
One of the terrific things about the current jazz world is the range of styles and new ways of using wider ideas and new technology. As purists cringe, the rest of us celebrate.
Stream these: Higienópolis; Skeletons
— Keith Black
Mozart Symphonies 39 - 40 - 41 ‘Jupiter’ (Harmonia Mundi)
Mozart’s final three symphonies, including his monumental Symphony No. 41, or "Jupiter," are among his finest works and represent the pinnacle of his career. Hamburg’s Ensemble Resonanz’s performs Mozart’s works on modern instruments, and bring out new colours and contrasts for the 21st century ear.
The liner notes suggest the trio of symphonies, all composed during summer of 1788, are interlinked as three sides of a musical coin. The 18-member string orchestra, founded in 1994, clearly has this more holistic approach in mind, beginning with Symphony No. 41 and its bright opening Allegro, followed by the more stately Andante con moto, a vigorous Minuet and Trio, and finally, Allegro, performed with zeal.
Symphony No. 40, offers even greater contrast with its more darkly hewn minor tonality, with the ensemble fearlessly going for broad dramatic strokes during first-movement Molto allegro, the more melancholic Andante, and the high-spirited Menuetto Allegretto, before ending with the Allegro assai, performed at breakneck speed.
Finally, the "Jupiter" bristles with taut energy, fuelled by a crisply set tempo from its opening movement, Allegro vivace, through to its wild fugue, Molto allegro, which never loses its ability to enthrall the senses. The Andante cantabile is infused with longing brought to the fore by elegant phrasing, while the subsequent Menuetto Allegretto and Trio brings more robust energy, including punched-out rhythmic syncopations.
Then it becomes time for the exuberant finale, performed with sharp attack and precision, with every jolting modulation and daring harmonic progression serving as further testimony to the sheer brilliance and genius of its Wunderkind composer.
STREAM THIS: Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, Molto allegro
— Holly Harris