POP / ROCK
All the People in This House (Independent)
We’ve all had a lot of time to think in recent months; time to ponder life, its meaning and purpose. Many shy away; others enjoy the quest and leap into academic or autodidactic study of science, philosophy, religion and more.
Michelle Lecnik, Steve Martens and Joey Penner of Trampoline clearly fall into the latter camp and on their second full-length album the three musicians explore the notion of the universe as a cacophonous, fragmented whole.
Yeah, it’s heavy stuff, even for an ambitious prog/art-rock trio, but Trampoline handles the challenge it has set itself with just the right balance of wondrous inquisitiveness, melodramatic flourish and, most importantly, joyous and expansive musical virtuosity.
The setup comes early, in Elle I (lovers), on which principal songwriter Lecnik posits this: "So let’s assume that the universe as a whole divided itself into separate entities... (and) we are all walking, talking fractions of a once-uniform structure, fumbling around, trying to reclaim that sense of whole…"
What follows is a magnificent 10-song cycle that touches on the voices of just a few of the people in the house — drawing inspiration from sources as diverse (and seemingly contrary) as environmental activist Erin Brockovich; Soberish podcaster/comedian Jessa Reed; Ted Kaczynski’s Unabomber manifesto; Plato’s The Apology (The Trial of Socrates); the art of M.C. Escher; the writing of Doris Lessing; the Biblical story of Judas Iscariot; and the metaphysical world of Egyptian deity Thoth.
In the hands of guitarist/singer Lecnik, drummer/vocalist Martens (who contributed two songs – Doris and Socrates), bassist/singer Penner and co-producer John Paul Peters, all this admittedly weighty material is set to such engaging and propulsive musical soundscapes that listeners will be unable to resist being drawn in to this fabulously esoteric romp. ★★★★1/2 out of five
Stream these: Elle I; Erin; Judas
— John Kendle
POP / ROCK
The Atlas Underground Fire (Mom + Pop Music)
Once the paint-peeling guitar riffs, spleen-shaking drums and rip-roaring parade of guests subside, Tom Morello’s The Atlas Underground Fire really gets hearts racing.
The final cut is On the Shore of Eternity, an eight-plus-minute dance instrumental that makes it sound as if the album has been hijacked by an aerobics class.
Morello wants America to shape up.
The rock star and social justice warrior delivers that message via a sprawling 12-tune patchwork pandemic product. Morello’s guitars hit hard, even though he recorded them on his phone’s voice memo app, and the passion of his politics comes through. But long-distance file-sharing by the album’s many collaborators results in a whiplash-inducing grab bag.
Morello co-wrote every tune except the AC/DC classic Highway to Hell, which happens to be the set’s highlight. It showcases Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder in their full-throated glory, acting as though they’ve sung an arena anthem before.
Even heavier is Let’s Get the Party Started, with Bring Me the Horizon’s Oli Sykes singing about dodging demons. Incendiary riffing returns on The Achilles List, where environmental activist Greta Thunberg scolds, "How dare you continue to look away." The album also calls for activism on Hold the Line, a fist-raiser destined to be co-opted by sports venues.
Less likely to last are back-to-back ballads, including one that even Chris Stapleton’s singing can’t save, and the aforementioned workout tune will test stamina.
The Atlas Underground Fire is at times exhilarating but slightly exhausting. ★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: The Achilles List, Highway to Hell
— Steve Wine, The Associated Press
Into the Night (ACT)
Last week I reviewed what might be called an historically "conventional" jazz trio — piano leading with bass and drums behind. This album from Europe has a less conventional jazz trio that is quite beautiful.
Pianist Jan Lundgren has soprano sax player Emile Parisien and bassist Lars Danielsson recorded at the Ystad, Sweden Jazz Festival in 2020. These musicians are capable of experimental music, but here they are exercising their gentler side with wonderful effect.
There are modern electronic loops and echoes from time to time that never distract from the mainly acoustic nature of the music. The opening track is a traditional Swedish folk tune, Glädjens Blomster (Flower of Joy, which sets the mood for much of the album. There are more highly rhythmic tracks, like Préamblule, with a great intro by Danielsson, that are a delight as well.
As is often the case, gentle ballads can hide a much more complex compositional base. I Do sounds like a nice pop song until one listens closely.
There is much beautiful jazz that gets dismissed as being outside the perception that loudness, fast rhythms and even dissonance are necessary to satisfy a jazz person. Not this one. The absence of a drum places the spotlight on each of the trio to carry both melodic and rhythmic roles. They each succeed just fine, and loosen up and have fun with bluesy tracks such as A Dog Named Jazze.
As with classical music, some of contemporary jazz requires "more work" than others. This album requires "less work" than some others but gives satisfaction and pleasure. You can put it on, sit back and relax. ★★★★1/2
STREAM THESE: Préambule, Into the Night
— Keith Black
Felix & Fanny Mendelssohn: String Quartets (Hyperion)
The Takács Quartet, which was founded in Budapest but is now based in Colorado, follows up its 2021 Grammy-winning recording Beach, Elgar Piano Quintets with three string quartets by the Mendelssohn siblings, Felix Mendelssohn and his beloved elder sister Fanny Hensel (née Mendelssohn), who has become increasingly recognized for her own musical genius.
First up is Hensel’s String Quartet in E flat, which displays the well-balanced artistry of the Takacs Quartet, which includes violinists Edward Dusinberre and Harumi Rhodes, violist Richard O’Neill and cellist András Fejérm. It also serves as a testament to Hensel’s prodigious gifts, which during first half of the 19th century were relegated to living in her brother’s shadow because of her gender.
The first movement of four, Adagio ma non troppo also belies her ability to spin out fantastical tonal and harmonic excursions, including a nod to Beethoven’s Harp quartet, Op. 74, as well as her brother’s String Quartet, Op. 12.
The subsequent Allegro movement is performed with propulsive rhythmic energy before arriving at the calmer waters of a deeply expressive Romanze, which is rendered with the eloquent lyricism of a song without words. Last but not least, the rondo finale brings the work to a fiery close with the four musicians battening down the hatches with its driving "perpetuum mobile" figurations.
Also included is Mendelssohn’s deeply heartfelt String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80, which was penned in response to Hensel’s death from a stroke in 1847 that preceded his own by a mere few months. The quartet brings to life its highly dissonant, emotionally charged textures with palpable conviction, from its opening Allegro vivace assai Presto through to its fourth, Allegro molto in which the composer poured out his inconsolable grief.
The album rounds out with Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13, a much earlier piece dated 1827 that provides greater context and ballast for more turbulent works, including its expressive second Adagio movement delivered with molten phrasing and lyrical, songlike quality. ★★★★½ out of five
Stream this: Fanny Hensel’s String Quartet in E flat.
— Holly Harris