- Michael Pollock
Nick Cave didn't spend too much time coming up with a title for his second album leading his red-meat-and-testosterone-
raging blues-rock project, Grinderman. That's OK. though, because the God-, sex- and death-obsessed Australian rocker, along with bandmates Martyn Casey, Warren Ellis, and Jim Sclavunos (also members of Cave's long-standing, more piano-heavy project, the Bad Seeds) has concentrated on coming up with nine songs that hold up from start to finish instead. Grinderman's 2006 debut was a gas, all right, but it also ran out of gas after a few mesmerizing, cathartic, midlife-crisis-inspired cuts. This time, Cave once again delivers the cartoonish carnality in high style. "Well, my baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster" - he sings on the howling "Worm Tamer" - "Two great big humps and then I'm gone." But amid the thundering stomp, this time he also delivers spooky haunters like "What I Know," which impart as much dread with a whisper as with a scream.
- Dan DeLuca
Abe Vigoda's biggest problem is circumstantial. Ten years ago, their impossibly fleet segues, from synth-dance to Afropop to punk to prog, would have been a cause célèbre in and of themselves. Today, they merely triangulate with peers such as Vampire Weekend, Animal Collective, and Surfer Blood. Even the band's home scene already has a flagship: fellow L.A. Smell venue veterans No Age. But Crush continues to prove that Abe Vigoda belongs in any echelon with these groups. From the gorgeous tropical synth hook in opener "Sequins" to the pounding punk title track, their on-a-dime dynamics and jumpy juxtapositions are as anthemic and fully formed as ever - until the second half turns into bad Interpol. Unfortunately, the more Michael Vidal is forced into a proper front man role, the more his cartoon-Bauhaus vocals threaten to sink the band's often arresting music.
- Dan Weiss
(Plug Research ***1/2)
After the simmering soul-hop of 2001's 1st Born Second and the never-released (but widely leaked) free-form Love for Sale, Germantown's Bilal Oliver seemed to float away like his best genre-bending songs, a onetime contender living in the ether with his Prince-besting falsetto and his jazz-infused melodies just a memory. Airtight's Revenge joyfully reverses that trend by extending the vibes of his previous two recordings into his own zestful brand of free, futurist soul.
Bilal goes home with the sensuous vocal take and smooth, noodly R&B of "Little One," dedicated to his kids. He goes way back to the piano blues and the pimp-hand literature of Iceberg Slim for the avant-balladry of "Flying" and its sad story of a gal doomed from birth. But the album's finest all-over-the-place moments come from nowhere past or present - the cool, horn-laced electro-jazz of "Levels," the calamitous rock of "Robots." Throughout his new songs, Bilal - the vocalist - opens the valves and bleats, glides, coos, and cajoles like Coltrane at his freest. Airtight's Revenge is sweet.
- A.D. Amorosi
Dale Watson has always portrayed himself as the ultimate Nashville outsider, a Texas honky-tonk rebel and champion of hard country. But as a knowledgeable traditionalist, he also knows that Music City has produced a lot of music he loves, even if the establishment is prone to lose its way in the pursuit of pop gold.
For Carryin' On, Watson has returned to Nashville to record again with a group of A-list session cats, including pedal-steel guitarist Lloyd Green and piano man Pig Robbins. But, unlike 2005's all-covers The Little Darlin' Sessions, this one consists of Watson originals, and they're up to his usual high quality.
With background singers on several numbers, the songs at times hint at countrypolitan elegance. Make no mistake, however: What Watson is carryin' on here amid the fiddle, steel, and twang of these shuffles and ballads is a tradition of 100-proof country. So it's fitting that he ends with the poignant "Hello, I'm an Old Country Song": "I ain't been around in a while . . . like an old suit gone out of style. . . . I'm here if you ever want me. . . . an old friend that you forgot that you had."
- Nick Cristiano
Trumpeter Avishai Cohen assembles an intense little trio recording. Triveni, a Sanskrit word for "the place where three sacred rivers meet," seems misleading. There isn't much overt Indian influence, but it's clear the Tel Aviv-born Cohen has learned his post-bop lessons well.
The younger brother of clarinetist Anat and saxophonist Yuval Cohen, Avishai is a fierce cat who wades into every fray and doesn't drift too far from the blues. Here he handles a set ranging from originals to Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" and Don Cherry's "Art Deco." The range makes him sound homey and adventurous. John Coltrane's "Wise One" gets taken for a reverent ride.
Bassist Omer Avital, who like the trumpeter flourished in the scene at the Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village, creates cool interludes throughout, while drummer Nasheet Waits drives the funkiest number, Cohen's "October 25th," into a reasonable froth.
- Karl Stark
Cohen and his trio will play at 7:30 p.m. Monday at World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut Street. Tickets: $20-$32; Phone 215-222-1400.
Hilary Hahn, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko conducting
(Deutsche Grammophon ***1/2)
Jennifer Koh, violin; Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Robert Spano conducting
These discs are the first in a succession of Higdon recordings that will arrive in the coming months, and both show how easily her music sits beside long-established repertoire. Higdon's Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto on the DG disc is positioned before the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto - reportedly at violinist Hahn's insistence - and doesn't suffer in comparison. In fact, Higdon's harmonic richness and orchestral color makes Tchaikovsky seem a bit spare in comparison.
The Singing Rooms is one of Higdon's more elusive works. Though outgoing and forthright, the piece seemed like a violin concerto oddly grafted onto a choral work at its under-rehearsed 2008 Philadelphia Orchestra premiere. Now, the rich range of detail in this recording shows that the piece is a thoroughly integrated collection of discrete musical elements intermingling throughout. However, deeper poetic motivations behind this huge work still don't quite fall into place, so the jury (at least mine) remains out.
Alvin Singleton's 1998 choral work PraiseMaker, also on the Atlanta disc, has an interplay of brass choirs, unison vocal writing, and any number of musical elements you wouldn't expect to find in the same piece, and, like the Higdon, requires extended digestion - happily so: The piece operates at a level of sophistication and maturity this composer's earlier works only hinted at.
The established works on these recordings don't get short shrift in terms of performance. Hahn's Tchaikovsky downplays the fireworks. At every possible turn, she seems to ask "Why?" If you like thoughtful Tchaikovsky, this is it. Atlanta music director Robert Spano delivers Scriabin's lush Poem of Ecstasy in ways that are more terrifying than luxurious, making one of the most compelling cases for the piece on disc.
- David Patrick Stearns