CD reviews: appearing locally this summer | AspenTimes.com

CD reviews: appearing locally this summer

Stewart Oksenhorn
Steel Pulse, which will perform June 23 at the Jazz Aspen June Festival in Rio Grande Park, has released African Holocaust.
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Still more recent CDs by acts heading to this way in the weeks ahead.Steel Pulse, “African Holocaust”(Sanctuary/Ras)Long-running British reggae band Steel Pulse is a little at odds with itself on “African Holocaust.” As the title indicates, the album is infused with a serious message. Actually, many of them. The songs are of African unity and strength; bringing an end to tyranny, corruption and self-righteousness; and praise for the heroes of the black world. But Steel Pulse, still led after 30 years by singer-songwriter David Hinds, backs those weighty words with a sound that is overly polished and predictable. It may play well on radio, but this pretty music is a mismatch for the message.Steel Pulse plays June 23 at Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ June Festival in Rio Grande Park.

Blue Highway, “Marbletown”produced by Scott Rouse (Rounder)It’s hard to fault the sort of perfectionist picking, singing and production that Blue Highway exhibits on “Marbletown.” And to their credit, the quintet has an ear for material: the opening title track is indeed a cover of Mark Knopfler’s ode to death and graveyards, and it pairs beautifully with the next song, a take on Gary Scruggs’ “Lazarus.” Still, the phrase “bluegrass supergroup” applies all too well here, with somewhat more emphasis given to note-perfect renditions than to idiosyncratic character. In the realm of recordings by sound-alike bluegrass supergroups, however, “Marbletown” is one to pay some attention to.Blue Highway plays Carbondale Mountain Fair on July 31.

Crooked Still, “Hop High”produced by Hanneke Casseland Crooked Still (Footprint Records)For high contrast with “Marbletown,” you couldn’t do better than “Hop High,” the debut CD by Crooked Still. The Boston-based quartet is also something of a supergroup, its members having made their names with such groups as Wayfaring Strangers (singer Aofie O’Donovan, banjoist Gregory Liszt) and Darol Anger’s American Fiddle Ensemble (cellist Rushad Eggleston). But here the group nearly lives up to its lofty motto – redefining traditional music. Start with O’Donovan’s breathy vocals, on through Eggleston’s ground-breaking work on the cello, and the entire band’s inventive blend of Irish, old-timey and bluegrass styles. The result is refreshed versions of a slew of standards, including “Darling Corey,” “Shady Grove” and Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal Gone Down.” Not everything stands out: the fast take on “Orphan Girl” strips the sorrow from Gillian Welch’s latter-day classic. But it’s an indication of Crooked Still’s willingness to take chances.Crooked Still performs July 31 in the Bluegrass Sundays series on top of Aspen Mountain.Kronos Quartet”Mugam Sayagi: Music of Franghiz Ali-Zadeh”produced by Judith Sherman (Nonesuch)San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet has made music a thing of time and space travel, performing and recording music from the distant past, and from the most unlikely locales. “Mugam Sayagi,” is devoted to the compositions of Azerbaijani Franghiz Ali-Zadeh. The music is sometimes startling in how suddenly directions shift, how much tension is built on the violins of David Harrington and John Sherba, but it almost never fails to captivate the emotions and the ear. Particularly enjoyable is the multi-colored “Apsheron Quintet,” on which Ali-Zadeh joins the Kronos on piano.

Kronos Quartet performs an Aspen Music Festival special event on July 8 at the Benedict Music Tent. The program includes Ali-Zadeh’s String Quartet No. 4, “Oasis,” the opening piece on “Mugam Sayagi.”Charles Lloyd, “Jumping the Creek”produced by Dorothy Darr and Lloyd (ECM)Veteran saxophonist Charles Lloyd was known, once upon a time, as a rocker in the jazz-world, collaborating with r & b and funk artists, and even sitting in with the Grateful Dead for a show or two in the ’60s. But over the last decade, Lloyd has focused in on a refined, pure-jazz sound, and the result has been a spectacular serious of gentle but strong albums. He switches bands with regularity, but always picks from the top of the heap. On “Jumping the Creek,” he is joined by pianist Geri Allen, bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Eric Harland for what has become a predictably thoughtful, even spiritual take on jazz.Charles Lloyd performs June 29 in the Glenwood Springs Summer of Jazz series in Two Rivers Park.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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