CD reviews: New music from Aspen-bound musicians | AspenTimes.com

CD reviews: New music from Aspen-bound musicians

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Weekly

Stewart Oksenhorn/Aspen Times WeeklyAustin, Texas roots rockers the Band of Heathens, with Ed Jurdi, have released the album "One Foot in the Ether." The group is set to perform in Carbondale in January.

Since banjoist Bla Fleck and bassist Edgar Meyer met – in front of an Aspen ice cream parlor, in 1983 – the partnership has taken the music all over the map, touching classical, jazz and bluegrass bases. The latest journey is perhaps the most adventurous yet. They bring in Indian-born percussionist Zakir Hussain, and the three together co-composed “The Melody of Rhythm,” a three-movement concerto for the previously unknown combination of banjo, bass, tablas and orchestra. The concerto, which premiered in 2006, is performed here with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and conductor Leonard Slatkin. The concerto never falls into the category of the nonsensical crossover: “Hey, watch us mix tablas, banjo and orchestra!” But the strongest moments come when the orchestra sits out, and Fleck, Hussain and Meyer are free to play off each other as a threesome. Fortunately, about half the CD is devoted to trio pieces, like the bouncy, brilliant “Cadence,” which basically create a new musical template for three geniuses to play on.Bla Fleck brings his Africa Project to the Wheeler Opera House on Feb. 5.

No longer the piano geek singing mostly about social issues, Bruce Hornsby continues to loosen up on “Levitate.” In fact, Hornsby celebrates the act of lightening up on the title track, which floats along on a hip-hop beat, electronica sounds and a catchy, rap-like rhyme scheme: “Allow me to illustrate, how we will humbly create/ Time for the shake and bake.” Eric Clapton adds spice to the shaking and baking “Space Is the Place.” Hornsby isn’t entirely through with social commentary; the album opens with “The Black Rats of London,” the exuberant noisiness of which tends to obscure the macabre critique of American settlement.Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers perform Dec. 5 at Belly Up Aspen.

Austin, Texas quintet Band of Heathens have become a Roaring Fork Valley favorite, thanks to numerous appearances up and down the valley and rock-solid roots rock. “One Foot in the Ether” won’t harm their local reputation. It’s another step up as a band: “Shine a Light” is wonderful light funk with a gospel edge; “Golden Calf” is gritty, spare blues. They don’t fare so well as a cover band; the take on Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio” is flat.What should really cement the Band of Heathens’ standing here is the opening track, “L.A. County Blues,” a reflection on Hunter S. Thompson. “You can call me Mr. Raoul Duke, know what you mean/ Blinded by a quart of rum and a dose of mescaline,” they sing in a group celebration of Thompson’s ethos of excess.The Band of Heathens plays the Church of Carbondale on Jan. 8.

Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen rounds up a bunch of friends here: A cover of Greg Brown’s “Laughing River” features Brown himself; Billy Bob Thornton sings lead on “10,000 Chinese Walk Into a Bar,” which is as silly as the title promises. The specter of Townes Van Zandt is present, with a cover of Van Zandt’s “Flyin’ Shoes.” But the most significant accomplice is Lloyd Maines, the Texas recording who gives Keen’s songs the fullest palette they’ve ever had.One more friend shows up: the Band’s Levon Helm, subject of “The Man Behind the Drums.” It is at least the third song written about Helm, after Elton John’s “Levon” and Marc Cohn’s “Listening to Levon.”Robert Earl Keen performs Jan. 9 at the Wheeler Opera House.stewart@aspentimes.com

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