Album reviews: Cornershop | Martina McBride | Master Shortie | Alasdair Beatson | Kurt Elling | Miroslav Vitous


FOLLOWING time off to raise their families, Cornershop return with as independent an agenda as ever. The easygoing lope of The Roll Off Characteristics (Of History In The Making) and even the bhangra funk of Chamchu represent business as usual, but they show an unexpected Bowie influence on soulful glam rock opener Who Fingered Rock'n'Roll, offer a pretty lazy cover of Dylan's The Mighty Quinn and then subtly infuse Jamaican ska and dub with folky strings on Operation Push, before they lock into the laid-back southern soul of The Turned On Truth (The Truth Is Turned On) and forget to come back for the next 16 minutes.



SONY, 12.72

COUNTRY diva Martina McBride has sold truckloads of records with precisely the same production-line AOR pap as she rolls here. Vocally, she can belt with the best of them. But does it not pain her to sing such clichs as "life is a rollercoaster ride… faith is believing you can close your eyes and touch the sky… hold on tight to what you feel inside" (Ride) or collude in such a mawkish love ballad as I Just Call You Mine? This cookie-cutter US radio blah is a world away from the wit, wisdom and heart-on-sleeve vulnerability of classic country music.



ODD ONE OUT, 11.74

THIS 20-year-old London MC has titled his debut album for its inability to sit still in one place for long. Symptoms of ADHD include sampling Adam Ant unimaginatively on Nothing To Be Scared Of (Prince Charming), diving into old-school New York street style with more satisfying results on Swagger Chick, and chucking commercial R&B, rapid rapping and ravey keyboards into the fidgety Right Time. There is no time to get bored, but neither is there any distinct voice.





IN A NEAT play on numbers, the young Scots pianist Alasdair Beatson plays exclusively Opus 1s on a debut recording that illustrates why so much critical attention is being paid to his emerging career. The conceit also conveniently allows him to spread the stylistic load between Schumann's early Abegg Variations and Alban Berg's Piano Sonata, with the substantial Brahms Piano Sonata No 1 and supple sentimentalism of Grieg's Piano Sonata No 1 in between.

Against such varied maiden voyages by these notable composers, Beatson displays a sense of musical purpose throughout, sensitive, too, to their differing characters and approaches. The Schumann is bright, nimble and full of youthful energy, if occasionally tainted by a slight roughness at the fortissimo end of the scale. But Beatson reveals a more generously wholesome quality in the less-explosive Grieg, and in the Brahms unleashes a range of emotional contrasts that are little short of thrilling. Yet it takes till the Berg, and its teasingly Tristanesque opening, for the pianist's true sense of exploration and total immersion to surface fully.

It's a beautifully beguiling but difficult piece, and Beatson presents it with aching conviction and a sense of its emotional magnitude, but equally with a deliciously mystical eloquence.





SINGER Kurt Elling's latest disc – recorded live at New York's Lincoln Center in January – focuses on jazz standards, and with a very specific inspiration. The disc is a celebration of the collaboration between saxophonist John Coltrane and singer Johnny Hartman that produced an eponymous ballad album in 1963. All six of the songs featured on that record are included, augmented by four more in a similar vein (one is an instrumental workout on What's New), and a spoken tribute to the dedicatees.

Being Elling, he brings his own distinctive treatment to the material rather than replicating the originals, and is supported by the warm, fluent tenor saxophone of Ernie Watts, an excellent rhythm section led by pianist Laurence Hobgood, with the added colour of a string quartet.




MIROSLAV Vitous was a founder member of Weather Report, but is entirely characteristic of this Czech bassist's approach that his method of paying tribute to his old band takes an unconventional shape that may appeal more to those with a taste for a freer approach. Fans of the band won't find much connection with their typical sound or compositional structures. He is joined by guest Michel Portal on bass clarinet, alongside trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti and two younger Americans, Gary Campbell on tenor sax and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Material includes a sometimes sketchy Variations on W. Shorter and another on Ornette Coleman's Lonely Women, and the curious When Dvorak Meets Miles. When it all comes together it is very impressive, but there are less convincing passages.

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