Our music critics give their verdict on this week’s album releases
* * *
THE world’s top social media pop star continues to work like a Trojan, releasing her seventh album in as many years. Unapologetic is musically no better or worse than any of her previous offerings though it does offer a merciful reprieve from wall-to-wall rave pop in favour of a more imaginative, subtle and moody production palette. However, the cynical exploitation of her abusive relationship with Chris Brown on and off this album is troubling. Three years ago, Brown was charged with assault, now he’s flaunted as a guest, on a track called Nobody’s Business of all titles. Seriously, Rihanna, not in front of the children – who are watching and listening in their millions.
The Primevals: Heavy War
Twenty Stone Blatt, £12.99
* * * *
GLASGOW’S garage overlords The Primevals celebrate their 30th anniversary with this mighty-fine-sounding new collection, which combines a bone-shaking vigour with rootsy rhythm’n’blues feel and aching melodies. The five-piece keep it curt and snarly on the pacey Predilection For The Blues and High Risk Times but also cut themselves some instrumental slack on the more leisurely jams such as Hit the Peaks. There is a seen-it-all soulful weariness in Michael Rooney’s voice, providing a wise emotional centre round which the band are free to freak out on the climactic In A Violent Way.
Lang Lang: The Chopin Album
Sony Classics, £13.99
* * * *
LANG Lang has had mixed press over recent years, and the PR machine is doing its best to play down the excesses of his showmanship side. But perhaps the best, and most honest bit of profiling, comes in the simplest of forms – his latest CD, plainly titled The Chopin Album. Here, the focus is on Lang Lang’s pianism, in particular an adherence to light and shade, passion and sensitivity that has undoubtedly lurked beneath the flashiness, but is only now being allowed to state its case. For these performances of the Op.25 Etudes, alongside various Nocturnes, the Op.18 Grande Valse Brilliante, and the Andante Spinate & Grande Polonaise Brilliante, Op.22 are truly virtuosic, but coloured with subtle shadings, and only the odd obtrusive outburst. The accompanying DVD is a helpful add-on.
Jan Garbarek, Egberto Gismonti, Charlie Haden: Magico – Carta de Amor
ECM Records, £24.99
* * *
THE brief but highly successful collaboration between three of Munich-based label ECM’s biggest stars left behind two studio albums in 1979-80, but that legacy has now doubled with this previously unreleased two-CD live recording from Munich in 1981 (described by Gismonti as “a message in a bottle that has taken this long to reach the shore”). Highlights include a gripping account of Charlie Haden’s La Pasionaria from his Liberation Music Orchestra repertoire, and fine versions of Jan Garbarek’s Folk Song and Spor, the latter treated in free fashion. Egberto Gismonti lights up his own Cego Alderaldo on guitar and Haden’s lovely All That Is Beautiful on piano. The music meanders here and there, but for the most part this is a treasure trove for those who know the group, and a welcome discovery for new listeners.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra: The Jazz Age
BMG Rights Management, £11.99
* * *
NOW here’s a musical curio. Lifelong jazz fan Bryan Ferry oversees instrumental interpretations of 13 of his songs, from Roxy Music standards such as Do The Strand and Avalon right through to a track from his most recent solo album, all of which have been arranged so meticulously in 1920s/30s jazz orchestral style that they sound like authentic archive recordings. With its knees-up version of I Thought and junkyard jazz rendition of Love Is The Drug, The Jazz Age makes for a peculiar listening experience but it does highlight Ferry’s melodies more acutely than some of the overproduced originals – to which you will want to return for the sake of comparison.
MATHEU WATSON: DUNROBIN PLACE
SEER RECORDS, £12.99
* * * *
ONE might suffer from a doubtless unworthy irritation/envy at those smart-aleck musos who can transform themselves into multitracked one-man studio bands. Having said that, however, multi-instrumentalist and producer Matheu Watson carries it off with panache. Playing largely his own material on a bewildering cornucopia of instruments including fiddle, mandolin, whistle, bouzouki and assorted guitars, he describes Dunrobin Place as a travelogue of his musical peregrinations, returning to the titular home address. From its opening chirpy, mandolin-led pairing of his own Ceit and Eilidh and James Henderson’s tribute to the great JF Dickie, there’s an engrossing interweaving of instruments and tonal textures. He takes up fiddle to play an old favourite, Memories of Father Angus MacDonnell, with relaxed and affectionate feeling while elsewhere there’s the insistent swirl of East West and the easy, loping jig-time of the Candas Harbour set, while he dwells sweetly on his fine air, The Annie Jane.
Monoswezi - The Village
Tugcd, online only
* * *
AS FUSIONS go, this is unusual. It’s a collection of Zimbabwean traditional songs that have been put through a Nordic blender and come out with a suave top-dressing, easy on the ear and at the same time mildly intriguing. The project started with a grant from the Norwegian government to saxophonist Hallvard Godal, who went to work in the Mozambican capital Maputo; having learned the pleasure of working with African musicians, he formed Monoswezi with a bassist and percussionist from Norway, and then brought in the Zimbabwean mbira (thumb piano) player Hope Masike and singer-percussionist Calu Tsemane. The group are based in Oslo, but their music is genuinely international, with African cyclical riffs and rhythmic patterns in which the steely sound of the mbira and the down-home sound of belaboured cooking pots are grounded by bass and vibrato-free saxophone, and whimsically decorated by song. And the singing here is like nothing else I have heard – tentative and exploratory rather than declamatory.
Ana Alcaide - La Cantiga del Fuego
* * *
LAST month I took Yasmin Levy to task for investing Judeo-Spanish music with bogus emotion: Ana Alcaide mines the same ethnomusical seam, but in a way which pleases rather than irritates. She too traces the wanderings of the Sephardic Jews in her music, in the hope that the amity which existed among Jews, Christians, and Moors in medieval Spain may be symbolically restored, but her style is laidback, and she accompanies herself with the nyckelharpa keyed-fiddle which she fell in love with in Sweden, and which she has now introduced to Spain. The songs are her own compositions, and have charm.