Various Artists: Tiny Changes (Atlantic) ***
National Jazz Trio of Scotland: Standards Vol.V (karaoke kalk) ****
New Order: ∑(No,12k,Lg,17Mif) New Order + Liam Gillick: So it goes... (Mute) ****
Although the warning signs were there for those closest to him, the suicide of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison last May was a sad and shocking loss. But just as Hutchison turned the negative of his mental health struggles into the positive of his empathetic songwriting, so his bandmates and family are determined to carve some good out of his legacy, setting up the Make Tiny Changes charity to raise awareness of mental health issues among children and young people.
The compilation Tiny Changes also takes its title from a line in Frightened Rabbit’s best-known song, Heads Roll Off, and was in the works last year before events took a tragic turn. Conceived as an alternative way of celebrating the tenth anniversary of the band’s breakthrough album The Midnight Organ Fight, it features covers of each track by friends and contemporaries, including The National’s Aaron Dessner and Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry.
Biffy Clyro set the standard by delivering The Modern Leper as if it were one of their own, while Brooklyn indie rockers Right on Dynamite turn Fast Blood into a trippy rocker.
Mindful of the resonances in Hutchison’s lyrics, most choose to keep it simple: Hutchison’s buddy Josh Ritter amplifies the bluegrass influence on Old Old Fashioned, Craig Finn of US roots rockers The Hold Steady tackles Heads Roll Off with a soulful simplicity and there is crystal synth pop clarity to Daughter’s version of Poke. Inevitably, the words are now coloured with a darker hue. Even though Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie envelops the desolate sentiments of Keep Yourself Warm in fuzzy synths and chiming percussion and The Twilight Sad handle the horribly prescient Floating in the Forth with care, these tracks are very close to the bone. Which is why they deserve to be heard.
On a lighter note, the National Jazz Trio of Scotland, who don’t play jazz and have never recorded in trio format, release their fifth long-playing missive this week.
Arranger and bandleader Bill Wells remains the only constant of the operation. On Standards Vol. V, his sole co-conspirator is vocalist Gerard Black, whose angelic, androgynous pipes have graced tracks by Charlotte Gainsbourg, Francois & the Atlas Mountains and Rozi Plain. That voice is occasionally the only instrument to be heard, multi-tracked to create the wordless chorale of Vox II or the languorous Beach Boys-style elegy Gradual Inclination.
Black turns his hand to doo-wop on Set Fire to Silver Light , the intimate lament of A Quiet Goodbye (with lyrics by Aidan Moffat) and the serious inquiry of So Much Power (over a cheesy, syncopated salsa rhythm), as well as a succession of idiosyncratic cover versions of folk songs and musical theatre numbers, including a soothing electric piano-backed Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof.
The snappily titled ∑(No,12k,Lg,17 Mif) New Order + Liam Gillick: So it goes... is a live recording of New Order’s special concert residency at the 2017 Manchester International Festival, when they were joined by a synthesiser orchestra of young players from the Royal Northern College of Music in Stage 1 of the Old Granada Studios – scene of the band’s 1978 TV debut as Joy Division.
The setlist is sparing on hits, strong on deep cuts, such as the taut, propulsive Disorder from Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album, disinterred after 30 years, and In A Lonely Place, a track which bridges Joy Division and New Order, back in the set after a 20-year lay-off. While listeners are denied the visual impact of the synth orchestra in Gillick ’s striking stage design, they make their presence felt on the baroque layers of Your Silent Face, an especially twinkly Bizarre Love Triangle and the grand neo-classical sweep of Elegia. - Fiona Shepherd
Wynton Marsalis: Violin Concerto & Fiddle Dance Suite (Decca) ****
It’s clear from these two showcase violin pieces that this artistic collaboration between their composer, US jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, and performer/dedicatee, Scots violinist Nicola Benedetti, is more than skin deep. The Violin Concerto in D is a soul-bearing work, fired by Marsalis’ natural musical habitat. From the wistful dreaminess of the opening Rhapsody to the final stomping Hootenanny, via the erratic excitement of the Rondo Burlesque and seductive Blues, it’s a world that Benedetti buys totally into. She embraces the jazziness with wild foot-tapping abandon, and brings a refined lyricism to the table that is ravishing. If anything, the work’s structure is stretched to near breaking point, but there’s no denying its immediate emotive power, fired by the fire and dazzle of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Cristian Macelaru. The unaccompanied Fiddle Dance Suite is a natural companion piece. - Ken Walton
Dave Liebman & Richie Beirach: Eternal Voices (Jazzline) ****
Saxophonist Dave Liebman and pianist Richie Beirach celebrate half a century of collaboration by taking an improvisatory approach to short classical pieces by Mozart, Bach, Scriabin and others, plus movements from Bartok’s string quartets.
These are deeply considered, melancholy or mellifluous reimaginings, making for austere but engrossing listening. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30 rides on the gently rocking cradle of Beirach’s piano and there are sad, spare deliberations on a Scriabin prelude. Two tender passacaglia-like tributes to departed friends see Liebman switching to flute for one, For Ernst.
It is when they venture into the thickets of the Bartok quartets that they create particularly haunting soundworlds, as in the sonorous piano mutterings and querulous sax in the fifth or ghostly austerity of the sixth, while a startling, Love Supreme-ish sax fanfares their take on the fourth before the piano rolls in. - Jim Gilchrist