CD reviews: Bloody-minded brilliance

We review all the latest CD releases

POP

Luke Haines: Outsider/In: The Collection

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Music Club Deluxe, 
web only

****

THANK heaven for Luke Haines. Never the most musically proficient of artists, his career nevertheless stands as shining proof that persistence and often bloody-minded pessimism can allow an individualistic artist to flourish in Britain. This two-disc compilation features one disc devoted to his old band The Auteurs, including fondly-remembered early 1990s indie hits Showgirl and Lenny Valentino, and another which dips into his latter band Baader Meinhof, and his more recent solo career. Sadly there’s nothing from his other group, Black Box Recrder, but there are more than enough acerbic takes on Britain’s bitterly amusing underbelly here to serve as a lengthy introduction.

DAVID POLLOCK

Twin Shadow: Confess

4AD, £11.99

****

THE second album from George Lewis Jr is all instrumental, which lends its not inconsiderable emotional impact even more weight. Written while Lewis, born in the Dominican Republic and raised in America, was recovering from a motorbike accident, it’s like the soundtrack album to an unmade Michael Mann film, a collection of dynamic, crystal clear synth lines and punching drum machine beats straight out of the 1980s, which inspire the postmodern ennui of an aerial tracking shot of LA by night on Patient and Be Mine Tonight. In the Caribbean-tinged The One, meanwhile, there’s just enough of a hint of John Hughes’ work to inspire a pang of nostalgia. What a find.

Newton Faulkner: 
Write It On Your Skin

RCA, £12.99

**

Much loved by backpackers and coffee-table bohemians, dreadlocked Newton Faulkner has pressed on in the same vein as usual with his third album. Affirmative, sun-kissed and produced for maximum MOR radio friendliness, songs like the single Clouds, Pulling Teeth and the Jeff Buckley-lite Against the Grain are as personable as the man himself while being utterly unadventurous, although the Felt Mountain-era Goldfrapp sweep of In the Morning is a welcome diversion. The presence of The OC-soundtracking Phantom Planet’s bassist Sam Farrar proves a good indicator of the mass-target market here.

DAVID POLLOCK

CLASSICAL

Richard Strauss: Elektra

LSO live, £17.99

*****

GIVEN the rapturous critical reception that greeted Valery Gergiev’s live performances of this Elektra with the London Symphony Orchestra two years ago, it’s hardly surprising that the resulting recording, taken from the occasion, is every bit as powerful. Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet’s monumental singing of the title role governs a cast heavily laden with female voices, but equally driven by such stirring male singing as Matthias Goerne’s Orest and Ian Storey’s Aegisth, among others. Gergiev grasps the Wagnerian intensity of the score, also capturing the Straussian extremist tendencies with thrilling impact. Thrusting playing by the LSO helps.

KENNETH WALTON

JAZZ

Ravi Coltrane: 
Spirit Fiction

Blue Note, £12.99

***

FORTY-FIVE years after his father, John Coltrane, recorded the classic Blue Train, saxophonist Ravi makes his own debut on Blue Note. Spirit Fiction isn’t likely to accrue the same enduring aura as its forebear, but it is a strong contemporary jazz outing from a player who has grown into a potentially problematic legacy in fine style. The disc features two different bands, his regular quartet with Luis Perdomo, Drew Gress and EJ Strickland, and a quintet with trumpeter Ralph Alessi, pianist Geri Allen, bassist James Genus and the scintillating drumming of Eric Harland. The alternation works well across the disc, adding variation without destroying the overall unity. Producer Joe Lovano also contributes his magisterial tenor saxophone on covers of Ornette Coleman’s Check Out Time and Paul Motian’s Fantasm, although the original material by Coltrane and Alessi doesn’t immediately stand out.

KENNY MATHIESON

FOLK

David Francey: 
Late Edition

Greentrax, £11.99

***

THE Ayrshire-born Canadian singer-songwriter’s ninth album deals with the news, global and personal, veering between wry soul-searching and a preoccupation with the media he first developed as a paperboy. Recorded in Memphis and slickly accompanied by fiddle, electric guitar, mandolin and drums, this is about as near as you’ll get to electric Francey; witness the louche guitar reverb under Yesterday’s News or the catchy bluegrass shuffle of Just the Same. There’s perhaps nothing quite as memorable as All Lights Burning Bright, Torn Screen Door or Morning Train (some of which can be heard on his 2006 live recording The First Set, also newly released here by Greentrax), but Francey’s characteristically spare eloquence and laconic humanity still shine through. Listen to the heart-on-sleeve tenderness of Wonder, the sweet melancholy of Blue Heart of Texas, with its singing fiddle, and his unaccompanied winter ode, Borderlands, co-written with Scots fiddler Lori Watson.

JIM GILCHRIST

WORLD

Ensemble Al Kindi: Le salon de musique d’Alep

Chant du Monde, £13.99

****

WHILE Syria burns, with Aleppo a focus for murderous intercommunal conflict, it’s worth remembering what the city has long been known for: a refined musical tradition that has continued unbroken for centuries. This fascinating double CD owes its existence to the indefatigable work of a French guitarist, Julien Weiss, who fell in love with the classical Arab oud 35 years ago, settled in Aleppo, and went native to the point of changing his name to Jalal Eddine. His previous CDs with the Al Kindi ensemble have established him as Syria’s leading musical archaeologist, and this one powerfully reinforces the message. With two singers, and players on the oud, spike fiddle, nay flute, percussion, and Weiss’s own qanun zither, the group is ideally suited to delivering the music which would have been used to serenade the Aleppan nobility two centuries ago. The idea of a “music room” is central to what this tradition is all about: this would have been a vaulted open space where tea and spices would be served while the musicians played and sang long into the night, in an atmosphere of meditative calm broken by occasional cries of “Allah, Ya Salam” as particularly impressive instrumental or vocal feats were performed, with “tarab” – the Arabian term for ecstasy – being the goal. The beauty of these recordings is that they are scrupulously faithful to performing tradition, following the sophisticated forms to which all eastern Arab musicians were expected to master. These go by the collective name “wasla”, with each wasla consisting of a suite of pieces, some vocal, some instrumental, some improvised, some pre-composed, in modes with infinitely finer gradations of pitch than those of the European scale.

MICHAEL CHURCH