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    Ears New York

    VOICE

    This Time on EARS NEW YORK, Jeff reviews Eliane Elias' current record "Light My Fire" and Hiromi's "Voice"

    altHIROMI
    Voice
    Telarc

    At times Hiromi’s talent takes on a larger-than-life visage and she becomes her own Lichtenstein canvas – newsprint dots, comic strip thought bubbles, oversized everything. Even her music flirts with the urgency instilled in those pop art wonderworks ("I DON'T CARE! I'D RATHER SINK THAN CALL BRAD FOR HELP!")

    This is not meant to marginalize Hiromi, but to underscore the fact that she breathes rarified air. Among jazz pianists she bursts with bigness.

    On Voice Hiromi returns to a trio format with crankshaft musicians Anthony Jackson (bass) and Simon Phillips (drums) who enable her stunning play. Spanning nine tracks - each one a keeper - Hiromi sashays from ethereal to complex, seamlessly controlling dynamcs and mood, building on keyboard motifs and group exchanges that place her on a sliding scale between merely engaging and riveting.

    Singling out tracks here might be construed a fool’s game, though my favorites include “Temptation,” “Labyrinth,” “Now or Never,” and “Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8.”

    At her most daunting Hiromi channels pianists as diverse as Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Jerry Lee Lewis and Glenn Gould - iconoclasts with clarity, focus and the chops to enact all. She’s that good.

    As a result she stands at the crossroads of Art, Entertainment, Show Business and Talent. Is she ready for Cirque du Soleil? Hanging from a trapeze, a Steinway clenched between her teeth, spinning, hypnotic, the greatest aerobatic pianist on earth?

    Probably not yet. But stay tuned. In the meantime, there’s Voice.

    altELIANE ELIAS
    Light My Fire
    Concord Picante

    Drawing from a deep well of composers - Paul Desmond, Stevie Wonder, Dorival Caymmi and Jim Morrison, among them - Brazilian pianist and singer Eliane Elias has crafted a winning tableau, an afterhours excursion, moody and lyrical. Light My Fire is an amber-hued record revealing Elias's penchant for simple arrangements and affecting vocals. Not unlike Karrin Allyson's Round Midnight, detailed in last month's Ears New York, Elias conveys authority through close micing. She shapes the contours of her songs with a firm hand. Her's is a breathy style - cool, understated, intimate - delivered with the effortless air of a balloon tracing a tradewind.

    Aided by Oscar Castro-Neves, Giberto Gil, and Randy Brecker, she showcases a knowing touch on the keyboard, using economically drawn lines to punctuate and embellish heartfelt narratives. This sensuous coupling of voice and keys - elements smartly complementary - signals Elias's arrival as a record-maker with a vision, her talents finally interlocking with puzzle precision.

    Standout tracks include "Take Five," imaginatively deconstructed to create a tropical travelog; her own "Made In Moonlight," crafted with jazzy concision; and the title track, which adds a bed of smoldering embers to the Door’s anthem of AOR radio.

    Elias’s career spans 20-plus recordings. Light My Fire, a warm-glow treatise on sensuous expression, might be her most artful effort to date.

    altJeff Levenson is a label executive, writer-producer, and jazz journalist. His affiliations include posts at Half Note, Sony, Warner Bros, Downbeat and Billboard. He currently produces the annual Thelonious Monk Instrumental Competition, and has authored and/or produced events for the NEA, the US State Department, the White House, the New School for Social Research and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. His credits include collaborations with Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Bela Fleck, Arturo Sandoval, and McCoy Tyner. He has produced and/or supervised six Grammy albums - 2 winners, 4 nominees. He currently chairs the National Jazz Committee for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, serves as Board Governor for its New York Chapter, and digs the company of jazz musicians.

    SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS

    This Time on EARS NEW YORK, Jeff reviews Pat Metheny's current record 'What's It All About' and Karrin Allyson's 'Round Midnight'

     

    PAT METHENY
    What’s It All About
    Nonesuch

    With What's It All About (a title owing to the fertile minds of Burt Bacharach and Hal David), Pat Metheny lays bare the evidence for a compelling discussion: Is he the most thoughtful jazz guitarist of our generation? Could very well be.

    Best heard as a companion record to One Quiet Night, Metheny's 2003 collection of solo acoustic meditations, What's It All About traverses similar stylistic territory, though it delivers more.

    Relying heavily on a baritone guitar, distinctively tuned, he shuns original compositions for this record - a first in his career. Rather, he expands and reimagines the definition of the jazz songbook by examining tunes drawn from the AM/FM radio of his youth. (He's 56.)

    The result fortifies or emboldens tunes originating with the baby boomers who emerged at the close of World War II, the creators and consumers of culture whose influence on popular music was massive. These songs mean much to Metheny, quite obviously - "The Sounds of Silence," "Pipeline, "Betcha By Golly, Wow," "Rainy Days and Monday," "Cherish," "Alfie" (whose opening lyric titles this record).

    In sum we’re treated to strong melodies and rich harmonies - refracted, molded, newly invented. This most thoughtful guitarist caresses all, sharing his intimate miniatures.

    What's It All About is the question. It is also the music of life and breath, the sound of Pat Metheny’s gorgeous quest for answers.

    KARRIN ALLYSON
    ‘Round Midnight
    Concord

    Drawing from a similarly quiet place, Karrin Allyson’s latest is a soulful offering boasting echoes of vulnerability. ‘Round Midnight is a production decidely spare and unadorned. It is the musical equivalent of “Nighthawks,” Edward Hopper’s timeless canvas depicting diners lost in their own thoughts.

    Over a span of 11 tunes, Allyson paints her own picture, applying a moody wash to works by Steven Sondheim (“Send In The Clowns”), Bill Evans (“Turn Out The Stars”), Duke Ellington (“Sophisticated Lady”), Paul Simon (“April Come She Will”) and Thelonious Monk (the title track).

    It is a dreamy and romantic survey, meticulously crafted. Allyson’s individual essays are threaded by a haunting air of longing, detailed and nuanced by her vocal shadings and piano play.

    This may be key to the album’s overall feel – Allyson’s acoustic and electric keyboards, which she handles exclusively. As a result she actuates the subtle shifting of moods smartly - waxing bittersweet or sensuous, plaintive or etheral. Her piano accompaniment unifies all. It is a controlled performance, assisted by guitarist Rod Fleeman, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, harmonicat Randy Weinstein, bassist Ed Howard and drummer Matt Wilson.

    Is Karrin Allyson world-weary, a somber observor commenting on life and love? Perhaps so, but viewed otherwise she is experienced and knowing, deliberate and brave, a most accomplished jazz singer. “Round Midnight is a vocal record distinguished by its own design and execution. As she confesses in song, Allyson is “always chasing rainbows.” This disc is the pot of gold.

     

    Jeff Levenson is a label executive, writer-producer, and jazz journalist. His affiliations include posts at Half Note, Sony, Warner Bros, Downbeat and Billboard. He currently produces the annual Thelonious Monk Instrumental Competition, and has authored and/or produced events for the NEA, the US State Department, the White House, the New School for Social Research and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. His credits include collaborations with Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Bela Fleck, Arturo Sandoval, and McCoy Tyner. He has produced and/or supervised six Grammy albums - 2 winners, 4 nominees. He currently chairs the National Jazz Committee for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, serves as Board Governor for its New York Chapter, and digs the company of jazz musicians.

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