FOUR NEW CDs: JAZZ, POP, SOUNDTRACK AND MORE JAZZ

Polly-Photo---Intensity_LOW-RESShe’s so pretty. And she sings like an angel. Polly Gibbons just may be a jazz Adele as they’re both Brits and they both have albums sharply produced to accentuate their particular brands of soul. But make no mistake. Gibbons can wrap her considerable talents around a lyric line while playing peek-a-boo with melody like a true jazzer. For her stateside CD/DVD debut, “Many Faces Of Love” (Resonance) has her interpreting Betty Carter’s “Make It Last,” Dr. John’s “City Lights,” Al Jarreau’s “Not Like This,” Patti Austin’s “”That’s Enough For Me,” Sarah Vaughan’s “After Hours,” Carmen McRae’s “I Have The Feeling I’ve Been Here Before” and even “Company” by Rickie Lee Jones. And she nails every one. Aided and abetted by piano, violin, guitar, bass and drums, Polly decidedly shines.

Branford Marsalis album coverSaxophonist Branford Marsalis, in his long and illustrious career, has proven himself the master of the quartet, the duo, the classical ensemble (both chamber and orchestral) as well as a purveyor of pop and even TV show banter with Jay Leno as former head of “The Tonight Show” band. The one thing he has never done is the hardest show of all:  solo sax.

Until now.

Released late last year, “In My Solitude: Live At The Grace Cathedral” (Marsalis Music/Okeh) is a haunting reminder of this man’s greatness as he tackles post-bop, baroque, contemporary classical and spontaneous improvisation. San Francisco’s cherished Grace Cathedral, where Duke Ellington recorded his “Sacred Concerts” in the 1960s, has its own all-encompassing sound vibe that he had to get used to. (When a siren sounded during one piece, he actually interplayed with it, creating “Improvisation #3.”)

He brought his alto, soprano and tenor saxophones, switching off depending on whether he was gliding through Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” and his own “Blues For One” or Steve Lacy’s “Who Needs It” and even the theme song for the old Carol Burnett TV show (“I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together”). The highlight, though, has to be his interpretation of Ryo Noda’s “MAI,” a hard-as-hell piece to perform that captures the spirit of the shakuhachi, a bamboo flute that plays a purely Japanese form of music. According to Marsalis, he discovered it while touring there. “It helped me appreciate patience,” he explains, “rather than getting to the point as quickly as possible. I wanted to honor the original intent of Noda’s music, and I knew that the audience would relate to the sound of the piece in Grace Cathedral.”

To which I can only add, wow.

soundtrackShe’s lonely until she meets a boy but her mother forbids it because she’s too young so she leaves home and her mother becomes so lonely that she dies. No, that’s not the plot of “Wild” starring Reese Witherspoon. It’s only the plot of “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” by The Shangri-Las, one of 15 tracks on the film’s soundtrack. From Swedish Folk Pop duo First Aid Kit covering R.E.M.’s “Walk Unafraid” and Billy Swan covering Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” to Wings, Leonard Cohen, Free, Lucinda Williams, Portishead, Bruce Springsteen, Pat Metheny Group, The Hollies and more, this “Wild” soundtrack album (Legacy) is one of the more eclectic Hollywood offerings in years and stands alone as a solid mix, apart from the film.

#1Is it a statement on our times that this 21-track compilation, the 53rd such offering, debuted at #1 on the Billboard albums chart? I guess kids don’t want to have to ferret out the good stuff on their own. Hell, they’re probably too busy with homework, so the good folks at Legacy are more than happy to take what they know will be kiddie favorites and spoon-feed it to them. “Now That’s What I Call Music” has to be the most successful franchise in recording history. This one has all the usual suspects like Meghan Trainor, Maroon 5, Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande, Sam Smith, One Direction, Selena Gomez, Iggy Azalea, Charli XCX, Coldplay and more. Of course, that’s not what I call music but I’m an old critic born in the ’50s, when rock’n’roll was dangerous, raised in the ’60s, when rock’n’roll could change the world, married in the ’70s when pop music reached its heights, got high in the ’80s when everything sounded good, snored through the ’90s when sports overtook music, got divorced in the ’00s when music became important to me again, and now? I mostly listen to my favorites from the ’50s and ’60s again. This stuff? I’m actually sorta liking it, to tell the truth, especially that totally awesome “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. But hey, where’s “All About That Bass”? Did I miss that one?

About Mike Greenblatt

A longtime music journalist, Mike Greenblatt is a contributing editor with Goldmine magazine.

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