CD reviews: No surprises on Ken Karsh’s ‘Conversations’
Ken Karsh (Alanna)
The surprises on Ken Karsh’s ‘Conversations’ are no surprise at all. It is no wonder the Duquesne University guitar instructor can open his version “My Girl” with a solo that puts the melody in a slick blues setting. It also is no shock that he can cruise through his own “Polkaboppin'” as a slick bit of bebop or create a beautiful solo version of “Scarborough Fair.” Anyone who knows Karsh realizes what a great and versatile guitarist he is. Karsh moves from familiar songs and jazz classics such as Wes Montgomery’s “Bumpin’ on Sunset” to his “Spring Forward, Fall Back,” which has the sound of a classical theme wrapped in modern rhythms. The album features support work by some of the area’s finest jazz musicians, including keyboardist Max Leake, saxophonist Eric DeFade, drummer Billy Kuhn and bassist Jeff Mangone.
— Bob Karlovits
‘Piano Masters Series, Vol. 2’
Philippe Baden Powell (Adventure Music)
‘Me, Myself & I’
Kenny Werner (Justin Time)
Brazil’s Phillippe Baden Powell shows he is one of Adventure Music’s series of “Piano Masters” in a rich collection of 13 solo works, eight of which are his own. The album also includes a delicate reading of Thelonious Monk’s ” ‘Round Midnight,” a thoughtful look at John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and a brisk outing with Egberto Gismonti’s “Loro.” While those pieces all are nicely done, Powell’s works define the album, making it a recital with a sense of groove. Meanwhile, Kenny Werner offers his look at the solo piano with five jazz classics, a Joni Mitchell song and one original in an album that has a more club-like, jazz feeling. It was recorded live in Montreal, so that is understandable. Probably the best offering is a beautiful version of Thad Jones’ “A Child Is Born.” It is rivaled closely by his look at Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green,” which, by the way, has an unfortunate typo on the cover. The two albums show how broad the look at one instrument can be.
— Bob Karlovits
”All The Years Combine: The DVD Collection’
Grateful Dead (Shout! Factory)
“All The Years Combine” primarily collects most — but not all — official Grateful Dead video releases to date (notable exception: the 2010 release “Crimson, White & Indigo”). Of particular local interest is the inclusion among the set’s 14 DVDs, which run about 38 hours, of “View From the Vault,” which documents the band’s July 8, 1990, show at Three Rivers Stadium. So what’s new here? The first-ever DVD release of “So Far,” the 1980s “conceptual video;” five previously unreleased performance clips; a video interview with official Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux; and an essay by Jerry Garcia biographer Blair Jackson in the set’s booklet. Although some will bemoan the lack of a Blu-ray version, there’s no doubt these DVDs are essential viewing for Deadheads. Whether they’re an essential purchase for Deadheads likely depends on how many of these releases they already own.
— Alan Wallace
”Little Broken Hearts’
Norah Jones (Blue Note)
Norah Jones is rich, beautiful and has one of the most gorgeous voices in popular music. None of that makes her immune to a broken heart. Sad for her, good for us. Jones channeled her hurt into a collaboration with Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton with 12 reflections on love gone wrong. It’s no pick-me-up, obviously. But Jones does more than wallow. She’s angry, defiant, wounded, all-too-willing to slip back into a bad thing and even entertains a murder fantasy. In the catchy “She’s 22,” Jones imagines her ex’s life with a new lover, ending with “I’d like to see you happy.” Falser words were never spoken. On “Out on the Road,” she steps out with determination and a half tank of gas, only to hear a ghostly voice remind her that she’s got “nowhere to go.” Burton proves an excellent collaborator: the music sometimes spooky and bass-heavy but also surprisingly sunny in spots. If she’s not pushed or energized, Jones’ music can bore. There are enough good musical ideas here to keep the mind from wandering, and it brings her squarely into contemporary pop without sounding contrived.
— Associated Press
‘Older Than My Old Man Now’
Loudon Wainwright III (2nd Story Sound)
Loudon Wainwright III has made a long career of singing about himself, but it’s hard to think of another troubadour who does the self-referential with such a mixture of brutal, self-lacerating candor and irrepressible wit. That’s the case again throughout “Older Than My Old Man Now.” As the title would indicate, death and mortality are much on the mind of the 65-year-old Wainwright, and his stock-taking involves a big focus on family. His late father is a presence. Performing on the album are all four of his children, his current wife, and ex-wife Suzzy Roche. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Chris Smither also guest. Wainwright still can turn out glib, clever novelty numbers — “Date Line” and “My Meds.” But most of this is about the heavier stuff, leavened by his deft hand. Only Wainwright can sing a ballad called “I Remember Six” as a duet with Dame Edna (who, of course, is a man), and make it sound more true-to-life than ridiculous.
— The Philadelphia Inquirer