Young and Old: New Jazz and Classical CDs at the Library

In Music Stories, Shelf Life by Chris Barrettleave a COMMENT

Henry Threadgill’s Zooid
In for a Penny, in for a Pound (Pi Recordings, 2015)
Here is the sound of fearless and gleeful musical exploration. Composer, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill has been dodging stasis and predictability for some 50 years. Although he’s made some of his most memorable music with large ensembles (see Very Very Circus and Society Situation Dance Band), it’s a treat to listen to him lead this quintet through some rapid problem-solving drills executed in tight quarters. While much of the playing is improvised, there is a functional, flattering structure. Threadgill has composed preludes that introduce showcase pieces for each of his collaborators—Elliott Kavee on drums and percussion, Christopher Hoffman on cello, Jose Davila on trombone and tuba, and Liberty Ellman on guitar.

Emanuel Ax and Itzhak Perlman
Fauré & Strauss: Violin Sonatas (Deutsche Grammophon, 2015)
Let us never refuse a lesson from a master. Or in this case, two masters. Violinist Itzhak Perlman just entered his seventh decade and has been performing as a virtuoso soloist since the age of 13. Pianist Emanuel Ax has enjoyed an equally illustrious career. They are at a point where they can kindly muscle a label like Deutsche Grammophon to record and release a program that combines two of their favorite recital pieces—Gabriel Fauré’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 13 and Richard Strauss’ Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op. 18—which they have performed together, know by heart, and believe complement each other nicely. Perlman’s finesse and expansive command of tone enlarges and rescues the Fauré.

John Hollenbeck
Songs We Like a Lot (Sunnyside Records, 2015)
Composer/drummer/arranger John Hollenbeck thinks big ideas. On this recording, he has a big band to help him express them—the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, some 20 strong, which also commissioned these arrangements of covers and original compositions. Also on hand are voice soloists Kate McGarry and Theo Blackman. McGarry has the ideal voice for “How Can I Keep From Singing?,” the English folk song often associated with Pete Seeger, who made it popular in America. Also notably fine is the Hollenbeck composition “The Snow Is Deep on the Ground,” which sets to music the poem by the often-overlooked Beat poet Kenneth Patchen.

Joey Alexander
My Favorite Things (Motema Music, 2015)
If any of your college time touched upon linguistics, you’re probably aware of the short-lived biochemical wonder that Noam Chomsky called the Language Acquisition Device. It’s been shown that a young person can learn a language just by hearing it spoken. Bali-born piano prodigy Joey Alexander (age 11 when he made this record) demonstrates what happens when one of the speakers a child overhears and learns from is Thelonious Monk. Alexander leads a small ensemble through a charming set of standards, wisely skipping any tricks. The title cut, which most jazz fans associate with John Coltrane, is a good example of Alexander’s judgment: He plays it straight out of Rodgers and Hammerstein. This is a great first record, and makes one wonder: How long until there’s a prodigy raised on Henry Threadgill?

Chris Barrett's Shelf Life alerts readers to new arrivals at the Lawson McGhee Library's stellar Sights and Sounds collection, along with recommendations and reminders of staples worthy of revisiting. He is a former Metro Pulse staff writer who’s now a senior assistant at the Knox County Public Library.

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