The trumpeter's first outing for Blue Note, after a tenure with Verve, drops the high-concept trappings (guest singers, movie music, etc.) and simply showcases his superior skills in playing, composition, production and band leadership. Bounce is simply a damn fine jazz record that hops between various permutations of the post-bop tradition -- aggro swing ("Fred Brown"), probing ballads ("Nocturna," "Passionate Courage"), a splash of Latin ("On the Verge") and more. Blanchard and company make a couple of cool left turns with the New Orleans second-line feel of the title track and a smoldering funk take on Wayne Shorter's "Footprints." Robert Glasper stirs in some B-3 and Rhodes to augment Aaron Parks' superb piano work. Blanchard, whose playing is more mellifluous and full-bodied than most, oozes confidence and swagger. He's at the top of his game. --Eric Snider
Notch another triumph for Joe Henry. It's a damn shame that a good portion of you readers have never heard the name. He built a cult following in the 90s with some of the smartest singer/songwriter fare around, then in '99 tapped his inner jazzman with Fuse and then followed two years later with the even better Scar. Tiny Voices is a further extension of Henry's heady synthesis of dark, sophisticated melody; elusive, poetic lyrics; and moody soundscapes. Call it abstract jazz-pop. Tiny Voices is subtly spiked with avant-gardisms, but retains a warmth and ear-friendliness. Tom Waits is a kindred spirit.
Henry has surrounded himself with simpatico players to realize the deep sense of mood in his work. Trumpeter Ron Miles and clarinetist/saxophonist Don Byron, who hail from the jazz fringe, contribute everything from eerie washes to lovely riffs to demented solos. The drums percolate, guitars shimmer. Strands of barrelhouse piano, Fender Rhodes and harpsichord add vivid detail. Further decorating the sound are splotches of white noise and dissonant loops.
Most of Tiny Voices creeps along seductively, with Henry injecting just enough spunk -- the slinky R&B of "This Afternoon," the seething grind of the title track, the warped Tin Pan Alley of "Loves You Madly" -- to prevent the experience from becoming an extended dirge. --Eric Snider
Some records can be listened to anywhere, anytime. Some records seem tailor-made for very specific circumstances. This collection of pillowy, intimate electronica and acoustica from Ida principals Daniel Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell is one of the latter type. And here's the situation for which Muki seems perfectly conceived: Around 8 or 9pm, ingest a heroic dosage of psilocybin mushrooms. Engage in the standard initial discomfort, laughing jags, tree climbing, irrationally deep conversation and near-death experience over the course of the evening. Then, at daybreak, disrobe with a loved one, take a quality boom-box outside, lie naked in the dewy grass and let these melodic paeans to contemplation soothe your psychic exhaustion. Or don't; it's up to you, really, but Muki's dreamy pondering seems an apt comedown accompaniment. The acoustic guitar-driven stuff ("R U Ready," "Wake Up Call," "Daydreaming [And I'm Thinking of U]," "Can't Help It," "The Fullness of Time") is more focused than the more mechanized fare, yet equally fragile, and the piano-tethered "Getting Nowhere" is also a standout. --Scott Harrell
When Warren Zevon was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in August '02, he could've spread out on a beach chair for the three months he was given to live. Instead, he decided to throw all of his flagging energy into completing one last album. A year later, he was still alive to see the release of The Wind, a poignant and fitting coda to an iconoclastic career (note: Zevon died at home on Sept. 7, 2003).
Zevon made a living out of writing about death, from the doomed mercenary "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" to the raucous declaration "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead." This penchant has not changed with The Wind, although the references have much more impact. Some of the lyrics have the gallows humor so central to the Zevon oeuvre, but overall the disc has a reflective, often tender tone. The singer/songwriter seems to be tying things up and along the way sending love letters to friends and fans.
The album begins with country-tinged "Dirty Life and Times," written before the cancer diagnosis, that features the prophetic opening line "Some days I feel like a shadow's casting me." The Wind concludes with the teary ballad "Keep Me in Your Heart For Awhile," which begins "Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath." Free of irony or bitterness, the song simply asks that he be remembered fondly.
In between, Zevon, co-producer/writer Jorge Calderon and a large cast of musician-friends move through boisterous rockers ("Disorder in the House," "Numb as a Statue," "The Rest of the Night"), a rollicking blues ("Rub Me Raw," with razory slide solo by Joe Walsh), and a riveting folk ballad, "Prison Grove," with a chorus like a chain-gang dirge. Best of all are a handful of heartfelt ballads that capture Zevon's frailty and a sadness that no amount of bravado can hide. "She's Too Good For Me" balances regret and hope: "I want her to be happy/ I want her to be free/ I want her to be everything she couldn't be with me."
Over Calderon's objections, Zevon insisted on including "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," which comes off as more a homage to Dylan than a rumination on death.
A bevy of Zevon's pals and admirers rallied around the sessions. Bruce Springsteen brings a sense of fun to "Disorder in the House" with ragged background vocals and some unruly guitar solos. Also turning up were Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit, Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, Billy Bob Thornton, David Lindley, Ry Cooder, Jackson Browne and others. Importantly, The Wind does not sag under the weight of the cameos. It's still very much a Warren Zevon album, one that beautifully caps off an accomplished career and a life lived hard and well.
-- Eric Snider