KATHRYN CALDER – Kathryn Calder

Album: Kathryn Calder

Artist: Kathryn Calder

Label: File Under: Music

Release Date: April 14, 2015

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With three albums out now under her own name, Kathryn Calder has built up a volume of music strong enough to eclipse her role in the New Pornographers. Are You My Mother (2010) and Bright and Vivid (2011) featured Calder’s sweet voice wrapped in layers of gauzy echo, surrounded by music that combines ambience and moody pop. Lyrically they both sounded upbeat and hopeful, though both dealt with feelings of loss and recovery.


For her self-titled third album, Calder took an Eno-esque approach to composing. She created atmospheres with keyboards and fashioned songs around them. The results frequently have fairly simple foundations of a few repeated chords. “Slow Burning,” begins the album with the statement, “Come show me something I can’t see,” which could be either a personal challenge or an outer appeal. The song serves more as extended intro rather than an opening statement, never rising above a calm murmur. “Beach” keeps things understated and intimate, with a metronomic drumbeat and clarinet added to the synths. Then Calder shifts gears in the organ-driven pure pop of “Take a Little Time,” with synth horns floating over a chugging bassline that feels infectious for all the right reasons.


Calder balances the rest of the album between slower tracks with brighter ones, on about a 2:1 ratio. The somber feelings of “Song in Cm” and “Arm in Arm” are answered by the synth bass-drive of “My Armour.” “When You See My Blood” actually takes it both ways, rising to a dramatic climax that’s worth the wait. And regardless of the tempo, Calder continues to show a knack for rich vocal melodies that make sure none of these tracks sound merely like a simple ideas trying to pass themselves off as songs. The real nuances come out when this music is heard closely on headphones, but even when they blare out of speakers, there is something alluring to grab the ear and pull you in.


DOWNLOAD: “Take a Little Time,” “Pride by Design.”


Album: Policy

Artist: Will Butler

Label: Merge

Release Date: March 10, 2015

Will Butler


Arcade Fire fans expecting something Arcade-esque from Will Butler will likely be disappointed, or at least thrown off, by Butler’s solo debut. Although he has an upper-register singing style that will recall older brother and fellow A.F. member Win Butler, only one track, out of the dozen that make up Policy, can really be likened to the anthemic fare that is Arcade Fire’s stock-in-trade. That the exuberant, shouty “What I Want” isn’t even close to being the best tune here potentially bodes well for the younger Butler, who already notched a shared Oscar nomination (with A.F. collaborator Owen Pallett) for Best Original Score for 2013’s Her.

Policy is actually all over the musical map, and indeed Butler is a former college radio deejay who knows his genres. There’s thumping, Nuggets-style garage rock (“Take My Side”); synth-driven ‘80s electro-pop (the Cars-meets-Human League “Anna”); stately piano balladry (“Finish What I Started”); strummy-folky upbeat indie rock (“Son of God”); even a moody, atmospheric dirge (“Sing to Me”) which sounds like it might have originally been intended for a film.

This scattershot, kitchen-sink approach is simultaneously the album’s charm and undoing, however. For as catchy and hooky as his material can be, the haphazard production leaves it sounding somewhat listless, Butler not so much forging a unique identity as coming across at times like just another indie forager in search of a Pitchfork review.

Still, when he’s on, he’s definitely at the top of his game, distinguishing himself apart from the mothership that pays his bills; the aforementioned “Take My Side” and “Anna” in particular illustrate his considerable gifts as a pop craftsman. Think of the album as a calling card, then, and the promising start of what we can only hope will be a fruitful solo career.

DOWNLOAD: “Take My Side,” “Son of God”

BOZ SCAGGS — A Fool To Care

Album: A Fool To Care

Artist: Boz Scaggs

Label: 429 Records

Release Date: March 31, 2015

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By Lee Zimmerman


Although it’s likely that Boz Scaggs will always be best remembered as the smooth crooner on ‘70s classics like “Dinah Flow,” “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle,” his recent outings have proven there’s much more to his pedigree than the ability to pen hit songs. He established his blues credentials in the late ‘60s as a sideman with the Steve Miller Band, a role he played well before he became a steady presence on both the AM and FM radio dials.


Not surprisingly then, A Fool To Care, his follow-up to 2013’s much lauded Memphis, finds Scaggs continuing to transition towards senior star status. Here he pays homage to any number of classic styles, from R&B (“I’m So Proud,” “Full of Fire”) to sounds culled from south of the border (“Last Tango on 16th Street,” “I Want to See You”) and all different hues of the blues (“High Blood Pressure,” “Rich Woman” and “Hell to Pay,” the latter complemented by vocals and slide guitar from Bonnie Raitt). Happily though, he manages to maintain an uptempo groove that’s both animated and expressive. Scaggs’ molasses-soaked vocals are as tantalising as ever, never more so than on the Band’s “Whispering Pines,” which he absolutely transforms into a newly minted soul standard via an aching duet with Lucinda Williams.

Clearly, Boz is back, and at age 70, he’s never sounded so assured.

DOWNLOAD: “I’m So Proud,” “Whispering Pines,” “Last Tango on 16th Street”


Album: Ivy Tripp

Artist: Waxahatchee

Label: Merge

Release Date: April 07, 2015

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Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt was one of 2013’s rawest pleasures, a flayed-open honesty framed in the barest kinds of guitar arrangements. The follow-up, Ivy Tripp, is both more substantial and less weighty, its denser arrangements cushioning but not entirely blunting Katie Crutchfield’s naked emotional appeal.

It begins in “Breathless,” a drone of organ, a buzz of feedback, Crutchfield chanting more than she’s singing, and drawing the vowels out in long, self-lacerating ooos. But it doesn’t take long before she’s surrounded by careening vocal counterparts, little fillips of keyboard, random slashes of feedback-y guitar. “I’m not trying to be seen,” she croons in her wounded wild thing cadences, and indeed, she seems to be hiding, at least partially, behind the sound.

And, yet what a joy to hear Crutchfield kicking up a racket in cuts like “Under a Rock” and “Poison,” the guitars ragged and blurred and distorted, the drums shaken to pieces by rampaging, crashing intensity. Or what about “Dirt” with its country-swaggering guitar lick, its teeth-rattling, cymbal-clashing drums and Crutchfield hushed to a husky murmur that carries, anyway, over the mayhem. It’s less revealing, maybe, but not less real.

The one that I like least is “La Loose,” built on the flimsiest, electro-bedroom rhythm and wreathed with whispery “ooh-ooh-oohs.” She sings in such kittenish, unthreatening tones, that might miss the spike in the sugar. “I feel so close to death, I will visualize a tragedy and blame you for it.” “Ooh ooh ooh” indeed.

Every once in a while you get an album that seems, definitively, to say, “This is who I am,” and Cerulean Salt was one of those. Ivy Tripp is more of a “This is what I can do,”’ album, worthy enough, and intermittently excellent, but not as shocking, not as eye-opening, not as much of a sock in the gut as the predecessor.

Download: “Dirt” “Poison”



WILL HOGE — Small Town Dreams

Album: Small Town Dreams

Artist: Will Hoge

Label: Cumberland

Release Date: April 07, 2015

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Much like Springsteen and Mellencamp, Will Hoge recognizes that even the most sweeping epics are essentially borne from an individual’s ordeals. Indeed, the title tells it all; Small Town Dreams is essentially a look at a rapidly fading pastiche, that of life in middle America, where for all the touting of an economic recovery, the struggle for survival still persists. Hoge documents these tales from a knowing, first-person point of view, giving each scenario the credibility — and respectability — that the characters deserve. It’s touching and enlightening, and just what’s needed to put the focus back on the heartland, the place where it belongs.

For all the ache and desperation these narratives entail, Hoge’s resolute attitude, defiance and determination are the elements that rise to the fore. “It’s too late for me to go crazy, so I’m holding out as long as I can,” he declares on “Desperate Times,” one of the most driven songs of the set. That decided determination also resonates to the fullest on the album’s opening salvo, “Growing Up Around Here,” which finds Hoge taking musical cues from Tom Petty while affirming a genuine sense of self.

Hoge is essentially his own man, and it’s a credit to his credence that he never comes across as a poser or pretender. Consequently, Small Town Dreams boasts a kind of incandescent delivery and drive that makes a live rendition of each of these tracks easy to imagine.

So far, Hoge appears to be doing it right, building to bigger audiences while still keeping his homespun perspective intact. It makes a big difference, and potential admirers will likely perceive it too. Both rocking and reflective, Small Town Dreams is chock full of the kind of ready for prime time anthems that effectively assert both his acumen and authority.

DOWNLOAD: “Desperate Times,” “Growing Up Around Here”

SHUGGIE OTIS – Live In Williamsburg

Album: Live in Williamsburg

Artist: Shuggie Otis

Label: Cleopatra

Release Date: October 14, 2014

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Shuggie Otis is a man of mystery in the rock world. A guitar prodigy, Otis was playing in clubs at age 11, did an album with Al Kooper at 15 and recorded solo albums before he was 20. His best-known tune “Strawberry Letter 23” was a big hit for the Brothers Johnson and has been a sampling staple.

After his 1974 album Inspiration Information (which he basically made all by himself), Otis pretty much disappeared from the music scene for nearly four decades. In 2013, he re-issued Inspiration Information with a disc of music (Wings of Love) he had stockpiled over the intervening years. This live album captures him playing with a full band behind this reissue.

Listening to this recording, it is hard to believe that Otis was away for so long. Check out his expressive, extended soloing on tracks like “Sparkle City/Miss Pretty,” “Sweet Thang” and “Shuggie’s Boogie,” and you won’t hear a trace of rust. His singing too has gracefully, although it might not be as powerful as his guitar playing.

In concert, Otis and his band (complete with a three-man horn section) serve up fabulously funky, bluesy rock ‘n’ roll that makes it easy to link him to pioneering acts such as Sly and the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix as well as seeing his influence on performers like Prince. These live renditions might trim down Otis’ studio psychedelia but there is still a trippy vibe to the way he blends fierce guitar playing with laidback soul grooves.

While Otis’ song catalogue might not hold as many hits as Sly, Jimi or Prince, there are some real gems among this disc’s dozen tracks. “Inspiration Information,” “Aht Uh Mi Hed” and the “newer” tune “Tryin’ To Get Close To You” are particular standout tracks here. Not surprisingly, he saves “Strawberry Letter 23” for last. Somewhat surprisingly, however, he doesn’t turn it into a big funky jam but it still remains a sweet love note.

With the musical prowess that the 60-something Otis displays on this live recording, it makes one curious for his next project, which hopefully won’t be decades in the making.

2015 Big Ears Festival 3/27-29/15, Knoxville

Dates: March 27-29, 205

Location: Various Venues, Knoxville TN



Remember this name: Tanya Tagaq.

When she’s at the top of the charts in a year or so, or when she’s the guest musical artist on Saturday Night Live or performing at the White House, she had a breakthrough at this year’s Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, which occurred March 27-29.

She created the biggest buzz of any act there. Nobody had heard or seen anything like her. She’s an Inuk throat singer who cautioned her audience before she started performing to not get upset or alarmed by what they’re about to see or hear – she is not in any danger and is not harming herself. “Don’t be worried. I’m fine,” she said.


And then, boom! Drummer Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubit began their approximately 45-minute set of improvised, avant-garde jazz as the youthful Tagaq slowly gets in the right mood to sing. Or howl, scream, moan and cry…whatever the spirits directing her performance command of her. As her long brownish hair and tight, short blue dress both convey urban modernity, her journey into such outer limits of proper stage conduct is all the wilder.

Unlike, say, Tuvan throat singers of Asia – which is more chant-like – this is like Yoko Ono crossed with The Exorcist’s Linda Blair. Her “throat” voice wrestled with her “lung” voice in a Godzilla-versus-Rodan showdown. After a while, she was moving and dancing around the stage and then she started crawling, rolling, and writhing. The music is ethnographic and experimental, yes, but there was an undeniable erotic dimension – at times, one was reminded of Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby.”

You’re not quite sure how to take her, but you’re so in awe of her energy and her music that you watch stunned. When the set was over, she received an extended standing ovation from the crowd at the stately, turn-of-the-20th-Century Bijou Theatre.

That earlier comment about her rising up the charts is made somewhat in jest, of course. Not that she couldn’t, but how do you capture this on record? How do you edit it down to a hit single? And even if you could, what would she do for a follow-up album? But she is right on the cusp of crossing over from cutting-edge music to something larger. And her Big Ears set sure helped her.

This was the fourth Big Ears Festival that Ashley Capps has produced since 2009 – it took three years off, from 2011-2013, before last year’s revival. If I credit Capps as producer rather than his Knoxville-based AC Entertainment (producer of Bonnaroo, Forecastle and Mountain Oasis festivals), it’s because he seems to have a special affinity for it. He was present at various venues to introduce guests and see shows, always smiling and looking happy.

For that matter, all Knoxville looked good for the event. For a relatively small city – under 200,000 – its Downtown and Old City areas have seen an impressive number of old factories and office buildings converted to apartments, Its Market Square is a lively public space with restaurants like Tupelo Honey and the Tomato Head proving favorites for festival attendees. It’s not as hip as nearby Asheville, N.C., yet – but it’s catching on.

Capps has said he based Big Ears – which is designed to be for fans who are open-minded (and –eared) about their musical tastes – on Cincinnati’s MusicNow, which was created by The National’s Bryce Dessner as a boutique festival that explores where rock, contemporary classical, folk, jazz and international music connect. One community radio host has also suggested a debt to Cropped Out, the Louisville festival that attempts a mash-up between experimental and outsider music.

Dessner, a very busy composer of minimalist-influenced classical pieces in addition to being a rock guitarist, has been a frequent presence at Big Ears, even guest-curating it one year. This year, he was there to, among other things, introduce violinist Yuki Numata Resnick, who played an appealing new Dessner work, “Ornament,” at Knoxville Art Museum.

Because this year’s Artist in Residence was the Kronos Quartet, the festival did seem to have more of a classical focus than ones past. There were a lot of violins and pianos, string quartets and other combinations. There were numerous good ones. Pianist/composer Rachel Grimes, a last-minute replacement for the injured Harold Budd, deserves special praise for her work under pressure, especially.

Kronos did shows with Tagaq, Dessner, Terry Riley, Sam Amidon and Rhiannon Giddens, and – most notably – Laurie Anderson. The latter’s performance of her 2013 Hurricane Sandy-inspired Landfall collaboration with Kronos was probably the festival’s most highly anticipated event.

Occurring in the ornate and historic 1920s-era Tennessee Theatre, it found Anderson in a quiet, reflective mood as she related anecdotes – mostly in her natural mellifluous voice but at times switching to her spacy male vocoder alter ego – that used the hurricane’s destructive power as a central focus for thoughts on dreams, species extinction, the stars and more.

It seemed more scattered both as music and monologues than her past work, and thus less gripping. And the visual component of abstracted, changing numbers and letters wasn’t especially compelling. Still, the part where she confessed how she responded to her own hurricane damage (it was never clear if such damage had really occurred or was poetic license) by thinking, “How beautiful! How magical! How catastrophic!” did resonate. It was the kind of enticingly contradictory insight Anderson excels at. And her acoustic and electric violin work was appealing, while Kronos provided rigorously dedicated and empathetic support.

The Anderson/Kronos appearance also revealed a problem that Big Ears needs to address. Because it is a festival where pass-holders choose among simultaneous shows at multiple venues, people come and go during individual concerts. They also use their smart-phone flashlights to check their schedules, or send messages, in darkened theaters.

That’s OK at shows where performers play a number of songs because there are natural breaks. But in those that instead are long performance pieces or symphony-length classical works, it’s disruptive and annoying as hell.

Especially during Landfall, which needs the mood of a darkened auditorium to be most effective. Big Ears should adopt a policy of having someone make announcements from the stage at a show’s start to not use phones, and then have the ushers at the main venues – the Bijou and the Tennessee – stop people from entering mid-performance.

Visual projections of all sorts are important at Big Ears. This year there was a whole sidebar film program, which took over a Downtown movie screen on Sunday, of movies curated by Jim Jarmusch and Michael Gira of The Swans.



And at the Bijou, Jarmusch’s rock trio Squrl provided a grungy semi-soundtrack to Man Ray’s surrealist short films from the 1920s. (Jarmusch collaborator Jozef van Wissem (above), by the way, had a solo club date where he played Chinese lute while sitting, his arm raised and feet spread in a rock-star way that looked very cool when bathed in the venue’s blue and white lighting.)


But the best video imagery I saw were the ghostly black-and-white apparition that appeared, suspended upside-down, behind The Bad Plus (above) as the trio played Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” on a Bijou stage. The Bad Plus – pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King — was a shot of disciplined, precise but rousingly energetic jazz adrenaline amid the other musical genres featured at this festival. I wish Big Ears would choose a jazz performer as Artist in Residence next year, and bring in some of that music’s aging modernist giants – Ornette Coleman, the Marshall Allen-led Sun Ra Arkestra, Cecil Taylor – to play while they’re still active.

There was rock ‘n’ roll at this year’s Big Ears. The Swans launched forth a tumultuously cathartic set at the Bijou on Sunday night, the band projecting their sublime, rocket-powered playing of those loud repetitive guitar chords until everyone present achieved nirvana on the spot.

I thought I recognized them working on their epic “Bring the Sun/Toussaint L’Overture” when I arrived at the show, but I could be wrong because the nature of their live music is so different from their recordings. Gira was leading the ensemble magnificently – it really felt like they had been set free of earthly limits.


But there was the volume issue. The Swans’ merchandise booth was doing a brisk business in $2 earplugs – seemingly everyone was wearing them –and the salesperson joked this was the only way to hear them. Should he choose, Gira might be able to have as profitable a sideline in “Swans Earplugs” as Dr. Dre has with his headphones.


Perfume Genius (above) used to primarily be known as the stage name – the conceptual name – for the singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas, whose piano-based songs were beguiling but also introverted. But with the success of a new sound on last year’s Too Bright album, he has started touring with a tight band that prominently brings an alt-rock dimension to his sound. With that, he can tour as a relatively dynamic live act.

At Big Ears, his sound and persona were extroverted to such an extent he seemed to surprise himself. He wore a longish black shirt that stopped below his waist, mesh stockings and platform-heeled shoes and he did odd, bent-knee dancing and sashaying as he moved around the stage while singing. He was a free spirit, but he could also slow things down for an intimate keyboard ballad, however.

Notable at his show was the hard-edged, sparky guitar work, which transformed the Too Bright songs like “Queen” and “My Body” – the latter with its Link Wray-like instrumental rumble – into showstoppers. His compositions are too brief to have maximum effect – you want more out of each song – but nevertheless impactful.

Strangely, he was booked into the 1,600-seat Tennessee Theatre for a 7 p.m. Sunday – closing night – show, when he probably should have had a Friday or Saturday night gig. The turnout wasn’t bad – a couple hundred – but that left a lot of empty seats, which seemed to dissipate his efforts to build energy during his set.

The night before, in a later slot, Merrill Garbus’ Tune-yards played to a substantially larger and more enthusiastic crowd at the Tennessee. Hers is another case of someone who has transformed her presumed nom de plume into a legitimate touring band to back up a breakthrough album (with a semi-hit song to boot, “Water Fountain”) in last year’s Nicki-Nack.

With her on stage was bassist Nate Brenner, who provided some good jaggedly splintery guitar; a potent percussionist in Dani Markham; and two supporting vocalists/dancers– one of whom, Moira Smiley, moved about the stage so engagingly you might have though she was the headliner. Playing drums and ukulele, projecting happiness outward, Garbus was almost unstoppably irresistible.

But to be honest, some of the novelty does wear off during a full show, especially as you focus on the colorful costumes and Pee Wee’s Playhouse-like stage backdrop, the goofy faux-naive charm of the singing and dancing, and all the Bow Wow Wow-redux drumming.

I was fortunate to catch the last half hour of Giddens’ solo show with a crackerjack acoustic ensemble supporting her singing and work on violin. In a long red dress that bared one shoulder, the tall Giddens performed such classy, thoughtful material as a song based on Gaelic “mouth music” and Sister Rosetta Thorpe’s “Up Above My Head.”

As she has a new solo album out, Tomorrow Is My Turn, she was at Big Ears to both emerge from her past as a Carolina Chocolate Drop member and to stay true to that group’s (and her) advocacy for authenticity and roots to be present in contemporary music. So far, so good for her quest.

Not all the rock-oriented acts at Big Ear cared about having an arresting visual presence to accompany their music. My favorite one, guitarist Steve Gunn, was so downright demure and restrained on stage at a club called The Square Room that it prompted concern among some he wasn’t projecting a personality to go with his music.

No need for alarm. The Philadelphia-raised Brooklyn resident, on last year’s outstanding Way Out Weather, moved decisively from his earlier, more experimental and often-instrumental work to recognizably song-based material featuring his earnestly plain but honest voice singing and playing with restrained backing. At Big Ears, he presented those songs – and he has strong, atmospheric material like the album’s title song and “Milly’s Garden” – in a no-nonsense way that highlighted musicality. He was accompanied by Paul Sukeena on guitar, Nathan Bowles on drums and Jason Meagher on bass.

Gunn, who played acoustic and electric guitar, offered a textured, dense, fast-moving often-droning sound that borrows from 1960s folk guitarists like John Fahey and Sandy Bull. But he also can do electric-guitar runs that in their piercingly clear, high-pitched, melancholy melodiousness recall Jerry Garcia. When all systems are churning, the music achieves the same kind of ethereal haziness as The War on Drugs offers. He has recently signed with Matador Records and is opening for Wilco, and the Big Ears show served as an introduction of big things to come.

As did all of Big Ears, for that matter, assuming it continues – and continues to grow and attract national attention – in 2016.





Album: Global

Artist: Todd Rundgren

Label: Cherry Red

Release Date: April 07, 2015

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After a spate of recent releases that provided forays into cosmic cacophony, fearsome blues and radically redefined versions of the seminal songs he produced for others, creative chameleon Todd Rundgren offers an assertive follow-up that finds him back in familiar terrain. Suffice it to say, it makes for a fortunate state of affairs.

State, his last album, was more experimental than accessible, always a risk given his eclectic ambitions. Sadder still, Todd tended to distance all but the most devoted, thanks to an album that was, to say the least, rather difficult to digest. So while Global draws from the same synthesized setup, fortunately there’s plenty here to keep everyone enthralled. “Evrybody” is an entreaty to clap hands, join the party and share in the communal bond. The proggy sounding “Rise” and “Skyscraper” bring Utopia to mind, while “Soothe” is a big ballad in the old Todd tradition.

Nevertheless, the universal embrace offered by “Global Nation,” and the worldly rhythms employed on “Holyland” are the very things that make Global sound true to its title. It is, in short, a welcome return.

DOWNLOAD: “Evrybody,” “Soothe,” “Global Nation”



Album: The Last Day of Winter

Artist: George Usher and Lisa Burns

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 07, 2015

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Take two veteran artists of the northeast indie scene, surround them with an assortment of long-serving musicians, and what do you get? An album stripped down in its simplicity but one that still manages to spotlight the talents of everyone involved, especially the two principals. Usher himself has been steady presence on the New York power pop circuit for a number years, having released a number of outstanding, if largely ignored, solo albums. Nevertheless, the album’s origins were less than fortuitous; diagnosed with cancer, Usher found himself unable to play any instruments or use his hands at all after his chemo treatments. Nevertheless, he continued to write, recruiting Lisa Burns to put his narratives to music.

Eventually, Usher was able to return to recording, and with the assistance of guitarist Dave Schramm (The Schramms), bassist Sal Maida (Sparks), producer Pau Naumann, engineer Eric Ambel (Del Lords, Nils Lofgren, solo) and others, he and Burns created an album that’s intimate, personal and yet still resolute in its affirmation and assurance. Opening track “Wake Me When Tomorrow’s Here” sounds like the Byrds, circa The Notorious Byrd Brothers, what with its gentle chime and soft harmonies. Mostly though, the duo relegate their songs to the twilight side, be it the dreamy acoustic ballad ”Lost in Transition,” the lonesome piano lament “Wasn’t Born to Belong” or the affecting shimmer and sway of “The World That Rested On Your Word.” Sensitive and sublime, The Last Day of Winter is indeed an album for all seasons.

DOWNLOAD: Wake Me When Tomorrow’s Here,” “The World That Rested On Your Word,” “Wasn’t Born to Belong”


Album: Imaginary Cities

Artist: Chris Potter Underground Orchestra

Label: ECM

Release Date: January 13, 2015

Chris Potter 1-13


Not all jazz records need to be energy-spewing improv fests, as Duke Ellington and Miles Davis repeatedly proved. Sometimes jazz can be used to narrative effect, telling a story in wordless song. Saxophonist Chris Potter, late of the Dave Holland Quintet, explores that terrain on Imaginary Cities, his first record with his new Underground Orchestra. Working with guitar, piano, drums, two bassists, his former Holland colleague Steve Nelson on vibes and a string section led by longtime NYC sparkplug Mark Feldman, Potter crafts carefully arranged cinematic soundscapes.

Moods range from playful (“Firefly”) to melancholy (“Lament”), unsettling (“Shadow Self”) to elegiac (“Sky”). But the record reaches its compositional and emotional apex with the four-part title track, a travelogue through urban atmosphere that hits every beat you can imagine: sweet, sour, lush, dissonant, inspiring, depressing – just like the naked city itself. There are, after all, a million stories there, and Potter and his Orchestra bring them to vivid, musical life.

DOWNLOAD: “Imaginary Cities: Dualities,” “Imaginary Cities: Rebuilding,” “Sky”