Norah Jones' debut on Blue Note is a mellow, acoustic pop affair with soul and country overtones, immaculately produced by the great Arif Mardin. (It's pretty much an open secret that the 22-year-old vocalist and pianist is the daughter of Ravi Shankar.) Jones is not quite a jazz singer, but she is joined by some highly regarded jazz talent: guitarists Adam Levy, Adam Rogers, Tony Scherr, Bill Frisell, and Kevin Breit; drummers Brian Blade, Dan Rieser, and Kenny Wollesen; organist Sam Yahel; accordionist Rob Burger; and violinist Jenny Scheinman. Her regular guitarist and bassist, Jesse Harris and Lee Alexander, respectively, play on every track and also serve as the chief songwriters. Both have a gift for melody, simple yet elegant progressions, and evocative lyrics.
Rhythm team David Paull and Jim Payne left Jonesy after the release of the band's debut No Alternative. In their stead came Gypsy Jones and Plug Thomas, along with trumpeter/woodwind player Alan Bown and string arranger Ray Russell upending their previous sound. "Masquerade," which opened their sophomore Keeping Up set, immediately introduced the new crew across a dizzying array of genres. Shades of new romantics to come haunt the early passages, but then the song rounds on funk, delves deep into moody waters, pooling around woodwind and trumpet solos whipped to a froth by the lush strings while operatic vocals soar overhead. The new players weren't the only changes to be heard within; guitarist John Evan Jones had recently discovered the delight of the wah-wah pedal, and showcases it across many of the tracks.
Some artists, once settled on a sound that suits them, are content simply to plough the same unimaginative furrow year after year, album after album. Whether it’s complacence, in the knowledge that their loyal fan base will continue to dip into their pockets, a lack of the talent and inspiration necessary to evolve or (in cases such as Stereophonics) both, more often than not these meat and potato acts slowly fade away into irrelevance with the passing of the years. It’s refreshing, then, to listen to Foam Island, the latest release by London-based duo Darkstar, so clearly is it the work of people willing to take risks to move their music forward.
Judas Priest's major-label debut Sin After Sin marks their only recording with then-teenage session drummer Simon Phillips, whose technical prowess helps push the band's burgeoning aggression into overdrive. For their part, K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton employ a great deal more of the driving, palm-muted power-chord picking that would provide the basic rhythmic foundation of all but the most extreme heavy metal from here on out. Sin After Sin finds Priest still experimenting with their range, and thus ends up as perhaps their most varied outing. Yet despite the undeniably tremendous peaks here, the overall package doesn't cohere quite as well as on Sad Wings of Destiny, simply because the heavy moments are so recognizable as the metal we know today that the detours stick out as greater interruptions of the album's flow.
This 1975 Kudu album by Joe Beck was never reissued on CD in the United States but available only as a Japanese import on the King label. Beck is a masterpiece of mid-'70s funky jazz and fusion. Beck retired in 1971 to be a dairy farmer. He returned to make this album his opus. Featuring David Sanborn, Don Grolnick, Will Lee, and Chris Parker, all of the album's six tracks were recorded in two days. Overdubs were done in another day and the minimal strings added by Don Sebesky were added on a third day. "Star Fire" opens the set and features the interplay of Beck's riffing and lead fills with Sanborn's timely, rhythmic legato phrasing, and the communication level is high and the groove level even higher. On "Texas Ann," another Beck original, Sanborn hits the blues stride from the jump, but Beck comes in adding the funk underneath Grolnick's keyboard while never losing his Albert Collins' feel. On "Red Eye," Beck's two- and three-chord funk vamps inform the verse while Sebesky's unobtrusive strings provide a gorgeous backdrop for Sanborn, who stays in the mellow pocket until the refrains, when he cuts loose in his best Maceo Parker. The deep funk of Jalaluddin Mansur Nuriddin's "Café Black Rose" showcases the band's commitment to groove jazz with a razor's edge.