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  Listen Up! 5/26/04 Listen Up!

Wednesday, May 26

Joe Lovano, “I’m All For You,” Blue Note Records. The subtitle is “Ballad Songbook,” and there’s the problem right there. There’s almost no way you could imagine a line-up this strong – Lovano on tenor sax, Hank Jones on piano, George Mraz on bass, Paul Motian on drums – doing anything less than brilliant on any single ballad you could name. And, if you’re only listening to one song at a time on this album, you can really get wrapped up in Lovano’s gently enveloping tone and lilting melodic approach, or Jones’ exquisitely nuanced support and improvisations, or Motian’s delicate cymbal work, or the nicely swaying rhythms provided by Mraz. Given an entire album where every single song is at virtually the same tempo and same tonal coloration and same emotional resonance, you find yourself tuning things out more than you tune them in. Why oh why does every jazz album have to be so monochromatic these days? Okay, let me at least admit I haven’t heard every jazz album in recent years, but it does seem like I’ve been bored more often than I’d like to be by excellent musicians. Lovano has always been something of a cold fish to me, but there aren’t many times I’ve ever been bored by Hank Jones or Paul Motian. Things finally perk up a bit on the last cut, Coltrane’s “Countdown,” but it’s too little too late to make me want to start the record over again.

Jolie Holland, “Caltalpa,” Anti- Records. I know there’s an air conditioning unit working right now, and lots of other peripheral noises, and this is a quiet record, but what the fuck? Since when does music supposedly influenced by traditional Appalachian folk songs have to sound so tuneless and dull? Have the people raving over this piece of shit ever actually heard anything by Dock Boggs or the Carter Family? It’s like they only want to grab hold of the gloom at the expense of the context. Folk music is about all of life’s pleasures and pain, and there’s a lot more humor and liveliness than this young dull songwriter wants to recognize. As a result, you don’t believe her when she looks into the maw; she’s affecting a stance, rather than reporting on life.

Wilson Phillips, “California,” Columbia Records. Maybe it was when Carnie lost all that weight. Not that I begrudge her dealing with health issues, though turning into a freaky California mannequin like her sister never seemed quite necessary. Who am I kidding? If this record had half the smarts of the last Wilsons album (the one they did without Chynna Phillips, aka the one with the amazing pop songs), I’d be all over it despite the high end fashion magazine shoot of a cover. How can you go wrong singing all these pop hits of the 70s? Well, some of them sucked in the first place – “Already Gone” by the Eagles, anybody? – and some of them are only suited to the idiosyncratic delivery of the originators – “Old Man” by Neil Young” – but all of them suffer from the fact that unlike the charming original material of past Wilsons and Wilson Phillips records, these songs have too much substance to be treated as fluff. Really, why do you want to hear “Turn! Turn! Turn!” sung with the exact same level of gravitas as they would give the sight of a boyfriend with another girl? There is an age when world peace and cheating boyfriends can be put on equal footing, but I’m about 33 years past it myself. Then, strangely enough, they take on “Monday Monday” (by Chynna’s daddy John in his old band, the Mamas and the Papas” and treat it as if it’s a plea for world peace. In case you don’t remember, it’s not. On the other hand, the absence of this record from my life would contribute to my peace.

--Steve Pick

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