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  Listen Up! 8/27/03 Listen Up!

Wednesday, Aug. 27

Chris Smither, “Train Home,” Hightone Records. Smither is long past the point of finding new and surprising approaches to his music, but deep into the art of refining what he does. It’s unfair to listen to him in a noisy office, because more than almost any musician I can think of, his work is a perfect mixture of lyrics, vocal approach, guitar, and arrangement. If you can’t hear all these elements equally, you’re missing out on what he’s got going. I can hear the humor in the vocals on “Let It Go,” but I know I’m missing some great lyrics. “Never Needed It More” is, at least, an obviously beautiful melody, but I feel like I’m missing some emotional substance. The Dylan freaks in the room moaned at the low-key, almost too literal rendition of “Desolation Row,” but I’m willing to give Smither the benefit of the not-paying-enough-attention doubt. The Poco cover, “Kind Woman” is clearly gorgeous, a major improvement on the original. So, first listen, under less than optimum circumstances, I’d say we’ve got another good Chris Smither record, which will grow on me over time.

Lee Konitz and Michel Petrucciani, “Toot Sweet,” Owl Records. Twenty-one years ago, the alto saxophonist and the pianist got together to play six duets in a studio, and they seemed to have decided to do it all in soft focus. You can see the dreamy romanticism of the pictures, a little blurry, definitely indoors, with light coming through hazy curtains aimed at couches, maybe with a sleeping woman in a shimmering gown lying there. But, no, that’s entirely too much substance for the music I’m hearing. Take the woman away, remove the couches. Just light and curtains, and maybe some dust on the table. If there’s ever any hint of discontent in either of these guys playing, the other quickly calms it away. It’s your call if you want to subject yourself to this. It’s not like there’s no talent, just no point.

Jason Moran, “Presents the Bandwagon,” Blue Note Records. Well, this sounds really cool, when it gets loud enough to actually hear it. This is one intense live piano trio, with Moran’s piano driving and being driven by Tarus Mateen’s bass and especially the incredible Nasheet Waits’ drums. The version of “Planet Rock” here is even more powerful, and more developed, than it is on his last studio album. I can’t wait to play this somewhere quiet, too. I guess this is my day for that kind of record.

--Steve Pick

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