Take Two for October 8, 2013

Tuesday Reviewsday: Jonathan Wilson, Vienna Teng, Jon Batiste & Stay Human

Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson

Cover of Jonathan Wilson's album Fanfare.

Vienna Teng

Vienna Teng

Musician Vienna Teng.


It's time for Tuesday Reviewsday our weekly new music segment. Joining the show is music critic Steve Hochman. 

Artist: Jonathan Wilson
Album: Fanfare
Release Date: Oct. 15
Songs: “Future Vision,” “Dear Friend”

Take a look at the album cover. God’s hand reaching to Adam’s, though further apart than on the Sistine Chapel. Arrogant? Might appear so. But it also bespeaks of a sense of glory. And the music on “Fanfare” is, often, glorious.

Wilson has had a lot handed down from the rock firmament, having been mentored by Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, David Crosby, all of whom are on this album. There are moments when the influences are clear — Crosby, Stills and Nash, Browne, some John Lennon and, more than you might expect, Pink Floyd. But in each case those touchstones are launching pads for some vibrant flights of musical fancy. These aren’t songs so much as mini-pop-symphonies. 

Wilson originally came to L.A. from North Carolina, lured by the old Laurel Canyon scene, only to find it didn’t exist. So he started a new one, hosting jam sessions that brought the old masters and new acolytes together. Relocated to Echo Park a few years ago, he’s continued as a catalyst figure, producing and collaborating with a span of musicians and expanding his own circles, having played a lot with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir of late, as well as producing English eccentric Roy Harper — the voice of Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar,” and the Roy of Led Zeppelin’s “Hat’s Off to Roy.”

His 2011 album “Gentle Spirit” seemed more vibe-driven than anything else, but won him slobbering praise in England and elsewhere. “Fanfare” justifies that, the vibe having blossomed into the masterful, colorful, soaring journeys, the songs “Dear Friend” and “Future Vision” taking off in multiple directions at once — hints of Lennon and “Dark Side of the Moon” and Graham Nash all mashed up together in a melange that ultimately is all Wilson’s.

“Cecil Taylor,” referencing the avant garde jazzman in lyrics if not music, is very much in the Crosby/Nash mode. The opening title song starts with a lush, Beatle-y instrumental prelude, circa “Abbey Road,” serving as an overture. “Love to Love” is relatively straightforward country-rock, but even that elaborates on and personalizes the template with Wilson’s brand of, well, glory.

Artist: Vienna Teng
Album: Aims
Release Date: Sept. 24
Songs: “Close to Home,” “Level Up”

 

Don’t you just hate people who can do anything, or everything? Well, then you’ll really loathe Vienna Teng. She was a software engineer for Cisco Systems when she started her recording career in 2002. And after four rather bracing albums, she quit in 2010 to go to the University of Michigan for a masters degree in sustainability. With that done, she’s back with an album that, believe it or not, brings that all together in another bit of pop glory.

Her real name is Cynthia Yih Shih, Taiwanese-American, born in Saratoga, CA, but has remained in the Detroit area after getting the degree. The Aims album cover is a map of Detroit plotting populations shifts there from 2000 to 2010, looking at the implications in terms of socio-politics, economic and environmental impact and both the collapse and tenacity of the city’s core character and structure.

Takes on various issues — “In the 99” is about disparity, the layered vocals of “The Hymn of Acxion” looks at digital surveillance and privacy and “Close to Home,” which overlaps musically with Radiohead, is about Body Image Integrity Disorder.

If that doesn’t sound like the basis for great music, somehow she manages to make it happen anyway. The trick is that this is all done in ways poetic, not pedantic. And she has a gift for melody and musical construction, reaching toward the ambitions of Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and Radiohead and such, never losing sight of the power of a good hook and a lush tone.

Artist: Jon Batiste & Stay Human
Album: Social Music
Release Date: Oct. 15
Songs: “Let God Lead,” “San Spirito”

In recent months we’ve talked about younger generations of New Orleans musical royal families, with Ivan Neville and Troy Andrews. Here’s another: pianist Jon Batiste, who took his multi-generational legacy to Juilliard in New York and has become a very creative force, moving the traditions in several directions.

Maybe you’ve seen YouTube videos of Batiste and his band Stay Human hitting the streets and subways of Manhattan after gigs, the leader playing melodica (since a piano is hard to parade) and captivating pedestrians and transit riders. And perhaps you’ve seen him as a regularly featured musician in “Treme.” He’s played with Wynton Marsalis, Lenny Kravitz, Lauryn Hill, even Prince. And he’s just 25.

This album is a breakthrough, though.

Can entice with jazz-soul with vocals or dazzle with a reinterpretation of “The Maple Leaf Rag,” “St. James Infirmary” — or “The Star Spangled Banner,” a bonus track to this fine set. With “Naima’s Love Song,” a ‘90s piece by pianist John Hicks, he uses the melodica to give a Stevie Wonder feel. And on “Let God Lead” he marshals his New Orleans street sense for a little gospel, anchored by Ibanda Ruhumbika’s pumping tuba.

The title of the album is “Social Music,” which would seem to be a commentary on and reaction to so much modern jazz being viewed as art music and intellectual music. So this, along with his the band’s Stay Human name and the excursions outside the clubs to play for the people are all about it being social. Hey, as we said, he is from New Orleans where that is what it’s all about.


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