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December 07, 2009 - Image 8

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8A - Monday, December 7, 2009

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Alljazzed up for 2009

"Fun fact: These are not my hands."
Jones's rise and'Fall'

With a little help from her
friends, Norah Jones more than
gets by on her latest disc
By MIKE KUNTZ
Daily Arts Writer
Norah Jones was probably your mom's favorite
artist at some point. With that smoky, silky voice and
those cabaret-pop arrangements,
Jones's music is, for all intents and
purposes, pretty safe stuff. It was
precisely this smooth formula that NrhJones
garnered her debut album, 2002's
Come Away with Me, multiple The Fall
Grammys, and that has kept her on Blue Note/EMI
Starbucks music racks and family
living room stereos ever since.
Strange, then, that Jones's newest album, The
Fall, is her deliberate attempt to try her hand at
harder, edgier sounds on an album billed asa "rock"
record. Jones enlisted songwriters Ryan Adams and
Will Sheff (Okkervil River) to collaborate on a few
songs (not surprisingly the best two on the record),
and assembled a cast of more rock-pedigreed musi-
cians to spruce up the arrangements: Joey Waronker
(R.E.M. and Beck) sits in on drums, along with gui-
tarists Smokey Hormel (Johnny Cash, Joe Strum-
mer) and Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello).
So, with all this in place, does the record "rock"?
Well, as it turns out, not really. But that's OK.
While the songs on The Fall retain a lot of the
breeziness and rhythmic safety that made her past
records fairly innocuous, they are noticeably more

guitar-driven and loose. The deft hands of Jones's
guest musicians help her tremendously, giving each
song a more unwound, freewheeling and live feel.
While Jones's vocals are expectedly in the fore,
much emphasis is placed on the musicians them-
selves, with long instrumental codas and introduc-
tions appearing throughout the record.
Lead-off track and first single "Chasing Pirates"
is propelled by a grooving Rhodes keyboard and a
winding vocal melody, each with a vintage feel rem-
iniscent of early soul records of the '70s. Adams's
contribution, "Light as a Feather," is darker and
moodier, withstormy folk arrangements and Jones's
voice evoking Emmylou Harris.
Sheff's "Stuck" is most notable, combining lilting
melodies and wide-eyed Tex-Mex soul that sound
more at home in an Austin bar than a New York jazz
club. Closing track "Man of the Hour" is minimal but
endearing, with Jones playfully crooning about her
inability to "choose between a vegan and a pothead."
While The Fall is impressive to a point - Jones
has a brilliant voice, with an incredible knack for
melody and texture - it does little to dispel her
image as tame chanteuse. As with her other records,
her songwriting and delivery lack adventure -
Adams and Sheff's songwriting are miles beyond
Jones's, and it shows.
Despite some shortcomings, The Fall is a good
listen - all people could use a little latte-rock in
their iTunes library. And though these songs are
relatively light, don't expect the same jazz-pop lul-
labies that made Jones's career in the past - there's
a good helping of fuzzed-out guitar and instrumen-
tal interplay and plenty of soul-drenched vocals to
be found. Having said that, you're mom's probably
going to like it.

M aking a year-end list like Mingus and
is a terrifying thing hipster-pop-cults
- it's a thought that has been largely i
has been incessantly rattling to modern jazz re
around in my time here, the Da
head since once reviewed a j
early January while Pitchfork d
of this year. lent job breaking
Having never and making it ve
been a music for everyone to bt
editor before, I what they deem h
had never felt have basically tip
the journal- JOSH contemporary jaz
istic pressure BAYM they'll vaunt thei
to carve out a a Miles Davis rei
definitive list of my "tops." But never touch anyti
this year, I've felt an almost mar- virtuosos like Da
tyrish burn - a desire to present Dave Douglas).
to Ann Arbor my name-stamped While there is
list of 2009's finest releases. I ofjazz-devoted w
sometimes worry that I'm just a have answered to
narcissistic elitist who naively segregation, man
thinks he has really good taste. even offer any qu
But what does taste even mean? measure of album
Who determines the quality of review.com and A
taste? Is it completely subjective, com both provide
or is there a sort of fuzzy logic to tions, but refuse
it, a sort of Taste God who gov- grades or stars. P
erns a naturally occurring set of part of a human c
rules for listening to music? it's to objectively ass
probably best not to think about jazz. Jazz is rarel
these things too hard - I'm just baked in the way
making a list, y'know. album is. It's supt
But, for whatever reason to decipher what
(probably my self-awarded bur- "bad" jazz, becau
den of social responsibility), I ship is consistent
have been working like a hog the arrangement
to compile an unbiased, well- ably unpredictab
informed list of this year's musi- in-your-face bad;
cal releases. And it has been very simple matter of
difficult, because I don't person- engaging the exp
ally know most musicians. So I And for this reas
have to rely on this phenomenon ibly difficult to re
called "word of mouth," that I tion that has rare
acquire from (at least in my per- in the realm of pt
sonal little media outlet-bubble) criticism.
either websites or friends and And, ultimatel
from print resources like The out. According t
Michigan Daily. are a few jazz r
But in this process of trying to 2009 that would
dig deep into 2009's entire music potential if only
catalogue - by lamely checking to bust through t
out Best New Music on a few in our generatiot
different sites and by having a tion hotline. Tak
friend who is obnoxiously good at saxophonist Chr
rummaging around and finding hang, his latest r:
obscure albums - I have stum- than most moder
bled across a few gems that my LPs, snarkily sub
Spider Sense tells me most people bad rap that pedi
probably haven't heard, but prob- like "smooth jaz
ably should (if they want). netted the genre.
Most of these albums are of angular, sucke
pretty strange. A few of them hooks that snake
are so strange they're even jazz! time signatures,
I employ this sarcasm because deforming over f
I feel like jazz carries around a rhythm sections,
bit of a stigma - it's "big," it's aesthetic is alm
"bulky," it's "meandering," it's fused version of
"difficult." While the quintes- while there's a h
sential college audiophile tends of foregrounded
to dabble in established forces throughout - th.
BROTHERS
From Page 5A
First and foremost, "Brothers" is a narrative. Aris-
totle said that the greatest aspect of tragedy lies in
neither character nor quality of writing, but in plot.
In this facet, writer David Benioff ("25th Hour") and
director Jim Sheridan ("My Left Foot") indisputably
excel. The film is not a mechanism for overacting thes-
pians to strut around and chew scenery. Instead, the
cast members to synergistically feed off of each other,
working together for a common cause, wholly and
completely dedicated to the story. When necessary,
the performances can be wonderful, thrilling and
frightening, but also subtle and low-key. Portman, for
her part, seems content to bow out of the spotlight to
the more important characters when that's what her
character dictates.

Coltrane, the
ure bubble
mpermeable
leases. In my
ily has not
azz album. And
oes an excel-
indie bands
ry convenient
rowse through
ot shit, they
toed around the
:z current (sure,
r appreciation of
ssue, but they'll
hing by fresher
ve Holland or
surely a wealth
vebsites that
this cultural
y of them don't
antitative
s' worth. Jazz-
kllaboutjazz.
album descrip-
to dole out letter
erhaps it's all
ollective fear
ess the value of
y clich6 or half-
that a "bad" pop
remely-difficult
constitutes
se the musician-
ly airtight and
s are predict-
le. Jazz is rarely
it's usually a
how viscerally
erimentation is.
on, it's incred-
view - a condi-
fied the genre
opular music
y, we're missing
o my ears, there
cords from
have crossover
they managed
*he blockage
n's informa-
e, for example,
is Potter. Ultra-
elease, is harder
'n day hip-hop
verting the
Icured schlock
z" has unfairly
. Stuffed full
r-punching
sharply around
reforming and
unky, crackling
, the album's
st like a jazz-
math rock. And
eavy drizzle
musicianship
e group often

sounds like a jam band with
rabies - the songs avoid the
stuffy back-and-forth soloing of
straight-ahead jazz, slip-sliding
along on jagged but cohesive
song structures.
A couple of the year's best
"jazz" releases have actually
been jazz-electronica hybrids.
While there may be a gaping
generational spilt between the
heyday of these two genres, their
fusion actually makes perfect
sense. Jazz, a genre that's always
been about pushing the boundar-
ies, is practically tailor-made for
the synthesized sonic infinity
that electronic production pro-
vides.
Genre-mutants like this year's
Moodswing Orchestra by jazz
drummer Ben Perowsky take
the improvisation and instru-
Examining the
jazz albums that
should make'
your top-lO list.
mentation of jazz and immerse
these elements in exotic studio-
produced worlds. On "1972,"
the album takes an ethereal
flute composition reminiscent
of a beatnik nightclub and digi-
crunches it eerily with tweaked
game show noises over a limber
trip-hop beat. And trumpeter
Ben Neill has smudged these
generic boundaries with his
invention of the "mutantrum-
pet," an instrument that blends
brass with silicon, employing an
analog processing system that
allows him to digitally alter his
music on the fly. Night Science,
his broodingly minimalist 2009
release, sounds much closer in
spirit to dub-step than to jazz.
So while it's almost a given
that none of these albums will
find their way onto any of this
year's standard-issue year-end
lists, they are certainly worth
knowing about (Double Booked by
Robert Glasper and O'o by John
Zorn are also work checking out).
The only issue: These albums are
not readily available for illegal
downloading. Long live capital-
ism!
Bayer is experimenting with
improvisational e-mails. To see what
this means, e-mailjrbayer@umich.edu.

6
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- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -U-- 7 -

But where Sheridan particularly shines is in direct-
ing children. In cinema, a child is rarely allowed to
possess a personality. Sheridan manages to skirt the 4
obligatorily cute, precocious nonsense in favor of
a depiction rooted in emotion and dimensionality.
The best scene of the movie is performed not by an
adult, but by elder daughter Isabelle (Bailee Madison,
"Bridge to Terabithia"). The scene is a harrowing out-
burst charged with emotional energy and bile. Even
though she will probably never be recognized for it,
her performance is the stuff of Oscar gold.
"Brothers" is a blisteringly real depiction of the
overarching effects ofa soldier coming home, as bril-
liantly muscular as it is intimate. But this isn't to say
that "Brothers" is pitch perfect: The message of "war
is bad" runs too simplistically, and it can get a little
tiresome watching Portman mourn for two hours.
Despite his slightly moralizing tone, Sheridan man-
ages to gather up the ribbons of dissent and tie them
into awell-constructed film.
-NE

UNIVERSITY w T Y BAK
HOUSING.
Hundreds of single roorms and www tpionsshoustg.umich edo
apartments; choose one for-.-.-.-. -- .-- .--.-
your own personal getaway. The Time of Your Life
UNIVERSTY OF MICHIGAN
- U NGtst'imstm or sytott Armairs

;.
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