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Reeves mixes jazz, soul Hats off to Pharrell’s new album

Dianne Reeves, “Beautiful Life” (Concord)
On her first studio album in five years, four-time Grammy winner Dianne Reeves comes back strong with a genre-crossing collection of 12 love-themed songs on which she infuses her impressive jazz stylings with a healthy dose of soul.
Reeves gets a major assist from producer Terri Lyne Carrington, who skillfully mixes and matches several dozen musicians — including rising stars Esperanza Spalding, Robert Glasper and Gregory Porter — to provide a distinctive multilayered backdrop with a rich palette of instrumental colors for each track.
 

The singer puts her own stamp on an eclectic selection of covers. These include a sultry version of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You,” with Sean Jones adding simmering trumpet lines; a neo-soul take on Fleetwood Mac’s soft-rock classic “Dreams,” arranged by pianist Glasper; and a shimmering vocal duet with Lalah Hathaway on Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain.” The only traditional standard is “Stormy Weather,” which Reeves floats through in an extended 8-minute version, colorfully stretching the lyrics.
The new songs by Reeves and her session mates include the joyful “Feels So Good (Lifted),” embellished by a synth solo from Reeves’ cousin George Duke, who died last year; Carrington’s soulful “Satiated (Been Waiting),” with Reeves engaging in a seductive vocal duet with Porter; and the smoothly flowing “Wild Rose,” featuring its composer Spalding on bass and background vocals.
Reeves best displays her virtuosity on her wordless, Latin-beat composition “Tango,” with Raul Midon vocally imitating a trumpet, on which she improvises scat vocals, suddenly shifts tempos and makes full use of her impressive multi-octave range.
 

Pharrell, “G I R L” (Columbia Records/Back Lot Music)
On the heels of two monster hits where he was the co-star — the Daft Punk jaunty funk jam “Get Lucky” and the much vilified yet utterly catchy “Blurred Lines” with Robin Thicke, Pharrell is taking the lead with the relentless “Happy,” which appears on the “Despicable Me 2” soundtrack and is nominated for best original song on Sunday’s Oscars. The cheerful tune is also on his second studio album, “G I R L,” released perhaps coincidentally the day after the Academy Award winners are announced.
The 10-track set is an ode to the female form and spirit, peppered with sexy vibes and brash come-ons. A definite change from his raspier, more alternative first album, which wasn’t particularly successful, “G I R L” proves Pharrell — a member of N.E.R.D. and the hit-making Neptunes — is a true, and exceptional, frontman.
 

Derail
Cynics will dismiss the album as a shameless attempt to derail the accusations of misogyny leveled at “Blurred Lines.” After all, Pharrell is cheeky and sexy, and his lyrics sometimes blur the lines. “Ain’t no sense in you roaming around, if I can’t have you nobody can,” he says in “Hunter,” but maybe that’s his way of saying he can’t help it if the ladies find him attractive and he reciprocates. After all, this is the entire ethos of the album: love in its purest form, love at the first frisson, love settled on a cloud, love of the flesh.
The record’s tempo matches the upbeat “Happy,” and it deploys killer hooks. The sound is eclectic, ranging from dramatic violins in the Daft Punk-assisted “Gust of Wind” to Motown disco beats in “Hunter” and tribal drums in “Lost Queen.” Persistent echoes of Michael Jackson-style sound lurk on the album, from the sultry “Gush” to the deliciously head-bopping “Marilyn Monroe” to the Justin Timberlake-featured “Brand New.”
A definite homage to women is the female empowerment ballad “Know Who You Are,” where Pharrell sings with piano queen Alicia Keys. He croons on the mellow reggae tune, “I know who you are and I know what you’re feeling.” No doubt about where he stands on gender equality there.
 

ScHoolboy Q, “Oxymoron” (Top Dawg/Interscope)
ScHoolboy Q’s major label debut plays out like an unsettling 21st-century film noir.
“Oxymoron” is all vice and poor decisions, filled with classic noir elements like unredeemable characters in desperate circumstances, an anti-hero whose compass never quite finds true north and a pervasive sense of menace. Lots and lots of menace.
Q, a member of the Black Hippy and Top Dawg Entertainment collectives with Kendrick Lamar, weaves a lived-in story of his history with gangs and crime, the sometimes inseparable horror and euphoria of prescription drug abuse, and the mindless pursuit of the various highs that life has to offer. It’s a harrowing vision that plays out in a bleak dystopian Los Angeles.
Album-opening “Gangsta” features Q’s adorable daughter Joy disturbingly declaring “My daddy a gansta” before he establishes the mood with his always aggressive delivery. The claustrophobic “Hoover Street” describes his uncle’s rapid descent into drug addiction, with a brooding baritone saxophone presiding. He declares war with the help of Tyler, the Creator and Kurupt on “The Purge,” plays the grim reaper on the Pharrell-produced “Los Awesome”.
 

Dierks Bentley bought a plane, but it was no country star vanity purchase.
The singer long ago earned his pilot’s license but thought he had no use for it as he chased his music dreams. One day, though, he realized that if he could fly to some of his gigs instead of stepping on a bus, he’d get an extra day at home.
“Since the kids came around, it’s just this this push and pull to cut corners, being on the road, being home, trying to get home faster,” Bentley said. “I can’t afford to sit in the back right seat of a jet, but I realized I could afford to sit in the front left seat of a prop plane. ... I get that one extra night with my kids. That may not seem like much, but it is.”
That push and pull is at the heart of Bentley’s new album, “Riser,” out this week. His seventh studio LP bobs back and forth between contemplative songs examining themes of family and loss and party rockers that play best in the 38-year-old’s boisterous live show. (AP)
It’s among his most personal work. His father died near the beginning of the writing and recording process. And his first son and third child, Knox, was born toward the end, offering Bentley a wealth of reflections and emotions to sift.
 

“There were times in the months after he passed that I’d pick up the phone to call him about something funny or whatever,” Bentley said of his father. “I still have his number in my phone. And when the kids are a little older, now is when I really need to talk to him, not when they’re born. My daughter’s losing her tooth, and I want to ask him, ‘Did you really do the string thing where you tied it around my tooth and slammed the door? I’m pretty sure you did.’”
Bentley looks at family life and grown-up themes on songs like the title track, “Damn These Dreams,” “I Hold On” and “Here on Earth,” which looks at the grief of losing a child and was inspired by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
At the same time, Bentley spends at least three nights a week on the road a majority of weeks, and the album has plenty of cuts with titles like “Drunk on a Plane” and “Pretty Girls.”
“I can still relate to the 17-year-old kid who jacks his truck up because my truck’s out there and it’s still jacked up,” he said. “But I also get to be this guy who has this really full life.” (AP)

By Charles J. Gans


By: Charles J. Gans

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