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The Hard Way
By Bill Ketzer

Brick by Brick

Pull the Trigger (Stupid White Boy)

Brick by Brick are the magi-strates of mean. Mission control unclear as to why two guitarists are necessary in any empirical sense here, but I don’t care. With very few leads and no harmonies, this here’s just a very deliberate attempt to hurt your feelings with overtly gratuitous power chords in the classic Troy hardcore tradition. Theirs is a bestial grace, a nasty one that just pummels you to the tarmac with crown upon crown of thorns and beatitude refutations like the nurturing “Tearing Down” and “Demon Eyes.” The jowl- quivering low end diminishes the power of the drums somewhat, particularly the snare, which I prefer more earthy and fat, like a big smelly hermit on a hay thresher. But such nitpicking doesn’t indicate any lack of command on behalf of the lads. This is especially true of howler Rich Roberts, who presides with an austerity that gives no quarter and takes no lip, save his own.

Yep. Happy times here. Makes me want to go out in the yard and throw the old medicine ball around. Maybe build a raging fire with big, oak pallets, diabolically summon a few lesser demons, that sort of thing. Former Bruise Brother Mike Valente has found a good home, the family strong and what better mortar than plenty of proselytizing with the benefits of violence, the benefits of which are sorely underrated in the daily American comeuppance. Violence pulls the lies off people, you know, and the Capital Region is not without its need for vulgaris disciplinarius. True enforcement if you will, not the silly teen rebellions, the need for Crossgates chaperones, the weary jewelry of distracted, ignorant living. We’re talking heft. Lilt. Stoicism. And such landmark efforts like Pull the Trigger are unapologetic reminders that there are tougher venues than Hot Topic, and I for one embrace their simplicity and clarity.

Wayne Shorter Quartet

Beyond the Sound Barrier (Verve)

Jane Ira Bloom

Like Silver, Like Song (ArtistShare)

We celebrate the soprano saxophone with new records by the Wayne Shorter Quartet and Jane Ira Bloom.

The Shorter consists of tunes recorded in performance from November 2002 to April 2004. In addition to mainstays of his more recent repertoire like “Joy Ryder” and the title track, it features the new, brooding “Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean” and “Tinker Bell,” a snippet, credited to the whole quartet, that segues easily from the reverent, refreshing reading of Felix Mendelssohn’s “On Wings of Song.”

It’s a much stronger, more fluid album than 2002’s “Footprints Live,” the first live record by this very strong group. Where that focused on older material, this one seems ultramodern. It’s largely abstract music, performed by musicians of exceptional technique and daring. The explosive, joyous “Joy Ryder” is both fearsome and fearless; “Smilin’ Through,” the Arthur Penn tune that launches this, bristles with changes and drama. Shorter, a musical catalyst who only gets better as he ages, like Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman in the movies, is playing with spirit and daring and speed, and he never gets in anybody’s way.

The same goes for pianist Danilo Perez, a brawny foil for Shorter’s more darting style; for John Patitucci, the quicksilver pulse of this group; and for Brian Blade, a drummer who never fails to construct a tempo both complex and thrilling. Blade’s command of dynamics sets the foundation for this recording, a document of one of the strongest groups in current jazz.

Another such group is Jane Ira Bloom’s. Working with keyboardist-electronics technician Jamie Saft, bassist Mark Dresser and the ubiquitous Bobby Previte on drums, the underrated, underheard Bloom has crafted a beautiful, expansive album that must be heard sequentially to be fully grasped. Her strength is bandwidth: On pieces like the leisurely, meditative “Vanishing Flat” and the witty “No Orchestra,” she blends soprano sax with live electronics to extraordinary effect, her sound as full as an orchestra’s.

“Sometimes I throw sound around the band like paint and other times I play and feel as if I was carving silence like a sculptor,” says Bloom. Listening to her is to lose oneself in sound; alternately tart and sweet, Bloom’s is never less than embracing. Her tone is as full-bodied as her conception, and she’s one of the few composers in modern jazz to lean on wit and humor. If at first certain tunes seem like noodling, listen again; their purpose and structure come through with repetition. Note how the group repeat the incantatory Bloom tune, “Singing in Stripes,” giving it a slightly different effect each time. Purpose, passion and independence distinguish recordings by Bloom, whose soprano sax does indeed sing in stripes.

—Carlo Wolff

Christopher O’Riley

Hold Me to This: Christopher O’Riley Plays Radiohead (World Village)

Christopher O’Riley seems to be carving out a niche for himself with this, his second album of solo piano renditions of songs by Radiohead (True Love Waits appeared two years ago). There are the compositions that allow for O’Riley’s methodical transcriptions to undulate like the surface of a pot of water slowly coming to a glorious boil. This is the case with “There There” and “Like Spinning Plates.” Then there are some that seem to give him little purchase, the notes flying in ever more furious runs as he tries for a footing up an unforgiving canyon wall. When he tackles pieces with more architectural features, such as the heartbreakingly beautiful balladry of “No Surprises” or the ominous yet stately “2+2=5,” it makes for a powerful new setting that re moves the songs from their origins. Painstakingly articulated, these performances have the purposefulness of 20th-century classical music, along with the repetitive variants and spiritual bearing of Keith Jarrett. If you find resonance in those two reference points, then O’Riley’s your man.

—David Greenberger

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