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Come Sail Away

By Glenn Weiser

John Roberts

Sea Fever (Golden Hind)

 

Seafaring in the age of sail often was a miserable and dangerous business that nonetheless has given us some of the most enduring songs in the traditional-music catalogue. British-born John Roberts, a Schenectady resident who has been singing Anglo-Scots ballads and the like at major folk festivals and venues since the late 1960s, both solo and with longtime collaborator Tony Barrand, has devoted most of his latest CD to maritime material both old and new, and frequently in lesser-known versions. The 64-year-old baritone has never sounded better than he does here.

When he’s not singing a cappella on these 15 whaling songs, sea chanties and ballads, Roberts usually accompanies himself on concertina; he’s joined by Lisa Preston on Celtic harp, Mary Lea on violin and viola, and Ray Wall on tin whistle. As this well-produced recording eschews any vigorously strummed acoustic guitar parts, the backing here sounds more serene than what you might expect.

Folk music, in the traditional sense, spans the longest time period of all genres, and the selections here accordingly range from the 1993 song “The Boatman’s Cure,” by local bard George Ward, back to “Sir Patrick Spens,” a Child ballad about the 13th-century loss at sea of a Scottish vessel carrying a knight on a mission to Norway for King Alexander III. Other goodies are “The Weeping Willow Tree,” a Vermont variant of the famous “The Golden Vanity,” and the rousing “The Campañero,” a tale of the rough-and-tumble life of a deckhand. Roberts does jump ship, though, long enough to play clawhammer-style banjo on “Sally in the Garden,” a melancholy old-time fiddle tune.

With Roberts’ resonant, full-throated vocals and his expert pick of songs, folkies will welcome Sea Fever.

Loop 2.4.3

Batterie (Music Starts From Silence)

The half-dozen pieces on the de- but release from this percussion duo embrace both improvisation and composition. Thomas Kozumplik and Lorne Watson make this apparent in grand style from the outset: “Son of Odin” opens the disc and mixes passages of organic quiet with robust, clockwork-like interplay. The duo sound at times like twice as many players as they are, a testament to their well-developed sense of interplay. They move easily from call-and-response to sounding like one many-limbed player. Melodic components are judiciously utilized as well, with assorted mallet instruments, gongs, bells and temple bowls employed. That this set was recorded direct to tape in a radio studio is further testament both to the pair’s sensitivity to the moment and to their formidable performance skills.

—David Greenberger

The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

Lil’ Tae Rides Again (Hyena)

Most jazz groups buckle down for an evening or two, track a couple new tunes and a standard, then call it an album. Not so for the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, whose name alone is a Spinal Tap to the jazz status quo. Having grappled for a year with electronic producer Tae Meyulks’ sleep- deprivation methods and propensity to disappear to a farm in West Kansas, the band fashioned a rubber-band-ball’s worth of ideas into their latest release. Owing as much to Brian Eno as to Thelonious Monk, Lil’ Tae Rides Again gives Bill Frisell, Amon Tobin, and Mogwai an equal run for their money. Vast architectural assemblages of bass, guitar, and keyboard tracks frame cubist drum patterns, often in support of minimalist melodies, but always to the end of headphone origami. The disc is avant less in the term’s preference for atonality and more for its spatial voyaging, away from jazz, electronica, and the whole of post-rock. Hepcats, be forewarned: This is what happened to jazz while you were busy listening to Wynton Marsalis.

—Josh Potter


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