"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Thursday, March 11, 2004

In your ear - Norah Jones, Brad Mehldau Trio


Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Norah Jones
Feels Like Home
Toshiba EMI, 2,427 yen

How do you follow up a debut album that wins eight Grammy awards and sells 5.1 million copies? Do you try to catch lightning in a bottle a second time or move in a different direction to avoid comparisons with the previous platinum standard?

With her sophomore effort, Feels Like Home, Norah Jones has done a bit of both.

All the things that made Come Away With Me a massive hit are here: The same simple, sparse, mid-tempo arrangements, warm jazz-inflected vocals, and relaxed, romantic atmosphere inform every track. While her debut album leaned heavily toward light jazz while giving a nod to folk and country with songs like "Lonestar" and Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart," Feels Like Home plants a foot firmly in the country while still demonstrating jazzy roots.

It's debatable whether an album that includes guest appearances by Dolly Parton and The Band's Levon Helm and Garth Hudson can really be called jazz, but what else can you call a cover of Duke Ellington's "Melancholia" (with lyrics added by Jones to become the 2 a.m. heartache torch song "Don't Miss You At All")?

If we reject such artificial pigeonholing in favor of Louis Armstrong's maxim that there are only two kinds of music: good and bad, Feels Like Home must unequivocally be considered good.

Top-notch guitar work by Adam Levy and Kevin Breit give a rootsy feel to tunes like "Toes" and "In the Morning," with Jones' piano spotlighted on "Carnival Town." Jones and her bandmates have clearly grown more confident as songwriters--of the 14 tracks on the album she had a hand in five and six were written by members of her band. Their compositions hold their own against the aforementioned Ellington adaptation, a catchy cover of Tom Waits' "The Long Way Home," and a country-blues version of Townes Van Zandt's "Be Here To Love Me."

This is truly adult contemporary music--not the tuneless schlock usually associated with the term. It has none of the tawdry, tacky, MTV-driven, image-making fluff and in-your-face attitude normally associated with the latest in pop music. It is tasteful, timeless, modern and mature music by and for grown-ups.

Brad Mehldau Trio
Anything Goes
Warner Music Japan, 2,520 yen

Anything Goes, a collection of straight-ahead instrumental jazz covers by the Brad Mehldau Trio--pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy--offers few surprises and breaks little new ground, but delivers 10 tracks of virtuoso playing by a trio so tightly coordinated they must be reading each others minds.

Mehldau is an outstanding technical player with a fast, fluid Charlie Parker-like ability to play twice as many notes as anyone else while never sounding busy.

The songs are mostly standards like the Cole Porter title track with a few curveballs --Radiohead's "Everything in Its Right Place" and a wonderfully nostalgic version of Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years"--thrown in for variety.

Slower ballads such as Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You" counterbalance the barely contained exuberance of Thelonius Monk's "Skippy." The angular, outside, bop arrangement of Harold Arlen's "Get Happy" still manages to swing and the Charlie Chaplin chestnut "Smile" is rescued from sentimentality with Grenadier taking the melody line on bass while Mehldau holds down the bottom end with his left hand

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