What our critics are listening to

11:58 AM, Oct 22, 2013

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 18: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Recording artist John Legend performs at the Keep Memory Alive foundation's 'Power of Love Gala' celebrating Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena February 18, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event benefits the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the Muhammad Ali Center. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Keep Memory Alive) (Ethan Miller / Getty Images for Keep Memory Ali)/


BRIAN HAAS AND MATT CHAMBERLAIN

FRAMES. I was drawn to this album by two factors. One, an artful cover. If you don’t have time to put a nice cover on your work, or a beautiful label on your wine, you probably missed a lot of other details as well. And two, I recognized the name of one of the performers: Brian Haas, who co-founded the jazz experiment Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey two decades ago. If piano and drums are your thing, here you go: Frames is pretty much Haas’ dynamic piano and a beautifully restrained Matt Chamberlain on drums, although there’s a little guitar, keyboards and synthesizer as well. Instrumental works are always hit-and-miss to my ears, but this one hangs together as a whole. Perhaps it’s the consistent instrumentation, but more likely it’s the smart sampling of rock, avant-garde jazz and classical, stylistically similar to The Bad Plus. And at a mere 31 minutes, these guys know when to stop. — JEFF SPEVAK

JOHN LEGEND

LOVE IN THE FUTURE. John Legend is like a beloved old friend that you haven’t heard from in a while. He calls, a smile spreads across your face, and you pick up where you left off. It has been five years since his last CD and Legend returns with the soothing, beautiful R&B/soul music that we expect from this singer and musician. Sometimes there is a message in his music: “Don’t wait ‘til tomorrow, we waited all our lives” he sings on the melodic “Tomorrow.” Simply put, this CD is an ode to love and Legend, a pianist with a rich tenor voice, who caresses every song, including the beautiful “Dreams.” You won’t dance ‘til you sweat to this CD; it’s a mellow groove, chicken soup for the soul, so to speak. — SHEILA RAYAM

GERI ALLEN

GRAND RIVER CROSSINGS. Jazz pianist Geri Allen celebrates the muse of her Detroit hometown, the music of Motown. But, make no mistake, this is a lovely, acoustic, mostly solo jazz piano album, even if many of the melodies and inspiration come from such tunes as The Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Lovin’,” Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown,” Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” and Marvin Gaye’s “Save the Children.” In fact, the subtlety and lyricism of this album is so strong that some of these famous tunes may be a challenge to recognize in this new guise. And yet, the influence is definitely there. In other words, if you love Motown and jazz, this album is for you. If you love Geri Allen but don’t give a hoot about Motown, this album is still for you (though you are surely wrong-headed). Just listen to how Allen takes the buoyant “Tears of a Clown” and turns it into a deeply affecting torch song. — JACK GARNER