CD reviews

CD REVIEWS

January 30, 2003

Jacky Terrasson

Smile (Blue Note Records) *** 1/2

Addicted to the panoramic tonal palette of the piano, Jacky Terrasson is a true believer in the instrument's sonic soul. He is divinely inspired by everything from the beatific sheen of the piano's upper register to the mysterious midnight textures lurking in its lower depths.

The French American pianist is blessed with a seductive melodic sense. Along with his passion for contrapuntal lines and rich harmonies, he has a knack for spinning pure, crisp lyrical phrases. Wherever this melodic endowment comes from - that rare ability to infuse solos with a narrative flow - it serves him well. Especially so on this first-rate follow-up to his previous outing on Blue Note, his acclaimed A Paris, a conceptual album focusing on French melodies.

Paris shows up again thematically here as Terrasson re-invents tunes with such Gallic sounding titles as "Parisian Thoroughfare" and "Sous le Ciel de Paris (Under the Sky of Paris)." "Parisian Thoroughfare" isn't just a casual repaving of the famous original version by its composer, the great bebop pianist Bud Powell. It goes far beyond mere surface imitation. It's seasoned with Powell's evocative, edgy mood, but it is also enriched with its own inventive mix of hard bop lines, bluesy licks, swinging block chords, insistent motifs and skittering left-hand figures. Similarly inspired, "Sous le Ciel de Paris" glows with French impressionist colors right from its elegiac opening theme.

Terrasson's varied repertoire includes a brilliant solo rendition of "Autumn Leaves." Like the CD's nine other tracks with rhythmic backup, it's a piece for all seasons.

Paul Weller

Illumination (Yep Roc) ***

On the soul-rocker "A Bullet for Everyone," Weller notes that a bonfire burns in the city, the same once-promising place where, long ago, he had a thousand things to say to you. But this song - lamenting the overabundance of weapons in a world where so many people lack basic necessities - clearly shows that the erstwhile leader of seminal English mod-punk band the Jam still has a lot to talk about.

Abetted by such acolytes as Oasis' Noel Gallagher and the Stereophonics' Kelly Jones, Weller doesn't dwell on the negative, or the past. Illumination does touch on the Jam's unbridled energy as well as the pop-jazz sophistication of his subsequent group, the Style Council, but it's more like his previous solo efforts, which wove disparate threads of funk, folk and blues.

His raspy vocals slip from raw to sweet, reflecting the collection's shifts among jangly pensiveness, rambling portraiture and upbeat romance. There are perhaps too many weedy, progressive-pop ballads (including "Who Brings Joy," the inevitable gag-worthy ode to his offspring), but the maudlin never takes over. Indeed, even on the sprawling call to action "Standing Out in the Universe," Weller doesn't merely mouth positive platitudes, but emphasizes that if we want real change, everybody has to work for it.

Benzino

Redemption(Elektra) **

This veteran Boston rapper's recent rivalry with Eminem has given him something that's been absent from the rest of his decade-plus recording career: attention. Long ignored by critics and the public alike, Benzino started the beef in November when he called Eminem a modern-day Vanilla Ice, and later "the rap Hitler" on his dis track "Pull Your Skirt Up."

That someone with such average skills (Benzino's biggest asset is that he is an owner of rap magazine The Source) would launch an assault on a supremely talented rapper such as Eminem is mind-boggling. There's really no comparison. Benzino's mediocrity is evident throughout his second solo album, Redemption.

Although the single "Rock the Party," as well as its remix featuring A-list guests Lil' Kim and Petey Pablo, has been enjoying modest success on radio stations across the country, it's the type of undistinguished dance tune that gets by because of its unorthodox beat. The rest of Benzino's collection gets buoyed by guests more talented than its host: Jadakiss, Wyclef Jean, Daz Dillinger and Scarface breathe energy into a boast-heavy project whose biggest attraction is the controversy surrounding it. - Compiled from wire reports

Excellent ***; Good ***; Fair **; Poor *

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