CD Reviews

An occasional update of music releases


Passion Flower - Fred Hersch Plays Billy Strayhorn (Nonesuch): Billy Strayhorn helped shape the sound of modern jazz with his brilliant compositions and arrangements for Duke Ellington's orchestra. Despite his big-band roots, his tunes have worked their way into the repertoires of many different artists, and it's arguable that the greatest performance of his superb "Lush Life" was by no less a modernist than John Coltrane, in his Johnny Hartman collaboration. The interpretations of Fred Hersch's trio, supplemented by a sizable string orchestra, are a bit syrupy around the edges but still convey the keen intelligence that made Strayhorn special. A warm and winning collection, even if "Satin Doll" and "Take the 'A' Train" didn't make the cut. -- David Sterritt


Barbara Kessler - Notion (Eastern Front Records): For her first studio CD, Barbara Kessler has expanded her sound by picking up an electric guitar and laying down some grooves that are downright funky. From the heavily gated opening chords of "That Hurricane," it's clear that this recording is out to move you one way or another. It's difficult not to tap along with the rockers "At My Age" and the rollicking "Me." Even when she slows it down in the haunting "Notion" there is an easy rolling beat. The solo acoustic "The Date" will touch anybody who's ever been on one. -- Jef Scoville


Tracy Bonham - The Burdens of Being Upright (Island): Boston-based Tracy Bonham has stormed onto the alternative airwaves with "Mother Mother," the first cut off this highly charged, full-length debut. The promising singer-songwriter wields an angry guitar with pop sensibility. Here, songs range from the driving "Bulldog" and disturbing "Sharks Can't Sleep" to the irresistibly pop "The One" and beautiful "The Real." Such plucky fare suggests Bonham won't be just a one-hit wonder. -- Kirsten Conover

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