MUSIC: July 05, AU Edition

The grumpy Irishman brawls with mediocrity – and wins – while Nash and Stigers show where jazz is headed
VanMorrisonMagicTime.jpgVan Morrison
‘Magic Time’, Geffen
3 stars

After four decades of peerless soul music, Van Morrison has nothing left to prove. No wonder he complains that ‘you gotta fight every day to keep mediocrity at bay’ on ‘Magic Time’: Even when he coasts, his deeply embedded mastery of blues, jazz, Celtic and R&B styles ensures a consistently high baseline.
‘Magic Time’ holds few surprises, and Morrison knows this: ‘You can call it nostalgia, I don’t mind’, he sings in the title track. With three covers of jazz standards, two songs (‘Gypsy in My Soul’ and ‘The Lion This Time’) that allude to his 1972 classic ‘Saint Dominic’s Preview’, and several doses of Celtic mysticism and misanthropy, he’s revisiting styles and themes that have long preoccupied him.
But it’s hard to complain when Morrison sings gently rolling ballads as beautifully as he does ‘Celtic New Year’ and ‘Stranded’, or swinging blues as locked-in as ‘Evening Train’ and ‘I’m Confessin’’.
Reviewed by Steve Klinge

laespadadelanoche.jpgTed Nash and Odeon
‘La Espada de la Noche’, Palmetto
3 stars

Jazz was born in a cradle of many cultures, and the music’s future is likely to be full of cultural excursions to new realms. Ted Nash pulls off such a fusion. He uses a primarily tango vibe to create a kind of film-noir jazz that’s engaging and probably even better live than on disc.
The son of trombonist Dick Nash and nephew of swing saxophonist Ted Nash, this saxophonist has recently made a career swinging with the backward-looking Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the forward-careening Jazz Composers Collective.
His band here is anchored by Clark Gayton on tuba, trombone and baritone horn. Violinist Nathalie Bonin and accordionist Bill Schimmel enhance the tango feeling, while drummer Matt Wilson is a jazz cat with Latin moves.
The session makes for good bullfighting music. The quintet covers two Latin jazz standards, ‘A Night in Tunisia’ and ‘Tico Tico’, with tango high in its consciousness. But elements of klezmer and traditional New Orleans jazz creep in, forming a worldly stew.
Reviewed by Karl Stark

cstigers2005.jpgCurtis Stigers
‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’, Concord
3 stars

How many singers make a rock recording that sells nearly two million copies and walk away to be a jazz vocalist? Curtis Stigers, whose self-titled hit came in 1991, is one.
Stigers is not, surprisingly, a high-voltage artist. He’s an expressive character who looks for some heart in a song and often plumbs it. The Idaho, U.S.A., native shows an independent-cuss view of songs, expanding the usual suspects here to include ditties by Randy Newman, Sting and Tom Waits.
He shows an affinity for country on Willie Nelson’s ‘Crazy’ and gets folksy and direct on the title track, a poignant Newman original.
Waits’ ‘In Between Love’ carries the emotional oomph of an old Tin Pan Alley standard, and Willie Dixon’s ‘My Babe’ gives Stigers soulful credentials. Keyboardist Larry Goldings is a big collaborator here, creating the sympathetic backing with a revolving cast that includes bassist Ben Allison and drummer Matt Wilson.
Reviewed by Karl Stark