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Bentley’s Bandstand: Quartet San Francisco, Sam Baker, Soulsavers

Posted By Karen Young On January 27, 2010 @ 12:41 am In Arts & Culture,Music,spotlight | No Comments

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BY BILL BENTLEY

www.sonicboomers.com

Quartet San Francisco, QSF Plays Brubeck, QSF Music

QSFThere are sometimes albums that exist in their own world. They are so distinctive and carry such an air of accomplishment about them, it’s like they are surrounded by a warm glow. That specialness almost jumps off the disc, and is there every time the music is played. Quartet San Francisco is a classical string ensemble that has that magical touch. Each one of their releases fills the room with a touching joy, and QSF Plays Brubeck carries that spirit even further. The two violins, viola and cello absolutely soar through Dave Brubeck’s songs, not to mention Paul Desmond’s composition “Take Five,” which the Brubeck quartet released 50 years ago and is possibly the most popular jazz recording of all time. The way the strings of Jeremy Cohen, Alisa Rose, Michelle Djokic and Keith Lawrence give flight to all these sounds is a study in defying gravity. Their creations add a dramatic flair to all the selections, and can carry away the willing listener. In concert, QSF veers from jazz to tango, pop to funk, blues to bluegrass and beyond. There is nearly no style of music they can’t master. But somehow, in taking on the Dave Brubeck songbook, it feels like the group has really found their sweet spot for now. So if it’s been awhile since an album has found you and invited you on a journey to a new land, this release could be the one. It’s nominated for two Grammy Awards next week, including one for Best Classical Crossover, and if this music doesn’t help cross you over to the other side, it could be time for flying lessons. It’s time to take off.

Sam Baker, Cotton, Blue Limestone Records

sam-bakerThe first time you hear Sam Baker sing, it sounds like there’s something a little off, like he has a slight problem pronouncing some of the words. It doesn’t sound wrong, it is just different. There’s a reason for it, and the more you learn the likelier it is you will fall completely under this musician’s spell. A decade ago Baker was traveling on a train in Peru when a terrorist’s bomb exploded on the luggage rack right above his head. Seven people died, and for most intents so should have this Texan. Much of his body was maimed, and he lost hearing in one ear and a constant ringing in the other. But it was then he began writing songs and singing. It was like he’d found a new calling, one born out of blood and bereavement. In other ways, it was as if he’d received a miracle that day the bomb blew up, because instead of dying like he probably should have, he was instead reborn. Cotton is the third album in a trilogy, and each one explores a complete world of Sam Baker’s making. As a writer, he captures details of everyday life that most of us didn’t so much miss as just didn’t realize existed. His eye for emotional catharsis sounds like it comes from a conjurer’s gift, and songs like “Moon,” “Signs” and “Say the Right Words” glow with holy words. There is a deep well of spirit inside all these songs, and you will know it from the very first listen. Something is going on here, and in many ways it is beyond the realm of normal explanation. Maybe this man crossed over to the other side for a few moments on that train in Peru, and what he has brought back is a world to share we normally do not see. By opening our eyes he is ready to take us there. Lucky us.

Soulsavers, Broken, Columbia Records

soulsaversFirst the good news. This is a swirling mess of an album that can stop you in your tracks. There is such an embarrassment of riches on the songs it’s easy to get lost listening, like you’re in a house of mirrors and keep bumping into old friends or new hallucinations. They pop up at all points, in gorgeous psychedelic colors or harsh grinding arrangements, sometimes suitably mixed together. There is absolutely no way to predict what comes next. The cast of characters is entirely enviable: Mark Lanegan, Jason Pierce, Richard Hawley, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Mike Patton, Gibby Haynes and more. What they create will turn your insides around, like a good drug that might not hurt you, but if it does it is worth it. The songs, almost all originals, sound like some are written during high fevers, and reflect that these artists are out to please themselves. And shining there in the fifth slot is “Some Misunderstanding,” written by original Byrds vocalist Gene Clark. It is a stunning thing, and proves how the past is never really past, but always inspiration for today. Broken is anything but, and could easily have been titled Fixed. Oh yes, the bad news? There isn’t any now that you mention any.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins. For more reviews and music news, go to www.sonicboomers.com

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