CD Reviews

Al Green
The Immortal Soul of Al Green
(The Right Stuff)

The world's greatest living soul singer is unlike many of his late, great peers -- Sam Cook, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye -- in that he came late to gospel instead of early. He ditched his secular career at its peak, and became a highly successful gospel artist and reverend (his services at his church in Memphis, it is said, really packs 'em in).

Green's secular has been well chronicled and anthologized, which is why it's so curious that his soul output is once again repackaged by The Right Stuff (which owns his Hi Records catalogue) in the soon-to-be-released The Immortal Soul of Al Green. Since 1997's magnificent, Bible-packaged Anthology -- a four-disc set that is as good a box set as you'll find -- Green's work continually gets repackaged. And while The Immortal Soul doesn't break much new ground, the four-disc, 75-song set still doesn't fail to amaze in capturing the depth of quality and quantity of Green's soul years.

Perhaps Green is so linked with soul because of the way he would completely lose himself in his songs; in Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell's seamless orchestrations marked by their high-hat drums, soothing Hammond B-2 organ and economic guitar chords, Green was free to float over the arrangements as he saw fit. Listen to how he uses his vocals to completely restructure pop standards like "Oh, Pretty Woman" or "Two Sir, With Love" and you hear a preacher sermonizing more than singing. -- Simmons

Al Green plays "The Legends Series" at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 16, at House of Blues (225 Decatur St., 529-BLUE). Tickets $125 include open bar and buffet.

Terence Blanchard
(Blue Note)

"When I was a kid growing up, I was always into the notion of collaboration," trumpeter Terence Blanchard once said. "... [I]t's always interesting to me to get somebody else's take on the same issue." Despite his tremendous sense of power, tone, color and texture as a trumpeter, Blanchard remains, if nothing else, a collaborator, which he puts to great use on his recent debut release for Blue Note, Bounce.

You can barely sense his presence on the third track, "Fred Brown"; by then, you know more about his stellar backup band -- saxophonist Brice Winston, pianist Aaron Parks, keyboardist Robert Glasper, guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Brandon Owens and drummer Eric Harland -- than you do Blanchard himself. Maybe it's a set-up, a tease; when Blanchard announces himself, it's with a modulated fury. And just as soon as he blasts onto the scene, he dims the lights on the ensuing track, Ivan Linn's bossa nova "Nocturna."

At once smooth jazz and neo-bop (depending on how many times you listen to it), Bounce once again underscores a the versatility of one of New Orleans' great trumpeters, moving once again from standards (2001's Grammy-nominated tribute to Jimmy McHugh, Let's Get Lost) to mostly original material. Open and expressive, Blanchard can take charge on solos without ever showing off (something younger trumpeters should emulate) as he does on the lazy swing of "Footprints." Keep an ear open for such tasty surprises as Loueke's African chant on "Azania." But don't worry; there's plenty of Blanchard to go around for everyone on this album. He just knows his place. -- David Lee Simmons

Terence Blanchard kicks off his Jazz America Series with shows at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21, at the Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp St., 528-3800).

Robert Randolph & the Family Ban
(Warner Brothers)

Ever since pedal steel guitar prodigy Robert Randolph brought his music out of the House of God Church and into the clubs, he's been making the spiritual secular, and vice versa. His major label debut, Unclassified, follows up his debut release Live at Wetlands with a crop of new songs and all the cathartic energy of his incredible live show.

Randolph is a master jammer, and he doesn't hold back much here. Seventies funk undertones set the scene for his instrumental gymnastics. "I Need More Love" could be a Sly and the Family Stone sing-along, and "Squeeze" sounds like the Meters in warp speed with its relentless, looping bass line. On the other hand, Randolph isn't a great singer, but he does well when the lyrics are few and the melodies are beltable. The contemporary R&B croon tunes here are almost grating, like "Smile," an awkward attempt at a Stevie Wonder-style love song. A few tracks later, another slow flop. "Problems" leaves us longing for the scorching instant classics that started off the album.

Despite its inconsistencies, Unclassified has many tracks that remind us why Randolph blew up in a matter of months in 2001, most of them instrumental. The album wraps up with another over-the-top track of superhuman Randolph feats. The one-chord, train-like workout finds Randolph looping, trilling, and wailing until it draws to a close with a big, dramatic three-drumroll fanfare of syrupy cadences and range-spanning filler. In Robert Randolph's book, more is, indeed, more. -- Cristina Diettinger


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