Todd Phillips, Timeframe (Compass)
Phillips’ musical pedigree is unbeatable. As a bassist, he’s gone from a position in the original, groundbreaking David Grisman Quintet to roles in the less heralded but equally adventurous groups Montreux and Psychograss. Stephane Grappelli, Mark O’Connor, Tony Rice and Peter Rowan have all recruited him for their recordings and tours.
As good as his work has been, nothing Phillips has done suggested he was capable of a solo album as rich and confident as Timeframe, his first since 1984’s . While many in the new acoustic movement have flirted with mainstream jazz, the results usually lean strongly on folk structures and such hybrids as funk or jazz-rock. Phillips embraces the music in its classic form: He delves deeply into the gentle, melodic swing of 1950s cool jazz and brings it forward with a combination of unusual instruments including reeds, mandolins, harp, vibraphone, cello and flute, as well as more conventional jazz combo instruments like soprano sax, acoustic bass and drums. It makes for a stunning collection.
Phillips’ compositions not only swing with casual aplomb; they’re also as focused and as assured as tunes from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue or Dave Brubeck’s . He’s never flashy, but his instincts are unerringly correct, guiding him to create music that’s both accessible and beautiful while remaining constantly surprising and fresh. His band proves perfectly suited to his ideas. Paul McCandless of Oregon, who worked similar magic on Bela Fleck’s recent solo album, plays with beauty and restraint. For the most part, he blows with a cool, clean melodicism that can be serious and melancholy or bright and sweet. But on the title song, McCandless jumps in with a hot, swinging solo at just the right moment. Joe Caploe, on vibes and marimba, proves just as versatile and invigorating, and drummer Paul van Wageningen is nearly invisible with his gently swinging cymbal and brush work; he steps forward only when an arrangement needs a shove. Of the guests, the best known is Darol Anger, who adds violin to a song.
For Compass Records, the smart Nashville upstart, Phillips’ album provides a weighty coup that should spread the label’s name and reputation in the best mannerwith the music attracting all the attention.
Music From the Oklahoma City Memorial Service: A Time of Healing (Warner Bros.)
Five days after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, 20,000 people gathered in the state capital to hear prayers and music. A worldwide audience listened, and afterward, requests poured in from outside Oklahoma for copies of the stately and emotional musical program performed that evening. It wasn’t recorded, but the Oklahoma City Philharmonic thought such a recording could be a way to attract additional monetary assistance for the orphans and other family members who suffered losses and serious injuries that day.
It’s interesting to note who the Philharmonic contacted when seeking the involvement of a record company: Jim Ed Norman was the right and logical choice to make a project like this happen. As head of Warner Bros. Nashville, he has worked for years to bring more interaction and understanding between Music Row and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra (and the city’s arts community at large).
Producer Brian Ahern (Emmylou Harris, George Jones) and engineer Donivan Cowart set up an Enactron recording truck and recorded the Philharmonic’s re-enactment of a portion of the program. The orchestra concentrated on somber segments from well-known pieces, including the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh, the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second, Bach’s “Air” and “Sheep May Safely Graze,” and Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess.” A children’s choral group provides two beautiful songs, and the Canterbury Choral Society adds a gorgeous “Alleluia.” Mark O’Connor brings his creative virtuosity to “Amazing Grace” in a version that should be heard during times of reflection and deliverance for years to come.
In an era of loud and showy tributes, Oklahoma chose music that was majestic and centuries old. This is the music people have turned to for sustenance throughout eras of strife, and, as in the past, it served to remind a city and a nation that nobility and humanity somehow manage to rise up in the face savagery.
It isn’t until the end of the album that the literal sentimentality of pop music comes into play. Christian vocalist Kim Boyce, playing to the notion that a melodramatic ballad leads people to spiritual strength and renewal, sings a radio hit about dealing with tragedy by turning to Jesus. And Ernestine Dillard’s strident version of “God Bless America” is more Kate Smith than Ray Charles.
Ahern and Cowart capture a particularly warm, vibrant sound from the orchestra, especially on the initial pieces. In quick time, it makes for an album of light classics that strikes a deep chord.
(For more information about the relief effort, contact Project Recovery OKC, P.O. Box 850234, Oklahoma City, Okla. 73185.)
Christian music’s hippest, most popular trio strikes with a collection that displays another large leap in creative growth. Both more pop and more experimental, deserves attention, although too often the songs start with a spurt of ingenuity then slide down into predictably repetitive sing-alongs. In its way, the trio brings together the two most interesting camps of Christian music, combining the smart, accessible songcraft of Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith with the explosive studio collages of Lynn Nichols, Dave Perkins and other Nashville tech-heads who have been pushing religious music into modern times.
The trio isn’t afraid to confront its biggest doubters. In the title song, DC Talk confront those who look at the devout as either uninformed curiosities or bigoted cultural abnormalities. (The song seems to predict the reaction of a top editor at Spin magazine, who told a band associate that his magazine not only wouldn’t write about the band, but he would never, under any circumstances, even give it a listen.) In “Colored People,” they also turn toward those in their own community who might harbor just the kind of narrow thinking that leads to the kind of attitude carried by the aforementioned New York-based rock editor.
In the end, DC Talk maintain the status they gained in 1992. To Baptist camp youth, they present their message in radical, progressive terms that measure up decently to the modern rock their classmates consider important. In truth, they’re neither cutting edge nor laughably out of fashion. Instead, they’re talented young men with a knack for wrapping catchy pop in modestly progressive ideas.
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