(Blue Note ***1/2)
The line on Norah Jones' sixth album and first since 2012's Danger Mouse-produced Little Broken Hearts is that it's a return to the jazzy, piano-based sound of her 2002 Grammy-gobbling, gazillion-selling debut, Come Away With Me. True enough, as far as it goes. But whereas that album was full of late-night confidences and the comforting, honeyed vocals that are a Jones trademark, it was really a pop album with jazz trappings.
Day Breaks, by contrast, is more thoroughly a jazz record, down to its Horace Silver ("Peace") and Duke Ellington ("Fleurette Africaine") covers and guest appearances by Lonnie Smith and Wayne Shorter. Which is not to say Day Breaks is by any means inaccessible to pop ears: Jones' inviting purr is as pleasurable an instrument as ever, and she does well with her own revved-up and swinging "Flipside," subtly sophisticated ballads such as the title cut, and the churchy lead single "Carry On," as well as a particularly rich version of the not-overplayed Neil Young classic "Don't Be Denied." But what really distinguishes Day Breaks is that, after years of agreeable drifting - from projects with country cover band the Little Willies to 2013's Everly Brothers tribute with Billie Joe Armstrong - it finds Jones back on the piano bench, putting a decade and a half's worth of lessons learned into the music that meant the most to her in the first place.
- Dan DeLuca
(Motema Music ***1/2)
Saxophonist-composer Donny McCaslin and his equally talented pals - drummer Mark Guiliana, bassist Tim Lefebvre, keyboardist/sequencer Jason Lindner - have been stars of New York's improv jazz scene since the '90s. They made significant contributions as David Bowie's band for the latter's 2016 abstract, post-everything Blackstar. Now Bowie's theatrical musicality and life-affirming work ethic has seeped into McCaslin's newest project with his buds, and it's dedicated to Bowie.
McCaslin's compositions and solos soar, buoyed by Lefebvre's funky, chic inventiveness. "Shake Loose," with its twisted tempo changes and spooky echo, and "Beyond Now," with its slow, passionate crescendos, find the saxophonist at his gentlest yet most muscular. On the texturally rich "Bright Abyss," the ensemble merges and surges as one, going from quirky cocktail jazz to manic art rock in under 10 minutes. The album features Bowie's mesmerizing "A Small Plot of Land" and prayerful "Warszawa." Reverence for their onetime boss turns to artful innovation, and Beyond Now goes beyond Bowie and improvisational jazz itself to become something unique.
- A.D. Amorosi
Moby & The Void Pacific Choir
These Systems Are Failing
(Little Idiot/Mute **)
Moby's new outfit is no doubt a rejuvenation for the 51-year-old, a grinding industrial respite from the textural quietude that's made up his last decade, with the exception of 2008's diva-disco Last Night. But keeping his locomotive beats simple ends up meaning flat, and the project itself requires the listener to have an investment in the man as a vocalist, a rock and roller, even. Moderate highs like "A Simple Love" and "Don't Leave Me" end up as anthemic NIN knockoffs with no serrated edges. And you'd think the guy behind such trenchant criticism of the meat industry would have a more specific machine to rage against this year.
- Dan Weiss
IN STORES FRIDAY
Michael Bublé, Nobody But Me; Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker; Lady Gaga, Joanne; KORN, The Serenity of Suffering