Harmony of Difference
(Young Turks *** 1/2)
Sax man and bandleader Kamasi Washington has turned a new generation on to jazz not by compromising or crossing over, but with the boldness of his vision. Sure, it helps that he’s closely associated with fellow innovators on the spectrum of contemporary black music, from rapper Kendrick Lamar to electronic producer Flying Lotus to bassist Thundercat. But Washington’s sensibility is essentially an old-fashioned one, in which he and his superb group of musicians stretch out in big-band and small-group settings.
The Los Angeles tenor sax player made a grand entrance with his 2015 triple album, The Epic. Another full-length project is due next year, and Harmony of Difference is a refreshingly taut, disciplined six-song EP that clocks in at a mere 34 minutes, written to accompany a visual art exhibit by his sister Amani that was featured at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York this year. It plays as a wordless consideration of diverse cultures, races, and attitudes in five short pieces called “Desire,” “Humility,” “Knowledge,” “Perspective,” and “Intergrity” that weave together elements of hard bop, funk, and bossa nova. Washington then wraps it up masterfully on the closing 13-minute “Truth,” which puts a choir and strings to effective use. — Dan DeLuca
Kamasi Washington plays Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St., at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 25. All ages. $30-$95. 215-232-2100. utphilly.com.
(Mercury Nashville *** stars)
On her rise to superstardom, Shania Twain pulled off a rare feat – she gave pop country a good name. The music she made with her then-husband and producer, Mutt Lange, was irresistible — expertly crafted and bursting with personality and smarts.
That hook-happy effervescence resurfaces on Now, Twain’s first album in 15 years, in numbers such as “Swingin’ with My Eyes Closed” and “Life’s About to Get Good.” This time, however, more clouds intrude, with moments of self-doubt and vulnerability seeming to reflect the personal turmoil triggered by her messy breakup with Lange. “You let me go / You had to have her,” she begins on “I’m Alright.”
Ultimately, the darkness can’t keep Twain down. (She takes the advice she offers in “You Can’t Buy Love”: “When life gives you lemons … make some lemonade.”) But her acknowledgement of that darkness makes her continued sunny resilience seem genuinely earned. — Nick Cristiano
All Things Work Together
Unless the music is bracing and clever enough to stop traffic, calling any artist a “Christian” one is bound to scare a non-holy-rolling audience. Despite various references to Jesus and God by believers and non, hip-hop in particular doesn’t seem to be a place where truly spiritual symphonies to God could catch the average ear. This is perhaps why Houston rapper-producer Lecrae — on this, his eighth album — keeps the Christian tag under swaddling blankets and goes quietly into the sunshine as a positivist-inspirational hip-pop presence. Lecrae’s albums have always been solid, soulful affairs, especially 2014’s Anomaly. The aptly titled All Things Work Together just walks an extra mile in its quest to find the bridge between the street and salvation.
With that dictum, songs such as “Come and Get Me” and the AutoTuned “Whatchu Mean” are snaky, sexy workouts that play on themes of romance, truth, and Stevie Wonder. The latter track in particular is smart and funny in that it rhymes “At first they couldn’t see, now everybody wanna be us … I got a stripper friend who told me she believe in Jesus.” Then there’s Work Together’s wealth of simmering, stately ballads, such as the clicking “I’ll Find You” (with Aussie vocalist Tori Kelly) and the somber cello- and falsetto-driven “Cry for You” with its weird, well-being boast “It’s so hard to confess / When everybody thinks you’re perfect.” Amen to that. — A.D. Amorosi