Tom Moon

For the last two years, pianist Ethan Iverson has been at the center of what looks, in hindsight, like a serious creative whirlwind. He re-conceptualized Stravinsky's ballet The Rite Of Spring in its entirety (!) for his trio The Bad Plus, and then, for good measure, recorded an album of all-original Bad Plus music (Inevitable Western).

For some people, gospel music is all about the message — of faith and forbearance, sin and salvation. For the members of the mostly instrumental supergroup known as The Word, gospel is more about a feeling. The group's long-awaited second album, Soul Food, is a rousing, thoroughly modern take on gospel.

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Really, how much hoodoo can there be out in the desert?

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The glissando (gliss for short) is a musical term describing the sound of an instrument as it glides from one pitch to another. A favorite trick of jazz hornmen and slide guitarists, the gliss can be a woozy, gleeful sound or a mournful one. When executed by a virtuoso violinist, the notes between the start and the finish of the gliss blur together into a gorgeous, ribbonlike swoop of sound.

He asks a lot of questions, this José González.

He opened his last album, 2013's band project Junip, with a thought experiment Nietzsche could love: "What would you do if it all came back to you?" The song, "Line Of Fire," dwells in a mood of idle 3 a.m. musing; González tosses out existential/metaphysical conundrums like he's feeding bread to ducks — casually, without worrying much about concrete answers.

Dylan The Crooner

Feb 3, 2015

Bard. Voice of a generation. Bob Dylan has been called many things over the years. With his new album, Shadows in the Night, the 73-year-old aims for another title: crooner.

Countless bands perform a variation on the medium-uptempo edge-of-rage eruption perfected by the likes of the Pixies and Green Day. It's become so ubiquitous, you almost don't have to listen: It's possible to get a headline-news sense of the song without fully apprehending the words. The spike in the guitar attack and the rawness of the vocal help telegraph the outline of a narrative: Here we are in the aftermath of a relationship in turmoil. Trust is broken. Someone's been wronged. Wounds are fresh.

You can tell a lot about a songwriter by what occurs in the space between verses. Many writers — hacks and gifted souls alike — will treat an instrumental expanse as a kind of please-stand-by strumming wallpaper, a palate cleanser for the ear. In this strategy, derived from folk music, the focus remains forever on the narrative; the "action" in a song directly depends on the voice.

There's usually reason to be apprehensive when an artist spends years in the workshop on a single set of songs. The results can seem joyless; think Chinese Democracy, which took Guns N' Roses 14 tortured years to finish. D'Angelo spent nearly as much time crafting his new record. He took his time and loaded up some of the tracks with everything from the audio candy store. Incredibly, the music rarely sounds cluttered or overwrought.

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Saxophonist Bobby Keys was still a teenager when he started playing with his fellow Texan Buddy Holly and pop star Bobby Vee. Later, he joined up with the Rolling Stones. And for more than 40 years, Bobby Keys' powerful sax was a key part of their sound.

Bryan Ferry Slinks Home

Nov 18, 2014

The opening groove in "Loop De Li," the first song on Bryan Ferry's new album, Avonmore, might as well be a "Welcome Home" sign.

In typically grandiose fashion, Pink Floyd has created its own requiem.

The dog's name was Hamlet.

He lived at the house known as Big Pink, in the woods near Woodstock, and during the summer of 1967, responsibility for his care was shared by Bob Dylan and members of The Band. Hamlet was on the scene during the fruitful recording of The Basement Tapes, part of the storied atmosphere that led to one of the most vivid chapters in American music.

The Sunday-school singalong "You Are My Sunshine" is the rare evergreen that seems to withstand all manner of musical abuse.

In the last 20 years, Prince has gotten more attention for his acrimonious spat with Warner Brothers — and the shenanigans surrounding his name — than for the music he's continued to make. And yet, as a performer, Prince is still undeniable, one of the living best.

This is not Dueling Banjos: The Married Couple Edition. You won't find the careening energy of the mano-a-mano from the Deliverance soundtrack, or of the Flatt and Scruggs classic "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." Outbreaks of dazzling, speed-demon technique are few.

In music these days, the fastest-moving genre is electronic dance music, or EDM. It's the sound most people associate with rave culture and artists like Skrillex. But 20 years ago, Richard D. James — better known as Aphex Twin — was making a very different kind of electronic music, as heard on landmark releases like 1994's Selected Ambient Works Vol. II.

There's something wonderfully contrarian about Lucinda Williams ending one of her multi-year silences with a double album. In 2014, no one is supposed to have time to appreciate three straight songs from one artist, much less an entire album.

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When filmmakers want to evoke the romance of American nightlife in the roaring 1920s, they often turn to the hot ripping music of Fats Waller.

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A clue about the scruffy aesthetic of Sukierae arrives at the 2:27 mark of "World Away," one of 20 (!) songs on the first family-band album from Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. Until this point, the tune — a variation on the Bo Diddley beat strummed on acoustic guitar, with Tweedy's sleepy voice distantly implying a blues cadence — has been fairly straightforward.

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"You know I love you, but you're mean."

Here's one of those eternal refrains. Nobody owns it; it's been in the air since forever. Maybe it was initially uttered by a songwriter toiling deep in the Brill Building, or first sung by a girl group.

As it comes back around, an echo distorts the qualities of a sound just enough to encourage you to hear it differently. Maybe it's just distance changing the plain into the transcendent, but there's a trace of magic in an echo. It's like Narcissus' reflection, only better — inexact, an impression with new fuzz and new dimension to it. No choice but to appreciate it differently.

To music obsessives of a certain age, the current generation of listeners sometimes appears as lightweight grazers at the Internet smorgasbord who seem unwilling (possibly unable) to focus attention at depth on a single piece of music. The summary dismissal: The kids today, they can't handle all of what somebody like a Frank Zappa (or a band like King Crimson) throws at them.

Two minutes and 11 seconds into "They Dream," from Bear in Heaven's fourth album Time Is Over One Day Old, the music takes a strange turn. The band has been shuttling along at a riveting adventure-movie clip, with Jon Philpot's reverb-swaddled voice functioning as the primary distinct element in a sleek blur. Then, abruptly, the tempo stops. A wash of Space Mountain synths dissolves slowly — the set has been struck. When Philpot begins to sing again, he's the sole occupant of the spotlight.

Melissa Aldana, who became the first female instrumentalist and first South American musician to win the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition last fall, is not the average talent-contest winner.

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