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Dan Weiss Mixes Metals, Sara Serpa Goes Deep and Brad Mehldau Revises Bach, in Take Five

John Rogers
Dan Weiss with his band Starebaby at the 2018 NYC Winter Jazzfest

In this week's playlist, hybridism reigns.

Dan Weiss and Starebaby, “Badalamenti”

Starebaby, the astonishing new album by drummer and composer Dan Weiss, comes on like a voluptuous fever dream. A jazz-meets-metal experiment that never feels forced, it has the air of something obsessively imagined and then handled with expert care. That’s to the enormous credit of Weiss, who assembled the best possible crew for this mission: Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell on keyboards, piano, and electronics; Trevor Dunn on bass; and Ben Monder on guitars. 

“Badalamenti,” which has its premiere here, was named after Angelo Badalamenti, the Brooklyn-born composer best known for scoring David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. (He also once collaborated with the metal band Anthrax, for “Black Lodge,” a song inspired by that series.) The track begins in ominous beauty (very Lynchian) before bass and drums introduce a tripping syncopation. Then Monder plays a calmly barbed solo, and the pulse of the tune quickens, leading to a dissonant shimmer of synths, piano and effects. Weiss and his cohort will perform this music at Nublu in Lower Manhattan on April 1 — five days before Starebaby is out on Pi Recordings.

Sara Serpa with Ingrid Laubrock and Erik Friedlander, “Woman”

The ever-engaging Portuguese vocalist Sara Serpa has a rare gift for bringing musical shape to the written word. She has worked memorably with the poetry of Fernando Pessoa, and on Close Up — her delicate yet direct new album, made with the cellist Erik Friedlander and the saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock — she interprets text by writers including Virginia Woolf. She also sings several wordless pieces, using her voice as a pure instrument. But for this exquisite track, “Woman,” Serpa buids a melodic scaffold around a passage by the French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray, which struck her as a poignant description of motherhood. “Women, like the creator God, engenders with her breath,” the passage begins. “But she does it from the inside, without demonstration.” Close Up is due out on Clean Feed this Friday; Serpa will appear with Laubrock and Friedlander at The Owl in Brooklyn on April 5, and at the Cornelia Street Café in Manhattan on April 14.

Brad Mehldau, “After Bach: Rondo”


From a certain angle, After Bach feels inevitable: a solo piano meditation on J.S. Bach by a jazz pianist profoundly influenced by his language. That’s accurate, though Brad Mehldau has more in mind here. The album, just out on Nonesuch, was premiered as a concert commission a few years ago. It features four preludes and a fugue, interspersed with improvisational responses — so the “after” in the title is meant two ways, as an indication of sequence as well as influence. “After Bach: Rondo,” which follows Prelude No. 3 in C# Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier, opens with a genteel flourish. (It faintly evokes “John Boy,” from Mehldau’s 2014 album Highway Rider.) But the improvisation takes the piece through a range of permutations, and it’s worth following Mehldau’s train of thought to the finish.

Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco, “You’re Driving Me Crazy”


Van Morrison has never been shy about his love of jazz, but on You’re Driving Me Crazy — his 39th studio album, arriving April 27 on Legacy Recordings — he moves decisively into that lane. Created in partnership with Hammond B-3 organist and trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco, who receives co-billing, it’s a program of fondly retooled standards, and a few Van Morrison classics given the same treatment. The title track, which has posted as a lead single, unfolds in a sauntering tempo, with bright work from DeFrancesco’s band, featuring Troy Roberts on saxophone, Dan Wilson on guitar and Michael Ode on drums. (Don’t miss Van’s appreciative response to the guitar solo, just after the two-minute mark.)

Roy Haynes with Stan Getz, “Jive Hoot”


Finally, a brilliant clip of the Stan Getz Quartet in London in 1966, playing a Bob Brookmeyer tune called “Jive Hoot.” This one goes out to drummer Roy Haynes, who turns 93 on Tuesday, and will celebrate with a four-night run at the Blue Note in New York (beginning Thursday). Watch the volcanic drum solo that anchors this footage, and you’ll get a concentrated dose of Haynes’ mastery on the instrument — from the deft incorporation of rudiments to the triplet interaction between feet and hands to the sly implication of form. Dig young Steve Swallow and Gary Burton, too. But my favorite part of the clip occurs from 4:10 to 4:18, when the camera holds on the stupefied face of a guy sitting near the front. Yes, exactly. Happy birthday, Roy!

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.