THE ROOTS: How I Got Over (Def Jam).
How I Got Over provides a welcome reality check for those vaguely uplifting platitudes about “change” and “hope” that ushered in the Obama era. A series of vignettes about the modern struggle to keep family and soul together under difficult circumstances, it features some of the grabbiest refrains this hip-hop crew has ever offered – for proof, start with “Dear God 2.0,” featuring My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and his Monsters of Folk cohorts. Then check the title track, the ticking-timebomb “Now or Never,” and the elegant “Right On,” which derives some of its wattage from none other than Joanna Newsome.
JASON MORAN: Ten (Blue Note). This inventive trio date marks a decade of collaboration between jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran, bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. The Bandwagon, as the trio is called, has pushed at the edges of jazz convention by incorporating loops of odd sounds (one track here features feedback from the guitar of Jimi Hendrix) and conversations, improvising over hip-hop rhythms, and exploring radical ways to balance consonance and dissonance. Moran’s compositions here continue to push the trio into new territory – check the ambling, beautiful “RFK in the Land of Apartheid” – and there are also striking covers, including two versions of Conlon Nancarrow’s “Study No. 6.”
ETOILE DE DAKAR: Once Upon a Time In Senegal (Stern’s Music). Though it had a short run (roughly three years), the band that launched the career of Youssou N’Dour carved out a reputation for incandescent, impossibly fluid rhythms in support of bouyant, spirit-searing refrains. This 2-disc set surveys the best of the group’s studio recordings, made between 1979 and 1981; many have never been released outside of Africa. Those familiar with N’Dour’s later work know to expect lightning bolts when he sings; the surprises here include what’s behind him – intricate layers of guitar that give the music shimmering, ever-changing textures.
KETIL BJORNSTAD: Rememberance (ECM). The Norwegian pianist Ketil Bjornstad has a gift for earnest, bracingly simple melody – at times on this vivid journey, his compositions approach a murmering modern-day update of Erik Satie’s piano music. The title of this trio work featuring drummer Jon Christensen suggests nostalgia, but there’s no looking back happening here. Instead, the poised Bjornstad pursues a nuanced, pastel-tinged atmosphere that might just mirror the motion of brainwaves during periods of calm reflection. Remarkable for nighttime stargazing.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Palenque Palenque: Champeta Criolla & Afro Roots in Colombia, 1975-1991. (Soundway). Great dance music is like gumbo: It becomes rich, far greater than the sum of its parts, when seemingly disparate ingredients are blended with sensitivity. An excellent illustration of this is Champeta, dance music that connects Colombian beats, like cumbia, with irreverent appropriations of African rhythm. Fiery and psychedelic, mindful of tradition but shot with a zealous energy missing from much Colombian music, this is an instant party.