LIVE AT THE KITANO
Bill Cantrall & Axiom (Up Swing Records)
This album is loads of jazzy fun the way it swings, bops, and captivates listeners with its foot-stompin', uptempo rhythms.
But, most of all, it succeeds because of how Bill Cantrall's group, Axiom, goes from one luscious improvised solo to another, whether it's him on trombone or one of his cohorts on sax, piano, bass, drums, or trumpet.
Recorded live at a New York venue, this follow-up to Cantrall's 2007 debut is what jazz collaboration is all about, something that's creative and spontaneous, strong but not overpowering. The group stays within the structure of six originals and a Cole Porter standard.
Cantrall shows his chops as a musician, band leader, and composer. Yet the team chemistry's so good neither he nor anyone else seems to feel the need to dominate the spotlight.
-- TOM HENRY
The Darkness (Wind-Up)
In the opening lines of "Every Inch of You," the first track on The Darkness' new album "Hot Cakes," Justin Hawkins laments his past misfortunes: "Oh baby I was a loser/Several years on the dole/An Englishman with a very high voice." But that loser has made that very high voice work for him as the reformed glam rockers release their third studio album.
"Hot Cakes" exudes fun. It seems to wipe away a period of discord during which the band broke up and its members started other projects. You can almost see the lanky rockers jumping around, causing havoc on stage.
"Nothin's Gonna Stop Us" has a feel-good 1980s rocking chorus and guitar solos you can imagine being played atop a huge speaker in a stadium. It's a song that's perfect for warming up a Lady Gaga crowd, something The Darkness will do on her world tour.
As the album progresses to "With a Woman," it becomes lyrically more somber and loses the cocky edge that has defined previous releases. Hawkins muses on a failed relationship, but still manages a squeal at the end. However, this love song isn't as strong as other romantic ditties such as "Love is Only a Feeling" on the quartet's 2003 debut "Permission to Land."
The album stumbles somewhat when Hawkins isn't using his voice to its full range and sings bland lyrics about banal domesticities, making cups of tea, and getting taxis.
-- SIAN WATSON, Associated Press
Martin Solveig (Big Beat Records)
With his boyish looks and catchy tunes, it was just a matter of time before Martin Solveig made it to the big leagues, aka the United States. The French-born electronic DJ-producer has been toiling at the decks for almost two decades before catching both America's ear with his outgoing "Hello" and Madonna's, for whom he produced three tracks on her latest album, "MDNA," including the hit "Give Me All Your Luvin.' " Solveig also worked as the house DJ at this year's MTV Movie Awards.
With the U.S. release of his fifth studio album, "Smash," Solveig wins the award for the longest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean: The album has been out in Europe for more than a year. Although it starts out as largely homogenous and nerve-dulling with its unrelenting beats, the album manages to smash through the blood-brain barrier and infect the listener with its optimistic vibe and fun lyrics.
Canadian electro-pop band Dragonette snaps up most of the dance-inducing collaborations. You cannot stop listening to "Can't Stop," and the playful "Boys and Girls," where Solveig and Dragonette's frontwoman court one another, is the most fun they'll ever have without stripping off their nuance.
Overall, "Smash" is likable, but the 13-track record is disappointingly one-quarter remixes of Solveig's bigger hits. The successful "Big in Japan" and the international jam "Hello" are gung-ho harmless, but not the best listings on the sleeve. And "Get Away From You" is a strange throwback to 1990s British punk rock, though Solveig imbues it with appealing synth.
-- CRISTINA JALERU, Associated Press