We like Van Morrison, even when he vents

  • lefevre-album

    Van Morrison (Blue Note)

    Van Morrison is cranky. On "Born to Sing: No Plan B," he's upset with capitalism, worship of money, the abuses of the "global elite," the sound of "some kind of phony pseudo-jazz" (which raises the question What is real pseudo-jazz?), and the pettiness of others (he endorses Sartre's statement that "hell is other people").

    Although throughout his career he has used songs to rail against record-company abuses, his 35th solo album contains his most overtly political work. His lifelong spiritual quest continues in songs such as "Mystic of the East," but he's more concerned with voicing his disillusionment with the secular world.

    Morrison has few peers for longevity and continued vitality -- perhaps only Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Paul Simon -- and he has mastered a consistent, comfortable, and appealing style that melds blues, R&B, and jazz, often based on piano and his own alto saxophone. And he's still a peerless singer, locking into phrases and nursing varying meanings through repetition, scatting happily, and crooning soulfully, even when he's venting.

    -- STEVE KLINGE, Philadelphia Inquirer

    Lori Lefevre with Eric Dickey (Self-produced)

    Toledo continues to have an impressive, yet largely overlooked jazz community for a mid-sized, working-class city in the heart of the Great Lakes region. Singer Lori Lefevre has quietly become a big part of it.

    The Whitmer High School art teacher, who recently toured with the city's jazz icon, Jon Hendricks, in France, has been performing throughout the area for 30 years as a soloist and with the Toledo Jazz Orchestra and other groups. One of the area's best pianists, Eric Dickey, convinced her to go into the studio with him for this CD, a superb collection of Great American Songbook, soft jazz, sophisticated love songs, and Latin-tinged hits.

    What stands out about Lefevre's voice isn't the sweetness or tenderness -- she's got those qualities, without being syrupy -- but her deft syncopations and jazzy style. She gets down with some scat and vocal gyrations that show she's a real pro. An added bonus, from a technical aspect, is fantastic reproduction at Solid Sound Studios in Ann Arbor.

    Appearing with Lefevre and Dickey are Gene Parker on sax, flute and trumpet; Jordan Schug on bass, and Scott Kretzer on drums. A highly worthwhile and notable disc, whether it was done by a local or a national artist.

    -- TOM HENRY

    Greg Lewis (Self-produced)

    This disc is the second in a proposed triology in which Brooklyn-based keyboardist Greg Lewis is trying to blend two of his greatest loves, the music of eccentric jazz piano improv pioneer Thelonious Monk with the Hammond C 3 organ.

    Monk was a jazz genius whose greatly nuanced and mind-bending work is nearly impossible to recreate on the piano. Unfortunately, about all Lewis does is create evidence that Monk's work does not translate at all to the organ.

    It's a noble, ambitious effort, but that's all, barring a few good moments with the tenor sax addition to this disc. Lewis, who is self-taught at the organ and mentored at the piano by musicians who once played with Charles Mingus and Miles Davis, should have known better. He's got talent. But this is a project that loses a lot in the translation.

    -- T.H.