Change Becomes Us
Over the course of its long career—including two reunions—Wire has steadfastly refused to trade on nostalgia. Change Becomes Us tweaks its forward-looking aesthetic by revisiting songs written but never properly recorded before its first break-up in 1981. Performed live and often in embryonic form, these compositions are treated as raw material to be revamped, reworked and fleshed out. Songs like the propulsively distorted “Stealth of a Stork,” tartly pop “Eels Sang,” and gorgeously droning “Re-Invent Your Second Wheel” naturally contain echoes of their earlier work, but with fresh twists and production flourishes. It’s a shame original member Bruce Gilbert, who left the group several years ago, wasn’t around to put his final stamp on songs that he helped originate. But that’s a small quibble about an album that sounds surprisingly exciting and vital—not beholden either to the sonic fashions of the ‘80s or today’s.
PitchBlak Brass Band
You See Us
Straight outta Brooklyn comes PitchBlak Brass Band, a hip-hop jazz band. You See Us is an impressive collection of 14 tracks that seamlessly run the gamut from introspective rap to soulful improvisation to hypnotic funk and back again. Instrumentation for the 10-piece crew includes percussion, guitar, Sousaphone, trumpets, saxophone, and trombones, with several musicians doubling as MCs. The instrumental “1988 Gregorian Swagger,” which begins with a classical tone before the band starts trading solos, and “The Light,” (“inspired by the harsh realities and feelings as a young gay person of color,” the group’s website notes) are the standouts. But really, they’re all good.
Guitarist Bill Frisell is, happily, hard to squeeze into a genre box. Though he’s often called a jazz guitarist, that’s only true if your definition of jazz is roomy enough to incorporate a vast net of influences and sounds that stray well into pop, rock, country, or whatever else might be at hand. What’s safe to say is that Frisell’s compelling instrumental creations are united in sounding distinctly American. On Big Sur that’s especially true, and the album’s playful, moody virtuosity is the product of songwriting time Frisell spent at the Glen Deven ranch in Big Sur, Calif. working on commission from the Monterey Jazz Festival. Frisell’s Telecaster (a very non-jazz guitar choice) weaves in and out of pleasant, almost ambient sounds of percussion, violin, and bass, creating an expansive, contemplative mood punctuated by occasional departures into more uptempo pieces. There are very few duds on this lengthy, distinctive work.