DON’T LOOK DOWN, Skylar Grey, KidinaKorner/Interscope
Revenge is the best revenge in Skylar Grey’s songs. Grey can be long-suffering, and she might even savor some of the torment, the better to examine it and house it in a dignified melody. She also writes about offering support, pulling herself together and moving on after a breakup. But when pushed too far, she counterattacks. In Final Warning, a song on her new album, Don’t Look Down, she sings, “Someone’s gonna get hurt/and it’s not gonna be me,” with breathy savoir-faire.
Don’t Look Down is her first album as Skylar Grey, the name she adopted in 2010. But she released her debut solo album in 2006 as Holly Brook, a brooding, piano-playing singer-songwriter. She’s not hiding her past; her songwriting credit throughout Don’t Look Down is as Holly Hafermann (Brook is her middle name), and solo piano opens and closes the album. But the name change shifted her sound and persona. As Skylar Grey, she’s still brooding, but her songs now also have the bluntness, electronic sizzle and rhythmic muscle of hip-hop; she also favors the higher, more cutting end of her vocal range. Her doormat days are ending.
Grey is the latest sensitive songwriter taking a career path through hip-hop. A rapper, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, released Holly Brook’s debut album, Like Blood Like Honey, through his own label. Her bigger break was to collaborate in 2010 with an English hip-hop producer, Alex Da Kid, on a bitterly accusatory ballad, Love the Way You Lie, that Eminem turned into a multimillion-selling single. Eminem and Alex Da Kid are the album’s executive producers; Eminem raps on Grey’s sarcastic flirtation, C’mon Let Me Ride.
On the album, Grey’s influences can be obvious: Fiona Apple in Wear Me Out and Pulse, Alanis Morissette in Religion, Elton John in Back From the Dead, Dido in Final Warning. But she finds unusual situations for her narrators: left behind by an ex’s success in Tower (Don’t Look Down) , unwed and pregnant in a song with a title that can’t be printed here. For Grey, angst, melody and a hip-hop backbone are a promising combination. She performs on Thursday night at Le Poisson Rouge.
— Jon Pareles, NY Times News Service
HEART OF THE PIANO, Geoffrey Keezer, Motema
The pianist Geoffrey Keezer has spent the entirety of his professional career — beginning in the late 1980s, when he was a teenage prodigy — working one or another kind of ensemble magic. If you saw him then, it probably would have been with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, gamely addressing group cohesion as a contact sport.
If you’ve seen Keezer recently, it was likely in more delicate circumstances, backing the trumpeter Chris Botti or the singer Dianne Reeves. (If you’ve heard him on record recently, maybe it was Signing, his collaboration with the vibraphonist Joe Locke, released on Motema last year.) The common denominator is his gift for enhancing the formula of a group, serving as both catalyst and binding agent.
So what to expect from Heart of the Piano, a solo recording by Keezer, who has released just one other album in that format before? Solo albums by jazz pianists tend to be summations, declarations of self, and that’s a good way of looking at this one.
The repertory includes only one song you’d consider a standard, the traditional Scottish ballad My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose. There are tunes by pop artists presently occupying the lower quadrant of cool: Rush, Peter Gabriel, KT Tunstall, Alanis Morissette. There are two originals, which skew either classically rhapsodic (Chirizakura) or exploratory and tough (Grunion Run).