For the last couple of months, VH1 has been showing the reality show Marrying the Game, which chronicled the wedding preparations of the Game, the abrasive, derivative rapper, and his longtime girlfriend, Tiffney Cambridge. By the end of the season, though, the two were at loggerheads and the wedding was off, at least in part because of the Game’s heavy focus on completing work on Jesus Piece, his fifth album.
Which is a concise way of saying: This album better have been worth it.
Since the beginning of his career, the Game has had a tortured relationship with other rappers: with some he loudly and publicly quibbles, and to others he pledges allegiance in song in a way that transcends admiration into stalker-like obsession. Jesus Piece (DGC/Interscope), as usual, does both of those things, though now that the Game is something of a veteran, his battles have mostly been settled.
Not only is he acknowledging his peers in his rhymes here, but Jesus Piece is also teeming with guests, more guests than a DJ Khaled album: Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, Kendrick Lamar and many more.
Ross’ verse on Ali Bomaye is excellent, and both Lil Wayne, on All That (Lady), and Pusha T, on Name Me King, do more than phone it in. Future delivers a transcendent, lighthearted hook on I Remember. Even Kanye West appears on the chorus of the title track.
Oh, and the Game appears on this album as well. His voice is raspy, and his flow isn’t as rigid as it was early in his career. On Can’t Get Right, he’s almost smooth:
I used to want to be a little Hov
Started with a little rock, got me a little stove
Made a little money, bought me a little Rov’
Sometimes, as on Scared Now, he’s happily reliant on blunt force: “Put three holes in his head like a bowling ball.”
When the Game isn’t rapping about other rappers — which is rare — he is sometimes rapping like other rappers: Pray is a blatant Drake photocopy; on Freedom he sounds like early Jay-Z; and on Celebration he borrows from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. It’s either lack of originality, or it’s true love — maybe Cambridge was right to call off the wedding. She could never compete.
— JON CARAMANICA, NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE
The bassist Eric Revis likes to play strong and loud and is willing to cut across lines of style and tradition to satisfy his need. He’s done it in Branford Marsalis’ Quartet, one of this country’s top-billing jazz groups; in Tarbaby, a trio with the pianist Orrin Evans and the drummer Nasheet Waits; and in a trio led by the German saxophonist Peter Broetzmann, with which he toured last year. That’s a pretty good range, from some baseline verities of the American jazz tradition to free improvising with art-brut appeal.
For his new album, Parallax, he’s found a new forum. Originally, for some 2009 New York club dates, he brought together a quartet with Ken Vandermark on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Jason Moran on piano, and Waits on drums. This is good bridgework, particularly between Vandermark and Moran. Their worlds — in Chicago and New York — don’t overlap much. But they’re close enough. Both use compositional structures and organic group interplay and scholarship to experiment with jazz as a history and a process, revisiting old landmarks, shuffling tradition into new shapes. (They’re both MacArthur Award recipients, for those with scorecards.)
The music, rough and baleful, seems to have pretty old time-stamps on it, though. Much of “Parallax” sounds to me like the ‘80s or early ‘90s, reminiscent in passing of music by John Carter, Tim Berne, David S. Ware and many blended-together nights at the old Knitting Factory on Houston Street. It can sound like research into a variety of strategies: marches, groove, free rhythm; solo-bass features, sometimes double-tracked; blues language and collective improvisation; a Bob Kaufman poem interpreted variously in music by the band members; originals with small or jagged melodies and reworked old songs. (There are two pieces of old-time repertory: an emphatic, stomping version of Jelly Roll Morton’s Winin’ Boy Blues and a more indirect and wild paraphrasing of Fats Waller’s I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.)
The record is searching for a partnership of sound, and so the action pulls toward Moran and Waits, who have one: they’ve played together for more than a decade and instinctively lock together through feel and dynamics. Some of the album’s thrills, like the tossing, tumbling passages in the middle of Hyperthral, Split and IV, are essentially theirs. Revis follows his own internal mandate to be stormy or forthright in his improvising, and so does Vandermark, but they can seem isolated within the project. The record’s a good idea, and a good start; the band needs more time to gestate.
— BEN RATLIFF, NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE
SOLO, VOLUME I
Ryan Blotnick, a guitarist approaching 30, has maintained a slippery self-containment in enough sociable settings — with the saxophonists Michael Blake, Pete Robbins and Bill McHenry; the Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble; and a range of musicians from Copenhagen, Denmark, where he earned a graduate degree — that he’s a strong candidate for a solo album. He’s not afraid of starkness or silence, and he knows how to spin a good yarn. He’s a natural.
Which isn’t to say that he skimps on preparation. Solo, Volume I, available as a pay-what-you-wish download at ryanblotnick.bandcamp.com, is a product of several summers in his home state of Maine spent working in hotels, restaurants and other for-hire settings. (On one wedding-services website, his customer rating is a perfect 5.0.) The album clocks in under 35 minutes and gives the sense of an intensely thoughtful design.
Blotnick clearly knows the tradition he’s accessing here. Lenny’s Ghost, the album’s longest track, is his nod to Lenny Breau; elsewhere he touches on the stark lyricism of John Fahey and the intricate fingerpicking technique of Leo Kottke. Dreams of Chloe, a wakening ballad processed with light distortion, and Hymn for Steph, a sober country waltz, evoke the recent solo guitar recordings of Marc Ribot. The Ballad of Josh Barton suggests a close study of some early acoustic Neil Young.
Every track but one was recorded with a 1959 Martin guitar — an acoustic model, but one with a pickup and volume and tone controls built in — and no overdubs or other studio manipulations. The sound, mixed and mastered by Marc Bartholomew, is pristine enough that you hear Blotnick’s fingertips lightly scudding across the strings. And the atmosphere is such that every liberty registers are both audacious and reasonable.
What’s missing from the album is any palpable impression of danger, a feeling that Blotnick is reaching beyond his carefully honed capacities. That’s acceptable, on an album so defined by intelligent restraint. And it raises certain expectations: by titling the album Solo, Volume I, Blotnick implies that there’s more of this to come.
— NATE CHINEN, NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE