Sony Music Latin
When Marc Anthony signed with Sony and started performing English-language pop songs in 1999, wheeling toward the world market, it was easy to root for him. Anthony could seem like the ideal New York striver-hero, more grandiose in ambition than in personality; tenacious, full-throated, romantic in his sound and in his service to music.
But it was disappointing, too, because anybody could tell he hadn’t exhausted what made him famous. After a Latin freestyle period, he’d made some great salsa records with the producer and arranger Sergio George. One album in particular, Todo a Su Tiempo, from 1995, holds up as well as ever, each song detailed, disciplined, driving. It’s a deep record, one of the best of any kind from that decade.
His new album, 3.0, with George back on board, returns to salsa, and though its title implies another new start, he didn’t really leave anything behind. He’s moved among salsa, Latin pop, English pop, recording less frequently over last decade, during his marriage to Jennifer Lopez. But the thing worth relearning about Anthony is that he’s not an either/or guy: It’s never a choice between purity and preservation, or gloss and expansion. He’s reacting to and engaging with pop modernity, and he’s also a landmark of Puerto Rican-American culture, part of the cultural survival process.
It’s a preservation record with expansion at both ends. The first track, Vivir Mi Vida, written by the producer RedOne and others — Anthony’s biggest hit in nine years — is a you-only-live-once stadium chant, anchored by a repeating piano ostinato and a salsa rhythm section but recognizably global from the first notes, strong and simple, with a gusting vocal. It’s simple and armored, one solid chunk of song. And it’s reprised at the album’s end, of course, at a faster tempo, with electronic rhythm.
But the rest of 3.0 reminds you of how most Anthony-George productions are so much more complex and nourishing than that. They grow up and out, with soft openings, changes in rhythm and key, and then the emergence of brass counterlines and new melodic strains. Typically, they intensify toward a release of energy halfway through, with rocking montunos, repeated choruses and vocal improvising. The best of this kind on 3.0 — Flor Palida, Espera, Cautivo de Tu Amor — aren’t quite up to Todo a Su Tiempo, but they’ve got momentum; they give the sense of songs within songs.
Anthony doesn’t make records without serious sentimentality, live and wriggling. Here it’s packed into those beginnings of songs before they detonate, but musical sentimentality — as opposed to the merely emotional kind — runs thick in a couple of smart tracks. One is a cover of the bolero standard La Copa Rota, which has been performed by Jose Feliciano and others, a story of jealous rages and open wounds both real and metaphorical. The other is the hyper-dramatic Hipocresia. It’s an old song first done by Peruvian pop group Los Pasteles Verdes in the mid-70s, and Anthony’s hard-salsa version could pass for something from that long ago. But it’s played and sung as seriously as the album’s hit; different style, same intensity.
One of the small untruths in circulation in the current jazz scene is that there is an irreparable fault line between conservative and progressive factions, one side holding fast to definitions and the other doing its best to ignore them. Believe in that fissure too readily, and you could find yourself making judgments that have little to do with music. You’d certainly have a hard time deciding what to make of the new album by Chris Morrissey, which belongs to neither camp, unless it belongs to both.
Morrissey is a bassist in his early 30s, living in Brooklyn. Like many improvising musicians who loosely fit that demographic, he has an interest in indie-rock and singer-songwriters. Unlike some, he has worked extensively in those fields, with the likes of Ben Kweller, Sara Bareilles and Andrew Bird. He’s also the frontman of Taurus, a four-piece Brooklyn rock band with a tuneful and bittersweet air.
North Hero is Morrissey’s second instrumental jazz release, and at times — as on a track like Hands Crystals Anderson, with its throbbing bass line and motorik beat — it does call indie-rockish energies to mind. But that’s not unusual for an album with this pedigree. As he did a few years ago on The Morning World, his debut on Sunnyside, Morrissey leads a combo featuring a fellow Minnesotan, the saxophonist Mike Lewis, who has likewise toured with Bird, as well as with Bon Iver.
But while The Morning World introduced a bandleader-composer eager to lay his cards on the table, North Hero feels more measured and patient. Morrissey’s current quartet features Lewis along with the pianist Aaron Parks and the drummer Mark Guiliana, and their rapport runs casual yet deep. These are players who bring equal focus to a heavy dirge or an odd-metered slalom while never sounding academic.
And it would be foolish to argue that they aren’t rooted in the greater jazz tradition. One Worn Mile has the bleary cowpoke saunter of an outtake from Way Out West, the Sonny Rollins album. Electric Blanket is a post-bop waltz with an interlude perhaps inspired by Debussy. And Midland Texas Picnic Area, a corkscrew swinger, elicits a two-minute solo from Parks that would lower the boom at any jam session.
It’s no idle detail that North Hero was produced by David King of the Bad Plus and Happy Apple, two bands with intrepid angles on the rock-meets-jazz equation. (Lewis is a member of the second one.) King, who has been a mentor to Morrissey, played drums, bracingly, on the previous album. He does something no less vital here, which is to encourage an unselfconscious style-blender to be true to himself.