It is rare for classical artists to be fluent in other musical idioms but Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein (above) has been infatuated with jazz since boyhood. By the age of 14, he had won a scholarship to Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, where he studied jazz, and his career has been unconstrained by the fiercely guarded musical distinctions he describes as “artificial”.
American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937) also had little patience for such barriers. He was crazy about jazz and often to be found absorbing the rhythmic and improvisational revolutions of 1920s Harlem. Synthesising everything from European high classical to klezmer, blues to Broadway show tunes, he converted what he heard into a language that was wholly unique. But not everyone was impressed: purist critics dismissed him as “unserious”.
The time is ripe for re-imagining the composer’s genius. Gerstein’s stylish new album, The Gershwin Moment, features masterpieces that once sat in limbo between musical worlds: “Rhapsody in Blue”, the piano concerto in F, “Summertime”. It is, Gerstein says, his “dream recording”. Collaborating with the superb St Louis Symphony Orchestra, he invests these compositions with wit and intelligence, making the compelling case that Gershwin’s music, far from lacking seriousness, in fact sounded a note of originality that has yet to be rivalled. ~ CLEMENCY BURTON-HILL
The Gershwin Moment out now
She is no longer the ubiquitous presence on British radio that she was 25 years ago when her indie band, Everything but the Girl, was inescapable, but Tracey Thorn has written a fabulous second act into her pop life, thanks to her 2013 memoir, “Bedsit Disco Queen”, and now her fifth solo album. Billed as “nine feminist bangers”, Record is much more than that. Permeated with optimism and wistfulness, this is an album about girlhood, womanhood and the changes wrought by time. On “Babies” she contrasts the teenage fear of pregnancy with the sudden yearning to be a parent, and the 3am feeds with – years later – the 3am wait for her partying teenager to return home.
Throughout, Thorn’s voice is like caramel, softening words that are used plainly, to communicate rather than obfuscate. The music sounds wonderful, too: a shimmer of electronics marshalled by Ewan Pearson, who knows how to spotlight Thorn’s voice. “Record” is a dance-floor album for those who aren’t sure their feet are up to dancing for much longer. ~ Michael Hann
Record out now
Cover albums are often lifeless rehashes of old favourites, hastily packaged for coffee shops. But Meshell Ndegeocello’s Ventriloquism promises something more original.
Ndegeocello, an American bassist and singer-songwriter, will not be pigeonholed in music or politics. “Must every black person live in pain and destruction in order to write something that will sell?” she once asked. “I find that insulting.” In the 1990s her views brought censure; today they seem farsighted. “Ventriloquism” pays tribute to her R&B influences without shackling her to the genre. The first single is a pensive take on Prince’s classic “Sometimes It Snows in April”. Earthier than the original, it does a good job of using Ndegeocello’s voice, scarcely rising above a whisper, and emphasises the severe beauty in Prince’s unusual chords. In her hands, the Force M.D.’s “Tender Love”, seemingly a paint-by-numbers slow jam, feels genuinely plaintive. The album favours old hits like these. Ndegeocello finds an unlikely sincerity in songs too often dismissed as kitsch. ~ DAN PIEPENBRING
Ventriloquism out Mar 16th