Time traveler Alvin Youngblood Hart's albums have darted from crusty Delta fingerpicking and hollering to Hendrixian hellfire to crunchy, primal rockin' blues, all with the ring of authority that comes from complete commitment to the music. This time, he's set the wayback machine to the early '30s, using guitars, mandolin, banjo, and a lot of heart to interpret tunes by Son House, Charley Patton, Skip James, Leadbelly, and others. Somehow, the dust of old Mississippi, the state where the Oakland-born musician now resides, seems to have gotten into his blood. Hart sounds like Parchman Farm's newest inmate as he wails and moans through "How Long Before I Can Change My Clothes," plucking notes from a National resonator guitar. Chiming out chords and quick runs on banjo, he makes Odetta's "Chilly Winds" seem like they're carrying the voices of lost ghosts, recounting their lives of misery under Jim Crow's wing. Hart tends to take many of these classics, like Patton's "Tom Rushen Blues" and Leadbelly's "Alberta," at slightly slower tempos, which gives him more time to squeeze gut emotions from his lightly graveled phrases and lets his pluck-and-drone playing work its hypnotic effect. Stark and impressive for the power Hart generates alone, this may be the acoustic blues album of the year.
The piano may not be the ideal medium for capturing the expressive possibilities of Glass' style of minimalism, but pianist Bruce Brubaker selects pieces that work well on the instrument. Part of the problem with hearing Glass on the piano is forgetting the sound of his ensemble, and the variety of colors (and volume) they have imparted to similar music. Brubaker begins his recital of works by Glass and Alvin Curran with his transcription of "Knee Play 4" from Einstein on the Beach. It is in fact a lovely piece on the piano if one can put the spectacular power and tonal range of the instrumental version out of one's mind. "Opening" from Glassworks, originally scored for piano, works beautifully on the instrument, and flows as naturally as the C major Prelude from Book I of The Well Tempered Clavier. The two pieces by Curran, Hope Street Tunnel Blues III and Inner Cities II, use a syntax similar to Glass, with a more dissonant tonal vocabulary. Hope Street Tunnel Blues III has ample kinetic energy that gives it an exhilarating momentum.
Bruce Brubaker artistic skill and understanding of this music is beyond reproach and will thrill any fan of the collected composers work on this CD. The sound quality is outstanding as well. Bruce Brubaker has recorded two CDs on the Arabesque label in a continuing series exploring modern American piano music. The most recent, Inner Cities, was released in September 2003, and includes Brubaker's transcription of Pat Nixon's aria from Adams's opera, Nixon in China. The previous CD, Glass Cage , with pieces by Glass and Cage, was named one of the ten best releases of 2000 by The New Yorker magazine.