Across the spectrum
A Charmed Life
Joe LoCascio Trio
Improvisation and innovation in jazz are somewhat akin to a squelch knob on a radio--turn it up high enough and it becomes impossible to listen to. The challenge has always been to stimulate and challenge while at the same time engaging and entertaining. Few piano trios do as good a job of this as Joe LoCascio's. Backed up by Dallasite John Adams on bass and Ed Soph on drums, LoCascio's second album has the prime requirement of real ensemble work--a group mind--and manages to show off stellar chops without sacrificing the human warmth so very necessary to the imagination. A Charmed Life never forgets that there are live people out there listening, nor does the album allow the listener to forget that the music is made by live people playing.
Keys to Your Heart
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Fusion's big selling point was that it combined the virtuosity of jazz with the more user-friendly tricks of rock and R&B. Once sent packing by punk and its own excess (see Spryo Gyra), fusion has been redeemed of late by groups like Fourplay and--locally--pianist/vocalist Joe McBride. McBride continues the tradition of groups like the Crusaders and Earth, Wind and Fire, proving his pedigree on Keys by enlisting the help of A-list talent like guitarist Larry Carlton (the smooth "Chit-Chat") and EWF's Philip Bailey ("It's Got to be Love," on which McBride's voice--although not as high--doesn't suffer by comparison). Whether he's following the fusion tradition of the frequent guest star or playing all his parts, smooth is his rule. He's comfortable with uptown funk ("Squeeze Play") and buttery ballads ("Let's Spend Some Time Together," sung with Analisa Ripke). Granted, the ghost of abuses past sometimes looms--cuts like "Highland Park" or "People Make the World Go Round" could be any of a thousand other songs--but in general McBride makes a good case for mood as motivation enough.
Of course, you can overdo it. It was only this summer that Turale's mug appeared in ads hyping him in a truly impressive number of publications. As this smooth four-song EP demonstrates, Turale has a good voice, gospel-sweet and ranging in character from Michael Jackson in lover-man mode to Sade, and there's no doubt about his skill: He wrote, composed, and plays keyboards on all four songs. Unfortunately, the end result is four tracks that are virtually indistinguishable. To really shine, Turale needs to shake his mellow mood and find someone who will push him in directions he apparently doesn't want to go.