Carl Grubbs/Lafayette Gilchrist
Maryland Traditions in Jazz (self-released)
This collaboration between two of the city's finest jazz musicians grew out of their involvement in Maryland Traditions' Master-Apprentice program. The resulting disc showcases not only Grubbs's stellar sax playing—accompanied by Gilchrist on piano, bassist Mike Formanek, and drummer Eric Allen—but also a local jazz tradition that's spawned material by Eubie Blake, Chick Webb, Billie Holiday, and Albert Dailey. Grubbs wrings every bit of emotion from Blake's "Memories of You" and richly underscores the pathos at the heart of Holiday's "God Bless the Child." Equally memorable, his own composition, "Carl's Blues," swings mightily with a pleasing bounce that confirms Grubbs's "master" status.
Bach and Friends (Michael Lawrence Films)
Local filmmaker Michael Lawrence has put together this fascinating DVD about the music of Bach and its influence on contemporary culture. More than simply a Bach tribute, it takes a multi-faceted look at the composer's work through a prism of interviews with musicians, writers, and scientists. The likes of Philip Glass, Hilary Hahn, Manuel Barrueco, Béla Fleck, Joshua Bell, Bobby McFerrin, and Simone Dinnerstein talk about Bach's influence and perform a stunning array of pieces, as Lawrence's camera catches the nuanced power of their playing and their insights. For instance, McFerrin and John Bayless cite Bach as a genius at improvisation—a quality not readily associated with classical music—and that dovetails nicely with Uri Caine's perspective as a jazz musician. Then, Lawrence takes it one step further by getting Hopkins researcher Charles Limb to weigh in with a scientific examination of that improvisation. Thanks to such moments, the film sheds new light on Bach's transcendent music, and, at times—check out Bell's sublime performance of "Partita No. 2"—achieves transcendence itself.
All Songs Go to Heaven (Ehse)
I like to think of Lizz King as Baltimore's antidote to indie phenom Sufjan Stevens. Both songwriters conjure a shambling melodicism and neither shies away from the ukelele, banjo, and glockenspiel—with the occasional singing saw in the mix—but I'll take King's dusky voice and worldview over Stevens's precious musings any day. His otherworldly tunes become somewhat hellish with repeated listening, while hers are the inverse of that. Sounding like a Banshee-less Siouxsie, King invokes the noisy static of everyday life, stares down the roiling turmoil, and transforms it with cunning efficiency and creative bravado. As a result, her earthy songs are, indeed, heavenly.