Gloria Estefan - The Standards (2013) 6.25/10
in a word: suitable
I was not expecting to like this at all...were you? lol Surprisingly, this is a decent album. Her voice has aged well and is nicely suited to most of the material. Sinatra she is not, but the lyrics are internalized in her usual fashion (just enough), going for beauty more often than drama. There are even moments when you will be slightly impressed, she can be wonderfully precise on her approach. All of the readings are competent and enjoyable. She doesn't reach beyond here stylistic limitations, but rather works with what she has and pulls it off. The arrangements are by Shelly Berg, so the harmonies keep the otherwise innocuous backdrops interesting. The playing is competent but no soloist really soars. Estefan sounds best (of course) on the tracks with Latin rhythms (Eu Sie Que Vou Te Amar in particular is well done) but really all the tracks work fine but for one: the jazziest and oddly arranged "How Long Has This Been Going On". Highlights include "Good Morning Heartache", "The Way You Look Tonight" and "Young At Heart". It's mellow, for sure, but it's nice.
MARS 4-Tet - The Blind Watchmaker (2014) 7.25/10
In a word: peaceful
Although the album is bookended by playfulness; a fun, inventive spin on Thelonious Monk's "Bye Ya" and a more chaotic and reinvented "Black Dog" (Led Zeppelin), the majority of this album has a mellow, slightly spacy jazz rock air to it; due in part to the rounder guitar sound Donato Soveiro favors (although he does employ a sweet rock tone here and there) as well as a superb mix. Everyone plays just fine, and this band functions very well as a unit. The standout track by far is saxophonist Jeff Antoniuk's moody and dreamy "Suddenly". The two Americana-flavored cuts also are pretty hip, Antoniuk's gospel-esque "Cowboy" and a fine reading of Keith Jarrett's "Country". No clunkers on the disc, and Soveiro's "Rudy's Blues" throws in a nice bit of contrasting straight-ahead feel. Overall, the originals by Antoniuk and Soveiro that dominate the set are unique, hypnotic, often easy on the ears and executed with taste and appeal. Good jazz!