Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Roy Nathanson's Sotto Voce: Complicated Day [Enja/Yellowbird, 2014]
For three decades on multiple cusps, saxophonist-bandleader-actor-storyteller-educator Nathanson has shown a proclivity for song that he's regularly explored but only once indulged--on the Deborah Harry-showcasing, Elvis Costello-featuring Jazz Passengers showcase Individually Twisted two decades ago. But those were much more arranged and avant--they deliberately didn't flow. This album is relaxed; its jokes are friendlier; companionable vocalist Nathanson cedes the lead often and slips comfortably into his spoken-word shtick. "Simon" recapitulates Simon Says; "Slow Boat to China" is sillier than that; "No Storytelling"'s composed free-jazz messing around generates a satirically overwrought recitation about narrative technique before returning to the previously scheduled program. The topper is a charmingly off-key "I Can See Clearly Now" by Nathanson's 18-year-old son Gabriel. I still prefer Individually Twisted in theory. But this is the one I'll play next. A-