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Album reviews: Megan Thee Stallion, The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, The Dirty Knobs

By Dan Deluca, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Entertainment News

The Warriors of the Wonderful Sound

"Soundpath"

(Clean Feed (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK) 1/2)

Philly-based saxophonist Bobby Zankel originally formed his exploratory big band, the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, to perform his own rich and thorny compositions. Nearly a decade into the ensemble's existence, he began inviting other composers to collaborate with the band, yielding exhilarating new pieces and explosive collisions with Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Coleman and Don Byron, among others.

The pinnacle of these efforts was legendary pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams' collaboration on the evening-length composition "Soundpath," which premiered in 2012 at Montgomery County Community College. Following Abrams' death in 2017, and with the composer's blessing, Zankel determined to finally record the piece, convening a new, all-star version of the Warriors under the guidance of saxophonist and frequent Abrams collaborator Marty Ehrlich.

"Soundpath" brings together veterans of the Philly Warriors (saxophonists Julian Pressley and Mark Allen, pianist Tom Lawton) with a who's who of venerated avant-gardists including trombonist Steve Swell, cornetist Graham Haynes and bassist Michael Formanek.

The music unfolds as a single, album-length piece, evolving continuously over its 40-minute length. A raucous opening fanfare shatters into a breakneck excursion by the rhythm section, which melts into elegantly interwoven saxophone lines. Strident, monolithic chamber sections suddenly part to reveal a New Orleans-style groove.

The VIP of the session is drummer Chad Taylor, who maintains a dazzling air of invention through shifts in tempo and style. The vibrant album is a fitting testament to a visionary composer and thinker, whose imagination always encompassed entire histories of music while gazing far beyond them. — Shaun Brady

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The Dirty Knobs

"Wreckless Abandon"

(BMG (ASTERISK)(ASTERISK)(ASTERISK))

"Wreckless Abandon" begins with the title song, the kind of ringing, mid-tempo rocker that singer and writer Mike Campbell could probably compose in his sleep. He was Tom Petty's top collaborator and right-hand man in the Heartbreakers for four decades.

Fortunately, the ace guitarist is not working on autopilot here, even if this debut album by his new quartet doesn't break any new ground. On the songs here, all originals, the Dirty Knobs move with easy command from the Stonesy riff-rocking of "Pistol Packin' Mamas" (with Chris Stapleton contributing vocals) and "Aw Honey" (with fellow Heartbreaker Benmont Tench on piano) to the heavy blues-rock of "Don't Wait" and the punkish snarl of "Loaded Gun."

The acoustic-textured "Irish Girl" and "Anna Lee," with their folkish lilt, offer a change of pace musically and emotionally as Campbell reveals a softer and more poetic side.

Campbell co-wrote two songs on Stapleton's new album, "Starting Over," and the country star returns the favor, collaborating on "F_ That Guy." The band locks into a sinuous, slide-accented groove as Campbell talk-sings his grievances with deadpan humor. He takes the same vocal approach on "Don't Knock the Boogie," a John Lee Hooker-ZZ Top-style workout whose shifts in tone and tempo give it a dynamism that underscores the Dirty Knobs' ability to reenergize tried-and-true forms. — Nick Cristiano

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