History has often regarded rappers and the labels to which they sign their extended crews with skepticism, as vanity projects handed out too easily and taken not seriously enough. Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group, though, will likely be remembered as a flood. In the last year it’s come to saturate hip-hop, with prodigious output and more than its share of anthems.
“Self Made Vol. 2,” the label’s second compilation, is a slight move away from the maximalism that Mr. Ross has perfected and that has successfully trickled down, in different ways, to protégés like Meek Mill and Gunplay. Mr. Ross has an ear for hooks, and that’s on display on most of this strong collection, whether it’s on songs that are solid end to end, like “All Birds,” a collaboration between Mr. Ross and French Montana, or even on songs featuring great hooks without great verses between them, like “Actin’ Up.”
Of Mr. Ross’s crew, it’s Meek Mill who shines the brightest, especially on “Black Magic,” a short, frenetic blast of a song on which he raps in quick, emphatic, broken-into-pieces phrases. The digressive Stalley has his moments too, especially on “Power Circle.”
As has been happening for a while now, dating back to Mr. Ross’s “Rich Forever” mixtape this year and beyond, Mr. Ross’s success has served as inspiration for artists working with him. Here, too, the guests from outside his label turn in some of the most impressive performances, not just compared with Mr. Ross’s team but also compared with their own recent work.
There’s a deliciously sneering T. I. on “Bury Me A G,” forceful verses from Bun B on “Black on Black” and Wiz Khalifa on “I Be Puttin’ On,” and a surprisingly impressive verse by the perennially under achieving Nipsey Hussle on “Fountain of Youth”: “Being honest, killing mamas when we sold work/I made a promise, give me options and I’ll cold turk.”
And then there’s Nas on “This Thing of Ours,” his third great recent collaboration with Mr. Ross: At this point he might want to consider signing with Maybach Music Group outright. With Mr. Ross at his back, he’s recovered the swagger of his younger years: Vanity is contagious. JON CARAMANICA
Cassandra Wilson named her new album after one of its strongest tracks, a love song that compares the bloom of a new relationship to the discovery of a new world. Singing in her languorous drawl over a fluttering samba rhythm, she paints a vivid, sensual picture, affectionate and self-contained. The song represents a sigh of romantic fulfillment, but also a small shudder of apprehension.
“I don’t know where we’re going,” Ms. Wilson confesses at its outset. “I’ve no idea how this will end.”
You’d be forgiven for extending the song’s metaphor to her current situation as a recording artist. “Another Country” is Ms. Wilson’s first album since ending a long and nurturing relationship with Blue Note, which released her commercial breakthrough, “Blue Light ‘Til Dawn,” in 1993. She’s now making her music with Ojah Media Group, headquartered in her hometown, Jackson, Miss., with distribution through eOne Music.
Ms. Wilson produced the new album with Fabrizio Sotti, whom she has enlisted once before, on “Glamoured,” her sixth Blue Note release, in 2003. And whereas her last few albums have mainly focused on her interpretive ability — applied to jazz standards, blues and spirituals, and the odd refurbished pop tune — this one showcases her songwriting. Not by coincidence, it’s an album centered on the guitar, Ms. Wilson’s primary nonvocal instrument, and the one that best evokes her troubadour side.
To her credit, the songs she has written here sustain a mood: They’re distinctly Wilsonian in their slithery cadences and murmuring incantations. And on both the title track and “Passion,” a bittersweet confection, she delivers material worthy of her vocal gift. But elsewhere she makes do with a lot of meandering melody and lyrical vagary. The opening track, “Red Guitar,” begins with a verse that practically seems patterned after an illustrated children’s book:
Wash my face with blue water
Lay my head on white linens
Morning come, drink black coffee
Then play my song on red guitar
Speaking of guitarists: Mr. Sotti happens to be one, and he anchors every track, including two solo instrumentals. The accompaniment — from the accordionist Julien Labro, the bassist Nicola Sorato and a pair of subtle percussionists, Mino Cinelu and Lekan Babalola — has beautiful texture but could use more urgency. (Ms. Wilson will perform on Thursday through Sunday at the Blue Note with her regular band, which should help.)
Strikingly, Ms. Wilson closes the album in the company of a youth choir, singing a lilting chant she has titled “Olomuroro.” I’m not sure what she’s up to, but that’s the name of a figure from West African folklore, a witchlike monster with a beautiful singing voice, who steals food from children. “Everybody’s gone,” Ms. Wilson coos as a refrain, and the menace behind her sweetness provides a flicker of the tension this album could have had. NATE CHINEN
“The Duality Perspective”
The story of American jazz in the 1980s was the perceived split between roots and branches, the shoring up of tradition and the hunger for new languages. What happened in the ’90s? Things that sound less dramatic: study, refinement, rapprochement, careful diversification.
And some great working bands. One of them was Ralph Peterson’s Fo’tet. The idea was Mr. Peterson, an excitable, heavy-gauge drummer — a clear descendant of both Art Blakey and Elvin Jones — leading a quartet with airier instruments on top. The first lineup had Don Byron on clarinet, Bryan Carrott on vibraphone, and Melissa Slocum on bass; a later version swapped out Mr. Byron for Steve Wilson on soprano saxophone. The swing was heavy; the timbres were light; and Mr. Peterson kept transcending his own type, assaulting the drums, then playing with great sensitivity at sudden turns.
The band was graceful in ballads, scrappy and intense in collective improvisations, deft with uneven phrases, smart about repertory. It can be hard to remember all that, because a lot of the band’s work, including “Presents the Fo’tet” and “Ornettology” (both 1991) and “The Fo’tet Plays Monk” (1995) have gone out of print.
Mr. Peterson, now 50, has split his new album, “The Duality Perspective,” between two groups. One is a sextet including the trumpeter Sean Jones, the saxophonists Walter Smith III and Tia Fuller, and the brothers Luques and Zaccai Curtis on bass and piano. The other is a new Fo’tet, with the vibraphonist Joseph Doubleday, the clarinetist Felix Peikli and the bassist Alexander L. J. Toth — all new to me and all musicians who have studied with Mr. Peterson at Berklee College of Music.
The sextet has its moments, but it deals in more weighed-down and conventional moods and doesn’t have as recognizable a group sound. It’s the new Fo’tet you want to focus on, in Peterson tunes like “One False Move” and “Bamboo Bends in a Storm,” and its seven-beat reordering of Thelonious Monk’s “Four in One.” Mr. Doubleday is calm and curious and full of cool rumblings; Mr. Toth holds down the rhythm with resonance and concision; and Mr. Peikli sounds forthright and flexible, eager and full-toned — a star, basically.
Does it sound like the early ’90s? A little, but not in an out-of-date way: mostly in the profound extravagance of Mr. Peterson’s performance, which you don’t hear so much anymore as jazz has become more streamlined, and the way he feels rhythm, which is funky but pre-hip-hop. The Fo’tet is a strategy about group dynamics as much as any particular set of players, and the new version has the balance, crispness and excitement of a promising new band. BEN RATLIFF