Nick Jonas & the Administration, 'Who I Am'
Give Nick Jonas credit. Despite being a member of one of the world's most well-known brands in the Jonas Brothers, he's willing to take some risks. How else to explain this collection (on Hollywood Records) of well-mannered, slightly funky adult-leaning pop? Whereas most teen artists are looking to pair up with the hottest songwriters or producers, Jonas has recruited former members of Prince's New Power Generation to back him.
Which means that he means business. Unfortunately, one shouldn't go looking for a groove; the backing band isn't given nearly as big a workout here as Jonas' falsetto.
The youngest Jonas sings and yelps as if he's trying to will some rock 'n' roll whiskers or has something to prove. "She'll charge you by the hour for a straight trip down to hell," he sings with grown-up gusto over a '70s funk bass on "State of Emergency." He's best when he reins it in, as he does on the lovely and unadorned "Vesper's Goodbye."
But too often Jonas is 17 going on John Mayer, at least in spirit, crafting lightly adorned melodies that dip briefly into blues and soul. Despite the seeming stylistic leaps — bar-band blues on "Conspiracy Theory," a noir-ish ballad on "In the End" and a minimalist keyboard-guitar strut on "Rose Garden" — "Who I Am" all feels a bit tentative. Recorded, supposedly, in just two weeks, think of it as "Camp Soul."
When the adventurous jazz trio the Bad Plus is onstage, it's quite possible that no one in the room is having a better time than drummer Dave King. Gifted with an intensely athletic, time-bending approach, King's face is often locked into a manic grin as his body contorts around his kit in a syncopated high-wire act that anchors the group's sound.
So maybe it was only a matter of time until King gave a solo album a try (on the Sunnyside label). But instead of crafting a collection of layered beats, King makes the unconventional choice of showcasing his piano chops as well. King's bent sense of melody sometimes recalls the "ugly beauty" of Thelonious Monk, such as with the jagged "Bees." Other times a fragile beauty emerges, such as on the piano ballad "I See You, You See Me," which flies against the album's self-deprecating title.
Elsewhere "Homage: Young People" opens with a submerged keyboard line that gives way to a driving Krautrock beat and anthemic chords that wouldn't sound out of place on an LCD Soundsystem record. King again gives his genre-blind compositional skills a workout with the compressed percussion of "Highly Varnished Academic Realism" and "Arts High Boogie," which rises from an insistent, single-note midsection to a fuzzed-out climax.
With most tracks hovering around the two- or three-minute mark, King doesn't dwell on too many ideas for very long, but luckily he has plenty to go around. While certainly a departure from his musical day job, King's sense of daring reveals that he has barely begun to show us a good time.