Yet another Kurt Weill tribute. But there can never really be too many, as long as they are of the superlative quality that has been the case thus far. This one has some shiners and a couple of entirely unnecessary — even blasphemous — numbers. Nick Cave’s disjointed “Mack the Knife” is brilliant and deranged, which is a sight more than can be said for the lot of his recent solo work. PJ Harvey does a delicious and haunting “Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife,” with the signature vibrate, hum and groan arrangement, which leads me to wonder if the artists produced these and then were compiled, or if they were produced in collaboration with the project director. David Johansen commits complete and total blasphemy with a grotesque caricature of “Alabama Song,” forging something akin to a super-camp stage production of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil in the style of the $1.50 Vietnamese pop music cassettes readily found in the flea market. Aha — but it grows on you. After 17 or so listens, I’m really warming up to it. The song is from an opera, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (one of many collaborations with playwright Bertolt Brecht) , which outraged the Nazis and subsequently caused riots, spurring a wave of anti-Weill propaganda which caused him to flee Germany in 1933 for Paris, where he wrote a number of cabaret chansons, and then to settle in New York, where Weill collaborated with, among others, Ira Gershwin and Langston Hughes.
Teresa Stratas, a classicallly trained Canadian vocalist, does brilliant things to “Youkali Tango” and “Surabaya Johnny” from Happy End, which was composed for singing actors in commercial theatre. The CD includes vintage 30’s recordings from the Threepenny Opera: the original “Mackie Messer” sung by Bertolt Brecht and “Pirate Jenny” performed by Weill’s wife Lotte Lenya. Other notables include Elvis Costello’s (with the Brodsky Quartet!) “Lost in the Stars,” sung in a bizarre, Disney-film vocal styling, and Lou Reed’s “September Song,” wherein he manages to completely bury the KW genius in the style of his recent mumblings, that is to say, you’re better off skipping that track.
To learn more, avoid Sony Classical’s website altogether and go to http://www.kwf.org.