Review of reviews: Art & Music
Exhibit of the week
Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, through Jan. 8
Jerusalem always has been “as much an idea as a locale,” said Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker. If you need proof, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s compelling new exhibition focused on the city in the era of the Crusades. Most of the 200 artifacts on display were made outside of Jerusalem, but “their association with the city isn’t strained.” Instead, they evince the palpable tug that Jerusalem had on members of the three Abrahamic faiths, in places as far-flung as Iceland and India. There are manuscripts, maps, paintings, sculptures, architectural fragments, reliquaries, astrolabes, weapons, and books— all of which express how Jews, Christians, and Muslims revered and laid claim to the polyglot city where their leaders and prophets had lived, preached, and died. It’s easy to lose yourself in the objects’ beauty. But “message, not medium, is the motive of even the most decorative work.” And the intent of every message was to reinforce or promote a particular religious faith.
The show opens not with a holy relic but with a pile of ancient solid-gold coins that were discovered last year and establish Jerusalem’s bona fides as a global marketplace, said Jason Farago in The Guardian(U.K.). For wealthy pilgrims of all creeds, the city was a giant mall: Shopkeepers who could speak a dozen languages sold such keepsakes as gold wedding rings topped with a likeness of the destroyed Temple of Jerusalem, or exquisite diptychs of Jesus with his Virgin Mother. All three religions made exquisite objects, “but if you had to pick a winner for aesthetic sophistication before 1400, it’s Islam in a landslide.” In an elaborate, seven-volume Quran, completed in the early 1300s, one calligrapher intertwined golden words with spiraling patterns of stars and hexagons. Elsewhere, mosque lamps of brass, or of glass and enamel, are ringed with calligraphic ornamentation. “God is in the details.”
The curators don’t attempt to hide that this era that produced so much beauty also generated great horrors, said Holland Cotter in The New York Times. When European crusaders captured cosmopolitan Jerusalem in 1099, they slaughtered thousands of Muslims, Jews, and local Christians. Later, Muslim warlords inflicted similar barbarities on Christians. An unknown artist’s watercolor of a battle in progress could be the work of an embedded war photographer: “We see exactly what he saw—not power and glory, but a crazy cartoonish salad of sliced and diced heads and limbs.” In the time period covered by the exhibition, the fight for Jerusalem cost more than 1.7 million lives, said Liel Leibovitz in TabletMag.com. The objects insist on telling that tale, and “it’s a story of people who flocked to Jerusalem to transcend the world, and then got there and realized that, for mortals, transcendence just wasn’t in the cards.” Instead, they suffered sad, violent deaths, and all because they persisted in believing that only one city was divinely blessed.
Finally, “the Norah Jones we were supposed to know” has commenced her recording career, said Andy Langer in Texas Monthly. The singersongwriter’s first album in four years may sound at first like a backto-basics collection, since she’s set aside her guitar and returned to the piano. But Jones isn’t trying to replicate the jazz-tinged pop of Come Away With Me, the 2002 album that made her a star. Day Breaks is instead a true jazz record, one that shows off the chops Jones began honing during her first New York club gigs 16 years ago. Joined by “an all-star jazz wrecking crew”—including saxophonist Wayne Shorter and organist Lonnie Smith—she combines nine original songs with covers of Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine” and Horace Silver’s “Peace.” Jones “still operates on slow burn,” said Jim Farber in Entertainment Weekly. Her tempos remain measured, her voice hushed. But she’s playing more openly, improvising freely over adventurous chord progressions. “Not since her entrancing debut has she sounded this engaged.”
“Punk needs a struggle if it’s going to mean something,” said Aaron Burgess in Alternative Press. Fortunately, Green Day’s first album since frontman Billie Joe Armstrong’s 2012 stint in rehab is the band’s angriest, most personal album in years. Across 12 tracks, the past-40 pop-punkers confront mortality, class warfare, racial strife, gun violence, and our divisive presidential election. “Bang Bang,” the album’s “propulsive” first single, finds Armstrong contemplating mass shootings in the age of Instagram. Unfortunately, his politically minded writing “has gotten increasingly ham-fisted,” said Jeremy Winograd in SlantMagazine.com. “Give me cherry bombs and gasoline,” he rages on the title track, contradicting the nonviolent ethos of the Black Lives Matter movement the song claims to support. His more personal songs prove “far more endearing.” On “Too Dumb to Die” and “Youngblood,” Armstrong derides youthful rebellion and young love, and his snarky one-liners “suit his stuffed-nose sneer better than stonefaced political proclamations ever have.”
Shovels & Rope
Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent have just made their “most unabashedly rocking record so far,” said Jim Allen in NPR.org. The South Carolina husband-and-wife duo “have always known how to bash it out when the mood struck,” but the “back-porch folk feel” of past albums has become a side note in the first set of songs that they’ve released since having their first child. The record opens with “I Know,” a thumping blues tune driven by fuzzy guitar and “junkyard” percussion. And the momentum builds right through the raucous “Invisible Man,” a song about Trent’s father and his battle with Alzheimer’s that comes across “like a collision between the Black Keys and the White Stripes.” Still, Shovels & Rope “know exactly who they are,” said Sam Sodomsky in American Songwriter. In their take on Americana, an album always has room for an acoustic ballad, and every track sounds better when vocal duties are shared: Hearst and Trent take “palpable delight” in singing together—and in finishing each other’s sentences.