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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Pop

The Veronicas, "The Secret Life of the Veronicas" (Sire). Twenty-year-old identical twins Jess and Lisa Origliasso, hailing from Brisbane, Australia, are a record company marketer's dream. Attractive, talented, edgy without being threatening, the twins, who perform beneath the moniker the Veronicas, are pretty much a sure thing with the teen and early-20s set. Like Avril Lavigne, the Origliasso twins play pure, unfettered pop music, but they avoid the dance-pop and lite hip-hop machinations favored by Britney, Christina, et al. Think dance-rocker Pink -- slightly punky, but really, about as punk rock as Michael Bolton is. "The Secret Life of the Veronicas" is a glossily produced collection of guitar-based pop anthems aimed at high school girls and high school guys who are sure to like the way the Veronicas look. "4ever" opens the record with a big, fat multitracked hook. From there, the Veronicas run through their paces, which in this instance include power ballads ("When It All Falls Apart"), faux-punk, ("Everything I'm Not"), and stuttering new wave, ("Revolution," penned by Our Lady Peace vocalist Raine Maida and his wife, singer Chantal Kreviazuk). Call them the Go-Go's of their generation, then. Review: 2 stars (Out of 4) (Jeff Miers)

***

Roberta Flack, "The Very Best of Roberta Flack" (Atlantic/Rhino). It was Clint Eastwood, remember, who discovered her for the soundtrack of "Play Misty for Me," the proto-Crazed Femme Stalker movie. Then, after "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" came "Killing Me Softly With His Song" (the original by long-forgotten Lori Lieberman, was better). The trouble was that to maintain a career for a singer of such refinement (a sort of black Anne Murray or model for Nora Jones), "heart" had to be transformed into commercial, over-produced "soul" (blame disco). Donny Hathaway was nabbed for the purposes of collaborative duet energy. The result is a "Very Best Of" disc which is, all too often, not very good no matter how popular and employable it made her. Her talent was small and lovely and real. The music on this disc, though, is, half the time, mechanical and overblown. Review: 2 1/2 stars (Jeff Simon)

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>Classical

Shostakovich, Symphonies 2 "To October" and 12 "The Year 1917" performed by the Bavarian Radio Symphony and conductor Mariss Jansons (EMI). Something to marvel at: Shostakovich's 12th symphony was written at least five years AFTER the release of Elia Kazan's movie "On the Waterfront" with its extraordinary musical score by a then-young Leonard Bernstein. And yet it's almost impossible to avoid noticing the sizable quantity of thematic material and even musical devices that Shostakovich's 12th and Bernstein's score share. The conclusion: Shostakovich MUST have seen Kazan's movie and been influenced, at least unconsciously, by Bernstein's score. There are revelations aplenty in Jansons' terrific new recording of these two "Bolshevik Symphonies." Most impressive is the still-electrifying modernism of the Second Symphony from the period when Soviet artists (like Shostakovich and Mayakovsky) were still actually encouraged to be formally revolutionary. This disc proves abundantly that the bad reputation of Shostakovich's propaganda music is superficial and not always deserved. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

***

Mikhashoff, "Opera -- Virtuoso Fantasies, Paraphrases and Transcriptions" performed by pianist Yvar Mikhashoff (Mode). There was never anyone like pianist Yvar Mikhashoff on Buffalo's music scene before 1973 and there is never likely to be again. He died in 1993 at the age of 52, after two decades of teaching at the University of Buffalo and treating Buffalo audiences to some of the least likely and most idiosyncratically virtuosic piano music imaginable. A new music specialist, he was led to Opera Transcriptions and Paraphrases a la Franz Liszt by John Cage, of all people, whose piece for Mikhashoff "Europera 5" required him to play 6 operatic excerpts (three of them in a Cageian "silence.") That led to a couple years of these amazing Mikhashoff paraphrases of operas by Puccini, Bellini, Verdi, Debussy, Berg and, in his most frequented territory, Busotti and Volans. So here, on two discs, is 80 remarkable minutes of them, recorded all over the world (including Buffalo) and full of miasmic beauty, declamatory virtuosity and no small lunacy. There's nothing else quite like them. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

***

Timothy Polashek, "Wood and Wire: Sonatas and Contemporary Works for One and Two Pianos," Eric Huebner, Steven Beck, Timothy Polashek, pianists (Albany Records). Adventurous Albany Records has an interesting offering in these percussive piano pieces that occupy a spiky no man's land between classical music and jazz. You'll find yourself thinking of Thelonious Monk, or some of the bracing harmonies of Duke Ellington. Polashek directs the Electronic Music Center at Lehman College of the City University of New York, so know you'll be dealing with some abstraction, but he lays out assertive, earthy bass lines and capricious shards of melody. The demanding music might be too formless for many listeners, but I like its energy and joy. Polashek pushes the envelope, composing one piece that exploits the quirks and capabilities of the Disklavier, a digital modern player piano. Review: 2 1/2 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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>Jazz

"John Coltrane Plays for Lovers" (Prestige); "Bill Evans Plays for Lovers" (Riverside); "Stan Getz Plays for Lovers" (Concord); "Miles Davis Plays for Lovers" (Prestige). The best of a new series of exploitation re-packagings in honor of Valentine's Day. You can, if you want, bemoan yet another incursion of marketing into some of the most sacred precincts of Jazz As Art. Or, you could just accept the fact that these are pretty good elementary sets of jazz titans in the business of being ballad and mid-tempo spellbinders. There are very different stages of musicianship here -- very early Miles and Bill Evans, middle-early Coltrane and late-period Stan Getz, when his tone had an almost unimaginable unearthly beauty. With such performances, no marketing abuse can possibly stand up to them. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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