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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Rock

Ray Davies, "The Storyteller" (Koch). Kinks mastermind Ray Davies unwittingly launched the "VH1 Storytellers" series with his mid-'90s solo tour, during which he mixed acoustic performances of tunes from throughout his career with vignettes and readings from his "fictional autobiography," "X Ray." Davies excelled in this format, his keen wit and imaginative writings combining to make for an intense evening of musical theater. "Storyteller" laid the template for what has now become a fairly standard gig in the singer-songwriter's roster. The record has been out of print for years, and Koch has wisely cleaned it up and released it just prior to the pending arrival of Davies' first official solo effort, due to drop on V2 Records Tuesday. It's a classic already. Davies masterfully weaves dialogue and music throughout. The songs truly shine in this stripped-down setting, with only Davies' voice and guitar and the subtle six-string accompaniment of Pete Mathison. Review: 4 stars (Out of 4) (Jeff Miers)

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>Jazz

Terje Rypdal, "Vossabrygg" (ECM). He is, perhaps, the most underrated musician in all of world jazz and has been for decades. The only thing that has ever separated him from the fame he should have had is an all-stops-out American concert tour. On this disc, the great Norwegian guitarist is heard in a 2003 live performance at Norway's Vassa Jazz Festival. Whether paying the most convincing modern tribute you'll ever hear to Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" (his group includes Palle Mikkelborg, who wrote "Aura," Miles' finest recording in his final era) or playing with those melting sonorities that undoubtedly influenced Bill Frisell, Rypdal is compelling to the point of gripping. This is truly exploratory, open-form fusion of the best sort, where rock sonorities serve a jazz purpose rather than jazz sonorities pandering to be popular. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Jeff Simon)

***

Bob James, "Urban Flamingo" (Koch). James' new catch-all is the exact opposite of Rypdal's festival appearance. This is where musicianship is used to little memorable musical purpose, just for the sake of dubious popularity and little else. Review: 1 1/2 stars (J.S.)

***

Cyrus Chestnut, "Genuine Chestnut" (Telarc). Well, yeah, but which Chestnut is the genuine one? The bland, all-too-well-behaved pianist in the ultra-decorous jazz tradition of George Shearing and Don Shirley and the worst of Oscar Peterson (the one who can sometimes make even his own gospel music background safe and upscale)? Or the forthright, artful, no-frills swinger who knows how to do a heck of a lot more than play pretty? He's a good match here for guitarist Russell Malone. Chestnut is a major jazz piano talent and a genial jazz soul to be certain. But sometimes -- as on this disc a few times -- you can't help feeling that he's far too ingratiating for his own good. There's a lot of fine playing here that ought to amount to a lot more than it does. Review: 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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>Classical

Mayuzumi, "Mandala Symphony, Bugaku, Symphonic Mood and Rhumba Rhapsody" performed by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Takuo Yuasa (Naxos). A revelation and an extraordinary one at that. To those who only know Japanese symphonic music from the impressionism of the hugely prolific Toru Takemitsu, Toshiro Mayuzumi's music on this disc may shock and awe. His first orchestral work -- heard here -- was the 1950 "Symphonic Mood" -- which sounds, of all things, like one of the more accomplished works of Chavez or Villa Lobos (no one would ever guess either the composer or his nationality in a blindfold test.) But it's the savage, mountainous Messiaenesque mysticism of "Bugaku" and "Mandala Symphony" where you get a sense of a profound contemporary master who ought to be far better known in the West. Both the performances by the New Zealanders and the sound are first-rate. Review: 4 stars (J.S.)

***

Mozart, "Complete Keyboard Works From Ages 5 to 9," Lera Auerbach, piano (Arabesque). Auerbach is one of the more adorable figures in music these days, not to mention one of the most fascinating. Her own compositions have a bracing, refreshing quality. A young pianist herself, she gracefully brings out the essence of these very youthful Mozart pieces. Mozart might not have been quite as far along as a kid as the world's greatest child geniuses (think Mendelssohn), but his distinct unique melodic gift, his innate sense of rightness and purpose, are already there, in these minuets and other piano pieces. Already, it sounds easy. But it's not. Review: 3 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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>Pop

Perez Prado, "The Hits: The Best of Perez Prado -- The Original Mambo No. 5" (RCA/Legacy). He barely survives now in 21st century ears (Letterman uses his music for comedic collages and you can hear his tune "Patricia" -- with its early use of electronic organ -- as the theme music for soft-core porn on HBO. Blame Fellini, who first used it as strip music in "La Dolce Vita.") But once upon a time, you had to hide in the cellar for years to avoid hearing Billy Regis' lazy, smutty trumpet smear on Prado's No. 1 hit "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White." So, he's almost a brand-new subject now and this disc of the hits of the great Mexican bandleader (the '50s great rumba and mambo master) is nothing if not good fun. Review: 3 stars (J.S.)

***

Various Artists, "Compounds & Elements: An Introduction to All Saints Records" (Hannibal/All Saints). A striking overview of this minimalist-pop record label, concentrating on the work of Brian Eno, his brother Roger, former Velvet Underground artist John Cale, XTC's Andy Partridge and pal Harold Budd, and avant garde Svengali John Hassell. All of this music is vaguely ambient, operating within the framework created by Eno in the '70s, but within the idiom, there is plenty of room for compelling diversity. There's substance here, and enough of it to set this compilation in stark contrast to the the murky waters of what came to be known as "New Age" music. All Saints has remastered and repackaged several albums in their entirety from the artists who contribute here. This compilation serves as a primer, and is priced to move at $3, for nearly 80 minutes of beautiful music. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.M.)

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