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Eye of the Telescope

[ V i r g i n ]

Review: 3 stars (out of 4)

Is it too much of a generalization to suggest that, when it comes to modern pop and rock music, the British "get it" quicker, and with less of a fuss, than we do in this country? Call me unpatriotic or whatever, but while we honor generic, prefab "artists" like Kelly Clarkson with the biggest of prizes, on the other side of the big drink, music lovers venerate our own discarded artists - Mercury Rev, the Flaming Lips, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, etc. - and offer us their own Killers, Beth Orton, the Beta Band and now, KT Tunstall.

Over here, we venerate gameshow contestants. Over there, a Scottish newcomer breaks the platinum barricade with her debut album, simply because she's unique, fresh, soulful, and - imagine! - deeply talented.

"Eye of the Telescope" is packed with warm, melodic songs that blend folk, pop, blues and rock, a description that might also fit artists as diverse as Ani DiFranco, Joss Stone, even Sheryl Crow. But Tunstall is offering her own spin on the whole deal. As guitarist and vocalist, she avoids showboating, instead serving the song at every turn. This way lies soul, naturally. Tunstall is a songwriter first; the current crop of over-singing, faux-soul divas might learn a thing or two about serving the song if they actually wrote some of their own, instead of viewing every tune they cover as an opportunity to show off. (Thanks for starting that trend, Mariah.)

"Telescope" takes a little while to set itself apart, though. One listen in, you'll hear immaculately crafted soul-pop. Two or three listens later, you hear an uncannily intuitive songwriter and record-maker decisively casting her wares to the winds.

Will the Americans grab ahold of Tunstall with the same insight the British have evinced? I hope so.

- Jeff Miers



The Derek Trucks Band



Review: 4 stars

Though it has long been apparent that Derek Trucks is the most fluid, versatile guitarist his generation has produced, on record, his Derek Trucks Band has never fully coalesced. "Songlines" changes all of that. It's a flawless, daring masterwork that effortlessly blends incredibly virtuosic musicianship with fully actualized songwriting.

Trucks has never disappointed. With the Allman Brothers Band, he learned to solo in the highest of rock-based improvisational situations, subtly stealing the show with his immaculate slide playing. His own group, a project he fit in around Allman Brothers Band tours, gained a healthy "jam band" audience quickly - and rightly - on the strength of its improvisationheavy, blues-based performances. The band was a force to be reckoned with from the beginning. But now, one suspects that Trucks may not be playing with the Allmans for too much longer. Frankly, he's now outshining them.

The key to the impossible-todeny magic at the heart of "Songlines" is twofold. First, vocalist Mike Mattison has come out of the shadows to take the lead role. Shy, reticent, seemingly embarrassed to have anyone looking at him when the band is onstage, Mattison would casually stroll to the microphone, hands in his pockets, and erupt into the most breathtaking, soulful singing Derek Trucks Band audiences were likely to have ever heard in person. Then he'd put his head down and shuffle to the rear of the stage. But "Songlines" soars on the strength of his peerless singing - full-throated and bluesy at one turn ("Chevrolet"), falsetto-fueled and eminently funky at the next ("Crow Jane"), able to make like Jeff Buckley or David Garza a little further down the road ("Sailing On"), bringing it all home with Otis Reddingworthy gospel furor as the record reaches its penultimate peak ("I Wish I Knew [How It Would Feel To Be Free])." Mattison truly makes a joyful noise here.

Secondly, Trucks himself inspires throughout. He is the first rock-blues slide player to incorporate Indian modality into his playing, and when he does so during the instrumental powerhouse "Sahib Teri Bandi/Maki Madni," he reaches a sublime level, his slide spitting out glissandos and reveling in the semi-tone slurs that mark the form's genius. Trucks is in jazz territory here; his modal excursions suggest real understanding of the work Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane did with Miles Davis in the '60s.

With "Songlines," the Derek Trucks Band has truly arrived.

- J.M.


>C l a s s i c a l

Siegfried Wagner


Soloists and chorus and orchestra of the Halle Opera House, Roger Epple, conductor


Review: 3.5 stars

Siegfried Wagner all but began life behind the eight ball. He was the son of Richard Wagner, who immortalized him with the exquisite "Siegfried Idyll." Let's not forget he was Liszt's grandson, too. The nerve, that he should write music! (Both Constanze Mozart and Clara Schumann counseled their sons firmly against musical careers, telling them they couldn't afford to be mediocre.)

What's worse, after Siegfried's death in 1930, his English-born wife, Winifred, went on to lead the Bayreuth Festival under Hitler, whom she adored. I remember an interview with her taped in the '70s, I think, in which she declaimed that she treasured their camaraderie and wished she could relive it. The old bird lived until 1980.

Anyway, poor Siegfried. He happened to be everything his father wasn't: pacifist, pro-Jewish, anti-nationalist, bisexual. But none of that has helped him over the years. Though some of his operas went over well during his lifetime - Richard Tauber starred in an early production of "Sonnenflammen" - most have fallen into obscurity. Thank the Siegfried Wagner Society, formed in 1970, for rare recordings like this one.

How good is the music? Well, you can hear Wagner's influence in the leitmotives, the rich orchestration and romantic colorings. "Sonnenflammen" means "Sun Flames" - the title, as the notes point out, is art nouveau, and the music sounds more recent than Wagner. Sometimes, listening to it, you think of Mahler.

There are moments of sly Wagnerian humor. Like his dad, Siegfried wrote his own libretti, and the action has a good pace. The music's not boring, and while it doesn't have Wagner's overpowering passion - well, who does? - you could say, in moments like the opera's final scene, that it shines. In other words, when it's good, it's very, very good. It's only when you're Wagner's son that that's not good enough.

- Mary Kunz Goldman



Andrew Hill

Time Lines

[Blue Note]

Review: 2.5 stars

Andrew Hill is a paradox - a truly great jazz figure who has never really produced great music. He is a post-Monk abstractionist and composer/pianist of monumental integrity, a key figure in the jazz generation of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. He is also a man whose bands have included virtually every major powerhouse that ever walked into a recording studio for a Blue Note date (Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Booker Ervin, you name them).

Through tumultuous jazz changes around him, Hill never deviated from a sense of his own music or what he was striving for. Respect for his integrity never wavered.

The inspiration of his creative life continues: Stricken with cancer in July 2004, he has signed again with the Blue Note label for the third time in his half-century jazz recording life. His new disc "Time Lines" is wispier, more delicate and lyrical and less rehearsed than you might expect from his circumstances, but perhaps that is the whole point - the continuum of his individualism is the point rather than any single disc (at times, it sounds like the rehearsal for a great disc yet to be made).

His new band goes all over the jazz generational map - his peer Charles Tolliver on trumpet, young jazz stalwarts Greg Tardy on reeds (the disc's standout), John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums.

- Jeff Simon

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