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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


David Murray Black Saint Quartet featuring Cassandra Wilson, "Sacred Ground" (Justin Time). An entirely typical David Murray Quartet disc -- full of greasy licks and squealing explosions -- with two entirely atypical vocal selections sung by Cassandra Wilson and co-written by poet and novelist Ishmael Reed. Not only are Reed's lyrics not the sort of thing one usually finds on jazz records ("My name is Cassandra/daughter of Hecuba/priestess of Athena ... Never think that because you're a god/Every girl will put out for you" etc.), but Wilson herself sounds much more rough and ready and in the spirit than she does on her own more studied records. Review: 3 stars (Out of 4) (Jeff Simon)


Duke Ellington, "Newport 1958" with Gerry Mulligan (Mosaic Single by mail only from Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, Conn. 06902 or; Fred Katz, "Folk Songs for Far Out Folk" (Reboot Stereophonic/Warner). Irresistible buried treasure -- doubloons and rubies -- from that wonderful year 1958. The Ellington Newport music has never been heard before with the simple integrity of this presentation (it is, at long last in this form, says Michael Cuscuna, not "another of those fake live albums that Columbia and Capitol were so fond of"). The music on it is high-level Ellington/Strayhorn, but the Ellington band at the time (the trumpet section was probably the greatest in jazz history) remains a kind of everyday miracle. Cellist Fred Katz is still with us at the age of 88. He was the first great jazz cellist with Chico Hamilton, but the hugely obscure "Folk Songs for Far Out Folk," despite the horrendously cutesy and demeaning '50s title, is a bracing experiment in jazz adaptation of American, Hebrew and African folk tunes. Not to be missed playing jazz piano in 1958 is "Johnny T. Williams," who later became the great film composer John Williams ("E.T.," "Schindler's List," "Jaws"). Review: 4 stars for Ellington. Review: 3 1/2 stars for Katz. (J.S.)



Alison Krauss, "A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection" (Rounder). There are grabbag albums thrown out there as contract-fillers for artists biding their time between projects, and then there's "A Hundred Miles or More," an Alison Krauss catch-all designed to pull together some highlights of her work outside of her band, the mighty Union Station. Here's Krauss collaborating with James Taylor, or singing tunes for movie soundtracks, along the way throwing a handful of unreleased pieces into the equation. For lesser artists, this sort of "everything but the kitchen sink" approach might spell a throwaway. In the case of Krauss, it's reason to rejoice: Here is one of the purest, most emotive and affecting voices of the past twenty years taking on a host of idioms outside the bluegrass-centered Union Station family. There's not a second of filler here -- no, not even John Waite's rather insipid '80s ballad "Missing You," performed here as a duet with Krauss, would've been better left on the cutting room floor. And in the startling "Jacob's Dream," Krauss has delivered one of her most haunting musical portraits. Outstanding stuff. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Jeff Miers)



Bach, "Johannes-Passion, BWV 245," arranged by Robert Schumann, the Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert and soloists, directed by Hermann Max (CPO, 2 CDs). It's often an adventure when one musician rethinks another's work. Mozart's reorchestration of Handel's "Messiah" is one famous case. Some love what he did, which included beefing up the flutes and other woodwinds. Others blanched. Schumann's changes to Bach's "St. John Passion" aren't as drastic. He lived at a time of a resurgence in baroque scholarship, led by his friend Felix Mendelssohn. The changes he made, compared with the Mozart/Handel case, are superficial. Most of them -- a key change or two, omitted arias, substitution of one instrument for another -- appear to have been due to the limitations surrounding the performance he led, in 1851. (Schumann's Jesus didn't receive a certain aria in time, trumpets were out because it was Holy Week, etc.) Still, it's a good excuse for a fresh and superb performance of this too-often overshadowed masterpiece. Enjoy, and pray, as Schumann did, "If only the world became more reasonable through such works!" Review: 3 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Villa-Lobos. "Instrumental and Orchestral Works" performed by pianist Cristina Ortiz and other soloists with orchestras conducted by Vladimir Askhenazy, Neville Marriner and Jesus Lopez-Cobos (EMI Classics, two discs). What's this? A two-disc, 118-minute omnibus of music from modern Brazilian master Heitor Villa-Lobos that doesn't include the "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 for Soprano and Eight Cellos"? It's one of the most popular and familiar recorded pieces in all of 20th-century music, which makes any large Villa-Lobos anthology without it, one to be reckoned with. In fact, it may never be possible to do Villa-Lobos justice. He simply wrote too much music, and too much of it was bad to worse. Intelligent winnowing is a Herculean task. Nevertheless, there is great, less-familiar music here. The performance, from EMI catalog artists including saxophonist John Harle and guitarist Angel Romero, is very rewarding. Review: 3 stars (J.S.)


Szymanowski, "Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2" and "Nocturne and Tarantella" performed by violinist Ilya Kaler and the Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit (Naxos). Of all early 20th century composers, Karol Szymanowski remains one of the greatest to evade universal recognition. Here are extravagantly beautiful violin concertos -- one from 1916 when he was in his mid-30s, the other from near the end of his life in 1932 (he was only in his mid-50s at his death) -- that are simply one devastating theme away from being repertoire staples along with Bartok's Concerto No. 2, the century's violin masterwork with its soul-wrenching opening and formidable architecture. Kaler is a superb violinist, and Wit's Warsaw Orchestra is perfectly attuned to the lucid, post-Impressionist palette of Szymanowski, a master orchestrator. Review: 3 stars (J.S.)


>Progressive rock

Dream Theater, "Systematic Chaos" (Roadrunner). No band more aptly marries the histrionics of heavy metal to the ambitious arrangements and grandiose conceits of progressive rock than Dream Theater. To the uninitiated, it all might come across as a paucity of content inflated with filigree and writ large, but to fans, the Theater crew's ability to gallop across challenging shifts in meter, and augment ambitious song-structures with technically dazzling solos -- guitarist and principal songwriter John Petrucci is worshipped as a deity in prog-metal circles -- is endlessly entertaining. Review: 3 stars (J.M.)

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