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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


Sara Bareilles, Little Voice (Epic) Ah, so it can still be done -- a modern record can be both unabashedly pop and eminently musical. Sara Bareilles proves it with "Little Voice," her major label debut. Beautifully produced by Eric Ivan Rosse, the record is also brilliantly arranged and centered on Bareilles' singing, which is warm and inviting, even if it does sound not wholly unlike Christina Aguilera at times. Chops in the vocal department are not a problem for the 25 year-old, but they aren't what makes "Little Voice" a bit of a breath of fresh air. It's the quality of Bareilles' songwriting that does that job, and her ability to bring intelligence and depth to piano-based pop that, in some parallel universe, would be clogging up the airwaves on top 40 radio. Review: Three stars (out of four) (Jeff Miers)


A Fine Frenzy, One Cell in the Sea (Capitol) "The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling/ Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;/ And, as imagination bodies forth/ The forms of things unknown." Some great lines from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," a favorite of Alison Sudol when she was a book-loving kid, and now the source of her band's moniker. A Fine Frenzy is essentially Sudol, her piano, her songs and a few friends adding ancillary instrumentation in the studio. At 22, Sudol is remarkably concise and clear-headed in her rather ethereal, esoteric vision. "One Cell in the Sea" blends Sudol's eye and ear for great literature -- these are remarkably strong, vivid and image-rich lyrics for a writer so young -- with airy, spacious piano-based modern pop, in the mold of bands like Keane, Coldplay and Travis. Sudol has some Bjork and Kate Bush in her as well, however, and her songs move in interesting directions, not derivative ones. Clearly, she's an artist to watch. Review: Three stars (J.M.)



Various Artists, We All Love Ella: Celebrating the First Lady of Song (Verve). There are some surprises, even shocks, in the Ella Fitzgerald tribute produced by Phil Ramone. Obviously, no one had to show Etta James how to sing Duke Ellington's "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me" or k.d. lang how to sing Matt Dennis' "Angel Eyes" or Dianne Reeves the right way to do "Lady Be Good." Nor is it anything but a predictable small pleasure to hear Diana Krall and the great Hank Jones team up on "Dream a Little Dream of Me." Queen Latifah is up for "The Lady is a Tramp," and Linda Ronstadt isn't totally ill-suited to Cole Porter's wickedly macabre "Miss Otis Regrets" either. Gladys Knight is overmatched by "Someone to Watch Over Me," but she knows it and makes it an acceptable Gladys Knight song. The surprises here -- shocks even -- are the somewhat obscure San Francisco singer Ledisi's fine and lusty version, scat and all, of "Blues in the Night" and 13-year-old (yes, 13) Nikki Yanofsky's phenomenal channeling of Ella on "Airmail Special." And what Lizz Wright does for "Reaching for the Moon" is nothing less than full rediscovery. Predictably, Natalie Cole is attracted to Ella at her most infantile and regrettable -- "A Tisket, A Tasket" and "Mr. Paganini," done wretchedly with Chaka Khan. There is, by the way, a live 1977 duet with Ella and Stevie Wonder on "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." Review: Three stars (Jeff Simon)


Louis Sclavis, L'imparfait des langues (ECM). The title, it seems, can't really be translated. Literally, it means "the imperfect (tense, perhaps?) of language." It seems to imply a kind of fascinating dissonant counterpoint to that great disc title of one of Ornette Coleman's greatest records "In All Languages." For years now, French multi-reed marvel Sclavis has been thought of as the closest thing our time may have to Eric Dolphy, especially on bass clarinet (he also plays clarinet and soprano saxophone here.) The music on "L'imparfait" goes all over the map -- fully composed ensembles (the group of largely young musicians is a quintet), free jazz expressionism, rock guitar -- but there is never a sense that the musicians get lost, nor is there ever a moment where they lose you. Sclavis himself is formidable, as both player and composer. This is free jazz with a sense of adventure where, with so many others, it can be wandering and confused. Review: Three stars (J.S.)



The Unquiet Heart: American Song Cycles performed by Karen Smith Emerson, soprano and Arlene Shrut, piano (Albany Records). These four song cycles -- by Ronald Perera, Libby Larsen, Stephen Paulus and Bruce Adolphe -- look tremendously tempting. Perera's is set to James Joyce. Stephen Paulus' is "Songs of Love and Longing," and Adolphe's is "A Thousand Years of Love." Most intriguingly, Larsen's "Try Me, Good King: Last Words of the Wives of Henry VIII" is based on historic quotes. What a marvelous idea! Unfortunately, the music doesn't fulfill the promise. It's hard to tell one composer from another. The style is the same: all mood, no melody, and interesting accompaniments, but nothing but the words to grab on to. Larsen stands out somewhat. Her songs are like recitatives, but she brings out the queens' personalities and incorporates bits of John Dowland and Michael Praetorious, whose melodic gifts you find yourself yearning for. "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" echoes in poor Jane Seymour's demise, and Anne Boleyn's final "I hear the executioner's good, and I have such a little neck," a cappella, falls off hauntingly into stark silence. You can sense these composers' knowledge and dedication. I wish more of them would try find a unique, coherent voice. Review: Two stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Allegri, Miserere and Motets performed by A Sei Voci directed by Bernard Fabre-Garrus (Astree). A very unusual disc idea that works. Allegri's 17th-century "Miserere" is one of the most haunting works in the choral repertoire. What we have here -- along with a recording of Allegri's motets and a Gregorian Mass -- is A Sei Voci's versions of the way it might have been performed in two different eras. The disc begins with a 17th-century version, complete with the kind of ornamentation known in the era, and ends with the later, more familiar, version. Review: Three stars (J.S.)

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