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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Jazz

Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy, "Cornell 1964" (Blue Note, two discs). A historic release in every sense of the word. In other words, it's a 1964 jazz milestone now on disc for the first time. When Mingus performed much of this music ("Meditations," "So Long Eric") on the European set that would be released a few years ago as "The Great Concert," trumpet player Johnny Coles was only heard on one tune because a bleeding ulcer took him off the rest of the European tour. All live Mingus recordings with Eric Dolphy are precious to the very texture of modern jazz. The greatest may well remain "Mingus at Antibes" with both Dolphy and Booker Ervin from four years earlier, but this two-disc set of a live 1964 warmup to Mingus' final European tour with Dolphy is hurricane-force Mingus from one of the great bands in jazz history -- even with Clifford Jordan on tenor. Would you believe this group playing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"? What you'll hear here is very far from studio perfection. This is live performance of jazz with all the humanity and even tragedy left in (Dolphy would be dead mysteriously just a few months later). This is what happens when a jazz widow as formidable as Sue Mingus is in charge of releasing the stash of previously unheard recordings from her husband. To be released on Tuesday. Review: 4 stars (Out of 4) (Jeff Simon)

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Boots Randolph, "A Whole New Ballgame" (Zoho). A melancholy disc occasion to be sure. Just when the "Yakety Sax" hero of Nashville was set to release this, his early 2006 effort to be taken seriously as a big-toned mainstream jazz tenorman, he died at the age of 80. It's nothing if not likable music, but when Boots plays Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce" as a nice Tennessee amble through the park, you know that he made the right choice becoming Nashville's favorite tenor player rather than a jazz jouster on 52nd Street or at a Newport Jazz Festival. Review: 2 stars (J.S.)

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Carol Welsman, Self-titled (Justin Time). Canadian Carol Welsman has long been musicians' and critics' nomination for the next beautiful blond jazz singer, after the superior Karrin Allyson (who comes to The News Jazz series in two weeks) to rip off a piece of Diana Krall's behemoth popularity, and this self-titled pop jazz disc is perfectly positioned to be the one to do it. It's the Latin tinge she likes about it ("for a long time I have dreamed of doing a recording of Latin music"), but what impresses me enormously is that this is a jazz singer smart and open-eared enough to know how utterly extraordinary a tune Madonna and Pat Leonard's "Live to Tell" is and to do it her own way -- which is slower than Madonna's way, breathier, harmonically richer and, if not more powerful than Madonna's version, truly superb on her own. And then, two tunes later, she can do a great Latin percussion rave-up of "Too Close for Comfort." Let's see Madonna do that. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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>Country

Clay Walker, "Fall" (Curb). The appropriately behatted Walker mostly stays within established country-music conventions here -- and it works for him. His warm voice and twanging guitar are perfect for tales of cheatin' hearts and lovers lost. Walker branches out occasionally, sometimes successfully (the joyfully bouncing "Mexico" and " 'Fore She Was Mama") and sometimes not (the ill-advised if well-meant collaboration with an aging Freddy Fender on Fender's "Before the Next Teardrop Falls"). But when Walker sticks to his roots, "Fall" offers solid, enjoyable down-home tunes. Review: 3 stars (Sarah Waldrop)

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>Classical

Bach, "The Unaccompanied Cello Suites" performed by Steven Isserlis (Hyperion, two discs). A major disappointment. Isserlis is a terrific cellist of inarguable contemporary importance (his was thought to be the first recording, for instance, of John Tavener's masterpiece "The Protecting Veil"). You can't fault his scholarship or devotion or technique here in this music, which has been the cornerstone of every great cellist's birthright since Pablo Casals' rediscovery of it. What's lacking here to an alarming degree seems a kind of expressive presence -- even after you adjust all the dials to make up for the disconcertingly low dynamic level of the recording. Isserlis' notes convey how much these works of genius are a kind of cellist's pilgrimage (Janos Starker, unmentioned by him, has made no fewer than six integral sets of them) but the performances themselves are too often studied and thin, as if from the instrumental excercise school of Bach performance. One of the very few extant sets of Bach's Unaccompanied Cello Suites that really should be passed up by a prospective buyer. Review: 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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Ian Bostridge, "Great Handel," with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Harry Bicket, conductor (EMI Classics). Handel is hot. As Bostridge points out in his notes to this disc, his operas are becoming ever more popular, thanks to new vocal techniques and theatrical styles. Bostridge, from the sound of things, couldn't be happier. He sings with such love in his voice. He gives even a warhorse like "Every Valley Shall Be Exalted," from "Messiah," great care and import, as if we never heard it before. His conviction is catching. You find yourself moved by the tender aria from "Semele." (Forgive me, but I have to quote the tender lyrics: "Where'er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade; Trees, where you sit, shall crowd into a shade.") An aria like "Love in Her Eyes" from "Acis and Galatea," full of gentle dotted rhythms, makes you appreciate Handel's genius for melody -- you either have it or you don't, and he did. I have sometimes found Bostridge too cool for Schubert songs, but in this music, he makes you sit up and listen. Review: 4 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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Bryn Terfel, "An Die Musik: Favorite Schubert Songs" with Malcolm Martineau, piano (Deutsche Grammophon). The rerelease of this 1994 disc makes me regret that, aside from a "Schwanengesang" (also with Martineau), Terfel hasn't followed it up with more Schubert. He has a flair for Schubert. His big bass voice is perfect for the masculine swagger that fills so many Schubert songs, such as "Auf der Bruck" and "Rastlose Liebe" -- songs that remind you that they were the work of a young man. Terfel, too, sounds on the young side here. His tone could be more varied; he misses some opportunities for color and variation. If he returned to songs like these now, he may have more to bring to them. We can always wish. Review: 3 stars (M.K.G.)

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Monica Groop, "Artist Portrait" (Warner Classics). Finnish mezzo soprano Monica Groop, who will be singing Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito" this fall with the Santa Fe Opera, has built her sparkling career on music that not long ago would have been considered pretty antiquated. Her success shows the increased hold this music has on the world. On this variegated recording, arias from Bizet's "Carmen" and Berlioz' "Benvenuto Cellini" are balanced with not only Handel and Bach but Gluck and Paisiello. Groop's voice is warm and expressive, and she uses it in different ways -- mournful and lyrical in arias from three Bach cantatas, passionate and soaring in Bizet. A champion of Nordic music (a typical Groop song recital includes Sjogren and Nystrom as well as Mozart and Schubert), Groop ends this disc with the end of the third movement of Sibelius' "Kullervo" Symphony. Her voice gives the exotic, brooding music the needed humanity. Review: 3 1/2 stars (M.K.G.)

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