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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Reggae/Hip Hop

Ky-Mani Marley, "Radio" (Vox Music Group). It's safe to assume that the late Bob Marley would have embraced hip-hop, had he lived to see its rise to dominance. After all, Marley's reggae rose from the Jamaican ghetto, with one of its main aims the commitment to speak truth to power. As musical as reggae is, it's also dance music. It was the senior Marley's genius to bring a songwriter's craft, passion and insight to the reggae table. The best hip-hop follows suit. So it's fitting that Marley's second-youngest son, Ky-Mani, brings depth, conscience and a deep musicality to his own multi-idiomatic hip-hop hybrid on "Radio." Aspects of dancehall pervade the album, but Ky-Mani is not afraid to embrace a modern American hip-hop production ethic. Pointed, politically charged lyrics are a constant, but there's an uncluttered, song-centered essence apparent throughout "Radio," and that's ultimately what sets it apart from the hip-hop horde. It doesn't hurt that, when Marley lays down a straight reggae jam like "Hustler," his bloodline is immediately, audibly apparent. Review: 3 stars (Out of 4) (Jeff Miers)



Various artists, "The Brit Box" four-CD box set (Rhino). It features the other British Invasion, the one that took place (a bit more subtly than the Beatle-led first) between 1985 and the end of the last century. During this decade and a half, an English form of post-punk slowly evolved into a new alternative rock and then, thrillingly but briefly, into a bold update of UK guitar-based pop, before collapsing inward from the weight of (naturally) drugs and ego. Rhino has lovingly assembled a chronological collection of the best of the British second coming, beginning with the left-leaning indie-pop of the Smiths, the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Stone Roses, Charlatans UK, et al, and proceeding through the mopey (and sometimes myopic) drama-rock of My Bloody Valentine, Lush and Ride, before culminating in the Manchester Renaissance and all that came after it -- Pulp, Blur, Oasis, Verve, Spiritualized, Suede and assorted kin. It's a riot, and a beautifully packaged one at that -- "Brit Box" comes stuffed inside a 6-by-12-inch replica of an old-fashioned English telephone box, replete with battery-powered light. Yeah, the kids are still alright. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.M.)



Jacqueline Du Pre, "The Complete EMI Recordings" (EMI Classics, 17 discs). "It was always a source of wonder that when I put the bow onto the string it made a beautiful sound," said Jacqueline Du Pre in a documentary film about her tragic life. Whether or not she was, as some are ready to say, the greatest cellist of the past half century (partisans of Rostropovich, Yo-Yo Ma and even Janos Starker, among many others, might have a few things to say in rebuttal), hers was, without question, the most dramatically engaging story. She arrived on the scene a veritable angel of the cello -- a musician of such electrifying passion, vivid articulation and sumptuous sound that she seemed divinely anointed. Many of her recorded performances at the beginning -- especially of her signature, the magnificent Elgar concerto -- are among the greatest recordings in classical music. She married another young musical lion -- pianist Daniel Barenboim -- to become musical royalty. And then multiple sclerosis robbed her slowly of her career and, eventually, her life at the age of 42. Her life is so dramatic that it even made for that incredible oddity in classical music, a good film "Hilary and Jackie." To be able to fit virtually her entire recorded career on these 17 discs is deeply tragic. There are so many great composers for the cello she never really got around to (Bloch, Tchaikovsky, just to name two). Nor did she even record all of the unaccompanied Bach suites, just the first two. But what's here is the heart of the classical cello repertoire, including great concertos, (Dvorak, Schumann, Saint-Saens, etc.), the Beethoven Trios, Cello Sonatas by Franck, Chopin, Handel, Brahms and Boccherini. Call it, simply, the recording treasure of the season, beautifully boxed. She deserved full notes, though, rather than just a cursory introduction and track and disc list but otherwise this is a miraculous recorded rendering of a brilliant and far too brief life in music. No star rating could do it justice. Review: 4 stars (Jeff Simon)


Glenn Gould, The Young Maverick (CBC, six discs); The Radio Artist (CBC, five discs). When the great and wildly eccentric rebel of the piano died at 50, he had long since quit the concert world cold and taken up residence in three places that made him a leading citizen -- the radio studio, the recording studio and the sovereign independent nation of drug-fueled hypochondria. You'll find his conventional legacy on his Columbia recordings and in his writings, the latter of which are some of the most provocative and brilliant ever to come from a virtuoso pianist in any century. Here, though, are the two box sets which complete the portrait of this amazing figure -- live CBC recordings of him playing when he was still a touring wunderkind (when Buffalo was among his stops) and his decidedly personal CBC radio programs, including radio portraits of Casals and Stokowski and what may well be his most enduring intellectual achievement, the radio show "The Idea of North" created when he was a kind of acolyte and intellectual brother to his fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan. To Gould, the radio documentary was a musical form and, as the notes by Carl Morey say on "The Radio Artist," he thought about it in musical terms and called it "contrapuntal radio." The sound on the performance disc isn't always so hot, nor is the performance perfect (how the later Gould would have hated that) but the charge of hearing him in his world-beating youth is immense. Review: 3 1/2 stars The five discs of his radio shows comprise a must for any complete understanding of Glenn Gould's legacy. Review: 4 stars (J.S.)



Best of Christmas Cocktails (EMI). Or how to Spend an Ultra-Lounge Christmas. Or so they're trying to get you to think. This collection of Capitol's way of celebrating Christmas on record is less kitsch than it is unlistenable drek. Some people are capable of listening to Les Baxter and Ferrante and Teicher's "Santa Claus' Party" just to get to Bing Crosby's "Frosty the Snowman" and, especially, Lena Horne's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and some aren't. In this rubbish dump, Julie London's "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" is the soul of integrity (wait until you hear Ray Anthony's "Christmas Kisses.") Let it never be forgotten that Dean Martin, one of the perpetrators here, once gave the world, on TV, "Dean Martin's Christmas in Sea World" which will stand, until further notice, as the record in surreal Christmas kitsch. Review: 1 1/2 stars (J.S.)



Gram Parsons with the Flying Burrito Brothers, "Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969" (Amoeba). This is some serious national treasure right here. Two discs chronicling two nights of "Cosmic American Music" captured over two April evenings in 1969, when the tragically short-lived Flying Burrito Brothers opened for the Grateful Dead. These tapes, recorded by Dead soundman and resident chemist Bear, have been buried in the Dead's massive vaults for decades. Happily, Bear finally released them to producer and Gram Parsons historian Dave Prinz. Not surprisingly, considering the quality of Dead tapes from this era, the sound quality on "Live At the Avalon Ballroom" is good, mostly. But it's the performance we're after here, and at this point, Parsons and the Burritos were flying high (literally and musically), their insistence on playing George Jones and Hank Williams tunes to stoned hippies scornful of country music matched by the audacity of their own tunes, which found an irony-free relevance in country harmony and Bakersfield R&B. Care about Parsons, Chris Hillman, et al? Buy this. Visit Review: 4 stars (J.M.)

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