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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


James, "Hey Ma" (Decca/Mercury). Can a song be at once subtle and epic? Aren't the two mutually exclusive? Well, they needn't be, apparently. With their first album in seven years, the recently reformed alternative-pop-rock ensemble James manages to conjure soundscapes that are quietly magnificent, grandiose anthems that seduce the listener slowly, rather than hitting them over the head. Led by singer Tim Booth, James revels in a sound that melds spry, jangly acoustic and electric guitars to lush keys, supple horns, and Booth's yearning-infused singing and smartly turned lyric phrases. "Hey Ma" is an album that demands to be listened to in one sitting, and repeatedly -- it attaches itself to the listener over time, and after a few listens. Once it does, it will stick. A most welcome reunion, this one. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4) (Jeff Miers)


>Spoken word

100 Greatest (Shout! Factory, five-disc box). There's something priceless about the old radio term for what these are -- "actualities." These five discs were originally released piecemeal before turning into this box set of the "500 History-Making Soundbites of the last 100 years." As such they comprise an altogether amazing gift for the season. What you've got on each of the five discs are the "100 greatest" ever recorded -- speeches, news stories, personalities, scandals and sports moments. Are you ready for the voice of Sigmund Freud telling you that "the struggle continues" against those who once found his "theories unsavory?" In the same box as the announcers during the Ali/Foreman fight of 1974? And reportage of the Profumo affair in 1963? And Sen. Wayne Morse's 1968 speech denouncing the Vietnam War? And Alexander Solzhennitsyn at Harvard in 1978? And Gen. John Pershing from 1917 and Barack Obama's oratory from Chicago this year? How about Frank Sinatra Jr.'s kidnapping in 1963 in the same disc box as the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Babe Ruth's 1936 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame? An amazing artifact for those with any sense of history at all. Review: 4 stars (Jeff Simon)



Alban Berg Quartett, "The Teldec Recordings" (Teldec, eight discs). The dissolution of the Alban Berg Quartett after almost four decades of performance isn't exactly the best news in the world of classical music, but if it means more anthologies like this of its work in the '70s shortly after the quartet's formation (in 1971), there's something to be said for it. The music here was recorded from 1974-79 and, with the exception first-rate performances of three quartets by Brahms and the big G-major quartet by Dvorak, is largely devoted to performances in warm and sumptuous Viennese style of the first and second Viennese schools. In other words, there are two quartets by Haydn, the "Prussian" and "Haydn" Quartets of Mozart, two quartets by Schubert including the D-minor "Rosamunde" Quartet and, of the "second Viennese school" Berg's String Quartet and Lyric Suite and Webern's Five Movements Op.5, Six Bagatelles Op.9 and String Quartet Op. 28. In the quartet's conception, all were members of a chamber orchestra and the ensemble clarity here is uniform and inspired. Review: 4 stars (J.S.)



Marcus Goldhaber, "Take Me Anywhere," with the Jon Davis Trio (Fallen Apple). Born and raised in Buffalo, Goldhaber has a pretty good cabaret/jazz career going in New York City, with performances at clubs like Iridium, the Metropolitan Room and the Ritz-Carlton. He's got a fine crooner's voice: very gentle really, just this side of a murmur. On the minus side, his style can be so laid-back that it verges on lethargic. "My Ship," "I Get Along With You Very Well" and "I Fall in Love Too Easily" emerge as wan, even with the pretty piano of Jon Davis. So does "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails," and it shouldn't. Think of Fred Astaire! On the plus side, he avoids being annoying. He does a nice take on "I've Never Been in Love Before," he has good taste in songs and his originals, including the clever "A Felony Called Love," are cute. A bonus track, "When I Take My Sugar to Tea," is relaxed and humorous, kind of like Michael Feinstein. Maybe he was more relaxed for that one. Goldhaber is playing the Fredonia Opera House next April. I think I'll buy him a beer before he goes on. Review: 2 1/2 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Bill Cunliffe, "The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2" (Resonance). Why on earth shouldn't any art form revisit its classics? We still perform "Oedipus Rex" and "King Lear" anew don't we? Not to mention Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier" on a modern piano it was never meant for? Oliver Nelson's 1961 record "The Blues and the Abstract Truth" assembled one of the great bands of its time to play some of the greatest compositions of its era by Nelson, one of the greatest jazz composer/arrangers of his time -- Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, Freddie Hubbard, Paul Chambers, Roy Haynes and Nelson himself on alto saxophone. It's music that, like the music on Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue," has persisted in jazz performance ever since -- particularly "Stolen Moments." What pianist/arranger Bill Cunliffe does with terrific players on this disc is both fresh and completely respectful of the classic jazz record that inspired it. In addition to new arrangements and performances of the tunes on the original, Cunliffe provides a couple of credible originals of his own. He's added a couple of players to the original's septet and while they, in no way, equal the firepower of the original players, there's nothing wrong with Terrell Stafford on trumpet, Bob Sheppard on tenor and soprano and Andy Martin on trombone playing like a house afire. Most touching of all, though, is alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton doing a remarkable job on "Stolen Moments" of reproducing Nelson's unique and original tone -- as "legitimate" a saxophone sound as may ever have been heard in jazz (it's the one, no doubt, Adolph Sax had in mind). Review: 4 stars (J.S.)



Jack's Mannequin, "The Glass Passenger" (Warner Bros./Sire). Here's a direction emo should pursue. Led by the strident songwriting, earnest singing and relentlessly optimistic piano bashing of Andrew McMahon, Jack's Mannequin tones down the genre's tendency to use flurries of first person narrative prose, instead forcing his lyrics into the framework of genuinely memorable melodies. Perhaps the former Something Corporate frontman has learned to make his words, melodies and performances count -- in 2005, as major success seemed to be within his reach, he was diagnosed with leukemia. Despite a grim diagnosis, McMahon persevered, and the combination of fighter's spirit and stubborn optimism that surely aided him in his struggle helps to make "The Glass Passenger" a rather remarkable modern pop record. Genuine suffering is one way to gain perspective and lose the sophomoric narcissism common to so much emo. Here, rather, are some well-written songs played and sung with convincing emotion by a young man who is grateful to be alive. Emo has never sounded so mature, and maturity suits the form. Review: 3 stars (J.M.)

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