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Listening Post: Christian McBride, blockbuster film music and Martha Argerich and her friends

Jazz

Christian McBride Trio, “Live at the Village Vanguard” (Mack Avenue). A startling admission from virtuoso jazz bassist Christian McBride can be found in the publicity to this new disc unveiling his first trio disc featuring pianist Christian Sands. “I thought the very last thing I wanted to do was put myself into a trio, because then I’ll never be able to shed the Ray Brown comparison. And then one day I decided that’s a silly reason not to start a trio if musically that’s what makes sense.” And indeed it would have been if he’d stuck to it. What Ray Brown’s classic jazz trios always had going for them were some of the biggest crowd-pleasing keyboard shouters in jazz – Gene Harris and Monty Alexander to name two. Christian Sands is an agreeable mainstream jazz pianist but compared to Gene Harris’ outrageous tremolos and keyboard blues honking and Monty Alexander’s rocking bluesmanship, Sands is just an agreeable professional jazz pianist – a Mulgrew Miller who knows how to fly a little. McBride then, has no guilt about taking so many rocket-fingered bass solos. Nor is McBride’s drummer Ulysses Owens much more than a sterling role player for his leader, the star jazz bassist. Three stars. (Jeff Simon)

Soundtrack

The Genius of Film Music: Hollywood Blockbusters 1960’s and 1980’s performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by John Mauceri (LPO, two discs). You really need the subtitle explanation for the title of this disc – “Hollywood Blockbusters 1960’s to 1980’s.” That does narrow things down and more than a little too. Otherwise, you could find a lot of more worthy candidates for a two-disc set of “the genius of film music.” But even with that qualification, the selections are odd. Bernard Herrman’s music for “Psycho” was a game-changer in the film composer’s trade but “Psycho” was no “blockbuster” by intention, only by box office result. Nor was Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America” for all the magnificence of Ennio Morricone’s music. Nor, really, was “The Godfather” a “blockbuster” by intention, only by cultural acclamation. Music for “Cleopatra,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Star Trek” and “Mutiny on the Bounty” are more like it. But even there, Jerry Goldsmith’s music for “Star Trek,” for instance, isn’t nearly as redolent of “the genius of film music” as, say, his music for the “The Blue Max.” Nor is Bronislaw Kaper’s music for “Mutiny on the Bounty” interesting at all, really. So only about half of these selection, then, are worth the splendor that results when they’re played by an orchestra as disciplined and exceptional as the London Philharmonic. When it’s good and completely apt – the “Lawrence of Arabia” music of Maurice Jarre, say – it goes what its title and subtitle say it’s going to. Three stars. (Jeff Simon)

Classical

Marthe Argerich and friends, “Carte Blanche: Music of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Ravel, Bartok and Lutoslawski” performed by pianist Martha Argreich with violinists Julian Rachlin and Renaud Capucon, cellist Mischa Maisky, violist Yuri Bashmet, and pianists Lang Lang and Gabriel Montero (Deutsche Grammophon). Martha Argerich doesn’t kid around. It’s true that it’s a commonplace now for such an Olympian piano virtuoso to spend more than a little time away from superstardom’s Olympus and down in the village with other musicians playing chamber music. But Argerich – one of the greatest living pianists – has long been hugely successful enlisting others in her cause. Are you ready here for Argerich and, yes, and Lang Lang playing Ravel’s “Mother Goose” together and Schubert’s “Grand Rondeau” in A-Major? Or Gabriela Montero joining her for Lutoslawski’s Paganini Variations along with Montero’s famous and near-patented version of “Happy Birthday?” For all the culture of Serkins’ festival at Marlboro and other legendary festivals, the extremity of Argerich’s commitment to chamber music still seems to stand out as rare, even singular, of her kind these days. These performances were recorded live at the Verbier Festival in 2007. Three and a half stars. (Jeff Simon)

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