Concerto in E-Flat for Two Pianos, K365; Concerto in F for Three Pianos, K242; duo pianists Katia & Marielle Labeque, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Semyon Bychkov conductor and third piano (Philips 426 241). There is some immaculate orchestral playing here, and the Labeque sisters' performance is extremely lyrical and fluid. So far, so good. But there is also a hard-driven feeling to much of Bychkov's direction, while the Labeques are guilty of erratic tempos and occasionally ragged ensemble. The overall impression of the performances is of more glitz than substance. Rating:*** -- Herman Trotter
KRONOS QUARTET, Black Angels: Works of Crumb, Tallis, Marta, Ives and Shostakovich (Elektra/Nonesuch 9-79242-2). No one has ever questioned the eclectic programming bril liance of the Kronos Quartet. In this case, their collection of works affected by war, strife and social chaos is so brilliant that its brilliance may be self-defeating.
There is a thread that leads from George Crumb's hallucinatory, mystic "Black An gels" to the Kronos' string adaptation of Tallis' 40-part motet "Spem in Alium" to the tape-recorded lamentations of Hun garian women in Istvan Marta's "Doom. A Sigh" to their augmentation of Charles Ives' rough-hewn recording of his song "They Are There!" to Shostakovich's Quartet No. 8. But to trace it loses sight of each piece as music and turns it into curriculum. It's far more appropriate for those who don't know any of the music than for those who do. Rating:*** -- Jeff Simon
The Simpsons Sing the Blues (Geffen 24308 Warner Bros.). Picture the Blues Brothers with all-star backup (B.B. King, Dr. John, Tom Scott) and the voices of a television cartoon family. Homer bleats "Born Under a Bad Sign." Marge cooks up a "Springfield Soul Stew." Lisa pipes in with "God Bless the Child." And Bart is a rapper, with an assist from DJ Jazzy Jeff. The best moment belongs to Homer's boss, who grumps through a wicked commentary called "Look at All Those Idiots." Rating:*** -- Dale Anderson
THE ROCHES, We Three Kings (Paradox-MCA 10020). After years of yuletide masquerading as the Carolling Carollers, these three folk-singing sisters from New York City do their definitive Christmas album -- a generous 24 songs, traditional and modern, occasionally with an unexpect ed arrangement, like their Carmen Miranda version of "Deck the Halls." Rating:**** 1/2 -- D.A.
BARRY MANILOW, Because It's Christmas (Arista AR-8644). Fusing two traditions in a series of medleys that combine ancient carols and pop-stan dard holiday songs from the likes of Johnny Mercer, Manilow celebrates the holidays with one of his best efforts since he became infatuated with big-band jazz. Bonuses: A boogie-woogie "Jingle Bells" with the group Expose cast as the Andrews Sisters and a saucy duet with country singer K.T. Oslin in "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Rating>:*** 1/2 -- D.A.
LIVE AT THE KNITTING FACTORY, VOL. 4
(A&M 75021-5322-2). If you want a broad view of what some of the best of the young turks are doing in and around jazz, listen to one of the best in a series of superb and invaluable live discs from one of New York's premier alternate music spots. Included are the Ned Rothenberg Double Band, Universal Congress Of, Last Exit (Bill Laswell, Sonny Sharrack, Ronald "Shannon" Jackson, Peter Brotzman) and Miniature (Tim Berne, Joey Baron and Hank Roberts). Some of this is aimless, tedious and self-indulgent, but most is fresh, vital and as bracingly to the point as a non-injurious mugging in Central Park. Rating:**** -- Jeff Simon
Top Ten SINGLES
(1) Because I Love You, Stevie B (LMR). (2) Justify My Love, Madonna (Sire). (3) From a Distance, Bette Midler (Atlantic). (4) Impulsive, Wilson Phillips (SBK). (5) Tom's Diner, DNA featuring Suzanne Vega (A&M). (6) High Enough, Damn Yankees (Warner Bros.). (7) I'm Your Baby Tonight, Whitney Houston (Arista). (8) Freedom, George Michael (Columbia). (9) The Way You Do the Things You Do, UB40 (Virgin). (10) Sensitivity, Ralph Tresvant (MCA).
(1) To the Extreme, Vanilla Ice (SBK). (2) Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em, M.C. Hammer (Capitol). (3) The Immaculate Collection, Madonna (Sire). (4) I'm Your Baby Tonight, Whitney Houston (Arista). (5) Mariah Carey, Mariah Carey (Columbia). (6) Rhythm of the Saints, Paul Simon (Warner Bros.). (7) Some People's Lives, Bette Midler (Atlantic). (8) Wilson Philips, Wilson Philips (SBK). (9) The Razor's Edge, AC-DC (Atco). (10) Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, George Michael (Columbia).