COURTNEY PINE Underground (Antilles 344-537-745-2). Courtney Pine's jazz/hip-hop collages continue to be so immediately likable that you almost feel guilty grooving shamelessly with them or grinning from ear to ear. He isn't just a proficient post-Coltrane wailer, he's a brilliant colorist and composer of total charm. He asked Cyrus Chestnut to play electric piano on some tracks here to deliberately give it that long-discredited '70s urban sound that -- it turns out -- melds absolutely perfectly with sampling and turntable wows. And the British jazz lion continues to write irresistibly eclectic tunes and to get some of the best American players around for his projects -- Jeff "Tain" Watts, Reggie Veal, Nicholas Payton, Mark Whitfield. Profound music this isn't. That's for sure. But it's almost unfailingly beguiling. Rating: ****
-- Jeff Simon
MARCUS ROBERTS Blues for the New Millennium (Columbia CK-68637). It's beginning to seem as if there may be something heroic about the naive chutzpah of Wynton Marsalis and his most ambitious sidemen (of whom blind pianist Roberts -- especially on this record -- is the most impressive). It just doesn't seem to occur to them that so whole-hog a creation of neo-Ellington music and such joyful reinvention of basics like Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues" and Jelly Roll Morton's "Jungle Blues" (which begin this disc) might border on kitsch on one side and egregious presumption on the other. So Roberts just goes his own nervy way here, using basic blues forms in complex and ingenious and exciting ways and getting so much from this band that no one seems to solo for more than a few choruses. It's the age-old problem with Wynton and company: The aesthetic may seem stridently neo-conservative, but the music, at its best, is superb and jampacked with nutrients. Roberts is always a thoughtful piano player, but his work as a composer here is far more impressive than the vastly more ambitious "Blood on the Fields" of his former leader Wynton. Rating: ****
BARDO POND Lapsed (Matador OLE-210-2P). This Philadelphia band's third album harks back to the short-lived glory days of bliss-rock (circa 1988 to 1991, R.I.P.), when bands made beautiful music out of sheer noise. It's a genre that began and ended with My Bloody Valentine, but bands such as Bardo Pond are still carrying the torch. On "Lapsed," the guitars of John and Michael Gibbons build up gigantic feather pillows of sound, smothering Isobel Sollenberger's sad little voice. The effect is often gorgeous and ultra-emotional, as on "Tommy Gun Angel" and "Flux," both of which are driven by Clint Takeda's elephantine bass. The grand instrumental "Green Man" recalls early Brian Eno with its poignant, atmospheric melody, but the band plays it strong, hard and heavy. Bardo Pond take a couple of stabs at regular rock on "Pick My Brain" and "Straw Dog," but the results just sound like a muddy demo tape. The band is far better when traveling deep into its own fog. Anyone who still owns vinyl copies of Loop and A.R. Kane will love this moody, massive stuff. Rating: ***
-- Rafer Guzman
BJORK Homogenic (Elektra 62061-2) Bjork's transformation from quirky ingenue to art-pop diva is complete with "Homogenic," her third solo album. Her previous project, "Telegram," featured remixes of her songs by hipsters such as Marc Bell and Dillinja. Bjork has also been hanging out with Tricky and DJ Goldie, which means the all-new "Homogenic" bears the increasingly popular (and increasingly unconvincing) "jungle influence." Almost every song, from the ominous "Hunter" to the wistful "All Is Full of Love," features distant, foggy arrangements of electronic music: chilly booms, faint thuds, needless noises. Bjork sings her heart out, but her songs are plodding and down-sounding. Despite her fanatical following and critical acclaim, Bjork has yet to establish herself as something more than a charming novelty. Hipsters on the electronica tip may eat the latest album from this one-time Sugarcube, but others may suspect that she's in danger of becoming the Nina Hagen of the 1990s. Rating: **
(1) Candle in the Wind 1997/Something About the Way You Look Tonight, Elton John (Rocket). (2) 4 Seasons of Loneliness, Boyz II Men (Motown). (3) You Make Me Wanna . . . , Usher (LaFace). (4) How Do I Live, LeAnn Rimes (Curb). (5) Honey, Mariah Carey (Columbia).
(1) You Light Up My Life -- Inspirational Songs, LeAnn Rimes (Curb). (2) Evolution, Boyz II Men (Motown). (3) Bridges to Babylon, Rolling Stones (Virgin). (4) "Soul Food" Soundtrack (LaFace). (5) Butterfly, Mariah Carey (Columbia).
(1) Love Scenes, Diana Krall (Impulse!). (2) Presents West Side Story, Dave Grusin (N2K Encoded). (3) Swing, Manhattan Transfer (Atlantic). (4) Rendezvous, Jacky Terrasson & Cassandra Wilson (Blue Note). (5) The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings, John Coltrane (Impulse!).