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Discs

>Soul

Various artists

I Believe to My Soul: Session 01

[Work Song/Rhino/Hear Music]

Review: 4 stars (Out of 4)

Joe Henry is the man, plain and simple.

As a solo artist, he has released consistently engaging, challenging collections blending pop-noir and avant-garde tendencies. As a producer of his own records and a handful of other notables -- most recently, soul legend Solomon Burke and indie songstress Ani DiFranco -- he creates lush, moody soundscapes within which an artist and songwriter has plenty of room to breathe. Though mainstream success has avoided Henry, he remains on the cutting edge of modern record-making.

To follow up his genre-bending work on Burke's 2002 comeback effort, Henry went a few blocks south down soul alley, to find the true grit and grace of the music that defined the genre during the 1960s.

Not surprisingly, his journey led him to New Orleans and Allen Toussaint, pianist and songwriter supreme. Even less surprisingly, with Toussaint's help -- in addition to contributing four brand-new tunes to the collection, he acted as pianist and musical director -- Henry struck gold. Fingering legends Billy Preston, Ann Peebles, Mavis Staples and Irma Thomas, Henry arranged speedy, inspired and unstudied recording sessions, conjured his billowing, atmospheric production, and got out of the way. What made it onto tape is nothing short of inspiring.

This is the real stuff; it's primal, with one foot still firmly in the gospel camp, the other ankle-deep in swampy rhythm and blues soil. Staples gets things rolling with "You Must Have That True Religion," and it never stops. Preston has never sounded better than he does laying down "Both Ways" and testifying like a soul on fire during "As One." Thomas shines on "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh" and a sultry "Loving Arms." Peebles makes "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" her own. And Toussaint is the star of the show, lending continuity and persistence of vision with his spot-on soul piano playing and impeccable compositions.

Throughout, Henry lets the music do the talking, but the record is really a result of his ability to frame the music conceptually. Simply outstanding, start to finish.

-- Jeff Miers

***

>Classical

Richard Stoltzman

Reflections: Works by Perlongo, Lay, Goodwin, Iannacone, Stiller Performed with Warsaw Symphony Orchestra

[MMC]

Review: 3 stars

***

Rautavaar

Garden of Spaces, Clarinet Concerto and Cantus Articus Performed by Richard Stoltzman and Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra under Leif Segerstam

[Ondine]

Review: 3 1/2 stars

The trouble with being the Great American Clarinet Virtuoso is also the advantage of it: The repertoire for your instrument isn't exactly scant but nor is it overly abundant, either. A clarinetist needs his contemporaries in the composer's tribe. Brahms, Mozart and the Baroque masters simply didn't supply enough repertoire.

That's what "Reflections" is all about -- five new works for clarinet and orchestra for Richard Stoltzman, the wizard of his instrument (and a man convincing, too, as a jazz soloist) to show what he can do. It will surprise no Buffalo listener who remembers the remarkable composer and radical spirit and bristling, brilliant music writer Andrew Stiller that Stiller's 1994 "Procrustean Concerto" is one of the two most impressive pieces on "Reflections." So named, says the composer, because he "cut a normally three-movement work down to two," it sports individual movements called "Interview With the Dissidents: Sestina" and "Hockets From the Andes," which, in its blend of politics and obscure musical and literary forms nicely indicates Stiller's antic, scholarly wit, utter unpredictability and no small truculence (major chord tuttis sound like sonic flips of the bird). So does the piece itself, which Ives might have liked.

The other first-rate piece on "Reflections" is Keith Lay's tone poem "Earth Caoine." A "Caoine," we're told, is a "piercing wail over a corpse" and Stoltzman's agonizing glissandi make it quite beautiful and effective.

Stoltzman is featured in the Clarinet concerto of the superb new disc of music by the extraordinary and profoundly poetic Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. The concerto, from 2001, is supplemented by "Garden of Spaces," an aleatoric piece for orchestra which, says the composer, can be "different in every performance and created anew by the conductor." Completing the disc is Rautavaara's best-known work, "Cantus Articus," a "concerto for birds and orchestra" made from tapes of Arctic birdsong. Rautavaara's is one of the most varied and evocative sound worlds of any living composer.

-- Jeff Simon

***

>Hip-hop

Eminem

Curtain Call: The Hits

[Universal]

Review: 1 1/2 stars

Pardon me for being hyper-critical of rap's reigning star and all, but isn't it a little soon for Eminem to be dumping a "greatest hits" package on us? These compilations make sense when an artist has been around for 20 years or so. But Eminem fans more than likely already have every one of his albums -- all four of them, plus the "8 Mile" soundtrack. That means the only reason to buy "Curtain Call" is the inclusion of a handful of new tracks.

Trouble is, these new tunes are lame. "Shake That," featuring Nate Dogg, sounds like a "Marshall Mathers" throwaway; "Fack" is Em-lite, and would've been well-served by remaining on the cutting-room floor; "When I'm Gone" is another love letter to Em's daughter, and he's done the same thing more effectively in the past; and the live version of "Stan" featuring Elton John is both pointless and limp.

Buy this if you must, but you're much better off grabbing "The Slim Shady LP"; that 1999 debut record is Eminem's greatest hit. It's been downhill ever since.

-- Jeff Miers

***

>Jazz

Maria Schneider Orchestra

Days of Wine and Roses: Live at the Jazz Standard

[ArtistShare]

Review: 3 stars

Don't let the all-too-conventional opener "Lately" fool you: This is one of the most exciting jazz bands extant precisely BECAUSE of its lyrical and untraditional ideas of jazz-band sound (which is why its upcoming Jan. 29 concert in the Albright-Knox Art of Jazz series is one of the more exciting events in the series this year).

These, says Schneider, are mostly early works, which is why "they're far more 'arrangements' than my usual fare." Works, that is, often written for others and tailored to their norms. By the time, though, you get into the second composition, Schneider's "The Willow," you're already into that gorgeous, plush, post-Gil Evans sound that makes her work so distinctive. That's why it really is an "orchestra" (a la Oliver Nelson and Evans and Gerry Mulligan) and not just a band. So too is her bunch full of fine players (Tim Ries, Rick Margitza, Frank Kimbrough).

The disc is dedicated to the great jazz engineer and co-producer David Baker, who died shortly after the disc was made.

-- Jeff Simon

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