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Discs

>R&B

Tony Hussle

Sexy, Freaky, Electric

[Warner Bros.]

Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)

Growing up in Plainfield, N.J., birthplace of Parliament-Funkadelic, Tony Hussle schooled himself in a blend of funk, soul, gospel and R&B from age 2, when he started playing piano. Apparently, the early start served him well. On "Sexy, Freaky, Electric," Hussle dives in headlong, making his bid for inclusion in the sultry-soul echelon inhabited by Prince, Marvin Gaye, Lenny Kravitz and only a few others.

It doesn't hurt that Hussle himself handles the instrumentation for the entirety of the album -- actually, a lengthy EP, marketed by Warner Bros. as a teaser for the full-length album, set to drop in the spring -- in addition to producing and arranging all the tunes. There is a consistency of sound and vision throughout "Sexy," helping to underscore the sensuous, groove-centered approach Hussle relies upon.

Prince's influence looms large, from the opening notes of pillow-talk manifesto "Come Again," through the Marvin Gaye-like two-chord slow-jam "Special." The more elaborate the composition and arrangement, the better, in Hussle's case; "Wait," for example, blends a stop-start, stuttering rhythmic pulse, with a nice soul chord progression accented by funky electric piano, deep-in-the-pocket drumming, and some subtle punctuating horns and funk-guitar layering. A Hendrix-like, full-on hyperdistorted guitar solo makes it plain that Hussle is more "player" than "playa." It's late-night soul, a bit sex-obsessed in the lyrical department, but passionate and impeccably performed.

Hussle is clearly a talent to be reckoned with. His ability to bring a rock sensibility to modern soul is refreshing. Watch this man.

-- Jeff Miers

***

>Classical

Shostakovich Piano Trios 1 and 2 and Seven Romances on Verses by Alexander Blok Performed by Beaux Arts Trio and soprano Joan Rodgers

[Warner Classics]

Review: 3 1/2 stars

***

Cello Concerto No. 1 and Cello Sonata

Performed by Han-Na Chang with the London Symphony Orchestra under Antonio Pappano

[EMI Classics]

Review: 3 stars

***

Symphony No. 10 and Britten's Sinfonia Da Requiem

Performed by Philharmonia and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestras under Simon Rattle

[EMI Classics]

Review: 4 stars

Time's judgment is the only one that matters. None of Bach's immediate musical progeny (including his own sons) would have guessed that such an unfashionable contrapuntalist in his time would be "rediscovered" by Mendelssohn and loom, in our time, as the greatest of all composers. Few of Mahler's contemporaries would have known that he would come to define late Romanticism to our ears.

In his lifetime, Dimitri Shostakovich's game of hide and seek with Stalin (repressive philistinism incarnate) came eventually to seem as much of a side issue as his music. Now, 30 years after Shostakovich's death, he has triumphed -- utterly -- as THE composer of the middle of the 20th century. And his struggles with political power have come to be the representative allegory of classical music's struggles to persist in a pop culture universe.

Musicians, it seems, can't stop playing him. Audiences instantly understand that his great works deal with profundities that link him, in one direction, to Beethoven and, in another, to us in our new century.

Here are three superb new Shostakovich discs. The great Beaux Arts Trio understands that it is in the chamber music that we are afforded the clearest insight into the composer unaffected by his public existence. Both their playing and the singing of Joan Rodgers in the "Seven Romances" is exceptional.

Shostakovich's huge (57 minutes) 10th Symphony in E-Minor came after the death of Stalin in 1953, and it is as pained, dark and sardonically powerful as anything that Shostakovich ever wrote. "It's about Stalin and the Stalin years," he once wrote, which makes its anguish acute indeed. It isn't played nearly as much as the crowd-pleasers among its brethren, but it's extraordinary, and Rattle was one of the great living conductors of it in 1985, the first time this performance appeared. Completing the dourly magnificent disc is an even more extraordinary performance of Benjamin Britten's Sinfonia Da Requiem from a year earlier.

One of the next things Shostakovich wrote after the 10th symphony was the Cello Concerto, a kind of lesser "keeping up with the Prokofievs" piece of drier emotional climate. It's performed passionately by young cellist Han-Na Chang who, on disc, so far has proven to be a formidable Russian music specialist.

-- Jeff Simon

***

>Rock

Various Artists

Dream Brother: The Songs of Tim and Jeff Buckley

[Ryko/Full Time Hobby]

Review: 2 1/2 stars

Tribute albums are a risky proposition. The question, often underscored by the spottiness of the records themselves, is a tough-to-miss "Why bother?" Almost without exception, the original versions of the songs so inspiring to the artists who've been encouraged to pay tribute far outshine any interpretive maneuvers on the part of said artist. A great example: In 1975, Todd Rundgren recorded an album called "Faithful," not really a tribute album, but nonetheless, a record that brilliantly paid homage to -- and re-created -- seminal pieces by the Beatles, Yardbirds, Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. Rundgren's versions are impeccable, precise, brilliant -- but, let's face it, kinda redundant.

The best tributes usually involve artists who've taken the material as a starting point and offered a genuine interpretation. Again, it seems a bit of a no-win situation; if you plan on going this route, your version better be at least as good as the original, preferably better. "Dream Brother" bites off more than it can chew. Tim Buckley and the son he never knew, Jeff Buckley -- both of who died at the height of their seemingly limitless powers -- were absolute virtuosos, as writers, singers and musicians. Their stuff is pretty tough to re-create.

The assorted indie-rockers and underground artists who swing for the fences here wisely avoid offering paint-by-numbers takes on the father and son's work, probably because they're not up to the job. Instead, they try to capture the spirit of the Buckleys, a pair untethered by conventional commercial concerns and wholly committed to the idea that popular music can be as profound as the best classical and jazz.

The Magic Numbers lead things off with a stirring take on Tim's "Sing a Song for You." The year's underground "it" boy, Sufjan Stevens, doesn't do much for "She Is." King Cresote's version of Jeff's "Grace" is admirable, but pales in comparison to the original, which it attempts to stick closely to. Bitmap fares far better, Jeff's "Dream Brother" shining through a gorgeously obfuscated production.

The majority of the rest of these covers find decent artists attempting to play and sing music that is beyond their grasp, sadly. This is a nice idea, but ultimately, you're better off purchasing the entire canons of both Buckleys.

-- J.M.

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