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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

Pop

Dreamgirls, Original Broadway Cast Album (Decca/Hip-O). With Bill Condon's sensational film scheduled to open Christmas Day and blow the doors off American movie theaters, here is the "special edition" rerelease of the original Broadway cast album, complete with extra-disc "sing-alongs" of instrumental tracks and a Craig C. club mix "dance-along" of the entire disc's main reason for being -- Jennifer Holliday's mind-boggling show-stopper "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" (which is done with even more gooseflesh-raising power in the movie by Jennifer Hudson). Yes, this is where the careers of Sheryl Lee Ralph and Loretta Devine came from, but apart from Holliday, this is only for Broadway devotees. Everyone else will be well-advised to wait for what is certain to be a mind-bending movie soundtrack. Review: 2 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

(Jeff Simon)

*

The Klezmonauts, "Oy To The World: A Klezmer Christmas" (Satire Records). The first thing you have to do is put "Deck the Halls" into a minor key, because you can't have a klezmer song in a major key. ("God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" and "We Three Kings" work better, because they don't need that adjustment.) A key change like that is just one of the shocks of this album, which could easily get you laughing so hard you can't drink your wassail. One of the funniest things about "Oy to the World" (next to that title, of course) is how it focuses on traditional, religious carols like "Good King Wenceslas," "Joy to the World" and, God help us, "Away in a Manger." There are quickening tempos and drumbeats, and hilarious trumpet and clarinet solos, and rhythms suggesting the hora or, in the case of a mournful "Little Drummer Boy," Kurt Weill cabaret. Review: 4 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

***

Hip-hop

2Pac, "Pac's Life" (Amaru/Interscope). The loss of Tupac Shakur will be deeply felt by the hip-hop world for decades to come, but based on "Pac's Life," the posthumous release industry that has been built up around the late rapper is beginning to appear a bit crass. Both "Better Dayz" (2002) and "Loyal to the Game" (2004) were released long after 2Pac was murdered, and both handily trump "Pac's Life," which is interesting as a mix tape-type production, but fails to reveal the breadth of 2Pac's talents. The title song revolves around a gratuitous Ashanti sample, while elsewhere, everyone from Bone Thugs -n- Harmony to Snoop Dogg is recruited in an attempt to gloss over the cold truth about "Pac's Life" -- that it's an attempt to sell product by slapping Shakur's name and image on the cover, rather than protecting or furthering his legitimate legacy. Review: 1 1/2 stars (Jeff Miers)

***

Jazz

George Benson and Al Jarreau, "Givin' It Up" (Concord/Monster). Easy listening jazz from honorable masters of the trade who could, if they wanted, be doing so much more. There's a lot of funk and jive 2/4 back beats, in other words, from two jazz performers who, when they want, can also fly in 4/4 time with the best of them. But then, this sort of silky soul dancing is what they do that the world clearly loves most. Nor does it entirely keep them from rejoicing in their chops intermittently. It's the kind of music that makes old pros old pros. Review: 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)

*

Brian Groder, "Torque" (Latham). Venturesome ears may not find this disc easily but it's worth a search -- a searching young trumpet player playing with the Sam Rivers Trio in a fairly gripping program of neo-expressionist jazz that has no difficulty modulating occasionally into good old-fashioned bebop. That's why a smart young musician might search out Rivers in the first place. He's a grandfather figure outside but he knows what to do in the pocket, too. Review: 3 stars (J.S.)

***

Rock

Incubus, "Light Grenades" (Epic). California five-piece Incubus has been distancing itself from its nu-metal roots for several albums now, and "Light Grenades" finds the group making its most consistent and compelling bid for respect to date. (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen) the record plays to the band's strengths -- slightly funky modern rock grooves, atmospheric tone coloring from guitarist Mike Einziger, and the emotive croon-to-a-scream stylings of singer Brandon Boyd. Happily, the cell phone-waving arena metal anthems are kept to a minimum here; "Light Grenades" instead favors an exploratory mode of emotional radio rock, largely well-written and always well-played. Review: 2 1/2 stars (J.M.)

*

David Crosby, "Voyage" (Atlantic/Rhino). A three-disc career retrospective released to coincide with the appearance of Crosby's autobiography "Since Then," "Voyage" gives us the whole David Crosby story in song, from the sublime to the subpar, in sparkling high definition sound. With the Byrds, Crosby brought impeccable taste in song selection and an incredible ear for vocal harmony to the table, as that band all but single-handedly created what we now offhandedly call folk-rock. With his mates Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and sometimes Neil Young, Crosby was one-third (or, with Young, one-fourth) of vocal harmony nirvana, and a songwriter of no small significance. As a solo artist, Crosby reached for the heady heights, often fully grasping them. Many of those moments are compiled here, along with tracks from the Crosby-Nash duo, and the band Crosby founded with his son in the '90s, CPR. A lovingly compiled testament to a truly gifted songwriter and musician. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.M.)

***

Classical

William Schuman, Symphonies Nos. 3 and 5 and Judith: Choreographic Poem for Orchestra performed by Seattle Symphony under Gerard Schwarz (Naxos). If ninth symphonies are the strange glories of Europe, it is one of the eerier happenstances of American symphonic music that there are so many extraordinary native third symphonies -- Roy Harris', Walter Piston's, Aaron Copland's and, by no means least of them, William Schuman's. These fine recordings of Schuman's third and fifth and his "choreographic poem" called "Judith" date from the period just before Schuman's death in 1992, after a long life as a kind of ambassador and grandee of American symphonic music that might even have rivaled Copland's. All too often, his position intruded on his gifts as a composer which, at his best, were among the strongest in his generation. This is vigorous, athletic and powerful American music -- in performance not quite up to Bernstein's standard with it but superb nevertheless. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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