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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


Incognito, "Bees & Things & Flowers" (Narada/EMI). British soul R&B collective Incognito has long been the vehicle for the songwriting prowess of one Jean-Paul Maunik. The group came to prominence in the '80s as a progenitor of the new soul movement in the UK, and "Bees & Things & Flowers" finds Maunik and Co. still plowing the same furrow. That's OK; they've tapped a productive vein. With the help of vocalists Joy Rose, Carleen Anderson and Tony Momrelle, Maunik has crafted a gorgeous vibe of a record, one that employs jazz chords over pop-soul rhythms and dulcet, romantic vocal tones. It could all be truly cheesy, but Maunik's sensibilities as composer and manipulator of grooves keep things on the soulful side of the tracks throughout. 3 stars (out of 4) (Jeff Miers)



Styles P, "Time Is Money" (Ruff Ryders/Interscope). Yonkers rapper Styles P offers an intimidating, in-your-face, foul-mouthed and adventurous romp with "Time Is Money," his first effort since 2002's "A Gangster and a Gentleman." The record opens with a sample of Asia's '80s prog-pop hit "Only Time Will Tell," and then erupts into straight-up "gangsta rap," with the Asia synthesizer serving as a hook. Much of the record is marked by the stripped-down nature of the arrangements, unusual in the world of modern hip-hop, where a certain near-baroque tendency to create ornate mixes has meant much of the music has become overly busy collage art. Styles gets by with little other than a simple beat and his aggressive rhymes. 2 1/2 stars (J.M.)



"Rocky," 30th Anniversary Edition (Capitol/EMI); "Rocky Balboa: The Best of Rocky" (Capitol/EMI). Very little film music has ever had the unintentionally comic steroid tumescence of Bill Conti's music for "Rocky" movies -- especially Conti's music for the original including "Gonna Fly Now," the ultimate anthem for uplift so far over the top that it might as well have fallen to the canvas with a splat. Separated from the movie, Conti's original music in 30th anniversary remastering will -- if your sense of proportion is working properly -- make you giggle. Much more fun by a mile -- not to mention varied -- is "Rocky Balboa," a "best of" anthology of music from "Rocky" movies including, yes, Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" from "Rocky III" and "Burning Heart" from "Rocky IV," James Brown's "Living in America" and Robert Tepper's "No Easy Way Out" from "Rocky IV" and now -- are you ready -- the immortal Oscar winners Three Six Mafia's "It's a Fight" from the new "Rocky Balboa." You never heard so many really bad brass fanfares in your life. After a while, you might want to sprint up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum just to get away. Even so, you can't say Stallone hasn't "gone the distance." 2 1/2 stars for "Rocky"; 3 stars for "Rocky Balboa" (Jeff Simon)



Mozart, Requiem performed by soloists and Munich Philharmonic and Christian Thielemann (Deutsche Grammophon). No one in our era takes Mozart's final work lightly (after the movie "Amadeus," they wouldn't dare.) Even so, this stupendous recent live concert recording by the young conductor recording Mozart for the first time might seem to enforce the postulate among a small minority that, all things considered, the Requiem may well be Mozart's greatest masterpiece, the godhead of all the universally worshipped symphonies, piano and violin concertos and operas. Thielemann is so much better known for Wagner and Strauss that the power and detail of this performance is a shock but you won't have any trouble at all knowing why critics raved at this Thielemann live performance outside his standard repertoire. 4 stars (J.S.)


Susan Yondt, "A Celebration of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart" (Musette Music). For decades, Tonawanda native Susan Yondt has lived in Sweden, where she is on the music faculty at Uppsala University. Her occasional Buffalo recitals are something to celebrate -- her latest was an all-Scandinavian program courtesy of the Friends of Vienna. Now, Yondt has a new recording (available by calling 835-9475). She made the recording under romantic, exotic circumstances: on Mozart's birthday, in a church on a small Swedish island, with the sun setting on a late summer day. (Summer in Sweden on Jan. 27? There are aspects of geography I don't quite grasp.) Possessed of an even, rock-solid technique, Yondt gives an athletic performance of the "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" variations and continues with the pensive, enigmatic Rondo in A Minor, K. 511, the brooding D Minor Fantasy, K. 397 and, finally, the great A Minor Sonata, K. 331. It's wonderful Mozart, assertive and graceful. 3 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Mahler, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Sarah Connolly, mezzo soprano, Dietrich Henschel, baritone, the Orchestre des Champs-Elysees, Philippe Herreweghe, conductor (Harmonia Mundi France). Were it not for the constant wars in Germany, a lot of us wouldn't be here in Buffalo. My great-grandfather came here in the 1860s to get away from those wars, and he wasn't alone. We also wouldn't have a lot of the haunting poetry of "Des Knaben Wunderhorn," the rough and polished folk poetry collected in Bavaria in the early 1800s, when the Germans were suffering under Napoleon and needed a national identity boost. So many of the verses contain eerie images of war -- soldiers facing the gallows, lovers saying goodbye, ghosts. This eeriness appealed to Gustav Mahler, who loved to combine heavenly beauty with earthly grit and sorrow and who clearly felt these songs in his bones. His settings are beautiful and witty (listen for the ox in "Das Irdische Leben," the marvelous sacred/profane song he reprised in his Fourth Symphony), but, just like in Grimm fairy tales, darkness lurks. My favorite song, "Where the beautiful trumpets blow," tells of a girl welcoming her sweetheart, a soldier about to go to war. Only the music -- the soldier's dreamlike, almost sleepwalking melody -- clues you in that he is a ghost, already dead. This is marvelous stuff, and Henschel, Connolly and the always-sensitive Herreweghe do a wonderful job exploring the music's nooks and crannies. 4 stars (M.K.G.)



Duke Ellington, The Complete 1936-1940 Variety, Vocalion and Okeh Small Group Sessions (Mosaic seven disc set, by mail only from Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902 or on the Web from The latest set from the greatest of all jazz reissue houses collects all of these small Ellington bands-within-the-band in one place for the very first time. Before this, it was only available piecemeal from Columbia. This is Ellington pre-"Koko" when his genius was about to crest in the incredible and epochal music he began making in 1941. These "splinter bands" among his favorite sidemen had names like Rex Stewart and His 52nd St. Stompers, Barney Bigard and his Jazzopators, Cootie Williams and His Rug Cutters and Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra. But that's generally Ellington himself at the piano and his favorite soloists, in rotation, arrayed around him. Some of the vocal music heard here is third-rate at best and so is some of the instrumental music. But there are classic solo Ellington piano pieces here, and duets with bassist Jimmy Blanton and solos from Stewart, Bigard and, especially, Johnny Hodges that are central to his complete works and still a wonder to hear now. 3 stars (J.S.)



John Waite, "Downtown: Journey of a Heart" (Rounder). Former Babys and Bad English vocalist John Waite offers up an interesting career retrospective in the form of "Downtown." Instead of simply compiling his greatest hits from over the years -- and there have been many -- Waite has chosen to revisit his material in the present tense. That solves the problem of dated production values right off the bat. It also allows Waite -- who still possesses a remarkable voice, the power and clarity of which time has failed to diminish -- to reimagine his own work. That's particularly pleasing on "Miss You," Waite's biggest hit, here performed as a quite moving duet with bluegrass/country star Alison Krauss, who delivers a tender reading and sounds sublime singing with Waite. He also delivers the goods on refurbished versions of Babys hits "Isn't It Time" and "Head First." 2 1/2 stars (J.M.)

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