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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Rock

Echo & the Bunnymen, "More Songs to Learn and Sing" (Rhino). Just when it seemed that the punk explosion of the late '70s had forever stripped English rock of its mystique, grandeur and self-importance, along came Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant, strutting out of Liverpool with a grandiose blend of desperate psychedelia and chromium new-wave cool, parading beneath a moniker as strangely inviting as their music -- Echo & the Bunnymen. McCulloch was Jim Morrison, David Bowie and Bryan Ferry rolled into one, and Sergeant's guitar playing was a wholly fabulous melange of chord-washes and shimmering arpeggios, a sound as otherworldly and significant as that summoned by U2's the Edge and the Smiths' Johnny Marr. "More Songs to Learn and Sing" compiles the best of the band's initial '80s run, when albums like "Crocodile," "Porcupine" and "Ocean Rain" arrived like messages in bottles from a far-off and apparently beautiful, strange heaven. McCulloch was British new wave's answer to both Morrison and Sinatra, a full-blooded crooner able to conjure the most dramatic of melodies. Throughout this collection, he astounds, from the edge and angst of "The Cutter" to slabs of baroque pop like "The Killing Moon," a song Bowie would've been proud to write. The latter material, culled from the band's late-'90s resurgence onward, is remarkable in its ability to encapsulate the early Bunnymen magic and throw today's clothes on its back. The Arcade Fire, Interpol, the Killers, Secret Machines -- all owe a debt to McCulloch and Co. The inclusion of a DVD compiling the band's original promo videos makes "More Songs" a completist's dream. Review: 4 stars (Out of 4) (Jeff Miers)

*

Chris Whitley & the Bastard Club, "Reiter In" (Red Parlor). "Reiter In" was not meant to be Chris Whitley's final word, the last musical statement he'd make before succumbing to lung cancer last year. The record captures the sound of the otherworldly talented Whitley jamming on a delightfully broad range of cover songs and a few new compositions, aided by friends Kenny Siegal and Brian Geltner of Johnny Society, and bassist Hieko Schramm, who'd been working with Whitley for several years prior to his death. "Reiter" has a loose, garage-punk feel most of the time, the ethereal 21st century space-blues and ambient rock Whitley perfected on albums like "Terra Incognita," "Rocket House" and "Soft Dangerous Shores" filling out the remainder. The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" kicks things off with a paint-peeling wallop, disturbingly distorted guitars framing Whitley's sneering vocal, avant garde tendencies a la Sonic Youth hovering over the whole beautiful mess. Willie Dixon's "Bring It On Home" is transcendental blues, Whitley's hellhound-on-my-trail falsetto chilling as it trades moans and cries with Tim Beattie's harmonica. "I Go Evil" is classic Whitley punk-blues, propelled by a killer guitar riff and vocal phrasing absolutely dripping with soul. Far from Whitley's finest work -- try "Terra Incognita," "Living With the Law," "Dirt Floor," or "Soft Dangerous Shores" for definitive Whitley -- "Reiter In" is still a joyous affair and a fitting farewell from a brilliant artist taken far too soon. Review: 3 stars (J.M.)

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>Classical

Yo-Yo Ma, "Appassionato" (Sony Classical). Begrudge not the astute marketers (the clumsy ones are their own biggest curse). Sometimes they know what they're about -- here, for instance, is a smart iPod/Jukebox mix of short pieces and snippets of pieces from the Yo-Yo Ma Sony catalog, all of them putatively of a Romantic and "passionate" ilk. Granted, the Brazilian disc and Piazzola tangos are mistakes, but no one's going to regret the cello adaptations of themes by Ennio Morricone, Mendelssohn, Vivaldi, Gershwin and Franck, especially not when they're with such "legit" little masterpieces as Saint-Saens' "The Swan" and bigger masterpieces like the Andante from Brahms' Double Concerto. It's a nice box of classical bon-bons for the cello, played by a master who is anything but a chocolatier. Review: 3 stars (Jeff Simon)

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>Jazz

Steve Herberman Trio, "Action: Reaction" (Reach). A talented and ambitious young jazz guitarist who, unfortunately, also wants to impress us with his talents as a jazz composer. Herberman wrote everything on this disc and none of it is nearly as welcome as it might have been to hear him play some jazz standards and pop classics. Certainly, his taste in sidemen is first-rate (bassist Drew Gress, drummer Mark Ferber) but his way of making his own case is far from the best. Review: 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)

*

Tania Maria, "Via Brasil Vol. 2" (Sunnyside/Confluences). When Tania Maria was good, she was truly great -- in 1975, for instance, when this trio presented the lusty and explosive Brazilian singer/pianist in a way that made it clear that, as far as she was concerned, the whole point of samba wasn't the airy and sweet waftings of Stan Getz but rather a riotous and sexy Carnival with a capital C. She was never better as a performer than she was here. These recordings were made in Paris for French Barclay records and they present Maria entirely unmediated and untranslated, either musically or lyrically. This is the performer pure and she was wonderful back then. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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Scott Colley, "Architect of the Silent Moment" (Cam/Jazz). He's one of the best working jazz bassists out there but he's also a truly gifted and smartly eclectic leader as every disc under his own name testifies. Except for Andrew Hill's "Smoke Stack" -- a two-piano duet with Jason Moran and Craig Taborn -- all the tunes here are Colley's and yet the instrumentation is all over the map, from harmonica player Gregoire Maret (doing his best to out-toot Toots Thielmans) to abstractions from trumpet player Ralph Alessi to tenor saxophonist Dave Binney blowing the house down with all the post-Coltrane energy and lung power he can muster. If one tune here doesn't turn you on, wait for the next one. It will almost certainly be a whole different story. Think of Colley, then, as a kind of post-structuralist kind of jazz player; think of the disc, if you like, as perfectly representative jazz post-modernism. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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