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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


Good Charlotte, Good Morning Revival (Epic) Innocuous punk-pop has been Good Charlotte's stock-in-trade from the beginning, and brothers Joel and Benji Madden know enough not to mess with a formula when it's working. Like its beaucoup-selling predecessors, "Good Morning Revival" sounds ready-made for unobtrusive, yet still nominally "hip" background music, the sort you'll hear blasting inside Hot Topic on your next shopping sojourn to the mall. There are hints of a new maturity scattered throughout the record, however, and most of them are more annoying than impressive. The lyrics, in the past simply whiney, have now bloomed into full-blown pomposity -- see the title tune, "Misery," and "Broken Hearts Parade," all of which trade in melodramatic cliches when they aren't coming across as "holier than thou." Far easier to stomach is the music, which is generic emo-punk with shimmering arena-pop choruses, impeccably produced and honest about its truest intent -- to hit the mainstream, directly and hard. Good Charlotte fans will find enough here to encourage the continuation of their love affair with the band. 2 stars (out of 4) (Jeff Miers)


Ozomatli, Don't Mess With the Dragon (Concord) This Los Angeles ensemble plays true fusion, in the non-dirty word sense. Effortlessly blending Afro-Beat stylings with hip hop grooves, rock and blues guitar flourishes, funk horns and some seriously deep-fried R&B -- nearly everything, then, but jazz -- Ozo, as the group is known to its fans, has created another winner in "Don't Mess With the Dragon," a record that would be a massive pop hit in a perfect world. Fans of Santana's polyrhythmic Latin American blues and rock will find plenty to chew on beneath "Dragon's" cover, but so will hip-hop kids who think of Carlos Santana only as the hippie guitar player their dad digs. Sociopolitical concerns inform the lyrics, and an open-hearted musician's view of the world's musics fuels the estimable grooves. Beautiful. 3 1/2 stars (J.M.)



Mozart, Violin Concertos 2 and 4, Sinfonia Concertante, Maxim Vengerov, violin, Lawrence Power, viola, the UBS Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra (EMI Classics). Vengerov, the big, handsome Siberian-born violinist, has beguiled Buffalo Philharmonic audiences several times. And that's not the only reason to love him. Vengerov sure goes that extra mile. He researched these concertos from the ground up. He hung out with his friend Cecilia Bartoli, analyzing the vocal qualities in the violin writing. He read Mozart's father's treatise in violin playing. He met with early music experts. Finally, he rehearsed on an Israeli kibbutz, "so we could commune with Mozart, almost as if he were alive today." (As if Mozart, who hated to get his hands dirty, would be anywhere near a kibbutz.) How does the music sound, after all that sweat? Very alert. Vengerov is never on autopilot. Everything is carefully considered and flawlessly delicate. The cadenzas, which are Vengerov's own, reflect deep personal feeling. And you do hear different touches -- a droning effect here, a strange silence there, a slower tempo, a pause. But you can't reinvent the wheel. These performances aren't worlds apart from many others; the research doesn't always reveal itself. What does show, though, is the love of music that made Vengerov go through all that trouble. That comes through loud and clear. 3 1/2 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Mozart, Violin Concertos, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Christian Tetzlaff, violinist and conductor (Virgin Classics). Once again, I continue my quest for a performance of Mozart's gorgeous Adagio in E, K. 261, that can equal the one I loved as a teenager, by Josef Suk. You can giggle at Suk's name, but he had such a great way of digging into the strings. He played the piece with passion, almost as if it were from the Romantic era. And it fit. This is a passionate piece. So, sorry, but I have to count Tetzlaff among the violinists who play my beloved K. 261 like a wimp. Call it a matter of taste, but I can't quite forgive him, even though everything he plays -- in this case, the First and Second Violin Concertos, the Rondo in C, K. 373. and the Rondo in B flat, K. 269, are all perfectly fine and correct. There's no excuse in this day and age to treat Mozart as if he's made of glass. 2 stars (M.K.G.)



Stefano Bollani, Piano Solo (ECM). One of the most impressive and beautiful solo jazz piano discs to be released since Jessica Williams' "All Alone" in 2002 -- and, yes, I'd certainly include in there everything that Keith Jarrett has performed solo since that time. It's no surprise that it comes from ECM, the label that made a solo piano star of Jarrett (whose predecessor as an ECM solo pianist -- though few remember now -- was Chick Corea.) The 34-year-old pianist from Milan plays everything here from improvisations on themes by Prokofiev to Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" and Brian Wilson's "Don't Talk" (with some very standard standards thrown in "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," "For All We Know" and "On the Street Where You Live.") Obviously, most of this is classical-inflected post-impressionism, but Bollani has serious jazz chops, too, with charging, boisterous bass lines and, on occasion, his own kind of avant-barrelhouse spirit. 3 1/2 stars (Jeff Simon)



Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby, Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby (Legacy) If there's a musical idiom Bruce Hornsby can't make a valid statement within, I haven't heard it yet. Well, heavy metal, perhaps -- I don't think Hornsby could (or would want to) carry that load. But from jazz to jam-band, pop to avant-garde, Hornsby is that rarest of musicians who refuses to acknowledge musical barriers, rather than hiding behind them.

It's not all that surprising that he can hang with a bluegrass virtuoso like Ricky Skaggs, then. What is a bit surprising is just how natural, easy-going and organic the music of Skaggs-Hornsby is, as represented by this thoroughly excellent self-titled effort. Many of the songs are Hornsby's, be they newer pieces like "The Dreaded Spoon" and "Gulf of Mexico Fishing Boat Blues," or freshlypainted classics from his canon, among them "Mandolin Rain" and "A Night on the Town," both of which look stunning in their new clothes. Skaggs offers a stirring take on the traditional "Across the Rocky Mountain," and leads the proceedings during his burning instrumental "Stubb," which finds Hornsby according himself amazingly well as he plays in unison with Skaggs, then takes off on winning jazz-bluegrass excursions. Wow. All that, and a hilarious take on the Rick James hit "Super Freak," reimagined as a rapid-fire bluegrass burner, and performed as a duet between Hornsby and Skaggs. This is wonderful stuff. 4 stars (J.M.)

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