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Listening Post /Brief reviews of select releases

> Pop

Hilary Duff, Dignity (Hollywood) It's hard to accept Hilary Duff as anything other than Minnie Mouse. Duff must know this, because "Dignity" is presented as an attempt by the artist formerly known as Lizzie McGuire to create mature music. As far as dance-pop goes, "Dignity" isn't half bad. Duff may be a mere 19 years of age, but she does a better job of cranking out the cheesy dance-jams than veteran Gwen Stefani does. And if you compare "Dignity" to efforts by Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton, it fares even better. Still, there's nothing new here. Duff, like Paula Abdul and so many other dance-pop divas before her, is not a remarkable singer, and her dance music is of the generic variety. The best that can be said about "Dignity" is that it's harmless. Review: 1 1/2 stars (out of four) (Jeff Miers)

> Folk

Brandi Carlile, The Story (Columbia) What a pleasant surprise, this sophomore effort from Brandi Carlile. "The Story" is a stirring song-cycle lovingly produced by roots music master T Bone Burnett, and it's an intimate affair, but never a dull one. With twins Phil (bass) and Tim (guitar) Hanseroth and guests drummer Matt Chamberlain and keyboardist David Palmer, Carlile crafts beautiful torch tunes that skirt alt-country terrain, but are not so easily classifiable. Like the Emmylou Harris of "Wrecking Ball," recent Lucinda Williams, or the best of Maria McKee's efforts, Carlile has a an ever-present ability to summon deep emotion with her gorgeous singing. Deeply touching, all of it, and certainly one of the more vibrant folk records this side of Steve Earle's last few. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.M.)

> Jazz

The Orrin Keepnews Collection: "The Cannonball Adderly Quartet in San Francisco"; "Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington", "Full House -- Wes Montgomery Live in Tsubo", "Kenny Dorham's 'Jazz Contrasts' " and "Joe Henderson's 'Power to the People' " (Riverside). In this era, thank heaven, the great jazz producers and recording engineers are getting the credit due them. In the first installment of this new series, the great Riverside (and later Milestone) impresario Orrin Keepnews was invited to re-present some jazz record classics he godfathered. Included are alternate takes and selections never heard before as well as one -- Joe Henderson's quartet disc with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette "Power to the People" -- on CD for the first time. Monk playing Ellington was a brilliant idea that didn't quite pan out the way it should have. But Cannonball Adderly live in San Francisco -- complete with "This Here" (and complete with alternate take) -- established Cannonball as a hitmaker as well as the monster player he always was and always remained. Wes Montgomery's live "Full House" was one of the finest Montgomery records, along with "Live at the Half Note." The Henderson, especially, and Dorham are vintage beauties. Keepnews' notes are now irreplaceable. Ratings: 4 stars for Adderly and Montgomery, 3 1/2 stars for Henderson and Dorham, 3 stars for Monk (Jeff Simon)

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Paul Motian with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, "Time and Again" (ECM). A dream trio, one would think, but sadly it turns much closer to nightmare. There's so much dreamy and liquid lack of substance to the music here that the whole thing sounds like woozy hangover music for an unusually bad night. Fine playing isn't entirely absent -- especially from Lovano, clearly trying to spark Frisell -- but this is the sort of ECM music that was, undoubtedly, vastly more rewarding to perform than to listen to. Review: Two stars (J.S.)

> Classical

Aulis Sallinen, Chamber Musics III, IV, and V performed by cellist Arto Noras, accordionist Mika Vayrynen and pianist Ralf Gothoni conducting the Virtuosi dei Kuhmo (CPO). While the music of Finland has been a revelation on this side of the Atlantic for more than 20 years, the music of Aulis Sallinen on this CPO series has been especially ear-opening in the last few years. With the exception of a dispensable "Barabbas Variations" for accordion (no kidding) and strings, this wonderful music, especially the "Introduction and Tango Overture" for piano and string orchestra, is impressive, well-made and beautifully performed. No less than two separate pieces here are inspired by Vladimir Nabokov's novel "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight," which should tell you about the intellectual scope and pitilessly fresh willfulness of this composer who is, despite his relative lack of international reputation, one of the greatest now living. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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Wolfgang Windgassen Sings Wagner, (Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft) Windgassen was the Wagnerian tenor of the '50s and '60s, singing a wide range of Heldentenor roles at Bayreuth and on recording. In the grand pantheon of Heldentenors (there's an image), his voice wasn't the most powerful, but it had a beautiful, almost Italianate smoothness. It also has a fascinating breadth -- you get the idea that, as he soars to cathedral heights in an aria from "Rienzi," that he is controlling his powers, unleashing them slowly. Maybe most importantly, Windgassen projected humanity and emotion. The testosterone he shows in "Siegfried" is tempered by a certain vulnerability. And in "Meistersinger," his Prize Song, though glorious, has more than a touch of youth and humor. Too bad texts aren't included. When a singer is as in touch with the music's spirit as Windgassen was, it would be nice if everyone knew exactly what he was singing. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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Richard Strauss, Four Last Songs, excerpts from "Salome" and "Capriccio," Nina Stemme, soprano, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Antonio Pappano, conductor (EMI Classics). With Birgit Nilsson gone, the role of eminent Wagnerian Swedish soprano is open, and Stemme could become a contender. She seems born for the spotlight, even making waves a few years ago in a Swiss "Tannhauser" that featured a nude male porn star. In the excerpt here from "Salome," Stemme throws herself into the shocking scene with feral, audible gusto. She also flings herself, heart and soul, into the last scene from "Capriccio," preceded by the luminous "Moonlight Music" Strauss wrote early in his life and revived for that late-in-life opera. Add in the valedictory, wrenchingly beautiful "Four Last Songs," you'd think this CD would be an overwhelming experience. The trouble is, Stemme's voice, though full and sensuous, as a little too consistently full throttle and, at times, rather reckless. Review: 3 stars (M.K.G.)

> Alternative

Young Galaxy, Young Galaxy (Arts & Crafts) Young Galaxy -- formed by Stars guitarist Stephen Ramsay and singer Catherine McCandless -- posits a new strain of "space rock" with its self-titled debut. Slow-moving, shimmering, and given to the grandiose, the record takes the best of the Montreal indie-rock scene which birthed it and marries it to the gorgeous slow-motion of Pink Floyd and the late-night candle-light conjured by the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.M.)

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