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Bryan Ferry

Dylanesque

[Virgin Import]

Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

Bryan Ferry passed age 60 without seeming to register the event at all. He must have a youthful portrait of himself stashed in an attic somewhere, a la Dorian Gray. Still suave, still looking like the rock world's equivalent of James Bond, and still letting that aching tenor quaver with heartbreaking skill, Ferry has somehow been excused from the long, slow decline all rockers inevitably face -- and inevitably accept with varying degrees of grace.

So now the Roxy Music main man drops a platter full of Bob Dylan covers in our laps, then promptly departs with a wink and a nod of that still incredible head of hair, on his way outside to smoke a cigarette and sip his cognac. How typical of the man who refuses to acknowledge the rapid-fire barrage of temporal tastes and trends.

"Dylanesque" should not be as great as it is. "Covering" Dylan is a tough row to hoe, make no mistake. Many an artist has attempted to hide beneath the Bard's cloak, as if simply singing the man's brilliant words would somehow make them brilliant, too. Ferry, however, does not treat Dylan as a museum object, but rather, as a living, breathing source of inspiration. Happily, he is not so awed by this awe-inspiring body of work that he comes across bowing, scraping and making a village idiot of himself. Ferry makes these songs his own, at least for the time it takes to hear him singing them. That's a tall order.

For the majority of the album, Ferry sticks to Dylan's '60s material, and that could've backfired on him -- this stuff is so well-known that hearing the songs seriously rearranged and reconfigured can be off-putting. Ferry has abundant class, however, and that's what he brings to these "Avalon"-esque takes on His Royal Bob-ness. "The Times They Are a-Changin' " should not work as a dancey pop-rock number, but in Ferry's hands, it does. "Simple Twist of Fate" was quite happy living like a recluse on "Blood on the Tracks," but Ferry takes it out on the town for some wining and dining, and guess what? He brings it back home before midnight, slightly buzzed, but safe. Even the epic "Gates of Eden" benefits from Ferry's graceful interpretation.

Ferry has the Midas touch here. Now, what about that new Roxy Music album, Bryan? It's long overdue.

-- Jeff Miers

***

Jazz

Joshua Redman

Back East

[Nonesuch]

Review: 4 stars

What a great disc this is. To say that it's one of the jazz discs of this year, already, is almost pitifully mild. It presents, in fact, a remarkable 38-year-old jazz saxophonist in full bloom.

Redman has been an ongoing wonderment since the tenor saxophone player (and son of Dewey Redman) emerged as a young jazz prodigy 15 years ago. This is, without question, his fulfillment as a jazz powerhouse, thus far. What Redman -- whose late father recorded John Coltrane's "India" here with his son shortly before his death -- is doing on "Back East" is paying direct tribute to one of the pivotal records in all of jazz: Sonny Rollins' pianoless trio masterpiece "Way Out West" in an all-night session in Los Angeles a half-century ago.

Ever since Rollins showed the way, playing in a pianoless trio has been a rite of passage for the most ambitious saxophone players. Without the piano's harmonic carpet to stand on, some saxophonists just do better than others (so, for that matter, do some drummers when asked to perform, in a sense, orchestrally). Branford Marsalis, for instance, has always played well in a pianoless trio format but never as well as Redman does here (that an alto saxophonist -- Kenny Garrett -- was as extraordinary as he was on "Triology" is a bit of a jazz-recording landmark).

What the San Francisco resident saxophonist Redman is doing here is turning Rollins' masterpiece upside down -- coming east to play with three different sets of bassists and drummers: Christian McBride and Brian Blade; Larry Grenadier and Ali Jackson; and Reuben Rogers and Charles Lloyd's drummer, Eric Harland. He's even playing two of the classics from Rollins' record: "Wagon Wheels" and "I'm an Old Cowhand."

The result is little short of stupendous. When he was starting out, Redman often played with just a bassist and a drummer strictly out of practical necessity (the absence of an available pianist or the money to hire one). And when he's joined by his father on "India," Joe Lovano on Wayne Shorter's "Indian Song" and soprano saxophonist Chris Cheek on Redman's "Mantra No. 5," you can only wish there had been more of each.

This isn't jazz neo-classicism; there's nothing "neo" about it. This is truly a classic jazz format which a great saxophonist feels ready to claim as his own. And it's all of that. (To be released Tuesday.)

-- Jeff Simon

***

Ambient

Lou Reed

Hudson River Wind Meditations

[Sounds True]

Review: 2 1/2 stars

The late critic Lester Bangs must be rolling in his grave. In the '70s, Bangs engaged Lou Reed and did battle with him whenever he could, mostly because he was so hung up on the Velvet Underground that he'd made Reed into a myth and couldn't accept anything but brilliance from the man. If Bangs was here to unwrap "Hudson River Wind Meditations," he'd likely blow a gasket. Lou Reed doing new-age mood music? You've gotta be kidding!

The sticker on the cover of this instrumental album of background noise describes it as "Soundscapes: For meditation, body work and T'ai Chi." Reed is devoted to all of the above, and while doing so might have made him a better person, the musician in Reed has not been fully accepted into the ether of transcendence. "Hudson River Wind" is a neat idea. As far as ambient music goes, it's both unobtrusive and hypnotic, which is exactly what it seeks to be. That said, Brian Eno needn't watch his back -- at nearly 30 minutes, opener "Move Your Heart" drones on well past its sell-by date.

But elsewhere, as on "Find Your Note," Reed manages to produce an analog to Zen koans with his breathlike, meditative soundscapes. Is this merely "Metal Machine Music" for the Yanni set? Pretty much. But is that such a bad thing?

-- J.M.

***

Hip-hop

Timbaland

Shock Value

[Interscope]

Review: 3 stars

Timbaland is the reigning king of hip-hop. He's the smartest producer out there and is responsible -- for better or worse -- for the multi-culture sheen and studied slickness of modern hip-hop. Perhaps surprisingly, Timbaland handily outshines so many of the artists he has produced -- including Missy Elliott, Nas, Jay-Z and Ludacris -- with his own "Shock Value." It's everything modern hip-hop can hope to be: fun, funny, beat-centered, irreverent and full of itself.

Tim called a bunch of his pals to help him out here, and unlike so many star-studded modern hip-hop affairs, these stars are much more than window dressing. Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake get together to drive home the undeniable hook of "Give It to Me"; Dr. Dre, Timberlake and Elliott arrive for the "Bounce" party; and Timbaland avoids the train wreck that collaborations with rockers the Hives, She Wants Revenge and Fall Out Boy could've been on a trio of songs just past the album's mid-point.

It's not deep, any of it; but then, hip-hop hasn't been deep for more than a decade. "Shock Value's" brilliance lies in its ability to capture the present-day hip-hop zeitgeist with skill and humor.

-- J.M.

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