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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Jazz

Michel Camilo, Spirit of the Moment (Telarc). A personal "milestone" and a "classic," the pianist from the Dominican Republic calls his own disc, which may be a wee bit of hyperbole and solipsism but not that much. If this were your disc, you'd be bursting your buttons with pride, too. It's a delicious jazz piano trio record by a pianist with the chops to record Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" (which he did and won a Latin Grammy) but with a Caribbean rhythmic sense so infectious Dizzy Gillespie would have thrown a party for him. Camilo's new drummer Dafnis Prieto is from Cuba, and what he and bassist Chuck Flores and Camilo conjure up is a piano-plus-rhythm fiesta sometimes to the Nth power (hear what they do to Miles Davis' "Nardis"). Camilo can be a hard-swinging post-Tyner keyboard gobbler of Don Pullen ferocity (hear "Repercussions") but he can also be a keyboard percussionist of festive good cheer. This is state of the art mainstream jazz mega-piano and meta-piano, circa 2007. Review: 3 1/2 stars (out of four) (Jeff Simon)

***

Marsalis Music HonorsBob French (Marsalis Music/Rounder); Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste (Marsalis Music/Rounder). You've always got to love the impulse in this series -- Branford Marsalis personally "honoring" the musicians he loves and thinks all too often are overlooked with discs of their own, in which he wholeheartedly participates. Think of it as a musician's version of a Pulitzer Prize or Macarthur "genius" grant. His latest favorites are New Orleans drummer Bob French, who began with Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino and wound up with the neo-trad Tuxedo band, and clarinetist Alvin Batiste, one of the most important pedagogical waystops on Marsalis becoming the musician he became. The more innocent, by far, and joyful is French's a neo-Trad number of the sort that New Orleans tourists no doubt love but which presents the likes of Harry Connick Jr. partying hearty right along with Branford and buddies. Batiste is a modern jazz clarinetist and one of Branford's instrumental godfathers. His disc is more uneven but when it's good, it's nothing if not solid. Review: Three stars for both. (J.S.)

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>Classical

Shostakovich, "The Fall of Berlin," Suite from "The Unforgettable Year 1919," the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Adriano, conductor (Naxos). It's peculiarly upsetting to listen to the music Dmitri Shostakovich wrote for Soviet projects. Folk songs he arranged for piano, at the authorities' bidding, can make you cringe even as you reluctantly savor their sweet simplicity. This first complete recording of his score for the "The Fall of Berlin" from last year can also leave you conflicted. With its soft folk choruses and robust marches, the music can remind you of "Dr. Zhivago" or "Gone With the Wind." Brassy sections, brave and dissonant, make you think the composer could have been enjoying himself. But all you can do is hope. Where you can unequivocally enjoy yourself is in reading the plot of the film, a skewed documentary about the Battle of Berlin. One plot tells of a Russian worker who has to beat out a romantic rival, a sophisticated concert pianist, and is encouraged by Stalin himself, who plays Cupid. The notes to this great addition to Naxos' Film Music Classics Series outline extensively the fascinating research that went into this performance, as well as the Rachmaninoff-like music for "The Unforgettable Year 1919." Review: Three stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

***

Faure, Requiem and Pavane and Durufle, Requiem performed by conductors Sir David Willcocks, Sir Philip Ledger, Philharmonia Orchestra and soloists (EMI Classics). Let's not quibble or be captious here. The following things are both true: 1) not all of EMI Classic's "Great Recordings of the Century" are equally classic and, 2) There are better single recordings of both the Faure and Durufle Requiems -- especially the latter which is recorded here by Ledger only with organ and cello and not full orchestra, as it should be optimally. No matter. Here, at budget prices, are two sublime masterpieces beautifully performed -- Faure's gentle, tender 1888 Requiem and its direct offspring, Durufle's magnificent Requiem from plainchant sources from 60 years later (1947). And, for a kind of Intermezzo you have Faure's brief "Pavane," probably the epitome of the composer's elegant and refined melodic lyricism. No classical music-loving home should be without this disc -- or one like it. Review: Four stars (J.S.)

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>Rock

Klaxons, Myths of the Near Future (Geffen) So this is what all the hoopla coming across the pond has been about. Seems like the British are hoisting a "next big thing!" on us every other week. (Pete Doherty, anyone?) Klaxons have been painted into a corner by a heavily breathing British rock press anxious to book a seat on a new bandwagon, and that corner is the same one formerly occupied by Happy Mondays and the Charlatans. (Remember them?) Trouble is, the band can't be written off as merely Manchester's latest flavor of the month. This is music to rave to, yes, but it's music worth getting more intimate with, as well. Dance rock with druggy overtones, but genuinely engaging melodies and incredibly smart arrangements, mind you. If you burned out your Rapture disc and are anxious for a more substantial meal, Klaxons just might be your ticket. "You can dance while your knowledge is growing," as Pete Townshend once said. Good stuff. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Jeff Miers)

***

Cowboy Junkies, At the End of Paths Taken (Zoe/Rounder) Nobody does "downer" with as much well-earned conviction as Canada's Cowboy Junkies, and "At the End of Paths Taken" is the band's most compelling buzz-kill to date. A song cycle penned by guitarist Michael Timmins concerning the complexities of family life, "Paths" is given gorgeously sultry voice by Margo Timmins and aided and abetted in its cause by some seriously sweet string arrangements. "Four a.m./Dark reality," sings Margo during opener "Brand New World," and she nails the essence of this beautiful record's atmosphere in that one slurred couplet. If you've liked the Junkies' past efforts, you'll love this, the band's most detailed painting yet. Review: Four stars (J.M.)

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>Funk

Sly & the Family Stone, The Collection: 7 CD Box (Legacy) This box set gathers all 7 Sly & the Family Stone albums together, remasters and upgrades them, and tosses in a bevy of unreleased tracks. This is the stuff that so rocked Miles Davis' world that he changed musical horses in midstream, and without it, we'd have no Prince either, to be sure. It's wild, sexy, smart, engaged and engaging, and still relevant, be assured. Buy it immediately. Funk has never gotten, and will never get, better than this. Review: Four stars (J.M.)

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