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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Jazz

David Binney, "Third Occasion" (Mythology). I dearly love this record. From the first selection where you first hear the creamy sound of the brass choir (trumpet, fluegelhorn, two trombones) which composer/alto saxophonist Binney uses as a backdrop for his first-rate quartet, you're in a sonic world that, even at this late date, succeeds in being different from any jazz record you know. With fellow alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa succeeding in fusing jazz with the music of his native India, it's clear that the alto saxophone has become where the real creative action is among jazz's younger generations. Binney has been featured on any number of records by others (Bobby Previte for instance) including some of his own, but nothing he's made before has given this much evidence of performing passion and compositional invention. Filling out his quartet are the exceptional pianist Craig Taborn (who first accompanied James Carter into jazz fame), bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade. 4 stars (out of 4) (Jeff Simon)

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Eddie Daniels and Roger Kellaway, "A Duet of One: Live at the Bakery" (IPO). So beautiful is Eddie Daniels' clarinet sound that it has sometimes seemed a shame at best to hear the commercially compromised uses to which it's been put on record. Many are the Daniels discs where you almost have to fight to hear one or two cuts worthy of the great living jazz clarinetist. Not on this one. With nothing but Daniels in 2005 duets with omni-pianist Roger Kellaway at Los Angeles' Jazz Bakery, you've got two perfectly matched jazz virtuosos playing off -- and to -- each other exquisitely. A major delight. 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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>Jazz/Country

Miles Davis, "From the Heart" (Columbia/Legacy), Billie Holiday, "From the Heart" (Columbia/Legacy) and Dolly Parton, "From the Heart" (Columbia/Legacy). Rule of thumb for serious music lovers: never be too quick to dismiss a marketing gimmick. OK, so Columbia/Legacy just came out with a full series of "From the Heart" discs of love songs in honor of Valentine's Day. These three among them, though, are just excellent single disc anthologies of ballads and love songs by three of the greatest figures in vernacular American music. There is nothing musically compromised at all about the Miles disc and Parton's is a hugely appealing not-so-greatest hits from all over the Appalachian musical map (including duets with Kenny Rogers and Porter Wagoner). And Billie Holiday is one of the standards of American musical performance here singing some of the most beloved standards in the Great American Songbook. 4 stars for Davis and Holiday, 3 1/2 for Parton (J.S.)

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>Classical

Beethoven, Diabelli Variations and Bach Partita No. 4 performed by pianist Stephen Kovacevich (Onyx). "The 'Diabelli' was the piece that made me love Beethoven, through the marvelous Serkin recording of the '50s, and since then it is the third period of Beethoven that has been the music I most need to play and listen to. It has all the wild, tender, brusque and introspective qualities of late Beethoven and then of course parody and comic energy too." So says Stephen Kovacevich in the notes to this. It is the music the much-honored, much-revered 68-year-old pianist first played in his premiere and previously recorded four decades ago to immense praise. What this 2008 revisitation might lack in conceptual grandeur, it more than makes up for in intelligence and compelling narrative drive. Combining it with the Bach Parita No. 4 in D-Major, I'm afraid, emphasizes the choppiness of Kovacevich's approach to Bach as if it too were a kind of grandiose joke on a paltry waltz theme by the likes of Diabelli. Fine playing, nevertheless, but others in Bach are preferable. 3 stars (J.S.)

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John Corigliano, Circus Maximus and Gazebo Dances performed by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble and conductor Jerry Junkin (Naxos). Of "Circus Maximus" composer John Corigliano says "Many of us have become as bemused by the violation and humiliation that flood the 500-plus channels of our television screens as the mobs of imperial Rome, who considered the devouring of human beings by starving lions just another Sunday show." The Roman allusion came second to Corigliano he says, because his first intention was to write a work "conceived spatially" and wondered "what dramatic premise would justify the encirclement of the audience by musicians?" Putting the audience in the position of encircled gladiators and lions in the ancient Roman Circus Maximus is what he came up with (the piece ends with a decidedly un-Roman gunshot). There's no question, then, that this hugely eclectic and often violent musical collage from 2004 (everything from reminiscences of Bartok and Varese to Bernstein theater music) would be an entirely different piece if heard in a hall surrounded by a huge wind ensemble than it is here coming from two speakers. You do get an idea of the piece's hallucinatory strength from the disc -- and then some. Corigliano's 1972 "Gazebo Dances" is almost the exact opposite of the large scale "Circus Maximus," neo-classic nostalgia as opposed to "Circus'" visionary anger. 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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>Hip-hop

Soulja Boy, "I Soulja Boy Tell Em" (Interscope). The less said about this, the better. The long and short of Soulja Boy's new effort is this -- if you dug his massive club hit "Crank Dat," you'll like this one, at least for a few minutes. As formulaic as hip-hop has become over the past five years, Soulja Boy ups the ante by adhering strictly to a guttural chant-anthem paradigm ... tune after tune after tune. Two things matter when it comes to stylized, party-themed hip-hop records -- the technical skills of the MC and the quality of the beats. This album gets a D in Rhyming 101 and firm C in Beat Construction for Sophomores. Whatever charm the booty- and cash-obsessed Soulja Boy is in possession of wears thin by the time the fourth identical track weaves its weary path and dies. 1 star (Jeff Miers)

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