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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


Laurence Hobgood with Charlie Haden and Kurt Elling, "When the Heart Dances" (Naim). Singer Kurt Elling guests on three of the 11 tracks of pianist Laurence Hobgood's and bassist Charlie Haden's "When the Heart Dances." If you were Hobgood -- who has long been Elling's composer and arranger -- you would be happy to have the bassist master along, too. Hobgood is an appealing pianist, even if what he does most of the time is just "play pretty." And now with Haden's mammoth bass tone in support, this is a sweet piece of chamber jazz indeed. Review: Three stars (out of four) (Jeff Simon)



Big Star, "Keep an Eye on the Sky" (Rhino). Big Star was the Beatles of Memphis. Trouble is, it took most people a few decades to figure that out. By then, one of the band's founding members and songwriters, the gifted Chris Bell, was dead, and the rest of the guys were either working day jobs or plugging away in musical obscurity. So few people purchased the Big Star albums "#1 Record," "Radio City" and "Third/Sister Lovers" when they were released in the early 1970s that the combined sales for all three albums wouldn't have gotten the band into the Top 100. Yet, somehow, Big Star's legend grew, stoked by name-drops from famous hipster musicians, the Replacements' song "Alex Chilton," (a tribute to the other half of the Big Star songwriting team) and the fact that, as the old adage goes, most of the people who actually bought Big Star records ended up forming bands. Today, the Big Star ouevre stands as the ultimate statement on Brit-obsessed American power-pop, and no self-respecting record collector would be caught dead without copies of all three albums, in multiple formats. The folks at Rhino have assembled the whole kit and kaboodle -- all the album tracks, demo versions of songs that would later be fleshed out, alternate takes, unreleased songs, and a full, beautifully recorded concert from 1973 -- across the expanse of the four-disc "Keep an Eye on the Sky" set. This is a wonder to behold, from its beautifully written, crisply designed and historically authoritative book, to its smartly sequenced and lovingly restored sound. This music continues to impress. "Eye on the Sky" should ensure that it does so for decades to come. Review: Four stars (Jeff Miers)



Prokofiev, Symphonic Suite from "War and Peace," "Suite from 'The Duenna' " and Russian Overture performed by Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Neeme Jarvi (Chandos), "Ivan the Terrible: Concert Scenario" performed by soloists, Philharmonia Orchestra and Jarvi (Chandos); Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2, Violin Sonata No. 1 performed by violinist Lydia Mordkovitch, Scottish National Orchestra and Jarvi (Chandos) Suites 1, 2 and 3 from "Romeo and Juliet" performed by Scottish National Orchestra and Jarvi (Chandos). What low-budget Naxos' deal to distribute the Chandos label has proven, among many things, is how distinguished was tireless Estonian conductor Neeme Jarvi's 1980s and '90s commitment to march all the way through the orchestral output of Sergei Prokofiev, whether his great works or those in which he played ideological peek-a-boo with Stalin's musical minions. The shocking news was that the worst of it was seldom as bad as its reputation while the best (the great masterpiece "Romeo and Juliet," etc.) had plenty to seem not too far away. The "War and Peace," etc. suite is splendid despite the opera's relative failure, and the Violin Concertos and Sonata No. 1 are as good as their composer's friendship with one of the great 20th century violin masters -- David Oistrakh -- would indicate. His "Ivan the Terrible" music isn't the equal of his music for "Alexander Nevsky" or "Lt. Kije," but it has its own magic. Ratings: Four stars for "Romeo and Juliet" and "War and Peace," 3 1/2 stars for the rest. (J.S.)


Earle Brown Contemporary Sound Series, Vol. 1: Works of Harrison, Cowell, Cage, Russell, Stockhausen-Kagel and Live Improvised Music (Wergo, three discs). One of the first official acts of Morton Feldman when he created June in Buffalo was to commit to bringing here just about everyone in what could be called "The School of John Cage," including the lesser-known Christian Wolff and one of the more remarkable, if unsung, figures among Cage and Feldman's friends and cohorts, Earle Brown. When he wasn't himself composing, Brown was one of his era's most effective apostles of his friends' remarkable wing of American musical experimentalism. An Earle Brown foundation is now going to reissue digitized new versions of the records Brown instigated and produced in his "Contemporary Sound Series" between 1961 and 1973. Eighteen albums were issued in that time, and the first three-disc box set of them is precious 20th century musical history, especially the percussion and orchestra music of Lou Harrison, Henry Cowell and John Cage, with Cage conducting and the improvised electronic music by the likes of Frederic Rzewski, Richard Teitelbaum and Cornelius Cardew. The sound is dated, but the music is still fascinating and, at times, magnificent for intrepid ears. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)



Christopher O'Riley, "Out of My Hands" (Vurse). O'Riley, the host of the popular "From the Top" radio and TV shows, has won a following for his piano adaptations of unlikely pop songs by Radiohead, Elliott Smith and other artists. On this new collection, he plays songs by Smith and Radiohead, as well as Pink Floyd ("Us and Them"), Tears for Fears ("Woman in Chains"), R.E.M. ("World Leader Pretend"), Tori Amos ("Mother") and the Smiths ("Asleep"). To me it grows ponderous. The dynamics are similar from song to song, the style sounds New Age, and I get bored. People more familiar with the songs, though, will probably find O'Riley's realizations fascinating, and I admire him for making the point that music is music. Review: Three stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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