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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Pop

Various Artists, "The Best is Yet To Come -- The Songs of Cy Coleman" (New West). Well, no it's not. Once you get past country/folk singer Patty Griffin's version of the title song, this disc goes downhill at accelerating speed. Sure, Madeline Peyroux is on it jauntily insinuating her way through "I Live My Love." And Fiona Apple, on her first disc in five years, sings two songs and Missy Higgins sings one (as do Sam Philips, Julianna Raye and others). But the attempt to place Coleman among such titans of the Great American Songbook as Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and the Gershwins isn't really served at all by this "provocative, cutting edge" treatment of his songs. The cliched "cutting edge" notion here of singing Coleman seems to be slowing things down to an inchworm crawl and adding as much girlish tremulousness as possible. Add to that some songs that aren't so hot -- but no version of Coleman's "Witchcraft" and "Hey Big Spender" -- and you've got a very errant and peculiar disc. Some good moments, yes, but it doesn't do what it wants to or even come close. Review: 2 1/2 stars (out of four) (Jeff Simon)

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Rufus Wainwright, "Milwaukee At Last!" (Decca). A live document of Rufus Wainwright's 2007 "Release the Stars" tour, "Milwaukee At Last!" finds the wunderkind in his element -- on stage before adoring throngs, where he can let his considerable "camp" tendencies run amok and do battle with his prodigious songwriting and singing talents. This live document manages to maintain the balance between the nigh-on-overwrought and the just plain beautiful. Wainwright completists, line up. The 10-song album also has a full-concert DVD counterpart. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Jeff Miers)

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>Jazz

Mike Mainieri-Marnix Busstra Quartet, "12 Pieces" (NYC). John Beasley, "Positootly"(Resonance). Never assume the worst about jazz musicians. Just because you haven't heard from them on disc frequently -- no matter how much you might want to -- doesn't mean dire things. Here we have new 21st century discs featuring fine playing by musicians who developed cult followings decades ago -- vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and, prominently featured on pianist/composer John Beasley's new neo-hard bop disc (along with drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, bassist James Genius and trumpet player Brian Lynch), the great and often elusive saxophonist Bennie Maupin. To say that Marnix Busstra is a superb guitar player from the Netherlands is only a tiny fraction of the story. He's a restless sort given to playing any fretboard he can get his fingers on -- bouzouki and electric sitar as well as guitar on this disc. Mainieri couldn't sound happier to be in his company, both as player and composer. Maupin, typically, merely guests on Beasley's "Positootly" but he sounds wonderful, and how can you resist a current jazz pianist/composer like Beasley, who says his first jazz hero was the great soul jazz composer Bobby Timmons ("This Here," "Dat Dere")? Ratings: 3 1/2 stars for both (J.S.)

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>Classical

Angela Hewitt Plays Handel & Haydn (Hyperion). Debate swirls around Angela Hewitt, particularly in England. It seems people love her or hate her. This exploration of robust piano pieces by Handel and Haydn has what you could call a modern, romantic edge. Playing (of course) on a modern concert grand, Hewitt allows herself more freedom than most pianists take when playing music of this relatively early era. She gives it some schmaltz now and then that is particularly noticeable in the Haydn Sonata in E flat (Hob. XVI: 52). Personally I enjoy her limber, joyous approach. The Handel Chaconne in G, HWV 435, rings out and reminds you where Beethoven got some of his ideas. And the famous Haydn F Minor Variations have a haunting, glassy beauty. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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Bach, Partitas 1,5 and 6 performed by pianist Murray Perahia (Sony Classical). Bach's Six Partitas composed between 1725 and 1730 by the great master in his 40s were the first pieces Bach published. With this disc, the 62-year old pianist Murray Perahia completes the set. What you have to understand about Perahia, the great Mozartian and heir to Rudolf Serkin, is that for some years he had medical difficulties and surgeries that completely prevented him from performing in public. And, further, that during that period he studied and performed Bach for himself. So what you're hearing in this elegant, impeccable but expressive performance is extremely personal music for Perahia. And that, it seems to me, is the way Bach always should be for every performer, whether it's Glenn Gould's frequently reckless abandon or Perahia's unflappable civility. (The days of "sewing machine Bach" are, thank God, long gone.) Great music performed by one of the greatest living pianists. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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Bach, Selections performed by Anne Sofie Von Otter (Deutsche Grammophon Archiv Produktion). Swedish mezzo soprano Anne Sofie von Otter's silky voice is shown off beautifully in this impeccably researched recording of reverent Bach arias with the Concerto Copenhagen, with Lars Ulrik Mortensen as conductor and organist. The collection is on the somber side, with the "Agnus Dei" from the Mass in B Minor and mostly cheerless arias from a variety of cantatas. I could also have done with more excitement. But for those who like their Bach dark and pure, this is a fine collection from a very fine singer and a well-tuned period ensemble. Review: 3 stars (M.K.G.)

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>Rock

Various Artists, "Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy" (Shout! Factory). Mark Mulcahy, formerly of early alt-rock cult favorites the Miracle Legion and, later, Polaris, is widely revered as a songwriter by countless colleagues. When his wife Melissa Rich Mulcahy died unexpectedly in 2008, Mulcahy was left with twin daughters to raise and not much in the way of money. Happily, indie songwriters look out for their own. In "Ciao My Shining Star," 21 of them offer interpretations of Mulcahy's songs for a collection that will benefit the Mulcahy family, while simultaneously celebrating the late Melissa's life and the enduring poignancy of Mulcahy's songs. "Ciao" unfolds quite powerfully as an album of lovely, understated melodies. Beginning with Radiohead's Thom Yorke giving his all to the heart-rending "All For the Best," the collection also features strong contributions from R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, the National, Dinosaur Jr., Frank Black, Hayden and Mercury Rev. A labor of love that hits hard. Review: 4 stars (J.M.)

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