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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

Bluegrass

The Grascals, "The Famous Lefty Flynn's" (Rounder). "Satan knew my grandma well/Jesus knew my grandma best." So what you get from these bluegrass road warriors isn't restricted to the born-again devotional but enough worldly temptation to make this disc a beauty. Are you ready for the bluegrass version of the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville?" (You are, believe me.) Well, OK then, how about Hank Williams Jr. -- Bocephus, the self-styled rowdiest friend in Nashville -- along for the ride on "I'm Blue, I'm Lonesome," which was co-written by Hank Sr. and bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe? The picking definitely outweighs the singing here. You'll have to admit that none of the voices in the Grascals is all that memorable, but instrumentally they kick it and burn. "Son of a Sawmill Man" and "My Baby's Waitin' on the Other Side" boil and bubble, and if you weren't impressed by banjo player Kristin Scott Benson before hearing this, you will be after. 3 stars (out of 4) (Jeff Simon)

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Jazz

Orlando LeFleming, "From Brooklyn with Love: Live at Freddy's" (1 9/8 ). Something unique here on this first disc by the 33-year-old British bass player. If you look him up on the Web, you get a sudden storm of entries about Orlando LeFleming, the British cricketeer. And that's what he was until he decided to take up the bass and make a name for himself as a jazz musician in his native Britain. He crossed the pond and immediately spent three years in the band of Jane Monheit. He has since played with a good part of the aristocracy of New York jazz, especially those jazz musicians who now live in the stellar jazz enclaves of Brooklyn (which some claim is THE jazz borough now in ways Manhattan once was.) This is a quicksilver quartet with lithe rhythms from LeFleming and drummer Antonio Sanchez (LeFleming plays in Sanchez's band) and the liquid guitar of Lage Lund giving alto saxophonist Will Vinson nothing but sweetness and grace. 3 stars (J.S.)

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Classical

Friedrich Gulda, Piano Recital 1959: Bach, Haydn and Beethoven (Hanssler Classics/Naxos). In his lifetime (he died in 2000 at the age of 69), it seldom occurred to anyone that Friedrich Gulda was one of the greatest living pianists. To have a pianist so devoted to both jazz and Beethoven sonatas was nothing if not confusing to people. Since his death, Gulda's majesty is a notion that seems to be gaining momentum with every passing month. No small part of it is his crucial mentorship of Martha Argerich, one of the most lavishly praised of contemporary pianists. But listen to this recital from 1959 and you will understand why the Gulda cult in the 21st century is rapidly growing into an army. His Bach is richly human without an ounce of sentimentality, his Haydn has an almost impossibly balanced spontaneity and discipline and his Beethoven sonatas have the extraordinary, exemplary majesty you have every right to expect from a pianist who, almost above all other things, thought of himself as a "Beethoven Pianist." This is pianistic precision, lucidity, passion and intellectual purity on the highest level. It's a mystery how that seemed to escape people so often while he was alive. 4 stars (J.S.)

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Richard Galliano, Bach (Deutsche Grammophon). We brake for Bach on accordion! Whether you like this Bach greatest-hits disc or not will depend on your relationship with the music. There are going to be people who are sweating just reading about it. If you feel like that, steer clear. Hearing it is not going to convert you. People up for this sort of thing, though, will admire Galliano's laid-back mastery of his controversial instrument. It is not as radical as, say, "Switched-On Bach." Aside from introducing the accordion into the music, Galliano leaves the rest of it pretty much alone. The wistful Air from the Orchestral Suite No. 3, for instance, simply has him soloing with what sounds like a normal chamber orchestra, like accordion karaoke. And in numbers for solo flute or cello, he plays alone. It's kind of weird, but as long as he decided to do it, he did it well. 2 1/2 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

*

Schubert, Die Schoene Muellerin, James Gilchrist, tenor, Anna Tilbrook, piano (Orchid Classics). I like the different approaches various singers bring to Schubert's song cycle "Die Schoene Muellerin," just as Shakespeare fans like seeing how various actors play Romeo. Gilchrist, a British physician turned full-time singer, emphasizes the doomed hero's youth. I disagreed with almost all his tempos -- I felt the cycle started too fast, ended too slow, and in between also seemed alternately to rush and drag. But his interpretation is valid, and this music is so individual that for someone out there, it might be perfect. Once, listening to a recording of Leonard Bernstein flying through a Mozart symphony, I thought, it's good someone did this, just so we can hear how it would sound. It does not hurt to experiment, and this music can certainly take it. 3 stars (M.K.G.)

*

Rachmaninoff, Symphony No. 2 in E-Minor and Rossini, Overture to Semirande performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic and JoAnn Falletta (Beau Fleuve). Among the bigger shocks of Buffalo community music life is the emergence, under JoAnn Falletta, of the Buffalo Philharmonic as a gorgeous "Big Music" orchestra, fully capable of bathing listeners in glorious symphonic sound the way they'd expect to be in Berlin or New York. Considering that simply in terms of smaller numbers, the BPO is a far more rough-and-ready bunch than the grand exalted forces in Berlin and New York, which makes the orchestra's gloriously full sonic presence these days all the more cause for celebration. Here is a disc, by the BPO's own label, of the music played during the orchestra's Florida tour -- Rossini's negligible "Overture to 'Semirande" but a warm and glowing and even spectacular performance of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, a piece for which orchestras with thinner sound and smaller spirits need not apply. Superb. 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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>Pop

Christina Aguilera "Bionic" (RCA). It's awkward when tried-and-true artists look for new collaborators or tweak their sound. Is the switch organic or motivated by pop's prevailing winds? Christina Aguilera -- she of the huge, soulful, theatrical voice -- always had au courant producers and songwriters on her side. She also is a talented enough conceptualist to embrace change. For "Bionic," Aguilera reached into nu electronica and eclectic hop (Santigold and M.I.A. each co-wrote tunes) for a unique production that doesn't sound foreign within her body of work. Keeping an ace in the hole, Aguilera places a hearty Linda Perry ballad, "Lift Me Up," at "Bionic's" center. The spunky Le Tigre-produced "My Girls," featuring the ever-naughty Peaches, doesn't sound odd -- Aguilera is famous for playing dirrrrty. Rather, the differences in "Bionic" come from her willingness to use her voice in a less robust manner than we're used to hearing from the full-throated howler. Her cooler-head approach to club technology sounds more integrated than it has in the past -- on the snapped crackle of "Glam," the angular hip-hop of "Woohoo" (with MC Nicki Minaj), and the anthemic shiver of "Not Myself Tonight." Don't think of "Bionic" as a future shock -- it's more of a joy buzzer. 3 1/2 stars (A.D. Amoros, Philadelphia Inquirer)

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