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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>Roots Rock

Robert Randolph and the Family Band, "We Walk This Road" (Warner Bros.) Anyone who has ever experienced Randolph and the Family Band live - or seen them in concert on television - knows that there is probably no venue they can't blow the doors off of. What Randolph does on pedal steel guitar is continue a "sacred steel" tradition no one quite knew much about before him, and he makes sure you know how amazing it is 10 times over before closing time. There are no doors at Thursday at the Square concerts, but it's a near certainty that all metaphorical doors will be blown off nevertheless when the band performs there in late July. For its new disc, it is not only "celebrating African-American music of the past 100 years," the band has teamed up in a match made in heaven with producer T-Bone Burnett. This, then, is nothing if not a multiracial Obama Years celebration of African American music. The great Leon Russell guests on the final "Salvation" and Ben Harper - a one-man post-racial world all by himself - plays slide guitar on a great version of Blind Willie Johnson's "If I Had My Way (I'd Tear This Building Down)" that marries the classic American song with a New Orleans second-line shuffle rhythm that they play as if it could make the blind see and the lame dance. Their version of "Them Bones" - called "Dry Bones" - isn't exactly like any other you've heard, either. Interspersed through all this are archival recordings by the likes of Johnson and Mitchell's Christian Singers. When Randolph and the band are good, they're terrific, as always. And when they're middling, they're never mediocre. 3 1/2 stars (out of 4) (Jeff Simon)



Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo soprano, and Les Arts Florissants, William Christie, conductor "Ombre de Mon Amant" French Baroque Arias (Deutsche Grammophon Archiv). In The New Yorker in April, music critic Alex Ross painted an affectionate portrait of Christie, the famous ancient-music expert and former Buffalonian. "Christie, who has lived in France since 1971, speaks with an airy, hard-to-place transatlantic accent, betraying little trace of his native Buffalo," Ross wrote. He also wrote what Christie said at a master class: "Listen to the vowel color, whether it is open or closed, lots of consonants, fewer consonants, chewy consonants, and so on." Christie must have passed this philosophy on to von Otter, because he is able to coax unusual inflections out of her that I have never heard before: slow trills, rounded laments, graceful flutters. Christie, behind her all the way, leads his famous period orchestra with unhurried love. You may not know exactly what he is doing, but you admire it all the same, the way you would admire a fine cloth. The arias are by Charpentier, Lambert and Rameau. 4 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)



Rite: Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and Revueltas' "La Noche de los mayas" performed by the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela conducted by Gustavo Dudamel (Deutsche Grammophon). It should surprise no one that Dudamel's youth orchestra - a phenomenon for reasons not always musical - excels in the lesser-known masterwork of Mexican radical composer Silvestre Revueltas but performs an altogether proper version of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," even more punctilious sometimes than some of the later versions of Stravinsky himself (who was, in his post-neo-classic older years, not always a great conductor of his own earlier scores). Compared with the great versions of "The Rite of Spring" by Thomas, Bernstein, Gergiev, etc., it's almost pale. Much better, by far, is Revueltas' "Night of the Maya," a score whose wildness is causing it, along with Revueltas' "Sensemaya," to have a concert hall and disc life far greater than the once more-prominent symphonies of Revueltas' contemporary Carlos Chavez. 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)


The Marian Petrescu Quartet with Andreas Oberg, Live at the Jazz Standard (Resonance). When Oscar Peterson died, it wasn't uncommon for people to start thinking about who might be the reigning thousand-fingered, hard-swinging virtuoso among jazz pianists. The usual suspects were there - Monty Alexander and Benny Green. But with the career ascendance of 40-year-old Romanian-born pianist Marian Petrescu, it was no longer a question. Petrescu plays two Oscar Peterson tunes on his disc - "Cakewalk" and "Blues Etude" - and by the time he gets through with his rip-roaring version of Ferde Grofe's "On the Trail" from the "Grand Canyon Suite," you're in pure Peterson country, stomped-out gospel phrases, tempo shifts, double time, impossible pyrotechnic runs and all. Almost equally impressive in this live disc is the first-rate band - guitarist Andreas Oberg, bassist David Finck and drummer Mark McLean. 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)


Marilyn Crispell and David Rothenberg, "One Dark Night I Left My Silent House" (ECM). The title is from a Peter Handke novel. The disc is a duo record by pianist Marilyn Crispell and David Rothenberg on clarinet and bass clarinet. Crispell first began to be noticed with a kind of post-Cecil Taylor/Paul Bley splatter piano, but on this disc, it's almost the logical development of her more contemplative music for her to be playing, almost as a percussion instrument, what Rothenberg describes as "an old beat-up soundboard wrenched from an old baby grand." The bind that such pure improvisation gets into is that utter aimlessness and haunting sound are in fairly constant battle. On this disc, the aimless wins rather too much. 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)


>Adult Contemporary

Kenny G, "Heart and Soul" (Concord Records). It's strange to see pixieish Kenny G getting older the way it has been strange to see the Beatles get older. Now in his 55th year, he still has that long, crinkly hair, but he looks gaunter, more gurulike. The sound, however, is exactly the same. "Heart and Soul" (no relation to the simple song you hear plunked out on pianos) has him soaring over that old-time adult contemporary beat. Robin Thicke provides brooding vocals to "Fall Again." "No Place Like Home" features Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds. You could do better than lyrics like "I still remember our first French kiss." Too much information, you know? But Edmonds' silky, light voice reminded me of the '80s. Actually, the whole disc reminds me of the '80s. "Letters from Home" is smooth, vintage Kenny G, and so is "The Promise," with its clip-clop beat. And "My Devotion" - for my money the best track - has that exhilarating Kenny G feel, soaring like a kite, with piano and banks of strings. Laugh if you must, I found myself leaning back, going, "Aaaahhhh." Who knew we were ready to be nostalgic for this stuff? 3 stars (M.K.G.)



Pinetop Perkins and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, "Joined at the Hip" (Telarc). Once upon a time, Perkins and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith came to be friends playing in Muddy Waters' band. Perkins had long since become a pianist after a knife injury in 1942 converted him from also being a part-time guitarist. Smith was the band's drummer back then. On this disc, a few decades later, the 97-year-old Perkins is still playing piano, but Smith sings and plays harmonica. And together they still cook (it doesn't hurt that the drummer is Smith's son Kenny, who isn't about to lower the temperature out of consideration for the old boys). 3 stars (J.S.)



John Adams, Selections used in the soundtrack for Luca Guadagnino's "I Am Love" (Nonesuch). The sensual and erotically charged film, starring Tilda Swinton as an unfaithful wife who graduates from well-prepared shrimp to carnal obsession, is currently scheduled to open here July 16. It had a fascinating game plan for its musical soundtrack - selections from the variety of previously released works by the not-so-minimalist American composer John Adams. So what you're hearing here is almost a kind of John Adams' Greatest Hits from "Shaker Loops," "Century Rolls," "Harmonielehre," his opera "The Death of Klinghoffer" and his "foxtrot for orchestra," "The Chairman Dances." Performers are nothing if not an exalted group, including pianist Emanuel Ax and the San Francisco Symphony under Edo de Waart. 3 stars (J.S.)