Marcus Miller, "A Night in Monte-Carlo" with L'Orchestre Philharmonique de Montecarlo with guest appearances by Roy Hargrove and Raul Midon (Concord). When, you might well ask, did jazz musicians become ordinary visitors to the Riviera? Yes, John McLaughlin lives in Monaco, but is anyone ready for a live affair with the Monte Carlo symphony orchestra featuring, uhhhh, Marcus Miller as soloist? Well, OK, Miller was Miles Davis' major late-life facilitator (some would say musical co-dependent), but this seemingly ungainly mishmash turns out to be a lot more fun and organic than it sounds. Miller's funk basslines often mix with the symphony orchestra in a way that sounds like the soundtrack to a pretty good '70s movie (listen, especially, to Alex Han's alto saxophone solo on Miller's merrily exhibitionistic version of Davis' "So What?"). And there's no question that when you're giving a concert in Monte Carlo, you're not going to have too much trouble getting guest stars. Top-billed here are Roy Hargrove and Raul Midon, but you've got Miller's old pal DJ Logic on turntables and, before the disc is over, Herbie Hancock, no less, playing the piano on the rather haunting final version of the Billie Holiday classic "Strange Fruit" as an aria for Miller's bass clarinet, rather than a stark vocal. "I loved that the audience was full of so many people who had never experienced anything like this," writes Miller of that 2008 concert. "Some were jazz lovers who'd never been to a symphony, or vice versa, or young people seeing their first jazz concert." Its very lack of pretension is its triumph. 2 1/2 stars (out of 4) (Jeff Simon)
John Salmon, "Salmon Is a Jumpin' " (Albany). John Salmon, a pianist on the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Music, gives prestigious recitals for the Myra Hess Series and the Van Cliburn Foundation. But he has unusual roots. His love of music, he says in the notes to this CD, goes back to when he was 11 and was given Schumann's Toccata and an album of Dave Brubeck music. He last surfaced with a piano CD he played in tandem with Brubeck. Here, he is on his own -- even overdubbed, in most cases, so he is playing piano against himself. It's clear, extroverted, enjoyable piano, with a driving bass and primary colors. Classical influences show in the technique and counterpoint, and you hear the influence of bright jazz pianists like Vince Guaraldi and Earl Hines. I like these piano shenanigans. And I like how he makes them sound easy. 4 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)
Claude Frank, "85th Birthday Celebration" (Dorian, two discs). There is a quality of quiet wisdom in these performances, recorded in 2008 and 2009. Frank was always an introspective player and now, in his 80s, I think he is even more so. If there is a fault in these gossamer recordings it is that the beauty and delicacy of Frank's playing are too predictable. You know how he is going to play something -- you can hear it in your head. He does not exactly take chances. The late Beethoven sonatas -- Op. 109, 110 and 111 -- are ethereal, but I found myself wishing they had more of the oomph he musters for the last movement of the great Schubert B flat Sonata, D. 960. On the other hand, this is personal taste, plus there is a lot to be said for straightforward beauty and intuition, both of which Frank has in abundance. It is disarming, too, how Frank hits a clunker right at the high point of Schumann's "Traumerei" and just plays on. Happy birthday, Maestro. Many more! 4 stars (M.K.G.)
Jack Gallagher, Diversions Overture, Berceuse, Sinfonietta, Symphony in One Movement: Threnody performed by London Symphony Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta (Naxos). Jack Gallagher (b. 1947) may sound more like a Packers' linebacker than a serious composer. But it turns out that this professor at Ohio's College of Wooster is one of JoAnn Falletta's best discoveries in her continual search for underrated American composers. His music is fresh, imaginative, colorful and deftly orchestrated, as immediately demonstrated by his 1986 "Diversions Overture." It is an absorbing journey from outdoorsy quietude to brash, joyful exuberance and back again. Gallagher's music spontaneously exudes engaging lyricism and exciting rhythmic patterns, without any hint of being forced or calculated, whether in the gently beguiling 1976 "Berceuse" or the striking 1991 "Symphony in One Movement: Threnody," whose profound emotional range is a response to his mother's death during its composition. Performances seem exemplary, and this CD can be unreservedly recommended. 3 1/2 stars (Herman Trotter)
Earl Wild, The Piano Music of Earl Wild performed by Xiayin Wang (Chandos). The supervirtuoso Earl Wild, who died earlier this year at 94, is missed. He was so brilliant and so much fun, and there was no one like him. Wild's uniqueness emerges in these flowery fantasies on Gershwin, as well as a jazzy sonata he wrote at 85, with a Toccata inspired by Ricky Martin. (Hey, I just said Wild was unique.)
The sonata is the music on this disc most likely to endure. That Toccata is a riot, and I hope Martin is impressed. The Gershwin pieces have a similar feel and start sounding a bit alike. Still that does not take away from the sheer pleasure of this good-natured, overblown, unselfconscious and extremely challenging music.
Wang, who has quite the chops, plays it with clarity and Romantic sensibilities, as if it were Liszt. There is a jazz feel sometimes, but it comes from Wild -- it's built into the music.
Wild told The News on one of his visits to Buffalo that he hated to be seen as "a link" to anything, so I will not say that this is a link to an earlier day when pianists composed as well as played. After all, those days could be returning, as more younger pianists are inspired by the older greats. By the way, the CD is worth it just for the hippie-dippy photo in the liner notes of Wild in the wild. 4 stars (M.K.G.)
Eric Brace and Peter Cooper "Master Sessions" (Red Beet) Peter Cooper "The Lloyd Green Album" (Red Beet). Eric Brace and Peter Cooper, two of the leading denizens of the fertile East Nashville music scene, teamed up last year for the exquisite "You Don't Have to Like Them Both," bringing to mind great duos from the Delmores to the Everlys to the O'Kanes. The harmonizing folk-country singer-guitarists -- Brace also leads the band Last Train Home -- work here again with pedal-steel master Lloyd Green, but also with another virtuoso, Mike Auldridge on Dobro. The instrumentalists' interplay adds a new layer of grace and expressiveness to another strong collection of Brace and Cooper originals, spiced with numbers from Herb Pedersen, Tom T. Hall, John Hartford and fellow East Nashvillian Jon Byrd. Cooper also worked with Green on his 2008 album "Mission Door," and for this follow-up the steel player gets his name in the title of the album. That's fitting, considering what a big role Green plays in coloring the material here. It's a wide emotional range, from the shambling, folk-bluesy philosophizing of Cooper's "The Last Laugh" (co-written with Todd Snider) to portraits poignant ("Elmer the Dancer") and humorous ("What Dub Does"), and an aching version of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell's "Tulsa Queen." 3 1/2 stars for both. (Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Black Swan, original score by Clint Mansell (Sony Classical); The King's Speech, original score by Alexandre Desplat (Decca), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, original score by David Arnold (Sony Classical). Call it whatever you want, I call it cheating. Alexandre Desplat is nothing if not an experienced writer of film music. They don't come any busier, in fact. But at the great dramatic moment in the superb "The King's Speech" -- which opens in Buffalo Friday -- the music you hear isn't Desplat, but the slow movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. You can, then, score at least half of the impact of the scene -- which may well choke you up -- to Ludwig Van Beethoven and the other half to actor Colin Firth. Desplat's part of it is a serviceable score but not all that much on its own. What Clint Mansell had to do for "Black Swan" was both trickier and, in its way, more effective. His music had to both fit in perfectly with Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" and prepare you for the movie's deliriously over-the-top Gothic finale in which the movies get their first Texas Chainsaw ballet action. It isn't much on its own, but within the confines of the movie, it's supremely clever. David Arnold, as a film composer, is as busy and as professional as Alexandre Desplat. He has, after all, been at it since the first "Stargate" movie and "Independence Day." So he'll do anything to put you in "Narnia" -- slather you with vocalises by a female choir, put you at sea with a brass choir, scare you with a soupcon of pseudo-jungle drums. It's pleasant to listen to, if not exactly bursting with personality on its own. 2 1/2 stars for "Black Swan" and "The King's Speech"; 3 stars for Narnia. (J.S.)