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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


Isaac Stern, Keeping the Doors Open: Violin Concerto by Mendelssohn performed by Stern and the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and one movement from the piano trio by Tchaikovsky performed by Stern, pianist Vladmir Horowitz and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. (Sony/Carnegie Hall). Incredible as it now seems, Carnegie Hall was once slated for demolition. In one of the major testaments to the power and passion of certain musicians, that was before Isaac Stern got to work and practically put his entire talent and address book behind saving it. Here is a commemoration of Stern's successful efforts 50 years ago to save Carnegie Hall in conjunction with what would have been Stern's 90th birthday last July (he died in 2001). Included are Stern's classic Israeli performance of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto from 1967 and the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Trio performed at Carnegie Hall by the impossibly Olympian trio of Stern, Vladimir Horowitz and Mstislav Rostropovich. Think of it as a commemoration of the Age of The Classical Virtuoso As Hero, now irrevocably past. 4 stars (out of 4) (Jeff Simon)


Debussy, Preludes (selections from both books) performed by pianist Jorge Bolet (Newton Classics). When the Cuban-born pianist Jorge Bolet died in 1990 he was universally revered as one of the greatest interpreters of Liszt that there was ever likely to be. These Debussy performances are from 1989, the very end of Bolet's life, when the 75-year-old pianist so identified with Liszt and Chopin investigated the next style of piano virtuosity in classical music -- altogether dependent on the Romanticism of Liszt and Chopin that came before it but altogether different. Nor, for that matter, was Bolet all that partial here to the storms and displays of Liszt but rather the radical gentilities and even gossamer webs of Debussy. Yes, of course, he plays "Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest" from Book I (what Lisztian could resist such storm-making?) but he seems far more attracted to what we now think of as Debussy's "Impressionism." In his final years of performing, Bolet liked programs that were part Chopin and part Debussy and you'll understand why when you hear this disc. 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)



Jim Byrnes, "Everywhere West" (Black Hen). In the liner notes to his latest album, Jim Byrnes writes about how he soaked up the blues while growing up in St. Louis -- seeing the likes of Jimmy Reed and Howling Wolf, later playing with Furry Lewis and Henry Townshend. The music obviously inhabited him deeply -- and vice versa. While Byrnes went on to become an actor of note, perhaps best known for his role as "Lifeguard" on the great '80s TV series "Wiseguy," the raspy-voiced singer and guitarist also became a superb roots musician. Working again with producer and multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson, Byrnes once more crafts an absorbing and highly entertaining personal vision out of top flight original songs and covers that meld blues, country, gospel and jazz. Sometimes he and Dawson come up with inspired rearrangements -- Robert Johnson's "From Four Till Late," for instance, gets a jaunty, Dixieland-ish makeover with banjo, slide guitar and horns -- and sometimes they stick close to the originals, as on Reed's "Take Out Some Insurance on Me." Overall, the results are comfortably familiar yet thrillingly fresh. Quite a trick. 3 1/2 stars (Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer)



Buddy Guy, "Living Proof" (Silvertone,) He's still got a few tricks up his sleeve, Buddy Guy boasts on "74 Years Young," the lead track on his new album. The blues titan then goes on, not to showboat -- as he has been known to do -- but to show he can still deliver the goods. "Living Proof" is a set of hard-hitting, no-frills blues built on a collection of songs that, save for the occasional tired metaphor ("Key Don't Fit"), are more than sturdy. Guy, producer Tom Hambridge and Gary Nicholson had a hand in writing most of them, from the autobiographical "Thank Me Someday" to the attitude-heavy kiss-off "Let the Door Knob Hit Ya." Guy, of course, fires off some blazing guitar solos, but two of the most affecting songs are soulful, gospel-tinged ballads that find him contemplating mortality -- "Everybody's Got to Go" and "Stay Around a Little Longer." The latter is a duet with B.B. King in which both declare, "I feel like I've got a lot more to give." This album is living proof, if you will, that Buddy Guy certainly does. 3 1/2 stars (N.C., Philadelphia Inquirer)


>Western Swing

The Saddle Cats, "Herdin' Cats" (East Light, available at the group's website There may be no stranger or more delightful odyssey for a Buffalo-raised musician than that of Richard Chon. A former intern at this newspaper and longtime contributing classical music critic of notably stringent and noble standards, he went to Bakersfield as a journalist and somehow, miraculously made a wild and crazy left turn into becoming one of the more rollicking fiddle aristocrats of Western Swing on the West Coast. He'd performed, too, in Buffalo, but by now the Chon dossier includes long tours with Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. And he now seems to be as happy (supply your own barnyard simile) to be the fiddler in a "Western Swing Pocket Orchestra" called the Saddle Cats with pedal steel guitarist Bobby Black, rhythm guitarist Gordon Clegg and slap bassist Bing Nathan. What that means isn't merely contributing suave and witty fiddling to this country and western quartet but singing such refrains as "Roly Poly/Eatin' Corn and Taters" and "Along the Navajo Trail." His mates in the Saddle Cats have serious pedigree -- Black with Commander Cody's Lost Planet Airmen and Asleep at the Wheel along with Barbara Mandrell. Occasional guest is drummer Johnny Cuviello, who played with the fount of Western Swing, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. It's great fun, but as a tribute to the endless entertainment of human destiny, it's even more than that. 3 stars (J.S.)



Jane Ira Bloom, "Wingwalker" (Outline, to be released Jan. 15). You can't help thinking of the quartet on Jane Ira Bloom's 14th disc as a leader, not just as a jazz group but as family in something of the same way as the Modern Jazz Quartet was or Brubeck's longtime quartet. Her drummer is that titan nurtured here before ascending a world stage, Bobby Previte. Her bassist is Mark Helias and her pianist is Dawn Clement. Previte and Helias, especially, are veterans of such long-standing in Bloom-world that they are, to many of us, almost extensions of her singular sound on soprano saxophone. It is gorgeously lyric and serenely regal, eschewing the commonplace polarities of the soprano saxophone in jazz -- the rhetorically orotund sound of Steve Lacy and the furioso beseechment of John Coltrane. Bloom has her own sound entirely and she's not afraid to add electronics, whether for sweetener or underlining or the kind of fanciful flight so close to her heart. (Aviation has been a constant metaphor for her music for years. There aren't a lot of jazz composers/soprano players, after all, who get commissions from NASA.) Some of the tunes have typically witty Bloom titles -- "Life on Cloud 8," "Freud's Convertible," "Airspace." And the concluding solo soprano version of "I Could Have Danced All Night" is expressive of a very personal kind of dance indeed in Bloom's music -- slow, full of empty melodic spaces and long-held notes and a lovely coda. It's the musical equivalent of walking in outer space -- a lonely triumph of humanity within great vastness. Not surprisingly, a beautiful disc in every way. 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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