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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


Steve Cropper, "Dedicated" (429). One legend paying tribute to another, with a diverse crop of guests: that's the concept behind Steve Cropper's "Dedicated." Cropper, the guitarist in Booker T. & the MGs and on many of Stax Records' greatest hits, has often cited Lowman Pauling as his main formative influence. Pauling led the 5 Royales, the influential R&B group whose early '50s songs were precursors to rock 'n' roll and soul. However, "Dedicated to the One I Love," "Think" and "Baby Don't Do It" are probably better known in later versions by the Shirelles, James Brown and the Band, respectively. The album is a nostalgia trip and history lesson. Cropper's guitar and his crack band of Memphis compatriots often take a secondary role to the singers, who include Steve Winwood, B.B. King and Queen's Brian May. Like many tributes, it's a mixed bag: Although Delbert McClinton and Buddy Miller nail the 5 Royales' humor and Lucinda Williams brings out their pathos, only Sharon Jones and Bettye LaVette, and occasionally Cropper's guitar, convey their essential wildness. Review: 2 1/2 stars (Out of 4) (Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer)



Brian Lynch and Spheres of Influence, "ConClave Vol. 2" (Criss Cross). Imagine a cross between Blakey's Jazz Messengers and the glorious rave-up aggregations of Mongo Santamaria. That's what Brian Lynch's Spheres of Influence sounds like in this sterling Afro-Cuban disc of trumpet player Lynch's originals and tantalizing takes on tunes by other trumpet players, whether Charles Tolliver's "Truth," Kenny Dorham's "Blue Friday" or Miles Davis' venerable and established jazz classic "Solar." As impressive, if conventional, a jazz trumpet player as Lynch is, the most exciting instrumental voice in Lynch's group, by far, is alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry, who has electrified several jazz discs in the past three years, notably ones led by Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Arturo O'Farrill and Claudia Acuna. He's a standout wherever he appears. We need to start hearing the young alto player from Cuba in a series of high-level discs under his own name. Review: 3 stars (Jeff Simon)


Charlie Christian, "Electric" (Uptown). In the history of American jazz, there is perhaps no other figure as influential as Charlie Christian and yet who recorded so little. So much that Christian put to record in his life was in the service of Benny Goodman and afforded him "eight or 16 bars at the most" to solo. What you get here, then, is close to priceless. The most influential figure in the history of jazz electric guitar is heard here in a 1939 quartet playing in Minneapolis' Harlem Breakfast Club in jam sessions on very basic jazz jam tunes -- "I Got Rhythm," "Stardust," "Tea for Two." With Goodman's tenor saxophonist Jerry Jerome playing convincingly like Lester Young, you can hear here the great guitarist and bebop pioneer who was so worshipped by, among so many others, Ralph Ellison. You'll know why, too. The rest of it is airchecks from the Goodman Sextet 1939-40, and it's good Charlie Christian but not transfiguring like the after-hours jam. He was only 25 when he died in 1942 of tuberculosis. Hence, the immense value of everything he was ever able to play with the freedom of some of this. Review: 4 stars (J.S.)


Rick Braun, "Sings With Strings" (Artistry Music). Known for his smooth-jazz trumpet skills, Rick Braun is also a singer. He has sung backup for Rod Stewart and Sade, and on this disc he goes solo with a string orchestra. The cover has a pastel retro look, and all the songs are old and lovely. "Time After Time" and "I Thought About You" are chestnuts, but many of these songs are more seldom heard -- "Once Upon a Summertime," for instance, or even "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." "It's Love" and "Lucky To Be Me," by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein, are fun, and you don't hear them often. "Say It (Over and Over Again)," the sensuous ballad jazz fans associate with John Coltrane's dreamy "Ballads" album, goes well with Braun's crooning -- he brings out the beauty of the intricate, angular vocal line. Braun never quite ditches that '80s adult-contemporary feel. Vibes and twinkly percussion jump out at you, as out of a 3-D movie screen. And there is the occasional bass growl. But can't we consider this nostalgia? The pretty disc ends with a wistful "The Things We Did Last Summer." Review: 3 1/2 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)



Louis Couperin, Pieces de Clavecin: The Complete Harpsichord Works performed by Richard Egarr (Harmonia Mundi, four discs). Here is harpsichordist Richard Egarr on the composers whose complete works for the instrument he plays superbly in this set -- "At only a few blessed moments in the history of Western music has a composer achieved a perfect symbiosis with his own chosen instrument: Dowland with his lute-song, Chopin and Rachmaninoff with the piano, Biber and Ysaye with the violin, and Bobby McFerrin with the voice. Louis Couperin must also be included in this list. His music is absolutely and purely for the harpsichord. Perhaps not again until Debussy do we find a keyboard composer with so complete an understanding of texture, sonority, nuance and daring harmonic experimentation." Whatever recklessness you might find in his claims (how can you not love a man who includes McFerrin in such a list?), his playing of the music of the great 17th century master enforces his case. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)


Rachel Barton Pine, "Capricho Latino" (Cedille). Pine dedicates this solo-violin disc "to the memory of Harry Edlund, unaccompanied violin music's greatest champion." Unlike solo pianists, solo violinists can use a champion. An entire disc of solo violin can be as taxing on the listener as it is for the performer. Pine makes admirable use of the instrument, though, and these 14 Latin-themed tracks, though a few strain the listener, are filled with astonishing variety. "Balada Espanola," a beautiful traditional tune arranged by Jesus Florido, has her accompanying herself in classical style. A Capriccio by Rodrigo in the style of Sarasate is fiery and entertaining, as you knew it would be. Jose Serebrier's "Aires de Tango," written for Pine, has passion and atmosphere. The last track is a charming 10-minute telling of "Ferdinand the Bull," with Hector Elizondo as narrator. This old tree-hugging tale must be in style again. I just heard a recording with David Ogdon Stiers narrating, and music by Mark Fish. Talk about a load of Bull! Sorry, I couldn't resist. Review: 3 stars (M.K.G.)


Eruptions: Orchestral Excerpts for Low Brass performed by trombonists Jessica Buzbee, Lee Rogers and Javier Colomer, bass trombonist David Bobroff and tuba player Tim Buzbee (Albany/Troy). I love this disc. I don't know of any other disc even remotely like it. What we have here are stalwarts used to providing the glorious brass underpinnings of symphonic sound in the great philharmonic orchestras -- tuba, bass trombone, three trombonists -- playing their finest moments from the symphonic repertoire, everything from the finale of Bruckner's Eighth and Sibelius Second Symphonies to Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" and the rich, sumptuous finale of Hindemith's "Mathis Der Maler" to excerpts from Verdi, Respighi, Prokofiev and, of course, Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" in the finale of his Third Symphony. "A recording for low brass lovers" is what tuba player Tim Buzbee calls it, along with "a fun listen for anyone who enjoys getting into the trenches of the job and sweating it out with your fellow colleagues." The beauty of a symphony orchestra's low brass is special indeed and even if it lasts barely a few measures, these musicians want to glory in it all by themselves as part of their given occupations. Altogether daft if you think about it at all, but splendidly so. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

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