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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

> Jazz

Sophie Milman, "In the Moonlight" (Entertainment One). Sophie Milman's family fled Communist Russia for Israel with its jazz record collection in tow. When she was 16, the family moved to Toronto, and she won a Juno Award for her 2007 album "Make Someone Happy." This album has a hearty, satisfying sound. Pianists Gerald Clayton and Kevin Hays anchor the combo with aplomb. The songs mix things up a little -- an array of tom-toms and percussion cushion "Speak Low," while ballads like "Prelude to a Kiss" or "Detour Ahead" or "Day Dream" (a nice choice) are straightforward and traditional. Milman has a nice, middle-of-the-road husky voice, and her languorous approach and rounded vowels that she is borrowing from Sarah Vaughan. Gregoire Maret, on harmonica (which sounds like an accordion), gives the music a cafe sound. There is the obligatory French song. There are also appearances by Randy Brecker and Chris Becker. Sam Cooke's "I'll Come Running Back To You" is a nice bluesy ending. A sweet album. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4) (Mary Kunz Goldman)

Westchester Jazz Orchestra, Maiden Voyage Suite: Inspired by Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" (WJO); Kenny Werner with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Institute of Higher Learning (Half Note). No longer do you find the great current "jazz orchestras" only in Europe. The Westchester Jazz Orchestra proves it. In theory, the transition from the old idea of jazz "big bands" to the new "jazz orchestras" is nothing but a brilliant development in jazz. Pianist Kenny Werner dedicates his disc of orchestral compositions and arrangements to "one of the unsung heroes of music, Bob Brookmeyer. He has been a mentor to me and, at very critical points in my life, a personal friend. Brookmeyer belongs in the pantheon alongside Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Stan Kenton and Thad Jones. I believe his personal vision and prodigious output are responsible for the idea of 'Big Band' evolving into what is now known as 'Jazz Orchestra.' " Undoubtedly so, but Brookmeyer's work isn't nearly as academic as Werner's, at this stage of his orchestral writing. The ensemble playing of the Belgian jazz orchestra is terrific, but Werner's writing is in sectional choirs a la Basie, rather than individuated a la Ellington and Evans and Brookmeyer. Nor are the Belgian soloists all that much. Much better in every way is the Manchester Jazz Orchestra, which notater/DJ Gary Walker describes on the disc as having "hundreds of years experience aboard the good ship Gillespie, S.S. Lionel Hampton and voyages with Captains Buddy Rich, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis and Woody Herman." The idea was a free-form new version of Herbie Hancock's classic record "Maiden Voyage" and the results are profoundly creative at times and full of soloists on the order of Marvin Stamm, Ted Rosenthal and Jason Rigy. I still think the best version ever of Hancock's tune "Maiden Voyage" was by a Bobby Hutcherson Quartet featuring Hancock on piano (on the Blue Note disc "Happenings.") Review: 3 stars WJO; Review: 2 1/2 stars for Werner and Brussels Orchestra (Jeff Simon)

Larry Vuckovich with special guest Scott Hamilton, "Somethin' Special" (Tetrachord). The tunes are a bunch of True Blue classics -- Sonny Clark's title tune, Horace Silver's "Enchantment," Ben Tucker's "Comin' Home Baby," Tadd Dameron's "Soultrane," Monk's "Pannonica" and -- why not? -- "Stardust" too for good measure. The group is an ultra-veteran two tenor conclave with Scott Hamilton and Noel Jewkes that epitomizes mainstream bebop nicely in the 21st century. They aren't quite Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt or Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray, but they're fine tenor players as solid as they come. There's nothing here to either win prizes or scare the kids or pet parakeet but it's all happily AARP (rather than miserably antique and worried about Social Security). Review: 3 stars (J.S.)

Miguel Zenon, "Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook" (Marsalis Music). Miguel Zenon is one of the weirdly full contingent of brilliant and ferocious alto saxophonists under 50 who are now so prominent in jazz (and Kenny Garrett will only be 51 in October) -- Rudresh Mahanthappa, Jon Irabagon. Zenon is 35 and the title of this disc shouldn't mislead anyone into thinking there's anything the slightest bit conventionally "Afro-Cuban" etc. about this disc. If you're expecting anything remotely in the neighborhood of Tito Puente or Poncho Sanchez or Mongo Santamaria, try a blindfold test of "Incomprendido" for the hippest jazz listener you'll know and they'll have no idea who in heaven's name this alto saxophonist and Gil Evansish orchestra are (expect some Maria Schneider guesses). That's because the arrangements by the great Guillermo Klein are as lavishly colored as Zenon's playing. A beautiful disc in every way. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

Sir Roland Hanna, "Colors from a Giant's Kit" (Ipo). Hanna was one of the great bebop pianists around for about 20 years -- teacher, brilliant player with Mingus, Coleman Hawkins, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Benny Carter, etc. Hanna died in 2002 at the age of 70, but this solo piano disc is appearing for the first time and it's wonderful. Neither the piano sound or the engineering is quite up to the standard of Hanna's playing but he is such a poetic and inspiring pianist here that he's closer to Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett than even those musicians closest to him in the rank of bebop poets (Kenny Barron, Barry Harris, Jimmy Rowles). You'll fully understand here why he was, in his time, one of the great "pianists' pianists." Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

> R&B

Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne, "An Old Rock on a Roll" (Stony Plain). Besides his own many records, guitarist Duke Robillard has produced stellar sessions by a number of venerable R&B and jazz men, from Jimmy Witherspoon and Jay McShann to Rosco Gordon and Herb Ellis. Here he helps turn the spotlight on a lesser known but similarly talented artist. Piano-playing Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne is in his late 60s, but he really does sound like "an old rock on a roll." Backed by Robillard and several of the guitarist's usual cohorts, Wayne delivers an album of fleet-fingered boogie and tough R&B. There's a vintage vibe to it all -- "Heaven, Send Me an Angel" and "Wild Turkey 101 Proof" recall Ray Charles' classic Atlantic sides, while "Run Little Joe" and "Bring Back the Love" inject a dose of New Orleans. Wayne, however, wrote all 12 songs, bringing his own irrepressible personality to bear and making sure an old style sounds as fresh as ever. Review: 3 stars (Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer)

> Classical

Music from Marlboro, Busoni/Reger, Peter Serkin and Richard Goode, piano, Mischa Schneider, cello (Sony Classical). This is a disc of two curiosities, Busoni's "Fantasia Contrappuntistica for Two Pianos," and Max Reger's Sonata For Cello and Piano. Buffalonians will like it because the cellist is Mischa Schneider, the cellist of the Budapest Quartet, who lived in Buffalo and died here (at 81, in 1985). Not only that, but both pianists on the disc -- Peter Serkin and Richard Goode -- have been featured on the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series. Goode is coming back this year. These performances, from the mid-1960s, hold up beautifully, especially considering that Goode and Serkin were kids. Serkin -- whose father, Rudolf Serkin, championed the music of Reger -- sounds at home with Reger, who for many is an acquired taste. This is a spirited piece, with lots of loveliness. Schneider plays with fire and romance -- and wit, too, an element that is lacking, probably necessarily, in the Busoni. The Presto movement -- a sort of scherzo -- hops and sparkles. The striking thing about the Busoni is how contemporary it sounds. What a brain Busoni had -- he was in tour in 1922 when a friend suggested he complete the final, unfinished fugue in Bach's "The Art of the Fugue." He said yes, and worked on it as his tour wound through Boston, Cincinnati, Louisville, New Orleans, Atlanta and Dayton, Goode, then 20, and Serkin -- who was 16 -- navigate well this 25-minute fantasy, intimidating in its intricacies. You can't really say they are doing anything more than that -- it has a kind of grim and determined sound -- but they admirably bring out the voices and guide your ear. It's work, not casual listening. But it has its thrills. Review: 3 1/2 stars(M.K.G.)

Schoenberg, Verklaerte Nacht; Faure, La Bonne Chanson performed by baritone Martial Singher and the Marlboro Music Festival Chamber Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Serkin (Sony Classical/Arkiv). Truly great performances from the Marlboro Festival. Serkin's conducting of the original sextet version of Schoenberg's transcendent "Verklaerte Nacht" is magnificent in every way -- rich with Schoenberg's logic and structure but without the slightest bit of inattention to the piece's ecstatic impetuousity too. It bids fair to be one of the greatest performances of the original sextet version of the piece on record which makes it more than a treasure on its 50th anniversary reissue. No small triumph on its original release was pairing Schoenberg's febrile late-romantic masterpiece with Faure's refined song cycle "La Bonne Chanson," usually thought to be the epitome of Faure's song writing. He wrote it between 1892-94, only five years before Schoenberg's finished "Verklaerte Nacht." On disc now, they sound like opposite poles of Europe at the turn of the last century. Review: 4 stars (J.S.)

Jean-Philippe Rameau, L'Orchestra De Louis XV: Suites for Orchestra performed by Le Concert Des Nations conducted by Jordi Savall (Alta Vox, two discs). This, believe it or not, is part of a devilishly smart series of discs devoted to French kings and the composers associated with their orchestras -- all those Louises and the works of Philidor and Lully. What you've got here is the suites from four of Rameau's stage works: "Les Indes Galantes" from 1735, "Nais" from 1748, "Zorastre" from 1749 and "Les Boreades" from 1764. The combination of Rameau and Jordi Savall is, if not absolutely ideal in 2011, certainly formidable. Rameau "the most important, innovative and brilliant French composer of his age" is a perfect match for Savall as conductor, who hasn't the slightest fear of any sonority or interpretive adventure. Baroque masterworks with flair and then some. Review: 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)