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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

Country

Taylor Swift, "Speak Now: World Tour Live" (Big Machine Records, disc plus DVD). There is a truly astonishing sound on this CD. It isn't Swift, whose earnest, ear-friendly songs from teen yearnings and hyperbole ("the story of us looks just like a tragedy now") aren't exactly melodically varied and rich or lyrically memorable for anyone over 30. They sound like raw stuff written in a high school teen's bedroom. What bowls you over is the incredible sound of her young, predominantly female audience that is screaming out its emotional unanimity with Swift in as much (if not more) high-volume hysteria as it used to reserve for Elvis, the Beatles, David Cassidy and Justin Bieber. It's quite a phenomenon. Anyone thinking Swift is imprisoned by still-tender years and very circumscribed emotions needs to hear her try to sing "Bette Davis Eyes" for her audience. She's a long way from Kim Carnes' scratchy female-Rod Stewart original version and her audience has no idea how to react (all it knows how to do is scream), but this disc is a commemoration of a major American pop phenomenon proving to be different in degree, if not different in kind, from what came before. 3 Stars (out of 4) (Jeff Simon)

***

Jazz

Nicolas Masson, "Departures" (Fresh Sound, New Talent), Bob Sheppard, "Close Your Eyes" (BFM Jazz), Michael Pedecin, Ballads: Searching for Peace (The Jazz Hut). Here are three tenor saxophone players who are blessedly far away from recapitulating '60s Jazz Messengers Bebop. It's not that 59-year-old Bob Sheppard, in his own way on "Close Your Eyes," isn't giving you his own take on '60s jazz, in this case a kind of 21st century version of that most basic comfort food of jazz sound, the organ tenor group. But with musicians like drummer Antonio Sanchez and keyboardists Alan Pasqua and John Beasley, this is a very fresh way of being very deep in the pocket. His version of Gordon Jenkins' gorgeous and immortal "Goodbye" is particularly rending. Michael Pedicin, 64, is a more fluent Michael Brecker kind of player, but what he does with pianist Barry Miles and guitarist John Valentino on a smorgasbord of ballads ("You Don't Know What Love Is" along with originals by Valentino and Pedicin himself along with McCoy Tyner's "Search for Peace") is enormously moving and not really monotonous, all things considered. Swiss tenor saxophonist Nicolas Masson, 39, recorded in Switzerland with guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Patric Moret and drummer Ted Poor with a kind of post-ECM conception that isn't in a hurry to gallop off into new variations on rhythmic ching-chinga-ching but is content to revel in sonic etudes. If you don't insist on a lot happening at breakneck tempo, it's both beautiful and more resolute than much of what you hear on ECM. 3 1/2 stars for Sheppard and Pedicin, 3 stars for Masson (J.S.)

*

Dennis Rollins Velocity Trio, "The 11th Gate" (Motema). A very old joke from the age when people carried beepers so they could be instantly told they should call in for their messages is this one: "Q: What is the definition of an optimist? A: A trombonist with a beeper." So all those who have ever heard of a jazz organ trio where the lead solo instrument is a trombone, please raise your hand? Now that the room has officially been declared out of touch, here is something jazz listeners haven't heard before. It's a new way to hear a trombonist, too. Dennis Rollins is an extremely fluent 47-year-old British trombone player who's been around a long time. The idea for a trombone-led organ trio, he tells us in the notes, came from his great saxophone playing friend Courtney Pine (sometimes thought of by pigeonholers as the British Branford Marsalis), who asked Rollins if he'd ever heard of such a mythical ensemble beast. Of trombone-led organ trios, Rollins says he knows of a couple of European ones, along with Ray Anderson's "Bass-Drum-Bone" sans organ. But that's it. So here we have something more than a little different from some British players -- trombonist Rollins, Ross Stanley on Hammond B-3 and drummer Pedro Segundo. For all its novelty, this is very basic funky music, as jazz organ trios almost always are. Here is one musician very much worth becoming acquainted with -- in a hurry. 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

*

Bryan and the Haggards, "Still Alive and Kickin' Down the Walls" (Hot Cup). You mean you can't imagine, in your mind's ear, an avant-jazz, country band specializing in Merle Haggard repertoire? Well, West Virginia jazz saxophonist Bryan Murray can and so can his friends Jon Irabagon, Jon Linblom, Matthew "Moppa" Elliott and Danny Fischer. The label is the one that brought us Mostly Other People Do the Killing, two of whose members -- Irabagon and Elliott -- are in the Haggards. The combination is typical of the wildly creative jazz currently coming out of Brooklyn, and the disc is having a great time kicking down the walls. So will its listeners. 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

***

Classical

Joyce Yang, "Collage" (Avie). Joyce Yang is the pianist who stepped in early this year to fill in for an ailing Lang Lang. Under calmer circumstances, she later made her debut on the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Series. The Tick audience got to preview two of the pieces on this disc, Schumann's "Carnaval" and Debussy's "Estampes." The recording lives up to my memories of Yang's live performance. She is spirited but at the same time mentally organized. The Scarlatti sonatas, both in D minor, are crisp and neat. Yang has a beautiful clear technique. Unfortunately the new music that rounds out the disc is a waste of her skills. She brings great energy and devotion to Sebastian Currier's amorphous, onerous "Scarlatti Cadences" and his clever but soulless "Brainstorm," but you cannot tell me anyone in the world wants to hear this stuff. About Lowell Liebermann's "Gargoyles," Op. 29, you could say they are kind of like Debussy, but they made me think of what one saxophonist friend said: "If you've heard one contemporary tune, you've heard them all." 2 1/2 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

*

Albeniz, "Iberia: Books I, II, III and IV" performed by pianist Peter Schaaf (Victor Elmaleh Collection). There's an extraordinary story here. Peter Schaaf was best known early on as an accompanist (for Yo-Yo Ma, among others) and chamber musician who, for 25 years, has been only a photographer who specializes in pictures of classical musicians. But 40 years ago, he was a student of Rosina Lhevinne at the Juilliard School where, he now says, he "fell in love" with Albeniz's "Iberia." And if it weren't interesting enough already that Schaaf, after not recording for 25 years, recorded a whole disc of them in "a wish to master them all, the way other people wish to win the lottery," Albeniz, the notes remind us, was hugely admired by composers as disparate as Olivier Messiaen and Percy Grainger. Anyone, then, thinking of this as pleasant travelogue music with a cousinly relationship to Debussy's and Ravel's impressionism, needs to hear how profoundly beautifully Schaaf plays them in his maturity. If you're looking for the cold perfectionism of the touring virtuoso, forget it. There are occasional finger slips here but its engagement with the music's depths is total and heartening. 3 1/2 stars (J.S.)

*

Faure, Requiem, Cantique de Jean Racine, Super Flumina Babylonis, Pavane, and Elegie performed by the Orchestre de Paris and choir conducted by Paavo Jarvi (Virgin Classics). The repertoire couldn't be better -- Faure's "Requiem," one of the most sublime works of its era, performed on the same disc as his "Cantique de Jean Racine," "Elegie" for cello and orchestra and "Pavane." Nor is there anything amiss with the performance by Jarvi and the Orchestre de Paris and cellist Eric Picard with counter-tenor Philippe Jarousska and baritone Matthias Goerne. What is lacking here in this live performance from the Salle Pleyel is a sonic presence that emphasizes the lyricism of one of the great composers rather than the austerity. With as much attention to engineering as repertoire and performance, this would have been one of the great classical discs of the year. 3 stars (J.S.)