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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

> World Music

Ladysmith Black Mambazo, "Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Friends" (Razor & Tie). Although they did not start recording until the '70s and didn't become well-known outside their native South Africa until their appearance on Paul Simon's "Graceland" in 1986, Ladysmith Black Mambazo formed 50 years ago, when Joseph Shabalala started the vocal group. They have released dozens of albums, some geared to Western audiences, some more anchored in South African isicathamiya and mbube traditions, all infused with the group's deep and joyful harmonies.

This new double-disc collection is not a traditional greatest hits collection, but it plays like one: It's a compendium of collaborations, and the guests range widely, from Dolly Parton to Andreas Vollenweider to various club remixers. The "Graceland" tracks "Homeless" and "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" are here, as are wonderful a cappella tracks with Emmylou Harris, Natalie Merchant, Sarah McLachlan, and Zap Mama and gospel songs with Betty Griffin and others. A few cuts suffer from dated, late-'80s production that diminishes the strength of Black Mambazo's personality, but overall, this set is a stirring and varied showcase for one of the great vocal groups of our time. Review: 3 stars (out of 4) (Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer)

> Rock

Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, "Carnegie Hall" (Vaulternative). In the lifetime of a floating band constantly shifting personnel, more than a few Mothers did their inventive best for the late Frank Zappa -- master guitarist, enigmatic composer, satirical lyricist -- since that band's 1965 start. Arguably, though, this never-before-released 1971 event (two shows, one October night) at the venerated classical music hall featured Zappa's finest, if not weirdest, assemblage of adventuresome musicians and vocalists to have embraced Motherhood. A British session giant (drummer Aynsley Dunbar), an improvisational woodwind/keyboard player (Ian Underwood), the jazziest of original Mothers (keyboardist Don Preston), and two pop-singing Turtles (Flo & Eddie) aided Zappa in some of his most cleverly complex compositions of the period. Although these Mothers cover Zappa's most impish psychedelic tracks ("Call Any Vegetable"), oddball doo-wop numbers ("Any Way the Wind Blows"), linear instrumental workouts ("Peaches en Regalia"), and avant-classical epics (a 30-minute take on "King Kong"), it's the childishly comic mini-opera "Billy the Mountain" and its blues-inspired brother, "The Mud Shark," that are Carnegie Hall's highlights. On these tunes, Flo & Eddie show off their highest voices and silliest soliloquies. Still, as with every Zappa concert recording, it's Zappa's magnetically adroit guitar playing (truly rivaling Hendrix, Beck and Page) and dippy dramaturgy that you'll remember most. Review: 4 stars (A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer)

> Classical

Franz Schubert, Schwanengesang, Mark Padmore, tenor, Paul Lewis, piano (Harmonia Mundi). Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis have that rocker look, and their music, too, has that edge. This performance of Schubert's last group of songs, the incredibly beautiful "Swan Song," has many arresting moments. Padmore's tenor is on the delicate side and is at a disadvantage in the hefty "Der Atlas" and the stormy "Fruehlingsehnsucht." The famous "Serenade," though it has good tension, could have more passion. On the other hand these two are the masters of the quiet tension, making songs like "Ihr Bild" or "Abschied" very effective. Lewis is a marvelous pianist with a fine sense of timing. There are two bonus tracks: the familiar "Die Steren" and the lesser-known "Auf dem Strom," which features Richard Watkins on French horn and includes some sublime phrases. Review: 3 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

Heart on the Wall, African American Art Songs For Orchestra, Louise Toppin, soprano, the Dvorak Symphony Orchestra, Julius P. Williams, conductor (Albany). Here are three song cycles on African-American themes, by Robert Owens, Julius P. Williams and Robert L. Morris. Owens, an expat living in Germany since 1959, bases his "Heart on a Wall" on poems by Langston Hughes. Some of it is the same-old, same-old, but "Remembrance" soars into beauty. Nkeiru Okoye's "Songs of Harriet Tubman" are more musical recitation than melody, but they have direction and dignity and hold the listener's interest. "Myths of History," by Williams, is too abstract and academic for me. The texts to the songs are incomplete, sometimes leaving out words or even entire verses. "Lyric Suite" by Robert L. Morris has a nice jazzy, "Porgy and Bess" sound. Morris' music shows the influence of George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. Toppin has a confident and capable soprano, a delight to listen to. Review: 2 1/2 stars (M.K.G.)

The Radnofsky Saxophone Quartet, plays A. Glazounov, J.S. Bach, B. Warren and G. Pierne (Newport Classic Ltd.). The bright, clean sound of a saxophone quartet lends itself to a lot of different music, which is why this disc covers so much ground. The Glazounov Quartet, written for a saxophone quartet, has a straightforward grace. "Introduction and Variations on a Popular Round" (I did not recognize the round) by Gabriel Pierne reminded me at times of Ravel. You find yourself marveling at the athleticism of it, the lightning-quick synchronicity, the dynamic control. Four excerpts from Bach's "The Art of Fugue" play up the group's beauty of tone. I could take or leave an austere Saxophone Quartet by Betsy Warren-Davis, a student of Walter Piston. It sounds like an exercise. The Ken Radnofsky Saxophone Quartet seems to be based in New England, and features Radnofsky and his former students. Review: 3 stars (M.K.G.)

> Jazz

The Antfarm Quartet, "Live" (Dreambox Media). The Antfarm Quartet, anchored by pianist Jim Ridl, tackles some straight-ahead originals and standards in this live session. Ridl's kaleidoscopic intro to "Caravan" is typical of his protean ways. So too is the pretty vibe of one of his originals, "Blue Waters," which ripens into a happening groove. Vocalist Paul Jost, who also arranged four cuts, gives a raspy sheen to "Tennessee Waltz." His crusty baguette of a voice mixes Mark Murphy with a little Tom Waits. The quartet with drummer Bob Shomo and bassist Tim Lekan covers some familiar ground -- Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring" and Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" -- but with artistic fervor. The solos are the point. Review: 3 stars (Karl Stark, Philadelphia Inquirer)

> Reggae

Yellow Dubmarine, "Abbey Dub" (Red General). Baltimore/Washington collective Yellow Dubmarine covers one of the most iconic albums in all of rock, the Beatles' "Abbey Road," and somehow manages to walk away with something damned near awesome. Of course, "Abbey Road" is a perfect album, and doesn't need any help, especially from a group of heady freaks hell-bent on interpreting every single tune from the epic masterpiece in the reggae/dub format. But this band is just soooo good, such a funky collection of astute musicians with a deep understanding of both the requirements of succeSsful dub music -- killer bass lines that hit the listener in the stomach, the strongest of grooves, strong but unobtrusive horns, and the gooey "easy-skanking" of subtle rhythm guitar -- and the pop crafstmanship of the Beatles' originals. Much of this is brilliant, particularly the prog-reggae interpretation of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and the irony-free mildly ska-inflected take on "Here Comes the Sun." Sound interesting to you? You're in luck; Yellow Dubmarine will perform "Abbey Dub" in its entirety Saturday at Nietzsche's, 248 Allen St. Review: 3 1/2 stars (Jeff Miers)