Art Garfunkel, "The Singer" (Columbia). In which the singer, one half of the legendary Simon & Garfunkel, and a man with the angel-touched talent to melt one's heart through song, takes us on a journey through his life in music. There are S&G tunes splashed across the twin disc set - among them two of Garfunkel's most transcendent vocal performances, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "April Come She Will," as well as a resplendent 2004 live take on "Kathy's Song" - but equally impressive are the gems plucked from the post-S&G solo years. Whether he's breathing heavenly air into an old standard like "What A Wonderful World," or finding the inner tragedy in Bruce Johnstone's "Disney Girls," Garfunkel's singing is always on point and emotionally resonant. "The Singer" allows us the welcome opportunity to look over our shoulders as the man himself does the same. What we see is a body of work that is unfailingly virtuosic and passionate. OOOO (Jeff Miers)


Various Artists, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap" (Legacy).The companion soundtrack to the Ice T-directed documentary, "Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap" offers a personally guided tour through much of the most audacious and groundbreaking rap of the past 35 years. Clearly, the collection has been curated with great care, to the point that much of the material collected here has not seen the light of day elsewhere. Various freestyle a capella pieces are strategically scattered throughout the collection, among them improvs from Ice-T, KRS One, Melle Mel, Ras Kass, Lord Jamar and Grandmaster Caz. Intermingled are almost uniformly riveting offerings from the likes of Public Enemy, N.W.A., Run-DMC, Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Afrika Bambaataa, and Q-Tip. The cumulative effect of this provides a smartly selected overview of rap's evolution, one that serves as a clenched fist reminder that the best of the genre represents a linguistic and rhythmic reimagining of what might be considered popular music. The best rap simultaneously reflected the zeitgeist and scared the hell out of folks who preferred to imagine that such a culture would never cross into the mainstream. OOOO (J.M.)


Bach, The Art of Fugue performed by pianist Andrew Rangell (Steinway and Sons). This, to be sure, is not the way virtuoso pianists behave when they're in the business of flash and filigree. In fact, Bach's final "Art of the Fugue" is, famously, such a magnificent abstraction that almost no specific instrumentation within reason can be considered "incorrect" - keyboard instrument or small ensemble. It takes a special kind of pianist, for sure, to perform it on disc, i.e. to translate one of the great cerebral triumphs of Western music into a triumph for the ear. This is what Nelson Rangell - whose debut two decades ago involved a great deal of Bach including the "Goldberg Variations" - has to say about it: "if the Goldberg Variations, with its overview of Baroque styles, is Bach's 'most worldly' keyboard creation (as Charles Rosen has called it), the 'Art of Fugue' conceived at about the same time, would seem to be the most unworldly." And yet Rangell's cerebral brilliance transports where few pianists (Rosen, Gould) even attempt, much less succeed. OOO (Jeff Simon)


Brad Mehldau Trio, "Where Do You Start" (Nonesuch, available Sept. 18). Michel Petrucciani is long gone, and Keith Jarrett has long been a sublime law unto himself as a trio pianist with one of the most simpatico rhythm sections in jazz history. That leaves Brad Mehldau, just into his 40s, as jazz's most approachable and brilliant jazz trio pianist, for all his long-standing self-seriousness. His is "the art of the trio" for adventurous rock ears. This is his new trio with Jeff Ballard on drums and Larry Grenadier on bass and it's the companion to last Spring's trio disc "Ode," which was composed entirely of Mehldau originals. This disc is rapturous, irresistible and gorgeous, whether he's doing fresh new things to Sonny Rollins' "Airegin," Nick Drake's "Time Has Told Me," Elvis Costello's "Baby Plays Around" and, are you ready, "Hey Joe" (turned into a decorous Jarretesque gospel stomp). His trio discs are still major jazz events and that's not likely to cease being the case for a long while. OOO (J.S.)
Michael Feinberg, "The Elvin Jones Project" (Sunnyside). Feinberg is a superlative 25-year-old bass player who discovered an unusual and perhaps singular way of listening to perhaps the most radical and dominant individual drummer in the last half century of jazz - Elvin Jones, whose polyrhythmic thunder around the beat in live performance with John Coltrane's classic quartet tended to transform the entire band into a dialogue the drummer and a distantly heard Coltrane. What Feinberg has smartly done here is primarily take pieces from Elvin's post-Coltrane bands (with saxophonists Frank Foster, Dave Liebman and Steve Grossman) and found inspiration from the drummer's relationship with bassists Gene Perla, George Mraz, Richard Davis and Dave Holland as well as his classic Coltrane-mate Jimmy Garrison. Feinberg's drummer here is the great Billy Hart, his pianist is Leo Genevese (sometimes electric) and his formidable horn section is saxophonist George Garzone and trumpet player Tim Hagans. It's not a neo-Elvin disc but rather a highly unusual tribute to Elvin as an artistic climate within jazz instead of a force of nature exploding the climate of the art itself. OOO (J.S.)
Fred Hersch Trio, "Alive at the Vanguard" (Palmetto Records, two discs). You could be here until next Thursday listing all the jazz musicians who have surpassed themselves and played music for eternity during a recorded gig at the Village Vanguard (just a few - John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Betty Carter). That it still exists and that great New York players still surpass themselves playing in its basement confines is proved about seven times over by this two-disc set by pianist Fred Hersch's working trio. Neither bassist John Hebert or drummer Eric McPherson is all that remarkable individually. Hebert comes from Andrew Hill, McPherson from Jackie McLean's band, references that you might think at least partially incompatible with one of jazz' most sensitive piano balladeers since Bill Evans. No, they're not the equal of Hersch's last trio-mates Drew Gress and Nasheet Waits or his first Marc Johnson and Joey Baron, but they're clairvoyantly attentive to all of Hersch's rhapsodies. There's a beautiful version of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" - a song that could easily intimidate pianists with its raw beauty. And on the second disc's closer, a mournful and deeply felt "The Song is You" somehow jumps without madness or too much strain into the middle of Monk's "Played Twice," one of those transitions that could probably only happen in jazz. And one that, among other things, it was created for. OOO (J.S.)