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Pop

The Beach Boys, “Greatest Hits” and “Fifty Big Ones” (Greatest Hits, two CDS) along with 12 remastered studio albums including the stereo debuts of “Pet Sounds” and “Smiley Smile,” as well as “Surfin U.S.A.,” “Surfer Girl,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Shut Down, Volume 2,” “All Summer Long,” “The Beach Boys Today!,” “Summer Days (And Summer Nights),” “Beach Boys Party!”, “Sunflower,” and “Surf’s Up.” (All Capitol/EMI). It’s all right there in larval form on the album “Shut Down Volume 2” after you hear the classic “Fun, Fun, Fun” and before you get to “The Warmth of the Sun” and their version of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” There’s a cut called “ ‘Cassius’ Love vs. ‘Sonny’ Wilson” in which Mike Love and Brian Wilson do a putatively funny trash talk “boxing match” about the higher meaning of Wilson’s falsetto. It is nauseating, mostly because of Mike Love’s immaculately accurate aim at sickening and enduring knuckleheadedness – always the underside of the Beach Boys’ authentic vision of paradise. Listen to it now and you have, in utero, everything you’d need to know about why, on their 50th anniversary reunion tour, Love had both the contempt and temerity to kick his cousin and musical leader out of the group – assuredly one of the truly asinine moments of commercial triumph in the entire history of rock. Listen to “Pet Sounds” and, especially, “Smiley Smile” here and you can hear how tragic it is that the Beach Boys had no equivalent of The Beatles’ indispensable George Martin – an older producer immersed in all music, especially the classics – who knew exactly how to pamper the talents and ambitions of Lennon and McCartney. At some point in the production of “Smiley Smile,” Wilson needed a Martin figure to guide him into the world of classical electronic composition where his talent clearly belonged at that point, rather than the upscaled barber shop singing of the Beach Boys. Instead, Wilson had drugs, psychiatry and God Only Knows what to take him out of the world, and the musical experimentation he should have immersed himself in. It was tragic then. It has become both comic and deeply sinister now. Stick with the hits packages. 4 stars for the hit packages, 3 stars for the remasters. (Jeff Simon)

Classical

Debussy, Suite Bergamasque, Pour Le Piano and Other works performed by pianist Angela Hewitt (Hyperion). It isn’t enough for a Debussy pianist to be one of the great living interpreters of Bach and Beethoven. So separate and distinct are the musical and conceptual muscles involved in the three giant composers of keyboard music that it’s only a modest exaggeration to say that playing them involves three entirely different disciplines. Hewitt is absolutely one of the great living pianists in our era. Read her notes to this disc and, as always, you will find a wonderful writer as well as a deep and devoted student of everything Debussyan. It’s, oddly, in the performance that one hears Hewitt yearning to have the poetry of the great Debussy pianists and not quite getting there. It is, of course, some of the world’s greatest piano music (including “L’isle joyeyse” and “La plus que lente”). And you couldn’t ask for a more technically and intellectually gifted pianist than Hewitt. There is a point, though, with the great Debussyans where technique and profundity become irrelevant and the music’s pagan sonic abandonment takes over. Not here though. 3 stars (J.S.)
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Jenny Lin, “Get Happy” by pianist Jenny Lin (Steinway & Sons). Pianist Jenny Lin’s previous records have included “Insomnimania” – music, ancient and modern, about sleep – and a survey of the music of Frederic Mompou. You never know what to expect from her. This album is a joy. Lin plays 18 arrangements of mostly Broadway songs by pianists, some of them very elaborate. Some of them she commissioned. A few are by known masters of this kind of thing. The late Earl Wild, known for his “Snow White” transcriptions, reimagined Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” and “Fascinatin’ Rhythm.” Andre Previn did “Blue Moon.” Some of the best songs come out of left field. Marc-Andre Hamelin has crafted a “Meditation on ‘Laura’,” the song from the film noir. Stefan Malzow gives a Mozartean elegance to “Eliza in Ascot,” music from “My Fair Lady.” “Lover” takes on a dense intensity thanks to Alexis Weissenberg. My favorite is Stephen Hough’s take on “The Carousel Waltz.” I think the piano was prepared somehow – there is a tinkling sound. In any case it captures the waltz’s haunting qualities and adds old-fashioned arpeggios and other curlicues, which I love. Christopher O’Riley does his thing, arranging “Johanna” from “Sweeney Todd” into a two-minute romantic rumination, kind of weird, as his music tends to be. Stephen Prutsman has made a bluesy, stride-filled arrangement of Harold Arlen’s “Get Happy.” Lin could use more of an improvisatory quality, but I guess just technically carrying off these virtuosic arrangements is as much as we could ask. And she does them with style and aplomb. Kudos to her for helping return us to the days when pianists could improvise and were creative in different ways from the way they are today. 3 and 1/2 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

Jazz

The Peggy Lee Band, “Invitation” (Drip Audio). The name of the group leads you to expect something cutesy and devoted to the repertoire of the white-on-white jazz singer who once epitomized left coast wit and winking sexuality. Forget it. This is an absolutely brilliant post-modern Canadian outfit whose music is accurately said to combine “jazz, new music, electronica, free improvisation as well as classical music and pop.” We’re not talking then about Peggy Lee, who gave us that incredible version of Little Willie John’s “Fever” with Shelley Manne playing his drums with just his hands (no sticks or brushes), we’re talking about Peggy Lee, the cellist leader of this phenomenal bunch, one of the most accomplished progressive, all-inclusive eclectic bands around. A terrific disc – a constant surprise and as much a gripping journey the fourth time you hear it as the first. 3 and 1/2 stars (J.S.)
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Sam Newsome, “The Art of the Soprano Vol.1” (Self-released). You’re in for an enormous surprise here. If you look at the disc’s backside, you see that the exploring soprano saxophonist is doing solo versions of Ellington classics (“In a Mellow Tone,” “In a Sentimental Mood,” etc.), and Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” suite along with his own “Soprano de African Suite.” That he is interspersing movements from all three doesn’t begin to tell you the amazing panoply of percussive sound he produces with his soprano saxophone, mostly from slap tongue techniques and perfectly articulated multiphonics (which other saxophonists routinely turn into gales of paint-pealing sound and which, according to Newsome, John Coltrane discovered during a recording session with Thelonious Monk). Newsom compares his pitched slap tongue to the sound of the “African Baliphone.” Add lots of echo manipulation and you have one of the most rewarding discs to come from jazz’s left wing in a very long time. All the exploration here turns into extremely rewarding and venturesome music. 4 stars (J.S.)

Blues

Louisiana Red, “When My Mama Was Living” (Labor). Here is a great country blues singer you’re unlikely to know. He was born in 1932, according to notater Kent Cooper. “His mother died soon after his birth and his father was hanged five years later. He passed through a variety of orphanages until, years later, his grandmother brought him to Pittsburgh to live with her. His first guitar was a cheap construct his grandmother found in a local hock shop.” He learned blues on the streets, performed them there sometimes and accompanied himself on guitar and harmonica (i.e. playing harp in between sung song lines). These recordings were made in the ’70s, some with a harp player named Peg Leg Sam, some with a Chicago guitarist named Lefty Dizz. He lived much of his adult life in Germany which explains his lack of renown here. Listen to the disc, though, and you’ll hear a first-rate country blues performer reminiscent of Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry in first-rate recordings. Red died in late February. 3 and 1/2 stars (J.S.)