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Rock

Rage Against the Machine, “20th Anniversary Box Set” (Legacy). Rage Against the Machine’s incendiary debut album has aged incredibly well. This is mighty surprising, really; after all, Rage might be held accountable for launching the marriage of hard rock and hip-hop that ended up giving us a slew of truly horrible bands by the end of the ’90s, Limp Bizkit being only the easiest target on a very crowded field. “Rap-Metal,” as it came to be known, was not a blessing, from heaven or anywhere else. But this debut from Tom Morello, Zack De La Rocha and Timmy C. still sounds explosive, both musically (no other band has so successfully married heavy rock riffs to seriously funky, hip-hop based grooves) and textually – De La Rocha speaks for his bandmates in the language of a leftist revolutionary who has managed to shake himself awake from the nightmare of American history. “Killing In the Name Of,” “Bombtrack,” “Take the Power Back,” “Know Your Enemy,” “Township Rebellion” – these are the very tunes that so loudly belie Paul Ryan’s campaign trail claim that he was a fan of Rage Against the Machine. I wholly recommend the full box set, which compiles a remastered vinyl copy of the album, a remastered CD, a DVD of a full 1993 concert filmed in London’s Finsbury Park, a collection of relevant music videos, footage from the band’s first public performance, and a grab-bag of live concert clips. Like a hip-hop/heavy metal version of the Clash, Rage Against the Machine took no prisoners. Four stars (Jeff Miers)

Classical

Shostakovich, Symphony No.7 “Leningrad” performed by the Marinsky Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev (Marinsky). There will never be a time when the rat-a-tat snare drum menace of the martial theme in the first movement of Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony will hit ears of any sophistication whatsoever as anything other than one of the more unfortunate musical sequences in the entire oeuvre of Dimitri Shostakovich (the liner notes here by Leonid Gakkel admit that there are indeed those who find it “too poster-like”). Fortunately, the rest of it has undergone a rather dramatic upgrade in reputation from the dip it suffered after its near-universal initial acclaim in Russia during the war years (when so much admiration for it was for extra-musical reasons). Outside of Russia, the world didn’t love Shostakovich’s Seventh quite so much but in time it has taken a legitimate high place in Shostakovich’s symphonies – once, that is, that unfortunate first movement attack is over. Gergiev’s version of it is almost too tasteful. Much of its strength is in its vulgarity which Gergiev often turns a cold back on. Three stars (Jeff Simon)

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Alfredo Casella, La Donna Serpente, Introduzione, Aria e Toccata, Partita for Piano and Orchestra performed by pianist Sun Hee You and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma conducted by Francesco La Vecchia (Naxos). World War II didn’t make music easy for any of the great composers caught up in its era. Those who emerged with the strongest work – Hindemith and Bartok, for instance – had fled. Alfred Casella’s cooperation with Mussolini did him a world of ill until, it seems, the world was finally full of ears ready to hear the music for what it is and reject the capitulations of the life it came from (on the other end of the political spectrum, it was analogous – however roughly – to what Shostakovich was living through in Russia). Casella emerges here in this music from 1924-1933 as a powerful neoclassicist eminently worthy of the full-scale rehabilitation which is happening in the recording world of his native Italy and is being brought to us here by Naxos. Three and ½ stars (J.S.)

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Lieberman, Revelry – Concerto for Orchestra, Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Nocturne and “Revelry” performed by BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Grant Llewellyn (BBC/Albany). There is a reason that Lowell Lieberman is a much-performed, much-commissioned and much-awarded living composer. Listen to his Concerto for Orchestra – no not really at all in the same league as Bartok’s founding version but music of great clarity, and vigor and suffering not a whit from its conspicuous tonality. Even, in fact, when Lieberman says that his piece “Revelry” “is actually a series of variations on a twelve-note row, each variation transposed to the pitch-level of the successive pitches of the row itself,” the music you hear is a boisterous, athletic scherzo that probably wouldn’t have even scared Mozart. Performances here by the BBC orchestra are surprisingly good considering what living composers often have to put up with in recordings of their works. Three stars (J.S.)

Blues

Various Artists, “Death Might Be Your Santa Claus: Sermons, Music, Blues, Jazz, Gospel and Devotionals” (Bluebird/Legacy). “Don’t play me no Jingle Bells … play me some blues, long loud and lowdown,” sings Harmon Ray (Petie Wheatstraw) in this gothic anthology of roots Christmas recordings mostly from the ’20s through the ’50s. If you’re looking for a dark answer disc to all the dubious revelries of the seasonal holiday business, you can’t beat this one, with Reverend J.M. Gates’ sermons “Did You Spend Christmas Day in Jail?” and “Death Might Be Your Santa Claus,” L.B. McClintock’s “Don’t Think I’m Santa Claus” (“because I bring you a present every once in while/ don’t think I’m Santa Claus”) and Butterbean and Susie’s “Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus (Mama Ain’t No Christmas Tree.)” These “race records” were for those whose Christmases were rich with everything but celebration. It ends with Lightning Hopkins’ 1962 “Santa Claus” which celebrates the kind of Christmas you can’t have on the Hallmark Channel (Santa Claus rings his bell in Hopkins’ blues and tells the “poor children” to put “something in Santa Claus’ hand.”) This is Christmas music for those who aren’t completely sure that it’s a wonderful life. Frank Capra, this ain’t. Three ½ stars (J.S.)

Jazz

Michael Blake, “In the Grand Scheme of Things” (Songlines). There’s no bass player on this jazz quartet disc – just tenor player, trumpet player/electronicist, pianist and drummer. That will tell you that you’ve gone farther out beyond the 12-mile limit than most jazz players are comfortable going – while at the same time being a lot funkier and more melodic than the more resolute avant-gardists are proud of being. The result is a terrific disc from tenor saxophonist and composer Michael Blake, previously known from the giddily unclassifiable band The Lounge Lizards. The music here is often stark and rough and raw but it’s also vivid and likable and with enough presence to stay in your head a long while. With Blake are trumpet player JP Carter, pianist Chris Gestrin and drummer Dylan Van der Schyff. 3½ stars (J.S.)

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Christina Pato, Migrations: Roots and Jazz in NYC (Sunnyside). Are you ready for jazz bagpipes? If not, you might get ready. Christina Pato says “I play the Gaita, the Galician Bagpipe, and the piano, two instruments that represent two different ways of understanding music.” Hence this, which she calls “a synthesis of my classical training, my visceral connection to Galician popular music and my career in world music.” The first time there was a jazz bagpiper of note, it was Rufus Harley, who seemed almost logical in a world of Coltranish modes. This music is too raw, too folkishly raucous – even when she’s playing Miles’ “Blue in Green” – to seem “logical” as anything other than what it is, a decidedly eccentric and entirely unexpected use of a familiar instrument in a very odd context. Two½ stars (J.S.)

Soundtrack

“This Is 40” original motion picture soundtrack including Yoko Ono, Norah Jones, Graham Parker, Lindsley Buckingham, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Loudon Wainwright III, Fiona Apple, Wilco and Others (Capitol/Universal). The industrial comedy and sentimentality of Judd Apatow is nothing if not a near-foolproof way for movie studios to hit the holiday megaplex, especially when it’s something of a sequel to Apatow’s “Knocked Up.” To honor the commercial occasion, you’ve got original songs by Norah Jones, Fiona Apple, Graham Parker and Lindsey Buckingham produced by Jon Brion, as well as new tracks from Wilco and Ryan Adams created specifically for the film, and some oldies but not really goodies by Paul Simon (“Rewrite”), Loudon Wainwright III (“Days That We Die,” just made for an Apatow film soundtrack) to indicate that the course of true love does most emphatically not run smooth in Apatow-land. Lindsey Buckingham’s songs are “I’m So Sick Of You” and “She Acts Like You,” Ryan Adams’ are “Shining Through the Dark” and “Lucky Now” performed live. Fiona Apple’s got so much vibrato at the beginning of “Dull Tool” that you know she’s coming at you by song’s end. Best of all, it seems to me, is Lindsey Buckingham and Norah Jones coming together on “Brother and Sister.” Wilco’s “I Got You” isn’t too shabby either. An acid musical portrait of the American family, if ever there was one. Three stars (J.S.)