Big Boi, “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors” (Def Jam). As one half of Outkast, Big Boi provided the gritty grounding for partner Andre 3000’s spacey and occasionally whimsical meanderings. Lest we come to the erroneous conclusion that Big Boi was never the experimental one in that fabled duo, we’ve got “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors,” an album that covers ample ground and in the process, like the best Outkast, pushes the envelope for hip-hop in general. Littered with guest contributors – there’s at least one on 13 of the album’s 14 tracks, and all three bonus cuts on the expanded deluxe edition boast cameos – the album moves only a tad self-consciously between dreamy indie pop and brash electronica, synth-littered gutter rap and California punk. The further Big Boi moves from more common hip-hop tropes – of the sort that make the braggadocio-heavy “In the A,” featuring T.I. and Ludacris, come across as a bit cliché-ridden – the more interesting and unusual the results. The collaborations with Saratoga Springs-based dreamy indie-pop duo Phantogram are at once the most surprising and rewarding pairings on the album. “Objectum Sexuality” finds Big Boi playing the sex-starved matador to Sarah Barthell’s incongruously demure bull. This is an unusual move in hip-hop – to have the narrator’s recounting of his sexual skills coolly countered by the female in the equation – in this instance, Barthell cooing “It’s all you want these days, ’cause you feel nothing inside.” Both “CPU” and “Lines” deepen this surprisingly organic connection between Big Boi’s robust rhymes and Phantogram’s gauzy atmospherics. A whole album of such collaborations would not seem to be unwarranted. Similarly, “Shoes for Running,” which marries the Californian punk-pop of Wavves with the rapid-fire testimony of B.O.B., works far better on record than it might appear on paper. “Vicious Lies” works best when it’s most anxious to forge new hybrids – which may explain why the most conventional modern hip-hop track on the album, the duet with Kelly Rowland known as “Mama Told Me,” is the least interesting of the bunch. 3 stars (Jeff Miers)

World Music

David El-Malek, “Music from Source Vol. II” (Naive/Naxos). Among the greater pleasures of 21st century music is listening and not knowing what the devil you’re listening to. El-Malek is an Israeli saxophonist raised in France (where he still lives) who records with both Jewish and Arab musicians and is steeped in jazz tradition. So what you’ve got here is Jewish music, Arab music and jazz music, all of it mixed together in a mish-mash which sounds utterly natural and infectious in every way – omni-folk music, like so many in our time, from folk traditions so melded together and hybridized that the result invents a whole new “folk” which might become a tradition of its own. Whatever it is, it’s festive, well-played and as familiar as it is hopelessly exotic. Three stars (Jeff Simon)


Roberta Donnay and the Prohibition Mob Band, “A Little Sugar” (Motema). “I consider the early women of blues and jazz to be my grandmothers, godmothers, aunts and elder sisters,” writes Roberta Donnay in the notes to this. “Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Sippie Wallace, Ida Cox, Josephine Baker, Ethel Waters, Ella and Billie. These musical pioneers delivered a message to the women of their day to stand up, have courage and take charge of their lives.” Well, no argument, of course, but that doesn’t mean that Donnay’s somewhat “cutie pie” voice and delivery are ideal for these early classics whether we’re talking about Ida Cox’s “You’ve Got to Swing and Sway,” Bessie Smith’s “You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon,” “Sugar in My Bowl” and “Empty Bed Blues.” (Not since Teresa Brewer’s album of lusty Bessie Smith beauties has there been a voice less like Bessie’s behemoth larynx than Donnay’s.) On the other hand, this particular kind of stylistic ancestor worship is going around these days with some rather delightful results. When Diana Krall was on Letterman singing one of the better tunes from her hit new disc “Glad Rag Doll,” you’d have thought the ever-cool host was going to burst from the pleasure of it all. Donnay is no Krall and her disc isn’t even close (Krall, after all, had T-Bone Burnett as a collaborator and her husband Elvis Costello as uncredited adviser) but it’s reasonably entertaining on its own. And her taste in early jazz and blues repertoire is better than that. Two and a half stars(J.S.)


Donny McCaslin, “Casting for Gravity” (Greenleaf). We’re dealing with some of the cream of New York’s working jazz generation with McCaslin. He’s no stranger to Dave Douglas’ bands and Maria Schneider’s orchestra. His producer on this disc is David Binney, no less, and his keyboardist is Jason Lindner, a longtime Binney fellow traveler. McCaslin is a kind of post-Michael Brecker tenor player with a lot of Brecker’s post-Coltrane approach but not nearly as much heaviness in his sound as Brecker. That he’s in the most full-bodied tenor tradition though is signified by his live performances where he has the temerity to take a leaf from Sonny Rollins’ book and sometimes plays in pianoless trio and even solo. Binney throws in synthesizers, vocalises and all manner of rather marvelous electronic seasonings, and Mark Guiliana’s drums are rockish but full of air and taste and imagination. The result here is probably close to state-of-the-art New York City jazz making, just as abstract sometimes as it is full of inventive electronica. Awfully good. Three and a half stars (J.S.)


Bach, 6 Suites for Cello Solo performed on period instruments by Pieter Wispelwey (EPR Classic, two discs plus DVD). “The Bible for cello players” the notes call the complete Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites heard in this terrific rendering. You might even say that after Casals bequeathed regular performances of them to the cello world, you’re not even a classical cellist unless you’ve recorded them. That seldom means anything, though, that’s nearly as unusual as what you hear as the great virtuoso Pieter Wispelwey plays them on baroque cello and piccolo cello using the kinds of loose tunings Bach’s musicians at Cothen would have used. “The consequences were quite drastic,” says Wispelwey. “The strings were thicker, their amplitudes wider, making their speech even more characterful.” Add the cellist’s frequently rapid tempos and this is a highly unusual and rather wonderful performance of the six cello suites, complete with a DVD called “392” in honor of the pitch tuning of Wispelwey’s cello. Leave it to Bach to write music that results in so many different but equally marvelous interpretations. Four stars (J.S.)


Karina Gauvin, “Prima Donna,” the Arion Orchestre Baroque, Alexander Weimann, conductor (ATMA Classique). Described as Canada’s Superstar Soprano, Gauvin likes historical exploration. She joined the off-roading pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin not long ago in songs of Ravel and other impressionists. She clearly loves off-the-beaten-path Handel. Which is fine with me. A couple of months ago, when the Metropolitan Opera was airing Handel’s “Julius Caesar,” I was listening to it in the car having hardly the foggiest idea what was going on but noticing how every aria grabbed and held your attention, how the music quickly announced itself as the work of a master. The disc has 15 tracks. and almost all of them are Handel. (The other two, by Vivaldi and Vinci, stick out – even novices will realize Baroque was far from formulaic.) Gauvin’s lovely soprano sails and soars through them all with ease. She even sounds as if she’s having fun as she glides through the gilded ornamentation. The orchestra has a nice, balanced sound. Three and a half stars. (Mary Kunz Goldman)