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Jazz

John Hollenbeck, “Songs I Like a Lot” (Sunnyside). And then sometimes you simply fall in love. One should always make room. Here is a disc that I spent more than a week literally unable to get out of my machine. I just kept playing it over and over and over like some ’70s teen in her bedroom filling her life with every aural nook and cranny of the soundtrack of “Grease.” It is, quite simply, the most beautiful jazz disc I have heard in months. Percussionist and brilliant, wildly eclectic jazz composer and orchestra leader John Hollenbeck was commissioned by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band – one of Europe’s mind-boggling jazz orchestras – to enlist singers Kate McGarry and Theo Blackmann in the cause of singing gorgeous Hollenbeck arrangements of, well, songs he likes a lot. And what a magnificently varied bunch they are – Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” (you will, hearing McGarry and Blackmann here, think you’ve never really heard the song before) as well as Webb’s “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress,” Appalachian folk song “Man of Constant Sorrow,” and, are you ready, Ornette Coleman’s “All My Life” on the same disc as Freddy Mercury’s “Bicycle Race.” “Usually when I arrange,” says Hollenbeck, “I totally dissect and put the piece back together in my own way. But this time, I knew the song must be intact and recognizable, so that was the challenge. Some pieces are close to the originals and I concentrated on orchestration, and giving them a different twist. Others are still far away, but still maintain the essence of the original.” As an arranger, he is of the lavishly colored Ellington/Gil Evans/Eddie Sauter/Gary McFarland/Bob Brookmeyer/Maria Schneider school rather than the big band tradition of Basie/Goodman/Kenton etc. The result is such gorgeousness that jazz seldom permits itself these days. You may want to buy some for friends. “All I can say is that this music is still pop to me … I’m not trying to unpop it.” And how. Four stars. (Jeff Simon)

Crossover

2 Cellos/In2ition (Sony). 2Cellos are two rock-loving cellists originally from Croatia, Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser. Hauser was Rostropovich’s last pupil. This disc is a worthy follow-up to another self-titled CD, made up of mostly pop songs, that came out a couple of years ago. It has some things in common with that disc. “With Or Without You,” a long pianissimo number with one cello doing pizzicato like a heartbeat, is a kind of parallel to “With Or Without You” on the last album. 2Cellos are clearly affectionate toward ’80s songs that have become today’s oldies, and they take highly individualistic approaches to them. Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” sounds Appalachian and folklike – beautiful, as if Mark O’Connor were playing it. Elton John himself sings on the opening number, “Oh, Well,” a kind of funky blues. The disc includes a couple of New Age-style numbers, “Clocks,” which features pianist Lang Lang; and Karl Jenkins’ cloudy “Benedictus.” A lot of this disc was too raw for me. On a few tracks the cellos scraped and grated and buzzed, more so than on the earlier album. While I admire 2Cellos for testing the limits of their instruments, they are also testing the limits of what can be listened to. Two and a half stars. (Mary Kunz Goldman)

Blues/Avant Pop

Elliott Sharp’s Terraplane, “Sky Road Songs” (Yellowbird Records). In the legend of Elliott Sharp you have the experimental downtown musician known to tune his guitar with Fibonacci sequences (say what?) who thinks that his alter ego is a Chicago bluesman who ought to be playing with Muddy Waters’ and Howlin’ Wolf’s man Hubert Sumlin. So that’s what you’ve got here – a whole different kind of blues disc recorded before Sumlin’s death in 2011. Yes, that’s Sumlin sitting in here. And yes that’s Charles Mingus’ son Eric providing really raw vocals. And yes, that’s Sharp’s guitar full of slides, club riffs and a downtown smart aleck’s idea of blues guitar ultra-basics. Sharp is yet another contemporary musician having a grand old time catapulting the blues into the 21st century whether some want it to go there or not. Three and a half stars. (J.S.)

Classical

Mozart, Concertos 13 and 14, Janina Fialkowska, piano, the Chamber Players of Canada (ATMA Classique). Here is something you do not hear every day: Mozart piano concertos arranged for a small chamber group. He oversaw the arrangements himself – because, in those copyright-free days, if he did not do it, someone else would. The public demanded these chamber scores. Before recordings, that was how you got to know music, by going to concerts and by playing it yourself. Right away, the music is interesting on an intellectual level. The sparser arrangement brings out the bones of the pieces, and you hear things you never noticed. As far as how the music strikes me, it’s a mixed bag. The 13th concerto sounds lovely stripped down. The 14th, though, is more famous – it’s considered the first of Mozart’s “Great Twelve” piano concertos – and because I know it so well, I missed the orchestra. Especially in the passionate slow movement, Mozart achieves effects with the orchestra you can’t get from a quintet. The generous disc also includes chamber versions of the “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” which sounds great, and Mozart’s “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” Variations. Canadian pianist Fialkowska’s playing is pristine and delicate but can be fussy, and the chamber setting brings out the best in her. Three stars. (M.K.G.)

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Stephen Hough, “French Album” (Hyperion). What, you might well ask, is a disc by a first-rate recording pianist called “French Album” doing opening with an eight-minute piano transcription of Bach’s grand Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor? Easy, Stephen Hough might answer. It’s his adaptation of the version the great French pianist Alfred Cortot used to play in concert. “A sort of musical dessert trolley” is how Hough describes this disc. You get a lot of what you expect – four sublime pieces by Faure, three by Poulenc and dutiful Massenet and Chabrier just to make sure we all know that Hough isn’t shirking his duty (not to mention Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” and Ravel’s “Alboarda del Gracioso”). But this dessert trolley isn’t the usual sort at all – Cortot’s adaptation of Bach’s Arisio from his keyboard concerto no. 5 and, just to remind you of the sort of lavish virtuoso that Hough relishes being, some Alkan and Liszt of the sort that pianists of ordinary virtuosity are well-advised not to mess with. Eccentric and beautifully played. Three stars. (J.S.)

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Dinu Lipatti, Piano Music performed by Luiz Borac and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields conducted by Jaime Martin (Avie, two discs). It is Lipatti the pianist who is legendary among pianistic royalty in the past century. Opportunities to hear the great Romanian pianist who died so young (33) in 1950 are, to put it mildly, few and far between. This is an impressive portrait of Lipatti as a composer, especially the large (30 minutes) Fantasie Op. 8 for solo piano from 1940 and D-minor piano sonata from 1932 receiving its first recording ever on this disc. Other Lipatti works on the two-disc set – a couple of nocturnes and 1936 Concertino for piano and chamber orchestra are lesser works, as are his Bach and Albeniz transcriptions. No less than Nadia Boulanger claimed that “when the compositions of Dinu Lipatti are all printed, the greatness of his gift and of his craftsmanship will be recognized. It will become obvious that he was really a composer, one who heard notes, rhythms, who knew and enjoyed how to assemble them, to choose and to reject, to organise time and build forms: one who found his pleasure and his real life in the process.” You can’t listen to Romanian pianist Luiza Borac make Lipatti’s case and doubt it. Three and a half stars. (J.S.)