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How To Destroy Angels

Welcome Oblivion

[Columbia]

3 stars

The debut full-length release from Trent Reznor’s How To Destroy Angels may have been unwittingly overshadowed by Reznor’s announcement last week that he planned to assemble a new version of his Nine Inch Nails with the help of legendary guitarist Adrian Belew and former Jane’s Addiction bassist Eric Avery. Though Reznor most likely had no such intention, this announcement made How To Destroy Angels seem much less like a genuine band than a Reznor side project, a venture meant to fill the space between NIN projects.

That’s an unfortunate notion, for “Welcome Oblivion” reveals HTDA to be a band with an identity of its own.

Made up of vocalist Mariqueen Maandig and multi-instrumentalists Reznor, Atticus Ross and Rob Sheridan, HTDA offers an hour-plus of evocative, often creepy and consistently inventive glitchy, ill-at-ease electronica-noir. NIN fans will appreciate the uncluttered production of the recording – Reznor and Ross know how to conjure an air of often stifling existential unrest, and man, they’ve mastered the art form here, creating air-tight sonic environments for Maandiq (who is married to Reznor) to work her magic. Her singing can lull the listener toward a welcoming half-sleep, as it does during “Keep It Together” and “The Sky Began to Scream,” or leave you trembling with fear in the corner, a la the scream-laced audio nightmare that is the title track.

Sexy, sensual and highly emotive, Maandig’s voice is the star of the show, whether she’s intoning breathily (“Ice Age”) or going for the dramatically gothic atop an ominous electro-glitch pulse, as she does during “Too Late, All Gone.” Both styles, and various shades of each, are tackled with unfailing conviction, the result being the presentation of a well-rounded vocal persona.

Reznor joins with his wife in a heavily treated duet during “On the Wing,” an eerily beautiful bit of minimalism bolstered by a simple, elegant melody, and again during the closest thing to a conventional pop song offered by the album, “How Long.” The blips and beeps that form the percussion section for “Strings and Attractors” bounce merrily around Maandig’s ethereal, frankly spooky vocal, creating an aural universe that suggests what it might have sounded like had Bjork guested on NIN’s “The Downward Spiral.”

This may not be the most groundbreaking work Reznor’s name has ever been associated with, but “Welcome Oblivion” is an interesting, edgy and gorgeously produced collection that favors understatement over sturm und drang.

Jeff Miers

Classical

Handel

Handel’s Finest Arias For Base Voice

Performed by Christopher Purves and Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen, conductor

[Hyperion]

4 stars

That spelling of “base” is correct in this case. It appears on the CD cover in quavery 18th century writing, part of what makes this disc so attractive and so much fun.

Listening to a recent Met broadcast of “Rinaldo,” an opera about which I knew nothing, I found myself thinking what a master Handel was, the kind of composer who grabs your attention and keeps it. Sometimes Handel is best in small doses, but this CD of 20 arias is an exception. It holds you all the way through.

An aria from “Rinaldo,” bright with trumpets, starts the collection, which also samples “Acis and Galatea,” “Deborah,” “Orlando,” “Alexander’s Feast,” “Theodora,” “Apollo e Dafne,” etc. Purves is a terrific singer. He’s not a barrel bass. He frequently sounds like a baritone, though his deep notes, held long, are subsonic and thrilling. His diction is great and his enthusiasm burns. He also has a great sense of humor.

Reading about him, I note that he sang the comic part of Sixtus Beckmesser in Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger,” and such experience shows. In the remote chance you know these arias, you will perceive them in a new light. To hear Purves pour out the two simple words “I rage” with passion and Baroque curlicues is to be swept back to Handel’s time, when this music smoldered with real emotion and drama.

On the lighter side, I hope it isn’t irreverent to say this, but a few clever English rhymes made me think of Gilbert and Sullivan. Arcangelo is an unusual ensemble, combining historical and modern instruments. It jumps out at you with its vivid accompaniment, rich with whimsical, antique woodwinds.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

Jazz

Robert Hurst

Bob: A Palindrome

[Bebob]

3½ stars

If the first thing you did with this CD is look at the personnel, you’re likely to be moved to mutter a thoroughly involuntary “wow.” Hurst was one of the Marsalis family’s bass playing retainers when Branford Marsalis brought him aboard in the first all-star jazz band of Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show.” That doesn’t quite prepare you for the high-level assemblage on this Hurst disc: Marsalis on tenor and soprano saxophones; Bennie Maupin on alto flute, bass clarinet and saxophones; Robert Glasper on piano; Marcus Belgrave on trumpet; Adam Rudolph on percussion and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums.

That’s all fine and dandy but it doesn’t begin to tell you what the piece de resistance of the disc is, which is the gorgeous and sometimes wild contrapuntal playing by the horns on several of the pieces on the disc. It’s a modern, post-Coltrane update of the original contrapuntal music of Marsalis’ native New Orleans.

There is truly spectacular playing all through this disc – by Marsalis, Maupin, pianist Robert Glasper and, as expected, the great drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts.

There are two secrets here: The music was originally recorded in 2001 when such an assemblage was still possible. And second, as Hurst says, “master drummer and composer Tony Williams once told me that he felt the best bands were always multigenerational. Robert Glasper represents the younger (hip-hop) generation on this project. I love his no genre lines approach to playing. Whether we are swingin’, funkin’ or playing ballads, Glasper always brings the fire. No matter what direction the music goes, Robert can always find a soulful musical solution.”

– Jeff Simon

Classical

Philip Glass

Solo Piano Music

Performed by Jeroen Van Veen

[Brilliant Classics, three discs]

3½ stars

When Philip Glass gave a concert of his solo piano music in Buffalo, a reviewer of the event was scandalized by the most obvious fact about the event: Glass, unlike so many composers (Bartok, Prokofiev) is no virtuoso pianist and the fact that he’d allow an audience to hear him play his own piano music for an entire evening reveals the degree to which he doesn’t really consider his piano music to be virtuoso fare. It is, in fact, part of its charm often that it not be considered that way. (No matter what more conventional and strait-laced concertgoers might prefer.)

That’s important to keep in mind when listening to Dutch minimalist pianist Jeroen Van Veen’s version of Glass’ music. Some of it clearly is virtuosic – “How Now” for instance.

But for those who have always thought that his film music is among his best work, there is an almost salonlike piano suite version of his music for “The Hours” (which producer Harvey Weinstein originally nixed for the film). And there’s a fragment from his music for “The Truman Show” as well as a trilogy sonata of adapted music from his greatest works “Einstein on the Beach,” “Satyagraha” (whose premiere was at Artpark) and “Akhnaten.”

It is superb and far more idiomatic than any conspicuous “virtuosity” could possibly be.

– J.S.