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Rock/Blues/Jam

Michael Bloomfield, From His Head To His Heart To His Hands (Columbia/Legacy, three discs, one DVD). We all commonly refer to the first great generation of rock guitarists as a triumvirate–plus-one – the trinity of Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, with the addition of Jimi Hendrix. Perhaps we step outside the box a bit and add Peter Green, Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana and a few others. But very rarely do we mention the late Michael Bloomfield. And yet, without Bloomfield, what we accept today as the language of electric guitar would be radically different. “From His Head To His Heart To His Hands,” a box set curated by Bloomfield’s old friend and collaborator Al Kooper, attempts to set the record straight on this matter, and succeeds. Bloomfield grew up in Chicago, where as a child prodigy, he worked his way into jam sessions with the likes of B.B., Albert and Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, among others. Making a name for himself at a tender age, the guitarist ended up in the studio with Bob Dylan, cutting “Like A Rolling Stone,” and standing on stage with Dylan at Newport, when he “went electric” and changed the course of popular music. However, it was as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band that Bloomfield truly let his improvisational prowess show, bringing jazz-informed phrasing, the modal tendencies of Middle Eastern music, and a searing electric blues tone into the rock vernacular. Players took notice, but the rest of the world remained largely oblivious to Bloomfield’s game-changing accomplishments. Through the course of three CDs and a DVD featuring the short film “Sweet Blues,” directed by Bob Sarles, this collection tells the whole Bloomfield story – a tale that, sadly, was truncated due to the immensely talented guitarist’s heroin addiction. Anyone who cares about the ongoing history of the electric guitar needs to be familiar with Bloomfield. Here’s your chance. ΩΩΩΩ (Jeff Miers)

R&B/Soul

Otis Redding, “The King of Soul” (Atlantic/Rhino, four discs), and Aretha Franklin, “The Queen of Soul” (Atlantic/Rhino, four discs). There is, I think, nothing in the world of American hype and promotion that ever gave us anything better than Black History Month did. Here are two examples of what is so often magnificent about Black History Month – two four disc sets from what its label is terming the “Royal Court of Soul”: Otis Redding as “The King of Soul” and Aretha Franklin as “The Queen of Soul,” each set including music that was, in its time, revelatory and which will be, in our time and in any foreseeable future, absolutely incapable of dating. It was 50 years ago that Otis Redding’s LP “Pain in My Heart” first appeared. If Redding had never, in his all-too-short life (he was 26 when he died in a Wisconsin plane crash) made anything but studio albums at Stax, he’d still be immortal for the original version of “Respect,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” “Pain in My Heart,” “Sad Song” and so many others. What can’t help but blow you away every time you hear though it is what an astonishing live performer he was. The live performances from 1967 on the final disc here are among the great live concert performances in all of American popular music. The music that Jerry Wexler figured out would rescue Aretha Franklin from years of total misunderstanding remains some of the greatest and most influential music in the history of R&B. No one is ever likely to equal those sudden upward swoops of Aretha singing; no matter how influential her performance has proved to be, no one has ever come close to her at her gospel/soul best. On these four discs is the music that put her into the heart of American musical consciousness for all time – “A Natural Woman,” HER version of Otis’ “Respect,” “Think,” “Dr. Feelgood,” “Chain of Fools,” “Son of a Preacher Man,” “The Weight,” all the music that has become basic to America’s essential vernacular musical vocabulary. These are first-class ways to own some of greatest American music of the past century. ΩΩΩΩ for both (Jeff Simon)

Jazz

Tim Hegarty, “Tribute” (Miles High Records) If you’ve never heard of the tenor saxophonist despite his 25-year presence on the New York jazz scene, you need only know this: that when the call went out from his producer and vibist on the disc Mark Sherman, he was able to get a venerable and veteran all-star band with pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Carl Allen. Hegarty is a fine player who delivers solo statements that are clear, precise, concise and always to the point of the music. You’ll hear a lot of technical fluidity here and not an ounce of aimless searching for powerful musical ideas that will never come. The idea here is one of the more typical of our neo-classic jazz era: i.e. Hegarty paying tribute to those who either were his teachers or who he regarded as teachers: Jimmy Heath, George Coleman, Joe Henderson and Thelonious Monk and, of course, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. He calls it the easiest flowing date he’s ever done. With a band like this, of course it was. ∆∆∆ (J.S.)

Classical

Kara Karayev, “The Seven Beauties,” “The Path of Thunder” ballet suites performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Dmitry Yablonsky (Naxos). A 20th century Azerbaijani composer very much worth discovering. Imagine a composer who lived from 1918 to 1982 writing in midcentury Azerbaijan in a folk-filled idiom that sounds like a stop on the musical highway running in between Rimsky-Korsakov and Khachaturian and you’ll have an idea how melodic and extremely attractive this music is. Major music it’s not (it would be great at the hipper pops concerts), but the playing here by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is so good you might almost think that they believe it IS first-rate music. ∆∆∆½ (J.S.)

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Stravinsky, Solo Piano Works performed by Jenny Lin (Steinway and Sons). Because these are solo piano works, you won’t, unfortunately, find any version of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” which, in its two piano adaptation, is really quite something. On the other hand, there’s fine music here as well as some surprises, most notably his “Four Etudes” from 1908 wherein the pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov is dedicating some pieces to his children and very much reminding you how close he was in time to Rachmaninov and Scriabin. On the other hand, the Guido Agosti adaptation of three movements from the “Firebird Suite” – including the glorious finale, among the greatest moments in all of 20th century music, – are played with exceptional sensitivity and finish by the young pianist. Great stuff. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)

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“Embrace the Wind,” Chamber Music for the Native American Flute (Albany Records). The Native American flute has a uniquely mournful sound. It has the artless sound of a recorder, but as a note dies out it swoops downward. This indie disc explores its potential in contemporary classical chamber music. The best music on it is by Randall Snyder, who has a good melodic sense and also a feel for how to capitalize on the flute’s distinct characteristics. His “Native Scenes” are lovely, from the graceful “Earth Dance” to the tender counterpoint of “Lullaby.” Michael Mauldin’s “Song for a Windless Night” teams the Native flute with a soprano and a lyrical cello, to good effect, showing off the flute’s falling tones. Other tracks are less engaging. John Heins’ “Legends” (for solo Native flute) and Philip Parker’s “Rainmaker” (for Native flute and percussion) both sound like the backdrop to a nature special. Still, the disc touches on the potential of this ancient-sounding instrument, and suggests that it has a bright future. ΩΩ (M.K.G.)