R. Kelly, Black Panties (RCA). The cover of R. Kelly’s 12th release, “Black Panties,” is the perfect advertisement for what’s inside. Depicted amid a sea of sprawling beautiful women adorned, naturally, only in “Black Panties,” our studly hero peers into the lens with a vacuous stare that can only be interpreted as downright creepy. Yes, folk, R. Kelly is apparently a stubborn, nonreformable sex addict, and we, his lucky listeners, get to act as his therapists. “Black Panties” is a concept album, and the concept is simply this – R. Kelly loves to have sex with as many women as possible, and then write about it. He likes oral sex (“Cookie,” “Legs Shakin’ ”); He likes watching other people have sex (“Throw This Money On You”); He likes being a sexual pedagogue (“Sex Genius”); and he apparently is not averse to having sex with a whole room full of people at once, either, if “Spend That” can be trusted. When all of this confused sexual nonsense and braggadocio is married to lame and tired R&B clichés, as it is here, the combined effect is not exactly sexy so much as it is just plain sad. Anyone this obsessed with sex is clearly compensating for emotional emptiness, and probably a fear of intimacy of a more enduring sort, too. That’d be fine if the music was at all interesting. But it isn’t. Leave it to R. Kelly to make sex sound unsexy. Ω (Jeff Miers)


Nashville: The Music of Nashville, Season 2, Volume 1 (Big Machine). It’s very simple: the reason that “Nashville” may have the most authentic and best continuing musical soundtrack of any TV dramatic show we’ve ever seen is that its creator, Callie Khouri, happens to be married to the greatest music producer currently working regularly with Hollywood, that everyday miracle-worker T-Bone Burnett (the next Burnett triumph you’ll see onscreen is the Coen Brothers’ truly wonderful upcoming “Inside Llewyn Davis,” whose soundtrack is already out and whose performers were seen in concert beginning Friday on Showtime). When you’ve got Burnett somewhere in the show’s pedigree, even vocals by its stars Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere sound like high-grade radio fodder in “Music City, U.S.A.” Burnett didn’t produce this newest disc of music from “Nashville,” Buddy Miller did. No, this Connie Britton version of “Ball and Chain” has nothing to do with either Big Mama Thornton or Janis Joplin. That, no doubt, will be another Burnett project altogether. This one is pretty good pastiche-Nashville in the company of Will Chase. With enough performance and writing integrity, no one will ever again be permanently swayed by Robert Altman’s musical misanthropy in HIS “Nashville.” ΩΩΩ (Jeff Simon)


Clifford Jordan, The Complete Strata-East Sessions (Mosaic, six discs by mail only from Mosaic, 425 Fairfield Ave., Suite 421, Stamford, Conn. or We’ve had Mosaic Records as the mail-only guardians of jazz heritage on records for 30 invaluable years now. In an anniversary year worth observing with unrestrained happiness by the jazz faithful, they are making it very clear they’re taking things with utmost seriousness. Tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan was the sort of great jazz musician whose career never came close to the right kind of “stardom,” despite being a stalwart for Carmen McRae, Charles Mingus, Randy Weston, Max Roach, Horace Silver etc. – unless, that is, he was on Strata-East records, that wonderful late-’60’s label that sprang up from the cracks in the sidewalk in an era of pop ascendancy when jazz was beset by commercial insecurity and incoherent longings of the spirit. These dates were originally released under Jordan’s name as well as Ed Blackwell’s, and Wilbur Ware’s (the legendary bassist’s “Super Bass” is classic.) Would you believe a never-before released Ed Blackwell disc with Don Cherry too? Much of this music could certainly be considered “school of Ornette Coleman” with Jordan subbing earthily for Ornette, but you’ll find too a half hour cut from Pharoah Sanders’ in post-Coltrane “Love Supreme” mode with, get this, Leon Thomas, Sonny Fortune, Sonny Sharrock and Cecil McBee. There’s terrific music on here, some making its first appearance on disc. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)


Natalie Dessay, Michel Legrand, “Entre elle et lui” (Erato). What woman would not want to put on a slinky gown, lie on grand pianos and sing songs in breathy French? It is too bad that dream afflicts even opera singers, who could be doing so much more with their voices. Someone like Natalie Dessay, who abandoned her career as a coloratura soprano in order to concentrate on pop and jazz. On this disc she is joined by Michel Legrand himself, playing the piano – and even singing. It’s great to hear from Michel Legrand. He looks dapper and he sounds great. His piano playing is a lot of fun – it reminds you that although his songs are delicate, they have backbone. Dessay is fine, too, natural and graceful. I like her singing. It’s just that I want to shake her: Woman, you could be singing the Queen of the Night! Well, she is obviously enjoying herself. There are something like a dozen different of her in slinky outfits, dancing on the piano, draped over Legrand. I think I can predict the two classic tracks off this disc. One is “The Windmills Of My Mind,” which Legrand sings with her. The other is “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?,” which Dessay sings solo and in English. The booklet gives the words of the songs, but no translations, zut alors. ΩΩΩ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


The Great French Pianists, The Original Piano Roll Recordings (Dal Segno). Before the Disklavier and other inventions of the digital age, piano rolls took on the challenge of preserving pianists’ playing for posterity, using mechanical reproducing pianos like Duo-Art, Ampico and Welte-Mignon. And they did the job surprisingly well, judging from these 17 performances from 1904 to 1935 by pianists including Saint-Saens, Cecile Chaminade, Gabriel Faure and Claude Debussy. These are great presences from the 19th century, and hearing them is a thrill. Saint-Saens is fleet-fingered in “Valse Mignonne” – it’s a joy to hear how he can dance up and down on one note. Debussy plays four of his own pieces, including his entire “Children’s Corner Suite,” culminating in the famous “Golliwog’s Cake Walk.” Anyone who played this suite as a student – I did – will be fascinated by what the composer chooses to emphasize, and what he lets disappear into a wash. You want to argue with him sometimes but then you think, but he wrote it! Eugen D’Albert gives an exciting take on Saint-Saens’ “Dance Macabre” and Cecile Chaminade, heard in her own “American March” and “Autumn Leaves,” shows herself to be an authoritative pianist, with fine poetry and timing. Finally, imagine hearing the famous Faure Pavane played by Faure himself! Well, sort of, anyway. Occasionally, you come down to earth and remember you are listening to piano rolls. They have a few flaws, in particular a tendency to make the pianists sound, at times, weak-fingered and indistinct. Still, how much better than nothing. The disc winds up with a joyous performance of the Offenbach Can Can played by Armbruster & Pilot. It’s marvelously of its era, Robert Armbruster being the pianist for Nelson Eddy on the Kraft Music Hall radio show. Many of these recordings, and others like them, are on YouTube. I hope we will be hearing more and more of them. ΩΩΩ½ (M.K.G.)


Louis Lortie, Liszt at the Opera performed by pianist Louis Lortie (Chandos). In the world of the classical piano virtuoso, there has always been a frequent, if artificial, dichotomy between those known as fire-breathing virtuosi and digital gymnasts (Horowitz) and those of cooler and more elegant profile (Curzon.) Canadian pianist Louis Lortie is a longtime critical favorite of the latter tribe, which makes this the spectacular and glorious anomaly that it is. Yes, Lortie is an avid Chopin pianist but in these Liszt transcriptions, we’re virtually getting Liszt, the un-virtuoso’s version of “Opera’s Greatest Hits” in his era. We’re skirting the outer edges of taste in Liszt repertoire and Lortie having the time of his life here, letting the music’s joyous vulgarity sing – not speak – for itself. The truth is that Liszt’s music is a huge world all to itself and uncategorizable in prejudicial shorthand. Anyone who can hear Lortie play Liszt’s Transcription of the overture to “Tannhauser” without a broad, beaming smile of joy may need a blood transfusion. Lortie gets so into the spirit that he makes some transcriptions of his own. ΩΩΩΩ (J.S.)