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Now Hear This

Reviews of recent CDs by Raphael Saadiq, Oxford American magazine, No BS Brass Band and more.

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Raphael Saadiq, “The Way I See It” (Columbia/Sony)

Raphael Saadiq has been on the scene since the late '80s with the San Francisco R&B and funk outfit Tony! Toni! TonAc! More recently, his solo music has lent itself to retrospective soul. 2004's “Ray Ray” set him in the blaxploitation style of the early- to mid-'70s, but on his latest, Saadiq returns to the lush pop melodies and tight band arrangements of '60s Motown.

The Motown sound works well for Saadiq, whose falsetto is scaled somewhere between a young Smokey Robinson and an older Eddie Kendricks. The song “100 Yard Dash” pulsates with assistance from a house band that echoes the Funk Brothers at every step. “Keep on Marchin'” channels the Temptations by using tambourines, handclaps and fine vocal arrangements. Saadiq wrote these 13 tracks and produced all but two, handling most of the guitar, bass and drums. The duets “Just One Kiss,” featuring special guest Joss Stone and “Never Give You Up,” featuring Stevie Wonder and C.J. Hilton, are well produced. A bonus track, “Oh Girl,” featuring Jay Z, is the only departure from the album flow, but a smooth R&B and light hip-hop mix is not a bad way to close out a stellar set. HHHHI — Darrl Davenport

“Beethoven, Clement: Violin Concertos,” Rachel Barton Pine (violin), Royal Philharmonic with JosAc Serebrier (Cedille)

Among a crowd of gifted American violinists in their 20s and 30s, Rachel Barton Pine has carved her own niche by exploring neglected music — initially, works by African-American composers, more recently, large-scale opuses by violinist-composers of the 19th century. Her latest recording pairs Beethoven's Concerto in D major for violin and orchestra with another Concerto in D, written around the same time by Franz Clement, the Viennese violinist Beethoven had in mind as the soloist for his concerto.
 
The two pieces share more than their vintage (1805-1806). Both last more than 40 minutes — epic length by the standards of the time; and in addition to demanding great technique and expressiveness from the violinist, they're fully symphonic in their scope and orchestrations. The Beethoven is remembered, and played almost daily in a concert hall somewhere on the planet, because it goes where violin concertos had not gone before (and where few have since). The Clement is forgotten because it mostly recycles on a larger scale the form and style of the classical concerto perfected a generation earlier by Haydn and Mozart.

Pine makes a persuasive case for the Clement, playing up to the grandly rhetorical tone of the opening allegro maestoso and voicing its central adagio with sentiment that never sinks into sentimentality. Her interpretation of the Beethoven is moderately paced, unaffectedly soulful and focused on long-lined lyricism in the romantic tradition of such past masters as Itzhak Perlman and Nathan Milstein. Conductor JosAc Serebrier and the Royal Philharmonic of London are fully engaged partners in both works. HHHHI — Clarke Bustard
 
Rachel Barton Pine performs at Virginia Commonwealth University's Singleton Center Jan. 31 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $32. She also conducts a free violin master class in the same venue Jan. 30 at 4 p.m. 828-6776.

Various Artists, “The Oxford American Southern Music No. 10” (CMT)

One of the absolute best mixes ever has to be Oxford American magazine's Southern music CD from 2000. It introduced a world, a whole culture and language and sound, that has and continues to be elusive and contentious: the great sprawling South. That compilation included Mose Allison, Wilco with Billy Bragg, the Derailers, Randy Newman and Dolly Parton. It was, to put too fine a point on it, perfect, not just in the choosing of the artists, but also in the songs, and the resonance they created amongst themselves. It transported. So there was great anticipation when Oxford, which describes itself as the Southern magazine of good writing and an important chronicler of the ever-evolving sub-Mason-Dixon civilization, produced its 10th anniversary CD — a double disc, Future Masters and Past Masters, including some of the best from previous collections.

Like those efforts, this compilation features big names performing lesser-known songs for which the magazine must have scoured many dusty corners. Ella Fitzgerald, Lighnin' Hopkins, Isaac Hayes, Lucinda Williams and R.E.M. — these are the expected voices of the South, supplemented by the appropriately curious choices — the Residents, Elton and Betty White — that keep the South a constantly changing entity, strange and often abominable to the cultures of the North.

And yet these discs don't create that same harmony, don't reflect the same light, as previous compilations. Unlike 2000's, the 10th anniversary tells a lot of stories rather than one cohesive one. Maybe it's the size of the net. Of the 56 songs, more than half are really good, even though they don't quite establish a dialogue. It's the characteristically brilliant stories in the issue — one for each artist featured (Neko Case rendered by Greil Marcus! Peter Guralnick's slow reveal of Jerry Lee Lewis!) — that go a long way toward helping tell that big story that a certain previous, smaller compilation managed just with its music. In his introduction, Editor Marc Smirnoff addresses the difficulty of fitting things into a “Southern” label, and yet Oxford, both in print and on those discs, often manages to find that voice, as much by the cultural similarities as by the messy, fertile dissonances. Still and all, thank the good Southern lord these musicians all belong to us. HHHII — Brandon Reynolds

No BS Brass Band, “Alive In Richmond”

Play it loud. The No BS Brass Band is one of the most consistently exciting live groups in Richmond. Its modus operandi is to set up in the middle of the audience and start blazing away in an infectious, top-and-bottom-heavy glory of drums and horns. The band includes a thick slice of the current cadre of local brass players, led by the wildly imaginative trombonist Reggie Pace, who, along with drummer and engineer Lance Koehler, writes most of the originals. (A notable exception is bass trombonist Reggie Chapman's “Cinnamon Girl.” Those expecting the familiar Neil Young song will have to satisfy their taste for covers with the No BS version of Rush's “Tom Sawyer.”) The set ends with Pace's epic suite based on the kung fu films of the Shaw Brothers.

Again, play it loud. The album is a raw, warts-and-all presentation, and when sonically deflated the imperfections stand out, like driving too slow on a bumpy road that a bit of speed will smooth out. Recording is an unforgivingly artificial process: In a gig fluff fades quickly: a CD is forever. “Alive” documents No BS's immediacy and imagination at the expense of showcasing the virtuosity of the players. But the charms of Pace and company are considerable enough that most reservations are blown away. (The four-star rating assumes an 80-decibel minimum listening volume.) HHHHI — Peter McElhinney

The No BS Brass Band has a CD release party at the Camel on Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. 353-4901.

 

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