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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Four releases from 2009 reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

Issue: "2010 The Year Ahead," Jan. 16, 2010

Dresden in Concert

Amazingly, given Garbarek's lengthy discography, age (62), and the popularity among jazz aficionados of live albums, this two-disc 2007 performance is the Norwegian tenor and soprano saxophonist's first concert recording. "[T]he ensemble has become perhaps the most popular European group currently playing instrumental music with strong improvisational traits," reads a PR blurb, and, its many qualifiers notwithstanding, one hopes it's true. Rigorous yet meditative, funky yet calm, lean and clean yet suggestive of, and susceptible to, an undertow one needn't be a jazz aficionado to believe in.

Camilla Kerslake

Shoppers have to go the import route for this one, but for once the "classical crossover" tag should not be taken as a warning. Kerslake, a 21-year-old England-born, New Zealand-reared soprano, has been singing seriously just long enough to want to make a good impression but not long enough to have let the praise go to her head. So she retains a vocal modesty that's charmingly demure and entirely appropriate to the no doubt carefully chosen program of standards and favorites with which she has stunningly debuted.

Time Stands Still

Those who have managed to postpone making the acquaintance of this most engaging of acoustic folk bluesmen may as well shake his hand here. His latest 11 songs contain three typically well-chosen covers (one Dylan, one Mark Knopfler, one Frank Hutchison), but, as Smither's old friends know, it's the originals that stop you in your tracks. "Surprise, Surprise" reduces the book of Ecclesiastes to 4:08. The biggest surprise: Smither is an even better singer than he is a guitarist, and he's a very good one of those.

The Great Divide

"What Have I Done," the featured video on this combo's MySpace page, is misleadingly up-tempo (most of the album proceeds more slowly), but its lyrics accurately reflect the extent to which Christianity irrigates these uniformly fascinating songs: A man suddenly realizes that he's on the road to hell and hopes it's not too late to turn back (and that he's not alone in hoping so). Even more interesting is "First Time," perhaps the first pop song since the sexual revolution to make waiting until marriage sound good.

Spotlight

Missing from the 29 acts listed as influences by the London trio Let's Wrestle on MySpace, Facebook, and the website of its label, Stolen Records, is the uniquely idiosyncratic proto-punk folkie Jonathan Richman. Yet Let's Wrestle's lead singer Wesley Patrick Gonzalez sings and writes so much like Richman (enthusiastically adenoidal and childishly forthright, respectively) that the absence of Richman from Let's Wrestle's influences list must surely be a joke.

It wouldn't be the first instance of humor where Let's Wrestle is concerned. From the title of its debut CD (In the Court of the Wrestling Let's, a playful allusion to the title of a King Crimson album) to songs about getting over the death of Princess Di ("Diana's Hair") and growing old and "wrinkled like a prune" ("Song for Old People"), wry observance rules. As for the expletive in the title of the opening track, it's nowhere in the song itself. What is: refusal to countenance suicide and/or euthanasia.

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