Muzak, smooth jazz, music to wine and dine foreign aristocrats to-whatever one calls the sounds made by Marc Antoine and his nylon-stringed guitar, there's no use denying its blander properties. Or its elegance either. Taking well-known classical melodies (yes, Pachelbel's "Canon" included) and both simplifying and syncopating the time signatures with flamenco-inflected percussion, Antoine casts spells so bewitching they could be used against him by Democrats in attack ads should he ever run for office in Delaware as a Tea Party favorite. Or as a gypsy.
By any standard, even the high ones set by Garbarek (a soprano and tenor saxophonist generally classified as jazz) and the Hilliard Ensemble (a vocal quartet generally classified as classical), this hauntingly meditative pouring of old wine (e.g., Komitas Parapet's "Ov Zarmanali [Hymn of the Baptism of Christ]") into new wineskins (the saxophone and vocal ensemble blend) is unusual to say the least. But, as the liner notes say, "[a]rt develops when the old can be shown in a new and surprising light," and "new and surprising" this experiment definitely is.
One needn't subscribe to the aesthetically dubious tenets of minimalism to find oneself soothed and/or entertained by Steve Reich's music. Unlike Philip Glass, whose pretensions almost always obtrude, Reich keeps his simplicity simple, foregrounding his rhythms and thereby nipping in the bud whatever delusions of grandeur may tempt him. This time he enlists the "new music" interpreters Bang on a Can and eighth blackbird to emphasize the scintilla in the rapids of his ever-flowing stream. And, as always, whither it cometh and whither it goeth isn't the point.
The avant-garde composer John Zorn releases so many albums (over half a dozen in 2010 so far) that keeping up with him is almost more work than pleasure-"almost" because even at his farthest out (see his Late Works with Fred Frith) a sense of purpose comes through. These 15 piano-centric pieces composed for films most people will never see make an ideal introduction, especially for listeners who've always wondered what Vince Guaraldi might've sounded like if he hadn't cast his fate to the wind so early.
The 30-year-old German violinist David Garrett is nothing if not media savvy. A former model, he displays his photogenic features prominently on his CD covers; an inheritor of the surname Bongartz, he opted to go public pseudonymously with his mother's far more marketable maiden name. And as a child of the '80s and '90s, he knows his rock 'n' roll. Ever since his 2007 debut, he has leavened his light-classics repertoire not only with show tunes and soundtrack themes but also with hard rock (Metallica, AC/DC).
On his new album, Rock Symphonies (Decca), he reverses the ratio, breaking up an otherwise all hard-rock program with one composition apiece by Beethoven, Bach, and Albéniz. Even the song called "Vivaldi vs. Vertigo" is more "Vertigo" (U2's, not Bernard Hermann's) than it is Vivaldi. Nirvana, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Wings, and more Metallica get the Garrett treatment, which is to say they're as loud as they are pseudo-Paganini-esque. As novelties go, they're not bad fun.