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Notable CDs

Four new culturally enriching CDs reviewed by Arsenio Orteza

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Style: Thirty-five acoustic spirituals, prison ballads, and other African-American folk songs.

Worldview: "A few years ago I was delighted to see a Langston Hughes stamp on sale at the post office. It read, 'Black Heritage.' I said to the clerk, 'My mother read me Langston Hughes' poetry. It's my heritage.' Would they put 'White Heritage' on a Mark Twain stamp?"

Overall quality: Multiple guest vocalists share the spotlight, but it's Calhoun's weathered baritone that gives this project its unity and gravitas.


Style: Lavishly produced pop R&B.

Worldview: That a young woman can still become a best-selling pop star on the strength of her talent (i.e., without recourse to a series of tabloid-worthy meltdowns).

Overall quality: Finally, something worthwhile emerges from the Simon Cowell factory (The X Factor, the British counterpart to American Idol, on which Cowell was a judge when Lewis won in 2006); Lewis' voice commands enough attention to make the glossiness of the budget-stretching production sound more like a means than an end.

The Rhyming Circus

Style: Exuberantly performed, immaculately produced "children's music" that's actually power-pop suitable for the whole family.

Worldview: "When I was a baby, my mama told me, 'Son, / be nice to other children, share your toys with everyone. / Well, I pushed a toddler over just to watch him fall. / I'm here in Folsom Daycare, and it's no fun at all" ("Folsom Daycare Blues").

Overall quality: The subject matter is age-appropriate (the alphabet, shapes and colors, tap-dancing elephants); the hooks, wit, and vocabulary will have even parents with Ph.D.s singing along.

Piano Starts Here: Live at The Shrine (Zenph Re-Performance)

Style: The Zenph "Re-Performance" versions of the jazz pianist Art Tatum's first four commercial recordings (circa 1933) and his highly regarded 1949 concert at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium.

Worldview: That Tatum really did possess some of the fastest fingers ever to win a cutting contest-and that, Luddite reservations to the contrary, computer technology can enhance one's appreciation of the past.

Overall quality: Solo jazz perfection not once but twice: The disc's two layers present all 13 tracks in both surround-sound "Super Audio" and binaural stereo.


Buoyed by the success of their first "re-performance"-Glenn Gould's 1955 Goldberg Variations-the wizards at Zenph Studios have now come to the rescue of Art Tatum's landmark but sonically substandard 1949 jazz recording, Piano Starts Here: Live At The Shrine (Sony BMG Masterworks). Like Goldberg Variations, Zenph's Piano Starts Here was created by having a precise, digital encoding of Tatum's original playing read then played by a piano programmed to reproduce Tatum's dazzlingly dexterous performance note for note, rhythm for rhythm, syncopation for syncopation, and dynamic for dynamic.

There is apparently no end to which Zenph's technicians will not go in their pursuit of authenticity. Besides including all 13 tracks in both surround-sound and binaural stereo (the former to recreate the audience's perspective, the latter to recreate Tatum's), they also recorded the nine tracks that were originally recorded live in the very same Shrine Auditorium-on a piano positioned on the stage exactly as Tatum's.

Arsenio Orteza

Arsenio is a music reviewer for WORLD Magazine and one of its original contributors from 1986. Arsenio resides in China.



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