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Washington County native shows sax skills on CD

| Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 8:04 p.m.
'Scott Boni,' by the Scott Boni Trio
'Hudson City Suite' by Scott Healy Ensemble
'Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors' by Big Boi
'... First Came Memphis Minnie,' by Maria Muldaur and various artists
'Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head' by T.I.

Reviews

‘Scott Boni'

Scott Boni Trio (Ferraro Studios)

Scott Boni is skilled enough on his alto saxophone that he is able to roll easily though his current album even though he plays the only melody instrument on that hour of music. He also is able to do that while dealing with jazz statements of themes by Ludwig van Beethoven, Philip Glass and Frederic Chopin. “Scott Boni” is an impressive work by the Washington County native who lives in Boston. Besides five originals, he also does a version of the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony that takes on such a strong jazz phrasing it is tough to place the melody. He also gives the Glass piece, pulled from a string quartet, a crisp jazz look, but its repeated lines and energy are so Glass-like it is a little easier to place. His tone on those pieces and the originals is so consistent, it gives the album a feeling of wholeness. Drummer Mike Connors and bassist Mark Zaleski stay in the background but offer good work throughout.

— Bob Karlovits

‘Hudson City Suite'

Scott Healy Ensemble (Hudson City)

It takes courage for a composer to refer to a work as “Ellington-inspired” because of the comparison it invites. But keyboardist-composer Scott Healy gets away with it because “Hudson City Suite” is well done. The nine-movement piece is titled after the post-Civil War name for part of New Jersey. The work uses an 11-piece band that sounds bigger. The group uses tasteful riffing behind solos to blend the large and small sounds. Muted trumpets make statements behind a bass solo on “Summit Avenue Conversation,” for instance. The piece rolls along from a swift “Central Trolley” to a gently cruising “Gaslight,” and the band hints at the sounds of Duke Ellington's, Count Basie's and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis groups. Not bad company to keep. The liner notes hint this was a 20-year project for Healy, and it seems worth the wait.

— Bob Karlovits

‘Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors'

Big Boi (Def Jam)

Back when OutKast was having its way with the pop-music universe with the double-disc “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” in 2003, Big Boi was supposed to be the meat-and-potatoes half of the duo, in charge of churning out the funk in contrast to Andre 3000's more fanciful musical flights. These days, though, with his other half in OutKast seemingly permanently on the sidelines, Big Boi has taken responsibility for delivering bottom-heavy rump-shakers and experimental pop. He delivered the goods without fail on 2010's “Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty,” but on “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors” the results are more uneven. BB collaborates with a dizzying array of guest artists, from indie-rockers Wavves and Phantogram, to R&B artist Kelly Rowland, to Southern rappers T.I. and Ludacris. But, if that makes for a bumpy ride through hard-to-figure head-nodders such as “Thom Pettie” to the dreamy closer, “Descending,” featuring Swedish electro band Little Dragon, “Vicious Lies” still gets envelope-pushing points, as it aims, with varying degrees of success, to expand the parameters of hip-hop.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

‘... First Came Memphis Minnie'

Maria Muldaur (Stony Plain)

Although billed equally with the other contributors on the album cover, Maria Muldaur is really the driving force behind this “loving tribute” to Memphis Minnie. She produced the set and sings on eight of the 13 tracks.

Muldaur has had a long fascination with the pioneering blueswoman who became a primary influence on her. A photo on the inner sleeve shows Muldaur singing a Memphis Minnie tune with her then-husband, Geoff Muldaur, at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Her feel for the music comes through in performances of numbers such as “Me and My Chauffeur Blues” and “She Put Me Outdoors” (one of two duets with bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart).

Also impressive on the album's bracingly stripped-down acoustic arrangements are Bonnie Raitt, Rory Block and Ruthie Foster. Two of the album's contributions, meanwhile, are recordings by now-deceased artists: Phoebe Snow, not known for the blues, offers a striking rendition of “In My Girlish Days” from 1976, backed by David Bromberg and others, and Koko Taylor closes the set with a ferocious, full-band take on “Black Rat Swing” from 2007 that is electric in more ways than one.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

‘Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Head'

T.I. (Grand Hustle/ Atlantic)

In “Can You Learn,” a slow-rolling cut from his new studio disc, T.I. beseeches a lover to look past his recent legal troubles to focus on “the good qualities within.” “Trouble Man” asks something similar of listeners: The Atlanta rapper's first album since being released last year from federal prison following a probation violation, it surrounds a handful of his sharpest, most insightful songs with far less effective material — tracks that either vague out into club-rap utility or sag hopelessly under the weight of cornball sentiment. “Trouble Man,” at its best, examines the unseen cost of crime, as in “Can You Learn” (with R. Kelly) and “Wildside,” which opens with one of several skits dramatizing T.I.'s various arrests. But he isn't strictly playing the reformer: “Sorry,” a stirring collaboration with Andre 3000, insists, “You can't please everybody,” while in “Who Want Some,” T.I. boasts of indiscretions to come over a swaggering beat by DJ Toomp. As for the clunkers, “G Season” and “Ball” fail to deepen themes, and the chorus of “Cruisin” makes a regrettable rhyme of “Lamborghini” and “blue bikini.” But those feel pretty harmless compared with “Guns and Roses,” which interpolates a dreary rendition of Pachelbel's Canon, and “Wonderful Life,” in which Akon sinks T.I.'s mournful verses by crooning lines from “Your Song” by Elton John.

— Los Angeles Times

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