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POP
Matthew E. White
Big Inner
(Domino/EMI)

★★★★

IT'S about 20 years since Beck Hansen, on the US west coast, and then Air (Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel), from Versailles, slipped under the usual industry hurdles to present pop music with a series of questions masquerading as devilishly catchy songs.

The recent past has brought the rise of what we now could call the Beck/Air generation - a cohort of musicians who have grown up assuming those same questions already have answers: irony and sincerity are indistinguishable, pop and funk are not mutually exclusive, electronic and analog are companions and the Atlantic is a carrier, not a barrier. To CSS and Field Music, Kiwi band the Phoenix Foundation and our own Parades, and particularly the Step Kids, you can add - and then immediately push to the front of the line - Matthew E. White. Big Inner is a deliciously vague, deceptively meandering exploration of what once might have been described as the fringes, but is, in fact, pop central for people who don't measure everything by BS - that is, on the Beyonce scale.

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You might get some sense of its breadth, or its ability to be so many things to different people, from the fact that in the US, where it was released last year, or Europe and here, it has been called soul, country, Americana and rock - all of which are true and not true in equal measure. White's songs, played by drummer Pinson Chanselle (who sounds as if he could have been in both Air and one of Beck's Scientology manuals with that name), bass player Cameron Ralston and the bearded man himself have some of the light narcotic haze of those nightclubs where the beautiful people loll about on the mezzanine level while the rest of us gaze up and wonder just what is in that long glass of something aquamarine. The songs project a lot of low-impact grooves that mix funk and jazz without ever breaking into a hot sweat or wasting time noodling (though the angular breakout near the end of Hot Toddies reminds you that White knows a '70s that had as much Weather Report in it as post-Motown). This is the Virginian's urban spin, his northerner touch, if you like.

At the same time, there is something rustic and recycled in the down-home country ease and the matching gentle gospel. It's slower and a little more subtly sensual, a Sunday-morning feel but in this case one of languid stretching rather than any curled-up-with-a post-party-hangover. When the choirs come they coo rather than soar; when the strings follow they brush rather than sweep grandly; and when White sings ''Jesus Christ is our Lord/Jesus Christ is your friend'' in Brazos , it's done with slinky invocation.

Big Inner may not proclaim its genius from any rooftops but this may be one of the finer albums you'll hear this year.

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BERNARD ZUEL


JAZZ
Ted Vining Trio
Live at PBS-FM 1981
(Newmarket)

★★★★

THE Ted Vining Trio was one of Australia's longest-running jazz ensembles, formed in the late 1960s and only coming to an end with the passing of bassist Barry Buckley in 2006. The trio was renowned for the energy and exuberance of its live performances, and this 1981 concert - available on CD for the first time - captures the band in dazzling form. Recorded at the Prince of Wales in St Kilda (the former studios of radio station 3PBS), it features the trio stretching out on a selection of jazz standards. Pianist Bob Sedergreen is such a potent presence his playing dictates much of the band's dynamics, whether establishing melodic themes or surging through multiple improvised choruses with Vining snapping at his heels on drums and Buckley anchoring the irresistible grooves. The trio's creative empathy is palpable and the recording is peppered with audible chuckles and calls of appreciation as the players revel in the joy of shared music-making. Impressions brims with vitality, while Sweet Georgie Fame settles into a buoyant jazz waltz. But Little Sunflower is the standout track, pinned to a hypnotic bass riff and coaxed into Afro-Latin party mode with the help of guest percussionist Alan Lee.

JESSICA NICHOLAS


CLASSICAL
Antony Gray
Bach
(ABC)

★★★☆

BACH, along with Liszt, was probably music history's greatest transcriber, Australian pianist Antony Gray observes in the notes to his three-CD collection of Bach transcriptions by other composers. But where Liszt's eye fell where it might, Bach raided his own music. This fascinating set shows how he - above anyone - has always been fertile ground for others, too.

It has 62 transcriptions from cantatas, choral works, suites and organ works, by composers great and small. Here is Bach himself, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Saint-Saens, Busoni (but not the great chaconne from the D minor Partita for Violin No. 2, possibly the most famous transcription of all), Reger, Bax, Bliss, Bridge and Percy Grainger, and that most prolific of musicians, Anon. Here are also transcriptions by great pianists such as Wilhelm Kempff, Earl Wild and Carl Tausig, often intended to highlight their gifts.

Some are unadorned and literal, others are highly imaginative, such as Frank Millward's The Crucifixion Blues from the Mass in B minor, Wild's Homage to Poulenc based on a keyboard partita and Grainger's Blithe Bells - a free ramble on Sheep May Safely Graze. Several pieces were apparently transcribed specifically for this project, one by Gray.

A most accomplished player, Gray tends to take a sober approach with moderate tempi, and I cannot fault him for that. He refers to the intricacies and formidable technical demands forbidding fast speeds, but he also liberates the complicated structures and inner voices. Fine spacious sound and excellent notes.

BARNEY ZWARTZ