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SOUND CHECK : POP.

Jamiroquai/``Traveling Without Moving''

On ``Virtual Insanity,'' the obvious single from Jamiroquai's third effort, ``Traveling Without Moving'' (Work/Sony), lead singer Jason Key decries the advance of technology with a Luddite's feverish intensity. ``Forget about virtual reality,'' he ad-libs, sounding as though he's been pushed to the brink. ``The future is virtual insanity.''

He makes his point by leaning on a sturdy, basic, old-school track, something close to ``Innervisions''-era Stevie Wonder, as accompaniment. At once creative and opportunistic, Key knows how to hark back to the classics without becoming a mimic.

The next song, ``Cosmic Girl,'' updates Wonder's ``Rocket Love,'' while ``High Times'' veers dangerously close to the keyboard-bass-driven funk of the Gap Band. Elsewhere, he integrates '70s-style burbling synths and svelte strings into songs that would seem slight without those adornments.

This overt scholarship doesn't diminish the pure joy coursing through some of ``Traveling's'' songs, however: Both ``Virtual Insanity'' and the reggae-tinged ``Drifting Along'' are pop music in the best sense, full of wonder and possibility. Two Stars

?13- Tom Moon

Knight-Ridder Tribune News Wire

rap

The Roots/``illadelph halflife''

The Roots' ``illadelph halflife'' (DGC) is the greatest rap album you never heard last year, a mind-twisting, deep-probing tour de force that goes beyond the limitations of the genre to cover almost every base, from old-school rhyming and smooth neotraditionalist r&b to opera and Miles Davis-style jazz.

It's a masterful piece of work throughout, not the least of reasons because it is fundamentally original; no heavy reliance on samples here. But above all, the Roots' work shines because of its wonderfully stubborn refusal to be pigeonholed. When you get down to it, this isn't really rap or soul or r&b, really. It's universal music.

Take the closing ``Adventures in Wonderland,'' a brutal rap poem by Ursula Rucker in which she details a woman's plight up from the ghettos to the top of a fool's-paradise prostitute's glory, only to crash down into poverty and the loss of respect from her family. Read with vengeance by the author over a spooky beat, it is utterly harrowing, recalling both the ``Scared Straight''-style moments of the Last Poets and the frightening irony of Prince's ``Bob George.'' Four Stars

?13- Ben Wener

Orange County Register

classical

Julianne Baird and Ronn McFarlane/``Italian Lute Songs: 17th Century Songs''

Soprano Julianne Baird's singing paints these songs of love and longing with a sunny girlishness. The variety of Baird's ornamentation continually opens new vistas in the songs. Her ability to sing with an unvibrated sound that blooms to glowing warmth at climactic moments adds to the richness of the repertoire.

The lute was a standard instrument of the time, and accompanying all the songs with the instrument integrates the music and performance. Ronn McFarlane's subtle playing colors and complements the singer's eloquence on this Dorian release. Three Stars

?13- Daniel Webster

Knight-Ridder Tribune News Wire

Pittsburgh Symphony with conductor Lorin Maazel/``Music for Oboe and Orchestra''

Any orchestra interested in reconnecting its audiences to the music of its own day - thereby revitalizing its programming while truly arguing its relevance to contemporary culture - should take serious note of the three American concertos recorded here.

The virtues of each on this New World release are similar: inventive, virtuous writing for wind soloists; textural variety; rigorous intellect married to heartfelt emotions within a friendly but never shallow tonal language. Four Stars

?13- Mark Stryker

Knight-Ridder Tribune News Wire

world beat

Altan/``The Best of Altan''

With an almost religious fervor, the Dublin-based traditional Irish music group Altan embraces the Irish tradition of learning tunes and reels, then passing them down to the next generation.

But this is hardly the work of well-trained robots or doggedly rehearsed stylists. At one point, the rhythm of the reel is anchored by the sound of somebody's very audible foot, which pounds out the beat with the precision of a metronome and the passion of a musician.

A companion compilation to 1995's ``Altan: The First Ten Years,'' some editions of ``The Best of Altan'' (Green Linnet) come with a bonus CD, ``Altan Live in Concert,'' the pure grace and clarity of which makes the soundtrack to ``Riverdance'' sound like, well, a Broadway musical. Four Stars

?13- Jim Walsh

Knight-Ridder Tribune News Wire

jazz

Branford Marsalis/``The Dark Keys''

Branford Marsalis plays here with an authority that suggests a chip on his shoulder, as if he's sick of people complaining that he's squandering his talent.

The ``Love Supreme''-derived riff on the title track gives way to a wide-open modal burn in which the tenor saxophonist piles increasingly splintered scaler lines atop one another. The intensity swells until it's time to hide the kids - think John Coltrane circa 1965's ``Transition.'' Then Marsalis cools out on soprano with a relaxed yet abstract reading of brother Wynton's ``Hesitation,'' a reworking of ``I Got Rhythm.''

Branford and saxophonist Joe Lovano have a ball winking at Ornette Coleman - and each other - on ``Sentinel,'' one of the highlights of this Columbia album. Marsalis may not be asking for redemption, but he's got my blessing anyway. Four Stars

?13- Mark Stryker

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1) Jamiroquai's third album, ``Traveling Without Moving,'' echoes the sounds of such performers as Stevie Wonder and the Gap Band.

(2) On ``illadelph halflife,'' the Roots expand rap's reach by eschewing heavy reliance on samples in favor of backing music that dips into opera, jazz and r&b.
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jan 17, 1997
Words:903
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