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SOUND CHECK.

ROYCE CAMPBELL: ``Six by Six: A Jazz Guitar Celebration'' (Moon Cycle) - Four stars

With '04 almost over, we can safely declare this the best jazz guitar album of the year. Campbell, the late Henry Mancini's longtime guitarist, shows versatility and depth on this warm set of six-string duos with Larry Coryell, Pat Martino, John Abercrombie, Dave Stryker and Bucky Pizzarelli. Those familiar with these famed instrumentalists will enjoy hearing how they bend their styles toward one another in the two-guitar format, with Martino playing more lyrically than usual on ``Milestones,'' Coryell and Campbell trading lines on ``Happy Blues,'' and the traditional-sounding Campbell adopting a chorus effect with Abercrombie. Available at roycecampbell.com and dcjazz.com.

- Steven Rosenberg

TONY BENNETT: ``Fifty Years: The Artistry of Tony Bennett''(RPM/Columbia) - Four stars

TONY BENNETT: ``The Complete Improv Recordings'' (Concord) - Four stars

If Bennett's beautiful new collection of top-flight, rarely performed love songs, ``The Art of Romance,'' isn't enough of a gift, here are two outstanding compilations. ``Artistry'' adds another disc and 23 more tracks to the four-disc box that was originally released in 1991, the definitive Bennett retrospective. ``Improv'' collects the five albums Bennett recorded for his own label from 1975-77 on four CDs, adding numerous alternate takes and one unissued cut. The material is consistently outstanding. One look at his collaborators _ pianist Bill Evans and guitarist Charlie Byrd among them _ and you know why. For various reasons, this music was initially lost in the shuffle. It won't be again.

- Glenn Whipp

THE GOURDS: ``Blood of the Ram'' (Eleven Thirty) - Three and one half stars

Apocalyptic visions mingle with preverbal party grunts on this latest album from the musically peripatetic Texas roots outfit. Sometimes they sound like a classic soul band, oftentimes they sound like the Band, and a good deal of Cajun accordion lends a certain swamp-monster stomp to the whole affair. Lyrics are very clever, too, when they're not being slurred; of course, some will consider that a blessing during the dirtier verses.

- Bob Strauss

HANDSOME BOY MODELING SCHOOL: ``White People'' (Atlantic/Elektra) - Four stars

If the interludes featuring Father Guido Sarducci and Tim Meadows are too silly, skip 'em. This dynamic new set from super-producers Prince Paul and Dan ``The Automator'' Nakamura and an all-star cast has plenty of yesteryear-tinged beats from which to choose. Take ``If It Wasn't for You,'' a Charleston swing-hopper that features De La Soul and Starchild Excalibur trading rhymes over needle-scratches, piano, cellos and horns. Reggae rhythms and pleading vocals from Barrington Levy are paired with laid-back rhymes from Del the Funky Homosapien and a crooning Alex Kapranos on ``The World's Gone Mad.'' On ``Breakdown,'' Jack Johnson's mellow vocals are accompanied by looping beats and distant, operatic voices. And the more you listen, the better this album gets.

- Sandra Barrera

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 19, 2004
Words:477
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