VARIOUS: GLEE: THE MUSIC, VOLUME 1 ** COLUMBIA, £12.99
WHILE anything which popularises AOR behemoths Journey is to be welcomed, did their seminal soft rock anthem Don't Stop Believin' really have to be emasculated at the (jazz) hands of a bunch of creatively stunted Kids From Fame flashing their gleaming gnashers in the service of the knowing post-High School Musical TV hit Glee? The glossy karaoke of the soundtrack, split fairly evenly between showtunes, drippy pop and reasonably ballsy renditions of current R&B tracks, is the 21st-century equivalent of those not-so-soundalike Top Of The Pops compilation albums, replacing anonymous session singers with toothsome starlets pushing the follow-your-dreams message like drugs behind the bike sheds. Lock up your five-year-olds.
PAUL VICKERS & THE LEG: ITCHY GRUMBLE
SL RECORDS, 11.99
IF YOU ever wondered what a rock opera about a pint-sized, immortal protagonist charged with the quest of revolving a lighthouse on the Forth Estuary might sound like, then prepare to be enlightened, as Edinburgh-based feral noiseniks The Leg assist former Dawn of the Replicants frontman Paul Vickers in realising a concept so impenetrably surreal that even the Mighty Boosh might find it bewildering. Perhaps you need to experience the full stage show (pending) to make sense of its demented Beefheartian blues punk clatter.
GUILLAUME CONNESSON: COSMIC TRILOGY & THE SHINING ONE
GUILLAUME Connesson's music is nothing if not hugely accessible. This exuberant transfer to disc of works championed (and, in some cases, commissioned) by Stphane Denve and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in recent seasons reinforces its easy-listening quality. Take the piano concerto The Shining One, which mixes the lustrous ecstasy of Hollywood-style scoring and frolicking energy with heady romantic harmonies that bear more allegiance to Rachmaninov than the present epoch. The spontaneity of the music – with pianist Eric Le Sage in sparkling form – is mesmerising from start to finish. The same dizzy effervescence feeds through Connesson's Cosmic Trilogy, and once again Denve's sensitive underlining of the textures hits the spot, as much in the dreamy contemplation of Une lueur dans l'ge sombre as the minimalist-inspired excitement of Aleph.
MARK LOCKHEART & THE NDR BIG BAND: DAYS LIKE THESE
FUZZY MOON RECORDS, 12.99
MARK Lockheart continues to assert his claim as a major voice in contemporary jazz, and this excellent outing with the splendid Hamburg-based NDR Band adds further weight to that claim. The title track and Man With A Yellow Case (inspired by a Wayne Shorter anecdote) were written for the project. The other five are new arrangements of tunes familiar from earlier recordings, including two originally for his 12-piece Scratch Band, Busby Berkeley Parts 1&2 and In Two Parts. The three imaginative expansions of small group material are equally fine, and Lockheart is in superb form on soprano saxophone (he sets the tenor aside on this occasion). Guest drummer Nic France and the various band soloists make their own telling contributions to a compelling set.
THE BEVVY SISTERS: ST JAMES SESSIONS
SHOOGLE RECORDS, 12.99
SASSY Scots vocal trio of Heather MacLeod, Kaela Rowan and Lindsey Black time-travel back to transatlantic radio days with swooping, shimmying harmonies riding a crisp rhythm section of double bassist Emily Smith, guitarist Dave Donnelly and drummers James Mackintosh and Donald Hay. Vintage numbers such as the traditional Mary Don't You Weep and the old Lead Belly cowboy pastiche Cow Cow Yicky Ay Ae fairly hit the spot, as do the plangent gospel of Rock My Soul, with Donnelly chiming in on bass vocal, and the winsome Littlest Birds. There's even, if not quite a word from our sponsors, a chirpy advertising jingle in Go Lively Get Lucky. Among recently written material, the MacLeod-Karine Polwart song Man of Many Valentines shuffles along with verve while Macleod's Old Mother Earth, possibly the swingingest save-the-planet song you're likely to hear.
ALI FARKA TOUR AND TOUMANI DIABATE – ALI AND TOUMANI
WORLD CIRCUIT, 13.99
THERE have been times – many times – when I've felt we have more than enough Mande music, and that the characteristic rhetorical gestures handed down by griot fathers to griot sons through the ages are so predictable that one could sing them in one's sleep. Moreover, the fulsome critical praise ritually heaped on each new Malian "discovery" has devalued the whole thing further: when everyone is a master, and every recording a masterpiece, those words mean nothing.
But what's this? We've just redecorated the kitchen, and to celebrate we've opened a fine Bordeaux and are getting a meal on the go, so we're in a receptive mood, but the music we've put on stops us in our tracks – and it's from Mali.
It opens with a deceptive simplicity, the guitar ruminatively discursive, the kora lute wandering thoughtfully above, with a softly pounding bass to keep them tethered to the earth. Gradually the mix gets richer and more complex, but there are no fireworks, no dramatic changes of gear.
The second track is brighter and more celebratory, with a seasoned and gentle voice – plus a discreet backing group – delivering a song with clear Cuban overtones. The third track is as though frozen in time, rapt and contemplative; kora and guitar intertwine like old friends.
Which is what the whole CD is: the last recording made by Ali Farka Tour, Mali's greatest-ever bluesman, and his veteran colleague and kora-king Toumani Diabate. It was made over three days in 2005, when the guitarist had just one year to live, and as Diabate explains in the liner note, it was to be the summing-up of his dying friend's life's work. In contrast to their previous (acclaimed) album The Heart of the Moon, this was to be "a wiser album, a softer album, an acoustic album that we could savour". Now we can savour it too.