Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio (Blue Note 30490)
Many jazz fans think of Dizzy Gillespie primarily as a be-bop artist, a quick-thinking soloist whose ideas were sketched in the skittering filigree of hemidemisemiquavers. But there was a side to Gillespie that concerned itself with a different sort of rhythm, the churning, hypnotic crosscurrents of Afro-Cuban percussion, and that's the side Gonzalo Rubalcaba stresses in his tribute, "Diz." Although the Cuban pianist is quite capable of dizzying bursts of speed, he rarely applies them to the likes of "Con Alma," "Woody'n' You" or "Donna Lee." Instead, he offers a more oblique take on the interplay of harmony and rhythm, one that emphasizes the rhythmic potential of the space between each note. With bassist Ron Carter and drummer Julio Barreto laying a rich, polyrhythmic foundation, Rubalcaba's determinedly uncliched playing brings new life to tunes others have virtually played to death.
AMBIENT 3: THE MUSIC OF CHANGES
Various Artists (Virgin 39625)
Over the years, pop fans have come to believe that the term "ambient" means little more than "pretentious mood music." That really isn't the case, though, and few projects make that clearer than Virgin's ongoing "A Brief History of Ambient" series. Ambient, as these recordings see it, isn't about making music unobtrusive so much as it is concerned with blurring the distinctions between background and foreground, so that the listener's attention is not as forcefully focused as it is in most pop music. And as "Ambient 3: The Music of Changes" demonstrates, music doesn't have to be quiet and drony to pull that trick off. That's not to say "Ambient 3" is without its moments of tranquil beauty, like Laraaji's shimmering "Meditation No. 2." But it does even better with the murky swirl of Prince Far I's "Throw Away Your Gun (Dub)" or the random technobabble of Robert Fripp and Brian Eno's "Healthy Colours III." And with 2 1/2 hours of music spread across two CDs, there's plenty more to listen to -- or not, as the case may be.
THE VERY BEST OF ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS
Elvis Costello and the Attractions (Rykodisc 40283)
Few things change with time as much as our view of history, so it isn't any wonder that revisionism is such a popular pursuit. Take, for example, "The Very Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions," Costello's recent rethink of his earliest work. Although the 22-song collection has more than enough familiar favorites to reduce any old new-waver to a fit of skinny-tie nostalgia, what is here -- "Alison," "Pump It Up," "Oliver's Army," "Shipbuilding" -- isn't quite as instructive as what's missing: "Mystery Dance," "Stranger In the House" and "Green Shirt," to name just three. Add in questionable inclusions like "Good Year for the Roses," and this "Very Best of" ends up seeming more like "Costello's Current Favorites," a perspective many fans might not share.
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Geffen 24719)
Ostensibly, the big draw in the soundtrack album to "Interview with the Vampire" is Guns N' Roses' version of "Sympathy for the Devil," in which the reigning bad boys of rock take on the previous title-holder's most inflammatory tune. It may look good on paper, but on disc, the project doesn't quite hold up. For one thing, GNR's seven-minute treatment of the tune is almost as boring and bloated as Elliot Goldenthal's cliche-ridden score (which takes up the first 34 minutes of the disc); for another, the rock-by-rote arrangement merely underscores how little the band actually brings to the song. Worst of all, though, is Axl Rose's hapless handling of the vocal. Where Jagger managed to seem as malevolent, narcissistic and charming as most of us would imagine the devil to be, Rose is merely nasty, self-impressed and showy, seeming less like the Lord of Darkness than one of his dimmer minions. All told, this "Vampire" really bites.