Various Artists

Red Hot + Rhapsody: The Gershwin Groove

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Another year, another Red Hot project of unlikely musical bedfellows, this time paying tribute in their divergent ways to George Gershwin in the year of his centennial. All kinds of styles are tossed about, from a full symphony orchestra to the latest hip-hop and retro-electronic techniques. The tracks that work the best are those that seem to use Gershwin simply as a point of departure for their own agendas: to cite a few, Smoke City's odd combination of electronica and Brazilian rhythm on "They Can't Take That Away from Me," Michael Franti's interpolated ghetto raps in the middle of Spearhead/Ernest Ranglin's cool, hip-hop "I Got Plenty O' Nuthin." As a pocket sampling of the differing approaches, Morcheeba's ultra-sultry vocal teams up with Hubert Laws' flute on a most effective "Summertime," while an aging Bobby Womack successfully fuses rap and '70s funk on the same tune. On the other hand, while it's nice to hear performers from the ranks of Generation X and thereabouts taking enough interest in Gershwin to try and interpret his tunes straight on, many of them simply do not have the expressiveness in their voices to get much out of the songs. Either that or their deliberately ironic stances preclude emotion; nothing seems to touch them, they sound disembodied and vacant. Rock veteran David Bowie turns out to be the most affecting balladeer of them all in "A Foggy Day," accompanied by film composer Angelo Badalamenti's brooding strings. The only standalone jazz personality is Clark Terry, who growls a brief "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" in his "mumbles" voice while blowing a bit of muted trumpet overhead. Though backloading the CD with sustained ballads drains much of its energy, the album is never less than absorbing. Yet there is little fusion of eras and attitudes, nor a sense of passing the torch as there is on the thrilling Red Hot + Rio package.

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