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Marc Antoine
Meditterraneo
(Rendezvous 5101-2)

A conservatory-trained musician who picked up the guitar at a young age, French jazz/flamenco guitarist Marc Antoine suffered a devastating accident at the age of 22. With determination and passion, the artist circumvented a tragic situation, becoming a busy, Paris-based jazz and pop session musician while evolving into a favorite of the so-called smooth jazz scene. With his seventh album as a leader, the guitarist intertwines Mediterranean-type themes with jazzy soloing interludes atop his rhythm section's driving backbeats.

Think of a sultry ocean breeze or perhaps a trot through an upscale shopping mall. To that end, Antoine doesn't reinvent the wheel here. Therefore, his music occasionally skirts the ambiguous designs of contemporary jazz-based environs. Augmented by horn players, percussionists and a densely layered production, Antoine's acoustic guitar performances are firmly rooted within melodious frameworks. But he's an adept player, witnessed by his sensually enacted grooves awash with jazzy single-note soloing and lushly articulated chord progressions. On the piece titled "Preludio," a wistful, synth/flute passage and a snappy pulse enhance the artist's deft fretwork. Antoine conveys a relaxed vibe, including a silky smooth samba motif on "Lady."

Categorically speaking, this isn't a jazz record, despite the stereotypical connotations perpetuated by the global marketing factions. It's an affable affair, although there isn't a whole lot to get excited about either. -- Glenn Astarita

Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros
Streetcore
(Hellcat)

It's impossible to hear the defiant, whiskey-stained wail, the stinging guitar breaks, the reggae kicks and the protest-singer sensibility from a punk-rock pose, and not spend the length of Streetcore remembering what once was. But this posthumous release by Joe Strummer -- co-founder of the Clash who died last December of a heart attack at age 50 -- reminds us of what Strummer once was but also what he could be. It is at once nostalgic and forward moving, and listening to it is enough to make a grown man cry.

That is, if not for that energy firing up a sincerity that always marked Strummer -- for good or ill -- because Streetcore is too fierce and fun to let mourners in. "Don't worry baby cuz your credit is good!" Strummer yelps on "All in a Day," behind a dance beat seemingly built for estranged Clash bandmate Mick Jones. (The two had discussed reuniting the band for its Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony held earlier this year.)

Streetcore finds Strummer exploring some of the same turf that made the Clash so feisty more than 25 years ago, inspired by the Ramones and Sex Pistols but willing to pick up dashes of ska, reggae and other world beats. And while it's sweet to hear a raw, acoustic version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," Strummer impresses even more by turning Louisiana's Bobby Charles' "Grow Too Old" into the album's fitting closer, "Silver and Gold." ("I'll do everything silver and gold/ An' I got to hurry up before I grow too old.") Streetcore should feel comfortably old, but shows the late legend was as vital as ever. -- David Lee Simmons


Pat Martino
Think Tank
(Blue Note)

Jazz-guitar great Pat Martino has been on something of a fast track during the '90s since he was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm in 1980. Thus, the artist experienced memory loss and had to relearn his guitar technique -- from scratch. With his latest Blue Note release, Martino garners the services of modern jazz heavyweights such as tenor sax titan Joe Lovano, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and bassist Christian McBride. As first-call session ace, drummer Lewis Nash provides the spark for these rapidly paced, post-bop-style swing vamps.

Martino is in outstanding form, via his gracefully enacted and briskly executed single note runs. Occasionally, the quintet delves into the outside spectrum of jazz, mainly during the bridges and improvisational segments residing within the body of these works. The musicians mix it up quite nicely on pieces such as "Dozen Down," featuring the soloists' diminutive voicings morphed into a groove-based melody line and funk/rock pulse.

Martino and Rubalcaba's duet balladry on "Sun on My Hands," is pleasant enough, yet lacks a sustainable melody. Conversely, Lovano soars heavenward amid the group's climactically oriented spin on John Coltrane's "Africa." And on many of these pieces, Rubalcaba equalizes the band's generally up-tempo demeanor, due to his rhythmically inclined accompaniment and meticulously designed solos.

Besides, the all-star connotations that this outfit brings to the table, a few of the guitarist's original compositions fail to impart a lasting impression. Otherwise, the quintet's rousing interplay and fiery call-and-response sequences make this a noteworthy entry into Martino's impressive discography. -- Astarita

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