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CD Reviews 

By Leah Sottile and Michael Bowen

Aesop Rock

Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives FOUR STARS

Aesop Rock is a lot of things, but one thing he's not is normal. Or mainstream. Or much like any other hip-hop MC, rapper or b-boy out there. He's one odd duck, and I can't get enough of him.

The seven songs of his new EP, Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives, skim across the surface of Aesop's talent pool. He rattles off sing-songy lyrics on one cut, then spits out savvy political messages on another. He'll turn around on the next, drop a beat and start rapping about the stars and solar systems. And it's all in that weird, nasal, too-clever tone that turned so many heads back in 2000 with his first full-length, Float. Fast Cars is a throwback to Aesop's beginnings, one that casually pushes aside the monotony of Bazooka Tooth and the ignored Labor Days. With its heavy, Mensa-level lyrics, Fast Cars returns Aesop to the glory of his Float days. -- Leah Sottile

Brahms, Symphony No. 1

Marin Alsop & amp; London Philharmonic THREE STARS

There are dozens of complete Brahms cycles (all four symphonies) on the market, with Walter, Karajan, Abbado and Kertesz as leading names. Alsop and the London Phil begin their version (on Naxos) with a restrained start/big finish reading of the First Symphony. In the brooding opening movement, Alsop favors slower tempi, includes all the repeats and occupies fully three minutes more than does Karajan, for example, in his fifth recording (with the Berliners on DG). In the Andante, she coaxes bigger crescendos from the London strings and, at the close, some incredible violin sostenuto. The allegretto, comparatively restrained, aims at romance over drama. The Allegro finale, its intense hosannas clearly meant to capitalize by contrast with the quiet tenor of Alsop's approach in the first three movements, fails to match the majestic heights of Karajan's conclusion (from the return of the alphorn theme through to the frenzied coda). The CD then concludes with the standard pairings of the Academic Festival and Tragic overtures. As an inexpensive release that favors understatement over bombast, Alsop's rendition highlights Brahms' lyricism without displacing the titans among his interpreters.-- Michael Bowen

Publication date: 04/21/05
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