SOUNDTAKES

CLASSICAL MARGARET LENG TAN ``Litania'' (New Albion Records NA 008) - Pianist Tan plays music of Japanese composer Somei Satoh, who leans toward both melody and minimalism. This is Satoh's first recording in the West. Tan has the skill and sensitivity to handle his subtlest moods as well as his boldest. The opening piece, ``Birds in Warped Time II,'' is an Asian-flavored work with a bittersweet violin line over a gently glistening piano setting. The other high point of the album, ``Incarnation II,'' explores the piano's tremolo effect in more depth, via an electronic tape delay. The performances are expert. - David Sterritt KRONOS QUARTET Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch Digital 79111) - This group specializes in contemporary music of every stripe. Here its virtuosity shines through the the String Quartet No. 8 by Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe, who has been influenced by Balinese music, and the divergent moods of Aulis Sallinen's String Quartet No. 3, in which the Finnish composer moves from folkish simplicity to driving dissonance and back again. The flip side begins with ``Company,'' a piquant Philip Glass work, and concludes with two rarities: a string quartet by Conlon Nancarrow and a not-quite-convincing string arrangement of Jimi Hendrix's rock classic ``Purple Haze.'' - D.S. JOEL CHADABE Settings for Spirituals/Solo (Lovely Music VR 1302) - Chadabe started with a recording of Irene Oliver singing spirituals such as ``A City Called Heaven'' and ``Witness,'' and set about ``enhancing'' them with computer-generated sounds. His aim was to ``contribute to'' the songs and ``intensify their expression'' without changing them, and he has largely succeeded. The other side contains a sprightly solo composed on a computer/digital-synthesizer system - an example of what Chadabe calls ``interactive composing.'' The results are less forbidding than the term might lead one to fear.

- D.S. JAZZ/ROCK/POP/ BRANFORD MARSALIS ``Royal Garden Blues'' (Columbia FC 40363) - What a joy - a real jazz album! Not a synthesizer to be heard. Just a saxophone accompanied by drums and acoustic bass, plus some piano. Branford Marsalis isn't as well known as his brother, Wynton, but he's every bit the musician. Joining him are Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, and other top jazz artists, who help make ``Royal Garden Blues'' a royal treat. - Madora McKenzie ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS ``Blood and Chocolate'' (Columbia Records FC 40518) - Costello, ever prolific, has a new album on which he calls himself Napoleon Dynamite. But there's nothing explosive here. Ego problems abound, however, from pretentious album credits to songs that equate love with murder. Vocal accompaniment provided by Cait O'Riordan of The Pogues is a welcome relief. - M.McK.

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