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Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

New spectacular nature series narrated by Oprah, Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s must-have album, a modern-day warrior’s life on the History channel’s ‘Samurai,’ and more.

March 15, 2010

The Oprah Winfrey-narrated extravaganza, 'Life,' an 11-part documentary series capturing some of the most exotic, sensationally filmed moments of our planet’s natural history, debuts March 21.

Discovery Channel

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Knight life

Martial-arts expert Mark Dacascos tracks the life and story of Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s most famous warrior, in “Samurai,” debuting on History, March 16 at 8 p.m. Dacascos, a modern-day fighter and son of two martial-arts teachers, explores both the brutality and appeal of a life devoted to rigorous discipline, technical brilliance, and, above all, honor.

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Keeping jazz alive

No jazz ensemble is more storied than the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in the heart of New Orleans. Generations of players have rotated through, keeping the city’s classic songs alive. “Preservation” (Preservation Hall), a benefit recording for the band’s outreach program, is a special treat. Over 20 guest vocalists take turns on these time-honored songs, such as Tom Waits romping through a Mardi Gras classic (“Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing”) and Merle Haggard smoothly delivering the standard “Basin Street Blues.” A must-have for anyone needing a primer on this rich chapter of American music.

Shearer laughs

Headline news may not normally make you want to sing, but you might change your tune when you hear satirist Harry Shearer’s take on recent events. His new album, “Greed and Fear,” a compilation of 12 songs, lampoons everything from the GM, bank, and brokerage bailouts to troubled assets and the values that created the market collapse. Available as a digital download at www.courgetterecords.com.

Max Bohm & company

A small Boston gallery is honoring the influential American painter Max Bohm (1868-1923) in an unusual tribute that pairs his evocative work with that of his granddaughter, whom he never met. “En Mer: Anne Packard and Max Bohm, an exhibition of works by granddaughter and grandfather” will be at the Walker-Cunningham Fine Art Gallery from March 5 to 27. For more details: www.walkercunningham.com.

Arts scoop

For culture vultures, a new guide to the best of the arts in 20 of America’s largest cities could become a staple. “Arts America” (Huntington Press, $24.95), edited by Jeffrey Compton, pulls together all the gritty details on hundreds of arts organizations from fees, hours, and discounts to major festivals, along with arts information on another 40 cities at the book’s accompanying website: go-artsamerica.com.

Walk on the wild side

The Oprah Winfrey-narrated extravaganza, “Life,” an 11-part documentary series capturing some of the most exotic, sensationally filmed moments of our planet’s natural history, launches March 21 on Discovery Channel. Tune in to see tiny Hawaiian gobies climbing 400-foot waterfalls to lay eggs in safe pools, dolphins filmed from the air as they go “mudringing” – trapping fish in circles of mud – komodo dragons hunting water buffalo 10 times their size, and a basilisk lizard walking on water.

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