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Culture Notable CDs
1. IT'S TIME - Michael Bublé
Weeks on chart: 3
Style: The freshest big-band/swing arrangements of several generations' worth of romantic pop standards that major-label money can buy.
Worldview: That given the right interpreter, the love songs of one's grandparents (Cole Porter, the Gershwins) and parents (the Beatles, Motown) can still speak to today's young lovers.
Overall quality: As a vocalist Mr. Bublé is to Harry Connick Jr. as Harry Connick Jr. is to Frank Sinatra.
2. WHEN I FALL IN LOVE - Chris Botti
Weeks on chart: 22
Style: Candlelight-dinner jazz so light it's almost Muzak.
Worldview: That youthful good looks, a blurb from Oprah Winfrey, a cover photo suggestive of the dubious notion that fashion models can't resist a man with a horn, and a stultifyingly safe song selection can combine to create a commercially viable simulacrum of romantic refinement.
Overall quality: The musical equivalent of the Harlequin-romance novel and the "chick flick."
3. CARELESS LOVE - Madeleine Peyroux
Weeks on chart: 24
Style: What Billie Holliday would be doing today were she doing jazzy folk.
Worldview: That youthful good looks, a French-café ambience, and songs by Hank Williams, Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan are sufficient to illuminate the following liner Dylan Thomas fragment: "But for the lovers, their arms round the griefs of the ages."
Overall quality: Nice, but would it be "jazz" if Ms. Peyroux didn't sound like Lady Day?
4. THE GIRL IN THE OTHER ROOM - Diana Krall
Weeks on chart: 45
Style: Jazzy, piano-based folk faintly suggestive of early Joni Mitchell or Rickie Lee Jones.
Worldview: That youthful good looks, covers of lesser-known songs by Tom Waits, Chris Smither, and Joni Mitchell, lyrics by Elvis Costello, and an amorphously liquid style suggestive of the dubious notion that sliding and gliding equals jazz will do until the next Norah Jones album.
Overall quality: Disappointingly drab for such a highly touted ingénue.
5. ONLY YOU - Harry Connick Jr.
Weeks on chart: 56
Style: "Romantic standards from the '50s and '60s with big band and orchestra" (from the cover blurb).
Worldview: "When I discovered the wealth of material written or popularized during the '50s and '60s, I immediately began working on the arrangements. Soon after, I went into the studio. . . . The songs are a combination of personal favorites and suggestions by friends" (from the notes).
Overall quality: Nice, but more Sinatra than "jazz."
In the spotlight
Despite the renewal of interest in jazz in the wake of Ken Burns Jazz five years ago, the current crop of best-selling jazz albums reflects an interest in music that's barely "jazz" at all. Missing is what made the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis some of the most important and fascinating artists of the 20th century: namely the enlivening of classical European musical structures with an improvisational African spirit that gives voice to the American spirit at its finest.
The good news for those still eager to hear that voice is that Ken Burns Jazz merely scratched the surface. Fantasy Records alone, whose array of labels includes Riverside, Milestone, and Pablo, annually issues dozens of high-quality compilations and never-before-released archival recordings by the many jazz giants who recorded for them during the '50s and '60s. Although only time will tell, the odds that today's chart-toppers will prove similarly enduring seem long indeed.