Rotations

Solo violin recitals on-stage and on disc are uncommon because they require unusual degrees of concentration from performers and audiences; the artists are at their most naked and vulnerable. Josefowicz, however, passes her test with flying colors. Technically speaking, she knows her way around a violin, and she interprets the selections on this disc with a maturity that belies her age -- where the music allows her to. Bela Bartok's challenging Sonata, completed in 1944 (a year before his death), rethinks Bach's works in this genre in terms of ethnic music from Eastern Europe and twentieth-century compositional movements. Belgian composer Eugene YsaØe, himself a violin virtuoso around the turn of the century, wrote six sonatas for solo violin that require as much intelligence as strength and manual dexterity. Josefowicz performs two of them here as convincingly as anyone else has done in recent decades, irrespective of age.

But do you think long guitar solos can be dumb? Classical music has their equivalent in empty-headed pieces that function only to display technique. Solo contains one of the worst: Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst's transcription of Schubert's Erlksnig. In the original, Schubert asks a vocalist to depict a sick child, his concerned father, and Death, who finally claims the child. Ernst turns Schubert's masterpiece into a circus act by asking the violinist to play all three roles while simulating the original piano accompaniment. Josefowicz pulls this grotesque stuff off -- just -- but in the end, you wonder why she bothered devoting her talents to it.

-- Raymond Tuttle

Presidents of the United States of America
II
(Columbia)

In this bracing followup to their double-platinum debut, the Presidents of the United States of America waste no time setting out their modus operandi: "This is the show," Chris Ballew chants in "Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen," the opening cut. "We are the band/Sometimes it just takes you by the hand." Not exactly rocket science, but then again, I don't want rock music to be rocket science. I want it to be fun, exuberant, catchy. The Presidents are all these things. Indeed, the monster success of their self-titled first record -- the hit single "Lump" was played constantly on MTV -- has done nothing to dampen the joys offered by this Seattle trio.

The fourteen songs collected on II are every bit as bizarre and hummable as the initial batch. Whether the topic is Mount St. Helens ("Volcano") or the misadventures of Bobby Brady in Hawaii ("Tiki God"), the grooves come fast and furious. Despite the band's stripped instrumentation (Chris Ballew plays a two-string bass, Dave Dederer a three-string guitar), the sound they produce, when combined with Jason Finn's ecstatic drumming, is deliciously rich. The key, of course, is Ballew's melodies, his basic chord progressions goosed by a breakneck pace but always free of filler. Add to this his melodic knack, a chunky beat, and a playful sense of the absurd and you've got the whole package.

With tongue firmly in cheek, the band does essay a few more orchestral numbers -- the insect-obsessed "Bug City," for instance, as well as the delightfully hyperactive "Froggie," which features the added fretwork of Morphine frontman Mark Sandman. Mostly, though, it's just ready, steady, rock.

Those sods who crave "message" rock will undoubtedly saddle this disc with the label "novelty." (They did last time.) What that means, near as I can figure, is the band is having fun. So will you.

-- Steven Almond

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