LATIN Espíritu Vivo by Susana Baca (Luaka Bop). Baca’s cool voice is a vessel for all sorts of emotions: melancholia, exultation, compassion. We needed all these when recording sessions for this album began in New York City last September 11. Guest players Marc Ribot (guitar) and John Medeski (piano) prove to be empathic collaborators as Baca breathes new life into Afro-Peruvian classics and uncorks a few surprises, including Bjork’s "Anchor Song."
POP When I Was Cruel by Elvis Costello (Island). Costello’s recent ill-fitting pursuits—morose chamber music, an orchestral score, even duets with Burt Bacharach, for crying out loud—are immediately forgiven by this return to rocking form. The man still has plenty left in the pop songwriting department, and he flaunts it here. —K.G.
AFROBEAT Talkatif by Antibalas (Ninja Tune). Inspired heavily by the funky-bottomed political jams of the late Fela Kuti, Antibalas keeps the spirit alive with fat horns, kinetic drums, and extra-deep bass grooves. The Brooklyn-based band’s message of positive change—on display in song titles like "World Without Fear" and "War Is a Crime"—charges the music with subtle but powerful undercurrents.
JAZZ Footloose and Fancy Free by Bill Bruford’s Earthworks (Discipline Global Mobile). An accomplished jazz drummer with an art-rock past—he pleads guilty to playing with Yes and King Crimson—Bruford breaks the jazz mold with fluid song structures and continually shifting tempos. His Earthworks outfit—Patrick Clahar on saxophone, Steve Hamilton on piano, and Mark Hodgson on bass—crackles with synergy on this two-CD set recorded live in London.
EXPERIMENTAL Nuevo by Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch). The aural equivalent of Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, this century-long tour of Mexican music is epic in scope and vivid in its portrayal of the Latino soul. Ritual music, TV theme tunes, a street musician playing "Perfidia" on an ivy leaf, and techno touches are all part of the rich tapestry woven by the arty quartet, a trio of arrangers and rock en español superproducer Gustavo Santaolalla.
BLUEGRASS Lookout for Hope by Jerry Douglas (Sugar Hill). Douglas’ clean, graceful dobro work is ubiquitous on the albums of bluegrass and country stars, but the sideman shows a sweet personality of his own on this mostly instrumental solo album. Bending notes, caressing his strings, and staying loose enough to let it flow, Douglas proves a first-rate purveyor of acoustic Americana.