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August 2015


parisVarious Composers
The Parisian Symphony (7 discs)
Les Agrémens / Guy Van Waas
Ricercar (dist. Naxos)
RIC 357

Once again, the Ricercar label comes through with an exquisite super-budget box set. This one calls for a bit more explanation than most, however. It features orchestral works by 13 composers including Grétry, Gossec, Stamitz, and Méhul; however, the title refers not only to symphonies as the word is commonly understood today, but also to large-scale works that fit under the much broader umbrella of meaning that existed for that term in the 18th century: there are theatrical suites (including some vocal arias), concertos, sinfonias concertantes, and full-blown classical symphonies. These composers came from all over Europe, but all were active in Paris at the times that these works were written. This collection consists of recordings made by the Belgian ensemble Les Agrémens between 2003 and 2014, but some of the performances are previously unreleased; the playing is superb, as is the sound quality, and the package includes extensive liner notes that appear to have been written specifically for this release. I can’t say enough about the pleasures this box offers, and all libraries should seriously consider picking it up.


havesetVarious Composers
I Have Set My Hert So Hy: Love & Devotion in Medieval England
Dufay Collective; Voice / William Lyons
Avie (dist. Allegro)

This is a very interesting and enjoyable collection of secular and sacred songs from late-medieval England, all of them settings of vernacular poems, some of them set to melodies of the period and some with music written by the Dufay Collective’s William Lyons. A few of these songs (particularly the Christmas-themed ones) will be familiar to fans of early music, but most are quite obscure. The arrangements are lovely, and the ones that feature original music by Lyons offer a nice blend of modern originality and period appropriateness. Recommended.

soundsnatureVarious Composers
Sounds Nature: Works for Cello and Electronics
Madeleine Shapiro
Rick’s Pick

Back in the early days of synthesizers, a common critique was that they would never be able to sound completely like “real” instruments. But it always seemed to me that what made synthesizers exciting was not their ability to imitate acoustic instruments, but their ability to make sounds that nothing else could make. Here’s another example of an exciting thing they can do: interact directly with acoustic instruments, sometimes absorbing sonic input and responding with sounds of their own, sometimes creating a backdrop for the live musician, sometimes providing one or more contrapuntal threads in the fabric of the piece. All kinds of interactions are going on here with this fascinating collection of pieces for cello and electronics; featured composers include Morton Subotnick, Judith Shatin, Matthew Burtner, Tom Williams, and Gayle Young. Cellist Madeleine Shapiro is marvelous. Highly recommended to all new music collections.

bachJohann Sebastian Bach
Bach Remixed
Michael Form; Dirk Börner
Pan Classics (dist. Naxos)
PC 10299

The cute title of this album will disturb some potential listeners and excite others, but be comforted/disappointed — this is a not a collection of club and EDM remixes of works by Bach. It’s a collection of Bach pieces originally written for orchestra or keyboard, here arranged for recorder and harpsichord. We have an overture, a couple of sonatas, a partita, one of the orchestral suites, all of them expertly reimagined and beautifully played. Libraries supporting coursework in orchestration and arrangement should take particular note of this lovely recording.

haydnFranz Joseph Haydn; Michael Haydn; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Horn Concertos
Felix Klieser; Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn / Ruben Gazarian
Berlin Classics (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Haydn’s and Mozart’s horn concertos are relatively familiar pieces, but what makes this recording special — in addition to the very fine playing by hornist Felix Klieser and the delicate-toned Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbron (all playing on modern instruments) is the inclusion of a concertino for horn and orchestra by Joseph Haydn’s younger brother Michael, a pure genius of the classical idiom whose work is finally beginning to get the recognition it has long deserved. Oh, and I suppose it’s also worth noting that Klieser has no arms and plays the horn with his left foot. Don’t pass this one up.

fugueVarious Composers
Fugue State
Alan Feinberg
Steinway & Sons (dist. Naxos)

The fugue is one of the most foundational compositional structures of Western classical music, and while Bach is usually the first name that comes to mind when discussing fugal writing, he’s hardly the only great composer of fugue-based pieces, even during the baroque period. This collection features fugues written by Bach, Handel, Scarlatti (both of them), Buxtehude, and Froberger, and they vary in mood from the dark and contemplative to the playful and sparkling. Feinberg plays on a Steinway grand (naturally, given the record label), and makes personalized but tasteful use of the instrument’s capabilities.

lassusOrlande de Lassus
Missa super Dixit Joseph & Motets
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

No less an authority than Michael Praetorius reportedly said that Orlande de Lassus was the only composer who wrote motets the “right” way. One might agree or disagree with that assessment (I’d argue that Palestrina and Willaert each wrote a pretty good motet or two in their day), but there’s no question that Lassus’ motets are exceptionally fine, and the parody Mass he wrote using thematic material from the motet “Dixit Joseph undecim fratribus suis” is also a gem, and is performed sweetly and convincingly here by the all-male Cinquecento ensemble.

hummelJohann Nepomuk Hummel
Sonaten & Variationen
Linde Brunmayr-Tutz; Jaap ter Linden; Bart van Oort
Fra Bernardo (dist. Naxos)
FB 1502793
Rick’s Pick

The period when the high classical tradition began to soften and expand into what would become the Romantic style is one of exquisite tension and musical richness. Some of the most affecting pieces in the history of European art music were written during this period, and some of the best of them were written by Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Here a trio consisting of flutist Linde Brunmayr-Tutz, cellist Jaap ter Linden, and fortepianist Bart van Oort performs four of Hummel’s chamber works for combinations of those instruments; the pieces are achingly beautiful examples of late classical/early Romantic composition, and the playing is utterly superb. Highly recommended to all classical collections.

krommerFranz Krommer
Clarinet Quartet Op. 83 and Quintet Op. 95
Henk de Graaf; Schubert Consort Amsterdam
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

Another important figure in the classical-to-Romantic transition period was Franz Krommer, who was about 20 years younger than Hummel and whose work looks forward to that transition more than it exemplifies it. He flourished at a time when the clarinet itself was also flourishing in popularity, and he wrote for the instrument extensively and well. For this disc, clarinetist Henk de Graaf and members of Schubert Consort Amsterdam (playing modern instruments) perform one of Krommer’s clarinet quartets and one quintet (the latter scored, rather unusually, for clarinet, violin, two violas, and cello). Very, very nice.


weberEberhard Weber

Encore is an aptly-titled compilation of live recordings made by bassist Eberhard Weber between 1990 and 2007, some in collaboration with flugelhorn player Ack van Rooyen. Some (or perhaps all; it’s not entirely clear) originated as solos he played during shows with the Jan Garbarek Group. If the thought of an entire album of bass solos makes you tired, consider the fact that Weber is not your typical bass player; he uses loops and electronic effects to expand greatly the sonic range of his instrument and his capacity to create lines and textures, and the result is both technically fascinating and aurally engaging.

hunterCharlie Hunter Trio
Let the Bells Ring On
Charlie Hunter Music
No cat. no.

This is no conventional jazz trio, partly because of its instrumentation — 7-string guitar, trombone, drums — and partly because of the range and backgrounds of the musicians. Charlie Hunter has deep experience in avant-funk-jazz, while trombonist Curtis Fowlkes and drummer Bobby Previte were mainstays of New York’s experimental downtown scene during its 1970s heyday. Between the three of them, this group is conversant in just about every dialect of the musical American vernacular, and you hear just about every one of them at some point during this album. Highly recommended.

stittSonny Stitt
Classics (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

Continuing its ongoing series documenting the recording career of saxophonist Sonny Stitt, the French Classics label here collects small- and large-ensemble recordings made by Stitt between 1951 and 1953. The sound quality is very good, and the performances are consistently marvelous (even when the quality of the musical content falters a bit, as it does on the six Prestige sides collected here). Ugly and sloppily laid-out packaging continues to be a problem with this series, but the quality of the music is so compelling that it’s easy to overlook the visual aesthetics. A must for every jazz collection.

dingmanChris Dingman
The Subliminal and the Sublime
Inner Arts Initiative

If you’re a fan of ECM jazz, then you’ll be sure to love this very well-titled effort by vibraphonist and composer Chris Dingman. Although the ensemble makeup (vibes, sax, guitar, piano trio) says “straight-ahead jazz,” the music is something very different: floating, impressionistic, often effectively arrhythmic. For a better idea of what to expect, consult the Buddhist epigram printed on the inside tray: “Learn this from the waters: in mountains and chasms, loud gush the streamlets, but great rivers flow silently.” This is music that flows rather than swings, and while I don’t know if it can meaningfully be characterized as “jazz,” it’s certainly very, very lovely.

mostSam Most
From the Attic of My Mind (reissue)
Elemental Music/The Orchard
Rick’s Pick

Ignore (if you can) the painfully hippy-dippy cover photo: this is soulful, swinging, straight-ahead jazz by one of the best and most influential flutists in the genre. Leading a quintet that includes pianist Kenny Barron and bassist George Mraz, Most presents an all-original program that beautifully showcases his warm, woody tone and his winning way with a melody. The set was recorded in 1978 and sounds great on this remastered reissue. (It’s worth noting that this is one of six releases in the Xanadu Master Edition series of reissues by the Elemental Music label — others include recordings by Jimmy Heath, Albert Heath, Al Cohn and Jimmy Rowles, Barry Harris, and Al Cohn and Billy Mitchell. All are strong candidates for library collections.)


fiddleKarrnnel Sawitsky & Daniel Koulack
Fiddle & Banjo: Tunes from the North, Songs from the South
Rick’s Pick

The “north” in this title is Canada; the “south” is the southeastern US. The fiddler is Karrnnel Sawitsky and the banjo player is Daniel Koulack, both from Canada, and the program they present here is a completely charming blend of instrumental tunes that draw from both Stateside and Canadian traditions along with songs from both the Euro-American Appalachian (“Little Birdie,” “Groundhog”) and African-American (“How Does a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live,” “Killin’ Floor”) repertoires. A few original compositions are snuck into the mix as well. Guest vocalist Joey Landreth delivers the lyrics in a warm and attractively grainy voice and contributes some slide guitar as well. Highly recommended to all libraries.

Terre Rouge
Les Editions du Corfus

For a very different, but equally fun and interesting, take on Canadian folk music, consider the latest album from Vishtèn, an acoustic trio based on Prince Edward Island. Although PEI is known mainly for the quality of its Scottish fiddling, these guys come from the French-speaking communities of Maritime Canada, and the songs and tunes they perform here reflect that deeply. In fact, on a couple of songs you’ll swear you hear strong echoes of South Louisiana, where the group’s Acadian ancestors settled in the 19th century. The songs are wonderful, but my favorite tracks are the Québécois-flavored fiddle tunes. The whole album is a joy.

campilongoJim Campilongo & Honeyfingers
Last Night, This Morning
Blue Hen

The Fender Telecaster is a guitar with a culture all its own. Hotshot guitarists known and celebrated as Tele specialists have included Redd Volkaert, Albert Lee, James Burton, and of course the legendary Danny Gatton — and Jim Campilongo. The Tele is known particularly for its twanginess, and perhaps for that reason its adepts (regardless of their putative genre orientation) seem always to gravitate in the direction of country music. On this album, a retrospective of sorts on which he revisits tunes from his 20-year recording career, Campilongo makes all the noises you expect from a Tele guy, but gives everything his own sly and often humorous edge. Though everything here sounds pretty dang country, listen closely and you’ll hear hints of Gypsy jazz, Neapolitan love songs, and surf rock. This album is that rarest of things: a guitar album that non-guitarists will enjoy.

railThe Railsplitters
The Faster It Goes
No cat. no.

This band’s bluegrass instrumentation kind of forces me to put them in the Folk/Country category, but at the same time I feel kind of dumb doing so: their music has little or nothing to do with bluegrass. Sometimes it’s jazzy, sometimes it’s torchy, sometimes it’s honky tonky, sometimes it reminds me of Lake Street Dive, sometimes it’s funky in the feathery New Acoustic way that the David Grisman Quintet used to be funky. Vocal harmonies are pervasive and incredibly tight, and if pure singalong hooks are a bit thin on the ground, there’s not an unenjoyable track here. And the last one, startlingly, is straight-up bluegrass.


kailKaiL Baxley
A Light That Never Dies
Forty Below
FBR 009

Imagine if Teddy Thompson had been raised by Wilson Pickett rather than by Richard Thompson, and that might give you a good sense of what KaiL Baxley (I’m afraid that’s no typo) sounds like on his sophomore album, a soulful R&B burner complete with Memphis-style horns, blues harmonica, heartbreak ballads in 12/8, and subtly-wielded hip hop beats. The centerpiece at all times is Baxley’s sultry-but-chesty voice, a voice that sometimes sounds like a parody of a Vintage Soul Man but never fails to engage. The songwriting is consistently strong, and when he hits you with a perfect hook you feel it all the way down to the bone.

blessingBlessing Offor
Rick’s Pick

Speaking of soulful, here is the debut album from singer/songwriter Blessing Offor, a young man who was born in Nigeria but raised in the United States following a series of childhood misfortunes that left him blind. On Roots he sounds, coincidentally enough, a little bit like Stevie Wonder, singing in a near-falsetto style over instrumental backing that could have been recorded at Motown circa 1975. The music is funky and pop-smart, the hooks sharp but understated, and Offor’s keyboard style is inventive but light and self-effacing. His voice goes just slightly flat sometimes, but not enough to detract from the significant pleasures of this great album.

This Is Not a Test

If Christian pop music has an equivalent to Justin Timberlake, it’s tobyMac (no, that’s not a typo either), who, like Timberlake, got his start as part of a popular boy band and has since gone on to even more success as a solo artist drawing on all manner of funk, hip hop, club and pop styles. His talent is on a level to Timberlake’s as well, and his albums are a consistent pleasure. This Is Not a Test is no exception, and unless you have a constitutional aversion to lyrical invocations of Jesus’ name it’s hard to imagine this album failing to get you up out of your seat, bopping and waving your hands and singing along with the choruses.

orbThe Orb

This is the group that basically invented ambient house music (remember “Little Fluffy Clouds“?), and 25 years later there’s still no one that does it better. Moonbuilding is a four-track, 50-minute odyssey with a science fiction theme. Average track length is around 12 minutes, giving the guys plenty of room to build each one slowly and define plenty of aural space before kicking in the gentle thump of its trademarked beats. That they manage to evoke the vast emptiness of space while still keeping the overall feel warm and organic is quite an achievement — but then, they’ve been doing this for a while.

voicesVoices from the Lake
Live at MAXXI
Editions MEgo (dist. Forced Exposure)
Rick’s Pick

For a much darker, more troubled, and less beat-focused take on the ambient/drone tradition, here’s a live set from Italian techno artists Donato Dozzy and Neel. The music is billed as “ambient techno,” but it’s much more the former than the latter, and if ambient music is usually designed to soothe and comfort, well, this is something different. This is ambient music that makes me think of technological space junk falling into the ocean and sinking into the cold depths, or of a crowd of people in a dark, rainswept alley having a muttered discussion about whether or not to start a small riot. Your mental images may vary.


Light Flashes
Rick’s Pick

This Boston-based roots reggae ensemble is making some of the finest vintage-style reggae in the world right now. The secret to their sound is the contrast between the heavyweight rhythms and the heavenly lightness of singer Ryan Thaxter’s voice — well, that and the band’s ability to put at least one completely irresistible melodic hook into almost every song. (If you think that’s easy to do, try it.) The richly dubwise production by Craig “Dubfader” Welsch puts the ganja-flavored final touch on what is an exceptionally fine album.

amonafiDaby Touré
Rick’s Pick

Some writers are comparing him to both Cat Stevens and Nick Drake, but I don’t hear it: he’s much more interesting than Cat Stevens ever was, and a lot happier than Nick Drake. That said, if you love Afro-European fusion sounds, songs that are gentle but propulsive, and melodies that burrow unnoticed under your skin and stay there, then definitely check this out. Notice, too, that there are some serious and heartfelt protest lyrics here, though since they’re sung in Wolof most listeners will have to read the liner notes to discern the politics lurking beneath those sneakily hooky and gentle-but-propulsive melodies. Highly recommended to all libraries.

sibeliusSibelius-Akatemian Folk Big Band

At first you see the phrase “folk big band” and you’re a little bit startled. Then you stop and ask yourself why. Then you decide it’s because folk music is supposed to be spontaneous, flexible, small-scale, not orchestrated. Then you shrug and give this album of Finnish folk music arranged for 40-member ensemble of singers and instrumentalists a spin, and find yourself being drawn in by both the tunes and the arrangements. By about halfway through you may find yourself wishing everything was just a bit more spontaneous, flexible, etc., but not enough to stop listening and enjoying.

amaraAmara Touré
1973-1980 (reissue)
Analog Africa (dist. Forced Exposure)
AACD 078

Some time ago I had some East African dance music playing on the stereo (from Tanzania, I think) and one of my kids said “Dad, how is this not Latin music?” She was right, of course; if you didn’t know otherwise, you could easily hear soukous and African rumba as Cuban music. Same thing in Senegal, on the other side of the continent, where throughout the mid-20th century dance bands were gleefully combining Cuban son montuno and patchanga with local folk music styles. Percussionist and singer Amara Touré was one of the leading lights of this movement, and although he recorded very little (his entire oeuvre is presented here), the album that collated all of those recordings was very influential upon its original release in 1980. This CD marks that music’s welcome return to the market, and it should be snapped up by any library collecting in Latin or world music.

July 2015


bangVarious Composers
Field Recordings
Bang on a Can All-Stars
Cantaloupe (dist. Naxos)

Since the very beginning of the 20th century, recordings made in the “field” (i.e. in bars, homes, social halls, backyards, etc.) have exerted a powerful draw on composers. Bartók and Kodály wrote classical pieces based on tunes they collected in remote Hungarian villages; Edgard Varèse used cut-up tapes of train noises and other sounds from urban environments to create collage-like musique concrète; Steve Reich played prerecorded tapes of a street preacher out of phase with each other in order to create shifting, shimmering rhythmic patterns. Today the recording techniques are largely digital, but the fascination with blending prerecorded voices, music, and noises with live instrumentation remains. Thus we have this wonderful collection of miniatures from the likes of Julia Wolfe, Christian Marclay, Tyondai Braxton, Anna Clyne, and (yes) Steve Reich, all of which incorporate prerecorded sounds with live performance in a variety of ways. Florent Ghys’ An Open Cage takes a recording of John Cage reading from his diary and layers onto it the sounds of musicians duplicating the pitches and rhythms of Cage’s reading; Wolfe adds musical accompaniment to a recording of a French Canadian folksinger; Braxton uses electric and acoustic instruments plus the musical pitches generated by casino slot machines to create a crazy quilt of sound on Casino Trem; and Todd Reynolds contributes a piece based on an old LP recording of Southern Baptist preachers. Much of this music is remarkable; all of it is well worth hearing, and the album should be considered an essential purchase for all library collections.


cantanteVarious Composers
Cantante e tranquillo
Keller Quartett

Although the label deserves a rap on the knuckles for failing to make clear on the external packaging of this (full-priced) disc that it consists primarily of previously-issued content–only the György Kurtág selections appear to be previously unreleased–there’s no arguing with the quality of the music. In keeping with the title, the Keller Quartett gathered earlier recordings of slow movements from works by composers as stylistically disparate as Bach, Ligeti, Beethoven, Schnittke, Knaifel, and Kurtág, creating a gorgeous program that at times transcends its overall melancholy to communicate a quiet, glowing joy. Libraries that already own the previous recordings don’t need to replace them with this one, but for individual listeners the compilation offers a wonderful musical experience.

capillasFrancisco López Capillas
Missa Re Sol; Missa Aufer a nobis; Motets
Capella Prolationum; Ensemble La Danserye
Lindoro (dist. Allegro)

These are world-premiere recordings of the masses by Francisco López Capillas, the composer known as the “Ockeghem of Mexico” — a sobriquet that was perhaps not meant entirely as a compliment, given that he flourished in the mid-17th century, a time when Ockeghem’s music would have seemed terribly old-fashioned. Nevertheless, López Capillas’s music is richly rewarding and certainly incorporates significant elements of baroque style alongside its old-school monochoral polyphony. Early-music enthusiasts will be interested to note that on this recording, the performers are playing and singing from facsimile reproductions of the original manuscript (and thus from mensural rather than modern notation). Recommended.

arcangeloFranz Joseph Haydn; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Sinfonia concertante; Concertos
Arcangelo / Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

There’s nothing new or innovative or revelatory about this recording, which consists of very familiar material: Haydn’s Sinfonia concertante for violin, cello, oboe, and bassoon with chamber orchestra, and Mozart’s equally celebrated concertos for oboe and for bassoon. But what this recording lacks in novelty it more than makes up for in sheer joyful élan. The performances aren’t taken at breakneck tempos, but they feel like they’re flying; the soloists don’t indulge in self-consciously virtuosic cadenza playing, but are clearly enjoying themselves so much that it’s impossible not to be caught up. And the music itself is, of course, at the very pinnacle of high-classical loveliness. Highly recommended to all library collections.

bachJohann Christoph Friedrich Bach
3 Symphonies (reissue)
Neues Bachisches Collegium Musicum Leipzig
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

The high-midline pricing on this straight reissue of a more than 20-year-old recording is a bit puzzling, but the music isn’t puzzling at all. J.C.F. Bach was the most obscure of J.S. Bach’s several musical sons, and to be completely frank, it wasn’t only because he lacked his brothers’ gift for self-promotion — it was also because his musical talent was less incandescent than theirs, and his writing less original and influential. But that doesn’t make his music less enjoyable, and any library collecting comprehensively in the Bach family (or in baroque and early classical music generally) would benefit from this very fine recording, which sounds like it was made using period instruments (though the two-page booklet’s complete lack of information about the recording ensemble makes it difficult to say for sure).

triTri Nguyen
Tri Nguyen; ‘Ilios Quartet

Fusions of Asian and Western classical traditions are nothing especially new, but this one — which actually fuses Western art music with Vietnamese folk music — is something quite different. Composer Tri Nguyen plays a traditional Vietnamese zither, and for this album has arranged a set of folk melodies for his instrument with the accompaniment of a Western-style string quartet. The result is both instantly accessible and quite fascinating; while the musical themes are relatively simple and straightforward, the execution of them is not, and the arrangements do a great job of treading the fine line of paying equal respect to both of the widely disparate traditions that are being brought together. Recommended to both classical and world music collections.

lawesWilliam Lawes
The Royal Consort (2 discs)
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKD 470
Rick’s Pick

The Phantasm ensemble continues its survey of English music for consort of viols with this outstanding recording of William Lawes’ monumental Royal Consort set and his Three Consorts to the Organ. This is dance music of the highest caliber, and was recognized as such in Lawes’ time though less so 100 years later. Today, the strange liberties he took with chord voicing and rhythm sound pleasantly odd, and his peculiar genius is perhaps easier to recognize. There’s genius too, as always, in the playing of the remarkable Phantasm ensemble. The enhanced resolution of the Super Audio CD format is especially well suited to the sound of viol consorts, and this two-disc set is particularly noteworthy for its sound quality. Highly recommended, especially to early music collections.

brahmsJohannes Brahms; Max Reger
Sonatas for Clarinet and Piano (2 discs)
Guy Yehuda; Ralph Votapek
Blue Griffin (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

This is a very nice pairing (or double-pairing, I guess) of clarinet sonatas by two near-contemporaries. Disc 1 puts Brahms’ first clarinet sonata next to Reger’s first, and disc 2 does the same with the composers’ second sonatas. This is an inspired programming choice, as it allows the listener to more fully hear the stylistic contrasts: both of composers working within the Romantic style while Brahms, as always, looks back to the classical and Reger looks forward to modernism. The Brahms pieces ache, the Reger pieces sparkle, and the playing of both Yehuda and Votapek seems to coat everything with gold. Highly recommended to all collections.

grafChristan Ernst Graf
Five String Quartets
Via Nova Quartett
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 865-2

Christian Ernst Graf was born in Germany but made his mark as a court composer to the House of Orange-Nassau in the Netherlands. Graf served that noble family faithfully even as its fortunes waned in the late 18th century, and these three string quartets reflect the musical developments of the period — particularly the growing importance of the adagio movement, which would only continue to increase as the classical style fully took hold. Graf’s music marks an important inflection point in the transition from the late baroque to the early classical, and these performances by the Via Nova Quartet (on period instruments) are excellent.


bollingClaude Bolling; Steve Barta
Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano (Symphonic Arrangement)
Hubert Laws; Jeffrey Biegel
Steve Barta Music

Remember this? One of the first (if not the first) jazz-classical fusion pieces to achieve mainstream popularity, this suite for flute and piano trio combined classical forms with jazz rhythms to create a sensation in easy-listening music back in the 1970s. While previous experimenters in this general vein (notably the late Gunther Schuller) had made music that was serious and professorial, not to say forbidding, Bolling’s music was pure whipped cream, and people licked it up. This new version is presented in an orchestral arrangement by pianist Steve Barta and features the great jazz flautist Hubert Laws along with a string quartet; the piano trio is still there, and behind both small combos is a lush drapery of strings, brass, and winds, all of them tastefully organized (and mixed) in such a way as to keep the focus on the flute, piano, bass, and drums, but providing lots of color and texture behind them. The music is still whipped cream, but now it’s as if the whipped cream is floating on top of a big cup of rich hot chocolate. Recommended.

hamiltonScott Hamilton
Plays Jules Styne
Blue Duchess
Rick’s Pick

Mmmmm… a new album by Scott Hamilton? Yes, please. The great tenor saxophonist here focuses on standards by the great Jules Styne, composer of such American Songbook classics as “Time After Time,” “Bye Bye Baby,” and “The Party’s Over.” Hamilton leads a quartet here and continues his long tradition of unapologetically traditional and straightforward swing, building his solos expertly but without ceremony, and playing with the robust but pretty tone that has made him a favored sideman as well as a respected leader for decades. My only quibble here is producer Duke Robillard’s decision to put Hamilton’s saxophone slightly back in the mix with a little bit too much reverb — but that’s only a quibble, and ultimately a matter of personal taste. This album is highly recommended to all libraries.

staffordTerell Stafford
BrotherLee Love

Described in the press materials as “a love letter from one of Philadelphia’s favorite trumpet-playing sons to another,” this is indeed a warm and heartfelt tribute to one of the greatest jazz trumpeters (and composers) of all time: Lee Morgan. The program consists of seven Morgan compositions, rounded out by Alex Kramer’s blues-based “Candy” and Terell Stafford’s own “Favor.” All of these are delivered expertly by Stafford and his quintet in the sturdy hard-bop style that Lee Morgan exemplified. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.

blakeRan Blake
Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell
A 0001

Here’s another tribute album, though this one is much quirkier and more impressionistic. Pianist/composer Ran Blake pays homage to his former New England Conservatory colleague, the late George Russell, whose theories of modal improvisation deeply influenced a whole generation of jazz musicians (including Miles Davis and Bill Evans). Blake’s arrangements are wildly diverse in instrumentation and some are dreamy to the point of abstraction — but others generate a pretty impressive head of rhythmic steam, and all of these pieces (most written by Russell) are imbued with a palpable sense of love, respect, and loss.

gypsyMartin Taylor’s Spirit of Django
Gypsy (reissue)
Linn (dist. Naxos)
BKD 090

zingFrank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo
Swing Zing!

Here are two very different takes on the Gypsy jazz tradition. The first is a straight tribute to the unassailable giant of that tradition, Django Reinhardt, delivered by guitar wizard Martin Taylor and his Spirit of Django ensemble. To say that this album is a “straight tribute,” however, is not to say that it apes slavishly the sound of Django’s ensembles; Taylor employs a saxophonist and an accordion player, and his arrangements are much smoother and his sound rounder and less hard-edged than Django’s. I would say that he claims fairly to have captured the “spirit of Django,” but those looking for straight-up Djangology may be disappointed. The Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo duo album runs the Django/Gypsy style through an early-swing filter (or is it the other way around?), taking standards like “Cheek to Cheek” and “All the Things You Are” and playing them with alternating tenderness and drive — the uptempo numbers sound like Hot Club material on steroids, the ballads like sweet evocations of 1930s ballrooms and summer nights. Of the two, the Frank & Vinny album is the most fun and joyful, but both are well worth hearing.

bopVarious Artists
Bop: A CD to Help Fund the Cure for PKD
Rick’s Pick

When my parents were kids, back in the 1940s, “modern jazz” meant bebop, with its lightning-fast tempos and unpredictable, sometimes forbiddingly spiky melodies. When I was a kid, in the 1970s, “modern jazz” meant jazz-rock fusion, with its smooth textures and glossy, pop-inspired melodies. On this delightful album the two traditions meet. Fusion legends like Jeff Lorber, Chuck Loeb, John Patitucci, and Randy Brecker get together to perform a program of bop standards like Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” and Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time,” playing them with joyful virtuosity and an inviting smoothness. The fact that the proceeds from sales of this disc will go to support research into a cure for polycystic kidney disease just makes it that much better. Highly recommended.


shaddoxBilly Shaddox
I Melt, I Howl
No cat. no.

Singer-songwriter Billy Shaddox has never really thought of himself as a folk singer, and with his third album he starts breaking out of that ghetto in a pretty decisive way: while his Americana roots remain quite visible, there’s a new poppiness to his sound (thanks in part to production by Sam Kassirer) and the combination is really kind of perfect: the surfaces are smooth without being too shiny, the hooks are sharp and deep, and the lyrics are introspective but not annoyingly egocentric. Very, very nice.

daltonVarious Artists
Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton
Tompkins Square
TSQ 5173

Karen Dalton was a folk and blues singer in New York in the 1960s; she died at age 56 of complications from AIDS, leaving behind only two commercially-recorded albums, neither of which featured any original songs. But she also left some lyrics and sketches of chord progressions, and for this tribute album a group of eleven women singer-songwriters (including Patty Griffin and Lucinda Williams) have fleshed out those sketches, creating a haunting monument to a talent lost too soon. Interestingly, each of these artists gave her chosen song a dark and brooding setting — there’s not a rocker (or anything close to one) anywhere here. But all of it sure is gorgeous.

honeyHoney Dewdrops
Tangled Country
No cat. no.

A couple of years ago I raved about the third album from this young couple, characterizing it as “startlingly perfect.” I could honestly say the same about this, their fourth. The formula hasn’t changed much: we’re still talking about explicitly folk-derived original songs delivered quietly and achingly, in tight harmony, with a minimum of acoustic accompaniment. And with the exception of one intrusive (to me, anyway) harmonica, we’re still talking about a sterling perfection of taste when it comes to arrangements, and tunes that will stick with you for days. I hope they’re making a living at this, because the world will be poorer if they have to spend time on day jobs.

susieSolitaire Miles
Susie Blue and the Lonesome Fellas

Solitaire Miles’ usual gig is jazz, but on this album she stretches out into Western swing territory, performing classic songs from the likes of Bob Wills and Spade Cooley — songs like “I’ll Never Be Free,” “Crazy ‘Cause I Love You,” and “Hang Your Head in Shame.” Miles’ style is more torchy and bluesy than honky-tonky, and her backing band is minimal (no big horn sections here). As a result, this album comes across as more of a personal interpretation of the Western swing tradition than a simple celebration of it, and that makes it both stronger and more interesting than a straight genre exercise would have been. And she’s got a great voice. Recommended.


fallThe Fall
Sub-lingual Tablet
Cherry Red

Forty years after its founding, the Fall’s formula remains the same: surf-punk instrumental tracks accompanying snarling declamations from Mark E. Smith, the founder and only remaining member of this legendarily difficult band. Back in the day, there would be moments of Dadaist brilliance emerging from the angular, metallic murk: “Carry Bag Man,” “Hip Priest,” “Oswald Defence Lawyer” (“embraces the stuffed corpse of Walt Whitman”), etc. Now, Smith sounds a little bit bored, or maybe just fed up. But a new Fall album is still something to take note of, and if your patron base includes the threshold level of medium-superannuated postpunks, I would recommend picking this one up for the collection.

Into the Sun
Rick’s Pick

I’ve been a huge fan of Lorin Ashton for ten years now, ever since I heard his album Mesmerizing the Ultra back in the mid-2000s. Recording and performing as Bassnectar, he has created a dance music sound that is completely his own, even as it draws deeply from techno, dubstep, rock, metal, and dub influences. What characterizes his music consistently is a certain sweetness and generosity of spirit that is impossible to fake — not to mention an effortless way with a hook, whether the hook be melodic, rhythmic, or textural. This is some of the best driving music ever made. Highly recommended.

weewillieWee Willie Walker
If Nothing Ever Changes
Little Village Foundation
LVF 1004

Ever heard of Wee Willie Walker? No, you haven’t — at least, not unless you’ve been paying unusually close attention to the Minneapolis/St. Paul soul-music scene for the past several decades. In his youth Walker cut a few singles for the Chess and Goldwax labels, but he’s been almost completely ignored for most of his adult life. As this album (organized by blues singer Rick Estrin) makes clear, his gift is tremendous, and when given a chance to stretch out in front of a backing band of ace session players he’s capable of making rich, gritty, soulful magic. If you miss the glory days of Muscle Shoals, Motown, and Memphis, then snap this one up immediately.

sherwoodSherwood & Pinch
Late Night Endless
On-U Sound/Tectonic (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Question: Put the undisputed world champion of dark and minimalist dubstep into the studio with the godfather of avant-garde post-punk reggae production, and what do you get? Answer: I don’t know, but it sure is dark, minimalist, avant-garde, post-punk, and reggae-inflected. And brilliant, of course: the grooves are elephantine, the beats are judderingly disconcerting, and the vocal samples come from such heaven-sent sources as Prince Far I, Daddy Freddy, Congo Ashanti Roy, and Andy Fairley. Yes, Dub Syndicate fans will recognize many of these samples, but you’ve never heard them rendered in just this way. This is what dubstep sounds like when it’s made by grownups. Highly recommended.

Welcome You
eOne Music/Fast Plastic

The sophomore effort from this Seattle-based band is billed as “a poppy indie folk album with propulsive psych rock sensibilities,” but I have to say that I’m not hearing much folk through the psychedelia. Not that I’m complaining; from the whimsical wordplay of the album-opening title track (and how often do you hear the phrase “whimsical wordplay” used to describe modern pop music?) to the slow-burning and multilayered freakout of “Where It Goes” (complete with fake sitar!), Motopony’s sound is a glorious mess of 1960s and 1970s stylistic gestures and clever sonic dysjunctions. It’s very possible that this album is even more fun if you’re high, but I’ll never know.

Home Assembly Music

If you miss mid-century exotica by the likes of Esquivel, if you found yourself watching Twin Peaks for the music, or if you own the Blade Runner soundtrack, then you should seriously consider picking up the debut LP by Peptalk, a trio consisting of percussionist Shayna Dunkelman, vocalist Angelica Negron, and multi-instrumental electronics guy Michael Carter. I’ve listened to this album several times now and truly can’t decide whether I like it, which probably means it’s very good in ways that other people are wired to grasp more quickly than I am. Pick it up and see what your patrons think. Some may wonder what on earth you were thinking, but I bet others will jump up and down.


expandersThe Expanders
Hustling Culture
Easy Star
Rick’s Pick

“Everyone has a hustle, and ours is roots & culture music,” says Expanders singer Devin Morrison. And it is indeed; this is reggae music that could have been written and recorded in the mid-1970s, which may have been a crummy time for American pop music but was the classical age of roots reggae. Are the Expanders slavish purveyors of a bygone musical style? Yes, absolutely. So why is this album so compelling? Because hooks. Also because grooves that sway like a boulder on a rope swing and vocal harmonies as tight and smooth as you’ve ever heard. Cut for cut, this could easily turn out to be the best reggae album of 2015.

huHu Vibrational
Epic Botanical Beat Suite
M.O.D. Technologies/Meta
META 019

Now, here’s a strange one. Led by percussionist Adam Rudolph (and helped out by such sidemen as bassist Bill Laswell and flutist Steve Gorn), Hu Vibrational is a percussion ensemble that builds panethnic collages of beats and grooves, spicing them up with eerie clouds of electronica and the occasional instrumental solo, and then remixing everything after the fact to create world music of a kind you’ve never heard before. Imagine if Jon Hassell played percussion rather than trumpeter — that’s pretty much what this sounds like. Intrigued? You should be — for such generally relaxing music it’s really kind of a blast.

bancoBanco de Gaia
Last Train to Lhasa (deluxe reissue; 4 discs)
Disco Gecko

Back in 1995, Toby Marks (recording as Banco de Gaia) was looking for new inspiration. He found it in the Free Tibet movement, and accordingly created this instrumental concept album around the idea of the Qingzang Railway, which was built by the Chinese government to facilitate the migration of Chinese citizens into Tibet (and thereby the assimilation of Tibet into China). While the unspoken message here is one of protest, the music itself is free of overt political messages; the music is electronic, alternating between polite dance beats, ambient sound washes, and vaguely Asian samples and melodic elements. This four-disc reissue of the original two-disc album includes lots of remixes and extended versions, and the packaging is lovely. Pop collections should seriously consider picking it up before the limited edition of 3000 copies is sold out.

peruVarious Artists
Peru Boom!: Bass, Bleeps, and Bumps from Peru’s Electronic Underground
Tiger’s Milk/Strut
Rick’s Pick

Ha — I bet you didn’t even know Peru had an electronic underground, did you? Well, you stand corrected; or, more likely, you wiggle and bounce and wave your hands in the air corrected. This wonderful collection of tropical bass and electro-cumbia tracks will sound both weird and entrancing to most American or British ears, incorporating as it does all kinds of familiar elements and braiding them together with South American sounds that will be much less so. There are highlight tracks from Dengue Dengue Dengue, Tribilin Sound, and Chakruna, but not a single one is less than fun. Highly recommended to all world music collections.

June 2015


telemannGeorg Philipp Telemann
Telemann Edition (50 discs)
Various Performers
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

Here’s another wonderful super-budget box set from the Brilliant Classics label. This time it’s not a complete-works edition (like the Mozart and Bach boxes that came before it) but it’s still a heavyweight champ of a collection that includes the complete Tafelmusik, the Paris quartets, tons of concertos, overtures, and keyboard works, and also a very healthy collection of cantatats and oratorios–a very important inclusion, given the degree to which Telemann’s vocal music has been historically overlooked. One of the things that will make this set especially interesting to collections supporting music curricula is the fact that there is a nice mix of modern- and period-instrument ensembles represented here: the Tafelmusik pieces are played on period instruments by Musica Amphion, but many of the concertos are by the modern-instrument ensemble Collegium Instrumentale Brugense. Downsides? Maybe a few: some of the vocal recordings are almost 50 years old, and the liner notes and sung texts are provided online rather than in the box, which is always something of an annoyance, but the combination of generally excellent performances and a list price of under $100 makes it an exceptionally attractive purchase anyway. (N.B. — This set should not be confused with the 29-disc version that was released under the same title by the same label in 2011.)


reichSteve Reich
Music for 18 Musicians
Ensemble Signal / Brad Lubman
Harmonia Mundi
HMU 907608
Rick’s Pick

I fell in love with the music of Steve Reich when I first encountered this seminal piece of second-wave minimalism around 1980. The version I heard was by Reich and his ensemble and was recorded in 1978 for the ECM label, and it’s still in print and still wonderful to hear. This new version by Ensemble Signal is, if anything, even better: the tempos a bit brisker, the recorded sound maybe a bit more high-resolution, and the sense of joy thrillingly palpable. If you’ve ever let yourself believe that “minimal” means “simple,” disabuse yourself of that notion immediately with this fantastic album.

jacquetJacquet of Mantua
Missa Surge Petre & Motets
Brabant Ensemble / Stephen Rice
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

Here again, like clockwork, is another world-class release by the Brabant Ensemble, currently running neck-and-neck (alongside Stile Antico) for the title of My Favorite Oxbridge Choral Ensemble. And this time, we get not only the warm and luxurious vocal sound we’ve come to expect from this group, but also the excitement of newly-available music from a criminally unknown composer. Jacquet was born in Brittany but spent most of his career in Italy, where he benefited from the patronage of the Gonzaga court and wrote sumptuous choral music for performance in the cathedral at Mantua. Some of it is performed here, and the central work on this program — the “Arise, Peter” Mass — appears to be a world-première recording. Everything about this album is spectacular.

schubertFranz Schubert
String Quintet D. 956
Kuijken Quartet; Michel Boulanger
Challenge Classics (dist. Allegro)

What makes this recording particularly interesting for library purposes is less the music itself–Schubert’s posthumous string quintet has been recorded multiple times–than the fact that it was recorded by a family group consisting of two generations of Kuijkens, and the fact that this family is recording here on modern instruments rather than period ones, despite the fact that their name is practically synonymous with period-instrument performance. (The second cello is played by Michel Boulanger; I’d hoped to be able to report that he’s a grandson of Nadia Boulanger, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case.) Of course, while this curious twist makes the disc particularly interesting to library collections, it’s irrelevant to the question of what makes the album a delight to listen to, and that’s the quality of the playing, which is top-shelf. Recommended to all library collections.

nissimNissim Schaul
New Music for Old Instruments
Flying Forms
No cat. no.

From an album of early-19th-century music played on modern instruments we move to one of 21st-century music performed on 18th-century instruments. Composer Nissim Schaul has had a decade-long working relationship with the baroque ensemble Flying Forms, and on the straightforwardly-titled New Music for Old Instruments the ensemble presents music that Schaul has written for them and that is designed to “(radiate) newness while respecting, in unconventional but deep ways, tradition.” The result is strange and genuinely engaging and sure to be of interest to library collections supporting the study of music both new and old. I promise you’ve never heard a baroque violin and harpsichord sound quite like this.

gorczyckiGrzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki
Conductus funebris; Litaniae de Providentia Divina; etc.
The Sixteen / Eamonn Dougan
Coro (dist. Allegro)

This is the third release in an ongoing series by the great English choir The Sixteen, examining music of the baroque period in Poland. Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki has been called “the last great talent of the Polish baroque era,” and certainly the quality of his vocal music seems to justify that characterization; usefully, you will hear on this disc examples of his work both in the stile antico and the stile moderno. Chances are very good that your library collection currently holds nothing from this very fine composer, and the performances by The Sixteen are well up to the group’s usual high standard, so all collections should consider acquiring this release.

dreamsVarious Composers
Dreams & Prayers
A Far Cry; David Krakauer
Rick’s Pick

A Far Cry is a Boston-based contemporary music ensemble that, for this recording, has gathered together four pieces that together “(explore) music as a passageway between Heaven and Earth as expressed through the mystical branches of three faith traditions and 1,000 years of history.” Thus, an arrangement for strings of a sequence by Hildegard von Bingen; a klezmer-inflected suite (featuring clarinetist David Krakauer) based on mystical Jewish themes by Osvaldo Golijov; a piece written for A Far Cry by Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, based on Turkish Sufi themes; and the group’s own arrangement of the Heiliger Dankgesang movement of Beethoven’s string quartet op. 132. This is exceptionally moving music, gorgeously played.

tempestaJean-Baptiste Lully; Jean-Féry Rebel; Marin Marais
Comédie et tragédie, Vol. 1: Orchestral Music for the Theatre
Tempesta di Mare / Gwyn Roberts, Richard Stone
Chaconne (dist. Naxos)
CHAN 0805

Why, you might well ask, do we need another collection of orchestral works for the stage by these three familiar French baroque composers? Especially when the three pieces in question (suites from Lully’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, Rebel’s Les Eléments, and Marais’ Alcyone) are pretty familiar fare in and of themselves? The answer, in this case, is gusto. The Philadelphia-based Tempesta di Mare ensemble plays these pieces with such infectious glee that even the most jaded hardcore baroquephile will feel as if he or she is hearing them for the first time. And this disc is billed as the first volume in a series, which promises more of the same later on. Goody.


tornDavid Torn
Only Sky

Guitarist David Torn approaches solo improvisation as (in his words) “a kind of self-hypnosis or, to put it another way, a sort of sonic, secular meditation.” With that in mind, you might expect this solo album to be highly personal in tone and fairly abstract in execution, and you’d be pretty much right. The program opens with a multilayered ambient wash of loops, then suddenly veers into Bill Frisell territory with the pastoral-then-noisy “Spoke with Folks.” Elsewhere Torn gets bluesy, skronky, and sometimes kind of weird, but never boring. Recommended.

flosasonSigurdur Flosason; Kjeld Lauritsen
Storyville (dist. Allegro)
101 4295
Rick’s Pick

Lately I’ve found myself tending to pass over organ-combo recordings–not because I don’t love the sound of the Hammond B3 (I do), but because as I get older I get more and more tired of the jazzman’s idea of “funkiness,” and organ combos seem constitutionally drawn to the funk, or at least to the jazzman’s understanding of it. But the quartet led by organist Kjeld Lauritsen and saxophonist Sigurdur Flosason is not funky; it’s swinging, and not only that, but it has a marked preference for ballads over bop. The result: an album of beautiful, beautiful ballads and liltingly, trippingly lovely mid-tempo numbers that will make you feel warm and happy inside every time you hear it. As an introverted Scandinavian descended from a long line of introverted Scandinavians, I confess that this bouncing friendliness took me by surprise. This is the best jazz album I’ve heard so far this year.

svenSven Asmussen
Storyville (dist. Allegro)
101 4296

Speaking of Scandinavians who swing, here is a marvelous discovery: a long-lost live recording from 1985 by Sven Asmussen, then 70 years old and arguably the greatest living exponent of traditional jazz violin. What’s astonishing about this album is that Asmussen recorded it without rehearsal and alongside a trio of musicians with whom he’d never before played. Listen to the complex arrangement of “Singin’ in the Rain” that opens the set, and then consider the fact that, as Asmussen says in the liner notes, he “had a few things scribbled down but I don’t think anyone looked at them. They just played.” Asmussen, now 99 years old, thinks this is “the best music I’ve ever recorded,” and he may well be right.

nonplaceBurnt Friedman; Hayden Chisholm
Nonplace Soundtracks: Scenes 01-25
Nonplace/Groove Attack

For this quietly strange but also oddly gentle and even comforting album, composer and multi-instrumentalist Burnt Friedman has teamed up with wind player Hayden Chisholm and a rotating array of guest musicians to create a series of 25 musical accompaniments to scenes from an imaginary movie. One is immediately reminded of Brian Eno’s first Music for Films album, but because Friedman is involved the music is a bit more challenging than Eno’s was: the rhythms less regular, the textures more varied. But although the music is consistently interesting, it is also consistently approachable and sometimes even restful. There’s humor here, too, if you listen for it. Recommended.

breveHayden Chisholm
Pirouet (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Interestingly, at the same time the Burnt Friedman/Hayden Chisholm collaboration reviewed above was released, Chisholm himself was also coming out with a more conventional (though not exactly straight-ahead) jazz album of his own. On Breve he sticks to alto saxophone throughout and is joined by pianist John Taylor and bassist Matt Penman. The trio plays a set of originals that is sometimes contemplative and sometimes energetic, sometimes lyrical and sometimes harmonically jagged, but always deeply felt and somehow always very soft in texture. This is another one of those albums that reveals more depth the more (and the harder) you listen to it. Very, very nice.

ritterClaire Ritter
Soho Solo
Zoning Recordings
Rick’s Pick

Let’s be clear about this: Claire Ritter is a musical genius. And as rare as genius is, she’s that rarer thing still: a genius who is less interested in making sure you understand what a genius she is than in giving you musical pleasure. This means that on her second solo album, as with all her previous albums, she’s more likely to take you by the hand than to pummel you over the head. On Soho Solo you’ll hear poignant ballads, gently rocking stride excursions, a Cuban groove or two, and even hints of genuine boogie-woogie rubbing elbows with Monkish harmonic displacements. All of it is infused with an understated impressionism that frequently brings to mind the playing of Bill Evans at his peak. This is a very special album, one that can be confidently recommended to all library collections.


williemerleWillie Nelson & Merle Haggard
Django and Jimmie
Sony Legacy
Rick’s Pick

Just seeing those two names together is enough to make any fan of outlaw country music go into heart palpitations. Whenever the dean of Texas country goes into the studio with the living embodiment of the Bakerfield Sound, you know something special is going to happen, and it does this time just as it has before. Despite a couple of slightly silly novelty numbers (“It’s All Going to Pot,” “Alice in Hulaland”), it’s just a thrill to hear these two masters working together, especially when the songs are up to the same standard as the singers (“Live This Long,” the blues-based kiss-off song “It’s Only Money,” a strangely breezy version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”). No country music collection can pass this one up.

bigcountryBig Country Bluegrass
Country Livin’

Nothing here but straight-up, old-fashioned, high and lonely bluegrass music–and if that’s what you need, then there’s hardly a better exponent of that sound than Big Country Bluegrass. As for the songs, all the usual suspects are here: modern compositions by Dixie and Tom T. Hall; old-school originals by current band members; bluegrass classics by the likes of Jimmy Martin and Bobby Osborne; a dog song; an Elvis Presley cover. The playing is, inevitably, virtuosic; the singing is tight and heartfelt.

rileySteve Riley & the Mamou Playboys
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

When I started writing CD reviews 25 years ago, one of the first albums I received in the mail for review was the self-titled debut album by this band, on the Rounder label. I’d been a fan of Cajun music for years, but there was something different about the Mamou Playboys, something I couldn’t entirely put my finger on (which was frustrating, since putting my finger on it was kind of my job). On this, their 12th album, I can put my finger on it quite readily: simply put, this band rocks out. Not in a particularly untraditional way, and not by using any crazy instrumentation, but simply by virtue of their attitude and energy. Riley and his band are probably the most exciting Cajun band currently working, and this album would make a great addition to any library collection.

grahamsThe Grahams
Glory Bound
12 South (dist. Red)

This husband-and-wife duo’s debut album was written around themes related to the Mississippi River, and their second is similarly constructed on the theme of 19th-century railway travel. As before, Alyssa Graham’s powerfully smoky voice is the centerpiece of their sound, while husband Doug contributes equally sturdy tenor harmonies. Their sound ranges from honky-tonk to cinematic, and will sometimes make you wonder what Richard and Linda Thompson would have sounded like if Richard were American and Linda were Maria McKee. Recommended.


Sunshine of Your Youth
Bright Antenna (dist. ADA)
Rick’s Pick

So imagine that Cheap Trick and My Bloody Valentine had a baby. Now further imagine that their baby picked up a crappy Silvertone guitar and went into the studio with The Apples in Stereo producing. Intrigued? Yes, you most certainly are. Cheerleader’s debut has all the fuzzy lo-fi tunefulness of the Apples without the self-consciously twee singing, all the hooks of Cheap Trick, and a torn-velvet-curtain ambience similar to that of the Valentines; they create a sound that is simultaneously blissfully summery and subversively messy. Seriously, I can’t stop listening to it.

Drug for the Modern Age

You’ve probably heard Kopecky before, though you may not know it: their songs have been featured on TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, The Vampire Diaries, and Parenthood. If you noticed their songs in that context, then you may have also noticed how beautifully crafted they are. Like fellow cello-enhanced popsters Jump Little Children did, Kopecky has a tendency to sound more alt than they really are, using slightly unconventional production and instrumental elements to disguise Lennon-and-McCartney levels of songwriting professionalism. And I’m a sucker for boy-girl vocals, so they kind of won my heart early on. Strongly recommended.

metallicMetallic Taste of Blood
Doctoring the Dead
Rare Noise

Question: When is prog rock not teeth-grindingly annoying? Answer: When it’s structurally disciplined. In other words, give me fewer side-long suites and more tight beats and phased structures, and you can get as creative as you want. That’s what we get with the latest from Metallic Taste of Blood, which is led by the duo of Eraldo Bernocchi (guitar) and Colin Edwin (bass). Also featuring former Killing Joke and Godflesh drummer Ted Parsons and keyboardist Roy Powell, MToB delivers plenty of rockish bombast here but keeps it under control by means of funky grooves and complex but controlled tune construction. Yes, there are solos; no, none of them is oppressively long. All of it is both interesting and tasteful–a balance struck all too rarely, frankly, in rock music of any kind.

biosphereBiosphere Deathprod
Touch (dist. Forced Exposure)

Both Biosphere (a.k.a. Geir Jenssen) and Deathprod (a.k.a. Helge Sten) have had long careers producing weird and sometimes unsettling ambient music, and this is the second time they’ve teamed up for a split album release. It’s a match made in heaven, really–or maybe a match made in an abandoned military electronics lab buried beneath the echoing Arctic waste–as the two artists’ approaches to postapocalyptic ambient music are deeply complementary: both make ample use of washes, glitches, throbs, and unidentified floating musical objects. Think of this music as dub for grumpy cyborgs. I think it’s pretty dang cool.

Eye’m All Mixed Up

The Contemporary Christian Music scene has matured dramatically over the past couple of decades, and those who think of Christian pop as uniformly saccharine or simplistic (perhaps a fairer assessment in the 1970s and 1980s) might be surprised by the scene’s diversity these days, and by the quality of musicianship you’ll find there. A case in point is TobyMac, long a CCM mainstay and still the purveyor of top-notch dance-oriented pop music with a wholly unapologetic Christian message. This collection of remixes is the companion to his 2012 album Eye On It, and finds him operating in techno, EDM, and dubstep modes. None of the music is stylistically groundbreaking, but all of it is expert and enjoyable.


basswallaAdham Shaikh
Black Swan Sounds
BSS 0009

Adham Shaikh is one of the pioneers of the sound now known as “global bass”–a fusion of electronic dance music (often heavily inflected by dub and dubstep elements) and panethnic (often South Asian) traditions. Basswalla finds him bringing together new compositions and new mixes and arrangements of his previous work, creating a palette of sounds that shifts between hip-hop, Indian, dubstep, and reggae moods while keeping everything grounded with heavyweight bass pressure. You’ll even hear a Latin beat or two. Collections that are seeking to keep-up-to-date with current flavors of world music should seriously consider picking this one up.

PrintMidival Punditz
Six Degrees

Another group working the Euro-South-Asian fusion territory is the duo of Gaurav Raina and Tapan Raj, who have been recording together as Midival Punditz since the early days of what was then called the Asian Underground movement. On their latest album they have begun moving in a somewhat more rockish direction: lots of big electric guitars, lots of big and blocky beats. But there’s also plenty of melismatic subtlety among the vocalists here and some gorgeous bansuri playing, and the overall feel is more like a stylistic continuation than a departure. Recommended.

fatoumataFatoumata Diawara & Roberto Fonseca
At Home: Live in Marciac
Jazz Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
JV 570080

What happens when a Cuban jazz pianist meets a Malian singer and they get along well, both personally and musically? You’re likely to end up with a slightly surreal album like this one, on which wassalou singing and lots of ullulations are supported by Latin rhythms and alternate with long pianistic excursions. This recording was made live in concert as part of the Jazz in Marciac festival in southern France, and the audience is clearly captivated–your patrons will be, too.

tsarTsar Teh-yun
Master Tsar, the Art of the Qin (2 discs)
VDE-Gallo (dist. Albany)
VDE CD-1432/1433

The qin is a Chinese stringed instrument structurally similar to the Japanese koto: it sits on a table and is played by plucking and then manipulating the strings. Tsar Teh-yun was a celebrated master and teacher of the instrument, and her students often tape-recorded their lessons with her, resulting in a rich archive of home recordings, some of which are gathered on this compilation. Master Tsar’s subtlety of attack and the delicate virtuosity of her approach to ornamentation are a wonder to hear, and this album would make a fine addition to any world music collection.

Short Stories
Ozella Music
OZ 059

I’ll be honest here: based on previous experience with hardanger fiddle music, I was expecting this album to be a lot more… well… fun. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t find it to be wonderful and engaging–on the contrary, this trio project by cellist Sigrun Eng, fiddler Anne Hytta, and vibraphonist/glass harmonist Amund Sjølie Sveen is deeply and richly beautiful. But it’s also very dark, quiet, and at times somewhat eerie, its melodies sometimes diffuse almost to the point of imperceptibility and its component parts often defining large amounts of sonic empty space. It would make a wonderful addition to any collection of contemporary world music.

May 2015

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kirkbyEmma Kirkby
The Complete Recitals (reissue; 12 discs)
L’Oiseau-Lyre/Decca Classics
478 7863

For over 40 years, Emma Kirkby has been a sought-after soprano soloist, and for most of her career she has been arguably the grande dame of early-music vocal performance. Her voice is celebrated for its clarity and lightness and her singing for its accuracy and vibrancy, and her relationships with such ensembles as the Taverner Choir, the Consort of Musicke, and the Academy of Ancient Music have resulted in standard-setting recordings of both standard and obscure repertoire, including what many (myself included) consider to be the finest-ever period-instrument recording of Handel’s Messiah. She was a featured soloist on the recording that first made Hildegard von Bingen a household word (among early-music households, anyway). The majority of her most influential recordings were issued on the L’Oiseau-Lyre label, and for this 12-disc retrospective that imprint’s parent company has wisely revived the beloved L’Oiseau-Lyre cover design and reissued each disc in a cardboard sleeve replicating its original cover. The albums provided in this box set include Kirkby’s recordings of Renaissance chansons and dialogues, several discs of Bach and Handel cantatas, a program of Purcell songs, and two discs of arias and sacred music by Mozart. Many libraries will already own some of all of these recordings, but since all were originally issued between 1979 and 1990, few libraries are likely to have them all on CD. This set is very strongly recommended to all classical collections.


littlegirlSonia Wieder-Atherton
Little Girl Blue: From Nina Simone
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
V 5376

It may seem strange to categorize as “classical” this album of cello-and-piano arrangements of songs associated with the late jazz singer Nina Simone (with a couple of classical miniatures thrown in). But the more I listen to it, the more that seems like the only logical way to describe this album. Accompanied by pianist Bruno Fontaine and percussionist Laurent Kraif, cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton has made powerfully evocative modern art music out of the unique phrasing, inflections, and melodic characteristics of Simone’s interpretations of jazz and popular song  — interpretations that had a vexed relationship to jazz tradition in the first place — and created something new from them that sounds completely unique and deeply, soulfully melancholy. Brilliant.

purcellsrevengeConcerto Caledonia
Purcell’s Revenge: Sweeter Than Roses?
Delphian (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

purcellindianHenry Purcell
The Indian Queen
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers
Coro (dist. Allegro)

Period instruments and Fender Telecasters meet edgily on Purcell’s Revenge, a project that finds the Concerto Caledonia ensemble juxtaposing songs and airs of Henry Purcell with Scottish fiddle tunes, instrumental extracts from Purcell operas, and original songs by members of the group. Familiar songs like “Music for a While” and “Sweeter Than Roses” rub up against country-dance tunes and the occasional distorted electric guitar, making the program sound like what might happen if you put CDs by the Albion Band, the Consort of Musicke, and Cordelia’s Dad in a multi-disc player and hit the shuffle button. It’s slightly befuddling but tons of fun. Also very fun, but in a much more conventional way, is this wonderful performance of Purcell’s semi-opera The Indian Queen, including the final masque that was written by Henry’s younger brother Daniel when the composer died before completing the work. As conductor Harry Christophers notes, the vocal parts are lovely but it’s the string writing that really makes this piece special; arguments may rage as to whether Purcell or Byrd was England’s greatest composer, but I would suggest that we split the difference: Byrd set the standard for vocal writing, while Purcell did the same for orchestration and melody. In any case, this disc would make a welcome addition to any classical collection.

brahmsJohannes Brahms
Sonatas for Clarinet and Piano; 6 Klavierstücke, op. 118
Lorenzo Coppola; Andreas Staier
Harmonia Mundi
HMC 902187
Rick’s Pick

The two clarinet sonatas contained in Brahms’ opus 120 were the last chamber works he produced before dying a few years later. They were written for Rcihard Mühlfeld, a clarinetist of unusual skill and expressiveness, and the sonatas reflect that fact; the slow movements, in particular, find Brahms providing vehicles of expression that are as powerful and gentle as any in his oeuvre. Clarinetist Lorenzo Coppola and pianist Andreas Staier (playing a Steinway grand that was built at roughly the same time Brahms wrote these pieces) wring every drop of emotion from this music, but always with the utmost taste and restraint. This is a very special album, one that should find a place in every library collection.

tobiHenri Joseph Tobi
Première oeuvre
Vlad Weverbergh; Terra Nova
Vlad (dist. Allegro)

Another exciting clarinet-centric album is this collection of trios by an obscure figure from the classical period, Belgian composer Henri Joseph Tobi. Each of these three pieces is written for the rather unusual instrumental combination of clarinet, violin, and cello. None of them has been recorded on period instruments before (only one copy of the published score is extant), and while the music itself is more enjoyable than groundbreaking, the unusual instrumentation and the obscurity of the composer make this disc a very attractive candidate for library purchase — especially given the very lovely performances and sterling sound quality of the recording.

warwickVarious Composers
Gaudeamus omnes: Celebrating Warwick 1100
Choirs of St. Mary’s Collegiate Church; Mark Swinton / Thomas Corns
Regent (dist. Allegro)

This disc is the result of an interesting programming decision: in celebration of the city of Warwick’s 1100th birthday, the choirs of St. Mary’s Collegiate Church decided not to survey a millenium’s worth of English choral music, but instead to focus on works written in living memory, by such composers as Vaughan Williams, Walton, and Parry, as well as some by living composers like James MacMillan and David Briggs (with one brief plainsong chant thrown in for good measure). The result is a predictably joyful program, stirringly sung and very nicely recorded. Perhaps not an essential purchase for all libraries, this disc would nevertheless be a good addition to any comprehensive collection of choral music.

haydnMichael Haydn
Complete String Quintets (2 discs)
Salzburger Haydn-Quintett
CPO (dist. Naxos)
77 907-2
Rick’s Pick

Regular readers of CD HotList will know that I’m a big fan of Michael Haydn, younger brother of the more famous Joseph. And this two-disc presentation of his five surviving string quintets only makes me love him more: the way his very Austrian high classicism will suddenly be salted with an unexpected dissonance; the way he never seemed to settle on a single structural approach, using the different instruments in different ways from piece to piece and drawing on different national stylistic traditions. As always, his approach to melody can just break your heart. The Salzburger Haydn-Quintett play beautifully and sensitively (on period instruments), and as is so often the case, I kind of wish the recorded sound were just a bit closer and more intimate.

bach haydnCarl Philipp Emanuel Bach; Franz Joseph Haydn
Bach vs. Haydn: 1788/90 (2 discs)
Barthold Kuijken et al.
Accent (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
ACC 24293
Rick’s Pick

This may seem like a strange package: two discs, one dedicated to flute trios by C.P.E. Bach and the other to flute quartets by Joseph Haydn, presented with the unusual title Bach vs. Haydn. What is flutist Barthold Kuijken thinking? The answer is simple: he feels that these clusters of pieces represent both composers’ best writing for the flute, and the fact that they contain such striking stylistic contrasts is particularly interesting given that they were written at nearly the same time. Kuijken, being a genius and easily the finest baroque flutist of his generation, brings out these differences brilliantly, creating an album that is simultaneously a joy to listen to and an essential pick for any library supporting the study of music from the classical period.


broJakob Bro
Rick’s Pick

This is a delicately gorgeous guitar-trio album, one that bears very little resemblance to jazz as typically understood: not only does it never swing, it almost never locks into anything that could reasonably be called a beat. But the open, sometimes nearly pointillistic sound sculptures created by gutarist Jakob Bro, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Jon Christensen are among the most beautiful you’ll ever hear. Bro’s tone is somewhat reminiscent of Bill Frisell’s, as is his ability to make you catch your breath with an unexpected note choice or phrase. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections — though I’m a bit grumpy about this album’s skimpy just-under-40-minute length. Another 30 minutes of this gorgeousness would have been nice, and would have fit comfortably onto the disc.

wesWes Montgomery
In the Beginning (2 discs)
Rick’s Pick

Here’s a very different, though equally essential, jazz guitar document: this one represents the third in an ongoing series of rare and archival Wes Montgomery recordings, presented by the Resonance label. This set features performances recorded between 1949 and 1958, the period during which Montgomery became the titan of jazz guitar that the world recognizes today. It includes the entirety of a recently-discovered recording session with producer Quincy Jones as well as a number of live recordings (of varying sound quality), some of them featuring vocalists Debbie Andrews and Sonny Parker. No jazz collection can afford to pass this up.

georgeHarry Allen and Friends
For George, Cole and Duke
Blue Heron
No cat. no.

This is a lovely and heartfelt tribute to the Big Three of jazz song composition: George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Duke Ellington. Saxophonist Harry Allen leads a quartet that adds percussionist “Little Johnny” Rivera on a handful of Latin arrangements, but for the most part this is a selection of very straightforward and straight-ahead renditions of familiar standards (“In a Mellow Tone,” “How Long Has This Been Going On?,” “Love for Sale,” etc.) played (and sweetly sung, by bassist Nicki Parrott) in a manner distinguished more for its warmth and understated virtuosity than for its innovation. It’s the perfect album to accompany a candlelit dinner–or cuddling by the fire later on.

vacheWarren Vaché Quintet
Remembers Benny Carter
Arbors (dist. Allegro)
ARCD 19446

There’s something you can always count on with Warren Vaché and with the Arbors label: the music will swing, and swing hard. This one swings harder than most, because Vaché and his quintet are paying tribute to the great saxophonist and composer Benny Carter, whose “When Lights Are Low” is now a full-fledged jazz standard (and is given a wonderfully heartfelt rendition here). When Vaché solos you can hear the echoes of New Orleans in his phrasing and vibrato, and Carter apparently loved that about him because they collaborated many times over the years. This is a wonderful album, and that’s no surprise at all.

lackerschmidWolfgang Lackerschmid Quartet
Wolfgang Lackerschmid Quartet
TCB: The Montreux Jazz Label (dist. Allegro)
TCB 34202

For this album, vibes player Wolfgang Lackerschmid has teamed up with the Lynne Arriale Trio (oddly, not billed as such on the packaging, though all members are named) for a program of Lackerschmid and Arriale originals. The chief challenge for a combo with this format is to keep the vibraphone and piano from getting in each other’s way, and this group does it with the grace of a team that has been playing together for years. The quality of the compositions is worth noting as well, particularly a lovely pentatonic-based piece titled “The Dove” and a clever reworking of themes from “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “The Sunflower” titled “Ain’t No Sunflower.”

ghostGhost Train Orchestra
Hot Town
Accurate (dist. Allegro)

What we might think of today as “big band” music used to be very different. Before the advent of the swing-era big bands in the 1930s, large jazz ensembles tended to feature tubas and banjos, smaller horn sections, and larger and more eclectic percussion sections. And the music was hotter and, frankly, a bit more crazy. (There was, shall we say, more cowbell.) Boston’s Ghost Train Orchestra does a great job of recreating that sound here with an album of compositions by the likes of Fess Williams, Tiny Parham, and Cecil Scott, played joyfully under the direction of Brian Carpenter. Great stuff. (However, a quick note to the folks at Accurate Records: we Arlingtonians will thank you to note that the Regent Theater is not in Boston.)


tetuLe Vent du Nord
Rick’s Pick

My favorite Qébécois folk group is back with its eight album, once again providing an alternately rollicking and heart-tugging set of songs and tunes. For those unfamiliar with its musical traditions, Québec boasts a unique folk music style characterized by call-and-response singing, “crooked” (i.e. irregular) rhythms, and such unusual instruments as the jaw harp and the hurdy-gurdy–though the fiddle is centrally important. There are strains of Irish and English influence in this music, and if you listen carefully you’ll hear hints of the Cajun music for which Québecois traditions provided some of the wellspring (though the distinctions between Acadian and Québecois culture are important). Anyway, Le Vent du Nord is probably the finest living example of this music, combining virtuoso instrument technique with sweet singing and an irrepressible joie de vivre, and every library collection would benefit from owning a few of their albums.

yonderYonder Mountain String Band
Black Sheep
Frog Pad

The idea of making pop music in the context of bluegrass instrumentation isn’t new (the New Grass Revival and the Seldom Scene were doing it back in the 1970s), but it’s renewed every decade or so when a new generation of young people discovers that just because you play mandolin or Scruggs-style banjo doesn’t mean you have to play “Reuben’s Train” all the time. Yonder Mountain String Band is one of the most successful recent examples of what can happen when you break out of those artifical boundaries, and has become a festival favorite. YMSB’s latest album makes a great introduction to the band, skillfully blending traditional textures with modern song structures and lyrical concerns. Expect demand.

altThe Alt
The Alt
Under the Arch
Rick’s Pick

To American eyes used to seeing “alt” used as a prefix, calling a group or an album “The Alt” may seem kind of dumb. But in fact it’s a reference to a poem by Yeats that itself refers to a mountain gully in the northwest of Ireland, and these three musicians–John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy, and Eamon O’Leary–are anything but dumb. They are, in fact, minor superstars in the Celtic music scene, and by coming together to make this album they have created a thing of nearly perfect beauty: understated but powerful songs and liltingly gorgeous tunes delivered with a minimum of fireworks and a maximum of tasteful elegance. Some of the songs are pretty familiar (“Willie Angler,” “One Morning in May”) but all sound fresh and new in these arrangements, and sung by these voices. Brilliant.


animaFrancesca Belmonte
False Idols/!K7

Francesca Belmonte got her start singing with Tricky, appearing on both False Idols and Adrian Thaws, so three significant things about her solo debut should not be surprising: it’s soulful, it’s weird, and it’s produced by Tricky. This in turn means that the sound is dark and brooding and alternately funky and experimental. There are hooks but they’re subtle and sometimes located in places other than the vocal track, though the vocals provide plenty of strange fascination all by themselves. Belmonte sings, whispers, raps, moans, declaims, and basically lays out a wide-ranging emotional and musical territory and claims it all as her own. I haven’t heard anything else like it all year, and yes, that’s a compliment.

turboTurbo Fruits
No Control
Melvin/Thirty Tigers

You don’t realize how long it’s been since you’ve heard a great power-pop album until you hear one and you say to yourself “Man, it’s been a long time.” That was my reaction to the fourth album from Turbo Fruits, which offers all the standard power-pop features: crunchy-fuzzy guitars, tight vocal harmonies, glorious melodies, and unambiguous verse-chorus-verse song structures with a minimum of wanky guitar solos. This is, quite frankly, what rock’n’roll ought to be. If you find that your Cheap Trick and Fountains of Wayne discs are circulating heavily, then do your patrons a favor and invest in the Trubo Fruits catalog.

apartsThe Apartments
The Evening Visits… and Stays for Years (reissue)
Captured Tracks

Who were the Apartments, and why would members of the Go-Betweens and the Chills be writing the liner notes for the deluxe reissue of their first album? The answer to both questions is: Peter Walsh, who served as something of an inspiration to both Robert Forster and Steven Schayer back in the heady days of late-1970s post-punk Brisbane. I’ll be perfectly honest: this album isn’t my cup of tea. No denying Walsh’s skills, but his voice is too quavery for me and the production is too thin. But the songs are objectively great, and libraries collecting comprehensively in pop music will benefit from having both the original album and the additional singles and unreleased demos that are included in this reissue package.

Mute Swan
Friends of Friends
Rick’s Pick

Praveen Sharma (a.k.a. Braille) made his name as a house producer, but in recent years his sound has morphed into something more introspective and melancholy. His debut full-length is based on slippery beats, quietly booming 808s, transmogrified field recordings, and his own vocals–though there’s nothing here that could be mistaken for a “song.” Instead, each track is a sonic collage of disparate musical elements unified by a vague but insistent groove, and while none of them will likely propel you out of your chair to dance, several will gently invite you to do so. As for me and my house, we’re happy to sit in a comfy chair with headphones on and just marvel at all the sonic details.

fortknoxFort Knox Five
Pressurize the Cabin
Fort Knox
Rick’s Pick

Here’s one for the staff party — assuming your library’s policies are characterized by a high tolerance for public bootie-shaking. Let’s be very clear here: there is nothing even slightly original about Fort Knox Five’s sound. On their latest album, it’s basically equal parts Parliament Funkadelic, DC go-go, and late-80s hip hop. But (as I’ve had occasion to observe more than once in this venue) in pop music, originality is overrated. What the world needs now is hooks, sweet hooks, and if they’re deeply embedded in old-school funkalicious grooves, why, so much the better.

aksakLiebezeit Mertin
Staubgold (dist. Forced Exposure)

This strange album is the product of a collaboration between two percussionists: Jaki Liebezeit (formerly of Can) and Holger Mertin. Liebezeit is well known both for the uncanny precision of his time-sense and for his predilection for creating genuinely funky beats within the context of decidedly non-funky time signatures (like 5/4 and 7/8). On this album, Liebezeit and Mertin play a variety of acoustic and electronic percussion instruments from an equally wide variety of musical cultures, filling in the sonic and conceptual space with occasional contributions from guitarists, violinists, keyboardists, etc. The resulting sound is kaleidoscopic in texture and is weirdly, awkwardly danceable. It’s also pretty consistently fascinating, as all of Liebezeit’s projects tend to be.


arqaSuns of Arqa
All Is Not Lost, but Where Is It?
Liquid Sound Design
Rick’s Pick

For those unfamiliar with the group, Suns of Arqa is a rather unique collective of musicians that circles around the nucleus of bassist Michael Wadada. Its music draws on traditions from around the world, very often from India, and tends to pull elements of those traditions into a recognizably unique ambient/dubby/funky fusion style. Suns of Arqa have made over 35 albums since 1979, and I’ve never heard a bad one. The latest is yet another triumph of pan-ethnic funkiness, featuring all the tablas, bansuris, dubwise production effects, and rolling basslines your heart could possibly desire. In addition to the purchase of this album, I strongly recommend a deep dive into the Suns of Arqa back catalog.

Ludovico Einaudi
Taranta Projecttaranta
Ponderosa Music & Art (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
No cat. no.

In its deep southern regions, Italy is hot and dry and home to tarantulas. Legend has it that if you’re bitten by one, the only way to counteract the effects of its venom is to dance frantically–hence the emergence of the musical form known as the taranta. Composer Einaudi Ludovici has long been fascinated by this music, and for this album he brought together musicians from around the world and blended elements of West African and Turkish music into traditional taranta melodies and songs, with absolutely delightful results. You’ll hear one-stringed fiddles, electric guitars, koras, and a variety of other instruments alongside traditional Italian songs, and all of it fits together seamlessly but also sometimes surprisingly. Highly recommended.

King Size Dub Special: Dubvisionist
Echo Beach
CD 101

Germany, oddly enough, continues to be a world-leading producer of top-notch roots reggae music, and Dubvisionist (a.k.a. Felix Wolter) is one of the most accomplished of Germany’s many reggae producers. He has been part of the German reggae scene since the 1980s, and on this special instalment in the Echo Beach label’s excellent King Size Dub series he puts his remixing prowess to work on tracks originally recorded by the likes of Ari Up, the Senior Allstars, TACK>>HEAD, and Dub Syndicate. His signature style is digitally forward-looking but steeped in the old-fashioned verities of dubwise roots reggae, and this collection showcases that style to great advantage.

congoPeder Mannerfelt
The Swedish Congo Record
Archives Intérieures (dist. Cargo)
Rick’s Pick

Here’s something utterly fascinating: an electronic re-creation of field recordings made in Central Congo in the 1930s and originally released on a set of 78 rpm records in 1950. The Swedish electronic musician Peder Mannerfelt came across these recordings and originally planned to use them as a source of samples, but ultimately decided instead to recreate the original recordings in full, using only synthesizers. The result is eerily beautiful but also unsettling: you hear voices that you know aren’t voices; you hear rhythms that seem fun and funky at first, but that eventually start to seem dark and more earnest than that; and you’re prompted to reflect on questions of empire and colonialism that don’t necessarily usually arise when listening to field recordings. I can’t get enough of this one, and libraries serving anthromusicology programs should definitely pick it up.

jbbJohn Brown’s Body
Kings and Queens in Dub
Easy Star

It’s been two years since John Brown’s Body, America’s best reggae band, released a studio album, and while it’s high time for some new music from them there’s nothing wrong with a nice dub outing. In keeping with their approach to reggae music generally, this dub companion to 2013’s Kings and Queens pushes the sonic and stylistic boundaries a bit, featuring remixes from the likes of Dubfader, Nate Richardson, Michael G, and even the legendary Dennis Bovell. These remix artists have varying styles and approaches, but the trademark JBB sound is always there: rich, swirling, thrilling. An essential companion album to one of the best records in John Brown’s Body’s rich catalog.

April 2015


MavsThe Mavericks

Years ago, my wife and I were idly flipping through the TV channels one evening when we stumbled on something that made us stop and sit up straight with our mouths hanging open. It was live footage of an unfamiliar band, and their music was unlike anything we’d heard before. They wore matching suits and cowboy hats, and the song they were playing had many of the superficial markers of country music, but they had a horn section–and to make things more confusing still, the rhythmic structure of the song was clearly and undeniably ska. The singer had a voice of a nearly operatic quality, and the overall effect was thrilling and also disconcerting: here was what looked and sounded like a country band, playing ska, fronted by someone who sang like Roy Orbison. And yet there was nothing jokey or novelty-esque about their music (this was no Dread Zeppelin act); as the concert progressed, it became clear that they were making music of absolutely first-rate quality.

A few days later I was talking with a friend of mine–a fellow closet Buck Owens freak–and described what my wife and I had seen, wondering who it could have been. He immediately said “Oh, that must have been the Mavericks!” He was right, and ever since then the Mavericks have been one of my family’s favorite bands. They are well named and have a longstanding problematic relationship with the country music establishment, one that will not be helped by this album. Mono (which is, in fact, recorded monaurally rather than in stereo) finds the Miami-based group continuing to explore the intersections between country, Caribbean, Latin, jump blues, and early R&B, making music that will infuriate genre purists of every stripe and delight everyone else.


cpebachCarl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Rebecca Miller
Signum Classics (dist. Naxos)

Claiming (as this album’s liner notes do) that C.P.E. Bach “is these days an almost unknown figure” may be overstating his obscurity somewhat, but it’s certainly true that J.S. Bach’s second son has been unjustly neglected until quite recently. A towering figure of the classical-to-Romantic transitional period, his prolific output offers some of the most rewarding listening of that era. This collection of five symphonies is beautifully performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under the baton of Rebecca Miller, and makes a powerful argument for this composer’s particular genius.

wallerMichael Vincent Waller
The South Shore (2 discs)
Various Performers
XI (dist. Forced Exposure)

Whenever a modern composer’s music is praised for its “honest emotion” and “lack of artifice,” one can be forgiven for suspecting that it’s going to be simplistic. And in the case of Michael Vincent Waller, it would be possible to hear the music that way, particularly some of the more strictly modal and pentatonic pieces–but listen more closely and you’ll hear the complexity of expression humming beneath many of these relatively simple-sounding, post-minimalist works. All of the compositions on this two-disc set are solo or chamber pieces, and I find that the larger the ensemble the more interesting the music. Library collections supporting a curriculum in contemporary composition should consider this one.

pragaVarious Composers
Praga Magna: Music in Prague During the Reign of Rudolf II
Cappella Mariana
Artevisio (dist. Naxos)
AV 0001-2
Rick’s Pick

Emperor Rudolf II established his court in Prague in 1583 and promptly established a rich program of chapel music, notably featuring the work of Philippe de Monte, the last of the great Franco-Flemish polyphonists. De Monte’s Missa Confitebor tibi Domine is the centerpiece of this program, which also features instrumental music for cornets and sackbutts and related vocal works by Lasso, Palestrina, and Regnart. The performances by the Czech ensemble Cappella Mariana are exceptional. Highly recommended to all early music collections.

chantillyVarious Composers
Figures of Harmony: Songs of Codex Chantilly c. 1390 (reissue; 4 discs)
Ferrara Ensemble / Crawford Young
Arcana (dist. Naxos)
A 382

For a collection of earlier and more secular vocal music, consider this outstanding four-disc reissue box consisting of recordings made by the Ferrara Ensemble between 1995 and 2010. Taken together, these comprise a complete recording of the chansons contained in the Chantilly Codex, a 14th-century document that includes many anonymous works as well as songs by Johannes Ciconia, Philipostus de Caserta, and other luminaries of the “Ars Subtilior” movement. The harmonies are astringent, there are frequent incidents of hocketing, and the performances are generally superb. This repertoire constitutes a very important document of the transition from the medieval to the Renaissance periods, and for that reason this box should be seriously considered by all comprehensive classical collections that don’t already hold the original issues.

raindropDeanna Witkowski
Raindrop: Improvisations with Chopin
Rick’s Pick

Always leery of classical-jazz fusion projects, I approached this one with a little bit of trepidation–but having been deeply impressed by pianist Deanna Witkowski’s work in the past, I was prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt, and I’m so glad I did. On this disc she uses various Chopin preludes and nocturnes as departure points for personal improvisations, with consistently and deeply affecting results. Classical snobs should find nothing to fault in her straight interpretations of the Chopin pieces, and jazz snobs will be impressed by what she makes of the raw material in the course of her improvisations, some of which are in a Brazilian style. I promise that your library doesn’t own another jazz or classical album anything like this, and it needs to own this one.

mozartWolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Anton Stadler
Clarinet and Basset Horn Chamber Music
Luigi Magistrelli; Italian Classical Consort; Arion String Quartet
Centaur (dist. Naxos)
CRC 3355

I love the clarinet music of the classical period, and I love Mozart’s clarinet music best of all. But the music of his friend Anton Stadler is lovely also, and these period-instrument performances of Mozart’s and Stadler’s chamber works for clarinet and basset horn are just wonderful (though I wish the recorded sound were a little more intimate and a little less echoey). Luigi Magistrelli coaxes a warm and sweetly lyrical tone from this notoriously difficult instrument, and the various ensembles blend beautifully. Recommended to all classical collections.

delalandeMichel-Richard Delalande
Symphonies pour les Soupers du Roy
Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg / Jürgen Gross
Challenge Classics (dist. Allegro)

Repowder your wig, dust off your brocaded waistcoat, and break out your self-stick beauty marks: here’s a delightful collection of dance suites from the king of French baroque supper music, Michel-Richard Delalande. Jürgen Gross and the rather bizarrely-named Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg (“Elbipolis” means “city on the Elbe”) do a marvelous job of delivering this music with tonal richness without sacrificing any of its elaborate, mincing daintiness. This is music that reflects all the decadent luxury of Louis XIV’s court, and really is a kick.

easterVarious Composers
Easter at Ephesus
Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles
Decca/DeMontfort Music

Not since the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos had an unexpected worldwide hit with Chant has a group of practicing religious enjoyed the kind of commercial musical success recently experienced by the nuns of this obscure Kansas City priory. The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles spend most of their time making priestly vestments, praying for the clergy, and tending a small farm. But they are also known for their singing, which may not be of absolutely professional quality but is warm, reverent, and deeply attractive. Their latest album is comprised of music both old and new celebrating the Easter story. Expect demand where their previous work has been popular.

partArvo Pärt
The Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips
Gimell (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt celebrates his 80th birthday this year, and it has now been roughly 30 years since his music took the American classical audience by storm. The term “tintinnabuli” is based on the Latin word for “bell” and describes his approach to composition, which is deeply, even stubbornly tonal and makes extensive use of pitches from overtone series. Pärt is regularly lumped in with the minimalist school, but his music is far more explicitly devotional than that of Reich, Glass, or Riley, and is often dramatic in ways that can be surprising. All of the pieces presented on this album have been recorded by others, but the Tallis Scholars make it all sound new. An essential purchase for all libraries.

pioneersVarious Composers
The Pioneers of Movie Music: Sounds of the American Silent Cinema
Paragon Ragtime Orchestra / Rick Benjamin
New World (dist. Albany)

Many of us think of silent movies as having been accompanied by some guy sitting at a slightly out-of-tune upright piano in a darkened theater, improvising along to the action onscreen. But there was a rich repertoire of bespoke orchestra music created for these movies, and here the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra brings a selection of these pieces (all written between 1914 and 1926) to CD for the first time. I had never heard of Hugo Frey, Gaston Borch, Ribé Danmark, and William Axt (just to name a few of the composers represented here) before, but I’m mightily impressed by what I’m hearing–richly programmatic late Romanticism with occasional outbursts of energetic jazziness. And all of it beautifully played by the Paragons, for whom this kind of thing is not the usual gig.


jiggsJiggs Whigham International Trio
Live at Nighttown: “Not So Standards”
Azica (dist. Naxos)

The first of several trombone-centric jazz albums I’ll be reviewing this month is this one from Jiggs Whigham, who leads an unconventional drummerless trio on a program of standards and originals. Working with the outstanding German pianist Florian Weber and Romanian bassist Decebal Badila, he takes a sometimes swinging and sometimes impressionistic approach to these tunes, some of which are very familiar but are here rendered in unfamiliar ways. Recommended as much for Weber’s contributions as for Whigham’s, though all three players are excellent.

fedchockJohn Fedchock Quartet
Summit (dist. Allegro)
DCD 653
Rick’s Pick

Here’s a very different take on a trombone-led small-ensemble standards program. In this case trombonist John Fedchock leads a conventionally-configured quartet on a live recording consisting mostly of standards, but the group’s approach is very straight-ahead and swings powerfully throughout. There is, frankly, nothing really unusual about this album except for its consistently high quality, and the pleasure of hearing a great trombonist making old chestnuts like “East of the Sun” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” his own. The supporting trio is top-notch as well. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.

tilitzJerry Tilitz and Joe Gallardo
Jerry Tilitz Meets Joe Gallardo: An Exciting Jazz Trombone Summit
TCB: The Montreux Jazz Label (dist. Allegro)

Rounding out my trio of jazz trombone recommendations this month is this gem of a quintet date, co-led by expatriate Americans Jerry Tilitz and Joe Gallardo. Both now live in Germany, where this album was recorded, but neither has forgotten the distinctively American style of hard-swinging mainstream jazz they left behind. Whether playing Tilitz originals, songbook standards like “Do It the Hard Way” and “Love for Sale,” or a bebop favorite like “Yardbird Suite,” they deliver everything with a warm and lyrical tone and a joyful sense of rhythm. This one is a pure pleasure throughout.

whitakerRodney Whitaker
When We Find Ourselves Alone
Mack Avenue

I have to confess that I often hesitate when confronted with an album by a bassist-led ensemble. (Please bear in mind that I say this as a bass player myself.) Too often I find them to be bass-centric, and the fact is that not even very many bass players are interested in listening to bass solos. But Rodney Whitaker, who played for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra for six years, has the kind of musical maturity that makes a great combo leader, and he lets others spend more time in the spotlight than he does. Sure, he takes some solos, but the focus here is on the ensemble and on the tunes, which are a nice blend of Whitaker compositions and jazz standards. The quartet’s energy and blend are exceptional, and vocalist Rockelle Fortin makes a strong cameo appearance. Very, very nice.

cunninghamAdrian Cunningham
Ain’t That Right!: The Music of Neal Hefti
Arbors Jazz (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

You may not know Neal Hefti’s name, but I promise you that you’ve hummed one of his tunes more than once in your life–even if that tune was just the theme from the old Batman TV series (“na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-Batmaaaaan!”). As a trumpeter and arranger he worked with many of the greatest names in big-band jazz, but he was also a gifted composer who largely worked in Hollywood and television. This album is a tribute to Hefti led by saxophonist/clarinetist/flutist Adrian Cunningham, and it’s lots of fun to hear how comfortably Hefti’s theme-music motifs can be expressed in the context of small-ensemble jazz. This one is a must for all collections supporting academic jazz programs.


foghornThe Foghorn Stringband
Devil in the Seat
Foghorn Music
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Let’s be clear about this latest album from the Foghorn Stringband: this is not New Americana or Underground Country or Nü Folk or Alt-anything. These guys (and gals) play straight-up acoustic old-timey and early country music–and not all of it from the U.S., either. We’re talking headlong fiddle tunes, reedy vocal harmonies, Child ballads, everyone-stand-around-one-mic kind of stuff here, and it’s absolutely thrilling. Normally I find “authenticity” to be a poor kind of goal for a band, but the Foghorns achieve it in the best possible way: by having maximum fun. An essential purchase for all folk and country collections.

romeroPharis and Jason Romero
A Wanderer I’ll Stay
Rick’s Pick

Ever since I discovered Richard and Linda Thompson at a tender age, I’ve been a sucker for the sound of a man singing low harmony under a woman’s lead in a folk (or folkish) context. Jason Romero (known to us banjo nerds mainly for the jaw-dropping quality and beauty of his handmade banjos) and his wife Pharis make some spectacularly beautiful music in that vein, both of them playing and singing deceptively simple-sounding songs that are actually rich with subtlety. These songs are also deceptively old-sounding–in fact, all but one of the selections on this album are originals. Every library with a pop or folk collection should own this album.

stoneVarious Artists
Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project

Speaking of banjo players, this project was organized by virtuoso picker Jayme Stone as a celebration of folklorist Alan Lomax’s 100th birthday. Lomax and his son John are famous for their work in documenting folksongs of the American south and the British isles; their recordings and transcriptions of those songs constitute what is probably the most important folk music archive of the 20th century. Working with artists like Tim O’Brien, Bruce Molsky, Mollie O’Brien, Moira Smiley, and Julian Lage, Stone has created an imaginative and tasteful program of arrangements of story songs, sea shanties, field hollers and gospel songs originally gathered by the Lomaxes, and it’s absolutely wonderful — for some reason, the gospel numbers are especially effective.


Tummy Touch

Though known primarily as a beatbox champion, Darren Foreman (a.k.a. Beardyman) is also a gifted songwriter and music-software designer; his Beardytron_5000mkIII is an application that allows musicians to record and mix in real time, and he used it extensively in the creation of this wonderful debut album. Blending elements of electropop and EDM and incorporating generous amounts of dub and glitchiness into the production, Foreman has made an album that sounds completely unique despite the fact that all of its component elements are quite familiar. Maybe not an essential purchase for all academic collections, but tons of fun nevertheless.

Jane’s Lament

If you miss the glory days of atmospheric, fuzz-guitar dream pop, and if you’re not particularly in the mood to dance, then this Australian duo has got a debut album for you. Since those glory days (which I think we’d probably mostly agree had ended by about 1990) the folks who make this kind of music have gotten access to all kinds of new sonic toys, and you’ll hear them on this album: electronic percussion mixed in with the real drums, loops and samples burbling along underneath the droning guitar parts. But the overall feel here is an analog one, a naturally warm and electric (rather than electronic) ambience that envelopes the unassuming vocals in clouds of beautiful, tuneful fuzziness. Very nice stuff indeed.

These Things (5 discs)
Rick’s Pick

This is a weird release, but bear with me; it’s worth figuring out. Looper (a charmingly clattery synth-pop duo made up of former Belle & Sebastian bassist Stuart David and his artist wife Karn) was established as a sort of ad hoc multimedia project in 1997, but since then the group has become a genuine going concern and has released a series of albums. This retrospective 5-disc set reorganizes the tracks from those albums by themes, sort of, and includes most (but not all) of their most recent album, 2014’s Offgrid/Offline. The concept here is based on the mixtape, and each disc in the set functions in that way: one focusing on lo-fi pop, one on more hip-hoppy material, etc. There is sometimes a rather self-conscious primitivism to Looper’s sound, but it never gets in the way of the hooks, and the variety of styles and approaches in evidence here is quite impressive. Highly recommended to all pop collections.

shamsThe Shams
One and All (EP)
No cat. no.

There’s something about the blend of punk rock and Irish defiance that has always carried a particular sort of punch-drunk power–from the Pogues to Black 47 to the Dropkick Murphys, it’s a fusion that has had many different manifestations and has often worked very well. Such is certainly the case with the San Francisco-based Shams, whose meat-and-potatoes punk-tinged rock is less Celtic-American rock’n’reel than it is American rock with an Irish accent. And as such, it rocks mightily; at the same time, these guys aren’t afraid to take things down a notch–or to bring in a fiddle and a 6/8 time signature once in a while. Good stuff.

sunsetSunset Graves
Love Pours into Death
3rd & Debut
Rick’s Pick

Sunset Graves is English multi-instrumentalist Andy Fosberry, who also records under the names Lo Grounds and tpique, and who runs the 3rd & Debut label. His latest album continues what seems to be an ongoing journey away from heavy post-rock and towards a complex and carefully sculpted kind of ambient beat music–soundscapes that don’t demand your attention but lavishly reward it. It’s easy to overlook how richly bassy many of these tracks are, or how funky. Fosberry’s use of vocal samples is unusually creative, and his glancing references to house, UK bass and Hyperdub-style dubstep are lots of fun–though “fun” isn’t exactly the term I would use to characterize this album generally. What it is is brilliant rainy-afternoon music.

gangGang of Four
What Happens Next
Metropolis (dist. NAIL/Allegro)
MET 970

When I saw that a new Gang of Four album was coming out I was very excited–until I learned that vocalist Jon King had left, leaving guitarist Andy Gill as the only remaining original member of the group. Gill is a genius, but King has been the voice of the band for almost 40 years, so I had my doubts. But as it turns out, this new configuration (which includes both a semi-permanent new singer and an assortment of guest vocalists) works just fine. Gill’s slash-and-burn funk-punk guitar is still the centerpiece of the band’s sound, but the harsh minimalism of the early days has given way to a textural richness that balances that guitar style nicely. And the songs are still as aggro as ever. Fans shouldn’t hesitate to give this one a shot.


blackBlack Symbol
Black Symbol
Reggae Archive

This collection will be received joyfully by fans of early-1980s British reggae — a group of people larger and more passionate than you might guess. Black Symbol flourished in Birmingham during that period, and specialized in the slow, dreamy, and deeply dread sound that was popular at that time. (Think of middle-period Burning Spear and of the first album by fellow Brummies UB40.) The material for this collection is drawn from archives of unreleased songs, singles, and the band’s contributions to the two-volume Handsworth Explosion compilations, and all of it is great. Recommended to all reggae collections.

debashishDebashish Bhattacharya
Slide Guitar Ragas from Dusk Till Dawn
Riverboat (dist. World Music Network)

You might not think of the slide guitar as a classical Indian instrument, but its infinite range of pitch variation makes it a natural fit for a musical tradition that relies heavily on microtonal ornaments and dramatic glissandi. And no one has done as much to develop the instrument in this context as Debashish Bhattacharya, whose latest album presents a set of five ragas, each written for a different part of the day. Accompanied only by a tabla, Bhattacharya conveys a wide variety of moods with his usual jaw-dropping virtuosity. Highly recommended to all world music collections.

Wonderworld: 10 Years of Painting Outside the Lines

Billed here (accurately) as “a globe-trotting ambassador of all things Funky, Deep and Global,” Nickodemus is a DJ who delights in mixing and mashing wildly disparate dance music styles from all over the place–Balkan brass bands, Latin jazz, American hip hop, reggae, Afropop, whatever. This continuously-mixed disc compiles highlights from the first ten years of his Wonderwheel label’s catalog–so if your library has been collecting those releases all along, there’s no need to replicate them with this DJ mix program. But if you haven’t tapped into the Nickodemus flow up until now, consider this your introduction to one of the most fun and exciting world music labels around.

smithRob Smith
Mixwork in Dub
Echo Beach

Yes, it’s true that if you follow the Echo Beach label closely (as I do), these tracks will mostly be familiar to you. But you probably haven’t heard them remixed by Rob Smith (a.k.a. RSD, also known to dance music fans as half of the duo Smith & Mighty). Or at least you haven’t heard these particular remixes, all of which are spaciously dubby in a perfect modern-roots style. Some of the source material is quite old, such as Ruts DC’s “Weakheart,” and some of it is much more up-to-the minute, like the Illbilly Hitec stuff. But all of it is given fresh life in Smith’s mixes, and all of it will be of interest to fans of modern reggae and dance music.

evoraCesaria Evora
Greatest Hits

The Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora may not be a household name among the general public, but the esteem in which she is held by the international music community is huge–after her death in 2011, tributes poured in from around the globe. Inevitably, greatest-hits collections have proliferated as well, and this is a very good one. It includes hits like “Sodade,” “Nutridinha,” and “Mãe Carinhosa” as well as a handful of rarities like a remix of “Angola” and “Carnaval de São Vicente,” which was originally released only in Cape Verde. Evora’s voice is a thing of great beauty, but what made her special was the way she used it–balancing heartbreaking songs with a graceful and seemingly effortless elegance of delivery. If your collection is going to include only one of her albums, this one would be a very good choice.

March 2015


costelloVarious Artists
Beyond Belief: A Tribute to Elvis Costello (3 discs)
Spyder Pop

This album is a triumph on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to start. For one thing (and most importantly), it’s an exhilaratingly wonderful pop record consisting of 50 songs, almost none of which are less than brilliant. The fact that the songs were written by Elvis Costello means that they are of consistently high quality, and the fact that the singers are people other than Elvis Costello means that you hear these amazing songs in new ways — in significant part because (it must be said) they are often being sung by people with voices more naturally lovely than his. Second, this album is a pleasure and a delight because it’s made up almost entirely of performances by artists you are fairly unlikely to have heard of. Some of them are alt-pop bands, some are folk-derived singer-songwriters, some are less easily categorizable. Some of the arrangements are departures from the original (check out Jamie and Stevie’s doo-wop a capella arrangement of “Blame It on Cain” and the Rubinoos’ brilliant horn-driven take on “Pump It Up,” for example) but some are nearly slavish note-for-note recreations of the original versions, an approach that actually carries its own kind of charm. Are there duds? Sure, but I count only two — and that’s a pretty amazing batting average for a three-disc set. Last of all, it’s worth noting that all proceeds from the sales of this collection go to support the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, which donates musical instruments to underfunded school programs. Every library should seriously consider picking this one up.


ravelMaurice Ravel; Ernest Chausson
Trio in A Minor; Trio in G Minor, op. 3
Trio Solisti
Bridge (dist. Albany)

This album presents lovely performances of two pieces that one might expect to have more in common than they do. Certainly they both reflect the fiery emotion of late Romanticism (the Ravel more than the Chausson in this regard) and an increasing concern with chromaticism (the Chausson more strongly than the Ravel), but Ravel’s incorporation of Basque themes and his greater emotionalism both set his trio apart from Chausson’s drier and more academic treatment, and the contrasts here end up being fascinating. The Trio Solisti’s playing is marvelously sensitive. Recommended to all classical collections.

coronationVarious Composers
Coronation Music for Charles II
Oltremontano; Psallentes / Wim Becu
Accent (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
ACC 24300
Rick’s Pick

I have to confess that I’m a sucker for imaginative musical reconstructions of royal and liturgical events from the distant past, and this one is especially fun: using the choral group Psallentes and the cornett-and-sackbut ensemble Oltremontano, the album presents music that one is likely to have heard during the entry of Charles the II into London, the procession past the triumphal arches, the coronation ceremony itself, and then at the banquet and theatrical masques that took place afterwards. There is instrumental and choral music by Matthew Locke, William Lawes, and William Byrd, as well as by such favored Italian composers as Augustine Basso and Girolamo Fantini. No early music collection should be without this outstanding disc.

adamsJohn Luther Adams
The Wind in High Places
JACK Quartet; Northwestern University Cello Ensemble
Cold Blue Music

This album consists of three pieces: the title composition is (as its title suggests) a quiet and eerie piece, three movements played by a string quartet using nothing but open strings and harmonics; the second is a four-movement work scored for four choirs of twelve cellos each; the third is a single-movement string quartet. Like much of Adams’ music, these pieces combine relative harmonic stasis with virtuosic difficulty and deep structural and timbral complexity — which means that identifying him with the minimalist school is problematic. Beautiful and fascinating stuff.

frthankerFred Frith; Lotte Anker
Edge of the Light
Intakt (dist. Naxos)

firthguyFred Frith; Barry Guy
Backscatter Bright Blue
Intakt (dist. Naxos)

Most often, when I can’t figure out the appropriate genre designation for an album, it ends up going into the Jazz section. (I’m not proud of that, but there it is.) In this case, though, and despite the fact that the unifying element of these two albums of improvised music is the presence of electric guitarist Fred Frith, it seems as if Classical is the right home for them. On Edge of the Light, Frith is working with saxophonist Lotte Anker, whose piercing and direct playing contrasts nicely with the wild textural variations of Frith’s extended techniques. On Backscatter Bright Blue he is teamed up with contrabassist Barry Guy, and here (unsurprisingly) the sound is very different, with both musicians creating a broad sonic palette of tones, scrapes, squeals, snaps, and clatters. Libraries with a collecting interest in improvisation and the avant-garde should be very quick to snap these up — along with just about any other album to which Fred Frith contributes in any way.

chopinFrédéric Chopin
A Chopin Recital
Andrew Rangell
Steinway & Sons
Rick’s Pick

I have a theory: no one plays Chopin quite like someone who came to him after concentrating for a long time on the more Teutonically stern masterworks of Bach and Beethoven. That was Andrew Rangell’s trajectory, and since, as far as I can tell, he’s never made a mediocre album, it comes as no surprise that his recordings of Chopin evince all of the joy and release that one might expect. In recent years he has focused strongly on the mazurkas, but for this program he ranges from the monumental Polonaise-fantaisie, op. 61 to nocturnes and ballades, stopping briefly for a bolero. It’s a marvelous ride and this disc is highly recommended to all libraries.

scenesVarious Composers
Scenes from the Gospels: Motets from Josquin to Palestrina
VivaVoce / Peter Schubert
ATMA (dist. Naxos)
ACD2 2695

The second album by this very fine mixed-voice choral ensemble is quite a stylistic departure from its first effort (a collection of Victorian part-songs), and the concept is an interesting one: settings of texts from the New Testament Gospels by such Franco-Flemish masters as Josquin des Prez, Adrian Willaert, Nicolas Gombert, and some Italian ringers (notably the great Palestrina) thrown in for good measure. Recorded in a small and intimate acoustic environment, VivaVoce’s smooth but colorful blend and flawless intonation are shown off to great advantage, and the music itself is as exquisite as one would expect.

cavalieriEmilio de Cavalieri
Rappresentatione di Anima & di Corpo (2 discs)
Staatsopernchor Berlin; Concerto Vocale; Academie für Alte Musik Berlin / René Jacobs
Harmonia Mundi

Not quite an oratorio and not really an opera — neither of those musical forms quite existed in 1600, when this work made its premiere in Rome — Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione has some characteristics in common with the musical morality plays of medieval Germany (cf. Hildegard von Bingen’s Ordo Virtutem), but a very different flavor. It has been recorded several times before, but this rendition by René Jacobs is spectacular and could probably replace any of the earlier versions if your library already holds one of those. It should certainly find a home in any early music or comprehensive classical collection.

mozartWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Complete Violin Concertos; Sinfonia Concertante K364
Rachel Barton Pine; Matthew Lipman; Academy of St. Martin in the Fields / Sir Neville Marriner
Avie (dist. Allegro)
AV 2317

There may be no finer living modern-instrument conductor of Mozart than Sir Neville Marriner, and if there’s a better violinist for this repertoire than Rachel Barton Pine, I’m not sure who it is — and in making that assessment I include the period-instrument players (though Sigiswald Kuijken would give her a run for her money). This two-disc set finds Marriner and Pine paired up for a wonderful set of performances: all five of Mozart’s violin concertos, plus the evergreen Sinfonia concertante (which also features viola soloist Matthew Lipman). These are works that it makes sense to own in multiple versions, but if you only have room in your collection for a single modern-instrument account of them, then I think I would have to recommend that you do whatever deaccessioning it takes to make space for this set.


pinoLucas Pino
No Net Nonet
Origin (dist. City Hall)
Rick’s Pick

Opening with the exhilarating bebop workout “The Fox” and proceeding through a program of ballads, cool midtempo numbers, subtly complex group improvisations, and more brisk bebop, tenor saxophonist Lucas Pino’s No Net Nonet has made one of the most exciting debut albums I’ve heard in a decade. (Nino has recorded before, but this seems to be the Nonet’s first recorded effort.) The band’s monthly residency at Small’s Jazz Club in New York has paid off richly in ensemble cohesiveness, and their ability to navigate these joyfully complex charts at tempo is both technically impressive and musically thrilling. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.

turreSteve Turre
Smoke Sessions (dist. Allegro)

Steve Turre is known both as a trombonist of rare dexterity and sensitivity and as an innovator in the use of conch shells in a jazz context. But on this album he focuses on standards, on straight-ahead original compositions, and on swinging. He does the latter with particular force on a powerful mid-tempo rendition of “Lover Man,” with particular funkiness on his own “Funky Thing,” and with tender regret on “Trayvon’s Blues.” On the title track, a Miles Davis composition, he plays shells into an open piano while the pianist silently depresses particular chords on the keyboard, setting up eerie sympathetic vibrations that are delicately gorgeous. Highly recommended overall.

hamiltonJeff Hamilton Trio
Great American Songs (reissue)
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

This album was originally issued a couple of years ago on the Japanese All Art Promotion label, and is now available in the U.S. through a license agreement with Capri Records. And thank heaven for that, because it’s one of the richest and most satisfying albums of standards I’ve ever heard from a piano trio. (Though if the leader is a drummer, does that make it a drum trio? Discuss.) There are no surprises here whatsoever: the tunes are strictly potboiler fare (“It Could Happen to You,” “Thou Swell,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” etc.) and none of the arrangements are in any way innovative. They’re just played with exquisite skill, powerful swing, and palpable joy, and you can never have too many albums with those characteristics. I can’t, anyway.

davisJon Davis
Moving Right Along

Here’s another very fine straight-ahead piano trio album, though this one has a very different feel. Pianist and composer Jon Davis leads his trio through a program made up of standards, originals, and versions of non-standards like Lennon and McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home” and a couple of Jaco Pastorius tunes. His approaches vary subtly from tune to tune, sometimes incorporating gentle Latinisms and sometimes impressionistic clouds of chords that might shift gently but suddenly into a bluesy swing. Davis’s style offers a rare combination of delicacy and complexity, and this album would make an excellent addition to any collection supporting a jazz program.

birnbaumAdam Birnbaum; Doug Wiess; Al Foster
Three of a Mind

Drifting a bit further from the realm of standards and straight-ahead swing (but staying within the realm of the piano trio) is this lovely program of tunes by pianist Adam Birnbaum, bassist Doug Wiess, and legendary drummer Al Foster. The flavor here is more impressionistic and floating, and at times (particularly on the lovely “Dream Waltz”) the interplay between Birnbaum and Weiss explicitly evokes that of Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro. It’s not that this group doesn’t swing, but it does so more loosely and lightly, and the group’s harmonic explorations are more wide-ranging. Very nice stuff.


burrowsStuart Burrows
Songs of Wales
Ty Cerdd (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

The collection from which this recital program draws was originally published in 1873, and consists of songs collected and transcribed by Brinley Richards. The recording features performances by the wonderful lyric tenor Stuart Burrows, accompanied by pianist John Samuel, and was made in 1986; the source tape from which this issue was mastered was in bad shape, but the sound quality is quite high nonetheless, and Burrows’ singing is simply marvelous. Some of these melodies will be familiar (listeners will recognize “Ar Hyd y Nos” as “All Through the Night”), and all of them are sweetly lovely.

gerrardAlice Gerrard
Follow the Music
Tompkins Square
TSQ 5050

Longtime observers of the American folk scene will recognize Alice Gerrard’s name — she’s a legend and has been one for decades. Back in the 1960s she made her name as a bluegrass singer, but these days her work is more broadly folk-derived and on this album it tends towards what producer M.C. Taylor calls “some dark corners”: death, romantic disappointment, vultures, boll weevils, teardrops falling in the snow, like that. At 80 years old her voice shows the wear of age, and her singing is all the more effective for it. Recommended to all folk collections.

joneswynetteGeorge Jones and Tammy Wynette
Songs of Inspiration
Real Gone Music

This disc compiles two early-1970s albums (Jones and Wynette’s We Love to Sing about Jesus and Wynette’s solo album Inspiration) plus a handful of gospel singles by each of the two singers separately. On the cover, you see the star-crossed lovers wearing outfits that are garishly horrible even by 1970s country standards — and it has to be sad that some of the songs are garishly horrible as well (“Old Fashioned Singing,” “It’s a 10-33 (Let’s Get Jesus on the Line)”). So why am I recommending it? Partly as a document for research purposes, and partly because George Jones could sing the index to The Book of Virtues with Billy Sherrill producing and it would still be worth listening to. Also, some of the songs are wonderful.

hardingsThe Warren G. Hardings
Get a Life
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

There’s a lot of this happening lately: a band with a too-clever name and bluegrass instrumentation playing original songs that are by no means “bluegrass.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that: the Warren G. Hardings (sigh) are basically a punk band playing tight, tuneful, and highly energetic acoustic rock music using bluegrass instruments; listen closely to songs like “Darling” and “Post-Suburban Recession-Era Blues” and you’ll quickly realize that with the addition of electric guitars and drums they would sound perfectly at home on a Dropkick Murphys album. That means the Warren G. Hardings are the right band for this particular moment in time — and the fact that their songs are mostly excellent suggests that they’ll outlast this moment.

lindsayLindsay Lou & the Flatbellys
Lindsay Lou Music
No cat. no.

This small ensemble also uses bluegrass-y instrumentation (various combinations of guitar, mandolin, resonator guitar, bass, an occasional banjo) to make music that has little if anything to do with bluegrass, but their sound is very different from that of the Warren G. Hardings. Here we have acoustic folk-pop of a deceptively complex nature, with tight harmonies partly hidden behind good-naturedly chugging rhythms and arrangements that are much more sophisticated than they want you to think they are. Lindsay Lou’s voice is unfussily beautiful, and the whole album is a real breath of fresh air.

melisandeMélisande [Electrotrad]
Les Métamorphoses
La Pruche Libre
Rick’s Pick

Anyone who follows CD HotList has probably figured out by now that I have a particular soft spot for roots reggae, the Franco-Flemish masters, and Québécois folk music. I also loves me some electronic pop. I have yet to find an artist who has combined all of those (if and when I do, I may retire), but with Mélisande [Electrotrad] I’ve found a really fun combination of those last two. Blending traditional Franco-Canadian songs and tunes with funky, chunky, and thumpy electronic drum programming and electric guitars makes for a delightful departure from the usual, and the fact that this group does so without ever losing sight of the essential beauty of the melodies makes everything that much better. Highly recommended to all collections.


Mar-V-LusVarious Artists
The One-derful! Collection: Mar-V-Lus Records
Secret Stash
Rick’s Pick

A couple of months ago I recommended a fantastic collection of rare soul and funk music from the archives of the One-derful! Records label group, which operated in the Chicago area in the 1960s and 1970s. The second installment in that series focuses on releases from the Mar-V-Lus imprint, and if anything it’s even better — the sound quality is a bit cleaner and richer, and the songs are just dynamite. You may not recognize names like The Du-Ettes, Johnny Sayles, or Miss Madeline, but listen to this album and you might find yourself becoming a crate-digger in pursuit of more. Most of these 25 tracks have been commercially unavailable for decades, and ten of them have never been released at all. This whole series (which is available on subscription) should be considered an essential purchase for every library’s pop collection.

apolloVarious Artists
Apollo Saturday Night/Saturday Night at the Uptown (reissue)
Real Gone/Soulmusic

Speaking of great soul music reissues, here’s a valuable twofer: the Atlantic albums Apollo Saturday Night and Saturday Night at the Uptown reissued on a single CD. Featuring classic live performances by the likes of Wilson Pickett, the Drifters, Patti LaBelle, and Otis Redding, these are absolutely essential albums. Unfortunately, the sound quality is consistently quite terrible — not bad enough to make Pickett’s singing less powerful and the Drifters’ performance of “Under the Boardwalk” anything less than transcendent, but bad enough to make you really wish it were better. As a document, though, this disc is tremendously valuable and can be confidently recommended to all collections.

devlinJanet Devlin
Running with Scissors
OK! Good
OK 90136-2
Rick’s Pick

Some people have an almost allergic reaction to wispily-sung acoustic-based pop music, and honestly, I get it. I do. But when the strummy acoustic guitars and the piano arpeggios and the polite drums serve as a bed for killer hooks, then frankly I think that’s all that matters. And killer hooks are what you get in profusion on the debut album from this young Irish singer-songwriter. Do I wish she wouldn’t flatten all her vowels? Sure. But as long as she keeps writing songs this catchy, she can sing them any way she wants as far as I’m concerned.

pandaMy Panda Shall Fly
Project Mooncircle
Rick’s Pick

There’s a lot of electronica out there, but not much of it is very artful. The debut album by Suren Seneviratne (a.k.a. My Panda Shall Fly) shows you just how artful you can get — and here I don’t mean “arty,” but rather artful: this guy maintains at all times a delicate and virtuosic balance between glitchy abstraction and tuneful songcraft. Collaborating with a variety of vocalists including Deptford Goth and Troels Abrahamsen, he crafts tunes that you can almost sing along with but maybe not quite, and that reveal new layers of sonic detail with every listen. Very, very impressive. Can’t wait for the inevitable remix album.

tonMichael Lewicki
Ton (vinyl and download only)
Project Mooncircle

So maybe you listened to My Panda Shall Fly and thought “Eh, this is pretty good, but it’s a bit too song-oriented and structural for me.” Then by all means, check out this release from his labelmate Michael Lewicki. It’s a six-song EP that the label describes as “a quasi-mathematical experiment in audio-randomization.” The thing is, none of this sounds random at all (especially the sudden burst of junglist breakbeats on the rhythmically slippery “Komeda”); in fact, it sounds very carefully crafted, in an abstract way. Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. But this is good enough that I’m recommending it here even though it’s not available on CD.


brahemAnouar Brahem
Souvenance (2 discs)
Rick’s Pick

Anouar Brahem plays the oud (a fretless lute), and for this album has composed a suite of pieces for his instrument, piano, bass, bass clarinet, and string orchestra. The music has no explicit political content, but expresses some of Brahem’s feelings during the intense political upheavals in his native Tunisia between 2010 and 2011. It’s unsurprising, then, that in this music you will hear hints of optimism, regret, fear, nostalgia, and hope, all of it expressed with Brahem’s typical virtuosity and grace. This album marks Brahem’s first attempt to write for strings, and it’s a great success on every level. Highly recommended to all libraries.

dubsyndDub Syndicate
Hard Food
Echo Beach
Rick’s Pick

It is with a heavy heart that I include this recommendation. Not because the album is anything less than wonderful, but because it turned out to be the final project by drummer Style Scott — legendary reggae session musician and sole remaining member of the mighty Dub Syndicate — who was tragically and senselessly murdered last October. Hard Food gives us what we’ve come to expect from Dub Syndicate over the past three decades: elephantine reggae grooves, brilliantly dubbed-out production by Adrian Sherwood, and cameo vocal appearances by reggae royalty like U Roy, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and Bunny Wailer. The thought that this flow of brilliant modern roots reggae has been permanently stopped by a gunman’s bullet is almost too much to bear.

Wake Up Music
No cat. no.

Razia Said grew up in the vanilaa-growing region of northeastern Madagascar, and returned home in 2007 after living abroad for many years. The changes she saw upon her return were alarming: environmental degradation, political disarray, illegal logging, etc. Part of her response has been to write songs that combine the joyful uptempo traditions of Malagasy music with activist lyrical messages. Those messages may be largely lost on English-speaking listeners, but the joyfully uplifting music won’t be — nor will her delightful singing voice. Recommended.

doctahDoctah X
Agent from Kabul
Boom One
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Billed as “the soundtrack to an imaginary movie about a double agent who works for the CIA, dealing opium in bulk,” this album is as weird and trippy as you might expect. Keening violins, electric guitars, unidentifiable fretless stringed instruments, and bottomles basslines combine with the sampled sounds of bawling camels, rainy streets, calls to prayer, and a whole bazaar of other elements to create a richly spiced musical stew. Running through the whole thing is an intermitten pattern of reggae basslines and dubstep beats, all of it produced in a dreamy, dubwise style. Recommended to all adventurous library collections.

rimestadHege Rimestad
The Seed Keeper: A Musical Tribute to the Farmers of India
Turn Left (dist. Albany)
TurnCD 28

This CD is the result of several trips throughout India taken by violinist and harmonica player Hege Rimestadt. It combines home recordings, field recordings, and studio recordings made in collaboration with a variety of singers and musicians, and while I personally found the harmonica bits kind of awkward and the political messaging a little bit simplistic, for the most part this is a tremendously enjoyable album and should find a good home in any library with a collecting interest in East-West musical collaboration.

skintsThe Skints
Easy Star/Penny Drop
Rick’s Pick

I know, I know — another month, another recommended release from the Easy Star label. But it’s not my fault: they’re the best reggae label in the US, and they just keep putting out spectacularly good albums. Like this one from East London quartet the Skints, whose blend of popwise hooks and bone-deep grooves is completely irresistible. Singer Marcia Richards will put you in mind of Holly Cook, and the guest appearances by toasters like Tippa Irie, Horseman, and MC Rival bring a nice element of variety to the sound as well. This one is an essential pick for all reggae or world music collections.

February 2015


enoBrian Eno
The Shutov Assembly (deluxe reissue; 2 discs)
All Saints (dist. Redeye)

Over the past few years, there has been a slow but steady trickle of reissues of music made by Brian Eno in the 1970s, ’80s, and 90s. Quite a few of these have been excellent and most welcome, none of them more so than this deluxe two-disc reissue of The Shutov Assembly, a collection of ambient pieces dedicated to Russian artist Sergei Shutov. This music harks back quite explicitly to Eno’s ambient recordings of the 1970s (particularly the lovely Discreet Music), and demonstrates again why Eno is generally considered the grand master of this genre. It was released in conjunction with three other titles, all of them also deluxe two-disc sets featuring rare and unreleased bonus material: the equally ambient (but somewhat less interesting) Neroli, and the decidedly funkier and by-no-means-ambient The Drop and Nerve Net. Of his non-ambient albums from previous decades I find Nerve Net the most compelling, but any library collecting comprehensively in popular music should absolutely pick up all four of these reissues. Those collecting more selectively might find their needs met by only The Shutov Assembly and Nerve Net.


haydnFranz Joseph Haydn
Symphonies Nos. 57, 67, 68
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra / Nicholas McGegan
Philharmonia Baroque Productions (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

Listening to the rich, robust, yet silky tone of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, it’s hard not to think back to the early days of the period-instrument movement in the 1970s — a time when traditionalists snickered at the thin and vinegary-sounding violins, the burbly natural horns, and the out-of-tune woodwinds that so often characterized early attempts at reconstructing the sounds of the 18th century. Period musicians have thoroughly vindicated themselves since, and no exponent of the movement has done so more convincingly than the Philharmonia Orchestra. These three symphonies show Haydn at his most creative and McGegan and crew at their most engagingly vibrant, and this disc should be considered an essential purchase for all classical collections.

mozartWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Horn Concertos; Horn Quintet
Pip Eastop; The Hanover Band; Eroica Quartet / Anthony Halstead
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

On the other hand, it does have to be acknowledged that 18th-century instruments had certain limitations. Most notoriously, the valveless (or “natural”) horn is an unbelievably difficult instrument to play in tune, let alone with an attractive tone, and even the most accomplished players are sometimes bested by its constraints. Pip Eastop is a brilliant natural horn player, and he acquits himself beautifully on this program of four concertos and one chamber work; despite his exceptional skill, however, there will still be some listeners who come away from this album preferring the richer and more burnished sound of the modern horn. There’s no need to choose between them, though — any classical collection would be well served by examples of both, and this is the finest period-instrument performance of these works I’ve heard yet.

fantsVarious Composers
Fantasias & Fugues: Music for Harp
Katrina Szederkényi
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1527

Harpist Katrina Szederkényi has set herself a prodigious task with this album: presenting fantasias and fugues from the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries by a variety of composers, including J.S. Bach, Joaquín Turina, Elias Parish-Alvars, Michael Kimbell, and Henriette Renié. All consist of themes with fugal variations, and two of them (including Kimbell’s Ballade Arctique, written for Szederkényi and presented here in its world-premiere recording) are essentially tightly-structured tone poems. This album offers not only a portrait of an exceptionally talented young harpist, but also a handy catalogue of harp style and techniques from across four centuries.

sweetVarious Composers
Sweete Musicke of Sundrie Kindes
The Royal Wind Music / Paul Leenhouts
Lindoro (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

The court of King Henry VIII was notable for its music; the king himself was an accomplished musician, and somewhere around the 1530s he hired a quintet of Italian brothers, the Bassanos, who were renowned as recorder builders and players. On this album the Royal Wind Music consort presents arrangements of music for recorder consort from that period written by such eminent English composers as Robert Parsons, Thomas Weelkes, Anthony Holborne, and (inevitably) John Dowland, suggesting what King Henry’s court might have sounded like at the time. Their playing is both surgically tight and sweetly expressive, whether jauntily bouncing through a galliard or conveying the moony melancholy of Dowland’s famous Semper Dowland, semper dolens. Gorgeous.

biederAnton Diabelli; Konradin Kreutzer; Wenzeslaus Matiegka
Biedermeier Treasures for Csakan, Viola and Guitar
Trio Mirabell
Leonardo/Urania (dist. Albany)
LDV 14018

Speaking of recorders, here’s a fun curiosity: a collection of chamber works featuring the csakan, a walking-stick-sized recorder that enjoyed brief popularity during the Biedermeier Age in turn-of-the-(18th)-century Austria. This was a transitional period between the classical and Romantic styles, and the music of this time and place has often been somewhat condescended to as something less than really substantial. Be that as it may, these pieces are thoroughly charming and the performances by Trio Mirabell are excellent. The csakan itself is not the most gorgeous-sounding instrument in the world (at times it sounds distressingly like a dime-store flageolet), but the album is quite enjoyable overall and its uniqueness makes it a solid candidate for library collections.

virgoMarcin Mielczewski; Adam Jarzebski; Mikolaj Zielenski
Virgo prudentissima: Adoration of the Virgin Mary at the Polish Court
Weser-Renaissance / Manfred Cordes
cpo (dist. Naxos)
777 772-2
Rick’s Pick

Catholicism has been dominant in Polish culture for centuries, so it’s no surprise that the worship of Mary was a prominent feature of Polish court life in the 17th century. This ravishing album brings together examples of Marian liturgical and festal music by three composers not very well known today. If your patrons have a taste for the music of Monteverdi or the Gabrieli family, do them a favor and give them a taste of something similar, but a little more Eastern European. As always, Weser-Renaissance performs brilliantly under the baton of Manfred Cordes.

sonatenLudwig van Beethoven; Alban Berg; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mikhail Shilyaev
Stone (dist. Allegro)

The unifying element of this recording is Vienna — each of the composers featured had deep ties to the city. But perhaps more importantly, the pieces here also represent inflection points in the history of European art music. Beethoven’s C minor piano sonata marked the end of the classical era, while Berg’s sonata op. 1 signifies the end of the Romantic period and welcomes in the serialism that would be the hallmark of the Second Vienna School. Between them (stylistically speaking) is Mozart’s dramatic A minor sonata (K310), and the program ends with Beethoven’s eleven bagatelles, op. 119, which themselves construct a bridge between the baroque and the Romantic traditions. Mikhail Shilyaev plays these pieces with exceptional affection and clarity of line. Recommended to all classical collections.

rolleJohann Heinrich Rolle
Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt: 31 Motets (2 discs)
Kammerchor Michaelstein / Sebastian Göring
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 778-2
Rick’s Pick

Reviewers have to try to be objective, but there’s no way to avoid letting one’s judgment be affected by personal tastes and preferences. So when I say that this collection of motets by the obscure German composer Johann Heinrich Rolle is exquisitely pleasurable to listen to, please bear in mind that I have a particular affinity for this kind of solid, four-square 18th-century choral writing. Not that there’s anything stodgy or constrained about this music: it follows the rules and keeps its eyes on the devotional and harmonic prize, but Rolle’s sense of melodic invention is wonderful and he regularly delivers small but heart-tugging surprises. The Kammerchor Michaelstein sings beautifully and is recorded with the perfect balance of intimate presence and glowing resonance. An essential pick for all classical collections.

satieErik Satie
Satie Slowly (2 discs)
Philip Corner
Unseen Worlds

Says the press release: “American composer Philip Corner likes Satie too well not to object to how he is played.” Uh-oh; this isn’t just an album, it’s a crusade. But for library collections, that’s perfect — the 44-page booklet accompanying this album (which includes performances of the four Ogives, a Gnossiene, the three Gymnopédies, and several other pieces) puts forward Corner’s arguments as to the proper way to play Satie’s music, and the two discs illustrate his arguments compellingly, particularly on his very fine rendition of the Gymnopédies. This set will make a very fine pedagogical tool, regardless of whether one agrees with Corner’s musicological arguments.


mcphersCharles McPherson
The Journey
Capri (dist. Town Hall)

Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson has been on the scene since the early 1960s, and has played with such eminent artists as Charles Mingus, Barry Harris, and Art Farmer. He continues to play in the hard bop style that peaked in popularity in the late 1950s and early ’60s, and more power to him, I say. Playing in a quintet format that also features tenor player Keith Oxman, McPherson delivers an absolutely solid set of standards and originals including a wonderfully brisk and powerful rendition of the Charlie Parker tune “Au Privave.” His own “Bud Like,” which sounds like it’s probably a tribute to the great bebop pianist Bud Powell, is another highlight. Recommended to all jazz collections.

garlandRed Garland Trio
Swingin’ on the Korner (2 discs)

And speaking of legendary bebop pianists, here’s a treasure from the vaults: two and a half hours of previously-unreleased live recordings made by Red Garland in 1977 during a week-long stint at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco. Accompanied by bassis Leroy Vinnegar and drummer “Philly” Joe Jones (both of them legends themselves), Garland wows the crowd with his trademark joyful virtuosity, making familiar standards like “Billy Boy,” “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Autumn Leaves” sound fresh and new. The sound quality isn’t incredible, but it’s certainly good enough, and the performances are simply stunning.

roomNels Cline & Julian Lage
Mack Avenue/Cryptogramophone

Nels Cline is one of the most consistently interesting guitarists on the modern jazz scene, in part because his interests and stylistic repertoire extend so far beyond that scene. Whether playing alt-country as a member of Wilco or shredding in a free jazz format with the Nels Cline Singers, he can always be counted on to deliver the unexpected. Julian Lage is a young virtuoso with similarly broad tastes, and on this duo album they engage in everything from simultaneous free improvisation to tightly-composed duets. Both of them favor a warm and clean jazz tone, but there are lots of jagged and surprising moments as well as plenty of passages of gentle beauty. Recommended.

yavuzBasak Yavuz
Z Müzik Yapim

Basak Yavuz is a Turkish singer and composer whose debut album represents a fairly seamless blending of genres; she sings alternately in Turkish and English, and accompaniment is provided by conventional jazz instruments as well as Indian flute, kalimba, and kora. But although the blend of genres within each song is quite smooth, the range she exhibits here is nevertheless startlingly broad — skip from her original composition “Bu Aralar” to her rendition of “How Deep Is the Ocean” and see what you think — pretty impressive, eh? Yavuz sings everything with a winning combination of warmth, wistfulness, and sharp humor. Very, very nice.

mazeBogna Kicinska
The Maze
Surca Music

Another debut album from another promising European singer is this one by Polish vocalist and composer Bogna Kicinska. The Maze is a much more conventional jazz album than Yavuz’s, but it’s equally exciting. Kicinska distinguishes herself not so much by stylistic innovation as by jaw-dropping vocal facility and a thrilling approach to improvisation — she is one of the finest scat singers I’ve heard in years. Her accompanying combo includes a violin (a very nice touch), and on a couple of tracks she’s accompanied by a string quartet. This is straight-ahead but still adventurous jazz, and all of it is of a very high caliber.

Clairaudience (reissue; download only)
Electric Cowbell

So while we’re exploring the fringes of jazz, let’s make mention of this weird little gem of an album. The press materials characterize it as “a series of sound-surveillance portraits of sonic apparitions… set against a neo-crime jazz backdrop with a dizzying array of drum loops, keyboards, electronically manipulated trumpets, hard-boiled voiceover, robot voices, and found sound.” Here’s how I’d describe it: imagine African Head Charge collaborating with Jon Hassell on a 1970s spy movie soundtrack — and imagine that it’s produced by Bill Laswell. Intrigued? Yes, you are — check it out. (This is a remastered 10th-anniversary reissue, available only as a digital download. The original 2004 version can still be found on the used market in CD format, but prepare to pay through the nose.)


elanaElana James
Black Beauty
Rick’s Pick

Oh, Elana James. As much as I love her work with the Hot Club of Cowtown (and I love it fiercely), there’s something uniquely special about her solo albums. This is where she cuts loose from the confines of Western swing and hot jazz, delving into torch songs, roots rock, reflective singer-songwriter fare, and occasionally ribald novelty tunes. Her second solo album finds her covering the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, as well as performing an Azerbaijani folk song and performing several originals. The most affecting track — heartbreaking, really — is her setting to music of the text of a letter written by a soldier shortly before he was killed in Iraq. This she delivers without any heavy-handedness; she lets the words speak for themselves, and they are quietly devastating. Strongly recommended to all libraries.

anonAnonymous 4
1865: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War
Harmonia Mundi
HMU 807549

The all-woman vocal quartet Anonymous 4 achieved their first commercial success performing early music, but I strongly suspect that the real money-makers in their now-extensive catalog of releases have been the albums on which they’ve explored American folk music styles: the gospel collections American Angels and Gloryland. Make no mistake, those were exceptionally fine albums, and this collection of Civil War songs (including such familiar songs as “Listen to the Mockingbird” and “Shall We Gather at the River?”) fits nicely alongside them, even if it doesn’t feel quite as organically suited to their voices and performing style as the previous albums did. The presence of the brilliant singer, fiddler, and banjo player Bruce Molsky helps make up the difference, though, and the album is a genuine pleasure from beginning to end.

cantyCaitlin Canty
Reckless Skyline
No cat. no.

One of the great things about the current neo-folk-Americana-alt-country-roots-rock scene is the same thing that makes it hard to write about — you have to come up with these really long and awkwardly hyphenated catch-all terms in order to refer to it at all. And that’s because artists like Caitlin Canty trample all over the traditional borders that used to separate different varieties of folkie and country-ish music, rocking out one moment, torching it up the next, weeping honky-tonkily a few moments later. She gets away with it partly because musical boundaries are currently out fashion, but mainly because she has a world-class voice and an irresistible way with a melody. (Also, on this album, a deceptively ramshackle-sounding band. Don’t be fooled; they’re virtuosic.) Highly recommended.

earleSteve Earle
New West

Lots of country music artists call themselves rebels and mavericks, but few can do so with as much justification as Steve Earle, who has been gleefully poking his thumb in the eye of the country establishment for decades now. His latest excursion in coloring outside the lines is this straight-up blues album, which explores haunting Delta sounds, blues-inflected Tin Pan Alley styles, and grinding electric blues-rock with equal enthusiasm and affection. Expect demand from this artist’s dedicated and sizable cult following.

cassieCassie & Maggie MacDonald
Sterling Road
CMM 002

Eastern Canada has exceptionally rich folk music traditions, deeply informed by French, Irish, and Scottish influences. Sisters Cassie (fiddle, vocals) and Maggie (guitar, vocals) MacDonald grew up in the small seaside town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where they were steeped in the Celtic music traditions of maritime Canada, and on this album they both play and sing with a wonderful combination of verve and skill on a program of original and traditional songs and tunes. This is traditional music played with a modern edge, in arrangements that are sometimes more innovative than they might sound at first blush. Highly recommended.


shikariEnter Shikari
The Mindsweep
Rick’s Pick

Enter Shikari came roaring out of the Hertfordshire postpunk scene about ten years ago, and since then the quartet has pretty much left nothing but scorched earth behind it. Alternately screaming and crooning in tight harmony, deploying bludgeoning hardcore beats and squidgy dubstep synths, and delivering furious social commentary, Enter Shikari offers both one of the most exciting live shows I’ve ever seen and one of the few truly original concepts in modern rock music. Their latest album is brilliant: lead singles “Anaesthetist” and “The Last Garrison” both combine sharp lyrical messages with music that is by turns overwhelming and funky, and if we’re starting to hear little hints of prog rock in their approach, well, maybe they’ll eventually revive and redeem that tired genre as well. Strongly recommended to all pop music collections.

mckelleRobin McKelle & the Flytones
Heart of Memphis
VizzTone/Doxie (dist. Redeye)

Though she made her mark initially as a big-band jazz singer, over the past five years or so Robin McKelle has been drifting in a decidedly soul/R&B direction, and the title of her latest album tells you exactly what to expect: Memphis-flavored soul music in a 1960s/70s style, with lots of horns. What sets McKelle apart from the soul-revival pack, though, is the quality of her songwriting; although she delivers what I think is perhaps the finest version of “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” on record, the focus here is solidly on original compositions, and they are world-class. Her voice is a thing of throaty and whiskey-toned beauty. Highly recommended.

waypointVarious Artists

The Interchill label specializes, as one might expect, in electronic music that is funky and interesting but also relatively chilled out. No brostep rave-ups that sound like fight scenes from a Transformers movie, no skull-crushing drum’n’bass beat calisthenics. The music this label champions isn’t usually ambient, though–the beats are generally very definite and the grooves are often bone-deep. On their latest compilation you’ll hear everything from extra-dubwise dubstep (“Solaris Vision” by Gaudi) to gently lurching Euro-bass (“Fuerza Brutal” by Austero) — and once or twice (check the contributions from Fredrik Ohr and Liquid Stranger) things actually do get close to an ambient sound. All of it, as usual with this label, is well worth hearing.

bourbBourbonese Qualk
Mannequin (dist. Forced Exposure)
MNQ 061

Heaven help me, I’m a sucker for vintage industrial music. Especially when it comes packaged in a jacket that makes it look like a product of the Crass collective, circa 1982. To be clear, this retrospective collection from the British group Bourbonese Qualk isn’t Nitzer Ebb or Front 242-style industrial music, with guttural shouting and jackboot rhythms. It’s more experimental, almost avant-garde, with lots of twisted samples, weird found-sound vocals, and ramshackle production. At its best, it actually kind of sounds like a collaboration between Throbbing Gristle and Muslimgauze. I realize that might sound horrifying to you; if it does, then keep your distance. But for those with ears to hear, this is tons of grim, aggro-retro fun.


monkAlex Conde
Descarga for Monk
Zoho (dist. Allegro)
ZM 201501

Thelonious Monk was a unique figure in jazz, a composer who wrote such strange and compelling tunes that he has remained a source of fascination for jazz musicians for over 60 years. For pianist and composer Alex Conde, that fascination led him to arrange a program of Monk pieces in a flamenco style. The result makes a couple of things clear: first, part of the charm of Monk’s music is in its often jagged rhythms, and those don’t lend themselves particularly well to a flamenco setting; on the other hand, putting Monk’s odd melodies into a different rhythmic context does shed an interesting new light on them and allows them to be heard in a different way. Library collections supporting jazz programs would definitely benefit from including this loving and unusual tribute.

rareVarious Artists
Rough Guide to African Rare Groove, Vol. 1
Rough Guide
Rick’s Pick

Back in the heyday of vinyl-based club music, DJs would compete with each other to dig up the most obscure old soul and funk records. The concept of “rare groove” has obviously changed drastically in the internet era, when so many obscurities are freely available and relatively easy to find. But this collection of South African township jive, Mozambican marrabenta, Nigerian highlife, and Congolese rumba from the 1960s and 1970s will probably not duplicate anything in your collection, and for newcomers to the world(s) of African pop music it will be a revelation. Highly recommended to all libraries.

sylfordSylford Walker
Time Has Come
No cat. no.

One thing to acknowledge right up front: you don’t go to Sylford Walker for sweet, melodic singing. His voice is reedy and rough, and his style is more declamatory than tuneful; imagine Joseph Hill doing a Prince Far I impression, and you’ll get the general idea. But if you want bottomless grooves, strictly conscious lyrical messages, and a general air of dread seriousness, then Sylford Walker is your man, and has been for several decades now. Apart from the curiously non-dubsteppy “Just Can’t Understand (Dubstep),” this album is a solid winner in the roots reggae category.

sudanSudan Dudan
Inntil i Dag
Ta:lik (dist. Albany)

rudlHakon Høgemo; Stefan Bergman; Harald Skullerud
Ta:lik (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

Two very different takes on Norwegian folk traditions here. Sudan Dudan is the duo of Anders Røine (vocal, guitar) and Marit Karlberg (vocals, zither), and they specialize in delicately beautiful (and sometimes deceptive complex) traditional and original songs that, although sung in Norwegian, will resonate instantly with anyone who loves English or Celtic folk music. Hakon Høgemo, on the other hand, is a hardanger fiddle player who takes ancient fiddle tunes and performs them accompanied by electric bass and percussion, creating a wonderful tension between funky modernism and keening traditionalism. The hardanger fiddle has a unique and instantly-recognizable sound thanks to its drone strings, but you’ve never heard it sound quite like this. Both of these albums would make fine additions to any international music collection.

newkNew Kingston
Kingston City
Easy Star
ES 1045
Rick/s Pick

Rumor has it that ragga dancehall is losing its chokehold on the reggae scene in Jamaica, being replaced by rootsier, more old-fashioned sounds. That may be the case, but in the US roots reggae never really went out of style, and the third album from the family band New Kingston (out of Brooklyn) shows how strong that scene has become. The Panton family’s Jamaican roots are fully in evidence, and their sound is both clean and rich, modern but based in tradition, and the hooks are plentiful and solid. Note the caliber of the guest musicians: Pam Hall, Santa Davis, Squiddly Cole — that tells you something. A brilliant album all around.

kasseKassé Mady Diabaté
Six Degrees

A griot of distinguished family line, Kassé Mady Diabaté has been a prominent exponent of that ancient singing tradition for nearly 50 years. On this album he is accompanied by ngoni, balafon, kora (played by the great Ballaké Sissoko), and cello; the accompaniment is minimal, the better to showcase his strong, reedy tenor voice. Malian music is increasingly popular in the US, so libraries with strong world music collections should seriously consider picking this one up.


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