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December 2014


haydnFranz Joseph Haydn
The Complete String Quartets Played on Period Instruments (19 discs)
Festetics Quartet
Arcana (dist. Naxos)
A 378

The words “magisterial” and “monumental” come immediately to mind when you encounter this boxed set. “Magisterial” applies to these performances by the acclaimed Festetics Quartet, a Hungarian ensemble whose feeling for Haydn’s string quartets is, in my opinion, unsurpassed by any other group, whether playing on modern or period instruments. Some might find their style a bit restrained; I find it masterful and a model of clarity. Not only do they play with utterly reliable intonation (always a challenge on gut-strung instruments), but they also exhibit a sensitivity to Haydn’s peerless sense of line and phrasing that makes their performances equally valuable for pedagogical and sheer listening purposes. This set is monumental in that it includes all 58 quartets published under the composer’s supervision (leaving out the quartet arrangement of The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross), in performances recorded and originally released between 1994 and 2009. The sound quality is consistently warm, rich, and present, and the music itself–needless to say–is magnificent. I would go so far as to recommend that if your library is in need of shelf space, withdraw all of your individual recordings of Haydn string quartets and replace them with this beautifully and conveniently packaged (and budget-priced) box.


trevociToru Takemitsu; Claude Debussy; Sofia Gubaidulina
Tre Voci
Marina Piccinini; Kim Kashkashian; Sivan Magen

Flutist Marina Piccinini, violist Kim Kashkashian, and harpist Sivan Magen have created an eerily beautiful program here: Debussy’s ethereal and impressionistic sonata for flute, viola, and harp is bracketed by darker and more harmonically abstract single-movement pieces by Toru Takemitsu (And Then I Knew ‘Twas Wind) and Sofia Gubaidulina (Garten von Freuden un Traurigkeiten). The result is a uniquely strange and wonderful listening experience, one that never pushes your ear too hard but never lets you completely relax, either. In other words, it’s an ECM New Series release in the classic style. Recommended to all classical collections.

cpeCarl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Trio Sonatas; Flute Concertos (3 discs)
Alexis Kossenko; Les Ambassadeurs; Arte dei Suonatori
Alpha (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Let’s close out C.P.E. Bach’s tricentennial year with a bang: this three-disc selection of his chamber and concert music for flute. All feature flutist Alexis Kossenko, who also directs the Arte dei Suonatari ensemble on the concertos (all playing on period instruments). The trios are particularly interesting, because they are early works that have been relatively ignored by scholars; although they are rooted in one of the baroque period’s most popular structural forms, the young Bach’s unique personality and future stylistic directions are evident. The concertos are no less enjoyable, though, and the playing is brilliant throughout.

devienneFrançois Devienne
Flute Concertos Nos. 1-4
Patrick Gallois; Swedish Chamber Orchestra

For flute music from another time (the later classical era) and a very different place (France), we have this lovely recording of four flute concertos by François Devienne. Playing on modern instruments (though his flute appears to be a wooden instrument equipped with a Boehm system), François Gallois and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra do a marvelous job of conveying the lightness and the joyful elegance of Devienne’s very French style. The album is a sheer delight from beginning to end.

weberLudwig Van Beethoven; Johannes Brahms; Carl Maria von Weber
Trio, op. 11; Trio, op. 114; Grand Duo, op. 48
Jon Manasse; Jon Nakamatsu; Clive Greensmith
Harmonia Mundi
HMU 807618

Three chamber works for combinations of clarinet, piano, and cello are presented here by world-class performers, and the program could hardly be more perfectly selected: Beethoven, Weber, and Brahms represent a spectrum of perspectives on the Romantic tradition, from Beethoven’s classically-rooted style to Brahms’ more purely emotive approach. All play brilliantly, but clarinetist Jon Manasse’s sweet and plaintive tone is consistently heart-tugging. I’m always on the lookout for good rainy-afternoon music, and in that regard this disc is close to perfect.

rembrandtVarious Composers
Music & Art in the Time of Rembrandt (2 discs)
Various Performers
Warner Classics (dist. Naxos)

When I visit an art museum, I like to have music with me from the same period and region as the art I’m looking at. Maybe you do something similar. If so, then you’ll get a kick out of this set of instrumental and vocal music from the early- to mid-17th century by such composers as Heinrich Biber, Michael Praetorius, Diedrich Buxtehude, and Heinrich Schütz, which is packaged in a small hardbound book with color plates of paintings by Rembrandt from the same time period. The performers include leading lights of the early music movement from the past three decades, and the musical excerpts include selections from Biber’s “Rosary” sonatas, Buxtehude’s cantatas, and Schütz’s setting of the St. Matthew Passion. This would make an excellent selection for more generalist classical collections.

quicksilverVarious Composers
Acis (dist. Albany)

Drawing on the same time period (and many of the same composers) as the program above, this collection of baroque sonatas and canzonas has a very different focus: outlandish virtuosity. The stilus fantasticus emerged at about the same time that the sonata form was coming into its own, and in these pieces you can hear the beginnings of a sort of musical rhetoric, the instruments trading ideas back and forth in a manner both expressive and logical. The Quicksilver ensemble delivers this music with all the panache and thrilling technical flair we’ve come to expect. Highly recommended to all libraries with a collecting interest in early and baroque music.

brumelAntoine Brumel
Missa de Beata Virgine; Motets
Brabant Ensemble / Stephen Rice
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CDA 68065
Rick’s Pick

Just in time for the Christmas season comes this sumptuously beautiful recording of four Advent-themed motets and the Mass of the Blessed Virgin by Antoine Brumel, one of the great (but generally neglected) composers of the Franco-Flemish school. The program is full of meltingly lovely passages as well as the occasional weirdness — notice, for instance, the startlingly complex and protracted dissonance that leads to the final resolution at the end of the motet “Nato canunt omnia.” As always, the Brabant Ensemble’s sound is a model of creamy richness. I own everything they’ve recorded and your library should too.

bachJohann Sebastian Bach
The Six French Suites (2 discs)
Sergey Schepkin
Steinway & Sons

This is a particularly lovely account of Bach’s French Suites on modern piano by Sergey Schepkin, who is in the process of recording all of Bach’s keyboard music. (The program also includes the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903, and two performances on two different pianos of the Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, BWV 904.) Schepkin’s approach is informed by historic-practice scholarship, but also takes full advantage of the expressive capabilities of the modern piano, making his interpretations of these works unusually compelling. Recommended to all classical collections.


milesMiles Davis Quintet Featuring John Coltrane
All of You: The Last Tour, 1960 (4 discs)
Acrobeat (dist. MVD)
Rick’s Pick

Last month I recommended a couple of re-reissued box sets, one each of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, both boxes featuring 1950s-era recordings. This four-disc package finds the two together, touring for the last time in a quintet format. The difference between Coltrane’s playing here and in his 1950s recordings with Davis is instructive: in 1960 you can clearly hear him establishing his mature sound and the mystical, discursive tendencies that would characterize his work over the next seven years until his death. The sound quality ranges from acceptable to excellent, the performances essential. No jazz collection should be without this set.

johnsonEric Johnson & Mike Stern
Heads Up International/Concord Music Group

Guitarists Eric Johnson and Mike Stern are titans in very different contexts: Johnson a rocker, Stern a jazz fusioneer. Together they’ve created an album that is more of an emulsion than a solution: soulful rock and funk tunes rub shoulders with swinging modern jazz and with a few tracks that resist categorization. What unites these two players, besides monstrous chops, is a passion for melody and for tone — the former mattering more than the latter, though I know guitarists who might smack me in the head for saying that. Recommended.

basileAl Basile
Swing n’ Strings
SST 9702

Singer/trumpeter/cornettist Al Basile has a long history as a blues, R&B, and jazz musician in the always-hopping Providence, RI music scene — perhaps most notably as a member of Roomful of Blues, but also as a prolific solo artist. For his latest album he delivers a gently swinging program of standards accompanied only by guitar and bass (with occasional saxophone and his own cornet). His singing really is wonderful, and the mood here is warm and intimate without being soporific. Most jazz collections would benefit from picking this one up.

marsalisDelfeayo Marsalis
The Last Southern Gentleman
Troubadour Jass
Rick’s Pick

Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis is the leader on this date, but the album is really something of a summit meeting between him and his father Ellis, patriarch of the Marsalis jazz dynasty. The two of them function as equals here, modestly but expertly supported by bassist John Clayton and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith. The program is mostly standards, weighted towards ballads, and the father-and-son interaction is consistently beautiful and touching. Interestingly, the package also includes an essay, several very brief stories, and a poem by Delfeayo, all dealing in various ways with the “Southern gentleman” concept and with issues of race and culture in the American south. This one is an essential purchase.

clarkeKenny Clarke
Classics (dist. Albany)

Ask anyone to name the architects of bebop, and you’ll generally get a predictable list in response: Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk. Too often overlooked is drummer Kenny Clarke, who was a pioneer of a new style of drumming adapted to fit the headlong tempos and complex lines of bop. This collection brings together sides he recorded in New York and Paris as both leader and sideman between 1948 and 1950. Apart from the consistently high musical quality here, there are some anomalies that will be interesting to jazz students and scholars–for example, the track titled “Iambic Pentameter” consists mainly of the B section from “A Night in Tunisia” repeated twice with a long drum solo in between, and the one titled “Be a Good Girl” is actually Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t.” Weird.

kleijnDaan Kleijn
No cat. no.

When planning this album, guitarist and composer Daan Kleijn was “drawn to the openness and freedom indigenous to the guitar trio,” and that sensibility is strongly at play here. To be clear, that doesn’t mean that his music is “free jazz” or anything really like it: half the tunes are standards, and his originals are very straight-ahead, as is his general stylistic approach. But within the constraints of straight-ahead jazz he plays in a wonderfully free and floating style, managing to stay within the lines while creating a beautifully multicolored palette of sounds and very nicely balancing tonal and harmonic sweetness with creative exploration. Highly recommended.


laclabelleLac La Belle
A Friend Too Long
Double Lot

Maybe you (like me) don’t think of Detroit as a hotbed of rootsy singer-songwriter folkie Americana music. Maybe we’re both right. Nevertheless, when the Detroit-based Lac La Belle (singers, songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Jennie Knagg and Nick Schillace) got snowed in for two weeks during the polar vortex event of January 2014, they came out the other end of that experience with a particularly attractive album of that general description. The sad, quiet songs are the best ones–both Schillace and Knagg are fine singers, but Knagg’s voice is a pure joy, and it’s set like a jewel here. Highly recommended to all libraries.

old97Old 97’s
Hitchhike to Rhome (deluxe reissue; 2 discs)

Remember the 1990s alt-country scene? Of course you do. Remember how much of it was tiresomely mopey and soporific? Me too. Remember what a relief the Old 97’s were, with their sharp-edged energy and their wonderful blend of reverence and disregard of country-music tradition? If not, then refresh your memory with this deluxe reissue of their 1994 debut, which comes with a disc of bonus tracks consisting of demos and unreleased studio tracks from the original sessions. The album still sounds timeless.

quadrigaQuadriga Consort
14 Tales of Mystery
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi/Sony

When early-music ensembles discover folk music — something that happens fairly regularly — they often make at least one of two mistakes: the vocalists sing as if it were pop music, and the instrumentalists play as if it were chamber music. This collection of British Isles songs and tunes, performed by the Quadriga Consort generally avoids both of those problems because the group has been playing folk music from the very beginning. Purist folkies may find Elisabeth Kaplan’s vocals a bit too smooth and the arrangements a little bit decorous, but for the British Isles the line between early music and folk music has always been blurry anyway, so I’d argue that the harpsichord has just as much right to be there as the recorder does to sound like a pennywhistle. Recommended.

voicesquadThe Voice Squad
Concerning of Three Young Men
Rick’s Pick

After a performing and recording hiatus that lasted far too long, the vocal trio of Phil Callery, Fran McPhail, and Gerry Cullen is back with another hair-raisingly beautiful set of traditional songs sung in a rather untraditional style. Irish folk music has no real tradition of harmony singing, and every Voice Squad album makes you wonder why on earth not. As usual, this program includes a mix of traditional, modern, Irish, and American songs, with one Christmas number (the wonderful “Boar’s Head Carol”) thrown in for good measure. The American number is the Sacred Harp hymn “Wondrous Love,” and if any of the hairs on your body are still lying down by the time you get to that track, they’ll all be standing at that point. Buy this and urge it on your patrons.

newlineThe New Line
Can’t Hold the Wheel (download only)
Brendan Taaffe
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

If you want to make a truly unique-sounding American folk album, there’s any number of strategies you can employ. Playing an mbira (or thumb piano) is guaranteed to set you apart from the pack. That’s what Brendan Taaffe does on this collection of folksongs old and newish (there are songs from Bob Dylan and John Prine on the program), and it’s a great tribute to his taste and skill that his mbira never sounds out of place next to the gourd banjo, guitar, and other more traditional American instruments that accompany his singing throughout the album. Instead, it casts a completely unique tonal shadow over the whole proceedings, making this project sound like folk-not-folk, American-not-American, modern-not-modern music all at the same time. Fascinating and hugely enjoyable.


jukeboxJukebox the Ghost
Jukebox the Ghost
Yep Roc (dist. Redeye)

They may look like hipsters, with their beards and their retro-dapper haircuts and their high-water pants, but there’s nothing hipstery about Jukebox the Ghost’s music: these are blissful, smooth, straight-up pop songs, delivered with a minimum of quirk and a maximum of angelic singing and swooning hooks. That’s not say that there’s no irony (cf. “Hollywood”) or that there’s anything dumb about these songs. On the contrary, great pop music takes real smarts, and these guys are sharp as they come. But as I keep saying, ultimately it’s the hooks that count. And there’s a veritable five-mile trotline of them here. (Dear Yep Roc, feel free to use that blurb: “CD HotList says ‘Jukebox the Ghost’s new album offers a veritable five-mile trotline of hooks.'”)

stottAndy Stott
Faith in Strangers
Love (dist. Forced Exposure)

Andy Stott (whose Luxury Problems earned a Rick’s Pick last year) is back with another album of weird, wonderful, semi-abstract and occasionally funky electronic music. Once again it features vocalist Alison Skidmore, though (once again) her vocals are often treated as an abstract element rather than a conveyor of propositional content. The atmospheres are simultaneously dreamy and tense, the beats edgy and off-kilter, the overall mood unsettled and fascinating. If your patrons liked Luxury Problems, then expect demand for this one.

Lift a Sail
Razor & Tie

Rock bands with violins aren’t completely unheard of, but bands that rock like this and also include violins are pretty unusual. Yellowcard has been doing it since 1997, starting out as a hardcore punk band, morphing eventually into pop-punk, and now they sound like something else entirely: heavy but intensely melodic and even anthemic rock, with a certain hint of progginess coming with the violin (though on many of the songs the violin is deeply embedded in their sound and not immediately recognizable). Fans who put a premium on loyalty to “The Scene” probably abandoned Yellowcard long ago; anyone who just wants to rock out and sing along, however, has probably become more and more loyal to Yellowcard as the years have passed.

sweetThe Sweet Inspirations
The Complete Atlantic Singles Plus (2 discs)
Rhino/Real Gone Music
RGM-0263 OPCD-8853

Remember the Sweet Inspirations? They’re actually still around, but this soul quartet had its heyday in the 1960s. The group included Cissy Houston (Whitney’s mother) and Lee Warrick (Dionne Warwick’s mother) and had most of its success (including its one Top 40 hit) with cover versions. This collection includes many of those: “To Love Somebody,” “Sweets for My Sweet,” “Unchained Melody,” etc. Apart from the pure musical quality of these renditions, which is consistently high, this album offers lots of great examples of what was once a very common feature of the pop music marketplace: arrangements of hit songs that import them into completely different musical genres. Recommended to all pop collections.

GTBlazeGame Theory
Blaze of Glory (reissue)

GTDeadGame Theory
Dead Center (reissue)

Game Theory hit the alt-rock scene before the term “alt-rock” had been coined, in 1982. Their debut album, Blaze of Glory, probably registered with most listeners as punk at the time. From a vantage point 30 years later, it sounds more like a blend of The Apples In Stereo, Scritti Politti, and Mission of Burma. Intrigued? You should be — this is a rather obscure but still essential piece of American pop music history, reissued here with a wealth of bonus material. Dead Center came out in 1984, and brought together tracks from two previously-released EPs along with some new material (including a cover of REM’s “Radio Free Europe”). By this point the group’s sound had become a bit more jangly, a bit more poppy, but still with a salutary edge of scrappy weirdness. It’s all great fun and would make a great addition to any comprehensive pop collection.


massiliaMassilia Sound System
Manivette/Le Chant du Monde (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
274 2356 – MR 10

There is no band anywhere like Massilia Sound System. Technically, they’re a reggae group; in reality, they’re a Provençal group with dancehall beats. They sing alternately in French and Occitan (the regional language of France’s southern coast) and they delight in humorous and sometimes angry social commentary, often focusing on the repression of local traditional culture. Their latest album displays all the strengths (relentless earworm hooks, brilliant beats, nimble wordplay) and weaknesses (a few too many regional in-jokes) as all of their previous efforts going back to the early 1990s, and that means that this is yet another fantastic party album of the kind that no one else in the world is capable of making.

No cat. no.

So I’m going to be completely honest here: I didn’t enjoy this album that much. But as I’ve often told people, being a music critic doesn’t mean just recommending the stuff you like; it means trying to tell the difference between what’s good and what isn’t, and recommending what’s good. For the purposes of CD HotList, “good” means more than just “enjoyable” or even “of high quality”; it means “what will be useful to the people served by library collections.” This album of Moravian folk songs, set to experimental and sometimes abrasive arrangements that prominently feature prepared and sometimes heavily distorted guitar, is an excellent example of what can happen when folk traditions meet modern experimentation. Vocalist Julia Ulehla (great-granddaughter of the ethnomusicologist who collected these songs) is a marvelous singer, and guitarist Aram Bajakian provides fascinating and challenging arrangements. This disc would make an excellent addition to any ethnomusicology collection.

dubdynastyDub Dynasty
Thundering Mantis
Rick’s Pick

Dub Dynasty is the sly name for a sort of ad hoc modern reggae supergroup: Christine Woodbridge and John Sprosen, a siblings-in-law team that has been recording as Alpha and Omega since the 1980s, along with Sprosen’s son Ben, who currently produces reggae/dubstep/UK bass under the name Alpha Steppa. The latter’s name reflects this trio’s predilection for “steppers” beats, which (unlike the dreamier “one drop” patterns of 1970s reggae) communicate a powerful forward motion and often accompany lyrics about leaving Babylon and returning to the African homeland. Here those beats underpin mostly instrumental tracks, though there are a couple of excellent songs on this program as well–particularly the brilliant “Evil Fi Bun,” featuring the sweet-voiced singer Prince David. If you want to know what the best in modern dubwise reggae sounds like, this album is a great place to start.

November 2014


breauLenny Breau
Celebration (6 discs)
Guitarchives/True North

Lenny Breau’s name has more than a whiff of the legendary to it in jazz guitar circles. A child prodigy who made his first album in an acoustic Travis/Atkins fingerpicking style before eventually becoming a jaw-dropping jazz virtuoso and pioneer of the 7-string guitar, Breau also eventually developed a debilitating drug habit, and although he had largely overcome his addiction by age 40, he was found murdered in his pool at age 43. The brevity of his life and career is belied by the richness of his recorded legacy, which, while not hugely extensive, has been quite influential. This box set is something of a curiosity: it consists of five out-of-print releases that range from historical curiosities (that first album, focusing on country & western standards) to solo acoustic meditations (the deeply emotional Cabin Fever) to duo recordings focusing on standards with the likes of Richard Cotten, Dave Young, and Tal Farlow. Heartbreaking and enlightening at the same time, this box may not be an essential purchase for every library but should be considered seriously by all jazz collections. All of its component discs will also be available for sale separately. (For a sampling of Breau’s more conventional work in a trio format, every library should consider picking up LA Bootleg 1984, a live recording from an intimate evening at Donte’s in Hollywood featuring bassist Paul Gormley and drummer Ted Hawk alongside Breau on seven-string guitar.)


lechnerVarious Composers
Moderato cantabile
Anja Lechner
François Couturier

For this quiet but intense recording, cellist Anja Lechner and pianist/composer François Couturier have gathered and freely rearranged pieces by Frederic Mompou, Komitas, George Gurdjieff, and Couturier himself, often adding cello parts to works originally intended (or believed to have been intended) for piano solo. A deep vein of contemplation and mysticism flows through these performances, and not only on the explicitly mystical material of Gurdjieff. In the pieces by Mompou and Couturier you’ll hear strong hints of jazz, but this isn’t really either a jazz album or a classical one. What it really is is an ECM New Series album, and it’s very beautiful.

sculthorpePeter Sculthorpe
Complete String Quartets with Didjeridu (2 CDs plus Blu-ray)
Sono Luminus (dist. Naxos)

I will confess that for most of my adult life, it has been possible to sum up my attitude towards the didjeridu as follows: “Does it involve a didjeridu? Then no.” But in my defense, that’s largely because of the way that instrument has been abused (as a sort of lazy shorthand signal of authenticity) over the past few decades. When I saw that the celebrated Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe had integrated it into several compositions for string quartet, I was intrigued. I bet you will be, too: these works are challenging but accessible, the didjeridu incorporated seamlessly and respectfully and with careful thought given to how it might work in the deepest structural parts of the music–not just as some kind of exotic accessory. Highly recommended.

pleyelIgnaz Joseph Pleyel
Quintette Ben 277-279
Janácek Quartet; Bohuslav Matousek
Ars Produktion (dist. Naxos)

The 15th volume in the Ars Produktion label’s ongoing Pleyel Edition series features three string quintets, played with sturdy charm (on modern instruments) by the very fine Janácek Quartet, joined by second violist Bohuslav Matousek. A star pupil of Haydn, Pleyel was both prolific and popular, and some of his contemporaries considered his string quintets the finest examples of his writing. Judge for yourself: these are very fine recordings of very enjoyable pieces.

partArvo Pärt
Choral Music
Polyphony / Stephen Layton
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CDA 68056
Rick’s Pick

If your library has a collecting interest in the music of Arvo Pärt already, then there’s a good chance that it already holds recordings of several of the a cappella choral miniatures included in this program, notably “Summa” and “Da pacem, Domine.” But there are two reasons not to let that stop you from buying this one: first, and most importantly, there’s the presence of two previously unrecorded works here. Second, there’s the ravishing gorgeousness of these performances by Polyphony, a group that will make you think you’ve never heard even the more familiar works before. If their account of “Peace upon you, Jerusalem” doesn’t convert even the most die-hard non-fan, then I’m not sure there’s much hope for them.

stamitzCarl Stamitz
Clarinet Concertos (reissue; 3 discs)
Eduard Brunner; Münchener Kammerorchester / Hans Stadlmair
Tudor (dist. Naxos)

The high classical and early Romantic periods were heady years for clarinet players, as both the charming melodies and the yearning expressiveness that characterized music of those eras were well suited to the instrument’s round, mellow, and often plaintive tone. Few compose wrote more affectingly for that instrument than Carl Stamitz, whose ten clarinet concertos (not counting the one he wrote in collaboration with Johann Beer) are presented here on three discs, all of them originally issued separately in the early 1990s. Eduard Brunner is a powerful advocate for these pieces, none of which exactly changed the course of musical history but all of which are endlessly enjoyable.

bryarsGavin Bryars
The Sinking of the Titanic
Gavin Bryars Ensemble
GB (dist. Allegro)

Composer Gavin Bryars and his ensemble went on tour in 2012, the centenary of the Titanic disaster, with this multimedia composition that draws on visual images, multiple string quartets, an improvising turntablist, and prerecorded sounds. If all of that leads you to expect a Cagean semi-aleatory cacophony, think again: this is somber, beautiful, and deeply affecting music. It is also the first fully-realized piece in Bryars’ catalog, one that has existed in several different versions over the decades since he first put it together in the early 1970s. It draws on materials gathered from research into the events surrounding the wreck (including fragments of a hymn played by the on-board orchestra as the ship sank). Bryars is said to consider this one the definitive version of the piece.

spyVarious Composers
The Spy’s Choirbook: Petrus Alamire & the Court of Henry VIII (2 discs)
Alamire; English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble / David Skinner
Obsidian (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Petrus Alamire was one of the greatest music collectors and transcribers of the 15th-16th centuries, and also an accomplished spy. What do these facts have to do with each other? In the early 1500s, while he was serving as a spy for King Henry VIII, he prepared a choirbook consisting of 34 motets as a gift for the king and his wife, Catherine of Aragon; the book contained a number of anonymous works, but also pieces by some of the famous Franco-Flemish masters of the period including Josquin, Mouton, and La Rue. Several of these works exist in no other collection. OK, so maybe the spying part isn’t really musically relevant, but it does provide a fantastic title for this two-disc set, which features the always-sumptuous singing of Alamire’s namesake choral ensemble and equally fine instrumental performances by the English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble.

bachJohann Sebastian Bach
Köthener Trauermusik BWV 244a
Harmonia Mundi
HMC 902211

When Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen (who had been J.S. Bach’s patron for many years) died at a young age after a series of family tragedies, Bach assembled in his honor a funerary service that took arias, recitatives, and choruses from an existing funeral collection, the B-minor Mass, and the St. Matthew Passion and set a new libretto to the existing music. Unfortunately, the scores were eventually lost and only the libretto remained–but by examining the verse rhythms of the lyrics, scholars have been able to reconstruct the music with a pretty high degree of confidence, and this world-premiere recording is the result. Highly recommended to all classical collections.

machautGuillaume de Machaut
Le jugement du Roi de Navarre (1349)
Ensemble Gilles Binchois / Dominique Vellard
Cantus (dist. Allegro)
C 9626

This 14th-century poetic drama consists of a collection of sung and spoken texts that tell the story of a king’s troubles at court during the time of the Black Plague and the Hundred Years’ war. For this recording, the Ensemble Gilles Binchois alternates the sung and spoken texts with instrumental compositions taken from various points in Machaut’s career. Libraries with a collecting interest in early music (or whose patrons have proven to be fans of Hildegard von Bingen, especially her musical morality play Ordo virtutem) should definitely consider acquiring this fascinating and highly enjoyable album.

weissSilvius Weiss
Sonatas for Transverse Flute and Lute
Duo Inventio
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

Despite a slightly strange recorded sound–the flute sounds just a bit like it’s at the back of a small wood-paneled room–this is both a very lovely recording and quite an interesting one from a musicological point of view. These four sonatas exist only in a single collection of lute tablature; the flute parts are lost, and the performances here consist of reconstructions based on hints provided by thematic material in the lute parts, indications of ornamentation, the tessitura, etc. Whether or not the result represents the actual notes originally written by Weiss will probably always remain a mystery, but that just means that this recording represents either an impressive feat of musical reconstruction or an equally impressive feat of invention.


milesMiles Davis
Chronicle: The Complete Prestige Recordings, 1951-1956 (reissue; 8 discs)
Prestige/Concord Music Group
Rick’s Pick

John Coltrane
The Prestige Recordings (reissue; 16 discs)
Prestige/Concord Music Group
Rick’s Pick

traneTo be very clear, these two box sets have both been issued previously on CD, so it’s possible that your library already owns one or both of them. If it does own the previous versions, there’s no particular reason to replace either one with the present reissues; both have been remastered and the packaging has changed a bit (in celebration of the Prestige label’s 65th anniversary), but the content is basically unchanged. However, I’ve recommended both here with Rick’s Picks because the content is so superb and so utterly essential to any jazz collection. The eight discs in the Miles Davis set and the 16 discs in the monumental Coltrane set both provide what I think is the best work of both artists–yes, Davis’s work at Columbia is essential and Coltrane’s 1960s albums changed the world, but for sheer straight-ahead listenability I don’t think either artist ever surpassed his achievements on these 1950s sessions. The sound quality is consistently good, the liner notes are reasonably comprehensive, and basically everything about these releases is a joy. If you don’t already own them, get them now before they go out of print again.

frithFred Frith & John Butcher
The Natural Order
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Guitarist Fred Frith and saxophonist John Butcher are more than legends in the world of improvised music and extended instrumental technique–by this point, they are institutions. Frith emerged in the 1970s British avant-rock scene (Henry Cow, Art Bears) before relocating to New York (Massacre, Naked City); Butcher has been exploring the sound-production capabilities of reed instruments since the early 1980s. This album of duo improvisations was recorded in a single session in 2009 and shows the degree to which both of them had developed utterly unique voices on their instruments. The music is occasionally loud and sometimes abrasive, but they never hide behind volume or abrasiveness; instead, they unfurl streams and clouds of subtle, insightful, and complex sonic responses to each other. Brilliant, and an essential purchase for all avant-garde music collections.

tonyscottTony Scott
Germany 1957; Asia 1962
Jazzhaus (dist. Naxos)
101 743

This German label continues to dig up and release outstanding lost live recordings from the 1950s and 1960s, most of them documenting live performances in Europe and most of them never before released. This one features clarinetist Tony Scott, a player who was more influenced by Charlie Parker and Ben Webster than by earlier clarinet players. Those influences are everywhere on these live recordings, on which Scott focuses on standards played in a straight-ahead bop style. You don’t hear a lot of bebop clarinet–the instrument was much more popular during the swing era–and almost never do you hear bebop clarinet playing of this caliber. Recommended to all jazz collections.

mostlyMostly Other People Do the Killing
Hot Cup

This one is a concept album. It’s a note-for-note recreation of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which many consider the best jazz album ever recorded. By undertaking this project, the band wants to “challenge the way people listen to jazz,” in part by “tak(ing) many of the core elements of academic jazz education and push(ing) them to their logical extreme.” So, as a concept, it’s pretty interesting. As a listening experience? Well, it’s a note-for-note recreation of one of the most popular and familiar jazz albums in the canon. There are, inevitably, subtle differences in the actual sounds created by these musicians when compared with those of Davis, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, et al. But ultimately it’s not clear why someone who wants to listen to Kind of Blue would opt for this version rather than the original. Maybe that’s beside the point that the band is trying to make. Fair enough, but it’s still relevant when you’re spending scarce dollars on recordings. But because the concept is interesting, this can be solidly recommended to collections supporting jazz theory programs.

lakeOliver Lake Organ Quartet
What I Heard
Passin’ Thru (dist. City Hall)
Rick’s Pick

Usually an organ quartet (or trio) is all about the funk. If you want straight-up good-time, greasy, soulful, funky jazz, pick yourself up a Jimmy Smith or Brother Jack McDuff album and settle in for some fun. Those who have been following Oliver Lake’s career over the past four decades might expect something a bit different from him, and they’d be right: his take on the organ combo tradition is quite a bit more “out,” more serious, and more harmonically adventurous. That’s not to say it isn’t fun–I think this album is brilliant and highly enjoyable–but it’s not greasy and it’s not likely to be sampled on any Beastie Boys albums. That said, no jazz collection should pass it up.

elfMark Elf
Returns 2014
Jen Bay
JBR 0012

Guitarist Mark Elf originally planned to make this album in 2012, but the project was sidelined when Hurricane Sandy flooded his home. It was worth the wait, though–another in a long string of beautiful small-ensemble projects from this very gifted player and composer. While most of the album is meat-and-potatoes straight-ahead jazz, two tracks offer an interesting twist: on “Low Blow” and “The Bottom Line” (both originals), Elf plays a baritone guitar, which has a unique sound of which Elf’s writing and playing take full advantage. Recommended to all jazz collections.


riceLarry Rice
If you Only Knew: The Best of Larry Rice

Mandolinist and singer Larry Rice wasn’t a household name, but he was well-known to bluegrass cognoscenti during his tragically foreshortened career (he died of cancer in 2006). His more famous younger brother Tony redefined bluegrass guitar, but Larry was more of a journeyman musician, heavily in demand as a sideman. But he also recorded a number of very fine solo albums, many of them featuring Tony, and this compilation draws on five of them. It’s a very satisfying collection of bluegrass and newgrass tunes, some original and some traditional (there’s also a very fine take on Gordon Lightfoot’s “Rainy Day People”). This disc would make a very valuable addition to any library’s country or folk collection.

bessieBessie Jones with the Georgia Sea Island Singers
Get in Union (2 discs)
Tompkins Square
Rick’s Pick

This two-disc compilation is based on field recordings made by Alan Lomax on the Georgia Sea Island of St. Simons between 1959 and 1966, most of them featuring singer Bessie Jones with a vocal ensemble that had been performing on that island for decades. These songs–minimally accompanied when they aren’t a cappella–are by turns joyful and mournful, hortatory and terrifying, some of them sung by soloists and others by ensembles, very often in call-and-response forms. Apart from the very high quality of the singing and the songs, the remastered sound quality is also exceptional. Most of the tracks on this album have been issued in one way or another in the past, but quite a few others are made available here for the first time.

cooderRy Cooder
Soundtracks (7 discs)

A legendary slide guitarist, world-music collaborator, and sideman, Ry Cooder is also an accomplished film composer who has contributed soundtracks to movies by Wim Wenders, Louis Malle, Walter Hill, and others. This retrospective box brings together his soundtrack albums for The Long Riders, Paris, Texas, Alamo Bay, Crossroads (he was the guitarist you were hearing when you watched Ralph Macchio play), Blue City, Johnny Handsome, and Trespass. While the style varies from album to album depending on the needs of the film, there is never any question that you’re hearing Ry Cooder, and the roots of everything you hear are always deep in the soil of American blues and country music. Each disc is packaged in a sleeve that duplicates the original LP format, which is charming but not always helpful–the absence of any booklet means that you can’t always know who his fellow musicians are. Still, this is a solidly recommendable purchase for all libraries, especially those with a collecting interest in film music.

harpeErin Harpe & the Delta Swingers
Love Whip Blues
Vizztone/Juicy Juju (dist. Redeye)

Boston-based singer/guitarist Erin Harpe came up playing acoustic Delta blues, but has gradually expanded her stylistic range so that her sound now draws on soul, funk, reggae, and rock. (She also fronts a world-funk electro-dance band called Lovewhip.) On this album the blues is definitely the strongest single element, and her expert guitar playing and rich, chesty voice are perfectly suited to these sharp and sassy songs. The arrangements are spare but solid, and several songs incorporate subtly surprising elements–I’ll let you discover those for yourselves.


Air Texture, Vol. 4 (2 discs)
Air Texture

This has become an institution now: an annual compilation series of ambient recordings curated by James Healy and released on his label of the same name. As with all the best ambient music, these are (mostly) pieces that can easily be ignored but that reward close attention if you care to invest it. The genre was essentially invented by Brian Eno in the early 1970s and has since branched and developed in many different and fascinating directions, quite a few of which are showcased here.

submotionSubmotion Orchestra
Counter (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

If, like me, you’re a sucker for tuneful and gauzy dream-pop but also like to have your stomach shaken by bass and your head turned by rhythmic surprises, then you, like me, will get a huge kick out the third album from Submotion Orchestra. You’ll hear orchestral strings, juddering dubstep beats, wispy female vocals, jazzy horns, and hands-in-the-air disco grooves–sometimes all in the course of the same track. Very, very cool stuff.

Musiikkia Elokuvasta Julisteiden Liimaajat (reissue)
Shadoks (dist. Forced Exposure)

Does your collection have a hole in it that’s shaped like 1970 Finnish psychedelia? Yes? Well then, you’re in luck–here is the sophomore album from Charlies, the original LP version of which is now a sought-after collector’s item. In the interest of space I won’t type the whole title again, but the album was recorded as the soundtrack to a film of the same name, and it’s a fun and interesting document of a crazy time in a unique place. The song title “There’s Nothing Trough with Public Ladies without Skirt in Sunrise on Horseback Band” gives you some idea of what to expect–though several songs are sung in Finnish, and as far as I’m concerned they get extra points for those. Recommended to comprehensive pop collections.

tveyesTV Eyes
TV Eyes (reissue)

In 2006, three former members of Jellyfish, Redd Kross, The Three O’Clock, and several other ’80s and ’90s bands released their debut album as TV Eyes–the catch was that it was released only in Japan. With this reissue (which includes four bonus tracks) it gets a long-overdue release in the U.S. market, making it easier for us Yanks to enjoy some wonderful (and only slightly dated) synth-driven power pop. Great vocals, solid hooks, a faint whiff of Duran Duran–what’s not to love?

coleLloyd Cole
Rick’s Pick

On the same label as the TV Eyes reissue comes something even more exciting: a brand-new album from Lloyd Cole. On Standards he returns to the more rockish sound of his 1980s albums (especially the legendary Rattelsnakes), but that’s not to say that this album isn’t filled with clever subtleties or lacking moments of quiet reflection. In fact, it’s a richly varied program of guitar rock with lots of understated hooks, expert production, and wry, intelligent lyrics. In short, it’s the Lloyd Cole we’ve always loved, but a bit more defiantly rocking than you might have come to expect recently. Highly recommended to all collections.

candiCandi Staton
Life Happens
Beracah (dist. RED)

“I ain’t easy to love” is the opening line on this album from R&B legend Candi Staton, who was known as the First Lady of Southern Soul in the 1970s. Her stylistic range is impressive–she’s been known to put disco and country songs right next to each other on the same album–and here you’ll hear a vintage Memphis soul tune (“Close to You”) segue into guitar pop (“Commitment”) and sassy chicken-scratch funk (“She’s After Your Man”) rubbing shoulders with heartbroken kiss-off ballads (“Where Were You?”). Her voice is aging attractively, the grain and texture getting smokier and more expressive. Recommended to all pop collections.


gradnfatillaGrand Fatilla
Global Shuffle
Grand Fatilla
No cat. no.

Global Shuffle is a fine title for this album, on which this very unusually-configured group (accordion, electric mandolin, percussion, string bass, sintir) plays music that sometimes juxtaposes and sometimes blends stylistic elements drawn from Bulgarian dance music, devotional Sufi songs, tango, Irish folk music, and Moroccan trance singing, all of it informed by a certain Gypsy sensibility and by the quartet’s shared love of complex dance rhythms and eerie, keening melodies. I promise that neither you nor your patrons will have heard anything quite like this before, even though bits and pieces of it will be familiar to just about everyone.

backbeatBackbeat Sound System
Together Not Apart
Easy Star

Cornwall may not be internationally known as a hotbed of modern reggae music, but you’d never know that to hear the debut full-length by Backbeat Sound System. Their sound is deeply rooted in the 1970s reggae verities, but at the same time richly informed by funk and soul elements; beneath the soaring vocal hooks you’ll hear complex, swirling textures that recall the post-Kinsella work of John Brown’s Body. Great basslines, great horn charts, catchy tunes–this is 21st-century reggae music at its best.

pandaGiant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad
Easy Star
Rick’s Pick

Also on the Easy Star label, also in the reggae genre, and (if anything) even better than the Backbeat Sound System album is this one from Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad, a band that can’t really be called a reggae group and yet has made the best reggae album I’ve heard in a year. Previous projects have found them exploring jam-band and Americana territory, but this one is straight up conscious roots reggae, and it’s absolutely dynamite. Anyone who tells you that dancehall has killed reggae music needs to be marched into your living room, sat down on a couch, and forced to listen to this album. They’ll thank you for it.

Singing in Tongues
Black Swan

Canadian producer Andrew McPherson is to African music something like what Scottish producer Martin Swan was to Scottish music–someone who could bring people and elements together that had no obvious connection, and create eerie beauty from the culture clash. With McPherson’s Eccodek project we get a beautiful mishmash of kirtan singing, Balkan singing, Malian blues, electronic dance grooves, dubwise production, and about a dozen other things. The result feels less like a party than a weird sort of underground musical circus, and it’s very cool.

cabreraRey Cabrera y Sus Amigos

Rey Cabrera, singer and tres player, is probably the greatest living exponent of the son Cubano tradition, which blends Spanish canción and African influences with call-and-response singing and other distinctively Caribbean elements to create something distinctively and wonderfully Cuban. If you like salsa music and if you (or your patrons) have worn out your copy of Buena Vista Social Club, then snap this one up immediately.

glitterbeatVarious Artists
Glitterbeat: Dubs & Versions 1
Glitterbeat (dist. Forced Exposure)
GB 018CD
Rick’s Pick

The Glitterbeat label, based in Germany, focuses its efforts largely on music from Africa, and has shown a particular interest in Malian pop music. This wonderful collection of remixes brings together European and African producers such as Mark Stewart, Dennis Bovell, Larry Achiampong, and Studio Zuma and sets them loose on singles and album tracks by Malian artists who have appeared on earlier Glitterbeat releases, resulting in a kaleidoscopic array of sounds, beats and textures: desert blues as dancehall; balani as UK bass; African hip-hop as dub; etc. This is a wonderful album, one that evokes some of Bill Laswell’s better work as an ethno-dub impresario.

October 2014


byrdWilliam Byrd
The Three Masses; Ave Verum Corpus
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral / Martin Baker
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

Here’s a fair question: did we really need yet another recording of William Byrd’s Masses for three, four, and five voices, rounded out by yet another recording of his Ave verum corpus setting? The answer to that fair question is: yes, as long as it’s done by England’s foremost cathedral choir. As always, the Westminster Cathedral Choir (helped, as always, by the glowingly warm and perfectly reverberant acoustic of Westminster Cathedral) shows its qualities of luminescent tone and timbral balance, the boys’ and mens’ voices coming together to form a sound that is truly unlike any other. Whether they’re singing Palestrina or Howells or Panufnik or Byrd, listening to them sing is like listening to ice cream melt. And in this particular case, one suspects that there’s a spiritual dimension to the rich qualities of this recording as well: being the choir of a Roman Catholic cathedral that sits in the heart of Anglican London, it’s tempting to believe that this group would have a particular affinity for the music of an embattled Catholic composer who negotiated his career from a tenuous perch in the aggressively (even violently) Protestant court of Elizabeth I. Whatever the explanation, this is a recording that will change your whole outlook on life while listening. I suggest doing so repeatedly.


mozbrahmsWolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Johannes Brahms
Clarinet Quintets
Anthony McGill; Pacifica Quartet
Cedille (dist. Naxos)

Both of these works are longstanding fan favorites and thus regularly recorded, and I’m not really sure I could make a serious rational argument that this new recording by clarinetist Anthony McGill and the Pacifica Quartet stands head and shoulders above any of the other top-rate performances that are out there. All I can say is that I keep being drawn back to it, and that I’m not sure whether it’s because of McGill’s superb ability to communicate both works’ bittersweet gorgeousness, or because the Pacificas accompany him with such lush sensitivity. Check it out and see what you think.

guillemainLouis-Gabriel Guillemain
Conversations galantes et amusantes (reissue)
Poema Harmònico
Lindoro (dist. Allegro)

The “gallant” style of French baroque music is nicely represented here by these four quartets, all drawn from opus 12 of Louis-Gabriel Guillemain. The title of the disc (and of the musical collection from which these pieces are drawn) is apt — Guillemain attempts to create true “conversations” between the various instruments, and the result is a truly delightful listen. The Poema Harmònico sextet (in various configurations, using period instruments) plays with a lovely clarity of tone and reliability of intonation, and with plenty of rhythmic panache but not too much headlong abandon. Highly recommended to all early music collections.

kalishFranz Joseph Haydn; Ludwig van Beethoven; Franz Schubert
Sonatas and Bagatelles
Bridge (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

Gilbert Kalish is a much-celebrated pianist, and here he presents what he calls “three different faces of (the) rich heritage” of late classical and early Romantic pianism. Haydn’s magisterial Sonata no. 62 is followed by Beethoven’s deceptively simple-sounding Bagatelles, op. 19, and then by Schubert’s last instrumental composition, the D-major Sonata no. 21. All in all, this program presents a remarkable range of moods, textures, and structural approaches; everything is played with remarkable skill and sensitivity. Highly recommended to all classical collections.

stileVarious Composers
From the Imperial Court: Music for the House of Hapsburg
Stile Antico
Harmonia Mundi
HMU 807595
Rick’s Pick

At about the midway point in its nearly millennium-long rule, the Hapsburg dynasty was served by some of the greatest names in polyphonic music: represented on this collection are Josquin Desprez, Heinrich Isaac, Pierre de la Rue, Nicolas Gombert, and many others. Most of the featured works are sacred motets, though Gombert’s spectacular Magnificat setting is here as are a couple of settings of the then-popular chanson “Mille regrets.” As always, the mixed-voice Stile Antico ensemble shows itself to be the most consistently sumptuous-sounding exponent of the Oxbridge sound, the kind of group that will lead you to check your collection regularly to make sure you still have all of their recordings. An essential purchase for all classical collections.

whirlpoolsThomas Newman & Rick Cox
35 Whirlpools Below Sound
Cold Blue Music

If your library supports programs in new music and/or electro-acoustic composition, then definitely consider picking up this recording by composers and multi-instrumentalists Thomas Newman and Rick Cox (helped out by clarinetist Jeff Elmassian). Combining their own cello, prepared guitar, toy accordion, piano, and other instruments with “field recordings of wind, leaves, water, (and) cars,” they’ve created an eerie and fascinating soundscape that will be pretty much unlike anything else you’ve heard before.

faure1Gabriel Fauré; Charles Gounod
Messe de Requiem; Ave Verum; Les sept paroles
Flemish Radio Choir; Brussels Philharmonic Soloists / Hervé Niquet
Evil Penguin (dist. Allegro)
EPRC 0015

Gabriel Fauré
Requiem; Cantique de Jean Racine; Messe basse
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge / Stephen Cleobury
Choir of King’s College (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

These are two quite different recordings both centered on the same piece: Fauré’s monumental Requiem Mass. Both ensembles seek to recreate something of the work’s original sound: the King’s College Choir performs from Marc Rigaudière’s reconstruction of the first complete liturgical performance (making this a world-premiere recording) and plays on period instruments, while the performance led by Hervé Niquet is based on the original chamber version and uses modern instruments. Both succeed at communicating the gentle spiritual optimism of the piece, which the composer characterized as one that does not express “any fear of death,” but rather portrays death as “a happy deliverance.” Both of these new recordings are very well worth acquiring.

divertiMichael Haydn
Divertimenti (reissue)
Piccolo Concerto Wien / Roberto Sensi
Accent (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
ACC 24292

I would never go so far as to say that Michael Haydn was a “better” composer than his older brother Franz Joseph. But I will say this: while I have never heard a note of Joseph Haydn’s music that I didn’t genuinely enjoy and admire, Michael Haydn’s music plucks a string in my heart that no one else’s does. Originally issued in 1998, this disc brings together two divertimenti for strings, one for oboe and strings, and a quartet for English horn and strings, all delightfully played by Piccolo Concerto Wien.


bollaniStefano Bollani
Joy in Spite of Everything
Rick’s Pick

Pianist Stefano Bollani has put together a wonderful quintet for this album, one that includes saxophonist Mark Turner, guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Jesper Bodilsen, and drummer Morton Lund. All of them contribute to a musical statement that reflects perfectly the album title: this is music that floats more than it swings, that manages to be lyrical even at its most harmonically complex and abstract, and that communicates both whimsical amusement and also a deep joy. This isn’t music to use while trying to seduce someone on a couch; it’s music to listen to while reading a book on the couch with your longtime spouse’s feet in your lap.

traneJohn Coltrane
Offering: Live at Temple University (2 discs)

I have to admit this up front: I’ve never been a fan of John Coltrane’s 1960s work, so I can’t say that I particularly enjoy this recording. But there’s no question that it’s worthy of libraries’ attention. These two discs represent the first official release of this 90-minute concert album, made at Temple University only nine months before Coltrane’s death. Featuring Alice Coltrane on piano, saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, bassist Sonny Johnson, and drummer Rashied Ali (along with some localy-recruited percussionists), it finds the group performing extended versions of five classic tunes: “Naima,” “Crescent,” “Leo,” “Offering,” and “My Favorite Things.” All the honking and squealing and modal wandering-around may not be my cup of tea, but I know a bunch of you guys really like it–and besides, this recording is a genuinely important document.

pedroPedro Rafael Garcia Moreno
Ear Up

Whenever an album cover prominently displays a message along the lines of “This recording was done without any overdubs or electronics,” it’s reasonable to be worried that you’re about to be subjected to a bunch of technical demonstrations that have less to do with music than with eliciting “whoa, dude!” responses. And there is some of that here, but Garcia Moreno’s solo saxophone album is actually quite musical as well as technically jaw-dropping. His use of breath effects, percussive techniques, singing, and multiphonics is consistently fascinating and fun, and the tunes he creates are generally interesting and enjoyable in and of themselves, though they sometimes do seem to take a backseat to the techniques being used to deliver them. Definitely worth acquiring for any library supporting a wind or jazz program.

ladySophisticated Lady Jazz Quartet
Sophisticated Lady Jazz Quartet
Yarlung (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

There are no ladies in this quartet (sophisticated or otherwise); its name seems to derive from the group’s penchant for standards, and for its refined and cool yet forward-looking approach to straight-ahead jazz. Consisting of a piano trio plus trumpet, the Sophisticated Lady Jazz Quartet delivers a deceptively relaxed-sounding set of standards and originals on its debut album, each of them reportedly recorded in a single take. The group swings gently but relentlessly, and coheres effortlessly even when one or more members starts to venture a bit outside. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.

chetChet Baker; Philip Catherine; Jean-Louis Rassinfosse
Crystal Bells (reissue)
Igloo Jazz Classics (dist. Allegro)
IGL 034

This album, which finds legendary trumpeter and singer Chet Baker joining forces with guitarist Philip Catherine and bassist Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, was recorded in Brussels in 1983 and originally issued on LP and CD in 1985. It finds the trio exploring a set that includes standards like “Cherokee” and “Strollin’,” as well as more modern tunes by Charlie Mariano (“Crystal Bells”) and Bruno Martino (“Estate”). Although the album was made towards the end of Baker’s tragically short life, at a time when he was struggling with injury and drug addiction, he sounds in fine form here, and Catherine and Rassinfosse provide both sensitive accompaniment and impressive solo work. This album has been out of print for a very long time, so libraries with an interest in Baker’s work should be quick to snap up this reissue.

coreaChick Corea Trio
Trilogy (3 discs)
Concord Jazz
Rick’s Pick

This three-disc monster of an album documents live performances by pianist/composer and jazz-fusion legend Chick Corea with his trio (bassist Christian McBride, drummer Brian Blade) in various far-flung locations while on tour in 2010 and 2012. The program is tilted heavily towards standards, though it includes several originals and even an arrangement of an Alexander Scriabin prelude. As I listened through it, Corea’s adventurous but sweetly lyrical style kept making me think of Bill Evans. It’s great to hear a pianist of Corea’s gifts playing in this configuration, and McBride and Blade are both equally brilliant. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.

merrillHelen Merrill
Parole e Musica
Schema Rearward (dist. Naxos)

The Schema label has lately been digging into the vaults and pulling out vintage examples of Italian jazz from the 1960s, with sometimes revelatory results. This one is mixed: it consists of standards sung by Helen Merrill, who, in 1960, was at the peak of her powers; her performances here are fantastic, and the small-ensemble accompaniment by Italian sidemen is consistently excellent (though the production quality is a bit fuzzy around the edges). The problem is that every other track on the album consists of Italian spoken-word excerpts taken from a TV show of some kind–the liner notes are vague on where they came from, and offer no justification for their inclusion. Despite the annoyance, though, this disc is well worth picking up for the quality of Merrill’s performances.


Jimmy Gaudreau & Moondi Klein
If I Had a Boatgaudreau

Before there was bluegrass, there was the brother duo–usually (though not always) two brothers, one playing guitar and singing lead, the other playing mandolin and singing tenor. The Blue Sky Boys, the Louvin Brothers, and bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe and his brother Charlie were classic examples of the genre. Eighty years later the tradition endures, though neither the Louvins or the Monroes would likely recognize it. Mandolinist Jimmy Gaudreau and guitarist Moondi Klein, both veterans of the Newgrass scene, have been working together off and on in this format for years, and their latest focuses on modern singer-songwriter fare, with songs by the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, Jonathan Edwards, and James Taylor, along with some originals and classic material. They still play brilliantly, and though they now struggle a bit to hit the high notes, they’re still a joy to hear.

earlsThe Earls of Leicester
The Earls of Leicester

The Earls of Leicester (get it? get it?) are a modern-bluegrass supergroup put together by Dobro master and ubiquitous producer Jerry Douglas, with the intention of paying tribute to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Their self-titled album consists of classic Flatt & Scruggs tunes including “I’ll Go Stepping Too,” “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” and “Dig a Hole in the Meadow.” The group’s renditions of these songs are all very faithful to the originals, which begs the question: do we need someone to record faithful renditions when the originals are still easily available? The answer: “need” may be too strong a word, but this disc is still tons of fun. And these guys do look awfully cute in their white shirts and Kentucky Colonel neckties.

linkVarious Artists
Link of Chain: A Songwriters Tribute to Chris Smither
Signature Sounds
SIG 2868

Never having been a huge fan of Chris Smither as a singer, but still recognizing his genius as a songwriter, this tribute album really piqued my interest. It features renditions of Smither’s songs by the likes of Loudon Wainwright III, Aoife O’Donovan, Bonnie Raiit, Tim O’Brien, Patty Larkin, and other singers that I definitely do love to listen to. And the result is just as good as I expected, one of several highlights being a live rendition by Bonnie Raitt of “Love Me Like a Man.” Recommended.

careyKyle Carey
North Star
Rick’s Pick

The second album from this wonderful artist has a bit more of an American singer-songwriter feel to it than her first (which I recommended here when it came out a couple of years ago), and projects a slightly darker and more introspective mood. But the Celtic aspects of her art are still well in evidence; she sings a couple of songs in Gaelic, one of which purely exemplifies her unique ability to blend American and Celtic influences: it’s a gorgeous arrangement of the gospel classic “Down to the River to Pray,” which takes on a very different flavor when sung in that language. Carey’s voice is a thing of great beauty and gentle power, and her songwriting goes from strength to strength. Highly recommended to all folk collections.

smokeSmoke Dawson
Tompkins Square
TSQ 5036

Late last year I recommended an album on the Tompkins Square label that compiled live recordings from the Caffé Lena, a regionally famous folk music coffeehouse in Saratoga Springs, NY. One of the artists featured on that album was an obscure local fiddler named George “Smoke” Dawson. Subsequently, a long-deleted 1971 solo album by Dawson has come to light and is now being reissued by Tompkins Square. It’s something of a curiosity; the sound quality is mediocre, some of the tracks fade in, and Dawson plays bagpipes instead of fiddle on one of them. But his playing is a delight, and at times (like his wonderful rendition of “Forked Deer” and the weird “The Minotaur”) you could swear that he was playing two instruments at once. Recommended to comprehensive folk collections.

Tim Hus
Western Star
Stony Plain (dist. ADA)
SPCD 1365

Canadian country music, no matter how boot-scooting the sound and how Southern the accent, always gives itself away–usually in the lyrics. Tim Hus is a brilliant country singer-songwriter from Calgary who, to his credit, makes no bones whatsoever about singing to a Canadian audience. His songs about pheasant hunting, apple picking, Saskatchewan mining, and honky-tonking in Halifax might make American listeners scratch their heads, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It all makes for a fun and refreshing change-up on the usual country music tropes.


doughtyMike Doughty
Stellar Motel
Snack Bar (dist. Megaforce)
Rick’s Pick

Two reasons why I think marketing this as “Mike Doughty’s hip hop record” is a little weird: first, I don’t know how else I’d categorize virtually everything he did with Soul Coughing. Sure, it was freaking weird hip hop, but seriously, what else would you call it? Second, I’m not sure the music on this album is anything I’d call hip hop. Sure, he continues to employ slamming beats and to deploy words as much for their rhythm as for their meaning (and he invites several guest rappers to join him), but he also spends much of his time singing (and he also invites a banjo player and a cellist to join him). Ultimately, of course, it matters not a whit whether or not this is hip hop. What matters is whether it rocks, and it does, mightily–if not always safely for work. Highly recommended to all pop collections.

daisukeDaisuke Tanabe
Floating Underwater
Rick’s Pick

Here’s what makes this album of electronica by Daisuke Tanabe so amazing: the details. Each track here is dense with content, but every one feels light and airy — you only notice the density if you pay close attention. This isn’t to say that the beats aren’t rich and heavy, or that there’s an absence of bass; quite the contrary. It’s just that Tanabe builds his compositions out of so many tiny particles of sound, and organizes them so exquisitely, that they define far mroe sonic space than they actually fill, and you hear more and more the harder you listen. Buy this one and keep it on hand for anyone who tries to tell you that electronic music is “easy.”

dreamDream Academy
The Morning Lasted All Day: A Retrospective (2 discs)
Real Gone Music

Remember the Dream Academy? Back in the 1980s they kind of defined folk-pop and dream pop for a rising generation, and their one big U.S. hit, “Life in a Northern Town,” is still instantly recognizable. This two-disc retrospective gathers singles, B-sides, album tracks, and a handful of unreleased songs–a handy overview for libraries that don’t need the whole catalog, and just enough new material to catch the interest of established fans. The extensive liner notes will very useful to those who want to catch up on the history of this influential cult band.

jonesJones Family Singers
The Spirit Speaks
Arts + Labor
No cat. no.

If you’re in the market for some great modern-but-traditional gospel music, then keep an eye on the Jones Family Singers. This appears to be their debut album, and it offers just what you’d hope: tight and sweet harmonies, powerful lead singing, and rocking arrangements played by a small but mighty instrumental backing group. There’s nothing particularly adventurous or unusual about this album–it’s just exceptionally well-crafted and thrillingly performed modern gospel music.

redhotVarious Artists
Red Hot + Bach
Sony Music
88843 02933 2

25 years ago, the “Red Hot +” series was inaugurated with a collection of interpretations of Cole Porter songs; the purpose of that collection was to raise money for and awareness of AIDS/HIV research and advocacy. The latest installment in the series brings together artists interpreting works of J.S. Bach, or in some cases playing original pieces inspired by Bach. These range from the very straightforward (a string quartet arrangement of one of the Art of Fugue contrapuncti) to the weirdly creative (a pop-samba song based on the Prelude in C minor). Is any of it red hot? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But’s all fun and easy on the ear.


chaplinRicky Chaplin
Chap Dem Chaplin
Uniteam Music
No catalog number

Longtime reggae fans will remember Charlie Chaplin, one of the most celebrated of the DJs (or rappers) who emerged on the international scene during the 1980s, as dancehall reggae was taking hold and displacing the roots-and-culture sound. His brother Ricky Chaplin works in a similar vein, though with a more explicitly “conscious” focus. He hasn’t been as prolific as his more famous brother, but this album shows that he has developed a powerful and personal style. Here he’s paired with such A-list singers and toasters as Kiddus I, Echo Minott, Prince Alla, and Patrick Andy on a rock-solid set of modern roots reggae songs and combination tracks. Highly recommended to all libraries with a collecting interest in reggae music.

peruVarious Artists
Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych from Peru’s Radical Decade
Tiger’s Milk/Strut (dist. Redeye)

In the late 1960s and early 1970s–a decade that ended with the ascension of a military dictatorship–Lima was a great city in which to be a pop musician. You could play surf music, garage rock, and psychedelic funk, and you could cover American artists like Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, and the Meters (in either English or Spanish). Want to throw in some cumbia elements? Sure, go for it. This fine compilation brings together examples of all of the above, most of it remastered from the original tapes. The sound quality isn’t spectacular, nor is every band here equally expert, but all of it is a hoot–and the collection provides a fascinating window on a long-lost pop-music scene.

dubsideEasy Star All-Stars
Dub Side of the Moon: Anniversary Edition (bonus tracks)
Easy Star

Radio Riddler
Purple Reggae: A Reggae Tribute to Purple Rain

Dub Side of the Moon, a reggae version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon that featured contributions from the likes of Frankie Paul, Dr. Israel, and the Meditations, was the album purplethat started a flood: over the next decade, similar tribute albums would be made in honor of the Grateful Dead, Michael Jackson, the Beatles, and several others–some of them very successful, and some… less so. Dub Side of the Moon was truly brilliant, and on its tenth birthday it’s being reissued with six bonus tracks–if your library doesn’t already own the original, then definitely grab this one. As for Radio Riddler’s Purple Reggae, well, it’s more uneven. Guest vocalist Sinead O’Connor brings a wonderfully restrained intensity to “I Would Die 4 U,” but a thudding rockers beat saps the spirit of “When Doves Cry.” Former UB40 frontman Ali Campbell gives the title track a sweet soulfulness, but the organ-driven garage rock of “Let’s Go Crazy” proves unsuitable for a reggae setting. Overall, this one is interesting but not essential.

silhouetteAli Campbell
Metropolis (dist. Allegro)
MTP 961
Rick’s Pick

Speaking of Ali Campbell, the fifth solo album from UB40’s former lead singer finds him continuing to deliver what has always been his forte: slick, soulful, and utterly hook-filled pop-reggae. Two more members of UB40 (keyboardist Mickey Virtue and toaster/trumpeter Astro) have now left that group and join him here on an effortlessly enjoyable set of new original songs and classic covers (including the Rays’ “Silhouette” and Lionel Richie’s “Missing You”). It’s amazing how consistently strong Campbell’s voice has remained over the course of a 35-year career, and however one might feel about the circumstances of his departure from UB40, this album is just a joy.

siaSia Tolno
African Woman
Lusafrica (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

Afrobeat has historically been mostly a man’s world, but on this explosive album Sia Tolno blazes a trail into this funky, trance-inducing, horn-heavy genre for her sisters. Blessed with a rich and chesty voice, with lots to say, and with a great collaborator in Tony Allen (who played drums in Fela Kuti’s various bands for years), she creates a swirling and heady mix of sounds and grooves, none of which you’ll want to end. Recommended to all world music collections.

bombayThe Bombay Royale
The Island of Dr. Electrico

Fun, funky, and unabashedly kitschy, the Bombay Royale are a Melbourne, Australia-based collective that draws on the sounds of vintage Bollywood movies along with spy movies, spaghetti Westerns, and disco to create a sound that is simultaneously deeply derivative and giddily original. To prepare yourself for their second album, I suggest that you watch three Bollywood movies, five archival episodes of Lost in Space, and Saturday Night Fever. Good luck — hope to see you on the other side.

September 2014


dussekJan Ladislav Dussek
Piano Concertos Opp. 1 Nos. 3, 29 & 70
Howard Shelley; Ulster Orchestra
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

This disc is the first in a new series from the Hyperion label titled The Classical Piano Concerto. This release itself promises to be the first of several dedicated to concertos by the great (if, in my view, underrated) Bohemian composer Jan Ladislav Dussek, all performed on modern instruments by the wonderful Howard Shelley with the Ulster Orchestra, which Shelley conducts from the piano. The program on this disc offers a nice overview of Dussek’s career: it opens with an early work, the G major concerto, then moves to the midpoint of Dussek’s life with his structurally more experimental concerto in C major, then closes with an E flat work that was written only two years before the composer’s death and continues his experimentation with the form. I can’t say enough about the pleasures of listening to these pieces by this ensemble and soloist–if this disc is any indication, the Classical Piano Concerto series will be one to which libraries everywhere will want to pay close attention.


holloawayVarious Composers
Pavans and Fantasies from the Age of Dowland
John Holloway et al.
Rick’s Pick

Opening with Dowland’s celebrated Lachrimae Pavans, violinist John Holloway–leading a quintet of two violins, two violas, and bass viol, though the Dowland piece is played by four violas plus bass–presents a program that also features works by other English composers of roughly the same era (including Henry Purcell, John Jenkins, and Matthew Locke), all of them chosen to demonstrate the wide variety of tones and textures that emerged during this tremendously fertile period in English instrumental music. Holloway is no stranger to this repertoire, and he and his colleagues deliver these pieces in a pleasingly subdued but intense style. Highly recommended.

beethovenLudwig van Beethoven
Complete Fortepiano Concertos (reissue, 3 discs)
Arthur Schoonderwoerd; Ensemble Cristofori
Alpha Productions/Outhere Music (dist. Naxos)

Beethoven’s piano concertos remain, collectively, a towering landmark of the Romantic repertoire, and as such they have been recorded countless times–though mostly on modern instruments. Some of the most impressive period-instrument recordings of these works were made in the mid- to late 2000’s by fortepianist Arthur Schoonderwoerd with Ensemble Cristofori, and all are gathered together in this budget-line, three-disc reissue box. Anyone who feels that period-instrument ensembles generally (and fortepianos in particular) are incapable of generating enough sturm und drang to handle this repertoire needs to give these powerful recordings a listen.

archdukeArchduke Rudolph
Music for Clarinet and Piano
Luigi Magistrelli; Claudia Bracco
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

This one gets a Rick’s Pick designation for two reasons: first, the music is obscure (all of it unpublished, some of it unfinished); second, the music is heartbreakingly gorgeous and is played with limpid grace, on modern instruments, by two brilliant musicians. Archduke Rudolph of Austria is known today, where he is known at all, primarily as a patron and student of Beethoven, and while these works won’t catapult him to world fame as a neglected genius, they are truly lovely and this disc is well worth acquiring. Recommended to all classical collections, especially those serving wind programs.

praiseVarious Composers
In Praise of Saint Columba: The Sound World of the Celtic Church
Choir of Gonville & Caius College; various soloists / Geoffrey Weber
Delphian (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

In strictly historical terms, reconstituting long-lost “sound worlds” is always a questionable proposition — but in musical terms it can be intriguing, and that’s certainly the case with this program of vocal and instrumental music imaginatively reconstructed from 7th-, 10th-, and 14th-century documents found in (and in some cases drawn on the walls of) abbeys and monasteries from various Celtic enclaves across Europe and the British Isles. Scholar and piper Barnaby Brown worked with the Choir of Gonville & Caius College at Cambridge University to put this album together, and the results are eerily fascinating and very enjoyable.

dvorakAntonín Dvorák
Symphony No. 6; American Suite op. 98b
Luzerner Sinfonieorchester / James Gaffigan
Harmonia Mundi
HMC 902188

These two compositions by Dvorák are related in that both draw on vernacular influences: the sixth symphony incorporates elements of Slavonic and Bohemian folk melodies, creating a pervasively pastoral mood; the Suite op. 98, which later acquired the nickname “American,” is built on themes that evoke the sounds of African-American and American Indian musical cultures. Both are played here with lush elegance in a winningly warm acoustic, and this disc can be confidently recommended to any classical library that does not already own top-notch recordings of these works.

manffediniVincenzo Manfredini
Complete String Quartets
Quartetto Delfico
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

Vincenzo Manfredini had strong views about what constituted good instrumental music: it must move the listener, and it can only do so when melody and harmony are carefully balanced. Bearing that in mind sheds light on the consistently lovely (but perhaps slightly uptight) nature of Manfredini’s string quartets, which are given winning period-instrument performances here by the Quartetto Delfico. These pieces have not often been recorded, so libraries should snap this disc up.

vigilateVarious Composers
Vigilate! English Polyphony in Dangerous Times
Monteverdi Choir / John Eliot Gardiner
Soli Deo Gloria (dist. Naxos)
SDG 720
Rick’s Pick

“Heads up!” was good advice to any Catholic in Elizabethan England, and Catholic composers with high public profiles had to be especially watchful. William Byrd famously kept his head by maintaining a strong personal relationship with the Queen; others, like Peter Philips, Robert White, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Morley, and Thomas Tomkins managed to write sacred music in the Catholic tradition without too much persecution, though their music often reflects the bloody controversies of the day — sometimes explicitly, sometimes subtly. As always, the Monteverdi Choir’s performances of works by all of these composers (including Byrd’s hair-raisingly moving “Civitas sancti tui” setting) are radiant. Strongly recommended to all libraries.

pleyelIgnace Pleyel
Flute Quartets
Pál Németh; Piroska Vitárius; Gergely Balázs; Dénes Karasszon
Hungaroton (dist. Naxos)

There’s nothing like a Classical-era flute quartet to brighten up your day, and while Mozart’s remain the gold standard, these by Pleyel are also gems of the period. I wish these period-instrument performances by Pál Németh and friends were more reliably perfect in terms of intonation, but they’re quite good overall and as far as I can tell this is the only currently-available recording of all six quartets, so I recommend this disc to all comprehensive classical collections.


iyerVijay Iyer

I’m putting this one in the Jazz category, but it’s far from entirely clear that that’s where it belongs. Although pianist-composer Vijay Iyer has built his career and reputation primarily as a jazz musician, his range is much broader than that. On this album he presents an impressionistic (and only somewhat jazzy) piece for piano solo, two rather abstract pieces for piano and electronics, and a ten-movement work for piano, electronics, and string quartet. The latter is especially interesting, but all of the music here is both forward-looking and accessible, and very much worth hearing.

wakenius Ulf Wakenius
Momento Magico
ACT (dist. Allegro)

Another release that fits rather uncomfortably in the Jazz category is this solo guitar album by Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius. It doesn’t exactly sound like a solo album, because Wakenius often overdubs himself, always playing an acoustic guitar (or bass). Throughout the program he draws on influences from both within the jazz tradition (John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery) and outside of it (Malian blues, European and Indian classical music). Fans of Robert Fripp will hear familiar elements here, as will lovers of bossa nova. Recommended.

fullerLarry Fuller
Larry Fuller
Rick’s Pick

Here’s the thing about Larry Fuller–he’s not just a stellar straight-ahead jazz pianist. He’s also one of those guys who acts as a sort of walking encyclopedia of jazz styles, shifting without apparent effort from fleet-fingered bebop to stride and boogie-woogie approaches. Here he plays a set not just of standards, but of really pretty tired ones (“C Jam Blues,” “Django,” “Old Devil Moon”) and in every case he manages to imbue them with fresh energy and insight–not by doing anything especially innovative or (heaven knows) avant-garde, but rather by applying classic ideas and techniques to them with a musical intelligence and sensitivity that you encounter all too rarely in jazz or in any other genre. Very strongly recommended to all collections.

rotemRotem Sivan Trio
For Emotional Use Only
Fresh Sound New Talent
FSNT 451
Rick’s Pick

For a very different take on the trio format, consider this fine new album led by guitarist Rotem Sivan. The program consists almost entirely of originals, most of them played in a pretty straight-ahead style and utlizing the kind of warm, soft-edged tone that longtime fans of Pat Metheny will recognize. But within the confines of that style, Sivan makes note choices and harmonic gestures that are quite personal and unusual; notice, for example, the modal excursions on “Blossom,” and the subtle complexity of the gently beautiful jazz waltz “Spirals.” Interestingly, the emotional centerpiece of this album its sole non-original tune, a meltingly sweet take on “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” one of the loveliest melodies ever written for a Disney movie. Brilliant.

wardellWardell Gray
1950-1955 (reissue)
Classics (dist. Albany)

Here’s another great collection of vintage bebop from the French Classics Records label. Originally issued in 2008, it brings together recordings made between 1950 and 1955 by an underappreciated tenor saxophonist named Wardell Gray, many of them in multiple takes. (N.B. — Some tracks are misidentified on the package.) His sidemen on these dates include such illustrious figures as Art Farmer, Dexter Gordon, Clark Terry, and Hampton Hawes; on several tracks Gray is a featured member of Teddy Charles’ West Coasters. Although these recordings are all mastered from 78-rpm originals, the sound quality is quite good, and the performances are spectacular. Tragically, Gray died only a few months after these recordings were made.

bolandFrancy Boland
Playing with the Trio
Schema (dist. Naxos)
RW 148

Pianist/composer Francy Boland, bassist Jimmy Woode, and legendary drummer Kenny Clarke were the nucleus of the Francy Boland Big Band, which was active and hugely influential in Europe throughout the 1960s. But in 1967 Boland went into the studio with just the rhythm section and recorded this very winning trio album, one consisting almost entirely of original compositions (by both him and Woode), all played in a light but energetic style. All three players are brilliant, but there’s something particularly special about Clarke’s drumming throughout — notice in particular the subtlety of his brushwork on the blues-based “Night Lady.”

Florencia Gonzalez
florencia Between Loves
Zoho Music (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

Tenor saxophonist Florencia Gonzalez is originally from Uruguay, but now lives and works in New York — and while there are clear Latin American elements in her compositions, it’s amazing how New York this album sounds. Here she leads a sextet (sax/trumpet/trombone plus piano trio), but some of these pieces — especially the somewhat spiky and modernist “Woman Dreaming of Escape” (named after a Joan Miró painting) — sound much larger than that, reflecting Gonzalez’ unusual talent for arranging. This album should be considered a must-have for any library supporting a serious jazz program.


LLewisKKallickVernRayLaurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick
Sing the Songs of Vern & Ray
Spruce and Maple Music

Vern Williams and Ray Park were both from the Ozarks, but only met after each had moved to San Francisco in the 1950s. There they had a huge influence on the bluegrass and folk scene that burgeoned in the Bay Area throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Fans (and occasional sidepersons) included singer/guitarist Kathy Kallick and singer/fiddler Laurie Lewis, who both went on to successful careers of their own and have now collaborated on this wonderful tribute album. It’s straight-up, meat-and-potatoes bluegrass music of the kind that all too rarely features prominent female vocals; here Lewis and Kallick handle most lead and harmony singing, and they’re accompanied by such illustrious helpers as slide guitarist Sally Van Meter and mandolinist Tom Rozum. Truly great stuff.

burtonJason Tyler Burton
No cat. no.

Singer-songwriter-with-acoustic-guitar has always been kind of a hard sell for me. I blame it on childhood trauma; growing up in the 1970s, I was exposed to an awful lot of boring and pretentious singer-songwriter twaddle. But if you share my hesitation, don’t let it stop you from checking out the second album from this exceptionally fine songwriter. Burton’s voice is simultaneously chesty and mountain-twangy, his lyrics evocative without being portentous, his arrangements spare but not stark. And the harmonica only comes out once, which is a blessing. Highly recommended.

bellsMike Auldridge/Jerry Douglas/Rob Ickes
Three Bells

The resophonic guitar (often known generically as a dobro, much to the frustration of the trademark-holding Dopyera Brothers) is an acoustic guitar that features one of several internal resonator designs, all of which act to give the instrument both greater sustain and a distinctive tone, making it suitable for playing with a slide. It is primarily associated with bluegrass music, but some of its advanced practitioners (including the three virtuosos featured on this album) have taken it in all kinds of other directions. Three Bells showcases both traditional and forward-thinking approaches to the instrument, with trio arrangements of country and bluegrass standards, jazz tunes, and pop songs. Sadly, these were the last recordings made by the great Mike Auldridge before his death in 2012.

jeanVarious Artists
Dear Jean: Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie (2 discs)
Compass (dist. Amped)
7 4631 2
Rick’s Pick

Outside of folk music circles, Jean Ritchie isn’t quite the household name that, say, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger are. But her influence has been both deep and pervasive, as the variety and notoriety of the artists represented here suggests. Everyone from Judy Collins and Kathy Mattea to John McCutcheon and Janis Ian is here, and the selections are a wonderful melange of Ritchie originals and traditional songs collected and arranged by her and her family. It’s hard to imagine a more heartfelt and well-deserved tribute, and it should be considered an essential purchase for any folk or country collection.


My Little Ghost
Project Mooncircle
Rick’s Pick

When it comes to electronic music, I’m a sucker for two things: gutbusting bass, and microscopically detailed funkiness. The mysterious Kidkanevil (who claims to hail from “Tokyorkshire”) provides both in spades on this weird, charming, and sometimes slightly unsettling album. You’ll hear harpsichord ostinatos, sci-fi whooshes, Morse Code bleeps, tiny scratches and skitters, and tectonic basslines, sometimes all within the course of a single track. This is one of those albums that I just keep returning to because it’s so dang much fun.

moonzeroMoon Zero
Tombs/Loss (2 discs)
Denovali (dist. Allegro)

Sorry, there’s a third thing I’m a sucker for when it comes to electronic music: ambient sound sculptures that reward your attention without aggressively demanding it. This two-disc set includes a new recording by Moon Zero (Loss) along with a reissue of an album originally issued a year or so ago on cassette (Tombs). As the titles suggest, these are not sprightly recordings. But if you listen carefully, they’re quite fascinating. They were made entirely in churches, making creative use of echo and overtones; Loss consists of live performances. The idea of a “remix” in the context of music this abstract and ethereal may sound strange, but the package includes several, and they’re all very cool.

Devo: The Men Who Make the Music [DVD]
MVD Visual

I almost never review DVDs in CD HotList, but I made an exception for this Devo retrospective for two main reasons: first, the video that accompanied their version of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”; second, an astounding live performance of “Uncontrollable Urge.” Both communicate perfectly what made this band so unique and so unsettling: the simultaneous juxtaposition of robotic control and feverish frenzy. When performing “Uncontrollable Urge,” they give the impression of maggots being electrocuted; on “Satisfaction” they give the impression of adolescent male maggots being electrocuted. Not everyting on this disc is essential–some of the early narrative video stuff is embarrassingly bad–but there’s more than enough weirdo brilliance here to justify purchase.

wattBen Watt
Unmade Road
Rick’s Pick

Best known as co-leader of Everything But the Girl, somewhat less known as a DJ, Ben Watt very rarely makes solo albums. In fact, this is is his first in, oh, 30 years. And it’s good enough to make you just a little bit angry that he doesn’t do this more often. Watt characterizes this release as “simply a folk-rock record in an electronic age,” and that’s not a bad description, though the word “simply” belies the sophistication of his songcraft. His voice may not be quite the equal of his wife Tracy Thorn’s, but it’s really quite good and the arrangements are all completely perfect. This is one of the two or three best pop albums I’ve heard all year.

billytBilly Thermal
Billy Thermal
Rick’s Pick

Remember Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional”? How about Heart’s “Alone,” or “Precious Time” by Pat Benatar? Guess what? Those were all written by Billy Steinberg, whom I’m willing to bet money you’ve never heard of. I’ll bet even more money that you’ve never heard the debut album by his band Billy Thermal — a sucker bet, since the album was shelved in 1980 and never released (though several tracks were eventually released as an EP). The ever-intrepid Omnivore label has now rectified the situation, and if the result is undeniably dated, it’s also undeniably excellent, a classic of yelping, herky-jerky New Wave pop. Highly recommended.

calyxCalyx & Teebee
Fabriclive 76

DJs Calyx (from London) and Teebee (from Norway) are mainstays of the stubbornly undying drum & bass scene, and their contribution to the venerable Fabriclive series is a generously-packed mix of 34 tracks by the likes of Skream, Nasty Habits, Noisia, Teddy Killerz, and Break. Offering beats that are sometimes subtly and dubbily complex and often teeth-jarringly straightforward, the continuously-mixed program is guaranteed to leave you happily exhausted.

omunitOm Unit/Various Artists
Cosmology (download only)
Cosmic Bridge
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

For another perspective on the bass music scene, consider this outstanding compilation drawn from the vaults of Cosmic Bridge, the label run by the deeply respected Jim Coles (a.k.a. Om Unit). It reflects Coles’ interest in all things UK-bassy: drum & bass, jungle, footwork, trap, hip hop, dubstep, grime. There are only nine tracks here, but they’re all stellar and they describe a pretty broad spectrum of styles, from Danny Scrilla’s dubsteppy “Hunch (Epoch Remix)” to the straight-up jungle of Moresounds’ “Nuff Music.” Cosmic Bridge has only been operating for a couple of years; the fact that it can yield a compilation this consistently fine is a testament to Coles’ exceptional taste as a producer and impresario.

johnsonEric Johnson
Europe Live

You’ve almost certainly got some Eric Johnson fans among your patron base, though his name is known primarily to guitar fiends. He had a few big hits in the 1990s, and his album Ah Via Musicom (with its single “Cliffs of Dover”) sold quite well, but over the years he has remained an artist whose following is more deep than broad. This album documents a live performance in Amsterdam from 2013, and it finds him stretching out on familiar tunes like “Cliffs of Dover” and “Zap,” as well as two new compositions. At 59 years of age he still has a sweet tenor voice and his chops haven’t degraded in the slightest.


internationalInternational Observer
Dubmission (dist. Allegro)

Back when he was making international electro-pop hits as a member of the Thompson Twins, Tom Bailey was always interested in reggae and dub. After the breakup of that band (and of its dubbier successor Babble), Bailey embarked on a solo career under the pseudonym International Observer, creating dub-reggae soundscapes that drew deeply on the most venerable traditions of the genre while incorporating more forward-looking elements as well. Touched is a compilation of remixes and obscurities from the International Observer archives, and fans will find much to love here — especially given that several of these tracks have never been made available in the U.S. before.

Ondar EP (download only)
Six Degrees

Conceived as a tribute to the great Tuvan throat singer Kongar-ol Ondar, the latest release from Bay Area electro-acoustic duo Dirtwire is a blend of modern and ancient sounds that keeps the focus squarely on Ondar and the strange and beautiful multiphonic sounds he creates by forcing overtones and manipulating them while the sung pitch remains the same. The main program consists of three songs, with two remixes fleshing out the release. Both the singing and the production are fun and fascinating.

salsaVarious Artists
Salsa de la Bahia, Vol. 2: Hoy y Ayer (2 discs)
Rick’s Pick

San Francisco is host to a thriving Latin jazz scene, and this series of two-disc compilations serves to document that scene well. The first volume focused on recordings made between 2000 and 2010; the program on this entry in the series brackets that period, pulling together tracks from the late 1980s and 1990s and from 2010 to 2013. Legendary figures like Pete Escovedo and Wayne Wallace are here, as well as a whole bunch of artists much less well-known outside the region, and every track is a hoot and a joy, all of it exhibiting that amazing balance of loose-limbed joy and absolute precision that characterizes the best salsa music. Highly recommended to all libraries.

girmaGirma Yifrashewa
Love & Peace
Unseen Worlds
UW 13

Yirma Yifrashewa is an Ethiopian composer who was trained partly in his native country and partly at Sofia Conservatory in Bulgaria. In his solo piano pieces you will hear, unsurprisingly, a blend of influences: the pentatonic melodies of his native region are consistently in evidence, but so are gestures that are reminiscent of Brahms and occasional rhythmic passages bring to mind the dance pieces of Louis Gottschalk. Everything on this album is perfectly lovely, and it provides an interesting window on the current state of Afro-European classical cross-fertilization.

thirdworldThird World
Under the Magic Sun
CLP 1795

In the 1980s, the two bands that most unabashedly (and successfully) blurred the line between reggae and pop music were Aswad and Third World. With this album, the latter group makes that crossover bid even more blatantly, taking classic pop hits like “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” “Everything I Own” and the title track, and performing them in vintage reggae style. They also offer a new version of their own biggest hit, “96 Degrees.” How does it work? Quite well, over all. Cat Coore is starting to struggle a bit to hit the high notes, but the band’s groove is as tight and smooth as ever, and it’s lots of fun to hear these familiar songs redone in a pop-reggae style.

saifSaif Al-Khayyat & Nora Thiele
Ahlam Babiliyya: Modern Iraqi Maqam Music for Oud and Percussion
Talanton (dist. Naxos)
TAL 90015

Maqam is a term that describes particular melody types and prescribed patterns of development and improvisation in Arabic music, a concept that has some commonalities with the Indian raga. Saif Al-Khayyat is a virtuoso oud player and maqam composer, and with the brilliant German percussionist Nora Thiele he presents here a mixed program of original pieces and traditional tunes that will be of interest to any library with a strong world music collection and of special interest to any library supporting a program in Middle Eastern studies.

August 2014


jarrettKeith Jarrett; Charlie Haden
Last Dance

The bittersweetness surrounding this release is almost unbearable. Bassist Charlie Haden was (along with drummer Paul Motian, who died just a few years ago) a member of Keith Jarrett’s first great trio, and made landmark recordings with that group and with an expanded quartet version of the ensemble (including saxophonist Dewey Redman) in the 1960s and 1970s. Then Haden and Jarrett parted ways and pursued their own musical paths for several decades, uniting again informally in 2007. That led to recording sessions, which resulted in both the gorgeous Jasmine and this equally lovely disc. On it, the duo plays a set of standards–mostly ballads like “My Old Flame” and ‘Round Midnight,” but also the uptempo bop classic “Dance of the Infidels.” As on Jasmine, Jarrett and Haden play as if they share both a brain and a heart; mercifully, Jarrett keeps the intrusive vocalise to a bare minimum, leaving the listener free to enjoy the brilliant and sensitive interplay between these two genius musicians unhindered. Haden suffered from post-polio syndrome and had to stop performing just a few years after these sessions were recorded; he died last month. Listening to this album is both a heartbreaking and an uplifting experience, and no jazz collection should be without it.


troxCarl Philipp Emanuel Bach; Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach
Rebecca Troxler Plays Flute Music by Sons of Bach (2 discs)
Rebecca Troxler; various accompanists
Rick’s Pick

Given that it was issued during the tricentenary of C.P.E. Bach’s birth, it should come as no surprise that of the “sons of Bach” referenced in the title of this set, the lion’s portion of the program is dedicated to him. It’s a little surprising, though, that this generous program includes only two works by a son other than C.P.E.; both are by his younger brother Johann Christoph Friedrich. No matter: what is important here is the music and the playing of it, and both are top-notch. Flutist Rebecca Troxler plays a “classical flute” (which is apparently structurally different from the baroque flute; some explanation of that distinction in the liner notes would have been useful) and the works on the program include solo and trio sonatas, quartets, and a couple of palate-cleansing fortepiano pieces (played winningly by Andrew Willis). The quality of the playing and the slightly unusual sonorities of Troxler’s instrument make this a highly recommendable recording for all academic collections.

wuorinenCharles Wuorinen
Various performers

Of the great American avant-garde composers of the 1960s, very few have maintained anything like Charles Wuorinen’s energetic level of output since then. He remains a lion of contemporary music, and if his style (still heavily indebted to Vienna School serialism) can hardly be characterized as “forward-looking” today, it remains fresh-sounding and–dare I say it?–fun. This disc features four chamber works written between 1966 and 2008, all for conventional instruments; the title composition and Janissary Music, both for percussion (the former also featuring two pianos) bracket the program, which also includes his Trio for Flute, Bass Clarinet and Piano (2008) and Sonata for Violin and Piano (1988). This disc is one in an ongoing series of Wuorinen releases on the Albany label.

gretryAndré-Modeste Grétry
Portrait musical (reissue; 5 discs)
Various performers
Musique en Wallonie (dist. Naxos)
MEW 1371
Rick’s Pick

This box set offers a thoroughly delightful (if necessarily selective) overview of the work of André-Modeste Grétry, one of the most celebrated figures in French theater music of the 18th century. The recordings gathered here were made between 1977 and 2009, and if the ones from the 1970s sound a bit thin and brittle today, they still nicely convey his music’s sheer joy and élan. The stage works included here (in whole or in part) include La caravan du Caire, L’amant jaloux ou les fausses apparences, and Le jugement de Midas; one disc is dedicated to Grétry’s string quartets (beautifully performed by the Quatuor Haydn) and another to keyboard transcriptions of themes from his stage works. Highly recommended to all comprehensive classical collections.

glassPhilip Glass
The Dublin Guitar Quartet Performs Philip Glass
Dublin Guitar Quartet
Orange Mountain (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

I’ve always been more of a Steve Reich fan than a Philip Glass fan (give me phased rhythmic patterns over relentless arpeggios any day), but over time I’ve been won over, somewhat, to Glass’s music–largely through the efforts of transcribers. Case in point: this lovely collection of transcriptions for guitar quartet. It helps that the pieces presented here were all originally written for string quartet; I’ve always felt that his quartets were among the strongest arguments for Glass’s style. The ones presented here are no. 2 (“Company,” a perennial favorite), no. 4 (“Buczak”), no 3 (“Mishima”) and no. 5. The Dublin Guitar Quartet has previously shown its skill with the minimalist repertoire with recordings of works by Kevin Volans and Arvo Pärt, so it’s not surprising that their sense of idiom is just as strong as their technical skill and general musicality. Recommended.

simeronArvo Pärt; Ivan Moody
Stabat Mater; Simeron
Goeyvaerts String Trio; Zsuzsi Tóth; Barnabás Hegyi; Olivier Berten
Challenge Classics (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

(And speaking of Arvo Pärt…) Both of the pieces presented here are rooted in the Orthodox Christian tradition. Part’s Stabat Mater setting is transcribed for string trio; Ivan Moody’s Simeron is sung by a vocal trio and accompanied by strings. Both pieces are excellent examples of what has come to be called “sacred minimalism,” a strain of sacred music (sometimes mystical, sometimes liturgical) that draws on relatively few musical elements and seeks to evoke a sense of wonder, contemplation, and spiritual union with the divine. The playing and singing on this disc are both spectacular, and the Moody piece in particular is simply stunning. Very highly recommended to all collections.

handelGeorge Frideric Handel
The Triumph of Time & Truth (2 discs)
Various soloists; Ludus Baroque / Richard Neville-Towle
Delphian (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

This one gets a special recommendation–not only because the performances are consistently excellent, but also because this oratorio, Handel’s last, has been neglected (if not actively disdained) by modern scholars and musicians and therefore has been rarely recorded. The reasons for its neglect are various and varyingly reasonable; as a document of Handel’s philosophical preoccupations at the end of his life, though, it is arguably essential and this recording offers a fine opportunity to fill what will be a hole in most library collections. The performance and recording quality are both excellent.

lassoOrlando di Lasso
Cantiones Duarum Vocum: München 1577 (reissue)
Paolo Tognon; Claudio Verh; Gruppo Vocale Armoniosoincanto / Franco Radicchia
Tactus (dist. Naxos)
TC 531202

This one is fascinating but also complicated, so pay close attention: there are 24 unique compositions on this program, 12 of them written for two unaccompanied vocalists and 12 for instruments. For this recording, the entire set of 24 pieces is played instrumentally (by Tognon and Verh, each playing the dulcian, an early version of the bassoon); then, the twelve vocal pieces are sung by the Gruppo Vocale Armoniosoincanto. The result is an excellent pedagogical resource and a good but not excellent listening experience. The dulcian is a notoriously difficult instrument to play in tune, and while Tognon and Verh are highly skilled, 24 pieces for two dulcians gets pretty tiresome pretty quickly. The vocal pieces are more viscerally enjoyable. Recommended overall.

samanHildur Gudnadóttir
Touch (dist. Forced Exposure)
TO 096
Rick’s Pick

Hildur Gudnadóttir is a cellist and vocalist who, on this album, sings and plays simultaneously (on several tracks) while also subjecting her cello to several acoustic modifications (and possibly electronic ones, though it’s not clear from the information provided). On one track she connects her instrument to the resonating chambers of two grand pianos; on others the rich resonance of her playing sounds like it’s an artefact of the room in which she’s playing. All of the pieces presented here are quietly intense and deeply beautiful; at low volumes they could easily function as ambient music, but turned up in a large room they reward close attention as well. Highly recommended to all libraries.


bechetSidney Bechet
The Chronological Sidney Bechet, 1937-1938 (reissue)
Classics (dist. Albany)

Originally issued in 1991, this disc offers a treasure trove of obscure Sidney Bechet sides that will be of interest to all comprehensive jazz collections. It consists mostly of tunes he recorded as a member of Noble Sissle’s ensembles (Noble Sissle and His Orchestra and Noble Sissle’s Swingsters), but also includes a handful of recordings he made as a sideman to vocalist Trixie Smith and to Grant and Wilson, as well as four sides recorded as a leader. Some tracks are startling: notice, for example, the choral backing and the yodeling on “Characteristic Blues.” The sound quality is consistently pretty good, and the performances are thrilling–Bechet’s solos never fail to captivate.

helioHelio Parallax
Helio Parallax
M.O.D. Technologies (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

The trio of Takuya Nakamura (trumpet, keyboards, etc.), Josh Werner (bass, guitar, etc.) and Marihito Ayabe (dubbing, mixing, etc.) fairly explodes onto the scene with this wonderful debut album. The problem is that it’s hard to say exactly what scene it is that they’re exploding onto: the larger context seems to be jazz, but there’s too much going on here to make it easily categorizable: ambient, dub, funk, R&B, avant-electro, and all kinds of other elements are constantly floating in the mix. Hold on: did I say this was a problem? Sorry, what I meant to say was that it’s a blast.

coniglioWayne Coniglio; Scott Whitfield
Fast Friends
DCD 629

Wayne Coniglio and Scott Whitfield are trombonists with strong backgrounds in big band jazz, but for this album they’ve joined forces to make a small-ensemble album. Accompanied only by an excellent piano trio, they work their way through a nicely mixed program of standards, originals, and modern tunes by the likes of Steve Turre and Toshiko Akiyoshi. The mood is alternately jaunty, soulful, and boppish, with both players displaying an impressively swinging agility on their notoriously unwieldy instruments; Coniglio’s work on the bass trombone is especially noteworthy. Recommended to all jazz collections.

hayesLouis Hayes
Return of the Jazz Communicators
Smoke Sessions
Rick’s Pick

All libraries with a collecting interest in jazz should be keeping an eye on the steady stream of world-class albums currently being released on the Smoke Sessions label. All have been recorded live at New York’s Smoke Jazz Club, and all so far have been excellent. This one is no exception: drummer Louis Hayes leads a quintet that also includes saxophonist Abraham Burton, vibist Steve Nelson, pianist David Bryant, and bassist Dezron Douglas. Their approach is generally quite straight-ahead, but they’re not afraid to get discursive when the mood strikes, and the evenly-balanced set of originals and standards gives them plenty of opportunity to do both. Very highly recommended.

khanSteve Khan
Tone Center
TC 4075-2
Rick’s Pick

A new Steve Khan album is always a special occasion, and this one is a particular joy. Here the guitarist is joined by his longtime drummer Dennis Chambers, along with percussionist Marc Quiñones and bassist Rubén Rodríguez and a rotating cast of guest players including percussionist Bobby Allende and pianist/orchestrator Rob Mounsey. As you might guess, the overall flavor here is overwhelmingly Latin, though it’s Khan’s particular, personal take on Latin rhythms and inflections. The playing is all absolutely brilliant, as is the arranging–and I was particularly knocked out by Khan’s elegant and complex Latin take on Thelonious Monk’s “Hackensack.” I’ve always loved the way Khan plays Monk, and he really outdid himself here. A must for all jazz collections.

windPhilip Catherine; Martin Wind
New Folks
ACT Music + Vision (dist. Allegro)

Swinging hard without a drummer is by no means impossible, but it’s not that easy either. Guitarist Philip Catherine (who earned his hard-swinging skills by playing drummerless Gypsy jazz in his youth) and bassist Martin Wind do it handily on this standards-heavy set, but they also rock out (on Oscar Pettiford’s “Blues in the Closet”) and gently weep (Paul McCartney’s “Jenny Wren”). Rocking out without a drummer? Also not that easy, by the way.

gagnonVincent Gagnon
Tome III — Errances
Effendi (dist. Naxos)

This is a very nice quintet album led by Québecois pianist/composer Vincent Gagnon. Generally quite impressionistic in style, there is nevertheless always a solid musical core to Gagnon’s compositions and arrangements–at no point does it sound as if he and his compadres are just noodling over a vaguely-connected set of chord changes, as is so often the case with combos playing in this mode. That said, his ballads are especially affecting; “Ce qu’il reste de la nuit” (“What Remains of the Night”) is meltingly gorgeous, as is the gentle jazz waltz “Parfois l’aube” (“Sometimes the Dawn”).


tsistersT Sisters
Kindred Lines
Spruce and Maple Music
SMM 1010

The T Sisters are a Bay Area ensemble working in a grab-bag of styles. Real-life sisters who seem to share a single voice and whose facility with close harmony is almost uncanny, the trio sometimes sounds like a World War II girl group (“You Don’t Know”), and sometimes dive into high-lonesome bluegrass (“Train Wreck”) or torchy, stomping blues (“But Not for You”). Their lyrics are sometimes sweet, sometimes acerbic, and almost invariably original–this album consists entirely of their own compositions except for a cover of Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” Great stuff.

sparksLarry Sparks
Lonesome and Then Some…A Classic 50th Celebration

Ten years ago, the Rebel label celebrated Larry Sparks’ 40th year in the music business with an album on which he was joined by several other bluegrass veterans and youngsters. Ten years later it’s time for another one, and it’s a gem. There are guest appearances from Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley, Bobby Osborne, and even the late Bill Monroe (courtesy of a live recording made in 1995). The program includes chestnuts like “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” and “In the Pines,” and if Sparks’ voice has lost a little bit of its range and power, his interpretive ability has only deepened–notice the depth of feeling he brings to “Will You Be Satisfied That Way” and the way he and Stanley play off each other on “Loving You Too Well.” This is a fitting celebration of the long career of a bluegrass master.

haasHaas Kowert Tice
You Got This
No cat. no.

These days there seems to be no shortage of hair-raisingly talented young people pushing the boundaries of the string-band sound by taking more or less traditional instrumental configurations (in this case, fiddle, guitar, and bass) and tune structures and using them as a springboard to extended flights of harmonic and melodic fancy. Bu the trio of Brittany Haas (fiddle), Paul Kowert (bass), and Jordan Tice (guitar) pursues that agenda with a bit more sophistication than many, creating long and complex compositions that are accessible but–if you’re paying attention–challenging at the same time. To call this “roots” music” wouldn’t be quite right; it’s definitely music with roots, though.


jonesMarti Jones
You’re Not the Bossa Me
Dixon Archival Remnants
DAR 017
Rick’s Pick

Marti Jones is, in an unassuming way, a mainstay of the ongoing Southern alt-pop movement that originally emerged in the early 1980s with bands like Let’s Active, R.E.M., and Pylon. After spending time on (and off) major labels throughout the 1980s and 1990s, she has run in indie circles ever since, often working with her husband, legendary producer (and also bassist, singer, and songwriter) Don Dixon. For this album, she has put together a quietly spectacular set of bossa nova-flavored songs, most of them written by members of her circle of musical pals including Dixon and the wonderful singer-songwriter Kelly Ryan (who coproduced the album and plays and sings on most of these tracks). Jones’ lovely voice and sly humor are a delight throughout, and Kelley’s and Dixon’s production style is perfect. This is an endlessly enjoyable album and it’s recommended to all libraries.

misledMisled Convoy
Tickling the Dragon’s Tail
Dubmission (dist. Allegro)

Misled Convoy is the pseudonym of Mike Hodgson, who normally records as one half of the electro-ambient-dub duo Pitch Black. For this solo outing, Hodgson stays in that general vein, but Tickling the Dragon’s Tail manages to sound significantly different somehow. I’m still trying to figure out why that’s the case. Maybe it’s Hodgson’s commitment to beats that are simultaneously powerful and borderline abstract; maybe it’s his greater willingness, in this context, to let the grooves fall off the edge into a resonant abyss. Whatever the explanation, anyone who’s a fan of Pitch Black will find plenty to love on this album, while anyone who comes across Misled Convoy without having first been introduced to Pitch Black will be pleased to learn that Hodgson already has a deep back catalog of similarly-configured music. Highly recommended.

darkskyDark Sky

Established fans of Dark Sky–who, at this point, would know them primarily from their club-focused and analog-based 12″ singles–may be surprised by what they find upon cuing up the trio’s debut full-length. It’s not that this music isn’t danceable, exactly–it is, kind of, or at least some of it is. But it certainly doesn’t sound like dancing is what it’s all about. Instead, this music is about layers, moods, and (occasionally) lyrics; melodic hooks are in evidence, but you have to listen for them. Instead, what draws you in about the music is its overall flavor and texture. No single element of these songs and compositions is surprising, but it sounds incredibly fresh anyway. Recommended.

cabvoltCabaret Voltaire
#7885 (Electropunk to Technopop 1978-1985)
Rick’s Pick

The great thing about this compilation is that it deliberately draws on two very different phases of electro pioneers Cabaret Voltaire’s career: its early, experimental phase (“Do the Mussolini [Headkick]”, “Nag Nag Nag”) and its later, poppier phase (“James Brown,” “I Want You”). Interestingly, it’s the later material that really points the way towards what would eventually come to be called industrial music — you can hear clear echoes of what the Cabs’ contemporaries Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb were doing in the early 1980s as well. It’s impressive how well these tunes hold up after all those years. Yes, the music is certainly dated; Cabaret Voltaire was nothing if not a product of its times. But there are bands out there right now who are trying to sound like this–and, in most cases, failing. Highly recommended.

fieldsLee Fields
Emma Jean
Truth & Soul (dist. Redeye)

I confess that until I came across this album, I had never heard of Lee Fields. That’s embarrassing because he’s been on the scene for over 40 years, recording sporadically but touring fairly regularly. And it’s also embarrassing because he’s so good: his voice is tough and gritty but tuneful; his songs are perfect nuggets of Southern soul. His last couple of albums have featured the Expressions, who are exceptionally fine practictioners of Memphis-style R&B backing, with the occasional hint of country (notice the steel guitar on “Magnolia”). If you or your patrons have been yearning for classic meat-and-potatoes soul music, or if you find that the Sharon Jones albums are circulating a lot, definitely pick this one up.

soulVarious Artists
Soul Chronology 5: Singing from My Soul (2 discs)
History of Soul (dist. Redeye)

Speaking of classic soul, the fifth installment in the History of Soul label’s Soul Chronology series offers an excellent primer in the genre for anyone who needs an affordable and reasonably wide-ranging overview. Over the course of 55 tracks, you get songs both familiar (“Shout” by the Isley Brothers, “I Pity the Fool” by Bobby “Blue” Bland) and obscure (“Say Yes” by the Top Notes, “Got a Feelin'” by Willie Wright) in styles ranging from gospel to blues to R&B. With its two generously-packed discs and extensive liner notes, this package offers both a thoroughly enjoyable listen and a valuable pedagogical tool.

enoEno * Hyde
High Life
Warp/Opal (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Just a couple of months ago, guitarist Karl Hyde and producer/synthesist/singer/sound sculptor Brian Eno released a duo album titled Someday World. Hot on its heels comes another one, with a very different sound. High Life is heavily influenced by 1960s-style minimalism and also by the trancey and multilayered sounds of Afropop and go-go (“highlife” is an African pop music style that originated in Ghana). As you might expect, the songs tend to have pretty open-ended structures and to be much more concerned with groove than with shape. And groove they do, fiercely, with all of the weird little production filligrees and textural richness you’d expect from a Brian Eno production. Very highly recommended.

The Sleepover Series, Volume 1 (reissue)
Hammock Music (dist. Redeye)

Recording as Hammock, guitarists Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson have always tended to make music that is ethereal, at times bordering on ambient. With The Sleepover Series, Volume One they take that tendency to its logical conclusion. Originally released in 2005, this is music explicitly designed to help the listener fall asleep. You might expect that it would therefore consist of little more than glorified white noise or New Age-y pentatonic doodles, but actually the music is fascinating if you choose to pay attention to it — and if you don’t, it should serve its stated purpose just fine.

8bit8-Bit Operators
Tribute to Depeche Mode: Enjoy the Science
Receptors Music

Are you familiar with the “chiptune” or “synth punk” movements? No? Oh good, you’ll love this: these are people who make music using sound chips from old computer games and other vintage machinery. Under the name 8-Bit Operators, Jeremy Kolosine has curated a series of various-artist tribute albums that take the music of bands like Kraftwerk, Devo, and the Beatles and reimagine it in this style. The latest one takes on Depeche Mode. Is it gimmicky? Well, sure. But it’s also tons of fun, and the sounds of the old analog and early digital equipment being repurposed in this way is both kind of hilarious and genuinely, pleasingly musical.


cumbiaCumbia All Stars
Tigres en Fuga
World Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

Andean pop music has a charm all its own, and cumbia has been growing in worldwide popularity in recent years. During its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s it was stylistically colonized by rock and psychedelia, and in recent years it’s been subject to the inevitable attentions of club DJs and remixers, but as this wonderful album attests, its roots are still strong. The Cumbia All Stars are as old-school as it gets, a combo consisting of musicians who were there at the beginning, and they still play and sing as thrillingly as ever. Brilliant.

Amor Planeta
Six Degrees

The fourth album from this Vancouver-based trio (producer/songwriter/guitarist Adam Popowitz, singer/songwriter Silvana Kane, bassist/drummer Toby Peter) continues the group’s practice of taking all kinds of melodies, rhythmic patterns, and instrumental sounds from all over the world and blending them into a pretty unique stew of hooky and gently danceable music. As is so often the case with pan-ethnic fusion music, the result usually ends up sounding more or less Latin — but don’t be fooled; it’s not that straightforward. Kane’s lovely voice is the glue that holds it all together.

fordeBrinsley Forde
Urban Jungle
Heartbeat Europe
HBECD 20669
Rick’s Pick

Brinsley Forde’s name may not be familiar to all reggae fans, but his band Aswad is responsible for some of the biggest hits in the history of British reggae, including the international smash “Don’t Turn Around.” After Aswad broke up he turned to acting, radio presenting, and the making of documentaries, but now he’s back with a solo album. It doesn’t depart much from the formula that worked so well for his former band: smooth, modern reggae in a blend of lovers and roots-and-culture styles, always slick enough to attract those with a more casual interest in reggae but rootsy enough to please old-school purists. His voice is as rich and strong as ever, and the hooks abound. Highly recommended to all libraries.

shapiroPaul Shapiro
Shofarot Verses

“Another romp in the wild and wooly world of Rhythm and Jews,” says the press release, and that’s not a bad capsule description of this music. Shapiro is a saxophonist, and for this album he’s joined by guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Brad Jones, and drummer Tony Lewis for a program of traditional tunes and original compositions that draw on themes from Rosh Hashanah readings. The mood here is dark but energetic, as astringent modal melodies are strung across a framework of surf-rock, rockabilly, and R&B arrangements. This album brings a whole new meaning to the concept of soul music.

Mountain Melodies: Rubab Music of Afghanistan
Evergreene Music
EVR 8024

One of the many things that has been lost in the wake of war and religious persecution in Afghanistan is the recorded legacy of traditional Afghan music. Quraishi is a rubab virtuoso who fled Kabul with his family for New York City during his teens, and since then has dedicated himself to preserving the traditional style of rubab playing. On this album he is accompanied by several tabla players and performs a variety of classical, folk, and original tunes. All libraries with a collecting interest in world music should give this one serious consideration.

July 2014


meshellMeshell Ndegeocello
Comet, Come to Me
Naïve (dist. Naxos)

Ever since she burst onto the pop music scene in the early 1990s, Meshell Ndegeocello has confounded expectations. This has been true on the relatively shallow level of personal image (androgynous, sometimes almost alien) and musical style (by turns funky, punky, poppy, jazzy, and uncategorizable), but also on a much deeper musical level: that of song structure and philosophy. Her latest album can be enjoyed on a purely visceral and aesthetic level, but pay closer attention to what’s happening here and its pleasures become more complex: notice how many of these songs–without ever sacrificing accessibility–do away almost entirely with the traditional architecture of pop songwriting, and build sweetly attractive melodies that defy you to sing along with them. “Tom” is soulful and conventionally tuneful, but at the same time willfully abstract (despite the reassuring Memphis-soul guitar licks provided throughout by Chris Bruce); “Forget My Name” sounds like a fusion of dub reggae, Ghanaian high life, and 1970s jazz fusion; “Comet, Come to Me” is one of the most affecting and yet befuddling pop ballads I’ve ever heard. This is one of those very rare albums that reveals more subtleties with every listen, and I strongly recommend it to all library collections.


pagaNiccolo Paganini
24 Capricci (2 discs)
Marina Piccinini
Avie (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

Paganini’s Caprices for the violin remain a towering monument in that instrument’s repertoire, thrilling both for their forbidding difficulty and their sheer beauty. For this album, flutist Marina Piccinini has arranged all 24 pieces for flute, and here she fully justifies Gramophone‘s characterization of her as “the Heifetz of the flute”: her playing is virtuosic, of course, but also insightful and intelligent, exposing all the emotional and structural facets of these strange and wonderful miniatures. Very highly recommended to all classical collections.

farinelliVarious Composers
El Maestro Farinelli
Bejun Mehta; Concerto Köln /Pablo Heras-Casado
479 2050

This album’s title (which refers to the legendary castrato singer Farinelli) might lead you to expect a program of bravura countertenor arias. In fact, what we have here is an album comprised mostly of orchestral overtures and symphonias (a surprising number of them in world-premiere recordings) by such composers as José de Nebra, Nicola Porpora, C.P.E. Bach, and Johann Adolf Hasse. Most of these pieces are extracted from stage works associated with Farinelli, and all are beautifully played by Concerto Köln. Mehta sings on only two tracks, one of them (the aria “Tempestad grande” from the Nebra zarzuela “Vendado es amor, no es ciego”) a world-premiere recording; both performances are breathtakingly lovely.

amorosiVarious Composers
Amorosi pensieri: Songs for the Habsburg Court
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

The Franco-Flemish composers Philippe de Monte, Jacobus Vaet, and Jacob Regnart are far better known (by those who know them at all) for their polyphonic sacred choral music than for their secular chansons, so this album offers a very valuable window on another important aspect of their work. For this recording, the six-voice male Cinquecento ensemble has selected a handful of chansons from each of these composers (along with their more obscure contemporary Jean Guyot); most are in French or Italian, but several of the Regnart songs are in German. The stylistic contrasts between these composers are fascinating, and the singing is as excellent as we’ve come to expect from this group.

brahmsJohannes Brahms; Miklós Rózsa
Clarinet Sonatas
Jean Johnson; Steven Osborne
Avie (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

For me, the challenge with Brahms is always to find a performer who captures all of his tenderness and longing without lapsing into sappiness and bombast. Clarinetist Jean Johnson (and her superb accompanist Steven Osborne) strike that balance perfectly on this spectacular recording, which features both of Brahms’ clarinet sonatas as well as a sonatina and a sonata, both for unaccompanied clarinet, by the great 20th-century film composer Miklós Rósza. The pairing may seem strange on paper, but it works: Rósza’s style is modernist but folk-influenced (much as Brahms’ was Romantic and folk-influenced), and Johnson nicely brings out the commonalities. Gorgeous album overall.

handelGeorge Frideric Handel
Teseo (Highlights)
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra / Nicholas McGegan
Philharmonia Baroque Productions (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

On a purely musical level, this release sheds welcome light on one of Handel’s more neglected operas. Few ensembles are better equipped to do that than Nicholas McGegan’s Philharmonia Orchestra, and the soloists here (notably soprano Dominique Labelle) are excellent, the live performance beautifully produced. But it’s also a notable release because it’s the seventh disc to emerge from this orchestra’s own label, Philharmonia Baroque Productions, and thus a noteworthy example of an emerging trend in classical music. That makes this album potentially interesting to a wide variety of libraries for multiple reasons.

ericksonRobert Erickson
Complete String Quartets (2 discs)
Del Sol Quartet
New World (dist. Albany)

Robert Erickson (1917-1997) was born and raised in northern Michigan, and eventually helped to found both the music department at UC San Diego and the San Francisco Tape Music Center. The four pieces for string quartet collected on this two-disc set date from the 1950s (quartets nos. 1 and 2 on disc 1) and the mid-1980s (Solstice and Corfu, on disc 2). By 1950 Erickson had thoroughly explored serialism and abandoned it in favor of (in the case of the first quartet) a spikily modern expression of traditional structures and patterns, and (in the second) a more open and expressive style. The two named pieces from the 1980s, both of them single-movement works, are very different, much more impressionistic and less academic-sounding. All of the performances are first-rate and this disc can be confidently recommended to all classical collections.

brunettiGaetano Brunetti
String Quartets
Carmen Veneris
Lindoro (dist. Allegro)

Here is a fine sampling of the chamber music of one of Spain’s most prolific but obscure composers, a man who exerted significant regional influence in his time but died with most of his music unpublished. The four string quartets presented here represent some of Brunetti’s earliest and latest work; about 20 years separate opus 2 from opus 8. All of them are lovely, in the high classical style, and the period-instrument ensemble Carmen Veneris plays them with admirable grace (though there are a few moments of slightly suspect intonation). Recommended to comprehensive classical collections.

mozartWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Five Divertimenti–K. 439b–for Two Guitars
Andrew Zohn & Robert Sharpe
Clear Note (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

The title of this album is slightly misleading, as these 25 brief pieces (traditionally, though not uncontroversially divided into five sets of five) were not actually written for guitars. The evidence suggests (though there’s some controversy here as well) that they were originally written for basset horn and bassoon. A few of them have been arranged for guitars in the past, but this is a world-premiere recording of a completely new set of arrangements written by Andrew Zohn and performed here with his musical partner Robert Sharpe. I can’t say enough about the sweetness and clarity of their tone or the warm, golden sound of the recording–it goes without saying that the music is heartbreakingly lovely. Highly recommended to all classical collections.

giantsVarious Composers
On the Shoulders of Giants: Tracing the Roots of Counterpoint
Ensemble Aurora
Arcana (dist. Naxos)
A 373
Rick’s Pick

Although the program is performed by a string quartet, most of the music on this highly unusual disc dates from the Renaissance period–hence the title. Billed as “a journey into the philosphy of counterpoint,” it opens with string-quartet settings of works by Palestrina, Frescobaldi, and Lassus before moving into the baroque era with works by Castello, Rosenmüller, Corelli, and Bach; then it closes with an adagio and fugue and an actual string quartet by Mozart. All of these pieces illustrate the ways that contrapuntal technique evolved throughout Europe across several centuries. Academically fascinating and aurally ravishing.


nunEnsemble Nu:n
Raumklang (dist. Naxos)
RK 3307

The source material may be classical (or at least classical-ish), but the interpretations of it are much closer to jazz (or at least jazz-ish). Ensemble Nu:n is a trio consisting of saxophonist Gert Anklam, percussionist Nora Thiele, and guitarist Falk Zenker; for this album, they selected melodies from a 13th-century manuscript collection and created radically new interpretations of them. Those familiar with medieval dance music will recognize some of the melodic patterns and maybe detect a few hints of idiomatic rhythms, but unless you know up front where the source material came from, it’s unlikely that you’ll hear this as “early music.” Imagine a more lighthearted version of ECM jazz, and that will give you a good idea of what to expect. It’s quite wonderful.

herschFred Hersch Trio
Rick’s Pick

Fred Hersch. New album. Res ipse loquitur.

mostSam Most
New Jazz Standards
DCD 630
Rick’s Pick

Sam Most was one of the pioneers of jazz flute, and as this, his final album, documents, he was at the top of his game right up until the end of his life. Here he plays flute, clarinet, and baritone sax, as well as scatting and singing, and at no point will the listener hear anything to suggest that any of his mental or physical energy was flagging. (He died just a month after the album was recorded.) All of the tunes are original compositions by his longtime collaborator Carl Saunders, and all deserve to be called “new standards” — though all are very straight-ahead stylistically, each sounds fresh and original, and Most’s quintet plays them with contagious energy. This is one of the most delightful jazz albums I’ve heard this year.

giuffreJimmy Giuffre
The Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4: New York Concerts (2 discs)

Between 1962 and 1971, legendary clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre made no official recordings, a fact that has long been lamented by fans of forward-thinking jazz. But he didn’t stop playing, and this two-disc set documents two concerts from that period: one at Columbia University and one at New York’s Judson Hall, both in 1965. In the latter case he leads a trio that includes bassist Richard Davis and drummer Joe Chambers; on the former date he has a quarter featuring pianist Don Friedman, bassist Barre Philips, and Chambers again on drums. The music here is adventurous even by Giuffre’s standards: angular, dry, and harmonically free, much of it sounds improvised. This is a tremendously valuable document, but one that fans of Giuffre’s more conventional work may find a bit forbidding.

cityJon Hassell
City: Works of Fiction (reissue; 3 discs)
All Saints (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

I’m filing this one under Not Really Jazz But I Don’t Know What Else to Call It. Originally issued in 1990, City: Works of Fiction found trumpeter/composer Jon Hassell continuing to explore the Fourth World musical ideas that he had begun developing in the 1970s and 1980s, ideas that draw on elements of jazz, Indian music, and the electronic avant-garde. With City things started getting a bit more explicitly funky and even occasionally hip-hop-oriented, with unusually fun and accessible results. This three-disc deluxe reissue adds to the original program a second disc documenting a live performance from the same period, as well as a third disc of odds and ends, all of them genuinely fascinating. If your library has the original 1990 release, toss it and replace it with this one.

windMartin Wind Quartet
Turn Out the Stars
What If? Music (dist. Redeye)

Normally, orchestral jazz is a tough sell with me. But since this live album focuses on music by (or “inspired by”) Bill Evans, I thought I’d give it a listen — his style was famously impressionistic and so it seemed like it might be a good fit. The fact that the album features pianist Bill Cunliffe and drummer Joe LaBarbera didn’t hurt either. And guess what? It’s very, very nice. There are a few scattered moments at which I thought the Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana sounded just a bit too fulsome and overblown, but for the most part the arrangements are insightful and very tasteful, and bassist Martin Wind leads his ensemble skillfully. Libraries supporting programs in jazz arrangement should be particularly interested in this one.


roulettesThe Blushin’ Roulettes
Old Mill Sessions
Cinnamon Bones Music
(No cat. no.)

I try not to be prejudiced, but if I’m completely honest with myself, folk-rockers with waxed moustaches have to work a little bit harder to win me over than most. That this duo (singer/guitarist/songwriter Angie Heimann and slide guitarist/vocalist/moustache-wearer Cas Sochacki) won me over so quickly is a testament to the simple and direct power of their songs, which are alternately haunting, heartfelt, and quietly heartbreaking. Arrangements are spare, the ambience is dark and echoey, and the hooks are subtle but profuse. Recommended.

Current Affairs
RUNA Music

Billed as an “Irish-American roots band,” RUNA nicely treads the borderline that separates American and British Isles folk music, performing a program that draws on the Child ballad collection, labor songs, classic gospel music, the work of modern roots songwriters like Amos Lee and Kate Rusby, and traditional Irish and American fiddle tunes. Their acoustic-funk take on “Henry Lee” struck me as a bit awkward, but I love their versions of Lee’s “Black River” and Rusby’s “Who Will Sing Me Lullabies,” as well as the three tune sets. RUNA boasts two world-class vocalists in Fionán de Barra and Shannon Lambert-Ryan, which helps a lot as well. Recommended.

carthyMartin & Eliza Carthy
The Moral of the Elephant

If England can be said to have a royal family of folk music, it would have to be the Waterson/Carthy clan, which includes not only various members of the Waterson family of singers, but also Norma Waterson’s husband Martin Carthy and their daughter Eliza, who has recorded prolifically and won numerous awards. On this album Eliza joins with her dad to perform a program of mostly traditional songs (a few are modern), with starkly minimalist arrangements, all the better to showcase the pair’s beautifully contrasting voices (his grainy and reedy, hers bell-clear and powerful) and the eerie loveliness of the songs themselves. Eliza is an excellent fiddler and Martin plays an understatedly mean rhythm guitar, and together they have made a deeply impressive album.

gritMartyn Bennett
Grit (reissue)
Real World

Martyn Bennett was a gifted fusioneer, a Scottish multi-instrumentalist who (along with similarly-inclined Scots artists like Mouth Music and Talitha MacKenzie) blended traditional Celtic music with electronic funk. Grit was the last album he released before dying of cancer in 2003, and it’s his most predominantly electronic one–he reportedly was so physically weak by the time he recorded it that he could no longer play his instruments. It remains a wonderful document of his particular talent and of the possibilities available to musicians who refuse to be constrained by purist traditionalism. This reissue includes two bonus tracks.


System Fork
Dust Science

Application is a duo consisting of Martin and Richard Dust, who themselves make up two-thirds of the musical trio known as The Black Dog. When working with The Black Dog, the Dusts are accustomed to making music with a minimum of preparation and without any rules; as Application, they do just the opposite. Working on the Japanese principle of itamae, which requires extensive observation before undertaking any task, they made the music on this album under a stringnt set of rules and guidelines. The result is an impeccably (even microscopically) detailed program of electronic music filled with tiny filigrees, blips, and accents, but moved forward by beats that are as compelling as they are elegant. Highly recommended.

shonenShonen Knife
Good Charamel

The Japanese trio Shonen Knife continues to be a completely reliable source of sweet-and-crunchy pop-punk goodness: short tunes sung in charmingly non-idiomatic English on such topics as ramen noodles, dancing, fortune cookies, and good/bad luck. Over the course of 33 years, the band’s musical formula hasn’t changed much — which is both good news (true reliability being a relatively rare commodity in pop music) and bad news (how many Shonen Knife albums does any person, or any library, need?). This one is just as good as the others. If your library doesn’t already own more than two or three, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to start with this one.

Data Panik Etcetera
Do Yourself In (dist. Redeye)

This Scottish trio has been around in various guises for 20 years, but this is only their fourth album. The paucity of their output is surely due in part to their tendency to break up, move on to other projects, and then come back together again, sometimes with the same band name and sometimes not. In any case, this album showcases their jagged, New Wave-inflected alt-pop sound, one that draws deeply on the sounds of the 1980s without feeling in the least nostalgic about that period. Song titles like “Minimum Wage,” “That Love’s Not Justified,” and “Flesh Remover” give you a good idea of what to expect — though they don’t communicate well how much fun these songs can be.

hyperVarious Artists
Hyperdub 10.1 (2 discs)
Hyperdub (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

I’ve always been drawn to music that takes widely disparate styles or influences and reconciles them — or, failing that, forces them into a room and doesn’t let them out until they’ve learned how to at least work together civilly. In my experience, dance music and the avant-garde is one of the most reliably fertile of these musical emulsions, and has been since the late 1970s. From Material and the Golden Palominos and beyond to Defunkt and the whole UK Bass scene, the melding of weirdness and funk has always been something I find terrifically exciting. If you share that interest, then you’re likely already aware of the Hyperdub label, home to some of the weirdest and funkiest bass music you’re ever likely to hear. If you’re not aware of Hyperdub, then by all means pick up this excellent two-disc retrospective collection that draws on the first ten years of the label’s output. It’s a must.

luckyLucky Peterson
The Son of a Bluesman
Jazz Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

It may have been released on the Jazz Village label, but there’s nothing jazzy about this album: Lucky Peterson makes blistering electric blues, rockish and soulful and sometimes laced with funk and gospel. He’s a great singer, an amazing guitarist, and a very good organist. On this album he offers a bunch of original tunes as well as covers of songs by Bobby “Blue” Bland (“I Pity the Fool”), Wilson Pickett (“Funky Broadway”) and Johnny Nash (the evergreen “I Can See Clearly Now”), and he makes all of it sound like his own. If your patrons have a taste for meat-and-potatoes blues, then serve them this one.


olaVarious Artists
Olá Cabo Verde
Lusafrica (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

Cape Verde is one of those African countries whose music sounds not-very-African. (I’ve given up trying to explain to my kids the difference between Cuban rumba and African rumba.) That’s partly because Cape Verde is an archipelago some distance off the West African coast and partly because its strongest musical influences come from Portugal, which colonized the islands in the 15th century. Today, its commercial music is smooth and lilting, featuring a blend of European and African instruments and songs performed mostly in Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole. This collection offers an excellent overview of the country’s sweet and gently melancholy music, which remains dominated by acoustic instruments even as its production qualities become increasingly slick.

anbessaZvuloon Dub System
Anbessa Dub

Those who have listened to a lot of roots reggae music will notice something different about this band immediately, though they may not be able to identify it immediately. I’ll help you out here: it’s the scales they use. The members of Zvuloon Dub System are an Ethiopian-Israeli reggae band, and you can hear that Ethiopian heritage in their melodies from the first track. (On the second track you’ll notice that they sing in Amharic.) Despite the band name and the album title, this is not a dub album–it’s straight-up roots reggae, heavy with horns and astringent with melismatic sung melodies; the basslines are dark and heavyweight (as they should be), the playing and singing are absolutely expert, and the tracks focus on groove rather than hooks. Highly recommended to all world music collections.

skaNeville Staple
Ska Crazy
CLP 1753

Anyone who remembers the second-wave ska revival that took place in England around 1980 will look at this album cover, with its black-and-white color scheme, 1950s-style cartoon dancer, and checkerboard motif, and know immediately what to expect: edgy, punk-informed ska and rock steady music in the style made popular by such Two-Tone bands as the Specials, the English Beat, and the Selector. And indeed, that’s exactly what you get, courtesy of one of the Specials’ former vocalists. The program relies just a little bit too much on potboiler material (“Time Longer Than Rope,” “Johnny Too Bad,” “Wet Dream”), but most of the songs are fresh and the performances are irresistible. Ska is a perennial favorite of college students, so all academic collections should pay particular attention to this welcome new release.

Our Kind of Bossa
Six Degrees

Since BossaCucaNova emerged on the international scene 15 years ago, it’s been very clear what constitutes “their kind of bossa” — one infused with electronic elements and open to influences from hip hop and funk to pop and rock. On this album they focus on the sounds of both bossa nova and samba, inviting guest vocalists to join them on every track, and continuing the tradition of stylistic promiscuity that has been their hallmark from the beginning. The result is, as always, charming, tuneful, and irresistibly danceable. Highly recommended to all pop and world collections.

lemvoRicardo Lemvo & Makina Loca
La Rumba SoYo

“A multinational undertaking that was recorded on three continents and in four countries,” the latest from Los Angeles-based Congolese singer-songwriter Ricardo Lomvo continues his exploration of modern Afro-Cuban rumba sounds. “Exploration” is maybe the wrong word, though — “celebration” is more like it. From the first note, this album is a gentle explosion of rippling polyrhythms, lightly dancing call-and-response vocals, and massed horn sections. At the same time, Lemvo is expanding his stylistic palette to include other languages and styles, including Angolan rhythms like semba and kizomba, making this album not only a pure joy to listen or dance to, but also a valuable window on the current state of the art in Afro-Cuban dance music.

June 2014


bylsmaLuigi Boccherini
Anner Bylsma Plays Boccherini (reissue; 5 discs)
Anner Bylsma; various ensembles and accompanists
Sony Classical (dist. Naxos)

Bringing together recordings originally made between 1977 and 1993 for the RCA/Seon, Pro Arte, and Sony/Vivarte labels, this wonderful boxed set showcases one of the first and still greatest exponents of the baroque cello, playing masterpieces of the classical period for that instrument: Boccherini’s cello concerti, symphonies, sonatas, fugues, and quintets. On the larger-scale works Bylsma is accompanied by Tafelmusik under violinist Jeann Lamon; on the chamber pieces his collaborators include various combinations of Sigiswald and Wieland Kuijken, Bob van Asperen, Hopkinson Smith, Lucy van Dael, and others. To listen to these performances is to be struck again both by the virtuosity required to perform these pieces and by the degree to which that virtuosity is subjugated to the realization of pure pleasure — there is not a single note here that doesn’t sound like it was fun to play, and of course the credit for that goes at least as much to Bylsma as to Boccherini. (Libraries, take note: while the individual discs in this box all contain previously-released material, it appears that the box itself was originally released in 2010, making this something of a re-re-issue. So proceed with caution; this release is a must-have, but you may already have it in one form or another.)


schubertFranz Schubert
Jonas Kaufmann; Helmut Deutsch
Sony Classical (dist. Naxos)
8888 3795652

Let’s face it: it takes an exceptional singer to convince you to listen to yet another rendition of Schubert’s legendary song cycle Die Winterreise. It’s pretty much the Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony of lieder. But Jonas Kaufmann is that kind of singer, a tenor with a rich and incredibly powerful bottom end to his tone and an enviable feel for this repertoire (despite the fact that he has made his career primarily as an opera singer). Pianist Helmut Deutsch is the perfect accompanist, and the recorded sound is dryish but warm and nicely detailed.

nisleJohann Martin Friedrich Nisle
Octet; Septet; Quintet
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 266-2
Rick’s Pick

The music of this obscure and tragic figure — after a long and peripatetic career he was robbed and murdered at age 93 — is an unexpected delight. The three chamber works, all for combinations of winds and strings, were probably written between 1806 and 1809, and are absolutely wonderful examples of late-classical grace and wit (the Octet and the Quintet are presented here in world-premiere recordings). With this recording, the Consortium Classicum continues to cement its reputation as one of the world’s finest chamber ensembles specializing in modern-instrument performances of music from this period. A must-have for all classical collections.

dowlandJohn Dowland
My Favorite Dowland
Paul O’Dette
Harmonia Mundi
HMU 907515

Although influential as a scholar, conductor, and music administrator, Paul O’Dette is best known as one of the world’s foremost lutenists and interpreters of the music of John Dowland. His latest recording consists of a “personal selection of favorite pieces” from the Dowland repertoire — all of them newly recorded (this is not a compilation from his earlier releases). Some of these tunes, of course, are familiar: “Semper Dowland semper dolens,” “Fantasie (P 1a),” etc. But even these are given a fresh attractiveness by O’Dette’s unusually sensitive renderings. A must for all early music collections.

bachCarl Philipp Emanuel Bach
The Collection (13 discs)
Various Performers
Warner Classics (dist. Naxos)
2564 63492-7
Rick’s Pick

Last month I gave Brilliant Classics’ monumental 30-disc C.P.E. Bach collection a “Rick’s Pick” designation, and this month I’m following it up with a very strong recommendation of this smaller and somewhat differently-focused collection from Warner Classics. Drawing chiefly on the rich Telefunken/Teldec vaults (but also offering one disc’s worth of keyboard Rondos that have never before been released), this collection consists entirely of period-instrument performances by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and Melante Amsterdam, and soloists including Bob van Asperen, Alan Curtis, Anner Bylsma, and Konrad Hünteler. This set focuses significantly on keyboard works (five discs) and concertos (six discs) and touches only lightly on other orchestral music and vocal music (one disc each). There is no ensemble chamber music except for a makeweight oboe sonata on disc 2. So those libraries that want a more comprehensive collection of C.P.E. Bach’s music in a mix of modern- and period-instrument performances should opt for the Brilliant Classics box; those that prefer a cheaper and more selective overview of his oeuvre and prefer period instruments should be very happy with this one.

maraisMarin Marais
Alcione: Suites des Aires à joüer (SACD reissue)
Le Concert des Nations / Jordi Savall
Alia Vox Heritage (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

Recorded and originally issued in 1993 (and reissued once before, on the Astrée label in 2000), this marvelous recording of four instrumental suites from Marin Marais’ opera Alcione is now given a second reissue in Super Audio CD format at full price. The performance and recording are as wonderful as ever, and the music will come as a revelation to anyone who thinks of Marais only as a composer for viols. Those libraries with a collecting interest in the baroque that did not acquire this recording in one of its earlier manifestations should take advantage — though whether the SACD format justifies the full-line pricing in any particular library’s case will be an open question. Those with the equipment needed to take full advantage of the enhanced sound probably shouldn’t hesitate.

handelGeorge Frideric Handel
The Eight Great Suites (2 discs)
Danny Driver
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

If you love the sound of baroque keyboard music on a modern piano (and come on, admit it: you’d rather hear it on a piano than on a harpsichord, at least if you’re going to listen to two 70-minute discs in a sitting), then this is for you. Danny Driver is a relatively young pianist whose recorded repertoire generally tends toward the Romantic era and the 20th century, but here he shows himself to be a remarkably fine interpreter of Handel’s keyboard music. In addition to the eight titular suites, the package also includes suites in C minor (HWV 444) and E minor (HWV 438) and a Chaconne in G major (HWV 435) as makeweights. Very, very nice.

sparrD.J. Sparr
New Music Raleigh; Hexnut; various soloists
Centaur (dist. Naxos)
CRC 3316
Rick’s Pick

Is it a contradiction in terms to characterize music as “gently challenging”? Because that’s the phrase that keeps coming to mind as I listen to this collection of chamber music by guitarist and composer D. J. Sparr. Drawing on both acoustic instruments and, in several cases, electronic tracks and effects, his music is never confrontational (never, in fact, less than conventionally enjoyable) but also never entirely straightforward: the harmonies are generally consonant but the harmonic progressions (such as they are) are not really tonal; the timbres are bright and often airy, but the mood is sometimes unsettled and slightly tense. In short, this is music you can relax to, but only if you don’t listen closely. It’s all quite wonderful.

orejaVarious Composers
La oreja de Zurbarán
Huelgas Ensemble / Paul van Nevel
Cypres (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

The Spanish Catholicism of the 16th century was unusually concerned with mystical experience, with the creation and maintenance of a deeply personal and ineffable connection with the Divine. During this period, the painter Zurburán created many images reflecting this concern, and while that may seem to provide a rather slender reed on which to hang a musical program (it’s not like Zurburán would have been listening to these works on his iPod while painting) any excuse for putting together a program like this one is good enough as far as I’m concerned. Most of the composers represented here are obscure, and their styles vary from a restrained stile antico to a passionate and yearning, almost Gesualdo-esque, fervor. As always, the singing of the Huelgas Ensemble is outstanding. Highly recommended.


goatRP Quartet
Goat Rhythm
Frémeaux & Associés (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
FA 8500

This energetic young French quartet is participating in what is turning out to be a small but exciting new musical fashion: using an instrumental configuration based explicitly on that of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli’s Quintette du Hot Club de France (multiple guitars, violin, bass), they’re taking 1930s-style Gypsy jazz and twisting it to their own ends — not refuting the tradition, by any means, but firmly if gently expanding it. Here the expansion is less a matter of style than of repertoire, which is taken largely from the margins of the standards book: Thelonious Monk’s “Played Twice,” Charles Mingus’s “Fables of Faubus,” Leonard Bernstein’s “Jet Song,” etc. A small horn section lends an added frisson of innovation to this band’s sound on several tracks. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.

mesengerGerald Beckett
The Messenger
Summit (dist. Allegro)
DCD 628

On this album, flutist Gerald Beckett delivers a nicely varied set of standard, modern, and original tunes in quintet and sextet arrangements that are so tight and carefully crafted that at times they threaten to sound a bit too smooth — but Beckett’s powerful sense of swing saves them, especially during the ensemble passages. I occasionally wish that the phrasing during his solos was a bit less choppy, but his tone occupies a perfect space between jazzy breathiness and classical density, and he flies nicely on “Tempus Fugit.” His bass flute playing on the Duke Pearson tune “Idle Moments” is especially cool. Recommended.

hofmannHolly Hofmann
Low Life: The Alto Flute Project
Rick’s Pick

Here’s a jazz flute album to which I find myself returning over and over again. On this one, Holly Hofmann focuses on the alto flute (a longer and lower-pitched instrument than the C flute you typically see in an orchestra) and sets out to make an album that works as both a substantial jazz statement and a vehicle of pure sonic pleasure. She succeeds admirably on both counts, delivering a program of ballads and midtempo tunes (one of them original) that constantly pleases but also demonstrates her absolute mastery of a very difficult art: that of making full expressive use of an instrument whose ranges of tone, timbre, and pitch are unusually constrained. This album could be used as a master class in both technique and musicianship and is very strongly recommended to all jazz collections.

ribotMarc Ribot Trio
Live at the Village Vanguard
Pi (dist. Nail/Allegro)

Guitarist Marc Ribot will be familiar to fans of the downtown New York scene (and of such disparate artists as Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, and David Sylvian, to whose projects he has contributed his uniquely crotchety, clunky, and brilliant guitar style), but most have probably never heard him in a standard jazz trio format like this. Not that there’s anything “standard” about the sounds he makes here, alongside bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor. They take two John Coltrane tunes, two Albert Ayler tunes, and two of the hoariest chestnuts in the jazz repertoire (“Old Man River” and “I’m Confessin’ [That I Love You]”) on excursions that no one except maybe Ayler might have anticipated. Alternately skronky and reflective, this set is really quite amazing.

viperViper Mad Trio
Buddy Bolden’s Blues
Sound of New Orleans

If you think a trio consisting of guitar/vocal, trumpet, and bass sounds like a recipe for dry, anemic, or boring jazz — and I confess that my own expectations would run in that direction — think again. Drawing on traditional and hot jazz, jump blues, and classic American Songbook material and delivering the songs in a variant on that classically chirpy, Betty-Boop vocal style, guitarist/singer Molly Reeves and her crew make music that is simultaneously gentle and powerfully swinging. Imagine the Squirrel Nut Zippers in a parlor configuration, with more soul and zero postpunk-hipster zaniness. Very cool.

saftJamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte
The New Standard

What’s unusual about this album is that it’s a really quite straightforward jazz trio release from a label that is normally much more given to sonic experimentation and whose mission is to “present a platform to musicians and listeners alike who think beyond musical boundaries of genre.” This album fits about as snugly into the straight-ahead jazz genre as an Oscar Peterson album — not that there’s anything at all wrong with that. In fact, it’s a very fine album: joined by the spectacular rhythm section of bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte, pianist/organist Jamie Saft delivers a ten-tune, all-original program (three of the tracks are credited to all three musicians) that consists mainly of very lovely and conventional piano jazz. When he switches to organ on “Clearing” and “Blue Shuffle,” the mood gets more soulful — another couple of tracks in this mode would have been nice. But all of it is excellent.

cobbJimmy Cobb
The Original Mob
Smoke Sessions (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

This is a reunion album, one that brings together legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb (you may recognize his name from the credits on Miles Davis’ Almost Blue, as well as from dozens of other classic albums led by the likes of John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, and Wynton Kelly) with three of his former students, all of whom are now established masters: guitarist Peter Bernstein, pianist Brad Mehldau, and bassist John Webber. They first began playing together as Cobb’s Mob, and are reunited here for this brilliant set of originals and standards. Their tightness is extraordinary (listen to the subtly complex intro to Mehldau’s “Unrequited”) as is the warmth of their interplay, and their approach to these tunes is simultaneously straight-ahead and refreshingly modern-sounding. This is one of the two or three best new jazz albums I’ve heard this year.


seegerPete Seeger
Sing Out America!: The Best of Pete Seeger (2 discs)
Dynamic (dist. MVD)
DYN 4931

The death of Pete Seeger earlier this year left a yawning and painful hole in the American folk music firmament. (Anyone interested can see my conflicted but loving tribute to the man here.) While compilations and best-ofs exist in profusion, this 50-track retrospective may offer the most comprehensive overview of his legacy, with tracks from his work with the Almanac Singers and the Weavers as well as a wealth of the solo material that represents the bulk of his recordings. The quality of the source recordings varies, and most of his more controversial political material is excluded (there are a couple of union songs, but none of the Almanac Singers’ songs criticizing America’s involvement in WWII), but all of the favorites are here and a good number of obscurities as well. Recommend to all collections that need an affordable overview of the work of this beloved and important artist.

willBob Wills and His Texas Playboys
The Lost Transcriptions for Tiffany Music, 1946-1947 (2 discs)
Real Gone Music
Rick’s Pick

Fans and collectors of western swing music will remember with great fondness the rediscovery, back in the 1980s, of hundreds of Bob Wills recordings originally made in the 1940s for radio broadcast. These were reissed on a series of LPs on the Kaleidoscope label, then reissued on ten CDs in the 1990s. Now comes another set containing 50 more songs from that same two-year batch of recordings, none of them previously issued. The sound quality is amazing, and the music is as great as you’d expect. Best of all, little to no space is taken up by overworked chestnuts: no “San Antonio Rose,” no “Oklahoma Hills.” No country music collection and no comprehensive popular music collection should be without these marvelous historic recordings.

fordAnnie Ford Band
Annie Ford Band
No cat. no.

This one grew on me. Equal parts alt-Americana and acoustic honky tonk country leavened with occasional incursions into electric country blues (in one case with a horn section!), this debut album from Seattle mainstay fiddler Annie Ford is a charmingly rough-edged winner. Ford’s voice is fully capable both of despairing country laments and full-throated rockers, but it’s at its best on the slow numbers, especially those that feature Olie Eshleman’s haunted-motel steel guitar. Recommended to all country collections.

barleyVarious Artists
The Barley Mow (CD & DVD)
Rick’s Pick

As part of the Topic label’s Voice of the People series, this album brings together field recordings made in the 1950s by Peter Kennedy in Suffolk, England. In this case, “field” means “pub,” which was then and still probably is the best place to hear and learn traditional songs and tunes in the British Isles. The sound quality is surprisingly good, the singing is amateur but skillful, and the DVD that accompanies the CD is priceless: it presents about a half hour of roughly-edited footage of singing and step dancing inside a tiny Suffolk pub, and the thick booklet accompanying the whole package includes not only full lyrics, but also transcriptions of the interstitial comments by participants. An essential addition to any ethnomusicology collection and to comprehensive folk music collections.

willisKelly Willis & Bruce Robison
Our Year

Here’s another great album from the husband-and-wife team of Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison. She is perhaps the better-known public name (having started making hit country records in 1999), while his fame is more concentrated in the professional songwriter community. Together they make tough, straightforward Texas-flavored country music that features solid hooks galore and sweet vocal harmonies. Highlights on this album include dynamite covers of “(Just Enough to Keep Me) Hangin’ On” and “Harper Valley PTA” as well as originals like the waltz-time weeper “Carousel” and the honky-tonking “Lonely for You.” Very nice indeed.


pineiroSean Piñeiro
Saved Once Twice
Rick’s Pick

Back in the early days of hip hop and electronica, many in the rock music establishment were quick to dismiss the use of samples (brief snippets of existing recordings that were used as the basis for new grooves and songs) as evidence of a lack of originality, or as simple thievery. And while it’s true that sample-based music can be stultifyingly derivative, it’s equally true that in the hands of a unique talent it can be bracingly original. For proof of that proposition, look no further than the debut album from Sean Piñeiro — a formally-trained composer and sharp-eared musical gatherer who layers and shapes sounds taken from all over the sonic environment and turns them into grooves that are by turns dense, light, dark, funky, and microscopically detailed. Listen as hard as you want — the music just gets more interesting the more closely you examine it. Here’s hoping for more very soon from this major new arrival on the electronic music scene.

schoolSchool of Language
Old Fears
Memphis Industries (dist. Redeye)

David Lewis (of Field Music) has been recording on his own, sporadically, since 2008 as School of Language. His style is simultaneously familiar and weird: there’s a dry, uptight feel to his arrangements, and elements of guitar pop and electro are always kind of jostling for position. The hooks are subtle, and sometimes only barely there, but at the same time I find that I never get bored. Maybe it’s partly because of his unique way with a sample or a guitar part, maybe partly because I find his voice both weird and captivating. Maybe you will too. (Simultaneously with the release of this new album, his 2008 solo debut, titled Sea from Shore, was reissued on the Thrill Jockey label.)

Blondie 4(0)-Ever: Greatest Hits Deluxe Redux/Ghosts of Download (2 discs)
Five-Seven Music
NBL 500-2

Here’s one of the stranger (and more awkwardly-titled) packages I’ve seen in a while. It consists of two separate albums, packaged separately but sleeved together. The first is yet another Blondie greatest-hits album, but with a difference this time: classic songs like “Tide Is High,” “Heart of Glass,” and “Call Me” have been fully re-recorded (shades of Gang of Four’s Return the Gift). It’s perfectly fine, but doesn’t shed any new light on this familiar material (also shades of Gang of Four’s Return the Gift). The second disc is a genuinely new album of genuinely new songs, and it’s terrific: sassy, smart, sexy, and filled with cameo appearances by the likes of Systema Solar and Los Rakas. Since the whole schmear lists at single-disc price, it ends up being a great deal. It’s wonderful to hear Debbie Harry and her crew continuing to produce top-notch late-1970s power pop.

bozooBoozoo Bajou
Apollo (dist. Redeye)

The interior album art shows Peter Heider and Florian Seyberth (who, together, record as Boozoo Bajou) paddling a rowboat across a winter lake bounded by sheer, snowy clffs. The photos are in black and white, and they convey an image of stillness and frigid beauty. They also offer a good preview of what to expect musically on this, the duo’s fourth album. Where previously they have blended elements of Cajun, hip hop, jazz, reggae, and electronic music into their projects; here they dive deep into Lake Ambient. The music isn’t exactly electronic — much of the source material is analog, some of it acoustic — but their treatments of those sources are lushly atmospheric, dubby, and ethereal. Sometimes there are beats, but barely. I’d call this one the best chillout albums I’ve heard in years.


I’m a sucker for a good dream-pop album, and this one — actually a five-track EP rather than a full-length album — offers plenty of what we dream-pop lovers love: gauzy atmospherics, delicate female vocals, shimmering guitars, and hooks that are based as much in texture as in melody. Traditionally the lyrics should be borderline unintelligible, and DWNTWN do not disappoint in that regard — or in any other. Very, very nice.

koenKoen Holtkamp
Motion: Connected Works (2 discs)
Thrill Jockey (dist. Redeye)

Using a variety of analog, digital, and acoustic sound sources, Koen Holtkamp creates electronic music that draws heavily on the traditions of ambient techno, Frippertronics, and classical minimalism: pulsing, repetitive structures move in and out of phase and sometimes create a static bed out of which a single instrumental voice will emerge to make some kind of statement before being reabsorbed into the collective. At other times the basis for the tune is little more than a drone. The keyboards generally have a cheap, Casiotone quality to them, which can be charming but over the course of two discs gets maybe just a bit tiresome. The material on this retrospective set is drawn from four previously-released albums; none of it is new or exclusive. As an overview of Holtkamp’s generally interesting work, this is a very worthwhile set.

Leave a Light On

Long the pride of Reno, NV’s punk rock scene, Kevin Seconds and his band 7Seconds are back after a nine-year hiatus with another blast of hardcore and pop punk niceness. Middle-aged men tend to have a different take on the traditional lyrical themes of old-school punk (notice the album title), but nothing has changed about 7Seconds’ tight, hard-charging sound. And there are even some standard-issue scene anthems, like “Slogan on a Shirt” and “Stand by Yourself.” (And no, “Someday, Some Way” is not a Marshall Crenshaw cover.) Highly recommended to any library serving a population of aging punk rockers or their curious kids.


dubcatchDJ Vadim
BBE (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Most hip hop DJs harbor a fascination with dancehall reggae — some of them keep it hidden, others don’t. Anglo-Russian DJ Vadim has never made a secret of his (having toured in support of artists like Fast Freddy’s Drop, Anthony B, Capelton, and Macka B) but this is his first full-on reggae album, and it’s a gem. The flavors vary from roots to dancehall to bashment, and featured vocalists include Demolition Man, Gappy Ranks, Jamalski, Katrina Blackstone and many others. The grooves are dark and heavyweight but infectiously joyful at the same time. This one is an unalloyed triumph and an essential purchase for all pop music collections.

grassrootsVarious Artists
Grassroots: United Over Ukraine (2 discs)
Grassroots/Triple Vision
No cat. no.

Although the music itself has no obvious connection to Ukrainian traditions — it consists mainly of fairly minimalist techno, dub, and ambient electronica — this two-disc set may well be of interest to area studies collections. The album is conceived as a fundraiser to support victims of the violence in Ukraine; the first disc consists of work by Ukrainian producers and musicians, and the second contains music by non-Ukrainians who have worked or performed in that country. While there is nothing explicitly political about the music here, there is a dark sense of urgency and tension to much of it, and all of it is well worth hearing. (For those interested, the label is also conducting a Kickstarter campaign to fund a vinyl release.)

roleVarious Artists
Rolê: New Sounds of Brazil (2 discs)
Mais Um Discos (dist. Forced Exposure)
Rick’s Pick

Brazil is a huge and breathtakingly diverse country, so it should come as no surprise that it takes two densely-packed discs to provide anything like a comprehensive overview of its current music scene. And if there’s one thing you take away from this 43-track collection, it’s the distinct impression that you’ve barely scratched the surface. The album’s content is drawn from all over the country, and you’ll hear everything from guitar-based indie-rock and “bossa punk” to weird mutations of regional genres like brega, axé, and frevo, and from quiet acoustic ballads to straight-up club bangers. Any library with a collecting interest in South American music should jump at the chance to pick up this very valuable (and fun) survey.

Eyes Wide
No cat. no.

The press materials describe Karikatura as making music “where cumbia meets hip-hop, reggae meets klezmer and indie-rock meets Afrobeat.” Yup, that about sums it up: rippling and multilayered Latin rhythms suddenly give way to strutting ska, the line between singing and rapping gets blurred, horn lines are sometimes brassily Mariachi-esque and sometimes snakily sweet-and-sour in that uniquely klezmer way. Karikatura offers further evidence in support of the proposition that stylistic purity is way, way overrated.

blackBlack Bazar
Round 2
Lusafrica (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

I’m not sure why this brilliant Congolese group continues to be hailed as “the new masters of African ambient” — their sound is densely complex, multilayered, bouncy, exuberant, and utterly danceable. In short, it’s almost as far from “ambient” as it’s possible to get. So don’t cue this one up expecting to relax: expect, instead, to thrill to the sweetly tuneful vocals, the rippling rhythms, and the coruscating guitars — just as you did last time. Strongly recommended to all library collections.


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