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March 2015


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

turreSteve Turre
Smoke Sessions (dist. Harmonia Mundi and Allegro)

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

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

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

davisJon Davis
Moving Right Along

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

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

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


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

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

gerrardAlice Gerrard
Follow the Music
Tompkins Square
TSQ 5050

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

joneswynetteGeorge Jones and Tammy Wynette
Songs of Inspiration
Real Gone Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

pandaMy Panda Shall Fly
Project Mooncircle
Rick’s Pick

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

tonMichael Lewicki
Ton (vinyl and download only)
Project Mooncircle

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


brahemAnouar Brahem
Souvenance (2 discs)
Rick’s Pick

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

dubsyndDub Syndicate
Hard Food
Echo Beach
Rick’s Pick

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

Wake Up Music
No cat. no.

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

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

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

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

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

skintsThe Skints
Easy Star/Penny Drop
Rick’s Pick

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

February 2015


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


mcphersCharles McPherson
The Journey
Capri (dist. Town Hall)

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

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

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

roomNels Cline & Julian Lage
Mack Avenue/Cryptogramophone

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

yavuzBasak Yavuz
Z Müzik Yapim

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

mazeBogna Kicinska
The Maze
Surca Music

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

Clairaudience (reissue; download only)
Electric Cowbell

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


elanaElana James
Black Beauty
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

cantyCaitlin Canty
Reckless Skyline
No cat. no.

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

earleSteve Earle
New West

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

cassieCassie & Maggie MacDonald
Sterling Road
CMM 002

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


shikariEnter Shikari
The Mindsweep
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

waypointVarious Artists

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

bourbBourbonese Qualk
Mannequin (dist. Forced Exposure)
MNQ 061

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


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

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

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

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

sylfordSylford Walker
Time Has Come
No cat. no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

kasseKassé Mady Diabaté
Six Degrees

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

January 2015


stringsBilly Strings & Don Julin
Fiddle Tune X
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

From the moment I heard the barnburning version of “Beaumont Rag” that opens this album, I knew it was going to get a Rick’s Pick — not because they played it fast (though they did) or because the solos were technically astounding (though they were) but because these two guys make some of the most thrilling note choices I’ve heard since Tony Rice’s early recordings, and they play with an intensity I haven’t heard since I saw Enter Shikari play on the Warped Tour. (Not for nothing have these guys been characterized as “the unholy child of Pantera and Tony Rice.”) By the time I got to the fifth track I knew it was going to be the Pick of the Month for January. Fiddle Tune X is a collection of live and studio tracks recorded in a wide variety of situations, including a make-your-own-record booth in Nashville, and it includes vocal and instrumental tunes both traditional and original. 22-year-old Billy Strings plays guitar and sings lead (gorgeously) and Don Julin plays mandolin and sings tenor, and they both wear suits and ties, but don’t expect anything like a Blue Sky Boys album; this music is to the pre-bluegrass brother duet tradition as the Clash was to ABBA, except much more respectful and affectionate. As soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to their website to find out when they might be coming to Salt Lake City, and when they do, I’m going to bring my teenage son.


perconcertoVarious Composers
… e per Concerto di Viole
Accademia Strumentale Italiana
Divox (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

forquerayJean Baptiste Antoine Forqueray; Antoine Forqueray
Le Diable
Vittorio Ghielmi; Rodney Prada; Luca Pianca; Lorenzo Ghielmi
Passacaille (dist. Naxos)

Here are two very different collections of works for the viola da gamba. The first is a collection of 16th- and 17th-century consort music for viols by European composers both famous (Bach, Frescobaldi) and more obscure (Gussago, Goberday). These are stellar examples of the art of writing for consorts of viols from when that art was at its peak of popularity, and the playing of Accademia Strumentale Italiana is absolutely wonderful, as is the production quality: making viols sound good can be a challenge for sound engineers, and Michael Seberish has done a masterful job here, keeping the midrange rich and satisfying without sacrificing the gut strings’ crispy edges. The second disc consists of 18th-century works for solo and multiple viols with continuo by members of the Forqueray family. This is the first volume in a projected series of the complete works by that family for the instrument, and it’s (for obvious reasons) a much more French and much more high-baroque affair, consisting of three suites of dance movements featuring viol or viols accompanied by archlute and harpsichord. Here the sound is a bit more vinegary, and the playing more sprightly and, well, French. Put on your powdered wig, stick a beauty mark to the corner of your mouth, and make eyes at someone while you listen to this one.

mertzJohann Kaspar Mertz
Guitar Duets
Johannes Möller; Laura Fraticelli
Rick’s Pick

Johann Kaspar Mertz was one of the 19th century’s finest composers for the guitar, and gained notoriety in part for writing duets that feature both a conventional guitar and a terz, a shorter-necked instrument with a higher pitch. His style was romantic and at times programmatic, as is illustrated here by the loping “Vespergang” and the unsettled “La Rage.” What grabbed my attention most forcefully, though, was the sweet melancholy of “Wasserfahrt am Traunsee,” a heart-tuggingly lovely invocation of a quiet river excursion. The playing of Johannes Möller and Laura Fraticelli is exquisite throughout. This is one of the loveliest albums I’ve heard in 2014, in any genre.

glassPhilip Glass
The Complete Piano Etudes (2 discs)
Maki Namekawa
Orange Mountain Music (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
OMM 098

Philip Glass’s twenty piano etudes were written in two stages: the first ten were written over a period of about a decade, between the mid-1990s and 2003, and were intended partly to help him expand his pianistic ability. The second set of etudes was written during the following decade and, in Glass’s words, are “about the language of music itself — developing new strategies regarding rhythmic and harmonic movement.” Those familiar with his work will recognize his style immediately: although he has expanded his gestural and harmonic palette quite a bit, the repeating arpeggios and characteristic chord changes are still there. Pianist Maki Namekawa gives these pieces a skillful and committed performance.

chantAnonymous; Guillaume Dufay
Chant: Missa Latina
Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz; Ensemble Vox Gotica
Obsculta Music (dist. Naxos)
OM 0002

This is mostly an album of Gregorian chant, as performed by the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz in Austria. The program includes two full Masses, the first a Gregorian Mass and the second a Missa sine nomine by Guillaume Dufay, one of the earliest such “unnamed” Masses on record. It ends with three hymns, one of them also by Dufay. The polyphonic Mass and the hymns are performed by the all-male Vox Gotica ensemble, and the contrast between the contemplative plainchant and the slightly reedy, open harmonies of Dufay’s polyphony (as well as that between the vocal timbres of the two ensembles) is quite striking. Recommended to all early music collections.

a1958738671_10Jake Schepps Quintet
Fine Mighty

Jake Schepps is a banjo player, and the rest of his quintet consists of mandolin, violin, guitar, and bass. So you may well ask: in what way is this a classical album? There are two answers to that question: one is that three of the four pieces performed on this album were composed for this ensemble by contemporary classical composers (Marc Mellits, Matt McBane, Gyan Riley). Another answer is: what is classical music anyway? We’ll discuss that later. Maybe. In the meantime, any library that supports a composition program should seriously consider acquiring this disc, which shows how thoughtful, complex, and attractive fully-composed music for string band can be. (For another good example, see Schepps’ previous album, which consisted of similarly-orchestrated arrangements of music by Béla Bartók.)

greeneMaurice Greene
Baroque Band; David Schrader / Garry Clarke
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 152
Rick’s Pick

I know what you’re thinking, because it’s what I was thinking too: “Maurice who?” So here’s the deal: Greene is yet another example of a baroque composer who was popular and well-regarded in his time but is little known today. (When he’s remembered at all, it’s mainly for his choral music.) Listening to this wonderful program of overtures and harpsichord etudes, I immediately thought of William Boyce, another often-overlooked English composer of the 18th century with a similar melodic gift. Given the obscurity of this music, this disc is a must-have for any classical collection, but it’s also simply a pure joy to listen to.

starkW.A. Mozart/Robert Stark
Quintets, Serenade, Dances for Clarinet Quartet and Quintet
Stark Ensemble
Gallo (dist. Albany)

The Stark Ensemble is named for clarinetist and pedagogue Robert Stark, who was influential as both a teacher and a clarinet system designer in 19th-century Germany. This disc presents a very attractive program of Stark’s arrangements of various pieces by Mozart for clarinet quartet and quintet. Some of them are quite familiar — the andante movement from Eine kleine Nachtmusik, for example — but all are given fresh-sounding and insightful performances by the Italian ensemble that takes its name from the arranger. Highly recommended to collections serving woodwind and orchestration programs.

courtsVarious Composers
Courts of Heaven: Music from the Eton Choirbook, Vol. 3
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford / Stephen Darlington
Avie (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

When it comes to 15th-century polyphonic choral music, it’s the Franco-Flemish masters who tend to get all the attention — and with good reason. But this brilliant series of recordings by the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, drawing on material from the Eton Choirbook, is showing powerfully how much great music was being written by English composers at the same time, some of them quite obscure. The third volume in the series features Marian compositions by John Hampton, Edmund Turges, Richard Fawkyner, John Browne, and Robert Wylkynson; we don’t even know when some of these men were born or died, but the music they left us is absolutely stunning, as is the singing by this first-rate choir. Highly recommended to all collections.


kauflinJustin Kauflin
Jazz Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

This is a truly lovely sophomore effort by 28-year old pianist and composer Justin Kauflin, who has gained additional attention lately for his role in a recent documentation about legendary trumpeter/pedagogue Clark Terry. The film (Keep on Keepin’ On) focuses on Terry’s work as a teacher as he helps Kauflin prepare for an international competition. While Terry doesn’t appear on this album, his influence is everywhere, particularly in Kauflin’s choice to make this an album more about tunes and arrangements than about solos. Alternating between trio and quartet formats, he delivers a beautiful program that reveals him to be not only a strikingly gifted pianist, but also a composer of rare skill. Recommended to all jazz collections.

abbasiRez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet
Intents and Purposes
Enja (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

If you’re like me, one of the things that irritates you about 1970s-era jazz-rock fusion is the frequent overproduction, which often came across as an attempt to gussy up the sonics while at the same time dumbing-down the music itself. For this fascinating and brilliant album, guitarist Rez Abbasi takes a handful of classics of the fusion genre and strips away all that stuff, performing them with an acoustic quartet (guitar, vibes, bass, drums) and revealing several of them (notably Weather Report’s “Black Market” and Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly”) to have quite a bit more substance than we might have suspected at the time. On a few tracks Abbasi plays a fretless guitar, which adds a strange and kind of nifty timbral dimension to the group’s already unique sound. A must for all jazz collections.

friesenDavid Friesen Circle 3 Trio
Where the Light Falls (2 discs)
Origin (dist. City Hall)

Joined by pianist Greg Goebel and drummer Charlie Doggett, legendary bassist/composer David Friesen presents here a two-disc set of live and studio recordings comprised entirely of originals, all of them in a generally straight-ahead but harmonically adventurous style. Guitarist Larry Koonse pitches in on about half of the tracks as well, and those are some of the most enjoyable — though the whole album is great. Friesen’s backup playing is especially well worth paying attention to; he walks with the best of them, but frequently digresses into syncopated passages that manage brilliantly to be fascinating without drawing undue attention to themselves.

bluepepperEchoes of Swing
Blue Pepper
ACT Music (dist. Allegro)

Here’s what makes Echoes of Swing such a great band: while devoted to the traditions of pre-bop jazz, they don’t try slavishly to imitate that music. Instead, they absorb those traditions and let them emerge in arrangements and original compositions that are deeply informed by the swing verities but still sound fresh and new. This release is a concept album of sorts, focusing on tunes new and old with the word “blue” in the title, including the Duke Ellington classic for which the album is named, Sidney Bechet’s rollicking “Black Stick Blues,” and saxophonist Chris Hopkins’ (surprisingly boppish) original “Blues & Naughty.” This is another fine effort from one of Europe’s truly great small jazz ensembles.

greenDanny Green Trio
After the Calm
OA2 (dist. City Hall)
Rick’s Pick

Having raved about Danny Green’s last album a couple of years ago, I’m now back to rave about his new one. As before, Green leads a trio that (in terms of tightness and communication) seems to share a single brain, though one with multiple creative lobes. Bassist Justin Grinnell is especially impressive here, delivering multiple solos that are worth listening to — and as a bassist myself, I can tell you that that’s not faint praise. Green’s original compositions continue to impress and his arrangements continue to be amazing both for their complexity and their musicality. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.

getzStan Getz Quartet
Live in Düsseldorf 1960
Jazzline (dist. Allegro)
N 77 016

For a long time, it’s been fashionable in sophisticated jazz circles to bag on the “Cool” period, which emerged in the 1950s on the West Coast and was, to some degree, a reaction to primacy of East Coast bebop during the mid- to late 1940s. Now, bop has no greater fan than me, but to those who turn up their noses at The Cool, I have this to say: give me a break. More to the point, listen to this fantastic live Stan Getz recording from 1960 and try to tell me that there’s less substance here than there is in a Dizzy Gillespie or Thelonious Monk album from 1948. (Notice that I didn’t say Charlie Parker; the comparison isn’t fair.) This album would make a fine addition to any jazz collection.


ickesRob Ickes & Trey Hensley
Before the Sun Goes Down
7 4639 2

Slide guitarist Rob Ickes and singer/guitarist Trey Hensley have united to make a thoroughly delightful album of bluegrass, honky-tonk and Western swing classics written by the likes of Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver, Bob Wills, and Flatt & Scruggs (plus, as a ringer, a version of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s modern-blues classic “Pride and Joy”). Ickes’ Dobro and pedal steel are featured prominently throughout, but the jewel in this setting is Hensley’s singing — I’m not sure there’s anyone alive who interprets Haggard’s songs more convincingly, and the richness of his voice is a consistent pleasure. Also impressive is the duo’s facility with such a wide variety of country subgenres. Highly recommended.

sweetThe Sweet Lowdown
Chasing the Sun

When you see an ensemble of fiddle, guitar, and banjo, you naturally expect to hear old-timey music. That is not what you get with the Sweet Lowdown. Instead, these three Canadiennes play mostly original music in a modern-folk-with-a-hint-of-string-band style, singing in tight and sweet harmony and only occasionally dipping into what might be regarded as straight-up old-timeyness. Banjoist Shanti Bremer alternates between clawhammer and bluegrass techniques, which broadens the trio’s stylistic range that much further — but what will really knock you out is the singing; these three women’s voices blend like honey from three different kinds of flowers. Great stuff.

mastersVarious Artists
Masters of Their Craft
Tara Music

The Tara label has been a major force in traditional Irish music for four decades now, and during that time the concept of “traditional Irish music” has broadened somewhat, and the label’s stylistic range has done the same. This very handy and enjoyable compilation reflects that: it features such familiar names as Clannad, Planxty, Christy Moore, and Davy Spillane, but the sounds you’ll hear range from the strictly traditional to the quite rockish (with occasional side excursions into Uillean-pipe bluegrass and Balkan dance rhythms). One or two tracks strike me as a bit goofy (Stockton’s Wing is not very convincing as a reggae band, for example), but if your library can use a solid overview of the current state of Irish folk and folk-rock, this album would be tough to beat.

siskJunior Sisk & Ramblers Choice
Trouble Follows Me

At first blush, this is a very traditional and straight-ahead modern bluegrass album from one of the genre’s finest living exponents. Listen harder and it gets subtly more complicated, though: check out the swinging groove of “Don’t Think about It Too Long,” for example, and the honky-tonk undertow that lurks underneath “All I Have to Offer You Is Me.” And track 7 is a Michael Martin Murphey tune. But really, this is par for the course: bluegrass has been absorbing and repurposing elements from all kinds of pop music genres for as long as it’s existed. Junior Sisk and his crew do it as well, and as rewardingly, as anyone, and they do it in a way that won’t risk alienating the purist faithful either. Very nice.


Snakes & Ladders (download only, for now)
Big Dada (dist. Redeye)

Remember grime, the UK-rap subgenre that brought us Dizzee Rascal and the Roll Deep crew, and about which no one (in the States anyway) seems to talk anymore? Nevertheless, original grimester Wiley continues to make great albums that take the ten-year-old tropes of the tradition and make them sound as sharp and relevant as ever — and expand on them as needed. On his fourth album for the foundational Big Dada label he keeps things taut and stripped-down, chatting confidently over dark and bouncy grooves that reflect grime’s filial relationship with drum and bass and its paternal relationship to dubstep (especially on the brilliant “Step 21″). Recommended.

onederfulVarious Artists
The One-derful! Collection: One-derful! Records
Secret Stash
Rick/s Pick

In the 1960s and 1970s, the One-derful label group (which included the Mar-V-Lus, M-Pac, Halo, Midas, and Toddlin’ Town imprints) was one of the most prominent regional purveyors of Chicago funk and soul music. This collection is the first in a projected series of compilations that will bring many of those labels’ long out-of-print recordings back to market, and if this one is any indication of what will come later, it’s going to be an essential series for libraries — not just for the archival value of these recordings, but for the sheer listening and dancing pleasure they’ll provide as well. If you remember McKinley Mitchell, Betty Everett, and the Sharpees from that period, then you’ve been waiting a long time for these tracks to be reissued — and if you don’t remember them, then you badly need to be introduced.

posiesThe Posies
Failure (reissue)

Jonathan Auer and Kenneth Stringfellow may have dressed like Robert Smith of the Cure for the back cover photo, but on their 1988 debut as the Posies they played and sang more like jangle-popsters, their sweet harmonies and acoustic guitars dominating the proceedings. Occasionally (“The Longest Line,” for example) they veer dangerously close to a skiffle sound, but when they get more countryish (“I May Hate You Sometimes”) the result is a bit like a cross between REM and the Mamas and the Papas. Crazy, right? But it doesn’t sound crazy — it sounds cool. Dated, but cool. And there’s nothing wrong with dated these days, anyway.

burntBurnt Friedman with Daniel Dodd-Ellis
Cease to Matter
Nonplace/Groove Attack

Another album from Burnt Friedman means another excursion into microscopically detailed textures, deceptively funky-sounding complex meters, and dubby production techniques, all combined to yield brilliantly colorful and million-faceted soundscapes. Cease to Matter adds another dimension: the spoken words of Daniel Dodd-Ellis, whose contributions are less like song lyrics than like poetry, and less like poetry than word collage. The words come at unexpected intervals and in brief snippets, not always cohering in any obvious way. The total effect is a bit like William Burroughs’ collaborations with Material, though without all the heroin-and-pyramids stuff. Fascinating as always.

legalThe Legal Matters
The Legal Matters

In case you needed to be reminded of the fact that the world always needs more hook-filled, harmony-drenched power pop, here’s the debut album from The Legal Matters, a regional supergroup made up of former members of Midwest mainstays Hippodrome, the Phenomenal Cats, An American Underdog, and Chris Richards & the Subtractions. If (like me) you wish Fastball would hurry up and make another album already, then run out and pick this one up — it will help with the waiting.


amiraAmira Medunjanin
Silk & Stone
World Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

I’m grasping for ways to describe the sound of these traditional sevdah songs by Sarajevan singer Amira Medunjanin. Try to imagine that fado and tango got together and had an illegitimate child, and that the child grew up with an interest in klezmer music. Not helpful? OK, then I give up. Here’s what you need to know, though: Medunjanin’s voice is smoky and soulful, the arrangements are spare and beautiful, and the melodies are hauntingly gorgeous. I’m willing to bet that your library collection is light on sevdalinka, so I’d strongly recommend you pick this one up.

mcleanJean McLean
Sugar Shack
Rick’s Pick

You may not recognize her name, but Jean McLean has been an important figure in UK reggae for thirty years. She was a vocalist for the wonderful Birmingham band Sceptre, but when that group disbanded in 1987 she mostly moved on to other endeavors. Her first solo album finds her working in a style simultaneously informed by the roots-and-culture vibe of her old band and the lovers rock style that was coming into its own in the UK in the 1980s — in fact, the comparison that kept coming to my mind as I listened to this outstanding album was the work of Sandra Cross, though McLean’s lyrics are quite a bit more substantive. Overall, this is an excellent example of modern roots reggae and would make a great addition to any library collection.

esperantoCaptain Planet
Esperanto Slang
Bastard Jazz

Captain Planet characterizes his music as “Gumbo Funk,” but he seems to mean the term in a generic sense (a spicy blend of disparate but complementary flavors) rather than in a New Orleans-specific one. On this raucous pan-cultural party of an album you’ll hear Latin house, heavyweight reggae, Arabic psychedelia, and Afro-samba funkiness, among other less definable stylistic fusions and emulsions. Sometimes collections like this end up offering less than the sum of their parts, but this one is a total blast.

globalVarious Artists
globalFEST Selector

And speaking of wildly multifarious world-music collections, here’s a compilation of tracks from artists that have been championed and promoted by the globalFEST organization over the past ten years. Consisting entirely of previously unreleased music, globalFEST Selector features everything from Siberian folk-rock and diasporic qawwali to desert blues and Arab electronica. Like the Captain Planet album recommended above, this one is a spicy stew of musical diversity and would make a great addition to any world music collection.

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.


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