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August 2014


PICK OF THE MONTH


jarrettKeith Jarrett; Charlie Haden
Last Dance
ECM
2399

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


CLASSICAL


troxCarl Philipp Emanuel Bach; Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach
Rebecca Troxler Plays Flute Music by Sons of Bach (2 discs)
Rebecca Troxler; various accompanists
Albany
TROY1490/91
Rick’s Pick

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


wuorinenCharles Wuorinen
Metagong
Various performers
Albany
TROY1497

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


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

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


glassPhilip Glass
The Dublin Guitar Quartet Performs Philip Glass
Dublin Guitar Quartet
Orange Mountain (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
0092

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


simeronArvo Pärt; Ivan Moody
Stabat Mater; Simeron
Goeyvaerts String Trio; Zsuzsi Tóth; Barnabás Hegyi; Olivier Berten
Challenge Classics (dist. Allegro)
CC72616
Rick’s Pick

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


handelGeorge Frideric Handel
The Triumph of Time & Truth (2 discs)
Various soloists; Ludus Baroque / Richard Neville-Towle
Delphian (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
DCD34135
Rick’s Pick

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


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

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


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

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


JAZZ


bechetSidney Bechet
The Chronological Sidney Bechet, 1937-1938 (reissue)
Classics (dist. Albany)
593

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


helioHelio Parallax
Helio Parallax
M.O.D. Technologies (dist. Redeye)
MOD0014
Rick’s Pick

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


coniglioWayne Coniglio; Scott Whitfield
Fast Friends
Summit
DCD 629

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


hayesLouis Hayes
Return of the Jazz Communicators
Smoke Sessions
SSR-1406
Rick’s Pick

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


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

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


windPhilip Catherine; Martin Wind
New Folks
ACT Music + Vision (dist. Allegro)
9621-2

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


gagnonVincent Gagnon
Tome III — Errances
Effendi (dist. Naxos)
FND132

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


FOLK/COUNTRY


tsistersT Sisters
Kindred Lines
Spruce and Maple Music
SMM 1010

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


sparksLarry Sparks
Lonesome and Then Some…A Classic 50th Celebration
Rebel
REB-CD-1846

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


haasHaas Kowert Tice
You Got This
Self-released
No cat. no.

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


ROCK/POP


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

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


misledMisled Convoy
Tickling the Dragon’s Tail
Dubmission (dist. Allegro)
CDDUBM044

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


darkskyDark Sky
Imagin
Monkeytown
048

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


cabvoltCabaret Voltaire
#7885 (Electropunk to Technopop 1978-1985)
Mute
CABS26CD
Rick’s Pick

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


fieldsLee Fields
Emma Jean
Truth & Soul (dist. Redeye)
TS026

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


soulVarious Artists
Soul Chronology 5: Singing from My Soul (2 discs)
History of Soul (dist. Redeye)
SOUL011

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


enoEno * Hyde
High Life
Warp/Opal (dist. Redeye)
WARPCD256
Rick’s Pick

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


hammockHammock
The Sleepover Series, Volume 1 (reissue)
Hammock Music (dist. Redeye)
CD-HMK-003

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


8bit8-Bit Operators
Tribute to Depeche Mode: Enjoy the Science
Receptors Music
RCP018

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


WORLD/ETHNIC


cumbiaCumbia All Stars
Tigres en Fuga
World Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
450028

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


pacifikaPacifika
Amor Planeta
Six Degrees
1205

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


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

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


shapiroPaul Shapiro
Shofarot Verses
Tzadik
TZA-CD-8185

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


quraishiQuraishi
Mountain Melodies: Rubab Music of Afghanistan
Evergreene Music
EVR 8024

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

July 2014


PICK OF THE MONTH


meshellMeshell Ndegeocello
Comet, Come to Me
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
NV831112

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


CLASSICAL


pagaNiccolo Paganini
24 Capricci (2 discs)
Marina Piccinini
Avie (dist. Allegro)
AV2284
Rick’s Pick

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


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

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


amorosiVarious Composers
Amorosi pensieri: Songs for the Habsburg Court
Cinquecento
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CDA68053

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


brahmsJohannes Brahms; Miklós Rózsa
Clarinet Sonatas
Jean Johnson; Steven Osborne
Avie (dist. Allegro)
AV2311
Rick’s Pick

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


handelGeorge Frideric Handel
Teseo (Highlights)
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra / Nicholas McGegan
Philharmonia Baroque Productions (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
PBP-07

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


ericksonRobert Erickson
Complete String Quartets (2 discs)
Del Sol Quartet
New World (dist. Albany)
80753-2

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


brunettiGaetano Brunetti
String Quartets
Carmen Veneris
Lindoro (dist. Allegro)
NL-3011

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


mozartWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Five Divertimenti–K. 439b–for Two Guitars
Andrew Zohn & Robert Sharpe
Clear Note (dist. Naxos)
74611
Rick’s Pick

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


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

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


JAZZ


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

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


herschFred Hersch Trio
Floating
Palmetto
PM2171
Rick’s Pick

Fred Hersch. New album. Res ipse loquitur.


mostSam Most
New Jazz Standards
Summit
DCD 630
Rick’s Pick

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


giuffreJimmy Giuffre
The Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4: New York Concerts (2 discs)
Elemental
5990425

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


cityJon Hassell
City: Works of Fiction (reissue; 3 discs)
All Saints (dist. Redeye)
WAST008CD
Rick’s Pick

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


windMartin Wind Quartet
Turn Out the Stars
What If? Music (dist. Redeye)
WIM-01

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


FOLK/COUNTRY


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

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


runaRUNA
Current Affairs
RUNA Music
RUNACD004

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


carthyMartin & Eliza Carthy
The Moral of the Elephant
Topic
TSCD587

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


gritMartyn Bennett
Grit (reissue)
Real World
CDRWG114

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


ROCK/POP


applicationApplication
System Fork
Dust Science
41

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


shonenShonen Knife
Overdrive
Good Charamel
5638270089

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


bisBis
Data Panik Etcetera
Do Yourself In (dist. Redeye)
DYI002CD

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


hyperVarious Artists
Hyperdub 10.1 (2 discs)
Hyperdub (dist. Redeye)
CD-HDB-025
Rick’s Pick

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


luckyLucky Peterson
The Son of a Bluesman
Jazz Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
JV570035
Rick’s Pick

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


WORLD/ETHNIC


olaVarious Artists
Olá Cabo Verde
Lusafrica (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
662972

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


anbessaZvuloon Dub System
Anbessa Dub
Med.Tone
P67375

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


skaNeville Staple
Ska Crazy
Cleopatra
CLP 1753

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


bossaBossaCucaNova
Our Kind of Bossa
Six Degrees
361203

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


lemvoRicardo Lemvo & Makina Loca
La Rumba SoYo
Cumbancha
CMB-CD031

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

June 2014


PICK OF THE MONTH


bylsmaLuigi Boccherini
Anner Bylsma Plays Boccherini (reissue; 5 discs)
Anner Bylsma; various ensembles and accompanists
Sony Classical (dist. Naxos)
88697685192

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


CLASSICAL


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


maraisMarin Marais
Alcione: Suites des Aires à joüer (SACD reissue)
Le Concert des Nations / Jordi Savall
Alia Vox Heritage (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
AVSA9903

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


handelGeorge Frideric Handel
The Eight Great Suites (2 discs)
Danny Driver
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CDA68041/2

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


sparrD.J. Sparr
21207
New Music Raleigh; Hexnut; various soloists
Centaur (dist. Naxos)
CRC 3316
Rick’s Pick

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


orejaVarious Composers
La oreja de Zurbarán
Huelgas Ensemble / Paul van Nevel
Cypres (dist. Allegro)
CYP1669
Rick’s Pick

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


JAZZ


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

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


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

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


hofmannHolly Hofmann
Low Life: The Alto Flute Project
Capri
74133
Rick’s Pick

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


ribotMarc Ribot Trio
Live at the Village Vanguard
Pi (dist. Nail/Allegro)
PI53

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


viperViper Mad Trio
Buddy Bolden’s Blues
Sound of New Orleans
SONO-1076

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


saftJamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte
The New Standard
RareNoise
RNR041

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


cobbJimmy Cobb
The Original Mob
Smoke Sessions (dist. Allegro)
SSR-1407
Rick’s Pick

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


FOLK/COUNTRY


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

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


willBob Wills and His Texas Playboys
The Lost Transcriptions for Tiffany Music, 1946-1947 (2 discs)
Real Gone Music
RGM-0244
Rick’s Pick

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


fordAnnie Ford Band
Annie Ford Band
Self-released
No cat. no.

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


barleyVarious Artists
The Barley Mow (CD & DVD)
Topic
TSCD676D
Rick’s Pick

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


willisKelly Willis & Bruce Robison
Our Year
Premium
225593

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


ROCK/POP


pineiroSean Piñeiro
Saved Once Twice
Ki
KI-CD06
Rick’s Pick

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


schoolSchool of Language
Old Fears
Memphis Industries (dist. Redeye)
MI0305CD

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


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

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


bozooBoozoo Bajou
4
Apollo (dist. Redeye)
AMB1404CD

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


dwntwnDWNTWN
DWNTWN
Jullian
JR01

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


koenKoen Holtkamp
Motion: Connected Works (2 discs)
Thrill Jockey (dist. Redeye)
THRILL 362

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


second7Seconds
Leave a Light On
Rise
101162

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


WORLD/ETHNIC


dubcatchDJ Vadim
Dubcatcher
BBE (dist. Redeye)
BBE274ACD
Rick’s Pick

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


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

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


roleVarious Artists
Rolê: New Sounds of Brazil (2 discs)
Mais Um Discos (dist. Forced Exposure)
MAIS 026CD
Rick’s Pick

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


karikaturaKarikatura
Eyes Wide
Ropeadope
No cat. no.

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


blackBlack Bazar
Round 2
Lusafrica (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
662882
Rick’s Pick

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

May 2014

Posted on

PICK OF THE MONTH


CPEBachCarl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Edition (compilation; 30 discs)
Various performers and ensembles
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
94640

2014 marks the tricentenary of C.P.E. Bach’s birth, and has produced the expected bumper crop of celebratory releases (watch for coverage of another boxed set next month). But none so far matches this monumental and budget-priced compilation of previously-issued material. Its 30 discs do not contain the entirety of Bach’s output as a composer, but there is as much here as most library collections could possibly need: three discs’ worth of symphonies, six of concertos, six of ensemble chamber music, six of sacred vocal music (including both songs and oratorios), and nine of keyboard works. The soloists and ensembles include the Kammerorchester ‘C.P.E. Bach,’ Musica Amphion, the Scottish Ensemble, the Rheinische Kantorei, Pieter-Jan Belder, Andrea Chezzi, and Collegium Pro Musica, some of whom play on modern and some on period instruments. As is usually the case with this kind of collection, some of the recordings are quite old — a few date from the mid-1980s — but most were made within the last three years. The performances are very good, the music is a consistent delight, and my only quibble is with the packaging: the box itself is a bit too big for a clamshell design, and the accompanying information is inexcusably thin: an eleven-page booklet provides very general information about C.P.E. Bach’s work and hardly any detail about any of the individual pieces. There is no information at all about the performers and ensembles beyond their names on the back of each individual disc sleeve. (A somewhat more detailed 32-page version of the booklet, including all sung texts, is available online — but why no further details about the performers, and why not include this version in the box?) Still, the quality and significance of this music, the bargain-line price, and the convenience of having so much excellent music in such a small package make this set a must-have for all classical collections.


CLASSICAL


haydnJohann Michael Haydn
Complete Wind Concertos, Vol. 1
Salzburger Hofmusik / Wolfgang Brunner
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 781-2

The acid test for any period-instrument recording of a wind concertos collection like this is always the horn concerto: modern French horns are notorious for the technical demands they place on their players, and the natural (i.e. valveless) horns of the 18th century are far worse: even when played expertly they often sound watery and unstable. In this case, soloist Johannes Hinterholzer acquits himself admirably on the piece presented here, though the tension is audible. The concertos for clarinet, trombone, flute, and trumpet are less stressful, and the Salzburger Hofmusik chamber orchestra is wonderful throughout. And, of course, this disc is recommendable simply because it brings more attention to the work of Franz Josef Haydn’s brilliant but underrecognized younger brother. Recommended to all classical collections.


tavenerJohn Tavener
Ikon of Light (reissue)
The Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips
Gimell (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
GIMSE 404

The death in late 2013 of John Tavener has, inevitably, prompted renewed interest in his music. This disc brings together two previously-issued recordings of Tavener’s music made by the Tallis Scholars: Ikon of Light was commissioned by the group and this performance (along with the shimmeringly lovely Funeral Ikos and The Lamb) was originally recorded in 1984; for this reissue, the program is augmented by a 1982 recording of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. The lyrical content and compositional style of these pieces reflect Tavener’s conversion to Orthodox Christianity, and constitute a mini-movement in the mid-1980s that came to be called “sacred minimalism” (the other great exponent of which is Arvo Pärt). Tavener has a strong cult following, and any library that does not own the original release of Ikon of Light should seriously consider picking up this reissue.


hoopesFelix Mendelssohn; John Adams
Violin Concertos
Chad Hoopes; MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra / Kristjan Järvi
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
V 5368

Here’s an interesting pairing: Mendelssohn’s second violin concerto (a pillar of the Romantic repertoire, the third movement of which is built on one of the most familiar and beloved melodies of the 19th century) alongside John Adam’s spikily modernist late-20th-century violin concerto. The program makes more sense when you realize that part of the point is to establish the impressive stylistic range of 19-year-old violin virtuoso Chad Hoopes, who is just as convincing delivering the swooning emotional immediacy of Mendelssohn as the sharp intellectualism of the Adams. His playing is indeed remarkable, and the album as a whole is deeply satisfying. Recommended to all classical collections.


shiuKawai Shiu
For Loss
Ablaze (dist. Albany)
ar-00012

So I have to say that in general, I’m not a huge fan of conceptual art. It’s not that I object to it in principle; it’s just that I usually find that the more important the concept behind the art is, the less important will be the aesthetic impact of the art, and the result is usually art that is ideologically tendentious and ultimately boring. This applies whether the art in question is visual or musical. Kawai Shiu’s work for “prepared condemned piano” is deeply conceptual in nature — it was written in the wake of the 2011 Japanese tsunami and is designed both as a “contemplation of horror and tragedy” and as a symbolic act, using a partially-destroyed piano prepared with mechanical treatments in the style of John Cage — but it’s also sonically interesting and engaging. Using a variety of percussive, bowed, and conventional keyboard techniques, Shiu coaxes a huge range of sounds from his instrument and effectively communicates a sense of loss and tragedy while also making music that is both intellectually and aesthetically engaging.


clementiMuzio Clementi
Piano Sonatas
Ian Hominick
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)

Muzio Clementi is one of those composers everyone has heard of (everyone who ever took a piano lesson, anyway), but relatively few have really listened to. He remains most famous as a pedagogue, but his compositions are complex, demanding, and often startlingly beautiful, and exemplify the best of the classical style. Ian Hominick is a powerful advocate for these sonatas, which he plays on a modern Steinway. The recorded sound is rich and clear, perfect for these jewel-like pieces.


wagnerRichard Wagner; J. Peter Schwalm
Wagner Transformed
Intergroove Classics (dist. Allegro)
IGC012-2

As someone who has never found most of Wagner’s music listenable, I was intrigued by the title of this album. And indeed, it’s really pretty fascinating: instrumental selections from the operas Parsifal, Tristan & Isolde, Tannhäuser, and Der Ring des Nibelungen are reimagined and remixed using a variety of acoustic and electronic instruments. Sometimes you hear only a solo acoustic piano; at other times you hear radically abstracted electronic soundscapes whose relationship to the source material is difficult to detect. Throughout the program, the mood is fairly gentle, though at certain points it is disquietingly dark and eerie. This is a fascinating take on the work of one of classical music’s most difficult geniuses.


beckFranz Ignaz Beck
9 Symphonies (reissue; 3 discs)
La Stagione Frankfurt / Michael Schneider
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 880-2
Rick’s Pick

Franz Ignaz Beck may not be a household name today, but as this collection of nine symphonies makes clear, he deserves to be. As the baroque period gave way to the classical, he was already introducing elements of orchestration and harmonic development that would not become widely practiced until decades later. These three discs (featuring period-instrument performances by the excellent La Stagione Frankfurt under conductor Michael Schneider) were originally issued separately between 1996 and 2006; those discs are simply boxed together in their original jewel cases for this reissue. The performances are very fine, and the wind players (whose parts are particularly central to Beck’s musical conception) are especially good. Any comprehensive classical collection that did not acquire these discs upon their initial release should quickly pick up this mid-priced reissue package.


wertGiaches de Wert
O mors, quam amara est: Motets, Book 1 (1566)
Collegium Musicum Amsterdam / Anthony Zielhorst
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
94684

Although born in the Netherlands, Giaches de Wert’s compositional style was heavily influenced by the Italians — at age 9 he was taken on as a choirboy at the court of Cardena near Naples, and he spent the remainder of his career in Italy, eventually settling permanently in Mantua (which would later be famous as the professional home of both Giovanni Gastoldi and Claudio Monteverdi). In the motets presented here you can hear the influences of both the Franco-Flemish masters who had flourished in previous decades and of Italian madrigals; sometimes those influences are integrated and sometimes you hear the music alternating between a more traditional (and Flemish) polyphonic style and an emerging (and Italian) polychoral approach. The singing is excellent and the music is consistently fascinating; recommended to all early music collections.


JAZZ


clineNels Cline Singers
Macroscope
Mack Avenue
MAC1085

The Nels Cline Singers play a kind of jazz I don’t particularly like (abstract, discursive) in a way that I really, really like, and I’m not quite sure how to reconcile that contradiction, nor am I sure that I need to. Understand, first of all, that the group name is a joke; there are no singers (though Cline, a guitarist and composer who spent ten years playing for alt.country pioneers Wilco, does use his voice in slightly bizarre ways from time to time). Also, you should know that while this music sometimes sounds scattered and crazy,it’s much more organized than it might seem at first blush. Cline is drawing on an enormous range of musical experience and taste, and you’ll hear hints of everything from psychedelic rock and downtown skronk to nightclub jazz and electronica. It won’t sound much like anything you’ve heard before, and that’s a compliment.


bumperBumper Jacksons
Sweet Mama, Sweet Daddy, Come In
Self-released
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

If you miss the slightly punky 1930s-style hot jazz of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, then you owe it to yourself to check out the slightly countrified 1930s-style hot jazz of the Bumper Jacksons. This group’s sound draws deeply on driving pre-swing sounds but also on early string band music, Western swing and classic country — but by far the dominant element here is hot jazz, with Django-style rhythm guitar, group horn improvisations, and anachronistically chirpy female vocals (sometimes combined, weirdly and brilliantly, with steel guitar). It’s a pretty rare album that follows up “When the Sun Goes Down in Harlem” with “Darlin’ Corey,” and that’s part of what makes this one so much fun. Mostly, though, what makes it fun the sheer and unadulterated joy of the playing and singing. Highly recommended to all library collections.


chatnoirChat Noir
Elec3Cities
Rare Noise
RNR038

On paper, this looks like a more-or-less standard piano trio: pianist Michele Cavallari, bassist Luca Fogagnolo, drummer Giuliano Ferrari. Only when you notice that each musician is also credited with “effects” will you start getting an idea of what to expect, which is “jazz” only in the broadest sense: the all-original program consists of glitches, samples, arrhythmic ambience, abstract vocals, and unidentifiable elements that seem to come from another planet — as well as occasional passages of undeniably conventional jazziness. It’s all simultaneously very listenable and very strange. Recommended.


kroonSteven Kroon
On the One
Kroonatune
KTR 005

This is a wonderful album of Latin jazz played by a sextet led by percussionist Steven Kroon. The selections represent a mix of straight-ahead tunes (like the George Cables composition “Camel Rise”), American Songbook standards (actually only one: a lovely arrangement of “As Time Goes By”) and classic Latin numbers, all of them performed in Kroon’s signature style: a kind of complex but beautifully light and accessible approach that sacrifices none of Latin jazz’s typical dense rhythmic complexity but never leaves you lost or overwhelmed either. Most of us have had the experience of listening to Afro-Cuban jazz and being left wondering where the downbeat went — but (as this disc’s title suggests), Kroon is skilled at delivering complexity in a fully accessible way. Great stuff.


blantonTyler Blanton
Gotham
Ottimo Music
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

This is a highly unusual jazz album, though one whose attractions are pretty straightforward: Blanton is a vibraphone player and composer, and here he leads a quartet that includes bassist Matt Clohesy, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, and drummer Nate Wood. The program consists of six rather long tunes, which range in style from jagged funk (“Never Sleeps,” “Gotham”) to impressionistic abstraction (“Freaky Dream”) and a kind of dry, almost Steve Reich-styled process structure (“Cogs,” “Tunnels”). Blanton favors sideways harmonic progressions and tightly-composed arrangements, and the whole thing is just really cool. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.


nestThe Nest
Sayweenjoy
Album Label
ALB003

How’s your tolerance for extremely weird jazz? Not extremely avant-garde, not forbidding or abrasive — just very, very weird. If you have a high threshold of weird, then definitely check this one out: the Nest’s most prominent recognizable instrumental voice is that of the saxophone, but the sax is constantly embedded in sounds that evoke mental images of a party being thrown by terminally-ill cyborgs with an irritable R2D2 tending bar. The melodies are sometimes jazzy, sometimes Middle Eastern, sometimes almost entirely absent; the beats are sometimes explicit and sometimes barely implied. The music is not always strictly musical. “More danceable than John Zorn, but clunkier than Madonna,” say the press materials. Yup. I love it, but then again, my threshold of weird is perhaps unusually high.


jacoJaco Pastorius
Modern American Music… Period! The Criteria Sessions
Omnivore
OVCD-84
Rick’s Pick

That the late bassist Jaco Pastorius was a legend is trivially obvious; his virtuosity was unprecedented, and he single-handedly redefined the bass as a solo instrument and the electric bass as a jazz instrument. He was also a tragic figure, someone whose mental problems and drug habit led to his early death after a violent confrontation with a club bouncer. Issued in conjunction with a new documentary film, this album brings to light demo recordings made prior to the release of Pastorius’ first solo album and finds him in the studio working out tunes and arrangements that would later find their way (mostly in shortened form) onto that album: familiar compositions like “Opus Pocus,” the bop standard “Donna Lee,” and “Continuum” are here, and fans will be thrilled to hear them in these different versions. A must for all jazz collections.


COUNTRY/FOLK


hankHank Williams
The Garden Spot Programs, 1950
Omnivore
101609
Rick’s Pick

Hank Williams is one of those country artists that I think most of us tend to take for granted. Then you hear one of his recordings again and your hair stands up on your neck again. That voice, those startling, even shocking, lyrics (“Did you ever see a robin weep, when leaves begin to die?/That means he’s lost the will to live”), that small and preternaturally tight band — to call Williams a “country” artist is almost inaccurate. During his inexcusably brief life he did something all his own. Anyway, this disc is a treasure: it contains four radio programs recorded in 1950 and never before commercially released. As usual, the jingles and the patter are silly and the songs are heavily weighted towards established hits. But there are obscurities here as well, and the sound quality is surprisingly good. No pop or country music collection should be without this disc.


henrygirlsThe Henry Girls
Louder than Words
Beste Unterhaltung
BU 045

Can it really be only two months since I recommended the Henry Girls’ last album? I guess so. And now here’s a new one, just as good. The formula hasn’t changed: they still make deceptively straightforward-sounding folk-pop behind which complex vocal harmonies and instrumental arrangements hide modestly, they still write deceptively ancient-sounding modern songs, and they still have a taste for startling covers (Elvis Costello last time, Bruce Springsteen this time). And you’d still never guess that they’re from Ireland. If you trusted me last time, you know that you need this one too; if you missed out last time, don’t miss out on this one.


folkBradford Lee Folk and the Bluegrass Playboys
Somewhere Far Away
Five of Diamonds
(No cat. no.)

There’s a trick to making modern traditional bluegrass music: if your singing style is high-and-lonesome enough, if your instrumentation is strictly traditional, and if you can write songs with titles like “Trains Don’t Lie” and “Foolish Game of Love,” you can get away with some tricky chord progressions and artful lyrical turns. Bradford Lee Folk gets away with all of these things because no one is ever going to question his bona fides (he’s a full-time farmer — organic, but still — and the former front man for the well-respected bluegrass band Open Road), and also because he’s a flat-out great singer and songwriter — and because his band is tighter than a duck’s behind.


carterCarlene Carter
Carter Girl
Rounder
11661-9184-2
Rick’s Pick

When your last name is Carter — and, of course, when you’ve established a respected 35-year career of singing and songwriting — there are certain people you can call on for help with a new album. Carlene Carter’s duet partners here include Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson; her session men include Greg Leisz (check out his sly “Wildwood Flower” quote on “Me and the Wildwood Rose”), Jim Keltner, and Don Was. And the music on this album is both a celebration of the Carter Family tradition, with several A.P. and Maybelle Carter favorites, and an expansion of it. Carter’s voice has acquired a bit of graininess over the years, and it works in her favor: this album is strong, personal, traditional, and modern; only a slightly ham-handed new version of “Gold Watch and Chain” disappoints. Strongly recommended to all country music collections.


ROCK/POP


hattiHatti Vatti
Worship Nothing
New Moon
NMNCD001
Rick’s Pick

Polish producer Hatti Vatti has made a name for himself on the European electronic music scene over the past five years by releasing a steady stream of dark, often dub- and dubstep-inflected tracks that draw on 80s electro-pop, film music, and techno. A recent EP was based on Middle Eastern field recordings. For his first full-length album, he has created enormous sonic fields through which massive basslines and wispy shards of keyboards float; voices enter the mix from time to time as well, sometimes almost unrecognizably (as on “Struggle,” featuring Sara Brylewska) and sometimes as delivery mechanisms for more-or-less conventional songs (as on “Wonderful World,” featuring Cian Finn). This is one of those rare and wonderful albums that manages to be simultaneously relaxing and unsettling. Highly recommended to all pop collections.


carrackPaul Carrack
Rain or Shine
Carrack-UK
PCARCD22

Back in the 1980s, Paul Carrack did a stint with Squeeze that resulted in what I personally believe was that group’s strongest, catchiest, and most soulful single (“Tempted”). Before and since, he has performed with other bands (notably and most successfully with Mike and the Mechanics) and as a solo artist, and his latest finds him playing most of the instruments on a mixed program of originals and soul classics including “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right” and “You Don’t Know Me.” The arrangements are brilliant — many include either strings, a horn section, or both — but the real star of this show is Carrack’s voice, which is as rich, clear, and strong as it’s ever been. The over-40 crowd will want to hear this one based on nostalgia, but hand-sell it to your younger patrons; no fan of classic pop music will fail to be entranced.


tackheadTackhead
For the Love of Money
Dude/Echo Beach
DR109b

The core of Tackhead (also rendered as TACK>>HEAD) has existed since the earliest days of hip hop, when drummer Keith Leblanc, bassist Doug Wimbish, and guitarist Skip MacDonald served as the house band for the now-legendary Sugar Hill Records. Since those days, the trio has been involved in a variety of other projects both separately and together, Tackhead being one of the most notable: its sound combines old-school funk with avant-garde dub (the group has a longstanding relationship with On-U Sound’s Adrian Sherwood), and you’ll hear plenty of both on its latest album: “Loose Booty” channels classic P-Funk, “Black Cinderella” features Bernard Fowler on a slab of classic lovers rock; the title track recycles an evergreen soul-protest number. Great stuff, as always from this crew.


glotmanYair Elazar Glotman
Northern Gulfs
Glacial Movements
21

You can kind of tell that Yair Elazar Glotman is a bass player — he has that fascination with deep, sustained sawtooth-wave sounds that tends to drive people to spend a lot of time playing an upright bass with a bow. The sounds that he has sculpted for this album, though, are much more complex than that: although these electroacoustic pieces define large and deep sonic spaces, those spaces contain microscopically tiny details — and although they tend to seem relatively static on the surface, they’re not actually static at all. Listen carefully, and you’ll be rewarded. (Listen on headphones with the volume up and you’ll be rewarded even more.)


millieMillie & Andrea
Drop the Vowels
Modern Love (dist. Forced Exposure)
LOVE 094CD

If you prefer to have your dark, glitchy, bass-centric electronic music delivered in a somewhat more danceable envelope, then consider this grittily engaging effort from Millie & Andrea (a.k.a. Miles Whittaker and Andy Stott — get it?). Here the ambience is tighter and more compressed, but still rich and varied; the rhythmic structures are much more defined — tend to be explicitly funky, in fact — and the clicks and glitches that ornament the generally bassy soundspace are organized around beats that vary in flavor from techno to jungle. This is great stuff, by turns grumpy, joyful, and jittery.


pearlfishersPearlfishers
Open Up Your Coloring Book
Marina (dist. Forced Exposure)
MA 077CD

Like Gart Greenside’s Scritti Politti, David Scott’s Pearlfishers traffic in deceptively pretty and lushly-orchestrated pop music. Well, actually, that’s not quite right: there isn’t really anything deceptive about the Pearlfishers’ sound, no dialectical materialism lurking beneath the gentle vocals and the candy-coated arrangements. What there is, though, is a richness and a structural complexity that you can easily miss if you focus only on the pretty surfaces. There’s also an existential melancholy to the lyrics that is equally easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. Recommended.


artoArto Lindsay
Encyclopedia of Arto (2 discs)
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)
NS 055
Rick’s Pick

Arto, Arto, Arto. No question, the man’s a genius: a pioneer (with DNA and the Golden Palominos) of the downtown No Wave scene in the late 1970s, later a pioneer of avant-bossa-nova and of subversively weird electro-pop (as a member of Ambitious Lovers), he is equally comfortable crooning romantic samba tunes and emitting sheets of hellacious noise from his notoriously never-tuned guitar. This two-disc set compiles a very nice program of some of his more accessible material on one disc (frustratingly, no information is provided about where these tracks originally appeared), and the second documents a hellaciously noisy solo performance at Pete’s Candy Store in 2012; the setlist includes a hilariously skronked-out rendition of Prince’s “Erotic City.” I give this a Rick’s Pick designation because it’s brilliant and because Arto has been a hero of mine for decades — but don’t expect much patron demand for this retrospective, great as it is.


snowbirdSnowbird
Moon
Bella Union
424

Do you miss Cocteau Twins? I know, me too. Well, there’s good news: former Twins guitarist Simon Raymonde has teamed up with singer Stephanie Dosen to create an album of dream-pop that, while not explicitly modeled on the Cocteau Twins sound, has an awful lot in common with it (check out, in particular, the heartbreakingly lovely and lyrically inscrutable “All Wishes Are Ghosts”). Throughout the album, layers of guitar shimmer evocatively, the vocals are mixed in such a way as to frequently obscure the lyrics, and the melodies are just gorgeous. Recommended to all pop collections.


WORLD/ETHNIC


corderoAni Cordero
Recordar: Latin American Songs of Love & Protest
La Nana Music
No cat. no.

Ani Cordero was born to Puerto Rican parents and grew up in Atlanta and San Juan. She’s been active in world-music circles since her late teens, and with this album has created a showcase of songs from the Nueva Canción movement of mid-20th century Latin America. Set in largely acoustic arrangements, these songs hark back to the liberation movements of Chile, Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil, among other countries, and Cordero’s voice is a delight throughout. The tone is generally more gentle and regretful than fist-shaking, and non-Spanish speakers might have no idea that the lyrics are often deeply political (sadly, no translations are provided in the package, though you can find them online at http://pressjunkiepr.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/recordar_lyrics-translations1-23-14.pdf). Highly recommended.


hadoukHadouk Quartet
Hadoukly Yours
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
NJ623471
Rick’s Pick

What was formerly the Hadouk Trio is now (with the addition of drummer/percussionist Jean-Luc Fraya) a quartet, but the group’s sound is essentially the same: led by multi-instrumentalist Didier Malherbe (who focuses here on doudouk and flutes) and also featuring Loy Ehrlich on hajouj, gumbass, and yayli tanbur, the group produces a sound that blends Middle Eastern, American, and European elements into something that is never quite definable: “Shadow Maker” is delivered with an undeniably jazzy swing yet features steel guitar; “Bawu Call” has a plaintive gypsy edge to it that is undermined by fingerstyle guitar and brushed drums; “Bittersweet Lullaby” is, well, a bittersweet lullaby. Surreally, the program ends with a completely respectful version of “Blueberry Hill.” The whole thing is a strange and wonderful experience.


slyrobbieSly & Robbie
Underwater Dub
Groove Attack (dist. Forced Exposure)
GAP 116CD
Rick’s Pick

Drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare (a.k.a. the Riddim Twins) started out as one of the foundational rhythm sections of reggae music, anchoring the recordings and live performances of countless legendary artists. But over the decades their influence has spread far beyond the reggae world: they’ve recorded with Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Joe Cocker, and Madonna, among many others. This album finds them returning to their roots — sort of. The music is heavyweight instrumental dub reggae, but at all points it is deeply informed by non-reggae elements, especially electronica and UK bass. Their sidemen for this project represent a who’s-who of the reggae session aristocracy: Sticky Thompson, Robbie Lyn, Mikey Chung, Dalton Brownie, and more. This is the best instrumental reggae album I’ve heard in years.


conkaKarol Conka
Batuk Freak
Mr. Bongo (dist. Redeye)
1272
Rick’s Pick

Hip hop flourished in Brazil for several reasons, among them the rhythmic flexibility and tonal richness of the Portuguese language and the equally rich fund of musical resources upon which rappers and producers can draw to create samples. The debut album from fiery MC Karol Conka is a case in point: working with producer Nave (Emicida, Marcelo D2), Conka has created an album of thrillingly diverse songs that draw promiscuously on Afro-Brazilian beats, folk music sources, electro-funk, and trap, all of it adding up to something unique, personal, and tremendously fun and exciting. But as great as the beats are, Conka’s flow is the real star of this show. This one is a must.


fattyVarious Artists
Prince Fatty Vs. Mungo’s Hi-Fi
Mr. Bongo (dist. Allegro)
110

Few concepts are as foundational to the history of reggae music as that of the sound system — an open-air dance powered by a DJ and often a rapper. From the 1950s until the present day, rival sound systems have battled each other for the favor of the dancing masses, and the tradition has continued within the UK’s huge Jamaican diaspora. This delightful collection finds two of England’s finest sound system operators squaring off in a different way: each has remixed five tracks from the other’s catalog. You’ll hear new mixes of songs by Hollie Cook, Winston Francis, Top Cat, and others. As is so often the case with Mr. Bongo releases, the program is much too short (at a miserly 41 minutes), but there’s no quarelling with the quality.

April 2014


PICK OF THE MONTH


mozartWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No. 35 “Haffner”; Posthorn-Serenade
Concentus Musicus Wien / Nicolas Harnoncourt
Sony Classical
88883720682

Two things about this recording really jumped out at me: first, it marks 60 years of activity by the groundbreaking period-instrument group Concentus Musicus Wien under the direction of Nicolas Harnoncourt. That’s six-zero. The second was that it apparently represents the first time Mozart’s March in D Major and “Haffner” Symphony have ever been recorded using period instruments, which surprised me; I had assumed that virtually all of Mozart’s oeuvre had gotten the period-instrument treatment by now. [Correction: As it turns out, I was right to be surprised. The "Haffner," at least, has in fact been recorded multiple times on period instruments. Sony's press materials are in error on this point.] In any case, those who have been following this group and its illustrious conductor for as long as I have will know exactly what to expect here: an ensemble sound that is tight but agile, absolutely impeccable tone and intonation, and a conducting style that features a beautiful sense of Klangrede, or “musical dialogue.” It is a testament to what has happened in what was once known as the “authentic” music movement that the unfortunate hallmarks of that movement’s early days are now entirely gone: no out-of-tune clarinets, no watery natural horns, no vinegary-sounding violins. Harnoncourt draws a sound from this ensemble that has all the richness and depth of a modern-instrument orchestra, but that also has all the lightness and elegance of the instruments of Mozart’s time. This is a landmark recording and a must-own for all library collections.


CLASSICAL


brahmsJohannes Brahms
Viola Sonatas, Op. 120 Nos. 1 & 2; Trio for Viola, Cello and Piano, Op. 114
Geraldine Walther; David Korevaar; András Fejér
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1479
Rick’s Pick

Some have argued that Brahms arranged these three chamber works (all of which were originally written to feature the clarinet) for viola out of a simple desire to make money. Pianist David Korevaat suggests another possible reason: early clarinets were virtually untunable, meaning that in at least one documented case, a pianist had to have her entire instrument retuned in order to accompany a clarinetist in playing these pieces. That would be enough to drive anyone to rearrange them for viola. Whatever the explanation, these two sonatas and one trio sound wonderful in this configuration, and violist Geraldine Walther is a brilliant advocate for them. Highly recommended to all classical collections.


armeniaEduard Mirzoyan; Vache Sharafyab
Music of Armenia
Suren Bagratuni; Deborah Moriarty; James Forger; Marta Bagratuni
Blue Griffin
BGR 291

This program consists of three works: a 20th-century sonata for cello and piano by Eduard Mirzoyan (written in 1968, it’s tonal but definitely modernist), an impressionistic duet for saxophone and cello by Vache Sharafyan, and a four-part suite of pieces for various combinations of cellos, piano, and voice, all of them built on hymn themes (also written by Sharafyan). This music has an astringent beauty of a type one might associate with that of Bartók or Kodály, though the traditional source elements are quite different. All of the players are top-notch, but cellist Suren Bagratuni sounds particularly intensely committed. Recommended.


hofischeVarious Composers
Die höfische Blockflöte
Astrid Andersson; Anne Legêne; Corey Jamason; Ricarda Hornych
Cornetto-Verlag (dist. Albany)
COR10040

This is a delightful collection of chamber works written by baroque composers both well-known (Corelli, Telemann, Hotteterre) and relatively obscure (Johann Schop, Charles Dieupart). Most were originally intended to feature the violin or the flute, but are arranged here for recorder and continuo. The instruments used for these recordings include one of the Rosenborg recorders (a set of 16th- or 17th-century transitional descant recorders reputedly built by King Christian IV and currently housed in Copenhagen’s Rosenborg Castle) as well as others made by such illustrious artisans as Bizey, Ganassi, and Bressan. All of them sound marvelous and the recorded sound here is excellent, as are the performances.


stabatVarious Composers
Stabat Mater dolorosa: Music for Passiontide
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge / Graham Ross
Harmonia Mundi
HMU 907616
Rick’s Pick

April is the most solemn month in the Christian liturgical calendar, the time when Christ’s trial, crucifixion, and resurrection are remembered and celebrated. The Passiontide season has inspired richly moving music by European composers for a thousand years, and some of the best are presented here in affecting performances by one of Cambridge University’s best chapel choirs: settings of relevant Biblical texts by the likes of John Stainer, Thomas Tallis, Anton Bruckner, Antonio Lotti, Carlo Gesualdo, and others. But the pivotal pieces here are world-premiere recordings of Latin works by the choir’s director, Graham Ross. Both are undeniably modern works but are also accessible and deeply evocative of the complex emotions of the Easter season. Highly recommended to all library collections.


tallisThomas Tallis
Missa Puer natus est nobis
The Cardinall’s Musick / Andrew Carwood
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CDA 68026

Arguably a more puzzling release for this season is this program of a Thomas Tallis Christmas Mass along with several thematically-related hymns and responsories and an early Magnificat setting. Seasonally out-of-place it may be, but I’ll take it: the singing by the mixed-voice ensemble The Cardinall’s Musick is absolutely breathtaking, and as always, Tallis’s music is a revelation: only William Byrd rivaled (some would say surpassed) him as the greatest exponent of Tudor church music. The recorded sound is intimate, warm, and creamy. Recommended to all early music collections.


bachWilhelm Friedemann Bach
Flute Sonatas and Trios (reissue)
Wilbert Hazelzet; Marion Moonen; Jaap ter Linden; Jacques Ogg
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
94696
Rick’s Pick

The 300th birthday of J.S. Bach’s most illustrious son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, has also brought heightened attention to the work of some of Bach’s other accomplished musical children. This marvelous recording of chamber works for the flute (originally issued in 2006) makes an excellent argument on behalf of Wilhelm Friedemann, Bach’s oldest son. His style is perhaps the most conservative of the Bach children’s (probably due to his age), but he’s no slavish baroque formalist. The playing here is consistently fine throughout, and it’s worth noting that Jacques Ogg’s accompaniment is mostly played on a lovely-sounding Silbermann fortepiano rather than a harpsichord. Highly recommended.


rhysRhys Chatham
Harmonie du soir
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)
NSCD048

Like fellow guitarist Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham gained fame in the downtown New York scene in the 1970s and is known in significant part for his compositions for massed electric guitars. Unlike Branca, Chatham came out of the first-generation minimalist school (having played in La Monte Young’s ensemble), and you can still hear that influence clearly in the three harmonically static, richly-textured pieces presented here. Two are scored for multiple electric guitars and percussion, one for large brass ensemble and percussion. The first two pieces float like clouds (with rumblings of thunder provided by the drums and the occasional bird flittering by); the third is a skronky example of punk-rock-as-art. While listening to them all at a stretch might be a challenge, all will provide at least pedagogical interest.


telemannGeorg Philipp Telemann
Double Concerti for Winds & Strings
Rebel / Jörg-Michael Schwarz
Bridge (dist. Albany)
9421

There’s nothing groundbreaking here — just a beautifully-rendered program reminding us what we all love best about Telemann: his ability to write concerti for multiple solo instruments that are filled with melodic invention and irresistible rhythmic vitality. The Rebel chamber ensemble continues to be absolutely top-notch with this repertoire.


JAZZ


vallonColin Vallon Trio
Le Vent
ECM
2347
Rick’s Pick

Years ago I realized that I was becoming too dependent on the word “contemplative” in my review writing, and I’ve been gun-shy about using it ever since — but it’s the word that keeps coming to mind as I listen to this album, and I mean that in the best way possible. Pianist Colin Vallon’s music (and that of his often-improvising collaborators here) does not generally swing or dance; instead, it seems genuinely to be thinking and feeling. That’s not always a great recipe for compelling jazz — too often it’s a recipe for noodling and self-indulgence — but in this case the results are quietly and, yes, contemplatively spectacular. This is perfect music for reading on a rainy day, or for just sitting with your eyes closed and listening very, very carefully.


nighthawksErik Friedlander
Nighthawks
Skipstone
SSR018

Having been disappointed by too many jazz cellists in the past, I approached this quartet album with some trepidation. But Friedlander grabbed my attention immediately with the funky “Sneaky Pete” and never lost it again. He plays pizzicato throughout and his sound is solid and assured, his compositions alternately fun and funky, cockily swinging and deliberately paced. His solos often sound like they’re being played on an acoustic slide guitar, which gives the whole proceedings a slightly off-kilter charm. The writing and arranging are consistently excellent. Recommended to all jazz collections.


pintchikLeslie Pintchik
In the Nature of Things
Pintch Hard
CD-002
Rick’a Pick

Apart from a lovely and bittersweet rendition of the standard “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” this is an all-original program of modern small-ensemble jazz from pianist and composer Leslie Pintchik. Her style is a nice balance of the discursive and the tight — the pieces are carefully composed and arranged, but she gives both herself and her sidemen plenty of space to roam and explore. Her own solos are deceptively gentle-sounding; although she rarely uses any harmonic or dynamic gimmickry to startle you, her note choices and her phrasing will take you by surprise if you listen closely. Very highly recommended to all jazz collections.


ambiqMax Loderbauer; Claudio Puntin; Samuel Rohrer
Ambiq
arjunamusic
AM 703/14

One kind of hates to use “jazz” as a catch-all designation for all uncategorizable music — and there’s no question that this strange and intriguing album has little in common with most jazz recordings — but it seems like the wisest course in this case. Max Loderbauer plays a modular synthesizer called the buchla200e, and his collaborators play various combinations of clarinet, percussion, and other electronic instruments. Their music seems to be largely improvised and varies in tone from eerie and haunting to minimalistically funky and glitchy. I wasn’t quite sure what I thought at first, but this album has grown on me. It will likely be of particular interest to libraries supporting coursework in improvised music and electronic composition.


hegartyTim Hegarty
Tribute
Miles High
MHR8623

Tenor saxophonist Tim Hegarty convened a truly all-star cast for this album: pianist Kenny Barron, vibraphonist Mark Sherman, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Carl Allen. And the results do not disappoint. This is the work of a consummate professional with an artist’s heart, a program of straight-ahead (and often blues-based) originals and standards, all of them played with a deliberate care and thoughtful intensity, even at up tempos. Hegarty, in short, both writes and plays like a grown-up, and man, it’s easy to forget how attractive that can be. Recommended to all jazz collections.


primaLouis Prima Jr.
Blow!
Warrior
WR16532

Louis Prima became a music legend not by being a technical virtuoso, but by knowing what people wanted and giving it to them. What people wanted, generally, was fun, and being a musician from New Orleans, Prima knew how to give it to them: jump blues, swing, early R&B, rock, whatever. His son now carries on the tradition, with big band arrangements of rock and pop and swing tunes both new and old (including curiosities like Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes”). The album is tons of fun — perfect for a staff party.


COUNTRY/FOLK


trischkaTony Trischka
Great Big World
Rounder
11661-9143-2
Rick’s Pick

Tony Trischka is widely considered one of the pioneers of “melodic” bluegrass banjo and continues to be highly influential both as a player and as a producer and cultivator of others’ talents. His latest solo album is, quite simply, a complete blast. It features an arrangement of “Promontory Point” that includes several different banjos played in a variety of styles, a medley of tunes played in the “single-string” style (one tune for each string), and folk and country songs like “Do Re Mi” and “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight.” Ramblin’ Jack Elliott makes a cameo appearance on the ambitious mini-epic “Wild Bill Hickock,” and other guest vocalists pop in and out as well. A must-have for all country and folk collections.


lewisLaurie Lewis
One Evening in May
Spruce and Maple Music
SMM1009

Though she’s one of the first women to have kicked open the door of the bluegrass scene back in the 1970s, Laurie Lewis outgrew the boundaries of that genre years ago. On this live album she is accompanied by guitarists Tom Size and Nina Gerber for an intimate set of folk and country songs, most of them original compositions, but some of them tastefully-selected covers by the likes of June Carter Cash (a dark and personal version of “Ring of Fire”) and Merle Haggard. The trio’s sound is rich and surprisingly full, but the overall feeling of the music is intimate and quiet. Very nice.


kallickKathy Kallick
Cut to the Chase
Live Oak
590

Another pioneering woman’s voice in bluegrass music is that of Kathy Kallick, founding member of the groundbreaking woman-led Good Ol’ Persons. Her solo career has taken her in a variety of directions (she made a children’s album years ago that was a favorite with my kids), and her latest effort is a collection of original “story-songs.” Several were written in collaboration with English singer-songwriter Clive Gregson, and while the flavors of bluegrass and acoustic Americana are never absent, there are also lots of new elements here: torchy jazz, acoustic pop, honky tonk country, even a hint of calypso. Lyrical pull quote: “Get the hell away from me/Get the hell away.” You tell ‘im, Kathy!


saintsTattletale Saints
How Red Is the Blood
Old Oak
OOM003
Rick’s Pick

Tattletale Saints is a duo: singer/guitarist Cy Winstanley and singer/bassist Vanessa McGowan. Both are from New Zealand, but their sound is resolutely and expertly American; cue up the first track of their latest album, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’re listening to a Paul Simon outtake circa 1974. But that’s just a quirk of Winstanley’s voice; their songwriting style is all their own, and their voices are crystal-clear and gorgeous. The arrangements here are tastefully minimal, the better to showcase those voices and the simple and beautiful melodies they’ve written. Highly recommended.


ROCK/POP


blackwatchThe Black Watch
The End of When (2 discs)
Pop Culture Press (dist. Allegro)
PCPR-001
Rick’s Pick

There’s nothing better than a great power-pop album, and they don’t come much better than this one, from California’s The Black Watch. Crunchy guitars, tight harmonies, soaring melodies, and hooks galore — you know what to expect — but there’s also a nice touch of dreampop psychedelia to their sound. Even better, the package includes a second disc that acts as a best-of collection, filled with EP and LP tracks from the group’s surprisingly deep catalog. If you’ve let yourself forget how magnificent two guitars, bass, and drums can sound, reacquaint yourself with the rock’n’roll verities here. Strongly recommended to all collections.


sharonSharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Give the People What They Want
Daptone (dist. Redeye)
DAP-032

Over the past decade, Sharon Jones has figured out what the people want: they want vintage soul music, recorded using old-school techniques and sung and played as if the 1970s never ended. And she and her group have given it to us over and over, and we love it. Her latest is more of exactly what we’ve come to expect, and more power to her: lots of horns, gritty rhythm guitars, propulsively burbling basslines, and a voice that could knock down a barn — not to mention that funky sound that comes from recording straight to analog eight-track. Expect demand from your hipper patron constituency.


blackThe Soul of John Black
A Sunshine State of Mind
Yellow Dog
YDR 1976

The Soul of John Black is really just multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter John Bigham (a.k.a. John Black), whose wide-ranging skills and catholic musical tastes serve him very well on this collection of summer-themed songs. You won’t hear many echoes of his long tenure with ska-rock pioneers Fishbone here; instead, you’ll hear his love of Chicago soul and classic rock sounds. And beyond the occasional hint of bluesy flavor, you won’t hear anything that might threaten to bring you down — this is explicitly intended as feel-good, on-vacation music, and it’s tons of fun. Recommended.


lightheatLight Heat
Light Heat
Ribbon Music
RBN019

This solo album from Quentin Stoltzfus was a long time coming, his first release since the demise of his band Mazarin in 2006. And don’t let the sloppy sonics and the weirdly mixed-back vocals fool you — Light Heat is one of the most carefully-crafted lo-fi pop albums you’ll hear this year. Drones, shimmers, deceptively straightforward-sounding chord progressions, and pleasantly workmanlike vocals are all put to work in the service of hooks, hooks, hooks, and that’s a very winning combination. Highly recommended.


misfitMisfit Toys
Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
Innova (dist. Naxos)
864

I’m categorizing this one as Rock/Pop because, despite its instrumentation (clarinet, banjo, percussion, vibes, marimba) and the label on which it’s released, this album consists entirely of covers of pop songs from the 1970s and has very little to do with jazz as such. Tunes by Talking Heads, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Stevie Wonder, Todd Rundgren, Chicago, and more are included here, all of them in willfully quirky, often virtuosic, and sometimes hilarious new arrangements. This is probably the only album on which you will hear both Talking Heads’ “Drugs” and Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree.” Perfect party music, and also likely useful for libraries supporting programs in jazz composition and arrangement.


kpmVarious Artists
Music for Dancefloors: the KPM Music Library (2 discs)
Strut (dist. Redeye)
STRUT106CD
Rick’s Pick

This set offers a fascinating window on an important aspect of the music industry that is relatively unknown to most people: that of “library music.” In the 1960s and 1970s, companies like KPM provided stock music to TV and movie producers for use as soundtrack or theme material. KPM’s contributions to this genre, though of consistently very high quality, were released in extremely limited runs (and not in the general consumer marketplace), and copies of those original recordings are now sought-after collectors’ items. This release is therefore both a fascinating listening experience and an valuable academic resource for any library supporting the study of popular or film music. (The package includes a second disc documenting a live performance by KPM’s house musicians in 2000.)


raffertieRaffertie
Sleep of Reason
Ninja Tune
ZENCD194

I confess to being a soft touch for grumpy-sounding electronic music — I don’t know why. Maybe it comes of being a teenager in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Anyway, this debut album from long-established producer and label head Benjamin Stefanski, a.k.a. Raffertie, appeals to me quite a bit: the sound is dark, bassy, and weirdly claustrophobic, the vocals all but abstract, the beats sometimes throbbingly straightforward and sometimes built on a grime-derived stagger-step pattern. I don’t know if most people would call it fun, exactly, but I do.


WORLD/ETHNIC


orientalVarious Artists
Oriental Garden: The World of Oriental Grooves, Vol. 10 (2 discs)
Lola’s World (dist. Albany)
CLS0002872

The title of this series is intended, I hope, ironically — with some kind of a post-colonialist wink. Anyway, the music being collected in this ongoing series of two-disc compilations offers a fascinating window on the state of dance music in the Middle East and in that region’s European diaspora. Some of it comes across as more-or-less generic club music with self-consciously “exotic” elements thrown in, but for the most part it feels like a truly organic blend of multicultural elements — sometimes the songs are in Turkish or Arabic, sometimes in English, and sometimes both; the instrumentation is generally based in standard-issue synthesizer arrangements, but with neysaz, or oud seamlessly incorporated as well. World music collections and general pop collections should find this release equally interesting.


doodleChristina Zurbrügg
Doodle It: Yodels from Vienna
GAMS (dist. Albany)
213-2

I have to confess that I was unaware of the long and distinguished tradition of Viennese yodeling — known locally as “tootling.” Christina Zurbrügg made a film about the tradition in the 1990s, and now performs in that style on a regular basis, while also updating it to her own charmingly quirky ends. This album consists of two halves, one “plugged” (incorporating elements of rock and synth-pop) and the other “unplugged” (using mostly traditional and mostly acoustic instruments, especially clarinets). The whole album is a hoot and a delight.


khanUstad Vilayat Khan with Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri
A Night to Remember (3 discs)
Navras (dist. Naxos)
NRCD 0252/3

The main two discs of this package document a 2002 concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall by sitar master Ustad Vilayat Khan, accompanied by the equally virtuosic tabla player Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri. The first disc is a performance of the first three sections of the Malkauns raga; the second adds the gat section and then a rendition of a traditional folk tune. A third disc offers a similar performance by Khan’s son Hidayat Hussein with tabla player Enayat Hossain. All of the playing is masterful, and helpful liner notes explain the structure of the performances to those unfamiliar with Indian classical music.


burroughsDub Spencer & Trance Hill
William S. Burroughs in Dub
Echo Beach
eb100cd

Beat-era icon William S. Burroughs has exerted a fascination on musicians for decades; in 1989 Bill Laswell and Material created a whole album (Seven Souls) around spoken excerpts from Burroughs’ writings, and now a similar project comes from Swiss dub-reggae enthusiasts Dub Spencer and Trance Hill. Burroughs’ druggy musings and stream-of-consciousness sci-fi inventions are nicely complemented by the dreamy reggae soundscapes built by Spencer and Hill, and any library with a collecting interest in the Beats may well find this worth picking up.


womanDubblestandart
Woman in Dub
Echo Beach/Collision
CCT3027
Rick’s Pick

For a more conventional take on vocals-plus-dub, consider this excellent collection of tracks featuring female singers from around the world accompanied by Vienna’s exceptional Dubblestandart reggae crew. You’ll find familiar voices here (Marcia Griffiths, Caron Wheeler, the late Ari Up) as well as singers you may not have heard of before: Barbadian chanteuse Chezere, British-Iranian singer Hoda Mohajerani, American Saria Idana, and many others. The rhythms are top-notch, as always, and the singing is consistently excellent as well. Highly recommended.

March 2014


PICK OF THE MONTH


powellBud Powell
Birdland 1953 (reissue; 3 discs)
ESP-Disk (dist. Naxos)
ESP4073

This three-disc set disappoints in the way too many Bud Powell recordings do: by sounding as if every track were recorded using a tin can for a microphone. But it also redeems itself in the usual way (by documenting the playing of one of the 20th century’s most astounding pianists) and also by presenting the great man in the company of such illustrious partners as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Art Taylor, Curly Russell, and Roy Haynes during some of his performances at the legendary Birdland club in 1953. In some ways this makes the poor sound quality all the more frustrating–not being able to hear clearly the details of the interplay between Mingus and Taylor is especially maddening–but the value of these recordings to students of jazz can’t be overstated. And from a pure listening perspective, there are many wonderful moments that shine through the sonic murk, such as a marvelous performance of “Moose the Mooche” with Charlie Parker from Powell’s May 30 set. No jazz collection should be without these recordings, which have been issued before by multiple other labels but benefit in this reissue from the attentions of producer Michael Anderson, who significantly (believe it or not) improved the sound quality.


CLASSICAL


couperinFrançois Couperin; Jean-Féry Rebel
Les Nations; Les Caractères de la danse
Florilegium
Channel Classics (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CCS SA 33213
Rick’s Pick

The pieces are familiar, but the performances (and the Super Audio CD sound quality) are so spectacular that this disc should be considered a must-buy for any classical collection. Couperin’s Les Nations and Rebel’s Les Caractères de la danse are monuments of the French baroque period, both of them dance suites comprised of brief movements named for particular dance steps: sarabande, gigue, courante, etc. The Florilegium ensemble plays them with delicate but full-bodied grace and a remarkable rhythmic coherence — at times it sounds as if all the instruments are being played by a single person, so perfectly do they execute the subtle shifts in tempo and rhythm called for by the various dance sections. A brilliant and deeply enjoyable disc.


chopinFrédéric Chopin
Mazurka: Researching Chopin
Nils Henrik Asheim
Lawo Classics (dist. Allegro)
LWC 1049
Rick’s Pick

Norwegian pianist Nils Henrik Asheim has been engaged in an ongoing — and maybe slightly mystical — search for the essence of Chopin’s piano music, focusing on his mazurkas. As a follow-up to his previous effort along these lines (Mazurka: Remaking Chopin, which found him creating new versions of the pieces) he has taken a new tack, this time interpreting them more strictly but using a period instrument: an 1830s Collard & Collard square piano. As is often the case with performances using period instruments, the unique sound of this one sheds new light on the sound and shape of Chopin’s music, and the recording is both historically interesting and aesthetically delightful. Highly recommended to all classical collections.


buddHarold Budd
Wind in Lonely Fences: 1970-2011 (2 discs)
All Saints (dist. Redeye)
WAST035CD

I’m categorizing this collection as “classical,” despite the appearance on several tracks by artists like Cocteau Twins and Andy Partridge (of XTC). Here’s why: although he maintained strong connections with the pop world throughout his career, Harold Budd’s music was generally formally composed and was deeply informed by the minimalist movement of the 1960s. It’s always pleasant (he hated the term “ambient”) but rarely as simple as it might appear on the surface, and this two-disc set provides an excellent overview of his work over the course of four decades. And in reality, it would make an equally fine addition to either your classical or your pop collection.


handelGeorge Frideric Handel
Peace & Celebration
European Union Baroque Orchestra; Choir of Clare College, Cambridge / Lars Ulrik Mortensen
Obsidian
CD711

This program was recorded live at a concert in London to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the coronation of King George I, the first of the Hanoverian monarchs. Its content is no less enjoyable for being predictable: the four coronation anthems (opening, of course, with Zadok the Priest), the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, and one of Handel’s opus 3 concerti grossi. The Obsidian label has quickly become one of the most reliable sources of world-class recordings of Renaissance and baroque music, and this disc upholds its high standard: the singing, playing, and production quality are all top-notch.


mozartWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Betulia Liberata (2 discs)
L’Orfeo Barockorchester / Michi Gaigg
Challenge Classics (dist. Allegro)
CC72590
Rick’s Pick

Even if the performance were only so-so, this recording would be worthy of a strong recommendation to libraries because the work is so rarely recorded. Written when Mozart was still in his teens, Betulia Liberata is a sacred oratorio based on the Old Testament story of Judith. As it turns out, the performance is excellent: the soloists (particularly golden-voiced soprano Marelize Gerber) are superb, and the orchestra plays with fleet-fingered brilliance. A must for all classical collections.


beethovenLudwig Van Beethoven
A Beethoven Odyssey, Vol. 2
James Brawn
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1466

With this disc, the fine young pianist James Brawn continues his survey of Beethoven’s piano sonatas with a program of five works, three of them monumental and two of them minor: the “Pathétique,” the “Moonlight,” and the “Waldstein” sonatas, as well as the two “Leichte” (or “easy”) sonatas, both of which were probably intended as pedagogical studies rather than concert pieces and which Beethoven hesitated to publish. Brawn’s sense of dynamics is especially noteworthy here, as is the colorful sonic ambience of the recording itself.


bachCarl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Complete Solo Flute Sonatas (2 discs)
Musica ad Rhenum
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
94323

Johann Sebastian Bach fathered several great composers, of whom arguably the finest was Carl Philipp Emanuel. What makes C.P.E. Bach’s music such a great choice for library collections is not just its consistently high quality, but the way in which it takes you by the hand and leads you, gently and sweetly, out of the high baroque and into the early classical period. The flute sonatas (played beautifully here by the chamber ensemble Musica ad Rhenum, led by flutist Jed Wentz) do so in a particularly seductive manner. Every comprehensive classical collection should own this set. (For a related recommendation, see the next entry below.)


magnificatCarl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Magnificat; Motet “Heilig ist Gott”
RIAS Kammerchor; Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin / Hans-Christoph Rademann
Harmonia Mundi
HMC 902167
Rick’s Pick

If you want to get a sense of C.P.E. Bach’s range as a composer, compare the delicate grace of his flute sonatas to the sturdy, Teutonic majesty of his glorious Magnificat setting. It was written in a bid (unsuccessful, it would turn out) to succeed his father as Kantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. The program also includes the motet “Heilig ist Gott,” which C.P.E. considered his greatest sacred choral work, and his innovative D major symphony. The performances and the sound quality could hardly be better, and the fact that this program replicates an actual concert program put on by C.P.E. himself gives the disc an added dimension of historical interest. Very highly recommended.


palestrinaGiovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Palestrina, Vol. 4
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers
Coro (dist. Allegro)
COR16114

Harry Christophers and the Sixteen are now four volumes into a series of recordings celebrating the work of Palestrina, arguably the greatest composer of polyphonic choral music in the 16th century (and without doubt the greatest one working outside of Flanders). Each volume in the series focuses on a single Mass (in this case, the rarely-recorded Missa O magnum mysterium) and including related motets and other material (in this case selections from his Song of Songs settings, which were interpreted in Renaissance times as love songs to Mary). As always, the Sixteen’s blend is colorful and their intonation and sense of line impeccable. Recommended to all early music collections.


JAZZ


worrellBernie Worell
Elevation: The Upper Air
M.O.D. Technologies (dist. Redeye)
MOD0012

Bernie Worell, founding member of Parliament/Funkadelic and a legend in funk and R&B circles, is best known for his electronic keyboard playing — even those who don’t know his name know his sound, which has been a pervasive and inescapable part of pop music for decades. This album is a true departure, though: a meditative solo piano project on which he plays quiet jazz standards (“In a Silent Way,” “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”), original compositions, and versions of tunes like “Redemption Song” and “Samba Pa Ti,” all of them richly evocative and deeply soothing. Worell is a technically accomplished player, but this album isn’t about technical prowess–it’s about creating a mood and defining sonic space, and it does both brilliantly.


twinscapesLorenzo Feliciati & Colin Edwin
Twinscapes
RareNoise (dist. Darla)
RNR029
Rick’s Pick

Alternately jazzy, funky, spacey, ambient, and prog-rockish, this project by bassists Lorenzo Feliciati and Colin Edwin will appeal to anyone who has enjoyed the work of Bill Laswell with groups like Material and Praxis or the solo recordings of Japan bassist Mick Karn. Guest musicians include trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, drummer Roberto Gualdi, saxophonist David Jackson, and percussionist Andi Pupato, but the stars of this project are Feliciati and Edwin’s twin basses — a combination that one might expect to sound murky and ill-defined, but which instead serves as both the powerful foundation and an often intricate superstructure to a varied series of compositions that is consistently both intellectually fascinating and viscerally enjoyable. Highly recommended to all library collections.


millerDominic Miller
Ad Hoc
Q-rious Music (dist. Allegro)
QRM 127-2

Move along, fusion haters, there’s nothing you’re going to like here. No, wait, that’s not really fair: the latest from guitarist Dominic Miller (a longtime Sting sideman) isn’t really fusion, at least not in the Yellowjackets-and-Spyro-Gyra sense. It’s certainly restrained, lushly produced, and more focused on pop hooks than on harmonic complexity and elaborate soloing–but that doesn’t mean it’s exactly poppy, or that it’s simple. It’s just carefully constructed, beautifully written, and skillfully recorded. And if, at times, it sounds like an instrumental Sting album, then that tells us something about Miller’s contributions to the work of one of the world’s biggest pop artists.


bamboulaTom McDermott
Bamboula
Minky (dist. Allegro)
MK3
Rick’s Pick

One of the wonderful things about New Orleans culture is that it’s built on the whole idea of créolité — the promiscuous mixture of disparate peoples and traditions into a what usually ends up being a cultural emulsion rather than a new solution. For an example of how that works, check out this completely delightful album from pianist and composer Tom McDermott, one that takes the music of Gottschalk, Joplin, and a hundred other influences (most of them subsumed into McDermott’s original compositions) and plays it in styles that draw on jazz, R&B, classical, ragtime, tango, samba, salon music, and myriad other ingredients. The results are never pure, and they’re never a blend. They’re always a créole of some kind, and they’re never less than enchanting. I find it interesting and praiseworthy how rarely McDermott’s piano is the center of attention here — the musical focus is usually on the arrangement as a whole, or, briefly, on one of his sidepersons. That’s a mark of both musical maturity and taste, but more importantly it makes the whole listening experience that much more satisfying. Highly recommended to all libraries.


makikoMakiko Hirabayashi Trio
Surely
Enja/Yellowbird (dist. Allegro)
YEB 7738

I normally like my piano trio albums pretty straight-ahead, preferably boppish. But despite the immpressionistic and discursive nature of pianist Makiko Hirabayashi’s style, and despite drummer Marilyn Mazur’s frequent instrumental wanderings into the realm of chimes and other idiophonic exotica, I found myself quickly captivated by this disc. Sometimes funky, sometimes abstract, sometimes swinging, Hirabayashi’s trio boasts an uncommon blend of tightness and flexibility and communicates an undercurrent of joy even when at their most improvisational and abstract (and be warned: several of these tracks do sound like free improvisations).


turtleMike Marshall & the Turtle Island Quartet
Mike Marshall & the Turtle Island Quartet
Adventure Music America
AMA1083 2

I guess I’ll stick this one under Jazz, even though it could just as easily go under Classical or World/Ethnic. The Turtle Island Quartet is a conventionally-configured string quartet; and on this album they are joined by mandolinist/mandocellist Mike Marshall for a delightfully motley program of pieces that veer from jazz-classical fusion (violinist David Balakrishnan’s four-movement piece Interplay) to a medley of Brazilian choro tunes and a selection of Marshall originals. The program ends with a rocking version of the Delta blues classic “Crossroads” (made popular by Cream about 45 years ago). Recommended.


COUNTRY/FOLK


lonejusticeLone Justice
This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, 1983
Omnivore
OVCD-77
Rick’s Pick

Fronted by Maria McKee, a tiny little blonde woman with a voice that sounded like a cross between Aretha Franklin and Dolly Parton, Lone Justice tore up the alt-retro-punk-country scene in 1980s California, occupying a less punky and more explicitly country stratum of the scene than the one dominated by bands like X and the Blasters. Their studio albums were great, but these raw, live-in-the-studio recordings from 1983 (most of them never previously released) capture the band at their absolute best: they’re tight and the recorded sound is excellent, but there’s a ragged edge to the sound and a spontaneous passion that is completely infectious. And McKee’s voice is like a howitzer. An essential purchase for all pop and country collections.


henrygirlsThe Henry Girls
December Moon
Self-released
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

This is about as perfect a collection of acoustic folk-pop as you could ask for — three-part sister harmonies, original songs, left-of-center covers (notably Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives”) and hooks, hooks, hooks galore. Imagine a less aggressively quirky Roches, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. The girls are Irish, but you won’t notice much Celtic influence on this album; instead, you’ll just hear brilliant pop music in a lively but gentle style. Highly recommended to all libraries.


angerDarol Anger
e-and’a
Adventure Music America
AMA1086 2

Harking back to the glory days of early-1980s New Acoustic Music (a genre that Anger helped define in the company of people like David Grisman, Tony Rice, and Mike Marshall), this disc finds the fiddler in the company of hotshot youngsters whose collective instrumentation (mandolin, guitar, banjo, bass) spells “bluegrass” but whose music often sounds much more like jazz — even when playing traditional tunes like “Farewell to Trion” and “Grey Owl.” Anyone who misses the good old days of the David Grisman Quintet and the Tony Rice Unit will love this disc.


cahalenCahalen Morrison & Eli West
I’ll Swing My Hammer with Both Hands
Self-released
No cat. no.

Drawing on old-time, bluegrass, and protest folk traditions in more or less equal measure, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West have made an album that is remarkable for both its understated virtuosity (tight harmonies, sharp playing) and its carefully-crafted songs. Even the originals sound ancient, but the structures and the instrumentation are sometimes subtly innovative. Producer Tim O’Brien gives the duo a clean and dry sound that nicely reveals every note they sing and play. Recommended.


ROCK/POP


finnNeil Finn
Dizzy Heights
Lester
LRNF0011CD

Best known as the former frontman for Crowded House, Neil Finn has now produced three solo studio albums, each of them a bit more abstract and experimental than the pure pop brilliance that characterized most of his old band’s work. The flavor of Dizzy Heights is nicely reflected in the album cover artwork: swimmers in a cloud bank, some of them already swimming and some poised to jump. His lyrical concerns are deep and universal, and the sound is dense but often ethereal, the hooks present but sometimes lurking just below the surface. Like so much of his work over the past ten or fifteen years, this album richly rewards repeated listens. Recommended to all pop collections.


martiniPink Martini
Get Happy
Heinz (dist. Allegro)
HNZ013

Pink Martini continues to dance, gracefully and gleefully, on the fuzzy line that separates retro-chic from outright kitsch. Here the band delivers another charming set of lounge-style, multicultural orchestral pop music: throbbing strings, wah-wah trumpets, multilayered Latin percussion, and songs in French, Japanese, German, and (I’m pretty sure) Turkish all burble by in blissful easy-listening style. Expect demand.


bannonLee Bannon
Alternate/Endings
Ninja Tune (dist. Redeye)
ZENCD204
Rick’s Pick

It’s been so long since I’ve heard a truly interesting drum & bass record that I’d almost forgotten what one sounded like. Tremendous thanks to up-and-coming producer Lee Bannon for reminding me just how much fun jungle can be. His debut album is a crazy quilt of beats, samples, and textures, but it never feels chaotic or unnecessarily dense — there is space in the mix, there are hooks in the basslines (provided by Mars Volta’s Juan Alderete), and there are beats that will have you out of your chair in a flash. A brilliant first effort from a bright new star in the dance music firmament.


downlinersDownliners Sekt
Silent Ascent
Infiné Music
iF1028

You may or may not share my taste for dark, grumbly, stagger-step dance music with plenty of glitch and dubby atmospherics. But if you do, then run, don’t walk, to the nearest place that sells the third LP from Barcelona duo Downliners Sekt. Creepily disjunct vocal snippets, waves of white noise, burbling basslines, tiny little space-defining blips and bloops — it’s everything any fan of weirdo electronic music could ask for. If you really wanted to, you could dance to it (well, some of it anyway). But I recommend it as a soundtrack for sitting alone in the house reading speculative fiction when the weather outside is crap.


little axeLittle Axe
Return
Echo Beach
CD094
Rick’s Pick

If you think blues guitarists all sound essentially the same, think again. Skip McDonald (one of the architects of early hip hop and a founding member of Tackhead) operates from a home base in Delta blues but delivers his music through kaleidoscopic filters of techno, hip hop, reggae, avant-dub, gospel, and even ethnomusicological field recordings. Recording as Little Axe, he has made a series of brilliant albums for labels like On-U Sound, Real World, Fat Possum, and Okeh/Epic, and this compilation pulls together a bunch of his best work along with some new material and remixes. (The download version includes an entire album’s worth of bonus material.) This collection provides an excellent introduction to this always-intriguing artist.


skindredSkindred
Kill the Power
Relativity
113

Skindred’s bracing blend of heavy metal, speedcore, and Rastafarian declamation regularly gets them compared with Bad Brains, but in sonic terms they could hardly be more different. Bad Brains’ roots were in hardcore punk; Skindred’s are in metal and in South London dance music, and those roots have never been more exposed than on their latest album. Not much in the way of jungle breakbeats here (except on the excellent “Ghetto Long Time”) and even fewer explicit reggae inflections beyond the occasional bubble of Jamaican patois. Instead, the focus is on head-crushing guitars, monolithic beats, and singer Benji Webbe’s Sybil-like vocal presence. Excellent, as always.


mutazioneVarious Artists
Mutazione: Italian Electronic & New Wave Underground 1980-1988
Strut (dist. Redeye)
STRUT110CD

Let’s acknowledge one thing right up front here: this music is no fun. Life in early-80s Italy was pretty grim (the country had just emerged, dazed and bleeding, from a decade of murderous political turmoil), and the underground music of the period reflected that mood. On this collection you’ll encounter stark, nearly atonal electro-funk; grinding pre-industrial rock; anomic vocals (often singing in English); and song titles like “Always Unique (Kill Myself 2)” and “Nervous Breakdown.” Like I say, no fun — but definitely of interest to libraries collecting deeply in pop music, especially those with an international focus.


WORLD/ETHNIC


nisthaNistha Raj
Exit 1
Self-released
No cat. no.

Born to Indian parents but raised in Texas, violinist Nistha Raj draws equally on Western and Eastern influences in her very personal take on the raga tradition. Most interesting are her collaborations with beatboxer (mouth percussionist) Christyles Bacon, which create a sound that blends Indian classical elements with hip hop beats. Her playing style minimizes the virtuosic melismas and microtonal embellishments that are so integral to traditional raga interpretation, which is kind of too bad, but this album is plenty of fun nevertheless.


alsarahAlsarah & the Nubatones
Silt
Wonderwheel (dist. Redeye)
CD-WONDER-21

Sudanese singer Alsarah (originally from Khartoum but currently based in Brooklyn) is being praised in some quarters as the “new star of Nubian pop,” and this album offers ample support for that assessment. Alsarah herself characterizes her music as “East African retro-pop,” which gives you a better idea of what to expect: a mostly acoustic, percussion-driven, and oud-heavy sound with lots of multitracked harmonies, complex and slippery time signatures, and beguiling melodies. Her voice is simply beautiful. Recommended to all world music collections.


corbettMarcus Corbett
Strung Deep
Self-released
No cat. no.

At 31 minutes in length, this album is overpriced. And the less said about Corbett’s workmanlike voice and semi-mystical lyrics, the better. But here’s what makes this album a winner: Corbett’s guitar playing incorporates aspects of Indian music that go deeper than mere ornamentation and raga-based scale, and the tabla, bansuri, and violin players who accompany him are brilliant. Despite its brevity and occasional preciosity, this is one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve heard so far this year.


rizVarious Artists
Rise Up!: The Riz Records Story
Reggae Archive
RARCD008
Rick’s Pick

Anyone who thinks that roots reggae had died by the end of the 1980s needs to hear this album, another in a growing catalog of essential reissues and compilations from the Reggae Archive label. Riz Records was a British label that attracted such top-flight talent as Earl 16, Willie Williams, Johnny Osbourne, and Admiral Tibet (all featured on this collection) and created a sound that was undeniable modern but deeply rooted in the old-school verities of classic reggae. A number of the tracks on this compilation are presented in “showcase” or “disco mix” style, with dub mixes appended to the vocal versions. A reggae essential.

February 2014


PICK OF THE MONTH


beethovenLudwig Van Beethoven
Cello Sonatas (2 discs)
Steven Isserlis; Robert Levin
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CDA67981/2

This is a very special recording, one of those rare examples of a new performance of a familiar work (or, in this case, set of works) that sheds brilliant new light on musical gestures that we’ve all heard many times before, allowing us to hear them in a new way. Isserlis and Levin use period instruments (Levin using a copy of an 1805 fortepiano) and play with such dash and sensitivity that it sounds as if these pieces were written for them personally. As is often the case with music of the Romantic period played on authentic instruments, the music seems to be taking the players and their instruments to the outer borders of their expressive capacity, and that fact alone gives the music-making a thrilling edge, but what really sets these performances apart is the emotional investment of the players. Listen in particular to their delivery in the Allegro vivace movement of the F major sonata–here their technical virtuosity, though real and obvious, is completely subsumed in pure musical joy. In addition to the five cello sonatas, this program includes three sets of variations on themes from Handel and Mozart, as well as a transcription of Beethoven’s F major horn sonata. An essential purchase for all library collections.


CLASSICAL


brittenBenjamin Britten
Cello Symphony; Cello Sonata
Zuill Bailey; Natasha Paremski; North Carolina Symphony / Grant Llewellyn
Telarc
TEL-34412-02

Benjamin Britten’s somber, spiky Symphony for Cello and Orchestra is paired here with his equally serious but somewhat more lyrical and approachable C major cello sonata. Cellist Zuill Bailey shows real affinity both for the assertive (even aggressive) symphony and for the more grumbly and restrained energy of the sonata, and his accompanist on the latter (pianist Natasha Paremski) is especially impressive. Recommended to all classical collections.


simoneJohann Sebastian Bach
Inventions & Sinfonias
Simone Dinnerstein
Sony Classical
8843009102
Rick’s Pick

There are so many great recordings of these lovely keyboard pieces (Glenn Gould recorded highly influential versions, as did Peter Serkin and just about every other world-class pianist) that it would be very easy to let this new release slide under your radar. Don’t make that mistake, because in this case the pianist is the completely brilliant Simone Dinnerstein. As familiar as these pieces are, she’ll make you hear them with new ears–her tempos are sometimes surprising, her sense of line is impeccable, and her thinking is fresh and insightful. Very strongly recommended to all classical collections.


partArvo Pärt
Für Anna Maria: Complete Piano Music (2 discs)
Jeroen Van Veen
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
94775
Rick’s Pick

I think it’s safe to say that most of us don’t think of Arvo Pärt primarily as a keyboard composer–it’s his orchestral and (especially) choral works that have grabbed most of the world’s attention. But these two hours of music make a powerful argument for him as a significant composer for the piano. The strength of that argument comes, I think, not so much from his more modernist work in the 1950s (which comprises the bulk of the second disc) but rather for the later, more impressionistic pieces on the first disc, many of which are informed by his concept of “tintinnabulation.” The performances by Jeroen Van Veen are excellent. Strongly recommended to all classical collections.


biberHeinrich Ignaz Franz Biber; Johann Caspar Kerll
Vespro della Beata Vergine; Missa in fletu solatium
Accent (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
ACC 24286

If you have a collecting interest (or even just a listening interest) in the glorious large-scale sacred music of 17th-century Venice by composers like Gabrieli and Monteverdi, then consider checking out this recording of similarly-scaled works by the Venetian masters’ rough Germanic contemporaries, Biber and Kerll. Biber is known mostly for his chamber music and Kerll is frankly mostly forgotten, but this thrilling recording is likely to send you scrambling to discover more of their vocal music, which has begun coming back to public attention over the past couple of decades. As they almost always do, Cantus Cölln has provided us with brilliant performances and the sound quality is outstanding as well.


newcollegeVarious Composers
The Glory of New College Choir (8 discs)
The Choir of New College, Oxford / Edward Higginbottom
Warner Classics/Erato (dist. Naxos)
2564 64274-3

I approached this collection with one question in mind: would it result in the New College replacing Magdalen as my favorite Oxford college choir? The answer is no, but that’s just me. Regarded objectively, this eight-disc retrospective shows the Choir of New College to be not only world-class in terms of tonality, blend, and sensitivity, but also remarkably versatile, covering everything from American spirituals and folk songs to 20th-century English neoromanticism, Pergolesi’s high-baroque Marian vespers, and the Franco-Flemish masters. One of the discs is a thoroughly delightful collection of Christmas material both familiar and obscure. Highly recommended overall.


goodeDaniel Goode
Annbling
Various Performers
New World (dist. Albany)
80744-2

I’m not sure that “whimsical” is what composer and clarinetist Daniel Goode was going for with the trombone-dominated large-scale title work on this disc (a work whose influences include the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina), but it’s the word that comes regularly to mind over the course of its sometimes contemplative and sometimes rollicking 23 minutes. Goode’s pieces for solo clarinet and for small chamber ensemble are more marked by repetitive structures and neoclassical harmonies, and all of the music is very much worth hearing. I especially liked the clarinet sonata, the earliest of the pieces included on this program and one that reminded me of the music of Walter Piston.


sonsbachVarious Composers
The Sons of Bach (10 discs)
Various Performers
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
94700
Rick’s Pick

As we all know, Johann Sebastian Bach had lots of kids, and an improbably high percentage of those kids grew up to be world-class composers in their own right. The most famous of these is probably Carl Philipp Emanuel, but Johann Christian, Wilhelm Friedemann, and Johann Christoph Friedrich were no slouches either. Despite the lack of liner notes and a slight unevenness in the performance quality (the period-instrument ensemble Kammerorchester C.P.E. Bach is a bit shaky on its namesake’s Hamburg symphonies) this ten-disc set of symphonies, concertos, and chamber music by the Bach boys is both a wonderful listening experience and a convenient and affordable historical/pedagogical tool and should be seriously considered by all classical collections.


JAZZ


anickJason Anick
Tipping Point (to be released February 18)
Magic Fiddle Music
MFM-2

I’m a sucker for a good jazz violin, and Jason Anick is better than most. He also plays mandolin (which, in its electrified version, can be a bit hard to distinguish from an electric guitar) and writes very, very well. On this album there’s the inevitable smattering of Gypsy jazz but also lots of more open-ended, exploratory material as well. The more I listen, the more it reminds me of what David Grisman was doing in the 1970s as he broke out of the bluegrass/newgrass/gypsygrass mode and started defining his own sound. And yes, that’s a compliment.


miamiMiami Saxophone Quartet
Four of a Kind
Fortitude
FR005W
Rick’s Pick

Saxophone quartet arrangements are always fun, and this live album starts out especially so with a brilliant set of variations on the theme of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” But an extra treat on this recording is the presence of a rhythm section in addition to the four saxophones, giving the whole program the flavor of a performance by an extremely tight big band. Gary Keller, Gary Lindsay, Ed Calle and Mike Brignola are all world-class players, and this album is a pure pleasure from start to finish. Highly recommended.


johnbrownJohn Brown
Quiet Time
Brown Boulevard
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

There seems to be a growing vogue for ballad albums lately, and this one from bassist John Brown is an unusually beautiful example of the trend. Leading a quintet that includes saxophonist Brian Miller and trumpeter/flugelhorn player Ray Codrington, he presents a gorgeous program of slow and quiet numbers from a wide variety of sources including Oscar Peterson (“When Summer Comes”), Elvin Jones (“A Lullaby of Itsugo Village”), and even such unlikely choices as Barry Manilow (“When October Goes”) and James Taylor (“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”). The title track is an original composition and maintains the same high standard as the others. Highly recommended.


einavShauli Einav
Generations
Posi-Tone
PR8113

On this exciting album, saxophonist Shauli Einav leads a quartet (occasionally augmented by flutist Itai Kriss) through a set of tunes that range in style from structurally disciplined bop and hard bop (“The More I See You,” “Almost Everything”) to more broadly-ranging modal experimentation (“Land of Nod,” the lovely “Waltz for Zweetie”). Einav’s tone is solid and shiny, his rhythm section is rock-solid, and the whole album is a pleasure.


davisSteve Davis
For Real
Posi-Tone
PR8116

One limitation trombonists face is the structural awkwardness of an instrument that has to slide between notes–this makes it relatively unwieldy at fast tempos. The upside of this difficulty is the fact that it tends to lead trombonists to spend less time showing off their virtuosic speed and more time showing off their musicality. That’s just what Steve Davis does on this lovely album of loping, swinging, and sometimes funky midtempo original tunes. Generally working in a recognizably hard bop-based style, Davis has nevertheless developed a personal and deeply pleasing sound of his own. Recommended to all jazz collections.


shawnShawn Goodman
Not Benny’s Goodman
Self-released
SG-01-13
Rick’s Pick

Though this album consists entirely of standards (and very familiar ones at that: “Embraceable You,” “Moonglow,” “Nancy with the Laughing Face,” etc.) it sounds unlike almost any other jazz album that you’ll already have in your collection. It’s led by clarinetist Shawn Goodman, who is accompanied by pianist Gary Walters, and that’s it: no rhythm section, no other soloists. It takes a clarinetist of unusual musical and imaginative resources to carry this kind of program, and Goodman does it spectacularly–not only with rich melodic invention, but with a beautifully mellow and burnished tone as well. Any library supporting a jazz program, and especially one with emphases in arrangement and orchestration, should hurry to snap this one up.


COUNTRY/FOLK


ivanIvan Rosenberg
Oldies and Old-time
Vole-O-Tone
003

Ivan Rosenberg is a clawhammer banjo player, but one unlike any you’re likely to have heard before. It’s not so much that he departs decisively from traditional styles and content, but that he takes old material and twist it (as the wry titles of original tunes like “Abject Woodchuck” and “Sloth Up a Gum Stump” suggest). He sometimes plays a Romero open-back banjo and sometimes a banjo-resophone hybrid instrument, and sometimes he plays a resophonic guitar. He sings as well as plays, and while his singing voice is passable, his playing is quietly and subtly excellent.


deadlyThe Deadly Gentlemen
Roll Me, Tumble Me
Rounder
1161-9174-2

Instrumentally, the Deadly Gentlemen look like a bluegrass band (guitar-mandolin-fiddle-banjo-bass); sartorially and tonsorially, they look like Brooklyn hipsters. Stylistically, their music has little except instrumentation to do with bluegrass: instead, it’s slow-to-midtempo, contemplative folk-pop featuring tight harmonies throughout. At moments it will seriously remind you of classic CSNY (and not only because the guitarist looks startlingly like a young Neil Young). Very nice.


imaginationalVarious Artists
Imaginational Anthem, Vol. 6: Origins of American Primitive Guitar
Tompkins Square
TSQ 2851
Rick’s Pick

Any library supporting a curriculum in American folk music probably needs to be picking up each volume in the Imaginational Anthem series as it’s released. The latest one features classic recordings by such legendary guitarists as Riley Puckett, Sam McGee, and Sylvester Weaver. The tracks cover a variety of styles, from slide-based blues to finger-picked dance tunes. Sadly, there is no information provided about the dates or circumstances of the recordings (such information may not have been available to the compilers), but the liner notes include biographical sketches of the artists.


blueBlue Highway
The Game
Rounder
11661-9170-2

The term “modern traditional bluegrass” feels oxymoronic to me, but it’s the only one I can come up with to describe Blue Highway’s style. All the elements of straight-ahead bluegrass are there in terms of instrumental style, band makeup, vocal approach, and subject matter–and yet there’s something inescapably modern about their sound. Maybe it’s the fact that they mess around with traditional song forms, or that they like to sneak fancy chord changes in there underneath the chuck-a-chuck mandolin comping and the silvery banjo picking. What it all adds up to — for better or worse — is bluegrass that any fan of modern country music can get behind. It works fine for me, but hardcore purists may want to proceed with caution.


stanleyRalph Stanley & Ralph Stanley II
Side by Side
Rebel
REB-CD-1850

The interesting thing about bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley and his son is how different their voices are: the elder Ralph is famous for the reedy, piercing quality of his voice, one that has only gotten richer and more interesting with age; the younger Ralph sings in a crooning baritone register. Together, they make a pleasing combination, and this collection of bluegrass and country classics (some written by the elder Ralph) is absolutely solid. Backing is provided by members of both the Clinch Mountain Boys and the younger Stanley’s own band.


ROCK/POP


rigginsKarriem Riggins
Alone Together
Stones Throw
STH2298
Rick’s Pick

Karriem Riggins is a jazz drummer and hip hop producer of wide renown, and his debut solo album is both wonderful and kind of weird. To look at the track list, you would expect it to be a beats collection for DJs: it consists of 34 brief tracks, each of them offering a different groove that sits somewhere along the spectrum between jazz and instrumental hip hop. You might think an album like this would be tiresome, but it’s entrancing: there are lots of found-sound vocal samples, a wide variety of machine-driven and organically-recorded loops and breaks, and unexpected textural juxtapositions, but everything flows together into an organic whole. Rather than feeling like a disjointed catalog of sounds for post-hoc plundering, it really feels like a coherent album, and a very fun one at that. Highly recommended.


poetsPoets of Rhythm
Anthology 1992-2003
Daptone (dist. Redeye)
DAP-030

Truly, few things can be as tiresome as slavish revivalism. In that regard, the cover design and photo on this album just raise all kinds of red flags. But danged if the Poets of Rhythm don’t win you over by about three tracks in: yes, they’re a German band trying desperately to channel James Brown — but the thing is, they succeed, and they have so much fun doing it that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the funky spirit of the thing. It’s too bad that their conception of “funky” has to mean “poorly recorded,” but still. Choice song titles: “Wallowing in the Myrrh,” “Ham Gallery.”


pillarPillar Point
Pillar Point
Polyvinyl
PRC-273

Speaking of revivalism, the debut album by Pillar Point (the nom de solo project of Throw Me the Statue’s Scott Reitherman) comes with more than a whiff of 1980s synthpop. Its sound is dry and digital and the melodies are a bit featureless–reminding me somewhat of early Depeche Mode–but hang on through a few songs and the hooks start to sink in. Reitherman’s singing style is understated (not to say anomic) but the lyrics are heartfelt and sometimes heartbreaking, and the Casiotone-cheesy synth layers are solidly anchored by deep and throbbing bass. Recommended.


fieldstudyField Study
Feverland
Nine Mile
NMR 0152
Rick’s Pick

Emerging from the ashes of Canadian indiepop band Parlour Steps, frontman Caleb Stull has put together a new project called Field Study. Its debut is seriously impressive, a slightly uneasy blend of hookswise, electro-inflected power pop and acoustic-based roots rock. The things that set it apart from the competition are pretty subtle: the tastefully strange guitar treatments, the way the voice is mixed. Also the songcraft, which is top notch. Highly recommended to all pop collections.


claudettesThe Claudettes
Infernal Piano Plot… Hatched!
Yellow Dog
YDR 2065

With this album, pianist Johnny Iguana and drummer Michael Caskey have provided a high-octane party document composed of equal parts barrelhouse blues, punk rock, fractured burlesque ragtime, and drunken New Orleans freakout. Apart from one or two relatively quiet moments, the energy level is constantly set at 11, and the playing puts much more emphasis on exuberance and precision (which isn’t to say that it’s sloppy, really, just that it’s, you know, exuberant). You may find yourself switching to something else halfway through out of sheer exhaustion, but you’ll sure have fun while your stamina endures.


keleKele
Bloc Party Tapes
!K7 (dist. Redeye)
K7313CD

DJ mixtapes are always informed by a combination of two impulses which, while not mutually exclusive, are nevertheless in tension: a desire to please, and a desire to show off. The mixtape is your chance both to make the dancers happy and to impress them with the depth of your record collection (and the hipness of your tastes). Taking advantage of both opportunities, Kele Okereke (of Bloc Party) has put together a wildly eclectic, hip, and very fun continuous mix drawing on everything from Afrobeat (Tony Allen, Fela Kuti) to grime (Wiley) to UK bass (Bloc Party) to unclassifiable weirdo techno (French Fries). Recommended to all adventurous pop collections.


WORLD/ETHNIC


lemaRay Lema
5 Albums Originaux (reissue; 5 discs)
Buda Musique
1153 RS60

Multi-instrumentalist, composer, and singer Ray Lema is originally from Zaire but has been based in France for many years. The five albums gathered together in this box set were originally released between 1992 and 2004 and cover a wide stylistic range, from strange and wonderful collaborations with Bulgarian choral ensembles to Brazilian-flavored chamber pop and solo piano compositions. All of the elements of his music are familiar, but they are regularly juxtaposed in refreshing (and sometimes startling) ways. At the core of his arrangements are usually his own voice and his quietly expert piano playing. Very nice.


birdsDhafer Youssef
Birds Requiem
Sony/Okeh
88883721842

This one’s very interesting. Dhafer Youssef is a Tunisian virtuoso of the oud, a Middle Eastern lute, and for this album he has created a contemplative and impressionistic suite of compositions that incorporates traditional Middle Eastern sounds and modalities but blends them–sometimes subtly and sometimes startlingly–with elements of jazz, classical, and rock music. The fusion generally works very well, though the aggressively prog-rock “39th Gülay” felt less successful to me than most of the other tracks. Fans of ECM jazz will be interested to see that featured guests include trumpeter Nils-Petter Molvaer and guitarist Eivind Aarset.


sekouJoe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate
Faya
Cumbancha
CMB-CD-29

Put a beatboxing rapper from New York together with a virtuosic kora player and singer from Guinea, and what do you get? You get a slightly schizophrenic but enormously fun and sometimes quite moving album that blends a wide range of cultural styles and musical elements together into something unlike any world-music project you’ve heard before. Strongly recommended.


chezidekChezidek
Order of Melchizedek
Heartbeat Europe (dist. Allegro)
20670
Rick’s Pick

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking or innovative about this album — it’s simply one of the most richly rewarding and enjoyable modern roots reggae releases I’ve heard in years. Singer Chezidek has a wonderful voice, the Jah Solid Rock crew provides pitch-perfect old-school backup using live instruments, and the songs are consistently excellent. It was a tragedy when the Heartbeat label went out of business in the US, and it’s very heartening (as it were) to see it being revived so successfully in Europe. Very strongly recommended to all reggae and world music collections.


trovaAlejandro Almenares
Casa de Trova: Cuba 50’s (2 discs)
Tumi Music
TUMI 228
Rick’s Pick

Sweetly melodic, gently swaying, typified by tight vocal harmonies and quietly percolating rhythms, trova is a genre of Cuban music that became popular there in the early-to-mid-20th century and doesn’t sound like it has changed at all since. 76-year-old Alejandro Almenares has been on the scene since the music’s formative period and still plays every day. This sumptuously beautiful album includes the same program twice on two CDs: once with (lead) vocals, and once without. I don’t know why anyone would want to listen to this music without the vocals, but hey — you might as well have the choice. Very highly recommended to all world music collections.

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