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October 2014


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


bollaniStefano Bollani
Joy in Spite of Everything
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

pedroPedro Rafael Garcia Moreno
Ear Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jimmy Gaudreau & Moondi Klein
If I Had a Boatgaudreau

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

earlsThe Earls of Leicester
The Earls of Leicester

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

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

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

careyKyle Carey
North Star
Rick’s Pick

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

smokeSmoke Dawson
Tompkins Square
TSQ 5036

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

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

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


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

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

daisukeDaisuke Tanabe
Floating Underwater
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

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

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

redhotVarious Artists
Red Hot + Bach
Sony Music
88843 02933 2

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


chaplinRicky Chaplin
Chap Dem Chaplin
Uniteam Music
No catalog number

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

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

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

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

Radio Riddler
Purple Reggae: A Reggae Tribute to Purple Rain

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

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

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

siaSia Tolno
African Woman
Lusafrica (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

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

bombayThe Bombay Royale
The Island of Dr. Electrico

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

September 2014


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


iyerVijay Iyer

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

wakenius Ulf Wakenius
Momento Magico
ACT (dist. Allegro)

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

fullerLarry Fuller
Larry Fuller
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

burtonJason Tyler Burton
No cat. no.

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

bellsMike Auldridge/Jerry Douglas/Rob Ickes
Three Bells

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

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

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


My Little Ghost
Project Mooncircle
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

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

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

wattBen Watt
Unmade Road
Rick’s Pick

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

billytBilly Thermal
Billy Thermal
Rick’s Pick

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

calyxCalyx & Teebee
Fabriclive 76

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

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

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

johnsonEric Johnson
Europe Live

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


internationalInternational Observer
Dubmission (dist. Allegro)

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

Ondar EP (download only)
Six Degrees

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

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

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

girmaGirma Yifrashewa
Love & Peace
Unseen Worlds
UW 13

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

thirdworldThird World
Under the Magic Sun
CLP 1795

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

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

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

August 2014


jarrettKeith Jarrett; Charlie Haden
Last Dance

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


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

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

wuorinenCharles Wuorinen
Various performers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

coniglioWayne Coniglio; Scott Whitfield
Fast Friends
DCD 629

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


tsistersT Sisters
Kindred Lines
Spruce and Maple Music
SMM 1010

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

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

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

haasHaas Kowert Tice
You Got This
No cat. no.

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


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

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

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

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

darkskyDark Sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Amor Planeta
Six Degrees

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

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

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

shapiroPaul Shapiro
Shofarot Verses

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

Mountain Melodies: Rubab Music of Afghanistan
Evergreene Music
EVR 8024

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

July 2014


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

herschFred Hersch Trio
Rick’s Pick

Fred Hersch. New album. Res ipse loquitur.

mostSam Most
New Jazz Standards
DCD 630
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Current Affairs
RUNA Music

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

carthyMartin & Eliza Carthy
The Moral of the Elephant

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

gritMartyn Bennett
Grit (reissue)
Real World

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


System Fork
Dust Science

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

shonenShonen Knife
Good Charamel

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

Data Panik Etcetera
Do Yourself In (dist. Redeye)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

anbessaZvuloon Dub System
Anbessa Dub

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

skaNeville Staple
Ska Crazy
CLP 1753

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

Our Kind of Bossa
Six Degrees

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

lemvoRicardo Lemvo & Makina Loca
La Rumba SoYo

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

June 2014


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

saftJamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte
The New Standard

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

fordAnnie Ford Band
Annie Ford Band
No cat. no.

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

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

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

willisKelly Willis & Bruce Robison
Our Year

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


pineiroSean Piñeiro
Saved Once Twice
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

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

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

bozooBoozoo Bajou
Apollo (dist. Redeye)

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


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

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

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

Leave a Light On

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Eyes Wide
No cat. no.

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

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

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

May 2014

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

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.


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)

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)

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)

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)

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.


clineNels Cline Singers
Mack Avenue

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 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
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
Rare Noise

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
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
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
Album Label

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
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.


hankHank Williams
The Garden Spot Programs, 1950
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
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.


hattiHatti Vatti
Worship Nothing
New Moon
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

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.

For the Love of Money
Dude/Echo Beach

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

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)

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.

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.

Bella Union

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.


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 Highly recommended.

hadoukHadouk Quartet
Hadoukly Yours
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
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)
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)
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)

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


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

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.


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)

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)
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)

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)

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.


vallonColin Vallon Trio
Le Vent
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

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
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
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
Miles High

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.

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.


trischkaTony Trischka
Great Big World
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

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

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
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.


blackwatchThe Black Watch
The End of When (2 discs)
Pop Culture Press (dist. Allegro)
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)

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

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)

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)
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.)

Sleep of Reason
Ninja Tune

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.


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

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)

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

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.

Woman in Dub
Echo Beach/Collision
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.


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