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February 2016


bryarsGavin Bryars
Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet/The Sinking of the Titanic (reissue)
GB (dist. Allegro)

This recording reissues a landmark 1975 recording by composer Gavin Bryars. The first composition is based on a field recording of a homeless man singing a few lines of an obscure religious song; Bryars looped the recording and composed a series of chamber-music accompaniments to it. The second is a more conceptual piece that takes its inspiration from various accounts of the last moments on the Titanic as it sank, notably including multiple reports that the ship’s band was playing either the hymn “Autumn” or another piece titled “Aughton” right up until the ship went down, taking all the band members with it. This piece is something of a musical collage, with elements of “Autumn,” “Aughton,” and “Nearer, My God, to Thee” layered in among snippets of ragtime music and spoken recollections of a survivor and snippets from a music box. Where the first composition is simple, heartfelt, and direct, the second is emotionally complex and eerie. Both of these have been redone and commercially released in later versions, but the ones reissued here are the original versions recorded in collaboration with Brian Eno and made available only by mail order in the 1970s. A glance at the musician credits is interesting: participants include Derek Bailey, John Adams, and Michael Nyman. The music itself is as exquisite today as it was then. Strongly recommended to all library collections.


celloVarious Composers
The Latin Project
Boston Cello Quartet
No cat. no.

Gracefully straddling the line between classical and dance music — a historically blurry line anyway — the Boston Cello Quartet’s second album features arrangements of works by Ástor Piazzolla, Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, Chick Corea, and others for four cellos. If you think that a cello quartet seems like a rather strange ensemble, one that would be prone to aural muddiness and midrange overload, think again: these four cellists (all from the Boston Symphony Orchestra) are masters at exploiting every inch of their instrument’s range, and at making it sound both effortless and fun. The lack of liner notes will be a bit of a frustration for anyone interested in learning more about the music, but this CD is nevertheless strongly recommended to all classical collections.

steibeltDaniel Steibelt
Piano Concertos
Howard Shelley; Ulster Orchestra
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

Just over a year ago, I designated the first volume in Hyperion’s Classical Piano Concerto series a Pick of the Month. That disc featured works by the relatively familiar Jan Ladislav Dussek; this one offers three concertos by Daniel Steibelt, a pianist and composer known today (if at all) not so much for his writing as for his playing — more specifically, for losing to Beethoven in a dueling-pianos competition. But this wonderful disc nicely justifies giving Steibelt a second look, partly because the music itself is so consistently attractive and exciting, and partly because pianist/conductor Howard Shelley and the Ulster Orchestra perform it so winningly. Strongly recommended to all collections.

sheppardJohn Sheppard
The Collected Vernacular Works, Vol. 2
Academia Musica Choir / Aryan O. Arji
Priory (dist. Allegro)
PRCD 1108
Rick’s Pick

This is a ravishingly beautiful recording, the second volume in a collection of John Sheppard’s English-language church music, much of which has been lost. It can be easy to miss Sheppard, standing as he does in the shadows of such Tudor giants as Thomas Tallis and John Taverner. And it’s also true that some of his work that has survived (including a couple of pieces featured here) show puzzling compositional flaws. But they also reveal uncommon brilliance — note the strange and heartrending suspensions that conclude the phrase “infinite majesty” in his Te Deum setting, for example. The Academia Musica Choir sings beautifully, though I kind of wish they’d picked a recording space with a less richly reverberant acoustic than Gloucester Cathedral; a certain amount of detail is lost here. Still, this is an essential recording.

lanskyPaul Lansky
Idle Fancies
Gwendolyn Dease
Bridge (dist. Albany)

Paul Lansky was a computer-music pioneer in the early days of electronic music, and was trained by hardcore serialists. But in his later years he has returned to traditional harmony and to analog instruments, without leaving behind any of his creativity and subtlety. For this disc, percussionist Gwendolyn Dease has gathered three of Lansky’s pieces for marimba: Spirals (2013), Three Moves (1998), and Idle Fancies (2008). She does a wonderful job of showcasing the elegance, the humor, and the rich harmonic complexity of these pieces, and producer David Starobin deserves separate praise for the way he miked the instrument used, creating a broad and beautifully detailed soundstage.

elementsVarious Composers
Les éléments: tempêtes, orages, & fêtes marines 1674-1764 (2 discs)
Le Concert des Nations / Jordi Savall
Alia Vox (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

Baroque composers had a thing for stormy-seas imagery, which inspired some of the most experimental and fun instrumental music of the period. Cases in point: these concertos, theatrical suites, and programmatic overtures by such baroque luminaries as Jean-Féry Rebel, Georg Philipp Telemann, and (of course) Antonio Vivaldi. The national variety here helps make the program fun: Germans, Brits, Italians, and the French are all represented, and there’s also a nice variety of compositional types, from Vivaldi’s flute concerto nicknamed “Le tempesta di mare” to Telemann’s celebrated Wassermusik, Hamburger Ebb un Fluth overture and Rebel’s somewhat over-the-top Les éléments. Unsurprisingly, Le Concert des Nations performs everything with joyful élan, and the album is tons of fun from beginning to end.

croftWilliam Croft
Burial Service & Anthems
Choir of Sydney Sussex College, Cambridge / David Skinner
Obsidian (dist. Naxos)

Though I confess I’d barely heard of him before encountering this album, William Croft was (according to the back jacket copy) “the finest English composer of his age, having followed in the footsteps of Henry Purcell and John Blow at Westminster Abbey.” Huh. Certainly this set of anthems and funerary songs (interspersed with solemn organ voluntaries) shows him to have been a brilliant composer of choral music, one who had clearly learned his lessons from the best of his predecessors and who idolized Thomas Tallis in particular. The singing is excellent and the recorded sound warm and clean.

shenluVarious Composers
Shen Lu
Steinway & Sons (dist. Naxos)

This is sort of a themed recital program from pianist Shen Lu, in which each of the pieces presented invokes water imagery in some way — sometimes very directly, as in both of the Chinese compositions that bracket the program, and sometimes a bit less so, as in the case of Maurice Ravel’s Miroirs suite, and really not at all in the case of Rachmaninov’s Etudes tableaux suite. But Shen Lu plays all of these pieces with rippling, fluid elegance, and in that important sense the evocation stands up. Recommended to all classical collections.

czernyCarl Czerny
String Quartets (2 discs)
Sheridan Ensemble
Capriccio (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

I bet you didn’t even know that Carl Czerny — the bane of every young piano student — had written any string quartets. Heaven knows I didn’t, and apparently I’m not alone, because these works have come to light only fairly recently and this two-disc set marks their world-premiere recording (two of the four quartets had been publicly performed in the early 2000s, but not recorded). Czerny himself reportedly held them back from publication, choosing to focus on his work as a pedagogue. Here the Sheridan Ensemble makes a powerful case for them, demonstrating that Czerny had mastered the form even if he had no particular plans to push its boundaries. Given both its historical significance and the quality of the playing, every classical collection should own this recording.


raymondJohn Raymond & Real Feels
John Raymond & Real Feels
Shifting Paradigm
SP 115
Rick’s Pick

In which we confront again the age-old question: what defines jazz? Is it swing feel? A particular set of canonical instrumental configurations? A focus on American Songbook-derived standards repertoire? Some combination of these? If so, then this trumpet-led trio album, which practically never swings and which draws more heavily on American folksong than on standards, must not be jazz. And yet, obviously, it is jazz, and it’s brilliant. Accompanied by the always-outstanding guitarist Gilad Hekselman and the equally brilliant drummer Colin Stranahan, John Raymond takes us through a program that includes settings of “Scarborough Fair,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Amazing Grace,” and the bop evergreen “Donna Lee.” There’s also a somewhat rockish blues number, which is followed immediately by a loose-limbed take on “This Land Is Your Land.” A must for every jazz collection.

breakstoneJoshua Breakstone
2nd Avenue

Here comes another joyfully and powerfully swinging effort from guitarist Joshua Breakstone. As with the last one, his quartet includes cellist Mike Richmond, playing pizzicato and functioning as a horn (unison on the head, then laying out until it’s his turn to solo). And though I’m still not 100% sold on the cello’s sonics in this context, the band’s overall sound is so great that I’m recommending this one as well. Breakstone himself is a master of both note choice and tone, and continues to pick great standards.

roxyRoxy Coss
Restless Idealism
Rick’s Pick

Of course, when it comes to joyful and powerful swing, it’s hard to beat composer and saxophonist Roxy Coss, whose second album is an all-original sextet session and a pleasure from start to finish. She blows out of the starting gate with the straight-ahead bop number “Don’t Cross the Coss” (a wry reference to the way in which people tend to get her last name wrong), then settles into midtempo with the harmonically craggy “Waiting,” then gets boppy and bright again on “Push,” and things just keep going like that. Great compositions, amazing playing from all concerned, and a fantastic album all around. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.

strassmeyerKarolina Strassmayer & Drori Mondlak – Klaro!
Of Mystery and Beauty
Lilypad Music
LPM 623

For something in a more impressionistic and romantic vein, consider the seventh album from saxophonist/composer Karolina Strassmayer and drummer Drori Mondlak and their quartet. Of Mystery and Beauty is aptly titled: here the group favors slow and expansive tunes, though without sacrificing structural rigor — and they also demonstrate their ability to swing when they want. Even the program’s one freely improvised tune feels oddly composed. The main focus here is on Strassmayer, whose rich tone and expressive phrasing carry much of the music’s emotional weight, but everyone in the group is a powerful player. This is another solid achievement from a world-class ensemble.

claytonJim Clayton
Lenny Jumps In
Rick’s Pick

Be honest: how many jazz albums leave you saying “Wow, that was fun.” Not “Wow, that was impressive” or “Wow, that guy can really blow,” but “Wow, that was fun”? I bet your answer is “not many,” and even if you won’t admit it to your jazz-cat friends, I bet you wish you could answer in the affirmative more often. If so, let me introduce you to Jim Clayton (actually, I introduced you to him a couple of years ago, but you might not remember), whose latest quartet date is, like his first album, a joy from start to finish. You’ve got funk, you’ve got trad, you’ve got bop, you’ve got standards, you’ve got slyly humorous originals, and everything is imbued with a sense of pleasure and pure melodic exuberance. Very highly recommended to all jazz collections.


When the band is called Gutbucket and the album is titled Dance, you should reasonably be able to expect a certain amount of fun. And you do get it on this quartet’s latest album, though it comes with some rather jagged edges: “Luton” sounds like a collaboration between Thelonious Monk and John Zorn (I know, terrifying, right?), while “So Many So Little” is a ballad, kind of, though it’s disguised under a thick layer of skronk. “Rum Spring” is pretty accessible except for its relentless repetitiveness, which you quickly realize is part of the point (though the point may actually be the ferocious drum solo going on underneath the horn/guitar obbligato). “Ferociousness” is actually pretty much the operative term throughout. This is a tremendously exciting and ultimately quite exhausting album.


galileiEnsemble Galilei
From Whence We Came
Sono Luminus

I confess that I generally look askance at classical-folk fusion projects — not that they can’t work well, but too often they feel either anemic or condescending, and can sometimes be downright offensive when executed by classical musicians who don’t have the training or experience necessary to recognize the complexities and subtleties of the music they’re performing. No such qualms with the Ensemble Galilei, which consists of both folk and classical performers and whose programs (including this one) juxtapose trad and baroque music very effectively. On From Whence We Came you’ll hear traditional jigs and reels, original trad-style tunes, selections from Telemann and Marais, and odds and ends like Swedish and Irish hymns. It’s a hodgepodge, yes, but a carefully designed and exquisitely executed one.

holcombRoscoe Holcomb
San Diego State Folk Festival 1972
Tompkins Square
TSQ 5210

This 33-minute concert recording was made at a time when the folk craze was a good decade old and Roscoe Holcomb was already something of a crowd favorite, especially on the east coast. But it had been ten years since he’d played in California, so John Cohen invited him out to the San Diego State Folk Festival. As one would expect, Holcomb delivered a near-perfect set of rawboned, hair-raising vocal performances, accompanying himself on banjo and guitar on songs like “Little Birdie,” “Graveyard Blues,” and “Old Smoky.” The tape sounds quite good here, and although the photos of Rita Weill kissing Holcomb’s hand are slightly creepy, this release will be a boon to comprehensive folk collections.

kallickKathy Kallick Band
Live Oak

As a founding member of the Good Ol’ Persons, Kathy Kallick was one of the first women to break the glass ceiling of professional bluegrass musicianship, and 40 years later she remains a powerful presence on the West Coast bluegrass scene. Foxhounds showcases her voice (still strong and clear), her songwriting (top-notch), her taste in covers (impeccable: both Bill Monroe and Richard Thompson are represented here) and her skills as a bandleader (also impeccable). Her originals are classic-sounding but sometimes slyly modern in lyrical scope, and her simultaneous respect for tradition and willingness to break rules are refreshing. And her verison of “Tear-Stained Letter” rocks.

harvestHarvest Thieves
No cat. no.

With song titles like “Desolation Wildfire,” “Bob Dylan’s 78th Hangover,” and “I Killed Laura Palmer,” you can bet that what Harvest Thieves are selling is cowpunk of the same general type that the Pogues traded in (though the latter’s was informed by traditional Irish music in the same way that Harvest Thieves’ music is informed by American country). The danger with this approach, as the Pogues learned to their regret, is that when your sound is ramshackle and loud and brilliant, it can be all too easy to trick yourself into thinking that the ramshackle part is what matters. Whether that’s what will happen with Harvest Thieves remains to be seen, but in the meantime their hooks are sharp and their sound is weirdly and attractively ferocious. Good luck, y’all.


rocketRocket from the Tombs
Black Record
Rick’s Pick

Before there was Pere Ubu, and before there were the Dead Boys, there was Rocket from the Tombs, arguably the most important proto-punk band to emerge from Cleveland. And now they’re back. A few years ago they released Barfly, which featured several core members from the classic lineup: guitarist Cheetah Chrome, bassist Craig Bell, and (most importantly) singer David Thomas, performing as Crocus Behemoth. It rocked in that old-time way, unsurprisingly given the predominance of old-timers on the roster. Now Chrome is gone and several youngsters have signed on alongside Thomas and Bell, but the rock is still classic proto-punk and Thomas still sings like a half-strangled penguin, bless him. They revisit “Sonic Reducer” and slyly nod to the early days of Ubu with “Welcome to the New Dark Ages,” and the whole thing is a total blast.

novell1Noveller + Thisquietarmy
Reveries (reissue)
Consouling Sounds (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick


Glacial Glow (reissue)
Rick’s Pick

Here are two essential reissues from guitarist Sarah Lipstate, who records under the name Noveller and makes some of the darkest, lightest, densest, most gossamer, and all-around loveliest instrumental guitar music around. Reveries is a collaboration with Eric Quach (a.k.a. Thisquietarmy), augmented by two bonus tracks for the reissue; Glacial Glow was originally issued as a limited-edition release in 2011. On both of these albums you can clearly hear Lipstate’s background as a member of Glenn Branca’s 100 Guitar Ensemble and Rhys Chatham’s Guitar Army, but her sound is wholly her own: yes, she uses overtones, but not in a way I’ve ever heard before; yes, she uses echo and reverb to define enormous sonic spaces, but unlike other artists who use that technique she tends to fill those huge spaces entirely. Yes, her music is slow and contemplative, but I wouldn’t call it restful. You need to hear it. So do your library patrons.

cascadesHigh Highs
Never Leave Never Sleep

If your collection could use a bit more jangly, guitar-centered dream pop, then by all means don’t hesitate to pick up the sophomore effort by the Brooklyn-based duo of Jack Milas and Oli Chang, who record as High Highs. Sometimes their sound skirts on the ragged edge of naïveté — the vocals just a bit wispy, the production just a little bit glittery. But they never quite fall off that edge, and the result is an album of rapturous loveliness with hooks that are no less real for their melodic abstraction. This is one you’ll probably put on repeat if you’re curled up on the couch with a novel on a winter night.

Tru Thoughts

The second album by Tokyo-born, London-based electro-acoustic music experimenter Masaaki Yoshida (a.k.a. Anchorsong) could almost as easily be filed under World/Ethnic as under Rock/Pop: as before, he takes field recordings of gamelan music, African drumming, Nyahbinghi percussion, and a variety of studio-produced sounds and weaves them together into a complex tapestry of sound that evokes everything from rock to club music to ambient exotica, but ends up sounding like nothing else you’ve ever heard. At times you’ll be reminded of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, at others you might hear hints of African Head Charge or techno or house music, but they’re always just hints. This is fascinatingly original music that is experimental without ever being “difficult” and attractive without ever being merely pleasant.

tribeA Tribe Called Quest
People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (25th Anniversary Edition)
Jive/Sony Legacy

Hip hop has become such a big tent these days that it can be easy to forget how revolutionary A Tribe Called Quest were when this album dropped in 1990. Along with crews like De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers, ATCQ were taking hip hop in a very different direction — one that relied as much on 1970s jazz-rock as on 1960s soul for its sampling bed, and one that nudged social protest aside in favor of more mundane concerns and more subtly clever wordplay. For the 25th anniversary of ATCQ’s debut, Sony has remastered the album and added three bonus remixes by artists deeply influenced by the group: Ceelo Green, Pharrell Williams, and J. Cole. A must for all pop collections.


melodiaCarmina Chamber Choir / Árni Heimir Ingólfsson
Smekkleysa (dist. Allegro)
SMK 56

The music on this disc is taken from a 17th-century Icelandic songbook known as Rask 98, currently held in the Arnamagnaean Institute in Copenhagen. The book contains 223 songs, both religious and secular, consisting mostly of “foreign tunes with Icelandic poetry.” The Carmina Chamber Choir performs a selection of them here, accompanied by period instruments; many are for solo voice with instrumental accompaniment, but there are also quite a few examples of polyphonic choral hymns and some plainchant translated from Latin into Icelandic. This album is both historically and cultural significant and a beautiful listening experience.

RAM 6: Manman M Se Ginen
No cat. no.

Periodically I forget how much I love Haitian music, and then an album like this reminds me forcefully. There’s so much to love here — the blend of Latin rhythms and West African guitar influences; the call-and-response vocals; the gorgeous and often bittersweet melodies. I’m less a fan of the trance-inducing, voodoo-inflected aspects, but they’re part and parcel of what makes this music sound the way it does, and on balance it’s all tons of fun. RAM is a tight ensemble, but not so tight that you can’t breathe. Recommended.

rezaReza Vali
The Book of Calligraphy (2 discs)

Reza Vali is an Iranian composer who was trained in Europe but eventually broke with Western classical music tradition in favor of his country’s Dastgâh/Maghâm system; this has meant using different tunings, different ideas of harmony and polyphony, different rhythmic structures, and forms of melodic elaboration very different from those used in European art music. The result is, unsurprisingly, music that will sound quite alien to those steeped in Western art and popular music traditions. The series of compositions on these two discs, most of which feature the excellent Carpe Diem String Quartet, tend to be harmonically quite static even as they are complex and elaborate. I found the one for orchestra to be the most consistently enjoyable.

loveMike Love
Love Will Find a Way
Mike Love Music
Rick’s Pick

The existence of hippie reggae is something of a curiosity, since Rastafarianism is about as anti-hippie a philosophy as might be imagined. Perhaps for that reason, hippie reggae artists tend to steer clear of the Rasta stuff even as they invoke more generalized concepts of spirituality and uplift. Hence Hawaiian hippie reggae artist Mike Love, whose impeccably-crafted acoustic-based pop reggae features references to Jah and Zion and Babylon, but mainly in the context of songs with titles like “You Can’t Take It With You,” “Love Will Find a Way,” and “I Love You.” Don’t think that his music is in any way abstract or trippy or unfocused: no, his songs are as carefully cut and polished as a necklace of diamonds, and they are superb. Every pop collection should own this album, along with every other one he has released (or releases in the future).

balkanAka Moon
Aka Balkan Moon/AlefBa: Double Live (2 discs)
Instinct Collection/Outhere Music (dist. Naxos)
OUT 657

Aka Moon is an adventurous jazz trio consisting of saxophonist Fabrizio Cassol, bassist Michel Hatzigeorgiou, and drummer Stéphane Galland. This project finds them in live concert settings in two very different configurations: collaborating with Bulgarian folk musicians on Aka Balkan Moon, and with classically-trained Arab musicians on AlefBa. In both cases the music they make together is more of an emulsion than a blend, jazzy at moments and more traditional-sounding at others, but with a significant amount of musical smearing between them. Some may find the songs themselves a bit too discursive and abstract at times, but at its best this is music of exceptionally arresting beauty, the AlefBa configuration especially so.

January 2016


alphaAlpha Steppa
Rooted & Grounded (2 discs)

Ben Woodbridge, a.k.a. Ben Alpha, a.k.a. Alpha Steppa, is heir to a decades-long dynasty of British dub reggae originators and in recent years has established a strong legacy of his own. His signature style is hinted at by his stage name: what’s known in reggae parlance as a “steppers” rhythm is a hard-driving reggae variant characterized by a kick-drum accent on every beat, and is often a feature of songs of a more militant nature, particular those that call for repatriation to Africa. Alpha Steppa uses that basic rhythmic foundation to promote messages of social consciousness and to seriously nice up the dancefloor. On his first solo album, the first disc features vocalists like Sistah Awa, Prince Jamo (not to be confused with Prince Jazzbo), Ras Tinny, and I-Sarana; the second disc features remixes of the first disc’s content. If you want to know what the future of dub music sounds like — and want to know why Alpha Steppa’s productions are regularly featured on such A-list sound systems as Channel One, Iration Steppas, and V.I.V.E.K., by all means check this out.


hindemithPaul Hindemith
Sonatas for Viola and Piano
Geraldine Walther; David Korevaar
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1593

For this recording, violist Gerladine Walther and pianist David Korevaar have made the interesting choice to present Hindemith’s three viola sonatas in reverse chronological order, beginning with his unnumbered 1939 composition and ending with opus 11, no. 4 from 1919. The 1939 piece is the one that most fully exemplifies his mature style (unsurprisingly), while the earliest one is most familiar, a recital favorite for violists. But I find the middle one (opus 25, no. 4, from 1922) most interesting — here we find Hindemith lashing out at musical convention, developing his quartal harmonic language, simultaneously rejecting traditional tonality and the duodecophany that was currently in the ascendant. Walther is a brilliant, fiery advocate for these works.

hoffmeisterFranz Anton Hoffmeister
Orchestra della Svizzera italiana / Howard Griffiths
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 895-2

The symphonies recorded for this release (in C major and D major) are the last two such compositions Franz Anton Hoffmeister produced, and indeed the C major work is among his very last in any format; he died only three years after it was published in 1809. It finds the composer moving, if somewhat grudgingly, into the Romantic style that was emerging in Vienna at the time. To be honest, Hoffmeister’s symphonies are not earthshakingly innovative or interesting — he’s better known for his flute music, and rightly so. But they are very attractive and enjoyable, and are beautifully performed here. Recommended to comprehensive classical collections.

enoBrian Eno
Discreet Music
Contact / Jerry Pergolesi
Cantaloupe (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Forty years ago, Brian Eno effectively invented the genre of ambient music with Discreet Music, a piece that was constructed out of complementary melodic fragments that were prerecorded and looped such that they interacted with each other in somewhat unpredictable ways (in a manner somewhat reminiscent of minimalist composer Steve Reich’s experiments with phasing). For this recording, percussionist and ensemble director Jerry Pergolesi has tweaked the melodic content a bit and created a system that assigns the different melodies to instruments including violin, piano, soprano saxophone, and vibraphone. The result is every bit as beautiful and relaxing as the original, with the added tonal richness of live instruments. Every library would benefit from a copy of this luscious album.

mundiVarious Composers
Venecie Mundi Splendor: Marvels of Medieval Venice. Music for the Doges, 1330-1430
La Reverdie
Arcana (dist. Naxos)

Normally when we think about cathedral music in Venice, we naturally focus on the work of Renaissance giants like Monteverdi and the Gabrielis. But Saint Mark’s Cathedral had hosted splendid sacred music for centuries before that period, and this disc features music composed at the behest of local politicos during the 14th and early 15th centuries. This is mostly polyphonic music, of the astringent ars nova variety, and the program consists mostly of motets, but there are also some liturgical settings. Featured composers include Johannes Ciconia, Antonius Romanus, Francesco Landini, and Christoforus de Monte. Lovely performances, beautifully recorded.

rebayFerdinand Rebay
Sonatas for Violin & Guitar; Sonata for Viola & Guitar
José M. Álvarez Losada; Joaquín Riquelme; Pedro Mateo González
Eudora (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

Do your patrons a favor and facilitate their discovery of this remarkable music by the obscure but prolific Austrian composer Ferdinand Rebay, whose sonatas for violin, viola, and guitar are given world-premiere recordings on this disc. Although written in the early 20th century, these pieces are completely tonal and exhibit none of the angsty chromaticism of so much other art music of the period — which isn’t to say that they’re boring or predictable; quite the contrary. But they’re a pure joy to listen to. Here’s hoping more from this sadly neglected composer will come forward soon.

flosVarious Composers
Flos virginum: Motets of the 15th Century
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 937-2

Bias disclosure: normally I much prefer mixed-voice choirs to all-male ones — and I prefer multiple voices to a part over one-voice-to-a-part configurations. But on this collection of motets and chansons from the period when polyphonic writing came into its maturity, the awesome Stimmwerck ensemble has just about convinced me to go back into their catalog (and to dust off my old Hilliard Ensemble discs). Their accounts of these works by various anonymous and obscure composers, with one Dufay number thrown in, consistently maintain that essential but delicate balance between devotional austerity and tonal lushness, their intonation is impeccable, and their blend exemplary. Maybe not essential to every collection, but certainly to all early music collections.

cranfordWilliam Cranford
Consort Music for 4, 5 and 6 Viols
LeStrange Viols
Olde Focus (dist. Naxos)

We don’t know much about the English composer William Cranford, though contemporaneous documents suggest that he flourished just around the time that consort music was falling out of fashion. His exercises in the genre are mostly preserved in a set of manuscripts collected and preserved at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. His writing style is rather intellectual and allusive, and some listeners may not find it as immediately accessible as that of his contemporaries, but the LeStrange Viols ensemble make a strong case for its value and I find both the compositions and the performances very enjoyable. Recommended to all early music collections.


This is not a miracle

The ensemble that calls itself Food has always been an amoeba-like creature, changing its size and composition more or less constantly since its founding in 1998. On This is not a miracle the band has boiled down to a duo consisting of percussionist/keyboardist Thomas Strønen and saxophonist Iain Ballamy, with guitarist Christian Fennesz as a guest. And really, on this album it’s mainly Strønen — the three musicians recorded hours of material together and then Strønen took the tracks away, chopped them into pieces, and reassembled them into something that fit his personal vision of music that consists of carefully constructed arrangements of improvised parts. As one might expect, the result is both intellectually exciting and viscerally enjoyable, with solid grooves that are constantly and stimulatingly undermined by weird and off-the-wall sound effects. Imagine a typical ECM jazz album as remixed by Lee “Scratch” Perry, and you’ll get a good sense of what to expect. For all jazz collections.

krivdaErnie Krivda
Requiem for a Jazz Lady

Tenor saxophonist Ernie Krivda is something of a legend in the Cleveland jazz scene, and this album (consisting mostly of originals, plus a version of the standard “I’ll Close My Eyes”) is presented as a heartfelt and reflective ode to his home town. That’s not to say that it consist entirely, or even mostly, of quiet and ruminative music; on the contrary, he opens strongly with the midtempo “The Remarkable Mr. Black” and gets funky on both “Questions” and “Great Lakes Gumbo.” But the overall mood is thoughtful even when the tempos are relatively sprightly, an effect compounded by Krivda’s old-fashioned tone, which often evokes the spirit of Lester Young. This is both an impressive and a lovely album.

wollnyMichael Wollny
ACT Music (dist. Allegro)

And speaking of thoughtful and ruminative, consider the latest trio effort from pianist Michael Wollny. With Nachtfahrten (“night journeys”) he ventures “over to the dark side of romanticism, to a world of fantasy, eerie shadows, and things that go bump in the night,” according to the press materials. I might put things a bit less fantastically than that, though: on this album Wollny acknowledges his deep debt to Bill Evans, unspooling a series of impressionistic and harmonically unpredictable compositions that feature almost no swing and that rarely approach mid tempo. It’s beautiful stuff, not only thoughtful but also thought-provoking.

wesWes Montgomery
One Night in Indy
Rick’s Pick

Last May I recommended In the Beginning, the third in an ongoing series of rare and archival Wes Montgomery recordings. Here’s another one, this one documenting a 1959 club appearance by Montgomery with pianist Eddie Higgins’ trio in Indianapolis — the only time these two giants of the Midwest jazz scene are known to have played together. The sound quality is mediocre, but the playing is as marvelous as one would expect, and any library collecting jazz in anything like a comprehensive way will want to acquire this disc (as well as the others in this series).

sharrockSonny Sharrock
Ask the Ages (reissue)
M.O.D. Technologies

I remember listening to Ask the Ages when it first came out, in 1991. I had been intrigued by Sonny Sharrock’s work with Pharaoh Sanders and with Material, and I knew the album was produced by Bill Laswell, and that was all it took to pique my interest. I was disappointed at the time (too much skronk, I thought, and too many drum solos), so I thought it would be interesting to try it again 25 years later and see if I still felt the same way. And in fact, I don’t: now it sounds harsh but also often lyrical, and simultaneously soulful and sophisticated. Sharrock’s guitar playing is equally informed by gutbucket blues and downtown free improv, which makes for a pretty exciting tension if you have ears to hear. This reissue is long overdue; my only quibble is that neither the packaging nor the full-line pricing indicates that a reissue is what it is. Recommended to comprehensive jazz collections.


cousinCousin Harley
The Dutch Sessions
Little Pig

Cousin Harley is a Vancouver-based trio that specializes in strictly old-school rockabilly music. Headed by singer/guitarist Paul Pigat, who is accompanied by upright bassist Keith Picot and drummer Jesse Cahill, the group recorded this album live in the studio in a small village in the Netherlands, recording direct to tape (though it sounds like there was a little bit of overdubbing happening after the fact — either that, or an uncredited second guitarist stepped in for a bit). The energy is great and the playing is sharp; highlights include a fine version of Jim Reeves’ “Yonder Comes a Sucker” and and equally impressive take on Buck Owens’ “Rhythm & Booze,” neither of which would likely have been recognized by its composer.

Manannan’s Cloak

To casual listeners this may sound like Irish music, but listen more carefully and you’ll hear anomalies: melodies that wander past the boundaries of what’s typical of Irish tunes, and lyrics sung in a Gaelic language that doesn’t sound much like Irish at all. That’s because this is Manx music, from the Isle of Man (which lies in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland). It’s certainly Gaelic, but definitely not Irish or Scottish, and that means that there are lots of fascinatingly subtle distinctions to be heard by fans of Celtic music who are interested enough to listen hard. And for those not so inclined, there are lots of bittersweet melodies and rollicking rhythms, and plenty of virtuosic playing to be enjoyed. Best song title: “Fir-hammag Yioogh” (translation: “High Net Worth Individuals”).

kuykendallMark Kuykendall & Bobby Hicks & Asheville Bluegrass
Down Memory Lane

For several years I was a regular reviewer for Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. It was fun, but I soon ran into the same problem I’d had when reviewing hardcore punk for the All-Music Guide: it’s hard to find different things to say about good albums in a tightly-defined genre. This one is typical in that regard: Mark Kuykendall is a great singer with a rich low-tenor voice, Bobby Hicks is a legendarily brilliant fiddler, and the songs they’ve picked for Down Memory Lane are a fine blend of old classics (“I Wonder Why You Said Goodbye,” “You Go to Your Church”) and old-sounding originals. The playing is typically tight and virtuosic — guest pickers include mandolinist Doyle Lawson — and when you put all of those elements together you get an absolutely stellar straight-ahead bluegrass album that will sound exactly like all other stellar straight-ahead bluegrass albums to all but the most deeply-informed adepts of the genre. But if your collection could use more stellar straight-ahead bluegrass albums, by all means pick this one up.

redmoonRed Moon Road
Sorrows and Glories
Rick’s Pick

Canadian trio Red Moon Road continues its ongoing exploration of folkie-soully-Canucky-semi-country modern pop on this, its third album. Imagine, if you will, Lake Street Dive with slightly less aggressive virtuosity, or Over the Rhine with much (much) less self-importance, or what Aretha Franklin might have sounded like if she’d been raised by hippies in Manitoba who had an extensive collection of Charles Trenet and Kingston Trio albums. This crazy-quilt welter of influences is held together and kept coherent by the chesty and powerful voice of Sheena Rattai, who is a genius but doesn’t make a big deal of it. Delightful surprises lurk around every sonic corner on this album, which would be equally at home in a folk or alt-pop collection, or frankly any collection at all. Highly recommended.


dubpDub Phizix
Fabriclive 84
Rick’s Pick

Maybe it’s my age (and the fact that I listen to it on headphones rather than in clubs), but in my experience, bass music hits hardest not when it’s loudest or texturally most dense, but rather when it’s most detailed and sonically rich. Dub Phizix seems to agree with me. His contribution to the Fabriclive series of DJ mixes features plenty of heavyweight rhythms, jungly breaks, and dubsteppy wub-wub-wub, but also lots of microscopic sonic detail — tiny little rhythmic glitches, disembodied vocal samples, etc. And the tracks he features from artists like Chunky, Skeptical, and Chimpo are going to send me straight to Soundcloud to learn more. Is there a better index of success for a DJ mixtape than that? I submit that there is not. Recommended to all collections.

Cradle to Grave
Rick’s Pick

I guess it wouldn’t normally be considered a compliment to say that a band’s sound hasn’t developed noticeably in more than thirty years. But in the case of Squeeze, it feels like high praise. The architecturally perfect soul-inflected Britpop that they’re purveying on their new album (the first since 1998) would have sounded perfectly at home on one of their albums from the early 1980s: the subtly tricky chord progressions, the octave-based vocal harmonies, the sweet and indelible melodic hooks. And the fact is, too, that neither Chris Difford’s nor Glenn Tilbrook’s voice has aged noticeably since the band first started making hits. What this means is that if you didn’t like them then, nothing about this album will change your mind — but if you did, welcome home.

selecterThe Selecter
DMF (dist. Redeye)

Speaking of bands that don’t sound like they’ve lost a step since their heyday in the 1980s, consider this new album from the Selecter, mainstays of the second-wave (or “2 Tone”) UK ska revival alongside such legends of the genre as the Specials and the Beat. Subculture features original members Pauline Black and Arthur “Gaps” Hendrickson, but not founder Neol Davies (with whom the band has been in sporadic legal conflict since the 1990s). Despite his absence, this album harks back nicely to the glory days of 2 Tone ska, when traditional Jamaican upbeats and rock-steady rhythms were abraded slightly by a punky sawtooth edge. Black’s and Hendrickson’s voices continue to be bracingly complementary, and neither one has aged noticeably in the nearly forty years that have now passed since they began working together. Pull quote: “Out on the streets/People sending dangerous tweets.” Recommended to all pop collections.

yogiMC Yogi
Only Love Is Real
Black Swan Sounds
BSS 0013
Rick’s Pick

Hip hop and yoga may not seem like a natural fit. And truly, they aren’t: one tends to celebrate material culture while the other promotes interiority and a life of the spirit; one leans towards images of violence and revenge, while the other promotes peaceful meditation. But if you don’t think a world-renowned yogini can be a world-class hip hop artist/producer, check out the latest from MC Yogi, who is simultaneously a top-notch beat architect and a popular yoga teacher. He also has the juice necessary to pull in guest vocalists like Matisyahu, Marti Nikko, and Trevor Hall, among others. What matters, of course, is the degree to which this music actually hangs together — and it’s brilliant. Conscious lyrical messages, slamming beats, rich textural details, it’s all here. Highly recommended to all collections.

thisheatthisheatThis Heat
This Heat (reissue)
Modern Classics/Light in the Attic
MCR 916

deceitThis Heat
Deceit (reissue)
Modern Classics/Light in the Attic
MCR 917

It’s kind of hard to believe that 2016 marks 40 years since the founding of legendary/infamous noisemongers This Heat. Even harder to believe is how timeless their noise sounds today. They were significant contributors to the architecture of what would come to be called post-punk, but that seems like far too much of an oversimplification: yes, their overall sound had a distinctly serrated edge, but it also had much textural subtlety and could be quite gentle and even contemplative — though always in a distinctly oddball sort of way. Their eponymous debut is particularly rich in quietude and open space; their second a bit less so. In between those two full-length came a 12″ single titled “Health & Efficiency,” which rocked pretty hard on the A side and droned a bit monotonously (and at length) on the B. All of it is well worth hearing and can be confidently recommended to comprehensive pop collections.

clarabelleClarabelle and the Creeps The Modern Underground Sound of Muscle Shoals Soul
Arkam (dist. NAIL)

This album was reportedly “recorded in the kitchen of a random Florence Alabama house,” and of course it sounds like it: crappy production is always supposed to signal authenticity, or irony, or whatever. (How they got the fake vinyl surface noise onto tape while recording in a kitchen is something of a mystery.) Listen past the affectations, though, because the songs are worth it and so is Gracie Barrier’s voice. “Side 1” is 1950s-style horror pop, and “Side 2” is dancing-with-tears-in-my-eyes teenage-heartache balladry; most of it was written by Barrier, and all of it is tons of retro fun. To reiterate: what makes it so isn’t the retro, but the hooks. And the singing. Recommended to all pop collections.

West of Anywhere (compilation)
Alive Batural Sound (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Power pop is a rock’n’roll subgenre that transcends national and cultural boundaries: Fastball and Cheap Trick and the Knack and the Innocents all basically sound like they come from the same home town. DM3 were from Australia, and there’s nothing on this compilation album that would particularly give that away. Not that any of that matters much either way — but the fact that they were from Australia makes it a bit less likely that your patrons will have heard them before, and will make this collection of tracks from their three albums that much more of a blissful revelation. Crunchy guitars, bright shiny hooks, tight harmonies — you know what to expect, and you owe it to your patrons to provide it.


umbertoUmberto Echo
The Name of the Dub
Echo Beach
Rick’s Pick

For those whose tastes in reggae run to the instrumental and experimental, dub is usually the flavor of choice. Dub is a producer’s art form, the progenitor of modern remix culture, and Munich-based producer Umberto Echo (get it? get it?) is one of the great living masters of the practice. On this album he takes tracks from the Echo Beach catalog — songs by the likes of Dubmatix, Tackhead, Senior Allstars, and Dactah Chando — and subjects them to sometimes radical reworkings in which instruments and voices are dropped out and brought back in, bounce around the soundspace in reverberant fragments, and are sometimes twisted and warped beyond recognition. If your patrons are fans of dub already you’ll definitely want this album; if they need an introduction, this album will do the trick splendidly. Highly recommended.

congoCongo Natty
Jungle Revolution in Dub
Big Dada (dist. Redeye)

Last year Congo Natty released Jungle Revolution, a celebration of old-school junglism — the kind that you used to hear in underground London clubs before jungle started getting called drum and bass and gradually lost its intimate connection to England’s Rastafarian subculture. Now comes a remix project based on that album and featuring contributions from the likes of DJ Madd, Dubkasm, Vibronics, and Mad Professor. What’s interesting is how little of the music’s jungle origins is immediately apparent in these mixes; instead, what you mostly hear is traditional dub: deep, dark, and dread. Both albums are strongly recommended to world and pop collections.

haleyCas Haley
More Music More Family
Rick’s Pick

Cas Haley is an unusually winning purveyor of modern pop-reggae, an exceptional crafter of hooks and arrangements, and the possessor of a voice that is as light and fresh as an ocean breeze. This time out his songwriting is informed by the experience of an injury that was serious enough to keep him out of the studio for a time and seems to have increased his appreciation for family and for the blessings of life generally. The skitteringly funky “Before It’s Too Late” and the Memphis soul waltz of “Will You Be Ready” both reflect his new and deeper lyrical concerns, but the fan favorites will probably be the 1970s-style reggae grooves of tracks like “Hold Up My Heart” and “We Learn.” The fact is, though, that there’s not a weak track anywhere on this album.

fredlocksFred Locks Meets David O.
Time to Shine, Vol. 1
Duplex Music

Fred Locks has been a celebrated reggae singer since before there was such a thing as reggae — he got his start as part of the rock steady ensemble The Lyrics in the mid-1960s. But he really came into his own during the height of the roots period in the 1970s, and has since then never really gone away, even though he’s never reached the heights of international fame that some of his contemporaries did. David Ondrick is a producer who learned at the knees of Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and others, and together the two have produced an album of vintage-style roots reggae in a showcase style, with vocal versions followed immediately by dub mixes or instrumental versions featuring horn solos. Fred Locks’ voice is still strong and clear, and this is a solid program of classic reggae.

stickStick Figure
Set in Stone
Ruffwood Music
No cat. no.

Stick Figure is the nom de reggae of self-taught singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Scott Woodruff. Genuine solo projects like this are very often hit-and-miss affairs — there’s great value in having other people involved to let you know when you’re getting too self-indulgent. But Woodruff doesn’t seem to need that: his songs are tightly constructed and are delivered with a perfect balance of creative expansiveness and musical economy. And, of course, there are guest vocalists: Collie Budz, Kyle McDonald (of Slightly Stoopid), and Eric Rachmany (of Rebelution) all make appearances. But Woodruff’s genius is the unifying element here, and it’s really very impressive. Highly recommended to all pop collections.

December 2015


seickouSeckou Keita
22 Strings
ARC Music (dist. Naxos)

Drummer and kora player Secku Keita is descended from Malian royalty on his father’s side and from a long line of griots on his mother’s, and as he puts it, “to be half griot and half Keita is to have the blood of both eulogiser and eulogised in one’s veins.” Over the course of his career he has collaborated with musicians from Cuba, India, and Scandinavia, but on this album it’s just him, his kora, and his gorgeous voice (which we hear too infrequently). And I just can’t seem to stop listening to it. The cascading melodies, the beautiful glistening sound of his instrument, the sudden incursion of his voice every so often — all of the elements of this recording combine to create one of the loveliest, most restful, and most sonically interesting listening experiences I’ve had all year. I can’t imagine a library that wouldn’t benefit from making this album available to its patrons.


Hyperdub (dist. Redeye)

I realize that it makes no obvious sense to place this album by Steve Goodman (a.k.a. Kode9) into the Classical section of CD HotList, but bear with me. Although Goodman made his reputation as part of the early dubstep scene in England and continues to work in beat-based electronica, this–his first album-length solo project–can only reasonably be characterized as art music. Texturally it has more in common with musique concrète than with club music; structurally it evokes middle-period Steve Reich more than it does anything you’ll ever hear in a dancehall. You’ll get halfway through this album before encountering anything that approximates a groove, and when you do you’ll find that the rhythmic irregularities make it much more suited to sitting and listening than to dancing. This music is, in fact, more complex and carefully constructed than a good number of avant-garde classical pieces I’ve encountered in the past. Recommended to all libraries.

yulfestVarious Composers
Choir of Trinity College Cambridge / Stephen Layton
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

Like all good Christmas albums, this one features a mixture of old and new and of familiar and unfamiliar fare. Those (like me) who may hesitate when faced with a choral arrangement of Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song” or of “White Christmas” will be pleased to see that these modern-day chestnuts are presented in versions that take full advantage of the choir’s sumptuous tone and without attempting too much potentially embarrassing jazziness, while the Praetorius setting is both surprising and lovely, and the arrangements of “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Away in a Manger” are tear-jerkingly perfect. Opening with “Jingle Bells” may not have been the ideal programming choice, but other than that it’s tough to find any fault with this album.

sixteenVarious Composers
The Complete Traditional Christmas Carols Collections (reissue; 2 discs)
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers
Coro (dist. Allegro)

Originally issued in 2006 and 2010, these two discs offer exactly what the title indicates: Christmas music that is familiar and beloved–at least in this choir’s native England. American listeners who may not have encountered songs like “The Truth from Above” or “Joys Seven” will probably love them, and will in any case quickly recognize just about everything else here: “The First Nowell,” “Ding Dong Merrily on High,” “In Dulci Jubilo,” etc. (And what look at first to be duplications between the two discs are, in fact, very different arrangements.) Everything is sung with the Sixteen’s trademark bright and colorful blend and a palpable sense of joy and wonder. The price is perhaps a bit high for a straight reissue.

wondrousVarious Composers
A Wondrous Mystery: Renaissance Choral Music for Christmas
Stile Antico
Harmonia Mundi
HMU 807575
Rick’s Pick

Stepping back in time and stepping back from what will be familiar Christmas music to most listeners, we have this new album by the always-excellent Stile Antico choral ensemble. The program centers on Jacobus Clemens non Papa’s Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis, the sections of which are interspersed with both Catholic and Protestant carols of the period. The result is an unusual listening experience, as relatively simple songs (with occasionally familiar melodic elements) alternate with beautifully complex polyphony. It may not sound exactly like “Christmas music,” but it’s a gorgeous listening experience nonetheless — and as far as I can determine, it’s one of only two recordings of this Mass currently available.

blueheronVarious Composers
Christmas in Medieval England
Blue Heron / Scott Metcalfe
Blue Heron Choir
Rick’s Pick

And stepping back even further in time for our last entry in this batch of Christmas recordings, we have yet another in the Blue Heron choir’s growing list of brilliant releases. Featuring 15th-century works by John Dunstaple, Leonel Power, and a variety of anonymous composers, this music is more astringent and austere-sounding than the lush polyphony of Stile Antico’s program, but the singing is every bit as skillful and there’s actually a higher density of familiar Christmas melodies here: “Veni, veni, Emanuel,” “Hayl Mary, Ful of Grace,” “Nowel: Owt of Your Sleep Aryse,” etc. In fact, in its variety and energy this album reminds me of the best Christmas recordings of another legendary Boston early-music ensemble, the Boston Camerata. Very highly recommended.

gebelFranz Xaver Gebel
String Quartets
Hoffmeister Quartet
Profil (dist. Naxos)

Franz Xaver Gebel was born in Fürstenberg and educated in Vienna, but spent most of his life and career as a music teacher in Moscow. He had a reputation as something of a dreamer (who would regularly forget to teach his lessons if the muse struck and distracted him); it’s tempting to think that his otherworldly orientation may have contributed to the fact that he is now largely forgotten. However, some of his chamber music has recently been published for the first time, and this disc presents world-premiere recordings of two of his string quartets. Both are fine examples of early Romantic quartet writing, and the playing (on period instruments) by the Hoffmeister Quartet is very good. Comprehensive classical collections should definitely pick this one up.

tranowChristopher Tarnow
Theremin Sonatas
Carolina Eyck; Christopher Tarnow
Genuin (dist. Naxos)
GEN 15363
Rick’s Pick

And you thought the theremin was just for scoring 1950s science-fiction movies. But no: this admittedly bizarre instrument (which requires the performer to move her hands within the electromagnetic fields created by two antennas, one hand controlling pitch while the other controls volume) is capable of creating genuinely delicate and nuanced music, particularly when played by a virtuoso of Carolina Eyck’s caliber. The fact that every pitch change is essentially a glissando does pose certain challenges for the composer, but Christopher Tarnow (who doubles here as Eyck’s accompanist) ably demonstrates that those challenges can be met in ways that take this instrument well beyond the realm of novelty. Highly recommended to all libraries.

boleynVarious Composers
Anne Boleyn’s Songbook: Music & Passions of a Tudor Queen (2 discs)
Alamire / David Skinner
Obsidian (dist. Naxos)

Anne Boleyn is known today primarily for being one of Henry VIII’s six wives, and for the grisly nature of her execution in 1536. She was also, however, an educated music lover, and in her youth she oversaw the compilation of a songbook that included vocal works by such eminences of the time as Jean Mouton, Antoine Brumel, Josquin Desprez, and a host of anonymous composers. That book is now housed in the Royal Academy of Music, and for this disc the outstanding Alamire ensemble has gathered 19 of the best selections from it — choral works, accompanied solo chansons, and instrumental pieces. One might be forgiven for wondering why the second disc is only 32 minutes long, given that there must have been more good music to choose from, but since the whole package is being sold at single-disc price that’s just a quibble. The performances are, as always by this group, sumptuously beautiful.

denningerJohann Nicolaus Denninger
Piano Trios
Trio 1790
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 926-2

No one is going to claim that Johann Nicolaus Denninger was one of the greats of the late-classical period. Listen to these piano trios and compare them to Haydn’s — they’re just not in the same league. On the other hand, it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone listening to these works and not being thoroughly charmed, by both Denninger’s melodic imagination and his rhythmic energy. Though to be fair, much of the credit for the latter goes to the Trio 1790, whose period-instrument performances of these four piano trios are as light and delicious as a meringue cookie. I don’t know if this disc is an essential purchase for every library, but it’s certainly finding a home in mine.


hotjazzHot Jazz Jumpers
The Very Next Thing
On the Bol
OTBR 0002

“Hot” jazz is kind of like pornography: you may not be able to define it precisely, but you know it when you see it. What the Hot Jazz Jumpers offer is a gleefully untraditional take on the hot jazz tradition: cases in point include a sort of twisted calypso version of “You Are My Sunshine,” a decidedly non-mellow arrangement of “In a Mellow Tone,” a handful of New Orleans tunes, a cover of “Got My Mojo Workin'” — hmmm. Actually, exactly how is this hot jazz? Oh, right–the plectrum banjo. And of course, here at CD HotList our Official Editorial Position is that purism is for suckers anyway. Mostly we just dance.

patersonBen Paterson
For Once in My Life
Origin (dist. City Hall)
Rick’s Pick

Pianist Ben Paterson leads his marvelous trio through a very nicely varied set of standards, originals, and modern covers on this, his first album on organ. The title track is a re-envisioning of a 1970s soul classic as a jazz waltz that segues into a gospel shout; his take on “Cry Me a River” is gorgeous, his version of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” is witty and insightful. At all points he sounds as if he’s been playing the Hammond B3 from the get, rather than since four or five years ago. Guitarist Peter Bernstein is (no surprise here) a powerful presence himself, and drummer George Fludas provides everything from skittering funk-swing to straight-up funk with a combination of grace and power that consistently impresses. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.

trudellDan Trudell Trio
Dan Trudell Plays the Piano
No cat. no.

From a pianist who moved over to the organ, we switch to a Hammond player stepping out for his debut recording on the piano. Not that Trudell is any stranger to the ivories — he came up as a pianist — but he’s mainly known for his work with the B-3 Bombers and as far as I can tell he’s never led a recording session from the piano before. On this album you can hear his organ background in the funky exuberance he brings to “Isn’t She Lovely?” and the sassy strut of his 11-minute take on “That Old Black Magic” and of his own “Jonesin'”, and also perhaps in his tendency towards octave passages and big, orchestral chord voicings. Drummer Matt Wilson (yes, that Matt Wilson) and bassist Joe Sanders support him ably but mainly stay out of his way, the better not to get cheerfully run over. Recommended.

adamsTerry Adams
Talk Thelonious
Rick’s Pick

Lots of jazz cats play Thelonious Monk tunes (well, they play “Round Midnight,” anyway), but very few of them interpret Monk tunes. Terry Adams, keyboardist and leader of the legendary New Rhythm ‘n’ Blues Quartet (NRBQ) has been shining new light on Monk for decades now, and with this live album he delivers a brilliant and intoxicatingly fun set of very personal interpretations ranging from a barrelhouse-R&B take on “Hornin’ In” to a rocking take on “Humph” and a calypso version of “Think of One.” Because Adams thinks hard about this stuff and has been doing so since his youth, none of these arrangements feels like a novelty; he knows Monk’s music intimately and brings to this project both a healthy veneration for the composer and an equally healthy disregard for expectation and tradition. And the NRBQ have never sounded better. An essential purchase.

edwardsTeddy Edwards
Feelin’s (reissue)

I don’t know about “feelings,” plural, but there’s a pretty consistent feeling across the whole of this 1975 album, finally being reissued on CD. That feeling is “cocksure exuberance,” and it is steadfastly communicated at mid-tempo on this very straight-ahead and powerfully swinging album. If it weren’t for the sound quality, you might think it was recorded in the late 1950s at the peak of the hard bop era. Edwards leads a sextet that includes the huge-toned bassist Ray Brown and Jerry Steinholz on congas and percussion; the latter infuses a gentle Latin influence into these otherwise very straightforwardly swinging performances (and a more overt influence on the much more Latin-sounding “The Blue Sombrero”). Only the harmonically static and limply funky “Eleven Twenty Three” disappoints.


buckBuck Owens
Buck’ Em! The Music of Buck Owens (1967-1975), Volume 2 (2 discs)

Of the two volumes in the Omnivore label’s Buck Owens retrospective, there’s no question that the first is the essential one: it’s the one that includes Owens’ biggest hits, songs like “Tiger By the Tail,” “Above and Beyond,” and “Act Naturally.” But for libraries that collect popular and/or country music pretty comprehensively, this second volume is a treasure trove as well, featuring live versions of his early hits, novelty numbers, and pop/rock cover versions that got him into a bit of trouble with the country-music purists of his time. And like the first volume, this one will surprise anyone who thinks of Buck Owens as just another Hee Haw! goofball — the man was one of the towering geniuses of popular music in the 20th century. And he absolutely killed it live.

butlerSam Butler
Raise Your Hands!
Rick’s Pick

This is a brilliant concept: guitarist and singer Sam Butler, who played for the Blind Boys of Alabama for years, delivers a dozen gospel songs written by non-gospel artists (Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, etc.) in a style that blends gutbucket bluesiness with soaring slide guitar in the “sacred steel” style (of which Butler’s father was an early exponent). Every track is dark and gritty, the arrangements minimal — rhythm guitar, steel guitar, drums, acoustic bass — and Butler’s singing is at times slightly terrifying in its intensity and power.

obrienTim O’Brien
Howdy Skies

Tim O’Brien seems famous to me; he’s been a part of my musical environment for my entire adult life. But I wonder if the rest of the world knows what a treasure he is. A deeply accomplished bluegrass musician, he’s been genially pushing the boundaries of bluegrass, folk, and acoustic pop music for decades now, and he keeps doing it on this excellent album. Here he performs original songs and covers of tunes by Woody Guthrie, Michael Hurley, and, er, James Brown as well as collaborations with the likes of Sarah Jarosz and Gary Nicholson. Good luck fitting this album into a particular roots-music subgenre — better yet, don’t bother. Just let yourself get caught up in the emotionally complex and musically multifaceted stream and enjoy.

farwellsThe Farwells
The Farwells
Tin Halo Music

Debra Clifford and Becca Wintle, who perform and record together as the Farwells, came to their unique brand of minimalist high-lonesome folk music by very different paths: Clifford (guitar/mandolin/banjo) by way of old-timey music as a member of the Lonesome Sisters and Old Buck, and the UK-born Wintle (fiddle/guitar) by way of classical training, British folk, and American string band music. Together they sing in tight, reedy harmony and play their instruments in varying configurations, performing traditional favorites like “Little Sadie,” “Green Pastures,” and “Pretty Saro” in a mournful and unadorned style that is tremendously affecting. Highly recommended to all folk collections.

blakeGreg Blake
Songs of Heart and Home
Greg Blake Music

This is a very fine album by West Virginia native and current Colorado-by-way-of-Kansas transplant Greg Blake, who has been a regional star for many years and has won the SPGMA’s Guitarist of the Year and the Kansas State Flatpicking championship multiple times. On this project, however, he modestly keeps the guitar pyrotechnics to a minimum in favor of songs, which he sings in an attractive baritone voice and which he gathers from such obvious sources as Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, and Johnny Cash and from as far afield as Bill Staines and Ian Tyson. He’s accompanied by an all-star cast that includes Claire Lynch, Blaine Sprouse, and hotshot banjo picker Jeff Scroggins. If you’re looking for Grade-A meat-and-potatoes modern bluegrass, this disc is for you.


mothmenThe Mothmen
Pay Attention! (Reissue)
On-U Sound (dist. Redeye)

jacksonVarious Artists
Trevor Jackson Presents Science Fiction Dancehall Classics (2 discs)
On-U Sound
Rick’s Pick

From the dark and chaotic vaults of the legendary On-U Sound label has come a sporadic trickle of reissues and compilations over the past few years. The latest batch includes one of each: the reissued 1980 debut of postpunk weirdos The Mothmen, and a two-disc collection of avant-garde funk, dub, reggae and dance music by such label stalwarts as Tackhead, African Head Charge, Voice of Authority, and Dub Syndicate compiled by Trevor Jackson (former member of Playgroup, also of the On-U stable). To be very clear, all of this is weird stuff, but the Mothmen album is the weirdest. 1980 was a crazy time in England, and the Mothmen seem to have absorbed most of the scene’s quirkiness; on their debut album they sound like they’re trying to metabolize all of it, spitting out fractured funk, jagged art-rock, and experimental non-jazz in sequence. The Science Fiction compilation brings together more of On-U’s reggae and funk output, though even here the sounds are deeply quirky: the early African Head Charge tracks sound like what might have happened if Alan Lomax had smoked copious amounts of ganja; Alan Pellay’s “Parasitic Machine” sounds like Wire crossed with the Slits; Tackhead’s “Now What” is classic aggro-funk that demonstrates an exciting fusion of early hip hop and postpunk. Of the 27 tracks on this compilation, only four are previously unreleased, but lots of the others are rare or hard to find, at least on CD. As one of On-U Sound’s small but rabid international cult, I find it hard to maintain much critical distance about this one.

Lollopy Dripper
Rick’s Pick

Flanger is a duo consisting of composers Atomtm and Burnt Friedman, who last recorded together ten years ago. Their return to the studio resulted in a near-perfect distillation of what can now safely be called the Nonplace trademark sound, which is fascinatingly self-contradictory: this music is funky in an awkward, one-leg-shorter-than-the-other kind of way; quiet in an edgy and unsettled kind of way; accessible in a grumpy kind of way. It’s also minutely detailed, expansive in its sound palette, and constantly surprising, and I find it tremendously enjoyable. Here’s hoping for a remix album before too long.


Over time, Skindred’s sound has evolved away from its origins in jungle/metal/funk fusion and towards a more standard-issue Nu-Metal sound, though singer Benji Webbe retains his unapologetic Jamaican patois. On their latest the beats are squarer (though still occasionally funky), the guitars more monolithic, the overall texture more consistently dense and heavy. Those who were drawn to Skindred by the hybrid nature of their early work might find this album disappointing, but those who always liked them best for their heaviosity or who are just generally more attracted by modern metal sounds will find plenty to enjoy here.

stameyChris Stamey
Yep Roc (dist. Redeye)

If you’ve followed Chris Stamey’s career over the past three decades or so, you’ll have some idea of what to expect here: solid, hook-filled jangle-pop that harks back to the early 1980s (if you’re a Gen-Xer) or to the late 1960s (if you’re a Baby Boomer). Though in fact, this is music that is pretty much timeless — the popular appetite for perfectly-crafted guitar pop never really disappears; it filters down to every generation. That means that this album should appeal as much to your freshmen as to your faculty.

neworderNew Order
Music Complete

New Order’s music has always had both eyes on the dance floor, even as the corner of its mouth twitched with an ironic smile and its stomach gurgled faintly with sociopolitical dyspepsia. (This is a band, let’s remember, whose first hit was a cold-eyed look at domestic violence delivered over a relentlessly thumping house beat.) The band’s latest is one of the most pop-smart in its catalog, one that shrwedly takes advantage of the current infatuation with electrop while continuing the New Order tradition of subtle social commentary. Interestingly, Bernard Sumner’s voice has never sounded so attractive. Strongly recommended to all pop collections.

No Revolution
Pirates Press (dist. Nail)

If you’ve never heard of Darkbuster, it’s probably for the very good reason that you haven’t been following the Boston punk scene very closely. Well, that, and the fact that it took them eight years to make this 25-minute-long “album” and they broke up (apparently for good this time) shortly after it was recorded. But here’s my prediction: put this one in the collection and all the punk kids will line up at the desk asking you to find the band’s earlier stuff. Most of these ten songs are standard melodic post-hardcore shoutalongs, but the title track is horn-driven punk-ska, and “Prevost” is a 50-second-long tribute to a Canadian bus manufacturer. “Lil’ Junkie” opens with the deathless couplet “Had a problem/With heroin.” The final track is titled “Punk Rock’s Not Dead” — but unfortunately, Darkbuster seems to be.


persianNexus; Sepidah Raissadat
Persian Songs
Self-released (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

The percussion quartet Nexus has prepared two suites of arrangements for this recording: the first is a set of six compositions by the famous outsider composer Moondog; the second is a suite of seven songs by contemporary Iranian composer Reza Ghassemi and performed by Nexus with singer and setar player Sepideh Raissadat. The two parts of the program could hardly be more different, but each is gorgeous in its own way: the Moondog pieces with their shimmering, pulsating tonality, and the Ghassemi pieces with their complex melodies and Raissadet’s supple, expressive singing. In both cases you’ll hear echoes of 1970s minimalism, but that’s about all they have in common stylistically. Highly recommended.


MC Boogat is based in frosty Montreal, but his music is an irresistibly warm Caribbean-Latin American fusion with strong elements of cumbia, pop, hip hop, and reggae. His lyrics are informed both by modern politics and by 20th-century magical realism, and his beats are relentlessly funky. The lyrics are all either in Spanish or, weirdly, in Lingala (a Bantu language spoken primarily in Congo), and there are cameo appearances by vocalists Pierre Kwenders and La Yegros. If you understand Spanish the politics are fairly heavy; if you don’t, the grooves are too. Actually, the grooves are heavy either way. Recommended.

gdcGentleman’s Dub Club
The Big Smoke
Easy Star

This London-based nine-piece is currently one of the two or three finest roots reggae outfits operating, thanks in part to their crack horn section and in part to their singleminded dedication to a strictly heavyweight old-school style: nimble horn charts, straightforward melodic hooks, and elephantine basslines. On The Big Smoke the production style matters too: a dubwise weirdness is always lurking at the edges, creating a big and spacious sound field and embroidering the vocals and the instruments with occasional hints of echo and delay. Strongly recommended to all libraries with a collecting interest in reggae.

ejiEji Oyewole
Charity Begins at Home (reissue)
BBE Music (dist. Redeye)

Quick: name a saxophonist who has played with Fela Ransome Kuti, Miles Davis, and Bob Marley. Can’t? Well, now you can. Eji Oyewole has played all over the world over the course of a 50-year career, and still peforms regularly in his hometown of Lagos. This album was originally recorded in the late 1970s for EMI Nigeria, and it shows Oyewole to be a bandleader with an unusual take on the highlife sound, one that was deeply informed by his time with Fela: less guitar, more horns, greater track lengths. The remastered sound on this reissue is superb, and fans of Afrobeat will be especially excited to it back on the market.

November 2015


countyVarious Artists
Legends of Old-Time Music: Fifty Years of County Records (4 discs)

This four-disc retrospective is an absolute treasure trove of what is generally called “old-time” music, which is to say pre-bluegrass country music from the southern Appalachian region. Very often this means string band music (one or more fiddles, clawhammer banjo, guitar), but there are lots of solo recordings here as well and some slight anomalies like the Russell Family, whose instrumental lineup included two guitars and a mountain dulcimer. The title of this collection is apt–many of the artists featured here are indeed legends: Kyle Creed, Lily May Ledford, Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, bands like the Camp Creek Boys and the Coon Creek Girls — these are musicians who have shaped American music in ways both subtle and overt, and their playing on these recordings is consistently thrilling. As a banjo player myself I’m pleased by the degree to which that instrument takes center stage here, though some listeners might wish for more ensemble recordings (especially after hearing the Camp Creek Boys rock out on “Fortune”). But this is a brilliant collection and should be considered an essential purchase for any library with a collecting interest in traditional American music.


schumannRobert Schumann; Ferdinand Hiller
Piano Quintets
Tobias Koch; Pleyel Quartett Köln
Avi-Music (dist. Allegro)

For decades, the period-instrument movement has focused on the Renaissance, baroque, and classical periods–understandably enough, given that the structural and sonic differences between modern and early instruments are most dramatic there. But there is now increasing interest now playing the music of the Romantic period on instruments that are constructed and set up according to 19th-century practice, and one result is this excellent recording by the Pleyel Quartet with historical keyboardist Tobias Koch. Here Koch plays an 1860 pianoforte equipped with its original leather hammerheads and the quartet plays with period-appropriate bows and strings. The resulting sound is noticeably (if not dramatically) different from what one usually hears with this repertoire, and it’s very attractive. The playing itself is wonderful as always from this group.

wolfErnst Wilhelm Wolf
String Quartets
Pleyel Quartett Köln
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 856-2

Nope, I had never heard of him either. As it turns out, Ernst Wilhelm Wolf is yet another of those prodigies and composers of the classical age, famous and sought-after in their time, whom history has nearly forgotten. Legend has it that he was recruited by Frederick the Great to succeed C.P.E. Bach at his court, but turned down the offer to stay in Weimar. Anyway, these string quartets are thoroughly enjoyable and are expertly played by the Pleyel Quartet, an ensemble that is doing much to help bring the work of neglected classical-era composers to light.

cantateVarious Composers
Cantate Domino
Sistine Chapel Choir / Massimo Palombella
Deutsche Grammophon
479 5300
Rick’s Pick

This album gets a Rick’s Pick not only because the singing is sumptuously beautiful or because the program (which includes gorgeous pieces by Palestrina, Lassus, Victoria, and Allegri, along with a selection of Gregorian chants) is so well-selected, but also because it represents a historical first: this is the first studio recording of the Sistine Chapel’s resident choir, and the first recording ever made in the Sistine Chapel itself. Fittingly, the program includes the original version of Allegri’s famous Miserere, as preserved in the Sistine Codex of 1661. And how does the legendary chapel sound as a recording venue? Haunting–the acoustic is dark and quite reverberant. The singing is top-notch, and this disc offers a truly unique listening experience overall.

sessionsRoger Sessions
Music for Violin & Piano
David Bowlin; David Holzman

Roger Sessions was probably more influential as a pedagogue than a composer, but the robust and astringent pleasures of his music shouldn’t be overlooked. Those are bountifully evident in this collection of chamber works for piano (Adagio, Waltz for Brenda, Second Sonata), for violin (Sonata for Violin) and for the two instruments together (a one-movement duet). Here we see Sessions moving from a complicated and ambivalent tonality–note in particular the gentle but knotty Waltz for Brenda–into the full-fledged duodecaphony of his notoriously difficult Sonata for Violin. Bowlin and Holzman are both masterful advocates for this music, and are beautifully recorded.

marimbaJohann Sebastian Bach; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Baroque Marimba
Stanislao Marco Spina
Stone (dist. Allegro)

I find it fascinating that in recent years there’s been a slow but steady trickle of recordings of Bach on the marimba. The latest is this one from Italian percussionist Stanislao Marco Spina, who gives a lovely account of selections from Bach’s keyboard repertoire (including the Goldberg Variations, the partitas, and the Well-tempered Clavier) with a Mozart fantasia for dessert. The dark-hued percussive tones of the marimba provide a slightly startling sonic matrix for these familiar melodies, while the quick decay of the struck notes helps to expose the mathematical genius of Bach’s musical constructions. Spina plays with sensitivity and expressiveness as well as precision.

spookyDJ Spooky; Kronos Quartet
Rebirth of a Nation (CD + DVD)
Cantaloupe (dist. Naxos)

I’ve always had something of a vexed relationship with DJ Spooky’s music: I love the funkiness and complexity, but am sometimes left cold by the self-conscious postmodern faddishness and the pretentious crit-theory jargoneering. (Sample song titles from his catalog: “Sequentia Absentia [Dialectical Triangulation]”; “Variation Cybernetique: Rhythmic Pataphysic,” etc.) But this project–writing the soundtrack for a video remix of the notoriously racist D.W. Griffith film Birth of a Nation–is perfect for him, and the Kronos Quartet is the perfect ensemble to collaborate with him in realizing the score. I’ll leave you to investigate its theoretical underpinnings on your own, but suffice it to say that the music is by turns dense, spiky, funky, sardonic, joyful, and contemplative, and sometimes it’s several of those things at once. Handily, the package includes a DVD of the remixed film itself.

amaryllisVarious Composers
Nina Stern; Glen Velez
MSR Music (dist. Albany)
MS 1577

This collection of pieces for recorder, chalumeau (early clarinet) and percussion is a highly personal one, consisting of compositions particularly beloved by recorder player/clarinetist Nina Stern. They cover a period of time from the medieval to the baroque and include pieces originally written for voice and arranged by Stern for this recording. Choosing the famous and well-regarded Glen Velez as her accompanist was an inspired touch; whether playing a Telemann fantasia, an Armenian sharakan, a recorder miniature by Jacob van Eyck, or the evergreen “Greensleeves,” Stern and Velez demonstrate both a reverence for tradition and a willingness to bend the rules if that’s what it takes to achieve a particular kind of beauty.

gabrieliGiovanni Gabrieli; John Williams
National Brass Ensemble
Oberlin Music (dist. Naxos)
OC 15-04

Besides Monteverdi, Giovanni Gabrieli is probably the single composer most closely identified with the glory days of Venetian music and (like Monteverdi) a key figure in the stylistic transition from the Renaissance into the baroque period. Today he is most warmly remembered for his monumental compositions for brass instruments, and on this album the National Brass Ensemble (playing on modern instruments) presents a selection of pieces from Gabrieli’s beloved Sacrae Symphonia collection. Their playing is bright and joyful, and conveys the majesty of this music beautifully. Interestingly, the final work on the program is the world-première recording of John Williams’ Music for Brass, a thoroughly enjoyable piece of modern classical music that nevertheless fits rather awkwardly on this program.


giladGilad Hekselman
Jazz Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
JV 570058
Rick’s Pick

If you want to understand Gilad Hekselman as a composer and player of original music, listen to the first seven tracks of this, his fifth album as a leader, and notice how easily and deftly he and his trio flow from scampering bop to abstract expressionism, how they negotiate deeply tricky rhythmic shifts so fluidly that you never notice them, and how he balances beauty and complexity in his writing. To understand him as an interpreter, check out the next four tracks: Bud Powell’s skittering bop workout “Parisian Thoroughfare,” a Baden Powell samba, a Pat Metheny number, and an arrangement of Israeli songwriter Matti Caspi’s “Shir HaYonah” (“Dove Song”). On these tunes he’s like a chameleon: changing color subtly and tastefully depending on the context, but always retaining his own unique shape as a player. This is a richly beautiful album, one that should find a home in every jazz collection.

mosaicTerri Lyne Carrington
The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul

Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington delivers the follow-up to 2011’s The Mosaic Project with The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul. The subtitle is apt: the mood on this album is consistently smolderingly soulful, with one eye often on the bedroom, as a rotating cast of singers (including Chaka Khan, Nancy Wilson, Oleta Adams, Natalie Cole, and Carrington herself) performs songs by the likes of Duke Ellington, Bill Withers, and Ashford & Simpson alongside original Carrington compositions. She continues to show herself a masterful arranger and impresario, overseeing consistently powerful performances from this ace group of collaborators. More “jazzy” than jazz strictly speaking, this is a deeply romantic and heartfelt album.

frieldanderErik Friedlander
Oscalypso: Tribute to Oscar Pettiford
Rick’s Pick

Jazz cello has a mixed history. Too many bassists seem to have assumed that a cello is pretty much just a small bass, so obviously they know how to play it, right? The results have been downright embarrassing sometimes. But Oscar Pettiford was both a world-class jazz bassist and a pioneeringly good jazz cellist (though admittedly, he did kind of cheat by tuning it like a bass). Erik Friedlander, a dedicated jazz cellist himself, pays tribute to his predecessor on this wonderful album of Pettiford compositions, including familiar tunes like “Bohemia After Dark” and “Tricotism.” He’s accompanied by saxophonist Michael Blake, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Michael Sarin, and you won’t even notice the lack of a chordal instrument. Invigoratingly creative but never inaccessible, this is music of great warmth, affection, humor, and swing.

mauchMostly Other People Do the Killing
Mauch Chunk
Hot Cup

Have you ever eaten a jalapeño-flavored lollipop? If so, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from the latest album from the infamous combo known as Mostly Other People Do the Killing. The grooves are happy and upbeat, the melodies sunny and sweet–and very often, alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon’s solos start out that way too before suddenly collapsing into skronky squeals and harmolodic excursions. Sweet and spicy, humorous and forbidding: that’s the MOPDtK hallmark, and while some may find it difficult, those with more adventurous ears will get a big kick out of their latest.

brachfeldAndrea Brachfeld
Lotus Blossom
Rick’s Pick

Andrea Brachfeld is a flutist equally comfortable playing Latin jazz or straight-ahead swing/bop/postbop styles; her tone is consistently warm and woody, her phrasing lithe, her time impeccable. And she possesses that essential but rare trait: the ability to express herself deeply without taxing the patience of the listener. Listen, for example, to the way she jumps from the decorous abstractions of “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” to the skipping boppishness of “If I Love Again,” and note how her solos in both cases pay deep respect to the tunes while never letting us forget who she is. The whole album is like that, and there’s something here for just about every jazz fan.

garnerErrol Garner
The Complete Concert By the Sea (reissue; 3 discs)

One of the best-selling jazz albums of all time, this trio set was recorded live in 1955 as part of a concert series that would eventually turn into the Monterey Jazz Festival. This three-disc reissue features a new digital remastering and eleven tracks not previously released, and tacks a fourteen-minute interview recording onto the end for good measure. Coming back to this material, I noticed two things: first, the almost orchestral quality of Garner’s playing; he loved big, emotional gestures and played with a visceral sense of joy and enthusiasm. Second, the lousy quality of the recording itself, even with the remastering: Garner’s piano sounds like it’s coming from behind a blanket ten feet away from the mic, the bass is a constant but indistinct mutter, the drums are barely audible most of the time. But you can hear Garner’s piano well enough to appreciate the genius of his playing, and this album is an undisputed classic, so libraries would be will advised to give the reissue serious consideration.

breckerRandy Brecker

Trumpeter Randy Brecker has always straddled the jazz and pop worlds: with his brother Michael he helped to define the sound of jazz-rock fusion in the 1970s, and prior to that he was a founding member of Blood, Sweat & Tears. Over the ensuing decades he has played on countless jazz and pop songs by others, including hits like Steely Dan’s “New Frontier,” Paul Simon’s “Late in the Evening,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Meeting Across the River.” For this album, keyboardist Kenny Werner created new arrangements of those songs and other pop hits on which Brecker has played in the past, and together they recorded the arrangements live with a septet. The result, as one might imagine, is tons of fun. Brecker’s chops are as mighty as ever, and the band is watertight.


oconnorMark and Maggie O’Connor
Omac (dist. Allegro)

Fiddle legend Mark O’Connor and his wife Maggie have created a lovely album that doubles as a master class in arrangement and a pure listening experience of the highest quality. They’ve taken an assortment of familiar tunes from a variety of American traditions including bluegrass (“Gold Rush,” “Jerusalem Ridge”), Cajun (“Jolie Blon'”), traditional jazz (“Tiger Rag”), and country (“Faded Love”) and created unaccompanied twin-fiddle arrangements for them that are sometimes elegantly sophisticated and sometimes barn-burningly straightforward, but always either moving or exciting. Their playing is offhandedly virtuosic, but they never succumb to the temptation to show off their chops for selfish reasons.

dukeDuke Robillard
The Acoustic Blues & Roots of Duke Robillard
Stony Plain
SPCD 1383

You may think of Duke Robillard mainly as a hero of the East Coast R&B scene (appropriately enough, given his founding membership in Roomful of Blues and his subsequent gig with the Fabulous Thunderbirds), but his roots go much deeper than that, as evidenced by this very fine collection of traditional blues and country songs by the likes of Stephen Foster, Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, W.C. Handy, and Sleepy John Estes (along with some old-school-style Duke originals and a few more recent numbers). The arrangements are acoustic, the playing is appropriately greasy and rich, and the songs themselves are excellent. Strongly recommended.

jennaJenna Moynihan
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Listening to this stunning album by fiddler Jenna Moynihan, I kept trying to figure out who it is that her playing reminds me of–and then it hit me: in her combination of sharp musical insight, no-worries technical facility, and focus on the guts of each tune, she reminds me strongly of Martin Hayes, who has been my favorite Irish fiddler for close to 20 years now. Her sound is different in significant ways, and her musical mind is entirely her own, but listen to how delicately but powerfully she dissects a tune like “Pipe Major Jimmy MacGregor” and to what she does when challenged to write an original melody in an unusual tuning (and then records herself playing it with Darol Anger). The fact that Moynihan plays a five-string fiddle means that she’s able to employ unusual drone techniques that sometimes give her playing a faintly Scandinavian air. There are sweet and gentle surprises around every corner of this remarkable album. Here’s hoping for more very soon from this impressive artist.


Note: For some reason, the past few months have seen a bumper crop of interesting and often very beautiful takes on the ambient music tradition emerge from the new-release books, and a whole bunch of them have landed on my desk and in my inbox. At first I wondered how I was going to cover more than a couple of these releases without raising readers’ eyebrows–and then I decided, dang it, this is my CD HotList and I can cover whatever I want. So this month, I’m turning over the entire Rock/Pop section to one subgenre of popular music. It probably won’t happen again, but who knows?

ranaldoLee Ranaldo
Ambient Loop for Vancouver
Rick’s Pick

Lee Ranaldo is most famous as a former member of Sonic Youth, but his avant-garde bona fides extend much deeper than that. This particular album documents a project with photographer Leah Singer; together they wrote a book of prose (his) and photographs (hers) titled Road Movies, and Ranaldo composed an hour-long loop of abstract guitar sounds as an accompaniment. This is ambient music in the wind-chimes mode: everything is consonant, tones repeat quite a bit, and there’s nothing like a chord progression. But it’s not all pleasant shiny surfaces: there are strange buzzes and whines popping in and out of the mix and occasional incursions of feedback. Nevertheless, the listening experience is very relaxing and contemplative overall. (And despite what their website says about this album being sold out, my contacts at the Important label tell me that there are still plenty of copies available.)

foxx1John Foxx and Harold Budd
Translucence & Drift Music (reissue; 2 discs)
Metamatic (dist. Forced Exposure)
META 042
Rick’s Pick

foxx2John Foxx; Harold Budd; Ruben Garcia
Nighthawks (reissue)
Metamatic (dist. Forced Exposure)
META 055
Rick’s Pick

And here is where we have to start pondering the intersection of ambient and minimal music. What separates them? Can you define one in a way that systematically excludes the other? (And if so, is it useful to do so?) These three reissued albums are examples of the particular kind of shimmering, echo-laden, deceptively simple-sounding (and occasionally genuinely simple) ambient music of which Harold Budd has been a leading exponent for decades. On Translucence Budd’s piano is subjected to extreme reverb and echo in the studio; on Drift Music Foxx himself contributes more of the music, in the form of synthesizer washes. Nighthawks is something of a tribute to a less well-known exponent of ambient music, composer Ruben Garcia. All of the pieces presented on these three albums are immediately accessible but also reward close listening, which is the hallmark of the best music in this genre.

wallaChris Walla
Tape Loops
Trans- (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Chris Walla’s take on the ambient concept is pianistic like Harold Budd’s (though he’s mainly a guitarist, known primarily for his years with Death Cab for Cutie), and it uses tape loops like Ranaldo’s does, but it sounds very different from either one. Where Budd’s arrangements are lushly reverberent, Walla places his simple melodies in sonic jewel-boxes of subtle echo; where Ranaldo drops many different voices into his ambient mix, Walla keeps the elements (as well as the melodies) minimal. I can’t figure out why the resulting music is so deeply affecting, but don’t be surprised if it moves you to tears. It’s truly gorgeous.

scandMulticast Dynamics
Denovali (dist. Nail)

Ambient music comes in lots of different categories, and this one fits what I call the Brooding and Ominous category (sometimes referred to as “Dark Ambient” in the promotional literature). Samuel van Dijk, recording as Multicast Dynamics, is a Dutch producer and sound designer whose latest album is the third in a series of programmatic releases that (quoting from the one-sheet here) “(move) from an evolutionary to a cosmological scale: starting from dry land filled with light and and streams, to the constantly changing surfaces of the oceans, into a frozen and murky underwater world, finally up to the arrival in an interstellar space and the cosmos.” The controlling concepts here are ice, space, and slow movement; the mood is dark and quiet, but the sonic space that van Dijk creates is filled with tiny details. This isn’t mood music for a romantic dinner, but it makes a great accompaniment to reading a crime novel.

retouchedInternational Observer
Retouched (compilation)
Dubmission (dist. Nail)
Rick’s Pick

Dub is arguably the ambient counterpart to the reggae music on which it’s usually based. Thom Bailey (better known as the founder of 1980s hitmakers the Thompson Twins) has been an avid exponent of dub since that band broke up and he and fellow TT vocalist Alannah Currie formed the short-lived Babble. In recent years Bailey has been releasing instrumental dub albums under the name International Observer, and on Retouched he collects a bunch of dubwise remixes he’s done for other artists under that name. Here you’ll find his treatments of tracks by Pitch Black, Bic Runga, stellar*, Holiwater Band, and others, and perhaps most noteworthy is the first dub mix he ever created: a remix of Babble’s “Love Has No Name.” Five of the album’s ten tracks are previously unreleased, and two have never before been available outside of Bailey’s native New Zealand. While this album isn’t ambient music per se (the grooves are beat-driven throughout) its spacey textures, generally soft-focus atmospheres, and complete disregard for conventional song structure make it a very nice complement to the more abstract albums featured here this month.


komitasGurdjieff Ensemble

The Gurdjieff Ensemble was formed in 2008 to explore the inspirational sources of the music written by the esoteric Russian spiritual teacher George I. Gurdjieff, using Armenian folk instruments. On this album, however, the group performs arrangements of songs written by the celebrated Armenian songwriter Komitas Vardapet. Vardapet’s works seek to blend folk tradition with Western classical compositional technique, and the result is music that is by turns eerily and astringently modal, ceremonially grand, and mystical. These are sounds that will be unfamiliar to many American ears, but will grab any listener at a deep and visceral level. (In 2016 a companion release is planned, this one featuring Vardapet’s music for piano.)

reggaeSly & Robbie and Spicy Chocolate
The Reggae Power 2
Tuff Gong/Taxi
No cat. no.

The legendary drums/bass/production duo of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare has put together a solid collection of modern reggae tracks in collaboration with Japanese band Spicy Chocolate. Featuring an assortment of A-list singers and chatters including Beenie Man, Shaggy, Richie Spice, and up-and-coming neo-rootsman Romain Virgo. To be clear, this album is no one-rhythm exercise, nor is it a collection of recycled material or re-voicings of old reggae rhythms; it’s a top-notch compilation of new songs in a rootsy but modern style, underpinned by what is arguably the finest existing rhythm section in reggae music. Every library with a collecting interest in reggae music (or in pop music generally) needs to own this album.

raviRavi & Anoushka Shankar
Live in Bangalore (2 CDs + 1 DVD)
East Meets West (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

This set documents Ravi Shankar’s final Indian performance before his death in 2012. He was almost 92 years old when this concert took place, and he performed alongside his daughter Anoushka (with various accompanists) for over three hours. Listening now, it’s hard to believe that he was so old–put this album alongside his performances at the peak of his powers (and worldwide popularity) in the 1960s, and you will probably notice a difference in his speed and dexterity, but his melodic inventiveness and bone-deep understanding of the raga form have only grown over time. As important as this package is as a historical document, it is also a marvelous listening experience. (The accompanying DVD documents a solo performance by Anoushka, herself an acknowledged sitar master.)

katayounShujaat Husain Khan; Katayoun Goudarzi
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

This one narrowly missed being the “Pick of the Month” for November; it is easily one of the five best albums I’ve heard this year. Ruby is a collaboration between Indian sitarist Shujaat Husain Khan and Iranian singer Katayoun Goudarzi. Those who are paying attention may wonder where two musicians from such disparate backgrounds might be able to find common ground, and in this case the answer is in the work of Rumi, the great Persian poet. Together Khan and Goudarzi created musical settings for a selection of Rumi’s poems, and with the help of several additional musicians (notably the gorgeous bansuri playing of Ajay Prasanna) they have made a record that is deeply, richly beautiful. I can’t think of a library that would not benefit from adding this album to its collection. (Note: the link above leads to a digital download, but the album will also be available in CD format after November 6.)

ballakeBallaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal
Musique de nuit
Six Degrees
Rick’s Pick

This is the second duo album by kora virtuoso Ballaké Sissoko and cellist Vincent Segal, and it finds the two picking up the musical conversation of Chamber Music pretty much where it left off six years ago. Several of the tracks on Musique de nuit were recorded on a rooftop in Bamako, the capital of Mali, and if you listen closely you’ll hear incidental noises from nightbirds singing or people passing by on the street below. But mostly, all you’ll hear is the remarkable interplay between two masters of their instruments who come from musical traditions that could hardly be more remote from each other, finding and exploring common musical ground in beautiful and moving ways. The song “Diabaro” features griot singer Babani Kone. All of it is exceptionally lovely.

October 2015


ewanVarious Artists
Joy of Living: A Tribute to Ewan MacColl (2 discs)

Here’s a tribute to a titan of the 1960s English folk scene: Ewan MacColl, sometimes called the godfather of the folk revival in the UK. Those who don’t recognize his name may still be able to sing at least one of his songs, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” That’s a great one, but in my book the most brilliant and heartbreaking song he wrote was “Schoolday’s Over,” in which three different fathers tells their sons that now that they’re home from school it’s time to get dressed and go to work in the mine: “Time you were learning the pitman’s job/And earning a pitman’s pay.” That’s the song that opens this collection, and the album proceeds from strength to strength, featuring names both famous (Martin Carthy, Dick Gaughan, Steve Earle, Christy Moore, Billy Bragg) and less so. As you proceed through the program you’ll be struck by how consistently powerful MacColl’s songs are, how concisely they convey sharp and telling observation, how they portray workingclass life with deep sympathy and (well, mostly) a minimum of political hectoring, and–perhaps most importantly–how incredibly gifted he was as a melodist. And then there’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” which I still believe is the single most romantic song written in the 20th century. One regret: I wish someone had thought to ask Ian Robb to sing “The Big Hewer” for this collection. Still, this one is essential.


fevinAntoine de Févin; Anonymous
Missa transfigurationis: Tournai, XVe-XVI siècles
Psallentes / Hendrik Vanden Abeele
Musique en Wallonie (dist. Naxos)
MEW 1576

The monastic Brotherhood of the Transfiguration was attached to the Tournai cathedral upon its founding in the 15th century, and eventually produced a manuscript collection of plainchant and polyphony that was thought lost in the wake of World War II. Rediscovered and returned to the cathedral in 2006, that manuscript’s contents are here performed and recorded for the first time by the Psallentes ensemble. While this recording will be of primary interest to specialist early-music collections, every library collection will benefit by acquiring this disc–both because of its great historical interest and because of its gorgeous musical qualities.

gottliebVarious Composers
Music for Harp
Karen Gottlieb
Innova (dist. Naxos)

postcardVarious Composers
Postcard from Heaven
Susan Allen
New World (dist. Albany)

These two discs find harpists Karen Gottlieb and Susan Allen teamed up with an array of collaborators on programs of 20th-century works for harp, both solo and in small ensembles. Gottlieb’s disc features solos and duos by Lou Harrison, Wayne Peterson, John Cage, and Dan Reiter; Allen’s includes works by Cage, James Tenney, Alexander Tcherepnin, and Gloria Coates. John Cage’s “In a Landscape” represents the sole programming overlap between the two discs, and the differences in the two harpists’ interpretations of his semi-determinate piece are very interesting. Of the two, Gottlieb leans more in the direction of modernist sounds while Allen tends to favor tonality and post-minimalism, but it’s Gottlieb’s rendition of Harrison’s achingly lovely Music for Harp with Percussion that provides the most viscerally enjoyable moments. (Also worth noting is Allen’s performance of Coates’ suite Perchance to Dream, on which she is accompanied by bowed vibraphone, though there are some slight but troubling intonation issues there.) Both discs are highly recommended to classical collections.

vivaldiAntonio Vivaldi
Complete Viola d’Amore Concertos
Rachel Barton Pine; Ars Antigua
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 159

“Oh, great,” I hear you mutter. “Another album of Vivaldi violin concertos. Just what our collection needs.” Not so fast: these are actually concertos written for the viola d’amore, a violin-like instrument considered exotic even during the composer’s time. Somewhat like a hardanger fiddle, the viola d’amore has a set of sympathetic strings in addition to the pitched strings that are fingered and bowed. Its sound is subtly but noticeably different from that of the violin, and the brilliant Rachel Barton Pine’s love of the instrument is palpable on this collection of eight concertos. These are works rarely recorded on the instrument for which they were written, so all classical collections should seriously consider picking up this disc.

villegasVarious Composers
Pablo Villegas
Harmonia Mundi
HMU 907649
Rick’s Pick

There’s always a certain visceral thrill that you get listening to a recording by a genuine guitar virtuoso–someone who plays in a way that seems to defy the laws of physics. When that thrill fades, though (which it always does within minutes) what you’re left with is the music: the quality of the compositions, and the taste and insight of the interpretations. In the case of this debut album from the young Spanish guitarist Pablo Villegas, the musicality is deep and it’s evident throughout. The program he has selected draws on the work of composers from all over the North and South American continents, including Heitor Villa-Lobos, Antonio Lauro, and Roland Dyens; it also includes the world-première recording of John Williams’ “Rounds” and several arrangements of traditional American (as in U.S.A.) fiddle tunes. This is a remarkable album by a tremendously exciting talent.

tallisThomas Tallis
Ave, Dei patris filia
The Cardinall’s Musick / Andrew Carwood
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

Whenever I encounter a new recording of works by Thomas Tallis, I ask myself the same question: “Is this recording obviated by the excellent complete-works collection by the Chapelle du Roi that came out on Signum ten years ago?” The question is especially acute when the competing vocal ensemble (in this case, the venerable Cardinall’s Musick) is configured so similarly: eight male voices, two female. And in this case, here’s my answer: no. Partly because the program on this disc is so nicely arranged, putting some very early English-language liturgical works alongside Latin Responsories and psalm settings, and partly because the singing is so lushly enjoyable and compares very nicely to that of the Chapelle du Roi without exactly eclipsing it. Strongly recommended.

louisVarious Composers
Louis XIV: Les musiques du Roi-Soleil (3 discs)
Various Performers
Alpha (dist. Naxos)

These three discs bring together recordings made between 2001 and 2013 of monumental French baroque works from the time of Louis XIV: on the first two discs are Charpentier’s and Lully’s Te Deum settings and Du Mont’s grand motets. The third disc consists of chamber and solo pieces of a less somber and more entertaining nature by a variety of composers including Couperin, Campra, and Marais. Taken together, this set offers a good sense of the variety and quality of music that was made possible by the patronage of this most music-minded of French kings. The liner notes are a bit sketchy and the list price may be a bit high for this kind of collection, but the music and the performances are marvelous throughout.

riglerJane Rigler
Various Performers
Neuma (dist. Albany)

The flute is an instrument rich with possibilities when it comes to experimental and avant-garde music: it can be used percussively, it’s very well suited to all kinds of multiphonic and extended techniques, and its overtone-rich sound makes it especially amenable to electronic enhancement that render its subtle acoustic complexities more easily audible or that expand its sonic palette, which can be done pretty much infinitely. On this album flutist and composer Jane Rigler uses a variety of physical and electronic tools to make very new sounds with flutes and piccolos, often in collaboration with three other, similarly adventurous musicians: prepared guitarist Jane Feder, keyboardist Shoko Nagai, and percussionist Satosho Takeishi. The music is wildly various, sometimes slightly terrifying, and never boring.

bachC.P.E. Bach; Ludwig Christian Hesse; Johann Gottlieb Graun
Trios for Fortepiano & Viola da Gamba
Lucile Boulanger; Arnaud de Pasquale
Alpha (dist. Naxos)

If you’re paying attention, you may notice a disjunction between the title and the instrumentation of this disc, which consist of works for viola da gamba and fortepiano. But in late baroque and early classical music, a “trio” was often written for solo instrument and keyboard, the idea being that the keyboard would play two parts simultaneously. Here we get to hear those parts played on a couple of very different fortepianos, which is fun and interesting, but the real draw is the fiery elegance of gamba player Lucile Boulanger. This one is well worth considering for all classical collections.


simoneNina Simone
DJ Maestro Presents: Little Girl Blue Remixed
Bethlehem (dist. Naxos)
BCP 2000

DJ Maestro’s stage name is particularly apt on this project, on which he orchestrates a set of remixes by other producers based on Nina Simone’s 1958 debut album. Maestro himself participates on a couple of tracks, but mostly leaves the mixing duties to the likes of Renegades of Jazz, Mees Dierdrop, The Reflex, and Gramophonedzie. Some of the remixes strip the original tracks down quite radically and rebuild them cubistically, while others leave a substantial amount of Simone’s quirky vocal and even quirkier pianism respectfully in place, embroidering the sound subtly with imported elements. Personally, I would have preferred fewer thudding house treatments, but your mileage may vary. Very nice overall.

scoJohn Scofield
Past Present
Rick’s Pick

I’m hard pressed to come up with a jazz guitarist who matches John Scofield for the ability to blend noisy avant-gardism, hard-swinging straight-ahead jazziness, and pure melodic joy the way John Scofield does. (Actually, Bill Frisell is his clear equal in this regard, though their sounds could hardly be more different; when they play together, the results can be spectacular.) On his latest, he’s joined by bassist Larry Grenadier, drummer Bill Stewart, and saxophonist Joe Lovano. (Why Joe Lovano? Because if you can get Joe Lovano, you do, and Scofield can.) The program is all originals, but the style varies pretty widely, from the cheerful bop of “Chap Dance” to the greasy and bluesy “Get Proud.” As always, Scofield’s virtuosity is everywhere evident but is never the focal point: the focal point is the tunes and the group’s exceptional interplay. A must for all jazz collections.

fedchokJohn Fedchok New York Big Band
Like It Is
Mama (dist. Allegro)
MAA 1048

John Fedchok is a very fine trombone player, but where he really shines is as a composer and arranger. This album showcases him in those roles, with innovative but highly accessible arrangements of standards like “You and the Night and the Music” and “Never Let Me Go” and his own original takes on traditional forms, including the 12-bar blues “Like It Is” and the midtempo hard bop of “Hair of the Dog.” Fedchok worked for several years as chief arranger for Woody Herman, and the fruits of that labor are richly evident on this very fine album. All jazz collections should seriously consider acquiring it.

magnarelliJoe Magnarelli
Three on Two

Trumpeter and composer Joe Magnarelli leads a razor-sharp quintet on this mixed program of originals and standards in a mixed bag of styles, from the aptly-titled original “NYC-J-Funk” to the swinging midtempo bop of the title track and the very straight-ahead account of John Coltrane’s subtly weird “26-2.” There are lots of challenging heads here and lots of adventurous solos, but the group’s impeccable sense of swing holds everything together very nicely, and Magnarelli has a very nifty habit of conveying harmonically advanced ideas in an accessible way. Recommended to all jazz collections.

hamiltonScott Hamilton & Jeff Hamilton Trio
Live in Bern
Rick’s Pick

Whenever I see saxophonist Scott Hamilton’s name on a CD I get the same feeling that you get when one of your favorite people shows up at a party — “Ah. Now things are going to get good.” And by “good,” what I mean is good, solid, meat-and-potatoes jazz played in a straight-ahead manner that unabashedly pretends the 1960s and 1970s never happened. Not to disrespect those decades (well, not the 1960s anyway), but there’s something deeply and uniquely satisfying about listening to a band like this swing like this, and with Jeff Hamilton on the drummer’s throne you know that the swing will never relent. Interestingly, although this album was recorded n a club it doesn’t sound as if it was recorded in performance — there’s no applause and no audience noise whatsoever, just a warm and roomy ambience that suits the music perfectly. Highly recommended to all collections.


Reinventing Richard: The Songs of Richard Fariña

Richard Fariña was one of the young heroes of the 1960s folk revival, and he stayed that way, dying at age 29 in a tragic motorcycle accident. His influence has endured, though, both in his home country and among likeminded folkies over in the UK. Hence this tribute album from the English group Plainsong, which has been championing Fariña’s songs for over 40 years. Those with a low threshold of patience for 1960s lyrical tropes may find themselves rolling their eyes at songs with titles like “Lemonade Lady” and “Sell-Out Agitation Waltz,” but keep listening: there’s plenty of inspiration here, and Iain Matthews and his crew interpret Fariña’s music both affectionately and acutely. (Hey, guys — how about a Richard Thompson tribute next?)

fy5FY5-Finnders & Youngberg
Eat the Moon

Neotrad roots combo FY5 has something of a perverse streak, which is something I like about them. Check out the rhythmic weirdness of “Desert Bluebell,” for example, and the slightly avant-garde fusion of Tin Pan Alley and honky-tonk sounds on “Back Door.” Elsewhere the sound is straight-up bluegrass or a sort of New Acoustic folk-pop, and that sound is especially attractive when Erin Youngberg is singing lead — notice in particular the gorgeous “After Tonight.” Everything here is well worth hearing, and though the album’s production is curiously muffled, there’s still a fresh brightness to FY5’s sound.

tradgrassThe Traditional Grass
The Blues Are Still the Blues (compilation)

Of all the great bluegrass bands with terrible names — and there have been many, oh so many — the Traditional Grass was one of the best with one of the worst. In the early 1990s they made four albums for the excellent Rebel label, and highlights from that catalog are collected here and offered at budget-line price (a sound decision, particularly given the program’s under-40-minute running time). The highlights here are truly hair-raising: check out the archetypally high and lonesome “You Are My Flower,” the fiddle-and-banjo feature “Old Joe,” the gospel classicism of “I Believe in the Old-Time Way” and “Lazarus.” A collection like this should not have any weak tracks, and indeed this one doesn’t.

elyJoe Ely
Panhandle Rambler
Rack ’em (dist. Redeye)
RER CD 0007

Joe Ely being who he is, I came to this disc with high expectations. And I have to confess that the first track left me feeling disappointed — but then comes “Magdalene,” one of the most mature and affecting love songs I’ve heard in ages, sung perfectly in Ely’s sweetly aging voice. And that song’s pleasures turn out to be typical of the album as a whole: minimal, largely acoustic settings for tightly-composed observations on love, loss, and rural Texas culture delivered in a style that can’t exactly be called country: it’s much more specific than that, and often reflects the landscape of Joe Ely as much as it does that of Texas. Recommended.


freedyFreedy Johnston
Neon Repairman
Singing Magnet
Rick’s Pick

It is, I suppose, a stinging indictment of the current state of the music industry that a singer-songwriter of Freedy Johnston’s brilliance and stature would have to seek crowdsourced funding in order to release his first new album in five years. (Or maybe he didn’t actually need to; maybe he just wanted to preserve his independence and keep some of the sales proceeds for once.) In any case, if you’re a fan like me you know what to expect: songs that hide sharp observations behind slightly oblique lyrics, that reveal deeply affecting stories of heartbreak and confusion when you listen closely, that are couched in melodies whose hooks are subtle but impossible to forget. And over the past 20 years he’s become a real singer, too — on his debut you heard a great songwriter with a kind of strange and reedy voice, but today you hear a great singer with a pure and clear high tenor. He’s made albums that have rocked louder, but I’m not sure he’s made one that hits harder.

closelobstersClose Lobsters
Firestation Towers: 1986-1989 (3 discs)
Fire (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Back in the mid- to late 1980s, when Close Lobsters were making their modest inroads into the American alt-pop scene, two of the most overused critical adjectives were “quirky” and “jangly.” But both applied perfectly to this Scottish band, whose sparkling Rickenbacker arpeggios and deeply weird lyrics were simultaneously inviting and forbidding. This 3-disc retrospective collects everything they recorded for the Fire label: two studio albums and one singles collection. Musically it stands up terrifically well — these are fun and engagingly weird songs that sound perfect turned up loud in a car. Production-wise, it sounds pretty good for the period — but this isn’t music you listen to in order to luxuriate in shiny surfaces. It’s music you listen to in order to luxuriate in hooks and to chuckle at the juxtaposition of straight-ahead three-chord progressions with lyrical couplets like “This is an empty vessel lesson/A collective works of what the mystic insults” and “Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah/Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.” Highly recommended to all libraries.

Project: Mooncircle

As its title indicates, CD HotList generally covers only CDs, as that’s the format in which most libraries acquire materials for their circulating collections. But every once in a while a vinyl-only release grabs my attention forcefully enough to justify coverage here, and this EP, by Russian producer Dimitry Kuzmin (dba Nuage) is one such. You can hear his roots in drum and bass, but his sound palette is broad and varied and the beats he constructs are both gentle and compelling. He creates truly enormous sound fields and populates them in a dubwise manner, with shreds of vocal floating through the mix and microscopic sonic details placed at varying distances from the listener. Sometimes the mood is a bit unsettling, but mostly it’s simultaneously soothing and groovy. This is the kind of thing that the Project: Mooncircle label does better than any other.

funeralFuneral Advantage
The Native Sound
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

And here’s another one. Though his stage name and album title might lead you to expect Scandinavian death metal; in fact Tyler Kershaw’s music is dream pop of the most shimmering, ethereal loveliness. Lyrics are beside the point, because his voice is completely unintelligible throughout — it’s heavily laden with reverb and buried under two or three layers of guitar. His songs’ considerable emotional wallop comes entirely from the chord changes and the arrangements, and every one of them will make you feel as if the sun has just come out after a long spell of rain.

manuvaRoots Manuva
Big Dada (dist. Redeye)

One of the early architects of what would eventually come to be called grime, Roots Manuva is a pillar of the UK’s healthy and always-changing hip hop scene. Actually, “elder statesman” might be a better term, as his influence has grown and deepened over the past two decades to a degree not necessarily reflected in the chart positions of his albums. On Bleeds you can hear him coming into his full maturity as a lyricist and a beat sculptor, his grooves becoming simultaneously heavier and subtler, his lyrical concerns becoming ever more thoughtful and serious. If your library owns nothing by Roots Manuva I would suggest starting with Run Come Save Me (and its companion volume, Dub Come Save Me). But if his previous albums are circulating, don’t hesitate to pick this one up.

Y Dydd Olaf

Formerly a member of the Pipettes, Welsh singer-songwriter Gwenno Saunders has now emerged as a solo artist in the wake of that band’s breakup with an album sung entirely in Welsh (except for one sung in Cornish). The press materials indicate that the songs are political, more specifically feminist, but since my Welsh is kind of rusty I’ll have to take their word on that. What I can hear is that the songs offer a fun and engaging update on traditional electropop, that Gwenno has an attractively breathy voice, and that she’s got a nice way with a hook. And I’m a sucker for foreign-language pop music anyway. Recommended.


omarOmar Souleyman
Bahdeni Nami

Syrian pop star Omar Souleyman teams up with several well-respected producers from the dance and electronic scenes (including Modeselektor and Gilles Peterson) for his sophomore album, and the results are not exactly what you might expect. Yes, the beats are hard, but they’re also pretty minimal: what remain front and center are Souleyman’s voice (which, oddly, strikes me as attractive enough but not exactly world-class) and the nearly constant interaction between Khaled Youssef’s saz and Rizan Said’s electronic keyboards. This is brilliant, high-energy music that could be used to spice up any party. It’s also pretty great driving music — but if you use it that way, I urge you to keep an eye on the speedometer.

Nozinja Lodge
Warp (dist. Redeye)

Shangaan electro is a sort of new-wave electronic dance music that has emerged from South Africa over the past ten years, and DJ/composer/impresario Nozinja is its central figure. Nozinja Lodge is his debut full-length album, and I promise it’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard: the beats and tempos are frenetic, manifesting a strange blend of chaotic density and digital hard-edgedness that is tough to describe: imagine the sonic equivalent of a kaleidoscope broken open and its contents dumped on the ground, but falling naturally into tightly ordered and complex patterns. The vocals (contributed by a large stable of guest singers) draw on traditional folk melodies, but the predominant sound is that of technology, and the album is thrilling and exhausting in equal measure.

Integration (reissue)
Bristol Archive

The 1980s was a golden period for reggae music in England, and thanks to the continuing diligent work of the Bristol Archives label, it’s becoming increasingly clear how much very high-quality reggae was being made outside the Jamaican migrant centers of London and Birmingham. Case in point: Rhythmites were based in Bath, and were responsible for some of the solidest roots reggae of the period. Not very much of it, granted — this was their only full-length album. But with this reissue (remixed from the master tapes, with the addition of two new dub versions) it becomes clear what a great band they were: comparisons to Steel Pulse and Aswad are entirely fair, and you’ll even hear hints of UB40 in the mix. If your library has a collecting interest in reggae, this one is a great choice.

Lusafrica (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

Lura fell into singing mostly by accident, while a teenaged student in Lisbon in the early 1990s. Since then she has recorded several albums, all of them simultaneously celebrating and expanding upon her Cape-Verdean heritage and on the funaná and batuque traditions of her homeland. On her latest, she covers songs by old-school favorites Ildo Lobo and Os Tubaroes and by Zezé di Nha Reinalda, bringing a subtle modernism to the batuque groove of “Maria di Lida” and a throbbing bittersweetness to the gentle “Sema Lopi,” which celebrates the history of Cape Verde’s people. Recommended to all world music collections.

Despertar (EP)
Fusion Beats
No cat. no.

Mariachi/electronica/cumbia/hip-hop fusion? Yes, please! Especially when the artist is a woman who plays the vihuela and is more interested in hip hop’s rhythmic intricacy than its braggadocio, and when she takes every opportunity to incorporate skanking reggae backbeats into her arrangements. And when she’s a great songwriter. This debut release is only a six-song EP, so here’s hoping for a full-length album sometime soon.

September 2015


hadenCharlie Haden; Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Tokyo Adagio

Veteran bassist Charlie Haden worked frequently over the years with the young pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and in a variety of ensemble formats. In 2005, the duo had a four-night residency at the Blue Note club in Tokyo, and this exquisite disc is drawn from those performances. The title reflects two things: first, the all-ballad nature of the program; second, the fact that Haden often referred to himself as an “adagio guy”–someone who loved slow movements. To listen to this gentle and delicately powerful program is to reflect again on how deeply blessed the jazz world was by the long presence of Haden, and continues to be by the sensitive virtuosity of Rubalcaba. Because this music is so soft, slow, and luscious, it’s tempting to treat it like ambient music–to let it fade to the back of your consciousness and simply color the air around you in deep, rich shades of blue and purple. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but I strongly recommend taking the time to listen closely to it, at least once and maybe even repeatedly. Haden and Rubalcaba communicated with each other in a way not seen since the glory days of Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro, and both of them play here with a sweetness of spirit and an openness of heart that has to be heard to be understood. I realize that may sound a bit overwrought, but trust me on this. Every library should own this album, and I’ll go further and say that every home should as well. Here’s hoping, someday, for a box set documenting all four nights of their residency.


peterhouseRobert Jones; Nicholas Ludford; Robert Hunt
Missa Spes nostra; Ave cujus conceptio; Stabat mater
Blue Heron / Scott Metcalfe
Blue Heron Renaissance Choir, Inc. (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Like a glass of cool water after a long walk in the desert, the fourth installment in the Blue Heron ensemble’s projected five-volume series of music from the Peterhouse Partbooks is finally here. And like its predecessors, this one presents gorgeous and previously-unheard music by practically unknown composers, all sung with the sweet and burnished tone and colorful but seamless blend that are Blue Heron’s hallmark. No classical collection can afford to pass up any disc in this series.

fieldVarious Composers
Premieres: Contemporary Lyrical Works for the Classical Guitar
Hilary Field
Yellow Tail (dist. City Hall)

Contemporary and lyrical? I’m in. And guitarist Hilary Field doesn’t disappoint here: these pieces (by composers like Douglas Lora, Nadia Boríslova, Alberto Cumplido, and Field herself) are modern and sometimes forbiddingly virtuosic, but always engaging and sweetly melodic. Well, to be honest, most of them don’t sound that “modern”–Field’s use of the word “contemporary” in the title is wise. And her playing is magnificent. Highly recommended.

originsVarious Composers
Kontras Quartet
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1537

Speaking of modernism and accessibility, here’s a program of 20th- and 21st-century string quartets consciously designed both to celebrate cultural differences (the featured composers come from the four different countries represented by the quartet’s membership) and to encourage transcendence of them. South Africa is represented by Kevin Volans’ now-familiar second string quartet (subtitled “Hunting:Gathering”); Japan by Hajime Koumatsu’s Japanese Folk Song Suite No. 2; Russia by Igor Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet; and the United States by Dan Visconti’s witty 11-movement Ramshackle Songs for String Quartet (presented here in its world-première recording). The playing is great and the program thoroughly enjoyable in all its diversity.

berlinVarious Composers
Berlin Sonatas
Elinor Frey; Lorenzo Ghielmi; Marc Vanscheeuwijck
Passacaille (dist. Naxos)

It may seem like a curiosity now, but in mid-18th-century Berlin compositions suited to the five-string cello abounded: composers like Carl Friedrich Abel, Carl Heinrich Graun, and J.C.F. Bach were writing chamber works that favored the use of a cello with five strings. Elinor Frey is one of a very few cellists currently exploring this repertoire with that instrument, and on this program of sonatas she is accompanied by the fine fortepianist Lorenzo Ghielmi (who is also featured on a mid-program solo piano sonata by C.P.E. Bach) and bassist Marc Vanscheeuwijck. The music is all very enjoyable and this album should be of particular interest to library collections.

Bureau B (dist. Forced Exposure)
BB 206

This trio of pianists includes Hans-Joachim Roedelius, whom attentive readers will recognize as a founding member of the avant-garde group Cluster, and attentive readers will also note the similarity of that group’s name to this one’s–and will thus be tipped off and will expect this music to be something other than what one traditionally thinks of as “classical.” The music is minimalist in the harmonic sense, developing (if that’s the right word) along lines that suggest wind chimes; however, the textures and overall mood are nearly Romantic, and the pianistic techniques used are extended enough to suggest hints of mid-century modernism. Very interesting and quite enjoyable, and a good choice for more inclusive classical collections.

schubertFranz Schubert
The Unauthorized Piano Duos, Volume 3
Goldstone & Clemmow
Divine Art
dda 25125

The third disc in this ongoing series showcases two very different Schubert compositions, each in a four-hand piano arrangement created without the composer’s permission. In this case the originals are both quite familiar: the “Death and the Maiden” string quartet, and the “Unfinished” symphony. The arrangements are a by a variety of Schubert’s contemporaries and near-contemporaries and by pianist Anthony Goldstone, who represents half of the performing duo on this recording. This is a lovely album of world-première recordings and should be of special interest to any library supporting a program in orchestration or keyboard arranging.

loysetLoyset Compère
Magnificat, Motets & Chansons
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

The late 15th century was a fascinating period of transition for polyphonic music, and a period during which giants were being born and educated in northern France and Belgium: Josquin Desprez, Jacob Obrecht, and Alexander Agricola were all born at this time. Loyset Compère was born about ten years earlier–long enough to give him a head start on developing the imitative choral techniques that would later be arguably perfected by Josquin. This collection of sacred and secular pieces (sung with breathtakingly crystalline clarity by the four-voice Orlando Consort) shows Compère off very nicely, particularly on the exceptionally fine Magnificat setting. Highly recommended to early music collections.

chouChou Wen-Chung
Eternal Pine
Various Performers
New World (dist. Albany)

Though he is now over 90 years old, the compositions on this album mark the first time that Chou Wen-Chung has composed for ensembles of traditional East Asian instruments. This album features four versions of the title piece: one for a traditionally-configured Korean ensemble, one for a sextet of Western instruments, one for a duo of gayageum and changgu, and one for a septet of traditional Chinese instruments. The music itself is highly impressionistic, almost programmatic, and the contrasts between the different renderings of a single set of musical ideas is fascinating.

flautadorsThe Flautadors
Cynthia’s Revels
First Hand (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

The title here is taken from a satire written by Ben Johnson, sending up the court of Queen Elizabeth I. The Queen was well known for her love of music and dance, and the satirical play included a number of songs and dance sequences. For this album, the recorder consort The Flautadors gathered together pieces by composers as familiar as William Byrd, Anthony Holborne, and John Dowland, and as obscure as Elway Bevin and Hugh Aston, to create an imaginative re-creation of the sounds of courtly life during the Elizabethan era. Their playing, as always, is superb, and the lovely tone of their instruments is particularly worth noting: here they’re playing a consort of recorders built by Thomas Prescott after 16th-century instruments currently housed in the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum.


montyDonald Vega
With Respect to Monty
Rick’s Pick

This effortlessly enjoyable disc simultaneously celebrates two great but underappreciated pianists: Donald Vega (who took the place of the late Mulgrew Miller in the Ron Carter Trio) and Monty Alexander (the Jamaican pianist/composer who has done more than anyone except the Skatalites to fuse jazz and reggae, while also working in both of those genres separately). Vega plays in tribute to Alexander here, working in a quartet format (piano, guitar, bass, drums) and delivering a program made up mostly of Alexander’s compositions. One selection is reggae and one is Latin, but for the most part Vega sticks with what he does best, which is to swing powerfully in a straight-ahead style. His lilting and lyrical solos are a consistent high point, but his rhythm section deserves enormous credit as well for the utter delightfulness of this disc. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.

deaseMichael Dease

I have a real soft spot in my heart for trombone-led small combos, and this quintet date led by trombonist Michael Dease is a treat. It features a blend of originals and arrangements (only a couple of which could reasonably be called “standards”), and is unapologetically straight-ahead in style. To listen closely to Dease is to hear a mind sharply but affectionately at work on these melodies, making subtle allusions and throwing out the occasional tribute to a friend or hero, and the rest of the quintet supports him with both empathy and power. Very, very nice.

herschFred Hersch
Rick’s Pick

By now there’s not much point in reviewing Fred Hersch’s albums. You know that his trio and small-combo sessions will be thrilling, mind-expanding excursions in the straight-ahead tradition, and you know his solo albums will take you into unexpected realms of harmonic invention and stylistic expansion without ever leaving you bewildered by the roadside. In celebration of his 60th birthday, the Palmetto label has released this live recording made a year ago in a small church in the Catskills. During this set he played several originals, a Jobim medley, standards by Duke Ellington and Jerome Kern, and (of course) a Monk tune — a set perfectly designed to show off his strengths, though “showing off” is never the impression Hersch gives. Instead, you get the impression he’s reaching out to you even as he dives deep inside himself to pull out genius musical thoughts. An essential purchase for all jazz collections.

lafayetteLafayette Harris, Jr. Trio
Bend to the Light

The last trio album led by pianist/composer Lafayette Harris was a standards program; this one focuses on originals, and it’s very good indeed. As a writer, Harris can do impressionistic (the title track), contemplative (“We in the House”), or hard-swinging (“Achern,” “Blues on the Edge”); when he’s doing other people’s stuff he can take it into either stride (Herbie Nichols’ “12 Bars) or gospel territory (Luther Vandross’s “Take You Out”). His stylistic range is impressive, and his touch is light but solid, as is the accompaniment by bassist Lonnie Plaxico and drummer Willie Jones III. Strongly recommended.

fischerJacob Fischer
… In New York City
Arbors Jazz
ARCD 19444

Jacob Fischers follows in a long but sparsely-populated tradition: that of jazz guitarists who use a classical, nylon-string acoustic guitar. Here he is accompanied by vibraphonist Chuck Redd (who has recorded with another very fine jazz/classical guitarist, Nate Najar), bassist John Webber, and drummer Matt Wilson on a set of standards–but with some little surprises thrown in. For example, Fischer uses a bottleneck slide on “Love for Sale” (not something you usually hear in a jazz context, let alone with a classical guitar), and he fairly rocks out in his intro to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (and brings out the slide again on his solo). If there’s a place in your jazz collection for a guitar album with a difference, definitely consider this one.


tysonIan Tyson
Carnero Vaquero
Stony Plain

Ian Tyson is something pretty rare these days: a successful and internationally-acclaimed cowboy singer who’s actually a cowboy. Now 81 years old, he’s been on the scene since the 1960s (when he performed as one half of Ian & Sylvia), and for his latest album he has put together a grittily lovely collection of original and traditional songs. His voice has been abused over the years by both heavy use and unfortunate circumstance, but he sounds quite good here, and the songs themselves are great — as is the tastefully understated backing he gets from a quartet of friends. A highlight is his new version of “Darcy Farrow,” a now-popular song that he was first to record back in the 1960s.

ragpickerThe Ragpicker String Band
The Ragpicker String Band
Yellow Dog (dist. MVD)
YDR 2242

This project is a collaboration of guitarist Mary Flowers, mandolinist Rich DelGrosso, and multi-instrumentalist Martin Grosswendt, all of whom also sing in tight harmony. Though they call themselves a string band, don’t expect fiddle tunes. What they do is old-school blues and Tin Pan Alley stuff: songs by the Mississippi Sheiks, Sleepy John Estes, and the like, with a smattering of old-sounding originals thrown in and even a version of Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk.” It’s all tons of fun, and the trio’s virtuosity is easy to miss unless you listen closely.

woodyWoody Pines
Woody Pines
Muddy Roots
No cat. no.

Billed as a purveyor of “country blues, rag time, and viper jazz,” Woody Pines is that and more. He’s also a purveyor of fine original songs that draw on those traditions and others as well: “This Train Rolls By” evokes Tom Waits and Woody Guthrie simultaneously, “New Nashville Boogie” evokes Hank Williams and the Andrews Sisters simultaneously, and his version of “Junco Partner” manages to avoid evoking the Clash at all. Recorded warmly but cleanly (none of that lo-fi pretense for him, and bless him for it), this album provides plenty of good rootsy enjoyment.

tamiTami Neilson
Outside Music (dist. Redeye)

Anyone who thinks country music all sounds the same hasn’t spent enough time listening to country music. Consider, for example, the wide variety of styles evinced here on the fifth album by Tami Neilson: you’ve got your spooky torch-song country (“Walk”), your straight-up honky-tonk weeper (“You Lie”), your country-billy raveups (“Come Over,” “Woo Hoo”), your Hank Williams-style lovergirl come-on (“Texas”), and much more. All of it is fantastic, and this disc would get a Rick’s Pick if it weren’t for the producer’s mistaken belief that crappy microphones=retro authenticity.

slocanSlocan Ramblers
Coffee Creek
No cat. no.

Young roots musicians continue pushing the boundaries of traditional bluegrass — a process that has been ongoing since the Country Gentlemen first covered Bob Dylan in the 1960s. The Slocan Ramblers do it a bit more subtly by, for example, doing “Groundhog” in a minor key (with a nice harmolodic mandolin solo thrown in for good measure), and by featuring virtuosic clawgrass banjo on the title track. The vocals are rough-hewn but the harmonies are tight, and all the arrangements are interesting — several are thrilling. Recommended.

movingThe Moving Violations
No cat. no.

Contradance music is an underappreciated genre in the folk world, one that has its own conventions and idiosyncrasies that set it apart from the more commonly-known stringband and squaredance traditions. In New England and eastern Canada, the piano often figures prominently in the ensemble, and tunes can come from just about anywhere. On the Boston-based Moving Violations’ third album you’ll hear sets of tunes that come from Klezmer, Scandinavian, Texan, French Canadian, classical, and Irish repertoires, and you’ll hear jazzy improvisational excursions that you might have a hard time imagining people dancing to. But it all works, and it’s tons of fun.


Big Dada (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

This is the debut album from Kerry Leathem, recording under the name Roseau, though she has appeared on numerous projects by an array of artists as diverse as Bonobo, Lianne La Havas, and Lapalux. On her own, she’s a thoughtful and somewhat shoe-gazey electropopper with a taste for sharp but subtle hooks and archaic drum machine sounds. I find her unapologetically Cockney accent charming, her sideways glances at hip hop intriguing (check the wacky “New Glass”), and her mastery of multiple instruments impressive. This album is something of a stylistic departure for the Big Dada label, and more power to them.

crenshawMarshall Crenshaw
#392: The EP Collection
Red River/Addie-ville

Longstanding fans of singer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw — famous for the architectural perfection of his retro-pop songs (and for playing Buddy Holly in the 1987 film La Bamba) — may be a bit taken aback by the dark, sometimes slightly sludgy sound of these songs, which are taken from a series of vinyl-only EPs that Crenshaw released between 2013 and 2015. Half of the songs are Crenshaw originals and half are covers of songs by the likes of the Carpenters, James McMurtry, the Everly Brothers, and the Lovin’ Spoonful. Those who might have underrated his guitar playing in the past will no longer have any excuse to do so; those who appreciate pop music with a dark undertow and an understated complexity (and who don’t own turntables) will have reason to rejoice.

checmicalChemical Brothers
Born in the Echoes

Former avatars of the Big Beat movement, the Chemical Brothers now return after a five-year break from recording conventional albums (they’ve been doing film music) with a long, dark, and glowering album of what can only be called post-electro. It’s still electro, of course — still drum-machine-based and sample-heavy — but the new Chemical Brothers sound is no longer wedded to any particular concept. The beats tend towards the housey and thumping, but the sonic textures are wildly various and the guest vocalists feature artists as disparate as Q Tip and St. Vincent. If you’re new to the ChemBros I wouldn’t start with this one, but for established fans there’s much here to love.

Apollo (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Man, I’m a sucker for this stuff: spaciously conceived, darkly but warmly produced electronic music with a strong hint of groove but rarely a completely explicit expression of it, with voices fading in and out in a dubwise fashion. Synkro came up in the dubstep game but has expanded his horizons considerably, and what he’s offering here is some of the most poignant, experimental, and quietly compelling electronic music I’ve encountered in some time — and I spend a LOT of time listening to electronic music. Very highly recommended to all libraries.

nowthatsVarious Artists
Now That’s What I Call New Wave 80s

The Now That’s What I Call Music compilation series has now been running for over 30 years, with enough consistent success that it has spawned a number of spin-off series, including a dance line (featuring 12″ dance mixes) and a series of karaoke recordings. The latest such foray is a collection of “post-punk alt-rock New Wave” singles from the late 1980s, offered on CD in an 18-track version and also in a deluxe download-only version featuring 40 songs. Those who were teenagers during the time period under examination here might question the New Wave designation in some cases — the B-52s and Human League, okay, but Big Country? REM? Anyway, academic quibbles aside, this is a fine overview of the wide variety of pop and rock sounds from a particularly exciting period of pop music history.


deleDele Sosimi
You No Fit Touch Am
Wah Wah 45s
No cat. no.

If you yearn for the glory days of 1970s Afrobeat, then this album by vocalist, keyboardist, and Fela Kuti collaborator Dele Sosimi will be hugely welcome. The hypnotic weaving of palm-muted guitars, heavily syncopated horns, call-and-response vocals, and churning drums will make you want to party like it’s 1975 (in Lagos), and in this country you won’t even get arrested for listening! Bonus: the production quality is excellent, so you can hear every layer of instrumentation and every voice with crystal clarity. Recommended to all world music collections.

Miero (reissue)
Real World

Peter Gabriel’s Real World label is responsible for some of the coolest releases of the 1990s, bringing adventurous cross-cultural bands like Afro Celt Sound System, Little Axe, and Sheila Chandra to the attention of Western audiences who might otherwise never have heard of them. The label’s Real World Gold reissue series is bringing some of those classic releases back to market now, and among the most recent batch (which also includes excellent albums by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Drummers of Burundi, and Daby Touré) is this exhilarating collection of Finnish folk-rock by Värtinnä, whose high-energy sound, complex rhythms, and tight, reedy harmonies are unlike anything you’ve probably heard before. This reissue series provides a great and affordable opportunity to beef up your world-music collections.

King Size Dub Special (2 discs)
Echo Beach
Rick’s Pick

The brilliant Austrian reggae band Dubblestandart has made its mark by doing a couple of things exceptionally well: serving as the go-to backing band for A-list reggae artists like Lee “Scratch” Perry, Dillinger, and Ken Boothe, and producing forward thinking (sometimes bordering on avant-garde) electro-dub music for the new millenium. In anticipation of an album of new music to be released next month, they have issued this two-disc set of classic tunes, unreleased material, and new mixes contributed by producers like Robo Bass Hifi and Adrian Sherwood. (The second disc, not provided for review, consists of sixteen mixes of the song “Holding You Close,” featuring Marcia Griffiths; the snippets I’ve heard suggest that this second disc alone is worth the purchase price of the album). As always, the playing and writing are top-notch and the grooves are strictly heavyweight. A must for reggae collections.

arabicVarious Artists
Rough Guide to the Best Arabic Music You’ve Never Heard
Rough Guide
Rick’s Pick

If you’re an American CD HotList reader, there’s a decent chance you’ve never heard any Arabic pop music whatsoever, since in this country you’d have to go pretty far out of your way to encounter it. In that case, consider this collection a must-own: it offers examples of Algerian jazz-rock fusion (Anis Benhallak’s “S’ayda”), crooning Jordanian folk-pop (Dozan’s “Ya Mo”), feminist Middle Eastern singer-songwriter fare sung in Hebrew (Limor Oved’s “Blessed for Making Me a Woman”), and gnawa-infused Afrojazz (Gabacho Maroconnection’s “Moussaoui”), among other new-old/west-east fusions. Libraries that already collect deeply in the music of the Arabic world can probably skip this one, but it should be considered an essential purchase for any library that needs a good single-disc overview of the current state of the art in modern Arabic music.

drezMarti Nikko & DJ Drez
Dreaming in Sanskrit
Black Swan Sounds
BSS 0007
Rick’s Pick

I’m always interested in funky South Asian devotional music, and this is some of the best I’ve heard in a long time. Here singer Marti Nikko teams up with producer/beatmaker DJ Drez on a program of yoga music equally suited for meditation and dancing (which is quite a trick if you think about it). Nikko leads the incantations, DJ Drez builds the multilayered funk and dub sound structures, and whether you pray to 100 gods or to zero or to some number in between, you’ll find yourself quickly caught up in the irresistible grooves. Very highly recommended to all library collections.

muertosBanda de los Muertos
Banda de los Muertos

You may not be familiar with banda as a genre designation, but I promise you’ve heard banda, the indigenous brass band music of the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Upon first encountering the playing of this Brooklyn-based ensemble, at first blush all you might hear is cheesiness: those sobbing trombones, those polka rhythms, those Mexican-hat-dance melodies. But listen more closely and you’ll hear grace and intricacy and startling virtuosity: check out the clarinets on “Tragos Amargos,” the trumpets on “El Toro Viejo,” and the sousaphones everywhere. You’ll also hear brilliant arranging: check out this group’s marvelous arrangement of the Marty Robbins classic “El Paso.” Best of all, there’s not a hint of irony anywhere. This is genuine music, played with genuine love and transcendent skill.

August 2015


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


weberEberhard Weber

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

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

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

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

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

dingmanChris Dingman
The Subliminal and the Sublime
Inner Arts Initiative

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

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

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


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

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

Terre Rouge
Les Editions du Corfus

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

campilongoJim Campilongo & Honeyfingers
Last Night, This Morning
Blue Hen

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

railThe Railsplitters
The Faster It Goes
No cat. no.

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


kailKaiL Baxley
A Light That Never Dies
Forty Below
FBR 009

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

blessingBlessing Offor
Rick’s Pick

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

This Is Not a Test

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

orbThe Orb

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

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

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


Light Flashes
Rick’s Pick

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

amonafiDaby Touré
Rick’s Pick

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

sibeliusSibelius-Akatemian Folk Big Band

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

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

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


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