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April 2014


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


vallonColin Vallon Trio
Le Vent
Rick’s Pick

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

nighthawksErik Friedlander

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

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

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

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

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

hegartyTim Hegarty
Miles High

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

primaLouis Prima Jr.

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


trischkaTony Trischka
Great Big World
Rick’s Pick

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

lewisLaurie Lewis
One Evening in May
Spruce and Maple Music

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

kallickKathy Kallick
Cut to the Chase
Live Oak

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

lightheatLight Heat
Light Heat
Ribbon Music

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep of Reason
Ninja Tune

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman in Dub
Echo Beach/Collision
Rick’s Pick

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

March 2014


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


lonejusticeLone Justice
This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, 1983
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

angerDarol Anger
Adventure Music America
AMA1086 2

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

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

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


finnNeil Finn
Dizzy Heights

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

martiniPink Martini
Get Happy
Heinz (dist. Allegro)

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

bannonLee Bannon
Ninja Tune (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

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

downlinersDownliners Sekt
Silent Ascent
Infiné Music

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

little axeLittle Axe
Echo Beach
Rick’s Pick

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

Kill the Power

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

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

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


nisthaNistha Raj
Exit 1
No cat. no.

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

alsarahAlsarah & the Nubatones
Wonderwheel (dist. Redeye)

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

corbettMarcus Corbett
Strung Deep
No cat. no.

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

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

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

February 2014


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

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


brittenBenjamin Britten
Cello Symphony; Cello Sonata
Zuill Bailey; Natasha Paremski; North Carolina Symphony / Grant Llewellyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

goodeDaniel Goode
Various Performers
New World (dist. Albany)

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

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

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


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

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

miamiMiami Saxophone Quartet
Four of a Kind
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

einavShauli Einav

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

davisSteve Davis
For Real

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

shawnShawn Goodman
Not Benny’s Goodman
Rick’s Pick

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


ivanIvan Rosenberg
Oldies and Old-time

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

deadlyThe Deadly Gentlemen
Roll Me, Tumble Me

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

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

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

blueBlue Highway
The Game

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

stanleyRalph Stanley & Ralph Stanley II
Side by Side

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


rigginsKarriem Riggins
Alone Together
Stones Throw
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

pillarPillar Point
Pillar Point

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

fieldstudyField Study
Nine Mile
NMR 0152
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

Bloc Party Tapes
!K7 (dist. Redeye)

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


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

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

birdsDhafer Youssef
Birds Requiem

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

sekouJoe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate

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

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

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

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

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

January 2014


alfordHarry Alford
Minding the Score: The Music of Harry L. Alford, America’s Pioneer Arranger
Paragon Ragtime Orchestra / Rick Benjamin
New World (dist. Albany)

Harry Alford was an accomplished composer, but his real love was arranging, and his aspiration was to do it for a living. Luckily for him, there was a demand for that service, and no one else was offering it at the scale and the level of professionalism that he and his staff could offer. His status as a pioneer in his field made him a wealthy man, and in turn greatly enriched America’s musical life at the turn of the century. A hundred years later, we can thank the always-reliable Paragon Ragtime Orchestra for bringing these brilliant arrangements back to our attention. On this disc you’ll hear tunes as familiar as “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and “The Memphis Blues” along with such endearingly archaic obscurities as “When I Dream in the Gloaming of You” and “Call of the Elk: The Official B.P.O.E. March,” all presented like precious diamonds in Alford’s creative settings and performed with panache and decorous swing by the Paragons. If you, like me, are a sucker for an elegantly orchestrated foxtrot, then don’t hesitate to pick this one up.


haydnFranz Joseph Haydn
String Quartets Opus 20, 33, 64, 76 & 77; The Last Seven Words of Our Savior on the Cross (reissue; 10 discs)
Quatuor Mosaïques
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
V 5357
Rick’s Pick

There are not many 10-disc box sets that I would recommend consuming in sequence, one disc at a time, within a single day. This is one of them. The richness and quality of Haydn’s string quartets will not be news to any fan of the high classical tradition, but they are delivered with unusual brilliance and insight by the Quatuor Mosaïques in these excellent period-instrument performances (recorded and originally released between 1989 and 2003). Many libraries will have some or all of these performances in the collection already, and there is nothing new in this reissue set (apart from its compactness) to make replacing those original releases advisable. But if you don’t have the earlier versions, this budget-line box is manna from heaven.

fanousAyman Fanous; Jason Kao Hwang
Innova (dist. Naxos)

I originally thought that this album–a collaboration between guitarist and bouzouki player Ayman Fanous and violinist/violist Jason Kao Hwang–would fit into the Jazz section. Then as I read the press notes that came with it, I started thinking that maybe it would go into World/Ethnic. But after listening, I can only categorize it as Classical, however imperfectly it fits that (or any other) characterization. The music is all freely improvised, but these two musicians have been working together for so long that it often sounds composed. It is consistently interesting and would make a good addition to any collection focusing on new or improvised music.

trumpetVarious Composers
Baroque Trumpet Concertos
Marek Zvolánek; New Prague Collegium
Cube-Bohemia (dist. Albany)
CBCD 2529

Marek Zvolánek is a tremendously gifted trumpeter with a golden, honey-flavored tone any horn player would kill for. On this album he presents trumpet concertos by Johann Wilhelm Hertel, Michael Haydn, Frantisek Xaver Richter, and Giuseppe Tartini–a nice range of composers who worked in a variety of regional baroque styles. He and the New Prague Collegium play on modern instruments, and while the orchestra is occasionally just a little bit Romantic-sounding for my taste, Zvolánek’s solo playing is such a deep and consistent delight that it makes everything else sound wonderful.

harmonieVarious Composers
Harmoniemusik (reissue; 7 discs)
Bläserensemble Sabine Meyer
Warner Classics (dist. Naxos)
4 31267 2
Rick’s Pick

Clarinetist Sabine Meyer is a legend, and with good reason. This 7-disc box set gathers together recordings of Harmoniemusik (arrangements for wind ensemble of works originally for other instruments) from the classical and Romantic periods, performed by her celebrated chamber group Bläserensemble Sabine Meyer. The original recordings were made between 1991 and 1999, but don’t sound dated at all–though the group photos on the individual disc sleeves certainly are. The program includes works by Mozart (several serenades and an instrumental suite from The Abduction from the Seraglio), Beethoven, Krommer, and Dvorak, as well as a very nice wind octet by the underrated Josef Myslivecek. Everything about this release, including the convenient packaging and the price, is a delight.

loboAlonso Lobo
Misas “Prudentes virgines” [and] “Beata Dei genitrix”
La Grande Chapelle / Albert Recasens
Lauda (dist. Naxos)

The two works presented here are both parody Masses, each based on a motet by Francisco Guerrero, to whom Alonso Lobo had served as an assistant at the Seville Cathedral prior to his appointment as chapel master of the cathedral in Toledo. This disc represents the world-premiere recording of the first work and, as far as I can determine, the only currently available recording of the second. The singing of La Grand Chapelle, a smallish mixed-voice ensemble, is lushly and colorfully beautiful, and the works themselves are marvelous. Strongly recommended to all early music collections.

europeVarious Composers
Music in Europe at the Time of the Renaissance (8 discs + 1 book)
Various Performers
Ricercar (dist. Naxos)
RIC 106

Recommended to non-specialist collections is this excellent book-plus-music overview of European Renaissance music, another in an ongoing series of similarly-configured box sets being released by the well-respected Ricercar label. (I recommended the more tightly-focused Flemish Polyphony box a couple of years ago in Music Media Monthly.) It contains eight discs offering vocal and instrumental (but mostly vocal) and sacred and secular (but mostly sacred) music from across Europe by such composers as Josquin, Palestrina, Gabrieli, Attaingant, and Agricola, and also includes a hardbound 120-page book discussing the cultural context and musical developments in Europe during that period. It would make an excellent addition to any classical music collection, particularly one that needs survey materials rather than an in-depth subcollection in early music.

mozartFranz Xaver Mozart
Complete Piano Chamber Music
Aaron Berofsky; Kathryn Votapek; Suren Bagrutani; Christopher Harding
Equilibrium (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

Franz Xaver Mozart’s story is a heartbreaker. He seems to have worshipped his father Wolfgang Amadeus, who died four months after Franz Xaver was born. His musical output was sparse, he never married, and he died in middle age, but no less an authority than Antonio Salieri declared him a major talent. This disc contains the four works the young Mozart produced for chamber ensembles featuring the piano. The earliest is a piano quartet written when he was 14; also included are two sonatas for violin and piano and one for cello and piano. All are lovely, and if none of them is groundbreaking, they all partake of the classically-structured but bittersweetly melancholy mood of the early Romantic era. The playing is excellent throughout. Highly recommended to all comprehensive classical collections.

bachJohann Sebastian Bach
Keyboard Masterworks (reissue; 3 discs)
Andrew Rangell
Steinway & Sons
Rick’s Pick

Just about anything recorded by Andrew Rangell is likely to get a Rick’s Pick designation, even when the repertoire isn’t my favorite–and in this case, the repertoire is definitely part of the draw. If you think the world doesn’t need any more renditions of the Goldberg Variations or the six keyboard partitas, think again: if Rangell hasn’t recorded them yet, then the world does not yet have enough. (Of course he has, and this set is a reissue; the original recordings date from 20 years ago and are no longer in print.) Both the music and the playing are breathtakingly lovely.


breakstoneJoshua Breakstone
With the Wind and the Rain

Guitarist Joshua Breakstone does something mildly innovative on his latest album: he adds a cello to the standard guitar-bass-drums trio format. I say this is “mildly” innovative not because guitar trios do this regularly (they don’t) but because the idea of jazz cello itself goes back to the 1950s. How does it sound? Not bad. Breakstone’s trio is reliable as always: his soft tone and effortless swing are beautifully supported by bassist Lisle Atkinson and drummer Eliot Zigmund, and as always he has great taste in standards. The four tracks that feature cellist Mike Richmond are fine; Richmond functions like a horn, playing the head and his subsequent solos pizzicato-style, but while his playing is admirable I’ve never been convinced that the cello works really well in this context. Too little presence, too little sustain, too little sonic reason for it to be there. Still, the album is very enjoyable overall and may be of particular interest to collections supporting coursework in jazz arrangement.

kellawayEddie Daniels & Roger Kellaway
Duke at the Roadhouse: Live in Santa Fe
IPO (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

This live recording finds clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Eddie Daniels in collaboration with pianist Roger Kellaway on a program of Duke Ellington pieces, which presents certain challenges, the most obvious being that of doing justice to orchestral tunes like “In a Mellow Tone,” “Mood Indigo,” and “I’m Beginning to See the Light” using only two instruments. Another challenge is that of bringing new insight and ideas to such familiar fare without rendering it unrecognizable. Daniels and Kellaway, both being geniuses, manage both challenges quite well. On four tracks they are joined by cellist James Holland, an inspired choice: notice in particular what he brings to their intricately contrapuntal arrangement of “Perdido.” A brilliant recording all around.

bloomJane Ira Bloom
Sixteen Sunsets
OTL 141

I always feel a little bit sorry for soprano saxophonists, because the unique sound of that instrument (somewhere between a saxophone and a clarinet) is so closely associated with the schlocky smooth-jazz stylings of artists like Grover Washington, Jr., Dave Koz, and (most egregiously) Kenny G. But Jane Ira Bloom has been forging her own path on the instrument for the past 30 years, and if she has far fewer gold albums than Kenny G., she has made far more albums worth listening to. Like this one, a collection of ballads that includes standards like “For All We Know,” “I Loves You Porgy,” and “The Way You Look Tonight” as well as several fine original compositions. She’s accompanied by a quietly virtuosic piano trio, who mostly stay well and tastefully out of her way. Recommended to all jazz collections.

menziesCava Menzies & Nick Phillips
Moment to Moment
Nick Phillips Music
Rick’s Pick

Another, and even more entrancing, ballad-oriented album is this collaboration between pianist Cava Menzies and trumpeter Nick Phillips. Accompanied by bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Jaz Sawyer, they play a program consisting largely of standards with a couple of originals thrown in, as well as a limpidly spectacular arrangement of Elvis Costello’s torchy “Almost Blue.” The music is quiet but never light; it’s filled with emotion and with harmonic interest, but its overall impact is soothing and comforting at a deeply visceral level. It’s hard to explain how exceptionally beautiful this album is. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.

claytonJim Clayton
Songs My Daughter Knows

This one is simply a pure delight. Pianist Jim Clayton put this album together as a tribute to New Orleans (where it was recorded, using local musicians steeped in that city’s unique sounds and rhythms) and to his toddler daughter. It consists mostly of his arrangements of songs from the TV show Sesame Street, including “I Have a Little Plant” and “Sing,” along with odds and ends like the theme from the TV show West Wing and the standard “Autumn Leaves.” All of these are tunes that at some point have elicited significant reactions from his infant daughter, and his arrangements are joyful and charming.

wessFrank Wess
Magic 201
IPO (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

Back in June I recommended saxophonist and flutist Frank Wess’s Magic 101, saying that it was “clearly going to go down as one of the four or five best jazz albums of 2013.” Now that 2013 is over I can say that I was right, and I’m now prepared to predict that this one will be among the very best of 2014. Once again it’s a brilliant set of standards (plus two originals) with an all-star supporting cast that includes bassist Rufus Reid, guitarist Russell Malone, and pianist Kenny Barron, and this time I’m happy to report that Wess plays flute on one track (the wonderful solo “The Summer Knows”). I wish there were more flute, but the album is fantastic and is highly recommended to all jazz collections.

kollerHans Koller & Friends
Legends Live
Jazzhaus (dist. Naxos)
101 733

If I seem to keep coming back to these Jazzhaus releases–all of them drawn from live and studio recordings from the archives of Südwestrundfunk in Germany–it’s because those archives just keep giving up treasure upon treasure. Consider, for example, this collection of live performances by saxophonist Hans Koller from 1959 and 1960, made in the company of small combos that included pianist Martial Solal, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Connie Kay as well as with his own Hans Koller Brass Ensemble. The program is a nice mix of Koller originals and well-chosen standards, and both the performances and the sound quality are excellent. Recommended to all comprehensive jazz collections.

reevesDianne Reeves
Beautiful Life

Vocalist Dianne Reeves has never been a strict jazz traditionalist, but this album finds her moving further afield than usual, offering up renditions of pop and left-of-pop songs like Stevie Nicks’ “Dreams,” Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” and Ani DiFranco’s “32 Flavors.” The arrangements tend towards the orchestral and the synthetically smooth, but Reeve’s powerful voice keeps them from ever teetering over into schlock territory; instead, they feel innovative and rich. This one will make an equally fine addition to jazz and pop collections.


abramsonThe Abramson Singers
Late Riser
No cat. no.

Leah Abramson is a rare kind of singer-songwriter–one who draws deeply on the sounds of American folk and old-time music without letting herself be dragged down into formalism or ironic anachronism, and who can evoke with equal authority themes from Canadian and U.S. traditions. Two of the songs on her band’s latest album deal explicitly with the history of the mixed-race Métis peoples of Canada, but there’s nothing heavy-handedly political here, and only rarely does the songs’ impressionism get in the way of the hooks. Abramson’s voice is deceptively fragile-sounding, but don’t be fooled; it’s as strong and clean as a steel wire. Highly recommended.

showponiesThe Show Ponies
We’re Not Lost
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

The Best Band Name of the Year Award goes to this Los Angeles quintet, whose sound is a high-energy blend of country, pop, folk and bluegrass–honestly, they sound quite a bit like an American version of the Pogues, if Shane MacGowan could sing and drank a lot less. The boy-and-girl vocals of songwriters Andi Carder and Clayton Chaney are the focus of this band’s sound, but around them it seems as if a constant party is going on. Except during the ballads, which are purely lovely. Trad influences are everywhere, but are never determinative, which means that from one song to the next you’re never quite sure what to expect, which is wonderful. Highly recommended to all collections.

siskJunior Sisk & Joe Mullins
Hall of Fame Bluegrass!

If you miss the sound of high-lonesome bluegrass–the kind that was made back in the 1940s, when lead singers had high and reedy voices and harmony singers had higher and reedier ones, and songs were written according a set of firm and unchanging structural rules–then you’re not alone: banjo player Joe Mullins (Traditional Grass, Longview) and guitarist Junior Sisk (Wyatt Rice & Santa Cruz, Ramblers Choice) feel the same way, and on this album they pick a baker’s dozen of vintage bluegrass songs from the classic repertoire and perform them in that classic style. Their versions aren’t necessarily better than the originals by the likes of Jimmy Martin and the Osborne Brothers, but they’re plenty good and this disc will make a nice addition to any country or bluegrass collection.

railsplittersThe Railsplitters
The Railsplitters
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

This Colorado-based quartet almost lost me on the first song of their debut album, a pretty but lyrically awkward goin’-home bluegrass number called “Jackson Town.” Then the subtly lovely pedal-steel driven weeper “Boarding Pass (That’s the Way It Is)” convinced me to keep listening, and “My World” hooked me for good. That last one uses traditional bluegrass instrumentation in completely untraditional ways, and singer Lauren Stovall’s bell-like voice cuts through the densely-textured instrumental and vocal arrangement like a golden knife. The rest of the album continues dancing precariously but elegantly on that line between tradition and innovation, and the results are consistently rewarding. Highly recommended.


rockinVarious Artists
Rockin’ Legends Pay Tribute to Jack White
CLP 0647

Tribute albums are always suspect–too often they’re low-rent affairs that feel thrown together at the last minute, comprising heartfelt but ill-advised covers by artists who have little or no business messing with the tribute object’s oeuvre. This one is different. Featuring musicians as disparate as Gary U.S. Bonds, Wanda Jackson, Los Straightjackets, Robert Gordon, and Bobby Vee (!), it finds everyone bringing his or her unique style to the party but sharing a generally raw, raucous, old-school vibe. The biggest surprise here is the presence of Bobby Vee, whose rendition of “We’re Going to Be Friends” has a rough-edged country feel and whose voice is surprisingly strong. This album’s a real hoot.

hardcoreVarious Artists
Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1997 (2 discs)

This compilation traces the evolution of seminal house music label Dance Mania Records, which was founded in 1985 and was deeply influential in shaping the sound of Chicago’s house and acid house scenes for a decade. The music on Dance Mania had a reputation for being more street-level than that of its competitors, and was referred to by its fans as “ghetto house.” Today it sounds stark and hard, the beats relentlessly jacking and the textures spare and sometimes severe. This retrospective offers a nice mix of relatively familiar standards like Hercules’ “7 Ways” and the decidedly not-safe-for-work “Feel My M.F. Bass” (Paul Johnson) and “Hit It from the Back” (Traxmen & Eric Martin), along with much more obscure material. Recommended for comprehensive pop collections.

I Never Meant It to Be Like This
Trans- (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

The debut album from this Seattle trio (based around the singing and songwriting of Alexandra Niedzialkowski) is one of those delightful surprises: a project that sounds fresh, new, and even revelatory without breaking any new stylistic ground whatsoever. This is guitar pop, sometimes crunchy, sometimes delicate, sometimes both, in support of a singer who sounds a little like Tanya Donnelly and a little like Harriet Wheeler and who isn’t afraid that an “oh-oh-wah-oh-oh” chorus or a bunch of unapologetic glottal stops are going to make her sound silly. Guitarist Lance Umble builds layers and layers of tastefully ragged but carefully crafted instrumental shimmer around Niedzialkowski’s voice, and the whole thing is wonderful. Highly recommended to all pop music collections.

Belfegore (Deluxe Edition)
Real Gone/Elektra

Remember Belfegore? No? Well, in the mid-1980s they were at the forefront of Gothic-flavored industrial New Wave music, a German band that broke into the American college market with their hit single “All That I Wanted.” The cover photo on this deluxe reissue of their second album is a bit embarrassing (those feather earrings, those leather pants) and the music is certainly dated, but you can still see why they made a big (if brief) noise during the same period that gave us post-Chelsea Billy Idol and Nitzer Ebb. Personally, this album isn’t one I’ll be returning to again and again–but if you’re collecting in 1980′s pop music, then it’s definitely worth considering.

Vapor City
Ninja Tune (dist. Redeye)

Travis Stewart, a.k.a. Machinedrum, created this album in response to a recurring dream of an imaginary city. Eventually he decided to start writing music for it, and the result is a set of funky, edgy, beautiful, and sometimes slightly eerie compositions. On the evidence, Vapor City would seem to host a population drawn from many other places including Kingston (Jamaica), Detroit, Chicago, South London, and New York, and its grooves are sometimes slippery and sometimes steely, its moods dark but strangely exuberant too. The album hits its peak early–immediately, in fact, with the utterly brilliant “Gunshotta.” But the rest of the album comes close to that high-water mark, and everything on it is well worth a listen–note in particular the pleasingly jungly “Rise N Fall” and “Eyesdontlie.”


Left Foot Dance of the Yi
Riverboat (dist. World Music Network)

I’m a sucker for folk-rock, especially when the “folk” part comes from traditions with which I’m not familiar–and folk traditions from the mountains of southwest China certainly fit that criterion. For the most part, the charmingly-titled Left Foot Dance of the Yi isn’t really that rockish, though you’ll hear elements of rock, rap, and even reggae in the mix from time to time. Mostly it’s stomping, sweetly melodic and clearly traditional music infused with varying degrees of Western influence, mostly very successfully. There are dance tunes and children’s songs, drums and bass and dabiya and xianzi, field recordings and electric guitars. And sometimes it does seriously rock out. Sound like fun? It is.

tempsDe Temps Antan
Ce Monde Ici-Bas

De Temps Antan continues to be one of the premier purveyors of Québecois folk music, a genre characterized by call-and-response unison singing, foot percussion, rhythmically crooked fiddle tunes, and button accordion. Those who encounter it for the first time will hear hints of Celtic, French, medieval, and Cajun styles, but listen for a while and it soon becomes an immediately recognizable style all its own, one that will make you want to dance one moment and that will make your hair stand on end with its bittersweet beauty the next. Ce Monde Ici-Bas is a typically gorgeous collection of instrumental and vocal tunes, some traditional and some original; highlights include the rollicking “Medley des Couches” set and the startlingly slide-guitar based “Refaire le Monde.”

kashmirUstad Ghulam Mohammad Saznavaz
Kashmir: Sufyana Kalam from Srinagar
VDE-Gallo (dist. Albany)

The phrase sufyana kalam can be translated literally as “Sufi speech,” and it represents a centuries-old Kashmiri classical music tradition. As a mystical branch of Islam, Sufism has attracted censure for its use of music in worship and meditation, but such traditions are hard to stamp out. This disc presents a program of six muqam, each of which follows structural rules similar to those of the Indian ragas; they are performed and sung by a small ensemble consisting of a santur (a kind of hammered dulcimer), multiple saz (a spiked fiddle), a setar (which is a bit like an Indian sitar), and a set of dokra (known in India as tabla). The sound of this music is dry and austere, its mysticism more stark and disciplined than that heard in the ecstatic qawwali style. This disc will make a valuable introduction to the genre.

hesperionOrient-Occident II: Hommage à la Syrie
Hesperion XXI / Jordi Savall
Aliavox (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

The early-music ensemble Hesperion XXI (formerly known as Hesperion XX) has long nurtured interests that extend far beyond the classical music of Western Europe, as this second installment in its “EAST-WEST Project” continues to demonstrate. This disc consists of “music from the old Christian and Jewish Hesperia, the istampitte of medieval Italy, and the songs, improvisations, and dances of Syria.” It features gorgeous singing and instrumental tunes by a variety of European and Middle Eastern musicians, and is packaged inside a deceptively thick hardbound book–deceptive because its thickness derives less from a wealth of content than from the fact that its content is translated into six languages and includes a rather strident political essay by ensemble leader Jordi Savall. Still, the music is excellent and the book does include lots of useful information. Recommended to all academic collections.

mikeyGeneral Jah Mikey
Original Yard Food
Zion High Productions
Rick’s Pick

Here’s another top-notch slice of modern roots reggae goodness from Zion High Productions, a label that just can’t seem to produce a weak album. This latest one, from singer and songwriter General Jah Mikey, offers a very tasty and well-balanced meal of cultural uplift, spiritual admonition, and sufferer’s lament, all of it delivered in the time-honored roots-and-culture style with real instruments and dense, thick rockers and one-drop grooves. Mikey is a very fine singer and the hooks are many and sharp. Highly recommended to all reggae and world music collections.



Two Sides of Laraaji (2 discs)
All Saints (dist. Redeye)

The recently revivified All Saints label has just embarked on a reissue project, a cornerstone of which will be a series of re-releases of classic material from one of the quirkiest figures of the ambient music movement, Laraaji. Born Edward Larry Gordon, he worked for a while as a comedian and actor but eventually came to focus on music and began experimenting with an electric autoharp. Over time he became involved with musical meditation, was given the new name “Laraaji” by a pair of strangers who overheard him busking in New York, and was eventually heard by producer Brian Eno. Eno took him into the studio and recorded what would become Laraaji’s most famous album, Ambient 3: Day of Radiance. He later made many privately-released recordings and albums on a variety of labels, including several for All Saints. Of the ones being reissued, I recommend Celestial Music: 1978-2011 for completists–it’s actually a compilation rather than a reissue, and it includes one disc of previously unreleased material and a second disc of selections from earlier albums (made in collaboration with the likes of Brian Eno, Bill Laswell, and Michael Brook). But for sheer listening rapture, I recommend this one: a two-disc reissue, one disc of which is the shimmeringly beautiful Flow Goes the Universe, and the other of which is the very different The Way Out Is the Way In, a long-distance collaboration with Japanese dub/reggae band Audio Active on which Laraaji provides spoken-word vocals and Audio Active incorporates them into heavywieght funk and reggae beats. “Two sides of Laraaji” indeed–with this collection you get his musical ideas on one disc and his cosmic and philosophical ones on the other.


lucierAlvin Lucier
Orchestral Works
Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra
New World (dist. Albany)

Many composers have pushed the boundaries of orchestral music as it is traditionally understood, but with the three pieces offered here (Diamonds, Slices, and Exploration of the House) Alvin Lucier does something a bit more subtle: he uses traditional musical ingredients to push us to change the way we think about listening. The results are not always strictly euphonious on the surface, but they do reward careful attention–and the third piece is sort of an orchestral reworking of the composer’s famous acoustic experiment I Am Sitting in a Room, this time using fragments of a Beethoven piece. Very cool.

bachJohann Sebastian Bach
Missae Breves BWV 232-236 (reissue; 3 discs)
Alpha (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Everyone is familiar with Bach’s famous B minor Mass, but the other four Lutheran Masses presented in this three-disc box (which reissues three separate recordings originally released in 2008, 2009, and 2011) are much less frequently recorded, and these period-instrument performances of them by the Pygmalion ensemble are spectacular. Director Raphaël Pichon coaxes a sound from both singers and instrumentalists that communicates all of the grandeur and solemnity one would hope for and expect, yet never sacrifices warmth or gentleness. No library with a collecting interested in baroque music should pass these recordings up.

roremNed Rorem
Piano Album 1; Six Friends
Carolyn Enger

At age 90, Ned Rorem is a living treasure of American classical music. And although his reputation rests largely on his vocal and theatrical works, this wonderful disc demonstrates how nicely his gift translates to smaller instrumental pieces as well. It consists of his 27-part Piano Album (composed between 1978 and 2001) as well as six miniatures written as gifts to friends. None of the pieces presented here is longer than three minutes, and all of them partake of a sweetly melancholy mood and hover in a sort of twilit area between the tonal tradition and the harmonic avant-garde. Carolyn Enger’s playing is consistently sensitive and insightful.

josquinJosquin Desprez
De Profundis: Motets
Weser-Renaissance Bremen / Manfred Cordes
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 588-2

This lovely release creates a little bit of discographical confusion by putting forward two different titles: De Profundis: Motets on the front cover, and Psalm Settings on the spine and back cover. (Both are accurate, but it does seem like the label could have picked one and stuck with it.) The works themselves are deeply solemn settings of such texts as “De profundis clamavi,” “Miserere mei Deo,” and “Domine ne in furore,” and they are among the earliest polyphonic settings of Latin psalms. As always with Josquin, the part-writing is exquisite; as always with the Weser-Renaissance ensemble, the singing is too.

africaVarious Composers
Out of Africa and Around the World
Denis Azabagic
Cedille (dist. Naxos)

What unites this seemingly diffuse program of guitar compositions is the influence of folk music. That thread connects the obviously folk-influenced Folk Song Variations of Atanas Ourkouzounov and Dusan Bogdanovic’s Blues and 7 Variations as well as Carlos Rafael Rivera’s Cancion, Vojislav Ivanovic’s Café Pieces (with its tango and waltz movements) and the five-movement title work by Alan Thomas. The latter two pieces are presented here in world-premiere recordings. Despite their often explicitly folky sound, these works draw deeply on Denis Azabagic’s considerable virtuosity, and are often absolutely thrilling.

zelenkaJan Dismas Zelenka
Ensemble Marsyas; Monica Huggett
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKD 415
Rick’s Pick

I’ve long been a sucker for the chamber music (and orchestral music, and choral music for that matter) of the Bohemian composer Jan Dismas Zelenka, who was largely ignored in the 20th century until interest in early music began to pick up in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He is particularly beloved by reed players, and the three sonatas and one andante movement presented on this gorgeous disc feature oboes and basson prominently. The baroque versions of these instruments are notoriously difficult to play, and the members of Ensemble Marsyas (augmented for this recording by violinist Monica Huggett) acquit themselves beautifully. Strongly recommended to all early music collections.

weberCarl Maria von Weber
Clarinet Concertos No. 1 & 2; Concertino for Clarinet
Alexander Fiterstein; San Francisco Ballet Orchestra / Martin West
Bridge (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

Man, there’s just something about clarinet music of the late classical and early Romantic periods–and few composers captured that “something” as totally as did Carl Maria von Weber, whose friendship with clarinetist Heinrich Joseph Baermann produced some of the most affecting music of the period. Here Alexander Fiterstein teams up with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra (all playing on modern instruments) to deliver both of Weber’s clarinet concertos and the one-movement Concertino in alternatingly sparkling and gorgeously purple-hued performances. This is one of the loveliest albums I’ve heard all year.

catalaniVarious Composers
In Mani Dei Catalani
La Caravaggia / Lluís Coll
Musièpoca (dist. Allegro)

On this album the sackbut-recorder-and-cornet ensemble La Caravaggia presents a nicely varied program of compositions from Italian and Spanish songbooks of the mid-16th century. (Adapting such pieces for instrumental performance was a commonly accepted practice of the time.) Many of these pieces are anonymous and many others are by very obscure composers, but there are also selections from the likes of Heinrich Isaac, Juan del Encina, and Costanzo Festa. The distinctive timbres of the cornet and the sackbut (a precursor of the trombone), combined with the often lilting dance rhythms, make for a thoroughly charming and enjoyable listen.

pascuaVarious Composers
La fiesta de Pascua en Piazza Navona (2 discs)
La Grande Chapelle / Albert Recasens
Lauda (dist. Naxos)

Although Tomás Luis de Victoria is identified prominently on the cover, the works gathered together for this imaginative reconstruction of a grand Easter celebration in Rome’s Piazza Navona, circa 1590, features hymns, motets, responsories, and processional music by composers as prominent as Palestrina and Guerrero and as obscure as Fernando de las Infantas and Agostino Manni. Fans of the large-scale sacred works of Monteverdi and Gabrieli will find much to enjoy here; the performances and recorded sound are excellent.


abercrombieJohn Abercrombie Quartet
39 Steps
Rick’s Pick

The latest version of guitarist John Abercrombie’s quartet features pianist Marc Copland (with whom Abercrombie previously played in both Chico Hamilton’s quartet and in the fusion ensemble Dreams), bassist Drew Gess, and the always-brilliant drummer Joey Baron. There is surely no guitarist, and there may not be another musician, on the ECM label who more perfectly embodies the ECM Sound than Abercrombie: his tone is soft-edged, his phrasing and melodic ideas at times almost elegiac, but his musical intelligence is sharp and those ideas are wide-ranging, at times almost wild. On this album his focus is on ballads, but the group can also swing mightily when it’s called for. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.

pepperArt Pepper
Live at the Winery: Unreleased Art, Vol. VIII
Widow’s Taste
APM 13001

Back in 2006, Laurie Pepper (widow of legendary saxophonist Art Pepper) formed the Widow’s Taste label in order to make available previously unheard and unreleased recordings by her husband. This one documents an afternoon performance from 1976 at the Paul Masson Winery in California, and it shows Pepper to be at the peak of his physical and mental powers as a player–listen to his explosive performances of “Caravan” and “Straight Life.” His backing trio is excellent, and the soundboard recording is quite good (though the piano is mixed a bit too low). Perhaps not an essential purchase for every library, but those with comprehensive jazz collections should be following this series closely.

newwestNew West Guitar Group
Big City
Summit (dist. Allegro)
DCD 614

The New West Guitar Group continues to push the boundaries of what we mean when we say “jazz” — and of how much sound can be made by 18 strings and 30 fingers. As they did on the 2011 release Round Trip Ticket, the three guitarists create huge, lush, and deceptively accessible soundscapes–some of them original compositions (like the lovely “Every Big City”) and some of them cover versions (like the album-opening “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and a shimmering version of the Police’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger”). As always with this group, it’s possible to just relax and enjoy the beautiful surfaces, and it’s rewarding to listen closely and catch the complexities underneath.

stranStranahan Zaleski Rosato

There are not that many piano trios with a truly unique and personal sound. Stranahan Zaleski Rosato is one of those few, and it seems to me that this is largely because they don’t play like a piano trio (in which the piano usually takes center stage and the bass and drums lend support). Instead, they play like a trio of equals. This doesn’t mean (thank heaven) that everyone gets the same amount of soloing time; it means that at any given moment, what’s happening with one instrument is just as interesting as what’s happening with the other two. Sometimes this means things are maybe just a little too busy, but mostly it means that things are richly and beautifully complex even as the sense of swing and cohesion remains strong. Any library supporting a jazz curriculum should seriously consider this disc.

coehloKevin Coelho
Turn It Up
Chicken Coup
CCP 7018
Rick’s Pick

17-year-old Hammond B3 organ phenomenon Kevin Coelho is back with a second funky, swinging, hard-driving trio album, again featuring guitarist Derek Dicenzo and drummer Reggie Jackson, and again featuring a nicely mixed program of originals and out-of-left-field covers (this time including tunes by Prince and the Beatles and a slightly twisted take on “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”). As before, Coelho’s chops and musical maturity belie his age, and the album is a pure joy.


ronkDave Van Ronk
Down in Washington Square (3 discs)
Smithsonian Folkways
SFW 40213
Rick’s Pick

Dave Van Ronk has a piece of my heart forever–partly because he was such an influential figure in the Great Folk Scare of the 1950s and 1960s, and partly because he got the movement’s number so utterly with his song “Down in Washington Square” (sample couplet: “Wear your big hoop earrings and your leotard/’Cause we’re gonna rub elbows with the avant-garde”). This 3-disc set pulls together previously released and unreleased material including early live recordings, the complete set from a 1997 concert at the Smithsonian, and a few tracks recorded shortly before his death in 2001. The booklet includes notes on each song and a nice bio. Notice his range, by the way: everything from Tin Pan Alley to sea shanties to gospel to Delta blues. An essential purchase for any folk collection.

cajunVarious Artists
Let Me Play This for You: Rare Cajun Recordings
Tompkins Square
TSQ 2912

I’ll be honest: there are some releases I recommend because they’re a joy to listen to, and some I recommend despite the fact that they’re… not. This is one of the latter. It consists primarily of recordings made by Angelas Lejeune, Percy Babineaux, and Bixy Guidry in 1929 and 1930; all are transfers from shellac 78s, they mostly sound fairly terrible, and the singing is all quite raw (the playing, less so). But for libraries that collect comprehensively in American folk music, this disc (along with its accompanying notes) is a treasure trove. And if you’re a fan of Cajun accordion, it will actually be something of a joy to listen to.

kinkyKinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys
Lost and Found: The Famous Living Room Tape, 1970
Avenue A
No cat. no.

Richard “Kinky” Friedman is a legend of Texas country music, a brilliant performer and seriously gifted writer disguised as an outrageous comedy act (sample song titles: “Ride ‘Em Jewboy,” “Why Do you Bob Your Nose, Girl?,” “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed”). As befits his “legend” status, we now have before us a complete reissue of this very early and home-recorded album, the first made with his band the Texas Jewboys. It’s of somewhat dodgy sonic quality, but it also serves as a blueprint for everything that would come after. Country fans and musicians who suspected he was making fun of them were not wrong–but he was making fun of himself (and everything else) too. For all comprehensive pop and country collections.

kingJames King
Three Chords and the Truth

James King is one of those bluegrass singers who departs from the high-lonesome tradition in favor of a sound that is rougher, deeper, and more closely related to the classic country crooner style (a connection that King makes explicit here with his take on the George Jones hit “He Stopped Loving Her Today”). His defiantly-titled latest album contains a nice mix of gospel tunes (the excellent “Devil’s Train”), straight-up bluegrass-style country (“Chiseled in Stone,” “Things Have Gone to Pieces”) and maudlin tearjerkers (“Jason’s Farm,” “Riding with Private Malone”). It’s a nice program overall, though probably not an essential purchase.

At the Heart of It All
Compass (dist. Naxos)
7 4618 2
Rick’s Pick

Years ago, I lent a copy of a Capercaillie album to a friend of mine from work. When he returned it to me he said, “I understand that different people like different kinds of music. But I have a really hard time imagining anyone not liking this.” I’ve always felt the same way. I guess there are people who just don’t like Celtic folk, and there are Celt-folk purists who don’t like to hear an electric bass or a funky breakbeat in among the strathspeys and the puirt à beul. Their loss–though maybe they’ll like Capercaillie’s latest better: it’s not completely lacking in funky innovations, but the sound is a bit more “straight” and stripped-down than some of their previous work has been. As always, the sonic centerpiece is Kathen Matheson’s nimble, dark-hued voice. The album is brilliant overall.


The Storm (EP; download only)
Red Seal

I don’t normally review download-only releases, since they’re of limited utility in most libraries, but this one is good enough that I’m making an exception. On a quick listen, you could be forgiven for hearing this as more of the same old same old: big, dark, atmospheric, dub-inflected techno. But listen harder, and what emerges is something pretty unique: a restless emulsion rather than a synthesis, one that sputters between jungle, dubstep, techno, glitch, and dub in ways that constantly startle and surprise. The result is sometimes creepy in an intriguing way and sometimes briefly danceable, but always ebbing and flowing with rich textures and fascinating polyrhythms. I’m a sucker for this kind of thing, and I’m willing to bet that a significant minority of your library’s patrons are as well–if you can figure out a way to make it available to them.

Rinse (dist. Forced Exposure)

Rinse FM is a British radio station that, over the years, has sponsored a series of DJ mix compilations (on which DJs put together long strings of dance music selections, programs that may consist of 30 or 40 extracts running seamlessly from one into the other). The latest in the series features Hyperdub label founder Kode9, whose program is like an introductory guide to some of the most interesting stylistic developments over the past few years (UK funky, footwork) while incorporating classic house, 2-step garage, grime and other styles as well. Listen for contributions from established names like Terror Danjah and DJ Rashad as well as lots of artists that I promise you’ve never heard of.

clashThe Clash
Hits Back (2 discs)

“Oh good,” I hear you say. “Another Clash hits collection–just what the world needed.” But actually, that’s not what this is. It’s kind of a taster sampler released at the same time as the massive Sound System box set, which includes everything the Clash ever released commercially as well as three discs of demos and rarities, along with a whole bunch of tchotchkes and trinkets that will be of no use to a library collection. (For those libraries that do want a handy box of the remastered albums themselves, there’s also the 5 Album Studio Set.) This two-disc package, instead of being a greatest-hits collection, recreates (with studio versions) the Clash’s setlist from a legendary live show at Brixton Fairdeal in 1982–then adds an additional eight tracks to give weight to the second disc. Libraries with limited budgets and no Clash holdings will find this a handy selective overview; those with a little more money to spend should consider the 5 Albums box.

Alien Transistor (dist. Forced Exposure)
N 035

They don’t tell you who plays what in this Berlin/Munich-based trio, which actually makes listening to Return kind of fun: not knowing for sure what to expect, the live drums are no less surprising than the sudden found-sound vocals, the dubwise sonic dropouts, the harp, or the pedal steel. Everything swirls in a kind of impressionistic haze, but every component of the band’s sound is clear and sharply defined as well. And occasionally it just plain rocks. Fun and impressive.

big starBig Star
Playlist: The Very Best of Big Star
Rick’s Pick

So, on the surface, Columbia seems to have a lot to answer for with this collection. I mean, seriously: a 46-minute program, fully half of which consists of live tracks from a single concert (from 1993, many years after the group’s heyday), and you call it “The Very Best of Big Star”? Here’s the thing, though: Big Star only recorded three albums, and none of them produced anything like a hit. Big Star has been hugely influential (just ask Paul Westerberg and Michael Stipe, just to name two of the band’s biggest fans) but its artistic influence has been far out of proportion to its commercial impact. And in fact, this program is pretty well-selected and offers a very serviceable overview of Big Star’s brilliant version of the power pop sound. So, on balance: well done, Columbia. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


tayathaYungchen Lhamo; Anton Batagov
Cantaloupe (dist. Naxos)

The subtitle of this album (“Tibetan voice meets Russian piano”) gave me pause. I’m all for pan-ethnic fusions in principle–but in practice, some work better than others, and this one didn’t sound promising to me. But actually, for the most part it works very well. Batagov seems to be improvising along with Lhamo’s keening, melismatic vocals, and since her melodies are generally non-tonal he’s able to make do with lots of pentatonic extemporizing and swaying V-I changes. He manages to bring quite a bit of musical interest to those minimalist gestures, and Lhamo’s voice is lovely. Recommended.

sacraCarmina Chamber Choir; Nordic Affect
Hymnodia Sacra
Smekkleysa (dist. Allegro)
SMK 74
Rick’s Pick

This disc presents a selection of hymns from the largest surviving collection of 18th-century Icelandic sacred music. Some of the songs are performed monodically, while others are harmonized and presented with instrumental accompaniment (some of the arrangements reflect what’s written in the songbook, while a few were made specifically for this recording). All are sung in Icelandic, and the vocalists have a clean, pure tone that fits beautifully with the music. This album straddles a variety of musical genres and is strongly recommended to all collections of sacred, early, or world music.

ndaggaMark Ernestus Presents Jeri-Jeri
Ndagga Versions
Ndagga (dist. Forced Exposure)
ND 007

Last month I recommended 800% Ndagga, a collection of tracks by sabar drummers and mbalax vocalists who are among Senegal’s most in-demand musicians. If those tracks weren’t trance-inducing enough for you, then consider this collection of remixes, most of which are stripped down to the groove: few if any vocals, just swirling polyrhythms and interlocking layers of guitar and synth.

lloydLloyd Brown
Zion High
Rick’s Pick

Lloyd Brown’s latest album is aptly titled: although he is known primarily as a smooth crooner in the lovers rock style, on this release (his 16th) he focuses mainly on roots-and-culture material, supported by a crack team of session players and joined by such eminent chatters as Jahdan Blaakamoore and Queen Omega. The album’s sound is deeply informed by lovers-rock sonics–it’s as rich and warm as a mug of cocoa–and Brown’s voice is as darkly sweet as ever. But the lyrical messages are firm, at times downright stern, making for an impressive balance of sweet approachability and righteous admonition. Strongly recommended to all reggae collections.



bachjarrettJohann Sebastian Bach
Six Sonatas for Violin and Piano (2 discs)
Michelle Makarski; Keith Jarrett

It’s a mark of Keith Jarrett’s tremendous musical intelligence that he is not only one of the foremost (if not the foremost) creators of freely-improvised music on the piano in the world, but that he is also an exceptionally fine interpreter on the piano of the music of Bach–a composer whose style is far more associated with painstaking harmonic logic and clockwork musical structure than with freewheeling creativity. In collaboration with violinist Michelle Makarski, he has made what I think may be the definitive recording of Bach’s six violin sonatas on modern instruments. Makarski plays with dancing, bell-toned joy, while Jarrett cedes the spotlight to her violin while simultaneously making every note count, creating a keyboard sound that is the auditory equivalent of a constantly-unfurling string of pearls. This being an ECM production made under the studio supervision of Manfred Eicher, the recorded sound is (as always) rich and spacious, which one might not expect to be the best choice for music of such an intimate nature. But it works perfectly, burnishing the sound of both instruments and creating a listening experience that is really quite unique for this repertoire. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


carnavalRobert Schumann
Canadian Brass
Opening Day
ODR 7438

This is a charming recording of two charming suites by Robert Schumann — Carnaval and the Kinderszenen. The pieces were arranged for the Canadian Brass sextet by members Chris Coletti and Brandon Ridenour; the arrangements are beautiful, and though I find the production to be a bit, well, brassy-sounding, the playing is warm and lovely throughout and the pieces themselves are light and inviting. Libraries supporting coursework in orchestration and arrangement should take particular note of this release.

dyadGiacomo Puccini
Dyad Plays Puccini
Lou Caimano; Eric Olsen

I’m cheating a little bit by putting this in the Classical section, but since the musicians are wearing white tie and tails in the packaging photos I figure I’m justified. For this project, saxophonist Lou Caimano and pianist Eric Olsen (recording as Dyad) have taken arias from several popular Puccini operas and created jazz and jazz-like arrangements for them–they do swing (though decorously, in the absence of bass and drums) but they also show respect for the multifaceted beauty of the original melodies. Here’s another one that will be of particular interest to libraries supporting a curriculum in orchestration and arrangement.

purcellHenry Purcell
Complete Music for Strings (reissue; 3 discs)
Musica Amphion / Pieter-Jan Belder
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

Though he remains most deeply respected for his choral and theater compositions, Henry Purcell also wrote some very winning music for various combinations of stringed instruments: two sets of sonatas (a relatively new compositional form in the late 17th century) for violins, viola da gamba, and continuo, and a more old-fashioned set of 16 fantasias and two In nomines for viol consort. This very attractive three-disc set brings together previously-issued recordings of all of these works made by the Musica Amphion consort in 2006 and 2007, and can be confidently recommended to any library that would benefit from having all of these pieces in excellent performances in a convenient single package.

folksongLeos Janacek; Bela Bartok; Zoltan Kodaly
A Folk Song Runs Through It
Andrew Rangell
Steinway & Sons (dist. Naxos)

The Hungarian composers Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly were pioneers of folk-classical fusion, traveling all over their homelands to gather traditional tunes and songs, which they then incorporated into their compositions. Over in Czechoslovakia, Leos Janacek was drawing on similar themes (though not in such an ethnomusicological way). On this recording, the brilliant pianist Andrew Rangell brings works of all three composers together into this themed program, which opens with Janacek’s In the Mists and then presents folksong-based suites and sonatas by Bartok and Kodaly. As always, Rangell’s playing is an utter joy, and the program is very insightfully chosen.

orchestralJohann Sebastian Bach
The Orchestral Suites
La Petite Bande / Sigiswald Kuijken
Accent (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
ACC 24279

40 years after its founding, Sigiswald Kuijken’s La Petite Bande remains one of the most consistently impressive period-instrument ensembles in the world, regularly turning out spectacular recordings of music from the baroque and classical repertoires. As its name suggests, it operates with relatively few members, generally playing one instrument to a part, and that fact makes their recording of Bach’s magisterial orchestral suites quite interesting. Brisk tempos allow them to get through all six suites within the confines of a single disc, and their playing is sprightly and bright, bringing out all of the pleasure and structural beauty of the various dance movements. Most libraries will own multiple accounts of these works already, but this one is both good and unique enough to be worth acquiring even if you already own other period-instrument versions.

maillardJean Maillard
Missa Je suis désheritée & Motets
Marian Consort / Rory McCleery
Delphian (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: “Despite being identified as one of the most important French composers of the sixteenth century… Maillard is a figure who remains shrouded in mystery and whose works have rarely been performed in modern times.” On the one hand, this is a depressingly common syndrome; on the other hand, it means we get the pleasure and excitement of recordings like this, that bring the neglected composer back into the public eye with performances of rare taste and elegance of works that are heart-stoppingly beautiful. An essential purchase for all early music collections.

baxWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Concertos nos. 24 & 27
Alessio Bax; Southbank Sinfonia / Simon Over
Signum Classics (dist. Naxos)

Alessio Bax has said that the Mozart piano concertos “were the reason I fell in love the with piano,” and you can hear that love in every note he plays on this disc, which includes two of Mozart’s more disparate works: the sunny and straightforward concerto no. 27, and the much more tempestuous concerto no. 24. As a significant bonus, the album also includes Bax’s account of Mozart’s rarely-recorded solo variations on Sarti’s “Come un agnello” (K. 460). Bax is emerging as a major force in modern pianism, and this release is an impressive document of a young man very much on the rise.


bernardWill Bernard
Just Like Downtown
Rick’s Pick

I’ve been keeping half an eye on guitarist Will Bernard ever since his days in one of my favorite weirdo-jazz-funk groups, TJ Kirk (famous for its fezzes and for limiting its repertoire to tunes written by Thelonious Monk, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and James Brown). As a leader on this album Bernard goes for a more traditional sound, leading an organ trio augmented by saxophonist/clarinetist John Ellis. This format leads one to expect funkiness, and that’s what one gets, in spades. The program is a mix of Bernard originals, one rather unusual standard (Richard Rodgers’ “Bali Hai”) and a Led Zeppelin cover. The playing is sharp and tasteful throughout, and the group sounds like it’s been working the clubs together for years. Highly recommended.

The Third Way (Hand on the Torch Vol. II)
Rick’s Pick

At the same time that the Blue Note label is releasing a deluxe reissue of the band’s platinum 1993 debut (Hand on the Torch), Us3 returns with its ninth studio album, one that harks back explicitly to the formula of the first: a three-member tag team of MCs in a variety of styles rapping over samples and reinterpretations of classic jazz recordings and muscled-up hip hop beats. The Third Way is a colorful and joyous celebration of the various strands of African-American musical tradition, drawing alternately on classic hip hop, reggae, Latin jazz, bebop, and big band sounds, and it’s a pure blast from start to finish.

mjqModern Jazz Quartet
Lost Tapes: Germany 1956 & 1958
Jazzhaus (dist. Naxos)

I’m duty-bound to recommend this one to libraries, because it documents an important moment in the MJQ’s concert career: previously-unreleased collaborations with a couple of orchestral ensembles in Germany. The problem is that as a listening experience goes, this release kind of leaves me flat: the orchestral arrangements of “Django” and “Bluesology” strike me as forced and over-elaborate (a tendency that the MJQ struggled with at several points during its career). But there are brilliant moments here as well, and the album’s documentary value is undeniable. Also, you may find that you love the big arrangements.

klaroKarolina Strassmayer & Drori Mondlak
Small Moments
Lilypad Music
LPM 622

This one took a while to grow on me, but I’m glad I gave it the chance—it recently helped me survive a brutally long transoceanic flight. Recording under the band name Klaro!, saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer and drummer Drori Mondlak lead a quartet that also includes guitarist Cary DeNigris and bassist Ingmar Heller on a program of original tunes that can get a bit discursive at times, but that never lose touch with the fundamentals. Strassmayer in particular is an exceptionally incisive and inventive player, and Mondlak supports her with rare taste and perceptivity. Give this one two or three listens and see if it doesn’t end up staying in your CD player for weeks on end.

cotsirilosGeorge Cotsirilos Trio
Origin Arts
OA2 22104

Guitarist George Costirilos has two big things going for him: a warm, inviting tone, and the ability to lead a trio of unbelievable tightness in such a way that it sounds loose and cheerful rather than constricted. Well, maybe one other big thing as well: phenomenal melodic inventiveness. On this album he switches between electric and acoustic guitar and between originals and standards (with an emphasis on the former), gliding effortlessly between soulful blues-oriented passages and kaleidoscopic bebop lines and doing an admirable job of filling the open space provided by the trio format with lots and lots of very tasty music. Recommended to all jazz collections.


lenaVarious Artists
Live at Caffé Lena: Music from America’s Legendary Coffeehouse (1967-2013) (3 discs)
Tompkins Square
TSQ 2967
Rick’s Pick

Caffé Lena, in Saratoga Springs, NY, has been operating as a folk music venue for over 45 years now, and during that period has presented just about every folk artist that matters. Following a “treasure hunt” for archival recordings from the café’s history, some of which were located in people’s attics and basements, the Tompkins Square label compiled this three-disc anthology, and it’s truly amazing. Here (in surprisingly high-fidelity renderings) you’ll hear live performances by the likes of Sleepy John Estes, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Christine Lavin, Bill Staines, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and you’ll find a booklet with extensive liner notes and photographs. None of these recordings has ever been commercially released before. An essential purchase for all folk collections.

tillersThe Tillers
Hand on the Plow
Muddy Roots
No cat. no.

It’s an old story: punk rockers tire of the relentless sonic barrage, rediscover folk music, grow beards, and are born again as old-timey revivalists. But this Cincinnati trio didn’t stop there: they have created a sound that draws on a variety of influences (you’ll hear more than a hint of skiffle, jug-band, gospel, and Tin Pan Alley elemtnts on this album) and harks back explicitly to Depression-era union songs. The singing is authentically weedy, the playing tight and skillful enough but not airlessly so. Mike Oberst has developed a sort of customized clawhammer banjo style that works very nicely in this context.

finndersFinnders & Youngberg
I Don’t Want Love You Won’t Give Until I Cry
SF 002
Rick’s Pick

Try to ignore the inexcusably clunky title: you haven’t heard anything as gracefully eclectic and sweetly surprising as the sophomore release (an EP) from this Fort Collins, Colorado-based quintet. What will surprise you are the chord changes and other structural curiosities that lurk beneath the straight-ahead surfaces of the band’s modern acoustic country songs, and that gracefully blend bluegrass and country elements into a uniquely personal style that draws on countless antecedents but owes its essence to none of them. Every song here is original, both literally and figuratively. I only wish the program were three times as long. Strongly recommended to all library collections.

countryVarious Artists
Memories of That Old Country Church

If your collection could use a good, budget-priced historical overview of bluegrass gospel music, then look no further than this anthology from the Rebel label. The lineup reads like a who’s-who of bluegrass music from its earliest days to the present time, with contributions from Ralph Stanley, Jim & Jesse, Larry Sparks, J.D. Crowe & the New South, the Lilly Brothers, and Mac Wiseman, among others. Some of these recordings will be familiar to fans of the genre, but others are more obscure, and the mix of new and old styles is both enjoyable and instructive.

walkerMelody Walker & Jacob Groopman
We Made It Home
Rick’s Pick

When they aren’t touring with their progressive bluegrass band Front Country, Melody Walker and Jacob Groopman are at home writing songs that push at the boundaries of modern acoustic country music, brother-duet traditionalism, and gospel. Their voices are full-bodied and soulful, their subject matter subtly daring, their instrumental chops unimpeachable, and their overall sound simultaneously backward-looking and progressive. Guest pickers come and go throughout the program, but producer Laurie Lewis wisely keeps the sound spare and focused on Walker and Groopman’s own playing and singing. The Louvin Brothers-style cover version of “Graceland” and their raw, modal arrangement of “Sweet Sunny South” are both tons of fun. Highly recommended.


ronkatRonKat Spearman

If you miss the glory days of Parliament Funkadelic (and you know you do), then check out the latest from RonKat Spearman, a member of that band for ten years and an unabashed carrier of the Funkadelic torch in his own right. The album’s titular acronym stands for “Dancing on the Mothership,” a perfectly apt title for what this music sounds like: it’s heavy, funky, dense and swimming with sonic references to classic 1970s funk, disco, metal, Latin rock, and even traditional jazz. Spearman is a fine vocalist as well as a gifted multi-instrumentalist and arranger. Recommended.

California Dreaming
Afrolicious Music
No cat. no.

If you’re looking for Afropop-style pan-cultural funk that also partakes of the Mothership feel but does so in a less riotous and rockish way than RonKat Spearman’s project, consider this tasty album from the San Francisco-based Afrolicious. This is the band’s debut full-length release, but it sounds like the work of a mature and well-seasoned ensemble: the grooves are tight but not airless, and they sway and bounce with both masterfully controlled energy and a seemingly effortless grace. Where Spearman draws on Funkadelic grease, Afrolicious goes for something more jazz-oriented—and the word on the street is that a remix album is coming out later this fall. I’ll definitely be watching out for that.

soundsThe Sounds

This Swedish band has a sound that harks back nicely to the early days of post-punk guitar pop: listen to the Flock of Seagulls-style guitar work on “Take It the Wrong Way,” for example, and to “Hurt the Ones I Love,” which sounds kind of like a collaboration between Indochine and Blondie. I really enjoyed their last outing, but this one is even better, the sound more fully developed and the hooks sharper and more refined. Recommended.

Snow Globe
Rick’s Pick

A Christmas album from Erasure? Yes. And it’s pretty much what you’d expect, in all the best ways: original songs that take full advantage of Vince Clarke’s synthpop genius and Andy Bell’s still-operatic voice alongside surprising arrangements of classic seasonal songs: a lovely and sprightly take on the Latin carol “Gaudete,” a charmingly blippy version of “The Christmas Song,” a heartbreakingly lovely rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter.” There are hints of social protest in “Bells of Love” and “Blood on the Snow,” making Snow Globe an unusually complex Christmas album, but the pervasive hooks make it consistently accessible.

fabricliveDJ EZ
Fabriclive 71
Fabric (dist. Forced Exposure)
Rick’s Pick

All too often, these Fabriclive DJ mixes end up being generic exercises in post-Detroit oonts-oonts-oonts that bore the pants off me within about three minutes. But this one is very different: DJ EZ is a master of the techno genre known as UK garage and its subgenre 2-step, which feature exceptionally tight, often swinging beats and chopped-up, soulful vocals; sometimes the beat falls into a four-on-the-floor thumpa-thumpa, but then he’ll tweak the time signature and break up the groove in a subtle way and turn it into something much funkier and sometimes almost pointillistic. This continuous-mix program features extracts from no fewer than 32 tracks, and if you recognize more than 10% of them you’re much more in tune with this scene than I am. Highly recommended.

perfectHot Head Show
RBL Music
HHS 005

I confess that I’m a sucker for nerdy-smart math-rock bands with a sense of humor. Hot Head Show is all about twisted intricacy and aggressive whimsy; they’ll switch from headlong mathcore to spastic ska in the twitch of an eyelid, and their lyrics are the high school chess club’s idea of hilarious. (Unsurprisingly, they spent most of 2011 touring behind Primus.) Recommended if you like Sweep the Leg Johnny and/or the Ahleuchatistas. Or if, like me, you just get in a certain mood sometimes and need to indulge a secret jonesing for avant-pop perversity.

lealeaLea Lea
Lea Lea
Wah Wah 45s
Rick’s Pick

Born to Trinidadian and Italian parents and raised in East London, Lea Lea grew up surrounded by a wild variety of music, and her debut album reflects that fact. She cut her teeth on jungle and drum & bass and gravitated towards hip hop and grime before hooking up with producer/drummer Jack Baker and traveling throughout Mexico and the US and absorbing the sights and sounds of cultures far removed from the London underground clubs. Upon their return, she wrote this album, and while you won’t hear any mariachi or country influences in the music (it’s very much an East-London-sounding affair), you’ll definitely hear reflections of her travels in the lyrics. The overall sound is tense, funky, and dark, and thoroughly wonderful. Highly recommended.

toussaintAllen Toussaint

Allen Toussaint is one of those guys you probably haven’t heard of despite the fact that you hear his music on a regular basis. A New Orleans-bred singer, composer, and pianist, he’s written hits for the likes of Irma Thomas, Al Hirt, and Lee Dorsey, and you’ll still hear his music in advertising jingles, hip hop singles, and TV soundtracks. This disc (and accompanying DVD) documents a recent solo stand at Joe’s Pub in New York. It’s just Toussaint’s warm, friendly voice and his piano, on a list of songs that includes “Brickyard Blues,” “It’s Raining,” “St. James Infirmary,” and “Get Out of My Life, Woman.” Everything that he plays and sings fairly screams “New Orleans,” and it’s all a complete joy to hear.


ndaggaMark Ernestus Presents Jeri-Jeri
800% Ndagga
Ndagga (dist. Forced Exposure)
ND 006CD

While on a music-gathering trip to Senegal in 2011, German producer Mark Ernestus found himself unexpectedly in the studio with more than 20 of the country’s finest musicians, including members of a griot clan of sabar drummers and mbalax vocalists, some of whom have worked regularly as members of Baaba Maal and Youssou N’Dour’s bands. The music they created for this album is densely, swirlingly polyrhythmic, featuring ecstatic vocals and subtle layers of synthesizer and guitar underneath the talking drums and skittering snare and high hat.

brooklynVarious Artists
The Brooklyn Rocksteady Soundtrack
Rick’s Pick

The ska and rock steady revival that came of age in New York and Brooklyn 15 years ago continues to bubble along despite all the talk of ska being dead (again). For solid evidence, consider this collection of 20 new songs by Brooklyn artists working in the tradition of rock steady, a sound that flourished briefly in 1960s Jamaica as the galloping dance beats of skae were starting to slow and thicken into what would eventually become reggae around 1970. (It’s actually the soundtrack to a film that can be viewed for free online here.) Some of these artists (Crazy Baldhead, King Django, Victor Rice) will be familiar to listeners who have been keeping an eye on this scene over the years, but others will come as a pleasant surprise and merit further investigation. It’s a brilliant collection all around.

lulaVarious Artists
Lula Lounge: Essential Tracks, Vol. 1
Lula Lounge
Rick’s Pick

If you’ve ever visited Toronto at any time other than high summer, you might have a hard time believing that these hot, humid, deeply tropical dance grooves were produced in or anywhere near that city. But Toronto’s Lula Lounge club really is a destination for lovers of Caribbean and Latin American dance music, and this wonderful disc is the soundtrack of that venue—a place that serves not only as a dance club but also as a dance studio and a gathering place for the Latino diaspora in its many forms. But the chief value of this album isn’t documentary or ethnological—it’s as an utterly brilliant party album.

italieVarious Artists
Italie: Polyphonies des Quatres Provinces
Disques VDE-Gallo (dist. Albany)
VDE CD-1358

The traditional polyphonic singing of Northern Italy is locally known as canto fermo (“song without rhythm”). This is an all-male tradition; female groups were also once common, but for some reason have now disappeared, and the singing generally takes place when friends gather in someone’s cellar or in a bar. As its name suggests, this is music that unfolds without rhythmic pulse, but with rich and powerful harmony. This recording was made in the field by amateur singers, and the sound quality is very good; the singing is rough-edged but expert, and the disc includes a brief video documentary. The whole package should be of great interest to libraries with a collecting interest in ethnomusicology.

Sugar Shack/Bristol Archive
Rick’s Pick

Having gotten international attention with the reissue of their 1984 debut Takin’ the Strain, the Bristol reggae band Talisman have re-formed and recorded an album of brand-new material—and bless them, to listen to it you’d never know that 30 years have passed since their first recordings. Their sound is tight, dry, slow, and dread, the lyrical themes strictly roots-and-culture, the vocals as rich and strong as ever, and the grooves positively elephantine. And every track comes with a dub version. Any library with a reggae collection, however selective, would be wise to pick this one up.

October 2013


lindatLinda Thompson
Won’t Be Long Now
Pettifer Music (dist. Redeye)
CD PET 1001

“New album from Linda Thompson” is really all the review this album needs. A bit of background: in the 1970s, she was half of Richard & Linda Thompson, a duo that featured the mind-bogglingly adept guitar playing and songwriting of Richard and the aching, crystal-clear singing of Linda. (Richard’s harmony vocals were useful, but he was utterly outclassed by Linda as a lead singer). After their harrowing split around 1980, Linda did some solo work and then found herself physically unable to sing for almost 20 years. Her return has been gradual but welcome, and this album may be her best solo effort yet. It benefits from the presence of family members including Teddy Thompson (the brilliant son of her marriage to Richard and an accomplished solo artist) and even Richard himself, playing guitar on “Love’s for Babies and Fools.” Linda’s voice hardly betrays the decades or the period of disuse it suffered in the late 1980s and 1990 — it’s still a thing of clear and plainspoken beauty. No folk or folk-rock collection should be without this disc.


mendelssohnFelix Mendelssohn; Robert Schumann; Ludwig Van Beethoven
Violin Concertos; Romances
Rachel Barton Pine; Göttinger Symphonie Orchester / Christoph-Mathias Mueller
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 144
Rick’s Pick

This is a typically sparkling and brilliantly colorful performance from violinist Rachel Barton Pine, the fourth in her ongoing series of recordings drawing on the German romantic violin repertoire. Honestly, there’s not much to say here–except that I’m not sure there’s a violinst anywhere right now with a deeper and more joyful sense for this music, the Mendelssohn in particular. This album is a pure pleasure.

beethovenLudwig Van Beethoven
Complete Works for Cello and Piano (2 discs)
Colin Carr; Thomas Sauer
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1486

The temptation when playing Beethoven (especially on modern instruments, with their heavier internal bracing and steel strings) is to confuse richness with density, and intensity with ponderousness. It is one of the best things about this recording that neither cellist Colin Carr nor pianist Thomas Sauer makes that mistake: this complete collection of Beethoven’s sonatas and thematic variations for the two instruments reveals all the richness and intensity of Beethoven’s music without imposing any ponderous density on it. The gorgeous, dark-hued tone of Carr’s instrument is particularly noteworthy.

liberaVarious Composers
Libera Nos: The Cry of the Oppressed
Contrapunctus / Owen Rees
Signum Classics (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

I have listened to this disc over and over since receiving a review copy a month or so ago, and it still slays me every time. It consists of English, Portuguese, and Flemish pieces from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, all of them drawing on Biblical lamentations over the fate of Jerusalem–but using them as a veiled commentary on the plight of Catholics in England and of the Portguese under Spanish rule. The putative overarching theme is oppression, but the feeling is less angry and defiant that powerfully, gently, and heartbreakingly mournful. Owen Rees and Contrapunctus have created one of the most ravishingly lovely recordings I’ve heard in a year.

bachJohann Sebastian Bach
Unaccompanied Suites Performed on Double Bass
Jory Herman
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Although I’m a bass player myself, I rarely find myself drawn to recordings for the solo bass. I’ve also (true-confession time) never been a huge fan of Bach’s unaccompanied suites for solo cello, despite their status as a landmark of the baroque repertoire. So I was taken by surprise when this fantastic account of those suites, played on double bass, grabbed me by the collar and refused to let go. Herman’s tone is rich, full, and sweet (even in the higher positions), his intonation is excellent, and he plays with genuine emotional investment. He clearly loves these pieces and will convince you to love them as well, if (like me) you didn’t already. Recommended to all classical library collections.

vivaldiAntonio Vivaldi
Concerti da camera (reissue; 4 discs)
Il Giardino Armonico
Teldec/Das Alte Werk (dist. Naxos)
2564 64662-0

This four-disc set contains the entirely of Vivaldi’s Opus 10 chamber concertos, along with a handful of sonatas and sonatinas, numbering 24 works in all. All were recorded and previously released between 1990 and 1992. The playing by Il Giardino Armonico (on period instruments) is thrillingly energetic and admirably skillful, but I was brought up short immediately by the dry, brittle, and sometimes harsh sonic qualities of these recordings, particularly those on the first two discs. This set represents a good value for money and will be very useful for reference purposes, but it doesn’t give as much listening pleasure as it could have with more careful production.

kunikoVarious Composers
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKD 432

Having previously made a splash with her marimba arrangements of works by Steve Reich, Kuniko goes back to the minimalist well to create this shimmeringly lovely program of works by Reich, Arvo Pärt, and Hywel Davies arranged for various combinations of marimba, vibraphone, crotales, and bells. Some of the choices are surprising (seriously, a marimba-and-vibes arrangement of Fratres?) but they all work wonderfully. Any library that supports a percussion program should jump at the chance to acquire this example of masterful transcription for mallet keyboards.

cornettVarious Composers
The Golden Age of the Cornett (reissue; 2 discs)
Le Concert Brisé / William Dongois
Accent (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
ACC 24261

The cornett (not to be confused with the cornet, though it’s a precursor of the trumpet) was a very popular instrument in 17th-century Italy, in both ceremonial and more intimate musical settings. This two-disc set brings together two very different cornett-focused recordings: one (recorded in 2005) of chamber settings of traditional melodies along with sacred and secular pieces by the likes of Palestrina, de Rore, and Rognoni. Here the cornett is accompanied by keyboards or lute. The second disc (from 2003) is a collection of vocal and instrumental pieces associated with St. Mark’s Basilica at the time of Monteverdi; each of the pieces features the cornett more or less prominently. Though the pairing of these two discs is a little bit odd, the playing and singing are wonderful throughout–William Dongois is a cornettist of rare skill–and the set offers a wonderful listening experience.

haydnFranz Joseph Haydn; Josef Myslivecek
[Cello Concertos]
Wendy Warner; Camerata Chicago / Drostan Hall
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 142

I know, I know — another recording of Haydn’s cello concertos in C and D, ho hum. But wait: who’s that Myslivecek guy? As it turns out, he was a friend of the Mozart family and an influence on the young Wolfgang himself, and remains a criminally overlooked figure of the classical period (partly due to his tragically early death). The C major concerto featured here is a transcription of one of his violin concertos, and it’s wonderful–as is the playing of cellist Wendy Warner and the Camerata Chicago, all on modern instruments.

ludfordNicholas Ludford; John Mason
Missa Inclina cor meum; Ave fuit prima salus
Blue Heron / Scott Metcalfe
Blue Heron
Rick’s Pick

This is the third installment in a projected five-disc series that will bring selections from the Peterhouse partbooks (the largest and most important source of English music surviving from the period before the death of Henry VIII) to modern listeners for the first time. As was the case for the previous two volumes, this disc represents world-premiere recordings of the featured works: a parody Mass by Nicholas Ludford, a restored version of the obscure John Mason’s Ave prima fuit salus, and a selection of Sarum plainchant. The Mason piece in particular is rather strange and quite wonderful, and the Blue Heron choir’s sound is sumptuously rich as always. An essential purchase for all early music and choral collections.


malikMajik Malik
Tranz Denied
Bee Jazz (dist. Naxos)
BEE 061

I’ve listened to a lot of weird jazz in my lifetime, so you should take it seriously when I tell you that this is some of the weirdest jazz I’ve ever listened to. It’s not the weirdest music I’ve ever heard, not by a long shot. But as jazz goes, this stuff is seriously out there. And for the most part, that’s a compliment: vocalist/flutist/keyboardist Majik Malik invited a fine turntablist, a laptop/electronics player, a saxophonist, a drummer, and a couple of guest vocalists to help him out with this project, and at its best the sounds are completely new despite incorporating aspects of jazz, minimalism, and electro. At its worst the music is unfocused and boring–but that happens rarely on this strange and impressive album.

preshallPreservation Hall Jazz Band
That’s It!
Sony Legacy

If you’re looking for standard-issue rollicking New Orleans jazz (a reasonable expectation from America’s longest-standing exponent of the genre), then you’ll get what you’re after on this latest release from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. But if you’d like to hear something a little bit different–a samba here, a tango there–then you’ll get that as well. This is largely due to the fact that That’s It! is the first album of all-original material the PHJB has ever released, which I suppose makes this album “important.” Importance aside, it’s also tons of good fun–not that we’d expect anything less, of course.

cobhamBilly Cobham
Compass Point (2 discs)
Purple Pyramid/Cleopatra
CLP 0515

Drummer Billy Cobham has been a bright star in the jazz firmament since his work in the 1960s with Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. He’s a pioneer of the jazz-fusion style, and it’s in that mode that he was working during the 1997 live performance documented on these two discs. Leading a quartet that included keyboardist Gary Husband, bassist Stefan Rademacher, and guitarist Carl Orr, Cobham goes off in all kinds of discursive directions–modal, bluesy, rockish, occasionally boppy and swinging. Drummers will be paying close attention to his tone, which is spectacular, but there’s plenty of tasty playing from the others as well. Very nice stuff.

jamalAhmad Jamal
Saturday Morning: La Buissonne Studio Sessions
Jazz Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
JV 570027

Ahmad Jamal. What can one say about this guy? Active on the jazz scene for 65 years now (65 years), he was cited as the source of “all my inspiration” by Miles Davis. At 83 years of age, he still plays with the energy, nimbleness, and sharp intelligence of a brilliant 25-year-old. And whether he’s playing standards or originals, he makes every tune his own. Here he leads a quartet that includes bassist Reginald Veal, drummer Herlin Riley, and percussionist Manolo Badrena through a program of lush and at times somewhat abstract numbers, most of which are originals. Some of them push the boundaries of jazz and edge into the realm of 19th-century impressionism. Every library supporting a jazz program should own a copy of this album.

grayKellye Gray
And, They Call Us Cowboys: The Texas Music Project

And now for something completely different: straight-ahead and fusion arrangements of classic country, pop, and soul songs by Texan (mostly) songwriters. The tracklist might give you pause: “In the Ghetto,” “Dang Me,” “Only the Lonely”? And as you might expect, the results are a bit uneven. The skittery soul-funk arrangement of “In the Ghetto” seems in somewhat poor taste, but “Help Me Make It Through the Night” went down better than expected, and Gray’s gently torchy take on Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” is perfect. Unevenness is what happens when you take chances, and we need more–not less–chance-taking in jazz.

shawBryan Shaw and the Hot Shots
The Bluebird of Happiness
Arbors Jazz (dist. Allegro)

OK, OK. Having just said in the review above that we need more chance-taking in jazz, I’m now recommending a disc of solid, sweet, swinging, pre-bop hot jazz that has nothing to do with experimentation or chance-taking of any kind. So sue me. The fact is that we can also use more of this on the jazz scene today: more purely joyful, powerfully swinging, unabashedly melodic and unassumingly virtuosic jazz that makes no apologies for its old-fashioned style. (What can I say, I contain multitudes.) Trumpeter Bryan Shaw is both a brilliant player and a brilliant bandleader, and the septet he leads on this album is second to none when it comes to traditional jazz. Highly recommended.

leeWill Lee
Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions
Sinning Saint Ltd.

Bassist Will Lee is a familiar face to late-night TV viewers (he plays for David Letterman’s band) and, as one of the most in-demand session players in America, a god to his fellow bassists. It’ s been 20 years since he released a solo album, and he racked up lots of IOUs in the meantime–hence the cameos here by such luminaries as Chuck Loeb, Steve Gadd, Bob James, and Billy Gibbons. The long wait may also account for the fact that some of these songs sound charmingly dated: you’ll hear hints of Steely Dan (“Miss Understanding”) and the Police (“Shahara”), for example. But there are also fully modern and sometimes surprising sounds here, and everything is very enjoyable. Most of the songs feature Lee on vocals as well as bass. Recommended.

jonesMike Jones
Plays Well with Others
Rick’s Pick

If you’ve attended a Penn and Teller show in Las Vegas, then you’ve heard Mike Jones before — he plays piano during the intro segments (with Penn on bass). But listening to him in a less distracting environment is a revelation: his chops are astounding. He plays in a way that seems to combine Oscar Peterson with Robert Schumann, swinging mightily while using the entire keyboard lushly and melodically. Bassist Mike Gurrola and drummer Jeff Hamilton provide powerful rhythmic support. This is an unusually rich and satisfying piano trio album.


kolodnerKen & Brad Kolodner
Skipping Rocks
Fenchurch Music
Rick’s Pick

Slyly subtitled “Original and Traditional Appalachian Old-time Music,” this father-son duo project is both technically impressive and musically tasteful, a lovely exploration of both tradition and creativity (and of a warm musical relationship). Ken Kolodner is a fiddler and hammered-dulcimer player who has long been a fixture on the East coast folk scene; his son is a gifted young clawhammer banjo player and fiddler. Joined by several guest accompanists (including guitar virtuoso Robin Bullock), they play a winning program of familiar fiddle tunes (“Falls of Richmond,” “Billy in the Lowground,” “Lost Indian,” etc.) and old-timey original compositions. There’s not a lot of rip-roaring dance fare here; even the uptempo tunes are delivered with a certain restraint in a style that puts more focus on the tunes themselves than on the undeniable skill of the players. Highly recommended to all folk collections.

gerrardAlice Gerrard
Spruce and Maple Music
SMM 1008
Rick’s Pick

For her first solo album in ten years, folk legend Alice Gerrard has delivers a first: a program made up entirely of original compositions. And they’re gems, most of them sad and quiet and gently, richly gorgeous. Their beauty is enhanced by the slightly fragile nature of Gerrard’s gracefully aging voice, which is highlighted beautifully by the production work of Laurie Lewis and by the skillfully self-effacing assistance of A-list pickers like Bryan Sutton, Todd Phillips, Stuart Duncan and Rob Ickes. Brilliant and beautiful.

cjonesChris Jones & the Night Drivers
Lonely Comes Easy

Chris Jones and crew return to the Rebel records stable with another top-notch collection of neotraditional bluegrass songs. Lots of originals, several nicely-chosen standards and traditional numbers, and everything is performed in the quartet’s trademark style: tight and no-frills, the focus staying solidly on Jones’ baritone lead vocals. One thing that makes this group a bit unusual is that voice: whereas the bluegrass norm for lead singers is high-pitched and sharp-toned, Jones fairly croons, with no loss of lonesome effect. Best title: “Swine Flu in Union County.” (It’s an instrumental.)

connollyThe James Connolly Songs of Freedom Band
Songs of Freedom
PM Press (dist. by IPG)
PMA 017-2

In 1907, Irish nationalist James Connolly published Songs of Freedom, a collection of revolutionary lyrics he had written, without musical notation or tune suggestions. In 1919 a concert was held in celebration of his legacy, and a souvenir program was produced with tune indications, and another songbook based on that concert was subsequently published. This disc is released to accompany a reissue of those three publications inside a single cover and with explanatory matter added. On the disc itself the songs are well played and somewhat amateurishly sung by a group of thirteen musicians; the album’s value is more historic than aesthetic, but its historical significance is substantial, and some of the songs really do sound great.


doughtyMike Doughty
Circles Super Bon Bon
Snack Bar (dist. Megaforce)
(No cat. no.)
Rick’s Pick

As a longstanding fan of Soul Coughing, I was dismayed when they split up acrimoniously–so acrimoniously, in fact, that frontman Mike Doughty refused to play Soul Coughing songs during his subsequent solo performances. Now he’s relented, and this Kickstarter-funded project finds him reinterpreting such classic material as “Super Bon Bon,” “Monster Man,” and “Mr. Bitterness.” I wasn’t sure how much I’d like these stripped-down versions, but they’re wonderful–less willfully weird than the originals tended to be, but generally no less funky, and the words-for-words’-sake flow of his singsong delivery is as enthralling as it ever was. Highly recommended to all pop collections.

schwaDJ Schwa
Lay It Down

Not quite ready to let go of summer yet? Then pull your lounge chair up next to the pool (pay no attention to the fallen leaves floating on the water), snuggle up in that sweater, plug in your earbuds, and drift away on this mixtape of downtempo, chillout, house, and broken-beat tracks courtesy of DJ Schwa. The label is Czech and most of the artists featured here will be unfamiliar to American audiences, but it doesn’t matter: whether it’s the midtempo house bump of Sarp Yilmaz’s “Simple Words” or the slippery hip hop of Shades of Gray’s “Illusions (Lurob Remix),” the solid but relaxed grooves on offer here all speak an international language. (As of this writing the physical CD is not yet commercially available from US retailers, but it can be downloaded from Amazon US or ordered physically from Amazon UK at the link above.)

costelloElvis Costello and the Roots
Wise Up Ghost
Blue Note
Rick’s Pick

Elvis Costello, as we all know, has always had a thing for less-than-obvious collaborations: Burt Bacharach, the Brodsky Quartet, Allen Toussaint, etc. And more often than not, he makes them work. This one, with ?uestlove and his hip-hop collective The Roots, works better than most–which is to say that it’s brilliant. Elvis sounds completely at home nestled in these funky grooves, and the grooves themselves are warm and crunchy and perfect. The songs are disciplined, the rewrite of “Pills and Soap” is startlingly fine, and everyone just sounds as if they’re having the time of their lives. You will too.

metalVarious Artists
Trevor Jackson Presents Metal Dance 2: Industrial/New Wave/EBM Classics & Rarities 79-88 (2 discs)
Strut/!K7 (dist. Redeye)

Heaven help me, but I’m a sucker for this stuff: the boxy machine beats, the Casiotone arpeggios, the grumpy Teutonic (and pseudo-Teutonic) sprechgesange. There’s just something about early industrial music that makes me happy to be alive and not living in an Orwellian dystopia (no matter what they may think at Fox News or Pacifica Radio). The second installment in Trevor Jackson’s curated series of vintage electro anti-pop includes early recordings by Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Test Dept, and a bunch of much more obscure artists as well. Recommended.

ollopaBanco de Gaia
Ollopa: Apollo Remixed
Disco Gecko (dist. Allegro)

Toby Marks, who records under the name Banco de Gaia, released an album earlier this year called Apollo. I thought it was pretty good, but not really noteworthy. This remix album, though, is (as remix albums often are) much more interesting. It includes  funkier and muscled-up versions of Marks’ original tracks by the likes of Gaudi, Eat Static, Desert Dwellers, and the always-reliable Kaya Project. You’ll hear elements of Balkan brass, dancehall reggae, and downtempo styles, with hints of dubstep and techno along the way. And the bass is often strong enough to loosen your fillings. Very nice.


kulaKayhan Kalhor; Erdal Erzincan
Kula Kulluk Yakisir Mi

Kayhan Kalhor is a virtuoso of the kamancheh, a bowed instrument that looks and sounds a lot like the rebab (and the Chinese erhu, for that matter). Erdal Erzincan is an equally adept player of the baglama, a lutelike instrument also known as the saz. This disc is a live recording of the duo playing a mixed set of improvised, composed, and traditional pieces for the two instruments, all of them modal and reedy and at times thrillingly elaborate–at other times they are quietly contemplative. Strongly recommended to all collections with an interest in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern music.

yomaSilk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma
A Playlist without Borders
Sony Masterworks
88883 71092 2

The Silk Road Ensemble is dedicated to “breaking boundaries of ethnicity and era.” And while there is no shortage of pan-ethnic-fusion groups out there creating well-intentioned but often woolly-minded mashups out of incompatible musical traditions, this one is more hardheaded than most. Pianist Vijay Iyer contributes a spiky eight-part suite; violinist Colin writes a feature for the Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor (see previous review), and the program ends with an uncharacteristically whimsical piece by perennial Downtown bad boy John Zorn. This is not your hippie aunt’s “world-music fusion,” and you won’t be able to buy a copy in Starbucks.

cigdemCigdem Aslan
Asphalt Tango
CD-ATR 4313

It’s safe to say that while Greece and Turkey are nestled together cozily in geographical terms, there has been nothing cozy about their post-Ottoman diplomatic history. Despite their fractious recent relations, though, the people of those countries remain somewhat united by rebetiko, a vernacular music style sometimes characterized as “Aegean blues.” On this album, Turkish singer Cigdem Aslan shares a program of songs in both the rebetiko and smyrniac styles, all of them characterized by spiky tonalities, sweet-and-sour melodies, and Aslan’s clear, incisive vocals.

greenThe Green
Hawai’i ’13
Easy Star
Rick’s Pick

Despite its enormous distance from the reggae homeland of the Caribbean (and its notable lack of Jamaican immigrants), Hawaii has been host to a thriving reggae scene for decades. But no Hawaiian band has yet created as mature and richly-developed sound as that of The Green. This is only their third album, but they sound like they’ve been doing this since the 1970s–not only are they tight, but they move together nimbly and their sound is warm and sweet. And they have their own take on the “roots and culture” tradition, singing not only about love and romance but also about issues relevant to their islands and the challenges they face there. Highly recommended.

bombayBombay Dub Orchestra
Tales from the Grand Bazaar
Six Degrees
Rick’s Pick

With each release from this British duo, you find yourself wondering where the accent is going to be this time: on the “dub” or on the “orchestra”? And every time the answer is kind of the same: both. Yes, their music involves lots of South Asian-style orchestral strings; yes, their music involves reggae-inflected beats and basslines and there will be lots of dubwise space in the mix. This time out the reggae bona fides are a bit stronger than usual, thanks to the presence of legendary drums-and-bass duo Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. There are also some great vocal cameos by the likes of Ujwal Nagar and Tanja Tzar (the latter from Macedonia, bringing yet another level of cultural complexity to the mix). Like all Bombay Dub Orchestra albums, this one is a must.


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