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November 2015


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

mosaicTerri Lyne Carrington
The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul

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

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

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

mauchMostly Other People Do the Killing
Mauch Chunk
Hot Cup

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

brachfeldAndrea Brachfeld
Lotus Blossom
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

breckerRandy Brecker

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


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

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

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

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

jennaJenna Moynihan
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

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


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

ranaldoLee Ranaldo
Ambient Loop for Vancouver
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

scandMulticast Dynamics
Denovali (dist. Nail)

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

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

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


komitasGurdjieff Ensemble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 2015


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

riglerJane Rigler
Various Performers
Neuma (dist. Albany)

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

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

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


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

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

scoJohn Scofield
Past Present
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

magnarelliJoe Magnarelli
Three on Two

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

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

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


Reinventing Richard: The Songs of Richard Fariña

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

fy5FY5-Finnders & Youngberg
Eat the Moon

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

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

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

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

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


freedyFreedy Johnston
Neon Repairman
Singing Magnet
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

Project: Mooncircle

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

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

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

manuvaRoots Manuva
Big Dada (dist. Redeye)

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

Y Dydd Olaf

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


omarOmar Souleyman
Bahdeni Nami

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

Nozinja Lodge
Warp (dist. Redeye)

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

Integration (reissue)
Bristol Archive

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

Lusafrica (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

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

Despertar (EP)
Fusion Beats
No cat. no.

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

September 2015


hadenCharlie Haden; Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Tokyo Adagio

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bureau B (dist. Forced Exposure)
BB 206

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


montyDonald Vega
With Respect to Monty
Rick’s Pick

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

deaseMichael Dease

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

herschFred Hersch
Rick’s Pick

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

lafayetteLafayette Harris, Jr. Trio
Bend to the Light

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

fischerJacob Fischer
… In New York City
Arbors Jazz
ARCD 19444

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


tysonIan Tyson
Carnero Vaquero
Stony Plain

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

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

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

woodyWoody Pines
Woody Pines
Muddy Roots
No cat. no.

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

tamiTami Neilson
Outside Music (dist. Redeye)

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

slocanSlocan Ramblers
Coffee Creek
No cat. no.

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

movingThe Moving Violations
No cat. no.

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


Big Dada (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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

checmicalChemical Brothers
Born in the Echoes

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

Apollo (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

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

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

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


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

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

Miero (reissue)
Real World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

muertosBanda de los Muertos
Banda de los Muertos

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

August 2015


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


weberEberhard Weber

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

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

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

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

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

dingmanChris Dingman
The Subliminal and the Sublime
Inner Arts Initiative

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

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

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


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

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

Terre Rouge
Les Editions du Corfus

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

campilongoJim Campilongo & Honeyfingers
Last Night, This Morning
Blue Hen

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

railThe Railsplitters
The Faster It Goes
No cat. no.

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


kailKaiL Baxley
A Light That Never Dies
Forty Below
FBR 009

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

blessingBlessing Offor
Rick’s Pick

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

This Is Not a Test

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

orbThe Orb

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

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

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


Light Flashes
Rick’s Pick

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

amonafiDaby Touré
Rick’s Pick

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

sibeliusSibelius-Akatemian Folk Big Band

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

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

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

July 2015


bangVarious Composers
Field Recordings
Bang on a Can All-Stars
Cantaloupe (dist. Naxos)

Since the very beginning of the 20th century, recordings made in the “field” (i.e. in bars, homes, social halls, backyards, etc.) have exerted a powerful draw on composers. Bartók and Kodály wrote classical pieces based on tunes they collected in remote Hungarian villages; Edgard Varèse used cut-up tapes of train noises and other sounds from urban environments to create collage-like musique concrète; Steve Reich played prerecorded tapes of a street preacher out of phase with each other in order to create shifting, shimmering rhythmic patterns. Today the recording techniques are largely digital, but the fascination with blending prerecorded voices, music, and noises with live instrumentation remains. Thus we have this wonderful collection of miniatures from the likes of Julia Wolfe, Christian Marclay, Tyondai Braxton, Anna Clyne, and (yes) Steve Reich, all of which incorporate prerecorded sounds with live performance in a variety of ways. Florent Ghys’ An Open Cage takes a recording of John Cage reading from his diary and layers onto it the sounds of musicians duplicating the pitches and rhythms of Cage’s reading; Wolfe adds musical accompaniment to a recording of a French Canadian folksinger; Braxton uses electric and acoustic instruments plus the musical pitches generated by casino slot machines to create a crazy quilt of sound on Casino Trem; and Todd Reynolds contributes a piece based on an old LP recording of Southern Baptist preachers. Much of this music is remarkable; all of it is well worth hearing, and the album should be considered an essential purchase for all library collections.


cantanteVarious Composers
Cantante e tranquillo
Keller Quartett

Although the label deserves a rap on the knuckles for failing to make clear on the external packaging of this (full-priced) disc that it consists primarily of previously-issued content–only the György Kurtág selections appear to be previously unreleased–there’s no arguing with the quality of the music. In keeping with the title, the Keller Quartett gathered earlier recordings of slow movements from works by composers as stylistically disparate as Bach, Ligeti, Beethoven, Schnittke, Knaifel, and Kurtág, creating a gorgeous program that at times transcends its overall melancholy to communicate a quiet, glowing joy. Libraries that already own the previous recordings don’t need to replace them with this one, but for individual listeners the compilation offers a wonderful musical experience.

capillasFrancisco López Capillas
Missa Re Sol; Missa Aufer a nobis; Motets
Capella Prolationum; Ensemble La Danserye
Lindoro (dist. Allegro)

These are world-premiere recordings of the masses by Francisco López Capillas, the composer known as the “Ockeghem of Mexico” — a sobriquet that was perhaps not meant entirely as a compliment, given that he flourished in the mid-17th century, a time when Ockeghem’s music would have seemed terribly old-fashioned. Nevertheless, López Capillas’s music is richly rewarding and certainly incorporates significant elements of baroque style alongside its old-school monochoral polyphony. Early-music enthusiasts will be interested to note that on this recording, the performers are playing and singing from facsimile reproductions of the original manuscript (and thus from mensural rather than modern notation). Recommended.

arcangeloFranz Joseph Haydn; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Sinfonia concertante; Concertos
Arcangelo / Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

There’s nothing new or innovative or revelatory about this recording, which consists of very familiar material: Haydn’s Sinfonia concertante for violin, cello, oboe, and bassoon with chamber orchestra, and Mozart’s equally celebrated concertos for oboe and for bassoon. But what this recording lacks in novelty it more than makes up for in sheer joyful élan. The performances aren’t taken at breakneck tempos, but they feel like they’re flying; the soloists don’t indulge in self-consciously virtuosic cadenza playing, but are clearly enjoying themselves so much that it’s impossible not to be caught up. And the music itself is, of course, at the very pinnacle of high-classical loveliness. Highly recommended to all library collections.

bachJohann Christoph Friedrich Bach
3 Symphonies (reissue)
Neues Bachisches Collegium Musicum Leipzig
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

The high-midline pricing on this straight reissue of a more than 20-year-old recording is a bit puzzling, but the music isn’t puzzling at all. J.C.F. Bach was the most obscure of J.S. Bach’s several musical sons, and to be completely frank, it wasn’t only because he lacked his brothers’ gift for self-promotion — it was also because his musical talent was less incandescent than theirs, and his writing less original and influential. But that doesn’t make his music less enjoyable, and any library collecting comprehensively in the Bach family (or in baroque and early classical music generally) would benefit from this very fine recording, which sounds like it was made using period instruments (though the two-page booklet’s complete lack of information about the recording ensemble makes it difficult to say for sure).

triTri Nguyen
Tri Nguyen; ‘Ilios Quartet

Fusions of Asian and Western classical traditions are nothing especially new, but this one — which actually fuses Western art music with Vietnamese folk music — is something quite different. Composer Tri Nguyen plays a traditional Vietnamese zither, and for this album has arranged a set of folk melodies for his instrument with the accompaniment of a Western-style string quartet. The result is both instantly accessible and quite fascinating; while the musical themes are relatively simple and straightforward, the execution of them is not, and the arrangements do a great job of treading the fine line of paying equal respect to both of the widely disparate traditions that are being brought together. Recommended to both classical and world music collections.

lawesWilliam Lawes
The Royal Consort (2 discs)
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKD 470
Rick’s Pick

The Phantasm ensemble continues its survey of English music for consort of viols with this outstanding recording of William Lawes’ monumental Royal Consort set and his Three Consorts to the Organ. This is dance music of the highest caliber, and was recognized as such in Lawes’ time though less so 100 years later. Today, the strange liberties he took with chord voicing and rhythm sound pleasantly odd, and his peculiar genius is perhaps easier to recognize. There’s genius too, as always, in the playing of the remarkable Phantasm ensemble. The enhanced resolution of the Super Audio CD format is especially well suited to the sound of viol consorts, and this two-disc set is particularly noteworthy for its sound quality. Highly recommended, especially to early music collections.

brahmsJohannes Brahms; Max Reger
Sonatas for Clarinet and Piano (2 discs)
Guy Yehuda; Ralph Votapek
Blue Griffin (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

This is a very nice pairing (or double-pairing, I guess) of clarinet sonatas by two near-contemporaries. Disc 1 puts Brahms’ first clarinet sonata next to Reger’s first, and disc 2 does the same with the composers’ second sonatas. This is an inspired programming choice, as it allows the listener to more fully hear the stylistic contrasts: both of composers working within the Romantic style while Brahms, as always, looks back to the classical and Reger looks forward to modernism. The Brahms pieces ache, the Reger pieces sparkle, and the playing of both Yehuda and Votapek seems to coat everything with gold. Highly recommended to all collections.

grafChristan Ernst Graf
Five String Quartets
Via Nova Quartett
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 865-2

Christian Ernst Graf was born in Germany but made his mark as a court composer to the House of Orange-Nassau in the Netherlands. Graf served that noble family faithfully even as its fortunes waned in the late 18th century, and these three string quartets reflect the musical developments of the period — particularly the growing importance of the adagio movement, which would only continue to increase as the classical style fully took hold. Graf’s music marks an important inflection point in the transition from the late baroque to the early classical, and these performances by the Via Nova Quartet (on period instruments) are excellent.


bollingClaude Bolling; Steve Barta
Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano (Symphonic Arrangement)
Hubert Laws; Jeffrey Biegel
Steve Barta Music

Remember this? One of the first (if not the first) jazz-classical fusion pieces to achieve mainstream popularity, this suite for flute and piano trio combined classical forms with jazz rhythms to create a sensation in easy-listening music back in the 1970s. While previous experimenters in this general vein (notably the late Gunther Schuller) had made music that was serious and professorial, not to say forbidding, Bolling’s music was pure whipped cream, and people licked it up. This new version is presented in an orchestral arrangement by pianist Steve Barta and features the great jazz flautist Hubert Laws along with a string quartet; the piano trio is still there, and behind both small combos is a lush drapery of strings, brass, and winds, all of them tastefully organized (and mixed) in such a way as to keep the focus on the flute, piano, bass, and drums, but providing lots of color and texture behind them. The music is still whipped cream, but now it’s as if the whipped cream is floating on top of a big cup of rich hot chocolate. Recommended.

hamiltonScott Hamilton
Plays Jules Styne
Blue Duchess
Rick’s Pick

Mmmmm… a new album by Scott Hamilton? Yes, please. The great tenor saxophonist here focuses on standards by the great Jules Styne, composer of such American Songbook classics as “Time After Time,” “Bye Bye Baby,” and “The Party’s Over.” Hamilton leads a quartet here and continues his long tradition of unapologetically traditional and straightforward swing, building his solos expertly but without ceremony, and playing with the robust but pretty tone that has made him a favored sideman as well as a respected leader for decades. My only quibble here is producer Duke Robillard’s decision to put Hamilton’s saxophone slightly back in the mix with a little bit too much reverb — but that’s only a quibble, and ultimately a matter of personal taste. This album is highly recommended to all libraries.

staffordTerell Stafford
BrotherLee Love

Described in the press materials as “a love letter from one of Philadelphia’s favorite trumpet-playing sons to another,” this is indeed a warm and heartfelt tribute to one of the greatest jazz trumpeters (and composers) of all time: Lee Morgan. The program consists of seven Morgan compositions, rounded out by Alex Kramer’s blues-based “Candy” and Terell Stafford’s own “Favor.” All of these are delivered expertly by Stafford and his quintet in the sturdy hard-bop style that Lee Morgan exemplified. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.

blakeRan Blake
Ghost Tones: Portraits of George Russell
A 0001

Here’s another tribute album, though this one is much quirkier and more impressionistic. Pianist/composer Ran Blake pays homage to his former New England Conservatory colleague, the late George Russell, whose theories of modal improvisation deeply influenced a whole generation of jazz musicians (including Miles Davis and Bill Evans). Blake’s arrangements are wildly diverse in instrumentation and some are dreamy to the point of abstraction — but others generate a pretty impressive head of rhythmic steam, and all of these pieces (most written by Russell) are imbued with a palpable sense of love, respect, and loss.

gypsyMartin Taylor’s Spirit of Django
Gypsy (reissue)
Linn (dist. Naxos)
BKD 090

zingFrank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo
Swing Zing!

Here are two very different takes on the Gypsy jazz tradition. The first is a straight tribute to the unassailable giant of that tradition, Django Reinhardt, delivered by guitar wizard Martin Taylor and his Spirit of Django ensemble. To say that this album is a “straight tribute,” however, is not to say that it apes slavishly the sound of Django’s ensembles; Taylor employs a saxophonist and an accordion player, and his arrangements are much smoother and his sound rounder and less hard-edged than Django’s. I would say that he claims fairly to have captured the “spirit of Django,” but those looking for straight-up Djangology may be disappointed. The Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo duo album runs the Django/Gypsy style through an early-swing filter (or is it the other way around?), taking standards like “Cheek to Cheek” and “All the Things You Are” and playing them with alternating tenderness and drive — the uptempo numbers sound like Hot Club material on steroids, the ballads like sweet evocations of 1930s ballrooms and summer nights. Of the two, the Frank & Vinny album is the most fun and joyful, but both are well worth hearing.

bopVarious Artists
Bop: A CD to Help Fund the Cure for PKD
Rick’s Pick

When my parents were kids, back in the 1940s, “modern jazz” meant bebop, with its lightning-fast tempos and unpredictable, sometimes forbiddingly spiky melodies. When I was a kid, in the 1970s, “modern jazz” meant jazz-rock fusion, with its smooth textures and glossy, pop-inspired melodies. On this delightful album the two traditions meet. Fusion legends like Jeff Lorber, Chuck Loeb, John Patitucci, and Randy Brecker get together to perform a program of bop standards like Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” and Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time,” playing them with joyful virtuosity and an inviting smoothness. The fact that the proceeds from sales of this disc will go to support research into a cure for polycystic kidney disease just makes it that much better. Highly recommended.


shaddoxBilly Shaddox
I Melt, I Howl
No cat. no.

Singer-songwriter Billy Shaddox has never really thought of himself as a folk singer, and with his third album he starts breaking out of that ghetto in a pretty decisive way: while his Americana roots remain quite visible, there’s a new poppiness to his sound (thanks in part to production by Sam Kassirer) and the combination is really kind of perfect: the surfaces are smooth without being too shiny, the hooks are sharp and deep, and the lyrics are introspective but not annoyingly egocentric. Very, very nice.

daltonVarious Artists
Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton
Tompkins Square
TSQ 5173

Karen Dalton was a folk and blues singer in New York in the 1960s; she died at age 56 of complications from AIDS, leaving behind only two commercially-recorded albums, neither of which featured any original songs. But she also left some lyrics and sketches of chord progressions, and for this tribute album a group of eleven women singer-songwriters (including Patty Griffin and Lucinda Williams) have fleshed out those sketches, creating a haunting monument to a talent lost too soon. Interestingly, each of these artists gave her chosen song a dark and brooding setting — there’s not a rocker (or anything close to one) anywhere here. But all of it sure is gorgeous.

honeyHoney Dewdrops
Tangled Country
No cat. no.

A couple of years ago I raved about the third album from this young couple, characterizing it as “startlingly perfect.” I could honestly say the same about this, their fourth. The formula hasn’t changed much: we’re still talking about explicitly folk-derived original songs delivered quietly and achingly, in tight harmony, with a minimum of acoustic accompaniment. And with the exception of one intrusive (to me, anyway) harmonica, we’re still talking about a sterling perfection of taste when it comes to arrangements, and tunes that will stick with you for days. I hope they’re making a living at this, because the world will be poorer if they have to spend time on day jobs.

susieSolitaire Miles
Susie Blue and the Lonesome Fellas

Solitaire Miles’ usual gig is jazz, but on this album she stretches out into Western swing territory, performing classic songs from the likes of Bob Wills and Spade Cooley — songs like “I’ll Never Be Free,” “Crazy ‘Cause I Love You,” and “Hang Your Head in Shame.” Miles’ style is more torchy and bluesy than honky-tonky, and her backing band is minimal (no big horn sections here). As a result, this album comes across as more of a personal interpretation of the Western swing tradition than a simple celebration of it, and that makes it both stronger and more interesting than a straight genre exercise would have been. And she’s got a great voice. Recommended.


fallThe Fall
Sub-lingual Tablet
Cherry Red

Forty years after its founding, the Fall’s formula remains the same: surf-punk instrumental tracks accompanying snarling declamations from Mark E. Smith, the founder and only remaining member of this legendarily difficult band. Back in the day, there would be moments of Dadaist brilliance emerging from the angular, metallic murk: “Carry Bag Man,” “Hip Priest,” “Oswald Defence Lawyer” (“embraces the stuffed corpse of Walt Whitman”), etc. Now, Smith sounds a little bit bored, or maybe just fed up. But a new Fall album is still something to take note of, and if your patron base includes the threshold level of medium-superannuated postpunks, I would recommend picking this one up for the collection.

Into the Sun
Rick’s Pick

I’ve been a huge fan of Lorin Ashton for ten years now, ever since I heard his album Mesmerizing the Ultra back in the mid-2000s. Recording and performing as Bassnectar, he has created a dance music sound that is completely his own, even as it draws deeply from techno, dubstep, rock, metal, and dub influences. What characterizes his music consistently is a certain sweetness and generosity of spirit that is impossible to fake — not to mention an effortless way with a hook, whether the hook be melodic, rhythmic, or textural. This is some of the best driving music ever made. Highly recommended.

weewillieWee Willie Walker
If Nothing Ever Changes
Little Village Foundation
LVF 1004

Ever heard of Wee Willie Walker? No, you haven’t — at least, not unless you’ve been paying unusually close attention to the Minneapolis/St. Paul soul-music scene for the past several decades. In his youth Walker cut a few singles for the Chess and Goldwax labels, but he’s been almost completely ignored for most of his adult life. As this album (organized by blues singer Rick Estrin) makes clear, his gift is tremendous, and when given a chance to stretch out in front of a backing band of ace session players he’s capable of making rich, gritty, soulful magic. If you miss the glory days of Muscle Shoals, Motown, and Memphis, then snap this one up immediately.

sherwoodSherwood & Pinch
Late Night Endless
On-U Sound/Tectonic (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Question: Put the undisputed world champion of dark and minimalist dubstep into the studio with the godfather of avant-garde post-punk reggae production, and what do you get? Answer: I don’t know, but it sure is dark, minimalist, avant-garde, post-punk, and reggae-inflected. And brilliant, of course: the grooves are elephantine, the beats are judderingly disconcerting, and the vocal samples come from such heaven-sent sources as Prince Far I, Daddy Freddy, Congo Ashanti Roy, and Andy Fairley. Yes, Dub Syndicate fans will recognize many of these samples, but you’ve never heard them rendered in just this way. This is what dubstep sounds like when it’s made by grownups. Highly recommended.

Welcome You
eOne Music/Fast Plastic

The sophomore effort from this Seattle-based band is billed as “a poppy indie folk album with propulsive psych rock sensibilities,” but I have to say that I’m not hearing much folk through the psychedelia. Not that I’m complaining; from the whimsical wordplay of the album-opening title track (and how often do you hear the phrase “whimsical wordplay” used to describe modern pop music?) to the slow-burning and multilayered freakout of “Where It Goes” (complete with fake sitar!), Motopony’s sound is a glorious mess of 1960s and 1970s stylistic gestures and clever sonic dysjunctions. It’s very possible that this album is even more fun if you’re high, but I’ll never know.

Home Assembly Music

If you miss mid-century exotica by the likes of Esquivel, if you found yourself watching Twin Peaks for the music, or if you own the Blade Runner soundtrack, then you should seriously consider picking up the debut LP by Peptalk, a trio consisting of percussionist Shayna Dunkelman, vocalist Angelica Negron, and multi-instrumental electronics guy Michael Carter. I’ve listened to this album several times now and truly can’t decide whether I like it, which probably means it’s very good in ways that other people are wired to grasp more quickly than I am. Pick it up and see what your patrons think. Some may wonder what on earth you were thinking, but I bet others will jump up and down.


expandersThe Expanders
Hustling Culture
Easy Star
Rick’s Pick

“Everyone has a hustle, and ours is roots & culture music,” says Expanders singer Devin Morrison. And it is indeed; this is reggae music that could have been written and recorded in the mid-1970s, which may have been a crummy time for American pop music but was the classical age of roots reggae. Are the Expanders slavish purveyors of a bygone musical style? Yes, absolutely. So why is this album so compelling? Because hooks. Also because grooves that sway like a boulder on a rope swing and vocal harmonies as tight and smooth as you’ve ever heard. Cut for cut, this could easily turn out to be the best reggae album of 2015.

huHu Vibrational
Epic Botanical Beat Suite
M.O.D. Technologies/Meta
META 019

Now, here’s a strange one. Led by percussionist Adam Rudolph (and helped out by such sidemen as bassist Bill Laswell and flutist Steve Gorn), Hu Vibrational is a percussion ensemble that builds panethnic collages of beats and grooves, spicing them up with eerie clouds of electronica and the occasional instrumental solo, and then remixing everything after the fact to create world music of a kind you’ve never heard before. Imagine if Jon Hassell played percussion rather than trumpeter — that’s pretty much what this sounds like. Intrigued? You should be — for such generally relaxing music it’s really kind of a blast.

bancoBanco de Gaia
Last Train to Lhasa (deluxe reissue; 4 discs)
Disco Gecko

Back in 1995, Toby Marks (recording as Banco de Gaia) was looking for new inspiration. He found it in the Free Tibet movement, and accordingly created this instrumental concept album around the idea of the Qingzang Railway, which was built by the Chinese government to facilitate the migration of Chinese citizens into Tibet (and thereby the assimilation of Tibet into China). While the unspoken message here is one of protest, the music itself is free of overt political messages; the music is electronic, alternating between polite dance beats, ambient sound washes, and vaguely Asian samples and melodic elements. This four-disc reissue of the original two-disc album includes lots of remixes and extended versions, and the packaging is lovely. Pop collections should seriously consider picking it up before the limited edition of 3000 copies is sold out.

peruVarious Artists
Peru Boom!: Bass, Bleeps, and Bumps from Peru’s Electronic Underground
Tiger’s Milk/Strut
Rick’s Pick

Ha — I bet you didn’t even know Peru had an electronic underground, did you? Well, you stand corrected; or, more likely, you wiggle and bounce and wave your hands in the air corrected. This wonderful collection of tropical bass and electro-cumbia tracks will sound both weird and entrancing to most American or British ears, incorporating as it does all kinds of familiar elements and braiding them together with South American sounds that will be much less so. There are highlight tracks from Dengue Dengue Dengue, Tribilin Sound, and Chakruna, but not a single one is less than fun. Highly recommended to all world music collections.

June 2015


telemannGeorg Philipp Telemann
Telemann Edition (50 discs)
Various Performers
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

Here’s another wonderful super-budget box set from the Brilliant Classics label. This time it’s not a complete-works edition (like the Mozart and Bach boxes that came before it) but it’s still a heavyweight champ of a collection that includes the complete Tafelmusik, the Paris quartets, tons of concertos, overtures, and keyboard works, and also a very healthy collection of cantatats and oratorios–a very important inclusion, given the degree to which Telemann’s vocal music has been historically overlooked. One of the things that will make this set especially interesting to collections supporting music curricula is the fact that there is a nice mix of modern- and period-instrument ensembles represented here: the Tafelmusik pieces are played on period instruments by Musica Amphion, but many of the concertos are by the modern-instrument ensemble Collegium Instrumentale Brugense. Downsides? Maybe a few: some of the vocal recordings are almost 50 years old, and the liner notes and sung texts are provided online rather than in the box, which is always something of an annoyance, but the combination of generally excellent performances and a list price of under $100 makes it an exceptionally attractive purchase anyway. (N.B. — This set should not be confused with the 29-disc version that was released under the same title by the same label in 2011.)


reichSteve Reich
Music for 18 Musicians
Ensemble Signal / Brad Lubman
Harmonia Mundi
HMU 907608
Rick’s Pick

I fell in love with the music of Steve Reich when I first encountered this seminal piece of second-wave minimalism around 1980. The version I heard was by Reich and his ensemble and was recorded in 1978 for the ECM label, and it’s still in print and still wonderful to hear. This new version by Ensemble Signal is, if anything, even better: the tempos a bit brisker, the recorded sound maybe a bit more high-resolution, and the sense of joy thrillingly palpable. If you’ve ever let yourself believe that “minimal” means “simple,” disabuse yourself of that notion immediately with this fantastic album.

jacquetJacquet of Mantua
Missa Surge Petre & Motets
Brabant Ensemble / Stephen Rice
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

Here again, like clockwork, is another world-class release by the Brabant Ensemble, currently running neck-and-neck (alongside Stile Antico) for the title of My Favorite Oxbridge Choral Ensemble. And this time, we get not only the warm and luxurious vocal sound we’ve come to expect from this group, but also the excitement of newly-available music from a criminally unknown composer. Jacquet was born in Brittany but spent most of his career in Italy, where he benefited from the patronage of the Gonzaga court and wrote sumptuous choral music for performance in the cathedral at Mantua. Some of it is performed here, and the central work on this program — the “Arise, Peter” Mass — appears to be a world-première recording. Everything about this album is spectacular.

schubertFranz Schubert
String Quintet D. 956
Kuijken Quartet; Michel Boulanger
Challenge Classics (dist. Allegro)

What makes this recording particularly interesting for library purposes is less the music itself–Schubert’s posthumous string quintet has been recorded multiple times–than the fact that it was recorded by a family group consisting of two generations of Kuijkens, and the fact that this family is recording here on modern instruments rather than period ones, despite the fact that their name is practically synonymous with period-instrument performance. (The second cello is played by Michel Boulanger; I’d hoped to be able to report that he’s a grandson of Nadia Boulanger, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case.) Of course, while this curious twist makes the disc particularly interesting to library collections, it’s irrelevant to the question of what makes the album a delight to listen to, and that’s the quality of the playing, which is top-shelf. Recommended to all library collections.

nissimNissim Schaul
New Music for Old Instruments
Flying Forms
No cat. no.

From an album of early-19th-century music played on modern instruments we move to one of 21st-century music performed on 18th-century instruments. Composer Nissim Schaul has had a decade-long working relationship with the baroque ensemble Flying Forms, and on the straightforwardly-titled New Music for Old Instruments the ensemble presents music that Schaul has written for them and that is designed to “(radiate) newness while respecting, in unconventional but deep ways, tradition.” The result is strange and genuinely engaging and sure to be of interest to library collections supporting the study of music both new and old. I promise you’ve never heard a baroque violin and harpsichord sound quite like this.

gorczyckiGrzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki
Conductus funebris; Litaniae de Providentia Divina; etc.
The Sixteen / Eamonn Dougan
Coro (dist. Allegro)

This is the third release in an ongoing series by the great English choir The Sixteen, examining music of the baroque period in Poland. Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki has been called “the last great talent of the Polish baroque era,” and certainly the quality of his vocal music seems to justify that characterization; usefully, you will hear on this disc examples of his work both in the stile antico and the stile moderno. Chances are very good that your library collection currently holds nothing from this very fine composer, and the performances by The Sixteen are well up to the group’s usual high standard, so all collections should consider acquiring this release.

dreamsVarious Composers
Dreams & Prayers
A Far Cry; David Krakauer
Rick’s Pick

A Far Cry is a Boston-based contemporary music ensemble that, for this recording, has gathered together four pieces that together “(explore) music as a passageway between Heaven and Earth as expressed through the mystical branches of three faith traditions and 1,000 years of history.” Thus, an arrangement for strings of a sequence by Hildegard von Bingen; a klezmer-inflected suite (featuring clarinetist David Krakauer) based on mystical Jewish themes by Osvaldo Golijov; a piece written for A Far Cry by Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, based on Turkish Sufi themes; and the group’s own arrangement of the Heiliger Dankgesang movement of Beethoven’s string quartet op. 132. This is exceptionally moving music, gorgeously played.

tempestaJean-Baptiste Lully; Jean-Féry Rebel; Marin Marais
Comédie et tragédie, Vol. 1: Orchestral Music for the Theatre
Tempesta di Mare / Gwyn Roberts, Richard Stone
Chaconne (dist. Naxos)
CHAN 0805

Why, you might well ask, do we need another collection of orchestral works for the stage by these three familiar French baroque composers? Especially when the three pieces in question (suites from Lully’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, Rebel’s Les Eléments, and Marais’ Alcyone) are pretty familiar fare in and of themselves? The answer, in this case, is gusto. The Philadelphia-based Tempesta di Mare ensemble plays these pieces with such infectious glee that even the most jaded hardcore baroquephile will feel as if he or she is hearing them for the first time. And this disc is billed as the first volume in a series, which promises more of the same later on. Goody.


tornDavid Torn
Only Sky

Guitarist David Torn approaches solo improvisation as (in his words) “a kind of self-hypnosis or, to put it another way, a sort of sonic, secular meditation.” With that in mind, you might expect this solo album to be highly personal in tone and fairly abstract in execution, and you’d be pretty much right. The program opens with a multilayered ambient wash of loops, then suddenly veers into Bill Frisell territory with the pastoral-then-noisy “Spoke with Folks.” Elsewhere Torn gets bluesy, skronky, and sometimes kind of weird, but never boring. Recommended.

flosasonSigurdur Flosason; Kjeld Lauritsen
Storyville (dist. Allegro)
101 4295
Rick’s Pick

Lately I’ve found myself tending to pass over organ-combo recordings–not because I don’t love the sound of the Hammond B3 (I do), but because as I get older I get more and more tired of the jazzman’s idea of “funkiness,” and organ combos seem constitutionally drawn to the funk, or at least to the jazzman’s understanding of it. But the quartet led by organist Kjeld Lauritsen and saxophonist Sigurdur Flosason is not funky; it’s swinging, and not only that, but it has a marked preference for ballads over bop. The result: an album of beautiful, beautiful ballads and liltingly, trippingly lovely mid-tempo numbers that will make you feel warm and happy inside every time you hear it. As an introverted Scandinavian descended from a long line of introverted Scandinavians, I confess that this bouncing friendliness took me by surprise. This is the best jazz album I’ve heard so far this year.

svenSven Asmussen
Storyville (dist. Allegro)
101 4296

Speaking of Scandinavians who swing, here is a marvelous discovery: a long-lost live recording from 1985 by Sven Asmussen, then 70 years old and arguably the greatest living exponent of traditional jazz violin. What’s astonishing about this album is that Asmussen recorded it without rehearsal and alongside a trio of musicians with whom he’d never before played. Listen to the complex arrangement of “Singin’ in the Rain” that opens the set, and then consider the fact that, as Asmussen says in the liner notes, he “had a few things scribbled down but I don’t think anyone looked at them. They just played.” Asmussen, now 99 years old, thinks this is “the best music I’ve ever recorded,” and he may well be right.

nonplaceBurnt Friedman; Hayden Chisholm
Nonplace Soundtracks: Scenes 01-25
Nonplace/Groove Attack

For this quietly strange but also oddly gentle and even comforting album, composer and multi-instrumentalist Burnt Friedman has teamed up with wind player Hayden Chisholm and a rotating array of guest musicians to create a series of 25 musical accompaniments to scenes from an imaginary movie. One is immediately reminded of Brian Eno’s first Music for Films album, but because Friedman is involved the music is a bit more challenging than Eno’s was: the rhythms less regular, the textures more varied. But although the music is consistently interesting, it is also consistently approachable and sometimes even restful. There’s humor here, too, if you listen for it. Recommended.

breveHayden Chisholm
Pirouet (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Interestingly, at the same time the Burnt Friedman/Hayden Chisholm collaboration reviewed above was released, Chisholm himself was also coming out with a more conventional (though not exactly straight-ahead) jazz album of his own. On Breve he sticks to alto saxophone throughout and is joined by pianist John Taylor and bassist Matt Penman. The trio plays a set of originals that is sometimes contemplative and sometimes energetic, sometimes lyrical and sometimes harmonically jagged, but always deeply felt and somehow always very soft in texture. This is another one of those albums that reveals more depth the more (and the harder) you listen to it. Very, very nice.

ritterClaire Ritter
Soho Solo
Zoning Recordings
Rick’s Pick

Let’s be clear about this: Claire Ritter is a musical genius. And as rare as genius is, she’s that rarer thing still: a genius who is less interested in making sure you understand what a genius she is than in giving you musical pleasure. This means that on her second solo album, as with all her previous albums, she’s more likely to take you by the hand than to pummel you over the head. On Soho Solo you’ll hear poignant ballads, gently rocking stride excursions, a Cuban groove or two, and even hints of genuine boogie-woogie rubbing elbows with Monkish harmonic displacements. All of it is infused with an understated impressionism that frequently brings to mind the playing of Bill Evans at his peak. This is a very special album, one that can be confidently recommended to all library collections.


williemerleWillie Nelson & Merle Haggard
Django and Jimmie
Sony Legacy
Rick’s Pick

Just seeing those two names together is enough to make any fan of outlaw country music go into heart palpitations. Whenever the dean of Texas country goes into the studio with the living embodiment of the Bakerfield Sound, you know something special is going to happen, and it does this time just as it has before. Despite a couple of slightly silly novelty numbers (“It’s All Going to Pot,” “Alice in Hulaland”), it’s just a thrill to hear these two masters working together, especially when the songs are up to the same standard as the singers (“Live This Long,” the blues-based kiss-off song “It’s Only Money,” a strangely breezy version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”). No country music collection can pass this one up.

bigcountryBig Country Bluegrass
Country Livin’

Nothing here but straight-up, old-fashioned, high and lonely bluegrass music–and if that’s what you need, then there’s hardly a better exponent of that sound than Big Country Bluegrass. As for the songs, all the usual suspects are here: modern compositions by Dixie and Tom T. Hall; old-school originals by current band members; bluegrass classics by the likes of Jimmy Martin and Bobby Osborne; a dog song; an Elvis Presley cover. The playing is, inevitably, virtuosic; the singing is tight and heartfelt.

rileySteve Riley & the Mamou Playboys
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

When I started writing CD reviews 25 years ago, one of the first albums I received in the mail for review was the self-titled debut album by this band, on the Rounder label. I’d been a fan of Cajun music for years, but there was something different about the Mamou Playboys, something I couldn’t entirely put my finger on (which was frustrating, since putting my finger on it was kind of my job). On this, their 12th album, I can put my finger on it quite readily: simply put, this band rocks out. Not in a particularly untraditional way, and not by using any crazy instrumentation, but simply by virtue of their attitude and energy. Riley and his band are probably the most exciting Cajun band currently working, and this album would make a great addition to any library collection.

grahamsThe Grahams
Glory Bound
12 South (dist. Red)

This husband-and-wife duo’s debut album was written around themes related to the Mississippi River, and their second is similarly constructed on the theme of 19th-century railway travel. As before, Alyssa Graham’s powerfully smoky voice is the centerpiece of their sound, while husband Doug contributes equally sturdy tenor harmonies. Their sound ranges from honky-tonk to cinematic, and will sometimes make you wonder what Richard and Linda Thompson would have sounded like if Richard were American and Linda were Maria McKee. Recommended.


Sunshine of Your Youth
Bright Antenna (dist. ADA)
Rick’s Pick

So imagine that Cheap Trick and My Bloody Valentine had a baby. Now further imagine that their baby picked up a crappy Silvertone guitar and went into the studio with The Apples in Stereo producing. Intrigued? Yes, you most certainly are. Cheerleader’s debut has all the fuzzy lo-fi tunefulness of the Apples without the self-consciously twee singing, all the hooks of Cheap Trick, and a torn-velvet-curtain ambience similar to that of the Valentines; they create a sound that is simultaneously blissfully summery and subversively messy. Seriously, I can’t stop listening to it.

Drug for the Modern Age

You’ve probably heard Kopecky before, though you may not know it: their songs have been featured on TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, The Vampire Diaries, and Parenthood. If you noticed their songs in that context, then you may have also noticed how beautifully crafted they are. Like fellow cello-enhanced popsters Jump Little Children did, Kopecky has a tendency to sound more alt than they really are, using slightly unconventional production and instrumental elements to disguise Lennon-and-McCartney levels of songwriting professionalism. And I’m a sucker for boy-girl vocals, so they kind of won my heart early on. Strongly recommended.

metallicMetallic Taste of Blood
Doctoring the Dead
Rare Noise

Question: When is prog rock not teeth-grindingly annoying? Answer: When it’s structurally disciplined. In other words, give me fewer side-long suites and more tight beats and phased structures, and you can get as creative as you want. That’s what we get with the latest from Metallic Taste of Blood, which is led by the duo of Eraldo Bernocchi (guitar) and Colin Edwin (bass). Also featuring former Killing Joke and Godflesh drummer Ted Parsons and keyboardist Roy Powell, MToB delivers plenty of rockish bombast here but keeps it under control by means of funky grooves and complex but controlled tune construction. Yes, there are solos; no, none of them is oppressively long. All of it is both interesting and tasteful–a balance struck all too rarely, frankly, in rock music of any kind.

biosphereBiosphere Deathprod
Touch (dist. Forced Exposure)

Both Biosphere (a.k.a. Geir Jenssen) and Deathprod (a.k.a. Helge Sten) have had long careers producing weird and sometimes unsettling ambient music, and this is the second time they’ve teamed up for a split album release. It’s a match made in heaven, really–or maybe a match made in an abandoned military electronics lab buried beneath the echoing Arctic waste–as the two artists’ approaches to postapocalyptic ambient music are deeply complementary: both make ample use of washes, glitches, throbs, and unidentified floating musical objects. Think of this music as dub for grumpy cyborgs. I think it’s pretty dang cool.

Eye’m All Mixed Up

The Contemporary Christian Music scene has matured dramatically over the past couple of decades, and those who think of Christian pop as uniformly saccharine or simplistic (perhaps a fairer assessment in the 1970s and 1980s) might be surprised by the scene’s diversity these days, and by the quality of musicianship you’ll find there. A case in point is TobyMac, long a CCM mainstay and still the purveyor of top-notch dance-oriented pop music with a wholly unapologetic Christian message. This collection of remixes is the companion to his 2012 album Eye On It, and finds him operating in techno, EDM, and dubstep modes. None of the music is stylistically groundbreaking, but all of it is expert and enjoyable.


basswallaAdham Shaikh
Black Swan Sounds
BSS 0009

Adham Shaikh is one of the pioneers of the sound now known as “global bass”–a fusion of electronic dance music (often heavily inflected by dub and dubstep elements) and panethnic (often South Asian) traditions. Basswalla finds him bringing together new compositions and new mixes and arrangements of his previous work, creating a palette of sounds that shifts between hip-hop, Indian, dubstep, and reggae moods while keeping everything grounded with heavyweight bass pressure. You’ll even hear a Latin beat or two. Collections that are seeking to keep-up-to-date with current flavors of world music should seriously consider picking this one up.

PrintMidival Punditz
Six Degrees

Another group working the Euro-South-Asian fusion territory is the duo of Gaurav Raina and Tapan Raj, who have been recording together as Midival Punditz since the early days of what was then called the Asian Underground movement. On their latest album they have begun moving in a somewhat more rockish direction: lots of big electric guitars, lots of big and blocky beats. But there’s also plenty of melismatic subtlety among the vocalists here and some gorgeous bansuri playing, and the overall feel is more like a stylistic continuation than a departure. Recommended.

fatoumataFatoumata Diawara & Roberto Fonseca
At Home: Live in Marciac
Jazz Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
JV 570080

What happens when a Cuban jazz pianist meets a Malian singer and they get along well, both personally and musically? You’re likely to end up with a slightly surreal album like this one, on which wassalou singing and lots of ullulations are supported by Latin rhythms and alternate with long pianistic excursions. This recording was made live in concert as part of the Jazz in Marciac festival in southern France, and the audience is clearly captivated–your patrons will be, too.

tsarTsar Teh-yun
Master Tsar, the Art of the Qin (2 discs)
VDE-Gallo (dist. Albany)
VDE CD-1432/1433

The qin is a Chinese stringed instrument structurally similar to the Japanese koto: it sits on a table and is played by plucking and then manipulating the strings. Tsar Teh-yun was a celebrated master and teacher of the instrument, and her students often tape-recorded their lessons with her, resulting in a rich archive of home recordings, some of which are gathered on this compilation. Master Tsar’s subtlety of attack and the delicate virtuosity of her approach to ornamentation are a wonder to hear, and this album would make a fine addition to any world music collection.

Short Stories
Ozella Music
OZ 059

I’ll be honest here: based on previous experience with hardanger fiddle music, I was expecting this album to be a lot more… well… fun. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t find it to be wonderful and engaging–on the contrary, this trio project by cellist Sigrun Eng, fiddler Anne Hytta, and vibraphonist/glass harmonist Amund Sjølie Sveen is deeply and richly beautiful. But it’s also very dark, quiet, and at times somewhat eerie, its melodies sometimes diffuse almost to the point of imperceptibility and its component parts often defining large amounts of sonic empty space. It would make a wonderful addition to any collection of contemporary world music.

May 2015

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kirkbyEmma Kirkby
The Complete Recitals (reissue; 12 discs)
L’Oiseau-Lyre/Decca Classics
478 7863

For over 40 years, Emma Kirkby has been a sought-after soprano soloist, and for most of her career she has been arguably the grande dame of early-music vocal performance. Her voice is celebrated for its clarity and lightness and her singing for its accuracy and vibrancy, and her relationships with such ensembles as the Taverner Choir, the Consort of Musicke, and the Academy of Ancient Music have resulted in standard-setting recordings of both standard and obscure repertoire, including what many (myself included) consider to be the finest-ever period-instrument recording of Handel’s Messiah. She was a featured soloist on the recording that first made Hildegard von Bingen a household word (among early-music households, anyway). The majority of her most influential recordings were issued on the L’Oiseau-Lyre label, and for this 12-disc retrospective that imprint’s parent company has wisely revived the beloved L’Oiseau-Lyre cover design and reissued each disc in a cardboard sleeve replicating its original cover. The albums provided in this box set include Kirkby’s recordings of Renaissance chansons and dialogues, several discs of Bach and Handel cantatas, a program of Purcell songs, and two discs of arias and sacred music by Mozart. Many libraries will already own some of all of these recordings, but since all were originally issued between 1979 and 1990, few libraries are likely to have them all on CD. This set is very strongly recommended to all classical collections.


littlegirlSonia Wieder-Atherton
Little Girl Blue: From Nina Simone
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
V 5376

It may seem strange to categorize as “classical” this album of cello-and-piano arrangements of songs associated with the late jazz singer Nina Simone (with a couple of classical miniatures thrown in). But the more I listen to it, the more that seems like the only logical way to describe this album. Accompanied by pianist Bruno Fontaine and percussionist Laurent Kraif, cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton has made powerfully evocative modern art music out of the unique phrasing, inflections, and melodic characteristics of Simone’s interpretations of jazz and popular song  — interpretations that had a vexed relationship to jazz tradition in the first place — and created something new from them that sounds completely unique and deeply, soulfully melancholy. Brilliant.

purcellsrevengeConcerto Caledonia
Purcell’s Revenge: Sweeter Than Roses?
Delphian (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

purcellindianHenry Purcell
The Indian Queen
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers
Coro (dist. Allegro)

Period instruments and Fender Telecasters meet edgily on Purcell’s Revenge, a project that finds the Concerto Caledonia ensemble juxtaposing songs and airs of Henry Purcell with Scottish fiddle tunes, instrumental extracts from Purcell operas, and original songs by members of the group. Familiar songs like “Music for a While” and “Sweeter Than Roses” rub up against country-dance tunes and the occasional distorted electric guitar, making the program sound like what might happen if you put CDs by the Albion Band, the Consort of Musicke, and Cordelia’s Dad in a multi-disc player and hit the shuffle button. It’s slightly befuddling but tons of fun. Also very fun, but in a much more conventional way, is this wonderful performance of Purcell’s semi-opera The Indian Queen, including the final masque that was written by Henry’s younger brother Daniel when the composer died before completing the work. As conductor Harry Christophers notes, the vocal parts are lovely but it’s the string writing that really makes this piece special; arguments may rage as to whether Purcell or Byrd was England’s greatest composer, but I would suggest that we split the difference: Byrd set the standard for vocal writing, while Purcell did the same for orchestration and melody. In any case, this disc would make a welcome addition to any classical collection.

brahmsJohannes Brahms
Sonatas for Clarinet and Piano; 6 Klavierstücke, op. 118
Lorenzo Coppola; Andreas Staier
Harmonia Mundi
HMC 902187
Rick’s Pick

The two clarinet sonatas contained in Brahms’ opus 120 were the last chamber works he produced before dying a few years later. They were written for Rcihard Mühlfeld, a clarinetist of unusual skill and expressiveness, and the sonatas reflect that fact; the slow movements, in particular, find Brahms providing vehicles of expression that are as powerful and gentle as any in his oeuvre. Clarinetist Lorenzo Coppola and pianist Andreas Staier (playing a Steinway grand that was built at roughly the same time Brahms wrote these pieces) wring every drop of emotion from this music, but always with the utmost taste and restraint. This is a very special album, one that should find a place in every library collection.

tobiHenri Joseph Tobi
Première oeuvre
Vlad Weverbergh; Terra Nova
Vlad (dist. Allegro)

Another exciting clarinet-centric album is this collection of trios by an obscure figure from the classical period, Belgian composer Henri Joseph Tobi. Each of these three pieces is written for the rather unusual instrumental combination of clarinet, violin, and cello. None of them has been recorded on period instruments before (only one copy of the published score is extant), and while the music itself is more enjoyable than groundbreaking, the unusual instrumentation and the obscurity of the composer make this disc a very attractive candidate for library purchase — especially given the very lovely performances and sterling sound quality of the recording.

warwickVarious Composers
Gaudeamus omnes: Celebrating Warwick 1100
Choirs of St. Mary’s Collegiate Church; Mark Swinton / Thomas Corns
Regent (dist. Allegro)

This disc is the result of an interesting programming decision: in celebration of the city of Warwick’s 1100th birthday, the choirs of St. Mary’s Collegiate Church decided not to survey a millenium’s worth of English choral music, but instead to focus on works written in living memory, by such composers as Vaughan Williams, Walton, and Parry, as well as some by living composers like James MacMillan and David Briggs (with one brief plainsong chant thrown in for good measure). The result is a predictably joyful program, stirringly sung and very nicely recorded. Perhaps not an essential purchase for all libraries, this disc would nevertheless be a good addition to any comprehensive collection of choral music.

haydnMichael Haydn
Complete String Quintets (2 discs)
Salzburger Haydn-Quintett
CPO (dist. Naxos)
77 907-2
Rick’s Pick

Regular readers of CD HotList will know that I’m a big fan of Michael Haydn, younger brother of the more famous Joseph. And this two-disc presentation of his five surviving string quintets only makes me love him more: the way his very Austrian high classicism will suddenly be salted with an unexpected dissonance; the way he never seemed to settle on a single structural approach, using the different instruments in different ways from piece to piece and drawing on different national stylistic traditions. As always, his approach to melody can just break your heart. The Salzburger Haydn-Quintett play beautifully and sensitively (on period instruments), and as is so often the case, I kind of wish the recorded sound were just a bit closer and more intimate.

bach haydnCarl Philipp Emanuel Bach; Franz Joseph Haydn
Bach vs. Haydn: 1788/90 (2 discs)
Barthold Kuijken et al.
Accent (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
ACC 24293
Rick’s Pick

This may seem like a strange package: two discs, one dedicated to flute trios by C.P.E. Bach and the other to flute quartets by Joseph Haydn, presented with the unusual title Bach vs. Haydn. What is flutist Barthold Kuijken thinking? The answer is simple: he feels that these clusters of pieces represent both composers’ best writing for the flute, and the fact that they contain such striking stylistic contrasts is particularly interesting given that they were written at nearly the same time. Kuijken, being a genius and easily the finest baroque flutist of his generation, brings out these differences brilliantly, creating an album that is simultaneously a joy to listen to and an essential pick for any library supporting the study of music from the classical period.


broJakob Bro
Rick’s Pick

This is a delicately gorgeous guitar-trio album, one that bears very little resemblance to jazz as typically understood: not only does it never swing, it almost never locks into anything that could reasonably be called a beat. But the open, sometimes nearly pointillistic sound sculptures created by gutarist Jakob Bro, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Jon Christensen are among the most beautiful you’ll ever hear. Bro’s tone is somewhat reminiscent of Bill Frisell’s, as is his ability to make you catch your breath with an unexpected note choice or phrase. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections — though I’m a bit grumpy about this album’s skimpy just-under-40-minute length. Another 30 minutes of this gorgeousness would have been nice, and would have fit comfortably onto the disc.

wesWes Montgomery
In the Beginning (2 discs)
Rick’s Pick

Here’s a very different, though equally essential, jazz guitar document: this one represents the third in an ongoing series of rare and archival Wes Montgomery recordings, presented by the Resonance label. This set features performances recorded between 1949 and 1958, the period during which Montgomery became the titan of jazz guitar that the world recognizes today. It includes the entirety of a recently-discovered recording session with producer Quincy Jones as well as a number of live recordings (of varying sound quality), some of them featuring vocalists Debbie Andrews and Sonny Parker. No jazz collection can afford to pass this up.

georgeHarry Allen and Friends
For George, Cole and Duke
Blue Heron
No cat. no.

This is a lovely and heartfelt tribute to the Big Three of jazz song composition: George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Duke Ellington. Saxophonist Harry Allen leads a quartet that adds percussionist “Little Johnny” Rivera on a handful of Latin arrangements, but for the most part this is a selection of very straightforward and straight-ahead renditions of familiar standards (“In a Mellow Tone,” “How Long Has This Been Going On?,” “Love for Sale,” etc.) played (and sweetly sung, by bassist Nicki Parrott) in a manner distinguished more for its warmth and understated virtuosity than for its innovation. It’s the perfect album to accompany a candlelit dinner–or cuddling by the fire later on.

vacheWarren Vaché Quintet
Remembers Benny Carter
Arbors (dist. Allegro)
ARCD 19446

There’s something you can always count on with Warren Vaché and with the Arbors label: the music will swing, and swing hard. This one swings harder than most, because Vaché and his quintet are paying tribute to the great saxophonist and composer Benny Carter, whose “When Lights Are Low” is now a full-fledged jazz standard (and is given a wonderfully heartfelt rendition here). When Vaché solos you can hear the echoes of New Orleans in his phrasing and vibrato, and Carter apparently loved that about him because they collaborated many times over the years. This is a wonderful album, and that’s no surprise at all.

lackerschmidWolfgang Lackerschmid Quartet
Wolfgang Lackerschmid Quartet
TCB: The Montreux Jazz Label (dist. Allegro)
TCB 34202

For this album, vibes player Wolfgang Lackerschmid has teamed up with the Lynne Arriale Trio (oddly, not billed as such on the packaging, though all members are named) for a program of Lackerschmid and Arriale originals. The chief challenge for a combo with this format is to keep the vibraphone and piano from getting in each other’s way, and this group does it with the grace of a team that has been playing together for years. The quality of the compositions is worth noting as well, particularly a lovely pentatonic-based piece titled “The Dove” and a clever reworking of themes from “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “The Sunflower” titled “Ain’t No Sunflower.”

ghostGhost Train Orchestra
Hot Town
Accurate (dist. Allegro)

What we might think of today as “big band” music used to be very different. Before the advent of the swing-era big bands in the 1930s, large jazz ensembles tended to feature tubas and banjos, smaller horn sections, and larger and more eclectic percussion sections. And the music was hotter and, frankly, a bit more crazy. (There was, shall we say, more cowbell.) Boston’s Ghost Train Orchestra does a great job of recreating that sound here with an album of compositions by the likes of Fess Williams, Tiny Parham, and Cecil Scott, played joyfully under the direction of Brian Carpenter. Great stuff. (However, a quick note to the folks at Accurate Records: we Arlingtonians will thank you to note that the Regent Theater is not in Boston.)


tetuLe Vent du Nord
Rick’s Pick

My favorite Qébécois folk group is back with its eight album, once again providing an alternately rollicking and heart-tugging set of songs and tunes. For those unfamiliar with its musical traditions, Québec boasts a unique folk music style characterized by call-and-response singing, “crooked” (i.e. irregular) rhythms, and such unusual instruments as the jaw harp and the hurdy-gurdy–though the fiddle is centrally important. There are strains of Irish and English influence in this music, and if you listen carefully you’ll hear hints of the Cajun music for which Québecois traditions provided some of the wellspring (though the distinctions between Acadian and Québecois culture are important). Anyway, Le Vent du Nord is probably the finest living example of this music, combining virtuoso instrument technique with sweet singing and an irrepressible joie de vivre, and every library collection would benefit from owning a few of their albums.

yonderYonder Mountain String Band
Black Sheep
Frog Pad

The idea of making pop music in the context of bluegrass instrumentation isn’t new (the New Grass Revival and the Seldom Scene were doing it back in the 1970s), but it’s renewed every decade or so when a new generation of young people discovers that just because you play mandolin or Scruggs-style banjo doesn’t mean you have to play “Reuben’s Train” all the time. Yonder Mountain String Band is one of the most successful recent examples of what can happen when you break out of those artifical boundaries, and has become a festival favorite. YMSB’s latest album makes a great introduction to the band, skillfully blending traditional textures with modern song structures and lyrical concerns. Expect demand.

altThe Alt
The Alt
Under the Arch
Rick’s Pick

To American eyes used to seeing “alt” used as a prefix, calling a group or an album “The Alt” may seem kind of dumb. But in fact it’s a reference to a poem by Yeats that itself refers to a mountain gully in the northwest of Ireland, and these three musicians–John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy, and Eamon O’Leary–are anything but dumb. They are, in fact, minor superstars in the Celtic music scene, and by coming together to make this album they have created a thing of nearly perfect beauty: understated but powerful songs and liltingly gorgeous tunes delivered with a minimum of fireworks and a maximum of tasteful elegance. Some of the songs are pretty familiar (“Willie Angler,” “One Morning in May”) but all sound fresh and new in these arrangements, and sung by these voices. Brilliant.


animaFrancesca Belmonte
False Idols/!K7

Francesca Belmonte got her start singing with Tricky, appearing on both False Idols and Adrian Thaws, so three significant things about her solo debut should not be surprising: it’s soulful, it’s weird, and it’s produced by Tricky. This in turn means that the sound is dark and brooding and alternately funky and experimental. There are hooks but they’re subtle and sometimes located in places other than the vocal track, though the vocals provide plenty of strange fascination all by themselves. Belmonte sings, whispers, raps, moans, declaims, and basically lays out a wide-ranging emotional and musical territory and claims it all as her own. I haven’t heard anything else like it all year, and yes, that’s a compliment.

turboTurbo Fruits
No Control
Melvin/Thirty Tigers

You don’t realize how long it’s been since you’ve heard a great power-pop album until you hear one and you say to yourself “Man, it’s been a long time.” That was my reaction to the fourth album from Turbo Fruits, which offers all the standard power-pop features: crunchy-fuzzy guitars, tight vocal harmonies, glorious melodies, and unambiguous verse-chorus-verse song structures with a minimum of wanky guitar solos. This is, quite frankly, what rock’n’roll ought to be. If you find that your Cheap Trick and Fountains of Wayne discs are circulating heavily, then do your patrons a favor and invest in the Trubo Fruits catalog.

apartsThe Apartments
The Evening Visits… and Stays for Years (reissue)
Captured Tracks

Who were the Apartments, and why would members of the Go-Betweens and the Chills be writing the liner notes for the deluxe reissue of their first album? The answer to both questions is: Peter Walsh, who served as something of an inspiration to both Robert Forster and Steven Schayer back in the heady days of late-1970s post-punk Brisbane. I’ll be perfectly honest: this album isn’t my cup of tea. No denying Walsh’s skills, but his voice is too quavery for me and the production is too thin. But the songs are objectively great, and libraries collecting comprehensively in pop music will benefit from having both the original album and the additional singles and unreleased demos that are included in this reissue package.

Mute Swan
Friends of Friends
Rick’s Pick

Praveen Sharma (a.k.a. Braille) made his name as a house producer, but in recent years his sound has morphed into something more introspective and melancholy. His debut full-length is based on slippery beats, quietly booming 808s, transmogrified field recordings, and his own vocals–though there’s nothing here that could be mistaken for a “song.” Instead, each track is a sonic collage of disparate musical elements unified by a vague but insistent groove, and while none of them will likely propel you out of your chair to dance, several will gently invite you to do so. As for me and my house, we’re happy to sit in a comfy chair with headphones on and just marvel at all the sonic details.

fortknoxFort Knox Five
Pressurize the Cabin
Fort Knox
Rick’s Pick

Here’s one for the staff party — assuming your library’s policies are characterized by a high tolerance for public bootie-shaking. Let’s be very clear here: there is nothing even slightly original about Fort Knox Five’s sound. On their latest album, it’s basically equal parts Parliament Funkadelic, DC go-go, and late-80s hip hop. But (as I’ve had occasion to observe more than once in this venue) in pop music, originality is overrated. What the world needs now is hooks, sweet hooks, and if they’re deeply embedded in old-school funkalicious grooves, why, so much the better.

aksakLiebezeit Mertin
Staubgold (dist. Forced Exposure)

This strange album is the product of a collaboration between two percussionists: Jaki Liebezeit (formerly of Can) and Holger Mertin. Liebezeit is well known both for the uncanny precision of his time-sense and for his predilection for creating genuinely funky beats within the context of decidedly non-funky time signatures (like 5/4 and 7/8). On this album, Liebezeit and Mertin play a variety of acoustic and electronic percussion instruments from an equally wide variety of musical cultures, filling in the sonic and conceptual space with occasional contributions from guitarists, violinists, keyboardists, etc. The resulting sound is kaleidoscopic in texture and is weirdly, awkwardly danceable. It’s also pretty consistently fascinating, as all of Liebezeit’s projects tend to be.


arqaSuns of Arqa
All Is Not Lost, but Where Is It?
Liquid Sound Design
Rick’s Pick

For those unfamiliar with the group, Suns of Arqa is a rather unique collective of musicians that circles around the nucleus of bassist Michael Wadada. Its music draws on traditions from around the world, very often from India, and tends to pull elements of those traditions into a recognizably unique ambient/dubby/funky fusion style. Suns of Arqa have made over 35 albums since 1979, and I’ve never heard a bad one. The latest is yet another triumph of pan-ethnic funkiness, featuring all the tablas, bansuris, dubwise production effects, and rolling basslines your heart could possibly desire. In addition to the purchase of this album, I strongly recommend a deep dive into the Suns of Arqa back catalog.

Ludovico Einaudi
Taranta Projecttaranta
Ponderosa Music & Art (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
No cat. no.

In its deep southern regions, Italy is hot and dry and home to tarantulas. Legend has it that if you’re bitten by one, the only way to counteract the effects of its venom is to dance frantically–hence the emergence of the musical form known as the taranta. Composer Einaudi Ludovici has long been fascinated by this music, and for this album he brought together musicians from around the world and blended elements of West African and Turkish music into traditional taranta melodies and songs, with absolutely delightful results. You’ll hear one-stringed fiddles, electric guitars, koras, and a variety of other instruments alongside traditional Italian songs, and all of it fits together seamlessly but also sometimes surprisingly. Highly recommended.

King Size Dub Special: Dubvisionist
Echo Beach
CD 101

Germany, oddly enough, continues to be a world-leading producer of top-notch roots reggae music, and Dubvisionist (a.k.a. Felix Wolter) is one of the most accomplished of Germany’s many reggae producers. He has been part of the German reggae scene since the 1980s, and on this special instalment in the Echo Beach label’s excellent King Size Dub series he puts his remixing prowess to work on tracks originally recorded by the likes of Ari Up, the Senior Allstars, TACK>>HEAD, and Dub Syndicate. His signature style is digitally forward-looking but steeped in the old-fashioned verities of dubwise roots reggae, and this collection showcases that style to great advantage.

congoPeder Mannerfelt
The Swedish Congo Record
Archives Intérieures (dist. Cargo)
Rick’s Pick

Here’s something utterly fascinating: an electronic re-creation of field recordings made in Central Congo in the 1930s and originally released on a set of 78 rpm records in 1950. The Swedish electronic musician Peder Mannerfelt came across these recordings and originally planned to use them as a source of samples, but ultimately decided instead to recreate the original recordings in full, using only synthesizers. The result is eerily beautiful but also unsettling: you hear voices that you know aren’t voices; you hear rhythms that seem fun and funky at first, but that eventually start to seem dark and more earnest than that; and you’re prompted to reflect on questions of empire and colonialism that don’t necessarily usually arise when listening to field recordings. I can’t get enough of this one, and libraries serving anthromusicology programs should definitely pick it up.

jbbJohn Brown’s Body
Kings and Queens in Dub
Easy Star

It’s been two years since John Brown’s Body, America’s best reggae band, released a studio album, and while it’s high time for some new music from them there’s nothing wrong with a nice dub outing. In keeping with their approach to reggae music generally, this dub companion to 2013’s Kings and Queens pushes the sonic and stylistic boundaries a bit, featuring remixes from the likes of Dubfader, Nate Richardson, Michael G, and even the legendary Dennis Bovell. These remix artists have varying styles and approaches, but the trademark JBB sound is always there: rich, swirling, thrilling. An essential companion album to one of the best records in John Brown’s Body’s rich catalog.


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