Quickstep: Brass Band Music of the American Civil War
Coates Brass Band / Douglas F. Hedwig
MSR (dist. Albany)
Performing on period instruments with period mouthpieces (and, if the cover is any guide, wearing period uniforms), the Coates Brass Band here offers a program of Civil War-era band music with a focus on pieces by their namesake, the enigmatic Pennsylvania composer Thomas Coates. The music is very fine, but those who aren’t generally inclined towards period instruments will find their prejudice confirmed by the sometimes-iffy intonation here, despite the verve and sensitivity with which the band plays. This disc is an excellent pedagogical tool, but a slightly less than excellent listening experience.
Johann Joachim Quantz
Frank Theuns; Les Buffardins
Accent (dist. Qualiton)
In the late baroque and early classical periods, there was no more famous flutist in Europe than Johann Quantz. Not only was he an innovative flute designer and a brilliant player, but also a celebrated teacher and (as this lovely disc demonstrates) a highly gifted composer. The exquisite playing of Frank Theuns is nicely supported here by the Buffardins ensemble on an utterly gorgeous program of four Quantz concerti; the disc is a pure pleasure, in no small part thanks to Theuns’ enthusiasm for “anti-dull” period performance. Brilliant.
Filters, Oscillators & Envelopes 1967-75
Sub Rosa (dist. Forced Exposure)
Don Preston is better known as keyboardist for Frank Zappa’s notorious Mothers of Invention than as a pioneer of electronic art music, but in fact he was a student of Luciano Berio and of Karlheinz Stockhausen before hooking up with Robert Moog and helping to pioneer the use of synthesizers in rock and roll. This disc presents three previously-unreleased Preston compositions for a homemade instrument: “Electronic Music,” the seven-part “Analog Heaven” suite, and “Fred & Me” (from 1982). The music is forbidding at times, but provides an important window into the early development of analog musical electronics and an equally important example of how the lines between popular and classical music were beginning to blur during this period.
Francisco de Peñalosa
Missa Nunca Fue Pena Mayor
Ensemble Gilles Binchois; Les Sacqueboutiers / Dominique Vellard
The music of 15th- and 16th-century Spanish court composer Francisco de Peñalosa doesn’t get recorded as often as it should, making this disc a particularly welcome addition to the early music catalog. On this recording the sections of Peñalosa’s parody Mass are interspersed with hymns, motets, and instrumental sections performed by the excellent Sacqboutiers ensemble; the Ensemble Gilles Binchois sings one voice to a part, and their ensemble tone is sharp and clear, at times almost reedy, and their intonation effortless. Very, very nice.
Accademia Vivaldiana di Venezia
Newton Classics (dist. Naxos)
During the 1750s and 1760s, Italian music was all anyone in northern Europe wanted to hear. Although not exactly a household name today, Baldassare Galuppi was enormously popular in his own time, and the set of six trio sonatas presented here was published in 1761 as part of a larger collection gathered by Jean Lefébure. The playing by Accademia Vivaldiana di Venezia is excellent, as is the sound quality on this recording. It offers an excellent opportunity to stock your collection with some undeservedly rare music from the height of the Italian baroque period.
The Piano Trios
Wu Han; Philip Setzer; David Finckel
This all-star trio, consisting of pianist Wu Han, violinist Philip Setzer, and cellist David Finckel, sounds like it was born to play Mendelssohn. The group’s account of Mendelssohn’s two piano trios is full of joy and brio, and while there is plenty to love on this wonderful album, I think its finest moments come in the finale movement of the first trio, which they play with irrepressible rhythmic energy. Highly recommended to all classical collections.
Missa Tu Es Petrus
Brabant Ensemble / Stephen Rice
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
The Brabant Ensemble is another of those choral groups about which I have a hard time being critical—their sweet, creamy tone is irresistible. And when their sound and skills are put in service to music by one of the greatest of the many great and underappreciated Franco-Flemish polyphonic masters, well, the result is magical; it was true with their programs of music by Gombert and Moulu and Crecquillon and Phinot, and it’s true of this one. Trust me: no classical collection should be without this exquisite disc.
The Complete Preludes
You may think you’ve heard all the versions of Chopin’s Preludes you need to, but consider thinking again: Argentinian pianist Vanessa Perez has a raw and intense style all her own, and if her approach is sometimes a bit on the willful side it is also sometimes revelatory. Certainly this is not your grandmother’s Chopin. If you want restful and lyrical, look elsewhere—but if you want passionate and personal, look no further.
Flora (dist. Allegro)
The sackbut is the ancient predecessor of the modern trombone, and in the 16th century it was often paired in ensembles with the crumhorn, an early double-reed instrument. Les Sacqueboutiers is perhaps the world’s leading sackbut ensemble, and is here joined by a variety of guest musicians (including a couple of excellent crumhorn players) for an album of transcriptions of pieces by such celebrated composers as Heinrich Schutz, Giovanni Gabrieli, John Dowland, and Antonio de Cabezon. The nimbleness with which they are able to coax complex ornaments and flickering melodies from their ancient instruments is impressive, and the music itself is gorgeous. Highly recommended to all early music collections.
James Carter Organ Trio
At the Crossroads
You generally know what to expect from an organ trio: hard funk, hard bop, pyrotechnics. And you get those with this album from the jaw-droppingly talented James Carter Organ Trio, but you get more as well: jump blues (“Walking Blues”), emotionally complex ballads (Ronald Shannon Jackson’s “Aged Pain,” “My Whole Life Through”), gospel (“Tis the Old Ship of Zion”), avant-garde skronking (“Lettuce Toss Yo’ Salad”). And you get a surprise: James Carter, it turns out, is a saxophonist, not an organist. (The instrumentation of a typical organ trio is organ, guitar, and drums.) The result is an album that veers all over the place, mashing up funk and bop, “inside” and “outside” tunes, mellow introspection and high-spirited romps. This would make a strong selection for any jazz library.
Chick Corea and Gary Burton
I have to confess to a certain prejudice against rhythm-sectionless jazz albums—too often I find them arid and self-conscious-sounding. And in fact, there is a certain textural dryness to this duo project featuring the legendary pianist Chick Corea and almost equally legendary vibraphonist Gary Burton. But the pair has such an amazing chemistry and such a wide stylistic range (both of them equally comfortable playing hardcore bebop, Brazilian bossa, early swing, and pop adaptations) that the music is never less than enthralling. Their version of the title track, a bop standard, is breathtaking. The album-closing “Mozart Goes Dancing” features the Harlem String Quartet, and is tons of fun as well.
Echoes of Indiana Avenue
The tapes on which this album is based were made in 1957 and 1958 and passed through various collectors’ hands before finding their way to the Resonance label, and are now commercially released for the first time on this disc. Their sound quality is a bit ragged around the edges, but as the earliest known recordings of guitarist Wes Montgomery as a leader, they constitute a real treasure of jazz history. The program focuses on standards, and while there’s nothing particularly revelatory about Montgomery’s playing here , it does provide a valuable window on his early style and should be snapped up by jazz collections.
The sextet composition presented here is based on “an open yet orderly system intended to produce potentially infinite variations of self-generating rhythm and melody.” The instrumentalists are instructed to either interact with or ignore each other, but to make their contributions according to a set of rules. The sonic foundation for the work is a series of guitar harmonics played back randomly by a computer program, and the combination of bowed, plucked and hammered stringed instruments end up producing something that sounds a bit like a very complex wind-chime; the rules of the piece keep the harmonies simple but constantly shifting, resulting in a fascinating but also relaxing and at times almost trance-inducing tapestry of shimmering sound. This is the kind of music one imagines John Zorn might have made in the 1980s if he were a much nicer person.
Trombonist Curtis Fuller is a national treasure, and at 77 years of age he still plays with the strength and conviction of a musician half his age. Not only is his playing mellifluous and powerful, but his compositional chops are as strong as ever, too—this 10-track program features no fewer than six Fuller originals. He’s leading a sextet that includes the excellent tenor sax player Keith Oxman and pianist Chip Stephens, and on this album they stick to the hard-bop verities, alternating burning uptempo numbers with ballads sweet enough to bring a tear to your eye. An essential jazz purchase.
Carmen Intorre, Jr.
For the Soul
On this album, drummer Carmen Intorre Jr. leads an organ-based quintet that features both Joey DeFrancesco and Pat Bianchi along with guitarist John Hart and saxophonist Jon Irabagon. The program is a nicely varied mix of straight-ahead jazz with the kind of soul and funk flavors you’d expect, as well as versions of pop tunes by Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan. The album’s centerpiece is a blistering version of Chick Corea’s postbop workout “Steps.” Intorre is an exceptionally tasteful and generous drummer throughout, constantly contributing interesting gestures but never drawing attention away from his sidemen. Very nice.
O’Brien Party of 7
Reincarnation: The Songs of Roger Miller
It’s probably safe to say that most people know Roger Miller (if they know him at all) for “King of the Road,” which has practically turned into a folksong. But as this tribute album by Tim and Mollie O’Brien’s family band makes clear, his catalog is much deeper. Miller’s style tends somewhat towards novelty tunes, but a more serious side often comes through as well, and the O’Briens nicely showcase Miller’s wonderful melodic talent as well as his lyrical cleverness. The arrangements are sometimes acoustic, and sometimes more straight-ahead country. “King of the Road” is included, but “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd” is not.
(no catalog number)
Kyle Carey’s background in folk music is richly varied, and that variety is nicely reflected on her debut album, which consists of songs that draw on the traditions of Appalachia, Scotland, Cape Breton, and Ireland. Her voice is soft but strong, the array of musical helpers impressive (Aoife Clancy, Rosie McKenzie of the Cottars, Trevor Hutchinson, etc.), and her original songs are uniformly excellent. Here’s hoping for more from her before too long.
Shirley & Dolly Collins
For As Many As Will
Fledg'ling (dist. Forced Exposure)
The Collins sisters came from a musical family on the Sussex coast of England, and originally released this album of traditional songs in 1978. Well, mostly traditional songs—there's also a typically depressing Richard Thompson tune and a medley of songs from the Beggar’s Opera. By modern standards, Shirley’s voice may seem a bit quavery, but Dolly’s arrangements are spare and perfect and the songs are treasures. Maybe not an essential pick, but definitely of interest to Britfolk collections.
The Honey Dewdrops
(no catalog number)
This is a startlingly perfect album from a young couple who retreated to a friend’s hilltop farm in Catawba, Virginia to write and record an album of original material. This is the kind of approach that can result in music of either sweet honesty or unbearable preciousness, and in this case the gambe paid off handsomely. The voices are clear and strong, the melodies heart-twistingly lovely, the playing expert but not show-offy. And the one traditional number is a breathtaking version of the gospel classic “Bright Morning Star,” with an unusual melody. Highly recommended to all folk collections.
Yep Roc (dist. Redeye)
Quite a few rock stars of the 1970s are still selling music today. Very few have managed to maintain a consistent record of steady musical productivity and stylistic evolution since their heydays. Paul Weller is one of them. Following the breakup of the Jam, he went on to form Style Council and has released a slow but steady stream of solo albums since then, all of them notable for their stylistic honesty even if they were at times a bit willful or melodically dry. Sonik Kicks finds Weller experimenting with music-hall elements, dub, Bollywoody strings, and techno-inflected percussion sounds, but mostly focusing on the kind of hard-edged power-pop that has always been at the core of his music.
This Is PiL
PiL Official (dist. Redeye)
Here’s the problem for Public Image Ltd: when the Sex Pistols imploded and John Lydon formed PiL back in 1978, the band promptly destroyed rock and roll. Its first two albums turned all of rock’s musical assumptions inside-out, and changed the way we thought about the way the instruments in a rock band interact. You can’t keep doing that over time, so they didn’t; eventually, PiL simply became another highly professional postpunk band with a weird-sounding singer. Returning to the studio after a long hiatus, that’s what they still are. And there’s nothing wrong with that—but there’s nothing particularly interesting about it either.
King Django Quintet
There are rumors of a fourth-wave ska revival on the horizon. I’m not sure I buy it, but who cares? The charms of ska have awlays been obvious, and few modern interpreters of that 50-year-old tradition are as skilled as Jeff “King Django” Baker, or as adept at simultaneously celebrating its history and pushing its boundaries. Brooklyn Hangover finds him continuing to put traditional elements to work in advancing his own musical vision, with sharply-written songs and rock-steady grooves. Recorded live, this album includes nice reworkings of the Stubborn All-Stars tracks “Tired of Struggling” and “Crop No Drop.” Very nice.
Lusafrica (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Talking about “African” music has always been kind of silly—the music of Nairobi has no more in common with the music of Bamako than the music of Paris has in common with that of Memphis. But all that means in practice is that an anthology of guitar-based music from Africa is going to be highly varied in style, not to mention full of delightful surprises for almost anyone, even dedicated musical Afrophiles. The Lusafrica label is better situated to provide that kind of variety and delight than most, and doesn’t fail here: highlights include a beautiful English-language song by Sally Nyolo, some lilting Latin-tinged strumming from Cordas do Sol, and brilliant mbaqanga from the always-thrilling Mahotella Queens.
Stronghold Sound Presents: Sembeh Ma Fa Fe: Revisits Volume
(no catalog number)
Nonsensical title notwithstanding, the San Francisco-based Stronghold Sound collective have put together yet another excellent collection of tracks featuring a variety of singers and rappers working in an almost equally-wide variety of languages and musical styles. You’ll hear reggae-style toasting couched in West African highlife rhythms, hip hop en français, and rolling one drop beats, as well as musical melanges that probably exist nowhere outside of this album. Watch for a second volume in the series later this year.
Deep Roots Observer Style
17 North Parade
Winston “Niney” Holness was one of the truly great reggae producers of the 1970s and 1980s, and one of those who helped to manage the transition from the smokier, more mystical roots-and-culture sound to the harder and more commercial dancehall style. This budget-priced four-disc box set includes three albums originally produced by Niney, each in a cardboard sleeve that reproduces the original LP cover art: Dennis Brown’s Deep Down, the Heptones’ Better Days, and the dub version of that album (titled Observation of Life Dub). The fourth disc is a compilation of Niney-produced singles by the great reggae deejay I Roy. Every serious reggae collection should include this box.
King Size Dub: Dub Syndicate (Crucial Recordings in the Name of Bud)
The latest instalment in the Echo beach label’s brilliant King Size Dub series pulls together a generous grab-bag of singles, album tracks, remixes, and extended versions (two of them exclusive to this release) by the kings of British avant-reggae. Led by producer Adrian Sherwood and legendary session drummer Lincoln “Style” Scott, Dub Syndicate has been pushing the boundaries of reggae and dub music for several decades now, while also serving as hosts and accompanists to such A-list vocal talent as Prince Far I, Bim Sherman, and Big Youth. Much of the material on this collection will be familiar to fans, but this disc would serve as an excellent introduction for newcomers.