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June 2023


Brian Baumbusch
Chemistry for Gamelan and String Quartet
Nata Swara; JACK Quartet
New World

American composers’ interest in Javanese gamelan music goes back decades — the early pulse music of Steve Reich and, before that, the more explicitly gamelan-derived music of composers and instrument builders Lou Harrison and Harry Partch are both examples. Brian Baumbusch has himself designed and built two sets of what he calls “American gamelan” instruments, for which he has written two compositions that are featured on this recording: Prisms for Gene Davis and Hydrogen(2)Oxygen (the latter incorporating advanced rhythmic concepts pioneered by Conlon Nancarrow). His Three Elements for String Quartet is also an exploration of Nancarrow’s “polytempo” concept. Part of what makes this music so compelling is its composite foundation: the blend of mathematical rhythmic formulas and the raw insistence of the gamelan style combine in various ways to produce sounds that are unusual but deeply engaging. For all adventurous library collections.

Carl Maria von Weber
The Clarinet As Prima Donna
Roeland Hendrikx; Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie / Michel Tilkin
Evil Penguin (dist. Naxos)
EPRC 0053

Yes, it’s an odd title, but here’s the explanation: “This recording celebrates Carl Maria von Weber’s unrivaled talent to turn the clarinet into an opera diva, to make it talk, sing, cry and shine.” But while there’s no denying Weber’s abilities in that regard, much of the credit for the sweetly lyrical, emotionally compelling, and thrillingly virtuosic music-making on this recording goes to the brilliant clarinetist Roeland Hendrikx, whom I don’t believe I had ever heard before and whose work I will now be seeking out. The program consists of Weber’s first and second clarinet concertos along with an arrangement for clarinet and orchestra of an aria from Der Freischütz and a set of variations on a theme from Silvano. The orchestra plays just as magnificently as Hendrikx does, and the recorded sound is nothing short of spectacular. Strongly recommended to all libraries.

Chelsea Lane
Suspensions (digital only)
Better Company (dist. Orchard)
No cat. no.

Various Composers
Eline Groslot
Artarctica Spring
AR 050

Here are two excellent but very different contemporary harp albums by a pair of top-notch artists; both embrace modernism, and even share a work in common, but the music on the two releases contrasts strongly. Chelsea Lane’s is primarily a solo project (with accompaniment by pianist/composer Ludwig-Leone on his “Processional” and also violist Nathan Schram on the title composition and one other), and it includes both newly commissioned works and her own arrangements of pieces by Thomas Adés, Nico Muhly, and Chris Cerrone. This program tends towards the minimalist and was put together with the explicit goal of encouraging the listener’s attention to more subtle aspects of harp technique. Eline Groslot’s album, on the other hand, is built around Geoffrey Gordon’s haunting and intense Eolian: Concerto for Harp and Orchestra, presented here in its world-premiere recording. The program is bracketed by arrangements for harp of Japanese folksongs by Toshio Hosokawa. Both albums feature John Cage’s In a Landscape, written for piano or harp. Both harpists are brilliant, and each brings a very different vision to her project. Any library that supports a harp curriculum will want to acquire both.

William Byrd
William Byrd
Stile Antico

This is the second installment in Stile Antico’s three-volume The Golden Renaissance series, which so far has featured the work of Josquin des Pres; the third volume will focus on Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. As one of the foremost exponents of the Oxbridge sound, the Stile Antico ensemble has a particular affinity for the work of William Byrd, who occupied a difficult position as a Catholic composer in the very dangerous environment of post-Reformation England. This luminous recording features a program built around Byrd’s Mass for four voices, one of his later works, interspersing the Mass sections with motets and sacred songs written at around the same time. Stile Antico’s rich, creamy vocal blend is a perfect match for the hushed but intense devotion expressed by Byrd’s music. Strongly recommended to all classical collections.

Arnold Schönberg; Alban Berg
Het Collectief
Alpha (dist. Naxos)

I know the actual story behind Arnold Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht — that it’s a programmatic piece based on a poem in which a woman tells her fiancé that she’s pregnant by another man (‘”transfigured night” indeed!). But whenever I listen to it, I can’t help hearing it as something else — to me, it’s like Mahler’s symphonies in expressing the tortured abandonment of tonality and the conflicted leap into a harmonically uncertain future. The playing of Het Collectief (performing a piano trio version of the piece arranged by Eduard Steuermann) allows you to hear it either way — the emotional power of this rendition is breathtaking. Following it up with Anton Webern’s small-ensemble arrangement of Schönberg’s opus 9 chamber symphony is a very smart move, allowing you to hear the continuity between the earlier program piece and his approach to new-school polyphonic composition; the disc ends with a chamber-ensemble arrangement of Alban Berg’s B minor piano sonata and the adagio movement from Berg’s chamber concerto. This is a brilliant piece of sinus-clearing modernism played with full commitment and brio by an outstanding young ensemble.


Jim Hall
The Early Albums Collection (4 discs)
Enlightenment (dist. MVD)

I try to avoid using (or at least overusing) the word “important” when discussing recordings, but there’s no avoiding it here: the eight 1950s and 1960s LPs collecting on this four-CD set represent not only some of the guitarist’s most important work, but also some of the most influential jazz recordings of that period, demonstrating how Hall helped to ease jazz from the dry and straight-ahead sound of the “cool” period into the more experimental approach that was ascendant in the 1960s. Jazz Guitar and The Street Swingers show him to be a master of cool, as does his lovely and understated guitar-and-voice duo album with Lee Schaefer. But then comes Jazz Abstractions, the monumental collaboration with Gunther Schuller that exemplified the Third Stream project and featured such fellow heavyweights as Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, and Scott Lafaro. Also in this set are his two duo albums with Bill Evans (Undercurrent and Intermodulation), his twin-guitar showcase with Jimmy Raney and Zoot Sims, and his 1962 recording as a co-leader with pianist Billy Taylor. Every jazz collection should own all of these albums; if your library doesn’t have all of them already (or doesn’t have them on CD), take this opportunity to pick them all up in a convenient and low-cost package.

Thelonious Monk
The Classic Quartet (reissue)
Candid (dist. Redeye)
CCD 35512

Hardcore fans may not all agree that the Charlie Rouse-Butch Warren-Frankie Dunlop quartet was Monk’s finest — no disrespect to any of these excellent players, but what about his 1950s work with Sonny Rollins, Oscar Pettiford, and Max Roach, not mention his Blue Note recordings with Art Blakey? Nevertheless, there’s no question that this band is at the peak of its powers on this recording, which was made for Japanese radio in 1963 and created a large and enthusiastic following for Monk in that country. The album was released in Japan on LP and in England on CD in the 1980s, but hasn’t been available since — and was never given the kind of loving attention it deserved. The Candid label has now restored and remastered the original recordings and brought them back to market with liner notes by the always-insightful Scott Yanow. Not only are the performances outstanding (the band’s bouncy rendition of “Epistrophy” is among the best I’ve heard), but the sound quality is also startlingly good.

Rudy Royston & Flatbed Buggy
Greenleaf Music

You may recognize drummer Rudy Royston as a regular sideman to the likes of Bill Frisell and Dave Douglas. But as this album demonstrates, he’s also an exceptional composer and arranger, and an innovative bandleader. Here leading (for the second time) a quintet that includes cellist Hank Roberts, bass clarinetist John Ellis, accordionist Gary Versace and bassist Joe Martin, he has created an approach to modern jazz that is simultaneously innovative and accessible. Notice, for example, how “Morning” progresses from pastoral lyricism to second-line funk to exuberant group improvisation. Note also how the spiky head of “Limeni Village” evokes the mid-1970s work of (believe it or not) Henry Cow. As always, the subtlety and elegance of Royston’s drumming style is a constant throughline that creates a groove without dominating the band’s rhythmic approach. Brilliant stuff.

Tom Collier
Boomer Vibes, Volume 1
Summit (dist. MVD)
DCD 808

Mallet keyboardist Tom Collier initiates a projected three-part series with Boomer Vibes Volume 1, a collection of arrangements that feature songs American Baby Boomers will immediately recognize (“Wild Horses,” “One Fine Day,” “Both Sides Now”) along with a couple of oddities — Frank Zappa’s “Magic Fingers,” the relatively obscure Beatles B-side “Yes It Is.” All are arranged for various combinations of vibes, marimba, other keyboards, drums, etc. and all are played by Collier (with a guest guitarist on one track and a bassist on another). Not every selection seems like it returns full value for effort — there’s nothing in Collier’s arrangement of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” that makes me think there was more to this song than I originally thought — but many shed new light on familiar tunes. His setting of “People Make the World Go ‘Round” is particularly interesting and insightful, and against all my expectations, he made me think about The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” in a completely new way. Recommended to all jazz collections.


Brìghde Chaimbeul
Carry Them with Us

When most of us think of Scottish bagpipes, we think of the great highland pipes and the burly men in kilts and sporrans who carry them in parades and into battle. But Scotland’s bagpipe tradition is more diverse than that, and it includes the less well-known and celebrated Scottish smallpipes, which are a bit quieter and more intimate-sounding — sharper in tone than the more gentle and plaintive Irish uilleann pipes and a bit heavier-sounding than the Northumbrian smallpipes, but nowhere near as overbearing as the great highland pipes can be. Brìghde Chaimbeul is one of a handful of players leading a resurgence in the popularity of this instrument, and to her credit she’s not letting herself be boxed in by tradition. Though her playing is obviously deeply rooted in the tunes and playing styles of her home region, this is to a real degree an experimental album, and it includes collaborations with saxophonist Colin Stetson. The music is gorgeous and unsettling by turns.

The Wood Brothers
Heart Is the Hero
Thirty Tigers

The boundaries that separate musical genres keep getting more porous, and I guess that’s probably a good thing for everyone except music critics who need to figure out what category to assign to new releases. The Wood Brothers make music that would probably be called “Americana” today — a genre designation that signifies pop music with elements of country, folk, and sometimes bluegrass or early R&B or… whatever else. Often sung with a vaguely Southern accent. On this group’s latest album, we get a horn section on “Rollin’ On,” a 12/8 soul groove on “Someone for Everyone,” acoustic guitar and cello and quietly brushed drums on “Between the Beats.” How are the songs? Oh, they’re great, of course — these guys have been doing this for a long, long time. You lucky people who don’t have to assign genre designations will love this album.

Beth Bombara
It All Goes Up
Black Mesa

The steel guitar, the gently hiccuping near-yodels that ornament her singing from time to time — Beth Bombara’s new release has all the bones of a country album. But there’s something fundamentally different about it; maybe the subtly elegant chord changes on the gorgeous “Get On,” or maybe her unapologetically understated singing style and dusky alto voice. But on the other hand, “Curious and Free” has the vibe of a Robert Johnson Delta blues song (I’m not kidding; check it out), and “What You Wanna Hear” has a gentle Texas-by-way-of-California two-step lilt to it. But then there’s “Electricity,” which borders on dream pop. Call it whatever you want, this is an achingly beautiful album.


Hüsker Dü
Tonite Longhorn
Reflex (dist. MVD)
MVD 12373A

Make no mistake about it: Hüsker Dü were not yet a great band when these four live sets were recorded in 1979 and 1980. The sonic-boom hardcore of Land Speed Record was still a couple of years ahead of them, and their breakthrough into aggressive prog rock and then hardcore-inflected power pop were even further in the future. But you can hear hints of their future greatness here: “I’m Not Interested” and “MTC” are featured in early versions, as are “Gravity” and “Don’t Try It” — a song whose chord progression prefigures some of their later, more sophisticated work. Oddly, on a couple of tracks (especially “Don’t Have a Life,” a rare Greg Norton song) they sound like a hardcore version of Pere Ubu — which is by no means a bad thing. This collection may not be absolutely essential for all collections, but it’s an invaluable document for any library that collects deeply in rock music.

Urban Meditation
Headspace (5 discs)
Carpe Sonum

Billed as a “unique blend of ambient, trance, techno, and neo-classical,” the music of Urban Meditation (né Charles Urban) owes a heavy but graceful debt to that of Pete Namlook, the patron saint of dark and complicated ambience. Headspace is a five-hour long exploration of Urban’s musical vision, and in fact in the notes he expresses the view that it represents “the heart and soul of what Urban Meditation… was meant to be.” The music is atmospheric, of course, but it doesn’t consists merely of atmospheres; soft clouds of sound sculpture will give way unpredictably to glitchy buzzes, harshly manipulated human voices, and sometimes insistent beats. While Urban’s music doesn’t sound that much like Namlook’s, it’s in this constant undermining of ambient-music conventions that he pays the deepest and most obvious tribute to his mentor. This set could be presented as a master class on making ambient music interesting.

Soren Jahan
137 (vinyl & digital only)

Now, I will freely admit that this is a “your mileage may vary” release, and I’ll also point out up front that I normally have no time at all for techno or house music — the relentless thump-thump-thump may be great for dancing, but I find it really annoying for listening. However, Soren Jahan’s new album does what I would have thought was impossible: uses that four-on-the-floor framework and creates around it a series of subtle variations that catch my attention and hold it captive. None of the 16 tracks on this release has a conventional title; each is sort of a standalone sound sculpture that involves (in differing ways) every point on the timbral spectrum, delivering tiny glitches, booming sub bass, and mid-frequency weirdness of all kinds. Again: I don’t promise everyone will love it. I do promise that you won’t dismiss it as empty-headed dance floor nonsense.

The Cowsills
Rhythm of the World

It’s kind of crazy to realize that the Cowsills have been doing their thing for almost 60 years now. 60 years. Or, a bit more accurately, to realize that they started doing their thing almost 60 years ago — after forming in 1965, the family band broke up in 1972 and reunited only sporadically during the ensuing decades. Their last recordings as a group were made almost 30 years ago. But you wouldn’t know that to listen to the tight, tuneful, expertly played paisley pop music purveyed on Rhythm of the World. The production sound is nice and modern, but the style is all late-1960s: ooh-aah choruses, layered harmonies, lovely melodies, charmingly open-hearted lyrics (“Lend a hand/Can you help your fellow man?”, like that). If you listen closely you can hear that their voices are aging a bit, but come on. 60 years. Amazing.


Various Artists
No label
No cat. no.

Rivayat is a collection of tracks by individual artists that have been released over the past year or so, in a series organized by Mekaal Hasan of the Mekaal Hasan Band — which (if I’m understanding correctly) is also the backing band for some (maybe most?) of these tunes. On the project’s Bandcamp page, Rivayat is billed as “a traditional music series created by Mekaal Hasan which features outstanding Pakistani grass roots talent with select cuts featuring international guest artists,” but while the source material may be traditional, the arrangements and settings vary widely in style, from the gentle and acoustic-based “Ghunghat Olay” by Fiza and Hasnain Haider to the aggressively rockish “Tobah” by the Shahzad Ali Khan Qawal. Both the stylistic variety and the exceptional quality of the performances make this a highly recommended release — or, rather, series of releases (which can be purchased as a single album at the Bandcamp link above).


Is this Scandinavian folk music? Well, yes — but with a difference. Among the harps and the pipes and the fiddles are powerful, rumbling drums and slightly terrifying, guttural vocals; the Discogs database suggests the term “folk metal” as a genre designation for this album, and that actually captures the vibe quite nicely. This is not gentle, pastoral music; it’s a roar that occasionally lapses into sweet lyricism before exploding in fury again. SKÁLD is actually a musical collective founded by French producer/composer Christophe Violin-Boisvinet, and judging by their names its members seem to come from all over Europe. But all are united by a fierce love of Scandinavian musical and literary tradition in all its complexity, violence, and beauty — and you’ll hear all of that on this remarkable album.

Henhouse Studios
No cat. no.

Keturah comes from a small village in Malawi, but her debut album finds her exploring rhythms and melodies from across the African diaspora — you’ll hear elements of township jive, desert blues, jazz, and afrobeat on various tracks here, all of it united by her warm and supple voice. Interestingly, you’ll also hear more than a hint of American country music on “Nchiwewe (Ode to Willie Nelson),” a stylistically odd moment on the program but certainly a charming one. Keturah is aided by an all-star cast of studio musicians including kora player Prince Diabate, harmonica player Mickey Raphael, and even former Doors drummer John Densmore. Wisely, though, the production keeps her lovely voice front and center throughout.

Zulu Bob
Holding On (digital only)
ChinaMan Yard
No cat. no.

Zulu Bob is originally from Antigua and Barbuda, but for the past 15 years has been living in Beijing, China. There he released an EP a few years back in something of a trap/electro style; since then he has gotten connected with the ChinaMan Yard reggae production crew, and has now released a full-length album in a more roots dancehall mode. Holding On opens with an update of the cheerful Half Pint classic “Greetings,” but then moves into darker and more socially-minded territory: “Ruffa dan Dem” may sound on the surface like a standard sound system boast, but is actually more of an expression of determination and resilience; “Cool It Down” calls for unity and healing, while “Old Pirates” (a clear reference to Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”) addresses the legacy of colonization and slavery. The rhythms are crisp and clean, with a nice bassiness, and Zulu Bob’s rhymes are nimble and sharp. Highly recommended.


May 2023

Posted on


Steve Reich
The String Quartets
Mivos Quartet
Deutsche Grammophon
486 3385

Over the course of his roughly 60-year career, Steve Reich has only written three pieces for string quartet, and none of them can be called conventional. Two of them, Different Trains and WTC 9/11, were composed for string quartet with accompanying tape, and the third was actually written for three string quartets. On this disc, the Mivos Quartet presents all three works together for the first time, allowing the listening to easily compare them. Personally, I find Different Trains (a reflection on the Holocaust) the most affecting of the three compositions, though all are excellent; the Mivos Quartet plays with energy and commitment and interacts both precisely and engagingly with the taped spoken-word elements, which are fundamentally important to the two works that incorporate them. If your library collection already includes good renditions of these pieces this disc will not necessarily need to replace them, but this recording presents an excellent opportunity to fill that collecting hole if it exists.

John Dowland
[Complete] Lachrimæ
Musicall Humors
Alpha (dist. Naxos)

John Dowland wrote this suite of 21 dance movements for consort of viols and lute in 1604, while he was in London on temporary leave from his duties as a composer at the Danish court. The collection includes the now-famous Lachrimæ or Seven Tears set of pavanes, as well as another fourteen pavanes, galliards and allemandes written at the same time — all of them infused with the sense of gentle melancholy for which Dowland is still well known (his motto was “Semper Dowland, semper dolens” or “Always Dowland, always in pain”). This was a period of time during which melancholy was very much in musical fashion, and few composers mined that mood as productively as Dowland did. Musicall Humors, a consort of five viols and and one lute, plays these pieces with admirable sensitivity and intonation as well as a rich, full tone. Highly recommended.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Complete Piano Sonatas (6 discs)
Yeol Yum Son
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
V 8049

Celebrated pianist Yeol Yum Son has not recorded much Mozart in her career, so this lavish set of the complete piano sonatas comes as something of a surprise — even to her. She reports that the project came about when some recording time in a good studio unexpectedly became available, leading her to ask herself “What should I record?”, and the answer was “it has to be some Mozart sonatas.” After recording a few of them on Mozart’s birthday, she then thought “why not all of them right now?”. And the result is a model of Mozart interpretation, from her light and sparkling rendition of Sonata no. 1 (K.279) to her sensitive and insightful interpretation of the dark and anguished Sonata no. 14 (K.457) and of the maturity and balance in the final Sonata no. 18 (K.576). Son’s love for Mozart and her delight in his music are fully in evidence here, and her seemingly effortless virtuosity pulls us happily into her sound world.

Arvo Pärt
Pedro Piquero; Orquestra da Extremadura / Álvaro Albiach
Piano Classics (dist. Naxos)

Although he came to America’s attention with a handful of instrumental chamber pieces, it’s his shimmering choral music for which the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt has subsequently gained the most acclaim. This darkly magnificent recording reminds us how effective he can be in the context of purely instrumental music — and is actually the largest-scale orchestral work he’s ever written. Subtitled “Homage to Anish Kapoor and his sculpture ‘Marsyas’ for piano and orchestra,” Lamentate is not exactly a piano concerto; it uses the piano soloist as an aural focal point to bring a sense of sonic unity to the composition, which longtime fans will find to be more Romantic-sounding than one would normally expect. Paired with the more quietly reflective Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten, it creates a powerful sense of grief, and is beautifully played and recorded.

Pancrace Royer
Surprising Royer: Orchestral Suites
Les Talens Lyriques / Christophe Rousset
Aparte Music (dist. Integral)

Joseph Nicolas Pancrace Royer is described in the liner notes of this disc as a “(figure) of first importance in the cultural life of eighteenth-century Europe and of France in particular,” so the fact that he has “all but disappeared from the critical scene for so long” is something of a mystery. When he is remembered at all today, it’s mainly as a gifted composer for the harpsichord, but he was also an accomplished operatist, and this thoroughly delightful recording brings together overtures and dance suites from four of his operas, including Zaïde, Reine de Grenade, which was the opera most frequently performed on royal occasions during the 18th century. Anyone who has followed Christophe Rousset and his band Les Talens Lyriques will be expecting robust but elegant performances, and will not be disappointed in the slightest. For all classical collections.

Peter Klatzow; Juri Seo; Robert Honstein
Ambient Resonances
Arx Duo
Origin Classical
OC 33029

The combination of marimba and vibraphone seems like an intuitively obvious one, yet I can’t think of any ensemble configured that way other than the Arx Duo: marimbist Garrett Arney and vibraphonist Mari Yoshinaga. Their uniqueness as an ensemble has led them to commission almost 100 works by contemporary composers, three of which are featured on this album — which, to be very clear, is not an album of ambient music. The title piece is a two-movement work by Peter Klatzow that combines angular harmonies and passages designed to showcase the unique timbres of each instrument, while Juri Seo’s Sonata for Marimba and Vibraphone uses rippling repetitions and sequences that evoke first-generation minimalism while also incorporating complex harmonic progressions. Robert Honstein’s Evergeen is a 30-minute work in five movements, inspired by a Susan Cooper poem and designed to evoke the feelings of darkness, loneliness, and anticipation we might experience around the winter solstice. Fascinating music, brilliantly played.


John Pizzarelli
Stage & Screen
Seven String (dist. Palmetto)

There are so many reasons to love guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli. One of them, in my book, is that not only does he have a guitar sponsor (he plays a signature model seven-string Moll) but he also has — last time I checked — a suit sponsor. I’m sorry, but that is just the coolest thing. That coolness is reflected in his playing, which is virtuosic but always very traditional and swinging, and in his singing (ditto). On his latest album he continues in his favored format, a trio consisting of guitar, bass, and piano, and (as the title suggests) he focuses on standards connected with popular musicals and films: “I Want to Be Happy,” “Time After Time,” a suite of tunes from Oklahoma!, etc. But not everything here is a familiar standard: to my knowledge, this was my first encounter with the charming “I Love Betsy” and the equally fun Lane & Lerner song “You’re All the World to Me.” As is the case for any release by Pizzarelli, this one would make a welcome addition to any library’s jazz collection.

Wayne Alpern
New York Saxophone Quartet
Henri Elkan Music
No cat. no.

This album is an exquisite showcase of the art of arranging. Taking what, on the surface, might look like a not-particularly-challenging set of highly familiar jazz standards (“All the Things You Are,” “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” “It Never Entered My Mind,” etc.), Wayne Alpern creates a kaleidoscopically varied and consistently gorgeous set of arrangements of them written for saxophone quartet. Some of them swing, but some of them don’t — some incorporate improvisation, and some of them are through-composed. Each arrangement sounds like it was written by a different composer, which is a pretty impressive achievement to sustain across eighteen pieces and almost an hour. Needless to say (for those familiar with them), the New York Saxophone Quartet play with not only diamond-edged precision but also soulful feeling. An essential purchase for all libraries.

Chris Keefe

Opening with the absolutely brilliant neo-bop original “Got a Chick?” (that lyrical but intricate head, that elegantly skittering brushwork from Adam Nussbaum), Chris Keefe’s debut album as a leader moves from strength to strength, showcasing both his skill as a composer and his ability to make standards his own. The aptly titled “Modern” demonstrates his ability to take dry, Tristano-esque melodies and unfold them like flowers; his take on “I Fall in Love Too Easily” finds him expounding on the familiar theme with almost classical elaboration. Nussbaum and bassist Harvie S provide exactly the sort of robust and tasteful support you’d expect. Continue to expect great things from this remarkable pianist and composer.

David Larsen
The Peplowski Project
No cat. no.

I confess that I hadn’t heard of saxophonist David Larsen before receiving this disc, but as a huge fan of clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Ken Peplowski I was immediately intrigued by its title. Nor was I disappointed: Peplowski himself is featured prominently on this eleven-track celebration of straight-ahead jazz, which focuses on standards delivered in a sprightly, fun, and disciplined 1950s style — complete with the kind of warm and dry production you’d expect from late-1950s recordings. There’s some really fun group improv on the Bill Byers tune “Doodle Oodle” that harks back to the heyday of trad jazz, some utterly gorgeous clarinet playing from Peplowski on “All the Things You Are,” a great bari-and-drums intro on Larsen’s Stan Getz tribute “He Who Getz the Last Laugh,” and so much more. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.

Sonny Stitt
Boppin’ in Baltimore: Live at the Left Bank (2 discs)
Jazz Detective

Another month, another priceless Jazz Detective release that I simply have to recommend to library collections. This one documents a concert by legendary saxophonist Sonny Stitt at the Famous Ballroom in Baltimore. He was leading a quartet that included pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Louie Hayes, so it won’t be surprising that the set absolutely burns — Stitt was famously, even infamously (among his colleagues) virtuosic, and even in 1973 was continuing the tradition of forbiddingly complex bebop playing; his dry, almost brittle tone only helps to showcase the complex showers of notes that poured from his horn. The sound restoration is outstanding, though I found the stereo separation a bit too stark: the sax is almost entirely isolated in the right channel and the piano in the left. Still, there’s no questioning either the value of the music or the importance of this release.

Taiko Saito
Tears of a Cloud
Trouble in the East

Mallet keyboardist Taiko Saito is as deeply rooted in contemporary classical as in jazz music, and on her latest solo album she creates music that has no obvious genre pigeonhole. Playing both marimba and vibraphone, she claims inspirations as wide-ranging as pianist Kenny Wheeler, pianist/composer Satoko Fujii, and Japanese ceremonial music, but pulls elements from all of those influences and uses them to create a wide array of unique and highly personal sounds. The album opens with the abstract and nearly pointillistic “Daichi” and then shifts to a more minimalist mode on “Sound Gradation.” “Underground” finds her using extended techniques to create sounds that one would not normally associate with the marimba — which is always fun. This album would make a great addition to any library collection that supports either jazz or classical percussion curricula.


Martin Hayes & The Common Ground Ensemble
Peggy’s Dream
251 Records
No cat. no.

Irish fiddler Martin Hayes has long been known for his exquisitely tasteful playing which, especially in the studio, tends to eschew virtuosic pyrotechnics in favor of careful, loving interpretations of traditional tunes. (Having seen him perform live with his late collaborator Dennis Cahill, I can testify that he’s fully capable of virtuosic pyrotechnics as well.) For Peggy’s Dream he has put together something of a cross-genre supergroup to help him create new interpretations of traditional tunes based on his own County Clare-derived fiddling style. A jazz pianist, a nü-folk guitarist, a contemporary classical cellist, and others have all joined up with him to create a set of tunes that surprisingly do not end up sounding like a world-fusion experiment but rather bring new depth and color to what is really simply a marvelous trad Irish album. Like all Hayes recordings, this is one that should find a home in every library’s folk collection.

Josephine Foster
Domestic Sphere

If you list the ingredients of this album it doesn’t look like something that would normally grab my attention: ascetically spare arrangements, vocals that often lapse into a weird and warbly artiness; little in the way of rhythm or hooks. And yet, and yet. Foster’s unique approach to psych-folk really does grab my attention, and holds onto it: despite the voice-as-Theremin sound of “Burnt Offering,” I find the singing compelling; despite the wobbly harmonies on “Gentlemen & Ladies,” I find the song affecting; “Song for the Dead” is simply heartbreakingly lovely. You could tell me you find her approach a bit precious and maybe pretentious, and I wouldn’t argue with you. But I’d encourage you to listen again.

Mighty Poplar
Mighty Poplar
Free Dirt (dist. Redeye)

Mighty Poplar is a bluegrass supergroup that includes members of the Punch Brothers and Watchhouse (including the brilliant banjo player Noam Pikelny), which might lead you to expect a sort of newgrass-cum-modern-roots-Americana experience. No: this is a straight-up bluegrass album, played and sung with warmth, respect, and unassuming virtuosity. The members take turns singing lead, with predictably varied (but never unattractive) results. Pikelny really stretches out on “Grey Eagle,” a chestnut of a fiddle tune that he approaches in both traditional Scruggs style (mainly while playing backup) and also in his own hyper-melodic neo-Keith style, to thrilling effect. There’s a Bob Dylan song and John Hartford song along with several traditional numbers. This album is perhaps the best example I’ve yet encountered of how well traditional bluegrass can be absorbed into a modern roots aesthetic without compromising either. Honestly, based on previous evidence I would have said it couldn’t be done this well.


O Yuki Conjugate
A Tension of Opposites Vols. 3 & 4 (digital & cassette only)
OYC Limited 7

The first installment in O Yuki Conjugate’s A Tension of Opposites series came about during the COVID lockdowns, during which both of the band’s central members were left trying to create music in isolation. The second installment follows the formula of the first: one “volume” in the program features solo tracks by Roger Horberry, and the other features the work of Andrew Hulme. Those who have been following O Yuki Conjugate’s unique explorations of semi-ambient instrumental bass music might be surprised by the unusual degree of abrasiveness that characterizes some of these tracks (note in particular what sounds like an aggressively processed reed instrument on “Hidden Cities”) — but even still, the music remains dark, deep, and ultimately quite beautiful.

Decisive Pink
Ticket to Fame

Opening with a pleasantly cheesy Casiotone beat, the debut album by Angel Deradoorian (ex-Dirty Projectors) and Russian experimental pop artist Kate NV might come across as a bit precious and arch at first listen. But give it some time, and its charms unfold: the subtle pleasures of the quirky synth part (and the Beethoven quote) on “Ode to Boy,” the sly reference to Gershwin on “Potato Tomato,” the humorous use of non-verbal vocals on “Voice Message.” The duo made extensive use of 1970s- and 1980s-era analog synthesizers while making this recording, which gives the whole proceedings a certain Kraftwerk/Flock-of-Seagulls vibe — maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but certainly mine. I’m very much looking forward to the inevitable remix album.

WWWIPE OUT (digital & vinyl only)
No cat. no.

The French electronic music duo Cassius had an illustrious international career from 1988 to 2019, when Zdar (a.k.a. Philippe Cerboneschi) passed away. Now surviving member Boombass (a.k.a. Hubert Blanc-Francard) is back with a solo album that celebrates music that he was hearing in London both as a boy on school trips and with Cassius while on tour. The tracks on this album draw on samples gathered in London and draw deeply on the sounds of jungle, drum’n’bass, and electro — “SSSTAND UP” layers old-school reggae vocal shouts over double-time breakbeats, while the dreamier “YYYOU DON’T KNOW” samples hip hop vocals and beats but embeds them in a spacey groove that Synkro would be proud of. “MMMERCY” is a gently thudding house track that is way too gentle to be called an anthem. Recommended to all pop collections.

Antimaterial Worlds
Double Saturns Last Purification Exercises (digital & cassette only)
Chemical X/Mad Decent

Gaura-jīvana Dāsa, who has previously done business under the names Griffin Pyn, Sewn Leather, and Skull Catalog, is back under a new nom de musique — Antimaterial Worlds. The new name reflects the endeavors he undertook during a seven-year break from music, when he was initiated into Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Vaisnava Hinduism and formally studied Ayurveda. If these factoids lead you to expect mystical and meditational music, think again: this is aggressive, abrasive electro-rock with a strong political edge. In fact, what the music repeatedly brought to my mind (sadly, given his untimely passing only a week ago) was the work of Mark Stewart — the snarled vocals, the dense and forbidding production, the confrontational lyrical messages. Of course, some of them are less confrontational than others: the lyrics on “Listen to Aindra Pt. 2” consist of field recordings of devotional chanting. And “Science of Self-realization” features none other than Lee “Scratch” Perry. Exhausting but fun.

Secret Measure
Rock Action

Try to imagine a cross between Cocteau Twins and the Feelies. It’s hard to do, right? Well, it will be easier after you listen to the second album from the duo of Rachael and Paul Swinton, who record under the name Cloth. Rachael’s voice is gauzy and whispery — different in tone from that of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser but similar in inflection: it floats like an instrument, describing melodic shapes more than communicating specific ideas. The clicky eighth-note patterns that Paul favors definitely evoke the Feelies, though they’re part of a bigger, more expansive sonic vision that brings to mind ’80s and ’90s dream pop. If you’re looking for shout-along choruses, look elsewhere — but if you want to sail away on a gossamer cloud of subtly crafted neo-pop music, you’ve absolutely come to the right place.


Spaced Oddity
Dubby Stardust
Echo Beach

Easy Star All Stars
Ziggy Stardub
Easy Star

By odd coincidence, two reggae tributes to the late David Bowie — both of them excellent, though both saddled with slightly painful puns in their titles — have been released in recent weeks. Ziggy Stardub is a straight-up remake of Bowie’s 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as a modern roots-reggae album. The backing band is the ever-brilliant Easy Star All Stars ensemble, supporting a shifting array of A-list singers (Maxi Priest, JonnyGo Figure, David Hinds, etc.) and some legendary guest musicians (Carlton Livingston, Vernon Reid, Alex Lifeson[!], etc.) who together create a rich, thick stew of heavy roots grooves; several tracks are also provided in dub versions. By contrast, Dubby Stardust is a full dub album, an exploration of tracks from across the Bowie catalog rendered in spacey, deeply dubwise arrangements put together by producer Lee Groves (calling himself Spaced Oddity for this project). A veteran of Hex Orchestra and Terminalhead and a producer who has worked with the likes of Ruts DC, Gwen Stefani, and Goldfrapp, Groves’ settings show clearly his love both of Bowie’s songs and of the dub tradition; the songs are clearly recognizable but are twisted into new echoing shapes that emerge from bottomless depths and float off into the night sky. Reggae fans and David Bowie fans may not be perfectly overlapping populations, but it’s hard to imagine anyone in either group failing to enjoy both of these albums.

Never Stop
Irie Ites
No cat. no.

Chezidek’s latest album opens strongly, with a powerfully chugging rockers rhythm and an equally positive lyrical message, and it sets the tone both musically and lyrically for what will unfold over the next 70-plus minutes: heavy rootswise production supporting conscious and uplifting messages, all of it delivered with Chezidek’s trademark rich and sweet voice. Those messages are predictable, of course: “Jah Jah Bless,” “Bun di Ganja,” “Mr. Officer,” etc., all tread well-worn lyrical paths. But we don’t turn to reggae for new ideas; what we ask for are indelible grooves, beautiful singing, and melodic and/or rhythmic hooks. Also fine dub versions. Chezidek and the Irie Ites production crew deliver all of those in abundance here.

Danakil Meets ONDUBGROUND Part 2
Baco Music

Danakil and Ondubground are two French reggae collectives, both of them founded in a deep love of classic dub and the roots reggae sound of the 1970s, but neither of them artificially constrained by tradition. When they get together — as they have now done for the second time in six years — the result is a really nice balance of old-school and new-school songwriting and production. On their second collaborative effort they host such eminent deejays and singers as Bounty Killer, Omar Perry (son of the legendary producer Lee “Scratch” Perry), and General Levy, as well as up-and-comers like Charlie P and Tan Tee. There’s a nice mix of rhythm styles here, from heavy one-drop to chugging steppers, and everything is produced with a rich and colorful sound with lots of bass.

Giant Panda Dub Squad
Love in Time (vinyl & digital only)
Easy Star

I’m just going to say it: Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad are the best reggae band in America right now. (If John Brown’s Body were still active I might be more hesitant to make that claim, but even then it would still be very close.) On their latest album they demonstrate all the qualities that have brought them to the top of that heap: exceptional songwriting (check out the well-crafted verse-to-verse lyrical variations and the sly and subtle lyrical allusions on “Most Men,” just to take one example), brilliant original musical arrangements (you won’t hear a single recycled Studio One rhythm here) and fine singing. The basslines are idiomatic, inventive, and tuneful; the production is rich and heavyweight. In short, Love in Time is everything you’d want a reggae album to be. Highly recommended to all libraries.

April 2023


Johann Sebastian Bach
Clavichord (2 discs)
András Schiff
ECM 2635/36

You say you don’t like the harpsichord? Too clattery and trebly and thin-sounding to your ears? Well, wait ’til you hear the clavichord — a precursor of the harpsichord with a very different action, and with a sound that is both quieter and less sustained than that of the harpsichord. Even to a lover of early music (like me), it is frankly a somewhat difficult sound to get used to. So why would the acclaimed pianist András Schiff create a two-disc set of Bach keyboard works using that instrument? Two reasons: First, it was Bach’s favorite keyboard, which makes listening to his music on it intrinsically interesting. Second, Schiff himself loves the clavichord for its “intimate and personal” sound. I’m not sure I’m entirely sold myself, but there’s no question about Schiff’s playing and any library that supports a serious keyboard curriculum should be sure to pick this up.

Marin Marais
Ariane et Bacchus (2 discs)
Les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles; Le Concert Spirituelle / Hervé Niquet
Alpha (dist. Naxos)

Though primarily remembered today for his chamber music, especially for the viola da gamba, French baroque composer Marin Marais was also an accomplished composer of opera, in which he was trained by his mentor, Jean-Baptiste Lully. This recording of Marais’ Ariane et Bacchus carefully recreates the work using the exact instrumental and vocal forces prescribed in the originally published score; while of course this does not guarantee that we’re hearing exactly what the composer had in mind (or what his contemporary listeners heard), it nevertheless brings historically informed perspective to this underappreciated work; the playing and singing are both excellent, as is the sound production.

Adriaan Willaert
Adriano4: St. John Passion
Dionysos Now!
Evil Penguin (dist. Naxos)
EPRC 0054

I realize that I’ve been recommending every release from the all-male choral ensemble Dionysos Now!, and I apologize if it’s getting tiresome. But a) everything they release is amazing, and b) this latest features the world-premiere recording of Adriaan Willaert’s setting of the St. John Passion. The music is written in an unusual style: polyphonic, but homorhythmic — which is to say that all voices sing the same syllables at the same time, allowing the composer to exercise his harmonic creativity without sacrificing comprehensibility for the congregation. As always, the ensemble has a rich and dark tonality with perfect intonation, and the recording is not only important but also deeply enjoyable.

Issei Herr
Distant Intervals (cassette & digital only)
NNA Tapes (dist. Redeye)

Richard Carr; Cales Burhans; Clarice Jensen
August Dreams (digital only)
No cat. no.

Both of these albums consist of contemporary classical music created using standard stringed instruments in innovative ways. Issei Herr is a cellist and composer who created Distant Intervals by recording multiple cello parts in her bedroom closet and then overdubbing them, processing and looping them, and adding synthesized elements. This is music that alternates between quiet uplift and eerie foreboding, and that keeps you guessing — it’s sometimes dense and sometimes airy, but always fascinating. August Dreams features a conventional string trio (violin, viola, cello) playing music that is anything but conventional. All of the music is improvised, though based on a handful of predetermined musical ideas intended to serve as a sort of scaffolding or jumping-off point. Here, too, electronic elements are layered in from time to time, but the major substance of these spontaneous compositions is the string sounds, which float and drift prettily — but with an edge. Both recordings are recommended to all libraries.

Erkki-Sven Tüür
Canticum canticorum caritatis
Collegium Musicale Chamber Choir / Endrik Üksvärav
Alpha (dist. Naxos)

Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür is almost certainly tired of being compared to his compatriot Arvo Pärt, and he’d be justified in protesting that their styles are quite different. But at the same time you can see why the comparison would be made: Tüür shares Pärt’s love of spare textures put in service to serene and devotional intensity, and of consonant but sometimes astringent harmony. That’s all simply by way of saying that if your patrons have an appetite for Pärt I would recommend hand-selling this collection of choral works by Tüür, which includes a stunning Missa Brevis as well as the magnificent title work, which draws on one of the Pauline epistles for its text. Strongly recommended.

Ivo Antognini
Come to Me in the Silence of the Night
Trinity College Choir / Stephen Layton
Hyperion (dist. Integral)

And let’s just close out this month’s Classical section with one more choral recording — though this one a collection of contemporary works. Composer Ivo Antognini has a background in jazz and soundtrack music, though you wouldn’t necessarily guess that from the tone and texture of these brief sacred and secular works. The title composition opens the program with an achingly sweet setting of Christina Rosetti’s poem; we then proceed to the more lively and syncopated “Cantate Domino canticum novum” setting, and from there to a shimmering and awestruck “O magnum mysterium.” And that’s how things go throughout the program, with moments of joy alternating with devotional wonder. This is one of the loveliest albums in any genre I’ve heard so far this year.


Chet Baker
Blue Room: The 1979 Vara Studio Sessions in Holland (2 discs)
Jazz Detective

Was Chet Baker at the height of his powers in 1979? Arguably, no. He was in comeback mode after having spent several years living on welfare and getting into legal trouble connected with his longstanding heroin addiction. But when he made these recordings for radio broadcast at the beautifully appointed Vara Studio in Holland he had been relocated to Europe for a few years and enjoying success there — and astoundingly, his playing and singing on these sessions sound as if he had never left. That pure, dry tone that had helped to define the “cool” jazz sound of the 1950s is still there, his phrasing is as creative as ever (listen to his use of triplets on “Luscious Lou”), and his expansive but controlled sense of melodic invention are undiminished. I confess that I was surprised by how very, very good these performances are — I was expected something a bit weaker, more dissipated. Baker was a once-in-a-generation talent, and these previously unreleased recordings are an absolute treasure.

Delfeayo Marsalis & Uptown Jazz Orchestra
Uptown on Mardi Gras Day
Troubadour Jass

Look at the title, look at the cover art, and you know what to expect: this is going to be a big, colorful, funky celebration. And who better to host it than trombonist, composer, and bandleader Delfeayo Marsalis, one of the heirs to the Marsalis New Orleans jazz dynasty that includes his father Ellis and his brothers Branford and Wynton? The songs and tunes on this program include classics by Crescent City legends like Professor Longhair and the Meters, as well as originals by Marsalis himself, and the styles range from the blues shuffle of “Big Chief” to Dollis Boudreaux’s slippery Second Line funk anthem “All on a Mardi Gras Day” and the Latin-inflected “Mardi Gras Mambo” (in two versions). This whole album is infused with joy and is a nonstop pleasure. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Taj Mahal
Stony Plain

Though he has long been pigeonholed as mainly a blues guy, Taj Mahal has actually worked in a wide variety of styles over the course of his 60-year(!) career, so an album of jazz standards shouldn’t exactly come as a shock. Neither should it be terribly surprising that his interpretations of these American Songbook classics should tend towards a certain bluesiness, or that the selections themselves would tend in that direction as well: “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You,” “Mood Indigo,” and “Summertime” are all deeply blues-inflected, and his renditions of jump blues favorites like “Caledonia” and “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” are as rough-edged and raucous as you’d expect. At age 80, his voice is rough-edged as well, but certainly in a good way — and he has as much energy as other singers a third of his age.

Patricia Brennan
More Touch
PR 22

With her second album as a leader, mallet keyboardist and composer Patricia Brennan continues to push the boundaries of jazz vibraphone (and marimba), using an unusual quartet format and extended techniques, notably the use of electronic effects to expand her instruments’ expressive capacity. On “Unquiet Respect” she uses those effects in a manner similar to the approach of guitarist Mary Halvorsen, using pitch-bending to alter her instruments’ sounds during decay; on the title track she, her percussionists, and her bassist get quietly skronky and free, while “Space for Hour” is an extended meditation that goes on for nearly 15 minutes, becoming more explicitly structured in the second half. And that’s just the first three tracks. This whole album is like a global exploration, and it’s unlike anything you’re likely to have heard before.


April Verch & Cody Walters
Passages and Partings
Slab Town

Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy
DLL Music

Husband-and-wife duo April Verch (fiddle) and Cody Walters (clawhammer banjo, guitar, bass) have made a fantastic old-time album with a subtle difference: Verch comes from Canada’s Ottawa Valley, while Walters is from Kansas, and that means that each brings a unique perspective to the Appalachian repertoire as well as tunes from their own regions — not to mention fine originals from Verch. Guest players include the great Pharis and Jason Romero, and there are more highlights here than I can list (though the delightfully crooked “Horse and Buggy-O” is perhaps my favorite moment). Canvas, by fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy (also a married couple), has a very different flavor. MacMaster is an international star, a fiddler in the Cape Breton style who has set the standard in that genre for years; on this album, she and her husband incorporate their fiddling styles into big, expansive, and rockish arrangements that feature guest artists as diverse as Rhiannon Giddens (of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Yo-Yo Ma. At times the flavor veers into Western swing (“Choo Choo”) or an almost punky intensity (“The Case of the Mysterious Squabbyquash”). All in all, it’s a thrilling ride.

Doug Paisley
Say What You Like
Outside Music (dist. Redeye)
No cat. no.

Fifteen years into his recording career, singer-songwriter Doug Paisley is still making delicately soulful, remarkably quiet and reflective country music that manages to evoke the honky tonk without ever delivering stomping two-step rhythms (well, almost never) or obvious “tears in my beer” lyrical tropes. Heaven help me — and I promise, I mean this in the best possible way — there were multiple moments on Say What You Like that made me think of Chris Isaak, especially in his Baja Sessions mode. This particular set was actually selected by Paisley’s producer, Afie Jurvanen, who culled through over 250 songs written over the past ten years and pulled the eleven that he felt were strongest. They’re remarkable, and I was particularly struck by both “I Wanted It Too Much” and “Rewrite History,” perhaps because of the gorgeous female harmonies. Strongly recommended to all libraries.

Ian Jones
Results Not Typical
No cat. no.

Hailing from Seattle, Ian Jones makes a kind of music that his publicist characterizes as “Northwest Americana.” Honestly, to me it just feels like country. Not necessarily Nashville country (there’s a horn section on “Lost Highway,” for example), but solid, meat-and-potatoes modern country music with modest and carefully crafted arrangements and great hooks. Jones’ songwriting is outstanding, but it’s his voice that I really want to praise here: it’s clear and warm, with what sounds like effortless intonation and what also sounds like (but probably isn’t) effortless tunefulness. Honestly, I could listen to him sing all day. And, by the way — that’s Joey Waronker on drums. Very, very nice.


Live from the 40 Watt
Strolling Bones (dist. Redeye)

The sticker on the front says “Most of us weren’t in Athens in the early ’80s, but now you can be!”. For the record, that’s Athens, Georgia, the early-80s home of bands like R.E.M, Pylon, and the B-52s. Now, unlike those other bands you’ve almost certainly never heard of Squalls — though they were darlings of the Athens scene at the time, virtually all of their studio work is long out of print. The 24 tracks on this disc are soundboard recordings made over the course of five different shows at the 40 Watt club between 1984 and 1985; the sound is startlingly good, and the music itself is the sort of angular, herky-jerk guitar pop that back then we used to call “quirky.” Squalls don’t really sound like their Athens contemporaries, but they definitely sound like they came from Athens. And I absolutely mean that in a good way. 

Kosaya Gora
Kosogor (vinyl & digital only)

Here’s a nice slab of dark, moody electronic rock from a pair of Russian experimentalists: producer/singer Kedr Livansky and producer/visual artist Flaty. Livansky’s vocals are given a variety of settings within which to work: skittery breakbeat funk (“Muzika Voln”); gauzy Cocteau Twins-esque dream pop (“V Pole na Vole”); heavy, shoegazey trip hop (“Motorcyclists Die”). Mostly she sings in Russian, but some songs are in English; you’ll hear occasional elements of Slavic folk music (that may or may not be an acoustic guitar on “Voy Veter”), but for the most part the mood here is brooding and intense, and it’s all very good. This is the debut album for this duo, and here’s hoping we’ll hear more from them in the future.

The Red Hunter (vinyl & digital only)
Candy Mountain

Dutch-born producer and DJ Steffi is now on her fourth solo album — and apparently her third record label. In addition to running the Klarkson and Dolly labels, she has now co-founded Candy Mountain, and her first release on that imprint reflects both her creativity and her maturity as an electronic dance music creator. On The Red Hunter she builds compositions that draw on elements of techno (check out the steady throb of “Alternation of High and Low”) and broken beat (the lurching stutter-step of “Tragedy Turns to Comedy”) among other electro genres, but none of it sounds derivative; this music is highly original and constantly interesting.

Æsthetic Will
What Do You Say? (EP; digital only)
No cat. no.

Hailing from Milan, Italy, Æsthetic Will play in a style that harks back explicitly to 1980s postpunk (there are strong echoes of both early-80s Cure and New Order here), but manage to channel those influences in a way that still feels fresh and new. They sing in English, but the vocals are generally pretty buried in the mix, which makes the lyrics hard to decipher; the songs tend to stand or fall on both melody and texture. As for melodies, they come close to dream-pop blissfulness, particularly on the lovely “Saturn Collides.” As for texture, it’s consistently both thick and shimmery, with lots of trebly synth parts and guitars that alternate between clicky quarter notes and big noisy chords (and occasional outbreaks of punky squall). Recommended. 

These Are Dreams
Klanggalerie (dist. MVD)

Robin Story, who records under the name Rapoon, has got to be tired of being compared to Muslimgauze — but the comparison is inevitable. They operate from a conceptually similar template, each producing hypnotically repetitive music based on looped samples that draw on multicultural (but often explicitly Middle Eastern) sources. But the fundamental difference between them is just as important: Muslimgauze’s music is abrasive and political to the point of hectoring, whereas Rapoon’s is quiet and contemplative. On These Are Dreams, several tracks even feature spoken-word elements — there are no credits, so it’s impossible to know whether the speaker is Storey himself (though one of them sounds like a woman). As always, the music is notable for its ability to hold your interest even with all of its repetition and minimal development.


Marcus Gad & Tribe
Ready for Battle
Easy Star

Top-notch modern roots reggae here from New Caledonia, a small island archipelago off the coast of New Zealand. You’d think this music came straight from Kingston, though: compared to 2021’s more electronically-focused Brave New World, Gad and his band play in a very traditional roots-and-culture style on this album, with all live instruments including a skillfully wielded horn section. Note in particular the complex, swinging arrangement on “Long Term” (which brings to mind Steel Pulse during that band’s heyday) and the sweet melody and chugging groove on “Long Way Home.” When it comes to contemporary reggae, I would put Marcus Gad and his band on the same level as John Brown’s Body — and that’s high praise. Recommended to all libraries.

Hiss Sound

On Indian instruments, the taraf is a sympathetic string that vibrates when certain related pitches are played on the plucked or bowed strings. That idea of resonance underlies the music on the debut album of Hiss Sound, a project of Dutch producer Oliver Schreuder, who wanted to create a sort of summit meeting of electronica and classical Indian music. He brought together a group of Dutch and Indian musicians playing a range of instruments including the bansuritabla, and sarod along with voice and electronic and acoustic percussion to create a genuinely new fusion of raga-based and electronic dance music; the result is sometimes jazzy, sometimes funky, often a bit gritty, and consistently both fun and interesting. Definitely not New Age but also not as aggro as, say, Asian Dub Foundation, this music is as useful for dancing as it is enjoyable for listening.

Murder in the Temple (vinyl & digital only)
American Dreams

Zohra is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who grew up in a family of Afghan refugees, surrounded by both Afghani folk and pop music and a range of Western pop styles, from punk to electro and prog. You can hear all of those elements on her debut album, which she created over the course of several years, building up elements one at a time and getting help from producer Ben Greenberg and even from legendary No Wave artiste Lydia Lunch. This is tough, uncompromising music — not abrasive but certainly aggressive, with thudding techno beats, keening modal melodies and industrial textures. It’s very impressive stuff — here’s hoping her next release doesn’t take as long as this one did to prepare.

March 2023


Various (Anonymous) Composers
A Byzantine Emperor at King Henry’s Court: Christmas 1400, London
Cappella Romana / Alexander Lingas
Cappella (dist. Naxos)

If, as I do, you have a spouse who enforces very strict rules about when Christmas music may and may not be played around the house, here’s your chance to sneak some in on the off-season. Of course, the reason you’ll be able to do that is that this album doesn’t sound at all like any Christmas music you’ve ever heard. It consists of a fascinating blend of Byzantine and Sarum chant and early polyphony performed by the Cappella Romana ensemble divided into two choirs: one singing in Greek and the other in Latin. Eerie, droning organum alternates with plainchant and the astringent open harmonies of late-medieval polyphony to create a completely unique listening experience, in a political/historical context that is well worth reading about. All of this music is previously unrecorded. Strongly recommended to all libraries with a collecting interest in early music.

Johann Sebastian Bach
The Well-tempered Consort III
LINN (dist. Naxos)

Johann Sebastian Bach
Novare: J.S. Bach Lute Works on Electric Guitar
Harvey Valdes
Destiny Records

Baroque composers often wrote music without being particularly prescriptive about the instruments that would play it. A violin sonata could just as easily be an oboe sonata; a concerto for harpsichord might be recycled later as a concerto for flute; etc. Johann Sebastian Bach was no exception to this rule, and over the centuries many performers have taken predictable liberties with his music, recasting it for instruments and ensembles that he might never have predicted. The Phantasm consort of viols has been working its way through Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier collection, distributing the contrapuntal lines of those works to the various members of the consort, making it possible to hear these familiar pieces in an entirely new light. The whole series is well worth acquiring. On the surface, Harvey Valdes’ project might seem much more bold: he has arranged a Bach lute suite and several of his preludes and fugues for electric guitar. But the resulting sound is anything but iconoclastic: Valdes plays with a warm, clean tone, applying reverb tastefully and rendering these pieces with a golden-colored sound that shows them off to beautiful effect. Both of these albums are outstanding examples of new ways of thinking about Bach’s deathless music.

Various Composers
Bright and Early
Hopkinson Smith
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
E 7545

While we’re discussing lute music, let’s not overlook this new album from legendary lutenist Hopkinson Smith. Unlike the Bach releases recommended above, this one features lute music actually played on the lute. In this case, the music is by 15th-century Italian composers Francesco Spinacino, Joan Ambrosio Dalza, and Marchetto Cara, all taken from turn-of-the-16th-century collections published by Ottaviano Petrucci, known today as the first to publish polyphonic music. Playing a six-course lute built by Boston luthier Joël van Lennep, Smith makes a powerful case for the music of these relatively obscure composers — and the quality of the recording itself deserves mention. Smith’s tone is bright but rich, colorful and meaty, and the production shows it off to best advantage. For all early music collections.

Cristóbal de Morales
Missa Desilde al cavallero; Missa Mille regretz; Magnificat primi toni
De Profundis / Robert Hollingsworth; Eamonn Dougan
Hyperion (dist. Integral)

The all-male De Profundis choir has only been on the scene for just over a decade now, and has already established itself as an ensemble to be reckoned with — in terms of power and tone, the clearest Oxbridge competitor to America’s legendary Chanticleer choir. Previous recordings of works by the great composers of Renaissance Spain (including generally overlooked masters like Juan Esquivel and Bernardino de Ribera) have been met with rapturous praise, and I’m confident this new recording of Masses and a Magnificat setting by the relatively well-known Cristóbal de Morales will get a similar reception. In terms of both music and sound, this is one of the most lushly gorgeous recordings I’ve heard in years: the group’s approach in this case was to voice the pieces in such a way as to put more emphasis on the middle parts and less on the treble, with the result that the whole album seems bathed in golden, late-afternoon sunlight. The music itself is very Spanish: passages of contemplative and serene adoration contrast with moments of dark and busy intensity. Intonation and blend are impeccable throughout, and this recording is highly recommended to all libraries.

Georg Frideric Handel; William Croft; John Blow
Coronation Anthems
RIAS Kammerchor Berlin; Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin / Justin Doyle
Harmonia Mundi (dist. Integral)
HMM 902708

This musical program is more diverse than its title suggests. In addition to the frequently-recorded anthems composed by Handel for the coronation of George II, it also includes his patriotic Occasional Oratorio, which was written in response to the abortive Jacobite uprising of 1745 (and repurposes some of the music from those earlier anthems), as well as William Croft’s anthem for George I titled The Lord Is a Sun and a Shield and an organ chaconne by John Blow that serves as an interlude before the Handel coronation anthems. Although the title works have become very familiar over the years and most libraries will likely already hold good recordings of them, the unusual nature of this program and absolutely stellar performances make this disc a solid recommendation for all classical collections.


Billy Eckstine
Everything I Have Is Yours (compilation; 3 discs)
Dynamic Nostalgia (dist. MVD)
DYN 3557

One big problem with these super-budget multi-disc sets is usually a paucity of liner notes. In this case, it’s worse; there are no liner notes whatsoever — not even the most rudimentary musician credits. That irritation aside, this three-disc set is a treasure trove of classic material by one of the most unique talents of the swing era. Unlike many other singers of the period, Billy Eckstine sang in the baritone range and cultivated a rich, fruity tone that was (and still is) instantly recognizable. Duke Ellington characterized his style as “the essence of cool.” Eckstine’s biggest hit was “I Apologize,” but he also brought his fresh vocal approach to the whole range of standards, and this set includes performances of just about every title from the American Songbook you can think of: “Body and Soul,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Early Autumn,” etc. The sound quality is very good, and his voice blooms out of the speakers like a huge purple-and-red peony. Sure wish I could tell you who the bands are.

Brad Goode
The Unknown

As regular readers know, my strong preference in jazz is for the straight-ahead and swinging, and I particularly tend not to gravitate towards funk- or progressive jazz. Nothing against those styles, they just don’t generally speak to me. But this album by trumpeter and composer Brad Goode really connected for me — in part because his funkiness is crunchy and complex rather than poppy, in part because his tone is exquisite, and in part because he just writes really, really great heads. Also, unlike many other jazz musicians, he’s not afraid of space: notice the extended periods of unadorned groove on “Decathexis,” for example. His taste in covers is excellent, too: there’s a very fine arrangement of “The Windmills of Your Mind,” a rollicking take on the Tropicalia classic “Joía” (prominently featuring drummer Paa Kow and also featuring some very cool Jon Hassell-style trumpet treatments), and a tender version of Jania Ian’s “At Seventeen.” Highly recommended.

Margherita Fava
No cat. no.

I’ve been listening to this one over and over since receiving my review copy a few weeks ago. Pianist Margherita Fava is an exceptionally gifted composer, arranger, and interpreter, and on Tatatu she displays all of these gifts in their full glory. Her rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning” is one of the best I’ve ever heard, highlighted by her witty use of his odd dissonances throughout her solo and her alternations between regular and double time in the arrangement. Her own “Birds of Passage” evokes Eastern European modes with a hint of klezmer in Greg Tardy’s clarinet, and the aptly titled “Restless Mind” is based on an unsettled rhythmic structure that would make Lenny Tristano proud — until it lapses momentarily into a relaxed, midtempo swing and then snaps back to its jittery non-groove. This is sophisticated but accessible and deeply enjoyable music.

Mason Razavi
Six String Standards
OA2 22210

I may be wrong about this, but I have this idea in my head that whenever a guitarist wants to make an unaccompanied solo album, he or she almost always opens with “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” And with good reason: that tune is a perfect blend of graceful melody line and swinging danceability. The same can be said of Mason Razavi’s whole album: he takes wizened chestnuts like “Body and Soul,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” and “Darn That Dream” and makes you hear them with new ears. His blend of warm (but not muted) tone, chordal inventiveness, and ability to play an extended single-note solo without ever losing the thread of the tune’s swing makes this album a joy to hear. Note also his subtle but effective use of such advanced techniques as walking basslines under comped chords, artificial harmonics, and classically-derived single-string tremolo. Very cool.


Amelia Hogan
Taking Flight
No cat. no.

This album was sent to me out of the blue by the artist — not sure how she got my contact info, but I’m very grateful she did, because I was instantly captivated by her voice as soon as I cued up the disc. Her singing style is hard to describe; whereas other Irish singers tend to favor an open, bell-like tone, Hogan’s approach is almost a murmur; her voice sometimes (as on “The Old Churchyard”) sounds like it was recorded on a wax cylinder and transferred to a shellac 78. Elsewhere she sounds as if she’s talking to herself, contemplating the workings of her heart and trying to make sense of them. The program is mostly traditional songs from the British Isles, with a few modern songs sprinkled in, and her accompanists are brilliant. This is the most compelling album of Irish music I’ve heard in years, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Julie Christensen
The Price We Pay for Love

I’m putting this one in the Folk/Country category because of its overall flavor, but the content comes from all over the place: Joni Mitchell (“Hejira”), Steve Winwood (“Can’t Find My Way Home”), John Scofield (“Away with Words,” with lyrics by Christensen), etc. The arrangements are spare and delicate, as is Christensen’s voice. She’s been doing this a long time — you may or may not recognize her as a pillar of the 1980s Los Angeles punk scene and founding member of Divine Horsemen — and you can hear her experience in every note she sings. Notable sidemen include bassist/arranger Terry Lee Burns and slide player Greg Leisz, and all of the settings place her voice in the musical equivalent of a velvet jewel box. Recommended to all libraries.

Stranger Still
The Songs Which Are
All-Set! Editions
No cat. no.

And let’s close out this section with some seriously left-field stuff. Stranger Still is a Toronto-based quartet led by composer and guitarist/banjo player Pete Johnston, and on this album he has created arrangements of poems by Nova Scotian writer Alden Nowlan, who died relatively young in 1983. Johnston’s melodies tend to start out straightforward and then wobble off into strange byways, and his arrangements are pretty idiosyncratic as well. The pure, clear vocals of Mim Adams and Randi Helmers create a pleasing tonal counterpoint to the quirkiness of the tunes and chord progressions, sometimes evoking the Britfolk of Fairport Convention and sometimes carrying echoes of 13th-century ars nova singing (check out the harmonies on “Biography,” for example) or of early Aqsak Maboul. Intrigued? Yes, you should be.


Fred Frith; Susana Santos Silva
Laying Demons to Rest

Henry Cow
Glastonbury and Elsewhere (Volume 20 of the Cow Box Redux)
ReR Megacorp (dist. MVD)
ReR HC20

Here are a couple of new releases that prominently feature the godfather of avant-garde electric guitar, Fred Frith. Both are live recordings: Laying Demons to Rest documents his duo set with trumpeter Susanna Santos Silva at a French venue just last year. It’s a single 42-minute-long improvisation during which Frith digs deep into his bag of extended techniques, banging and sawing on his guitar and using a looper to play segments backwards, while Silva wails and moans and honks. The sound is not skronky or aggressively noisy, but often quite lyrical. Glastonbury and Elsewhere, however, is quite different. This is one of a series of releases focusing on previously “lost” live recordings of Frith’s 1960s/70s band Henry Cow, an avant-rock ensemble that was a training ground and jumping-off point for Frith and other notables like Chris Cutler, Peter Blegvad, and Dagmar Krause. The performances documented here are from 1972 to 1977 at various UK and European events, and to be honest, most of this stuff is fairly forbidding — the sound quality is generally pretty dodgy and the music itself is often not much fun. Exceptions include the tightly composed prog-classicism of the untitled closing track, and the fascinating “Road to Ruins” with its folksong tape recordings and Frith’s freak-out guitar soloing. If you’re collecting Frith in a serious way, your library should own both albums.

Shonen Knife
Our Best Place
Good Charamel

Usually we praise artists for growing and evolving, and that’s fine. But there’s definitely something to be said for artists who remain 100% dependable over a long period of time — who, for example, make an album in 2023 that consists entirely of music that would have sounded completely at home on one of their releases from the mid-1980s. That’s Shonen Knife, an all-woman trio from Japan whose sound is pretty much built on the high-energy melodic punk approach of the Ramones, and has not changed noticeably in 50 years. One exception on this new album: “Vamos Taquitos,” a celebration of Mexican cuisine, draws on elements of Norteño music. Other than that, you know exactly what to expect. And God bless them for it.

Black Clouds above the Bows

All Hands Bury the Cliffs at Sea

So this is kind of a weird and frustrating situation. Wanderwelle is a Dutch electronic duo, and Black Clouds above the Bows and All Hands Bury the Cliffs at Sea are the first two entries in what’s projected as a three-volume series “dedicated to telling the story of the climate crisis and its effects on coastal areas around the globe.” The music does so in abstract manner, of course: it’s minimalist bordering on ambient, and consists largely of processed sounds originally created by archaic instruments: on Black Clouds, the central instrument is an old cavalry horn, used because the purpose of that instrument was to raise alarm and invoke urgency; on All Hands, the primary instrument is a church organ damaged by a climate-related seacoast cliff collapse. As one might imagine, the music is beautiful and deeply sad. What’s frustrating is that collecting all three albums will be difficult for any library: Black Clouds is available digitally and on CD, while All Hands is vinyl/digital-only and it’s not yet clear whether the third album will end up even being released on the same label.

Brian Eno
Foreverandevernomore: Forever Voiceless Edition (digital only)
No cat. no.

In 2022, legendary producer Brian Eno released his first vocal album in many years. Titled Foreverandevernomore, it was concerned with mankind’s abuse of the earth and our need to “fall in love again, but this time with Nature, with Civilization and with our hopes for the future.” I confess that while I’ve been a huge fan of Brian Eno the producer since my teenage years, I’ve never much cared for him as a singer, so I didn’t pay much attention to this album until a new version was released that paired the original vocal tracks with instrumental versions. And now I find myself wishing I’d given the original album a chance earlier on — it’s gorgeous and sad, and his voice honestly sounds just fine, especially since it’s given heavy doses of reverb throughout. The music is mostly pretty quiet, but there are some surprising moments as well. And of course the instrumental tracks are amazing. This 2023 digital edition includes both the vocals and the instrumentals.


Tooth of a Lion
Sonne von Unten (EP; digital only)
La Gorda
No cat. no.

Here are the things I love about Berlin reggae band Tooth of a Lion: first, and most importantly, they deliver the heavyweight goods: tuneful old-school reggae in a rootswise style with maximum bass pressure. Second, they sing in German rather than awkward English. Third — and this is very important — they don’t put on fake Jamaican accents. Here’s what I like less: their debut is an EP rather than a full-length album. (Of course, at 34 minutes long it’s about the same length as a typical 1970s reggae album.) It’s hard to identify highlights because each track here is excellent, but “Kaun Kaun Kaun” hits extra hard due to its showcase-style dub extension, and “Flaschensammlah” incorporates a galloping dancehall interlude that is lots of fun. Highly recommended.

Lodestar Trio
Bach to Folk
Naxos World

Delightfully, I had real trouble deciding whether to put this in the Classical or the Folk/Country or the World/Ethnic section — because the content is mostly classical music of the baroque period, but the arrangements/interpretations are all in a folk style, and the particular folk style in question is that of Scandinavia. So I finally kind of flipped a (three-sided) coin and decided that the overarching vibe of the album is Scandinavian, and here it is. Anyway, the music is a complete joy: themes and melodies from works by Bach, Couperin, and Lully, played on violin, Hardanger fiddle, and nyckelharpa in a Nordic folk style — with some traditional Norwegian tunes thrown in for good measure. It’s every bit as much fun as you’d expect.

Kimi Djabaté

Born in Guinea-Bissau and currently based in Portugal, Kimi Djabaté is the scion of a family of griots — musicians and historians who travel around collecting and transmitting oral traditions and cultural knowledge. His music blends elements of his home region’s musical culture (griot singing, desert blues, electric afrobeat, etc.) with strands of Caribbean and Euro-Latin musical styles; the opening track, “Afonhe,” is horn-driven reggae with a hypnotic melody and a balafon obliggato; “Dindin” lopes along on an Afro-Cuban groove; “Mbembatu” uses a stagger-step bassline to offset the sweetness of its sung melody. It’s all lovely, lovely stuff.

February 2023


Adalbert Gyrowetz
Flute Quartets op. 37
Ardinghello Ensemble
CPO (dist. Naxos)
555 435-2

Like many musicians of his generation, Adalbert Gyrowetz was educated in his home city of Prague but then went elsewhere to pursue his career. After stays in Vienna, Italy, and Paris he settled for a time in London (where he served as an interpreter for Franz Joseph Haydn) before returning to Vienna. Musically he might be regarded as an “interpreter” of Haydn as well, given the degree to which his chamber music communicated many of the late-classical ideas that Haydn had developed so skillfully. Gyrowetz is largely forgotten today, but these lovely performances of his Opus 37 composition for flute and string trio (played on a mix of modern and period instruments by the Ardinghello Ensemble) leave one wondering why he hasn’t stayed more firmly in the public ear.

Arvo Pärt
Stabat Mater
Morphing Chamber Orchestra; Various Soloists / Tomasz Wabnic
Aparté (dist. Integral)

Over the past 40 years, the music of Arvo Pärt has become core not only to the 20th-century repertoire, but to the classical repertoire generally. So it should come as no surprise that most of the compositions featured on this simply but sumptuously beautiful recording have been recorded many times before — Fratres (which opens the program) was one of the first pieces that brought Pärt to public attention outside of his native Estonia, and both Summa and the title work have become familiar since then. The works for solo voice (prominently featuring countertenor Andreas Scholl) are a bit less commonly heard, and the juxtaposition of the rather sere “My Heart’s in the Highlands” with the much more melodically sweet “Vater Unser” setting is particularly effective. Even if your library collection already contains multiple performances of these works, this recording will still be well worth adding to it.

Robert Kyr
All-Night Vigil
Cappella Romana / Alexander Lingas
Cappella (dist. Naxos)

For American composer Robert Kyr, the direct inspiration for All-Night Vigil is Sergei Rachmaninoff, who set the same liturgical texts in his identically-titled work of 1915. The texts (here translated into English) are from the Orthodox liturgy, and for the music Kyr draws on Byzantine and Slavic traditions while also incorporating his own distinctive contemporary style. The result is shimmeringly lovely and deeply moving; Kyr successfully avoids using the Eastern musical elements as mere flavoring or exploiting them for exoticism, instead carefully blending all of his influences into a well-integrated whole. The singing by Cappella Romana is simply magnificent. I wish the recorded sound were a little bit more detailed, but it’s warm and immersive and very attractive overall. This is a world-premiere recording.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Piano & Bassoon Concerto, etc. (reissue)
Martin Galling; Georg Zukerman; Collegium con Basso; Berlin & Würrtemburg Orchestras
Alto (dist. Alliance/AMPED)
ALC 1466

Originally issued on two separate LPs in 1965 and 1970 on the Vox/Turnabout label, these performances of chamber, solo, and orchestral works by the always-under appreciated Viennese master Johann Nepomuk Hummel make a welcome return to market on this skillfully remastered reissue. On the Piano Concertino and the solo Introduction & Rondo the piano sound is maybe a bit dull, but that’s to be expected for recordings of this vintage — and the orchestras and chamber ensemble sound startlingly fresh and clear. The performances are excellent as well. Any library collection with a particular interest in the late classical and early Romantic periods would be well advised to replace its old LPs with this very fine CD reissue.

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Six Concertante Quartets
Arabella String Quartet

While we’re in the classical period, let’s turn our attention to one of the most remarkable figures of that era. Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges was the son of a French parliamentarian and a Senegalese slave, and was known throughout his brief life as an expert swordsman, horseman, athlete, violinist, and composer. He seems to have studied with both Jean-Marie Leclair and François-Joseph Gossec, and while his military career prevented a high level of musical productivity, he did write music across multiple genres including orchestral, chamber, and operatic works. This set of string quartets shows him to have been a master of the classical style even as they hark back both structurally and stylistically to the early years of the genre (and therefore reflect little influence from Haydn). The Arabella String Quartet plays wonderfully, on modern instruments.


Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant avec Folie à Quatre
PR 21

Under normal conditions, the more “out” a jazz album is (especially if it’s a concept album), the less interested I am. But two things caught my eye about the latest from bassist/composer Trevor Dunn: the clarinet-and-strings chamber quartet, and the fact that guitarist Mary Halvorson is a member of his Trio-Convulsant. Since I’m always interested in hearing classical instrumentation applied in a jazz context and since I will automatically listen to any project involving Halvorson, I had to give this one a spin. The unifying concept here is the history of the Convulsionnaires of Saint-Médard, an 18th-century French religious cult associated with the Jansenist movement known for worship that took the form of ecstatic convulsions and other displays of extreme group behavior. The music, as one might expect, is pretty wild — but at times it’s also very tightly composed (check out the intro and outro on “Saint-Ménard,” for example), with odd time signatures, jagged melodies, and careful arrangements. Those who remember Trevor Dunn as a founding member of avant-rock ensemble Mr. Bungle might have the best idea of what to expect here. Recommended.

Chris Dingman
Journeys Vol. 2
Inner Arts Initiative
No cat. no.

With his latest album, vibraphonist Chris Dingman continues the exploration of live solo improvisation he began with the monumental 5-disc release Peace (which I strongly recommended in the August 2020 issue) and continued with Journeys Vol. 1 (recommended in the February 2022 issue). Over the past few years Dingman’s whole approach to performance has changed dramatically, shifting from the focus on self-expression that has been a central characteristic of jazz performance for decades to a new concern for connecting with the concerns, stressors, and anxieties of his audience and seeking to relieve them in real time through spontaneously created music. As one might expect, the result is music that sounds radically different from most jazz vibes playing and that evokes an equally radically different response in the listener. Dingman’s work continues to be both groundbreaking and deeply affecting — not to mention enjoyable.

Joe Locke
Circle 9

For a more traditional — but still innovative and exciting — take on jazz vibes playing, check out the latest from Joe Locke and his quartet, a wonderful selection of original compositions bracketed by two standards. The album opens with a sprightly take on “Love for Sale,” then segues into a gorgeous and intricately arranged ballad written in tribute to the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove; elsewhere the title track explores a Middle Eastern modal melody in 5/4 time, “Elegy for Us All” expresses Locke’s political concern with a heart-tugging balladic melody, and “Shifting Moon” explores an unsettled, slippery harmonic pattern. The program ends with a gently searching solo take on “Lush Life.” This is a complex and lovely album.

The Birmingham Seven
Just Passing Through
Summit (dist. MVD)
DCD 799

If you’re looking for some old-fashioned, straight-ahead jazz in styles ranging from hard bop to powerfully swinging big-band sounds to Latin to Monk-inflected modernism, then look no further than the debut release of the Birmingham Seven. Just Passing Through presents a full program of originals, most of them written by baritone saxophonist Daniel Western. While the styles vary widely within the general parameters of straight-ahead jazz, two things are consistent: the band’s clear respect and affection for the styles in which they play, and a powerful sense of joy in virtuosity — but at the same time, no one is showing off here; they’re serving the tunes and conveying ideas that are as fun to listen to as they are complex and challenging. Highlights include the album-opening “Gotta Keep ‘Em Guessing” and the brilliant horn chart on “Reed the Room.” I’m very much looking forward to this group’s next album.

Christopher Hale
Ritual Diamonds
Earshift Music

I fell in love with this release about one minute into the first track. It’s an odd sort of jazz album, to be sure: it blends contemporary jazz and traditional Korean drumming, but unlike many similar cross-cultural experiments it actually succeeds at creating a new fusion rather than just sounding like one tradition layered awkwardly on top of another. Ritual Diamonds is primarily a collaboration between bassist Christopher Hale and percussionist Minyoung Woo; they’re joined by several other musicians, but the concept is theirs, and it’s built on Hale and Woo sharing their unique rhythmic heritages and finding ways to interlock and blend them and create something unique. What results is hard to describe but truly beautiful to hear: the music sounds through-composed but obviously involves varying degrees of improvisation; it sounds generally fairly Western (the chord changes, the instrumental textures, the melodic patterns) but is clearly informed at a deep level by rhythmic concepts from non-Western traditions (particularly on the skipping, irregular, but delicately lovely “Minor Diamonds”), and it all conveys a sense of confident complexity but calmness as well. You just have to hear it — check it out on the label’s Bandcamp page.


Starlett & Big John
Living in the South

In some important ways, Starlett Boswell and Big John Talley deliver the mainstream bluegrass goods on this, their second album: some classic tunes (“Setting’ the Woods on Fire,” “My Brown Eyed Darling”) and some fine originals (“The Ties That Bind,” “Straight 58”), all played and sung with unassuming virtuosity and at moderate tempos. But there are some subtle innovations here: Talley and Boswell regularly trade off on lead vocals within the same song, which is pretty unusual in a bluegrass context, and there are some sly stylistic moves as well — the strong hint of Texas swing on “Setting’ the Woods on Fire,” for example. The title track’s lyrics cloy just a bit (well, maybe more than just a bit), but for the most part the songs are outstanding — and when Talley and Boswell sing in harmony you’ll feel the hair rise on your neck.

Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams
Live at Levon’s!
Royal Potato Family
No cat. no.

The husband-and-wife team of guitarist/songwriter Larry Campbell (Levon Helm, Bob Dylan) and singer/guitarist Teresa Williams recorded this live album after spending several months touring in the fall of 2019, just before COVID shut things down. They celebrated the end of the tour by returning to Levon Helm Studios, Campbell’s former boss’s intimate concert and recording venue in Woodstock, NY. The sound is exceptional for a live album, and the group is in outstanding form, delivering pleasingly greasy country-rock, swing, gospel, old-time country, and even a couple of bluegrass numbers — including a rocking version of the Flatt & Scruggs classic “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” and an equally raucous take on Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” Live albums are notoriously uneven, but this one represents everything that can make a live recording fun.

John Hartford
Aereo-Plain (reissue; vinyl only)
Real Gone Music

John Hartford was a genius and an enigma — a gifted songwriter, fiddler, and banjo player whose deeply quirky sense of humor was matched by an equally deep love for all forms of American roots music. His 1971 album Aereo-Plain represents both of those aspects of his artistry perfectly: it’s basically a bluegrass album (featuring fiddler Vassar Clements, resonator guitarist Tut Taylor, and other luminaries) that refuses to stay in anything like a conventional bluegrass channel; it opens and closes with the gospel classic “Turn Your Radio On” and includes a version of the hoary old-time chestnut “Leather Britches,” but otherwise sways off into styles that can only be called “Hartford.” Songs like “Back in the Goodle Days,” “Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie,” and “Steam Powered Aereo Plane” are great examples (and the spelling variation is absolutely intentional). I wish this reissue were more customer-friendly — it’s a fancy and high-priced vinyl-only release with no digital or CD complement — but used copies of the CD can still be found, and it’s available from other (legitimate) sources as a download.


Erik Wøllo
The Shape of Time
Projekt (dist. MVD)

Forrest Fang
The Lost Seasons of Amorphia

Two recent releases from the venerable Projekt label showcase very different approaches to the general category of ambient music. Norwegian composer Erik Wøllo’s album The Shape of Time reflects his contemplations of how time works on both the planetary and the personal/psychological levels. There are choir sounds, swirling textures, and the creation of the kinds of enormous sonic spaces that the album’s title and theme would suggest. As with all good ambient music, it’s attractive and quiet but never cloying or saccharine. Forrest Fang takes a different approach: his music is based on a fusion of electronic and acoustic instruments, and draws on influences as disparate as Japanese gagaku court music, Indonesian gamelan, and Chinese classical composition. Fang’s music is more minimal, with less harmonic movement; his pieces tend to hover in place rather than drift in a specific direction. “Inlets” uses a hammered zither in a hypnotic way that evokes Laraaji’s 1980s recordings with Brian Eno, while other tracks hint at the phasing processes popular with 1960s minimalists. Both albums are richly rewarding and recommended to all libraries.

Various Artists
Cherry Stars Collide: Dream Pop, Shoegaze, Ethereal Rock 1986-1995 (compilation; 4 discs)
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)

Guitar distortion is interesting: it can be used to create harsh, hard-edged music, and it can be used to produce soft billows of sound. That duality struck me again as I listened through this compilation of songs by artists who were operating on the spectrum of what might be called “cloud pop” during the late 1980s and early 1990s. As always with these Cherry Red comps, you’ll encounter some familiar material — in this case, by the likes of Mazzy Star, Ultra Vivid Scene, Cocteau Twins, and The Cranberries. But you’ll also be introduced to artists you’ve almost certainly never heard of (The Charlottes, anyone?) and you’ll be reminded of some you may have forgotten (Kitchens of Distinction, Cranes, etc.). There’s a surprising stylistic variety here: slow guitar rock from This Ascension, abstract hookiness from Cocteau Twins, jangle-pop from The Innocence Mission and the Sundays, wall-of-sound instrospection from AR Kane, and much more. These Cherry Red boxes are always a treasure trove for library collections, and this one is no exception.

The Hooten Hallers
Back in Business Again

A trio consisting of guitarist/singer John Randall, drummer/singer Andy Rehm, and saxophonist/singer Kellie Everett, the Hooten Hallers have been using their odd lineup to deliver a pretty original vision of rootsy rock’n’roll for the past fifteen years. Randall’s hoarse but powerful voice is the front-line element of their sound, but Everett’s saxophone and clarinet work (often multitracked to create a whole horn section) brings a bluesy edge, and there are moments when they sound like a cross between rockabilly, Chicago blues, and Texas roadhouse boogie — “Cat Scrap,” in particular, sounds like John Lee Hooker doing a ZZ Top cover. And “Mankiller” sounds like — I kid you not — a collaboration between John Zorn and Morphine. Intrigued? Yeah, you probably should be.

The Well Wishers
Blue Sky Sun
No cat. no.

Bay Area power-pop legend Jeff Shelton (formerly frontman for Spinning Jennies) continues to make some of the finest power pop available as The Well Wishers — a solo project on which he plays and sings everything himself (with the occasional guest). He put The Well Wishers aside for a couple of years while he explored his love of shoegaze and dream pop sounds under the name Deadlights, but now he’s back and sounds sharper than ever. Layers of guitar, layers of vocals, tight song structures and hooks galore — you know what to expect. Highlights include the sharp-edged “Idiot Smile,” the dreamy/jangly “Serenade,” the anthemic “Hours and Days,” and the entirely brilliant “Radicalized” — but everything on this disc is well worth hearing, as usual.


Debashish Bhattacharya
The Sound of the Soul
Abstract Logix

Classical music from the Indian subcontinent makes use of a wide variety of regionally specific instruments that are widely recognized for their association with that musical tradition: the sitar, the bansuri, the veena, etc. But over the centuries Indian music has also very successfully adopted instruments from other cultures: the violin, the keyboard (notably the harmonium), the saxophone — and the slide guitar, of which Debashish Bhattacharya is probably the foremost exponent right now. Bhattacharya has actually invented and constructed guitars designed specifically to accommodate his approach to playing. His latest album continues to demonstrate not only his mastery of the instrument itself, but also his admirable ability to adapt it and harness its unique characteristics of tone and technique to the conventions of Indian music — his playing is not just thrillingly virtuosic, but also deeply expressive and musical. Like his previous albums, The Sound of the Soul is strongly recommended to all libraries collecting in either South Asian music or guitar pedagogy.

Acid Arab
٣ (Trois)
Crammed Discs

If it seems like I’ve been recommending a lot of stuff from the Crammed Discs label lately, it’s because… well… I have. (And I just learned about a new Aksak Maboul album coming out soon, so there’s probably going to be more.) They just keep putting out amazing new examples of international avant-pop and they’ve been very productive on the reissue front as well. Anyway, this latest release is one that I can’t let pass without notice. Acid Arab, as their name suggests, are a French-Algerian electronic pop music group that creates really fun, exciting, and bracing songs delivered by a shifting lineup of guest vocalists — in this case hailing from North Africa, Syria, and Turkey. Highlights on ٣ (Trois) include the squidgy, funky “Döne Döne” (featuring singer Cam Yildiz), the driving “Habaytak” (featuring Ghizlane Melih and some great double-reed playing), and the dark and eerie stutter-step of “Gouloulou” (featuring Fella Soltana). But every track here is worth hearing.

Pitch Black
Mixes & Mavericks

L.A.B. & Paolo Baldini Dub Files
L.A.B. in Dub
Echo Beach

If you’re in the mood for some bass pressure, here are a couple of outstanding remix albums that will make your week. Pitch Black is the nom de dub of New Zealand duo Mike Hodgson and Paddy Free, who have been making reggae-flavored electronica together since the mid-1990s. Mixes & Mavericks is a collection of tracks by other artists from around the globe, all remixed and given Pitch Black’s personal dubwise touch. There’s source material here from Mexico’s Sudden Reverb, the UK artist Ink Project, the legendary Gaudi, and much more, and everything has that rich, dark, spacious-but-heavy sound that we’ve come to love from this duo. L.A.B. in Dub is a somewhat different affair — an album of tracks by a single artist, all remixed in dub style by the Italian producer Paolo Baldini. L.A.B., coincidentally, are also a New Zealand band, but here it’s material from their back catalogue that is subjected to the remix attentions of Baldini. The producer worked live in the studio, the same way great reggae producers like King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry did during the classical era of dub in the 1970s, applying echo and other effects while dropping voices and instruments in and out of the mix in real time. The result is a rich and organic sound that harks back to the glory days of dub in all the best ways. Both are brilliant albums.

Jah Thomas
Clarks a Clarks (digital only)
TRCD 1413

Jah Thomas is a reggae legend, one of the great producers of the roots and dancehall periods and a very fine toaster as well. His latest album is a celebration of the sounds that were nicing up the dance while he was coming up, and something of a celebration of Jamaican consumer culture as well: the title track finds him rhapsodizing on the qualities of Clarks footwear (hugely popular in Kingston for decades), while “Western Union Walk” extols the wonders of instant money transfer. He teams up with singer Junior Moore to celebrate, er, heterosexuality (“Woman alone can buy me roses/Woman alone can pull mi trousers”) and to denounce gun culture, and with the equally legendary DJ Josey Wales to bemoan the state of the world. The backing tracks are new productions of classic Studio One rhythms, and Jah Thomas’ production is rich and crisp throughout.

January 2023


František Ignác Antonín Tuma
Te Deum
Czech Ensemble Baroque Orchestra & Choir / Tereza Válková; Roman Válek
Supraphon (dist. Naxos)
SU 4315-2

This is the kind of release I live for: a world-premiere recording of glorious music by a great composer who doesn’t get enough love in the current marketplace. František Ignác Antonín Tuma was a Czech composer of the late baroque period who spent most of his career in Vienna; he studied under Johann Fux and made a name for himself as a viola da gamba and theorbed lute player as well as a composer. This recording features two of his large-scale sacred vocal works, a Te Deum setting and the magisterial Missa Veni Patri pauper, with an instrumental sinfonia inserted between them. It’s hard to overstate how deeply engaging and attractive this music is, and the performances by the Czech Ensemble Baroque Orchestra and Choir are magnificent — alto soloist Monika Jägerova is especially fine.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Flute Concertos
Rune Most; The Danish Sinfonietta / David Riddell

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Flute Concertos & Sinfonias
Nolwenn Bargin; Musikkollegium Winterthur / Roberto González Monjas
CD 50-1909

It seems like 2022 yielded a real bumper crop of recordings of works by C.P.E. Bach, the most illustrious of Johann Sebastian Bach’s many composer children. At first I wondered if 2022 marked an important birthday for him, or maybe a significant anniversary of his death, but since he was born in 1714 and died in 1788 neither of those explanations seems likely. It may just be a happy coincidence. In any case, this past year saw two very fine modern-instrument recordings of C.P.E. Bach flute concertos, both of which are well worth recommending. Flautist Norwenn Bargin opens her program with the D major concerto (Wq. 183/1), a stylistically forward-looking piece that was considered somewhat avant-garde at the time of its composition. Two other concerti and a three-movement sinfonia round out the program; everyone’s playing here is both virtuosic and stylistically sensitive. On his recording with the Danish Sinfonietta, flautist Rune Most tackles three concertos, only one of which duplicates the Bargin program. I especially enjoyed Most’s tone, which is woodier than one would normally expect from a modern flute and which contrasts nicely with the bright and hard-edged sound of the Sinfonietta. Again, the playing is delightful on this disc and I recommend both to any library with a collecting interest in the pre- and early classical periods.

Adriaan Willaert
Adriano3 (vinyl & digital only)
Dionysos Now!
Evil Penguin
EPRC 0047

Here’s another outstanding world-premiere recording: the six-voice, all-male Dionysos Now! ensemble, led by Tore Tom Denys, has undertaken a project to record little-known works by the most famous composer to come from Denys’ home town of Roeselare: Adriaan Willaert. The latest release in this series centers on a Mass setting written while Willaert was in residence at the Cathedral San Marco in Venice, a Mass apparently without a title but which is presented here as Missa Ippolito. The title comes from a theory of musicologist Joshua Rifkin, who argues (based on some pretty deep textual and melodic analysis) that the work was written in tribute to Willaert’s patron, the Cardinal of Ferrara. The Mass’s unusual structure is worth reading about, and as always with this group the singing is outstanding.

William Byrd
Pavans & Galliards; Variations & Grounds (2 discs)
Daniel-Ben Pienaar
Avie (dist. Naxos)

It’s not that unusual to hear keyboard music of the baroque era played on the modern piano, but Renaissance music on the piano is much more rare. On this two-disc recital program, pianist Daniel-Ben Pinaar explores two particularly important collections of William Byrd’s early keyboard music: My Lady Nevell’s Book and Parthenia, and adds as a makeweight the Quadran Pavan and Quadran Galliard; the pieces from these collections are interspersed with fifteen of Byrd’s variations on Elizabethan tunes and on “ground bass.” The modern piano poses certain challenges for performing music of this period, which was written with instruments in mind that have a much lighter tone and much less dynamic range. Pinaar’s approach is both thoughtful and deeply musical; he incorporates ornamentation that is highly idiomatic but doesn’t shy away from putting the piano’s richer and deeper tone to good use. This is both quite an unusual and also a deeply rewarding album.

Vicente Lusitano
The Marian Consort / Rory McCleery
Linn (dist. Naxos)

A well-known music theorist in his time, Vincent Lusitano is primarily remembered today — when he’s remembered at all — as very likely the first Black composer to have been formally published. His sole surviving collection of works, the Liber primus epigramatum, from which these ten motets were taken, was published in Rome in 1551. Lusitano was born in Portugal of mixed European and African parentage and eventually became a priest and a music teacher in Padua and Viterbo, and made his living through student fees since paid clergy positions were available only to White men at the time. Throughout these marvelous vocal works you can clearly hear Lusitano paying tribute to Josquin des Prez, but at the same time he has developed a style distinctly his own — echoes of which we’ll hear later in the work of, among others, Carlo Gesualdo. For all early music collections.


3D Jazz Trio
9 to 5

I don’t think there’s another jazz ensemble anywhere that plays with as much pure joy as the 3D Jazz Trio. Pianist Jackie Warren, bassist Amy Shook, and drummer Sherrie Maricle also have a great stylistic range — check out Maricle’s intricate arrangement of “Sing,” which is followed by Shook’s hard-driving, funky take on Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” (They’re also excellent composers, and the original tunes “Blues for G-C” and “Theme for B.T.” are album highlights.) But most of all they have an ensemble sound that would be the envy of any trio. Each is impressively virtuosic on her instrument, but they play together with not just precision but also with the kind of blend that comes only from obvious mutual affection. Like everything else I’ve heard from the 3D Jazz Trio, this is a simply brilliant album.

Franco Ambrosetti

The flugelhorn’s naturally soft and burnished tone lends itself to quiet and introspective jazz, and that’s what you get on this gorgeous release from composer and flugelhorn player Franco Ambrosetti. He’s accompanied by a jaw-dropping array of first-call session players: guitarist John Scofield, pianist Uri Caine, bassist Scott Colley, drummer Peter Erskine — and the string arrangements are written and conducted by Alan Broadbent. If you don’t think jazz with strings is really your cup of tea, I strongly urge you to check this album out and see if it doesn’t change your mind. Every track is a lesson in both composition and orchestration, and every solo is a dissertation on taste.

The Comet Is Coming
Hyper-dimensional Expansion Beam

One of the complaints I often have about jazz musicians is when they use the term “funk” too liberally. In my experience, the great majority of jazz compositions that claim to be “funky” aren’t actually funky at all — they just have a strong backbeat instead of (or sometimes in addition to) a swing feel. No such complaint here, though: The Comet Is Coming is a trio consisting of jazz saxophonist Shabaka, drummer/synthesist Betamax and synthesist Danalogue, who together create dense, wild, and sometimes extremely funky jazz that partakes of the spiritual essence of Sun Ra and the harmolodic freakiness of Ornate Coleman without ever sounding either atonal or self-indulgent. No matter how out-there they get, there’s a deep discipline to the group’s sound, and although it doesn’t sound like any other jazz you’ve ever heard, it draws deeply on the jazz verities. For all adventurous collections.

Fred Hersch & esperanza spalding
Alive at the Village Vanguard

Two generation-defining geniuses united in October of 2018 for a two-night stand at the legendary Village Vanguard in New York. A few lucky guests in that notoriously tiny venue were treated to voice-and-piano arrangements of standards and a Hersch original or two that featured Hersch’s keenly intellectual but also deeply sensitive pianism and esperanza spalding’s supple and discursive singing — though, sadly, not her equally virtuosic bass playing. I’d say the album’s highlight is spalding’s scat performance on Hersch’s knotty Thelonious Monk tribute, or maybe her improvised lyrics to Charlie Parker’s “My Little Suede Shoes,” but just about any track here would count as the highlight on any other jazz album from the past five years. I recommend this one for any library that supports a jazz curriculum.


New Riders of the Purple Sage
Lyceum ’72

Today they’d probably be called, but in 1972 the New Riders of the Purple Sage were called “psychedelic country” or “psychedelic country rock,” and they toured with the Grateful Dead (whose debt to country music had started becoming explicit with the recent albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty). This album documents the New Riders’ set on the final day of the Dead’s 1972 European tour, playing at the legendary Lyceum Ballroom in London. The set was recorded on a 16-track machine and sounds phenomenal. The band’s singing is frankly pretty uneven, but instrumentally they sound great, with the playing of pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage a highlight throughout. This is an important document of a strand of American country music that left a real impact but went out of style very quickly.

Howdy Glenn
I Can Almost See Houston: The Complete Howdy Glenn

Commercial country music has never been a particularly hospitable place for Black artists. In the 1970s there was Charley Pride, in the 1990s there was… well… Cleve Francis? And now we have Darius Rucker, I guess. But country music has been pretty dang white pretty much since it emerged as a modern genre. In 1977, though, there was a Caifornia-based singer named Morris “Howdy” Glenn who scored a chart hit with his cover of a Willie Nelson song and was nominated as Top New Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music. After a few other minor hits his star faded, though, and now he’s largely forgotten. This long-overdue compilation brings together all of his recordings: one album plus another 15 tracks either released as singles or — in many cases — never released at all. Surprisingly, his voice has quite a bit in common with that of George Jones, but there’s a hard edge to his sound that brings to mind Merle Haggard as well. In addition to being a highly valuable historical document this whole collection is quite a blast.

The Foreign Landers
Travelers Rest
Tinfoil Studios

The music of the Foreign Landers (banjoist/guitarist Tabitha Agnew Benedict and mandolinist David Benedict, both of whom sing and write as well) is a classic example of Nu Folk: songs that use folk- and bluegrass-derived instrumentation to make sounds that have little in common with folk music beyond texture and vibe. The songs — all of which are originals except for a subdued version of “Sunny Side of the Mountain” — have complex structures that are easy to miss while you’re blissing out to the Benedicts’ soft voices and close harmonies, and at times (as on the gorgeous “Should I Go”) they venture into knotty jazz-folk excursions. Elsewhere (“Flying Back to You”) they settle comfortably into straight-ahead newgrass. Rarely has this kind of virtuosity been exhibited in such a gentle and unassuming way, especially in the world of acoustic music.


Planet Mu (dist. Redeye)

2022 was a busy year for µ-Ziq (a.k.a. Mike Paradinas). He released an album of new material entitled Magic Pony Ride as well as an expanded reissue of his 1997 classic Lunatic Harness (both recommended here in the June issue) and a digital-only EP of remixes titled Goodbye. As the year came to a close he brought out another album of new music, in a couple of different manifestations: the vinyl and digital version of Hello contains nine tracks of µ-Ziq’s highly personal take on IDM/drill’n’bass — a style of hyped-up jungle that avoids the chilly and forbidding claustrophobia so common in this genre in favor of a sunny and joyful approach, one that is not entirely without edge (there’s a hint of foreboding in the vocal sample on “Ávila,” for example) but that generally stays well on the side of uplift. The CD version includes the Goodbye EP. Highly recommended.


Stefan Betke, who has recorded under the name Pole since 1998, makes music that has been characterized as dubtronic, glitch, and minimal ambient, but I’m not sure any of those labels really works. I think I’d call his music “minimal Krautrock.” On his latest album, you’ll hear faint echoes of Can and Neu!, but also more than a hint of 1970s dub. The music is generally fairly quiet but not exactly restful. “Alp” is particularly unsettling — snare hits are delivered according to what seems to be a pattern but is not easily discernible as such, while keyboards bring queasy harmonies and a bassline booms quietly below the surface — and on “Stechmück” an even queasier synth part regularly intrudes to push a more regular bass and drum part off kilter. “Firmament” has a jazzy flavor but lurches rather than swings. This is music I can confidently recommend for careful listening, but wouldn’t recommend for a party.

The Metallic Index (vinyl & digital only)

Fenella is an experimental trio consisting of the celebrated electronic composer Jane Weaver, Peter Philipson, and Raz Ullah. The Metallic Index is the group’s second release, and it features lush synthesized soundscapes, pulsing Durutti Column-style guitars (especially on the lovely “A Young Girl of Medium Height”), and sometimes deceptively simple-sounding multilayered ambience. The title track leads with a puckish Casiotone beat and clouds of altered wordless vocals, and then shifts into Steve Reich-style minimalism. For an album of instrumental electronica, The Metallic Index features a surprisingly wide range of sounds and textures, and it’s a consistently enjoyable listen.

More Offerings (cassette & digital only)
International Anthem Recording Company

Earlier this year, the electronica artist Photay (a.k.a. Evan Shornstein) made an album with producer Carlos Niño, who is himself known for his extensive catalog of collaborative recordings with musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds. An Offering was a concept album built around the idea of water and both its spiritual and its physical properties; the music was not exactly ambient, but certainly contemplative even with its complexity. More Offerings is sort of a remix album based on the same material, but it’s more than that; along with remixes and reconfigurations of music from the first album, it also includes full versions of compositions originally sampled for An Offering, a live recording, and some improvised material. There’s mystical spoken-word stuff about the nature of existence, some dancefloor-ready (or at least dancefloor-adjacent) beats, and tracks that are really hard to characterize. Both albums are well worth hearing.

NoPaper (dist. !K7)

This absolutely delightful album comes from Polish duo Skalpel, who looked to the past for inspiration for their latest release. They had been thinking about the dance and club music of the 1990s that had influenced them before they headed in a jazzier direction, and anyone who was listening to electronic music during that decade will hear lots of familiar elements here: the jazz bass, microscopic glitches, and skittery double-time breakbeats of “Why Not Jungle,” the strings and dubwise vocal effects on “Prism,” the mysterioso vibe of “White Label,” etc. If you miss the vintage sound of labels like Ninja Tune and Shadow, then this album will be a great nostalgia trip; if you have no memory of those labels, then this music may sound like a foreign county — and that’s cool too.


Water of Life (vinyl & digital only)

If a band is billed as “Afro-Finnish,” then an entirely reasonable question would be “what on earth does that mean in terms of actual music?”. In the case of Maajo, the answer would be “smooth, gently funky, densely produced but nimbly danceable pop tunes.” Actually, “pop” might be too strong a word: Major’s music is just a bit too impressionistic for that. There’s nothing here you could reasonably characterize as a hook, although there are passages you might find yourself singing along to, notably on “Unelmissani” and the percolating “Better Days (Kumba).” And if “Balafon Compagnement” doesn’t make you dance in your office chair, consider having your pulse checked.

Various Artists
Rare Global Pop 1980s (digital only)
Crammed Discs
No cat. no.

Belgium’s Crammed Discs label has been releasing fun and oddball pop and experimental music since the early 1980s, when they burst onto the avant-pop scene with albums by Aqsak Maboul, Julverne, and the Honeymoon Killers. Over the past few years the label has been raiding its vaults and putting out a steady stream of reissues and compilations under the series title Crammed Electronic Archives. The series includes six EPs by the likes of Nadjma, Des Airs, and Maurice Photo Doudongo — a hugely varied list that embraces afropop, European postpunk, and Arabic electropop. But if you don’t want to deal with six relatively brief releases, consider picking up this 17-track sampler, which provides an excellent overview of this fascinating catalog project as well as some rare singles and remixes not included on the EPs. If you’re like me, though, you’ll want every track of every release.

Spirits Eat Music
Easy Star

For fans (like me) of hardcore roots-and-culture reggae, pop reggae poses a bit of a problem. Even when it’s done really well, we tend to be suspicious of it (this despite the fact that the actual roots of reggae are in the dancehall, not in the Nyabinghi reasoning session). But there’s a truth that has to be acknowledged, and that is that good pop reggae is good reggae. And SunDub makes outstanding reggae music, in a pop vein. On their new album the Brooklyn-based band is joined by Peetah Morgan of Morgan Heritage, and also by producer Sidney Mills, who has worked with Steel Pulse — so it’s not like there aren’t solid roots credentials here. The main thing, though, is the songs, which are beautifully crafted and engagingly sung. The grooves are deep and heavy but not ponderous, and on highlight tracks like the militant steppers anthem “Real Change” and the singles “New Ways to Love” and “Jump and Dance,” SunDub is the equal of any reggae band playing in any style today.

A Different Style EP (digital only)

Glyn “Bigga” Bush is perhaps best known as a founding member of Rockers Hi Fi, with whom he spent much of the 1990s exploring various ways that dub and reggae conventions could be applied to various other genres of music. As a solo artist he has continued that exploration, and this “EP” (I put the term in scare quotes because this release is about an hour long) is a platform for other artists to give his work a similar treatment. Three remixes of “This River,” two each of “Black Swan” and “Real & Regal,” and one of “Sole Sister” bring UK garage, broken beat, electro soul, and jungle elements to the mix, to exciting and booty-shaking effect. Bush’s source material was great to begin with, and remix artists like Gerry Hectic and Sentinel 793 only make it that much more fun.

December 2022


Various Composers
Lakota Music Project
South Dakota Symphony Orchestra / Delta David Grier
Innova (dist. Naxos)

This project by the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra is very clear and direct about its goals, which are more than musical: it seeks to “(address) racial tension by creating an environment of openness through music,” and to “lay a path for reconciliation by using music to break down barriers between cultures.” This recording represents one way in which the orchestra approaches that goal. The album consists of five works, four of them commissioned by the project, all of them seamlessly fusing elements of traditional indigenous American music and European art music. Victory Songs, by Jerod Impichchachaaha’ Tate, consists of multiple movements, each honoring a legendary Lakota warrior; it’s sung in the Lakota language. A different approach is taken by Theodore Wiprud who was surprised to learn that “Amazing Grace” is a song frequently performed by Lakota drumming groups; he has written a setting that incorporates traditional drumming, singing, and flute playing along with orchestral variations on the theme. The whole album is fascinating, and highly recommended to all libraries.

Jakob Friedrich Kleinknecht
Trio Sonatas for Two Flutes and Basso Continuo
Ensemble La Cantonnade
TYX Art (dist. Naxos)

I sometimes get self-conscious about overusing the word “delightful” in this section, but honestly, there’s just no better word for this world-premiere recording of trio sonatas by Jakob Friedrich Kleinknecht, a little-known southern German composer who worked at roughly the same time as both Mozart and Haydn. However, his obscurity is not the usual case of a genius composer simply born at the wrong time and unjustly overshadowed by his towering contemporaries — even his colleagues tended to make note of his energy and productivity more than the unusually high quality of his music. But on the evidence of these pieces (performed with delicate affection by the Ensemble La Cantonnade), his skill as a composer still well exceeded the average, and there’s not a piece on this album that isn’t… well… you know, delightful. Any library collecting in the pre- and early classical periods should snap this one up.

Roger Eno
The Turning Year
Deutsche Grammophon
486 2024

He’s not as famous as his brother Brian, but over the past several decades pianist and composer Roger Eno has been writing and recording music that treads a careful path between classical, ambient, and experimental music. His first solo album for the venerable Deutsche Grammophon label occasionally teeters on on the brink of New Ageyness, but consistently stays on the right side of that line. Quiet and contemplative piano solos alternate with pieces augmented by the strings of the Scoring Berlin ensemble, and one piece in particular — Stars and Wheels — takes an improvisation he recorded twenty years ago on a church organ and subjects it to electronic alterations that create a beautiful cloud of harmony. This is a lovely, deeply quiet album.

Pedro de Cristo
Magnificat, Marian Antiphons & Missa salve Regina
Cupertinos / Luís Toscano
Hyperion (dist. Integral)

I feel a little less guilty about my complete ignorance of this masterful 16th-century Portuguese composer after learning that, despite his hugely prolific output, none of his music was ever published. (When all religious orders in Portugal were dissolved in the early 19th century, the libraries of the monasteries fell into the hands of the government, which neglected them for over 100 years, resulting in significant damage and loss.) The Marian Mass setting recorded here — the only Mass that scholars can currently attribute to de Cristo with confidence — is from a monastic manuscript currently held in the library at Coimbra University, and the other pieces on this program are from that same collection. All are united by a theme of Marian worship, reflecting one of the primary devotional concerns of Portuguese composers during this period. The singing by the mixed-voice Cupertinos ensemble is simply exquisite, and the acoustic ambience provided by the Basilica do Bom Jesu in Braga must be noted as well. Here’s hoping more works by this composer will be discovered soon, and that this group will record them.

Julian Brink
Utility Music
Sono Luminus (dist. Naxos)

Julian Brink is primarily a film composer, and this collection of brief works (itself quite brief at 36 minutes) is billed as a soundtrack to “a film that never happened.” The music was, in fact, originally written for a film, but the film project was cancelled. Brink subsequently took the original score (written for piano, harp, and string trio) and rearranged it, incorporating elements of previously-written music as well and creating a substantially new suite. The resulting music is an odd but engaging blend of turn-of-the-century salon sonorities, midcentury abstraction, and modern minimalism. The term “utility music” refers back to the German word Gebrauchsmusik, generally believed to have been coined by the composer Paul Hindemith, which denotes music intended for a functional purpose rather than only for its own sake. Film music would certainly seem to be one good example of this. Anyway, the album is lovely.


Ahmad Jamal
Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1963-1964 (2 discs)
Jazz Detective

Ahmad Jamal
Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1965-1966 (2 discs)
Jazz Detective

Jazz master sleuth Zev Feldman is at it again, launching a new label dedicated to unearthing previously-unheard recordings by jazz greats and presenting them with extensive documentation and in spectacular sound. These two two-disc sets (with a third scheduled for release on an as-yet-undetermined date) document performances by the great pianist Ahmad Jamal with his trio over the course of five years at a small Seattle club called the Penthouse. On most dates he’s accompanied by bassist Jamil Nasser, but the drummers vary — Chuck Lampkin is featured on the first volume, but there’s a different drummer for each set on the second. The recordings were made by a local radio engineer, and they sound great; Jamal is in outstanding form throughout, sometimes evoking Errol Garner in his use of big, fruity chords and sometimes evincing a Bud Powell-esque nimbleness. Now 93 years old, Jamal himself oversaw the creation of these releases and sat for interviews that are included in the booklets. No library that supports a jazz curriculum can afford to pass up this treasure trove of world-class 1960s jazz pianism.

Jason Yeager
Unstuck in Time: The Kurt Vonnegut Suite
SSC 1672

I’ll confess here that usually the word “suite” in the title of a jazz composition turns me right off — in my experience, it too often denotes music that is too bloated and too self-important to function well as jazz. I’m glad I ignored it in this case. Pianist/composer Jason Yeager has fashioned a loving tribute to Kurt Vonnegut here (in observance of the author’s 100th birthday), giving his compositions titles that refer to characters and events in various Vonnegut novels, and his writing is (here I go again) delightful. Note the boppish complexity of “Bokonon” and how it’s leavened by textural lightness and humor; note also the tender lyricism of “Ballad for Old Salo,” and the hard-swinging groove of “Unk’s Fate,” and the noirish abstraction of “Nancy’s Revenge.” Yeager is writing for a fairly large ensemble on these compositions, but not a big band, which keeps the sound nice and flexible. For all jazz collections.

Jeff Denson; Romain Pilon; Brian Blade
Finding Light
Ridgeway (dist. MVD)

Finding Light is the second album from this trio, which doesn’t present itself as having a leader but, in reality, seems functionally to be led by bassist/composer Jeff Denson. Six of the album’s ten tracks are Denson compositions, while four are by guitarist Romain Pilon. All of the tunes dance a careful but joyful line between straight-ahead and modern/free jazz, with diversions into funk (the fun and knotty “This Way, Cooky”) and into music that feels oddly abstract despite its obviously careful construction (“Wishing Well,” which drifts from balladic decorousness into gentle funk). Drummer Brian Blades was made for this stuff, and he provides a strong rhythmic through-line while contributing his own pointillistic flourishes. Although the music itself sounds nothing like Bill Evans, there’s an echo of the classic Evans-LaFaro-Motian trio’s dynamic here, with each member contributing equally to the overall sound. Highly recommended.

Herb Ellis; Remo Palmier
Windflower (vinyl only)
Real Gone Music

In 1977, guitarists Herb Ellis and Reno Palmier teamed up with bassist George Duvivier and drummer Ron Traxler to deliver this gorgeous set of standards and contemporary compositions in a style that harked back explicitly to the 1940s, when both guitarists were young up-and-comers on the cutthroat New York scene. Since that time Ellis had become a household name in jazz circles, while Palmier’s career had been sidelined by health issues, but here the two play like brothers — both stretch out admirably and push each other productively, but neither seeks to outshine or blow the other one off the stage. Ellis and Palmier both favor a warm, soft-edged tone, and both achieve the almost alchemical effect of turning their gentle touch into powerful, propulsive swing. The album clocks in at 42 minutes, and you’ll wish it were twice as long. (And if you’re like me, you’ll also wish it were available on CD.)


SUSS (2 discs; compilation)
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)
NS 156

I fully realize that as a genre designation, “ambient country” sounds like the punchline to a bad joke about the nonsensical proliferation of genre designations. As I’ve noted in previous numbers of CD HotList, though, the guys in SUSS have successfully mapped out a style that is not only fully serious but also deeply rewarding. This album brings together the band’s three previous EPs (Night Suite, Heat Haze, and Winter Was Hard) and adds five more tracks under the subtitle Across the Horizon. The music represents a continuation of their ongoing exploration of ambient soundscapes in the context of country-music conventions: lots of shimmering/twanging Telecasters, lots of eerily moaning steel guitar, very little in the way of rhythm. But the twanginess is atmospheric; the steel is like smears of orange sunset; the production is spacious and abstract. While there are hints here of producer Daniel Lanois’ sound in the 1980s and ’90s, no one right now is doing anything like what SUSS is doing, and it really sounds amazing.

The Waymores
Stone Sessions
Chicken Ranch
No cat. no.

If you miss the good old days of meat-and-potatoes honky-tonk and outlaw Texas country music, then the Waymores are here for you. Yes, the duo is based in Atlanta, but the acerbic edge in their writing (pull quote: “I’ve got everything I need/Worn-out boots and home-grown weed”) evokes Willie and Waylon more than anyone from anywhere in the Southeast (very much including Nashville), and the astringency of their harmonies brings to mind John Doe and Exene Cervenka more than Conway and Loretta or George and Tammy. On Stone Sessions, their second album, the tempos are deliberate, the rhythms tend strongly towards a sober two-step, and the lyrics are love- and world-weary (sample song titles: “Die Right Here,” “Road Worn,” “Bat Sh*t Crazy”). There’s not a surprising chord progression anywhere, and there’s not a single song that isn’t brilliant.

Kelley Smith
Moon Child (EP)
No cat. no.

Moon Child is one of those “uh-oh” album titles — the kind that is liable to trigger many listeners’ New Age Twaddle detectors. No need to worry in this case, though. The debut EP from folk singer/songwriter Kelley Smith features clear-eyed and carefully observed songs that are both softly expressed and powerfully written. There’s an Appachian twang in her delivery despite her Minnesota upbringing, and a hitch in her voice that she keeps tastefully under control. Superficially, you might characterize her voice as lightweight, but listen carefully, for example, to “Dust” and notice how much power lurks beneath the surface of her girlish timbre; note also the string arrangements on “I’ll Let Go,” which she taught herself how to create while making this EP. This is an impressive debut — let’s have more than five songs next time!


Third Eye (2 discs; expanded reissue)
Cherry Pop

Monsoon did for pop music what John McLaughlin’s Shakti ensemble did for jazz: showed that Indian music could be blended with Western music without either exoticizing or condescension. In both a compelling and a matter-of-fact way, Monsoon took the conventions of Western pop music and rhythmic/instrumental elements of Indian folk and classical music and seamlessly blended them, putting Sheila Chandra’s marvelously clear and supple voice front and center and creating a swirling kaleidoscope of melody and textures to support it. Third Eye was the group’s only full-length album; it’s reissued here in an expanded version, with live-in-the-studio tracks, remixes, and several previously unreleased items. It’s interesting how timeless this music sounds — although it was originally issued in 1983 it really doesn’t sound much like an ’80s record, perhaps because of the uniqueness (for the time) of its cultural fusion. Monsoon launched Chandra’s musical career, which was a remarkable one until injury led to her retirement from singing in 2009.

Ohm Resistance

If you’re under the (understandable) impression that drum’n’bass music tends to be a bit tiresome, then I strongly recommend the debut full-length album from Gavin Hislop, a video-game sound designer who records under the name Blockdata. He’s been releasing music as Blockdata for several years, but this is his first album and unlike many longplayers in this genre, it’s conceived as a unified whole and constructed for end-to-end listening. Yes, there are the expected dense and crunchy double-speed breakbeats and wobble bass, but there’s also lots of sonic space in the mix and multiple interludes of softer, more introspective music; song titles like “Binary Warfare” and “Bone Weight” may suggest a more assaultive vibe, but there’s actually a tremendous amount of subtlety at work here, and this album amply rewards close listening. Also, it’s great for freeway driving as long as there’s a relatively generous speed limit.

Mata Atlântica
Retiro e Ritmo
7d Media
7D 2206

I’m placing this one in the Rock/Pop section because it seems like the least bad fit for this fascinating and ultimately uncategorizable album. Led by keyboardist/producer/sound designer Markus Reuter, Mata Atlântica is a musical project organized with a non-musical purpose in mind: saving the coastal rainforest of Brazil. Now, activist music is always a risky proposition, because the thing being advocated for is almost always more important than mere music, and that can lead to music that quickly becomes an afterthought while messaging muscles itself into the forefront. No such problem here: while grooves reminiscent of both prog rock and 1970s jazz fusion (leavened with bubbling Brazilian rhythms) simmer in the background, a shifting array of wind players, percussionists, vocalists, and field-recording-manipulators create a percolating sound field of melodies over the course of long, leisurely tracks. There is some explicit sermonizing, but for the most part the music speaks for the trees more subtly, and does so in a deeply engaging way. Highly recommended.

Sally Seltmann
Early Moon (vinyl/digital only)
Three of Hearts/Arts & Crafts

Sally Seltmann’s latest starts out powerfully, with a story-song in which a woman pleads with a former friend whose boyfriend she stole at some point in the past. The sisterhood-is-powerful message is no less powerful for being implied rather than shouted, but the song’s real power is in its melody, which is an absolutely merciless earworm. Then Seltmann moves from strength to strength, with acoustic-pop balladry (“Table for One”), jangly dream pop (“Female Pied Piper”), acerbic romantic commentary (“Lovers Lie”), and a gently stomping honky-tonk two-step that doesn’t sound country at all (“Real Born Tragic”). Don’t let the breathy voice fool you: Seltman is a sharp-eyed and unsentimental writer, as well as a highly creative arranger. She’s spent much of the last few years writing songs for others, and that ongoing exercise in craft has really paid off.


Jussi Reijonen
Three Seconds|Kolme Toista

Although Finnish by birth, guitarist/composer Jussi Reijonen’s music is influenced by formative years spent in Jordan, Tanzania, Oman, Lebanon, and the US. On his second album as a leader the musical influences that come through most strongly are a combination of the modern European classical tradition and Arabic maqam. The music is largely composed — there may be improvisation going on here, but it’s not easy to tell where the written passages end and the improvised ones begin — and it features horns, strings, and various kinds of percussion in addition to Reijonen’s guitar and oud playing; in fact, his parts are seamlessly interwoven with the others rather than being “featured” in any explicit sense. Sometimes the music floats and sometimes it moves with tidal power, and the combination of Middle Eastern scales and modalities and classically-derived Western harmonies is both bracing and exciting. In a music shop, it’s hard to guess where you’d find this one — but I’d look first in the World section and then in Jazz.

Catrin Finch; Seckou Keita
Bendigedig (dist. Naxos)

The harp and the kora have a lot in common: both feature fixedly tuned strings that are plucked without (usually) being altered in pitch and that are attached to resonating chambers. But they’re also very different: the kora’s resonating chamber is a large gourd covered with hide, whereas the harp’s is a wooden box. And of course the kora is from West Africa whereas the harp is most recently a European instrument, so the playing styles differ significantly. And in that mix of difference and complementarity (plus healthy endowments of musical genius) lies the beauty of the ongoing collaboration between Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita, on which they play compositions they wrote together, compositions that beautifully intertwine their individual styles and result in something entirely new (though not without significant echoes of their separate musical heritages. Highly recommended to all libraries.

Islais a Genir
Bendigedig (dist. Naxos)

Also from the Bendigedig label is the second album from VRï (no, that’s not a typo), a brilliant Welsh trio that blends the energy of folk fiddling with the decorousness of classical technique without sacrificing the best of either tradition — and that harmonizes vocally like angels. Wales is a less commonly explored area of British folk tradition, and those unfamiliar with it (like me) will immediately hear elements that sound familiar, but from other contexts — for example, the fiddle style often contains echoes of Scandinavia (check the hardanger-sounding “Yr Ehedydd” and “March Glas”), and the foot-stomping and unison call-and-response singing on “Y Gaseg Ddu” really evoke Québecois tradition. But for the most part this music has a truly unique — and utterly gorgeous — sound.

Tiken Jah Fakoly
Braquage de pouvoir
Chapter Two/Wagram Music

Hailing from Côte d’Ivoire, Tiken Jah Fakoly has been one of the preeminent voices in African reggae since his debut album twenty years ago. On his latest release, he’s aided by a team of Jamaican and French producers (including the legendary Tyrone Downie, who served for years as Bob Marley’s keyboardist and sadly passed away just before this album came out), and several guest singers, among them Winston McAnuff and Amadou & Maria. As usual, Fakoly sings in a variety of languages, but mainly in French; as always, he writes songs that are tough and hooky but that also generate a deep, rootsy reggae vibe. Highlights include the lovely “Beau continent” (featuring Dub Inc.), and the uplifting, acoustic-based “Ça va aller.” All libraries with a collecting interest in reggae music should take notice of this one.

November 2022


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Concertos for Flute and Orchestra
Alexis Kossenko; Valeria Kafelnikov; Gli Angeli Genève / MacLeod

Mozart’s concertos for flute and for flute and harp are among the most beloved and most frequently recorded works of his orchestral repertoire. So what makes this new recording noteworthy among a field of hundreds of others? Simple: the sound. Not so much the production (though the production is impeccable) as the orchestral sound itself. Gli Angeli Genève — its odd Franco-Italian name notwithstanding — has the richest, most lush ensemble sound I’ve ever heard in a period-instrument orchestra, and the soloists are simply magnificent. This disc is subtitled Wind Concertos Vol. 1, which leads me to the hopeful conclusion that Gli Angeli will be eventually working their way through all of Mozart’s concertos for wind instruments, and if they do, you can anticipate hearing about all of those releases here in CD HotList. Highly recommended to all library collections.

Various Composers
Loop: Ligeti’s Inspiration & Legacy
Rose Wollman

Various Composers
I, A.M.: Artist Mother Project: New Works for Violin and Electronics
Olivia de Prato
New World

Violist Rose Wollman’s Loop project was conceived to celebrate the 100th birthday of Györgi Ligeti, and is constructed around a performance of that composer’s Sonata for Viola Solo (1991-1994). Wollman has chosen to intersperse the work’s six movements with miniatures and movements by a wide variety of other composers for her instrument; each movement is presented as the centerpiece of a triptych, bracketed by music by such disparate composers as Georg Philipp Telemann, Atar Arad, Domenico Gabrieli, J.S. Bach, and Natalie Williams. Most of the music is for unaccompanied viola (one piece is for viola and electronics), and the kaleidoscopic variety of moods, styles, and textures is fascinating. Violinist Olivia De Prato has also put together a conceptually unified program for her solo instrument, but this one is very different in both tone and concept: here the unifying theme is motherhood, and the tensions between that calling and the calling of an artist. All of the featured composers are women who have chosen to continue as artists while also embracing motherhood, and some of the titles are suggestive of the parenting experience: The Dream Feedautomatic writing mumbles of the late hour, etc. The music itself is a complex and crunchy mix: Katharine Young’s Mycorrhiza I is a sharp, scraping explosion of frustration; Ha-Yan Kim’s may you dream of rainbows in magical lands builds layers of drones into a shimmering mass of harmonies that becomes more and more eerie as it progresses. On noch unbenannt the violin enters into conversation with composer Pamelia Stickney’s theremin to create a dark and searching mood. This is brilliant and challenging music, expertly played.

Jane Antonia Cornish
Vicky Chow
Cantaloupe Music (dist. Naxos)

Jane Antonia Cornish is perhaps best known for her film and, more recently, ballet scores, but she has an impressive portfolio of concert music as well. This album is the world-premiere recording of six new pieces for piano, all performed by Vicky Chow. Five of the works call for multiple piano parts to be multitracked and played back simultaneously, while the sixth is for a piano solo. As the works’ titles (SkyOceanSierra, etc.) suggest, this is programmatic music designed to invoke the experience of a deep connection to nature — but don’t be fooled into expecting woolly-headed New Age noodling. The music is consonant and soft, but there are notable harmonic complexities shimmering inside those banks of diatonic tone-clouds, and Chow seems to have a particularly deep affinity for Cornish’s music; it’s as if you can hear her luxuriating in it. For all collections.

Various Composers
The Splendour of Florence with a Burgundian Resonance
Gothic Voices with Andrew Lawrence King
LINN (dist. Naxos)

In early 15th-century Burgundy, the Franco-Flemish school of Renaissance polyphonic composition was beginning to mature, and the influence of that region’s composers was already being felt in Italy. In Florence, a cathedral was dedicated in 1436 and the ceremony featured Guillaume Dufay’s motet Nuper rostrum flores, a work the contours of which are generally believed to have been designed to mimic those of the cathedrals’ dome. This austerely beautiful album by the Gothic Voices (with harpist Andrew Lawrence King) features that motet along with other sacred and secular songs by Johannes Ockeghem, Antoine Busnois, and other Franco-Flemish composers, all of them taken from song collections compiled in Florence. Some of these works are by unknown composers, and some by highly obscure ones — this will likely be most listeners’ first encounter with Hayne von Ghizeghem, for example. Everything here is exquisitely sung and recorded.


Carlo Monbelli
Lullaby for Planet Earth
Clap Your Hands

A new Swiss label called Clap Your Hands has just come onto the jazz scene with two releases, both of them offering a vision of the genre that is both stylistically expansive and surprisingly accessible without being overly smooth or saccharine. Carlo Mombelli’s Lullaby for Planet Earth is aptly titled; featuring Mombelli on bass and (wordless) vocals alongside guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel and drummer Jorge Rossy, it looks like a standard guitar trio album but sounds like anything but. The music is gentle and quiet, with a vibe that suggests improvisation — listen more closely, though, and you hear clear evidence of careful composition. “Gina’s Song” comes closest to feeling like straight-ahead jazz, though Muthspiel’s often-bluesy note choices and Rossy’s gently propulsive drumming hint at fusion. Mostly, though, this music floats like clouds and whispers like a parent singing to a baby. It’s all completely lovely.

Marilyn Mazur’s Shamania
Clap Your Hands

Also just out on the Clap Your Hands label is this very different project from an ensemble led by drummer/composer/singer Marilyn Mazur. The band name Shamania suggests what you might expect: polyculturally mystical invocations of the tribal feminine, sometimes with grooves (as on the gently pulsing Latin-adjacent title track) and sometimes without (as on the floating “Shadow Tune”). Sometimes the cultural references are quite explicit (note the shofar-like opening of “Solnedgangskanon”), but generally speaking this album is that rarest of things: a musical expression of genuine universalism (or at least feminine universalism) that never makes you cringe with embarrassment, and a largely improvised musical odyssey that is both stylistically surprising and constantly engaging. For all adventurous jazz collections.

Bobby Broom
Keyed Up

I believe the last Bobby Broom album I reviewed and recommended was Bobby Broom Plays for Monk, a brilliant tribute to the eccentric jazz genius Thelonious Monk, who charted a singular path as a jazz pianist and composer. Broom’s latest is a more wide-ranging tribute to giants of jazz pianism, a program that covers tunes by (or closely associated with) such stylistically disparate figures as Erroll Garner, Bud Powell, Herbie Hancock, and McCoy Tyner. Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty” is given a light but funky treatment, James Williams’ “Soulful Bill” is as bluesy as one would expect, and Broom’s take on Garner’s deathless “Misty” is sweet and touching. His tone is worth noting: it’s more hard-edged than is typical among straight-ahead guitarists, but he balances that with an exceptionally sensitive touch. Wonderful album.

Owen Broder
Hodges: Front and Center, Vol. 1 (digital only)
Outside In Music
No cat. no.

A somewhat different kind of tribute album is this one by saxophonist Owen Broder, on which he puts together personal interpretations of compositions written by the legendary Johnny Hodges as well as some that came to be associated with him during his celebrated tenure in the Duke Ellington Orchestra. There are some extremely familiar tunes here — “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” etc. But there are some obscurities as well, and even the chestnuts are a delight. Broder’s tribute is expressed less in form than in style: his warm, lyrical tone is an explicit expression of debt to Hodges, and his arrangements show admiration more by applying principles of orchestration and articulation than through slavish imitation. This is a thoroughly modern but also deeply straight-ahead album, and it’s a delight from beginning to end. Can’t wait for volume 2.


John McCutcheon
No cat. no.

Folk fans of a certain age might be startled to learn that John McCutcheon — whose existence and productivity we all just sort of accepted as an eternal principle long ago — has been doing this for fifty years and has now released his 43rd (!) album. Like so many recordings that have come out in the past year, Leap! was incubated during the COVID lockdown, a time when McCutcheon was forced to stop touring and sit at home and had an unparalleled opportunity to write. The result is an 18-song program unrivaled in tuneful good-heartedness, even when (as with, for example, the earnestly simpleminded “The Troubles”) real-world complexity is sacrificed on the altar of easy messaging. For the most part, these songs are beautifully crafted, artfully arranged, and winningly sung folk-pop — and sometimes (“Song When You Are Dead”) they’re hilarious.

Various Artists
Feels Like Home: Linda Ronstadt’s Musical Odyssey: Songs from the Sonoran Borderlands

Not to be confused with her 1995 record of the same title, this is the companion album to Linda Ronstadt’s memoir, which itself is also titled Feels Like Home, and in which she recalls her childhood in the Tucson, Arizona, area, where she was raised on a ranch and was surrounded by both the folk music of her Mexican forebears and the country music popular in the region. You’ll get some of both on this collection, which includes a lovely collaboration between Ry Cooder and “Father of Chicano Music” Lalo Guerrero, another between Jackson Browne and Los Cenzontles (“The Dreamer”), an absolutely stunning duet between Ronstadt and Dolly Parton on the traditional ballad “I Never Will Marry,” and Ronstadt’s Carribean-inflected performance of “Piel Canela.” Ronstadt lost the ability to sing about ten years ago, so those last recordings are from some time back, but the program hangs together very well as a touching tribute to her personal and musical history.

Keith Murdock
Keith Murdock
No cat. no.

Resonator guitarist and songwriter Keith Murdock has been kicking around the country and bluegrass scenes for decades now, working both onstage and behind the scenes at the Country Music Association and in concert promotion. He also plays in the bluegrass band Orchard Creek, but on this solo album he’s playing all original songs (written in collaboration with Eli Malamud) and performed in a style that vacillates between acoustic roots and twangy honky-tonk country. His voice is serviceable, but his playing is outstanding and his songwriting is very fine as well — the wry symbolism of “High Tension Lines,” the old-school weeper “Gonna Wanna See Her Again,” the clawhammer-banjo driven “Her Mountain Heart Is a Wild Thing” (with its cowboy-trio style harmonies), all communicate a blend of respect for tradition and the desire to create something a bit more personal at the same time. Very nice.


Various Artists
Pillows & Prayers: Cherry Red 1982-1983 (3 discs; expanded reissue)
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)

Various Artists
Kids on the Street: UK Power Pop and New Wave 1977-81 (3 discs)
Cherry Red

Another couple of outstanding multi-disc anthologies from the mighty Cherry Red label. Pillows & Prayers was originally issued in 1982, during the label’s early years, and features contributions from artists who would go on to great things (Felt, Everything But the Girl) and others who, shall we say, wouldn’t — and there’s even some early work by the proto-punk-poet Attila the Stockbroker. This greatly expanded three-CD version adds lots more content, much of which is quite obscure — some of it deservedly so, but some of it fascinating. The overall mood here tends towards the acoustic and the charmingly twee, and while a few tracks may induce some eye-rolling, the treasures on the program make it absolutely worth it. More consistently rewarding is Kids on the Street, a three-disc celebration of the intersection between the edgy New Wave and candy-coated power pop styles in the early 1980s. By this point, the conventions of punk rock had been absorbed in two stylistic directions: they had been distilled into their violent essence by the hardcore movement, and absorbed and digested by pop artists who created a complex of styles that would come to be called New Wave. Of course, power pop predated punk, and some artists in that vein took lessons in sharpness and aggression from the punk movement as well. Some of the best outcomes of these developments are documented on this set, which features outstanding tracks from the likes of the Stiffs, XTC, Elvis Costello, and the Pretenders — as well as obscurities and oddities from bands like the Exits and the Quads. Taken together, these collections both illustrate important strands of pop music development in the wake of the punk rock juggernaut.

Asian Dub Foundation
R.A.F.I. (25th Anniversary Edition)
Rinse It Out Ltd.

Asian Dub Foundation remains one of the most exciting bands to have emerged in the 1990s. Based in London, they combined elements of jungle, bhangra, rock, hip hop, and punk to create a bracing new mix of sounds that had a huge impact — not only on the Asian Underground movement from which they emerged, but on rock and dance music overall. R.A.F.I. was their breakout album; much of its content was re-recorded for the American release titled Rafi’s Revenge, which is an excellent companion to this album. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of R.A.F.I.‘s original release, this expanded version is out with three additional tracks, all of them recorded in 1997 at the legendary/notorious On-U Sound studio. Just about every track on this album would count as a highlight on any other album. Highly recommended to all pop music collections.

Untitled (digital only)
No cat. no.

Being dubbed the “Wizard of Electronica” before ever releasing a full-length album may seem like an unlikely achievement, but of course in the world of electronic pop music the album hasn’t really been a relevant format for years now; it’s all about the singles and the mixes and the curated DJ sets. But Thawra label founder Etyen is a bit outside the electronica norm — on this, his debut album, he creates a program of largely instrumental music (I’m told that there are vocals in there somewhere, but they’re not immediately recognizable as such) that develops a coherent if abstractly expressed theme of “love, loss, and human connection.” The music is rhythmic but by no means beat-driven; it’s glitchy and mechanistic and yet at the same time very warm and colorful; while the compositions are mostly quite soothing they’re never simple and sometimes offer just a bit of an unsettling edge. Highly recommended.

Emanuele Wiltsch Barberio
In Cosmo (digital only)
No cat. no.

One of the things I love about this album is that I can’t decide whether it belongs in the Rock/Pop or the Classical section. The music is abstract and pretty much arrhythmic, and features cello and violin as well as electronics and electric guitars. But it functions more like installation music than pop music — it’s written specifically to take advantage of the acoustics of the Church of Saints Costa and Damiano on the Venetian island of Giudecca. Don’t expect ambient music, though — while the sounds are pleasant, they’re not unchallenging, and there’s lots of interesting stuff going on between the instruments and the deep reverberations. This music is intended for close listening, not for ignoring while you go about your daily activities. (Though I can attest that it actually does work quite nicely for that purpose as well.)


El Búho
Tributaries, Vol. 2 (vinyl & digital only)
No cat. no.

Producer/remixer Robin Perkins works under the name El Búho (“the owl”), and the second installment in his remix series continues the approach defined in the first: take recordings of traditional and/or popular music from a broad spectrum of cultures and remix them radically. To a degree unusual in remix artists, Perkins makes all of the tracks he mixes come out sounding like El Búho — and that’s not a criticism; it’s one valid approach among many. So, you ask, what does El Búho sound like? Like a dream, which I mean literally: his take on Dom La Nena’s “Moreno” drifts steadily downstream on a caramel-colored groove overlaid with dubbed-up vocals; his mix of Zoufris Maracas’ “Bleu de lune” sways slowly while the spoken French lyrics are buoyed up by a syrupy, Basic Channel-style beat; Brian Finnegan’s “Fathom” takes multitracked (or octave-split?) Irish flutes and pairs them with what sounds like a charango and a pulsing, house-derived rhythm. Like the first volume in the series, this is an unusually beautiful and original remix collection.

Oasi (Deserto Remixed) (vinyl & digital only)
Original Cultures

And while we’re on the worldbeat-remixed tip, let’s consider this very cool offering from the Barcelona-based Original Cultures collective. Oasi is a remix collection based on the 2020 album Deserto by Oké, a trio also based in Barcelona and consisting of producer Andrea “Katzuma” Visani, William Simone, and Andrea Calì. While the original album ranged widely through such musical territories as library music, house, jazz, ambient minimalism, and Afrobeat, the remixes tend to pull everything onto the dance floor, with strong elements of techno and house throughout: DJ Dez (not to be confused with DJ Drez) gives “Il Venditore di Elastici” a solidly thudding four-on-the-floor treatment, and DJ Rocca (yes, that DJ Rocca) brings a similar but slightly spacier vibe to “Tarantula.” On the other hand, Visani’s own VIP of “Tamahaq” downplays the house element somewhat in favor of atmospheric layers of marimba and tuned percussion. Very nice stuff.

Amjad Ali Khan & Wu Man
Music for Hope
Zoho (dist. MVD)
ZM 202207

What’s interesting about this pairing — an ensemble of Indian sarod players and a Chinese pipa player — is that centrally defining characteristics of their respective classical traditions are so divergent: the melodic foundation of pi pa playing is largely pentatonic, while Indian classical music consists largely in chromatic (even microtonal) elaboration. Of course, that doesn’t mean that an emulsion of these styles can’t sound wonderful — I mean, chocolate and mint taste great together too. And here I use the word “emulsion” rather than “fusion” on purpose: on these five compositions, neither Amjad Ali Khan nor Wu Man attempts to incorporate the other’s style into his or her own playing; instead, they play complementarily, responding to each other musically but drawing deeply on their own traditions in doing so. Anyone familiar with either artist will know to expect great beauty here, and won’t be disappointed.


Wesley Loussaint (who records under the name Wesli) was born in Haiti but has spent most of his life in Canada. For his sixth album, he returned to Haiti and spent years delving into the Afro-Caribbean musical traditions of his homeland, coming out the other side of that project with this complex and joyful celebration. You’ll hear Latin rhythms (“Kay Kollé Trouba”), a tribute to twoubadou legend Éric Charles (“Kontém Rakontém”), funky igbo-derived story-song (“Peze Café”) and a wide variety of other styles and fusions, all unified by Wesli’s engaging voice. If you thought Haitian music was basically all compas, think again — and check out this delightful album.

October 2022


Erik Satie
Various Performers/Interpreters
Deutsche Grammophone

Philip Golub
Filters (vinyl & digital only)

We have a couple of very interesting modern classical releases to consider this month: one consists of pieces by Erik Satie, rearranged as contemporary dance music; the other is contemporary music that sounds a lot like Erik Satie. Let’s start with Fragments, a collection of reinterpretations of Satie’s notoriously willful keyboard music as reenvisioned by electronic artists like Kid Francescoli, Christian Löffler, and Pantha du Prince. Unsurprisingly, these visions tend strongly towards either wispy ambience or house and techno; perhaps more surprisingly, they work quite well. There are no jacking beats here, but plenty of gentle four-on-the-floor thuds underlying tastefully dubby mixes of various extracts of the Gymnopédies, Gnossiennes, and other piano works. This collection is both an enjoyable listen and a salutary reminder of how odd and forward-thinking Satie’s music was for his time. The music that Philip Golub has written for Filters consists of compositional loops — long passages of juxtaposed high and low pitches with repetitively shifting chords between them. For the casual listener, the effect is similar to that of Satie’s Vexations, but without the puckish willfulness; there’s a sincerity of intent to Golub’s music that makes it inviting rather than confrontational, even as it rewards close attention to its structure. Both releases are highly recommended to libraries.

Various Composers
Lux laeticiae: Splendors of the Marian Cult in Early Renaissance Ferrara
La Reverdie
Arcana (dist. Naxos)

Yes, the album title sounds like it belongs to a scholarly monograph based on someone’s doctoral dissertation. But don’t be misled: the music presented here is neither dry nor academic. It’s drawn from a 15th-century codex that belonged to the Este court in Ferrara, which contains motets by an odd assortment of four composers: the Franco-Flemish masters Gilles Binchois and Guillaume Dufay, and the English composers Leonel Power and John Dunstaple; all four are important figures of the early Renaissance period. You’ll hear hints of ars nova in Dufay’s setting of Flos forum, and Power’s soft but powerful Salve Regina misericordie slowly builds a mesmerizing melody line and then adds harmony as the work progresses, to quietly spectacular effect. As always, the La Reverdie ensemble imbue everything they perform with a golden light. Highly recommended to all collections.

Johann Wilhelm Wilms
The Piano Concertos Vol. 1
Ronald Brautigan; Kölner Akademie / Michael Alexander Willems
Bis (dist. Naxos)

Johann Wilhelm Wilms was a contemporary of Beethoven and, like too many composers who fell under Beethoven’s temporal and cultural shadow, never achieved international acclaim during his lifetime — despite being reportedly more popular than Beethoven in his adopted hometown of Amsterdam. Highly accomplished as a teacher, flautist, pianist, and composer, Wilms took on many different jobs before settling down as organist in a Mennonite church and dedicating himself to composition. The three piano concertos performed here (on period instruments, with the outstanding Ronald Brautigan at a surprisingly robust-toned fortepiano) show him to have been a master of the form; unfortunately, only five of the piano concertos he is known to have written have survived. But the title of this disc gives us hope that we’ll hear at least the other two in an upcoming installment. The performances are outstanding and the recorded sound positively sparkles.

Michel de la Barre
Premier livre de pièces pour la flûte traversière, avec la basse continue
The Opus Project
Navona (dist. Parma)

There’s such a wealth of baroque flute music available today that it can be hard to remember how groundbreaking the work of Michel de la Barre was. Hailed as one of the greatest flautists of his time, de la Barre was also the first French composer to write and publish solo music for his instrument. He was a popular player both at court and in salon concerts, and was a featured performer alongside such masters as François Couperin, Marin Marais, and the Hotteterre brothers. His music is not commonly performed today, so this lovely recording is doubly welcome for its historical significance and its sheer attractiveness; while the continuo parts are sometimes a bit hard to hear, baroque flautist Joanna Marsden’s burnished tone and delicate touch are put to exceptionally fine use on these five suites. For all early music collections.

Felix Mendelssohn
Europa Galante / Fabio Biondi
Naïve Classiques (dit. Naxos)

The term “early music” has different definitions in different contexts, obviously. On its own, it usually refers to music of the medieval, Renaissance, and baroque eras, usually performed on period instruments. In the context of this album, it refers to early compositions by a composer known primarily as an exponent of the Romantic style — performed on period instruments. These works (which include sinfonias for strings, a violin concerto, a vocal piece, and various chamber works including several fugues) were all written by Mendelssohn when he was between the ages of 11 and 18, and reflect a dedication to classical norms that both animated his work and complicated his relationship with his musical times throughout his career. By using instruments constructed and strung according to the practices of the early 19th century, Fabio Biondi and his ensemble make Mendelssohn’s connection and debt to his forebears especially clear. The playing here is marvelous, as is the music.


Out to Dinner
Food Is Medicine

The fourth release by this modern-jazz supergroup (which, this time out, consists of saxophonist Patrick Cornelius, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, trombonist Ryan Keberle, bassist Boris Koslov, and drummer Rudy Royston) continues both its tradition of punning food-based album titles and elegant but slightly challenging straight-ahead compositions. Keberle’s “The Slope of the Blues” features slithery chord changes that give the soloists plenty of room to explore, while Koslov’s “After KW” is a near-ballad with a gently lurching rhythm that never quite lets you relax into a groove but amply rewards the attention it demands. As always, Gillece’s vibes playing is a highlight, as is Royston’s subtle and supple drumming, but everyone plays together beautifully.

Craig Davis
Tone Paintings: The Music of Dodo Marmarosa
Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild

I confess that, not being familiar with the music of Michael “Dodo” Marmarosa, I was expecting a Latin jazz program. But that just displays some embarrassing ignorance of jazz history on my part: in fact, Marmarosa was one of the pianists at the red-hot center of the bebop scene in 1940s New York, having played for such major swing bandleaders as Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw before being brought in as a featured pianist on Charlie Parker’s Dial sessions. But by the end of the decade he had largely retired from music and his name is hardly remembered now. Which is a shame, because as this outstanding trio recording makes clear, he was a tremendously gifted composer, and tunes like “Dodo’s Bounce” and “Opus No. 5” are both complex and sweetly lyrical, a fairly rare combination in 1940s jazz. Pianist Craig Davis (alongside the stellar rhythm section of John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton) has crafted a gorgeous and long-overdue tribute to a criminally underrated jazz talent.

Glenn Dickson
Wider Than the Sky
Naftule’s Dream Recordings

This album fits a bit uncomfortably in the jazz section, but because the jazz scene (writ large) has been Dickson’s musical home for much of his career, it seems like the most logical placement. The music on his new solo album consists of looped and layered recordings of himself over which Dickson plays long, discursive, and often heartbreakingly beautiful solos. (Structurally, think Frippertronics, on which this technique is largely based.) From time to time you’ll hear hints of his klezmer roots (and sometimes more than a hint, as on the quietly keening “Memories Lost”) as well as bluesy and jazzy inflections, but overall this music is pretty much sui generis. Wider Than the Sky is an apt title; there’s an almost pastoral flavor to many of his melodies, and the loops create spacious soundscapes for him to explore. Highly recommended to all libraries.

Hugo Fernandez

The line between straight-ahead jazz and fusion (or, heaven help us, “smooth jazz”) can be fuzzy and the borderland it defines can be treacherous: tread carefully and you can create exciting and forward-thinking music; get careless and you might slip into a puddle of schlock. On his new album, guitarist Hugo Fernandez offers a master class in negotiating this difficulty: from his tone to his chord progressions, he delivers lush textures and smooth surfaces. But beneath those surfaces lie churning harmonic complexities and melodic pathways that wind and turn back on themselves beautifully. Note, for example, how the gentle chord changes on “Undercurrent” smooth out the effect of its vexing rhythmic irregularities — and how “Watertones”‘ funky basslines accentuate the rhythmic irregularities of that composition. It’s a rare jazz album that is simultaneously this challenging, this accessible, and this easy to listen to.

Doug MacDonald
I’ll See You in My Dreams
DMAC Music

Doug MacDonald is one of the best straight-ahead jazz guitarists working today, a player whose tone recalls Jim Hall and whose rhythm playing will make you remember that he’s occupied the guitar chair in both Buddy Rich’s and Ray Charles’ bands. He’s also spent time with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and both John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton are with him on this quartet outing (along with the stellar pianist Tamir Hendelman). The program is almost all standards, and familiar ones at that: “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good),” “My Ship,” “Easy to Love,” etc. The lineup will lead jazz aficionados to expect great things, and they won’t be disappointed — although much of the material is familiar, the group plays with such joy and such a feeling of familial connection that it just makes everything feel sweet and comfortable rather than tired. For all jazz collections.


Martha Spencer
No cat. no.

Let’s be clear about one thing: this is not a hipster Americana album. This music isn’t made by bearded Brooklynites drinking small-batch artisanal moonshine; it’s made by a young woman who grew up in the Virginia mountains and who has been playing, writing, and singing this music (including onstage, as a member of the Whitetop Mountain Band) since her childhood. She’s also been writing her own songs, and her originals nestle very comfortably alongside traditional fare like “Walking in Jerusalem” and “Hesitation Blues.” Well, mostly: “Enchantress” stands out as a sort of cabaret-Tin Pan Alley fusion number, but “You’ve Rambled Too Long” could be a classic bluegrass prodigal-child story song, and “Yodelady” is a gently sly waltz-time ballad of romantic regret. Spencer is also a fine clawhammer banjo player and a singer who channels Dolly Parton and Emmy Lou Harris at their best. And no, your ears don’t deceive you — that’s Alice Gerrard singing backup on “Come Home, Virginia Rose.” Highly recommended.

3 Pairs of Boots
Mighty Love
Dark Country Music
No cat. no.

Look at the cover art and you might think you know what to expect: a cowboy-hatted husband and a sparkly-booted wife standing on an open prairie, looking off into the distance. So, country, right? Eh, not exactly. I mean, yes, there’s a banjo on “Sweet Spot,” and a bottleneck guitar on “Mighty Love,” and “Evensong” opens with the line “After a long day in the saddle, we gather ’round the campfire.” But listen harder. The arrangements are big and dense; the melodies are often tricky and owe as much to Elvis Costello as they do to any Nashville writer; if ABBA had ever done a country song, it would have sounded a lot like the chorus of “Just Call Him Love.” In short, this album is just a bit stylistically perverse, and it’s a pure delight.

Graeme James
Seasons (digital only)
0 6700 32717 2 1

I confess that I’m old enough to still think of the Nettwerk label as an electro/industrial label, home to acts like Skinny Puppy, Front 242, and Severed Heads. It’s been a platform for a much broader spectrum of pop music over the years, of course, but even still I was kind of surprised to see this release from folk-rocker Graeme James on the Nettwerk imprint. James is a gifted songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, known for using a loop pedal onstage to create his own virtual band. He’s brought in some friends for this, his first full-length album, but the vision is still all his, and it serves his songs well. Plainspoken vocals and a shimmering arrangement give “The Tallest Tree” wings, while “Everlasting Love” is an ode to committed relationships that pairs acoustic instrument backbeats with a gentle honky tonk stomp. The lyrics to “The Angel of St. George” are wry and the song is lovely, as is the whole album.


Various Artists
Un-Scene!: Post-punk Birmingham 1978-1982
Easy Action (dist. Redeye)

Heaven help me, I’m such a sucker for these new wave and post-punk retrospective collections — and when they document out-of-the-way localities and musical centers (trying not to say “scenes” here, given the title), so much the better. Birmingham, England was actually far from a musical backwater at the turn of the 1980s — but it was known mainly for producing outstanding reggae (Steel Pulse, UB40) and ska (The Beat) bands. Few of the charmingly ragged-sounding and willfully experimental post-punk groups documented here went on to make much of a splash anywhere else: a few of our readers may remember Nikki Sudden (and/or Swell Maps) and the marvelous Au Pairs — and maybe (maybe) the Prefects — but The Nervous Kind? Joe Crow? Fast Relief? No. And that’s what makes this collection so great, and such a boon to any library seeking to collect comprehensively in 20th century popular music. Also, did I mention that the sound quality is almost uniformly terrible? But hey, for us it’s all about the research value.

Domino (dist. Redeye)

As all you Gentle Readers know, I love me some weird pop music, and the second album by singer-songwriter Tirzah gives us both plenty of pop and plenty of weirdness, so it’s right up my alley. The textures are digitally created, but still thick and smoky; the tempos are slow and methodical, though the vocals are dreamy and sometimes mixed in such a way that they almost lapse into abstract sound. Think of Rhi (with less of a pothead vibe), or Tricky (with less of an obvious debt to hip hop). There’s lots of subtlety here: “Beating” makes a quiet nod to trap but never comes close to embracing it; “Crepuscular Rays” seems to be composed entirely of shreds of vocal, deconstructed and stretched and manipulated to the breaking point and presented as smears across a beatless canvas; “Send Me,” on the other hand, consists mainly of steadily thumping kick drum and languorous vocals, before atmospherically distorted guitar kicks in at the very end. (A remix album has just been released as well.)

Lewandowski Frith
Long As in Short; Walk As in Run
Klanggalerie (dist. MVD)

The practice of “preparing” an instrument by physically altering it so as to radically change the sounds it makes was popularized in the middle of the 20th century by the avant-garde composer John Cage, and has since been adopted by others — notably guitarist Fred Frith, whose adventurous applications of the technique have become legendary. On this album he is teamed up with pianist Annie Lewandowski, both of them improvising together on instruments that have been prepared in various ways. As one might expect, the musical results are pretty wild, but also generally very subtle and detailed. This is an album to play at high volume — not in order to revel in its hellacious noise (there isn’t very much of that, though you might want to turn the volume back down before hitting track 6, “Sympathy Twigs”), but rather in order to hear everything that’s going on. Highly recommended to all adventurous collections.


Xiomara Torres
La Voz del Mar
Patois (dist. MVD)

Cultures of the African diaspora have blended with those in many regions of Latin America, creating a wide variety of musical fusions, some of which have become globally popular. One of the cultural fusions that has not been widely recognized is that which developed over the years along the Pacific coast of Colombia, the home region of singer Xiomara Torres, whose debut album represents both a celebration and an expansion of those traditions. Elements of American jazz, Colombian vallenato, Puerto Rican reggaetón, and other musical influences can all be felt in these songs, and Torres sings them with warmth and gentle power. Contributions from mallet keyboardist Dan Neville and bassist David Obregón are also central to the rich and unique sound of the arrangements. This is Latin music subtly but significantly different from anything you’re likely to have heard before.

Purbayan Chatterjee
Saath Saath (digital only)
No cat. no.

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, sitar virtuoso Purbayan Chatterjee has teamed up with bansuri player Rakesh Chaurasia (nephew of the legendary Hariprasad Chaurasia) to record a set of seven ragas, performed in jugalbandi style — an approach in which two different instruments join forces in interpreting the raga, taking turns elaborating on the basic melodic structure and responding to each other’s ideas. The radical timbral difference between the bansuri (a low-pitched bamboo flute) and the sitar make them excellent jugalbandi companions, and Chatterjee and Chaurasia are perfectly matched in their technical virtuosity and musical creativity. They are accompanied by the outstanding tabla players Satyajit Talwalkar and Ojas Adhiya. (Chatterjee and Chaurasia are currently touring North America, and this release will be available in CD format at their shows; otherwise it’s available in digital format, and at an exceptionally low price.)

Tippa Irie
I’m an African (digital only)
No cat. no.

The 18th album from legendary singjay Tippa Irie finds him celebrating 40 years of creating world-class modern reggae from his base in London. On I’m an African he delivers a solid set of old-school singing and chatting on such timeless topics as grudgeful rivals (“Dem Too Bad Mind,” featuring Keith Lawrence), the need to take care of business (“Flat Foot Hustle”), and uncooperative minibus drivers (“Mini Bus Man”). And he even, though with professed reluctance, takes on issues around the COVID pandemic (“The Thing”). Rock-solid rhythms are provided by a who’s-who of roots and dancehall producers, including Carlton “Bubblers” Ogilvie, the Friendly Fire Crew, and the mighty Mafia & Fluxy. This is excellent stuff from one of British reggae’s brightest stars.

September 2022


Josef Mysliveček
Complete Violin Concertos (reissue; 2 discs)
Shizuka Ishikawa; Dvorák Chamber Orchestra / Libor Pešek
Supraphon (dist. Naxos)
SU 4298-2

This set brings together two recordings originally made in the 1980s by the brilliant violinist Shizuka Ishikawa, then in her mid- to late teens. Working with the Dvorák Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Libor Pešek, Ishikawa delivers limpid and sweet-toned accounts of the great Bohemian composer Josef Mysliveček’s eight violin concertos. Playing on modern instruments, both the soloist and the orchestra deliver these exemplary examples of high classicism with all the lightness and charm one would expect, deftly showcasing Mysliveček’s unusual gift for extended melodic invention and logical form. On the beloved G major concerto, dubbed the “Pastoral,” Ishikawa’s playing is especially playful and sweet, as befits the overall bucolic mood of the piece. This is a thoroughly delightful release that would make a fine addition to any library collection.

Anton Eberl
3 String Quartets op. 13
Solo Musica (dist. Naxos)

Moving from the high classical period to the emergence of the Romantic, we turn now to the world-premiere recording of three string quartets by Anton Eberl, a friend and student of Mozart in Vienna. Eberl died young and is best remembered as a composer for the piano, but these quartets (published when he was 35 years old, only six years before his death from scarlet fever) show that he was a master of that form as well. His music was often mistaken for that of Mozart and his writing had a significant impact on Beethoven, with whom he was also close friends. These pieces are played (on modern instruments) with masterfully restrained passion by the casalQuartett, who handily convey the tension between classical structure and deep emotion that was present in so much of the music of this important transitional period.

David Lang
The Writings
Cappella Amsterdam / Daniel Reuss
PTC 5187 001

This stunning disc features the Cappella Amsterdam ensemble on a world-premiere recording of David Lang’s The Writings, a cycle of choral works based on selections from the Hebrew Bible. Each of the scriptural extracts is associated with a different Jewish holiday, the work as a whole creating a sort of map of the Jewish liturgical year from Sukkot (a weeklong holiday during which ancient Israelites were expected to travel to the temple in Jerusalem) to Tisha B’Av (which commemorates the destruction of both Solomon’s Temple and the Second Temple). The music is, as one might expect, solemn in tone and cyclical in structure; perhaps a bit more surprisingly, it is also consistently consonant and tonal — though the mood is often dark and brooding, there is always light peeking through, and the performances by Cappella Amsterdam are absolutely exquisite.

Gity Razaz
The Strange Highway
Various Performers
BIS (dist. Naxos)

Iranian-born, New York-based composer Gity Razaz is a truly exciting talent, a woman who is already exhibiting, while still in the early stages of her career, a remarkable musical vision and facility with a broad array of styles and instrumental formats. This disc focuses on chamber works: the grimly bustling title piece (for an ensemble of cellos); a duo work for violin and piano; a programmatic piece (based on an Azerbaijani legend) for cello and electronics; and a contemplative work for solo viola. But it ends with a larger-scale piece, Metamorphosis of Narcissus, for chamber orchestra and electronics. All of the works here are impressive, but this one was my favorite — it manages to be dense and ethereal at the same time (I know, that makes no sense, but give it a listen), and alternates moments of intense emotionalism with sweetly but eerily lyrical passages. Razaz is a major young talent to keep an eye on.

Various Composers
Lux aeterna
The Gesualdo Six / Owain Park
Hyperion (dist. Integral)

This remarkable album is conceived around the concept of grief, and the complexity of the emotions that the overarching designation “grief” always entails. Part of what makes this collection of pieces so unusual and so engaging is the fact that, rather than drawing on compositions from the whole length of musical history, it focuses on two periods: the 16th-17th centuries and the 20th-21st. Thus, Thomas Tallis’s setting of In ieiunio et fletu segues directly into Donna McKevitt’s gorgeous Lumen, which is followed by a funerary piece by John Tavener; Henry Purcell’s Thou Knowest, Lord, the Secrets of Our Hearts is followed by Owain Park’s highly unusual setting of the Welsh poem “In Parenthesis,” in which sung and spoken word are woven together. As always, the singing of the Gesualdo Six is simply stunning, and the overall mood of the album is deeply somber with a subtle but undeniable undertone of hope and faith. Strongly recommended to all libraries.

Various Composers
Lost & Found
Sean Shibe
Pentatone (dist. Naxos)

Classical recordings for solo electric guitar are, as one might imagine, pretty few and far between, so this release caught my attention. And rewarded it — beginning with a stunning arrangement of Hildegard of Bingen’s serene plainchant O viridissima virga and ending with Julius Eastman’s luminous but challenging Buddha, guitarist Sean Shine takes us on a musical tour that stops at multiple stylistic destinations: adaptations of works by Meredith Monk, Armando Core, Moondog (whose pieces offer some of the most touching and lovely moments on this album), Olivier Messiaen, and jazz pianist Bill Evans. Shibe’s uses outboard effects and extended techniques to create an equally wide variety of tones, textures, and soundscapes, and the result is a beautiful album that will be unlike any other you’ve heard.

Daisy Press
You Are the Flower: Music from Hildegard von Bingen – Vol. 1

And speaking of Hildegard von Bingen: libraries may find the packaging frustrating (a CD in a cardboard sleeve accompanied by a 7.5″ x 9.5″ pamphlet), but trust me, this release is worth it. On You Are the Flower, singer Daisy Press delivers highly personal interpretations of sacred songs by the 12th-century abbess. Hildegard has been enjoying a decades-long renaissance since Gothic Voices reintroduced her to the world with their 1982 album A Feather on the Breath of God, and many ensembles have interpreted her plainchant compositions in a variety of ways. Press’s approach is to sing them by herself (sometimes creating overdubbed backing vocals) with a variety of subtle and tasteful instrumental accompaniments — a shruti bowl here, a piano there, an electric bass elsewhere. Her vocal approach wouldn’t be called “authentic,” but it’s not willfully modern either — she just shares what these sacred songs mean to her, and the result is quietly ravishing. Highly recommended to all libraries. The “Vol. 1” subtitle is reassuring.


Ana Nelson
No cat. no.

On her debut album as a leader, saxophonist/clarinetist/composer Ana Nelson delivers an outstanding program of original tunes that are both elegantly constructed and powerfully delivered. “Wanderlust” is a lovely slice of modern (but accessible) jazz with a deceptively simple-sounding head supported by a floating chord structure and a gentle Latin groove; “LCB”‘s sweet and lilting lyricism is followed by the yearning jazz waltz “Blue Flower”; “NelBapChoro” is exactly what its title suggests — a choro written as a duet for Nelson (on clarinet) and pianist Nelson Baptiste. And when the string quartet makes an appearance on “Let the Light In” (Nelson was a classical musician before falling in love with jazz), the effect is stunning; the decorous tones of the quartet contrast beautifully with Nelson’s bluesy clarinet lines. This is one of the loveliest jazz releases I’ve heard all year.

Charlton Singleton
Baxter Music Enterprises

Trumpeter/composer Charlton Singleton and saxophonist Mark Sterbank like to say that in their work together, they strive to achieve the kind of chemistry that exemplified the collaborations of Harry “Sweets” Edison and legendary tenor man Ben Webster — and of Miles Davis and John Coltrane (and, later, Wayne Shorter) as well. Listening to this all-original disc, you’ll find yourself thinking that honestly, they’re just about there: on the heads they sound like a single person playing two instruments; when they trade solos, they sound like brothers. The rest of the band is just as good, and drummer Quentin Baxter’s gospel-derived (and New Orleans-informed) style brings a fun and unusual flavor to the proceedings. Highlights include the moving ballad “Nett and Root” (written for Singleton’s parents), and the sweetly popping “1000 Nights.” Highly recommended.

Ben Sidran
Swing State

Sixty years into a celebrated career, Ben Sidran is perhaps better known as a singer than as a pianist, and this is in fact the first all-instrumental album he’s made. I wish he hadn’t waited so long. His witty, hard-swinging playing is beautifully showcased here as he leads a trio that includes bassist Billy Peterson and Sidran’s son Leo on drums. The title tune, a jaunty blues, is the only original on this program; the remainder is given over to mostly familiar standards — some of them downright hoary: “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Laura” (two takes), “Over the Rainbow,” even (believe it or not) “Tuxedo Junction.” Sidran demonstrates facility in multiple styles, going deep into stride territory on “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and getting quirkily interpretive on his slowly loping version of “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” He never gets pyrotechnical or wild, but Sidran’s good humor and deep love of the repertoire shine through consistently on this outstanding album.

Columbia Icefield
Ancient Songs of Burlap Heroes

Columbia Icefield is an avant-jazz project led by trumpeter/composer Nate Wooley, and the group’s second album continues its sonic exploration of themes related to the vastness and, it must be said, the sometimes overwhelming forbiddingness of the Pacific Northwest. Wooley creates tone poems that sound both like an ode to these spaces and an expression of existential dread. “I Am the Sea That Sings of Dust” is long and skronky; “A Catastrophic Legend” is unsettled and unsettling, but relatively lyrical; “A Catastrophic Legend” is mournful and introspective. Between the conventionally titled pieces are brief interludes titled only “(…..)” (using ellipses of varying lengths). Mary Halvorsen’s unique, pitch-shifted guitar style and the steel guitar of Susan Alcorn are both intrinsic to the architecture of these compositions, while bandleader Nate Wooley’s trumpet is all over the place, tonally — sometimes recognizable as a trumpet, sometimes not, but always defining a large emotional space within which his collaborators create statements, lamentations, and commentaries all their own. This is not an easy album, but it’s a highly rewarding one.

Bass Extremes
S’Low Down

Jazz-pop fusion isn’t normally an easy sell for me. I don’t think it’s snobbery (at least I hope not) — it’s more that I love jazz and I love pop, and when you try to combine them I find that usually what you end up with is both mediocre jazz and mediocre pop. But there are exceptions, and the now-30-year-old Bass Extremes project is one of them. The musical brainchild of A-list bassists Victor Wooten and Steve Bailey, it’s a bass-led duo project that incorporates virtuosic guest musicians playing low-end instruments from across the stylistic spectrum — that’s Béla Fleck playing bass banjo on “Home Bass,” and elsewhere we hear Howard Levy on bass harmonica, Mike Stern on six-string bass guitar, and Jeff Coffin on bass clarinet and bass flute, as well as illustrious straight-up bassists like Ron Carter and John Pattitucci. And there are enough higher-register instruments to keep everything from sounding muddy. Instead, it all sounds fun and funky and joyful.


Tall Poppy String Band
Tall Poppy String Band
No cat. no.

In the old-time music tradition, there is no lineup more venerated than the fiddle-banjo-guitar trio. Tall Poppy String Band (fiddler/vocalist George Jackson, guitarist Mark Harris, banjoist/vocalist Cameron DeWhitt) breathes new life into that tradition on its self-titled debut album. The music is almost entirely traditional, and the playing wouldn’t be called avant-garde or experimental in any meaningful sense, but there are quiet and tasteful innovations everywhere. For example, only a fellow banjo player would be likely to appreciate fully DeWhitt’s virtuosic and unusual playing on “The Coo Coo,” while the band’s take on the bluegrass standard “The Train That Carried My Girl from Town” is given a playful gender tweak. Their quiet but intense rendition of “The Last of Sizemore” is perhaps my favorite track on this disc, but the whole thing is wonderful.

Mountain City Four
Mountain City Four

Before they became a Canadian folk-pop institution on their own, Kate and Anna McGarrigle were part of a folk quartet called the Mountain City Four (“Mountain City” being a reference to Montréal) with Peter Weldon and Jack Nissenson. This collection brings together fifteen previously unreleased recordings made by the group between 1963 and 1970, and they’re everything you’d hope: covers of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and “Blind” Willie Johnson; bluegrass standards; an English sea shanty; Quêbecois folk songs; and, inevitably, “Shenandoah” — that last track recorded live in 2012, just a couple of years after Kate’s death. There is also, equally inevitably, a singalong. There’s also some stuff you wouldn’t have dared hope for, such as a 17th-century Samuel Scheidt hymn that leads seamlessly into “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” My favorite moment is Kate and Anna’s duo performance of the sweet and gorgeous Québec song “En filant ma quenouille,” which they would revisit on a later album in a more sophisticated arrangement but which sounds marvelous here with just their two voices and a guitar. For all libraries.

Apple & Setser
Apple & Setser
Bell Buckle

Mandolinist Brad Apple and multi-instrumentalist Pam Setser have been working together as a duo for the past five years, and this is their first recording together. Both are also fine singers and songwriters, and the album features a mix of traditional songs and originals — and some fusions of both, such as Setser’s touching “Grandma Danced with the Arkansas Traveler,” a composition that incorporates the popular fiddle tune into a story-song. Stylistically, the program is an amalgam of bluegrass (“Hand Me Down My Walking Cane,” “I’ll Love Nobody but You”) brother-duet style guitar-mandolin tunes (“A Friend You’d Never Met”), country weepers (“Too Far Gone”), and even a dulcimer-driven contradadance tune (“Hayes’ Hoedown”). All of it sounds comfortingly familiar, but at the same time none if it is quite like anything else you’ve heard in the country/folk/Americana genre.


Chris Korda
More Than Four (vinyl & digital only)
Chapelle XIV
No cat. no.

Experimentation and avant-gardism in pop music can take all kinds of interesting forms. When those tendencies are manifest in the context of dance music, they tend to be particularly interesting. On this slyly titled release, Chris Korda takes the surface signifiers of dance and club music — shimmering synths, steadily thudding techno percussion, vocoder, etc. — and puts them to work in the service of complex rhythmic structures that undermine those signifiers in subtle ways. Each track is composed of different strands written in different time signatures: on the title track, for example, the synth part is in 7/4 while the piano part is in 6/4, setting up a phase-shifted effect. When lyrics enter the picture, they’re subversive as well — the dour anti-natalism of “Planet Broke” contrasting with the usual “party all night” hedonism of most dance music lyrics. If you like your dance music challenging and complex, then this one’s definitely for you.

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers (reissue)

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers
Rock’n’Roll with The Modern Lovers (reissue)

Usually I recommend releases in CD HotList both because I believe they’re worthy of consideration for library collections and because I love them. But once in a while I recommend them not because I love them, but because I recognize their quality and/or importance and therefore think they should be considered for acquisition by libraries. Jonathan Richman is one of those guys I’ve always been able to appreciate more than enjoy. And of course there’s no question about the significance of his work: there’s a clear through-line from his style and delivery to that of, for example, Talking Heads — and his band at times included Cars drummer David Robinson as well as future Talking Heads guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison. Now the mighty (and well named) Omnivore label is reissuing Richman’s early albums, including these two: an eponymous 1976 debut and 1977’s Rock’n’Roll With. The debut, with its live-sounding spoken asides and wobbly singing, is particularly baffling — songs like “Abominable Snowman in the Market” and “Here Come the Martian Martians” are obviously meant to be funny, but how are we supposed to receive the album-closing version of “Amazing Grace”? The second album opens with a Chinese folk song and proceeds to offer more of the first album’s either sweetly ingenuous or deeply ironic fare: “Rockin’ Rockin’ Leprechauns,” “Dodge Veg-o-Matic,” etc. — also, “Egyptian Reggae,” which was actually something of a hit. Also another gospel song. The sound is, if anything, dodgier than it was on the first album. But is it fun? Well, yes. And it’s, you know, important.

M. Geddes Gengras
Expressed, I Noticed Silence
Hausu Mountain (dist. Redeye)

The Hausu Mountain label has staked out a fairly specific musical territory: avant-pop music that tends to be instrumental and is usually brash, busy, loud, and sometimes (though not always) abrasive. Even at its most consonant and accessible, music from this label tends to be exhausting. The latest Hausu Mountain release from the prolific and stylistically promiscuous M. Geddes Gengras bucks that general trend; it’s a lush and beautiful instrumental soundscape that is a bit too dense and involving to be considered ambient, but is probably too abstract and floating to be considered anything else. His history of dubwise production (under the name Duppy Gun Productions) is well in evidence here, but there’s nothing reggae-ish about any of these tracks; the album harks back most explicitly to his label debut I Am the Last of That Green and Warm-Hued World, and is a definite departure from his most recent release on the label, the experimental dance album Time Makes Nothing Happen. Lovely stuff.

De Lux
Do You Need a Release?
Innovative Leisure (dist. Redeye)

I’m going to file this one under “Indie Pop,” though the seven-and-a-half-minute-long opening track had me momentarily wondering if I was going to have to file it under “Prog.” (Gratefully, no.) In fact, I’d go a bit further and slot this into “Indie Pop Bordering on Dream Pop” — those gauzy vocals! Those swooning melodies! But then something like “New Summers” (those 80s handclaps!) or “Validation” (those Kraftwerky synth bleeps!) pops up, and one starts thinking “Wait, is this just old-school synth pop?”. Of course, you and your library patrons probably don’t care about all the muso genre nit-picking. You want to know if it has hooks and if it’s fun. Yes, and yes. I’d recommend this album to just about any library, and now wish I’d done so at the beginning rather than at the end of beach season, because this is one for the convertible.

OpEcho (vinyl & digital only)

I’ve mentioned previously my love of grumpy electronica. Here’s another great example of what I mean. For his latest album, the apparently Breton producer/composer S8jfou (whose website does not reveal his exact location or birth name, but does provide intriguing information about his lifestyle) decided he would make all of his music using only two digital tools, both part of the Ableton suite: a synthesizer program called Operator and the delay effect Echo. And what he does with those tools is quite amazing: the music is warm, supple and highly varied, while still maintaining a generally dark and grumbly mood. “Waves” hints at drill’n’bass; “Interpolation” weaves woozy synth lines around a steadily throbbing rhythmic pattern; “Influences” takes the tiniest, most trebly percussion parts and layers them atop 80s-style synth lines and post-industrial beats. Every track is fascinating, and I really wish the album were more than 38 minutes long.



Brittany, in the west of France, is an unusual outpost of Celtic (though not Gaelic) culture and language. Like so many regional languages, Breton is dying, and with it are fading many of the region’s traditional folkways and its traditional music. This album by Quinquis (Émilie Tiersen, who has recorded previously under the name Little Feet) won’t do much to preserve Breton folk music — this is a dark, quirky synth-pop album — but the songs are written and sung entirely in Breton, and their lyrics unite around themes of Breton culture both ancient and modern. One song makes reference to Seiz Breur, an early-20th-century regional art movement, while another invokes Ankou, an ancient Breton demigod who functioned as a servant of death. There are stories of husbands lost at sea and of individuals Tiersen has met in her musical travels. I don’t know if I’d call this album “fun,” but it’s certainly lovely.

New Blade Runners of Dub
New Blade Runners of Dub
Echo Beach

New Blade Runners of Dub is a new duo consisting of bassist Paul Zasky (of Dubbelstandart fame) and producer/film composer Jed Smith. Together they’ve created a unique sound that blends elements of house, reggae, and dubstep. The band’s first album draws on a variety of influences while effectively creating a stylistically coherent whole: “Solitary Confinement” and the Beta Fish remix of “Fly Me to the Moon” are both smoothly rolling, liquid drum’n’bass treatments, while “Looking for Things” is built on a slippery, three-against-four rhythm, and “In My Space” puts the ethereal falsetto of Cedric Myton into a throbbing cauldron of slow steppers bass and clanging percussion. The late, great Prince Far I makes a posthumous appearance on “Cry Cry 2049,” the title of which is a sly reference to his earlier stage name, King Cry Cry. This is a fine debut release, one that portends great things for the future.

Lusafrica (dist. MVD)

There are a few artists about whom, every time I listen to them, I ask myself “Why do I not spend more of my life listening to this person?”. Ella Fitzgerald is one; Benny Goodman, especially with his small ensembles, is another. And Cape Verdean singer Lucibela is one more. Her voice sounds like hot chocolate with cinnamon in it — rich, dark, and sweet, with just a hint of spice. Cape Verdean music blends stylistic elements from Portugual, Brazil, West Africa, and Cuba, and Lucibela’s deft and graceful voice juggles them all with an ease that belies the discipline and hard work that went into creating her personal style — from the fado-flavored “Ilha Formose” to the swooningly lovely “Bombena” to “Ben Presto Amor,” a previously-unpublished bolero by Cuban composer Emilio Moret. Like her previous work, this album is a complete delight.

Puppa Nadem
Hy Man (vinyl & digital only)
Sound Dynamik (dist. Baco)

George Palmer
Working Man
Irie Ites

I continue to be amazed at the constant stream of outstanding reggae coming out of France these days — and not just from Paris. There have been so many great albums over the past eight months or so that I’ve felt a bit overwhelmed in trying to pick just one or two to recommend. I’ve settled on these two: the second solo album from speedrapper/singjay Puppa Nadem and the debut album from roots-and-culture crooner George Palmer. The two releases could hardly be more different: Puppa Nadem came up in the sound system, and you can hear it in everything he does; he’s fleet of tongue and hard of tone, and his collaborations here with the likes of General Levy and Tomawok are hardcore raggamuffin dancehall niceness. George Palmer, on the other hand, is all about spiritual consciousness, and he puts his sweet high-tenor voice to use in promoting repatriation (“Africa”) and cannabis legalization (“Legalize It”), and decrying sufferation (“Working Man,” a great combination track featuring deejay Solo Banton). Palmer’s style is 1980s digital roots, and he owns it. Both of these releases are great, but don’t sleep on the other albums coming out of France lately, including new releases from L’Entourloup, Tomawok, and Zion Head.