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.
Loop: Ligeti’s Inspiration & Legacy
I, A.M.: Artist Mother Project: New Works for Violin and Electronics
Olivia de Prato
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 Feed, automatic 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
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 (Sky, Ocean, Sierra, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pillows & Prayers: Cherry Red 1982-1983 (3 discs; expanded reissue)
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)
Kids on the Street: UK Power Pop and New Wave 1977-81 (3 discs)
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.)
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)
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)
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.