Nocturnes (World Premiere)
Editions Hortus (dist. Allegro)
Let’s make the historical argument first: although Carl Czerny is world-renowned for his etudes (which have made his name as ashes in the mouths of countless youngsters the world around), his seventeen nocturnes are virtually unknown, and only one has ever been recorded. Now for the musical argument: Czerny’s writing is achingly lovely, and Oehmichen’s playing is a model of clarity, intelligence, and lightness of touch. This is an exquisitely lovely album and it belongs in every classical collection.
Romantic Piano Quintets (4 discs)
Nepomuk Fortepiano Quintet
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
The fortepiano isn’t commonly associated with the Romantic period, but in fact this precursor of the modern pianoforte was still being used (and written for) well into the 19th century. The Nepomuk Fortepiano Quintet is dedicated to reviving little-known works of the Romantic period written for the combination of fortepiano, violin, viola, cello, and string bass; this super-budget-line four-disc set brings together seven years of recordings by the group and features works by Hummel, Dussek, Onslow, and others, all of them both lovely to listen to and tonally intriguing from an academic perspective.
Jan Ladislav Dussek; Sophia Giustina Dussek-Corri
Madame et Monsieur Dussek (2 discs)
Etcetera (dist. Allegro)
Although their marriage was terminally troubled, Jan and Sophia Dussek had a successful musical partnership. Both were harpists, and this thoroughly delightful album devotes one disc each to compositions and arrangements by each of them. Sophia’s pieces tend to be (or at least to incorporate) arrangements of “Scots airs and reels,” while the Jan Dussek works showcased here include a sonata, six sonatinas, an andante-and-rondo pair, and one English ballad setting. All are played with delicacy and marvelous grace by Masumi Nagasawa; I wish the recorded sound were a bit more full and present, but otherwise I have nothing but praise for this release.
Georg Christoph Wagenseil
Concertos for Organ
Elisabeth Ullmann; Piccolo Concerto Wien / Roberto Sensi
Accent (dist. Qualiton)
Wagenseil was yet another of the many baroque and early classical composers well known and highly regarded in their time, and then quickly (and unjustly) forgotten shortly after death. This recording showcases four of six concertos “for harpsichord or organ with accompanyments for two violins and a bass” that Wagenseil published in London towards the end of his career, works that helped mark the transition from the galant to the classical style. They are beautifully played on the sweet-toned organ of the Protestant Church of Rust in Austria with accompaniment by the aptly-named seven-person ensemble Piccolo Concerto Wien.
La Real Cámera
Glossa (dist. Qualiton)
This is an exceptionally attractive album of six piano-quartet arrangements of Boccherini’s op. 26 collection of string quartets, played on period instruments (using fortepiano) by the formidable ensemble La Réal Cámera. The fortepiano used on this recording has an unusually bright and glistening sound, and at times sounds almost like a harpsichord–an interesting effect, given that the music itself is filled with high-classical gestures. Highly recommended to all classical collections.
Consorts to the Organ
Linn (dist. Naxos)
William Lawes was one of the greatest composers of 17th-century England, and is responsible in particular for some of the most ravishingly lovely works for viol consort. Phantasm, the group that seems to be taking over from Fretwork as the world’s preeminent viol consort, has here given us what may well be the definitive account of Lawes’ five- and six-part consort sets with organ, works that are unusually adventurous in harmony and structure but never less than transcendantly beautiful. No early music collection should be without this recording.
Chamber Choir Voces Musicales; Talinn Sinfonietta / Risto Joost
Estonian Record Productions (dist. Naxos)
If you were hoping that this album presented a new work of Arvo Pärt, you’ll be disappointed; each of the five pieces performed here (Ein Wallfahrtslied, Magnificat, Summa, Nunc Dimittis, and Te Deum) has been recorded previously, a couple of them many times. But if you’re after a quietly compelling program of Pärt compositions performed by a top-notch choir and instrumental ensemble with a luminously beautiful sound, then look no further.
Plorer, Gemir, Crier…
Diabolus in Musica / Antoine Guerber
Aeon (dist. Allegro)
Subtitled “Homage to the ‘Golden Voice,” this album brings together a program of elegiac works written in memory of Johannes Ockeghem by his contemporaries and fellow giants of Franco-Flemish polyphony: Pierre de la Rue, Jacob Obrecht, Josquin Desprez, Antoine Busnoys, along with an obscure composer of the time we know only as Lupus. Obrecht’s Missa Sicut Rosa Spinam is accompanied by briefer motets and motet-chansons by the other composers; the singing is appropriately hushed and dolorous, but tonally rich and colorfully blended.
(no cat. no.)
I don’t know if Stéphane Grappelli was the world’s greatest violinist, but I’ll tell you this: he was probably the jazz world’s most elegant violinist, and he inspired at least two generations of jazz fiddlers after him. One of these is the young Ben Powell, whose New Street acts as a tribute to Grappelli in a couple of ways: first, by presenting (alongside legendary vibes player Gary Burton) a tune that Grappelli wrote for Burton, but which he had never recorded; second, by playing with the luscious tone and the shamelessly romantic phrasing that were hallmarks of the elder statesman’s style, even as he explores jazz from non-Gypsy traditions. This is a lovely, heartfelt and engaging album.
Branford Marsalis Quartet
Four MFs Playin’ Tunes
Marsalis Music (dist. Redeye)
Saxophonist Branford Marsalis has never had quite the level of name recognition that his brother Wynton commands (or used to command), but let’s be honest: he has consistently been the more interesting music-maker. On this absolutely wonderful album, he leads his quartet through a set of originals (several written by his very fine pianist, Joey Calderazzo) and a couple of standards, the best of them being Thelonious Monk’s relatively rarely-recorded “Teo.” The playing is straight-ahead, joyful, intense, and often jaw-droppingly beautiful. A must for all jazz collections.
Triosence with Sara Gazarek
Where Time Stands Still
Straddling the line between jazz and pop music in somewhat the same way that Norah Jones and Diana Krall do, Triosence also straddles Europe and America with this project featuring guest vocalist Sara Gazarek. Gazarek’s voice and Triosence’s writing and playing turn out to be a perfect fit: her voice is clear and bell-toned, and their melodies and arrangements are deceptively simple-sounding, but in fact quite sophisticated. Jazz purists may turn up the nose, but it’s their loss; this is an unusually beautiful and engaging album.
Monk in Motian
Winter & Winter (dist. Allegro)
Here it is, the Jazz Reissue of the Year. What’s the only thing better than a jazz album led by drummer Paul Motian and featuring guitarist Bill Frisell, saxophonists Joe Lovano and Dewey Redman, and pianist Geri Allen? An album with that lineup playing nothing but Thelonious Monk tunes. Motian was not only a genius drummer but also a genius bandleader, and Frisell’s always left-of-center guitar approach perfectly complements Lovano’s more straight-ahead leanings; Geri Allen is a sparkling contributor to the session as well. Essential. (Originally issued in 1988 on the JMT label.)
Within a Song
When old men with lots to express and little to prove get together to make a jazz album, the results are often deeply, quietly spectacular, and that’s exactly the case with this one. On Within a Song, guitarist John Abercrombie leads a quartet that includes saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Joey Baron. The project is mostly a tribute to Abercrombie’s formative influences: Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans, with a couple of sweetly contemplative originals thrown in. The whole album has a deep, soulful, and thoughtful feeling to it, and will richly reward repeated listenings.
Bryan and the Haggards
Still Alive and Kickin’ Down the Walls
Which walls? Well, apparently the walls that separate Bakersfield-style country music from jazz. Those walls were always rather thin in the case of the legendary Merle Haggard, who frequently showcased jazzy lead guitarists and whose arrangements sometimes nodded explicitly towards Western swing. But what Bryan and the Haggards are doing is something a bit different: they’re taking Merle Haggard songs and playing them in a manner that remains more or less true to the country-music idiom but then soloing over them in a skronky, avant-jazz style. Jarring? Sure, but also genuinely fun and involving. Recommended for adventurous jazz collections and really adventurous country collections.
Rafe & Clelia Stefanini
Lady on the Green
Old Willow Tree
This is a wonderful collection of old-time fiddle tunes and songs performed by the father-and-daughter duo of Rafe and Clelia Stefanini (with occasional help from Clelia’s mom on guitar and a couple of other friends). Newcomers to the world of old-timey music will find this a congenial introduction to the genre and a nicely varied one too, with twin-fiddle arrangements, fiddle-and-banjo duets, and songs all jostling together. Longtime fans of this music will likely discover several new tunes on the program, including some from the repertoire of Missouri fiddlers Max and Earl Collins. Very nice.
Liam Fitzgerald and the Rainieros
If your tastes run to hardcore honky-tonk country music with swinging, highly danceable rhythms, then you’ve been waiting for this album from the Seattle-based Liam Fitzgerald and his very fine band, the Rainieros. Sharp songwriting, tight harmonies, and the best steel-and-electric-guitar duo since Big Sandy’s Fly-Rite Boys — it all adds up to good, two-stepping fun. Very highly recommended.
When We Get to Shore: Live at Empty Sea Studios
Confession time: solo singer-songwriter acts are a hard sell for me, and live albums by solo singer-songwriters are even more so. But I saw that “Handsome Molly” was on the program, so I decided I’d give it a shot. By the time Coty Hogue got to her sharp and understated version of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” she had my attention, and with her version of “Going to the West” — a song that ruins me for the day every time I hear it — she had my heart. Her version of “Handsome Molly” is great, too, and judging from the inside photo, she seems to play the same banjo I do. So apparently we’re soulmates. But that’s not why you should buy her album; you should buy it because it will grab your heart and ruin your day in all the right ways.
Compass (dist. Naxos)
7 4579 2
On her latest album, Irish flutist and singer Nuala Kennedy exhibits simultaneously her love of musical tradition and her willingness to mess with it shamelessly. Notice, for example, the bleepy Casio synthesizer that complements the 10-string mandolin on her arrangement of “My Bonny Labouring Boy,” and the sturdily rockish beats that accompany her tradition-steeped original reels “March of the Pterodactyl” and “Love at the Swimming Pool” (and her thrilling account of two Asturian pipe tunes). Elsewhere, notice her lovely voice and her brilliant flute playing. This album is in all ways excellent.
Om Lounge, Vol. 12
This isn’t lounge music in the traditional sense — you know, a guy with velvet lapels and Brylcreem crooning standards in a hotel bar. It’s downtempo electronic dance music of the kind that the Om label does particularly well: smooth, funky, sometimes kind of weird, and generally très hip. The twelfth volume in the Om Lounge series delivers just as reliably as the previous eleven, with songs and remixes by the likes of Miguel Migs, Groove Armada, and the always excellent J. Boogie.
Survival & Resistance
On-U Sound (dist. Redeye)
Producer Adrian Sherwood is a legend in reggae circles, the man who basically invented avant-dub and brought artists like Bim Sherman, Prince Far I, and Gary Clail to new levels of public attention. He has now produced three albums of original work (the first two for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label), and if this third one doesn’t reach quite the levels of excitement and originality achieved on the first two, it’s nevertheless absolutely solid and enjoyable. Featured musicians include guitarist Skip “Little Axe” McDonald, guitarist Crucial Tony, and singer Ghetto Priest.
My Plastic World
I am a complete sucker for high-quality power pop, so my discovery of Steven Wright-Mark a year or two ago was a very happy moment for me. If your patrons go for crunchy guitars, soaring melodies and swooningly pretty harmonies, then coming across this (his third album) will be a happy moment for them too. Hand-sell it to anyone wearing a Cheap Trick t-shirt.
Synthesizers in Space
The prolific producer and multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lee was browsing through a music store in Austin, Texas when he came across something called a Mystery Box hidden in a pile of old synthesizers and keyboards. Intrigued, he took it home and fell in love with it. Synthesizers in Space is constructed around sounds made with the Mystery Box, but also features plenty of samples, live drumming, and freaky production. Funky, gritty, and notably weird.
Platinum Unicorn Collection
I’m not a snob. It doesn’t bother me when the music I like becomes really popular–I figure, that just means more of it gets made. So much the better. But it does bother me when music I like turns into a punchline, which seems to be what’s happening with dubstep now. Luckily, though, the ubiquity of generic and prefabricated dubstep doesn’t prevent the high-quality stuff from getting made, such as the tracks featured on this very good label compilation. Squidgy synths, off-kilter triplet accents, apocalyptic robot sounds–you know the drill. Listen for the Prince Far I sample.
Jayanthi Kumaresh; H.S. Sudhindra; Giridhar Udupa
Flowers of Southern India: Classical Carnatic Music
Centaur (dist. Qualiton)
The veena (which looks and sounds somewhat like a sitar, but has a mellower tone) is the official national instrument of India and a mainstay of the Carnatic (southern) strain of Indian classical music. Jayanthi Kumaresh is one of the most fmaous and well-regarded veena players currently performing, and on this album she is accompanied alternately by percussionists H.S. Sudhindra and Giridhar Udupa on a program of four ragas, three from 18th-century master composers and one by contemporary artist Lalgudi Jayaraman. Her playing is exquisite, and is particularly entrancing during the tala section of the opening piece, during which she plays a long string of phrases, ending each one with the same tiny, inquisitive-sounding phrase. This disc is a must for all Asian music collections.
Shubha Mudgal/Ursula Rucker/Business Class Refugees
No Stranger Here
Hindustani singer Shubha Rudgal is a joy to listen to, and the stylistically globetrotting Business Class Refugees provide rich, rhythmic, and thoroughly enjoyable backing tracks for her on this nicely varied album. Spoken-word artist Ursula Rucker’s contributions seem like a distraction to me, though. Yes, her English poetry does nicely complement Rudgal’s Hindi songs, at least conceptually; in practice, though, I find myself wishing I were hearing more of the latter and less of the former. Your mileage may vary.
Natty Dread Taking Over: Reggae Anthology
17 North Parade
This two-disc-plus-DVD package won’t be of much interest to established fans of Culture, one of the greatest of reggae music’s many great harmony trios: its 38 tracks are almost all very familiar fare, from the achetypally apocalyptic “Two Sevens Clash” to the modern sufferer’s anthem “Poor People Hungry” (with deejay Tony Rebel). But if you want a peerless overview of this group’s consistently excellent work in a convenient and nicely-priced package, this is the one. And even longtime fans will get a kick out of the very fine two-hour concert DVD.
Bob Marley & the Wailers
In Dub, Vol. 1
What is it about Bob Marley’s music that sucks the life force out of otherwise top-notch dub artists? (Consider, for example, what it did to Bill Laswell, who is still trying to live down his execrable Dreams of Freedom project.) I was hugely excited about this project, a collection of dub remixes of classic Bob Marley songs, six of them never before available on album. And while I’m not entirely disappointed by it — some of these versions are very good, and Scientist’s new mix of “Lively Up Yourself” is superb — I wish it were more consistently thrilling. It should be. Recommended to all comprehensive reggae collections.
Strut (dist. !K7)
Sofrito is a project of DJs Hugo Mendez and Frankie Francis, who started out throwing East London warehouse parties featuring examples of tropical dance music gathered from all over the place–soca and calypso from Trinidad, cumbia from Colombia, compas from Haiti, and all manner of dance music from sub-Saharan Africa. Their second compilation album includes recordings old and new from all of those places, and includes nicely detailed liner notes about each track and artist. A must for all ethnomusicology collections–and it will nicely spice up your staff holiday party as well.