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Monthly Archives: December 2012

December 2012


meanwhileVarious Composers
Eighth Blackbird
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 133

Eighth Blackbird is quickly becoming one of the preeminent new-music chamber ensembles in the United States, and the sextet’s latest album features three works written expressly for them by Stephen Hartke, Missy Mazzoli, and Roshanne Etezady (along with pieces by Philippe Hurel, Philip Glass, and Thomas Adès). By turns spiky (the Hurel piece), whimsical (the Hartke), and trance-inducing (the Glass, of course), the program offers a fine overview of this group’s strengths and of the current compositional scene.

dvorakAntonín Dvořák
Silent Woods: Original Works and Transcriptions for Cello and Piano
Christian Poltéra; Kathryn Stott
Bis (dist. Qualiton)
Rick’s Pick

Cello and piano is, in some ways, the perfect instrumentation for the music of Dvořák, an argument made compellingly by cellist Christian Poltéra and pianist Kathryn Stott on this dark-hued and wonderful recording of works either written for cello and piano or transcribed for them. The program includes transcriptions of the G major sonatina for violin and piano, of section #5 of From the Bohemian Forest (originally for piano four hands), and of one of the Romantic Pieces for violin and piano, among others. The playing is superb, and the album would make a perfect accompaniment to reading a romantic novel on a rainy day.

debussyClaude Debussy
The Debussy Edition: Piano Music (5 discs)
Pascal Rogé
Onyx (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

Composer Steve Reich argues that when it comes to music, national differences count. (“After all,” he says, “imagine Karajan conducting Gershwin. You don’t want to hear that, do you?”) I don’t know if I buy that argument totally, but I’ll tell you this: Pascal Rogé has a feel for Debussy that I strongly suspect is connected to their shared Frenchness. He makes the études sway and undulate luxuriously; he plays the Images so they sound like a sunset. Your library surely owns all (or at least most) of these pieces in other performances, but this box offers a nice opportunity to hear all of them through the prism of a single musical mind.

arvoArvo Pärt
Adam’s Song
Latvian Radio Choir, et al. / Tönu Kaljuste

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt has always been lumped in with the minimalist crowd, but it was never a particularly good fit for him. Over time, it’s becoming even less so; while his music continues to be primarily hushed and reverential, it is also becoming more expressive and dynamically varied. Adam’s Lament is a gorgeous new piece for choir and orchestra, and it is accompanied here by several earlier works (including Silouan’s Song and Salve Regina), all of them performed beautifully by an eclectic array of Eastern European choirs and orchestras.

adventBenedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles
Advent at Ephesus
De Montfort Music/Decca
Rick’s Pick

This one came out of nowhere: a collection of sacred songs performed by the nuns of a Benedictine monastic farm in Missouri, whose religious life includes singing eight times daily. On this remarkably beautiful and moving recording, they sing a program of traditional Christmas hymns, Gregorian chants, early polyphonic works, and a Latin hymn credited to the nuns themselves. The pieces selected are all thematically related to the celebration of Advent, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The singing is more polished than one might expect from a non-performing group, and is also warm and richly inviting.

bacciniW.A. Mozart; Michael Haydn; J. C. Bach
(Chamber works for oboe and strings)
Alessandro Baccini; Nuovo Quartetto Italiano
Centaur (dist. Qualiton)
CRC 3179

This is a thoroughly lovely collection of pieces for oboe or English horn and strings from the high-classical period. The Mozart quartet (Kv 370) is fairly familiar, but Michael Haydn’s six-part divertimento is much less well-known (as is the case for so much of this brilliant composer’s oeuvre) and the same is true of the quartet by Johann Christian Bach. Baccini and the Nuovo Quartetto Italiano play on modern instruments with an admirably lightness and grace.

telemannGeorg Philipp Telemann
Complete Orchestral Suites, Vol. 2 (2 discs, reissue)
Caro Mitis (dist. Albany)
CM 0022008-2
Rick’s Pick

Telemann’s orchestral suites are among the most enjoyable works of the baroque period. Six were recently rediscovered among the holdings of the Russian State Library in Moscow, and four of them are presented here as part of a comprehensive series undertaken by the very fine Russian period-instrument ensemble Pratum Integrum. This two-disc set was originally issued in 2009, and seems to be reaching the American market now for the first time. It’s a must-have for libraries, partly because the bulk of the material here constitutes a world-premiere recording–but mostly because the music is so beautiful and is performed so well.

heudelinneLouis Heudelinne; Charles Henri Blainville
Le dessus de viole: Music for Treble Viol from 18th-century Paris (2 discs; reissue)
Simone Eckert; Hamburger Ratsmusik
Pan Classics (dist. Qualiton)
PC 10279

In early 18th-century France, it was not considered decent for a woman to play the viol, because doing so required her to spread her legs and grip it between her thighs. Polite society made an exception for the smaller treble viol, however, which mostly sat on top of the legs. This two-disc set brings together separate recordings originally released on the Christophorus label in 1996 and 1997 of works by the obscure composers Heudelinne and Blainville; the Heudelinne suites were originally marketed as “musique des dames,” and are performed expertly (if perhaps a bit drily) by the wonderful gamba player Simone Eckert. Any early-music collection that does not hold the original versions of these recordings should snap up this twofer reissue.

buonamenteGiovanni Battista Buonamente; Giovanni Battista Fontana
Venetian Art 1600: The New Instrumental Style
Le Concert Brisée / William Dongois
Accent (dist. Qualiton)
ACC 24253

At the turn of the 17th century, as the Renaissance was beginning to give way to the baroque period, a new style of concertante instrumental emerged and the sonata began to come into its own. Two Italian composers (one working in Venice and the other at Assisi) were at the forefront of this development, helping to emancipate instrumental music from its previous attachment to vocal traditions, and this excellent disc brings together 16 early sonatas and related pieces from these composers. The chamber ensemble Le Concert Brisée (led by cornett player William Dongois) plays brilliantly. Recommended to all early-music collections.

gabrieliGiovanni Gabrieli
Sacred Symphonies
Ex Cathedra; His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts; Concerto Palatino / Jeffrey Skidmore
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

Whenever one thinks of late-17th-century Venice, the name that immediately comes to mind is Gabrieli, whose polychoral sacred works were performed at St. Mark’s Cathedral and exerted an influence across all of Europe. This recording celebrates the 400th anniversary of Gabrieli’s death as well as the 30th and 25th anniversaries, respectively, of His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts and the Concerto Palatino. The motets, Magnificat setting, and other pieces presented here effectively communicate all the joy and wonder of a Christmas eve service at St. Mark’s, and all are recorded in such a way that the sonic luxury of the cathedral’s large, reverberant spaces is fully felt while the individual voices and instruments remain clearly defined. Highly recommended.


elvinMichael Feinberg
The Elvin Jones Project
SSC 1325

If you miss the glory days of discursive, modal jazz à la 1960s John Coltrane, then look no further: bassist and composer Michael Feinberg has put together a set of tunes organized around the musical relationships that Coltrane’s drummer, the legendary Elvin Jones, established with bassist like Jimmy Garrison, George Mraz, and Dave Holland. But this album isn’t bass-centric; instead, it finds Feinberg leading a quartet (expanded to a quintet by guitarist Alex Wintz on two track) through a set of standards, Jones compositions, and one original tune, all of them played in the kind of open, expansive style that Trane made so popular in the 1960s. Recommended to comprehensive jazz collections.

winterPaul Winter Sextet
Count Me In: 1962-1963 (2 discs)
Living Music

Jazz fans who respond tepidly to saxophonist and composer Paul Winter’s normal mode of musical discourse–a sweet-natured but woolly-minded sort of eco-New-Age noodling–might be surprised to learn that in the early 1960s Winter was a straight-ahead jazzman with a sharp eye for great arrangements (some of which the band bought from Jimmy Heath). These two discs document the Paul Winter Sextet’s Latin American tour, along with some studio recordings and a command performance at the White House–the first-ever jazz performance in that venue. The ensemble sounds great throughout, and the tunes are mostly fairly unfamiliar, definitely not potboiler standards.

johnsonMarty Grosz and the Hot Winds
The James P. Johnson Songbook
Arbors Jazz
ARCD 19427
Rick’s Pick

James P. Johnson was the undisputed master of Harlem-style stride piano; his compositions were staples of the Broadway revue repertoire in the 1920s and 1930s and remain brilliant examples of hot jazz at its best. For this loving tribute album, guitarist Marty Grosz has brought together a period-appropriate ensemble that includes tuba, banjo, and an array of wind players who take audible joy in playing the hot music of this period. (Pianist James Dapogny acquits himself very nicely on the Johnson parts.) Highly recommended to all jazz collections.

utterstromOscar Utterström
Right Turn
(no cat. no.)

Confession time: I’m kind of a hard sell when it comes to modern, experimental jazz. I don’t object to it in theory, but in practice I very often find it self-indulgent and uninteresting. But I’m a sucker for turntablism in its many varieties, so when I received a review copy of this album by electric trombonist (yikes!) Oscar Utterström and saw that it featured turntablist Black Cat Sylvester (yay!) I decided to give it a shot, and I’m very glad I did. The rapping by Bobby Exodus is kind of fun, and “Movin’ On” is a pretty good pop song, but best of all are the instrumentals–Utterström is a very fine composer and arranger, and shines brightest when he’s writing adventurous but carefully-orchestrated pieces for his quartet like “Departure” and “Rain.”

abateGreg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods
Greg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods
RHO 7112

If you miss the glory days of straight-ahead bebop, cool, and Latin jazz, then saxophonist and composer Greg Abate has got an album for you–and he brought alto legend Phil Woods on board to help out. Woods plays on five of the album’s ten tracks, most of which are Abate originals but all of which sound like they could have been written in 1950, which is a compliment. Especially nice are the sprightly bop workout “Carmel by the Sea” (which I at first mistook for a Charlie Parker composition) and the lovely midtempo Latin number “Special K.”

holmesJeff Holmes Quartet
Of One’s Own
Miles High
MHR 8621
Rick’s Pick

This is a remarkably lovely album by a quartet led by pianist Jeff Holmes, who also wrote five of the nine tracks featured. Holmes’s style is pretty much straight-ahead, but his sound and writing style are both quite personal; you’ll hear interesting modulations in his pieces and surprising phrases in his playing, and he also has a fresh ear for the work of others, turning in a lovely rendition of John Abercrombie’s “Labour Day” and ending the proceedings with a charming arrangement of the Sound of Music chestnut “So Long, Farewell.” All in all, it’s a very enjoyable outing from this major talent.

zootZoot Sims
Lost Tapes: Baden-Baden, June 23, 1958
Jazz Haus (dist. Naxos)
101 710
Rick’s Pick

This disc is one in a series of live recordings being reissued or, in some cases, released for the first time on German Art Haus label. In the case of this excellent 1958 performance by tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, it was originally issued on poor-quality vinyl in 1988 and quickly went out of print. This CD version is completely remastered and sounds wonderful, and the performance is a gem. Each tune is played with a different line-up featuring a shifting cast of German musicians, but with a constant rhythm section consisting of pianist Hans Hammerschmid, bassist Peter Trunk, and (best of all) drummer Kenny Clarke. A must for all jazz collections.

blissJulian Bliss Septet
A Tribute to Benny Goodman
Signum Classics (dist. Qualiton)

Julian Bliss is one of the most impressive young clarinetists on Britain’s classical scene, and this appears to be his first jazz album. It’s very good, though it must be said that on his solos he does sometimes sound a bit “legit,” playing lots of scale-based lines (notice in particular his opening solos on “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise”), but on the other hand his classical background gives him a gorgeous tone and it doesn’t seem to have impaired his sense of swing at all. This is a very enjoyable album.

boboBobo Stenson Trio
Rick’s Pick

Those crazy Scandinavians. They think Carl Nielsen is a jazz composer! And what about those protest song settings and Norwegian hymn arrangements–are you kidding me with this stuff? Of course, when the Scandinavian jazz musician in question is pianist Bobo Stenson, it really doesn’t matter where the source material came from–it’s all going to end up sounding like midnight under the stars on a frozen lake, or birds singing in an empty cathedral. He and his trio are so good at improvising together that you won’t always be able to tell where the free sections end and the composed ones begin. Every track on this album is utterly gorgeous.


truebanjoVarious Artists
True Bluegrass Banjo

Though established bluegrass fans will already own much of the material represented on this album, it would still serve as a great introduction to the various styles of bluegrass banjo playing (and bluegrass instrumental styles generally) for any course on American music and musicology. It features such legendary pickers as Ralph Stanley, J.D. Crowe, Don Reno, and Bill Emerson, as well as more recent and modern stylists like Sammy Shelor and Alan Munde. (The Rebel label simultaneously released a companion disc titled True Bluegrass Fiddle, which is equally useful.)

andyAndy Roberts
Urban Cowboy (reissue)
Fledg’ling (dist. Forced Exposure)
FLED 3088

1973 was an awkward time for rock’n’roll, and for folk- and country-rock in particular, at least in America. But in England, folk-rock was at somethingof a high-water mark, so the decision by Andy Roberts (formerly of Fairport Convention and Plainsong, among others) to make a solo album that year that drew heavily on elements of American country music seems a bit strange, in retrospect. That it worked so well is a testament to his quirky musical brilliance, and that it holds up so well 40 years later speaks both for his brilliance and that of producer Sandy Robertson. This reissue is yet another triumph for the wonderful Fledg’ling label.

brookeRachel Brooke
A Killer’s Dream
Rick’s Pick

Playing retro-pastiche country-blues means walking a tightrope: on one side gapes the abyss of Slavish Revivalism; on the other is Tiresome Hipster Irony. Some artists manage to stay on the rope, but they are few, and how they do it is a mystery. Rachel Brooke is one of them. At times you’ll hear hints of Tom Waits (listen to the musical saw on “The Black Bird”) at other moments there are echoes of the Squirrel Nut Zippers (the muted horns on “Fox in a Hen House”), but at all times you’ll be transfixed by her plainspoken but lovely voice and her strange but incisive lyrics. This is an album that sounds like a million things you’ve heard before but feels completely unique. Buy it on cassette, just for kicks!


shadowDJ Shadow
Total Breakdown: Hidden Transmissions from the MPC Era, 1992-1996
No cat. no.

DJ Shadow was a towering figure in the development of instrumental hip hop in the 1990s and one of very few true virtuosos of sample manipulation. He has been much less prolific than many of his electronica compatriots, releasing only five formal full-length albums since his explosive debut (Endtroducing…) in 1996. This disc is a compilation of what sound like odds and ends, all of them dating from the early years of his career leading up to that first formal album; the tracks consist of looped samples, some of them minimally messed-with, and as a result the collection may be of more interest to his fellow DJs as source material than to listeners–though personally, I find it lots of fun for listening.

badbrainsBad Brains
Into the Future
no cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

I know, I know — Bad Brains haven’t made a great album since 1986’s I Against I. And I know the critics are slagging this one because singer HR seems to have lost all interest in contributing anything but the most halfhearted lyrics, when he contributes any at all (several tracks on this 38-minute album are instrumentals). But the remaining members of the band are still the most impressive power trio in rock’n’roll today, equally adept at hardcore punk, funk-metal, and stright-up reggae, and when HR does bother to make a vocal contribution it can still be hair-raising. Also, bassist Darryl Jenifer has turned into a top-notch producer, and the sound of Into the Future is tighter and sharper-edged than I’ve heard from these guys in years. Expect demand from this band’s fanatical cult following.

innerVarious Artists
Innerhythmic: Cause and Effect

The Innerhythmic label is a couple of things: first, it’s the latest in a long string of imprints that basically serve as a corporate umbrella for projects by the always-interesting bassist and producer Bill Laswell, and it has hosted several of those recent projects including albums by Praxis, Gonervill, and James “Blood” Ulmer. Importantly, it is also now the home to several significant releases from the now-defunct Black Arc label, which Laswell led in the mid-1990s and which released albums by Bootsy Collins, Mutiny, and Buddy Miles, among others. This compilation draws on both the Innerhythmic and the Black Arc catalogs, presenting old tracks in new remixes, and is guaranteed to blow minds and eardrums alike with its welter of funk, blues, avant-dub and avant-everything-else sounds.

Drape Me in Velvet
Hapna (dist. Forced Exposure)

This is a weird one, but it offers a very useful window on a couple of recent developments in experimental pop music: a renewed interest in archaic formats (the basis for these tracks is a collection of old cassette and reel-to-reel tape recordings), and musique concrète techniques as a basis for music that is simultaneously avant-garde and unabashedly pop. Not everything here is equally engrossing, but there are genuinely beautiful moments hidden amongst the relatively long stretches of music that is merely quite interesting.

floatingThe Floating World
The Apparition
Cyclic Law (dist. Allegro)
44th Cycle

If you have a collecting interest in ambient music, then this one is worth checking out. It’s not ambient in the restful, Brian Eno sense, but rather in the unsettling Badawi or Divination sense. Each track builds a mood out of sound layers that range from almost seismically low to whinnyingly, coruscatingly high, and only occasionally make extensive use of any melodic content at all (check the arrhythmic but beautifully dubwise “Impossible”). There are also a few moments of spoken word. It’s interesting stuff, not for the easily creeped-out.

exorcismMark Stewart
Exorcism of Envy
Future Noise Music (dist. Forced Exposure)
FNM 004
Rick’s Pick

For more than 30 years, Mark Stewart has been an irascible icon of postpunk music; his work with avant-dubsters the New Age Steppers, with aggro-electro terrorists the Pop Group, and with his own Maffia outfit have garnered him a worldwide cult following if not necessarily widespread fame and riches. Exorcism of Envy is a dubwise remix of his recent Politics of Envy album, and it manages to deconstruct the original tracks without sacrificing any of their snarling fervor, even when the resulting grooves are relatively spacious and sonically expansive. Forward-thinking pop collections should include both this album and its original version.


raymondiEmanuele de Raymondi
Buyukberber Variations
Zerokilled Music (dist. Forced Exposure)
ZK 057
Rick’s Pick

Although this album is credited to experimental composer Emanuele Raymondi, all of the musical content was produced by Turkish clarinet virtuoso Oguz Buyukberber. Buyukberber was recorded playing improvised passages in a room with a natural 10-second reverberation, and the resulting tracks were drastically cut up and reorganized by de Raymondi, resulting in compositions that have the repetitive and phased nature of early minimalism but also use advanced electronic techniques to isolate microscopic pieces of the clarinet’s sound and transform them into percussive and purely textural elements. The result is both truly strange and completely beautiful.

zambujoAntónio Zambujo
World Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
WVF 479069
Rick’s Pick

As fado singers go, António Zambujo has a remarkably restrained style, and also tends to favor more elaborate arrangements than the typical voice-plus-guitar. On his fifth album, Zambujo’s softly crooning style is given wonderful and occasionally almost jazzy settings that feature (at various times) bass clarinet, electric guitar, ukelele, and “Portuguese bass.” Every track is a winner, and the album is strongly recommended to all world music collections.

horaceHorace Andy
Broken Beats
Echo Beach (dist. Forced Exposure)
EB 090
Rick’s Pick

It wouldn’t be an issue of CD HotList if it didn’t include at least one reggae recommendation, but this one is different: it’s a sort of pseudo-remix collection of classic material by the great roots-reggae singer Horace Andy. I say “pseudo”- remix collection because it isn’t actually based on old recordings. Instead, the Echo Beach label gathered a bunch of Horace Andy fans (including Rob Smith, Dub Spencer, Dubblestandart, and Oliver Frost, among others) and asked them to create brand-new instrumental tracks for Andy’s old hits, then brought Andy in to re-voice them. The result is a revelatory re-working of Andy’s legacy in a variety of modern styles, and an enormously enjoyable listen.

virantChristiaan Virant
Fistful of Buddha
CVMK (dist. Forced Exposure)

Christiaan Virant is the inventor of the Buddha Machine, a small plastic box that looks a lot like an old transister radio but plays droney ambient music in an infinite loop. This album finds him continuing to explore the idea of Chinese/European ambient fusion, with combinations of bowed strings, tiny glitches, bonging percussion, and droning electronic tones alternately emerging, blending, and fading. Fans of the Buddha Machine are sure to get a kick out of it, but so will anyone else who is partial to ambient and meditative music.