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Monthly Archives: August 2013

September 2013


peplowKen Peplowski
Maybe September

Like the Brabant Ensemble (see below) and John Brown’s Body, clarinetist/saxophonist Ken Peplowski is almost guaranteed a Rick’s Pick designation in CD HotList every time he releases an album — not because I’m a slavish fan, but simply because the quality of his releases is so consistently high. And here he goes again, with yet another world-class program of standards (“All Alone by the Telephone,” “Main Stem”) and surprises (some Poulenc, some Harry Nilsson) delivered in a quartet format with brilliant sidemen and an air of relaxed but complete virtuosity — just listen to the seemingly endless bag of melody from which he draws four minutes of variations on “Fool Such As I.” I’m prepared to say that Peplowski is the best and most consistently rewarding jazz clarinetist on the scene today (and in the very top rank of tenor men, where he has a lot more competition). This disc is a must for all jazz collections.


roreCipriano de Rore
Missa doulce mémoire; Missa a note negre
Brabant Ensemble / Stephen Rice
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

Once again, the Brabant Ensemble comes out with a definitive account of two masterworks of Franco-Flemish choral music. Although Cipriano de Rore is known more for his madrigals than his sacred music, he wrote quite a bit of the latter and was particularly stylistically indebted to Josquin des Prez. You’ll hear that influence here in this program of two Masses and three motets, and the singing is everything we’ve come to expect from this ensemble: a rich and creamy blend in service to an intensely devotional tone. Like everything else the Brabants have recorded, this one is strongly recommended to all classical collections.

ivesCharles Ives
String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2 (reissue)
Newton Classics (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

A classic performance of a classic pairing, this 1967 recording finds the Julliard String Quartet (at the height of its considerable powers) performing two foundational works of the modern canon: the two string quartets of Charles Ives. These two pieces can almost be taken as microcosmic: the first finds him working (almost playing, actually) with themes drawn from the religious hymns on which he grew up. Hints of the acerbic tone and expansive structural experimentation of his later music are present, but this work is largely conventional and tonal. The second quartet is far more bristly and programmatic, with movements aptly titled “Discussions,” “Arguments,” and “The Call of the Mountains.” Not since William Billings in the 18th century had a composer so beautifully and startlingly captured the fractious, rough-hewn appeal of the American character in music, or subjected that character to such gimlet-eyed scrutiny. This is an essential recording for all library collections.

mccoyVarious Composers
Baroque Legacy: Bach and His Contemporaries Performed on Double Bass
Jeremy McCoy and Friends
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1440

There’s a reason why most people groan at the prospect of listening to solo music for the double bass: it’s because in order to be heard clearly in an ensemble setting, you have to play it up in the high positions, where its tone is least attractive. Bassist Jeremy McCoy says nuts to that. On this lovely collection of baroque sonatas by Bach, Handel, Couperin and others, he spends a lot of time playing down where the bass sounds best, and his continuo accompanists (playing various combinations of chamber organ, harpsichord, and strings) temper their own dynamics to make him more clearly audible. The result is a startlingly beautiful and highly unusual listening experience.

mendelssohnFelix Mendelssohn
Symphony No. 4 “Italian”; Symphony No. 5 “Reformation” (reissue)
Boston Symphony Orchestra / Charles Munch
United Classics (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Generally speaking, I’m a really hard sell when it comes to “historical” recordings. Yes, yes, Leopold Stokowski and Otto Klemperer were geniuses, but I’m sorry: recordings from the 1930s and 1940s sound like crap, and it’s not like we don’t have top-notch conductors making much better-sounding recordings of the same repertoire today. So the fact that I’m strongly recommending these mid-1950s recordings by Charles Munch with the BSO suggests that they really are something special. Can you tell that they’re old? Well, yes. But the sound is warm and detailed enough to let the performances sparkle and pop, and they do. Rarely have a conductor and an orchestra been so beautifully matched as Munch and the BSO were, and their shared joy in these masterful compositions is positively infectious.

costeleyGuillaume Costeley
Mignonne allons voir si la Rose
Ludus Modalis / Bruno Boterf
Ramée (dist. Naxos)
RAM 1301

Subtitled “Spiritual and Amorous Songs in Renaissance France,” this album brings together 27 chansons published in 1570 by the rarely-recorded organist, poet, and composer Guillaume Costeley. As the album’s subtitle suggests, these songs cover a surprisingly broad topical spectrum — everything from the plainly devotional “J’ayme mon Dieu” and “Seigneur Dieu, ta pitié” to other, earthier ones that range in tone from romantic (the title song) to outright scatological (“Grosse garce noire et tendre”). The singing of Ludus Modalis is generally sweet-toned and lovely, though they coarsen their sound in accordance with the subject matter as needed. Recommended.

schubertFranz Schubert
Complete Piano Sonatas Played on Period Instruments (reissue; 9 discs)
Paul Badura-Skoda
Arcana/Outhere (dist. Naxos)
A 364
Rick’s Pick

This nine-disc box set brings together recordings made in the early- to mid-1990s by the great Schubert specialist Paul Badura-Skoda, all of them using early-19th-century fortepianos from the artist’s personal collection. Those who normally turn up the nose at the fortepiano’s relatively constricted dynamic range and constrained tone will want to give these fabulous recordings a listen: under Badura-Skoda’s fingers, the four instruments used here practically dance and sing. Schubert’s music, like Beethoven’s, heralds both the end of the classical period and the birth of the romantic — but unlike Beethoven’s, Schubert’s music faces the new musical era with more bittersweet melancholy than rage, and his piano sonatas remain some of the most gently heartbreaking music of his century. Very highly recommended to all classical collections.

bullVarious Composers
Basically Bull: Keyboard Works of John Bull & Others
Alan Feinberg
Steinway & Sons

There’s nothing particularly unusual about playing baroque music on a modern piano — but music of the English Renaissance? That’s pretty bold. Much of this music was written for the virginal, a keyboard instrument whose expressive range was even more limited than that of the later harpsichord, so for Alan Feinberg to interpret them on a grand piano is to undertake a certain amount of artistic risk: will he be able to make tasteful use of the modern piano’s wider capabilities without undermining the essential character of the music? The answer is yes. Feinberg makes judicious and highly musical use of dynamics and rubato, revealing new aspects of these pieces by Bull, William Byrd, Thomas Tomkins, and others, but shows deep respect for the conventions of the period as well. Recommended to all keyboard collections.

kuhlauFriedrich Kuhlau
Grandes Sonates
Les Fidelles
Fra Bernardo (dist. Naxos)
fb 1209102

These are lovely period-instrument performances of three “grand sonatas” composed by the celebrated flutist and pianist Friedrich Kuhlau — a nicely-chosen program, as it turns out, one that shows the composer at both his most ponderously pre-romantic (the op. 83 selection) and his most cheerfully late-classical (op. 69). Fortepianist Linda Nicholson and transverse flutist Charles Zebley both play with vigor and charm, and this disc is particularly recommended (along with the Schubert title reviewed above) to collections that may be lacking in period-instrument recordings of the romantic repertoire.


ryersonAli Ryerson Jazz Flute Big Band
Game Changer

Confession time: while I love jazz flute, big band recordings are generally kind of a hard sell for me — I really tend to prefer tight-and-nimble to dense-and-bombastic (and bombast is a nearly irresistible temptation for most big-band arrangers). But I was intrigued by this project: a big band made up entirely of flutes, plus rhythm section and several excellent guest soloists, including Holly Hofmann and Hubert Laws. The results are consistently interesting, and while they haven’t completely converted me to the concept, I can confidently recommend this disc to any library supporting a jazz program and especially to any educator with an interest in jazz orchestration.

magnarelliJoe Magnarelli
Live at Smalls
Smalls Live (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

Trumpeter Joe Magnarelli has a style that I have struggled to characterize while listening to this album. At first I would have said his playing was “intellectual,” but now I think I’d use the term “arch.” Which is not a criticism; he swings strongly (helped out by a rhythm section that includes Mulgrew Miller on piano), and writes really well. But it often seems like he’s commenting on the tune as much as playing it, which gives his solos on these very long tracks a certain distant but bracing quality. This is very good stuff, in a rather unusual way.

mcginnisMike McGinnis + 9
Road * Trip (CD available on October 8)

If you had asked me what I thought of a jazz “concerto for clarinet and combo,” I’d have said “no, thanks.” Jazz-classical fusion almost never works, in my opinion and experience. So I approached the first half of this album with real trepidation, and was very happily surprised. Here’s why it works: it doesn’t try to be jazz-classical fusion. Instead, it’s straight-up jazz, but structured in a concerto form. Bill Smith’s composition is tight but swinging, and Mike McGinnis’s clarinet is a thing of dancing joy. The second half of the program is the title composition, also written in a three-movement format — not quite as brilliant as Smith’s piece, but very enjoyable and expertly played.

wobbleJah Wobble & Bill Sharpe
Kingdom of Fitzrovia
Storyville (dist. Allegro)
101 4279

Here’s something from out of left field: bassist Jah Wobble, one of the founding fathers of post-punk pan-ethnic avant-gardism (PiL, Invaders of the Heart), teaming up with keyboardist Bill Sharpe (Shakatak) to create an album of 1970s-style jazz fusion in the tradition of Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters. And it’s not bad at all. Guests include trumpeter Sean Corby, guitarist Fridrik Karlsson, and drummer Marc Layton-Bennett, and the tunes are all as smoothly swinging and spacily discursive as you’d expect–with lots of comforting Fender Rhodes piano to create just the right early-70s mood. Pretty cool.

herschFred Hersch and Julian Lage
Free Flying
Rick’s Pick

Just about any project led by Fred Hersch is likely to get a Rick’s Pick designation, because Hersch is perhaps the most brilliant and insightful jazz pianist currently working. But this live duet recording with guitarist Julian Lage is particularly special, because Lage is every bit Hersch’s equal as both an instrumental technician and a musical thinker. Listen to Lage’s witty and perfectly apposite comping on “Down Home” (Hersch’s lovely tribute to guitarist Bill Frisell), and then listen to how Hersch complements and supports Lage’s sensitive rendition of the opening chorus on “Heartland.” This is an unusually deep and lovely album.

hollandDave Holland
Dare2 (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Opening with a funk-rocker written by guitarist Kevin Eubanks, the latest outing from bassist and bandleader Dave Holland finds him striking out in a very new direction: one characterized by rockish guitar and blues- and funk-derived grooves, though also exploring quiet and contemplative directions and even hints of gospel. This quartet sounds like it’s been playing together for years, executing precision rhythmic switches at a moment’s notice but swinging loosely and powerfully when called upon to do so. The result is that rarest of jazz projects: an album that sounds simultaneously timeless and thrillingly new. A must for all jazz collections.


mcnallyKatie McNally
No cat. no.

Katie McNally is a young fiddler with a very mature sound. Currently one of the leading Celtic fiddlers in her native New England, her studies and playing have taken her to Scotland and led her to tour North America supporting Galician piper Carlos Nuñez. Her first solo album is simultaneously a celebration of Scottish fiddling tradition and a gentle expansion of it, her arrangements and original compositions nestling comfortably together and her palpable joy in playing them utterly contagious. Recommended to all folk collections.

emmonsVarious Artists
The Big E: A Salute to Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons
Rick’s Pick

There was a time when the phrase “steel guitarist” would not have had to be appended to the name “Buddy Emmons” for every country music fan to know exactly what this album is all about. No single figure has contributed so much to both the design and the playing technique of this difficult and iconic instrument, or has been a part of so many popular and important recordings in his chosen genre. The Big E features tribute performances by fellow steel players Greg Leisz, Dan Dugmore, and Mike Johnson, among others, as well as appearances by A-list singers Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and more — and the history provided in the liner notes is priceless. No country music collection should be without this informative and delightful album.

bigcountryBig Country Bluegrass
Memories of the Past

Sneer at smoothness all you want, but there’s something uniquely thrilling about a bluegrass album that features seamlessly tight harmony singing and virtuosic solos taken at headlong tempi. Big Country Bluegrass offers plenty of both, though they generally keep the tempo tasteful and what catches the ear is more often the note choices (banjoist Lynwood Lunsford is particularly fun to listen to) than the complexity of the arrangements and the picking. The real joy of this album is the group’s vocal blend, which is colorful and brilliant.

oldbuckOld Buck
Old Buck
Tin Halo Music
Rick’s Pick

Old Buck is a string band, and they play old-time music, but calling them an old-time string band doesn’t quite work for some reason. Maybe it’s because they also play Hank Williams. Maybe it’s the more bluegrassy (despite the clawhammer banjo) feel of their take on “False Hearted Lover’s Blues.” Nomenclature doesn’t matter, though; what matter are the reedy beauty of the vocals, the wonderful tunes both familiar and obscure, and the irrepressible joy of the playing. This is an exceptionally fine album.

mandolinMandolin Orange
This Side of Jordan
Yep Roc (dist. Redeye)

I made the mistake of listening to this while running early one morning. That really didn’t work. But if you’re at home on a rainy afternoon, or driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway looking at the leaves, or contemplating a failed romance, then this collection of moody acoustic folk-pop will give you the perfect soundtrack. Andrew Martin and Emily Frantz play and sing new original songs that sound like classic country laments, and they harmonize like angels. Very nice stuff.


dixonDon Dixon
High & Filthy & Borderline
D.A.R./Lava Head

As a producer, Don Dixon’s fingerprints are all over some of the best indie pop records of the 1980s (REM, the Smithereens, etc.). As a solo artist, he has recorded for a variety of respected independent labels and made some of the most wry, incisive, and tuneful pop music of the past two decades. This self-released album has a spare and stripped-down feel despite the presence of horn sections, occasional choir samples, and other sonic miscellany, because Dixon is a powerfully disciplined songwriter: he can experiment without ever losing focus on the song and its structure. He is, in short, a pro, as well as a sharp-eyed observer and a gifted multi-instrumentalist.

News from Nowhere
Warp (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

It’s a seriously good thing that the music on this album is as effortlessly enjoyable as it is, because the packaging is a complete pain in the butt. The only useful information (artist and title) is printed on the spine; otherwise, there’s lots of cutesy artwork but nothing else: no tracklisting, no artist credits, nothing. The music is wonderful: dreamy, mostly instrumental (when a voice appears it is often unintelligible, which works fine), texturally complex and melodically simple. The album is a sumptuously lovely listen, but prepare to deal with an angry cataloger if you purchase it for the library collection.

alphaAlpha Rev

This Austin-based quartet’s third album is a dense, churning, sometimes disturbing, but ultimately deeply lovely collection of songs that veer from anthemic guitar rock (“Lexington”) to horror-movie spaghetti-western soundtrack (“Lonely Man”) while exploring and interrogating the theme of loss from multiple angles. Songs like “Sing Loud” and “Highways” might remind you of the American Music Club at their soaringly beautiful best, only without the cynicism. This is one of those albums that nicely rewards repeated listens.

Inter Face
Gomma (dist. Forced Exposure)

Dance music is one of those genres in which the line separating boring from interesting can be extremely thin. A little break in the glossy surface, a subtle disruption of the oonts-oonts-oonts groove, a sly manipulation of the vocal hook — any of these can turn an otherwise rote dancefloor exercise into something more subversive and captivating. German DJ Telonius excels at that kind of subversion. Inter Face finds him delivering the four-on-the-floor goods for those who wish to shake their booties, but also offering brain food to anyone who wants to listen more carefully–check out the artfully messed-up vocals on “Now” and the understated, grumbling beat on “I Make You Man.” This is good stuff.

bentBent Shapes
Feels Weird
Father/Daughter (dist. Redeye)

Following in the tradition of great punk and post-punk power trios like the Dollyrots and the Minutemen, Bent Shapes (formerly known as Girlfriends) deliver a set of deceptively ramshackle-sounding songs that are actually a lot tighter than they want you to suspect. Ben Potrykus has a charmingly (but, again, deceptively) plainspoken voice that hides its real refinement, and bassist Supriya Gunda supplies sweet backing harmonies and occasional leads under all the guitar clatter. File this one under Bubblegum Pop for the Thinking Hipster.


Walk with Me
MD-CD 001

The Skatalites are the longest-lived ska group in history–largely because they were, arguably, the first ska band in history (established in 1964), and they’re still going strong. Sure, most of the band’s founding members have passed away, but drummer Lloyd Knibb is as solid as ever, and saxophonist Lester “Ska” Sterling remains a paragon of jazzy-skanking fluency. On their latest album they continue to deliver the bouncy, galloping grooves that have given them a worldwide cult audience for nearly 50 years. Highly recommended.

madeiraDebashish Bhattacharya
Madeira: If Music Could Intoxicate
Tridev Music

Debashish Bhattacharya is not only a virtuoso player of various stringed instruments, but also an instrument inventor, whose design variations on the slide guitar have made him something of a legend in Indian classical and world-music circles. On this solo album he is joined by his brother Subhasis on tabla and (spectacularly) by his teenaged daughter Anandi, whose dumbfoundingly beautiful singing makes the album’s last two tracks more than worth the price of the whole album. This is not Indian classical music of the purest variety, but rather a blend of classical and raga-based contemporary compositions.

Cumba Mela
Rick’s Pick

Listening to this very fun and bouncy set of ethno-electronica, you may be surprised to learn that it’s the project of a lifelong New Yorker named Adam Partridge: what it sounds like is a cumbia and moombahton compilation remixed by Massive Attack. And yes, that’s a compliment: as I’ve said before, I have no patience with musical purists, and this music is deeply, richly, ecstatically impure. You’ll hear everything from dubstep to Afro-Colombian house in these grooves, and all kinds of singing and rapping in a variety of languages. Fun, fun, fun.

Hurban Warrior of Peace: Part Roots
Luvinnit Productions

Formerly a pillar of the New York City ska-and-reggae scene, Rocker-T has now relocated to the Bay Area and hooked up with a whole new cast of collaborators — including, on his latest album, Joan Baez, who duets with him on “The Way Life Should Be.” Other guests on this very fine album include the great neo-roots singer Gappy Ranks, legendary DJ Ranking Joe, and Rocker-T’s New York colleague King Django. As always, he offers a varied program of roots and dancehall grooves in support of strictly positive and conscious lyrics. Recommended to all reggae collections.

nashazBrian Prunka
No cat. no.

Brian Prunka is normally a jazz guitarist, but a chance encounter with an Egyptian cab driver led him to begin obsessively learning about Arabic music and to learn how to play the oud (a fretless lute indigenous to the region). Eventually he put together a group of jazz and Arabic players and created this program of tunes that blend the two traditions together. The music is fascinating, though most listeners will probably strain to hear the jazz elements in the mix (despite the presence of alto saxophone and trumpet). The playing is excellent throughout.

skycatcher10 Ft. Ganja Plant
Skycatcher (CD available September 24)
RUSCD 8325
Rick’s Pick

I’ve been recommending 10 Ft. Ganja Plant’s albums consistently over the past 14 years, and always for the same reason: there is no American band so faithfully and skillfully carrying the banner of 1970s-style roots reggae. As always, there are no musician credits on Skycatcher; while it’s an open secret that the band consists largely of musicians from John Brown’s Body (and the voice of former JBB frontman Kevin Kinsella is immediately recognizable), there are always anonymous guest musicians involved as well. In any case, this one is yet another triumph of reggae revivalism from what is arguably the best band working in that mode today.


August 2013


archivVarious Composers
Various Performers
Archiv Produktion 1947-2013 (55 discs)
Deutsche Grammophon
DGG B001833572

For a more in-depth treatment of this landmark release, see the July issue of Music Media Monthly, where I dedicated my Sound Recordings column to a review of this stunning 55-disc box set. Here I’ll simply say that the Archiv Produktion box set is like a treasure chest for those who love the music of the medieval, Renaissance, baroque, classical, and early romantic periods. As one might expect, there is a little bit of overlap with DG’s previous All-Baroque Box, but not enough to undermine this one’s value. It is particularly noteworthy that several of the earliest titles included in the box—among them an account of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos by the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis under August Wenzinger from the 1950s—have never before been released on CD. All are packaged in cardboard sleeves that replicate the original LP cover art; detailed liner notes are provided in a thick booklet.


dobrinkaDobrinka Tabakova
String Paths
Various Performers
ECM New Series

This recording consists of five works for strings by the Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova. The most impressive is the absolutely stunning Concerto for Cello and Strings, a work of alternately powerful and ethereal beauty and tremendous emotional immediacy. The chamber works are also excellent; only the Suite in Old Style disappoints, its “old style” communicated by means of diatonic and rhythmic clichés. Overall, though, this is a very impressive album and a marvelous listening experience.

schubertFranz Schubert
Complete Works for Fortepiano Trio (2 discs)
Jan Vermeulen; Christine Busch; France Springuel
Etcetera (dist. Allegro)
KTC 1495
Rick’s Pick

For years now, fortepianist Jen Vermeulen has been working his way through the Schubert canon, and the latest installment is this heart-stoppingly beautiful account of the complete works for fortepiano, violin, and cello. Joined by violinist Christine Busch and cellist France Springuel (also playing on early-19th-century instruments), Vermeulen delivers warm, engaging performances of these four pieces, four of them titled as trios and one as a nocturne. The playing on the scherzo and allegro movements is consistently excellent, but the ensemble really shines on the slow movements, which are burnished to a golden glow of bittersweet emotion. Very highly recommended to all classical collections.

dixitGeorg Frideric Händel; Alessandro Scarlatti
Dixit Dominus
Choir of the Queen’s College, Oxford; The Brook Street Band / Owen Rees
Avie (dist. Allegro)

This is a great pairing: Händel’s and Scarlatti’s settings of the always-popular “Dixit Dominus” psalm text. Both composers were working in Rome around 1707, when Händel’s setting was composed, and although it is unknown for certain whether they met during this period, the similarities between their two approaches are striking. The performances on this recording are superb, and the program includes an early, chamber version of one of Scarlatti’s concerti grossi, inserted as a pleasant interlude between the two choral works.

phoenixVarious Composers
The Phoenix Rising
Stile Antico
Harmonia Mundi
HMU 807572

The title of this album is a little bit puzzling until you read the liner notes, which explain that 2013 marks the centenary of the Carnegie Trust, which funded the 1922 inauguration of the Tudor Church Music Edition—a series of publications that made available for the first time in centuries some of the landmark English choral compositions of the 16th century. It included important works by William Byrd, John Taverner, Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons, and others, many of which have now become the core repertoire for performers of English early music. In celebration of this centenary, the creamy-toned Stile Antico ensemble performs Byrd’s five-voice Mass, Taverner’s O splendor gloriae, and other gems in a generously-packed program.

lemmensAlexandre Guilmant; Jacques Nicolas Lemmens
L’Harmonium de Lemmens et de Guilmant
Joris Verdin
Gallo (dist. Albany)

The harmonium is also known as a pump organ, and chances are good you’ve come across one in the home of an elderly relative: often ornately crafted of wood and driven by air pumped with the feet, these instruments were very popular in 19th-century Europe and America. The harmonium fell out of favor around the turn of the 20th century, and while recordings like this one (the third volume in an ongoing series) are fascinating at a certain level, they also show why the instrument lost popularity when newer and more compact instruments were invented. The harmonium’s sound is rather thin and insubstantial, more like an accordion than an organ, and the music composed for it tended to be on the lightweight side. This disc is recommended to libraries with a collecting interest in historical keyboards.

kummerCaspar Kummer
Chamber Music for Winds
Italian Classical Consort / Luigi Magistrelli
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

Caspar Kummer is one of those (sadly, many) figures of the early Romantic era who have been effectively forgotten, despite the quality—and, in many cases, quantity—of their output. On this disc we have six world-premiere recordings of his chamber works for various combinations of flute, clarinet, bassoon, and piano, all played on modern instruments by the Italian Classical Consort (led by clarinetist Luigi Magistrelli). Their playing is light and graceful and the pieces themselves are a delight and something of a revelation. Here’s hoping for more to come to light from this unjustly neglected composer.

dussekJohann Ladislaus Dussek
Grand Sonata for Flute, Violoncello and Piano
Walter Auer; Albena Danailova; et al.
Rick’s Pick

Johann Ladislaus Dussek was yet another of those great composers of the classical era who is doomed forever to be lost in the towering shadows of Mozart and Haydn. But excellent recordings of his music continue to emerge, particularly recently, and among the most attractive of them is this program of three chamber works: an E-flat major quartet for violin, viola, cello and piano (op. 56); a quintet for violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano (op. 41); and the title piece. All are played beautifully (on modern instruments) by a mixed ensemble of Japanese and European musicians; this disc is a complete delight in every way.

caucielloProspero Cauciello
Trii e Duetti per flauti, mandolini e basso continuo
Tesoro Harmonico
Tactus (dist. Allegro)

I’ll close the Classical section with this charming recording of chamber works for flutes, mandolin, and continuo by the obscure Italian composer Prospero Cauciello. Cauciello himself apparently played all three instruments (two of them well enough to have been a member of the orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo and also designated “First Flutist to the King of Poland”). Although relatively little is known about the man and his life, a good number of his works were published and have been preserved; the eight trios and duets are all presented here in world-premiere recordings, on period instruments. Recommended to all early-music collections.


fresuPaolo Fresu Debil Quartet
Tá/Bonsai (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
OTA 1025
Rick’s Pick

Here’s another one that I just keep listening to over and over again. Trumpeter/composer Paolo Fresu leads a guitar-bass-drums rhythm section in a highly unusual but deeply beautiful set of jazz tunes that draw on everything from Brazilian rhythms to Jon Hassell-esque abstraction, alternately swinging, swaying, and floating. Fresu’s trumpet is sometimes electronically altered and the band’s sound is sometimes free and apparently unstructured, but there is never a moment when the result is less than sumptuously gorgeous. I’m not sure I would have led the program with an arrangement of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” but even that relatively slight tune ends up being a very rewarding listen.

mastersMark Masters Ensemble
Everything You Did

As someone who is generally a big fan of the confines of harmonic structure, I found the liner notes to this collection of jazz arrangements of Steely Dan songs (“the premise of this recording is to free Becker and Fagen’s music from the earthly confines… of harmonic structure”) a bit off-putting. But I cued up the disc anyway, and danged if it didn’t worm its way into my whole afternoon. The fact is that the arrangements are brilliant, as is the playing (contributing musicians include Peter Erskine and Oliver Lake), and the improvisations are interesting and creative without ever getting forbiddingly “out.” Recommended to all jazz collections.

hamiltonScott Hamilton
Swedish Ballads… And More
Charleston Square
Rick’s Pick

An approach similar to the one described above is used on this recording, but with a much different result. Here, tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton collaborated with pianist Jan Lundgreen to create a program of straight-ahead jazz arrangements of traditional Swedish folksongs like “Dear Old Stockholm” and “Min Soldat,” alongside jazz compositions with Swedish roots and associations (Ole Lind’s “Swing in F,” Jan Johansson’s “Bluesioktaver”). Whether you recognize the Scandinavian elements or not, this is an absolutely wonderful album of straight-ahead quartet jazz led by one of the finest living tenor players. A must for jazz collections.

mezzrowSidney Bechet & Mezz Mezzrow
The King Jazz Records Story (5 discs)
Storyville (dist. Allegro)

Clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow had an idiosyncratically narrow view of jazz: though he worked at the height of the bebop era, he felt that “real” jazz was blues-based and pre-swing. Hence his submersion in the world of traditional, New Orleans-style jazz, his longstanding collaboration with Sidney Bechet, and his establishment of the King Jazz label, the entire output of which is documented on this five-disc set. Mezzrow himself was not a great clarinetist, but the music preserved here is sometimes priceless and includes vocal blues performances by Joseph Pleasant as well as solo piano recordings and lots of tasty septet work by Mezzrow’s and Bechet’s ensemble. This set may not be an essential purchase for every music library, but it should definitely be considered for serious jazz collections.

alasJim Black Alasnoaxis
Winter & Winter (dist. Allegro)
910 202-2

On this strange and rather lovely dreamscape of an album, drummer Jim Black leads a quartet of saxophone, guitar, bass, and drums through a somewhat abstract but consistently engaging set of original compositions. Rarely does the music swing, and when it grooves it does so with a sort of loose softness. Mostly it floats, or rumbles, or cascades, or percolates. The end result is a jazz album that sounds distinctly new and modern but rarely jagged and forbidding. Recommended.


Rick’s Pick

The temptation, of course, is to see this as a June Tabor album–after all, both saxophonist Iain Ballamy and pianist Huw Warren have been accompanists on her solo work in the past. But start listening and you’ll realize that Quercus really is a trio, not a soloist-with-sidemen. Some of the songs are traditional and quite familiar (“As I Roved Out,” “Lassie Lie Near Me”) but others are new or new-ish, and all (except one instrumental track) treat the three members equally, giving Tabor a space in which to sing and the instrumentalists time to improvise. The result is a dreamy landscape in which flowers bloom, waves crest, and birds call. Even by Tabor’s very high standards, this is a spectacular album.

kirkpatrickJohn Kirkpatrick Band
The Complete John Kirkpatrick Band
Fledg’ling (dist. Forced Exposure)
Rick’s Pick

Those who have been aware of accordionist John Kirkpatrick’s many contributions to the world of traditional and semi-traditional English dance music may be surprised (as I was) to learn that the entire recorded output of his celebrated band can fit on two CDs. And one of them is a live album! But that’s good news as well, since it makes it very easy to own everything they recorded: rollicking Morris dance tunes, music-hall-sounding songs, a Sting cover, and some charming oddities—the startlingly rockish “49003/55005,” the whimsical and wry “Welcome to Hell,” etc. A must-own for any library with a collecting interest in British music.

raeEmerald Rae
If Only I Could Fly
Green Jewel Music
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

This Kickstarter-funded debut album reveals something highly unusual: a truly unique voice in the singer-songwriter world. Emerald Rae is a championship fiddler, a crwth player (look it up; very cool), and a very accomplished songwriter. She is also a gifted and tasteful producer, knowing when to multitrack her vocals and how to mic her feet for maximum percussive impact, and holy cow can she write a fiddle tune (“Fire Fly” sounds simple but isn’t). This is one of the most exciting debut albums I’ve heard so far this year.

fiddlinDon Rich and the Buckaroos
That Fiddlin’ Man

Don Rich is best known to country music aficionados as a big part of what made Buck Owens such a powerful exponent of the Bakersfield Sound. A brilliant guitarist and harmony singer, it turns out that Rich was also a gifted fiddler who was an occasionally featured soloist on Owens’ albums and live shows. That Fiddlin’ Man is a compilation of Rich features culled from previous Owens recordings; for this reissue it is doubled in size with the addition of ten bonus tracks. Two kinds of library will be interested in this resurrected curiosity: those with a comprehensive collecting interest in country music (due to Don Rich’s often-overlooked importance to that music’s history), and those with a generalist bent who just want a fun and enjoyable collection of fiddle-led country instrumentals.

dellaDella Mae
This World Oft Can Be

As with so many bluegrass albums these days, this isn’t really a bluegrass album — it’s a modern country album made with bluegrass instrumentation. And there is, by no means, anything wrong with that; a great album is a great album. The five women who make up Della Mae gathered to Boston from a wide variety of musical backgrounds and locations, and together make music that draws on country traditions but is not at all constrained by them. On original fare like “Paper Prince,” a lively but determined-sounding waltz, the group shows its unwillingness to be bound by tradition; when they deliver a straight and heartbroken song like “Ain’t No Ash Will Burn,” they show that they aren’t afraid of tradition either. That’s a fine pair of attributes.


casCas Haley
La Si Dah
Easy Star
ES 1038

This record came as a result of Cas Haley asking himself the following question: “If I died tomorrow, and my kids had only one musical statement through which to know me, what would I want that record to be?” The answer turns out to be much more than a single musical statement: it includes several instrumental tracks, a small handful of reggae numbers, a creditable version of “Got My Mojo Workin'”, and a cover of the Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” along with lots of tightly-written, often soul-inflected pop songs. Haley’s voice remains a beautiful wonder: high-pitched and clear as a mountain spring, and his spare, stripped-down arrangements are wonderful.

homebodyHome Body
In Real Life
Feeding Tube (dist. Forced Exposure)
FTR 102
Rick’s Pick

This one will get marketed as electro-pop, and that’s an easy mistake to make: after all, Eric Hnatow provides (almost) all of the music via a battery of Korg keyboards and Haley Morgan’s voice has the kind of gulpy, chirpy quality that listeners in their mid-40s will recognize from their adolescence in the 1980s. But it’s still a mistake: this music may be accessible and fun, but it’s also dark, quirky, and often structurally weird—the songs’ tunefulness make it easy to miss that last point. Morgan’s voice has a startlingly broad tonal and emotional range; she sounds a bit like a less psychotic Björk. In other words, definitely electro but not exacty pop. Overall, this is a very impressive and slightly unsettling debut.

moyetAlison Moyet
the minutes
Cooking Vinyl/Metropolis

You remember Alison Moyet — originally half of the duo Yaz with former Depeche Mode mastermind Vince Clarke, then a constantly-charting solo artist in the 1980s. After a six-year layoff, she’s back with a deeply impressive piece of mature songcraft, a collection of songs that acknowledge and even celebrate the challenges of moving firmly into middle age without sacrificing the refined pop sensibility that has been at the center of her sound since day one. Next time you hear someone say that popular music is a young person’s game, don’t respond by calling up a YouTube clip from the latest Rolling Stones farewell tour–play them this album instead.

airVarious Artists
Air Texture, Vol. III (2 discs)
Air Texture
Rick’s Pick

To my mind, what distinguishes high-quality ambient music from New Age music pretty much boils down to two words: density and possibility. Whereas New Age music typically tells you what to feel and what (if anything) to think, really good ambient music both rewards close attention (should you choose to approach it that way) and implies musical possibilities that you haven’t considered. This two-disc set, the third in a series of compilations, provides an excellent example of high-quality ambient music—though it doesn’t bill itself that way. The label describes this as “experimental music,” which is fair enough, though the fact is that all of it is both pleasant and accessible in the manner of the best ambient music. Disc 1 (more techno-inflected) is put together by Deadbeat, disc 2 (more abstract and “classical”) by DJ Olive, and featured artists include Raz Mesinai, Pole, Pauline Oliveiros, and Oren Ambarchi. Very highly recommended.

fatFat Freddy’s Drop
The Drop/!K7 (dist. Redeye)

As time goes on, the New Zealand ensemble Fat Freddy’s Drop makes music that gets smoother, heavier, and more soulful every year. On Blackbird you hear the group continuing to digest its multifarious influences into something uniquelt theirs: the vocals are supple and partcularly soully, while the instrumental grooves sway effortless between funk, reggae, and R&B flavors—there are lots of great horn charts, and there’s always this sort of indefinable uniqueness lurking at the edges of the sound that I’m happy to attribute to the band’s New Zealand heritage. Recommended.


jaerBaudouin de Jaer
Compositions for Geomungo and Gayageum (reissue; 2 discs)
Sub Rosa (dist. Forced Exposure)
SR 373

This two-disc set is a reissue of the 2012 release Gayageum Sanjo with new packaging and a second disc of pieces written for a related instrument, the geomungo. The composer is a Belgian musician who has written these pieces for a Korean instrument; the music represents an fascinating blend of European and Asian inflections, rhythms, and tonalities—while de Jaer clearly knows his way around traditional Korean music, he just as clearly does not consider himself bound by it. This is a highly unusual and very beautiful recording.

Young, Gifted & Yellow (3 discs)
17 North Parade/VP

As both an orphan and an albino of African descent, Winston Foster faced pretty severe obstacles growing up in Jamaica in the 1960s and 1970s. His fateful decision was to embrace his unusual appearance and embark on a music career, dubbing himself Yellowman and becoming one of the most successful and influential DJs (which we in the U.S. would call “rappers”) of the early dancehall period. He has remained active for more than three decades, and this two-disc retrospective provides an excellent overview of his work. Though Yellowman is well known for his “slack” (i.e. sexually explicit) toasting, there is very little of that in evidence on this collection, which focuses on such classic and radio-friendly fare as “Who Can Make the Dance Ram,” “Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt,” and “Night Flight” (his appropriation of John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”). The package also includes a DVD of his 1988 performance at the Reggae Sunsplash festival.

voVan-Anh Vanessa Vo
Three-Mountain Pass
Innova (dist. Naxos)

Van-Anh Vanessa Vo is a virtuoso of a Vietnamese instrument called the danTranh, a zither with movable bridges that closely resembles the Japanese koto. Its strings are plucked with the right hand but articulated with the left, which pushes and bends the strings to achieve the instrument’s characteristic sliding and wailing effects. On this album, Vo offers her own arrangements of traditional Vietnamese melodies as well as original compositions, an arrangement of one of Erik Satie’s “Gnossiennes,” and a wonderful collaboration with the Kronos Quartet.

dilrubaBaluji Shrivastav
The Art of the Indian Dilruba
ARC Music (dist. Naxos)
EUCD 2446

Blind from infancy, multi-instrumentalist Baluji Shrivastav has, incredibly, become a virtuoso on no fewer than five classical Indian instruments virtually on his own, with no guru and minimal formal instruction. Here he performs five ragas on the dilruba, a bowed and fretted instrument that looks something like the offspring of a union between a sarangi and a sitar. He is accompanied by various combinations of tabla, tanpura, and swarmandal (an autoharp-like zither). This instrument is less well documented on Western recordings than many others, which makes this album of potentially great interest to world music collections.

dubDub Addiction
Meets Kampuchea Rockers Uptown
Metal Postcard (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

Dub Addiction is (get this) a multi-ethnic reggae-electro collective based in Phnom Pen, Cambodia. And while they don’t incorporate much in the way of recognizably Southeast Asian musical influences into their music, they do toast in a variety of different languages (most of which I’m embarrassed to say I don’t recognize) and build bone-shaking grooves out of raw materials that include roots and dancehall reggae, funk, jungle, metal, and dub. I listen to a lot of reggae-derived weirdness (a lot), and I’ve never heard anything like this. Brilliant.