PICK OF THE MONTH
The Three Masses; Ave Verum Corpus
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral / Martin Baker
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Here’s a fair question: did we really need yet another recording of William Byrd’s Masses for three, four, and five voices, rounded out by yet another recording of his Ave verum corpus setting? The answer to that fair question is: yes, as long as it’s done by England’s foremost cathedral choir. As always, the Westminster Cathedral Choir (helped, as always, by the glowingly warm and perfectly reverberant acoustic of Westminster Cathedral) shows its qualities of luminescent tone and timbral balance, the boys’ and mens’ voices coming together to form a sound that is truly unlike any other. Whether they’re singing Palestrina or Howells or Panufnik or Byrd, listening to them sing is like listening to ice cream melt. And in this particular case, one suspects that there’s a spiritual dimension to the rich qualities of this recording as well: being the choir of a Roman Catholic cathedral that sits in the heart of Anglican London, it’s tempting to believe that this group would have a particular affinity for the music of an embattled Catholic composer who negotiated his career from a tenuous perch in the aggressively (even violently) Protestant court of Elizabeth I. Whatever the explanation, this is a recording that will change your whole outlook on life while listening. I suggest doing so repeatedly.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Johannes Brahms
Anthony McGill; Pacifica Quartet
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
Both of these works are longstanding fan favorites and thus regularly recorded, and I’m not really sure I could make a serious rational argument that this new recording by clarinetist Anthony McGill and the Pacifica Quartet stands head and shoulders above any of the other top-rate performances that are out there. All I can say is that I keep being drawn back to it, and that I’m not sure whether it’s because of McGill’s superb ability to communicate both works’ bittersweet gorgeousness, or because the Pacificas accompany him with such lush sensitivity. Check it out and see what you think.
Conversations galantes et amusantes (reissue)
Lindoro (dist. Allegro)
The “gallant” style of French baroque music is nicely represented here by these four quartets, all drawn from opus 12 of Louis-Gabriel Guillemain. The title of the disc (and of the musical collection from which these pieces are drawn) is apt — Guillemain attempts to create true “conversations” between the various instruments, and the result is a truly delightful listen. The Poema Harmònico sextet (in various configurations, using period instruments) plays with a lovely clarity of tone and reliability of intonation, and with plenty of rhythmic panache but not too much headlong abandon. Highly recommended to all early music collections.
Franz Joseph Haydn; Ludwig van Beethoven; Franz Schubert
Sonatas and Bagatelles
Bridge (dist. Albany)
Gilbert Kalish is a much-celebrated pianist, and here he presents what he calls “three different faces of (the) rich heritage” of late classical and early Romantic pianism. Haydn’s magisterial Sonata no. 62 is followed by Beethoven’s deceptively simple-sounding Bagatelles, op. 19, and then by Schubert’s last instrumental composition, the D-major Sonata no. 21. All in all, this program presents a remarkable range of moods, textures, and structural approaches; everything is played with remarkable skill and sensitivity. Highly recommended to all classical collections.
From the Imperial Court: Music for the House of Hapsburg
At about the midway point in its nearly millennium-long rule, the Hapsburg dynasty was served by some of the greatest names in polyphonic music: represented on this collection are Josquin Desprez, Heinrich Isaac, Pierre de la Rue, Nicolas Gombert, and many others. Most of the featured works are sacred motets, though Gombert’s spectacular Magnificat setting is here as are a couple of settings of the then-popular chanson “Mille regrets.” As always, the mixed-voice Stile Antico ensemble shows itself to be the most consistently sumptuous-sounding exponent of the Oxbridge sound, the kind of group that will lead you to check your collection regularly to make sure you still have all of their recordings. An essential purchase for all classical collections.
Thomas Newman & Rick Cox
35 Whirlpools Below Sound
Cold Blue Music
If your library supports programs in new music and/or electro-acoustic composition, then definitely consider picking up this recording by composers and multi-instrumentalists Thomas Newman and Rick Cox (helped out by clarinetist Jeff Elmassian). Combining their own cello, prepared guitar, toy accordion, piano, and other instruments with “field recordings of wind, leaves, water, (and) cars,” they’ve created an eerie and fascinating soundscape that will be pretty much unlike anything else you’ve heard before.
Gabriel Fauré; Charles Gounod
Messe de Requiem; Ave Verum; Les sept paroles
Flemish Radio Choir; Brussels Philharmonic Soloists / Hervé Niquet
Evil Penguin (dist. Allegro)
Requiem; Cantique de Jean Racine; Messe basse
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge / Stephen Cleobury
Choir of King’s College (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
These are two quite different recordings both centered on the same piece: Fauré’s monumental Requiem Mass. Both ensembles seek to recreate something of the work’s original sound: the King’s College Choir performs from Marc Rigaudière’s reconstruction of the first complete liturgical performance (making this a world-premiere recording) and plays on period instruments, while the performance led by Hervé Niquet is based on the original chamber version and uses modern instruments. Both succeed at communicating the gentle spiritual optimism of the piece, which the composer characterized as one that does not express “any fear of death,” but rather portrays death as “a happy deliverance.” Both of these new recordings are very well worth acquiring.
Piccolo Concerto Wien / Roberto Sensi
Accent (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
I would never go so far as to say that Michael Haydn was a “better” composer than his older brother Franz Joseph. But I will say this: while I have never heard a note of Joseph Haydn’s music that I didn’t genuinely enjoy and admire, Michael Haydn’s music plucks a string in my heart that no one else’s does. Originally issued in 1998, this disc brings together two divertimenti for strings, one for oboe and strings, and a quartet for English horn and strings, all delightfully played by Piccolo Concerto Wien.
Joy in Spite of Everything
Pianist Stefano Bollani has put together a wonderful quintet for this album, one that includes saxophonist Mark Turner, guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Jesper Bodilsen, and drummer Morton Lund. All of them contribute to a musical statement that reflects perfectly the album title: this is music that floats more than it swings, that manages to be lyrical even at its most harmonically complex and abstract, and that communicates both whimsical amusement and also a deep joy. This isn’t music to use while trying to seduce someone on a couch; it’s music to listen to while reading a book on the couch with your longtime spouse’s feet in your lap.
Offering: Live at Temple University (2 discs)
I have to admit this up front: I’ve never been a fan of John Coltrane’s 1960s work, so I can’t say that I particularly enjoy this recording. But there’s no question that it’s worthy of libraries’ attention. These two discs represent the first official release of this 90-minute concert album, made at Temple University only nine months before Coltrane’s death. Featuring Alice Coltrane on piano, saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, bassist Sonny Johnson, and drummer Rashied Ali (along with some localy-recruited percussionists), it finds the group performing extended versions of five classic tunes: “Naima,” “Crescent,” “Leo,” “Offering,” and “My Favorite Things.” All the honking and squealing and modal wandering-around may not be my cup of tea, but I know a bunch of you guys really like it–and besides, this recording is a genuinely important document.
Pedro Rafael Garcia Moreno
Whenever an album cover prominently displays a message along the lines of “This recording was done without any overdubs or electronics,” it’s reasonable to be worried that you’re about to be subjected to a bunch of technical demonstrations that have less to do with music than with eliciting “whoa, dude!” responses. And there is some of that here, but Garcia Moreno’s solo saxophone album is actually quite musical as well as technically jaw-dropping. His use of breath effects, percussive techniques, singing, and multiphonics is consistently fascinating and fun, and the tunes he creates are generally interesting and enjoyable in and of themselves, though they sometimes do seem to take a backseat to the techniques being used to deliver them. Definitely worth acquiring for any library supporting a wind or jazz program.
Sophisticated Lady Jazz Quartet
Sophisticated Lady Jazz Quartet
Yarlung (dist. Naxos)
There are no ladies in this quartet (sophisticated or otherwise); its name seems to derive from the group’s penchant for standards, and for its refined and cool yet forward-looking approach to straight-ahead jazz. Consisting of a piano trio plus trumpet, the Sophisticated Lady Jazz Quartet delivers a deceptively relaxed-sounding set of standards and originals on its debut album, each of them reportedly recorded in a single take. The group swings gently but relentlessly, and coheres effortlessly even when one or more members starts to venture a bit outside. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.
Chet Baker; Philip Catherine; Jean-Louis Rassinfosse
Crystal Bells (reissue)
Igloo Jazz Classics (dist. Allegro)
This album, which finds legendary trumpeter and singer Chet Baker joining forces with guitarist Philip Catherine and bassist Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, was recorded in Brussels in 1983 and originally issued on LP and CD in 1985. It finds the trio exploring a set that includes standards like “Cherokee” and “Strollin’,” as well as more modern tunes by Charlie Mariano (“Crystal Bells”) and Bruno Martino (“Estate”). Although the album was made towards the end of Baker’s tragically short life, at a time when he was struggling with injury and drug addiction, he sounds in fine form here, and Catherine and Rassinfosse provide both sensitive accompaniment and impressive solo work. This album has been out of print for a very long time, so libraries with an interest in Baker’s work should be quick to snap up this reissue.
Chick Corea Trio
Trilogy (3 discs)
This three-disc monster of an album documents live performances by pianist/composer and jazz-fusion legend Chick Corea with his trio (bassist Christian McBride, drummer Brian Blade) in various far-flung locations while on tour in 2010 and 2012. The program is tilted heavily towards standards, though it includes several originals and even an arrangement of an Alexander Scriabin prelude. As I listened through it, Corea’s adventurous but sweetly lyrical style kept making me think of Bill Evans. It’s great to hear a pianist of Corea’s gifts playing in this configuration, and McBride and Blade are both equally brilliant. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.
Parole e Musica
Schema Rearward (dist. Naxos)
The Schema label has lately been digging into the vaults and pulling out vintage examples of Italian jazz from the 1960s, with sometimes revelatory results. This one is mixed: it consists of standards sung by Helen Merrill, who, in 1960, was at the peak of her powers; her performances here are fantastic, and the small-ensemble accompaniment by Italian sidemen is consistently excellent (though the production quality is a bit fuzzy around the edges). The problem is that every other track on the album consists of Italian spoken-word excerpts taken from a TV show of some kind–the liner notes are vague on where they came from, and offer no justification for their inclusion. Despite the annoyance, though, this disc is well worth picking up for the quality of Merrill’s performances.
Jimmy Gaudreau & Moondi Klein
If I Had a Boat
Before there was bluegrass, there was the brother duo–usually (though not always) two brothers, one playing guitar and singing lead, the other playing mandolin and singing tenor. The Blue Sky Boys, the Louvin Brothers, and bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe and his brother Charlie were classic examples of the genre. Eighty years later the tradition endures, though neither the Louvins or the Monroes would likely recognize it. Mandolinist Jimmy Gaudreau and guitarist Moondi Klein, both veterans of the Newgrass scene, have been working together off and on in this format for years, and their latest focuses on modern singer-songwriter fare, with songs by the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, Jonathan Edwards, and James Taylor, along with some originals and classic material. They still play brilliantly, and though they now struggle a bit to hit the high notes, they’re still a joy to hear.
The Earls of Leicester
The Earls of Leicester
The Earls of Leicester (get it? get it?) are a modern-bluegrass supergroup put together by Dobro master and ubiquitous producer Jerry Douglas, with the intention of paying tribute to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Their self-titled album consists of classic Flatt & Scruggs tunes including “I’ll Go Stepping Too,” “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” and “Dig a Hole in the Meadow.” The group’s renditions of these songs are all very faithful to the originals, which begs the question: do we need someone to record faithful renditions when the originals are still easily available? The answer: “need” may be too strong a word, but this disc is still tons of fun. And these guys do look awfully cute in their white shirts and Kentucky Colonel neckties.
Link of Chain: A Songwriters Tribute to Chris Smither
Never having been a huge fan of Chris Smither as a singer, but still recognizing his genius as a songwriter, this tribute album really piqued my interest. It features renditions of Smither’s songs by the likes of Loudon Wainwright III, Aoife O’Donovan, Bonnie Raiit, Tim O’Brien, Patty Larkin, and other singers that I definitely do love to listen to. And the result is just as good as I expected, one of several highlights being a live rendition by Bonnie Raitt of “Love Me Like a Man.” Recommended.
The second album from this wonderful artist has a bit more of an American singer-songwriter feel to it than her first (which I recommended here when it came out a couple of years ago), and projects a slightly darker and more introspective mood. But the Celtic aspects of her art are still well in evidence; she sings a couple of songs in Gaelic, one of which purely exemplifies her unique ability to blend American and Celtic influences: it’s a gorgeous arrangement of the gospel classic “Down to the River to Pray,” which takes on a very different flavor when sung in that language. Carey’s voice is a thing of great beauty and gentle power, and her songwriting goes from strength to strength. Highly recommended to all folk collections.
Late last year I recommended an album on the Tompkins Square label that compiled live recordings from the Caffé Lena, a regionally famous folk music coffeehouse in Saratoga Springs, NY. One of the artists featured on that album was an obscure local fiddler named George “Smoke” Dawson. Subsequently, a long-deleted 1971 solo album by Dawson has come to light and is now being reissued by Tompkins Square. It’s something of a curiosity; the sound quality is mediocre, some of the tracks fade in, and Dawson plays bagpipes instead of fiddle on one of them. But his playing is a delight, and at times (like his wonderful rendition of “Forked Deer” and the weird “The Minotaur”) you could swear that he was playing two instruments at once. Recommended to comprehensive folk collections.
Stony Plain (dist. ADA)
Canadian country music, no matter how boot-scooting the sound and how Southern the accent, always gives itself away–usually in the lyrics. Tim Hus is a brilliant country singer-songwriter from Calgary who, to his credit, makes no bones whatsoever about singing to a Canadian audience. His songs about pheasant hunting, apple picking, Saskatchewan mining, and honky-tonking in Halifax might make American listeners scratch their heads, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It all makes for a fun and refreshing change-up on the usual country music tropes.
Snack Bar (dist. Megaforce)
Two reasons why I think marketing this as “Mike Doughty’s hip hop record” is a little weird: first, I don’t know how else I’d categorize virtually everything he did with Soul Coughing. Sure, it was freaking weird hip hop, but seriously, what else would you call it? Second, I’m not sure the music on this album is anything I’d call hip hop. Sure, he continues to employ slamming beats and to deploy words as much for their rhythm as for their meaning (and he invites several guest rappers to join him), but he also spends much of his time singing (and he also invites a banjo player and a cellist to join him). Ultimately, of course, it matters not a whit whether or not this is hip hop. What matters is whether it rocks, and it does, mightily–if not always safely for work. Highly recommended to all pop collections.
Here’s what makes this album of electronica by Daisuke Tanabe so amazing: the details. Each track here is dense with content, but every one feels light and airy — you only notice the density if you pay close attention. This isn’t to say that the beats aren’t rich and heavy, or that there’s an absence of bass; quite the contrary. It’s just that Tanabe builds his compositions out of so many tiny particles of sound, and organizes them so exquisitely, that they define far mroe sonic space than they actually fill, and you hear more and more the harder you listen. Buy this one and keep it on hand for anyone who tries to tell you that electronic music is “easy.”
The Morning Lasted All Day: A Retrospective (2 discs)
Real Gone Music
Remember the Dream Academy? Back in the 1980s they kind of defined folk-pop and dream pop for a rising generation, and their one big U.S. hit, “Life in a Northern Town,” is still instantly recognizable. This two-disc retrospective gathers singles, B-sides, album tracks, and a handful of unreleased songs–a handy overview for libraries that don’t need the whole catalog, and just enough new material to catch the interest of established fans. The extensive liner notes will very useful to those who want to catch up on the history of this influential cult band.
Jones Family Singers
The Spirit Speaks
Arts + Labor
No cat. no.
If you’re in the market for some great modern-but-traditional gospel music, then keep an eye on the Jones Family Singers. This appears to be their debut album, and it offers just what you’d hope: tight and sweet harmonies, powerful lead singing, and rocking arrangements played by a small but mighty instrumental backing group. There’s nothing particularly adventurous or unusual about this album–it’s just exceptionally well-crafted and thrillingly performed modern gospel music.
Red Hot + Bach
88843 02933 2
25 years ago, the “Red Hot +” series was inaugurated with a collection of interpretations of Cole Porter songs; the purpose of that collection was to raise money for and awareness of AIDS/HIV research and advocacy. The latest installment in the series brings together artists interpreting works of J.S. Bach, or in some cases playing original pieces inspired by Bach. These range from the very straightforward (a string quartet arrangement of one of the Art of Fugue contrapuncti) to the weirdly creative (a pop-samba song based on the Prelude in C minor). Is any of it red hot? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But’s all fun and easy on the ear.
Chap Dem Chaplin
No catalog number
Longtime reggae fans will remember Charlie Chaplin, one of the most celebrated of the DJs (or rappers) who emerged on the international scene during the 1980s, as dancehall reggae was taking hold and displacing the roots-and-culture sound. His brother Ricky Chaplin works in a similar vein, though with a more explicitly “conscious” focus. He hasn’t been as prolific as his more famous brother, but this album shows that he has developed a powerful and personal style. Here he’s paired with such A-list singers and toasters as Kiddus I, Echo Minott, Prince Alla, and Patrick Andy on a rock-solid set of modern roots reggae songs and combination tracks. Highly recommended to all libraries with a collecting interest in reggae music.
Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych from Peru’s Radical Decade
Tiger’s Milk/Strut (dist. Redeye)
In the late 1960s and early 1970s–a decade that ended with the ascension of a military dictatorship–Lima was a great city in which to be a pop musician. You could play surf music, garage rock, and psychedelic funk, and you could cover American artists like Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, and the Meters (in either English or Spanish). Want to throw in some cumbia elements? Sure, go for it. This fine compilation brings together examples of all of the above, most of it remastered from the original tapes. The sound quality isn’t spectacular, nor is every band here equally expert, but all of it is a hoot–and the collection provides a fascinating window on a long-lost pop-music scene.
Easy Star All-Stars
Dub Side of the Moon: Anniversary Edition (bonus tracks)
Purple Reggae: A Reggae Tribute to Purple Rain
Dub Side of the Moon, a reggae version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon that featured contributions from the likes of Frankie Paul, Dr. Israel, and the Meditations, was the album that started a flood: over the next decade, similar tribute albums would be made in honor of the Grateful Dead, Michael Jackson, the Beatles, and several others–some of them very successful, and some… less so. Dub Side of the Moon was truly brilliant, and on its tenth birthday it’s being reissued with six bonus tracks–if your library doesn’t already own the original, then definitely grab this one. As for Radio Riddler’s Purple Reggae, well, it’s more uneven. Guest vocalist Sinead O’Connor brings a wonderfully restrained intensity to “I Would Die 4 U,” but a thudding rockers beat saps the spirit of “When Doves Cry.” Former UB40 frontman Ali Campbell gives the title track a sweet soulfulness, but the organ-driven garage rock of “Let’s Go Crazy” proves unsuitable for a reggae setting. Overall, this one is interesting but not essential.
Metropolis (dist. Allegro)
Speaking of Ali Campbell, the fifth solo album from UB40’s former lead singer finds him continuing to deliver what has always been his forte: slick, soulful, and utterly hook-filled pop-reggae. Two more members of UB40 (keyboardist Mickey Virtue and toaster/trumpeter Astro) have now left that group and join him here on an effortlessly enjoyable set of new original songs and classic covers (including the Rays’ “Silhouette” and Lionel Richie’s “Missing You”). It’s amazing how consistently strong Campbell’s voice has remained over the course of a 35-year career, and however one might feel about the circumstances of his departure from UB40, this album is just a joy.
Lusafrica (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Afrobeat has historically been mostly a man’s world, but on this explosive album Sia Tolno blazes a trail into this funky, trance-inducing, horn-heavy genre for her sisters. Blessed with a rich and chesty voice, with lots to say, and with a great collaborator in Tony Allen (who played drums in Fela Kuti’s various bands for years), she creates a swirling and heady mix of sounds and grooves, none of which you’ll want to end. Recommended to all world music collections.
The Bombay Royale
The Island of Dr. Electrico
Fun, funky, and unabashedly kitschy, the Bombay Royale are a Melbourne, Australia-based collective that draws on the sounds of vintage Bollywood movies along with spy movies, spaghetti Westerns, and disco to create a sound that is simultaneously deeply derivative and giddily original. To prepare yourself for their second album, I suggest that you watch three Bollywood movies, five archival episodes of Lost in Space, and Saturday Night Fever. Good luck — hope to see you on the other side.