PICK OF THE MONTH
Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Vol. 1: Sonny Stitt (reissue; 2 discs)
Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Vol. 2: Pete Jolly (reissue)
So here’s the story: in 1979, legendary saxophonist Art Pepper had just emerged from a lost period of drugs and prison and had started recording again. He was approached by the Japanese Yupiteru label; they wanted him to record a series of albums, with the stipulation that the recordings consist of bop and cool standards recorded in a very straight-ahead, 1950s West Coast style. He was up for it, but unfortunately his existing contract with the Fantasy/Galaxy label group made recording for another label as a leader impossible. He could, however, record elsewhere as a sideman. So he made a series of six albums for Yupiteru, each of them featuring a handpicked musician as the “leader” and additional sidemen also picked by Pepper. He was the leader in all but name, but posing as a sideman kept him technically in compliance with his contract. Three of those six albums (two featuring fellow alto legend Sonny Stitt and one with pianist Pete Jolly) are now reissued by the Omnivore label, and they are simply outstanding. The combination of 1950s-style playing and late-1970s recording technology is sonically revelatory, and Pepper is at a creative peak here — as are both Stitt (who sounds absolutely fierce on his disc) and Jolly. Both programs consist entirely of standards, and if you think you never needed to hear another version of “Scrapple from the Apple” or “Night and Day,” think again. These discs are essential purchases for all jazz collections.
Leave Me Alone: Minimalist Music for Clarinets
Ronald Van Spaendonck
Pavane (dist. Naxos)
By multi-tracking his own playing, clarinetist Ronald Van Spaedonck succeeds at performing a nice variety of contemporary works for clarinet ensemble written by composers who inhabit various neighborhoods of the “minimalist” genre. At the center of the program is Steve Reich’s masterpiece New York Counterpoint, one of the most thrilling and emotionally satisfying works of his career and of the entire minimalist style. Surrounding it are pieces by Michael Lysight, Paul Richards, Anthony Girard and others; notable among them is Tom Johnson’s hilarious Les vaches de Narayana. Van Spaedonck’s playing is consistently wonderful, and the album is a joy overall.
Andreas Ottensamer; Albrecht Mayer; Emmanuel Pahud; Kammerakademie Potsdam
00289 481 4711
For a very different experience of classical clarinet music, the latest album by Andreas Ottensamer finds him paying tribute to the Mannheim School, where the modern orchestra was born and the first great clarinet concertos were written. This program features concertos by Johann Stamitz and his son Carl, as well as a concertino for clarinet, bassoon, and orchestra by Franz Danzi and arrangements of Mozart arias for clarinet, flute, and orchestra. This was indeed music of a new era, and while it may not be possible with today’s ears to hear it for the pioneering work it was at the time, we can certainly appreciate the offhand virtuosity of the playing and the deep structural and melodic elegance of the music itself. Highly recommended to all libraries.
Gregory Beyer; Alexis C. Lamb
MeiaMeia: New Music for Berimbau
Innova (dist. Naxos)
The berimbau is an Afro-Brazilian instrument consisting a single string held by a bow, which is then attached to a resonating gourd. The music on this album consists of new compositions (written by two members of Projeta Arcomusical) for berimbau in both solo and ensemble configurations, and is greatly aided by the use of tunable instruments custom-made for the group. Their sound is a delicate blend of percussive and melodic timbres, and if the melodic range is limited the timbral range is quite broad — and then, of course, there are the rhythmic shifts and progressions, which can get quite complex. All of it is a blast to listen to.
Beneath the Northern Star: The Rise of English Polyphony, 1270-1430
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Music for the 100 Years’ War
Binchois Consort / Andrew Kirkman
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Two recent releases on the Hyperion label explore the emergence of polyphonic choral music in England as the medieval period gave way to the Renaissance. Interestingly, both the Orlando Consort and the Binchois Consort are small ensembles of male voices, and these albums feature programs that cover overlapping transitional periods: the first from 1270 to 1430, the second from roughly 1380 to 1520 (centering on the Battle of Agincourt in 1415). Both programs offer a mix of plainchant and polyphony, and it’s fascinating to hear the harmonies become lusher and less astringent over time. Featured composers on both albums include the inevitable John Dunstaple and Leonel Power, but there are others here with whom even enthusiasts of early music may not be very familiar. Both releases are outstanding, but if you have to choose between them I’d say the edge goes to the Binchois Consort.
Johann Joseph Fux
Concentus Musico-instrumentalis (2 discs)
Neue Hofkapelle Graz
CPO (dist. Naxos)
The monumental seven-piece collection titled Concentus Musico-instrumentalis in septem partitas, ut vulgo dicimus, divisus represents Johann Joseph Fux’s earliest work, and was written and assembled in honor of Emperor Joseph I. It consists of four overtures, two sinfonias and an eight-voice serenade for winds and strings. There are elements of the music that may be sly references to Joseph’s adventurous personality, and its mixture of French and Italian styles also reflects the Emperor’s personal tastes and his own musicality (he was reportedly an accomplished keyboardist and flutist). I believe this is the first complete recording of these works, and it’s a delight.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Quartette für Clavier, Flöte und Bratsche
Hänssler Classic (dist. Naxos)
The trio Salzburger Hofmusik (flutist Linde Brunmayr-Tutz, violist Ilia Korol, and fortepianist Wolfgang Brunner) presents a program of four chamber works for that instrumentation by the most illustrious of J.S. Bach’s many musical sons: three quartets and one trio sonata. With this label you can’t necessarily assume that a baroque or classical-era recording will have been made using period instruments, so it’s worth noting that such is the case this time. The musicians are wonderful, and the sound of the fortepiano is especially fine; the music, needless to say, is full of C.P.E. Bach’s characteristic wit and invention. Strongly recommended to all classical collections.
The Cardinal King: Music for Henry Benedict Stuart in Rome, 1740-91
Cappella Fede; Harmonia Sacra / Peter Leech
Toccata Classics (dist. Naxos)
This somber and beautiful recording consists of works written for Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart of Rome, who, following his ascension to the cardinalship, ceased patronizing the theatrical and opera productions of which he had been so fond and dedicated himself to commissioning sacred music. Most of the works performed here (by the likes of Sebastiano Bolis, Giovanni Zamboni, and Carlo Tessarini) have never been recorded before, and they consist of a variety of liturgical and sacred songs as well as one instrumental work. The Cappella Fede and Harmonia Sacra ensembles perform them with a suitable sense of somber formality, and the recorded sound is excellent. All classical collections would benefit from owning this fine disc.
Exclusively for My Friends (VINYL BOX SET – 6 discs)
MPS (dist. Naxos)
This reissue box contains six LPs recorded during the 1960s in the home studio of Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, a record label executive and admirer of the great pianist Oscar Peterson. Every year he would invite Peterson and his trio to come play in the studio for a select group of friends; six sessions were recorded and released as Action, Girl Talk, The Way I Really Play, My Favorite Instrument (a solo set), Mellow Mood, and Travelin’ On. For this collection the six albums are reissued on heavyweight vinyl and in what appear to be replicas of the original LP packaging; the producers consciously chose not to clean up the analog master tapes in any way, leaving them sounding just a little bit trebly and rough. Peterson’s playing is just what you’d expect: orchestral, lush, sometimes mind-bogglingly fast. On most of these sessions his sidemen are bassist Sam Jones and drummer Bob Durham, though Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen (who comprise Peterson’s most famous trio) appear on a few tracks. Although it’s quite pricey, libraries that are looking to beef up their jazz collection in vinyl formats would do well to give this box serious consideration.
Another month, another rave review of a Posi-Tone release. This one comes from celebrated pianist/singer/composer Champian Fulton — though as its title suggests, on this one there’s no singing, just glorious playing and lots of it. Fulton leads a crack trio through a solid set of old-school swing and bop originals (plus the Leo Wood tune “Somebody Stole My Gal”) and demonstrates not only her absolute mastery of traditional jazz styles and her monstrously powerful sense of swing, but also her wit and her equally powerful sense of rhythmic space. This is Fulton’s eighth album but her first all-instrumental date, and — with no disrespect to her singing whatsoever — I hope she’ll do more like this in the future.
Doug Munro and La Pompe Attack
The Harry Warren Songbook
Doug Munro and his band La Pompe Attack are among the select few jazz musicians currently working to expand the tradition of 1930s Gypsy jazz (hot, fast, driven by acoustic guitars and no drums, etc.) into the 21st century. What that means in his case, and particularly in the case of this celebration of tunes by the wonderful songwriter Harry Warren, is often slowing things down a bit, getting a little more creative with arrangements, and worrying much less about aping Django Reinhardt’s guitar style and Stephane Grapelli’s violin style and instead letting those foundational elements inform a contemporary approach to acoustic jazz. And the result is a triumph: familiar hot tunes like “Nagasaki,” “Jeepers Creepers” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” are heard through a new and different stylistic prism, and everyone seems to be having the time of their lives. As will anyone who listens.
East of the Village
Here’s a burning hard-bop outing from tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman, leading a trio that also features Hammond B3 player Jeff Jenkins and drummer Todd Reid. Most of the tune selections are standards, though not generally the most familiar ones: “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” Hank Mobley’s “East of the Village,” “Deep in a Dream,” etc. But there are also some outstanding originals, notably Reid’s “A Vaunt Guard” (geddit?), which is constructed around a pair of Schoenbergian tone rows. The triumph of that tune in particular is that no matter how outside it is in theory, in practice it swings mightily and its jagged melody and rhythm are genuinely fun. This album is a great example of how straight-ahead jazz can be cutting-edge modern at the same time. Recommended to all collections.
Dominic J. Marshall & Friends
Challenge (dist. Naxos)
When it comes to jazz, weirdness and innovation are usually qualities that I find more impressive than enjoyable. But the second album from keyboardist Dominic J. Marshall has me enjoying weirdness and innovation in equal measure to my admiration of them. Despite a title that might have you expecting very old-school piano-trio arrangements, what Marshall instead offers us here is a wide variety of keyboard sounds, beats, textures, and harmonic styles, all of them orbiting at various distances around the concepts of swing and jazz harmony, but with very few solos (a couple of exquisite bass solos on “Windermere” stand out) and melodies that sometimes meander just to the cliff-edge of incoherence without falling over it. The music frequently manages to be simultaneously scintillating and relaxing, and all of it is quite wonderful.
The April Verch Anthology (compilation)
Fiddler, singer, and songwriter April Verch has been performing professionally since childhood, and this ten-year retrospective actually starts out with what sounds like a radio recording of her as a little kid burning up the horsehair with a wonderful set of Canadian reels. But although her roots are clearly in the various Canadian fiddle traditions (both Québecois and PEI), she is also equally at home playing bluegrass (there’s a great collaboration with Mac Wiseman here), old-time, and other stuff that seems simply to be her own personal fusion of modern and traditional influences. Libraries that specialize in traditional music should own all of her albums, but this compilation would make a great choice for those collecting more selectively.
Cassie and Maggie
The Willow Tree Collection
For a rather different take on Canadian folk traditions, consider this outstanding set from sisters Cassie and Maggie MacDonald. They hail from Nova Scotia and have deep musical roots in the Celtic traditions of that area, but for this thematic collection they look far beyond the borders of Maritime Canada to the Southern Appalachians and Ozarks. The theme is the willow tree and its symbolic resonance in folk and country music, and most of the songs are traditional (“Let No Man Steal Your Thyme,” “Down in the Willow Garden,” “Bury Me Beneath the Willow,” etc.) but what’s a bit startling is the almost punky intensity of this duo’s performances. Cassie’s fiddle and Maggie’s guitar and piano are supplemented by a variety of accompanists, but their vocals are at the center of their sound and even when the songs are relatively slow and quiet their delivery is sharp and intense. Every track is a winner, and this album would make a great addition to any library’s folk collection.
Lonesome and Blue: More Favorites (compilation)
For some time now, Larry Sparks has been one of a handful of artists carrying on the tradition of hardcore “high lonesome” bluegrass singing. He’s been recording for the Rebel label for decades now, and this compilation draws on his Rebel albums going back as far as 1982. The production is a little bit strange on some of the 1980s recordings, with the voice very close and dry and the instruments mixed rather far back, but all of these performances are wonderful. Notable tracks include “Life of Sorrow” (which is basically “Man of Constant Sorrow” with different lyrics), “Rock Hearts,” and the beautifully sung “If That’s the Way You Feel,” a song Ralph Stanley wrote with his daughter Peggy. This is excellent meat-and-potatoes bluegrass music.
A Big Bad Beautiful Noise
Remember the Godfathers? If you were listening to postpunk music in the late 1980s, you might remember the snarling MTV hit “Birth, School, Work, Death” and if you’re like most of us (in the States anyway) that was more or less the last you heard from them. But in fact the Godfathers have been coming and going ever since, breaking up for a few years as a time and then reforming and releasing an album or a single before going to ground again. Now they’re back with a new full-length release, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect, which is to say it’s pretty dang good. Peter Coyne is still more of a declaimer than a singer, but guitarists Steve Critall and Mario Venegas provide plenty of melody and the whole band’s energy level is every bit as high as it was in 1988. Recommended.
The Courtneys II
“Artisanal grunge” is how they characterize their sound, and that’s not a bad descriptor at all. This Vancouver-based trio of women might seem to come by that sound honestly, given Vancouver’s proximity to the Cradle of Grunge (Seattle, or maybe really Olympia), but if you give their second album a listen you’ll find that they’ve actually created a style all their own: solid hooks are embedded deep in the slightly mildewed shag carpeting of their guitar sound, and their singing voices are actually sunny. They now record for the Australian Flying Nun label, which is an interesting development, and it will be fun to see what happens next for them. If you get the chance to see them live, take it.
No cat. no.
Man, there’s just nothing like a really good melodic punk album. You go through your day-to-day life listening to all kinds of other music and feeling perfectly happy, and then you encounter a slab of meat-and-potatoes riffs-harmonies-and-loudness like this one and suddenly realize you should be listening to stuff like this at least several times a week. This band hails from Ostend, Belgium, but they sing in English (with barely the trace of an accent) and they sling crunchy hooks like nobody’s business. And one of the songs is about the singer’s little girl. Awww! Recommended to all pop collections.
Memories 2008-2011 (2 discs)
Apollo (dist. Redeye)
Back in September 2015 I gave this artist’s debut album a rave review here in CD HotList. Now we get a retrospective collection that brings together a bunch of single releases from his early years. These were originally released on labels like Med School, Exit, and Blackout, and they clearly show his debt to early dubstep and late twostep, and there are tantalizing hints of trap in there as well. But what is already fully in place on these early tracks is what I love most about Synkro’s music: the constant juxtaposition of busyness and subtlety in the beats, of deep dark atmospherics and trebly/glitchy rhythmic details, and of dubwise vocal effects and lush chords. This is bass music of a most sophisticated kind, and I could listen to it forever. (One minor quibble: this is a two-disc set that contains only about 87 minutes of music. Surely there was more in the vault that could have been added!)
No Time to Waste
The Stubborn label’s motto (“Ska’s Not Dead; It’s Stubborn”) continues to be borne out: here is a new slab of classic Two-Tone ska from a young East Coast crew, who honed their sound playing rooms all over New England and the tri-state area before landing in the Version City studio under the oversight of producer King Django and producing this debut album. There’s no punk rock here (though the title track does have a bit of a jagged edge to it), and there’s no lite jazz with ska backbeats: this is straight-up second-wave ska that occasionally veers into rock-steady territory, and it’s very good. I bet their second album will be even better.
Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes
The Fever: The Remastered Epic Recordings (reissue compilation; 2 discs)
Epic/Real Gone Music
Comprised of four newly-remastered early albums from the period 1976-1978 (I Don’t Want to Go Home, Jukes Live at the Bottom Line, This Time It’s for Real, and Hearts of Stone), this two-disc set celebrates one of the most reliable professionals in the history of New Jersey soul music. John Lyon (a.k.a. Southside Johnny)is not only a tremendously gifted songwriter, but also a bandleader par excellence — and the latter talent is, frankly, just as important as the former. His horn section in the 1970s was a wonder, and if you think you hear an echo of the E Street Band in these arrangements you’re not wrong. Both Springsteen and Lyon came up in blue-collar Jersey Shore towns, and although they went off in different stylistic directions — Springsteen evolving into a roots rocker, Lyon into an avatar of blue-eyed soul — you can hear Jersey in every note. There’s another important similarity between them, too: both are singers who make the most of their frankly workmanlike vocal instruments. Anyway, this set is both a valuable historical document and a great listening experience.
Lost in China
Riverboat (dist. World Music Network)
Subtitled “Off the Beaten Track from Beijing to Xinjiang,” this disc collects recordings by folk and folk-influenced artists from various regions of China. What unites this stylistically disparate bunch is the fact that none of them has ever traveled outside the country, and therefore the likelihood that any of their music has been heard in the West is very, very low. There’s a sort of Asian steampunk aesthetic to some of these songs — modern technology is in evidence, but the main sounds are acoustic and traditional. You’ll hear overtone singing, Beijing street opera, electric guitars and drums backing up an erhu player and a punky vocalist, and all kinds of other stuff. It all makes you realize what a huge and diverse country China is, and how little hope you have of doing much more than scratching the surface of its musical culture(s).
Don’t Play with Fyah
Four decades after bursting onto the Bristol scene, UK reggae stalwarts Talisman are now making the best music of their career. On their latest album some of the credit needs to go to legendary producer Dennis Bovell, who not only gives the band’s sound a muscular density that any other group would envy but also provides top-notch dub remixes of all album tracks. But none of Bovell’s studio brilliance would make much difference if the songs weren’t equally brilliant, and they are: this is strictly heavyweight roots-and-culture reggae of the kind that was being made by bands like Steel Pulse and Aswad in the 1980s, but the Talisman sound has a flavor all its own. No library with even a minor collecting interest in reggae should pass this one up.
Jah Ova Evil
No cat. no.
Roots reggae has evolved considerably since the 1980s, and it has become an increasingly international phenomenon. In contrast to the old-school classicism of Talisman’s latest album, consider this fine collection of modern reggae from members of the Jah Ova Evil stable. It features contributions from the likes of The Gideon, Hempress Sativa, D’Excelle, and Nicole Miller, each offering his or her own take on conscious reggae, some striking a defiant truth-and-rights posture, others offering spiritual consolation, and others celebrating the putatively healing properties of ganja. What unites all of them are the brilliant rhythms provided by the Warrior Love collective. The Slovakia-based Batelier label is definitely one for reggae fans to keep an eye on.
Nguyen Le & Ngo Hong Quang
Ha Noi Duo
ACT Music (dist. Naxos)
For this album, electric guitarist Nguyen Le teams up with singer and multi-instrumentalist Ngo Hong Quang for a program of original and traditional Vietnamese music embellished with Indian beats, jazzy trumpet and flugelhorn (courtesy of Paolo Fresu, interestingly enough), and all kinds of special effects. At times the effect is of a sort of polycultural jazz fusion, at others it sounds like prog rock with Vietnamese singing. And sometimes it sounds unidentifiable, just incredibly delicate and lovely. This would make an excellent addition to any international or world-music collection.
Out Here (dist. Forced Exposure)
Mokoomba is a band that made its name by blending traditional Zimbabwean sounds with rock and pop influences; on their third album, though, they have gone more acoustic and traditional, focusing on their Tonga and Luvale ethnic roots. The result is a collection of tunes that draw on Latin-sunding rhythms and lots of call-and-response vocals, and a sound that is surprisingly joyful — surprising because Zimbabwe is currently in such turmoil, and because that turmoil is what gave rise to this album of encouraging, uplifting music. Many of these songs are topical, though for those who aren’t fluent in the Tonga, Luvale, or Ndebele languages the messages maybe a bit hard to catch. This is an exceptionally beautiful album.