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Monthly Archives: April 2018

May 2018


PICK OF THE MONTH


Etana
Reggae Forever
Tad’s International
TRCD1132

You say that Reggae Forever is a startlingly dumb album title–one that will inevitably lead people who don’t know better to assume that this is just another generic exercise in reggae formalism. Fair enough; I agree. But the key words in that argument are “people who don’t know better.” Those who have encountered the modern-roots juggernaut that is Etana will see past the title and expect to hear exactly what the album actually offers: smooth-but-powerful production, impeccably written songs, irresistible hooks, and a voice as strong and assured that of any reggae singer in the past 30 years. What these listeners will also notice is how completely comfortable Etana is working in every reggae subgenre: swinging big-band ska (“You’re the One”); dubby lovers rock (“Sprung”); calypso-inflected gospel reggae (“Free”); rockish pop reggae (“Burned”); digital dancehall (“No Money, No Love”). The rhythms are all great, but on every track the chief attractant is her magnificent voice, which never draws undue attention to itself with acrobatic melismas or other look-at-me trickery, but which is at all times both strong and sweet and always perfectly assured. If you were to ask me at any point during the past ten years “What was this year’s best reggae album?” the chances would have been very high that I’d have pointed to a 1970s reissue. This year the answer would be Etana’s “Reggae Forever.”


CLASSICAL


Ernö Dohnányi
String Quartet, Serenade & Sextet
Nash Ensemble
Hyperion (dist. PIAS)
CDA68215

The Nash Ensemble did something rather sly with this recording: they lured potential listeners in with Hungarian composer Ernö Dohnányi’s popular serenade for string trio (the first selection on the program) and then sneaks up on them with the rarely-recorded third string quartet and sextet for piano, clarinet, horn, and string trio. The quarte and sextet are knottier and more challenging than the serenade, but all of them are quite stunningly beautiful, particularly in these performances. I was particularly struck by the alternately lyrical and stately middle movement of the string quartet, labeled “Andante religioso con variazioni,” and by the majestic opening theme of the sextet. Recommended to all libraries.


Various Composers
Mare Balticum, Vol. 1: Music in Medieval Denmark
Ensemble Peregrina / Agnieszka Budzinska-Bennett & Benjamin Bagby
Tacet (dist. Naxos)
243
Rick’s Pick

This is the first in a projected four-volume series of recordings that will present medieval music of the Baltic Sea region, each of them to explore “the local character of a different coastal region of Balticum.” The first installment deals with Denmark, presenting both vocal and instrumental music from a variety of manuscript sources: there are songs about regicide, some hymns and sequences and antiphons, and a smattering of instrumental pieces. The vocal works are sometimes sung by a solo voice and sometimes in unison by the wonderful Ensemble Peregrina; the liner notes are extensive and informative, and all of this will be of great interest to libraries that collect early music.


Hans Gál
Cello Concertino; Solo Cello Sonata; Solo Cello Suite
Matthew Sharp; English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods
Avie (dist. Naxos)
AV2380

Franz Joseph Haydn
Cello Concertos
Zuill Bailey; Philharmonia Orchestra / Robin O’Neill
Steinway & Sons (dist. Naxos)
30094

Just for fun, I decided to review two very different cello recordings together. The first features works by a relatively obscure Austrian composer of the early- to mid-twentieth century, one whose music fell out of favor during the prime of his life, a time when tonal composition was considered retrograde and non-academic. The fact that he remains substantially unknown says something about the continued suspicion towards tonal music of that period, and these recordings–of a cello “concertino” and two solo works for cello–make clear how much we’ve been missing out on. The solo pieces are outstanding, but the concertino (a term he used somewhat idiosyncratically) is a tour de force, and is presented here in its world-premiere recording. Matthew Sharp’s playing is brilliant throughout. Zuill Bailey’s recording of Haydn’s two cello concertos (not counting the lost one and the two misattributed ones) doesn’t offer any of the musical surprises of the Gál recording, but it is no less rewarding: although the works themselves are familiar, he plays with enough fire and passion to make them sound fresh and new. The live setting undoubtedly contributes to the vitality of this recording, but mostly it’s Bailey’s natural talent and energy. Both of these disc are highly recommended.


Tomás Luis de Victoria
Tenebrae Responsories
stile antico
Harmonia Mundi (dist. PIAS)
HMM 902272
Rick’s Pick

I await a new release from stile antico the way a seven-year-old awaits Christmas. And so far, I’ve never been disappointed. The group’s latest was released, appropriately enough, around Eastertide: it features the Responses for Holy Week by the greatest composer of the Spanish Renaissance, Tomás Luis de Victoria. These pieces are generally considered to be among Victoria’s finest achievements, and recordings of them are not exactly rare, so what justifies yet another? The unparalleled richness of stile antico’s blend, their flawless intonation, and their unsurpassed ability to balance intensity and inwardness, that’s what. Over the past ten years this group has emerged as the supreme exponents of the Oxbridge sound, and every one of their recordings belongs in every library that collects classical music.


Bartolomeo Campagnoli
6 Flute Quartets
Ensemble Il Demetrio
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95399

Sometimes, I confess, I feel guilty for loving the music of the classical period so much–kind of the same way I feel guilty for liking cake. It can feel like empty calories: all form and grace and prettiness, and not much in the way of meaning or substance. (Not all of it, obviously, but a lot of it.) And yet here we are, contemplating this delightful recording of flute quartets by an Italian composer known far more for his violin compositions and methods than for his flute writing. Ensemble Il Demetrio (on period instruments, including a keyed chromatic wooden flute) give these pieces a very fine presentation here, and flutist Gabriele Formenti is particularly to be commended for his tone. If you think you might feel guilty indulging, then maybe listen to an early Beethoven symphony first and have these lovely Italian pastries for dessert.


Anthony Paul De Ritis
Electroacoustic Music: In Memoriam David Wessel
Various Performers
Albany
TROY1710

When synthesizers first started really coming on the scene in the 1960s and 1970s, one of the reactions against them was rooted in the concern that they would take the place of analog and acoustic instruments. But to me, what always made synthesizers interesting wasn’t how good they were at imitating other instruments, but the enormous variety of sounds they could create that were unlike anything else. And when synthesizers actually interact with acoustic instruments–well, the sky’s the limit. In the mid- to late-20th century, some of the most interesting avant-garde music consisted of exactly such interactions, and over the past 25 years composer Anthony Paul De Ritis has continued developing that tradition. This disc brings together a large and varied assortment of electroacoustic pieces for such instruments as piano, alto saxophone, kalimba, trombone, and Chinese instruments like the erhu, pipa, and sheng. The music is sometimes whimsical and sometimes stark, and always interesting.


JAZZ


Fred Hersch Trio
Live in Europe
Palmetto
PM2192
Rick’s Pick

Are we now at the point where we can say that Fred Hersch is our greatest living jazz pianist? I don’t know. I can tell you that I listen to many, many jazz pianists over the course of any given year, and I have yet to encounter another one with his combination of bravura technique, deep sense of structure, and pure taste. And in a live setting, he and his trio (which includes bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson) move together like a well-oiled machine. No, that’s not the right simile: they move together like a cloud of starlings, shifting into unpredictable but beautiful patterns in response to cues that the listener can’t hear or comprehend. On this set, recorded in Brussels just a few months ago, the group plays two Monk tunes (one of them a Hersch solo encore), two Wayne Shorter tunes, and six originals–sometimes swinging, sometimes floating delicately, sometimes growling and thrashing, but always singing. For any library with a jazz collection, every Fred Hersch album is quite simply a must-buy.


John Coltrane
The Classic Collaborations 1957-1963 (4 discs)
Enlightenment (dist. MVD)
EN4CD9137

As classic jazz recordings of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s pass out of copyright in the UK, labels like Real Gone Jazz and Enlightenment are putting them out in super-budget multidisc packages and selling them internationally–including in the US, where the recordings are often (though not always) still under copyright. Is this legal? Technically yes, partly because there’s no such thing as international copyright law. Is it ethical? Eh. Your mileage may vary. When the artists involved are long dead and their labels no longer exist, I tend to feel better about it. (Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that someone isn’t getting cheated out of royalties, whether it’s an artist’s descendants or the new owner of the defunct label’s catalog.) For right now let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there are no legal or ethical impediments to buying the latest box from Enlightenment, this one focusing on recordings made by tenor saxophone legend John Coltrane alongside various co-leaders during what I consider his best period. It includes eight albums he made with Thelonious Monk, Red Garland, Kenny Burrell, Tadd Dameron, Paul Quinichette, Duke Ellington, Milt Jackson, and Johnny Hartman, and finds him mastering the hard bop language and then expanding it–a process that would continue into the mid-1960s (a period that many other people consider to be his best). It’s hard to exaggerate both the quality and the historical importance of the music he made on these albums, and if your library doesn’t already own them in CD format this is a great opportunity to beef up your collection at minimal cost in terms of both dollars and shelf space.


SUSS
Ghost Box
E.V.P.
No cat. no.

This disc came to me in the mail with no additional information: no press sheet, no bios, no contact info beyond the return address on the envelope. Inside the disc package there’s little more: the musicians are credited (Bob Holmes, Gary Leib, Pat Irwin, Jonathan Gregg and William Garrett), but no indication is given as to what instruments they play. Pop in the disc and it becomes clear that their instruments include guitar, bass, and steel guitar–but what remains unclear is exactly what kind of music this is supposed to be. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The guitars float and shimmer, the bass provides a sometimes-steady pulse if not what one might call a “beat,” and the steel swoops in with countryish moans from time to time. There may some keyboard in there too, but the difference between keys and strings can be hard to suss out these days (see what I did there)? Anyway, it’s all very pretty and very weird, and that’s a winning combination in my book.


Roxy Coss
The Future Is Female
Positone
PR8181
Rick’s Pick

Saxophonist and composer Roxy Coss has always projected a strong, independent image as a woman in jazz, so in light of events of the past couple of years it should come as no surprise that her feminism is coming more to the fore of her self-presentation. With song titles like “Natsy Women Grab Back,” “Females Are Strong As Hell,” and “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” Coss is not making a subtle statement here. But beyond those titles, she’s doing it entirely musically, writing powerfully swinging and complex jazz compositions and leading a crack quintet in nimble but muscular performances. These are tunes that veer back and forth between straightforwardly lyrical and knottily chromatic, often within a single chorus; her solos are master classes in structure and tone. Coss has that rarest of qualities in a jazz composer: the ability to surprise you with a line or gesture that sounds perfectly inevitable. For all jazz collections.


Ken Peplowski Big Band
Sunrise
Arbors Jazz
ARCD 19458
Rick’s Pick

I don’t listen to big band music very much, I guess because I usually find it either anodyne or tiresome, and as a result I don’t review it very much either. But I’ll listen to any project that involves Ken Peplowski in any way, so when I saw he’d released a big band album as a leader I knew I had to get my hands on it. And it’s wonderful, as anyone familiar with his work would expect. The program is all standards, and one of the arrangements is a world premiere: an arrangement of “When You Wish upon a Star” by the song’s composer, Alec Wilder, and written for the Benny Goodman orchestra but never played or recorded before now. Peplowski is not only a brilliant clarinetist but also a generous and subtle bandleader, and this album is absolutely full of lovely moments and joyful swing. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


ROCK/POP


Bronski Beat
Age of Remix (3 discs)
Cherry Red/Strike First Entertainment (dist. MVD)
SFE 064T

You thought they were dead? Think again. Bronski Beat has never really gone away since the group’s heyday in the 1980s, and Steve Bronski continues to put out solid electro-disco under that moniker 35 years later. The most recent release is The Age of Reason–which is itself a modern remake of the band’s debut The Age of Consent–and this three-disc remix extravaganza takes that album and folds, spindles, and mutilates it into a sprawling array of neo-disco reconfigurations. Mixes by the likes. of Laether Strip, Jose Jimenez, and Scandall ‘n’ Ros fill up the first two discs, and the third consists of a selection of tracks from those discs presented in a continuous mix for maximum dance floor pressure. It’s important to note that while each producer gives his or her assigned track a unique flavor, there is a strong rhythmic consistency here: this is all about the house banger, with only rare and brief forays away from that familiar four-on-the-floor thump. But when it comes to that neo-disco sound, there’s hardly anyone better.


Miniatures
Jessamines
Saint Marie
SMR111
Rick’s Pick

OK, let’s get this out of the way right up front: yes, Miniatures sound an awful lot like Cocteau Twins. You’ve got your massed harsh-soft guitars, your inscrutable and barely audible (but gorgeous) female vocals, your beats that are much more aggressive than you think they are at first blush. What you don’t have quite as much of are the unexpected flights of melismatic melody that stop your heart for just a moment, but still, Miniatures bring back to the music scene a vein of dreamy, analog experimental pop music that never did get fully mined back during the shoegaze heyday. Is it innovative, strictly speaking? Nah. But it sure is pretty, and isn’t that what really counts?


WORLD/ETHNIC


Various Artists
The #1 Sound from the Vaults, Vol. 1
Studio One (dist. Redeye)
SOR-008

Studio One was perhaps the most important single recording operation in Jamaica during the middle to late 20th century. The rhythms (or instrumental tracks) recorded there in the 1970s are still used by reggae artists today, and artists as influential as the Ethiopians, Burning Spear, and Bob Marley recorded early work there. Most compilations of Studio One tracks lean heavily on familiar and popular tunes, but this one collects rare singles by artists both famous (Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis) and obscure (The Officials, Bop and the Beltones), spanning the rock steady and roots eras. None of the tracks featured here have been previously released on CD, so libraries with a collecting interest in reggae should definitely pick this one up.


dr trippy
Bhang!
Disco Gecko (dist. MVD)
GKOCD028
Rick’s Pick

Dr trippy characterizes his style as “Punjabi swamp music,” which I think is pretty accurate as far as it goes, but doesn’t go far enough. For one thing, American readers are likely to associate “swamp music” with Southern Louisiana and its various flavors of Cajun and Zydeco music. There’s nothing like that here. The swamp that dr trippy has in mind is more conceptual, and more globally eclectic: at any given moment you’ll hear elements of Punjabi bhangra, Jamaican skank, R&B horns, techno beats, dubwise breakdowns, and more. It’s global dance music, I guess, but with a pretty specifically South Asian (or at least East London) flavor, and it’s all lots of fun.


Ryon
Zéphyr
Baco
BDCD-18

Wach’da
Jeux de vérité (digital only)
Dibiz
No cat. no.

There’s quite a bit of good roots reggae coming out of France these days, but what sets both of these artists apart from the competition (apart from the sheer quality of their work) is the fact that they perform almost excusively in French. Good for them, I say–all too often, when people write lyrics in a second language the results are embarrassing, and when they try to approximate a Jamaican patois the results are even worse. So with both Ryon and Wach’da, there’s nothing to distract you from the deep, solid rhythms and the great songs. Ryon is a band whose lyrics suggest a deep religiosity–and perhaps even specifically Christianity. Their sound on this album is deeply traditional, with a great horn section and lots of thick, heavyweight one-drop and rockers grooves and dubwise production flourishes–they frequently remind me of early-period John Brown’s Body. Wach’da (born Joseph Rano) is an Antillean artist whose approach to reggae is a bit more oblique than Ryon’s; he makes use of African and Latin elements from time to time, with particularly interesting effect on “Leave a Chance for Life” (see?), an acoustic and Nyabinghi-flavored tune that features a guest appearance by reggae legend Winston McAnuff. Elsewhere his sound is sharp and direct, with a strong 1980s roots flavor. Both of these albums would fit equally well in a world music or reggae collection.

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April 2018


RICK’S PICK


Emmet Cohen
Masters Legacy Series Volume 2, Featuring Ron Carter
Cellar Live (dist. MVD)
CL062917
Rick’s Pick

I had the good fortune recently of seeing Emmet Cohen perform alongside bassist Christian McBride in an intimate setting. I was less astounded by the youngster’s technical skill (young hotshots are not that hard to find) than I was by his wit, warmth, and incredible taste; he knows when to go big and he knows when to stay small, and he knows how to compose a line. All of his talents are on ample display here on this trio date organized as a tribute to bassist Ron Carter, and they are never more impressive than when they’re put to use in keeping the focus on Carter. (Drummer Evan Sherman is an avatar of taste as well.) Cohen’s ongoing Masters Legacy Series project is itself an exercise in turning the spotlight on others, a sign of professional maturity that is almost as impressive as his musicianship. A must for all jazz collections.


CLASSICAL


Antoine Forqueray; Jean-Baptiste Forqueray
Forqueray… ou les tourments de l’âme (5 discs)
Michèle Dévérité et al.
Harmonia Mundi (dist. PIAS)
HMM 905286.89

Both Antoine Forqueray and his son Jean-Baptiste were famous players of the viola da gamba, but they were also accomplished and somewhat idiosyncratic composers for the harpsichord. This four-disc set brings together all of the known works of Forqueray père et fils, most of them either composed for harpsichord or transcribed for that instrument from viol pieces. The potentially monotonous continuity of timbre is broken up by a scattering of pieces for viol and continuo. The fifth, bonus disc features a biographical narrative of the Forqueray family read by Nicolas Lormeau (in French, no translation provided) and accompanied by music. For all libraries with a collecting interest in music of the baroque period.


Entourage
Ceremony of Dreams: Studio Sessions and Outtakes, 1972-1977 (3 discs)
Tompkins Square
TSQ 5463
Rick’s Pick

If, like me, you have difficult childhood memories of the 1960s and 1970s, you might find yourself initially put off by the cover image: flowing hair, flowing bellbottoms, a gong, interpretive dancers, a surfeit of unfortunate facial hair. You could easily be forgiven for expecting an onslaught of hippie-dippy musical twaddle masquerading as mystical spirituality. But that’s not what Entourage created during its run of several years (and two albums) in the early-to-mid-1970s: yes, this music can fairly be characterized as dreamy at times, but it is also frequently tightly structured and disciplined, and surprisingly varied in tone and texture–minimalist in the way that minimalism might sound if Terry Riley and Steve Reich had collaborated. These three discs include a wealth of previously unreleased material, including outtakes from those two albums (which are not included here). The remastered sound is rich and pristine. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Various Composers
For Glenn Gould
Stewart Goodyear
Sono Luminus (dist. Naxos)
DSL-92220

Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear here pays tribute to one of his heroes, the legendarily idiosyncratic Glenn Gould. For this disc Goodyear plays the same program that Gould played for his American debut: a weird-looking but actually deeply logical assortment of works by Gibbons, Sweelinck, Bach, Brahms, and Berg. This program allowed Gould to express both his deep love of counterpoint and polyphony, and the streak of Romanticism that always ran just beneath his sometimes dry-sounding articulation. Goodyear’s tribute to Gould is loving but not slavish, and brings new light and insight to this strange but wonderful recital program. For all libraries.


Loyset Compère
Missa Galeazescha: Music for the Duke of Milan
Odhecaton / Paolo da Col
Arcana (dist. Naxos)
A436

Guillaume de Machaut
Nostre Dame
Vienna Vocal Consort
Klanglogo (dist. Naxos)
KL1412

Here we have music by a giant of the late Medieval period (Machaut) and a somewhat lesser-known giant of the early Renaissance (Compère). In each case the program is built around a centrally important Mass from that composer’s repertoire: Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame (the first known setting of a complete Mass Ordinary) and Compère’s Missa Galeazescha (of which, as far as I can tell, this seems to be the world-premiere recording). Machaut’s work has been widely recorded, but rarely by a mixed-voice ensemble like the Vienna Vocal Consort. In another interesting move, the group has chosen to juxtapose Machaut’s vinegary, stark-sounding piece of early polyphony with much more consonant later works by the likes of Victoria, Du Fay, and Palestrina–all of them united by a similarly Marian focus. This makes for a nicely varied array of flavors and harmonic textures. On the Compère disc, the sections of his Mass setting are interspersed with brief instrumental works by his contemporaries, most of which seem to have been recorded at a different time from the vocal parts (the original recordings took place in 2005, but seem to be released here for the first time). As one might expect of music written in the mid-15th rather than the late-14th century, the harmonies are sweeter and lusher than those of the Machaut work, but still quite somber and dark. Both of these recordings are outstanding and should find a place in any early-music collection.


Philip Glass
Music with Changing Parts
Salt Lake Electric Ensemble
Orange Mountain Music (dist. PIAS)
0125
Rick’s Pick

Ever since it emerged as a new musical style in the 1960s, minimalism has faced a fundamental challenge: how to maintain the listener’s interest while deploying a minimum of harmonic and/or melodic and/or textural elements? Sometimes the answer has been “Who cares whether the user is interested?,” and the composer has used sheer, bludgeoning repetition as a musical statement (see Steve Reich’s Four Organs, and the reaction to it). But more often the answer has been to use selected elements minimally and others more generously: consider, for example, the way Reich’s Drumming creates constantly-shifting rhythmic tessellation from the phased repetition of a single pattern. Another answer is to leave certain options open: a work like Terry Riley’s In C may be spare or dense, depending on how one interprets the score. The same is true of Philip Glass’s Music for Changing Parts, which can be played by any number of differently-configured ensembles. Here the work is realized by the Salt Lake Electric Ensemble, almost all of whose members employ laptops as well as such instruments as electric guitar, trumpet, cello, saxophone, and flugelhorn. The organic instrumental sounds are generally processed electronically, imparting a tight digital atmosphere to the overall performance and also creating a kaleidoscopic variety of sounds and textures within the piece’s minimal harmonic pallette. The result is, quite simply, gorgeous–and I say that as someone who isn’t a particularly big Glass fan. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


Christopher Tye
Complete Consort Music
Phantasm
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKD 571

Although those mainly familiar with his vocal works might be surprised to learn this, Christopher Tye was a strange, strange dude. His eccentricity is most clearly on display in his instrumental music, particularly his compositions for consort of viols. This lovely disc by the outstanding Phantasm ensemble (right up there with Fretwork in the pantheon of English viol consorts) brings together all of Tye’s work in that medium, showing off his unparalleled ability to gleefully fling aside the most basic rules of rhythm and counterpoint while still creating sounds of sumptuous beauty. Whether you’re listening to laugh with glee at his rule-breaking or simply to luxuriate in his melodic invention, this disc is sure to please.


Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Missa Confitebor tibi Domine
Yale Schola Cantorum / David Hill
Hyperion (dist. PIAS)
CDA68210

Palestrina wrote the motet Confitebor tibi Domine around 1572, and then published a parody Mass based on it a few years later. Although it would have been performed mainly in the Sistine Chapel (where a separation of choirs was not physically possible), the work is written in the classic Italian polychoral style, with separate parts for two groups of singers facing each other across the room. The Yale Schola Cantorum recorded this Mass (along with several instrumental renditions of motets and canzonas arranged for organ and cornett) in the sonically rich and spacious Christ Church of New Haven, lending the already majestic part-writing an even deeper resonance and an air of deep solemnity. This also, unfortunately, somewhat undermines the clarity of the parts, but the overall effect is magnificent.


JAZZ


Bill Frisell
Music IS
Okeh/Sony
19075815002
Rick’s Pick

Like so many of us, guitarist Bill Frisell has gotten less skronky with age. And yet, in his sweetest and most lyrical moments there is very often an echo of weirdness–an off-kilter arpeggiation here, the quiet yowl of a strangely bent note there–that hints at something deeper, just as his most noisy excursions in the past were so often leavened by hints of the gentle but sharply intelligent sweetness that is at the core of everything he plays. His latest album is a pure solo project, on which the only instruments you hear are played by him (often in multitracked layers). The mood is generally quiet and, as has been his tendency over the past decade or two, rustic. It’s instantly accessible–as I was listening in my office this morning, the janitor who walks by every morning and often stops to say hello, but has never ever asked about the music she hears coming over my speakers, turned around as she passed my office and said “Who are you listening to?”–but it’s never simple even when it sounds that way at first. For all libraries.


Monty Alexander
Here Comes the Sun (reissue)
MPS (dist. Naxos)
0212406MSW

When he was coming up, pianist Monty Alexander was often compared to Oscar Peterson, and listening to this reissue of a 1971 quartet date, you can see why: there are those big chords, the quick musical wit, and maybe (let’s be honest here) the tendency to show off a bit more than is strictly necessary. But Alexander brought something uniquely his own to the mix: a Jamaican heritage, which led him quite naturally to incorporate both Latin beats and Afro-Caribbean inflections into his playing, both of which we hear on this very fun session. Notice the full-on calpyso of “Brown-Skin Girl,” and the bizarre “Good King Wenceslaus” quote on the outro to “Where Is Love?”. Also note that the astonishing drummer Duffy Jackson was 18 years old at the time of these sessions. Try to ignore the awkward Latin funk of the title track, which probably seemed like it made sense in 1971.


Miguel de Armas Quartet
What’s to Come
MDA Productions
No cat. no.

For his debut album as a leader, the Ottawa-based, Cuban-born pianist and composer Miguel de Armas has chosen to present original compositions in a wide variety of styles, from the straight Afro-Latin groove of “Yasmina” to the more fusion-inflected “A Song for My Little Son” and the ska-with-tabla feel of “His Bass and Him.” But the sounds of Cuba, collectively, are the thread that binds all of these multifarious tunes together: sometimes those sounds are at the forefront (as on the delightful “Pam Pim Pam Pum” and, well, “Rumba on Kent St.”) but often they are present more subtly. Personally, I found the two tracks featuring rockish electric guitar to sound a bit out of place, but not fatally so. Very nice overall.


Delfeayo Marsalis
Kalamazoo: An Evening with Delfeayo Marsalis
Troubadour Jass
TJR093017

Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis leads a quartet that includes his father, the living treasure Ellis Marsalis, on this concert program that focuses on rollicking standards and makes inevitable references to New Orleans–both in the Marsalis’ playing styles and in the inclusion of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” as a show-closer. It also pays particular attention to the blues: not only does the program open with a blues number, but it also includes “Blue Kalamazoo,” a tune that was composed spontaneously during the concert. He asked the audience what key the band should play in, and away they went–with guest vocalist Christian O’Neill Diaz scatting along. (Using the twelve-bar blues structure kept the bandmembers from going too far off the free-jazz tracks.) Anyway, the whole thing is tons of fun.


Dave Liebman; John Stowell
Petite fleur: The Music of Sidney Bechet
Origin
82753
Rick’s Pick

And speaking of New Orleans, here is a quiet and heartfelt tribute to one of the four or five most influential musicians of that city’s early jazz scene: the soprano saxophonist, clarinettist, and composer Sidney Bechet. The tribute is quiet because the music is played by only two people: reedman Dave Liebman and guitarist John Stowell. Early jazz is often raucous, but here the musicians treat these melodies like jewels–not stinting on energy or passion, but presenting them with a rare blend of gentleness and glee. The title tune is recorded in three versions: once as a duet and once as a solo by each muscian. This is really quite a special album and should find a place in any library’s jazz collection.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Various Artists
Acoustic Music Seminar: Selections from 2012-2016
Adventure Music (dist. Burnside)
AM1112 2

The Acoustic Music Seminar takes place every year in connection with the Savannah Music Festival in Georgia. It’s run by Mike Marshall (one of the architects of the “new acoustic music” sound back in the 1970s and 1980s), and brings together sixteen outstanding young musicians for a week, during which they write compositions that are premiered at a concert at the end of the week. This selection of recordings draws on five years of those concerts, and features banjo players, mandolinists, fiddlers, and cellists, among others, as well as an early performance by the amazing Kaia Kater. The music tends to be jazzy and sometimes almost neoclassical, but it also frequently draws on folk and bluegrass elements. Very, very nice.


Kyle Carey
The Art of Forgetting
Riverboat (dist. Redeye)
TUG1109

On her latest solo album, the angel-voiced Kyle Carey continues to explore the intersections of Celtic folk and Americana, only now she’s doing so in a somewhat more jazzy and swinging style. This approach is most startling on her unique arrangement of the popular favorite “Siubhail a Rùin,” which is normally played as a slow lament but is taken here at a loping medium-swing tempo. “Sweet Damnation” is similarly jazzy, and features the lovely combination of a horn section and an Irish flute. Dirk Powell’s production is careful and brilliant–as is his clawhammer banjo playing on “Tillie Sage.” And of course, Carey’s singing is a wonder as it always is. Recommended to all folk collections.


Jim White
Waffles, Triangles & Jesus
People in a Place to Know
PIAPTK-241

There’s alt-country, and then there’s just flat-out weirdo country. That’s what you should expect when the press materials describe the artist in question as an “enigmatic Southern gothic anatomist.” Although as weirdness goes, Jim White’s is much less forbidding than some (for example, when Nick Cave gets countryish the results may leave you doubting the existence of God, if you didn’t already). Here the weirdness tends towards the whimsical (for example, “Playing Guitars,” which is a humorously straight-ahead lament undermined in its straight-aheadness by the Ali Farka Touré cameo), but there’s plenty of emotional depth here as well–particularly on the album-closing “Sweet Bird of Mystery,” a song that White wrote for his unborn daughter 20 years ago and only recently revealed to her.


ROCK/POP


Amy Black
Memphis
Reuben
No cat. no.

The album title says it all: this is singer and songwriter Amy Black’s tribute to the city that has shaped her so much as an artist. It can be seen as a continuation of her equally-revealingly-titled previous effort, The Muscle Shoals Sessions. Both her original songs and her selection of covers show her to be richly steeped in the traditions of 1950s and 1960s Memphis soul, and her voice is a rich, honeyed treasure. The sidemen she enlisted for these sessions deliver plenty of good greasy groove without recourse to tired clichés or lo-fi affectation. The album sounds great, the songs are great, and Black is (did I mention this?) a great singer.


Wælder
Non Places
Denovali
DEN293

“Wælder are moving between ambient, industrial and pop. Their rhythms and soundscapes of voices, obscure samples and distorted field-recordings build spaces of barren material and soft ground, which teem and crawl – strange and harmonious.” That’s not a bad description of this Viennese duo’s weird instrumental post-rock, but I would suggest that it overstates both the music’s creepiness and its relationship to pop. In fact, this music is generally quite pleasant; in fact, it has nothing to do with pop. And I should probably add that by “pleasant” I don’t mean that its sonic contours are comfortingly familiar, that there are any real melodies, or that its occasionally-regular rhythms ever approximate a groove. I just mean that it’s pleasant, and that it’s consistently interesting. For adventurous rock collections.


Shuta Hasunuma & U-zhaan
2 Tone
Birdwatcher (dist. Redeye)
BWR001
Rick’s Pick

Composer/multimedia artist Shuta Hasunuma regularly incorporates environmental and found sounds into his music, which in turn he often incorporates into his art installations and sculptures. For this album he teams up with electronic artist U-zhaan and some startlingly A-list vocalists (Arto Lindsay, Devendra Banhart) and even with famed pop and soundtrack composer Ryuichi Sakamoto to create a crazy quilt of softly bizarre but completely lovely pieces of experimental groove music. A tabla player is featured prominently (the press materials provide no musician credits, so I can’t tell you much more than that), and the rhythms are frequently deeply complex even as the overall mood remains gentle and soft. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Darshan Ambient
Lingering Day: Anatomy of a Daydream
Spotted Peccary Music (dist. MVD)
SPM-2405

Numina
The Chroma Plateau
Spotted Peccary Music (dist. MVD)
SPM-3601

You want instrumental pop music that’s even gentler and softer, and maybe a bit less bizarre? Then you can always count on the Spotted Peccary label, which is often (inaccurately, I think) characterized as a purveyor of New Age music. I would instead say that it releases ambient music, and in response to the obvious question (“What’s the difference?”) I would say: if it sounds better the more closely and critically you listen, it’s ambient rather than New Age. Now, Michael Allison (who records under the moniker Darshan Ambient) can sometimes be accused of flirting with the line that separates the pleasant from the cloying, but to his credit he generally stays on the right side of it. Occasional incursions of glitchy electro percussion and dubwise sound effects help; so does his solid basis in rock’n’roll (including a stint in Richard Hell & the Voidoids). The work of Numina (Jesse Sola), on the other hand, is almost entirely abstract and ethereal. It’s less tuneful–by which I mean it’s not tuneful at all–but in some ways it’s also more engaging. Don’t be discouraged by track titles like “Intergalactic Traveler” and “Mosaic of Whispers”; none of this music is dippy or silly, and in fact much of it is so abstract that you experience it more in terms of color and texture than melody or shape. A good point of reference is Brian and Roger Eno’s Apollo soundtrack from 1983. Both of these are recommended, with the edge going to the Numina album.


H+
Hidden Dimensions (digital only)
Self-released
No cat. no.

Being, as I am, a total sucker for glitchy electronic funk with lots of wobbly sub-bass frequencies, I was delighted to stumble across the work of Bermuda-based husband-wife duo H+ a few weeks ago. Malcolm Brian Swan is a bassist, composer, and producer, and his wife Nicola contributes vocals–usually mixed in such a way that the words are more or less indistinct, and her voice basically becomes another instrument in the rich, heady mix. Hidden Dimensions leans towards the glitchy-dubstep side of things, but listen for the Latin-funk track as well. All of it is wonderful.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Hidekazu Katoh & Richard Stagg
Masters of the Shakuhachi (reissue)
ARC Music (dist. Naxos)
EUCD2755

The shakuhachi, a Japanese end-blown bamboo flute, has a long an honored history in that country. This disc focuses on duets for the instrument written by living Japanese composers, each of them demonstrating a different mix of abstract modernism and engagement with the past. There is also one ancient piece, an anonymous 18th-century work entitled “The Braying of the Deer.” Nothing here is really avant-garde–no extended techniques or microtonal weirdness–but the instrument’s naturally complex tone creates lots of timbral interest, and Katoh and Stagg both play with an impressive intensity and emotional range.


Various Artists
The Rough Guide to Acoustic India
World Music Network (dist. Redeye)
RGNET1361CD

As usual from the Rough Guides crew, this disc presents a broad but still nicely compact overview of various musical traditions from the Indian subcontinent–the modifier “acoustic” signaling that this will not be Bollywood pop music or Mumbai disco, but rather that the collection will focus on classical and folk traditions unmodified by electric or electronic instruments. The musical and religious sources presented here are diverse: Sufi religious poetry sung by Noor Alam, Carnatic violin music by Jyotsna Srikanth, a gypsy brass band from Jaipur, slide guitar music from the brilliant Debashish Bhattacharya. Unfortunately the disc package includes only the most schematic liner notes; a website is provided for those who want full musician credits and other additional information. But for libraries in need of a single-disc overview of various Indian musical styles, this is a great option.


Various Artists
Ruff Guide to Ariwa Sounds (reissue)
Ariwa (dist. Redeye)
251
Rick’s Pick

It would be hard to exaggerate the influence that Neil “Mad Professor” Fraser has had in shaping the sound of British reggae. His Ariwa Sounds label has been in operation for more than three decades now, providing an outlet for both up-and-coming artists and established legends–and his smooth, digital production style is a major ingredient in the lovers rock sound that emerged in London during the 1980s. And as a producer, his aggressive and fun-loving approach to dub remixing has influenced two generations. This is an outstanding collection of classic tracks from the Ariwa studio, opening with the deathless “Kunta Kinte” rhythm and then proceeding to deejay tracks from the likes of U Roy and Big Youth, as well as plenty of dubs and straight vocal tracks from singers like Sister Audrey, Aisha, and Max Romeo. A perfect choice for library collections.


Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
Travel with Love (reissue)
Nighthawk/Omnivore
OV-259
Rick’s Pick

Justin Hinds
Know Jah Better (reissue)
Nighthawk/Omnivore
OV-260

And speaking of essential reggae reissues, don’t overlook the continued stream of long-awaited re-releases that are emerging thanks to the Omnivore label’s recent acquisition of the Nighthawk Records catalog. Nighthawk’s vaults aren’t especially deep by reggae standards, but the music it released during the 1980s and early 1990s is almost all fantastic. Among the best titles in that list is the utterly brilliant Travel with Love by ska/rocksteady/reggae legend Justin Hinds, with his band the Dominoes. This reissue adds ten bonus tracks (mostly dub versions) seven of which are previously unreleased. Less essential but still not bad is Hinds’ Know Jah Better, which has a slightly antiseptic digital production sound, but features more outstanding singing from Hinds. Both should be seriously considered by libraries with a strong collecting interest in reggae; those that collect reggae more selectively should opt for Travel with Love.


Darshan
Raza
Chant
CR004

Well, this is fun: ancient Kabbalistic invocations of the Divine Feminine intended to open the Friday Shabbat service are blended with modern electro-funk and hip hop, complete with rapping and singing in English, Hebrew, and Aramaic, as well as smatterings of beat-boxing and even–get this–vocalized turntable scratching. (Roll your eyes if you want, but they nail it.) Basya Schechter has a gorgeous, bell-like voice, and she alternates vocal duties with “neo-Hassidic” rapper MC ePRHYME to deliver messages of spiritual uplift, cultural exhortation, and inscrutable mysticism, all with a beat and with plenty of lovely, sinuous melodies. For all libraries.


Eugenia Georgieva
Po Drum Mode (A Girl on the Road)
Riverboat (dist. Redeye)
TUGCD1112
Rick’s Pick

About 30 years ago the Western world fell in love with Bulgarian folk song via the Mystère de voix bulgares album, originally issued on Nonesuch and later reissued on the 4AD label, which was already an established favorite of mopey postpunk hipsters everywhere, and for which the album was, surprisingly enough, actually perfectly suited. That album (and its subsequent volumes) focused on choral arrangements of these melodically astringent and rhythmically knotty songs. The debut album by Eugenia Georgieva draws on a similar repertoire, but presents them in arrangements for solo voice and a variety of acoustic instruments. Georgieva sings with joyful energy but also sharp precision, and if you want to challenge yourself, count the time-signature changes while listening. This one is a pure blast.