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Monthly Archives: June 2018

July 2018


Danny Green Trio Plus Strings
One Day It Will

I’ve become a passionate fan of pianist and composer Danny Green, whose trio albums have been among my favorite jazz releases of the last five years or so. On his latest, he combines his trio with a string quartet to brilliant effect. This is not actually his first foray into the trio-plus-quartet format–several tracks on the group’s last album, Altered Narratives, were similarly configured–and it was his previous experiments along this line that led him to want to explore the format further. Jazz-with-strings is treacherous terrain; all too often, the result is either ponderous or silly, and sometimes it’s both, as the composer (who doesn’t usually know enough about classical music to make effective use of an orchestra) tries ineffectually to write something that sounds fancy, or the arranger (who only knows that jazz is supposed to feature flat-9 chords and “swing”) tries clumsily to make the orchestra sound too jazzy. Green avoids these problems in two ways: by keeping the string forces small and nimble, and by being not only a brilliant jazz composer and player but also an exceptionally gifted arranger. The piano trio and the string quartet are integrated beautifully–this doesn’t sound like a jazz combo with strings added on, but like what it is: an organically-conceived chamber septet for which Green has written utterly beautiful pieces that sometimes swing, sometime float, and always shimmer with multicolored light. I can’t overemphasize what a fine album this is. A must for all library collections.


Jean-Philippe Rameau
Le Temple de la gloire (2 discs)
Various soloists; Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale / Nicholas McGegan & Bruce Lamott
Philharmonia Baroque Productions

Rameau’s infamously political opera Le Temple de la gloire is not exactly a lost work–it has been well known for centuries and multiple recordings of the opera itself and of suites drawn from its orchestral music are available. But this is the world-premiere recording of the original, 1745 version, the version that had to be edited after it both failed commercially and succeeded at offending King Louis XV (criticism of whom had been woven allegorically into Voltaire’s libretto). The original version was lost for centuries, and resurfaced only recently in the library at the University of California, Berkeley. This recording was made live at Cal Performances in 2017, and although the sound quality is a bit dry and shallow and the performances maybe just slightly ragged in places, the music itself is glorious and the historical significance of the recording is beyond question.

Felix Mendelssohn
Complete Works for Cello & Piano
Marcy Rosen; Lydia Artymiw
Bridge (dist. Albany)

Cellist Marcy Rosen and pianist Lydia Artymiw are experienced and widely celebrated artists who bring a particular depth of insight to the chamber music of the 19th century. And nothing rewards that insight and sensitivity quite like the chamber music of Mendelssohn, whose sonatas for cello and piano are among the most lusciously beautiful pieces in the reportoire for those instruments. If only he had written more. This disc includes all of his known works: two sonatas, bookended on the program by the utterly delightful Variations concertantes, op. 17 and the beloved Lied ohne Worte, followed by a brief but transcendent Assai tranquillo. Rosen and Artymiw play with a sense of aching grace and brilliant intercommunication, and are beautifully recorded–the cello, in particular, sounds the way it might if you were sitting inside of it. Highly recommended.

Anton Eberl
Concerto for Two Pianos; Sonatas for Piano Four Hands
Paolo Giacometti; Riko Fukuda; Kölner Akademie / Michael Alexander Willens
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 733-3

Anton Eberl is another of the legion of composers whose fame during their lifetimes is now matched by their obscurity in modern times; though his name is hardly familiar today, at the height of his career (a brief one; he died of scarlet fever at 41) it was being mentioned in the same breath as Beethoven’s and he was the talk of Vienna. On this disc we get two very different kinds of keyboard works: a concerto for two pianos and orchestra, and two sonatas for piano four hands. All are played on fortepianos by the excellent Paolo Giacometti and Riko Fukuda, and all showcase Eberl’s unusual inventiveness and restrained sense of drama. The Kölner Akademie sound wonderful on the concerto; more recordings by this group of Eberl’s large-scale works would be very welcome — there is at least one other of which I’m aware.

Elena Ruehr
Six String Quartets (2 discs)
Cypress String Quartet; Borromeo String Quartet; Stephen Salters
Avie (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

One of the most delightful and refreshing things about the work of Elena Ruehr is her unwillingness to be bound: her compositions are largely tonal, but draw on serial techniques both to create tension and as a source-bed for lyrical melodic ideas. She uses drones in a manner deeply informed by her education in classical Indian music, and repetition in a way that reflects her experience as a gamelan player. And she writes melodies than can make you weep: just listen to the opening section of her first quartet and see if it doesn’t make your heart soar. Her music is served beautifully by the playing of the Cypress and Borromeo String Quartets here, who were recorded in sessions separated by 10 years. A must for all classical collections.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
“Haydn Quartets” (3 discs)
Auryn Quartet
Tacet (dist. Naxos)

Since we often think of Franz Joseph Haydn as a secondary figure to Mozart in the classical era, it’s easy to forget what an impact Haydn (who was 24 years his senior) had on the young Mozart–notably in the area of quartet writing. In 1780, Haydn hadn’t written any string quartets in ten years; he returned to the form with his earthshaking opus 33, a set of six pieces that completely changed the way the world would think about the form. Mozart was so impressed that he subsequently wrote six string quartets in tribute, dedicating them to Haydn–and sending them to him under cover of a truly touching letter, in which he referred to the pieces as his “children” and addressed Haydn as “great Man and dearest Friend.” Mozart himself was a mature composer at this point, and these works rank among his finest. Most libraries are likely to own recordings of these monumental pieces already, but the account here by the Auryn Quartet is outstanding and would make a worthy addition to any collection.

Sebastián de Vivanco
Missa Assumpsit Jesus
De Profundis / Robert Hollingworth
Hyperion (dist. PIAS)
Rick’s Pick

Here is an utterly gorgeous disc of choral music by a relatively unknown master of Spanish polyphony. Sebastián de Vivanco was born in Ávila sometime in the mid-16th century and started his career as a boy chorister in the cathedral there. His career eventually took him to several different cities around Spain, and three large collections of his work survive today. The Mass performed here is based on Vivanco’s own motet Assumpsit Jesus Petrum, and it’s presented along with several other motets as well; the program closes with a magisterial Magnificat setting. De Profundis is an all-male choir without trebles, but their sound is rich and full despite the lack of voices above the alto range. Beautiful music, beautifully sung.

Johann Joachim Quantz
Four Concertos for Flute & Strings
Eric Lamb; Die Kölner Akademie / Michael Alexander Willens
Profil/Hänssler (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

There’s nothing quite like a good baroque flute concerto, and few composers wrote more delightful ones than Johann Joachim Quantz, who studied counterpoint under Jan Dismas Zelenka (a criminally underappreciated giant of the period) and flute under Pierre Gabriel Buffardin, and served as flute teacher to Frederick the Great. On this wonderful recording, flutist Eric Lamb performs on an unusually sweet-toned transverse flute and is accompanied by the very fine Kölner Akademie (also on period instruments). There’s much more where this came from–Quantz wrote hundreds of chamber and orchestral works for flute–so here’s hoping we’ll hear more of this repertoire from this outstanding soloist and ensemble.

Orazio Benevolo
Missa Si Deus pro nobis; Magnificat
Le Concert Spirituel / Hervé Niquet
Alpha (dist. Naxos)

The package is a little bit misleading here: this recording consists not only of the indicated Mass and Magnificat setting from a neglected master of polychoral Renaissance music (apparently both of them in world-premiere recordings), but also selections from Monteverdi and Palestrina and a brief organ piece by Frescobaldi–all of it organized in such a way as to approximate what an actual church service might have been like during the composer’s time at the Capella Giulia in St. Peter’s Cathedral. To call this music “sumptuous” doesn’t quite do it justice: at some points, no fewer than eight choirs are involved, along with full instrumental forces. As always, Niquet and the Concert Spirituel are magnificent, and this disc can be confidently recommended to all libraries with a collecting interest in Renaissance music.

Peter Garland
Moon Viewing Music (Inscrutable Stillness Studies #1)
William Winant
Cold Blue Music

Moving from the sumptuously sublime to the exquisitely quiet, we close out the Classical section with this deeply contemplative work by American composer Peter Garland. Since the piece is written entirely for gongs and tam-tam, you might expect it to be rhythm-based or at least percussive-sounding, but in fact the work consists almost entirely of resonance, with occasional irruptions of arpeggio. To be clear, there is rhythm here, but it’s very slow; there is also pitch, but it is invariably quite low. This is the best kind of minimal music–the kind that draws you in and invites you to hear things you would miss without paying close attention, while at the same time allowing you to simply float and luxuriate in the sound if that’s all you want to do.


Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin
Rick’s Pick

Pianist and composer Nik Bärtsch has been leading this boundary-busting quartet (originally a quintet) for about 16 years now, and the group’s work continues to surprise and delight. It now consists of Bärtsch on piano, bassist Thomy Jordi, drummer Kaspar Rast, and bass clarinetist/alto saxophonist Sha, and while the group’s instrumental configuration may seem to place it more or less within the jazz mainstream, the music they play most certainly does not. You’ll rarely, if ever, hear any kind of verse/solos/verse structure in these compositions; instead, they evolve in ways that make it unclear where strict composition ends and improvisation begins. At times you’ll hear echoes of Steve Reich or King Crimson (notice the interlocking odd-time passages throughout “Modul 58,” for example), but mostly what you hear is instantly recognizable as Bärtsch and only Bärtsch. Sometimes hypnotizing, often funky, and sometimes brilliantly disorienting, this is utterly unique and deeply beautiful music.

Daan Kleijn
No cat. no.

One of the things I love about guitarist Daan Kleijn is how easily, naturally, and gently he moves between a straight-ahead swing and a sort of jazzily abstract impressionism. He never plays “out,” exactly, but he can take his melodic explorations and rhythmic elaborations out to the edge in such a subtle way that sometimes you only notice the transition when he and his trio suddenly start swinging and you say to yourself “Oh, they weren’t doing that a minute ago.” His tone is warm without being soft around the edges, and he writes a great tune–on his latest album his two originals nestle with complete comfort into a program that consists otherwise of standards. Another triumph for one of jazz’s major young talents.

Paul Desmond
The Complete Albums Collection 1953-1963 (4 discs)
Enlightenment (dist. MVD)

Alto saxophonist Paul Desmond was a pillar of the “cool” jazz community (he came to greatest prominence as a member of Dave Brubeck’s quartet, for which he wrote one of the most popular of all jazz standards, “Take Five”), and the albums he recorded as a leader during the 1950s and early 1960s are among the finest in that style. This four-disc set brings together eight titles from the period, and listening through them one is struck yet again by Desmond’s tone: sweet and soft but firm in the middle, equally informed by the bebop innovations of the previous decade and by the more crooning, vibrato-laden styles of tenor men like Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young in the 1930s. Some of the finest moments here come on his collaborations with baritone saxophonist (and fellow “cool” giant) Gerry Mulligan, but the whole collection is fantastic. As always with these Enlightenment sets, the strength is in the quality of the music and the weakness is in the accompanying materials, which bury musician credits in the liner notes. And some listeners might be slightly nonplussed by the near absence of any break between tracks on the first two discs (due to their overall length–nearly 83 minutes in both cases). Still, the music is marvelous.

Adrian Cunningham & Ken Peplowski
Arbors Jazz (dist. MVD)
ARCD 19460
Rick’s Pick

One solid measure of a good month, for me, is whether it includes the receipt of a new album by Ken Peplowski. And with this one I get a bonus: an introduction to the equally fine clarinetist/saxophonist Adrian Cunningham. Supported by the crack rhythm section of pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Martin Wind, and drummer Matt Wilson, they romp their way through an assortment of standards, originals, and should-be-standards (notably Warne Marsh’s wickedly challenging and tremendously fun “Background Music”), some at breakneck bebop tempos and some at a stately midtempo swing, all of them played with audible delight and good humor. Normally I credit a rhythm section most when I notice it least (please understand that I say this as a bassist myself), but in the case of this album I kept finding myself noticing little things that Rosnes, Wind, and (especially) Wilson were doing that very briefly drew attention to themselves–but always in ways that strengthened the tune rather than distracting from it. The liner notes indicate that most of these songs were recorded in only one or two takes, which I find astounding; the whole band sounds like it’s been playing together for decades. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.

Ken Fowser
Don’t Look Down

Another strong outing by saxophonist and composer Ken Fowser, here operating in the classic tenor-and-trumpet quintet format. Don’t Look Down is an all-originals program, delivered in a strong hard bop style with the occasional excursion into bossa nova (“You’re Better Than That”) and straight bebop (“Top to Bottom”) territories. Highlights include the loping “Divided State,” which reflects its title by alternating between waltz time and a funky 4/4, and the lovely midtempo swinger “I’ll Take It from Here.” As always, Fowser’s sweet-but-powerful tone and his sense of phrasing are central to the band’s appeal, but (as with the Cunningham/Peplowski album recommended above) the rhythm section deserves special credit as well.

Nina Simone
Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles
Rick’s Pick

Nina Simone was, as they say, a piece of work–a fiercely independent, disturbingly violent and very possibly crazy musician of astounding talent and wide-ranging style. At age 25 she entered the studio at Bethlehem Records and recorded fourteen songs that established her as a one-of-a-kind talent: turning her solo on “Love Me or Leave Me” into a baroque-style fugue, inserting a quote from “Good King Wenceslas” into a heartbreaking rendition of “Little Girl Blue,” singing the title track with a strutting confidence that belies her neophyte status at the time. Eleven of the tracks for that session were released as the album Little Girl Blue, and several ended up being released as singles. When “Porgy (I Loves You Porgy)” became a hit, the label started releasing other non-album tracks from the session as singles too, generally in shortened versions. This compilation brings together all fourteen of those songs, and they are a marvel. Bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer “Tootie” Heath appear on several tracks, but many of them are just Simone with her voice and piano. For all libraries.


Willie Nelson
Things to Remember: The Pamper Demos
Real Gone Music
Rick’s Pick

Before Willie Nelson was a country music superstar in his own right, he was a Nashville song-factory writer. Employed by the unfortunately-named Pamper Music publishing company (this was in 1960, before disposable diapers existed), Nelson churned out songs at a rate of nearly one per day. He would then call on session players who didn’t have jobs on a particular day and record demos of the songs so that they could be shopped to other singers by Pamper. These demos represent the first-ever recordings of classics like “Crazy,” “Hello Walls,” and “Funny (How Time Slips Away).” Most have been released previously, mainly on quickly thrown-together budget compilations, but this marks the first time they’ve been carefully gathered and curated, with historical information included. The sound quality is surprisingly high for acetate masters, and Nelson is in fine voice on all tracks. This disc’s combination of historical interest and top-notch musical quality makes it a cinch for a Rick’s Pick. For all libraries.

Various Artists
Epilogue: A Tribute to John Duffey
Smithsonian Folkways
SFW 40228

As a founding member of both the Country Gentlemen and the Seldom Scene, mandolinist and singer John Duffey was one of the architects of “progressive bluegrass,” a subgenre characterized by expansive repertoire (often drawing on pop and modern folk music) and a jazz-influenced approach to soloing. He was also an outsized personality, a physically large man with an acerbic wit and a tendency to launch into Elvis impersonations while onstage. His death in 1996 left a large and unique hole in the bluegrass community, and this collection is the result of friends gathering in a variety of configurations over the past 16 years to record songs associated with Duffey: “Poor Ellen Smith,” “If I Were a Carpenter,” “Reason for Being,” “Sunrise”–all songs and tunes that his legion of fans will remember with fondness. The performances are all heartfelt and expert, and contributors include Dudley Connell, Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Ronnie Bowman, and even (get this) Nils Lofgren.

Cliff Westfall
Baby You Win
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

The press materials characterize Cliff Westfall’s new album as “Americana outside the box,” but it sure sounds like straight-up old-school honky-tonk country music to me. And more power to him, I say. Every once in a while I’ll hear a modern country song while I’m grocery shopping or something, and I ask myself whether the only difference between pop and country is the hat the singer’s wearing and the accent s/he sings with. Westfall himself asks a different question on the same topic: “Hey, does anybody remember laughter?” So he writes songs that partake of the clever wordplay and sharp romantic wit that were the stock in trade of country songwriters 60 years ago, and he plays and sings them (accompanied by the cream of New York City’s Americana session-player crop) in a sweet, clear voice that you could listen to all day. What this is, is country music. The very best kind of country music.

Frank Newsome
Gone Away with a Friend
Free Dirt

Like everyone else in the world, you’re probably a fan of the late, great Ralph Stanley–a singer whose style transcended bluegrass and harked back to the deepest traditions of mountain hymnody. It was one of his great characteristics that even when singing a silly novelty song, he could make it sound like there was something deeper behind it. Which, of course, there was: there was Stanley’s faith in God, which was nurtured throughout his adult life by his attendance at the Little David Church, which is presided over by Frank Newsome. Old Regular Baptist singing is in the “lined-out” style (in which the preacher sings a line of the hymn, which is then repeated back by the congregation), and Old Regular Baptist preaching cannot be entirely separated from singing. This recording of Frank Newsome–singing alone without accompaniment or congregation, except on one song–was made over the course of a summer evening at his church in 2006, and it is hair-raisingly eerie and beautiful. The program closes with prayer–which, inevitably, eventually lapses into song. For all folk collections.


Pink Flag (reissue; 2 discs)
Pink Flag
Rick’s Pick

A wise person once said “beware of ‘important’ albums; they’re like ‘interesting’ people.” Fair enough, and point taken, but here’s the thing: the first three albums by Wire are important, and interesting, and also really, really great. They basically laid out the conceptual map not only for post-punk, but also for art punk–a map that would later be followed in a variety of ways by equally important/interesting bands like Mission of Burma, Gang of Four, and R.E.M. (who covered “Strange” on their blockbuster Document album). Pink Flag (1977), Chairs Missing (1978), and 154 (1979) have been reissued before, but never like this: in multi-disc editions (featuring the predictable generous grab-bag of demos and alternative versions) packaged with hardback books filled with photos and essays. I didn’t get to see the full packages, but I’m sure they’re great. The music is phenomenal, and for those who are hearing Wire for the first time it will be a revelation: sharp, angular, simultaneously weird and very tightly focused–most songs on Pink Flag clock in at under two minutes, and several are shorter than one minute. By the third album the band was getting much stranger and more experimental; if you have to pick only one, Pink Flag is definitely the place to start.

Prefuse 73

I’m not sure I totally believe Wikipedia that Prefuse 73’s birth name is Guillermo Scott Herren–it seems too perfect and convenient somehow–but who knows; the universe is full of surprises. One thing is clear, though: the days when we could glibly categorize his music as “instrumental hip hop” are long over. On Sacrifices, he gets deep into the abstract sampladelic weirdness–which isn’t to say that the music isn’t rhythmic, and even sometimes genuinely funky, only that it’s consistently too weird and not funky enough to bear anything but the most passing resemblance to hip hop. On this album it’s consistently gentle, fascinating, and beautiful, constantly upending your expectations and replacing them with something better than what you expected (a small bass clarinet here, a soully vocal there, a steel guitar over there). Best song title: “We Lost Our Beat Tapes in Mecca.” Highly recommended to all pop collections.

Hospital (dist. Redeye)

People use lots of different words to describe drum’n’bass (intense, frenetic, busy) but “gorgeous” isn’t usually one of them. Even the subgenre known as “liquid drum’n’bass” is usually more about being chill than about generating actual beauty. But listen to the latest outing from Hospital Records mainstay Logistics, and see if you don’t find yourself actually responding to tracks like “The Light without You” (featuring vocalist Salt Ashes) and “In Your Eyes” with something very much like a swoon. Now as for me personally, I wouldn’t have minded an amen break or two somewhere in the mix to break things up a bit and give the proceedings a bit more busyness and intensity–but that’s just me. And that’s not to take anything away from this album, which is gorgeous.

East Man
Red, White & Zero
Planet Mu (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

We tend to think of hip hop as an American art form that has spread around the world, which of course it is. But it’s important to remember that while American-style hip hop has been adopted internationally, it’s also true that hip hop has been adapted worldwide, and in some places has evolved separately into something uniquely local. This is definitely the case in London, where grime has turned from a variant of hip hop into, basically, a local response to it. Inevitably, grime itself has spawned a million children and the term itself is now almost as much a cliché as “rap” is. One of those children is what Anthoney Hart (producing as East Man) calls “hi tek”: it’s a grime varietal notable for its dark atmospheres, its booming starkness, and its ability to attract A-list MC talent that most Americans have never heard of: Killa P, Darkos Strife, Eklipse, Kwam. These are rappers who amble around the rhythm more than they ride it, who mumble rather than spit, who talk about a reality that I can’t even pretend to know anything about. It’s powerful despite, and maybe even because of, its narrow cultural focus. A must for pop collections.

The Spirit of Radio: Classic Broadcast Recordings (3 discs)
Parallel Lines (dist. MVD)

This box is actually a cobbled-together set of three discs, each originally released on a different label: two are radio broadcasts of live performances (the first from 1984, the second from 1989) and one is a collection of interview snippets gathered from various points in the band’s history. The interview disc will be of interest to hardcore fans only; it’s the first two discs that make this box particularly interesting for libraries. The first one (titled Right on Target) documents a New Jersey show early in the band’s career and showcases a scrappy, talented, and deeply idiosyncratic college band just starting to hit its stride. The second (Songs for a Green World), from 1989, reveals one of the finest rock’n’roll bands in American history–probably the only one to ever cover both Pylon and Mission of Burma in the same set. The contrast is startling and thrilling, and both concerts are well recorded.


Laço Umbilical
Lusafrica (dist. MVD)

Frequently cited as heir apparent to the tradition of the great Cabo Verdean singer Cesaria Evora, Lucibela Freitas Dos Santos is actually an artist with a powerful style and voice all her own, one who embraces traditional song genres like morna and coladera while not hesitating to incorporate elements of samba or whatever else will serve the song. Her voice is an utter delight–supple and flexible and clear–but she never indulges in emotional dramatics or look-at-me technical gymnastics; arranger Toy Vieira follows her lead in that regard, creating subtle, jewel-box-like arrangements for these heart-tuggingly beautiful songs. Highly recommended to all collections.

U Brown
Repatriation (reissue)
Burning Sounds (dist. MVD)

The Burning Sounds label is doing righteous work in bringing long-out-of-print reggae recordings back to market, often with generous portions of bonus material appended. This isn’t the first time U Brown’s 1979 deejay classic Repatriation has gotten the deluxe-reissue treatment (a 2000 issue on the French Patate label included a whole different set of bonus tracks), but it’s the only such version currently available in a circulatable format. In addition to the album’s original ten tracks, this one adds material from a 10″ EP by deejay named Dickie Ranking. The latter worked in a more 1980s dancehall style (with occasional incursions of America hip hop flavor), and the pairing of these two releases doesn’t make much obvious sense–but both of them are quite good. Honestly, I came to this disc as an established U Brown fan and came away from it wanting to know much more about Dickie Ranking.

Imara/Baboon Forest
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

This album is the fruit of a romantic and musical partnership between Ugandan hip-hop artist and storyteller GNL Zamba and American singer-songwriter Miriam Tamar, who met in a Ugandan recording studio and have since become globe-trotting ambassadors for social uplift. Each of the songs on their debut album is built around a different Swahili proverb and is sung and/or rapped in a variety of languages, over a bed of musical backing that draws variously on soukous, hip hop, griot, and other stylistic elements. The sound ripples and flows like a stream over a rock bed, warm and cool at the same time, and the quiet intensity of Zamba’s declamations contrasts beautifully with the lilting beauty of Tamar’s singing. Highly recommended to all collections.

Various Artists
Unit 137 Vol. 1
Unit 137
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Not really a band, not exactly a label, only sort of a sound system, Unit 137 is a musical collective based in Southeast London and dedicated to creating culturally conscious roots and dancehall reggae, showcasing a wide variety of vocal talent. The collective has released lots of singles over the past couple of years, and their debut full-length album (which features some of those singles) features star turns by artists we’ve come to recognize and love: OnlyJoe, Ed West, Sleepy Time Ghost, Jago, and a few new faces, and honestly there is not a single weak track here. These guys show conclusively that you can make deep roots reggae that simultaneously celebrates the heritage of that music and expands its boundaries. This one is an absolute must for any library with even the slightest collecting interest in reggae.

Los Texmaniacs
Cruzando Borders
Smithsonian Folkways
SFW 40576

Few living musicians are as well-situated to convey the richness of the conjunto tradition as Max Baca, who came up as the son of a leading accordion player in Albuquerque and eventually picked up the bajo sexto, becoming so accomplished on that instrument that he was tapped to tour behind such legends as Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm, and even Flaco Jimenez. On Cruzando Borders he and his band deliver a solid set of polkas, rancheras, redovas, corridos and more, sometimes singing in English and sometimes in Spanish, sometimes nodding to country music and sometimes digging as deeply as possible into the conjunto verities. And there’s even a cameo appearance by Lyle Lovett.

Anandi Bhattacharya
Joys Abound
Riverboat (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

I first encountered singer Anandi Bhattacharya when she made a guest appearance on an album by her father, the legendary Indian slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya a few years ago (you can also see them perform together in a magnificent NPR Tiny Desk Concert). In my review of that album, I characterized her singing as “dumbfoundingly beautiful,” and I remember wishing at the time that she’d make a solo album. Well, now she has, and of course it’s spectacular. It’s not a performance of classical ragas, but rather a collection of songs both old and new that explore her musical roots while at the same time ranging well beyond traditional musical boundaries. Her voice remains a thing of wonder, and she is accompanied by the cream of India’s crop of traditional musicians, including her father. A must for all world-music collections.


June 2018


Brian Eno
Music for Installations (6 discs)

Brian Eno is generally credited with coining the term “ambient music” (and to have pioneered it, more or less, with the groundbreaking 1975 album Discreet Music), but more recently he has shifted focus a little bit and started referring to his compositions in this mode as “generative”–which is to say, created by a system that generates a constantly-changing array of sounds. His generative works tend to be more or less ambient in nature (quiet, soft, and intended to be used almost as aural “furniture” in the Erik Satie sense), and accordingly they are often created to accompany art installations. This voluptuously-packaged six-disc set brings together compositions created for that purpose between 1986 and the present; some are new pieces, some are older but previously unreleased, and some were previously available on a very limited basis. The final disc is titled Music for Future Installations, and consists of unreleased music compiled specifically for this set. Fans of Eno’s ambient/generative music know exactly what to expect, and will luxuriate in the generous helpings of floating, ethereal, contemplative sound painting on offer here, and since Eno’s work has long straddled multiple genre boundaries this box will be of interest to libraries that collect in either popular or avant-garde classical music.


Jóhann Jóhannsson
Englabörn & Variations (reissue; 2 discs)
Deutsche Grammophon
00289 479 9841

Jóhann Jóhannson died suddenly (and, so far, inexplicably) at age 48 just a few months ago, depriving the world of one of its most promising young film composers. In his honor, Deutsche Grammophon has released a remastered version of Jóhannsson’s 2002 debut album with a companion disc of “variations”–not remixes, exactly, but re-realizations of the original pieces created by the likes of Theatre of Voices, Alex Somers, and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Englabörn was a fascinating album to begin with, one that took acoustic recordings of piano and strings and ran them (often very delicately and subtly) through digital filters of various kinds; as one might anticipate, the “reworks” on the second disc tend to take these sound manipulations even further, but always with deep respect for the original works. This is a deeply beautiful and (given the circumstances) unusually melancholy album.

Johannes Brahms
To Brahms, With Love: From the Cello of Pablo Casals
Amit Peled; Noreen Polera

Gah, Brahms. Here’s the thing: most of the time I find his music too emotional and bombastic. But then he’ll suddenly come across with a melodic passage so achingly perfect that I forgive him everything else. And I find that I encounter those moments more often with his chamber music, so I gravitate towards these smaller-scale works, and I haven’t even yet mentioned the fact that one of the selling points of this disc is the fact that Amit Peled (a magnificent cellist) is playing the 1733 Goffriller cello that Casals used for his own recording of these same pieces in the 1930s. So there are all kinds of reasons for a library to jump at the chance to buy this recording, which I can promise you will be especially beloved by the many listeners who love Brahms much more straightforwardly than I do.

Scott Johnson
Mind Out of Matter
Alarm Will Sound / Alan Pierson
Tzadik (dist. Redeye)
TZ 4021

Scott Johnson is not the first composer to use the musical pitches of conversational speech as a melodic source, but he’s probably the one who has developed that technique most fully. His latest album is an eight-part suite for large ensemble that takes spliced and cut-up recordings of talks on atheism by the late philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, transcribes the pitches generated by Dennett’s voice, and uses both the sound of his voice and the pitches it creates as the basis for a sprawling, complex, and enormously fun piece of classical music. “Sprawling, complex, and enormously fun” has long been the musical wheelhouse of the new-music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, and that group has long championed music that spans the worlds of avant-garde classical and pop music–never more effectively than on this magnificent recording of a magisterial (if polemically heavy-handed) work.

Antonio Rosetti
Symphonies & Concertos Vol. 1 & 2 (reissue, 2 discs)
Hamburger Symphoniker / Johannes Moesus
Dabringhaus und Grimm (dist. Naxos)
601 2056-2

If Antonio Rosetti’s music doesn’t sound as Italian as his name would lead you to expect, it’s probably because his real name was Franz Anton Rösler, he was born in Bohemia, and he spent the entirety of his all-too-brief life working in Germany. He was a contemporary of Mozart and a likely influence on him, though of course Rosetti’s genius–substantial though it was–ended up being eclipsed by Mozart’s, as just about everyone else’s has been. This package brings together two discs of concertos and symphonies originally released in 2001 and 2003, performed by the outstanding modern-instrument ensemble Hamburger Symphoniker. In addition to the five symphonies on the program, there are concertos for flute and for oboe, and a symphonie concertante for two violins and orchestra. The playing sparkles and the recorded sound is excellent, and all of the music is purely delightful.

Arvo Pärt
The Symphonies
NFM Wrocaw Philharmonic / Tõnu Kaljuste
ECM 2600

Arvo Pärt
Lamentate; These Words
Bruckner Orchester Linz; Make Namekawa / Dennis Russell Davies
Orange Mountain Music (dist. PAIS)

These days we mostly think of Arvo Pärt as a choral composer, and with good reason; even if his works for chorus weren’t what first catapulted him to international acclaim in the 1980s, those are the ones that have really cemented his reputation as a pillar of the “sacred minimalism” school in the decades since. These two discs remind us that Pärt is also an orchestral composer par excellence–and that his work has not only not always been minimalist, but has also not always been tonal. Before he fully developed his personal voice, he composed in more or less the standard mid-century style: atonal, serial. The ECM disc presents all four of Pärt’s symphonies, which were written in 1963, 1966, 1971, and 2008 — and the stylistic changes you hear between them are fascinating to track. Two of his 21st-century orchestral works are presented on the Wroclaw Philharmonic album, and these will sound more familiar (and, let’s just say it, more comfortable) to those who have become Pärt fans within the past twenty years–though the opening sections of Lamentate have a whiff of the Wagnerian to them that some might find startling. All of the performances are excellent.

Various Composers
The Dark Lord’s Music
Martin Eastwell
Music and Media
Rick’s Pick

No, this isn’t a Norwegian black metal album. (If it were, the title would be in Harry Potter-style faux Latin — something like Faeculum mordandum or Crucifixium infante innocenti). To my relief, it turned out to be a generous selection of pieces for lute from a collection owned by the musician and religious philosopher Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury. In this collection are works by (as one might expect) John Dowland and Robert Johnson, but also by such otherwise little-known composers as Du Cast, Cuthbert Hely, and Diomedes Cato–and the program concludes with a pavan by Edward himself. Martin Eastwell plays all of them with grace and panache, no mean feat given the technical difficulties some of them pose. And the production quality is remarkable: I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a lute so clearly and carefully rendered in a recording.

Claude Debussy
Préludes, Books I & II (2 discs)
Terry Lynn Hudson
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1620

You know that feeling you get when you suddenly realize that someone is still talking to you, when you thought they had stopped talking several minutes ago? I have to confess that I get that feeling often when listening to Debussy’s piano music. (“Oh, was that piece not over yet?”) So I approached this complete set of his preludes with — well, not trepidation exactly, but certainly low expectations of engagement. But pianist Terry Lynn Hudson makes a strong argument for these pieces. She doesn’t try to turn them into anything more exciting than what they are, but through her deep feeling for them and her understated virtuosity she shows how Debussy’s musical impressionism can be deeply engaging on its own terms. Her playing makes me feel like I need to explore further, and she’s the first pianist to achieve that. With me, anyway.


Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette
After the Fall (2 discs)

These guys have now been playing together as the Standards Trio for roughly 30 years, and of course it shows. Each of them is not only a first-order musical genius in his own right, but also a walking encyclopedia of the jazz repertoire, and when the three of them play together the feeling is uniquely warm and alive. Their most recent recording has an interesting backstory: it was recorded live in concert in 1998, on the occasion of Jarrett’s return to performing after a two-year pause in his career brought on by chronic fatigue syndrome. The concert was never intended to be recorded for commercial release, but it went so well that Jarrett sought out the board tape and found it to be “not really bad at all.” Indeed, it’s really quite good in terms of sound quality, and the playing is electric. It’s an all-bop program: “Doxy,” “Scrapple from the Apple,” “Autumn Leaves,” etc., with some love ballads thrown in. And Jarrett’s habitual vocal noises–usually so intrusive and distracting on his trio recordings–are barely audible most of the time, which makes this set a particularly good introduction to this group’s remarkable art.

Thelonious Sphere Monk
World Galaxy/Alpha Pup
Rick’s Pick

The thing about Thelonious Monk is that while his compositions were hugely influential and continue to loom large in the book of jazz standards (“‘Round Midnight,” “Epistrophy,” “Straight, No Chaser,” “Well You Needn’t,” etc.) he just didn’t write that many of them. This means that artists who want to pay tribute to his genius tend to try to differentiate themselves from the pack by means of creative settings and arrangements, and no ensemble has yet done so as winningly as MAST. This stylistically sprawling disc consists of a continuously-mixed assortment of Monk tunes presented as everything from Latin funk to glitchy jungle to noir atmospherics–and some of them in styles that are completely unidentifiable. This album’s clearest antecedent is the long out-of-print Hal Willner project titled That’s the Way I Feel Now (and if you own a copy, could you burn me one? My 1985 cassette version is no longer fit for purpose), which was similarly wide-ranging and affectionate. A must for all jazz collections.

Roger Kellaway Trio
New Jazz Standards, Vol. 3
DCD 716
Rick’s Pick

Each volume in this series so far has earned a Rick’s Pick designation, and the streak continues. New Jazz Standards is the title of a collection of compositions by the great jazz trumpeter Carl Saunders, and on the third installment in this series of recordings drawing from that collection we have a stellar trio led by pianist Roger Kellaway and also featuring bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer’s drummer Peter Erskine. It may seem slightly arrogant for a composer to refer to his own pieces as “new standards,” but honestly, if he didn’t do it himself everyone else would: these are tunes with the kind of rich melodic appeal and timeless, straight-ahead structure that characterizes all of the traditional jazz standards, and it’s difficult to imagine a more compelling advocate for them than Kellaway.

The Django Festival AllStars
Attitude Manouche
Resilience Music Alliance
No cat. no.

The term “gypsy jazz” has reference to a very specific musical subgenre: a fast, virtuosic, hard-driving style of hot jazz that emerged in France in the 1920s and 1930s among the Manouche population. Guitarist Django Reinhardt and his Quintette du Hot Club de France (featuring violinist Stéphane Grapelli) are generally considered the apotheosis of this style, and for this reason the name “Django” is invoked frequently in the names and album titles of contemporary bands that continue to foster and expand on the gypsy jazz style. The latest by the Django Festival AllStars finds the ensemble doing both–celebrating the music’s roots and enlarging its borders–and doing it in fine style, with both traditional headlong rave-ups and slow, sometimes dark and brooding balladry (notably a moving arrangement of John Williams’ main theme from Schindler’s List). Purists might find this album a bit too forward-thinking, but that’s why we don’t usually pay much attention to purists here at CD HotList. Recommended to all jazz collections.

Glenn Crytzer Orchestra
Ain’t It Grand?
No cat. no.

If you find the purists getting up in arms over the innovations of the Django Festival AllStars disc, then soothe them with this: a generous set of 1930s hot-jazz and swing standards (and originals crafted in the finest old-school style) recorded in such a manner as to approximate the sound of vintage 78 rpm shellac records (monophonic, natch) but without the intrusive surface noise and with a greater level of sonic detail and clarity. The overall sound is still a bit muted–little if any high end, hardly any bass definition–but the effect is charming and the tunes themselves are fantastic; good luck guessing which ones are new and which ones are old without peeking at the liner notes. Formalism, you say? Eh, maybe. But I’ll tell the anti-purists the same thing I’ll tell the purists: it’s the music itself that matters, not the degree to which it either preserves tradition or expands it. This music is a blast.

Leslie Pintchik
You Eat My Food, You Drink My Wine, You Steal My Girl!
Pintch Hard
Rick’s Pick

About a year and a half ago I called Leslie Pintchik “one of the finest bandleaders in the field of straight-ahead jazz right now,” someone who “plays piano like a combination of Bud Powell and Bill Evans.” That’s about the highest praise I know how to muster, and her latest outing just reaffirms my longstanding impression of her talents. This one focuses on originals, with two standard ballads (one of them, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” played charmingly as a samba) tucked into the program near the beginning. This time out what I’m noticing more than usual is her phenomenally sure-footed sense of rhythm, which stands her in very good stead on the complicated title track and on the agitated, boppish fifth track (the humorous title of which is too long to cite here). In fact, both of those tracks suggest another compositional point of comparison: Thelonious Monk. Anyway, this album is a must-have for all jazz collections.

Allen Vaché
It Might As Well Be Swing
Arbors (dist. MVD)
ARCD 19461

Well-executed small-ensemble swing is one of the great pleasures of life, and few are as well equipped to bestow that pleasure on the world as clarinetist and bandleader Allen Vaché, who has been on the scene doing just that for over forty years now. Here he delivers a wonderful meat-and-potatoes set of standards accompanied by pianist Mark McKee, bassist Charlie Silva, and drummer Walt Hubbard, with guest appearances by two other clarinetists: Erin Davis-Guiles and Vaché’s daughter Vanessa. There’s nothing groundbreaking or innovative here, just lots of world-class jazz played in a time-honored style by someone whose range, flexibility, and powerful sense of swing are unsurpassed.


Joe Goldmark
Blue Steel
LB 011

Is there any country-music instrument more widely beloved and commonly disparaged than the pedal steel guitar? (Well, maybe the banjo.) Its unique sound is disparaged as whiny and maudlin by some, and celebrated as soulful by others. One thing is certain, though: in the hands of a tasteful player, the steel guitar can bring a new flavor to just about any genre of pop music, and that’s part of what Joe Goldmark is doing here. Yes, you’ve got your country weepers (“A Love So Beautiful,” “Look What Thoughts Will Do”) but there’s also a cover version of Graham Parker’s reggae-flavored “A Howling Wind” and a calypso version of Bob Marley’s “Natty Dread,” not to mention some R&B, blues, and even a tango (well, sort of). Goldmark isn’t a stunt guitarist; his playing is restrained and tasteful throughout. Very nice.

Pharis and Jason Romero
Sweet Old Religion
Rick’s Pick

There are lots of husband-and-wife folk duos out there these days, but I can’t think of a single one that hits the sweet spot of songwriting quality, playing skill, and perfect vocal compatibility as solidly as the Romeros do. They write their songs together, and both are fine players; Jason is also an extremely accomplished banjo builder and he plays two of his own instruments here, one an open-back model for clawhammer style and the other a resonator model for the more bluegrassy numbers. There’s an admirable stylistic range here: straight-up honky-tonk country (“The Salesman,” “Come On Love”), straight-up bluegrass (“Salt & Powder”), gently jazzy neo-Tin Pan Alley (“You Are the Shining Light”), quiet acoustic singer-songriter fare (much of the rest of the album), and all of it is both beautifully sung and deeply emotionally resonant.

Vanilla (reissue)
Topic (dist. Redeye)

“Vanilla” is a pretty funny title for this album, because as Britfolk groups go, Blowzabella has never been anything like vanilla. Their sound is a bracing and rollicking mix of British and European folk traditions, one that draws on songs and tunes from all over the Continent and mixes them up with gleeful disregard for stylistic borders. This long-out-of-print album (originally issued in 1990) is being reissued now in honor of the group’s 40th anniversary, and finds them frequently sounding quite a bit like the Breton folk-rock group Malicorne: lots of hurdy-gurdy and stomping polka tunes, but with accordions and saxophones instead of crumhorns. The folks at Topic missed an opportunity to add some additional material to the reissue (this CD offers four more tracks than the original LP, but is identical to the original CD version), but it still weighs in at over an hour of outstanding music. Recommended to all folk collections.

Moira Smiley
Unzip the Horizon
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

If what you’re looking for is “folk music” in the sense of traditional songs and tunes rendered in a style recognizably connected to a specific culture or ethnic community, then you’ll want to look elsewhere than the latest album from Moira Smiley. Instead, what you get here is a strange and magnificent collection of mostly original songs performed in a wide variety of mostly uncategorizable styles with mostly acoustic accompaniment. Sometimes there are clear stylistic influences: the strong Celtic undercurrent of “Wise Man,” the hint of Van Morrison in her word repetitions on “World Will Not Pause,” the Appalachian call-and-response feel of “Dressed in Yellow.” But everything somehow also sounds completely unique, and this is one of the most strangely beautiful and compelling albums I’ve heard this year in any genre (or none).


Sonar with David Torn

If the opening bars of this quartet album sound familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve recently been listening to King Crimson circa 1980: those interlocking arpeggiations in odd time signatures, those tritones, those rhythmic patterns going in and out of phase. And that’s not a criticism, by any means: we need more, much more, exploration of these ideas. What Sonar brings to them that is particularly new on this album is the guest presence of David Torn, who contributes a distinctly different element to the band’s established voice–an element of dark intensity and sonic wildness that contrasts vividly and illuminatingly with the main group’s studied formal discipline. This is marvelous music that sounds like nothing else on the market right now.

Webb Wilder & the Beatnecks
Powerful Stuff!
Rick’s Pick

Prejudice disclaimer: there are lots of things that tend to push an album to the bottom of my “to listen” pile. Two of them are: guys making goofy faces on the cover, and the phrase “Southern rock” in the press materials. This one has both, but for some reason I slung it into the player anyway. (OK, I’ll be honest: I gave it a listen because I thought I might be able to classify it as “country,” and I always struggle to populate the Folk/Country section.) The bad news, sort of, was that it’s definitely not country; the good news is that it’s brilliantly fun and catchy R&B-flavored roots rock of a kind that I would not characterize as “Southern rock” except in the way that, say, Carl Perkins and Stevie Ray Vaughn were. The program is actually a crazy-quilt of live and studio recordings made in a variety of locations between 1985 and 1993. Alternately funky, greasy, rockish, chugging, and, yes, even occasionally goofy, this album will appeal to anyone who wished the Fabulous Thunderbirds had a bit more oomph. If you don’t remember the Fabulous Thunderbirds, then take my word for it: this one’s a blast. I can only imagine what Wilder and his band must be like live.

Venetian Snares and Daniel Lanois
Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois
Timesig/Planet Mu (dist. Redeye)

Challenge Me Foolish
Planet Mu (dist. Redeye)

Aaron Funk (a.k.a. Venetian Snares) and Mike Paradinas (a.k.a. μ-Ziq) are both pioneers of experimental beat-based subgenres of electronica: Funk helped to create and define breakcore, and Paradinas did the same with drill’n’bass. What unites them is a tendency towards the extremely complex, the funky, and the sonically assaultive. For that reason, both of these albums represent notable departures. Funk’s collaboration with noted producer and solo artist Daniel Lanois finds him wedding his intricate beatmaking to Lanois’ dreamy and atmospheric steel guitar playing, which together create a constant sonic push-me-pull-you dynamic, with Funk’s breakbeats and samples skittering and smacking up against Lanois’ floating chordal clouds. The new μ-Ziq album is actually not a new one at all, but a collection of material that was originally written and recorded in the late 1990s and never got released. If that makes it sound like a random and off-hand grab-bag of second-rate music, you’re about 30% right: random, yes, but off-hand and second-rate, no. This is remarkably wide-ranging music: the low-key jungle frenzy of “Bassbins” segues directly into the beatless and orchestral “Robin Hood Gate,” and “Durian” is composed mainly of multitracked wordless vocals layered with cheesy synths. There’s some silliness, notably in the form of ironic 1970s keyboard noodling, but overall this is a highly enjoyable album.

The Smithereens
Sunset Blvd (dist. Redeye)

This album is just what it says: a collection of covers by the Smithereens, the premier meat-and-potatoes rock band of the 1990s, all performed by the group’s original lineup. Most of these tracks have appeared before in scattered locations — the B side of a single here, a tribute or soundtrack album there — but several are released here for the first time ever. As one might expect, it’s something of a mixed bag: covering Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs (“Wooly Bully”) was a great idea; covering Irma Thomas (“Ruler of My Heart”) was a gutsy move that didn’t pay off. Their version of the Clash’s “Up in Heaven” looks like a strange choice on paper, but the song ends up sounding like it was written for them. On balance, the album will make a great choice for libraries with strong pop collections — or for individuals still mourning the untimely death of Pat DiNizio, the band’s lead singer.


Kiran Ahluwalia
7 Billion
Kiran Music

I’ve been a fan of Indian/Canadian singer Kiran Ahluwalia for a long time and I’ve listened to a lot of her work. Unless there’s something I’ve missed in her catalogue, I’d say that 7 Billion is by far the most rockish of her albums to date. That’s not to say that it’s “rock,” by any means: over the course of these six long tracks her lovely, sinuous voice weaves in and around instrumental arrangements that incorporate elements of Malian desert blues, hints of fado, intimations of Southern rock, and more than a hint here and there of Punjabi folk music. Her partner Rez Abassi, a brilliant guitarist and composer himself, produced the album and helped with the arrangements, and the end result is something both beautiful and unique. Highly recommended to all libraries.

Qais Essar
The Ghost You Love Most
No cat. no.

And speaking of rockish (and also jazzish), consider the latest album from composer and rabab player Qais Essar. Hailing from Afghanistan, Essar pieced together The Ghost You Love Most from recordings he made during various travels around the world, all of it based on his original compositions and featuring guest artists on instruments like fretless guitar, harp, kaval, bass veena, organ, and others. The sound is not exactly a fusion, but more of an emulsion: fully Indian and Afghan and Iranian tonalities emerging in conjunction with (but not fused into) Western rhythmic structures and chord progressions. Very, very nice.

The Turbans
The Turbans
Six Degrees
Rick’s Pick

Are you planning a party? Want some music that is guaranteed to get people up on their feet, even while they’re turning to each other and saying “What the heck IS this?”? Then grab the new album by the Turbans, a seven-or-so-piece pan-European folk/dance/rock group that plays unapologetically mongrel music with palpable and infectious glee. The melodies you hear are often astringently modal, the rhythms are complex and multilayered, and the vocals are sung in a variety of languages. You’ll hear influences from Turkey, Bulgaria, Morocco, Israel, Greece, Spain, England, and France here: gypsy violin, North African percussion, Indian raga, American funk, whatever. As regular readers of CDHL will know by now, I can bestow no higher honor on an album than to say it’s “tons of fun.” Well, the fun of this one is measured by the megaton.

Cedric Congo Meets Mad Professor
Ariwa Dub Showcase
Ariwa/Proper (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

By billing himself as “Cedric Congo,” roots reggae legend Cedric Mytton is reminding you of his former role as lead singer for one of the most hair-raisingly dread harmony groups of the 1970s. The Congos’ album Heart of the Congos remains a monument of the roots-and-culture period and arguably the high point of creativity at Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark studio. On his new album, Mytton teams up with English producer Mad Professor, himself a pillar and architect of the UK roots sound; using a blend of old and new backing tracks, they create a new classic, nicely balancing digital smoothness with roots-and-culture heaviness — thanks in part to the Professor’s well-advised use of human musicians (including Horseman, Black Steel, and Leroy “Mafia” Heywood) instead of digital rhythm tracks. Each song is presented in “showcase” style, with a dub version following. A must for all reggae collections.