PICK OF THE MONTH
Anima Sacra: Sacred Baroque Arias
Jakub Józef Orliński; Il Pomo D’Oro / Maxim Emelyanychev
Erato (dist. Naxos)
This is the debut solo album by Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński — and it also features the world-premiere recordings of eight of the eleven pieces on the program, all of them motets or arias drawn from oratorios written in 18th-century Germany and Italy. These pieces include a stunningly beautiful Confitebor tibi setting by Neapolitan composer Nicola Fago — an obscure Neapolitan composer whose sacred music is even less well-known than he is — and works by the likes of Domenico Sarro, Francesco Durante, and Gaetano Maria Schiassi. In addition to these deeply obscure pieces are more-familiar fare from Johann David Heinichen, Johann Adolf Hasse, and the always wonderful Jan Dismas Zelenka, whose Smanie di dolci affetti and S’una sol lagrima are highlights of the album. Orliński’s singing is amazing; his voice is unusually dark-hued for a countertenor, and always sweet and pure, never shrill or forced. The Il Pomo D’Oro ensemble provide marvelous support on period instruments, and the whole album is simply a joy.
J.H. Dahlhoff & Anonymous
Orkiestra Czasów Zarazy
Ayros (dist. Naxos)
And while we’re speaking of Poland, consider this delightful collection of 18th-century dance tunes from the famed collection of J.H. Dahlhoff, a collection distinguished by its significant number of tunes written in a Polish style. Dahlhoff was himself a “village musician” from Dinkier, in Westphalia, and one of the things that makes his collection historically interesting is that it shows how deeply into German territory the Polish influence had crept by the early- to mid-18th century. The program is bracketed by two Polish-style pieces written by Dahlhoff, but consists mainly of tunes that were probably collected from itinerant musicians of the time, the composers of which are of course entirely lost to history. The six-piece Orkiestra Czasów Zarazy plays these melodies with a shifting instrumentation that includes bagpipe, fiddle, nyckelharpa, viola da gamba, harpsichord, and trombone, among other instruments. Perhaps not an essential purchase for every library, but definitely worth considering for all early music collections.
Symphony #3 “Organ” & Other Works
Paul Jacobs; Utah Symphony / Thierry Fischer
Hyperion (dist. PIAS)
Here at CD HotList we’re always happy to support a local artist when we can, and this magnificent new recording of orchestral works by Camille Saint-Saëns (the first in a projected three-volume series) offers a great opportunity to do just that. Playing under the baton of Thierry Fischer, the Utah Symphony has become one of the most impressive American orchestras on the scene in recent years, especially for one located in a second-tier city. Utah’s Wasatch Front offers an unusually deep pool of musical talent, and this orchestra has profitably drawn on that population for decades now, with consistently impressive results. The group’s interpretations of these three works (the Trois tableaux symphoniques d’après la foi and Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila, in addition to the title piece) are consistently impressive, its tone both rich and balanced and its phrasing suitably Romantic without being overweeningly dramatic. When the series is complete, it will mark the first time an American orchestra has recorded all five of Saint-Saëns’ symphonies, so libraries should be on the watch for all of the installments as they emerge. Highly recommended to all libraries.
El León de Oro / Peter Phillips
Hyperion (dist. PIAS)
Although he is known primarily as both the founder and the conductor of the Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips is also involved with several other choral ensembles across Europe, including the outstanding El León de Oro from Asturias, Spain. This group’s latest recording is a collection of polyphonic works by relatively obscure Renaissance composers, some of them from the Franco-Flemish region and some from the Iberian peninsula. While names like Orlande de Lassus, Tomás Luis de Victoria, and (especially) Giovanni da Palestrina will be familiar to most classical-music lovers, figures like Dominique Phinot and Nicolas Gombert are likely to be recognized only by specialists. The program itself is organized to flow from penitential works (notably settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah and of the legendarily powerful Media vita text) to expressions of devotion and praise. Some are works for double choir (an approach of which Phinot was one of the early adopters), and all benefit from El León de Oro’s combination of large numbers–for this recording the group consists of no fewer than 33 singers–and rich blend. A must for all collections of Rennaissance music.
In the Loop
WoodWired is a duo consisting of bass clarinetist Cheyenne Cruz and flutist Hannah Leffler, who perform their original compositions with the help of looping software that allows them to layer and alter passages in real time. This approach allows the duo to take a somewhat more playful approach to their music than is typical with new-music ensembles, and the result is intricate, stylistically wide-ranging, and completely delightful. On the programmatic Yousafszai (a tribute to Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafszai), moments of lovely counterpoint are interrupted by simulated gunfire and followed by searching, poignant melodic lines; The 101 frankly rocks out, with layers of bass clarinet holding down the bassline while additional layers of clarinet and flute dance atop it. Red Forest strongly evokes both mid-century academic avant-gardism and mid-1970s dub reggae, but it is immediately followed by a fine Astor Piazzolla arrangement. Each track on this fine album breaks different ground, and I promise it’s like nothing you’ve heard before. Any library supporting a winds program would do well to add In the Loop to its collection.
New Focus Recordings
With the vocal and instrumental compositions featured on this recording, Reiko Füting seeks to “explore the psychological nature of memory, as it is projected onto the compositional device of musical quotation. By realizing this device in the entire musical spectrum of assimilation, integration, disintegration, and segregation, while moving freely between clear borders and gradual transitions, quotation and memory may function as a means to reflect upon contemporary artists, cultural, social, and political phenomena.” That’s a pretty full conceptual agenda, and as is always the case with such music, that agenda begs a fundamental question: is the music itself (as opposed to its philosophical/conceptual foundation) worth your attention? The answer in this case is yes. Several of these works constitute contemporary responses to pieces by baroque composer Heinrich Schütz, while another is based on the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and another is a piece for vocal quartet and instrumental ensemble that takes a Debussy piano prelude as its source material. All of this music is challenging and academic; most of it is also both interesting and compelling.
Ave Maria: Baroque Recital
Soundset Recxordings (dist. Albany)
This is not your typical baroque guitar recording. For one thing, guitarist and arranger Raphaella Smits has selected a somewhat unusual program of compositions originally for keyboard or violin as well as the more common lute pieces: Bach’s Prelude BWV 846 (in an arrangement based on Charles Gounod’s adaptation) and second keyboard partita (BWV 1004), selections from a Purcell keyboard suite, a gorgeous arrangement of one of Telemann’s fantasias for solo violin, and a couple of lute pieces by Silvius Weiss. Smits plays an eight-string guitar, which gives her quite a bit of additional range and stops her having to make the kinds of register adjustments that might be required with a conventional six-string guitar. Her playing is marvelous–virtuosic without being showy, and emotionally expressive within the constraints of the baroque idiom. Highly recommended.
Paula Matthusen; Olivia Valentine
Between Systems and Grounds (cassette only)
Carrier (dist. Redeye)
No cat. no.
We’ll close out this month’s Classical section with a recording that is something of a curiosity: a cassette-only release by the electronic compositional team of Paula Matthusen and Olivia Valentine. (N.B. — Although the release is technically cassette-only, the cassette does come with a digital download code.) The music itself isn’t a curiosity, though it’s certainly interesting: to create this series of twelve compositions, Mathusen and Valentine took samples of environmentally-recorded source material from locations in Wisconsin and Georgia (insects, frogs, a lawnmower, a thunderstorm, wind, etc.) and manipulated them in real time, creating a dark and constantly-shifting array of noises that are rarely, if ever, recognizable. The result is eerie and quite beautiful.
Joys and Solitudes
The latest from pianist and composer Jonathan Avishai is a wonderful collection of subdued but complex and fascinating modern jazz. After opening with a slow and contemplative take on the Duke Ellington standard “Mood Indigo,” the remainder of the program is given over to very different fare: original compositions by Avishai that vary from quiet chamber jazz (“Tango,” the gorgeous jazz waltz “Shir Boker”) to rather abstract contructs that challenge the ear without assaulting it (“Joy,” “When Things Fall Apart”) and delicate contrapuntal music that sounds like the kind of jazz Bach might have written (“Lya”). All of it is very lovely in that classic “ECM jazz” way: quiet, intellectual, impressionistic.
Emmet Cohen Trio
Dirty in Detroit: Live at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café
No cat. no.
Emmet Cohen is one of the most exciting young pianists on the New York scene right now, and his latest album as a leader finds him moving from strength to strength. It also finds him displaying serious guts: opening with Thelonious Monk’s “Teo,” and then proceeding to feature no fewer than five Fats Waller numbers during the set is a bold move, and one that Cohen pulls off with the apparent effortlessness that has already become his trademark. Everyone plays brilliantly, but the communication between Cohen and drummer Kyle Poole is particularly noteworthy throughout the album, especially on their rollicking, dynamically varied take on Cedar Walton’s “Bremond’s Blues.” The band can be cool and swinging and it can be big and romantic, sometimes making that shift within seconds, as when Cohen segues without pause from “Two Sleepy People” into “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” The live setting gives this album a particular charge of energy and emotion, and it can be confidently recommended to every library collection.
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)
For this challenging and fascinating album, trumpeter and composer Nate Wooley has gathered an impressive quartet that also features steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, drummer Ryan Sawyer, and the brilliant guitarist Mary Halvorsen to create an ambitious piece of conceptual art music. The three movements of this work were written with the Columbia Icefield (the largest glacial formation in the Rocky Mountains) in mind, and with the intention of “trying to build structures that have a feeling of being really large and slightly disturbing, but also natural,” in Wooley’s words. Using a combination of live playing and electronics (the latter being used very sparely and tastefully), Wooley and his ensemble alternate between forbidding skronk, peaceful lyricism, and relatively gentle noise passages to create those large and disturbing, but also natural musical constructs, and the result may not always be easy on the ear, but it’s consistently interesting.
Ehud Asherie Trio
Wild Man Blues
There’s much to be said for pushing the boundaries of jazz, for expanding its horizons and building new musical conceptions on its old stylistic foundations. However, there is also something to be said for embracing and celebrating jazz tradition–and luckily, we don’t have to choose between them, but can encourage and foster both approaches. Pianist Ehud Asherie is solidly in the “embracing and celebrating tradition” camp, and although his style is fresh and inventive, he is standing hip-deep in the verities on his latest album as a leader. Opening with a lovely arrangement of Louis Armstrong’s “Wild Man Blues,” he proceeds to deliver a program that includes two Charlie Parker tunes, a bossa, the ballad standard “Oh, Lady Be Good,” and Dizzy Gillespie’s Afro-Cuban classic “And Then She Stopped.” Asherie and his trio swing like no one’s business, and the album is a delight from start to finish.
You’re Gonna Hear from Me
Arbors Jazz (dist. MVD)
Also working in a trad/straight-ahead jazz mode is trumpeter James Suggs on his debut album. Leading a quintet that features tenor man Houston Person, pianist Lafayette harris, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash, Suggs delivers a standards-heavy program that varies in style between cool, hard bop, and trad–from the second-line stylings of Suggs’ original “My Baby Kinda Sweet” and the slow blues of “The Ripple” (another original) to a sweetly loping mid-tempo take on Duke Ellington’s “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream” and the hard-swinging “Rachel’s Blues.” Suggs has a wonderfully golden, burnished tone, and the group plays together marvelously. Here’s hoping for more soon from this outstanding young talent.
Time and Place
No cat. no.
The debut album from fiddler and composer George Jackson is delightfully deceptive. At first listen it sounds like an old-time project: traditional tunes played on fiddle, clawhammer banjo, guitar, mandolin, and bass. But listen again: first of all, these are all original tunes; second of all, some of them are in no meaningful sense “traditional”: check out the crooked time signatures (a hallmark of Jackson’s compositions) and weirdly sideways chord changes on “Cabin on the Cumberland,” for example, not to mention the prog-folk waltz of “Cumberland River Roll” and the modal twists and turns of “Falls Avenue.” Imagine if Tony Rice or David Grisman had come up playing old-time music rather than bluegrass, and you’ll get an idea of the general feel of this album. It’s fantastic.
Texas Hillbillies (4 discs)
JSP (dist. MVD)
This four-disc set is a treasure trove of previously lost or at least deeply obscure material: early recordings of Texas string bands and soloists, all originally issued on 78 rpm discs between 1922 and 1937. The restored sound is pretty impressive, especially on the later tracks (there’s only so much you can do to pretty up a 96-year-old shellac recording), but even where the sound is atrocious the music is sometimes shockingly good. Just cue up Eck Robertson’s 1922 solo recording of “Sallie Gooden,” and prepare to be amazed. Also impressive is the array of styles and band configurations on offer here: you’ll of course hear plenty of classic Texas-style fiddling, but also the odd Irish tune, early versions of later Western swing standards and rags, and cowboy songs, all played by a wide variety of ensembles and soloists. As a pure listening experience, these discs will appeal mainly to hardcore fans of the genre, but as a library purchase this set can be considered essential to any folk or country collection.
Backroads, Rivers & Memories: The Rare & Unreleased John Hartford
Shanon/Real Gone Music
When John Hartford died of cancer at the too-young age of 63, we lost more than just the guy who wrote “Gentle on My Mind.” We also lost one of the few true originals in the realm of country music, someone whose banjo playing was more unique than most people noticed, whose fiddling was far more technically interesting than he wanted you to notice, and whose musical personality was shaped as much by riverboats as by mountains and hollows. He was a strange combination of traditionalist, modernist, and hippy, and he was a huge influence on just about everyone. This disc brings together 16 solo demos, three live radio performances, and eight singles released by his family band the Ozark Mountain Trio. Unfortunately, the private tapes from which these recordings were mastered included no information about where and when most of the tracks were recorded, but they’re still both fascinating from a historical perspective and wonderful to hear.
Holy cow, I love this album. I’m not exactly sure where it fits, genre-wise: it might sound like pop punk to some, but it sounds like power pop to me, minus the lush harmonies. What you get instead are undeniable melodic hooks and chord progressions that will pull your heart right out of your chest even as you’re being bludgeoned by them about the head and shoulders. No wanky guitar solos (there are some guitar solos, just no wanky ones), no fancy sonics, no samples or electronic percussion, just a crap-ton of guitar and gorgeously crafted songs. It’s hard to identify standout tracks on such a consistently brilliant record, but “2 Real” melted my heart (partly because of the brief appearance of some truly lush harmonies) and “Shelley Duvall” did too. Yeah, it’s only 29 minutes long, but this is the happiest half-hour you’ll have all year.
Crate Six Seven
Hospital (dist. Redeye)
This is the debut full-length from the mysterious drum’n’bass producer known as Mitekiss. He’s actually been working for something like 20 years, which means he was there close to the music’s original inception as jungle back in 1990s London, and which may explain his wide-ranging style: he’s clearly seen it all, from early jump-up and amen variants to later, jazzier and more liquid genre offshoots. What he does phenomenally well here is create a balance of heavyweight grooves and soothing textures, incorporating vocals on several tracks and creating a shifting array of moods, all clustering around that 170 rpm sweet spot. This is one of the most satisfying drum’n’bass albums I’ve heard in years.
Mark Stewart and Maffia
Learning to Cope with Cowardice/The Lost Tapes (reissue; 2 discs)
After the Pop Group broke up in 1980, singer/lyricist Mark Stewart relocated from London to New York City to rethink his musical vision. He found himself simultaneously inspired by two things: the emerging American hip hop culture, and the sounds of heavy machinery on construction sites. When he returned home, he teamed up with On-U Sound founder and producer Adrian Sherwood to produce some of the rawest and most confrontational music of the post-punk period, an album that sounds no less unhinged today than it did then. For this reissue, another album’s worth of previously-unreleased material from the same period (mostly alternate takes and dub versions of songs on the original album) is appended as well, and while it will mostly appeal to completist On-U Sound fans it’s all quite interesting and, if not exactly “fun,” at least engaging.
Concordia/K!7 (dist. Redeye)
It’s not often that an album comes across my desk that is recommended equally to fans of Missy Elliott and Meredith Monk, but in this case I get it. Honestly, listening to the debut full-length from this artist puts me as much in mind of M.I.A. as any of the others in the accompanying R.I.Y.L. list: a deceptively winsome voice weaving through beats that are by turns assaultive and restrained and atmospherics that are by turns harsh and beautiful. Every song is like music from some unidentifiable foreign culture, or maybe another planet, and yet every one is accessible once you give yourself a moment to adjust. Notice, for example, how beautiful “Daddy” is despite its deeply strange structure, and how aggressively weird “Joseph” is despite its general quietude. Highly recommended.
Fully 40 years after ushering in the Two-Tone ska revival alongside acts like the Beat and Madness, the Specials are back — and the first couple of tracks of their new album may have you scratching your head. “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” is soully disco circa 1976, and “B.L.M.” is an affecting spoken-word recollection by Lynval Golding of his father’s experiences with racism and economic disappointment as a member of the “Windrusher” generation of Jamaican immigrants to England, accompanied by more disco-ish sounding music (though this time with a reggae backbeat). But then the old sound reasserts itself, and it hangs on for the rest of the album: brisk ska enriched with elements of music hall and Latin styles. As has always been the case, bassist Horace Panter contributes some of the most rich and impressive elements of this outstanding band’s music. Expect demand from aging fans.
Fabric Presents Bonobo
Fabric (dist. Forced Exposure)
Rising from the ashes of the sadly defunct Fabriclive series, this new DJ set by Bonobo inaugurates a new series for the label, which will be called Fabric Presents. This is the first DJ mix Bonobo has released in five or six years, and it finds him ranging widely over the house, techno, and breakbeat landscapes (though spending most of his time in house and techno territory) over the course of 22 tracks by the likes of Titeknots, Alex Kassian, DJ Seinfeld, Throwing Snow, and Barakas (an alias of Bonobo himself). Ten of these tracks are previously unreleased, and all demonstrate his love of complex but open textures and solid but non-aggressive beats. Very nice stuff.
Explosions in Slow Motion
n5MD (dist. Redeye)
I finally had to stop listening to this one because it was making me too depressed. That’s not a criticism, honestly: the music is strange and beautiful, consisting of four major sections separated by four brief numbered interludes titled “Ember.” The major sections are deeply mournful, consisting of slowly-moving clouds of synthesizer occasionally punctuated by very slow and very minimal beats; the “Ember” interludes consist largely of what sound like string sections that play repetitive passages that subty change over time but are partly obscured by envelopes of whitish noise. This could function as ambient music, I suppose, but the deep emotion it conveys is maybe a bit too disconcerting for that. Recommended primarily to people who aren’t already sad.
I’m in Love with a Dreadlocks: Brown Sugar and the Birth of Lovers Rock, 1977-80
Soul Jazz (dist. Redeye)
Lovers rock is a specific reggae subgenre that emerged in England during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Characterized by a smoother, poppier sound than what had prevailed during the roots-and-culture period and a gentler tone than that of the emerging dancehall style, lovers rock focused (as its name would suggest) on romantic lyrics and was most often sung by women: artists like Sandra Cross, Carroll Thompson, and Janet Kay achieved significant success in the lovers style. Less well-known is the harmony trio that recorded as Brown Sugar–one member of which, Caron Wheeler, would later go on to front the massively successful Soul II Soul; another, Carol Simms, would achieve solo success under the name Kofi. Interestingly, unlike most of their colleagues, this trio mixed things up thematically: on this collection, crooning love songs like “I’m Hurtin’” and “Confession Hurts” rub shoulders with anthems of cultural consciousness like “Black Pride” and “Dreaming of Zion”–not to mention the title track, which effectively blends both roots and lovers into a single style. This is yet another very fine piece of musical archaeology from the redoutable Soul Jazz label.
They claim to be “New York City’s only Farsi Funk group,” and I’m prepared to take them at their word on that. Of course, one interesting thing about being a Farsi funk group is that your definition of “funkiness” is likely to be a bit complicated by a predilection for time signatures that depart from the funky norm: the album-opening “Bemoon ta Bemoonam” sways energetically in 3/4, for example, while “Helelyos” does the same in 6/4. But that doesn’t stop things from feeling funky–it just expands your mind a bit about what “funky” means. One thing it definitely means here is plenty of horns, a generous smattering of wah-wah guitar, and keening vocals by Yvette Saatchi Perez. The songs themselves are all modern reworkings of pop and funk tunes from 1970s Iran, and the whole album is just tons of fun.
Miguel Zenón; Spektral Quartet
Yo soy la tradición
No cat. no.
This album represents a three-way fusion of sorts: traditional Puerto Rican music, jazz, and classical. An eight-part suite written for saxophone and string quartet, Yo soy la tradición is–to my ears, anyway–first and foremost a carefully composed piece of art music; it includes improvised passages, but this is not primarily improvised music. Nor is it quaint folk-music-with-orchestration, although each of the pieces draws deeply and explicitly on a specific folk music tradition. Zenón’s writing for the quartet is remarkable: complex and harmonically knotty, with little in the way of explicit tonal momentum, yet never directionless and never less than fascinating. The playing is brilliant throughout. This album is a triumph.
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)
And while we’re talking about unlikely cross-cultural fusion experiments, consider the latest from Maurice Louca, a key figure in what must be the relatively small experimental-music scene in his native Cairo. Elephantine blends elements of Arabic melody, free jazz, and minimalist repetition, shifting and merging those elements to create alternating passages of eerie lyricism, contemplative quiet, and assaultive skronk. He draws on musicians from Egypt and also from across Europe, creating an incredibly rich tonal pallette of sounds: percussion, oud, vibraphone, reed and brass instruments, violin, and Louca’s own guitar and piano all contibute to a series of compositions that sometimes flirt with chaos but always within the constraints of a very clearly defined musical vision.
Mad Professor & Jah9
Mad Professor Meets Jah9 in the Midst of the Storm
A couple of years ago I strongly recommended Jah9’s album 9, referring to her as “possibly the foremost exponent” right now of reggae’s roots-and-culture school. What I missed at the time was the nearly simultaneous release of a remix version of that album, radically dubbed-up by the legendary English reggae producer Mad Professor. Having been heavily influenced in his youth by the certifiably insane production style of Lee “Scratch” Perry, Mad Professor knows how to fold, spindle, and mutilate a reggae song–but wisely, he leaves some of Jah9’s considerable lyrical wisdom intact (notably the best line on the album: “A spiritual woman is the greatest threat to the status quo”). What’s left is a deep, dark, heavyweight reimagining of what was one of the two or three finest reggae releases of 2017. If you bought that one, this one makes a perfect complement to it–and if you didn’t buy that one, buy both of them now.