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Monthly Archives: May 2019

June 2019


PICK OF THE MONTH


Youssou N’Dour
History
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
7026

It’s kind of hard to believe that Youssou N’Dour has been making albums for roughly 40 years now–though his early career as a recording artist consisted mainly of selling homemade cassette tapes on the streets of Dakar. 35 albums later, he’s a huge international star, and his latest release will show you why (if you don’t already know). A remarkable talent for soaring, infectious melody and a voice that is as sweet and powerful at age 60 as it was when he was 20 combine to make a singer and songwriter with the ability to engage audiences nearly universally whether he’s delivering his compositions in English, French, or Wolof. On History he makes a particular point to pay tribute to his late bass player Habib Faye and to the great drummer and singer Babatunde Olatunji, two of whose songs D’Dour performs here. N’Dour’s musical background is in the mbalax genre of his native Senegal, and its influence is still everywhere in his music, but his style has matured and expanded far beyond any regional designation. He’s truly an international treasure, and History would make a great starting point for anyone who is not yet familiar with his rich catalog of work.


CLASSICAL


Jennifer Higdon; Samuel Barber; Patrick Harlin
American Rapture
Yolanda Kondonassis; Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra / Ward Stare
Azica (dist. Naxos)
AXA-71327
Rick’s Pick

Jennifer Higdon’s marvelous harp concerto (of which this is the world-premiere recording) would be enough to give this album a Rick’s Pick designation; it’s grand and lyrical, humorous and complex, and completely enthralling–and as always, Yolanda Kondonassis’ playing is brilliant. Samuel Barber’s one-movement Symphony No. 1 isn’t really my favorite piece of the pre-war American repertoire, but Patrick Harlin’s Rapture (another world-premiere recording) is quite lovely. All in all, this is an outstanding album and would make an excellent addition to any library collection.


Ferdinand Ries
Flute Quartets Vol. 2
Ardinghello Ensemble
CPO (dist. Naxos)
555 231-2
Rick’s Pick

Ferdinand Ries
String Quartets Vol. 3
Schuppanzigh Quartett
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 305-2

It has been interesting and gratifying to see the work of little-known German composer Ferdinand Ries beginning to attract more attention in recent years. A contemporary (and friend) of Beethoven, Ries occupies a similar place in the transitional period between the classical and the Romantic periods, and his chamber music is particularly attractive, carrying that faintly melancholy and bittersweet flavor that characterizes so much of the music of the time. The Ardinghello Ensemble’s ongoing exploration of Ries’ music for string trio with and without flute (using a wooden flute but modern stringed instruments) is absolutely gorgeous, the unique tone of Karl Kaiser’s flute bringing a particular poignancy to the music. The three works featured on the Schuppanzigh Quartett’s recording actually include two string quartets and one quintet, and represent two periods of Ries’ career: the quintet op. 68 was published in 1816 (and was his first composition scored entirely for strings), the same year as his op. 70 quartet. The c-minor quartet op. 168 was published eight years later while Ries was living and working in London. These pieces have a slightly more sturmlich-und-dranglich flavor to them, but are equally fine–and the Schuppanzighs’ playing is electrifying. Both discs are wonderful.


Johan Helmich Roman
The Golovin Music
Höör Barock / Dan Laurin
BIS (dist. Naxos)
BIS-2355

Czar Peter II was crowned at age 12, in 1728. In preparation for the event, a local orchestra leader named Johan Helmich Roman was charged with (quickly) composing some appropriately grand and celebratory music for the occasion. The result was this portfolio of no fewer than 45 brief pieces (several of them less than one minute in length) for varying–and not always specified–instrumentation. Also unspecified, in many cases, were tempos. So for an ensemble to record this collection today requires not exactly skills of strict reconstruction, but rather of creative interpretation. This marks the first time all of these pieces have been recorded together, and while the somewhat fragmentary nature of the work makes it a less than completely satisfying listening experiences from beginning to end, this recording definitely has important academic uses–and the performances themselves are excellent throughout.


Various Composers
Perpetulum (2 discs)
Third Coast Percussion
Orange Mountain Music (dist. PIAS)
0132

Steve Reich
Colin Currie & Steve Reich: Live at Foundation Louis Vuitton
Colin Currie Group; Synergy Vocals
Colin Currie Records (dist. PIAS)
CCR0003

Third Coast Percussion is responsible for some of the most interesting and exciting recordings of the past few years. Those who hear “percussion” and think “drums and woodblocks and gongs” need to understand that TCP’s primary instruments are mallet keyboards and other tuned instruments, which means that most of what you hear when they’re playing is melody and harmony, not just rhythm. And on their latest album, a two-disc collection of works by TCP’s members as well as by Gavin Bryars and Philip Glass (whose Perpetulum was commissioned for the group) you’ll hear a glorious variety of styles and sounds, perhaps the most consistently enjoyable of them being David Skidmore’s Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities. Another outstanding percussion group on the scene right now is the Colin Currie Group, who are captured here in concert performing works by the legendary composer Steve Reich. Reich himself joins Currie to perform the delightful Clapping Music, and the rest of the program includes Proverb, Mallet Quartet (which Reich wrote for the group), Pulse, and Music for Pieces of Wood. These works provide a career-length overview of Rech’s writing for small ensembles, and though some of these pieces are quite familiar they are played with such freshness and energy here that they sound brand new. Both of these recordings are highly recommended.


Franz Joseph Haydn; Thomas Haigh; Christian Ignatius Latrobe
Joseph Haydn and His London Disciples
Rebecca Maurer
Genuin (dist. Naxos)
GEN 19650

The several years that Haydn spent in London in the early- to mid-1790s are well documented and resulted not only in a series of hugely successful concerts, but also in the production of some of his most celebrated works. While there, he lived in the Piccadilly area near the Broadwood piano factory, and it’s a Broadwood fortepiano (one built just a few years after Haydn’s London sojourn) that the marvelous keyboardist Rebecca Maurer plays on this recording of pieces by Haydn himself and by two of his English admirers. It’s worth noting that several of these are world-premiere recordings, but the primary attraction of this disc is Maurer’s lovely, sensitive playing–followed closely by the unusual and sometimes slightly bizarre characteristics of the pieces written in tribute to Haydn. For all libraries supporting a keyboard program.


Alonso Lobo
Sacred Vocal Music
Coro Victoria / Ana Fernández-Vega
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95789

A disciple of Francisco Guerrero and colleague of Tomás Luis de Victoria, Alonso Lobo de Borja spent most of his career at the cathedral in Seville. He was largely forgotten from the 18th to the 20th centuries, before being rediscovered during the surge of interest in early music in the 1960s and 1970s. This collection of sacred works, performed by the Coro Victoria of Madrid, is designed to demonstrate the wide range of styles Lobo employed in his Latin liturgical works, and it includes motets alongside Mass extracts (sadly no complete Masses, though space would have allowed at least one in its entirety). Coro Victoria sing with a lovely, colorful blend, and this album would make an excellent introduction to to the work of a sadly underrated composer.


Jacob Kirkegaard
Phonurgia Metallis
Important
IMPREC462

Jacob Kirkegaard is one of the most consistently interesting practitioners of conceptual sound sculpture on the current scene. Having previously created music out of source material like radioactivity at Chernobyl and melting ice in the Arctic, for this project he has chosen a much less dramatic (and politically charged) conceptual medium: three large hanging metal plates, one of iron, one of copper, and one of brass. By putting a piezo sensor and a contact speaker on each one, he was able to create music using their naturally occurring vibrations, tempered and shaped by the differing physical properties of each material. What emerges is an ebbing and flowing of drones with overtones and other subtle sonic features that become more apparent the harder you listen, which is a fascinating process. For all libraries supporting programs in experimental composition or installation art.


JAZZ


Bill Evans
Evans in England (2 discs)
Resonance
HCD-2037

The Resonance label continues steadily to unearth, restore, and release previously-unheard live performances by the legendary Bill Evans, and they keep being wonderful. This latest release documents performances by Evans and his trio (at the time consisting of bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell) at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London during a residency in December 1969. The tapes were made, without Evans’ knowledge, by a French fan who had been following Evans on tour around Europe and who recorded the music on a small handheld tape machine. As a result, the sound quality isn’t stellar–it’s clear and well defined, but somewhat brittle and trebly, as one might expect. But the music is glorious, as one would also expect; Evans was at the height of his powers at this time. Recommended to all jazz collections.


Fred Hersch & The WDR Big Band
Begin Again
Palmetto
No cat. no.

I don’t usually make much space in my life for big band jazz–I respect the tradition but generally find the music too overbearing, too bombastic–but one of the rules that govern my life as a listener can be summarized as “Does it involve Fred Hersch? Then yes.” So I gave this album a spin. It finds Hersch at the head of an outstanding German ensemble, playing a set of his own compositions as arranged (and conducted) by the legendary Vince Mendoza. Mendoza is brilliant at locating and amplifying the subtleties and complexities of Hersch’s writing, expanding them into glorious elaborations. And Hersch himself does an amazing job of moving forward and backward in the arrangements, taking center stage when called upon to do so and supporting the ensemble modestly but powerfully otherwise. Like all of Hersch’s albums, this one is highly recommended to all libraries.


Yoko Miwa Trio
Keep Talkin’
Ocean Blue Tear Music
OBTM-0011
Rick’s Pick

Yoko Miwa is another pianist to whom I’m always willing to dedicate some time and concentration–ever since I heard (and rapturously reviewed) her album Fadeless Flower fifteen years ago, I have never yet been disappointed by one of her trio recordings, and this one continues her winning streak. Opening with the funky title track and then sliding into a subtly subversive arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud” (check out drummer Scott Goulding’s slippery, second-line-inflected accompaniment during her solo) Miwa takes the listener on a thrilling and uplifting journey through a program of originals, standards, and even a Beatles medley. Miwa remains one of the real standouts in the crowded field of A-list jazz pianists working today.


Ramsey Lewis Trio
The Early Years: 1956-59 (2 discs)
Acrobat (dist. MVD)
ADDCD3294

Pianist and composer Ramsey Lewis achieved fame and fortune in the 1960s with a series of jazz-pop crossover recordings, several years before the concept of jazz-rock “fusion” became popular. But even in the 1950s he was experimenting with unusual and pop-inflected arrangements, for example taking a popular theme from the opera Carmen and giving it an unusual setting with bluesy interludes. This two-disc set brings together material from his trio’s first four albums (Gentlemen of Swing, Gentlement of Jazz, Down to Earth, and An Hour with the Ramsey Lewis Trio)–though, annoyingly, it doesn’t include the entirety of those albums. Instead, it adds several tracks that were released at the time as singles. The result is an interesting and enjoyable but slightly frustrating collection.


Nicki Parrott
From New York to Paris
Arbors Jazz
ARCD 19466

Bassist and singer Nicki Parrott is always a delight to hear, whether she’s singing or playing bass or (astonishingly, to me) doing both simultaneously. Her latest is a quartet date that focuses on what we call the American Song Book–basically, songs by the likes of Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Cahn and Styne, and one of more of the Gershwins. These are songs that usually were first heard in stage musicals in the 1920s and 1930s, and that have since become jazz standards (as well as providing the chord changes for additional jazz tunes). So the repertoire on which Parrott is drawing here is pretty familiar: “I Love Paris,” “Manhattan,” “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” etc. But she sings and plays them with such warmth and with such a tender yet firm sense of swing that you don’t mind whatsoever hearing them again. Kudos also to reedman Harry Allen, who brings his own powerful sense of warmth and swing to the proceedings. For all jazz collections.


RPE Duo
Bananas
Wave Folder
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

RPE Duo consists of Matt Postle (trumpet, keyboards) and Radek Rudnicki (electronics), who collaborate internationally by combining in-person work with remote file-swapping to create their strange, ethereal, and sometimes eerie compositions. Their latest album was created while the two were resident artists at EMS Studios in Sweden between 2015 and 2018, where they worked with vintage modular synthesizers to create source material with which they worked over the course of the following year, sometimes at great distance from each other. Fans of Jon Hassell will find much to enjoy here, as will anyone who loves sonic experimentation generally.


FOLK/COUNTRY


April Verch
Once a Day
Slab Town
STR19CD01
Rick’s Pick

Look, I love a country revival album as much as anyone, but sometimes you want something more than a slavish imitation of 1950s and 1960s styles. And if you agree with me, then run, don’t walk, to your closest meat-space or online record store to pick up a copy of the latest album from Canadian fiddler, stepdancer, and singer April Verch, which is both a sincere tribute to the vintage country sound and a sly expansion of that tradition. Yes, there are nods to legendary singers like Connie Francis and Loretta Lynn and to producers like Billy Sherrill (listen to the piano and the backing chorus on the title track, for example). But there are also plenty of lovely surprises, like a touching duet with her dad on “Let’s Make a Fair Trade” and her reverent rendition of Lucille Star’s “The French Song.” And come on–a crooked-rhythm version of “Durham’s Bull,” with a Redd Volkaert Tele solo in the middle? Ouais! Git it, girl! This album is a pure delight from start to finish.


Leo Bud Welch
The Angels in Heaven Done Signed My Name
Easy Eye Sound
EES-007

Leo Bud Welch’s career as a gospel/blues musician began in 1945, when he was 13 years old and began playing and singing professionally at Sabougla Missionary Baptist Church in Mississippi. But his debut recording was released in 2014, when he was 82, and at that improbable age he began a new life as a touring musician. (His career has been chronicled in a documentary film aptly titled Late Blossom Blues.) He passed away in late 2017. This album draws on his final studio recordings, and consists entirely of traditional gospel songs performed in a raw, gutbucket blues style. If it weren’t such a stingy program (ten songs and just over 26 minutes, despite drawing on a reported 25-30 studio recordings) it would get a Rick’s Pick designation. Highly recommended nevertheless.


ESOEBO
VI
Knot Reel
No cat. no.

This duo’s ungainly name is an acronym that stands for “Eclectic Selections of Everything but Opera,” and despite both its awkwardness and the stylistic sprawl it suggests, this music is neither awkward nor particularly stylistically wide-ranging. The songs are gentle, sly, and graceful, and they generally fall comfortably within an acoustic-pop framework. Guitarist/singer/songwriter Chuck McDowell and singer/cellist Gail Burnett are the core of this group, and they’re joined by an array of sidepersons who provide tasteful accompaniment. The album opens with the wry “Airplane” (a song whose chord changes are startlingly reminiscent of “Makin’ Whoopee”) and then delivers a series of country-ish, Tin Pan Alley-ish, bluesy, and folky songs that remark on life, love, and women’s shoes with gentle good humor and impressive tunefulness.


Chuck Mead
Close to Home
Plowboy
PLO-CD-1051

This disc came to me out of the blue, with no contact information and no one-sheet to tell me who this guy is. And I guess that’s helpful, in a way, because it meant I listened to the album without any preconceptions beyond the impression that he kind of looks like Bryan Ferry on the album cover. The music is sometimes kind of rockish (“Big Bear in the Sky”), sometimes a sort of Mavericks-meet-James-Hunter bluebeat (“I’m Not the Man for the Job”), and sometimes acoustic honky-tonk (“My Baby’s Holding It Down”)–and that’s just in the first three songs! Mead’s songwriting is unassuming but clever if you listen (best/worst line: “daddy worked the pole so mama wouldn’t have to”); his voice is attractive but tends to be just a bit buried in the mix, so you have to listen for that too. On the whole, this album is something of a curiosity but a really fun one.


ROCK/POP


Kitty Kat Fan Club
Dreamy Little You
Asian Man
AM 346
Rick’s Pick

The latest wonderful disc from the wonderful independent Asian Man label is the full-length debut from Kitty Kat Fan Club, a (wonderful) band consisting entirely of members from label owner Mike Park’s hometown of San Jose, California. It started out as just a way of hanging out with musical friends and having fun, but when great songs started emerging from the hang, the group of friends turned into a band. And those songs really are great: punky in the “energetic” sense, but thoroughly imbued with pure pop hooks and unassumingly sharp song structure. The dual lead vocals by Casey Jones and Brianda Nocheazul are a complete delight, and the whole album is just absolutely, er, wonderful from start to finish. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Ioanna Gika
Thalassa
Sargent House (dist. Redeye)
SH 202

Formerly known as IO Echo, with this album Ionna Gika steps out under her given name for the first time, releasing a collection of original songs that draw subtly on her Greek heritage to explore themes of grief and romantic disappointment in a dark electropop style. From the glitchy atmospherics of “Out of Focus” to the more rockish groove of “New Geometry” and the multitracked choral wash of the title track, Zika explores what seems like a world of musical variety within what is actually a fairly constricted stylistic palette. At times both her vocals and her sung melodies strongly bring to mind Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins, but ultimately the totality of her sound is quite unlike anything else you’ll hear this year. This is a beautiful album that would make a fine addition to any pop collection.


Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers
No Good Deed
Pretty Good for a Girl
PGCD-04

For their third studio album, blues-rocker Mindi Abair and her band settled into the studio and stayed there, together, for five days. Playing largely live and with minimal takes in order to capture as much raw energy as possible, they ended up producing a rich and winning set of original songs and covers, among them a crisply funky take on Storyville’s “Good Day for the Blues,” and a fine version of the Etta James hit “Seven Day Fool.” “Mess I’m In” is another highlight track, and I think it’s an original, but since the album provides no songwriting credits it’s hard to know for sure. Anyway, Abair and her band rock hard and with undeniable soul, and it’s a treat whenever she takes a saxophone solo. Recommended.


More Rockers
Dubplate Selection Vol. 1 (reissue)
Echo Beach
EB138
Rick’s Pick

Ever since it emerged in the underground dance clubs of London as a new genre in the mid-1990s, jungle at its best has been characterized by the balancing of opposites: light and skittery double-time breakbeats with slow, heavyweight basslines; vintage roots reggae vocals with modern electronic production; smoky dubwise production with intense, high-energy tempos. Eventually jungle would harden into drum’n’bass, which (to my ears) was never as fun or interesting–but luckily, old-school jungle has never completely gone away. It’s still purveyed by, for example, More Rockers, a duo consisting of Rob Smith (of Smith & Mighty) and Peter Rose (of Massive Attack). They’re not as prolific as I’d like, so this reissue of their long-out-of-print 1995 debut album is a very, very welcome development. If you’re not familiar with the genre, snap it up quickly–there will be only 555 CD copies pressed.


Morcheeba
Blaze Away (deluxe reissue; digital only)
Fly Agaric
No cat. no.

One of the bands most closely associated with the trip hop genre, Morcheeba has been recording irregularly (and with decreasing frequency) since 1996. This release is a digital-only deluxe reissue of their most recent album, 2018’s Blaze Away. Libraries will likely prefer the original release in CD format, but here I’m recommending the deluxe reissue because it includes a full album’s worth of additional remixes by the likes of Djrum, FaltyDL, De Lata, and Yimino–and as of this writing, the whole package is available for only $6.99. Both the band name and the album title hint slyly at what to expect: basically, stoner beats with languid vocals. But Morcheeba has always been able to imbue its highly genre-specific songs with enough substrata of originality to allow them to stand apart from the pack, and this album is among their best efforts. Highly recommended.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Stephan Micus
White Night
ECM
2639

A new album from multi-instrumentalist and singer Stephan Micus is always an exciting event, and trying to figure out how to categorize each of his new albums is always a frustrating one. Which, of course, speaks well for him as a creative musician. He’s a master of a seemingly endless list of instruments from a wide variety of world cultures: the kalimba (or thumb piano), the duduk, the nay, various kinds of guitars, the sinding, etc. And the music he makes with these instruments sounds like it comes from a faraway and possibly mythical country: the keening, plaintive tone of the duduk contains hints of Armenia and the Balkans while the gentle burbling of the kalimba evokes sub-Saharan Africa, and his vocals (sung in an unidentified language) could come from just about anywhere. As always, the music on his album is quiet and intense and, often, deeply sad. Highly recommended.


Various Artists
Nostalgique Kongo: Rumbas Lingala, Swahili, Kikongo & Douala 1950-1960
Buda Musique (dist. MVD)
860339

International trade has resulted in many wonderful (and some not-so-wonderful) things over the past several centuries, but surely one outcome that we can all agree to be grateful for is Congolese rumba. Emerging in the late 1930s in the Brazzaville/Kinshasa area, the development of this form of urban dance music was sparked by the interaction of Congolese port workers and sailors from the Caribbean, especially Cuba. A commercial music industry was coming into its own at the same time, and the result was an expansion of musical styles and a flood of recordings, 23 of which are gathered here on this excellent collection. The sound quality is better than one might reasonably expect, and the songs themselves are a consistent delight.


Michael Palmer
Angella/Michael Palmer Meets Kelly Ranks
Burning Sounds (dist. MVD)
BSRCD910

Over the past several years, the Burning Sounds label has been steadily reissuing classic and long-out-of-print reggae albums in two-LPs-on-one-CD format, and this is one of the best so far. The label has (wisely) been focusing on vintage roots and early dancehall releases, and these two stellar efforts from singer Michael Palmer are from the early 1980s, when the nascent dancehall style was really taking hold. Both albums feature the mighty Roots Radics band, who give the sweet-voiced Palmer their typically deep and powerful backing. Palmer’s rather shaky rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” is the only disappointment on the first album; the second one is even better, complicated only slightly by the confusing inclusion of one Kelly Ranks on the masthead–how he was actually involved in the album is something of a mystery.


Suns of Arqa
Heart of the Suns 1979-2019 (compilation)
Interchill
ICHILLCD058
Rick’s Pick

Today, the idea of blending Indian classical music with dub and electronica may not sound particularly strange or even innovative. But Suns of Arqa–a rotating cast of musicians that orbits around founder Michael Wadada–has now been doing that for 40 years. I promise you, it was a much wilder idea in 1979. Anyway, over the course of those four decades Wadada and his collaborators have produced an extensive catalog of some of the deepest cross-cultural grooves you can imagine, and this beautifully-selected retrospective offers a perfect introduction to the group’s unique art. You’ve got your techno-flavored stompers, your floating dub blissouts, and your electro-funk drones, all shot through with various kinds of pancultural textures and melodies and all of it done respectfully and insightfully. Here’s hoping for another couple of decades of output from this band, at the very least.

May 2019

Posted on

PICK OF THE MONTH


The Skints
Swimming Lessons
Easy Star/Mr. Bongo
MRBCD212

There’s nothing particularly new about a band blending elements of reggae and punk–Bad Brains did it (exquisitely), and so did No Doubt and the Clash and many others. But what’s unusual about the Skints’ latest album is that they’re going against the usual stream of things: most punk bands that incorporate reggae elements become less punky and more reggaefied as time goes on (just listen to the Clash’s debut album and London Calling back to back for a good example of this tendency). But while the Skints’ last album was an absolute gem of straight-up pop reggae, their latest veers wildly back and forth between and among crushing punk rock, hiccuping jungle, drill’n’bass, roots reggae, and rock steady. This is the kind of eclecticism that could come off as gimmicky if it weren’t so solidly rooted in brilliant songwriting, but the consistently high quality of the songs keeps the proceedings from ever coming off as weird or dilletantish. One of the things that sets the Skints apart from the pack is the fact that they’re blessed with no fewer than three fine lead vocalists, who take turns delivering songs of rare incisiveness undergirded by brilliant arrangements. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


CLASSICAL


Antonio Vivaldi; Raffaele Calace; Domenico Caudioso
Come una volta
Julien Martineau; Concerto Italiano / Rinaldo Allesandrini
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
V 5455

Johann Sebastian Bach
Concertos BWV 1052R, 1056R & 1041; Sonata BWV 1034 & Partita BWV 1004 (reissue; 2 CD + DVD)
Avi Avital; Kammerakademie Potsdam
Deutsche Grammophone
00298 483 6590

The mandolin has never gotten the respect it deserves in the context of classical music; these days in Europe it’s most commonly associated with syrupy Neapolitan love songs, and in the US it’s most widely known as a bluegrass instrument. But the repertoire of classical music featuring the mandolin is, if not vast, at least considerable, and one of the most notable composers to have used that instrument as a solo vehicle is Antonio Vivaldi, two of whose concerti (along with one trio sonata) are presented on this album by Julien Martineau. As lovely as these pieces are, though, what’s really striking on his album are the more contemporary mandolin concertos of Raffaele Calace (written in 1925) and another by the relatively obscure baroque composer Domenico Caudioso. The Bach album is a very different sort of program. This one consists of concertos, a sonata, a partita, and a suite all originally written for different instruments and presented here in arrangements (by Avital himself) for mandolin as the solo instrument. The package is actually a reissue of an album originally issued in 2012, augmented by significant bonus material including a DVD of Avital playing two of the pieces from the original album with a different ensemble. The playing on both of these albums is outstanding, and the tonal contrast between the two instruments is worth noting–Martineau’s mandolin is brighter and more silvery, whereas Avital’s has a darker and woodier tone. Both releases are highly recommended to all libraries.


Various Composers
Music for Mandora
Gábor Tokodi
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95869

From the mandolin to the mandora–an instrument you may never have heard of (I’ll admit that I hadn’t), but that will sound pretty familiar to anyone who has heard a lute, a cittern, or an octave mandolin. In design, it frankly just looks pretty much like a lute, with a teardrop-shaped body, vaulted back, and double-coursed strings. But its sound is deeper and a bit darker, due to its expanded bass range. For this delightful recording Gábor Tokodi has assembled three obscure works, one a sonata by Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello and the others suites by anonymous composers that were discovered in university and monastic archives. As one would expect, the Brescianello piece is more academic while the two anonymous suites and dance-y and fun.


Heinrich & Carl Baermann
Music for Clarinet and Piano
Dario Zingales; Florian Podgoreanu
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95785
Rick’s Pick

The legendary clarinetist Heinrich Baermann had four sons, among them Carl, who would himself go on to become a legendary clarinet pedagogue. But both men also distinguished themselves as composers (Carl particularly), and this marvelous disc features world-premiere recordings of three pieces from each of them, as well as a wonderful performance of Carl’s instrumental settings of six Schubert lieder. All of these pieces were written at a time–the Romantic period–when the clarinet’s emotive qualities were being put to the most fruitful use, and the performances (on modern instruments) are outstanding. This disc should be considered an essential purchase for all classical collections.


Various Composers
O crux benedicta: Lent and Holy Week at the Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel Choir / Massimo Palombella
Deutsche Grammophon
483 5673

On my third time listening to this album, I finally realized what it was that struck me about it so strangely: its opening track is a piece of Gregorian chant on which the choir sounds absolutely eerie. The voices seem to be floating like mist out of a dark cave, which is fitting given the deep solemnity of the liturgical setting for which it’s intended: Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The remainder of the program is given over to polyphonic works by the likes of Palestrina, De Rore, Victoria, Festa, and Lasso, all of them chosen for liturgical purposes and all of them evoking the somber mood of reverence and wonder leading up to Good Friday; all of the works presented were written to be sung in the Sistine Chapel, which is where they were recorded. The Sistine Chapel Choir has a unique sound; despite the presence of boy trebles, its tonal colors are all purples and grays, and they are perfectly suited to this repertoire.


Carl Stone
Baroo (digital only)
Unseen Worlds
UW26

I was introduced to the music of Carl Stone only fairly recently, when I received a review copy of a collection of his electronic music from the 1980s and 1990s. This led me to investigate a similar collection of his music from the 1970s, and both albums failed utterly to prepare me for his new release, which sounds completely different from his earlier work. Baroo consists of electronic music intended for live performance, all of it being created by the splintering and re-assembly of sonic source material, some of which seems to be live recordings of African bands (“Baroo”), jazz combos (“Xé May”) and perhaps Southeast Asian pop music or maybe a highlife ensemble (“Sun Nong Dan”). The actual origins of these pieces are obscured by the various ways in which they’ve been digitally folded, spindled, and mutilated, and the result is a fascinating and often startlingly beautiful roller-coaster of kaleidoscopic sound.


Gabriel Fauré; Francis Poulenc; Claude Debussy
Requiem; Figure humaine; Trois chansons de Charles d’Orleans
Ensemble Aedes; Les Siècles / Mathieu Romano
Aparte Music (dist. PIAS)
AP201

One could hardly ask for a more stylistically varied collection of late-19th and early-20th-century French choral music than this one. Opening with Fauré’s famously affecting setting of the Requiem Mass, then shifting to Poulenc’s more astringent (and sometimes rather puckish, as was his wont) double-choir cantata Figure humaine, and from there to Debussy’s settings of three 15th-century verses, the Ensemble Aedes presents three strikingly different takes on French choral developments of that period. It’s a very fine recording, and in particular represents one of the richest-sounding renditions of Fauré’s Requiem that I’ve heard.


Jean-Baptiste Lully; Georg Philipp Telemann; Jean-Philippe Rameau
The Lully Effect
Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra / Barthold Kuijken
Naxos
8.573867
Rick’s Pick

Ah, the baroque period–when women were women and men all had a minimum of two first names. Anyway, for this recording the great flutist and conductor Barthold Kuijken has created a program designed to remind us of the “power and intensity” of the music of Versailles, as particularly expressed in the theatrical music of the two French masters of the period: Lully and Rameau. Between Lully’s Armide overture and Rameau’s suite from Dardanus, Kuijken has elected to insert Telemann’s popular e-minor suite for flute and other wind instruments with strings and continuo–a work that drew deeply and explicitly on the style of his French counterparts. Anyone who has been following the work of the Kuijken family over the past four decades knows what to expect: exciting, exacting, and passionate performances that shed new light on even the most familiar material. For all libraries.


Dolphin Midwives
Liminal Garden (LP and digital only)
Sounds et al./Beacon Sound (dist. Forced Exposure)
No cat. no.

Dolphin Midwives is the pseudonym of harpist, singer, and composer Sage Fisher, who subjects both her voice and her harp to significant electronic manipulation to create shimmering and otherworldly compositions that sort of feel like songs, but not really. Interestingly, the harp is usually immediately identifiable as such, and so is her voice–but even when the music is genuinely lyrical and mellifluous, as it usually is, the sonic disruptions created by her treatments undermine its lyricism in consistently interesting and often very beautiful ways, resulting in music the abstraction of which ebbs and flows.


Kuba Kapsa
Supersonic Moth
Denovali
DEN341

This one would make a good companion piece to the Dolphin Midwives album reviewed above. If you know pianist/composer Kuba Kapsa’s name, it’s probably because of his work leading the Polish avant-garde group Contemporary Noise Ensemble. But on his own he’s also a composer of film and theater music, and on this solo piano album he takes an approach somewhat similar to Fisher’s, recording his piano pieces and then subjecting them to electronic alteration. The big difference is that in his case, the unaltered piano tracks remain front and center while the electronically-modified manifestations mutter and burble and glitch along in the background. Sometimes the effect is gentle and moody, and sometimes it’s genuinely eerie and even a little frightening. Cool stuff.


JAZZ


Bill Frisell; Thomas Morgan
Epistrophy
ECM
2626
Rick’s Pick

For their second duo album, guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan returned again to the Village Vanguard, the legendary (and legendarily intimate) jazz venue where they recorded their first album, 2017’s Small Town. And as before, together they explore an idiosyncratic program of standards (“Lush Life,” “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”), country melodies (“Wildwood Flower” [again], “Red River Valley”), and less-familiar fare (Paul Motian’s weird “Mumbo Jumbo”). As the title indicates, there’s some Monk on there as well: not only the title track, but also a lovely take on the ballad “Pannonica.” And just as they did with “Goldfinger” on the last album, they take a run at another Bond movie theme here: “You Only Live Twice.” Frisell and Morgan are a dream duo, never sounding “tight” but always connected. Brilliant and gorgeous.


Mats Eilertsen
And Then Comes the Night
ECM
2619

The title of bassist/composer Mats Eilertsen’s third album (and his second as a leader for ECM) might lead you to expect music of quiet intensity and darkness. If so, you’d be only partly right: accompanied by pianist Harmen Fraanje and drummer Thomas Strønen, what Eilertsen delivers here is a program of music that is quiet and intense, but also oddly bright in flavor. Some of it is carefully composed and some of it is significantly improvised, and the group recorded without headphones so that their interactions would be as acoustically organic as possible. There are very few solos; instead, the three players constantly move with and around each other, giving each composition its own identity but treating the music less as a vehicle for individual self-expression than as a project that they are constantly working on collaboratively. In some ways this is classic “ECM jazz,” and in other ways it’s unlike anything else I’ve heard.


Scott Robinson
Tenormore
Arbors Jazz (dist. MVD)
ARCD 19462

After decades of demonstrating his facility on virtually of the reed instruments, Scott Robinson decided to put together an album that makes a clear statement: “I’m still a tenor player at the core.” And that statement comes across loud and clear on this quartet date, though his eclecticism comes through in other ways, notably in his arrangements: the Beatles ballad “And I Love Her” performed as an unaccompanied sax solo; the Tin Pan Alley classic “Put on a Happy Face” arranged as a ballad; “The Nearness of You” cast as organ-driven quiet-storm bedroom funk; the deeply gospel-informed “Rainy River” (written by Robinson’s drummer here, Martin Wind). Robinson’s originals are interesting in their own ways: “Tenor Eleven” sounds like bebop as written by Hindemith, while the title track is funkier and more experimental, though never completely out. Overall, this is an album that would find a welcome home in any library’s jazz collection.


Akira Tana & Otonowa
Ai San San: Love’s Radiance
Vega
0009
Rick’s Pick

This stunningly beautiful album is the third from drummer Akira Tana’s Otonowa ensemble, which also features the mighty pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Noriyuki Ken Okada, and saxophonist/flutist Masaru Koda. Many of the tunes on Ai San San: Love’s Radiance are traditional Japanese melodies, though they are so thoroughly adapted to a jazz context that they will be difficult for many listeners to recognize as such. Other, more obviously Japanese elements do creep in from time to time, though, such as Koga’s use of a shakuhachi on both the title track and on the group’s strange and lovely adaptation of Horace Silver’s “Peace,” and the all-too-brief presence of a koto on “Habu No Minato.” Everything here is exquisitely beautiful, even when the group is swinging smartly. For all library collections.


Dave Stryker
Eight Track III
Strikezone
8818

Operating in a classic guitar-organ trio format with the addition of vibraphone (and a little extra percussion on several tracks), guitarist Dave Stryker offers up a third helping of 1970s pop, R&B, and soul melodies in a swinging and funky jazz style. This one will make you feel good from the very first bars: opening with a strongly swinging take on the Curtis Mayfield classic “Move On Up,” the program moves on to include familiar tunes by Steely Dan (“Pretzel Logic”), the Carpenters (“We’ve Only Just Begun”), Roy Ayers (“Everybody Loves the Sunshine”) and others. I have to confess that the inclusion of “We’ve Only Just Begun” raised one of my eyebrows a bit — was there any way that Stryker and his crew could come up with a non-yucky arrangement? The answer is an emphatic yes; listen for yourself to the delicacy and quietude with which they replace the flugelhorn-heavy schlock of the original. There’s nothing innovative or groundbreaking here, just lots of great examples of how to arrange pop tunes for a jazz combo. Highly recommended.


Lioness
Pride & Joy
Posi-Tone
PR8193
Rick’s Pick

I’m normally loath to say what any kind of art or music “should” be. That said, if jazz is played without a sense of joy or fun, I do tend to want to know why. That thought occurred to me several times while listening to the latest album from Lioness–not because I found it joyless or no fun, but because I kept wondering why so few jazz albums are as fun and joyful as this one. What’s particularly interesting and impressive is how much fun this album is even as it serves an almost academic purpose as a tour of jazz styles. Consisting entirely of tunes written by women, the program includes drummer Allison Miller’s “Mad Time,” which has a swaying, swaggering second-line feel; the explicitly calypso-flavored “Sunny Day Pal” (a composition by Jenny Hill, the combo’s tenor sax player); the briskly boppish “Down for the Count” (by bari sax player Lauren Sevian), and organist Akiko Tsuruga’s blues-based “Funky Girl.” There’s a great arrangement of “Think” (yes, the Aretha Franklin song) as well. Not a moment of this album is less than stellar. Highly recommended to all libraries.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Various Artists
Strangers in the Room: A Journey Through the British Folk Rock Scene 1967-1973 (3 discs)
Grapefruit/Cherry Red (dist. MVD)
CRSEGBOX054

With this 60-cut, 3-disc set, the Grapefruit label continues the survey of British folk rock that it began with last year’s Gathered from Coincidence: British Folk-Pop Sound of 1965-1966. And, as that collection did, this one will be a revelation to curious Yanks who may have heard of Sandy Denny and Pentangle and Steeleye Span, but to whom bands like Paper Bubble, Unicorn, and, er, Oo Bang Jiggly Jang are foreign territory. For library collections, both of these sets are an absolute treasure–not only due to the quality and quantity of the music itself, but also because of the extensive liner notes and photos that accompany them. And for listeners who are new to the British folk-rock genre, they may be as baffling as they are enjoyable, given the rather tenuous connection to the folk tradition that many of these tracks evince. (There’s a Joan Armatrading number on here, believe it or not–and it’s outstanding, though hardly “folky” despite the prominence of acoustic guitars in the mix.) And it has to be admitted that some of these songs are pretty goofy-sounding, in that inimitably turn-of-the-70s way that songs can be goofy–but others will be a revelation to newcomers. For all libraries.


Kinloch Nelson
Partly on Time: Recordings 1968-1970
Tompkins Square
TSQ 5609

Guitar aficionados will likely recognize Kinloch Nelson’s name–he’s a widely renowned master of fingerstyle guitar and author of a book on alternate tunings. But in 1968 he was just a kid whose guitar and compositional technique were still in their formative stages, though already pretty impressive. Between 1968 and 1970 he finagled his way into the radio station of his older sister’s college and managed to record a bunch of tracks, most of them solo but a few with his friend and fellow guitarist Carter Redd. The original tapes are long since lost, but they survive in copies that were brilliantly recovered for this release. Nelson’s playing, though nimble, isn’t especially technically advanced yet, but you can hear the indications of both the technical and the compositional sophistication that would come later (note in particular his use of extended guitar techniques on “Tone Poem”). Recommended.


Choral Scholars of University College Dublin / Desmond Earley
Perpetual Twilight
Signum Classics (dist. Naxos)
SIGCD558

Classical label, classically-oriented choral group, yes — but this material consists significantly of traditional folk music, and the arrangements (many by the conductor) tend to honor the music’s origins rather than obscuring them. Opening with an energetic but subdued arrangement of “Dúlamán” featuring a tenor soloist accompanied only by a bodhrán, the program then proceeds to present such familiar songs as “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose,” “Wild Mountain Thyme,” and even “Danny Boy” alongside more obscure material and modern choral pieces that are related to, though not directly drawn from, Celtic tradition. Fans of traditional Celtic music and of contemporary choral music alike will find much to enjoy here.


Lone Justice
Live at the Palomino 1983
Omnivore
OVCD 308

Not exactly straight country, but not exactly cowpunk either, Lone Justice came up at a time when the LA punk scene was nurturing bands like the Blasters and X, the former a sort of rockabilly/R&B band that harnessed the energy of punk and the latter a punk band that drew on the soul of country. For context: in 1983, when Lone Justice was regularly playing sold-out shows at LA’s legendary Palomino club, Dwight Yoakam was opening for them. This previously-unreleased live tape will show you why: not only does their performance crackle with energy, but it also shows off their uncanny tightness and precision and, of course, the glorious wail of Maria McKee’s Aretha-meets-Loretta voice. The sound quality is good, though the mix is a bit unfortunate: the guitar is deeply buried and the bass is nearly inaudible. But that just make’s McKee’s voice that much clearer.


ROCK/POP


Hans-Joachim Roedelius & Tim Story
Lunz 3 (LP and digital only)
Grönland
LPGRON212

Hans-Joachim Roedelius (a legend of experimental pop music for more than 50 years now, and founding member of Cluster) and Tim Story have been collaborating off and on as Lunz since 2000. Their latest duo project is, as one would expect by now, a weird but beautiful collection of avant-garde soundscapes built on a foundation of piano but ranging very far afield from traditional acoustic keyboard sonics. Described in the press materials as what it might sound like if “Boards of Canada were being deconstructed by Philip Glass as Erik Satie dreams on the piano,” this music is neither academically dry nor cloyingly sweet, but rather consonant without being simple, pretty without being conventionally melodic, astringent without being sour. Highly recommended.


Be-Bop Deluxe
Futurama (reissue; 2 CD)
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)
PECLEC22672

Guitar wizard Bill Nelson first hit the big time with his band Be-Bop Deluxe, which released a string of astonishing albums in the 1970s. When I say “astonishing,” what I really mean is something more like “confounding”–the band combined elements of power pop, prog-rock, and jazz fusion to create music that thrilled music critics and a generation of aspiring hotshot guitarists while capturing the imagination of a rapt but not huge audience of listeners. This expanded reissue of the band’s 1975 album Futurama offers the album in its original mix and in a new stereo mix, along with a handful of outtakes and alternate versions. Nelson’s songs are very fine, but honestly it’s his guitar playing that most consistently surprises and delights. (There is also a deluxe 3-CD/1-DVD box set version available, which includes other fripperies probably not of interest to libraries–though it does include some wonderful live recordings from the period that unfortunately aren’t found on this version.)


Stats
Other People’s Lives
Memphis Industries
MI0522CD

This British band creates what frontman Ed Seed characterizes as “absurd office funk”–and if that sounds less promising to you than it did to me, I encourage you to give it a chance. Stats’ first full-length album (following the self-released digital Where Is the Money? EP from 2014) manages the nice trick of breaking new ground while drawing on familiar elements: “There Is a Story I Tell about My Life,” for example, manages to be fresh and new while harking back simultaneously to Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” and the Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another.” Other songs walk a thrillingly woozy line between old-school synth-pop and modern funk, balancing irony and sincerity at the same time. For all pop collections.


Henry Townsend
Mule (reissue)
Nighthawk/Omnivore
OVCD-309

Blues musician Henry Jesse “Mule” Townsend made his first recordings for Columbia Records in 1929. An accomplished pianist and guitarist as well as a singer, he made his most significant recordings as a sideman to the likes of Big Joe Williams, Walter Davis, and Sonny Boy Williamson, and he played an important role in both the history of the St. Louis blues scene and the emergence of the Chicago sound in the middle of the century. Chances are you’ve never heard of him (nor had I), and so this expanded reissue of his 1980 solo album may come as a revelation. There’s a smattering of additional musicians, but for the most part what you hear is Townsend playing piano and singing songs of his own, in a voice that is remarkably clear and strong for someone of his age at the time (71). The production is outstanding as well, rich and clear and present. This reissue adds eight previously-unreleased tracks to the original album’s program of 13.


Jimmie Vaughan
Baby, Please Come Home
Last Music Co. (dist. Redeye)
LMCD213

Jimmie Vaughan is known primarily for two things: being the lead guitarist of the Fabulous Thunderbirds (who rode Texas blues and R&B to unlikely fame in the 1980s) and being the older brother of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, to whom he bears a striking vocal resemblance. On his latest solo album he plays a solid set of classic blues shuffles, rockers, and ballads including the title track, I’m Still in Love with You,” “So Glad,” and “Baby, What’s Wrong?”. Although he’s a highly skilled guitarist, his style is resolutely unflashy, with a strong focus on emotional communication rather than technical wizardry. And his arrangements–which prominently feature a great horn section–are similarly straightforward and tasteful. Great stuff as usual from this elder statesman of Texas blues.


Trentemøller
Harbour Boat Trips Vol. 02: Copenhagen
HFN (dist. Forced Exposure)
HFN 085CD

To my mind, shoegaze is the most inexplicably persistent musical style of the 1980s. Characterized by slow tempos, dense and murky atmospheres, and mopey lyrics, it’s a genre that has never exactly been mainstream (despite the relative success of such flagship bands as My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain) but has also never really died, and seems now to be making something of a comeback. On the second installment in his Harbour Boat Trips compilation series, producer and multi-instrumentalist Trentemøller has pulled together a program that starts out with several tracks of heavy modern shoegaze material and then wanders around from there, exploring dream pop, electronica, and other related genres with a focus on artists from his native Denmark. Highlight tracks include Black Marble’s rather Cure-esque “Static” and Trentemøller’s own sulky-but-pretty “Transformer Man.” There’s a pretty cool number from shoegaze stalwarts Slowdive, too.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Gentleman’s Dub Club
Lost in Space
Easy Star
ES-1070

The concept album has a long (if not necessarily distinguished) history in pop music. But you don’t see them very often in a reggae context. The latest from Gentleman’s Dub Club is one such, a program of modern roots and dancehall reggae songs organized around a unifying “outer space” theme. Don’t worry, though–the music isn’t wanky or self-indulgent. The songs are tightly written, the grooves are heavy (with a strong tendency towards a relentlessly thumping steppers beat), and the theme is mostly expressed by song titles like “Intergalactic,” “Stardust,” and “Out of This World.” And although the band boasts an exceptionally fine lead singer in Jonathan Scratchley, they also make room for excellent cameo appearances by roots legend Winston Francis and Swedish reggae phenom Million Styles. This one is perhaps not quite as essential as their earlier work, but it’s a solid contribution to the GDC catalog.


Grupo Fantasma
American Music Vol. VII
Blue Corn Music
BCM 1901

Some polycultural fusion bands seem to be more about showing how polycultural they can be than about writing and performing great songs. Others take polyculturalism as a simple matter of course, a function of making art in a polycultural world, and incorporate wide-ranging influences in a natural and unselfconscious way. Austin’s Grupo Fantasma falls into the latter category; fundamentally, they’re a Latin funk group that draws most deeply on musical traditions from around the Texas border region. But that doesn’t stop them from happily ingesting and seamlessly incorporating elements of Turkish psychedelia, Punjabi bhangra, punk rock, R&B, and whatever else serves their musical purpose. The result is a joyfully (rather than defiantly) diverse explosion of musical colors, and while this album finds them essaying political statements a bit more explicitly than they have in the past, the overall flavor is one of exuberant happiness. This may be the best party album of the year so far.


Alborosie Meets the Roots Radics
Dub for the Radicals
Greensleeves/VP
VPGS7060

As beautiful as it is, this album is something of a mystery. It consists entirely of dub mixes of tracks recorded by the legendary Roots Radics band and singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Alberto D’Ascola (a.k.a. Alborosie). There are no vocals; this is an instrumental-only dub set, played and mixed in vintage early-1980s Roots Radics fashion, with Style Scott’s signature rockers beats supporting the elephantine basslines of Errol “Flabba” Holt and the sinuous guitar of Eric “Bingy Bunny” Lamont. The question, however, is: where did these tracks come from, given that Style Scott was tragically murdered five years ago? Are they from the vaults of a Roots Radics band member? Do they represent a new and artful simulacrum of the Radics style? (If so, the result is artful indeed.) In any case, the music is excellent, and will appeal primarily to Roots Radics fans rather than Alborosie’s large international following, given that his presence on the album is pretty subtle.