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Monthly Archives: October 2021

November 2021


Johann Sebastian Bach
The Overtures: Original Versions
Concerto Copenhagen / Lars Ulrich Mortensen
CPO (dist. Naxos)
555 346-2

Bach’s four overtures BWV 1066-1069 (also known as the Orchestral Suites) are most commonly played in late arrangements that include tympani and trumpets. But there is evidence to suggest that the earliest versions were written for strings and minimal winds, with no percussion, and that these elements were added later when Bach was working in Leipzig and had more musicians available to him. This is the premise on which the Concerto Copenhagen’s performance is based; the use of a single musician on each part further pares down the sound. The result is a crisp and sprightly recording and an interesting musicological argument, one that will certainly be of interest to libraries supporting a curriculum in early music practice. For sheer listening pleasure, some will prefer this to more traditional, larger-scale arrangements, but that feeling won’t be universal.

Unknown Composers
Messes anonymes
Cut Circle / Rodin
Musique en Wallonie (dist. Naxos)

In making this world-premiere recording of two 15th-century Masses by unknown Belgian composers, the Cut Circle ensemble (under the direction of Jesse Rodin) made a bold decision: given the supreme rhythmic and contrapuntal difficulty of these works, they would avoid the obvious performing choice (camouflaging potential errors with large vocal forces and a reverberant acoustic) and instead lean into the difficulty, recording in a dry acoustic with only four voices. The result is a breathtakingly impressive and beautiful musical document, one that lays the complexity of the music out for all to hear while also making clear how exceptionally beautiful it is. As they always do, Cut Circle perform with a bracing mix of precision and passion. What a shame that the composers of these Mass settings are unknown; I’d love to hear more from them. For all classical collections.

Arvo Pärt
Stabat Mater
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Münchner Rundfunksorchester / Repušić
BR-Klassik (dist. Naxos)

Arvo Pärt
Tabula Rasa
Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne / Capuçon
Erato/Warner Classics
No cat. no.

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is celebrated for both his choral and his instrumental music, and these two discs offer an attractive entree into both. Each of these albums features a different version of one of Pärt’s more popular pieces, Fratres, which was originally written for an unspecified combination of instruments but is most often played on violin and piano. Under the direction of violinist Renaud Capuçon, the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra plays a relatively lush 1992 arrangement for strings and percussion, whereas the one conducted by Ivan Repušić is a sparer version that leaves out the violin soloist. Repušić uses Fratres as an introduction to an album that builds through several orchestral pieces before culminating in Pärt’s dramatic setting of the Stabat Mater text, which is sung with hushed intensity by the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks. The Capuçon album consists entirely of chamber and orchestral works, including the title composition, the very popular Spiegel im Spiegel, and the less-frequently recorded Für Lennart in memoriam. I find that conductors and musicians who take on this music tend to love it quite intensely, and that love is well in evidence on both of these excellent recordings.

Various Composers
Royal Requiem (compilation; 5 discs)
Various Ensembles
Alpha Classics/Outhere (dist. Naxos)

Court composers wrote both sacred and secular music in honor of their royal patrons, and regularly that meant writing funeral music for them. The Requiem (a Mass setting written explicitly for funerary purposes) was one of the most important commissions a court composer could receive, and this five-disc set brings together previously released albums that document such compositions across several centuries. It begins with the 15th-century Requiem d’Anne de Bretagne by the under-recognized Antoine de Févin (performed exquisitely by the Doulce Mémoire ensemble), then proceeds to the mid-18th century with Nicoló Jommelli’s Requiem for Princess Maria Augusta von Thurn und Taxis (a work reputedly written in three days). Then we jump to nearly the turn of the 19th century with Sigismund Neukomm’s and Luigi Cherubini’s Requiems for Louis XVI, which are followed by the setting in honor of Marie Antoinette by Charles-Henri Plantade. With the final disc we jump back to the baroque period with funerary Masses by Gilles Henri Hayne (for Marie de Medici) and Johann Joseph Fux (for Emperor Leopold I’s widow Eleonora of Neubeurg), which bracket Henry Purcell’s Funeral Sentences for the Death of Queen Mary II. This set nicely documents one of the most centrally important manifestations of sacred music across European history, in very fine recordings. Libraries that don’t already own the original issues would do well to pick up this conveniently-packaged box.


Andrew Cyrille Quartet
The News

Having seen this group live at the Village Vanguard a few years ago, I can testify to what they’re capable of; drummer/leader Andrew Cyrille plays with an unusual sensitivity and an incredible sonic palette, which makes him a perfect match with guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Ben Street. Regular keyboardist/synthesist Richard Teitenbaum has been sidelined by health issues, but he is ably replaced on this album by David Virelles, whose pianism in particular brings a new and lovely dimension to the group’s sound. Some of this music is conventionally jazzy (the blues-based Frisell composition “Go Happy Lucky” is particularly delightful), but there’s lots of abstract avant-gardism as well (note in particular the freewheeling title track). Creating abstract avant-gardism of undeniable beauty is the Andrew Cyrille Quartet’s stock in trade, and they do it with aplomb on this remarkable album.

Josh Werner
Mode for Titan
M.O.D. Reloaded

Bassist Josh Werner has created something difficult to categorize with his first full solo album. I’m slotting it into the Jazz section because I suspect it’s jazz fans that will find it most interesting, but the music itself is quite unique. Utilizing multitracking and various electronic effects (and the highly varied tones and timbres of sitar bass, seven-string bass, and fretless bass), Werner creates compositions that define large sonic spaces but that are always warm and often groovy even though there’s no percussion and no chordal instruments involved. This is a guy who has worked with artists as diverse as Ghostface Killah, Cibo Matto, CocoRosie, and PopCaan — so it won’t come as a surprise that his influences are widely varied. And with production by Bill Laswell, you know the recorded sound will be rich and deep. Very interesting and very cool.

Jacqueline Kerrod
17 Days in December: Solo Improvisations for Acoustic & Electric Harp

Harpist Jacqueline Kerrod is classically trained — and extensively so, having begun her studies at age nine — but over the years her approach to the instrument has branched out into a variety of extended techniques and musical styles. Her résumé includes work with artists as diverse as Kanye West, Rufus Wainwright, and avant-jazz legend Anthony Braxton, as well as more traditional classical gigs. On her solo debut, she dives into the world of solo improvisation, alternating between acoustic harp (sometimes treated with mechanical alterations) and an electric instrument (with the addition of electronic effects). The music she creates here is sometimes a bit abrasive and difficult, and sometimes immediately accessible and conventionally beautiful. Interestingly, some of the most lovely tracks are those that are least recognizable as having been produced by a harp; “Glare,” with its extensive use of volume pedals, distortion, and reverb, is one such, as is the pulsing “Strummed I.” The electro-acoustic “Glassy Fingers” and “Broken: In 3” both evoke John Cage’s sonatas and interludes for prepared piano, but with much more melodic interest. All of it is fascinating and well worth hearing.

Errol Garner
Symphony Hall Concert
Octave Music/Mack Avenue

To celebrate the 100th birthday of legendary pianist and composer Erroll Garner, the University of Pittsburgh (where Garner’s archives are housed) and the Erroll Garner Project have collaborated to created a three-tiered release of commemorative recordings. At the top of the pyramid is this one-disc recording of his concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall in January, 1959. Leading a trio that includes bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin, Garner walks us through the history of jazz, looking back to the days of stride and barrelhouse piano on “I Can’t Get Started” and to the bebop era on “Bernie’s Tune,” while (as drummer Terri Lyne Carrington points out in the liner notes) also anticipating pianistic styles to come during the 1960s. His ability to conjure an entire orchestra on the piano is everywhere evident, but nowhere more so than on his bravura rendition of “Dreamy.” This is a magnificent recording that should find a home in every library’s jazz collection. (Those with deeper pockets should consider one of the deluxe box-set versions of this album that are also being made available.)


Twisted Pine
Right Now
Signature Sounds
SIG CD 2121

Twisted Pine apparently used to be a bluegrass band, though I have to say, as a latecomer to this band’s music, that I’m having a hard time imagining it. Yes, singer/fiddler Kathleen Parks definitely plays in a style with roots in Appalachia, and the same for jazzy mandolinist Dan Bui. But flutist Anh Phung is coming more from a Celtic place and also from a jazz place (check her solo on “Amadeus Party”), while Chris Satori’s bass is jazzy/funky all the way down. Which, I guess, is another way of saying that these guys represent the new generation of New Acoustic Music, alongside artists like the Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek, and Crooked Still. The best way to enjoy this thoroughly charming album, though, is to try and forget genre boundaries and just give yourself up to the funky, folky, poppy fun.

Felice Brothers
From Dreams to Dust
Yep Roc (dist. Redeye)

It takes a minute to get used to Ian Felice’s singing — he’s got that Dylan-y tendency to swipe at notes rather than hit them — but that doesn’t really matter much of the time, because some of these songs are practically spoken-word pieces, while others (like “Inferno”) alternate between verses and sung choruses. When these guys do write tunes, they tend to be really nice ones; the Felices have a real way with a melody, and they support the melodies with sturdy roots-folk-rock grooves. And then you notice the topical lyrics (“Tick tock goes the doomsday clock,” etc.) and the wryly absurdist ones (“Once spent over two months stuck in a painting by Bruegel the Elder,” etc.), and then you notice the production: rich, gritty, spacious but not airy. This album was my first introduction to the Felice Brothers, and I have to say I’m intrigued.

Marina Allen
Candlepower (EP)
Fire (dist. Redeye)

Lucy Gooch
Rain’s Break (EP)

Marina Allen’s seven-song EP evokes a lost era of folk-pop by women; you’ll hear stylistic echoes of Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, and Judee Sill, but don’t be fooled — this music is 100% modern, with carefully elaborate production (“Believer”) bumping up alongside minimalist, acoustic singer-songwriter fare (“Ophelia”). Don’t be fooled by her voice, either; it’s light but not soft, tender but not wispy. I kind of wish Candlepower were a full-length album. Same goes for Rain’s Break by Lucy Gooch, an even shorter EP that I admit doesn’t really fit the Folk/Country category but seemed like a good companion entry anyway. Gooch is working in a more cinematic/ambient mode, with quiet and wispy vocals layered over floating synths and occasional very subtle beats (“Chained to a Woman”). Her influences include not only classic film but also the sounds of women’s choirs from the 1930s, church music, and weather. Again, this is the kind of album that would ideally be about 75 minutes long, rather than 19.


Aztec Camera
Backwards and Forwards: The WEA Recordings 1984-1995 (compilation; 9 discs)
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)

If you weren’t around and paying attention to alternative pop music in the early- to mid-1980s, there’s a good chance you don’t have any (or much) memory of Aztec Camera. The band was really singer/songwriter Roddy Frame and a shifting array of sidemen, until he dropped the group moniker and started recording under his own name in the late 1990s. This luxurious nine-disc set (containing Aztec Camera’s five Warner albums plus four discs of live performances, alternate takes, remixes, etc.) can’t be said to contain everything you might need, because it leaves out his debut album, the triumphantly perfect High Land, Hard Rain. And it can’t be characterized as “all killer, no filler,” because it does at times devolve into superfluity (no fewer than seven mixes of “Good Morning, Britain,” a great song that nearly breaks here under the weight of over-attention) and non-necessity (the solo acoustic set from Ronnie Scott’s Club). But it would be fair to say that the studio albums represented here vary in quality from very good to outstanding, and that the disc of live 1984 performances in Glasgow and London offer powerful renditions of the High Land material. Libraries that collect pop music overlook this box at their peril. Hand-sell it to any patron who loves a colorful, fruity chord progression and an anthemic chorus.

Box (compilation; 4 discs)
New West (dist. Redeye)

And heck, while we’re at it, here’s another monumental box set from a band that made its mark in the 1980s. Pylon was much more short-lived than Aztec Camera, and its influence — while significant — was a bit more subterranean. Pylon emerged from the fecund Athens, Georgia scene at the same time as the B-52s, REM, and Love Tractor. Though multiple bands from the region cite them as an important influence on their sound (and REM would record a very fine cover of “Crazy,” the group’s best song), Pylon’s tendency towards melody-free muttered/shouted vocals probably limited their appeal, despite the power of their grooves and the occasionally surprising hookiness of their songs. Pylon released only two albums formally; Gyrate and Chomp are both included here, along with Razz Tape (a collection of early studio recordings that were never released commercially) and a fourth disc consisting of other non-album and unreleased tracks. Along with the discs, the box also includes a large and lavishly produced hardcover book filled with photos and historical information. Does this package have a limited natural audience? Sure — but it’s a very devoted one, and libraries supporting research into the history of American pop music would do well to consider adding this retrospective document.

The Seshen
CYAN Remixes (EP; digital only)
Tru Thoughts (dist. Redeye)

In February of this year, the San Francisco-based band The Seshen released CYAN, an album named “for a color that is both strong and soft.” It turned out to be an apt title for a release that featured ethereal, echoing vocals tethered to tight and bubbling grooves, creating a feel that was simultaneously gentle and propulsively funky. Now comes a five-track collection of remixes created by the likes of Kumar Butler, SNVS, and FEVRMOON, all of which shed a different light on the album’s original vision. But interestingly, the remixers don’t generally choose to pull their chosen tracks dramatically far from CYAN‘s overriding vibe; for example, although FEVRMOON’s take on “4AM” is a bit denser and busier than the original, it generally preserves the original version’s feel. The two exceptions are Kumar Butler’s mix of “Wander,” which playful messes around with the original’s lilting 3/4 time signature, bumping it into and out of a four-on-the-floor dance pulse, and Mahawam’s mix of “Still Dreaming,” which turns it into a sort of ambient-dub fever dream. Both this collection and the original album would make great additions to any pop collection.

The Pop Group
Y in Dub

The Pop Group’s 1979 debut, Y, was one of those “important” albums that, despite its historical significance, you have to admit is pretty tough to listen to. Jagged guitars, chugging bass, and Mark Stewart’s unhinged yowling all combine to create a sound that had a huge impact on the UK post-punk scene, and that is frankly much more impressive than enjoyable. Interestingly, that album was produced by legendary reggae producer Dennis Bovell. It had little or nothing sonically to do with reggae, but Bovell brought his highly-developed sense of space and layering to the mix. On this remix project, he applies the techniques of dub (instruments and voices dropping in and out, with varying levels of effects applied) to the original recordings, creating a wild pastiche of sounds and noises. The effect of this approach is actually a softening of the original music; with the echo and delay and the expanded sonic space, what was once a fairly assaultive listening experience becomes somewhat softer and more accessible one. Somewhat, that is. This album was a great idea and it was a long time coming.


Riverboat (dist. Redeye)

Afro-Nordic music collective Monoswezi continue their pattern of releasing an album about every four years, and I’m continuing my pattern of recommending every single one of them. The band’s name might look like a Swahili word, but it’s actually an acronym formed by combining the first couple of letters from the names of the bandmembers’ home countries: Mozambique, Norway, Sweden, and Zimbabwe. And as one might expect, the music itself is a complex and colorful tapestry of styles built on a foundational fusion of Nordic jazz and African rhythms. This is music that simultaneously celebrated tradition and explodes it: delicate Afro-Latin beats underpin jazzy improvisations; complex time signatures are thethered to steady pulses; singer Hope Masike defiantly plays the mbira, an instrument traditionally played only by men in her home country. And the songs are wonderful. Highly recommended.

Various Artists
Sub Signals, Vol. 2: Selected and Mixed by Gaudi
Dubmission (dist. MVD)

Gaudi is one of the most celebrated producers, remixers, and creators of original music on the always-bubbling global dub scene. His second contribution to the Sub Signals series is billed, accurately, as a “deep dive into underground bass”; to create this compilation Gaudi dug deep into his crates and, it appears, cashed in a few IOUs, resulting in a generous and blissfully heavy collection of tracks by the likes of Steel Pulse, African Head Charge, Paolini Dub Files, the Orb, and Alpha Steppa — some of them previously unreleased in any format. The sounds are a mix of analog and digital, and the sonic spaces are consistently both huge and microscopically detailed. If, like me, you somehow slept on Sub Signals Vol. 1, then take this as your cue to pick up both collections.

Khöömei Beat
Changys Baglaash
ARC Music (dist. Naxos)

Traditional Tuvan throat singing and rock’n’roll might not seem like an obvious combination, but hey — we live in a world of less-than-obvious musical fusions these days, and all the better for that, I say. Khöömei Beat play a mix of modern and traditional instruments in support of vocals that veer back and forth between conventional singing and the Tuvan people’s particular approach to throat singing — a technique that uses guttural vocalization to produce overtones, which are then manipulated by changing the shape of the mouth while the singer maintains a steady fundamental pitch. It’s a unique sound, surely not to everyone’s taste, but always interesting and objectively impressive. Combine it with punky bass and guitars, aggressive drums, and an array of regional traditional instruments and you have an album that is sure to enliven any party.

Jah Sun & The Rising Tide
Running Through Walls (digital only)
AMT Entertainment
No cat. no.

Here’s some tight and tuneful roots reggae from the Bay Area. Jah Sun and his band have been lighting up the California reggae scene for some time now, and you can hear a tightness and discipline in their sound that comes only with lots and lots of gigging. Honestly, I’m always a bit uncomfortable when white American guys acquire Jamaican accents to sing reggae, but Jah Sun does it only very subtly — and the quality of his songs is so consistently high that it’s easy to just go with it. Interestingly, while some of this material is straight-up modern roots, other songs push the stylistic boundaries: for example, the title track is more reggae-adjacent than reggae, while “Stuck with You” is sort of a soca-pop fusion (and works very well). But there’s not a weak track here, no matter what the genre or style, and Jah Sun’s consistent message of positivity and uplift is a joy. Highly recommended to all reggae and/or pop collections.


October 2021


Stephen Yip
Quietude: Music of Stephen Yip
Various Ensembles/Soloists

Doug Bielmeier
Ambient Works

The titles of these two new releases on the Albany label might lead you to expect similar listening experiences, but in fact they are very different. Quietude presents compositions for soloists and chamber ensembles by Stephen Yip, who was raised in Hong Kong and educated both there and at Rice University in Texas. The music presented here is indeed often quiet, but it’s also challenging, characterized by extended instrumental techniques and often by harmonic dissonance. (Topic: the ensemble piece Tranquility in Consonance III is neither tranquil nor consonant. Discuss.) The title work is perhaps the most difficult, but I was especially captivated by White Dew, for flute and bass flute, which calls on the musicians to create a wide variety of tones and effects in a highly reverberant acoustic. This is a fascinating and wonderful album that gives the listener plenty to chew on. Doug Bielmeier’s Ambient Works, on the other hand, comes much closer to providing exactly what its title promises: quiet and minimal ambient music, based on computer-generated sounds, samples, and (in one case) live instruments. But even here there are some crunchier moments: Photo Lab Sanctuary is a “soundwalk” piece built on environmental samples that don’t exactly soothe or lull the listener; Backscatter sounds like a cross between a Steve Reich phase piece and something Carl Stone might write when in a puckish mood. No Time is written for a quartet of clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, though the music is altered and processed to the point that its sonic origins are somewhat obscured. This isn’t ambient music to fall asleep to — but it’s consistently interesting and frequently deeply beautiful.

Franz Anton Hoffmeister
6 Clarinet Quartets
Eddy Vanoosthuyse; Zemlinsky Quartet
Antarctica (dist. Naxos)
AR 032

George Friedrich Fuchs
Clarinet Chamber Music
Italian Classical Consort / Luigi Magistrelli
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
BRI 96305

Franz Hoffmeister came to Vienna in 1754, at age 14, to study law. But after completing his degree he stayed on to pursue his real passion, which was music composition. Although he had success writing music, he made his money as a publisher, and has only in recent years begun to receive his full due as a composer — and now, after years of neglect, some of his most popular works are his chamber pieces for clarinet and string trio. On this recording, the very fine Belgian clarinetist Eddy Vanoosthuyse joins three members of the Zemlinsky Quartet (all playing modern instruments) to provide us a tour of these six innovative and charming pieces, all of which are actually arrangements of pieces originally written for flute and strings or oboe and strings; this approach reflects the growing popularity of the clarinet in 18th-century Europe. Vanoosthuyse and the Zemlinskys play them with both sensitivity to period style and an admirable panache, using dynamic shifts carefully to bring out the full genius of these lovely quartets. George Friedrich Fuchs was working in France at the same time as Hoffmeister in Vienna, and while he never achieved the same notoriety as Hoffmeister, his chamber works for clarinet (in various combinations with other instruments) receive deserved attention here from the Italian Classical Consort, again on modern instruments, under the baton of clarinetist Luigi Magistrelli. There is a duo for clarinet and horn; trios for clarinets, for two clarinets and bassoon, and for two clarinets and violin; and arrangements of opera arias for various combinations of clarinets and other wind instruments. This is music of great charm, if not world-changing innovation, and this recording offers a welcome opportunity to hear from one of the minor but still considerable talents of the classical era. (Why the album cover features an image of someone playing an oboe is something of a mystery.) Both are recommended to all libraries.

Johann Sebastian Bach
Three or One
Fred Thomas; Aisha Orazbayeva; Lucy Railton

Johann Sebastian Bach
Bach for Two
Romina Lischka; Marnix De Cat
Ramée/Outhere (dist. Naxos)

Here we have two very different applications of the art of transcription to the music of J.S. Bach. The first is by pianist Fred Thomas, who has arranged an array of selections from Bach’s legendary Orgelbüchlein (“little organ book”) for a trio of piano, violin, and cello. Thomas chose violinist Aisha Orazbayeva and cellist Lucy Railton because he was familiar with their work as a duo and knew of their tendency towards “lean sonorities,” which the listener will notice — in fact, if I hadn’t known better I’d have assumed they were playing gut-strung instruments. Thomas’ arrangements are thoughtful, and the trio’s playing is more intensely emotional than one might expect. This is a quiet triumph of an album. “Quiet triumph” would also be an apt descriptor of Bach for Two, a collection of transcriptions of organ sonatas, arias, and other miscellanea for viola da gamba and organ, along with a setting of the BWV1027 sonata for viol and keyboard. While it might seem as if the mighty organ would inevitably overwhelm the much softer and wispier tonalities of the viola da gamba, in fact they complement each other beautifully on these arrangements (due in part to skillful production). Lischka and De Cat have long experience playing together, and it shows; their shared depth of understanding of and deep affection for Bach’s organ and chamber music come out with every note.


Champian Fulton & Stephen Fulton
Live from Lockdown

A new album from Champian Fulton is always cause for celebration, and when she’s joined by her father, the outstanding flugelhorn and trumpet player Stephen Fulton, you can be assured of a warm, complex, and golden-toned musical experience. As a singer, Champian acts as a sort of prism: through her brain and her voice, the melodic playfulness of Billie Holiday and the impeccable intonation of Ella Fitzgerald and the strutting confidence of Sarah Vaughn are all refracted and emerge as a unique expressive identity; as a pianist, she’s like a history book come to life, switching between (and sometimes blending) stride, bebop, boogie-woogie, and cool styles seemingly without effort. This latest album is, as its title suggests, the product of the Fultons’ forced shift from live-in-person performance to livestreamed concerts produced at home. It consists almost entirely of standards, mostly ballads and mid-tempo swingers like “You’ve Changed,” “Satin Doll,” “Look for the Silver Lining,” and “Moonglow,” with a couple of lovely originals thrown in as well. As always, both Fultons play not only with skill but with heart, and with a rare level of interpersonal communication. For all libraries.

Glad to Be Here
Storyville (dist. Naxos)

Over the course of his long career, trombonist and composer Ole Lindgreen (a.k.a. Fessor) has released almost 40 albums under his own name, not counting the scores of releases on which he has appeared as a sideman. On Glad to Be Here — an album reportedly recorded around the dining table in his home — he looks back on that illustrious career, revisiting such trad and swing standards as “Louisiana,” “Moten Swing,” “Azure,” and “Drop Me Off in Harlem,” working with a septet that includes clarinetist Chris Tanner and bassist Jens Sølund and that frequently manages to sound like a big band despite its actual size. Lindgreen and his boys shift gracefully from slippery second-line rhythms to powerful 1930s-era swing and back again, playing constantly with an uncanny blend of emotive soul and sophisticated, almost academic precision. Maybe that’s why they call him Fessor.

Graham Dechter
Major Influence

Guitarist Graham Dechter is back for another outing as leader on an all-originals program (well, almost — it includes a lovely arrangement of “Pure Imagination” from the first Willy Wonka movie) leading an all-star quartet that includes pianist Tamir Hendelman, bassist John Clayton, and master drummer Jeff Hamilton. It’s always a sign of mature confidence when a guitarist chooses to share space with a pianist, and Dechter demonstrates that confidence (and exceptional taste) in his choice of Hendelman, with whom he comfortably and companionably shares the middle pitch range and the chordal duties on this outstanding album. The blues is a recurring element on these tunes, and it’s in the blues pocket that Dechter seems particularly happy and free, but honestly there are no weak tracks here. One of my favorites was “Bent on Monk,” a lovely tribute on which Dechter incorporates elements of Thelonious Monk tunes (and technique) into a hard-swinging original that never attempts to ape the one to whom he’s paying tribute. Recommended to all collections.

Chick Corea Akoustic Band
Live (2 discs)
Concord Jazz

Never having been a big fan of his electric fusion stuff — the music for which he really became famous in the 1970s — I’ve always been quite interested in the late Chick Corea’s more straight-ahead, acoustic work. Since 1989 he’s worked intermittently with what he calls the Akoustic Band: himself on piano, John Pattitucci on bass, and (with the exception of one recording) Dave Weckl on drums. The trio has made one studio album and now three live albums; this one documents two sets played at the SPC Music Hall in Florida in January of 2018. The program consists of a mix of standards and Corea compositions, and the group plays with the suppleness and freedom that comes from years of working together, however sporadically. You can hear the fusion backgrounds of all three players, particularly in the soloing (I especially hear it when Weckl gets a chance to stretch out), and the tension between that stylistic tendency and the straight-ahead jazz framework within which they’re playing creates some wonderful moments. Highlights include a searching and tender rendition of “In a Sentimental Mood” and their thrilling take on one of my favorite standards of all time, “On Green Dolphin Street.”


Ana Egge
Between Us
Storysound (dist. Redeye)

Singer-songwriter Ana Egge takes off in something of a new direction on this, her twelfth album. Opening with the gently chugging, horn-driven “Wait a Minute” and then proceeding through a program of generally quiet and heartfelt tracks dealing with troubled relationships (“You Hurt Me,” “Heartbroken Kind”), political conflict within families (“Lie, Lie, Lie”), the death of a loved one (“We Lay Roses”), etc. Her roots in the acoustic music scene are very much evident throughout, but the production on this album is bigger and lusher than usual: steel guitars, rockish distortion, and the aforementioned horns show up every so often to give a new weight and depth to her sound. Egge’s way with a melody is subtle and engaging, as is her voice, one that can go from a whisper to a full-chested declamation so smoothly and naturally that you hardly notice the transition. My favorite couplet from this very fine album: “We let the devil come between us/And now he doesn’t want to go.”

Jeremy Stephens
How I Hear It

Multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Stephens is best known as the frontman for High Fidelity, but he also has a long history as a sideman, working with the likes of Jesse McReynolds, the Lilly Brothers, the Chuck Wagon Gang, and others. Here he breaks out of both molds and offers us a glimpse of his own personal musical vision. As it turns out, that vision is both deeply rooted in tradition and slyly eclectic. His banjo playing draws both on the Scruggs-era verities and the single-string innovations of Don Reno; when he plays mandolin he slides back and forth between hard-driving traditional approaches and the more elegant cross-picking style popularized by Jesse McReynolds. He also plays guitar on this album, beautifully, and sings — and when his wife and collaborator Corrina Rose Logston joins him in harmony, the effect is exquisite. There are so many highlights on this joyful, varied album that it’s hard to pick just one or two, but “You’ll Be Lonesome Too” is a bittersweet joy, and the album-opening rendition of the Reno & Smiley classic “Sockeye” is also especially tasty. For all libraries.

Myriam Gendron
Ma délire: Songs of Love Lost & Found
Feeding Tube (dist. Forced Exposure)

Laurel Premo
Golden Loam
Laurel Premo Sound

This is an interesting temporal coincidence: two simultaneous releases by unrelated female singers/guitarists, each creating and exploring a conceptually related but very different territory of folk/experimental guitar-based music. Myriam Gendron does so through a Québecois lens: sometimes singing in English and sometimes in French, she delivers fuzz-heavy doom-folk on “C’Est dans les vieux pays” and then switches to unadorned acoustic guitar for an instrumental rendition of “Shenandoah” (a tune that is revisited vocally, and in French, at the end of the album). She sings John Jacob Niles’ “I Wonder As I Wander” alongside understated winds and strings, and makes “Le tueur des femmes” sound lighter than it really is. Laurel Premo’s Golden Loam is more guitar-focused, and more electric; Premo’s approach is more Southern-U.S.-based, with slide guitar blues and gospel tunes rubbing up against gorgeous oddities like the Norwegian fiddle tune “Torbjørn Bjellands Bruremarsj.” There’s not much singing on this album, but when she pipes up on “Hop High” her voice is understated and perfect. Both of these albums are recommended to all libraries.


Various Artists
The Sun Shines Here: The Roots of Indie-pop 1980-1984 (3 discs)
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)

The Cherry Red label continues to produce essential box-set anthologies documenting pop music history from the later 20th century, showing particular strength in music from in and around the 1970s punk revolution. The latest is this one, which shines light on some obscure corners of the indie pop scene of the early 1980s — indie pop being distinguished from mainstream pop by its general weirdness, and from post-punk by its almost entire rejection of guitar distortion. Cherry Red being an English label, the manifestations of indie pop on offer here are all British: relatively famous names like Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout, Everything But the Girl, and Scritti Politti are all represented, as are many artists from whom we never heard again (I’m looking at you, Dolly Mixture), and quite a bit of the material on these three discs has never been available on CD before. It’s a mixed bag, of course, but a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable one. Libraries that acquired Cherry Red’s Scared to Get Happy box back in 2013 will find that this one serves essentially as a sequel to it. Libraries that collect deeply in pop music and didn’t pick that one up should probably grab both of them now.

Various Artists
R&B in DC 1940-1960: Rhythm & Blues, Doo Wop, Rockin’ Rhythm and More… (16 discs)
Bear Family (dist. MVD)
GCD 17052

Like all box sets on the Bear Family label, this one is a monument of music and scholarship — and one more in an ongoing series of gauntlets thrown down in front of the American music establishment by a German company that seems much more dedicated to the preservation and celebration of America’s musical heritage than any of the latter country’s own labels are. In this case, the specific slice of heritage under consideration is the spectrum of African American pop music styles that flourished in the Washington, DC area during the middle two decades of the 20th century. Over the course of 16 CDs (and a lavishly illustrated, LP-sized, 350-page hardbound book), this set documents the development of early R&B, jump blues, doo wop, and gospel music during that fertile period, drawing on records unearthed at regional swap meets, flea markets, yard sales, and record stores by radio host and music researcher Jay Bruder and painstakingly transferred and restored. Not only is the sound quality consistently excellent, but the accompanying book is a triumph of popular music scholarship: every track is annotated — some in astonishing historical detail — and the book itself is gorgeous, handsomely bound in such a way that it lies flat no matter what page you open to. The music itself is not consistently excellent, and that’s part of the point of the project: clunkers are presented alongside little-known masterpieces, giving us a fully-textured overview of the DC music scene at a critical point in American cultural history. But the ratio of dross to gold is highly favorable: for every eight or ten spine-tingling appearance by, say, Billy Eckstine or the Cruisers or the Young Gospel Singers, there might be a silly novelty tune or a throwaway formula exercise by someone else. (And since some artists are represented by ten or more entries, even the quality of music from individual artists and groups is somewhat uneven.) Again, though, this is the point: like most Bear Family boxes, this is one is as much about learning as about listening, which makes it a natural fit for library collections — well-funded library collections, that is, as this one lists for about $300. Very highly recommended.

Marshall Crenshaw
The Wild, Exciting Sounds of Marshall Crenshaw: Live in the 20th and 21st Century (2 discs)
Sunset Blvd

America has lots of songwriters, and a few of them are commercially successful. Of the commercially successful ones, a few are masters of the form. Marshall Crenshaw is one of that very select group. He has also been, for several decades now, a dynamite live performer, as this two-disc set illustrates. The first disc documents performances from 1982 and 1983 in the Boston and New York areas (leading a band that included his brothers Robert and John). The sound quality of these live recordings is generally good, though at times it’s unfortunately distorted (note, for example, “Whenever You’re on My Mind”). In a live context, classic tunes like “Cynical Girl” and “Mary Anne” take on an extra element of joyful abandon, and we get a clearer view of the raw rockabilly underpinnings of a song like “Got a Lot of Livin’ to Do.” On disc 2 we get to hear both solo and band performances from 1991 and 2014, and while these are quite good they’re honestly not quite as compelling as the earlier recordings. Overall, though, this album is a solid winner.

Pere Ubu
St. Arkansas (reissue)
Fire (dist. Redeye)

Pere Ubu
Pennsylvania (reissue)

Since its inception in the mid-1970s, Cleveland’s proto-art-punk stalwarts Pere Ubu have been blazing an entirely unique trail through the thickets of rock, punk, art-rock, and even straight-up pop music. By 1998, when Pennsylvania was originally issued, only frontman David Thomas and guitarists Jim Jones and Tom Herman remained from the group’s earliest days; by 2002, when St. Arkansas came out, Jones’ declining health had moved him to the sidelines; he was a featured player on the album but no longer a fully functioning member of the band. (Sadly, he would die a few years later, at age 57.) These two albums are among the darkest of the band’s discography, though not the most weird or experimental: while the pop hooks that abounded on albums like Cloudland and Worlds in Collision are nowhere to be found here, the fundamental structure is fairly standard-issue rock’n’roll, with the standard overlay of bloopy synths and Thomas’ uniquely squeaky, yelping vocals delivering distinctly odd lyrics. Longstanding Ubu themes of American geography, highways, and place names continue to thread through these albums — no songs about birds, though. Both albums were remixed by Thomas for the reissue.


Lee “Scratch” Perry
Roast Fish, Collie Weed, and Corn Bread (reissue)

With the recent passing of legendary reggae producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, you can anticipate lots of reissues and tribute albums over the next year or so. Some will be outstanding; some will be dodgy money-grabs. This one is gold. Perry is mostly known as a producer who created an utterly unique studio sound and was at the helm for some of reggae’s most enduring recordings by the likes of the Heptones, Junior Byles, the Congos, and even Bob Marley and the Wailers. But this album represents Perry as an artist, singing his uniquely weird lyrics over classic Black Ark backing tracks. Songs like “Throw Some Water In” and “Free Up the Weed” are not only great Perry songs, they’re classics of classical-era 1970s reggae. (Though he probably should have left “Curly Locks” alone, since his performance of it pales terribly in comparison to Byles‘.) This CD is not actually a new reissue, but since the album is being reissued on red vinyl for Record Store Day I thought I’d take the opportunity to encourage all libraries to pick up the CD version. This is an absolutely essential piece of reggae history.

Dennis Bovell Meets Dubblestandart
@Repulse “Reggae Classics”
Echo Beach

This album represents a summit meeting of two reggae legends: from the old school, London-based bassist/producer Dennis Bovell (a.k.a. Blackbeard); and from the new school, Vienna’s Dubblestandart, perhaps Europe’s foremost exponents of heavy modernist roots reggae. The album’s inscrutable title notwithstanding, it’s a straightforward affair: reworks of classic reggae tunes from Jamaican and UK bands like Matumbi, Steel Pulse, Twinkle Brothers, and Culture, with Dubblestandart providing the backing tracks and Bovell singing and producing. Delightfully, the album is presented in “showcase” style, with each vocal version followed by a dub mix. Songs like “Jah Jah See Dem a Come” and “Hypocrite” may be familiar fare, but these versions shed fresh light on them and the mighty Dubblestandart crew do an excellent job of making them their own. And Bovell’s production is brilliant as always. Highly recommended.

Native Soul
Teenage Dreams
Awesome Tapes from Africa

In recent months I’ve kind of fallen in love with amapiano, a dance music genre that emerged in South Africa about ten years ago. Although it’s rooted in house music (and I really hate house music), I find it irresistible somehow: the four-on-the-floor beats that make house so tedious to my ears somehow manage to be both soothing and propulsive here, and the layers of samples and melodic fragments that create the body of the sound are both often weird and frequently uplifting. Native Soul is a duo who produce some of the most attractive examples of amapiano I’ve yet heard, and their new release is a gentle triumph of color and texture. From the bumping opening track “The Beginning” to the album-closing “End of Time,” the steady 115-bpm chug and the creative building up of musical layers is a delight. If your library has a collecting interest in sub-Saharan pop music, this album is a must-have.