Missa faulte d’argent & Motets
The Brabant Ensemble / Stephen Rice
Hyperion (dist. Integral)
I confess that I’m a sucker for the thrill of a world-premiere recording. And since I’m also a sucker for the music of the Franco-Flemish masters and for the rich, creamy sound of the Brabant Ensemble, it should come as no surprise that I’m going to sing the praises of the group’s latest album. It brings to light seven previously unrecorded motets by one of the great composers of the third generation, along with his parody mass built on the chanson “Faulte d’argent” (the same source used for his six-voice Requiem setting). As always, the Brabant Ensemble’s sound is smooth and sumptuous; on this recording there is also a certain lightness and airiness to their voices that seems a bit new. The music itself is glorious, and left me hoping that the majority of Mouton’s masses that are still unrecorded will eventually get the same attention from this masterful ensemble.
Choral Arts Initiative / Brandon Elliott
Navona (dist. Parma)
Presented as a “meditation on the transformative experience of traveling the Pacific Coast Trail,” this large-scale work for choir, soloists, cello, and singing bowls represents a celebration by composer Jeffrey Derus of the majestic beauty of North America’s west coast. Each movement of the piece represents a different segment of the Pacific Coast Trail, from Southern California to Washington State. The purpose of the music is simultaneously programmatic (invoking the landscapes of the region) and therapeutic (promoting self-discovery and healing), and accordingly, the music alternates between modern but consonant choral passages and meditative instrumental interludes. At times the sounds are intense and complex, and at others they’re deeply simple and peaceful, creating a fascinating and multifaceted sound world. The singing is excellent throughout.
Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen
Six String Quartets
CPO (dist. Naxos)
Not only was the violinist and composer Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen one of the very few women to have a professional musical career in 18th-century Italy, she is also generally believed to have been the first woman to have written and published string quartets. As presented by the Lombardini Quartett (in the group’s debut recording), these are thrillingly beautiful pieces, filled with emotion and color — fugal structures and classical sonata form are all present, but the music sparkles with freedom and almost flowery melodic invention. These musicians are clearly in love with this music, and they play with joyful energy. Highly recommended to all libraries.
French and Flemish Chansons
Ratas del Viejo Mundo
Ramée (dist. Naxos)
Josquin (or possibly Johannes) Baston is one of the more mysterious figures of the Franco-Flemish tradition, a composer about whom little is known and whose name may even belong to more than one person whose musical output is documented in the region. Works attributed to Baston appear mainly in collections of sacred and secular songs dominated by more prominent names like Josquin Desprez and Clemens non Papa. The charmingly named ensemble Ratas del Viejo Mundo (“rodents of the old world”) have gathered here a selection of Baston’s secular songs (including some that are quite bawdy) alongside a couple of sacred pieces, some written in French, some in Flemish, and some in Latin — interestingly, one appears to be a déploration on the death of Johannes Lupi. The performances are excellent, and the music is fascinating.
Henry Purcell; Johann Sigismund Cousser
The Hibernian Muse: Music for Ireland by Purcell and Cousser
Sestina; Irish Baroque Orchestra / Peter Whelan
Linn (dist. Naxos)
This is one of those rare albums that is as enjoyable as it is historically significant. It represents the world-premiere recording of a “serenata da camera” (something like a large-scale cantata) written by the Hungarian composer Johann Sigismund Cousser, who spent the last 20 years of his life as a chapel-master at Trinity College Dublin. The Universal Applause of Mount Parnassus was written to celebrate the birthday of Queen Anne in 1711, and is the earliest known operatic work written in Dublin for an Irish audience. It’s accompanied by a little-known work of Henry Purcell, also written to be performed at Trinity College; the ode Great Parent, Hail! was composed in honor of the college’s centenary in 1694, and apart from the unsurprisingly exquisite music, it features some very careful political tap-dancing in the libretto (it having been written in the wake of the Glorious Revolution). This is a richly beautiful recording of gorgeous performances.
Memories of a Shadow
Chris Votek; Wild Up
This magnificent recording is the debut of cellist and composer Chris Votek, who is steeped in both European and South Asian classical music traditions. The title work is a three-movement piece for string quintet on which he plays alongside several members of the Wild Up ensemble; the composition combines European polyphony, raga-based melody, and American rhythms, and the resulting music is both wildly emotional and intellectually acute. The second piece on the album is a straightforward performance of the raga “Bhimpalasi,” which he performs accompanied by the tabla of Dr. Neelamjit Dhillon. The cello is an unusual instrument in the context of Hindustani classical music (the violin is much more commonly used), and Votek’s use of it here is revelatory — he makes liberal use of the instrument’s low range, bringing an entirely new flavor to the performance of this raga. This is an altogether brilliant album.
Tiyo’s Songs of Life
Tiyo Attallah Salah-El was a star-crossed musician whose struggles and crimes led him into and out of jail during his young adulthood, culminating in a life sentence for drug dealing and murder. Both before and during his prison sentences he became an accomplished musician, playing (while at liberty) jazz and R&B in clubs and (while in prison) playing with fellow inmates and deepening his musical education. This album is a tribute to Tiyo Attallah Salah-El led by tenor saxophonist Felipe Salles, who has written new (and sometimes radically reconfigured) arrangements of his tunes and leads a quartet through rollicking and affectionate renditions of them. Highlights include the bouncy Latin setting of “Steppin’ Up,” a limpidly beautiful ballad titled “Live a Life of Love” (which, over the course of nine-and-a-half minutes, alternates between a light jazz waltz and bossa nova rhythms) and a composite arrangement of two blues compositions, “Blues for Pablo” and “Blues for Professor Zinn.”
What Is There to Say?
Cellar Music Group (dist. MVD)
Here’s the delicate balance that tenor saxophonist and composer Cory Weeds strikes so elegantly on his latest album as a leader: playing with orchestral string accompaniment, he delivers a program of ballads and gentle mid-tempo tunes that is always sweet but never saccharine. It’s an album of paradoxes: muscular but gentle, powerful but light. This is an accomplishment that should not be underestimated, and credit is due not only to Weeds himself — whose playing is admirably tasteful and whose tone is a joy throughout — but also to arranger, pianist and coproducer Phil Dwyer, whose rhythm section (also featuring bassist John Lee and drummer Jesse Cahill) centers the ensemble and keeps it solidly grounded. Weeds’ composition “Alana Marie” is a particular high point on the album, as is a sweetly loping rendition of “I Wish You Love.”
George Cotsirilos Quartet
From the strutting, spiky “Devolution” to the spidery, boppish “Let’s Make a Break for It,” the second quartet album led by guitarist George Cotsirilos continues his longstanding practice of writing and playing straight-ahead jazz that sounds like no one else. Here he leads the same combo that accompanied him last time (pianist Keith Saunders, bassist Robb Fischer, drummer Ron Marabuto), and if anything they’re even tighter and more supple than they were on 2018’s outstanding Mostly in Blue. Notice, for example, how lithely they negotiate the constantly changing rhythmic structure of “Aftermath,” and how tightly they swing on the uptempo numbers. Cotsirilos’ tone is warm and golden, and his melodic and harmonic ideas just seem to flow like water. Another triumph from one of our finest exponents of jazz guitar.
Tyshawn Sorey Trio
No cat. no.
To call this a standards album would be a bit misleading — it does include a couple of standards (“Detour Ahead,” “Autumn Leaves”) as well as not-exactly-standard tunes by standards composers (Duke Ellington, Horace Silver). But most of the program is from decidedly outside the standards book, and drummer Sorey’s approach to arranging for this trio is also well outside the norm. Consider just the opening two tracks: on Silver’s “Enchantment,” Sorey lays out a busy, bustling rhythm while bassist Matt Brewer plays a repeating near-ostinato and pianist Aaron Diehl explores the head impressionistically; on the 15-minute performance of “Detour Ahead,” the drums begin almost silently while the piano and bass elaborate the main theme simultaneously and with great tenderness — the drums slowly gather in intensity while remaining restrained and quiet as a three-way improvisation continues. This kind of creative and deeply musical thinking continues throughout the remainder of a lovely and truly remarkable album.
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper with the Clinch Mountain Clan
The Singles Collection 1947-62 (2 discs)
Acrobat (dist. MVD)
The influence of husband-and-wife duo Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper on the history of country music can hardly be overestimated. From the beginning of their career, their sound was an amalgam of old-time, bluegrass, and hillbilly styles — and it remained stubbornly so for decades, despite the changing fashions of country and folk music during their time of activity. Wilma Lee had a sharp, reedy voice that both contrasted and blended beautifully with Stoney’s smoother low tenor, and the Clinch Mountain Clan provided subtly eclectic backing that shifted effortlessly from old-timey fiddle breakdowns with clawhammer banjo to electric-guitar-driven country standards, delivering everything from dead-child tearjerkers to romantic laments to gospel raveups with equal conviction and power. This two-disc collection brings together midcentury singles recorded for the Rich-R-Tone, Columbia, and Hickory labels, and represents a treasure trove for any library collecting American music.
Free Dirt (dist. Redeye)
In the tradition of venerable folkie social commentators like Woody Guthrie and his hero Utah Phillips, Willi Carlisle writes sophisticated and deceptively old- and simple-sounding songs that deal with tough contemporary issues: “Life on the Fence” is sung, in waltz time, through the eyes of a man struggling to deal with his bisexuality; “Vanlife” is a sarcastic tribute to the classic semi-spoken trucker song à la Red Sovine, folded into a larger economic critique. “Buffalo Bill” sets one of e.e. cummings’ briefest and most affecting poems to music played on fretless banjo and bones. “Tulsa’s Last Magician” contains this couplet, which Tom Waits would have killed for: “And he learned ragtime piano, though his teacher thought him slow/Got a black belt in karate from a pawn-shop video.” Both politically and emotionally, Carlisle wears his heart courageously on his sleeve and dares you to make fun of him.
Tiny Beautiful Things
No cat. no.
Singer-songwriter May Erlewine’s music is hard to pin down, stylistically, but the gentleness of her songs and their arrangements leads me to think of her as essentially a folk-pop artist. That gentleness extends to the lyrics, which on this album cluster thematically around themes of loving support, tenderness, and emotional uplift — and, impressively, do so without ever descending into cloying bathos or facile you-go-girl cheerleading. “He Knows” demonstrates her empathy both for a damaged and difficult woman and for the man who patiently loves her; “Changing” artfully expresses both the need for a relationship to change and the fear and unease that come with that change; “Lion Heart” encourages a child to be brave and bold while also ensuring him or her that she’ll be there (as a “sun,” a “mountain,” and an “ocean”) to provide constancy and support. This is sweet, lovely, and deeply affecting music, beautifully arranged and sung.
Treat Her Strangely
No cat. no.
doubleVee is a duo project by the husband-and-wife team of Allan and Barbara (Hendrickson) Vest, both of whom have long pedigrees in various areas of pop culture, from Allan’s tenure in indie pop band Starlight Mints to Barbara’s time editing a music zine and hosting the Filmscapes film music program. Their music draws on seemingly every facet of their mutual backgrounds: “No More Nickels and Dimes” lurches and stomps, while “Your Love Is It Real?” occupies a sort of Twin Peaks-y netherworld between midcentury Nashville twang and postpunk pop. “We’ll Meet Again” has a sort of Badalamenti-meets-Morricone vibe. The lyrics are sharp and sometimes whimsical, and Allan’s astringent lead vocals are nicely sweetened by Barbara’s backing harmonies. This is one of those albums all the elements of which sound familiar, but add up to something you’ve never heard before.
Baby, We’re Ascencing
This is some weird, weird stuff, and I love it. Producer/DJ HAAi (born Teneil Throssell) has released a string of singles and EPs both on her own and in collaboration with others, and on her debut LP she creates an oddly jaunty, slightly creepy, consistently fascinating string of tunes, some of which thump with techno relentlessness (“Channels”) while others mutter and stutter with glitchy funkiness (“Bodies of Water”) or blend musique concrète samples with drill’n’bass breakbeats (“Louder Always Better”). And that’s just in the space of the first five tracks. Throssell herself contributes some sung vocals, and friends contribute spoken-word passages — a thematic thread running through the program is gender noncomformity, though the sociopolitical messaging isn’t particular overt. The music occasionally borders on harsh, but is never unpleasant. Recommended to all pop music collections.
Nat “King” Cole
From the Capitol Vaults (Vol. 1) (digital only)
No cat. no.
Nat “King” Cole
From the Capitol Vaults (Vol. 2) (digital only)
No cat. no.
Heads-up: you may encounter the first volume of this series with the title Capitol Rarities (Vol. 1). But the weirdly inconsistent title conventions notwithstanding (take a deep breath, library colleagues!), these first two volumes in what promises to be a multi-volume collection of obscure tracks from one of the Capitol label’s brightest mid-century stars, Nat “King” Cole, are both fun and informative. The compilations are going to be available strictly online via streaming services, and based on the content of the first two releases, they’re going to be a mix of essential and maybe-slightly-less-than-essential songs: nestled among swooningly gorgeous performances like “For a Moment of Your Love” and “Give Me Your Love” and the powerfully swinging “I’m Shooting High” there are negligible novelties like “Tunnel of Love” and the R&B chugger “Do I Like It.” But even at their least substantial, these recordings remind us that when he died of lung cancer at the age of 45 we lost one of the 20th century’s greatest voices. The sound quality is startlingly good.
Birs Recordings (EP; dist. Redeye)
Piel is a duo project put together by multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Burkes and singer Tiki Lewis, who recruited drummer Kenny Ramirez and Ukrainian guitarist Yegor Mytrofanov to help them create the music for this, their debut six-track EP. They cite influences including Joy Division, Sade, and Pink Floyd, none of which prepares you adequately for their sound, which seeks to resolve a multitude of opposites: it’s simultaneously ethereal and heavy, melodic and abstract, anchored in funk and floating free of rhythmic constraint. Lewis’ voice is crystalline and gorgeous, but carries plenty of power when it needs to, while the guitars are wielded with an almost Cocteau Twins-like density. This brief salvo portends great things for Piel’s future.
Bittersweet (2 discs + download)
Alfa Matrix (dist. MVD)
Opening inauspiciously with the slightly embarrassing spoken-word track “Rainy Repertoire” (sample lines: “Because when we are born, when our lives begin/We already must face the averaging of our weights”), the latest album from Antwerp electro-rockers Psy’Aviah quickly regains its footing, delivering a solid program of dance-oriented pop music. Highlights include the throbbing “Cold Summer Nights,” featuring singer Saydi Driggers, and “Ok,” on which Huong Su’s light and agile voice is anchored nicely by a dark bass line and strings. In celebration of the band’s 20th anniversary, the package also includes a second disc of “rediscovered” tracks — which, although not clearly explained in the liner notes, seems to mean cover versions of Psy’Aviah songs by artists like Vulture Culture, Leæther Strip, and Implant. And owners of the CD package also get access to another full disc’s worth of cover versions by some of the same artists and others as well. Very fun stuff.
Mashing Up Creation (reissue; digital only)
Dubbed on Planet Skunk (reissue; digital only)
The mighty Dubmission label is out with digital-only reissues of the first albums it ever released — Mashing Up Creation and Dubbed on Planet Skunk, both from 1997. The nostalgist in me is pleased to see that the cheesy 1990s artwork has not been updated; the thrifty dub fanatic in me is sad to see that in both cases, some of the original music is missing because the artists have since disappeared or gone out of business, making it impossible to secure rights from them. Still, both reissues represent not only good value for money, but also pretty dang timeless manifestations of the modern dub aesthetic: deep and trippy excursions in instrumental reggae (and reggae-adjacent) grooves by the likes of Alpha & Omega, Sounds from the Ground, 100th Monkey, and Etherealites, all of them rooted in the one-drop and rockers verities but also influenced by jungle, techno, industrial, and other styles that were dominant or ascendent at the time. Highlights include The Lone Stuntman’s spare and abstract “Thank You for Smoking” and Etherealites rootsy “Unbelievers.” It’s great to have both of these albums back on the market, even if only in truncated versions and only in digital format.
Vulture Prince (Deluxe Edition)
It’s been less than a year since the original release of Arooj Aftab’s Vulture Prince, which I enthusiastically recommended when it first came out. So the appearance of a new deluxe edition is a bit surprising, and frankly the fact that this expanded edition includes only one additional track is a little disappointing — but the fact that it represents the CD release of what was previously available only on vinyl and digitally is wonderful. And of course, the songs — which constitute a modern adaptation of Sufi devotional tradition — remain as entrancing as ever. (See my original review for a more detailed description of the music.) The new track, “Udhero Na,” features sitarist Anouschka Shankar with Maeve Gilchrist on harp and bass synthesizer and flugelhornist Nadje Noordhuis; the song is achingly sad, and although the instrumentation may seem incongruous it’s incredibly effective. Recommended (again) to all libraries.
An East African Journey
OTA (dist. Redeye)
Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita
Bendigedig (dist. Naxos)
Both of these albums find Cuban jazz pianist Omar Sosa continuing what has been an ongoing exploration of his African roots. On An East African Journey, he gathers recordings he made with local artists while on tour in East Africa in 2009. In Madagascar he recorded several tracks with valiha player and singer Rajery and with Monza Mahafay; in Zambia he recorded with Bantu elder Abel Ntalasha, and in Ethiopia he worked with Seleshe Damessae, who sings in Amharic and plays a bowl-shaped lyre called a krar. The through-line for all of this highly varied music is, of course, Sosa’s liquid and colorful piano playing. Suba, on the other hand, is a follow-up to the celebrated Transparent Water, Sosa’s previous collaboration with Senegalese singer and kora virtuoso Seckou Keita. Here Sosa creates a sumptuous harmonic backdrop for Keith’s voice and kora, occasionally and subtly lapsing into Latin rhythms, which Keith delightedly picks up and develops. Both albums are restrained but emotionally resonant, and deeply beautiful.
The Bridge Remixed (digital only)
No cat. no.
Last year, I noted the release of the latest from Evton and Skip Burton, the two brothers who make “some of the sharpest and most forward-looking roots reggae currently in the marketplace” under the name Indubious. I now feel compelled to draw my readers’ attention the remix album based on that 2021 release. It’s not a typical dubwise companion album; some of the versions (notably Gaudi’s mix of “I Can Breathe” and Victor Rice’s deep and bassy take on the “Sleng Teng”-based “Bless the Water”) draw on old-school dub techniques, but others go off in unusual directions: Kalya Scintilla’s mix of “The Offering” is boomy 808 funk; Evton B’s mix of “Neva Bow” hints at both dark dubstep and techno, while The Autos’ remix of “Life Joyful” turns the original one-drop anthem into a bouncy ska workout. Like everything this duo produces, this remix collection is well worth hearing and an excellent companion to the original release.