Flute Quartets op. 37
CPO (dist. Naxos)
Like many musicians of his generation, Adalbert Gyrowetz was educated in his home city of Prague but then went elsewhere to pursue his career. After stays in Vienna, Italy, and Paris he settled for a time in London (where he served as an interpreter for Franz Joseph Haydn) before returning to Vienna. Musically he might be regarded as an “interpreter” of Haydn as well, given the degree to which his chamber music communicated many of the late-classical ideas that Haydn had developed so skillfully. Gyrowetz is largely forgotten today, but these lovely performances of his Opus 37 composition for flute and string trio (played on a mix of modern and period instruments by the Ardinghello Ensemble) leave one wondering why he hasn’t stayed more firmly in the public ear.
Morphing Chamber Orchestra; Various Soloists / Tomasz Wabnic
Aparté (dist. Integral)
Over the past 40 years, the music of Arvo Pärt has become core not only to the 20th-century repertoire, but to the classical repertoire generally. So it should come as no surprise that most of the compositions featured on this simply but sumptuously beautiful recording have been recorded many times before — Fratres (which opens the program) was one of the first pieces that brought Pärt to public attention outside of his native Estonia, and both Summa and the title work have become familiar since then. The works for solo voice (prominently featuring countertenor Andreas Scholl) are a bit less commonly heard, and the juxtaposition of the rather sere “My Heart’s in the Highlands” with the much more melodically sweet “Vater Unser” setting is particularly effective. Even if your library collection already contains multiple performances of these works, this recording will still be well worth adding to it.
Cappella Romana / Alexander Lingas
Cappella (dist. Naxos)
For American composer Robert Kyr, the direct inspiration for All-Night Vigil is Sergei Rachmaninoff, who set the same liturgical texts in his identically-titled work of 1915. The texts (here translated into English) are from the Orthodox liturgy, and for the music Kyr draws on Byzantine and Slavic traditions while also incorporating his own distinctive contemporary style. The result is shimmeringly lovely and deeply moving; Kyr successfully avoids using the Eastern musical elements as mere flavoring or exploiting them for exoticism, instead carefully blending all of his influences into a well-integrated whole. The singing by Cappella Romana is simply magnificent. I wish the recorded sound were a little bit more detailed, but it’s warm and immersive and very attractive overall. This is a world-premiere recording.
Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Piano & Bassoon Concerto, etc. (reissue)
Martin Galling; Georg Zukerman; Collegium con Basso; Berlin & Würrtemburg Orchestras
Alto (dist. Alliance/AMPED)
Originally issued on two separate LPs in 1965 and 1970 on the Vox/Turnabout label, these performances of chamber, solo, and orchestral works by the always-under appreciated Viennese master Johann Nepomuk Hummel make a welcome return to market on this skillfully remastered reissue. On the Piano Concertino and the solo Introduction & Rondo the piano sound is maybe a bit dull, but that’s to be expected for recordings of this vintage — and the orchestras and chamber ensemble sound startlingly fresh and clear. The performances are excellent as well. Any library collection with a particular interest in the late classical and early Romantic periods would be well advised to replace its old LPs with this very fine CD reissue.
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Six Concertante Quartets
Arabella String Quartet
While we’re in the classical period, let’s turn our attention to one of the most remarkable figures of that era. Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges was the son of a French parliamentarian and a Senegalese slave, and was known throughout his brief life as an expert swordsman, horseman, athlete, violinist, and composer. He seems to have studied with both Jean-Marie Leclair and François-Joseph Gossec, and while his military career prevented a high level of musical productivity, he did write music across multiple genres including orchestral, chamber, and operatic works. This set of string quartets shows him to have been a master of the classical style even as they hark back both structurally and stylistically to the early years of the genre (and therefore reflect little influence from Haydn). The Arabella String Quartet plays wonderfully, on modern instruments.
Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant avec Folie à Quatre
Under normal conditions, the more “out” a jazz album is (especially if it’s a concept album), the less interested I am. But two things caught my eye about the latest from bassist/composer Trevor Dunn: the clarinet-and-strings chamber quartet, and the fact that guitarist Mary Halvorson is a member of his Trio-Convulsant. Since I’m always interested in hearing classical instrumentation applied in a jazz context and since I will automatically listen to any project involving Halvorson, I had to give this one a spin. The unifying concept here is the history of the Convulsionnaires of Saint-Médard, an 18th-century French religious cult associated with the Jansenist movement known for worship that took the form of ecstatic convulsions and other displays of extreme group behavior. The music, as one might expect, is pretty wild — but at times it’s also very tightly composed (check out the intro and outro on “Saint-Ménard,” for example), with odd time signatures, jagged melodies, and careful arrangements. Those who remember Trevor Dunn as a founding member of avant-rock ensemble Mr. Bungle might have the best idea of what to expect here. Recommended.
Journeys Vol. 2
Inner Arts Initiative
No cat. no.
With his latest album, vibraphonist Chris Dingman continues the exploration of live solo improvisation he began with the monumental 5-disc release Peace (which I strongly recommended in the August 2020 issue) and continued with Journeys Vol. 1 (recommended in the February 2022 issue). Over the past few years Dingman’s whole approach to performance has changed dramatically, shifting from the focus on self-expression that has been a central characteristic of jazz performance for decades to a new concern for connecting with the concerns, stressors, and anxieties of his audience and seeking to relieve them in real time through spontaneously created music. As one might expect, the result is music that sounds radically different from most jazz vibes playing and that evokes an equally radically different response in the listener. Dingman’s work continues to be both groundbreaking and deeply affecting — not to mention enjoyable.
For a more traditional — but still innovative and exciting — take on jazz vibes playing, check out the latest from Joe Locke and his quartet, a wonderful selection of original compositions bracketed by two standards. The album opens with a sprightly take on “Love for Sale,” then segues into a gorgeous and intricately arranged ballad written in tribute to the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove; elsewhere the title track explores a Middle Eastern modal melody in 5/4 time, “Elegy for Us All” expresses Locke’s political concern with a heart-tugging balladic melody, and “Shifting Moon” explores an unsettled, slippery harmonic pattern. The program ends with a gently searching solo take on “Lush Life.” This is a complex and lovely album.
The Birmingham Seven
Just Passing Through
Summit (dist. MVD)
If you’re looking for some old-fashioned, straight-ahead jazz in styles ranging from hard bop to powerfully swinging big-band sounds to Latin to Monk-inflected modernism, then look no further than the debut release of the Birmingham Seven. Just Passing Through presents a full program of originals, most of them written by baritone saxophonist Daniel Western. While the styles vary widely within the general parameters of straight-ahead jazz, two things are consistent: the band’s clear respect and affection for the styles in which they play, and a powerful sense of joy in virtuosity — but at the same time, no one is showing off here; they’re serving the tunes and conveying ideas that are as fun to listen to as they are complex and challenging. Highlights include the album-opening “Gotta Keep ‘Em Guessing” and the brilliant horn chart on “Reed the Room.” I’m very much looking forward to this group’s next album.
I fell in love with this release about one minute into the first track. It’s an odd sort of jazz album, to be sure: it blends contemporary jazz and traditional Korean drumming, but unlike many similar cross-cultural experiments it actually succeeds at creating a new fusion rather than just sounding like one tradition layered awkwardly on top of another. Ritual Diamonds is primarily a collaboration between bassist Christopher Hale and percussionist Minyoung Woo; they’re joined by several other musicians, but the concept is theirs, and it’s built on Hale and Woo sharing their unique rhythmic heritages and finding ways to interlock and blend them and create something unique. What results is hard to describe but truly beautiful to hear: the music sounds through-composed but obviously involves varying degrees of improvisation; it sounds generally fairly Western (the chord changes, the instrumental textures, the melodic patterns) but is clearly informed at a deep level by rhythmic concepts from non-Western traditions (particularly on the skipping, irregular, but delicately lovely “Minor Diamonds”), and it all conveys a sense of confident complexity but calmness as well. You just have to hear it — check it out on the label’s Bandcamp page.
Starlett & Big John
Living in the South
In some important ways, Starlett Boswell and Big John Talley deliver the mainstream bluegrass goods on this, their second album: some classic tunes (“Setting’ the Woods on Fire,” “My Brown Eyed Darling”) and some fine originals (“The Ties That Bind,” “Straight 58”), all played and sung with unassuming virtuosity and at moderate tempos. But there are some subtle innovations here: Talley and Boswell regularly trade off on lead vocals within the same song, which is pretty unusual in a bluegrass context, and there are some sly stylistic moves as well — the strong hint of Texas swing on “Setting’ the Woods on Fire,” for example. The title track’s lyrics cloy just a bit (well, maybe more than just a bit), but for the most part the songs are outstanding — and when Talley and Boswell sing in harmony you’ll feel the hair rise on your neck.
Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams
Live at Levon’s!
Royal Potato Family
No cat. no.
The husband-and-wife team of guitarist/songwriter Larry Campbell (Levon Helm, Bob Dylan) and singer/guitarist Teresa Williams recorded this live album after spending several months touring in the fall of 2019, just before COVID shut things down. They celebrated the end of the tour by returning to Levon Helm Studios, Campbell’s former boss’s intimate concert and recording venue in Woodstock, NY. The sound is exceptional for a live album, and the group is in outstanding form, delivering pleasingly greasy country-rock, swing, gospel, old-time country, and even a couple of bluegrass numbers — including a rocking version of the Flatt & Scruggs classic “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” and an equally raucous take on Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” Live albums are notoriously uneven, but this one represents everything that can make a live recording fun.
Aereo-Plain (reissue; vinyl only)
Real Gone Music
John Hartford was a genius and an enigma — a gifted songwriter, fiddler, and banjo player whose deeply quirky sense of humor was matched by an equally deep love for all forms of American roots music. His 1971 album Aereo-Plain represents both of those aspects of his artistry perfectly: it’s basically a bluegrass album (featuring fiddler Vassar Clements, resonator guitarist Tut Taylor, and other luminaries) that refuses to stay in anything like a conventional bluegrass channel; it opens and closes with the gospel classic “Turn Your Radio On” and includes a version of the hoary old-time chestnut “Leather Britches,” but otherwise sways off into styles that can only be called “Hartford.” Songs like “Back in the Goodle Days,” “Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie,” and “Steam Powered Aereo Plane” are great examples (and the spelling variation is absolutely intentional). I wish this reissue were more customer-friendly — it’s a fancy and high-priced vinyl-only release with no digital or CD complement — but used copies of the CD can still be found, and it’s available from other (legitimate) sources as a download.
The Shape of Time
Projekt (dist. MVD)
The Lost Seasons of Amorphia
Two recent releases from the venerable Projekt label showcase very different approaches to the general category of ambient music. Norwegian composer Erik Wøllo’s album The Shape of Time reflects his contemplations of how time works on both the planetary and the personal/psychological levels. There are choir sounds, swirling textures, and the creation of the kinds of enormous sonic spaces that the album’s title and theme would suggest. As with all good ambient music, it’s attractive and quiet but never cloying or saccharine. Forrest Fang takes a different approach: his music is based on a fusion of electronic and acoustic instruments, and draws on influences as disparate as Japanese gagaku court music, Indonesian gamelan, and Chinese classical composition. Fang’s music is more minimal, with less harmonic movement; his pieces tend to hover in place rather than drift in a specific direction. “Inlets” uses a hammered zither in a hypnotic way that evokes Laraaji’s 1980s recordings with Brian Eno, while other tracks hint at the phasing processes popular with 1960s minimalists. Both albums are richly rewarding and recommended to all libraries.
Cherry Stars Collide: Dream Pop, Shoegaze, Ethereal Rock 1986-1995 (compilation; 4 discs)
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)
Guitar distortion is interesting: it can be used to create harsh, hard-edged music, and it can be used to produce soft billows of sound. That duality struck me again as I listened through this compilation of songs by artists who were operating on the spectrum of what might be called “cloud pop” during the late 1980s and early 1990s. As always with these Cherry Red comps, you’ll encounter some familiar material — in this case, by the likes of Mazzy Star, Ultra Vivid Scene, Cocteau Twins, and The Cranberries. But you’ll also be introduced to artists you’ve almost certainly never heard of (The Charlottes, anyone?) and you’ll be reminded of some you may have forgotten (Kitchens of Distinction, Cranes, etc.). There’s a surprising stylistic variety here: slow guitar rock from This Ascension, abstract hookiness from Cocteau Twins, jangle-pop from The Innocence Mission and the Sundays, wall-of-sound instrospection from AR Kane, and much more. These Cherry Red boxes are always a treasure trove for library collections, and this one is no exception.
The Hooten Hallers
Back in Business Again
A trio consisting of guitarist/singer John Randall, drummer/singer Andy Rehm, and saxophonist/singer Kellie Everett, the Hooten Hallers have been using their odd lineup to deliver a pretty original vision of rootsy rock’n’roll for the past fifteen years. Randall’s hoarse but powerful voice is the front-line element of their sound, but Everett’s saxophone and clarinet work (often multitracked to create a whole horn section) brings a bluesy edge, and there are moments when they sound like a cross between rockabilly, Chicago blues, and Texas roadhouse boogie — “Cat Scrap,” in particular, sounds like John Lee Hooker doing a ZZ Top cover. And “Mankiller” sounds like — I kid you not — a collaboration between John Zorn and Morphine. Intrigued? Yeah, you probably should be.
The Well Wishers
Blue Sky Sun
No cat. no.
Bay Area power-pop legend Jeff Shelton (formerly frontman for Spinning Jennies) continues to make some of the finest power pop available as The Well Wishers — a solo project on which he plays and sings everything himself (with the occasional guest). He put The Well Wishers aside for a couple of years while he explored his love of shoegaze and dream pop sounds under the name Deadlights, but now he’s back and sounds sharper than ever. Layers of guitar, layers of vocals, tight song structures and hooks galore — you know what to expect. Highlights include the sharp-edged “Idiot Smile,” the dreamy/jangly “Serenade,” the anthemic “Hours and Days,” and the entirely brilliant “Radicalized” — but everything on this disc is well worth hearing, as usual.
The Sound of the Soul
Classical music from the Indian subcontinent makes use of a wide variety of regionally specific instruments that are widely recognized for their association with that musical tradition: the sitar, the bansuri, the veena, etc. But over the centuries Indian music has also very successfully adopted instruments from other cultures: the violin, the keyboard (notably the harmonium), the saxophone — and the slide guitar, of which Debashish Bhattacharya is probably the foremost exponent right now. Bhattacharya has actually invented and constructed guitars designed specifically to accommodate his approach to playing. His latest album continues to demonstrate not only his mastery of the instrument itself, but also his admirable ability to adapt it and harness its unique characteristics of tone and technique to the conventions of Indian music — his playing is not just thrillingly virtuosic, but also deeply expressive and musical. Like his previous albums, The Sound of the Soul is strongly recommended to all libraries collecting in either South Asian music or guitar pedagogy.
If it seems like I’ve been recommending a lot of stuff from the Crammed Discs label lately, it’s because… well… I have. (And I just learned about a new Aksak Maboul album coming out soon, so there’s probably going to be more.) They just keep putting out amazing new examples of international avant-pop and they’ve been very productive on the reissue front as well. Anyway, this latest release is one that I can’t let pass without notice. Acid Arab, as their name suggests, are a French-Algerian electronic pop music group that creates really fun, exciting, and bracing songs delivered by a shifting lineup of guest vocalists — in this case hailing from North Africa, Syria, and Turkey. Highlights on ٣ (Trois) include the squidgy, funky “Döne Döne” (featuring singer Cam Yildiz), the driving “Habaytak” (featuring Ghizlane Melih and some great double-reed playing), and the dark and eerie stutter-step of “Gouloulou” (featuring Fella Soltana). But every track here is worth hearing.
Mixes & Mavericks
L.A.B. & Paolo Baldini Dub Files
L.A.B. in Dub
If you’re in the mood for some bass pressure, here are a couple of outstanding remix albums that will make your week. Pitch Black is the nom de dub of New Zealand duo Mike Hodgson and Paddy Free, who have been making reggae-flavored electronica together since the mid-1990s. Mixes & Mavericks is a collection of tracks by other artists from around the globe, all remixed and given Pitch Black’s personal dubwise touch. There’s source material here from Mexico’s Sudden Reverb, the UK artist Ink Project, the legendary Gaudi, and much more, and everything has that rich, dark, spacious-but-heavy sound that we’ve come to love from this duo. L.A.B. in Dub is a somewhat different affair — an album of tracks by a single artist, all remixed in dub style by the Italian producer Paolo Baldini. L.A.B., coincidentally, are also a New Zealand band, but here it’s material from their back catalogue that is subjected to the remix attentions of Baldini. The producer worked live in the studio, the same way great reggae producers like King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry did during the classical era of dub in the 1970s, applying echo and other effects while dropping voices and instruments in and out of the mix in real time. The result is a rich and organic sound that harks back to the glory days of dub in all the best ways. Both are brilliant albums.
Clarks a Clarks (digital only)
Jah Thomas is a reggae legend, one of the great producers of the roots and dancehall periods and a very fine toaster as well. His latest album is a celebration of the sounds that were nicing up the dance while he was coming up, and something of a celebration of Jamaican consumer culture as well: the title track finds him rhapsodizing on the qualities of Clarks footwear (hugely popular in Kingston for decades), while “Western Union Walk” extols the wonders of instant money transfer. He teams up with singer Junior Moore to celebrate, er, heterosexuality (“Woman alone can buy me roses/Woman alone can pull mi trousers”) and to denounce gun culture, and with the equally legendary DJ Josey Wales to bemoan the state of the world. The backing tracks are new productions of classic Studio One rhythms, and Jah Thomas’ production is rich and crisp throughout.