RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: May 2023

June 2023


Brian Baumbusch
Chemistry for Gamelan and String Quartet
Nata Swara; JACK Quartet
New World

American composers’ interest in Javanese gamelan music goes back decades — the early pulse music of Steve Reich and, before that, the more explicitly gamelan-derived music of composers and instrument builders Lou Harrison and Harry Partch are both examples. Brian Baumbusch has himself designed and built two sets of what he calls “American gamelan” instruments, for which he has written two compositions that are featured on this recording: Prisms for Gene Davis and Hydrogen(2)Oxygen (the latter incorporating advanced rhythmic concepts pioneered by Conlon Nancarrow). His Three Elements for String Quartet is also an exploration of Nancarrow’s “polytempo” concept. Part of what makes this music so compelling is its composite foundation: the blend of mathematical rhythmic formulas and the raw insistence of the gamelan style combine in various ways to produce sounds that are unusual but deeply engaging. For all adventurous library collections.

Carl Maria von Weber
The Clarinet As Prima Donna
Roeland Hendrikx; Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie / Michel Tilkin
Evil Penguin (dist. Naxos)
EPRC 0053

Yes, it’s an odd title, but here’s the explanation: “This recording celebrates Carl Maria von Weber’s unrivaled talent to turn the clarinet into an opera diva, to make it talk, sing, cry and shine.” But while there’s no denying Weber’s abilities in that regard, much of the credit for the sweetly lyrical, emotionally compelling, and thrillingly virtuosic music-making on this recording goes to the brilliant clarinetist Roeland Hendrikx, whom I don’t believe I had ever heard before and whose work I will now be seeking out. The program consists of Weber’s first and second clarinet concertos along with an arrangement for clarinet and orchestra of an aria from Der Freischütz and a set of variations on a theme from Silvano. The orchestra plays just as magnificently as Hendrikx does, and the recorded sound is nothing short of spectacular. Strongly recommended to all libraries.

Chelsea Lane
Suspensions (digital only)
Better Company (dist. Orchard)
No cat. no.

Various Composers
Eline Groslot
Artarctica Spring
AR 050

Here are two excellent but very different contemporary harp albums by a pair of top-notch artists; both embrace modernism, and even share a work in common, but the music on the two releases contrasts strongly. Chelsea Lane’s is primarily a solo project (with accompaniment by pianist/composer Ludwig-Leone on his “Processional” and also violist Nathan Schram on the title composition and one other), and it includes both newly commissioned works and her own arrangements of pieces by Thomas Adés, Nico Muhly, and Chris Cerrone. This program tends towards the minimalist and was put together with the explicit goal of encouraging the listener’s attention to more subtle aspects of harp technique. Eline Groslot’s album, on the other hand, is built around Geoffrey Gordon’s haunting and intense Eolian: Concerto for Harp and Orchestra, presented here in its world-premiere recording. The program is bracketed by arrangements for harp of Japanese folksongs by Toshio Hosokawa. Both albums feature John Cage’s In a Landscape, written for piano or harp. Both harpists are brilliant, and each brings a very different vision to her project. Any library that supports a harp curriculum will want to acquire both.

William Byrd
William Byrd
Stile Antico

This is the second installment in Stile Antico’s three-volume The Golden Renaissance series, which so far has featured the work of Josquin des Pres; the third volume will focus on Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. As one of the foremost exponents of the Oxbridge sound, the Stile Antico ensemble has a particular affinity for the work of William Byrd, who occupied a difficult position as a Catholic composer in the very dangerous environment of post-Reformation England. This luminous recording features a program built around Byrd’s Mass for four voices, one of his later works, interspersing the Mass sections with motets and sacred songs written at around the same time. Stile Antico’s rich, creamy vocal blend is a perfect match for the hushed but intense devotion expressed by Byrd’s music. Strongly recommended to all classical collections.

Arnold Schönberg; Alban Berg
Het Collectief
Alpha (dist. Naxos)

I know the actual story behind Arnold Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht — that it’s a programmatic piece based on a poem in which a woman tells her fiancé that she’s pregnant by another man (‘”transfigured night” indeed!). But whenever I listen to it, I can’t help hearing it as something else — to me, it’s like Mahler’s symphonies in expressing the tortured abandonment of tonality and the conflicted leap into a harmonically uncertain future. The playing of Het Collectief (performing a piano trio version of the piece arranged by Eduard Steuermann) allows you to hear it either way — the emotional power of this rendition is breathtaking. Following it up with Anton Webern’s small-ensemble arrangement of Schönberg’s opus 9 chamber symphony is a very smart move, allowing you to hear the continuity between the earlier program piece and his approach to new-school polyphonic composition; the disc ends with a chamber-ensemble arrangement of Alban Berg’s B minor piano sonata and the adagio movement from Berg’s chamber concerto. This is a brilliant piece of sinus-clearing modernism played with full commitment and brio by an outstanding young ensemble.


Jim Hall
The Early Albums Collection (4 discs)
Enlightenment (dist. MVD)

I try to avoid using (or at least overusing) the word “important” when discussing recordings, but there’s no avoiding it here: the eight 1950s and 1960s LPs collecting on this four-CD set represent not only some of the guitarist’s most important work, but also some of the most influential jazz recordings of that period, demonstrating how Hall helped to ease jazz from the dry and straight-ahead sound of the “cool” period into the more experimental approach that was ascendant in the 1960s. Jazz Guitar and The Street Swingers show him to be a master of cool, as does his lovely and understated guitar-and-voice duo album with Lee Schaefer. But then comes Jazz Abstractions, the monumental collaboration with Gunther Schuller that exemplified the Third Stream project and featured such fellow heavyweights as Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, and Scott Lafaro. Also in this set are his two duo albums with Bill Evans (Undercurrent and Intermodulation), his twin-guitar showcase with Jimmy Raney and Zoot Sims, and his 1962 recording as a co-leader with pianist Billy Taylor. Every jazz collection should own all of these albums; if your library doesn’t have all of them already (or doesn’t have them on CD), take this opportunity to pick them all up in a convenient and low-cost package.

Thelonious Monk
The Classic Quartet (reissue)
Candid (dist. Redeye)
CCD 35512

Hardcore fans may not all agree that the Charlie Rouse-Butch Warren-Frankie Dunlop quartet was Monk’s finest — no disrespect to any of these excellent players, but what about his 1950s work with Sonny Rollins, Oscar Pettiford, and Max Roach, not mention his Blue Note recordings with Art Blakey? Nevertheless, there’s no question that this band is at the peak of its powers on this recording, which was made for Japanese radio in 1963 and created a large and enthusiastic following for Monk in that country. The album was released in Japan on LP and in England on CD in the 1980s, but hasn’t been available since — and was never given the kind of loving attention it deserved. The Candid label has now restored and remastered the original recordings and brought them back to market with liner notes by the always-insightful Scott Yanow. Not only are the performances outstanding (the band’s bouncy rendition of “Epistrophy” is among the best I’ve heard), but the sound quality is also startlingly good.

Rudy Royston & Flatbed Buggy
Greenleaf Music

You may recognize drummer Rudy Royston as a regular sideman to the likes of Bill Frisell and Dave Douglas. But as this album demonstrates, he’s also an exceptional composer and arranger, and an innovative bandleader. Here leading (for the second time) a quintet that includes cellist Hank Roberts, bass clarinetist John Ellis, accordionist Gary Versace and bassist Joe Martin, he has created an approach to modern jazz that is simultaneously innovative and accessible. Notice, for example, how “Morning” progresses from pastoral lyricism to second-line funk to exuberant group improvisation. Note also how the spiky head of “Limeni Village” evokes the mid-1970s work of (believe it or not) Henry Cow. As always, the subtlety and elegance of Royston’s drumming style is a constant throughline that creates a groove without dominating the band’s rhythmic approach. Brilliant stuff.

Tom Collier
Boomer Vibes, Volume 1
DCD 808

Mallet keyboardist Tom Collier initiates a projected three-part series with Boomer Vibes Volume 1, a collection of arrangements that feature songs American Baby Boomers will immediately recognize (“Wild Horses,” “One Fine Day,” “Both Sides Now”) along with a couple of oddities — Frank Zappa’s “Magic Fingers,” the relatively obscure Beatles B-side “Yes It Is.” All are arranged for various combinations of vibes, marimba, other keyboards, drums, etc. and all are played by Collier (with a guest guitarist on one track and a bassist on another). Not every selection seems like it returns full value for effort — there’s nothing in Collier’s arrangement of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” that makes me think there was more to this song than I originally thought — but many shed new light on familiar tunes. His setting of “People Make the World Go ‘Round” is particularly interesting and insightful, and against all my expectations, he made me think about The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” in a completely new way. Recommended to all jazz collections.


Brìghde Chaimbeul
Carry Them with Us

When most of us think of Scottish bagpipes, we think of the great highland pipes and the burly men in kilts and sporrans who carry them in parades and into battle. But Scotland’s bagpipe tradition is more diverse than that, and it includes the less well-known and celebrated Scottish smallpipes, which are a bit quieter and more intimate-sounding — sharper in tone than the more gentle and plaintive Irish uilleann pipes and a bit heavier-sounding than the Northumbrian smallpipes, but nowhere near as overbearing as the great highland pipes can be. Brìghde Chaimbeul is one of a handful of players leading a resurgence in the popularity of this instrument, and to her credit she’s not letting herself be boxed in by tradition. Though her playing is obviously deeply rooted in the tunes and playing styles of her home region, this is to a real degree an experimental album, and it includes collaborations with saxophonist Colin Stetson. The music is gorgeous and unsettling by turns.

The Wood Brothers
Heart Is the Hero
Thirty Tigers

The boundaries that separate musical genres keep getting more porous, and I guess that’s probably a good thing for everyone except music critics who need to figure out what category to assign to new releases. The Wood Brothers make music that would probably be called “Americana” today — a genre designation that signifies pop music with elements of country, folk, and sometimes bluegrass or early R&B or… whatever else. Often sung with a vaguely Southern accent. On this group’s latest album, we get a horn section on “Rollin’ On,” a 12/8 soul groove on “Someone for Everyone,” acoustic guitar and cello and quietly brushed drums on “Between the Beats.” How are the songs? Oh, they’re great, of course — these guys have been doing this for a long, long time. You lucky people who don’t have to assign genre designations will love this album.

Beth Bombara
It All Goes Up
Black Mesa

The steel guitar, the gently hiccuping near-yodels that ornament her singing from time to time — Beth Bombara’s new release has all the bones of a country album. But there’s something fundamentally different about it; maybe the subtly elegant chord changes on the gorgeous “Get On,” or maybe her unapologetically understated singing style and dusky alto voice. But on the other hand, “Curious and Free” has the vibe of a Robert Johnson Delta blues song (I’m not kidding; check it out), and “What You Wanna Hear” has a gentle Texas-by-way-of-California two-step lilt to it. But then there’s “Electricity,” which borders on dream pop. Call it whatever you want, this is an achingly beautiful album.


Hüsker Dü
Tonite Longhorn
Reflex (dist. MVD)
MVD 12373A

Make no mistake about it: Hüsker Dü were not yet a great band when these four live sets were recorded in 1979 and 1980. The sonic-boom hardcore of Land Speed Record was still a couple of years ahead of them, and their breakthrough into aggressive prog rock and then hardcore-inflected power pop were even further in the future. But you can hear hints of their future greatness here: “I’m Not Interested” and “MTC” are featured in early versions, as are “Gravity” and “Don’t Try It” — a song whose chord progression prefigures some of their later, more sophisticated work. Oddly, on a couple of tracks (especially “Don’t Have a Life,” a rare Greg Norton song) they sound like a hardcore version of Pere Ubu — which is by no means a bad thing. This collection may not be absolutely essential for all collections, but it’s an invaluable document for any library that collects deeply in rock music.

Urban Meditation
Headspace (5 discs)
Carpe Sonum

Billed as a “unique blend of ambient, trance, techno, and neo-classical,” the music of Urban Meditation (né Charles Urban) owes a heavy but graceful debt to that of Pete Namlook, the patron saint of dark and complicated ambience. Headspace is a five-hour long exploration of Urban’s musical vision, and in fact in the notes he expresses the view that it represents “the heart and soul of what Urban Meditation… was meant to be.” The music is atmospheric, of course, but it doesn’t consists merely of atmospheres; soft clouds of sound sculpture will give way unpredictably to glitchy buzzes, harshly manipulated human voices, and sometimes insistent beats. While Urban’s music doesn’t sound that much like Namlook’s, it’s in this constant undermining of ambient-music conventions that he pays the deepest and most obvious tribute to his mentor. This set could be presented as a master class on making ambient music interesting.

Soren Jahan
137 (vinyl & digital only)

Now, I will freely admit that this is a “your mileage may vary” release, and I’ll also point out up front that I normally have no time at all for techno or house music — the relentless thump-thump-thump may be great for dancing, but I find it really annoying for listening. However, Soren Jahan’s new album does what I would have thought was impossible: uses that four-on-the-floor framework and creates around it a series of subtle variations that catch my attention and hold it captive. None of the 16 tracks on this release has a conventional title; each is sort of a standalone sound sculpture that involves (in differing ways) every point on the timbral spectrum, delivering tiny glitches, booming sub bass, and mid-frequency weirdness of all kinds. Again: I don’t promise everyone will love it. I do promise that you won’t dismiss it as empty-headed dance floor nonsense.

The Cowsills
Rhythm of the World

It’s kind of crazy to realize that the Cowsills have been doing their thing for almost 60 years now. 60 years. Or, a bit more accurately, to realize that they started doing their thing almost 60 years ago — after forming in 1965, the family band broke up in 1972 and reunited only sporadically during the ensuing decades. Their last recordings as a group were made almost 30 years ago. But you wouldn’t know that to listen to the tight, tuneful, expertly played paisley pop music purveyed on Rhythm of the World. The production sound is nice and modern, but the style is all late-1960s: ooh-aah choruses, layered harmonies, lovely melodies, charmingly open-hearted lyrics (“Lend a hand/Can you help your fellow man?”, like that). If you listen closely you can hear that their voices are aging a bit, but come on. 60 years. Amazing.


Various Artists
No label
No cat. no.

Rivayat is a collection of tracks by individual artists that have been released over the past year or so, in a series organized by Mekaal Hasan of the Mekaal Hasan Band — which (if I’m understanding correctly) is also the backing band for some (maybe most?) of these tunes. On the project’s Bandcamp page, Rivayat is billed as “a traditional music series created by Mekaal Hasan which features outstanding Pakistani grass roots talent with select cuts featuring international guest artists,” but while the source material may be traditional, the arrangements and settings vary widely in style, from the gentle and acoustic-based “Ghunghat Olay” by Fiza and Hasnain Haider to the aggressively rockish “Tobah” by the Shahzad Ali Khan Qawal. Both the stylistic variety and the exceptional quality of the performances make this a highly recommended release — or, rather, series of releases (which can be purchased as a single album at the Bandcamp link above).


Is this Scandinavian folk music? Well, yes — but with a difference. Among the harps and the pipes and the fiddles are powerful, rumbling drums and slightly terrifying, guttural vocals; the Discogs database suggests the term “folk metal” as a genre designation for this album, and that actually captures the vibe quite nicely. This is not gentle, pastoral music; it’s a roar that occasionally lapses into sweet lyricism before exploding in fury again. SKÁLD is actually a musical collective founded by French producer/composer Christophe Violin-Boisvinet, and judging by their names its members seem to come from all over Europe. But all are united by a fierce love of Scandinavian musical and literary tradition in all its complexity, violence, and beauty — and you’ll hear all of that on this remarkable album.

Henhouse Studios
No cat. no.

Keturah comes from a small village in Malawi, but her debut album finds her exploring rhythms and melodies from across the African diaspora — you’ll hear elements of township jive, desert blues, jazz, and afrobeat on various tracks here, all of it united by her warm and supple voice. Interestingly, you’ll also hear more than a hint of American country music on “Nchiwewe (Ode to Willie Nelson),” a stylistically odd moment on the program but certainly a charming one. Keturah is aided by an all-star cast of studio musicians including kora player Prince Diabate, harmonica player Mickey Raphael, and even former Doors drummer John Densmore. Wisely, though, the production keeps her lovely voice front and center throughout.

Zulu Bob
Holding On (digital only)
ChinaMan Yard
No cat. no.

Zulu Bob is originally from Antigua and Barbuda, but for the past 15 years has been living in Beijing, China. There he released an EP a few years back in something of a trap/electro style; since then he has gotten connected with the ChinaMan Yard reggae production crew, and has now released a full-length album in a more roots dancehall mode. Holding On opens with an update of the cheerful Half Pint classic “Greetings,” but then moves into darker and more socially-minded territory: “Ruffa dan Dem” may sound on the surface like a standard sound system boast, but is actually more of an expression of determination and resilience; “Cool It Down” calls for unity and healing, while “Old Pirates” (a clear reference to Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”) addresses the legacy of colonization and slavery. The rhythms are crisp and clean, with a nice bassiness, and Zulu Bob’s rhymes are nimble and sharp. Highly recommended.


May 2023

Posted on


Steve Reich
The String Quartets
Mivos Quartet
Deutsche Grammophon
486 3385

Over the course of his roughly 60-year career, Steve Reich has only written three pieces for string quartet, and none of them can be called conventional. Two of them, Different Trains and WTC 9/11, were composed for string quartet with accompanying tape, and the third was actually written for three string quartets. On this disc, the Mivos Quartet presents all three works together for the first time, allowing the listening to easily compare them. Personally, I find Different Trains (a reflection on the Holocaust) the most affecting of the three compositions, though all are excellent; the Mivos Quartet plays with energy and commitment and interacts both precisely and engagingly with the taped spoken-word elements, which are fundamentally important to the two works that incorporate them. If your library collection already includes good renditions of these pieces this disc will not necessarily need to replace them, but this recording presents an excellent opportunity to fill that collecting hole if it exists.

John Dowland
[Complete] Lachrimæ
Musicall Humors
Alpha (dist. Naxos)

John Dowland wrote this suite of 21 dance movements for consort of viols and lute in 1604, while he was in London on temporary leave from his duties as a composer at the Danish court. The collection includes the now-famous Lachrimæ or Seven Tears set of pavanes, as well as another fourteen pavanes, galliards and allemandes written at the same time — all of them infused with the sense of gentle melancholy for which Dowland is still well known (his motto was “Semper Dowland, semper dolens” or “Always Dowland, always in pain”). This was a period of time during which melancholy was very much in musical fashion, and few composers mined that mood as productively as Dowland did. Musicall Humors, a consort of five viols and and one lute, plays these pieces with admirable sensitivity and intonation as well as a rich, full tone. Highly recommended.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Complete Piano Sonatas (6 discs)
Yeol Yum Son
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
V 8049

Celebrated pianist Yeol Yum Son has not recorded much Mozart in her career, so this lavish set of the complete piano sonatas comes as something of a surprise — even to her. She reports that the project came about when some recording time in a good studio unexpectedly became available, leading her to ask herself “What should I record?”, and the answer was “it has to be some Mozart sonatas.” After recording a few of them on Mozart’s birthday, she then thought “why not all of them right now?”. And the result is a model of Mozart interpretation, from her light and sparkling rendition of Sonata no. 1 (K.279) to her sensitive and insightful interpretation of the dark and anguished Sonata no. 14 (K.457) and of the maturity and balance in the final Sonata no. 18 (K.576). Son’s love for Mozart and her delight in his music are fully in evidence here, and her seemingly effortless virtuosity pulls us happily into her sound world.

Arvo Pärt
Pedro Piquero; Orquestra da Extremadura / Álvaro Albiach
Piano Classics (dist. Naxos)

Although he came to America’s attention with a handful of instrumental chamber pieces, it’s his shimmering choral music for which the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt has subsequently gained the most acclaim. This darkly magnificent recording reminds us how effective he can be in the context of purely instrumental music — and is actually the largest-scale orchestral work he’s ever written. Subtitled “Homage to Anish Kapoor and his sculpture ‘Marsyas’ for piano and orchestra,” Lamentate is not exactly a piano concerto; it uses the piano soloist as an aural focal point to bring a sense of sonic unity to the composition, which longtime fans will find to be more Romantic-sounding than one would normally expect. Paired with the more quietly reflective Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten, it creates a powerful sense of grief, and is beautifully played and recorded.

Pancrace Royer
Surprising Royer: Orchestral Suites
Les Talens Lyriques / Christophe Rousset
Aparte Music (dist. Integral)

Joseph Nicolas Pancrace Royer is described in the liner notes of this disc as a “(figure) of first importance in the cultural life of eighteenth-century Europe and of France in particular,” so the fact that he has “all but disappeared from the critical scene for so long” is something of a mystery. When he is remembered at all today, it’s mainly as a gifted composer for the harpsichord, but he was also an accomplished operatist, and this thoroughly delightful recording brings together overtures and dance suites from four of his operas, including Zaïde, Reine de Grenade, which was the opera most frequently performed on royal occasions during the 18th century. Anyone who has followed Christophe Rousset and his band Les Talens Lyriques will be expecting robust but elegant performances, and will not be disappointed in the slightest. For all classical collections.

Peter Klatzow; Juri Seo; Robert Honstein
Ambient Resonances
Arx Duo
Origin Classical
OC 33029

The combination of marimba and vibraphone seems like an intuitively obvious one, yet I can’t think of any ensemble configured that way other than the Arx Duo: marimbist Garrett Arney and vibraphonist Mari Yoshinaga. Their uniqueness as an ensemble has led them to commission almost 100 works by contemporary composers, three of which are featured on this album — which, to be very clear, is not an album of ambient music. The title piece is a two-movement work by Peter Klatzow that combines angular harmonies and passages designed to showcase the unique timbres of each instrument, while Juri Seo’s Sonata for Marimba and Vibraphone uses rippling repetitions and sequences that evoke first-generation minimalism while also incorporating complex harmonic progressions. Robert Honstein’s Evergeen is a 30-minute work in five movements, inspired by a Susan Cooper poem and designed to evoke the feelings of darkness, loneliness, and anticipation we might experience around the winter solstice. Fascinating music, brilliantly played.


John Pizzarelli
Stage & Screen
Seven String (dist. Palmetto)

There are so many reasons to love guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli. One of them, in my book, is that not only does he have a guitar sponsor (he plays a signature model seven-string Moll) but he also has — last time I checked — a suit sponsor. I’m sorry, but that is just the coolest thing. That coolness is reflected in his playing, which is virtuosic but always very traditional and swinging, and in his singing (ditto). On his latest album he continues in his favored format, a trio consisting of guitar, bass, and piano, and (as the title suggests) he focuses on standards connected with popular musicals and films: “I Want to Be Happy,” “Time After Time,” a suite of tunes from Oklahoma!, etc. But not everything here is a familiar standard: to my knowledge, this was my first encounter with the charming “I Love Betsy” and the equally fun Lane & Lerner song “You’re All the World to Me.” As is the case for any release by Pizzarelli, this one would make a welcome addition to any library’s jazz collection.

Wayne Alpern
New York Saxophone Quartet
Henri Elkan Music
No cat. no.

This album is an exquisite showcase of the art of arranging. Taking what, on the surface, might look like a not-particularly-challenging set of highly familiar jazz standards (“All the Things You Are,” “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” “It Never Entered My Mind,” etc.), Wayne Alpern creates a kaleidoscopically varied and consistently gorgeous set of arrangements of them written for saxophone quartet. Some of them swing, but some of them don’t — some incorporate improvisation, and some of them are through-composed. Each arrangement sounds like it was written by a different composer, which is a pretty impressive achievement to sustain across eighteen pieces and almost an hour. Needless to say (for those familiar with them), the New York Saxophone Quartet play with not only diamond-edged precision but also soulful feeling. An essential purchase for all libraries.

Chris Keefe

Opening with the absolutely brilliant neo-bop original “Got a Chick?” (that lyrical but intricate head, that elegantly skittering brushwork from Adam Nussbaum), Chris Keefe’s debut album as a leader moves from strength to strength, showcasing both his skill as a composer and his ability to make standards his own. The aptly titled “Modern” demonstrates his ability to take dry, Tristano-esque melodies and unfold them like flowers; his take on “I Fall in Love Too Easily” finds him expounding on the familiar theme with almost classical elaboration. Nussbaum and bassist Harvie S provide exactly the sort of robust and tasteful support you’d expect. Continue to expect great things from this remarkable pianist and composer.

David Larsen
The Peplowski Project
No cat. no.

I confess that I hadn’t heard of saxophonist David Larsen before receiving this disc, but as a huge fan of clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Ken Peplowski I was immediately intrigued by its title. Nor was I disappointed: Peplowski himself is featured prominently on this eleven-track celebration of straight-ahead jazz, which focuses on standards delivered in a sprightly, fun, and disciplined 1950s style — complete with the kind of warm and dry production you’d expect from late-1950s recordings. There’s some really fun group improv on the Bill Byers tune “Doodle Oodle” that harks back to the heyday of trad jazz, some utterly gorgeous clarinet playing from Peplowski on “All the Things You Are,” a great bari-and-drums intro on Larsen’s Stan Getz tribute “He Who Getz the Last Laugh,” and so much more. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.

Sonny Stitt
Boppin’ in Baltimore: Live at the Left Bank (2 discs)
Jazz Detective

Another month, another priceless Jazz Detective release that I simply have to recommend to library collections. This one documents a concert by legendary saxophonist Sonny Stitt at the Famous Ballroom in Baltimore. He was leading a quartet that included pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Louie Hayes, so it won’t be surprising that the set absolutely burns — Stitt was famously, even infamously (among his colleagues) virtuosic, and even in 1973 was continuing the tradition of forbiddingly complex bebop playing; his dry, almost brittle tone only helps to showcase the complex showers of notes that poured from his horn. The sound restoration is outstanding, though I found the stereo separation a bit too stark: the sax is almost entirely isolated in the right channel and the piano in the left. Still, there’s no questioning either the value of the music or the importance of this release.

Taiko Saito
Tears of a Cloud
Trouble in the East

Mallet keyboardist Taiko Saito is as deeply rooted in contemporary classical as in jazz music, and on her latest solo album she creates music that has no obvious genre pigeonhole. Playing both marimba and vibraphone, she claims inspirations as wide-ranging as pianist Kenny Wheeler, pianist/composer Satoko Fujii, and Japanese ceremonial music, but pulls elements from all of those influences and uses them to create a wide array of unique and highly personal sounds. The album opens with the abstract and nearly pointillistic “Daichi” and then shifts to a more minimalist mode on “Sound Gradation.” “Underground” finds her using extended techniques to create sounds that one would not normally associate with the marimba — which is always fun. This album would make a great addition to any library collection that supports either jazz or classical percussion curricula.


Martin Hayes & The Common Ground Ensemble
Peggy’s Dream
251 Records
No cat. no.

Irish fiddler Martin Hayes has long been known for his exquisitely tasteful playing which, especially in the studio, tends to eschew virtuosic pyrotechnics in favor of careful, loving interpretations of traditional tunes. (Having seen him perform live with his late collaborator Dennis Cahill, I can testify that he’s fully capable of virtuosic pyrotechnics as well.) For Peggy’s Dream he has put together something of a cross-genre supergroup to help him create new interpretations of traditional tunes based on his own County Clare-derived fiddling style. A jazz pianist, a nü-folk guitarist, a contemporary classical cellist, and others have all joined up with him to create a set of tunes that surprisingly do not end up sounding like a world-fusion experiment but rather bring new depth and color to what is really simply a marvelous trad Irish album. Like all Hayes recordings, this is one that should find a home in every library’s folk collection.

Josephine Foster
Domestic Sphere

If you list the ingredients of this album it doesn’t look like something that would normally grab my attention: ascetically spare arrangements, vocals that often lapse into a weird and warbly artiness; little in the way of rhythm or hooks. And yet, and yet. Foster’s unique approach to psych-folk really does grab my attention, and holds onto it: despite the voice-as-Theremin sound of “Burnt Offering,” I find the singing compelling; despite the wobbly harmonies on “Gentlemen & Ladies,” I find the song affecting; “Song for the Dead” is simply heartbreakingly lovely. You could tell me you find her approach a bit precious and maybe pretentious, and I wouldn’t argue with you. But I’d encourage you to listen again.

Mighty Poplar
Mighty Poplar
Free Dirt (dist. Redeye)

Mighty Poplar is a bluegrass supergroup that includes members of the Punch Brothers and Watchhouse (including the brilliant banjo player Noam Pikelny), which might lead you to expect a sort of newgrass-cum-modern-roots-Americana experience. No: this is a straight-up bluegrass album, played and sung with warmth, respect, and unassuming virtuosity. The members take turns singing lead, with predictably varied (but never unattractive) results. Pikelny really stretches out on “Grey Eagle,” a chestnut of a fiddle tune that he approaches in both traditional Scruggs style (mainly while playing backup) and also in his own hyper-melodic neo-Keith style, to thrilling effect. There’s a Bob Dylan song and John Hartford song along with several traditional numbers. This album is perhaps the best example I’ve yet encountered of how well traditional bluegrass can be absorbed into a modern roots aesthetic without compromising either. Honestly, based on previous evidence I would have said it couldn’t be done this well.


O Yuki Conjugate
A Tension of Opposites Vols. 3 & 4 (digital & cassette only)
OYC Limited 7

The first installment in O Yuki Conjugate’s A Tension of Opposites series came about during the COVID lockdowns, during which both of the band’s central members were left trying to create music in isolation. The second installment follows the formula of the first: one “volume” in the program features solo tracks by Roger Horberry, and the other features the work of Andrew Hulme. Those who have been following O Yuki Conjugate’s unique explorations of semi-ambient instrumental bass music might be surprised by the unusual degree of abrasiveness that characterizes some of these tracks (note in particular what sounds like an aggressively processed reed instrument on “Hidden Cities”) — but even still, the music remains dark, deep, and ultimately quite beautiful.

Decisive Pink
Ticket to Fame

Opening with a pleasantly cheesy Casiotone beat, the debut album by Angel Deradoorian (ex-Dirty Projectors) and Russian experimental pop artist Kate NV might come across as a bit precious and arch at first listen. But give it some time, and its charms unfold: the subtle pleasures of the quirky synth part (and the Beethoven quote) on “Ode to Boy,” the sly reference to Gershwin on “Potato Tomato,” the humorous use of non-verbal vocals on “Voice Message.” The duo made extensive use of 1970s- and 1980s-era analog synthesizers while making this recording, which gives the whole proceedings a certain Kraftwerk/Flock-of-Seagulls vibe — maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but certainly mine. I’m very much looking forward to the inevitable remix album.

WWWIPE OUT (digital & vinyl only)
No cat. no.

The French electronic music duo Cassius had an illustrious international career from 1988 to 2019, when Zdar (a.k.a. Philippe Cerboneschi) passed away. Now surviving member Boombass (a.k.a. Hubert Blanc-Francard) is back with a solo album that celebrates music that he was hearing in London both as a boy on school trips and with Cassius while on tour. The tracks on this album draw on samples gathered in London and draw deeply on the sounds of jungle, drum’n’bass, and electro — “SSSTAND UP” layers old-school reggae vocal shouts over double-time breakbeats, while the dreamier “YYYOU DON’T KNOW” samples hip hop vocals and beats but embeds them in a spacey groove that Synkro would be proud of. “MMMERCY” is a gently thudding house track that is way too gentle to be called an anthem. Recommended to all pop collections.

Antimaterial Worlds
Double Saturns Last Purification Exercises (digital & cassette only)
Chemical X/Mad Decent

Gaura-jīvana Dāsa, who has previously done business under the names Griffin Pyn, Sewn Leather, and Skull Catalog, is back under a new nom de musique — Antimaterial Worlds. The new name reflects the endeavors he undertook during a seven-year break from music, when he was initiated into Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Vaisnava Hinduism and formally studied Ayurveda. If these factoids lead you to expect mystical and meditational music, think again: this is aggressive, abrasive electro-rock with a strong political edge. In fact, what the music repeatedly brought to my mind (sadly, given his untimely passing only a week ago) was the work of Mark Stewart — the snarled vocals, the dense and forbidding production, the confrontational lyrical messages. Of course, some of them are less confrontational than others: the lyrics on “Listen to Aindra Pt. 2” consist of field recordings of devotional chanting. And “Science of Self-realization” features none other than Lee “Scratch” Perry. Exhausting but fun.

Secret Measure
Rock Action

Try to imagine a cross between Cocteau Twins and the Feelies. It’s hard to do, right? Well, it will be easier after you listen to the second album from the duo of Rachael and Paul Swinton, who record under the name Cloth. Rachael’s voice is gauzy and whispery — different in tone from that of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser but similar in inflection: it floats like an instrument, describing melodic shapes more than communicating specific ideas. The clicky eighth-note patterns that Paul favors definitely evoke the Feelies, though they’re part of a bigger, more expansive sonic vision that brings to mind ’80s and ’90s dream pop. If you’re looking for shout-along choruses, look elsewhere — but if you want to sail away on a gossamer cloud of subtly crafted neo-pop music, you’ve absolutely come to the right place.


Spaced Oddity
Dubby Stardust
Echo Beach

Easy Star All Stars
Ziggy Stardub
Easy Star

By odd coincidence, two reggae tributes to the late David Bowie — both of them excellent, though both saddled with slightly painful puns in their titles — have been released in recent weeks. Ziggy Stardub is a straight-up remake of Bowie’s 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as a modern roots-reggae album. The backing band is the ever-brilliant Easy Star All Stars ensemble, supporting a shifting array of A-list singers (Maxi Priest, JonnyGo Figure, David Hinds, etc.) and some legendary guest musicians (Carlton Livingston, Vernon Reid, Alex Lifeson[!], etc.) who together create a rich, thick stew of heavy roots grooves; several tracks are also provided in dub versions. By contrast, Dubby Stardust is a full dub album, an exploration of tracks from across the Bowie catalog rendered in spacey, deeply dubwise arrangements put together by producer Lee Groves (calling himself Spaced Oddity for this project). A veteran of Hex Orchestra and Terminalhead and a producer who has worked with the likes of Ruts DC, Gwen Stefani, and Goldfrapp, Groves’ settings show clearly his love both of Bowie’s songs and of the dub tradition; the songs are clearly recognizable but are twisted into new echoing shapes that emerge from bottomless depths and float off into the night sky. Reggae fans and David Bowie fans may not be perfectly overlapping populations, but it’s hard to imagine anyone in either group failing to enjoy both of these albums.

Never Stop
Irie Ites
No cat. no.

Chezidek’s latest album opens strongly, with a powerfully chugging rockers rhythm and an equally positive lyrical message, and it sets the tone both musically and lyrically for what will unfold over the next 70-plus minutes: heavy rootswise production supporting conscious and uplifting messages, all of it delivered with Chezidek’s trademark rich and sweet voice. Those messages are predictable, of course: “Jah Jah Bless,” “Bun di Ganja,” “Mr. Officer,” etc., all tread well-worn lyrical paths. But we don’t turn to reggae for new ideas; what we ask for are indelible grooves, beautiful singing, and melodic and/or rhythmic hooks. Also fine dub versions. Chezidek and the Irie Ites production crew deliver all of those in abundance here.

Danakil Meets ONDUBGROUND Part 2
Baco Music

Danakil and Ondubground are two French reggae collectives, both of them founded in a deep love of classic dub and the roots reggae sound of the 1970s, but neither of them artificially constrained by tradition. When they get together — as they have now done for the second time in six years — the result is a really nice balance of old-school and new-school songwriting and production. On their second collaborative effort they host such eminent deejays and singers as Bounty Killer, Omar Perry (son of the legendary producer Lee “Scratch” Perry), and General Levy, as well as up-and-comers like Charlie P and Tan Tee. There’s a nice mix of rhythm styles here, from heavy one-drop to chugging steppers, and everything is produced with a rich and colorful sound with lots of bass.

Giant Panda Dub Squad
Love in Time (vinyl & digital only)
Easy Star

I’m just going to say it: Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad are the best reggae band in America right now. (If John Brown’s Body were still active I might be more hesitant to make that claim, but even then it would still be very close.) On their latest album they demonstrate all the qualities that have brought them to the top of that heap: exceptional songwriting (check out the well-crafted verse-to-verse lyrical variations and the sly and subtle lyrical allusions on “Most Men,” just to take one example), brilliant original musical arrangements (you won’t hear a single recycled Studio One rhythm here) and fine singing. The basslines are idiomatic, inventive, and tuneful; the production is rich and heavyweight. In short, Love in Time is everything you’d want a reggae album to be. Highly recommended to all libraries.