RSS Feed

Search Results for: Shashika Mooruth

November 2018


Champian Fulton
The Stylings of Champian (2 discs)
Champian Records

I think I’ve finally put my finger on what it is that I find so entrancing about Champian Fulton’s artistry: it’s how she manages, against all odds, to be so many things at once. Her vocal style is a unique amalgamation of the straight-ahead and the experimental, alternately declamatory and lyrical, off-beat and swinging, devoted to the song itself and determined to express her uniqueness–imagine listening simultaneously to Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone singing the same song, and you’ll get a general idea of what I’m talking about. There are very few singers who can make hoary standards like “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and “Body and Soul” entirely their own, and she is one of them. But then there’s her piano playing, which is every bit as playfully inventive and rhythmically surprising as her singing, while at the same time swinging so powerfully that it’s hard to sit still while listening. On her latest album she leads a brilliant trio that includes bassist Hide Tanaka and drummer Fukushi Tainaka, with her father Stephen on flugelhorn for several tracks as well. The program is all standards, with a focus on tunes by Oscar Peterson and Cedar Walton, and there’s not a weak track to be heard. Yet again, she delivers an essential purchase for all jazz collections.


Johann Sebastian Bach & Various Composers
Goldberg 1.5 (digital only)
Footprint (dist. Naxos)
FR 097

Bach’s Goldberg Variations remains not only one of that composer’s most revered works, but also a fundamental pillar of the baroque edifice and one of the deepest and most thorough expressions ever realized of the concept of a theme with variations. It’s a work that has served as a touchstone for countless keyboard players over the centuries, but has also lent itself to other instrumental interpretations. This album offers a radically different approach to the music: the aria and five of its variations are presented here by Kondens, a duo consisting of recorder player My Eklund and organist Lisa Oscarsson, alongside modern interpretations of (or, perhaps more accurately, responses to) those variations composed by Lisa Ullén, Mattias Petersson, Ida Lundén, Jas Sanström, and Daniel Hjorth. The modern pieces are sometimes abstract and challenging, and sometimes more direct and accessible, but all are fascinating, and the playing of Eklund and Oscarsson is consistently excellent.

Various Composers
Gottschalk and Cuba
Antonio Iturrioz
Steinway & Sons (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

W.A. Mozart; L. Van Beethoven; J. Harbison
Beethoven, Mozart, Harbison
David Deveau; Borromeo String Quartet; Jessica Bodner; Thomas van Dyck
Steinway & Sons (dist. Naxos)

The only thing uniting these two albums is that both are piano recordings on the Steinway & Sons label, a brilliant marketing tool on the part of the famous piano manufacturer: not only do its recordings feature world-class performances by great pianists, but they also act as advertisements for the pianos being played. Anyway, the first album is a thoughtful and lovely program focusing on the underrated American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who was raised in New Orleans and spent several years in Cuba. Gottschalk and Cuba influenced each other mutually, and this album features works both by Gottschalk and by Cuban composers whom he influenced; several of these pieces are presented here in world-premiere recordings. This disc should be of particular interest to academic collections. The second disc juxtaposes chamber arrangements of orchestral works by Beethoven (his fourth piano concerto) and Mozart (his 14th concerto and his c-minor Fantasia), with, interestingly enough, a brief John Harbison piece. (Harbison also wrote the cadenzas for the Beethoven concerto.) This one also is of significant academic–and aesthetic!–interest. Great playing all around, and beautifully recorded in a warm, dry acoustic.

Maurice Ravel; Joseph Haydn; Igor Stravinsky
Haydn, Ravel, Stravinsky
Tesla Quartet
Orchid Classics (dist. Naxos)

Ravel, Haydn, and Stravinsky are not necessarily the most obvious composers to pull together for a string quartet program, but give this album a listen: it works really well. Apart from the fact that Ravel’s music constantly looked back over its shoulder to the classical era (and therefore really does juxtapose nicely with Haydn’s mature opus 54 quartet), there’s also simply the fact that Ravel and Haydn were both quartet composers of unusual genius–making it all the more regrettable that Ravel only wrote a single work in that format, and leading Tesla Quartet leader Ross Snyder to seek out several of the composer’s piano works to arrange for his group. This collection is augmented by Stravinsky’s brief and angular Concertino for String Quartet, creating a richly varied and thoroughly exciting album. The playing is magnificent.

Johannes Brahms; Toru Takemitsu; Ludwig Van Beethoven
Brahms, Takemitsu, Beethoven
Trio Isimsiz
Rubicon Classics

Here’s another interesting chamber-music lineup, this one by a piano trio: the program begins with the third piano trio of Brahms, followed by Toru Takemitsu’s Between Tides, and then Beethoven’s fifth trio (“Ghost”). The juxtapositions are very interesting: the journey from Brahms’ fiery, intense work (the last piano trio in his oeuvre) to Takemitsu’s deeply impressionistic, almost abstract one, and then to Beethoven’s explosive “Ghost” trio constitutes what ends up feeling like a world tour of emotion. Trio Isimsiz play with all the fire and panache one could ask for, and deliver a powerful listening experience.

Jean-Philippe Rameau
Les Talens Lyriques; Arnold Schoenberg Choir / Christophe Rousset
Aparte Music (dist. PIAS)
Rick’s Pick

On this disc, Rameau’s wonderful one-act opera-ballet Pygmalion is paired with his orchestral suite Les fêtes de Polymnie to create a wonderfully satisfying program of French baroque stage music. For those unfamiliar with the form, an opéra-ballet is exactly what it sounds like: a theater work that combines the explicit narrative and through-composed vocal elements of opera with choreographed dance passages, sort of like an early stage musical, but without any spoken dialogue. The problem with an audio recording in this case is, of course, that you can’t see the dancers during those passages–but it’s a small price to pay when the music is this much fun. And both the soloists and the chorus are brilliant on this recording, as are Les Talens Lyriques on the instrumental passages. I really can’t recommend this one strongly enough.

Morton Feldman
For John Cage
Erik Carlson; Aleck Karis
Bridge (dist. Albany)

Morton Feldman wrote a handful of compositions dedicated to other 20th-century artists, authors, and composers. It should come as no surprise that the one he wrote in honor of John Cage is austere, and filled with long reverberations and even silences. One of the things that makes this particular piece so interesting is that although it’s written for piano and violin, it is by no means a violin sonata or anything like it; instead, the two instruments are equal melodic partners (the piano part limited almost entirely to one stave and, during long passages, to individual notes without chords), often playing very similar parts. The tempo is consistently slow, at times nearly sodden; there is lots of repetition; the piece is over an hour long. So is it for everyone? No way. Is it an “important” piece? Certainly yes. How is the playing by violinist Erik Carlson and pianist Aleck Karis? Excellent.

Various Composers
Melancholia: Madrigals and Motets around 1600
Les cris de Paris / Geoffroy Jordain
Harmonia Mundi (dist. PIAS)
HMM 902298

The “madrigals and motets” program has been a popular one for early-music releases for decades now, and I’ve never really understood why; the two forms seem so very different to me–which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be juxtaposed, of course; it just makes me wonder why this particular juxtaposition is so prevalent. In the case of this particular, very lovely program, there are two major uniting factors: first the theme of melancholy, and second the fact that all of these works are examples of musica reservata, a style of composition characterized by an unusual (for the time) complexity of harmony and dissonance. The most (in)famous exponent of this style is probably Carlo Gesualdo, whose vocal writing still sounds avant-garde today and who is represented by several selections here–but composers like William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, and Luca Marenzio were experimenting in this direction as well. It takes a particular level of vocal skill to sing these pieces convincingly, and Les cris de Paris do a magnificent job here–and are recorded in a perfectly warm but spacious acoustic.

Sarah Davachi
Gave in Rest
Ba Da Bing (dist. Revolver)
BING 137

For a very different take on early music, consider the latest from composer and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Davachi. On this collection of original compositions she plays flute, mellotron, organ, piano, and synthesizer, and sings–and the album is billed as “a modern reading of early music, reforming sacred and secular sentiments to fit her purview.” What you hear at first is nothing but a series of drones, but keep listening and the music unfolds like a blossoming flower: the drones pile up in consonant layers, sometimes wavering in pitch and sometimes fading in and out. Bottom line: this isn’t necessarily a great pick for actual early-music collections, but would make an outstanding addition to any library with a collecting interest in experimental or avant-garde music (or minimalism).


Sungjae Son
Near East Quartet

Reedman and composer Sungjae Son leads (as one might expect from the title) a quartet on this album, one that features guitarist Suwuk Chung, vocalist/percussionist Yulhee Kim, and drummer Soojin Suh (with guest percussionist Sori Choi on one track). That’s an unusual instrumental lineup and as one might expect, the music is strange and inventive. Son’s compositions are impressionistic but never really abstract; they draw explicitly on elements of Korea’s gugak and pansori traditions, but also keep one foot in the melodic and instrumental textures of jazz. Drummer Suh is one of the most interesting and original players in this group, with a style that tends to create washes of pointillistic sound rather than generate a groove, and it works perfectly. This is a very impressive debut from a group of major young talents.

Fred Hersch Trio
Fred Hersch Trio ’97 @ The Village Vanguard
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Aficionados of living treasure Fred Hersch think of his mid-1990s trio with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey as one of the best he’s led, and his 1993 and 1994 studio recordings with them are among his finest. But this is the only live recording to have surfaced of that group, and it’s significant in another way as well: it documents Hersch’s first performance at the legendary Village Vanguard as a leader (he had been playing there regularly as a sideman since 1979). It’s actually kind of startling to listen to this album and realize it was made 20 years ago–his style is just as simultaneously complex and accessible as it is today, and the level of communication with his trio (particularly with Gress, which strongly evokes the musical telepathy that existed between Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro) is exceptional. In other words, this is yet another completely essential Fred Hersch album, one that belongs in every library collection.

Gilad Hekselman
Ask for Chaos
Motéma Music

I don’t know how he feels about comparisons like this, but two tracks into his latest album I found myself thinking “Man, Gilad Hekselman would have sounded right at home on the ECM label around 1982.” Nor is that in any way a criticism: playing sometimes sharply and corrosively, sometimes gently and lyrically, everywhere Hekselman uses reverb to define a cathedral-sized sonic space and plays melodies that both surprise and delight. Interestingly, he performs with two different trio ensembles on this album: one (ZuperOctave) in a more prog/experimental/electronic vein, and the other (gHex Trio) in a more acoustic/straight-ahead style. But even at his most conventional, Hekselman is still making sounds and creating compositions that sound like nothing else you’ll hear in this decade–even if you’ll catch the occasional echo of John Abercrombie or Terje Rypdal from a long time ago. Highly recommended.

Oren Ambarchi & Jim O’Rourke (with U-Zhaan)
Hence (vinyl/digital only)
Editions Mego

Described by the label as “like a dream collaboration between David Behrman and Henry Kaiser,” the latest duo effort from keyboardist Jim O’Rourke and guitarist Oren Ambarchi also features contributions from tabla player U-Zhaan, and consists of two 20-minute-long expanses of abstraction. The music on both sides is quite glistening and pointillistic, with little that could be termed “harmonic movement” but plenty of shifting layers. At no point does the tabla lay down any real groove; instead, it pokes tiny holes in the shimmering clouds of sound generated by Ambarchi and O’Rourke. Those clouds consist of both vapor and ice crystals, with faint hints of overtone singing in the background and intimations of water dripping in a haunted cave. I guess you could call this ambient music, if the ambience you’re looking for is that of a cybernetic spelunking trip gone subtly but worryingly wrong. Great stuff.

Karl Strømme Quintet
Riverboat (dist. Redeye)

Trumpeter/composer/arranger Karl Strømme has a style that’s tough to pigeonhole: modern but not avant-garde, discursive but not undisciplined or indulgent. And his tone is really interesting: sometimes brightly burnished, sometimes smeary and abstract à la Jon Hassell, but always rich and pleasing. His quintet is a classic trumpet/tenor lineup (with a guitar where the piano would normally be), but the band never sounds classic or even typical; they go off in a variety of directions, often in time signatures that are substantially more complex than they sound at first listen, and following melodic lines that sometimes start off lyrically direct and then drift into a pleasingly quirky weirdness. Recommended.

Mark Masters Ensemble
Our Métier
Rick’s Pick

Longtime readers of CD HotList will have recognized by now that I harbor a preference for jazz that is straight-ahead and swinging, with a peripheral (but real) interest in the abstract and impressionistic and a low tolerance for bombast and skronk-for-skronk’s-sake. Mark Masters has repeatedly caught and kept my attention by threading this needle, combining powerful swing with complex compositional structures and innovative arrangements. His latest is another triumph of compositional creativity and brilliant arranging, featuring a core sextet (including, among others, the great saxophonist Oliver Lake and the equally great drummer Andrew Cyrille) augmented by a shifting large ensemble that includes a big horn section, singer Anna Mjöll and vibraphonist Craig Fundyga. (Interestingly, Masters himself doesn’t play on the album.) The tunes often remind me of middle-period Charles Mingus–listen especially to the wonderfully light-footed jazz waltz “Ingvild’s Dance”–and his exploitation of instrumental color is just marvelous throughout. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.


Various Artists
Rough Guide to Scottish Folk
Rough Guides (dist. Redeye)

I confess that whenever I encounter another entry in the Rough Guide series of recordings, I kind of roll my eyes a little bit. “Oh great,” I think to myself. “Another predigested collection of easy-listening entries in the [fill in the blank] genre for people who don’t really want to know much about it.” And virtually every time, I find myself eating my words. They’ve done it again with Rough Guide to Scottish Folk, which does an admirable job of surveying not just the surface but also some of the depths of the current Caledonian trad scene–not all of which is located in Scotland. Sure, you’ve got the obligatory Battlefield Band entry, and you’ve got a song that most people with even a glancing familiarity with the Scots repertoire will recognize (“Turn Ye to Me”), but you’ve also got an oustanding American singer, Kyle Carey, demonstrating the ancient art of puirt à beuil, you’ve got a tune from the Scots-Canadian diaspora (“Banks of Newfoundland”), and you’ve got your protest song (“Wire Burners”). All in all, a very fine overview that will probably offer some surprises even to the cognoscenti.

Rachael McShane & The Cartographers
When All Is Still
Topic (dist. Redeye)

Singer/cellist/violist/fiddler Rachael McShane made her name in the Britfolk scene as a founding member of Bellowhead, one of the most successful groups in that genre in recent years. Her second album as a solo artist finds her making thoughtful explorations of traditional songs and tunes, a few of which will likely be familiar to fans of the repertoire (“Barley and Rye,” “Two Sisters”), while others will come as a lovely surprise. My favorite is her arrangement of “Ploughman Lads,” the rhythm of which confused me slightly before I recognized it as a calypso beat. Nice one, Rachael! Her voice is lovely, and she has an outstanding core backing band in guitarist Matthew Ord and melodeon player Julian Sutton — with a few of her old Bellowhead colleagues joining in as well on several tunes. This would make a great addition to any folk collection.

JP Harris
Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing
Free Dirt

A quick glance at the cover art and you might be forgiven for expecting this album to be some kind of gothic Southern death metal. (Except for the cute dogs, which are easy to miss.) But no: this is straight-up honky-tonk country-rock, written and performed by an eighth-grade dropout and runaway who considers himself “a carpenter who writes country songs.” JP Harris’ life story is stark enough to give him more than the usual level of authority when singing songs with titles like “Hard Road” and “Long Ways back,” but he never sounds in any way maudlin or self-pitying: the songs are tough and strong, even the ballads, and Harris’ voice is a deep, rich baritone supported by a crack team of sidepersons. Whether he’s rocking out or moaning quietly, JP Harris is consistently convincing and compelling.

Jim & Jesse McReynolds
The Old Dominion Masters (4 discs; reissue)
Pinecastle (dist. MVD)

When this box arrived in the mail I thought “Dang, it looks familiar.” I checked the release date, and sure enough: this is a reissue of a collection that originally came to market 20 years ago — and that I actually reviewed in 1999 for the All-Music Guide. You can read that original review here; today I’ll just say that my four-and-a-half star AMG review stands: these are recordings made for the McReynolds’ own label in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when they were simultaneously pushing back against a music industry that wanted them to modernize their sound and creating genuine musical innovation on their own terms. Any library that collects bluegrass music should jump at the chance to take advantage of this box now that it’s available again.


Thomas Ragsdale
Honley Civic Archives, Vol. 1 (digital only EP)
Soundtracking the Void

For his latest album, Thomas Ragsdale used physical recording format to help dictate musical content. Using reel-to-reel tape machines through which he ran some of these musical passages multiple times, he incorporated both chance elements and what he called “machine luck” into the writing/producing process, ending up with a darkly contemplative set of tracks that draw on aural images of rural Yorkshire. “Draw on” is meant in an abstract sense–there are no Morris dance melodies or anything like that, just moods that are informed, however indirectly, by local horror stories and cultural traditions. The resulting music is eerie and quite lovely. (And for those who are deeply committed to format hipsterism, this digital-only release is accompanied by a strictly limited run of reel-to-reel tapes, each containing a piece of improvised music recorded exclusively onto that tape.)

Kode9 & Burial
Fabriclive 100

All good things must come to an end, of course, and thus we have the 100th and final installment in the Fabric label’s often-brilliant series of Fabriclive DJ mixes. This one is a joint effort curated by celebrated London producers Kode9 and Burial, both of whom have contributed significantly over the past decade or so to the development of that city’s uniquely avant-garde and internationalist dance music scene. The program is willfully, not to say defiantly, eclectic, and shows how EDM, hip hop, gqom, grime, jungle, and even modern classical music can interact and overlap: across 39 continuously-mixed tracks you’ll hear overtone singer David Hykes rubbing up against Jungle Buddha, DJ Taye seguing into Jacob’s Optical Stairway, and Intense making way for Genecom, among many other strange and sometimes revelatory juxtapositions. Fans of Kode9 and Burial might be expecting something a bit darker and more abstract than what’s on offer here–it may be that the relatively sprightly and uptempo mood that pervades this mix is intended as a fond farewell to the series. But do bear in mind that “sprightly” and “uptempo” are relative terms here. Highly recommended to all libraries.

Reto A Ichi
The Lapse of the Exchange/Alone Moving Often
!K7 (dist. Redeye)

If you get a sense of déjà vu from this listing, there’s a reason for that: Reto A Ichi (the latest pseudonym of Scott Herren, better known as Prefuse 73) released The Lapse of the Exchange on LP a year ago, and it’s now available again, this time on CD and in tandem with his second release under that name, Alone Moving Often. Though he’s still widely considered one of the pioneers of glitch-hop, he’s gone far afield of that realm in recent years, often moving into deeper and more contemplative territory–not ambient music exactly (it’s too texturally varied and to frequently funky for that designation), but certainly experimental and arty. On both of these albums, which fit together very nicely as a unified statement, Herren draws on heavily manipulated found sounds, samples, composed keyboard sections, and (every so often) beats to create a quiet but intense sound palette that shifts steadily though not constantly. Well worth a listen.

Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society
Wow and Flutter
Six Degrees
No cat. no.

And if what you want is pure, blissful electronic ambient music–the kind that soothes and uplifts without ever threatening to tip over into simpleminded New Age bathos–then a new album from the Delia Darbyshire Appreciation Society is always cause for celebration. Garry Hughes and Harvey Jones, who, between them, have worked with such artists as Björk, Sly & Robbie, Julian Cope, and Art of Noise, work as a duo to create unapologetically sweet and emotional instrumental ambient music that is also unapologetically British (Delia Darbyshire, you may recall, was the composer of the theme music for the original Dr Who TV show) and that harks back to electro-ambient heroes of the 1970s and 1980s like Tangerine Dream and Vangelis. Their latest album doesn’t quite live up to the standard set by their last (which I reviewed in these pages last year), but it’s very, very good. Patrons who checked out that one will definitely want to hear this one as well.

Less Bells
Kranky (dist. Forced Exposure/Revolver)

Here’s another one on the borderline-ambient tip: Less Bells is mainly Julie Carpenter, who writes all the music and plays most of the instruments, notably including violin and cello. Three of her confederates are credited with “mixing,” which might lead you (accurately, as it turns out) to expect a sound built heavily on texture and atmospherics. But Carpenter’s music doesn’t transform its component instrumental parts into unrecognizable washes or distortions: the violins, cellos, and keyboards are pretty consistently recognizable as such, and although everything is given varying levels of electronic tweaking, the result isn’t an undifferentiated cloud of pretty sound. Instead, the instruments are enveloped by attendant ambience and the harmonic structure moves, albeit slowly, in a variety of directions. All of it is exceptionally lovely.

Fading Memory (EP, vinyl/digital only)
Rick’s Pick

I don’t usually review EPs, and I rarely review vinyl/digital releases. But this latest five-track title from Sieren is just so freaking good that I feel it my obligation to bring it to your attention. Matthias Frick (a.k.a. Sieren) operates in what we’re apparently now calling the “post-bass” genre, which means off-kilter rhythms with microscopic textural detail, wicked deep basslines, and celestial chord washes floating over the top. It’s hard to find music that simultaneously supports contemplation and nudges you to the dancefloor, so we should be grateful for it whenever it appears. And as of this writing, you can snag the whole release on Amazon for $1.99.

Jimmy Somerville
For a Friend: The Best of Jimmy Somerville (2 discs)
Music Club (dist. MVD)

To wrap up this month’s electronica-focused Rock/Pop coverage, let’s turn to something in a poppier vein: this collection of classic tracks from Jimmy Somerville, best known as the former lead singer for the Communards and Bronski Beat. His powerful, soaring falsetto voice, his penchant for politically sharp lyrics, and his post-disco rhythmic orientation combined to create a number of rather unlikely hits back in the 1980s: most listeners will probably recognize his version of the disco hit “I Feel Love,” the Bronski Beat hit “Smalltown Boy,” and perhaps the Communards cut “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” But Somerville had a number of hits as a solo artist as well, notably his version of “Comment te dire adieu?”. All of those are here and more, several of them in extended remixes, and this set makes a great introduction to several of the most influential synth pop acts–and one of the most unique voices–of the 80s and 90s.


Shashika Mooruth
Heart to Heart
Urja Music
Rick’s Pick

Indo-South African singer and composer Shashika Mooruth is one of the most exciting pop artists I’ve encountered in years. Although trained in the Hindustani classical tradition, she writes in a style that blends elements of classical, pop, kirtan, and Bollywood song to create something that sounds entirely new. Too often, classical/pop crossover or multi-genre fusions end up coming across as saccharine or superficial, but Mooruth’s songs manage instead simply to sound fully original while invoking lots of different stylistic touch-points, all of which are fully integrated into the music rather than feeling like ornamentation. And her voice is a thing of absolute wonder, simultaneously young and mature, supple and powerful.

Various Artists
Puffer’s Choice, Vol. 2
Scotch Bonnet
Rick’s Pick

Last year I heartily recommended the first volume in the Scotch Bonnet label’s Puffer’s Choice compilation series, and now the label is back with another absolute stunner of a collection. Leading off powerfully with a ponderously swinging remix of the late Bim Sherman’s “Lightning and Thunder,” the album then moves from strength to strength, with new tracks and remixes featuring the likes of Earl 16, Chief Rockas, Dreadsquad and Escape Roots. Throughout the program roots and early-dancehall vibes nestle cozily alongside elements of UK bass, dubstep, and soca, while the bass frequencies are consistently stomach-bumpingly powerful and the lyrical messages are strictly conscious. Highlights include Isha Bel’s “Locks Grow,” the aptly-titled “Space” by Dreadsquad, and a weirdly wonderful adaptation of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Earl 16 with Capital 1212. Strongly recommended.

Beres Hammond
Never Ending
VP/Harmony House

It wouldn’t be right to say that Beres Hammond’s voice is ageless: at 63, he sounds like the elder statesman of reggae that he indisputably is. But he’s one of those singers whose voices just sound better and better as they get older. For one thing, his now-attenuated high range is no longer suited to the whiny melismas that have sometimes overburdened his work in the past; for another, his voice is just deeper and chestier now, and he still phrases his lovers rock tunes as masterfully as ever. The band on his latest album also consists of road-tested reggae veterans–Wire Lindo, Robbie Lyn, and Dean Fraser among them–and the grooves they generate are that perfect combination of tight and loose. This is an outstanding release from one of reggae music’s living treasures.


February 2017


ahcAfrican Head Charge
Environmental Holes & Drastic Tracks: 1981-1986 (5 discs)
On-U Sound (dist. Redeye)

Those who have been reading CD HotList for a long time may have noticed that I have kind of a thing for African Head Charge, the ethno-avant-dub project of percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah and producer Adrian Sherwood. So I greeted this box set — which compiles the first four AHC albums and throws in a fifth disc of rarities and remixes as a bonus — with a reaction somewhere between enthusiasm and giddy, hopping-around joy. Now, it’s important to understand that AHC’s early work is a bit difficult: whereas later albums like Songs of Praise and In Search of Shashamane Land (with their field recordings of gospel singers and tribal chants) sound like collaborations between King Tubby and Alan Lomax, the stuff from the early 1980s sounds more like a collaboration between Lee “Scratch” Perry and Muslimgauze: dark, minimalist beats that repeat endlessly while being tweaked in an aggressively dubwise manner by Sherwood. The first album, My Life in a Hole in the Ground, is especially minimal and abrasive, its highlight track being the very dread “Far Away Chant” (featuring Prince Far I). Of these albums, Off the Beaten Track is both the latest and the most immediately accessible, and the one that clearly presages what would come later. But all of it is worth listening to, and any library that collects broadly in popular and world music should consider this box a must-have.


rossiSalomone Rossi
The Songs of Solomon: Hebrew Prayers and Instrumental Music (reissue)
Profeti della Quinta
Pan Classics (dist. Naxos)
PC 10343
Rick’s Pick

Of all the fine composers in 17th-century Mantua who languished in the shadow of Monteverdi, there may not have been any quite as idiosyncratically brilliant as Salomone Rossi. While he wrote in the familiar style of that time and place, experimenting with novel instrumental textures and expanding the frontiers of the emerging sonata form, his vocal music was notably unusual in that instead of setting texts of the Catholic liturgy, he set Hebrew prayers. Indeed, the title of this collection is something of a wry joke: these are not texts from the Biblical Song of Solomon, but rather songs written by Solomon. For this recording the vocal pieces are interspersed with instrumental works, nicely showcasing the contrast between his adventurous instrumental writing and his very conservative choral compositions. Unless you listen closely, you may not even notice that they’re sung in Hebrew. The singing and playing are first-rate throughout, and this disc is highly recommended to all classical collections. (Though it is not billed as such, this release appears to be a straight reissue of PC 10214, which is also still on the market.)

beethovenLudwig Van Beethoven
The Early String Quartets (2 discs)
AVIE (dist. Naxos)

This two-disc set, released last spring, completed the Cypress String Quartet’s cycle of Beethoven string quartets (on modern instruments), and also marked the end of this fine ensemble’s 20th and final concert season — the quartet’s last performance came only a month after the CD release. As always, they play with crisp assurance and flawless intonation, effectively communicating both the fire of Beethoven’s musical vision and the depth of his mastery over classical forms. That balance is especially essential in the case of the six opus 18 quartets, where we hear Beethoven essentially picking up where Haydn and Mozart left off, and then taking the form into new territories. Most library collections will already own at least one recording of these important works, but this recording would make a fine addition even to a well-stocked library.

griswoldErik Griswold
Ecstatic Descent
Cold Blue Music (dist. Naxos)

I’ve loved prepared piano ever since I was a teenager. There’s something about the sheer brazenness of it — taking timbre, the one dimension of pianistic sound that has traditionally been completely outside of the pianist’s control, and altering it completely — that I find thrilling. But much more important than the conceptual aspect of prepared pianism is the almost infinite variety of timbral opportunities it provides, and on this 41-minute-long composition composer and pianist Erik Griswold seems to take advantage of almost all of them. But Griswold doesn’t only use objects such as bolts, screws, strips of rubber, cardboard, and paper to change the tone of his instrument; he also positions the objects on the strings in such a way that he ends up tuning the entire instrument to the key of A minor, ensuring that all of the music’s development will take place in the realms of voicing and tone. The result is like a massive set of variously-muted wind chimes with a bad case of ADHD, and it’s wonderful.

biberHeinrich Ignaz Franz Biber
Missa Alleluja; Nisi Dominus
Ars Antiqua Austria; St. Florianer Sängerknaben / Gunar Lenzbor
Accent (dist. Naxos)
ACC 24325
Rick’s Pick

Among the master composers of the baroque period, Biber is known mainly for his chamber music and especially his virtuosic violin writing — in particular his monumental cycle of solo violin pieces known as the Rosary Sonatas, which make extensive use of scordatura. But his liturgical choral music is also outstanding, and this pairing of his Alleluja Mass and his Nisi Dominus setting showcases some of his most thrilling work in that genre, beautifully performed by a choir of men’s and boys’ voices and the excellent Ars Antiqua Austria ensemble. If your collection already includes the relatively familiar Missa Salisburgensis (and if it doesn’t, it should), then consider adding this one to the collection alongside it.

knightsVarious Composers
Knights, Maids, and Miracles: The Spring of the Middle Ages (compilation; 5 discs)
La Reverdie
Arcana (dist. Naxos)
A 399

This midpriced 5-disc box brings together recordings by the very fine La Reverdie ensemble originally released between 1993 and 2001. Each disc focuses on a different facet of medieval music: mystical and erotic love songs, philosophical works, court and monastic music, music by Celtic women of the period, and 13th-century music of France and England. La Reverdie is a small group consisting of several women and one man, all of whom sing and play such instruments as the lute, recorder, vielle, rebec, and organ, and libraries that see significant circulation of recordings of Hildegard should expect demand for this fine reissue collection. (Conveniently, each individual disc retains the title under which it was originally released, which will make it easy to check and see whether your library already holds the original releases.)

mozpoulWolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Francis Poulenc
Works for Violin & Piano
Esther Hoppe; Alasdair Beatson

Here’s an interesting pairing: the enfant terrible of the high classical period alongside another puckish rebel, the playful (and notably untrained) mid-20th-century French composer Francis Poulenc. Although both were known for their sense of humor, stylistically this program makes no sense; the transition from Mozart’s E minor sonata to Poulenc’s sonata is jarring. However, the programmatic choice is of a piece with Esther Hoppe and Alasdair Beatson’s last album, which combined works of Mozart and Stravinsky — although in this case, they have combined the works of a noted Parisian composer with works of Mozart that have a connection to that same city. In any case, the playing is superb and the program is very enjoyable, with the Poulenc piece serving as an astringent palate-cleanser between the more decorous works of Mozart.

bolcomWilliam Bolcom
Piano Rags
Spencer Myer
Steinway & Sons
Rick’s Pick

In the minds of many, ragtime music begins and ends with Scott Joplin. But in reality, ragtime music emerged before Joplin and continued after him, most notably in the work of 20th-century rag composer William Bolcom. Bolcom’s music extends the ragtime tradition both rhythmically and harmonically: in these pieces you’ll hear the traditional syncopations of ragtime music pushed further, and the straightforward diatonic harmonic structures of 19th-century rags expanded chromatically without ever leaving tonality behind. Bolcom’s wit and melodic inventiveness are a delight throughout, and pianist Spencer Myer plays them with audible affection and pleasure. Highly recommended to all collections.


kingNatalia M. King
BLUEZzin T’il Dawn
Challenge (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

Natalia M. King dances happily back and forth over the line that separates jazz from the blues. Well, maybe “happily” isn’t entirely the right word — many of these songs are steeped in heartache and longing. But like so many great artists, King is not just one person: as sad and frustrated as she may be, she’s also genuinely dancing, and her combo is right there with her, swinging powerfully. She actually calls her music “SOULBLAZz” (soul-blues-jazz, get it?), and that’s nicely apt; throughout all of these songs, elements of all three traditions are always present in varying mixtures, with King’s richly-colored voice always at the top of the mix. Very strongly recommended to all libraries.

fowserKen Fowser
Now Hear This!

Tenor saxophonist and composer Ken Fowser leads a traditional tenor-trumpet quintet on this very fine set of original compositions, one that stays solidly in the mainstream but provides plenty of opportunity for all involved to make strong personal musical statements. From hard bop blues to swinging midtempo numbers to Latin-flavored tunes (no ballads, interestingly, though “Fair to Middlin'” is pretty low-key), Fowser and his crew deliver the straight-ahead goods on this thoroughly enjoyable outing. For all jazz collections.

cobbEvan Cobb
Hot Chicken
Ear Up
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Another tenor saxophonist and composer working in a straight-ahead but colorful style is the Nashville-based Evan Cobb, whose debut as a leader finds him delivering a completely delightful set of originals (plus one standard) for small combos in shifting configurations. Where Fowser’s main touchstone seems to be the blues, Cobb’s is funk — though this is not a jazz-funk album. Instead, it’s a stylistically varied straight-ahead album that touches on funk (particularly on the title track) but also nods towards mambo, New Orleans, bop, rock, and even — I swear — duodecophany (if the head of “The Why Lab” isn’t based on a tone row, it sounds pretty close). Anyway, it’s all great stuff; Cobb is a master at combining complexity with fun.

scottJimmy Scott
I Go Back Home
Eden River

I confess that although I recognize his genius, I’ve always had a hard time listening to Jimmy Scott. He suffered from Kallmann Syndrome, which kept him from reaching puberty and left him with a startlingly childlike voice, one that I’ve always found just a bit disturbing. But this album, recorded several years before his death in 2014, won me over. Partly it’s the arrangements, which are large in scale and exquisitely crafted, but mostly it’s that voice and his delivery: I’ve never heard anyone sound simultaneously so joyful and so heartbroken. The effect is impossible to describe. Noteworthy sidepersons on this recording include James Moody, Peter Erskine, Joey DeFrancesco, Joe Pesci(!), and Dee Dee Bridgewater.

dubinLaura Dubin Trio
Live at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival (2 discs)
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

If what you want is a couple of hours of sheer, unadulterated fun, check out this live recording from the Laura Dubin Trio. Playing a quirkily delightful mix of originals, standards, and jazz adaptations from the classical repertoire, Dubin plays fast and loose with just about every rule of musical decorum: switching brazenly between swing and boogie-woogie on “Something’s Cookin’,” quoting “The Way You Look Tonight” in the middle of an adapted Beethoven sonata, writing a fugue-based Bach-style invention, combining works by Debussy and Gershwin into a medley. The musicmaking is of highly serious quality, but the mood is pure exhilaration and joy. Strongly recommended to all collections.

leeJihye Lee
No cat. no.

I’m always a little bit leery of orchestral jazz. At its worst it’s ungainly and clumsy; at it’s best it usually sounds bombastic to me. But I realize that’s just me, so I try to give it a fair shot when it comes to coverage in CD HotList. I’m very glad I did so in the case of this concept album by composer Jihye Lee. The work is a six-movement suite meant to evoke the emotions arising from the Sewol ferry disaster that took place in Korea in 2014. Lee’s writing is richly detailed and lush, and the moods range from gently swinging to almost overwhelmingly angry and sad. Her orchestra consists of Boston-area musicians and faculty members from the Berklee School of Music, and they perform this sometimes-harrowing music with commitment and power.


koulackDaniel Koulack
Frailing to Succeed
Little Giant

Here’s a safe bet: this is the most stylistically eclectic clawhammer-banjo album you’ll hear all year. In fact, I’d bet a smaller amount of money that it’s the most stylistically eclectic clawhammer-banjo album you’ll ever hear, period (unless you’re a Vince Farsetta fan, I guess). Anyway, Daniel Koulack is a supremely gifted banjo player and composer, and on this album he explores lots of different musical styles, some of them simultaneously — “The Insomniac’s Lullaby” is a sort of calypso-jazz thing, “No Telephone” starts out sounding kind of Round Peakish before the Irish pennywhistles come keening in and usher in a jig rhythm, and “The Glenn Gould Piece” is a tribute to the late piano legend, with strings and flute. Listen to this album three or four times in a row and you’ll hear different stuff every time.

piedmontPiedmont Melody Makers
Wonderful World Outside

This is a roots supergroup of sorts: Alice Gerrard (Hazel Dickens, Mike Seeger, Harmony Sisters), Chris Brashear (Perfect Strangers, Robin and Linda Williams), Jim Watson (Red Clay Ramblers, Robin and Linda Williams), and Cliff Hale (a fine guitarist and singer who has probably played with someone but I’m not finding any info). Together they perform a nice mix of original and classic songs from the old-time, country, and bluegrass repertoires, trading instruments and lead vocal duties. Gerrard and Brashear are the top draws vocally, and Gerrard’s high-lonesome yelp is hair-raising at times. Very nice stuff.

highwayVarious Artists
Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll
Eight 30
No cat. no.

When I picked this album up I expected to learn that Adam Carroll was dead. But apparently he’s not only alive but also fairly young and relatively early in his career. So what convinced a bunch of Texas musicians as well-regarded as James McMurtry, Slaid Cleaves, Jamie Lin Wilson, and Danny Barnes to take turns performing 15 of Carroll’s songs? The fact that his songs are timelessly good. The arrangements here tend to be minimalist and acoustic, with a couple of full-band exceptions, and the songs themselves tend to be slow to mid-tempo, wry, and gently sympathetic to their hard-luck subjects. This is a fine overview of the work of a world-class songwriter too few of us have ever heard of.

specialcSpecial Consensus
Long I Ride
Compass (dist. Naxos)
7 4668 2

Long they ride, indeed — I was startled to learn that this release marks the 40th anniversary of Special Consensus, a band that I’ve been thinking of as “new” for, apparently, a very long time. And like many very long-lived bluegrass bands, they’ve developed a tightness that is nearly supernatural: despite the fact that banjoist Greg Cahill is the only remaining original member, Special Consensus both sings and plays with an ensemble virtuosity that makes them sound like one body with three throats and eight hands. Well-established bluegrass bands also have a tendency to spend less time on high-velocity barnburners and more on soulful, midtempo material, which is the case here as well. The highlight track is the a cappella gospel tune “Jesus Is My Rock.” Highly recommended.


deliaDelia Derbyshire Appreciation Society
Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society
Six Degrees

The name says it all — as long, that is, as you know that Delia Derbyshire was the composer of the Dr. Who theme. Once you know that, you’ll know what to expect: electronic music of a distinctly 1970s/1980’s cast, sounding a bit more analog than it actually is, riding on clouds of arpeggiation and blippy-bloopy tonalities that hint at rhythm more than they express it. The Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society is electro veterans Garry Hughes (of Bombay Dub Orchestra, among others) and Harvey Jones, and the music they make is as sweet and gentle as the fluffy clouds on the back cover photo. Nothing here will get you dancing, but it might be very helpful if you have a headache.

projectionA Projection
Tapete (dist. Forced Exposure)
TR 350CD

And speaking of bands that channel the 1970s and 1980s, just listen to the opening bars of the first track on Framework’s sophomore album: you can be forgiven for thinking you’ve accidentally cued up an early New Order album or something from the Cure’s middle period. But then the voices kick in, and you may start wondering if you’re listening to a previously-unreleased collaboration between the Cure and Swans. Intrigued? (Horrified?) I think it’s pretty great. The band reportedly recorded several of these songs under conditions of extreme sleep deprivation so as to give their themes of paranoia and desperation added verisimilitude, and I believe it. For all adventurous pop collections.

A Pink Sunset for No One
Fire (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Sarah Lipstate is one of the most original and gifted guitarists currently working in the experimental/post-rock neighborhood, and her latest album is one of her best. She uses a variety of effects to create sounds that you would swear were produced by other instruments (no, those aren’t really uillean pipes at the beginning of “Deep Shelter,” nor are you hearing a piano later in the track). But the audio trickery isn’t the point; the point is the gorgeous and evocative soundscapes she creates with it, and while you’ll hear echoes and influences from artists like Robert Fripp, Bill Nelson, Vini Reilly, and Steve Reich, those influences are fully absorbed into a complex music vision that is all her own. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


shashikaShashika Mooruth
Krishna the Flute Player
Rick’s Pick

Few things have hurt the credibility of Hindu devotional music as much as the New Age movement, which created an enormous market for recordings of vapid exotica that was designed to make its Western listeners feel like they were tapping into something deep and mystical. Shashika Mooruth, on the other hand, makes music that reverences Hindu deities without condescending to her listeners. In partnership with composer Rajeev Mahavir, she has put together on this album a nicely varied selection of devotional songs in a variety of styles, mostly meditative but sometimes upbeat and celebratory — “Kirtan Mela” actually bring a banjo into the mix before taking things out in a sprightly ska style. On several other songs the focus alternates between her gorgeous voice and the equally lovely bansuri playing of Rakesh Chaurasia and Atul Sharma. All of it is exceptionally beautiful; highly recommended overall.

morganMorgan Heritage
Strictly Roots: Deluxe Edition (2 discs)

In the wake of their Grammy win for Best Reggae Album, this hugely respected and influential family-based reggae band has brought that album back to market in an expanded deluxe edition that features four previous-unreleased tracks as well as several remixes of the hit single “Light It Up.” As always, the Morgan Heritage crew exemplify what it means to be a modern roots reggae band: strictly conscious lyrics — no slackness or gun talk — and an ensemble sound that is modern and professional without ever being off-puttingly slick. And the melodic hooks abound. Lead vocalist Peetah Morgan has one of the best voices in contemporary reggae music, and the various producers brought in for the sessions have helped them craft a nicely varied but consistently powerful set of rhythms. For all reggae collections.

scotchVarious Artists
Scotch Bonnet Presents Puffer’s Choice
Scotch Bonnet
Rick’s Pick

For a window into the state of the reggae art in the UK, one of the best resources is the catalog of outstanding Glasgow-based label Scotch Bonnet. It’s the home of the mighty Mungo’s Hi Fi soundsystem, and regularly releases singles and albums featuring such A-list artists as Tenor Youthman, Macka B, and Daddy Freddy — and on this collection, I’m morally certain that that’s the wonderful Holly Cook singing over the Prince Fatty rhythm that opens the program (though I can’t be 100% sure in the absence of liner notes). This is a marvelous mix of roots and old-school dancehall material without a single weak track in the bunch. All library collections would benefit from adding this album, but libraries with a particular collecting interest in reggae music should also be watching the Scotch Bonnet release list on a consistent basis.

thieveryThievery Corporation
Temple of I and I
Rick’s Pick

This highly eclectic DC-based electronica duo has been steeped in the sonic principles of reggae and dub for decades, but their latest album finds them diving all the way into reggae for the first time. To build the instrumental tracks they traveled to Jamaica and recorded in a studio in Port Antonio; then they returned home to DC for editing and voicing, and the result is an album both rich in tradition and imbued with the unique sound of Thievery Corporation — grooves that lope rather than bounce, and dark, misty atmospherics that in this case are notably infused with the unmistakable tang of weed smoke. Particularly noteworthy is “Letter to the Editor,” featuring sharp vocals from newcomer Racquel Jones. Highly recommended to all library collections.

chineseLoo Kah Chi; Lam Fung; So Chun Bo; Wong Kuen
Four Virtuosi Play Chinese Traditional Music (reissue)
Marco Polo (dist. Naxos)

Originally issued on the Hong Kong Record label in 1987, this album features renowned players of the erhu, pipa, zheng, and xiao playing both traditional Chinese music from a variety of regional traditions and two original compositions written in a style popular in the Chaozhou area. Because Chinese traditional music tends to be relatively simple in melodic terms, based on pentatonic scales, other aspects of the music are developed elaborately, particularly timbre and note articulation. The music also tends to be programmatic, intended to evoke specific natural images and concepts. This is a lovely and fascinating album featuring truly inspired playing. Libraries that don’t already own the 1987 release should seriously consider picking up this reissue.

damarAmira Medunjanin
World Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

In early 2015 I recommended Amira Medunjanin’s last album, Silk and Stone. Her new one is just as good. She continues to focus her efforts on the traditional sevdalinka stylings of her native Bosnia and Herzegovina, although Damar also features a Macedonian song and a couple of tradition-minded original tunes. As always, Medunjanin’s voice is a wonder, by turns delicate and chesty, fluttering sweetly one moment and digging deep into a heartwrenching lyric the next. The album-closing “Ah, Sto Cemo Ljubav Kriti” is especially gorgeous. Strongly recommended.