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Search Results for: claves

January 2023


František Ignác Antonín Tuma
Te Deum
Czech Ensemble Baroque Orchestra & Choir / Tereza Válková; Roman Válek
Supraphon (dist. Naxos)
SU 4315-2

This is the kind of release I live for: a world-premiere recording of glorious music by a great composer who doesn’t get enough love in the current marketplace. František Ignác Antonín Tuma was a Czech composer of the late baroque period who spent most of his career in Vienna; he studied under Johann Fux and made a name for himself as a viola da gamba and theorbed lute player as well as a composer. This recording features two of his large-scale sacred vocal works, a Te Deum setting and the magisterial Missa Veni Patri pauper, with an instrumental sinfonia inserted between them. It’s hard to overstate how deeply engaging and attractive this music is, and the performances by the Czech Ensemble Baroque Orchestra and Choir are magnificent — alto soloist Monika Jägerova is especially fine.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Flute Concertos
Rune Most; The Danish Sinfonietta / David Riddell

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Flute Concertos & Sinfonias
Nolwenn Bargin; Musikkollegium Winterthur / Roberto González Monjas
CD 50-1909

It seems like 2022 yielded a real bumper crop of recordings of works by C.P.E. Bach, the most illustrious of Johann Sebastian Bach’s many composer children. At first I wondered if 2022 marked an important birthday for him, or maybe a significant anniversary of his death, but since he was born in 1714 and died in 1788 neither of those explanations seems likely. It may just be a happy coincidence. In any case, this past year saw two very fine modern-instrument recordings of C.P.E. Bach flute concertos, both of which are well worth recommending. Flautist Norwenn Bargin opens her program with the D major concerto (Wq. 183/1), a stylistically forward-looking piece that was considered somewhat avant-garde at the time of its composition. Two other concerti and a three-movement sinfonia round out the program; everyone’s playing here is both virtuosic and stylistically sensitive. On his recording with the Danish Sinfonietta, flautist Rune Most tackles three concertos, only one of which duplicates the Bargin program. I especially enjoyed Most’s tone, which is woodier than one would normally expect from a modern flute and which contrasts nicely with the bright and hard-edged sound of the Sinfonietta. Again, the playing is delightful on this disc and I recommend both to any library with a collecting interest in the pre- and early classical periods.

Adriaan Willaert
Adriano3 (vinyl & digital only)
Dionysos Now!
Evil Penguin
EPRC 0047

Here’s another outstanding world-premiere recording: the six-voice, all-male Dionysos Now! ensemble, led by Tore Tom Denys, has undertaken a project to record little-known works by the most famous composer to come from Denys’ home town of Roeselare: Adriaan Willaert. The latest release in this series centers on a Mass setting written while Willaert was in residence at the Cathedral San Marco in Venice, a Mass apparently without a title but which is presented here as Missa Ippolito. The title comes from a theory of musicologist Joshua Rifkin, who argues (based on some pretty deep textual and melodic analysis) that the work was written in tribute to Willaert’s patron, the Cardinal of Ferrara. The Mass’s unusual structure is worth reading about, and as always with this group the singing is outstanding.

William Byrd
Pavans & Galliards; Variations & Grounds (2 discs)
Daniel-Ben Pienaar
Avie (dist. Naxos)

It’s not that unusual to hear keyboard music of the baroque era played on the modern piano, but Renaissance music on the piano is much more rare. On this two-disc recital program, pianist Daniel-Ben Pinaar explores two particularly important collections of William Byrd’s early keyboard music: My Lady Nevell’s Book and Parthenia, and adds as a makeweight the Quadran Pavan and Quadran Galliard; the pieces from these collections are interspersed with fifteen of Byrd’s variations on Elizabethan tunes and on “ground bass.” The modern piano poses certain challenges for performing music of this period, which was written with instruments in mind that have a much lighter tone and much less dynamic range. Pinaar’s approach is both thoughtful and deeply musical; he incorporates ornamentation that is highly idiomatic but doesn’t shy away from putting the piano’s richer and deeper tone to good use. This is both quite an unusual and also a deeply rewarding album.

Vicente Lusitano
The Marian Consort / Rory McCleery
Linn (dist. Naxos)

A well-known music theorist in his time, Vincent Lusitano is primarily remembered today — when he’s remembered at all — as very likely the first Black composer to have been formally published. His sole surviving collection of works, the Liber primus epigramatum, from which these ten motets were taken, was published in Rome in 1551. Lusitano was born in Portugal of mixed European and African parentage and eventually became a priest and a music teacher in Padua and Viterbo, and made his living through student fees since paid clergy positions were available only to White men at the time. Throughout these marvelous vocal works you can clearly hear Lusitano paying tribute to Josquin des Prez, but at the same time he has developed a style distinctly his own — echoes of which we’ll hear later in the work of, among others, Carlo Gesualdo. For all early music collections.


3D Jazz Trio
9 to 5

I don’t think there’s another jazz ensemble anywhere that plays with as much pure joy as the 3D Jazz Trio. Pianist Jackie Warren, bassist Amy Shook, and drummer Sherrie Maricle also have a great stylistic range — check out Maricle’s intricate arrangement of “Sing,” which is followed by Shook’s hard-driving, funky take on Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” (They’re also excellent composers, and the original tunes “Blues for G-C” and “Theme for B.T.” are album highlights.) But most of all they have an ensemble sound that would be the envy of any trio. Each is impressively virtuosic on her instrument, but they play together with not just precision but also with the kind of blend that comes only from obvious mutual affection. Like everything else I’ve heard from the 3D Jazz Trio, this is a simply brilliant album.

Franco Ambrosetti

The flugelhorn’s naturally soft and burnished tone lends itself to quiet and introspective jazz, and that’s what you get on this gorgeous release from composer and flugelhorn player Franco Ambrosetti. He’s accompanied by a jaw-dropping array of first-call session players: guitarist John Scofield, pianist Uri Caine, bassist Scott Colley, drummer Peter Erskine — and the string arrangements are written and conducted by Alan Broadbent. If you don’t think jazz with strings is really your cup of tea, I strongly urge you to check this album out and see if it doesn’t change your mind. Every track is a lesson in both composition and orchestration, and every solo is a dissertation on taste.

The Comet Is Coming
Hyper-dimensional Expansion Beam

One of the complaints I often have about jazz musicians is when they use the term “funk” too liberally. In my experience, the great majority of jazz compositions that claim to be “funky” aren’t actually funky at all — they just have a strong backbeat instead of (or sometimes in addition to) a swing feel. No such complaint here, though: The Comet Is Coming is a trio consisting of jazz saxophonist Shabaka, drummer/synthesist Betamax and synthesist Danalogue, who together create dense, wild, and sometimes extremely funky jazz that partakes of the spiritual essence of Sun Ra and the harmolodic freakiness of Ornate Coleman without ever sounding either atonal or self-indulgent. No matter how out-there they get, there’s a deep discipline to the group’s sound, and although it doesn’t sound like any other jazz you’ve ever heard, it draws deeply on the jazz verities. For all adventurous collections.

Fred Hersch & esperanza spalding
Alive at the Village Vanguard

Two generation-defining geniuses united in October of 2018 for a two-night stand at the legendary Village Vanguard in New York. A few lucky guests in that notoriously tiny venue were treated to voice-and-piano arrangements of standards and a Hersch original or two that featured Hersch’s keenly intellectual but also deeply sensitive pianism and esperanza spalding’s supple and discursive singing — though, sadly, not her equally virtuosic bass playing. I’d say the album’s highlight is spalding’s scat performance on Hersch’s knotty Thelonious Monk tribute, or maybe her improvised lyrics to Charlie Parker’s “My Little Suede Shoes,” but just about any track here would count as the highlight on any other jazz album from the past five years. I recommend this one for any library that supports a jazz curriculum.


New Riders of the Purple Sage
Lyceum ’72

Today they’d probably be called, but in 1972 the New Riders of the Purple Sage were called “psychedelic country” or “psychedelic country rock,” and they toured with the Grateful Dead (whose debt to country music had started becoming explicit with the recent albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty). This album documents the New Riders’ set on the final day of the Dead’s 1972 European tour, playing at the legendary Lyceum Ballroom in London. The set was recorded on a 16-track machine and sounds phenomenal. The band’s singing is frankly pretty uneven, but instrumentally they sound great, with the playing of pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage a highlight throughout. This is an important document of a strand of American country music that left a real impact but went out of style very quickly.

Howdy Glenn
I Can Almost See Houston: The Complete Howdy Glenn

Commercial country music has never been a particularly hospitable place for Black artists. In the 1970s there was Charley Pride, in the 1990s there was… well… Cleve Francis? And now we have Darius Rucker, I guess. But country music has been pretty dang white pretty much since it emerged as a modern genre. In 1977, though, there was a Caifornia-based singer named Morris “Howdy” Glenn who scored a chart hit with his cover of a Willie Nelson song and was nominated as Top New Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music. After a few other minor hits his star faded, though, and now he’s largely forgotten. This long-overdue compilation brings together all of his recordings: one album plus another 15 tracks either released as singles or — in many cases — never released at all. Surprisingly, his voice has quite a bit in common with that of George Jones, but there’s a hard edge to his sound that brings to mind Merle Haggard as well. In addition to being a highly valuable historical document this whole collection is quite a blast.

The Foreign Landers
Travelers Rest
Tinfoil Studios

The music of the Foreign Landers (banjoist/guitarist Tabitha Agnew Benedict and mandolinist David Benedict, both of whom sing and write as well) is a classic example of Nu Folk: songs that use folk- and bluegrass-derived instrumentation to make sounds that have little in common with folk music beyond texture and vibe. The songs — all of which are originals except for a subdued version of “Sunny Side of the Mountain” — have complex structures that are easy to miss while you’re blissing out to the Benedicts’ soft voices and close harmonies, and at times (as on the gorgeous “Should I Go”) they venture into knotty jazz-folk excursions. Elsewhere (“Flying Back to You”) they settle comfortably into straight-ahead newgrass. Rarely has this kind of virtuosity been exhibited in such a gentle and unassuming way, especially in the world of acoustic music.


Planet Mu (dist. Redeye)

2022 was a busy year for µ-Ziq (a.k.a. Mike Paradinas). He released an album of new material entitled Magic Pony Ride as well as an expanded reissue of his 1997 classic Lunatic Harness (both recommended here in the June issue) and a digital-only EP of remixes titled Goodbye. As the year came to a close he brought out another album of new music, in a couple of different manifestations: the vinyl and digital version of Hello contains nine tracks of µ-Ziq’s highly personal take on IDM/drill’n’bass — a style of hyped-up jungle that avoids the chilly and forbidding claustrophobia so common in this genre in favor of a sunny and joyful approach, one that is not entirely without edge (there’s a hint of foreboding in the vocal sample on “Ávila,” for example) but that generally stays well on the side of uplift. The CD version includes the Goodbye EP. Highly recommended.


Stefan Betke, who has recorded under the name Pole since 1998, makes music that has been characterized as dubtronic, glitch, and minimal ambient, but I’m not sure any of those labels really works. I think I’d call his music “minimal Krautrock.” On his latest album, you’ll hear faint echoes of Can and Neu!, but also more than a hint of 1970s dub. The music is generally fairly quiet but not exactly restful. “Alp” is particularly unsettling — snare hits are delivered according to what seems to be a pattern but is not easily discernible as such, while keyboards bring queasy harmonies and a bassline booms quietly below the surface — and on “Stechmück” an even queasier synth part regularly intrudes to push a more regular bass and drum part off kilter. “Firmament” has a jazzy flavor but lurches rather than swings. This is music I can confidently recommend for careful listening, but wouldn’t recommend for a party.

The Metallic Index (vinyl & digital only)

Fenella is an experimental trio consisting of the celebrated electronic composer Jane Weaver, Peter Philipson, and Raz Ullah. The Metallic Index is the group’s second release, and it features lush synthesized soundscapes, pulsing Durutti Column-style guitars (especially on the lovely “A Young Girl of Medium Height”), and sometimes deceptively simple-sounding multilayered ambience. The title track leads with a puckish Casiotone beat and clouds of altered wordless vocals, and then shifts into Steve Reich-style minimalism. For an album of instrumental electronica, The Metallic Index features a surprisingly wide range of sounds and textures, and it’s a consistently enjoyable listen.

More Offerings (cassette & digital only)
International Anthem Recording Company

Earlier this year, the electronica artist Photay (a.k.a. Evan Shornstein) made an album with producer Carlos Niño, who is himself known for his extensive catalog of collaborative recordings with musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds. An Offering was a concept album built around the idea of water and both its spiritual and its physical properties; the music was not exactly ambient, but certainly contemplative even with its complexity. More Offerings is sort of a remix album based on the same material, but it’s more than that; along with remixes and reconfigurations of music from the first album, it also includes full versions of compositions originally sampled for An Offering, a live recording, and some improvised material. There’s mystical spoken-word stuff about the nature of existence, some dancefloor-ready (or at least dancefloor-adjacent) beats, and tracks that are really hard to characterize. Both albums are well worth hearing.

NoPaper (dist. !K7)

This absolutely delightful album comes from Polish duo Skalpel, who looked to the past for inspiration for their latest release. They had been thinking about the dance and club music of the 1990s that had influenced them before they headed in a jazzier direction, and anyone who was listening to electronic music during that decade will hear lots of familiar elements here: the jazz bass, microscopic glitches, and skittery double-time breakbeats of “Why Not Jungle,” the strings and dubwise vocal effects on “Prism,” the mysterioso vibe of “White Label,” etc. If you miss the vintage sound of labels like Ninja Tune and Shadow, then this album will be a great nostalgia trip; if you have no memory of those labels, then this music may sound like a foreign county — and that’s cool too.


Water of Life (vinyl & digital only)

If a band is billed as “Afro-Finnish,” then an entirely reasonable question would be “what on earth does that mean in terms of actual music?”. In the case of Maajo, the answer would be “smooth, gently funky, densely produced but nimbly danceable pop tunes.” Actually, “pop” might be too strong a word: Major’s music is just a bit too impressionistic for that. There’s nothing here you could reasonably characterize as a hook, although there are passages you might find yourself singing along to, notably on “Unelmissani” and the percolating “Better Days (Kumba).” And if “Balafon Compagnement” doesn’t make you dance in your office chair, consider having your pulse checked.

Various Artists
Rare Global Pop 1980s (digital only)
Crammed Discs
No cat. no.

Belgium’s Crammed Discs label has been releasing fun and oddball pop and experimental music since the early 1980s, when they burst onto the avant-pop scene with albums by Aqsak Maboul, Julverne, and the Honeymoon Killers. Over the past few years the label has been raiding its vaults and putting out a steady stream of reissues and compilations under the series title Crammed Electronic Archives. The series includes six EPs by the likes of Nadjma, Des Airs, and Maurice Photo Doudongo — a hugely varied list that embraces afropop, European postpunk, and Arabic electropop. But if you don’t want to deal with six relatively brief releases, consider picking up this 17-track sampler, which provides an excellent overview of this fascinating catalog project as well as some rare singles and remixes not included on the EPs. If you’re like me, though, you’ll want every track of every release.

Spirits Eat Music
Easy Star

For fans (like me) of hardcore roots-and-culture reggae, pop reggae poses a bit of a problem. Even when it’s done really well, we tend to be suspicious of it (this despite the fact that the actual roots of reggae are in the dancehall, not in the Nyabinghi reasoning session). But there’s a truth that has to be acknowledged, and that is that good pop reggae is good reggae. And SunDub makes outstanding reggae music, in a pop vein. On their new album the Brooklyn-based band is joined by Peetah Morgan of Morgan Heritage, and also by producer Sidney Mills, who has worked with Steel Pulse — so it’s not like there aren’t solid roots credentials here. The main thing, though, is the songs, which are beautifully crafted and engagingly sung. The grooves are deep and heavy but not ponderous, and on highlight tracks like the militant steppers anthem “Real Change” and the singles “New Ways to Love” and “Jump and Dance,” SunDub is the equal of any reggae band playing in any style today.

A Different Style EP (digital only)

Glyn “Bigga” Bush is perhaps best known as a founding member of Rockers Hi Fi, with whom he spent much of the 1990s exploring various ways that dub and reggae conventions could be applied to various other genres of music. As a solo artist he has continued that exploration, and this “EP” (I put the term in scare quotes because this release is about an hour long) is a platform for other artists to give his work a similar treatment. Three remixes of “This River,” two each of “Black Swan” and “Real & Regal,” and one of “Sole Sister” bring UK garage, broken beat, electro soul, and jungle elements to the mix, to exciting and booty-shaking effect. Bush’s source material was great to begin with, and remix artists like Gerry Hectic and Sentinel 793 only make it that much more fun.


November 2022


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Concertos for Flute and Orchestra
Alexis Kossenko; Valeria Kafelnikov; Gli Angeli Genève / MacLeod

Mozart’s concertos for flute and for flute and harp are among the most beloved and most frequently recorded works of his orchestral repertoire. So what makes this new recording noteworthy among a field of hundreds of others? Simple: the sound. Not so much the production (though the production is impeccable) as the orchestral sound itself. Gli Angeli Genève — its odd Franco-Italian name notwithstanding — has the richest, most lush ensemble sound I’ve ever heard in a period-instrument orchestra, and the soloists are simply magnificent. This disc is subtitled Wind Concertos Vol. 1, which leads me to the hopeful conclusion that Gli Angeli will be eventually working their way through all of Mozart’s concertos for wind instruments, and if they do, you can anticipate hearing about all of those releases here in CD HotList. Highly recommended to all library collections.

Various Composers
Loop: Ligeti’s Inspiration & Legacy
Rose Wollman

Various Composers
I, A.M.: Artist Mother Project: New Works for Violin and Electronics
Olivia de Prato
New World

Violist Rose Wollman’s Loop project was conceived to celebrate the 100th birthday of Györgi Ligeti, and is constructed around a performance of that composer’s Sonata for Viola Solo (1991-1994). Wollman has chosen to intersperse the work’s six movements with miniatures and movements by a wide variety of other composers for her instrument; each movement is presented as the centerpiece of a triptych, bracketed by music by such disparate composers as Georg Philipp Telemann, Atar Arad, Domenico Gabrieli, J.S. Bach, and Natalie Williams. Most of the music is for unaccompanied viola (one piece is for viola and electronics), and the kaleidoscopic variety of moods, styles, and textures is fascinating. Violinist Olivia De Prato has also put together a conceptually unified program for her solo instrument, but this one is very different in both tone and concept: here the unifying theme is motherhood, and the tensions between that calling and the calling of an artist. All of the featured composers are women who have chosen to continue as artists while also embracing motherhood, and some of the titles are suggestive of the parenting experience: The Dream Feedautomatic writing mumbles of the late hour, etc. The music itself is a complex and crunchy mix: Katharine Young’s Mycorrhiza I is a sharp, scraping explosion of frustration; Ha-Yan Kim’s may you dream of rainbows in magical lands builds layers of drones into a shimmering mass of harmonies that becomes more and more eerie as it progresses. On noch unbenannt the violin enters into conversation with composer Pamelia Stickney’s theremin to create a dark and searching mood. This is brilliant and challenging music, expertly played.

Jane Antonia Cornish
Vicky Chow
Cantaloupe Music (dist. Naxos)

Jane Antonia Cornish is perhaps best known for her film and, more recently, ballet scores, but she has an impressive portfolio of concert music as well. This album is the world-premiere recording of six new pieces for piano, all performed by Vicky Chow. Five of the works call for multiple piano parts to be multitracked and played back simultaneously, while the sixth is for a piano solo. As the works’ titles (SkyOceanSierra, etc.) suggest, this is programmatic music designed to invoke the experience of a deep connection to nature — but don’t be fooled into expecting woolly-headed New Age noodling. The music is consonant and soft, but there are notable harmonic complexities shimmering inside those banks of diatonic tone-clouds, and Chow seems to have a particularly deep affinity for Cornish’s music; it’s as if you can hear her luxuriating in it. For all collections.

Various Composers
The Splendour of Florence with a Burgundian Resonance
Gothic Voices with Andrew Lawrence King
LINN (dist. Naxos)

In early 15th-century Burgundy, the Franco-Flemish school of Renaissance polyphonic composition was beginning to mature, and the influence of that region’s composers was already being felt in Italy. In Florence, a cathedral was dedicated in 1436 and the ceremony featured Guillaume Dufay’s motet Nuper rostrum flores, a work the contours of which are generally believed to have been designed to mimic those of the cathedrals’ dome. This austerely beautiful album by the Gothic Voices (with harpist Andrew Lawrence King) features that motet along with other sacred and secular songs by Johannes Ockeghem, Antoine Busnois, and other Franco-Flemish composers, all of them taken from song collections compiled in Florence. Some of these works are by unknown composers, and some by highly obscure ones — this will likely be most listeners’ first encounter with Hayne von Ghizeghem, for example. Everything here is exquisitely sung and recorded.


Carlo Monbelli
Lullaby for Planet Earth
Clap Your Hands

A new Swiss label called Clap Your Hands has just come onto the jazz scene with two releases, both of them offering a vision of the genre that is both stylistically expansive and surprisingly accessible without being overly smooth or saccharine. Carlo Mombelli’s Lullaby for Planet Earth is aptly titled; featuring Mombelli on bass and (wordless) vocals alongside guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel and drummer Jorge Rossy, it looks like a standard guitar trio album but sounds like anything but. The music is gentle and quiet, with a vibe that suggests improvisation — listen more closely, though, and you hear clear evidence of careful composition. “Gina’s Song” comes closest to feeling like straight-ahead jazz, though Muthspiel’s often-bluesy note choices and Rossy’s gently propulsive drumming hint at fusion. Mostly, though, this music floats like clouds and whispers like a parent singing to a baby. It’s all completely lovely.

Marilyn Mazur’s Shamania
Clap Your Hands

Also just out on the Clap Your Hands label is this very different project from an ensemble led by drummer/composer/singer Marilyn Mazur. The band name Shamania suggests what you might expect: polyculturally mystical invocations of the tribal feminine, sometimes with grooves (as on the gently pulsing Latin-adjacent title track) and sometimes without (as on the floating “Shadow Tune”). Sometimes the cultural references are quite explicit (note the shofar-like opening of “Solnedgangskanon”), but generally speaking this album is that rarest of things: a musical expression of genuine universalism (or at least feminine universalism) that never makes you cringe with embarrassment, and a largely improvised musical odyssey that is both stylistically surprising and constantly engaging. For all adventurous jazz collections.

Bobby Broom
Keyed Up

I believe the last Bobby Broom album I reviewed and recommended was Bobby Broom Plays for Monk, a brilliant tribute to the eccentric jazz genius Thelonious Monk, who charted a singular path as a jazz pianist and composer. Broom’s latest is a more wide-ranging tribute to giants of jazz pianism, a program that covers tunes by (or closely associated with) such stylistically disparate figures as Erroll Garner, Bud Powell, Herbie Hancock, and McCoy Tyner. Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty” is given a light but funky treatment, James Williams’ “Soulful Bill” is as bluesy as one would expect, and Broom’s take on Garner’s deathless “Misty” is sweet and touching. His tone is worth noting: it’s more hard-edged than is typical among straight-ahead guitarists, but he balances that with an exceptionally sensitive touch. Wonderful album.

Owen Broder
Hodges: Front and Center, Vol. 1 (digital only)
Outside In Music
No cat. no.

A somewhat different kind of tribute album is this one by saxophonist Owen Broder, on which he puts together personal interpretations of compositions written by the legendary Johnny Hodges as well as some that came to be associated with him during his celebrated tenure in the Duke Ellington Orchestra. There are some extremely familiar tunes here — “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” etc. But there are some obscurities as well, and even the chestnuts are a delight. Broder’s tribute is expressed less in form than in style: his warm, lyrical tone is an explicit expression of debt to Hodges, and his arrangements show admiration more by applying principles of orchestration and articulation than through slavish imitation. This is a thoroughly modern but also deeply straight-ahead album, and it’s a delight from beginning to end. Can’t wait for volume 2.


John McCutcheon
No cat. no.

Folk fans of a certain age might be startled to learn that John McCutcheon — whose existence and productivity we all just sort of accepted as an eternal principle long ago — has been doing this for fifty years and has now released his 43rd (!) album. Like so many recordings that have come out in the past year, Leap! was incubated during the COVID lockdown, a time when McCutcheon was forced to stop touring and sit at home and had an unparalleled opportunity to write. The result is an 18-song program unrivaled in tuneful good-heartedness, even when (as with, for example, the earnestly simpleminded “The Troubles”) real-world complexity is sacrificed on the altar of easy messaging. For the most part, these songs are beautifully crafted, artfully arranged, and winningly sung folk-pop — and sometimes (“Song When You Are Dead”) they’re hilarious.

Various Artists
Feels Like Home: Linda Ronstadt’s Musical Odyssey: Songs from the Sonoran Borderlands

Not to be confused with her 1995 record of the same title, this is the companion album to Linda Ronstadt’s memoir, which itself is also titled Feels Like Home, and in which she recalls her childhood in the Tucson, Arizona, area, where she was raised on a ranch and was surrounded by both the folk music of her Mexican forebears and the country music popular in the region. You’ll get some of both on this collection, which includes a lovely collaboration between Ry Cooder and “Father of Chicano Music” Lalo Guerrero, another between Jackson Browne and Los Cenzontles (“The Dreamer”), an absolutely stunning duet between Ronstadt and Dolly Parton on the traditional ballad “I Never Will Marry,” and Ronstadt’s Carribean-inflected performance of “Piel Canela.” Ronstadt lost the ability to sing about ten years ago, so those last recordings are from some time back, but the program hangs together very well as a touching tribute to her personal and musical history.

Keith Murdock
Keith Murdock
No cat. no.

Resonator guitarist and songwriter Keith Murdock has been kicking around the country and bluegrass scenes for decades now, working both onstage and behind the scenes at the Country Music Association and in concert promotion. He also plays in the bluegrass band Orchard Creek, but on this solo album he’s playing all original songs (written in collaboration with Eli Malamud) and performed in a style that vacillates between acoustic roots and twangy honky-tonk country. His voice is serviceable, but his playing is outstanding and his songwriting is very fine as well — the wry symbolism of “High Tension Lines,” the old-school weeper “Gonna Wanna See Her Again,” the clawhammer-banjo driven “Her Mountain Heart Is a Wild Thing” (with its cowboy-trio style harmonies), all communicate a blend of respect for tradition and the desire to create something a bit more personal at the same time. Very nice.


Various Artists
Pillows & Prayers: Cherry Red 1982-1983 (3 discs; expanded reissue)
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)

Various Artists
Kids on the Street: UK Power Pop and New Wave 1977-81 (3 discs)
Cherry Red

Another couple of outstanding multi-disc anthologies from the mighty Cherry Red label. Pillows & Prayers was originally issued in 1982, during the label’s early years, and features contributions from artists who would go on to great things (Felt, Everything But the Girl) and others who, shall we say, wouldn’t — and there’s even some early work by the proto-punk-poet Attila the Stockbroker. This greatly expanded three-CD version adds lots more content, much of which is quite obscure — some of it deservedly so, but some of it fascinating. The overall mood here tends towards the acoustic and the charmingly twee, and while a few tracks may induce some eye-rolling, the treasures on the program make it absolutely worth it. More consistently rewarding is Kids on the Street, a three-disc celebration of the intersection between the edgy New Wave and candy-coated power pop styles in the early 1980s. By this point, the conventions of punk rock had been absorbed in two stylistic directions: they had been distilled into their violent essence by the hardcore movement, and absorbed and digested by pop artists who created a complex of styles that would come to be called New Wave. Of course, power pop predated punk, and some artists in that vein took lessons in sharpness and aggression from the punk movement as well. Some of the best outcomes of these developments are documented on this set, which features outstanding tracks from the likes of the Stiffs, XTC, Elvis Costello, and the Pretenders — as well as obscurities and oddities from bands like the Exits and the Quads. Taken together, these collections both illustrate important strands of pop music development in the wake of the punk rock juggernaut.

Asian Dub Foundation
R.A.F.I. (25th Anniversary Edition)
Rinse It Out Ltd.

Asian Dub Foundation remains one of the most exciting bands to have emerged in the 1990s. Based in London, they combined elements of jungle, bhangra, rock, hip hop, and punk to create a bracing new mix of sounds that had a huge impact — not only on the Asian Underground movement from which they emerged, but on rock and dance music overall. R.A.F.I. was their breakout album; much of its content was re-recorded for the American release titled Rafi’s Revenge, which is an excellent companion to this album. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of R.A.F.I.‘s original release, this expanded version is out with three additional tracks, all of them recorded in 1997 at the legendary/notorious On-U Sound studio. Just about every track on this album would count as a highlight on any other album. Highly recommended to all pop music collections.

Untitled (digital only)
No cat. no.

Being dubbed the “Wizard of Electronica” before ever releasing a full-length album may seem like an unlikely achievement, but of course in the world of electronic pop music the album hasn’t really been a relevant format for years now; it’s all about the singles and the mixes and the curated DJ sets. But Thawra label founder Etyen is a bit outside the electronica norm — on this, his debut album, he creates a program of largely instrumental music (I’m told that there are vocals in there somewhere, but they’re not immediately recognizable as such) that develops a coherent if abstractly expressed theme of “love, loss, and human connection.” The music is rhythmic but by no means beat-driven; it’s glitchy and mechanistic and yet at the same time very warm and colorful; while the compositions are mostly quite soothing they’re never simple and sometimes offer just a bit of an unsettling edge. Highly recommended.

Emanuele Wiltsch Barberio
In Cosmo (digital only)
No cat. no.

One of the things I love about this album is that I can’t decide whether it belongs in the Rock/Pop or the Classical section. The music is abstract and pretty much arrhythmic, and features cello and violin as well as electronics and electric guitars. But it functions more like installation music than pop music — it’s written specifically to take advantage of the acoustics of the Church of Saints Costa and Damiano on the Venetian island of Giudecca. Don’t expect ambient music, though — while the sounds are pleasant, they’re not unchallenging, and there’s lots of interesting stuff going on between the instruments and the deep reverberations. This music is intended for close listening, not for ignoring while you go about your daily activities. (Though I can attest that it actually does work quite nicely for that purpose as well.)


El Búho
Tributaries, Vol. 2 (vinyl & digital only)
No cat. no.

Producer/remixer Robin Perkins works under the name El Búho (“the owl”), and the second installment in his remix series continues the approach defined in the first: take recordings of traditional and/or popular music from a broad spectrum of cultures and remix them radically. To a degree unusual in remix artists, Perkins makes all of the tracks he mixes come out sounding like El Búho — and that’s not a criticism; it’s one valid approach among many. So, you ask, what does El Búho sound like? Like a dream, which I mean literally: his take on Dom La Nena’s “Moreno” drifts steadily downstream on a caramel-colored groove overlaid with dubbed-up vocals; his mix of Zoufris Maracas’ “Bleu de lune” sways slowly while the spoken French lyrics are buoyed up by a syrupy, Basic Channel-style beat; Brian Finnegan’s “Fathom” takes multitracked (or octave-split?) Irish flutes and pairs them with what sounds like a charango and a pulsing, house-derived rhythm. Like the first volume in the series, this is an unusually beautiful and original remix collection.

Oasi (Deserto Remixed) (vinyl & digital only)
Original Cultures

And while we’re on the worldbeat-remixed tip, let’s consider this very cool offering from the Barcelona-based Original Cultures collective. Oasi is a remix collection based on the 2020 album Deserto by Oké, a trio also based in Barcelona and consisting of producer Andrea “Katzuma” Visani, William Simone, and Andrea Calì. While the original album ranged widely through such musical territories as library music, house, jazz, ambient minimalism, and Afrobeat, the remixes tend to pull everything onto the dance floor, with strong elements of techno and house throughout: DJ Dez (not to be confused with DJ Drez) gives “Il Venditore di Elastici” a solidly thudding four-on-the-floor treatment, and DJ Rocca (yes, that DJ Rocca) brings a similar but slightly spacier vibe to “Tarantula.” On the other hand, Visani’s own VIP of “Tamahaq” downplays the house element somewhat in favor of atmospheric layers of marimba and tuned percussion. Very nice stuff.

Amjad Ali Khan & Wu Man
Music for Hope
Zoho (dist. MVD)
ZM 202207

What’s interesting about this pairing — an ensemble of Indian sarod players and a Chinese pipa player — is that centrally defining characteristics of their respective classical traditions are so divergent: the melodic foundation of pi pa playing is largely pentatonic, while Indian classical music consists largely in chromatic (even microtonal) elaboration. Of course, that doesn’t mean that an emulsion of these styles can’t sound wonderful — I mean, chocolate and mint taste great together too. And here I use the word “emulsion” rather than “fusion” on purpose: on these five compositions, neither Amjad Ali Khan nor Wu Man attempts to incorporate the other’s style into his or her own playing; instead, they play complementarily, responding to each other musically but drawing deeply on their own traditions in doing so. Anyone familiar with either artist will know to expect great beauty here, and won’t be disappointed.


Wesley Loussaint (who records under the name Wesli) was born in Haiti but has spent most of his life in Canada. For his sixth album, he returned to Haiti and spent years delving into the Afro-Caribbean musical traditions of his homeland, coming out the other side of that project with this complex and joyful celebration. You’ll hear Latin rhythms (“Kay Kollé Trouba”), a tribute to twoubadou legend Éric Charles (“Kontém Rakontém”), funky igbo-derived story-song (“Peze Café”) and a wide variety of other styles and fusions, all unified by Wesli’s engaging voice. If you thought Haitian music was basically all compas, think again — and check out this delightful album.

July 2021


Hymns of Kassianí
Cappella Romana / Alexander Lingas
Cappella (dist. Naxos)

This world-premiere recording showcases the earliest known music composed by a woman: the 9th(!)-century nun known only as Kassianí. A Byzantine chant hymn generally called “The Hymn of Kassianí” is relatively well known among Eastern Orthodox congregations (especially in Greece) and is customarily sung during evening services on Holy Tuesday. However, she produced much more than this single hymn; her works circulated widely in the church after her death, and many have ended up in official service books–though not always with accurate attribution. On this album, the mixed-voice Cappella Romana performs hymns that Kassianí wrote for both Christmas and Holy Week services; some are sung by men’s voices, some by women’s, and some by a mixed chorus. Often a drone pitch accompanies the unison melody, creating a sound that is structurally related to organum but sounds very different, thanks to the unique Eastern modalities involved. The performances were recorded in the wonderfully reverberant acoustic of the Madeleine Parish in Portland, Oregon, creating the perfect sonic atmosphere for this powerful and mystical music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Concertone (reissue)
Ensemble 415 / Chiara Banchini
Alpha (dist. Naxos)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Gran Partita: Wind Serenades K. 361 & 375
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Harmonia Mundi (dist. Integral)
HMM 902627

Here are two wonderful releases focusing on Mozart’s lighter side. The Akademie für Alte Musik release showcases two of Mozart’s serenades: the frequently-recorded “Gran Partita” (K. 361), and the somewhat less well-known serenade #11 (K. 375). On the Ensemble 415 recording, the centerpiece of the program is the K. 63 “cassation” (a term designating a piece much like a serenade), which is bracketed by performances of Mozart’s serenade K. 239 and a rather unusual chamber work labeled a “concertone,” a concerto-like piece written for orchestra with significant solo passages for two violins, oboe, and cello. Period instruments are a particularly attractive choice for music of this lightness and accessibility, and while the use of natural horns is always risky due to the particular difficulty of producing rich and pleasant tones with those instruments, in the cases of both of these recordings the ensemble sound is simply gorgeous–the Akademie für Alte Musik is particularly well produced, with a burnished and brilliant tone. And of course the music, being Mozart, is endlessly enjoyable. For all collections.

Claude Goudimel; Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
Psalms and Motets from Renaissance Switzerland
Ensemble Lamaraviglia / Stephanie Boller

Originally published in 1562, the Genevan Psalter was the first musical collection to set the texts of all 150 Biblical psalms. It was put together under the aegis of John Calvin, and the texts were originally published with only single, simple melody lines for congregational singing. A couple of years later, Claude Goudimel created four-part settings for them and these were published in a new edition (along with text translations into other European languages). Later, another edition was published featuring new settings by the great Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. For this quietly luminous recording the Ensemble Lamaraviglia has taken 24 selections from the songbook and presents them in a variety of versions: the unison melodies, the Goudimel settings, and the more elaborate Sweelinck settings. The result is so lovely that you’ll be left wishing they’d done all 150 psalms and presented the result as a box set. Hopefully there will be more installments in the future.

Various Composers
Víkingur Ólafsson
Deutsche Grammophon
00289 483 9222

The venerable Deutsche Grammophon label (founded in 1898, and possibly the most revered classical imprint in the world) has been getting adventurous in recent years. The stylistically sprawling work of Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson is one example: a musician well known for his interpretations of Bach and Chopin, he has also performed many works by Icelandic composers and has ventured into the minimalist and post-minimalist repertoire, but what really sets him apart is his willingness to mess with the classics of the repertoire–as evidenced most boldly in his recent recording of Bach “reworks.” On Reflections, artists such as Hania Rani, Helgi Jonsson, and Balmorhea have taken Olafsson’s recordings of pieces by Debussy, Rameau, and others, and (in some cases) radically re-set them using electronic treatments and additional instruments; other tracks simply feature Ólafsson himself playing miniatures and movements by Debussy or improvising. At times the pedal action on his piano is distressingly loud, but otherwise this is a lovely and surprisingly tasteful example of ways that the classical tradition can effectively be updated for a new generation.


Alex Collins; Ryan Berg; Karl Latham
Drop Zone Jazz

Technically, this is a standards album–all tracks except perhaps Wayne Shorter’s “Night Dreamer” are jazz standards–but it’s a standards album with a difference: the Collins/Berg/Lathan trio play these tunes in such a freewheeling way that they’re almost unrecognizable. Please note that I said “freewheeling,” and not “free”; there’s nothing harmolodic or “out” about these arrangements. It’s just that each member of the trio plays in an impressionistic manner and takes great liberties with both melody and rhythm (while remaining nicely tethered to each tune’s harmonic structure). Collins in particular plays in a style that might be characterized as the logical extreme of the Bill Evans approach, except with brighter chord voicings and a somewhat more obviously bravura technique. Bassist Berg plays in a style similarly connected to that of Scott LaFaro, rarely walking and in fact rarely defining a steady meter, while drummer Latham simultaneously holds things together and contributes his own pointillistic flourishes. The result is a program that harks back to tradition even as it lovingly explodes it, and on tender deconstructions of tunes like “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” the effect is electrifying. Highly recommended.

Doug MacDonald Duo
Toluca Lake Jazz

A guitar-bass duo album is likely going to appeal to a relatively narrow spectrum of jazz fans, but there are ways to broaden the appeal. One is to keep the proceedings very straight-ahead: no skronky noise, no off-puttingly atonal free-jazz excursions, just lots of solid walking lines in the bass and lots of sweet-toned guitar. Another is to keep the program itself familiar: in other words, lots of standards. On this album, guitarist Doug MacDonald and bassist Harvey Newmark do a great job of keeping things accessible without playing it so safe that the music gets boring. MacDonald’s penchant for chord-based solos keeps the musical midrange nice and full even as he explores thoroughly the melodic contours of classic tunes like “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads” and “These Foolish Things,” while Newmark holds down the harmonic bottom while also keeping the rhythm solid and consistent (and his solos nicely concise). If you’re not paying too close attention, you might not even notice how many original tunes there are on this very fine album. For all jazz collections.

Doug Webb
Apples & Oranges

When the lineup features tenor sax, organ, and drums, you know you’re in for a funky experience. (Jazz organ players generally prefer to work without bass players, opting instead to provide their own bass lines via the instrument’s pedals.) You can also expect at least one excursion into greasy blues, and on his latest album as a leader saxophonist/composer Doug Webb gets that part out of the way immediately, opening the proceedings with his original “Alexico.” This is immediately followed by his gently swinging waltz entitled “Monkey Face” and then by another original, the briskly boppish and harmonically slippery “Forethought” (and listen to how he walks right up to the edge of experimental noisiness on both his first and second solos, before pulling back from the brink; he does something similar during “Coruba,” to nice effect). What follows is a mixed program of standards and originals, on which Webb displays his mastery of multiple jazz subgenres and his unrelentingly gorgeous tone–a sound that I wouldn’t hesitate to compare to that of Stan Getz. Organist Brian Charette and drummer Andy Sanesi provide admirable backing on this exceptionally fine album.

Bill Evans
Behind the Dikes: The 1969 Netherlands Recordings (2 discs)
Elemental Music

Producer Zev Feldman continues his highly productive relationship with the Bill Evans estate by releasing this magnificent two-disc live document of concerts in Hilversum and Amsterdam in 1969. Although these performances have been circulating among collectors in low-quality bootleg recordings for years, this is the first time they’ve been remastered and prepared for formal release, and the increase in sound quality (not to mention the fact that proceeds from sales will actually go to the Evans family) makes this a must-have for all library jazz collections. The music itself is spectacularly good. Accompanied by the great bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell, Evans is in exceptional form: playing “My Funny Valentine” as a midtempo swinger was an interesting choice, and is fully justified here; “Someday My Prince Will Come” was written as a waltz, but Evans and trio play it here in an uptempo 4/4, with Evans sounding positively joyful as he inserts playfully bluesy elements and a remarkably long 16th-note passage in his solos. He delivers an unusually fresh version of the hoary “‘Round Midnight,” and the second disc concludes with something unusual: two performances with the Metropole Orkest, arrangements of pieces by Granados and Fauré. Evans’ legions of fans will of course be thrilled with this release, but it should be welcomed warmly by all jazz lovers.


J.P. Harris’ Dreadful Wind & Rain
Don’t You Marry No Railroad Man
Free Dirt (dist. Redeye)

Banjo player (and builder) J.P. Harris stripped everything down for this album. His voice and his fretless banjo are the only instruments at times, while on some tracks he’s accompanied by the fiddling and harmony singing of Chance McCoy (Old Crow Medicine Show). The tunes and songs are all traditional; many will be familiar (in one version or another) to adepts of the old-time music repertoire: “Mole in the Ground,” “Old Bangum,” “Wild Bill Jones,” etc. Harris’ banjo technique is superb, and while his quavery singing style may come across as a bit mannered, it serves these weird old songs quite well, and his voice is pleasantly low and chesty. The occasional crooked rhythm and creepy lyric, along with the generally dark atmosphere, combine to create a mysterious and quite wonderful mood altogether. Here’s hoping for more from this impressive artist in the future.

Larry Sparks
Ministry in Song

Great bluegrass singers tend to get better as they age. Think of Ralph Stanley, for instance: even as his voice got weaker and more creaky, it became more expressive and powerful. Some of that was due to his particular otherworldly talent, which rivaled that of George Jones–an ability to use his specific vocal instrument in ways that could make the hair on your neck rise with the slightest gesture. Some of the same can be said of Larry Sparks, who, coming to the end of a 60-year music career, has earned a voice that is just as articulate in its wrinkles and crackles as in its continued reliability of intonation and expressiveness. For this gospel program Sparks has selected a list of songs that centers around compositions by Daniel Crabtree (“Don’t Take Your Eyes off Jesus,” “Holdin’ On”) but also draws on work by Hank Williams (“House of Gold,” “I Saw the Light”) and others–though to my ear, Sparks’ own “King Jesus” is the strongest track here. That said, there are no weak ones. Recommended.

Bill & the Belles
Happy Again
Ditty Boom (dist. Free Dirt)

People react to divorce in any number of ways. Writing songs about it is certainly one of them. What’s a bit unusual (unless you’re Loudon Wainwright) is to write funny songs about your divorce in a folk-adjacent style, and with a sometimes deeply biting wit. Bill & the Belles frontman Kris Truelsen does that here, straddling the line between folk-pop, acoustic hot jazz, and Tin Pan Alley styles with style and aplomb and a hearty helping of self-deprecation (and an occasional foray into sly sexual double entendre). There’s a darkly hilarious video of “Sobbin’ the Blues,” if you’re interested, and producer Teddy Thompson’s strategy of recording live and sticking to first or second takes succeeds at giving this album a warmth and sense of raw openness that work very well.


The Only Place
Ohm Resistance
61 M

Within about 30 seconds of cueing this album up, you’ll know whether it’s for you–partly because Scorn’s sound has evolved over the years into something so distinctive, and partly because the sound and mood of this album in particular are both so consistent (and, some might say, unrelenting). The mood I would characterize as “grumpy”; the sound I would characterize as “rumbling”–and I mean both of those descriptors in the most positive way. The band’s roots in industrial rock are hinted at (and their roots in grindcore are hinted at more subtly), but what you hear mostly is a sort of sub-bass-heavy, avant-garde vision of post-dubstep: definite beats, smears of pitchless synth noise, the moans of dying brontosauruses. You’ll also hear Kool Keith on one track, rapping in his inimitably bizarro style. I realize I may not be selling this album effectively, but trust me, it’s outstanding–if you have ears to hear.

Lanterns on the Lake
Gracious Tide, Take Me Home (10th Anniversary Edition; vinyl and digital only)
Bella Union (dist. Integral)

Having secured a Mercury Prize nomination for their second album, Spook the Herd, the Newcastle, England-based dream-folk-pop ensemble Lanterns on the Lake decided to reintroduce the world to their lovely debut album. Gracious Tide, Take Me Home is, accordingly, being given the deluxe reissue treatment: this new version is remastered and offers five new tracks that were recorded during the original sessions. The group’s sound is lush and inviting, with relatively simple melodies enhanced by dense but light-textured arrangements; lead vocals are shared among the gender-diverse group members, and when the others join in they’re as likely to sing in unison as in harmony. Lyrics are deeply influenced by the band’s Northeast England heritage: sailors, rain, ships, harbors, fishing, etc. all make appearances in these songs, but they explore more universal themes of love, encouragement, and homecoming as well. And sometimes they rock, though always in a gentle way. This is an altogether lovely album, and if you slept on its original issue you now have a great opportunity to catch up.

Vines (vinyl and digital only)
Hausu Mountain (dist. Redeye)

Damiana is a duo consisting of Natalie Chami and Whitney Johnson, each of whom has built a separate reputation in Chicago’s experimental-music scene (Chami generally records under the name TALsounds, and Johnson as Matchess, but both have worked in other ensembles as well). For their debut as a duo, Chami and Johnson have created music that is quite hard to categorize: “Wrap the Sky,” the opening track, rides on a gently relentless eighth-note rhythm while synthesized strings expand and contract in a mostly consonant way, while “Melted Reach” is more harmonically unsettled and “Sunken Lupine” floats abstractly and “Under an Aster” throbs impatiently under dubwise snatches of echoey vocal. And that’s it–at 32 minutes, this four-track “LP” is way too short. But of course that’s just a compliment to the music.

Various Artists
The Problem of Leisure: A Tribute to Andy Gill and Gang of Four (2 discs)
Gill Music LTD

Billed as “a double album of Gang of Four songs covered by some of Andy Gill’s favorite artists,” this tribute collection features artists as celebrated as Helmet, Gary Numan(!), and the Dandy Warhols alongside up-and-comers like LoneLady and Warpaint. (For those not in the know, Andy Gill was Gang of Four’s guitarist and one of its principal songwriters; he died tragically and unexpectedly in 2020.) As these kinds of projects always are, this one is a bit of a dog’s breakfast–but I mean that in the best possible way. Herbert Grönemeyer’s take on “I Love a Man in a Uniform” (the closest thing to a “hit” the Gang ever had) is heartfelt but weird, while Gary Numan’s version of “Love Like Anthrax” is brilliant in its blend of crunchy rock and synth-pop sonorities, and Gail Ann Dorsey delivers a rendition of “We Live As We Dream, Alone” that manages to duplicate many elements of the original version while at the same time making a completely new and personal statement with the song. The producers’ decision to let multiple artists record versions of the same song turns out to have been inspired, as (for example) the instructive differences between LoneLady’s and Sekar Melati’s (gamelan-based and instrumental) versions of “Not Great Men” show. Tribute albums are notoriously unreliable listening experiences, but this one is a solid winner.


Kasai Allstars
Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No
Crammed Discs
cram 295

Notable in part for their history of delightfully inscrutable album titles (their debut was called In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic, and their second album was simply called Beware the Fetish), the Kinshasa-based Kasai Allstars is truly something of a Congolese supergroup, formed by the former members of five different bands, each of them coming from a different cultural tradition; each of its four singers performs in a different language. “Strength in unity” is the overarching theme of this album, and while those of us not conversant in Lulua, Kisonge, Tshiluba, or Kitetela may have a hard time following the lyrics, no one will have trouble being caught up in the dense sonic textures (created by a blend of modern electronic and ancient instruments) and rippling, trance-inducing rhythms. For me the highlight track is the gorgeous “Baba Bende,” but there are so many wonderful moments here. Highly recommended to all libraries with a collecting interest in African music.

Arooj Aftab
Vulture Prince (vinyl and digital only)
New Amsterdam
No cat. no.

This album, by Brooklyn-based Pakistani singer and composer Arooj Aftab, left me absolutely dumbfounded when I followed up on a mention of it that I had stumbled across in an article. I don’t even remember what the article was about; I just remember seeing reference to Aftab as someone who was expanding the boundaries of Sufi devotional music. I followed a link and fell into a spiral of musical, intellectual, and spiritual pleasure. And for those who think the phrase “spiritual pleasure” represents a contradiction in terms, I strongly urge you to check out Aftab’s music. Her voice is a thing of floating beauty, and so is the music that envelopes it; there is meter here, but rarely anything close to a beat, and yet the music proceeds with a combination of inexorable logic and free, nebulous impressionism. (There’s one exception: “Last Night,” which veers off disorientingly but weirdly perfectly into straight-up acoustic reggae.) Aftab’s melodies unfold slowly, but seem inevitable once you hear them. Her accompaniment includes guitars, harps, and other instruments not easy to identify–possible a kora, probably some synthesizers, I’m pretty sure a trumpet. The lack of immediately-obvious instrumental touchpoints is part of what makes it easy to abandon oneself to quiet and contemplative listening, which is richly, amply rewarded. For all collections.

Ronu Majumdar
The Indian Bansuri
Naxos World

Like other, similar titles on the Naxos World imprint, this one is intended as an introduction to an important world music tradition, primarily for newcomers. In this case the subject is the bansuri, a bamboo transverse flute that is one of the central instruments of India’s northern Hindustani tradition. The booklet includes a brief discussion of the instrument and of the structure of classical Indian music itself, as well as background information about the featured artist, Pandit Ronu Majumdar (who is accompanied here by tabla player Ajeet Pathak; the tamboura player is not credited). The fact that this disc is intended for those unfamiliar with Indian music should not deter the aficionado, however; Majumdar’s playing is justly celebrated, and on this excellent recording he plays three ragas of different characters, all performances reflecting his deep grounding in the maihar garānā school. Highly recommended to all collections.

Digital Kingston Session 2 (EP; vinyl and digital only)
X-Ray Production

For this release, French producer Manudigital used a Casio MT40 programmable keyboard–the instrument that famously produced the “Sleng Teng” rhythm–and recreated some classic rhythms from the 1980s heyday of digital dancehall, then invited some legends of the genre to come and voice new tunes on them. (Fans will recognize this as the same modus operandi behind his previous Digital Kingston Session EP, from 2018.) This time out he’s attracted such A-list talent as Capleton, Junior Cat, and Peter Metro, and since all were invited essentially to freestyle on the mic there are really no song titles on the program. But while the “tracklist,” such as it is, might lead the wary consumer to expect something along the lines of a slapped-together sound system board tape, this EP actually feels carefully constructed and hangs together very well. Any reggae collection would benefit from adding both this release and its predecessor.

July 2020


Jah Sun x Jallanzo
Magic & Madness (digital only)
Six Degrees/Ingrooves
No cat. no.

I listen to a lot of reggae (a LOT), so when I tell you that this is the best new reggae release I’ve heard so far in 2020, you can assume that it’s high praise. Magic & Madness is the result of a collaboration between producer and multi-instrumentalist Omar “Jallanzo” Johnson (who wrote and arranged all the music as well as playing most of the instruments and producing the album) and singer/lyricist Jah Sun. It represents a departure from Jah Sun’s usual singjay style in favor of deeply rootswise songs rendered with a modern and digitally clean sound. The rhythms tend towards a churning rockers beat, though “Suffering in Silence” chugs along in a sturdy steppers style; “Wasted Time” drifts towards psychedelia at moments, and for those who really want to submerge themselves in the mystic there are two powerful but ethereal dub mixes at the end of the program. Jah Sun’s singing voice remains a wonder of clarity and flexibility. There’s not a weak track here, and I would encourage listeners to dive into Jah Sun’s back catalog as well.


Franz Krommer
Symphonies 6 & 9
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana / Howard Griffiths
CPO (dist. Naxos)
555 337-2
Rick’s Pick

This is the third volume in an ongoing series of recordings that makes the case for Franz Krommer–remembered primarily today for his prodigious output of chamber music–as a master and innovator of the symphonic form. His symphonies are rarely performed or recorded today, and these recordings (on modern instruments) by the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana will leave most listeners wondering why. In the sixth symphony you can hear him pushing the boundaries of harmonic (if not structural) convention, and in the ninth–completed just months before his death–he continues to do so, while also experimenting with structural innovations like motivic development across multiple movements. The playing and the recorded sound on this disc are both magnificent. For all classical collections.

Johann Pachelbel
Himlische Cantorey / Jan Kobow
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 707-2

Virtually everyone is aware of Johann Pachelbel, though most probably don’t know why; it’s because they can hum the melody of his ubiquitous d-minor canon, which is used constantly at weddings and as general background music in all kinds of social contexts. But on its musical merits his chamber music is actually not particularly noteworthy; his vocal music is much more impressive, though not nearly as often performed or recorded today. His Magnificat settings are particularly spectacular; this program features four of those settings alongside a Mass and two sacred concertos, all performed on period instruments, and it will come with the force of revelation to listeners used to hearing only his relatively simple and straightforward small-scale works. Highly recommended.

Catherine Christer Hennix
Unbegrenzt (reissue; vinyl/digital only)
Blank Forms Editions/Empty Editions

It’s in the nature of works like this one–loosely defined, dependent almost entirely for their performance on the creative input of the performers–that the question of who should be credited as the “composer” is difficult to answer. The present release is the reissue of a 1974 recording by Catherine Christer Hennix of a “composition” by Karlheinz Stockhausen, in whose studio she worked during the 1960s and with whom she worked on the development of tape music. The score for Unbegrenzt consists entirely of the instruction “Play a sound with the certainty that you have an infinite amount of time and space.” The work was realized and recorded in a completely different version by the composer in 1969; in this version, Hennix uses bowed gongs, temple blocks, spoken word, controlled feedback, and computer sounds to create a dark, eerie, and foreboding soundscape that never stops moving but never feels like it’s going anywhere. The sounds themselves are fascinating, the mood nearly chthonic.

Francesco Mancini
Six Recorder Sonatas
Yi-Chang Liang; Machiko Suto; Ensemble IJ SPACE
Rick’s Pick

This one gets a Rick’s Pick designation for three reasons: the almost off-handed virtuosity of recorder player Yi-Chang Liang; the brilliant clarity of the production; and the fact that this appears to be the world-premiere recording of these sonatas by the criminally overlooked Neapolitan composer Francesco Mancini, who was a widely renowned pedagogue and court composer in his day (the turn of the 18th century) and who actually succeeded Alessandro Scarlatti as maestro of that city’s Cappella Reale. Despite his heavy teaching and performing load both at the chapel and at the nearby Santa Maria di Loreto Conservatory, he produced prodigious amounts of sacred and instrumental music, including these sonatas, which are an absolute delight. The performances sparkle, as does the recorded sound. For all classical collections.

Max Reger
Clarinet Quintet op. 148; String Sextet op. 118
Thorsten Johannes; Diogenes Quartet
CPO (dist. Naxos)
555 340-2

Various Composers
Trios for Clarinet, Viola and Piano
The Teton Trio
Centaur (dist. Naxos)

Here are two clarinet-centered chamber music collections that otherwise couldn’t be more different. The clarinet quintet and string sextet by Max Reger are both dense, intense, and very much a product of their time: as you listen to Reger simultaneously looking back to the Romantics and embracing the impending end of tonality, you can understand why Arnold Schönberg was such a big fan of his. In fact, throughout both of these works I found myself repeatedly thinking of Verklärte Nacht, Schönberg’s own tortured farewell to three centuries of tonal hegemony. The Teton Trio’s disc is something else entirely: it consists of works solidly in the classical and Romantic traditions. Opening with Mozart’s ever-popular “Kegelstatt” trio, the program proceeds to a couple of Schubert lieder arrangements by the group’s clarinetist, Gregory Raden; a four-movement work by Carl Reinecke; an arrangement of a song from Jules Massenet’s Scènes alsaciennes; and Schumann’s Märchenerzälungen. These are works of effortless charm and aching melancholy, perfectly suited to the round, warm sound of the clarinet. Both ensembles and all soloists perform exquisitely.

Johannes de Cleve
Missa Rex Babylonis
Hyperion (dist. PIAS)

Though I have a deep interest in the music of the Franco-Flemish masters and spend a great deal of time seeking out and listening to recordings of their music, this is the first I’ve heard of Johannes de Cleve. Born in an undetermined location in either 1528 or 1529, he published his first works in 1553 and became a court singer in Vienna. He later moved to Graz and finally settled in Augsburg; much of his published output was written in honor of members of the Habsburg dynasty. This outstanding recording by the all-male Cinquecento ensemble is centerd on a parody Mass based on Johannes Vaet’s motet Rex Babylonis (which is appended at the end of the program), but it also features a handful of de Cleve’s original motets. De Cleve’s harmonic and structural creativity is impressive, and the singing by Cinquecento is exquisite. Highly recommended.

Franz Asplmayr
Six Quartets, op. 2 (2 discs)
Eybler Quartet
Gallery Players of Niagara
GPN 20001
Rick’s Pick

The Eybler Quartet has always had as part of its mission the uncovering of music by neglected composers of the classical period. And with this recording the group has certainly accomplished that aspect of its mission: Franz Asplmayr is undoubtedly a minor player compared with some of his more illustrious contemporaries in mid-18th-century Vienna, but he was quite prolific, producing more than 40 symphonies, a similar number of string quartets, and 70 trios, not to mention many (much more popular) works for the theater. This appears to be the first time that all of the six quartets in his opus 2 have been recorded together, and while they won’t convince anyone that he should be elevated to the status of Mozart or Haydn, they will be most welcome to anyone who loves the high classical style. The Eyblers play on period instruments, with sparkle and affection for this thoroughly charming music.


Alexa Tarantino

Having raved about Alexa Tarantino’s leader debut a year ago, I was very excited to receive her sophomore effort in the mail a couple of weeks ago — and it didn’t disappoint. On Clarity she presents four original compositions, all written recently, nestled among standards by Horace Silver (“Gregory Is Here”) and Kurt Weill (“My Ship”), a couple of commissioned compositions, and a beautiful version of the Latin tune “La Puerta.” Once again, the stylistic literacy and intelligence of her solos is deeply impressive — listen, for example, to Tarantino plumb the depths of her alto saxophone’s range on “La Puerta.” Note also how gracefully her midtempo original “A Unified Front” strikes a truly difficult balance: swinging hard while maintaining a finger-popping lightness of groove. Everyone in her quartet plays brilliantly, but drummer Rudy Royston is a particular highlight. For all jazz collections.

John Fedchock NY Sextet
Into the Shadows
Summit (dist. MVD)
DCD 765

A minute or so into the latest leader session from trombonist/composer John Fedchock, I found myself thinking “MAN, do these guys swing hard.” But as the program progressed, I found myself thinking other things. Things like “Holy cow, Fedchock sure knows how to write a horn chart” (check out the contrapuntal lines on “I Should Care”) and “Wait a minute, is ‘Nature Boy’ usually in 12/8?”. As always, Fedchock has gathered a stellar crew around him to bring his original compositions and arrangements to life, and they play with all the tightness and joy you’d hope.

John Scofield
Swallow Tales

There are a few guitarists who are almost instantly recognizable by their tone: Richard Thompson, Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny — and John Scofield. It’s not that his sound is idiosyncratic, it’s just that it’s personal. There’s some chorus in there, and just a touch of distortion to rough up the very edges. But it’s also the notes he plays, and the way that the blues are never far from him no matter how complex the chord changes get. On his latest solo album he’s joined by drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Steve Swallow. As the title suggests, the album is actually a tribute to Swallow, and consists entirely of the bassist’s compositions. Scofield has said that when the two of them play together “sometimes… it’s like one big guitar,” and you can definitely hear that; you can also hear why Scofield likes Swallow’s tunes so much (“they’re grounded in reality, with cadences that make sense”). As discursive as the trio sometimes gets — this is an ECM jazz recording, after all — they never lose the thread of brilliant continuity that binds these wonderful tunes together. For all jazz collections.

Kurt Rosenwinkel Trio
Angels Around
Heartcore/ACT (dist. Redeye)

Another outstanding new jazz guitar release is this one just out from the always-rewarding Kurt Rosenwinkel. Here leading a trio that includes bassist Dario Deidda and drummer Gregory Hutchison, he opens with one of Thelonious Monk’s most beautiful and overlooked compositions: the limpidly gorgeous “Ugly Beauty.” He proceeds through a program consisting mainly of standards, but centered on his own bluesy, gospelly “Simple #2.” On either side are such delights as the distinctly boppish Paul Chambers composition “Ease It,” Charles Mingus’s “Self Portrait in Three Colors,” and the always-luscious “Time Remembered” by Bill Evans. Rosenwinkel’s tone varies to fit the tune: reverberant and at times almost rockish on the title track and “Simple #2,” hornlike on the Mingus number, rich and soft-edged on the Evans. This is a wonderful album from one of the most creative minds in straight-ahead jazz.

SONAR with David Torn
Tranceportation (Volume 2)
Rare Noise

And, finally, a jazz (sort of) album that features not one guitar but three. Back in January I recommended the first volume of music by this group, which includes two players of “tritone guitar” (I’m still not sure what that means, since I’ve been playing tritones on a conventional guitar for decades), a “tritone bass” player, and a drummer, plus legendary avant-rock guitarist David Torn as a guest. The tracks on this volume draw on the same sessions, and once again find the group operating in a really unique mode: fundamental harmonic stasis, with no real chord changes, but constant shifting and mutation within that static structure. The core bandmembers mostly build sonic scaffolding by means of interlocking rhythmic patterns, while Torn spins out strange atmospherics and long strips of sound that he drapes over those structures. It’s unlike anything else you’ll hear, and it’s consistently fascinating.


Kristen Grainger & True North
Ghost Tattoo
No cat. no.

These days, when acoustic music doesn’t fit cleanly into a folk or bluegrass or old-time category, it tends to get designated as “Americana.” It’s as good a label as any, I guess, though it really doesn’t tell you too much. In the case of Kristen Grainger and True North, the term suggests strong hints of bluegrass, except without the aggressive drive and the ostentatious virtuosity, and an element of country as well, though without the assertive twang (or any twang at all, really; these guys are from Oregon). What are front and center are Grainger’s songwriting, which is graceful and intelligent, and her singing, which is beautiful but plainspoken and becomes heartstopping when combined in harmony with that of guitarist Dan Wetzel. This is a quiet gem of an album.

Bill Kirchen
The Proper Years (2 discs)
Last Music Company (dist. Redeye)

In form and wiring, the Fender Telecaster is one of the simplest electric guitars there is. It’s also one of the most sonically distinctive, prized by country, rockabilly, blues, and rock guitarists for its bell-like treble frequencies and astringent twang. There are whole schools of guitarists known specifically as Tele players, and Bill Kirchen is one of them. He’s also a fine singer and songwriter, and between 2006 and 2013 he recorded three solo albums for the British Proper label (Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods, Word to the Wise, and Seeds and Stems), all of which are compiled on this two-disc set, along with three bonus tracks. Word to the Wise is particularly notable for guest appearances by the likes of Maria Muldaur, Elvis Costello, Paul Carrack, and Kirchen’s former boss Commander Cody. Everywhere the playing is impressive, the singing is fine, and the songs are excellent.


Liza Anne
Bad Vacation
Arts & Crafts
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Sharp, sly, and hookier than a box of fishing tackle, Liza Anne’s second album is something of a departure from the dreamier and crunchier sound of her debut, Fine But Dying. That album was guitar-centered and fuzzboxed; this one is replete with clicking Cars-style rhythm guitars, digital handclaps, 1980s synths, and clean-edged production. What have remained the same are Liza Anne’s sense of melody, her gorgeous voice, and her therapeutic lyrical concerns. Yes, I know — albums inspired by struggles with mental or emotional illness are hit-and-miss propositions, but I promise you, this one’s a hit. Song titles like “I Shouldn’t Ghost My Therapist” and “Oops” tell you that no matter how serious her problems, she’s not going to try to force you to take them as seriously as she does. For all libraries.

Alexander Flood
Ropeadope/Stretch Music

Alexander Flood is an amazing young percussionist and composer from Australia, one who has delved deeply into a variety of rhythmic traditions and emerged with a complex, exciting, and stylistically promiscuous sound of his own. On his debut album, which he recorded entirely in his own home studio, he creates rhythmic compositions that are dense and highly complex, and that make reference to a wide variety of ethnic, national, and cultural traditions without trying to replicate them. There seem to be guest musicians involved (I’m assuming that’s not him playing trumpet on “Buffalo Soldier,” for example) but since the press materials didn’t include liner notes I can’t say for sure who or how many of them they are. What I do know is that Heartbeat is a thrilling, exhausting maelstrom of sound, beats, and textures, and it heralds a very exciting new talent.

Aksak Maboul
Figures (2 discs)
Crammed Discs

Aksak Maboul was founded in the 1970s by Crammed Discs label head Marc Hollander, and shortly thereafter the band released two albums that plowed new ground for avant-rock music: though clearly influenced by agit-pop outfits like Henry Cow and Red Krayola, Aksak Maboul used those influences as a jumping-off point for a uniquely quirky, edgy, and sometimes abrasive sonic vision. This new release (spread across two discs for no apparent reason, since the program clocks in at under 76 minutes) finds Hollander and vocalist Véronique Vincent (ex-Honeymoon Killers) not such much updating the classic Aksak Maboul sound as continuing to develop it, veering from relatively tuneful song structure to gentle minimalism to angular post-rock composition to impressionistic improvisation. Listen carefully for guest appearances by Fred Frith (Henry Cow), Steven Brown (Tuxedomoon) and others.

Misled Convoy x Uncle Fester on Acid
Twilight 32

Uncle Fester on Acid is the pseudonym of Dutch producer Pats Dokter. In recent years he’s begun a program of radically remixing releases on the Dubmission label, beginning with Pitch Black’s Filtered Senses album. Now he’s at it again, thoroughly deconstructing Sixteen Sunsets, a 2019 release by Misled Convoy (a.k.a. New Zealand artist Michael Hodgson). In January 2019 I recommended the original album, and now I’m encouraging you to acquire this remix version, which renders each original track effectively unrecognizable and pulls it out of the realm of avant-dub and into an entirely different sonic galaxy: one defined by dark repetition, enormous sonic spaces, and microscopic textural details. Also weird spoken-word samples.

Be Bop Deluxe
Modern Music (reissue; 4 CDs + DVD)
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)
Rick’s Pick

Be Bop Deluxe’s fourth album, recorded in 1976, is a thrilling and exhausting listen. Thrilling because by this point it had become clear that bandleader, lead guitarist, and songwriter Bill Nelson’s brain was an inexhaustible fountain of ideas, and that his fingers could translate them into sound without any apparent limitation; exhausting because the ideas come so relentlessly. Part of what’s fun about this band at this point in time is that you can hear them sort of struggling to decide whether they’re power pop or prog rock, and eventually deciding that they don’t have to choose between them and just luxuriating in a fusion of the two. Be Bop Deluxe never became a household name in the US, but Modern Music did well over here — despite the fact that it’s filled with Nelson’s decidedly jaded observations on American cuture. This massively expanded reissue includes new stereo and 5.1 mixes of the whole album, some previously unreleased session outtakes, and both audio and video live material. Highly recommended to all pop collections.

Max Cooper
3D Reworks 001 (EP; digital only)

Reid Willis
3D Reworks 002 (EP; digital only)

This pair of new EPs — which may herald the beginning of a series, who knows — was germinated, believe it or not, by a sound engineering controversy: the term “8D audio,” which amounts to the physically impossible claim that sound can be represented in more than three dimensions. In the real world, what the term actually refers to is the practice of binaural panning (moving the balance of sound back and forth between left and right audio channels). Max Cooper’s four-track EP finds him remixing four previously-released tracks from the Mesh label to create a slowly swirling, truly immersive listening experience. The second installment in the series is by Reid Willis, who similarly takes four previously released tracks and gives them the 3D mixing treatment, to most impressive effect on his rework of his own “Building the Monolith.” To get the full effect, all of this music should be experienced with very good headphones.


Various Artists
Pure Africa
ARC Music (dist. Naxos)

Every so often, a particular strain of African popular or traditional music will gain the attention of listeners in the global north and west: in the past we’ve seen this happen with South African mbaqanga and isicathamiya, and more recently there’s been lots of interest in Tuareg “desert blues.” But Africa is an enormous continent, one that teems with diverse languages, folkways, and musical traditions, and exploring all of them could be the work of several lifetimes. If your library could use an overview that covers many of them in a single program, consider this collection from the ARC Music label, which pulls together songs and instrumentals from all over the continent: songs from the griot tradition, horn-driven dance music from Ethiopia, voice-and-percussion music from the Gambia, and much more. Some of it is poppier and more western-influenced, and some of it less so; all of it is very interesting.

Tubby Isiah
Riding High (vinyl & digital only)

Shankara NZ
Dawn Chorus (EP; digital only)

From thousands of miles apart come two takes on modern dub — both built on dark, rolling basslines and atmospheres thick with UK sub-bass and elephantine dubstep wobble, but completely distinct nevertheless. Shankara NZ (a duo consisting of Brendan Evans and Elijah Wilson-Kelly) come from New Zealand and invest their instrumental dub with elements of local color: the faint sounds of regional birds, vocals from Kiwi artist esp Mc (no, that’s not a typo), basslines from Finn Kelcher. The vocals, interestingly, are almost entirely subsumed in the bass-heavy atmosphere and end up melting into the mix. This is dub that seems almost entirely divorced from the reggae mainstream, despite its structural fidelity to the one-drop verities. Those verities are front and center, however, in the case of Tubby Isiah, a father-and-son UK roots project out of Bristol. Information about this crew is tough to come by, but their debut album is a killer: largely traditional and straight-ahead dubwise instrumental reggae, alternating between propulsive steppers grooves and lurching rockers and one-drop, its fundamental conventionality undercut by elements of avant-dubstep and grime. Tubby Isiah balance the heavy and the ethereal with a perfect (and rare) dexterity. Both releases are highly recommended to all bassheads.

Sabri Family
Spirit of India: Five Ragas for Sarangi & Tabla
ARC Music (dist. Naxos)

For eight generations, the Sabri family has been dedicated to promulgating the classical music of the Hindustani (North Indian) school, focusing particularly on the sarangi, a notoriously difficult bowed instrument that sounds somewhat like a cross between a violin and an erhu. Unusually, members of the family often play together in combinations of two, three, or even five sarangis simultaneously. You’ll hear examples of that approach on this outstanding collection of ragas, all of them accompanied by Sarvar Sabri on tabla. All libraries with a collecting interest in the classical music of India should consider adding this one.

Various Artists
Black Ark in Dub (2 discs)
VP/17 North Parade

Of all the weird releases in Lee “Scratch” Perry’s sprawling oeuvre, Black Ark in Dub was one of the strangest. No less an expert than Mick Sleeper asserts that only half of the tracks are actual Black Ark productions, and indeed some of the production flourishes don’t sound like typical Perry fare. But the album is certainly interesting nonetheless. The expanded reissue adds Black Ark Vol. 2 to the program as a second disc; this is a somewhat more conventional and, frankly, satisfying album, which is not a dub outing, but rather a collection of vocal tracks featuring Lacksley Castell, Carol Cole, the Silvertones and others, several of their tracks presented in “showcase” style (extended versions with dub mixes appended). Not necessarily an essential purchase for all libraries, this album will nevertheless be of interest to Perry’s international cult of fans.

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.

December 2016


urgentVarious Artists
Urgent Jumping!: East African Musiki wa Dansi Classics (2 discs)
Sterns Africa (dist. Forced Exposure)

This brilliant compilation brings together 27 tracks that were big radio and dancehall hits in various parts of East Africa during the 1970s and 1980s, and features contributions from 21 bands hailing from Kenya, Tanzania, and Congo. The styles represented include benga, rumba, and soukous, and while the compilation is titled Urgent Jumping!, “urgency” is not necessarily the mood that these songs most often conjure up. Instead, they tend to be relatively slow in tempo, and their rhythms tend to roll and bubble rather than jump or pound. Even the more uptempo numbers are characterized by a sort of joyful refinement: tight polyphonic vocal harmonies, glittering guitar counterpoints, and gently insistent drums create a multilayered complexity that reveals new colors every time you listen, and the sung melodies are heart-tuggingly lovely. A few of these tracks are by large orchestras, and the instrumental features are not always the most compelling moments — but since the two-disc set sells at a single-disc price, the odd clunker is easy to forgive. Highly recommended to all libraries.


shostDmitri Shostakovich; Lera Auerbach
Kim Kashkashian; Lera Auerbach

Violist Kim Kashkashian and pianist/composer Lera Auerbach have teamed up for a very interesting program: the first half consists of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes, op. 34, transcribed for viola and piano by Auerbach, while the second is a work by Auerbach herself, a sonata for viola and piano written for Kashkashian. The two pieces are very different, but together they make a satisfying whole: Shostakovich’s preludes present a fascinating blend of expressionism and classical form, tinged with that sense of angst and unsettled dread that always seems to hover over his chamber works. The Auerbach sonata is explicitly introspective, almost mystical in tone; harmonically, the slow movements float in an almost Debussy-like way while the one fast movement is agitated, with a tinge of bitterness. The playing is exceptional, as always from both of these musicians. Highly recommended overall.

goldbergJohann Gottlieb Goldberg
Beyond the Variations: Chamber Music for Strings & Basso Continuo
REBEL; Jörg-Michael Schwarz
Bridge (dist. Albany)

To the degree that Johann Gottlieb Goldberg is known today at all, it’s mainly indirectly — as the keyboardist for whom Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a theme with a famous set of 32 variations. Goldberg was apparently a musician of startling virtuosity, able to sight-read complex compositions with great skill. However, he was less well-regarded as a composer, and reportedly destroyed a fair number of the works he did produce when they failed to live up to his high expectations. And then he died in his mid-20s, leaving only a handful of published compositions behind. These include the five trio sonatas for strings and continuo presented here by the very fine REBEL ensemble. The pieces themselves are, indeed, less than earthshaking, but all are very pleasant and the historical significance of this recording makes it well worth considering for classical collections.

partArvo Pärt
Kanon Pokajanen
Capella Amsterdam / Daniel Reuss
Harmonia Mundi
HMC 905274

First performed in 1998, Kanon Pokajanen (or “Canon of Repentance”) is a large-scale a cappella choral work by Estonia’s most famous living composer, and is the one that most strongly references the musical traditions of the Orthodox faith to which he converted in the early 1970s. Not only does he use the Church Slavonic version of the original text, but the harmonies that open the first section of this nine-part work have the slightly acerbic richness that characterizes so much Orthodox polyphonic chant. That sound alternates throughout the work with Pärt’s more static “tintinnabulation” approach, and the contrast is tremendously effective. Like so much of this composer’s music, there is a constant and productive tension between emotional intensity and serene devotion, and the singing by Capella Amsterdam is first-rate.

frenchVarious Composers
French Flute Music: The Accent Recordings 1979-2003 (reissue; 10 discs)
Barthold Kuijken; various accompanists
Accent (dist. Naxos)
ACC 24312)
Rick’s Pick

telemannGeorg Philipp Telemann
Music for Flute (reissue; 4 discs)
Barthold Kuijken; various accompanists
Accent (dist. Naxos)
ACC 24322
Rick’s Pick

For decades, Barthold Kuijken (of the famous Kuijken family of Dutch period-instrument practitioners) has been arguably the world’s foremost exponent of the baroque flute, the wooden and unkeyed precursor of the modern keyed metal flute. Many of his finest recordings were made between the late 1970s and the early 2000s for the Accent label, and a nice assortment of them are brought together in these two box sets. The first is a 10-disc collection that focuses on chamber works by French composers of the baroque era: Hotteterre, Couperin, Boismortier, Rameau, and others, and it includes Kuijken’s outstanding recording of flute quartets by François Devienne. The second is a four-disc box that features works by Georg Philipp Telemann: a set of twelve fantasias for solo flute, the twelve Methodical Sonatas, and a varied program of flute-centered chamber works plus one cantata. Kuijken’s tone and technical control are exemplary, but these two sets also make clear his admirable mastery of very different baroque styles: both the ornate and decorous sound of the French court, and the more serious and practical sound of German pedagogical music. He makes all of it glow with warmth, and these collections should be considered essential purchases for any library with a collecting interest in baroque music.

beethovenLudwig Van Beethoven
Sonate op. 17 and op. A4; Serenata op. 41
Enrico Di Felice; Francesco Giammarco
Stradivarius (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

The wooden flute persisted well into the classical and early Romantic periods, and this outstanding recording features three works by Beethoven for flute and piano, played on an early-19th-century wooden flute and on fortepiano by Enrico Di Felice and Francesco Giammarco (respectively). The unique sound of both instruments sheds new light on these late-classical works, and both of the musicians play with energy and insightful phrasing. This disc would make a very fine addition to any library’s classical collection, even if it doesn’t specialize in early music or period-instrument performance.

schmidtFranz Schmidt
Quintet in A Major for Piano Left-hand, Clarinet & String Trio
Linos Ensemble
CPO (dist. Naxos)
555 026-2

A rather strange composition by a rather strange composer, this quintet is one of several chamber works that Franz Schmidt wrote involving a piano part for left hand alone (written for Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm during World War I). The music itself is very much in the early-20th-century Viennese style — tonal but ambivalent about tonality, Romantically yearning but Teutonically rigorous in structure. The Linos Ensemble plays this five-movement work with a perfect sense of aching beauty.

josquinJosquin des Prés
Missa Di dadi; Missa Une mousse de Biscaye
Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips
Gimell (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

A new recording of Josquin Masses by the Tallis Scholars is always cause for celebration — this group continues to set the standard for Oxbridge-style choral performance, and the music of Josquin is a particular specialty for them. The two Masses presented on their latest recording are something of a curiosity. For one thing, the various sections of the Missa Di dadi score are prefaced by a picture of dice showing numbers that tell the tenors how to distribute note lengths within the cantus firmus. For another thing, it’s not entirely certain that Josquin is the composer of these works, though both are traditionally attributed to him. The use of the dice motif may be puzzling and the attribution questionable, but there’s no question about the loveliness of both the music and (as always) the performances.


whitfieldScott Whitfield
New Jazz Standards Vol. 2
DCD 683
Rick’s Pick

New Jazz Standards is the name of a published collection of compositions by trumpeter Carl Saunders, a highly in-demand session player also beloved by his peers for the exceptional quality of his writing and arranging. The first disc in this series of recordings featured flutist Sam Most; the second comes courtesy of trombonist Scott Whitfield, and it’s just as good. Saunders’ tunes are straight-ahead in style but highly inventive and harmonically original — listen past their pleasantly swinging surfaces and you’ll hear plenty of surprising changes. It would be interesting to know who the additional (and uncredited) horn players are on “Big Darlin'”, unless that was Whitfield himself being multitracked. In any case, this is a deeply and richly enjoyable album, one that will make an outstanding addition to any library’s jazz collection.

plessisCharles du Plessis Trio
Baroqueswing Vol. II

Baroque music, particularly the music of J.S. Bach, has proved irresistible to jazz musicians for decades now. I think it’s the combination of harmonic richness and rhythmic regularity: Bach’s countrapuntal lines are so much fun to play in straight rhythm that the temptation to makes those lines swing can just be kind of overpowering. This South African jazz trio was invited to do just that as part of a festival of baroque music held in Ernen, Switzerland, and it’s heartwarming to imagine the audience reaction (which, on the evidence of this disc, was warm after some initial hesitation; they clearly weren’t quite sure at which points they should clap). Du Plessis and his trio do an admirable job of balancing decorous respect for the baroque masters with a powerful sense of swing, and apart from one small misstep (an ill-advised boogie-woogie take on a Bach gigue) the album is an outstanding example of jazz-classical crossover.

akerBuselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra
Basically Baker, Vol. 2: The Big Band Music of David Baker (2 discs)

For some reason, as I get older I find myself loving jazz more and more but getting less and less excited about the big band format. Part of my impatience probably stems from too much time spent listening to hotshot arrangers showing off their orchestration chops to the detriment of the tunes, and maybe part of it comes from a declining taste for bombast generally. But dang if this tribute to the great jazz educator David Baker didn’t win me over. His tunes are sharp; his arrangements are powerful but tasteful; the musicians involved (several of whom reportedly cancelled previous engagements when invited to play for this project) are audibly in love with the music. The first volume of this tribute series was actually recorded ten years ago and is being reissued in conjunction with this volume. Here’s hoping for more to come.

giuffreJimmy Giuffre 3
Bremen & Stuttgart 1961 (2 discs)
Rick’s Pick

Libraries with a collecting interest in free and improvised music should already be well aware of the scrappily tenacious Emanem label, which has released some of the most important (and often challenging) albums in the genre over the past few decades by artists like Steve Lacy, Derek Bailey, Eugene Chadbourne, and Anthony Braxton. This two-disc set brings back to market some long-deleted live recordings originally issued on the hatART label. All feature clarinetist and composer Jimmy Giuffre with his trio (bassist Steve Swallow and pianist Paul Bley) performing in Germany in the early 1960s, with a couple of tracks recorded in New York during the same period thrown in for good measure. All of them feature Giuffre’s trademark blend of composed and freely-improvised material, and also showcase his slightly dry and academic style, which was tempered by a willingness to get seriously out when the time came to do so. Swallow and Bley were perfect co-conspirators for Giuffre during this period, and these recordings are not only important but also thrilling. Essential for any comprehensive jazz collection.

gibersonClay Giberson
Origin (dist. City Hall)

As the title suggests, pianist and composer Clay Giberson’s latest outing as a leader draws on influences from American roots music — though those influences are often well below the sonic surface. His arrangement of the familiar Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” takes that theme off in a million different directions, and his take on the Kern/Gershwin tune “Long Ago and Far Away” (which features a string quartet alongside his trio) is also quite creative. One of the highlight tracks is his original “Song for Ornette,” a composition that pays well-deserved tribute to Ornette Coleman’s gifts as a melodist (gifts that are often overlooked in the discussion of his pioneering efforts in harmolodics). Overall, this is a very fine program of modern jazz that can be confidently recommended to all collections.


Beauty Thunders
Peia Song Music

Drawing on Celtic folk influences but also a bewildering welter of other traditions — the Balkans, South Asia, Basque Europe, Native America both North and South, etc. — Peia herself is a stylistic puzzle but her music offers a powerfully engaging listening experience. Her third album veers from the rollicking puirt a beul of “Ciamar A Ni M’in Dannsa Direach” to the atmospheric Andean folk of “Que Me Medicina” and “Txoria Txori,” with stops along the way for original songs. There’s a lot of eco-mysticism in here, and if that makes you roll your eyes, I get it. But try not to let it keep you from enjoying Peia’s astounding voice and her admirably adventurous approach to arranging.

grangerCourtney Granger
Beneath Still Waters
Rick’s Pick

Most of those who recognize Courtney Granger’s name will be fans of Cajun music who know him from his stints in Balfa Toujours and the Pine Leaf Boys. But his debut solo album is a celebration of something different: 1950s and -60s-style honky-tonk country music of the George Jones, Buck Owens, Hank Cochran school. He memorializes these singers faithfully but not slavishly, putting his own stamp on classic songs like “Back in My Baby’s Arms Again,” “When a Man Can’t Get a Woman Off His Mind,” and the title track. And there’s more than a hint of Bayou two-step in a couple of these arrangements, which adds a little bit of extra spice to this rich and hearty stew of neo-trad country music. Very, very nice.

klauderCaleb Klauder & Reeb Willms
Innocent Road
West Sound Music
No cat. no.

For some more traditional country sounds from a very different region of rural America, consider the Northwestern honky-tonk stylings of Caleb Klauder and Reed Willms. Klauder built his career in Portland, while Willms honed her style in eastern Washington, where she grew up in a family band and later became a bandleader in her own right. They met at the National Old-time Fiddle Contest in Weiser, Idaho, and their work as a duo is raw-boned and eclectic, with hints of Western swing and bluegrass mixed in. I like her voice better than his, but together they sound magnificent. Recommended.

richVarious Artists
Feel Like Going Home: The Songs of Charlie Rich
Memphis International (dist. Select-O-Hits)
MIR 2028

If you only remember Charlie Rich for the 1970s schlock-country bedroom anthem “Behind Closed Doors” or the equally schlocky pop-country weeper “The Most Beautiful Girl,” then this tribute album might come as a surprise. Back in the day he was a mainstay of the Sun Records stable, and his early work was much more soulful and rockabilly-ish than his 1970s hits might lead you to expect. This tribute project brings together country artists as diverse as Shooter Jennings, Jim Lauderdale, and Will Kimbrough to celebrate all the stylistic threads of Rich’s eclectic career, and it’s tons of fun. It will also introduce you to some young artists you may not have heard of before.


chainChain Wallet
Chain Wallet
Jansen Plateproduksjon
Rick’s Pick

This is the debut album by a young pop trio from Oslo, Norway, and while the press materials advise that Chain Wallet’s songs explore “themes of betrayal, idleness and crushed dreams against the backdrop of an existential breakdown,” you’ll have to listen very hard to the lyrics in order to catch any of that. What comes across much more clearly is a blissful, dreamy melodicism buttressed by layers of shimmery guitars and vocals that are mixed into a sugar mist of dream-pop inscrutability. If this is the music they make while in the throes of existential breakdown, what do they sound like when they’re only depressed? Or (heaven help us) happy? Here’s looking forward to their sophomore effort.

Human Energy
Ninja Tune (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

From the infinite upward spiral of “Lapis” to the vocoder-laden, smiley electro-pop of “Color Communicator,” the latest album from Machinedrum (né Travis Stewart) is pretty much non-stop quirky fun — and certainly a far cry from what we heard on his last album (the much darker and more atmospheric Vapor City). But it’s still recognizably a Machinedrum album, with all of the attention to rhythmic and textural detail you’d expect, and all of the gleeful disregard for footwork, trap, and jungle norms. If you believe that electronic dance music should be as much fun to think about as it is to dance to, then Machinedrum is an artist you need to get to know better. Highly recommended to all libraries.

rayRay & Remora
Startle It Up
Aeronaut (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

This band’s debut recording was an EP of cover versions of songs originally released during the same year that Superchunk’s album Foolish came out. So — yeah. You might be forgiven for expecting the group’s first full-length album to be a little bit on the archly conceptual side. Never fear, though: instead, what you get is tuneful indie pop with an edge that is more serrated than jagged. It’s got electronic elements without being electro, and it partakes of hip quirkiness without being steeped in hipsterism. Hooks abound, which is the most important thing, of course. Note in particular the off-kilter loveliness of “Soft Brown Heart” and the acerbic jangle-pop bittersweetness of “The Happening.”

legalThe Legal Matters

During the winter, it’s important to keep a good supply of power-pop CDs in your car (or, fine, on your Bluetooth-enabled phones, whippersnappers) so you can drive down the road harmonizing along and pretending it’s summertime. Just in time for the turning of the seasons comes the second album from Detroit’s excellently-named The Legal Matters, whose crunchy guitars and blissfully lush vocals will touch your heart and whose melodies will burrow relentlessly into your ears and refuse to come out. There’s a hint of artiness on Conrad that I don’t recall hearing on their first effort, but it never overcomes the meat-and-potatoes pleasures of their songs. If your library’s Fountains of Wayne albums are always checked out, then maybe you should get two or three copies of this one.

bellx1Bell X1
Rick’s Pick

I really liked their last album, and this one is about twice as good. Irish indie-rockers Bell X1 have a sound that is dense in the middle but soft around the edges, with little crunchy bits mixed in, and they have a tendency to lure you in with lyrical sweetness and then poke you with a sharp jab of skronky polytonality or a startlingly out-of-place found-sound sample (or both, as in the case of the wonderful “Bring Me a Fireking”). Paul Noonan sings in a near-falsetto that makes him sound sad and whimsical at the same time — though how much of that is the weird lyrics themselves, I’m not sure. Anyway, this is tremendously winning and quirky pop music that really doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve heard this year.


Echo Beach

The Anglo-French musician who goes by the name of FLOX promised his fans that his fifth album would consist of “100% nu-reggae,” and he was as good as his word: Homegrown is rock-hard modern roots reggae with shiny surfaces and a tough, dense rhythmic core — heavyweight rhythms underpinning songs that exhort the masses to self-determination while flipping the finger at The Man. The melodic hooks aren’t always razor-sharp, but “Find Some Joy” and “A Road” each offers a great earworm of a chorus. And while Amazon won’t tell you this, I have it on good authority that the CD version comes with a bonus disc featuring an additional 14 tracks. All libraries with a collecting interest in reggae should take note.

debashishDebashish Bhattacharya
Hawaii to Calcutta: A Tribute to Taue Moe

Someday someone will write a truly fascinating book about how legendary Hawaiian guitarist Taue Moe introduced the slide guitar to India. In the meantime, there is this fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable album by Indian slide virtuoso Debashish Bhattacharya, on which he explores both the differences and the commonalities of the two cultures’ slide traditions. It’s the differences that are most obvious and most interesting here: the simple and achingly lovely melodies of the Hawaiian tradition as against the microtonally complex and virtuosic tradition of raga performance. Juxtaposing them makes for some startling shifts in tone, but only the swing-jazz adaptation of “Kaua I Ka Huahua’i” really falls flat. Sadly, that’s the final track — nevertheless, the album as a whole is strongly recommended to all world-music collections.

acidAcid Arab
Musique de France
Crammed Discs

The title of this album hints at the underlying defiance of Acid Arab, a multiethnic French ensemble that blends techno, house, electro-punk, and a wide variety of North African musical styles to create a sound that is arguably just as French as Charles Trenet’s music-hall stylings or Johnny Halliday’s Franco-rockabilly. You’ll hear nouveau raï (Sofiane Saidi’s “La Halfa”), Yemenite sister harmonies (“Gul l’Abi,” featuring A-WA), and Turkish trad-pop (“Still,” with Cem Yildiz) and lots of other stuff as well. The Acid Arab guys give everything a modern but gritty production, and the whole album is tons of slightly grim fun.

tikenTiken Jah Fakoly
Rick’s Pick

There’s no shortage of accomplished African reggae artists, but in too many cases they undermine their effectiveness by sanding down the music’s edges and making it just a bit too shiny. Tiken Jah Fakoly — whom I had never heard of until I was sent this, his tenth album — is apparently absolutely huge in Cote d’Ivoire, and I can see why. Personally, what I find most impressive about him are the way he incorporates African instruments and tonalities, and the way he makes his music sound simultaneously professional and gritty. His voice is very good but not good enough to explain his popularity: I would argue that it’s his arrangements that carry the day there. This album consists entirely of cover versions of classic reggae songs, a few of which you’ll recognize only when you notice that you’ve heard the words somewhere else before. His version of Burning Spear’s “Slavery Days” is absolutely hair-raising — you may not ever want to hear the original version again.

vandanavishwas4_largeVandana Vishwas

Indo-Canadian singer and songwriter Vandana Vishwas has one of the loveliest voices in the world, and she also has a surprisingly broad range of musical tastes. For her third solo album she has written (in four cases) or selected (in one case) five songs and performs each of them in two radically different styles: “Mai Bequaid” is presented in flamenco and country styles; “Piya Na Mose Bole” in “traditional Indian” and New Age styles; “Dhula Dhula” in “African beats” and “Afro-Indian” styles; “Fiqr E Manzil” in ghazal and rock styles; and “Hum Gum Nuye” as a ballad and in an acoustic arrangement. Although I’m a big fan of Vishwas, I have to confess that I approached this album with some trepidation — particularly when I saw that one of the songs consisted of Sufi poetry set to a country accompaniment. But it all works better than I anticipated, and most of it is gorgeous. (The Sufi country track did actually turn out to be my least favorite.) Any library with a collecting interest in eclectic world music should definitely consider picking this one up.

July 2016


niceup fashionVarious Artists
Inna Nice Up! Fashion
Nice Up!

nice up sessionVarious Artists
Nice Up! the Session, Vol. 2 (download only)
Nice Up!

Two Picks of the Month this time, both of them from the outstanding reggae label Nice Up!. The first features remixes of classic tracks from the vaults of Fashion Records, the London label that arguably did more than any other to foster the early dancehall sound, delivering such massive hits as Smiley Culture’s “Cockney Translation” and Daddy Freddy’s “Yes We a Blood.” The remixes here are by the likes of Machinedrum, the Bug, and Toddla T, and take these vintage dancehall reggae tracks into outer space, their original bounce being translated into jungle, dubstep, and even 8-bit retro styles. There’s not a weak track here. The second volume in the digital-only Nice Up! the Session series takes a similar approach, but draws on a broader and more recent array of material: here we find tracks by neo-roots and dancehall artists like Blend Mishkin, Danny T, and Mr. Benn being given heavyweight treatments in a variety of UK bass styles. I can’t stress enough how much fun both of these albums are, and how timely is their release–this is music for pumping loud in the car with all the windows down.


floresAnonymous composers
Staniatki: Moniales ordinis Sancti Benedicti
Flores Rosarum / Susi Ferforglia
Dux (dist. Naxos)

This disc is the first entry in a series titled Musica in monasteriis femineis in polonia minore (“Music from Women’s Monasteries in Lesser Poland”), and it features music from the oldest existing collection of antiphons and responsories housed in the Benedictine convent at Staniatki. Although the music itself consists entirely of plainchant (with occasional instrumental improvisations), the antiphonary from which it’s drawn was actually collated in the mid-16th century at the instigation of Abbess Dorota Szreniawska. Flores Rosarum sing with both a warmth and clarity of tone and an admirable ensemble sense. This disc may be of particular interest to libraries that have seen demand for the works of Hildegard von Bingen.

coatesThomas Coates; Frederick J. Keller; Franz von Suppé
Thomas Coates: The Father of Band Music in America
Newberry’s Victorian Cornet Band / Douglas Hedwig
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1556
Rick’s Pick

The title of this disc makes a bold claim, but it’s not an obviously false one if you look at the historical record. By the time John Philip Sousa was beginning to dominate the band-music landscape at the end of the 19th century, Coates had come to the end of a prolific and influential career, and although the mostly-brass instrumentation of his bands fell out of favor shortly after his death, his influence as an arranger continued to be felt. Here his original compositions and medleys of traditional tune arrangements are presented alongside similar works by Frederick Keller and Franz von Suppé, and played on period instruments (including authentic mouthpieces) by the outstanding Newberry’s Victorian Cornet Band. It’s difficult to imagine a library that wouldn’t benefit from owning this disc.

kauderHudo Kauder
Rediscovering Hugo Kauder
Lindsay Leach-Sparks (with various accompanists)
Titanic (dist. Albany)

Hugo Kauder was quite an anomaly in 20th-century music. To listen to the five chamber works presented here by flutist Lindsay Leach-Sparks and her colleagues, one would guess that the Vienna School had never existed–this music is not only tonal, but it tends strongly to be pentatonic. The harmonies are open with quite a bit of parallel movement, and Kauder draws on elements of folk and medieval music as well as the occasional Asian influence. The result is music that can come across as deceptively naïve to today’s ears, but could only have been seen as an affront to the academic music world in the middle of the 20th century.

rileyTerry Riley
In C
Ragazze Quartet; Slagwerk Den Haag; Kapok
Channel Classics (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CCS 37816

If you had to name the single most foundational work of the minimalist school, it would probably have to be In C by Terry Riley. First performed in 1964, it calls on an unspecified number of musicians to repeat any of 53 brief musical phrases as many times as they would like. There is no real harmonic movement (hence the title), and the effect of the piece is basically kaleidoscopic–and of course it sounds different every time it’s played. The second work on this disc, Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector, was written in 1980 for the Kronos Quartet. Both pieces are played with conviction and audible pleasure by the Raggaze Quartet, the percussion ensemble Slagwerk Den Haag, and the horn/guitar/drums trio Kapok.

boydVarious Composers
Rupert Boyd
Little Mystery
Rick’s Pick

This is the second solo album from guitarist Rupert Boyd, and it’s outstanding. On this program he presents a stylistically wide-ranging recital of pieces from traditions including tango, Renaissance lute music, 19th-century Spanish classicism, and folk music of both the British Isles and the Iberian peninsula. While the music itself is consistently lovely, what will really strike you as you listen is how bright and colorful his tone is, and how much evident pleasure he takes in playing so many very different kinds of music. I might have swung the hornpipe rhythm of “Loch Leven Castle” a little harder, but that’s the only interpretive disagreement I have with anything on this spectacular album. Highly recommended to all libraries.

dalmaticaAnonymous Composers
Dalmatica: From Oral to Written Transmissions: Chants of the Adriatic
Dialogos; Kantaduri
Arcana (dist. Naxos)
A 395
Rick’s Pick

It is difficult to describe the strange and special beauty of this recording, which brings together Latin and Slavonic liturgical texts from sources in the Croatian region, some of them sung monodically, some polyphonically, and some in a folk style called klapa. The klapa songs are sturdy and astringent, recalling the sound of Sardinian male harmony trios; other pieces have a distinct ars nova feel, and the juxtaposition of sweet and sour sounds (and of male and female voices) means that the listener is constantly in a state of slight emotional vertigo. What unites all of these tracks is the sense of archaic but deep devotional engagement. I’ve never heard anything remotely like this album, and it’s wonderful.

giardinoJohann Friedrich Meister
Il giardino del piacere (world premiere recording)
Ensemble Diderot
Audax (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

Johann Friedrich Meister’s collection of twelve trio sonatas titled Il giardino del piacere (“The Pleasure Garden”) was published in 1695, but has never been recorded in its entirety. Half of the sonatas were recorded by the legendary Musica Antiqua Köln in 2011–that ensemble’s final project, as it turned out–and the remaining six are here presented by the outstanding young Ensemble Diderot. The significance of these pieces lies not so much in their unusually high quality (the music is very good, but not earthshaking) but rather in the fact that it represents the first known incursion of the French style into Germany, where it would later take root and flourish. All classical collections should own both this disc and the previous one by MAK.

notareschiLoretta Notareschi
String Quartet OCD
Playground Ensemble String Quartet
Disegni Music
No cat. no.

This 21-minute work (the only one on this budget-priced CD) is something of a program piece, an attempt to convey musically the experience of postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (PPOCD). Less well-known than postpartum depression, PPOCD can lead to obsessive thoughts of doing harm to one’s baby, debilitating anxiety, and panic attacks. Notareschi portrays the experience musically by means of modernistically jagged and occasionally lyrical passages that convey a sense of claustrophobia, anger, and frustration–and, once in a while, a certain plucky humor. (Listen for the quote from the 1920s song “Baby Face.”) The final movement is titled, appropriately enough, “A Second Delivery,” and depicts the composer’s eventual emergence from the illness that had dominated her mind for a year. The music is of a very high quality, and the package includes handy information about PPOCD and links to resources for those struggling with it.


mobileNik Bärtsch’s Mobile

Pianist/composer Nik Bärtsch’s ensemble has never been what you could call a conventional jazz combo. In fact, the only reason it makes sense to review his latest album in the Jazz section is because it fits even less well anywhere else. On his latest album, he continues his exploration of modular compositions that incorporate rhythmic repetition (but nothing so simple as pulse) and spiral development. There is a funkiness here, and often a weirdly dark vibe (notice the borderline creepiness of “Modul 18”), and the addition of a string quintet to his usual ensemble of piano, bass clarinet, and two percussionists serves to enrich the band’s sound while also deepening its frequent eeriness. As usual, the music is unlike anything else you’ve probably heard, and it’s very compelling.

robertGeorge Robert
Plays Michel Legrand
CD 1607
Rick’s Pick

I’m not usually very keen on jazz recordings that involve orchestral strings, still less an entire symphony orchestra. But I decided to give this one a shot, and I was glad I did. Sadly, this was the final recording by saxophonist George Robert before he died earlier this year. It finds him celebrating the melodic talents of film composer Michel Legrand, performing arrangements of themes from films like Brian’s Song, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and Yentl. My wife shot me a puzzled look when I put this on our home stereo–again: this is not the kind of thing I would normally tolerate–but there’s something about these arrangements that, despite their lushness, keeps them from ever tipping over into schlock. I think it has something to do not only with Robert’s exceptionally tasteful playing, but also with Torben Oxbol’s orchestral arrangements–which are all performed by means of MIDI and digital instrument samples. (Unless someone tips you off to this fact, you probably won’t be able to tell that the instruments aren’t live.) The result is a deeply beautiful album.

popsJoe Policastro Trio
Jeru Jazz
No cat. no.

The title of this album has a double meaning: it’s dedicated to Pops for Champagne, the Chicago champagne bar where bassist Joe Policastro and his trio hold down a three-nights-a-week residency. But it also refers to the musical program itself: the album consists of jazz arrangements of songs by the likes of Stevie Wonder (“Creepin'”), Pink Floyd (“Us and Them”), the Cars (“Drive”) and even the Pixies (“Wave of Mutilation,” I kid you not). There’s not really anything particularly outlandish about this: jazz has always drawn on popular song for its source material. Not usually the Bee Gees, of course, but why not? Policastro and his crew make a strong argument for all of these songs as jazz vehicles, and they have a ton of fun in the process. You will, too.

coreyCorey Christiansen
Factory Girl
Origin (dist. City Hall)

Here’s another take on source material from unlikely places: guitarist Corey Christiansen leads a quintet through a solid set of jazz adaptations of traditional folk and fiddle tunes like “John Hardy,” “Shenandoah,” and “Factory Girl.” What’s particularly impressive here is the way he manages to craft genuinely interesting jazz arrangements of harmonically dead-simple tunes like “Cluck Old Hen” and “Old Joe Clark.” One of his secret ingredients is funk, and another is his ability to coax the African-American roots of some of these tunes out from behind their Anglo-Appalachian façades. It all works really well. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.

louisLouis Heriveaux
Triadic Episode
Hot Shoe
HSR 110

This is a very fine leader debut for pianist Louis Heriveaux, who has been a first-call sideman and mainstay of the Atlanta jazz scene for years. Accompanied by bassist Curtis Lundy and bassist Terreon Gully, he delivers a nicely varied set of originals and standards that showcases his wide stylistic range: from the strangely melancholy funk of “One for Simus” (named a friend who committed suicide while the tune was being written), to his sweetly contemplative take on “Body and Soul,” to the loping midtempo groove of the title track. Heriveaux’s playing sparkles and the trio sounds as if they’ve been together for years. Recommended to all jazz collections.

evenfallThe Evenfall Quartet
The Evenfall Quartet
Blue Duchess
Rick’s Pick

Tenor saxophonist Mark Earley and bassist Brad Hallen met during their shared tenure in Roomful of Blues, where they also worked with Blue Duchess label head Duke Robillard. But this isn’t a blues or R&B project; instead, it’s a straight-ahead jazz album, which their quartet decided to record in a very old-school way: show up at the studio, confer on a set of standards, play them live with no overdubs or punch-ins, and release the best takes. The result is a set that sounds very old school, not just stylistically (check out Earley’s Hawkins-esque warble on the ballads, particularly “The Shadow of Your Smile”) but also in terms of its immediacy and warmth. Listening to this album leaves you with the feeling of having eaten a solid, deliciously prepared, and well-balanced meal. Highly recommended to all collections.


doeJohn Doe
The Westerner
Cool Rock (dist. Thirty Tigers)

John Doe left the world of punk rock behind long ago, when X (one of the primary architects of the Los Angeles punk sound) finally dissolved after two decades of brilliant music-making. But he took away with him two of the things that had helped to define that sound: his rich baritone voice and his affinity for country music and roots rock. As a solo artist, he brings a serrated edge to those traditions and he sounds as great as ever. His latest album is a slightly surrealist triumph of country-inflected postpunk rock’n’roll, and it is released at the same time as his memoir of his early career (Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk, which is actually a compilation of recollections by himself and other figures of the period including members of the Go-Gos, the Minutemen, and Black Flag). Both the album and the book are must-haves for library collections.

westernWestern Centuries
Weight of the World
Free Dirt

The members of Seattle-based Western Centuries come from all over the place, musically speaking: hip hop, punk, conjunto, roots rock. But what you hear when they get together is rough-grained honky-tonk country music sung in a variety of voices (lead vocal duties are swapped between the band’s three chief songwriters) and incorporating, every so often, a sly hint of something exotic–a little touch of bluebeat on “In My Cups,” an echo of 12/8 R&B balladry on “Off the Shelf,” a decidedly crooked rhythm on the verse of “Rock Salt,” etc. None of these guys will ever be contestants on The Voice, but they sure do write great songs. And how many country songwriters would (or should) come up with the line “Gonna float down the stream in a ketamine dream”?

outerOuter Spaces
A Shedding Snake
Don Giovanni (dist. Redeye)

I don’t know whether I really ought to be putting this one in the Folk/Countryk section, but I can’t escape the feeling that it’s really a roots album cleverly disguised as scrappy post-pop. Singer/songwriter Cara Beth Satalino has clearly been listening to quite a bit of early REM (check out the first couple verses of “Heavy Stone Poem”), but more importantly, there’s something about her jangly guitar arpeggios that just says “folk rock” to me. I’m probably wrong, but whatever. Call it what you want, this is a grungily sparkling debut for her as a solo artist.

ickesRob Ickes & Trey Hensley
The Country Blues
Compass (dist. Naxos)

Despite its title, this is not a country blues album–it’s a country album, or, perhaps more accurately, a post-bluegrass album (i.e. mostly acoustic, but with drums and a Grateful Dead cover). Hensley and Ickes are a great team: Hensley has one of those gorgeous, copper-colored voices that are prized in modern bluegrass, and Ickes remains one of the hottest and most tasteful slide guitarists working today. And their sense of artistry continues to be tempered by a sense of fun: Hensley delivers a nice Merle Haggard impression on Haggard’s “I Won’t Give Up My Train,” and while my review copy didn’t include liner notes or musician credits and I therefore can’t say who the hotshot Telecaster player is on “Leave My Woman Alone,” that track in particular is a high-octane hoot. I’m not sure the phase shifter on Ickes’ Dobro was necessarily a great choice on “Biscuits and Gravy,” but it’s still plenty of fun. Great stuff overall.


yumiYumi Zouma
Cascine/Flying Nun
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

In a world in which new genre and subgenre designations dissolve into irrelevance almost as soon as they can be invented, the term “dream pop” seems somehow to maintain a certain level of referent utility. If a release is designated as “dream pop” you can pretty much assume that the voices will be mixed at the same level as the instruments and the words only sporadically decipherable, the melodies will be filled with hooks (but modest ones, nothing to pump your fist and chant along to), the harmonies will be multilayered and rapturously beautiful, and everything will be presented in a haze that is the sonic equivalent of a cloud of atomized cotton candy. Funky beats, if such there be, will be quiet and decorous. And there you have it: a pretty good description of the debut full-length from Sweden’s Yumi Zouma, as enjoyable a pop album as I’ve heard yet this year. Now I need to track down their previous EPs…

rostaniAria Rostani & Daniel Blomquist
Wandering Eye
Glacial Movements

Also dreamy, but nowhere near as hooky, is the debut album from San Francisco-based experimental duo Aria Rostami and Daniel Blomquist. Their general modus operandi is to take source material from field recordings, online communications, and Rostami’s piano and synthesizer playing, and then create a live performance by looping and manipulating the various sounds. The result is ambient music of a sort, in that it develops slowly and is deeply repetitive, but music that departs from the ambient tradition by being, at times, quite intense. This is also music that harks back significantly to the heyday of analog tape-based experimentation during the 1960s. All of it is quite lovely, if sometimes also a bit creepy and unsettling.

fayettesCharlie Faye & the Fayettes
Charlie Faye & the Fayettes
No cat. no.

1960s revivalism is nothing new, but Charlie Faye’s latest project takes it a step beyond the usual, and takes her well away from her roots as an Austin-based Americana artist. With the Fayettes, she embraces the sound of the Shirelles and the Ronettes completely and explicitly, also adopting hair and clothing styles from the period. How does it sound? Awesome, if you like that kind of thing–and even if you don’t, Faye’s way with a hook and a vocal harmony makes the album a pleasure. Highlight track: the exquisite and soulful “Sweet Little Messages.”

Channel Zero
ESP-Disk (dist. Forced Exposure)
Rick’s Pick

Blending jazz and free improvisation with absolutely head-pounding, booty-shaking funk, Joe Bowie’s Defunkt changed the way we thought about all of those musical styles back in the 1980s. The band has never gone away completely, but went through multiple lineups during the 1990s and 2000s, not all of them terribly successful. Now the original bandmembers are back together, and this live album documents them reprising a bunch of their 1980s material (“Strangling Me with Your Love,” “Make Them Dance,” “Defunkt,” etc.) and dang if it doesn’t sound even better than it did back then: tighter, faster, funkier, punchier, wilder. I defy anyone to listen to this album and sit still for more than five seconds. (As I write this I’m sitting on an airplane, trying without complete success not to embarrass myself playing air drums along with “Defunkt.”)

ribotMarc Ribot & The Young Philadelphians
Live in Tokyo
YEB 7760

For a very different take on funk/avant-garde fusion, consider this highly unusual project led by guitarist Marc Ribot. Working with guitarist Mary Halvorsen, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and drummer G. Calvin Weston (plus a pickup string trio), he presents a live set of vintage Philly soul and disco tracks including hits like “Fly, Robin, Fly,” “Love Rollercoaster,” and, inevitably, “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” all played in a gritty but genuinely affectionate style that occasionally threatens to collapse into skronky harmolodic chaos–because the other explicit touchstone for this band’s sound is that of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time ensemble. The set opens with a slightly clunky version of “Love Epidemic,” but the group quickly finds its feet, and by the time they hit their encore (“The Hustle,” believe it or not) everything is grooving blissfully if still somewhat abrasively. Great stuff.

antsAdam & the Ants
Kings of the Wild Frontier (deluxe reissue; 2 discs)
Sony Legacy

If ever there was an ’80s artist who would be unlikely to go over well fully 36 years after his heyday, you would have to expect it to be Adam Ant. What seemed transgressive at the time (the weird Native American/pirate/18th-century-highwayman costume, the self-consciously twee sex-symbol posturing, etc.) would surely seem merely silly today, wouldn’t it? Well, as it turns out, yes–and no. The fact is that songs like “Don’t be Square (Be There)” and “Jolly Roger” are still lots of fun, and “Antmusic” still sounds weird in a slightly hair-raising way. And it’s also true that the particular brand of postpunk craziness documented here was pretty groundbreaking: the Ants’ juxtaposition of spaghetti western guitar sounds, tribal drumming, and eerie yodeling was not typical New Wave fare at the time and remained that band’s unique stylistic territory for a long time. This deluxe reissue offers extensive liner notes plus a disc-and-a-half’s worth of demos, outtakes, and live recordings.

sherwoodVarious Artists
Sherwood at the Controls: Volume 2 1985-1990
On-U Sound (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Although he is best known as an innovative producer and impresario of avant-garde dub and neo-roots reggae, Adrian Sherwood had a lot of success in the late 1980s working with funk, industrial, and experimental hip hop groups like Ministry, the Beatnigs, KMFDM, and Tackhead. About a year ago, Sherwood’s On-U Sound label released a collection focusing on his work in this vein (many of them previously unreleased or in unreleased versions), and now we have another one that picks up chronogically where that one left off–and if anything, it’s even better. Here you’ll find an excellent early version of Tackhead’s “Mind at the End of the Tether,” Pankow’s jackboot-funk cover of Prince’s “Girls’ & Boys”, and a great remix of the Beatnigs’ “Television.” And, for those of you who live for the bass pressure, at the end of the program is a handful of alternate versions and outtakes by the likes of African Head Charge and Bim Sherman. Absolutely essential.

Amorphous Music
Rick’s Pick

And, of course, if what you’re after is dance music of a somewhat less challenging but every bit as interesting variety, you never have to look further than the latest release by Lorin Ashton, a.k.a. Bassnectar. No one in the world of bass music explores texture, rhythm, and melody with as much creativity and infectious joy as this guy, and Unlimited is, in my opinion, his best effort since 2005’s Mesmerizing the Ultra (now, sadly, out of print). As always, the Bassnectar sound is brightly-colored without being too poppy, richly booming without being oppressively dark, happy without being cloying. There are fine vocal cameos from the likes of Rye Rye and Lafa Taylor, and Ashton’s ability to change up the beat without warning and in mindblowing ways remains unparalleled.


tanbouVarious Artists
Tanbou Toujou Lou

Subtitled “Meringue, Kompa Kreyol, Vodou Jazz & Electric Folklore from Haiti 1961-1981,” this compilation clearly casts a very wide net both stylistically and temporally, and therefore touches only lightly on each of the genres and pseudo-genres (“Electric Folklore”?) mentioned. But for library purposes, that’s probably a feature rather than a bug: if you need one collection that nicely spans a wide range of Haitian pop music genres during a hugely fertile period in that troubled nation’s history, this one would make a great choice. Highlights include the debonaire crooning of Tabou Combo on “Gislene,” Nemours Jean Baptiste’s “Haiti Cumbia,” and the sumptuous big-band sound of Super Jazz de Jeunes.

Dedication to Sylvia Rexach

The bolero is an incredibly important song form in Latin America, and there is a particularly strong tradition of them in Puerto Rico, where they have often been sung in harmony by male-female duos. This album by Reinaldo Alvarez and Laura Ann Singh is a celebration of the songs written in that mode by mid-20th-century icon Sylvia Rexach, who died young in 1961. The arrangements are gentle and quiet, the better to showcase the emotional intensity of the singing. While the organ parts can get a bit cheesy at times (seriously, is that a Farfisa?), the songs themselves are lovely and the singing outstanding. Libraries with a collecting interest in Latin American music should snap up this disc.

Anian (2 discs)

This is a strange and lovely album of Welsh songs by a band called 9BACH. It draws on a variety of other cultural influences (including Greek and Near Eastern flavors), and the lyrics are unusually topical for this group, focusing on disturbing world events of the moment. Of course, if you don’t speak Welsh you may have a hard time catching the sociopolitical messages in the music, so the package includes both a lyric booklet with translations and a second disc on which a number of English-speaking actors, writers, poets, and singers offer spoken interpretations. It’s a very unusual release altogether, but the music is quietly stunning.

The Return of the Tru Ganjaman
Luvinnit Productions

Musically speaking, this is Rocker-T’s best album in years: hard-hitting roots and dancehall reggae grooves, guest appearances from the likes of Mykal Rose, Prezident Brown, and the wonderful Gappy Ranks, and of course Rocker-T’s own top-ranking singjay style. The relentless lyrical focus on marijuana smoking (which has sacramental significance for Rastafarians) gets a bit tiresome–song titles like “Blazing Everyday,” “Real Singer Smoker,” and “Herbalist” tell you what to expect–and there are moments when you wish he would focus on another aspect of cultural livity for just a minute. But it’s not like he didn’t tell you what to expect with the album title–and again, the music is just outstanding.

April 2016


grab1Paul Grabowsky
HUSH Collection 3: Music for Complete Calm (reissue)
HUSH Music Foundation (dist. Allegro)
HUSH 003

grab2Paul Grabowsky
HUSH Collection 7: Ten Healing Songs (reissue)
HUSH Music Foundation
HUSH 007



I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking it too: “Music for complete calm”? “Ten healing songs”? Oh, great — vapid New Age noodling with delusions of spirituality or (even worse) medical efficacy.

I cannot stress this enough: that’s not what we’re dealing with here.

Jazz pianist and composer Paul Grabowski was inspired some years ago, after conversations with a pediatrician at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, to create music that would help promote an atmosphere of calm and healing for the children and the practitioners there. This led to a series of recordings, some of which are just now being made available in the United States. Grabowsky could indeed have gone the chord-washes-and-ocean-sounds route, but instead he did something improbable: he created music that is complex, interesting, and also soothing (and, yes, possibly even healing). Volume 3 in the series is a straight-ahead piano trio album consisting of twelve pieces, one for each month of the year. Every one of them swings solidly but gently, and features melodies that are structurally advanced but immediately accessible. Volume 7 is even more impressive: it features his trio as well as a string quartet and oboist. The path of jazz-classical fusion is strewn with the detritus of deeply embarrassing experiments, but Grabowsky negotiates it safely by not worrying too much about being either “jazzy” or “classical,” and instead simply focusing on writing beautiful and artful music and arranging it in a manner that’s sensitive to the unique characteristics of the instruments. At no point is his music boring, but at no point does he seem to be showing off. As any serious musician will tell you, this is a remarkable achievement. And the proceeds from sales of these discs are donated to childrens’ hospitals throughout Australia. On every level, these recordings are a triumph.


haecVarious Composers
Haec dies: Music for Easter
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge / Graham Ross
Harmonia Mundi
HMU 907655

This very fine mixed-voice chapel choir has recorded four previous discs of music for the church year, including for Christmas, Passiontide, Ascensiontide/Pentecost, and All Saints/All Souls. Its fifth such program focuses on works for Easter, with pieces spanning five centuries by such composers as Samuel Scheidt, William Byrd, Patrick Hadley, and Charles Villiers Stanford, and including mutiple settings of such central scriptural texts as “Haec dies,” “Surrexit pastor bonus,” and “Terra tremuit.” The Choir of Clare College has an exceptional stylistic range, and is able to deliver Gregorian plainchant and contemporary chromaticism with equal authority, making this album a powerful listening experience from start to finish.

hurdGeorge Hurd
Navigation Without Numbers
The Hurd Ensemble
Innova (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

It’s one thing to create electronic classical music that sounds arty and modern and electronic; it’s another thing to make modern classical music that incorporates electronic elements into basically tonal compositions using conventional instrumental configurations and have it come out sounding both interesting and fun. (The Kronos Quartet has been doing this successfully for decades, but has had very little successful company.) Composer George Hurd and his ensemble accomplish that handily on this album, which features violin, viola, cello, piano, vibes, and other instruments in a variety of more-or-less standard chamber-music configurations, alongside electronically manipulated samples wielded by Hurd himself. The music is sometimes lyrical, sometimes clangorous, and sometimes (exhilaratingly) both. It’s a tremendous amount of fun but also dense and complex enough to be much more than merely fun. Highly recommended to all collections.

cazzatiMaurizio Cazzati; Sebastian Scherer
From Bologna to Beromünster: Mass & Psalms Op. 36
Voces Suaves / Francesco Saverio Pedrini
Claves (dist. Albany)

I love recommending world-premiere recordings, especially of pieces that have been overlooked for centuries; there’s just a visceral thrill to hearing a piece come to life aurally after being in limbo for such a long time. When the work or works in question are as fine as these are, the thrill is even greater — and this recording really is a gem. Cazzati was a rough contemporary of Monteverdi working in Bologna. His Mass and his Laudate Dominum and Magnificat settings are notable not only for their sometimes quite forward-thinking style, but also for their relentless joyfulness, which is communicated beautifully by the Voces Suaves ensemble (singing one voice per part). The Cazzati works are interspersed with organ interludes by Sebastian Anton Scherer. Strongly recommended to all classical collections.

eaglesVarious Composers
Eagles and Seven Tears
Bassano Quartet; Daniël Brüggen
Aliud (dist. Allegro)
ACD BL 087-2

bachJohann Sebastian Bach; Toek Numan; Guus Janssen
BRISK Plays Bach
BRISK Recorder Quartet Amsterdam
Globe (dist. Allegro)
GLO 5262
Rick’s Pick

Here are two very different, but each very attractive, recordings by Dutch recorder ensembles. The Bassano Quartet album is a varied program drawing on material predictable (pavans by Dowland, a fantasia by Purcell), somewhat less predictable (an arrangement of a Haydn flute quartet) and surprising (arrangements of works by Arvo Pärt and jazz composer Bob Mintzer). These performances are designed, in part, to highlight the Dream and Eagle recorders, modern instruments created by Daniël Brüggen with the goal of “develop(ing) a better balance within the recorder sound.” The music is lovely and the recorders do sound noticeably more powerful and balanced than conventional ones. The BRISK recording takes arrangements of Bach concertos, preludes, and chorales and intersperses them with modern compositions by living composers; the juxtapositions are fascinating and are very well chosen, and the quartet’s playing is exceptional. Both of these discs would make excellent additions to any early music collection, though if you must choose between them I think the edge would go to the BRISK title.

byrdWilliam Byrd; Arvo Pärt; Thomas Tallis
The Deer’s Cry
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers
Coro (dist. Allegro)

Speaking of interesting juxtapositions, this lovely disc features works by William Byrd–the greatest British composer of the Renaissance period and arguably the greatest ever–alternating with pieces by Arvo Pärt, the Estonian “holy minimalist” composer known for the ascetic harmonic simplicity and intense emotion of his choral works. The connection between them is more biographical than musical; both were countercultural figures in their time and place who faced fairly significant personal threat because of their religious beliefs and their work. But the stylistic contrast actually works beautifully on this program, the tracks alternating between the lush devotional polyphony of Byrd and the more astringent harmonic minimalism of Pärt. The Sixteen sing spectacularly, as always.

rablWalter Rabl
Clarinet Quartet; Fantasiestücke; Violin Sonata
Wenzel Fuchs; Geneviève Laurenceau; László Fenyö; Oliver Triendl
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 849-2

Walter Rabl acquired a publisher in 1897 after being recommended by Johannes Brahms, whose work is the most obvious stylistic antecedent of Rabl’s. The three compositions included on this disc were all written within a few years of each other, right around the turn of the century, and Brahms’ influence is strong with each of them. Rabl’s style is essentially conservative, and there are no audible hints of the musical revolutions that were at this point already on the horizon. The musicians on this recording, especially violinist Laurenceau and the wonderful clarinetist Wenzel Fuchs, make a powerful argument for the music’s importance despite its lack of stylistic innovation, and those with a taste for the Romantic will find plenty to enjoy here.

krehlStephan Krehl
Clarinet Quintet; String Quartet
Larchmere String Quartet; Wonkak Kim
Rick’s Pick

Here’s another turn-of-the-century composer whose style of chamber music composition harked back explicitly to that of Brahms. Stephan Krehl is mainly remembered today as an academic music theorist, but this recording shows him also to have been an accomplished composer of utterly and unrepentantly old-fashioned chamber music in the Romantic style. Both the string quartet and the clarinet quintet are good enough that I went looking to see if he had published additional works for those configurations–and it doesn’t appear that he did. (In fact, his output of non-vocal chamber music seems to have been very meager.) Oh, well — all the more reason to acquire (and treasure) this very fine recording.


benitaMichel Benita & Ethics
River Silver
Rick’s Pick

There’s a cardinal rule among jazz lovers; you may be familiar with it. That rule is: beware of any band that names itself after a branch of philosophy. And that rule has a corollary: if a jazz band names itself after a branch of philosophy and includes a koto player, run away. But wait! I can happily report that the rule should be suspended in the case of bassist Michel Benita and his band Ethics, which includes drummer Philippe Garcia, the redoutable guitarist Eivind Aarset, and flugelhorn player Matthieu Michel in addition to koto player Mieko Miyazaki. One’s hesitancy around the concept of jazz koto playing shouldn’t arise from any suspicion of the instrument itself, of course, which is one of the most beautiful in the world, but rather from questions about how well it will fit in with, say, flugelhorn and guitar. The answer is: spectacularly, and that’s partly because this music is “jazz” only in the loosest-possible sense. Also, very wisely, Benita decided early on that he did not want the koto to provide “exotic color” to the band’s sound, but rather to be a foundational and integral part of it. The result is ensemble music of simultaneously ethereal and dense beauty (I know, that’s quite a trick) that sounds simultaneously improvised and carefully composed (also quite a trick). Trying to describe it isn’t really worth the effort — it needs to be heard. Every library should buy it.

greenDanny Green Trio
Altered Narratives
OA2 (dist. City Hall)
OA2 22128
Rick’s Pick

On his fourth release as a leader, pianist Danny Green does something highly unusual and impressive: he gives us an album that consists entirely of what is, in every discernible way, straight-ahead piano-trio jazz, with no wild harmonic or structural experimentation, but which nevertheless sounds entirely personal and original. It’s really kind of frustrating: I keep listening and trying to figure out how he does it, and I keep failing. Now, I should point out that three of these tracks feature a string quartet in addition to his trio, and that could reasonably be characterized as an example of structural experimentation. Fine, whatever. Nevertheless, even on those tracks this music feels both entirely straight-ahead and entirely new and personal, and dang if every single tune isn’t utterly gorgeous and engaging. The field of piano trio recordings is a densely crowded one, and standing out in it is tremendously difficult. Danny Green sounds like he’s doing so almost without effort. How does he do it?

tjadeMike Freeman ZonaVibe
Blue Tjade
VOF Recordings
VOF 2015-6

Vibraphonist Mike Freeman is, like most jazz vibraphonists, a big fan of Cal Tjader, one of the pioneers of that instrument in a jazz context. Like Tjader, Freeman is not only a master of the vibes but also adept at placing the vibes in a small-combo, Latin jazz framework, which he does here on this very fine album of original compositions. Everything is light and bouncy, but never schlocky or silly. A quintet consisting of vibes, bass, sax/flute, and two percussionists is always going to be in danger of getting too busy, but Freeman keeps everything tightly controlled and, paradoxically maybe, the feeling is always loose and warm. Recommended to all jazz collections.

nysqNew York Standards Quartet
Power of 10
WR 4680

In jazz parlance, “standards” are time-honored tunes (often taken from the American Songbook repertoire) that ensembles have been playing for decades and that adepts of the genre will usually recognize within the first couple of bars: tunes like “‘Round Midnight,” “I’ve Got Rhythm,” “Lush Life,” and “All of Me.” Therefore, a quartet that calls itself the New York Standards Quartet is staking out a musical territory. However, don’t let that fool you: these guys aren’t afraid to push the stylistic envelope a bit, nor are they shy about playing originals. On their tenth-anniversary recording, in fact, they offer a half-and-half program of standards and originals, and while they never get entirely “out,” they do produce some bracingly off-kilter sounds in among (and even within) their renditions of standards like “Embraceable You” and “Polkadots and Moonbeams.” And good for them. This kind of tension is what produces musical sparks, and the album is a joy.

attilaVarious Artists
Message to Attila: The Music of Attila Zoller
Enja (dist. Allegro)
ENJ-9620 2

Never heard of Attila Zoller? I confess that I hadn’t either, but plenty of people that both you and I have heard of knew, worked with, and admired him: Pat Metheny, Ron Carter, John Abercrombie, Mike Stern, Jim Hall, etc. Zoller was a Hungarian guitarist and composer known for his slightly anomalous combination of warm, traditional tone and forward-thinking, expressionistic compositional style. This tribute album is comprised partly of recordings made expressly for the project and partly of tracks recorded elsewhere and previously released; all are Zoller compositions. While the musicians here come from a variety of stylistic backgrounds, their affection for the honoree is palpable throughout and the quality of both the compositions and the performances is consistently very high.

rhythmRhythm Future Quartet
Magic Fiddle
No cat. no.

It’s always fun to hear a group creating a modern version of Gypsy jazz, and the Rhythm Future Quartet (violinist Jason Anick, guitarists Olli Soikkeli and Max O’Rourke, and bassist Greg Loughman) are doing just that. The group’s second album is simultaneously a celebration of straight-up Reinhardt/Grapelli-style acoustic swing and a determined effort to pull that tradition into the 21st century. What they are preserving is the music’s energy and joy; what they are messing with is its repertoire, its harmonic and rhythmic character (tunes in 7/8 and 5/8, anyone?), and its tendency towards purism (note, for example, the multitracked violin on the title tune, not to mention that piece’s overall structure). For the most part, these experiments work beautifully — only a rather clunky and ill-advised cover of John Lennon’s “Come Together” fails to cohere or to inspire. Great stuff overall, and a strong candidate for all jazz collections.


annaAnna & Elizabeth
Anna & Elizabeth
Free Dirt
Rick’s Pick

Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle are folk song collectors, arrangers, and evangelists in the old-school style — and by “old school” I’m talking about the Folk Revival era of the 1950s and 1960s, when teenage kids suddenly discovered the riches of the Child Ballad anthologies and the Folk Legacy field recordings and other troves of traditional songs and tunes and briefly made evangelizing for them counterculturally hip. In recent years there’s been a small resurgence in that approach, leading to the emergence of small clubs and coffeehouses in Brooklyn and Portland in which bearded and tattooed hipsters drink small-batch artisanal bathtub gin while listening to 300-year-old songs performed by young people intoxicated with those songs’ deep and astringent beauty. Look at this trend on its surface and make fun of it if you want, but if you take the time to listen carefully you’ll find many gems of interpretation, including this stunning album, which features songs both obscure and familiar in arrangements both new and old, sung by voices made rich and strong by genuine love and respect for them. You’ll also hear the best rendition of “A Voice from on High,” ever — which is saying something. Recommended to all collections.

eliEli West
The Both
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Anna & Elizabeth turn up as guest artists on this quiet and beautiful gem of a concept album too, which is led by Eli West and features six songs in two versions each, one vocal and one instrumental. But the vocal/instrumental duality isn’t really the binding concept: rather, this is an album about West’s two grandfathers, one who served in the military in World War II and ended up as a prisoner of war, the other who served in a very different capacity as a conscientious objector and coordinated the shipping of pregnant cattle to Spain. The songs include such familiar fare as “Lonesome Valley” and “The Lone Pilgrim,” and guest musicians include not only Anna & Elizabeth but also guitarist Bill Frisell(!) and mandolinist John Reischmann. Both the vocal versions and the instrumentals are delivered with exquisite care and delicacy, and will leave you with a feeling that is hard to describe. All libraries should pick this one up.

erelliMark Erelli
For a Song
No cat. no.

Boston-based singer/songwriter Mark Erelli has been quietly producing solo albums for some years now while also working as an in-demand sideman, playing alongside the likes of Lori McKenna, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw. On his first solo effort since 2010’s Little Vigils, he’s in a reflective mode, looking back on his own life and career and creating new characters and stories as well. There are moments on this album when he sounds uncannily like Paul Simon (listen to his voice on “Analog Hero,” in particular), but the songs are deeply personal both stylistically and lyrically. The slide guitars and the twangy Telecasters and the Hammond organ rub up against faintly rock steady rhythms, and the ballads greatly outnumber the midtempo numbers — there are no rave-ups. The whole album is gorgeous and at times borders on heartbreaking.

shackLegendary Shack Shakers
The Southern Surreal
Alternative Tentacles
Virus 476

Seeing that they are now recording for Alternative Tentacles (Dead Kennedys old label) and noticing that the album title is The Southern Surreal, one might easily be forgiven for expecting this band’s 20th-anniversay recording to be an onslaught of screaming psychobilly or some kind of nightmarish Southern Gothic gorefest. It’s neither, though: it’s an all-fun excursion into neo-rockabilly, honky-tonk polka, and country-rock, with a definite punk edge but nothing you could reasonably categorize as assaultive or even musically confrontational. I’ll bet you anything their live shows are pretty crazy, though. And there’s a fun spoken-word cameo from Billy Bob Thornton on which he sounds like he’s channeling Tom Waits.


rebelVarious Artists
Generation Next — Volume 1 (DIGITAL ONLY)
Rebel Traxx
Rick’s Pick

The term “bass music” encompasses a fairly wide variety of subgenres: jungle/drum’n’bass, dubstep, UK garage, and so forth. The Rebel Traxx label deals in a particularly deep and dark version of bass music — on this compilation you won’t hear any brostep ravers or house-derived party anthems. Instead, what you get are dark, spacious, deeply dubwise compositions that tend to promote contemplation more than booty shaking. And because Rebel Traxx is working with emerging artists, this compilation is not only useful as a great listening experience but also as a prompt to explore further; standout tracks like Dar Kist’s “Dekadance” and Alert’s “Cauldron” should send you straight to Soundcloud looking for more by these artists. Unfortunately this release is not available in physical formats, but those libraries that are experimenting with digital music collections should jump at the chance to acquire this excellent compilation.

shikariEnter Shikari
Mindsweep: Hospitalised
Play It Again Sam

Speaking of bass music, some readers may remember that I recommended the latest album from British post-hardcore giants Enter Shikari last year. In that review I mentioned that the band combines screaming hardcore punk and bass music in a way that’s quite unusual. On Mindsweep: Hospitalised it’s that second aspect of their sound that comes to the fore: it consists of tracks from Mindsweep remixed in a drum’n’bass style by producers from the Hospital Records stable. The result is brilliant, of course, and it makes a very fine companion to the original album — while continuing to exemplify Enter Shikari’s motto: “Abusing music’s worthless genre boundaries since 2003.”

ragsdaleThomas Ragsdale
Dear Araucaria (EP)
This Is It Forever

I don’t normally review EPs in CD HotList — not because I have anything against them, but because my time is scarce, and so is your budget, and it seems better to occupy my attention and yours with full-length albums. I’m making an exception in this case because the music is just so freaking beautiful. Thomas Ragsdale’s EP (only available, annoyingly, as a cassette-with-free-CD or as a digital download) is an all-too-brief collection of ambient pieces composed entirely of treated guitar sounds, most of them unrecognizable as guitar. Every track floats like a cloud bank made out of ice cream and Percoset, and the program as a whole is the most perfect afternoon nap soundtrack I’ve ever heard (and I own a complete library of Brian Eno’s ambient music). This is one of those releases that immediately sent me scampering to the artist’s back catalog, looking for more.

panicPanic Is Perfect
Strange Loop
No cat. no.

This indie-pop band from San Francisco occupies a sort of deceptively-sunny niche that seems to be becoming increasingly popular these days. Or I don’t know, maybe the sunniness isn’t deceptive — the older I get, the harder it is for me to sort out the irony from the pseudo-irony and the post-meta-pseudo-irony. Here’s what I do know: the sunniness is perfectly real in a musical sense, and this album comes to market just at the time when your patrons might be looking for something new to blast on their car speakers while driving with the top down. And when you’re singing along at the top of your voice with your hair whipping in the wind, the irony/metairony distinction becomes pretty much irrelevant. Very nice stuff.

enemyEnemy Planes
Beta Lowdown
Rock the Cause
No cat. no.

On their debut album, the Minneapolis-based Enemy Planes work in a sweet-and-sour mode: dreamy atmospherics within which minor-key melodies soar and drift while drums alternately prod and skip, and guitars sometimes stab and scrape and sometimes float like cloud formations. Song titles like “Bare Your Teeth” and “We Want Blood” should not mislead you: these guys aren’t vicious or nasty, but they’re definitely thinking complicated thoughts about life and love and they don’t seem to be sure what their conclusions are. Just like the rest of us, I guess. In the meantime, those prodding/skipping drums and stabbing/scraping/floating guitars sure do blend nicely with the light and multilayered vocals.


illbillyIllbilly Hitec
Reggae Not Dead
Echo Beach
Rick’s Pick

Once again, the reggae group with the worst band name in the history of reggae bands has come out with the best reggae album of the year. And they’re from Berlin! Which isn’t actually that surprising, give how much exceptionally fine reggae gets produced in that city every year. Illbilly Hitec’s generously-packed second album boasts a real grab-bag of multicultural elements, with cumbia beats rubbing up against rockers and one-drop reggae rhythms and guest vocalists singing and chatting in multiple languages. So what if they seem to be arguing against an assertion no one is making — did someone say reggae is dead? And why three separate songs on that same theme? — it’s fun to hear everyone repeatedly and gleefully asserting reggae’s continued vitality while simultaneously demonstrating it, and doing it so sweetly and danceably. Highly recommended to all collections.

Six Degrees

Brazilian singer-songwriter Silva has made a name for himself with lush and dense arrangements, but on his third full-length album he strips things down to a minimum — not a stark or bare minimum, but a warm and gently propulsive minimum that makes maximum use out of a handful of electric and electronic instruments. Like so much Brazilian pop music, Silva’s songs are soft on the outside and crunchy on the inside, with propulsive beats juddering along beneath the quiet and breathy vocals and the gentle guitars and keyboards. The album’s unifying lyrical theme is apparently astronomical, but it will be tough to follow unless your Portuguese is pretty strong. I found the album tremendously enjoyable without understanding more than a few words.

krakauerKrakauer’s Ancestral Groove
Table Pounding
Rick’s Pick

Clarinetist David Krakauer has been conducting a musically idiosyncratic and deeply personal exploration for the past 25 years, digging into his Jewish family’s Russian-Polish past and coming up with all kinds of musical (and other) stuff in a variety of styles: classical, klezmer, jazz, avant-garde, funk, electronica. All of it he brings home and refashions into music that has no reasonable label — though on this album, on which the core band consists of guitar, bass, drums, and sampler, the constant stylistic thread is a sort of sampladelic jazz-funk with recurring klezmer themes. As a clarinetist Krakauer is not only a stone virtuoso but also a genuinely fun and exciting player, and his band pushes him to new heights here. Recommended to all collections.

nattyNatty Nation
Divine Spark

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a reggae album that significantly incorporates references to principles of meditation, kundalini yoga and astrology. I mean, you’re going to listen to an awful lot of reggae before you encounter a couplet like “Balance the chakras in the spine/Balance the gross and the refined” — especially in the context of a thick, elephantine rockers groove. And that’s a big part of what makes this album so much fun: musically, it’s classical 1970s-style roots reggae; lyrically, it’s an almost pantheistic invocation of all-purpose spirituality that excludes no one and adheres to no particular creed. If you’re annoyed by weird metaphysics then I’m guessing you’re not much of a reggae listener — but if the metaphysics starts annoying you, just focus on the grooves. Highly recommended.

September 2014


dussekJan Ladislav Dussek
Piano Concertos Opp. 1 Nos. 3, 29 & 70
Howard Shelley; Ulster Orchestra
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

This disc is the first in a new series from the Hyperion label titled The Classical Piano Concerto. This release itself promises to be the first of several dedicated to concertos by the great (if, in my view, underrated) Bohemian composer Jan Ladislav Dussek, all performed on modern instruments by the wonderful Howard Shelley with the Ulster Orchestra, which Shelley conducts from the piano. The program on this disc offers a nice overview of Dussek’s career: it opens with an early work, the G major concerto, then moves to the midpoint of Dussek’s life with his structurally more experimental concerto in C major, then closes with an E flat work that was written only two years before the composer’s death and continues his experimentation with the form. I can’t say enough about the pleasures of listening to these pieces by this ensemble and soloist–if this disc is any indication, the Classical Piano Concerto series will be one to which libraries everywhere will want to pay close attention.


holloawayVarious Composers
Pavans and Fantasies from the Age of Dowland
John Holloway et al.
Rick’s Pick

Opening with Dowland’s celebrated Lachrimae Pavans, violinist John Holloway–leading a quintet of two violins, two violas, and bass viol, though the Dowland piece is played by four violas plus bass–presents a program that also features works by other English composers of roughly the same era (including Henry Purcell, John Jenkins, and Matthew Locke), all of them chosen to demonstrate the wide variety of tones and textures that emerged during this tremendously fertile period in English instrumental music. Holloway is no stranger to this repertoire, and he and his colleagues deliver these pieces in a pleasingly subdued but intense style. Highly recommended.

beethovenLudwig van Beethoven
Complete Fortepiano Concertos (reissue, 3 discs)
Arthur Schoonderwoerd; Ensemble Cristofori
Alpha Productions/Outhere Music (dist. Naxos)

Beethoven’s piano concertos remain, collectively, a towering landmark of the Romantic repertoire, and as such they have been recorded countless times–though mostly on modern instruments. Some of the most impressive period-instrument recordings of these works were made in the mid- to late 2000’s by fortepianist Arthur Schoonderwoerd with Ensemble Cristofori, and all are gathered together in this budget-line, three-disc reissue box. Anyone who feels that period-instrument ensembles generally (and fortepianos in particular) are incapable of generating enough sturm und drang to handle this repertoire needs to give these powerful recordings a listen.

archdukeArchduke Rudolph
Music for Clarinet and Piano
Luigi Magistrelli; Claudia Bracco
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

This one gets a Rick’s Pick designation for two reasons: first, the music is obscure (all of it unpublished, some of it unfinished); second, the music is heartbreakingly gorgeous and is played with limpid grace, on modern instruments, by two brilliant musicians. Archduke Rudolph of Austria is known today, where he is known at all, primarily as a patron and student of Beethoven, and while these works won’t catapult him to world fame as a neglected genius, they are truly lovely and this disc is well worth acquiring. Recommended to all classical collections, especially those serving wind programs.

praiseVarious Composers
In Praise of Saint Columba: The Sound World of the Celtic Church
Choir of Gonville & Caius College; various soloists / Geoffrey Weber
Delphian (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

In strictly historical terms, reconstituting long-lost “sound worlds” is always a questionable proposition — but in musical terms it can be intriguing, and that’s certainly the case with this program of vocal and instrumental music imaginatively reconstructed from 7th-, 10th-, and 14th-century documents found in (and in some cases drawn on the walls of) abbeys and monasteries from various Celtic enclaves across Europe and the British Isles. Scholar and piper Barnaby Brown worked with the Choir of Gonville & Caius College at Cambridge University to put this album together, and the results are eerily fascinating and very enjoyable.

dvorakAntonín Dvorák
Symphony No. 6; American Suite op. 98b
Luzerner Sinfonieorchester / James Gaffigan
Harmonia Mundi
HMC 902188

These two compositions by Dvorák are related in that both draw on vernacular influences: the sixth symphony incorporates elements of Slavonic and Bohemian folk melodies, creating a pervasively pastoral mood; the Suite op. 98, which later acquired the nickname “American,” is built on themes that evoke the sounds of African-American and American Indian musical cultures. Both are played here with lush elegance in a winningly warm acoustic, and this disc can be confidently recommended to any classical library that does not already own top-notch recordings of these works.

manffediniVincenzo Manfredini
Complete String Quartets
Quartetto Delfico
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

Vincenzo Manfredini had strong views about what constituted good instrumental music: it must move the listener, and it can only do so when melody and harmony are carefully balanced. Bearing that in mind sheds light on the consistently lovely (but perhaps slightly uptight) nature of Manfredini’s string quartets, which are given winning period-instrument performances here by the Quartetto Delfico. These pieces have not often been recorded, so libraries should snap this disc up.

vigilateVarious Composers
Vigilate! English Polyphony in Dangerous Times
Monteverdi Choir / John Eliot Gardiner
Soli Deo Gloria (dist. Naxos)
SDG 720
Rick’s Pick

“Heads up!” was good advice to any Catholic in Elizabethan England, and Catholic composers with high public profiles had to be especially watchful. William Byrd famously kept his head by maintaining a strong personal relationship with the Queen; others, like Peter Philips, Robert White, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Morley, and Thomas Tomkins managed to write sacred music in the Catholic tradition without too much persecution, though their music often reflects the bloody controversies of the day — sometimes explicitly, sometimes subtly. As always, the Monteverdi Choir’s performances of works by all of these composers (including Byrd’s hair-raisingly moving “Civitas sancti tui” setting) are radiant. Strongly recommended to all libraries.

pleyelIgnace Pleyel
Flute Quartets
Pál Németh; Piroska Vitárius; Gergely Balázs; Dénes Karasszon
Hungaroton (dist. Naxos)

There’s nothing like a Classical-era flute quartet to brighten up your day, and while Mozart’s remain the gold standard, these by Pleyel are also gems of the period. I wish these period-instrument performances by Pál Németh and friends were more reliably perfect in terms of intonation, but they’re quite good overall and as far as I can tell this is the only currently-available recording of all six quartets, so I recommend this disc to all comprehensive classical collections.


iyerVijay Iyer

I’m putting this one in the Jazz category, but it’s far from entirely clear that that’s where it belongs. Although pianist-composer Vijay Iyer has built his career and reputation primarily as a jazz musician, his range is much broader than that. On this album he presents an impressionistic (and only somewhat jazzy) piece for piano solo, two rather abstract pieces for piano and electronics, and a ten-movement work for piano, electronics, and string quartet. The latter is especially interesting, but all of the music here is both forward-looking and accessible, and very much worth hearing.

wakenius Ulf Wakenius
Momento Magico
ACT (dist. Allegro)

Another release that fits rather uncomfortably in the Jazz category is this solo guitar album by Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius. It doesn’t exactly sound like a solo album, because Wakenius often overdubs himself, always playing an acoustic guitar (or bass). Throughout the program he draws on influences from both within the jazz tradition (John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery) and outside of it (Malian blues, European and Indian classical music). Fans of Robert Fripp will hear familiar elements here, as will lovers of bossa nova. Recommended.

fullerLarry Fuller
Larry Fuller
Rick’s Pick

Here’s the thing about Larry Fuller–he’s not just a stellar straight-ahead jazz pianist. He’s also one of those guys who acts as a sort of walking encyclopedia of jazz styles, shifting without apparent effort from fleet-fingered bebop to stride and boogie-woogie approaches. Here he plays a set not just of standards, but of really pretty tired ones (“C Jam Blues,” “Django,” “Old Devil Moon”) and in every case he manages to imbue them with fresh energy and insight–not by doing anything especially innovative or (heaven knows) avant-garde, but rather by applying classic ideas and techniques to them with a musical intelligence and sensitivity that you encounter all too rarely in jazz or in any other genre. Very strongly recommended to all collections.

rotemRotem Sivan Trio
For Emotional Use Only
Fresh Sound New Talent
FSNT 451
Rick’s Pick

For a very different take on the trio format, consider this fine new album led by guitarist Rotem Sivan. The program consists almost entirely of originals, most of them played in a pretty straight-ahead style and utlizing the kind of warm, soft-edged tone that longtime fans of Pat Metheny will recognize. But within the confines of that style, Sivan makes note choices and harmonic gestures that are quite personal and unusual; notice, for example, the modal excursions on “Blossom,” and the subtle complexity of the gently beautiful jazz waltz “Spirals.” Interestingly, the emotional centerpiece of this album its sole non-original tune, a meltingly sweet take on “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” one of the loveliest melodies ever written for a Disney movie. Brilliant.

wardellWardell Gray
1950-1955 (reissue)
Classics (dist. Albany)

Here’s another great collection of vintage bebop from the French Classics Records label. Originally issued in 2008, it brings together recordings made between 1950 and 1955 by an underappreciated tenor saxophonist named Wardell Gray, many of them in multiple takes. (N.B. — Some tracks are misidentified on the package.) His sidemen on these dates include such illustrious figures as Art Farmer, Dexter Gordon, Clark Terry, and Hampton Hawes; on several tracks Gray is a featured member of Teddy Charles’ West Coasters. Although these recordings are all mastered from 78-rpm originals, the sound quality is quite good, and the performances are spectacular. Tragically, Gray died only a few months after these recordings were made.

bolandFrancy Boland
Playing with the Trio
Schema (dist. Naxos)
RW 148

Pianist/composer Francy Boland, bassist Jimmy Woode, and legendary drummer Kenny Clarke were the nucleus of the Francy Boland Big Band, which was active and hugely influential in Europe throughout the 1960s. But in 1967 Boland went into the studio with just the rhythm section and recorded this very winning trio album, one consisting almost entirely of original compositions (by both him and Woode), all played in a light but energetic style. All three players are brilliant, but there’s something particularly special about Clarke’s drumming throughout — notice in particular the subtlety of his brushwork on the blues-based “Night Lady.”

Florencia Gonzalez
florencia Between Loves
Zoho Music (dist. Allegro)
Rick’s Pick

Tenor saxophonist Florencia Gonzalez is originally from Uruguay, but now lives and works in New York — and while there are clear Latin American elements in her compositions, it’s amazing how New York this album sounds. Here she leads a sextet (sax/trumpet/trombone plus piano trio), but some of these pieces — especially the somewhat spiky and modernist “Woman Dreaming of Escape” (named after a Joan Miró painting) — sound much larger than that, reflecting Gonzalez’ unusual talent for arranging. This album should be considered a must-have for any library supporting a serious jazz program.


LLewisKKallickVernRayLaurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick
Sing the Songs of Vern & Ray
Spruce and Maple Music

Vern Williams and Ray Park were both from the Ozarks, but only met after each had moved to San Francisco in the 1950s. There they had a huge influence on the bluegrass and folk scene that burgeoned in the Bay Area throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Fans (and occasional sidepersons) included singer/guitarist Kathy Kallick and singer/fiddler Laurie Lewis, who both went on to successful careers of their own and have now collaborated on this wonderful tribute album. It’s straight-up, meat-and-potatoes bluegrass music of the kind that all too rarely features prominent female vocals; here Lewis and Kallick handle most lead and harmony singing, and they’re accompanied by such illustrious helpers as slide guitarist Sally Van Meter and mandolinist Tom Rozum. Truly great stuff.

burtonJason Tyler Burton
No cat. no.

Singer-songwriter-with-acoustic-guitar has always been kind of a hard sell for me. I blame it on childhood trauma; growing up in the 1970s, I was exposed to an awful lot of boring and pretentious singer-songwriter twaddle. But if you share my hesitation, don’t let it stop you from checking out the second album from this exceptionally fine songwriter. Burton’s voice is simultaneously chesty and mountain-twangy, his lyrics evocative without being portentous, his arrangements spare but not stark. And the harmonica only comes out once, which is a blessing. Highly recommended.

bellsMike Auldridge/Jerry Douglas/Rob Ickes
Three Bells

The resophonic guitar (often known generically as a dobro, much to the frustration of the trademark-holding Dopyera Brothers) is an acoustic guitar that features one of several internal resonator designs, all of which act to give the instrument both greater sustain and a distinctive tone, making it suitable for playing with a slide. It is primarily associated with bluegrass music, but some of its advanced practitioners (including the three virtuosos featured on this album) have taken it in all kinds of other directions. Three Bells showcases both traditional and forward-thinking approaches to the instrument, with trio arrangements of country and bluegrass standards, jazz tunes, and pop songs. Sadly, these were the last recordings made by the great Mike Auldridge before his death in 2012.

jeanVarious Artists
Dear Jean: Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie (2 discs)
Compass (dist. Amped)
7 4631 2
Rick’s Pick

Outside of folk music circles, Jean Ritchie isn’t quite the household name that, say, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger are. But her influence has been both deep and pervasive, as the variety and notoriety of the artists represented here suggests. Everyone from Judy Collins and Kathy Mattea to John McCutcheon and Janis Ian is here, and the selections are a wonderful melange of Ritchie originals and traditional songs collected and arranged by her and her family. It’s hard to imagine a more heartfelt and well-deserved tribute, and it should be considered an essential purchase for any folk or country collection.


My Little Ghost
Project Mooncircle
Rick’s Pick

When it comes to electronic music, I’m a sucker for two things: gutbusting bass, and microscopically detailed funkiness. The mysterious Kidkanevil (who claims to hail from “Tokyorkshire”) provides both in spades on this weird, charming, and sometimes slightly unsettling album. You’ll hear harpsichord ostinatos, sci-fi whooshes, Morse Code bleeps, tiny scratches and skitters, and tectonic basslines, sometimes all within the course of a single track. This is one of those albums that I just keep returning to because it’s so dang much fun.

moonzeroMoon Zero
Tombs/Loss (2 discs)
Denovali (dist. Allegro)

Sorry, there’s a third thing I’m a sucker for when it comes to electronic music: ambient sound sculptures that reward your attention without aggressively demanding it. This two-disc set includes a new recording by Moon Zero (Loss) along with a reissue of an album originally issued a year or so ago on cassette (Tombs). As the titles suggest, these are not sprightly recordings. But if you listen carefully, they’re quite fascinating. They were made entirely in churches, making creative use of echo and overtones; Loss consists of live performances. The idea of a “remix” in the context of music this abstract and ethereal may sound strange, but the package includes several, and they’re all very cool.

Devo: The Men Who Make the Music [DVD]
MVD Visual

I almost never review DVDs in CD HotList, but I made an exception for this Devo retrospective for two main reasons: first, the video that accompanied their version of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”; second, an astounding live performance of “Uncontrollable Urge.” Both communicate perfectly what made this band so unique and so unsettling: the simultaneous juxtaposition of robotic control and feverish frenzy. When performing “Uncontrollable Urge,” they give the impression of maggots being electrocuted; on “Satisfaction” they give the impression of adolescent male maggots being electrocuted. Not everyting on this disc is essential–some of the early narrative video stuff is embarrassingly bad–but there’s more than enough weirdo brilliance here to justify purchase.

wattBen Watt
Unmade Road
Rick’s Pick

Best known as co-leader of Everything But the Girl, somewhat less known as a DJ, Ben Watt very rarely makes solo albums. In fact, this is is his first in, oh, 30 years. And it’s good enough to make you just a little bit angry that he doesn’t do this more often. Watt characterizes this release as “simply a folk-rock record in an electronic age,” and that’s not a bad description, though the word “simply” belies the sophistication of his songcraft. His voice may not be quite the equal of his wife Tracy Thorn’s, but it’s really quite good and the arrangements are all completely perfect. This is one of the two or three best pop albums I’ve heard all year.

billytBilly Thermal
Billy Thermal
Rick’s Pick

Remember Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional”? How about Heart’s “Alone,” or “Precious Time” by Pat Benatar? Guess what? Those were all written by Billy Steinberg, whom I’m willing to bet money you’ve never heard of. I’ll bet even more money that you’ve never heard the debut album by his band Billy Thermal — a sucker bet, since the album was shelved in 1980 and never released (though several tracks were eventually released as an EP). The ever-intrepid Omnivore label has now rectified the situation, and if the result is undeniably dated, it’s also undeniably excellent, a classic of yelping, herky-jerky New Wave pop. Highly recommended.

calyxCalyx & Teebee
Fabriclive 76

DJs Calyx (from London) and Teebee (from Norway) are mainstays of the stubbornly undying drum & bass scene, and their contribution to the venerable Fabriclive series is a generously-packed mix of 34 tracks by the likes of Skream, Nasty Habits, Noisia, Teddy Killerz, and Break. Offering beats that are sometimes subtly and dubbily complex and often teeth-jarringly straightforward, the continuously-mixed program is guaranteed to leave you happily exhausted.

omunitOm Unit/Various Artists
Cosmology (download only)
Cosmic Bridge
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

For another perspective on the bass music scene, consider this outstanding compilation drawn from the vaults of Cosmic Bridge, the label run by the deeply respected Jim Coles (a.k.a. Om Unit). It reflects Coles’ interest in all things UK-bassy: drum & bass, jungle, footwork, trap, hip hop, dubstep, grime. There are only nine tracks here, but they’re all stellar and they describe a pretty broad spectrum of styles, from Danny Scrilla’s dubsteppy “Hunch (Epoch Remix)” to the straight-up jungle of Moresounds’ “Nuff Music.” Cosmic Bridge has only been operating for a couple of years; the fact that it can yield a compilation this consistently fine is a testament to Coles’ exceptional taste as a producer and impresario.

johnsonEric Johnson
Europe Live

You’ve almost certainly got some Eric Johnson fans among your patron base, though his name is known primarily to guitar fiends. He had a few big hits in the 1990s, and his album Ah Via Musicom (with its single “Cliffs of Dover”) sold quite well, but over the years he has remained an artist whose following is more deep than broad. This album documents a live performance in Amsterdam from 2013, and it finds him stretching out on familiar tunes like “Cliffs of Dover” and “Zap,” as well as two new compositions. At 59 years of age he still has a sweet tenor voice and his chops haven’t degraded in the slightest.


internationalInternational Observer
Dubmission (dist. Allegro)

Back when he was making international electro-pop hits as a member of the Thompson Twins, Tom Bailey was always interested in reggae and dub. After the breakup of that band (and of its dubbier successor Babble), Bailey embarked on a solo career under the pseudonym International Observer, creating dub-reggae soundscapes that drew deeply on the most venerable traditions of the genre while incorporating more forward-looking elements as well. Touched is a compilation of remixes and obscurities from the International Observer archives, and fans will find much to love here — especially given that several of these tracks have never been made available in the U.S. before.

Ondar EP (download only)
Six Degrees

Conceived as a tribute to the great Tuvan throat singer Kongar-ol Ondar, the latest release from Bay Area electro-acoustic duo Dirtwire is a blend of modern and ancient sounds that keeps the focus squarely on Ondar and the strange and beautiful multiphonic sounds he creates by forcing overtones and manipulating them while the sung pitch remains the same. The main program consists of three songs, with two remixes fleshing out the release. Both the singing and the production are fun and fascinating.

salsaVarious Artists
Salsa de la Bahia, Vol. 2: Hoy y Ayer (2 discs)
Rick’s Pick

San Francisco is host to a thriving Latin jazz scene, and this series of two-disc compilations serves to document that scene well. The first volume focused on recordings made between 2000 and 2010; the program on this entry in the series brackets that period, pulling together tracks from the late 1980s and 1990s and from 2010 to 2013. Legendary figures like Pete Escovedo and Wayne Wallace are here, as well as a whole bunch of artists much less well-known outside the region, and every track is a hoot and a joy, all of it exhibiting that amazing balance of loose-limbed joy and absolute precision that characterizes the best salsa music. Highly recommended to all libraries.

girmaGirma Yifrashewa
Love & Peace
Unseen Worlds
UW 13

Yirma Yifrashewa is an Ethiopian composer who was trained partly in his native country and partly at Sofia Conservatory in Bulgaria. In his solo piano pieces you will hear, unsurprisingly, a blend of influences: the pentatonic melodies of his native region are consistently in evidence, but so are gestures that are reminiscent of Brahms and occasional rhythmic passages bring to mind the dance pieces of Louis Gottschalk. Everything on this album is perfectly lovely, and it provides an interesting window on the current state of Afro-European classical cross-fertilization.

thirdworldThird World
Under the Magic Sun
CLP 1795

In the 1980s, the two bands that most unabashedly (and successfully) blurred the line between reggae and pop music were Aswad and Third World. With this album, the latter group makes that crossover bid even more blatantly, taking classic pop hits like “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” “Everything I Own” and the title track, and performing them in vintage reggae style. They also offer a new version of their own biggest hit, “96 Degrees.” How does it work? Quite well, over all. Cat Coore is starting to struggle a bit to hit the high notes, but the band’s groove is as tight and smooth as ever, and it’s lots of fun to hear these familiar songs redone in a pop-reggae style.

saifSaif Al-Khayyat & Nora Thiele
Ahlam Babiliyya: Modern Iraqi Maqam Music for Oud and Percussion
Talanton (dist. Naxos)
TAL 90015

Maqam is a term that describes particular melody types and prescribed patterns of development and improvisation in Arabic music, a concept that has some commonalities with the Indian raga. Saif Al-Khayyat is a virtuoso oud player and maqam composer, and with the brilliant German percussionist Nora Thiele he presents here a mixed program of original pieces and traditional tunes that will be of interest to any library with a strong world music collection and of special interest to any library supporting a program in Middle Eastern studies.

March 2013


motianPaul Motian
On Broadway, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (reissue, 5 discs)
Winter & Winter (dist. Allegro)
910 200-2

Over a period of ten years, from 1999 to 2009, drummer Paul Motian led a small combo in a series of recordings covering standards from the American Songbook. On the first three installments of what would turn out to be a five-volume series, the core supporting cast included saxophonist Joe Lovano, guitarist Bill Frisell, and bassist Charlie Haden, augmented (on Volume 3) by saxophonist Lee Konitz. The fourth and fifth volumes saw the personnel change entirely: by 2005 Motian was leading a trio that included Chris Potter on saxophone and Larry Grenadier on bass, and for the fourth On Broadway album he added singer Rebecca Martin and pianist Masabumi Kikuchi. Kikuchi joined him again for the fifth and final volume in the series, but by this point his bass player was Thomas Morgan and the group included two saxophonists: Loren Stillman and Michaël Atlas. What all of this means is that the five volumes feel more like two: the Frisell/Lovano/Haden period followed by the Other Period. Each is wonderful in its own way, but what they have in common is Motian’s completely unique ability to simultaneously celebrate and deconstruct the standard repertoire. These songs are the sacred canon of jazz; they are the foundation of the house of American popular music. That said, Motian treats them with love, but not reverence: the arrangements sometimes break the songs down into component parts, regularly lapse into group improvisation, and occasionally threaten to float away into abstraction. But at their most adventurous they never lose sight of the songs’ essence or threaten to devolve into self-indulgent honking and noodling.

Highlights are so numerous that they can hardly be called highlights and include the heartbreakingly tender interplay between Lovano and Frisell on “I Wish I Knew” and the light but utterly irrepressible swing of the sax-and-drums duet on “The Way You Look Tonight.” (The only downside to these recordings is Kikuchi’s truly obnoxious habit of whining and growling audibly, à la Keith Jarrett, while he plays.) No one else could do a project like this the way Motian did, and Motian never had more skillful or sensitive collaborators than he did on this series of recordings. These five discs constitute one of the best accounts of this repertoire ever made, and it ranks with Ella Fitzgerald’s Songbooks series as a national musical treasure. The Winter & Winter label is to be richly commended for bringing them all back to market in its uniquely elegant style.


lutherMartin Luther
Zu Gottes Her und Deinem Trost
Ensemble Devotio Moderna / Ulrike Volkhardt
Cantate (dist. Qualiton)
C 58047
Rick’s Pick

Subtitled “Luther Hymns and Contrafacts from Northern German Sources,” this disc features sacred songs recently discovered in sources from Lower Saxony and Western Pomerania. Although my German is rusty at best and the English liner notes are nearly incoherent, it appears that these consist mostly of previously-existing hymns rewritten by Martin Luther (and other Lutheran composers) to accommodate Protestant doctrine. They are presented here for the most part monodically, with single voices (nicely varied in gender and range) accompanied by medieval instruments. Familiar melodies emerge (most notably “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott”), but with slightly startling syncopations and variations. The playing and singing are excellent, and this disc is a must-own for all early music collections.

krommerVarious Composers
Musici da Camera: Music from 18th-century Prague (2 discs)
Collegium Marianum / Jana Semerádová
Supraphon (dist. Qualiton)
SU 4112-2

Although not as celebrated at the musical centers of Vienna, London, and Paris, Prague was also a hotbed of musical activity during the baroque period, and the city nurtured the careers of composers both local and foreign. This two-disc set features chamber works by composers as famous as Vivaldi and Fasch and as obscure as Frantisek Jiránek and Johann Georg Orschler. The Collegium Marianum ensemble (playing on period instruments) is excellent, and the program is consistently enjoyable. A must for all comprehensive baroque collections.

armadilloRobyn Schulkowsky
New World (dist. Albany)

Robyn Schulkowsky’s Armadillo is a long, multipart composition for two drummers and one percussionist. Its structure is unusual: it consists of four movements, the first of which is 42 minutes in length, the other three between five and six minutes. All are built out of interlocking patterns that vary widely in density of texture: at some points the sound is thick and heavily repetitive, while at others it’s spare and almost pointillistic. However, at no point is the piece’s structure inaudible; while improvisation is part of the composition, the listener never gets the feeling that the players are simply making things up as they go along. For the recording, Schulkowsky is joined by veteran avant-garde drummers Fredy Studer and Joey Baron.

beethovenLudwig Van Beethoven
Triple Concerto, op. 56; Trio, op. 1, no. 1
Claremont Trio; San Francisco Ballet Orchestra / Martin West
Bridge (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

This is a thoroughly delightful recording of two of Beethoven’s most beloved works, the Triple Concerto and the E-flat major Trio for violin, cello, and piano. The orchestral work is played with warmth and vigor, and the chamber piece absolutely sparkles, the coruscating lines in the Presto section delivered by pianist Andrea Lam with an almost laughing virtuosity. This is the first recording I’ve encountered by the Claremont Trio, and I’m very impressed; the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra is excellent as well.

allegriGregorio Allegri
Masses; Miserere; Motets
Choir of King’s College London / David Trendell
Delphian (dist. Allegro)

OK, here’s my shameful confession: you know that glorious passage in the middle of Allegri’s famous Miserere, the one where the sopranos soar up to a high C? I’ve never liked it. It’s always seemed overdramatic and gimmicky to me, forcing me to stop and acknowledge the sopranos’ skill rather than letting me focus on the work itself. For that reason I’ve generally steered clear of Allegri’s other works, but this disc has convinced me of the error of my ways. Alongside the inevitable Miserere, it includes world-premiere recordings of two parody Masses (“In Lectulo Meo” and “Christus Resurgens”), and the motets on which each was based. The singing is lovely, the recording quality excellent.

krommerFranz Krommer
Flötenquartette (reissue)
Peter-Lukas Graf; Carmina Trio
Claves (dist. Albany)

This is a very fine modern-instrument account of three flute quartets by the underrated Czech composer Franz Krommer, who came to Vienna in 1795 at the height of the craze for “mixed” chamber music, particularly quartets written for winds and strings combined. Of the three pieces presented here, two were originally written for flute and string trio and one began as an unmixed string quartet. This recording was originally issued in 1987; the playing is very good, though my personal preference is for the woodier sound of a period flute. Recommended.

mozartWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The Magic Flute; Divertimento no. 3; Le Nozze di Figaro; etc.
Heinz-Peter Linshalm; Petra Stump; Reinhold Brunner; Milan Turkovic
Gramola (dist. Allegro)

It may be too soon and too much of an exaggeration to say that we’re entering a new golden age of the basset horn (the clarinet’s slightly larger older brother), but there does seem to be an increasing number of recordings for the instrument and a growing population of players. For those who (like me) love the basset horn’s uniquely warm and glowing tone, this is great news, and this very lovely disc is one of the fruits of that welcome development. It consists of arrangements for basset horn trio of two opera medleys, the F major Adagio, and Divertimento no. 3. Playing and recording quality are both top-notch, and Mozart’s achingly sweet melodies are a perfect match for the featured instrument’s tonal properties.

senflLudwig Senfl
All Ding ein Weil: Songs & Instrumental Music
Tore Tom Denys; La Caccia
Musica Ficta (dist. Allegro & Albany)

Ludwig Senfl was a pupil of Heinrich Isaac, and thus well-versed in the techniques of polyphonic composition. But the bulk of his output consisted of German lieder, some of which were bespoke songs composed for special occasions. The accompaniments demonstrate Senfl’s mastery of polyphonic technique, as do his instrumental pieces. This very fine album offers a nice assortment of both, all of them masterfully performed by tenor Tore Tom Denys and the broken consort La Caccia.


Mercurial Balm

This one gets the award for Best ECM Album Title Ever. “Mercurial”? Yes: the music is unsettled, varying, at times even grumpy. You’ll hear glitchy beats that promise to settle into a groove but don’t, and gently chaotic-sounding improvisations that suddenly blossom into gorgeously structured composed passages. “Balm”? Yes: the prevailing mood is meditative, encouraging, softly beautiful. Led by percussionist Thomas Strønen and saxophonist Iain Ballamy, Food is an ensemble that always errs on the side of spareness and whose members value quality of texture over exhibitionist virtuosity. The result doesn’t sound much like jazz—which, when you think about it, may be something of an indictment of the state of modern jazz.

milesMiles Davis Quintet
Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 2 (3 CDs + 1 DVD)
Rick’s Pick

The first volume in this series featured Miles Davis’s “second great quintet” (with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams). This one showcases his third, which retained Shorter but replaced the rhythm section with an equally high-powered (and arguably more subtle) one: pianist Chick Corea, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. As before, the audio discs are based on locally-recorded board mixes and therefore sound quite good; the DVD documents a 46-minute set recorded at the Berlin Philharmonie. Like the first volume, this one should be considered an essential purchase for all comprehensive jazz collections.

pasterBennett Paster
Relentless Pursuit of the Beautiful
(no cat. no.)
Rick’s Pick

Here’s another aptly-titled jazz album. Pianist and composer Bennet Paster leads a septet (including the excellent tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm) on an all-original program of what can really only be called “modern jazz,” but without either the self-conscious avant-gardism or the novelty-for-novelty’s-sake that too often characterizes projects falling into that category. Tightly-written horn charts, expansive but logical chord changes, and a constant focus on listenability characterize virtually everything on this album—yet none of it sounds easy or pandering either. Highly recommended.

partnersChris Hopkins & Bernd Lhotzky
Partners in Crime
Echoes of Swing Productions
EOSP 4510 2

Germany-based pianist Chris Hopkins has been leading a revival of classic swing and stride piano styles for some time now, and his latest release is a charming duo set with fellow paleojazz aficionado Bernd Lhotzky. As is often the case with Hopkins projects, the music offers a charming combination of the traditional and the quirky: check out the 5/4 jazz arrangement of Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” for example. There is one original composition, but the album focuses on classics and obscurities by the likes of James P. Johnson, Duke Ellington, and Fud Livingston. Like all Hopkins releases, this one would make a fine addition to any jazz collection.

kungfuSean Nowell
The Kung-Fu Masters

When jazz tries to get rockish, the result is too often an embarrassing cross between oversimplifed jazz and awkwardly non-idiomatic rock. But when jazz tries to get funky, the results are often much better. Case in point: this adventurous but tight septet date led by saxophonist Sean Nowell, who writes and arranges with a great sense of voicing and structure but who can also take things out in exhilarating style when called upon to do so. The compositions are all Nowell originals except for a version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic,” and not only are they funky, but they also often rock hard–believe it or not.

hamiltonScott Hamilton
Remembering Billie
Blue Duchess
Rick’s Pick

Tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton (a mainstay of the excellent swing-revivalist label Arbors Jazz) here offers a wonderful tribute to Billie Holiday, performing familiar tunes that she made famous and vice versa: “Them There Eyes,” “Good Morning Heartache,” “God Bless the Child,” etc. Leading a standard quartet (with the addition of guitarist Duke Robillard on two tracks), Hamilton plays these pieces in a style that explicitly invokes Holiday’s pre-WWII recordings, a period during which her style was more carefree and swinging, even as it was informed by deeper emotions. Hamilton doesn’t attempt to mimic Holiday’s phrasing or vocal tone, but pays loving tribute to her by imbuing these standards with the same level of personal investment and emotion that she did. The result is a moving and deeply enjoyable album.


romeroPharis & Jason Romero
Long Gone out West Blues
Rick’s Pick

Clawhammer banjo players like me speak Jason Romero’s name with reverence—not so much because he’s a fine player (though he is, in spades) but because he builds some of the most gorgeous instruments on earth. Most normal people aren’t banjo nerds, however, and will find themselves praising Jason and his wife Pharis for their vocal blend, their taste in old songs, and their ability to write new ones that sound just as good as the best of their traditional selections. The Romeros are not po-faced academic folkies: their songs draw happily on old-time, bluegrass, and country traditions without worrying much about boundaries, and so much the better. If you’re after high-quality homespun singing and songwriting, look no further.

buckBuck Owens
Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings Country Classics
Rick’s Pick

I’ve never completely forgiven Buck Owens for his involvement with the TV show Hee Haw, a program which I believe did tremendous damage to the credibility of country and folk music in the 1970s. Buck Owens was a genuine musical genius, but thanks to Hee Haw the world now mostly knows him as a joke. (Admittedly, without Hee Haw most of the world might never have known him at all.) But one of the happy consequences of that involvement is the recent discovery of these recordings he made for broadcast, but which have never before been released. As its title suggests, the program consists of classic country songs (“Hey, Good Lookin’,” “In the Jailhouse Now,” “Oklahoma Hills,” etc.), on all of which he is backed by his exceptional band the Buckaroos. Owens gives each song the unique Bakersfield flavor that was his trademark, and the album is absolutely wonderful. An essential pick for any country music collection.

siskJunior Sisk & Rambler’s Choice
The Story of the Day That I Died

Here’s another helping of smooth, hard-edged traditional bluegrass from the band that won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Album of the Year” award in 2012. Sisk and his crew are skilled and fluent pickers and they have good taste in bluegrass songs both old and new, but what really catches your ear is the creamy blend of their harmony singing. Mandolinist and tenor vocalist Chris Davis is a recent addition to the group, and a very welcome one. Recommended.

wandaWanda Jackson
Best of the Classic Capitol Singles
Rick’s Pick

Her name is still spoken with reverence by rock’n’rollers around the world and across genres—the Queen of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson. If you’d like to know why she remains an icon, check out this generous collection of singles (A and B sides) recorded between 1956 and 1962. You’ll hear her veer unexpectedly from crooning barroom weepers to throat-shredding rockabilly rave-ups and from novelty numbers like “Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad” to romantic ballads like “(Every Time They Play) Our Song.” If your library has a collecting interest in the history of American popular music, then it simply has to include this disc.


Hi Beams
Luaka Bop (dist. Redeye)

Javelin’s music has been described as “pastiche pop,” and that’s not a bad descriptor at all: picture a colorful torn-paper collage with scraps taken from the past forty years of popular music (Smokey Robinson, Survivor, glitch funk, Jonathan Richman, Human League), and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. Three years after their quirkily charming debut album comes Hi Beams, which finds the band’s sound maturing somewhat but sacrificing none of the candy-coated weirdness that made the debut such a blast. This is music that might easily sound precious if it weren’t so relentlessly hooky and good-natured; instrumentals and vocal tracks are equally irresistible. Recommended.

eddieEddie C
Country City Country
Endless Flight (dist. Forced Exposure)
EF 009CD

Instrumental hip hop is, to be honest, one of my favorite musical subgenres: all the funkiness, all the cool samples and juxtapositions, none of the rancid sexism or macho chest-pounding. Eddie C has an unusually personal style, one that draws on vintage soul, jazz, house, and Latin influences with subtle inflections of dub thrown in from time to time. On Country City Country you’ll hear cute Casiotone beats, disco handclaps, Balearic grooves, and all kinds of other stuff, all of it suffused in a warm analog ambience and dredged in a greasy batter-fried coating of funk.

djsunDJ Sun
One Hundred
(no cat. no.)

The first full-length album from this globe-trotting DJ and producer reflects both his mixed cultural heritage (Netherlands, Suriname, Texas) and his long experience on the decks both in clubs and on radio stations. Technically I guess you could call this music instrumental hip hop, but although there are plenty of funky breaks and samples, that designation doesn’t seem to quite fit. It’s more like swinging funky international sunny-day-at-the-beach music, and I don’t know what bin it should go in. On the other hand, who cares?

aliceAlice Russell
To Dust
Tru Thoughts
Rick’s Pick

Soul and R&B revivalism is all the rage these days, and for someone with a vintage-sounding voice like Alice Russell’s, it would be all too easy to relax into a career of mere commercial reverence—raking in the bucks singing old Aretha Franklin and Ann Peebles songs and maybe writing a few period-piece originals. But Russell isn’t satisfied with that approach. On To Dust she retains her uniquely classic vocal style, but puts it to use on songs that draw equally on vintage soul, gospel, electronica, rock, and even bluebeat. This is deeply great stuff.

wowMouse on Mars
Monkeytown (dist. Forced Exposure)

For those who like their electronic dance music weird, glitchy, and occasionally graced by Argentinian girl-punk and by shouted declamations in an imaginary language, there is Mouse on Mars. Each track on this album has a nonsensical three-letter title (“VAX,” “WOC,” etc.), and each offers a different take on electro; sometimes the lurching beats make an explicit nod to dubstep, sometimes you’ll hear hints of footwork, vintage P-Funk, and even orchestral classicism. Mouse on Mars’ music isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely for some of us.

nosajNosaj Thing
Innovative Leisure (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Jason Chung is that rarest of things: a DJ/producer with a truly unique and personal sound. It’s not that his music is free of influences—on the contrary, it’s filled with touchstones to both the past (booming 808s, skittering jungle percussion) and the present (lurching dubstep beats, nouveau-ambient textures). But he blends these elements in unique ways and harnesses them to an almost startlingly laid-back style, one that manages to be equally funky and restful. Sleepy vocal contributions from a couple of guest artists complete the picture of a man whose musical vision seems dedicated to making heads nod—either in response to the beat or in narcoleptic reaction to the warmth and gentleness of his grooves, or both. Brilliant.


durdurDur-Dur Band
Volume 5
Awesome Tapes from Africa
Rick’s Pick

When I played this CD at home, my wife asked if the band was from Cambodia. My teenage son came in the room and guessed India. But in fact, the Dur-Dur Band were from Somalia. Their sound drew on local musical traditions like kabebey, dhaanto, and niiko, but also on Western rock and the flossy electropop sounds of the mid-1980s, when this album was originally released. Let’s make no bones about this: the sound quality is terrible. But once you get used to it, the lo-fi ambience becomes part of the music’s charm, though it remains secondary to the attraction of its bubbling grooves and soaringly pretty vocal melodies. This one will really grow on you, trust me.

chandraSheila Chandra
Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices (reissue)
Real World
Rick’s Pick

Originally issued 20 years ago, this solo album by Anglo-Indian vocalist Sheila Chandra is timeless in its appeal. This is partly because it draws on ancient material, and partly because it does so in ways that bear no allegiance to musical fashion—you are no more likely to hear an English folksong delivered in ghat style or a Spanish lullaby sung over a drone with North African vocal ornamentation today than you were in 1992. Chandra’s voice is sometimes unaccompanied, sometimes backed by a drone instrument, and always sumptuously beautiful. The album unfolds slowly, like a strange and lovely dream.

marciaMarcia Griffiths
Marcia Griffiths and Friends (2 discs)

Marcia Griffiths is one of the grandes dames of reggae music, a former member of the I-Threes (Bob Marley’s backup singers), a former partner to the underrated Bob Andy, and a solo artist with a long and distinguished career. On her latest album she teams up with colleagues from all over the spectrum of reggae styles for a two-disc, 38-track set of duets. DJs like Lieutenant Stitchie, Cutty Ranks, and Buju Banton make appearances, as do such A-list singers as Sanchez, Freddie McGregor, and Richie Stephens (not to mention the late Gregory Isaacs, indicating that at least some of these recordings were made some time ago). Highlight: a ska version of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” featuring DJ Assassin.

wuluBongos Ikwue & Double X
Wulu Wulu
Rick’s Pick

Forty years ago, Bongos Ikwue was one of the most popular singers in Nigeria, a man who blended traditional African and American soul music in a way that had not been heard previously in that musically diverse country. Surprisingly, Wulu Wulu is the first record he has released outside of Nigeria, and it’s so good that it may have you scouring the internet for vinyl copies of his older stuff. You’ll hear echoes of Afrobeat, township jive, and juju along with a rich strain of vintage Stax-style R&B, but what will grab and hold your ear is the mellow richness of Ikwue’s voice, which remains as smooth as silk despite his advancing age. This is a beautiful and joyful album.

emiliaEmilia Amper
Trollfågeln (The Magic Bird)
BIS (dist. Qualiton)

Emilia Amper plays the nyckelharpa, a Norwegian instrument that is like a cross between a fiddle and a hurdy gurdy—the player bows the four melody strings and depresses keys along the neck, while drone strings vibrate in sympathy in a chamber underneath. For this album Amper has written original tunes in a traditional Nordic style (though at times elements of modernism, including a sort of Steve Reich-style phased minimalism, creep into the original pieces) and also arranged and adapted traditional songs and tunes. The result offers a delightful window into the possibilities of blending the old and new in Nordic music.

mopmopMop Mop
Isle of Magic
Agogo (dist. Redeye)
AR 029

As much as I love African pop music generally, the Afrobeat subgenre has always left me kind of cold—I’m not usually interested in hearing the same chord played over and and over for 15-20 minutes at a time. (On the other hand, I do love juju, so I’m not sure what that says about the consistency of my musical tastes.) The international Mop Mop team makes music that draws on a similar strategy of harmonic stasis, but enriches it with lots other influences as well: Latin instruments and rhythms, American funk, old-school hip hop vocals (courtesy of Anthony Joseph), and elements of voodoo jazz. It’s still not completely my cup of tea, but libraries with a collecting interest in modern African pop music shouldn’t hesitate.