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February 2017


PICK OF THE MONTH


ahcAfrican Head Charge
Environmental Holes & Drastic Tracks: 1981-1986 (5 discs)
On-U Sound (dist. Redeye)
ONUCD134

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.


CLASSICAL


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)
AV2348

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)
CB0047

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
Claves
50-1701

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
30041
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.


JAZZ


kingNatalia M. King
BLUEZzin T’il Dawn
Challenge (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CR73421
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!
Posi-Tone
PR8163

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
ERR-CD-01

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)
Self-released
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
April
Self-released
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.


FOLK/COUNTRY


koulackDaniel Koulack
Frailing to Succeed
Little Giant
DK-3CD

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
Vigortone
VT-2007

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.


ROCK/POP


deliaDelia Derbyshire Appreciation Society
Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society
Six Degrees
036125

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
Framework
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.


novellerNoveller
A Pink Sunset for No One
Fire (dist. Redeye)
FIRECD401
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.


WORLD/ETHNIC


shashikaShashika Mooruth
Krishna the Flute Player
Urja
5638753338
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)
CTBC/Empire
CTBCCD0002

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
7
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
ESL
222
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)
8.225852

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
Damar
World Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
450032

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.

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December 2016


PICK OF THE MONTH


urgentVarious Artists
Urgent Jumping!: East African Musiki wa Dansi Classics (2 discs)
Sterns Africa (dist. Forced Exposure)
STCD3067-68

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.


CLASSICAL


shostDmitri Shostakovich; Lera Auerbach
Arcanum
Kim Kashkashian; Lera Auerbach
ECM
2375

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)
9478

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)
37049
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)
CDGIM 048
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.


JAZZ


whitfieldScott Whitfield
New Jazz Standards Vol. 2
Summit
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
Claves
50-1609

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)
Patois
PRCD022

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)
Emanem
5208
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
Pastures
Origin (dist. City Hall)
82724

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.


FOLK/COUNTRY


peiaPeia
Beauty Thunders
Peia Song Music
10602773

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
Valcour
VAL-CD-0033
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.


ROCK/POP


chainChain Wallet
Chain Wallet
Jansen Plateproduksjon
10491879
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.


machinedrumMachinedrum
Human Energy
Ninja Tune (dist. Redeye)
ZENCD232
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)
49
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
Conrad
Omnivore
OVCD-197

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
Arms
BellyUp
BU007W
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.


WORLD/ETHNIC


floxFLOX
Homegrown
Echo Beach
EB117

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
Riverboat
TUGCD1100

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
cram272

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
Racines
Wrasse/Universal
9998075
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
Parallels
Self-released
VV003

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


PICK OF THE MONTH


niceup fashionVarious Artists
Inna Nice Up! Fashion
Nice Up!
NUPFAD02

nice up sessionVarious Artists
Nice Up! the Session, Vol. 2 (download only)
Nice Up!
NUP030

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.


CLASSICAL


floresAnonymous composers
Staniatki: Moniales ordinis Sancti Benedicti
Flores Rosarum / Susi Ferforglia
Dux (dist. Naxos)
1242

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)
Ti-279

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
Fantasias
Rupert Boyd
Little Mystery
LMR-103
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.


JAZZ


mobileNik Bärtsch’s Mobile
Continuum
ECM
2464

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
Claves
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
Pops!
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)
82715

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
BDCD006
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.


FOLK/COUNTRY


doeJohn Doe
The Westerner
Cool Rock (dist. Thirty Tigers)
CRR-101

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
DIRT-CD-0077

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)
DG-113

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)
4669

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.


ROCK/POP


yumiYumi Zouma
Yoncalla
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
GM026

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
Self-released
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.”


defunktDefunkt
Channel Zero
ESP-Disk (dist. Forced Exposure)
5008CD
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
Yellowbird/Enja
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
88875119742

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)
ONUCD132
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.


bassnectarBassnectar
Unlimited
Amorphous Music
AM-020
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.


WORLD/ETHNIC


tanbouVarious Artists
Tanbou Toujou Lou
Ostinato
OSTPCD001

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.


miramarMiramar
Dedication to Sylvia Rexach
Barbès
BR044

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.


9bach9BACH
Anian (2 discs)
Realworld
CDRW214

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.


rockerRocker-T
The Return of the Tru Ganjaman
Luvinnit Productions
LIPLP003

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


PICKS OF THE MONTH


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.


CLASSICAL


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)
937
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)
50-1605

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)
COR16140

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
Naxos
9.70173
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.


JAZZ


benitaMichel Benita & Ethics
River Silver
ECM
2483
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
Whirlwind
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
Travels
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.


COUNTRY/FOLK


annaAnna & Elizabeth
Anna & Elizabeth
Free Dirt
DIRT-CD-0072
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
Self-released
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
Self-released
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.


ROCK/POP


rebelVarious Artists
Generation Next — Volume 1 (DIGITAL ONLY)
Rebel Traxx
RTA006
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
5037092

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
TIIF25

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
Cellspace
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.


WORLD/ETHNIC


illbillyIllbilly Hitec
Reggae Not Dead
Echo Beach
111
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.


silvaSilva
Júpiter
Six Degrees
361234

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
Checkpoint
Table Pounding
TPR-003
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
iNatty
INATTY015

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


PICK OF THE MONTH


dussekJan Ladislav Dussek
Piano Concertos Opp. 1 Nos. 3, 29 & 70
Howard Shelley; Ulster Orchestra
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CDA68027

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.


CLASSICAL


holloawayVarious Composers
Pavans and Fantasies from the Age of Dowland
John Holloway et al.
ECM
2189
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)
820

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)
94952
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)
DCD34137

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)
94786

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.


JAZZ


iyerVijay Iyer
Mutations
ECM
2372

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)
9565-2

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
Capri
74135-2
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)
1463

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)
ZM201404
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.


COUNTRY/FOLK


LLewisKKallickVernRayLaurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick
Sing the Songs of Vern & Ray
Spruce and Maple Music
SMM2012

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
Headwaters
Self-released
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
Rounder
11661-35773

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.


ROCK/POP


kidkanevilKidkanevil
My Little Ghost
Project Mooncircle
40
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)
DEN198

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.


devoDevo
Devo: The Men Who Make the Music [DVD]
MVD Visual
MVD6055D

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
Hendra
Unmade Road
600100
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
Omnivore
OVCD-95
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
Fabric
152

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
Provogue
74402

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.


WORLD/ETHNIC


internationalInternational Observer
Touched
Dubmission (dist. Allegro)
CDDUBM045

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.


ondarDirtwire
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)
Patois
PRCD018
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
Cleopatra
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


TOP PICK OF THE MONTH


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.


CLASSICAL


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
Armadillo
New World (dist. Albany)
80739-2

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)
9395
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)
DCD34103

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)
50-8708

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)
98941

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)
MF8015

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.


JAZZ


foodFood
Mercurial Balm
ECM
2269

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)
Columbia/Legacy
88725418532
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
(self-released)
(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
Posi-Tone
PR8106

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
BDCD003
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.


COUNTRY/FOLK


romeroPharis & Jason Romero
Long Gone out West Blues
Lula
1303
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
Omnivore
OVCD-52
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
Rebel
REB-CD-1851

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
Omnivore
OVCD-56
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.


ROCK/POP


javelinJavelin
Hi Beams
Luaka Bop (dist. Redeye)
82

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
(self-released)
(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
TRUCD270
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
WOW
Monkeytown (dist. Forced Exposure)
030

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
Home
Innovative Leisure (dist. Redeye)
IL2010TT
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.


WORLD/ETHNIC


durdurDur-Dur Band
Volume 5
Awesome Tapes from Africa
55602
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
CDRWG24
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)
VP
VPPHCD1834

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
Bik
BIKCD001
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)
2013

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.