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April 2018


Emmet Cohen
Masters Legacy Series Volume 2, Featuring Ron Carter
Cellar Live (dist. MVD)
Rick’s Pick

I had the good fortune recently of seeing Emmet Cohen perform alongside bassist Christian McBride in an intimate setting. I was less astounded by the youngster’s technical skill (young hotshots are not that hard to find) than I was by his wit, warmth, and incredible taste; he knows when to go big and he knows when to stay small, and he knows how to compose a line. All of his talents are on ample display here on this trio date organized as a tribute to bassist Ron Carter, and they are never more impressive than when they’re put to use in keeping the focus on Carter. (Drummer Evan Sherman is an avatar of taste as well.) Cohen’s ongoing Masters Legacy Series project is itself an exercise in turning the spotlight on others, a sign of professional maturity that is almost as impressive as his musicianship. A must for all jazz collections.


Antoine Forqueray; Jean-Baptiste Forqueray
Forqueray… ou les tourments de l’âme (5 discs)
Michèle Dévérité et al.
Harmonia Mundi (dist. PIAS)
HMM 905286.89

Both Antoine Forqueray and his son Jean-Baptiste were famous players of the viola da gamba, but they were also accomplished and somewhat idiosyncratic composers for the harpsichord. This four-disc set brings together all of the known works of Forqueray père et fils, most of them either composed for harpsichord or transcribed for that instrument from viol pieces. The potentially monotonous continuity of timbre is broken up by a scattering of pieces for viol and continuo. The fifth, bonus disc features a biographical narrative of the Forqueray family read by Nicolas Lormeau (in French, no translation provided) and accompanied by music. For all libraries with a collecting interest in music of the baroque period.

Ceremony of Dreams: Studio Sessions and Outtakes, 1972-1977 (3 discs)
Tompkins Square
TSQ 5463
Rick’s Pick

If, like me, you have difficult childhood memories of the 1960s and 1970s, you might find yourself initially put off by the cover image: flowing hair, flowing bellbottoms, a gong, interpretive dancers, a surfeit of unfortunate facial hair. You could easily be forgiven for expecting an onslaught of hippie-dippy musical twaddle masquerading as mystical spirituality. But that’s not what Entourage created during its run of several years (and two albums) in the early-to-mid-1970s: yes, this music can fairly be characterized as dreamy at times, but it is also frequently tightly structured and disciplined, and surprisingly varied in tone and texture–minimalist in the way that minimalism might sound if Terry Riley and Steve Reich had collaborated. These three discs include a wealth of previously unreleased material, including outtakes from those two albums (which are not included here). The remastered sound is rich and pristine. Highly recommended to all libraries.

Various Composers
For Glenn Gould
Stewart Goodyear
Sono Luminus (dist. Naxos)

Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear here pays tribute to one of his heroes, the legendarily idiosyncratic Glenn Gould. For this disc Goodyear plays the same program that Gould played for his American debut: a weird-looking but actually deeply logical assortment of works by Gibbons, Sweelinck, Bach, Brahms, and Berg. This program allowed Gould to express both his deep love of counterpoint and polyphony, and the streak of Romanticism that always ran just beneath his sometimes dry-sounding articulation. Goodyear’s tribute to Gould is loving but not slavish, and brings new light and insight to this strange but wonderful recital program. For all libraries.

Loyset Compère
Missa Galeazescha: Music for the Duke of Milan
Odhecaton / Paolo da Col
Arcana (dist. Naxos)

Guillaume de Machaut
Nostre Dame
Vienna Vocal Consort
Klanglogo (dist. Naxos)

Here we have music by a giant of the late Medieval period (Machaut) and a somewhat lesser-known giant of the early Renaissance (Compère). In each case the program is built around a centrally important Mass from that composer’s repertoire: Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame (the first known setting of a complete Mass Ordinary) and Compère’s Missa Galeazescha (of which, as far as I can tell, this seems to be the world-premiere recording). Machaut’s work has been widely recorded, but rarely by a mixed-voice ensemble like the Vienna Vocal Consort. In another interesting move, the group has chosen to juxtapose Machaut’s vinegary, stark-sounding piece of early polyphony with much more consonant later works by the likes of Victoria, Du Fay, and Palestrina–all of them united by a similarly Marian focus. This makes for a nicely varied array of flavors and harmonic textures. On the Compère disc, the sections of his Mass setting are interspersed with brief instrumental works by his contemporaries, most of which seem to have been recorded at a different time from the vocal parts (the original recordings took place in 2005, but seem to be released here for the first time). As one might expect of music written in the mid-15th rather than the late-14th century, the harmonies are sweeter and lusher than those of the Machaut work, but still quite somber and dark. Both of these recordings are outstanding and should find a place in any early-music collection.

Philip Glass
Music with Changing Parts
Salt Lake Electric Ensemble
Orange Mountain Music (dist. PIAS)
Rick’s Pick

Ever since it emerged as a new musical style in the 1960s, minimalism has faced a fundamental challenge: how to maintain the listener’s interest while deploying a minimum of harmonic and/or melodic and/or textural elements? Sometimes the answer has been “Who cares whether the user is interested?,” and the composer has used sheer, bludgeoning repetition as a musical statement (see Steve Reich’s Four Organs, and the reaction to it). But more often the answer has been to use selected elements minimally and others more generously: consider, for example, the way Reich’s Drumming creates constantly-shifting rhythmic tessellation from the phased repetition of a single pattern. Another answer is to leave certain options open: a work like Terry Riley’s In C may be spare or dense, depending on how one interprets the score. The same is true of Philip Glass’s Music for Changing Parts, which can be played by any number of differently-configured ensembles. Here the work is realized by the Salt Lake Electric Ensemble, almost all of whose members employ laptops as well as such instruments as electric guitar, trumpet, cello, saxophone, and flugelhorn. The organic instrumental sounds are generally processed electronically, imparting a tight digital atmosphere to the overall performance and also creating a kaleidoscopic variety of sounds and textures within the piece’s minimal harmonic pallette. The result is, quite simply, gorgeous–and I say that as someone who isn’t a particularly big Glass fan. Strongly recommended to all libraries.

Christopher Tye
Complete Consort Music
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKD 571

Although those mainly familiar with his vocal works might be surprised to learn this, Christopher Tye was a strange, strange dude. His eccentricity is most clearly on display in his instrumental music, particularly his compositions for consort of viols. This lovely disc by the outstanding Phantasm ensemble (right up there with Fretwork in the pantheon of English viol consorts) brings together all of Tye’s work in that medium, showing off his unparalleled ability to gleefully fling aside the most basic rules of rhythm and counterpoint while still creating sounds of sumptuous beauty. Whether you’re listening to laugh with glee at his rule-breaking or simply to luxuriate in his melodic invention, this disc is sure to please.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Missa Confitebor tibi Domine
Yale Schola Cantorum / David Hill
Hyperion (dist. PIAS)

Palestrina wrote the motet Confitebor tibi Domine around 1572, and then published a parody Mass based on it a few years later. Although it would have been performed mainly in the Sistine Chapel (where a separation of choirs was not physically possible), the work is written in the classic Italian polychoral style, with separate parts for two groups of singers facing each other across the room. The Yale Schola Cantorum recorded this Mass (along with several instrumental renditions of motets and canzonas arranged for organ and cornett) in the sonically rich and spacious Christ Church of New Haven, lending the already majestic part-writing an even deeper resonance and an air of deep solemnity. This also, unfortunately, somewhat undermines the clarity of the parts, but the overall effect is magnificent.


Bill Frisell
Music IS
Rick’s Pick

Like so many of us, guitarist Bill Frisell has gotten less skronky with age. And yet, in his sweetest and most lyrical moments there is very often an echo of weirdness–an off-kilter arpeggiation here, the quiet yowl of a strangely bent note there–that hints at something deeper, just as his most noisy excursions in the past were so often leavened by hints of the gentle but sharply intelligent sweetness that is at the core of everything he plays. His latest album is a pure solo project, on which the only instruments you hear are played by him (often in multitracked layers). The mood is generally quiet and, as has been his tendency over the past decade or two, rustic. It’s instantly accessible–as I was listening in my office this morning, the janitor who walks by every morning and often stops to say hello, but has never ever asked about the music she hears coming over my speakers, turned around as she passed my office and said “Who are you listening to?”–but it’s never simple even when it sounds that way at first. For all libraries.

Monty Alexander
Here Comes the Sun (reissue)
MPS (dist. Naxos)

When he was coming up, pianist Monty Alexander was often compared to Oscar Peterson, and listening to this reissue of a 1971 quartet date, you can see why: there are those big chords, the quick musical wit, and maybe (let’s be honest here) the tendency to show off a bit more than is strictly necessary. But Alexander brought something uniquely his own to the mix: a Jamaican heritage, which led him quite naturally to incorporate both Latin beats and Afro-Caribbean inflections into his playing, both of which we hear on this very fun session. Notice the full-on calpyso of “Brown-Skin Girl,” and the bizarre “Good King Wenceslaus” quote on the outro to “Where Is Love?”. Also note that the astonishing drummer Duffy Jackson was 18 years old at the time of these sessions. Try to ignore the awkward Latin funk of the title track, which probably seemed like it made sense in 1971.

Miguel de Armas Quartet
What’s to Come
MDA Productions
No cat. no.

For his debut album as a leader, the Ottawa-based, Cuban-born pianist and composer Miguel de Armas has chosen to present original compositions in a wide variety of styles, from the straight Afro-Latin groove of “Yasmina” to the more fusion-inflected “A Song for My Little Son” and the ska-with-tabla feel of “His Bass and Him.” But the sounds of Cuba, collectively, are the thread that binds all of these multifarious tunes together: sometimes those sounds are at the forefront (as on the delightful “Pam Pim Pam Pum” and, well, “Rumba on Kent St.”) but often they are present more subtly. Personally, I found the two tracks featuring rockish electric guitar to sound a bit out of place, but not fatally so. Very nice overall.

Delfeayo Marsalis
Kalamazoo: An Evening with Delfeayo Marsalis
Troubadour Jass

Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis leads a quartet that includes his father, the living treasure Ellis Marsalis, on this concert program that focuses on rollicking standards and makes inevitable references to New Orleans–both in the Marsalis’ playing styles and in the inclusion of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” as a show-closer. It also pays particular attention to the blues: not only does the program open with a blues number, but it also includes “Blue Kalamazoo,” a tune that was composed spontaneously during the concert. He asked the audience what key the band should play in, and away they went–with guest vocalist Christian O’Neill Diaz scatting along. (Using the twelve-bar blues structure kept the bandmembers from going too far off the free-jazz tracks.) Anyway, the whole thing is tons of fun.

Dave Liebman; John Stowell
Petite fleur: The Music of Sidney Bechet
Rick’s Pick

And speaking of New Orleans, here is a quiet and heartfelt tribute to one of the four or five most influential musicians of that city’s early jazz scene: the soprano saxophonist, clarinettist, and composer Sidney Bechet. The tribute is quiet because the music is played by only two people: reedman Dave Liebman and guitarist John Stowell. Early jazz is often raucous, but here the musicians treat these melodies like jewels–not stinting on energy or passion, but presenting them with a rare blend of gentleness and glee. The title tune is recorded in three versions: once as a duet and once as a solo by each muscian. This is really quite a special album and should find a place in any library’s jazz collection.


Various Artists
Acoustic Music Seminar: Selections from 2012-2016
Adventure Music (dist. Burnside)
AM1112 2

The Acoustic Music Seminar takes place every year in connection with the Savannah Music Festival in Georgia. It’s run by Mike Marshall (one of the architects of the “new acoustic music” sound back in the 1970s and 1980s), and brings together sixteen outstanding young musicians for a week, during which they write compositions that are premiered at a concert at the end of the week. This selection of recordings draws on five years of those concerts, and features banjo players, mandolinists, fiddlers, and cellists, among others, as well as an early performance by the amazing Kaia Kater. The music tends to be jazzy and sometimes almost neoclassical, but it also frequently draws on folk and bluegrass elements. Very, very nice.

Kyle Carey
The Art of Forgetting
Riverboat (dist. Redeye)

On her latest solo album, the angel-voiced Kyle Carey continues to explore the intersections of Celtic folk and Americana, only now she’s doing so in a somewhat more jazzy and swinging style. This approach is most startling on her unique arrangement of the popular favorite “Siubhail a Rùin,” which is normally played as a slow lament but is taken here at a loping medium-swing tempo. “Sweet Damnation” is similarly jazzy, and features the lovely combination of a horn section and an Irish flute. Dirk Powell’s production is careful and brilliant–as is his clawhammer banjo playing on “Tillie Sage.” And of course, Carey’s singing is a wonder as it always is. Recommended to all folk collections.

Jim White
Waffles, Triangles & Jesus
People in a Place to Know

There’s alt-country, and then there’s just flat-out weirdo country. That’s what you should expect when the press materials describe the artist in question as an “enigmatic Southern gothic anatomist.” Although as weirdness goes, Jim White’s is much less forbidding than some (for example, when Nick Cave gets countryish the results may leave you doubting the existence of God, if you didn’t already). Here the weirdness tends towards the whimsical (for example, “Playing Guitars,” which is a humorously straight-ahead lament undermined in its straight-aheadness by the Ali Farka Touré cameo), but there’s plenty of emotional depth here as well–particularly on the album-closing “Sweet Bird of Mystery,” a song that White wrote for his unborn daughter 20 years ago and only recently revealed to her.


Amy Black
No cat. no.

The album title says it all: this is singer and songwriter Amy Black’s tribute to the city that has shaped her so much as an artist. It can be seen as a continuation of her equally-revealingly-titled previous effort, The Muscle Shoals Sessions. Both her original songs and her selection of covers show her to be richly steeped in the traditions of 1950s and 1960s Memphis soul, and her voice is a rich, honeyed treasure. The sidemen she enlisted for these sessions deliver plenty of good greasy groove without recourse to tired clichés or lo-fi affectation. The album sounds great, the songs are great, and Black is (did I mention this?) a great singer.

Non Places

“Wælder are moving between ambient, industrial and pop. Their rhythms and soundscapes of voices, obscure samples and distorted field-recordings build spaces of barren material and soft ground, which teem and crawl – strange and harmonious.” That’s not a bad description of this Viennese duo’s weird instrumental post-rock, but I would suggest that it overstates both the music’s creepiness and its relationship to pop. In fact, this music is generally quite pleasant; in fact, it has nothing to do with pop. And I should probably add that by “pleasant” I don’t mean that its sonic contours are comfortingly familiar, that there are any real melodies, or that its occasionally-regular rhythms ever approximate a groove. I just mean that it’s pleasant, and that it’s consistently interesting. For adventurous rock collections.

Shuta Hasunuma & U-zhaan
2 Tone
Birdwatcher (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Composer/multimedia artist Shuta Hasunuma regularly incorporates environmental and found sounds into his music, which in turn he often incorporates into his art installations and sculptures. For this album he teams up with electronic artist U-zhaan and some startlingly A-list vocalists (Arto Lindsay, Devendra Banhart) and even with famed pop and soundtrack composer Ryuichi Sakamoto to create a crazy quilt of softly bizarre but completely lovely pieces of experimental groove music. A tabla player is featured prominently (the press materials provide no musician credits, so I can’t tell you much more than that), and the rhythms are frequently deeply complex even as the overall mood remains gentle and soft. Highly recommended to all libraries.

Darshan Ambient
Lingering Day: Anatomy of a Daydream
Spotted Peccary Music (dist. MVD)

The Chroma Plateau
Spotted Peccary Music (dist. MVD)

You want instrumental pop music that’s even gentler and softer, and maybe a bit less bizarre? Then you can always count on the Spotted Peccary label, which is often (inaccurately, I think) characterized as a purveyor of New Age music. I would instead say that it releases ambient music, and in response to the obvious question (“What’s the difference?”) I would say: if it sounds better the more closely and critically you listen, it’s ambient rather than New Age. Now, Michael Allison (who records under the moniker Darshan Ambient) can sometimes be accused of flirting with the line that separates the pleasant from the cloying, but to his credit he generally stays on the right side of it. Occasional incursions of glitchy electro percussion and dubwise sound effects help; so does his solid basis in rock’n’roll (including a stint in Richard Hell & the Voidoids). The work of Numina (Jesse Sola), on the other hand, is almost entirely abstract and ethereal. It’s less tuneful–by which I mean it’s not tuneful at all–but in some ways it’s also more engaging. Don’t be discouraged by track titles like “Intergalactic Traveler” and “Mosaic of Whispers”; none of this music is dippy or silly, and in fact much of it is so abstract that you experience it more in terms of color and texture than melody or shape. A good point of reference is Brian and Roger Eno’s Apollo soundtrack from 1983. Both of these are recommended, with the edge going to the Numina album.

Hidden Dimensions (digital only)
No cat. no.

Being, as I am, a total sucker for glitchy electronic funk with lots of wobbly sub-bass frequencies, I was delighted to stumble across the work of Bermuda-based husband-wife duo H+ a few weeks ago. Malcolm Brian Swan is a bassist, composer, and producer, and his wife Nicola contributes vocals–usually mixed in such a way that the words are more or less indistinct, and her voice basically becomes another instrument in the rich, heady mix. Hidden Dimensions leans towards the glitchy-dubstep side of things, but listen for the Latin-funk track as well. All of it is wonderful.


Hidekazu Katoh & Richard Stagg
Masters of the Shakuhachi (reissue)
ARC Music (dist. Naxos)

The shakuhachi, a Japanese end-blown bamboo flute, has a long an honored history in that country. This disc focuses on duets for the instrument written by living Japanese composers, each of them demonstrating a different mix of abstract modernism and engagement with the past. There is also one ancient piece, an anonymous 18th-century work entitled “The Braying of the Deer.” Nothing here is really avant-garde–no extended techniques or microtonal weirdness–but the instrument’s naturally complex tone creates lots of timbral interest, and Katoh and Stagg both play with an impressive intensity and emotional range.

Various Artists
The Rough Guide to Acoustic India
World Music Network (dist. Redeye)

As usual from the Rough Guides crew, this disc presents a broad but still nicely compact overview of various musical traditions from the Indian subcontinent–the modifier “acoustic” signaling that this will not be Bollywood pop music or Mumbai disco, but rather that the collection will focus on classical and folk traditions unmodified by electric or electronic instruments. The musical and religious sources presented here are diverse: Sufi religious poetry sung by Noor Alam, Carnatic violin music by Jyotsna Srikanth, a gypsy brass band from Jaipur, slide guitar music from the brilliant Debashish Bhattacharya. Unfortunately the disc package includes only the most schematic liner notes; a website is provided for those who want full musician credits and other additional information. But for libraries in need of a single-disc overview of various Indian musical styles, this is a great option.

Various Artists
Ruff Guide to Ariwa Sounds (reissue)
Ariwa (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

It would be hard to exaggerate the influence that Neil “Mad Professor” Fraser has had in shaping the sound of British reggae. His Ariwa Sounds label has been in operation for more than three decades now, providing an outlet for both up-and-coming artists and established legends–and his smooth, digital production style is a major ingredient in the lovers rock sound that emerged in London during the 1980s. And as a producer, his aggressive and fun-loving approach to dub remixing has influenced two generations. This is an outstanding collection of classic tracks from the Ariwa studio, opening with the deathless “Kunta Kinte” rhythm and then proceeding to deejay tracks from the likes of U Roy and Big Youth, as well as plenty of dubs and straight vocal tracks from singers like Sister Audrey, Aisha, and Max Romeo. A perfect choice for library collections.

Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
Travel with Love (reissue)
Rick’s Pick

Justin Hinds
Know Jah Better (reissue)

And speaking of essential reggae reissues, don’t overlook the continued stream of long-awaited re-releases that are emerging thanks to the Omnivore label’s recent acquisition of the Nighthawk Records catalog. Nighthawk’s vaults aren’t especially deep by reggae standards, but the music it released during the 1980s and early 1990s is almost all fantastic. Among the best titles in that list is the utterly brilliant Travel with Love by ska/rocksteady/reggae legend Justin Hinds, with his band the Dominoes. This reissue adds ten bonus tracks (mostly dub versions) seven of which are previously unreleased. Less essential but still not bad is Hinds’ Know Jah Better, which has a slightly antiseptic digital production sound, but features more outstanding singing from Hinds. Both should be seriously considered by libraries with a strong collecting interest in reggae; those that collect reggae more selectively should opt for Travel with Love.


Well, this is fun: ancient Kabbalistic invocations of the Divine Feminine intended to open the Friday Shabbat service are blended with modern electro-funk and hip hop, complete with rapping and singing in English, Hebrew, and Aramaic, as well as smatterings of beat-boxing and even–get this–vocalized turntable scratching. (Roll your eyes if you want, but they nail it.) Basya Schechter has a gorgeous, bell-like voice, and she alternates vocal duties with “neo-Hassidic” rapper MC ePRHYME to deliver messages of spiritual uplift, cultural exhortation, and inscrutable mysticism, all with a beat and with plenty of lovely, sinuous melodies. For all libraries.

Eugenia Georgieva
Po Drum Mode (A Girl on the Road)
Riverboat (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

About 30 years ago the Western world fell in love with Bulgarian folk song via the Mystère de voix bulgares album, originally issued on Nonesuch and later reissued on the 4AD label, which was already an established favorite of mopey postpunk hipsters everywhere, and for which the album was, surprisingly enough, actually perfectly suited. That album (and its subsequent volumes) focused on choral arrangements of these melodically astringent and rhythmically knotty songs. The debut album by Eugenia Georgieva draws on a similar repertoire, but presents them in arrangements for solo voice and a variety of acoustic instruments. Georgieva sings with joyful energy but also sharp precision, and if you want to challenge yourself, count the time-signature changes while listening. This one is a pure blast.

June 2016


haydnFranz Joseph Haydn
107 Symphonies: First Complete Cycle on Period Instruments (35 discs)
Various Ensembles
478 9604

In the mid-1980s, Christopher Hogwood undertook a complete recording of Haydn’s symphonies with his renowned period-instrument ensemble the Academy of Ancient Music. It was a daunting task, and although he succeeded at recording just over sixty of the 107 works in Haydn’s huge symphonic oeuvre, he never did complete that project. However, Frans Brüggen had recorded a handful of them in 1978 and 1982, and in the 1990s he recorded many more (including all of the Sturm und Drang symphonies as well as the “Paris” and “London” symphonies) with his equally well-regarded Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century. Between the two of them, the world now had access to period-instrument recordings of all but four Haydn symphonies. In 2015, Italian conductor Ottavio Dantone took his Accademia Bizantina into the studio to record symphonies nos. 78-81, thus making possible this, the first-ever complete set of all Haydn symphonies recorded on period instruments. To be clear, there’s nothing revelatory about the content here: again, both the Hogwood and the Brüggen recordings have been in and out of print in different permutations for (in some cases) decades. But the combination of super-budget pricing (less than $2 per disc), super-convenient packaging (a box that takes up about as much shelf space as eight jewel cases) and world-class performances makes this set a must-have for libraries, even those that collect classical music selectively.


noravankPetros Shoujounian
Noravank: Quatuors à cordes nos. 3-6
Quatuor Molinari
ATMA Classique (dist. Naxos)
ACD2 2737

Petros Shoujounian composed this set of four string quartets in 2015 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. All of them draw on liturgical chants (dating from the 5th to the 15th centuries) for their melodic source material, though Shoujounian develops those melodic themes in a modernistic style that is sometimes shimmeringly beautiful and sometimes forbiddingly spiky. Each movement in the four quartets is named after an Armenian river. Quatuor Molinari play with luminous passion, and the album is both thrilling and sobering.

schubertFranz Schubert
Ieuan Jones
Claudio (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Don’t let the weirdly ambiguous title and the rather amateurish packaging mislead you — this is a top-notch recording of world-class performances of some of the loveliest music composed in the 19th century. The minimal liner notes credit no transcriber, so we are left to assume that Jones himself transcribed these piano works for harp, and if so he is to be commended both for his abilities as an arranger and for his technical skill and sensitivity to the Schubertian style. The recorded sound is rich and warm, but also finely detailed. Recommended to all classical collections.

balkeJon Balke

With this album, pianist/composer John Balke has created a strange and unsettling suite of pieces for piano augmented with samples and electronic noises. His writing is sometimes close to atonal and sometimes gently lyrical, with strong hints of jazziness from time to time, and the electronic elements sometimes extend the piano’s characteristics and sometimes add a nonmusical dimension — and sometimes both, as on “Boodle” (which includes both field recordings of children playing and subtle electronic expansions of the piano’s sustain). The music isn’t always conventionally pretty, but it’s consistently interesting and rewarding.

dufayGuillaume Du Fay
Les messes à teneur (2 discs)
Cut Circle / Jesse Rodin
Musique en Wallonie (dist. Naxos)
MEW 1577-1578

I never get tired of listening to Du Fay, partly because his music is just so dang pretty and partly because it occupies such a fascinating and strange transitional space between the late medieval period and the high Renaissance. When you hear these Masses (and this two-disc set includes four of them, plus the motets on which two of them are based), you hear echoes of the astringent ars nova style even as you hear Du Fay mastering the more intricate polyphonic techniques soon to come. Cut Circle’s singing is excellent.

hederaLesley Flanigan
Physical Editions (dist. Redeye)

Lesley Flanigan is an electronic composer and instrument builder, and the 20-minute composition around which this all-too-brief album is built is based on the sound of a malfunctioning tape deck and multiple layers of her own voice. The relentless pulse of the tape glitch is reminiscent of the reed sounds from Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, and one manifestation of Flanigan’s genius is her ability to keep that relentlessness from being oppressive. The album’s second track is all about her voice, which again is layered into a nearly wordless cloud of pure sound that simultaneously sooths and unsettles. Brilliant.

Rhys Chatham
chatham Pythagorean Dream
Foom (dist. Forced Exposure)

For a different take on modern postminimalism, consider this, the first new album from Downtown legend Rhys Chatham in three years. The two-part title work is composed primarily of multiple layers of fingerpicked guitar tuned in perfect fifths; the layers build up gradually, eventually including electric feedback, and the chord never changes. That chord remains the same on the second part, but incorporates multiple flutes as well. There is no studio overdubbing on this recording — all of the music is performed live in the studio, layered by means of electronic looping and delay. Starkly beautiful, this is music that shows just how far the minimalist tradition has evolved over the past 40 years.

beethovenVarious Composers
Legacy: The Spirit of Beethoven (The Composer’s Piano Vol. 3)
Gwendolyn Mok
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1590

The MSR Classics label’s series The Composer’s Piano continues with this recording of works by Beethoven, Czerny, and Mendelssohn played on three very different pianos of the period: a 1795 Louis Dulcken, an 1823 Broadwood & Sons, and an 1868 Érard. The program is arranged to illustrate Beethoven’s great stylistic influence on Czerny and Mendelssohn, and is played with passionate intensity by Gwendolyn Mok. As always with recordings like this, the timbral contrasts between the instruments used will be of particular interest to students and instructors in keyboard programs.

oboAlonso Lobo
Choir of Westminster Cathedral / Martin Baker
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

We don’t have nearly enough recordings of music by Alonso Lobo, a disciple of Francisco Guerrero whose career was spent primarily in service to the cathedrals at Toledo and Seville. His Masses are fairly well attested (and one of them, a parody Mass based on Guerrero’s Maria Magdalene et altera Maria, is included here), but his settings of the Holy Week Lamentations have survived only in fragments. Luckily a late copy of one set was made in the late 18th century and archived in the Seville Cathedral. Lobo was not an innovator, but he was a master of polyphonic technique, and this recording is not only historically important but also sumptuously beautiful.

handeyeVarious Composers
Hand Eye
Eighth Blackbird
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 162

The new-music chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird teamed up with a composers’ collective called Sleeping Giant to create this program of six short pieces by six composers. Each piece is inspired by a work of modern art from the private collection of the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art, and the styles vary from the sweetly whimsical (Robert Honstein’s Conduit suite) to the shimmeringly impressionistic (Chris Cerrone’s South Catalina) to the spiky-but-lyrical (Timo Andres’ Checkered Shade). All of it maintains that delicate balance between modernist and approachable for which Eighth Blackbird has become justly famous.

mightyVarious Composers
Tribute to the Mighty Handful
Russian Guitar Quartet

The tradition of Russian guitar music is richer and more complex than many know, and it involves not only music that is rarely heard (by little-known composers like César Cui and Mily Balakirev) but also instruments that are rarely played today, such as the terz-guitar and the quart-guitar. The Russian Guitar Quartet is comprised of two quart-guitars (tuned a fourth higher than standard) and two conventional guitars with added necks supporting unfretted bass strings. The resulting sound is truly unique, of course, and the works presented here (by Cui, Balakirev, and their better-known compatriots Mussorgsky, Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov) are an absolute delight.


cohenAvishai Cohen
Into the Silence
Rick’s Pick

On his eighth outing as a leader, trumpeter/composer Avishai Cohen leads his quintet through a set of richly impressionistic original compositions. These numbers hardly swing, and in several cases they are nearly arrhythmic. Exceptions include the mutteringly energetic title track and the lovely jazz waltz “Quiescence.” Cohen’s tone is a wonder — he plays without a mute but in a tone that is soft and velvety rather than brassy, and his sidemen follow and support him as if they shared a single musical brain. This is one of the most perfect rainy-day jazz albums I’ve heard in years.

sarahSarah Vaughan
Live at Rosy’s (2 discs)

In 1978, Sarah Vaughan was 54 years old. Her already-rich contralto voice had deepened and darkened, and her rhythmic facility had matured to an unparalleled level. On May 31 of that year she was recorded for the National Public Radio program Jazz Now! in concert at Rosy’s Jazz Club in New Orleans. The tapes went into a closet for several decades, and are commercially released here for the first time. The sound quality is great, but it’s the performances that matter, and they are spectacular. She is clearly completely comfortable with her regular trio of accompanists (pianist Carl Schroeder, bassist Walter Booker, drummer Jimmy Cobb) and she’s having a wonderful time here, joking with the audience and her band and delivering utterly masterful renditions of standards like “I Fall in Love Too Easily” and “I Could Write a Book.” A must-have for all jazz collections.

metheneyPat Metheny
The Unity Sessions (2 discs)
Rick’s Pick

This two-disc set is a live-in-the-studio recording made to celebrate and document an exceptionally satisfying band experience. Guitarist and composer Pat Metheny hadn’t worked in a sax-plus-trio format since his 80/81 album 35 years ago, and two years of recording and touring with this group (featuring saxophonist Chris Potter) had been an unusually productive and joyful time. So at the end of the group’s 2014 tour they gathered in a small black-box studio and played two discs’ worth of material live, while the cameras rolled. The result was both a film and this album. Metheny’s legion of fans will not be disappointed — the music is by turns cinematically expansive and tightly swinging, and it’s always joyful, even when it gets a bit skronky and outside. Joyfulness, in fact, has always been one of the chief distinguishing characteristics of Metheny’s music, and this album is no exception.

bloomJane Ira Bloom
Early Americans

aldanaMelissa Aldana
Back Home

These two albums have several things in common: both are recordings of pianoless saxophone-bass-drums trios, and in both cases the saxophonists and bandleaders are women. Bloom’s music is creative but largely straight-ahead; compositions like “Gateway to Progress” and “Hips & Sticks” swing powerfully (though not uncomplicatedly), and she does a great job of filling the harmonic space, occasionally with the help of some subtle electronic augmentation. She also has a sense of humor and a nifty way with a beat — note, for example, the very fun “Rhyme or Rhythm” and the funky “Big Bill.” Aldana’s approach is a bit more outside: by no means either atonal or arrhythmic, but with a structurally looser and freer feel to it. Where Bloom tends to fill the harmonic space vertically, Aldana’s approach is more melodically linear; sonic space tends to be filled by her drummer, who is busy but always tasteful. Both albums can be solidly recommended to all jazz collections.

florianFlorian Hoefner Group
Rick’s Pick

Here is another very fine example of modern straight-ahead jazz from the young pianist and composer Florian Hoefner, now recording for the first time with acclaimed saxophonist Seamus Blake. This all-original program finds Hoefner doing what he does best: writing tunes that contain small surprises within familiar structures, that challenge the ear without defying it to stick around, and that bring out the best in his carefully-chosen collaborators. At age 33, Hoefner is coming fully into his own as a composer, and Origin finds him at the peak of his powers — so far.

mulhollandJoe Mulholland Trio
Runaway Train
Zoho (dist. Allegro)
ZM 201606
Rick’s Pick

On very rare occasions, when listening to a jazz album, I’ll find myself looking over at the CD player to see how many tracks have gone by, hoping that the disc isn’t more than half over. This is an album that caused me to do that. Don’t be fooled by the title: pianist Joe Mulholland and his trio are not out to knock you down and crush you with the relentless power of their musical onslaught. Instead, they will draw you in with complex but intuitive-sounding melodies, a sense of swing that is tight without being airless, and an effortless ebb and flow of tempo. This is intellectual jazz in all the best senses of the term: imagine Lennie Tristano with a heart, and with a willingness to let his phrases breathe. Mulholland is a tremendously gifted composer, and while the whole trio plays beautifully, bassist Bob Nieske deserves particular praise for his careful and insightful listening. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.


herringEmily Herring
Your Mistake
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

With her latest album, Emily Herring has not only made one of the best honky-tonk/Western swing records of the past decade, but also one of most intelligent and slyly humorous. The title track is a warning to a guy in a bar who is giving her and her girlfriend trouble (“You came walking toward us with something to prove/Hell, two girls on the town, that’s one too many for you”), “Wanna Holler” is economic populism in two-step form, and the line “I string minutes into hours and I worry them away” will seem too elegant for country music if you’re one of the many who underestimate country music. Apparently this is Herring’s third album, and I’m slightly embarrassed to have missed the first two. That’s my mistake — time to remedy it.

katerKaia Kater
Nine Pin

Having recommended her last album in the May issue of this publication, I immediately received her new one in the mail — and at first, I was underwhelmed. Her skill as a singer and a banjo player are in no way diminished, but the first two tracks on this album failed to grab me. Then she absolutely knocked me on my keister with the third, an original song titled “Paradise Fell.” She pretty much lost me again after that, but here’s the thing: Kater is doing something unusual and nearly radical with old-time music traditions, and she’s generating a lot of new attention for this very old music. Expect demand.

nefeshNefesh Mountain
Nefesh Mountain
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

And speaking of doing something unusual with old music traditions, here is husband-wife duo Nefesh Mountain performing original bluegrass songs written in a combination of Hebrew and English, expressing very explicitly Jewish spiritual themes. To be clear, there is nothing whatsoever new about Jewish people playing bluegrass music — but genuinely Jewish bluegrass music is something quite new, and it’s tons of fun. Having sidemen like Sam Bush, Mark Schatz, and Rob Ickes helps make this album a success, but the core of its attractiveness is the blend of Doni Zasloff and Eric Lindberg’s voices and the joyful hookiness of their songs. Highly recommended to all collections.


Communions (EP)
Tough Love (dist. Redeye)

This seven-track EP is a compilation of content from Communions’ first single and from a five-track EP, both of which sold out when released in vinyl pressings last year. Pick up this CD and you’ll see why: the band combines soaring, androgynous vocals with sharp-edged but anthemic guitars in a way that somehow manages to evoke both the Feelies and the Killers, with a little bit of Big Country’s bagpipiness thrown in for good measure. If this is the kind of thing that’s happening in Denmark these days, then I want to know more about it.


This is one that could have gone either into the Classical or the Rock/Pop section. Franck Zaragoza is a French pianist/composer/sound designer whose approach consists of taking quiet piano pieces and augmenting them with layers of electronic sound — some of it explicitly musical (strings, synthesized chord washes, etc.) and some of it more noisy (sounds of sifting gravel, small waves lapping on a beach, etc.). If this sounds like a modus operandi quite similar to that of Jon Balke (see the Classical section above), it is — though the musical result is very different. Zaragoza’s music is more emotionally complex and less cerebral than Balke’s, though both albums are very compelling, each in its own way.

petshopPet Shop Boys

The great thing about the Pet Shop Boys is that you can count on them. For 35 years now they’ve been making synth pop that combines irresistible tunefulness with a charmingly postmodern stance that simultaneously celebrates and sends up all of the traditions (musical, cultural, sexual) in which it is steeped. No matter how viscerally catchy a Pet Shop Boys song is, it always has one eyebrow raised. Super finds the duo continuing to do what they have always done, and doing it better than anyone else. If you loved them then, you’ll love them now.

bruteFatima Al Qadiri
Hyperdub (dist. Redeye)

If you want to make an instrumental album that functions as a trenchant commentary on “authority, the relationship between police, citizens, and protest worldwide,” you have to cheat a little bit: a cover photo featuring a Teletubby in SWAT gear is one way of suggesting how the instrumental tracks should be heard, and found-sound samples of police barking orders at protesters is another one. Having done so, you can be assured that the dark, minor-key chord progressions and the juddering, mechanical beats that jump at you out of nowhere will be freighted with the appropriate mental imagery — and that they’ll be effective. Recommended.

Project Moon Circle

The label characterizes this as “a soundtrack for roaming around vast city landscapes between late night and early morning.” And sure, that works. But I think I’d say it’s more than that: it’s a deep exploration of the overlapping territories of music and noise, and a celebration of the ways that pitched and unpitched sound can be layered together to create beauty. The texture of this music is grainy and thick, and the color palette tends towards grey — but it is never less than lovely. How Submerse does that is a mystery to me, and I keep coming back to try and figure it out.

Nocturnal Koreans
Pink Flag (dist. Redeye)

What keeps this album from getting a Rick’s Pick designation is its brevity — though offered at full price, it contains only 29 minutes of music. But I’m recommending it anyway because the music is so good. These eight tracks are actually outtakes from Wire’s eponymous 2015 release, set aside because they sounded so different from the songs that made it onto that album. They are more heavily produced, somewhat more experimental, but still immediately recognizable as Wire songs. These guys still make more noise at a lower volume and create more interest with fewer chords than anyone else in the postpunk game.

posiesThe Posies
Solid States
My Music Empire
Rick’s Pick

After a five-year layoff, the Posies are back with more crunchy-sweet guitar-based power pop. It comes after a difficult period for the band, during which two of its members died and one went through a divorce and remarriage. You can hear the emotional complexity in these songs if you listen for it, though the melodies and the hooks are as blissfully immediate as ever. Imagine a slightly dreamier Fastball and you’ll have a good idea what to expect. This is a perfect driving-with-the-top-down album, but it also rewards close land careful istening.


makuM.A.K.U. Soundsystem
Glitterbeat (dist. Redeye)
GBCD 034

This New York-based octet consists mostly of musicians hailing from Colombia. But if that leads you to expect a straightforward cumbia album, think again: these guys incorporate elements of Afrobeat, jazz, hip hop, and punk into the stylistic mix, creating a dense, heady, swirling mandala of sounds that is loud at any volume and maybe a bit exhausting for headphone listening, but has got to be absolutely amazing in a club setting. On the instrumental tracks you realize how central the voice of Liliana Conde is to this band’s success, but instrumentally they really are a powerhouse as well.

maarjaMaarja Nuut
Une Meeles
No cat. no.

Maarja Nuut is a fiddler and singer from Estonia, whose music is created by means of her voice, her violin, and a looping pedal. For this album she draws on folk traditions but uses them as a basis for her own creations, building vocal and fiddle harmonies layer on layer. Her debt to Reichian minimalism is obvious, but her music sounds nothing like his — nor anything like that of Arvo Pärt, her most obvious local antecedent. This is relentless repetition as folk song, incidental noise as dance music, ancient tradition as modern sound sculpture. And it’s both befuddling and bewitching.

retouchedInternational Observer
Rick’s Pick

Tom Bailey first came to international prominence in the 1980s as one-third of the band Thompson Twins, who had a series of massive pop hits in the US and UK before eventually disintegrating. After the band’s demise he formed the short-lived Babble with his wife Alannah Currie (also formerly of Thompson Twins) and heading down the path of dub-inflected downtempo electronica. After Babble broke up, Bailey continued down that path, and now records instrumental music as International Observer. He is also a prodigous remixer of other people’s music, and this outstanding collection finds him gathering a bunch of that material: remixes of work by artists like Babble, the Exponents, Stellar, and Pitch Black. Bailey has become an undisputed master of sonic space and is particularly gifted at formulating hooks using texture as much as melody. Like all of his other albums as International Observe, this one is brilliant.

neoKaoru Watanabe
No cat. no.

Most of the time, what I recommend in CD HotList are releases that I both like and respect. But sometimes I recommend something that doesn’t particularly turn me on personally — because I don’t think my job here is to promote what I like, but to help my readers build good library collections. So I’m enthusiastically recommending this album by Japanese-American multi-instrumentalist Kaoru Watanabe despite the fact that it doesn’t do that much for me. What makes it a good candidate for library acquisition, I think, is Watanabe’s highly creative approach to blending traditional Japanese instruments and musical styles with experimental jazz and free improvisation. This music is objectively impressive, not just technically but also conceptually, and it illustrates a unique approach to fusing traditional and modern music. And at times it’s gorgeous.

May 2016

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evansBill Evans
Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest (2 discs)

Pianist Bill Evans recorded only two albums with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette. One was a highly-acclaimed live set recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1968. The other was this one, also recorded in 1968, but in a studio in Villingen, Germany. This second record has never been released in any form until now, and none of these recordings has ever been heard by the public. But I don’t want to overemphasize the historical nature of this release too much, because what really makes it exceptional is the content: Evans is in absolutely peak form here, and his interaction with Gomez and DeJohnette rivals the near-telepathic connection he enjoyed with his classic early-60s trio that included bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motion. To add to the pleasure, the recorded sound is exquisite: warm, close, and intimate — slightly dry but not at all claustrophobic, like a really nice pair of soft wool socks that fit perfectly. I really can’t emphasize enough how fine Evans’ playing is on this set — I own a lot of his work, and I would put this album in the very top tier, right alongside the 1961 Village Vanguard material. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


hoffmeisterFranz Anton Hoffmeister; Carl Stamitz; Michael Haydn
Viola Concertos
Andra Darzina; Urban Camerata
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 986-2

The viola is one of those forgotten instruments, kind of like alto singers in the choir: it never gets to play the melody, and its parts are always kind of hidden in the middle of the chord. But it has a beautiful voice — less resonant and boomy than a cello, less trebly than a violin — so when a composer is kind enough to let it take center stage for a moment, it’s always worth taking note, and these three viola concertos from the classical period are wonderful. That’s partly because the three composers featured are somewhat hidden gems themselves, and partly because Andra Darzina coaxes such beautiful and bittersweet sounds from her instrument. Everyone is playing on modern instruments here. Highly recommended to all classical collections.

whispersHenryk Górecki; Nikolai Korndorf
Whispers of Titans
Goeyvaerts String Trio
Challenge (dist. Allegro)

This album features two works by acclaimed figures of 20th-century modernism: Polish composer Henryk Górecki and Russian composer Nikolai Korndorf. The pieces could hardly be more different: Gåorecki’s Genesis 1: Elementi per tre archi is strictly serialist in nature, harshly astringent and forbidding in tone. Korndorf’s In Honour of Alfred Schnittke is tonal and harmonically minimalist (indeed, its opening movement consists entirely of notes within a single unchanging chord), though not without its own difficulties, particularly when the harmonic comity of the earlier movements collapses into dissonant and sorrowful pieces during the final section. All of this knotty and challenging music is delivered with convincing power by the always-excellent Goeyvaerts String Trio.

lupusManfred Barbarini Lupus
Cantus coagulatus
Ensemble Ordo Virtutem
Musiques Suisses (dist. Naxos)
MGB CD 6286

Listening to this disc of distinctly late-Medieval-sounding music, one is apt to suspect that the life date provided for its composer (ca. 1560) is a misprint — surely these settings of the Mass and the Divine Office can’t be products of the same period in which composers like Palestrina and Tallis were working? But in fact, Manfred Barbarini Lupus was composing in a deliberately backward-looking style that reflected the religious politics of the time as much as an aesthetic gesture. Apart from the significant pleasures of the music itself, this aspect of its cultural context makes this disc a smart acquisition for comprehensive classical collections.

regerMax Reger
Music for Clarinet and Piano
Alan R. Kay; Jon Klibonoff
Bridge (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

To my ears, anyway, the achingly beautiful and bittersweet chamber music of Max Reger is absolutely perfect for the clarinet, so this gorgeous program of three sonatas and two miniatures is just what Herr Doktor ordered. Clarinetist Alan R. Kay plays with all of the wise and sensitive phrasing and all the limpid beauty of tone one would hope for, and pianist Jon Klibinoff is every bit as good. The recording acoustic is dry but not claustrophobic, and basically every aspect of this album unites to create an exceptionally lovely listening experience. Strongly recommended to all libraries.

towerJoseph Bertolozzi
Tower Music: Bertolozzi Plays the Eiffel Tower
Innova (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Some time back, composer Joseph Bertolozzi wrote a piece of music made up entirely of sounds created by striking parts of New York’s Mid-Hudson Bridge. His second work in that vein involves the Eiffel Tower. After negotiating the labyrinthine politics involved in creating any piece of art featuring the Eiffel Tower, he was given ultimately given free rein to climb all over the monumental structure, hitting it with various mallets, sticks, hammers, and even a large log suspended from straps. He recorded the resulting sounds — 10,000 of them — and then whittled them down to the 2,800 that are used as a sort of virtual keyboard to create the nine-movement work presented on this disc. None of the recorded sounds was electronically altered or manipulated in any way; however, they are layered and ordered in such a way as to create music that sometimes evokes gamelan, sometimes minimalist electronica, sometimes Japanese noh drama, sometimes military drumming. Melodies are few and far between (understandably enough), but the timbral and rhythmic variety is more than sufficient to hold your attention. Any library supporting a program in music composition should absolutely acquire this album.

mozartWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Kurfürstin-Sonaten, KV 301-306
David Grimal; Mathieu Dupouy
Label-Hérisson (dist. Allegro)

This recording of six sonatas for violin and piano is partly about the music (which, having been composed by Mozart, is immediately and brilliantly attractive) and partly about the instruments themselves: David Grimal is playing a 1710 Stradivarius violin, and Mathieu Dupouy is playing another wonderful museum piece, a Gräbner pianoforte built in 1791 and currently housed in the Musée de la musique in Paris. This piano’s sound is noticeably different from that of a modern piano, it having been built in a German style that predates the use of Viennese hammer action. While both musicians are excellent, what’s perhaps most rewarding about this album is to listen carefully to the sound of the piano and to Dupouy’s genius at exploiting its unique tonal characteristics.

boccheriniLuigi Boccherini
String Quartets, op. 26
Ensemble Symposium
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

Although the recorded sound is a little bit thin for my tastes, this is a thoroughly charming account by Ensemble Symposium (on period instruments) of some lesser-known chamber works by Luigi Boccherini — and the first recording to bring all six of these string quartets together on a single program. Boccherini may be most famous for his string quintets and his cello concertos, but his string quartets (of which these are only six of nearly a hundred he produced) are tons of fun as well, and the playing on this album is very good.

debussyClaude Debussy
Chamber Music
Kuijken Ensemble
Arcana (dist. Naxos)
A 392
Rick’s Pick

From music of the late 18th century played on modern instruments, we shift to music of the early 20th century played on period instruments. If you never thought you’d see the names “Kuijken” and “Debussy” on the same CD package, well, here you go. And honestly, it’s pretty awesome. The “period” instruments that the group is using are mostly pretty indistinguishable from modern classical instruments, except perhaps for the piano, which is a turn-of-the-century straight-strung Erard. The program includes a great assortment of Debussy’s chamber works: his first string quartet; sonatas for violin and piano, cello and piano, and flute, viola, and harp; and the famous Syrinx for solo flute. Unsurprisingly, the playing is exceptional throughout.

vizzanaLucrezia Vizzana
Componimenti Musicali
Musica Secreta
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKD 071

This collection of motets constitutes the only known example of a 17th-century nun publishing her own music, which makes the disc interesting for historical reasons alone. But the music itself makes it worth purchasing for any library with an interest in Renaissance music. Imagine if Hildegard von Bingen and Claudio Monteverdi had collaborated; what you’d get might sound like this: solo and duo female voices with austere accompaniment delivering intensely devotional songs that would sound nicely at home if incorporated into Monteverdi’s Vespers. Musica Secreta perform these pieces beautifully.


newzionNew Zion
Sunshine Seas
Rare Noise
Rick’s Pick

We open this month’s Jazz section with an album that fits that category, but just barely. Pianist/guitarist Jamie Saft’s New Zion trio (which features Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista on this album) has always pushed genre boundaries of various kinds, and here they blend jazz, samba, reggae, dub, and batucada drumming to very fine effect. The album title is apt: this is strange and sometimes sonically challening music that never fails to have a smile on its face and would at no point sound out of place booming out of a portable stereo on the beach. Very, very nice.

juttaJutta Hipp
The German Recordings 1952-1955
Jazzhaus (dist. Naxos)

The Jazzhaus label’s Lost Tapes series continues with this recently-unearthed batch of live and studio recordings made by the young pianist Jutta Hipp in Germany between 1952 and 1955. She was immensely talented, but by 1958 she had left the jazz world behind and moved to Brooklyn, where she worked as a seamstress and artist and then, in retirement, as a dollmaker. She never recorded again. This collection opens with a rather desultory blues number but then becomes much more interesting as it moves through a rambling series of standards that find Hipp in a variety of small-combo settings, most notably featuring tenor saxophonist Hans Koller; when he and Hip are playing together it sounds a bit like siblings saying the same things in different languages. Probably not an essential purchase for every library, but jazz collections should give this one serious consideration.

bernardWill Bernard
Out & About
Rick’s Pick

I’ve been keeping an eye on guitarist Will Bernard since his days with the outlandishly wonderful T.J. Kirk (a jazz quartet whose entire repertoire consisted of tunes by Thelonious Monk, James Brown, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk). His latest album finds him leading a quintet on an all-original program of deceptively straight-ahead-sounding modernism: while you’re snapping your fingers to the uptempo swing of “Redwood (Business Casual)” try following the chord changes; while luxuriating in the gentle warmth of the midtempo “Homebody,” try figuring out what time signature(s) it’s in. The whole album’s like that, and it’s great.

grooveGroove Legacy
Groove Legacy
GLCD 0001

Personally, I tend to prefer funkiness to funk — I like the funk, that is, as a property more than as the thing itself. But this septet of Los Angeles studio pros has convinced me that Crusaders-style instrumental jazz-funk is probably worth more of my listening time than I’ve accorded it in the past. When real professionals get together to have fun, the results tend to be very, very listenable, partly because the way you get to be a pro is by making people want to listen. The guest turns by Robbern Ford and Larry Carlton don’t hurt, either.

mixonDanny Mixon
Pass It On
No cat. no.

There’s something about Danny Mixon’s playing, something particularly joyful and rhythmically variegated, that led me to look up his bio to see whether he grew up in New Orleans. He didn’t (he’s from Brooklyn), but this album still makes me think of Canal Street and Jackson Square. Anyway, this is not jazz for someone on the hunt for new ideas: it’s a celebration of tradition, or of a variety of traditions: stride and bop and boogie-woogie and even jazz-pop. It maybe tells you something about this album that it opens with a take on “Blue Monk” and then wends its way, eight tracks later, to a mellow invocation of Joe Sample. Along the way you’ll hear tunes by Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, and Duke Ellington as well. It’s kind of a strange mix, but a very enjoyable one.


thompsonTeddy Thompson & Kelly Jones
Little Windows
Cooking Vinyl
Rick’s Pick

If you miss the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, and if you’ve been in-the-know enough to be following the parallel careers of Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones, then there’s a good chance you’re already dancing around in anticipation of hearing this album that they’ve made together. Almost every line is sung in harmony; the tunes hark back to the 1950s and 1960s in every good way possible, and sometimes the lyrics are hilarious. The album only lasts 26 minutes, which would normally preclude it from getting a Rick’s Pick, but since every second of those 26 minutes is pure bliss I can’t bring myself to penalize them.

mcraeKelley McRae
The Wayside
No cat. no.

Kelley McRae is a very fine singer-songwriter who collaborates with her husband Matt Castellin to create quiet, reflective pearls of neo-folk loveliness on this, her fifth album. In terms of volume, none of these songs rises above a gentle murmur; as for tempo, well, there’s not much — all of the songs sound like they were performed by people sitting on a couch or in a rocking chair on the front porch. Which is not to say that they’re laid-back, exactly: listen to the words and you’ll hear a lot of worry and longing. But it’s expressed so gently and softly that you might easily mistake it for peace unless you listen closely.

nachmanoffDave Nachmanoff
Spinoza’s Dream

Singer-songwriter albums with philosophical themes set alarm bells off in my head, so I confess I approached this one with a bit of trepidation. But Nachmanoff approaches those themes with humor and subtlety, generally opting for communication rather than for showing off how smart he is. He also has an impressive stylistic range, jumping from quietly sprightly folk-pop to Tin Pan Alley jazziness to bluesy rock and back again in the space of the first four tracks. And here’s a fun pop history nugget: the session players on this album are the same guys who played on Al Stewart’s 1976 hit “Year of the Cat.”

katerKaia Kater
Sorrow Bound
Rick’s Pick

This is a deeply haunting album by a young woman who plays clawhammer banjo and sings both original and traditional songs about death, loss, sewing, and love — themes older than folk music itself and probably as old as human language. Kater herself is barely out of her teens, which somehow makes her delivery of these old songs and ancient themes even more cool and unsettling. Her rendition of “En Filant Ma Quenouille” is possibly more affecting than that of the McGarrigle sisters; her take on “West Virginia Boys” is both beautiful and unutterably bleak. Recommended to all folk collections.


darwisParra for Cuva & Senoy
Project: Mooncircle
Rick’s Pick

Project: Mooncircle is one of very few labels whose output I always want to hear. Not everything ends up rubbing me the right way, of course, but such a strong preponderance of its releases are both ravishingly beautiful and rhythmically compelling that I now find myself drawn to the brand as if by a talisman. If you want to know why, check out the latest from Parra for Cuva & Senoy, a full-length album inspired by the concept of ascetic Muslim monks called darwīš. You won’t hear any muezzin chants or even very much in the way of obvious Middle Eastern elements at all — just richly atmospheric, sonically detailed, gently propulsive slices of sun-drenched electronica that will leave you feeling uplifted and refreshed. Highly recommended to all collections.

stapleThe Staple Singers
Amen!/WHY (reissue)
Epic/Real Gone Music

This disc brings together two classic albums by famed gospel ensemble the Staple Singers: Amen! (originally released in 1964) and WHY (from 1966). Led by Roebuck “Pops” Staples, the quartet also featured his son Pervis and his daughters Mavis and Cleotha, and they were one of America’s most famous and beloved gospel groups for over 45 years; Mavis Staples continues to perform and record. Listening to these two albums from the 1960s, one is immediately struck by the predominance of minor keys and dark moods — even the uptempo numbers seem more about serious devotion and dealing with hard truths than about emotional uplift. But the songs are all beautifully arranged and powerfully sung, and most library collections would benefit from picking up this handy twofer.

emmyEmmy the Great
Second Love
Bella Union
Rick’s Pick

When a song is called “Hyperlink” and its chorus goes “Love love love/Love is the answer,” you know you’d better check the lyrics more carefully before deciding what the song is really saying. And sure enough, the next line in that chorus is “Oh but I am a comfortable liar.” And there it is, a microcosm of this whole album: soft and simple dream-pop songs that hide occasional barbs that keep everything more interesting than you might suspect it to be at first listen. The thing is, the dream pop is so narcotically attractive that you might not even notice the barbs until you’ve swallowed them. Very highly recommended.

popgroupThe Pop Group
For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (reissue)
Freak (dist. Redeye)

1980 was a high-water mark for extremely politically engaged punk rock, and quite a few bands (especially British ones) were putting out albums of abrasive and jaggedly funky songs in packages that included crudely photocopied lyric sheets adorned with gruesome black-and-white photos of atrocities. Compared to, say, Crass, the Pop Group were positively mellifluous; compared to Gang of Four, they were more politically in-your-face (which I realize may be hard to believe). Bandleader Mark Stewart would go on to form New Age Steppers and, later, Maffia with a couple of former members of Pop Group and bring his aggro-political stylings to a more dubwise context; he continues to inveigh against the system as a solo artist. This is the first time this genuinely important (but, it must be said, ultimately kind of tiresome) album has been reissued in any format.

infosocInformation Society
Orders of Magnitude

Well, isn’t this fun: a covers album from one of the foremost electropop bands of the 1980s. What makes it extra fun isn’t just the band’s expert arrangements and production, but even more so it’s the repertoire they’ve chosen to cover: everything from fairly obvious choices like Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Heaven 17’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” to much — much — less obvious selections including the “Heffalumps and Woozles” song from Disney’s Winnie the Pooh adaptation and “Capital I,” a favorite from the children’s TV show Sesame Street. There’s stuff from Fad Gadget and Snakefinger, too. If your patron base includes a significant number of people over age 45 who still have creative haircuts, this album is for you.


evasalinaEva Salina
Sings Saban Bajramovic
No cat. no.

Saban Bajramovic is a legend of Balkan Romani (Gypsy) music, the composer of hundreds of songs that remain hugely popular throughout the Balkan diaspora and particularly in New York. That’s where singer Eva Salina hails from, and for this tribute album she has gathered Balkan and Balkan-sympathetic musicians from the ranks of bands like Slavic Soul Party!, Kultur Shock, and the Klezmatics to produce a full program of Bajramovic’s music. As one might expect, the result is by turns raucous, acerbic, and suffused with gentle longing. Massed horns and wickedly crooked rhythms abound, and Salina’s voice is a thrill.

driscollJoe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate
Monistic Theory
Rick’s Pick

This is the second outing for guitarist/singer Joe Driscoll and kora player/singer Sekou Kouyate. Both are virtuosos on their instruments (Kouyate plays a significantly modified electric kora) and when they work together their sound really can’t be called a “fusion” — it’s much more of an emulsion, one in which Driscoll’s folk/funk/hip-hop background rubs up against Kouyate’s griot-informed West African stylings to create a wildly colorful mixture of sounds and textures. It’s incredibly exciting and should find a home in every library.

akaeAkae Beka / I Grade
I Grade

Vaughn Benjamin and his brother Ron, both from St. Croix, began recording under the name Midnite in the late 1980s. In 2015 Ron left the band and Vaughn now performs under the name Akae Beka, a name drawn from the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Some things don’t change, though: the thick, dark, slow roots reggae rhythms and the chanting vocals remain in full effect, as do the intensely spiritual lyrical concerns. Benjamin’s voice can be a little bit difficult to get used to — at time it sounds as if he’s singing with strep throat. But it’s worth the effort to let yourself get drawn into these songs.

movementThe Movement
Rootfire Cooperative
Rick’s Pick

For a very different take on modern roots reggae, consider the latest studio album from a Columbia, SC-based group called The Movement. Guest artists on this one include the brilliant vocalist Elliot Martin (of John Brown’s Body) and Bermudian dancehall artist Collie Buddz, and the vibe is paradoxically both cheerful and introspective throughout. The band incorporates a wealth of found-sound samples recorded in the forest outside of their studio, but the production is so rich and densely textured that they blend into the mix organically rather than sounding like a superficial add-on. And the hooks are everywhere. Highly recommended to all libraries.

manhattanManhattan Camerata
Tango Fado Project
Sorel Classics (dist. Naxos)
SC CD 005

I’m not sure why anyone thought that blending tango and fado would be a great idea — apart from smoldering emotionalism, the two genres have little to do with each other: one is from Portugal and the other from Argentina; one is about dancing and the other is about sitting in a smoky club and listening; one is based in song form and the other in instrumental arrangements; etc. But this New York-based chamber ensemble makes it work somehow, and while the recorded sound is a bit tight and compressed for my tastes, the album is a real kick overall. Recommended to all world music collections.