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January 2017


PICK OF THE MONTH


bernocchiEraldo Bernocchi & Prakash Sontakke
Invisible Strings
RareNoise
69

This is an exceptionally beautiful album by Indian slide guitarist Prakash Sontakke and Italian guitarist/producer Eraldo Bernocchi. The blending of Indian classical music and Western dance beats is by no means a new idea at this point, but every so often an album comes along that takes that time-honored arrangement and sheds new light on it, and that’s what has happened with this project. Bernocchi plays multiple instruments on these recordings, but his primary duty is to create sound environments suitable for Sontakke’s virtuosic slide excursions. However, those environments are not simply ambient chordal washes or New Age-y pseudo-mystical atmospheres. The beats are sturdy and often complex; the textures are multilayered and carefully crafted; the fretted guitar parts are tastefully rendered and provide beautiful canvasses for Sontakke’s complicated flights of melodic fancy. The result is music that is neither Asian nor Western, but something new and different, and all of it is absolutely wonderful. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


CLASSICAL


bryarsGavin Bryars
The Fifth Century
PRISM Quartet; The Crossing / Donald Nally
ECM
2405
Rick’s Pick

Gavin Bryars has always known how to touch the mind and the heart with equal power, and he does so again on this program of new vocal music. The title composition is a setting for choir and saxophone quartet of texts by the 17th-century English mystic Thomas Traherne, and the disc is rounded out by two settings of Petrarch for the choir’s female voices. In the 21st century it has already become a cliché to refer to a living composer’s work as “complex but accessible,” and yet in Bryars’ case those terms are both centrally important. The complexity of his work is often conceptual more than harmonic (I’ll let you read the liner notes yourself), but the depth of his conceptions does come through in the music’s organization — and as for its accessibility, all I can say is that it is viscerally gorgeous and deeply moving. The performances are exquisite. For all library collections.


harpeVarious Composers
La harpe reine: Musique à la cour de Marie-Antoinette
Xavier de Maistre; Les Arts Florissants / William Christie
Harmonia Mundi
HAF 8902276
Rick’s Pick

The compositions for harp and orchestra featured on this disc — works by Krumpholtz, Haydn, and Hermann — were all written at a time when the harp was rebounding from its nadir of European popularity in the early 18th century. All are solidly in the high-classical tradition, which might make the harp parts a little bit jarring to 21st-century ears: we’re used to encountering these kinds of dreamy scalar passages and swooping arpeggiations as vehicles for 19th-century Romanticism, and to hear them harnessed to the structural rigor of a classical symphony and two concertos is very fun. Xavier de Maistre is a passionate exponent for this repertoire and plays beautifully, as does the always-outstanding Les Arts Florissants ensemble under the baton of William Christie. The final piece on the program is a solo harp arrangement of Gluck’s “Danse des esprits bienheureux” from Orphée et Eurydice, and it’s a lovely, soothing end to a vigorous and exciting program. Highly recommended to all libraries.


reichSteve Reich
Duet (2 discs)
MDR Leipzig Radio Choir & Symphony Orchestra / Kristjan Järvi
Sony Classical
88985366362

In celebration of Steve Reich’s 80th birthday, he collaborated with conductor Kristjan Järvi and the MDR Leipzig Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra on a project that features, on the first disc, a live recording of three older pieces (the sumptuously beautiful Duet for Two Solo Violins and String Orchestra, the very early Clapping Music, and The Four Sections) and on the second disc world-premiere recordings of the orchestral versions of Daniel Variations and You Are (Variations). On Clapping Music the performers are Reich himself and Järvi, and the combination of conceptual whimsy and rhythmic sophistication of that work continues to delight. A very fine recording of a thoughtfully put-together program.


gordonMichael Gordon
Timber Remixed (2 discs)
Mantra Percussion
Cantaloupe (dist. Naxos)
21121

Michael Gordon’s Timber is a large-scale work composed for six two-by-fours. If that sounds like a recipe for truly dreary and boring minimalism, think again: these slabs of wood (used liturgically, believe it or not, in Eastern Orthodox worship) can yield a surprisingly wide range of tones and pitches, and Gordon makes extensive use of their range in his piece, which is in many ways reminiscent of Steve Reich’s early work. The second disc in the package consists of remixes of Gordon’s work created by producers and electronic dance artists both famous (Squarepusher, Fennesz) and less so (Sam Pluta, HPRIZM). Some of the remixes are actually less interesting than the original work, but some are thrilling. The whole package is very much worth hearing.


kozeluchLeopold Kozeluch
Piano Concertos Nos. 1, 5 & 6
Howard Shelley; London Mozart Players
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CDA68154
Rick’s Pick

Pianist Howard Shelley continues his triumphant Classical Piano Concerto series with this absolutely outstanding recording (on modern instruments) of concerti by the Viennese composer Leopold Kozeluch. All three were written during his mature period and display his mastery of the classical idiom. As a contemporary of Mozart, he suffers from the same handicap as any other musician of that time and place, but his keyboard writing really is delightful, and Shelley — as always — makes a passionate case for the composer’s rehabilitation. This series continues to produce recordings that should be considered essential purchases for all classical library collections.


regerMax Reger
Complete Works for Clarinet & Piano
David Odom; Jeremy Samolesky
Albany
TROY1648
Rick’s Pick

Max Reger’s music is endlessly fascinating to me. Working in Germany at the turn of the 20th century, he writes with a clear awareness of the tremendous upheavals on the horizon for art music and indeed for tonality itself, and he makes what sounds like approving reference to those changes — and yet at the same time he embraces without apparent reluctance the verities of Romanticism and even the classical tradition. Lyrical and poignant melodies meander with bittersweet hesitancy along harmonically sinuous paths, sometimes stopping for a moment to ponder or cry or shake their fists at the heavens. Clarinetist David Odom and pianist Jeremy Samolesky play this music as if it were written in their souls. Strongly recommended to all collections.


franzoniAmante Franzoni
Vespro per la festa di Santa Barbara
Accademia degli Invaghiti; Concerto Palatino / Frances Moi
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95344

If the opening sections of this vespers setting by early-17th-century Mantuan composer Amante Franzoni sound familiar, it’s probably because they are also the opening sections of Monteverdi’s more famous Vespro della Beata Vergine, apparently inserted here to point out Franzoni’s assimilation of previous Mantuan traditions and those of nearby Venice. Franzoni was known for giving lots of room to his instrumentalists as well as for writing sumptuously lovely vocal music, and this program written in honor of Mantua’s patron saint displays all the elaborate and devotional beauty that one would expect of this time and place. The choir, soloists, and instrumentalists are excellent here — the duet passages for tenor and countertenor on the Laudate pueri setting are especially lovely.


farinaCarlo Farina
Consort Music 1627
Accademia del Ricercare / Pietro Busca
CPO (dist. Naxos)
555 034-2

Carlo Farina was another son of Mantua, and he is yet another fine late-Renaissance composer the details of whose life have been substantially lost to history. Not much is known about his early training, but it is certain that he spent several years in Germany (notably under the tutelage of Heinrich Schütz) before returning to Italy and dying young of the plague. During his brief career he published five volumes of dance music for mixed instrumental consorts, and the selections on this disc are from his third, which was published in Dresden in 1627. Although the recorded sound is a bit thin, the Accademia del Ricercare plays these pieces with both precision and élan.


JAZZ


pennyVictor & Penny
Electricity
V&P Productions
VP101

Dancing back and forth between the stylistic lines that separate Tin Pan Alley, jump blues, and hot jazz, Victor and Penny (a.k.a. guitarist/singer Jeff Freling and singer/ukelele player Erin McGrane) characterize their central influence as “prohibition-era jazz.” And that’s a term that nicely conveys the sense of hard-swinging fun at the root of their songs and tunes, not to mention the slightly edgy playfulness that also emerges on a regular basis. McGrane’s voice is sweet and clear, Freling’s guitar is bluesy and growly, and their backing trio provides a wide variety of settings for their compositions. All of it is tons of fun.


artArt Hirahara
Central Line
Posi-Tone
PR8161
Rick’s Pick

On his third album as a leader for the Posi-Tone label, pianist and composer Art Hirahara explores his Japanese heritage in a way he hasn’t before: setting a traditional melody from Fukuoka (near where his mother grew up), ruminating on earthquake legends, pondering his ancestral lines. He also pays homage to Billy Strayhorn and to the redwood forests of Northern California, arranges a traditional Ghanaian tune, and performs a Brazilian composition by Chico Buarque — so this isn’t exactly a concept album. What unite all of the tracks are Hirahara’s uncommon gift for melodic elaboration and his ability to lead his group adroitly through complex arrangements in such a way as to make them sound straightforward and even intuitively obvious. I understand that it’s fallacious to talk about pianists having a personal “tone,” but I could swear that Hirahara makes his piano sparkle in a way that others don’t. Highly recommended to all collections.


rollinsSonny Rollins Trio; Horace Silver Quintet
Zurich 1959
TCB: The Montreux Jazz Label (dist. Naxos)
02402

If this looks like a strange pairing, well, it kind of is: Sonny Rollins leading a pianoless trio (with bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Pete La Roca), and Horace Silver leading a quintet featuring trumpeter Blue Mitchell and tenor saxophonist Junior Cook. What brings them together on this recording is that each played a 30-minute live set in the studio for Swiss Radio on the same day in 1959; neither of these recordings has been released before, and both find the leaders at the peak of their powers. Although their styles are very different, and therefore the combined album is something of a bifurcated listening experience, this disc should be considered an essential purchase for all comprehensive jazz collections.


kimbroughFrank Kimbrough
Solstice
Pirouette
PIT3097
Rick’s Pick

This is an exceptionally deep and beautiful album, a trio session of uncommon impressionism and introspection. Kimbrough is a gifted composer, but as a pianist he shines brilliantly, using silence and space as effectively as he chooses notes, responding to and encouraging his accompanists as much as he showcases his own ideas. On his latest album he allocates almost all of the time to the work of other writers who have influenced him: Carla Bley, Paul Motian, Annette Peacock, Maria Schneider, and others. All tracks are ballads; some of them float in time nearly arrhythmically, while others swing gently but insistently. Only a rendition of Peacock’s “El Cordobes” approaches midtempo. By the end of the album you have a feeling of peace and cleansing that is really quite remarkable. If this is your first exposure to Kimbrough’s art, let it lead you back into his catalogue. For all collections.


girshevichGirshevich Trio
Algorithmic Society
Tapestry
76026-2
Rick’s Pick

The Girshevich Trio is pianist/composer Vlad Girshevich, his 15-year-old(!) son Aleks on drums, and legendary bassist Eddie Gomez. The compositions on this album are all originals written by the two Girsheviches, and they comprise a program that is as exciting as it is stylistically eclectic. It opens with “Healing the Chaos,” which incorporates Middle Eastern modes and rhythms (and a lovely string section) and the album then proceeds to explore Latin flavors (“A Rainbow on Your Carpet,” “Algorithmic Society”), progressive expressionism (“300 Years Ago”), and skittering straight-ahead swing (“Unborn Tales”). Aleks Girshevich’s playing is as notable for its tonal and textural maturity as for its technical virtuosity, and Vlad’s pianism is exceptionally creative. Gomez is the genius he has been for decades. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.


FOLK/COUNTRY


swiftKen & Brad Kolodner
The Swift House
Fenchurch Music
09

It’s been a long wait for those of us who are fans of this father-son duo — their last album was reviewed here back in 2013 — but it was worth it. The opening track (“Turkey in the Pea Patch”) had me scrambling through online tunebooks looking for a notated version so I could learn it, and their version of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Steel Rail Blues” had me rethinking my longstanding aversion to that particular artist — thanks in part to Brad Kolodner’s clean, understated singing style, which is a perfect complement to his unassumingly virtuosic clawhammer banjo playing and to his dad’s hammered dulcimer. There are some unusual arrangements here and some obscure songs (of course), and all of it is a delight. Highly recommended to all libraries.


buckBuck Owens and the Buckaroos
The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966 (2 discs)
Omnivore
OVCD-206
Rick’s Pick

If your only exposure to Buck Owens was during his time as a fixture on the cringe-inducing 1970s TV show Hee Haw!, then you may be surprised to know that the man was a genius, one of the most influential artists in country music history and a singer and bandleader par excellence. He’s generally credited as the chief architect (alongside Merle Haggard) of the Bakersfield Sound. And if you don’t believe me, listen carefully to this outstanding two-disc set of his singles from the late 1950s and early 1960s, which make clear another important fact: almost as important as Owens himself was the contribution of his guitarist, fiddler and harmony singer Don Rich. (Rich himself is showcased on a companion release credited to Don Rich and the Buckaroos, and entitled Guitar Pickin’ Man.) All of the essential tracks are here: “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “Act Naturally,” “My Heart Skips a Beat,” etc. It’s a particular mark of his genius that even when performing borderline-novelty tunes, Owens could make your hair stand on end with his singing. A must for all pop collections.


olwellMatthew Olwell
Cybertrad
Self-released
No cat. no.

These days there’s no shortage of artists and bands experimenting with fusions of traditional Celtic music and various kinds of dance music, rock, hip hop and electronica. But Irish flute player Matthew Olwell has staked out something of a unique territory by blending Irish, Cajun, and old-time American tunes with beatboxing (mouth-generated percussion) and funk bass. The combination works really well, and for those unfamiliar with beatboxing it may actually take a few listens to figure out that the complicated percussion parts are being made by a human being and a microphone. The tunes themselves are a nice blend of traditional and original compositions, and everyone’s playing is both expert and tasteful. Very, very nice.


mcnallyKatie McNally Trio
The Boston States
Self-released
No cat. no.

Boston, Massachusetts has been home to a highly diverse fiddling diaspora for decades, and possibly centuries: fiddlers from Ireland and Scotland, from Scotland by way of Cape Breton, and from Scandinavia have all found homes and audiences in Greater Boston’s dancehalls, bars, and clubs, and the folk scene in that area has grown incredibly rich. One expression of its richness is the trio of Katie McNally (fiddle), Shauncey Ali (viola), and Neil Pearlman (piano). Their playing is most deeply informed by Cape Breton traditions, but there are tricky innovations at work here as well, with unusual key changes and jazz-inflected keyboard parts spicing up the proceedings. This is a wonderful album, and a very tough one to sit still to.


ROCK/POP


muRichard Pinhas & Barry Cleveland
Mu
Cuneiform
426

Here we have a summit meeting between two experimental guitarists from very different regions and traditions: Richard Pinhas, a French musician who has been blazing his own musical path for over 40 years, and the Bay Area-based Barry Cleveland, whose approach to guitar is as likely to involve bowing and striking it as plucking it. Both also make extensive use of looping and other electronic effects, and on this very exciting album they are joined by bassist Michael Manring and drummer Celso Alberti for a set of compositions that sometimes sound like prog rock and sometimes like noisy free improv, and that never fail to be engaging and interesting. Even when moments of lyrical beauty suddenly give way to seeming chaos, there is always something holding the proceedings together. Manring’s bass regularly emerges as agent of order in such moments.


wyldlifeWyldlife
Out on Your Block
Wicked Cool
WKC-56712-2

The dividing line separating punk, power pop, and glam rock has always been fuzzy, and it’s never been fuzzier than it is on the third album from this New York-based quartet. What this group is selling is architecturally perfect pop music covered in ultra-crunchy guitars, spikes and grunge disguising pure melodic sweetness. And more power to them, say I. The older I get the more I respect pop music, and if you can give it an extra layer of meaning by slathering glammy punk attitude onto it, good for you. For all pop and rock collections.


ardronPete Ardron
Unexpected Pleasures
Pink Hampster
PHCD12
Rick’s Pick

Here’s the challenge: to make music that is conventionally and uncomplicatedly beautiful and that incorporates South Asian influences without allowing the result to sound like Orientalist New Age goop. How do you do it? Well, complex and funky beats help, but they aren’t enough; you also have to approach the project with genuine respect for your source materials and a certain (and probably unquantifiable) blend of pure individual creativity — such that you don’t have to fall back on over-familiar melodic tropes or cookie-cutter cultural signifiers. Many artists try to do this, and most of them fail. Pete Ardron succeeds magnificently, and his latest solo album is a triumph of cross-cultural electro-funk: microscophically detailed beats are constructed around Indian vocal samples, bansuri licks, and dubwise basslines. The music feels carefully composed, yet at the same time flexible and fun; it’s dance music with a spiritual undercurrent that feels earned rather than tacked on. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


kelleyKelley Ryan
Telescope
Manatee
006
Rick’s Pick

Here comes Kelley Ryan with yet another perfect pop confection: perfect not just because it’s sweet, but also because it’s crunchy. Not spiky, mind you, and we’re not talking about the crunchiness of broken glass — this is the crunchiness of almonds in very fine chocolate, or maybe of salt crystals in caramel. In other words, the kind of crunchiness that makes seemingly simple pop songs worth listening to carefully, the kind that sometimes emerges from lyrics that have an edge you only catch when you listen, and sometimes from unexpected elements popping up in the arrangements: like a small host of flugelhorns on a song about quitting smoking, or a subtly-wielded tabla underlying the opening couplet “Holy roller, hit the floor/I can’t take it anymore.” As usual, part of the credit goes to the quiet genius of co-producer Don Dixon, but this is Ryan’s show all the way and as always it’s brilliant. For all collections.


WORLD/ETHNIC


khalifeMarcel Khalife; Mahmoud Darwish
Andalusia of Love
Nagam
NR1021

Marcel Khalife is a singer, composer, and virtuoso of the oud, and is billed as “Lebanon’s iconic voice of defiance and reconciliation.” The political content of his songs may be lost on those not fluent in Arabic, but their longing, regret, and quiet frustration are all palpable. What is notably absent is anything that could reasonably construed as anger; this may be protest music, but it seems to be anchored more in an intense feeling of loss and mourning than in righteous outrage. The songs on this album are based on writings of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, and their settings are complex and haunting. Khalife is joined by his sons Rami (a Juilliard-trained classical and jazz pianist), and percussionist Bachar, and by kanoun player Jilbert Yamine. I recommend following along with the translated lyric sheet.


boogJ Boog
Wash House Ting
Wash House Music Group
No cat. no.

If you’re in the market for some top-notch modern reggae with a smooth surface and plenty of R&B inflections, then look no further than the third album from J Boog, a Compton native of Samoan ancestry who is currently based in Hawaii. His eclectic background and extensive touring have given him a broad network of connections in the reggae world, and Wash House Ting finds him joined by guests as eminent as Gramps Morgan, Gappy Ranks, Chaka Demus, and Buju Banton, along with up-and-comers like Lion Fyah and Tenelle Luafalemana. The songs offer a perfect balance of melodic lightness and heavyweight roots and dancehall rhythms, and this album will make a perfect driving-with-the-top-down listen in a few months when the weather warms up.


klaasenLorraine Klaasen
Nouvelle Journée
Justin Time
JUST 256-2

Lorraine Klaasen was born and raised in South Africa but currently resides in Montréal, and has been a performing musician since her youth (her mother is the jazz singer Thandie Klaassen). Today she records and performs in a variety of styles and languages, but Nouvelle Journée is (despite its French title) a celebration of South African township jive and mbaqanga. Of course, township music is a tradition that contains multitudes, and on this album you’ll hear swinging tunes with hints of ska (“Township Memories”), jazzy ballads (“Polokwane”), and soulful African R&B (“Make It Right”), alongside more stylistically mainstream SA pop numbers like “Ke Tshepile Bafatsi” and “Izani Nonke.” Klaasen’s voice is rich and chesty, and her studio musicians strike that perfect balance of tightness and warm, rubbery looseness. This is an outstanding example of modern African pop music.

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October 2013


PICK OF THE MONTH


lindatLinda Thompson
Won’t Be Long Now
Pettifer Music (dist. Redeye)
CD PET 1001

“New album from Linda Thompson” is really all the review this album needs. A bit of background: in the 1970s, she was half of Richard & Linda Thompson, a duo that featured the mind-bogglingly adept guitar playing and songwriting of Richard and the aching, crystal-clear singing of Linda. (Richard’s harmony vocals were useful, but he was utterly outclassed by Linda as a lead singer). After their harrowing split around 1980, Linda did some solo work and then found herself physically unable to sing for almost 20 years. Her return has been gradual but welcome, and this album may be her best solo effort yet. It benefits from the presence of family members including Teddy Thompson (the brilliant son of her marriage to Richard and an accomplished solo artist) and even Richard himself, playing guitar on “Love’s for Babies and Fools.” Linda’s voice hardly betrays the decades or the period of disuse it suffered in the late 1980s and 1990 — it’s still a thing of clear and plainspoken beauty. No folk or folk-rock collection should be without this disc.


CLASSICAL


mendelssohnFelix Mendelssohn; Robert Schumann; Ludwig Van Beethoven
Violin Concertos; Romances
Rachel Barton Pine; Göttinger Symphonie Orchester / Christoph-Mathias Mueller
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 144
Rick’s Pick

This is a typically sparkling and brilliantly colorful performance from violinist Rachel Barton Pine, the fourth in her ongoing series of recordings drawing on the German romantic violin repertoire. Honestly, there’s not much to say here–except that I’m not sure there’s a violinst anywhere right now with a deeper and more joyful sense for this music, the Mendelssohn in particular. This album is a pure pleasure.


beethovenLudwig Van Beethoven
Complete Works for Cello and Piano (2 discs)
Colin Carr; Thomas Sauer
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1486

The temptation when playing Beethoven (especially on modern instruments, with their heavier internal bracing and steel strings) is to confuse richness with density, and intensity with ponderousness. It is one of the best things about this recording that neither cellist Colin Carr nor pianist Thomas Sauer makes that mistake: this complete collection of Beethoven’s sonatas and thematic variations for the two instruments reveals all the richness and intensity of Beethoven’s music without imposing any ponderous density on it. The gorgeous, dark-hued tone of Carr’s instrument is particularly noteworthy.


liberaVarious Composers
Libera Nos: The Cry of the Oppressed
Contrapunctus / Owen Rees
Signum Classics (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

I have listened to this disc over and over since receiving a review copy a month or so ago, and it still slays me every time. It consists of English, Portuguese, and Flemish pieces from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, all of them drawing on Biblical lamentations over the fate of Jerusalem–but using them as a veiled commentary on the plight of Catholics in England and of the Portguese under Spanish rule. The putative overarching theme is oppression, but the feeling is less angry and defiant that powerfully, gently, and heartbreakingly mournful. Owen Rees and Contrapunctus have created one of the most ravishingly lovely recordings I’ve heard in a year.


bachJohann Sebastian Bach
Unaccompanied Suites Performed on Double Bass
Jory Herman
(self-released)
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Although I’m a bass player myself, I rarely find myself drawn to recordings for the solo bass. I’ve also (true-confession time) never been a huge fan of Bach’s unaccompanied suites for solo cello, despite their status as a landmark of the baroque repertoire. So I was taken by surprise when this fantastic account of those suites, played on double bass, grabbed me by the collar and refused to let go. Herman’s tone is rich, full, and sweet (even in the higher positions), his intonation is excellent, and he plays with genuine emotional investment. He clearly loves these pieces and will convince you to love them as well, if (like me) you didn’t already. Recommended to all classical library collections.


vivaldiAntonio Vivaldi
Concerti da camera (reissue; 4 discs)
Il Giardino Armonico
Teldec/Das Alte Werk (dist. Naxos)
2564 64662-0

This four-disc set contains the entirely of Vivaldi’s Opus 10 chamber concertos, along with a handful of sonatas and sonatinas, numbering 24 works in all. All were recorded and previously released between 1990 and 1992. The playing by Il Giardino Armonico (on period instruments) is thrillingly energetic and admirably skillful, but I was brought up short immediately by the dry, brittle, and sometimes harsh sonic qualities of these recordings, particularly those on the first two discs. This set represents a good value for money and will be very useful for reference purposes, but it doesn’t give as much listening pleasure as it could have with more careful production.


kunikoVarious Composers
Cantus
Kuniko
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKD 432

Having previously made a splash with her marimba arrangements of works by Steve Reich, Kuniko goes back to the minimalist well to create this shimmeringly lovely program of works by Reich, Arvo Pärt, and Hywel Davies arranged for various combinations of marimba, vibraphone, crotales, and bells. Some of the choices are surprising (seriously, a marimba-and-vibes arrangement of Fratres?) but they all work wonderfully. Any library that supports a percussion program should jump at the chance to acquire this example of masterful transcription for mallet keyboards.


cornettVarious Composers
The Golden Age of the Cornett (reissue; 2 discs)
Le Concert Brisé / William Dongois
Accent (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
ACC 24261

The cornett (not to be confused with the cornet, though it’s a precursor of the trumpet) was a very popular instrument in 17th-century Italy, in both ceremonial and more intimate musical settings. This two-disc set brings together two very different cornett-focused recordings: one (recorded in 2005) of chamber settings of traditional melodies along with sacred and secular pieces by the likes of Palestrina, de Rore, and Rognoni. Here the cornett is accompanied by keyboards or lute. The second disc (from 2003) is a collection of vocal and instrumental pieces associated with St. Mark’s Basilica at the time of Monteverdi; each of the pieces features the cornett more or less prominently. Though the pairing of these two discs is a little bit odd, the playing and singing are wonderful throughout–William Dongois is a cornettist of rare skill–and the set offers a wonderful listening experience.


haydnFranz Joseph Haydn; Josef Myslivecek
[Cello Concertos]
Wendy Warner; Camerata Chicago / Drostan Hall
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 142

I know, I know — another recording of Haydn’s cello concertos in C and D, ho hum. But wait: who’s that Myslivecek guy? As it turns out, he was a friend of the Mozart family and an influence on the young Wolfgang himself, and remains a criminally overlooked figure of the classical period (partly due to his tragically early death). The C major concerto featured here is a transcription of one of his violin concertos, and it’s wonderful–as is the playing of cellist Wendy Warner and the Camerata Chicago, all on modern instruments.


ludfordNicholas Ludford; John Mason
Missa Inclina cor meum; Ave fuit prima salus
Blue Heron / Scott Metcalfe
Blue Heron
BHCD1004
Rick’s Pick

This is the third installment in a projected five-disc series that will bring selections from the Peterhouse partbooks (the largest and most important source of English music surviving from the period before the death of Henry VIII) to modern listeners for the first time. As was the case for the previous two volumes, this disc represents world-premiere recordings of the featured works: a parody Mass by Nicholas Ludford, a restored version of the obscure John Mason’s Ave prima fuit salus, and a selection of Sarum plainchant. The Mason piece in particular is rather strange and quite wonderful, and the Blue Heron choir’s sound is sumptuously rich as always. An essential purchase for all early music and choral collections.


JAZZ


malikMajik Malik
Tranz Denied
Bee Jazz (dist. Naxos)
BEE 061

I’ve listened to a lot of weird jazz in my lifetime, so you should take it seriously when I tell you that this is some of the weirdest jazz I’ve ever listened to. It’s not the weirdest music I’ve ever heard, not by a long shot. But as jazz goes, this stuff is seriously out there. And for the most part, that’s a compliment: vocalist/flutist/keyboardist Majik Malik invited a fine turntablist, a laptop/electronics player, a saxophonist, a drummer, and a couple of guest vocalists to help him out with this project, and at its best the sounds are completely new despite incorporating aspects of jazz, minimalism, and electro. At its worst the music is unfocused and boring–but that happens rarely on this strange and impressive album.


preshallPreservation Hall Jazz Band
That’s It!
Sony Legacy
88883715212

If you’re looking for standard-issue rollicking New Orleans jazz (a reasonable expectation from America’s longest-standing exponent of the genre), then you’ll get what you’re after on this latest release from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. But if you’d like to hear something a little bit different–a samba here, a tango there–then you’ll get that as well. This is largely due to the fact that That’s It! is the first album of all-original material the PHJB has ever released, which I suppose makes this album “important.” Importance aside, it’s also tons of good fun–not that we’d expect anything less, of course.


cobhamBilly Cobham
Compass Point (2 discs)
Purple Pyramid/Cleopatra
CLP 0515

Drummer Billy Cobham has been a bright star in the jazz firmament since his work in the 1960s with Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. He’s a pioneer of the jazz-fusion style, and it’s in that mode that he was working during the 1997 live performance documented on these two discs. Leading a quartet that included keyboardist Gary Husband, bassist Stefan Rademacher, and guitarist Carl Orr, Cobham goes off in all kinds of discursive directions–modal, bluesy, rockish, occasionally boppy and swinging. Drummers will be paying close attention to his tone, which is spectacular, but there’s plenty of tasty playing from the others as well. Very nice stuff.


jamalAhmad Jamal
Saturday Morning: La Buissonne Studio Sessions
Jazz Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
JV 570027

Ahmad Jamal. What can one say about this guy? Active on the jazz scene for 65 years now (65 years), he was cited as the source of “all my inspiration” by Miles Davis. At 83 years of age, he still plays with the energy, nimbleness, and sharp intelligence of a brilliant 25-year-old. And whether he’s playing standards or originals, he makes every tune his own. Here he leads a quartet that includes bassist Reginald Veal, drummer Herlin Riley, and percussionist Manolo Badrena through a program of lush and at times somewhat abstract numbers, most of which are originals. Some of them push the boundaries of jazz and edge into the realm of 19th-century impressionism. Every library supporting a jazz program should own a copy of this album.


grayKellye Gray
And, They Call Us Cowboys: The Texas Music Project
GRR8
GRR80006

And now for something completely different: straight-ahead and fusion arrangements of classic country, pop, and soul songs by Texan (mostly) songwriters. The tracklist might give you pause: “In the Ghetto,” “Dang Me,” “Only the Lonely”? And as you might expect, the results are a bit uneven. The skittery soul-funk arrangement of “In the Ghetto” seems in somewhat poor taste, but “Help Me Make It Through the Night” went down better than expected, and Gray’s gently torchy take on Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” is perfect. Unevenness is what happens when you take chances, and we need more–not less–chance-taking in jazz.


shawBryan Shaw and the Hot Shots
The Bluebird of Happiness
Arbors Jazz (dist. Allegro)
ARCD19434

OK, OK. Having just said in the review above that we need more chance-taking in jazz, I’m now recommending a disc of solid, sweet, swinging, pre-bop hot jazz that has nothing to do with experimentation or chance-taking of any kind. So sue me. The fact is that we can also use more of this on the jazz scene today: more purely joyful, powerfully swinging, unabashedly melodic and unassumingly virtuosic jazz that makes no apologies for its old-fashioned style. (What can I say, I contain multitudes.) Trumpeter Bryan Shaw is both a brilliant player and a brilliant bandleader, and the septet he leads on this album is second to none when it comes to traditional jazz. Highly recommended.


leeWill Lee
Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions
Sinning Saint Ltd.
SSL017

Bassist Will Lee is a familiar face to late-night TV viewers (he plays for David Letterman’s band) and, as one of the most in-demand session players in America, a god to his fellow bassists. It’ s been 20 years since he released a solo album, and he racked up lots of IOUs in the meantime–hence the cameos here by such luminaries as Chuck Loeb, Steve Gadd, Bob James, and Billy Gibbons. The long wait may also account for the fact that some of these songs sound charmingly dated: you’ll hear hints of Steely Dan (“Miss Understanding”) and the Police (“Shahara”), for example. But there are also fully modern and sometimes surprising sounds here, and everything is very enjoyable. Most of the songs feature Lee on vocals as well as bass. Recommended.


jonesMike Jones
Plays Well with Others
Capri
74126
Rick’s Pick

If you’ve attended a Penn and Teller show in Las Vegas, then you’ve heard Mike Jones before — he plays piano during the intro segments (with Penn on bass). But listening to him in a less distracting environment is a revelation: his chops are astounding. He plays in a way that seems to combine Oscar Peterson with Robert Schumann, swinging mightily while using the entire keyboard lushly and melodically. Bassist Mike Gurrola and drummer Jeff Hamilton provide powerful rhythmic support. This is an unusually rich and satisfying piano trio album.


COUNTRY/FOLK


kolodnerKen & Brad Kolodner
Skipping Rocks
Fenchurch Music
07
Rick’s Pick

Slyly subtitled “Original and Traditional Appalachian Old-time Music,” this father-son duo project is both technically impressive and musically tasteful, a lovely exploration of both tradition and creativity (and of a warm musical relationship). Ken Kolodner is a fiddler and hammered-dulcimer player who has long been a fixture on the East coast folk scene; his son is a gifted young clawhammer banjo player and fiddler. Joined by several guest accompanists (including guitar virtuoso Robin Bullock), they play a winning program of familiar fiddle tunes (“Falls of Richmond,” “Billy in the Lowground,” “Lost Indian,” etc.) and old-timey original compositions. There’s not a lot of rip-roaring dance fare here; even the uptempo tunes are delivered with a certain restraint in a style that puts more focus on the tunes themselves than on the undeniable skill of the players. Highly recommended to all folk collections.


gerrardAlice Gerrard
Bittersweet
Spruce and Maple Music
SMM 1008
Rick’s Pick

For her first solo album in ten years, folk legend Alice Gerrard has delivers a first: a program made up entirely of original compositions. And they’re gems, most of them sad and quiet and gently, richly gorgeous. Their beauty is enhanced by the slightly fragile nature of Gerrard’s gracefully aging voice, which is highlighted beautifully by the production work of Laurie Lewis and by the skillfully self-effacing assistance of A-list pickers like Bryan Sutton, Todd Phillips, Stuart Duncan and Rob Ickes. Brilliant and beautiful.


cjonesChris Jones & the Night Drivers
Lonely Comes Easy
Rebel
REB-CD-1847

Chris Jones and crew return to the Rebel records stable with another top-notch collection of neotraditional bluegrass songs. Lots of originals, several nicely-chosen standards and traditional numbers, and everything is performed in the quartet’s trademark style: tight and no-frills, the focus staying solidly on Jones’ baritone lead vocals. One thing that makes this group a bit unusual is that voice: whereas the bluegrass norm for lead singers is high-pitched and sharp-toned, Jones fairly croons, with no loss of lonesome effect. Best title: “Swine Flu in Union County.” (It’s an instrumental.)


connollyThe James Connolly Songs of Freedom Band
Songs of Freedom
PM Press (dist. by IPG)
PMA 017-2

In 1907, Irish nationalist James Connolly published Songs of Freedom, a collection of revolutionary lyrics he had written, without musical notation or tune suggestions. In 1919 a concert was held in celebration of his legacy, and a souvenir program was produced with tune indications, and another songbook based on that concert was subsequently published. This disc is released to accompany a reissue of those three publications inside a single cover and with explanatory matter added. On the disc itself the songs are well played and somewhat amateurishly sung by a group of thirteen musicians; the album’s value is more historic than aesthetic, but its historical significance is substantial, and some of the songs really do sound great.


ROCK/POP


doughtyMike Doughty
Circles Super Bon Bon
Snack Bar (dist. Megaforce)
(No cat. no.)
Rick’s Pick

As a longstanding fan of Soul Coughing, I was dismayed when they split up acrimoniously–so acrimoniously, in fact, that frontman Mike Doughty refused to play Soul Coughing songs during his subsequent solo performances. Now he’s relented, and this Kickstarter-funded project finds him reinterpreting such classic material as “Super Bon Bon,” “Monster Man,” and “Mr. Bitterness.” I wasn’t sure how much I’d like these stripped-down versions, but they’re wonderful–less willfully weird than the originals tended to be, but generally no less funky, and the words-for-words’-sake flow of his singsong delivery is as enthralling as it ever was. Highly recommended to all pop collections.


schwaDJ Schwa
Lay It Down
Beef
BEEFCD006

Not quite ready to let go of summer yet? Then pull your lounge chair up next to the pool (pay no attention to the fallen leaves floating on the water), snuggle up in that sweater, plug in your earbuds, and drift away on this mixtape of downtempo, chillout, house, and broken-beat tracks courtesy of DJ Schwa. The label is Czech and most of the artists featured here will be unfamiliar to American audiences, but it doesn’t matter: whether it’s the midtempo house bump of Sarp Yilmaz’s “Simple Words” or the slippery hip hop of Shades of Gray’s “Illusions (Lurob Remix),” the solid but relaxed grooves on offer here all speak an international language. (As of this writing the physical CD is not yet commercially available from US retailers, but it can be downloaded from Amazon US or ordered physically from Amazon UK at the link above.)


costelloElvis Costello and the Roots
Wise Up Ghost
Blue Note
B001874802
Rick’s Pick

Elvis Costello, as we all know, has always had a thing for less-than-obvious collaborations: Burt Bacharach, the Brodsky Quartet, Allen Toussaint, etc. And more often than not, he makes them work. This one, with ?uestlove and his hip-hop collective The Roots, works better than most–which is to say that it’s brilliant. Elvis sounds completely at home nestled in these funky grooves, and the grooves themselves are warm and crunchy and perfect. The songs are disciplined, the rewrite of “Pills and Soap” is startlingly fine, and everyone just sounds as if they’re having the time of their lives. You will too.


metalVarious Artists
Trevor Jackson Presents Metal Dance 2: Industrial/New Wave/EBM Classics & Rarities 79-88 (2 discs)
Strut/!K7 (dist. Redeye)
STRUT107CD

Heaven help me, but I’m a sucker for this stuff: the boxy machine beats, the Casiotone arpeggios, the grumpy Teutonic (and pseudo-Teutonic) sprechgesange. There’s just something about early industrial music that makes me happy to be alive and not living in an Orwellian dystopia (no matter what they may think at Fox News or Pacifica Radio). The second installment in Trevor Jackson’s curated series of vintage electro anti-pop includes early recordings by Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Test Dept, and a bunch of much more obscure artists as well. Recommended.


ollopaBanco de Gaia
Ollopa: Apollo Remixed
Disco Gecko (dist. Allegro)
GKOCD013

Toby Marks, who records under the name Banco de Gaia, released an album earlier this year called Apollo. I thought it was pretty good, but not really noteworthy. This remix album, though, is (as remix albums often are) much more interesting. It includes  funkier and muscled-up versions of Marks’ original tracks by the likes of Gaudi, Eat Static, Desert Dwellers, and the always-reliable Kaya Project. You’ll hear elements of Balkan brass, dancehall reggae, and downtempo styles, with hints of dubstep and techno along the way. And the bass is often strong enough to loosen your fillings. Very nice.


WORLD/ETHNIC


kulaKayhan Kalhor; Erdal Erzincan
Kula Kulluk Yakisir Mi
ECM
2181

Kayhan Kalhor is a virtuoso of the kamancheh, a bowed instrument that looks and sounds a lot like the rebab (and the Chinese erhu, for that matter). Erdal Erzincan is an equally adept player of the baglama, a lutelike instrument also known as the saz. This disc is a live recording of the duo playing a mixed set of improvised, composed, and traditional pieces for the two instruments, all of them modal and reedy and at times thrillingly elaborate–at other times they are quietly contemplative. Strongly recommended to all collections with an interest in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern music.


yomaSilk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma
A Playlist without Borders
Sony Masterworks
88883 71092 2

The Silk Road Ensemble is dedicated to “breaking boundaries of ethnicity and era.” And while there is no shortage of pan-ethnic-fusion groups out there creating well-intentioned but often woolly-minded mashups out of incompatible musical traditions, this one is more hardheaded than most. Pianist Vijay Iyer contributes a spiky eight-part suite; violinist Colin writes a feature for the Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor (see previous review), and the program ends with an uncharacteristically whimsical piece by perennial Downtown bad boy John Zorn. This is not your hippie aunt’s “world-music fusion,” and you won’t be able to buy a copy in Starbucks.


cigdemCigdem Aslan
Mortissa
Asphalt Tango
CD-ATR 4313

It’s safe to say that while Greece and Turkey are nestled together cozily in geographical terms, there has been nothing cozy about their post-Ottoman diplomatic history. Despite their fractious recent relations, though, the people of those countries remain somewhat united by rebetiko, a vernacular music style sometimes characterized as “Aegean blues.” On this album, Turkish singer Cigdem Aslan shares a program of songs in both the rebetiko and smyrniac styles, all of them characterized by spiky tonalities, sweet-and-sour melodies, and Aslan’s clear, incisive vocals.


greenThe Green
Hawai’i ’13
Easy Star
ES-1039
Rick’s Pick

Despite its enormous distance from the reggae homeland of the Caribbean (and its notable lack of Jamaican immigrants), Hawaii has been host to a thriving reggae scene for decades. But no Hawaiian band has yet created as mature and richly-developed sound as that of The Green. This is only their third album, but they sound like they’ve been doing this since the 1970s–not only are they tight, but they move together nimbly and their sound is warm and sweet. And they have their own take on the “roots and culture” tradition, singing not only about love and romance but also about issues relevant to their islands and the challenges they face there. Highly recommended.


bombayBombay Dub Orchestra
Tales from the Grand Bazaar
Six Degrees
LC-19739
Rick’s Pick

With each release from this British duo, you find yourself wondering where the accent is going to be this time: on the “dub” or on the “orchestra”? And every time the answer is kind of the same: both. Yes, their music involves lots of South Asian-style orchestral strings; yes, their music involves reggae-inflected beats and basslines and there will be lots of dubwise space in the mix. This time out the reggae bona fides are a bit stronger than usual, thanks to the presence of legendary drums-and-bass duo Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. There are also some great vocal cameos by the likes of Ujwal Nagar and Tanja Tzar (the latter from Macedonia, bringing yet another level of cultural complexity to the mix). Like all Bombay Dub Orchestra albums, this one is a must.