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December 2021


Philip Glass
Maya Beiser x Philip Glass
Maya Beiser
Islandia Music
No cat. no.

For those who think Philip Glass’s music is mostly a bunch of endless arpeggios, cellist/arranger/producer Maya Beiser is here to set you straight. On this album she has arranged several of Glass’s piano etudes, the concert pieces Mad Rush and Music in Similar Motion, and selections from his opera scores for multitracked cello, and her arrangements demonstrate not only the complexity of Glass’s music but also his gradual evolution from repetitive minimalism into a sort of neo-Romantic expressivism. Those familiar with her work won’t be surprised by the virtuosity or the richness of her tone, but the inventivenss of her arrangements is also exceptional. A release for all libraries with a collecting interest in contemporary classical music.

Šimon Brixi
Music from Eighteenth-century Prague
Hipocondria Ensemble / Jan Hádek
Supraphon (dist. Naxos)
SU 4293-2

I’m really a sucker for world-premiere recordings of relatively ancient music — I love listening to music and thinking about the fact that it hasn’t been previously heard by anyone currently alive. And when the music is exceptionally beautiful, that makes the experience even more exciting. Šimon Brixi was a member of a distinguished Bohemian musical family (with genealogical connections to the celebrated Bendas); born at the end of the 17th century, he settled in Prague in his early 20s and began studying the law. But he abandoned the law for music and established himself as a church organist and composer. Despite significant regional renown, fewer than 40 of his works have survived. This outstanding recording features a Mass and a Magnificat setting, along with several briefer sacred works. All but the Magnificat are recorded here for the first time; the Hipocondria Ensemble (on period instruments) play with a lovely balance of lightness and solidity, and the singing of soloists Hana Blažíková and Jaromír Nosek is particularly noteworthy. For all collections.

Georg Benda
Piano Concertos
Howard Shelley; London Mozart Players
Hyperion (dist. Integral)

And speaking of the Benda family: I’ve been monitoring the Hyperion label’s The Classical Piano Concerto series with great delight ever since it was instituted in 2014. Now on its eighth volume, the series brings us four concertos by Georg Benda, a contemporary of C.P.E. Bach and Johann Stamitz better known today for his theatrical work than for his concert pieces. But pianist Howard Shelley and the London Mozart Players (all playing on modern instruments) make a powerful case here for Benda’s skill and even his importance in the latter arena, demonstrating how he helped build the bridge that linked the end of the baroque era with the beginning of the classical. Playing with relatively small forces (strings only apart from the piano soloist), Shelley and his group demonstrate Benda’s mastery of idiom and his forward-thinking structural ideas, and the entire album is a delight. Highly recommended to all classical collections, along with the previous volumes in the series.

Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin
Flute Sonatas & Concerto
Le Petit Trianon
Ricercar/Outhere (dist. Naxos)
RIC 428

These completely delightful chamber works for flute and strings (plus bassoon) come from the pen of celebrated flutist Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin, who is believed to have traded flute lessons for composition training from Johann Jacob Bach, brother of Johann Sebastian. He was a musician in the Dresden court in the early 18th century, and later spent many years in service to the King of Poland. This program features three sonatas and one chamber concerto, all of which showcase Buffardin’s unusually sweet lyricism and are exquisitely played by the Geneva-based ensemble Le Petit Trianon, featuring flute soloist Olivier Riehl. Strongly recommended to all classical collections.

Louis de Caix d’Hervelois
Dans le sillage de Marin Marais: Pièces de viole et autres oeuvres
La Rêveuse
Harmonia Mundi (dist. Integral)
HMM 902352

Henry Purcell
Chelys Consort of Viols
BIS (dist. Naxos)

Henry Purcell, one of England’s greatest composers, was only 20 years old when he composed his set of fantasias and In Nomines for an unspecified consort of instruments. He was creating surprisingly old-fashioned music for a young court composer, and it’s possible that these pieces served primarily as compositional exercises for him; nevertheless, they show his budding genius and are exceptionally lovely. The Chelys Consort of Viols makes a strong case both for their significance in Purcell’s oeuvre and for their attractiveness as chamber music. A few years later, across the Channel, the viol was still in fashion as a solo instrument and as a featured element in a “broken” consort (an ensemble of different instruments). In France, Marin Marais was the undisputed king of the viol, and a new recording by the La Rêveuse ensemble features the work of one of Marais’ little-known students: Louis de Caix d’Hervelois. He came into his own in the Regency period of the early 18th century, and wrote for both the five-string pardessus de viole and for the transverse flute, which was just coming into fashion. This program consists primarily of suites written for viol and continuo (the latter played by varying combinations of bass viol, theorbed lute, and harpsichord) plus one suite for traverso and continuo and several brief transcriptions for viol and for solo lute and guitar. This is gentle music, elegant in a rather self-effacing way, but quite inventive and beautifully played. I might have wished for a slightly warmer and more colorful recorded sound, but this is an excellent album overall.


Dave Miller Trio
The Mask-erade Is Over
Summit (dist. MVD)
DCD 784

One of the things I love about pianist Dave Miller is the way he combines disciplined, fleet-fingered linear technique with a lush, almost orchestral sound. Not as lush as Errol Garner or Bill Evans, and not as linear as, say, Bud Powell, but Miller’s style hovers somewhere on the spectrum between those artists, moving easily along that spectrum, sometimes in the course of a single tune. His latest album (with its somewhat prematurely optimistic title) is a joyful romp through a program of standards including several classic bop tunes (he opens with a thrilling take on Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology”), American Songbook standbys, and a couple of relatively obscure numbers. Bassist Andrew Higgins and drummer Bill Belasco accompany him more than ably, and Belasco’s subtle brushwork is a particular highlight.

Gordon Grdina

Gordon Grdina is back with a third solo album of pieces for guitar and oud (a fretless lute used in many Middle Eastern cultures). The music is a mix of fully composed and improvised pieces. On some of them you can hear jazzy and even bluesy influences poke through (most notably about halfway through “Benbow Blues”), and on others he explores more Arabic melodic ideas (“Wayward”). But much of the time this music is culturally unidentifiable, functioning as an expression of Grdina’s unique and unbelievably nimble musical mind. It’s not that he doesn’t respect or acknowledge his musical debts, just that he takes his influences and runs with them in a variety of directions, none of which can easily or accurately be pigeonholed as an expression of any one particular musical genre. You’ll find him in the Jazz section because that’s where he’s tended to be in the past, but jazz fans will scratch their heads at this release. And I mean that in a good way.


And while we’re exploring the misty borders of jazz/no-jazz, let’s check out the most recent release from pianist/composer Satoko Fujii. Futari is the name of her duo project with vibraphonist and marimba player Taiko Saito, and they’ve been working together for some years now as an improvising duo. When COVID forced the cancellation of a planned tour last year, they decided to create music together remotely, by exchanging sound files. Interestingly, this led to a creative process that was still improvisational, and yet allowed the possibility of multiple takes for each musician before the final version was settled upon. How’s the music itself? As gorgeous and complex as one would expect from these two players, sometimes knotty but mostly highly approachable. Saito plays with a bow quite a bit, and some of the album’s most delightful moments (such as the exceptional “Break in the Clouds”) are defined significantly by the contrast between Saito’s floating vibes chords and Fujii’s gentle, pointillistic piano lines. This is a marvelous album overall and would make a welcome addition to any serious jazz collection.

Doug MacDonald
Serenade to Highland Park
No cat. no.

Leading a trio that also includes bassist Mike Flick and drummer Paul Kreibich, guitarist Doug MacDonald takes us through a lovely set that focuses on standards, and takes a couple of detours into original compositions. MacDonald is showing off his stylistic range here, veering happily from Latin classics (“Manhã de Carbaval,” “Brazil”) to subtly funky blues (“Next Time You See Me”), to fierce midtempo burners (“Dearly Beloved”). He’s also showing off his unusual facility for chord solos, which are everywhere and always fun. Flick and Kreibich give him the best and most solid support any leader could ask for. This is a great album all around.


George Jackson
Hair & Hide

There is hardly a sound more archetypally American than the combination of fiddle and banjo, and on this album fiddler George Jackson celebrates that sound with a variety of A-list banjo players including Jake Blount, Brad Kolodner, and Catherine “BB” Bowness. He plays two tunes with each of them: a traditional number and a tune that he wrote for each banjoist with his or her particular playing style in mind. The result is an absolutely delightful kaleidoscope of tunes that shifts constantly from hardcore Appalachian mountain tonalities to the jazzier realms of newgrass — though it’s sometimes difficult to tell which tune is old and which one is new (except in the case of “Food, Coffee & Kisses,” which sounds a bit like, er, freejazzgrass). Notable here are the sounds of different kinds of banjos played in different styles: resonator-backed instruments played in Scruggs style, open-back banjos played using clawhammer technique, fretless gourd banjos, etc. This is a thoroughly delightful album.

Legendary Shack Shakers
Alternative Tentacles

As someone who grew up buying Dead Kennedys albums, it’s a little disorienting to be reviewing what amounts to a neo-country album released on the Alternative Tentacles label (and one that features former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra as a guest vocalist, no less). The music veers from relatively traditional bluegrass (“Tickle Yore Innards”) to chugging honky-tonk (“They Won’t Let Me Forget”) to a sort of queasy norteño (“Godforsaken Town”) to rollicking rockabilly (“U-Can-Be-a-Star”). And it does all of that within the first five tracks. Then we get a Texas polka. All of it is delivered with a deceptively loose-sounding tightness, and the lyrics are slyly subversive. Overall, this album is a real hoot.

Night Suite (EP; digital only)
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)

The world’s best (likely the world’s only) country-ambient supergroup is back again, this time with a digital-only EP of what has now become the band’s unique stock in trade: long-form instrumentals that employ classic country-music tropes (gently whining pedal steel, deeply twangy Telecaster licks, etc.) to create gorgeously abstract soundscapes — think of Brian and Roger Eno’s Apollo soundtrack, but wearing cowboy boots rather than a spacesuit. Don’t be fooled, though; this is music of significant sophistication no matter how easy it may be on the ear. My only quibble is that albums like this shouldn’t be EPs — they should be at least 70 minutes long. Once you’re in this mood you don’t want to come up to the surface again after only 19 minutes.


Thatwasmyskull Music
No cat. no.

Well Wishers
Spare Parts (digital only)
Thatwasmyskull Music
No cat. no.

Well Wishers is the nom de power pop of singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Shelton, also known as the frontman for the similarly-inclined Bay Area band Spinning Jennies, who broke up in 2004. Shelton has since released over a dozen albums under the name Well Wishers, and the most recent is a digital-only compilation of outtakes and unreleased tracks spanning a period of ten years. As always, Shelton’s feel for a hook and his love of multi-layered guitars (not to mention his fine voice and skillful harmony singing) create a perfect crunchy-pop listening experience. Interestingly, he’s established a musical side hustle as well: a dreampop/Britpop project called Deadlights. On Deadlights’ eponymous debut album Shelton’s sound is a bit denser and also a bit softer around the edges than his Well Wishers music. There’s a somewhat shoegaze-y vibe here on some of these songs — I sometimes get a lovely whiff of Cocteau Twins mixed with the Sundays — but the pure pop sensibility is still strong and Shelton’s voice is easily recognizable. Both of these albums would make a welcome addition to any library’s pop music collection.

Daydream Accelerator (digital only)
Magnetic Moon
No cat. no.

Rob Garza is better known as half of the legendary downtempo electronica duo Thievery Corporation, with whom for over 25 years he’s been the architect of a groundbreaking club vibe that fuses elements of Brazilian, lounge, dub, and trip hop sounds. Now breaking out as a solo artist, Garza has put together a wide-ranging album of club and dreampop tunes in collaboration with vocalists including Enemy Planes, Racquel Jones, and EMELINE. None of the music here will shock or startle a Thievery Corporation fan, but Garza is definitely charting his own territory here: you might expect a song titled “We Want Blood” to be somewhat aggro, but in fact it’s gently bumping dream-house; “Talkin” is solid but soft-edged dancehall, while “Swim to Shore” is dubbed-up synth pop with a gently insistent hook. Very nice stuff.

Illusion of Self (digital/vinyl only)
Ohm Resistance

The Ohm Resistance label bills itself as “specialists in subsonic grief-bass programming,” and if that description sounds a bit tongue-in-cheek, well, listen to a few of its releases and you’ll get it. That being said, the new Ohm Resistance release by Berlin-based artist Villify takes a somewhat softer and kinder tack than that of many other musicians on the label’s roster. This is definitely bass music, and it’s definitely dark and moody, but it’s also restrained and very carefully orchestrated. “Road to Eleusis” flirts with a drill’n’bass tempo but keeps the focus on floating chords and ethereal textures, and the title track does something similar, also incorporating unidentifiable shards of vocals; “Ultimate Complexity” brings a somewhat tribal flavor to the proceedings. All of it is deeply enjoyable and only slightly unsettling (and only in the best way). Highly recommended.

Birds of Passage
The Last Garden
Denovali (dist. Redeye)
No cat. no.

Alicia Merz is a New Zealander who records — quite sporadically — under the name Birds of Passage. She doesn’t share much with the public about her personal life, but based purely on the evidence of this, her fifth album, she’s not necessarily a life-of-the-party type. Song titles like “It’s Too Late Now,” “Worship My Flaws,” and “Petite mort” give you an idea of what to expect: shimmering soundscapes built out of exceeding subtle chord progressions played by radically fuzzed-out instruments; vocals whispered as much as sung; melodies that pile up as gently and quietly as feathers falling. Hooks? Eh, no. And yet the album is tremendously engaging and richly rewards a close listen.


Shjujaat Husain Khan; Katayoun Goudarzi; Shaho Andalibi; Shariq Mustafa
This Pale
LR 002109

This album was recorded with, in part, a non-musical purpose: to try to come to an understanding of how the United States — where 13th-century Sufi mystic Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi has been the best-selling poet for almost 20 years — could have succumbed to such broad and powerful anti-Muslim sentiment over the past several years. Katayioun Goudarzi (voice), Shujaat Khan (sitar), Shaho Andalibi (ney), and Shariq Mustafa (tabla) decided to make an album consisting entirely of setting of Rumi’s love poems, and the result is this quietly intense and utterly gorgeous recording. The COVID pandemic forced the quartet to record mostly asynchronously, but the production is so fine and the performances so empathic that you would swear they were all in the same room with you. And Goudarzi’s voice is a wonder. Highly recommended to all libraries.

Marcus Gad Meets Tamal
Brave New World (digital & vinyl only)
Easy Star/Baco
No cat. no.

Marcus Gad hails from New Caledonia, a French protectorate in the South Pacific; for several years now, he’s been engaged in an ongoing collaboration with French producer Tamal. The latest fruit of that collaboration is this outstanding album of music that could loosely be called reggae but that regularly strays far from the usual reggae formulas. “Sunshine,” for example, is written in 6/8, while “Break the Spell” is a sort of hip hop fusion and “Treasure” is more R&B than anything else. Gad’s adopted Jamaican accent provides the only link to reggae tradition in many cases, but it also serves as the continuous thread that holds the album’s many stylistic excursions together. Very nice overall.

7 Keys, Vol. 2 (digital only)
No cat. no.

If you recognize Jhelisa Anderson’s name, there’s a good chance it’s from her 1990s work as a funk-soul diva, releasing acclaimed solo work while also appearing alongside the likes of the Shamen, Massive Attack, Soul Family Sensation, and even Björk. in 2018, after a long hiatus from solo recording, she made an album of drone-based music for meditation titled 7 Keys. Now she’s back with 7 Keys Vol. 2 (the first volume is being reissued simultaneously), and on these two albums she creates tracks at different frequencies designed to activate different chakras (bodily centers of focus during meditation, as outlined in mystical strains of Hinduism). Thus, each track is named according to a particular frequency, and each is built on a single droned pitch, sung by Anderson — though other pitches are often layered quietly around the central one. Beats enter the picture as well, from time to time, and occasional melodic melismas. The result is an album that those so inclined can use as an aid to meditation, but can also serve as deeply relaxing New Age/ambient mood music.


January 2017


bernocchiEraldo Bernocchi & Prakash Sontakke
Invisible Strings

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.


bryarsGavin Bryars
The Fifth Century
PRISM Quartet; The Crossing / Donald Nally
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

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)

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)
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
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)

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.


pennyVictor & Penny
V&P Productions

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
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)

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
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
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.


swiftKen & Brad Kolodner
The Swift House
Fenchurch Music

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)
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
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
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.


muRichard Pinhas & Barry Cleveland

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.

Out on Your Block
Wicked Cool

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
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
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.


khalifeMarcel Khalife; Mahmoud Darwish
Andalusia of Love

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.

October 2013


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.


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
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
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
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.


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

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

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)

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.

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
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.


kolodnerKen & Brad Kolodner
Skipping Rocks
Fenchurch Music
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
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

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.


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

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
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)

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)

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.


kulaKayhan Kalhor; Erdal Erzincan
Kula Kulluk Yakisir Mi

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
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
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
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.