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October 2017


PICK OF THE MONTH


Jane Antonia Cornish
Into Silence
Innova (dist. Naxos)
976

I’ve been writing music reviews for a variety of publications for almost 30 years now, and with this album of chamber works by the composer Jane Antonia Cornish, I’ve had an unprecedented experience: I find myself being irritated that, in order to fill the October issue of CD HotList, I’m going to have to listen to a bunch of other albums rather than listen to this one over and over for the next two weeks, which is what I would dearly like to do.

Cornish is known primarily as a film composer, and the unfussy lyricism of this music bespeaks someone who is used to writing music in order to forward a functional narrative purpose. But the beauty of Cornish’s compositions runs far deeper than their lyricism; it lies in her use of empty space, her insightful way with instrumental texture (something that film composers learn better than almost any others), and her willingness to put ostentatious virtuosity aside in favor of clarity. Each of these pieces is written for some combination of violin, piano, cellos, and electronics, though the electronics are incorporated so seamlessly into the overall soundworld of these works that they are almost completely imperceptible as such. The music is deeply quiet and stunningly beautiful. I highly recommend this disc to all libraries. (And now I’m off to find as many other recordings of Cornish’s work as I possibly can.)


CLASSICAL


Terry Riley
In C
Brooklyn Raga Massive
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)
NS094
Rick’s Pick

Terry Riley’s pioneering work In C is notable for a number of things, one of which is its nearly infinite malleability. It’s written in the form of 53 “cells” of musical fragments, from which the performers select and which they play as many times as they wish, sticking with one or shifting between them. It goes without saying that the ensemble playing this music can be of any size and any instrumental makeup, and can play within the stylistic boundaries of virtually any musical tradition. Hence this recording by Brooklyn Raga Massive, a large ensemble dedicated to the exploration of Indian classical music. There’s a delicious irony here in the fact that Indian classical music is known for its microtonal melodic complexity, while In C is notable for its sub-diatonic simplicity. But there are no real rules here, and nothing to stop the BRM crew from introducing traditional Indian melisma and ornamentation into the mix, which of course they do, making this a truly unique realization of Riley’s work. Highly recommended to all classical collections.


Earl Wild
Gershwin & Wild
Joanne Polk
Steinway & Sons
30090

I continue to be impressed by the business savvy of the legendary piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons, which established a few years ago a record label designed to showcase its products. It’s a win-win: top-flight performers get a recording venue; listeners get (what have so far been) consistently great recordings; Steinway gets both sales revenue for the albums and a built-in advertising platform. The latest such release is this performance of two works by 20th-century American composer Earl Wild: the first, a set of variations on familiar themes of George Gershwin (including American Songbook classics like “The Man I Love” and “I Got Rhythm”), all transformed into lushly romantic and virtuosic études; the second a jazz-and-R&B-influenced original sonata. Don’t let the fact that the sonata’s third movement references Ricky Martin fool you: this is highly complex classical music that draws on influences from popular culture but in no way bows to them. Joanne Polk is a thrilling exponent of these works, and this disc would make a great addition to any library supporting piano pedagogy.


Georg Philipp Telemann et al.
Telemandolin
Alon Sariel; various accompanists
Berlin Classics (dist. Naxos)
0300934BC

During the baroque era, it was common for composers and performers to take works originally written for one instrument and transcribe them for another. That tradition continues with this delightful recording by Israeli mandolinist/guitarist/lutenist Alon Shariel, who is besotted with the music of Telemann and so arranged a variety of chamber and concert works by Telemann, C.P.E. Bach, Carl Friedrich Abel, and Johann Friedrich Fasch for various combinations of mandolin, lute, baroque guitar, continuo, and strings. It’s both Telemann and the mandolin that take center stage here, though, with a concerto arrangement, several fantasias and suites, and a partita. Sariel’s playing is lovely and the arrangements are of academic as well as aesthetic interest.


Johann Sebastian Bach
Remix: Bach Transcriptions
Tanya Gabrielian
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1594

Speaking of transcriptions of baroque music: certainly the single most frequently-transcribed composer of the baroque era is J.S. Bach, who, of course, never wrote for the modern piano (which didn’t exist during his lifetime, although the fortepiano did). On this album, pianist Tanya Gabrielian performs transcriptions of Bach’s third violin sonata and second cello suite along with one section each from his second violin partita and second violin sonata. While her playing is excellent, how one feels about these transcriptions themselves will depend significantly on one’s opinion of the practice of importing Romantic expressivity into baroque works–particularly on the first transcription by Alexander Siloti. Recommended.


Arnold Schoenberg
String Quartets 2 & 4
Gringolts Quartet; Malin Hartelius
BIS (dist. Naxos)
BIS-2267
Rick’s Pick

For some reason, I always find it emotionally draining to listen to Schoenberg. Maybe I’m projecting: in his music, I hear deep anxiety over the abandonment of tonality and a feeling of slight foreboding over what the future will bring. At the same time I find his music formally thrilling, and of course the historical significance of his harmonic approach gives the listening experience an added frisson. The two string quartets featured on this very fine recording are separated in time by almost 30 years: the second quartet simultaneously looks backward and forward, while the fourth finds him beginning to break the strict rules of dodecophany that he had codified in the meantime. The playing by the Gringolts Quartet is absolutely outstanding, as is the contribution by soprano Malin Hartelius on the first piece. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


Luigi Boccherini
6 sonate di cembalo e violino obbligato, Op. 5 (2 discs)
Liana Mosca; Pierre Goy
Stradivarius (dist. Naxos)
STR 33983

Both today and during his own lifetime, Luigi Boccherini has been best known as a player of and composer for the cello. These six sonatas for piano with violin obbligato represent his first keyboard compositions, and were prompted in part by his fascination with the “new” pianos coming onto the market around 1760. The square piano used in this recording dates from that period, as does the violin played by Liana Mosca. In this case, the use of period instruments gives the recording more historical than purely aural advantage–the Frederick Beck piano used here sounds somewhat clattery and tinny, though the violin is lovely. The music itself is surprisingly mature-sounding, very French, and all of it is beautifully played.


Claude Debussy; Jean-Philippe Rameau
Debussy & Rameau: The Unbroken Line
Jeffrey LaDeur
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1654

With this album, pianist Jeffrey LaDeur is making an argument: that there exists an “unbroken line” of stylistic influence between the early-18th-century keyboard music of Rameau and the early-20th-century keyboard music of Debussy. Certainly Debussy’s admiration of Rameau is no secret, and he was a passionate exponent of Rameau and others of the French tradition at a time when much of the musical world was completely absorbed by Wagnerian themes and styles. You can read the liner notes for a detailed account of LaDeur’s argument; for my purposes, I’ll just say that the juxtapositions he offers here (between two Rameau selections, the first book of Debussy’s Images and the second of his preludes) are fascinating and beautiful, as is his playing.


JAZZ


Junior Mance
The Complete Albums Collection 1959-1962
Enlightenment (dist. MVD)
EN4CD9125
Rick’s Pick

This four-disc box brings together eight albums recorded by the great pianist Junior Mance for the Verve, Jazzland, and Riverside labels between 1959 and 1962. Most of these are trio dates, but The Chicago Cookers is a quintet recording led by Johnny Griffin and Wilbur Ware featuring Mance on piano, and on The Soul of Hollywood Mance’s trio is augmented by a studio orchestra for a set of popular film compositions. As with many of the super-budget-priced jazz box sets that have emerged in recent years (since these recordings passed out of copyright in the UK), this box offers tremendous value for money–the sound quality is good and the music itself is simply superb; Mance remains an underrated talent, and his affinity for the blues is beautifully on display on all of these albums. The downside, in this case, is the complete lack of personnel and other recording information. Still, this set can be confidently recommended to all libraries.


Subhi
Shaitaan Dil: Naughty Heart
Self-released
No cat. no.

Subhi is a singer and songwriter who was raised in Delhi and educated in the US. She left a career in finance in order to pursue music, but soon found herself equally dissatisfied with a new professional track that seemed to involve more meetings and negotiation than actual music-making. It was only after moving to Chicago and striking up a friendship with jazz pianist Joaquin Garcia that she finally found her voice, and this collection of Hindi songs in a variety of jazz styles is the result. In some ways it’s unlike anything else you’ll hear–but at the same time, it’s quite familiar and fun. And it shows that not all musical fusions have to result in seamless blends; sometimes they can be emulsions that leave their component stylistic elements distinctive and juxtapose them happily. Her voice is lovely, as are her melodies.


Art Pepper
Presents West Coast Sessions, Vol. 5: Jack Sheldon
Omnivore
OVCD-236
Rick’s Pick

Art Pepper
Presents West Coast Sessions, Vol. 6: Shelly Manne
Omnivore
OVCD-237
Rick’s Pick

These are the final two volumes in a series of reissues that bring to the American market, for the first time, albums made by the legendary alto saxophonist Art Pepper for the Japanese Atlas label between 1979 and 1981. At the time his exclusive contract with the Fantasy/Galaxy label group prevented him from recording for Atlas as a leader, so instead he solicited other A-list musicians to serve as titular leaders on these albums. These last two feature trumpeter Jack Sheldon and drummer Shelly Manne, respectively, and (as the folks at Atlas requested) they find Pepper and his crew playing in the “cool” West Coast style that he had helped to define in the 1950s. Pristine sound, generous bonus tracks, and outstanding playing make this entire series an absolute must-have for all library jazz collections. I’m sad to see it come to an end.


Behn Gillece
Walk of Fire
Positone
PR8173
Rick’s Pick

I feel as though the vibes have been making a comeback over the past few years–it seems like every couple of months or so I get a review copy of a really top-notch small-combo album led by a vibes player who is simultaneously celebrating jazz tradition and expanding it, however subtly. Case in point: the latest from vibraphone virtuoso (and crack composer) Behn Gillece. Here he leads a septet that also includes such luminaries as saxophonist Walt Weiskopf and trombonist Michael Dease on an all-original program that explores multiple moods and styles, from the bossa-flavored “Fantasia Brasileira” to the Milt Jackson tribute “Bag’s Mood” and the Coltrane-y modal workout “Battering Ram.” He and his combo swing like nobody’s business, and Gillece’s solos are a marvel. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.


Katie Thiroux
Off Beat
Capri
74146-2

I don’t often review vocal jazz (don’t ask me why; I’m not entirely sure), but I do listen to everything that comes across my desk from the Capri label, AND I have a soft spot in my heart for bassists, so the sophomore album from bassist and singer Katie Thiroux caught both my eye and my ear this month. (The fact that my hero Ken Peplowski is on the date also helped to grab my attention.) Anyway, Thiroux’s voice is a velvety delight, her intonation is perfect, her playful sense of swing is sublime. And she’s a fine, fine bass player as well. This album is just a solid winner all around and I recommend it to all libraries.


Mike Stern
Trip
Heads Up/Concord
HU00010

I have to say that on the opening track of his latest album, guitarist Mike Stern sounds absolutely furious. As well he might: the title of that track (and of the album itself) is a wry reference to the fact that in the summer of 2016, while Stern was hailing a cab, he tripped and fell, breaking both of his arms. The injury resulted in nerve damage to his right hand that has left him unable to grip a plectrum without mechanical aid. Listeners might be forgiven for failing to notice a difference–Stern manages still to play with energy, jaw-dropping technique, and a sharp attack. And the astonishing array of sidepersons who stepped up to play alongside him on this album (Dave Weckl, Bill Evans, Randy Brecker, Lenny White, and many more) suggests that no one is expecting him to go anywhere. Thank heaven for tender mercies. An outstanding set of modern jazz from one of our greatest living guitarists.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Dori Freeman
Letters Never Read
Blue Hens Music
BH001
Rick’s Pick

Dori Freeman is back with another unspeakably beautiful album of country music that simultaneously celebrates and expands the traditions of her native Galax, Virginia. Like her debut, this one is produced by Teddy Thompson (and if the electric guitar solos sound strangely familiar, yes, that’s Teddy’s dad Richard). And this time she covers a Richard & Linda Thompson classic, the country-ready “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight.” But once again, what’s centrally important here is her voice, which is as solid and beautiful as a polished stone, in combination with her achingly perfect songs. Every library that collects country and folk music should jump to acquire this one, as well her self-titled debut. (Sole complaint: at just under 29 minutes, this album is way, way too short.)


Eilen Jewell
Downhearted Blues
Signature Sounds (dist. Redeye)
SIG-CD-2089

Eilen Jewell is an accomplished songwriter, but her driving passion is old and obscure music of various kinds, including the blues. On her latest album she gathers songs originally recorded by the likes of Willie Dixon, Memphis Minnie, Alberta Hunter, and Charles Sheffield, delivering them in her own distinctive style–one that combines lowdown delivery with a clear, sweet voice. The effect is controlled but sexy, and her band gives her exactly the right kind of solid, powerful, but carefully-orchestrated backing she needs. It’s rare to hear a blues album that combines restraint and passion so effectively. Highly recommended.


Flatt Lonesome
Silence in These Walls
Mountain Home Music Company
MH16892

Their name is clearly a tribute to their bluegrass roots (referencing simultaneously Lester Flatt and the “high lonesome” sound exemplified by Bill Monroe), but Flatt Lonesome uses those roots as a jumping-off point. Despite their very traditional instrumentation, the music they make has more in common with modern singer-songwriter country music than traditional bluegrass. The chord changes go way beyond the boundaries of traditional I-IV-V, and the harmonies are richer and denser than is typical for bluegrass music. (And is that an electric guitar on “I’m Not Afraid to Be Alone”? Why, yes it is.) However, there’s none of the jazzy showing-off that typifies some newgrass bands, either. These guys are just exceptionally gifted country artists working with bluegrass instrumentation, and their latest album finds them moving from strength to strength.


Whitney Rose
Rule 62
Six Shooter
SIX108

A country singer who simultaneously characterizes herself as a “country hair disciple” and her new album as a breakup with the patriarchy is someone you just have to give a listen to, am I right? And the fact that she’s teamed up with Raul Malo again (he’s a producer here, but usually he’s the Mavericks’ frontman) means that woven in among the faux-1950s sonics and the bittersweet vocals are some polka and ska backbeats, as well as some delightfully cheesy lounge-surf guitar flourishes. (Whether he’s to blame for the near absence of treble in the mix is an open question.) Rose is a very sharp songwriter as well as a fine singer, and this is an outstanding collection of modern country songs.


ROCK/POP


Jah Wobble
In Trance (compilation; 3 discs)
30 Hertz (dist. Cherry Red)
30HZCD44T

One of the best things that punk rock did had very little to do with punk rock. By radically pushing outward the boundaries of what counted as popular music, punk created space for artists to explore styles that were not “punky” in any meaningful sense, but that were way outside the rock/pop norm. Few postpunk artists have taken such effective advantage of that space as bassist John Wardle, a.k.a. Jah Wobble (ex-Public Image Ltd). Stylistically, his experiments have regularly taken him all around the world and into outer space, and while not all of those experiments have been successful, they have never, ever been less than interesting. This three-disc set brings together some of the quieter and more contemplative examples of his explorations, drawn from several of his albums over the past 20 years. Always deeply influenced by dub and by Middle Eastern musical traditions, Wobble uses space and repetition as primary ingredients in his musical recipes, and some listeners may find at least some of this music tedious–but keep listening. It’s worth it.


Laraaji
Bring on the Sun (2 discs)
All Saints (dist. Redeye)
WAST054CD

Laraaji came to the attention of British and American audiences back in the early 1980s, when Brian Eno produced a recording of his shimmering, maxi-minimalist dulcimer pieces for his Editions E.G. label. In recent years there’s been something of a resurgence of interest in Laraaji’s music, thanks to some well-timed reissues. But this album is actually a set of brand-new music, some of which might be a bit startling to his longstanding fans. The first disc offers more of the gentle, sweet-tempered weirdness we’ve come to expect, but with the addition of spoken-word autbiography and even some surprisingly mellifluous singing. The second disc consists of two tracks created primarily out of electronic treatments of sounds from a Chinese wind gong. These are much darker and more ominous-sounding than most of Laraaji’s music. All of it is very much worth hearing.


Enter Shikari
The Spark
Play It Again Sam
990

Enter Shikari emerged from England’s post-hardcore scene in the mid-aughts with a unique sound proposition: screamy political hardcore that would occasionally and without warning give way to woozy dubstep beats or jungle breakdowns. Early in the band’s career it was a bit difficult to discern, but there was also always a whiff of proggy experimentalism to their approach. On The Spark, the band’s fifth full-length album, the progressive elements have really come to the fore: there’s still some yelling, and the band’s political convictions are as explicit as ever, and there are plenty of heavy guitars and hard, funky beats–but the overall mood is more introspective, and there are moments of quietude that would have been hard to imagine ten years ago. Enter Shikari is a band that never sits still, and so much the better.


The Raspberries
Pop Art Live (2 discs)
Omnivore
OVCD-229

Of course, some bands never change at all, and that can be okay too. 1970s power-pop heroes the Raspberries never changed, in significant part, because they broke up 40 years ago. Frontman Eric Carmen went on to a successful solo career, and that was that. Until 2005, when the four founding members of the band got together for a brief reunion tour, which opened at Cleveland’s House of Blues. That concert is captured on this recording, which is tons of fun. Carmen’s voice isn’t in the greatest shape, but the group’s harmonies are as tight as ever and the overall sound is very good. The Raspberries’ many fans will welcome this release into any library’s pop collection.


Gabriel Le Mar
Stripped
Carpe Sonum
SEIZE-VII

Gabriel Le Mar is better known as one half (with Michael Kohlbecker) of the German electronica duo Saafi Brothers. On his own, he explores somewhat darker, less world-influenced, and more abstract territories. On his latest solo album he keeps things dark, warm, and inviting, and although each of the tracks on Stripped is labeled “beatless,” that’s not 100% accurate: every track has a pulse and features percussion (or at least percussive) sounds. But what none of them has is a driving rhythm; instead, all are excursions into nearly-ambient soundscapes consisting of large sonic spaces filled with tiny details both rhythmic and textural. Fans of the Saafi Brothers and of bands like the Orb and Banco de Gaia should pay particular attention.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Ravi
The Afro-Indian Project
ARC Music (dist. Naxos)
EUCD 2749

Kora player Ravi (né J.P. Freeman) brought together an all-star cast of Indian, African, and English musicians in order to create this unusual but highly enjoyable fusion of Indian and African musical elements. Along with his kora, you’ll hear various combinations of santoor, tabla, bansuri, guitar, saxophone, and other instruments, all held together by Danny Thompson’s powerful but understated upright bass. Authentic? By no means; ethnomusicological purists will get great satisfaction in turning up their noses at this album. But is it really very pretty? You bet.


¡ESSO! Afrojam Funkbeat
Juntos
Sonic Octopus
No cat. no.

An eight-piece band that celebrates its cultural diversity (members are Mexican, Puerto Rican, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Colombian, African American, and both male and female), ¡ESSO! Afrojam Funkbeat nevertheless has an overarching stylistic identity: it’s Latin, and within that broad classification its strongest single element is cumbia. But there are plenty of other influences bubbling around in there as well, including Afrobeat, jazz, reggae, and funk–sometimes in sequence, and sometimes all at once, with different elements coexisting on different rhythmic layers in the same song. Interestingly, although this music is always percolatingly funky, there’s also a strangely contemplative vibe to many of these songs; the tempos are typically moderate, and the lyrical themes are thoughtful and sometimes hortatory. This is clearly one of those bands that wants you to dance and to think at the same time.


Baraka Moon
Wind Horse
INgrooves
No cat. no.

Speaking of diverse musical ensembles: Baraka Moon is a Bay Area quartet consisting of Pakistani singer/harmonium player Sokhawat Ali Khan, percussionist/didjeridoo player Stephen Kent, drummer/percussionist Peter Warren, and guitarist Anastasi Mavrides. Together they make music that uses Khan’s qawwali-derived singing as a center around which the band builds funky, slinky, bluesy arrangements that draw on multiple rhythmic and instrumental traditions simultaneously. The result could easily be a shambling mess, but it isn’t–the music is tight, expansive, and fun. For all world music collections.


Indubious
From Zero
Righteous Sound Productions
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

You might not have heard of Indubious. They’re a reggae band based in Southern Oregon, headed by two brothers who were born with cystic fibrosis and were basically told from their early childhood that they were about to die. Now in their 20s, they have instead become a major force in the West Coast reggae scene, and their fourth album is a triumph of powerful, heavyweight grooves, conscious lyrics, and catchy melodies. Guests include Sizzla Kalonji, Vaughn Benjamin, and Zahira, but the album works because of Spencer Burton’s bass and Evan Burton’s sweet singing–not to mention the rich production, all of which was done by the two brothers. This is an astoundingly fine album.


Various Artists
Andina: The Sound of the Peruvian Andes: Huayno, Carnaval & Cumbia 1968 to 1978
Tiger’s Milk/Strut (dist. Redeye)
TIGMCD006CD

During the late 1960s and 1970s, the popular music scene in the Peruvian Andes (and especially in Lima, its urban center) was richer and more diverse than one might imagine. This wonderful disc brings together examples of cumbia, huayno, big band, and traditional harp music from the period; most of these were original vinyl recordings that have never been released outside of Peru and are long out of print even there. This will be the first in a series of three albums exploring the history of Peruvian music up to the present, and, charmingly, this one is released at the same time as a similarly-themed cookbook. Recommended to all libraries.


Ozomatli
Non-Stop: Mexico to Jamaica
Cleopatra
CL00545

In many parts of the world right now, a hot and sunny summer is giving way to the wind and rain of autumn. If you want to hold onto the last vestiges of summer sunshine, get ahold of this album from Latin-fusion band Ozomatli. The album title says it all: Ozomatli is a Los Angeles-based band that is conversant in a wide variety of Latin rhythms and styles, but they also love reggae and funk. So that pretty much tells you what to expect: tight harmonies, soaring melodies, funky rhythms, reggae backbeats, heavy bass, all in various combinations that shift from song to song. Pull this one out when the weather gets seriously bad in January or February, and watch your patrons’ faces light up.


The Expanders
Old Time Something Come Back Again, Vol. 2
Easy Star
ES-1065
Rick’s Pick

For more of a pure reggae experience, definitely check out the latest from the Expanders, also based in Los Angeles. The first album in this series of classic reggae cover collections was released as a free download (it’s still available here, if you sign up for their mailing list), and it was absolutely outstanding. This one, if anything, is even better–I’ve been a roots-reggae crate-digger for almost 35 years now, and I’ve heard maybe three of these tracks before. The songs are arranged respectfully but not slavishly, and the Expanders both play and sing with a warmth and an easy virtuosity that make the album a completely enjoyable listening experience. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Akshara
In Time
Blue-Skinned God
No cat. no.

Indian percussionist Bala Skandam leads the percussion-centric, New York-based ensemble Akshara through a blisteringly virtuosic and melodically gorgeous set of original tunes on this, the group’s debut album. The focus here is on the deep rhythmic complexity that characterizes South Indian music. The rhythms are not only played by percussion instruments (notably the mridangam), but are also sung in a vocal style called konnakkol, by which beats are given a variety of different vowel/consonant representations and chanted in patterns as they’re played. The combination of these long and incredibly complicated rhythmic patterns and the melodies played by flute, strings, and hammered dulcimer is sometimes hair-raisingly beautiful. Highly recommended.

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April 2016


PICKS OF THE MONTH


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

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

 

 

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

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

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


CLASSICAL


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

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


hurdGeorge Hurd
Navigation Without Numbers
The Hurd Ensemble
Innova (dist. Allegro)
937
Rick’s Pick

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


cazzatiMaurizio Cazzati; Sebastian Scherer
From Bologna to Beromünster: Mass & Psalms Op. 36
Voces Suaves / Francesco Saverio Pedrini
Claves (dist. Albany)
50-1605

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


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

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

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


byrdWilliam Byrd; Arvo Pärt; Thomas Tallis
The Deer’s Cry
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers
Coro (dist. Allegro)
COR16140

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


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

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


krehlStephan Krehl
Clarinet Quintet; String Quartet
Larchmere String Quartet; Wonkak Kim
Naxos
9.70173
Rick’s Pick

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


JAZZ


benitaMichel Benita & Ethics
River Silver
ECM
2483
Rick’s Pick

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


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

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


tjadeMike Freeman ZonaVibe
Blue Tjade
VOF Recordings
VOF 2015-6

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


nysqNew York Standards Quartet
Power of 10
Whirlwind
WR 4680

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


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

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


rhythmRhythm Future Quartet
Travels
Magic Fiddle
No cat. no.

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


COUNTRY/FOLK


annaAnna & Elizabeth
Anna & Elizabeth
Free Dirt
DIRT-CD-0072
Rick’s Pick

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


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

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


erelliMark Erelli
For a Song
Self-released
No cat. no.

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


shackLegendary Shack Shakers
The Southern Surreal
Alternative Tentacles
Virus 476

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


ROCK/POP


rebelVarious Artists
Generation Next — Volume 1 (DIGITAL ONLY)
Rebel Traxx
RTA006
Rick’s Pick

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


shikariEnter Shikari
Mindsweep: Hospitalised
Play It Again Sam
5037092

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


ragsdaleThomas Ragsdale
Dear Araucaria (EP)
This Is It Forever
TIIF25

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


panicPanic Is Perfect
Cellspace
Strange Loop
No cat. no.

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


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

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


WORLD/ETHNIC


illbillyIllbilly Hitec
Reggae Not Dead
Echo Beach
111
Rick’s Pick

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


silvaSilva
Júpiter
Six Degrees
361234

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


krakauerKrakauer’s Ancestral Groove
Checkpoint
Table Pounding
TPR-003
Rick’s Pick

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


nattyNatty Nation
Divine Spark
iNatty
INATTY015

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

February 2015


PICK OF THE MONTH


enoBrian Eno
The Shutov Assembly (deluxe reissue; 2 discs)
All Saints (dist. Redeye)
WAST032CD

Over the past few years, there has been a slow but steady trickle of reissues of music made by Brian Eno in the 1970s, ’80s, and 90s. Quite a few of these have been excellent and most welcome, none of them more so than this deluxe two-disc reissue of The Shutov Assembly, a collection of ambient pieces dedicated to Russian artist Sergei Shutov. This music harks back quite explicitly to Eno’s ambient recordings of the 1970s (particularly the lovely Discreet Music), and demonstrates again why Eno is generally considered the grand master of this genre. It was released in conjunction with three other titles, all of them also deluxe two-disc sets featuring rare and unreleased bonus material: the equally ambient (but somewhat less interesting) Neroli, and the decidedly funkier and by-no-means-ambient The Drop and Nerve Net. Of his non-ambient albums from previous decades I find Nerve Net the most compelling, but any library collecting comprehensively in popular music should absolutely pick up all four of these reissues. Those collecting more selectively might find their needs met by only The Shutov Assembly and Nerve Net.


CLASSICAL


haydnFranz Joseph Haydn
Symphonies Nos. 57, 67, 68
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra / Nicholas McGegan
Philharmonia Baroque Productions (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
PBP-08
Rick’s Pick

Listening to the rich, robust, yet silky tone of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, it’s hard not to think back to the early days of the period-instrument movement in the 1970s — a time when traditionalists snickered at the thin and vinegary-sounding violins, the burbly natural horns, and the out-of-tune woodwinds that so often characterized early attempts at reconstructing the sounds of the 18th century. Period musicians have thoroughly vindicated themselves since, and no exponent of the movement has done so more convincingly than the Philharmonia Orchestra. These three symphonies show Haydn at his most creative and McGegan and crew at their most engagingly vibrant, and this disc should be considered an essential purchase for all classical collections.


mozartWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Horn Concertos; Horn Quintet
Pip Eastop; The Hanover Band; Eroica Quartet / Anthony Halstead
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CDA68097

On the other hand, it does have to be acknowledged that 18th-century instruments had certain limitations. Most notoriously, the valveless (or “natural”) horn is an unbelievably difficult instrument to play in tune, let alone with an attractive tone, and even the most accomplished players are sometimes bested by its constraints. Pip Eastop is a brilliant natural horn player, and he acquits himself beautifully on this program of four concertos and one chamber work; despite his exceptional skill, however, there will still be some listeners who come away from this album preferring the richer and more burnished sound of the modern horn. There’s no need to choose between them, though — any classical collection would be well served by examples of both, and this is the finest period-instrument performance of these works I’ve heard yet.


fantsVarious Composers
Fantasias & Fugues: Music for Harp
Katrina Szederkényi
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1527

Harpist Katrina Szederkényi has set herself a prodigious task with this album: presenting fantasias and fugues from the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries by a variety of composers, including J.S. Bach, Joaquín Turina, Elias Parish-Alvars, Michael Kimbell, and Henriette Renié. All consist of themes with fugal variations, and two of them (including Kimbell’s Ballade Arctique, written for Szederkényi and presented here in its world-premiere recording) are essentially tightly-structured tone poems. This album offers not only a portrait of an exceptionally talented young harpist, but also a handy catalogue of harp style and techniques from across four centuries.


sweetVarious Composers
Sweete Musicke of Sundrie Kindes
The Royal Wind Music / Paul Leenhouts
Lindoro (dist. Allegro)
NL-3023
Rick’s Pick

The court of King Henry VIII was notable for its music; the king himself was an accomplished musician, and somewhere around the 1530s he hired a quintet of Italian brothers, the Bassanos, who were renowned as recorder builders and players. On this album the Royal Wind Music consort presents arrangements of music for recorder consort from that period written by such eminent English composers as Robert Parsons, Thomas Weelkes, Anthony Holborne, and (inevitably) John Dowland, suggesting what King Henry’s court might have sounded like at the time. Their playing is both surgically tight and sweetly expressive, whether jauntily bouncing through a galliard or conveying the moony melancholy of Dowland’s famous Semper Dowland, semper dolens. Gorgeous.


biederAnton Diabelli; Konradin Kreutzer; Wenzeslaus Matiegka
Biedermeier Treasures for Csakan, Viola and Guitar
Trio Mirabell
Leonardo/Urania (dist. Albany)
LDV 14018

Speaking of recorders, here’s a fun curiosity: a collection of chamber works featuring the csakan, a walking-stick-sized recorder that enjoyed brief popularity during the Biedermeier Age in turn-of-the-(18th)-century Austria. This was a transitional period between the classical and Romantic styles, and the music of this time and place has often been somewhat condescended to as something less than really substantial. Be that as it may, these pieces are thoroughly charming and the performances by Trio Mirabell are excellent. The csakan itself is not the most gorgeous-sounding instrument in the world (at times it sounds distressingly like a dime-store flageolet), but the album is quite enjoyable overall and its uniqueness makes it a solid candidate for library collections.


virgoMarcin Mielczewski; Adam Jarzebski; Mikolaj Zielenski
Virgo prudentissima: Adoration of the Virgin Mary at the Polish Court
Weser-Renaissance / Manfred Cordes
cpo (dist. Naxos)
777 772-2
Rick’s Pick

Catholicism has been dominant in Polish culture for centuries, so it’s no surprise that the worship of Mary was a prominent feature of Polish court life in the 17th century. This ravishing album brings together examples of Marian liturgical and festal music by three composers not very well known today. If your patrons have a taste for the music of Monteverdi or the Gabrieli family, do them a favor and give them a taste of something similar, but a little more Eastern European. As always, Weser-Renaissance performs brilliantly under the baton of Manfred Cordes.


sonatenLudwig van Beethoven; Alban Berg; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Sonatenabend
Mikhail Shilyaev
Stone (dist. Allegro)
5060192780482

The unifying element of this recording is Vienna — each of the composers featured had deep ties to the city. But perhaps more importantly, the pieces here also represent inflection points in the history of European art music. Beethoven’s C minor piano sonata marked the end of the classical era, while Berg’s sonata op. 1 signifies the end of the Romantic period and welcomes in the serialism that would be the hallmark of the Second Vienna School. Between them (stylistically speaking) is Mozart’s dramatic A minor sonata (K310), and the program ends with Beethoven’s eleven bagatelles, op. 119, which themselves construct a bridge between the baroque and the Romantic traditions. Mikhail Shilyaev plays these pieces with exceptional affection and clarity of line. Recommended to all classical collections.


rolleJohann Heinrich Rolle
Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt: 31 Motets (2 discs)
Kammerchor Michaelstein / Sebastian Göring
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 778-2
Rick’s Pick

Reviewers have to try to be objective, but there’s no way to avoid letting one’s judgment be affected by personal tastes and preferences. So when I say that this collection of motets by the obscure German composer Johann Heinrich Rolle is exquisitely pleasurable to listen to, please bear in mind that I have a particular affinity for this kind of solid, four-square 18th-century choral writing. Not that there’s anything stodgy or constrained about this music: it follows the rules and keeps its eyes on the devotional and harmonic prize, but Rolle’s sense of melodic invention is wonderful and he regularly delivers small but heart-tugging surprises. The Kammerchor Michaelstein sings beautifully and is recorded with the perfect balance of intimate presence and glowing resonance. An essential pick for all classical collections.


satieErik Satie
Satie Slowly (2 discs)
Philip Corner
Unseen Worlds
UW12

Says the press release: “American composer Philip Corner likes Satie too well not to object to how he is played.” Uh-oh; this isn’t just an album, it’s a crusade. But for library collections, that’s perfect — the 44-page booklet accompanying this album (which includes performances of the four Ogives, a Gnossiene, the three Gymnopédies, and several other pieces) puts forward Corner’s arguments as to the proper way to play Satie’s music, and the two discs illustrate his arguments compellingly, particularly on his very fine rendition of the Gymnopédies. This set will make a very fine pedagogical tool, regardless of whether one agrees with Corner’s musicological arguments.


JAZZ


mcphersCharles McPherson
The Journey
Capri (dist. Town Hall)
74136-2

Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson has been on the scene since the early 1960s, and has played with such eminent artists as Charles Mingus, Barry Harris, and Art Farmer. He continues to play in the hard bop style that peaked in popularity in the late 1950s and early ’60s, and more power to him, I say. Playing in a quintet format that also features tenor player Keith Oxman, McPherson delivers an absolutely solid set of standards and originals including a wonderfully brisk and powerful rendition of the Charlie Parker tune “Au Privave.” His own “Bud Like,” which sounds like it’s probably a tribute to the great bebop pianist Bud Powell, is another highlight. Recommended to all jazz collections.


garlandRed Garland Trio
Swingin’ on the Korner (2 discs)
Elemental
5990426

And speaking of legendary bebop pianists, here’s a treasure from the vaults: two and a half hours of previously-unreleased live recordings made by Red Garland in 1977 during a week-long stint at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco. Accompanied by bassis Leroy Vinnegar and drummer “Philly” Joe Jones (both of them legends themselves), Garland wows the crowd with his trademark joyful virtuosity, making familiar standards like “Billy Boy,” “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Autumn Leaves” sound fresh and new. The sound quality isn’t incredible, but it’s certainly good enough, and the performances are simply stunning.


roomNels Cline & Julian Lage
Room
Mack Avenue/Cryptogramophone
MAC1091

Nels Cline is one of the most consistently interesting guitarists on the modern jazz scene, in part because his interests and stylistic repertoire extend so far beyond that scene. Whether playing alt-country as a member of Wilco or shredding in a free jazz format with the Nels Cline Singers, he can always be counted on to deliver the unexpected. Julian Lage is a young virtuoso with similarly broad tastes, and on this duo album they engage in everything from simultaneous free improvisation to tightly-composed duets. Both of them favor a warm and clean jazz tone, but there are lots of jagged and surprising moments as well as plenty of passages of gentle beauty. Recommended.


yavuzBasak Yavuz
Things…
Z Müzik Yapim
27

Basak Yavuz is a Turkish singer and composer whose debut album represents a fairly seamless blending of genres; she sings alternately in Turkish and English, and accompaniment is provided by conventional jazz instruments as well as Indian flute, kalimba, and kora. But although the blend of genres within each song is quite smooth, the range she exhibits here is nevertheless startlingly broad — skip from her original composition “Bu Aralar” to her rendition of “How Deep Is the Ocean” and see what you think — pretty impressive, eh? Yavuz sings everything with a winning combination of warmth, wistfulness, and sharp humor. Very, very nice.


mazeBogna Kicinska
The Maze
Surca Music
SMCD002

Another debut album from another promising European singer is this one by Polish vocalist and composer Bogna Kicinska. The Maze is a much more conventional jazz album than Yavuz’s, but it’s equally exciting. Kicinska distinguishes herself not so much by stylistic innovation as by jaw-dropping vocal facility and a thrilling approach to improvisation — she is one of the finest scat singers I’ve heard in years. Her accompanying combo includes a violin (a very nice touch), and on a couple of tracks she’s accompanied by a string quartet. This is straight-ahead but still adventurous jazz, and all of it is of a very high caliber.


plasmoPlasmodium
Clairaudience (reissue; download only)
Electric Cowbell
ECR715

So while we’re exploring the fringes of jazz, let’s make mention of this weird little gem of an album. The press materials characterize it as “a series of sound-surveillance portraits of sonic apparitions… set against a neo-crime jazz backdrop with a dizzying array of drum loops, keyboards, electronically manipulated trumpets, hard-boiled voiceover, robot voices, and found sound.” Here’s how I’d describe it: imagine African Head Charge collaborating with Jon Hassell on a 1970s spy movie soundtrack — and imagine that it’s produced by Bill Laswell. Intrigued? Yes, you are — check it out. (This is a remastered 10th-anniversary reissue, available only as a digital download. The original 2004 version can still be found on the used market in CD format, but prepare to pay through the nose.)


FOLK/COUNTRY


elanaElana James
Black Beauty
Snarf
S333
Rick’s Pick

Oh, Elana James. As much as I love her work with the Hot Club of Cowtown (and I love it fiercely), there’s something uniquely special about her solo albums. This is where she cuts loose from the confines of Western swing and hot jazz, delving into torch songs, roots rock, reflective singer-songwriter fare, and occasionally ribald novelty tunes. Her second solo album finds her covering the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, as well as performing an Azerbaijani folk song and performing several originals. The most affecting track — heartbreaking, really — is her setting to music of the text of a letter written by a soldier shortly before he was killed in Iraq. This she delivers without any heavy-handedness; she lets the words speak for themselves, and they are quietly devastating. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


anonAnonymous 4
1865: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War
Harmonia Mundi
HMU 807549

The all-woman vocal quartet Anonymous 4 achieved their first commercial success performing early music, but I strongly suspect that the real money-makers in their now-extensive catalog of releases have been the albums on which they’ve explored American folk music styles: the gospel collections American Angels and Gloryland. Make no mistake, those were exceptionally fine albums, and this collection of Civil War songs (including such familiar songs as “Listen to the Mockingbird” and “Shall We Gather at the River?”) fits nicely alongside them, even if it doesn’t feel quite as organically suited to their voices and performing style as the previous albums did. The presence of the brilliant singer, fiddler, and banjo player Bruce Molsky helps make up the difference, though, and the album is a genuine pleasure from beginning to end.


cantyCaitlin Canty
Reckless Skyline
Self-released
No cat. no.

One of the great things about the current neo-folk-Americana-alt-country-roots-rock scene is the same thing that makes it hard to write about — you have to come up with these really long and awkwardly hyphenated catch-all terms in order to refer to it at all. And that’s because artists like Caitlin Canty trample all over the traditional borders that used to separate different varieties of folkie and country-ish music, rocking out one moment, torching it up the next, weeping honky-tonkily a few moments later. She gets away with it partly because musical boundaries are currently out fashion, but mainly because she has a world-class voice and an irresistible way with a melody. (Also, on this album, a deceptively ramshackle-sounding band. Don’t be fooled; they’re virtuosic.) Highly recommended.


earleSteve Earle
Terraplane
New West
NW6328

Lots of country music artists call themselves rebels and mavericks, but few can do so with as much justification as Steve Earle, who has been gleefully poking his thumb in the eye of the country establishment for decades now. His latest excursion in coloring outside the lines is this straight-up blues album, which explores haunting Delta sounds, blues-inflected Tin Pan Alley styles, and grinding electric blues-rock with equal enthusiasm and affection. Expect demand from this artist’s dedicated and sizable cult following.


cassieCassie & Maggie MacDonald
Sterling Road
Self-released
CMM 002

Eastern Canada has exceptionally rich folk music traditions, deeply informed by French, Irish, and Scottish influences. Sisters Cassie (fiddle, vocals) and Maggie (guitar, vocals) MacDonald grew up in the small seaside town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where they were steeped in the Celtic music traditions of maritime Canada, and on this album they both play and sing with a wonderful combination of verve and skill on a program of original and traditional songs and tunes. This is traditional music played with a modern edge, in arrangements that are sometimes more innovative than they might sound at first blush. Highly recommended.


ROCK/POP


shikariEnter Shikari
The Mindsweep
Hopeless
221082
Rick’s Pick

Enter Shikari came roaring out of the Hertfordshire postpunk scene about ten years ago, and since then the quartet has pretty much left nothing but scorched earth behind it. Alternately screaming and crooning in tight harmony, deploying bludgeoning hardcore beats and squidgy dubstep synths, and delivering furious social commentary, Enter Shikari offers both one of the most exciting live shows I’ve ever seen and one of the few truly original concepts in modern rock music. Their latest album is brilliant: lead singles “Anaesthetist” and “The Last Garrison” both combine sharp lyrical messages with music that is by turns overwhelming and funky, and if we’re starting to hear little hints of prog rock in their approach, well, maybe they’ll eventually revive and redeem that tired genre as well. Strongly recommended to all pop music collections.


mckelleRobin McKelle & the Flytones
Heart of Memphis
VizzTone/Doxie (dist. Redeye)
VTDOX-20143

Though she made her mark initially as a big-band jazz singer, over the past five years or so Robin McKelle has been drifting in a decidedly soul/R&B direction, and the title of her latest album tells you exactly what to expect: Memphis-flavored soul music in a 1960s/70s style, with lots of horns. What sets McKelle apart from the soul-revival pack, though, is the quality of her songwriting; although she delivers what I think is perhaps the finest version of “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” on record, the focus here is solidly on original compositions, and they are world-class. Her voice is a thing of throaty and whiskey-toned beauty. Highly recommended.


waypointVarious Artists
Waypoint
Interchill
5002485

The Interchill label specializes, as one might expect, in electronic music that is funky and interesting but also relatively chilled out. No brostep rave-ups that sound like fight scenes from a Transformers movie, no skull-crushing drum’n’bass beat calisthenics. The music this label champions isn’t usually ambient, though–the beats are generally very definite and the grooves are often bone-deep. On their latest compilation you’ll hear everything from extra-dubwise dubstep (“Solaris Vision” by Gaudi) to gently lurching Euro-bass (“Fuerza Brutal” by Austero) — and once or twice (check the contributions from Fredrik Ohr and Liquid Stranger) things actually do get close to an ambient sound. All of it, as usual with this label, is well worth hearing.


bourbBourbonese Qualk
1983-1987
Mannequin (dist. Forced Exposure)
MNQ 061

Heaven help me, I’m a sucker for vintage industrial music. Especially when it comes packaged in a jacket that makes it look like a product of the Crass collective, circa 1982. To be clear, this retrospective collection from the British group Bourbonese Qualk isn’t Nitzer Ebb or Front 242-style industrial music, with guttural shouting and jackboot rhythms. It’s more experimental, almost avant-garde, with lots of twisted samples, weird found-sound vocals, and ramshackle production. At its best, it actually kind of sounds like a collaboration between Throbbing Gristle and Muslimgauze. I realize that might sound horrifying to you; if it does, then keep your distance. But for those with ears to hear, this is tons of grim, aggro-retro fun.


WORLD/ETHNIC


monkAlex Conde
Descarga for Monk
Zoho (dist. Allegro)
ZM 201501

Thelonious Monk was a unique figure in jazz, a composer who wrote such strange and compelling tunes that he has remained a source of fascination for jazz musicians for over 60 years. For pianist and composer Alex Conde, that fascination led him to arrange a program of Monk pieces in a flamenco style. The result makes a couple of things clear: first, part of the charm of Monk’s music is in its often jagged rhythms, and those don’t lend themselves particularly well to a flamenco setting; on the other hand, putting Monk’s odd melodies into a different rhythmic context does shed an interesting new light on them and allows them to be heard in a different way. Library collections supporting jazz programs would definitely benefit from including this loving and unusual tribute.


rareVarious Artists
Rough Guide to African Rare Groove, Vol. 1
Rough Guide
RGNET1323CD
Rick’s Pick

Back in the heyday of vinyl-based club music, DJs would compete with each other to dig up the most obscure old soul and funk records. The concept of “rare groove” has obviously changed drastically in the internet era, when so many obscurities are freely available and relatively easy to find. But this collection of South African township jive, Mozambican marrabenta, Nigerian highlife, and Congolese rumba from the 1960s and 1970s will probably not duplicate anything in your collection, and for newcomers to the world(s) of African pop music it will be a revelation. Highly recommended to all libraries.


sylfordSylford Walker
Time Has Come
Walkyahwalk
No cat. no.

One thing to acknowledge right up front: you don’t go to Sylford Walker for sweet, melodic singing. His voice is reedy and rough, and his style is more declamatory than tuneful; imagine Joseph Hill doing a Prince Far I impression, and you’ll get the general idea. But if you want bottomless grooves, strictly conscious lyrical messages, and a general air of dread seriousness, then Sylford Walker is your man, and has been for several decades now. Apart from the curiously non-dubsteppy “Just Can’t Understand (Dubstep),” this album is a solid winner in the roots reggae category.


sudanSudan Dudan
Inntil i Dag
Ta:lik (dist. Albany)
TA100CD

rudlHakon Høgemo; Stefan Bergman; Harald Skullerud
Rudl
Ta:lik (dist. Albany)
TA116CD
Rick’s Pick

Two very different takes on Norwegian folk traditions here. Sudan Dudan is the duo of Anders Røine (vocal, guitar) and Marit Karlberg (vocals, zither), and they specialize in delicately beautiful (and sometimes deceptive complex) traditional and original songs that, although sung in Norwegian, will resonate instantly with anyone who loves English or Celtic folk music. Hakon Høgemo, on the other hand, is a hardanger fiddle player who takes ancient fiddle tunes and performs them accompanied by electric bass and percussion, creating a wonderful tension between funky modernism and keening traditionalism. The hardanger fiddle has a unique and instantly-recognizable sound thanks to its drone strings, but you’ve never heard it sound quite like this. Both of these albums would make fine additions to any international music collection.


newkNew Kingston
Kingston City
Easy Star
ES 1045
Rick’s Pick

Rumor has it that ragga dancehall is losing its chokehold on the reggae scene in Jamaica, being replaced by rootsier, more old-fashioned sounds. That may be the case, but in the US roots reggae never really went out of style, and the third album from the family band New Kingston (out of Brooklyn) shows how strong that scene has become. The Panton family’s Jamaican roots are fully in evidence, and their sound is both clean and rich, modern but based in tradition, and the hooks are plentiful and solid. Note the caliber of the guest musicians: Pam Hall, Santa Davis, Squiddly Cole — that tells you something. A brilliant album all around.


kasseKassé Mady Diabaté
Kiriké
Six Degrees
361214

A griot of distinguished family line, Kassé Mady Diabaté has been a prominent exponent of that ancient singing tradition for nearly 50 years. On this album he is accompanied by ngoni, balafon, kora (played by the great Ballaké Sissoko), and cello; the accompaniment is minimal, the better to showcase his strong, reedy tenor voice. Malian music is increasingly popular in the US, so libraries with strong world music collections should seriously consider picking this one up.

January 2015


PICK OF THE MONTH


stringsBilly Strings & Don Julin
Fiddle Tune X
Self-released
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

From the moment I heard the barnburning version of “Beaumont Rag” that opens this album, I knew it was going to get a Rick’s Pick — not because they played it fast (though they did) or because the solos were technically astounding (though they were) but because these two guys make some of the most thrilling note choices I’ve heard since Tony Rice’s early recordings, and they play with an intensity I haven’t heard since I saw Enter Shikari play on the Warped Tour. (Not for nothing have these guys been characterized as “the unholy child of Pantera and Tony Rice.”) By the time I got to the fifth track I knew it was going to be the Pick of the Month for January. Fiddle Tune X is a collection of live and studio tracks recorded in a wide variety of situations, including a make-your-own-record booth in Nashville, and it includes vocal and instrumental tunes both traditional and original. 22-year-old Billy Strings plays guitar and sings lead (gorgeously) and Don Julin plays mandolin and sings tenor, and they both wear suits and ties, but don’t expect anything like a Blue Sky Boys album; this music is to the pre-bluegrass brother duet tradition as the Clash was to ABBA, except much more respectful and affectionate. As soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to their website to find out when they might be coming to Salt Lake City, and when they do, I’m going to bring my teenage son.


CLASSICAL


perconcertoVarious Composers
… e per Concerto di Viole
Accademia Strumentale Italiana
Divox (dist. Naxos)
CDX-70808-6
Rick’s Pick

forquerayJean Baptiste Antoine Forqueray; Antoine Forqueray
Le Diable
Vittorio Ghielmi; Rodney Prada; Luca Pianca; Lorenzo Ghielmi
Passacaille (dist. Naxos)
995

Here are two very different collections of works for the viola da gamba. The first is a collection of 16th- and 17th-century consort music for viols by European composers both famous (Bach, Frescobaldi) and more obscure (Gussago, Goberday). These are stellar examples of the art of writing for consorts of viols from when that art was at its peak of popularity, and the playing of Accademia Strumentale Italiana is absolutely wonderful, as is the production quality: making viols sound good can be a challenge for sound engineers, and Michael Seberish has done a masterful job here, keeping the midrange rich and satisfying without sacrificing the gut strings’ crispy edges. The second disc consists of 18th-century works for solo and multiple viols with continuo by members of the Forqueray family. This is the first volume in a projected series of the complete works by that family for the instrument, and it’s (for obvious reasons) a much more French and much more high-baroque affair, consisting of three suites of dance movements featuring viol or viols accompanied by archlute and harpsichord. Here the sound is a bit more vinegary, and the playing more sprightly and, well, French. Put on your powdered wig, stick a beauty mark to the corner of your mouth, and make eyes at someone while you listen to this one.


mertzJohann Kaspar Mertz
Guitar Duets
Johannes Möller; Laura Fraticelli
Naxos
8.573055
Rick’s Pick

Johann Kaspar Mertz was one of the 19th century’s finest composers for the guitar, and gained notoriety in part for writing duets that feature both a conventional guitar and a terz, a shorter-necked instrument with a higher pitch. His style was romantic and at times programmatic, as is illustrated here by the loping “Vespergang” and the unsettled “La Rage.” What grabbed my attention most forcefully, though, was the sweet melancholy of “Wasserfahrt am Traunsee,” a heart-tuggingly lovely invocation of a quiet river excursion. The playing of Johannes Möller and Laura Fraticelli is exquisite throughout. This is one of the loveliest albums I’ve heard in 2014, in any genre.


glassPhilip Glass
The Complete Piano Etudes (2 discs)
Maki Namekawa
Orange Mountain Music (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
OMM 098

Philip Glass’s twenty piano etudes were written in two stages: the first ten were written over a period of about a decade, between the mid-1990s and 2003, and were intended partly to help him expand his pianistic ability. The second set of etudes was written during the following decade and, in Glass’s words, are “about the language of music itself — developing new strategies regarding rhythmic and harmonic movement.” Those familiar with his work will recognize his style immediately: although he has expanded his gestural and harmonic palette quite a bit, the repeating arpeggios and characteristic chord changes are still there. Pianist Maki Namekawa gives these pieces a skillful and committed performance.


chantAnonymous; Guillaume Dufay
Chant: Missa Latina
Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz; Ensemble Vox Gotica
Obsculta Music (dist. Naxos)
OM 0002

This is mostly an album of Gregorian chant, as performed by the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz in Austria. The program includes two full Masses, the first a Gregorian Mass and the second a Missa sine nomine by Guillaume Dufay, one of the earliest such “unnamed” Masses on record. It ends with three hymns, one of them also by Dufay. The polyphonic Mass and the hymns are performed by the all-male Vox Gotica ensemble, and the contrast between the contemplative plainchant and the slightly reedy, open harmonies of Dufay’s polyphony (as well as that between the vocal timbres of the two ensembles) is quite striking. Recommended to all early music collections.


a1958738671_10Jake Schepps Quintet
Entwined
Fine Mighty
1004

Jake Schepps is a banjo player, and the rest of his quintet consists of mandolin, violin, guitar, and bass. So you may well ask: in what way is this a classical album? There are two answers to that question: one is that three of the four pieces performed on this album were composed for this ensemble by contemporary classical composers (Marc Mellits, Matt McBane, Gyan Riley). Another answer is: what is classical music anyway? We’ll discuss that later. Maybe. In the meantime, any library that supports a composition program should seriously consider acquiring this disc, which shows how thoughtful, complex, and attractive fully-composed music for string band can be. (For another good example, see Schepps’ previous album, which consisted of similarly-orchestrated arrangements of music by Béla Bartók.)


greeneMaurice Greene
Overtures
Baroque Band; David Schrader / Garry Clarke
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 152
Rick’s Pick

I know what you’re thinking, because it’s what I was thinking too: “Maurice who?” So here’s the deal: Greene is yet another example of a baroque composer who was popular and well-regarded in his time but is little known today. (When he’s remembered at all, it’s mainly for his choral music.) Listening to this wonderful program of overtures and harpsichord etudes, I immediately thought of William Boyce, another often-overlooked English composer of the 18th century with a similar melodic gift. Given the obscurity of this music, this disc is a must-have for any classical collection, but it’s also simply a pure joy to listen to.


starkW.A. Mozart/Robert Stark
Quintets, Serenade, Dances for Clarinet Quartet and Quintet
Stark Ensemble
Gallo (dist. Albany)
CD-1425

The Stark Ensemble is named for clarinetist and pedagogue Robert Stark, who was influential as both a teacher and a clarinet system designer in 19th-century Germany. This disc presents a very attractive program of Stark’s arrangements of various pieces by Mozart for clarinet quartet and quintet. Some of them are quite familiar — the andante movement from Eine kleine Nachtmusik, for example — but all are given fresh-sounding and insightful performances by the Italian ensemble that takes its name from the arranger. Highly recommended to collections serving woodwind and orchestration programs.


courtsVarious Composers
Courts of Heaven: Music from the Eton Choirbook, Vol. 3
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford / Stephen Darlington
Avie (dist. Allegro)
AV2314
Rick’s Pick

When it comes to 15th-century polyphonic choral music, it’s the Franco-Flemish masters who tend to get all the attention — and with good reason. But this brilliant series of recordings by the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, drawing on material from the Eton Choirbook, is showing powerfully how much great music was being written by English composers at the same time, some of them quite obscure. The third volume in the series features Marian compositions by John Hampton, Edmund Turges, Richard Fawkyner, John Browne, and Robert Wylkynson; we don’t even know when some of these men were born or died, but the music they left us is absolutely stunning, as is the singing by this first-rate choir. Highly recommended to all collections.


JAZZ


kauflinJustin Kauflin
Dedication
Jazz Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
JV579003

This is a truly lovely sophomore effort by 28-year old pianist and composer Justin Kauflin, who has gained additional attention lately for his role in a recent documentation about legendary trumpeter/pedagogue Clark Terry. The film (Keep on Keepin’ On) focuses on Terry’s work as a teacher as he helps Kauflin prepare for an international competition. While Terry doesn’t appear on this album, his influence is everywhere, particularly in Kauflin’s choice to make this an album more about tunes and arrangements than about solos. Alternating between trio and quartet formats, he delivers a beautiful program that reveals him to be not only a strikingly gifted pianist, but also a composer of rare skill. Recommended to all jazz collections.


abbasiRez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet
Intents and Purposes
Enja (dist. Allegro)
ENJ-9621-2
Rick’s Pick

If you’re like me, one of the things that irritates you about 1970s-era jazz-rock fusion is the frequent overproduction, which often came across as an attempt to gussy up the sonics while at the same time dumbing-down the music itself. For this fascinating and brilliant album, guitarist Rez Abbasi takes a handful of classics of the fusion genre and strips away all that stuff, performing them with an acoustic quartet (guitar, vibes, bass, drums) and revealing several of them (notably Weather Report’s “Black Market” and Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly”) to have quite a bit more substance than we might have suspected at the time. On a few tracks Abbasi plays a fretless guitar, which adds a strange and kind of nifty timbral dimension to the group’s already unique sound. A must for all jazz collections.


friesenDavid Friesen Circle 3 Trio
Where the Light Falls (2 discs)
Origin (dist. City Hall)
82677

Joined by pianist Greg Goebel and drummer Charlie Doggett, legendary bassist/composer David Friesen presents here a two-disc set of live and studio recordings comprised entirely of originals, all of them in a generally straight-ahead but harmonically adventurous style. Guitarist Larry Koonse pitches in on about half of the tracks as well, and those are some of the most enjoyable — though the whole album is great. Friesen’s backup playing is especially well worth paying attention to; he walks with the best of them, but frequently digresses into syncopated passages that manage brilliantly to be fascinating without drawing undue attention to themselves.


bluepepperEchoes of Swing
Blue Pepper
ACT Music (dist. Allegro)
9102-2

Here’s what makes Echoes of Swing such a great band: while devoted to the traditions of pre-bop jazz, they don’t try slavishly to imitate that music. Instead, they absorb those traditions and let them emerge in arrangements and original compositions that are deeply informed by the swing verities but still sound fresh and new. This release is a concept album of sorts, focusing on tunes new and old with the word “blue” in the title, including the Duke Ellington classic for which the album is named, Sidney Bechet’s rollicking “Black Stick Blues,” and saxophonist Chris Hopkins’ (surprisingly boppish) original “Blues & Naughty.” This is another fine effort from one of Europe’s truly great small jazz ensembles.


greenDanny Green Trio
After the Calm
OA2 (dist. City Hall)
22113
Rick’s Pick

Having raved about Danny Green’s last album a couple of years ago, I’m now back to rave about his new one. As before, Green leads a trio that (in terms of tightness and communication) seems to share a single brain, though one with multiple creative lobes. Bassist Justin Grinnell is especially impressive here, delivering multiple solos that are worth listening to — and as a bassist myself, I can tell you that that’s not faint praise. Green’s original compositions continue to impress and his arrangements continue to be amazing both for their complexity and their musicality. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.


getzStan Getz Quartet
Live in Düsseldorf 1960
Jazzline (dist. Allegro)
N 77 016

For a long time, it’s been fashionable in sophisticated jazz circles to bag on the “Cool” period, which emerged in the 1950s on the West Coast and was, to some degree, a reaction to primacy of East Coast bebop during the mid- to late 1940s. Now, bop has no greater fan than me, but to those who turn up their noses at The Cool, I have this to say: give me a break. More to the point, listen to this fantastic live Stan Getz recording from 1960 and try to tell me that there’s less substance here than there is in a Dizzy Gillespie or Thelonious Monk album from 1948. (Notice that I didn’t say Charlie Parker; the comparison isn’t fair.) This album would make a fine addition to any jazz collection.


COUNTRY/FOLK


ickesRob Ickes & Trey Hensley
Before the Sun Goes Down
Compass
7 4639 2

Slide guitarist Rob Ickes and singer/guitarist Trey Hensley have united to make a thoroughly delightful album of bluegrass, honky-tonk and Western swing classics written by the likes of Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver, Bob Wills, and Flatt & Scruggs (plus, as a ringer, a version of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s modern-blues classic “Pride and Joy”). Ickes’ Dobro and pedal steel are featured prominently throughout, but the jewel in this setting is Hensley’s singing — I’m not sure there’s anyone alive who interprets Haggard’s songs more convincingly, and the richness of his voice is a consistent pleasure. Also impressive is the duo’s facility with such a wide variety of country subgenres. Highly recommended.


sweetThe Sweet Lowdown
Chasing the Sun
Self-released
SLD2014

When you see an ensemble of fiddle, guitar, and banjo, you naturally expect to hear old-timey music. That is not what you get with the Sweet Lowdown. Instead, these three Canadiennes play mostly original music in a modern-folk-with-a-hint-of-string-band style, singing in tight and sweet harmony and only occasionally dipping into what might be regarded as straight-up old-timeyness. Banjoist Shanti Bremer alternates between clawhammer and bluegrass techniques, which broadens the trio’s stylistic range that much further — but what will really knock you out is the singing; these three women’s voices blend like honey from three different kinds of flowers. Great stuff.


mastersVarious Artists
Masters of Their Craft
Tara Music
TARACD 3039

The Tara label has been a major force in traditional Irish music for four decades now, and during that time the concept of “traditional Irish music” has broadened somewhat, and the label’s stylistic range has done the same. This very handy and enjoyable compilation reflects that: it features such familiar names as Clannad, Planxty, Christy Moore, and Davy Spillane, but the sounds you’ll hear range from the strictly traditional to the quite rockish (with occasional side excursions into Uillean-pipe bluegrass and Balkan dance rhythms). One or two tracks strike me as a bit goofy (Stockton’s Wing is not very convincing as a reggae band, for example), but if your library can use a solid overview of the current state of Irish folk and folk-rock, this album would be tough to beat.


siskJunior Sisk & Ramblers Choice
Trouble Follows Me
Rebel
REB-CD-1857

At first blush, this is a very traditional and straight-ahead modern bluegrass album from one of the genre’s finest living exponents. Listen harder and it gets subtly more complicated, though: check out the swinging groove of “Don’t Think about It Too Long,” for example, and the honky-tonk undertow that lurks underneath “All I Have to Offer You Is Me.” And track 7 is a Michael Martin Murphey tune. But really, this is par for the course: bluegrass has been absorbing and repurposing elements from all kinds of pop music genres for as long as it’s existed. Junior Sisk and his crew do it as well, and as rewardingly, as anyone, and they do it in a way that won’t risk alienating the purist faithful either. Very nice.


ROCK/POP


wileyWiley
Snakes & Ladders (download only, for now)
Big Dada (dist. Redeye)
255

Remember grime, the UK-rap subgenre that brought us Dizzee Rascal and the Roll Deep crew, and about which no one (in the States anyway) seems to talk anymore? Nevertheless, original grimester Wiley continues to make great albums that take the ten-year-old tropes of the tradition and make them sound as sharp and relevant as ever — and expand on them as needed. On his fourth album for the foundational Big Dada label he keeps things taut and stripped-down, chatting confidently over dark and bouncy grooves that reflect grime’s filial relationship with drum and bass and its paternal relationship to dubstep (especially on the brilliant “Step 21”). Recommended.


onederfulVarious Artists
The One-derful! Collection: One-derful! Records
Secret Stash
35
Rick/s Pick

In the 1960s and 1970s, the One-derful label group (which included the Mar-V-Lus, M-Pac, Halo, Midas, and Toddlin’ Town imprints) was one of the most prominent regional purveyors of Chicago funk and soul music. This collection is the first in a projected series of compilations that will bring many of those labels’ long out-of-print recordings back to market, and if this one is any indication of what will come later, it’s going to be an essential series for libraries — not just for the archival value of these recordings, but for the sheer listening and dancing pleasure they’ll provide as well. If you remember McKinley Mitchell, Betty Everett, and the Sharpees from that period, then you’ve been waiting a long time for these tracks to be reissued — and if you don’t remember them, then you badly need to be introduced.


posiesThe Posies
Failure (reissue)
Omnivore
OVCD-93

Jonathan Auer and Kenneth Stringfellow may have dressed like Robert Smith of the Cure for the back cover photo, but on their 1988 debut as the Posies they played and sang more like jangle-popsters, their sweet harmonies and acoustic guitars dominating the proceedings. Occasionally (“The Longest Line,” for example) they veer dangerously close to a skiffle sound, but when they get more countryish (“I May Hate You Sometimes”) the result is a bit like a cross between REM and the Mamas and the Papas. Crazy, right? But it doesn’t sound crazy — it sounds cool. Dated, but cool. And there’s nothing wrong with dated these days, anyway.


burntBurnt Friedman with Daniel Dodd-Ellis
Cease to Matter
Nonplace/Groove Attack
NON38

Another album from Burnt Friedman means another excursion into microscopically detailed textures, deceptively funky-sounding complex meters, and dubby production techniques, all combined to yield brilliantly colorful and million-faceted soundscapes. Cease to Matter adds another dimension: the spoken words of Daniel Dodd-Ellis, whose contributions are less like song lyrics than like poetry, and less like poetry than word collage. The words come at unexpected intervals and in brief snippets, not always cohering in any obvious way. The total effect is a bit like William Burroughs’ collaborations with Material, though without all the heroin-and-pyramids stuff. Fascinating as always.


legalThe Legal Matters
The Legal Matters
Futureman
FM-001

In case you needed to be reminded of the fact that the world always needs more hook-filled, harmony-drenched power pop, here’s the debut album from The Legal Matters, a regional supergroup made up of former members of Midwest mainstays Hippodrome, the Phenomenal Cats, An American Underdog, and Chris Richards & the Subtractions. If (like me) you wish Fastball would hurry up and make another album already, then run out and pick this one up — it will help with the waiting.


WORLD/ETHNIC


amiraAmira Medunjanin
Silk & Stone
World Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
450029

I’m grasping for ways to describe the sound of these traditional sevdah songs by Sarajevan singer Amira Medunjanin. Try to imagine that fado and tango got together and had an illegitimate child, and that the child grew up with an interest in klezmer music. Not helpful? OK, then I give up. Here’s what you need to know, though: Medunjanin’s voice is smoky and soulful, the arrangements are spare and beautiful, and the melodies are hauntingly gorgeous. I’m willing to bet that your library collection is light on sevdalinka, so I’d strongly recommend you pick this one up.


mcleanJean McLean
Everlasting
Sugar Shack
FOD103CD
Rick’s Pick

You may not recognize her name, but Jean McLean has been an important figure in UK reggae for thirty years. She was a vocalist for the wonderful Birmingham band Sceptre, but when that group disbanded in 1987 she mostly moved on to other endeavors. Her first solo album finds her working in a style simultaneously informed by the roots-and-culture vibe of her old band and the lovers rock style that was coming into its own in the UK in the 1980s — in fact, the comparison that kept coming to my mind as I listened to this outstanding album was the work of Sandra Cross, though McLean’s lyrics are quite a bit more substantive. Overall, this is an excellent example of modern roots reggae and would make a great addition to any library collection.


esperantoCaptain Planet
Esperanto Slang
Bastard Jazz
BJCD:06

Captain Planet characterizes his music as “Gumbo Funk,” but he seems to mean the term in a generic sense (a spicy blend of disparate but complementary flavors) rather than in a New Orleans-specific one. On this raucous pan-cultural party of an album you’ll hear Latin house, heavyweight reggae, Arabic psychedelia, and Afro-samba funkiness, among other less definable stylistic fusions and emulsions. Sometimes collections like this end up offering less than the sum of their parts, but this one is a total blast.


globalVarious Artists
globalFEST Selector
Magenta
GBF-CD114

And speaking of wildly multifarious world-music collections, here’s a compilation of tracks from artists that have been championed and promoted by the globalFEST organization over the past ten years. Consisting entirely of previously unreleased music, globalFEST Selector features everything from Siberian folk-rock and diasporic qawwali to desert blues and Arab electronica. Like the Captain Planet album recommended above, this one is a spicy stew of musical diversity and would make a great addition to any world music collection.