František Ignác Antonín Tuma
Czech Ensemble Baroque Orchestra & Choir / Tereza Válková; Roman Válek
Supraphon (dist. Naxos)
This is the kind of release I live for: a world-premiere recording of glorious music by a great composer who doesn’t get enough love in the current marketplace. František Ignác Antonín Tuma was a Czech composer of the late baroque period who spent most of his career in Vienna; he studied under Johann Fux and made a name for himself as a viola da gamba and theorbed lute player as well as a composer. This recording features two of his large-scale sacred vocal works, a Te Deum setting and the magisterial Missa Veni Patri pauper, with an instrumental sinfonia inserted between them. It’s hard to overstate how deeply engaging and attractive this music is, and the performances by the Czech Ensemble Baroque Orchestra and Choir are magnificent — alto soloist Monika Jägerova is especially fine.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Rune Most; The Danish Sinfonietta / David Riddell
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Flute Concertos & Sinfonias
Nolwenn Bargin; Musikkollegium Winterthur / Roberto González Monjas
It seems like 2022 yielded a real bumper crop of recordings of works by C.P.E. Bach, the most illustrious of Johann Sebastian Bach’s many composer children. At first I wondered if 2022 marked an important birthday for him, or maybe a significant anniversary of his death, but since he was born in 1714 and died in 1788 neither of those explanations seems likely. It may just be a happy coincidence. In any case, this past year saw two very fine modern-instrument recordings of C.P.E. Bach flute concertos, both of which are well worth recommending. Flautist Norwenn Bargin opens her program with the D major concerto (Wq. 183/1), a stylistically forward-looking piece that was considered somewhat avant-garde at the time of its composition. Two other concerti and a three-movement sinfonia round out the program; everyone’s playing here is both virtuosic and stylistically sensitive. On his recording with the Danish Sinfonietta, flautist Rune Most tackles three concertos, only one of which duplicates the Bargin program. I especially enjoyed Most’s tone, which is woodier than one would normally expect from a modern flute and which contrasts nicely with the bright and hard-edged sound of the Sinfonietta. Again, the playing is delightful on this disc and I recommend both to any library with a collecting interest in the pre- and early classical periods.
Adriano3 (vinyl & digital only)
Here’s another outstanding world-premiere recording: the six-voice, all-male Dionysos Now! ensemble, led by Tore Tom Denys, has undertaken a project to record little-known works by the most famous composer to come from Denys’ home town of Roeselare: Adriaan Willaert. The latest release in this series centers on a Mass setting written while Willaert was in residence at the Cathedral San Marco in Venice, a Mass apparently without a title but which is presented here as Missa Ippolito. The title comes from a theory of musicologist Joshua Rifkin, who argues (based on some pretty deep textual and melodic analysis) that the work was written in tribute to Willaert’s patron, the Cardinal of Ferrara. The Mass’s unusual structure is worth reading about, and as always with this group the singing is outstanding.
Pavans & Galliards; Variations & Grounds (2 discs)
Avie (dist. Naxos)
It’s not that unusual to hear keyboard music of the baroque era played on the modern piano, but Renaissance music on the piano is much more rare. On this two-disc recital program, pianist Daniel-Ben Pinaar explores two particularly important collections of William Byrd’s early keyboard music: My Lady Nevell’s Book and Parthenia, and adds as a makeweight the Quadran Pavan and Quadran Galliard; the pieces from these collections are interspersed with fifteen of Byrd’s variations on Elizabethan tunes and on “ground bass.” The modern piano poses certain challenges for performing music of this period, which was written with instruments in mind that have a much lighter tone and much less dynamic range. Pinaar’s approach is both thoughtful and deeply musical; he incorporates ornamentation that is highly idiomatic but doesn’t shy away from putting the piano’s richer and deeper tone to good use. This is both quite an unusual and also a deeply rewarding album.
The Marian Consort / Rory McCleery
Linn (dist. Naxos)
A well-known music theorist in his time, Vincent Lusitano is primarily remembered today — when he’s remembered at all — as very likely the first Black composer to have been formally published. His sole surviving collection of works, the Liber primus epigramatum, from which these ten motets were taken, was published in Rome in 1551. Lusitano was born in Portugal of mixed European and African parentage and eventually became a priest and a music teacher in Padua and Viterbo, and made his living through student fees since paid clergy positions were available only to White men at the time. Throughout these marvelous vocal works you can clearly hear Lusitano paying tribute to Josquin des Prez, but at the same time he has developed a style distinctly his own — echoes of which we’ll hear later in the work of, among others, Carlo Gesualdo. For all early music collections.
3D Jazz Trio
9 to 5
I don’t think there’s another jazz ensemble anywhere that plays with as much pure joy as the 3D Jazz Trio. Pianist Jackie Warren, bassist Amy Shook, and drummer Sherrie Maricle also have a great stylistic range — check out Maricle’s intricate arrangement of “Sing,” which is followed by Shook’s hard-driving, funky take on Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” (They’re also excellent composers, and the original tunes “Blues for G-C” and “Theme for B.T.” are album highlights.) But most of all they have an ensemble sound that would be the envy of any trio. Each is impressively virtuosic on her instrument, but they play together with not just precision but also with the kind of blend that comes only from obvious mutual affection. Like everything else I’ve heard from the 3D Jazz Trio, this is a simply brilliant album.
The flugelhorn’s naturally soft and burnished tone lends itself to quiet and introspective jazz, and that’s what you get on this gorgeous release from composer and flugelhorn player Franco Ambrosetti. He’s accompanied by a jaw-dropping array of first-call session players: guitarist John Scofield, pianist Uri Caine, bassist Scott Colley, drummer Peter Erskine — and the string arrangements are written and conducted by Alan Broadbent. If you don’t think jazz with strings is really your cup of tea, I strongly urge you to check this album out and see if it doesn’t change your mind. Every track is a lesson in both composition and orchestration, and every solo is a dissertation on taste.
The Comet Is Coming
Hyper-dimensional Expansion Beam
One of the complaints I often have about jazz musicians is when they use the term “funk” too liberally. In my experience, the great majority of jazz compositions that claim to be “funky” aren’t actually funky at all — they just have a strong backbeat instead of (or sometimes in addition to) a swing feel. No such complaint here, though: The Comet Is Coming is a trio consisting of jazz saxophonist Shabaka, drummer/synthesist Betamax and synthesist Danalogue, who together create dense, wild, and sometimes extremely funky jazz that partakes of the spiritual essence of Sun Ra and the harmolodic freakiness of Ornate Coleman without ever sounding either atonal or self-indulgent. No matter how out-there they get, there’s a deep discipline to the group’s sound, and although it doesn’t sound like any other jazz you’ve ever heard, it draws deeply on the jazz verities. For all adventurous collections.
Fred Hersch & esperanza spalding
Alive at the Village Vanguard
Two generation-defining geniuses united in October of 2018 for a two-night stand at the legendary Village Vanguard in New York. A few lucky guests in that notoriously tiny venue were treated to voice-and-piano arrangements of standards and a Hersch original or two that featured Hersch’s keenly intellectual but also deeply sensitive pianism and esperanza spalding’s supple and discursive singing — though, sadly, not her equally virtuosic bass playing. I’d say the album’s highlight is spalding’s scat performance on Hersch’s knotty Thelonious Monk tribute, or maybe her improvised lyrics to Charlie Parker’s “My Little Suede Shoes,” but just about any track here would count as the highlight on any other jazz album from the past five years. I recommend this one for any library that supports a jazz curriculum.
New Riders of the Purple Sage
Today they’d probably be called alt.country, but in 1972 the New Riders of the Purple Sage were called “psychedelic country” or “psychedelic country rock,” and they toured with the Grateful Dead (whose debt to country music had started becoming explicit with the recent albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty). This album documents the New Riders’ set on the final day of the Dead’s 1972 European tour, playing at the legendary Lyceum Ballroom in London. The set was recorded on a 16-track machine and sounds phenomenal. The band’s singing is frankly pretty uneven, but instrumentally they sound great, with the playing of pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage a highlight throughout. This is an important document of a strand of American country music that left a real impact but went out of style very quickly.
I Can Almost See Houston: The Complete Howdy Glenn
Commercial country music has never been a particularly hospitable place for Black artists. In the 1970s there was Charley Pride, in the 1990s there was… well… Cleve Francis? And now we have Darius Rucker, I guess. But country music has been pretty dang white pretty much since it emerged as a modern genre. In 1977, though, there was a Caifornia-based singer named Morris “Howdy” Glenn who scored a chart hit with his cover of a Willie Nelson song and was nominated as Top New Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music. After a few other minor hits his star faded, though, and now he’s largely forgotten. This long-overdue compilation brings together all of his recordings: one album plus another 15 tracks either released as singles or — in many cases — never released at all. Surprisingly, his voice has quite a bit in common with that of George Jones, but there’s a hard edge to his sound that brings to mind Merle Haggard as well. In addition to being a highly valuable historical document this whole collection is quite a blast.
The Foreign Landers
The music of the Foreign Landers (banjoist/guitarist Tabitha Agnew Benedict and mandolinist David Benedict, both of whom sing and write as well) is a classic example of Nu Folk: songs that use folk- and bluegrass-derived instrumentation to make sounds that have little in common with folk music beyond texture and vibe. The songs — all of which are originals except for a subdued version of “Sunny Side of the Mountain” — have complex structures that are easy to miss while you’re blissing out to the Benedicts’ soft voices and close harmonies, and at times (as on the gorgeous “Should I Go”) they venture into knotty jazz-folk excursions. Elsewhere (“Flying Back to You”) they settle comfortably into straight-ahead newgrass. Rarely has this kind of virtuosity been exhibited in such a gentle and unassuming way, especially in the world of acoustic music.
Planet Mu (dist. Redeye)
2022 was a busy year for µ-Ziq (a.k.a. Mike Paradinas). He released an album of new material entitled Magic Pony Ride as well as an expanded reissue of his 1997 classic Lunatic Harness (both recommended here in the June issue) and a digital-only EP of remixes titled Goodbye. As the year came to a close he brought out another album of new music, in a couple of different manifestations: the vinyl and digital version of Hello contains nine tracks of µ-Ziq’s highly personal take on IDM/drill’n’bass — a style of hyped-up jungle that avoids the chilly and forbidding claustrophobia so common in this genre in favor of a sunny and joyful approach, one that is not entirely without edge (there’s a hint of foreboding in the vocal sample on “Ávila,” for example) but that generally stays well on the side of uplift. The CD version includes the Goodbye EP. Highly recommended.
Stefan Betke, who has recorded under the name Pole since 1998, makes music that has been characterized as dubtronic, glitch, and minimal ambient, but I’m not sure any of those labels really works. I think I’d call his music “minimal Krautrock.” On his latest album, you’ll hear faint echoes of Can and Neu!, but also more than a hint of 1970s dub. The music is generally fairly quiet but not exactly restful. “Alp” is particularly unsettling — snare hits are delivered according to what seems to be a pattern but is not easily discernible as such, while keyboards bring queasy harmonies and a bassline booms quietly below the surface — and on “Stechmück” an even queasier synth part regularly intrudes to push a more regular bass and drum part off kilter. “Firmament” has a jazzy flavor but lurches rather than swings. This is music I can confidently recommend for careful listening, but wouldn’t recommend for a party.
The Metallic Index (vinyl & digital only)
Fenella is an experimental trio consisting of the celebrated electronic composer Jane Weaver, Peter Philipson, and Raz Ullah. The Metallic Index is the group’s second release, and it features lush synthesized soundscapes, pulsing Durutti Column-style guitars (especially on the lovely “A Young Girl of Medium Height”), and sometimes deceptively simple-sounding multilayered ambience. The title track leads with a puckish Casiotone beat and clouds of altered wordless vocals, and then shifts into Steve Reich-style minimalism. For an album of instrumental electronica, The Metallic Index features a surprisingly wide range of sounds and textures, and it’s a consistently enjoyable listen.
More Offerings (cassette & digital only)
International Anthem Recording Company
Earlier this year, the electronica artist Photay (a.k.a. Evan Shornstein) made an album with producer Carlos Niño, who is himself known for his extensive catalog of collaborative recordings with musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds. An Offering was a concept album built around the idea of water and both its spiritual and its physical properties; the music was not exactly ambient, but certainly contemplative even with its complexity. More Offerings is sort of a remix album based on the same material, but it’s more than that; along with remixes and reconfigurations of music from the first album, it also includes full versions of compositions originally sampled for An Offering, a live recording, and some improvised material. There’s mystical spoken-word stuff about the nature of existence, some dancefloor-ready (or at least dancefloor-adjacent) beats, and tracks that are really hard to characterize. Both albums are well worth hearing.
NoPaper (dist. !K7)
This absolutely delightful album comes from Polish duo Skalpel, who looked to the past for inspiration for their latest release. They had been thinking about the dance and club music of the 1990s that had influenced them before they headed in a jazzier direction, and anyone who was listening to electronic music during that decade will hear lots of familiar elements here: the jazz bass, microscopic glitches, and skittery double-time breakbeats of “Why Not Jungle,” the strings and dubwise vocal effects on “Prism,” the mysterioso vibe of “White Label,” etc. If you miss the vintage sound of labels like Ninja Tune and Shadow, then this album will be a great nostalgia trip; if you have no memory of those labels, then this music may sound like a foreign county — and that’s cool too.
Water of Life (vinyl & digital only)
If a band is billed as “Afro-Finnish,” then an entirely reasonable question would be “what on earth does that mean in terms of actual music?”. In the case of Maajo, the answer would be “smooth, gently funky, densely produced but nimbly danceable pop tunes.” Actually, “pop” might be too strong a word: Major’s music is just a bit too impressionistic for that. There’s nothing here you could reasonably characterize as a hook, although there are passages you might find yourself singing along to, notably on “Unelmissani” and the percolating “Better Days (Kumba).” And if “Balafon Compagnement” doesn’t make you dance in your office chair, consider having your pulse checked.
Rare Global Pop 1980s (digital only)
No cat. no.
Belgium’s Crammed Discs label has been releasing fun and oddball pop and experimental music since the early 1980s, when they burst onto the avant-pop scene with albums by Aqsak Maboul, Julverne, and the Honeymoon Killers. Over the past few years the label has been raiding its vaults and putting out a steady stream of reissues and compilations under the series title Crammed Electronic Archives. The series includes six EPs by the likes of Nadjma, Des Airs, and Maurice Photo Doudongo — a hugely varied list that embraces afropop, European postpunk, and Arabic electropop. But if you don’t want to deal with six relatively brief releases, consider picking up this 17-track sampler, which provides an excellent overview of this fascinating catalog project as well as some rare singles and remixes not included on the EPs. If you’re like me, though, you’ll want every track of every release.
Spirits Eat Music
For fans (like me) of hardcore roots-and-culture reggae, pop reggae poses a bit of a problem. Even when it’s done really well, we tend to be suspicious of it (this despite the fact that the actual roots of reggae are in the dancehall, not in the Nyabinghi reasoning session). But there’s a truth that has to be acknowledged, and that is that good pop reggae is good reggae. And SunDub makes outstanding reggae music, in a pop vein. On their new album the Brooklyn-based band is joined by Peetah Morgan of Morgan Heritage, and also by producer Sidney Mills, who has worked with Steel Pulse — so it’s not like there aren’t solid roots credentials here. The main thing, though, is the songs, which are beautifully crafted and engagingly sung. The grooves are deep and heavy but not ponderous, and on highlight tracks like the militant steppers anthem “Real Change” and the singles “New Ways to Love” and “Jump and Dance,” SunDub is the equal of any reggae band playing in any style today.
A Different Style EP (digital only)
Glyn “Bigga” Bush is perhaps best known as a founding member of Rockers Hi Fi, with whom he spent much of the 1990s exploring various ways that dub and reggae conventions could be applied to various other genres of music. As a solo artist he has continued that exploration, and this “EP” (I put the term in scare quotes because this release is about an hour long) is a platform for other artists to give his work a similar treatment. Three remixes of “This River,” two each of “Black Swan” and “Real & Regal,” and one of “Sole Sister” bring UK garage, broken beat, electro soul, and jungle elements to the mix, to exciting and booty-shaking effect. Bush’s source material was great to begin with, and remix artists like Gerry Hectic and Sentinel 793 only make it that much more fun.