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Author Archives: Rick Anderson

September 2022


CLASSICAL


Josef Mysliveček
Complete Violin Concertos (reissue; 2 discs)
Shizuka Ishikawa; Dvorák Chamber Orchestra / Libor Pešek
Supraphon (dist. Naxos)
SU 4298-2

This set brings together two recordings originally made in the 1980s by the brilliant violinist Shizuka Ishikawa, then in her mid- to late teens. Working with the Dvorák Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Libor Pešek, Ishikawa delivers limpid and sweet-toned accounts of the great Bohemian composer Josef Mysliveček’s eight violin concertos. Playing on modern instruments, both the soloist and the orchestra deliver these exemplary examples of high classicism with all the lightness and charm one would expect, deftly showcasing Mysliveček’s unusual gift for extended melodic invention and logical form. On the beloved G major concerto, dubbed the “Pastoral,” Ishikawa’s playing is especially playful and sweet, as befits the overall bucolic mood of the piece. This is a thoroughly delightful release that would make a fine addition to any library collection.


Anton Eberl
3 String Quartets op. 13
casalQuartett
Solo Musica (dist. Naxos)
SM391

Moving from the high classical period to the emergence of the Romantic, we turn now to the world-premiere recording of three string quartets by Anton Eberl, a friend and student of Mozart in Vienna. Eberl died young and is best remembered as a composer for the piano, but these quartets (published when he was 35 years old, only six years before his death from scarlet fever) show that he was a master of that form as well. His music was often mistaken for that of Mozart and his writing had a significant impact on Beethoven, with whom he was also close friends. These pieces are played (on modern instruments) with masterfully restrained passion by the casalQuartett, who handily convey the tension between classical structure and deep emotion that was present in so much of the music of this important transitional period.


David Lang
The Writings
Cappella Amsterdam / Daniel Reuss
Pentatone
PTC 5187 001

This stunning disc features the Cappella Amsterdam ensemble on a world-premiere recording of David Lang’s The Writings, a cycle of choral works based on selections from the Hebrew Bible. Each of the scriptural extracts is associated with a different Jewish holiday, the work as a whole creating a sort of map of the Jewish liturgical year from Sukkot (a weeklong holiday during which ancient Israelites were expected to travel to the temple in Jerusalem) to Tisha B’Av (which commemorates the destruction of both Solomon’s Temple and the Second Temple). The music is, as one might expect, solemn in tone and cyclical in structure; perhaps a bit more surprisingly, it is also consistently consonant and tonal — though the mood is often dark and brooding, there is always light peeking through, and the performances by Cappella Amsterdam are absolutely exquisite.


Gity Razaz
The Strange Highway
Various Performers
BIS (dist. Naxos)
BIS-2634

Iranian-born, New York-based composer Gity Razaz is a truly exciting talent, a woman who is already exhibiting, while still in the early stages of her career, a remarkable musical vision and facility with a broad array of styles and instrumental formats. This disc focuses on chamber works: the grimly bustling title piece (for an ensemble of cellos); a duo work for violin and piano; a programmatic piece (based on an Azerbaijani legend) for cello and electronics; and a contemplative work for solo viola. But it ends with a larger-scale piece, Metamorphosis of Narcissus, for chamber orchestra and electronics. All of the works here are impressive, but this one was my favorite — it manages to be dense and ethereal at the same time (I know, that makes no sense, but give it a listen), and alternates moments of intense emotionalism with sweetly but eerily lyrical passages. Razaz is a major young talent to keep an eye on.


Various Composers
Lux aeterna
The Gesualdo Six / Owain Park
Hyperion (dist. Integral)
CDA68388

This remarkable album is conceived around the concept of grief, and the complexity of the emotions that the overarching designation “grief” always entails. Part of what makes this collection of pieces so unusual and so engaging is the fact that, rather than drawing on compositions from the whole length of musical history, it focuses on two periods: the 16th-17th centuries and the 20th-21st. Thus, Thomas Tallis’s setting of In ieiunio et fletu segues directly into Donna McKevitt’s gorgeous Lumen, which is followed by a funerary piece by John Tavener; Henry Purcell’s Thou Knowest, Lord, the Secrets of Our Hearts is followed by Owain Park’s highly unusual setting of the Welsh poem “In Parenthesis,” in which sung and spoken word are woven together. As always, the singing of the Gesualdo Six is simply stunning, and the overall mood of the album is deeply somber with a subtle but undeniable undertone of hope and faith. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


Various Composers
Lost & Found
Sean Shibe
Pentatone (dist. Naxos)
PTC5186988

Classical recordings for solo electric guitar are, as one might imagine, pretty few and far between, so this release caught my attention. And rewarded it — beginning with a stunning arrangement of Hildegard of Bingen’s serene plainchant O viridissima virga and ending with Julius Eastman’s luminous but challenging Buddha, guitarist Sean Shine takes us on a musical tour that stops at multiple stylistic destinations: adaptations of works by Meredith Monk, Armando Core, Moondog (whose pieces offer some of the most touching and lovely moments on this album), Olivier Messiaen, and jazz pianist Bill Evans. Shibe’s uses outboard effects and extended techniques to create an equally wide variety of tones, textures, and soundscapes, and the result is a beautiful album that will be unlike any other you’ve heard.


Daisy Press
You Are the Flower: Music from Hildegard von Bingen – Vol. 1
Storysound
SSS-047

And speaking of Hildegard von Bingen: libraries may find the packaging frustrating (a CD in a cardboard sleeve accompanied by a 7.5″ x 9.5″ pamphlet), but trust me, this release is worth it. On You Are the Flower, singer Daisy Press delivers highly personal interpretations of sacred songs by the 12th-century abbess. Hildegard has been enjoying a decades-long renaissance since Gothic Voices reintroduced her to the world with their 1982 album A Feather on the Breath of God, and many ensembles have interpreted her plainchant compositions in a variety of ways. Press’s approach is to sing them by herself (sometimes creating overdubbed backing vocals) with a variety of subtle and tasteful instrumental accompaniments — a shruti bowl here, a piano there, an electric bass elsewhere. Her vocal approach wouldn’t be called “authentic,” but it’s not willfully modern either — she just shares what these sacred songs mean to her, and the result is quietly ravishing. Highly recommended to all libraries. The “Vol. 1” subtitle is reassuring.


JAZZ


Ana Nelson
Bridges
Self-released
No cat. no.

On her debut album as a leader, saxophonist/clarinetist/composer Ana Nelson delivers an outstanding program of original tunes that are both elegantly constructed and powerfully delivered. “Wanderlust” is a lovely slice of modern (but accessible) jazz with a deceptively simple-sounding head supported by a floating chord structure and a gentle Latin groove; “LCB”‘s sweet and lilting lyricism is followed by the yearning jazz waltz “Blue Flower”; “NelBapChoro” is exactly what its title suggests — a choro written as a duet for Nelson (on clarinet) and pianist Nelson Baptiste. And when the string quartet makes an appearance on “Let the Light In” (Nelson was a classical musician before falling in love with jazz), the effect is stunning; the decorous tones of the quartet contrast beautifully with Nelson’s bluesy clarinet lines. This is one of the loveliest jazz releases I’ve heard all year.


Charlton Singleton
Crossroads
Baxter Music Enterprises
BME1002CD

Trumpeter/composer Charlton Singleton and saxophonist Mark Sterbank like to say that in their work together, they strive to achieve the kind of chemistry that exemplified the collaborations of Harry “Sweets” Edison and legendary tenor man Ben Webster — and of Miles Davis and John Coltrane (and, later, Wayne Shorter) as well. Listening to this all-original disc, you’ll find yourself thinking that honestly, they’re just about there: on the heads they sound like a single person playing two instruments; when they trade solos, they sound like brothers. The rest of the band is just as good, and drummer Quentin Baxter’s gospel-derived (and New Orleans-informed) style brings a fun and unusual flavor to the proceedings. Highlights include the moving ballad “Nett and Root” (written for Singleton’s parents), and the sweetly popping “1000 Nights.” Highly recommended.


Ben Sidran
Swing State
Bonsai/Nardis
BON220501

Sixty years into a celebrated career, Ben Sidran is perhaps better known as a singer than as a pianist, and this is in fact the first all-instrumental album he’s made. I wish he hadn’t waited so long. His witty, hard-swinging playing is beautifully showcased here as he leads a trio that includes bassist Billy Peterson and Sidran’s son Leo on drums. The title tune, a jaunty blues, is the only original on this program; the remainder is given over to mostly familiar standards — some of them downright hoary: “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Laura” (two takes), “Over the Rainbow,” even (believe it or not) “Tuxedo Junction.” Sidran demonstrates facility in multiple styles, going deep into stride territory on “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and getting quirkily interpretive on his slowly loping version of “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” He never gets pyrotechnical or wild, but Sidran’s good humor and deep love of the repertoire shine through consistently on this outstanding album.


Columbia Icefield
Ancient Songs of Burlap Heroes
Pyroclastic
PR20

Columbia Icefield is an avant-jazz project led by trumpeter/composer Nate Wooley, and the group’s second album continues its sonic exploration of themes related to the vastness and, it must be said, the sometimes overwhelming forbiddingness of the Pacific Northwest. Wooley creates tone poems that sound both like an ode to these spaces and an expression of existential dread. “I Am the Sea That Sings of Dust” is long and skronky; “A Catastrophic Legend” is unsettled and unsettling, but relatively lyrical; “A Catastrophic Legend” is mournful and introspective. Between the conventionally titled pieces are brief interludes titled only “(…..)” (using ellipses of varying lengths). Mary Halvorsen’s unique, pitch-shifted guitar style and the steel guitar of Susan Alcorn are both intrinsic to the architecture of these compositions, while bandleader Nate Wooley’s trumpet is all over the place, tonally — sometimes recognizable as a trumpet, sometimes not, but always defining a large emotional space within which his collaborators create statements, lamentations, and commentaries all their own. This is not an easy album, but it’s a highly rewarding one.


Bass Extremes
S’Low Down
Vix
VIX010

Jazz-pop fusion isn’t normally an easy sell for me. I don’t think it’s snobbery (at least I hope not) — it’s more that I love jazz and I love pop, and when you try to combine them I find that usually what you end up with is both mediocre jazz and mediocre pop. But there are exceptions, and the now-30-year-old Bass Extremes project is one of them. The musical brainchild of A-list bassists Victor Wooten and Steve Bailey, it’s a bass-led duo project that incorporates virtuosic guest musicians playing low-end instruments from across the stylistic spectrum — that’s Béla Fleck playing bass banjo on “Home Bass,” and elsewhere we hear Howard Levy on bass harmonica, Mike Stern on six-string bass guitar, and Jeff Coffin on bass clarinet and bass flute, as well as illustrious straight-up bassists like Ron Carter and John Pattitucci. And there are enough higher-register instruments to keep everything from sounding muddy. Instead, it all sounds fun and funky and joyful.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Tall Poppy String Band
Tall Poppy String Band
Self-released
No cat. no.

In the old-time music tradition, there is no lineup more venerated than the fiddle-banjo-guitar trio. Tall Poppy String Band (fiddler/vocalist George Jackson, guitarist Mark Harris, banjoist/vocalist Cameron DeWhitt) breathes new life into that tradition on its self-titled debut album. The music is almost entirely traditional, and the playing wouldn’t be called avant-garde or experimental in any meaningful sense, but there are quiet and tasteful innovations everywhere. For example, only a fellow banjo player would be likely to appreciate fully DeWhitt’s virtuosic and unusual playing on “The Coo Coo,” while the band’s take on the bluegrass standard “The Train That Carried My Girl from Town” is given a playful gender tweak. Their quiet but intense rendition of “The Last of Sizemore” is perhaps my favorite track on this disc, but the whole thing is wonderful.


Mountain City Four
Mountain City Four
Omnivore
OVCD-501

Before they became a Canadian folk-pop institution on their own, Kate and Anna McGarrigle were part of a folk quartet called the Mountain City Four (“Mountain City” being a reference to Montréal) with Peter Weldon and Jack Nissenson. This collection brings together fifteen previously unreleased recordings made by the group between 1963 and 1970, and they’re everything you’d hope: covers of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and “Blind” Willie Johnson; bluegrass standards; an English sea shanty; Quêbecois folk songs; and, inevitably, “Shenandoah” — that last track recorded live in 2012, just a couple of years after Kate’s death. There is also, equally inevitably, a singalong. There’s also some stuff you wouldn’t have dared hope for, such as a 17th-century Samuel Scheidt hymn that leads seamlessly into “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” My favorite moment is Kate and Anna’s duo performance of the sweet and gorgeous Québec song “En filant ma quenouille,” which they would revisit on a later album in a more sophisticated arrangement but which sounds marvelous here with just their two voices and a guitar. For all libraries.


Apple & Setser
Apple & Setser
Bell Buckle
BBR9089

Mandolinist Brad Apple and multi-instrumentalist Pam Setser have been working together as a duo for the past five years, and this is their first recording together. Both are also fine singers and songwriters, and the album features a mix of traditional songs and originals — and some fusions of both, such as Setser’s touching “Grandma Danced with the Arkansas Traveler,” a composition that incorporates the popular fiddle tune into a story-song. Stylistically, the program is an amalgam of bluegrass (“Hand Me Down My Walking Cane,” “I’ll Love Nobody but You”) brother-duet style guitar-mandolin tunes (“A Friend You’d Never Met”), country weepers (“Too Far Gone”), and even a dulcimer-driven contradadance tune (“Hayes’ Hoedown”). All of it sounds comfortingly familiar, but at the same time none if it is quite like anything else you’ve heard in the country/folk/Americana genre.


ROCK/POP


Chris Korda
More Than Four (vinyl & digital only)
Chapelle XIV
No cat. no.

Experimentation and avant-gardism in pop music can take all kinds of interesting forms. When those tendencies are manifest in the context of dance music, they tend to be particularly interesting. On this slyly titled release, Chris Korda takes the surface signifiers of dance and club music — shimmering synths, steadily thudding techno percussion, vocoder, etc. — and puts them to work in the service of complex rhythmic structures that undermine those signifiers in subtle ways. Each track is composed of different strands written in different time signatures: on the title track, for example, the synth part is in 7/4 while the piano part is in 6/4, setting up a phase-shifted effect. When lyrics enter the picture, they’re subversive as well — the dour anti-natalism of “Planet Broke” contrasting with the usual “party all night” hedonism of most dance music lyrics. If you like your dance music challenging and complex, then this one’s definitely for you.


Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers (reissue)
Omnivore
OVCD-487

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers
Rock’n’Roll with The Modern Lovers (reissue)
Omnivore
OVCD-488

Usually I recommend releases in CD HotList both because I believe they’re worthy of consideration for library collections and because I love them. But once in a while I recommend them not because I love them, but because I recognize their quality and/or importance and therefore think they should be considered for acquisition by libraries. Jonathan Richman is one of those guys I’ve always been able to appreciate more than enjoy. And of course there’s no question about the significance of his work: there’s a clear through-line from his style and delivery to that of, for example, Talking Heads — and his band at times included Cars drummer David Robinson as well as future Talking Heads guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison. Now the mighty (and well named) Omnivore label is reissuing Richman’s early albums, including these two: an eponymous 1976 debut and 1977’s Rock’n’Roll With. The debut, with its live-sounding spoken asides and wobbly singing, is particularly baffling — songs like “Abominable Snowman in the Market” and “Here Come the Martian Martians” are obviously meant to be funny, but how are we supposed to receive the album-closing version of “Amazing Grace”? The second album opens with a Chinese folk song and proceeds to offer more of the first album’s either sweetly ingenuous or deeply ironic fare: “Rockin’ Rockin’ Leprechauns,” “Dodge Veg-o-Matic,” etc. — also, “Egyptian Reggae,” which was actually something of a hit. Also another gospel song. The sound is, if anything, dodgier than it was on the first album. But is it fun? Well, yes. And it’s, you know, important.


M. Geddes Gengras
Expressed, I Noticed Silence
Hausu Mountain (dist. Redeye)
HAUSMO 127

The Hausu Mountain label has staked out a fairly specific musical territory: avant-pop music that tends to be instrumental and is usually brash, busy, loud, and sometimes (though not always) abrasive. Even at its most consonant and accessible, music from this label tends to be exhausting. The latest Hausu Mountain release from the prolific and stylistically promiscuous M. Geddes Gengras bucks that general trend; it’s a lush and beautiful instrumental soundscape that is a bit too dense and involving to be considered ambient, but is probably too abstract and floating to be considered anything else. His history of dubwise production (under the name Duppy Gun Productions) is well in evidence here, but there’s nothing reggae-ish about any of these tracks; the album harks back most explicitly to his label debut I Am the Last of That Green and Warm-Hued World, and is a definite departure from his most recent release on the label, the experimental dance album Time Makes Nothing Happen. Lovely stuff.


De Lux
Do You Need a Release?
Innovative Leisure (dist. Redeye)
IL2095

I’m going to file this one under “Indie Pop,” though the seven-and-a-half-minute-long opening track had me momentarily wondering if I was going to have to file it under “Prog.” (Gratefully, no.) In fact, I’d go a bit further and slot this into “Indie Pop Bordering on Dream Pop” — those gauzy vocals! Those swooning melodies! But then something like “New Summers” (those 80s handclaps!) or “Validation” (those Kraftwerky synth bleeps!) pops up, and one starts thinking “Wait, is this just old-school synth pop?”. Of course, you and your library patrons probably don’t care about all the muso genre nit-picking. You want to know if it has hooks and if it’s fun. Yes, and yes. I’d recommend this album to just about any library, and now wish I’d done so at the beginning rather than at the end of beach season, because this is one for the convertible.


S8jfou
OpEcho (vinyl & digital only)
Parapente
PARA 014CD

I’ve mentioned previously my love of grumpy electronica. Here’s another great example of what I mean. For his latest album, the apparently Breton producer/composer S8jfou (whose website does not reveal his exact location or birth name, but does provide intriguing information about his lifestyle) decided he would make all of his music using only two digital tools, both part of the Ableton suite: a synthesizer program called Operator and the delay effect Echo. And what he does with those tools is quite amazing: the music is warm, supple and highly varied, while still maintaining a generally dark and grumbly mood. “Waves” hints at drill’n’bass; “Interpolation” weaves woozy synth lines around a steadily throbbing rhythmic pattern; “Influences” takes the tiniest, most trebly percussion parts and layers them atop 80s-style synth lines and post-industrial beats. Every track is fascinating, and I really wish the album were more than 38 minutes long.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Quinquis
SEIM
Mute
CDSTUMM474

Brittany, in the west of France, is an unusual outpost of Celtic (though not Gaelic) culture and language. Like so many regional languages, Breton is dying, and with it are fading many of the region’s traditional folkways and its traditional music. This album by Quinquis (Émilie Tiersen, who has recorded previously under the name Little Feet) won’t do much to preserve Breton folk music — this is a dark, quirky synth-pop album — but the songs are written and sung entirely in Breton, and their lyrics unite around themes of Breton culture both ancient and modern. One song makes reference to Seiz Breur, an early-20th-century regional art movement, while another invokes Ankou, an ancient Breton demigod who functioned as a servant of death. There are stories of husbands lost at sea and of individuals Tiersen has met in her musical travels. I don’t know if I’d call this album “fun,” but it’s certainly lovely.


New Blade Runners of Dub
New Blade Runners of Dub
Echo Beach
EB172

New Blade Runners of Dub is a new duo consisting of bassist Paul Zasky (of Dubbelstandart fame) and producer/film composer Jed Smith. Together they’ve created a unique sound that blends elements of house, reggae, and dubstep. The band’s first album draws on a variety of influences while effectively creating a stylistically coherent whole: “Solitary Confinement” and the Beta Fish remix of “Fly Me to the Moon” are both smoothly rolling, liquid drum’n’bass treatments, while “Looking for Things” is built on a slippery, three-against-four rhythm, and “In My Space” puts the ethereal falsetto of Cedric Myton into a throbbing cauldron of slow steppers bass and clanging percussion. The late, great Prince Far I makes a posthumous appearance on “Cry Cry 2049,” the title of which is a sly reference to his earlier stage name, King Cry Cry. This is a fine debut release, one that portends great things for the future.


Lucibela
Amdjer
Lusafrica (dist. MVD)
86252

There are a few artists about whom, every time I listen to them, I ask myself “Why do I not spend more of my life listening to this person?”. Ella Fitzgerald is one; Benny Goodman, especially with his small ensembles, is another. And Cape Verdean singer Lucibela is one more. Her voice sounds like hot chocolate with cinnamon in it — rich, dark, and sweet, with just a hint of spice. Cape Verdean music blends stylistic elements from Portugual, Brazil, West Africa, and Cuba, and Lucibela’s deft and graceful voice juggles them all with an ease that belies the discipline and hard work that went into creating her personal style — from the fado-flavored “Ilha Formose” to the swooningly lovely “Bombena” to “Ben Presto Amor,” a previously-unpublished bolero by Cuban composer Emilio Moret. Like her previous work, this album is a complete delight.


Puppa Nadem
Hy Man (vinyl & digital only)
Sound Dynamik (dist. Baco)
PN0001

George Palmer
Working Man
Irie Ites
II CD23

I continue to be amazed at the constant stream of outstanding reggae coming out of France these days — and not just from Paris. There have been so many great albums over the past eight months or so that I’ve felt a bit overwhelmed in trying to pick just one or two to recommend. I’ve settled on these two: the second solo album from speedrapper/singjay Puppa Nadem and the debut album from roots-and-culture crooner George Palmer. The two releases could hardly be more different: Puppa Nadem came up in the sound system, and you can hear it in everything he does; he’s fleet of tongue and hard of tone, and his collaborations here with the likes of General Levy and Tomawok are hardcore raggamuffin dancehall niceness. George Palmer, on the other hand, is all about spiritual consciousness, and he puts his sweet high-tenor voice to use in promoting repatriation (“Africa”) and cannabis legalization (“Legalize It”), and decrying sufferation (“Working Man,” a great combination track featuring deejay Solo Banton). Palmer’s style is 1980s digital roots, and he owns it. Both of these releases are great, but don’t sleep on the other albums coming out of France lately, including new releases from L’Entourloup, Tomawok, and Zion Head.

August 2022


CLASSICAL


Ferdinand Ries
Piano Trio & Sextets
Nash Ensemble
Hyperion (dist. Integral)
CDA68380

Ferdinand Ries is better known as a student of (and administrative assistant to) Beethoven than as a composer in his own right, but this recording should help to bring him out of his undeserved obscurity. Opening powerfully with Ries’s Grand Sextet in C Major, in which brilliantly cascading piano lines are supported by a Romantic-inflected but classically structured scaffolding of string parts to create an effect quite close to that of a piano concerto, the program then proceeds to a charming piece for cello and piano based on a Russian folk tune, an aching minor-key trio for piano, violin, and cello, and then another sextet — this one for piano, harp, winds, and double bass. That last one is my favorite, but all are well worth hearing. The Nash Ensemble plays sensitively on modern instruments.


Franz Liszt et al.
Consolations and Other Reflective Pieces for Violin & Piano
Maya Magub; Hsin-I Huang
CRD (dist. Naxos)
CRD 3540

Various Composers
Personal Noise
Sarah Plum
Blue Griffin
BGR619

While these two recordings are very different in just about every way, what they have in common is that both convey the personal musical vision of a brilliant young violinist. Consolations is exactly what its title suggests: a collection of quiet, comforting music for violin and piano created during the pandemic lockdown. Its centerpiece is a world-premiere recording of Maya Magub’s arrangement for violin and piano of Liszt’s set of six Consolations (written originally for piano solo), but it also includes works by Schumann, Handel, Mendelssohn, Chopin, and others. Amazingly, Magub and pianist Huang recorded their parts separately, each in her own home studio; the sense of an intimate ensemble they created under those conditions is remarkable, as is the quiet virtuosity of their playing. Magub’s tone is a particular joy. Sarah Plum’s album is something else entirely, a challenging and exciting program consisting primarily of contemporary works for violin and electronics, many written specifically for Plum and recorded here for the first time. The composers were all unfamiliar to me, so it was fun to be introduced to them through these works. Highlights include the lovely title piece (Personal Noise with Accelerants for solo violin, by Eric Lyon) and the bustling, haunting Full Moon by Mari Taken.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Post Scriptum
Sergei Kvitko; Madrid Soloists Chamber Orchestra / Tigran Shiganyan
Blue Griffin
BGR 597

It’s easy to greet most new Mozart recordings with a yawn — few composers’ works have been recorded as often as his, and new performances of his works rarely bring dramatically new insight to a market in which there may be scores or even hundreds of previous versions of those works still available. For this recording of the Rondos K. 382 and 386 and the popular piano concerto #20, however, pianist Sergei Kvitko has made a concerted effort to provide a listening experience “full of surprises.” The Rondos are presented in world-premiere editions prepared by Kvitko himself, editions that take some fairly dramatic liberties with orchestration, ornamentation, and dynamics, and his cadenzas in the concerto are indeed highly original and filled with musical surprises. This fine modern-instrument recording should be seriously considered for all libraries’ classical collections.


William Bolcom
The Complete Rags (2 discs)
Marc-André Hamelin
Hyperion (dist. Integral)
CDA68391

One of the delightful challenges of dealing with ragtime music is trying to decide whether to put it into the Classical or the Jazz category. I tend to favor the former, because while ragtime music is highly syncopated and has the shiny melodic veneer of the vernacular, scratch that shiny surface and you find through-composed music that is often melodically and harmonically complex and virtuosic in a way that has as much in common with Scarlatti as with Jelly Roll Morton. In the case of William Bolcom’s contemporary rag compositions, I think that argument is especially strong, and on this absolutely wonderful recording the great Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin makes a powerful argument for the brilliance of these pieces. While never seeming to be challenged at all by their fearsome technical demands, he also uses a subtle rubato and careful dynamics to reveal their depth and, frequently, their tenderness. This is an altogether wonderful recording.


Chas Smith
Three
Cold Blue Music
CB0061

Like George Crumb before him, Chas Smith has a musical vision that is unique enough that it requires him to invent his own instruments. Each of the three pieces on this disc was created using several of these custom-created instruments. For example, The End of Cognizance is a piece for “Towers, Lockheed, Big Ti, (and) bass steel guitar,” whereas the monumental The Replicant is performed on “steel guitars, JrBlue, Guitarzilla, Pez Eater, Bertoia, Lockheed, Que Lastas, (and) copper box.” (When Smith refers to a “steel guitar,” he’s not talking about a slide guitar, but a contraption actually made out of steel.) One wishes that more photos and descriptions of the instruments were provided, but on the other hand it’s kind of fun to listen to these somber, floating soundscapes and try to imagine the objects creating the sounds. There’s something unsettling but also deeply moving about these works — listen to them at high volume on really good speakers and prepare to be transported.


JAZZ


Anna Butterss
Activities (vinyl/digital only)
Colorfield
CF005

This odd but thoroughly wonderful album came about somewhat spontaneously, when bassist and composer Anna Butterss was invited to participate in what was intended as a one-day studio session, but which evolved into a large-scale solo composition and recording project. Most of this music is jazz-adjacent rather than “jazz”; there is tremendous diversity on this record, from the sweet melancholy of “Doo Wop” to the funky “Rich in Dextrose” and the more obviously jazzy “Number One.” But throughout the program there is one fundamentally important constant: Butterss’ quietly bubbling bass, which delivers lines that perfectly support the busy, quirky, and sometimes abstract-sounding compositions but that also stand easily on their own when you pay closer attention to them. Activities is a hugely impressive debut album, and at 35 minutes it is way too short.


Ella Fitzgerald
Ella at the Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook
Verve
B00352320-02

Honestly, is there any point in writing a review of this one? Ella Fitzgerald. 1958. Irving Berlin. Once you have those three facts in hand, do you really need to know anything else? Well, maybe. These represent the only live recordings drawing on Ella’s famous Songbooks series, and also they document the only time she worked with arranger and conductor Paul Weston. The tapes were lost for decades, and only recently came to light when they were discovered in the private collection of Norman Granz (famed Jazz at the Philharmonic impresario). And they sound amazing. OK, that’s really all you need to know. Buy a copy for your library, and another for yourself. Maybe another three or four copies as Christmas presents for your favorite family members.


Frank Kimbrough
2003-2006 (2 discs)
Palmetto
No cat. no.

The late Frank Kimbrough — who died far too young, at age 64, in 2020 — is beautifully commemorated by this loving reissue of two of his trio albums from earlier in the 2000s: Lullabluebye (from 2003, featuring bassist Ben Allison and drummer Matt Wilson) and Play (from 2005, featuring bassist Masa Kamaguchi and legendary drummer Paul Motian). The joint reissue is a project of guitarist and producer Matt Balitsaris, who remastered and remixed the original recordings to create more balance between the instruments. It was a musically wise choice, given the degree to which Kimbrough and his rhythm players acted as equal partners in the creation of these recordings. In fact, there are multiple points at which the listener is reminded of the free-flowing exchange of ideas that characterized the work of Bill Evans with bassist Scott LaFaro — and there were moments when I heard shades of Joey Baron’s work with Bill Frisell in Wilson’s drumming on Lullabluebye. This is a lovely but bittersweet album, one that reminds us how much we lost when Kimbrough departed this world too early.


Dmitri Matheny
Cascadia
Origin
82849

Here’s the challenge when you’re a jazz flugelhorn player: avoiding sounding like a TV commercial soundtrack from 1979. It’s not your fault; it’s just that the flugelhorn has such a sweet, soft tone that it was the favorite vehicle for easy-listening music during that heavily easy-listening decade. So what does Dmitri Matheny do? He takes the dangerous path: he embraces the softness of his instrument, but puts it to work delivering sharp, serious music. Check out the title track, for instance: it’s all soft edges and bumping Latin rhythms, but there’s a sly sophistication to the chord changes underneath the gentle melody; “Dark Eyes” is a ballad with an evocative noir vibe, on which Matheny’s flugelhorn and Charles McNeal’s tenor sax trade off so silkily that you almost don’t notice the transitions. And almost as if daring us to underestimate him, he even performs an arrangement of Glen Campbell’s 1970s pop-country classic “Wichita Lineman” — and makes it emotionally powerful. For all libraries.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Seth Walker
I Hope I Know
Royal Potato Family
No cat. no.

There have been lots of interesting COVID albums coming out this year, many of them stemming from recording or touring plans that were suddenly thrown into chaos by the pandemic, resulting in both lost opportunities and new ones. In Seth Walker’s case, this disruption coincided with a relationship breakup, and it shouldn’t be surprising that all of this would result in a darker and more introspective album than some of his earlier work. His particular take on gritty, rootsy Americana is a bit of an anomaly, in that his guitar style owes as much to West African highlife as it does to country and blues. And there are moments on his new album when you hear echoes of Tin Pan Alley — notably on “Remember Me,” with its skiffle beat and subtle horns. On the title track, Walker’s fingerpicked guitar lines tumble down with unassuming grace while he sings lyrics of longing and ambivalence, and “Satisfy My Mind” would sound perfectly at home on an early Muddy Waters record. Add a Van Morrison cover, a Bob Dylan cover, and a Bobby Charles cover, and you’ve got one of the more affecting and soulful albums I’ve heard so far this year.


Chastity Brown
Sing to the Walls
Red House
RHR CD 320

It’s funny how one’s expectations of music can be shaped so much by the context in which it’s encountered. For example, when you see that an album is on the Red House label, you naturally expect a sort of folk-adjacent singer-songwriter program — like what you’d hear from label founder Greg Brown or from its marquee artists John Gorka, Robin & Linda Williams, and Peter Ostrouschko. And there are certainly hints of that on Chastity Brown’s new album — but only hints. This music could perhaps be called “soul Americana,” but it would more accurately simply be called “soul.” Listen to the compressed drum sound on “Loving the Questions,” the assertive lope of “Boston,” and her chesty, gospel-informed singing style throughout. Yes, this is in fact another COVID record — but it’s also pretty dang timeless. Highly recommended.


The Brother Brothers
Cover to Cover
Compass (dist. Naxos)
7 4798 2

Let’s continue this month’s theme of Folk/Country adjacency by looking at the lovely new album from the Brother Brothers. Identical twins Adam and David Moss have been making music together since childhood, and this is their third album under the Brother Brothers moniker. This one, as the title suggests, consists of versions of songs they love that were written by others. It’s pretty eclectic — John Lennon’s “I Will,” Judee Sill’s “There’s a Rugged Road,” Harley Allen’s (via Dolly/Linda/Emmylou) “High Sierra,” etc. — but what unites the whole disc is the brothers’ uncannily tight harmonies and gentle country-soul-pop arrangements, which sometimes skirt the edge of easy listening but always manage to stay on the right side of that line. This is unfailingly sweet but also quietly virtuosic music and it’s a deeply rewarding listen. Recommended to all libraries.


ROCK/POP


The Range
Mercury
Domino (dist. Redeye)
WIGCD412

You’ve heard of dream pop? Meet dream funk. The Range is James Hinton, an electronic music producer whose strategy for constructing songs is built on seeking out vocal snippets from around the internet, sampling them, and incorporating them into compositions that are sometimes dense, swirly and dreamy (“Bicameral”) and sometimes more directly adjacent to hip hop (“Urethane”) and R&B (“Ricercar,” “Not for Me”). Hinton has a particular genius is for bringing subtle detail to what are, for the most part, very straightforwardly accessible songs (notice the high-speed glitchy beats that underly sections of “Relegate”) and for finding just the right vocal extract to use as a foundation on which to build his rich and complex structures (notice the abstract but gorgeous vocal on “Violet”). Highly recommended.


Moby
Reprise: Remixes
Little Idiot/Deutsche Grammophon
4860575

Is it cool to like Moby these days? I can never keep track of this stuff. But I think last time I checked, being a fan of this bald, middle-aged, bespectacled, vegan post-Christian (“Taoist-Christian-agnostic-quantum mechanic“) was considered a bit passé. Whatever; as far as I’m concerned it’s the grooves that matter, and of course grooves are front-and-center on this new collection of remixes of classic Moby tracks. Deutsche Grammophon’s involvement ensures the presence of overly earnest liner notes (“at its most complex, [the remix] becomes an art form — part homage, part act of transformational creativity,” thanks for that), but again, the proof is in the musical pudding. And this pudding is rich and dense and yummy, from the straightforward house thump of Planningtorock’s remix of Moby’s version of David Bowie’s “Heroes” to Bambounou’s twisted and folded junglist take on “Porcelain” and Max Cooper’s groovy but quite abstract mix of “Natural Blues.” The general tendency is towards four-on-the-floor house and techno, but there’s lots of fun and creative detail to be heard here. Very nice stuff.


Nova Materia
Xpujil Revisited: Made to Measure Vol. 45.2 (digital only)
Crammed Disques
No cat. no.

This dark ambient project has its origins in a walking trip through the Mexican jungle undertaken by Caroline Chaspoul and Eduardo Henriquez (who record together as Nova Materia), during which the pair made recordings of the sounds that surrounded them and used those as the basis for a 40-minute soundscape that they have released as Xpujil. That album is excellent, but I recommend this version, which begins with three reinterpretations of the Xpujil source material by Italian experimentalist Donato Dozzy, Colombian avant-garde musician Lucrecia Salt, and Honduran-born Frenchman Philippe Hallais (a.k.a. Low Jack), each of whom brings his or her own unique interpretation to the sonic content. The album then offers a new presentation of the original music, divided into four segments rather than the original uninterrupted single track. This is not only a more generous program of music (offered, oddly enough, at a lower price) but also a radically reconfigured one, and it’s consistently fascinating and enjoyable.


Air Waves
The Dance
Fire
FIRE665

Air Waves is the nom de pop of singer and songwriter Nicole Schneit, whose sophomore effort is a simultaneously forward- and backward-looking slice of modern pop songcraft. The first line of the first track had me wondering who Schneit reminded me of, and I was startled to realize it was Belinda Carlisle. That impression faded over the course of the program, as I started hearing echoes of Patsy Cline (“The Dance”) and, I don’t know, maybe Syd Straw (“Alien”), and eventually it became clear that what I was listening to is a genuine original. There’s some puckish humor here (note in particular the tongue-in-cheek “Black Metal Demon”) and some nice cameo appearances by the likes of Cass McCombs and Luke Temple, and although at full price and 26 minutes in length this release doesn’t offer the most solid value for money, the music is still great.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Minyeshu
Netsa
ARC Music (dist. Naxos)
EUCD2945

Just about every music culture uses melisma (stretching out sung syllables using multiple notes; think, for example, of what happens whenever Mariah Carey holds a note for more than 1/10 of a second), and all do different things with it: you hear it in Black American gospel music, where melisma intensifies emotion; you hear it in classical Indian music, where it’s an intrinsic part of the structural exploration of a raga; and you hear it in traditional Appalachian music, notably in singers like Ralph Stanley. In Ethiopian music, melisma has a unique character; to me, it sounds like lacework subtly draped over the main melody. The great Ethiopian singer Minyeshu is a master of this style of singing, and on her latest album she demonstrates the technique with great subtlety and artistry while delivering pop songs that sound as modern as they do ancient. This is the first release I’ve heard from her, and now I’m going to go explore her catalog. (Man, I love this job.)


Rabii Harnoune & V.B. Kühl
Gnawa Electric Laune II (digital only)
Tru Thoughts (dist. Redeye)
No cat. no.

Gnawa music is a genre of devotional vocal music found throughout West Africa but most densely concentrated in Morocco. Gnawa singers are traditionally accompanied by the guembri, a longnecked lute with three strings, and the songs are characterized by unique rhythmic and lyrical structures that can make them sound pretty repetitive to ears raised outside the region. Which is what makes this project — now two albums strong — between gnawa singer Rabii Harnoune and German electronica producer V.B. Kühl so much fun. As on the previous album in their ongoing project, Harnoune brings his mastery of the genre (and of the guembri) and his powerful voice to the mix, while Kühl brings a wealth of electronic beats and effects, which he integrates subtly into the more traditional instrumental sounds, creating a shimmering and rippling tapestry of rhythm and melody that is as intellectually interesting as it is trance-inducing.


Various Artists
King Size Dub 25
Echo Beach
EB177

The occasion of its 25th release is an opportune moment at which to celebrate the mighty King Size Dub series, which for nearly 30 years now has offered generous platters of radically remixed songs from Europe’s wildly diverse reggae and pop worlds, and for virtually everyplace stylistically between them. A few volumes in the series have been themed collections — for example, one focused on the work of reggae supergroup Dub Syndicate, while another drew on selections from the On-U Sound label’s catalog and another on the work of producer Felix Wolter, a.k.a. Dubvisionist. But for the most part these are pretty eclectic compilations, and the 25th installment is no exception to that general rule. Here you’ll find Rob Smith’s remix of Seanie T’s and Aldubb’s take on Bob Marley’s “Punky Reggae Party,” Umberto Echo’s dub version of SEEED’s “Komm in mein Haus,” and Gaudi’s take on Almamegretta’s “O’ Dub Comme ‘e’.” As always, the grooves are dense and warm, the production heavy and colorful. I have yet to be disappointed by any of these collections.


Khiyo
Bondona
ARC Music (dist. Naxos)
EUCD2901

Sonny Singh
Chardi Kala
Self-released
No cat. no.

Two rocking fusion albums from the South Asian diaspora here — one from a Brooklyn-based Sikh trumpeter and singer of Punjabi heritage, and the other from a London-based Anglo-Bengali pop band. Khiyo’s Bondona is the most stylistically wide-ranging of the two, from the powerful guitar rock of “Shedin Aar Koto Durey” and “Ek Jomuna” to the quiet and acoustic “Ponkhi” and the guitars-tabla-and-strings meditation “Bhorer Hawa Eley.” Singer Sohini Alam’s voice is a lithe, soaring wonder, and no matter where this band goes in terms of style and genre, you’ll find yourself following happily. Sonny Singh’s approach is a bit more single-minded: better known as trumpeter and singer for the Brooklyn bhangra band Red Baraat, his solo debut is an ecstatic blast of devotional joy, reflecting the Sikh faithful’s spiritual obligation to remain in “revolutionary high spirits.” There are lots of horns, as you’d expect, and more than occasional hints of mariachi and spaghetti Western vibes — as you might not. There are hints of reggae too, and lots of straight-up rocking out. Singh’s joyful enthusiasm is infectious and his solo debut is a delight.

July 2022


CLASSICAL


Jean Mouton
Missa faulte d’argent & Motets
The Brabant Ensemble / Stephen Rice
Hyperion (dist. Integral)
CDA68385

I confess that I’m a sucker for the thrill of a world-premiere recording. And since I’m also a sucker for the music of the Franco-Flemish masters and for the rich, creamy sound of the Brabant Ensemble, it should come as no surprise that I’m going to sing the praises of the group’s latest album. It brings to light seven previously unrecorded motets by one of the great composers of the third generation, along with his parody mass built on the chanson “Faulte d’argent” (the same source used for his six-voice Requiem setting). As always, the Brabant Ensemble’s sound is smooth and sumptuous; on this recording there is also a certain lightness and airiness to their voices that seems a bit new. The music itself is glorious, and left me hoping that the majority of Mouton’s masses that are still unrecorded will eventually get the same attention from this masterful ensemble.


Jeffrey Derus
From Wilderness
Choral Arts Initiative / Brandon Elliott
Navona (dist. Parma)
NV6421

Presented as a “meditation on the transformative experience of traveling the Pacific Coast Trail,” this large-scale work for choir, soloists, cello, and singing bowls represents a celebration by composer Jeffrey Derus of the majestic beauty of North America’s west coast. Each movement of the piece represents a different segment of the Pacific Coast Trail, from Southern California to Washington State. The purpose of the music is simultaneously programmatic (invoking the landscapes of the region) and therapeutic (promoting self-discovery and healing), and accordingly, the music alternates between modern but consonant choral passages and meditative instrumental interludes. At times the sounds are intense and complex, and at others they’re deeply simple and peaceful, creating a fascinating and multifaceted sound world. The singing is excellent throughout.


Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen
Six String Quartets
Lombardini Quartett
CPO (dist. Naxos)
555 488-2

Not only was the violinist and composer Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen one of the very few women to have a professional musical career in 18th-century Italy, she is also generally believed to have been the first woman to have written and published string quartets. As presented by the Lombardini Quartett (in the group’s debut recording), these are thrillingly beautiful pieces, filled with emotion and color — fugal structures and classical sonata form are all present, but the music sparkles with freedom and almost flowery melodic invention. These musicians are clearly in love with this music, and they play with joyful energy. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Josquin Baston
French and Flemish Chansons
Ratas del Viejo Mundo
Ramée (dist. Naxos)
RAM2103

Josquin (or possibly Johannes) Baston is one of the more mysterious figures of the Franco-Flemish tradition, a composer about whom little is known and whose name may even belong to more than one person whose musical output is documented in the region. Works attributed to Baston appear mainly in collections of sacred and secular songs dominated by more prominent names like Josquin Desprez and Clemens non Papa. The charmingly named ensemble Ratas del Viejo Mundo (“rodents of the old world”) have gathered here a selection of Baston’s secular songs (including some that are quite bawdy) alongside a couple of sacred pieces, some written in French, some in Flemish, and some in Latin — interestingly, one appears to be a déploration on the death of Johannes Lupi. The performances are excellent, and the music is fascinating.


Henry Purcell; Johann Sigismund Cousser
The Hibernian Muse: Music for Ireland by Purcell and Cousser
Sestina; Irish Baroque Orchestra / Peter Whelan
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKD 685

This is one of those rare albums that is as enjoyable as it is historically significant. It represents the world-premiere recording of a “serenata da camera” (something like a large-scale cantata) written by the Hungarian composer Johann Sigismund Cousser, who spent the last 20 years of his life as a chapel-master at Trinity College Dublin. The Universal Applause of Mount Parnassus was written to celebrate the birthday of Queen Anne in 1711, and is the earliest known operatic work written in Dublin for an Irish audience. It’s accompanied by a little-known work of Henry Purcell, also written to be performed at Trinity College; the ode Great Parent, Hail! was composed in honor of the college’s centenary in 1694, and apart from the unsurprisingly exquisite music, it features some very careful political tap-dancing in the libretto (it having been written in the wake of the Glorious Revolution). This is a richly beautiful recording of gorgeous performances.


Chris Votek
Memories of a Shadow
Chris Votek; Wild Up
MicroFest
M*F 22

This magnificent recording is the debut of cellist and composer Chris Votek, who is steeped in both European and South Asian classical music traditions. The title work is a three-movement piece for string quintet on which he plays alongside several members of the Wild Up ensemble; the composition combines European polyphony, raga-based melody, and American rhythms, and the resulting music is both wildly emotional and intellectually acute. The second piece on the album is a straightforward performance of the raga “Bhimpalasi,” which he performs accompanied by the tabla of Dr. Neelamjit Dhillon. The cello is an unusual instrument in the context of Hindustani classical music (the violin is much more commonly used), and Votek’s use of it here is revelatory — he makes liberal use of the instrument’s low range, bringing an entirely new flavor to the performance of this raga. This is an altogether brilliant album.


JAZZ


Felipe Salles
Tiyo’s Songs of Life
Tapestry
76031-2

Tiyo Attallah Salah-El was a star-crossed musician whose struggles and crimes led him into and out of jail during his young adulthood, culminating in a life sentence for drug dealing and murder. Both before and during his prison sentences he became an accomplished musician, playing (while at liberty) jazz and R&B in clubs and (while in prison) playing with fellow inmates and deepening his musical education. This album is a tribute to Tiyo Attallah Salah-El led by tenor saxophonist Felipe Salles, who has written new (and sometimes radically reconfigured) arrangements of his tunes and leads a quartet through rollicking and affectionate renditions of them. Highlights include the bouncy Latin setting of “Steppin’ Up,” a limpidly beautiful ballad titled “Live a Life of Love” (which, over the course of nine-and-a-half minutes, alternates between a light jazz waltz and bossa nova rhythms) and a composite arrangement of two blues compositions, “Blues for Pablo” and “Blues for Professor Zinn.”


Cory Weeds
What Is There to Say?
Cellar Music Group (dist. MVD)
CM110620

Here’s the delicate balance that tenor saxophonist and composer Cory Weeds strikes so elegantly on his latest album as a leader: playing with orchestral string accompaniment, he delivers a program of ballads and gentle mid-tempo tunes that is always sweet but never saccharine. It’s an album of paradoxes: muscular but gentle, powerful but light. This is an accomplishment that should not be underestimated, and credit is due not only to Weeds himself — whose playing is admirably tasteful and whose tone is a joy throughout — but also to arranger, pianist and coproducer Phil Dwyer, whose rhythm section (also featuring bassist John Lee and drummer Jesse Cahill) centers the ensemble and keeps it solidly grounded. Weeds’ composition “Alana Marie” is a particular high point on the album, as is a sweetly loping rendition of “I Wish You Love.”


George Cotsirilos Quartet
Refuge
OA2
OA2 22201

From the strutting, spiky “Devolution” to the spidery, boppish “Let’s Make a Break for It,” the second quartet album led by guitarist George Cotsirilos continues his longstanding practice of writing and playing straight-ahead jazz that sounds like no one else. Here he leads the same combo that accompanied him last time (pianist Keith Saunders, bassist Robb Fischer, drummer Ron Marabuto), and if anything they’re even tighter and more supple than they were on 2018’s outstanding Mostly in Blue. Notice, for example, how lithely they negotiate the constantly changing rhythmic structure of “Aftermath,” and how tightly they swing on the uptempo numbers. Cotsirilos’ tone is warm and golden, and his melodic and harmonic ideas just seem to flow like water. Another triumph from one of our finest exponents of jazz guitar.


Tyshawn Sorey Trio
Mesmerism
Self-released
No cat. no.

To call this a standards album would be a bit misleading — it does include a couple of standards (“Detour Ahead,” “Autumn Leaves”) as well as not-exactly-standard tunes by standards composers (Duke Ellington, Horace Silver). But most of the program is from decidedly outside the standards book, and drummer Sorey’s approach to arranging for this trio is also well outside the norm. Consider just the opening two tracks: on Silver’s “Enchantment,” Sorey lays out a busy, bustling rhythm while bassist Matt Brewer plays a repeating near-ostinato and pianist Aaron Diehl explores the head impressionistically; on the 15-minute performance of “Detour Ahead,” the drums begin almost silently while the piano and bass elaborate the main theme simultaneously and with great tenderness — the drums slowly gather in intensity while remaining restrained and quiet as a three-way improvisation continues. This kind of creative and deeply musical thinking continues throughout the remainder of a lovely and truly remarkable album.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper with the Clinch Mountain Clan
The Singles Collection 1947-62 (2 discs)
Acrobat (dist. MVD)
ADDCD3425

The influence of husband-and-wife duo Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper on the history of country music can hardly be overestimated. From the beginning of their career, their sound was an amalgam of old-time, bluegrass, and hillbilly styles — and it remained stubbornly so for decades, despite the changing fashions of country and folk music during their time of activity. Wilma Lee had a sharp, reedy voice that both contrasted and blended beautifully with Stoney’s smoother low tenor, and the Clinch Mountain Clan provided subtly eclectic backing that shifted effortlessly from old-timey fiddle breakdowns with clawhammer banjo to electric-guitar-driven country standards, delivering everything from dead-child tearjerkers to romantic laments to gospel raveups with equal conviction and power. This two-disc collection brings together midcentury singles recorded for the Rich-R-Tone, Columbia, and Hickory labels, and represents a treasure trove for any library collecting American music.


Willi Carlisle
Peculiar Missouri
Free Dirt (dist. Redeye)
DIRT-CD-0105

In the tradition of venerable folkie social commentators like Woody Guthrie and his hero Utah Phillips, Willi Carlisle writes sophisticated and deceptively old- and simple-sounding songs that deal with tough contemporary issues: “Life on the Fence” is sung, in waltz time, through the eyes of a man struggling to deal with his bisexuality; “Vanlife” is a sarcastic tribute to the classic semi-spoken trucker song à la Red Sovine, folded into a larger economic critique. “Buffalo Bill” sets one of e.e. cummings’ briefest and most affecting poems to music played on fretless banjo and bones. “Tulsa’s Last Magician” contains this couplet, which Tom Waits would have killed for: “And he learned ragtime piano, though his teacher thought him slow/Got a black belt in karate from a pawn-shop video.” Both politically and emotionally, Carlisle wears his heart courageously on his sleeve and dares you to make fun of him.


May Erlewine
Tiny Beautiful Things
Self-released
No cat. no.

Singer-songwriter May Erlewine’s music is hard to pin down, stylistically, but the gentleness of her songs and their arrangements leads me to think of her as essentially a folk-pop artist. That gentleness extends to the lyrics, which on this album cluster thematically around themes of loving support, tenderness, and emotional uplift — and, impressively, do so without ever descending into cloying bathos or facile you-go-girl cheerleading. “He Knows” demonstrates her empathy both for a damaged and difficult woman and for the man who patiently loves her; “Changing” artfully expresses both the need for a relationship to change and the fear and unease that come with that change; “Lion Heart” encourages a child to be brave and bold while also ensuring him or her that she’ll be there (as a “sun,” a “mountain,” and an “ocean”) to provide constancy and support. This is sweet, lovely, and deeply affecting music, beautifully arranged and sung.


ROCK/POP


doubleVee
Treat Her Strangely
Self-released
No cat. no.

doubleVee is a duo project by the husband-and-wife team of Allan and Barbara (Hendrickson) Vest, both of whom have long pedigrees in various areas of pop culture, from Allan’s tenure in indie pop band Starlight Mints to Barbara’s time editing a music zine and hosting the Filmscapes film music program. Their music draws on seemingly every facet of their mutual backgrounds: “No More Nickels and Dimes” lurches and stomps, while “Your Love Is It Real?” occupies a sort of Twin Peaks-y netherworld between midcentury Nashville twang and postpunk pop. “We’ll Meet Again” has a sort of Badalamenti-meets-Morricone vibe. The lyrics are sharp and sometimes whimsical, and Allan’s astringent lead vocals are nicely sweetened by Barbara’s backing harmonies. This is one of those albums all the elements of which sound familiar, but add up to something you’ve never heard before.


HAAi
Baby, We’re Ascencing
Mute
CDSTUMM475

This is some weird, weird stuff, and I love it. Producer/DJ HAAi (born Teneil Throssell) has released a string of singles and EPs both on her own and in collaboration with others, and on her debut LP she creates an oddly jaunty, slightly creepy, consistently fascinating string of tunes, some of which thump with techno relentlessness (“Channels”) while others mutter and stutter with glitchy funkiness (“Bodies of Water”) or blend musique concrète samples with drill’n’bass breakbeats (“Louder Always Better”). And that’s just in the space of the first five tracks. Throssell herself contributes some sung vocals, and friends contribute spoken-word passages — a thematic thread running through the program is gender noncomformity, though the sociopolitical messaging isn’t particular overt. The music occasionally borders on harsh, but is never unpleasant. Recommended to all pop music collections.


Nat “King” Cole
From the Capitol Vaults (Vol. 1) (digital only)
Capitol
No cat. no.

Nat “King” Cole
From the Capitol Vaults (Vol. 2) (digital only)
Capitol
No cat. no.

Heads-up: you may encounter the first volume of this series with the title Capitol Rarities (Vol. 1). But the weirdly inconsistent title conventions notwithstanding (take a deep breath, library colleagues!), these first two volumes in what promises to be a multi-volume collection of obscure tracks from one of the Capitol label’s brightest mid-century stars, Nat “King” Cole, are both fun and informative. The compilations are going to be available strictly online via streaming services, and based on the content of the first two releases, they’re going to be a mix of essential and maybe-slightly-less-than-essential songs: nestled among swooningly gorgeous performances like “For a Moment of Your Love” and “Give Me Your Love” and the powerfully swinging “I’m Shooting High” there are negligible novelties like “Tunnel of Love” and the R&B chugger “Do I Like It.” But even at their least substantial, these recordings remind us that when he died of lung cancer at the age of 45 we lost one of the 20th century’s greatest voices. The sound quality is startlingly good.


Piel
A.K.A. Ma
Birs Recordings (EP; dist. Redeye)
CD 2054

Piel is a duo project put together by multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Burkes and singer Tiki Lewis, who recruited drummer Kenny Ramirez and Ukrainian guitarist Yegor Mytrofanov to help them create the music for this, their debut six-track EP. They cite influences including Joy Division, Sade, and Pink Floyd, none of which prepares you adequately for their sound, which seeks to resolve a multitude of opposites: it’s simultaneously ethereal and heavy, melodic and abstract, anchored in funk and floating free of rhythmic constraint. Lewis’ voice is crystalline and gorgeous, but carries plenty of power when it needs to, while the guitars are wielded with an almost Cocteau Twins-like density. This brief salvo portends great things for Piel’s future.


Psy’Aviah
Bittersweet (2 discs + download)
Alfa Matrix (dist. MVD)
AM2309DCD

Opening inauspiciously with the slightly embarrassing spoken-word track “Rainy Repertoire” (sample lines: “Because when we are born, when our lives begin/We already must face the averaging of our weights”), the latest album from Antwerp electro-rockers Psy’Aviah quickly regains its footing, delivering a solid program of dance-oriented pop music. Highlights include the throbbing “Cold Summer Nights,” featuring singer Saydi Driggers, and “Ok,” on which Huong Su’s light and agile voice is anchored nicely by a dark bass line and strings. In celebration of the band’s 20th anniversary, the package also includes a second disc of “rediscovered” tracks — which, although not clearly explained in the liner notes, seems to mean cover versions of Psy’Aviah songs by artists like Vulture Culture, Leæther Strip, and Implant. And owners of the CD package also get access to another full disc’s worth of cover versions by some of the same artists and others as well. Very fun stuff.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Various Artists
Mashing Up Creation (reissue; digital only)
Dubmission
CDDUBM001

Various Artists
Dubbed on Planet Skunk (reissue; digital only)
Dubmission
CDDUBM002

The mighty Dubmission label is out with digital-only reissues of the first albums it ever released — Mashing Up Creation and Dubbed on Planet Skunk, both from 1997. The nostalgist in me is pleased to see that the cheesy 1990s artwork has not been updated; the thrifty dub fanatic in me is sad to see that in both cases, some of the original music is missing because the artists have since disappeared or gone out of business, making it impossible to secure rights from them. Still, both reissues represent not only good value for money, but also pretty dang timeless manifestations of the modern dub aesthetic: deep and trippy excursions in instrumental reggae (and reggae-adjacent) grooves by the likes of Alpha & Omega, Sounds from the Ground, 100th Monkey, and Etherealites, all of them rooted in the one-drop and rockers verities but also influenced by jungle, techno, industrial, and other styles that were dominant or ascendent at the time. Highlights include The Lone Stuntman’s spare and abstract “Thank You for Smoking” and Etherealites rootsy “Unbelievers.” It’s great to have both of these albums back on the market, even if only in truncated versions and only in digital format.


Arooj Aftab
Vulture Prince (Deluxe Edition)
Verve
B0035137-02

It’s been less than a year since the original release of Arooj Aftab’s Vulture Prince, which I enthusiastically recommended when it first came out. So the appearance of a new deluxe edition is a bit surprising, and frankly the fact that this expanded edition includes only one additional track is a little disappointing — but the fact that it represents the CD release of what was previously available only on vinyl and digitally is wonderful. And of course, the songs — which constitute a modern adaptation of Sufi devotional tradition — remain as entrancing as ever. (See my original review for a more detailed description of the music.) The new track, “Udhero Na,” features sitarist Anouschka Shankar with Maeve Gilchrist on harp and bass synthesizer and flugelhornist Nadje Noordhuis; the song is achingly sad, and although the instrumentation may seem incongruous it’s incredibly effective. Recommended (again) to all libraries.


Omar Sosa
An East African Journey
OTA (dist. Redeye)
OTA1034

Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita
Suba
Bendigedig (dist. Naxos)
BEND18-1

Both of these albums find Cuban jazz pianist Omar Sosa continuing what has been an ongoing exploration of his African roots. On An East African Journey, he gathers recordings he made with local artists while on tour in East Africa in 2009. In Madagascar he recorded several tracks with valiha player and singer Rajery and with Monza Mahafay; in Zambia he recorded with Bantu elder Abel Ntalasha, and in Ethiopia he worked with Seleshe Damessae, who sings in Amharic and plays a bowl-shaped lyre called a krar. The through-line for all of this highly varied music is, of course, Sosa’s liquid and colorful piano playing. Suba, on the other hand, is a follow-up to the celebrated Transparent Water, Sosa’s previous collaboration with Senegalese singer and kora virtuoso Seckou Keita. Here Sosa creates a sumptuous harmonic backdrop for Keith’s voice and kora, occasionally and subtly lapsing into Latin rhythms, which Keith delightedly picks up and develops. Both albums are restrained but emotionally resonant, and deeply beautiful.


Indubious
The Bridge Remixed (digital only)
Easy Star
No cat. no.

Last year, I noted the release of the latest from Evton and Skip Burton, the two brothers who make “some of the sharpest and most forward-looking roots reggae currently in the marketplace” under the name Indubious. I now feel compelled to draw my readers’ attention the remix album based on that 2021 release. It’s not a typical dubwise companion album; some of the versions (notably Gaudi’s mix of “I Can Breathe” and Victor Rice’s deep and bassy take on the “Sleng Teng”-based “Bless the Water”) draw on old-school dub techniques, but others go off in unusual directions: Kalya Scintilla’s mix of “The Offering” is boomy 808 funk; Evton B’s mix of “Neva Bow” hints at both dark dubstep and techno, while The Autos’ remix of “Life Joyful” turns the original one-drop anthem into a bouncy ska workout. Like everything this duo produces, this remix collection is well worth hearing and an excellent companion to the original release.

June 2022


CLASSICAL


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano (reissue; 6 discs)
Andrew Smith; Joshua Pierce
MSR Classics
MS 1800

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The “Palatine” Sonatas, K. 301-306
Daniel-Ben Pienaar; Peter Sheppard Skærved
Athene (dist. Naxos)
ATH23212

Mozart’s chamber music for violin and piano has always been interesting not only for the melodic and harmonic invention that always characterizes Mozart’s music, but also for its somewhat odd tendency to relegate the violin to an accompanying role for the keyboard (not a hard-and-fast rule, but a marked tendency). Among the earliest of Mozart’s mature sonatas are those called the “Palatine” because they were written during his Mannheim years and dedicated to Maria Elisabeth, Electress of the Palatinate. These six pieces are performed with vigor and charm on a new recording by pianist Daniel-Ben Pienaar and violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved, though I found the production off-puttingly odd — the violin sounds as if it’s about ten feet away from its microphone. The same works are recorded in a warmer, dryer, and more intimate acoustic (and equally well played) on a six-disc boxed set of Mozart’s complete sonatas by violinist Andrew Smith and the always-brilliant pianist Joshua Pierce. This set, of course, offers the opportunity to hear the “Palatine” sonatas in context with Mozart’s earliest and latest works for this combination of instruments, which should be of particular interest to academic libraries. (The discs in this box were previously released separately.)


John McGuire
Pulse Music
Unseen Worlds
UW036CD

Cyclical musical structures were very much in vogue during the 1970s, when the initial wave of 1960s minimalism had crested and led to a surge of new ideas around the concept of process music. Over the course of this decade, composer John McGuire put together several pieces under the title Pulse Music and one titled 108 Pulses. Three of these are electronic pieces based on tape loops, while Pulse Music II is a work for four pianos and small orchestra; all of them consist of processes that result in constantly-shifting sonorities within fairly constricted harmonic frameworks, cycling in a highly regular meter. Unsurprisingly, these compositions are very much of their time — anyone familiar with 20th century art music will have no trouble guessing the decade in which they were written. But they also illustrate how much interesting, creative, and yes, fun academic music was being produced during this period, and this disc should find a welcome home in any academic library collection.


Various Composers
Francesco Tristano on Early Music
Francesco Tristano
Sony Classical (dist. Naxos)
19439917392

Pianist Francesco Tristano (sadly, no apparent relation to Lennie Tristano — I checked) has always had a particular affinity for early music, and on this album he explores Renaissance and baroque keyboard music in a unique way: by alternating searching renditions of works by composers like John Bull, Peter Philips, Girolamo Frescobaldi, and Orlando Gibbons with original pieces that are written according to the structural forms of those periods. An original toccata opens the program, and is followed by a rendition of a galliard by Bull; a Frescobaldi partita is followed by a Tristano ritornello; etc. Apart from his sensitive and lovely interpretations of the early pieces, it’s fascinating to hear more contemporary musical ideas being framed in these ancient musical structures. A deeply lovely album.


Edward Cowie
Where Song Was Born: Music Inspired by the Birds of Australia
Sara Minelli; Roderick Chadwick
Métier (dist. Naxos)
MSV 28620

Composer Edward Cowie was captivated by the sounds of nature from his earliest childhood, and even learned how to summon and “converse” with various kinds of birds. Because he was a musically precocious child who eventually became a composer, it’s not surprising that this fascination would eventually find expression in his music. This disc brings together compositions for flute and piano that are based on the songs of Australian birds, and the music might be a bit surprising to some listeners; each brief piece is named simply for the bird on whose song patterns it is based (“Kookaburra”; “Wedge-tailed Eagle”; “Brolga Crane”; etc.), and while none of them is abrasively atonal, none is melodically straightforward either. These are sophisticated explorations of sound based on elaborations of birdsong, not pretty tunes that simply incorporate birdsong. That said, the music is truly beautiful, as is the playing by flutist Sara Minelli and pianist Roderick Chadwick.


Ermenegildo del Cinque
Sonatas for Three Cellos
Ludovico Minasi; Cristina Vidoni; Teodoro Baù; et al.
Arcana (dist. Naxos)
A528

For a practically unknown composer, Ermenegildo del Cinque was astoundingly productive in his time: among others, he’s credited with no fewer than 87 cantatas, six oratorios, 313 trios, over 100 sonatas for two cellos, and at least 18 for the unusual (though not unprecedented) combination of three cellos with continuo. Del Cinque, in fact, contributed more to the cello repertoire than any other single composer. Eight of his sonatas (six for three cellos, two for two) are performed here, on period instruments, by an outstanding ensemble led by Ludovico Minasi. Continuo parts are provided by lutenist Simone Vallerotonda and harpsichordist Andrea Buccarella, both of whom are excellent (though perhaps mixed a bit too far into the background). This is music very much of its time, an outstanding expression of the ideals of the high baroque, and although the liner notes don’t say so explicitly, from what I can determine these seem to be world-premiere recordings.


JAZZ


The Margaret Slovak Trio
Ballad for Brad
Slovak Music
104

Guitarist/composer Margaret Slovak is that rarest of things — a jazz guitarist with a truly unique style. And by “style” I don’t mean her tone, which is genuinely lovely in its warmth and depth but not radically different from that of most straight-ahead players. It’s the shape of her writing and her playing. Listening to this program of original tunes, it’s not always easy to discern the line separating heads from solos, for one thing. For another, her supporting players (bassist Harvie S and drummer Michael Sarin) tend to function almost like co-leaders, helping her create joint musical statements rather than just laying back and providing scaffolding for her own personality. And it’s worth noting that she writes beautiful, beautiful tunes. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk
Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk (reissue; 2 discs)
Atlantic
R2 670841

This is not the first deluxe-reissue treatment for this landmark 1958 album; it expands on a 1999 one-disc version released by Rhino, which added three alternate takes to the original program. Somewhat confusingly, this two-disc version adds a further three tracks, but in fact two of the original three that appeared on the Rhino version appear to be different alternate takes — meaning that for libraries collecting deeply in the music of either Monk or Blakey (or even in jazz generally), this new deluxe reissue probably should serve as a complement to rather than a replacement for the 1999 version. In any case, the music itself remains as superb as ever, a magisterial summit meeting between the renegade high priest of bebop composition and one of the chief architects of the hard-bop style. After these 1958 sessions, the two never recorded together again.


Planet D Nonet
Live at the Scarab Club: Tribute to Buddy Johnson
Eastlawn
ELD-038

Buddy Johnson was a legendary jump blues artist who made his mark on jazz and also on the development of rhythm & blues in the 1940s and 1950s. In fact, although these performances of his compositions by the Planet D Nonet (“Detroit’s Down & Dirty Swing Band”) are swinging and jazzy, the song and tune titles evoke Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway more than Duke Ellington: “Hello Sweet Potato,” “Crazy ’bout a Saxophone,” “Dr. Jive Jives,” etc. But the line between jazz and R&B was fuzzy during this period anyway, and on this spirited live recording the Planet D Nonet revels in that stylistic fuzziness. Give it a listen, and if you can stop dancing for a moment, listen carefully to how this music anticipates the rock’n’roll revolution that was just over the horizon when it was written.


J. Peter Schwalm & Stephan Thelen
Transneptunian Planets
RareNoise
RNR134

It may be a bit daunting to see that this album is made by a duo consisting of an “electro-acoustic composer” (Schwalm) and a “guitarist/composer/mathematician” (Thelen), but don’t worry. The music may be complex and somewhat cerebral, but it’s also quite approachable. And even, believe it or not, groovy. Assisted by guests that include drummer Manuel Pasquinelli and the brilliant avant-jazz guitarist Eivind Aarset, Schwalm and Thelen have created a sort of concept album that centers on the theme of celestial objects that inhabit the space around Pluto. This is by no means ambient music — it doesn’t evoke open space or peaceful emptiness. Instead, these compositions are dark, dense, and often jagged, with relatively static harmonic movement and steady but complex polyrhythms — and interludes of genuinely contemplative beauty.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Various Artists
Americana Railroad (vinyl only)
Renew/BMG
538789142

Ever since its invention, the train has exerted an irresistible pull on American songwriters. This collection of newly-recorded tracks brings together a nice array of train songs in a variety of styles, from chugging country-rock to acoustic gospel to loping honky-tonk to folk-pop. And some straight-up rock’n’roll, as on Gary Myrick’s crunchy version of “Train Kept a-Rollin.'” But the prevailing mood is folkie-country, with contributions from the likes of Dave Alvin, Dustbowl Revival, Alice Howe, and Deborah Poppink. I found it a little bit puzzling that instead of Sister Rosetta Tharpe singing “This Train Is Bound for Glory,” we get Peter Case performing what is explicitly billed as Tharpe’s arrangement of that song, and why we have John Fogerty (and his family), rather than Steve Goodman (or at least Arlo Guthrie), performing “City of New Orleans,” but my guess is that it’s all about licensing issues. And it’s cool, because none of these versions is less than fine — and some are amazing.


Brennen Leigh
Obsessed with the West
Signature Sounds (dist. Redeye)
SIGCD-2137

Brennen Leigh’s smooth voice, wry sense of humor, and gentle but powerful sense of swing are all beautifully showcased on her latest album, a collaboration with the equally fun, powerful, and swinging Asleep at the Wheel — without doubt the foremost torchbearers of the Western swing sound. Song titles like “If Tommy Duncan’s Voice Was Booze” and “Riding Off onto Sunset Boulevard” give you a good idea of what to expect, lyrics-wise, while the brilliant kiss-off song “Tell Him I’m Dead” and the subtly sexy “Comin’ in Hot” might take you a bit more by surprise. Throughout the album the vibe is smooth and midtempo, not as raucous and headlong as this genre can sometimes get, all the better to keep your focus on the songs themselves. Ray Benson and the Asleep at the Wheel team back her up both expertly and tastefully. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Mama’s Broke
Narrow Line
Free Dirt
DIRT-CD-0106

“Dark folk” is exactly the right term for the music made by this duo. Both multi-instrumentalists, Amy Lou Keeler and Lisa Maria play varying combinations of guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, cello, and percussion on these songs and tunes, all of which appear to be original compositions — despite the fact that several could easily be mistaken for trad fiddle tunes and the pair’s reedy, modal harmonies draw deeply from Appalachian influences. Not only Appalachian, either; you’ll hear hints of Eastern Europe (absorbed from Lisa Maria’s grandfather’s collection of Ukrainian folk records) and Canada’s maritime provinces here as well. There are moments when they sound like they’re about to tip over into straight-up bluegrass, but those moments are brief; what Mama’s Broke have actually done is to create an entirely unique sound composed of familiar raw materials.


ROCK/POP


700 Bliss
Nothing to Declare
Hyperdub (dist. Redeye)
HDBCD062

I don’t follow hip hop that closely — for the most part, my rule is “the weirder it is, the more likely I am to give it a listen.” But I do follow the Hyperdub label closely, and when a two-woman hip hop team comes out with a Hyperdub release I’m definitely going to check it out. The new album from 700 Bliss (consisting of DJ Haram and Moor Mother) has plenty of weirdness — dark, burbling grooves that are long on atmosphere and that border on subtle when it comes to beats, not to mention idiosyncratic vocal delivery — but also plenty of booming 808 bass and sharp-edged lyrics. Those lyrics tend to be a bit heavy on the “bitches” rhetoric for my personal taste, but since the rappers are women and I’m just a guy I’m not sure how much standing I have to object. Overall, this is a challenging and deeply inventive slab of avant-hip-hop.


Phil Seymour
Archive Series Volume 2 (reissue)
Sunset Blvd (dist. Redeye)
CD-SBR-7018

Phil Seymour died of cancer at age 41, before his full promise as a songwriter and singer could be realized. But in the late 1970s and 1980s he recorded some of the best power pop the genre had to offer, as both a solo artist and a founding member of the Dwight Twilley Band. (He also sang backup on others’ hits, notably Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and “Breakdown.”) This reissue of his second solo album — complete with charmingly 1980s cover art — features entirely remixed versions of the album’s original songs, plus an additional ten previously unreleased tracks, including an outstanding version of Petty’s “Surrender.” The guitars are crunchy, the hooks are abundant, Seymour’s voice is chesty and powerful. (And if you close your eyes just a little, he kind of looked like Shaun Cassidy, didn’t he?)


Marshall Crenshaw
#447 (reissue)
Shiny-Tone
020286-23003

And while we’re on the topic of pop music geniuses, let’s turn our attention to the most recent release from Marshall Crenshaw, the man who has been giving the world a pop-songwriting master class for the past 40 years. #447 is actually a reissue made possible by his acquisition of the rights to albums he recorded in the 1990s for the Razor & Tie label. The songs have all been remastered and the program expanded by a couple of bonus tracks, and as usual there’s little here to indicate the period during which the songs were written and recorded: Crenshaw is a classicist, whose ability to compose and sing genuinely timeless pop music is unparalleled. Notable guests here include legendary guitarist Pat Buchanan (note his stinging solo on “Dime a Dozen Guy”), E Street Band alumnus David Sancious on electric piano, and steel player Greg Leisz. Great stuff.


Daily Worker
May Day (digital only)
Self-released
No cat. no.

You may know Harold Whit Williams as the guitarist for Austin-based indie rockers Cotton Mather, but he also has a productive sideline as a solo artist, in which mode he records under the name Daily Worker. As you can see from his Bandcamp page, he’s quite prolific in this mode, and his latest album is a tasty low-fi jangle pop treat. May Day (heh) offers ten tracks self-recorded to four-track — and while for those of us of a certain age that may suggest really crappy cassette mastering, in this case the sound is relatively lo-fi but still plenty listenable. Layers of voices and guitars are supported by rudimentary percussion in delivering truly hooky songs that offer plenty of opportunities for blissful singing along. I particularly liked “The Love We Give,” which juxtaposes Byrdsy 12-string guitar with pseudo-steel licks to create a nicely countrified slab of retro-pop. Spend some time exploring Williams’ catalog and see if you don’t find a bunch of stuff that sucks you right in.


µ-Ziq
Magic Pony Ride
Planet Mu (dist. Redeye)
ZIQ444

µ-Ziq
Lunatic Harness (reissue; 2 discs)
Planet Mu
ZIQ440

Mike Paradinas has been creating fun and challenging IDM (“intelligent dance music”) under the name µ-Ziq since the early 1990s, and is also the founder and owner of the equally adventurous Planet Mu label. His newest album, Magic Pony Ride, is a pure pleasure — the beats are as frenetic as always, but the overall mood is joyful and light, with a theme of familial love subtly threaded throughout the proceedings. At the same time, Paradinas has released a deluxe reissue of his monumental 1997 album Lunatic Harness, which represented his real breakthrough as an artist. It’s where he truly started showing his depth, leavening drill’n’bass breakbeats with a variety of tonal colors, letting air and light into the dense complexity of the compositions. The 25th-anniversary edition adds a second disc of EPs and rarities from the same period — taken together, all of it makes clear again how unique and, yes, important Paradinas’ contribution to the development of this music was in the 1990s.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Paris Combo
Quesaco?
Six Degrees
6570361319

It’s hard to see what the future of this delightful ensemble will be in the wake of the sudden and untimely death of its singer/songwriter/accordionist Belle du Berry, who succumbed last year at age 54 to an aggressive cancer. It seems likely that this, their seventh studio album, will be their last, which would be be a double tragedy: the Paris Combo has a truly unique sound, a blend of Gypsy jazz, Latin, cabaret, and 1970s pop that is simultaneously familiar and odd but always sweetly engaging. On Quesaco? we get horn-driven modal pop with weird ululations (“Quesaco?”), reggae-inflected pop (“Barre espace”), kittenish chamber jazz (“Paresser par içi”), and other tracks that are frankly hard to describe. All of it is delightful, and the listening experience is truly bittersweet.


Clinton Fearon
Breaking News
Baco
CD1114

Clinton Fearon got his start at a tender age as bassist, vocalist, and songwriter for the Gladiators — a legendary roots reggae band with which he performed for almost two decades. He then relocated to Seattle and formed the Defenders there; that band lasted only five years, but since then he has built an impressive body of solo work. Fearon’s latest finds him continuing in a roots-and-culture mode, leading the Riddim Source, a crack team of French reggae musicians from the Bordeaux area, where this album was recorded — since touring with him in 2021, they have become his regular backing band. One of the great things about Fearon is that he generally avoids the tired two-chord clichés that can make reggae so tiresome; these are beautifully crafted songs, and his voice remains remarkably clear and strong. Highly recommended.


Various Artists
Mista Savona Presents: Havana Meets Kingston, Part 2
Cumbancha
CMB-CD-156

This is the long-awaited follow-up to 2017’s Mista Savona Presents Havana Meets Kingston (which I recommended heartily), a surprisingly effective fusion project that brought together top-notch musicians from the worlds of calypso, son, reggae, rumba, and other Caribbean regional styles to see what kind of music they might make together. As it turns out, it kind of sounded like Latin-tinged reggae when it didn’t sound like reggae-tinged son — and it was pretty awesome, so why not do it again? How producer Jake Savona was able, in both cases, to assemble this amazing cast of musicians (which here includes Sly & Robbie, Prince Alla, Beatriz Marquez, and Brenda Navarrete, among many others) is hard to imagine, but the results were worth whatever the cost must have been in time and treasure. Cultural-fusion projects are rarely as successful or fun to listen to as this one is.

May 2022

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CLASSICAL


Luís de Freitas Branco; Maurice Ravel; Heitor Villa-Lobos
Violin Sonatas
Bruno Monteiro; João Paulo Santos
Etcetera
KTC 1750

This program by violinist Bruno Monteiro and pianist João Paulo Santos brings together two little-known works of turn-of-the-century Romanticism by a Portuguese and a Brazilian composer, along with a more familiar work from the same period by Ravel. The Branco sonata created some controversy when it was published in 1908; the composer was only 17 at the time, but the piece won first prize in a national competition despite discomfiting many in the Portuguese musical establishment with its forward-thinking harmonic vision and odd structure. The second violin sonata of Villa-Lobos is less challenging stylistically but certainly a virtuosic piece, while Ravel’s second sonata serves as something of a soothing palate cleanser between them. Monteiro and Santos play with empathy and passion.


Lou Harrison et al.
6 Pieces for Gamelan Slendro
Eklekto; ensemble 0
Mode (dist. Naxos)
MOD-CD-330

Gamelan music has fascinated European and American composers since the turn of the 20th century, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that a Western composer actually started composing music for gamelan ensemble, and that — famously — was Lou Harrison. This new recording, a collaborative effort by the Swiss percussion ensemble Eklekto and the French Gamelan Oksitan, is bracketed by Harrison compositions but also includes works by Larry Polanski, Peter Klanac, Billy Martin, and Roland Dahinden. The composers all demonstrate respect for the harmonic and structural conventions of gamelan music, but are also quite fearless in pushing those conventions and bringing in other compositional elements; Polansky’s Voice Canon no. 7 is particularly indebted to 1960s minimalism, for example. This is a fascinating and beautiful release.


Various Composers
Cachua serranita: Music, Dance, and Our Lady on the Far Side of the World
Collegium Marianum
Supraphon (dist. Naxos)
SU 4309-2

The novel theme for this recording is the musical “line (connecting) Central Europe and South America,” a line that was largely drawn by Catholic missionaries who came to South America from Czechoslovakia in the 17th and 18th centuries and brought with them European musical training and liturgical practices, and then adapted them to the musical traditions of the populations they sought to convert. The music of European composers like Josef Brentner was brought to the Chiquitano and Moxos peoples by Jesuit missionaries, among whom were such accomplished composers as Domenico Zipoli and Martin Schmid. The music on this delightful recording features both juxtapositions and fusions of rhythms and melodies from European cities and mountain regions, South American instrumentation, secular songs, and liturgical texts. The Collegium Marianum play these pieces with the perfect balance of lighthearted delight and devotional decorum, and the album should find a home in any library supporting the study of either early music or ethnomusicology.


Carlo Gesualdo; Thomas Tallis;
Tenebrae Responsories: Feria quinta
The Gesualdo Six / Owain Park
Hyperion (dist. Integral)
CDA68348

The music of 16th-century composer Carlo Gesualdo has exerted a broad fascination ever since the beginning of the early-music movement, in part because his compositions sound so little like early music. They involved a level of chromaticism unique for the period, and evoked an intensity of emotion that mirrored his tortured psyche: famously, he had caught his wife and her lover in bed and murdered them both, and then spent the rest of his life in moral and spiritual torment. Thus, his setting of the Tenebrae Responses for Maundy Thursday is, shall we say, unusually intense for the period — as is illustrated by its pairing with the notably cooler (though no less brilliant) setting of Jeremiah’s Lamentations by Gesualdo’s rough contemporary Thomas Tallis (and Judith Bingham’s stark and intense “Watch with Me,” which serves as a transitional piece between the Tallis and the Gesualdo). The all-male Gesualdo Six ensemble — which includes the finest countertenors I’ve heard outside of Chanticleer — perform all of these works with carefully restrained passion and an almost unearthly blend, handily establishing their right to use the composer’s name.


Carlo Monza
Opera in musica: Carlo Monza Quartets (digital only)
Europa Galante / Fabio Bondi
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
V 7541

Apart from the fact that it’s not being released on CD, this is exactly the kind of release for which CD HotList was invented: world-premiere recordings of top-notch works by a forgotten composer, performed by a world-class group. Fabio Bondi, violinist and leader of the Europa Galante ensemble, discovered these string quartets by the Milanese composer Carlo Monza while he was doing research on Mozart’s travels in Milan. Monza was apparently a fairly important figure in that city during the 18th century, but his works are almost entirely lost today. Bondi came across a manuscript volume of his string quartets in a private library but was denied extended access to them; only later, when he found another copy in the French National Library, was he able to organize these recordings. The works themselves are lovely, deeply influenced by the conventions of opera, and Europa Galante (on period instruments) deliver them with admirable panache. For all classical collections.


JAZZ


Tapani Rinne & Juha Mäki-Patola
Open
Hush Hush
HH144

This is jazz of a rather unusual type. Billed as “ambient/jazz,” Open is a collaboration between reedman Tapani Rinne and producer/multi-instrumentalist Juha Mäki-Patola; Rinne is a well-regarded veteran of the adventurous Helsinki jazz scene, while Mäki-Patola is more of an up-and-comer, but they sound like soul brothers on this utterly beautiful album. There are no beats here, only slowly developing compositions that, despite their quietude, can be described neither as “abstract” nor as “ethereal.” Rinne’s reed instruments create a gentle but solid thread that brings obvious coherence to the cloudlike soundscapes created for them by Mäki-Patola — I say “obvious coherence” because the structural integrity of those soundscapes is actually there all the time, but it’s Rinne’s parts that make that integrity aurally clear. Sometimes those are solo parts, and sometimes he’s multitracked, and the overall listening experience is absolutely lovely. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Chet Baker Trio
Live in Paris: The Radio France Recordings 1983-1984 (2 discs)
Elemental Music
5990442

This is not one of those albums about which one is going to say “here is the artist at the peak of his powers.” In the mid-1980s, Chet Baker was not in a particularly good place, as the cover and other accompanying photos suggest — he looks haggard and strung-out. Back on heroin and coke again, he would die a few years later from a fall out of his hotel window. But despite it all he was playing well at this time, and his performance here is actually quite good; his singing voice is weaker than it had been in the past, but his intonation is still accurate and he remains an inventive scat singer. And on trumpet, his tone is as smooth and golden as ever. The three dates documented on these two discs find him in a drummerless trio with pianist Michel Grailler and an alternating cast of bass players, focusing on standards. The group is really stretching out here; average track length is about 13 minutes, but they never sound like they’re wandering or filling time. The sound quality is generally very good, though the mix is a bit unfortunate on the 1983 date, on which the bass is barely audible, and when he sings Baker is somewhat hard to hear as well. Overall, though, these previously unreleased recordings are a treasure trove.


Keith Oxman
This One’s for Joey
Capri
74168-2

This excellent album has a heartbreaking backstory. Tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman teaches high school in Denver, and recently learned that one of his former students, Joey Pearlman, had died tragically at a very young age. This One’s for Joey is a tribute to the young man, who was an exceptionally talented bassist (as documented on the album’s final track, a rendition of John Coltrane’s “John Paul Jones” that Oxman recorded in 2014 with Joey on bass and his twin brother Stevie on drums). Pearlman was also a gifted writer, as illustrated by his lovely composition “Garden Song,” which Oxman plays here with his quartet. The rest of the program consists of several original compositions, some written in explicit tribute to Joey, and a couple of standards. The emotion in these recordings is palpable, as one would expect — but perhaps less predictably, the overarching emotion is one of joy.


Lynne Arriale Trio
The Lights Are Always On
Challenge (dist. Naxos)
CR73532

With her expansive harmonic vocabulary, her impressionistic approach to chord voicing, and her controlled but intense emotionalism, it would seem like the most obvious stylistic comparison pianist and composer Lynne Arriale would be Bill Evans. And yet she really sounds nothing like him: listen to the title track of her new album (conceived as a tribute to heroes of health care provision and truth-telling during a time of both political and medical crisis), and you’ll hear glorious cascading melody overlaid on straight rhythms; this then segues into “Sisters,” a jazz waltz that struts with a shoulders-back/chin-up sense of swing. Arriale is not just a double threat but a quadruple one: a virtuosic pianist and improviser and a brilliant composer whose conceptual brilliance never overpowers the accessibility of her compositions. This had made every one of her albums a must-hear, and The Lights Are Always On is among her best.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Mark Joseph
Vegas Motel
Self-released
No cat. no.

Singer-songwriter Mark Joseph is one of those artists who tricks you into thinking he’s a straight-ahead honky-tonk country guy and then surprises you when you notice some of the song structures and listen more carefully to the lyrics. Sure, songs like “Nate’s Garage” and “Vegas Motel” make a definite play for the PBR-and-muddy-tires constituency, but “The Life of a Pipe Welder” is more complex both melodically and lyrically (and clocks in at six minutes — not exactly a typical country move), while “Early Riser” is a lovely fiddle and guitar instrumental that somehow manages not to sound very country at all; in fact, it might actually be more accurate to call it a violin and guitar instrumental. And dang if the Hammond organ and horns on “I Love You ‘Till I Die” don’t sound more like… R&B. Categorize it in whatever way you want, this album’s a solid winner.


Nicki Bluhm
Avondale Drive
Compass
7 4786 2

Here’s a solid slab of bluesy, soully country-rock from the former frontperson of Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers. It features a production style simultaneously forward- and backward-looking (note the saturated mic sound on “Feel”), some horns, some Hammond B3, an occasional whiff of ’60s girl group, and lots and lots of rock-solid songcraft. Bluhm’s voice is gritty but sweet, and her lyrics are full of regret and disappointment but devoid of self-pity. The COVID pandemic meant that most of her sidemen had to record their parts remotely, while she performed hers in her living room, but there’s nothing in either the sound quality or the intimate ensemble sound that would lead you to think they weren’t all gathered around a kitchen table the whole time.


The Slocan Ramblers
Up the Hill and Through the Fog
Self-released
SRO-CD-004

Here’s the first thing to understand about the Slocan Ramblers: despite their guitar-mandolin-banjo instrumentation, they are not a bluegrass band. Well, they’re not exactly a bluegrass band. I mean, “You Said Goodbye” is straight-up acid grass, so they certainly can be a bluegrass band when they want. But “I Don’t Know” is a sort of bluesy country acoustic pop, and “A Mind with a Heart of Its Own” is rock’n’roll by any reasonable definition of the term (despite its lack of any drums or electric instruments). “Snow Owl” is a lovely example of jazzy New Acoustic Music of the 1980s variety, à la David Grisman and Tony Rice — but with “Bill Fernie” they’re back in bluegrass territory, and “Platform Four” is a sort of avant-old-time instrumental. So maybe it’s not really accurate to say that the Slocan Ramblers aren’t a bluegrass band; it’s better to say that they’re about five kinds of band, including bluegrass. Great album.


ROCK/POP


Badrich
Forensics
Ohm Resistance
65K OHM

Generally speaking, I’d say I’m a pretty cheerful person. So it’s surprising to me how much of the music I love can reasonably be characterized as “grumpy.” Case in point: the new album from Jason Goodrich (a.k.a. Badrich), whose new album is a dense, bustling, dark, and, yes, grumpy exploration of the musical borderlands that divide glitch, drill’n’bass, industrial, and IDM. The release’s 15 tracks are remarkably consistent in tone and texture, but constantly shift to reveal new patterns and ideas in a kaleidoscopic fashion. One reviewer described Badrich’s overall sound as “fractured fluidity,” and that’s actually not bad at all. Rhythmically, there’s actually pretty consistent continuity — everything else is up in the air, which means you can either pay close attention to this album or let it run in the background while you read a book. Either way, it works great. (Though if I were assigning grades, I’d dock it one grade for the cover image.)


MAITA
I Just Want to Be Wild for You
Kill Rock Stars (dist. Redeye)
KRS664

Here’s what the label copy says: “Over the course of 11 tracks, the record hones [sic] in on the passion that exists within moments of extreme disconnect, crafting a sonic portrait that grows and shifts with each singular emotion. MAITA allows for the heavier, cathartic moments to reach new intensities…” etc. etc. Here’s what you’ll hear: clever and hooky pop music, not lightweight but not particularly heavy either, driven by guitars and pianos and supporting the gentle, clear voice of Maria Maita-Keppeler. The lyrics tend a bit toward Millennial irony, but not aggressively so. I’m not really hearing much in the way of “extreme disconnect” or, frankly, passion, though it may be that I’m not listening hard enough. What I am hearing are brilliant pop songs, wonderfully sung and produced with subtle effectiveness.


Steve Roach
Zones, Drones & Atmospheres
Projekt (dist. MVD)
393

Steve Roach/Jeffrey Fayman
Trance Spirits (reissue)
Projekt
395

I’ve been watching guitarist and composer Steve Roach’s career for decades now. His music has often been just a little bit too New Agey for me, but this new release and reissue of a 20-year-old album have me reconsidering my assessment of his work. Trance Spirits is a remastered release of an album he made in 2002 with percussionist Jeffrey Fayman; guitarist Robert Fripp (!) and percussionist Momodou Kah. Here it’s actually drums that occupy center stage: Kah and Fayman build steady, rippling patterns under which Roach and Fripp create floating clouds of chordal ambience that shift slowly under the busy drumming. On Roach’s new solo album Zones, Drones & Atmospheres, he delivers ambient music that hits the sweet spot for me: pleasant but not cloying; contemplative but not faux-mystical; unobtrusive but interesting — and sometimes downright eerie, which is always fun. Interestingly, while the CD version of this album is nicely packed with music, the digital version is even more so — clocking in at a startlingly generous three and a half hours. That version adds the 73-minute-long dark ambient track “Submerged,” and an additional hour-long track (similarly dark and immersive) called “Isolation Station.”


The Slackers
Don’t Let the Sunlight Fool Ya
Pirates Press (dist. MVD)
PPR319

As ska bands often do if they stay active long enough, the Slackers have drifted somewhat from their stylistic roots — not that there’s anything at all wrong with that. The opening track on their latest album is a sort of Latin-soul bubbler with a faint whiff of Broadway lingering around it, while the title track is vintage R&B with a slippery rock steady backbeat. But they skank it up old-school style on “Hangin’ On” and ride a gentle one-drop rhythm on “I Almost Lost You.” And those are only the first four tracks. Throughout the album, this veteran band flexes the songwriting muscles that have kept them active and in demand on the national scene for 30 years, with particular kudos due to frontman and primary songwriter Vic Ruggiero and charter members Dave Hillyard (saxophone) and “Agent Jay” Nugent (guitar).


Hater
Sincere
Fire
FIRE584

“Your next Scandinavian indie pop obsession,” said Flood magazine, and I have to agree. Though honestly, Hater could turn out to be your next global indie pop obsession — though if the term “indie pop” evokes for you images of candy-coated guitars and weird-but-sunny melodic hooks, you might need to expand that definition a bit to accommodate this group, which has more in common with My Bloody Valentine and, occasionally, Cocteau Twins than it does with Jukebox the Ghost or, I don’t know, Autoharp. You’ve got your guitars that are so distorted and layered that they sound soft; you’ve got your female singer mixed so far back that you can’t understand what she’s saying; you’ve got your sudden irruptions of aching tunefulness. Sing along if you can or just let it throb in the background while you read a book — this is an outstanding all-purpose album.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Club d’Elf
You Never Know
Face Pelt
FP 2201

Club d’Elf is an odd ensemble, and You Never Know is an odd and intriguing release. The album is based on a traumatizing event in bandleader Mike Rivard’s recent past, a health crisis that led to an extended period of depression and PTSD. Rivard’s escape from the emotional morass came through his immersion in the trance-inducing gnawa music of North Africa. While You Never Know is not really a gnawa album, it draws deeply on the idea of transcendence through repetition and incorporates elements of that music (as well as Sufi and classical Indian traditions) into the band’s semi-free fusion-ish jazz. You’ll hear funk, turntablism, and Weather Report in there as well — and the program ends with an extended Frank Zappa tune. So, yeah — odd. And intriguing.


Various Artists
The Rough Guide to Spiritual India
Rough Guides/World Music Network (dist. Redeye)
RGNET1394CD

Granted, the title is a bit off-putting — there’s a longstanding tendency in the West to characterize any music that seems “exotic” (especially if it comes from the Indian subcontinent) as “spiritual,” regardless of its actual content. That misgiving aside, there’s no questioning the content of this album, which includes glorious selections from both singer Anandi Bhattacharya and her father, the legendary slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya (not to mention from her tabla-playing uncle Subhasis), from Bengali Sufi mystic Babu Fakir, and from Baul singer Paban Das Baul. It also includes several examples of West-East fusion music from the likes of Guy Buttery and the Guillaume Barraud Quartet. As with most Rough Guide titles, one of the great benefits of this collection is that it can lead you to dig deeper in any number of musical directions.


Soom T
Good
RM/X-Ray Productions
XRPCD2202

Indian by ethnic heritage, Glaswegian by birth and upbringing, Soon T is maybe not the most obvious person to have become a dancehall reggae MC. And yet, as my kids used to say, here we are. Her new album is perhaps her best work yet: supported by rock-hard rhythms laid down by her band The StoneMonks, she delivers strictly conscious lyrics in her trademarked charmingly gritty voice, and she consistently goes entirely her own way. “World We Live In” is unfashionably straight-up ska; “Yes My People” is startlingly specific in what sounds very much like a Christian witness (“And the Lord, he came down one day and he gave us his life/And he told us he’s the only way that we could follow, find light”); “Don’t Stand for Dis” and “Steps” find her collaborating with the brilliant Neo-dub producer Gaudi, who brings out some of her best and most impassioned vocals. This is one of the best reggae releases I’ve heard so far this year.

April 2022


CLASSICAL


Various Composers
Now the Green Blade Riseth: Choral Music for Easter
The Choir of King’s College / Daniel Hyde
King’s College Recordings (dist. Integral)
KGS0065

I normally avoid reviewing holiday-specific recordings, but this one is just too good. The men and boys of the King’s College Choir have a uniquely luscious sound — the trebles are never shrill, the blend is always luxurious. And this collection of choral pieces, most of them relatively modern, is magnificent. While I find Rossini’s O salutaris Hostia a bit bombastic (especially coming immediately after Duruflé’s delicately gorgeous Ubi caritas setting), it’s only a brief jarring moment in what is otherwise a consistently uplifting and transcendent program. In addition to the Duruflé, other highlights include the traditional hymns “Ride On! Ride On in Majesty!” and “There Is a Green Hill Far Away,” John Ireland’s “Greater Love Hath No Man,” Edward Elgar’s “Light of the World,” and of course William Byrd’s Civitas sancti tui setting, which is taken here at a careful and deliberate tempo and delivered with a burnished golden tone. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Various Composers
Fastes de la Grande Écurie
Syntagma Amici & Giourdina
Ricercar (dist. Naxos)
RIC439

Wind bands were of particular importance in the French court from the reign of Henri IV to that of Louis XIV: oboes, bassoons, recorders, cornets, trumpets, sackbuts and drums all combined to create majestic music to accompany both ceremonial occasions and royal entertainments. For this recording, members of the Syntagma Amici and Giourdina ensembles got together to recreate the Bande de Grands Hautbois that was attached to the royal stables (the écurie) and enjoyed significant prestige at court (despite being lower in status than the musicians of the chapel and the royal chamber). This recording is significant not only for the music it contains — dances, fantasies, and fanfares by the likes of Louis Couperin, Eustache du Caurroy, André Danican Philidor and Jean-Baptiste Lully — but also for the unique timbres and textures created by the various combinations of instruments that enjoyed royal favor at this unique point in French history, sounds that haven’t been heard, in some cases, for several centuries.


Paul Hindemith
Wind Sonatas
Les Vents Français; Eric le Sage
Warner Classics
0190295044411

Les Vents Français is something of a “supergroup” of French wind players, who normally play as a quintet. But on this album they take turns as soloists, accompanied by pianist Eric le Sage, each playing a Paul Hindemith sonata written for his individual instrument. One of the most important German composers of the 20th century, Hindemith wrote in a style that sounds simultaneously classical and modern — clear and logical structures underly melodies that often feel oddly dry and arid, though not in a bad way. His music is tonal, but his harmonic progressions are often slippery and surprising. Hindemith himself was known as an extremely gifted multi-instrumentalist (having been concertmaster of the Frankfurt Opera at a young age) and his facility with the instruments for which he wrote allowed him to write with unusual sympathy for many — including the wind instruments featured in these five sonatas. The playing is exceptional, as one would expect from members of this ensemble.


Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Concertos nos. 1 & 3
Kristian Bezuidenhout; Freiburger Barockorchester / Pablo Heras-Casado
Harmonia Mundi (dist. Integral)
HMM 902412

When it comes to period-instrument performance, the late classical and early Romantic periods offer particular challenges: the instruments still in common use during those periods were structurally very different from those of today, but the music was becoming more modern and emotionally expansive, with greater dynamic range. This meant that the instruments of the period were often being pushed to their expressive limits. Which brings us to this thrilling recording of Beethoven piano concertos by fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, alongside the Freiburger Barockorchester — a period-instrument ensemble that has never sounded bigger, richer, or more powerful than it does here. Even the natural horns sound wonderful, and Bezuidenhout himself plays with both fire and tenderness as well as a deep affinity for Beethoven’s emotional sound world. This is an altogether magnificent recording and it’s highly recommended to all library collections.


Various Composers
Ice Land: The Eternal Music
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge; The Dmitri Ensemble / Graham Ross
Harmonia Mundi (dist. Integral)
HMM 905330

This stunningly beautiful collection of choral pieces by Icelandic composers (plus an orchestral arrangement of a Sigur Rós song) is centered on Sigurdur Sævarsson’s Magnificat and Requiem, both presented here in world-premiere recordings. Iceland has emerged in recent years as a major force in contemporary choral music, and if anyone is wondering why, a listen to this collection will explain everything. It would not be true to say that all of these ten composers sound the same — but it would be equally untrue to deny that there’s a certain unity of mood and style here: spare, generally ethereal (though sometimes intense), consonant, cool (though not cold). The Choir of Clare College have clearly been at pains to perform this music idiomatically, and their performances are quietly thrilling. And I simply can’t praise Sævarsson’s Requiem setting highly enough; although the piece is thoroughly modern, it nevertheless invokes a timeless sense of reverence, regret, and devotion. A must-have for all library collections.


JAZZ


Bill Evans
Morning Glory (2 discs)
Resonance
HCD-2061

Bill Evans
Inner Spirit (2 discs)
Resonance
HCD-2062

I received these releases a couple of months ago, while they were still under embargo, and ever since then I’ve been waiting giddily for the opportunity to recommend them to my library colleagues. Both sets are products of an ongoing collaboration between the Bill Evans estate and the Resonance label that has now resulted in the commercial release of seven previously unavailable live recordings, most of them with exceptional sound and all of them featuring extensive and informative liner notes and photos. Morning Glory documents a 1973 performance in Buenos Aires of the Evans trio with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell; Inner Spirit finds Evans back in the same city in 1979, though at a different venue, with his celebrated lineup of bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe Labarbera. Whoever miked and mixed these performances knew exactly what s/he was doing: the interplay between Evans and his bassist was always central to his musical project, and the basses are given just the right level here — Gomez’s instrument sounds particularly full and rich on the Morning Glory set. Evans himself is brilliant during both concerts, wielding his unique combination of solid swing and impressionistic bravura thrillingly. No jazz collection can afford to sleep on either of these essential releases.


Matt Hall
I Hope to My Never
Summit (dist. MVD)
DCD 791

Trombonist and composer Matt Hall’s debut as a leader is a tremendously satisfying program of originals, plus one standard. Hall leads a dynamite quintet that shows itself adept at grooving in a variety of styles: “Biscuits & Gravy” is a refined blues that never quite tips over into funk, but consistently nods at it; the title track is loping, midtempo hard bop; “Charlie’s Harley” is a Charlie Parker tribute written on the “Cherokee” changes; “Spearhead” has a slightly greasy, second-line feel to it in the head, but then settles into a relaxed swing for the solos. Hall has that most enviable skill in trombonists: the ability to play bop at tempo and without any loss of clarity or note separation. And his sidemen are all absolutely killing it here as well. This album would find a welcome home in any library’s jazz collection.


Nina Simone
Feeling Good: Her Greatest Hits & Remixes (2 discs)
Verve
B0034595-02

I confess that for me, Nina Simone has always fallen into the “I recognize the genius but don’t much enjoy listening to the music” category. But I love creative remixes, so this two-disc collection of greatest hits plus remixes by the likes of Hot Chip, Sofi Tukker, and Rudimental caught my attention. And as it turned out, I came for the remixes but stayed for original tracks that hadn’t really sunk in for me before: Simone’s boogie-woogie take on “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” her gritty-but-slinky “I Put a Spell on You,” her absolutely eerie arrangement of the traditional song “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” — and, of course, her resignedly jaunty “Love Me or Leave Me” (her piano solo on that track is worth the price of the whole package). And the remixes? Oh, right, the remixes. Frankly, they tend to be too house/techno for me — though Rudimental’s juddering jungle remix of “Take Care of Business” activates all my bass-related pleasure centers.


Gordon Grdina’s Haram with Marc Ribot
Night’s Quietest Hour
Attaboygirl
ABG-3

Gordon Grdina
Oddly Enough: The Music of Tim Berne
Attaboygirl
ABG-4

Guitarist and oud player Gordon Grdina is out with two simultaneous releases on his own Attaboygirl label, neither of which is quite a jazz album but which I wanted to review together and this seemed like the right section for them as a unit. Night’s Quietest Hour finds him working with Haram, his ensemble for contemporary music rooted in Iraqi and Arabic tradition. Here he plays the oud exclusively, alongside a large group that includes violins, trumpet, nay, darbuka, and avant-jazz-rock guitarist Marc Ribot. As one might expect, the music is a bracing blend of Middle Eastern modalities, communal improvisation, and complex time signatures. Oddly Enough is a solo album on which he plays compositions that resulted from a back-and-forth correspondence with the legendary Downtown saxophonist/composer Tim Berne. During the COVID lockdown, Berne sent Grdina a piece he had written; Grdina responded with his recording of the piece; Berne sent another one; and so forth. The result is this collection of pieces, which Grdina plays using acoustic and electric guitars and a MIDI sampler. This music tends not to be noisy or skronky, but is definitely post-tonal and harmonically strange, with lots of spidery side-stepping melodies and irregular rhythms. While not “fun,” exactly, these pieces are nevertheless consistently interesting and pleasantly challenging.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Surge and the Swell
Offering
Self-released
No cat. no.

Indie-folk singer/songwriter Aaron Cabbage records under the name Surge and the Swell, and his debut release is a remarkably assured and fully-realized album for such a new artist. His sound here is actually more rockish than one might expect; resonator guitar and mandolin are there in the mix, and there are lots of twangy country licks and acoustic strumming, but on tracks like “Gravity Boots” and the soully “Hard Work” (not to mention “Full in the Now,” which actually evokes the Police in its opening section) the mood is more roots-rock than folk-pop. But genre designations are a waste of time anyway — what matter here are the songs, and they’re consistently outstanding, as is Cabbage’s delivery. Soaring choruses, tight grooves, undeniable hooks — this is the kind of album that leaves you impatient for the next one. Here’s hoping Offering marks the beginning of a long string of releases like this.


Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves
Hurricane Clarice
Free Dirt (dist. Redeye)
DIRT-CD-0104

Fiddle-and-banjo duo Allison de Groot and Tatiana Hargreaves aren’t exactly traditionalists — but they aren’t exactly not traditionalists, either. Yes, they play reels and breakdowns and dance tunes (their latest album includes the traditional tunes “Brushy Fork of John’s Creek” and “Hen Cackled,” both of them old-time session favorites, as well as the beautifully driving “Nancy Blevins”), but as time goes on their concept is expanding to include both original compositions and more explicit expressions of political, social and environmental concern. Hence their rendition of the early-20th-century Patrick Hurley composition “Banks of the Miramichi,” delivered here as an anthem of environmental protest, as well as the title tune, an instrumental written with the Jewish diaspora in mind. As always, Hargreaves and de Groot are perfectly matched both as players and as singers, and sound amazing together.


ROCK/POP


Michael Scott Dawson
Music for Listening (vinyl & digital only)
We Are Busy Bodies (dist. Redeye)
WABB-115

Since receiving a promo download of this album I’ve found myself going back to it over and over. It’s the second release from Michael Scott Dawson, a set of twelve compositions written and recorded during the pandemic. The basic tracks were made on a rented piano, and he later overdubbed guitar parts, environmental sounds (you’ll hear birds tweeting in the background on several tracks), and other elements created using “DIY instruments” and tape loops. Most of the instruments are rendered unrecognizable: the piano parts have virtually no attack, meaning that the notes and chords seem to fade in out of silence; guitar parts are similarly softened and altered, though they are often also significantly distorted. The resulting music is both deeply relaxing and ineffably sad, and at times it reminds me of Brian Eno’s Discreet Music in both its self-effacement and its melancholy. It’s utterly beautiful.


Pastor Champion
I Just Want to Be a Good Man
Luaka Bop (dist. Redeye)
6 80899 0096-5-2

Pastor Wiley Champion, originally of Louisiana (though he was notoriously unwilling to discuss his pre-ministry past), spent the last 40 years of his life as something of a circuit preacher in Northern California’s East Bay area, delivering the gospel message by both song and sermon. For this recording, he set up at the 37th Street Baptist Church in Oakland, invited in a few friends and family to act as an audience and contribute a little call-and-response, and settled in with his electric guitar to play and sing original compositions like “I Know That You’ve Been Wounded,” “Who Do Men Say I Am?”, and the deeply moving “I Just Want to Be a Good Man (to Be Used, by You).” On some tracks he’s joined by a few other local musicians — his son Sam on drums, a bass player he’d met the day before the sessions, etc. He passed away just a few years after these direct-to-tape recordings were made, leaving behind a powerful document of testimony and spiritual encouragement.


Sonic Area
Ki (Remixes) (digital only)
Ant-Zen
dig-089

Sonic Area is an electronica artist based in Strasbourg, France. Last year he released an album titled Ki, the Japanese word signifying the life force of the universe, that which animates the human being and endows him or her with vigor and courage. The music he created for this album is intended as an homage to various aspects of Japanese culture, both musical and spiritual/philosophical, and it incorporates field recordings, live instruments, electronic samples and beats, and other sonic ephemera to create an idiosyncratic but ultimately warm and deeply involving soundscape. This year a remix album was released, on which colleagues and collaborators like Zero Gravity, Chevalien, Nocto, and Noire Antidote took turns reimagining tracks from Ki and putting their own stylistic stamps on them. If anything, the results are even more compelling — if often quite a bit darker. Chevalien gives “Gongwar” a slowly thumping sub-house treatment, for example, while Rainh takes “Lotus” into murkier, glitchier territory than the original version occupied. Both albums are highly recommended.


Skeleton Crew
Free Dirt (Live) (2 discs)
Klanggalerie (dist. MVD)
GG389

Skeleton Crew didn’t last long, but they sure had a lot of fun while they did. The core membership was guitarist Fred Frith and cellist Tom Cora; for the 1982-83 concerts documented on disc 1 of this set their third member was reedman/keyboardist/percussionist Dave Newhouse; for the 1984-86 concerts on disc 2, they were joined by harpist/keyboardist/percussionist Zeena Parkins for what is now generally considered (or at least what I consider) the classic lineup. In reality, to call Frith a guitarist and Cora a cellist is to oversimplify things dramatically: both played a wild variety of homemade instruments that defy category, as indeed their music did: grooves and melodies frequently give way to scratches and caterwauls, and freely improvised noise lapses regularly into traditional folk tunes. One of the wonderful things about Fred Frith is that even when he’s making horrible noise, he does it with such obvious delight and with such a well-communicated sense of warmth and invitation that you find yourself just going with it and having a wonderful time. Cora, Newhouse, and Parkins all contribute to that same vibe on these delightful recordings.


Deadlights
Eleven Step Intervention
Thatwasmyskull Music
No cat. no.

Just a few months ago I recommended the eponymous debut album from Deadlights, which had come out earlier in 2021. When the second album arrived a few weeks ago I figured I probably wouldn’t cover it since I’d just recommended the previous album so recently — but it’s too good to let pass without comment. Once again, Jeff Shelton (who is essentially a one-man band here, as he is with his ongoing power pop project The Well Wishers) conjures a thoroughly winning fusion of shoegaze, dreampop, and 1990s Brit pop, creating a dense sonic structure through which lovely hooks emerge like whales breaching the surface of a beautiful but turbulent ocean. There are no weak tracks here, but the one that has me continually hitting “repeat” so I can sing harmonies in my car is “Dead Again.” Shelton is a once-in-a-generation talent, and he just keeps releasing outstanding albums no matter what name he’s recording under. For all libraries.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Various Artists
Our Island
Small Island Big Song
No cat. no.

Small Island Big Song is a multimedia project that has ongoing since 2015, and so far has resulted in a documentary film, a concert tour, various local outreach programs, and now a compilation album. The featured artists all represent “seafaring cultures of the Pacific and Indian Oceans”: indigenous music from Mauritius, New Zealand, Taiwan, Marshall Island, Tahiti, etc. The recordings were all made outdoors, and there’s a strong message of environmental reform and political protest throughout the program, though since the songs are performed in a wide variety of languages that message may not be immediately clear to most listeners. The music itself is stylistically varied but consistently very attractive: the packaging is eco-glamorous but unwieldy and frustrating, making it hard to tell who is performing which track, but if you’re just listening for pleasure there’s a lot of that to be had here.


Johrise Jojoba
Amourissime (digital only)
Self-released
No cat. no.

Irie Ites x Zenzile feat. Trinity
Can’t Blame the Youth
Dub It Up
DIU CD 01

As Jamaica has lost interest in producing roots reggae music — favoring instead bashment and R&B-inflected dancehall sounds — other regions have stepped up to provide it to a world audience still hungry for conscious lyrics accompanied by old-school rockers and one-drop rhythms. Berlin, Vienna, and (of course) London have long nurtured roots reggae scenes, but it’s important not to overlook the fertile reggae communities in Paris, Marseilles, and other areas of France. From the western city of Angers comes the gifted singer and songwriter Johrise Jojoba, whose new album Amourissime is replete with hooky melodies, tight harmonies, and uplifting messages about love and unity sung in both English and French. There’s a funky edge to tunes like “Good Vibes” and the soca-inflected “Auprès de toi,” but all the songs are solidly grounded in the roots-and-culture verities. The same can be said of the latest album from Zenzile, another Angers-based band; in 2019, the producer Irie Ites proposed to Zenzile that they all join with legendary Jamaican singer and toaster Trinity to record some new material while he was on tour in Europe. The project resulted in four songs; oddly enough, they’re presented here both in discomixes (in which a dub mix is appended seamlessly to the end of the regular vocal version) and in separate dub mixes. But the music is so good you won’t mind the rather idiosyncratic presentation. Trinity himself is as articulate and fluent in his delivery as he was during the roots-reggae heyday of the 1970s, and Zenzile’s steppers and rockers grooves are deep and powerful. Both albums are highly recommended.


WEMA
WEMA
!K7 (dist. Redeye)
K7403CD

“Wema” is a Swahili word that means “kindness and benevolence,” a concept that underlies the lyrical messages throughout the stylistically varied and rhythmically complex debut album from this Tanzanian group. While they sing mostly in Swahili (with occasional detours into Spanish), WEMA’s musical genre is much harder to pin down: their sound is texturally dense but light-footed at the same time, shifting nimbly from Latin to Afrobeat to a sort of pancultural electrodisco. Producer Photay creates richly orchestrated grooves punctuated with found-sound and environmental oddities, resulting in colorful and funky mixes that blend dark and light, human and electronic, and modern and ancient elements beautifully. Highlight tracks include “Kande” (with its charming samples of children singing) and the chugging “Bendir Bendir!”. (The digital copy provided to me for review purposes had some pretty significant sound-quality issues that I presume will not be present on the CD version.)


March 2022


CLASSICAL


Felix Mendelssohn
Violin Sonatas
Alina Ibragimova; Cédric Tiberghien
Hyperion (dist. Integral)
CDA68322

Although in musical terms he was a titan of the German Romantic tradition, in another very real sense we could consider Mendelssohn a Rennaissance man — an accomplished artist, poet, and polyglot as well as a once-in-generation composer, keyboardist, and conductor. And also, as it turns out, an excellent violinist and violist. He published one violin sonata during his life, but upon his untimely death he left behind unpublished manuscripts of two additional completed sonatas and one fragment. All of those works, including the fragment, are performed here by a pair of astoundingly virtuosic and tasteful young musicians whose fiery and exuberant style breathes fresh life into these works.


John Jenkins
Four-part Consorts
Phantasm; Daniel Hyde
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKD677

Matthew Locke
The Flat Consort
Fretwork
Signum Classics (dist. Naxos)
SIGCD696

These two recent releases both focus on consort music for viols written by 17th-century English composers who are unjustly neglected today, but whose music was groundbreaking in its time. Jenkins in particular was known for his dedication to the idea that all voices in the consort should have equal status, and his harmonic writing was restless and highly dynamic. Locke, too, wrote music that had a distinctively bustling energy, and Fretwork’s recording of his “flat consorts” (a term for which I can’t seem to find a definition anywhere) is as vibrant as one would expect from this august group. Both of these recordings are highly recommended to all libraries with a collecting interest in English Renaissance music.


Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
The Complete Vocal Works (17 discs; reissue)
Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam / Harry van der Kamp
Glossa (dist. Naxos)
GCD922411

Sweelinck’s most significant musical contributions were as a keyboardist and organ composer — he was a pioneer of fugal composition before Bach — but his rich output of vocal music should not be overlooked. This magisterial collection brings together recordings made by the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam between 2003 and 2009 (and originally issued in separate sets) of his sacred and secular vocal compositions, including a full twelve discs of psalm settings. Chansons, madrigals, motets, and “sacred songs” are included as well, demonstrating both Sweelinck’s breathtaking productivity and his genius for rhythmic and contrapuntal invention. The Gesualdo Consort sing with impeccable intonation and a colorful blend, and are recorded in a dry, intimate acoustic that effectively showcases both the quality of their individual voices and the brilliance of Sweelinck’s part-writing. Any library that hasn’t already acquired these recordings in their original issues should seriously consider picking up this reasonably-priced box.


Robert Schumann
David Hyun-su Kim Plays Schumann
David Hyun-su Kim
Centaur (dist. Naxos)
CRC 3877

There are two notable things about this program of piano works by Robert Schumann. The first is the exceptional sensitivity and insight of David Hyun-su Kim’s playing; his delicacy of touch, his sense of dynamics, and his use of rubato set a standard for the performance of music by this 19th-century master. The second thing is the instrument: Kim plays a modern replica of a mid-century Graf fortepiano much like the one gifted to Robert and Clara Schumann at their wedding, and on which Schumann wrote the Carnaval suite of character pieces that is the centerpiece of this program. These works are clearly written with the Graf piano’s unique tonal qualities in mind, and Kim showcases both the brilliance of the music and those unique qualities beautifully. Highly recommended to all libraries.


JAZZ


Jason Wayne Sneed & Toshinori Kondo
Guardians of the Most Cosmic Shrine
Chant
CR2202JA

This was the last recording made by legendary jazz/avant-garde trumpeter Toshinori Kondo before his death in late 2020. It came about after Kondo met bassist and producer Jason Wayne Sneed at a show in Chicago in 2019; they decided to collaborate remotely on some music, and Sneed set to work creating backing tracks, over which Kondo played; shortly after the parts had been written, Kondo passed away. Sneed subsequently mixed the various parts together and created with them a richly impressionistic tapestry of sounds that brings to mind some of the dub projects of Bill Laswell. This is complex and gorgeous stuff, and it’s a shame that Sneed and Kondo were only able to produce 38 minutes of music together.


Lara Downes
Reflections: Scott Joplin Reconsidered
Rising Sun (dist. Integral)
RS016

Ragtime music is something of an odd duck in the history of American art and jazz music. Unlike jazz it’s fully arranged and features no improvisation; unlike European classical music its rhythmic foundation is deeply rooted in Africa — and yet its harmonic structure is entirely European. In her interpretation of a program of works by the great ragtime composer Scott Joplin, pianist Lara Downes explores many of the stylistic ambiguities of this music, freely interpreting such familiar pieces as “Maple Leaf Rag” and “Solace,” while introducing us to lesser-known works as well, some of them in chamber-orchestral settings. Her playing is exquisitely sensitive, and she makes a powerful case here for Joplin’s genius.


Martin Wind/New York Bass Quartet
Air
Laika
3510401.2

There is every reason to expect a jazz album by a quartet of bass players to be unsuccessful. The bass is an instrument designed to do some things exceptionally well, but is not very well suited to other things — and some of those things are central to the success of a jazz album. Also, it has to be said that one intrinsic weakness of the instrument is how difficult it is to make it sound in tune when playing arco in higher positions. And yet, if there’s any bandleader who could make a project like this work, it’s Martin Wind, and sure enough he pulls it off. Throughout a highly diverse program that includes familiar works by Bach, Lennon/McCartney, and Joe Zawinul, he and his crew of fellow bassists (plus a few guests) coax fun and musically compelling arrangements out of this unusual and unlikely instrumental configuration. This album will be of particular interest to any library supporting a program of string pedagogy.


Fred Hersch
Breath by Breath
Palmetto
PM2198

I know I always rant and rave about every Fred Hersch album, but honestly, this one is truly special. It consists of pieces written for a combination of his usual piano trio and a string quartet, and stylistically it kind of ranges everywhere — from heartbreakingly sweet neoclassicism (“Awakened Heart”) to agitated near-avant-gardism (“Monkey Mind”) to fugue-based Third Stream jazz/classical fusion. Hersch being Hersch, the writing is of otherworldly beauty, and his ability to shift from hard-swinging grooves to ethereal impressionism remains both astounding and inspiring. Bassist Drew Gess and drummer Jochen Rueckert join the Crosby Street String Quartet on this date, and their ensemble sound is just tremendous. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Del McCoury Band
Almost Proud
Self-released (dist. Redeye)
MCM0022

I’ve pretty much gotten used to the idea that the whole first generation of bluegrass stars has left us. But it’s startling now to realize how few of the second generation are left. Del McCoury was a little boy when Bill Monroe was changing the whole stylistic calculus of country music, and starting in the late 1950s McCoury began a career that led to him becoming one of the preeminent torch-carriers of traditional bluegrass. At age 83 his voice is still improbably sharp and penetrating, and his sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo) still support him expertly. This album is exactly what you should be able to expect: hardcore tradgrass sung in a high-lonesome style and played and sung with tasteful virtuosity. (And with a little piano, but don’t hold it against them.)


The Cactus Blossoms
One Day
Walkie Talkie (dist. Redeye)
WT03

The obvious stylistic referent here would be the Everly Brothers (two guitar-playing guys sharing singing and songwriting duties on hook-filled pop/folk/country songs with tight harmonies), but the comparison is too facile. (Comparing them to the Louvin Brothers, as some have, is even more wrongheaded.) In fact, Jack Torrey and Page Burkum sound more like a time-stranded product of Laurel Canyon, with maybe a slight hint of Bakersfield. And that’s a compliment. The songs are gentle but firm, the lyrics sometimes subtly barbed; the arrangements are minimal and consistently perfect. Best couplet: “He was alive when I found him/His eyes were sad.”


Hank Williams
I’m Gonna Sing: The Mother’s Best Gospel Radio Recordings (2 discs)
BMG
538693070

A couple of years ago, I recommended a six-disc box set (with massive accompanying hardbound book) that brought together all of the recordings Hank Williams made for his short-lived Mother’s Best radio show in 1951. This two-disc extract brings together the gospel songs from that collection, in surprisingly good sound quality (considering that the original recordings were acetate discs rescued from a dumpster). Williams was a particularly effective gospel singer, and this collection of both original and traditional gospel tunes (some of them several centuries old) consists of recordings made when he was at the peak of his considerable vocal powers. Any library with a collecting interest in either country or gospel music (and that doesn’t already own the comprehensive Mother’s Best set) should seriously consider picking this up.


ROCK/POP


Jesse Norell
Aorta Borealis
Self-released
No cat. no.

The debut full-length by indie pop singer/songwriter Jesse Norell is a concept album of sorts, dealing with the emotional odyssey of having a child with trisomy 21 (a.k.a. Down syndrome) who has needed multiple heart surgeries. The lyrics are direct; there’s not much coy metaphor here. (“Another phone call from Cardiology/They told me little ones need nourishment for brain functionality,” he sings on “Lullaby for the Frail.”) The mood varies from anguished to celebratory, but what are consistent are the sweetness of his voice, the tunefulness of the songs, and the colorful brilliance of the production. Aorta Borealis will have you dancing around the room and singing along when it doesn’t have you crying on the couch. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Choked Up
Dichoso Corazon
Don Giovanni (dist. Redeye)
DG-259

If you, as I do, miss the days of meat-and-potatoes melodic pop punk, then the new album from Choked Up will come as a refreshing blast of slightly sweat-tinged fresh air. Listening to the bruising guitars and the tight vocals (and noticing the handful of Spanish-language songs), your first thought might be either “East Bay,” or “East L.A.,” but in fact this quartet is from Brooklyn. This isn’t technically their debut, but it’s their first with an entirely new lineup backing frontwoman Cristy Road, and they do sound reborn. One commenter on their Amazon page says this: “The lines I can make out are mainly about crushing on cute queers against a backdrop of fascist dystopia.” So there you go. Eleven songs, 30 minutes, no ballads — you know the drill.


Mōshonsensu
A Strange Dystopian Tundra
Rednetic
No cat. no.

There’s not much background information I can provide on this strange and beautiful album. Mōshonsensu is the pseudonym of Daryl Robinson, a producer based in Newcastle upon Tyne who describes his musical project like this: “I make music for strange ornaments, feathered animals and secret cults of people with strange minds.” A Strange Dystopian Tundra is the product of a period of serious depression, though it doesn’t necessarily sound that way. Floating atmospherics and distorted found-sound vocals are punctuated by funky grooves, field recordings (note the rhythmic use of a crow on “The Detectives Walk”), glitchy beat patterns, and even actual singing. The music is weird and unsettling and yet sometimes oddly comforting at the same time.


Josh Caterer
The SPACE Sessions
Pravda (dist. MVD)
PR6423

Josh Caterer, best known as the leader of the celebrated Chicago punk band Smoking Popes (and less known as the frontman for the less celebrated but equally fine Christian punk band Duvall) is back with a ripping live-in-the-studio set featuring a mix of original songs and covers, two of them featuring guest vocals by his daughter Phoebe. As always, his sweet tenor voice is like frosting on the crunchy core of his band’s aggro sound, and as always, he writes great tunes. It’s really fun to hear the band segue without a hitch from the sweet longing of “Something’ Stupid” to the anthemic guitar bombast of “Don’t Be Afraid,” and when Caterer jumps into “Smile” (yes, that “Smile“) it’s not nearly as disorienting as you might expect. Great stuff.


Jukebox the Ghost
Everything Under the Sun (10th anniversary vinyl reissue)
Yep Roc (dist. Redeye)
YEP-2224X

My son introduced me to this stellar alt-pop band in the best way possible: by convincing his mom and me to accompany him and his girlfriend to a concert. It was the first time I’d ever heard Jukebox the Ghost’s music, and it was the perfect venue: their joyful, high-energy, hook-filled songs (and the crowd’s blissful response) threatened to lift the venue off its foundations. Now their second album, originally released in 2010 (and still available on CD), is being reissued on vinyl. And in the studio their sound is hardly any less energetic and thrilling than it is live. Pianist Ben Thornewill and guitarist Tommy Siegel share the vocals, while drummer Jesse Kristin lays down nimble but solid beats behind them; the tunes are absolutely sublime, as is the singing. It’s hard to overstate how much fun this album is. For all libraries.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Sussan Deyhim & Richard Horowitz
Desert Equations: Azax Attra (reissue)
Crammed Discs
MTM 8 CD

I think Iranian singer Sussan Deyhim is one of the most interesting and exciting vocalists in the world — I’ve never heard an album of hers that wasn’t both fascinating and entrancing. Desert Equations was originally released in 1986 and is now being reissued as part of the Crammed Discs label’s Made to Measure series. It finds Deyhim working with regular collaborator Richard Horowitz, who provides electronic accompaniment to Deyhim’s multitracked and frequently wordless vocals. Persian tradition, New York avant-gardism, minimalist repetition, and electro-funk are all put into a blender to create something that is unlike anything else you’ve heard before. Although the music is wildly different, this puts me in mind of the early work of Mouth Music, which took a somewhat similar approach to Celtic tradition, and with similarly thrilling results.


Uday Bhawalker; Hathor Consort; Romina Lischka
Dhrupad Fantasia
Fuga Libera (dist. Naxos)
FYG 783

Here’s one that I approached with some trepidation. I love classical Indian music and I love early European music — but I love ice cream and I love arugula, and that doesn’t mean I’d put them in the same bowl. But after spending some time with it, I found this to be both an intriguing concept (dhrupad singing achieved its peak of development at the same time that consort music was most popular in England) and a compelling musical experience. The vocal raga sections segue seamlessly into and out of works for varying combinations of flute and viols by the likes of Tobias Hume, Robert Parsons, and John Dowland; as per the strictures of Indian classical music, the program is divided into works for morning, afternoon, and night. It can be a bit unsettling to hear a dhrupad singer accompanied by a broken Renaissance consort — but unsettling isn’t always bad. Recommended to all adventurous classical and world-music library collections.


Mamak Khadem
Remembrance
Six Degrees
657036131422

Iranian singer/composer/educator Mamak Khadem has been called “one of the wonders of world trance music” by a major American newspaper, but I think that characterization does her and her music a disservice. The songs on Remembrance are not designed to help you enter a trance state; written in the wake of her father’s death during the COVID pandemic, they express grief and mourning and, ultimately, healing. They do so by fusing ancient poetry with contemporary music that sounds simultaneously modern and ancient, using a blend of traditional and Western instruments. Khadem’s voice is the central feature here, and her quavering melismas seem to express the grief that all of us have felt at various times during the past two dreadful years. For all collections.


Yungchen Lhamo
Awakening
Tibetan Arts Management (dist. Six Degrees)
No cat. no.

Singer/songwriter Yungchen Lhamo is originally from Tibet, but over the years has migrated to India, Australia, and New York, where she is currently based. Her globetrotting history has brought her into contact with many musicians from varying traditions, and her latest album is a collaboration with Spanish producer Julio García. He and her other musical collaborators bring a Spanish influence to the music that one might expect to clash somewhat with Lhamo’s very Tibetan melodies and singing style, but in fact the result of their project is music that seamlessly fuses multiple traditions — not into a featureless “world music” but into a polymorphous style that is instantly recognizable as Lhamo’s own. This is intense but also oddly relaxing music, and it’s very lovely.


February 2022


CLASSICAL


Various Composers
Pomerania: Music from Northern Germany and Poland (14th-15th Centuries)
Ensemble Peregrina / Agnieszka Budzińska-Bennett
Tacet (dist. Naxos)
TACET273

This is the fourth and (sadly) final volume in the Tacet label’s Mare Balticum series, which celebrates obscure early music from the Baltic region. As on the previous three volumes, which featured music from Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and northern Germany, Agnieszka Budzińska-Bennett leads the Ensemble Peregrina in a survey of forgotten and previously lost works found in various archives around the German-Polish region once known as Pomerania. Some of them have been preserved only incompletely, requiring Budzińska-Bennett to fill in a few musical blanks herself; many have never been recorded before or even heard in centuries. All of the music consists of single sung melodic lines, but this isn’t “plainchant” in the usual sense — it’s discursive, sometimes simple and sometimes elaborate, and occasionally almost ecstatic, in a style that those familiar with the music of Hildegard von Bingen will likely recognize. Like the previous volumes in this series, this one should be considered an essential purchase for any library that collects pre-baroque music.


Adriaen Willaert
Adriano 2 (digital/vinyl only)
Dionysos Now! / Tore Tom Denys
Evil Penguin

Creeping forward in time about 100 years, we have this absolutely luscious recording of Adriaen Willaert’s Missa Benedicta es along with a handful of motets and chansons. Willaert was one of the great Franco-Flemish masters, but one who has been relegated largely to the shadows of history in comparison to his more illustrious contemporaries like Josquin and de la Rue. The six-voice male Dionysos Now! ensemble seeks to remedy that with these sonically and musically sumptuous recordings (Adriano 1 was released last year), which not only showcase heartbreakingly beautiful compositions but also a surprisingly rich vocal sound; normally a small-force male ensemble isn’t my favorite, but this one sounds amazing. Sadly for library collections, the Evil Penguin label doesn’t release CDs, but these recordings will be available on vinyl as well as digitally.


Max Stern
Retrospective
Various Ensembles
Israel Music Institute
IMI-CD-64

Israeli composer Max Stern has been focused on producing what he calls “Biblical compositions” for many years. On this collection of works written between 1979 and 2009, he draws on themes both explicitly and implicitly related to the Bible and Bible history: on the more implicit side, there is a suite titled Three Ancient Pieces for flute and guitar (which draws on Davidic musical ideas), while a lovely large-scale work for orchestra titled Song of the Morning Stars celebrates the Biblical account of the creation. Hannah’s Song of Praise sets to music a beautiful text from the Book of Samuel, while the brief cantata Prophecy for the End of Days brings a more somber mood to the proceedings. All of the music is tonal and quite approachable, but departs in marked ways from some of the stylistic conventions of Western European classical music. Fascinating and lovely stuff, for all libraries.


Johann David Heinichen
Dresden Vespers
Ensemble Polyharmonique; Wrocław Baroque Orchestra / Jarosław Thiel
Accent (dist. Naxos)
ACC 24381

Various Composers
Gloria Dresdensis
Dresdner Barockorchester
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 782-2

When the religiopolitical winds changed at the Dresden court with the (Protestant) Elector Prince’s marriage to (the very Catholic) Maria Josepha in 1719, its music had to change as well. Luckily for the court and its newlywed prince, the composer they had on hand was Johann David Heinichen, who was particularly well suited to creating the kind of sumptuous liturgical music that Maria Josepha had come to love in Vienna. This vespers service includes Dixit Dominus and Magnificat settings among other festal pieces, and is performed joyfully and colorfully by the always outstanding Ensemble Polyharmonique. During the same period, secular instrumental and theater music was flourishing in Dresden as well, and the Dresdner Barockorchester was formed 30 years ago to keep alive the flame of that unusually fertile musical time and place. Gloria Dresdensis brings together chamber and orchestral works from Dresden composers of the early- to mid-18th century including G.F. Händel, Antonio Caldara, Johann Adolf Hasse, and Giuseppe Pisendel: sonatas, sinfonias, overtures, and incidental music from an oratorio all rub shoulders on this crowded but consistently delightful program. The playing and the recorded sound are outstanding on both releases.


Leo Sowerby
Paul Whiteman Commissions & Other Early Works
Andy Baker Orchestra; Avalon String Quartet
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 205

American composer Leo Sowerby is best known for his religious music (and has been called, in fact, the Dean of American Church Music). But between 1916 and 1925 he wrote a number of neoclassical and jazz-derived pieces, two of them direct commissions from Paul Whiteman intended to be played by members of his jazz orchestra. These works — Synconata and Symphony for Jazz Orchestra — bracket the program, which also includes two pieces for string quartet and one for piano and strings. All represent world-premiere recordings. The music is not nearly as jazzy as one might expect (particularly given the cover photo of Whiteman and his band). There are elements of jazz here, especially in the Symphony, but this is not jazz; it’s reasonably straight-up art music, and definitely art music of its time and place. This recording will be a fascinating resource for any library supporting the study of American music. For that purpose, the liner notes alone are almost worth the price of the disc.


JAZZ


Sylvie Courvoisier; Mary Halvorson
Searching for the Disappeared Hour
Pyroclastic
PR 17

“We both have an affinity towards darkening things,” says guitarist Mary Halvorson of her ongoing duo project with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, “which is great because you can start with a joyous melody and there’s all kinds of room to mess with it. We’re both really open to that.” You hear that happening all over the place on this challenging, complex, and ultimately (though not simply) joyous album. Halvorson’ unique tone and often unsettling approach to effects are on full display here: she’ll be playing a lyrical, clean-toned line that suddenly wobbles off into pitch-altered cartoon weirdness. Courvoisier, similarly, can switch from neoclassical decorousness to spiky atonality and back again at a moment’s notice. Together, they respond to each other’s subtlest gestures quickly and nimbly and always with a sense of clear musical logic, even when improvising in an entirely free style. Highly recommended.


Pete Malinverni
On the Town: Peter Malinverni Plays Leonard Bernstein
Planet Arts
302124

This recording was released at a fortuitous moment: a time when the general public’s attention had been turned once again to the music of one of America’s national treasures, composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein (thanks to Steven Spielberg’s reimagined film version of West Side Story). Here pianist Malinverni leads bassist Ugonna Okegwo and the magnificent drummer Jeff Hamilton through a respectful but still adventurous program of Bernstein show tunes including “I Feel Pretty,” “Somewhere,” and “Lonely Town.” (At the end of the album is a Malinverni original, a tribute titled “A Night on the Town.”) Malinverni’s style is an impressive blend of the lyrical and the off-kilter — long lines that evoke Bud Powell will suddenly give way to Monkish rhythmic dysjunction. Hamilton’s brush work is a quiet and subtle highlight, as it always is. For all jazz collections.


Piet Verbist
Secret Exit to Another Dimension
Origin
82838

I’ll be completely candid here: this isn’t my favorite jazz album of the year, or even the month. But I’m recommending it because I don’t see it as my job simply to share what I like — it’s my job to hip you to good music, and this album is objectively excellent, in terms of both the playing and (even more so) its structure and conception. Bassist Piet Verbist leads a trio that includes guitarist Hendrik Braeckman and drummer Lionel Beuvens, and they play a mixed program of originals and standards that shows off the group’s exceptional skill at arranging, as well as its impressive cohesiveness as a musical unit. Braeckman’s “Map Map” is an unusually complex chart, but wears its complexity lightly; Verbist’s arrangement of Charlie Parker’s “Cheryl” makes the tune entirely his own, and Beuvens’ “Bridge House” is a lovely, floating jazz waltz with a chord progression that stays just on the right side of predictable. Verbist keeps his solos to a minimum — always a wise choice for a bass player.


Chris Dingman
Journeys Vol. 1
Self-released
No cat. no.

The meditative pieces on the latest album from vibraphonist Chris Dingman have their roots in his Peace project, which I recommended in 2020. That five-disc set consisted of improvised pieces he played for his father while the latter was in hospice care. Journeys Vol. 1 is also a set of improvisations for solo vibraphone, but these were originally created for his weekly Bandcamp subscription; subscribers helped him to choose which tracks to include on the album. They find him continuing to explore ways in which music can heal and can take you on a journey; they are also informed by his study of other instruments, notably the mbira or thumb-piano. (In fact, once you know to listen for it, you’ll hear that instrument’s influence throughout the album.) As with Peace, the music is certainly soothing and pleasant — but because Dingman is a genuinely brilliant musician, it’s also much more.


FOLK/COUNTRY


The Pine Hearts
Lost Love Songs
Self-released
No cat. no.

When we think of the music scene in Olympia, Washington, what normally come to mind are the early days of grunge and the thriving local indie label K Records. And indeed, the Pine Hearts’ frontman Joey Capoccia came from the underground punk scene in that area — not that you’ll hear much of that influence in the Pine Hearts’ music. This is gentle, acoustic, folk- and bluegrass-derived pop music of the kind now generally called “Americana.” Guitar and mandolin are the instrumental foundation of these songs, with fiddle and banjo making regular appearances (notably on “Darling Don’t the Sunlight in Your Eyes,” which is not a typo, and “Ocean in Your Veins”); Capoccia’s reedy tenor is at the center, and his tendency to combine poetic lyrics with simple and straightforward melodies is what makes the songs such consistent winners. Very nice stuff.


Sarah Borges
Together Alone
Blue Corn Music
BCM2201

The title of Sarah Borges’ latest signals its context: this is a straight-up COVID album. She recorded it by remote means, sending voice-and-guitar demos to her producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, who then recruited session players who he knew would not only do a good job, but would be able to record their parts effectively at home. What Borges and Ambel have assembled from those disparate parts is an album that not only keenly reflects the anguish of the past two years (“It’s been a while now since I’ve seen my friends/Don’t know when I’m gonna see them again,” she sings) but also, improbably enough, sounds fantastic. Highlights include “Lucky Day,” a particularly hooky slab of country-rock, and “Wouldn’t Know You,” a powerful mid-tempo burner with through-composed harmonies. Borges is always impressive, and this is one of her best efforts so far.


ROCK/POP


Rhi & Telemachus
Dead Silk I & II (EPs; digital only)
Tru Thoughts
No cat. no.

Back in January 2018 I recommended Rhi’s album Reverie, which I hailed as basically a return of classic trip-hop informed by intervening developments in both bass music and R&B. Her latest is actually two releases, each of them billed as a “three-track single” featuring three songs alongside instrumental and a cappella versions, for a total of eighteen tracks across both EPs. Her general modus operandi hasn’t changed much: booming but not crushing basslines; slow tempos; huge sonic spaces; a voice that floats murkily rather than asserting itself in the mix and that declaims quietly rather than emoting. Producer Telemachus sounds like her musical soulmate here, and giving him equal billing seems only fair given how important his particular approach to sound is to these final products. The songs are brilliant and unsettling in equal measure.


Pip Blom
Welcome Break
Heavenly (dist. Integral)
HVNLP187CD

Opening with the absolutely perfect “You Don’t Want This,” the sophomore effort from Amsterdam’s Pip Blom builds on the success of their 2019 debut, Boat. This is guitar-based indie rock of a type that would have been called “post punk” in the 1980s and wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place in that decade: a vocal style that evokes the Sundays, and a tight but slightly messy guitar sound that falls somewhere between the Buzzcocks and Wire. The hooks aren’t quite as plentiful across the album as that opening track might lead you to expect, but the songwriting is a consistent pleasure and songwriter/lead singer Pip Blom (after whom the band is named) delivers everything with solid authority. For all pop collections.


Bev Lee Harling
Little Anchor
Wah Wah 45s
WAHCD039

Bev Lee Harling is a songwriter, singer, and violinist, and this only her second release since 2012. In the intervening period she’s become a mother, and Little Anchor finds her reflecting musically on the adventures of parenthood and all of the joys, frustrations, disappointments, and euphoria that experience can bring (sometimes within the space of an hour). The sound is multi-layered, mostly built on acoustic instrumentation (often her violin, played in a variety of ways) and mutitracked vocals, though electronic beats and samples find their way into the mix too. “Is it OK that I don’t know what I’m doing?” she asks on one song, and on another she pays tender tribute to her recently deceased mother. Nothing here sounds like anything else currently on the market, but it’s all perfectly accessible. In fact, rarely has an album as willfully odd as this one been so effortlessly enjoyable.


The Living Earth Show & Danny Clay
Music for Hard Times
Earthy
No cat. no.

Charles Richard
Sonic Earth
Glacial Movements
GM046

I have pretty broad musical tastes, but at every point on the spectrum of those tastes my criteria are very particular. I love reggae, but mainly roots-and-culture reggae from the 1970s; I love punk rock, but it has to be “I’m angry because I want the world to be better” punk rock rather than “no future” punk rock. I love classical music, but mainly classical music written between 1500 and 1820 or so; and so forth. I mention all of that by way of saying that I love ambient music, but it can’t just be wispy and pretty; it must also be interesting. Both of these releases hit that target cleanly. Music for Hard Times is a collaborative project between composer Danny Clark and an ensemble called the Living Earth Show, conceived during the COVID lockdown and designed to answer the question: “Is it possible for us to use the tools of classical art music to make people feel better?”. Your mileage will vary in that regard, of course, but I have a hard time imagining anyone failing to feel better while listening to heart-tuggingly gentle “Book 1, Part 4” or the beautiful but distinctly odd backwards instruments on “Book 2, Part 1.” On a very different tip is Charles Richard’s Sonic Earth LP, an album on which Richard seeks — no joking — to “synthesize the sound of rocks.” Here’s how it works, in his words: “My recording process starts with a prepared mineral stylus that scores the surface of the material. Recording this with a piezo electric contact mic, this long recording serves as the generator. The next stage is to play this recording back into the material via a vibrational surface speaker. This means that the material is vibrating to its own resonance and the surface noise is heard less and what you hear is a cleaner amplified version of the rocks resonance.” What’s the result? Music of serene, floating, and sometimes spooky beauty — music that is not so much about making you feel better as about helping you think about your natural environment in entirely new ways. (And as a bonus, it may also make you feel better.)


WORLD/ETHNIC


DJ Drez
The Parahamsa Mixes: White Swan Taking Flight (digital only)
White Swan
WS-0172

Producer DJ Drez (often in collaboration with his spouse, singer Marti Nikko) has been creating exceptionally groovy music for many years now, in a variety of styles that orbit around hip hop and dub reggae. To call it “club music” wouldn’t be quite accurate; his music generally comes very explicitly from a place of yogic/Hindu devotion, and that’s certainly the case with this new collection of remixes based on tracks from his labelmates at White Swan. “Abundant Jungle” is a slow, syrupy take on Zaire Black’s “Abundance,” while “Radha’s Paint” remixes a track from Stevin McNamara’s album Shakti Guitar and “Govinda Echoes” takes Masood Ali Khan’s “Govinda Gopala” and twists it gently into a dubbed-out space jam. Nikko makes several appearances on the program, and as always her contributions are highlights.


Artikal Sound System
Welcome to Florida
Controlled Substance Sound Labs
No cat. no.

On their first full-length release, Florida’s Artikal Sound System hit that elusive sweet spot: balancing pop hooks with old-school reggae rhythms, balancing a deep and bassy groove with a clean and modern sound, and balancing serious roots-and-culture messages with laments over romance gone wrong. Their sound is tight and clean and singer Logan Rex has a voice that sounds light at first but shows its core strength as you keep listening. “One with You” delivers a powerful message of unity, and segues nicely into the dancehall groove of “Too Soon,” with its gently anthemic chorus; “Dissolve” is a regretful kiss-off song, and “Cops and Robbers” is a jaunty ska workout with a sharp social message. Rarely do modern reggae albums deliver this nice a blend of thoughtfulness and fun. Highly recommended.


Gary Stroutsos & Stevin McNamara
Moonlight Meditations: Instrumental Sound Bath (digital only)
White Swan
WS238

I confess that I approached this release with interest, but also with a bit of trepidation. The title led me to be cautious about the depth/density of the musical content, and what looked like a rather casual invocation of yoga concepts in the track titles led me to wonder about its overall seriousness. But I can happily report that this is an interesting and musically satisfying album, one that draws on Indian classical tradition without using it as a shallow scrim of spiritual exotica, and that guitarist Stevin McNamara and flutist Gary Stroutsos (playing a bass flute, which brings an unusual and lovely tonality to the proceedings) create music that is both unique and oddly universal. Or maybe not “universal” but rather “nonspecific.” As the artists themselves put it, this album “doesn’t bridge two worlds; it creates its own.”




January 2022


CLASSICAL


Henri Hardouin
Complete Four-part Masses, Volume 2
St. Martin’s Chamber Choir / Timothy J. Krueger
Toccata Classics (dist. Naxos)
TOCC0423

I was deeply impressed by these world-premiere recordings of a cappella masses written just before the French Revolution. Henri Hardouin was maitre de chapelle at Rheims Cathedral until the Revolution forced him into hiding (as a priest, he was in serious danger); he remains deeply obscure, and his works are rarely published or recorded. But these Masses are absolutely gorgeous: simple and straightforward in structure, but melodically sweet and imbued with a golden light of devotion. The St. Martin’s Chamber Choir’s delivery is maybe slightly ragged in a few places, but the group performs these works with a hushed intensity and in a reverberant acoustic that showcase the music perfectly. Every library with a classical music collection should consider picking up this disc, as well as Volume 1.


Franz Anton Dimler
Three Clarinet Concertos
Nikolaus Friedrich; Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester Mannheim / Johannes Willig
CPO (dist. Naxos)
555 209-2

Also from the height of the classical era comes this delightful set of three clarinet concertos written by Franz Anton Dimler, horn player (later double bassist) and composer at the court of Carl Theodor of the Palatinate. These pieces were written near the end of the 18th century, and were probably intended to be played by Dimler’s son, who was a musician in the court at Munich at the time. There are some interesting formal innovations in this music, but the casual listener will be struck primarily by its melodic sweetness with that slight edge of melancholy that is the unique province of the clarinet. Three of the pieces on this outstanding disc represent world-premiere recordings; soloist Nikolaus Friedrich displays consistently lovely tone.


Jacob Regnart
Missa Christ ist erstanden
Cinquecento
Hyperion (dist. Integral)
CDA68369

Various Composers
Josquin’s Legacy
The Gesualdo Six / Owain Park
Hyperion
CDA68379

Throughout 2021 — the 500th anniversary of the death of Josquin des Prez — I kept expecting a bumper crop of new recordings of music by that towering figure in the Franco-Flemish choral tradition. It never really materialized, though that doesn’t mean there weren’t some fine recordings from that tradition. Jacob Regnart is one of the less fully appreciated inheritors of Josquin’s legacy, a Douai-born composer who flourished at the Innsbruck Court of Archduke Ferdinand II. There he used music (notably these two Easter Masses) to help advance the cause of revitalizing Catholicism in Germany in the wake of the Lutheran Reformation. The music is gorgeous, and this recording should help bring more recognition to Regnart’s significant contribution to the development of Renaissance choral music. Other Franco-Flemish composers who followed in Josquin’s footsteps include Adrian Willaert, Jean l’Héritier, Antoine de Févin, and Antoine Brumel, all of whom are featured on the Josquin’s Legacy collection by the Gesualdo Six, which focuses particularly on the influence Josquin had at the court of Ferrara during the late 15th and early 16th century. There are no Mass settings here; instead, the program explores a wide range of motets; some are lamentations on the deaths of fellow composers, some are Latin texts with political overtones; some are works of Marian devotion. Both of these recordings are by small, all-male ensembles, and both feature a surprisingly rich and creamy ensemble sound. Both are highly recommended to all libraries.


Various Composers
Fresca Barocca
Jared Hauser; Christopher Stenstrom; Francis Perry; Polly Brecht
Blue Griffin (dist. Albany)
BGR573

This is a beautifully recorded and sweetly performed collection of oboe sonatas by Handel, Vivaldi, Geminiani, Telemann, and a dance suite by François Couperin. Playing on what seems to be a mix of modern and period instruments, cellist Christopher Stenstrom, lutenist Francis Perry, and harpsichordist Polly Brecht provide support to the outstanding oboist Jared Hauser, whose lightness of touch and purity of tone are a delight throughout. The quality of the compositions themselves is noteworthy too, of course — Telemann’s wonderful F-major sonata is a particular standout, as is the liltingly beautiful sixth suite from Couperin’s Concerts royaux. This would make a fine addition to any library with a collecting interest in baroque music.


JAZZ


Mareike Wiening
Future Memories
Greenleaf Music
GRE-CD-1088

As regular readers will have gathered by now, my tastes in jazz run to the straight-ahead: I tend to favor jazz that swings powerfully, that is melodically tight and coherent, and that works within relatively traditional structures. But there are exceptions, and drummer/composer Mareike Wiening’s second album as a leader is one such. It’s not that her music is “out,” at least in any fundamental sense: it swings (mostly), and it follows well-structured chord progressions. But her progressions are intriguingly impressionistic, often following unusual paths that slip and slide and leave you unsure where she’ll go next. She and her sidemen play with such confident communication, though, that you’ll never be left feeling lost or confused; on a tune like “Dance into July” or the aptly titled ballad “An Idea Is Unpredictable,” you can listen with relaxed confidence that no matter where the changes take you, it will be someplace interesting and lovely. As unusual as it is, this is one of my favorite jazz releases of the year.


Mathias Eick
When We Leave
ECM
2660

Even by ECM standards, this is an unusually lovely and lyrical album of contemporary jazz. Norwegian trumpeter and composer Mathias Eick has become a major figure on the scene in recent years, and on his newest album he leads a septet that, unusually, features two drummers and a steel guitar along with violin, piano, and bass. While this could reasonably lead one to expect cacophony or at least gentle chaos, Eick’s arrangements create just the opposite: the music floats and flows, every musician creating something unique but leaving the others plenty of room to move. There’s a deep melancholy here, reflecting events of the past year, but an equally deep joy. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Eva Cassidy
Live at Blues Alley: 25th Anniversary Edition (reissue)
Blix Street (dist. ADA)
G2-10218

This is a remastered reissue of a landmark album, one that was recorded for the purpose of giving the hair-raisingly talented singer Eva Cassidy something that she and her band could sell at gigs to raise extra money. Several months later she had died of cancer; posthumously, her star rose and she became a multi-platinum-selling artist who found a particularly enthusiastic audience in the UK. If you’re not already familiar with her work, this album clearly demonstrates what all the fuss was about: her voice is one of the wonders of nature. On this set she glides, shouts, and croons her way through jazz standards (“Cheek to Cheek,” “Autumn Leaves,” “What a Wonderful World”), blues burners (“Stormy Monday”), R&B (“Take Me to the River”) and pop (jaw-dropping versions of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Fields of Gold”), leaving her personal stamp on every familiar tune. I can’t say enough about how gorgeous her voice is and how beautifully her band supports her. And the remastered sound is amazing.


Michael Bakan; Brian Hall; Longineu Parsons
A History of the Future (digital only)
Tribal
TR33

Not normally a big fan of jazz ensembles that don’t include a chordal instrument, I nevertheless found myself really enjoying this unusual set by trio Michael Bakan (drums), Brian Hall (bass), and Longineu Parsons (trumpet, cornet, flute, recorder). As tune titles like “St. James Infirm,” “Creole,” and “New Orleans Twisted” would suggest, the compositions tend to be centered on slippery, second-line rhythms, and structurally they don’t seem to hew very consistently to the usual head-solos-head approach: they’re certainly not unstructured, but there’s a looseness to the arrangements that adds to the general sense of fun and extemporaneity — another way in which the spirit of New Orleans imbues this whole album. For all jazz collections.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Valerie Smith
Renaissance
Bell Buckle
BBR4042

There are lots of ways to modernize the bluegrass formula: you can add jazz chord changes, you can add drums and/or electric bass, you can cover pop songs. Or you can do what Valerie Smith does, which is simply use bluegrass instrumentation to accompany rootsy songs that may or may not come from the strict folk or bluegrass tradition, sometimes playing them with that familiar drive and energy and sometimes harnessing the instruments to a more mellow and introspective style. And when you do it with this much skill, the results are consistently impressive — note in particular her take on Jude Johnstone’s gorgeously regretful “On That Train,” and the honky-tonking “Dancing with the Stars.” The intense, bluesy gospel number “The Great I Am” is a highlight, too. Smith’s voice is clear and strong, with a pleasantly grainy edge to it. Highly recommended.


Julie Christensen
11 from Kevin: Songs of Kevin Gordon
Wirebird
No cat. no.

I confess that I had never heard of Kevin Gordon before receiving a copy of this disc for review. But singer/songwriter Julie Christensen has admired her Nashville colleague for years, and now we can all hear why. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop program (where he earned a master’s degree in poetry), Gordon is unusually gifted at crafting evocative and thought-provoking lyrics: on “Fire at the End of the World” his verbal cadence and lyrical imagery intensely recall middle-period Tom Waits, while “Gloryland” is a dark-hued condemnation of religious hypocrisy, which Christensen delivers with prophetic intensity. Christensen’s voice is gritty and her intonation occasionally wavers, but the strength of her delivery is undeniable and the arrangements are both rootsy and rocking.


ROCK/POP


Various Artists
Sacred Soul: The D-Vine Spirituals Records Story, Volumes 1 & 2
Bible & Tire Recording Co.
BTRC018

Juan D. Phipps grew up in Memphis in the 1940s and 1950s, playing music on the sly and swearing he’d never become a preacher like his father. He actually did — but his musical background took him in a slightly different direction. He also started the D-Vine Spirituals label, recording local talent like the Gospelaires, Elizabeth King & the Gospel Souls, the Shaw Singers, and the Pure Heart Travelers and garnering significant local airplay and winning regional competitions. Now 28 of his label’s original 45s are gathered together on these two CDs, and I can promise you they sound different from anything you’ve heard before. This isn’t smooth, tight-harmony gospel music; it’s raw-boned, rocking, occasionally slightly scary gospel music, music that sometimes sounds exactly like 50s and 60s R&B except for the lyrical subject matter. For all pop music collections.


Oneiros Way
The Dawn Is Near (digital only)
Dischi del Minollo
No cat. no.

I keep wanting to say this album is “fun,” but that’s entirely the wrong word. Oneiros Way makes music that explores a dark region between dream pop, trip-hop, synthpop, and shoegaze. Maybe the word “fun” keeps popping into my mind because I love the juddering basslines, or maybe I’m tickled by the group’s occasional language shifts (from Italian to English and back), or maybe it’s the subtle puckishness that emerges from time to time, like with the 6/8 rhythms and synthesized banjo sounds on “Glass Bell” ; I don’t know. I do know that the debut album by this duo, presented only as “Regina” and “Claudio,” contains some of the more engaging pop and pop-adjacent music I heard in 2021.


Robert Görl & DAF
Nur noch Einer
Grönland
CDGRON227

Let’s be very clear about this one, though: the word “fun” will not enter your mind while listening to it. That’s partly because the music of Deutsch Amerikanische Freundshaft (DAF) has been edgy and intense throughout the duo’s 40-year on-and-off career, and it’s partly because the circumstances under which this album was created were sad and disappointing. Multi-instrumentalist Robert Görl and singer/lyricist Gabriel Delgado were scheduled to go back into the studio together after a long hiatus, when Delgado died suddenly of a heart attack. Görl moved forward with recording plans, in large part as a tribute to Delgado, but the shape of the project changed: he and Delgado had been digging through the DAF archives and finding previously-unreleased instrumental tracks, to which the latter was planning to add improvised lyrics in the studio. Instead, Görl wrote and recorded his own. The resulting sound is vintage 1980s electro pop, maybe less “pop” than “electro,” with stiff but energetic beats and lyrics that are declaimed more than sung. To paraphrase David Thomas, this is just the sort of thing for people who like this sort of thing. And I do.


Birds of Passage
The Last Garden
Denovali
DEN366

This is Alicia Merz’s fifth album under the name Birds of Passage, and her first in three years. As always, her music explores a deep inner space that the reclusive artist shares with the world only in this way. Her voice is hushed, breathy, and multi-tracked, making the words a bit hard to discern; the music itself is similarly soft and layered, often invoking artists like Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine, but with less edge (in the latter case) and less melodic hookiness (in the former). There’s a deeply appealing beauty to it, though, and at her best Mertz demonstrates how much you can do with atmosphere and texture. Highly recommended.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Céu
Um Gosto del Sol (digital only)
Urban Jungle/Warner
No cat. no.

The latest from Brazilian singer/songwriter Céu finds her returning to her roots — which is to say, cover versions. This is actually her first cover album, but when she was first getting started as a singer, living in New York and working day jobs, it was performing covers that helped her establish her voice. And now, a couple of decades into a successful career recording her own songs, she’s looking back and interpreting songs by others that have been meaningful to her. They range from the very familiar (“Feelings,” which she manages, against all odds, to make entirely her own, and João Gilberto’s pioneering “Bim Bom”) to songs that only adepts of Brazilian pop are likely to recognize (Ismael Silva’s samba “Ao Romper de Aurora,” Carlos & Jocafi’s “Teimosa”). The settings are all simple but elegant, and largely acoustic, the better to showcase Céu’s delicately gorgeous voice.


Dom la Nena
Tempo
Six Degrees
No cat. no.

And speaking of delicately gorgeous, check out the latest from another top-notch Brazilian talent. Dom La Nena is a singer, songwriter, producer, and cellist originally from Brazil but currently based in Paris. Her latest album is quiet but complex, both musically and emotionally; there’s a sunniness to her songs, but a gentle melancholy as well. All of the sounds were produced by her, including the percussion parts (which were created by tapping on her cello). On songs like “No Tengas Miedo” the parts are gently but densely layered, whereas on others (notably the butterfly-light “Moreno”) every sound feels like it could blow away at any moment. She writes subtle but lovely melodies and sings them in a slightly breathy voice that never feels in any way insubstantial. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Rachel Magoola
Resilience: Songs of Uganda
ARC Music (dist. Naxos)
EUCD2948

On her latest album, legendary Ugandan singer and songwriter Rachel Magoola makes a triumphant return to the world stage with a set of songs that are much more serious than they sound at first listen. If you don’t speak Lusoga, Acholi, Gisu, Ateso, or Rukiga (the languages in which she performs on this album), you’d be hard put to hear the anguish that underlies songs like the sweet and sprightly “Bufuubi” or the frantically bumping and horn-driven “Maama Mutesi.” The theme of “resilience” is very important here; it explains how these songs can be simultaneously so celebratory and so concerned with tribulation and hardship. The music itself is a wonderful, uplifting mix of modern and traditional instruments with beautiful call-and-response vocals. I can’t recommend this one strongly enough.

December 2021


CLASSICAL


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

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


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

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


Georg Benda
Piano Concertos
Howard Shelley; London Mozart Players
Hyperion (dist. Integral)
CDA68361

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


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

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


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

Henry Purcell
Fantazias
Chelys Consort of Viols
BIS (dist. Naxos)
BIS-2583

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


JAZZ


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

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


Gordon Grdina
Pendulum
Attaboygirl
ABG-1

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


Futari
Underground
Libra
202-069

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


Doug MacDonald
Serenade to Highland Park
DMACMUSIC
No cat. no.

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


FOLK/COUNTRY


George Jackson
Hair & Hide
Self-released
GJ-02

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


Legendary Shack Shakers
Cockadoodledeux
Alternative Tentacles
VIRUS 508

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


SUSS
Night Suite (EP; digital only)
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)
NS147

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


ROCK/POP


Deadlights
Deadlights
Thatwasmyskull Music
No cat. no.

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

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


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

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


VILIFY
Illusion of Self (digital/vinyl only)
Ohm Resistance
63M OHM

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


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

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


WORLD/ETHNIC


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

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


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

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


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

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