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October 2019


PICK OF THE MONTH


Josquin des Prés; Noel Bauldeweyn
Missa Mater Patris; Missa da pacem
Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips
Gimell (dist. PIAS)
CDGIM 052

“Our project to record all of Josquin’s Masses now runs into controversy,” says Peter Phillips in the accompanying materials to the latest recording from the always-magnificent Tallis Scholars, leading exponents of the Oxbridge school of Renaissance choral performance. And in fact, the musicological controversy here is real: Missa Mater Patris is strikingly different from most of Josquin’s oeuvre, simultaneously so simple in construction and so unusual in textural organization that some scholars have questioned whether it’s correctly attributed to him. In acknowledgement of this controversy, for this recording the group has paired that Mass with one that was for many years attributed to Josquin–indeed, was seen as one of the most perfect examples of his style–but that is now generally attributed to his virtually unknown Flemish near-contemporary Noel Bauldeweyn. This is one of those recordings that simultaneously provides exceptional scholarly value and a ravishing listening experience.


CLASSICAL


Eric Sessler
The Curtis Session: Dreams of Life Awake
Dover Quartet
Bimperl Entertainment & Media
No cat. no.

Eric Sessler’s Dreams from Life Awake is a four-movement work commissioned by the brilliant and dynamic young Dover Quartet. This recording was made in a single take at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, back in 2013, and it finds the Dovers successfully, even joyfully, negotiating a work that is by turns romantically expressive and bustlingly modernistic. I use the word “bustling” advisedly; after the gentle second movement and the astringent third, the fourth brings to mind mental images of a busy mid-century New York avenue. Sessler’s particular genius is to blend forward-thinking harmonic innovation with genuine accessibility, and the Dovers’ genius is to bring it to engaging, exciting life. This recording is yet another triumph for one of the most exciting chamber ensembles in the country. (Note: Although this recording is being released in CD format, it’s currently only available as a download. Watch the space to which I’ve linked above, and hopefully the CD will become available there shortly.)


Anton Reicha
Quatuor scientifique
Reicha Quartet
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95857
Rick’s Pick

Musicologists tend to think of Anton Reicha as a theorist, while contemporary listeners are more likely to think of him as a composer of wind quintets. On this recording we get to experience him both as a theoretician pushing boundaries and developing new structural ideas and as a chamber-music composer. Opening with an eleven-minute fantasy for string quartet called La Pantomime, the remainder of the program consists of a twelve-section exploration of fugal forms, with eight fugues inserted among the standard four movements of a string quartet. (The work’s overall title represents Reicha’s belief that the fugue itself is a “scientific” form.) Neither of the two works presented here was ever published; both exist only in manuscript form, and this is the world-premiere recording of both. The playing (on modern instruments) is excellent. Highly recommended to all classical collections.


Ludwig Van Beethoven
A Beethoven Odyssey, Volume 6
James Brawn
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1470

This is the sixth volume in pianist James Brawn’s ongoing survey of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and on this one he focuses on three “Grand” sonatas composed between 1796 and 1801: number 4, op. 7; number 11, op. 22; and number 12, op. 26. The first sonata in the program is grand indeed: clocking in at almost 30 minutes in length, it’s Beethoven’s second-longest (after the “Hammerklavier”). The sonata number 12 is one of his more unusually-structured pieces, and number 11 is one of which Beethoven was particularly proud. On all of them Brawn plays with that particular balance of fire and elegance that is uniquely necessary to effectively convey Beethoven’s genius. All classical collections would be well advised to follow the progress of this series.


Various Composers
New World
Sirius Quartet
Zoho (dist. MVD)
ZM201908

New York’s Sirius Quartet put together this program as an “artistic reaction to the seismic disruptions caused by the election of US President Trump in 2016.” It consists of works either written or arranged by members of the quartet, and includes arrangements of pop songs by the Beatles (“Eleanor Rigby”) and Radiohead (“Knives Out”). Stylistically, the music tends to be veer from tense and angry to elegiac, as one might expect: violinist Fung Chern Hwei’s arrangement of Stanley Myers’ “Cavatina” is simple, lovely, and deeply sad; violinist Gregor Huebner’s arrangement of “Knives Out” is a frenetic, herky-jerk splutter of rage and frustration. The original compositions are the biggest draw here, though, and are stylistically varied and passionately rendered.


Various Composers
Mare Balticum Vol. 2: Medieval Finland and Sweden
Ensemble Peregrina (Basel) / Agnieszka Budzińska-Bennett
Tacet (dist. Naxos)
S 248

The first volume in this series, the stated purpose of which is to explore the medieval music of the Baltic Sea region (and which garnered a Rick’s Pick designation in the May 2018 issue of CD HotList), was devoted to music from Denmark. The second one focuses on Finland and Sweden, with a particular emphasis on chants that were unique to the Birgittine Order in the 14th century or that were composed in praise of St. Birgitta, patron saint of Sweden. Other selections come from the Åbo Gradual and Piae cantiones ecclesiastical et scholastic veteran episcoporum collections, and the program offers a nicely varied array of plainchant, part songs, hymns, antiphons, and sequences, all sung with magnificent clarity and purity by the members of Ensemble Pelegrina. For all collections.


Francisco Peñalosa; Pedro de Escobar; Francisco Guerrero
Lamentationes
New York Polyphony
BIS (dist. Naxos)
BIS-2407
Rick’s Pick

There are lots of Biblical texts that have attracted the attention of composers throughout history, and one of the most irresistible has been the Book of Lamentations–a set of five poems in which the prophet Jeremiah deplores the destruction of Jerusalem, calling on its people to repent. This absolutely stunning recording gathers together settings of those texts, alongside related ones, from three pillars of the Spanish Renaissance: Francisco Peñalosa, Pedro de Escobar, and Francisco Guerrero. As one would expect, the music is somber, dark, and deeply sad. As one might not expect, the four-voice, all-male ensemble New York Polyphony somehow manage to sound like a much larger and more diverse choir; I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a richer sound from such a small single-gender ensemble. Much of this music has been very rarely recorded, and this album should be considered a must-purchase for any library with a collecting interest in Renaissance music.


Johann Friedrich Fasch
Quartets and Concertos (reissue)
Ensemble Marsyas; Peter Whelan; Pamela Thorby
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKR 467

Fasch is not a name that usually comes up in conversations about the baroque masters, but during his 36-year career at the court of Anhalt-Zerbst during the first part of the 18th century he composed music that was both well-loved and influential throughout Europe. This is a nicely organized program of chamber music for various combinations of wind and string instruments, including a remarkably virtuosic bassoon concerto and an unusual quartet scored for horn, oboe, violin, and continuo. Although the quartet for recorder, oboe, violin, and continuo is one of Fasch’s more popular compositions, much of the rest of this music will be unfamiliar to most listeners, and the playing by Ensemble Marsyas (on period instruments) is exemplary. (Originally issued in 2014.)


Pauline Kim Harris
Heroine
Sono Luminus (dist. Naxos)
DSL-92235
Rick’s Pick

Almost 45 years ago, Brian Eno released a foundational recording in the genre of ambient music. It was titled Discreet Music, and the first side of the album featured a long, soothing composition of the same title. But side 2 offered something different and much more radical: its “Three Variations on the Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel” was a violent (though gentle-sounding) deconstruction of that popular work, accomplished by instructing a string ensemble to play its parts at shifting tempos, creating wild dissonances and other unpredictable effects. With the two pieces presented on her solo debut album, violinist and composer Pauline Kim Harris has closed the circle that Eno opened in 1975, creating two more-or-less ambient works based on deconstructions of baroque and Renaissance masterworks: the chaconne from Bach’s D-minor partita, and a 15th-century canon by Johannes Ockeghem. In collaboration with Spencer Topel, she created a process in which a live performer and an electronic feedback system interact with each other, generating new tones and textures as the work unfolds. The resulting music is eerie, unpredictable, and deeply moving. Highly recommended to all libraries.


JAZZ


Noah Preminger Group
Zigsaw: Music of Steve Lampert
Self-released
No cat. no.

Tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger is always worth hearing, and this is an unusually unique and ambitious project, even by his standards. The album consists of a single track, a 49-minute-long piece by composer Steve Lampert. It’s built on a knotty, almost dodecaphonic-sounding melody that unspools quickly and in highly regular time before giving way to three succeeding sections: an instrumental solo, a brief recapitulation of the melody, and then what he calls a “fantasy section” before the process begins again; the process repeats 12 times. Preminger leads a septet of uncommon virtuosity (as the piece requires), but his solos are particularly impressive. This recording is a prime example of how well jazz and modern classical traditions can blend, in the right hands.


Carmen Sandim
Play Doh
Ropeadope
RAD-521
Rick’s Pick

This is the first recording I’ve heard from pianist/composer Carmen Sandim, and I found it to be something of a revelation. Each one of these tunes (written for a septet of trumpet, trombone, reeds, guitar, and piano trio) led me to take note of something different about her writing: the subtle but fun hocketing on “Aruru, Juju”; the ways she plays with triple meters on “Aura-Cecilia”; the way that “Undergrowth” felt a bit like art-for-art’s-sake to me; the lovely and counterintuitive way that “Isaura” was a ballad that somehow grooved at midtempo; the way the head to “Me Gusta la Angustia” crept slowly and angularly into a lyrical and relaxed piano solo, etc. The playing is all beautiful, and the digital version of the album includes two bonus tracks (both featuring vocals). Very, very nice.


Chick Corea Trio
Trilogy 2 (2 discs)
Concord Jazz
CJA00183

Say what you want about his fusion work in the 1970s–like many fusioneers, pianist/composer Chick Corea is also a master of straight-ahead jazz, and his second outing at the head of a trio featuring bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade (the first was 2014’s three-disc extravaganza Trilogy) is a masterwork of standards interpretation, beautifully recorded over the course of the group’s recent world tour. The twelve tunes on the program include three Corea originals that can today fairly be called standards (“500 Miles High,” “La Fiesta,” and “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs”), as well as two Thelonious Monk compositions (“Crepuscule with Nellie,” “Work”) and American Songbook classics like “How Deep Is the Ocean” and “But Beautiful.” What makes the playing of this group special is the way that each player harnesses his virtuosity so effectively and tastefully–stepping out and blowing when appropriate, but always serving the song first, and making respectful room for everyone else. For all jazz collections.


Florian Hoefner Trio
First Spring
ALMA (dist. MVD)
ACD83092

I’ve been following Florian Hoefner’s career for some time now, and his latest album took me a bit by surprise. This time out he’s leading a piano trio rather than his usual quartet, and while you might expect that to mean a more traditional sound, you’d be mistaken. Yes, the group swings hard when it wants to, but they’re just as likely to play in a more impressionistic, less rhythmically-driven style–and while there are three Hoefner compositions on the program, the focus is on other people’s tunes, and on settings of folk songs: “Maid on the Shore,” “Rain and Snow,” and the Armenian folk song “Yoosin Yelav” (based on a setting by Luciano Berio). There’s a bit more arco bass than you’d normally expect on a jazz recording, often employed to approximate the sound of a fiddle, and generally speaking this is a remarkably and fresh and original-sounding album. Highly recommended.


John Yao’s Triceratops
How We Do (digital only)
See Tao Recordings
003

If you’re going to write about music in a useful and intelligent way, one of the things you have to do is figure out how to maintain a certain amount of separation between your personal tastes and your critical faculties. Can you recognize great music even if you don’t personally enjoy it that much? This is something I have to do all the time, and one of the personal tastes that I have to try to keep separate from my analysis is my strong preference for jazz combos that feature at least one chordal instrument. John Yao’s Triceratops is a quintet led by trombonist and composer John Yao, alongside saxophonists Billy Drewes and Jon Irabagon, bassist Peter Brendler, and drummer Mark Ferber. Having multiple wind instruments helps to fill the harmonic space left empty by the absence of a keyboard or guitar, of course, but in this case what’s more important is the fact that Yao writes music that actually benefits from the lack of chordal thickening: it’s frequently and significantly contrapuntal, and the relatively spare instrumental textures help keep those multiple intertwining lines clear. Yao and his group also have a winning way of being tight and boppy (or funky) one minute, free and skronky the next, and then snapping back into tight formation. This is fairly challenging, but highly rewarding music.


Mike Pachelli
High Standards
Fullblast Recordings
FBR2219
Rick’s Pick

There are lots of things to like about the playing of guitarist Mike Pachelli. The way he often sounds like he can barely restrain himself from sliding into blues phrasing, for example–or his exuberant tendency to suddenly and brilliantly overplay, not in a way that communicates show-offiness, but rather that feels like an organic expression of musical joy. (It’s hard to tell what he loves more: chord solos or sudden bursts of chromatic 32nd-note runs.) Then there’s his powerful sense of swing and the palpable love he brings to this program of genuinely hoary standards: “When You’re Smiling,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “What a Wonderful World”–these are the moldiest of jazz chestnuts, and he makes them all sound fresh and new. Oh, and let’s not forget his choice of sidemen, which is jaw-dropping: bassist Tony Levin (yes, that Tony Levin) and drummer Danny Gottlieb. What it all adds up to is a disc of pure, unadulterated jazz pleasure. For all collections.


Ola Onabulé
Point Less
Rugged Ram
RRAMCD15

We’ll call this one “jazz,” though singer-songwriter Ola Onabulé has long bestrode multiple genre categories. His background includes extensive gigging with small combos and big bands around Europe, and although it’s clear that jazz remains foundational to his art, on Point Less he is putting jazz tropes to use in promoting a vision that is at least as much social and political as musical. With his warm, grainy voice, he tells stories about the aftermath of violence, the effects of prejudice, and the spiritual gravity exerted by one’s homeland. The messages, however well-intentioned, would be ineffective if the music were less compelling, but these songs are powerful both musically and lyrically, and his voice is a consistent joy to hear. He’s performing a few select dates on the US east coast this fall, so keep an eye out for him–I’m willing to bet that he’s a powerhouse in concert.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Debra Cowan
Greening the Dark
Muzzy House Music
MHM 819
Rick’s Pick

Debra Cowan has selected an oustanding (if, at six tracks and 23 minutes, far too brief) program of new and old folk and folk-rock tunes for her latest collaborative project with drummer, producer, and arranger Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson Band). Traditional songs and modern compositions by Lal Waterson, John Tams, Richard Thompson and others all rub shoulders companionably, ably served by Cowan’s rich and powerful voice and by Mattacks’ gently-but-sturdily rocking arrangements. Highlights include a wonderful rendition of Thompson’s “The Old Changing Way” and Emily Portman’s update of the traditional song “Bones and Feathers.” There’s just something special about this album, which is recommended to all collections.


Jason James
Seems Like Tears Ago
Melodyville
No cat. no.

To call this music traditional honky-tonk country would be to understate things considerably: when Jason James started singing on the album’s title track, I had to double-check and make sure I hadn’t accidentally cued up an old George Jones disc. But as the program goes on, his individuality gradually makes itself more clearly felt: yes, his style is deeply traditional, not to say derivative, but James is putting old-school tropes to work in service of an organic and personal vision. A couplet like “Lovin’ you is like sleeping on the tracks/I’m just waiting around to die” is worthy of Hank Williams, and if he sounds a bit like Johnny Cash on that song and a bit like Big Sandy on “We’re Gonna Honky Tonk Tonight,” there’s nothing wrong with that. All of the songs are originals, and every one takes old musical ideas and brings them to new life. An outstanding debut from a major talent.


Dori Freeman
Every Single Star
Blue Hens Music
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

There ought to be a word for the particular feeling of delight I get when I open a package and see that it contains a new album from Dori Freeman. One of the most consistently brilliant practitioners of contemporary folk/country music, her albums are always filled with songs both affecting and powerful, anchored by perfect arrangements and always given a burnished sheen by the natural wonder that is Freeman’s voice: smooth but not off-puttingly polished, clear but imbued with color; strong but never aggressive. This one, produced again by the equally brilliant Teddy Thompson, is filled with delights as always: note the subtly crooked rhythms on “That’s How I Feel” and “Like I Do”; the subtly Caribbean lilt of “All I Ever Wanted” (which reminds me of “Blue Bayou” as reimagined by Eleni Mandel); the gentle dream-polka backbeat of “Another Time”; the constant thread of wonder as she contemplates parenthood and new love. For all collections.


ROCK/POP


Azam Ali
Phantoms (digital only)
Terrestrial Lane Productions
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Iranian-American singer Azam Ali has had a long recording career already, mainly at the helm of the bands VAS and Niyaz, with whom she has explored various ways of blending American and European electro-pop sounds with the musical traditions of the Middle East and South Asia. But on her latest solo effort she moves from Middle Eastern electro-pop into defiantly 1980s-flavored shoegaze synth pop (a move made explicit by her cover of Cocteau Twins’ “Shallow Then Halo”). There are still certainly hints of Middle Eastern influence here–the occasional modal melody, the occasional shimmering santour–but the overall flavor is very European, quite Goth, and frequently funky. The album is actually something of a paean to the music of her adolescence, when she was steeped not only in various world-music traditions but also the recordings of Dead Can Dance, Joy Division, Nine Inch Nails, and Ministry. This album is a dark-hued but utterly engrossing delight from start to finish.


Middlemarch
The Mirror and the Light
Carpe Sonum
SEIZE-XLVI

About five years ago, Dimitris Avramidis and Ross Baker released the album Wolf Hall under the collective name Middlemarch. It consisted of piano pieces, recorded with heavy echo and sounding like they’d been played on an old and not terribly well-tuned upright piano. That combination of dense reverb and slightly questionable intonation gave the music an elegiac and slightly otherworldly flavor–like something that might have been played by the ghost of Harold Budd. Even more interesting is The Mirror and the Light, which consists of remixed versions of the tracks from Wolf Hall. Remix albums are more commonly a feature of the dance-music realm, so this project is pretty unusual. The producers involved (who include Riz Maslen, Zinovia Arvanitidi, and Shain Entezami) take a variety of approaches, some of them altering the original tracks fairly minimally, while others create eerie and abstract ambient soundscapes (Brian Dougans, on “The Dead Complain of Their Burial”) and others take small fragments of the orginal tracks and build new compositions around them (Tim Dwyer’s gorgeous take on “Angels”) or incorporate subtle elements of electronic funk (Arvanitidi’s mix of “The Dead Complain of Their Burial”). Both discs are great, but I have to say that the remix collection is quite special.


Fastball
The Help Machine
33 1/3 (dist. Redeye)
FBL-002
Rick’s Pick

You can always count on Fastball. You may love them or not, but you can always count on them: you can count on Tony Scalzo to write heart-stoppingly beautiful songs with lots of chords, and you can count on Miles Zuniga to write solid meat-and-potatoes rockers that will keep your foot tapping and keep you trying to harmonize while you drive around listening in your car. And on their latest album you can count on producer Steve Berlin (of Los Lobos fame) to create a consistently crisp and crunchy soundfield for those songs, rendering as nearly perfect a modern rock album as you could ask for.


Meemo Comma
Sleepmoss (vinyl/digital only)
Planet Mu (dist. Redeye)
ZIQ409

The prize for Artist Pseudonym of the Year goes to Lara Rix-Martin, a producer based in Brighton, England who records under the name Meemo Comma. This is her second release, and it’s something of a concept album: all of its abstract, eerie, and often deeply weird soundscapes are intended to reflect “the glory of solitude and the richness of romance that can be found in nature.” This isn’t program music; you’re not going to hear anything as specific as a musical evocation of the sound of the wind over the South Downs or the crash and murmur of waves on the beach. Instead, Rix-Martin is interested in exploring the human feelings that are created in our interactions with nature, and especially with nature at its wildest, most lonely, and most uncontrollable. Some of this music is quiet and contemplative, but sometimes it’s downright disturbing, which is exactly what she intends. Highly recommended.


The Well Wishers
The Lost Soundtrack
thatwasmyskullmusic
No cat. no.

Yet another slab of world-class power pop from Jeff Shelton, former frontman for Bay Area favorites the Spinning Jennies and now the guy who plays all the guitars, the bass, and the drums, and who sings all the vocal parts for the Well Wishers. His latest album has a pretty interesting back story: in 2014, Shelton was commissioned to write songs for a movie soundtrack. He worked on the project for more than a year, but then things started going sideways–and, as they often do, the film ended up being shelved. A few years later, Shelton decided that the songs shouldn’t suffer the same fate; thus, this album. And sure enough, the songs are great, in the way Well Wishers songs always are: dense without being heavy, crunchy without being painful, sweet without being saccharine. It’s fun to listen and try to figure out what the movie would have been about.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Rez Abbasi Silent Ensemble
A Throw of Dice
Whirlwind
WR4741

For this unusual and truly wonderful recording, guitarist and composer Rez Abbasi created a soundtrack for a 1929 Indian-German silent film called A Throw of Dice: A Romance of India. Instead of writing music that might sound like it came from the 1920s (some early hot jazz, say, or Indian classical music), Abbasi wrote music that draws on jazz and on Indian music, but that also takes freely from whatever traditions are necessary in order to support and amplify the emotions and events taking place on the screen. The result is a coherent but constantly shifting array of elements: sitar-guitar, saxophones, bansuri, Indian percussion, modern drum set, upright bass, etc. Heard separately from the movie, the music feels at once organic and mysterious, faintly programmatic but not fully tethered to any specific visual narrative. It must be even better in the context of the film, but it’s consistently interesting and enjoyable as a listening experience.


Origin One
Deeply Rooted (digital & vinyl only)
Nice Up!
NUPLP005
Rick’s Pick

This is a nicely varied collection of modern reggae (and reggae-adjacent) tracks from Nottingham artist Kevin Thomson, who records under the name Origin One. He’s the writer and producer, but what you hear front and center is a succession of A-list guest vocalists representing various facets of the UK scene, including Parly B (“Mi Bredren”), Soom T (“Jah Jah”), and Gardna (on “Nice & Easy,” a lovely combination track with the sweet-voiced singer Nanci Correia). And you’ve got the requisite horticultural anthem (“High Grade”), a sturdy reggae/hip-hop fusion tune featuring singjay K.O.G. Thomson keeps his sound solidly centered in vintage UK roots tradition, but also delves into jungle, bashment, and grime sounds, making this not only a wonderfully engaging listening experience but also an outstanding survey of what’s happening in the UK reggae universe at the moment. Highly recommended.


Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party
Live at WOMAD 1985
Real World (dist. PIAS)
CDRW225
Rick’s Pick

For anyone who thinks devotional music can’t be fun, I have four words: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Perhaps the greatest (and certainly the most famous) exponent of qawwali, a style of Sufi Muslim praise singing that is hugely popular in Pakistan and North India, Khan was not yet world famous in 1985, but this performance would launch him to global acclaim. That year, Khan and his group were invited to perform at Peter Gabriel’s annual World of Music, Art, and Dance (WOMAD) festival in England. At about midnight on a Saturday night, they set up onstage: two rows of men and one young boy, two of them playing the harmonium (a bellows-driven keyboard), one playing tabla, and everyone clapping and singing along in response as Khan wove complex and ecstatic melismas out of melodies that were complicated to begin with. The performance was astounding, and frankly still is, and the recording of it has never been commercially released before–so this album is both a surprise and a treasure.


Go: Organic Orchestra and Brooklyn Raga Massive
Ragmala: A Garland of Ragas (2 discs)
Meta/BRM
023

Occupying a liminal space somewhere in the fuzzy borderlands that separate classical Indian music, big band jazz, and contemporary Western art music, this two-disc album is an expression of the unique “future orchestra” vision of Adam Rudolph, founder of Go: Organic Orchestra. For this project he got his group together with Brooklyn Raga Massive, a collective that celebrates Indian classical tradition while also pushing it in unusual directions, and he created a program consisting of 20 pieces that rely on a blend of notated music and improvisation and that draw on musical genres and traditions from around the globe–Gnawa singing, jazzy horn charts, Afro-funk, Indian ragas, klezmer clarinets, Afro-Cuban rhythms, etc. The result could have been a chaotic mess of self-conscious multiculturalism, but instead it comes across as a brilliantly colored kaleidoscope of sounds and textures–not always completely compelling (how could it be?) but frequently brilliant and at certain points tremendously fun.


Hope Masike
The Exorcism of a Spinster
Riverboat (dist. Redeye)
TUGCD1122
Rick’s Pick

Mmmmmmm… Hope Masike. Not only is she one of the most impressive singers on the African continent and a pioneer as a female player of the mbira (traditionally an instrument played only by men), she’s also got an amazing melodic gift. A new album from her is always an event to be cherished, and her latest is no exception. Throughout The Exorcism of a Spinster, she blends African and Western musical elements seamlessly, and to beautiful effect: listen to the interweaving guitar lines on “Ndoitasei,” the complex call-and-response harmonies on “Zunde,” and the gently propulsive and complex polyrhythms on the title track. Every song has little revelations to offer, and the album is yet another triumph from this outstanding artist.

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September 2019


PICK OF THE MONTH


Art Pepper
Promise Kept: The Complete Artists House Recordings (reissue; 5 discs)
Omnivore
OVCD-333

First, the backstory: back in the early 1970s, Art Pepper was emerging from a long period of drug addiction and periodic incarceration and trying to get back into the jazz scene. Producer John Snyder had wanted to record him for years, and got him booked at the Village Vanguard for a week–but Pepper’s contractual obligations to the Contemporary label made it impossible for Snyder to release the resulting live recordings on his label, so Pepper promised to record an album in the studio for Snyder. When the time came to do so, they ended up making four albums together: So in Love, Artworks, New York Album, and Stardust. The rhythm sections Snyder assembled are jaw-droppping: Hank Jones, Ron Carter, and Al Foster on two albums; George Cables, Charlie Haden, and Billy Higgins on the other two. Much of this material has been released previously in a variety of physical and online formats, but in addition to the original albums, this set contains 19 tracks from the sessions that have never been released in any form previously. There are so many treasures here: Pepper’s relaxed, agile navigation of “Anthropology” on the clarinet, in a piano-less trio setting; a beautifully affecting solo saxophone rendition of “Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be)” (and another solo rendition of the same tune on clarinet). You can hear Pepper starting to stretch out his style a bit here, expanding from the straight-ahead West Coast cool approach that characterized his 1950s recordings and moving in the more adventurous directions of his late-1970s and early-1980s work. This is a treasure trove for library jazz collections.


CLASSICAL


Claude Debussy
Of Motion and Dance: Piano Music of Claude Debussy
Jerry Wong
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1678

Because he’s such a household name–one of a handful of composers that virtually anyone can name, no matter how little attention they pay to classical music–it’s easy to forget how deeply weird Debussy’s music could be. Often characterized as “impressionistic,” it might be more accurate to say that Debussy did for piano music what Mahler did for orchestral music, in that he effectively served as the midwife for the Romantic era’s delivery of its modernistic child. This collection is organized around the idea of physical movement and dance, and finds pianist Jerry Wong interpreting a wide variety of brief pieces in a program centered on Debussy’s celebrated Suite bergamasque (which is patterned on the baroque dance suite). Wong never argues the dance idea too strenuously, but he does make clear the connections between the pieces in this highly varied set. Highly recommended.


Johann Sebastian Bach
Sonatas & Partitas for Violin (2 discs)
Johnny Gandelsman
In a Circle
ICR010
Rick’s Pick

Recognizing that solo violin music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and recognizing further that solo violin music by Bach can reasonably be expected to sound dry and academic, I nevertheless encourage anyone who’s skeptical to seriously consider this outstanding account of Bach’s magisterial set of three sonatas and three partitas for unaccompanied violin. Are these works virtuosic? Yes, of course they are. But they are also by turns fun, dark, contemplative, sprightly, thrilling, and knotty. There moments where the virtuosity is technical and will leave you disbelieving that only one violin is being played; at other moments, the virtuosity is that of invention and harmonic mastery, as the violinist manages to create virtual chords out of single lines (and, of course, double-stops). Johnny Gandelsman’s playing is exquisite, and the production is centrally important: the sound is dry-ish and intimate, but still rich with color. For all classical collections.


Various Composers
Treasures of Devotion: European Spiritual Song ca. 1500
Boston Camerata / Anne Azéma
Music & Arts (dist. Naxos)
CD-1296

For 65(!) years now, the Boston Camerata has been one of America’s most beloved and respected early-music ensembles, known not only for its musical expertise but also for the innovation and creativity of its concert and recording programming. The group’s latest release is a collection of sacred music written not for liturgical or ceremonial (or even public) events such as worship services or ritual celebration, but rather for private devotion. These are songs by which the devout, whether alone or in a family setting, would call for intercession from various saints, or celebrate the Christmas season, or encourage themselves and each other to greater piety and religious dedication. Some were written to the tunes of popular (even bawdy) songs of the period, while others are original songs written by such familiar names as Alexander Agricola, Josquin Desprez, Claudin de Sermisy, and Ludwig Senfl. Most of them are monodic, a single voice being accompanied by varying combinations of lute, viols, harp, and hurdy gurdy. The singing is pure and lovely, and the recorded sound is warm and clear. For all early music collections.


Francesco Tristano
Tokyo Stories
Sony Classical
19075927602

It’s fun to see more and more recordings coming out that blur the lines between the classical, jazz, and electronic genres. This release is by pianist/composer Francesco Tristano, who fell in love with the city of Tokyo while he was a teenaged Juilliard student, and has since returned to the city over and over again. The pieces collected here are intended to reflect his experiences there; it’s not tone poetry exactly, but rather a program of musical treatments of very subjective impressions and feelings about the place. The piano is central to each track, but contributions from other musicians are included as well (notably saxophonist Michel Portal and tabla player U-zhaan) and subtle electronic elements are threaded throughout the compositions. This is very lovely, deeply reflective music.


Carl Stone
Himalaya
Unseen Worlds
UW028CD

And speaking of musicians whose work spans genres, here’s another intriguing, engrossing, and slightly exhausting album from Carl Stone (whose Baroo I recommended here just a few months ago). As with his previous release, on this one he takes previously-existing recordings and chops and loops them up into something completely new–though this time, his source material comes from various parts of Asia. The music is characterized by a steady pulse and often by an actual groove, but the kaleidoscopic variety and relentless energy of sounds contained within that rhythmic framework are dizzyingly complex. Don’t try to do anything else while you’re listening to this music, but do listen to it.


Johann Sebastian Bach
Bach Reworks (LP and digital only)
Víkingur Ólafsson
Deutsche Grammophon
0 28948 35831 1
Rick’s Pick

And, gosh, I guess there’s no reason to let this thread die–here’s yet another outstanding (and also completely different) example of how classical and electronic remix culture can interact. What we have here is a collection of Bach transcriptions performed by the exceptional Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson–but with a difference. His recordings of these pieces have been reconfigured, remixed, and generally reconceived to varying degrees of radicalness by such contemporary artists as Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ben Frost, Valgeir Sigurðsson, and Peter Gregson. In most cases the reworkings are quite gentle and unintrusive, and the mood of the whole album is generally quiet and contemplative. But there is some serious weirdness here: Frost’s “Ladder Mix” of the Prelude BWV 855a is almost entirely unrecognizable and quite dark, while Valgeir Sigurðsson treatment of the same track turns it into glitchy near-synthpop; Sakamoto’s rework of the adagio movement from BWV974 (Bach’s keyboard arrangement of Marcello’s oboe concerto) is both chilly and sonically enormous. The whole thing is gorgeous and strange and really quite wonderful.


Edith Hemenway
To Paradise for Onions
Claron McFadden; Roberta Alexander, et al.
Etcetera (dist. MVD)
KTC 1632

These six sets of songs and instrumental chamber works by American composer Edith Hemenway (arranged for varying combinations of voice, clarinet, cello, and piano) are all presented here in world-premiere recordings. Hemenway began her musical career as an organist, but soon discovered that she had a particular talent for composing art song; she later went on to write several children’s operas as well. The songs on this program are performed by sopranos Claron McFadden and Roberta Alexander, who are excellent, but what really grabbed me were the pieces written for clarinetist Nancy Braithwaite–who is also the performer on these recordings, alongside cellist Michael Stirling and pianist Vaughan Schlepp. Hemenway’s writing navigates beautifully that narrow space between bracing modernism and aching lyricism–Asian Figures has a particularly vinegary loveliness–and the performances on this disc are outstanding. For all classical collections.


Maryanne Amacher
Petra
Marianne Schroeder; Stefan Tcherepnin
Blank Forms Editions
BF-005

Maryanne Amacher (1938-2009) was better known as a sound-installation artist and explorer of psychoacoustics than as a conventional composer, and this is the first-ever commercial recording of one of her pieces for musical instruments other than tape or installed machines. Written for two pianos, Petra was commissioned for the ISCM World Music Days in Switzerland back in 1991, and while it has been publicly performed several times, this is the first time it’s been recorded for release. It’s a very interesting work, one that is characterized less by harmonic than by textural progression, with passages of spiky dissonance flowing into moments of pulsing, consonant repetition and sections of near-silence. Libraries collecting heavily in 20th-century music should definitely consider picking this one up.


Various Composers
Florilegium Portense: Motets & Hymns (Selection)
Vocal Concert Dresden; Capella Sagttariana Dresden / Peter Kopp
Carus (dist. Naxos)
83.492

The Florilegium Portense is a collection of sacred motets compiled from the work of such composers as Hieronymus Praetorius, Hans Leo Hassler, Giovanni Gabrieli, and Jacobus Gallus (as well as relatively obscure figures like Sethus Calvisius and Andreas Pevernage) and printed in 1618. Distributed widely to church and school choirs and court chapels at the time, it was important not only as a collection of significant musical works but also as a distribution method for Lutheran doctrinal teaching, principles of which are embedded throughout the sung texts–this despite the fact that the composers represented here include notable Catholics. As one might expect, the grandeur of these songs is somewhat restrained, though Orlando di Lasso’s Confitebor tibi Domine and Adam Gumpelhaimer’s magnificent Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum are certainly not lacking in intensity. The vocal performances here are outstanding, and the Lukaskirche of Dresden provides a perfect acoustic–just reverberant enough, without muddying the music.


JAZZ


Eliane Elias
Love Stories
Concord Jazz
CJA00140

The title says it all: this is a smooth, sweet, lush, and gently rolling collection of jazz and pop love songs, all delivered with a bossa flavor by one of the smoothest and lushest of all jazz singers–and a very fine pianist, to boot. The track that will induce a chuckle is her bossa version of the 1970s bedroom-schlock classic “Baby Come to Me,” a song that Elias makes attractive without downplaying its schlockiness. Instead she inhabits and elevates it (somewhat, anyway) with restraint and a whispering sexiness. Elsewhere she delivers a similarly gentle and lovely rendition of “Come Fly With Me” and several fine originals. I’m not sure the orchestral strings were necessary, or at least not on every track, but this is a great album overall.


Ateshkhan Yuseinov
Strange Suite
Riverboat (dist. Redeye)
TUGCD1123

Here we move from the smooth, gentle and lush to the sharply challenging and virtuosic. Ateshkhan Yuseinov is a guitarist of truly jaw-dropping virtuosity, one whose lightning-fast solo lines bring to mind a young John McLaughlin–though one less interested in India and more interested in the Balkans. Yuseinov hails from Bulgaria, and you can hear it everywhere in his compositions, which feature not only lightning tempos but also vinegary melodies and complex rhythmic structures. Too often hotshot guitarist satisfy themselves with showing off, but Yuseinov is doing much more than that: he’s demonstrating what can happen when jazz fuses with Balkan folk music, and how much fun it can be–especially when you team up with a world-class beatboxer. I don’t recommend listening to this one in the car unless you want to get a ticket.


Mathias Lévy
Unis Vers
Harmonia Mundi (dist. PIAS)
HMM 902506

Eagle-eyed observers will see the details of this disc–an album by an accomplished jazz violinist, playing the instrument famously owned by the late Stéphane Grappelli, accompanied mainly by an acoustic guitarist and a bassist–and will think “Ah! Another celebration of the Gypsy/Manouche jazz tradition.” It’s a reasonable expectation, one that is completely undermined within the first couple of minutes of music. While the Gypsy jazz tradition is certainly being honored here, Lévy’s compositions can only be called “jazz” in the most abstract sense. The music is both lyrical and astringent, by turns soaringly tuneful and sharply dissonant, while always expressng that aching sense of longing that so often characterized the best of Django Reinhardt’s and Stéphane Grappelli’s compositions and performances. There is usually a regular meter, but rarely anything that could reasonably be called a groove. In short, this is modern and expressionistic music that gains meaning from its positioning in a jazz context, but expresses something very different from what we expect jazz to express. Highly recommended.


David Finck
BASSically Jazz
Green Hill Music/Burton Avenue Music
GHD6210
Rick’s Pick

A great album with a terrible title, this release is led by bassist David Finck, who has played behind everyone from Phil Woods and Paquito D’Rivera to George Michael and Kenny Rankin. Here he steps out as a leader and arranger, creating wonderful versions of both familiar standards and surprising newer tunes (the theme from Narcos, anyone?), constantly demonstrating not only his virtuosity but also–even more importantly–his taste. Check out, for example, his utterly lovely arco rendition of “When I Look in Your Eyes,” which is noteworthy: too few jazz bassists can convincing pull off an arco solo, especially on a ballad that features long sustained tones and brutally exposes any weaknesses of intonation. There are several vocal tunes here, the best of which is “Bluesette,” featuring the rich and smoky voice of Alexis Cole. But really, it’s hard to pick highlights when every track is so good. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.


Fred Frith
Woodwork: Live aux Ateliers Claus
KlangGalerie (dist. MVD)
GG308
Rick’s Pick

I wish I could say what it is that has always so completely entranced me about Fred Frith’s prepared guitar and guitar-on-the-table recordings. Heaven knows I would understand if someone else were to run screaming from the room immediately upon hearing the scrapes, clicks, whines, howls, and near-human babblings Frith creates using these extended techniques. And yet I find that I can listen to this stuff for hours. Maybe it’s the sheer, luscious sensual variety of the noises; maybe it’s the fact that for the most part, the music ends up being gentle and thoughtful rather than noisy and assaultive (though it can be that as well). Maybe it’s just the intellectual stimulation of constantly wondering “How on earth did he make that sound using a guitar?” Most likely, it’s a combination of all of them. Anyway, check this one out, and if it captivates you the way it does me, then start working backwards: find a copy (if you can) of his magisterial Live in Japan set, then go back even further to his groundbreaking Guitar Solos album (ideally the 1991 East Side Digital reissue, with ten bonus tracks). You’re welcome. Or I’m sorry, whichever you feel applies.


John Zorn
Netzach: Masada Book 3, The Book Beri’ah (reissue)
Gnostic Trio
Tzadik (dist. Redeye)
TZ 5107

Those familiar with the work of John Zorn–the man for whom the musical designation “skronk” may as well have been invented–will be expecting something very different from what’s offered here on this delicately beautiful recording. Originally issued as part of Zorn’s monumental The Book Beri’ah box set (itself the final installment of his 25-year Masada project, and available only by mail order due to a financial disaster involving its original distribution company), Netzach features the trio of Bill Frisell (guitar), Carol Emanuel (harp), and Kenny Wollesen (vibes) playing nine modal melodies in what sound like varying degrees of composed and improvised harmony. The music progresses slowly and mainly in a circular manner, but is never still; the interplay between the instruments is fascinating even as the music is relaxing and essentially trance-inducing. Gorgeous.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Martin Hayes & Brooklyn Rider
The Butterfly
In a Circle
ICR012
Rick’s Pick

In a genre dominated by show-offs, Martin Hayes is something rare: a fiddler of deep thoughtfulness and exquisite taste. (Having seen him live, I can attest that he’s as technically accomplished as any other world-class Irish fiddler; what makes him different is that he generally resists the temptation to show off, especially in the studio.) On his latest album he teams up with the genre-transgressing string quartet Brooklyn Rider to perform arrangements of ten classic session tunes, one Hayes original, and one new tune by composer Peadar Ó Riada. Some of the arrangements are by members of the ensemble, and all of them are both intelligent and fun. Their take on “Mulqueen’s,” normally played as a reel, is given a particularly hard-swinging hornpipe treatment here, and their version of the title track, a lovely slip jig, is complex and exquisitely beautiful. Recommended to all libraries.


Hot Club of Cowtown
Wild Kingdom
Gold Strike
GS006
Rick’s Pick

And speaking of hard-swinging, here’s a treat: the first new album of original material in ten years from Austin’s always-brilliant Hot Club of Cowtown. The trio’s name reflects the particular stylistic fusion that has been its calling card for 25 years: Western swing and hot jazz. Fiddler and singer Elana James is the dominant voice this time out: of the album’s 11 original songs, seven are James compositions. (There are also three covers: an arrangement of the Scottish tune “Loch Lomond,” and versions of “Three Little Words” and “How High the Moon.”) It’s hard to say which elements of this group’s sound are the most winning: James’ fiddle, Whit Smith’s guitar, Jake Erwin’s virtuosic slap bass, or all of their vocals. What they all add up to is a band that has not made a weak album yet, and this one is among their best.


Eilen Jewell
Gypsy
Signature Sounds (dist. Redeye)
SIG-CD-2115

Idaho singer-songwriter Eilen Jewell has been making top-notch country and roots-rock music for years now, but this is her first album of original material since 2015. It was worth waiting for. The songs are informed by her experience as a new parent (“Witness”), by political frustration (“Beat the Drum”), and by the constant grind of sexism (“79 Cents [The Meow Song]”). The mood is generally dark and the songs are mostly in minor keys, but there’s defiance peeking out from every shadow–and often more than just defiance: genuine hope. One of Jewell’s strengths as a songwriter is that she never mistakes snark for insight, and she always reaches for the latter. And her band positively cooks.


ROCK/POP


Smoking Popes
Into the Agony
Asian Man
AM-318
Rick’s Pick

The Chicagoland pop-punk group Smoking Popes have had an interesting history: after achieving significant regional success in the early 1990s, they went on hiatus when frontman Josh Caterer stepped away from music to focus on his spiritual life. Seven years later the band reformed and started recording and playing out again, and if anything their sound is sharper and more focused than ever before. Caterer’s voice remains central and distinctive, an incongruously mellow croon that nicely complements the band’s dense, crunchy sound. Pull quote, from the opening track: “I don’t wanna simmer down/Oh-oh-oh-oh-oooooh.” Indeed they don’t, and we don’t want them to. Highly recommended to all pop collections.


Rubinoos
From Home
Yep Roc (dist. Redeye)
YEP-2650

It’s now been 40 years since the Rubinoos first burst onto the power-pop scene with their debut album, and although the group has technically persisted since its original incarnation broke up in 1980, this is the first release by the original lineup since 1979’s Back to the Drawing Board. And members of their reasonably large and unreasonably patient worldwide cult will be very happy to know that From Home sounds like it could have been made in 1978: crunchy and jangly guitars, tight harmonies, swooning melodies, and lead vocals that remain unaccountably clear and high-pitched (given these guys’ ages). They’ve still got that perfect balance of looseness and tightness working for them, and the hooks just fall like rain. Recommended to all pop collections.


Re-Flex
The Politics of Dancing: Revised Expanded Edition (reissue; 2 discs)
Warner/Cherry Red (dist. MVD)
WCRPOPD211

And while we’re harking back a few decades, I can’t resist recommending this little slice of early-80s synthpop, now reissued with a bonus disc of alternate and extended mixes. To be very clear: what makes this reissue interesting is not that it sheds any new insight on the genre–rather, it’s the fact that Re-Flex represented more or less the distilled essence of it. From John Baxter’s chesty, pre-industrial vocals to the machinelike drums and alternately lush and bleepy synths, these guys designed the buliding that other, more successful bands would occupy for a decade to come. This album produced one big hit, the title track, and then they were basically done–their second album was recorded in 1985 but wasn’t released until 2010. Other material was recorded over the years, but never released, or released much later, or used for movie soundtracks. Given the quality of their debut album, though, it’s surprising that it’s taken so long for a deluxe reissue to come out.


Those Pretty Wrongs
Zed for Zulu
Burger (dist. Redeye)
BRGR1412

Luther Russell
Medium Cool
Fluff & Gravy
FNG056

Those Pretty Wrongs are a duo consisting of Memphis-based singer-songwriter Jody Stephens (formerly of Big Star) and Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Luther Russell. Together they make quiet but sturdy acoustic-based jangle pop wth occasional hints of subtle humor (the slightly exaggerated phase shifting on “The Carousel,” for example) and cultural complexity (the Klezmer-y clarinet on “Hurricane of Love”). The vocals are generally workmanlike and unassuming, until the harmonies kick in, at which point the hair will start rising on your neck. Russell records by himself as well, and his most recent solo album has a much rawer, more rockish (and sometimes almost psychedelic) feel to it than his work with Stephens. Here he plays a list of instruments as long as your arm and is assisted only by a bassist and drummer and a couple of one-track-each guests. Poking through the sprawling, crunchy guitar-rock sound are lyrics that probe deep concerns around aging, social acceptance, and not being able to go home again, and if the whole thing doesn’t feel quite like a cri de coeur, it’s not quite not a cri de coeur either. Both albums are excellent, though each in a very different way.


Datach’i
Bones
Timesig (dist. Redeye)
010
Rick’s Pick

Joseph Fraioli, who records under the name Datach’i, has recorded rarely over the past 20 years, releasing his first album in a decade back in 2016 and now following it up with this wonderful and complex new collection of tracks. While he works in the normally quite chilly and forbidding genre of drill’n’bass (imagine drum’n’bass, only faster, colder, and more robotic), on Bones his sound is a bit warmer and more emotionally intense. The music was composed in the wake of his father’s death, and consists in part of sounds that he sampled using a guitar he bought for his father during the latter’s cancer treatments. There is actually great beauty here among the blips, glitches, snaps and pops, and it’s not even that difficult to access–floating chords and lovely, bittersweet harmonic progressions are everywhere. Highly recommended.


Pitch Black
Third Light
Dubmission
CDDUB089

I’ve been championing the Dubmission label and its many wonderful artists for years, and the latest from New Zealand’s Pitch Black provides just one more reason why. Third Light sways between techno, downbeat, dub, and drum’n’bass styles while delivering everything with the group’s trademarked expansive and and deeply bassy signature. One of the things I’ve always loved about these guys is how soft they sound on the surface, and how weird and gritty and progressive their music is when you listen a bit more closely. See if you can catch the political subtexts on this one while you’re dancing!


WORLD/ETHNIC


Various Artists
Under Frustration Vol. 2 (LP  & digital only)
InFiné/Shouka
iF1053
Rick’s Pick

Though billed as a various-artists collection, which it truly is, in order to understand the second installment in the Under Frustration series you need to know that it’s the product of a specific group of musicians–a Tunisian collaborative called the Arabstazy Collective. Founded and led by someone who goes by the name Mettani, this collective is “a medium to keep questioning the meaning and the relevance of the supposed Arab unity, by exploring and facing the way the Arab world is perceived, but also how it perceives itself, perceives others and perceives its own perception of itself.” If that sounds like a heavy agenda, be warned that the music is heavy as well–but not in an oppressive way. The artists involved tend to favor cyclic repetition and the simultaneous invocation and subversion of explicitly Arabic cultural tropes in ways that are consistently fascinating. I’ll be filing these collections next to my Muslimgauze albums, where they’ll fit in nicely.


Mungo’s Hi Fi X Eva Lazarus
More Fyah
Scotch Bonnet
SCOBCD012
Rick’s Pick

The latest release from Glasgow, Scotland’s world-class reggae soundsystem and production crew Mungo’s Hi Fi is also a feature vehicle for up-and-coming singer Eva Lazarus, and truly it’s a match made in heaven. She turns a cover of Beats International’s “Dub Be Good to Me” (itself a refix of the S.O.S. Band’s “Just Be Good to Me”) into a Mungo’s tribute dubplate, she expertly rides a horn-heavy neo-ska rhythm on “We Weren’t Made for This,” and then she works a booming, jungly future-bass groove with equal aplomb on the title track. As always, the Mungo’s Hi Fi rhythms are simultaneously forward-looking and tradition-celebrating, and this combination creates yet another in an ongoing string of utterly essential modern reggae albums. I simply can’t recommend this one in strong enough terms.


Mariachi los Camperos
De ayer para siempre
Smithsonian Folkways
SFW 40582
Rick’s Pick

This venerable mariachi ensemble got its start in 1950 in the city of Mexicali, when the young arranger Nati Cano joined a local band and eventually took over, relocating the group to Los Angeles and founding a musical dynasty that continues to this day. (If you’ve listened to Linda Ronstadt’s two dynamite mariachi albums, Canciones de mi padre volumes 1 and 2, then you heard these guys backing her up.) Cano passed away in 2014 and passed the torch to Jesús “Chuy” Guzmán, who now leads the group, and on their tenth studio album they continue to explore the son, ranchera, and bolero traditions with the expertise and soul we’ve come to expect from them. Also with an unbelievably, preternatural tightness and a richness of vocal tone that have to be heard to be believed. Highly recommended to all libraries.

August 2019


PICK OF THE MONTH


Jóhann Jóhannsson
Retrospective 1 (7 discs)
Various artists and ensembles
Deutsche Grammophon
00289 483 6582

Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson died tragically and senselessly at the age of 48, but not before leaving behind a rich catalog of music. He was known primarily for his work as a film and theater composer, but he also produced quite a bit of solo work that was not connected or related to other media. He famously said that he had “a strong belief in the power of simplicity and emotional directness,” but that should not lead one to expect his work to actually be simple, though it sometimes comes across that way as the result of careful and even complex design. This seven-disc box contains two freestanding solo releases and five film scores, one of them (White Black Boy) previously unreleased. While his style–often characterized by varied repetition alternating with silence or near-silence and utilizing a mix of orchesral and electronic instruments–is recognizable across most of these albums, one of them is a clear stylistic outlier: Dís is straight-up synth pop, written to accompany a comedic film about life in Jóhannsson’s native Iceland. Another interesting anomaly is The Miners’ Hymns, which was written as the score to a film that did not yet actually exist; American filmmaker Bill Morrison ended up actually creating a movie to suit the soundtrack. Jóhannsson’s soundtrack to Free the Mind is the one that perhaps sounds most like a conventional film score. With the exception of Dís, which is good fun but not particularly exceptional musically, everything here is deeply beautiful. I’m very much looking forward to the next installment in what looks to be planned as an ongoing series of catalog reissues from this composer.


CLASSICAL


Johann Sebastian Bach
The Well-tempered Clavier (2 discs)
Keith Jarrett
ECM
2627/28
Rick’s Pick

Though this may look like a reissue of Keith Jarrett’s acclaimed 1988 recording of Bach’s iconic collection of preludes and fugues in all the major and minor keys, in fact it’s something different: a previously-unreleased recording of a concert he gave at the famous Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in March of 1987, prior to the release of the studio albums (which are still available in two separate volumes). For this lucky audience he performed the entire work in a single evening, and the sound quality of the recording is absolutely wonderful: clear, rich, and just reverberant enough. But it’s the quality of the playing that makes this album so special. Though in the mid-1980s Jarrett had begun making classical recordings (most notably, at this point, his monumental performance of Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa with Gidon Kremer), he was still known primarily as a jazz and improvising pianist. His sureness of touch and the combination of intellectual and spiritual connection that he clearly felt to this music caught the attention of the classical punditocracy of the moment, and he has gone from strength to strength as a classical pianist since then. This release should be considered an essential purchase for all classical collections.


Various Composers
Clarinet Classics at Riversdale
Robert DiLutis; Mellifera Quartet
Delos (dist. Naxos)
DE 3561

This is a nicely stylistically varied celebration both of a musical concept–chamber music for clarinet with (or mostly with) strings–and of a venue: the Riversdale House Museum in Maryland, which boasts a restored carriage house that has served as an intimate concert hall in recent years. The program consists of relatively familiar fare, such as Weber’s B-flat quintet for clarinet and strings, as well as more modern and obscure pieces, notable among them Miklós Rósza’s Sonatina and Willson Osborne’s Rhapsody for Clarinet, both of them written for the instrument without accompaniment. The aching lyricism of the Webern work (and of the adagio by Heinrich Joseph Baermann) are nicely complemented by the slightly more angular modernism of the Rósza and Osborne pieces, and everyone’s playing is exemplary.


Various Composers
Messe du Roi Soleil
Marguerite Louise / Gaétan Jarry
Château de Versailles Spectacles (dist. Naxos)
CVS008

Imaginative recreations of major royal or liturgical events have become a common feature of the baroque-music landscape in recent decades, and this recording offers “an imaginary service” that combines the various features of “high” and “low” Masses during the reign of the famously musical and devout King Louis XIV–this despite the fact that this performance (recorded live) doesn’t actually feature any Mass content at all; instead, it consists of psalm settings, motets, and organ works by a variety of important composers of the period, including François Couperin, Michel-Richard Delalande, Jean-Baptiste Lully, and François-André Dabican Philidor, in settings ranging from full choir with orchestra to solo, duo, and trio vocalists. The music is exactly as glorious as one would expect, and the live recorded sound is better than one would expect. Perhaps not essential for all classical collections, but recommended nevertheless.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano Sonatas
David Fung
Steinway & Sons (dist. Naxos)
30107

As a young budding virtuoso, David Fung gravitated towards the music of Mozart–but his teachers (while encouraging him to master it) warned him not to play it publicly. Maybe they were intentionally using reverse psychology; in any event, at age 22 Fung won the Mozart Prize at the Rubinstein Piano Competition, playing Mozart’s piano concerto number 25. And now we have this very fine recording of Mozart sonatas–an interesting program consisting of three early works (sonatas numbers 2, 4, and 5) and a late one (number 17), allowing us to see in one breathtaking transition the progress that Mozart had made as a keyboard composer between the ages of 19 and 33. Of course, some of what one might call “progress” was simply stylistic change; the early sonatas were written during the early- to mid-classical period, while number 17 came as that period was getting ready to give way to the Romantic era. Fung’s playing is stunning, his sense of line and emotional narrative exceptional. Highly recommended to all classical collections.


Jean de Sainte-Colombe
Le monde de Sainte-Colombe: Une sélection de Concerts à deux violes esgales
Les Voix Humaines
ATMA Classique (dist. Naxos)
ACD2 3021

Leonora Duarte
The Complete Works
Sonnambula / Elizabeth Weinfield
Centaur (dist. Naxos)
CRC 3685

Here are two very different recordings featuring the viola da gamba in an ensemble setting. Jean de Sainte-Colombe was the teacher of Marin Marais, and the gamba duo Les Voix Humaines presents here a release that features his works for two bass viols. As one would expect given the instrumentation, it’s quite dark and sober in tone. The 67 Concerts a deux violes esgales (twelve of which are presented here) take the form of suites in which the viols take turns functioning as soloist and accompanist, and although the pieces consist mainly of dance movements the tone is still more ponderous and careful than sprightly–but in a good way. As always, the Les Voix Humaines play with brilliant, dark-hued elegance. While Sainte-Colombe is not as famous as his student Marin Marais, he is nevertheless a known quantity among serious fans of early music; Leonora Duarte is a different matter. A Jewish convert to Catholicism living in 17th-century Antwerp, she is the only known woman composer of viol music in that century. All that has survived of her work is a set of seven sinfonias, which survive in a single manuscript copy, and which are presented here in a program that also includes consort and keyboard music by John Bull and Alfonso Ferrabasco, plus one song by Juan del Encina (beautifully sung by the group’s keyboardist, James Kennerley). This program also includes the reading of an essay by Teju Cole; it’s a fine essay, but it’s also included in the liner notes and would have been just fine if left there rather than interrupting the musical program. Both albums are recommended to early music collections.


Various Composers
Freedom & Faith
PUBLIQuartet
Bright Shiny Things
BSTC-0126

Ths is a highly unusual album of works for string quartet, organized around the theme of “artists whose music represents resilience, resistance, and subversion; all of (whom) also happen to be women.” It opens with the world-premiere recording a relatively conventional string quartet by Jessica Meyer titled “Get into the Now”; “conventional,” that is in its three-movement structure, but wildly less so in its stylistic elasticity, which finds it veering from spiky dissonance to funky joyfulness. One segment of the program is titled Sancta Femina and consists of arrangements of sacred songs by Hildegard of Bingen, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, and Francesca Caccini; another section is devoted to quirky arrangements of songs associated with Nina Simone, and there’s a very fun vocal-and-strings arrangement of the pop song “A Tisket a Tasket,” based on Ella Fitzgerald’s iconic recording. It ends with a truly lovely one-movement work by Shelley Washington titled “Middleground.” The whole album manages to be simultaneously a hoot and quite thought-provoking, and it evokes some of the Kronos Quartet’s best work of the 1990s.


Johannes de Lymburgia
Gaude felix Padua
Le Miroir de Musique / Baptiste Romain
Ricercar (dist. Naxos)
RIC 402
Rick’s Pick

Johannes de Lymburgia is a somewhat mysterious figure; historical records place a musician by that name in more places within the same period in the early 1400s than could easily have been occupied by a single person, and there is little trace of him in those records after 1435. What remains of his career output is contained in manuscript Q15 in the International Museum and Library of Music in Bologna–a manuscript that was so damaged over time that it was considered illegible until its recent restoration using digital technology. That restoration made possible this exceptional recording, which shows the composer to have been highly inventive in his approach to harmony and to have been a significant contributor to the development of the motet, which was emerging in his region at the height of his career. The compact Miroir de Musique ensemble performs these sacred songs with restrained intensity, voices twining gorgeously around each other as lutes, harps, viols and citterns provide quiet accompaniment. A must for all early music collections.


JAZZ


Doug MacDonald
Califournia Quartet
Dmacmusic
DM15

Guitarist/composer Doug MacDonald leads this crackerjack quartet of first-call Los Angeles session players, which includes saxophonist Kim Richmond, bassist Harvey Newmark and drummer Paul Kreibich. “The group is about straight ahead swinging, warm solos and exciting ensembles,” say the press materials, and that’s true–but it doesn’t mean that the group is rehashing old sounds or approaches. Listen to the head on the MacDonald original “Malapropisms,” for example, and you may never guess that it’s a blues; try to follow the changes on his jazz waltz “San Rafael” and you’ll be challenged. On the other hand, Newmark turns those changes into that rarest of things, a genuinely lyrical and compelling bass solo (no mail, please; I’m a bass player myself). And the group’s swing is indeed warm and constant, as is its sense of humor and fun–just take a listen to “I Want It,” MacDonald’s whimsical take on “I Want to Be Happy.” And speaking of warm, MacDonald’s tone is like melted butter.


Charlie Apicella & Iron City
Groove Machine
OA2
22166

For a very different take on a guitar-led quartet, consider this, Charlie Apicella & Iron City’s third recording. As its title suggests, these guys are mining a vein that was first discovered by similarly-configured ensembles during the “hard bop” era of the early 1960s: whenever you see a group that consists of guitar (Apicella), tenor sax (Gene Ghee), organ (Radam Schwartz) and drums (Alan Corzin), you can reasonably expect to be in for a funky time. But in this case it’s not just funky: there’s a very fun calypso number written by the organist and a gorgeous ballad featuring violinist Amy Bateman, and one or two numbers (including the brilliant “Ironcity”) that feel more like straight-ahead old-school bebop than hard bop or 1960s soul-jazz. But there’s no point in worrying about genre boundaries; Apicella and his crew are simply making great jazz, both new and old.


Larry Fuller
Overjoyed
Capri
74155-2
Rick’s Pick

The New York Times says that pianist Larry Fuller “sprinkles stardust on whatever song he plays,” and while that could come across as a bit condescending, it’s actually a very apt metaphor: there is, quite simply, something magical about the combination of lightness and power in his playing and about his ability to make every line sound as if it’s sparkling. On his latest album as a leader, Fuller and his trio offer a mixed program of standards and obscurities, plus one original (the utterly delightful “The Mooch,” not to be confused with “Moose the Mooche”). There’s a lot of subtlety at work here: he plays “How Long Has This Been Going On” as a sort of slow drag, for example, playing the gentlest possible stride figures with his left hand while exploring the melody deeply with his right, and his take on the Muddy Waters blues classic “Got My Mojo Workin'” is a second-line arrangement with a typically slippery drum part that takes the program out in fine style. A must for all jazz collections.


Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin
Live (reissue)
Ronin Rhythm (dist. Naxos)
RON 004

In feudal Japan, a ronin was a samurai without a master. It’s an apt metaphor for the group that keyboardist and composer Nik Bärtsch has been leading for the last 20 years or so. Well, maybe it’s partly apt; Bärtsch and his team clearly owe no stylistic allegiance to anyone–however, his band most definitely has a leader. Anyway, Bärtsch himself characterizes their music as “zen-funk,” which implies just what you might think: repetition, syncopation, and freedom. Although you’re likely to find their recordings in the jazz section of a record store and they often perform in what looks like a standard piano-trio format, the music they make has as much to do with African, gamelan, minimalism, and, yes, funk as it does with jazz. This reissue of a 2006 live album (actually recorded in 2002) by the band finds them at their most repetitious, and yet strangely also at their most compelling. No one this side of Steve Reich makes such thorough and creative use of a single pattern, and the group is incredibly tight without ever sounding rigid. (Two other early albums, REA and Ritual Groove Music, are being reissued at the same time on Bärtsch’s Ronin Rhythm label.)


Peter Beets
Our Love Is Here to Stay: Gershwin Reimagined
Magic Ball Jazz/Challenge (dist. Naxos)
MBJ 74609
Rick’s Pick

Dutch pianist Peter Beets has become a star of the international swing scene, playing alongside the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Johnny Griffin, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Elvin Jones. His latest album features the melodies of George Gershwin, “reimagined” in that he places them in a variety of rhythmic and stylistic settings: “Embraceable You” as a gentle bossa, “‘S Wonderful” as a sprightly bop workout, and perhaps most surprisingly, “Summertime” as an upbeat swinger. (Watch for the “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” quote during Beets’ solo on “Lady, Be Good!” too.) Bassist Tom Baldwin and drummer Eric Kennedy follow Beets faithfully wherever he goes, and this whole album is just a ton of good, straight-ahead fun.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Tui
Pretty Little Mister
Self-released
No cat. no.

Nothing else sounds quite like a straight fiddle-and-banjo album, and I’ve never heard a fiddle-and-banjo album that sounds quite like this one. Tui is fiddler Libby Weitnauer and Jake Blount, who plays a fretless, nylon-string banjo (and sometimes a five-string fiddle). The music they offer here is a mix of familiar tunes (“Sugar Babe,” “Eighth of January,” “Whoa Mule”) with obscurities dug up in archives and discovered in digital copies of field recordings, many of them drawing on African-American string band traditions that are too often overlooked. (The band’s progressive commitments are signaled by the cleverly punning title, which references the classic fiddle tune “Pretty Little Miss.”) Both are fine singers, and this album offers a great mix of instrumental and vocal tunes. They have an exceptional drive and groove, and as someone who is often skeptical of the nylon-string banjo sound, I have to say that Blount has convinced me–not enough to restring my own instruments, but definitely enough to listen to more like this.


Hank Williams
The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings (2 discs)
BMG
538470942

The early- to mid-20th century was the heyday of the sponsored, live-performance radio show. You know the format: the host introduces the band and praises the sponsor’s product (Prince Albert Tobacco, Texas Crystals, Jim Walter Homes), then the band plays a few tunes and praises the sponsor’s product, maybe even playing a live jingle. Flatt & Scruggs’ arrangement with Martha White Flour was perhaps the archetypal example of this relationship, and another was Hadacol’s sponsorship of Hank Williams’ Health & Happiness Show, a radio program established in 1949 when he was at the height of his commercial success. The program itself was short-lived: eight shows, all of which aired in October of that year, and each of which followed a strict format (specific kinds of songs, always in the same order, interspered with commercial breaks). This two-disc set brings together all eight of those shows, and while its repetitive nature undermines its enjoyability as a pure listening experience–no one really really needs to hear eight renditions each of “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy” and “Sally Goodin”–it’s hugely important as a historic document; these are the earliest recordings of Williams’ legendary Drifting Cowboys band. Williams’ voice, of course, is hair-raisingly perfect throughout. (And while that of his wife Audrey is often dismissed as unlistenable, I have to say that I think she sounds just fine when she and Hank are singing in harmony.) The new mastering from the original 16″ shellac transcription discs is excellent. For all country music collections.


Hackensaw Boys
A Fireproof House of Sunshine (EP)
Free Dirt
DIRT-CD-0095

The Lynchburg, Virginia-based Hackensaw Boys have been ploughing the field of punk-edged alt-country for over twenty years now, but the version of the band that made this five-song EP is an entirely new one, except for bandleader David Sickmen. And the music they’re making sounds fresh and new: you’ll still hear echoes of Steve Earle and Bob Dylan in Sickmen’s slightly ragged drawl, while the songs range in style from relatively quiet Americana (“Let’s Us Take a Night Ride”) to straight-up acoustic honky-tonk (“Factory Blues”). There’s a bit more politics in there than usual, but it’s incorporated pretty gracefully. Nice stuff.


ROCK/POP


The Dollyrots
Daydream Explosion
Wicked Cool
WKC-68974-2

I’ve been a fan of this band ever since their 2004 debut, which I raved about in the All-Music Guide. Seeing them live at a dive bar in Louisville, Kentucky just solidified my love for them. And now with their seventh full-length album, I can happily report that their sound hasn’t “progressed” at all; it’s maybe a bit more densely packed here, but the core remains what it has always been: bratty, catchy, crunchy pop-punk. Their lyrics are deepening, though. Raising kids and dealing with the loss of a parent has given songs like “Everything” and “I Love You Instead” a dimension that goes beyond cuteness and catchiness and touches on some of the deepest aspects of family life. But they’re still plenty bratty, just as one would hope. And catchier than ever.


Richard Thompson
Across a Crowded Room: Live at Barrymore’s 1985 (2 discs)
Real Gone Music (dist. Redeye)
RGM-0909
Rick’s Pick

Let’s consider the things that make this album amazing: first of all, it could be argued that Richard Thompson was at the peak of his sharpness as both a songwriter and a guitarist in the mid-1980s. (Not everyone would agree, but it could plausibly be argued.) Second of all, look at the band that he had with him on this tour: Clive Gregson and Christine Collister singing harmonies and playing guitars, bassist Rory McFarlane, and drummer Gerry Conway. Now consider the live production by Al Cooper, which borders on studio quality. Then there are the songs themselves: Thompson was touring behind his new album of the same name, which contains some of his tightest, most concise, and frankly angriest songs–songs that pushed him to some of his most explosive live guitar solos. Gregson and Collister sound amazing on “You Don’t Say” and “The Wrong Heartbeat,” and these versions of “Shoot Out the Lights” and “Wall of Death” are nearly definitive. This is not only a very fine live album; it’s one of Richard Thompson’s best albums, period.


Proem
Until Here for Years
n5MD (dist. Redeye)
MD274

The fuzzy borderlands that separate avant-garde electronic classical music from experimental electronic pop have always been a fascinating territory to explore, and while one might think that the line isn’t really so fuzzy–that it can be clearly discerned wherever a beat, let alone a groove, is apparent–should give a close listen to the latest from Richard Bailey, a.k.a. Proem. While his burbling, occasionally funky, and always complex… songs? compositions? pieces? whatever… are invariably characterized by a steady beat, they are also based on conceptual sources that are far more sophisticated than what undergirds typical electro-pop, and his production style is characterized by an almost microscopic level of rhythmic and textual detail that rewards close listening. As dark and grumbly as it is, this music is gentle enough that you could let it fade into the background if you want. But if you do, you’ll miss a lot.


Bluetech
Liquid Geometries in Dub
Liquid Sound Design
LSD116CD

For an interesting juxtaposition to the Proem album, consider this remix treatment of Bluetech’s 2018 album Liquid Geometries. Here the sound is a bit more shiny, and quite a bit less conceptually dense–but every bit as listenable, and sometimes downright fascinating. Producers and electronic artists as diverse as the Desert Dwellers, David Last, the Saafi Brothers, and Gaudi have taken tracks from that album and remixed them to create newly spacious and echo-laden soundscapes. Some of the mixes explore ambient and beatless formats, others create newly reggaefied grooves, and still others hint at dubstep (check out the drop on YOUTH’s remix of “Resonating Heart”). The overall tendency is in the direction of four-on-the-floor house and techno beats, which some listeners will welcome and others may find tedious, but the album is consistently interesting and occasionally transcendent.


Chris Stamey
New Songs for the 20th Century (2 discs)
Omnivore
OVCD-335
Rick’s Pick

OK, this one is pretty remarkable. People of a certain age may immediately recognize Christ Stamey’s name–a founding member of the dBs, he also played with Alex Chilton before the latter formed Big Star. But he’s best known as a producer, having helped to shape the sounds of artists like Pylon, Le Tigre, and Whiskeytown. So basically, he’s one of the foundational architects of alt-pop. But on this album, he assumes a new identity: the long-lost songwriting peer of mid-century pop composers like Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, and Henry Mancini. As he tells the story, in 2015 “an old piano arrived at my home, with a bench full of magic“–i.e., sheet music of songs by those and other writers. He immersed himself in them, and when he came up for air he had written a bunch of new material “under the influence.” So he put together a jazz orchestra that included Bill Frisell and Branford Marsalis, among other luminaries, and invited a bunch of his favorite singers to perform them. The result is an unabashedly derivative and completely delightful program of the kind of pop songs that some of us may have heard our grandparents complain that “no one writes anymore”: sophisticated, complex, tuneful, accessible. For all libraries.


Sverre Knut Johansen with Robert Rich
Precambrian
Spotted Peccary
SPM-3004

“Sonic visions of a planet in constant change.” That’s the press materials’ characterization of this eerie, rich, complex exercise in ambient tone poetry, a suite of pieces divided by periods of the Earth’s geologic history: there are tracks titled “Hadean Eon,” “Cenozoic Era,” “Anthropocene,” etc. Johansen’s idea was to “create an album around the concept of the Earth’s geological timescale,” trying “to convey with nature sounds what might have hapened on Earth, creating moods around certain events that have taken place.” Johansen is a master at creating the impression of sonic space, and he fills that space with chords, pulses, chirps, otherworldly moans and sighs, and sounds of dripping water and soughing wind. This is the kind of thing that tends to get marketed as ambient music, but I’m not sure it really fits that description; it’s more like complex sound sculpture, and it’s very well done.


noaccordion
Surrender
Self-released
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

If you think that the accordion makes a less-than-obvious bedfellow for trap beats and dubwise electronic production, then I’d have to say that I agree with you. But I would then immediately recommend that you listen to the consistently compelling work of Onah Indigo, who records under the name noaccordion, and who brings a slightly New Agey lyrical orientation to a dense and pungent sonic mix that sometimes evokes African Head Charge (check out the compressed choral vocals on “Allies”), sometimes straddles trap and hip hop (“The Cure”), and sometimes shakes your bones with sub-bass heavyosity (“Grow”). On her latest album she also collaborates fruitfully with reggae star Indubious (“Goodness Rise Again,” in two mixes) and lets her accordion take the lead on the funky-but-wistful “Mars.” As was the case on her previous album (which I recommended back in December 2017), everything here is unique, often surprising, and consistently compelling.


The Rails
Cancel the Sun
Thirty Tigers/Psychonaut Sounds
PSYCHED011CD

The third album from this outstanding British folk-rock outfit finds the duo continuing to expand its stylistic palette–to the point that the designator “folk-rock” may not really make much sense anymore. Yes, there are still jangly and acoustic-based (or at least acoustic-adjacent) songs, like “Dictator” and “Something Is Slipping My Mind.” But they are increasingly being displaced by sardonic rockers like “Ball and Chain,” “Waiting on Something,” and “Save the Planet” (next line: “Kill yourself”; later in the song comes the charming couplet “This is your chance to be a good guy/No one likes you and you know why”). As always, the vocal harmonies of Kami Thompson and James Walbourne are tight and astringently lovely, and the combination of those harmonies with the pair’s deeply winning melodies is a consistent and solid winner.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Various Composers
Spinning in the Wheel
Projeto Arcomusical
National Sawdust Tracks
NS-028

The berimbau is a musical bow, an instrument common (in many variants) throughout sub-Saharan African and brought to Brazil centuries ago as a result of the slave trade. It has since been adopted as a Brazilian instrument and plays an important role in traditional music there. Projeto Arcomusical is an Illinois-based ensemble dedicated to raising the profile of the berimbau by commissioning and performing new music for the instrument, and on the group’s second album they perform eight works by four composers, the centerpiece being Elliot Cole’s brilliant and lovely four-movement Roda. Briefer works by Alexis C. Lamb, Gregory Beyer, and Kyle Flens are also featured, and in all cases it’s interesting to hear what the composers do with the instrument’s sonic parameters–which include, for example, a drastically limited pitch range (the members of the group use customized, tunable instruments that increase their melodic flexibility). As on the group’s first album, the sounds are both delicate and percussive, a simplicity of musical means giving rise to significant complexity.


Soulsha
Carry It On
Fresh Haggis
FH002

At this point it’s no longer particularly innovative to blend African, Celtic, and funk styles together (cf. Afro Celt Sound System, Mouthmusic, Black 47). But that doesn’t mean you can’t make fresh new sounds using that formula, and indeed Soulsha doesn’t sound like any other band. This is partly because the overriding element of their sound is vintage funk rather than electronica or rock; most of the songs on their debut album are built on a solid foundation of James-Brown-style 1960s funk and soul, with occasional irruptions of Celtic tunes (like the interpolation of “Johnny Wilmot’s Fiddle” into the middle of “Rhythm’s in the Melody”) or African elements (like the Wolof rap interlude in “Come on Down”). What it all adds up to is one of the most effective party albums I’ve heard in years–one that will not only have your guests dancing, but will also lead to them asking you “What on earth is this?”.


Errol Brown & the Revolutionaries
Culture Dub/Medley Dub (2 discs)
Doctor Bird/Cherry Red
DBCDD-038

What looks at first glance like just another two-LPs-on-one-CD reggae reissue reveals itself, upon closer examination, to be something much more exciting. On disc 1, we have the 1977 release Culture Dub (also released during that period by a different label under the title Culture in Dub). This consists of dub remixes of tracks by the legendary harmony trio Culture; for this reissue, the original eight-track program is augmented by nine bonus tracks, creating a wealth of Culture dubs that fans will be thrilled to have; despite the fact that all but the tiniest snippets of vocals have been removed, those fans will quickly recognize the rhythms to songs like “Iron Sharpen Iron” and “Dog a Nyam Dog” (not to mention several tracks that have been previously been released on Virgin Front Line reissues under different titles, such as “Natty Dub”–a.k.a. “Citizen as a Peaceful Dub”). The second disc in this package, however, consists entirely of material that has either been long out of print or has never been issued on CD before. These are dub versions of popular tracks from Sonia Pottinger’s legendary High Note label, which released some of the most important music of the rock-steady-to-reggae transitional period. You’ll hear outstanding dub versions of classic tracks like “Say You,” “Swing and Dine,” and “Let the Power Fall,” all dubbed up in fine style by producer Errol Brown. This is an outstanding dub collection altogether.

July 2019


PICK OF THE MONTH


Meat Beat Manifesto
Opaque Couché
Flexidisc
FLX014CD

Here’s the mystery: why is it that as soon as the beat drops, I would be able to tell you even if blindfolded that this is a Meat Beat Manifesto album? It’s not that the beats are especially unique (though they’re unfailingly crisp, creative, and fun), and it’s not that the production style is completely unlike anyone else’s. I honestly can’t put my finger on it. But if you, like me, have been a Jack Dangers fan for years, following not only his work with Meat Beat Manifesto but also his beatcrafting under the guise of Tino, then you’ll recognize that sound immediately too—and you’ll be as thrilled as I am that the two years of waiting since his last MBM album are finally at an end. On this one the most obvious unifying theme is jungle, but of course it’s not quite that simple: though the album opens with the skittering jump-up workout “Pin Drop,” it then proceeds to get darker, denser, and deeper by turns. “Ear-Lips” is funky but also mildly unsettling with its richly distorted vocal samples, “Call Sign” somehow manages to invoke Aphex Twin and Gang Starr in nearly equal measure (listen to those jazzy chordal swells), and “Forced to Lie” resurrects the late and lamented Andy Fairley and gives him a vintage big beat break over which to declaim. There is not a single track on this album that isn’t tremendous, and honestly, it took the exercise of active discipline for me to listen to the other albums I needed to review this month instead of spinning this one repeatedly. For all libraries.


CLASSICAL


Jacques Morel
Premier livre de pièces de violle
La Spagna
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95962

Even as obscure 18th-century composers go, Jacques Morel is one of the most mysterious. Scholars don’t know his exact birthdate or where he was born, and little is known of his life beyond the fact that he studied under the great master of the viola da gamba, Marin Marais. Of the four suites presented on this album, only one has ever been recorded before. So this recording is a boon to early-music collections as well as to anyone who loves the viola da gamba or baroque chamber music generally. The soloist is Alejandro Marías, and the quality of both his playing and the production are superb; he plays these lovely pieces with genuine affection, and the recorded sound is warm and lively. Recommended to all early music collections.


Various Composers
Twentieth Century Oboe Sonatas
Alex Klein; Phillip Bush
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 186

Recently I came to a startling realization: I’m now old enough that in my mind, the term “20th century music” has always been more or less synonymous with “contemporary music.” Now that we’re a couple of decades into the 21st century, that temporal dysjunction is becoming more apparent—and the rather old-fashioned sound of these six sonatas for oboe and piano just makes it more so. “Old-fashioned” isn’t a criticism; these works by York Bowen, Petr Eben, Henri Dutilleux, Eugène Bozza, Francis Poulenc, and Camille Saint-Saens are all wonderful, each in a somewhat different way—but they definitely all sound like products of an earlier time, which of course they are. Notable among them is Eben’s piece, which is both distinctly modern and stunningly, lyrically gorgeous; the Saint-Saens work is even more so. The program is balanced out by drier and more astringent pieces by Bozza and Dutilleux, and makes a very satisfying album overall. The playing is sensitive and unassumingly virtuosic.


Johann Sebastian Bach
Goldberg Variations: New Arrangement for Baroque Ensemble
Repast Baroque Ensemble
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS1661

Although many people think of Bach as being somewhat rigid and mathematical, one of the wonderful things about his music is its flexibility—it can be (and has been) adapted with almost limitless creativity without any loss in its appeal or dilution of its musical brilliance. The Goldberg Variations, a collection of 32 variations on an original theme, were written for the keyboard and are still most commonly played that way. But for this recording the Repast Baroque Ensemble has created a new arrangement for violin, cello, flute, bassoon, and harpsichord—a version in which sections are played alternately by solo harpsichord and by various combinations of the larger ensemble. Anyone who has tried to listen all the way through a solo harpsichord performance of this monumental work will immediately appreciate this approach; not only does it provide welcome aural relief, but it also facilitates hearing and understanding the music’s contrapuntal complexity. In this case, a dry and intimate production sound aids in that project as well. Recommended.


Michael Jon Fink
Celesta
Cold Blue Music (dist. Naxos)
CB0053

Michael Byron
Fabric for String Noise
Cold Blue Music (dist. Naxos)
CB0054

You may not know exactly what a celesta is, but you’ve heard it—and you’ve probably thought “Oh, a toy piano.” (You also might have thought that when you saw one onstage; celestas are often quite small and are regularly seen in pit orchestras, usually balanced on top of another keyboard.) But in fact the celesta is a serious instrument that has long had an important place in concert music. In the hands of Michael Jon Fink, the celesta is a medium for extended meditations on the nature of repetition and development; the composition that he named after the instrument consists of twelve brief, quiet, and very beautiful pieces linked by their exploration of those themes. Michael Byron’s Fabric for String Noise is quite difference, a two-part duet for violins that sounds chaotic at first until you register the complexity of its contrapuntal structure, at which point it becomes completely fascinating. While it’s energetic and harmonically astringent, the work is not at all aggressive or shrill; instead, it flickers and twinkles with restless energy. The second work on this album is for four double basses (multitracked by a single player for this recording), and is much quieter, darker, and more foreboding—though no less beautiful. My only complaint about these two lovely albums is their price: each offers roughly 30 minutes of music, but has a list price of $15.


Johann Baptist Cramer
Piano Concertos nos. 4 & 5
Howard Shelley; London Mozart Players
Hyperion (dist. PIAS)
CDA68270
Rick’s Pick

This album is the fifth entry in the Hyperion label’s The Classical Piano Concerto series, all of which feature pianist Howard Shelley with a variety of modern-instrument orchestras performing concertos from outside the standard repertoire of monumental works—pieces by the likes of Leopold Kozeluch, Daniel Steibelt, and (this time) the wonderful Johann Baptist Cramer. Transplanted from his native Mannheim to London as a youngster, Cramer was briefly a student of Muzio Clementi and was touring Europe as a concert pianist by the age of 20. The eight concerti he wrote were largely intended as a showing-off vehicle, allowing him to demonstrate his remarkable keyboard facility. But on the evidence provided here, they weren’t just exhibitionistic displays of bravura technique; they were also structurally innovative and melodically gorgeous. As always, Shelley is a powerful advocate for these works and a performer of tremendous charm and facility. Highly recommended to all classical collections.


Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Missa Tu es Petrus
Choir of St. Luke in the Fields / David Shuler
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1698

Orazio Colombano
Psalms for Six Voices
Cappella Musicale della Cattedrale di Vercelli / Denis Silano
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95839
Rick’s Pick

Here we have works by two Italian composers who were rough contemporaries, both working as house composers at important cathedrals—one of them destined to become world-famous, the other bound for obscurity. Palestrina’s Tu es Petrus Mass is one of the most celebrated choral works of the Italian Renaissance, and is beautifully sung in the sympathetic setting of New York’s Church of St. Mary the Virgin; this repertoire is the Choir of St. Luke in the Fields’ home base, and they are magnificent on this recording (which also includes a handful of motets). Orazio Colombano’s Harmonia super vespertinos omnium solemnitatum psalmos sex vocibus decantanda, by contrast, has never been recorded before. The Cappella Musicale della Cathedrale di Vercelli is, as its name suggests, a group dedicated to “reviv(ing) the Vercelli Cathedral’s 16th- and 17th-century heritage of manuscripts and printed music,” and to that end its director, Denis Silano, produced his own edition of these liturgical psalms for his small mixed-voice choir to perform. They recorded in the chapel of the Archiepiscopal Seminary of Vercelli, which is a remarkably reverberant space that seems to expand the choir’s size. This one get’s a Rick’s Pick both for its quality and for its historical significance.


Giovanni Benedetto Platti
Flute Sonatas, Op. 3
Alexa Raine-Wright; Camille Paquette-Roy; Sylvain Bergeron; Rona Nadler
Leaf Music (dist. Naxos)
LM224

Ever since the period-instrument movement really started coming of age in the early 1980s, I’ve been a huge fan of the sound of the baroque flute. Unlike its modern counterpart, the baroque flute is made of wood and has a soft-edged tone that naturally complements the gut-strung violins and cellos of the period—as well, of course, as the relatively quiet and sharp-toned harpsichord. Giovanni Benedetto Platti was not really a baroque composer, however, but something of a transitional figure between the baroque and classical eras, and one of the contributors to the development of the sonata form. Much of his work has been lost, so this collection of all six pieces from his Opus 3 is a very welcome event, and Alexa Raine-Wright’s playing is simply luminous. Wisely, she varies the texture of the continuo on this recording, using varying combinations of cello, guitar, lute, and harpsichord. Recommended to all classical collections.


JAZZ


Stan Getz Quartet
Getz at the Gate (2 discs)
Verve
UCCV-1175/76
Rick’s Pick

If you wonder why Stan Getz was known to his fellow musicians (especially other saxophonists) by the simple nickname “The Sound,” just take a listen to this 1961 live date recorded at New York’s Village Gate. The recording quality is not outstanding: it sounds like the band was miked somewhat haphazardly, or even like the recording was made in the crowd by a fan (though that seems relatively unlikely given that there’s clear stereo separation in the mix, with the drums deep in the right channel). But despite the overall sonic mediocrity of the recording, Getz’s tenor sax booms through the mix, rich and deep and clear. On this date his quartet was an all-star crew: it included pianist Steve Kuhn, drummer Roy Haynes, and bassist John Neves, and together they play a marvelous standards set that features such favorites as “Stella by Starlight,” “Airegin,” and “Woody ‘n’ You” along with some more obscure fare—and the band finishes up with a rollicking midtempo (and nearly unrecognizable) rendition of the swing classic “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid.” For all jazz collections.


Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet
The Rhythm of Invention
Patois
PRCD023

If you want a sense of what to expect from this album, don’t look at the lineup of trombonist/composer/arranger Wayne Wallace’s quintet; instead, look at the list of 18 guest musicians, who appear in varying permutations throughout the program. That way you won’t be surprised by, for example, the wonderful string arrangements that complicate Wallace’s settings of “All the Things You Are” and “In a Mist” (yes, the Bix Beiderbecke tune) or the rich horn charts that crop up here and there all the way through. Also, don’t be fooled by the word “Latin” in the band’s name; while Latin rhythms are a constant thread throughout the album (note in particular the mathematical slyness with which Wallace incorporates that element into his arrangement of “Take Five”), this is not a “Latin jazz” album; it’s a Wayne Wallace album, which means the music goes wherever he wants to take it, and does so with joy and wit. This album is a pleasure from start to finish.


Alexa Tarantino
Winds of Change
Posi-tone
PR8197
Rick’s Pick

It’s not unusual to find a young saxophone player who consistently makes interesting note choices, nor is it hard to find one who is a master of varied and creative phrasing. Finding one who consistently does both, however, is something of a cause for celebration. Listen, for example, to the way in which Alexa Tarantino leads into her solo on the original composition “Face Value,” with fragmentary and slightly harmonically sideways phrases that eventually coalesce into long, fluid melodic statements. But don’t let her solos distract you from the quality of her writing itself. The harmonically knotty bop of “Face Value,” the lovely (and aptly titled) midtempo “Breeze,” the quietly complex “Square One”—these are all products of a major creative talent. And her facility on a variety of reeds and woodwinds makes this album, her debut as a leader, all the more impressive. Also, don’t miss trombonist Nick Finzer’s dynamite solo on the burning “Ready or Not.” Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.


Larry Koonse
New Jazz Standards Vol. 4
Summit
DCD 740
Rick’s Pick

Every time I receive a copy of an album in the New Jazz Standards series, I know I’m going to be in for a treat—and I haven’t been wrong yet. Some context: New Jazz Standards is the title of a collection of jazz compositions by Carl Saunders. The series of recordings under that name consists of albums by soloists hand-picked by Saunders, who has produced all of the albums so far as well. Each album features a different leader; in this case, it’s guitarst Larry Koonse, who leads a quartet that also includes pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Tom Warrington, and legendary drummer Joe LaBarbera. It might seem a bit arrogant to call a collection of one’s own work “new jazz standards,” but Saunder has more than demonstrated that he has the right; his tunes are straight-ahead in style but modern and creative (note in particular his sly structural innovations on “Baby Blues”), and his melodic creativity is really without peer. Koonse himself is clearly in love with these compositions, and his performances are filled with new ideas of his own while never losing touch with the essence of the tunes. This is one of the best jazz albums I’ve heard all year.


Mark Turner & Gary Foster
Mark Turner Meets Gary Foster (2 discs)
Capri
74156-2

Occupying the stylistic borderland between bebop and cool lies an ill-defined territory that I think of as “fast cool” or “dry bop.” Artists like Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh worked in this area, writing tunes that were relatively fast and complex like bop, but often somewhat melodically arid, and sometimes really harmonically difficult. On this two-disc live album, saxophonists Gary Foster and Mark Turner explore music along these lines, adding to the aridity of the sound by excluding any chordal instruments from the lineup: this is a quartet date featuring two saxes, bass, and drums. That’s not a configuration that normally interests me, but because I’ve so rarely heard a bad album on the Capri label I decided to give it a shot, and I’m very glad I did. Although the bass solos tend to be completely unaccompanied and therefore not much fun to listen to, overall these performances are hugely enjoyable; they swing mightily, and when the two saxes are playing the heads in harmony you may not even notice the lack of a piano or guitar. For all jazz collections.


Eyal Vilner Big Band
Swing Out!
Self-released
No cat. no.

The title of this album tells you most of what you might want to know about it: the focus is on classic swing (“In a Mellow Tone,” “Bei mir bist du schön”) and trad (“Do You Know What It Means,” “St. Louis Blues”) tunes in luscious big-band arrangements, all of them crafted with dancers in mind. Bandleader and reedman Eyal Vilner is the arranger, and I have to say he’s something of a genius. In order to keep the band’s focus correct during the recording sessions, they recorded live in the studio in a space big enough to accommodate dancers, who helped keep that swing feel powerful—and it worked. Some of the key moments on the album are the vocal tracks, though, particularly a slow and powerful rendition of the gospel classic “I’m on My Way to Canaan Land” featuring singer Brianna Thomas. All in all, this is a joyfully virtuosic album that is tough to listen to without dancing.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Various Artists
Vision & Revision: The First 80 Years of Topic Records (compilation; 2 discs)
Topic (dist. Redeye)
TXCD597
Rick’s Pick

For an independent label to be able to celebrate its 80th birthday is a remarkable thing. (Well, let’s be honest—in this day and age, for an independent label to celebrate its 20th birthday is a remarkable thing. An 80th birthday is downright astounding.) Topic is, believe it or not, the oldest independent label in the world; it has been recording and releasing British folk music since 1939. And while you might expect that this two-disc retrospective would draw on the label’s incredibly deep and rich vault of previously-released material, instead it turns out not really to be a retrospective at all, but rather a modern celebration: it consists of songs newly recorded by contemporary folk artists in tribute to the label, the only rule being that their selections had to all have been included on a Topic release at some point in the past. The result is a marvelous collection that includes new performances by the likes of Martin Simpson, Oysterband, Richard Thompson, Eliza Carthy, and Peggy Seeger. Some of the arrangements are a bit adventurous, but the focus, as one would expect, is on small acoustic settings—mainly voice and guitar. Given that the two discs together contain only 20 songs and clock in at 83 minutes in total, one is left to wonder at some of the omissions; could they not get June Tabor to contribute? Or the Battlefield Band? No matter; this collection is a treasure.


The Get Ahead
Deepest Light
Jullian
No cat. no.

I’m not entirely sure of the right genre designation for this band, which is probably part of the point. You could call their music gospel-inflected soul Americana, or maybe country-R&B, or maybe there just isn’t a good term. And that’s fine, of course. The vocals are strongly gospel-inflected, but the fiddle and steel guitar that emerge from time to time in the mix are definitely making a nod towards Nashville. The factor that unifies all of this Portland quintet’s songs is groove, and a penchant for tight harmonies on the chorus. There’s also quite a bit of tasty guitar picking, though most of it is designed to sink seamlessly into the mix. And if there are occasional moments of questionable vocal pitch, those are easy to overlook given the lusciousness of the melodies. Recommended.


Resonant Rogues
Autumn of the World
Sassafras Sounds
No cat. no.

Here’s another one that is charmingly difficult to pigeonhole, genre-wise. Resonant Rogues are a duo consisting of guitarist/singer Keith J. Smith and accordionist/banjoist Sparrow, and on their third album they continue to play fast and loose with the musical boundaries that separate country, old-time, Gypsy jazz, and Tin Pan Alley. Also Balkan music. That they do this without ever sounding precious or self-consciously postmodern is a major achievement–but the fact that they write great songs is what really matters. The old-timey sound of this album belies its topicality—whether dealing with issues of depression and addiction or slyly commenting on income inequality, these are songs that don’t hesitate to touch on both the universal and the particular. Very nice.


ROCK/POP


Johnny Shines
The Blues Came Falling Down
Nighthawk/Omnivore
OV-328
Rick’s Pick

Leroy Jodie Pierson
Rusty Nail (reissue)
Nighthawk/Omnivore
OV-329

These are two very different blues albums, one of them a reissue with an expanded playlist and the other a previously-unreleased live set dating from 1973. Leroy Jodie Pierson is the founder of Nighthawk Records, a St. Louis-based label that is better known for releasing reggae than the blues. But Pierson himself is an accomplished blues guitarist and singer, and he made this stripped-down recording (accompanied by just a drummer and bass player) about ten years after he founded the label. The original album is very good, and prominently features his expert acoustic and electric slide playing as well as his perfectly serviceable singing voice. Thirty years after its original release, some of the program (including the title track) will sound abrasively politically incorrect to modern ears, but if you want to listen to vintage blues that’s a risk you’re going to take. The bonus tracks are the real surprise: they include covers of songs by the Clash and by Hank Williams, and recordings made with a larger band in a wider variety of styles. It’s a fine album, but the Johnny Shines release is something really special. (Pierson actually makes an appearance on this one as second guitarist on several tracks.) Like Pierson, Shines was also an accomplished slide player, and he opens his set with a fun instrumental tune. But what will make you sit up straight is his voice: if your hair doesn’t stand on end the moment he opens his mouth at the beginning of “Seems a Million Years,” go to the doctor and have your pulse checked. He doesn’t hit that peak of intensity again, but he gets close enough to hold your attention unceasingly through the album’s full 80 minutes. Highly recommended to all collections.


Burnt Friedman
Musical Traditions in Central Europe (Explorer Series Vol. 4)
Nonplace
NON48

So here’s the joke: despite its anthromusicological title, this is not an album of field recordings of Central European folk music. Friedman is tweaking our nose, albeit gently, pointing out that contemporary European club music shares much in common with what we traditionally have understood folk music to be: it’s unconcerned with issues of music theory, it’s made largely by amateurs, and it’s designed to appeal to a very broad audience. Friedman being Friedman, that last characteristic should be taken with a grain of salt: the third track on this album, “Schwebende Himmelsbrücke,” is written in a time signature that I genuinely can’t figure out, for example. (It might actually be 6/8, but the accents are so screwy it’s hard to tell for certain.) Musicological considerations aside, this is yet another bracing, knotty, but thoroughly enjoyable instrumental outing from one of Europe’s most durably fascinating weirdos.


Pitch Black X Uncle Fester on Acid
No Sense Unfiltered
Dubmission
CDDUBM087
Rick’s Pick

Dub has its genesis in reggae music: in the late 1960s producers began to figure out that it was cheaper to put an instrumental version of the A side on the B side of a single than to record a whole new song, and eventually the remixing of those instrumental tracks became a highly developed art form—one that led directly to modern remix culture. But dub has since broken free of the reggae template, and has given rise to organic forms of its own—and there is no more advanced practitioner of that form than New Zealand duo Pitch Black. This album, however, is only partially credited to them; it’s actually a radical re-envisioning of their 2016 album Filtered Senses, the deconstruction being done at the hands of Uncle Fester on Acid (a.k.a. Doctor Dub, whose day job is as archivist to the mighty On-U Sound label). As one might expect, he brings an Adrian-Sherwood-style sense of ruthlessness in his approach to these tracks, folding, spindling, and mutilating them to within an inch of their lives and creating dense, dark, and massive new sound sculptures from the raw material. This makes an outstanding companion piece to the original album, which is also highly recommended to all libraries.


Buzzcocks
A Different Kind of Tension (reissue)
Domino
REWIGCD128

Buzzcocks
Singles Going Steady (reissue)
Domino
REWIGCD129

A Different Kind of Tension was the Buzzcocks third album proper, and the last one to feature the band’s original lineup. It finds them continuing to refine their sound, edging out of punk and into power-pop territory—though with songs like “Hollow Inside” and “I Don’t Know What to Do with My Life,” they still wouldn’t have made a comfortable double bill with, say, the Rubinoos. Singles Going Steady is very different: it wasn’t actually an organically-conceived album at all, but rather a compilation consisting (on Side 1) of eight of the band’s UK singles (including the deathless, if rather nasty, “Orgasm Addict”) along with (on Side 2) all of those singles’ B sides. It was put together as an U.S.-only release, put out originally on the I.R.S. label in hopes of arousing American interest in this rather bratty and abrasive Manchester band. For these reissues, both albums have been remastered from the original tapes; unfortunately, there is no bonus material.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Steel Pulse
Mass Manipulation
Rootfire Cooperative/Wiseman Doctrine
RFC013

Lead singer, songwriter, and rhythm guitarist David Hinds has always been the shaping personality behind Birmingham’s best reggae band, but with Mass Manipulation it appears that Steel Pulse has effectively become a solo project. (Fellow founding member Selwyn Brown is there in the band photo, but is not credited as a musician on the album.) Sonically, what does this mean? Not much, frankly: Hinds’ songs are as catchy, topical, and beautifully sung as always. His jazz tendencies are less pronounced than they have been in the past, which is a good thing frankly, and as time has gone on his politics have become sharper and more specific: consider the difference between, say, “A Who Responsible?” from 1982 and “Justice in Jena” from 2019. I miss the late drummer Steve “Grizzly” Nesbitt, but Hinds has assembled a crack team of session players for this very fine album. Recommended to all libraries that collect reggae.


Lee “Scratch” Perry
Rainford
On-U Sound (dist. Redeye)
ONUCD144
Rick’s Pick

Legendary producer Lee “Scratch” Perry has long bragged about being a “madman,” and his various exploits over the years would tend to support his self-diagnosis. The most distressing of those was his destruction of the Black Ark studio, where he recorded some of the most strange, astonishing, and deeply dread songs and albums of reggae’s roots-and-culture period. Since then he has worked with a variety of friends and acolytes, few of them anywhere near as inspired as he was during his heyday. But Adrian Sherwood, head honcho at the great On-U Sound label, is one of the very few producers who can keep up with Perry at his craziest, and some of the best work Perry has recorded in recent decades has been with Sherwood at the board. This latest effort is one of the best: as usual, it features Perry intoning warnings, imprecations, and nonsense lyrics over rhythms crafted and produced by Sherwood–but since they’ve been friends and have worked together off and on for decades, Sherwood knows better than most how to craft a track that will bring out the best in Perry. Without trying explicitly to ape the dense, splashy sound of the Black Ark, Sherwood pays homage to it while bringing his own strong production personality to the mix as well, and the result is consistently brilliant.


Marcia Griffiths
Timeless
Tad’s
TRCD1227

Marcia Griffiths, former member of the I-Threes (Bob Marley’s backing vocal trio) and solo artist of peerless reputation, is going to turn 70 this year. Think about that while you’re listening to her rich, clear, chesty voice on this, her latest solo album. She still has pipes that any 25-year-old would envy, and she still delivers roots reggae and lovers rock with all the confidence and power she showed on her best solo albums in the 1970s. The material chosen here is a cross-section of classic songs from Studio One, where she began her career, so many of the tracks will be familiar to longstanding reggae fans: “Baby Be True,” “My Guiding Star,” “What Kind of World,” etc. But the arrangements are innovative and her take on them is fresh, and this album is yet another solid winner from the woman widely and appropriately known as the Queen of Reggae.


Little Harry
Youngest Veteron (Remixed) (digital only)
Top Smile
TSR-LP-001

Youngest Veteron, originally released digitally and on LP in 2018, marked the belated return of a gifted reggae singjay whose last album was a 1983 DJ clash with fellow child star Billy Boyo. On Youngest Veteron Little Harry chatted over 90s-style digital dancehall rhythms provided by the estimable High Smile HiFi crew, and he showed himself still to be a powerful force on the mic. This remix compilation brings together twelve reworks of four tracks from the original album, and while it has some outstanding moments it’s not as consistently compelling as the album itself. Producers like Warrior Dread, Interrupt, and Puppa Djoul put their fingerprints on “Hard Life,” “Kingston City,” and “Nah Lef di Earth” respectively, but the fireworks don’t really start until 6Blocc turns “So Many Hot Girls” into a brilliant jungle workout. Still, both of these releases are worthwhile and would be of interest to any reggae collection.

June 2019


PICK OF THE MONTH


Youssou N’Dour
History
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
7026

It’s kind of hard to believe that Youssou N’Dour has been making albums for roughly 40 years now–though his early career as a recording artist consisted mainly of selling homemade cassette tapes on the streets of Dakar. 35 albums later, he’s a huge international star, and his latest release will show you why (if you don’t already know). A remarkable talent for soaring, infectious melody and a voice that is as sweet and powerful at age 60 as it was when he was 20 combine to make a singer and songwriter with the ability to engage audiences nearly universally whether he’s delivering his compositions in English, French, or Wolof. On History he makes a particular point to pay tribute to his late bass player Habib Faye and to the great drummer and singer Babatunde Olatunji, two of whose songs D’Dour performs here. N’Dour’s musical background is in the mbalax genre of his native Senegal, and its influence is still everywhere in his music, but his style has matured and expanded far beyond any regional designation. He’s truly an international treasure, and History would make a great starting point for anyone who is not yet familiar with his rich catalog of work.


CLASSICAL


Jennifer Higdon; Samuel Barber; Patrick Harlin
American Rapture
Yolanda Kondonassis; Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra / Ward Stare
Azica (dist. Naxos)
AXA-71327
Rick’s Pick

Jennifer Higdon’s marvelous harp concerto (of which this is the world-premiere recording) would be enough to give this album a Rick’s Pick designation; it’s grand and lyrical, humorous and complex, and completely enthralling–and as always, Yolanda Kondonassis’ playing is brilliant. Samuel Barber’s one-movement Symphony No. 1 isn’t really my favorite piece of the pre-war American repertoire, but Patrick Harlin’s Rapture (another world-premiere recording) is quite lovely. All in all, this is an outstanding album and would make an excellent addition to any library collection.


Ferdinand Ries
Flute Quartets Vol. 2
Ardinghello Ensemble
CPO (dist. Naxos)
555 231-2
Rick’s Pick

Ferdinand Ries
String Quartets Vol. 3
Schuppanzigh Quartett
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 305-2

It has been interesting and gratifying to see the work of little-known German composer Ferdinand Ries beginning to attract more attention in recent years. A contemporary (and friend) of Beethoven, Ries occupies a similar place in the transitional period between the classical and the Romantic periods, and his chamber music is particularly attractive, carrying that faintly melancholy and bittersweet flavor that characterizes so much of the music of the time. The Ardinghello Ensemble’s ongoing exploration of Ries’ music for string trio with and without flute (using a wooden flute but modern stringed instruments) is absolutely gorgeous, the unique tone of Karl Kaiser’s flute bringing a particular poignancy to the music. The three works featured on the Schuppanzigh Quartett’s recording actually include two string quartets and one quintet, and represent two periods of Ries’ career: the quintet op. 68 was published in 1816 (and was his first composition scored entirely for strings), the same year as his op. 70 quartet. The c-minor quartet op. 168 was published eight years later while Ries was living and working in London. These pieces have a slightly more sturmlich-und-dranglich flavor to them, but are equally fine–and the Schuppanzighs’ playing is electrifying. Both discs are wonderful.


Johan Helmich Roman
The Golovin Music
Höör Barock / Dan Laurin
BIS (dist. Naxos)
BIS-2355

Czar Peter II was crowned at age 12, in 1728. In preparation for the event, a local orchestra leader named Johan Helmich Roman was charged with (quickly) composing some appropriately grand and celebratory music for the occasion. The result was this portfolio of no fewer than 45 brief pieces (several of them less than one minute in length) for varying–and not always specified–instrumentation. Also unspecified, in many cases, were tempos. So for an ensemble to record this collection today requires not exactly skills of strict reconstruction, but rather of creative interpretation. This marks the first time all of these pieces have been recorded together, and while the somewhat fragmentary nature of the work makes it a less than completely satisfying listening experiences from beginning to end, this recording definitely has important academic uses–and the performances themselves are excellent throughout.


Various Composers
Perpetulum (2 discs)
Third Coast Percussion
Orange Mountain Music (dist. PIAS)
0132

Steve Reich
Colin Currie & Steve Reich: Live at Foundation Louis Vuitton
Colin Currie Group; Synergy Vocals
Colin Currie Records (dist. PIAS)
CCR0003

Third Coast Percussion is responsible for some of the most interesting and exciting recordings of the past few years. Those who hear “percussion” and think “drums and woodblocks and gongs” need to understand that TCP’s primary instruments are mallet keyboards and other tuned instruments, which means that most of what you hear when they’re playing is melody and harmony, not just rhythm. And on their latest album, a two-disc collection of works by TCP’s members as well as by Gavin Bryars and Philip Glass (whose Perpetulum was commissioned for the group) you’ll hear a glorious variety of styles and sounds, perhaps the most consistently enjoyable of them being David Skidmore’s Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities. Another outstanding percussion group on the scene right now is the Colin Currie Group, who are captured here in concert performing works by the legendary composer Steve Reich. Reich himself joins Currie to perform the delightful Clapping Music, and the rest of the program includes Proverb, Mallet Quartet (which Reich wrote for the group), Pulse, and Music for Pieces of Wood. These works provide a career-length overview of Rech’s writing for small ensembles, and though some of these pieces are quite familiar they are played with such freshness and energy here that they sound brand new. Both of these recordings are highly recommended.


Franz Joseph Haydn; Thomas Haigh; Christian Ignatius Latrobe
Joseph Haydn and His London Disciples
Rebecca Maurer
Genuin (dist. Naxos)
GEN 19650

The several years that Haydn spent in London in the early- to mid-1790s are well documented and resulted not only in a series of hugely successful concerts, but also in the production of some of his most celebrated works. While there, he lived in the Piccadilly area near the Broadwood piano factory, and it’s a Broadwood fortepiano (one built just a few years after Haydn’s London sojourn) that the marvelous keyboardist Rebecca Maurer plays on this recording of pieces by Haydn himself and by two of his English admirers. It’s worth noting that several of these are world-premiere recordings, but the primary attraction of this disc is Maurer’s lovely, sensitive playing–followed closely by the unusual and sometimes slightly bizarre characteristics of the pieces written in tribute to Haydn. For all libraries supporting a keyboard program.


Alonso Lobo
Sacred Vocal Music
Coro Victoria / Ana Fernández-Vega
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95789

A disciple of Francisco Guerrero and colleague of Tomás Luis de Victoria, Alonso Lobo de Borja spent most of his career at the cathedral in Seville. He was largely forgotten from the 18th to the 20th centuries, before being rediscovered during the surge of interest in early music in the 1960s and 1970s. This collection of sacred works, performed by the Coro Victoria of Madrid, is designed to demonstrate the wide range of styles Lobo employed in his Latin liturgical works, and it includes motets alongside Mass extracts (sadly no complete Masses, though space would have allowed at least one in its entirety). Coro Victoria sing with a lovely, colorful blend, and this album would make an excellent introduction to to the work of a sadly underrated composer.


Jacob Kirkegaard
Phonurgia Metallis
Important
IMPREC462

Jacob Kirkegaard is one of the most consistently interesting practitioners of conceptual sound sculpture on the current scene. Having previously created music out of source material like radioactivity at Chernobyl and melting ice in the Arctic, for this project he has chosen a much less dramatic (and politically charged) conceptual medium: three large hanging metal plates, one of iron, one of copper, and one of brass. By putting a piezo sensor and a contact speaker on each one, he was able to create music using their naturally occurring vibrations, tempered and shaped by the differing physical properties of each material. What emerges is an ebbing and flowing of drones with overtones and other subtle sonic features that become more apparent the harder you listen, which is a fascinating process. For all libraries supporting programs in experimental composition or installation art.


JAZZ


Bill Evans
Evans in England (2 discs)
Resonance
HCD-2037

The Resonance label continues steadily to unearth, restore, and release previously-unheard live performances by the legendary Bill Evans, and they keep being wonderful. This latest release documents performances by Evans and his trio (at the time consisting of bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell) at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London during a residency in December 1969. The tapes were made, without Evans’ knowledge, by a French fan who had been following Evans on tour around Europe and who recorded the music on a small handheld tape machine. As a result, the sound quality isn’t stellar–it’s clear and well defined, but somewhat brittle and trebly, as one might expect. But the music is glorious, as one would also expect; Evans was at the height of his powers at this time. Recommended to all jazz collections.


Fred Hersch & The WDR Big Band
Begin Again
Palmetto
No cat. no.

I don’t usually make much space in my life for big band jazz–I respect the tradition but generally find the music too overbearing, too bombastic–but one of the rules that govern my life as a listener can be summarized as “Does it involve Fred Hersch? Then yes.” So I gave this album a spin. It finds Hersch at the head of an outstanding German ensemble, playing a set of his own compositions as arranged (and conducted) by the legendary Vince Mendoza. Mendoza is brilliant at locating and amplifying the subtleties and complexities of Hersch’s writing, expanding them into glorious elaborations. And Hersch himself does an amazing job of moving forward and backward in the arrangements, taking center stage when called upon to do so and supporting the ensemble modestly but powerfully otherwise. Like all of Hersch’s albums, this one is highly recommended to all libraries.


Yoko Miwa Trio
Keep Talkin’
Ocean Blue Tear Music
OBTM-0011
Rick’s Pick

Yoko Miwa is another pianist to whom I’m always willing to dedicate some time and concentration–ever since I heard (and rapturously reviewed) her album Fadeless Flower fifteen years ago, I have never yet been disappointed by one of her trio recordings, and this one continues her winning streak. Opening with the funky title track and then sliding into a subtly subversive arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud” (check out drummer Scott Goulding’s slippery, second-line-inflected accompaniment during her solo) Miwa takes the listener on a thrilling and uplifting journey through a program of originals, standards, and even a Beatles medley. Miwa remains one of the real standouts in the crowded field of A-list jazz pianists working today.


Ramsey Lewis Trio
The Early Years: 1956-59 (2 discs)
Acrobat (dist. MVD)
ADDCD3294

Pianist and composer Ramsey Lewis achieved fame and fortune in the 1960s with a series of jazz-pop crossover recordings, several years before the concept of jazz-rock “fusion” became popular. But even in the 1950s he was experimenting with unusual and pop-inflected arrangements, for example taking a popular theme from the opera Carmen and giving it an unusual setting with bluesy interludes. This two-disc set brings together material from his trio’s first four albums (Gentlemen of Swing, Gentlement of Jazz, Down to Earth, and An Hour with the Ramsey Lewis Trio)–though, annoyingly, it doesn’t include the entirety of those albums. Instead, it adds several tracks that were released at the time as singles. The result is an interesting and enjoyable but slightly frustrating collection.


Nicki Parrott
From New York to Paris
Arbors Jazz
ARCD 19466

Bassist and singer Nicki Parrott is always a delight to hear, whether she’s singing or playing bass or (astonishingly, to me) doing both simultaneously. Her latest is a quartet date that focuses on what we call the American Song Book–basically, songs by the likes of Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Cahn and Styne, and one of more of the Gershwins. These are songs that usually were first heard in stage musicals in the 1920s and 1930s, and that have since become jazz standards (as well as providing the chord changes for additional jazz tunes). So the repertoire on which Parrott is drawing here is pretty familiar: “I Love Paris,” “Manhattan,” “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” etc. But she sings and plays them with such warmth and with such a tender yet firm sense of swing that you don’t mind whatsoever hearing them again. Kudos also to reedman Harry Allen, who brings his own powerful sense of warmth and swing to the proceedings. For all jazz collections.


RPE Duo
Bananas
Wave Folder
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

RPE Duo consists of Matt Postle (trumpet, keyboards) and Radek Rudnicki (electronics), who collaborate internationally by combining in-person work with remote file-swapping to create their strange, ethereal, and sometimes eerie compositions. Their latest album was created while the two were resident artists at EMS Studios in Sweden between 2015 and 2018, where they worked with vintage modular synthesizers to create source material with which they worked over the course of the following year, sometimes at great distance from each other. Fans of Jon Hassell will find much to enjoy here, as will anyone who loves sonic experimentation generally.


FOLK/COUNTRY


April Verch
Once a Day
Slab Town
STR19CD01
Rick’s Pick

Look, I love a country revival album as much as anyone, but sometimes you want something more than a slavish imitation of 1950s and 1960s styles. And if you agree with me, then run, don’t walk, to your closest meat-space or online record store to pick up a copy of the latest album from Canadian fiddler, stepdancer, and singer April Verch, which is both a sincere tribute to the vintage country sound and a sly expansion of that tradition. Yes, there are nods to legendary singers like Connie Francis and Loretta Lynn and to producers like Billy Sherrill (listen to the piano and the backing chorus on the title track, for example). But there are also plenty of lovely surprises, like a touching duet with her dad on “Let’s Make a Fair Trade” and her reverent rendition of Lucille Star’s “The French Song.” And come on–a crooked-rhythm version of “Durham’s Bull,” with a Redd Volkaert Tele solo in the middle? Ouais! Git it, girl! This album is a pure delight from start to finish.


Leo Bud Welch
The Angels in Heaven Done Signed My Name
Easy Eye Sound
EES-007

Leo Bud Welch’s career as a gospel/blues musician began in 1945, when he was 13 years old and began playing and singing professionally at Sabougla Missionary Baptist Church in Mississippi. But his debut recording was released in 2014, when he was 82, and at that improbable age he began a new life as a touring musician. (His career has been chronicled in a documentary film aptly titled Late Blossom Blues.) He passed away in late 2017. This album draws on his final studio recordings, and consists entirely of traditional gospel songs performed in a raw, gutbucket blues style. If it weren’t such a stingy program (ten songs and just over 26 minutes, despite drawing on a reported 25-30 studio recordings) it would get a Rick’s Pick designation. Highly recommended nevertheless.


ESOEBO
VI
Knot Reel
No cat. no.

This duo’s ungainly name is an acronym that stands for “Eclectic Selections of Everything but Opera,” and despite both its awkwardness and the stylistic sprawl it suggests, this music is neither awkward nor particularly stylistically wide-ranging. The songs are gentle, sly, and graceful, and they generally fall comfortably within an acoustic-pop framework. Guitarist/singer/songwriter Chuck McDowell and singer/cellist Gail Burnett are the core of this group, and they’re joined by an array of sidepersons who provide tasteful accompaniment. The album opens with the wry “Airplane” (a song whose chord changes are startlingly reminiscent of “Makin’ Whoopee”) and then delivers a series of country-ish, Tin Pan Alley-ish, bluesy, and folky songs that remark on life, love, and women’s shoes with gentle good humor and impressive tunefulness.


Chuck Mead
Close to Home
Plowboy
PLO-CD-1051

This disc came to me out of the blue, with no contact information and no one-sheet to tell me who this guy is. And I guess that’s helpful, in a way, because it meant I listened to the album without any preconceptions beyond the impression that he kind of looks like Bryan Ferry on the album cover. The music is sometimes kind of rockish (“Big Bear in the Sky”), sometimes a sort of Mavericks-meet-James-Hunter bluebeat (“I’m Not the Man for the Job”), and sometimes acoustic honky-tonk (“My Baby’s Holding It Down”)–and that’s just in the first three songs! Mead’s songwriting is unassuming but clever if you listen (best/worst line: “daddy worked the pole so mama wouldn’t have to”); his voice is attractive but tends to be just a bit buried in the mix, so you have to listen for that too. On the whole, this album is something of a curiosity but a really fun one.


ROCK/POP


Kitty Kat Fan Club
Dreamy Little You
Asian Man
AM 346
Rick’s Pick

The latest wonderful disc from the wonderful independent Asian Man label is the full-length debut from Kitty Kat Fan Club, a (wonderful) band consisting entirely of members from label owner Mike Park’s hometown of San Jose, California. It started out as just a way of hanging out with musical friends and having fun, but when great songs started emerging from the hang, the group of friends turned into a band. And those songs really are great: punky in the “energetic” sense, but thoroughly imbued with pure pop hooks and unassumingly sharp song structure. The dual lead vocals by Casey Jones and Brianda Nocheazul are a complete delight, and the whole album is just absolutely, er, wonderful from start to finish. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Ioanna Gika
Thalassa
Sargent House (dist. Redeye)
SH 202

Formerly known as IO Echo, with this album Ionna Gika steps out under her given name for the first time, releasing a collection of original songs that draw subtly on her Greek heritage to explore themes of grief and romantic disappointment in a dark electropop style. From the glitchy atmospherics of “Out of Focus” to the more rockish groove of “New Geometry” and the multitracked choral wash of the title track, Zika explores what seems like a world of musical variety within what is actually a fairly constricted stylistic palette. At times both her vocals and her sung melodies strongly bring to mind Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins, but ultimately the totality of her sound is quite unlike anything else you’ll hear this year. This is a beautiful album that would make a fine addition to any pop collection.


Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers
No Good Deed
Pretty Good for a Girl
PGCD-04

For their third studio album, blues-rocker Mindi Abair and her band settled into the studio and stayed there, together, for five days. Playing largely live and with minimal takes in order to capture as much raw energy as possible, they ended up producing a rich and winning set of original songs and covers, among them a crisply funky take on Storyville’s “Good Day for the Blues,” and a fine version of the Etta James hit “Seven Day Fool.” “Mess I’m In” is another highlight track, and I think it’s an original, but since the album provides no songwriting credits it’s hard to know for sure. Anyway, Abair and her band rock hard and with undeniable soul, and it’s a treat whenever she takes a saxophone solo. Recommended.


More Rockers
Dubplate Selection Vol. 1 (reissue)
Echo Beach
EB138
Rick’s Pick

Ever since it emerged in the underground dance clubs of London as a new genre in the mid-1990s, jungle at its best has been characterized by the balancing of opposites: light and skittery double-time breakbeats with slow, heavyweight basslines; vintage roots reggae vocals with modern electronic production; smoky dubwise production with intense, high-energy tempos. Eventually jungle would harden into drum’n’bass, which (to my ears) was never as fun or interesting–but luckily, old-school jungle has never completely gone away. It’s still purveyed by, for example, More Rockers, a duo consisting of Rob Smith (of Smith & Mighty) and Peter Rose (of Massive Attack). They’re not as prolific as I’d like, so this reissue of their long-out-of-print 1995 debut album is a very, very welcome development. If you’re not familiar with the genre, snap it up quickly–there will be only 555 CD copies pressed.


Morcheeba
Blaze Away (deluxe reissue; digital only)
Fly Agaric
No cat. no.

One of the bands most closely associated with the trip hop genre, Morcheeba has been recording irregularly (and with decreasing frequency) since 1996. This release is a digital-only deluxe reissue of their most recent album, 2018’s Blaze Away. Libraries will likely prefer the original release in CD format, but here I’m recommending the deluxe reissue because it includes a full album’s worth of additional remixes by the likes of Djrum, FaltyDL, De Lata, and Yimino–and as of this writing, the whole package is available for only $6.99. Both the band name and the album title hint slyly at what to expect: basically, stoner beats with languid vocals. But Morcheeba has always been able to imbue its highly genre-specific songs with enough substrata of originality to allow them to stand apart from the pack, and this album is among their best efforts. Highly recommended.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Stephan Micus
White Night
ECM
2639

A new album from multi-instrumentalist and singer Stephan Micus is always an exciting event, and trying to figure out how to categorize each of his new albums is always a frustrating one. Which, of course, speaks well for him as a creative musician. He’s a master of a seemingly endless list of instruments from a wide variety of world cultures: the kalimba (or thumb piano), the duduk, the nay, various kinds of guitars, the sinding, etc. And the music he makes with these instruments sounds like it comes from a faraway and possibly mythical country: the keening, plaintive tone of the duduk contains hints of Armenia and the Balkans while the gentle burbling of the kalimba evokes sub-Saharan Africa, and his vocals (sung in an unidentified language) could come from just about anywhere. As always, the music on his album is quiet and intense and, often, deeply sad. Highly recommended.


Various Artists
Nostalgique Kongo: Rumbas Lingala, Swahili, Kikongo & Douala 1950-1960
Buda Musique (dist. MVD)
860339

International trade has resulted in many wonderful (and some not-so-wonderful) things over the past several centuries, but surely one outcome that we can all agree to be grateful for is Congolese rumba. Emerging in the late 1930s in the Brazzaville/Kinshasa area, the development of this form of urban dance music was sparked by the interaction of Congolese port workers and sailors from the Caribbean, especially Cuba. A commercial music industry was coming into its own at the same time, and the result was an expansion of musical styles and a flood of recordings, 23 of which are gathered here on this excellent collection. The sound quality is better than one might reasonably expect, and the songs themselves are a consistent delight.


Michael Palmer
Angella/Michael Palmer Meets Kelly Ranks
Burning Sounds (dist. MVD)
BSRCD910

Over the past several years, the Burning Sounds label has been steadily reissuing classic and long-out-of-print reggae albums in two-LPs-on-one-CD format, and this is one of the best so far. The label has (wisely) been focusing on vintage roots and early dancehall releases, and these two stellar efforts from singer Michael Palmer are from the early 1980s, when the nascent dancehall style was really taking hold. Both albums feature the mighty Roots Radics band, who give the sweet-voiced Palmer their typically deep and powerful backing. Palmer’s rather shaky rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” is the only disappointment on the first album; the second one is even better, complicated only slightly by the confusing inclusion of one Kelly Ranks on the masthead–how he was actually involved in the album is something of a mystery.


Suns of Arqa
Heart of the Suns 1979-2019 (compilation)
Interchill
ICHILLCD058
Rick’s Pick

Today, the idea of blending Indian classical music with dub and electronica may not sound particularly strange or even innovative. But Suns of Arqa–a rotating cast of musicians that orbits around founder Michael Wadada–has now been doing that for 40 years. I promise you, it was a much wilder idea in 1979. Anyway, over the course of those four decades Wadada and his collaborators have produced an extensive catalog of some of the deepest cross-cultural grooves you can imagine, and this beautifully-selected retrospective offers a perfect introduction to the group’s unique art. You’ve got your techno-flavored stompers, your floating dub blissouts, and your electro-funk drones, all shot through with various kinds of pancultural textures and melodies and all of it done respectfully and insightfully. Here’s hoping for another couple of decades of output from this band, at the very least.

May 2019

Posted on

PICK OF THE MONTH


The Skints
Swimming Lessons
Easy Star/Mr. Bongo
MRBCD212

There’s nothing particularly new about a band blending elements of reggae and punk–Bad Brains did it (exquisitely), and so did No Doubt and the Clash and many others. But what’s unusual about the Skints’ latest album is that they’re going against the usual stream of things: most punk bands that incorporate reggae elements become less punky and more reggaefied as time goes on (just listen to the Clash’s debut album and London Calling back to back for a good example of this tendency). But while the Skints’ last album was an absolute gem of straight-up pop reggae, their latest veers wildly back and forth between and among crushing punk rock, hiccuping jungle, drill’n’bass, roots reggae, and rock steady. This is the kind of eclecticism that could come off as gimmicky if it weren’t so solidly rooted in brilliant songwriting, but the consistently high quality of the songs keeps the proceedings from ever coming off as weird or dilletantish. One of the things that sets the Skints apart from the pack is the fact that they’re blessed with no fewer than three fine lead vocalists, who take turns delivering songs of rare incisiveness undergirded by brilliant arrangements. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


CLASSICAL


Antonio Vivaldi; Raffaele Calace; Domenico Caudioso
Come una volta
Julien Martineau; Concerto Italiano / Rinaldo Allesandrini
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
V 5455

Johann Sebastian Bach
Concertos BWV 1052R, 1056R & 1041; Sonata BWV 1034 & Partita BWV 1004 (reissue; 2 CD + DVD)
Avi Avital; Kammerakademie Potsdam
Deutsche Grammophone
00298 483 6590

The mandolin has never gotten the respect it deserves in the context of classical music; these days in Europe it’s most commonly associated with syrupy Neapolitan love songs, and in the US it’s most widely known as a bluegrass instrument. But the repertoire of classical music featuring the mandolin is, if not vast, at least considerable, and one of the most notable composers to have used that instrument as a solo vehicle is Antonio Vivaldi, two of whose concerti (along with one trio sonata) are presented on this album by Julien Martineau. As lovely as these pieces are, though, what’s really striking on his album are the more contemporary mandolin concertos of Raffaele Calace (written in 1925) and another by the relatively obscure baroque composer Domenico Caudioso. The Bach album is a very different sort of program. This one consists of concertos, a sonata, a partita, and a suite all originally written for different instruments and presented here in arrangements (by Avital himself) for mandolin as the solo instrument. The package is actually a reissue of an album originally issued in 2012, augmented by significant bonus material including a DVD of Avital playing two of the pieces from the original album with a different ensemble. The playing on both of these albums is outstanding, and the tonal contrast between the two instruments is worth noting–Martineau’s mandolin is brighter and more silvery, whereas Avital’s has a darker and woodier tone. Both releases are highly recommended to all libraries.


Various Composers
Music for Mandora
Gábor Tokodi
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95869

From the mandolin to the mandora–an instrument you may never have heard of (I’ll admit that I hadn’t), but that will sound pretty familiar to anyone who has heard a lute, a cittern, or an octave mandolin. In design, it frankly just looks pretty much like a lute, with a teardrop-shaped body, vaulted back, and double-coursed strings. But its sound is deeper and a bit darker, due to its expanded bass range. For this delightful recording Gábor Tokodi has assembled three obscure works, one a sonata by Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello and the others suites by anonymous composers that were discovered in university and monastic archives. As one would expect, the Brescianello piece is more academic while the two anonymous suites and dance-y and fun.


Heinrich & Carl Baermann
Music for Clarinet and Piano
Dario Zingales; Florian Podgoreanu
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95785
Rick’s Pick

The legendary clarinetist Heinrich Baermann had four sons, among them Carl, who would himself go on to become a legendary clarinet pedagogue. But both men also distinguished themselves as composers (Carl particularly), and this marvelous disc features world-premiere recordings of three pieces from each of them, as well as a wonderful performance of Carl’s instrumental settings of six Schubert lieder. All of these pieces were written at a time–the Romantic period–when the clarinet’s emotive qualities were being put to the most fruitful use, and the performances (on modern instruments) are outstanding. This disc should be considered an essential purchase for all classical collections.


Various Composers
O crux benedicta: Lent and Holy Week at the Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel Choir / Massimo Palombella
Deutsche Grammophon
483 5673

On my third time listening to this album, I finally realized what it was that struck me about it so strangely: its opening track is a piece of Gregorian chant on which the choir sounds absolutely eerie. The voices seem to be floating like mist out of a dark cave, which is fitting given the deep solemnity of the liturgical setting for which it’s intended: Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The remainder of the program is given over to polyphonic works by the likes of Palestrina, De Rore, Victoria, Festa, and Lasso, all of them chosen for liturgical purposes and all of them evoking the somber mood of reverence and wonder leading up to Good Friday; all of the works presented were written to be sung in the Sistine Chapel, which is where they were recorded. The Sistine Chapel Choir has a unique sound; despite the presence of boy trebles, its tonal colors are all purples and grays, and they are perfectly suited to this repertoire.


Carl Stone
Baroo (digital only)
Unseen Worlds
UW26

I was introduced to the music of Carl Stone only fairly recently, when I received a review copy of a collection of his electronic music from the 1980s and 1990s. This led me to investigate a similar collection of his music from the 1970s, and both albums failed utterly to prepare me for his new release, which sounds completely different from his earlier work. Baroo consists of electronic music intended for live performance, all of it being created by the splintering and re-assembly of sonic source material, some of which seems to be live recordings of African bands (“Baroo”), jazz combos (“Xé May”) and perhaps Southeast Asian pop music or maybe a highlife ensemble (“Sun Nong Dan”). The actual origins of these pieces are obscured by the various ways in which they’ve been digitally folded, spindled, and mutilated, and the result is a fascinating and often startlingly beautiful roller-coaster of kaleidoscopic sound.


Gabriel Fauré; Francis Poulenc; Claude Debussy
Requiem; Figure humaine; Trois chansons de Charles d’Orleans
Ensemble Aedes; Les Siècles / Mathieu Romano
Aparte Music (dist. PIAS)
AP201

One could hardly ask for a more stylistically varied collection of late-19th and early-20th-century French choral music than this one. Opening with Fauré’s famously affecting setting of the Requiem Mass, then shifting to Poulenc’s more astringent (and sometimes rather puckish, as was his wont) double-choir cantata Figure humaine, and from there to Debussy’s settings of three 15th-century verses, the Ensemble Aedes presents three strikingly different takes on French choral developments of that period. It’s a very fine recording, and in particular represents one of the richest-sounding renditions of Fauré’s Requiem that I’ve heard.


Jean-Baptiste Lully; Georg Philipp Telemann; Jean-Philippe Rameau
The Lully Effect
Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra / Barthold Kuijken
Naxos
8.573867
Rick’s Pick

Ah, the baroque period–when women were women and men all had a minimum of two first names. Anyway, for this recording the great flutist and conductor Barthold Kuijken has created a program designed to remind us of the “power and intensity” of the music of Versailles, as particularly expressed in the theatrical music of the two French masters of the period: Lully and Rameau. Between Lully’s Armide overture and Rameau’s suite from Dardanus, Kuijken has elected to insert Telemann’s popular e-minor suite for flute and other wind instruments with strings and continuo–a work that drew deeply and explicitly on the style of his French counterparts. Anyone who has been following the work of the Kuijken family over the past four decades knows what to expect: exciting, exacting, and passionate performances that shed new light on even the most familiar material. For all libraries.


Dolphin Midwives
Liminal Garden (LP and digital only)
Sounds et al./Beacon Sound (dist. Forced Exposure)
No cat. no.

Dolphin Midwives is the pseudonym of harpist, singer, and composer Sage Fisher, who subjects both her voice and her harp to significant electronic manipulation to create shimmering and otherworldly compositions that sort of feel like songs, but not really. Interestingly, the harp is usually immediately identifiable as such, and so is her voice–but even when the music is genuinely lyrical and mellifluous, as it usually is, the sonic disruptions created by her treatments undermine its lyricism in consistently interesting and often very beautiful ways, resulting in music the abstraction of which ebbs and flows.


Kuba Kapsa
Supersonic Moth
Denovali
DEN341

This one would make a good companion piece to the Dolphin Midwives album reviewed above. If you know pianist/composer Kuba Kapsa’s name, it’s probably because of his work leading the Polish avant-garde group Contemporary Noise Ensemble. But on his own he’s also a composer of film and theater music, and on this solo piano album he takes an approach somewhat similar to Fisher’s, recording his piano pieces and then subjecting them to electronic alteration. The big difference is that in his case, the unaltered piano tracks remain front and center while the electronically-modified manifestations mutter and burble and glitch along in the background. Sometimes the effect is gentle and moody, and sometimes it’s genuinely eerie and even a little frightening. Cool stuff.


JAZZ


Bill Frisell; Thomas Morgan
Epistrophy
ECM
2626
Rick’s Pick

For their second duo album, guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan returned again to the Village Vanguard, the legendary (and legendarily intimate) jazz venue where they recorded their first album, 2017’s Small Town. And as before, together they explore an idiosyncratic program of standards (“Lush Life,” “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”), country melodies (“Wildwood Flower” [again], “Red River Valley”), and less-familiar fare (Paul Motian’s weird “Mumbo Jumbo”). As the title indicates, there’s some Monk on there as well: not only the title track, but also a lovely take on the ballad “Pannonica.” And just as they did with “Goldfinger” on the last album, they take a run at another Bond movie theme here: “You Only Live Twice.” Frisell and Morgan are a dream duo, never sounding “tight” but always connected. Brilliant and gorgeous.


Mats Eilertsen
And Then Comes the Night
ECM
2619

The title of bassist/composer Mats Eilertsen’s third album (and his second as a leader for ECM) might lead you to expect music of quiet intensity and darkness. If so, you’d be only partly right: accompanied by pianist Harmen Fraanje and drummer Thomas Strønen, what Eilertsen delivers here is a program of music that is quiet and intense, but also oddly bright in flavor. Some of it is carefully composed and some of it is significantly improvised, and the group recorded without headphones so that their interactions would be as acoustically organic as possible. There are very few solos; instead, the three players constantly move with and around each other, giving each composition its own identity but treating the music less as a vehicle for individual self-expression than as a project that they are constantly working on collaboratively. In some ways this is classic “ECM jazz,” and in other ways it’s unlike anything else I’ve heard.


Scott Robinson
Tenormore
Arbors Jazz (dist. MVD)
ARCD 19462

After decades of demonstrating his facility on virtually of the reed instruments, Scott Robinson decided to put together an album that makes a clear statement: “I’m still a tenor player at the core.” And that statement comes across loud and clear on this quartet date, though his eclecticism comes through in other ways, notably in his arrangements: the Beatles ballad “And I Love Her” performed as an unaccompanied sax solo; the Tin Pan Alley classic “Put on a Happy Face” arranged as a ballad; “The Nearness of You” cast as organ-driven quiet-storm bedroom funk; the deeply gospel-informed “Rainy River” (written by Robinson’s drummer here, Martin Wind). Robinson’s originals are interesting in their own ways: “Tenor Eleven” sounds like bebop as written by Hindemith, while the title track is funkier and more experimental, though never completely out. Overall, this is an album that would find a welcome home in any library’s jazz collection.


Akira Tana & Otonowa
Ai San San: Love’s Radiance
Vega
0009
Rick’s Pick

This stunningly beautiful album is the third from drummer Akira Tana’s Otonowa ensemble, which also features the mighty pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Noriyuki Ken Okada, and saxophonist/flutist Masaru Koda. Many of the tunes on Ai San San: Love’s Radiance are traditional Japanese melodies, though they are so thoroughly adapted to a jazz context that they will be difficult for many listeners to recognize as such. Other, more obviously Japanese elements do creep in from time to time, though, such as Koga’s use of a shakuhachi on both the title track and on the group’s strange and lovely adaptation of Horace Silver’s “Peace,” and the all-too-brief presence of a koto on “Habu No Minato.” Everything here is exquisitely beautiful, even when the group is swinging smartly. For all library collections.


Dave Stryker
Eight Track III
Strikezone
8818

Operating in a classic guitar-organ trio format with the addition of vibraphone (and a little extra percussion on several tracks), guitarist Dave Stryker offers up a third helping of 1970s pop, R&B, and soul melodies in a swinging and funky jazz style. This one will make you feel good from the very first bars: opening with a strongly swinging take on the Curtis Mayfield classic “Move On Up,” the program moves on to include familiar tunes by Steely Dan (“Pretzel Logic”), the Carpenters (“We’ve Only Just Begun”), Roy Ayers (“Everybody Loves the Sunshine”) and others. I have to confess that the inclusion of “We’ve Only Just Begun” raised one of my eyebrows a bit — was there any way that Stryker and his crew could come up with a non-yucky arrangement? The answer is an emphatic yes; listen for yourself to the delicacy and quietude with which they replace the flugelhorn-heavy schlock of the original. There’s nothing innovative or groundbreaking here, just lots of great examples of how to arrange pop tunes for a jazz combo. Highly recommended.


Lioness
Pride & Joy
Posi-Tone
PR8193
Rick’s Pick

I’m normally loath to say what any kind of art or music “should” be. That said, if jazz is played without a sense of joy or fun, I do tend to want to know why. That thought occurred to me several times while listening to the latest album from Lioness–not because I found it joyless or no fun, but because I kept wondering why so few jazz albums are as fun and joyful as this one. What’s particularly interesting and impressive is how much fun this album is even as it serves an almost academic purpose as a tour of jazz styles. Consisting entirely of tunes written by women, the program includes drummer Allison Miller’s “Mad Time,” which has a swaying, swaggering second-line feel; the explicitly calypso-flavored “Sunny Day Pal” (a composition by Jenny Hill, the combo’s tenor sax player); the briskly boppish “Down for the Count” (by bari sax player Lauren Sevian), and organist Akiko Tsuruga’s blues-based “Funky Girl.” There’s a great arrangement of “Think” (yes, the Aretha Franklin song) as well. Not a moment of this album is less than stellar. Highly recommended to all libraries.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Various Artists
Strangers in the Room: A Journey Through the British Folk Rock Scene 1967-1973 (3 discs)
Grapefruit/Cherry Red (dist. MVD)
CRSEGBOX054

With this 60-cut, 3-disc set, the Grapefruit label continues the survey of British folk rock that it began with last year’s Gathered from Coincidence: British Folk-Pop Sound of 1965-1966. And, as that collection did, this one will be a revelation to curious Yanks who may have heard of Sandy Denny and Pentangle and Steeleye Span, but to whom bands like Paper Bubble, Unicorn, and, er, Oo Bang Jiggly Jang are foreign territory. For library collections, both of these sets are an absolute treasure–not only due to the quality and quantity of the music itself, but also because of the extensive liner notes and photos that accompany them. And for listeners who are new to the British folk-rock genre, they may be as baffling as they are enjoyable, given the rather tenuous connection to the folk tradition that many of these tracks evince. (There’s a Joan Armatrading number on here, believe it or not–and it’s outstanding, though hardly “folky” despite the prominence of acoustic guitars in the mix.) And it has to be admitted that some of these songs are pretty goofy-sounding, in that inimitably turn-of-the-70s way that songs can be goofy–but others will be a revelation to newcomers. For all libraries.


Kinloch Nelson
Partly on Time: Recordings 1968-1970
Tompkins Square
TSQ 5609

Guitar aficionados will likely recognize Kinloch Nelson’s name–he’s a widely renowned master of fingerstyle guitar and author of a book on alternate tunings. But in 1968 he was just a kid whose guitar and compositional technique were still in their formative stages, though already pretty impressive. Between 1968 and 1970 he finagled his way into the radio station of his older sister’s college and managed to record a bunch of tracks, most of them solo but a few with his friend and fellow guitarist Carter Redd. The original tapes are long since lost, but they survive in copies that were brilliantly recovered for this release. Nelson’s playing, though nimble, isn’t especially technically advanced yet, but you can hear the indications of both the technical and the compositional sophistication that would come later (note in particular his use of extended guitar techniques on “Tone Poem”). Recommended.


Choral Scholars of University College Dublin / Desmond Earley
Perpetual Twilight
Signum Classics (dist. Naxos)
SIGCD558

Classical label, classically-oriented choral group, yes — but this material consists significantly of traditional folk music, and the arrangements (many by the conductor) tend to honor the music’s origins rather than obscuring them. Opening with an energetic but subdued arrangement of “Dúlamán” featuring a tenor soloist accompanied only by a bodhrán, the program then proceeds to present such familiar songs as “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose,” “Wild Mountain Thyme,” and even “Danny Boy” alongside more obscure material and modern choral pieces that are related to, though not directly drawn from, Celtic tradition. Fans of traditional Celtic music and of contemporary choral music alike will find much to enjoy here.


Lone Justice
Live at the Palomino 1983
Omnivore
OVCD 308

Not exactly straight country, but not exactly cowpunk either, Lone Justice came up at a time when the LA punk scene was nurturing bands like the Blasters and X, the former a sort of rockabilly/R&B band that harnessed the energy of punk and the latter a punk band that drew on the soul of country. For context: in 1983, when Lone Justice was regularly playing sold-out shows at LA’s legendary Palomino club, Dwight Yoakam was opening for them. This previously-unreleased live tape will show you why: not only does their performance crackle with energy, but it also shows off their uncanny tightness and precision and, of course, the glorious wail of Maria McKee’s Aretha-meets-Loretta voice. The sound quality is good, though the mix is a bit unfortunate: the guitar is deeply buried and the bass is nearly inaudible. But that just make’s McKee’s voice that much clearer.


ROCK/POP


Hans-Joachim Roedelius & Tim Story
Lunz 3 (LP and digital only)
Grönland
LPGRON212

Hans-Joachim Roedelius (a legend of experimental pop music for more than 50 years now, and founding member of Cluster) and Tim Story have been collaborating off and on as Lunz since 2000. Their latest duo project is, as one would expect by now, a weird but beautiful collection of avant-garde soundscapes built on a foundation of piano but ranging very far afield from traditional acoustic keyboard sonics. Described in the press materials as what it might sound like if “Boards of Canada were being deconstructed by Philip Glass as Erik Satie dreams on the piano,” this music is neither academically dry nor cloyingly sweet, but rather consonant without being simple, pretty without being conventionally melodic, astringent without being sour. Highly recommended.


Be-Bop Deluxe
Futurama (reissue; 2 CD)
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)
PECLEC22672

Guitar wizard Bill Nelson first hit the big time with his band Be-Bop Deluxe, which released a string of astonishing albums in the 1970s. When I say “astonishing,” what I really mean is something more like “confounding”–the band combined elements of power pop, prog-rock, and jazz fusion to create music that thrilled music critics and a generation of aspiring hotshot guitarists while capturing the imagination of a rapt but not huge audience of listeners. This expanded reissue of the band’s 1975 album Futurama offers the album in its original mix and in a new stereo mix, along with a handful of outtakes and alternate versions. Nelson’s songs are very fine, but honestly it’s his guitar playing that most consistently surprises and delights. (There is also a deluxe 3-CD/1-DVD box set version available, which includes other fripperies probably not of interest to libraries–though it does include some wonderful live recordings from the period that unfortunately aren’t found on this version.)


Stats
Other People’s Lives
Memphis Industries
MI0522CD

This British band creates what frontman Ed Seed characterizes as “absurd office funk”–and if that sounds less promising to you than it did to me, I encourage you to give it a chance. Stats’ first full-length album (following the self-released digital Where Is the Money? EP from 2014) manages the nice trick of breaking new ground while drawing on familiar elements: “There Is a Story I Tell about My Life,” for example, manages to be fresh and new while harking back simultaneously to Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” and the Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another.” Other songs walk a thrillingly woozy line between old-school synth-pop and modern funk, balancing irony and sincerity at the same time. For all pop collections.


Henry Townsend
Mule (reissue)
Nighthawk/Omnivore
OVCD-309

Blues musician Henry Jesse “Mule” Townsend made his first recordings for Columbia Records in 1929. An accomplished pianist and guitarist as well as a singer, he made his most significant recordings as a sideman to the likes of Big Joe Williams, Walter Davis, and Sonny Boy Williamson, and he played an important role in both the history of the St. Louis blues scene and the emergence of the Chicago sound in the middle of the century. Chances are you’ve never heard of him (nor had I), and so this expanded reissue of his 1980 solo album may come as a revelation. There’s a smattering of additional musicians, but for the most part what you hear is Townsend playing piano and singing songs of his own, in a voice that is remarkably clear and strong for someone of his age at the time (71). The production is outstanding as well, rich and clear and present. This reissue adds eight previously-unreleased tracks to the original album’s program of 13.


Jimmie Vaughan
Baby, Please Come Home
Last Music Co. (dist. Redeye)
LMCD213

Jimmie Vaughan is known primarily for two things: being the lead guitarist of the Fabulous Thunderbirds (who rode Texas blues and R&B to unlikely fame in the 1980s) and being the older brother of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, to whom he bears a striking vocal resemblance. On his latest solo album he plays a solid set of classic blues shuffles, rockers, and ballads including the title track, I’m Still in Love with You,” “So Glad,” and “Baby, What’s Wrong?”. Although he’s a highly skilled guitarist, his style is resolutely unflashy, with a strong focus on emotional communication rather than technical wizardry. And his arrangements–which prominently feature a great horn section–are similarly straightforward and tasteful. Great stuff as usual from this elder statesman of Texas blues.


Trentemøller
Harbour Boat Trips Vol. 02: Copenhagen
HFN (dist. Forced Exposure)
HFN 085CD

To my mind, shoegaze is the most inexplicably persistent musical style of the 1980s. Characterized by slow tempos, dense and murky atmospheres, and mopey lyrics, it’s a genre that has never exactly been mainstream (despite the relative success of such flagship bands as My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain) but has also never really died, and seems now to be making something of a comeback. On the second installment in his Harbour Boat Trips compilation series, producer and multi-instrumentalist Trentemøller has pulled together a program that starts out with several tracks of heavy modern shoegaze material and then wanders around from there, exploring dream pop, electronica, and other related genres with a focus on artists from his native Denmark. Highlight tracks include Black Marble’s rather Cure-esque “Static” and Trentemøller’s own sulky-but-pretty “Transformer Man.” There’s a pretty cool number from shoegaze stalwarts Slowdive, too.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Gentleman’s Dub Club
Lost in Space
Easy Star
ES-1070

The concept album has a long (if not necessarily distinguished) history in pop music. But you don’t see them very often in a reggae context. The latest from Gentleman’s Dub Club is one such, a program of modern roots and dancehall reggae songs organized around a unifying “outer space” theme. Don’t worry, though–the music isn’t wanky or self-indulgent. The songs are tightly written, the grooves are heavy (with a strong tendency towards a relentlessly thumping steppers beat), and the theme is mostly expressed by song titles like “Intergalactic,” “Stardust,” and “Out of This World.” And although the band boasts an exceptionally fine lead singer in Jonathan Scratchley, they also make room for excellent cameo appearances by roots legend Winston Francis and Swedish reggae phenom Million Styles. This one is perhaps not quite as essential as their earlier work, but it’s a solid contribution to the GDC catalog.


Grupo Fantasma
American Music Vol. VII
Blue Corn Music
BCM 1901

Some polycultural fusion bands seem to be more about showing how polycultural they can be than about writing and performing great songs. Others take polyculturalism as a simple matter of course, a function of making art in a polycultural world, and incorporate wide-ranging influences in a natural and unselfconscious way. Austin’s Grupo Fantasma falls into the latter category; fundamentally, they’re a Latin funk group that draws most deeply on musical traditions from around the Texas border region. But that doesn’t stop them from happily ingesting and seamlessly incorporating elements of Turkish psychedelia, Punjabi bhangra, punk rock, R&B, and whatever else serves their musical purpose. The result is a joyfully (rather than defiantly) diverse explosion of musical colors, and while this album finds them essaying political statements a bit more explicitly than they have in the past, the overall flavor is one of exuberant happiness. This may be the best party album of the year so far.


Alborosie Meets the Roots Radics
Dub for the Radicals
Greensleeves/VP
VPGS7060

As beautiful as it is, this album is something of a mystery. It consists entirely of dub mixes of tracks recorded by the legendary Roots Radics band and singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Alberto D’Ascola (a.k.a. Alborosie). There are no vocals; this is an instrumental-only dub set, played and mixed in vintage early-1980s Roots Radics fashion, with Style Scott’s signature rockers beats supporting the elephantine basslines of Errol “Flabba” Holt and the sinuous guitar of Eric “Bingy Bunny” Lamont. The question, however, is: where did these tracks come from, given that Style Scott was tragically murdered five years ago? Are they from the vaults of a Roots Radics band member? Do they represent a new and artful simulacrum of the Radics style? (If so, the result is artful indeed.) In any case, the music is excellent, and will appeal primarily to Roots Radics fans rather than Alborosie’s large international following, given that his presence on the album is pretty subtle.

April 2019


PICK OF THE MONTH


Various Artists
Pay It All Back Vol. 7
On-U Sound (dist. Redeye)
ONUCD143

I was introduced to the On-U Sound label back in 1989, when the CD store where I worked had a copy of Pay It All Back Vol. 2 on the “Imports” rack. I gave it a spin, and my musical life hasn’t been the same since. That collection contained a dizzying array of sounds and styles, from radically deep roots reggae (Prince Far I’s “Water the Garden,” Bim Sherman’s “Run Them Away”) to techno settings of football chants (Barmy Army’s “Billy Bonds M.B.E.”), sampladelic electro-calypso (Forehead Bros.’ “Circular Motion”), and ethnographic dub (African Head Charge’s “Throw It Away”). I had never head of any of these artists before, and I spent the next two decades seeking out everything I could find by all of them, as well as everything I could dig up from the On-U Sound catalog. The latest installment in the series follows in what is now a longstanding tradition, presenting a wild mix of unreleased tracks, remixes, extracts from upcoming albums, and deep cuts from previous releases: some familiar names are back (African Head Charge, Mark Stewart, Little Axe) and some new ones are introduced (Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto, Higher Authorities, Denise Sherwood), but what remains the same is the thrilling stylistic variety–a variety that is grounded in groove, in bone-shaking bass, and in label head Adrian Sherwood’s wildly dubwise production style. And the booklet includes a comprehensive On-U Sound discography with extensive notes–a treasure trove of information in itself. This is the most exciting release of 2019 so far.


CLASSICAL


Johann Sebastian Bach
Concertos for 2, 3 & 4 Pianos
David Fray; String Ensemble of the Orchestra National du Capitole de Toulouse
Erato (dist. Naxos)
0190295632281

Johann Sebastian Bach
Violin Concertos; Sinfonias; Overture; Sonatas (2 discs)
Isabelle Faust; Akademie für alte Musik Berlin / Bernhard Forck; Xenia Loeffler
Harmonia Mundi (dist. PIAS)
HMM 902335.36

Like many of the baroque masters, J. S. Bach unapologetically recycled his own music, for example recasting violin concertos as keyboard concertos and vice versa. Thus it should come as no surprise to see BWV 1060 performed by David Fray as a “Concerto for 2 Keyboards” and by Isabelle Faust as a “Concerto for Oboe and Violin” (which is what Bach scholars generally believe was its original incarnation). These two recordings offer a lovely and interesting blend of contrasts and similarities, among them the fact that the Fray album is recorded on modern instruments and the Faust recording on period ones. And although I’m generally a big fan of Bach on modern keyboards, in this case I have to say that the massing of as many as three or four pianos, and their presentation alongside a string ensemble of wire-strung instruments, makes for a slightly muddled sound at times (though admittedly, if the keyboard parts were played by harpsichords I suspect the problem would be even worse). The pieces for two keyboards are the ones that come across most clearly and compellingly. Isabelle Faust’s two-disc program benefits from its variety of instrumental forms and textures: it offers a varied program of concertos, overtures, sonatas, and sinfonias (some drawn from Bach cantatas), all performed with the outstanding Akademie für alte Musik Berlin. Faust is playing a Stainer violin that looks like it has been given a modern neck and tailpiece but is strung with gut, and has a marvelous tone. The group sounds particularly majestic on their performance of the popular sinfonia from the cantata Ich liebe den Höchstein von ganzem Gemüte, and on my favorite of all Bach’s violin concertos, BWV 1042. Both of these sets are well recommended, but if you have to pick one I’d say go for the Faust.


Various Composers
American Recorder Concertos
Michala Petri; various ensembles
OUR Recordings (dist. Naxos)
8.226912
Rick’s Pick

As the press materials point out, “it is one of the great ironies of the recorder’s long history, that despite being ubiquitous in nearly every American public school program, few composers ever explored writing for it.” True enough, though I’m not sure how great the irony really is–I would argue that it’s precisely the recorder’s ubiquity in elementary schools that contributes to its unfortunate reputation as basically a plastic toy for kids. Be that as it may, luckily we have the international treasure that is virtuoso recorder player Michala Petri, who has commissioned four showpieces of contemporary classical recorder music: each of them written as a concerto, but for a variety of instrumental forces and textures, from Roberto Sierra’s and Steven Stucky’s works for recorder and orchestra to Anthony Newman’s piece for recorder, harpsichord, and string quartet and Sean Hickey’s for recorder with winds, brass, percussion and harp. Most of these pieces (two of which are presented here in world-premiere recordings) are bracingly modernist, though Newman’s harks back very explicitly to the recorder’s glory days during the baroque period. Petri is, of course, a genius.


Joseph Bodin de Boismortier
Music for Flute, Viola da Gamba and B.C.
Umbra Lucis Ensemble
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95754

Speaking of the recorder’s glory days, here is a delightful recording of chamber works by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, who is particularly well remembered today for his compositions for flute. This program consists of pieces in a variety of forms, from dance suites to solo harpsichord pieces and sonatas. The flute parts are played on the recorder (and in some cases on two or three recorders–bear in mind that this is the composer who wrote a series of concertos for five flutes) with that perfect blend of energy and ostentatious elegance that characterized so much French music of the period. The playing is wonderful throughout, but the recorded sound is a bit strange–warm and present but also oddly echoey. The sound isn’t idiosyncratic enough to detract from the overall listening pleasure, though.


Guillaume Dufay
Flos florum: Motets, Hymns, Antiphons (reissue)
Ensemble Musica Nova
Alpha Classics (dist. Naxos)
ALPHA 349

Making a very welcome return to market is this 2004 recording (originally issued on the Zig Zag Territoires label) of Marian motets and liturgical works by the towering figure of the early Franco-Flemish school, Guillaume Dufay. This gorgeous collection includes the latest of Dufay’s three settings of the antiphon Ave Regina caelorum, the one for four voices in which he repeatedly interpolates his own name, touchingly pleading for divine mercy on his own behalf. The singing is breathtakingly beautiful, rich and lush in tone despite the very small number of (mixed-gender) singers. Unfortunately, space in the booklet that might have been used to provide the sung texts is instead given over to advertisement for other releases in the series, but the music itself is simply spectacular.


Claude Debussy; Johannes Brahms
Cello Sonata; Clarinet Trio
Brian Thornton; Afendi Yusuf; Spencer Myer
Steinway & Sons (dist. Naxos)
30109
Rick’s Pick

Playing alongside pianist Spencer Myer and (on the Brahms) clarinetist Afendi Yusuf, cellist Brian Thornton delivers a triumphant program that creates a fascinating juxtaposition: the relatively abstract and rather melodically arid Debussy cello sonata against the deeply poignant and melodically rich Brahms clarinet trio opus 114. I don’t mean to suggest that the Debussy work is less than brilliant, only that it offers such a dramatic contrast to the lush emotion of the Brahms work; with the Debussy we hear the 20th century being born, whereas with the Brahms we hear the dying glory of the Romantic era. Thornton is a powerful advocate for both pieces, and Yusuf is particularly noteworthy for the sweetness of his tone. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


David Behrman
On the Other Ocean (reissue; vinyl only)
Lovely Music (dist. Forced Exposure)
LML1041
Rick’s Pick

Benoît Pioulard; Sean Curtis Patrick
Avocationals (vinyl/download only)
Beacon Sound (dist. Forced Exposure)
BNSD032
Rick’s Pick

I’m combining these two reviews because both of these titles are similar in some significant ways: both consist of music than can fairly be described as minimalist, bordering on ambient. It’s also true that in both cases, the music is created by means of distorting source material. Beyond that, however, the similarities are overwhelmed by difference. Behrman’s work (originally released in 1978, then reissued as a long-out-of-print CD in 1996, now reissued again on vinyl) was generated by what was then a state-of-the-art electronic system that “listened” to sustained tones played by live musicians and responded to them, in real time, with computer-generated tones of its own. A flutist, a bassoonist, and a cellist provided the inputs, and the resulting conversation between the musicians and the electronic feedback mechanism is beautiful, at times surprising, and always faintly melancholy. By contrast, Avocationals is a collaboration between electronic musicians Thomas Meluch (a.k.a. Benoît Pioulard) and Sean Curtis Patrick. Both have been involved in the murkier areas of pop music and Patrick has done soundtrack work. For this project, they took source material that included field recordings and heavily-processed voices (along with reel-to-reel tapes, synthesizers, and unrecognizable guitar) to “conjure up the ghosts of 20th-century Great Lakes shipwrecks.” This music is gorgeous and ghostly, sad and wonderful. It’s unlike anything else you’ve heard. Both recordings are very strongly recommended to all libraries.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Les trois dernières symphonies (2 discs)
Ensemble Appassionato / Mathieu Herzog
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
V 5457

I know, I know — Mozart’s last three symphonies (nos. 39, 40, and 41) are among the most popular and frequently-recorded of his works, and just about anyone with any awareness of classical music can practically sing along with the opening phrases of #40, while #41 is widely regarded as one of the greatest symphonic works ever composed. So you kind of need to have a hook if you’re going to bring a new recording of them to market. In this case, there are several hooks: one is that this is the first recording of Mathieu Herzog’s remarkable Ensemble Appassionato, an unusual group in that it is composed largely of musicians whose main gig is in chamber ensembles, notably string quartets like the Arod, the Hanson, and the Ébène (of which Herzog himself was a founding member). Also notable is Herzog’s flexible approach to orchestration and his willingness–despite working with modern instruments–to incorporate the influences of the period-instrument movement into his interpretations. Notice, in particular, the spritely vigor (not to say headlong rush) of the opening movement of the Jupiter on this recording. The result is a thrilling listen and a musicologically fascinating set.


JAZZ


Dominic Miller
Absinthe
ECM
2614
Rick’s Pick

Here is a light, gorgeous, and impressionistically floating new album from guitarist Dominic Miller, assisted by bandoneon player Santiago Arias, keyboardist Mike Lineup, bassist Nicholas Fiszman, and drummer Manu Katché. The comparison with impressionism isn’t mine–it’s from an interview with Miller himself, who lives in the south of France and whose compositions for this album were significantly influenced by his thoughts about the region’s “sharp and witchy mistrals, combined with strong alcohol and intense hangovers, (which) must have driven some of these artists toward insanity: skies that are green, faces blue, perspective distorted.” But if that language leads you to expect music of lurid color and exaggerated expression (à la Toulouse-Lautrec), think more in terms of Seurat or Monet: pastel hues beautifully wielded, soft surfaces masking tight structure. This is an utterly gorgeous album.


Warren Vaché
Songs Our Fathers Taught Us
Arbors Jazz (dist. MVD)
ARCD 19464

Let’s all pause for just a moment a contemplate what it would be like to live in a home in which your dad taught you to play jazz standards. In this case, what cornetist Warren Vaché remembers are the 78-rpm shellac recordings that his dad had saved up lunch money to buy when he was a schoolboy, and which he played on the family’s record player every Saturday morning as Vaché was growing up. “Melancholy Baby,” “Slow Boat to China,” “Blue Room,” like that. Vaché plays these tunes in a soft and gentle way, even on the up-tempo numbers; there’s fire in his energy and tone, but cool restraint in his arrangements and phrasing. He’s accompanied by acoustic guitarist Jacob Fischer, bassist Neal Miner, and drummer Steve Williams–though the drums lay out for long stretches on this album, contributing to the overall feeling of relaxed warmth. Very, very nice.


Stéphane Grappelli Ensemble
May 17, 1957, NDR Studio Hamburg (reissue)
Moosicus (dist. MVD)
N 1303-2
Rick’s Pick

I’ve been a huge fan of jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli since my teenage years (yes, I was very popular in high school), when I first encountered him through his work with David Grisman. That led me back to his 1930s work with Django Reinhardt, which still represents some of the most astonishing jazz ever recorded. This album finds him a couple of decades later, working in a German studio with pianist Maurice Vander, bassist Hans Last (who would later change his first name to “James” and become a world-famous film composer), and drummer Rolf Ahrens. Their set consists almost entirely of standards, but what I find most interesting here is how restrained Grappelli is, compared to the constant fireworks of his earlier work with Reinhardt. The tempos are brisk but never headlong, the rhythm swings with power but not wildly. And Grappelli’s playing is absolutely elegant as well as assertive. The recorded sound is warm and rich, and feels spacious despite the monaural mix. A must for all jazz collections.


Nick Sanders Trio
Playtime 2050
Sunnyside
SSC 1537

For his third album as a leader, pianist and composer Nick Sanders takes us on a fascinating whirlwind tour of styles and influences. This is the kind of approach that could easily turn self-indulgent or show-offy (“Hey, did you see how I segued straight from a stride number to a hard bop tune?”) but Sanders has too much taste for that. Instead he just gives the impression of someone whose thoughts wander in unpredictable and really interesting ways: from bluesy meditations (“Prepared for the Blues”) to modernistic math-jazz (“The Number 3,” “Endless”) and borderline avant-gardism (“Hungry Ghost”). The consistent thread is one of examination and pondering, a sense that comes through even on the knottiest and most challenging tunes. The album closes on a quiet and contemplative note with “#2 Longfellow Park.” Highly recommended.


Paul Tynan
quARTet
Origin
82776
Rick’s Pick

The concept behind trumpeter and composer Paul Tynan’s latest album as a leader is quite interesting: he commissioned artworks from six friends (one of them his wife), and used each piece as the inspiration for a jazz composition. But he didn’t just take a melodic idea from each image; instead, his tunes are composed and arranged in intimate conversation with the artworks. For example, Tynan is a synaesthete, which means that colors are sometimes associated with musical tones in his mind; his composition “Everything I Have” is directly informed by the colors in his wife’s painting of the same name. Paul Vienneau’s “Swirl” is written as a through-composed piece that reflects the nature of the painting (down to the open space near its top) and its relation to the artist’s personal life. And so forth. That Tynan’s music can do all this while also swinging mightily is quite impressive.


Typical Sisters
Hungry Ghost
Outside In Music
OIM 1909

For some equally impressive jazz that doesn’t really swing at all, consider the latest from trio Typical Sisters (guitarist Greg Uhlmann, bassist Clark Sommers, drummer Matt Carroll). Again, the music is conceptual: the album’s title (which has nothing to do with the Nick Sanders composition of the same name, mentioned above) refers to the Buddhist concept of a being with an insatiable appetite, an idea with obvious relevance to our current media-saturated, hyper-materialistic culture. This music is meant to act as something of a counterbalance to that mode, although it draws pretty voraciously on cultural elements both high and low: references to a Samuel Barber piece here, elements of DJ culture there, passages of free jazz scattered in between. Nowhere will you encounter a typical head-solos-out-chorus jazz structure, but there’s no question that this is a jazz album. Imagine if Bill Evans had lived long enough to jam with Bill Frisell–maybe with John Zorn producing a couple of tracks. Very, very nice.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Le Vent du Nord
Territoires
Borealis
BCD258
Rick’s Pick

Without adding anything as overt as electric instruments or drums, the latest album from leading Québecois folk band Le Vent du Nord somehow manages to feel more rockish than its earlier efforts–maybe it’s an added lushness to the production, or the bluesy piano elements that pop up on “Reel du capitaine,” or just a subtly increased sense of chestiness and bravado in Nicolas Boulerice’s singing. Otherwise, we get more of what we’ve come to expect from this magnificent group: rollicking croooked-rhythm fiddle tunes, lots of call-and-response singing, a seamless blend of modern and traditional songs, all played with infectious energy and airtight musicianship. There’s also a bit more politics than usual this time out, but unless your French is very good you may not catch most of it.


Alison de Groot and Tatiana Hargreaves
Alison de Groot and Tatiana Hargreaves
Free Dirt
DIRT-CD-0092

Fiddler Tatiana Hargreaves (who has worked with Gillian Welch and Laurie Lewis, among others) and clawhammer banjo player Alison de Groot (of Molsky’s Mountain Drifters) have joined forces for this dynamite celebration–and extension–of the ages-old fiddle-and-banjo tradition. Combining vocal numbers both old and new with traditional fiddle tunes, they resurrect the deeply strange and lovely playing style of Mississippi fiddler John Hatcher on “Farewell Whiskey,” an equally strange arrangement of the familiar classic “Buffalo Gals,” a gender-tweaked version of the Blue Sky Boys’ “Who Wouldn’t Be Lonely,” and lots of other gems of old-time and new-old-time music. This is a technically impressive album, but more importantly it’s a fun, even thrilling one.


Kim Lenz
Slowly Speeding
Blue Star
BSR-1122CD

I was introduced to Kim Lenz ten years ago, when she was fronting a rockabilly-revival group called the Jaguars and recording for the late and much-lamented Hightone label. At the time I found that I loved her voice and her energy, and wished that she’d write more memorable tunes. Now I’m catching up with her and finding that the years have been kind: her voice is even better, her energy is more restrained but just as intense, and she now writes undeniably catchy melodies. On the aptly titled Slowly Speeding, she harnesses that predatory intensity to focus on mid-tempo songs, all of them dark and smoldering and generally feeling more like gothic country than rockabilly. Her band doesn’t have a name anymore, but it’s got that great loose-but-tight feel that many groups spend years striving for. Strongly recommended.


Brìghde Chaimbeul
The Reeling
River Lea (dist. Redeye)
RDR003CD

Brìghde Chaimbeul is a gifted player of the Scottish smallpipes, an instrument closely related to the English Northumbrian smallpipes and the Irish uillean pipes. What these instruments have in common (apart from their relatively small size, as one might guess) is a much lower volume and a much softer and more plaintive tone that those of their more famous cousin, the great highland bagpipes. On her debut album, Chaimbeul generally avoids both frenetic reels and dirge-like slow airs (both of which are commonly played on her instrument) and instead focuses on medium-tempo tunes, gathered from the playing of other musicians and from the Patrick McDonald collection and played with minimal accompaniment. Interestingly, these are interspersed with traditional pipe tunes from Bulgaria, which nestle quite comfortably in among the Scottish numbers. Chaimbeul is a player of rare grace and taste, and will bear watching in the future.


ROCK/POP


Mitch Woods
A Tip of the Hat to Fats
Blind Pig/The Orchard
BPCD 5170

Subtitled “Live from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2018,” this disc documents a set played by pianist and singer Mitch Woods as a tribute to local hero Fats Domino. It finds him at the head of a sextet that features three saxophones and a rhythm section, playing a very fun set of old and old-style R&B tunes by the likes of Professor Longhair, Leon René, Woods himself, and of course Fats Domino — plus a rollicking rendition of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” (not exactly an R&B tune, but definitely a solid choice for the venue). Woods and his band are having a palpably good time, and the recorded sound is surprisingly good for a live album. Despite just a bit too much between-song patter, this album would make a great choice for your library’s next staff party.


The Green Kingdom
Expanses Remixes (expanded reissue; 2 discs)
Dronarivm
DR-57
Rick’s Pick

The Green Kingdom is Michael Cottone, a Michigan-based sound artist. Five years ago he released an album called Expanses, which was conceived as an “homage to classic ambient and techno albums of the past, albeit passed through the filter of dusty samples from old vinyl and classical records, the odd guitar melody, electronics, and some soft rhythmic pulses.” The album was more successful than he anticipated, and is now being brought back to market with the addition of a bonus disc consisting of remixes by the likes of Halftribe, Hotel Neon, and Fingers in the Noise. The fact that none of the original tracks was titled makes it a bit difficult to keep track of which remix matches up to which original version, but it turns out not to matter: the remixes are, for the most part, just as ethereal and abstract as the tunes on which they’re based, and all of them create a mood that is eerily and utterly beautiful. Even though it’s only April, this one already has my vote for Best Ambient Release of 2019.


Daniel Avery
Song for Alpha: B-Sides and Remixes (digital only)
Mute/Phantasy Sound
No cat. no.

At first glance, this collection would appear to be similar to the Green Kingdom reissue reviewed above; however, it’s completely different. Rather than an expanded reissue of Daniel Avery’s album Song for Alpha, with remixes appended, it’s actually a compilation of B-sides and outtakes related to that album alongside a generous program of remixes by the likes of Luke Slater, Four Tet, Giant Swan, and Surgeon. Where Green Kingdom tends strongly towards the abstract and ambient, however, Avery always has one foot on the dance floor: this collection includes regular incursions of techno thump and invigorating breakbeats as well as more quiet and introspective fare. What’s consistent throughout the program, though, is his intense attention to detail: the more you listen, the more subtleties you’ll catch, and Avery’s mastery of texture and space is even more impressive than his way with a beat.


Hammock
Universalis
Hammock Music (dist. Redeye)
HMK-024CD
Rick’s Pick

And if you like your electronica much more on the lush and relaxing side, then definitely consider this ravishingly lovely new album from Hammock. This is the second in a projected three-album series (all of which will apparently have Latin names; the first one, issued in 2017, was titled Mysterium), and like its predecessor it seeks to split the difference between ambient electronica and neoclassical experimentation. Maybe “split the difference” isn’t quite right; this would never be mistaken for academic classical music–too much guitar, too little dissonance. But there’s much more here than just easy-listening sound sculpture; whereas Mysterium was an attempt to process the experience of grief and loss, Universalis is a move in the opposite direction, towards recovery and uplift. And in its quiet way it achieves that movement powerfully and propulsively, particularly on slow-moving but richly dense tracks like “Cliffside” and the orchestral “We Watched You Disappear.” Utterly gorgeous.


Charlie Faye & the Fayettes
The Whole Shebang
Bigger Better More
BBM2008

Back in 2016, Charlie Faye & the Fayettes delivered a delightful celebration of the girl-group sound, an unapologetically and unambiguously retro program of contemporary songs in 1960s style. For their follow-up, they’ve moved the clock up a few years, still knee-deep in the sixties but now starting to edge their way into the 1970s as well, with lusher strings and horn sections–and funkier beats. “That’s What New Love Is For” is horn-driven R&B, while “Say Those Words” draws on surf guitar and “Riding High” evokes the Carpenters. As always, Charlie Faye’s bell-like voice is as central to the group’s appeal as the sweet melodies she writes (sometimes with and sometimes without the help of Bill Demain). Listen carefully and you’ll hear some fairly contemporary political messages too, particularly on the album-closing “You Gotta Give It Up (Party Song)”–a tune that hints at the possibility of a New Wave element in their future work. Recommended.


Gang of Four
Happy Now
PledgeMusic
No cat. no.

The opening bars of the first song on Gang of Four’s tenth album will have you checking to make sure you didn’t cue up Solid Gold instead – those jagged, off-kilter shards of guitar sound for all the world like the intro to “Paralysed.” But any illusion that we’re back in 1981 disappears quickly as it becomes obvious that Gang of Four is now just guitarist Andy Gill and three other guys, drummer Hugo Burnham and bassist Dave Allen having decamped long ago, and original vocalist Jon King gone since 2012. But those three new guys are monsters: bassist Thomas McNeice and drummer Tobias Humble generate a groove that maintains a perfect balance between heavy and nimble, while singer John Sterry provides hints of the band’s past sound without actually directly imitating King. Lyrically, the band’s dry, cynical worldview is less explicitly Marxist than it was 40 years ago, but then, whose isn’t? The hooks are pretty dry and cynical as well, but they’re there if you listen.


WORLD/ETHNIC


40 Million Feet
Aspire
Silverwolf (dist. MVD)
SWC2016

In April of 2018, sarangi player Shyam Nepali and acoustic guitarist Charlie Giagiari sat down in a Boston recording studio and spent four hours improvising together. This album documents that session, with extracts from it given titles like “The First Step without Shackles” and “Growing Wings on the Way Down.” Those who have had alarming experiences with free-improv music in the past should rest assured: in this case, “free” doesn’t mean either chaotic or skronky. It means spontaneously composed, but still richly melodic and harmonically logical. Nepali’s sarangi keens and soars while Giragiari’s guitar alternately plays melodies in unison and counterpoint, and drives the proceedings chordally. The resulting music is bittersweet and beautiful, sounding neither exactly like South Asian music nor like American music, but like something quite different from either. Very, very cool.


Wrongtom
Meets (digital only)
Tru Thoughts
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

British producer Wrongtom has been the genius behind a whole slew of outstanding reggae and dancehall releases over the past decade, and his latest release is sort of a conceptual expansion on the “Wrongtom Meets” idea that has found him collaborating with the likes of Deemas J, Roots Manuva, and the Ragga Twins. Apart from those album-length projects, Wrongtom has also kept himself busy with one-off production and remix gigs, and this digital-only compilation album brings together a bunch of those (as well as some examples of other artists remixing his own work). As you might expect, the result is a solid winner: a dubwise take on the Hot 8 Brass Band’s version of “Sexual Healing,” a remix of Lakuta’s supremely woke “Bata Boy,” reworks of several Ragga Twins numbers, and much more. This is not only one of the best reggae albums of the year, but also one of the best party records of the decade.


Kries
Selo na Okuke/Village Tracks
Riverboat (dist. Redeye)
TUGCD1107

Croatian folk-rock is pretty unique-sounding. If the style of Kries is typical–and honestly, I don’t know how many Croatian folk-rock bands there are, so “typical” may not be a very apposite term here–then it’s characterized by rhythms that stomp more than they dance, and by deep, declamatory unison (not harmony) singing, sometimes in a call-and-response mode. This eight-piece band sounds like it consists mostly of drums, though electric guitar and bass are credited as well, and there are regular irruptions of keening bagpipes. There’s a political subtext here as well–the message apparently being one of unity in the wake of murderous division–but unless your Croatian is much better than mine you’ll catch it mainly by inference, and by knowing that Kries is made of of members from across the Balkan region. Anyway, the music is both interesting and profoundly stirring.


Hip Spanic Allstars
Old School Revolution (digital only)
Hip Spanic
HSR 2018-1
Rick’s Pick

A horn-driven Bay Area Latin funk supergroup featuring members of Tower of Power, Primus, Santana, Spearhead, and Los Mocosos? Yes, please! The latest from Hip Spanic Allstars delivers all the warm, funky joy you’d expect, providing a perfect soundtrack for warm (or even cool and foggy) summer nights hanging out with your friends on the sidewalk. When they say “old school” they mean it: there’s nothing modern about the Hip Spanic Allstars sound. This is a celebration of 1960s-style Latin soul, salsa, funk, and even zydeco, with Cuban and Puerto Rican elements mixed in as well (and maybe a hint of ska if you listen closely). It’s nothing but pure joy, and as I look out the window at the late-March snow falling outside, I feel like it’s exactly what we need right now.