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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.

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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.

March 2019


PICK OF THE MONTH


Various Composers
Anima Sacra: Sacred Baroque Arias
Jakub Józef Orliński; Il Pomo D’Oro / Maxim Emelyanychev
Erato (dist. Naxos)
0190295633745

This is the debut solo album by Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński — and it also features the world-premiere recordings of eight of the eleven pieces on the program, all of them motets or arias drawn from oratorios written in 18th-century Germany and Italy. These pieces include a stunningly beautiful Confitebor tibi setting by Neapolitan composer Nicola Fago — an obscure Neapolitan composer whose sacred music is even less well-known than he is — and works by the likes of Domenico Sarro, Francesco Durante, and Gaetano Maria Schiassi. In addition to these deeply obscure pieces are more-familiar fare from Johann David Heinichen, Johann Adolf Hasse, and the always wonderful Jan Dismas Zelenka, whose Smanie di dolci affetti and S’una sol lagrima are highlights of the album. Orliński’s singing is amazing; his voice is unusually dark-hued for a countertenor, and always sweet and pure, never shrill or forced. The Il Pomo D’Oro ensemble provide marvelous support on period instruments, and the whole album is simply a joy.


CLASSICAL


J.H. Dahlhoff & Anonymous
Stil polonaise
Orkiestra Czasów Zarazy
Ayros (dist. Naxos)
AY-CD03

And while we’re speaking of Poland, consider this delightful collection of 18th-century dance tunes from the famed collection of J.H. Dahlhoff, a collection distinguished by its significant number of tunes written in a Polish style. Dahlhoff was himself a “village musician” from Dinkier, in Westphalia, and one of the things that makes his collection historically interesting is that it shows how deeply into German territory the Polish influence had crept by the early- to mid-18th century. The program is bracketed by two Polish-style pieces written by Dahlhoff, but consists mainly of tunes that were probably collected from itinerant musicians of the time, the composers of which are of course entirely lost to history. The six-piece Orkiestra Czasów Zarazy plays these melodies with a shifting instrumentation that includes bagpipe, fiddle, nyckelharpa, viola da gamba, harpsichord, and trombone, among other instruments. Perhaps not an essential purchase for every library, but definitely worth considering for all early music collections.


Camille Saint-Saëns
Symphony #3 “Organ” & Other Works
Paul Jacobs; Utah Symphony / Thierry Fischer
Hyperion (dist. PIAS)
CDA68201
Rick’s Pick

Here at CD HotList we’re always happy to support a local artist when we can, and this magnificent new recording of orchestral works by Camille Saint-Saëns (the first in a projected three-volume series) offers a great opportunity to do just that. Playing under the baton of Thierry Fischer, the Utah Symphony has become one of the most impressive American orchestras on the scene in recent years, especially for one located in a second-tier city. Utah’s Wasatch Front offers an unusually deep pool of musical talent, and this orchestra has profitably drawn on that population for decades now, with consistently impressive results. The group’s interpretations of these three works (the Trois tableaux symphoniques d’après la foi and Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila, in addition to the title piece) are consistently impressive, its tone both rich and balanced and its phrasing suitably Romantic without being overweeningly dramatic. When the series is complete, it will mark the first time an American orchestra has recorded all five of Saint-Saëns’ symphonies, so libraries should be on the watch for all of the installments as they emerge. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Various Composers
Amarae morti
El León de Oro / Peter Phillips
Hyperion (dist. PIAS)
CDA68279

Although he is known primarily as both the founder and the conductor of the Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips is also involved with several other choral ensembles across Europe, including the outstanding El León de Oro from Asturias, Spain. This group’s latest recording is a collection of polyphonic works by relatively obscure Renaissance composers, some of them from the Franco-Flemish region and some from the Iberian peninsula. While names like Orlande de Lassus, Tomás Luis de Victoria, and (especially) Giovanni da Palestrina will be familiar to most classical-music lovers, figures like Dominique Phinot and Nicolas Gombert are likely to be recognized only by specialists. The program itself is organized to flow from penitential works (notably settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah and of the legendarily powerful Media vita text) to expressions of devotion and praise. Some are works for double choir (an approach of which Phinot was one of the early adopters), and all benefit from El León de Oro’s combination of large numbers–for this recording the group consists of no fewer than 33 singers–and rich blend. A must for all collections of Rennaissance music.


WoodWired
In the Loop
UTA
UAR1001

WoodWired is a duo consisting of bass clarinetist Cheyenne Cruz and flutist Hannah Leffler, who perform their original compositions with the help of looping software that allows them to layer and alter passages in real time. This approach allows the duo to take a somewhat more playful approach to their music than is typical with new-music ensembles, and the result is intricate, stylistically wide-ranging, and completely delightful. On the programmatic Yousafszai (a tribute to Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafszai), moments of lovely counterpoint are interrupted by simulated gunfire and followed by searching, poignant melodic lines; The 101 frankly rocks out, with layers of bass clarinet holding down the bassline while additional layers of clarinet and flute dance atop it. Red Forest strongly evokes both mid-century academic avant-gardism and mid-1970s dub reggae, but it is immediately followed by a fine Astor Piazzolla arrangement. Each track on this fine album breaks different ground, and I promise it’s like nothing you’ve heard before. Any library supporting a winds program would do well to add In the Loop to its collection.


Reiko Füting
distantSong
Various performers
New Focus Recordings
FCR216

With the vocal and instrumental compositions featured on this recording, Reiko Füting seeks to “explore the psychological nature of memory, as it is projected onto the compositional device of musical quotation. By realizing this device in the entire musical spectrum of assimilation, integration, disintegration, and segregation, while moving freely between clear borders and gradual transitions, quotation and memory may function as a means to reflect upon contemporary artists, cultural, social, and political phenomena.” That’s a pretty full conceptual agenda, and as is always the case with such music, that agenda begs a fundamental question: is the music itself (as opposed to its philosophical/conceptual foundation) worth your attention? The answer in this case is yes. Several of these works constitute contemporary responses to pieces by baroque composer Heinrich Schütz, while another is based on the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and another is a piece for vocal quartet and instrumental ensemble that takes a Debussy piano prelude as its source material. All of this music is challenging and academic; most of it is also both interesting and compelling.


Various composers
Ave Maria: Baroque Recital
Raphaella Smits
Soundset Recxordings (dist. Albany)
SR1106

This is not your typical baroque guitar recording. For one thing, guitarist and arranger Raphaella Smits has selected a somewhat unusual program of compositions originally for keyboard or violin as well as the more common lute pieces: Bach’s Prelude BWV 846 (in an arrangement based on Charles Gounod’s adaptation) and second keyboard partita (BWV 1004), selections from a Purcell keyboard suite, a gorgeous arrangement of one of Telemann’s fantasias for solo violin, and a couple of lute pieces by Silvius Weiss. Smits plays an eight-string guitar, which gives her quite a bit of additional range and stops her having to make the kinds of register adjustments that might be required with a conventional six-string guitar. Her playing is marvelous–virtuosic without being showy, and emotionally expressive within the constraints of the baroque idiom. Highly recommended.


Paula Matthusen; Olivia Valentine
Between Systems and Grounds (cassette only)
Carrier (dist. Redeye)
No cat. no.

We’ll close out this month’s Classical section with a recording that is something of a curiosity: a cassette-only release by the electronic compositional team of Paula Matthusen and Olivia Valentine. (N.B. — Although the release is technically cassette-only, the cassette does come with a digital download code.) The music itself isn’t a curiosity, though it’s certainly interesting: to create this series of twelve compositions, Mathusen and Valentine took samples of environmentally-recorded source material from locations in Wisconsin and Georgia (insects, frogs, a lawnmower, a thunderstorm, wind, etc.) and manipulated them in real time, creating a dark and constantly-shifting array of noises that are rarely, if ever, recognizable. The result is eerie and quite beautiful.


JAZZ


Yonathan Avishai
Joys and Solitudes
ECM
2611

The latest from pianist and composer Jonathan Avishai is a wonderful collection of subdued but complex and fascinating modern jazz. After opening with a slow and contemplative take on the Duke Ellington standard “Mood Indigo,” the remainder of the program is given over to very different fare: original compositions by Avishai that vary from quiet chamber jazz (“Tango,” the gorgeous jazz waltz “Shir Boker”) to rather abstract contructs that challenge the ear without assaulting it (“Joy,” “When Things Fall Apart”) and delicate contrapuntal music that sounds like the kind of jazz Bach might have written (“Lya”). All of it is very lovely in that classic “ECM jazz” way: quiet, intellectual, impressionistic.


Emmet Cohen Trio
Dirty in Detroit: Live at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café
Self-released
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Emmet Cohen is one of the most exciting young pianists on the New York scene right now, and his latest album as a leader finds him moving from strength to strength. It also finds him displaying serious guts: opening with Thelonious Monk’s “Teo,” and then proceeding to feature no fewer than five Fats Waller numbers during the set is a bold move, and one that Cohen pulls off with the apparent effortlessness that has already become his trademark. Everyone plays brilliantly, but the communication between Cohen and drummer Kyle Poole is particularly noteworthy throughout the album, especially on their rollicking, dynamically varied take on Cedar Walton’s “Bremond’s Blues.” The band can be cool and swinging and it can be big and romantic, sometimes making that shift within seconds, as when Cohen segues without pause from “Two Sleepy People” into “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” The live setting gives this album a particular charge of energy and emotion, and it can be confidently recommended to every library collection.


Nate Wooley
Columbia Icefield
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)
ns 112

For this challenging and fascinating album, trumpeter and composer Nate Wooley has gathered an impressive quartet that also features steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, drummer Ryan Sawyer, and the brilliant guitarist Mary Halvorsen to create an ambitious piece of conceptual art music. The three movements of this work were written with the Columbia Icefield (the largest glacial formation in the Rocky Mountains) in mind, and with the intention of “trying to build structures that have a feeling of being really large and slightly disturbing, but also natural,” in Wooley’s words. Using a combination of live playing and electronics (the latter being used very sparely and tastefully), Wooley and his ensemble alternate between forbidding skronk, peaceful lyricism, and relatively gentle noise passages to create those large and disturbing, but also natural musical constructs, and the result may not always be easy on the ear, but it’s consistently interesting.


Ehud Asherie Trio
Wild Man Blues
Capri
74153-2

There’s much to be said for pushing the boundaries of jazz, for expanding its horizons and building new musical conceptions on its old stylistic foundations. However, there is also something to be said for embracing and celebrating jazz tradition–and luckily, we don’t have to choose between them, but can encourage and foster both approaches. Pianist Ehud Asherie is solidly in the “embracing and celebrating tradition” camp, and although his style is fresh and inventive, he is standing hip-deep in the verities on his latest album as a leader. Opening with a lovely arrangement of Louis Armstrong’s “Wild Man Blues,” he proceeds to deliver a program that includes two Charlie Parker tunes, a bossa, the ballad standard “Oh, Lady Be Good,” and Dizzy Gillespie’s Afro-Cuban classic “And Then She Stopped.” Asherie and his trio swing like no one’s business, and the album is a delight from start to finish.


James Suggs
You’re Gonna Hear from Me
Arbors Jazz (dist. MVD)
ARCD 19465

Also working in a trad/straight-ahead jazz mode is trumpeter James Suggs on his debut album. Leading a quintet that features tenor man Houston Person, pianist Lafayette harris, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash, Suggs delivers a standards-heavy program that varies in style between cool, hard bop, and trad–from the second-line stylings of Suggs’ original “My Baby Kinda Sweet” and the slow blues of “The Ripple” (another original) to a sweetly loping mid-tempo take on Duke Ellington’s “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream” and the hard-swinging “Rachel’s Blues.” Suggs has a wonderfully golden, burnished tone, and the group plays together marvelously. Here’s hoping for more soon from this outstanding young talent.


FOLK/COUNTRY


George Jackson
Time and Place
Self-released
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

The debut album from fiddler and composer George Jackson is delightfully deceptive. At first listen it sounds like an old-time project: traditional tunes played on fiddle, clawhammer banjo, guitar, mandolin, and bass. But listen again: first of all, these are all original tunes; second of all, some of them are in no meaningful sense “traditional”: check out the crooked time signatures (a hallmark of Jackson’s compositions) and weirdly sideways chord changes on “Cabin on the Cumberland,” for example, not to mention the prog-folk waltz of “Cumberland River Roll” and the modal twists and turns of “Falls Avenue.” Imagine if Tony Rice or David Grisman had come up playing old-time music rather than bluegrass, and you’ll get an idea of the general feel of this album. It’s fantastic.


Various Artists
Texas Hillbillies (4 discs)
JSP (dist. MVD)
JSP77213

This four-disc set is a treasure trove of previously lost or at least deeply obscure material: early recordings of Texas string bands and soloists, all originally issued on 78 rpm discs between 1922 and 1937. The restored sound is pretty impressive, especially on the later tracks (there’s only so much you can do to pretty up a 96-year-old shellac recording), but even where the sound is atrocious the music is sometimes shockingly good. Just cue up Eck Robertson’s 1922 solo recording of “Sallie Gooden,” and prepare to be amazed. Also impressive is the array of styles and band configurations on offer here: you’ll of course hear plenty of classic Texas-style fiddling, but also the odd Irish tune, early versions of later Western swing standards and rags, and cowboy songs, all played by a wide variety of ensembles and soloists. As a pure listening experience, these discs will appeal mainly to hardcore fans of the genre, but as a library purchase this set can be considered essential to any folk or country collection.


John Hartford
Backroads, Rivers & Memories: The Rare & Unreleased John Hartford
Shanon/Real Gone Music
RGM-0848

When John Hartford died of cancer at the too-young age of 63, we lost more than just the guy who wrote “Gentle on My Mind.” We also lost one of the few true originals in the realm of country music, someone whose banjo playing was more unique than most people noticed, whose fiddling was far more technically interesting than he wanted you to notice, and whose musical personality was shaped as much by riverboats as by mountains and hollows. He was a strange combination of traditionalist, modernist, and hippy, and he was a huge influence on just about everyone. This disc brings together 16 solo demos, three live radio performances, and eight singles released by his family band the Ozark Mountain Trio. Unfortunately, the private tapes from which these recordings were mastered included no information about where and when most of the tracks were recorded, but they’re still both fascinating from a historical perspective and wonderful to hear.


ROCK/POP


NO WIN
downey
Dangerbird
DGB177
Rick’s Pick

Holy cow, I love this album. I’m not exactly sure where it fits, genre-wise: it might sound like pop punk to some, but it sounds like power pop to me, minus the lush harmonies. What you get instead are undeniable melodic hooks and chord progressions that will pull your heart right out of your chest even as you’re being bludgeoned by them about the head and shoulders. No wanky guitar solos (there are some guitar solos, just no wanky ones), no fancy sonics, no samples or electronic percussion, just a crap-ton of guitar and gorgeously crafted songs. It’s hard to identify standout tracks on such a consistently brilliant record, but “2 Real” melted my heart (partly because of the brief appearance of some truly lush harmonies) and “Shelley Duvall” did too. Yeah, it’s only 29 minutes long, but this is the happiest half-hour you’ll have all year.


Mitekiss
Crate Six Seven
Hospital (dist. Redeye)
NHS343CD
Rick’s Pick

This is the debut full-length from the mysterious drum’n’bass producer known as Mitekiss. He’s actually been working for something like 20 years, which means he was there close to the music’s original inception as jungle back in 1990s London, and which may explain his wide-ranging style: he’s clearly seen it all, from early jump-up and amen variants to later, jazzier and more liquid genre offshoots. What he does phenomenally well here is create a balance of heavyweight grooves and soothing textures, incorporating vocals on several tracks and creating a shifting array of moods, all clustering around that 170 rpm sweet spot. This is one of the most satisfying drum’n’bass albums I’ve heard in years.


Mark Stewart and Maffia
Learning to Cope with Cowardice/The Lost Tapes (reissue; 2 discs)
Mute
MSATM1CD

After the Pop Group broke up in 1980, singer/lyricist Mark Stewart relocated from London to New York City to rethink his musical vision. He found himself simultaneously inspired by two things: the emerging American hip hop culture, and the sounds of heavy machinery on construction sites. When he returned home, he teamed up with On-U Sound founder and producer Adrian Sherwood to produce some of the rawest and most confrontational music of the post-punk period, an album that sounds no less unhinged today than it did then. For this reissue, another album’s worth of previously-unreleased material from the same period (mostly alternate takes and dub versions of songs on the original album) is appended as well, and while it will mostly appeal to completist On-U Sound fans it’s all quite interesting and, if not exactly “fun,” at least engaging.


Lafawndah
Ancestor Boy
Concordia/K!7 (dist. Redeye)
K7S379CD

It’s not often that an album comes across my desk that is recommended equally to fans of Missy Elliott and Meredith Monk, but in this case I get it. Honestly, listening to the debut full-length from this artist puts me as much in mind of M.I.A. as any of the others in the accompanying R.I.Y.L. list: a deceptively winsome voice weaving through beats that are by turns assaultive and restrained and atmospherics that are by turns harsh and beautiful. Every song is like music from some unidentifiable foreign culture, or maybe another planet, and yet every one is accessible once you give yourself a moment to adjust. Notice, for example, how beautiful “Daddy” is despite its deeply strange structure, and how aggressively weird “Joseph” is despite its general quietude. Highly recommended.


The Specials
Encore
Island
B0029643-02

Fully 40 years after ushering in the Two-Tone ska revival alongside acts like the Beat and Madness, the Specials are back — and the first couple of tracks of their new album may have you scratching your head. “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” is soully disco circa 1976, and “B.L.M.” is an affecting spoken-word recollection by Lynval Golding of his father’s experiences with racism and economic disappointment as a member of the “Windrusher” generation of Jamaican immigrants to England, accompanied by more disco-ish sounding music (though this time with a reggae backbeat). But then the old sound reasserts itself, and it hangs on for the rest of the album: brisk ska enriched with elements of music hall and Latin styles. As has always been the case, bassist Horace Panter contributes some of the most rich and impressive elements of this outstanding band’s music. Expect demand from aging fans.


Bonobo
Fabric Presents Bonobo
Fabric (dist. Forced Exposure)
201

Rising from the ashes of the sadly defunct Fabriclive series, this new DJ set by Bonobo inaugurates a new series for the label, which will be called Fabric Presents. This is the first DJ mix Bonobo has released in five or six years, and it finds him ranging widely over the house, techno, and breakbeat landscapes (though spending most of his time in house and techno territory) over the course of 22 tracks by the likes of Titeknots, Alex Kassian, DJ Seinfeld, Throwing Snow, and Barakas (an alias of Bonobo himself). Ten of these tracks are previously unreleased, and all demonstrate his love of complex but open textures and solid but non-aggressive beats. Very nice stuff.


bvdub
Explosions in Slow Motion
n5MD (dist. Redeye)
MD272

I finally had to stop listening to this one because it was making me too depressed. That’s not a criticism, honestly: the music is strange and beautiful, consisting of four major sections separated by four brief numbered interludes titled “Ember.” The major sections are deeply mournful, consisting of slowly-moving clouds of synthesizer occasionally punctuated by very slow and very minimal beats; the “Ember” interludes consist largely of what sound like string sections that play repetitive passages that subty change over time but are partly obscured by envelopes of whitish noise. This could function as ambient music, I suppose, but the deep emotion it conveys is maybe a bit too disconcerting for that. Recommended primarily to people who aren’t already sad.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Brown Sugar
I’m in Love with a Dreadlocks: Brown Sugar and the Birth of Lovers Rock, 1977-80
Soul Jazz (dist. Redeye)
SJRCD420

Lovers rock is a specific reggae subgenre that emerged in England during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Characterized by a smoother, poppier sound than what had prevailed during the roots-and-culture period and a gentler tone than that of the emerging dancehall style, lovers rock focused (as its name would suggest) on romantic lyrics and was most often sung by women: artists like Sandra Cross, Carroll Thompson, and Janet Kay achieved significant success in the lovers style. Less well-known is the harmony trio that recorded as Brown Sugar–one member of which, Caron Wheeler, would later go on to front the massively successful Soul II Soul; another, Carol Simms, would achieve solo success under the name Kofi. Interestingly, unlike most of their colleagues, this trio mixed things up thematically: on this collection, crooning love songs like “I’m Hurtin’” and “Confession Hurts” rub shoulders with anthems of cultural consciousness like “Black Pride” and “Dreaming of Zion”–not to mention the title track, which effectively blends both roots and lovers into a single style. This is yet another very fine piece of musical archaeology from the redoutable Soul Jazz label.


Mitra Sumara
Tahdig
Persian Cardinal
PERS003

They claim to be “New York City’s only Farsi Funk group,” and I’m prepared to take them at their word on that. Of course, one interesting thing about being a Farsi funk group is that your definition of “funkiness” is likely to be a bit complicated by a predilection for time signatures that depart from the funky norm: the album-opening “Bemoon ta Bemoonam” sways energetically in 3/4, for example, while “Helelyos” does the same in 6/4. But that doesn’t stop things from feeling funky–it just expands your mind a bit about what “funky” means. One thing it definitely means here is plenty of horns, a generous smattering of wah-wah guitar, and keening vocals by Yvette Saatchi Perez. The songs themselves are all modern reworkings of pop and funk tunes from 1970s Iran, and the whole album is just tons of fun.


Miguel Zenón; Spektral Quartet
Yo soy la tradición
Miel Music
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

This album represents a three-way fusion of sorts: traditional Puerto Rican music, jazz, and classical. An eight-part suite written for saxophone and string quartet, Yo soy la tradición is–to my ears, anyway–first and foremost a carefully composed piece of art music; it includes improvised passages, but this is not primarily improvised music. Nor is it quaint folk-music-with-orchestration, although each of the pieces draws deeply and explicitly on a specific folk music tradition. Zenón’s writing for the quartet is remarkable: complex and harmonically knotty, with little in the way of explicit tonal momentum, yet never directionless and never less than fascinating. The playing is brilliant throughout. This album is a triumph.


Maurice Louca
Elephantine
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)
NS 111

And while we’re talking about unlikely cross-cultural fusion experiments, consider the latest from Maurice Louca, a key figure in what must be the relatively small experimental-music scene in his native Cairo. Elephantine blends elements of Arabic melody, free jazz, and minimalist repetition, shifting and merging those elements to create alternating passages of eerie lyricism, contemplative quiet, and assaultive skronk. He draws on musicians from Egypt and also from across Europe, creating an incredibly rich tonal pallette of sounds: percussion, oud, vibraphone, reed and brass instruments, violin, and Louca’s own guitar and piano all contibute to a series of compositions that sometimes flirt with chaos but always within the constraints of a very clearly defined musical vision.


Mad Professor & Jah9
Mad Professor Meets Jah9 in the Midst of the Storm
Ariwa/VP
VP2639
Rick’s Pick

A couple of years ago I strongly recommended Jah9’s album 9, referring to her as “possibly the foremost exponent” right now of reggae’s roots-and-culture school. What I missed at the time was the nearly simultaneous release of a remix version of that album, radically dubbed-up by the legendary English reggae producer Mad Professor. Having been heavily influenced in his youth by the certifiably insane production style of Lee “Scratch” Perry, Mad Professor knows how to fold, spindle, and mutilate a reggae song–but wisely, he leaves some of Jah9’s considerable lyrical wisdom intact (notably the best line on the album: “A spiritual woman is the greatest threat to the status quo”). What’s left is a deep, dark, heavyweight reimagining of what was one of the two or three finest reggae releases of 2017. If you bought that one, this one makes a perfect complement to it–and if you didn’t buy that one, buy both of them now.

February 2019


PICK OF THE MONTH


Manuel Cardoso
Requiem, Lamentations, Magnificat & Motets
Cupertinos / Luís Toscano
Hyperion (dist. PIAS)
CDA68252

I can’t seem to stop listening to this magnificent disc, and honestly, I kind of wish I could just keep listening to it all month instead of all the other releases (wonderful as they are) that I’ll be recommending in this issue of the HotList. What we have here is a perfect storm of musical beauty: a magisterial late-Renaissance work that regularly surprises you with unexpected twists of melody and texture, performed by a choral ensemble whose angelic blend is matched by its unwaveringly perfect intonation and lustrous tone. This is the first recording I’ve heard by Cupertinos, a choir specializing in Renaissance choral music from Portugal, and my next item of business after I finish typing this review will be to find out what other releases I’ve been missing. In the meantime, I can only recommend this glorious disc in the strongest possible terms to all library collections.


CLASSICAL


Franz Schubert; Friedrich Burgmüller
Die Nacht
Anja Lechner; Pablo Márquez
ECM
2555
Rick’s Pick

Passionate but restrained emotion, combined with deeply poignant melody: that, in my view, is the combination of traits that characterizes Franz Schubert’s most successful compositions. (Think of his Ave Maria setting; there’s a reason why just about everyone in the Western world can sing at least the first two bars of that piece.) Friedrich Bürgmuller, a German composer only a little bit younger than Schubert–and of whom I’m embarrassed to say I knew nothing before encountering him here–wrote in a somewhat similar vein, and this program of arrangements for cello and guitar features three of his nocturnes distributed between Schubert’s famous “Arpeggione” Sonata and transcriptions of his songs and piano pieces. Cellist Anja Lechner and guitarist Pablo Márquez have been playing together for years, and you can tell; they sound like siblings quietly conversing by the fire in a parlor. Strongly recommended to all collections.


Steve Reich
Sextet; Double Sextet
Ekkozone / Mathias Reumert
Mode (dist. Naxos)
300

The music of Steve Reich continues to divide both listeners and critics: are the repetition and minimal harmonic movement mind-numbing, or do they make possible the perception of other kinds of movement and development–notably the complex rhythmic patterns and shifting downbeat emphases that emerge? This recording of Reich’s marimba-and-vibes-based Sextet and his later winds-and-strings-based Double Sextet will not settle the question; but for those who find his music more exciting than enervating, it provides some wonderfully committed and high-energy performances of these important works.


Hieronymus Praetorius
Missa Tulerunt Dominum meum
Siglo de Oro / Patrick Allies
Delphian (dist. Naxos)
DCD34208
Rick’s Pick

Hieronymus Praetorius has suffered a fate similar to that of Michael Haydn and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach — languishing in the shadow of his more-famous and -celebrated brother. It seems especially unjust in this case, given the magnificence of H. Praetorius’s Missa Tulerunt Dominum meum, which (rather astonishingly) has never been recorded prior to this release. The London-based Siglo de Oro choir sings with a tight and colorful blend and delivers this emotionally intense Eastertide composition with a perfect balance of joy and longing. The program is filled out with complementary works by Hans Leo Hassler, Andrea Gabrieli, Orlando de Lasso and Jacob Handl, and it is an unqualified triumph.


Dictaphone
Collection (3 discs)
Denovali
DENCD0000287
Rick’s Pick

I wish I could better explain why I find this music so hypnotic — mainly because explaining that kind of thing is, you know, exactly what I’m supposed to be doing here. But I find Dictaphone’s music simultaneously entrancing and inexplicable. It’s abstract, but not structureless; there’s usually some degree of rhythmic regularity, and recognizable melodies often emerge from the cloud of sound and noise. You can’t call it minimalist, really, because it changes too much. There are moments that recall Jon Hassell’s “Fourth World” experiments, and others that sound like ECM jazz, and others that are hard to distinguish from mid-20th-century avant-gardism (though less abrasive than the music of that period tended to be). Sometimes the mood is — I don’t know — grumpy? At others it’s not even a mood, just more like a flavor. Like I said, I find all of it hypnotic and hugely enjoyable. This three-CD set includes four releases from Dictaphone’s back catalog: m.=addiction (2000), Nacht (2004), Vertigo II (2006), and the very limited edition Poems from a Rooftop (2012). This collection is itself available only in a limited release, so snap it up now.


Charles Dieupart
Six Sonatas for Flute with a Thorough Bass
Isabel Favilla et al.
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95572

Louis-Gabriel Guillemain
Flute Quartets Op. 12 (2 discs)
Wilbert Hazelzet; Fanaticus
Resonus (dist. Naxos)
RES10222

Here are two absolutely lovely collections of early-18th-century French chamber music for flute. The Dieupart sonatas are performed on recorder by the magnificent Isabel Favilla, whose steadiness of intonation (always a touchy issue on that instrument) is impeccable, and whose accompanists include cellist Roberto Alonso Álvarez, lutenist Giulio Quirici, and harpsichordist João Rival. Dieupart is a relatively obscure composer and as near as I can tell, this is the only available recording (possibly the first?) of his flute sonatas, and they are a delight. Louis-Gabriel Guillemain’s is something of a tragic story: hugely celebrated in his time, he succumbed to alcoholism and committed suicide after a long decline, and today his name is largely forgotten. He was reportedly a dazzlingly gifted violinist, but he also shone as a composer, and although his output was small (eighteen published works) this set of quartets for flute, violin, bass viol and continuo nicely showcases his skill. Flutist Wilbert Hazelzet is a titan of the early music scene, and while I wish his transverse flute had been miked a bit more closely so that we could better hear the subtleties of his articulation, this is a gorgeous album overall and can be confidently recommended to all early music collections.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The String Quintets (3 discs)
Klenke Quartett
Accentus (dist. Naxos)
ACC80467

Reviewing a Mozart album is, in some ways, kind of silly–what are you going to do, say that the music is only so-so? What the reviewer is left to do is evaluate the performance, and perhaps the utility of the product. In the case of these (modern-instrument) performances of Mozart’s string quintets, the scores come in very high on both of those counts: the Klenke Quartett (with the addition of guest violist Harald Schoneweg) deliver performances that I can only call “luminous,” their tone crystalline but rich and their interpretations insightful–conveying beautifully the characteristic “here comes the Romantic era” emotion of Mozart’s middle-period music as well as the classical formalism that constrains it. Few other composers combined sprightliness and humor with depth as effectively as Mozart did, and the Klenkes do full justice to that complexity. Highly recommended to all classical collections.


Various Composers
From Hungary to Taiwan
Formosa Quartet
Bridge (dist. Albany)
9519

One might reasonably ask what unifying theme could bring together a program of works by American composer Dana Wilson, Chinese composer Lei Lang, Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, and Taiwanese-American composer Wei-Chieh Lin. The answer is: folk song. And what makes this four-work program especially interesting is that the folk traditions on which the various works draw come from two very specific and distinct countries: Hungary and Taiwan. Wilson’s setting of Hungarian folk melodies is followed directly by Liang’s long, single-movement work based on the traditional music of Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes. Then comes Bartók’s famous fourth string quartet (heavily influenced by melodies he had collected during field expeditions with Zoltán Kodály), followed by Lin’s setting of four Taiwanese folk songs. It’s a fascinating and often challenging program, brilliantly performed by one of America’s top young string quartets.


JAZZ


Ran Blake; Claire Ritter
Eclipse Orange
Zoning
ZR1013

The fact that Ran Blake takes first billing on this live two-piano concert recording can be read as a quiet tribute to him from Claire Ritter, his former student and now a force in modern jazz piano herself — and also the owner of the Zoning Recordings label, on which the album will be released on February 15. And the fact that the program features two Thelonious Monk tunes reflects the fact that the concert took place within a few days of Monk’s 100th birthday, and that Monk has been such a big influence on both Ritter and Blake. The rest of the concert consists of duo and solo performances of pieces written by each of them, with a few standards thrown in as well. (Saxophonist Kent O’Doherty joins them on several tunes, but they are otherwise unaccompanied.) At times the music is sweet and lyrical with explicit nods to the past, and at other times things get spiky and experimental, neither of which should surprise long time fans of both of these extraordinary pianists. If your library supports a jazz piano pedagogy program (or just a jazz program), do not pass this one up.


Ken Fowser
Right on Time
Posi-Tone
PR8191

For saxophonist/composer’s Ken Fowser’s fourth album as a leader, he decided to change things up. Whereas his first three efforts had featured him leading a standard-issue quintet (sax and trumpet in front of a piano trio), on this one producer Marc Free convinced him to build his ensemble around a Hammond organ — leading, predictably enough, to a program with a funkier, greasier edge than usual, as well as to a slightly expanded instrumental palette: sax, trombone, trumpet, guitar, organ, bass, drums. The result finds Fowser spending more time in blues and funk territory, but also using his newly-configured group to explore Brazilian (“Samba for Joe Bim”), waltz (“Don’t Let Life Pass You By”), and hard-bop (“Duck and Cover,” “On My Way”) styles. As always, his charts are tons of complex-yet-accessible fun and his solos are a delight. Fowser is, in my opinion, one of the top young jazz bandleaders on the scene today.


Eric Dolphy
Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions (3 discs)
Resonance
HCD-2035
Rick’s Pick

A “prophet” can be any number of things: someone who foresees and foretells the future; a divine madman from the desert who tries to convince a wicked city to repent; the founder of a new faith. Saxophonist and composer Eric Dolphy arguably played all of these roles during his all-too-brief life and even briefer career, helping to usher in the jazz avant-garde and deeply influencing subsequent generations of experimental and free-thinking saxophonists. This three-disc set is not easy listening, but it is essential. It includes the two albums he made with producer Alan Douglas (Conversations and Iron Man) along with a full disc’s worth of studio outtakes, all in monaural recordings, the stereo tapes having been lost long ago. For those who haven’t heard this music before, it will likely come as a revelation (see what I did there?): the light-hearted, Caribbean-flavored “Music Matador” somewhat belies Dolphy’s reputation as a wild-eyed experimenter, though it contains both sweet lyrical melody and crazy skronkiness; “Love Me” is a solo sax excursion, somewhat wild but grounded, and certainly not crazy; “Alone Together” and “Muses for Richard Davis” (previously unissued) are both pieces for bass clarinet and bass, alternately experimental and straight-ahead, and the same is true of his sax/bass arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday.” On the Iron Man album things do start to get a bit crazy, though his playing and arranging remain disciplined: the boppish-but-funky title track provides a solid scaffolding for Dolphy to get harmonically nuts, squawling his proto-harmolodic lines all over what is an otherwise relatively conventional program of 1960s jazz charts. “Ode to Charlie Parker” is a gorgeous (though somewhat abstract) flute-and-bass duet. “A Personal Statement,” a bonus track, is deeply strange, featuring Dolphy in musical conversation with piano, bass, percussion, and a countertenor vocalist. This whole package is an adventure, and should find a place in any library’s jazz collection.


Harry “Sweets” Edison
The Classic Albums Collection (4 discs)
Enlightenment (dist. MVD)
EN4CD9157

And speaking of packages that should find a place in any jazz collection, here’s the Enlightenment label back again with another four-disc set that includes eight classic releases by a towering figure of mid-century jazz: in this case, trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison. Edison made his bones as a member of the Count Basie Orchestra before moving to California in the early 1950s and pursuing a career as a leader. During that decade he produced quite a few fine albums under his own name, and these are among the best of them: Buddy and Sweets (with Buddy Rich); Sweets; Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You; Going for Myself (with Lester Young); The Swinger; Sweetenings; Together (with singer Joe Williams); and Wanted to Do One Together (with Ben Webster). Listening to these albums, all of which were recorded with small combos and reflect the best of what straight-ahead 1950s jazz had to offer, you might come to the conclusion that Edison got his nickname from his trumpet tone, which is indeed sweet and burnished, even when he plays with a mute. (The nickname actually arose from his popularity with women.) Some of the finest moments are those that find him alongside titans of the pre-bop period, including Basie himself as well as the great tenor saxophonists Ben Webster and Lester Young. And to its credit, the crew at Enlightenment took the trouble to provide a full personnel listing this time, outside of the text of the liner notes. A very fine collection all around.


Jentsch Group No Net
Topics in American History
Blue Schist
CD004
Rick’s Pick

I have a rule of thumb when it comes to modern jazz: beware of compositions with titles like “Manifest Destiny” and “Suburban Diaspora” (to say nothing of “Lincoln-Douglas Debates”). But it’s in the nature of a rule of thumb that you can’t always follow it strictly, and that’s the case with guitarist/composer Chris Jentsch’s latest large-ensemble work. Its seven pieces are not tone poems, though there’s a programmatic element to the swinging “Lincoln-Douglas Debates,” on which trumpet and trombone engage in some good-natured back-and-forth. Other tracks are more abstract and harmonically meandering, though “Suburban Diaspora,” the album’s most lyrical piece, comes as something of a surprise with its almost elegiac flavor. One of the things that struck me about this composition was Jenstch’s generosity — you don’t hear his guitar come to the fore until seven minutes into the first track, and even then it only stays there for a moment. This is not a jazz guitar album; it’s an outstanding piece of jazz-classical fusion that achieves the elusive goal of offering the best of both worlds. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


Dennis Coffey
Live at Baker’s
Omnivore
OVCD-320

This one, on the other hand, most certainly is a jazz guitar album. Or, more precisely, a jazz/soul/funk album. Leading a quartet that also features keyboardist Demetrius Nabors, bassist Damon Warmack, and drummer Gaelynn McKinney, legendary session man and Funk Brothers veteran Dennis Coffey delivers a smooth but not slick live set that includes jazz standards (“Moonlight in Vermont,” “All Blues”), a fusion classic (David Sanborn’s “Chicago Song”), a 1970s R&B hit (“Just My Imagination”), and one Coffey original (the much-sampled 1971 hit “Scorpio”), among other treats. Coffey shows off his stylistic range and his estimable chops, but also his taste–and gives his sidemen some room to show off as well. The production quality is exceptional for a live album, and the whole thing is a treat: easy to listen to without being easy listening.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Sineag MacIntyre
Lòn Bàn
Greentrax (dist. MVD)
CDTRAX396

The word that kept coming to my mind while listening to this lovely album of traditional Scottish songs was “careful.” And I mean that as a compliment: whereas many Celtic musicians approach the source material as an opportunity to show off (often with wonderful and thrilling results), others set the songs and tunes the way one might a jewel, doing their best to draw the listener’s attention away from the performer and towards the music itself. This seems to be the favored approach of celebrated singer Sineag MacIntyre, who performs these songs (many of them closely associated with her home township of South Uist) at moderate tempos and with a minimum of accompaniment. A few melodies may be startlingly familiar to listeners not steeped in the Gaelic song traditions — notice, for example, that “Èiridh Bileag Ùr-Ghorm” is sung to the same tune as the French carol “Noël nouvelet” — but even for longstanding fans of those traditions many of these numbers will be a revelation, as is MacIntyre’s sweet, clear, careful voice.


Jeff Scroggins & Colorado
Over the Line
Patuxent
CD-325
Rick’s Pick

Everything that I just said about Celtic music goes double for bluegrass, which is regularly — not to say constantly — used as much as a vehicle for virtuosic showing-off as a showcase for great songs and tunes. On their latest album, banjo player Jeff Scroggins and his band Colorado take a very different tack: not skimping on the virtuosity (listen carefully, in particular, to how gracefully Scroggins shifts back and forth between traditional Scruggs and more modernistic melodic/Keith-style picking) but never letting it distract. At very few points, while listening to this album, are you going to say “Wow, that sure was a fast solo” — but at multiple points you’ll say “What a gorgeous song,” and if you listen closely you’ll also find yourself saying “Nice note choices.” You’ll also notice what fine lead singers guitarist Greg Blake and Allie Hakanson are, and what a tasteful mandolinist — and great tune-writer — Tristan Scroggins is. (And you’ll say “Hey, isn’t that Mark Schatz on bass? The Mark Schatz?” Yes, it is.) Highly recommended to all libraries.


Tyler Grant; Robin Kessinger
Kanawha County Flatpicking
Grant Central
GCR1802

The two general schools of steel-string guitar playing are flatpicking (using a plectrum) and fingerpicking. Both traditions have honored places in various folk traditions, with flatpicking favored in the contexts of bluegrass and old-time music and fingerpicking more often preferred by folksingers. Tyler Grant and Robin Kessinger are masters of bluegrass and old-time flatpicking, and this delightful album documents a two-man jam session in a friend’s cabin, during which they play a varied set of fiddle tunes (“Soldier’s Joy,” “Rights of Man,” “Flop Eared Mule”), country blues (“No Hard Times”), and even a Tin Pan Alley song (“Russian Lullaby”). They sing on several of these numbers, but while both are pretty good singers it’s the picking that is the real draw here. The final track, however, is an unaccompanied gospel hymn (“A Song! A Beautiful Song!”), sung in slightly shaky but moving harmony by Grant and Kessinger. Nice stuff.


Bob Sumner
Sings Wasted Love Songs
Self-released
BSR0001
Rick’s Pick

Better known as half of the Vancouver-based duo The Sumner Brothers, Bob Sumner explains his first solo outing by saying that he’s “kind of a junkie for sad songs and ballads.” He demonstrates that beautifully and with straightforward articulateness on this lovely rainy-day album, one that murmurs with deep emotion even as it benefits from architecturally meticulous songwriting. As you listen to these songs you won’t necessarily notice anything special about Sumner’s voice, but you’ll notice how well he sings (those are not the same thing, obviously). You’ll also notice the economy of his lyrics and the gem-like precision of his melodies — not to mention his chord changes, which keep startling me with their spare perfection.


ROCK/POP


Buzzcocks
Another Music in a Different Kitchen (reissue)
Domino
REWIGCD126
Rick’s Pick

Buzzcocks
Love Bites (reissue)
Domino
REWIGCD127
Rick’s Pick

If you, like me, had allowed yourself to forget what a pulse-poundingly perfect punk band the Buzzcocks were, then the 40th-anniversary remastering and reissue of their first two full-length albums provides a great opportunity to remind yourself. Their sound was sharp and tight, bursting with barely-contained aggression even as their lyrics went to somewhat more weird and whimsical places than those of their colleagues at the time tended to (sample couplet: “Sooner or later you’re gonna listen to Ralph Nader/I don’t wanna cause a fuss, but fast cars are so dangerous”). These reissues are packaged with new liner notes and photos, but (unfortunately) no additional music. Nevertheless, if your library doesn’t already own them this is a perfect opportunity to fill in a collection gap.


Phonseca
Between a Dream (digital only; out 15 February)
Self-released
No cat. no.

Matthew O’Connor, who has an eclectic background as a keyboardist in various Bristol bands and as a composer of library music, now records as a solo artist under the name Phonseca, and his debut album fascinatingly walks the fuzzy line that separates ambient electronica from synth pop. One of the elements that tends to separate the latter from the former is the presence of a beat, and several tracks on Between a Dream most certainly feature beats — though to call them “grooves” would be something of a stretch. That being said, one of the album’s surprises is a quiet and strangely-mixed cover of New Order’s 1980s hit “Bizarre Love Triangle,” with female vocals drifting in from the middle distance. It’s not being marketed this way, and it may not sound like it at first — but ultimately this really is a synth-pop album, and quite a nice one at that.


Kate Bush
Remastered — Part II (reissue box; 11 discs)
Fish People
No cat. no.

How big does an artist’s audience have to be for it to stop making sense to call her a “cult artist”? Certainly Kate Bush has had a large worldwide fan base since she emerged as an utterly unique prog-synth-Gothic-Romantic-multimedia-singer-songwriter in the 1970s. And if she has rarely had hits in the US, her songs have graced the Top 10 in England no fewer than 25 times. But then, the British charts tend to be a bit more welcoming of radical quirkiness than the US ones, and if one important characteristic of a “cult artist” is radical quirkiness, then Bush pretty much has them all beat. (Her breakout hit was a love song to Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights.) Anyway, this is the second in a two-installment set of multi-disc reissue boxes; both include lots of new and unreleased material in addition to remastered versions of all of her original albums. The remastered sound is outstanding, and the added depth and clarity make it easier than ever to appreciate the wonderful strangeness of Bush’s musical conception. The packaging may prove a bit unwieldy for library collections, but you can expect demand from the members of her cult — a larger one than you might expect.


The Flesh Eaters
I Used to Be Pretty
Yep Roc (dist. Redeye)
CD-YEP-2644

Here’s the thing about the Los Angeles punk scene, circa 1980: one of its defining features was the deep debt its bands owed to country, blues, and rockabilly. There were bands like X, who drew deeply on country and hillbilly traditions, and straight-up rockabilly/R&B revivalists like the Blasters, who emerged from the punk scene despite having almost nothing stylistically in common with it (apart from manic energy). Then there were the Plugz, who drew on Latino traditions as well. And then there were the Flesh Eaters — basically a punk supergroup that pulled together members of all three of those bands under the leadership of singer/lyricist Chris D., who always kind of sounded like he was acting in a horror movie and for whom the guys from X and the Blasters and the Plugz put together some suitably dark and creepy backing music. And guess what? Now those guys are all back, and it doesn’t sound like any of them have gotten over their existential angst — least of all Chris D. Shelve this one next to albums by the Cramps and then keep a close eye on anyone who picks them up; they’re probably up to no good.


Various Artists
That’ll Flat Git It!: Rockabilly & Rock’n’Roll from the Vaults, Vol. 30
Bear Family (dist. MVD)
BCD 17566
Rick’s Pick

And if you want to know why rockabilly held such fascination for the punk rockers of the L.A. scene, check out this breathtaking series of musical archaeology by the brilliant Bear Family label. It should be an ongoing source of national shame that it’s taken a German label to bring back to light so much of America’s country and rock history, but thank heaven someone’s doing it. This particular series is now an amazing 30 volumes deep, and the latest installment features twangy, bouncy, hard-rocking treasures from artists you’ve probably never heard of: Ray Griff, Otto Bash, Ric Cartey, Janis Martin, and many others. The disc transfer has been done with loving attention to sonic detail, resulting in admirably clear sound but no artifical stereo or other ill-considered interventions. Detailed liner notes complete a package that every library should own.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Anchorsong
Cohesion
Tru Thoughts
TRUCD356

For his latest release, Masaaki Yoshida (recording, as usual, under the name Anchorsong) has drawn on a variety of Indian musical traditions: notably classical percussion and Bollywood songs. But this doesn’t end up sounding like pseudo-Indian dilletantism or Indian pop manqué. Instead, it ends up sounding like an Anchorsong album: sonically dense but melodicaly nimble, funky but graceful, experimental (and maybe even avant-garde) but accessible. He pays careful attention to the actual pitches of the percussion instruments, using them for melodic purposes, and creates something both fun and deeply interesting. A new Anchorsong album is always cause for celebration, and all libraries should take note of this one.


Earl Cunningham; Earl Sixteen
Earl Cunningham; Shining Star
Burning Sounds (dist. MVD)
BSRCD913

So what do these two albums have in common to justify their release together on this hourlong one-disc twofer? Well, both artists are named “Earl,” for one thing. Then there’s… um… well, okay, certainly the fact that both albums are legitimate roots-reggae classics originally issued in 1983 — and the fact that both are presented in “showcase” style, with a dub version following each vocal mix. The backing bands are different (the Roots Radics in the first instance; the Aggrovators in the second), but both albums were produced by Earl Morgan (“Earls” were pretty thick on the ground in Jamaica at the time). The sound is a bit sludgy, with that bassiness that reflects both local preferences of the period and the fact that this CD was almost certainly “mastered” from vinyl copies of the original LPs. But the music is outstanding.


Various Artists
Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II
Six Degrees
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

There’s a fascinating and tragic backstory to this album. During World War II, scholars from the Kiev Cabinet for Jewish Culture fanned out across Europe collecting hundreds of new Yiddish songs that depicted the experiences of Jews during wartime: serving in the Soviet army, being imprisoned by the Nazis, working for socialism in the outposts of Siberia and the Urals. The goal was to publish a collection of these songs, but — in a cruel but all-too-common historical irony — one of the scholars was arrested and the group’s work suppressed during Stalin’s anti-Jewish purge. Almost 50 years later the documents were discovered in several unmarked boxes in Ukraine’s national library, and 20 years after that a group of musicians at the University of Toronto decided to record some of them. The result is this beautiful, fun, and painfully sad album, one that brings to light mid-century Yiddish songs of great emotional depth and political acerbity. The songs featuring vocalist Sophie Milman are a particular highlight, but this whole album is a must for all academic collections.


Stella Chiweshe
Kasahwa: Early Singles
Glitterbeat (dist. Forced Exposure)
GB 061CD

Many of us are familiar with the instrument known as the mbira, or thumb piano; what is less commonly known is that the word also denotes a whole style of music that has been held sacred in South Africa’s Shona culture for over a thousand years. Stella Chiweshe is now widely known as the “Queen of Mbira,” but as a young woman in the 1970s and 1980s the option of becoming a professional musician in this arena was not open to women, and not only would no men teach her how to play, no instrument builder would make an mbira for her. In order to record the first single on this collection (which consists entirely of recordings never previously released outside of Africa), Chiweshe had to use a borrowed instrument. But that song made her a celebrity, and after South Africa achieved its independence she began touring internationally. This album consists of 7″ singles recorded between 1974 and 1983, and featured both her nimble playing and her singing; it’s strongly recommended to all libraries collecting contemporary African music.


Djénéba & Fousco
Kayeba Khasso
Lusafrica (dist. MVD)
762602

Billed as “the new first couple of Malian music,” singer Djénéba Kouyaté and her husband, guitarist/singer/songwriter Fousco Sissoko are pulling the ancient traditions of griot singing into the 21st century — not by plugging them into a digital or electronic context, but by incorporating new stylistic elements (note the one-drop reggae grooves and the bluesy guitar and cello accents that pop up from time to time here) and, more subtly, by bringing in contemporary topical content and what is sometimes a somewhat sunnier and more optimistic lyrical outlook. Their voices blend beautifully, and the songs are both melodically winsome and appealingly spare and direct in their arrangements. More proof, if it were needed, of the enormous musical diversity that exists on the huge African continent–both across it and within its various regional traditions.


Zenzile
5+1 Meets Jayree
Yotanka (dist. PIAS)
YO 73
Rick’s Pick

I have regularly drawn attention to the deep and rich reggae scene that has grown up in Berlin, which has emerged not only as a world hub of traditional roots reggae but also of more forward-looking and experimental styles. A bit lower on the international radar is the emerging scene in France, and one of the leading lights of that milieu is Zenzile, a band founded over 20 years ago in the city of Angers. Their eleventh album is a collaboration with singer Jayree, presented in showcase style (each vocal track followed immediately by a dub version). The grooves are deep, thick, and heavy, with plenty of dubwise atmospherics and elephantine basslines, simultaneously harking back to the classic rockers era of the early 1980s and expanding that tradition into the new century. If you have patrons who clamor for Basic Channel releases or classic Roots Radics material, then hand-sell this outstanding release to them and watch them ask for more.

January 2019


PICKS OF THE MONTH


Antoine de Févin
Missa Ave Maria & Salve sancte parens
Brabant Ensemble / Stephen Rice
Hyperion (dist. PIAS)
CDA68265

Various Composers
In a Strange Land: Elizabethan Composers in Exile
Stile Antico
Harmonia Mundi (dist. PIAS)
HMM 902266

For this issue I’ve selected two new releases as Picks of the Month. At first glance they may not seem to have much in common: the first offers what I believe to be world-premiere recordings of two Masses and several motets by the criminally under-recognized late-15th-century composer Antoine de Févin, including his magisterial parody Mass on Josquin’s motet Ave Maria… virgo serena; the second is a program of music composed during the following century by Catholic English composers in exile during the English Counter-reformation in the mid-to-late 1500s–gorgeous music by the likes of John Dowland, William Byrd, and Richard Dering, treating predictable themes of anguish (Dowland’s “Flow, My Tears” opens the program), displacement (Philippe de Monte’s setting of “Super flumina Babylonis”) and defiant Marian devotion (Peter Philips’ “Gaude Maria virgo”). It ends with Robert White’s heartbreakingly beautiful setting of Jeremiah’s Lamentations. These two albums could hardly be more different, so why put them together? Because of the singers. Stile Antico and the Brabant Ensemble are, in my view, the two finest ensembles currently working in the Oxbridge choral tradition (better to my ears than the Sixteen, and even edging out the Tallis Scholars, though not by much). And part of their secret is an actual overlap in personnel: both groups feature the sopranos Helen and Kate Ashby, and alto Emma Ashby, all of whom are sisters and whose voices contribute significantly to the rich, creamy blend that characterizes the sound of both groups. Both of these albums should be considered must-haves for any classical collection.


CLASSICAL


Various Composers
À portuguesa: Iberian Concertos & Sonatas
Orquestra barocca Casa da Música / Andreas Staier
Harmonia Mundi (dist. PIAS)
HMM 902337

Looking at the program of this disc, an eagle-eyed observer may notice that of the five composers represented on this disc, only one has either a Spanish or a Portuguese name. (Of the other four, two are British and two are Italian.) So what makes these concertos and sonatas “Iberian” (and, more specifically, portuguesa)? Well, Domenico Scarlatti (represented here by three harpsichord sonatas) worked extensively for Spanish and Portuguese royalty, as did Luigi Boccherini (whose string quintettino is presented here in a modern transcription for strings and harpsichord). And the British composers Charles Avison and William Corbett were markedly influenced by Spanish and Portuguese musical styles, as is particularly evidenced in the concerti grossi offered here. That leaves the two concerti grossi by José António Carlos de Seixas, the sole Portuguese composer on the program, whose work is delightful but doesn’t catch the attention nearly as forcefully as the strikingly modern-sounding opening movement of Boccherini’s quintettino, or the slightly less startling dissonances of Corbett’s Concerto “Alla portuguesa”. This disc is as much a musicological treasure as it is a listening pleasure.


Kaija Saariaho
Saariaho X Koh
Jennifer Koh with various accompanists
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 183
Rick’s Pick

For this album, violinist Jennifer Koh teams up with a shifting array of collaborators to perform chamber works by the celebrated Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. These works tread a careful line between the invitingly lyrical and the forbiddingly academic, offering plenty of structural complexity but also lots of accessible sonic beauty. Some pieces are spikier than others–the one-movement trio Light and Matter is particularly knotty–but all of them make powerful melodic as well as textural statements and coherently convey strong emotion as well as structural complexity. Light and Matter is presented here in its world-premiere recording, as is the violin/cello version of a brief piece titled Aure. Strongly recommended to all classical collections.


Various Composers
Resilience
Calidore String Quartet
Signum Classics (dist. Naxos)
SIGCD551

The overarching theme of the latest from the Calidore String Quartet is that of creating beauty in the midst of turmoil and despair. Opening with Prokofiev’s second string quartet (composed while he was in exile during WWII), then proceeding to Leoš Janáček’s “Kreutzer Sonata” quartet (written in anguish over his romantic troubles), then to Osvaldo Golijov’s one-movement Tenebrae (informed by his experiences of the Middle East conflict), and then concluding with Felix Mendelssohn’s wrenching sixth string quartet (written in the wake of his sister Fanny’s death), this album is both a meditation on human suffering and a celebration of what humans can produce in the midst of it–whether because or in spite of that suffering. The playing is magnificent, and is particularly impressive in the forbiddingly virtuosic final movement of the Mendelssohn.


Georg Philipp Telemann
The Concerti-en-suite
Tempesta di Mare
Chandos (dist. Naxos)
CHAN 0821
Rick’s Pick

Jean-Féry Rebel; Georg Philipp Telemann
Terpsichore: Apothéose de la danse baroque
Le Concert des Nations / Jordi Savall
AliaVox (dist. PIAS)
AVSA9929

German music of the late baroque period was characterized by what came to be called vermischter goût (itself a linguistically mixed term, amusingly enough)–meaning that elements of German, Italian, and French styles were intermixed to create a new and pleasing blend. Telemann took that concept further, into structural territory, by pioneering the “concerto-suite”: a format in which a soloist is featured in the opening movement, and subsequent movements follow the traditional format of a series of French-style dance movements. Three of his works in this vein are currently known to survive, and Tempesta di Mare (on period instruments) perform them with joyful panache on this wonderful disc. The natural-horn players are especially impressive here, delivering difficult lines with none of the watery tremulousness that so often mars performances on that fiendishly challenging instrument. The Concert des Nations disc alternates dance suites by the great French composer Jean-Féry Rebel with similarly-configured works by Telemann, one of them from his monumental Tafelmusik collection. As always, Jordi Savall leads the Concert des Nations in performances characterized by exuberance and infectious rhythmic vitality, and the sumptuousness of the recorded sound is particularly noteworthy on this deeply enjoyable disc. Both would make outstanding selections for any collection of baroque music, but the Telemann disc may be particularly noteworthy from a pedagogical point of view.


François Devienne
6 Trios for Flute, Viola and Cello
Sara Ligas; Salvatore Rea; Vladimiro Atzeni
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95686

Discovering the flute music of François Devienne has been one of my great pleasures over the past few years. Up until now I’ve mostly heard the concertos, and this set of trios is something of a revelation. Playing on modern instruments, Sara Ligas, Salvatore Rea and Vladimiro Atzeni beautifully convey Devienne’s very French late-classical style, and do so without condescending to the relative simplicity of Devienne’s work. Instead, they showcase its melodic sumptuousness, reveling in the moments of counterpoint and development when they do arise. This music may not be terribly important in the grand scheme of things, but it’s tremendously enjoyable.


Various Composers
Clarinet Concertos (14 discs)
Various Performers
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
95787

Generally speaking, I’m a big fan of the Brilliant Classics label’s box sets–true, some of them may seem a bit thrown-together, but some of them are… er… brilliant, and the price is always right. (And yes, that does matter. This one lists at just over $50, or roughly $3.50 per disc.) But when there are problems, they can be serious. In the case of my review copy of the new Clarinet Concertos box, some kind of encoding error created a strange clicking sound that seems to come and go depending on the volume of the music on discs 2 and 3 (dedicated to the Louis Spohr concerti)–a glitch that, incidentally, is not present in the digital versions of the same tracks on Amazon, where the whole box can be downloaded for $8.99. Another problem, endemic to this kind of super-budget-line set, is the extremely schematic liner notes, which total seven pages. Otherwise, this set is a solid winner. It covers the history of clarinet concertos starting with Molter and Spohr in the classical period up through Stanford, Hindemith, and Nielsen in the 20th century, with predictable inclusions from Krommer, Stamitz, Crusell, and others in between. As best I can tell, the performances are all on modern instruments, and although Henk de Graaf’s clarinet is distractingly bright, even shrill, on the Molter concerti, for the most part everything sounds very good. The original recordings were made between 1982 and 2017.


Morten Lauridsen
Light Eternal
Chamber Choir of Europe; I Virtuosi Italiani / Nicol Matt
Deutsche Grammophon
483 5058
Rick’s Pick

Morten Lauridsen’s shimmeringly gorgeous Lux aeterna (or at least its middle movement, O nata lux) has become one of the most ubiquitous pieces of American choral music of the past 25 years, so it might be tempting to dismiss this album with a yawn. That would be a mistake, though, partly because of the unbelievably lovely performance of that work offered on this recording by the Chamber Choir of Europe, and partly because there’s so much else on offer here–notably world-premiere recordings of two recent works, Prayer and Ya eres mía. The program is rounded out by Lauridsen’s settings of poems by Rilke, Neruda, and Agee, an extract from his Madrigali, and his setting of the O magnum mysterium text. The singing, playing, and production are exquisite throughout, and I strongly recommend this release to all libraries.


JAZZ


Kristen Strom
Moving Day: The Music of John Shifflett
OA2
22161
Rick’s Pick

John Shifflett, who died prematurely in 2017, was one of the more in-demand bass players on the Bay Area jazz scene, very well-known to the cognoscenti there. What was less well-known was his tremendous gift as a composer. On this album, a shifting combo of his friends have gathered under the leadership of saxophonist/clarinetist/flutist Kristen Strom to pay tribute to Shifflett with a program of arrangements of his tunes, plus his setting of a pair of–get this–Stan Rogers songs. The album ends up being a revelation, not only due to the quality of the original compositions (which achieve that magical and always elusive balance between complexity and accessibility) but also due to the depth, warmth, and brilliance of the arrangements. All of the soloists are marvelous, but the album’s finest moments come during the ensemble passages, which are organized with palpable love and constantly-impressive harmonic insight. This is one of the sweetest and loveliest jazz albums I’ve heard all year.


Ted Piltzecker
Brindica
Zoho (dist. MVD)
ZM201810

Jazz is a dish for which there are a thousand recipes, and some of the most delicious ones include both a dash of humor and a broad range of stylistic influences. That’s the thought that has kept occurring to me while listening to the latest album from vibraphonist and composer Ted Piltzecker. Taking the listener on a “worldwide musical journey” while avoiding the twin pitfalls of either stylistic imperialism or shallow multi-culti piety, Piltzecker writes and arranges tunes that draw on tango, second-line, Afro-Cuban, South African, and even carnatic influences, always in an organic, fun, and respectful way. The result is a stylistic kaleidoscope of an album that reveals new combinations of rhythm and harmony at every turn and always sparkes with wit and good humor. Highly recommended.


Jeanne Lee with Ran Blake
The Newest Sound You Never Heard: European Recordings 1966/1967 (2 discs)
A-Side
0005

I’m not going to lie: I approached this album with trepidation. Two hours of otherwise unaccompanied vocal-piano jazz is not usually my idea of a good time. But I admire Ran Blake and had never heard of Jeanne Lee, and the program includes both bop standards and 1960s pop hits, so I was intrigued enough to cue it up–and I remained intrigued as I listened. Lee has a magnificent voice; not overpowering, but strong and supple, and she wields it with a rare combination of adventurousness and restraint, always doing interesting things but never doing weird things for the sake of weirdness. Blake’s playing gives her lots of space, while doing plenty of inventive stuff in the background, some of which you’ll have to listen for to catch. These tapes were made during studio and live performances in Belgium and have never been released prior to this. For all jazz collections.


Michael Dease
Bonafide
Posi-Tone
PR8188
Rick’s Pick

And I’ll be honest again: I knew I was going to love this one before I even opened it, and I was right. Michael Dease is one of the most gifted trombonists and composers working in jazz right now, and on his latest album as a leader he sweetens the pot by adding three more trombonists: Marshall Gilkes, Conrad Herwig, and Gina Benalcazar (the latter on bass trombone). Supported by tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon and a crack piano trio, this quartet of ‘bones delivers a joyful set of originals and standards, heavy on the originals. There are plenty of great charts here–note in particular the very fine ensemble writing on the long out-chorus of Phineas Newborn’s “Theme for Basie”–and it’s tons of fun to hear the unusual timbral textures created by massed trombones. Best of all, the whole group swings like nobody’s business. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Thomas Marriott
Romance Language
Origin
82765

Trumpeter Thomas Marriot delivers a lovely ballad program on this album, but it’s a ballad program with something of a twist. Although the focus is on romantic and contemplative slow and mid-tempo numbers (one of the loveliest of which is Marriott’s arrangement of Pat Metheny’s “Always and Forever”), there are also some surprising moments. Most obvious is “Piggyback,” with its rockish backbeat and synthesized beat-boxy percussion, which flirts with the dreaded epithet “smooth jazz”–but escapes it (or perhaps makes it irrelevant) by virtue of Marriott’s sweet muted trumpet sound. More subtle are the quietly percolating groove and slyly sidewinding chord changes of “Alibi Room.” Prettiest of all is the album-closing arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which proves that you can create new recipes out of even the oldest chestnuts.


FOLK/COUNTRY


SUSS
Ghost Box (expanded reissue)
Northern Spy
NS105
Rick’s Pick

This entry may ring a bell for the regular readers, since the original release of this album was covered in the May 2018 issue. At the time I wasn’t able to tell you much about it, since the disc had come in the mail with no accompanying information and the packaging included no information beyond the names of the musicians involved. Now comes an expanded reissue (with four additional tracks) on the Northern Spy label, in a package that includes a band photo that allows us to divine more about the instrumentation: in the photo we see five guys, two with guitars, one with a mandolin, one playing a pedal steel, and one sitting behind a laptop computer. Not your typical country/Americana lineup, certainly, and indeed this music is a strange, entrancing, and utterly unique blend of country elements and ambient electronica–imagine early Freedy Johnston as produced and radically remixed by Brian Eno and you might get a good idea of what to expect. No singing, no grooves, rarely even anything like a beat–and yet it’s completely compelling. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


Ebony Hillbillies
5 Miles from Town (digital only)
EH Music
No cat. no.

Billed as “the premier African-American String Band in America,” the Ebony Hillbillies demonstrate the deep debt that white Appalachian old-time music owes to African-American blues and gospel. This debt has always been acknowledged with words, but bands like Ebony Hillbillies and the Carolina Chocolate Drops make those words flesh with musical demonstration, and create a tremendous amount of excitement in doing so. Consider, in this case, how the band segues from a rollicking rendition of the classic fiddle tune “Hog Eyed Man” into a powerful, stomping performance of the blues party classic “Wang Dang Doodle”–or how they manage to make a Bonnie Raitt cover lead in perfectly naturally to a sashaying version of “Carroll County Blues.” Also notice how some of these old-sounding songs are actually brand-new protest numbers. Listen carefully; it’s worth it, and this album is more than merely fun.


Tom Brumley and the Buckaroos
Steelin’ the Show (compilation)
Omnivore
OVCD-318

In recent years the outstanding Omnivore label has, among other triumphs, brought a bunch of classic Buck Owens and the Buckaroos material back to market. In so doing, it has also brought new attention to some of Owens’ less-celebrated sidemen–notably Don Rich, and now the Buckaroos’ brilliant steel player Tom Brumley. Unlike the Don Rich titles, though, Steelin’ the Show isn’t actually a reissue; it’s a collection of instrumental tracks featuring Brumley, gathered from various Owens albums; Owens regularly recorded such instrumentals as a way of drawing audiences’ attention to the talents of his sidemen. The album closes with its only vocal number, the Owens classic “Together Again,” which features a solo by Brumley that has become famous for its taste and lyricism. Brumley was not a stunt musician; his playing is always tasteful rather than flashy, and this is a tremendously enjoyable album.


Nobody’s Girl
Waterline (EP)
Lucky Hound
No cat. no.

Rebecca Loebe, Grace Pettis, and BettySoo are all veterans of the Austin singer-songwriter scene, and each of them has been a winner of the “New Folk” award at the Kerrville Folk Festival. The music they make as a trio has little to do with folk, however; it’s country-pop with a rockish edge and a gentle lyrical bite, characterized by sweet and exceedingly tight harmonies and blockbuster melodic hooks. And there’s a great cover of Blondie’s “Call Me.” Give this one a listen and you’ll find yourself wishing it was more than six songs long (the seventh song on the program being a live acoustic version of the lead track). Especially given the $13 list price (only $6.99 if you buy it on Amazon instead).


ROCK/POP


Scuba
A Mutual Antipathy Revisited (digital-only reissue)
Hotflush
No cat. no.

OK, it’s important to pay attention here. Scuba, one of the pioneering producers/DJs of the early dubstep scene, is reissuing his 2008 debut album in remastered form with the addition of both a new bonus track and a handful vintage remixes by the likes of Surgeon and Marcel Dettmann. This is dark, grumbling EDM of the finest kind, with lots of off-kilter beats and a wealth of microscopically-detailed effects–exactly the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from this world-class artist. At roughly the same time, Scuba has also released a large collection of previously-unreleased tracks taken from the sessions that produced both A Mutual Antipathy and his second album, Triangulation. This collection is called SUB:STANCE in Retrograde (the title celebrating the five-year run of Scuba’s SUB:STANCE party at the Berghain club) and is also only available in digital form. Neither of these releases should be confused with Sounds of SUB:STANCE, which is a huge compilation of previously-unreleased and previously vinyl-only tracks from artists like Shackleton, Vex’d, and Sepalcure (plus Scuba himself, of course), now being made available in a single digital package. Do you want all three? Well, I do. But I have a seemingly limitless appetite for dark, grumbling EDM with off-kilter beats and a wealth of microscopically-detailed effects. My recommendation is that you start with the Mutual Antipathy reissue and see what you think–then delve further as deeply as you like.


Various Artists
Harmony in My Head: UK Power Pop & New Wave 1977-81 (3 discs)
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)
CRCDBOX62
Rick’s Pick

In which we ponder the musical question: what are the parameters of “power pop,” anyway, and where do they intersect with those of “new wave”? And its corollary: are power pop and new wave defined differently in the UK than in the US? That the answer to the latter question might be “yes” is suggested by the title of this magnificent three-disc compilation, which is taken from a Buzzcocks song–one that I would be more likely to call “punk” than “new wave,” and certainly not “power pop.” It’s also suggested by the fact that the second song on the first disc is “You Belong to Me” by Elvis Costello — one that this Yank would consider to be neither power pop nor new wave, nor, certainly, punk. So if nothing else, this set provides a highly instructive window into the different ways cultures have thought about these happily under-defined and generally under-appreciated subgenres of pop music since the 1970s. And also a highly instructive window into bands that many of us (especially the Yanks) will never have heard of before, some of which contribute songs that are among the sharpest and most enjoyable power-pop/new-wave/whatever tracks I’ve ever heard. Highlights include the admirably crunchy “Howard Hughes” by the Tights, “Common Truth” by Amazorblades, and the joyfully driving “No Money” by The Freshies. Awesome.


Quanta
Dream Before You Sleep (2014; digital only)
Dubmission
CDDUBM039

Misled Convoy
Sixteen Sunsets
Dubmission
CDDUBM081

The musical genre known as “dub” got its start as a subgenre of reggae; back in the early 1970s, it emerged as a precursor to modern remix culture. The dub version of a song typically dropped all but occasional snippets of the vocal, while instruments fell unpredictably out of and back into the mix, augmented by generous dollops of echo and delay. Today, dub is a fully-developed genre all its own, though still deeply rooted in reggae tradition. Two releases from the outstanding Dubmission label illustrate how richly developed dub has become. Quanta’s Dream Before You Sleep (which I thought was a new release, but apparently actually dates from 2014 and is only available as a download; make sure you get the seven-track version here rather than the shorter version available on Amazon) is nowhere near as somnolent or meditative as its title would suggest; its instrumental textures are rich and deep, with bone-shuddering basslines underpinning occasional found-sound vocal samples and highly detailed chord changes and accents in the upper registers. The latest from Misled Convoy is operating in a more abstract, spacey realm: fewer heavyweight rhythms, more expansive soundscapes–but still plenty of groove. The term “avant-dub” was coined to describe music like this, though it’s by no means as “avant” as some; it’s just consistently interesting, subtly subverting expectations even as it pays respect to the old-school verities. Both of these albums are outstanding, as is virtually everything on the Dubmission label.


The Claudettes
Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium!
Yellow Dog
YDR 2465

Over the course of several albums, the Claudettes have forged a synthesis of blues, R&B, rockabilly and punk that succeeds at sounding simultaneously old and new. On their latest release the originality of their sound is deepened by the adoption of a truly strange instrumentation: pianos, drums, and a “bass VI” guitar–a bass guitar with six strings and a relatively short scale length that can function simultaneously as a bass and as a uniquely-voiced guitar. I explain this as a way of explaining the uniquely dark, muddy sound on the Claudettes’ new album; it reflects the seriousness that lurks beneath the party-ready mood on the surface of many of their songs. The best thing here is singer Berit Ulseth’s voice, which never seems to rise above a conversational level yet cuts effortlessly through the murk of the mix. This album really does sound unlike anything else you’ll hear this year.


Various Artists
3X4: The Bangles/The Three O’Clock/The Dream Syndicate/Rain Parade
Yep Roc (dist. Redeye)
YEP-2596

Almost 40 years later, it’s easy to forget how remarkable the Paisley Underground movement was back in the early 1980s. In the immediate wake of punk’s inchoate rage and post-punk’s cold cynicism, a turn to the chiming guitars and heart-on-sleeve idealism of 1960s pop wasn’t something obviously to be expected at the time, but when the Bangs (later the Bangles), the Three O’Clock, and the Dream Syndicate emerged on the Los Angeles scene they got a strong response–and the Bangles, at least, went on to achieve major mainstream success. On this album, four bands from that scene take turns covering each other’s songs, and while for me personally one outcome is a reminder of why I was never able to warm up to the Dream Syndicate, others will surely enjoy this album more consistently than I did. And yes, there’s a tambura on one song.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Minor Empire
Uprooted
World Trip
WTR002

It’s always interesting to listen to politically-charged music written and sung in a language you don’t understand, and to try to see how much of the message you can intuit just from the music and the singing itself. In the case of this album by Turkish-Canadian duo Minor Empire, it was the emergence and then the brutal suppression of a youth movement back home that served as the catalyst for a set of songs and instrumental pieces that express their anger and disappointment with Turkey’s government. The melodies that Ozgu Ozman sings are sinuous and modal, while Ozan Boz’s guitar playing is as informed by psych-rock as it is by traditional Turkish music. The album’s title refers to Ozman’s feeling of despair that she no longer belongs in her home country–but her singing is restrained and carefully controlled, and without the lyric sheet one might never guess at the anger that simmers below the beautiful surface of her performance. All of it is exceptionally beautiful.


Black Uhuru
As the World Turns
Self-released
No cat. no.

Although technically a harmony trio in the same mold as the Meditations and the Mighty Diamonds, the classic lineup of Black Uhuru was different from their peers in at least two ways: first, a deeply dread lyrical worldview that wasted no time on love songs or nice-up-the-dance rhetoric; second, the presence of a woman in the group. Although the band began recording in the 1970s, it really made its mark beginning in 1980, with three blockbuster albums released in quick succession: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (previously issued as Showcase), Sinsemilla and Red. Lead singer Michael Rose left shortly thereafter to pursue a solo career, and Puma Jones was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to leave the group as well. Three decades and lots of changes later, baritone vocalist Duckie Simpson is the only remaining original member, but he continues to carry the torch and to do so quite capably. As the World Turns is the first Black Uhuru album in 15 years, and it’s solid if not world-changing. Backing vocalist Nikki Hurt provides an echo of the band’s sound from the Puma Jones days, but Duckie is wise enough to embrace his own unique voice rather than trying to channel Michael Rose (as Junior Reid did when he took over the lead-vocalist chair in 1986). The songs remain strictly conscious and are finely crafted–though Simpson’s decision to base his arrangement of “Police and Thieves” more on the Clash’s version than the Junior Murvin original is kind of curious. Recommended.


Te’Amir
Abyssinia & Abyssinia Rise (vinyl & digital only)
Tru Thoughts (dist. Redeye)
TRULP363

The title of this release and its cover art will lead the listener to expect Ethiopian music of some kind, and that expectation will be met–more or less. Te’Amir is actually a Los Angeles-based beatmaker, drummer, and producer whose father is Ethiopian and exposed him to the traditional and popular music of his home country throughout his childhood. On the two EPs that are brought together for this (at 29 minutes, still EP-length) vinyl/digital release, Te’Amir blends the influences of that music with contemporary and Western beats and styles–the jazzy, saxophone-centered “Randal in Addis,” the soulful “The Quest” and “All That You Need” (both featuring singer Dustin Warren), the glitchy and sampladelic “Back to Abyssinia.” This is a fascinating example of multicultural musical emulsion rather than fusion, and it’s lots of fun to listen to.


Minyeshu
Daa Dee
ARC Productions
EUCD2782
Rick’s Pick

Minyeshu Kifle Tedla is an Ethiopian singer and songwriter who has made her home in the Netherlands for the past 20 years or so. On her latest album, she celebrates coming to terms with her longstanding feelings of both personal and geographical displacement, writing a program of songs that draw deeply on both traditional Ethiopian styles and the “Ethio-jazz” she loved as a teenager growing up in Addis Ababa. The arrangements of these songs are complex and the rhythms are often knotty and difficult, but her soaring voice and joyful melodies make everything instantly accessible and fun. This is one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve heard in recent months.


Dhafer Youssef
Sounds of Mirrors
Ante Prima (dist. Bendo Music/Naxos)
No cat. no.

Dhafer Youssef is an oud player, singer, and composer from Tunisia who is descended from a long line of muezzins–the guys who sing the call to prayer at a mosque. His latest album evolved from his longstanding desire to incorporate Indian elements into his work, which led to a series of live collaborations with tabla player Zakir Hussain. This project in turn led to the addition of clarinetist Hüsnü Sęnlendirici and guitarist Eivind Aarset to the ensemble, and then to the recording of this wonderful album. Quiet, spacious songs alternate with jazzy and rhythmically complex instrumental explorations in which the combination of a north African lute and South Asian percussion seems to make perfect sense. The clarinet weaves modally in and out of the mix, while Aarset’s guitar mostly creates lush but subtle tapestries of chordal texture in the background. Highly recommended to all libraries.

December 2018


PICK OF THE MONTH


Frank Kimbrough Quartet
Monk’s Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk (6 discs)
Sunnyside
SSC4032

Thelonious Monk’s influence on jazz is way out of proportion to his productivity as a composer. He has only 70 known pieces to his name, but several of them–notably “I Mean You,” “Straight No Chaser,” “Epistrophy,” and especially “‘Round Midnight”–are such ubiquitous standards that there’s hardly a jazz fan anywhere who can’t sing one of Monk’s themes. And that brings up one of the other curious things about this very curious musician: despite the notoriously knotty and sometimes counterintuitive nature of his melodies, most of them are eminently singable. As I’ve been listening to this monumental collection by the brilliant Frank Kimbrough Quartet, I’ve frequently found myself singing along–and not only with the relatively lyrical numbers like “Let’s Cool One” and “I Mean You,” but even with more angular and boppish fare like “Criss Cross” and “Four in One.”

The thing about Monk having been a relatively parsimonious writer is that it makes possible a package like this, on which a single ensemble provides a survey of his entire known oeuvre. This has been done before, most recently by Alexander von Schlippenbach with his deeply quirky Monk’s Casino (now out of print). But whereas von Schlippenbach used Monk’s compositions as schemata over which to lay out his own personal musical vision, imposing a variety of strange arrangements on them, on this set pianist Frank Kimbrough deals with the tunes in a very straight-ahead manner, playing them respectfully while never hesitating to let his own personality shine through. You’ll hear subtle tributes to Monk’s notoriously angular piano style in both Kimbrough’s comping and his solos, but he never descends into mimicry, instead using Monk’s motifs and techniques as springboards for new ideas and gestures of his own. Saxophonist Scott Robinson plays a variety of instruments in order to provide a bit of textural variation (including bass saxophone on “Who Knows” and “Straight No Chaser” and alternating between tenor sax and trumpet on “Thelonious”), but even if he had stuck with tenor through the whole set it’s hard to imagine that it ever would have gotten boring. I’ve loved Monk’s music since I was a teenager, but this marvelous tribute has given me a deeper appreciation than I ever had before for the man’s melodic and harmonic genius. This set is a must for every library.


CLASSICAL


Josquin des Prez
Missa Gaudeamus; Missa L’ami Baudichon
Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips
Gimell (dist. PIAS)
CDGIM 050
Rick’s Pick

Josquin des Prez
Miserere mei Deus: Funeral Motets & Deplorations
Capella Amsterdam / Daniel Reuss
Harmonia Mundi (dist. PIAS)
HMM 902620

Since its inception 45(!) years ago, the Tallis Scholars ensemble has shown a particular affinity for (and had notable commercial and critical success with) the music of the great Franco-Flemish composer Josquin des Prez. The group’s latest effort juxtaposes two very different Masses by that composer: the mathematically elaborate Missa Gaudeaumus and the much more simple and straightforward Missa L’ami Baudichon. Not only does the simplicity of the latter contrast with the sophistication of the former, but the source materials upon which the two pieces draw could hardly be more different: a melodically complex Gregorian chant in the first case, and a popular bawdy song in the second. Thus, this program offers not only the world-class singing we have long come to expect from the Tallis Scholars, but also a bracing demonstration of the stylistic range of one of the greatest composers of the Renaissance period. The Capella Amsterdam disc is a very different proposition: a collection of somber lamentations built around Josquin’s déploration on the death of Johannes Ockeghem, another of the Franco-Flemish masters and Josquin’s elder by several decades. Other pieces are intended more generically as funerary motets and expressions of sorrow–godly and otherwise. As always, the part-writing is absolutely exquisite, and the singing by Capella Amsterdam is gorgeous and warmly recorded. I have yet to hear a mediocre recording by this ensemble.


Nordic Affect
He(a)r (2 discs; Blu-Ray audio & CD)
Sono Luminus
DSL-92224

Nordic Affect is an Icelandic chamber ensemble consisting of violin, viola, cello, and harpsichord, played by musicians whose names I don’t have sufficient coding skills to render in HTML. The group’s third album for the Sono Luminus label consists of works by contemporary women composers (hence the program’s painfully punny title), all interspersed with a suite of soundscapes and spoken-word sections by the group’s violinist. Some of these pieces (notably Mirjam Tally’s Warm Life at the Foot of the Iceberg) are spiky and challenging, others abstract and minimal. The playing is consistently excellent, and everything here is well worth hearing.


Eraldo Bernocchi
Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It
RareNoise
34849
Rick’s Pick

This is a soundtrack album created for the film Cy Dear, a documentary about the brilliant American painter Cy Twombly. Eraldo Bernocchi is a guitarist and composer, and to create the music for this soundtrack he used a minimum of musical materials augmented by maximalist effects: lots and lots of echo, delay, and reverb applied to relatively few notes and melodic lines. The result is, of course, music the abstract nature of which nicely reflects that of Twombly’s art. But it also evokes a deep melancholy, and a sense of vast space filled with large but wispy clouds of melody. Rhythm begins to emerge by the program’s twelfth track (“Swirling Colors”), but we don’t hear an actual pulse until the final one, “Near by Distance.” Overall, this is a stunningly beautiful album and a more-than-fitting tribute to one of America’s great 20th-century painters.


Various Composers
The Sound of Science
Golden Hornet; Jeffrey Zeigler
National Sawdust
NS-026

Sometimes, when discussing art music, you have to put the word “classical” in scare quotes. For example, when breakbeats play a significant role in the composition (Graham Reynolds’ “The Brain”), or when the cello is distorted and played in a style that specifically invokes Jimi Hendrix (Foday Musa Suso’s “Salumba”) or when the piece is undergirded by a four-on-the-floor techno thud (Felipe Pérez Santiago’s “Quest”). But “classical” or not, this collection of pieces for cello and electronics are all most certainly art music: complex, composed, designed for listening rather than dancing. The project was organized by the Golden Hornet music lab, and involved asking seven different composers to write pieces inspired by the work of famous (and not-so-famous) scientists. The resulting program is as varied and strange as you might expect, and is frequently marvelous. Sometimes it’s just varied and strange, but it’s always interesting.


Various Composers
Discovering the Classical String Trio
The Vivaldi Project
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1622

This is the second volume in an ongoing series titled Discovering the Classical String Trio. It may seem strange for this repertoire to be championed by a group called the Vivaldi Project, but one of the ensemble’s stated purposes is to demonstrate the eighteenth-century string trio’s “relationship to the earlier baroque trio sonata (as exemplified by Vivaldi and his contemporaries) and of its role as an important genre in its own right, side-by-side with the emerging string quartet.” To that end, the group presents works by such eminent composers of the period as Haydn, Gossec, and J.C. Bach, as well as delightful obscurities from the likes of Johann Ignaz Klausek and Jean-Baptiste Bréval. And the program ends with a trio sonata by Vivaldi. The playing (on period instruments) is delightful and this disc, like its predecessor, would be a welcome addition to any library collection.


Various Composers
Then and There, Here and Now
Chanticleer
Warner Classics
0190295617783

The San Francisco-based male choir Chanticleer has, over its 40-year history, become perhaps the single most celebrated professional choral ensemble in the United States–and with good reason. The group’s luscious tone, seamless blend, and astonishing stylistic range have made it a major concert draw, and its recordings are among the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. Then and There, Here and Now is released as a celebration of the group’s 40th anniversary, and is fittingly eclectic in its program, with Renaissance motets, American Songbook standards, African-American spirituals, European folk song arrangements, and contemporary choral pieces (some written on commission) all gleefully rubbing shoulders. Expect demand from Chanticleer’s legion of fans.


Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Víkingur Ólafsson
Deutsche Grammophon
483 5022

Johann Sebastian Bach
Bach
Thomas Dunford
Alpha Classics (dist. Naxos)
ALPHA 361
Rick’s Pick

“Bach today generally sounds quite different from Bach 30 years ago, and still more different from Bach 50 years ago. In that sense his music is contemporary rather than classical.” So suggests pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, who delivers a magisterial set of Bach’s keyboard works on his second release for the Deutsche Grammophon label. Preludes and fugues, arias with variations, partitas, fantasias, and a concerto transcription are all tastefully arranged in a generous and deeply satisfying program. Ólafsson’s touch is light but authoritative, his use of dynamics personal but never merely idiosyncratic. Thomas Dunford’s new album is similarly titled but treats a different segment of Bach’s repertoire with a very different instrument: the theorbed lute. Dunford plays two of Bach’s cello suites (one in Bach’s own arrangement for lute, the other arranged by Dunford) and an arrangement of the second violin partita. The sound of Bach played on the lute is even softer and rounder than that of Bach on the piano, and in the hands of someone like Dunford these pieces positively caress the listener’s ears. Every line of implied counterpoint is clear (Dunford’s ability to play three-dimensionally, bringing individual lines to the fore, is exceptional) and he manages to imbue a gently aching emotional immediacy to everything he plays. Both of these marvelous albums are strongly recommended to all libraries.


JAZZ


David Friesen
My Faith, My Life (2 discs)
Origin
82768
Rick’s Pick

If you’re one of the many, many people for whom the prospect of a solo bass album sounds about as inviting as an evening with a boring uncle or an uninterrupted drive across northern Nevada, then I have to ask you to reserve judgement on the latest David Friesen album until you’ve given it a chance. For one thing, he frequently enriches his solo bass lines by mutitracking them or using extensive echo and delay, creating a much richer soundscape than you might expect; for another, he also plays the shakuhachi (an end-blown Japanese bamboo flute), which adds yet another sonic dimension to his work. And on this two-disc set, the second disc is actually a suite of solo piano pieces, which are quiet and contemplative. The whole album is a wonderful blend of the interesting and the relaxing–always a winning combination in my book.


Hot Club of San Francisco
30 Years
Hot Club
HCR 2705

Explicitly modeled on Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli’s Quintet du Hot Club de France, the Hot Club of San Francisco has now been purveying both classic 1930s-style Gypsy jazz and modern variants on it for 30 years. In celebration of that milestone, the group has self-released a survey that draws on its previous six recordings. (Unfortunately, no detailed information is provided in the liner notes about where each of the tracks came from.) The program nicely demonstrates both how good this group is at delivering straight-ahead old-school hot jazz and at the ways in which they’ve gotten creative with it: a sturdily swinging midtempo rendition of “‘Round Midnight” is something of a revelation, as is the vocal version of “Nuages.” There’s a wind arrangement of Reinhardt’s “Messe,” and a Gypsified version of the Beatles tune “Because.” If your library doesn’t already own all of this group’s previous albums, then consider this one as an introduction.


John Fedchock Quartet
Reminiscence
Summit
DCD 735

The trombone is notoriously difficult jazz instrument, because it has no valves–which means that the only way to get from one note to another is either by “lipping” up or down (adjusting one’s embouchure and breath pressure to change pitch) or by sliding. This makes complex melodies tricky, especially at fast tempos–making trombonists who are capable of playing bebop persuasively a relatively rare commodity. John Fedchock is one such player, although on this collection of live tracks (culled from a three-night stand in Virginia Beach) he focuses on midtempo grooves and ballads: three original tunes, three standards, and a composition by JJ Johnson–the man who proved that bop could actually be played on the trombone. (The Johnson tune is a Latin-inflected ballad, though.) Fedchock’s work is always worth hearing, and in this live setting he’s especially engaging.


Ernie Krivda and Swing City
A Bright and Shining Moment
Capri
74149-2

This is an unabashedly old-fashioned jazz album, led by a tenor saxophonist and composer with a big, juicy tone and a taste for the verities. You’ll hear more than a hint of Ben Webster and Lester Young in both his vibrato and his phrasing, and his choice of tunes like “Caravan,” “The Man I Love,” and a hard-charging “Lime House Blues” signal his reverence for the old school–as do vintage-style originals like the lovely title track and “Easter Blue.” But there are some surprising moments here as well, notably an idiosyncratically up-tempo setting of “Summertime,” and even at his most tradition-minded Krivda’s energy is so fresh and infectious that he makes every musical idea sound like it’s brand new. Recommended to all jazz collections.


Kenny Werner
The Space
Pirouet (dist. Naxos)
PIT3106
Rick’s Pick

Pianist Kenny Werner’s name is spoken with reverence in the jazz world: a sideman to such illustrious artists as Toots Thielemans, Joe Lovano, and Mel Lewis, he is also a deeply-respected composer and bandleader. His latest album is a solo project, a deeply introspective program that varies in style from the quiet and impressionistic title track to the harmonically adventurous “Fifth Movement,” a lovely rendition of Keith Jarrett’s sweetly dancing “Encore from Tokyo,” and a slightly abstract take on the standard “If I Should Lose You.” The program’s final track, “Fall from Grace,” is another very quiet and thoughtful one, and provides a lovely bookend to the disc alongside the opening piece. This disc is a gorgeous document of one man’s deeply expansive vision of jazz pianism.


Wayne Horvitz
Those Who Remain
National Sawdust Tracks
NS-024

Wayne Horvitz
The Snowghost Sessions
Songlines
SGL1627-2
Rick’s Pick

Keyboardist/composer Wayne Horvitz has been a mover and shaker for decades now, moving freely across the (admittedly porous) border that separate the jazz, experimental, classical, and avant-garde communities. His two most recent releases find him dancing blithely back and forth between them. Those Who Remain is a modern-classical recording with a twist: the title composition is a two-movement concerto for “orchestra and improvising soloist” (in this case the brilliant modern jazz guitarist Bill Frisell), and the second piece is These Hills of Glory, written for string quartet and improvising soloist (in this case clarinetist Beth Fleenor). Both pieces are big and at times aggressive, but also frequently lyrical, and make little explicit reference to jazz tradition. The Snowghost Sessions, however, marks Horvitz’s return to the jazz trio format after several decades working in other modes. But if you’re expecting a swinging set of standards or even of explicitly jazz-oriented originals, think again: in addition to piano, Horvitz uses a laptop to trigger samples, and the result is sometimes gloriously chaotic: “IMB” had me running to Wikipedia to refresh my memory as to whether Horvitz had been part of John Zorn’s original Naked City band (he was–as, of course, was Frisell). This isn’t to say that he and his trio never swing–they do on several tracks–nor that the proceedings are generally skronky and forbidding. On the contrary, the overall mood is contemplative, and some of these pieces (notably the gorgeous “Northampton”) are conventionally beautiful and soulful. It’s just to say that these albums are Wayne Horvitz joints, and Wayne Horvitz doesn’t do genre constraint. Both of them are excellent; the Snowghost set is essential.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Jonathan Byrd & the Pickup Cowboys
Pickup Cowboy
Waterbug
No cat. no.

There’s a sad backstory to this album, which was recorded several years ago. On the last day of the sessions, bassist/cellist (yes, cellist) Paul Ford called in to say he wasn’t feeling well. He went to the doctor that day and was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, from which he died within a year. The Pickup Cowboys never played together again, but bandleader Jonathan Byrd finally decided the time had come for those recordings to be released. And truly, they’re great: the group’s strange instrumentation (a guitarist/singer, a multi-instrumentalist whose axes include musical saw, and a cellist doubling on bass) yields a uniquely spare but powerful sound, and Byrd’s songwriting is very sharp: for some reason, the line that really jumped out at me was “Ranch hands learn to roughneck/And they’re all lined up to work” (“When the Well Runs Dry”), but there are lots of compelling moments here. This is music that pushes the boundaries of country conventions without ever giving the impression of being radical for radicalism’s sake.


Mickey Galyean & Cullen’s Bridge
Songs from the Blue Ridge
Rebel
REB-CD-1866

Mickey Galyean has one of the best voices in bluegrass right now: solid and clear, with just the right balance of richness and high-lonesome edge. His band is great as well–though listening to their second album for the Rebel label, I kept getting the feeling that there was something missing from the sound. At first I thought that I was hearing the lack of a mandolin, but as I kept listening I realized that the real issue was that I could barely hear the guitar, which meant that there was little to no audible chordal accompaniment. The very fine banjoist Rick Pardue fills up the space as best he can, and there’s something to be said for Galyean’s and Pardue’s tight harmonies getting so much room in the mix; the result really is a pretty unique sound for a bluegrass band. The terms “unique” and “bluegrass band” don’t appear that often in the same review, so this one is definitely worth checking out. Highlight track: “Too Late to Say Goodbye.”


Belle Plaine
Malice, Mercy, Grief and Wrath
Belle Plaine Music
BP 18-0727
Rick’s Pick

The title of Belle Plaine’s third album hints at a certain amount of emotional complexity, and the songs bear that out. Substantially informed by the experience of losing her parents a few years ago, Malice, Mercy, Grief and Wrath addresses questions of deep meaning and emotional resonance, all couched in arrangements that draw on the deepest musical traditions of mid-century country music. Song titles like “Texas and Death and You” and “Laila Sady Johnson Wasn’t Beaten By No Train” (the latter a tribute to Plaine’s grandmother, who was hit by a train and survived) also make it clear that there’s a strain of wry humor underneath these generally soft and serious songs–and when the tempo picks up you might catch her asking the eternal musical question: “Is it cheating if you don’t get laid?” There’s much more here than immediately meets the ear, so I recommend repeated listenings.


ROCK/POP


salt
invisible (digital/cassette only)
Ant-Zen
act399

There has been a small tsunami of avant/noise releases this season, quite a few of them from the redoutable Ant-Zen label. So far my favorite of them is this one, an album by a secretive musician who calls himself salt and hasn’t made an album in over ten years. Billed by the label as “noise pop beat massacre with a Japanese green tea infusion,” this album is definitely noisy, and can be called “pop” only in the most generous sense of the term. But that’s not to say it’s inaccessible; the static-driven skronk of “Beneath the Skin” gives way quickly to the funky and much more approachable “Inhale,” which is itself followed by the housey and sampladelic “After Diner[sic] Dip” and then the abrasively throbbing and minimalist “Cream Crackered.” Things just keep going that way: as soon as you think you’ve got a handle on what this album’s going to sound like, your expectations are upended. Some will find this exciting, others exhausting, and still others (like me) some combination of the two.


A Certain Ratio
acr:set (compilation)
Mute
CDMUTEL28

Bands like Gang of Four and Delta 5 emerged from the rubble of punk rock at the turn of the 1980s with a fresh take on the jagged aggressiveness of punk’s full-throttle aggro attack: danceability. The spare arrangements and off-kilter funk of those bands’ tunes caught a lot of people’s attention and spawned a generation of imitators. But for some reason A Certain Ratio never achieved quite as much penetration as (especially) Gang of Four did, possibly because they didn’t have quite the same knack for rhythmic or lyrical hooks. Maybe they’d have had more success if their singer didn’t sound like Ian Curtis at the bottom of an abandoned mineshaft. But as this career retrospective collection (which prominently features extended and 12″ single mixes) demonstrates, they were definitely good at generating solid, herky-jerk grooves, and given that we still seem to be in the midst of an ongoing postpunk revival, maybe this release will arouse the interest of a new generation. As someone who graduated from high school in 1983, I have to say that I find it tons of good nostalgic fun myself.


Flag of Democracy
No School, No Core
SRA (dist. MVD)
SRA045CD

If you need something to clear your sinuses, then Flag of Democracy are here for you. Active on the punk scene since 1982, this is their ninth album, and it it reflects a refreshing lack of musical development: 20 songs hurtle by over the course of 31 minutes, all of them rooted deeply in the old-school hardcore verities: supersonic speed and lots of shouting. You’ll hear the occasional hint of a Jello Biafra warble in the vocals and the occasional touch of Bob Mould complexity in the guitars, but mostly this is just good, old-fashioned, bludgeoning hardcore. Best song title: “Believe in Love.”


Paul Kelly
Nature
Cooking Vinyl
LC:7180

Here’s what struck me about the new Paul Kelly album: it opens with a joyful, jangle-pop setting of Dylan Thomas’s heavy and magisterial poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” and then segues directly into a dark and minor-key number called “With the One I Love,” about sticking with your partner no matter what. These are the kinds of balances it’s possible to strike when you’re a consummate pro, which is what Paull Kelly has been for decades. He’s one of those guys that the critics call “a songwriter’s songwriter,” and if his voice has gotten a bit thinner and weedier since he turned 60, he still has plenty of power and his lyrics are sharp enough that the weight of his voice is less important. Lyrically speaking, he draws on other heavyweights as well: in addition to Dylan Thomas, other poets set to music on this album include Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. That’s another thing you can get away with when you’re a consummate pro.


Belle Game
Fear/Nothing
Arts & Crafts
A&C134
Rick’s Pick

With a lot of dream-pop acts, the voice is basically used like a synthesizer–it may be singing words, but it’s often there primarily for the purpose of carrying melody rather than syntactic meaning. Also with a lot of dream-pop acts, there’s no muscle in the sound, just gauziness and mystery and maybe sweetness. Belle Plain bucks both of those tendencies: Andrea Lo sings words that you can understand and it’s clear that you’re supposed to, and the band’s sound has density as well as volume. So why does it sound like dream-pop? Um. I guess because it’s super pretty? Also there’s a lot of reverb. Anyway, doesn’t matter. Great band, great album.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Amira Medunjanin & TrondheimSolistene
Ascending
Town Hill Colony
THC001

Amira Medunjanin is a singer from Bosnia and Herzogovina who has been working in the sevdah tradition for the past 15 years or so. For her eighth album, she has teamed up with the renowned Norwegian ensemble TrondheimSolisten on a program that is partly a look back over her career, and partly a look forward. It includes new arrangements of several songs she has recorded before, a handful of songs that she has regularly performed but never recorded, and four songs that are new to her repertoire. The chamber-orchestral arrangements are modest and tight, but filled with controlled emotion, as is her singing. You’ll hear lots of crooked Balkan rhythms and keening modal melodies, but also some very quiet and reflective moments, and all of it is very lovely.


Kitka
Evening Star
Diaphonica
CD 2018

For a somewhat different take on Balkan vocal tradition, here’s the latest from the outstanding Bay Area women’s vocal ensemble Kitka. Evening Star is a collection of choral songs from the folk traditions of Bulgaria, Ukraine, Latvia, Serbia, and other Balkan and nearby regions, all of them organized around the idea of wintertime and its communal activities, pleasure, and challenges. Unless you’re more fluent in Georgian or Serbian than I am you may have trouble sussing out the lyrical themes here, but what you won’t have trouble doing is enjoying the tight and reedy harmonies, the sharp, clear voices, or the joyful complex rhythms. Like all of Kitka’s albums, this one should be considered essential for all libraries collecting in world or European traditional music.


Johnny Clarke
Creation Rebel (2 discs)
VP/17 North Parade
VP4220
Rick’s Pick

In the 1970s, Johnny Clarke was one of the most reliable hitmakers in Jamaica. He teamed up with producer Bunny Lee (whose unique “flying cymbals” sound was in the ascendant) to create indelible and very dread tracks like “Move Out of Babylon Rastaman” and “None Shall Escape the Judgement,” and while he stopped ruling the charts in the 1980s, his voice will still be familiar to anyone who has spent a lot of time listening to classic King Tubby dub mixes from the period. It’s always been a mystery to me why Clarke’s popularity hasn’t been more enduring; he has one of the sweetest tenor voices in the history of reggae music. There are lots of great compilations of his work out there, but this is one of the best and most carefully curated collections I’ve heard in a long time. It’s sweetened by the inclusion of several 12″ discomixes, on which the original vocal version of a song is appended seamlessly by a dub version. Recommended to all libraries.


Deva Premal
Deva
White Swan (dist. MVD)
WS-0185

Over the past 20 years, Deva Premal has emerged as one of the foremost (and certainly most popular) musical interpreters of Hindu and Buddhist mantras and a very popular recording artist–both as a soloist and with her partner Miten. Her latest album is bookended by two different mixes of her original setting of the “Seven Chakra Gayatri Mantra,” and also features devotional songs that celebrate the divine feminine, the love of Krishna and Radha, the presence of the Buddha, and invocations of Prabhuji and Ganesha. All of them are (as one would expect) deeply quiet and contemplative, with minimal instrumental accompaniment but rich harmonization. If you are one of the many people (myself included) who have a natural disinclination towards any music that can reasonably be characterized as “new age,” I would strongly recommend giving this album a listen.