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Category Archives: Uncategorized

March 2023


Various (Anonymous) Composers
A Byzantine Emperor at King Henry’s Court: Christmas 1400, London
Cappella Romana / Alexander Lingas
Cappella (dist. Naxos)

If, as I do, you have a spouse who enforces very strict rules about when Christmas music may and may not be played around the house, here’s your chance to sneak some in on the off-season. Of course, the reason you’ll be able to do that is that this album doesn’t sound at all like any Christmas music you’ve ever heard. It consists of a fascinating blend of Byzantine and Sarum chant and early polyphony performed by the Cappella Romana ensemble divided into two choirs: one singing in Greek and the other in Latin. Eerie, droning organum alternates with plainchant and the astringent open harmonies of late-medieval polyphony to create a completely unique listening experience, in a political/historical context that is well worth reading about. All of this music is previously unrecorded. Strongly recommended to all libraries with a collecting interest in early music.

Johann Sebastian Bach
The Well-tempered Consort III
LINN (dist. Naxos)

Johann Sebastian Bach
Novare: J.S. Bach Lute Works on Electric Guitar
Harvey Valdes
Destiny Records

Baroque composers often wrote music without being particularly prescriptive about the instruments that would play it. A violin sonata could just as easily be an oboe sonata; a concerto for harpsichord might be recycled later as a concerto for flute; etc. Johann Sebastian Bach was no exception to this rule, and over the centuries many performers have taken predictable liberties with his music, recasting it for instruments and ensembles that he might never have predicted. The Phantasm consort of viols has been working its way through Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier collection, distributing the contrapuntal lines of those works to the various members of the consort, making it possible to hear these familiar pieces in an entirely new light. The whole series is well worth acquiring. On the surface, Harvey Valdes’ project might seem much more bold: he has arranged a Bach lute suite and several of his preludes and fugues for electric guitar. But the resulting sound is anything but iconoclastic: Valdes plays with a warm, clean tone, applying reverb tastefully and rendering these pieces with a golden-colored sound that shows them off to beautiful effect. Both of these albums are outstanding examples of new ways of thinking about Bach’s deathless music.

Various Composers
Bright and Early
Hopkinson Smith
Naïve (dist. Naxos)
E 7545

While we’re discussing lute music, let’s not overlook this new album from legendary lutenist Hopkinson Smith. Unlike the Bach releases recommended above, this one features lute music actually played on the lute. In this case, the music is by 15th-century Italian composers Francesco Spinacino, Joan Ambrosio Dalza, and Marchetto Cara, all taken from turn-of-the-16th-century collections published by Ottaviano Petrucci, known today as the first to publish polyphonic music. Playing a six-course lute built by Boston luthier Joël van Lennep, Smith makes a powerful case for the music of these relatively obscure composers — and the quality of the recording itself deserves mention. Smith’s tone is bright but rich, colorful and meaty, and the production shows it off to best advantage. For all early music collections.

Cristóbal de Morales
Missa Desilde al cavallero; Missa Mille regretz; Magnificat primi toni
De Profundis / Robert Hollingsworth; Eamonn Dougan
Hyperion (dist. Integral)

The all-male De Profundis choir has only been on the scene for just over a decade now, and has already established itself as an ensemble to be reckoned with — in terms of power and tone, the clearest Oxbridge competitor to America’s legendary Chanticleer choir. Previous recordings of works by the great composers of Renaissance Spain (including generally overlooked masters like Juan Esquivel and Bernardino de Ribera) have been met with rapturous praise, and I’m confident this new recording of Masses and a Magnificat setting by the relatively well-known Cristóbal de Morales will get a similar reception. In terms of both music and sound, this is one of the most lushly gorgeous recordings I’ve heard in years: the group’s approach in this case was to voice the pieces in such a way as to put more emphasis on the middle parts and less on the treble, with the result that the whole album seems bathed in golden, late-afternoon sunlight. The music itself is very Spanish: passages of contemplative and serene adoration contrast with moments of dark and busy intensity. Intonation and blend are impeccable throughout, and this recording is highly recommended to all libraries.

Georg Frideric Handel; William Croft; John Blow
Coronation Anthems
RIAS Kammerchor Berlin; Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin / Justin Doyle
Harmonia Mundi (dist. Integral)
HMM 902708

This musical program is more diverse than its title suggests. In addition to the frequently-recorded anthems composed by Handel for the coronation of George II, it also includes his patriotic Occasional Oratorio, which was written in response to the abortive Jacobite uprising of 1745 (and repurposes some of the music from those earlier anthems), as well as William Croft’s anthem for George I titled The Lord Is a Sun and a Shield and an organ chaconne by John Blow that serves as an interlude before the Handel coronation anthems. Although the title works have become very familiar over the years and most libraries will likely already hold good recordings of them, the unusual nature of this program and absolutely stellar performances make this disc a solid recommendation for all classical collections.


Billy Eckstine
Everything I Have Is Yours (compilation; 3 discs)
Dynamic Nostalgia (dist. MVD)
DYN 3557

One big problem with these super-budget multi-disc sets is usually a paucity of liner notes. In this case, it’s worse; there are no liner notes whatsoever — not even the most rudimentary musician credits. That irritation aside, this three-disc set is a treasure trove of classic material by one of the most unique talents of the swing era. Unlike many other singers of the period, Billy Eckstine sang in the baritone range and cultivated a rich, fruity tone that was (and still is) instantly recognizable. Duke Ellington characterized his style as “the essence of cool.” Eckstine’s biggest hit was “I Apologize,” but he also brought his fresh vocal approach to the whole range of standards, and this set includes performances of just about every title from the American Songbook you can think of: “Body and Soul,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Early Autumn,” etc. The sound quality is very good, and his voice blooms out of the speakers like a huge purple-and-red peony. Sure wish I could tell you who the bands are.

Brad Goode
The Unknown

As regular readers know, my strong preference in jazz is for the straight-ahead and swinging, and I particularly tend not to gravitate towards funk- or progressive jazz. Nothing against those styles, they just don’t generally speak to me. But this album by trumpeter and composer Brad Goode really connected for me — in part because his funkiness is crunchy and complex rather than poppy, in part because his tone is exquisite, and in part because he just writes really, really great heads. Also, unlike many other jazz musicians, he’s not afraid of space: notice the extended periods of unadorned groove on “Decathexis,” for example. His taste in covers is excellent, too: there’s a very fine arrangement of “The Windmills of Your Mind,” a rollicking take on the Tropicalia classic “Joía” (prominently featuring drummer Paa Kow and also featuring some very cool Jon Hassell-style trumpet treatments), and a tender version of Jania Ian’s “At Seventeen.” Highly recommended.

Margherita Fava
No cat. no.

I’ve been listening to this one over and over since receiving my review copy a few weeks ago. Pianist Margherita Fava is an exceptionally gifted composer, arranger, and interpreter, and on Tatatu she displays all of these gifts in their full glory. Her rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning” is one of the best I’ve ever heard, highlighted by her witty use of his odd dissonances throughout her solo and her alternations between regular and double time in the arrangement. Her own “Birds of Passage” evokes Eastern European modes with a hint of klezmer in Greg Tardy’s clarinet, and the aptly titled “Restless Mind” is based on an unsettled rhythmic structure that would make Lenny Tristano proud — until it lapses momentarily into a relaxed, midtempo swing and then snaps back to its jittery non-groove. This is sophisticated but accessible and deeply enjoyable music.

Mason Razavi
Six String Standards
OA2 22210

I may be wrong about this, but I have this idea in my head that whenever a guitarist wants to make an unaccompanied solo album, he or she almost always opens with “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” And with good reason: that tune is a perfect blend of graceful melody line and swinging danceability. The same can be said of Mason Razavi’s whole album: he takes wizened chestnuts like “Body and Soul,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” and “Darn That Dream” and makes you hear them with new ears. His blend of warm (but not muted) tone, chordal inventiveness, and ability to play an extended single-note solo without ever losing the thread of the tune’s swing makes this album a joy to hear. Note also his subtle but effective use of such advanced techniques as walking basslines under comped chords, artificial harmonics, and classically-derived single-string tremolo. Very cool.


Amelia Hogan
Taking Flight
No cat. no.

This album was sent to me out of the blue by the artist — not sure how she got my contact info, but I’m very grateful she did, because I was instantly captivated by her voice as soon as I cued up the disc. Her singing style is hard to describe; whereas other Irish singers tend to favor an open, bell-like tone, Hogan’s approach is almost a murmur; her voice sometimes (as on “The Old Churchyard”) sounds like it was recorded on a wax cylinder and transferred to a shellac 78. Elsewhere she sounds as if she’s talking to herself, contemplating the workings of her heart and trying to make sense of them. The program is mostly traditional songs from the British Isles, with a few modern songs sprinkled in, and her accompanists are brilliant. This is the most compelling album of Irish music I’ve heard in years, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Julie Christensen
The Price We Pay for Love

I’m putting this one in the Folk/Country category because of its overall flavor, but the content comes from all over the place: Joni Mitchell (“Hejira”), Steve Winwood (“Can’t Find My Way Home”), John Scofield (“Away with Words,” with lyrics by Christensen), etc. The arrangements are spare and delicate, as is Christensen’s voice. She’s been doing this a long time — you may or may not recognize her as a pillar of the 1980s Los Angeles punk scene and founding member of Divine Horsemen — and you can hear her experience in every note she sings. Notable sidemen include bassist/arranger Terry Lee Burns and slide player Greg Leisz, and all of the settings place her voice in the musical equivalent of a velvet jewel box. Recommended to all libraries.

Stranger Still
The Songs Which Are
All-Set! Editions
No cat. no.

And let’s close out this section with some seriously left-field stuff. Stranger Still is a Toronto-based quartet led by composer and guitarist/banjo player Pete Johnston, and on this album he has created arrangements of poems by Nova Scotian writer Alden Nowlan, who died relatively young in 1983. Johnston’s melodies tend to start out straightforward and then wobble off into strange byways, and his arrangements are pretty idiosyncratic as well. The pure, clear vocals of Mim Adams and Randi Helmers create a pleasing tonal counterpoint to the quirkiness of the tunes and chord progressions, sometimes evoking the Britfolk of Fairport Convention and sometimes carrying echoes of 13th-century ars nova singing (check out the harmonies on “Biography,” for example) or of early Aqsak Maboul. Intrigued? Yes, you should be.


Fred Frith; Susana Santos Silva
Laying Demons to Rest

Henry Cow
Glastonbury and Elsewhere (Volume 20 of the Cow Box Redux)
ReR Megacorp (dist. MVD)
ReR HC20

Here are a couple of new releases that prominently feature the godfather of avant-garde electric guitar, Fred Frith. Both are live recordings: Laying Demons to Rest documents his duo set with trumpeter Susanna Santos Silva at a French venue just last year. It’s a single 42-minute-long improvisation during which Frith digs deep into his bag of extended techniques, banging and sawing on his guitar and using a looper to play segments backwards, while Silva wails and moans and honks. The sound is not skronky or aggressively noisy, but often quite lyrical. Glastonbury and Elsewhere, however, is quite different. This is one of a series of releases focusing on previously “lost” live recordings of Frith’s 1960s/70s band Henry Cow, an avant-rock ensemble that was a training ground and jumping-off point for Frith and other notables like Chris Cutler, Peter Blegvad, and Dagmar Krause. The performances documented here are from 1972 to 1977 at various UK and European events, and to be honest, most of this stuff is fairly forbidding — the sound quality is generally pretty dodgy and the music itself is often not much fun. Exceptions include the tightly composed prog-classicism of the untitled closing track, and the fascinating “Road to Ruins” with its folksong tape recordings and Frith’s freak-out guitar soloing. If you’re collecting Frith in a serious way, your library should own both albums.

Shonen Knife
Our Best Place
Good Charamel

Usually we praise artists for growing and evolving, and that’s fine. But there’s definitely something to be said for artists who remain 100% dependable over a long period of time — who, for example, make an album in 2023 that consists entirely of music that would have sounded completely at home on one of their releases from the mid-1980s. That’s Shonen Knife, an all-woman trio from Japan whose sound is pretty much built on the high-energy melodic punk approach of the Ramones, and has not changed noticeably in 50 years. One exception on this new album: “Vamos Taquitos,” a celebration of Mexican cuisine, draws on elements of Norteño music. Other than that, you know exactly what to expect. And God bless them for it.

Black Clouds above the Bows

All Hands Bury the Cliffs at Sea

So this is kind of a weird and frustrating situation. Wanderwelle is a Dutch electronic duo, and Black Clouds above the Bows and All Hands Bury the Cliffs at Sea are the first two entries in what’s projected as a three-volume series “dedicated to telling the story of the climate crisis and its effects on coastal areas around the globe.” The music does so in abstract manner, of course: it’s minimalist bordering on ambient, and consists largely of processed sounds originally created by archaic instruments: on Black Clouds, the central instrument is an old cavalry horn, used because the purpose of that instrument was to raise alarm and invoke urgency; on All Hands, the primary instrument is a church organ damaged by a climate-related seacoast cliff collapse. As one might imagine, the music is beautiful and deeply sad. What’s frustrating is that collecting all three albums will be difficult for any library: Black Clouds is available digitally and on CD, while All Hands is vinyl/digital-only and it’s not yet clear whether the third album will end up even being released on the same label.

Brian Eno
Foreverandevernomore: Forever Voiceless Edition (digital only)
No cat. no.

In 2022, legendary producer Brian Eno released his first vocal album in many years. Titled Foreverandevernomore, it was concerned with mankind’s abuse of the earth and our need to “fall in love again, but this time with Nature, with Civilization and with our hopes for the future.” I confess that while I’ve been a huge fan of Brian Eno the producer since my teenage years, I’ve never much cared for him as a singer, so I didn’t pay much attention to this album until a new version was released that paired the original vocal tracks with instrumental versions. And now I find myself wishing I’d given the original album a chance earlier on — it’s gorgeous and sad, and his voice honestly sounds just fine, especially since it’s given heavy doses of reverb throughout. The music is mostly pretty quiet, but there are some surprising moments as well. And of course the instrumental tracks are amazing. This 2023 digital edition includes both the vocals and the instrumentals.


Tooth of a Lion
Sonne von Unten (EP; digital only)
La Gorda
No cat. no.

Here are the things I love about Berlin reggae band Tooth of a Lion: first, and most importantly, they deliver the heavyweight goods: tuneful old-school reggae in a rootswise style with maximum bass pressure. Second, they sing in German rather than awkward English. Third — and this is very important — they don’t put on fake Jamaican accents. Here’s what I like less: their debut is an EP rather than a full-length album. (Of course, at 34 minutes long it’s about the same length as a typical 1970s reggae album.) It’s hard to identify highlights because each track here is excellent, but “Kaun Kaun Kaun” hits extra hard due to its showcase-style dub extension, and “Flaschensammlah” incorporates a galloping dancehall interlude that is lots of fun. Highly recommended.

Lodestar Trio
Bach to Folk
Naxos World

Delightfully, I had real trouble deciding whether to put this in the Classical or the Folk/Country or the World/Ethnic section — because the content is mostly classical music of the baroque period, but the arrangements/interpretations are all in a folk style, and the particular folk style in question is that of Scandinavia. So I finally kind of flipped a (three-sided) coin and decided that the overarching vibe of the album is Scandinavian, and here it is. Anyway, the music is a complete joy: themes and melodies from works by Bach, Couperin, and Lully, played on violin, Hardanger fiddle, and nyckelharpa in a Nordic folk style — with some traditional Norwegian tunes thrown in for good measure. It’s every bit as much fun as you’d expect.

Kimi Djabaté

Born in Guinea-Bissau and currently based in Portugal, Kimi Djabaté is the scion of a family of griots — musicians and historians who travel around collecting and transmitting oral traditions and cultural knowledge. His music blends elements of his home region’s musical culture (griot singing, desert blues, electric afrobeat, etc.) with strands of Caribbean and Euro-Latin musical styles; the opening track, “Afonhe,” is horn-driven reggae with a hypnotic melody and a balafon obliggato; “Dindin” lopes along on an Afro-Cuban groove; “Mbembatu” uses a stagger-step bassline to offset the sweetness of its sung melody. It’s all lovely, lovely stuff.


February 2023


Adalbert Gyrowetz
Flute Quartets op. 37
Ardinghello Ensemble
CPO (dist. Naxos)
555 435-2

Like many musicians of his generation, Adalbert Gyrowetz was educated in his home city of Prague but then went elsewhere to pursue his career. After stays in Vienna, Italy, and Paris he settled for a time in London (where he served as an interpreter for Franz Joseph Haydn) before returning to Vienna. Musically he might be regarded as an “interpreter” of Haydn as well, given the degree to which his chamber music communicated many of the late-classical ideas that Haydn had developed so skillfully. Gyrowetz is largely forgotten today, but these lovely performances of his Opus 37 composition for flute and string trio (played on a mix of modern and period instruments by the Ardinghello Ensemble) leave one wondering why he hasn’t stayed more firmly in the public ear.

Arvo Pärt
Stabat Mater
Morphing Chamber Orchestra; Various Soloists / Tomasz Wabnic
Aparté (dist. Integral)

Over the past 40 years, the music of Arvo Pärt has become core not only to the 20th-century repertoire, but to the classical repertoire generally. So it should come as no surprise that most of the compositions featured on this simply but sumptuously beautiful recording have been recorded many times before — Fratres (which opens the program) was one of the first pieces that brought Pärt to public attention outside of his native Estonia, and both Summa and the title work have become familiar since then. The works for solo voice (prominently featuring countertenor Andreas Scholl) are a bit less commonly heard, and the juxtaposition of the rather sere “My Heart’s in the Highlands” with the much more melodically sweet “Vater Unser” setting is particularly effective. Even if your library collection already contains multiple performances of these works, this recording will still be well worth adding to it.

Robert Kyr
All-Night Vigil
Cappella Romana / Alexander Lingas
Cappella (dist. Naxos)

For American composer Robert Kyr, the direct inspiration for All-Night Vigil is Sergei Rachmaninoff, who set the same liturgical texts in his identically-titled work of 1915. The texts (here translated into English) are from the Orthodox liturgy, and for the music Kyr draws on Byzantine and Slavic traditions while also incorporating his own distinctive contemporary style. The result is shimmeringly lovely and deeply moving; Kyr successfully avoids using the Eastern musical elements as mere flavoring or exploiting them for exoticism, instead carefully blending all of his influences into a well-integrated whole. The singing by Cappella Romana is simply magnificent. I wish the recorded sound were a little bit more detailed, but it’s warm and immersive and very attractive overall. This is a world-premiere recording.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Piano & Bassoon Concerto, etc. (reissue)
Martin Galling; Georg Zukerman; Collegium con Basso; Berlin & Würrtemburg Orchestras
Alto (dist. Alliance/AMPED)
ALC 1466

Originally issued on two separate LPs in 1965 and 1970 on the Vox/Turnabout label, these performances of chamber, solo, and orchestral works by the always-under appreciated Viennese master Johann Nepomuk Hummel make a welcome return to market on this skillfully remastered reissue. On the Piano Concertino and the solo Introduction & Rondo the piano sound is maybe a bit dull, but that’s to be expected for recordings of this vintage — and the orchestras and chamber ensemble sound startlingly fresh and clear. The performances are excellent as well. Any library collection with a particular interest in the late classical and early Romantic periods would be well advised to replace its old LPs with this very fine CD reissue.

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Six Concertante Quartets
Arabella String Quartet

While we’re in the classical period, let’s turn our attention to one of the most remarkable figures of that era. Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges was the son of a French parliamentarian and a Senegalese slave, and was known throughout his brief life as an expert swordsman, horseman, athlete, violinist, and composer. He seems to have studied with both Jean-Marie Leclair and François-Joseph Gossec, and while his military career prevented a high level of musical productivity, he did write music across multiple genres including orchestral, chamber, and operatic works. This set of string quartets shows him to have been a master of the classical style even as they hark back both structurally and stylistically to the early years of the genre (and therefore reflect little influence from Haydn). The Arabella String Quartet plays wonderfully, on modern instruments.


Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant avec Folie à Quatre
PR 21

Under normal conditions, the more “out” a jazz album is (especially if it’s a concept album), the less interested I am. But two things caught my eye about the latest from bassist/composer Trevor Dunn: the clarinet-and-strings chamber quartet, and the fact that guitarist Mary Halvorson is a member of his Trio-Convulsant. Since I’m always interested in hearing classical instrumentation applied in a jazz context and since I will automatically listen to any project involving Halvorson, I had to give this one a spin. The unifying concept here is the history of the Convulsionnaires of Saint-Médard, an 18th-century French religious cult associated with the Jansenist movement known for worship that took the form of ecstatic convulsions and other displays of extreme group behavior. The music, as one might expect, is pretty wild — but at times it’s also very tightly composed (check out the intro and outro on “Saint-Ménard,” for example), with odd time signatures, jagged melodies, and careful arrangements. Those who remember Trevor Dunn as a founding member of avant-rock ensemble Mr. Bungle might have the best idea of what to expect here. Recommended.

Chris Dingman
Journeys Vol. 2
Inner Arts Initiative
No cat. no.

With his latest album, vibraphonist Chris Dingman continues the exploration of live solo improvisation he began with the monumental 5-disc release Peace (which I strongly recommended in the August 2020 issue) and continued with Journeys Vol. 1 (recommended in the February 2022 issue). Over the past few years Dingman’s whole approach to performance has changed dramatically, shifting from the focus on self-expression that has been a central characteristic of jazz performance for decades to a new concern for connecting with the concerns, stressors, and anxieties of his audience and seeking to relieve them in real time through spontaneously created music. As one might expect, the result is music that sounds radically different from most jazz vibes playing and that evokes an equally radically different response in the listener. Dingman’s work continues to be both groundbreaking and deeply affecting — not to mention enjoyable.

Joe Locke
Circle 9

For a more traditional — but still innovative and exciting — take on jazz vibes playing, check out the latest from Joe Locke and his quartet, a wonderful selection of original compositions bracketed by two standards. The album opens with a sprightly take on “Love for Sale,” then segues into a gorgeous and intricately arranged ballad written in tribute to the late trumpeter Roy Hargrove; elsewhere the title track explores a Middle Eastern modal melody in 5/4 time, “Elegy for Us All” expresses Locke’s political concern with a heart-tugging balladic melody, and “Shifting Moon” explores an unsettled, slippery harmonic pattern. The program ends with a gently searching solo take on “Lush Life.” This is a complex and lovely album.

The Birmingham Seven
Just Passing Through
Summit (dist. MVD)
DCD 799

If you’re looking for some old-fashioned, straight-ahead jazz in styles ranging from hard bop to powerfully swinging big-band sounds to Latin to Monk-inflected modernism, then look no further than the debut release of the Birmingham Seven. Just Passing Through presents a full program of originals, most of them written by baritone saxophonist Daniel Western. While the styles vary widely within the general parameters of straight-ahead jazz, two things are consistent: the band’s clear respect and affection for the styles in which they play, and a powerful sense of joy in virtuosity — but at the same time, no one is showing off here; they’re serving the tunes and conveying ideas that are as fun to listen to as they are complex and challenging. Highlights include the album-opening “Gotta Keep ‘Em Guessing” and the brilliant horn chart on “Reed the Room.” I’m very much looking forward to this group’s next album.

Christopher Hale
Ritual Diamonds
Earshift Music

I fell in love with this release about one minute into the first track. It’s an odd sort of jazz album, to be sure: it blends contemporary jazz and traditional Korean drumming, but unlike many similar cross-cultural experiments it actually succeeds at creating a new fusion rather than just sounding like one tradition layered awkwardly on top of another. Ritual Diamonds is primarily a collaboration between bassist Christopher Hale and percussionist Minyoung Woo; they’re joined by several other musicians, but the concept is theirs, and it’s built on Hale and Woo sharing their unique rhythmic heritages and finding ways to interlock and blend them and create something unique. What results is hard to describe but truly beautiful to hear: the music sounds through-composed but obviously involves varying degrees of improvisation; it sounds generally fairly Western (the chord changes, the instrumental textures, the melodic patterns) but is clearly informed at a deep level by rhythmic concepts from non-Western traditions (particularly on the skipping, irregular, but delicately lovely “Minor Diamonds”), and it all conveys a sense of confident complexity but calmness as well. You just have to hear it — check it out on the label’s Bandcamp page.


Starlett & Big John
Living in the South

In some important ways, Starlett Boswell and Big John Talley deliver the mainstream bluegrass goods on this, their second album: some classic tunes (“Setting’ the Woods on Fire,” “My Brown Eyed Darling”) and some fine originals (“The Ties That Bind,” “Straight 58”), all played and sung with unassuming virtuosity and at moderate tempos. But there are some subtle innovations here: Talley and Boswell regularly trade off on lead vocals within the same song, which is pretty unusual in a bluegrass context, and there are some sly stylistic moves as well — the strong hint of Texas swing on “Setting’ the Woods on Fire,” for example. The title track’s lyrics cloy just a bit (well, maybe more than just a bit), but for the most part the songs are outstanding — and when Talley and Boswell sing in harmony you’ll feel the hair rise on your neck.

Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams
Live at Levon’s!
Royal Potato Family
No cat. no.

The husband-and-wife team of guitarist/songwriter Larry Campbell (Levon Helm, Bob Dylan) and singer/guitarist Teresa Williams recorded this live album after spending several months touring in the fall of 2019, just before COVID shut things down. They celebrated the end of the tour by returning to Levon Helm Studios, Campbell’s former boss’s intimate concert and recording venue in Woodstock, NY. The sound is exceptional for a live album, and the group is in outstanding form, delivering pleasingly greasy country-rock, swing, gospel, old-time country, and even a couple of bluegrass numbers — including a rocking version of the Flatt & Scruggs classic “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” and an equally raucous take on Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” Live albums are notoriously uneven, but this one represents everything that can make a live recording fun.

John Hartford
Aereo-Plain (reissue; vinyl only)
Real Gone Music

John Hartford was a genius and an enigma — a gifted songwriter, fiddler, and banjo player whose deeply quirky sense of humor was matched by an equally deep love for all forms of American roots music. His 1971 album Aereo-Plain represents both of those aspects of his artistry perfectly: it’s basically a bluegrass album (featuring fiddler Vassar Clements, resonator guitarist Tut Taylor, and other luminaries) that refuses to stay in anything like a conventional bluegrass channel; it opens and closes with the gospel classic “Turn Your Radio On” and includes a version of the hoary old-time chestnut “Leather Britches,” but otherwise sways off into styles that can only be called “Hartford.” Songs like “Back in the Goodle Days,” “Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie,” and “Steam Powered Aereo Plane” are great examples (and the spelling variation is absolutely intentional). I wish this reissue were more customer-friendly — it’s a fancy and high-priced vinyl-only release with no digital or CD complement — but used copies of the CD can still be found, and it’s available from other (legitimate) sources as a download.


Erik Wøllo
The Shape of Time
Projekt (dist. MVD)

Forrest Fang
The Lost Seasons of Amorphia

Two recent releases from the venerable Projekt label showcase very different approaches to the general category of ambient music. Norwegian composer Erik Wøllo’s album The Shape of Time reflects his contemplations of how time works on both the planetary and the personal/psychological levels. There are choir sounds, swirling textures, and the creation of the kinds of enormous sonic spaces that the album’s title and theme would suggest. As with all good ambient music, it’s attractive and quiet but never cloying or saccharine. Forrest Fang takes a different approach: his music is based on a fusion of electronic and acoustic instruments, and draws on influences as disparate as Japanese gagaku court music, Indonesian gamelan, and Chinese classical composition. Fang’s music is more minimal, with less harmonic movement; his pieces tend to hover in place rather than drift in a specific direction. “Inlets” uses a hammered zither in a hypnotic way that evokes Laraaji’s 1980s recordings with Brian Eno, while other tracks hint at the phasing processes popular with 1960s minimalists. Both albums are richly rewarding and recommended to all libraries.

Various Artists
Cherry Stars Collide: Dream Pop, Shoegaze, Ethereal Rock 1986-1995 (compilation; 4 discs)
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)

Guitar distortion is interesting: it can be used to create harsh, hard-edged music, and it can be used to produce soft billows of sound. That duality struck me again as I listened through this compilation of songs by artists who were operating on the spectrum of what might be called “cloud pop” during the late 1980s and early 1990s. As always with these Cherry Red comps, you’ll encounter some familiar material — in this case, by the likes of Mazzy Star, Ultra Vivid Scene, Cocteau Twins, and The Cranberries. But you’ll also be introduced to artists you’ve almost certainly never heard of (The Charlottes, anyone?) and you’ll be reminded of some you may have forgotten (Kitchens of Distinction, Cranes, etc.). There’s a surprising stylistic variety here: slow guitar rock from This Ascension, abstract hookiness from Cocteau Twins, jangle-pop from The Innocence Mission and the Sundays, wall-of-sound instrospection from AR Kane, and much more. These Cherry Red boxes are always a treasure trove for library collections, and this one is no exception.

The Hooten Hallers
Back in Business Again

A trio consisting of guitarist/singer John Randall, drummer/singer Andy Rehm, and saxophonist/singer Kellie Everett, the Hooten Hallers have been using their odd lineup to deliver a pretty original vision of rootsy rock’n’roll for the past fifteen years. Randall’s hoarse but powerful voice is the front-line element of their sound, but Everett’s saxophone and clarinet work (often multitracked to create a whole horn section) brings a bluesy edge, and there are moments when they sound like a cross between rockabilly, Chicago blues, and Texas roadhouse boogie — “Cat Scrap,” in particular, sounds like John Lee Hooker doing a ZZ Top cover. And “Mankiller” sounds like — I kid you not — a collaboration between John Zorn and Morphine. Intrigued? Yeah, you probably should be.

The Well Wishers
Blue Sky Sun
No cat. no.

Bay Area power-pop legend Jeff Shelton (formerly frontman for Spinning Jennies) continues to make some of the finest power pop available as The Well Wishers — a solo project on which he plays and sings everything himself (with the occasional guest). He put The Well Wishers aside for a couple of years while he explored his love of shoegaze and dream pop sounds under the name Deadlights, but now he’s back and sounds sharper than ever. Layers of guitar, layers of vocals, tight song structures and hooks galore — you know what to expect. Highlights include the sharp-edged “Idiot Smile,” the dreamy/jangly “Serenade,” the anthemic “Hours and Days,” and the entirely brilliant “Radicalized” — but everything on this disc is well worth hearing, as usual.


Debashish Bhattacharya
The Sound of the Soul
Abstract Logix

Classical music from the Indian subcontinent makes use of a wide variety of regionally specific instruments that are widely recognized for their association with that musical tradition: the sitar, the bansuri, the veena, etc. But over the centuries Indian music has also very successfully adopted instruments from other cultures: the violin, the keyboard (notably the harmonium), the saxophone — and the slide guitar, of which Debashish Bhattacharya is probably the foremost exponent right now. Bhattacharya has actually invented and constructed guitars designed specifically to accommodate his approach to playing. His latest album continues to demonstrate not only his mastery of the instrument itself, but also his admirable ability to adapt it and harness its unique characteristics of tone and technique to the conventions of Indian music — his playing is not just thrillingly virtuosic, but also deeply expressive and musical. Like his previous albums, The Sound of the Soul is strongly recommended to all libraries collecting in either South Asian music or guitar pedagogy.

Acid Arab
٣ (Trois)
Crammed Discs

If it seems like I’ve been recommending a lot of stuff from the Crammed Discs label lately, it’s because… well… I have. (And I just learned about a new Aksak Maboul album coming out soon, so there’s probably going to be more.) They just keep putting out amazing new examples of international avant-pop and they’ve been very productive on the reissue front as well. Anyway, this latest release is one that I can’t let pass without notice. Acid Arab, as their name suggests, are a French-Algerian electronic pop music group that creates really fun, exciting, and bracing songs delivered by a shifting lineup of guest vocalists — in this case hailing from North Africa, Syria, and Turkey. Highlights on ٣ (Trois) include the squidgy, funky “Döne Döne” (featuring singer Cam Yildiz), the driving “Habaytak” (featuring Ghizlane Melih and some great double-reed playing), and the dark and eerie stutter-step of “Gouloulou” (featuring Fella Soltana). But every track here is worth hearing.

Pitch Black
Mixes & Mavericks

L.A.B. & Paolo Baldini Dub Files
L.A.B. in Dub
Echo Beach

If you’re in the mood for some bass pressure, here are a couple of outstanding remix albums that will make your week. Pitch Black is the nom de dub of New Zealand duo Mike Hodgson and Paddy Free, who have been making reggae-flavored electronica together since the mid-1990s. Mixes & Mavericks is a collection of tracks by other artists from around the globe, all remixed and given Pitch Black’s personal dubwise touch. There’s source material here from Mexico’s Sudden Reverb, the UK artist Ink Project, the legendary Gaudi, and much more, and everything has that rich, dark, spacious-but-heavy sound that we’ve come to love from this duo. L.A.B. in Dub is a somewhat different affair — an album of tracks by a single artist, all remixed in dub style by the Italian producer Paolo Baldini. L.A.B., coincidentally, are also a New Zealand band, but here it’s material from their back catalogue that is subjected to the remix attentions of Baldini. The producer worked live in the studio, the same way great reggae producers like King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry did during the classical era of dub in the 1970s, applying echo and other effects while dropping voices and instruments in and out of the mix in real time. The result is a rich and organic sound that harks back to the glory days of dub in all the best ways. Both are brilliant albums.

Jah Thomas
Clarks a Clarks (digital only)
TRCD 1413

Jah Thomas is a reggae legend, one of the great producers of the roots and dancehall periods and a very fine toaster as well. His latest album is a celebration of the sounds that were nicing up the dance while he was coming up, and something of a celebration of Jamaican consumer culture as well: the title track finds him rhapsodizing on the qualities of Clarks footwear (hugely popular in Kingston for decades), while “Western Union Walk” extols the wonders of instant money transfer. He teams up with singer Junior Moore to celebrate, er, heterosexuality (“Woman alone can buy me roses/Woman alone can pull mi trousers”) and to denounce gun culture, and with the equally legendary DJ Josey Wales to bemoan the state of the world. The backing tracks are new productions of classic Studio One rhythms, and Jah Thomas’ production is rich and crisp throughout.

January 2023


František Ignác Antonín Tuma
Te Deum
Czech Ensemble Baroque Orchestra & Choir / Tereza Válková; Roman Válek
Supraphon (dist. Naxos)
SU 4315-2

This is the kind of release I live for: a world-premiere recording of glorious music by a great composer who doesn’t get enough love in the current marketplace. František Ignác Antonín Tuma was a Czech composer of the late baroque period who spent most of his career in Vienna; he studied under Johann Fux and made a name for himself as a viola da gamba and theorbed lute player as well as a composer. This recording features two of his large-scale sacred vocal works, a Te Deum setting and the magisterial Missa Veni Patri pauper, with an instrumental sinfonia inserted between them. It’s hard to overstate how deeply engaging and attractive this music is, and the performances by the Czech Ensemble Baroque Orchestra and Choir are magnificent — alto soloist Monika Jägerova is especially fine.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Flute Concertos
Rune Most; The Danish Sinfonietta / David Riddell

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Flute Concertos & Sinfonias
Nolwenn Bargin; Musikkollegium Winterthur / Roberto González Monjas
CD 50-1909

It seems like 2022 yielded a real bumper crop of recordings of works by C.P.E. Bach, the most illustrious of Johann Sebastian Bach’s many composer children. At first I wondered if 2022 marked an important birthday for him, or maybe a significant anniversary of his death, but since he was born in 1714 and died in 1788 neither of those explanations seems likely. It may just be a happy coincidence. In any case, this past year saw two very fine modern-instrument recordings of C.P.E. Bach flute concertos, both of which are well worth recommending. Flautist Norwenn Bargin opens her program with the D major concerto (Wq. 183/1), a stylistically forward-looking piece that was considered somewhat avant-garde at the time of its composition. Two other concerti and a three-movement sinfonia round out the program; everyone’s playing here is both virtuosic and stylistically sensitive. On his recording with the Danish Sinfonietta, flautist Rune Most tackles three concertos, only one of which duplicates the Bargin program. I especially enjoyed Most’s tone, which is woodier than one would normally expect from a modern flute and which contrasts nicely with the bright and hard-edged sound of the Sinfonietta. Again, the playing is delightful on this disc and I recommend both to any library with a collecting interest in the pre- and early classical periods.

Adriaan Willaert
Adriano3 (vinyl & digital only)
Dionysos Now!
Evil Penguin
EPRC 0047

Here’s another outstanding world-premiere recording: the six-voice, all-male Dionysos Now! ensemble, led by Tore Tom Denys, has undertaken a project to record little-known works by the most famous composer to come from Denys’ home town of Roeselare: Adriaan Willaert. The latest release in this series centers on a Mass setting written while Willaert was in residence at the Cathedral San Marco in Venice, a Mass apparently without a title but which is presented here as Missa Ippolito. The title comes from a theory of musicologist Joshua Rifkin, who argues (based on some pretty deep textual and melodic analysis) that the work was written in tribute to Willaert’s patron, the Cardinal of Ferrara. The Mass’s unusual structure is worth reading about, and as always with this group the singing is outstanding.

William Byrd
Pavans & Galliards; Variations & Grounds (2 discs)
Daniel-Ben Pienaar
Avie (dist. Naxos)

It’s not that unusual to hear keyboard music of the baroque era played on the modern piano, but Renaissance music on the piano is much more rare. On this two-disc recital program, pianist Daniel-Ben Pinaar explores two particularly important collections of William Byrd’s early keyboard music: My Lady Nevell’s Book and Parthenia, and adds as a makeweight the Quadran Pavan and Quadran Galliard; the pieces from these collections are interspersed with fifteen of Byrd’s variations on Elizabethan tunes and on “ground bass.” The modern piano poses certain challenges for performing music of this period, which was written with instruments in mind that have a much lighter tone and much less dynamic range. Pinaar’s approach is both thoughtful and deeply musical; he incorporates ornamentation that is highly idiomatic but doesn’t shy away from putting the piano’s richer and deeper tone to good use. This is both quite an unusual and also a deeply rewarding album.

Vicente Lusitano
The Marian Consort / Rory McCleery
Linn (dist. Naxos)

A well-known music theorist in his time, Vincent Lusitano is primarily remembered today — when he’s remembered at all — as very likely the first Black composer to have been formally published. His sole surviving collection of works, the Liber primus epigramatum, from which these ten motets were taken, was published in Rome in 1551. Lusitano was born in Portugal of mixed European and African parentage and eventually became a priest and a music teacher in Padua and Viterbo, and made his living through student fees since paid clergy positions were available only to White men at the time. Throughout these marvelous vocal works you can clearly hear Lusitano paying tribute to Josquin des Prez, but at the same time he has developed a style distinctly his own — echoes of which we’ll hear later in the work of, among others, Carlo Gesualdo. For all early music collections.


3D Jazz Trio
9 to 5

I don’t think there’s another jazz ensemble anywhere that plays with as much pure joy as the 3D Jazz Trio. Pianist Jackie Warren, bassist Amy Shook, and drummer Sherrie Maricle also have a great stylistic range — check out Maricle’s intricate arrangement of “Sing,” which is followed by Shook’s hard-driving, funky take on Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” (They’re also excellent composers, and the original tunes “Blues for G-C” and “Theme for B.T.” are album highlights.) But most of all they have an ensemble sound that would be the envy of any trio. Each is impressively virtuosic on her instrument, but they play together with not just precision but also with the kind of blend that comes only from obvious mutual affection. Like everything else I’ve heard from the 3D Jazz Trio, this is a simply brilliant album.

Franco Ambrosetti

The flugelhorn’s naturally soft and burnished tone lends itself to quiet and introspective jazz, and that’s what you get on this gorgeous release from composer and flugelhorn player Franco Ambrosetti. He’s accompanied by a jaw-dropping array of first-call session players: guitarist John Scofield, pianist Uri Caine, bassist Scott Colley, drummer Peter Erskine — and the string arrangements are written and conducted by Alan Broadbent. If you don’t think jazz with strings is really your cup of tea, I strongly urge you to check this album out and see if it doesn’t change your mind. Every track is a lesson in both composition and orchestration, and every solo is a dissertation on taste.

The Comet Is Coming
Hyper-dimensional Expansion Beam

One of the complaints I often have about jazz musicians is when they use the term “funk” too liberally. In my experience, the great majority of jazz compositions that claim to be “funky” aren’t actually funky at all — they just have a strong backbeat instead of (or sometimes in addition to) a swing feel. No such complaint here, though: The Comet Is Coming is a trio consisting of jazz saxophonist Shabaka, drummer/synthesist Betamax and synthesist Danalogue, who together create dense, wild, and sometimes extremely funky jazz that partakes of the spiritual essence of Sun Ra and the harmolodic freakiness of Ornate Coleman without ever sounding either atonal or self-indulgent. No matter how out-there they get, there’s a deep discipline to the group’s sound, and although it doesn’t sound like any other jazz you’ve ever heard, it draws deeply on the jazz verities. For all adventurous collections.

Fred Hersch & esperanza spalding
Alive at the Village Vanguard

Two generation-defining geniuses united in October of 2018 for a two-night stand at the legendary Village Vanguard in New York. A few lucky guests in that notoriously tiny venue were treated to voice-and-piano arrangements of standards and a Hersch original or two that featured Hersch’s keenly intellectual but also deeply sensitive pianism and esperanza spalding’s supple and discursive singing — though, sadly, not her equally virtuosic bass playing. I’d say the album’s highlight is spalding’s scat performance on Hersch’s knotty Thelonious Monk tribute, or maybe her improvised lyrics to Charlie Parker’s “My Little Suede Shoes,” but just about any track here would count as the highlight on any other jazz album from the past five years. I recommend this one for any library that supports a jazz curriculum.


New Riders of the Purple Sage
Lyceum ’72

Today they’d probably be called, but in 1972 the New Riders of the Purple Sage were called “psychedelic country” or “psychedelic country rock,” and they toured with the Grateful Dead (whose debt to country music had started becoming explicit with the recent albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty). This album documents the New Riders’ set on the final day of the Dead’s 1972 European tour, playing at the legendary Lyceum Ballroom in London. The set was recorded on a 16-track machine and sounds phenomenal. The band’s singing is frankly pretty uneven, but instrumentally they sound great, with the playing of pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage a highlight throughout. This is an important document of a strand of American country music that left a real impact but went out of style very quickly.

Howdy Glenn
I Can Almost See Houston: The Complete Howdy Glenn

Commercial country music has never been a particularly hospitable place for Black artists. In the 1970s there was Charley Pride, in the 1990s there was… well… Cleve Francis? And now we have Darius Rucker, I guess. But country music has been pretty dang white pretty much since it emerged as a modern genre. In 1977, though, there was a Caifornia-based singer named Morris “Howdy” Glenn who scored a chart hit with his cover of a Willie Nelson song and was nominated as Top New Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music. After a few other minor hits his star faded, though, and now he’s largely forgotten. This long-overdue compilation brings together all of his recordings: one album plus another 15 tracks either released as singles or — in many cases — never released at all. Surprisingly, his voice has quite a bit in common with that of George Jones, but there’s a hard edge to his sound that brings to mind Merle Haggard as well. In addition to being a highly valuable historical document this whole collection is quite a blast.

The Foreign Landers
Travelers Rest
Tinfoil Studios

The music of the Foreign Landers (banjoist/guitarist Tabitha Agnew Benedict and mandolinist David Benedict, both of whom sing and write as well) is a classic example of Nu Folk: songs that use folk- and bluegrass-derived instrumentation to make sounds that have little in common with folk music beyond texture and vibe. The songs — all of which are originals except for a subdued version of “Sunny Side of the Mountain” — have complex structures that are easy to miss while you’re blissing out to the Benedicts’ soft voices and close harmonies, and at times (as on the gorgeous “Should I Go”) they venture into knotty jazz-folk excursions. Elsewhere (“Flying Back to You”) they settle comfortably into straight-ahead newgrass. Rarely has this kind of virtuosity been exhibited in such a gentle and unassuming way, especially in the world of acoustic music.


Planet Mu (dist. Redeye)

2022 was a busy year for µ-Ziq (a.k.a. Mike Paradinas). He released an album of new material entitled Magic Pony Ride as well as an expanded reissue of his 1997 classic Lunatic Harness (both recommended here in the June issue) and a digital-only EP of remixes titled Goodbye. As the year came to a close he brought out another album of new music, in a couple of different manifestations: the vinyl and digital version of Hello contains nine tracks of µ-Ziq’s highly personal take on IDM/drill’n’bass — a style of hyped-up jungle that avoids the chilly and forbidding claustrophobia so common in this genre in favor of a sunny and joyful approach, one that is not entirely without edge (there’s a hint of foreboding in the vocal sample on “Ávila,” for example) but that generally stays well on the side of uplift. The CD version includes the Goodbye EP. Highly recommended.


Stefan Betke, who has recorded under the name Pole since 1998, makes music that has been characterized as dubtronic, glitch, and minimal ambient, but I’m not sure any of those labels really works. I think I’d call his music “minimal Krautrock.” On his latest album, you’ll hear faint echoes of Can and Neu!, but also more than a hint of 1970s dub. The music is generally fairly quiet but not exactly restful. “Alp” is particularly unsettling — snare hits are delivered according to what seems to be a pattern but is not easily discernible as such, while keyboards bring queasy harmonies and a bassline booms quietly below the surface — and on “Stechmück” an even queasier synth part regularly intrudes to push a more regular bass and drum part off kilter. “Firmament” has a jazzy flavor but lurches rather than swings. This is music I can confidently recommend for careful listening, but wouldn’t recommend for a party.

The Metallic Index (vinyl & digital only)

Fenella is an experimental trio consisting of the celebrated electronic composer Jane Weaver, Peter Philipson, and Raz Ullah. The Metallic Index is the group’s second release, and it features lush synthesized soundscapes, pulsing Durutti Column-style guitars (especially on the lovely “A Young Girl of Medium Height”), and sometimes deceptively simple-sounding multilayered ambience. The title track leads with a puckish Casiotone beat and clouds of altered wordless vocals, and then shifts into Steve Reich-style minimalism. For an album of instrumental electronica, The Metallic Index features a surprisingly wide range of sounds and textures, and it’s a consistently enjoyable listen.

More Offerings (cassette & digital only)
International Anthem Recording Company

Earlier this year, the electronica artist Photay (a.k.a. Evan Shornstein) made an album with producer Carlos Niño, who is himself known for his extensive catalog of collaborative recordings with musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds. An Offering was a concept album built around the idea of water and both its spiritual and its physical properties; the music was not exactly ambient, but certainly contemplative even with its complexity. More Offerings is sort of a remix album based on the same material, but it’s more than that; along with remixes and reconfigurations of music from the first album, it also includes full versions of compositions originally sampled for An Offering, a live recording, and some improvised material. There’s mystical spoken-word stuff about the nature of existence, some dancefloor-ready (or at least dancefloor-adjacent) beats, and tracks that are really hard to characterize. Both albums are well worth hearing.

NoPaper (dist. !K7)

This absolutely delightful album comes from Polish duo Skalpel, who looked to the past for inspiration for their latest release. They had been thinking about the dance and club music of the 1990s that had influenced them before they headed in a jazzier direction, and anyone who was listening to electronic music during that decade will hear lots of familiar elements here: the jazz bass, microscopic glitches, and skittery double-time breakbeats of “Why Not Jungle,” the strings and dubwise vocal effects on “Prism,” the mysterioso vibe of “White Label,” etc. If you miss the vintage sound of labels like Ninja Tune and Shadow, then this album will be a great nostalgia trip; if you have no memory of those labels, then this music may sound like a foreign county — and that’s cool too.


Water of Life (vinyl & digital only)

If a band is billed as “Afro-Finnish,” then an entirely reasonable question would be “what on earth does that mean in terms of actual music?”. In the case of Maajo, the answer would be “smooth, gently funky, densely produced but nimbly danceable pop tunes.” Actually, “pop” might be too strong a word: Major’s music is just a bit too impressionistic for that. There’s nothing here you could reasonably characterize as a hook, although there are passages you might find yourself singing along to, notably on “Unelmissani” and the percolating “Better Days (Kumba).” And if “Balafon Compagnement” doesn’t make you dance in your office chair, consider having your pulse checked.

Various Artists
Rare Global Pop 1980s (digital only)
Crammed Discs
No cat. no.

Belgium’s Crammed Discs label has been releasing fun and oddball pop and experimental music since the early 1980s, when they burst onto the avant-pop scene with albums by Aqsak Maboul, Julverne, and the Honeymoon Killers. Over the past few years the label has been raiding its vaults and putting out a steady stream of reissues and compilations under the series title Crammed Electronic Archives. The series includes six EPs by the likes of Nadjma, Des Airs, and Maurice Photo Doudongo — a hugely varied list that embraces afropop, European postpunk, and Arabic electropop. But if you don’t want to deal with six relatively brief releases, consider picking up this 17-track sampler, which provides an excellent overview of this fascinating catalog project as well as some rare singles and remixes not included on the EPs. If you’re like me, though, you’ll want every track of every release.

Spirits Eat Music
Easy Star

For fans (like me) of hardcore roots-and-culture reggae, pop reggae poses a bit of a problem. Even when it’s done really well, we tend to be suspicious of it (this despite the fact that the actual roots of reggae are in the dancehall, not in the Nyabinghi reasoning session). But there’s a truth that has to be acknowledged, and that is that good pop reggae is good reggae. And SunDub makes outstanding reggae music, in a pop vein. On their new album the Brooklyn-based band is joined by Peetah Morgan of Morgan Heritage, and also by producer Sidney Mills, who has worked with Steel Pulse — so it’s not like there aren’t solid roots credentials here. The main thing, though, is the songs, which are beautifully crafted and engagingly sung. The grooves are deep and heavy but not ponderous, and on highlight tracks like the militant steppers anthem “Real Change” and the singles “New Ways to Love” and “Jump and Dance,” SunDub is the equal of any reggae band playing in any style today.

A Different Style EP (digital only)

Glyn “Bigga” Bush is perhaps best known as a founding member of Rockers Hi Fi, with whom he spent much of the 1990s exploring various ways that dub and reggae conventions could be applied to various other genres of music. As a solo artist he has continued that exploration, and this “EP” (I put the term in scare quotes because this release is about an hour long) is a platform for other artists to give his work a similar treatment. Three remixes of “This River,” two each of “Black Swan” and “Real & Regal,” and one of “Sole Sister” bring UK garage, broken beat, electro soul, and jungle elements to the mix, to exciting and booty-shaking effect. Bush’s source material was great to begin with, and remix artists like Gerry Hectic and Sentinel 793 only make it that much more fun.

December 2022


Various Composers
Lakota Music Project
South Dakota Symphony Orchestra / Delta David Grier
Innova (dist. Naxos)

This project by the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra is very clear and direct about its goals, which are more than musical: it seeks to “(address) racial tension by creating an environment of openness through music,” and to “lay a path for reconciliation by using music to break down barriers between cultures.” This recording represents one way in which the orchestra approaches that goal. The album consists of five works, four of them commissioned by the project, all of them seamlessly fusing elements of traditional indigenous American music and European art music. Victory Songs, by Jerod Impichchachaaha’ Tate, consists of multiple movements, each honoring a legendary Lakota warrior; it’s sung in the Lakota language. A different approach is taken by Theodore Wiprud who was surprised to learn that “Amazing Grace” is a song frequently performed by Lakota drumming groups; he has written a setting that incorporates traditional drumming, singing, and flute playing along with orchestral variations on the theme. The whole album is fascinating, and highly recommended to all libraries.

Jakob Friedrich Kleinknecht
Trio Sonatas for Two Flutes and Basso Continuo
Ensemble La Cantonnade
TYX Art (dist. Naxos)

I sometimes get self-conscious about overusing the word “delightful” in this section, but honestly, there’s just no better word for this world-premiere recording of trio sonatas by Jakob Friedrich Kleinknecht, a little-known southern German composer who worked at roughly the same time as both Mozart and Haydn. However, his obscurity is not the usual case of a genius composer simply born at the wrong time and unjustly overshadowed by his towering contemporaries — even his colleagues tended to make note of his energy and productivity more than the unusually high quality of his music. But on the evidence of these pieces (performed with delicate affection by the Ensemble La Cantonnade), his skill as a composer still well exceeded the average, and there’s not a piece on this album that isn’t… well… you know, delightful. Any library collecting in the pre- and early classical periods should snap this one up.

Roger Eno
The Turning Year
Deutsche Grammophon
486 2024

He’s not as famous as his brother Brian, but over the past several decades pianist and composer Roger Eno has been writing and recording music that treads a careful path between classical, ambient, and experimental music. His first solo album for the venerable Deutsche Grammophon label occasionally teeters on on the brink of New Ageyness, but consistently stays on the right side of that line. Quiet and contemplative piano solos alternate with pieces augmented by the strings of the Scoring Berlin ensemble, and one piece in particular — Stars and Wheels — takes an improvisation he recorded twenty years ago on a church organ and subjects it to electronic alterations that create a beautiful cloud of harmony. This is a lovely, deeply quiet album.

Pedro de Cristo
Magnificat, Marian Antiphons & Missa salve Regina
Cupertinos / Luís Toscano
Hyperion (dist. Integral)

I feel a little less guilty about my complete ignorance of this masterful 16th-century Portuguese composer after learning that, despite his hugely prolific output, none of his music was ever published. (When all religious orders in Portugal were dissolved in the early 19th century, the libraries of the monasteries fell into the hands of the government, which neglected them for over 100 years, resulting in significant damage and loss.) The Marian Mass setting recorded here — the only Mass that scholars can currently attribute to de Cristo with confidence — is from a monastic manuscript currently held in the library at Coimbra University, and the other pieces on this program are from that same collection. All are united by a theme of Marian worship, reflecting one of the primary devotional concerns of Portuguese composers during this period. The singing by the mixed-voice Cupertinos ensemble is simply exquisite, and the acoustic ambience provided by the Basilica do Bom Jesu in Braga must be noted as well. Here’s hoping more works by this composer will be discovered soon, and that this group will record them.

Julian Brink
Utility Music
Sono Luminus (dist. Naxos)

Julian Brink is primarily a film composer, and this collection of brief works (itself quite brief at 36 minutes) is billed as a soundtrack to “a film that never happened.” The music was, in fact, originally written for a film, but the film project was cancelled. Brink subsequently took the original score (written for piano, harp, and string trio) and rearranged it, incorporating elements of previously-written music as well and creating a substantially new suite. The resulting music is an odd but engaging blend of turn-of-the-century salon sonorities, midcentury abstraction, and modern minimalism. The term “utility music” refers back to the German word Gebrauchsmusik, generally believed to have been coined by the composer Paul Hindemith, which denotes music intended for a functional purpose rather than only for its own sake. Film music would certainly seem to be one good example of this. Anyway, the album is lovely.


Ahmad Jamal
Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1963-1964 (2 discs)
Jazz Detective

Ahmad Jamal
Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse 1965-1966 (2 discs)
Jazz Detective

Jazz master sleuth Zev Feldman is at it again, launching a new label dedicated to unearthing previously-unheard recordings by jazz greats and presenting them with extensive documentation and in spectacular sound. These two two-disc sets (with a third scheduled for release on an as-yet-undetermined date) document performances by the great pianist Ahmad Jamal with his trio over the course of five years at a small Seattle club called the Penthouse. On most dates he’s accompanied by bassist Jamil Nasser, but the drummers vary — Chuck Lampkin is featured on the first volume, but there’s a different drummer for each set on the second. The recordings were made by a local radio engineer, and they sound great; Jamal is in outstanding form throughout, sometimes evoking Errol Garner in his use of big, fruity chords and sometimes evincing a Bud Powell-esque nimbleness. Now 93 years old, Jamal himself oversaw the creation of these releases and sat for interviews that are included in the booklets. No library that supports a jazz curriculum can afford to pass up this treasure trove of world-class 1960s jazz pianism.

Jason Yeager
Unstuck in Time: The Kurt Vonnegut Suite
SSC 1672

I’ll confess here that usually the word “suite” in the title of a jazz composition turns me right off — in my experience, it too often denotes music that is too bloated and too self-important to function well as jazz. I’m glad I ignored it in this case. Pianist/composer Jason Yeager has fashioned a loving tribute to Kurt Vonnegut here (in observance of the author’s 100th birthday), giving his compositions titles that refer to characters and events in various Vonnegut novels, and his writing is (here I go again) delightful. Note the boppish complexity of “Bokonon” and how it’s leavened by textural lightness and humor; note also the tender lyricism of “Ballad for Old Salo,” and the hard-swinging groove of “Unk’s Fate,” and the noirish abstraction of “Nancy’s Revenge.” Yeager is writing for a fairly large ensemble on these compositions, but not a big band, which keeps the sound nice and flexible. For all jazz collections.

Jeff Denson; Romain Pilon; Brian Blade
Finding Light
Ridgeway (dist. MVD)

Finding Light is the second album from this trio, which doesn’t present itself as having a leader but, in reality, seems functionally to be led by bassist/composer Jeff Denson. Six of the album’s ten tracks are Denson compositions, while four are by guitarist Romain Pilon. All of the tunes dance a careful but joyful line between straight-ahead and modern/free jazz, with diversions into funk (the fun and knotty “This Way, Cooky”) and into music that feels oddly abstract despite its obviously careful construction (“Wishing Well,” which drifts from balladic decorousness into gentle funk). Drummer Brian Blades was made for this stuff, and he provides a strong rhythmic through-line while contributing his own pointillistic flourishes. Although the music itself sounds nothing like Bill Evans, there’s an echo of the classic Evans-LaFaro-Motian trio’s dynamic here, with each member contributing equally to the overall sound. Highly recommended.

Herb Ellis; Remo Palmier
Windflower (vinyl only)
Real Gone Music

In 1977, guitarists Herb Ellis and Reno Palmier teamed up with bassist George Duvivier and drummer Ron Traxler to deliver this gorgeous set of standards and contemporary compositions in a style that harked back explicitly to the 1940s, when both guitarists were young up-and-comers on the cutthroat New York scene. Since that time Ellis had become a household name in jazz circles, while Palmier’s career had been sidelined by health issues, but here the two play like brothers — both stretch out admirably and push each other productively, but neither seeks to outshine or blow the other one off the stage. Ellis and Palmier both favor a warm, soft-edged tone, and both achieve the almost alchemical effect of turning their gentle touch into powerful, propulsive swing. The album clocks in at 42 minutes, and you’ll wish it were twice as long. (And if you’re like me, you’ll also wish it were available on CD.)


SUSS (2 discs; compilation)
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)
NS 156

I fully realize that as a genre designation, “ambient country” sounds like the punchline to a bad joke about the nonsensical proliferation of genre designations. As I’ve noted in previous numbers of CD HotList, though, the guys in SUSS have successfully mapped out a style that is not only fully serious but also deeply rewarding. This album brings together the band’s three previous EPs (Night Suite, Heat Haze, and Winter Was Hard) and adds five more tracks under the subtitle Across the Horizon. The music represents a continuation of their ongoing exploration of ambient soundscapes in the context of country-music conventions: lots of shimmering/twanging Telecasters, lots of eerily moaning steel guitar, very little in the way of rhythm. But the twanginess is atmospheric; the steel is like smears of orange sunset; the production is spacious and abstract. While there are hints here of producer Daniel Lanois’ sound in the 1980s and ’90s, no one right now is doing anything like what SUSS is doing, and it really sounds amazing.

The Waymores
Stone Sessions
Chicken Ranch
No cat. no.

If you miss the good old days of meat-and-potatoes honky-tonk and outlaw Texas country music, then the Waymores are here for you. Yes, the duo is based in Atlanta, but the acerbic edge in their writing (pull quote: “I’ve got everything I need/Worn-out boots and home-grown weed”) evokes Willie and Waylon more than anyone from anywhere in the Southeast (very much including Nashville), and the astringency of their harmonies brings to mind John Doe and Exene Cervenka more than Conway and Loretta or George and Tammy. On Stone Sessions, their second album, the tempos are deliberate, the rhythms tend strongly towards a sober two-step, and the lyrics are love- and world-weary (sample song titles: “Die Right Here,” “Road Worn,” “Bat Sh*t Crazy”). There’s not a surprising chord progression anywhere, and there’s not a single song that isn’t brilliant.

Kelley Smith
Moon Child (EP)
No cat. no.

Moon Child is one of those “uh-oh” album titles — the kind that is liable to trigger many listeners’ New Age Twaddle detectors. No need to worry in this case, though. The debut EP from folk singer/songwriter Kelley Smith features clear-eyed and carefully observed songs that are both softly expressed and powerfully written. There’s an Appachian twang in her delivery despite her Minnesota upbringing, and a hitch in her voice that she keeps tastefully under control. Superficially, you might characterize her voice as lightweight, but listen carefully, for example, to “Dust” and notice how much power lurks beneath the surface of her girlish timbre; note also the string arrangements on “I’ll Let Go,” which she taught herself how to create while making this EP. This is an impressive debut — let’s have more than five songs next time!


Third Eye (2 discs; expanded reissue)
Cherry Pop

Monsoon did for pop music what John McLaughlin’s Shakti ensemble did for jazz: showed that Indian music could be blended with Western music without either exoticizing or condescension. In both a compelling and a matter-of-fact way, Monsoon took the conventions of Western pop music and rhythmic/instrumental elements of Indian folk and classical music and seamlessly blended them, putting Sheila Chandra’s marvelously clear and supple voice front and center and creating a swirling kaleidoscope of melody and textures to support it. Third Eye was the group’s only full-length album; it’s reissued here in an expanded version, with live-in-the-studio tracks, remixes, and several previously unreleased items. It’s interesting how timeless this music sounds — although it was originally issued in 1983 it really doesn’t sound much like an ’80s record, perhaps because of the uniqueness (for the time) of its cultural fusion. Monsoon launched Chandra’s musical career, which was a remarkable one until injury led to her retirement from singing in 2009.

Ohm Resistance

If you’re under the (understandable) impression that drum’n’bass music tends to be a bit tiresome, then I strongly recommend the debut full-length album from Gavin Hislop, a video-game sound designer who records under the name Blockdata. He’s been releasing music as Blockdata for several years, but this is his first album and unlike many longplayers in this genre, it’s conceived as a unified whole and constructed for end-to-end listening. Yes, there are the expected dense and crunchy double-speed breakbeats and wobble bass, but there’s also lots of sonic space in the mix and multiple interludes of softer, more introspective music; song titles like “Binary Warfare” and “Bone Weight” may suggest a more assaultive vibe, but there’s actually a tremendous amount of subtlety at work here, and this album amply rewards close listening. Also, it’s great for freeway driving as long as there’s a relatively generous speed limit.

Mata Atlântica
Retiro e Ritmo
7d Media
7D 2206

I’m placing this one in the Rock/Pop section because it seems like the least bad fit for this fascinating and ultimately uncategorizable album. Led by keyboardist/producer/sound designer Markus Reuter, Mata Atlântica is a musical project organized with a non-musical purpose in mind: saving the coastal rainforest of Brazil. Now, activist music is always a risky proposition, because the thing being advocated for is almost always more important than mere music, and that can lead to music that quickly becomes an afterthought while messaging muscles itself into the forefront. No such problem here: while grooves reminiscent of both prog rock and 1970s jazz fusion (leavened with bubbling Brazilian rhythms) simmer in the background, a shifting array of wind players, percussionists, vocalists, and field-recording-manipulators create a percolating sound field of melodies over the course of long, leisurely tracks. There is some explicit sermonizing, but for the most part the music speaks for the trees more subtly, and does so in a deeply engaging way. Highly recommended.

Sally Seltmann
Early Moon (vinyl/digital only)
Three of Hearts/Arts & Crafts

Sally Seltmann’s latest starts out powerfully, with a story-song in which a woman pleads with a former friend whose boyfriend she stole at some point in the past. The sisterhood-is-powerful message is no less powerful for being implied rather than shouted, but the song’s real power is in its melody, which is an absolutely merciless earworm. Then Seltmann moves from strength to strength, with acoustic-pop balladry (“Table for One”), jangly dream pop (“Female Pied Piper”), acerbic romantic commentary (“Lovers Lie”), and a gently stomping honky-tonk two-step that doesn’t sound country at all (“Real Born Tragic”). Don’t let the breathy voice fool you: Seltman is a sharp-eyed and unsentimental writer, as well as a highly creative arranger. She’s spent much of the last few years writing songs for others, and that ongoing exercise in craft has really paid off.


Jussi Reijonen
Three Seconds|Kolme Toista

Although Finnish by birth, guitarist/composer Jussi Reijonen’s music is influenced by formative years spent in Jordan, Tanzania, Oman, Lebanon, and the US. On his second album as a leader the musical influences that come through most strongly are a combination of the modern European classical tradition and Arabic maqam. The music is largely composed — there may be improvisation going on here, but it’s not easy to tell where the written passages end and the improvised ones begin — and it features horns, strings, and various kinds of percussion in addition to Reijonen’s guitar and oud playing; in fact, his parts are seamlessly interwoven with the others rather than being “featured” in any explicit sense. Sometimes the music floats and sometimes it moves with tidal power, and the combination of Middle Eastern scales and modalities and classically-derived Western harmonies is both bracing and exciting. In a music shop, it’s hard to guess where you’d find this one — but I’d look first in the World section and then in Jazz.

Catrin Finch; Seckou Keita
Bendigedig (dist. Naxos)

The harp and the kora have a lot in common: both feature fixedly tuned strings that are plucked without (usually) being altered in pitch and that are attached to resonating chambers. But they’re also very different: the kora’s resonating chamber is a large gourd covered with hide, whereas the harp’s is a wooden box. And of course the kora is from West Africa whereas the harp is most recently a European instrument, so the playing styles differ significantly. And in that mix of difference and complementarity (plus healthy endowments of musical genius) lies the beauty of the ongoing collaboration between Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita, on which they play compositions they wrote together, compositions that beautifully intertwine their individual styles and result in something entirely new (though not without significant echoes of their separate musical heritages. Highly recommended to all libraries.

Islais a Genir
Bendigedig (dist. Naxos)

Also from the Bendigedig label is the second album from VRï (no, that’s not a typo), a brilliant Welsh trio that blends the energy of folk fiddling with the decorousness of classical technique without sacrificing the best of either tradition — and that harmonizes vocally like angels. Wales is a less commonly explored area of British folk tradition, and those unfamiliar with it (like me) will immediately hear elements that sound familiar, but from other contexts — for example, the fiddle style often contains echoes of Scandinavia (check the hardanger-sounding “Yr Ehedydd” and “March Glas”), and the foot-stomping and unison call-and-response singing on “Y Gaseg Ddu” really evoke Québecois tradition. But for the most part this music has a truly unique — and utterly gorgeous — sound.

Tiken Jah Fakoly
Braquage de pouvoir
Chapter Two/Wagram Music

Hailing from Côte d’Ivoire, Tiken Jah Fakoly has been one of the preeminent voices in African reggae since his debut album twenty years ago. On his latest release, he’s aided by a team of Jamaican and French producers (including the legendary Tyrone Downie, who served for years as Bob Marley’s keyboardist and sadly passed away just before this album came out), and several guest singers, among them Winston McAnuff and Amadou & Maria. As usual, Fakoly sings in a variety of languages, but mainly in French; as always, he writes songs that are tough and hooky but that also generate a deep, rootsy reggae vibe. Highlights include the lovely “Beau continent” (featuring Dub Inc.), and the uplifting, acoustic-based “Ça va aller.” All libraries with a collecting interest in reggae music should take notice of this one.

November 2022


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Concertos for Flute and Orchestra
Alexis Kossenko; Valeria Kafelnikov; Gli Angeli Genève / MacLeod

Mozart’s concertos for flute and for flute and harp are among the most beloved and most frequently recorded works of his orchestral repertoire. So what makes this new recording noteworthy among a field of hundreds of others? Simple: the sound. Not so much the production (though the production is impeccable) as the orchestral sound itself. Gli Angeli Genève — its odd Franco-Italian name notwithstanding — has the richest, most lush ensemble sound I’ve ever heard in a period-instrument orchestra, and the soloists are simply magnificent. This disc is subtitled Wind Concertos Vol. 1, which leads me to the hopeful conclusion that Gli Angeli will be eventually working their way through all of Mozart’s concertos for wind instruments, and if they do, you can anticipate hearing about all of those releases here in CD HotList. Highly recommended to all library collections.

Various Composers
Loop: Ligeti’s Inspiration & Legacy
Rose Wollman

Various Composers
I, A.M.: Artist Mother Project: New Works for Violin and Electronics
Olivia de Prato
New World

Violist Rose Wollman’s Loop project was conceived to celebrate the 100th birthday of Györgi Ligeti, and is constructed around a performance of that composer’s Sonata for Viola Solo (1991-1994). Wollman has chosen to intersperse the work’s six movements with miniatures and movements by a wide variety of other composers for her instrument; each movement is presented as the centerpiece of a triptych, bracketed by music by such disparate composers as Georg Philipp Telemann, Atar Arad, Domenico Gabrieli, J.S. Bach, and Natalie Williams. Most of the music is for unaccompanied viola (one piece is for viola and electronics), and the kaleidoscopic variety of moods, styles, and textures is fascinating. Violinist Olivia De Prato has also put together a conceptually unified program for her solo instrument, but this one is very different in both tone and concept: here the unifying theme is motherhood, and the tensions between that calling and the calling of an artist. All of the featured composers are women who have chosen to continue as artists while also embracing motherhood, and some of the titles are suggestive of the parenting experience: The Dream Feedautomatic writing mumbles of the late hour, etc. The music itself is a complex and crunchy mix: Katharine Young’s Mycorrhiza I is a sharp, scraping explosion of frustration; Ha-Yan Kim’s may you dream of rainbows in magical lands builds layers of drones into a shimmering mass of harmonies that becomes more and more eerie as it progresses. On noch unbenannt the violin enters into conversation with composer Pamelia Stickney’s theremin to create a dark and searching mood. This is brilliant and challenging music, expertly played.

Jane Antonia Cornish
Vicky Chow
Cantaloupe Music (dist. Naxos)

Jane Antonia Cornish is perhaps best known for her film and, more recently, ballet scores, but she has an impressive portfolio of concert music as well. This album is the world-premiere recording of six new pieces for piano, all performed by Vicky Chow. Five of the works call for multiple piano parts to be multitracked and played back simultaneously, while the sixth is for a piano solo. As the works’ titles (SkyOceanSierra, etc.) suggest, this is programmatic music designed to invoke the experience of a deep connection to nature — but don’t be fooled into expecting woolly-headed New Age noodling. The music is consonant and soft, but there are notable harmonic complexities shimmering inside those banks of diatonic tone-clouds, and Chow seems to have a particularly deep affinity for Cornish’s music; it’s as if you can hear her luxuriating in it. For all collections.

Various Composers
The Splendour of Florence with a Burgundian Resonance
Gothic Voices with Andrew Lawrence King
LINN (dist. Naxos)

In early 15th-century Burgundy, the Franco-Flemish school of Renaissance polyphonic composition was beginning to mature, and the influence of that region’s composers was already being felt in Italy. In Florence, a cathedral was dedicated in 1436 and the ceremony featured Guillaume Dufay’s motet Nuper rostrum flores, a work the contours of which are generally believed to have been designed to mimic those of the cathedrals’ dome. This austerely beautiful album by the Gothic Voices (with harpist Andrew Lawrence King) features that motet along with other sacred and secular songs by Johannes Ockeghem, Antoine Busnois, and other Franco-Flemish composers, all of them taken from song collections compiled in Florence. Some of these works are by unknown composers, and some by highly obscure ones — this will likely be most listeners’ first encounter with Hayne von Ghizeghem, for example. Everything here is exquisitely sung and recorded.


Carlo Monbelli
Lullaby for Planet Earth
Clap Your Hands

A new Swiss label called Clap Your Hands has just come onto the jazz scene with two releases, both of them offering a vision of the genre that is both stylistically expansive and surprisingly accessible without being overly smooth or saccharine. Carlo Mombelli’s Lullaby for Planet Earth is aptly titled; featuring Mombelli on bass and (wordless) vocals alongside guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel and drummer Jorge Rossy, it looks like a standard guitar trio album but sounds like anything but. The music is gentle and quiet, with a vibe that suggests improvisation — listen more closely, though, and you hear clear evidence of careful composition. “Gina’s Song” comes closest to feeling like straight-ahead jazz, though Muthspiel’s often-bluesy note choices and Rossy’s gently propulsive drumming hint at fusion. Mostly, though, this music floats like clouds and whispers like a parent singing to a baby. It’s all completely lovely.

Marilyn Mazur’s Shamania
Clap Your Hands

Also just out on the Clap Your Hands label is this very different project from an ensemble led by drummer/composer/singer Marilyn Mazur. The band name Shamania suggests what you might expect: polyculturally mystical invocations of the tribal feminine, sometimes with grooves (as on the gently pulsing Latin-adjacent title track) and sometimes without (as on the floating “Shadow Tune”). Sometimes the cultural references are quite explicit (note the shofar-like opening of “Solnedgangskanon”), but generally speaking this album is that rarest of things: a musical expression of genuine universalism (or at least feminine universalism) that never makes you cringe with embarrassment, and a largely improvised musical odyssey that is both stylistically surprising and constantly engaging. For all adventurous jazz collections.

Bobby Broom
Keyed Up

I believe the last Bobby Broom album I reviewed and recommended was Bobby Broom Plays for Monk, a brilliant tribute to the eccentric jazz genius Thelonious Monk, who charted a singular path as a jazz pianist and composer. Broom’s latest is a more wide-ranging tribute to giants of jazz pianism, a program that covers tunes by (or closely associated with) such stylistically disparate figures as Erroll Garner, Bud Powell, Herbie Hancock, and McCoy Tyner. Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty” is given a light but funky treatment, James Williams’ “Soulful Bill” is as bluesy as one would expect, and Broom’s take on Garner’s deathless “Misty” is sweet and touching. His tone is worth noting: it’s more hard-edged than is typical among straight-ahead guitarists, but he balances that with an exceptionally sensitive touch. Wonderful album.

Owen Broder
Hodges: Front and Center, Vol. 1 (digital only)
Outside In Music
No cat. no.

A somewhat different kind of tribute album is this one by saxophonist Owen Broder, on which he puts together personal interpretations of compositions written by the legendary Johnny Hodges as well as some that came to be associated with him during his celebrated tenure in the Duke Ellington Orchestra. There are some extremely familiar tunes here — “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” etc. But there are some obscurities as well, and even the chestnuts are a delight. Broder’s tribute is expressed less in form than in style: his warm, lyrical tone is an explicit expression of debt to Hodges, and his arrangements show admiration more by applying principles of orchestration and articulation than through slavish imitation. This is a thoroughly modern but also deeply straight-ahead album, and it’s a delight from beginning to end. Can’t wait for volume 2.


John McCutcheon
No cat. no.

Folk fans of a certain age might be startled to learn that John McCutcheon — whose existence and productivity we all just sort of accepted as an eternal principle long ago — has been doing this for fifty years and has now released his 43rd (!) album. Like so many recordings that have come out in the past year, Leap! was incubated during the COVID lockdown, a time when McCutcheon was forced to stop touring and sit at home and had an unparalleled opportunity to write. The result is an 18-song program unrivaled in tuneful good-heartedness, even when (as with, for example, the earnestly simpleminded “The Troubles”) real-world complexity is sacrificed on the altar of easy messaging. For the most part, these songs are beautifully crafted, artfully arranged, and winningly sung folk-pop — and sometimes (“Song When You Are Dead”) they’re hilarious.

Various Artists
Feels Like Home: Linda Ronstadt’s Musical Odyssey: Songs from the Sonoran Borderlands

Not to be confused with her 1995 record of the same title, this is the companion album to Linda Ronstadt’s memoir, which itself is also titled Feels Like Home, and in which she recalls her childhood in the Tucson, Arizona, area, where she was raised on a ranch and was surrounded by both the folk music of her Mexican forebears and the country music popular in the region. You’ll get some of both on this collection, which includes a lovely collaboration between Ry Cooder and “Father of Chicano Music” Lalo Guerrero, another between Jackson Browne and Los Cenzontles (“The Dreamer”), an absolutely stunning duet between Ronstadt and Dolly Parton on the traditional ballad “I Never Will Marry,” and Ronstadt’s Carribean-inflected performance of “Piel Canela.” Ronstadt lost the ability to sing about ten years ago, so those last recordings are from some time back, but the program hangs together very well as a touching tribute to her personal and musical history.

Keith Murdock
Keith Murdock
No cat. no.

Resonator guitarist and songwriter Keith Murdock has been kicking around the country and bluegrass scenes for decades now, working both onstage and behind the scenes at the Country Music Association and in concert promotion. He also plays in the bluegrass band Orchard Creek, but on this solo album he’s playing all original songs (written in collaboration with Eli Malamud) and performed in a style that vacillates between acoustic roots and twangy honky-tonk country. His voice is serviceable, but his playing is outstanding and his songwriting is very fine as well — the wry symbolism of “High Tension Lines,” the old-school weeper “Gonna Wanna See Her Again,” the clawhammer-banjo driven “Her Mountain Heart Is a Wild Thing” (with its cowboy-trio style harmonies), all communicate a blend of respect for tradition and the desire to create something a bit more personal at the same time. Very nice.


Various Artists
Pillows & Prayers: Cherry Red 1982-1983 (3 discs; expanded reissue)
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)

Various Artists
Kids on the Street: UK Power Pop and New Wave 1977-81 (3 discs)
Cherry Red

Another couple of outstanding multi-disc anthologies from the mighty Cherry Red label. Pillows & Prayers was originally issued in 1982, during the label’s early years, and features contributions from artists who would go on to great things (Felt, Everything But the Girl) and others who, shall we say, wouldn’t — and there’s even some early work by the proto-punk-poet Attila the Stockbroker. This greatly expanded three-CD version adds lots more content, much of which is quite obscure — some of it deservedly so, but some of it fascinating. The overall mood here tends towards the acoustic and the charmingly twee, and while a few tracks may induce some eye-rolling, the treasures on the program make it absolutely worth it. More consistently rewarding is Kids on the Street, a three-disc celebration of the intersection between the edgy New Wave and candy-coated power pop styles in the early 1980s. By this point, the conventions of punk rock had been absorbed in two stylistic directions: they had been distilled into their violent essence by the hardcore movement, and absorbed and digested by pop artists who created a complex of styles that would come to be called New Wave. Of course, power pop predated punk, and some artists in that vein took lessons in sharpness and aggression from the punk movement as well. Some of the best outcomes of these developments are documented on this set, which features outstanding tracks from the likes of the Stiffs, XTC, Elvis Costello, and the Pretenders — as well as obscurities and oddities from bands like the Exits and the Quads. Taken together, these collections both illustrate important strands of pop music development in the wake of the punk rock juggernaut.

Asian Dub Foundation
R.A.F.I. (25th Anniversary Edition)
Rinse It Out Ltd.

Asian Dub Foundation remains one of the most exciting bands to have emerged in the 1990s. Based in London, they combined elements of jungle, bhangra, rock, hip hop, and punk to create a bracing new mix of sounds that had a huge impact — not only on the Asian Underground movement from which they emerged, but on rock and dance music overall. R.A.F.I. was their breakout album; much of its content was re-recorded for the American release titled Rafi’s Revenge, which is an excellent companion to this album. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of R.A.F.I.‘s original release, this expanded version is out with three additional tracks, all of them recorded in 1997 at the legendary/notorious On-U Sound studio. Just about every track on this album would count as a highlight on any other album. Highly recommended to all pop music collections.

Untitled (digital only)
No cat. no.

Being dubbed the “Wizard of Electronica” before ever releasing a full-length album may seem like an unlikely achievement, but of course in the world of electronic pop music the album hasn’t really been a relevant format for years now; it’s all about the singles and the mixes and the curated DJ sets. But Thawra label founder Etyen is a bit outside the electronica norm — on this, his debut album, he creates a program of largely instrumental music (I’m told that there are vocals in there somewhere, but they’re not immediately recognizable as such) that develops a coherent if abstractly expressed theme of “love, loss, and human connection.” The music is rhythmic but by no means beat-driven; it’s glitchy and mechanistic and yet at the same time very warm and colorful; while the compositions are mostly quite soothing they’re never simple and sometimes offer just a bit of an unsettling edge. Highly recommended.

Emanuele Wiltsch Barberio
In Cosmo (digital only)
No cat. no.

One of the things I love about this album is that I can’t decide whether it belongs in the Rock/Pop or the Classical section. The music is abstract and pretty much arrhythmic, and features cello and violin as well as electronics and electric guitars. But it functions more like installation music than pop music — it’s written specifically to take advantage of the acoustics of the Church of Saints Costa and Damiano on the Venetian island of Giudecca. Don’t expect ambient music, though — while the sounds are pleasant, they’re not unchallenging, and there’s lots of interesting stuff going on between the instruments and the deep reverberations. This music is intended for close listening, not for ignoring while you go about your daily activities. (Though I can attest that it actually does work quite nicely for that purpose as well.)


El Búho
Tributaries, Vol. 2 (vinyl & digital only)
No cat. no.

Producer/remixer Robin Perkins works under the name El Búho (“the owl”), and the second installment in his remix series continues the approach defined in the first: take recordings of traditional and/or popular music from a broad spectrum of cultures and remix them radically. To a degree unusual in remix artists, Perkins makes all of the tracks he mixes come out sounding like El Búho — and that’s not a criticism; it’s one valid approach among many. So, you ask, what does El Búho sound like? Like a dream, which I mean literally: his take on Dom La Nena’s “Moreno” drifts steadily downstream on a caramel-colored groove overlaid with dubbed-up vocals; his mix of Zoufris Maracas’ “Bleu de lune” sways slowly while the spoken French lyrics are buoyed up by a syrupy, Basic Channel-style beat; Brian Finnegan’s “Fathom” takes multitracked (or octave-split?) Irish flutes and pairs them with what sounds like a charango and a pulsing, house-derived rhythm. Like the first volume in the series, this is an unusually beautiful and original remix collection.

Oasi (Deserto Remixed) (vinyl & digital only)
Original Cultures

And while we’re on the worldbeat-remixed tip, let’s consider this very cool offering from the Barcelona-based Original Cultures collective. Oasi is a remix collection based on the 2020 album Deserto by Oké, a trio also based in Barcelona and consisting of producer Andrea “Katzuma” Visani, William Simone, and Andrea Calì. While the original album ranged widely through such musical territories as library music, house, jazz, ambient minimalism, and Afrobeat, the remixes tend to pull everything onto the dance floor, with strong elements of techno and house throughout: DJ Dez (not to be confused with DJ Drez) gives “Il Venditore di Elastici” a solidly thudding four-on-the-floor treatment, and DJ Rocca (yes, that DJ Rocca) brings a similar but slightly spacier vibe to “Tarantula.” On the other hand, Visani’s own VIP of “Tamahaq” downplays the house element somewhat in favor of atmospheric layers of marimba and tuned percussion. Very nice stuff.

Amjad Ali Khan & Wu Man
Music for Hope
Zoho (dist. MVD)
ZM 202207

What’s interesting about this pairing — an ensemble of Indian sarod players and a Chinese pipa player — is that centrally defining characteristics of their respective classical traditions are so divergent: the melodic foundation of pi pa playing is largely pentatonic, while Indian classical music consists largely in chromatic (even microtonal) elaboration. Of course, that doesn’t mean that an emulsion of these styles can’t sound wonderful — I mean, chocolate and mint taste great together too. And here I use the word “emulsion” rather than “fusion” on purpose: on these five compositions, neither Amjad Ali Khan nor Wu Man attempts to incorporate the other’s style into his or her own playing; instead, they play complementarily, responding to each other musically but drawing deeply on their own traditions in doing so. Anyone familiar with either artist will know to expect great beauty here, and won’t be disappointed.


Wesley Loussaint (who records under the name Wesli) was born in Haiti but has spent most of his life in Canada. For his sixth album, he returned to Haiti and spent years delving into the Afro-Caribbean musical traditions of his homeland, coming out the other side of that project with this complex and joyful celebration. You’ll hear Latin rhythms (“Kay Kollé Trouba”), a tribute to twoubadou legend Éric Charles (“Kontém Rakontém”), funky igbo-derived story-song (“Peze Café”) and a wide variety of other styles and fusions, all unified by Wesli’s engaging voice. If you thought Haitian music was basically all compas, think again — and check out this delightful album.

October 2022


Erik Satie
Various Performers/Interpreters
Deutsche Grammophone

Philip Golub
Filters (vinyl & digital only)

We have a couple of very interesting modern classical releases to consider this month: one consists of pieces by Erik Satie, rearranged as contemporary dance music; the other is contemporary music that sounds a lot like Erik Satie. Let’s start with Fragments, a collection of reinterpretations of Satie’s notoriously willful keyboard music as reenvisioned by electronic artists like Kid Francescoli, Christian Löffler, and Pantha du Prince. Unsurprisingly, these visions tend strongly towards either wispy ambience or house and techno; perhaps more surprisingly, they work quite well. There are no jacking beats here, but plenty of gentle four-on-the-floor thuds underlying tastefully dubby mixes of various extracts of the Gymnopédies, Gnossiennes, and other piano works. This collection is both an enjoyable listen and a salutary reminder of how odd and forward-thinking Satie’s music was for his time. The music that Philip Golub has written for Filters consists of compositional loops — long passages of juxtaposed high and low pitches with repetitively shifting chords between them. For the casual listener, the effect is similar to that of Satie’s Vexations, but without the puckish willfulness; there’s a sincerity of intent to Golub’s music that makes it inviting rather than confrontational, even as it rewards close attention to its structure. Both releases are highly recommended to libraries.

Various Composers
Lux laeticiae: Splendors of the Marian Cult in Early Renaissance Ferrara
La Reverdie
Arcana (dist. Naxos)

Yes, the album title sounds like it belongs to a scholarly monograph based on someone’s doctoral dissertation. But don’t be misled: the music presented here is neither dry nor academic. It’s drawn from a 15th-century codex that belonged to the Este court in Ferrara, which contains motets by an odd assortment of four composers: the Franco-Flemish masters Gilles Binchois and Guillaume Dufay, and the English composers Leonel Power and John Dunstaple; all four are important figures of the early Renaissance period. You’ll hear hints of ars nova in Dufay’s setting of Flos forum, and Power’s soft but powerful Salve Regina misericordie slowly builds a mesmerizing melody line and then adds harmony as the work progresses, to quietly spectacular effect. As always, the La Reverdie ensemble imbue everything they perform with a golden light. Highly recommended to all collections.

Johann Wilhelm Wilms
The Piano Concertos Vol. 1
Ronald Brautigan; Kölner Akademie / Michael Alexander Willems
Bis (dist. Naxos)

Johann Wilhelm Wilms was a contemporary of Beethoven and, like too many composers who fell under Beethoven’s temporal and cultural shadow, never achieved international acclaim during his lifetime — despite being reportedly more popular than Beethoven in his adopted hometown of Amsterdam. Highly accomplished as a teacher, flautist, pianist, and composer, Wilms took on many different jobs before settling down as organist in a Mennonite church and dedicating himself to composition. The three piano concertos performed here (on period instruments, with the outstanding Ronald Brautigan at a surprisingly robust-toned fortepiano) show him to have been a master of the form; unfortunately, only five of the piano concertos he is known to have written have survived. But the title of this disc gives us hope that we’ll hear at least the other two in an upcoming installment. The performances are outstanding and the recorded sound positively sparkles.

Michel de la Barre
Premier livre de pièces pour la flûte traversière, avec la basse continue
The Opus Project
Navona (dist. Parma)

There’s such a wealth of baroque flute music available today that it can be hard to remember how groundbreaking the work of Michel de la Barre was. Hailed as one of the greatest flautists of his time, de la Barre was also the first French composer to write and publish solo music for his instrument. He was a popular player both at court and in salon concerts, and was a featured performer alongside such masters as François Couperin, Marin Marais, and the Hotteterre brothers. His music is not commonly performed today, so this lovely recording is doubly welcome for its historical significance and its sheer attractiveness; while the continuo parts are sometimes a bit hard to hear, baroque flautist Joanna Marsden’s burnished tone and delicate touch are put to exceptionally fine use on these five suites. For all early music collections.

Felix Mendelssohn
Europa Galante / Fabio Biondi
Naïve Classiques (dit. Naxos)

The term “early music” has different definitions in different contexts, obviously. On its own, it usually refers to music of the medieval, Renaissance, and baroque eras, usually performed on period instruments. In the context of this album, it refers to early compositions by a composer known primarily as an exponent of the Romantic style — performed on period instruments. These works (which include sinfonias for strings, a violin concerto, a vocal piece, and various chamber works including several fugues) were all written by Mendelssohn when he was between the ages of 11 and 18, and reflect a dedication to classical norms that both animated his work and complicated his relationship with his musical times throughout his career. By using instruments constructed and strung according to the practices of the early 19th century, Fabio Biondi and his ensemble make Mendelssohn’s connection and debt to his forebears especially clear. The playing here is marvelous, as is the music.


Out to Dinner
Food Is Medicine

The fourth release by this modern-jazz supergroup (which, this time out, consists of saxophonist Patrick Cornelius, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, trombonist Ryan Keberle, bassist Boris Koslov, and drummer Rudy Royston) continues both its tradition of punning food-based album titles and elegant but slightly challenging straight-ahead compositions. Keberle’s “The Slope of the Blues” features slithery chord changes that give the soloists plenty of room to explore, while Koslov’s “After KW” is a near-ballad with a gently lurching rhythm that never quite lets you relax into a groove but amply rewards the attention it demands. As always, Gillece’s vibes playing is a highlight, as is Royston’s subtle and supple drumming, but everyone plays together beautifully.

Craig Davis
Tone Paintings: The Music of Dodo Marmarosa
Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild

I confess that, not being familiar with the music of Michael “Dodo” Marmarosa, I was expecting a Latin jazz program. But that just displays some embarrassing ignorance of jazz history on my part: in fact, Marmarosa was one of the pianists at the red-hot center of the bebop scene in 1940s New York, having played for such major swing bandleaders as Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw before being brought in as a featured pianist on Charlie Parker’s Dial sessions. But by the end of the decade he had largely retired from music and his name is hardly remembered now. Which is a shame, because as this outstanding trio recording makes clear, he was a tremendously gifted composer, and tunes like “Dodo’s Bounce” and “Opus No. 5” are both complex and sweetly lyrical, a fairly rare combination in 1940s jazz. Pianist Craig Davis (alongside the stellar rhythm section of John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton) has crafted a gorgeous and long-overdue tribute to a criminally underrated jazz talent.

Glenn Dickson
Wider Than the Sky
Naftule’s Dream Recordings

This album fits a bit uncomfortably in the jazz section, but because the jazz scene (writ large) has been Dickson’s musical home for much of his career, it seems like the most logical placement. The music on his new solo album consists of looped and layered recordings of himself over which Dickson plays long, discursive, and often heartbreakingly beautiful solos. (Structurally, think Frippertronics, on which this technique is largely based.) From time to time you’ll hear hints of his klezmer roots (and sometimes more than a hint, as on the quietly keening “Memories Lost”) as well as bluesy and jazzy inflections, but overall this music is pretty much sui generis. Wider Than the Sky is an apt title; there’s an almost pastoral flavor to many of his melodies, and the loops create spacious soundscapes for him to explore. Highly recommended to all libraries.

Hugo Fernandez

The line between straight-ahead jazz and fusion (or, heaven help us, “smooth jazz”) can be fuzzy and the borderland it defines can be treacherous: tread carefully and you can create exciting and forward-thinking music; get careless and you might slip into a puddle of schlock. On his new album, guitarist Hugo Fernandez offers a master class in negotiating this difficulty: from his tone to his chord progressions, he delivers lush textures and smooth surfaces. But beneath those surfaces lie churning harmonic complexities and melodic pathways that wind and turn back on themselves beautifully. Note, for example, how the gentle chord changes on “Undercurrent” smooth out the effect of its vexing rhythmic irregularities — and how “Watertones”‘ funky basslines accentuate the rhythmic irregularities of that composition. It’s a rare jazz album that is simultaneously this challenging, this accessible, and this easy to listen to.

Doug MacDonald
I’ll See You in My Dreams
DMAC Music

Doug MacDonald is one of the best straight-ahead jazz guitarists working today, a player whose tone recalls Jim Hall and whose rhythm playing will make you remember that he’s occupied the guitar chair in both Buddy Rich’s and Ray Charles’ bands. He’s also spent time with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and both John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton are with him on this quartet outing (along with the stellar pianist Tamir Hendelman). The program is almost all standards, and familiar ones at that: “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good),” “My Ship,” “Easy to Love,” etc. The lineup will lead jazz aficionados to expect great things, and they won’t be disappointed — although much of the material is familiar, the group plays with such joy and such a feeling of familial connection that it just makes everything feel sweet and comfortable rather than tired. For all jazz collections.


Martha Spencer
No cat. no.

Let’s be clear about one thing: this is not a hipster Americana album. This music isn’t made by bearded Brooklynites drinking small-batch artisanal moonshine; it’s made by a young woman who grew up in the Virginia mountains and who has been playing, writing, and singing this music (including onstage, as a member of the Whitetop Mountain Band) since her childhood. She’s also been writing her own songs, and her originals nestle very comfortably alongside traditional fare like “Walking in Jerusalem” and “Hesitation Blues.” Well, mostly: “Enchantress” stands out as a sort of cabaret-Tin Pan Alley fusion number, but “You’ve Rambled Too Long” could be a classic bluegrass prodigal-child story song, and “Yodelady” is a gently sly waltz-time ballad of romantic regret. Spencer is also a fine clawhammer banjo player and a singer who channels Dolly Parton and Emmy Lou Harris at their best. And no, your ears don’t deceive you — that’s Alice Gerrard singing backup on “Come Home, Virginia Rose.” Highly recommended.

3 Pairs of Boots
Mighty Love
Dark Country Music
No cat. no.

Look at the cover art and you might think you know what to expect: a cowboy-hatted husband and a sparkly-booted wife standing on an open prairie, looking off into the distance. So, country, right? Eh, not exactly. I mean, yes, there’s a banjo on “Sweet Spot,” and a bottleneck guitar on “Mighty Love,” and “Evensong” opens with the line “After a long day in the saddle, we gather ’round the campfire.” But listen harder. The arrangements are big and dense; the melodies are often tricky and owe as much to Elvis Costello as they do to any Nashville writer; if ABBA had ever done a country song, it would have sounded a lot like the chorus of “Just Call Him Love.” In short, this album is just a bit stylistically perverse, and it’s a pure delight.

Graeme James
Seasons (digital only)
0 6700 32717 2 1

I confess that I’m old enough to still think of the Nettwerk label as an electro/industrial label, home to acts like Skinny Puppy, Front 242, and Severed Heads. It’s been a platform for a much broader spectrum of pop music over the years, of course, but even still I was kind of surprised to see this release from folk-rocker Graeme James on the Nettwerk imprint. James is a gifted songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, known for using a loop pedal onstage to create his own virtual band. He’s brought in some friends for this, his first full-length album, but the vision is still all his, and it serves his songs well. Plainspoken vocals and a shimmering arrangement give “The Tallest Tree” wings, while “Everlasting Love” is an ode to committed relationships that pairs acoustic instrument backbeats with a gentle honky tonk stomp. The lyrics to “The Angel of St. George” are wry and the song is lovely, as is the whole album.


Various Artists
Un-Scene!: Post-punk Birmingham 1978-1982
Easy Action (dist. Redeye)

Heaven help me, I’m such a sucker for these new wave and post-punk retrospective collections — and when they document out-of-the-way localities and musical centers (trying not to say “scenes” here, given the title), so much the better. Birmingham, England was actually far from a musical backwater at the turn of the 1980s — but it was known mainly for producing outstanding reggae (Steel Pulse, UB40) and ska (The Beat) bands. Few of the charmingly ragged-sounding and willfully experimental post-punk groups documented here went on to make much of a splash anywhere else: a few of our readers may remember Nikki Sudden (and/or Swell Maps) and the marvelous Au Pairs — and maybe (maybe) the Prefects — but The Nervous Kind? Joe Crow? Fast Relief? No. And that’s what makes this collection so great, and such a boon to any library seeking to collect comprehensively in 20th century popular music. Also, did I mention that the sound quality is almost uniformly terrible? But hey, for us it’s all about the research value.

Domino (dist. Redeye)

As all you Gentle Readers know, I love me some weird pop music, and the second album by singer-songwriter Tirzah gives us both plenty of pop and plenty of weirdness, so it’s right up my alley. The textures are digitally created, but still thick and smoky; the tempos are slow and methodical, though the vocals are dreamy and sometimes mixed in such a way that they almost lapse into abstract sound. Think of Rhi (with less of a pothead vibe), or Tricky (with less of an obvious debt to hip hop). There’s lots of subtlety here: “Beating” makes a quiet nod to trap but never comes close to embracing it; “Crepuscular Rays” seems to be composed entirely of shreds of vocal, deconstructed and stretched and manipulated to the breaking point and presented as smears across a beatless canvas; “Send Me,” on the other hand, consists mainly of steadily thumping kick drum and languorous vocals, before atmospherically distorted guitar kicks in at the very end. (A remix album has just been released as well.)

Lewandowski Frith
Long As in Short; Walk As in Run
Klanggalerie (dist. MVD)

The practice of “preparing” an instrument by physically altering it so as to radically change the sounds it makes was popularized in the middle of the 20th century by the avant-garde composer John Cage, and has since been adopted by others — notably guitarist Fred Frith, whose adventurous applications of the technique have become legendary. On this album he is teamed up with pianist Annie Lewandowski, both of them improvising together on instruments that have been prepared in various ways. As one might expect, the musical results are pretty wild, but also generally very subtle and detailed. This is an album to play at high volume — not in order to revel in its hellacious noise (there isn’t very much of that, though you might want to turn the volume back down before hitting track 6, “Sympathy Twigs”), but rather in order to hear everything that’s going on. Highly recommended to all adventurous collections.


Xiomara Torres
La Voz del Mar
Patois (dist. MVD)

Cultures of the African diaspora have blended with those in many regions of Latin America, creating a wide variety of musical fusions, some of which have become globally popular. One of the cultural fusions that has not been widely recognized is that which developed over the years along the Pacific coast of Colombia, the home region of singer Xiomara Torres, whose debut album represents both a celebration and an expansion of those traditions. Elements of American jazz, Colombian vallenato, Puerto Rican reggaetón, and other musical influences can all be felt in these songs, and Torres sings them with warmth and gentle power. Contributions from mallet keyboardist Dan Neville and bassist David Obregón are also central to the rich and unique sound of the arrangements. This is Latin music subtly but significantly different from anything you’re likely to have heard before.

Purbayan Chatterjee
Saath Saath (digital only)
No cat. no.

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, sitar virtuoso Purbayan Chatterjee has teamed up with bansuri player Rakesh Chaurasia (nephew of the legendary Hariprasad Chaurasia) to record a set of seven ragas, performed in jugalbandi style — an approach in which two different instruments join forces in interpreting the raga, taking turns elaborating on the basic melodic structure and responding to each other’s ideas. The radical timbral difference between the bansuri (a low-pitched bamboo flute) and the sitar make them excellent jugalbandi companions, and Chatterjee and Chaurasia are perfectly matched in their technical virtuosity and musical creativity. They are accompanied by the outstanding tabla players Satyajit Talwalkar and Ojas Adhiya. (Chatterjee and Chaurasia are currently touring North America, and this release will be available in CD format at their shows; otherwise it’s available in digital format, and at an exceptionally low price.)

Tippa Irie
I’m an African (digital only)
No cat. no.

The 18th album from legendary singjay Tippa Irie finds him celebrating 40 years of creating world-class modern reggae from his base in London. On I’m an African he delivers a solid set of old-school singing and chatting on such timeless topics as grudgeful rivals (“Dem Too Bad Mind,” featuring Keith Lawrence), the need to take care of business (“Flat Foot Hustle”), and uncooperative minibus drivers (“Mini Bus Man”). And he even, though with professed reluctance, takes on issues around the COVID pandemic (“The Thing”). Rock-solid rhythms are provided by a who’s-who of roots and dancehall producers, including Carlton “Bubblers” Ogilvie, the Friendly Fire Crew, and the mighty Mafia & Fluxy. This is excellent stuff from one of British reggae’s brightest stars.

September 2022


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ana Nelson
No cat. no.

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

Charlton Singleton
Baxter Music Enterprises

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

Ben Sidran
Swing State

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

Columbia Icefield
Ancient Songs of Burlap Heroes

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

Bass Extremes
S’Low Down

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


Tall Poppy String Band
Tall Poppy String Band
No cat. no.

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

Mountain City Four
Mountain City Four

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

Apple & Setser
Apple & Setser
Bell Buckle

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


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

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

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers (reissue)

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers
Rock’n’Roll with The Modern Lovers (reissue)

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

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

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

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

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

OpEcho (vinyl & digital only)

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



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

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

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

Lusafrica (dist. MVD)

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

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

George Palmer
Working Man
Irie Ites

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

August 2022


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

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

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

Various Composers
Personal Noise
Sarah Plum
Blue Griffin

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

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

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

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

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

Chas Smith
Cold Blue Music

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


Anna Butterss
Activities (vinyl/digital only)

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

Ella Fitzgerald
Ella at the Hollywood Bowl: The Irving Berlin Songbook

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

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

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

Dmitri Matheny

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


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

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

Chastity Brown
Sing to the Walls
Red House
RHR CD 320

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

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

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


The Range
Domino (dist. Redeye)

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

Reprise: Remixes
Little Idiot/Deutsche Grammophon

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

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

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

Air Waves
The Dance

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


ARC Music (dist. Naxos)

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

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

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

Various Artists
King Size Dub 25
Echo Beach

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

ARC Music (dist. Naxos)

Sonny Singh
Chardi Kala
No cat. no.

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

July 2022


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Felipe Salles
Tiyo’s Songs of Life

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

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

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

George Cotsirilos Quartet
OA2 22201

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

Tyshawn Sorey Trio
No cat. no.

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


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

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

Willi Carlisle
Peculiar Missouri
Free Dirt (dist. Redeye)

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

May Erlewine
Tiny Beautiful Things
No cat. no.

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


Treat Her Strangely
No cat. no.

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

Baby, We’re Ascencing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bittersweet (2 discs + download)
Alfa Matrix (dist. MVD)

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


Various Artists
Mashing Up Creation (reissue; digital only)

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

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

Arooj Aftab
Vulture Prince (Deluxe Edition)

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

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

Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita
Bendigedig (dist. Naxos)

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

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

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

June 2022


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

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

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

John McGuire
Pulse Music
Unseen Worlds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Margaret Slovak Trio
Ballad for Brad
Slovak Music

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

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

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

Planet D Nonet
Live at the Scarab Club: Tribute to Buddy Johnson

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

J. Peter Schwalm & Stephan Thelen
Transneptunian Planets

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


Various Artists
Americana Railroad (vinyl only)

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

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

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

Mama’s Broke
Narrow Line
Free Dirt

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


700 Bliss
Nothing to Declare
Hyperdub (dist. Redeye)

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

Phil Seymour
Archive Series Volume 2 (reissue)
Sunset Blvd (dist. Redeye)

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

Marshall Crenshaw
#447 (reissue)

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

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

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

Magic Pony Ride
Planet Mu (dist. Redeye)

Lunatic Harness (reissue; 2 discs)
Planet Mu

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


Paris Combo
Six Degrees

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

Clinton Fearon
Breaking News

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

Various Artists
Mista Savona Presents: Havana Meets Kingston, Part 2

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