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April 2019


PICK OF THE MONTH


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

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


CLASSICAL


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


JAZZ


Dominic Miller
Absinthe
ECM
2614
Rick’s Pick

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


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

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


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

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


Nick Sanders Trio
Playtime 2050
Sunnyside
SSC 1537

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


Paul Tynan
quARTet
Origin
82776
Rick’s Pick

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


Typical Sisters
Hungry Ghost
Outside In Music
OIM 1909

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


FOLK/COUNTRY


Le Vent du Nord
Territoires
Borealis
BCD258
Rick’s Pick

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


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

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


Kim Lenz
Slowly Speeding
Blue Star
BSR-1122CD

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


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

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


ROCK/POP


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


Gang of Four
Happy Now
PledgeMusic
No cat. no.

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


WORLD/ETHNIC


40 Million Feet
Aspire
Silverwolf (dist. MVD)
SWC2016

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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March 2019


PICK OF THE MONTH


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

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


CLASSICAL


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

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


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

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


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

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


WoodWired
In the Loop
UTA
UAR1001

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


Reiko Füting
distantSong
Various performers
New Focus Recordings
FCR216

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


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

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


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

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


JAZZ


Yonathan Avishai
Joys and Solitudes
ECM
2611

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


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

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


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

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


Ehud Asherie Trio
Wild Man Blues
Capri
74153-2

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


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

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


FOLK/COUNTRY


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

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


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

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


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

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


ROCK/POP


NO WIN
downey
Dangerbird
DGB177
Rick’s Pick

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


The Specials
Encore
Island
B0029643-02

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


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

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


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

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


WORLD/ETHNIC


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

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


Mitra Sumara
Tahdig
Persian Cardinal
PERS003

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

February 2019


PICK OF THE MONTH


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

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


CLASSICAL


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


JAZZ


Ran Blake; Claire Ritter
Eclipse Orange
Zoning
ZR1013

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


Ken Fowser
Right on Time
Posi-Tone
PR8191

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


Dennis Coffey
Live at Baker’s
Omnivore
OVCD-320

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


FOLK/COUNTRY


Sineag MacIntyre
Lòn Bàn
Greentrax (dist. MVD)
CDTRAX396

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


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

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


Tyler Grant; Robin Kessinger
Kanawha County Flatpicking
Grant Central
GCR1802

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


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

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


ROCK/POP


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


WORLD/ETHNIC


Anchorsong
Cohesion
Tru Thoughts
TRUCD356

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

January 2019


PICKS OF THE MONTH


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

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

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


CLASSICAL


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


JAZZ


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

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


Ted Piltzecker
Brindica
Zoho (dist. MVD)
ZM201810

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


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

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


Michael Dease
Bonafide
Posi-Tone
PR8188
Rick’s Pick

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


Thomas Marriott
Romance Language
Origin
82765

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


FOLK/COUNTRY


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


ROCK/POP


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

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


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

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


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

Misled Convoy
Sixteen Sunsets
Dubmission
CDDUBM081

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


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

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


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

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


WORLD/ETHNIC


Minor Empire
Uprooted
World Trip
WTR002

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


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

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


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

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


Minyeshu
Daa Dee
ARC Productions
EUCD2782
Rick’s Pick

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


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

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

December 2018


PICK OF THE MONTH


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

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

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


CLASSICAL


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


JAZZ


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

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


Hot Club of San Francisco
30 Years
Hot Club
HCR 2705

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


John Fedchock Quartet
Reminiscence
Summit
DCD 735

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


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

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


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

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


Wayne Horvitz
Those Who Remain
National Sawdust Tracks
NS-024

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

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


FOLK/COUNTRY


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

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


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

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


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

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


ROCK/POP


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

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


A Certain Ratio
acr:set (compilation)
Mute
CDMUTEL28

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


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

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


Paul Kelly
Nature
Cooking Vinyl
LC:7180

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


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

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


WORLD/ETHNIC


Amira Medunjanin & TrondheimSolistene
Ascending
Town Hill Colony
THC001

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


Kitka
Evening Star
Diaphonica
CD 2018

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


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

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


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

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

November 2018


PICK OF THE MONTH


Champian Fulton
The Stylings of Champian (2 discs)
Champian Records
CR002

I think I’ve finally put my finger on what it is that I find so entrancing about Champian Fulton’s artistry: it’s how she manages, against all odds, to be so many things at once. Her vocal style is a unique amalgamation of the straight-ahead and the experimental, alternately declamatory and lyrical, off-beat and swinging, devoted to the song itself and determined to express her uniqueness–imagine listening simultaneously to Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone singing the same song, and you’ll get a general idea of what I’m talking about. There are very few singers who can make hoary standards like “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and “Body and Soul” entirely their own, and she is one of them. But then there’s her piano playing, which is every bit as playfully inventive and rhythmically surprising as her singing, while at the same time swinging so powerfully that it’s hard to sit still while listening. On her latest album she leads a brilliant trio that includes bassist Hide Tanaka and drummer Fukushi Tainaka, with her father Stephen on flugelhorn for several tracks as well. The program is all standards, with a focus on tunes by Oscar Peterson and Cedar Walton, and there’s not a weak track to be heard. Yet again, she delivers an essential purchase for all jazz collections.


CLASSICAL


Johann Sebastian Bach & Various Composers
Goldberg 1.5 (digital only)
Kondens
Footprint (dist. Naxos)
FR 097

Bach’s Goldberg Variations remains not only one of that composer’s most revered works, but also a fundamental pillar of the baroque edifice and one of the deepest and most thorough expressions ever realized of the concept of a theme with variations. It’s a work that has served as a touchstone for countless keyboard players over the centuries, but has also lent itself to other instrumental interpretations. This album offers a radically different approach to the music: the aria and five of its variations are presented here by Kondens, a duo consisting of recorder player My Eklund and organist Lisa Oscarsson, alongside modern interpretations of (or, perhaps more accurately, responses to) those variations composed by Lisa Ullén, Mattias Petersson, Ida Lundén, Jas Sanström, and Daniel Hjorth. The modern pieces are sometimes abstract and challenging, and sometimes more direct and accessible, but all are fascinating, and the playing of Eklund and Oscarsson is consistently excellent.


Various Composers
Gottschalk and Cuba
Antonio Iturrioz
Steinway & Sons (dist. Naxos)
30102
Rick’s Pick

W.A. Mozart; L. Van Beethoven; J. Harbison
Beethoven, Mozart, Harbison
David Deveau; Borromeo String Quartet; Jessica Bodner; Thomas van Dyck
Steinway & Sons (dist. Naxos)
30099

The only thing uniting these two albums is that both are piano recordings on the Steinway & Sons label, a brilliant marketing tool on the part of the famous piano manufacturer: not only do its recordings feature world-class performances by great pianists, but they also act as advertisements for the pianos being played. Anyway, the first album is a thoughtful and lovely program focusing on the underrated American composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who was raised in New Orleans and spent several years in Cuba. Gottschalk and Cuba influenced each other mutually, and this album features works both by Gottschalk and by Cuban composers whom he influenced; several of these pieces are presented here in world-premiere recordings. This disc should be of particular interest to academic collections. The second disc juxtaposes chamber arrangements of orchestral works by Beethoven (his fourth piano concerto) and Mozart (his 14th concerto and his c-minor Fantasia), with, interestingly enough, a brief John Harbison piece. (Harbison also wrote the cadenzas for the Beethoven concerto.) This one also is of significant academic–and aesthetic!–interest. Great playing all around, and beautifully recorded in a warm, dry acoustic.


Maurice Ravel; Joseph Haydn; Igor Stravinsky
Haydn, Ravel, Stravinsky
Tesla Quartet
Orchid Classics (dist. Naxos)
ORC100085

Ravel, Haydn, and Stravinsky are not necessarily the most obvious composers to pull together for a string quartet program, but give this album a listen: it works really well. Apart from the fact that Ravel’s music constantly looked back over its shoulder to the classical era (and therefore really does juxtapose nicely with Haydn’s mature opus 54 quartet), there’s also simply the fact that Ravel and Haydn were both quartet composers of unusual genius–making it all the more regrettable that Ravel only wrote a single work in that format, and leading Tesla Quartet leader Ross Snyder to seek out several of the composer’s piano works to arrange for his group. This collection is augmented by Stravinsky’s brief and angular Concertino for String Quartet, creating a richly varied and thoroughly exciting album. The playing is magnificent.


Johannes Brahms; Toru Takemitsu; Ludwig Van Beethoven
Brahms, Takemitsu, Beethoven
Trio Isimsiz
Rubicon Classics
RCD1013

Here’s another interesting chamber-music lineup, this one by a piano trio: the program begins with the third piano trio of Brahms, followed by Toru Takemitsu’s Between Tides, and then Beethoven’s fifth trio (“Ghost”). The juxtapositions are very interesting: the journey from Brahms’ fiery, intense work (the last piano trio in his oeuvre) to Takemitsu’s deeply impressionistic, almost abstract one, and then to Beethoven’s explosive “Ghost” trio constitutes what ends up feeling like a world tour of emotion. Trio Isimsiz play with all the fire and panache one could ask for, and deliver a powerful listening experience.


Jean-Philippe Rameau
Pygmalion
Les Talens Lyriques; Arnold Schoenberg Choir / Christophe Rousset
Aparte Music (dist. PIAS)
AP155
Rick’s Pick

On this disc, Rameau’s wonderful one-act opera-ballet Pygmalion is paired with his orchestral suite Les fêtes de Polymnie to create a wonderfully satisfying program of French baroque stage music. For those unfamiliar with the form, an opéra-ballet is exactly what it sounds like: a theater work that combines the explicit narrative and through-composed vocal elements of opera with choreographed dance passages, sort of like an early stage musical, but without any spoken dialogue. The problem with an audio recording in this case is, of course, that you can’t see the dancers during those passages–but it’s a small price to pay when the music is this much fun. And both the soloists and the chorus are brilliant on this recording, as are Les Talens Lyriques on the instrumental passages. I really can’t recommend this one strongly enough.


Morton Feldman
For John Cage
Erik Carlson; Aleck Karis
Bridge (dist. Albany)
9498

Morton Feldman wrote a handful of compositions dedicated to other 20th-century artists, authors, and composers. It should come as no surprise that the one he wrote in honor of John Cage is austere, and filled with long reverberations and even silences. One of the things that makes this particular piece so interesting is that although it’s written for piano and violin, it is by no means a violin sonata or anything like it; instead, the two instruments are equal melodic partners (the piano part limited almost entirely to one stave and, during long passages, to individual notes without chords), often playing very similar parts. The tempo is consistently slow, at times nearly sodden; there is lots of repetition; the piece is over an hour long. So is it for everyone? No way. Is it an “important” piece? Certainly yes. How is the playing by violinist Erik Carlson and pianist Aleck Karis? Excellent.


Various Composers
Melancholia: Madrigals and Motets around 1600
Les cris de Paris / Geoffroy Jordain
Harmonia Mundi (dist. PIAS)
HMM 902298

The “madrigals and motets” program has been a popular one for early-music releases for decades now, and I’ve never really understood why; the two forms seem so very different to me–which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be juxtaposed, of course; it just makes me wonder why this particular juxtaposition is so prevalent. In the case of this particular, very lovely program, there are two major uniting factors: first the theme of melancholy, and second the fact that all of these works are examples of musica reservata, a style of composition characterized by an unusual (for the time) complexity of harmony and dissonance. The most (in)famous exponent of this style is probably Carlo Gesualdo, whose vocal writing still sounds avant-garde today and who is represented by several selections here–but composers like William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, and Luca Marenzio were experimenting in this direction as well. It takes a particular level of vocal skill to sing these pieces convincingly, and Les cris de Paris do a magnificent job here–and are recorded in a perfectly warm but spacious acoustic.


Sarah Davachi
Gave in Rest
Ba Da Bing (dist. Revolver)
BING 137

For a very different take on early music, consider the latest from composer and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Davachi. On this collection of original compositions she plays flute, mellotron, organ, piano, and synthesizer, and sings–and the album is billed as “a modern reading of early music, reforming sacred and secular sentiments to fit her purview.” What you hear at first is nothing but a series of drones, but keep listening and the music unfolds like a blossoming flower: the drones pile up in consonant layers, sometimes wavering in pitch and sometimes fading in and out. Bottom line: this isn’t necessarily a great pick for actual early-music collections, but would make an outstanding addition to any library with a collecting interest in experimental or avant-garde music (or minimalism).


JAZZ


Sungjae Son
Near East Quartet
ECM
2568

Reedman and composer Sungjae Son leads (as one might expect from the title) a quartet on this album, one that features guitarist Suwuk Chung, vocalist/percussionist Yulhee Kim, and drummer Soojin Suh (with guest percussionist Sori Choi on one track). That’s an unusual instrumental lineup and as one might expect, the music is strange and inventive. Son’s compositions are impressionistic but never really abstract; they draw explicitly on elements of Korea’s gugak and pansori traditions, but also keep one foot in the melodic and instrumental textures of jazz. Drummer Suh is one of the most interesting and original players in this group, with a style that tends to create washes of pointillistic sound rather than generate a groove, and it works perfectly. This is a very impressive debut from a group of major young talents.


Fred Hersch Trio
Fred Hersch Trio ’97 @ The Village Vanguard
Palmetto
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Aficionados of living treasure Fred Hersch think of his mid-1990s trio with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey as one of the best he’s led, and his 1993 and 1994 studio recordings with them are among his finest. But this is the only live recording to have surfaced of that group, and it’s significant in another way as well: it documents Hersch’s first performance at the legendary Village Vanguard as a leader (he had been playing there regularly as a sideman since 1979). It’s actually kind of startling to listen to this album and realize it was made 20 years ago–his style is just as simultaneously complex and accessible as it is today, and the level of communication with his trio (particularly with Gress, which strongly evokes the musical telepathy that existed between Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro) is exceptional. In other words, this is yet another completely essential Fred Hersch album, one that belongs in every library collection.


Gilad Hekselman
Ask for Chaos
Motéma Music
MTM0284

I don’t know how he feels about comparisons like this, but two tracks into his latest album I found myself thinking “Man, Gilad Hekselman would have sounded right at home on the ECM label around 1982.” Nor is that in any way a criticism: playing sometimes sharply and corrosively, sometimes gently and lyrically, everywhere Hekselman uses reverb to define a cathedral-sized sonic space and plays melodies that both surprise and delight. Interestingly, he performs with two different trio ensembles on this album: one (ZuperOctave) in a more prog/experimental/electronic vein, and the other (gHex Trio) in a more acoustic/straight-ahead style. But even at his most conventional, Hekselman is still making sounds and creating compositions that sound like nothing else you’ll hear in this decade–even if you’ll catch the occasional echo of John Abercrombie or Terje Rypdal from a long time ago. Highly recommended.


Oren Ambarchi & Jim O’Rourke (with U-Zhaan)
Hence (vinyl/digital only)
Editions Mego
EMEGO 249

Described by the label as “like a dream collaboration between David Behrman and Henry Kaiser,” the latest duo effort from keyboardist Jim O’Rourke and guitarist Oren Ambarchi also features contributions from tabla player U-Zhaan, and consists of two 20-minute-long expanses of abstraction. The music on both sides is quite glistening and pointillistic, with little that could be termed “harmonic movement” but plenty of shifting layers. At no point does the tabla lay down any real groove; instead, it pokes tiny holes in the shimmering clouds of sound generated by Ambarchi and O’Rourke. Those clouds consist of both vapor and ice crystals, with faint hints of overtone singing in the background and intimations of water dripping in a haunted cave. I guess you could call this ambient music, if the ambience you’re looking for is that of a cybernetic spelunking trip gone subtly but worryingly wrong. Great stuff.


Karl Strømme Quintet
Dynalyd
Riverboat (dist. Redeye)
TUGCD1119

Trumpeter/composer/arranger Karl Strømme has a style that’s tough to pigeonhole: modern but not avant-garde, discursive but not undisciplined or indulgent. And his tone is really interesting: sometimes brightly burnished, sometimes smeary and abstract à la Jon Hassell, but always rich and pleasing. His quintet is a classic trumpet/tenor lineup (with a guitar where the piano would normally be), but the band never sounds classic or even typical; they go off in a variety of directions, often in time signatures that are substantially more complex than they sound at first listen, and following melodic lines that sometimes start off lyrically direct and then drift into a pleasingly quirky weirdness. Recommended.


Mark Masters Ensemble
Our Métier
Capri
74150-2
Rick’s Pick

Longtime readers of CD HotList will have recognized by now that I harbor a preference for jazz that is straight-ahead and swinging, with a peripheral (but real) interest in the abstract and impressionistic and a low tolerance for bombast and skronk-for-skronk’s-sake. Mark Masters has repeatedly caught and kept my attention by threading this needle, combining powerful swing with complex compositional structures and innovative arrangements. His latest is another triumph of compositional creativity and brilliant arranging, featuring a core sextet (including, among others, the great saxophonist Oliver Lake and the equally great drummer Andrew Cyrille) augmented by a shifting large ensemble that includes a big horn section, singer Anna Mjöll and vibraphonist Craig Fundyga. (Interestingly, Masters himself doesn’t play on the album.) The tunes often remind me of middle-period Charles Mingus–listen especially to the wonderfully light-footed jazz waltz “Ingvild’s Dance”–and his exploitation of instrumental color is just marvelous throughout. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Various Artists
Rough Guide to Scottish Folk
Rough Guides (dist. Redeye)
RGNET1368CD

I confess that whenever I encounter another entry in the Rough Guide series of recordings, I kind of roll my eyes a little bit. “Oh great,” I think to myself. “Another predigested collection of easy-listening entries in the [fill in the blank] genre for people who don’t really want to know much about it.” And virtually every time, I find myself eating my words. They’ve done it again with Rough Guide to Scottish Folk, which does an admirable job of surveying not just the surface but also some of the depths of the current Caledonian trad scene–not all of which is located in Scotland. Sure, you’ve got the obligatory Battlefield Band entry, and you’ve got a song that most people with even a glancing familiarity with the Scots repertoire will recognize (“Turn Ye to Me”), but you’ve also got an oustanding American singer, Kyle Carey, demonstrating the ancient art of puirt à beuil, you’ve got a tune from the Scots-Canadian diaspora (“Banks of Newfoundland”), and you’ve got your protest song (“Wire Burners”). All in all, a very fine overview that will probably offer some surprises even to the cognoscenti.


Rachael McShane & The Cartographers
When All Is Still
Topic (dist. Redeye)
TSCD596

Singer/cellist/violist/fiddler Rachael McShane made her name in the Britfolk scene as a founding member of Bellowhead, one of the most successful groups in that genre in recent years. Her second album as a solo artist finds her making thoughtful explorations of traditional songs and tunes, a few of which will likely be familiar to fans of the repertoire (“Barley and Rye,” “Two Sisters”), while others will come as a lovely surprise. My favorite is her arrangement of “Ploughman Lads,” the rhythm of which confused me slightly before I recognized it as a calypso beat. Nice one, Rachael! Her voice is lovely, and she has an outstanding core backing band in guitarist Matthew Ord and melodeon player Julian Sutton — with a few of her old Bellowhead colleagues joining in as well on several tunes. This would make a great addition to any folk collection.


JP Harris
Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing
Free Dirt
DIRT-CD-0090

A quick glance at the cover art and you might be forgiven for expecting this album to be some kind of gothic Southern death metal. (Except for the cute dogs, which are easy to miss.) But no: this is straight-up honky-tonk country-rock, written and performed by an eighth-grade dropout and runaway who considers himself “a carpenter who writes country songs.” JP Harris’ life story is stark enough to give him more than the usual level of authority when singing songs with titles like “Hard Road” and “Long Ways back,” but he never sounds in any way maudlin or self-pitying: the songs are tough and strong, even the ballads, and Harris’ voice is a deep, rich baritone supported by a crack team of sidepersons. Whether he’s rocking out or moaning quietly, JP Harris is consistently convincing and compelling.


Jim & Jesse McReynolds
The Old Dominion Masters (4 discs; reissue)
Pinecastle (dist. MVD)
PRC-9001

When this box arrived in the mail I thought “Dang, it looks familiar.” I checked the release date, and sure enough: this is a reissue of a collection that originally came to market 20 years ago — and that I actually reviewed in 1999 for the All-Music Guide. You can read that original review here; today I’ll just say that my four-and-a-half star AMG review stands: these are recordings made for the McReynolds’ own label in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when they were simultaneously pushing back against a music industry that wanted them to modernize their sound and creating genuine musical innovation on their own terms. Any library that collects bluegrass music should jump at the chance to take advantage of this box now that it’s available again.


ROCK/POP


Thomas Ragsdale
Honley Civic Archives, Vol. 1 (digital only EP)
Soundtracking the Void
STV001

For his latest album, Thomas Ragsdale used physical recording format to help dictate musical content. Using reel-to-reel tape machines through which he ran some of these musical passages multiple times, he incorporated both chance elements and what he called “machine luck” into the writing/producing process, ending up with a darkly contemplative set of tracks that draw on aural images of rural Yorkshire. “Draw on” is meant in an abstract sense–there are no Morris dance melodies or anything like that, just moods that are informed, however indirectly, by local horror stories and cultural traditions. The resulting music is eerie and quite lovely. (And for those who are deeply committed to format hipsterism, this digital-only release is accompanied by a strictly limited run of reel-to-reel tapes, each containing a piece of improvised music recorded exclusively onto that tape.)


Kode9 & Burial
Fabriclive 100
Fabric
200

All good things must come to an end, of course, and thus we have the 100th and final installment in the Fabric label’s often-brilliant series of Fabriclive DJ mixes. This one is a joint effort curated by celebrated London producers Kode9 and Burial, both of whom have contributed significantly over the past decade or so to the development of that city’s uniquely avant-garde and internationalist dance music scene. The program is willfully, not to say defiantly, eclectic, and shows how EDM, hip hop, gqom, grime, jungle, and even modern classical music can interact and overlap: across 39 continuously-mixed tracks you’ll hear overtone singer David Hykes rubbing up against Jungle Buddha, DJ Taye seguing into Jacob’s Optical Stairway, and Intense making way for Genecom, among many other strange and sometimes revelatory juxtapositions. Fans of Kode9 and Burial might be expecting something a bit darker and more abstract than what’s on offer here–it may be that the relatively sprightly and uptempo mood that pervades this mix is intended as a fond farewell to the series. But do bear in mind that “sprightly” and “uptempo” are relative terms here. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Reto A Ichi
The Lapse of the Exchange/Alone Moving Often
!K7 (dist. Redeye)
CD-K7-363

If you get a sense of déjà vu from this listing, there’s a reason for that: Reto A Ichi (the latest pseudonym of Scott Herren, better known as Prefuse 73) released The Lapse of the Exchange on LP a year ago, and it’s now available again, this time on CD and in tandem with his second release under that name, Alone Moving Often. Though he’s still widely considered one of the pioneers of glitch-hop, he’s gone far afield of that realm in recent years, often moving into deeper and more contemplative territory–not ambient music exactly (it’s too texturally varied and to frequently funky for that designation), but certainly experimental and arty. On both of these albums, which fit together very nicely as a unified statement, Herren draws on heavily manipulated found sounds, samples, composed keyboard sections, and (every so often) beats to create a quiet but intense sound palette that shifts steadily though not constantly. Well worth a listen.


Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society
Wow and Flutter
Six Degrees
No cat. no.

And if what you want is pure, blissful electronic ambient music–the kind that soothes and uplifts without ever threatening to tip over into simpleminded New Age bathos–then a new album from the Delia Darbyshire Appreciation Society is always cause for celebration. Garry Hughes and Harvey Jones, who, between them, have worked with such artists as Björk, Sly & Robbie, Julian Cope, and Art of Noise, work as a duo to create unapologetically sweet and emotional instrumental ambient music that is also unapologetically British (Delia Darbyshire, you may recall, was the composer of the theme music for the original Dr Who TV show) and that harks back to electro-ambient heroes of the 1970s and 1980s like Tangerine Dream and Vangelis. Their latest album doesn’t quite live up to the standard set by their last (which I reviewed in these pages last year), but it’s very, very good. Patrons who checked out that one will definitely want to hear this one as well.


Less Bells
Solifuge
Kranky (dist. Forced Exposure/Revolver)
krank216

Here’s another one on the borderline-ambient tip: Less Bells is mainly Julie Carpenter, who writes all the music and plays most of the instruments, notably including violin and cello. Three of her confederates are credited with “mixing,” which might lead you (accurately, as it turns out) to expect a sound built heavily on texture and atmospherics. But Carpenter’s music doesn’t transform its component instrumental parts into unrecognizable washes or distortions: the violins, cellos, and keyboards are pretty consistently recognizable as such, and although everything is given varying levels of electronic tweaking, the result isn’t an undifferentiated cloud of pretty sound. Instead, the instruments are enveloped by attendant ambience and the harmonic structure moves, albeit slowly, in a variety of directions. All of it is exceptionally lovely.


Sieren
Fading Memory (EP, vinyl/digital only)
Apollo
AMB1810
Rick’s Pick

I don’t usually review EPs, and I rarely review vinyl/digital releases. But this latest five-track title from Sieren is just so freaking good that I feel it my obligation to bring it to your attention. Matthias Frick (a.k.a. Sieren) operates in what we’re apparently now calling the “post-bass” genre, which means off-kilter rhythms with microscopic textural detail, wicked deep basslines, and celestial chord washes floating over the top. It’s hard to find music that simultaneously supports contemplation and nudges you to the dancefloor, so we should be grateful for it whenever it appears. And as of this writing, you can snag the whole release on Amazon for $1.99.


Jimmy Somerville
For a Friend: The Best of Jimmy Somerville (2 discs)
Music Club (dist. MVD)
MCDLX100

To wrap up this month’s electronica-focused Rock/Pop coverage, let’s turn to something in a poppier vein: this collection of classic tracks from Jimmy Somerville, best known as the former lead singer for the Communards and Bronski Beat. His powerful, soaring falsetto voice, his penchant for politically sharp lyrics, and his post-disco rhythmic orientation combined to create a number of rather unlikely hits back in the 1980s: most listeners will probably recognize his version of the disco hit “I Feel Love,” the Bronski Beat hit “Smalltown Boy,” and perhaps the Communards cut “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” But Somerville had a number of hits as a solo artist as well, notably his version of “Comment te dire adieu?”. All of those are here and more, several of them in extended remixes, and this set makes a great introduction to several of the most influential synth pop acts–and one of the most unique voices–of the 80s and 90s.


WORLD/ETHNIC


Shashika Mooruth
Heart to Heart
Urja Music
HTH2018
Rick’s Pick

Indo-South African singer and composer Shashika Mooruth is one of the most exciting pop artists I’ve encountered in years. Although trained in the Hindustani classical tradition, she writes in a style that blends elements of classical, pop, kirtan, and Bollywood song to create something that sounds entirely new. Too often, classical/pop crossover or multi-genre fusions end up coming across as saccharine or superficial, but Mooruth’s songs manage instead simply to sound fully original while invoking lots of different stylistic touch-points, all of which are fully integrated into the music rather than feeling like ornamentation. And her voice is a thing of absolute wonder, simultaneously young and mature, supple and powerful.


Various Artists
Puffer’s Choice, Vol. 2
Scotch Bonnet
10
Rick’s Pick

Last year I heartily recommended the first volume in the Scotch Bonnet label’s Puffer’s Choice compilation series, and now the label is back with another absolute stunner of a collection. Leading off powerfully with a ponderously swinging remix of the late Bim Sherman’s “Lightning and Thunder,” the album then moves from strength to strength, with new tracks and remixes featuring the likes of Earl 16, Chief Rockas, Dreadsquad and Escape Roots. Throughout the program roots and early-dancehall vibes nestle cozily alongside elements of UK bass, dubstep, and soca, while the bass frequencies are consistently stomach-bumpingly powerful and the lyrical messages are strictly conscious. Highlights include Isha Bel’s “Locks Grow,” the aptly-titled “Space” by Dreadsquad, and a weirdly wonderful adaptation of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Earl 16 with Capital 1212. Strongly recommended.


Beres Hammond
Never Ending
VP/Harmony House
VP2584

It wouldn’t be right to say that Beres Hammond’s voice is ageless: at 63, he sounds like the elder statesman of reggae that he indisputably is. But he’s one of those singers whose voices just sound better and better as they get older. For one thing, his now-attenuated high range is no longer suited to the whiny melismas that have sometimes overburdened his work in the past; for another, his voice is just deeper and chestier now, and he still phrases his lovers rock tunes as masterfully as ever. The band on his latest album also consists of road-tested reggae veterans–Wire Lindo, Robbie Lyn, and Dean Fraser among them–and the grooves they generate are that perfect combination of tight and loose. This is an outstanding release from one of reggae music’s living treasures.

October 2018


PICK OF THE MONTH


Michael Price
Tender Symmetry
Erased Tapes (dist. Redeye)
ERATP112CD
Rick’s Pick

Michael Price is best known an Emmy Award-winning composer of music for television programs, but he also writes concert music and dance scores. This project was undertaken in collaboration with Britain’s National Trust, and consists of music performed and recorded in such historic locations as the ruins of Fountains Abbey and the Fan Bay bomb shelter (located inside the iconic chalk cliffs of Dover). As one might expect, the music–written for various combinations of orchestral strings and voices–is generally written to take advantage of warm, reverberant acoustics, and although much of it is gentle and quiet, there are moments of significant intensity and dissonance as well. Price’s writing for solo voice (note in particular the heartbreaking “Fan Bay”) is particularly attractive. For all libraries.


CLASSICAL


Various Composers
Secret Places
The Twiolins
Profil/Hänssler (dist. Naxos)
PH17002

The Twiolins is the cute name of a duo consisting of brother-and-sister violinists Marie-Luise and Christoph Dingler. Together they have become champions of what they call “progressive classical music,” which seems to mean modern art music that is relatively accessible, exciting, and tonal compared to other, more academic manifestations. They certainly play with great dynamism and stylistic range, and on their latest album they present thirteen brief works by contemporary composers from a variety of regions and traditions; all of these pieces were written for the Twiolins and are, in fact, winners of a competition the duo commissioned. The stylistic range is too great to do justice to in a brief review, but suffice it to say that the pieces are all well worth hearing and the playing is consistently thrilling.


Ólafur Arnalds
Re:Member
MercuryKX
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Ólafur Arnalds is a genre-defying pianist, composer, and producer, whose latest album makes generous use of orchestral strings and electronic sound manipulation. (Honestly, I’m not entirely sure it belongs in the Classical section, but it certainly doesn’t belong in any of the others, so here we are.) On this album he employs an electro-acoustic musical system called Stratus, of which he is the co-inventor. It uses three pianos, two of which are self-playing but select notes in response to the ones he plays on the third piano–the result is semi-aleatory, but (on the evidence here) always consonant, and the piano parts are frequently augmented by various combinations of strings and sometimes by modest electronic beats. It’s hard to overstate how deeply, lusciously beautiful this music is.


Franz Joseph Haydn; Arnold Schoenberg
Transfigured Night
Alisa Weilerstein; Trondheim Soloists
Pentatone (dist. Naxos)
PTC 5186 717

What seems on the surface a frankly bizarre program–two cello concertos from the height of the classical period paired with a chamber work that famously uttered the one of the lasts gasp of European Romanticism before its composer turned away from tonality and towards serialism–is, of course, in reality simply a celebration of Vienna, an unbelievably varied and fecund city that probably gave birth to more world-changing music per square block than any other in Europe. Does that mean that the transition from Haydn’s foursquare classical architecture to Schoenberg’s aggressive post-Romantic abstraction isn’t jarring? Well, no. But the contrast is bracing, and cellist Alisa Weilerstein is a marvel. Highly recommended.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Josef Myslivicek
Flute Concertos
Ana de la Vega; English Chamber Orchestra / Stephanie Gonley
Pentatone (dist. Naxos)
PTC 5186 723

Mozart’s flute concertos are so familiar by now that just about any fan of music from the high classical period can sing along with them (or at least with the fast movements). But that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with recording them again–and when they’re paired with a concerto by the unjustly neglected Bohemian composer Josef Myslivicek (of whom Mozart himself was a great fan and ardent supporter), then there’s even more reason to pay attention. Ana de la Vega plays with infectious joy and is beautifully accompanied by the English Chamber Orchestra, all on modern instruments.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Ludwig Van Beethoven
Quintets for Piano and Winds
Ensemble Dialoghi
Harmonia Mundi (dist. PIAS)
HMM 905296
Rick’s Pick

I can’t resist putting forward another Mozart pairing this month. This one brings together period-instrument recordings of wind-and-piano quintets by Mozart–genius midwife of the classical-to-Romantic transition–and Beethoven, who brought that transition to full flower. One strong reason to recommend this luminous recording is the horn playing Pierre-Antoine Tremblay; very few players of the fiendishly difficult natural horn are able to do so with such a sweet, burnished tone, and his playing is a joy to hear throughout this recording. Everyone else’s playing is great too, and the juxtaposition of these two works (Beethoven’s from his youth and apparently modeled on Mozart’s) is as instructive as it always is. Great music, beautifully recorded and sumptuously played.


Antonio Vivaldi
Vivaldi x2: Double Concertos for Horns, Oboes, Violin & Cello, Oboe & Bassoon
La Serenissima / Adrian Chandler
Avie
AV2392

Here’s the thing about Vivaldi’s concertos: listening to them is kind of like looking at the stars in the night sky: definitely a pleasurable and impressive experience, but there’s not always a lot of obvious difference between them. So this program of double concertos offers the twin benefits of lovely music beautifully played and an unusual instrumental format. The key to getting people interested in Vivaldi is energy: if you can’t play his music with real vim and fire, no one is going to want to listen. And despite their group name, the La Serenissima ensemble does just that, delivering these works not only with rigor and accuracy but also with audible joy. The last piece on the program is a large-scale multi-instrument concerto that features all of the soloists in one thrilling finale. Recommended to all classical collections.


Sébastien de Brossard; Pierre Bouteiller
Les maîtres du motet
Les Arts Florissants / Paul Agnew
Harmonia Mundi (dist. PIAS)
HAF 8905300
Rick’s Pick

Here we have a selection of grand works by very obscure 17th-century French composers, one of whom (Brossard) was also a keen collector of music by others. Brossard’s own setting of the Stabat Mater text is marvelous, and stands up nicely next to the centerpiece of this program, which is Bouteiller’s magisterial Requiem Mass. The latter work is characterized by particularly sophisticated use of counterpoint and canonic techniques, and is performed with utter perfection by Les Arts Florissants. This disc is a classic example of one that provides as much sheer aesthetic enjoyment as it does academic interest, and it is strongly recommended to all classical collections.


Various Composers
More Field Recordings (2 discs)
Bang on a Can All-Stars
Cantaloupe (dist. Naxos)
CA21136
Rick’s Pick

Field recordings–whether of environmental sounds or of music made in public spaces–have informed classical music ever since Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály went into the Hungarian countryside to record folk musicians and used those recordings as thematic sources for their compositions. Later on, Edgard Varèse would incorporate the sounds of industry and urban life directly into his own musique concrète, and later still Steve Reich would derive musical melodies from the pitches of spoken language, transcribing those melodies and having instruments play them against the original recordings. In the spirit of this now-longstanding tradition, the Bang on a Can All-Stars commissioned a series of work by contemporary composers, all of which were to be based on (or in some way interact with) field recordings of one kind or another. This is the second collection to result from that commissioning project, and it’s absolutely fascinating: from the charming piece that incorporates women talking about their quilting projects (Caroline Shaw’s Really Craft When You) to the Middle Eastern modalities of Glenn Kotche’s Time Spirals, there is great stylistic diversity here–and in many cases it’s difficult or impossible to tell where the field recordings end and the composed music begins, which is kind of a fascinating effect in its own right. Highly recommended to all libraries.


JAZZ


Tord Gustavsen Trio
The Other Side
ECM
2608
Rick’s Pick

Pianist/composer Tord Gustavsen has been releasing albums on the ECM label for fifteen years now. His earliest work was in the trio format, and later he experimented with other group configurations; now he’s back in a trio setting, and showing off how far he’s come as both a composer and an arranger. Fascinatingly, some of these melodies are actually taken from church chorales he learned during his youth in Norway, and some are old Nordic folk tunes. At times the results can be quite rhythmically abstract (notice in particular the ethereally floating intro to “Duality”) while other tunes swing gently but firmly. In all cases, the piano, bass, and drums function almost like a single musical unit; the bass hardly ever walks, and the drums rarely provide a pulse, and yet the band is always perfectly rhythmically coherent. And Gustavsen’s lines are simultaneously free and deeply lyrical. It’s like magic, honestly. Highly recommended to all libraries.


Andrea Brachfeld
If Not Now, When?
Jazzheads
JH1229

Flutist/composer Andrea Brachfeld comes out of the gate at a full sprint on her new album, with “The Listening Song,” a fast, harmonically complex, melodically wild tour de force that finds her taking turns with pianist Bill O’Connell to create head-spinning variations on a theme that was knotty enough to begin with. Then comes “Steppin’,” which evokes Thelonious Monk in its craggy syncopations and melodic twists, and which is taken at a similarly headlong tempo. And even when things slow down with the third track, the music remains complex and challenging, and it stays that way throughout the album. Which is not to say that it’s “out,” really–the quartet swings like nobody’s business and the harmonies are all conventional and tonal. It’s just to say that it’s complex and challenging–and exhilarating and deeply impressive and, to be honest, a bit exhausting.


Doug Webb
Fast Friends
Posi-Tone
PR8187
Rick’s Pick

Tenor saxophonist Doug Webb is back for his eighth release as a leader on the Posi-Tone label, a solid winner of a set on which he plays a variety of standards and originals at the head of a quintet that also features the brilliant trombonist Michael Dease, pianist Mitchel Forman, bassist Chris Colangelo, and drummer Roy McCurdy. In addition to bebop standbys like “Ah-Leu-Cha” and “Night in Tunisia” (the latter in an arrangement that, against all odds, actually sheds new and fresh light on that moldiest of bop chestnuts), there are also Webb’s lovely tribute to John Coltrane (“Last Trane to Georgia”), a gorgeous account of Lee Konitz’s Latin-flavored “Dream Stepper,” and a sweet and gentle rendition of the Jules Styne classic “The Things We Did Last Summer.” It’s hard to pick out highlights, though, as the album is so consistently first-rate. For all jazz collections.


Brad Whiteley
Presence
Destiny
DR-0017

Brad Whiteley is a young composer, pianist and organist (sticking with piano on this date) with a taste for tough, sinuous tunes with a powerful melodic core. On his sophomore effort he leads a piano-bass-drums-sax-guitar quintet that manages to stay tightly together throughout a widely varied set of compositions, from the contemplative midtempo meanderings of “Everything Changes” and “Presence” to the sassy strut of “Sunset Park” and the disconcerting 9/4 groove of “Demagogue.” It’s quite unusual for jazz this interesting and original to also be so instantly accessible and enjoyable.


Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra
Down a Rabbit Hole
Summit
DCD 732
Ricks’ Pick

Ayn Inserto is a breathtakingly gifted composer and big-band arranger, and her taste for big and luscious arrangements with a hard, crunchy center is beautifully on display with this album. Inserto established this group in 2001 and has since worked hard to cultivate a feeling of connection and intimacy within it, the fruits of which are clear: they play like a single organism, the brass blending creamily and the rhythm section pulsing as if it shares a heart. She draws deeply on jazz traditions (listen to the Ellingtonian intro to “Mister and Dudley”) but expands on them both subtly and assertively, and on the aptly-titled “Rabbit Hole” she creates a musical cyclone of phased repetitions and complex rhythms that are positively thrilling. No library with a jazz collection should pass this one up.


Count Basie Orchestra
All About That Basie
Concord Jazz
CJA00109

Question: 34 years after his death, is there still really a “Count Basie Orchestra” in any meaningful sense? Answer: Sure, why not? Especially when it’s a repertory group that focuses on Basie’s music and his arrangements. The latest from this group showcases not only the (predictably) world-class chops of the band, but also a fun array of guests that includes vocal ensemble Take 6, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, organist Joey DeFrancesco, and even Stevie Wonder (playing harmonica on a nice arrangement of his “My Cherie Amour”). There’s also an arrangement of “Tequila” and one of my least favorite song of all time, the unfortunately ubiquitous “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. All of this brings us back to the first question: given that the majority of the tunes on this particular album aren’t from the Basie book, in what sense is this the Count Basie Orchestra? And the answer remains the same: because why not? Man, they sound good.


FOLK/COUNTRY


Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles
Love’s Middle Name
Blue Corn Music
BCM1805

I’m putting this one in the Folk/Country section because, if you’ve been following her career up to now, that’s where you’ll expect to see mention of Sarah Borges’ latest album. But the fact is that Love’s Middle Name bears a similar relation to country music as the early work of X did: it draws on the traditions but stomps them lovingly into the ground. “House on a Hill” is downright punky (and not cowpunky either), and it takes two more tracks before you hear an acoustic guitar or a cowgirl vocal hiccup. But then you hear some more, and eventually you stop caring much about genre boundaries and you just give yourself up to the crunchy joy of Borges’ songs. For all libraries.


Buck Owens
Country Singer’s Prayer
Omnivore
OVCD-298

1975 was not a banner year for country music. For one thing, there was an awful lot of schlocky stuff on the market. For another, it marked Buck Owens’ final record for the Capitol label before he switched to Warner and made two not-very-successful albums and then effectively retired. The single (the album’s title track) didn’t even chart, so the album actually got shelved and is now being released for the first time, with two bonus tracks. How is it? Not great, frankly, but not bad. Owens’ version of “Battle of New Orleans” is slightly embarrassing–that jaw harp, oy–but the rest of it is good in the way that Buck Owens albums were always good: sharply written songs sung with deceptively effortless-sounding skill. Also, this album marks the final recordings of Owens’ genius sideman Don Rich, who was killed in a motorcycle accident during the sessions. All in all, this album has historical significance that, for libraries, will outweigh its somewhat more modest musical quality.


Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard
Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969
Free Dirt
DIRT-CD-0087

Well, this one starts off with a bang: you hear a familiar driving chord progression played on an autoharp, and before you can sort through the musical disorientation the voices come in, and you realize that Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard are singing the Everly Brothers’ hit “Bye Bye Love.” What’s going on? Well, the two titans of the 1960s folk scene had been running into each other at jam sessions in the DC area and recognized a kinship, and soon were recording albums together. But they also taped their practice sessions at home, and some of those are preserved here and released for the first time. They are definitely rehearsals: there are false starts and snippets of discussion, and the sound quality ranges from crappy to so-so. But the singing is exactly what you’d expect from this powerhouse duo, and the songs are a great mix of gospel, blues, folk, bluegrass, and (yes) pop material. For all folk collections.


David Benedict
The Golden Angle
Shelton
DSB149
Rick’s Pick

When I was a teenager, they called this New Acoustic Music, and it changed my life. I remember running to the Harvard Coop after school so I could ask David Grisman and Darol Anger and Mike Marshall to autograph my orange nylon backpack (yes, I was one of the cool kids), and I listened to Tony Rice’s debut solo album until I could practically sing along with every solo. NAM has never really died, but mandolinist/composer David Benedict is now taking it into the 21st century–not by means of technology or wild experimentation, but simply by writing and performing music that takes the same formula (which can be summarized as “bluegrass instrumentation, jazz application”) and pulls it into deeper melodic and harmonic waters. The changes are jazzier, the tunes draw on more non-country influences, and the playing is maybe even a bit more virtuosic (check out Wes Corbett’s neo-Reno banjo solo on “Dorrigo,” for example, and the crooked time signatures on “8 Is My Favorite Color”). Benedict is a technically brilliant player, but he never just shows off. Every tune is an original composition and every one is worth hearing on its own, apart from the genius solos that are played everywhere. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


ROCK/POP


Mount Shrine
Winter Restlessness
Cryo Chamber
CRYO 099

Atrium Carceri
Codex
Cryo Chamber
CRYO 100

There’s ambient music, and then there’s dark ambient music, and then there’s “cinematic dark ambient music.” The latter is the stock in trade of the very fine Cryo Chamber label, and its two most recent releases are outstanding examples of the genre. Atrium Carceri’s latest is particularly dark: chords and even occasional (very slow) beats cut through dense clouds of sound that sometimes evoke wind in deep caves and sometimes bring to mind the warning growls of planet-sized beasts of prey. Mount Shrine’s album is interesting in that it’s somewhat misleadingly titled. Although its moods are dark, the music is also quite warm and much less foreboding than that of Atrium Carceri. Mount Shrine also makes use of a somewhat more varied textural palette–notice, for example, the juxtaposition of floating chords and drones with tiny, glitchy accents on the album’s title track. Both of these albums are well worth considering for your library’s collection of electronic music.


Mount Kimbie
DJ-Kicks
!K7 (dist. Redeye)
K7364CD

For those not familiar with Mount Kimbie, they are Kai Campos and Dominic Maker, who, over the past ten years, have been making original music that draws on dubstep, garage, electronica, and ambient styles to create a unique hybrid of electronic dance music that is maybe not quite so much about dancing as about listening. For their entry in the longstanding DJ-Kicks mix series, they focus more on the body than the mind, though, offering a continuous mix of pulsing midtempo house and techno numbers by artists like Severed Heads, Stanislav Tokachev, Taz & Meeks, and Watching Airplanes–with a handful of original tracks thrown in for good measure. These aren’t exactly club bangers, though: even the most beat-driven tunes are quite atmospheric and moody. It’s all really cool, and I say that as someone who doesn’t much care for house and techno generally.


Dead Can Dance
Dionysus
P.I.A.S.
3922565

Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Parry are back, nearly 40 years after first forming Dead Can Dance and inducing a collective swoon within what was then a nascent international Goth community. Unlike many of their colleagues, Dead Can Dance had a thing for medieval music, and in fact learned how to play a number of ancient instruments in order to indulge that fascination. The results were sometimes a bit pretentious, but frequently wonderful. This new album is outstanding (though, at 36 minutes, somewhat on the short side for a full-price release). On Dionysus the early-music influences are fully digested and the resulting music is both familiar-sounding and deeply original: a two-part, seven-theme program that draws on themes of ancient spring and harvest festivals and the continuity of their influences throughout time. But if you want, you can just luxuriate in the strange and wonderful music. Recommended to all library pop collections.


Richard Thompson
13 Rivers
New West (dist. Redeye)
NW6446

One of the things that’s amazing about Richard Thompson is that as he approaches age 70, his voice doesn’t sound noticeably different from the way it did when he was 30. Also amazing is that his guitar playing continues to be not only technically astounding, but also completely sui generis–there are maybe three guitarists in the world as immediately recognizable as Thompson. On his latest album he strips things down to the bare bones: him, a rhythm guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer. He chose to record in analog, and the sound is dry and close, the songs tense, and the guitar solos are among the strongest he’s ever recorded–just listen to “The Rattle Within” and “Her Love Was Meant for Me,” yeesh. At the same time, some of these songs are unusually complex: consider the structure of “Trying.” Anyway, this is all just a way of saying “here’s another in a jaw-droppingly long string of brilliant Richard Thompson albums.”


WORLD/ETHNIC


Out of Nations
Quest
Riverboat (dist. Redeye)
TUGCD1115

Out of Nations is a Berlin-based band led by reed player Lety ElNaggar, whose vision is of “a future world where people take each other as humans before they see each other as members of a certain nation.” Accordingly, the music she and her bandmates make draws on a variety of European, Middle Eastern, Latin, and American traditions, sometimes focusing on one more closely (note the keening klezmerisms of “Feluka” and the straight-up jazz-rock fusion of “KurdMajor”) and sometimes blending all of them together. Everyone in this group is a virtuoso and the group’s playing is often thrilling; sometimes the politics gets a little heavy-handed (as on the spoken-word bits in “Out of Nations”), but the music is all well worth hearing.


International Observer
Free from the Dungeons of Dub
Dubmission (dist. MVD)
CDDUBM079
Rick’s Pick

To Those of a Certain Age (ahem), Tom Bailey is best known as the former co-leader of Thompson Twins, one of the most successful synth pop bands of the 1980s. Over the past 15 years or so he’s been operating under the name International Observer, indulging his love of dub and downtempo electronica with a series of albums characterized by lush, sweet soundscapes that feature occasional vocal samples, lots of reggae-based rhythms, and enormous sound fields filled with dubwise effects. It sounds like this is going to be his final release in this mode, and it consists of tracks previously released only in New Zealand, his home country (though it appears they were also internationally available via Bandcamp). All the familiar characteristics are here: a mix of rockers, one-drop, and steppers beats; the occasional infusion of a hammered dulcimer; an admirable ability to conjure hooks seemingly out of melodic thin air. Brilliant and entrancing, as always.


The Nextmen vs. Gentleman’s Dub Club
Pound for Pound
Pound for Pound (dist. Redeye)
P4PCD001

The artist format of this album is kind of hard to describe. The Nextmen are a production and remixing duo, but they also write original songs, and they operate in a variety of beat-based genres including reggae, hip hop, drum & bass, and soul. Gentleman’s Dub Club are a proper band, but on this collaborative album their chief vocalist steps aside to make room for guest singers and chatters like Kiko Bun, Gardna, Parly B, and (best of all) Hollie Cook. The result is an album that is built on a solid foundation of reggae rhythms but that explores hip hop, dancehall, lovers rock, and roots moods as well. The Nextmen’s involvement means that the production quality is always stellar: the grooves are deep and dark, but there’s lots of multicolored detail in the mix, and all the singers are presented in settings that show their skills off to maximum effect. Every track is a solid winner.


The Temple Rockers
Festival of Lights
Fresh Roots
FRR-001
Ricks’ Pick

Bassist David Gould first came to prominence as a founding member of the world-class American reggae band John Brown’s Body (and its offshoot, 10 Ft Ganja Plant). But for years now he’s been pursuing a somewhat lower-key personal project: the placement of traditional Jewish devotional song into a roots-reggae setting. His projects Adonai & I and Feast of the Passover (and their respective dubwise counterpart releases) found him starting that journey, and this latest effort represents its continuation with a new twist: the participation of roots-reggae founding fathers Linval Thompson, Wayne Jarrett, and Ansel Meditation. These singers gamely deliver songs in both English and Hebrew, adding their own Jamaican/Rastafarian twist (one that has always drawn deeply on Old Testament doctrine and imagery anyway). The word is that a dub version of this album will be released later in the year as well, and I can’t wait to hear it–the album is a monster, and should be snapped up by any library with a collecting interest in reggae, Jewish studies, or world music generally. [Update December 2018: Just out as a digital-only release is a magnificent and deeply dread dubwise version of this album. Titled Festival of Dub, it makes an outstanding companion to the regular version, and on several tracks leaves snippets of the original vocals in place–always the best recipe for a great dub mix. I just can’t stress enough how good David Gould is at this kind of thing. A must for all reggae collections.]