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August 2017


Various Composers
The Complete Argo Recordings (42 discs)
Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge / George Guest
483 1252

The 42 albums gathered together for this box set were recorded between 1958 and 1982, during the tenure of legendary choir director George Guest, who defined the sound of the Choir of St. John’s College for more than a generation. The current director was one of Guest’s students in the late 1980s, and continues to speak with awe about the musical impact Guest had on his singers and organists alike. During the two and a half decades documented in this set, the choir’s repertoire showed an interesting tendency: towards the English (naturally), the Italian, and the German, with very little exploration of the French. Of the 42 albums, only two are dedicated to the works of French composers (Fauré’s and Duruflé’s Requiem Masses), and one pairs François Poulenc’s G-major Mass and a couple of motets with a Mass by Flor Peeters, while another is a collection of contemporary French sacred music. But no one sang English church music quite like this choir did, and their collection of English psalm settings is one of the most moving recordings I’ve heard in a long time; another highlight is the complete recording of a choral evensong service, complete with lessons and prayers. Does the choir’s style sound a bit dated to 21st-century ears? Sure, particularly on the earliest recordings. But these discs are never less than lovely, and the set would make a fine addition to any library’s classical collection.


Bernhard Crusell
Three Quartets for Clarinet and Strings
Eric Hoeprich; members of the London Haydn Quartet
Glossa (dist. Naxos)
GCD 920609
Rick’s Pick

Heinrich Baermann
Quintets for Clarinet and String Quartet opp. 19, 22 & 23
Rita Karin Meier; Belenus Quartet
Dabringhaus und Grimm (dist. Naxos)
MDG 903 1988-6

During his career at the Stockholm court, Finnish clarinetist Bernhard Crusell was not only a star performer in the royal orchestra, but also a fairly prolific composer of chamber and large-scale works featuring his instrument–as well as vocal music, including an opera. But it’s his clarinet music that remains popular, and this outstanding recording of three of his quartets for clarinet and strings demonstrates exactly why. Eric Hoeprich plays on modern reconstructions of the instruments that Crusell himself used, and the period-instrument performances of these three works perfectly convey the aching melodic sweetness that characterizes so much of Crusell’s work. The Prussian composer Heinrich Baermann was Crusell’s rough contemporary, but had a much different (and more traumatic) beginning; as a young military musician he was taken prisoner of war, and after escaping eventually made his way to Munich, where he served as a court musician for the remainder of his life. Like Crusell, he was known for his innovative virtuosity as a player, but was also a productive composer. His quintets for clarinet and strings are, like Crusell’s chamber works, models of late-classical elegance and beauty–as are the modern-instrument performances here by clarinetist Rita Karin Meier and the Belenus Quaret. Both of these discs are highly recommended to all classical collections.

Heinrich Schütz
Dresdner Kammerchor / Hans-Christoph Rademann
Carus-Verlag (dist. Naxos)

For the 15th volume in its ongoing project to record the complete works of Heinrich Schütz, the Dresden Chamber Choir turns to Schütz’s musical settings for the rhyming versions of the Biblical psalms originally published in 1602. Schütz’s music for congregational worship is less well-known than his larger-scale liturgical and sacred concert works, and the choir sings these psalm settings in a plainspoken, restrained style that fits perfectly the foursquare harmonies and hymn-like rhythms. Both the choir and the soloists are superb.

Franz Schubert
Grand quintuor en ut, oeuvre 163, D 956 (reissue)
Quatuor Festetics; Wieland Kuijken
Arcana (dist. Naxos)
A 308
Rick’s Pick

If I’m reading the packaging correctly, this marks the third time this outstanding recording has been issued: first in 2001, then a 2009 reissue, and now another in 2017. Well, whatever it takes to keep it available on the market is fine with me–Quatuor Festetics (helped out by the redoutable Wieland Kuijken on second cello) do their usual brilliant job, and as always with Schubert, the use of period instruments casts a fresh light on this masterwork of the high Romantic period–which was nearly lost to history, having languished in a publisher’s archives for 25 years before finally being published in 1853. Your library may already own several recordings of this piece, but if you don’t have one of the earlier releases of this particular performance, be sure to snap this one up before it goes out of print again.

Franz Joseph Haydn
Flute Sonatas (reissue)
Juliette Hurel; Hélène Couvert
Alpha Classics (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

These three sonatas for flute and piano are actually transcriptions — they have their origins as string quartets (from opp. 74, 76, and 77) — and as such, they represent a significant moment in the history of classical music, one at which the practice of transcribing chamber versions of larger-scale pieces began to shift from the simpler approach of reducing an orchestral score to a piano part and leaving the soloist’s part largely unaltered, to one in which significant music re-analysis was required. The transcriber is only known in the case of one of these sonatas (it was August-Eberhart Muller, a student of J.C.F. Bach), but all three are masterful. The performers use a wooden flute (though not a baroque-period model) and a turn-of-the-century Erard piano, and both the performances and the recorded sound are exquisite.

Cristóbal de Morales
[Choral Works]
Videntes, the Schola Cantorum of the Church of the Epiphany, Washington, DC / Jeremy Filsell
Raven (dist. Albany)

Everyone knows Tomás Luis de Victoria, and a lot of people know Francisco Guerrero, but Cristóbal de Morales remains criminally underappreciated as a major figure in the development of choral music in 16th-century Spain. In the works presented here (several motets and chansons interspersed with the sections of his “Mille Regretz” parody Mass, plus two organ interludes and a Magnificat setting), you can clearly hear him integrating the influences of earlier Spanish composers with those of the Franco-Flemish school, and the result is brilliant. The singing is excellent on this recording, though the recorded acoustic is just a bit dull. Recommended to all early-music collections.

Johann Sebastian Bach
Solo Works for Marimba (2 discs)
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKD 585

Obviously, J.S. Bach didn’t write any solo works for the marimba — these are transcriptions by the always-amazing Kuniko Kato, whose previous albums have included arrangements for marimba of works by Steve Reich, Iannis Xenakis, and Arvo Pärt. Here she takes a deep breath and confronts the granddaddy of keyboard masters, transcribing and performing arrangements of three cello suites, three violin sonatas, and the opening prelude from The Well-tempered Clavier. As always, her playing is masterful–not only her sheer technique, but also her emotional investment; her love and admiration for this music is expressed almost viscerally. There may be moments when you wish the marimba’s attack were a little bit sharper and the note separation more distinct, but there is never a moment when the music isn’t beautiful. For all classical collections.

Johannes Brahms
String Quartet No. 3; Clarinet Quintet
New Zealand String Quartet; James Campbell

Brahms’ third string quartet is a thing of wonder and delight–emotionally effusive but also light and joyful, and gorgeously lyrical. The New Zealand String Quartet performs it here with equal joy as well as technical mastery, and the result is a revelatory interpretation. The clarinet quintet conveys a somewhat darker and more aching mood–understandable, I suppose, since it was written at the very end of Brahms’ life and is among his last chamber works. Here as well, the performances are simply wonderful. This disc would make a welcome addition to any classical collection.


Dejohnette Grenadier Modeski Scofield
Motéma Music

Never a soft touch for 1960s nostalgia, I nevertheless picked this album up with eagerness based on the musicians involved: guitarist John Scofield, keyboardist John Medeski, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Nor was I disappointed: alongside obvious song choices like “Woodstock” and “Up on Cripple Creek,” there are several originals and several surprises, and only a single disappointment: the too-radical deconstruction of “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” Everything else is alternately funky, thoughtful, jaunty, and sweet, and of course the playing is consistently phenomenal.

Champian Fulton & Scott Hamilton
The Things We Did Last Summer
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Pianist/singer Champian Fulton and saxophonist Scott Hamilton went on tour in Spain together last year, and decided to release some of the highlight performances from that tour as an album for the Spanish Blau label. The result is one of the most sparkling, spirited, and intensely swinging jazz releases I’ve heard so far this year. Not that it should be a surprise to anyone familiar with either of these artists, both of whom are steeped in and deeply dedicated to the straight-ahead jazz verities. Fulton’s singing slides all over the place, adding sly insinuation and jubilant emphasis to every phrase, while her playing nudges and propels everything along powerfully. Hamilton is his usual masterful self as well, and the overall sense of joy and laughter throughout this album will leave you with a huge grin on your face. You’ll wish you’d been there for these gigs, and very grateful they were documented.

Jeremy Rose
Within & Without
Earshift Music (dist. Redeye)

Saxophonist/bass clarinetist/composer Jeremy Rose is back for a third ablum as a leader with this very beautiful and rather abstract set of originals (plus one folksong arrangement), on which he leads a quintet that also features guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. The proceedings regularly step into swinging mode, but much of this music floats and drifts, sometimes almost arrhythmically. The challenge with this approach is not to let things drift into chaos, but Rose is a tremendously gifted composer and arranger and keeps things together with a firm but gentle touch. Very, very nice.


Gaudi is best known as an electronica artist operating in the overlapping realms of world beat and future dub, but for this album he took music from the RareNoise catalog and created something very different–a sort of jazz-rock-electro fusion that sounds like nothing else you’ve probably heard. These are not remixes of preexisting tracks, but rather reconstitutions of varied musical elements drawn from disparate sources and reconfigured into completely new structures. Featured musicians include bassists Bill Laswell and Tony Levin, guitarist Eraldo Bernocchi, drummers Pat Mastelotto and Steve Jansen, and keyboardist Roger Eno, among many others. The music has a much more organic and analog feel than one might expect from this artist. Recommended.

San Francisco String Trio
May I Introduce to You
Rick’s Pick

The San Francisco String Trio consists of violinist Mads Tolling, guitarist Mimi Fox, and bassist Jeff Denson–a truly all-star cast, which means that when you see that their latest album consists entirely of Beatles arrangements you have good reason to expect that the musical product will be of higher quality than is too often the case with projects like this. And sure enough, the arrangements are revelatory and the playing top-notch. In addition to making a powerful argument for the structural and melodic intelligence of Lennon and McCartney’s compositions, these interpretations also show how much you can do with them while still leaving them immediately (or, in some cases, eventually) recognizable. The tracks on which Denson sings are particularly fine. I’d call this one an essential purchase for library jazz collections.

Echoes of Swing
BIX: A Tribute to Bix Beiderbecke (2 discs)
ACT Music + Vision (dist. Naxos)

All too often, tributes to long-dead jazz giants turn into attempts to replicate the music they made. Such projects can be fun, but are seldom very interesting. The Munich-based Echoes of Swing combo, however, has done something different with their tribute to jazz pioneer Bix Beiderbecke: they’ve taken songs that were associated with him and rearranged them in loving tribute not just to his own style, but to his creativity as a musician. Thus, we get a 5/4 setting of “I’m Coming Virginia,” a tango arrangement of “In the Dark,” and several original compositions by bandmembers that are inspired by Beiderbecke’s music rather than based on it. And just in case this all whets your appetite for the real thing, there’s a second disc consisting of historic recordings of the man himself. An outstanding package, overall.


Buck Owens
Live from Austin TX (CD + DVD)
New West

Dwight Yoakam
Live from Austin TX (CD + DVD)
New West

The two concerts documented on these CD/DVD sets were both performed in October 1988 on the PBS program Austin City Limits. By that point elder statesman Buck Owens and up-and-coming honky-tonker Dwight Yoakam had become good friends, and each of them appears alongside the other: Yoakam joins Owens for a fine rendition of the classic “Under Your Spell Again,” while Owens (and norteño legend Flaco Jimenez) join Yoakam on a hair-raising performance of “Streets of Bakersfield.” There are no surprises here — Owens trots out his standard (and in his case, unfortunately very brief) set of hits, and Yoakam does the same. But the performances are intense and masterful, and the recorded sound is outstanding, and the companion DVD adds great value to each package. Any library with a country-music collection would do well to pick these up.

Shannon McNally
Black Irish
7 4677 2

So her name is Shannon McNally and she’s titled her album Black Irish, which means you could be forgiven for expecting this to be a trad Celtic album or at least some kind of Irish-American folk-rock fusion thing. But no: this is straight-up rootsy Americana, sung with a Southern accent and played with bluesy authenticity and produced by Rodney Crowell. (And don’t be distracted by the fact that one of the songs is called “Banshee Moan”–McNally may be of Irish extraction, but she’s from Mississippi.) She covers Stevie Wonder, Muddy Waters, and Emmylou Harris over the course of an album that struts, drives, dances, and moans with winning authenticity and grit. Very nice.

Lal & Mike Waterson
Bright Phoebus: Songs by Lal & Mike Waterson (reissue)
Rick’s Pick

For those who think of the Watersons primarily as interpreters of traditional songs from the British Isles, Bright Phoebus will be startling. It certainly startled (not to say outraged) the English folk community upon its original release in 1971: consisting entirely of original songs written by some combination of Lal and Mike Waterson (and someone named “Collins”; that may be Shirley Collins, but unfortunately the materials provided with my review copy are very sketchy), and opening with the downright goofy skiffle-pop confection “Rubber Band,” this is an album that celebrates the siblings’ folk roots but is in no way defined by them. And make no mistake, the music is uneven–but some of it is chillingly, eerily gorgeous, and all of it should be considered an essential purchase for any library’s folk collection.


Lost in Stars
Lost in Stars
Dark Sky Covenant
No cat. no.

Lost in Stars is the London-born, Los Angeles-based keyboardist and songwriter Dylan Willoughby, whose debut full-length is a celebration of pretty much the entire scope of synthpop since 1980 or so. He engages the talents of singers like Alyso Lobo, Kid Moxie, and Darren Burgos, and they help him draw on elements of glitch-hop, dream pop, and techno, while delivering both his own lyrics and also covering both Bauhaus and the Bee Gees. This album is simultaneously deep and frothy, and it’s filled with delightful sonic surprises. Recommended to all pop collections.

Alison Moyet
Cooking Vinyl
Rick’s Pick

And in other synthpop news: just as she practically embodied the sound of 1980s synthpop during her initial rise to stardom (both in Yazoo and as a solo artist), so today Alison Moyet makes the sound of contemporary electronic pop music wholly her own. On her ninth solo album, she makes use of the darker, denser textures and more deliberate beats of 21st-century electropop and basically inhabits them and makes them sound like they were invented for her. Whether it’s the dubstep-inflected “I Germinate” or the more orchestral flavor of “The English U,” Moyet’s powerful contralto voice and genius sense of drama combine to deliver spine-chilling music. Highly recommended to all pop collections.

St. Etienne
Home Counties

In English parlance, the “home counties” are the suburban counties immediately surrounding London, from which commuters come into the city and to which they return after work. These suburbs are where the members of St. Etienne grew up, and on their latest album they celebrate their upbringing in all of its complexity–not only the complexity that lurks beneath the apparent banality of suburban life, but also the complex love-hate relationship that those who live in the home counties feel for their cities and towns. There’s nostalgia here (particularly in the music itself, which often harks back to the 1970s and 1980s), but there’s much more going on as well. Field recordings, for example, and crime-statistic charts. Like most of St. Etienne’s music, it’s sweet on the outside and a bit chewy on the inside.

Lost Tapes Vol. 1 & Remixes (2 discs)
Echo Beach

This two-disc set is basically two separate albums, one for diehard Tack>>head fans and the other for those who just like funky music generally. First, though, it’s important to understand that the core membership of Tack>>head was also the core membership of the Sugarhill Gang, the record-label house band that almost singlehandedly invented the art of hip-hop instrumental accompaniment. (Remember the song “Rapper’s Delight”? Yeah, that’s them.) In the 1980s they joined forces with the On-U Sound label and turned much more aggro, teaming up with folks like Gary Clail to try and overturn the established social order with funk. The first disc of this collection consists of previously-unreleased material drawn from their 1985-1995 years, much of it brilliant but some of it likely to appeal mainly to those who (like me) are already converted to the hard, take-no-prisoners Tack>>head sound and willing to listen to the band pound the crap out of a groove for six-plus minutes at a time. The second consists of remixes of several more recent Tack>>head tracks contributed by the likes of Victor Rice, C-Corps, Rob Smith, and Oliver Frost. These are the tracks more likely to entice the previously uninitiated. All of it is well worth hearing, though, and this set is recommended to all libraries with adventurous pop collections.

Various Artists
Complete Loma Singles Vol. 1 (2 discs)
Real Gone Music
RLGM 06062
Rick’s Pick

Even if you’re a fan of 1960s soul and R&B, it’s entirely possible that you’ve never heard of the Loma label. It existed for only four years (1964-1968), and released only 100 singles and a handful of albums during that time. But listen to this 50-track collection from its vaults (only half of which have been previously released on CD collections), and you’ll be shocked–how could music this fun, well-written, and powerfully performed have stayed below the radar for so long? No matter, it’s here now, and this is reportedly the first of four volumes of CD compilations that will eventually bring the whole Loma catalog back to market. Consider this an essential purchase for all library pop collections.

The Knife
RISE 384-2
Rick’s Pick

Nothing lightens your mood during an oppressively hot summer like a great pop-punk album, and no one does pop-punk quite as greatly as Goldfinger. It’s been seven years since their last effort, and this one feels like it’s been unleashed after being locked in a closet the whole time. The humor is self-deprecating, the occasional irruptions of ska horns and backbeats are thrilling, and the melodic hooks are monstrous. As with all pop-punk, it’s those hooks that matter most, and this album is absolutely jam-packed with them. Add this one to your collection fast, before the kids go back to school–they’re going to want to blast it in their cars while they can still drive with the windows open.


Bass Culture Players
Foundation Showcase Vol. 2
Lafamille Music
No cat. no.

I talk a lot in CD HotList about the quality and importance of the German reggae scene, but there’s outstanding roots reggae being made elsewhere in Europe as well–notably in Madrid, home of Bass Culture Players. This collective produces some of the sweetest and heaviest traditional reggae to be heard anywhere right now, and this second installment in their Foundation Showcase series (the first volume is still available here) offers a program of tracks from the Discoinferno studio, all produced by local genius Puppa Shan. Six vocal tracks (two by women), each paired in showcase style with its dub version; the songs are all excellent and the production is expert.

Kasai Allstars & Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste
Around Félicité (2 discs)
Crammed Discs
cram 273

This is a soundtrack album, and it’s kind of a strange one–but in a good way. The film Félicité was actually inspired by the music of Kasai Allstars, one of the Congolese ensembles at the center of the current “congotronics” craze. The film’s music is by Kasai Allstars and centrally features the vocals of Muambuyi, but there are also interludes of arrangements by Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste of pieces by famed Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, so go figure. And the CD edition of the soundtrack includes a separate disc of remixes by the likes of Clap! Clap! and Africaine 808. So like I said, kind of strange — and also quite gorgeous.

Rafiki Jazz
Har Dam Sahara

While I’m a fan of many different kinds of multicultural fusion music, I’m not easily sold on the idea of multicultural fusion itself as an absolute good. To me, the proof is in the pudding, and it doesn’t matter how heartwarming the backstory or how politically well-intentioned the project, if the music doesn’t work it doesn’t work. So when this album was presented to me as “express(ing) the power and beauty of difference,” I was skeptical. When the music was described as blending “West African kora, Caribbean steel pan, Indian tabla, Brazilian berimbau, and Arabic ney and oud” I thought it sounded like it was going to be a multiculti mess. But this music works, and it works seamlessly. For example, you might not even notice the pans unless you were looking for them, so well-integrated are they with the other elements here–the central one of which is singer Sarah Yaseen. This isn’t jazz either, by the way–I’m not sure what you’d call it, which is part of the fun.

Ravi Shankar
Ghanashyam: A Broken Branch (reissue)
East Meets West Music (dist. Redeye)

Sitarist Ravi Shankar gained fame in the 1960s as a virtuoso interpreter of Indian ragas, but he was also a composer–and he wrote this musical-theater piece out of concern over the growing drug culture of the period during which he became a star. Its theme is “the forces that can dilute the world-changing potential of the artist.” The recording was originally issued on CD in 1990, but in a truncated version; this reissue restores the program’s full 80-minute length. Unfortunately, the package doesn’t include much information about the music or its original context–there are no texts in translation, and there’s little to guide the listener through the sometimes sudden shifts in mood and instrumental texture, shifts that would surely make sense in the context of the theater performance. Still, the music is beautiful and any library that collects in South Asian music would be wise to pick this release up.

Various Artists
Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa

In 1988, the signs were clear: civil war was about to break out in Somalia. Anticipating (correctly) that the radio station in Hargeisa would be targeted for destruction, staff and volunteers spent days smuggling cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes out of the station archives and taking them out of the country, in some cases even burying them deep in the ground to protect them from airstrikes. Think about that before you judge the sound quality of these salvaged recordings too harshly: yes, some of them sound a bit rough, but you would too if you’d spent much of your life buried underground in Djibouti. The songs preserved here represent a window on the Mogadishu music scene of the 1970s and 1980s, a time when popular culture was alive with international influences and was largely subsidized by the state. For libraries, this album is worth the price for the 15,000-word liner notes alone.

Double Tiger
Sharp & Ready
Easy Star
Rick’s Pick

Double Tiger is Jay Spaker, currently best known as a recent addition to the outstanding John Brown’s Body and as co-founder of Brooklyn’s essential Dub-Stuy record label. His solo debut finds him purveying pure heavyweight roots and dancehall vibes, singing and toasting in a variety of styles. The liner notes seem to indicate that Spaker himself plays all the instruments and sings all the vocal parts on this album, apart from the contributions of a few friends and colleagues (including JBB bandmates Elliot Martin and Nate Edgar), which is pretty dang impressive–as is the production quality. An exceptional debut effort from a major young reggae talent.

July 2017


Heart of the Congos (reissue; 3 discs)
VP/17 North Parade

Two Sevens Clash (reissue; 2 discs)
VP/17 North Parade

Producer Lee “Scratch” Perry created some of the strangest and most wonderful reggae music in history at his improbably tiny Black Ark studio in the 1970s, and the pinnacle of his achievement there was the 1977 album Heart of the Congos. The Congos were a harmony duo led by a singer named Cedric Myton, the possessor of an eerie falsetto voice and a deeply dread lyrical vision. That voice and that vision found their perfect complement in Perry’s dark, wet, echo-laden production style, and songs like the joyful “Solid Foundation,” the hortatory “Fisherman,” and the heartbreakingly gorgeous “Congoman” show both Perry and Myton to have been musical geniuses out of time. Heart of the Congos received a loving reissue treatment from the Blood & Fire label (sadly now defunct) in 1996, but this new version from VP and its 17 North Parade reissue imprint ups the ante considerably, adding a handful of additional tracks and dub versions plus, on a third disc, the entirety of the original album in its original, more restrained and minimalist mix. For 20 years the Blood & Fire version has stood as the definitive expression of this strange and unique reggae statement, but this new expanded reissue has effectively displaced it, and all libraries with a collecting interest in reggae music should consider it an essential purchase.

Another reggae classic, also from 1977, has also been definitively reissued this year by VP/17 North Parade. It is Culture’s archetypal roots-and-culture album Two Sevens Clash (its title a reference to Rastafarian apocalyptic expectations for the year in which the album was released). This album has also received a previous deluxe-reissue treatment (from the Shanachie label in 2007), but here again this 40th-anniversary edition supersedes the previous one by including additional material, notably discomixes, dubs, and deejay versions. This one is another essential purchase.


Camillo Cortellini
The Masses: Complete Edition (3 discs; world premiere)
Various ensembles
Tactus (dist. Naxos)
TC 560380

Camillo Cortellini flourished at around the turn of the 17th century, but relatively little is known about him and much of his work seems to be lost, so this world-premiere recording of his complete Masses should make a welcome addition to any library’s collection of Renaissance music. This release is a bit curious, though: this is not one recording, but rather a collection of recordings by no fewer than eleven different vocal ensembles. The package includes no information about when the recordings were made, and unfortunately the quality of the performances is somewhat variable. But some of them are exquisite, and as a historical document alone this set can be confidently recommended.

Giovanni Paisiello
6 Flute Quartets, op. 23
Ensemble Il Demetrio
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

The Neapolitan composer Giovanni Paisiello produced this set of six quartets for flute, violin, viola, and cello near the end of his career, in 1800. This was a period during which serious music-making was becoming a pastime among the bourgeois middle classes, rather than the unique province of aristocrats and court musicians. 2016 marked the bicentennial of Paisiello’s death, and thus produced a predictable uptick in interest in his music, one result of which is this delightful period-instrument performance of these very fine pieces — all of which would clearly have provided a healthy technical challenge to the playing audience for which they were written. The performances are excellent.

Franz Schubert
Complete Original Piano Duets (reissue; 7 discs)
Goldstone & Clemmow
Divine Art (dist. Naxos)
dda 21701

The seven discs in this reissue box were originally released as individual albums between 1999 and 2000. They document a monumental project by the marvelous husband-and-wife four-hand piano team of Caroline Clemmow and Anthony Goldstone, and the box makes a worthy companion to their three-volume collection of “unauthorized” four-hand transcriptions of Schubert works arranged by his friends and colleagues. These discs present all of the known pieces that were actually written by Schubert for piano four hands — as far as we know, he wrote nothing for two pianos — and they tend to be lighthearted marches and dances, plus sets of themes with variations. Clemmow and Goldstone play with seemingly effortless virtuosity and intelligence and are very well recorded.

Paul Hindemith
The String Quartets (reissue; 3 discs)
Juilliard String Quartet
Wergo (dist. Naxos)
WER 6960 2

The legendary Juilliard String Quartet undertook this project in 1995, the centennial of Paul Hindemith’s birth. Over the course of two years they recorded all seven of Hindemith’s string quartets and released them on three individual discs, which are now available together as a midpriced box set. Anyone who knows the Juilliards will know to expect world-class performances of these pieces, and the recording quality is up to Wergo’s long-established high standard. As for the music itself, it is fascinating to hear the composer negotiating the passing of the Romantic era and the new harmonic imperatives of the early 20th century, as the Brahms and Strauss influences fade and the Schoenbergian ones emerge. Any library that doesn’t already own these recordings would be wise to pick up this reissue box.

Carl Friedrich Abel
Symphonies Op. 7
La Stagione Frankfurt / Michael Schneider
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 993-2

Carl Friedrich Abel published a total of 36 symphonies during his career, in six collections of six symphonies each. Opus 7 falls in the middle of these collections and was published in the 1760s. The symphony form was still developing at this time, and had not yet fully shed the baroque concept of the “sinfonia,” or overture. (In fact, Abel’s symphonies are still called “overtures” in their published versions of the period.) But in Abel’s works you can see the standard symphonic shape clearly starting to emerge, in particular the practice of putting a slow section in the middle of a three-movement work. As always, La Stagione Frankfurt acquit themselves beautifully, and this album is a pleasure from beginning to end.

Johannes Brahms
Sonatas for Cello and Piano
Brian Thornton; Spencer Myer
Steinway & Sons
Rick’s Pick

As someone with a natural aversion to musical overstatement, my port of entry into the music of Brahms has always been his chamber music — you get all the emotional intensity, but not so much of the bombast. And his cello sonatas are models of the genre and of what makes Brahms great: the wonderful fugal section at the end of the first sonata, that perfectly blends classical structure with Romantic fire; the heartbreaking adagio section in the second. Cellist Brian Thornton and pianist Spencer Myer are a match made in heaven, each of them playing with the kind of restrained intensity that is required in order to give this music its purest expression. Recommended to all libraries.

Carl Stamitz; Franz Hoffmeister; Franz Krommer
Double Clarinet Concertos
Andrzej Godek; Barbara Borowicz; Kalisz Philharmonic; Huberman Philharmonic / Adam Klocek
Dux (dist. Naxos)
DUX 1303
Rick’s Pick

What’s better than a classical concerto for clarinet? A classical concerto for two clarinets, of course. And since the Mannheim School composers of the late 18th century loved the clarinet, it’s not a surprise that several outstanding examples of double clarinet concertos would have emerged from that milieu. (Krommer was not a Mannheim composer, but worked around the same time and not too far away, in Vienna.) All three of these composers have written exceptionally lovely music for the clarinet, and these pieces are no exception; the soloists are superb, and the orchestras sound wonderful as well. This is a delightful album in every way and should find a home in all library collections.

Claudio Monteverdi
The Selva Morale e Spirituali Collection (reissue; 3 discs)
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers
Coro (dist. Naxos)

Between 2010 and 2013, Harry Christophers’ outstanding ensemble The Sixteen released a series of three discs containing all of the compositions in Monteverdi’s Selva Morale e Spirituali collection, a kaleidoscopic array of vocal works that ranges dizzyingly from intimate solo and duet pieces to large-scale choral works. These are late compositions, written during the last years of Monteverdi’s life, and in them we see the full expression of his vocal ideal, one that leads performers to “speak through singing.” The three-disc program ends with Monteverdi’s Magnificat Primo, a monument of the early baroque choral repertoire. The Sixteen do a wonderful job with these very challenging works, and the recorded sound is rich and crystal-clear.


Bill Frisell; Thomas Morgan
Small Town
Rick’s Pick

Both of these musicians — guitarist Frisell and bassist Morgan — are national treasures, though of the two only Frisell is widely recognized as such. (But Morgan is young, and I’m confident the world will catch on soon.) One of the things that makes Frisell such a marvel is his stylistic range. On this live set recorded at the Village Vanguard, for example, he and Morgan move effortlessly from a solidly swinging rendition of Lee Konitz’ “Subconscious Lee” to a gorgeous take on the American country classic “Wildwood Flower.” (It’s a rare jazz musician who recognizes the depth of that particular song’s beauty.) There are equally fine originals by Frisell and Morgan as well, and the show ends on a fun and whimsical note with a version of the theme from the James Bond movie Goldfinger. I do wish the bass had been recorded with a little bit more presence and detail, but this album is still an essential purchase for all libraries.

John Beasley
Presents MONK’estra, Vol. 1
Mack Avenue

Thelonious Monk’s notoriously knotty melodies and crooked rhythms have challenged musicians for decades — even by the standards of bebop’s mid-century jazz modernism, Monk’s music was weird, and it remains so. For arrangers, it poses both challenges and opportunities. For someone with John Beasley’s unusually acute sense of structure, the opportunities are tremendous, and he makes the most of them on this collection of eight Monk arrangements for big band. Some of these tunes are very familiar (“Epistrophy,” “‘Round Midnight”), and others are less so (“Oska T,” “Gallop’s Gallop”), but all of them are loving dissected and reconstituted in ways that shed new light on even the most familiar pieces — and the band plays with all the wit, intelligence, and swing that this music requires. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.

Thelonious Monk Quintet
Les liaisons dangereuses – 1960 (2 discs)
Rick’s Pick

In honor of Monk’s centenary this year, an enterprising young label has brought to market (for the first time ever) the soundtrack album to Roger Vadim’s 1960 film Les liaisons dangereuses. In a market fairly glutted with Monk content, this is a real rarity: previously-unissued studio recordings, representing Monk’s first time recording for film. The quintet features Charlie Rouse (who was by now Monk’s favorite tenor saxophonist), bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Art Taylor, with the addition of French tenor sax player Barney Wilen. The sound quality is outstanding, and although the repertoire is familiar (“Crepuscule with Nellie,” “Well, You Needn’t,” “Pannonica,” etc.) the program also includes a solo piano improvisation titled “Six in One,” which has not been repeated elsewhere. This album is a must-own for all library jazz collections.

Art Pepper
Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Volume 3: Lee Konitz (reissue)

Art Pepper
Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Volume 4: Bill Watrous (reissue)

In the late 1970s, when a Japanese record label contacted the recently-detoxed Art Pepper and asked him to make some albums of 1950s-style cool jazz, he was put in a quandary: his contract with Fantasy/Galaxy prevented him from recording for any other label as a leader. So instead he organized a series of sessions with illustrious musicians and credited them as the leaders, with himself serving as a “sideman.” These albums are now being reissued for the first time (the first two volumes in the series were my “Rick’s Pick” in the March issue), and these next two installments showcase alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and trombonist Bill Watrous. As before, they feature outstanding straight-ahead jazz performances recorded with pristine clarity, and they do indeed celebrate the cool West Coast sound for which Pepper had become famous — but one that he had pretty much left behind by the late 1970s. The Konitz volume was originally issued under the title High Jingo, and the Watrous album was originally titled Funk’n Fun; both have been out of print and unavailable for decades. This whole series is strongly recommended to all libraries.

Arve Henriksen
Towards Language
Rune Grammophon (dist. Forced Exposure)
RCD 2192
Rick’s Pick

This one goes in the Jazz section because Henriksen is a trumpeter, and because I honestly can’t figure out where else to put it. His music is ethereal, often arrhythmic, and very often reminiscent of Jon Hassell’s work with Brian Eno: the treated trumpet sounds, the dark and rumbling accompaniments, the evocations of unidentifiable exotic musical cultures. But unlike Hassell’s, Henriksen’s music occasionally blooms into moments of lyrical — if often eerie — beauty. This is music that hovers more than it flies, and that seeps into your subconscious in ways that almost no other music I’ve ever heard does. Very highly recommended.

Regina Carter
Ella: Accentuate the Positive
88985 40604 2

You might expect violinist Regina Carter’s Ella Fitzgerald tribute to be a rollicking, straightforwardly swinging affair, but if so, brace yourself: the tunes are deep cuts, for one thing — no “Mack the Knife,” no “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” These are mostly quiet and sometimes bluesy numbers, even the title track. And while Carter’s jazz style embraces straight-ahead tradition, it’s not bound by it, which means that there’s lots of stylistic range on this album. This is a sweet, deeply affectionate look back at one of the 20th century’s greatest singers in any genre, and would be a good addition to any jazz collection.


The Weeping Willows
Before Darkness Comes a-Callin’
No cat. no.

You would never guess that Laura Coates and Andy Wrigglesworth are from Australia — on their second album they channel a particular dark strain of acoustic country that sounds deeply American, and that puts their voices at the very center of the sound, and that keeps longing and heartache at the center of the songs’ lyrical concerns. For some reason I hear these guys as a cross between the Carter Family and X, though your mileage may vary. No matter what their sound evokes for you, though, you should definitely consider adding this one to your library’s country collection.

Various Artists
Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records
Americana Music College
No cat. no.

This album is exactly what its title suggests: a celebration of Memphis rockabilly, country, and R&B, recorded by an array of singers backed by a band led by brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson. The recordings were done at Sam Phillips Recording and at the classic Sun Studios, so they sound extra warm and greasy, and with singers like Jimbo Mathus, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Valerie June performing songs like “Ten Cats Down,” “High School Confidential,” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” you know you’re going to have lots of fun listening (and dancing) to this one.

Austin Hanks
Alabastard Media
No cat. no.

Looking at the cover photo does not prepare you for the deeply soulful, almost R&B flavor of Austin Hanks’ singing voice and of this album overall. (Knowing that Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top is the producer does give you a bit of a hint of what to expect.) Hanks has his roots deep in the honky tonks and juke joints of the deep South, though, and what that means is that blues and R&B inform his country music just as much as country music informs his blues and R&B. Genre designations are for suckers anyway. The voice — focus on the voice.

Jim Lauderdale
London Southern
Sky Crunch (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

The theme on Jim Lauderdale’s 29th album is cross-cultural unity: he hired Nick Lowe’s touring band to record a set of early-1960s-style country music, the kind that draws on the honky-tonk verities but still luxuriates in rich studio production and even brings onboard the occasional string section (and no joke, there’s a brief oboe solo on “I Love You More”). Lauderdale’s wry drawl continues to deliver some of the sharpest and smartest lyrics in the business, and his voice is a thing of reedy beauty. And I love hearing subtle hints of British pub rock in these arrangements. Very subtle, that is. Actually, they may be in my imagination. No matter, it’s an outstanding album.


Halogen Continues (digital/vinyl only)

Most artists working in electronic genres are monogamists, or at least serial monogamists: they pick one genre and stick with it, at least for a while, sometimes drifting over time into others as their interests shift or their skill levels increase. But Icelandic musician Sigurbjörn “Bjössi” Þorgrímsson (who passed away five years ago) was a polygamist, working in multiple genres at once — and not always ones that his colleagues would recognize. He used terms like “sofatrance” and “weirdcore” to designate his forays into off-kilter ambience, pounding techno, and jungly speed-funk, but there really aren’t good words available to describe his highly detailed and always surprising music. This album brings together rare and previously unreleased material into a collection that doesn’t exactly cohere — but then, how could it? It is, on the other hand, a very enjoyable if sometimes challenging listen.

Mt. Wolf
Rick’s Pick

On its debut full-length, this London-based trio wears its artistic ambitions on its collective sleeve: their sound is atmospheric but huge, the vocal style alternating between a Nick Cave-y portentousness and a dream-pop falsetto. Acoustic guitars figure centrally in the production, but the enormous spaces are defined by electronic instruments and (crucially) effects, creating a sense of expansive intimacy. At times the music verges on the ambient, and at others on the anthemic. And although there’s hardly a track here that will tempt you to sing along, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed by this album’s deep and rich beauty. Aetherlight is one of the best things I’ve heard all year, in any genre.

Hugh Hardie
Hospital (dist. Redeye)

Although its typical beats are high-speed and somewhat frenetic by nature, its is eminently possible for drum’n’bass music to be smooth, attractive, even soothing at the same time. Hugh Hardie’s take on the d’n’b tradition is a case in point: the double-speed breakbeats he favors tend to be more metronomic than wildly funky (no Amen breaks here), and he complements them with chordal washes and floating, dubwise shreds of vocal (a nod to the music’s origins in the reggae-informed jungle scene of the early 1990s). This is a subgenre of d’n’b often tagged as “liquid,” and it’s both fun and often quite beautiful. Hardie’s take on it is unusually attractive. Definitely a good choice for pop collections.

Glenn Morrow
Cry for Help
Rhyme & Reason/Bar/None

For someone of my generation, it’s kind of startling to see the first generation of alt-rockers suddenly looking as old as the first generation of “classic” rockers did just a couple of years ago — oh, wait, sorry, that was a couple of decades ago. Time sure does fly. Anyway, time marches on but some things stay the same, and they include the guitar-rock verities: sly and sometimes sardonic lyrics, melodic hooks that are a little bit rusty around the edges, workmanlike vocals. Bar/None label head Glenn Morrow is a legend of the Hoboken, NJ music scene, and this is his first album in a long time. He still sounds great, or at least as great as an alt-rocker is supposed to sound. The band is solid, the songs are sharp, and the vocals are, you know, workmanlike. Recommended.


Mark Wonder
Dragon Slayer
Irie Ites
Unknown cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

The seventh album from Kingston native Mark Wonder is the best new reggae release of the year — a strictly rootswise feast of solid songwriting, impeccable singing, and heavyweight rhythms courtesy of Mafia & Fluxy, Roots Radics, and others. The international reggae scene is rife with artists who are good singers but not great songwriters, or who endlessly recycle familiar rhythms and lyrical concepts, or who make up for their vocal deficiencies with bombast and emotion. Mark Wonder, however, is a true triple-threat performer: a gifted singer with a clear and powerful voice, a songwriter whose lyrics explore traditional roots-and-culture themes but never fall back on facile or familiar slogans, and a melodist who can compose hooks that make any rhythm all his own. If you want to know what modern roots reggae is supposed to sound like, look no further than this outstanding release.

Various Artists
Oté Maloya: The Birth of Electric Maloya in La Réunion 1975-1986
Strut (dist. Redeye)

Maloya has its origins in the songs, music, and dances of African slaves brought to Reunion Island to work the sugar plantations in the 17th century. But in the 1970s its traditions were given a fresh infusion of life and energy by the incorporation of Western instruments, both electric and acoustic, and a new popular music style was born. This fine compilation brings together examples of electric maloya from this period, performed by a wide variety of male and female singers and instrumentalists. To most Western listeners it will sound both alien and familiar, a strange and wonderful blend of African, French, and wholly unique flavors.

Wrongtom Meets the Ragga Twins
In Time
Tru Thoughts
Rick’s Pick

Here’s another outstanding new reggae release, though this one is in a different vein: producer Wrongtom spins classic 1980s-style dancehall grooves for the Ragga Twins, a legendary emcee tag team that helped to create the sounds of jungle and drum’n’bass in the early 1990s. In Time is London reggae through and through, simultaneously an exercise in nostalgia (yes, you’re going to hear the “Sleng Teng” rhythm) and an assertion that this music belongs as much to the present as to the past. The Ragga Twins are as witty as ever, and they can still ride a rhythm like nobody’s business. Recommended to all libraries, as are the previous installments in the Wrongtom Meets series.

Les amazones d’Afrique
République amazone
Real World

In my opinion, one of the world’s most potent musical combinations is the fusion of traditional West African songs and rhythms and Euro-American electronic instruments. This album lends support to that view: it’s a politically-minded gathering of prominent West African women singers (Angélique Kidjo, Mariam Doumbia, Nneka, and others), who take turns singing against oppressive patriarchy and sexual violence (mostly in regional languages) accompanied by an invigorating mix of traditional and modern instruments and beats that vary from the subdued to the heavy. The singing is excellent, and so is the cause to which profits from sales of the track “I Play the Kora” will be donated.

Dr. Dubenstein
Conspiracy Theory
Echo Beach

Dr. Dubenstein is Derrick Parker, a denizen of Washington, DC and a former employee of the lamented RAS Records label. For his debut album he’s gathered together a who’s-who of reggae session musicians, including members and former members of bands like Steel Pulse, Dub Syndicate, Roots Radics, and even (so the rumor goes) the Wailers, to create a sort of dub concept album: it’s a primarily instrumental dub program, but the proceedings are salted with wry spoken-word conspiracy-mongering and track titles like “Illuminati Dub” and “Simian Virus 40 (SV40) Dub.” Perhaps the album’s finest track is “Flabba’s IPad,” a tribute to Earl “Flabba” Holt (former bassist for Dub Syndicate) which recycles some classic Syndicate sounds but twists them into exciting new shapes. Based on this material I’m about ready to declare Dr. Dubenstein America’s answer to the Mad Professor. Recommended.

Various Artists
King Size Dub: Reggae Germany Downtown Chapter 3
Echo Beach
Rick’s Pick

We’ll close out this month’s issue with one more selection from the recent bumper crop of outstanding reggae releases: the latest installment in the Echo Beach label’s ongoing King Size Dub series. This one is an absolute killer from start to finish, a jam-packed celebration of pure heavyweight roots and dancehall niceness. A-list singers like Gentleman and the old-school reggae legend Carlton “Tetrack” Hines make appearances here (the latter on album highlight “In Times Like These,” presented in showcase style), but the album’s center of gravity comes from the rhythms: the instrumental tracks assembled by producers like Umberto Echo and Aldubb and by top-notch ensembles like the Senior Allstars and Illbilly Hitec. Every track on this album is a solid winner.

June 2017


Various Composers
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott: Luther and the Music of the Reformation (2 discs)
Vox Luminis; Bart Jacobs / Lionel Meunier
Ricercar (dist. Naxos)
RIC 376

500 years ago this October, Martin Luther nailed a copy of his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, marking the starting point of the Protestant Reformation. Accordingly, you can expect throughout this year to see a steady stream of releases featuring sacred and liturgical music of Luther’s era, including music written by the man himself, and you can expect that just about every such release will feature Luther’s face prominently on the cover and will bear as a title some variation on Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which remains Luther’s most famous composition). Of these releases, I will predict that few will be as thoughtfully organized and beautifully presented as this two-discs-plus-book compilation from the Ricercar label. The first disc consists of motets arranged to follow the liturgical year, while the second presents works that are associated specifically with the Lutheran liturgy. Featured composers include such usual suspects as Michael Praetorius, Heinrich Schütz, and Samuel Scheidt as well as lesser-known names like Michael Altenburg and Thomas Selle. (Luther himself is represented in only a single choral work.) The singing by Vox Luminis is outstanding, and unlike other similarly-packaged Ricercar book/box sets, this one consists entirely of new recordings. For a somewhat different take on the music of this period, libraries might also consider picking up Ein feste Burg… Luther in der Musik (Berlin Classics 0300848BC), a compilation of arrangements of Luther’s hymns and related works by his contemporaries. Some of the arrangements are quite modern, and the program overall is fascinating. That one focuses on brass and wind settings, whereas this Ricercar collection focuses on vocal works.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart in Havana
Simone Dinnerstein; Havana Lyceum Orchestra / José Antonio Méndez Padrón
Sony Classical

If the title had you hoping for a recording of recently-discovered works composed during Mozart’s hitherto-unattested holiday in Cuba, I apologize for the disappointment. If, however, all you wanted was another world-class performance by superstar pianist Simone Dinnerstein, recorded in Havana with a very fine local orchestra, then you’re in luck. The Cuban connection is personal for Dinnerstein: her piano teacher was a Cuban emigré, so the project was a labor of love for her. Cuba’s ramshackle economy and infrastructure meant that equipment had to be brought in from overseas (and even the strings for the orchestra’s instruments had to be donated) and the recording sessions were apparently long and laborious — but the result is wonderful. Dinnerstein and crew recorded Mozart’s concertos nos. 21 and 23, and these performances positively glow with warmth and joy. Recommended to all libraries.

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi; Johann Sebastian Bach
Stabat Mater; Cantatas 54 & 170
Tim Mead; Lucy Crow; La Nuova Musica / David Bates
Harmonia Mundi
HMM 907589
Rick’s Pick

This program of strange and somber beauty puts Pergolesi’s magisterial Stabat Mater setting (for soprano, alto, strings, and continuo) between two of Bach’s more severe sacred cantatas: Wiederstehe doch der Sünde (1714) and Vergnügte Ruh! beliebte Seelenlust! (1726). Bach makes richly creative use of harmonic weirdness in the first one particularly, spinning out a wordless metaphor for the complexities and diverse manifestations of sin. This sets up Pergolesi to explore simultaneously what are both the most wrenchingly human and transcendentally divine examples of suffering: that of a mother whose child has died, and that of a Messiah put to death for the sins of the world. Then the program ends with the gentler (but still quite firm) message of the second Bach cantata, with its admnonitions against giving way to sin. Everyone on this recording performs admirably, but countertenor Tim Mead is a marvel on the alto parts. For all libraries.

Kelly Moran
Telegraph Harp (dist. Redeye)

What makes the prepared piano more than a gimmick is a combination of two things: the radical defiance that it represents, and the way it extends the piano’s capabilities. For centuries, it was clear that while pianists could do lots of different things by applying technique, the one thing they could not do was fundamentally alter the piano’s timbre and tone. “Preparing” a piano (which is usually accomplished by inserting objects between the instrument’s strings) is simultaneously an act of defiance and of exploration, and composers like Kelly Moran demonstrate how beautiful such rebellion can be. While some of her work is challenging, much of it is lyrical and inviting. For these pieces Moran makes occasional use of electronics, but the piano itself, with its constantly-surprising array of altered tones, is always at the center.

Claudio Monteverdi
Vespro Della Beata Vergine (reissue; 2 CD + DVD)
Monteverdi Choir et al. / John Eliot Gardiner
Archiv Produktion
479 7176
Rick’s Pick

Claudio Monteverdi
The Other Vespers
I Fagiolini et al. / Robert Hollingworth
483 1654

Since this year is Monteverdi’s 450th birthday, it’s not a big surprise to see John Eliot Gardiner’s monumental 1989 account of the Vespro Della Beata Vergine — recorded live in the Venetian cathedral where Monteverdi worked — being given the deluxe-reissue treatment. But it’s a little bit startling to be reminded of just how outstanding this performance was: a perfect balance of delicacy and majesty was maintained throughout, and there are moments of flowering beauty that will simply take your breath away. The reissue includes a DVD with a live video of the concert as well as a 20-minute documentary. There are lots of recordings of this famous work, but none better than this one. Released at the same time this year is a slightly sassy “response” to Monteverdi’s famous service: an alternative Vespers program compiled by the fine English ensemble I Fagiolini, consisting of lesser-known Monteverdi settings of the usual Vespers texts alongside works by Frescobaldi, Castello, Donati, and others. Also outstandingly performed, this disc would make a very fine companion purchase to the Gardiner.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Muzio Clementi
Mozart, Clementi
Vanessa Wagner
La Dolce Volta (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
LDV 31

For this unusual album, pianist Vanessa Wagner chose two works each by Mozart and Clementi, and performed one of each composer’s works on an 1814 fortepiano and the other on a modern Yamaha grand. In recent years we have seen somewhat similar experiments from other musicians who have recorded single albums on a mixture of modern and historical instruments, but there’s something special about this one. Wagner has an audible love of both the fortepiano’s intimate sound and limited range and of the brilliant tone and larger voice of the modern piano, and by juxtaposing two giants of the late classical/early Romantic period (one universally recognized as such, the other less so) she has created another interesting dimension of contrast to the program as well. Her playing is fiery but tasteful.

Simon Vincent
Stations of the Cross
Vision of Sound

If you’re after a pianistic experience of a radically different nature from the one described above, consider this sparse, deeply contemplative, almost pointillistic tone poem from pianist and composer Simon Vincent. After a standalone piece depicting Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, the main work follows him along the road to his crucifixion. Inspired by the sculpture installation Forest Stations by William Fairbanks (which depicts the Stations of the Cross by means of wooden carvings), Vincent’s piece consists of brief interjections of sound that emerge from long stretches of silence, in a manner that brings to mind Morton Feldman’s chamber works. The harmonies are generally fairly consonant, but to call this work “tonal” would be misleading — it doesn’t progress according to typical rules of harmonic movement. It really has to be heard to be comprehended, and it’s quite moving.


Mark Masters Ensemble
Blue Skylight
Rick’s Pick

In the jazz world, it’s unusual for the leader on a small-ensemble session not to be one of the participating musicians. But Mark Masters is an arranger and composer first and foremost, and on this septet date he provides the charts while his friends provide the playing. The program is a mix of tunes by Charles Mingus and Gerry Mulligan, which may seem like a strange combination — the enfant terrible of postwar jazz experimentalism paired with an avatar of West Coast cool — but Masters and his crew make it work beautifully. Masters sacrifices none of Mingus’s conceptual density for swing and none of Mulligan’s coolly-crafted swing for unnecessary complexity, but shows both composers off for the geniuses they were. And not one of the selections is an obvious one, with the possible exception of “So Long, Eric” (though the more obvious option would have been “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”). For all library collections.

Daniel Schläppi; Marc Copland
More Essentials
Catwalk (dist. Naxos)
CW 150013-2
Rick’s Pick

This lovely album is apparently the follow-up to a 2012 release titled Essentials, one that I somehow missed, to my consternation. Because if the first one was anything like this, I need to find a copy right away. Schläppi is a bass player and Copland is a pianist, and both are also composers and accomplished free improvisers. This album consists of a mixture of jazz standards, original compositions, and interstitial solo and duo improvisations; tempos range from the balladic to the lopingly midrange, and the mood throughout is quiet and introspective. The playing is consistently virtuosic, but never ostentatiously so. All of it is powerfully beautiful.

Yoko Miwa Trio
Ocean Blue Tear Music
OBTM – 0010

It’s been five years since Yoko Miwa’s last album as a leader, but she and her trio have been playing constantly in the interim. You can hear the results of all that work on this outstanding album, which finds the group exploring lots of different moods and rhythms, from the album-opening New Orleans-flavored workout “Log O’Rhythm” and the Latin-inflected “After You” (both Marc Johnson compositions), to Miwa’s boppish “Lickety Split” and her lush ballad “Lantern Light.” As always, her originals are a highlight, but she picks great covers as well — this time out, from Joni Mitchell and the Beatles as well as the two Johnson pieces. Recommended to all jazz collections, as is every other album Miwa has released.

Jaco Pastorius
Truth, Liberty & Soul: Live in NYC (2 discs)
Rick’s Pick

If you’re a bass player, then drawing attention to yourself is usually somewhat frowned upon. But Jaco Pastorius — without doubt the greatest electric jazz bassist of the 20th century — never failed to do so, and it was almost always for the better. It wasn’t just his virtuosity, which was nearly unparalleled, nor was it just his highly personal tone; it was the sheer joy that bubbled out of him whenever he was playing. This two-disc set documents a concert he played with his Word of Mouth Big Band in 1982 at Avery Fisher Hall, much (though not all) of which was broadcast on the radio. (The 40-minute remainder is made available here for the first time.) It finds him gleefully knocking down the boundaries between funk, soul, and jazz, while at the same time paying deep homage to bebop tradition and to various Latin and Caribbean styles. This release is an absolute treasure, and it belongs in every library’s jazz collection.

Kevin Hicks
Wave Tripping
Biggest Sweetest
No cat. no.

The debut album from trombonist, composer, and educator Kevin Hicks is an exuberant and rollicking affair featuring a program centered on originals, and it finds him leading a quartet that sounds bigger than it is. Hicks and his band can swing hard when they want to, but they also have no problem veering off into more experimental and fusion-y territory. On “One after Another” Hicks simultaneously explores Middle Eastern modal melodies and a roughly blues-derived harmonic progression, and his take on the bossa nova standard “Wave” is gentle but sturdy. The whole album sounds, frankly, like a nonstop party attended by close friends, and it’s just tons of fun. Highly recommended.

Tom Rizzo
Day and Night

The arranging is a star feature on this album as well, though in this case the ten-piece ensemble is led by guitarist/composer Tom Rizzo. (The arranger is trombonist Nick Lane, who also plays on the session.) The program consists of a few originals but focuses on standards like “So In Love” and Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes,” with a few curveballs thrown in: a slightly noirish version of Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City,” a swamp-funk rendition of “House of the Rising Sun,” and a crisp take on Ornette Colemen’s smartly boppish “Law Years.” In my Kevin Hicks review above, I praised his quartet for sounding bigger than it is. In the case of Rizzo, I’d like to praise his ten-piece for sounding smaller than it is — sharper, more agile, tighter than you might reasonably expect from a combo this size. It’s an excellent album in all ways.


Tina Raymond
Left Right Left

This is actually a jazz album, but I’m putting it in this month’s Folk/Country section because of its source material: the program is an exploration of the American Progressive movement through an assortment of folk songs associated with it throughout the 20th century. Drummer/arranger Tina Raymond and her accompanists Art Lande (piano) and Putter Smith (bass) take such familiar melodies as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty,” Pete Seeger and Lee Hays’ “If I Had a Hammer,” and “America,” and take them apart — sometimes radically and even acerbically, but always respectfully. Sometimes they swing, sometimes they strut, and sometimes they do something I don’t quite know how to describe, but this album is consistently worth hearing.

Dustbowl Revival
Dustbowl Revival
Signature Sounds (dist. Redeye)
SIG CD 2086

Dustbowl Revival has always been a more-or-less uncategorizable band. It started ten years ago when guitarist Z. Lupetin placed an ad looking for other musicians who shared his interest in both brass band and old-time string band music. The motley crew that eventually came together has followed a long and winding road through folk, country, Tin Pan Alley, trad jazz and other roots/Americana subgenres, and now seems to have set up camp in Memphis, where they are settling deep into a funky R&B sound that sweatily combines fiddles, horns, gutbucket drums and throaty, sexy, soulful singing. This is one of those studio albums that will make you desperate to see the band live, and luckily they’re on tour right now.

Sam Gleaves & Tyler Hughes
Sam Gleaves & Tyler Hughes
Community Music
CMCD 211

Clawhammer banjo player Tyler Hughes and guitarist Sam Gleaves simultaneously celebrate and expand the tradition of old-time Appalachian duet singing on their first duo album. Both men come from Virginia and are deeply conversant with the varied musical history of their natuive region, and they draw on various aspects of it here: labor songs, gospel classics, fiddle tunes, etc. Nor is all of the music from anonymous traditional sources: there’s an acerbic Tom T. Hall number, a Mother Maybelle Carter song, even a country classic from Boudleaux Bryant. But the thread of high-lonesome mountain singing binds all of these performances together. Very nice.

Lindsay Straw
The Finest Flower of Womankind
Rick’s Pick

Boston-based singer and multi-instrumentalist Lindsay Straw has one of the sweetest, clearest voices I’ve heard in a long time, and she also has serious guitar and bouzouki chops and great taste in songs. That’s the hat trick right there, and this collection of traditional songs from the British Isles is a complete delight. Wisely, Straw has kept the arrangements very simple and spare: on “The Outlandish Knight,” it’s only her voice and a fiddle playing the melody in unison with her; on “The Maid on the Shore” it’s just her voice and her fingerpicked guitar; on “The Female Rambling Sailor” it’s just her voice and her bouzouki. The album’s subtitle (“Songs of Feminine Triumph”) signal the album’s thematic unity: lots of sly, funny, and pointed songs about women as agents and subjects rather than as objects. Recommended to all libraries.

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers
Rick’s Pick

Oh my heavens, but this is a fine album. Sarah Shook purveys a style of country music that I wouldn’t call cowpunk because there’s nothing much Western about it (despite the occasional faint echoes of Bakersfield and the shout-out to Dwight Yoakam). I think I’d call it punky-tonk: the songs are all about drinking too much, bad relationships, and generalized personal breakdown, all delivered in an open-throated mountain style that evokes Hazel Dickens and played with a ramshackle virtuosity that sounds like a cross between Tom Waits and X. Here’s another interesting tidbit: up until today, I thought the best opening line to a country song was “Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl.” Turns out I was wrong: the best opening line to a country song is “I’m drinking water tonight, ‘cuz I drank all the whiskey this morning.” Or it’s the best opening line to a punky-tonk song, anyway. Highly recommended to all libraries that don’t mind a few F-words in their country albums.


Step into Light
33 1/3
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

I have a couple of great power pop releases to recommend this month. The first one is from perennial favorites Fastball, who hit platinum in 1998 with All the Pain Money Can Buy, and since then have not (in my opinion) gotten the recognition they deserve. No one writes hooks like these guys, and particularly like Tony Scalzo. It’s been eight years since their last release, and although it’s been a long eight years, Step into Light is well worth the wait: highlights include the soulful “Best Friend,” the sweet and crunchy “Just Another Dream,” and the twangy instrumental “Tanzania.” For absolutely all pop collections.

The Modulators
Tomorrow’s Coming (reissue)

Our next power-pop offering is this recently unearthed gem from a little-known New Jersey outfit called the Modulators. Tomorrow’s Coming was originally released in 1984, and it was their only full-length album. Finally reissued in CD format, it now comes to market with a bunch of demos appended to the original program as bonus tracks. Does it sound dated? Sure, but not in a bad way. (I mean, come on — the Rubinoos sound dated, and you still love them, right?) They also sound somewhat lighter than many of their power-pop contemporaries: the Modulators’ sound is tight and spare, not big and crunchy, the better to luxuriate in their tight harmonies and swooningly pretty melodies. The demos are charmingly rough, but still pack plenty of punch.

Celestial Vibration (reissue)
Soul Jazz (dist. Redeye)

When approaching this album, it’s important to bear in mind that it was originally released in 1978 — just as the Woo-Woo Ascendancy was peaking. So you can expect the photo on the back cover to show Edward Larry Gordon (a.k.a. Laraaji) reverently sniffing a carnation, and the liner notes to include lots of references to spiritual awakening, healing energy, the Divine Eternal Presence, etc. Scoff if you want, but this music is gorgeous. Gordon’s novel use of a sort of prepared autoharp (which he often strikes with mallets, making it sound more like a hammered dulcimer) and electronic effects was unique at the time and remains so today. Celestial Vibrations consists of two 24-minute tracks, each of them sonically very different but still clearly identifiable as a Laraaji piece. Recommended to all comprehensive pop collections.

Steffi/Various Artists
Fabric 94
Fabric (dist. Forced Exposure)
Rick’s Pick

Steffi has been on the production scene for 20 years now, recording regularly for the Ostgut label and founding three labels of her own. When she was invited to contribute to Fabric’s illustrious series of DJ mix albums, she took the unusual step of commissioning every track on the program specifically for this release. Reaching out to colleagues like Duplex, Afik Naim, Late Night Approach, and Answer Code Request, she solicited tracks “with a certain mindset” and subsequently weaved them into a rich, dark tapestry of sounds that never fully departs from the club but never fully succumbs to dance-music stereotypes either. There are beats, but they feel secondary to texture and mood; there are vocals from time to time, but they tend to be treated as instruments. This is one of the most engaging and enjoyable entries in the Fabric mix series I’ve heard in a very long time. Strongly recommended to all pop collections.

Chin Up, Kid
Swing With Your Eyes Closed

Pop-punk is a subgenre that exists on a spectrum, from poppier to punkier. Indiana natives Chin up, Kid generally range around the punkier end of that spectrum: the guitars are extra dense and crunchy, the vocals (though always melodic) are tuneful but generally pretty yell-y, the tempos are mostly sprightly, sometimes bordering on the headlong. But the hooks are always front and center, which is what makes these guys pop-punk rather than punk-punk. And one of the songs is actually acoustic — though the guys maintain the density and intensity on that one so well that you might not even notice if you aren’t paying close attention. Recommended.


Filastine & Nova
Jarring Effects
Rick’s Pick

Barcelona producer Grey Filastine and Indonesian singer Nova Ruth team up again for an intoxicatingly bewildering, styliscically promiscuous, and thoroughly beguiling exploration of internationalist dance music. You’ll hear trap, footwork, neo-soul, electro-flamenco, and a variety of multicultural influences at work here, but what the duo has really succeeded at doing is creating an indigenous music for a country without borders. Filastine’s microscopically detailed production cradles Ruth’s voice like a jewel box filled with diamond dust, and the beats are just as compelling as her gorgeous singing. For all library collections.

Various Artists
Dennis Brown: Inseparable Reggae Family (2 discs)

This album is something of a mystery: it’s a very fine two-disc compilation of modern and vintage roots and conscious dancehall reggae, featuring solid tracks by the likes of Sugar Minott, Triston Palmer, Junior Reid, Queen Ifrica, Anthony B, and Beres Hammond. Several of the songs are presented in “showcase” style — extended mixes that seamlessly append dub versions onto the regular vocal mixes. The mystery is why it should be billed more or less as a Dennis Brown album, given that precisely two of its 36 tracks feature the Crown Prince of Reggae. That’s a quibble, though; the music is great and if your library is looking for a nicely wide-ranging reggae collection to round out its reggae section, this one would make a great choice.

When the People Move, the Music Moves Too
Six Degrees
(Unknown catalog number)
Rick’s Pick

The first time you hear Ethiopian-American singer/songwriter Meklit, there’s a good chance that your immediate reaction will be “Whoa, she sure sounds a lot like Joan Armatrading.” But your next thought will be “This is the coolest, most exciting jazz-pop-Ethiopian music I’ve ever heard.” Her latest album features guest performances by Andrew Bird and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and I promise you that it’s unlike anything you’ve experienced before — tuneful, complex, rhythmically powerful, emotionally uplifting, and filled with surprises. Every library would benefit from owning a copy.

Various Artists
Vintage Italia

It’s easy to dismiss Putumayo releases as world-music lite, but you know what? There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with light music from other cultures, and this delightful collection of classic Italian pop music is an example of how to do it right. When I say “pop music” here I don’t mean light rock’n’roll — I’m talking about novelty tunes, crooner ballads, and jazzy love songs originally recorded in the 1950s and early 1960s. This music is, in a word, quaint. It’s also frequently gorgeous (just try not to swoon over Flo Sandon’s exquisite rendition of “T’ho Volute Ben [Non Dimenticar]”), and sometimes it’s just a little bit goofy, which is fun too. For added fun, try to guess (without looking) which of these tracks is not “vintage” at all, but was recorded recently by Pink Martini.

Illbilly Hi-Tec
One Thing Leads to Another
Echo Beach
Rick’s Pick

Here’s another absolute banger from digital-roots reggae outfit Illbilly Hi-Tec. Based in Berlin (home to one of the most vibrant reggae scenes in the world right now), these guys regularly attract collaborative talent from vocalists the world over — in this case, such notables as Horsemouth and Parly B make appearances, though the primary vocalist is a singjay named Kinetical. One Thing Leads to Another is filled not only with heavyweight rhythms and hooky melodies, but also with subtle touches like field-drum samples (“Seven Seas”), dubstep inflections (“Better Recognize”), and rollicking ska tempos (“Real”). And the program is rounded out by a handful of outstanding remixes, notably FLeCK’s jump-up jungle version of “Happy.” Outstanding.

May 2017

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Trio Mediaeval & Arve Henriksen

This quietly but stunningly beautiful album is the result of a collaboration that might seem weird at first glance, but (in typical ECM fashion) ends up making perfect musical sense. Trio Mediaeval is a three-woman ensemble that generally focuses on either very early or very modern vocal music; Arve Henriksen is a trumpeter who normally traffics in more-or-less experimental jazz and who is particularly known for his ability to make his trumpet sound like a wooden or bamboo flute. These four musicians have worked together in various contexts over the past several years, but this is their first full-length album together, and on it they take the opportunity to explore ancient Scandinavian folk songs, monodic chants, and hymns, some of which are at least partly improvised. The combination of vocal and trumpet tones here is glistentingly lovely, and Henriksen’s trumpet parts are never startling or seem out of place. If you don’t get goosebumps listening to this album, I recommend you have your pulse checked. Recommended to all libraries.


Sigismund Neukomm
Requiem à la mémoire de Louis XVI
Choeur de Chambre de Namur; La Grande Ecurie et la Chambre du Roy / Jean-Claude Malgoire
Alpha Classics (dist. Naxos)

This is the world-premiere recording of Sigismund Neukomm’s glorious and somber funeral Mass that was first performed (though not written) in 1815 in honor of King Louis XVI, who had been guillotined 26 years earlier. (Interesting piece of trivia: that performance featured 300 vocalists divided into two choirs, one of which was conducted by Neukomm and the other by–get this–Antonio Salieri.) Those who, like me, have never heard of Neukomm may be startled to learn that this was the second of fifty Masses that Neukomm would eventually write, along with oratorios, chamber music, and other works totaling nearly 2,000. His career took him to court appointments and other jobs in France, Russia, Brazil, and Africa before he eventually settled again in France, where he died in 1858 at the age of 80. As always, the Namur Chamber Choir delivers an outstanding account of this previously-lost work, and no library with a collecting interest in 19th-century music should pass it up.

Various Composers
Garden of Joys and Sorrows
Hat Trick
Bridge (dist. Albany)

Hat Trick is a trio consisting of flutist April Clayton, violist David Wallace, and harpist Kristi Shade. That’s an instrumental combination for which some very fine music has been written since the turn of the 20th century, and on this album Hat Trick performs some highlights of that repertoire–including a completely delightful piece written for them on commission by Miguel del Aguila. That Latin-inflected composition opens the program, and prepares the way for its centerpiece: Claude Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. The Debussy, in turn, segues very nicely into Toru Takemitsu’s even more abstract And then I knew ’twas Wind, after which Théodore Dubois’ Terzettino brings in a more Romantic flavor. The album closes with the title composition, a gentle and contemplative piece written by Sofia Gubaidulina. Very, very nice.

Jean Guyot
Te Deum laudamus & Other Sacred Music
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

Jean Guyot, who also went by the last name Castileti, was from the Belgian city of Liège and began his career there, but eventually found employment with the Hapsburg court and settled in Vienna until Emperor Ferdinand I died and Maximilian II took over and purged the chapel, installing his own musicians and composers. At that point Guyot returned to Liège and seems to have remained there until his death. This program–sumptuously sung by the male five-voice Cinquecento ensemble–ends with Guyot’s Te Deum laudamus setting, the last known of the composer’s works; leading up to it is a selection of motets from earlier in his career. Libraries with a collecting interest in Renaissance music should not hesitate–Guyot is rarely recorded, and as far as I can tell this is the only full album dedicated to his music.

Ferdinand Ries
Complete Chamber Music for Flute & String Trio, Vol. 1
Ardinghello Ensemble
CPO (dist. Naxos)
555 051-2

Like composers of the classical period who inevitably suffer in comparison to Mozart or Haydn, Ferdinand Ries is destined to languish forever in the shadow of Romanticism’s titan, Ludwig Van Beethoven. But the two men were actually quite close during the early years of Ries’s career, and Ries even worked for a time as Beethoven’s secretary. His music deserves to be heard on its own merits, however: these two quartets and one trio for flute and strings show him to be both a master of classical form and a forward-thinking stylist unafraid of bold gestures and startling effects. The Ardinghello Ensemble make a powerful case for this music, using modern instruments. Recommended to all classical collections.

Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter: Princess, Nun, and Musician: Motets from a 16th-century Convent
Musica Secreta; Celestial Sirens / Laurie Stras & Deborah Roberts
Obsidian (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

There are so many fascinating aspects to this recording that it’s kind of hard to know where to start. To begin with the most obvious: this collection of vocal music was published in 1543 and found in the convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara, where Suor Leonora d’Este was a nun and later the abbess. (Well, not much later–she was appointed at age 18.) Sister Leonora was the daughter of the notorious Lucrezia Borgia, and while the music contained in this collection was written anonymously, there is fairly strong evidence to suggest that she was its composer. Also interesting: this is the earliest known collection of polyphonic music for nuns, and this is the world-premiere recording of it. The sound, as one might expect, is quite different from that of mixed-voice Renaissance polyphony and it’s really quite special. The singing by the combined forces of the Musica Secreta and Celestial Sirencs ensembles is simply spectacular.

Various Composers
Sevenfive: The John Corigliano Effect
Gaudete Brass
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 169

And in further world-premiere-recording news, we have this very fine collection of works for brass quintet by students of the great John Corigliano (plus a few little tidbits by Corigliano himself). All but one of these pieces are recorded here for the first time, and while each has a somewhat different flavor, all reflect the influence of the composers’ instructor. Highlights include the timbrally adventurous title composition by Steven Bryant, David Sampson’s quietly sumptuous Still, and (my personal favorite) the “Foxtrot” section of Jonathan Newman’s Prayers of Steel suite.

Béla Bartók
Bartók by Heart (2 discs)
Chiara String Quartet
Azica (dist. Naxos)

The concept behind this recording of Bartók’s complete string quartets may seem gimmicky: the Chiaras have memorized these notoriously challenging pieces and play them, as the title suggests, entirely by heart. But there is a musical purpose to this approach. Much of the musical content of these works is derived from folk melodies that Bartók collected in the field, and playing them without printed music allows the musicians to (in the words of cellist Gregory Beaver) “return Bartók’s music to the realm of the unrecorded folk music he so lovingly captured.” Those who aren’t familiar enough with Hungarian folk music to recognize the source material may not catch the subtleties of interpretation involved in this approach, but there’s no questioning the commitment, passion, and sheer virtuosity that the Chiara Quartet brings to this familiar repertoire. Strongly recommended, even to libraries that currently hold multiple recordings of these works.

John King
Free Palestine
Secret Quartet
New World (dist. Albany)

Let’s acknowledge up front that there are all kinds of sociopolitical complexities and difficulties around this suite of pieces for string quartet. For one thing, the title has the potential to mislead: this music is abstract in content and is not intended as protest or advocacy music. For another, there’s the question of cultural appropriation, a question raised inevitably by press materials that characterize King’s composition as an example of “a North American composer in the twenty-first century negotiating a new personal relationship with traditional Arabic music… and transforming (it) for conventional Western instruments.” Personally, I’ve got no problem with it and I find this music interesting, intelligent, and exciting; the composer’s respect for and–perhaps more importantly–understanding of the musical forms and conventions he has adapted here are both abundantly clear. I certainly hope my academic colleagues will see and hear it the same way. Recommended to all libraries.


Colin Vallon

The title is maybe just a little bit misleading: pianist and composer Colin Vallon’s music doesn’t often inspire dancing. Maybe a sort of vague swaying in place with a dreamy smile on your face, but nothing you could really call dancing. His approach to piano trio compositions is abstract, improvisatory, and almost ethereal–which isn’t to say that it’s unstructured, just that it doesn’t swing and sometimes it barely even pulses. Instead, you’re meant to pay attention to the way his melodies develop over time (stretchy, loopy, indeterminate time), and the way bassist Patrice Moret picks up the ideas and runs with them, and the way drummer Julian Sartorius pushes everything along without seeming to be pushing anything at all. Oddly, it never gets boring.

Heads of State
Four in One
Smoke Sessions
Rick’s Pick

Now, if what you’re more interested in is jazz that is in no way ethereal, and that swings mightily, then what you want is the sophomore outing from this supergroup of a quartet. Consisting of saxophonist Gary Bartz, pianist Larry Willis, bassist David Williams, and legendary drummer Al Foster, Heads of State are all about that sturdy hard bop and 1960s-style jazz funk. You get some of both in the first ten minutes of the album: a jaunty mid tempo rendition of one of Thelonious Monk’s most notoriously difficult melodies (the title track), followed quickly by a Bartz original that struts and wiggles and fairly cries out for a Hammond B3 treatment. The rest of the program switches from bop standards to band originals and back, and never stops being an outstanding listen. Turns out there really is no school like the old school.

Jaime Branch
Fly or Die
International Anthem Recording Co. (dist. Redeye)

My tastes in jazz being pretty straight-ahead, generally speaking, I was prepared not to enjoy this album very much: Branch is a trumpeter and composer leading a band consisting of cello, bass, and drums, with guest musicians playing cornets, guitar, and “collar bells.” In my experience, when an artist offers “music that knows no genre, no gender, no limits,” that music is seldom much fun to listen to. But in this case I was happily surprised: yeah, this stuff is mostly pretty out, but it’s not unstructured and it’s not self-indulgent: Branch leads her ensemble with a firm but gentle hand, and moments of genuine lyricism emerge from the clamor and pointillism. Also, it frequently grooves. For all comprehensive jazz collections.

Eliane Elias
Dance of Time
Concord Jazz

With her latest album, Brazilian-American pianist, singer, and composer Eliane Elias looks back on a 40-year career and celebrates the people and musical styles that have influenced her. Unsurprisingly, sambas figure prominently here, and there’s lots of smoothness and lots of rich arrangements (I was unable to count the number of backing voices massed in support of “Copacabana”). There are also tons of prestigious guests, including Randy Brecker, Mike Mainieri, and singers João Bosco and Toquinho. Elias’ piano playing and singing continue to be equally beguiling, and this album is a pleasure from start to finish.

AMP Trio
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Listening to the third full-length release from this extremely talented New York-based combo, I kept being startled by how much it reminded me of the mid-1960s Bill Evans Trio. Not because pianist Addison Frei plays like Evans (if anything, his touch is lighter and his role in the group more like a peer and less like a leader), but because the trio’s members interact with each other in such a sweetly intuitive way, and because the music unfolds gently and almost impressionistically. This is very quiet music–I kept having to turn up my stereo because I was worried that I was missing good stuff–and that’s definitely an important part of its beauty. Also worth noting is that all three members are active composers of music for the group. All jazz students should have the chance to listen to the way this group works–this is really quite a special album.

Cuong Vu 4tet
Ballet: The Music of Michael Gibbs
Rick’s Pick

For this tribute to the music of composer Michael Gibbs, trumpeter Cuong Vu and guitarist Bill Frisell are joined by Luke Bergman on bass and Ted Poor on drums for interpretations of five of Gibbs’ tunes. The result isn’t exactly avant-garde, but it does get out there at times, which is a big part of the fun. On “Ballet,” an almost pointillistically abstract opening section suddenly locks into a swinging jazz waltz; “Blue Comedy” blends structure and improvisation both joyfully and rigorously; and the album-closing “Sweet Rain” is almost like a tone poem. As one might expect of this musicians, everything is played with both skill and insight, and Frisell in particular is at his best, spinning out pastoral lyricism at one moment and cranking up the distortion at the next. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.


Bucking Mules
Smoke Behind the Clouds
Free Dirt
Rick’s Pick

Fifteen seconds into the first track on this album, I knew it was going to be a Rick’s Pick. It’s a great collection of old-time string band tunes played in a straight-ahead style (no beardy neo-Americana fusioneering) by highly accomplished young musicians who have paid their dues listening to old 78-rpm recordings and hanging out with elder masters from Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia. This is driving, rollicking old-time music that does what old-time music is supposed to do: get you up out of your seat. And while the press materials note the band’s ability to “move square dancers,” it’s worth noting that several of these tunes might constitute a moving hazard for dancers of any kind, given their crooked rhythms. Highly recommended to all libraries.

Steve Mayone
Sideways Rain
Janglewood (dist. Select-O-Hits)
No cat. no.

Steve Mayone (formerly of Boston cowpunk legends Treat her Right) has now made five solo albums, and on this one he uses grungy, greasy country-rock to explore issues of personal loss and change. (The title track refers to a harrowing experience of, shall we say, near-existential change while driving in severe weather.) The music is more sophisticated than he wants it to sound; his singing voice is workmanlike, and the production is minimal and at times it almost sounds like a bedroom recording–but the songs are exquisitely crafted and he sings them with rough-hewn authority. I’m going to go see what I can find out about his earlier albums now.

Eliza Carthy & the Wayward Band
Big Machine
Topic (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

I’ve long held the opinion that the best folk-rock is British folk-rock. Unlike American folk-rock, it’s almost never wimpy and it almost never makes me roll my eyes. (Maybe it would if I were British; heaven knows my British friends have a hard time understanding my enthusiasm for Morris dance.) And it’s also long been my opinion that much of the best British folk-rock is made by Eliza Carthy. On her latest, she gathers together a band with which she first started working back in 2013 for an album of broadside ballads, contemporary and original songs, and other odds and ends. The band rocks in a rough-hewn, staggering, but completely undeniable way–maybe a bit the way Tom Waits would if he’d been born in England’s industrial north. There’s a duet with Teddy Thompson and a track featuring rapper MC Dizraeli (geddit?). Brilliant.

Raging Fire
These Teeth Are Sharp

There’s country-rock, and then there’s country-punk-rock. This Nashville-based octet has been making the latter off and on since 1983. More off than on, actually: they disbanded in 1989 and didn’t get back together until a reunion show in 2012–a show that convinced them that, in vocalist Melora Zaner’s words, “we’re not done.” That feeling of unfinished business eventually bore fruit in this nine-track album of mostly new material, and while you can certainly hear echoes of the band’s 1980s origins, none of it feels dated at all. Every song is fierce, sharp, and fun.


Coldcut X On-U Sound
Outside the Echo Chamber
Ahead of Our Time (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Although it may not be obvious, this album is a summit meeting of the G2 world superpowers of dub-derived dance music. On one side of the conference table we have Coldcut, the guys who founded the Ninja Tune label and whom everyone has heard even if they don’t realize it. (I promise that if I played you “Beats + Pieces,” you’d say “Oh yeah — I love that tune!”) On the other side is Adrian Sherwood, the legendary madman behind the On-U Sound studio and label, and impresario of every important neo-roots and avant-dub project to come out of London in the past 30 years. What do they sound like together? Exactly what you’d expect: funky, creative, dubby, dark, heavy, hilarious. Guest singers and chatters include the redoubtable Roots Manuva, dancehall queen Ce’Cile, and the brilliant playback singer Hamsika Iyer–and yes, there are dub versions aplenty. Absolutely essential.

Marti Nikko & DJ Drez
Explorers of Infinity [DIGITAL ONLY]
Nectar Drop
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

DJ Drez & Zaire Black
Aficionados [DIGITAL ONLY]
Nectar Drop
No cat. no.

The prolific producer and beatmaker DJ Drez is one of the most consistently exciting artists operating in the crowded field of bass music these days (and actually has been for some time), and this spring he’s come out with a couple of outstanding albums that showcase two aspects of his unique personal style. The first is another in his ongoing series of duo projects with singer Marti Nikko. Like their earlier work, this one is essentially a vehicle for beatswise Hindu devotion and for Nikko’s lovely voice, though it’s not just about beats: the title track is a paean to Krishna in a very subdued acoustic style that sits in the center of the program and acts as a kind of stylistic fulcrum to the much funkier offerings on either side (“Saraswati” is jazzier, but similarly quiet and reflective). Those include reggae, dubstep, and hip-hop flavored odes of praise that will work equally well for dancing, yoga, or simply bumping along in your car. The second project also features Nikko on a couple of tracks, but it’s really a collaboration with MC Zaire Black, who apparently shares the couple’s religious inclinations and, charmingly, is not above rapping on the squicky particulars of ayurvedic medicine (“Eyes are windows to soul, give more to ya/She saw the prostate state by looking through the cornea”). Behind him, Drez spins his trademark blend of slamming beats, South Asian instrumental samples, and dubwise effects. Both albums are great, but if you have to pick one I’d give Explorers of Infinity the slight edge.

Silver Eye

It’s been four years since Goldfrapp’s last album, four years during which fans of their particular brand of weirdo electro-pop have suffered from withdrawal symptoms. But never fear, they’re back now and their sound is as lush, immersive, and strangely pop-smart as ever. Opening with the dance-friendly “Anymore,” Silver Eye then proceeds in more introspective directions: there are pretty much always beats, but they’re mostly quite subdued, and Alison Goldfrapp’s trademark blend of chilliness and warmth continues to provide plenty of interest. These guys are among the most consistently compelling electronic pop artists on the scene right now, and this album marks a welcome return.

Rick’s Pick

This is the sophomore album from a Los Angeles-based dream-pop quartet (yes, Brett is a band, not a solo artist) whose music is informed by an affection for Jean-Luc Godard and visual artist James Turell, among other things. If that leads you to expect precious concept-art-rock, think again: what you get instead are unspeakably soft and pretty textures into which are embedded melodic hooks so sweet and gentle that you may not even notice them at first. Same with the beats, which are also there but easier to miss. If you’re put off by wispy male vocals this stuff isn’t for you, but there’s no denying the gorgeousness–and I love it from beginning to end.

Various Artists
Air Texture Volume V (2 discs)
Air Texture
Rick’s Pick

The title of this compilation series might lead you to expect ambient music of the most breathy, insubstantial variety. Guess again. While all of the music presented here is quite easy on the ear, not all of it is relaxing and some of it is pretty weird. Notice, for example, the digital effects applied to the acoustic piano on “A Dialogue with Gravity,” a collaborative piece by Tragic Selector, Terre Taemlitz, and Daisuke Tadokoro. Also, some of it is downright danceable–Velocette’s “Petite Mort” is a gentle but insistent techno workout, while Patrice Scott’s “Synchronicity” bumps along nicely as well. And, in fact, some of it is even a little bit abrasive (“Tongue Piece” by Rrose, for example, is more insistent than enjoyable). But everything here is well worth hearing, and it all passes my “would I want to listen to this while reading a book on the couch on a rainy afternoon?” test. Highly recommended.


Rick’s Pick

At its best, dance music can be both deeply propulsive and also truly beautiful. That’s what Thornato (né Thor Partridge) has achieved on his first full-length album, one that hits a high point early with a gently monstrous dancehall banger featuring Gappy Ranks and then builds to its ultimate peak with the utterly gorgeous “Deux à Deux,” with vocals by Kongo Electro. Throughout the album, house beats are fused with elements like flamenco guitar, dembow offbeats, and Latin American percussion, and Thornato is a master at the slow build-up and release of musical tension. This would make an outstanding addition to any dance or world-music collection.

Dub Worship: Echoes of Mercy
Lion of Zion
No cat. no.

I don’t know how you feel about Christan reggae–I have no problem with it at all, myself, especially given how thoroughly Biblical concepts and imagery (not to mention gospel music tropes) have been incorporated into reggae music ever since the beginnings of the roots-and-culture era. And I’ll tell you this: if you love classic dub, you’re going to love this album. Mark Mohr, an ordained minister who has been leading an evangelical reggae band he calls Christafari since 1989, is honestly one of the most accomplished reggae musicians in America at the moment, and I don’t know whether he or someone else did the dub mixes of these tracks from his earlier releases, but I consider myself something of a connoisseur of dub, and I would rate these as exquisite. Highly recommended to all libraries with a collecting interest in reggae music.

Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang
Build Music
Luaka Bop (dist. Redeye)
LBOP 086

Better buckle in before you cue this one up. In his native Sierra Leone, Janka Nabay is an established star of what’s called bubu music–a fast, relentlessly pulsing music that emerged centuries ago as something of an occult practice and eventually infiltrated popular culture. Traditionally played on drums and bamboo horns, bubu music is now thoroughly electronic, and Janka Nabay has been a leading practictioner of it in its modern form for decades. His singing voice is pleasant and charming, and the music is exhausting but fun.

Bargou 08
Glitterbeat (dist. Redeye)
GBCD 045

The Valley of Bargou is a neglected and barren place that lies in the borderlands between Tunisia and the Algerian border. But it also has a unique musical culture, one that stayed largely off the radar of the wider world until Nidhal Yahyaoui put together a band called Bargou 08 to start spreading its influence. This album is the result: a tradition-heavy fusion of ancient and modern instruments and keening, intense Arabic vocals. While Yahyaoui’s intentions are as much didactic as strictly musical, this is very involving and powerful music and would make a great addition to any library collection.

April 2017


Svend Asmussen
The Incomparable Fiddler: 100 Years (5 CDs + 1 DVD)
Storyville (dist. Naxos)
108 8618

There is a bitter irony to the title of this wonderful box set, because Svend Asmussen died just as it was being released — exactly three weeks short of his 100th birthday. Still, the trajectory of his career really is astounding: a classically-trained violinist, jazz caught his attention at age 24, and he played professionally until 1943, at which point he came to the conclusion (get this) that jazz had developed as far as it would go, and he decided to focus on working in musical theater. He did so for 14 years, but began venturing back into the jazz scene during the 1950s. He eventually returned completely, and spent the next sixty–that’s sixty–years purveying old-school swing and hot sounds in a variety of ensemble configurations. One has to wonder whether his temporary withdrawal from jazz during the 1940s explains the complete lack of bebop elements in his playing, or whether the advent of bebop was what put him off of jazz. In any case, no other musician has made a stronger case for the ongoing vitality of traditional jazz, and I personally consider Asmussen the finest jazz violinst ever. (And a very fine singer as well, as many of these early recordings demonstrate.) This box is a slightly strange collection, consisting not of carefully-curated individual tracks from across his discography but rather of two discs’ worth of odds and ends from his early years followed by several whole albums (both live and studio recordings) originally issued between 1966 and 1986. But all of it is wonderful, and any library that collects comprehensively in jazz should definitely pick this one up.


Peter Wuorinen
Eighth Symphony (Theologoumena); Fourth Piano Concerto
Boston Symphony Orchestra; Peter Serkin / James Levine
Bridge (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

All libraries with a collecting interest in contemporary classical music should be quick to acquire this, the first commercial release of two major works by Charles Wuorinen, both commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under conductor James Levine. Wuorinen is one of the last of the great mid-century serialists–although he seems irritated by the term and has explicitly rejected it, there is no question that his approach to composition is deeply rooted in the 12-tone compositional approach, and that lends even his mature works a sense of (paradoxical as this may sound) old-fashioned avant-gardism. The structure is clearly there, and his sense of texture is exquisite, but none of this music is going to send you home humming. This is music for people who want their ears and their brains challenged, and who don’t mind working a bit for the experience of beauty. The always-exceptional Peter Serkin shines as a soloist on the concerto, in particular. These recordings were made in concert at the premiere performances of the works, in 2005 and 2007.

Dietrich Buxtehude
Sonates en trio — Manuscrits d’Uppsala
La Rêveuse
Mirare (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
MIR 303

Dietrich Buxtehude remains known mostly for his organ works, but I’ve always been a bigger fan of the chamber music–especially his trio sonatas, which over the past few decades have received fairly steady if not voluminous attention from period-instrument ensembles. This selection of solo and trio sonatas showcases the virtuosic nature of his chamber works, and in particular exemplifies the stylus fantasticus that Buxtehude was instrumental in introducing to German musicians and audiences. The ensemble La Rêveuse plays with seemingly effortless skill and also, crucially, is recorded in a warm and intimate space that beautifully balances the astringent sound of the gut-strung violins and gamba with a rich lower end. Highly recommended to all classical collections.

Giaches de Wert
Divine Theatre: Sacred Motets
Stile Antico
Harmonia Mundi
HMM 807620

Of the great Flemish polyphonists, Giaches de Wert is one of the least famous today. This may be partly because he spent his career mainly in Italy, and therefore developed a style that anticipates Monteverdi more than it harks back to Josquin. But you’ll hear elements of both in these wonderful motets, which are unusual in drawing mostly upon New Testament texts. The Venetian influence is also somewhat muted in that these works are purely vocal, without any of the elaborate horn and organ accompaniments that we are used to hearing in the liturgical works of Monteverdi and the Gabrielis. As always, the singing of Stile Antico is absolutely superb.

Various Composers
American Brass Quintet
DCD 692

Opening with the magisterial four-part Shine by Robert Paterson, the latest album by the American Brass Quintet showcases newly-commissioned works by American composers. The Paterson work is something of a tone poem exploring the properties of different metals, and it’s wonderful; Jay Greenberg’s Quintet for Brass is another highlight, one that makes generous use of specialized horn techniques, while Sebastian Currier’s Cadence, Fugue, Fade moves from a slow and contemplative opening to a series of glorious fanfares and periods of irritable grumbling. Eric Ewazen’s Canticum honoris amicorum is a brief and energetic piece that sparkles with wit and good humor. All of the pieces are well worth hearing, and it’s hard to imagine them being better played.

Various Composers
Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks, Vol. 5
Blue Heron / Scott Metcalfe
Blue Heron
Rick’s Pick

The restored choral partbooks housed at Peterhouse, Cambridge, continue to yield previously unheard music of Renaissance England, and with this disc the marvelous Blue Heron choir finishes its five-volume survey of those books’ contents. This volume includes an anonymously-composed (and untitled) Mass, a brief extract of Sarum plainchant, and antiphons by Hugh Sturmy, Robert Hunt, and John Mason–all of whom are currently known to history almost entirely because of their presence in these partbooks. The music is heartbreakingly beautiful, and the singing is glorious. If your library doesn’t already own all five volumes in the series, I encourage you to rectify the oversight.

Wayne Vitale & Briam Baumbusch
Lightbulb Ensemble; Santa Cruz Contemporary Gamelan
New World (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

The music of Bali has fascinated contemporary Western composers since at least the middle of the 20th century. Composers like Lou Harrison and Peter Sculthorpe have written for gamelan ensembles, and the repetitive, interlocking rhythms that characterize gamelan music often feature in more progressive and experimental types of Western pop music (listen to the opening bars of King Crimson’s 1980 song “Discipline,” for example.) Current composers are using the textures and structural principles that underlie this music as a stepping-off point from which to create music that is uniquely their own–and that’s the modus operandi for both Wayne Vitale and Brian Baumbusch, who have created this hypnotically gorgeous album from two works: the large-scale multipart title piece (written by both of them together) and Baumbusch’s own, much more intimate and compact Ellipses. Those who have never heard gamelan music before may find it puzzling, but these pieces are both fascinating and approachable. Recommended to all collections.

François Devienne
Flute Concertos nos. 5-8
Patrick Gallois; Swedish Chamber Orchestra

A couple of years ago I recommended flutist Patrick Gallois’ recording of François Devienne’s first four flute concertos; now, finally, comes the next installment in what we can only hope will eventually be a full recording of all twelve. As before, Gallois is a delightfully convincing exponent for these pieces, and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra (playing on modern instruments) provide him with the perfect balance of lightness and substance. These are masterworks of the late classical period and of the wind concerto form.


Dave Brubeck Quartet
Zurich 1964
TCB: The Montreux Jazz Label (dist. Naxos)

The downside of having a big hit as a jazz composer is that listeners may tend to have a hard time taking the rest of your work seriously. I confess that I always thought of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” (actually written by saxophonist Paul Desmond, his longtime collaborator) as basically a novelty number and as a result never paid much attention to his other work. I’m repenting of that now, partly on the strength of this fine live set recorded by his quartet (featuring Desmond) in Zurich in 1964. Not only was Brubeck a fine exponent of the cool jazz style, but his experimentation with time signatures went far beyond what he did with “Take Five”–on this album, for example, notice how he manages to incorporate boogie-woogie figures into a mid tempo jazz waltz on “Cable Car” (and notice how drummer Joe Morello, astonishingly never drops a beat). This stuff is lots of fun, and highly musically interesting at the same time.

Beata Pater
Fire Dance

Does anyone remember D’Cuckoo? Back in the 1980s they played a sort of pan-ethnic percussion-based electronica, with wordless vocals and lots of rhythmic layers. Now try to imagine that group collaborating with 1970s fusioneers the Yellowjackets, and that gives a pretty good idea of what to expect from Beata Pater’s latest album. She sings wordlessly (but I wouldn’t exactly call it “scatting”) in harmonically complex multitracked layers over smoothly funky jazz-fusion backing that incorporates subtle elements from lots of other world traditions. It doesn’t sound strange, exactly, but it also doesn’t sound like anything else you’re likely to hear this year. Very cool.

Various Artists
Hot Dance Music and Jazz from Britain, 1923-1936: Unissued on 78s
Retrieval/Challenge (dist. Naxos)
RTR 79081
Rick’s Pick

When you’ve got an album that is not only an invaluable historical document but also a pure blast to listen to, that’s sure to get a Rick’s Pick designation. This collection brings together 24 recordings of English dance orchestras and jazz combos that never made it to the commercial marketplace–all of them are test pressings and in one case it’s not even clear who the ensemble is because the label is blank. There’s a mix of vocal and instrumental tracks here, and the package includes admirably detailed liner notes revealing the inner workings of the British early jazz scene. The folks at Retrieval have done their usual excellent job of cleaning up the transfers, and in some cases the resulting sound is startlingly clear and detailed. I can’t recommend this one strongly enough to all jazz collections.

Mostly Other People Do the Killing
Loafer’s Hollow
Hot Cup
Rick’s Pick

Weirdo conceptual jazz has a long and respected history, and bassist Moppa Elliott’s septet Mostly Other People Do the Killing is emerging as a top exponent of the genre. It’s a genre that, of course, has no genre boundaries (conveniently for writers like me), and in this particular case the concept is “pre-bop hot jazz” and the weirdness is in the postmodern interpretation of hot jazz tropes and structures. Each of these eight original compositions is named for a town in Elliott’s native Pennsylvania and most are dedicated to American writers (Cormac McCarthy, Kurt Vonnegut, etc.). All of them showcase not only Elliott’s wonderful melodic inventiveness but also both his sense of idiom and his arranging prowess: there are surprises around every musical corner even as he maintains a constant thread of swinging familiarity. This isn’t easy listening, but it sure is fun–and frequently very, very funny.

Jim Yanda Trio
Home Road (2 discs)
Corner Store Jazz

There’s something to be said for high-energy, hard-swinging jazz, but there’s also something to be said for restrained, quiet, introspective jazz–and when an artist somehow seems to be providing both simultaneously, that’s really something. On this two-disc album, guitarist Jim Yanda and his trio achieve exactly that with a program of original compositions (plus one standard), most of which are played in a straight-ahead style in a warm, comforting acoustic, but which reveal plenty of original thinking. The first disc ends with a more experimental track, on which Yanda plays slide guitar–somewhat less convincingly. But overall, this is an outstanding album of guitar-trio jazz.

Amanda Monaco

For a very different jazz guitar album, consider this one by Amanda Monaco. Here she leads a quartet that includes baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian, organist Gary Versace, and renowned drummer Matt Wilson through a program consisting primarily of original compositions. Her soloing style is not flashily pyrotechnic–what will impress you most is her gift for arranging, and her almost insouciant approach to rhythm: on “Gremlin from the Kremlin,” for example, you’ll hear the combo shift back and forth between a tango feel and a sashaying, almost burlesque sense of swing and between modal and diatonic melodies. And if the presence of an organ leads you to expect funk, you won’t be disappointed–there’s plenty of that here as well. Recommended to all jazz collections.


Sarah Jarosz
Sugar Hill
Rick’s Pick

She could play mandolin and clawhammer banjo all she wanted, but from the very beginning we all knew that Sarah Jarosz’s spoon-bending level of talent wasn’t going to let her stay bounded by bluegrass or nü folk or alt-country or any other meaningful genre designation. And sure enough, eight years after the release of her debut album she has thoroughly broken free: on her latest, the quiet singer-songwriter-fingerpicking of “Early Morning Light” immediately gives way to the lushly produced acousto-electric pop of “Green Lights”; the bluesy modal Americana of “House of Mercy” is eventually displaced by the steel-guitar country weeper “Back of My Mind.” This kid is a once-in-a-generation talent, she can’t be stopped from doing whatever she feels like, and every step she makes feels like exactly the right one.

Ha Ha Tonka
Heart-shaped Mountain
BS 246

Some have characterized this band as a cross between Alabama and Arcade Fire, and honestly, that’s not a bad description. Even when they’re executing chugging old-school honky-tonk rhythms and singing with an undeniable Nashville drawl, there are plenty of subtly weird sonics going on below the surface, and the songwriting draws on funds of prettiness that are usually foreign to country music, and even more so to what usually gets called “alt country.” Here’s what I’d call it: it’s not country-rock, and it’s not alt country — it’s country/alt-rock. And seriously, it sounds great. The hooks are quietly monstrous, and the weird sonics aren’t nearly as weird as you might think on first listen. It actually all makes a lot of sense.

Big Country Bluegrass
Let Them Know I’m from Virginia

Three things tend to make a great bluegrass band: drive, tightness, and virtuosity. Big Country Bluegrass has exhibited all three in spades for the past three decades now. I was half-expecting their latest to be a career retrospective, but in fact it’s a collection of all-new material, and it’s very good. If you want newgrass innovation or jazzy New Acoustic Music, look elsewhere: this is meat-and-potatoes bluegrass music that could as easily have been written and recorded in 1986 as in 2016. You’ve got your handful of gospel tunes, your celebrations of home and heritage, your tearjerker about an orphan, and your tight harmonies throughout. You also have about one too many pieces of meta-bluegrass (bluegrass songs about bluegrass music), but those are forgivable when they rock, as both of these do. Recommended.

Rayna Gellert
Workin’s Too Hard

I’ll get my one criticism out of the way first: the $10 price tag is too high for seven songs and 24 minutes of music. (The download is only $8, but still.) Now, with that out of the way: this is a brilliant solo album from Uncle-Earl-fiddler-turned-singer-songwriter Rayna Gellert. It’s quiet, moody, introspective, and richly loaded with sharply-observed lyrics and melodic hooks that will worm into your subconscious. Gellert’s voice is pleasant, but when she soars into a chorus you could be forgiven for thinking it’s beautiful. And I don’t know where she found “Oh Lovin’ Babe,” but it’s a paleo-gospel gem. For all libraries with a collecting interest in singer-songwriter and mod-folk fare.


Substrata (reissue; 2 discs)
Rick’s Pick

Biosphere is Norwegian composer/sound sculptor Geir Jenssen, who has been producing various strains of immersive electronic music for a couple of decades now. Even his most dance-oriented work has always had a certain lushness to it, but with this 1997 album (recently reissued with a bonus disc containing Jenssen’s soundtrack to the 1929 Russian film Man with a Movie Camera), he turned his focus to a sort of dark ambience that is alternately warm and cold, and that features unexpected found-sound spoken-word samples. This is not easy listening, but it is undeniably beautiful, and represents some of the best of what the ambient genre is capable of.

Epilogues for the End of the Sky
Glacial Movements
Rick’s Pick

The Book of Wind
Glacial Movements

Continuing along the ambient/experimental spectrum, here are two new releases from the always-reliable (and very aptly named) Glacial Movements label. Actually, though, having said that: if you expect everything from Glacial Movements to be cold and slow-moving, you may be surprised by these two albums. Brock Van Wey (recording as bvdub) has been in self-imposed exile from the house and club scene for about 15 years now, and currently works in a highly personal style that is actually quite warm, but often also deeply and inexplicably sad. “Inexplicably” because it’s not like he employs obvious techniques like minor keys or samples of crying children or whatever; he just makes very effective use of subtle melodies that evoke longing or melancholy, and couches them in atmospheres that deepen and darken them. Another guy recording under an alias for the Glacial Movements label is Alexander Glück, whose nom de studio is Aware. He’s a philosopher of religion as well as a composer, and The Book of Wind consists of glitchy, abstract instrumental meditations on a passage from the 19th chapter of the Book of Kings. Here the Glacial Movements aesthetic is more purely expressed: the sounds Aware produces aren’t exactly frigid, but they can be quite chilly, and while there are definitely pitches involved there’s little that could reasonably be characterized as “melody.” But the sounds are quite lovely and sometimes even moving. Both albums are recommended to libraries that collect modern and experimental music.

Weighing the Heart
Old Flame (dist. Redeye)

Art punk isn’t dead. Honestly, it isn’t even senile yet. There are plenty of youngsters coming up and giving new life to the old edgy-postpunk verities, and the Yugos are a great example of that phenomenon. You’ll hear more than a hint of old Cure and Gang of Four in their sound (not to mention Mission of Burma), but their many 1980s influences are fully digested on their third album, and they’ve created a sound all their own. Highlights include the outstanding title track and the sweetly jagged “Steve French.” For all comprehensive pop collections.


The Jerry Cans
Aakaluk Music

Country music? Sure. From Canada? Why not–they’ve got cowboys up there, and Gordon Lightfoot. Sung in Inuktitut? Hold up. This band hails from Nunavut, the Canadian territory that borders on Greenland, and its members perform their country-inflected, occasionally punky, and sometimes reggae-based songs in one of the indigenous languages of the region, adding in throat singing as well and generally casting an entirely new (and distinctly northern) light on the concept of roots music. The highlight track is the final one–not because it’s the only one primarily sung in English, but because it most seamlessly blends the throat singing and the country-rock groove, and because it has the best hook. Recommended.

Gentleman’s Dub Club

Here’s another solid slab of UK roots and dancehall reggae from Leeds-based Gentleman’s Dub Club. This time out they’ve invoted a few guest vocalists to help out: Lady Chann on the sturdy rockers outing “Young Girl,” Parley B and Eva Lazarus on a nice steppers combination track called “Fire in the Hole,” and Taiwan MC speed-raps nicely on “Take Control.” As always, the Club delivers smooth but heavyweight rhythms that feature both a shiny modern surface and a deep respect for reggae tradition.

Baba Zula
XX (compilation; 2 discs)
Glitterbeat/Gulbaba Music (dist. Redeye)
GBCD 042

Usually the descriptor “psychedelic” turns me off immediately–in my view, psychedelic music is for people who haven’t yet figured out that one day they’re going to die–but when I saw it used in connection with this two-decade retrospective by a Turkish folk-rock ensemble, and that the package would include a bonus disc of dub versions mixed by the likes of Dr. Das and Mad Professor, I knew I had to check it out. And I’m very glad I did. Baba Zula blend funk, rock, reggae, and traditional Turkish elements into a unique style that sounds nothing like anyone else, and although I found the borderline-NSFW cover images and the “Erotika Hop” track both a bit exploitative, the music itself is tons of fun, as are the dub versions. Recommended to world-music collections.

Maria Usbeck

This is a weird but winning album by the former frontperson for Selebrities. Consisting of songs written during her travels around South America and sung in Spanish and a variety of indigenous languages, the Ecuador-born Usbeck writes songs that somehow hardly feel like songs. Their structure is kind of vague, but they’re not abstract or arrhythmic, and they’re frequently very, very pretty. There’s lots of multilayered percussion and the occasional hint of birdsong, and Usbeck’s vocals are also very often multitracked, creating a lush and colorful mix of sound. Honestly, this music is very hard to describe. Libraries with expansive pop or world-music profiles should seriously consider picking this one up.

Arto Lindsay
Cuidado Madame
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)
NS 090
Rick’s Pick

And speaking of charming weirdos with deep South American connections, here’s the latest solo album from Arto Lindsay, one-time downtown skronk darling (remember DNA? No? The Golden Palominos? Ah, kids these days) who is equally famous for never tuning his guitar and for singing romantic samba and bossa nova tunes in a sweet tenor voice. “Scary Arto and “Sexy Arto” are the terms sometimes used to describe the twin sides of his musical personality. But in reality, those two personae have never been completely separate, and this album represents perhaps the first real attempt to fuse them. Thus, on “Each to Each” you get gentle crooning with layers of batucada drumming and noise guitar laid tastefully beneath, and “Vao Queimar ou Botando pra Dançar” puts his voice way back in the echoey distance while his guitar gently screeches like John Zorn playing a birdcall. It’s all quite accessible and also deeply strange, and there you go: that’s Arto. Highly recommended.

Various Artists
Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Island 1973-1988

Read the title carefully: this compilation is not an ethnomusicological study of musical culture in Cape Verde during the 1970s and 1980s, but rather an overview of the music Cape Verdean musicians made elsewhere in the world following that period’s surge in emigration to Europe and the U.S. (in other words, this is music that emerged from Cape Verde). Unsurprisingly, the singing is in Portuguese; what’s more interesting is the clear influence of 1980s synth-pop on this music, even though most of the musicians were working with purely analog instruments because that was all they could afford. This being substantially African music, there’s a stronger emphasis on groove than on tight melodic structure, but this is definitely pop music and it’s tons of fun. For all world music collections.

Steam Chalice/VP
Rick’s Pick

There may be several things to admire about Rastafarian theology, but its internal coherence is not really one of them. It’s a non-creedal religion with no real organizational structure, and its conceptual framework is (to be charitable) thin. So reggae fans who have listened to Rasta philosophizing at some length may be forgiven for reacting with shock to the latest album from Jah9, a reggae artist who has emerged in recent years as possibly the foremost exponent of the roots-and-culture school. It opens with a song on which she sings about the various ways in which she finds herself being humbled by the mighty acts of Jah; she then proceeds to define being “hardcore” in terms of spiritual insight (and as a gift only available from God); she then struggles with her desire to wreak destruction on the teacher who molested her nephew. How does she feel about love and romance? Well, that’s interesting: on what starts out sounding like the album’s only love song, it turns out that the guy to whom she’s attracted and willing to give herself mainly appeals to her because he’s a source of historical knowledge. Snap. The album’s final song is titled “Greatest Threat to the Status Quo.” Want to guess what that is? It’s a “spiritual woman.” By that point you’ll agree with her. Oh, and every single track absolutely slams. Highly recommended to all libraries.

March 2017


pepper1Art Pepper
Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Vol. 1: Sonny Stitt (reissue; 2 discs)

pepper2Art Pepper
Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Vol. 2: Pete Jolly (reissue)

So here’s the story: in 1979, legendary saxophonist Art Pepper had just emerged from a lost period of drugs and prison and had started recording again. He was approached by the Japanese Yupiteru label; they wanted him to record a series of albums, with the stipulation that the recordings consist of bop and cool standards recorded in a very straight-ahead, 1950s West Coast style. He was up for it, but unfortunately his existing contract with the Fantasy/Galaxy label group made recording for another label as a leader impossible. He could, however, record elsewhere as a sideman. So he made a series of six albums for Yupiteru, each of them featuring a handpicked musician as the “leader” and additional sidemen also picked by Pepper. He was the leader in all but name, but posing as a sideman kept him technically in compliance with his contract. Three of those six albums (two featuring fellow alto legend Sonny Stitt and one with pianist Pete Jolly) are now reissued by the Omnivore label, and they are simply outstanding. The combination of 1950s-style playing and late-1970s recording technology is sonically revelatory, and Pepper is at a creative peak here — as are both Stitt (who sounds absolutely fierce on his disc) and Jolly. Both programs consist entirely of standards, and if you think you never needed to hear another version of “Scrapple from the Apple” or “Night and Day,” think again. These discs are essential purchases for all jazz collections.


clarinetsVarious Composers
Leave Me Alone: Minimalist Music for Clarinets
Ronald Van Spaendonck
Pavane (dist. Naxos)
ADW 7582
Rick’s Pick

By multi-tracking his own playing, clarinetist Ronald Van Spaedonck succeeds at performing a nice variety of contemporary works for clarinet ensemble written by composers who inhabit various neighborhoods of the “minimalist” genre. At the center of the program is Steve Reich’s masterpiece New York Counterpoint, one of the most thrilling and emotionally satisfying works of his career and of the entire minimalist style. Surrounding it are pieces by Michael Lysight, Paul Richards, Anthony Girard and others; notable among them is Tom Johnson’s hilarious Les vaches de Narayana. Van Spaedonck’s playing is consistently wonderful, and the album is a joy overall.

ottensamerVarious Composers
New Era
Andreas Ottensamer; Albrecht Mayer; Emmanuel Pahud; Kammerakademie Potsdam
00289 481 4711

For a very different experience of classical clarinet music, the latest album by Andreas Ottensamer finds him paying tribute to the Mannheim School, where the modern orchestra was born and the first great clarinet concertos were written. This program features concertos by Johann Stamitz and his son Carl, as well as a concertino for clarinet, bassoon, and orchestra by Franz Danzi and arrangements of Mozart arias for clarinet, flute, and orchestra. This was indeed music of a new era, and while it may not be possible with today’s ears to hear it for the pioneering work it was at the time, we can certainly appreciate the offhand virtuosity of the playing and the deep structural and melodic elegance of the music itself. Highly recommended to all libraries.

meiaGregory Beyer; Alexis C. Lamb
MeiaMeia: New Music for Berimbau
Projeto Arcomusical
Innova (dist. Naxos)

The berimbau is an Afro-Brazilian instrument consisting a single string held by a bow, which is then attached to a resonating gourd. The music on this album consists of new compositions (written by two members of Projeta Arcomusical) for berimbau in both solo and ensemble configurations, and is greatly aided by the use of tunable instruments custom-made for the group. Their sound is a delicate blend of percussive and melodic timbres, and if the melodic range is limited the timbral range is quite broad — and then, of course, there are the rhythmic shifts and progressions, which can get quite complex. All of it is a blast to listen to.

northernVarious Composers
Beneath the Northern Star: The Rise of English Polyphony, 1270-1430
Orlando Consort
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

100yearsVarious Composers
Music for the 100 Years’ War
Binchois Consort / Andrew Kirkman
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

Two recent releases on the Hyperion label explore the emergence of polyphonic choral music in England as the medieval period gave way to the Renaissance. Interestingly, both the Orlando Consort and the Binchois Consort are small ensembles of male voices, and these albums feature programs that cover overlapping transitional periods: the first from 1270 to 1430, the second from roughly 1380 to 1520 (centering on the Battle of Agincourt in 1415). Both programs offer a mix of plainchant and polyphony, and it’s fascinating to hear the harmonies become lusher and less astringent over time. Featured composers on both albums include the inevitable John Dunstaple and Leonel Power, but there are others here with whom even enthusiasts of early music may not be very familiar. Both releases are outstanding, but if you have to choose between them I’d say the edge goes to the Binchois Consort.

fuxJohann Joseph Fux
Concentus Musico-instrumentalis (2 discs)
Neue Hofkapelle Graz
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 980-2

The monumental seven-piece collection titled Concentus Musico-instrumentalis in septem partitas, ut vulgo dicimus, divisus represents Johann Joseph Fux’s earliest work, and was written and assembled in honor of Emperor Joseph I. It consists of four overtures, two sinfonias and an eight-voice serenade for winds and strings. There are elements of the music that may be sly references to Joseph’s adventurous personality, and its mixture of French and Italian styles also reflects the Emperor’s personal tastes and his own musicality (he was reportedly an accomplished keyboardist and flutist). I believe this is the first complete recording of these works, and it’s a delight.

cpebachCarl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Quartette für Clavier, Flöte und Bratsche
Salzburger Hofmusik
Hänssler Classic (dist. Naxos)

The trio Salzburger Hofmusik (flutist Linde Brunmayr-Tutz, violist Ilia Korol, and fortepianist Wolfgang Brunner) presents a program of four chamber works for that instrumentation by the most illustrious of J.S. Bach’s many musical sons: three quartets and one trio sonata. With this label you can’t necessarily assume that a baroque or classical-era recording will have been made using period instruments, so it’s worth noting that such is the case this time. The musicians are wonderful, and the sound of the fortepiano is especially fine; the music, needless to say, is full of C.P.E. Bach’s characteristic wit and invention. Strongly recommended to all classical collections.

cardinalVarious Composers
The Cardinal King: Music for Henry Benedict Stuart in Rome, 1740-91
Cappella Fede; Harmonia Sacra / Peter Leech
Toccata Classics (dist. Naxos)
TOCC 0300
Rick’s Pick

This somber and beautiful recording consists of works written for Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart of Rome, who, following his ascension to the cardinalship, ceased patronizing the theatrical and opera productions of which he had been so fond and dedicated himself to commissioning sacred music. Most of the works performed here (by the likes of Sebastiano Bolis, Giovanni Zamboni, and Carlo Tessarini) have never been recorded before, and they consist of a variety of liturgical and sacred songs as well as one instrumental work. The Cappella Fede and Harmonia Sacra ensembles perform them with a suitable sense of somber formality, and the recorded sound is excellent. All classical collections would benefit from owning this fine disc.


petersonOscar Peterson
Exclusively for My Friends (VINYL BOX SET – 6 discs)
MPS (dist. Naxos)
MPS 15

This reissue box contains six LPs recorded during the 1960s in the home studio of Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, a record label executive and admirer of the great pianist Oscar Peterson. Every year he would invite Peterson and his trio to come play in the studio for a select group of friends; six sessions were recorded and released as Action, Girl Talk, The Way I Really Play, My Favorite Instrument (a solo set), Mellow Mood, and Travelin’ On. For this collection the six albums are reissued on heavyweight vinyl and in what appear to be replicas of the original LP packaging; the producers consciously chose not to clean up the analog master tapes in any way, leaving them sounding just a little bit trebly and rough. Peterson’s playing is just what you’d expect: orchestral, lush, sometimes mind-bogglingly fast. On most of these sessions his sidemen are bassist Sam Jones and drummer Bob Durham, though Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen (who comprise Peterson’s most famous trio) appear on a few tracks. Although it’s quite pricey, libraries that are looking to beef up their jazz collection in vinyl formats would do well to give this box serious consideration.

fultonChampian Fulton
Rick’s Pick

Another month, another rave review of a Posi-Tone release. This one comes from celebrated pianist/singer/composer Champian Fulton — though as its title suggests, on this one there’s no singing, just glorious playing and lots of it. Fulton leads a crack trio through a solid set of old-school swing and bop originals (plus the Leo Wood tune “Somebody Stole My Gal”) and demonstrates not only her absolute mastery of traditional jazz styles and her monstrously powerful sense of swing, but also her wit and her equally powerful sense of rhythmic space. This is Fulton’s eighth album but her first all-instrumental date, and — with no disrespect to her singing whatsoever — I hope she’ll do more like this in the future.

munroDoug Munro and La Pompe Attack
The Harry Warren Songbook
Got Music

Doug Munro and his band La Pompe Attack are among the select few jazz musicians currently working to expand the tradition of 1930s Gypsy jazz (hot, fast, driven by acoustic guitars and no drums, etc.) into the 21st century. What that means in his case, and particularly in the case of this celebration of tunes by the wonderful songwriter Harry Warren, is often slowing things down a bit, getting a little more creative with arrangements, and worrying much less about aping Django Reinhardt’s guitar style and Stephane Grapelli’s violin style and instead letting those foundational elements inform a contemporary approach to acoustic jazz. And the result is a triumph: familiar hot tunes like “Nagasaki,” “Jeepers Creepers” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” are heard through a new and different stylistic prism, and everyone seems to be having the time of their lives. As will anyone who listens.

oxmanKeith Oxman
East of the Village

Here’s a burning hard-bop outing from tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman, leading a trio that also features Hammond B3 player Jeff Jenkins and drummer Todd Reid. Most of the tune selections are standards, though not generally the most familiar ones: “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” Hank Mobley’s “East of the Village,” “Deep in a Dream,” etc. But there are also some outstanding originals, notably Reid’s “A Vaunt Guard” (geddit?), which is constructed around a pair of Schoenbergian tone rows. The triumph of that tune in particular is that no matter how outside it is in theory, in practice it swings mightily and its jagged melody and rhythm are genuinely fun. This album is a great example of how straight-ahead jazz can be cutting-edge modern at the same time. Recommended to all collections.

marshallDominic J. Marshall & Friends
The Triolithic
Challenge (dist. Naxos)
CR 73429
Rick’s Pick

When it comes to jazz, weirdness and innovation are usually qualities that I find more impressive than enjoyable. But the second album from keyboardist Dominic J. Marshall has me enjoying weirdness and innovation in equal measure to my admiration of them. Despite a title that might have you expecting very old-school piano-trio arrangements, what Marshall instead offers us here is a wide variety of keyboard sounds, beats, textures, and harmonic styles, all of them orbiting at various distances around the concepts of swing and jazz harmony, but with very few solos (a couple of exquisite bass solos on “Windermere” stand out) and melodies that sometimes meander just to the cliff-edge of incoherence without falling over it. The music frequently manages to be simultaneously scintillating and relaxing, and all of it is quite wonderful.


verchApril Verch
The April Verch Anthology (compilation)
Slab Town

Fiddler, singer, and songwriter April Verch has been performing professionally since childhood, and this ten-year retrospective actually starts out with what sounds like a radio recording of her as a little kid burning up the horsehair with a wonderful set of Canadian reels. But although her roots are clearly in the various Canadian fiddle traditions (both Québecois and PEI), she is also equally at home playing bluegrass (there’s a great collaboration with Mac Wiseman here), old-time, and other stuff that seems simply to be her own personal fusion of modern and traditional influences. Libraries that specialize in traditional music should own all of her albums, but this compilation would make a great choice for those collecting more selectively.

cassieCassie and Maggie
The Willow Tree Collection
CMM 003
Rick’s Pick

For a rather different take on Canadian folk traditions, consider this outstanding set from sisters Cassie and Maggie MacDonald. They hail from Nova Scotia and have deep musical roots in the Celtic traditions of that area, but for this thematic collection they look far beyond the borders of Maritime Canada to the Southern Appalachians and Ozarks. The theme is the willow tree and its symbolic resonance in folk and country music, and most of the songs are traditional (“Let No Man Steal Your Thyme,” “Down in the Willow Garden,” “Bury Me Beneath the Willow,” etc.) but what’s a bit startling is the almost punky intensity of this duo’s performances. Cassie’s fiddle and Maggie’s guitar and piano are supplemented by a variety of accompanists, but their vocals are at the center of their sound and even when the songs are relatively slow and quiet their delivery is sharp and intense. Every track is a winner, and this album would make a great addition to any library’s folk collection.

sparksLarry Sparks
Lonesome and Blue: More Favorites (compilation)

For some time now, Larry Sparks has been one of a handful of artists carrying on the tradition of hardcore “high lonesome” bluegrass singing. He’s been recording for the Rebel label for decades now, and this compilation draws on his Rebel albums going back as far as 1982. The production is a little bit strange on some of the 1980s recordings, with the voice very close and dry and the instruments mixed rather far back, but all of these performances are wonderful. Notable tracks include “Life of Sorrow” (which is basically “Man of Constant Sorrow” with different lyrics), “Rock Hearts,” and the beautifully sung “If That’s the Way You Feel,” a song Ralph Stanley wrote with his daughter Peggy. This is excellent meat-and-potatoes bluegrass music.


godfathersThe Godfathers
A Big Bad Beautiful Noise

Remember the Godfathers? If you were listening to postpunk music in the late 1980s, you might remember the snarling MTV hit “Birth, School, Work, Death” and if you’re like most of us (in the States anyway) that was more or less the last you heard from them. But in fact the Godfathers have been coming and going ever since, breaking up for a few years as a time and then reforming and releasing an album or a single before going to ground again. Now they’re back with a new full-length release, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect, which is to say it’s pretty dang good. Peter Coyne is still more of a declaimer than a singer, but guitarists Steve Critall and Mario Venegas provide plenty of melody and the whole band’s energy level is every bit as high as it was in 1988. Recommended.

courtneysThe Courtneys
The Courtneys II
Flying Nun

“Artisanal grunge” is how they characterize their sound, and that’s not a bad descriptor at all. This Vancouver-based trio of women might seem to come by that sound honestly, given Vancouver’s proximity to the Cradle of Grunge (Seattle, or maybe really Olympia), but if you give their second album a listen you’ll find that they’ve actually created a style all their own: solid hooks are embedded deep in the slightly mildewed shag carpeting of their guitar sound, and their singing voices are actually sunny. They now record for the Australian Flying Nun label, which is an interesting development, and it will be fun to see what happens next for them. If you get the chance to see them live, take it.

Bird Attack
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Man, there’s just nothing like a really good melodic punk album. You go through your day-to-day life listening to all kinds of other music and feeling perfectly happy, and then you encounter a slab of meat-and-potatoes riffs-harmonies-and-loudness like this one and suddenly realize you should be listening to stuff like this at least several times a week. This band hails from Ostend, Belgium, but they sing in English (with barely the trace of an accent) and they sling crunchy hooks like nobody’s business. And one of the songs is about the singer’s little girl. Awww! Recommended to all pop collections.

Memories 2008-2011 (2 discs)
Apollo (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Back in September 2015 I gave this artist’s debut album a rave review here in CD HotList. Now we get a retrospective collection that brings together a bunch of single releases from his early years. These were originally released on labels like Med School, Exit, and Blackout, and they clearly show his debt to early dubstep and late twostep, and there are tantalizing hints of trap in there as well. But what is already fully in place on these early tracks is what I love most about Synkro’s music: the constant juxtaposition of busyness and subtlety in the beats, of deep dark atmospherics and trebly/glitchy rhythmic details, and of dubwise vocal effects and lush chords. This is bass music of a most sophisticated kind, and I could listen to it forever. (One minor quibble: this is a two-disc set that contains only about 87 minutes of music. Surely there was more in the vault that could have been added!)

screwupsThe Screw-Ups
No Time to Waste

The Stubborn label’s motto (“Ska’s Not Dead; It’s Stubborn”) continues to be borne out: here is a new slab of classic Two-Tone ska from a young East Coast crew, who honed their sound playing rooms all over New England and the tri-state area before landing in the Version City studio under the oversight of producer King Django and producing this debut album. There’s no punk rock here (though the title track does have a bit of a jagged edge to it), and there’s no lite jazz with ska backbeats: this is straight-up second-wave ska that occasionally veers into rock-steady territory, and it’s very good. I bet their second album will be even better.

southsideSouthside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes
The Fever: The Remastered Epic Recordings (reissue compilation; 2 discs)
Epic/Real Gone Music

Comprised of four newly-remastered early albums from the period 1976-1978 (I Don’t Want to Go Home, Jukes Live at the Bottom Line, This Time It’s for Real, and Hearts of Stone), this two-disc set celebrates one of the most reliable professionals in the history of New Jersey soul music. John Lyon (a.k.a. Southside Johnny)is not only a tremendously gifted songwriter, but also a bandleader par excellence — and the latter talent is, frankly, just as important as the former. His horn section in the 1970s was a wonder, and if you think you hear an echo of the E Street Band in these arrangements you’re not wrong. Both Springsteen and Lyon came up in blue-collar Jersey Shore towns, and although they went off in different stylistic directions — Springsteen evolving into a roots rocker, Lyon into an avatar of blue-eyed soul — you can hear Jersey in every note. There’s another important similarity between them, too: both are singers who make the most of their frankly workmanlike vocal instruments. Anyway, this set is both a valuable historical document and a great listening experience.


chinaVarious Artists
Lost in China
Riverboat (dist. World Music Network)
TUGCD 1098

Subtitled “Off the Beaten Track from Beijing to Xinjiang,” this disc collects recordings by folk and folk-influenced artists from various regions of China. What unites this stylistically disparate bunch is the fact that none of them has ever traveled outside the country, and therefore the likelihood that any of their music has been heard in the West is very, very low. There’s a sort of Asian steampunk aesthetic to some of these songs — modern technology is in evidence, but the main sounds are acoustic and traditional. You’ll hear overtone singing, Beijing street opera, electric guitars and drums backing up an erhu player and a punky vocalist, and all kinds of other stuff. It all makes you realize what a huge and diverse country China is, and how little hope you have of doing much more than scratching the surface of its musical culture(s).

Don’t Play with Fyah
Sugar Shack
Rick’s Pick

Four decades after bursting onto the Bristol scene, UK reggae stalwarts Talisman are now making the best music of their career. On their latest album some of the credit needs to go to legendary producer Dennis Bovell, who not only gives the band’s sound a muscular density that any other group would envy but also provides top-notch dub remixes of all album tracks. But none of Bovell’s studio brilliance would make much difference if the songs weren’t equally brilliant, and they are: this is strictly heavyweight roots-and-culture reggae of the kind that was being made by bands like Steel Pulse and Aswad in the 1980s, but the Talisman sound has a flavor all its own. No library with even a minor collecting interest in reggae should pass this one up.

jahovaJah Ova Evil
Forever Judah
No cat. no.

Roots reggae has evolved considerably since the 1980s, and it has become an increasingly international phenomenon. In contrast to the old-school classicism of Talisman’s latest album, consider this fine collection of modern reggae from members of the Jah Ova Evil stable. It features contributions from the likes of The Gideon, Hempress Sativa, D’Excelle, and Nicole Miller, each offering his or her own take on conscious reggae, some striking a defiant truth-and-rights posture, others offering spiritual consolation, and others celebrating the putatively healing properties of ganja. What unites all of them are the brilliant rhythms provided by the Warrior Love collective. The Slovakia-based Batelier label is definitely one for reggae fans to keep an eye on.

hanoiNguyen Le & Ngo Hong Quang
Ha Noi Duo
ACT Music (dist. Naxos)
ACT 9828-2

For this album, electric guitarist Nguyen Le teams up with singer and multi-instrumentalist Ngo Hong Quang for a program of original and traditional Vietnamese music embellished with Indian beats, jazzy trumpet and flugelhorn (courtesy of Paolo Fresu, interestingly enough), and all kinds of special effects. At times the effect is of a sort of polycultural jazz fusion, at others it sounds like prog rock with Vietnamese singing. And sometimes it sounds unidentifiable, just incredibly delicate and lovely. This would make an excellent addition to any international or world-music collection.

Out Here (dist. Forced Exposure)
OH 030CD
Rick’s Pick

Mokoomba is a band that made its name by blending traditional Zimbabwean sounds with rock and pop influences; on their third album, though, they have gone more acoustic and traditional, focusing on their Tonga and Luvale ethnic roots. The result is a collection of tunes that draw on Latin-sunding rhythms and lots of call-and-response vocals, and a sound that is surprisingly joyful — surprising because Zimbabwe is currently in such turmoil, and because that turmoil is what gave rise to this album of encouraging, uplifting music. Many of these songs are topical, though for those who aren’t fluent in the Tonga, Luvale, or Ndebele languages the messages maybe a bit hard to catch. This is an exceptionally beautiful album.

February 2017


ahcAfrican Head Charge
Environmental Holes & Drastic Tracks: 1981-1986 (5 discs)
On-U Sound (dist. Redeye)

Those who have been reading CD HotList for a long time may have noticed that I have kind of a thing for African Head Charge, the ethno-avant-dub project of percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah and producer Adrian Sherwood. So I greeted this box set — which compiles the first four AHC albums and throws in a fifth disc of rarities and remixes as a bonus — with a reaction somewhere between enthusiasm and giddy, hopping-around joy. Now, it’s important to understand that AHC’s early work is a bit difficult: whereas later albums like Songs of Praise and In Search of Shashamane Land (with their field recordings of gospel singers and tribal chants) sound like collaborations between King Tubby and Alan Lomax, the stuff from the early 1980s sounds more like a collaboration between Lee “Scratch” Perry and Muslimgauze: dark, minimalist beats that repeat endlessly while being tweaked in an aggressively dubwise manner by Sherwood. The first album, My Life in a Hole in the Ground, is especially minimal and abrasive, its highlight track being the very dread “Far Away Chant” (featuring Prince Far I). Of these albums, Off the Beaten Track is both the latest and the most immediately accessible, and the one that clearly presages what would come later. But all of it is worth listening to, and any library that collects broadly in popular and world music should consider this box a must-have.


rossiSalomone Rossi
The Songs of Solomon: Hebrew Prayers and Instrumental Music (reissue)
Profeti della Quinta
Pan Classics (dist. Naxos)
PC 10343
Rick’s Pick

Of all the fine composers in 17th-century Mantua who languished in the shadow of Monteverdi, there may not have been any quite as idiosyncratically brilliant as Salomone Rossi. While he wrote in the familiar style of that time and place, experimenting with novel instrumental textures and expanding the frontiers of the emerging sonata form, his vocal music was notably unusual in that instead of setting texts of the Catholic liturgy, he set Hebrew prayers. Indeed, the title of this collection is something of a wry joke: these are not texts from the Biblical Song of Solomon, but rather songs written by Solomon. For this recording the vocal pieces are interspersed with instrumental works, nicely showcasing the contrast between his adventurous instrumental writing and his very conservative choral compositions. Unless you listen closely, you may not even notice that they’re sung in Hebrew. The singing and playing are first-rate throughout, and this disc is highly recommended to all classical collections. (Though it is not billed as such, this release appears to be a straight reissue of PC 10214, which is also still on the market.)

beethovenLudwig Van Beethoven
The Early String Quartets (2 discs)
AVIE (dist. Naxos)

This two-disc set, released last spring, completed the Cypress String Quartet’s cycle of Beethoven string quartets (on modern instruments), and also marked the end of this fine ensemble’s 20th and final concert season — the quartet’s last performance came only a month after the CD release. As always, they play with crisp assurance and flawless intonation, effectively communicating both the fire of Beethoven’s musical vision and the depth of his mastery over classical forms. That balance is especially essential in the case of the six opus 18 quartets, where we hear Beethoven essentially picking up where Haydn and Mozart left off, and then taking the form into new territories. Most library collections will already own at least one recording of these important works, but this recording would make a fine addition even to a well-stocked library.

griswoldErik Griswold
Ecstatic Descent
Cold Blue Music (dist. Naxos)

I’ve loved prepared piano ever since I was a teenager. There’s something about the sheer brazenness of it — taking timbre, the one dimension of pianistic sound that has traditionally been completely outside of the pianist’s control, and altering it completely — that I find thrilling. But much more important than the conceptual aspect of prepared pianism is the almost infinite variety of timbral opportunities it provides, and on this 41-minute-long composition composer and pianist Erik Griswold seems to take advantage of almost all of them. But Griswold doesn’t only use objects such as bolts, screws, strips of rubber, cardboard, and paper to change the tone of his instrument; he also positions the objects on the strings in such a way that he ends up tuning the entire instrument to the key of A minor, ensuring that all of the music’s development will take place in the realms of voicing and tone. The result is like a massive set of variously-muted wind chimes with a bad case of ADHD, and it’s wonderful.

biberHeinrich Ignaz Franz Biber
Missa Alleluja; Nisi Dominus
Ars Antiqua Austria; St. Florianer Sängerknaben / Gunar Lenzbor
Accent (dist. Naxos)
ACC 24325
Rick’s Pick

Among the master composers of the baroque period, Biber is known mainly for his chamber music and especially his virtuosic violin writing — in particular his monumental cycle of solo violin pieces known as the Rosary Sonatas, which make extensive use of scordatura. But his liturgical choral music is also outstanding, and this pairing of his Alleluja Mass and his Nisi Dominus setting showcases some of his most thrilling work in that genre, beautifully performed by a choir of men’s and boys’ voices and the excellent Ars Antiqua Austria ensemble. If your collection already includes the relatively familiar Missa Salisburgensis (and if it doesn’t, it should), then consider adding this one to the collection alongside it.

knightsVarious Composers
Knights, Maids, and Miracles: The Spring of the Middle Ages (compilation; 5 discs)
La Reverdie
Arcana (dist. Naxos)
A 399

This midpriced 5-disc box brings together recordings by the very fine La Reverdie ensemble originally released between 1993 and 2001. Each disc focuses on a different facet of medieval music: mystical and erotic love songs, philosophical works, court and monastic music, music by Celtic women of the period, and 13th-century music of France and England. La Reverdie is a small group consisting of several women and one man, all of whom sing and play such instruments as the lute, recorder, vielle, rebec, and organ, and libraries that see significant circulation of recordings of Hildegard should expect demand for this fine reissue collection. (Conveniently, each individual disc retains the title under which it was originally released, which will make it easy to check and see whether your library already holds the original releases.)

mozpoulWolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Francis Poulenc
Works for Violin & Piano
Esther Hoppe; Alasdair Beatson

Here’s an interesting pairing: the enfant terrible of the high classical period alongside another puckish rebel, the playful (and notably untrained) mid-20th-century French composer Francis Poulenc. Although both were known for their sense of humor, stylistically this program makes no sense; the transition from Mozart’s E minor sonata to Poulenc’s sonata is jarring. However, the programmatic choice is of a piece with Esther Hoppe and Alasdair Beatson’s last album, which combined works of Mozart and Stravinsky — although in this case, they have combined the works of a noted Parisian composer with works of Mozart that have a connection to that same city. In any case, the playing is superb and the program is very enjoyable, with the Poulenc piece serving as an astringent palate-cleanser between the more decorous works of Mozart.

bolcomWilliam Bolcom
Piano Rags
Spencer Myer
Steinway & Sons
Rick’s Pick

In the minds of many, ragtime music begins and ends with Scott Joplin. But in reality, ragtime music emerged before Joplin and continued after him, most notably in the work of 20th-century rag composer William Bolcom. Bolcom’s music extends the ragtime tradition both rhythmically and harmonically: in these pieces you’ll hear the traditional syncopations of ragtime music pushed further, and the straightforward diatonic harmonic structures of 19th-century rags expanded chromatically without ever leaving tonality behind. Bolcom’s wit and melodic inventiveness are a delight throughout, and pianist Spencer Myer plays them with audible affection and pleasure. Highly recommended to all collections.


kingNatalia M. King
BLUEZzin T’il Dawn
Challenge (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

Natalia M. King dances happily back and forth over the line that separates jazz from the blues. Well, maybe “happily” isn’t entirely the right word — many of these songs are steeped in heartache and longing. But like so many great artists, King is not just one person: as sad and frustrated as she may be, she’s also genuinely dancing, and her combo is right there with her, swinging powerfully. She actually calls her music “SOULBLAZz” (soul-blues-jazz, get it?), and that’s nicely apt; throughout all of these songs, elements of all three traditions are always present in varying mixtures, with King’s richly-colored voice always at the top of the mix. Very strongly recommended to all libraries.

fowserKen Fowser
Now Hear This!

Tenor saxophonist and composer Ken Fowser leads a traditional tenor-trumpet quintet on this very fine set of original compositions, one that stays solidly in the mainstream but provides plenty of opportunity for all involved to make strong personal musical statements. From hard bop blues to swinging midtempo numbers to Latin-flavored tunes (no ballads, interestingly, though “Fair to Middlin'” is pretty low-key), Fowser and his crew deliver the straight-ahead goods on this thoroughly enjoyable outing. For all jazz collections.

cobbEvan Cobb
Hot Chicken
Ear Up
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Another tenor saxophonist and composer working in a straight-ahead but colorful style is the Nashville-based Evan Cobb, whose debut as a leader finds him delivering a completely delightful set of originals (plus one standard) for small combos in shifting configurations. Where Fowser’s main touchstone seems to be the blues, Cobb’s is funk — though this is not a jazz-funk album. Instead, it’s a stylistically varied straight-ahead album that touches on funk (particularly on the title track) but also nods towards mambo, New Orleans, bop, rock, and even — I swear — duodecophany (if the head of “The Why Lab” isn’t based on a tone row, it sounds pretty close). Anyway, it’s all great stuff; Cobb is a master at combining complexity with fun.

scottJimmy Scott
I Go Back Home
Eden River

I confess that although I recognize his genius, I’ve always had a hard time listening to Jimmy Scott. He suffered from Kallmann Syndrome, which kept him from reaching puberty and left him with a startlingly childlike voice, one that I’ve always found just a bit disturbing. But this album, recorded several years before his death in 2014, won me over. Partly it’s the arrangements, which are large in scale and exquisitely crafted, but mostly it’s that voice and his delivery: I’ve never heard anyone sound simultaneously so joyful and so heartbroken. The effect is impossible to describe. Noteworthy sidepersons on this recording include James Moody, Peter Erskine, Joey DeFrancesco, Joe Pesci(!), and Dee Dee Bridgewater.

dubinLaura Dubin Trio
Live at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival (2 discs)
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

If what you want is a couple of hours of sheer, unadulterated fun, check out this live recording from the Laura Dubin Trio. Playing a quirkily delightful mix of originals, standards, and jazz adaptations from the classical repertoire, Dubin plays fast and loose with just about every rule of musical decorum: switching brazenly between swing and boogie-woogie on “Something’s Cookin’,” quoting “The Way You Look Tonight” in the middle of an adapted Beethoven sonata, writing a fugue-based Bach-style invention, combining works by Debussy and Gershwin into a medley. The musicmaking is of highly serious quality, but the mood is pure exhilaration and joy. Strongly recommended to all collections.

leeJihye Lee
No cat. no.

I’m always a little bit leery of orchestral jazz. At its worst it’s ungainly and clumsy; at it’s best it usually sounds bombastic to me. But I realize that’s just me, so I try to give it a fair shot when it comes to coverage in CD HotList. I’m very glad I did so in the case of this concept album by composer Jihye Lee. The work is a six-movement suite meant to evoke the emotions arising from the Sewol ferry disaster that took place in Korea in 2014. Lee’s writing is richly detailed and lush, and the moods range from gently swinging to almost overwhelmingly angry and sad. Her orchestra consists of Boston-area musicians and faculty members from the Berklee School of Music, and they perform this sometimes-harrowing music with commitment and power.


koulackDaniel Koulack
Frailing to Succeed
Little Giant

Here’s a safe bet: this is the most stylistically eclectic clawhammer-banjo album you’ll hear all year. In fact, I’d bet a smaller amount of money that it’s the most stylistically eclectic clawhammer-banjo album you’ll ever hear, period (unless you’re a Vince Farsetta fan, I guess). Anyway, Daniel Koulack is a supremely gifted banjo player and composer, and on this album he explores lots of different musical styles, some of them simultaneously — “The Insomniac’s Lullaby” is a sort of calypso-jazz thing, “No Telephone” starts out sounding kind of Round Peakish before the Irish pennywhistles come keening in and usher in a jig rhythm, and “The Glenn Gould Piece” is a tribute to the late piano legend, with strings and flute. Listen to this album three or four times in a row and you’ll hear different stuff every time.

piedmontPiedmont Melody Makers
Wonderful World Outside

This is a roots supergroup of sorts: Alice Gerrard (Hazel Dickens, Mike Seeger, Harmony Sisters), Chris Brashear (Perfect Strangers, Robin and Linda Williams), Jim Watson (Red Clay Ramblers, Robin and Linda Williams), and Cliff Hale (a fine guitarist and singer who has probably played with someone but I’m not finding any info). Together they perform a nice mix of original and classic songs from the old-time, country, and bluegrass repertoires, trading instruments and lead vocal duties. Gerrard and Brashear are the top draws vocally, and Gerrard’s high-lonesome yelp is hair-raising at times. Very nice stuff.

highwayVarious Artists
Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll
Eight 30
No cat. no.

When I picked this album up I expected to learn that Adam Carroll was dead. But apparently he’s not only alive but also fairly young and relatively early in his career. So what convinced a bunch of Texas musicians as well-regarded as James McMurtry, Slaid Cleaves, Jamie Lin Wilson, and Danny Barnes to take turns performing 15 of Carroll’s songs? The fact that his songs are timelessly good. The arrangements here tend to be minimalist and acoustic, with a couple of full-band exceptions, and the songs themselves tend to be slow to mid-tempo, wry, and gently sympathetic to their hard-luck subjects. This is a fine overview of the work of a world-class songwriter too few of us have ever heard of.

specialcSpecial Consensus
Long I Ride
Compass (dist. Naxos)
7 4668 2

Long they ride, indeed — I was startled to learn that this release marks the 40th anniversary of Special Consensus, a band that I’ve been thinking of as “new” for, apparently, a very long time. And like many very long-lived bluegrass bands, they’ve developed a tightness that is nearly supernatural: despite the fact that banjoist Greg Cahill is the only remaining original member, Special Consensus both sings and plays with an ensemble virtuosity that makes them sound like one body with three throats and eight hands. Well-established bluegrass bands also have a tendency to spend less time on high-velocity barnburners and more on soulful, midtempo material, which is the case here as well. The highlight track is the a cappella gospel tune “Jesus Is My Rock.” Highly recommended.


deliaDelia Derbyshire Appreciation Society
Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society
Six Degrees

The name says it all — as long, that is, as you know that Delia Derbyshire was the composer of the Dr. Who theme. Once you know that, you’ll know what to expect: electronic music of a distinctly 1970s/1980’s cast, sounding a bit more analog than it actually is, riding on clouds of arpeggiation and blippy-bloopy tonalities that hint at rhythm more than they express it. The Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society is electro veterans Garry Hughes (of Bombay Dub Orchestra, among others) and Harvey Jones, and the music they make is as sweet and gentle as the fluffy clouds on the back cover photo. Nothing here will get you dancing, but it might be very helpful if you have a headache.

projectionA Projection
Tapete (dist. Forced Exposure)
TR 350CD

And speaking of bands that channel the 1970s and 1980s, just listen to the opening bars of the first track on Framework’s sophomore album: you can be forgiven for thinking you’ve accidentally cued up an early New Order album or something from the Cure’s middle period. But then the voices kick in, and you may start wondering if you’re listening to a previously-unreleased collaboration between the Cure and Swans. Intrigued? (Horrified?) I think it’s pretty great. The band reportedly recorded several of these songs under conditions of extreme sleep deprivation so as to give their themes of paranoia and desperation added verisimilitude, and I believe it. For all adventurous pop collections.

A Pink Sunset for No One
Fire (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Sarah Lipstate is one of the most original and gifted guitarists currently working in the experimental/post-rock neighborhood, and her latest album is one of her best. She uses a variety of effects to create sounds that you would swear were produced by other instruments (no, those aren’t really uillean pipes at the beginning of “Deep Shelter,” nor are you hearing a piano later in the track). But the audio trickery isn’t the point; the point is the gorgeous and evocative soundscapes she creates with it, and while you’ll hear echoes and influences from artists like Robert Fripp, Bill Nelson, Vini Reilly, and Steve Reich, those influences are fully absorbed into a complex music vision that is all her own. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


shashikaShashika Mooruth
Krishna the Flute Player
Rick’s Pick

Few things have hurt the credibility of Hindu devotional music as much as the New Age movement, which created an enormous market for recordings of vapid exotica that was designed to make its Western listeners feel like they were tapping into something deep and mystical. Shashika Mooruth, on the other hand, makes music that reverences Hindu deities without condescending to her listeners. In partnership with composer Rajeev Mahavir, she has put together on this album a nicely varied selection of devotional songs in a variety of styles, mostly meditative but sometimes upbeat and celebratory — “Kirtan Mela” actually bring a banjo into the mix before taking things out in a sprightly ska style. On several other songs the focus alternates between her gorgeous voice and the equally lovely bansuri playing of Rakesh Chaurasia and Atul Sharma. All of it is exceptionally beautiful; highly recommended overall.

morganMorgan Heritage
Strictly Roots: Deluxe Edition (2 discs)

In the wake of their Grammy win for Best Reggae Album, this hugely respected and influential family-based reggae band has brought that album back to market in an expanded deluxe edition that features four previous-unreleased tracks as well as several remixes of the hit single “Light It Up.” As always, the Morgan Heritage crew exemplify what it means to be a modern roots reggae band: strictly conscious lyrics — no slackness or gun talk — and an ensemble sound that is modern and professional without ever being off-puttingly slick. And the melodic hooks abound. Lead vocalist Peetah Morgan has one of the best voices in contemporary reggae music, and the various producers brought in for the sessions have helped them craft a nicely varied but consistently powerful set of rhythms. For all reggae collections.

scotchVarious Artists
Scotch Bonnet Presents Puffer’s Choice
Scotch Bonnet
Rick’s Pick

For a window into the state of the reggae art in the UK, one of the best resources is the catalog of outstanding Glasgow-based label Scotch Bonnet. It’s the home of the mighty Mungo’s Hi Fi soundsystem, and regularly releases singles and albums featuring such A-list artists as Tenor Youthman, Macka B, and Daddy Freddy — and on this collection, I’m morally certain that that’s the wonderful Holly Cook singing over the Prince Fatty rhythm that opens the program (though I can’t be 100% sure in the absence of liner notes). This is a marvelous mix of roots and old-school dancehall material without a single weak track in the bunch. All library collections would benefit from adding this album, but libraries with a particular collecting interest in reggae music should also be watching the Scotch Bonnet release list on a consistent basis.

thieveryThievery Corporation
Temple of I and I
Rick’s Pick

This highly eclectic DC-based electronica duo has been steeped in the sonic principles of reggae and dub for decades, but their latest album finds them diving all the way into reggae for the first time. To build the instrumental tracks they traveled to Jamaica and recorded in a studio in Port Antonio; then they returned home to DC for editing and voicing, and the result is an album both rich in tradition and imbued with the unique sound of Thievery Corporation — grooves that lope rather than bounce, and dark, misty atmospherics that in this case are notably infused with the unmistakable tang of weed smoke. Particularly noteworthy is “Letter to the Editor,” featuring sharp vocals from newcomer Racquel Jones. Highly recommended to all library collections.

chineseLoo Kah Chi; Lam Fung; So Chun Bo; Wong Kuen
Four Virtuosi Play Chinese Traditional Music (reissue)
Marco Polo (dist. Naxos)

Originally issued on the Hong Kong Record label in 1987, this album features renowned players of the erhu, pipa, zheng, and xiao playing both traditional Chinese music from a variety of regional traditions and two original compositions written in a style popular in the Chaozhou area. Because Chinese traditional music tends to be relatively simple in melodic terms, based on pentatonic scales, other aspects of the music are developed elaborately, particularly timbre and note articulation. The music also tends to be programmatic, intended to evoke specific natural images and concepts. This is a lovely and fascinating album featuring truly inspired playing. Libraries that don’t already own the 1987 release should seriously consider picking up this reissue.

damarAmira Medunjanin
World Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

In early 2015 I recommended Amira Medunjanin’s last album, Silk and Stone. Her new one is just as good. She continues to focus her efforts on the traditional sevdalinka stylings of her native Bosnia and Herzegovina, although Damar also features a Macedonian song and a couple of tradition-minded original tunes. As always, Medunjanin’s voice is a wonder, by turns delicate and chesty, fluttering sweetly one moment and digging deep into a heartwrenching lyric the next. The album-closing “Ah, Sto Cemo Ljubav Kriti” is especially gorgeous. Strongly recommended.