Category Archives: Uncategorized
PICK OF THE MONTH
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
RIAS Kammerchor; Freiburger Barockorchester / René Jacobs
Harmonia Mundi (dist. PIAS)
Why, one might well ask, do we need yet another recording of Mozart’s Requiem, surely the most popular and frequently-recorded of his large-scale works (after, perhaps, the Jupiter symphony)? Part of the answer in this case is that René Jacobs is a titan of early music and whenever he and his crack team of period-instrument players take on a work, even a very familiar one, it’s going to be worth hearing what he and they do with it. In this case there’s a more important reason, however, because this recording is the fruit of a five-year project: a collaboration between Jacobs and the composer Pierre-Henri Dutron to create a new version of the Requiem. Mozart famously never finished the work, and pieces were filled in by several other composers, notably Franz Xavier Süssmayr, whose work has been heavily criticized over the years. Dutron undertook two tasks: first, to amend and reconfigure Süssmayr’s additions into versions truer to the Mozartian style; second, to create a second version consisting of his own original compositions in place of Süssmayr’s. What we have here is the world-premiere recording of the first — the Süssmayr version, “remade” by Dutron. The result is fascinating and is gloriously performed, and should find a place in every library that supports an academic music program.
RIAS Kammerchor; Münchener Kammerorchester / Alexander Liebreich
For a Requiem setting written in memory of victims of the Armenian Genocide, you can reasonably expect a couple of things: a somber but passionate mood, and a blend of Easter and Western European musical influences. Both are in evidence on this brilliant recording of Tigran Mansurian’s deeply moving work. Throughout the piece, somberness and mourning are the dominant moods, with an undercurrent of anger in the often-unsettled string writing. What comes as a surprise is a moment near the end of the piece, during the “Sanctus” section, when the phrase “Osanna in excelsis” blossoms into radiant color. For all libraries.
Queen Katherine Parr & Songs of Reformation
Alamire; Fretwork / David Skinner
Obsidian (dist. Naxos)
The Obsidian label is one of the most reliable purveyors of Renaissance music in the marketplace right now, as are both the magnificent Alamire choir and the venerable Fretwork consort of viols. The backstory of the music presented on this outstanding album is fascinating (it involves a liturgical reformation prompted in part by the King’s nervousness about heading into battle, and also the discovery of a Tallis manuscript fragment behind the plasterwork of a wall at Oxford), but its main attraction is the creamily sweet singing of Alamire, and the somber beauty of the six-part antiphon Gaude glorious dei mater and the processional litany that bookend this program. Every classical collection should acquire this album.
Estampes; Images; Children’s Corner
Hyperion (dist. PIAS)
Here’s your study question, class: does the music of Debussy make you think of the paintings of Monet because Debussy is so often called an “impressionist” composer, or is Debussy called an “impressionist” composer because his music objectively evokes the visual art of the Impressionist painters? Discuss! And while you’re doing so, bask in the radiant loveliness of this recital of Debussy’s brief piano works by the always-reliable Stephen Hough, in particular the swooningly gorgeous “Pagodes,” which opens the album. Yes, your library probably already owns multiple recordings of these popular pieces — buy this one anyway.
Beauty in Simplicity
Neue Meister (dist. Naxos)
Pianist/composer Kai Schumacher is kind of making a musical argument here: he’s demonstrating the mutual influences between the work of 20th-century composers like Steve Reich and Erik Satie (who, though in very different ways, worked with “minimal” musical materials) and pop artists like Radiohead, Moderat, and Lampshade. The asserted bidirectionality of that influence is obviously problematic (particular in the case of Satie), but as a unifying theme for the album it works really well: hearing Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” immediately followed by Satie’s “Gnossiene No. 3” is particularly instructive. And Schumacher’s piano arrangement of Reich’s Electric Counterpoint is brilliant.
Giovanni Francesco Giuliani
Nocturnes for Clarinet and Harp
Luigi Magistrelli; Elena Gorna
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)
At the turn of the 19th century, violinist and composer Giovanni Francesci Giuliani was appointed to the first violin chair of two major theater orchestras in Florence. He was also a fairly prolific composer, and this disc represents the world-premiere recording of his twelve nocturnes for clarinet and harp — simple and straightforward pieces for the most part, but limpidly beautiful, particularly in these lovely performances (on modern instruments) by clarinetist Luigi Magistrelli and harpist Elena Gorna. Given the very limited repertoire currently available for this configuration of instruments, this release is not only highly attractive musically; it’s also a welcome addition to the field. Recommended to all libraries.
Reicha Rediscovered, Vol. 1
Chandos (dist. Naxos)
Musique de chambre (3 discs)
Solistes de la chapelle musicale Reine Elisabeth
Alpha (dist. Naxos)
And speaking of world-premiere recordings of works by composers of the early Romantic period, here are two new recordings of solo and chamber works by the great Antoine Reicha, the first of which consists of previously unpublished piano works performed by the Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilic. These works are remarkable for their delicacy and elegance, and Ilic plays them with aching sensitivity. The second release is a three-disc collection of solo piano and chamber-ensemble pieces, all performed by various student virtuosi in residence at the Queen Elisabeth Chapel in Waterloo, Belgium. The program may seem to be organized a bit haphazardly (one disc includes a string quartet and a string quintet; one contains a miscellany of piano sonatas, etudes, fugues, etc.; the third offers two string trios, including one for three cellos), but the playing is wonderful and the variety of musical textures and configurations makes the whole set just that much easier to listen to. Both of these releases are recommended to all classical collections, but the Ivan Ilic disc should be considered essential.
Viola Concertos 1 &3; Flute Concerto
Barbara Buntrock; Gaby Pas-Van Riet; Symphonieorchester Osnabrück / Andreaz Hotz
CPO (dist. Naxos)
Very often, I cover releases of music by composers who were famous during their lifetime but have since been forgotten. Christian Westerhoff is not one of these; he was never famous. Few of his compositions were published, and although he was well regarded amongst his colleagues as both a violist and a composer, his reputation never expanded beyond his home region of northwestern Germany. However, the orchestra of his home town is slowly working to change that, and the group’s most recent recording of Westerhoff works is this absolutely lovely program of two viola concertos and a flute concerto. The latter has more of a Romantic intensity than the two viola pieces do, but all are played with affection and verve (and on modern instruments) by the Symphonieorchester Osnabrück. As far as I can determine, these are all world-premiere recordings, though no such claim is made on the packaging.
Trinity Boys Choir; Handbell Choir Gotha / David Swinson
Rondeau (dist. Naxos)
Nicholas Ludford is slowly coming out from under the shadows cast by his admired Tudor contemporaries (especially John Taverner). This recording of one of his rarely-recorded Ladymasses is more than just a straight performance: it takes the Mass and puts it into liturgical context, with a processional, a sequence, a couple of carols, a recessional, and even two modern compositions distributed between the various sections, one of which features a part for handbell choir. This is actually Christmas music, not just Marian devotional music, and the carols will be familiar to many listeners. The Trinity Boys Choir sounds very good here. This disc should find a place in all early-music collections.
The Complete Recordings 1947-1962 (4 discs)
Enlightenment (dist. MVD)
Tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards isn’t the household name that he should be, but he still has lots of devotees among fans of bebop and hard bop. His style was deeply informed by the blues, and even when you could hear the more decorous influences of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young in his playing, there was always that honk around the edge of his sound. This set brings together all of his albums as a leader from his 1947 debut until the 1962 release Body & Soul. As with all Enlightenment collections, what you get is a large amount of outstanding music at a very low cost; what you don’t get is much information, including musician credits (though some discussion of the other players involved is included in the brief liner notes). These releases are a boon for jazz lovers on a budget and for libraries that have other access to the background information that might be needed in order to support academic study.
Spontaneous Music Ensemble
Consider, for a moment, the makeup of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, circa 1968: trumpeter Kenny Wheeler; saxophonist Evan Parker; guitarist Derek Bailey; bassist Dave Holland; percussionist John Stevens. I mean, good heavens. And if you think freely-improvised music has to be loud and cacophonic, consider the two rules that Stevens laid down for the group: if you can’t hear someone else you’re playing too loudly, and if you don’t make reference in your playing to things others are doing, you might as well not be playing in the group. Combine those rules with the technical virtuosity and musical openmindedness of this particular crew, and the result you get is nuanced, detailed, strange, and often quite conventionally pretty. Perhaps not an essential purchase for every library, but you know who you are.
Jeff Hamilton Trio
Live from San Pedro
Jeff Hamilton is not only one of the finest jazz drummers on the scene today; he’s also one of the most gifted bandleaders, a man who nurtures and develops talent and makes sure to show his fellow players at their best. You can see both of those tendencies on full display with this wonderful live set, on which he is supported by pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty. The setlist includes standards and originals, all played in styles that range from funky to powerfully swinging to quietly elegiac. One highlight among many is Hendelman’s highly original arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud.” Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.
For a very different take on a drummer-led jazz ensemble, check out this one: an attempt by drummer Jerry Granelli to make lightning strike twice. In 1992 he recorded an album of blues-based tunes with guitarists Bill Frisell and Robben Ford, along with a horn section. 25 years later he’s back again with the same guitarists, with his son on bass, and with a different horn section but a very similar modus operandi. And dang if he doesn’t make it work again: songs like “The Great Pretender,” “Ain’t That a Shame,” and the jump-blues classic “Caldonia” are given sweet and often funky treatments that, among other things, nicely showcase the very different but surprisingly complementary guitar styles of Ford and Frisell. Wonderful.
Thomas Fonnesbaek & Justin Kauflin
Storyville (dist. Naxos)
A bass/piano duo album is something that can always go either way, and when the bassist is the leader one might really hesitate. It’s not that bass players don’t make good bandleaders; it’s that a configuration like this would lead one to expect lots of bass solos, and bass solos are no fun. (Please understand that I say this as a bass player myself.) However, part of what makes this album so wonderful is the way that Thomas Fonnesbaek leads the proceedings here: the bass and piano really do sound like an organic duo, and Kauflin’s piano playing is absolutely exquisite — virtuosic but always tasteful and melodically sweet. And believe it or not, Fonnesbaek’s bass solos are actually tons of fun.
Paul Giallorenzo Trio
For some reason, listening to pianist Paul Giallorenzo makes me think of Lennie Tristano. I say “for some reason,” because they’re very different pianists. What I think they have in common is a certain dry intellectualism — which I realize sounds like a criticism, but it isn’t. On his second album as a leader for the Delmark label, Giallorenzo plays with sharp intelligence and creativity, sometimes swinging hard and sometimes improvising freely along with his trio, but his line of thought is always clear and always compelling. What I hear as “dryness” on this album might better be characterized as “cleanliness.” I’m not expressing this well. Get the album.
If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the American folk music scene over the past, oh, 50 years or so, then you’ll immediately recognize John McCutcheon’s name. He’s one of the people who popularized the hammered dulcimer as a modern folk instrument, but he’s also a fiddler and guitarist and banjo player and songwriter and singer. Woody Guthrie is his explicitly-acknowledged model in terms of both lyrical content and musical style (and Guthrie is name-checked more than once here), though McCutcheon’s approach sometimes approaches folk-rock, particularly on the rollicking “Big Day.” But most of this music is relatively quiet and intense political and economic protest music. His voice is strong and supple, and his way with a melody is admirable. Recommended to all folk collections.
Zephaniah Ohora with the 18 Wheelers
When I cued up this album for the first time, my first thought was “Man, this guy sounds like Raul Malo.” Then I kept listening and thought “No, wait — he sounds like a young Merle Haggard.” And by that point, the clucky guitars and moaning Bakersfield steel-guitar tonalities had totally captivated me. Honestly, I can’t decide whether it’s Ohora’s sweet, clear voice or his crack band of honky-tonk pros (including outstanding lead guitarist Jim Campilongo) that make this album such a pure joy. Luckily, you get both. For all libraries with any collecting interest in country music whatsoever.
This Is Blues Country
Ain’t Skeert Tunes
No cat. no.
Well now, this is just plain fun: a collection of classic country songs played in a variety of blues styles. It opens with a greasy, raunchy-sounding take on “Honky Tonk Blues,” then proceeds to give “You Are My Sunshine” a Texas organ-shuffle treatment, then interprets Marty Robbins’ “Singing the Blues” via Stevie Ray Vaughn. The rest of the album continues along that line. My favorite track is probably the jauntily strutting version of Buck Owens’ “Under Your Spell Again.” Recommended.
Meat Beat Manifesto
Flexidisc (dist. Virtual Label)
No cat. no.
I’ve been a fan of Jack Dangers and his various projects (including Meat Beat Manifesto, Tino, and Bomb the Bass) for decades now. And I have to say that his latest is probably the best thing he’s done yet. I wish I could better explain what it is that makes an MBM so instantly identifiable — it’s something in the texture of the drums, as well as the slightly dark, slightly puckish sense of humor that pops up regularly — but what I can say is that his beats are never boring, his sense of space and texture is exquisite, and the range of influences he draws upon for his constructions is impressive. I’ve listened to this new one over and over again since I got the review copy in November, and I like it just as much now as I did the first time. For all libraries.
A Part of Me
Project: Mooncircle (Vinyl and digital only)
1954 is the nom de guerre of Ivan Arlaud, a Lyon-based musician about whom I would really, really like to know more. His debut album exemplifies everything that I tend to love about releases on the Project: Mooncircle label: dark moods, gentle but compelling beats, vocals chopped up until they’re unrecognizable except as more-or-less vocal sounds, and a general sense of funky weirdness that is simultaneously soothing and unsettling. There are hints of dubstep and jungle drifting in and out of the mix at various points, but the overall feel here is dreamy, floating, and warm — with an undercurrent of discontent.
If you’re in the market for something even more abstract and quiet, consider this new release from John Roger Olsson, who records as Havenaire for the aptly-named Glacial Movements label. The label name would lead you to expect very slowly-moving music, which this is, but it might also lead you to expect very cold music, which this isn’t. The six tracks are inspired by early-20th-century landscape photos of Sweden, and all of them are simultaneously melancholy and deeply beautiful. There’s a lot more detail here than might be apparent at first listen, which is one of the important things that separates ambient music from mere aural wallpaper. Recommended to pop and classical collections.
With an artist name like Dread and an album title like “In Dub,” you might reasonably be expecting this to be a reggae album. And, well, I guess it kind of is. But what you need to know is that “Dread” is a second-level pseudonym for Lustmord (itself a pseudonym for industrial-ambient-rock-metal legend Brian Williams), and that while he’s using this latest side project as an opportunity to explore dubwise soundscape experiments, this music’s relationship to reggae is purely formal. What it feels like is a cavernous dive into a murky subconscious, one where beats and basslines serve only to give structure to darkness. I realize that may sound like criticism, but it’s intended as praise: this is not happy music, but it’s uniquely beautiful and those basslines and beats are outstanding. If your patrons like Bill Laswell, they’ll love this.
We’re Not in Kansas: The Live Bootleg Boxset 1993-1998 (5 discs)
In the 1980s, Big Country brought a new flavor to earnest and anthemic post-punk rock’n’roll: an unapologetically Scots one, expressed both by frontman Stuart Adamson’s thick burr and by the bagpipe-inflected guitar sounds the band favored. Unfortunately, The Crossing, their first and best album, was marred by an inexcusably thin, constricted sound courtesy of producer Steve Lillywhite — so when I saw this boxed set of bootleg live recordings from the mid-1990s, I thought it might offer the opportunity to hear this band’s songs in all their thunderous glory for the first time. And I was partly right: the first two discs offer powerful (and mostly pretty well-recorded) concerts from Minneapolis and Glasgow. But the remaining three discs consist entirely of acoustic sets from various intimate venues, and while they’re fun, they’re not terribly compelling. This box is mainly for completist fans and for libraries that collect deeply in 1980s pop music.
Remember trip-hop? Remember how slow and syrupy it was, and how heavyweight the basslines tended to be, and how the funkiness of its drum parts was undermined by the relentlessly slow tempos? Well, if you miss trip-hop (as I do), you’ll be very pleased to hear the latest from Rhi, whose sound is built on a trip-hop foundation but takes advantage of the intervening decades of stylistic evolution in bass music and R&B as well. She sings beautifully and harmonizes with herself nicely, and she also sings an awful lot about weed, which isn’t that surprising given the overall vibe of her latest album. Strongly recommended to all libraries in California and Colorado.
Danny T & Tradesman
Built for Sound
Forty minutes of pure pleasure here, from the Leeds-based digital-dancehall production team of Danny T and Tradesman. Though they haven’t been on the scene for very long, they’ve managed to attract an absolutely A-list array of singers and toasters for this outing, including Daddy Freddy, Warrior Queen, Lutan Fyah, and even roots legend Earl Sixteen. The overall vibe is 1980s-style digital and everything is tuned to the dance, but there’s a strong vein of social commentary running through the proceedings as well. Danny T and Tradesman are already masters at making computer rhythms feel warm and organic, and every track on this album simply kills.
Sly & Robbie Meet Dubmatix
Dubmatix is a Canadian producer and remixer who seems kind of shy about sharing his real name. Sly & Robbie are one of the foundational bass-and-drum duos of reggae music, mainstays of studio and stage since the 1970s. For this album, Dubmatix grabbed some classic Sly & Robbie tracks and remixed them in a hard, modern dubwise style, soliciting vocalists like Prince Alla and Jay Spaker to contribute as well. Longstanding reggae fans will definitely recognize some of these classic rhythms, but they’ve never sounded like this before. As always, Dubmatix creates an exciting fusion of new and old and delivers grooves that are guaranteed to nice up your library.
Ethiopian & His All Stars
The Return of Jack Sparrow
The bad news came when Nighthawk Records, a small but greatly respected roots reggae label based in St. Louis, went out of business in the late 1990s. The good news came late last year, when its catalog was acquired by Omnivore and a reissue series was announced. But even better than the straight reissues is this, a previously-unreleased collection of tracks from Leonard Dillon (of Ethiopians fame), a legend of early reggae who recorded an album’s worth of material for Nighthawk around 1988 — at which point the label’s fortunes were already in decline, leading to the album being shelved. The music sounds fantastic; stylistically, it spans from the late-60 ska gallop of “I’m Gonna Take Over” and “Train to Skaville” to the dark and rootsy vibes of “Straight on Rastafari” and “Heavenly Father.” Dillon’s voice is still remarkably strong here, and the ace studio band is amazing. Strongly recommended to all libraries with a collecting interest in reggae music.
Fraction of Jah Action (reissue; 2 discs)
Hot Milk/Cherry Red
This one will be of interest mainly to hardcore reggae fans and UK roots completists, but to those with such interests it’s a treasure trove. I Benjahman operated out of West London in the early 1980s, and he released only one album along with a handful of 12″ singles. This reissue brings together that album along with bonus tracks that include extended discomixes of selected album tracks, and, on a second disc, a bunch of dubplates and unreleased tracks that include multiple versions of several tunes. Frankly, I Benjahman’s singing was workmanlike — pleasant enough, but nothing special. (And some listeners might scratch their heads at, for example, the inclusion of no fewer than four different dub versions of a track called “Father’s Instructions,” but no straight vocal version.) But the musicians involved are top-notch, and the production is frequently brilliant, and while the second disc in particular may be more puzzling than enjoyable for those with a more casual interest in UK reggae, for those with ears to hear it really is a find.
Come from Far
Back in 2015 I praised New Kingston’s debut album as a prime example of the best in American roots reggae music, and their fourth is just as good. This Brooklyn-based family band continues to write songs that not only respect and celebrate reggae’s deep history, but also look forward to the possibility of new sounds and fusions. Most importantly, though, they create powerful hooks and deliver them with tight harmonies in the context of deep, heavyweight rhythms. Highly recommended to all libraries.
Beam of Light
Over on the other edge of the North American continent is another outstanding American reggae band. The Simpkin Project, based in Southern California, plays a brand of reggae that is infused with rock and Americana sounds, but subtly — most of the time, what you really hear is an unusually rich and deeply-textured style of straight-ahead reggae. Sure, there’s a bluesy guitar and R&B-ish horns on “Some Things Don’t Change,” but that steppers beat is the defining element here; and if there’s maybe a hint of folkiness in the sung melody of “Perfect Harmony,” again it’s the scratchy rock-steady rhythm guitar and the chugging organ that make the song what it is. Great stuff.
PICK OF THE MONTH
Ambience in Dub: 1982-1985 (5 discs)
On-U Sound (dist. Redeye)
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Dub Syndicate’s early albums, not only for the development of the UK roots reggae sound, but for that of British (and therefore American) dance music itself over the next couple of decades. The combination of deep, elephantine roots and dancehall rhythms (mainly delivered by the redoubtable duo of bassist Flabba Holt and drummer Style Scott) and the experimental, sometimes downright crazy production techniques of producer and label head Adrian Sherwood was a paradigm-shifting one; I would argue that you can draw a more-or-less straight line from the avant-garde dub of these early recordings to the emergence of jungle, drum’n’bass, and eventually dubstep one to two decades later. (And let’s also remember that Sherwood and On-U Sound are almost singlehandedly responsible for bringing the great Prince Far I to international public notice during the years prior to his tragic death in 1983.) This box set brings together the first four Dub Syndicate albums (The Pounding System, One Way System, North of the River Thames, and Tunes from the Missing Channel) plus an additional disc’s worth of mostly-previously-unavailable dubplates and alternate versions, along with a booklet of historical liner notes. Three of the individual albums feature bonus tracks as well. Most reggae releases from the 1980s sound incredibly dated today — but this music was so wonderfully strange at the time that it sounds just as fresh now as it did then. I don’t know if I can safely say that this box set belongs in every library collection, but it certainly belongs in any library that collects heavily in reggae or dance music.
Ex Machina (2 discs)
Innova (dist. Naxos)
Contemporary art music cannot very often be fairly characterized as “fun,” but that’s the word that kept coming to mind as I listened to this wonderful two-disc collection of pieces by composer Neil Rolnick. It consists of works that involve interactions between live performers and sounds generated by laptop computer, as well as two computer-based works that consist of manipulated recordings: one is a delightful deconstruction of Everly Brothers songs, and the other is a conceptually similar but sonically very different treatment of recordings of folksongs. The other compositions involve the computer either sending back modified versions of sounds created by the live performer (in the case of Silicon Breath, featuring saxophonist Ted Nash) or accompanying the live performer (in the cases of Cello Ex Machina with Ashley Bathgate and Dynamic RAM & Concert Grand with Kathleen Supové). All of it is simultaneously challenging and supremely enjoyable. Recommended to all libraries.
BWV… or Not?: The Inauthentic Bach
Gli Incogniti / Amandine Beyer
The baroque era was a period when copyright protection (at least as we understand it today) really didn’t exist, and when composers stole from each other with impunity. Sometimes the thievery was both intended and understood as homage — but not always. This program consists of works that have appeared in the famous Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, despite that fact that J.S. Bach did not actually compose them. Chamber works by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, by Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, and by Johann Georg Pisendel are included here, as well as a transcription Bach made of a work by Silvius Weiss and a couple of pieces that are still formally attributed to Bach but the authenticity of which is under some dispute. The playing by Gli Incogniti is very fine, and the album is outstanding on its strictly musical merits alone, regardless of the academic issues.
The Gate of Glory: Music from the Eton Choirbook Volume 5
The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford / Stephen Darlington
Avie (dist. Naxos)
This glorious series continues with a fifth installment showcasing English Renaissance choral works preserved in the Eton Choirbook, this time featuring works by Hugo Kellyk, John Browne, Robert Fayrfax, Walter Lambe, and Robert Hacomplaynt. The Lambe entry is a world-premiere recording of his Marian motet Gaude flore virginali, released just in time for the Christmas season. As always, the Christ Church Cathedral Choir sings with a luminous tone, and both the performances and the compositions are swooningly gorgeous. This whole series is a must for all classical collections.
Marco Testori; Davide Pozzi
Passacaille (dist. Naxos)
Entrez, le Diable!: The Virtuoso Cello at the Concert Spirituel
Juliana Soltis; Adaiha MacAdam-Somer; Lucas Harris; Justin Murphy-Mancini
Acis (dist. Albany)
Here are two celebrations of the cello’s place in 18th-century chamber music, one focusing on composers of the Mannheim court and the other on works featured at the Concert Spirituel — an annual series of public concerts put on by the French court between 1725 and 1790. The Mannheim cellist/composers featured on the first recording are all names with which I confess to being completely unfamiliar (Triklir? Filz? Schetky?), and I’m very pleased to have made their acquaintance here on this collection of sonatas for cello and fortepiano, even if Marco Testori’s intonation struck me as being just slightly off from time to time. The Concert Spirituel collection features cellist Juliana Soltis, and is a somewhat more decorous affair featuring works by Salvatore Lanzetti, Martin Berteau, François Martin, and the brilliant virtuoso/composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière. Soltis also plays a baroque cello, and is somewhat more solid than Testori — without failing to communicate any of the light and fire of these works. Both are recommended, the latter getting the edge.
Hyperdub (dist. Redeye)
I hope you readers can appreciate what a bold move I’m making by putting this release in the Classical section. Obviously, by doing so I’m making a point: we’ve arrived at a stage in the development of Western music at which the line between popular and art music is becoming blurred, especially in the context of electronic music. Lee Gamble, formerly a purveyor of underground dance music, here makes a foray into something very different: electronic compositions that remind me an awful lot of music I was listening to by the likes of Charles Wuorinen and Bertram Turetsky in the 1970s. Granted, there are a few more beats here, but they’re few and far between; mostly this is remarkably abstract music, very bleepy and bloopy, and much of it is non-tonal (though not exactly atonal). I’ll tell you what this music is not: it’s not dance music.
The Book of Keyboards
Third Coast Percussion
French composer Philippe Manoury writes percussion music that is brutally demanding, in terms of both the technical requirements it places on the musicians, and the technical requirements for simply getting ready to play it. The six-movement title work (and the 22-minute Métal, which follows it on the program) require not only traditional percussion instruments like marimbas, vibraphones, and Thai gongs, but also the construction of a multipart instrument called the Sixxen. But although the music is hugely demanding of the performers, it’s quite accessible and enjoyable for the listener. The dense flurries of notes are impressive but also beautiful, and there are strong nods to familiar genres like gamelan and 20th-century minimalism in the mix. Strongly recommended to all libraries.
Christmas with Champian
No cat. no.
If your library collects Christmas music, then be quick to snap up the latest album from Champian Fulton, who has emerged in recent years as the most exciting vocal and pianistic talent on the straight-ahead jazz scene. This is a very nice collection of holiday standards (“White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song,” etc.) and more unusual choices: Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper,” for example, and an old Los Panchos & Eydie Gormé number titled “Gracias à Dios,” as well as a lovely original. As always, Fulton and her band swing powerfully and she sings like an unusually creative and playful angel. And her dad, trumpeter Stephen Fulton, makes a guest appearance as well. There’s simply nothing about this album that isn’t delightful, and since there’s a good chance that your library serves some of her growing legion of fans, I’d strongly recommend this one to all collections.
I Am a Man
If you recognize the title of this album as an echo of the Civil Rights movement, you’re correct. As Miles himself puts it in the press materials, “We’re in some trying times in 2017, that’s for sure. But we’ve seen this before. Black folks have had to do this over and over again, fighting injustice and finding a positive solution.” Hence the tone of this highly discursive, intermittently lyrical, and simultaneously hopeful and angry album. Miles plays the cornet and is accompanied by guitarist Bill Frisell (brilliantly chameleonic as always), drummer Brian Blade, bassist Thomas Morgan, and the outstanding pianist Jason Moran. His compositions call for everyone to play in an unusually egalitarian style, sometimes more or less soloing at once, sometimes playing carefully composed lines, but always sounding like a group of friends having a conversation rather than a jazz band taking turns soloing over a head. The depth of Miles’ musical intelligence has never been more perfectly displayed–and he has made plenty of outstanding albums. For all jazz collections.
Structures (2 discs)
Two discs, one live and one recorded in the studio, one a duo date with saxophonist Joe Manis and one a duo session with guitarist Larry Koonse. That’s what bassist/composer David Friesen is offering us here, and it’s both aptly titled (don’t be fooled by the occasionally free-sounding passages) and beautifully played. My preference is for the second disc: bass and saxophone makes for pretty arid musical textures, and while Friesen and Manis play off each other beautifully, the richer sounds of Friesen and Koonse are more satisfying to me. But your mileage may vary, and either way this album would make a great addition to any jazz collection.
Paa Kow Music
No cat. no.
The album title is perfect: this Ghana-born, Denver-based bassist, drummer, singer and composer makes music that simmers and bubbles with three main ingredients: highlife, funk, and jazz. I couldn’t decide whether to place this one in the Jazz section or the World/Ethnic section, but I settled on jazz because the horn charts just sound like big band to me. Some tracks feel like smooth jazz too (check out the Christ Botti-flavored “Forced Landing”), but all of it is pretty much sui generis. Paa Kow’s music is paradoxically dense but light, heavy but nimble. And funky funky funky.
Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns
Jazz arrangements of hymn tunes — I know, it’s one of those things where there’s two kinds of people in the world, those that love them and those that hate them. Count me among the former, which means that Deanna Witkowski’s latest speaks to my heart. It’s partly the tunes, but mostly it’s Witkowski’s genius for arrangement: she takes the stirring “Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah” and makes it into a gentle and contemplative swing number; “Fairest Lord Jesus” becomes a coruscatingly lovely solo-piano ballad; “All Creatures of Our Good and King” dances where the original marches. Witkowski’s interaction with bassist Daniel Foose and drummer Scott Latzky is always close and intuitive, but they mostly (and wisely) stay out of her way. This is a sumptuously beautiful record.
It’s a little bit sobering to contemplate the fact that trombone legend Roswell Rudd is 81 years old — and amazing to hear how strongly he still plays. For his latest album he turns away from free and experimental jazz and towards standards, although (perhaps inevitably) he approaches them in a slightly idiosyncratic way: with a combo consisting of trombone, piano, and bass, plus a vocalist (the wonderful Fay Victor). So the songs are familiar (“Something to Live For,” “Can’t We Be Friends,” “House of the Rising Sun,” etc.) but the arrangements are not. And that’s what makes it fun — well, that and the fact that everyone on the date is a genius.
Frank Perowsky Jazz Orchestra
An Afternoon in Gowanus
No cat. no.
Frank Perowsky is a brilliant reedman, but it’s as an arranger that he has made the biggest impact on the jazz world. I don’t review a lot of big band music — I usually find it too fussy and heavy — but this one really jumped out at me, largely because of the elegance and joyfulness of Perowsky’s arrangements. The program includes a setting of Bud Powell’s bop classic “Bouncin’ With Bud” (adopted by Buddy Rich for his Class of ’78 album), a fine old-school Perowsky clarinet solo on “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me,” and a couple of very fun Perowsky originals. The 16-piece orchestra is light-footed and incredibly tight, and the album is a consistent pleasure. For all jazz collections.
No cat. no.
The Gullah people are descendants of African slaves who have established a unique culture in the islands and lowland regions of South Carolina and Georgia. Their various folkways have attracted the attention of folklorists and anthropologists for many years, and for this album the Charleston-based jazz ensemble Ranky Tanky has adapted a set of traditional Gullah songs — not turning them into jazz numbers, but rather letting the songs themselves shape the way they use their instrumentation. A few of these songs will be familiar to many listeners: a very different version of “O Death” has been part of the bluegrass gospel tradition for some time (and was prominently featured in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?), and both “Turtle Dove” and “You Gotta Move” have made their way into the broader popular culture. These arrangements are idiosyncratic and make no attempt to be “authentic”; instead, they’re modern interpretations and deeply personal — and they’re both fun and moving.
Zoe & Cloyd
Eyes Brand New
What is “New Appalachian Music” anyway? Well, that depends. In recent years, it very often seems to involve spousal (or at least romantic) partnerships, and it usually means singer-songwriter material placed in the context of fiddles, banjos, and high-lonesome singing with modal harmonies. Sometimes it means the traditional topical tropes of mountain music (unwilling betrothal, separation from home, Christian devotion) and sometimes it means setting modern themes to ancient-sounding music. For the Asheville-based wife-and-husband duo of Natalya Zoe Weinstein and John Cloyd Miller it seems to mean all of these things simultaneously, complete with absolutely angelic singing and sneak-up-on-you melodic hooks. There are occasional nods to bluegrass — particularly explicitly on the wonderful gospel tune “Let’s All Go Down to the River” — but these songs mostly sound like new-old-time music, and all of it is quite wonderful.
Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers
The Story We Tell
More solid, meat-and-potatoes traditional bluegrass from this, one of the most reliable bands still working in that genre. There aren’t that many banjo players who are also lead singers, but Joe Mullins has been performing both duties for ten years or so now at the head of his band the Radio Ramblers (to be fair, the band actually shares lead-vocal duties around quite a bit, but the Mullins leads tend to be the highlights). Stylistically and content-wise, there are no real surprises here: songs about working in the fields, about trains, about regretting the trouble you caused your parents, and about romantic disappointment are all here, plus one gospel tune. The subtle presence of percussion on a couple of tracks might irritate hardcore traditionalists, but everything else on this fine album is pure and straight-ahead.
Hot Texas Swing Band
Off the Beaten Trail
No cat. no.
The Hot Texas Swing Band are skilled and experienced purveyors of Western swing, that unique blend of jazz, country, norteño, and old-time music that developed in South Texas in the 1930s and was perfected by bands like the Light Crust Doughboys and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. I have to confess that I was hoping for just a little bit more hotness on this, the band’s fourth album, but there’s plenty to enjoy here even if the proceedings may come across a bit tame: a fine, chugging version of the classic “Cow Cow Boogie,” a good-humored take on the novelty tune “White Lightnin’,” the regretful waltz “My Blue Guitar.” Highlights include all of the tracks featuring vocals by either Selena Rosenbalm or Liz Morphis.
401.1 (3 discs; deluxe reissue)
No cat. no.
Jonathan Dagan’s album 401 Days was released last year and it generated enough interest that he decided to release a deluxe reissue this year, titled 401.1: three discs in total, featuring remixes and live orchestra versions of some of the songs. Dagan’s style is ethereal — some might say wimpy, but I would argue that his quietude is deceptive — and nicely juxtaposes light, falsetto vocals and a generally soft ambience with often-sturdy and sometimes downright funky beats. There’s also some wonderfully weird guitar stuff going on in there, and light as they often are, his melodies often soar. Among its best hooks is the line “We moved like we’re not afraid,” which inspired a small social movement. Very, very nice.
Savage Young Dü (compilation; 3 discs)
If you’re a serious fan of hardcore punk icons Hüsker Dü (also known as the launching pad for postpunk superstar Bob Mould), then this comprehensive window into the band’s early years is just what you’ve been waiting for. Not only does it include pretty much everything the band recorded during the period 1979-1983 (including crappy cassette demos and live bootleg tracks), but it also includes the entirety of their early albums Land Speed Record and Everything Falls Apart, as well as comprehensive liner notes and rare photos. It’s fun to hear Mould’s melodic genius gradually emerging from the undifferentiated roar of the band’s earliest work, and of course headlong hardcore has its own sinus-clearing rewards. No one except maybe Bad Brains were doing it better than these guys in the early 1980s.
One Little Indian
So, a new Björk album. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it’s weird, weird, weird — or that it’s frequently utterly gorgeous. For this one she put together an eleven-piece Icelandic flute orchestra, which appears on several tracks, but most of the music seems to be sample-based and is more or less abstract. There is percussion, but not much that could be called a beat, let alone a groove; there are moments of soaringly beautiful melody, but not much that could be called a tune. The title track is one of the most affecting on the album: the flutes interlock in repeated patterns while the sounds of jungle birds interject regularly, and Björk’s voice comes in late in the track. Björk and someone named Arca co-produced the album, and as soon as I’m done typing this I’m going to see what more I can find out about him. If he’s Björk’s musical soulmate, as he seems to be, then this is going to be a fun adventure.
Skip McDonald, who has recorded as a solo act under the name Little Axe for many years, may not be a household name — but it’s hard to imagine a household in America (or Europe, for that matter) that hasn’t heard him play. He got his start as part of the Sugarhill Gang, the in-house studio band that basically created the musical architecture for hip hop in the early 1980s. As a solo artist, he blends elements of the blues, hip hop, dub, gospel, and trip hop into a style that is uniquely and utterly his own. On his latest album he’s joined by fellow travelers Keith Leblanc (also a Sugarhill Gang alum), Doug Wimbish (ditto), Mark Stewart, and Jeb Loy Nichols on an album that is possibly the strongest of his long and storied career. A generous helping of dub versions makes the package that much more valuable. Highly recommended to all libraries.
DJ Vadim & Blackstone
BBE (dist. Redeye)
Polymathic DJ and beatmaker DJ Vadim does wonderful stuff on his own, but he’s at his best when paired with a singer whose range and power give him plenty of room to move. Katrina Blackstone is his perfect foil: blessed with a rich, chesty voice and soulful, nimble delivery, she rides every beat he throws at her with apparent ease. Whether it’s the stutterstep trap of “Choose,” a neo-dancehall adaptation of the reggae classic “No No No,” or the slow burn of “Re Run,” she makes every track entirely her own. These two are a match made in heaven, and here’s hoping for another album from them sometime soon. (Or a batch of remixes!)
Richard Thompson Band
Live at Rockpalast (3 CD/2 DVD)
MIG (dist. MVD)
Richard Thompson has been making brilliant English folk-rock for his whole career — a career now entering its sixth decade, astonishingly enough — and many would argue that his best work was with his then-wife Linda during the 1970s. Without wishing to take away anything from the monumental recordings they made together, I’m not sure he has ever been better than he was as a solo artist during the years immediately following their divorce, and that’s the period documented on these two concert recordings made in Hamburg and Cannes in December 1983 and January 1984. (They are documented here on three CDs, with the same programs in video form on two DVDs.) This is the classic version of his backing band: Dave Mattacks on drums, Dave Pegg on bass, and fellow Fairport Convention alumnus Simon Nicol on second guitar along with saxophonists Pete Thomas and Pete Zorn. They rip the doors off with contemporary material like “The Wrong Heartbeat,” “Hand of Kindness,” and “Tear Stained Letter,” as well as classics from the Richard & Linda Thompson era — in fact, over the course of these two concerts the band plays most of Shoot Out the Lights, widely considered not only the Thompsons’ finest moment, but also one of the best rock albums ever made. Thompson always saved his best guitar solos for a live setting, and there are plenty of those here. The band also plays the big-band novelty standard “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” He always did have a sense of humor. Strongly recommended to all libraries.
No cat. no.
Onah Indigo refers to her music as “blissed-out minimal world trap,” which I guess works as well as any other designation, though much of her music resists any kind of real genre description. Her latest album is based on samples she recorded in the Krishnamurti Schools and in the rainforests of Kerala, India: choral chanting, insect and animal sounds, bespoke contributions from sitarist Benny Langfur and various percussionists, and the constant influence of loping trap beats and dubwise production techniques make this one of the most gently insistent, rhythmically complex, and emotionally compelling albums I’ve heard all year. I’ve listened to it over and over since receiving my review copy, and I bet your patrons will do the same. Strongly recommended to all libraries collecting dance music and worldbeat.
No cat. no.
Brace yourself for one of the weirdest, deepest, and frankly most befuddling excursions in intercultural fusion you’re likely to hear in a long time. Peet Wonderfeel (who reportedly has “a background in activism and healing,” as well as in punk rock) has taken field recordings of traditional Lao singing and playing and used them to create dark, funky, and deeply compelling musical collages. Although the means of production are electronic and digital, the source material is all acoustic and analog, and Wonderfeel does a great job of showing respect for that source material while still creating something brand-new with it. This music is at times frankly eerie and unsettling, but it’s never less than beautiful. Highly recommended.
Lea Salonga is a popular singer, Broadway actor, and voiceover artist (who has voiced two Disney movie princesses), and a native of the Philippines. On this album she presents a program of traditional Philippino songs, drawn from the country’s three major cultural regions and sung in six of the country’s many languages — several of them currently endangered. The arrangements are minimal (mostly just voice and guitar or voice and piano), and Salonga’s voice is gorgeous. Any library collecting in ethnomusicology or world music traditions should snap this one up immediately.
Africa Must Be Free by 1983 (reissue)
Of all the (many) tragic heroes of reggae music, Hugh Mundell is perhaps the most heartbreaking. A precociously talented young artist, he recorded the tracks for this, his debut album, between the ages of 14 and 16. His fierce dedication to his Rastafarian beliefs and to the cause of social uplift shone through powerfully on these songs, which were mostly produced by the legendary Augustus Pablo and featured a who’s-who of top Jamaican session talent. (Two tracks were recorded by Lee Perry at the Black Ark studio.) And by the age of 21 he had been murdered, shot to death while sitting in his car with his wife. Africa Must Be Free by 1983 remains one of the defining documents of the roots reggae era, and is here lovingly reissued with a nearly full complement of dub versions. An essential purchase for all libraries with a collecting interest in reggae music.
PICK OF THE MONTH
Hildegard von Bingen
The Complete Edition (9 discs)
Sony Classical/Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (dist. Naxos)
Although the modern fascination with 12th-century abbess, prophetess, theologian, and composer Hildegard of Bingen can be traced back to the Gothic Voices’ exquisite 1984 recording A Feather on the Breath of God, it was the Sequentia ensemble, co-led by the late Barbara Thornton (and later Benjamin Bagby), that then picked up the ball and ran with it. They had actually begun recording Hildegard’s music prior to the Gothic Voices release, and it was Sequentia who pushed through and finally–in 2012–finished a complete recorded edition of Hildegard’s works. Consisting of recordings made between 1982 and 2012, this box brings all of those discs together in a single package, along with extensive historical and performance notes.
If you’re not familiar with it already, this will be music unlike any you’ve heard. It’s plainchant, but not Gregorian chant; the mood is by turns quietly reverent and ecstatic, with voices suddenly soaring off into melisma and then returning to quiet. Instruments are used only sparingly. The centerpiece of this nine-disc set is the two-disc recording of Ordo Virtutem, a musical morality play that remains among the most gripping and beautiful of Hildegard’s works. This set is a must for all library collections.
Georg Philipp Telemann
A Telemann Companion (7 discs)
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin; RIAS Kammerchor / René Jacobs
Whenever I listen to the music of Telemann, I’m struck by how much fun it must be to play. Few other composers of his era–especially, I think it must be said, German composers–evinced so much joy in melody and rhythm. 2017 marks the 350th anniversay of Telemann’s death, and I’ve been surprised not to see more in the way of celebratory releases. This seven-disc box is something of a curiosity in that regard: rather than the selective but broadly representative survey that one might expect (a “complete works” box would require scores of discs), it instead offers an opera (Orpheus), a Passion setting, two discs of orchestral music, and one disc of chamber and orchestral music featuring the recorder (all of which were recorded and previously released between 1998 and 2006). The somber beauty of the Brockes-Passion, in particular, makes for a wonderful contrast to the sprightly prettiness of the instrumental works, and this set can be confidently recommended to all libraries that don’t already own the original issues.
Hieroglyphen der Nacht
Anja Lechner; Agnès Vesterman
Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov sees his music as constituting a response to what has come before, or, as he puts it, a series of “codas” to music history. On this album of his compositions for solo and duo cellos, that intention is made explicit in his achingly lovely and lyrical tributes to Schumann and Tchaikovsky, but his starker and more dissonant pieces are referential as well–you’ll hear nods to the aleatory approaches of John Cage and the expressive silences of Morton Feldman, for example. There’s a deep sadness to his work, and an equally deep beauty that becomes more apparent the closer you listen.
Georg Frideric Handel; Dietrich Buxtehude
My Soul Sees and Hears!
Houston Baroque / Patrick Parker
Raven (dist. Albany)
The unifying concept for this assortment of songs, sonatas, and organ pieces by Buxtehude and Handel is the expression of Lutheran faith and the celebration of nature as God’s creation. Arias alternate with sacred organ interludes, and in the center of the program sits Handel’s exceptionally beautiful D major violin sonata. This kind of programming is typical of Houston baroque, an ensemble that has established the practice of “performing music of a certain place and time in three genres: vocal music, instrumental chamber music, and solo organ music.” It works very well here, and this is a truly lovely disc.
Meditations and Tributes
Matthew Nelson is a clarinetist of astounding range and virtuosity, with a tone that is never less than burnished and lovely no matter how spiky and challenging the music he may be playing. And on this album he plays plenty of spiky and challenging music (as well as plenty of humorous and even lyrical music). It’s a collection of late-20th- and early-21st-century works for unaccompanied clarinet, and as you might expect the styles and moods vary widely. Among the highlights are Franco Donatoni’s Clair suite, on which Nelson manages to sound as if he’s playing multiple instruments at once, and Krzysztof Penderecki’s Prelude. For all libraries supporting wind or contemporary-music programs.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Sonatas for Violin and Fortepiano (reissue)
Amandine Beyer; Edna Stern
Alpha (dist. Naxos)
These two releases both feature chamber works of C.P.E. Bach played on period instruments. The selection of keyboard works performed by Alexei Lubimov are of interest partly because of the music itself–an assortment of fantasies, sonatas, rondos, and “solfeggios” that amply display Bach’s command of the keyboard–and partly because of the instrument he uses. It’s a tangent piano, one of only a handful still in existence, and its sound is (as one might expect) somewhere between the thin jangle of a harpsichord and the rounder and more robust attack of a fortepiano. In fact, at times, especially on the simpler pieces, it sounds for all the world like a hammered dulcimer. Not only is Lubimov’s playing wonderful, but the opportunity to hear this music played on such a unique instrument is an important one. The second disc of C.P.E. Bach chamber music under consideration here is a delightful set of sonatas for violin and keyboard, played by violinist Amandine Beyer and fortepianist Edna Stern. One of the wonderful things about C.P.E. Bach’s music is his unique musical personality, one that is much more willful and iconoclastic than his last name would lead the casual listener to expect. Beyer and Stern do a wonderful job of bringing out both the elegance and the subtle strangeness of this music, creating a marvelous listening experience.
Flute Concertos, Vol. 3
Patrick Gallois; Swedish Chamber Orchestra
I have recommended every volume in this important series so far, and the third and final installment is just as enjoyable as the first two. Historically speaking, this last set of four flute concertos is one of the most interesting of the three, as the last two concertos in the series show the effects of François Devienne’s failing health on his compositional ability; he would die (aged 44) before the last few of these pieces were published. Nevertheless, even at his weakest, Devienne exhibited both a mastery of classical forms and a desire to push their boundaries. Flutist Patrick Gallois is a powerful advocate for these relatively little-known works, and his use of a wooden Boehm-system flute brings an additional dimension of tonal historicity to the otherwise modern-instrument performances. Highly recommended to all libraries.
Ludwig Van Beethoven
A Bouquet of Beethoven (2 discs)
Steinway & Sons
It’s always controversial to claim that any pianist is the “greatest living Beethoven performer,” but honestly, if you were to ask just about anyone to list the top five Beethoven players I’d bet you big money that Andrew Rangell would be in the top three of virtually everyone’s list. For this two-disc recital, he selects a program of works both familiar (Für Elise, the “Moonlight” sonata, etc.) and relatively obscure in order to create a “bouquet”-like selection of pieces. He also includes his own transcription of one movement from a string quartet and original improvisations on Beethoven’s variations on a theme from Righini. This is a masterful work of musical exegesis, the kind that very few pianists have the capacity to offer. Highly recommended to all libraries.
Christmas Card Carols
Intimate Voices / Christopher Stokes
John Turner is best known as a virtuoso recorder player, but he is also a composer, and for the past several decades has made it a practice to compose a Christmas carol each year and include it in the holiday cards he sends to friends and family. All of these are collected here, and performed by the Intimate Voices ensemble. The works are mostly a cappella, and consist of both fully original compositions and new settings of familiar lyrics like “Away in a Manger” and “I Sing of a Maiden.” Turner’s writing is tonal and accessible, but often nudges the boundaries of traditional harmony in gently intriguing ways. If you’re in the market for Christmas music and want something that departs delightfully from the norm, this album would make an excellent choice.
Letting Time Circle Through Us
New World (dist. Albany)
Letting Time Circle Through Us is an aptly-titled work scored for a mixed sextet of piano, guitar, violin, cello, cimbalom, and percussion. As the title suggests, it’s something of a “process” piece, one that uses cyclic repetition of relatively static harmonic materials to create a constantly-shifting array of sounds. That description might lead you to expect something like a chamber-music version of wind chimes, but in fact Makan organizes the music in a compelling way, interspersing sections of widely differing chracters to achieve something that sounds a bit like a sonic quilt. It’s unusual for music so restricted in harmonic content to achieve such a high level of emotional interest. Highly recommended to libraries.
Miles Davis & Bill Evans
Complete Studio & Live Masters (3 discs)
One (dist. MVD)
I’m kind of shocked that no one has thought to put this collection together before. Miles Davis and Bill Evans, two of the architects of the “cool” jazz movement that followed in the turbulent wake of the bebop era, recorded three complete albums together (Kind of Blue, At Newport, and Jazz at the Plaza), and participated together on several other albums and radio broadcasts. This three-disc set compiles all of their known work together into a single package, along with very good historical and analytical liner notes, making a release that should find a home in every library’s jazz collection. Davis and Evans had a unique chemistry, and made some of the most electrifying music of the mid-20th century.
Dream Theory in Malaya: Fourth World., Vol. 2 (reissue)
Neither of these albums fit very well in the Jazz section, but they fit well together and “jazz” is the closest I can come to assigning the Joseph Shabason album a category, so there you go. Shabason is a saxophonist, and his solo album draws on jazz instrumentation to create music that neither swings nor bops, but instead alternately shimmers, grates, floats, shrieks, and hovers. Most of the time it’s exceptionally beautiful without offering anything immediately recognizable as either melody or rhythm; at other times it takes you by surprise with nasty abrasiveness. The Jon Hassell album is a reissue (with one bonus track) of one of the landmark releases from Brian Eno’s Editions EG label during its heyday in the late 1970s and early ’80s. It finds Hassell using a combination of field recordings and electronic effects to create alien soundscapes for his radically mutated trumpet sounds; the music is as strange as anything you’ll ever hear, and this one of those albums that kind of divides the world into two kinds of people: those who love it, and those who think that in order to love it you’d have to be mentally ill. For what it’s worth, I’m one of the former.
Jazz Village (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
One of the best straight-ahead jazz albums I’ve heard all year is the eighth album by bassist and composer Kyle Eastwood. Leading a quintet that also features saxophonist Brandon Allen, trumpeter Quentin Collins, pianist Andrew McCormack, and drummer Chris Higginbottom (with special guest sax player Stefano di Battista on several cuts), Eastwood delivers a rock-solid set of cool mid-tempo numbers (“Movin’,” “Night Flight”), high-energy bop (“Rush Hour”), and a lush ballad (“Cinema Paradiso (Love Theme)”). There’s also a very impressive rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “We See,” one that takes the tune at two very different tempos, maintaining a surprising elegance and delicacy throughout–not the approach one usually hears with interpretations of Monk tunes. This is a wonderful album that should find a home in all library collections.
A Meeting of Spirits
Edition (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
On this album, pianist Gary Husband interprets and responds to compositions by jazz/fusion guitar great John McLaughlin. The pieces are all for solo piano, and Husband occasionally uses his instrument percussively as well as melodically (there seems to be at least a little bit of multitracking involved). This is something of a companion album to a similar tribute he made years ago to another fusion guitarist, Allan Holdsworth. Strangely, this one was recorded more than ten years ago and is just being released now. It shows Husband to be a player of similar virtuosity to McLaughlin, with a similarly discursive, questing solo style. Maybe not essential for all libraries, this one would nevertheless make a strong addition to comprehensive jazz collections.
Sky Music: A Tribute to Terje Rypdal
And speaking of tributes to out-of-the-box guitar figures, Sky Music celebrates the music of Terje Rypdal, a staple of the ECM Records lineup for many years, and a singular jazz stylist. This album was released as Rypdal turned 70, and it featured a large lineup of guitarists and other supporting players. Most are fellow Scandinavians, but the album opens with Bill Frisell’s beautiful and contemplative take on “Ørnen,” and there are also appearances by Henry Kaiser, Nelson Cline, and David Torn. Much of the music is intense and challenging, but there are soaringly beautiful moments of lyricism as well. A must for any library supporting jazz guitar pedagogy.
Whirlwind (dist. Redeye)
And, while we’re on the topic of genre-envelope-pushing jazz guitarists, let’s consider the third album in Rez Abbasi’s trilogy (with his quintet Invocation) of releases exploring a fusion of jazz and South Asian music. The group’s first album in this series focused on North Indian Hindustani music, the second on the qawwali traditions of Pakistan, and this one explores the Carnatic music of South India. However, the casual listener may be forgiven for not hearing much of an explicitly Indian character in this music–on the surface, it sounds mainly like exploratory jazz, in which complex, sideways melodies and jagged rhythms alternate with moments of lovely quietude. There’s lots of tightly-composed ensemble work as well as plenty of space for soloing. It’s all both challenging and beautiful, and of course intriguing from a multicultural standpoint.
Essential Original Albums (3 discs)
Masters of Music (dist. MVD)
Soprano saxophonist/clarinetist Sidney Bechet was one of the pioneering figures in traditional jazz, and unlike many of his contemporaries he had a long recording career. This three-disc set brings together several of his earliest albums along with material from the last decade of his life–a very nice overview of the career of one of the most exciting instrumentalists in jazz history. Other featured players include Buck Clayton, Martial Solal, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and Sarah Vaughan, making this collection not only a blast to listen to but also a valuable historical document. The liner notes are good too. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.
Trip to Walden Pond
Fiddler Hanneke Cassel performs, composes, and teaches in the Boston area, and plays in a style that draws deeply on Scottish and Cape Breton influences. But the tunes she writes and arranges go way beyond the stomping dancehall and lilting strathspey sounds that one might normally associate with those styles–she crafts complex and unusual arrangements that sometimes go off in unusual directions both melodically and harmonically. Cassel is not only a technical virtuoso, but also an impressive musical thinker who has come up with new ways of thinking about her chosen fiddling traditions. This is a deeply lovely album.
Bidin’ My Time
Holy cow. First of all, if you’re not familiar with the name Chis Hillman, it’s important to know that as a founding member of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Borthers he is one of the primary architects of American folk-rock. Second of all, this album was produced by Tom Petty, making it one of the last projects Petty completed before his sudden and untimely death a few weeks ago. Third: even at 72 years old, Hillman still has a voice of delicate loveliness (maybe just a little more delicate than it used to be), and he still writes a mean modern-country ballad, and he’s able to get A-list studio musicians in to help him create songs of transcendent beauty. (Check out “Here She Comes Again,” for example: it features Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Benmont Tench, and Herb Pedersen–and that’s just one song.) And fourth: he can cover Gene Clark and Sonny Curtis like no one’s business. Highly recommended to all libraries.
Mountain Home Music Company/Crossroads Entertainment
While this album will probably be shelved in the bluegrass section (and it’s true that there’s plenty of banjo and mandolin in the mix), the music of singer/songwriter Donna Ulisse covers a much broader territory than that. Her voice and her singing style are more modern-country than high-lonesome, and her songs tend more towards the midtempo than the headlong. Her latest album is produced, beautifully, by gospel-bluegrass superstar Doyle Lawson and features a rich and crystalline recorded sound, one that sets off her voice like a jewel in a velvet box. Any library that collects acoustic, bluegrass, or country music should definitely take notice of this one.
Belief System (2 discs)
For this monumental and richly varied collection of tracks, Paul Woolford (who records under the name Special Request) dug through his own tape vaults going back to 1993, pulling out sung and spoken vocal snippets, beat loops, strange found sounds (like a contact-mic recording of an iceberg breaking), and other sonic miscellanea. He put them together into this crazy-quilt of tracks: soothing ambient excursions, jacking techno ravers, gently skittering jungle tracks, and other offerings that are pretty much uncategorizable. That this album should be so wildly varied in tone and texture and so consistently compelling is a powerful testament to Woolford’s talent. Highly recommended.
Are You Anywhere?
The guy who goes by the name Submerse was born in the UK but is now based in Tokyo, where he creates music that fully lives up to his stage name. On his third full-length release, the music feels as if it’s being made underwater: though the beats are steady and firm, the overall feeling is languid and dreamy, with a subtle tension to it–almost as if the music wants to move faster but just can’t. You’ll hear textures and keyboard sounds that remind you of early-90s Quiet Storm R&B, the occasional incursion of winningly cheesy vocoder, and lots of 808 cowbell. Like just about everything from the Project:Mooncircle label, Submerse’s music offers a smooth and pleasing surface with lots of sly detail and complexity lurking beneath it.
Frore & Shane Morris
Spotted Peccary Music
The Great Crater
In the world of ambient music, there are multiple subgenres. The two largest of these categories might be called “friendly” and “grumpy.” Friendly ambient music is soothing and lulling, often even soporific. Grumpy ambient music is quiet but unsettling, usually dark and sometimes actually scary. Paul Casper (a.k.a. Frore) and Shane Morris have collaborated to produce an album that kind of straddles those two categories: unlike most ambient music, Eclipse intermittently features actual beats, but mostly the textures are ethereal and spacious and the grooves float and drift rather than drive or pound. The mood is mostly darkish, but not at all doom-laden. The secret of effective ambient music is subtle complexity, and these two have achieved that nicely with this album. Robin Rimbaud (a.k.a. Scanner), however, is dealing in subtle images of environmental catastrophe, and accordingly his take on the ambient genre is much grumpier. His latest project is inspired by troubling developments in the Arctic ice fields, and its mood varies from aridly frigid to spaciously pessimistic. That may not sound like a recommendation, but in fact the music on The Great Crater is not only fascinating but also quite beautiful. It’s just not going to help you sleep better. Both albums are recommended to libraries with electronic music collections.
20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo
Cherry Red (dist. MVD)
Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas used to insist that there was nothing “experimental” about his band’s music—he insisted that it was simply rock’n’roll, and if it sounded different fromthe music of other bands, that was because those other bands were doing it wrong. I’ve spent more than 30 years trying to figure out when Thomas is and isn’t joking, but I can tell you this: Pere Ubu’s new album rocks hard. It rocks hard even when Thomas lapses into his patented penguin-voice sprechgesang, even when Robert Wheeler’s EML synthesizer is squealing and sighing at apparent cross purposes to the chord progression, and even when the songs are about… well, dang, I can’t really tell what most of the songs are about. No matter. Thomas characterizes this one as “the James Gang teaming up with Tangerine Dream,” and I guess that will do. Although at under 34 minutes in length, it rocks far too briefly for a full-priced album, I nevertheless recommend it to all libraries that collect… er… rock’n’roll.
Danish String Quartet
The Danish String Quartet is one of those hot young ensembles right now–you know, the ones who play the standard repertoire and cutting-edge modernist pieces with equal passion and flair, the ones who delve into nonclassical traditions to create accessible but aesthetically complex pieces of simultaneously ancient and modern art, the ones with hip haircuts. For their second album on the ECM New Series, the DSQ interprets Scandinavian folk tunes–the fiddle tunes one would expect, but also traditional hymns, boat songs, medieval ballads, and Christmas music. The group’s instrumental forces are expanded here to include harmonium, piano, glockenspiel and string bass, though mostly what you’ll hear is a string quartet. This is music of exceptional grace and beauty, the arrangements sometimes simple and sometimes forbiddingly complex, the music veering between dark sadness and joyful exuberance. Highly recommended to all libraries.
Version Dread (reissue)
Studio One (dist. Redeye)
Dub–the practice of radically reworking songs in such a way that vocals and instruments float in and out of the mix, creating a mystical, floating vibe–has its roots in the early-1970s reggae scene and went on to build the foundation of modern remix culture. Very often, dub versions were released as B-sides of singles; the A-side would be the vocal, and the B-side the version. This outstanding collection of classic B-side dubs comes courtesy of the Studio One vaults, and features versions of songs by the Classics (later known as the Wailing Souls), Burning Spear, the Royals, and many others. There are tons of generic dub compilations out there, some of them cheaper than this one, but this is among the two or three best I’ve ever heard–and it’s now being reissued at mid price. For all libraries.
Riverboat (dist. Redeye)
Back in 2013, I designated Monoswezi’s The Village Pick of the Month, and called it a “must-have for all world music collections.” Their latest is just as good, a global-fusion album of the very best kind. The group’s members hail from Mozambique, Norway, Sweden, and Zimbabwe, and while elements from all of those countries (and others) can be heard at various times, it’s African rhythms that form the core of the band’s sound. Malian musician Sidiki Camara is a guest performer on this album, bringing calabash percussion and 8-stringed lute into the mix. As before, singer Hope Masike is one of the central features of the program, but her voice (along with that of Calu Tsemane) is almost treated like an instrument rather than a solo element. Anyway, it’s all wonderful. For all libraries.
At Least Wave Your Handkerchief at Me: The Joys and Sorrows of Southern Albanian Song
Glitterbeat (dist. Forced Exposure)
Saze, the traditional music of Southern Albania, is characterized by multiple melodic lines that interact simultaneously–originally sung, and later played by clarinet and violin. This is a repertoire that has not been widely recorded, and the Saz’iso ensemble formed for the specific purpose of remedying that lack. At Least Wave Your Handkerchief at Me was recorded live in the studio, with no overdubbing, and features elements that will be familiar to fans of Balkan music (that buzzing-mosquito clarinet sound, the astringent and open-throated singing style) but others that are unique to this music. For all ethnomusicology collections.
Havana Meets Kingston
17 North Parade/VP
I approached this album with a little bit of apprehension. While I had no doubt that Jamaica and Cuba–two of the most important music-producing countries in the Caribbean–had exercised some degree of mutual influence and could imagine any number of ways that son, calypso, reggae, and rumba could be combined, the subtitle “A Journey to Unite the Music of Cuba & Jamaica” sounded a bit forced to me. But the result won me over: when Jamaican musicians like Sly Dunbar, Ernest Ranglin, Bongo Herman, and Robbie Shakespeare flew to Havana to jam with their Cuban confrères, the result was rhythmic magic. And inviting along vocalists like Cornel Cambpell, Prince Alla and Brenda Navarrete was a move of sheer genius. Highly recommended.
More to Say Versions (vinyl/digital only)
Daptone (dist. Redeye)
There are reggae groups who try to update their sound to make it more palatable to a younger generation raised on digital production and Michael Bay movie sound effects. Then there are the ones who go in exactly the opposite direction, embracing the analog-tape-and-Echoplex sound of the Jamaican studios of the 1970s—or even earlier. The Frightnrs are in the latter camp, making recordings that sound like they came out of Studio One in the early days: splashy drums, fast-decaying echo, clucky rock-steady guitars. Dismiss it as empty formalism if you want, and I’ll push back only on the “empty” part: these songs kill. And they continue to do so even on this, a collection of dub versions based on the band’s 2016 LP Nothing More to Say. Even with only fleeting scraps of vocal left in the mix, the songs will still grab your heart and move your waist. Highly recommended.
Lily of da Valley
Which bring us to this album and a possibly uncomfortable question: what’s more authentic, a bunch of white guys from New York playing reggae that sounds like it could have been written and sung in 1972, or a black guy from Jamaica singing up-to-the-minute, glossily-produced modern roots reggae? If you’ve been reading CD HotList for a while, then you know that my answer is a resounding “who cares?”. What matter to me are the grooves, the melodies, and the lyrics. All of which are absolutely slamming on this debut album from Jesse Royal. I’d have been excited about it just because roots reggae has been hard to find in dancehall-besotted Jamaica for years, but what makes it even more exciting is that the album is absolutely brilliant. The smooth surfaces can’t hide the depth and solidity of the music, and the hip-hop derived beats can’t conceal Royal’s bone-deep roots. Every library needs to pick this one up and to keep an eye out for his future releases.
PICK OF THE MONTH
Jane Antonia Cornish
Innova (dist. Naxos)
I’ve been writing music reviews for a variety of publications for almost 30 years now, and with this album of chamber works by the composer Jane Antonia Cornish, I’ve had an unprecedented experience: I find myself being irritated that, in order to fill the October issue of CD HotList, I’m going to have to listen to a bunch of other albums rather than listen to this one over and over for the next two weeks, which is what I would dearly like to do.
Cornish is known primarily as a film composer, and the unfussy lyricism of this music bespeaks someone who is used to writing music in order to forward a functional narrative purpose. But the beauty of Cornish’s compositions runs far deeper than their lyricism; it lies in her use of empty space, her insightful way with instrumental texture (something that film composers learn better than almost any others), and her willingness to put ostentatious virtuosity aside in favor of clarity. Each of these pieces is written for some combination of violin, piano, cellos, and electronics, though the electronics are incorporated so seamlessly into the overall soundworld of these works that they are almost completely imperceptible as such. The music is deeply quiet and stunningly beautiful. I highly recommend this disc to all libraries. (And now I’m off to find as many other recordings of Cornish’s work as I possibly can.)
Brooklyn Raga Massive
Northern Spy (dist. Redeye)
Terry Riley’s pioneering work In C is notable for a number of things, one of which is its nearly infinite malleability. It’s written in the form of 53 “cells” of musical fragments, from which the performers select and which they play as many times as they wish, sticking with one or shifting between them. It goes without saying that the ensemble playing this music can be of any size and any instrumental makeup, and can play within the stylistic boundaries of virtually any musical tradition. Hence this recording by Brooklyn Raga Massive, a large ensemble dedicated to the exploration of Indian classical music. There’s a delicious irony here in the fact that Indian classical music is known for its microtonal melodic complexity, while In C is notable for its sub-diatonic simplicity. But there are no real rules here, and nothing to stop the BRM crew from introducing traditional Indian melisma and ornamentation into the mix, which of course they do, making this a truly unique realization of Riley’s work. Highly recommended to all classical collections.
Gershwin & Wild
Steinway & Sons
I continue to be impressed by the business savvy of the legendary piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons, which established a few years ago a record label designed to showcase its products. It’s a win-win: top-flight performers get a recording venue; listeners get (what have so far been) consistently great recordings; Steinway gets both sales revenue for the albums and a built-in advertising platform. The latest such release is this performance of two works by 20th-century American composer Earl Wild: the first, a set of variations on familiar themes of George Gershwin (including American Songbook classics like “The Man I Love” and “I Got Rhythm”), all transformed into lushly romantic and virtuosic études; the second a jazz-and-R&B-influenced original sonata. Don’t let the fact that the sonata’s third movement references Ricky Martin fool you: this is highly complex classical music that draws on influences from popular culture but in no way bows to them. Joanne Polk is a thrilling exponent of these works, and this disc would make a great addition to any library supporting piano pedagogy.
Georg Philipp Telemann et al.
Alon Sariel; various accompanists
Berlin Classics (dist. Naxos)
During the baroque era, it was common for composers and performers to take works originally written for one instrument and transcribe them for another. That tradition continues with this delightful recording by Israeli mandolinist/guitarist/lutenist Alon Shariel, who is besotted with the music of Telemann and so arranged a variety of chamber and concert works by Telemann, C.P.E. Bach, Carl Friedrich Abel, and Johann Friedrich Fasch for various combinations of mandolin, lute, baroque guitar, continuo, and strings. It’s both Telemann and the mandolin that take center stage here, though, with a concerto arrangement, several fantasias and suites, and a partita. Sariel’s playing is lovely and the arrangements are of academic as well as aesthetic interest.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Remix: Bach Transcriptions
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
Speaking of transcriptions of baroque music: certainly the single most frequently-transcribed composer of the baroque era is J.S. Bach, who, of course, never wrote for the modern piano (which didn’t exist during his lifetime, although the fortepiano did). On this album, pianist Tanya Gabrielian performs transcriptions of Bach’s third violin sonata and second cello suite along with one section each from his second violin partita and second violin sonata. While her playing is excellent, how one feels about these transcriptions themselves will depend significantly on one’s opinion of the practice of importing Romantic expressivity into baroque works–particularly on the first transcription by Alexander Siloti. Recommended.
String Quartets 2 & 4
Gringolts Quartet; Malin Hartelius
BIS (dist. Naxos)
For some reason, I always find it emotionally draining to listen to Schoenberg. Maybe I’m projecting: in his music, I hear deep anxiety over the abandonment of tonality and a feeling of slight foreboding over what the future will bring. At the same time I find his music formally thrilling, and of course the historical significance of his harmonic approach gives the listening experience an added frisson. The two string quartets featured on this very fine recording are separated in time by almost 30 years: the second quartet simultaneously looks backward and forward, while the fourth finds him beginning to break the strict rules of dodecophany that he had codified in the meantime. The playing by the Gringolts Quartet is absolutely outstanding, as is the contribution by soprano Malin Hartelius on the first piece. Strongly recommended to all libraries.
6 sonate di cembalo e violino obbligato, Op. 5 (2 discs)
Liana Mosca; Pierre Goy
Stradivarius (dist. Naxos)
Both today and during his own lifetime, Luigi Boccherini has been best known as a player of and composer for the cello. These six sonatas for piano with violin obbligato represent his first keyboard compositions, and were prompted in part by his fascination with the “new” pianos coming onto the market around 1760. The square piano used in this recording dates from that period, as does the violin played by Liana Mosca. In this case, the use of period instruments gives the recording more historical than purely aural advantage–the Frederick Beck piano used here sounds somewhat clattery and tinny, though the violin is lovely. The music itself is surprisingly mature-sounding, very French, and all of it is beautifully played.
Claude Debussy; Jean-Philippe Rameau
Debussy & Rameau: The Unbroken Line
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
With this album, pianist Jeffrey LaDeur is making an argument: that there exists an “unbroken line” of stylistic influence between the early-18th-century keyboard music of Rameau and the early-20th-century keyboard music of Debussy. Certainly Debussy’s admiration of Rameau is no secret, and he was a passionate exponent of Rameau and others of the French tradition at a time when much of the musical world was completely absorbed by Wagnerian themes and styles. You can read the liner notes for a detailed account of LaDeur’s argument; for my purposes, I’ll just say that the juxtapositions he offers here (between two Rameau selections, the first book of Debussy’s Images and the second of his preludes) are fascinating and beautiful, as is his playing.
The Complete Albums Collection 1959-1962
Enlightenment (dist. MVD)
This four-disc box brings together eight albums recorded by the great pianist Junior Mance for the Verve, Jazzland, and Riverside labels between 1959 and 1962. Most of these are trio dates, but The Chicago Cookers is a quintet recording led by Johnny Griffin and Wilbur Ware featuring Mance on piano, and on The Soul of Hollywood Mance’s trio is augmented by a studio orchestra for a set of popular film compositions. As with many of the super-budget-priced jazz box sets that have emerged in recent years (since these recordings passed out of copyright in the UK), this box offers tremendous value for money–the sound quality is good and the music itself is simply superb; Mance remains an underrated talent, and his affinity for the blues is beautifully on display on all of these albums. The downside, in this case, is the complete lack of personnel and other recording information. Still, this set can be confidently recommended to all libraries.
Shaitaan Dil: Naughty Heart
No cat. no.
Subhi is a singer and songwriter who was raised in Delhi and educated in the US. She left a career in finance in order to pursue music, but soon found herself equally dissatisfied with a new professional track that seemed to involve more meetings and negotiation than actual music-making. It was only after moving to Chicago and striking up a friendship with jazz pianist Joaquin Garcia that she finally found her voice, and this collection of Hindi songs in a variety of jazz styles is the result. In some ways it’s unlike anything else you’ll hear–but at the same time, it’s quite familiar and fun. And it shows that not all musical fusions have to result in seamless blends; sometimes they can be emulsions that leave their component stylistic elements distinctive and juxtapose them happily. Her voice is lovely, as are her melodies.
Presents West Coast Sessions, Vol. 5: Jack Sheldon
Presents West Coast Sessions, Vol. 6: Shelly Manne
These are the final two volumes in a series of reissues that bring to the American market, for the first time, albums made by the legendary alto saxophonist Art Pepper for the Japanese Atlas label between 1979 and 1981. At the time his exclusive contract with the Fantasy/Galaxy label group prevented him from recording for Atlas as a leader, so instead he solicited other A-list musicians to serve as titular leaders on these albums. These last two feature trumpeter Jack Sheldon and drummer Shelly Manne, respectively, and (as the folks at Atlas requested) they find Pepper and his crew playing in the “cool” West Coast style that he had helped to define in the 1950s. Pristine sound, generous bonus tracks, and outstanding playing make this entire series an absolute must-have for all library jazz collections. I’m sad to see it come to an end.
Walk of Fire
I feel as though the vibes have been making a comeback over the past few years–it seems like every couple of months or so I get a review copy of a really top-notch small-combo album led by a vibes player who is simultaneously celebrating jazz tradition and expanding it, however subtly. Case in point: the latest from vibraphone virtuoso (and crack composer) Behn Gillece. Here he leads a septet that also includes such luminaries as saxophonist Walt Weiskopf and trombonist Michael Dease on an all-original program that explores multiple moods and styles, from the bossa-flavored “Fantasia Brasileira” to the Milt Jackson tribute “Bag’s Mood” and the Coltrane-y modal workout “Battering Ram.” He and his combo swing like nobody’s business, and Gillece’s solos are a marvel. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.
I don’t often review vocal jazz (don’t ask me why; I’m not entirely sure), but I do listen to everything that comes across my desk from the Capri label, AND I have a soft spot in my heart for bassists, so the sophomore album from bassist and singer Katie Thiroux caught both my eye and my ear this month. (The fact that my hero Ken Peplowski is on the date also helped to grab my attention.) Anyway, Thiroux’s voice is a velvety delight, her intonation is perfect, her playful sense of swing is sublime. And she’s a fine, fine bass player as well. This album is just a solid winner all around and I recommend it to all libraries.
I have to say that on the opening track of his latest album, guitarist Mike Stern sounds absolutely furious. As well he might: the title of that track (and of the album itself) is a wry reference to the fact that in the summer of 2016, while Stern was hailing a cab, he tripped and fell, breaking both of his arms. The injury resulted in nerve damage to his right hand that has left him unable to grip a plectrum without mechanical aid. Listeners might be forgiven for failing to notice a difference–Stern manages still to play with energy, jaw-dropping technique, and a sharp attack. And the astonishing array of sidepersons who stepped up to play alongside him on this album (Dave Weckl, Bill Evans, Randy Brecker, Lenny White, and many more) suggests that no one is expecting him to go anywhere. Thank heaven for tender mercies. An outstanding set of modern jazz from one of our greatest living guitarists.
Letters Never Read
Blue Hens Music
Dori Freeman is back with another unspeakably beautiful album of country music that simultaneously celebrates and expands the traditions of her native Galax, Virginia. Like her debut, this one is produced by Teddy Thompson (and if the electric guitar solos sound strangely familiar, yes, that’s Teddy’s dad Richard). And this time she covers a Richard & Linda Thompson classic, the country-ready “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight.” But once again, what’s centrally important here is her voice, which is as solid and beautiful as a polished stone, in combination with her achingly perfect songs. Every library that collects country and folk music should jump to acquire this one, as well her self-titled debut. (Sole complaint: at just under 29 minutes, this album is way, way too short.)
Signature Sounds (dist. Redeye)
Eilen Jewell is an accomplished songwriter, but her driving passion is old and obscure music of various kinds, including the blues. On her latest album she gathers songs originally recorded by the likes of Willie Dixon, Memphis Minnie, Alberta Hunter, and Charles Sheffield, delivering them in her own distinctive style–one that combines lowdown delivery with a clear, sweet voice. The effect is controlled but sexy, and her band gives her exactly the right kind of solid, powerful, but carefully-orchestrated backing she needs. It’s rare to hear a blues album that combines restraint and passion so effectively. Highly recommended.
Silence in These Walls
Mountain Home Music Company
Their name is clearly a tribute to their bluegrass roots (referencing simultaneously Lester Flatt and the “high lonesome” sound exemplified by Bill Monroe), but Flatt Lonesome uses those roots as a jumping-off point. Despite their very traditional instrumentation, the music they make has more in common with modern singer-songwriter country music than traditional bluegrass. The chord changes go way beyond the boundaries of traditional I-IV-V, and the harmonies are richer and denser than is typical for bluegrass music. (And is that an electric guitar on “I’m Not Afraid to Be Alone”? Why, yes it is.) However, there’s none of the jazzy showing-off that typifies some newgrass bands, either. These guys are just exceptionally gifted country artists working with bluegrass instrumentation, and their latest album finds them moving from strength to strength.
A country singer who simultaneously characterizes herself as a “country hair disciple” and her new album as a breakup with the patriarchy is someone you just have to give a listen to, am I right? And the fact that she’s teamed up with Raul Malo again (he’s a producer here, but usually he’s the Mavericks’ frontman) means that woven in among the faux-1950s sonics and the bittersweet vocals are some polka and ska backbeats, as well as some delightfully cheesy lounge-surf guitar flourishes. (Whether he’s to blame for the near absence of treble in the mix is an open question.) Rose is a very sharp songwriter as well as a fine singer, and this is an outstanding collection of modern country songs.
In Trance (compilation; 3 discs)
30 Hertz (dist. Cherry Red)
One of the best things that punk rock did had very little to do with punk rock. By radically pushing outward the boundaries of what counted as popular music, punk created space for artists to explore styles that were not “punky” in any meaningful sense, but that were way outside the rock/pop norm. Few postpunk artists have taken such effective advantage of that space as bassist John Wardle, a.k.a. Jah Wobble (ex-Public Image Ltd). Stylistically, his experiments have regularly taken him all around the world and into outer space, and while not all of those experiments have been successful, they have never, ever been less than interesting. This three-disc set brings together some of the quieter and more contemplative examples of his explorations, drawn from several of his albums over the past 20 years. Always deeply influenced by dub and by Middle Eastern musical traditions, Wobble uses space and repetition as primary ingredients in his musical recipes, and some listeners may find at least some of this music tedious–but keep listening. It’s worth it.
Bring on the Sun (2 discs)
All Saints (dist. Redeye)
Laraaji came to the attention of British and American audiences back in the early 1980s, when Brian Eno produced a recording of his shimmering, maxi-minimalist dulcimer pieces for his Editions E.G. label. In recent years there’s been something of a resurgence of interest in Laraaji’s music, thanks to some well-timed reissues. But this album is actually a set of brand-new music, some of which might be a bit startling to his longstanding fans. The first disc offers more of the gentle, sweet-tempered weirdness we’ve come to expect, but with the addition of spoken-word autbiography and even some surprisingly mellifluous singing. The second disc consists of two tracks created primarily out of electronic treatments of sounds from a Chinese wind gong. These are much darker and more ominous-sounding than most of Laraaji’s music. All of it is very much worth hearing.
Play It Again Sam
Enter Shikari emerged from England’s post-hardcore scene in the mid-aughts with a unique sound proposition: screamy political hardcore that would occasionally and without warning give way to woozy dubstep beats or jungle breakdowns. Early in the band’s career it was a bit difficult to discern, but there was also always a whiff of proggy experimentalism to their approach. On The Spark, the band’s fifth full-length album, the progressive elements have really come to the fore: there’s still some yelling, and the band’s political convictions are as explicit as ever, and there are plenty of heavy guitars and hard, funky beats–but the overall mood is more introspective, and there are moments of quietude that would have been hard to imagine ten years ago. Enter Shikari is a band that never sits still, and so much the better.
Pop Art Live (2 discs)
Of course, some bands never change at all, and that can be okay too. 1970s power-pop heroes the Raspberries never changed, in significant part, because they broke up 40 years ago. Frontman Eric Carmen went on to a successful solo career, and that was that. Until 2005, when the four founding members of the band got together for a brief reunion tour, which opened at Cleveland’s House of Blues. That concert is captured on this recording, which is tons of fun. Carmen’s voice isn’t in the greatest shape, but the group’s harmonies are as tight as ever and the overall sound is very good. The Raspberries’ many fans will welcome this release into any library’s pop collection.
Gabriel Le Mar
Gabriel Le Mar is better known as one half (with Michael Kohlbecker) of the German electronica duo Saafi Brothers. On his own, he explores somewhat darker, less world-influenced, and more abstract territories. On his latest solo album he keeps things dark, warm, and inviting, and although each of the tracks on Stripped is labeled “beatless,” that’s not 100% accurate: every track has a pulse and features percussion (or at least percussive) sounds. But what none of them has is a driving rhythm; instead, all are excursions into nearly-ambient soundscapes consisting of large sonic spaces filled with tiny details both rhythmic and textural. Fans of the Saafi Brothers and of bands like the Orb and Banco de Gaia should pay particular attention.
The Afro-Indian Project
ARC Music (dist. Naxos)
Kora player Ravi (né J.P. Freeman) brought together an all-star cast of Indian, African, and English musicians in order to create this unusual but highly enjoyable fusion of Indian and African musical elements. Along with his kora, you’ll hear various combinations of santoor, tabla, bansuri, guitar, saxophone, and other instruments, all held together by Danny Thompson’s powerful but understated upright bass. Authentic? By no means; ethnomusicological purists will get great satisfaction in turning up their noses at this album. But is it really very pretty? You bet.
¡ESSO! Afrojam Funkbeat
No cat. no.
An eight-piece band that celebrates its cultural diversity (members are Mexican, Puerto Rican, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Colombian, African American, and both male and female), ¡ESSO! Afrojam Funkbeat nevertheless has an overarching stylistic identity: it’s Latin, and within that broad classification its strongest single element is cumbia. But there are plenty of other influences bubbling around in there as well, including Afrobeat, jazz, reggae, and funk–sometimes in sequence, and sometimes all at once, with different elements coexisting on different rhythmic layers in the same song. Interestingly, although this music is always percolatingly funky, there’s also a strangely contemplative vibe to many of these songs; the tempos are typically moderate, and the lyrical themes are thoughtful and sometimes hortatory. This is clearly one of those bands that wants you to dance and to think at the same time.
No cat. no.
Speaking of diverse musical ensembles: Baraka Moon is a Bay Area quartet consisting of Pakistani singer/harmonium player Sokhawat Ali Khan, percussionist/didjeridoo player Stephen Kent, drummer/percussionist Peter Warren, and guitarist Anastasi Mavrides. Together they make music that uses Khan’s qawwali-derived singing as a center around which the band builds funky, slinky, bluesy arrangements that draw on multiple rhythmic and instrumental traditions simultaneously. The result could easily be a shambling mess, but it isn’t–the music is tight, expansive, and fun. For all world music collections.
Righteous Sound Productions
No cat. no.
You might not have heard of Indubious. They’re a reggae band based in Southern Oregon, headed by two brothers who were born with cystic fibrosis and were basically told from their early childhood that they were about to die. Now in their 20s, they have instead become a major force in the West Coast reggae scene, and their fourth album is a triumph of powerful, heavyweight grooves, conscious lyrics, and catchy melodies. Guests include Sizzla Kalonji, Vaughn Benjamin, and Zahira, but the album works because of Spencer Burton’s bass and Evan Burton’s sweet singing–not to mention the rich production, all of which was done by the two brothers. This is an astoundingly fine album.
Andina: The Sound of the Peruvian Andes: Huayno, Carnaval & Cumbia 1968 to 1978
Tiger’s Milk/Strut (dist. Redeye)
During the late 1960s and 1970s, the popular music scene in the Peruvian Andes (and especially in Lima, its urban center) was richer and more diverse than one might imagine. This wonderful disc brings together examples of cumbia, huayno, big band, and traditional harp music from the period; most of these were original vinyl recordings that have never been released outside of Peru and are long out of print even there. This will be the first in a series of three albums exploring the history of Peruvian music up to the present, and, charmingly, this one is released at the same time as a similarly-themed cookbook. Recommended to all libraries.
Non-Stop: Mexico to Jamaica
In many parts of the world right now, a hot and sunny summer is giving way to the wind and rain of autumn. If you want to hold onto the last vestiges of summer sunshine, get ahold of this album from Latin-fusion band Ozomatli. The album title says it all: Ozomatli is a Los Angeles-based band that is conversant in a wide variety of Latin rhythms and styles, but they also love reggae and funk. So that pretty much tells you what to expect: tight harmonies, soaring melodies, funky rhythms, reggae backbeats, heavy bass, all in various combinations that shift from song to song. Pull this one out when the weather gets seriously bad in January or February, and watch your patrons’ faces light up.
Old Time Something Come Back Again, Vol. 2
For more of a pure reggae experience, definitely check out the latest from the Expanders, also based in Los Angeles. The first album in this series of classic reggae cover collections was released as a free download (it’s still available here, if you sign up for their mailing list), and it was absolutely outstanding. This one, if anything, is even better–I’ve been a roots-reggae crate-digger for almost 35 years now, and I’ve heard maybe three of these tracks before. The songs are arranged respectfully but not slavishly, and the Expanders both play and sing with a warmth and an easy virtuosity that make the album a completely enjoyable listening experience. Highly recommended to all libraries.
No cat. no.
Indian percussionist Bala Skandam leads the percussion-centric, New York-based ensemble Akshara through a blisteringly virtuosic and melodically gorgeous set of original tunes on this, the group’s debut album. The focus here is on the deep rhythmic complexity that characterizes South Indian music. The rhythms are not only played by percussion instruments (notably the mridangam), but are also sung in a vocal style called konnakkol, by which beats are given a variety of different vowel/consonant representations and chanted in patterns as they’re played. The combination of these long and incredibly complicated rhythmic patterns and the melodies played by flute, strings, and hammered dulcimer is sometimes hair-raisingly beautiful. Highly recommended.
PICK OF THE MONTH
Another Time: The Hilversum Concert
Some readers may remember that last year I recommended Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest, a newly-discovered studio recording of Bill Evans with Jack DeJohnnette and Eddie Gomez–a legendary lineup that lasted only six months and had left only one known recording behind. Now comes another previously-unreleased live album by this group, this one recorded a couple of days later in Hilversum, Holland. Once again the jaw-dropping musicianship of these three great minds is on display: only his legendary Motian-LaFaro trio could hold a candle to this one. Gomez is a bassist very much in the LaFaro mode, frequently wandering off the walking path and into rhythmically unusual, harmonically impressionistic avenues, while DeJohnnette was at this point already both one of the most energetic and one of the gentlest drummers in all of jazz. Evans himself is at peak form here, his swing deepened by the lush romanticism of his chord voicings. Like the previous discovery, this album is a treasure and deserves a place in every library.
Russian Medieval Chant (reissue)
Deisus / Sergey Krivobokov
Chandos (dist. Naxos)
Despite its title, the program on this disc consists not only of medieval plainchant, but also of later polyphonic arrangements of chant melodies dating from the 17th century. Those who are mainly familiar with the Gregorian tradition of plainchant may find this music startling: the voices are dark and bass-heavy, and the melodies (and their accompanying melismas) tend to be fairly limited in range, contributing to a feeling of meditative stasis. There is a somberness to this music that feels deeper than the peacefulness of Gregorian chant–and when the monophonic singing suddenly gives way to rich but astringent polyphonic harmony, the effect is electric. This release appears to be unaltered from its original 2001 issue.
Alba (dist. Naxos)
In stark contrast to the recording above, this one is filled with light. In fact, its title is Latin for “in light,” and the all-female choir it features is named after the Greek word for “filled with light.” The music is a broad mix of ancient and modern works by such composers as Eric Whitacre, William Byrd, Ola Gjeilo, Gioachino Rossini, and César Franck, but while the styles and time periods represented varied widely, the mood does not: while the intensity level varies, the volume (low) and tempo (slow) do not, and the result is a deeply moving and, yes, luminous listening experience. Highly recommended to all libraries.
Eternal Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine 1650
La Capella Ducale; Musica Fiata / Roland Wilson
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi/Sony
Don’t be fooled–this is not the vespers service for which Monteverdi is famous (and which was published in 1610). This is a posthumous collection of works by Monteverdi and a handful of lesser-known contemporaries (Giovanni Regatta, Massimiliano Neri, Alessandro Grandi), organized as a vespers service but consisting of entirely different music from that contained in the 1610 service. This is not a modern or speculative reconstruction, however–this service was compiled by Alessandro Vicenti and published as such in 1650, seven years after the composer’s death. There’s no questioning the quality of this music, or the performances on this recording, and it should be of great interest to any library with a collecting interest in Renaissance music.
Many Are the Wonders: Renaissance Gems and Their Reflections, Volume 2: Tallis
ORA / Suzi Digby
This is the second release in a series designed to showcase modern works written in dialogue with ancient ones. The first volume featured works by William Byrd alternating with contemporary pieces written in response to them; this one takes the same approach to works by Thomas Tallis, setting them alongside related pieces by Frank Ferko, Richard Allain, Alec Roth, and others. (In many cases, these are world-premiere recordings.) The resulting mixture of styles and approaches is fascinating and unfailingly beautiful, thanks in significant part to the magnificent singing of the ORA ensemble. Strongly recommended to all classical collections.
Jeremiah Clarke; Henry Purcell
Son of England
Les Cris de Paris; Le Poème Harmonique / Vincent Dumestre
Alpha (dist. Naxos)
Jeremiah Clarke is a composer largely forgotten today–we know only the basic outlines of his career, which was cut short by premature death–but the funeral ode he wrote upon the (equally premature) death of the great Henry Purcell is testament to his tremendous talent. Paired here with Purcell’s own Funeral Sentences for the death of Queen Mary, it makes for a somber and deeply beautiful program. The disc concludes with the joyful ode to Saint Cecilia “Welcome to All the Pleasures”–an equally beautiful but slightly odd inclusion. Les Cris de Paris and Le Poème Harmonique perform with rich conviction and are beautifully recorded.
In the Time of Lorenzo de Medici & Maximilian I
La Capella Reial de Catalunya; Hespèrion XXI / Jordi Savall
Alia Vox (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
The 500th anniversary of Heinrich Isaac’s death hasn’t gotten the kind of attention that it would have if he were as famous as he should be, but this loving (and carefully, elegantly curated) program is as good a tribute as one could hope for. Jordi Savall’s choir La Capella Reial de Catalunya and his instrumental ensemble Hespèrion XXI may not seem like a perfect cultural fit for the music of this 15th-century titan of the Franco-Flemish scene, but Savall has long shown his ability to interpret early music from just about anywhere with authority and commitment, and this is an absolutely ravishing recording. The pieces were chosen to reflect Isaac’s work as a member of the Medici court, and consist of both sacred and secular compositions. Highly recommended to all libraries.
Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer
Vesperae, Op. 3
Exsultemus; Newton Baroque / Shannon Canavin, Andrus Madsen
Toccata Classics (dist. Naxos)
Although known primarily for his keyboard music, Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer was also a gifted composer of vocal music, and this vespers setting from 1701 shows him to have been deply influenced by the Italian school. The program also includes a Marian antiphon and a Magnificat setting, and is rounded out by couple of organ sonatas by his contemporary Johann Christoph Pez. These are very fine, but the vocal works are outstanding, and are both beautifully sung and expertly recorded in the sympathetic of the Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. This is a world-premiere recording of the vespers.
Petits motets, Vol. II
Scherzi Musicali / Nicolas Achten
Musique en Wallonie (dist. Naxos)
Hearing a heart-stoppingly beautiful melody is always a thrill, and hearing one from a composer of whom you previously knew nothing is even more exciting, because it offers the promise of more heart-stoppingly beautiful melodies you haven’t yet heard. Joseph-Hector Fiocco was born in Brussels in 1704 and lived there for the entirety of his brief life. This is the second volume in a collection of his motets for four voices, strings and continuo, of which he composed a total of 22. His vocal lines have a Handelian grace to them, with subtle melodic surprises that make them all the more entrancing. These are exceptional performances by the Scherzi Musicali ensemble, and as soon as I’m done writing this I’m going to go in search of the first volume in this series.
Rags and Roots
Trombonist Chris Washburne has assembled a crack team of instrumentalists and singers for this unusually diverse celebration of ragtime music and traditional jazz. If you’re expecting a typical assortment of ensemble settings of Scott Joplin and James Scott compositions, think again: these are stylistically ambitious reconceptions of standard ragtime tropes, some of which bring out the Latin influences, others focusing on bluesy inflections, and others pulling in different but related New Orleans styles. Washburne’s presence on trombone is constant but mostly peripheral: he’s the impresario but not the center of attention. This means that the whole album feels very organic and carefully orchestrated, but still plenty loose and fun. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.
Tzadik (dist. Redeye)
The days when I had a strong interest in jazz that could reasonably described as “politically motivated,” or “incendiary,” or as a fusion of jazz and metal–those days have pretty much passed. But a little skronk now and then does the heart good, and if it’s skronk in the service of positive social change, hey, so much the better. Song titles like “War Machine,” “Radicals,” and “Gaslight” give you some idea of what to expect: a fair amount of hellacious noise, but also complex and carefully-composed pieces that sometimes place long, lyrical trumpet lines over roaring layers of guitar and that can sound like a slightly antisocial kind of postmodern bebop. A lot of the time it’s hellacious noise, though.
It would be interesting to know how many truly great jazz pianists are alive at any given time. The number would be determined, of course, by the standards one uses to judge pianistic greatness. But I’ll say this: you could tighten the criteria until you’ve excluded all but 10, and Fred Hersch will still be among them. In fact, I’d suggest that he’s very possibly one of the top five. His latest album is a solo excursion, perhaps the most deeply personal and introspective of any he’s made yet–and given that introspective depth has been a hallmark of his playing since the beginning, that’s saying something. The centerpiece of this album is an original composition, actually a 19-minute onstage improvisation entitled “Through the Forest.” The rest of the program consists originals, standards, a Billy Joel cover, and (of course) a Thelonious Monk tune. All of it is exquisite.
Quartet Plus, Volume 2
Guitarist and composer Mason Razavi has put together a very interesting program on his latest album. The first five tracks are straight-ahead quartet recordings (with the exception of the fusion-inflected “With the Wind at My Back”), while the second half of the album consists of pieces arranged for a nonet that sounds like a big band. I assume that the horn charts were arranged by Razavi as well as based on his melody lines, and they’re outstanding. His music is witty but also deeply emotional, and his rollicking, barnstorming take on the Duke Ellington standard “Caravan” ends things on a gloriously riotous note. Highly recommended.
I Believe in You
Jazz combos without chordal instruments are usually a tough sell for me, but since Jeff Campbell has long been one of my favorite bass players I decided to give this one a spin — and I’m very glad I did. The group consists of Campbell, saxophonist/clarinetist/flutist Charles Pillow, and drummer Rich Thompson, and on this album they play nothing but standards, showing their range by tackling American Songbook ballads and gnarly bop classics (notably Thelonious Monk’s notoriously difficult “Trinkle, Tinkle”) alike, all in arrangements that show both deep musical maturity and a wilingness to take risks. This is a brilliant album that should find a home in every library’s jazz collection.
Harry Allen’s All Star New York Saxophone Band
The Candy Men
Harry Allen is one of the foremost living exponents of old-school swing, and for this album he’s gathered three additional saxophonists who are similarly inclined: Gary Smulyan, Eric Alexander, and Grant Stewart. Supported by the rhythm section of pianist Rossano Sportiello, bassist Joel Forbes, and drummer Kevin Kanner, they present a very tight set of Allen arrangements for sax quartet of both standards and rarities (including the boppish Jimmy Giuffre composition “Four Brothers” and several fine Allen originals), all of them fiercely swinging when they aren’t gorgeously floating along on a cloud of choral harmonies. Any library supporting an academic jazz program should take particular note of this really quite special album.
King of Killing Time
Signature Sounds (dist. Redeye)
I’ll just come right out and say it: country music isn’t always a lot of fun. It can be really intense, and it can be goofy, and it can be technically impressive, but very often it’s more earnest than fun. There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously, but it means that when a really fun album does come along it stands out from the pack. And despite the noir-ish title and album cover, that’s exactly what this Sweetback Sisters album is: yes, there are some barroom weepers here, but mostly it’s rollicking Western swing and upbeat honky-tonk raveups, and even the weepers are delivered pretty lightly. The whole album’s just wonderful.
Life Is Fine
Gawd Aggie/Cooking Vinyl
Austrialian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly’s music is kind of uncategorizable, but this one goes in the Folk/Country section because of its overall rootsiness and the predominance of slide guitars. Not that they’re that predominant–more of a leavening agent in the overall recipe, which consists of crunchy guitars, tight female harmonies, and Kelly’s reedy, pleasantly aging voice. And those songs: over the course of four decades now Kelly has built an enviable reputation as a songwriter’s songwriter, the kind of guy who gets mentioned in the same breath as John Hiatt and Freedy Johnston. His latest will be welcomed by his well-established cult and it will be a revelation for those not yet familiar with his work.
Arthur Alexander (reissue)
The intersection of country music and African-American culture has long been, shall we say, a contested one. Most black artists have steered clear, with some notable exceptions: Charley Pride, Aaron Neville, and of course Ray Charles among them. And some artists have blended country with R&B elements. Arthur Alexander was one of those, and his sophomore album from 1972 blends country and soul elements so seamlessly that it’s hard to say which one predominates. His use of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section helps to blur that stylistic line, of course, and also gives this album a gentle tensile strength that still impresses 45 years later. Highly recommended to all libraries.
John Reischman and the Jaybirds
On That Other Green Shore
Mandolinist John Reischman has been a highly-respected figure on the alt-bluegrass scene for decades now. One of the original architects of the New Acoustic Music sound in the 1970s and 1980s, he has (unlike others of that generation) largely kept his music-making within the broad outlines of the old-time and bluegrass tradition, without letting those outlines constrict him very much. One of his defining qualities as a bandleader is his willingness to let others shine, and on his latest album he does that very effectively, showcasing the instrumental prowess of banjo player Nick Hornbuckle, the flatpicking chops of guitarist Jim Nunally, and the singing of bassist Trisha Gagnon. There’s a Beatles tune here along with some traditional and original fiddle tunes and vocal numbers, and all of it is excellent.
Since Will Hoge’s earliest recordings, even his most rockish and punk-edged rave-ups have had a rootsy edge to them. But over time, Hoge has gradually evolved into what can only be called a country artist–not a Nashville-style, cowboy-hat-wearing country artist, but someone who now uses pickup trucks as metaphors and unapologetically incorporates mandolins into his arrangements. And he still writes a song like no one’s business and sings it like it’s the only thing that matters in the world. Great stuff.
Space, Energy & Light: Experimental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes 1961-88
Soul Jazz (dist. Redeye)
Charmingly dated, often fun, and occasionally hair-pullingly tedious, this collection provides an outstanding overview of early excursions in electronic pop, New Age, and experimental music spanning almost three decades. Most of these artists have since passed into obscurity, but not all: Steve Halpern went on to become a New Age rock star, and Richard Pinhas is still a cult hero. The sounds themselves range from blippy Moog tonalities to expansive digital soundscapes, and libraries with a collecting interest in the history of pop and experimental music should definitely take note.
The Rhino label is orchestrating a series of compilations drawing on the deep vaults of the legendary Stax/Volt label, home to such artists as Booker T. & the MG’s, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, and, of course, Otis Redding. Budget priced (I’m seeing list prices ranging from $7.50 to $10) and packaged with handy historical summaries and discographical data, these collections may not stand apart from the crowd in terms of sheer content–best-ofs by these artists are a dime a dozen–but their affordability and historical content make them a solid choice for libraries looking for a nice overview of a vital period in American musical history.
A World of My Own
From the first bars of the album-opening “Send Me Down a Sign,” this album promises pure power-pop bliss: heavy but nimble guitars, hook-filled melodies, tight harmonies, and careful song architecture. The rest of the album delivers on that promise. Derrick Anderson, who has made a name for himself as bass player for Dave Davies and the Bangles, cashes in some IOUs here: several Bangles provide backup vocals, as do a number of Cowsills, and instrumental contributions come courtesy of Matthew Sweet and (on one track) all of the Smithereens. The overall mood is sunny and bright, an explicit throwback to the California pop of the 1970s, in all the best ways. Strongly recommended to all libraries.
Tear the Roots
Kaleida, a duo consisting of Christina Wood and Cicely Goulder, makes deeply beautiful and subtly unsettling electro-pop with a serious political message. The message is undermined somewhat by the pair’s tendency to record vocals in such a way as to make them nearly unintelligible, but that just strengthens the strange and ethereal beauty of the music. The beats are sturdy and propulsive, but they don’t dominate the sound, which is uniquely attractive: dark timbres and bloopy synth textures predominate, and there’s tons of subtle detail here–including the melodies, none of which will grab you by the throat but all of which will hold your attention if you attend to them.
Planet Mu (dist. Redeye)
For something a bit harder-edged, less beautiful, and, frankly, more weird, consider the latest from Bristol-based electro-hero Nick Edwards, who records as Ekoplekz. The Germanic spelling of the album title puts you on notice: this will sound a bit like Kraftwerk with a hangover. And that’s not a bad thing, either–the robot-in-a-K-hole vibe of tracks like “Expedition” and “Acrid Acid” is engaging and forbidding at the same time, while the aptly-titled “Calypzoid” pairs off-kilter, faintly Caribbean beats with spooky synth tones. As I write this I realize that I may not be selling it very well. Trust me–if your library collects electronic music, you want a copy of this one.
It Had to Be You: Lost Radio Recordings
Real Gone Music
I Feel a Song Coming On: Lost Radio Recordings
Real Gone Music
Here are two outstanding new collections of previously-unissued material saved from the vaults by the intrepid souls at Real Gone Music. The Rosemary Clooney collection consists of radio performances recorded between 1952 and 1958, on which she is backed either by Buddy Cole’s trio or the John Scott Trotter Orchestra. Her voice was at its peak of richness during these years, and her style was cheerful and free. The sound quality is worth noting here–it’s exceptionally rich and clear throughout. As great as the Clooney disc is, though, it’s slightly overshadowed by the Jo Stafford collection, which consists entirely of recordings she made for the Carnation Contented Hour (sponsored by Carnation Milk, which famously came from “contented cows”). On all of these performances she’s supported by the Victor Young Orchestra, and her voice is simply a marvel–feathery around the edges, but sure and powerful at the same time. Both of these albums are strongly recommended to libraries.
When a guy travels the world trying to learn how to play instruments from a hugely diverse array of musical traditions, he inevitably opens himself up to charges of dilletantism (if not cultural imperialism). Stephen Micus gets around this by not claiming (or even trying) to be a musical ambassador–instead, he’s someone who wants to create new and very personal music by many, many different instrumental means. His latest solo album is centered around the sound of the nyckelharpa, an unusually-configured Scandinavian fiddle. But he doesn’t play it in a Scandinavian style, any more than he plays shakuhachi in a traditional Japanese style or the balanzikom in a Sufi style. He simply makes beautiful, often meditative, and deeply personal music that sounds like it comes from a country that hasn’t yet been discovered by anyone other than him.
Trio Da Kali & Kronos Quartet
Trio Da Kali is a group from Mali consisting of balafon player Fodé Lassana Diabaté, singer Hawa “Kassé Mady” Diabaté, and bass ngoni player Mamadou Kouyaté. For this album they’ve teamed up with the always-interesting Kronos Quartet for a sort of griot/classical fusion project that is one of the loveliest things you’re likely to hear this year. Hawa Diabaté’s voice is a wonder–rich and powerful, and a perfect instrument not only for the traditional griot songs she performs here, but also for the album’s one anomaly: a Bambara-language version of the gospel song “God Shall Wipe All Tears Away.” A must for all libraries.
Riddimentary: Suns of Dub Selects Greensleeves
The continuous DJ mix is a longstanding tradition in dance music, and it has a distinguished history in the reggae world as well. For this collection, the innovative Suns of Dub ensemble (who combine DJing, live instruments, and live dub mixing into their performances) were invited to create a mix program from classic material drawn from the VP and Greensleeves catalogs. The result is a nicely varied set that includes both familiar and obscure tracks by the likes of Augustus Pablo, Tenor Saw, Sister Nancy, Prince Far I, and Lacksley Castell. The Suns seem to have done a little bit of additional dubbing-up on their own (as well as adding the odd air-horn effect), but for the most part these tracks are presented in their original, bass-heavy glory. This disc is both tons of fun and also a useful illustration of one important strand of reaggae practice.
Lee “Scratch” Perry & Subatomic Sound System
Super Ape Returns to Conquer
Subatomic Sound (dist. MVD)
This is really a match made in heaven: progressive dub collective Subatomic Sound System and legendary reggae producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, the man who is second only to King Tubby in his importance to the early development of dub. Unlike Perry’s other recent releases, this one unapologetically revisits his classic work of the 1970s, featuring recuts of songs like “Chase the Devil,” “Patience,” and “War ina Babylon,” along with new adaptations of classic Black Ark rhythms like “Curly Locks” and (of course) “Super Ape.” The Subatomic crew make sure that this doesn’t turn into a pure nostalgia exercise, however: their trademark production values are all over these tracks, deepening and expanding the grooves, and Perry himself chats gleefully over most of them, resulting in a fresh and invigorating celebration of one of reggae music’s most eccentric geniuses.
Caribbean in America 1915-1962 (3 discs)
Frémeux & Associés (dist. Naxos)
Today, reggae music is probably the most popular and well-known musical export from the Caribbean islands. But before reggae, there was of course calypso — not to mention merengue, beguine, mambo, and other musical forms that delighted mid-century American listeners. And there was also the influence of West Indian musicians on jazz, soul, and other indigenous American musical forms. This wonderful three-disc set tracks Caribbean influences on all kinds of American vernacular music: Cuban influences through jazzmen like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, West Indian sea songs by Stan Wilson, New Orleans creole music from Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint, Caribbean-influenced pop music from Fats Domino and Bill Haley & the Comets, and (of course) contributions from a bumper crop of Calypsonians–including, startlingly, the young Louis Farrakhan (performing as The Charmer). This is a widely varied and hugely enjoyable compilation.
PICK OF THE MONTH
The Complete Argo Recordings (42 discs)
Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge / George Guest
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.
Three Quartets for Clarinet and Strings
Eric Hoeprich; members of the London Haydn Quartet
Glossa (dist. Naxos)
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.
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.
Grand quintuor en ut, oeuvre 163, D 956 (reissue)
Quatuor Festetics; Wieland Kuijken
Arcana (dist. Naxos)
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)
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
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Live from Austin TX (CD + DVD)
Live from Austin TX (CD + DVD)
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.
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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)
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.
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.
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)
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.
Complete Loma Singles Vol. 1 (2 discs)
Real Gone Music
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.
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sharp & Ready
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.