RSS Feed

November 2016


schubertFranz Schubert
Piano Trios Op. 99 & 100 (2 discs)
Andreas Staier; Daniel Sepec; Roel Dieltiens
Harmonia Mundi
HMC 902233.34

Here is a very enjoyable account (on period instruments) of two of Franz Schubert’s finest chamber works, along with a nocturne of slightly mysterious origin–it was written around the same time as the Opus 99 trio, but without a title (it was designated a “nocturne” by the publisher, 18 years after Schubert’s death), and may have been either the beginning of another full piano trio or intended as an addition to an existing one. In any case, Schubert’s exceptional gifts for melodic development and aching romanticism are fully in evidence here, and the playing is every bit as wonderful as one would expect from this all-star ensemble. The 97-minute playing time may seem a bit skimpy for a full-priced two-disc set, but the music is well worth it.

guillemainLouis-Gabriel Guillemain
Sonates en quatuors
Ensemble Barockin’
Raumklang (dist. Naxos)
RK 3304

I’m not a fan of cutesy early-music ensemble names seemingly designed to convince today’s youth that pre-classical music is awesome, but I’m definitely a fan of early-music ensembles that produce world-premiere recordings of obscure baroque composers. Louis-Gabriel Guillemain was a famous violinist and successful court composer in Paris in the early 18th century, but his career was derailed by his dissolute lifestyle and his compositional output was not terribly large. What his oeuvre lacked in volume it made up for in quality, though, and these four “gallant and amusing conversations between a flute, a violin, a bass viol and continuo” (two of which are recorded here for the first time ever) are a consistent delight. Despite their silly name, Ensemble Barockin’ acquit themselves beautifully here, playing with a muscular gusto that never threatens to overwhelm the courtly delicacy of the writing.

banjoVarious Composers
Classical Banjo: The Perfect Southern Art
John Bullard
JB 100

For baroque (and Romantic) music played on something that doesn’t even come close to being a period instrument, consider this wonderful recording by five-string banjo virtuoso John Bullard. Assisted by a shifting array of accompanists, he performs his own arrangements of chamber and orchestral works by Schumann, Marcello, Telemann, Handel, Bach, and Grieg, and in all cases makes a strong argument for his instrument in these contexts. At no point does his playing come across as gimmicky; while the banjo’s characteristic lack of sustain poses a challenge (especially on the Schumann oboe romances), Bullard overcomes it by means of tremolo–no easy task when fingerpicking a banjo–and elsewhere, he uses it to advantage on the more contrapuntal baroque works. The only fly in the ointment is the banjo’s equally characteristic iffiness of intonation–but that’s not enough of a problem to seriously undermine one’s enjoyment of this fine album.

barrettRichard Barrett
Music for Cello and Electronics (2 discs)
Arne Deforce; Yutaka Oya
Aeon (dist. Naxos)
AECD 1648

nicolasVarious Composers
Michael Nicolas
Sono Luminus (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

These two albums both focus on contemporary works that involve the interaction of a human cello player with electronic sounds–but beyond that, they have relatively little in common. The three Richard Barrett compositions for cello and electronics (all of which are world-premiere recordings) featured on the Aeon set are all quite challenging, and characterized by unique tunings, physical interventions similar to those used in prepared piano compositions, and extended playing techniques. The result is music that many listeners may find more conceptually interesting than actually enjoyable, but it is indeed conceptually interesting. The Michael Nicolas album surveys contemporary works by Mario Davidovsky, Steve Reich, David Fulmer, Annie Gosfield, Anna Thorsvaldsdottir, and Jaime E. Oliver La Rosa–a diverse bunch of composers, to be sure, and as a result the program showcases a great variety of stylistic approaches and a rich diversity of aural experiences. One of the initial “transitions” the listener experiences is that from Davidovsky’s spikily thrilling Synchronisms No. 3 into Reich’s defiantly tonal Cello Counterpoint, and the concept of transition is extensively unpacked throughout the rest of the album. Three of the seven selections featured here are world-premiere recordings.

mooreKate Moore
Stories for Ocean Shells
Ashley Bathgate
Cantaloupe (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

This album also consists of contemporary music for cello, but it could not be more different in style and sound from the two recommended above. This one is essentially a collaboration between composer Kate Moore and cellist Ashley Bathgate, and while the music here does not make extensive use of electronic sounds as such, it does make use of electronic techniques–primarily the multitracking of a single cello, but others as well. The music is not exactly tonal, but it is certainly generally assonant, with a significant amount of minimalism-derived repetition and the generous use of sonic negative space. Bathgate is an exceptionally gifted cellist (she normally plays with Bang on a Can All Stars), and together she and Moore have created a stunningly beautiful album.

stateaVarious Composers
Murcoff & Vanessa Wagner
InFiné (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Fernando Corona is an electronic composer who records under the name Murcof; Vanessa Wagner is a French classical pianist. For this album they have collaborated on a program of adaptations of works by John Cage, Morton Feldman, György Ligeti, John Adams, and others, blending piano with electronic treatments to create music that is by turns peaceful, harsh, spacious, claustrophobic, and generally unsettling–but pretty much always in a good way. As is to be expected, their setting of Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata No. 2 is among the more confrontational pieces, while their take on Feldman’s Piano Piece 1952 is ethereally strange. Some of this stuff even gets funky. All of it is well worth hearing and this disc should be considered an essential purchase for any library supporting a music major.

oldcolonyVarious Composers
The Old Colony Collection
Handel & Haydn Society Chorus / Harry Christophers
Coro (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

The choruses and verse anthems performed on this album were actually published by the Handel & Haydn Society itself, during its early years in the mid-18th century. (Established in 1815, the H&H is the oldest continuously-running arts organization in the United States.) While some of these works are very familiar–oratorio excerpts from Handel, opera choruses from Mozart–others are by obscure English composers like James Kent, Samuel Webbe, and Samuel Chapple, and have never been recorded and only rarely performed before. So quite apart from the outstanding performance quality that we have come to expect from this group and from its distinguished conductor, the historical significance of this album makes it an essential purchase for all library classical collections.


amendolaAmendola Vs. Blades
Greatest Hits

The album title is a cute joke: although they’ve been playing together for about ten years, this is the first release by the duo of keyboardist Will Blades and drummer Scott Amendola. In fact, cute jokes kind of abound here: calling themselves “Amendola vs. Blades,” crediting Amendola with playing both drums and cymbals, etc. And the music itself is joyfully fun as well: yes, it’s jazz, but in true organ-combo fashion it’s jazz that is deeply infused with funk–at times, Blades seems to be channeling Bernie Worrell. And of course, Amendola is right there with him: for me, as for many, he will always the drummer for T.J. Kirk, the quartet notorious for limiting its repertoire to compositions by Thelonious Monk, Roland Kirk, and James Brown (while wearing fezzes). Anyway, this album is tons of fun and highly recommended to all jazz collections.

hcsfHot Club of San Francisco
John Paul George & Django
Hot Club
HCR 2704

Speaking of cute jokes, here’s a collection of Beatles songs played in Gypsy jazz style by the always-exciting Hot Club of San Francisco. The overall concept is fun enough, but there’s a subtler joke in there as well: the name for which the Django Reinhardt reference acts as a substitute is, of course, that of Beatles drummer Ringo Starr–and this being a Gypsy jazz combo, they of course have no drummer, but instead rely on driving on-the-beat rhythmic chops from multiple acoustic guitars. How do these tunes stand up to the Django treatment? Quite nicely, generally speaking, and certainly better than less sophisticated pop songs might have. Libraries supporting programs in transcription and arrangement should take particular note.

peikliFelix Peikli & Joe Doubleday
It’s Showtime!
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Clarinetist Felix Peikli and vibraphonist Joseph Doubleday sound like kids on Christmas morning on this ebulliently joyful disc of swing standards. They favor breakneck tempos (check out the head to “Dizzy Spells,” for example) but they never sound like they’re just showing off–instead, they sound like they’re having the time of their lives, and you will too. The other star on this quintet date is pianist Rossano Sportiello (whom you may remember from last month’s issue), who keeps up with them apparently effortlessly and never sounds as if he’s in danger of breaking a finger. For pure fun, this is the jazz album of the year.

verdeFrancisco Pais Lotus Project
Product of Imagination
No cat. no.

Guitarist/composer Francisco Pais is operating in a completely different world altogether. While you’ll hear hints of swing rhythm dfrom time to time, and while there’s plenty of energy and virtuosity, this sextet project is generally pretty abstract. What’s cool about it is the way that Pais packages the abstraction in a variety of interesting ways: a slippery, sideways melody boxed into a strict bebop structure partway through “Drake-ish,” a country steel guitar floating almost untethered through a barely-recognizable twelve-bar blues concept on “Lookit,” rockish distortion and squalling harmolodic saxophone almost obscuring the gossamer keyboard parts at the beginning of “Where Is the Edge.” This isn’t great music for reading to, but it’s great for concentrated listening.

hornShirley Horn
Live at the 4 Queens

The Resonance label just keeps coming up with these amazing finds–previously unheard live recordings by jazz legends. The latest such is this recently-unearthed live tape of Shirley Horn’s trio playing at the Four Queens hotel in Vegas on May 2, 1988. Bassist Charles Ables and drummer Steve Williams had been her rhythm section for twenty years at this point, and it sounds as if they all share a single set of hands–most impressively on Horn’s very rhythmically free take on “Boy from Ipanema.” As always with these releases, there are extensive liner notes that will be of particular use to academic library patrons, and although the recorded sound is just a bit cramped, overall this is a very fine album as well as an important one.


All Night Live, Vol. 1
Mono Mundo (dist. Thirty Tigers)
No cat. no.

My wife and I discovered the Mavericks when we were flipping through TV channels one night and were startled to see a band in modified mariachi suits and cowboy hats, with a full horn section, playing what sounded for all the world like honky-tonk ska. We became fans immediately, and ever since a transcendent experience at a Mavericks concert we’ve been waiting anxiously for a live album. Here it is, and it’s as much fun as any Mavericks fan has reason to expect–though sadly, it’s also marred by distinctly sub-par sound. Weirdly, it doesn’t sound like a soundboard recording, but rather like something that was taped from the audience using a relatively high-quality handheld recorder. The mediocre sound isn’t enough to ruin the fun of songs like “Stories We Could Tell” and “Waiting for the World to End,” but it’s consistently pretty annoying.

washingtonWashington Phillips
Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams
Dust to Digital (dist. Forced Exposure)
DTD 49
Rick’s Pick

Ever since its first release (2003’s magisterial Goodbye, Babylon), the Dust to Digital label has set the industry standard for deep and detailed research, lavish packaging, musicological significance, and pure musical quality. Washington Phillips was actually featured on that first release, and his voice and performing style captivated so many people that the folks at DtD did some digging and located more material from this mysterious character. Phillips sang gospel songs and played a homemade zither that he called a Manzarene. This collection of songs, all originally issued on 78-rpm discs, is packaged with a 76-page hardcover book by Michael Corcoran, a music journalist who has invested significant time and energy in researching Phillips. The result is a wealth of written and photographic information as well as the complete lyrics, all packaged together with some of the most hauntingly beautiful and utterly unique African-American music you’ll ever hear. A must for all libraries.

kellyPaul Kelly & Charlie Owen
Death’s Dateless Night
Cooking Vinyl

Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly has been an impressive presence on the roots-rock scene for decades now. His latest is a duo effort with slide guitarist Charlie Owen, and its theme is death. It consists of songs that Kelly has been asked to perform at funerals, and some of them are more or less predictable: Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live Is to Fly,” Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times,” Lennon and McCartney’s “Let It Be.” Others are less so, and there are some lovely originals here as well. All of the arrangements are spare and atmospheric, and the album ends with a bare-bones acoustic rendition of the Hank Williams song “Angel of Death.” Interestingly, the album is neither depressing nor even exactly dark–it’s thoughtful, gentle, and oddly sweet. Recommended.

hancockWayne Hancock
Slingin’ Rhythm
Rick’s Pick

Boy, the line between straight-up honky tonk and Western swing sure can be blurry, can’t it? And so much the better. Wayne Hancock has been jitterbugging back and forth across that line for years, to brilliant effect. Notice, for example, how the title track of his latest album harks back explicitly to Bob Wills and the next song sounds like a Hank Williams outtake. But saying that makes it sound like Hancock is an imitator, and he’s not: he’s rooted in tradition but not bound by it. His ebullient style keeps everything fresh, and he writes songs that sound simple and straightforward until you listen closely. Highly recommended to all country music collections.


swetSwet Shop Boys
Customs (dist. Redeye)

South Asian hip hop isn’t really a novelty (especially not in the UK), but Swet Shop Boys make a sound that is quite unique. For one thing, and unlike many of their colleagues in this musical neighborhood, the accent they adopt when rapping is more American than Cockney or Anglo-Jamaican. Another, and more important, thing that sets them apart is the way they incorporate Indian and Pakistani sound sources: instead of rapping over South Asian beats, they blend South Asian sonorities into their very straight-ahead hip hop rhythms: there are no dancehall inflections or bhangra rhythmic patterns here. And the lyrics are sharp and clever, angry without being bitter, topical without being ephemeral. (Sample song titles: “No Fly List,” “Half Mogul Half Mowgli.”) There are lots of expletives–about which some libraries will care more than others do–but everything they say is worth both hearing and dancing to.

prontoKate & Anna McGarrigle
Pronto Monto (reissue)

Their songs are often funny, but even their funniest ones don’t feel like novelty numbers. (Well, on this album “NA CL” is maybe an exception to that rule.) Their songs are sometimes heartbreaking, too. What set Kate and Anna McGarrigle apart from the pop music pack was the fact that they always dealt with the whole range of human emotion, rather than just angst and romantic yearning. Their third album, originally issued in 1978 and out of print ever since, finds the pair working in a somewhat poppier vein than on their previous two, and wisely employing the talents of session aces like Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, and Grady Tate. Their sound has a little more of a sheen than usual, but despite the shiny sonic surfaces their quirkiness and emotional depth are unchanged.

Dark Matter
Dist. Forced Exposure
Rick’s Pick

I confess that I’m a sucker for this stuff: musical compositions derived from non-musical source material. In this case, the music is created by Lustmord, who made this album by building sound sculptures from sources including “radio, ultraviolet, microwave and X-ray data and within these spectra a wide range of sources including interstellar plasma and molecules, radio galaxies, pulsars masers and quasars, charged particle interactions and emissions, radiation, exotic astrophysical objects, cosmic jets and flares from magnetars.” The degree to which such data represent “sound” depends on one’s definition of “sound”—however, the resulting soundscapes have a dark and majestic beauty that is undeniable. Lustmord has a long history of productivity in the areas of industrial and avant-pop music, but this is something else again. Highly recommended to all libraries.

philPhil Collins
The Singles (Deluxe Edition; 3 discs)
R2 554905

Look, I’m not sure whether I have the authority to do this, but I’m going to do it anyway: I’m declaring it Officially Time to Acknowledge That Phil Collins is a Pop Music Genius. Sure, some of his ballads are schlocky, but lots of the best pop music is schlocky. And his uptempo numbers, whether funky or soully or power-poppy, are a wonder of craftsmanship. Call me uncool if you want, but this three-disc retrospective of his hit singles is quite simply a blast to listen to and life is too short for feeling guilty about enjoying stuff like this. If your library collects pop music, you have no excuse for missing out on this one. (If you want to spend a bit less, go for the 2-disc version that focuses on his biggest hits.)

harrisBetty Harris
The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul
Soul Jazz (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Here’s the thing: Betty Harris wasn’t actually from New Orleans–she flew in from Florida for all of the sessions documented on this outstanding compilation. But her producer and songwriter was the legendary New Orleans figure Allen Toussaint, and her backing band was the Meters, so this album is Crescent City soul through and through. As for Harris herself, her gospel-trained voice is sweetly powerful and slightly gritty, her emotional commitment palpable, her sense of funk exquisite. All of these songs were released as singles between 1964 and 1969, and the Soul Jazz label has done its usual outstanding job of restoring sound and providing informative notes.

A Sleeper, Just Awake

Prog rock is a genre that has gone underground, but never really died. Electronica, of course, has flourished with the proliferation of digital tools and the rise of the Internet. But the two genres don’t usually interact much with each other–prog tends to be elaborately structured and orchestrally grandiose, while electronic pop music tends to be structurally simple and microscopically detailed. Interestingly, Sand (a.k.a. Sam Healy, who also plays with North Atlantic Oscillation) operates with one foot in both scenes, and creates a truly unique brand of highly creative electronic rock. Call it “post-rock” if you want, but I don’t see how someone who so often evokes the sound of Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles can seriously be considered “post-” anything. In keeping with electro principles, the beats are often central; in keeping with prog practice, the hooks can be a bit subtle. They’re there, though.

aksakVéronique Vincent & Aksak Kaboul
16 Visions of Ex-Futur
Crammed Discs
Rick’s Pick

Back in the early 1980s, Honeymoon Killers vocalist Véronique Vincent teamed up with Aksak Maboul founder Marc Hollander to make a record that they called Ex-Futur Album. It was actually intended as the third album by Aksak Maboul, but it was never completed. The tapes were rediscovered 30 years later, and now not only has the original album been issued as (more or less) originally intended, but the label has also released this excellent collection of remixes and reinterpretations by such fans of the band as Marc Collin, Flavien Berger, Capitol K, and Burnt Friedman. The songs are much more accessible than Aksak Maboul’s earlier work, but still plenty strange, and these new versions are really a blast. Libraries with adventurous pop collections are advised to acquire both.


studioVarious Artists
Studio One Radio Show
Studio One (dist. Redeye)

In the mid-1970s, radio host Winston “The Whip” Williams had a hugely popular weekly show on Studio One Radio in Jamaica. It featured the hottest new reggae sounds, but was also notable for Williams’ distinctive voice: he delivered his critical observations, spoken-word advertisements, and (mostly) clever rhyming commentary in a rich, fruity voice and an accent that wobbled back and forth between local Jamaican inflections and a sort of exaggerated British public-school tone. This disc consists of two of his complete half-hour shows (one from 1977 and one from 1978), and while his constant interjections make it a slightly frustrating listening experience from a purely musical perspective, it’s quite enjoyable (not to mention significant) as a historical document. Featured artists include Sugar Minott, Burning Spear, the Heptones, and Carlton & the Shoes, and although the lack of a tracklist is also somewhat frustrating, this is a release that should be seriously considered by all libraries with a collecting interest in popular music history.

beatsbeats antique
Rick’s Pick

Being a band known for the absolutely promiscuous blending of musical influences from around the globe means constantly walking in the poorly-marked territory that separates respectful quotation from arrogant appropriation. Beats antique has been exploring that territory successfully for some years now, and succeeds in making this kind of stylistic pastiche work by… well, actually, I’m not sure how they do it. Consider the first three tracks of their latest album: it opens with the Balkan folk-pop of “Three Sisters,” which segues into the sharp-edged hip hop of “Killer Bee,” which is in turn followed by the bluesy shout of “Let It All Go” (which features the Preservation Hall Jazz Band). The fourth track is a sort of electro-bhangra prominently featuring sarod player Adam Khan. Let’s be clear here: this should not work. These guys should end up sounding like globetrotting hipster dillettantes. But somehow they don’t. If you figure it out, please let me know.

thomasPat Thomas
Coming Home: Original Ghanaian Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1964-1981 (2 discs)
Strut (dist. Redeye)

Known as the “Golden Voice of Africa,” Pat Thomas was a seminal figure in the modernization of highlife music that took place between the 1960s and 1980s. When there was a craze for reggae music, he incorporated it; when “highlife disco” became a thing in the 1970s, he was there; when he moved to Berlin he was instrumental in the development of what came to be called “burger highlife” among the Ghanaian expatriate community in that city. This very fine two-disc set brings together many of his strongest recordings with his several bands, and in a nice variety of highlife subgenres. Recommended to all world-music collections.

momposinaTotó la Momposina y Sus Tambores
Tambolero (reissue)
Real World

This is a strange and gorgeous album featuring the golden-voiced Totó la Momposina, who grew up on the Colombian river island of Mompos and spent her youth researching the traditional singing and dancing of Colombia’s Carribean coastal regions. These are mostly work songs, and are usually accompanied by multiple drums. Tambolero is actually a remastered reissue of her 1992 album La Candela Viva (a fact not clearly indicated on the packaging), with some additional instrumentation and vocal parts added. Even if your library already owns the original version, this reissue is worth picking up–and if you don’t have that earlier issue, then get this one without fail. Totó’s voice is a delight, as are the rippling, multilayered drums.

The Musical Train
Irie Ites

Who would have thought that one of the strongest new reggae albums of 2016 would come from a skinny white French kid? But here it is: an outstanding slice of modern roots reggae, featuring not only Yellam’s solid vocals but also even solider rhythms, which are provided by the ever-formidable Roots Radics band. To add a melancholy tinge to the proceedings, consider the fact that drummer Style Scott was killed only one day after the sessions concluded and Yellam returned to France (not only leaving Roots Radics without its drummer, but leaving Dub Syndicate effectively defunct). This album shows Scott to have been taken from us at the peak of his powers, and it showcases a young reggae talent who is effectively developing his.

Dub Realistic
Echo Beach
Rick’s Pick

And speaking of top-notch roots reggae emanating from unlikely European locations, here’s another brilliant slab of dubwise instrumental (or largely instrumental, anyway) reggae from Vienna’s Dubblestandart. Listening to this album, what finally came home to me is the degree to which these guys have picked up the mantle left behind with the passing of Style Scott and the dissolution of Dub Syndicate. Like the mighty Syndicate, Dubblestandart deals in slow, smoky grooves of elephantine weight, and they’re not afraid to indulge in wild excursions of dubby sound manipulation. On this album, the first thing you hear is an even slower and trippier version of Massive Attack’s already slow and trippy “Safe from Harm” — and then things get darker and harder. Highly recommended.

October 2016


partArvo Pärt
The Deer’s Cry
Vox Clamantis / Jaan-Eik Tulve

For people like me, who have been fans of Arvo Pärt’s music for decades, the announcement of a new album of his choral music usually elicits a moment of excitement followed by anticipatory disappointment: “Oh, it’s probably another recording of pieces that I already own in two or three other performances.” And indeed, the title piece on this new album is ten years old and has already been recorded beautifully by the Sixteen, Ars Nova Copenhagen, and others. But wait, fellow Pärtisans! Don’t despair, because this album also features world-première recordings of two recent compositions (very brief ones, sadly), and half of the program consists of rarely-recorded works. Best of all, though, is the quality of the performances: Vox Clamantis boast an exceptional purity and sweetness of tone that perfectly showcases the spare beauty and emotional immediacy of Pärt’s music, as well as its devotional intensity. Vox Clamantis’ account of the title track, Alleluia-Tropus, and the breathtaking Da Pacem Domine are now, in my opinion, the versions against which all future accounts will be measured. No classical collection should be without this utterly gorgeous recording.


rostamiAria Rostami & Daniel Blomquist
Wandering Eye
Glacial Movements
Rick’s Pick

This is music that fits no obvious category, and I debated with myself as to where I should place it. I decided on the Classical section because the music is composed and sculpted, but that designation is still problematic. What does it sound like? Imagine Brian and Roger Eno’s Apollo album, but with less melody. Rostami and Blomquist created these six pieces by manipulating various kinds of source material and sending it back and forth to each other electronically; most of the sources are now unrecognizable, and the sounds mostly float in sonic cloud patterns — though chords and even the odd passage of recognizable harmonic movement emerge from the mist from time to time. I guess you could call this ambient music, but it somehow feels more serious than most ambient music is. Like the best ambient music, it rewards both close listening and sleepy half-attention.

blowJohn Blow
Symphony Anthems
Choir of New College Oxford; St. James’ Baroque / Robert Quinney
Novum (dist. Naxos)
NCR 1389

I have to say right up front that this isn’t my favorite performance of these works — the Choir of New College Oxford is a fine ensemble, but for my tastes the treble voices are a bit shrill and the inside parts a bit too vibrato-laden; overall, I much prefer the chapel choir of Magdalen College. But these aren’t bad performances by any means, and the works themselves are both beautiful and significant: John Blow is an underrated and underrecorded figure of the English baroque, and these church anthems fully deserve the loving attention they receive here. Comprehensive classical and early-music collections should give this disc serious consideration.

sunVarious Composers
The Sun Most Radiant: Music from the Eton Choirbook Volume 4
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford / Stephen Darlington
Avie (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

This one, on the other hand, is essential in terms of both content and performance quality. It represents the fourth installment in the Christ Church Cathedral Choir’s ongoing survey of English choral music from the Eton Choirbooks, and yet again the program features two world-premiere recordings: a previously-unheard Salve Regina setting by John Browne, and the motet Gaude flore virginali by the early and obscure composer William Horwood. As usual, the recorded sound is burnished and radiant, the choral blend is colorful but smooth, and the singers’ intonation is solid. All libraries with classical collections should be acquiring all of the discs in this series as they appear.

landscapesPiano Interrupted
Landscapes of the Unfinished

Another somewhat uncategorizable album is the latest from Piano Interrupted, a trio consisting of pianist and clarinetist Tom Hodge, string bassist Tim Fairhall, and sound manipulator Franz Kirmann. Their latest album consists of originally composed music along with heavily-manipulated field recordings of Senegalese musicians. The resulting music is sometimes peaceful and sometimes harsh and intense, and all of it is exceptionally haunting. The combination of Hodge’s plaintively lyrical clarinet and stuttering bursts of radio static on “Abdou Kadre” is especially poignant and sums up the overall aesthetic of these compositions beautifully.

seaAleksandra Vrebalov
The Sea Ranch Songs (CD + DVD)
Kronos Quartet
Cantaloupe (dist. Naxos)

This multipart work was commissioned on behalf of the Kronos Quartet as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Sea Ranch, a planned community on the northern California coast that is dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of its local environment. The composition is actually a multimedia piece that includes video footage of the area, field rcordings of ambient sound (church bells, coyotes calling, etc.), and interviews with people who live there. The music is sometimes strangely dark and grumbling (at first I suspected it was intended as an elegy rather than a celebration), but by the end the mood is one of quiet uplift. As always, the playing by the Kronos Quartet is outstanding, though these very attractive pieces don’t exactly stretch the group’s technical capabilities.

classicalVarious Composers
Discovering the Classical String Trio
The Vivaldi Project
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1621
Rick’s Pick

Although many string trios (whether for two violins and cello or for violin, viola and cello) were written during the classical period, only a few have remained popular–most notably Beethoven’s opus 9 trios and Mozart’s E-flat divertimento. But as the three musicians of the Vivaldi Project here demonstrate, there is a wealth of marvelous music in this repertoire. This album presents works by Johann Christian Bach, Carlo Antonio Campioni, Luigi Boccherini, Joseph Haydn, Christian Cannabich, Felice Giardini, and Giuseppe Maria Cambini — and if you (like me) immediately recognize only about half of those names, then your library (like mine) needs a copy of this disc in its collection. The music sparkles and the playing (on period instruments) is exceptional.

paradisiLeopold I
Paradisi Gloria: Sacred Music by Emperor Leopold I
Capella Murensis; Les Cornets Noirs / James Strobl
Audite (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

When you’re the emperor, your music gets published whether it’s any good or not. Nevertheless, there have been several monarchs who were also very gifted composers, and one of them was the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (whose titles also included King of Germany, King of Austria, and King of Bohemia). He is known in particular for the funerary music he wrote upon the deaths of two of his wives and for the festal music he wrote for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary. Those pieces are collected here, and are unusually moving examples of early baroque choral music. The wonderful Capella Murensis sings these works with a perfect balance of pathos and devotion, and the recorded sound is excellent. Strongly recommended to all classical collections.


swampU.S. Army Blues Swamp Romp
Voodoo Boogaloo
U.S. Army Band
No cat. no.

One thing the U.S. military has always been able to do is attract exceptional musicians. When I was a teenager playing 18th-century fife-and-drum music back in Massachusetts, we all stood in awe of the U.S. Army’s Old Guard, easily one of the two or three finest ancient-music ensembles in the world. The Army’s other bands are outstanding as well, which isn’t surprising, but what you may not know is that the Army also has a great traditional-jazz group, known as the U.S. Army Blues Swamp Romp. On this album they play a mix of original and classic New Orleans tunes (“Tiger Rag,” “Milenburg Joys,” etc.) with a winning blend of precision, looseness, and humor. Recommended to all jazz collections.

breakstoneJoshua Breakstone

I continue to maintain a sort of ambivalent wait-and-see attitude towards the jazz cello. I’ve heard it done well, I’ve heard it done terribly, I’ve heard it done okay. The problem I usually have with it is that when jazz guys play cello pizzicato, it very often sounds like it’s not quite in tune. On the latest quartet album led by the outstanding guitarist Joshua Breakstone, cellist Mike Richmond generally sounds pretty dang good, though there are notes during his solos that come off sour. The rest of the ensemble is so rock-solid, though, that overall the album works just fine. As always, Breakstone himself is a paragon of tone and insight. Highlight track: “Moe Is On,” by the criminally underrated bop pianist Elmo Hope.

tentetPhil Norman Tentet
Ten & Now: Classic Sounds & Variations of 12 Jazz Legends
Mama (dist. Summit)
MAA 1051

The prospective buyer, looking over the tracklist of this album, might actually despair: “Johnnie’s Theme”? (That’s Johnnie Carson, of the Tonight Show.) “Pink Panther”? “Linus & Lucy”? “Take 5”? Could there be a drearier-looking lineup of exhausted jazz chestnuts? And yet saxophonist Phil Norman and his middle-sized band do manage to breathe new life into these pieces, not only through exciting arrangements (mostly written by members of the group, though none by Norman) but also through thoroughly committed playing and production of crystalline richness. This album would have been even better if it featured more interesting and challenging material, but as it is it can be confidently recommended to all jazz collections.

pintchikLeslie Pintchik
True North
Pinch Hard
Rick’s Pick

Pianist and composer Leslie Pintchik is one of the finest bandleaders in the field of straight-ahead jazz right now, someone who not only writes with inventive wit and a keen melodic sense, but who also consistently draws the best out of her band members — and she plays piano like a combination of Bud Powell and Bill Evans, impressionistic without being arty, tunefully direct without being simplistic. This is her fifth album as a leader, and honestly, it’s hard to imagine her continuing to get better than this: six originals, four standards (including a limpidly gorgeous rendition of the Mancini/Mercer composition “Charade”), every one of them a gem. Put this one on the shelf next to one of your favorite Fred Hersch discs and see if they don’t just nestle together like perfectly-matched lovers. I’m already looking forward to her next album.

strictlyRossano Sportiello; Nicki Parrott; Eddie Metz
Strictly Confidential
ARCD 19449
Rick’s Pick

And for dessert, a pure confection: this delightful program of standards and classic swing from the trio of Rossano Sportiello (piano), Nicki Parrott (bass/vocals) and Eddie Mentz (drums). The Arbors label is one of those that you can always count on for pure, straight-ahead jazz pleasure: it focuses on trad and swing, usually delivered by small combos, and all three of these musicians are regular features on Arbors releases. Each of them is a master: Parrott is stellar both as a singer and a bassist; Sportiello is one of the best swing pianists on the scene (listen to his quietly virtuosic intro to “Shoe Shine Boy”), and Mentz gives everyone plenty of rhythmic push with just the right combination of energy and humor. There’s simply nothing not to love about this album.


lynchClaire Lynch
North by South
Compass (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Claire Lynch has one of the most arresting voices in bluegrass/newgrass music–at first it sounds young, even girlish, but then you hear the experience and maturity in her delivery. (For a good comparison, think of Dolly Parton at her best.) You also hear that maturity in her choice of songs and in her arrangements. On this album she has selected a program of songs by Canadian songwriters, both famous (Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn) and less so (Old Man Luedecki, David Francey). The music ends up sounding not so much like bluegrass, because of course this is mostly music that has nothing to do with bluegrass, and Lynch is wise enough not to force that. Instead she approaches each song as an individual piece of art, crafting a unique acoustic setting for each one that manages to showcase both her own gifts and those of the songwriter. Strongly recommended to all library collections.

redtailRed Tail Ring
Fall Away Blues
Earth Work

This is the fourth album from Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp, both of whom sing, write, and play multiple instruments (though most often you’ll hear Premo playing banjo and singing lead, and Beauchamp playing guitar and singing harmony). This one is extra moody and rather dark, though not oppressively so: the original songs include a lament over a local mass shooting (“Gibson Town”), a warning about the dangers of fracking (“Shale Town”), and an ode (sincere, I think) to city life (“Love of the City”). Traditional numbers include a brilliant revisioning of the shape-note hymn “Wondrous Love” and a rollicking rendition of the fiddle tunes “Camp Meeting on the Fourth of July” and “May Day.” As always, their playing is quietly virtuosic and their singing is winningly rough-hewn.

billsThe Bills
Trail of Tales

The Bills have been playing adventurous acoustic folk-pop for two decades now, and their latest album finds them continuing to wander blithely back and forth across the boundaries that separate folk, rock, funk, country, and pop music. Their songs are alternately earnest and fun (and sometimes both), and all are bolstered by tight instrumental arrangements and tighter vocal harmonies. Sure, they get a little preachy at times, but that’s nothing new in modern folk music and it’s not even necessarily a bad thing. If you can’t take it, skip forward to the instrumentals, which are outstanding.

walshJoe K. Walsh
Skinny Elephant
No cat. no.

Having spent years pushing the boundaries of American roots music convention, mandolinist and songwriter Joe K. Walsh now retrenches somewhat, pulling back into the stylistic center of modern bluegrass music and exploring its possibilities. And what he finds is that there’s plenty of room to move within that tradition: original songs like “Never More Will Roam” and “Red Skies” sound simultaneously ancient and modern, while his rendition of the standard fiddle tune “Cumberland Gap” breathes new life into that tune by giving it a new melodic structure and a crooked rhythm. Walsh is a pretty good singer and a wonderful composer and player, and this album would make a great addition to any library’s folk collection.



This month we’ve got a bumper crop of weird electronica, and first out of the gate is a new artist who goes by the name IOKOI, and who “plays with the barriers of reality and unconsciousness, creating a surreal performance in which she negotiates her identity, and enters a dialogue with the audience. She confronts the usual with capricious textures, oblique sounds and a subliminal voice.” Now, maybe that sounds more promising as an artistic/philosophical venture than as a musical venture that you might consider paying to listen to, but actually it works quite well: her voice is indeed subliminal in that you can only sporadically understand the words being sung, and the result is that the voice basically becomes one more sonic element in a dark and swirling welter of slow electronic beats, glitches, and dubby chord washes. There are recurring hints of dubstep and grime here, but they’re only hints; IOKOI’s sound really is unique, and it’s frequently very impressive.

flugelRoman Flügel
All the Right Noises

I confess that I’m a sucker for a cheap-sounding drum machine, so Roman Flügel had me at “The Mighty Suns,” the second track on this Frankfurt-based artist’s latest album. This time out he veers away from traditional techno sounds, mostly avoiding the typical 4/4 thump and even, in some cases, steering clear of explicit rhythmic pulse altogether — so the plastic-Casiotone clicks and claps are often more decoration than foundation. Flügel has said that he sees the studio as something of a respite from his live DJ sets, so those who follow him primarily in that setting may be startled by the sound of his studio compositions — but probably not disappointed.

ratsRats on Rafts/De Kift
Rats on Rafts/De Kift
Fire (dist. Redeye)

Here’s something to clear the sinuses: a twist on the old punk tradition of split albums or singles (where two bands are featured, each providing half of the songs). On this one, the celebrated Dutch art-punk band De Kift collaborates with Rotterdam’s Rats on Rafts on a program that finds each band messing with the other’s sound and trading off on vocal duties. De Kift is famously brass-heavy — not your usual punk configuration — and their vocals tend to be both in Dutch and predominantly spoken and yelled rather than sung. Rats on Rafts sing largely in English and play in a more straightforward punk style. All of it is tons of good, noisy fun — maybe not essential for every library collection, but those with more adventurous pop collections should definitely take note.

paingFiona Soe Paing
Alien Lullabies
No cat. no.

With an album title like Alien Lullabies and a genre designation like “Off-world Electronica,” you can reasonably expect some weirdness — and your expectations will be met here. But it’s a salutary weirdness, one characterized by gently hooky melodies, huge dubwise sonic spaces, bloopy bass-driven electro beats, and a nice smattering of suitably spooky theremin sounds. This album actually has its roots in a multimedia collaboration between Paing and artist Zennor Alexander, one that evolved over a period of a decade and was featured at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Order the CD and you’ll get a copy of a DVD including animations from the live show as well.


Billed as “part Kate Bush, part Nick Rhodes, part Prince, all ready for the dance floor,” Cellars (née Alle Norton) makes electro-pop that harks back to the genre’s glory days without sounding exactly like a 1980s retread. Not exactly, that is, but sometimes substantially: “I’m Feeling” features — here they are again — gloriously cheap-sounding Casiotone beats and handclaps and sounds like something Madonna might have produced in 1983 if she had a better singing voice; the brief rap interlude on “Nervous” is perfectly, charmingly awkward. There’s a constant tension between the gloomy lyrics and the shiny surfaces of the production, and a sense of dark and wry humor pervades many of the songs. Recommended to pop collections.

monkeesThe Monkees
Good Times!
R2 553592

Yes, this is a new Monkees album — a real one, not a compilation of 1960s hits. Furthermore, it features all three surviving members of the band (with a cameo by the late Davy Jones as well, on an older recording of Neil Diamond’s “Love to Love”). The songs are a mix of new compositions by Monkees members and invited contributions by a diverse array of fans including Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Andy Partridge (XTC), and Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie). They haven’t really updated their sound, nor should they: sweet harmonies, jangling Rickenbackers, relentless ear worm hooks — and dang, they still sing quite well for old guys. Anyone who still thinks of them as TV goofballs should give this album a hard listen. I mean, they’re not the Cure or anything, but then, the Cure weren’t the Monkees either.


luisaLuísa Maita
Fio de Memória
Rick’s Pick

Brazilian singer and songwriter Luísa Maita released her debut album over six years ago, but her sophomore effort is well worth the wait. It’s willfully eclectic, veering from downtempo bass music to samba to Bahia drumming to rock, the constant thread being Maita’s gorgeous breathy voice. Believe it or not, Maita reminds me of Björk: as with Björk, you never get the feeling that Maita’s approach to the last song you heard is going to tell you anything about what she’ll do with the next one. But unlike Björk, you never get the feeling that she’s just jerking you around like a gleefully malicious five-year-old. This is a beautiful and deeply unusual album.

nightingaleNightingale Trio
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

Remember that Mystère des Voix Bulgares album that took the world by storm back in the late 1980s? You’ll be reminded of it by the Nightingale Trio’s quieter, starker performance of “Kaval Sviri” on this, their second album. But the Nightingales range farther afield in their material, and on Izvora you’ll hear lullabies, laments, hymns, and comedic dance songs from Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria, and Macedonia, all performed with an engaging warmth and intimacy, not to mention admirable rhythmic and harmonic tightness — no mean feat when you’re talking about 7/8 time signatures and tricky modal harmonies. For those who generally find Balkan singing a bit too intense and hard-edged, the Nightingale Trio will come as a revelation. Highly recommended to all libraries.

nordicNordic Fiddlers Bloc

This three-fiddle ensemble brings together world-class musicians from three different traditions: those of Norway (Olav Luksengård Mjelva), Sweden (Anders Hall), and the Shetland Islands (Kevin Henderson). If you’re thinking to yourself “Wait a minute, Shetland fiddling is very different from Scandinavian fiddling,” you’d be both right and wrong. The Scottish fiddle style from this region is heavily influenced by Norwegian music, and when these three virtuosos get together they create a sound that is simultaneously a seamless blend of styles and a richly diverse tapestry of very different sounds. (Not sure how they do that; less sure that it matters.) Using conventional violins, violas, octave violins, and Hardanger fiddles, they build arrangements that are paradoxically both dense and light — and when they swing into a more conventionally Scottish tune set near the end the effect is electric. This one will be of interest to both folk and world-music collections.

alsarahAlsarah & the Nubatones

The second album from Sudanese/Nubian ensemble Alsarah & the Nubatones continues the group’s exploration of what it has dubbed “East African Retropop.” Manara focuses on questions of what constitutes “home,” and while those who don’t speak Arabic may not be able to follow the discussion closely, there’s no mistaking the bittersweet blend of joy, regret, and homesickness in these songs — not to mention the blend of traditional acoustic instruments, electronic textures, and globetrotting polyrhythms. Alsarah’s voice is a wonder, and the band’s grooves are supple and complex.

corbettMarcus Corbett
Every Little Spirit

Marcus Corbett is a singer, guitarist, and composer who has found a way to successfully blend his singer/songwriter background with North Indian classical music. Here he is working with multiple Indian musicians on a fusion project that does an admirable job of blending acoustic guitar with tabla, bansuri, and violin. As a singer and lyricist, Corbett still underwhelms (when the phrase “And when am I gonna get my money back?” emerges from the beautiful tapestry of the instrumental parts on “Get Set Free,” it’s a pretty jarring moment) but as with his previous album the music is so gorgeous that the disc is a joy to listen to anyway.

September 2016


Joi Sound System (compilation; 2 discs)
Real World

I usually keep a close eye on the Real World label’s release list, but this one somehow escaped my notice last year. Joi formed in 1983 as a DJ duo consisting of Anglo-Bangladeshi brothers Farook and Haroon Shamsher; since Haroon’s death in 1999, Farook has continued to work under the Joi moniker. After a decade of spinning records and promoting Bangladeshi cultural events in England, they began recording original music that acted as a continuation of their English-Bangladeshi fusion project, blending traditional Bengali sounds with Western beats and production approaches, incorporating elements of hip hop, jungle, and electronica, becoming foundational members of the burgeoning Asian Underground movement. One thing that’s interesting about this two-disc retrospective is the fact that although its component tracks were recorded between 1991 and 2006, you don’t hear anything that can reasonably be called progression or growth in their music–their ideas seem to have been well formed from the beginning, and while there is a fairly wide variety of styles in evidence, that variety seems to have been a function of their approach at all times. This is consistently, deeply enjoyable music from start to finish, and as a historical document this collection offers both a good overview of the band and a great introduction to the Asian Underground movement generally. Highly recommended to all libraries. (For an overview of the Real World label’s highly diverse stable of artists and long history of stylistically globe-trotting releases, libraries should also consider picking up Real World 25, a three-disc compilation featuring artists as varied as Daby Touré, Sheila Chandra, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Värttinä, and of course label founder Peter Gabriel.)


adesThomas Adès; Per Nørgård; Hans Abrahamsen
Danish String Quartet

This is a program of works by very young composers played by an ensemble of very young musicians. To be clear, not all of the composers are very young today, but all were in their 20s when they wrote these pieces, and each of these three string quartets represents the first work in that format by each composer. Nevertheless, the three works span the second half of the 20th century: Per Nørgård’s Quartetto Breve was written in 1952; Hans Abrahamsen’s 10 Preludes in 1973; Thomas Adès’ Arcadiana in 1994. Stylistically there is not much to unite them: the Nørgård quartet is more influenced by Bartók, the Abrahamsen piece points to 1960s minimalism without entirely embracing it, and the Adès work sounds like neither. But the Danish String Quartet imbues all of these works with a shimmering intensity and bravura virtuosity.

bachCarl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Cello Concertos
Nicolas Altstaedt; Arcangelo / Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

Of all of J.S. Bach’s many musical sons, C.P.E. remains the most popular and well-known, partly because he was so prolific and partly, I think, because his music offers such a lovely window into the transitional period between the baroque and classical periods. His concertos do this particularly effectively, and the cellos concertos are especially interesting because it’s still not clear whether they were originally written for the cello or the harpsichord. Cellist Nicolas Altsteadt is a brilliant young musician whose name we will be hearing with increasing frequency in coming years; here he provides a marvelous period-instrument account of these important works. Recommended to all classical collections.

legnaniLuigi Rinaldo Legnani
Complete Music for Flute and Guitar
Arius Duo
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

This is the first I’ve heard of Luigi Rinaldo Legnani, a 19th-century singer, guitarist, and composer who was — chant it along with me, now — well-known and highly regarded in his time but is largely forgotten today. His most well-known works are for solo guitar, but this lovely collection of duets shows him to have been a gifted composer of thoroughly enjoyable, if arguably slight, works for small chamber ensemble. Not unexpectedly, the guitar parts are especially impressive, but all of it is a delight. (The Arius Duo play on modern instruments.)

reichaAntonin Reicha
Complete Chamber Music for Clarinet (2 discs)
Luigi & Laura Magistrelli; Cristina Romanò; Italian Classical Consort
Leonardo/Urania Arts (dist. Naxos)
LDV 14025
Rick’s Pick

I freely admit to being a clarinet junkie, and chamber music for clarinet written in the late classical and early Romantic periods have a particular hold on me. So I was quite excited to see the release of this album, especially given that it includes world-premiere recordings of the opus 107 quintet and of the Grand Duo Concertant for Two Clarinets and Strings. That fact alone makes it a strong candidate for library acquisition, but the beautiful, lilting performances by the featured clarinetists and the Italian Classical Consort (on modern instruments) are what make this set such a pure joy.

tranceVarious Composers
Maya Beiser
Innova (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Seeing the word “trance” embedded in the title of this disc by cellist Maya Beiser, one might be tempted to dismiss it as crossover, mood-music fluff. I recommend that you not make that mistake. Yes, Beiser is a little bit of a renegade, and yes, this program does include arrangements of music by Lou Reed and Imogen Heap, but as Beiser explains, this album represents “the arc my mind sketches between everything I create and Bach” (whose music opens the program). Tracing that arc as you listen to the album is part of its fun, and listening to how creatively she interprets everything she touches is another part of it. Highly recommended to all libraries.

maxwellDevin Maxwell
Works 2011-14
Various performers
Infrequent Seams (dist. Redeye)

Whenever I find out that a drummer is a gifted composer, I have two immediate reactions in quick sequence: first I’m surprised; then I feel terribly guilty for being surprised. Anyway, this collection of acoustic and electronic compositions by drummer (and composer!) Devin Maxwell gave me yet another opportunity to berate myself for my reflexive string-player bigotry: here we have an excellent program of works for fixed-media electronics, string quartet, orchestra with electronics, and various configurations of chamber ensemble. All are challenging, some — the string quartet piece in particular — are downright abrasive, but all are rewarding, from the pointillistic Bunt Do Gone (for saxophone, piano, and electronics) to the dense, almost Varèse-like Chester, NJ (for orchestra and fixed-media electronics). Recommended to all libraries with a collecting interest in new and avant-garde music.

ruePierre de la Rue
Missa Nunqua fue pena mayor; Missa Inviolata
Brabant Ensemble / Stephen Rice
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

A new album of de la Rue Masses is cause for celebration, and in my view, a new album of de la Rue Masses performed by the Brabant Ensemble is cause for a national holiday. Along with groups like Stile Antico and Alamire, the Brabants are the class of the current Oxbridge school of choral singing, and they never sound better than when they’re working with the Franco-Flemish masters. As always, the creamy sweetness of their vocal blend is a perfect setting for these masterworks of 15th-century liturgical choral music, and this album (like everything else the Brabants have released) is a must-own for classical library collections.

septuraVarious Composers
Music for Brass Septet 4

This is the fourth volume in an ongoing series in which the brass septet Septura takes works from a variety of musical periods and either creates or commissions new arrangements of those works for their own unique instrumentation. Previous volumes in the series have featured pieces by Handel, Shostakovich, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninov, Purcell, and others, but here the focus is on choral composers of the counter-reformation period: Giovanni Gabrieli, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Giovanni Palestrina, and Orlando de Lassus. Motets, lamentations, Mass sections, and canzonas are all given the brass treatment and they are all exceptionally beautiful. Libraries supporting brass programs and transcription or orchestration courses should definitely pick this one up, as well as the other three volumes in the series.

melnykLubomir Melnyk
Sony Classical

They’re calling Lubomir Melnyk the “Prophet of the Piano,” and based on the cover photo of his first album for the Sony label, he doesn’t seem to mind. (If I were being called something like that, you can bet that the last thing I’d let anyone do is take a picture of me wearing a coarse robe, long hair, and a beard.) Reportedly, the reason they call him the “Prophet of the Piano” is his lifelong devotion to the instrument — but it could also be because of the mystical nature of his music, which is harmonically minimalist but densely written, featuring cascading layers of repeated patterns that change steadily without ever creating a sense of strong forward movement. Inevitably, concertgoers report going into a trance while listening. Melnyk’s pianistic technique is quite astounding, and although the music itself isn’t really my thing, it might well be yours — and, more importantly, your patrons’.


fukumoriMichika Fukumori
Quality Time
DCD 679

Pianist Michika Fukumori swings powerfully but with deceptive gentleness on this, her second album as a leader. The program consists mostly of standards, plus four originals, and her bassist and drummer give her plenty of space to stretch out, which she does decorously but with incisive intelligence. For me, the highlight is her heartbreaking rendition of “Somewhere,” from West Side Story, but there’s really not a weak track on this album. This is straight-ahead, old-school piano jazz at its best.

millerJoel Miller with Sienna Dahlen
Dream Cassette
Rick’s Pick

This is a delightfully strange album from saxophonist/composer Joel Miller, one that will surely get filed in the Jazz section even though it won’t sound anything like 99% of what you’ll find there. on Dream Cassette he is collaborating with singer and lyricist Sienna Dahlen, and drawing on the relatively simple (sometimes nearly pentatonic) traditions of American folk music–but none of his compositions sound folky, and they only rarely sound jazzy. Dahlen’s voice is often central to the arrangements, but it’s not usually the most sonically prominent element. I’m running out of ways to describe this album by saying what it isn’t. Just give it a listen. It’s gorgeous.

gambleMichael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders
Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders
OR 16552

At the exact opposite end of the jazz-experimentation spectrum is this delightful collection of early swing and traditional jazz numbers organized by the Asheville, NC-based Michael Gamble. Gamble runs the annual Lindy Focus festival in that town, a five-day event that features both big band performances and dance instruction. During a recent festival, Gamble took advantage of the presence of so many fine swing musicians and put together this recording, which consists of faithful reproductions of vintage jazz sounds recorded live in the studio. Vocal numbers like “He Ain’t Got Rhythm” and “Fine and Mellow” rub shoulders with instrumentals by the likes of Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, and all of it is tons of fun.

gazarekSara Gazarek and Josh Nelson
Dream in the Blue
Steel Bird
No cat. no.

Pianist Josh Nelson and singer Sara Gazarek have worked together for years, but this is the first album to document an increasingly central aspect of their collaboration: their work in a straight voice-piano duo format. It features classic bossa nova, adaptations of songs by Nick Drake and Bonnie Raitt, standards like “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Mood Indigo,” and more, all arranged in a highly personal style that reflects the pair’s deep musical connection without ever coming across as self-indulgent. Very, very nice.

butterflyMundell Lowe; Lloyd Wells; Jim Ferguson
Poor Butterfly
Two Helpins’ o’ Collards

Mundell Lowe has been a legend of jazz guitar for pretty much the last 70 (that’s not a typo: seventy) years, having recorded alongside the likes of Charlie Parker(!), Carmen McRae, and Billie Holiday, as well as playing regularly with the André Previn Trio and scoring films and TV shows in the 1970s. Now 93, he still plays sweetly and inventively, and on this soft-edged album he leads a two-guitars-plus-bass trio through a very fine program of standards including the title track, “My Shining Hour,” and “Here’s That Rainy Day.” This is excellent straight-ahead jazz in an unusual format.

gilleceBehn Gillece
Dare to Be
Rick’s Pick

This is vibraphonist Behn Gillece’s debut album as a leader, and it’s outstanding. From the outset, one of the first things you’ll notice is how hard he swings: “Camera Eyes” and “From Your Perspective” are both midtempo powerhouses of rhythmic propulsion, and what’s impressive is that he maintains that momentum regardless of tempo. What are also impressive are his writing chops and his prowess as an arranger: leading a quintet that also includes guitar, bass, drums, and trumpet, he makes every setting feel rich and full despite the lack of a piano. Great stuff.


coalmeanThe Coal Men
Pushed to the Side
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

I confess that I was expecting something more along the lines of rockabilly or a roots-rock power trio sound from this album. I was definitely not expecting what I heard: richly atmospheric neo-country-rock that fills a maximum amount of sonic space with a minimum of instruments and sonic frills, and that takes quiet emotion and turns it into hooks. Imagine American Music Club with a less ironic take on honky-tonk tradition, or a (much) less pretentious Cowboy Junkies. Bandleader Dave Coleman (get it?) has a fantastic, chesty baritone voice and admirable guitar chops, but the arrangements and the production are almost as big a part of this album’s success as the songs are. When’s the last time you heard someone say that about a country album? This one’s a must-have.

smokyVarious Artists
On Top of Old Smoky: New Old-time Smoky Mountain Music
Great Smoky Mountains Association
No cat. no.

Most of these songs were originally collected by Joseph Hall during his research in the Smoky Mountain region in the 1930s and 1950s. Some have since become familiar (“I Wonder How the Old Folks Are at Home,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “On Top of Old Smoky”) while others have remained obscure. The same is true of the lineup of musicians on this album, which includes not only Dolly Parton, Alice Gerrard, and Tony Trischka, but also lots of equally fine folkies with whom many listeners will not be familiar. (Notable among them is the duo of Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin, who are well known on the circuit but deserve much wider recognition.) This album should definitely be of interest to libraries with a collecting interest in regional American music.

strauseDietrich Strause
How Cruel That Hunger Binds
No cat. no.

When he’s not playing scorching guitar and singing pristine harmony vocals with breakout retro-soul-pop band Lake Street Dive, Dietrich Strause makes solo albums in a slightly quirky Americana-folk-soul-rock mode. His third effort finds him continuing to develop a blend — really a patchwork rather than a fusion — of American popular song traditions old and new, layering country and folk inflections over old-school soul beats and traditional-sounding original melodies. His sweet tenor voice — which puts me in mind, oddly enough, of Josh Caterer — is often wrapped in reverb to make it sound farther away, which lends a bittersweet tinge to the already moody (but tuneful) songs. Recommended to all collections.


pitchblackPitch Black
Filtered Senses

It’s been too long — seven years — since the last release by Pitch Black, the New Zealand-based duo of Paddy Free and Mike Hodgson. Since then, their personal brand of warm and atmospheric downtempo electronica, with regular incursions of both thumping techno beats and gently bubbling dubwise reggae elements, has only become more necessary in a world that has been steadily going murderously insane. Most of this music will be strikingly ineffective at luring anyone out onto the dance floor — the first really propulsive track is also the last one on the album. But if you need help getting your pulse rate down, and if you need a little bit of instrumental reassurance that the universe is a gentle and orderly place, this album is a great place to start.

nevilleAaron Neville
Tell It Productions

Aaron Neville may be New Orleans’ most celebrated living musical son, famous for the featherweight falsetto voice that contrasts so sweetly with his prison tattoos and his ex-con bulk. In terms of style, he’s never completely left the 1950s behind, although there’s an argument to be made that his singing owes as much to New York doo-wop as it does to New Orleans soul and R&B. At 75 years of age, he has made his toughest and funkiest album in years, one that pays homage to his roots and showcases a voice that still has the capacity to soothe and to thrill — and he has writing credits on all but one of these eleven songs. Did I mention that he’s 75 years old?

pickettWilson Pickett
Land of 1000 Dances: The Complete Atlantic Singles Vol. 1
Real Gone Music

A Wilson Pickett retrospective isn’t really news, but this is the first entry in what will eventually be a three-volume collection of all Pickett’s single releases for the Atlantic label, all in their original monophonic versions — and that is news. It means definitive accounts of world-changing hits like “Mustang Sally,” “Funky Broadway,” and (of course) “In the Midnight Hour.” Excellent sound and good liner notes with track-by-track commentary make this compilation not only a powerful listening experience but also a valuable library resource. Recommended to all collections.

maximinBérangère Maximin
Dangerous Orbits
Crammed Disques

Bérangère Maximin is one of those composers that generally get referred to as “sound sculptors,” because the music they create doesn’t follow the usual rules of musical composition: no harmonic movement, little if anything in the way of rhythmic pulse, nothing that could reasonably be called melody. But that doesn’t mean there’s no structure, it doesn’t mean the music isn’t interesting, and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s noise. This is an album that could really have gone into either the Classical or the Rock/Pop section, which tells you something. I find it wonderful; small children might be a little creeped out, though — the mood is consistently dark and foreboding.

ritterJosh Ritter
Sermon on the Rocks

As its title might lead you to believe, the latest album from roots-rock singer-songwriter Josh Ritter has God (or at least religion) on the mind: there’s hardly a song here that doesn’t mention the Bible, heaven/hell, good/evil, paradise, or faith. The title also hints at Ritter’s love of words, which often come a mile a minute on the uptempo numbers. Where that might be annoying with a less accomplished songwriter, here the flood of verbiage is a pleasure, and it sets the more minimalist songs in brighter, sharper relief. The playing is solid, meat-and-potatoes singer-songwriter roots rock. Recommended.

Live! 8.24.1979
Real Gone Music

When this live album was recorded, the B-52’s had been a band for only a couple of years and had just barely hit the big time. They were opening for Talking Heads at the Berklee Center in Boston, a much larger and more luxurious venue than they were used to, and you can hear some of their nervousness in the set — which is not a criticism. What that nervousness does is accentuate the fundamental paradox at the heart of the B-52’s music: a heady, volatile blend of fear, menace, and kitschy fun. Fred Schneider doesn’t sing; he warns, he wails, he shrieks, he declaims. Try to imagine him smiling while you listen to him — it’s impossible. Behind him, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson warble like space-age sirens and deliver ominous squiggles of Farfisa organ that sound like 1930s horror-movie soundtracks, while Ricky Wilson plays demented surf licks on a weirdly-tuned four-string guitar. “Rock Lobster” and “Private Idaho” may be regarded as goofy party anthems today, but listen more carefully: what the B-52’s were doing was punk rock of a completely unique character. And you definitely hear that best in a live setting.


slavicSlavic Soul Party!
Slavic Soul Party! Plays Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite

I know that Balkan brass band music is all the rage these days, but I’ve never been able to get into it for some reason. But I was intrigued enough by this concept — a Balkan-style band performing a major large-scale Duke Ellington composition — that I gave it a listen, and I’m glad I did. The music is a hoot and the band’s energy is irresistible, but for libraries this recording also provides an impressive (and fun) example of intercultural stylistic fusion. Professors will want to play sections of this album back to back with recordings of Ellington’s orchestra playing the same pieces and discuss both how flexible Ellington’s themes are and how strongly they continue to come through regardless of how they’re interpreted.

jbbJohn Brown’s Body
Easy Star

A couple of weeks ago I suddenly said to myself, “Man, I wonder when we’re going to get another John Brown’s Body album? It’s been too long.” As if in answer to prayer, Fireflies showed up in my mailbox just a few days later. And it confirms what we’ve always known: John Brown’s Body is the best reggae band in America. Whether bubbling in a dancehall style or building their own trademarked dense, swirling postmodern reggae grooves, JBB makes music that positively demands to be put on repeat. Elliot Martin’s voice soars above the mix like an eagle, and the horns provide a solid sonic core for everything else. There aren’t any hair-raising standout tracks (like, for example, “What We Gonna Do?” from Pressure Points), but every song is rock-solid — and, again, better than anything being produced by any other American reggae band right now.

tippaTippa Lee
Cultural Ambassador (2 discs)
Stones Throw

Longstanding reggae fans may have a faint memory of Tippa Lee, whose last hit was an anti-police-harrassment anthem back in 1988. Lee’s subsequent relocation to Los Angeles positioned him to be coaxed back into the studio by producer and Dub Club impresario Tom Chasteen, and the result is this very fine album, a surprisingly fresh-sounding throwback to the heyday of singjay-style conscious dancehall reggae. Apart from the tired metareggae of “Tribute to Bob Marley,” this album is all killer and no filler, and those who buy it in CD format get an outstanding bonus in the form of a second disc’s worth of dub versions. Recommended to all libraries with a collecting interest in reggae music.

Wandering Soul
Rootfire Cooperative
No cat. no.

There’s nothing wrong with some good pop reggae, and currently no one is purveying that genre more winningly than singer-songwriter Patricia Jetton, who records under the slightly awkward moniker HIRIE. On her sophomore album she continues in a smooth modern-roots mode, but don’t let the shiny surfaces of her sound fool you: she’s unapologetic about her smoking (“Don’t Take My Ganja,” “Boom Fire”), willing to confront the pervasive sexism of the reggae scene (“Woman Comes First”), and uninterested in being told how to live her life (“Almost Home”). And her voice is a thing of wonder. This is one of the year’s finest reggae albums.

thraceJean-Guihen Queyras
Thrace: Sunday Morning Sessions
Harmonia Mundi
HMC 902242
Rick’s Pick

On the surface, this disc looks like the product of a familiar formula: take a celebrated classical musician playing a traditional Western European instrument (the cello is always a good choice), put him or her in a studio with the players of “exotic” ethnic instruments from a musical culture that makes extensive use of modal melody, and bang, you have it: an intercultural fusion album that you can sell to self-consciously urbane NPR listeners. That may be what this album looks like at first blush, but it’s not what it is. Cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and percussionists Bijan and Keyvan Chaemirani grew up together in Provence, and they are joined here by Greek politiki lyra player Sokratis Sinopoulos for a shared musical exploration of the music of Thrace — which is, appropriately enough, the geographical gateway between Western Eruope and the Levant. Some of these tunes are traditional, others are modern compositions in an ancient style; one is a cello solo by Lutoslawski. There are dance tunes and laments, improvisations and a highly technical étude. All of it fits together, though strangely so. None of it is Starbucks-style “world fusion” music. Strongly recommended to all collections.

bonaRichard Bona & Mandekan Cubano
Rick’s Pick

The music of Cuba has been shaped significantly both by traditions brought to the island by African slaves and by the European culture of the Spanish slaveholders, and those two disparate strands of tradition have created an unusual musical emulsion on that small island. Bassist and singer Richard Bono has long delighted in exploring Cuban music in all of its kaleidoscopic variety, turning it from side to side in order to expose its different facets: West African call-and-response here, complex son cubano rhythms there, lots of massed horns and percussion throughout. On Heritage he does it again, this time in the company of the outstanding Mandekan Cubano ensemble. As always, his smooth and sweet voice is centrally important to the project, but the band sounds fantastic too. This is a tremendously enjoyable album.

August 2016


solemnisLudwig Van Beethoven
Missa Solemnis
Arnold Schoenberg Choir; Concentus Musicus Wien / Nicolaus Harnoncourt
Sony Classical

symphsLudwig Van Beethoven
Symphonies 4 & 5
Concentus Musicus Wien / Nicolaus Harnoncourt
Sony Classical

For the second month in a row, I feel compelled to offer two Picks of the Month instead of just one. This time the pairing is obvious: first, the final recording of Nicolaus Harnoncourt, who died earlier this year. Harnoncourt’s impact on the classical music world, and on that of period-instrument performance in particular, cannot be overestimated: his discography goes back 65 years (that’s 65), to the earliest beginnings of the period-instrument movement, and he has been one of that movement’s most influential and respected exponents ever since. It seems only too perfect that his final recording would consist of material taken from his final performances and rehearsals–and that the featured work would be Beethoven’s monumental Solemn Mass. Here it is imbued with all the weight and majesty one would expect, and if one gets a whiff of the valedictory in the way Harnoncourt takes his orchestra and soloists through the piece, well, that can’t really be coincidental. This is as fine a performance of the Missa Solemnis as you’re ever likely to hear.

The second recommended disc is, in some ways, just the opposite of the first: it represents (improbably enough) the first time that the Concentus Musicus Wien–which is, remember, the longest-standing period-instrument orchestra in existence–has recorded any of Beethoven’s symphonies (though Harnoncourt had recorded them with a different ensemble). To this recording of the fourth and fifth symphonies Harnoncourt brought a new appreciation for Beethoven’s sense of orchestration, one that had been honed by his recent direction of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio. Here the energy is simply explosive, and the fact that Harnoncourt was in his mid-80s at the time of recording is hard to believe. Both of these albums are must-owns for all classical library collections.


korvitsTõnu Kõrvits
Various soloists; Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir / Tõnu Kaljuste

With this album, Tõnu Kõrvits joins the distinguished ranks of Estonian composers (Arvo Pärt being the most notable among them) who have worked with the German ECM label. The works presented here are a mix of instrumental and vocal, prominently featuring the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, in a variety of unusual orchestrations. For example, Seitsme linnu seitse und is scored for cello, choir, and string ensemble, whereas Tasase maa laul is for voice, strings, and kannel (a traditional Estonian instrument of the zither family). This is music of an often ethereal quality, and a sense of warm light glowing from within in a context of vast and chilly space–in short, this is the kind of music that many of us in the West have come to associate with modern Estonian composers. But it doesn’t sound exactly like anyone else’s, and all of it is very, very beautiful.

bachJohann Sebastian Bach
Complete Concertos (9 discs)
Various orchestras, soloists, and conductors
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

The Brilliant Classics label has put together yet another fine boxed set representing a large and significant chunk of works by a major composer. This time the composer is Bach and the chunk of works is his concertos: the Brandenburgs, the violin concertos, the (many) harpsichord concertos, and the miscellanea: concertos for oboe, the Triple Concerto, etc., as well as a separate disc of concerto reconstructions. As usual, the performances are by an assortment of (mostly Dutch) ensembles including Musica Amphion, the Amsterdam Bach Soloists, and the Netherlands Bach Ensemble, and the recordings from which this box is compiled were originally issued, for the most part, within the past 20 years or so. Both the price and the space savings represented by this box will be a boon to libraries that may not have already purchased Brilliant’s box set of the complete works of Bach.

fenneszChristian Fennesz & Jim O’Rourke
It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry
Editions Mego (dist. Forced Exposure)

solasClaire M Singer
Solas (2 discs)
Touch (dist. Forced Exposure)
TO 101CD

Despite their obvious differences, I’m reviewing these two discs together because of what unites them: an aesthetic of droning, layering, and electronic manipulation. Christian Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke are both well-known names on the experimental/electronic music scene; both are guitarists, but both of them use electric and electronic manipulations extensively to make their instruments unrecognizable. The two tracks on this, their first collaboration as a duo, are simultaneously noisy and soft, shimmering and distorted, luscious and spiky. There is a deepness and density to the music here that rewards close and attentive listening. Claire M Singer is a composer who also works in drones and layers, but since she plays organ and cello (as well as using electronics), one might expect her work to be a bit less noisy and dense. And one would be right. The pieces presented on Solas span 14 years of her work, and find her playing and manipulating all of the instruments herself; the music is sometimes blissful and sometimes unsettling, and always both superficially simple and deeply interesting.

muffatGeorg Muffat
Missa In labore requies
Cappella Murensis; Les Cornet Noirs
Audite (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Georg Muffat is mainly known for his string compositions, but he also wrote a number of vocal works (both sacred and theatrical), almost all of which have been lost. This is particularly tragic in light of the quality of his one surviving Mass, the magisterial Missa in labore requies. Composed for two vocal choirs and three instrumental ensembles, plus continuo, this piece offers everything one might love about baroque sacred choral music: it’s sonically huge but carefully and richly detailed, serious but joyful, and brilliantly orchestrated. The performance is spectacular, aided in its effect by the wonderfully sympathetic acoustic of the Abbey Church of Muri. (The program includes sonatas by Bertali, Biber, and Schmelzer as makeweights.) Recommended to all classical collections.

mozartFranz Xaver Mozart; Muzio Clementi
Piano Concertos
Howard Shelley; Sinfonieorchester St. Gallen
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)

This is the third disc in pianist Howard Shelley’s ongoing survey of piano concertos of the classical period; the first two discs included works by Jan Ladislav Dussek and Daniel Steibelt, respectively, and each has been recommended in CD HotList. This one is every bit as rewarding as the first two, and offers the additional benefit of including two concertos by W. A. Mozart’s son Franz Xaver. F.X. Mozart is, predictably enough, something of a tragic figure in musical terms–a gifted composer and pianist doomed forever to be compared (inevitably unfavorably) to his freakishly gifted father. But his two works here really are delightful, and compare nicely to Clementi’s work–the only Clementi piano concerto not lost to history. As always, Shelley’s playing sparkles, and the Sinfonieorchester St. Gallen accompanies him wonderfully.

riberaBernardino de Ribera
Magnificat & Motets
De Profundis / David Skinner
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

Although he served as a teacher to the young Tomás Luis de Victoria, Bernardino de Ribera left behind a relatively small number of compositions–and some of what we know he wrote (including two Mass settings) survive only in a choirbook that was so extensively vandalized that the music can no longer be reconstructed. The three Magnificat settings and ten motets performed here by the all-male De Profundis ensemble make clear how great a loss this vandalism incurred, not only for musicological scholarship but also for the listening pleasure of future generations. Ribera’s music is not only luscious, but also interesting in that it maps a transition from the influence of the Flemish school to the more specifically Spanish style of Guerrero and the distinctly Roman influences of Victoria. The singing is marvelous.

maraisMarin Marais
Suites for Oboe
Christopher Palameta; Eric Tinkerhess; Romain Falik; Lisa Goode Crawford
Audax (dist. Albany)
ADX 13702

Say the name “Marais” to most baroque music aficionados, and they are most likely to think of his suites for the viola da gamba. But many of those works lend themselves to performance using other melody instruments, and while the oboe may not be the most obvious candidate for such transposition, oboist Christopher Palameta makes a strong case for that approach with this delightful album. Assisted by gamba player Eric Tinkerhess, lutenist Romain Falik, and harpsichordist Lisa Goode Crawford, Palameta plays what seem to be his own transcriptions of six suites from a variety of Marais’ collections, and he does so with grace, impeccable intonation, and an impressive richness of tone.

reichSteve Reich
Double Sextet; Radio Rewrite
Ensemble Signal / Brad Lubman
Harmonia Mundi
HMU 907671

From the very first chords of the first work, there is no question that you’re listening to the music of Steve Reich. Double Sextet features his trademark repetitive syncopated passages overlaid with sustained chords and punctuated by sudden changes in tempo and texture. Over the years Reich’s harmonic palette has gotten richer and more elaborate, but his interest in rhythm has not diminished. Radio Rewrite, the second work on this disc, is based on raw material from a song by the experimental rock band Radiohead, who similarly reworked a selection of Reich’s music for a tribute album some years back; here the composer returns the favor, to very nice effect. Ensemble Signal demonstrated their affinity for Reich’s work with an outstanding recording of his Music for 18 Musicians in 2015, and are just as good here. Highly recommended.


douglasDave Douglas
Dark Territory

They say that the three fundamental dimensions of music are melody, harmony, and rhythm, and that very few music cultures develop all three of them equally. (Compare, for example, Mozart’s harmonic complexity and rhythmic simplicity with the melodic complexity and harmonic simplicity of classical Indian music.) I kept thinking about that as I listened to trumpeter Dave Douglas’s new album, on which he leads a quartet through a set of performances that I found completely engrossing even though there’s hardly a melody worthy of the name anywhere on the album. The reason this music works so well has largely to do with rhythm (which is frequently compellingly funky) and with another dimenion of music that often gets overlooked: texture. One member of the group is credited only with playing “electronics,” and his contributions consist of noises and manipulations that create a huge and multifaceted sound stage against which Douglas, bassist Jonathan Maron, and drummer Mark Giuliana can bounce their individual and collective ideas. The result is alternately jazzy, funky, dubby, spacey, and skronky– and sometimes it’s all of those things at once.

katcheManu Katché
Anteprima Productions (dist. Naxos)

Drummer Manu Katché has been a first-call session drummer for decades now, first coming to wide public attention for his work with Peter Gabriel and Sting in the 1980s. But he’s also a gifted jazz composer and arranger, and has recorded several stylistically adventurous albums as a leader for the ECM label. On this apparently self-released album he leads a conventionally-configured quintet (piano trio with saxophone and trumpet) through a program of really quite straight-ahead original tunes: this isn’t bop or even post-bop, but it’s not fusion or experimental jazz either. It’s tunefully modern, and if the rhythms tend to drive and bounce more than they swing, that doesn’t detract from the essential jazziness of the mood. And the ballads are simply gorgeous. (One caveat: band introductions are just good manners in live setting. But on a studio recording? Silly and unnecessary.)

herschFred Hersch Trio
Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard
Rick’s Pick

To harp on Fred Hersch’s originality is kind of to miss what makes him such a great and influential player. What sets him apart from the pack is not so much that he does things others don’t do, but rather that he plays things in a way that is so much more expansive and insightful than what you hear from most other jazz pianists, even those who, with him, occupy the very top tier of pianistic achievement. On his latest trio outing you will hear echoes of Bill Evans in terms of the ensemble approach (the album title can’t have been an accident), but you’ll never hear Hersch himself actually play like Evans. You’ll hear a Monk tune that sounds nothing like Monk, and you’ll hear originals that sound like standards and standards that sound like originals. Throughout all of it you’ll hear Hersch taking musical ideas and stretching them, turning them upside down and inside out, and yet paradoxically never losing sight of their essential shape. There is, quite simply, no other pianist like him in the jazz world today.

jonesMike Jones Trio
Rick’s Pick

For an almost diametrically opposed, but equally enjoyable, example of jazz pianism, consider the latest from the Mike Jones Trio. This album is resolutely, indeed maybe even defiantly, non-innovative. On it, pianist Jones and his trio prance their way through a ten-song set of standards–but not the ones we usually think of, the bop- and swing-era tunes that most of us can whistle on demand. These are standards from the 1920s, some of which are familiar still (“Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” “Me and My Shadow,” etc.) and some of which are much less so. They are played here with puckish wit and freshness but also with a deep respect for the tradition from which they emerged. According to the liner notes, these recordings were mostly first takes, which suggests that this group needs to get together more often and record some more albums. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.

No cat. no.

Despite the album title, song names like “Lim Sim (Maracatu-Blues)” and “Samba da Lira,” and the fact that all three members of this piano trio are either from Brazil or deeply rooted in Brazilian music, the casual listener might not even notice that this is a Brazilian jazz album. Because really, it isn’t–it’s a jazz album made by Brazilians, and while the groove does often have that supple and liquid feel that we associate with samba and bossa nova, the rhythms themselves tend to be quite straight-ahead and the tunes rarely evoke Brazil melodically either. What you hear instead is a wonderful set of mainstream jazz numbers that, if you listen closely, evince a certain eu não sei o que. This is one of the most consistently enjoyable jazz albums I’ve heard all year.


breathThe Breath
Carry Your Kin
Real World
Rick’s Pick

So imagine that Cocteau Twins consisted of an Irish singer and a jazz quartet. The result might have sounded something like this: lyrically unintelligible, lushly dense, stunningly beautiful. None of this music is from the folk tradition, and none of the music employs traditional Irish instruments, but the music somehow draws deeply on singer Ríoghnach Connolly’s Irishness even as it draws equally on jazz, ambient music, rock, and other folk sounds. It’s impossible to describe adequately–you really need to hear it.

scroggJeff Scroggins and Colorado
Ramblin Feels Good
No cat. no.

It’s been interesting to watch the evolution of “progressive” bluegrass since the Country Gentlemen basically invented the genre in the 1960s. Back then it meant doing bluegrass versions of songs by Bob Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot and taking extra-long, jazzy solos. Over the years the progressive tendency has been expressed in a growing variety of ways by an increasing number of artists, and for banjoist Jeff Scroggins and his band it seems to mean blending whatever kinds of folk, country, and bluegrass music you enjoy and playing them however you prefer–though somehow their sound always ends up being solid and more or less mainstream whether the source material is Reno & Smiley, Willie Nelson, or (yes) Gordon Lightfoot. Singer Greg Blake is a solid vocalist and an outstanding guitarist, and Scroggins himself is a tasteful banjo player who knows just when to kick in with a fiery melodic passage. Very nice.

bywaterElias Alexander & Bywater Band
Fresh Haggis
No cat. no.

Elias Alexander is a piper and whistle player (and also a fiddler) who was raised in Oregon but fell in love with Celtic music in his early teens. His Bywater band plays original and traditional tunes deeply rooted in Celtic (and especially Scottish) tradition, with an edge of modern and youthful energy. Most of the tunes are instrumentals, but there are a few songs thrown in, and Elias is a good singer–but a better piper and whistle player, one with powerful tone and a wonderfully sure-footed sense of rhythm. The band as a whole sounds great, and illustrates once again how much fantastic Celtic music is being produced in the United States these days.

fracassoMichael Fracasso
Here Come the Savages
Blue Door
No cat. no.

I’ll be honest here: it took me a while to decide I was okay with Michael Fracasso’s voice, which is a quavery tenor that sometimes strikes me as a bit pretentious in its vulnerable instability. But I did eventually decide I was okay with it, and when I did, the songs started registering more powerfully. This disc is a sort of distillation of two albums he had originally intended to release separately, one of original songs and one of covers, and that was a good choice: up against the rock steady classic “You Don’t Love Me (No No No),” Fracasso’s own “Blind Man on a Bicycle” hits particularly hard, and his take on Johnny Thunders’ postpunk anthem “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” turns it into a lush full band rumination, complete with steel guitar. The album culminates with a sunny and thoroughly lovely version of the Kinks’ “Better Things.” Fracasso sometimes gets pigeonholed as “psych-folk,” but I think he’s pretty much uncharacterizable.



This is the debut full-length from an up-and-coming producer whose real name is Théo Le Vigoreux, and who has released a string of singles and EPs over the past few years. (The review download I received had only ten tracks, but apparently the CD has 16.) His sound is, to my ear, a nearly perfect blend of dreamy atmospherics, funky beats, attractive melodies, and charmingly startling change-ups, from the fragmented vocal samples on the title track and on the electro-acoustic dancehall yoga of “La Lune Rousse” to the slow-burn R&B of “Light Bullet” (featuring Audreya Triana). Highly recommended to all pop collections.

boomboxVarious Artists
Boombox 1: Early Independent Hip Hop, Electro and Disco Rap 1979-82 (2 discs)
Soul Jazz (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

As is often the case with these Soul Jazz compilations, the subtitle reads like something off the cover of a scholarly monograph from a university press. And with good reason: once again, the label has given us a collection that not only functions well as a listening experience (these early rap singles may sound hokey today, but there’s no denying how much fun they are) but also as something of a musical/sociology/history text, granting the listener a window on the lyrical concerns and stylistic interconnections of various urban music styles at the turn of the 1980s. These were the earliest days of hip hop, a time when the boundaries between rap and disco were fuzzier than you might remember, when synthesizers were taking over, and when the scene was crawling with obscure rappers who made surprisingly fine singles. The accompanying booklet is rich with both textual and photographic information, and this set is a must-have for any library’s pop music collection.

banglesThe Bangles
Ladies and Gentlement… the Bangles! (reissue)

And speaking of the 1980s, here is a nicely expanded reissue of the eponymous debut EP by jangle-pop veterans the Bangles (known at the time as the Bangs), who exploded onto the music scene as part of the Paisley Underground movement before scoring mainstream success with “Walk Like an Egyptian,” a number-one hit single and constant presence on MTV. The EP shows both the band’s potential and the fact that they still had a ways to go before living up to it, but it’s tons of fun. So are the demo versions and live tracks that augment this reissue.

ergMikey Erg
Tentative Decisions
Don Giovanni (dist. Redeye)

If scrappy, punky, resolutely lo-fi power pop is your cup of aggressively-compressed sonic sludge, then have I got the guy for you: Mikey Erg (formerly of The Ergs!, of New Brunswick, NJ), whose solo debut is chock full of deceptively sloppy-sounding hooks that are in fact carefully and meticulously crafted. The most artful pop architecture sounds like a mess when you thrash it out through a Fuzzbox and bounce it down to two tracks, but don’t be fooled: artful pop architecture is what Mikey Erg is selling, and it’s great. I’m looking forward to bringing this one home to my 17-year-old, and I anticipate that he’ll love it. I bet you will too. Hand-sell it to your patrons if they aren’t already intimately familiar with the New Brunswick, NJ punk-pop scene.

viterbiniAdriano Viterbini
Bomba Dischi (dist. Redeye)

Adriano Viterbini may be the quintessential example of a guitar nerd–someone who has obsessively mastered a wide variety of guitar styles and techniques, whose range of interests spans far and wide both temporally and geographically, and who is willing to experiment pretty radically in pursuit of new tones. Hence his second solo album, on which he uses only an antique Bell & Howell Filmosound projector as a guitar amp and on which he explores spaghetti Western tunes, Hawaiian slack-key traditions, Delta blues, R&B, and Tiki lounge soundtrack music. Most of the tunes are instrumental and some are originals, but you’ll also hear familiar kitsch like “Sleepwalk” and a unexpectedly affecting take on “Five Hundred Miles.” All of it is imbued with Viterbini’s unique and winning blend of avant-garde experimentalism and unabashed nostalgia-mongering. Recommended.


fluteRalph Samuelson
The Universal Flute

The shakuhachi is a Japanese end-blown bamboo flute that is notoriously difficult to play, but that has captivated the imaginations of several 20th- and 21st-century American composers. Here Ralph Samuelson, who likewise fell in love with the instrument back in the late 1960s, presents works for the shakuhachi by Henry Cowell, Richard Teitelbaum, and Elizabeth Brown, as well as pieces by Japanese composer Teizo Matsumura and Macanese composer Bun-Ching Lam. Some are solo works and some feature the koto, harp, or shamisen; the title piece (by Cowell) is presented both in a solo version and in a duet version with bansuri player Steve Gorn. This album is an outstanding example of the best of what can emerge from the cross-pollination of art music traditions between very different cultures.

Harmonia Mundi
HMC 905277

Hawniyaz is a multicultural quartet consisting of Kurdish singer Aynur, Azerbaijani pianist Salman Gambarov, Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor, and Kurdish/German tenbûr player Cemîl Qoçgirî. Together they make music that blends Kurdish and Persian vocal and instrumental traditions, with Gambarov’s piano adding an element of Western European classicism (and sometimes a gentle jazziness) to the mix. The resulting sound is intense but also refined and often strangely contemplative; Aynur’s voice is generally at the center of the mix, and it’s a thing of tough but light-filled loveliness. Recommended to all world-music collections.

moutnainsVarious Artists
Why the Mountains Are Black: Primeval Greek Village Music 1907-1960 (2 discs)
Third Man Records
TMR 334

The liner notes of this album make condescending reference to listeners who “hear the pops and scratches” on these 78-rpm source recordings and find them “disconcerting.” To me, though, the rough sonic quality of the early shellac recordings is pretty much beside the point–what makes them tough to listen to is the music, much of which is brutally repetitious, harmonically static, and melodically dry. Why recommend this album to libraries, then? Because it contains a treasure trove of cultural information about traditional music cultures with which many in the West have had little or no interaction–and because some of it is musically thrilling. Strongly recommended to all libraries supporting ethnomusicology programs.

July 2016


niceup fashionVarious Artists
Inna Nice Up! Fashion
Nice Up!

nice up sessionVarious Artists
Nice Up! the Session, Vol. 2 (download only)
Nice Up!

Two Picks of the Month this time, both of them from the outstanding reggae label Nice Up!. The first features remixes of classic tracks from the vaults of Fashion Records, the London label that arguably did more than any other to foster the early dancehall sound, delivering such massive hits as Smiley Culture’s “Cockney Translation” and Daddy Freddy’s “Yes We a Blood.” The remixes here are by the likes of Machinedrum, the Bug, and Toddla T, and take these vintage dancehall reggae tracks into outer space, their original bounce being translated into jungle, dubstep, and even 8-bit retro styles. There’s not a weak track here. The second volume in the digital-only Nice Up! the Session series takes a similar approach, but draws on a broader and more recent array of material: here we find tracks by neo-roots and dancehall artists like Blend Mishkin, Danny T, and Mr. Benn being given heavyweight treatments in a variety of UK bass styles. I can’t stress enough how much fun both of these albums are, and how timely is their release–this is music for pumping loud in the car with all the windows down.


floresAnonymous composers
Staniatki: Moniales ordinis Sancti Benedicti
Flores Rosarum / Susi Ferforglia
Dux (dist. Naxos)

This disc is the first entry in a series titled Musica in monasteriis femineis in polonia minore (“Music from Women’s Monasteries in Lesser Poland”), and it features music from the oldest existing collection of antiphons and responsories housed in the Benedictine convent at Staniatki. Although the music itself consists entirely of plainchant (with occasional instrumental improvisations), the antiphonary from which it’s drawn was actually collated in the mid-16th century at the instigation of Abbess Dorota Szreniawska. Flores Rosarum sing with both a warmth and clarity of tone and an admirable ensemble sense. This disc may be of particular interest to libraries that have seen demand for the works of Hildegard von Bingen.

coatesThomas Coates; Frederick J. Keller; Franz von Suppé
Thomas Coates: The Father of Band Music in America
Newberry’s Victorian Cornet Band / Douglas Hedwig
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1556
Rick’s Pick

The title of this disc makes a bold claim, but it’s not an obviously false one if you look at the historical record. By the time John Philip Sousa was beginning to dominate the band-music landscape at the end of the 19th century, Coates had come to the end of a prolific and influential career, and although the mostly-brass instrumentation of his bands fell out of favor shortly after his death, his influence as an arranger continued to be felt. Here his original compositions and medleys of traditional tune arrangements are presented alongside similar works by Frederick Keller and Franz von Suppé, and played on period instruments (including authentic mouthpieces) by the outstanding Newberry’s Victorian Cornet Band. It’s difficult to imagine a library that wouldn’t benefit from owning this disc.

kauderHudo Kauder
Rediscovering Hugo Kauder
Lindsay Leach-Sparks (with various accompanists)
Titanic (dist. Albany)

Hugo Kauder was quite an anomaly in 20th-century music. To listen to the five chamber works presented here by flutist Lindsay Leach-Sparks and her colleagues, one would guess that the Vienna School had never existed–this music is not only tonal, but it tends strongly to be pentatonic. The harmonies are open with quite a bit of parallel movement, and Kauder draws on elements of folk and medieval music as well as the occasional Asian influence. The result is music that can come across as deceptively naïve to today’s ears, but could only have been seen as an affront to the academic music world in the middle of the 20th century.

rileyTerry Riley
In C
Ragazze Quartet; Slagwerk Den Haag; Kapok
Channel Classics (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
CCS 37816

If you had to name the single most foundational work of the minimalist school, it would probably have to be In C by Terry Riley. First performed in 1964, it calls on an unspecified number of musicians to repeat any of 53 brief musical phrases as many times as they would like. There is no real harmonic movement (hence the title), and the effect of the piece is basically kaleidoscopic–and of course it sounds different every time it’s played. The second work on this disc, Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector, was written in 1980 for the Kronos Quartet. Both pieces are played with conviction and audible pleasure by the Raggaze Quartet, the percussion ensemble Slagwerk Den Haag, and the horn/guitar/drums trio Kapok.

boydVarious Composers
Rupert Boyd
Little Mystery
Rick’s Pick

This is the second solo album from guitarist Rupert Boyd, and it’s outstanding. On this program he presents a stylistically wide-ranging recital of pieces from traditions including tango, Renaissance lute music, 19th-century Spanish classicism, and folk music of both the British Isles and the Iberian peninsula. While the music itself is consistently lovely, what will really strike you as you listen is how bright and colorful his tone is, and how much evident pleasure he takes in playing so many very different kinds of music. I might have swung the hornpipe rhythm of “Loch Leven Castle” a little harder, but that’s the only interpretive disagreement I have with anything on this spectacular album. Highly recommended to all libraries.

dalmaticaAnonymous Composers
Dalmatica: From Oral to Written Transmissions: Chants of the Adriatic
Dialogos; Kantaduri
Arcana (dist. Naxos)
A 395
Rick’s Pick

It is difficult to describe the strange and special beauty of this recording, which brings together Latin and Slavonic liturgical texts from sources in the Croatian region, some of them sung monodically, some polyphonically, and some in a folk style called klapa. The klapa songs are sturdy and astringent, recalling the sound of Sardinian male harmony trios; other pieces have a distinct ars nova feel, and the juxtaposition of sweet and sour sounds (and of male and female voices) means that the listener is constantly in a state of slight emotional vertigo. What unites all of these tracks is the sense of archaic but deep devotional engagement. I’ve never heard anything remotely like this album, and it’s wonderful.

giardinoJohann Friedrich Meister
Il giardino del piacere (world premiere recording)
Ensemble Diderot
Audax (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

Johann Friedrich Meister’s collection of twelve trio sonatas titled Il giardino del piacere (“The Pleasure Garden”) was published in 1695, but has never been recorded in its entirety. Half of the sonatas were recorded by the legendary Musica Antiqua Köln in 2011–that ensemble’s final project, as it turned out–and the remaining six are here presented by the outstanding young Ensemble Diderot. The significance of these pieces lies not so much in their unusually high quality (the music is very good, but not earthshaking) but rather in the fact that it represents the first known incursion of the French style into Germany, where it would later take root and flourish. All classical collections should own both this disc and the previous one by MAK.

notareschiLoretta Notareschi
String Quartet OCD
Playground Ensemble String Quartet
Disegni Music
No cat. no.

This 21-minute work (the only one on this budget-priced CD) is something of a program piece, an attempt to convey musically the experience of postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (PPOCD). Less well-known than postpartum depression, PPOCD can lead to obsessive thoughts of doing harm to one’s baby, debilitating anxiety, and panic attacks. Notareschi portrays the experience musically by means of modernistically jagged and occasionally lyrical passages that convey a sense of claustrophobia, anger, and frustration–and, once in a while, a certain plucky humor. (Listen for the quote from the 1920s song “Baby Face.”) The final movement is titled, appropriately enough, “A Second Delivery,” and depicts the composer’s eventual emergence from the illness that had dominated her mind for a year. The music is of a very high quality, and the package includes handy information about PPOCD and links to resources for those struggling with it.


mobileNik Bärtsch’s Mobile

Pianist/composer Nik Bärtsch’s ensemble has never been what you could call a conventional jazz combo. In fact, the only reason it makes sense to review his latest album in the Jazz section is because it fits even less well anywhere else. On his latest album, he continues his exploration of modular compositions that incorporate rhythmic repetition (but nothing so simple as pulse) and spiral development. There is a funkiness here, and often a weirdly dark vibe (notice the borderline creepiness of “Modul 18”), and the addition of a string quintet to his usual ensemble of piano, bass clarinet, and two percussionists serves to enrich the band’s sound while also deepening its frequent eeriness. As usual, the music is unlike anything else you’ve probably heard, and it’s very compelling.

robertGeorge Robert
Plays Michel Legrand
CD 1607
Rick’s Pick

I’m not usually very keen on jazz recordings that involve orchestral strings, still less an entire symphony orchestra. But I decided to give this one a shot, and I was glad I did. Sadly, this was the final recording by saxophonist George Robert before he died earlier this year. It finds him celebrating the melodic talents of film composer Michel Legrand, performing arrangements of themes from films like Brian’s Song, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and Yentl. My wife shot me a puzzled look when I put this on our home stereo–again: this is not the kind of thing I would normally tolerate–but there’s something about these arrangements that, despite their lushness, keeps them from ever tipping over into schlock. I think it has something to do not only with Robert’s exceptionally tasteful playing, but also with Torben Oxbol’s orchestral arrangements–which are all performed by means of MIDI and digital instrument samples. (Unless someone tips you off to this fact, you probably won’t be able to tell that the instruments aren’t live.) The result is a deeply beautiful album.

popsJoe Policastro Trio
Jeru Jazz
No cat. no.

The title of this album has a double meaning: it’s dedicated to Pops for Champagne, the Chicago champagne bar where bassist Joe Policastro and his trio hold down a three-nights-a-week residency. But it also refers to the musical program itself: the album consists of jazz arrangements of songs by the likes of Stevie Wonder (“Creepin'”), Pink Floyd (“Us and Them”), the Cars (“Drive”) and even the Pixies (“Wave of Mutilation,” I kid you not). There’s not really anything particularly outlandish about this: jazz has always drawn on popular song for its source material. Not usually the Bee Gees, of course, but why not? Policastro and his crew make a strong argument for all of these songs as jazz vehicles, and they have a ton of fun in the process. You will, too.

coreyCorey Christiansen
Factory Girl
Origin (dist. City Hall)

Here’s another take on source material from unlikely places: guitarist Corey Christiansen leads a quintet through a solid set of jazz adaptations of traditional folk and fiddle tunes like “John Hardy,” “Shenandoah,” and “Factory Girl.” What’s particularly impressive here is the way he manages to craft genuinely interesting jazz arrangements of harmonically dead-simple tunes like “Cluck Old Hen” and “Old Joe Clark.” One of his secret ingredients is funk, and another is his ability to coax the African-American roots of some of these tunes out from behind their Anglo-Appalachian façades. It all works really well. Highly recommended to all jazz collections.

louisLouis Heriveaux
Triadic Episode
Hot Shoe
HSR 110

This is a very fine leader debut for pianist Louis Heriveaux, who has been a first-call sideman and mainstay of the Atlanta jazz scene for years. Accompanied by bassist Curtis Lundy and bassist Terreon Gully, he delivers a nicely varied set of originals and standards that showcases his wide stylistic range: from the strangely melancholy funk of “One for Simus” (named a friend who committed suicide while the tune was being written), to his sweetly contemplative take on “Body and Soul,” to the loping midtempo groove of the title track. Heriveaux’s playing sparkles and the trio sounds as if they’ve been together for years. Recommended to all jazz collections.

evenfallThe Evenfall Quartet
The Evenfall Quartet
Blue Duchess
Rick’s Pick

Tenor saxophonist Mark Earley and bassist Brad Hallen met during their shared tenure in Roomful of Blues, where they also worked with Blue Duchess label head Duke Robillard. But this isn’t a blues or R&B project; instead, it’s a straight-ahead jazz album, which their quartet decided to record in a very old-school way: show up at the studio, confer on a set of standards, play them live with no overdubs or punch-ins, and release the best takes. The result is a set that sounds very old school, not just stylistically (check out Earley’s Hawkins-esque warble on the ballads, particularly “The Shadow of Your Smile”) but also in terms of its immediacy and warmth. Listening to this album leaves you with the feeling of having eaten a solid, deliciously prepared, and well-balanced meal. Highly recommended to all collections.


doeJohn Doe
The Westerner
Cool Rock (dist. Thirty Tigers)

John Doe left the world of punk rock behind long ago, when X (one of the primary architects of the Los Angeles punk sound) finally dissolved after two decades of brilliant music-making. But he took away with him two of the things that had helped to define that sound: his rich baritone voice and his affinity for country music and roots rock. As a solo artist, he brings a serrated edge to those traditions and he sounds as great as ever. His latest album is a slightly surrealist triumph of country-inflected postpunk rock’n’roll, and it is released at the same time as his memoir of his early career (Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk, which is actually a compilation of recollections by himself and other figures of the period including members of the Go-Gos, the Minutemen, and Black Flag). Both the album and the book are must-haves for library collections.

westernWestern Centuries
Weight of the World
Free Dirt

The members of Seattle-based Western Centuries come from all over the place, musically speaking: hip hop, punk, conjunto, roots rock. But what you hear when they get together is rough-grained honky-tonk country music sung in a variety of voices (lead vocal duties are swapped between the band’s three chief songwriters) and incorporating, every so often, a sly hint of something exotic–a little touch of bluebeat on “In My Cups,” an echo of 12/8 R&B balladry on “Off the Shelf,” a decidedly crooked rhythm on the verse of “Rock Salt,” etc. None of these guys will ever be contestants on The Voice, but they sure do write great songs. And how many country songwriters would (or should) come up with the line “Gonna float down the stream in a ketamine dream”?

outerOuter Spaces
A Shedding Snake
Don Giovanni (dist. Redeye)

I don’t know whether I really ought to be putting this one in the Folk/Countryk section, but I can’t escape the feeling that it’s really a roots album cleverly disguised as scrappy post-pop. Singer/songwriter Cara Beth Satalino has clearly been listening to quite a bit of early REM (check out the first couple verses of “Heavy Stone Poem”), but more importantly, there’s something about her jangly guitar arpeggios that just says “folk rock” to me. I’m probably wrong, but whatever. Call it what you want, this is a grungily sparkling debut for her as a solo artist.

ickesRob Ickes & Trey Hensley
The Country Blues
Compass (dist. Naxos)

Despite its title, this is not a country blues album–it’s a country album, or, perhaps more accurately, a post-bluegrass album (i.e. mostly acoustic, but with drums and a Grateful Dead cover). Hensley and Ickes are a great team: Hensley has one of those gorgeous, copper-colored voices that are prized in modern bluegrass, and Ickes remains one of the hottest and most tasteful slide guitarists working today. And their sense of artistry continues to be tempered by a sense of fun: Hensley delivers a nice Merle Haggard impression on Haggard’s “I Won’t Give Up My Train,” and while my review copy didn’t include liner notes or musician credits and I therefore can’t say who the hotshot Telecaster player is on “Leave My Woman Alone,” that track in particular is a high-octane hoot. I’m not sure the phase shifter on Ickes’ Dobro was necessarily a great choice on “Biscuits and Gravy,” but it’s still plenty of fun. Great stuff overall.


yumiYumi Zouma
Cascine/Flying Nun
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

In a world in which new genre and subgenre designations dissolve into irrelevance almost as soon as they can be invented, the term “dream pop” seems somehow to maintain a certain level of referent utility. If a release is designated as “dream pop” you can pretty much assume that the voices will be mixed at the same level as the instruments and the words only sporadically decipherable, the melodies will be filled with hooks (but modest ones, nothing to pump your fist and chant along to), the harmonies will be multilayered and rapturously beautiful, and everything will be presented in a haze that is the sonic equivalent of a cloud of atomized cotton candy. Funky beats, if such there be, will be quiet and decorous. And there you have it: a pretty good description of the debut full-length from Sweden’s Yumi Zouma, as enjoyable a pop album as I’ve heard yet this year. Now I need to track down their previous EPs…

rostaniAria Rostani & Daniel Blomquist
Wandering Eye
Glacial Movements

Also dreamy, but nowhere near as hooky, is the debut album from San Francisco-based experimental duo Aria Rostami and Daniel Blomquist. Their general modus operandi is to take source material from field recordings, online communications, and Rostami’s piano and synthesizer playing, and then create a live performance by looping and manipulating the various sounds. The result is ambient music of a sort, in that it develops slowly and is deeply repetitive, but music that departs from the ambient tradition by being, at times, quite intense. This is also music that harks back significantly to the heyday of analog tape-based experimentation during the 1960s. All of it is quite lovely, if sometimes also a bit creepy and unsettling.

fayettesCharlie Faye & the Fayettes
Charlie Faye & the Fayettes
No cat. no.

1960s revivalism is nothing new, but Charlie Faye’s latest project takes it a step beyond the usual, and takes her well away from her roots as an Austin-based Americana artist. With the Fayettes, she embraces the sound of the Shirelles and the Ronettes completely and explicitly, also adopting hair and clothing styles from the period. How does it sound? Awesome, if you like that kind of thing–and even if you don’t, Faye’s way with a hook and a vocal harmony makes the album a pleasure. Highlight track: the exquisite and soulful “Sweet Little Messages.”

Channel Zero
ESP-Disk (dist. Forced Exposure)
Rick’s Pick

Blending jazz and free improvisation with absolutely head-pounding, booty-shaking funk, Joe Bowie’s Defunkt changed the way we thought about all of those musical styles back in the 1980s. The band has never gone away completely, but went through multiple lineups during the 1990s and 2000s, not all of them terribly successful. Now the original bandmembers are back together, and this live album documents them reprising a bunch of their 1980s material (“Strangling Me with Your Love,” “Make Them Dance,” “Defunkt,” etc.) and dang if it doesn’t sound even better than it did back then: tighter, faster, funkier, punchier, wilder. I defy anyone to listen to this album and sit still for more than five seconds. (As I write this I’m sitting on an airplane, trying without complete success not to embarrass myself playing air drums along with “Defunkt.”)

ribotMarc Ribot & The Young Philadelphians
Live in Tokyo
YEB 7760

For a very different take on funk/avant-garde fusion, consider this highly unusual project led by guitarist Marc Ribot. Working with guitarist Mary Halvorsen, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and drummer G. Calvin Weston (plus a pickup string trio), he presents a live set of vintage Philly soul and disco tracks including hits like “Fly, Robin, Fly,” “Love Rollercoaster,” and, inevitably, “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” all played in a gritty but genuinely affectionate style that occasionally threatens to collapse into skronky harmolodic chaos–because the other explicit touchstone for this band’s sound is that of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time ensemble. The set opens with a slightly clunky version of “Love Epidemic,” but the group quickly finds its feet, and by the time they hit their encore (“The Hustle,” believe it or not) everything is grooving blissfully if still somewhat abrasively. Great stuff.

antsAdam & the Ants
Kings of the Wild Frontier (deluxe reissue; 2 discs)
Sony Legacy

If ever there was an ’80s artist who would be unlikely to go over well fully 36 years after his heyday, you would have to expect it to be Adam Ant. What seemed transgressive at the time (the weird Native American/pirate/18th-century-highwayman costume, the self-consciously twee sex-symbol posturing, etc.) would surely seem merely silly today, wouldn’t it? Well, as it turns out, yes–and no. The fact is that songs like “Don’t be Square (Be There)” and “Jolly Roger” are still lots of fun, and “Antmusic” still sounds weird in a slightly hair-raising way. And it’s also true that the particular brand of postpunk craziness documented here was pretty groundbreaking: the Ants’ juxtaposition of spaghetti western guitar sounds, tribal drumming, and eerie yodeling was not typical New Wave fare at the time and remained that band’s unique stylistic territory for a long time. This deluxe reissue offers extensive liner notes plus a disc-and-a-half’s worth of demos, outtakes, and live recordings.

sherwoodVarious Artists
Sherwood at the Controls: Volume 2 1985-1990
On-U Sound (dist. Redeye)
Rick’s Pick

Although he is best known as an innovative producer and impresario of avant-garde dub and neo-roots reggae, Adrian Sherwood had a lot of success in the late 1980s working with funk, industrial, and experimental hip hop groups like Ministry, the Beatnigs, KMFDM, and Tackhead. About a year ago, Sherwood’s On-U Sound label released a collection focusing on his work in this vein (many of them previously unreleased or in unreleased versions), and now we have another one that picks up chronogically where that one left off–and if anything, it’s even better. Here you’ll find an excellent early version of Tackhead’s “Mind at the End of the Tether,” Pankow’s jackboot-funk cover of Prince’s “Girls’ & Boys”, and a great remix of the Beatnigs’ “Television.” And, for those of you who live for the bass pressure, at the end of the program is a handful of alternate versions and outtakes by the likes of African Head Charge and Bim Sherman. Absolutely essential.

Amorphous Music
Rick’s Pick

And, of course, if what you’re after is dance music of a somewhat less challenging but every bit as interesting variety, you never have to look further than the latest release by Lorin Ashton, a.k.a. Bassnectar. No one in the world of bass music explores texture, rhythm, and melody with as much creativity and infectious joy as this guy, and Unlimited is, in my opinion, his best effort since 2005’s Mesmerizing the Ultra (now, sadly, out of print). As always, the Bassnectar sound is brightly-colored without being too poppy, richly booming without being oppressively dark, happy without being cloying. There are fine vocal cameos from the likes of Rye Rye and Lafa Taylor, and Ashton’s ability to change up the beat without warning and in mindblowing ways remains unparalleled.


tanbouVarious Artists
Tanbou Toujou Lou

Subtitled “Meringue, Kompa Kreyol, Vodou Jazz & Electric Folklore from Haiti 1961-1981,” this compilation clearly casts a very wide net both stylistically and temporally, and therefore touches only lightly on each of the genres and pseudo-genres (“Electric Folklore”?) mentioned. But for library purposes, that’s probably a feature rather than a bug: if you need one collection that nicely spans a wide range of Haitian pop music genres during a hugely fertile period in that troubled nation’s history, this one would make a great choice. Highlights include the debonaire crooning of Tabou Combo on “Gislene,” Nemours Jean Baptiste’s “Haiti Cumbia,” and the sumptuous big-band sound of Super Jazz de Jeunes.

Dedication to Sylvia Rexach

The bolero is an incredibly important song form in Latin America, and there is a particularly strong tradition of them in Puerto Rico, where they have often been sung in harmony by male-female duos. This album by Reinaldo Alvarez and Laura Ann Singh is a celebration of the songs written in that mode by mid-20th-century icon Sylvia Rexach, who died young in 1961. The arrangements are gentle and quiet, the better to showcase the emotional intensity of the singing. While the organ parts can get a bit cheesy at times (seriously, is that a Farfisa?), the songs themselves are lovely and the singing outstanding. Libraries with a collecting interest in Latin American music should snap up this disc.

Anian (2 discs)

This is a strange and lovely album of Welsh songs by a band called 9BACH. It draws on a variety of other cultural influences (including Greek and Near Eastern flavors), and the lyrics are unusually topical for this group, focusing on disturbing world events of the moment. Of course, if you don’t speak Welsh you may have a hard time catching the sociopolitical messages in the music, so the package includes both a lyric booklet with translations and a second disc on which a number of English-speaking actors, writers, poets, and singers offer spoken interpretations. It’s a very unusual release altogether, but the music is quietly stunning.

The Return of the Tru Ganjaman
Luvinnit Productions

Musically speaking, this is Rocker-T’s best album in years: hard-hitting roots and dancehall reggae grooves, guest appearances from the likes of Mykal Rose, Prezident Brown, and the wonderful Gappy Ranks, and of course Rocker-T’s own top-ranking singjay style. The relentless lyrical focus on marijuana smoking (which has sacramental significance for Rastafarians) gets a bit tiresome–song titles like “Blazing Everyday,” “Real Singer Smoker,” and “Herbalist” tell you what to expect–and there are moments when you wish he would focus on another aspect of cultural livity for just a minute. But it’s not like he didn’t tell you what to expect with the album title–and again, the music is just outstanding.

June 2016


haydnFranz Joseph Haydn
107 Symphonies: First Complete Cycle on Period Instruments (35 discs)
Various Ensembles
478 9604

In the mid-1980s, Christopher Hogwood undertook a complete recording of Haydn’s symphonies with his renowned period-instrument ensemble the Academy of Ancient Music. It was a daunting task, and although he succeeded at recording just over sixty of the 107 works in Haydn’s huge symphonic oeuvre, he never did complete that project. However, Frans Brüggen had recorded a handful of them in 1978 and 1982, and in the 1990s he recorded many more (including all of the Sturm und Drang symphonies as well as the “Paris” and “London” symphonies) with his equally well-regarded Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century. Between the two of them, the world now had access to period-instrument recordings of all but four Haydn symphonies. In 2015, Italian conductor Ottavio Dantone took his Accademia Bizantina into the studio to record symphonies nos. 78-81, thus making possible this, the first-ever complete set of all Haydn symphonies recorded on period instruments. To be clear, there’s nothing revelatory about the content here: again, both the Hogwood and the Brüggen recordings have been in and out of print in different permutations for (in some cases) decades. But the combination of super-budget pricing (less than $2 per disc), super-convenient packaging (a box that takes up about as much shelf space as eight jewel cases) and world-class performances makes this set a must-have for libraries, even those that collect classical music selectively.


noravankPetros Shoujounian
Noravank: Quatuors à cordes nos. 3-6
Quatuor Molinari
ATMA Classique (dist. Naxos)
ACD2 2737

Petros Shoujounian composed this set of four string quartets in 2015 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. All of them draw on liturgical chants (dating from the 5th to the 15th centuries) for their melodic source material, though Shoujounian develops those melodic themes in a modernistic style that is sometimes shimmeringly beautiful and sometimes forbiddingly spiky. Each movement in the four quartets is named after an Armenian river. Quatuor Molinari play with luminous passion, and the album is both thrilling and sobering.

schubertFranz Schubert
Ieuan Jones
Claudio (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Don’t let the weirdly ambiguous title and the rather amateurish packaging mislead you — this is a top-notch recording of world-class performances of some of the loveliest music composed in the 19th century. The minimal liner notes credit no transcriber, so we are left to assume that Jones himself transcribed these piano works for harp, and if so he is to be commended both for his abilities as an arranger and for his technical skill and sensitivity to the Schubertian style. The recorded sound is rich and warm, but also finely detailed. Recommended to all classical collections.

balkeJon Balke

With this album, pianist/composer John Balke has created a strange and unsettling suite of pieces for piano augmented with samples and electronic noises. His writing is sometimes close to atonal and sometimes gently lyrical, with strong hints of jazziness from time to time, and the electronic elements sometimes extend the piano’s characteristics and sometimes add a nonmusical dimension — and sometimes both, as on “Boodle” (which includes both field recordings of children playing and subtle electronic expansions of the piano’s sustain). The music isn’t always conventionally pretty, but it’s consistently interesting and rewarding.

dufayGuillaume Du Fay
Les messes à teneur (2 discs)
Cut Circle / Jesse Rodin
Musique en Wallonie (dist. Naxos)
MEW 1577-1578

I never get tired of listening to Du Fay, partly because his music is just so dang pretty and partly because it occupies such a fascinating and strange transitional space between the late medieval period and the high Renaissance. When you hear these Masses (and this two-disc set includes four of them, plus the motets on which two of them are based), you hear echoes of the astringent ars nova style even as you hear Du Fay mastering the more intricate polyphonic techniques soon to come. Cut Circle’s singing is excellent.

hederaLesley Flanigan
Physical Editions (dist. Redeye)

Lesley Flanigan is an electronic composer and instrument builder, and the 20-minute composition around which this all-too-brief album is built is based on the sound of a malfunctioning tape deck and multiple layers of her own voice. The relentless pulse of the tape glitch is reminiscent of the reed sounds from Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, and one manifestation of Flanigan’s genius is her ability to keep that relentlessness from being oppressive. The album’s second track is all about her voice, which again is layered into a nearly wordless cloud of pure sound that simultaneously sooths and unsettles. Brilliant.

Rhys Chatham
chatham Pythagorean Dream
Foom (dist. Forced Exposure)

For a different take on modern postminimalism, consider this, the first new album from Downtown legend Rhys Chatham in three years. The two-part title work is composed primarily of multiple layers of fingerpicked guitar tuned in perfect fifths; the layers build up gradually, eventually including electric feedback, and the chord never changes. That chord remains the same on the second part, but incorporates multiple flutes as well. There is no studio overdubbing on this recording — all of the music is performed live in the studio, layered by means of electronic looping and delay. Starkly beautiful, this is music that shows just how far the minimalist tradition has evolved over the past 40 years.

beethovenVarious Composers
Legacy: The Spirit of Beethoven (The Composer’s Piano Vol. 3)
Gwendolyn Mok
MSR Classics (dist. Albany)
MS 1590

The MSR Classics label’s series The Composer’s Piano continues with this recording of works by Beethoven, Czerny, and Mendelssohn played on three very different pianos of the period: a 1795 Louis Dulcken, an 1823 Broadwood & Sons, and an 1868 Érard. The program is arranged to illustrate Beethoven’s great stylistic influence on Czerny and Mendelssohn, and is played with passionate intensity by Gwendolyn Mok. As always with recordings like this, the timbral contrasts between the instruments used will be of particular interest to students and instructors in keyboard programs.

oboAlonso Lobo
Choir of Westminster Cathedral / Martin Baker
Hyperion (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
Rick’s Pick

We don’t have nearly enough recordings of music by Alonso Lobo, a disciple of Francisco Guerrero whose career was spent primarily in service to the cathedrals at Toledo and Seville. His Masses are fairly well attested (and one of them, a parody Mass based on Guerrero’s Maria Magdalene et altera Maria, is included here), but his settings of the Holy Week Lamentations have survived only in fragments. Luckily a late copy of one set was made in the late 18th century and archived in the Seville Cathedral. Lobo was not an innovator, but he was a master of polyphonic technique, and this recording is not only historically important but also sumptuously beautiful.

handeyeVarious Composers
Hand Eye
Eighth Blackbird
Cedille (dist. Naxos)
CDR 90000 162

The new-music chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird teamed up with a composers’ collective called Sleeping Giant to create this program of six short pieces by six composers. Each piece is inspired by a work of modern art from the private collection of the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art, and the styles vary from the sweetly whimsical (Robert Honstein’s Conduit suite) to the shimmeringly impressionistic (Chris Cerrone’s South Catalina) to the spiky-but-lyrical (Timo Andres’ Checkered Shade). All of it maintains that delicate balance between modernist and approachable for which Eighth Blackbird has become justly famous.

mightyVarious Composers
Tribute to the Mighty Handful
Russian Guitar Quartet

The tradition of Russian guitar music is richer and more complex than many know, and it involves not only music that is rarely heard (by little-known composers like César Cui and Mily Balakirev) but also instruments that are rarely played today, such as the terz-guitar and the quart-guitar. The Russian Guitar Quartet is comprised of two quart-guitars (tuned a fourth higher than standard) and two conventional guitars with added necks supporting unfretted bass strings. The resulting sound is truly unique, of course, and the works presented here (by Cui, Balakirev, and their better-known compatriots Mussorgsky, Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov) are an absolute delight.


cohenAvishai Cohen
Into the Silence
Rick’s Pick

On his eighth outing as a leader, trumpeter/composer Avishai Cohen leads his quintet through a set of richly impressionistic original compositions. These numbers hardly swing, and in several cases they are nearly arrhythmic. Exceptions include the mutteringly energetic title track and the lovely jazz waltz “Quiescence.” Cohen’s tone is a wonder — he plays without a mute but in a tone that is soft and velvety rather than brassy, and his sidemen follow and support him as if they shared a single musical brain. This is one of the most perfect rainy-day jazz albums I’ve heard in years.

sarahSarah Vaughan
Live at Rosy’s (2 discs)

In 1978, Sarah Vaughan was 54 years old. Her already-rich contralto voice had deepened and darkened, and her rhythmic facility had matured to an unparalleled level. On May 31 of that year she was recorded for the National Public Radio program Jazz Now! in concert at Rosy’s Jazz Club in New Orleans. The tapes went into a closet for several decades, and are commercially released here for the first time. The sound quality is great, but it’s the performances that matter, and they are spectacular. She is clearly completely comfortable with her regular trio of accompanists (pianist Carl Schroeder, bassist Walter Booker, drummer Jimmy Cobb) and she’s having a wonderful time here, joking with the audience and her band and delivering utterly masterful renditions of standards like “I Fall in Love Too Easily” and “I Could Write a Book.” A must-have for all jazz collections.

metheneyPat Metheny
The Unity Sessions (2 discs)
Rick’s Pick

This two-disc set is a live-in-the-studio recording made to celebrate and document an exceptionally satisfying band experience. Guitarist and composer Pat Metheny hadn’t worked in a sax-plus-trio format since his 80/81 album 35 years ago, and two years of recording and touring with this group (featuring saxophonist Chris Potter) had been an unusually productive and joyful time. So at the end of the group’s 2014 tour they gathered in a small black-box studio and played two discs’ worth of material live, while the cameras rolled. The result was both a film and this album. Metheny’s legion of fans will not be disappointed — the music is by turns cinematically expansive and tightly swinging, and it’s always joyful, even when it gets a bit skronky and outside. Joyfulness, in fact, has always been one of the chief distinguishing characteristics of Metheny’s music, and this album is no exception.

bloomJane Ira Bloom
Early Americans

aldanaMelissa Aldana
Back Home

These two albums have several things in common: both are recordings of pianoless saxophone-bass-drums trios, and in both cases the saxophonists and bandleaders are women. Bloom’s music is creative but largely straight-ahead; compositions like “Gateway to Progress” and “Hips & Sticks” swing powerfully (though not uncomplicatedly), and she does a great job of filling the harmonic space, occasionally with the help of some subtle electronic augmentation. She also has a sense of humor and a nifty way with a beat — note, for example, the very fun “Rhyme or Rhythm” and the funky “Big Bill.” Aldana’s approach is a bit more outside: by no means either atonal or arrhythmic, but with a structurally looser and freer feel to it. Where Bloom tends to fill the harmonic space vertically, Aldana’s approach is more melodically linear; sonic space tends to be filled by her drummer, who is busy but always tasteful. Both albums can be solidly recommended to all jazz collections.

florianFlorian Hoefner Group
Rick’s Pick

Here is another very fine example of modern straight-ahead jazz from the young pianist and composer Florian Hoefner, now recording for the first time with acclaimed saxophonist Seamus Blake. This all-original program finds Hoefner doing what he does best: writing tunes that contain small surprises within familiar structures, that challenge the ear without defying it to stick around, and that bring out the best in his carefully-chosen collaborators. At age 33, Hoefner is coming fully into his own as a composer, and Origin finds him at the peak of his powers — so far.

mulhollandJoe Mulholland Trio
Runaway Train
Zoho (dist. Allegro)
ZM 201606
Rick’s Pick

On very rare occasions, when listening to a jazz album, I’ll find myself looking over at the CD player to see how many tracks have gone by, hoping that the disc isn’t more than half over. This is an album that caused me to do that. Don’t be fooled by the title: pianist Joe Mulholland and his trio are not out to knock you down and crush you with the relentless power of their musical onslaught. Instead, they will draw you in with complex but intuitive-sounding melodies, a sense of swing that is tight without being airless, and an effortless ebb and flow of tempo. This is intellectual jazz in all the best senses of the term: imagine Lennie Tristano with a heart, and with a willingness to let his phrases breathe. Mulholland is a tremendously gifted composer, and while the whole trio plays beautifully, bassist Bob Nieske deserves particular praise for his careful and insightful listening. Strongly recommended to all jazz collections.


herringEmily Herring
Your Mistake
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

With her latest album, Emily Herring has not only made one of the best honky-tonk/Western swing records of the past decade, but also one of most intelligent and slyly humorous. The title track is a warning to a guy in a bar who is giving her and her girlfriend trouble (“You came walking toward us with something to prove/Hell, two girls on the town, that’s one too many for you”), “Wanna Holler” is economic populism in two-step form, and the line “I string minutes into hours and I worry them away” will seem too elegant for country music if you’re one of the many who underestimate country music. Apparently this is Herring’s third album, and I’m slightly embarrassed to have missed the first two. That’s my mistake — time to remedy it.

katerKaia Kater
Nine Pin

Having recommended her last album in the May issue of this publication, I immediately received her new one in the mail — and at first, I was underwhelmed. Her skill as a singer and a banjo player are in no way diminished, but the first two tracks on this album failed to grab me. Then she absolutely knocked me on my keister with the third, an original song titled “Paradise Fell.” She pretty much lost me again after that, but here’s the thing: Kater is doing something unusual and nearly radical with old-time music traditions, and she’s generating a lot of new attention for this very old music. Expect demand.

nefeshNefesh Mountain
Nefesh Mountain
No cat. no.
Rick’s Pick

And speaking of doing something unusual with old music traditions, here is husband-wife duo Nefesh Mountain performing original bluegrass songs written in a combination of Hebrew and English, expressing very explicitly Jewish spiritual themes. To be clear, there is nothing whatsoever new about Jewish people playing bluegrass music — but genuinely Jewish bluegrass music is something quite new, and it’s tons of fun. Having sidemen like Sam Bush, Mark Schatz, and Rob Ickes helps make this album a success, but the core of its attractiveness is the blend of Doni Zasloff and Eric Lindberg’s voices and the joyful hookiness of their songs. Highly recommended to all collections.


Communions (EP)
Tough Love (dist. Redeye)

This seven-track EP is a compilation of content from Communions’ first single and from a five-track EP, both of which sold out when released in vinyl pressings last year. Pick up this CD and you’ll see why: the band combines soaring, androgynous vocals with sharp-edged but anthemic guitars in a way that somehow manages to evoke both the Feelies and the Killers, with a little bit of Big Country’s bagpipiness thrown in for good measure. If this is the kind of thing that’s happening in Denmark these days, then I want to know more about it.


This is one that could have gone either into the Classical or the Rock/Pop section. Franck Zaragoza is a French pianist/composer/sound designer whose approach consists of taking quiet piano pieces and augmenting them with layers of electronic sound — some of it explicitly musical (strings, synthesized chord washes, etc.) and some of it more noisy (sounds of sifting gravel, small waves lapping on a beach, etc.). If this sounds like a modus operandi quite similar to that of Jon Balke (see the Classical section above), it is — though the musical result is very different. Zaragoza’s music is more emotionally complex and less cerebral than Balke’s, though both albums are very compelling, each in its own way.

petshopPet Shop Boys

The great thing about the Pet Shop Boys is that you can count on them. For 35 years now they’ve been making synth pop that combines irresistible tunefulness with a charmingly postmodern stance that simultaneously celebrates and sends up all of the traditions (musical, cultural, sexual) in which it is steeped. No matter how viscerally catchy a Pet Shop Boys song is, it always has one eyebrow raised. Super finds the duo continuing to do what they have always done, and doing it better than anyone else. If you loved them then, you’ll love them now.

bruteFatima Al Qadiri
Hyperdub (dist. Redeye)

If you want to make an instrumental album that functions as a trenchant commentary on “authority, the relationship between police, citizens, and protest worldwide,” you have to cheat a little bit: a cover photo featuring a Teletubby in SWAT gear is one way of suggesting how the instrumental tracks should be heard, and found-sound samples of police barking orders at protesters is another one. Having done so, you can be assured that the dark, minor-key chord progressions and the juddering, mechanical beats that jump at you out of nowhere will be freighted with the appropriate mental imagery — and that they’ll be effective. Recommended.

Project Moon Circle

The label characterizes this as “a soundtrack for roaming around vast city landscapes between late night and early morning.” And sure, that works. But I think I’d say it’s more than that: it’s a deep exploration of the overlapping territories of music and noise, and a celebration of the ways that pitched and unpitched sound can be layered together to create beauty. The texture of this music is grainy and thick, and the color palette tends towards grey — but it is never less than lovely. How Submerse does that is a mystery to me, and I keep coming back to try and figure it out.

Nocturnal Koreans
Pink Flag (dist. Redeye)

What keeps this album from getting a Rick’s Pick designation is its brevity — though offered at full price, it contains only 29 minutes of music. But I’m recommending it anyway because the music is so good. These eight tracks are actually outtakes from Wire’s eponymous 2015 release, set aside because they sounded so different from the songs that made it onto that album. They are more heavily produced, somewhat more experimental, but still immediately recognizable as Wire songs. These guys still make more noise at a lower volume and create more interest with fewer chords than anyone else in the postpunk game.

posiesThe Posies
Solid States
My Music Empire
Rick’s Pick

After a five-year layoff, the Posies are back with more crunchy-sweet guitar-based power pop. It comes after a difficult period for the band, during which two of its members died and one went through a divorce and remarriage. You can hear the emotional complexity in these songs if you listen for it, though the melodies and the hooks are as blissfully immediate as ever. Imagine a slightly dreamier Fastball and you’ll have a good idea what to expect. This is a perfect driving-with-the-top-down album, but it also rewards close land careful istening.


makuM.A.K.U. Soundsystem
Glitterbeat (dist. Redeye)
GBCD 034

This New York-based octet consists mostly of musicians hailing from Colombia. But if that leads you to expect a straightforward cumbia album, think again: these guys incorporate elements of Afrobeat, jazz, hip hop, and punk into the stylistic mix, creating a dense, heady, swirling mandala of sounds that is loud at any volume and maybe a bit exhausting for headphone listening, but has got to be absolutely amazing in a club setting. On the instrumental tracks you realize how central the voice of Liliana Conde is to this band’s success, but instrumentally they really are a powerhouse as well.

maarjaMaarja Nuut
Une Meeles
No cat. no.

Maarja Nuut is a fiddler and singer from Estonia, whose music is created by means of her voice, her violin, and a looping pedal. For this album she draws on folk traditions but uses them as a basis for her own creations, building vocal and fiddle harmonies layer on layer. Her debt to Reichian minimalism is obvious, but her music sounds nothing like his — nor anything like that of Arvo Pärt, her most obvious local antecedent. This is relentless repetition as folk song, incidental noise as dance music, ancient tradition as modern sound sculpture. And it’s both befuddling and bewitching.

retouchedInternational Observer
Rick’s Pick

Tom Bailey first came to international prominence in the 1980s as one-third of the band Thompson Twins, who had a series of massive pop hits in the US and UK before eventually disintegrating. After the band’s demise he formed the short-lived Babble with his wife Alannah Currie (also formerly of Thompson Twins) and heading down the path of dub-inflected downtempo electronica. After Babble broke up, Bailey continued down that path, and now records instrumental music as International Observer. He is also a prodigous remixer of other people’s music, and this outstanding collection finds him gathering a bunch of that material: remixes of work by artists like Babble, the Exponents, Stellar, and Pitch Black. Bailey has become an undisputed master of sonic space and is particularly gifted at formulating hooks using texture as much as melody. Like all of his other albums as International Observe, this one is brilliant.

neoKaoru Watanabe
No cat. no.

Most of the time, what I recommend in CD HotList are releases that I both like and respect. But sometimes I recommend something that doesn’t particularly turn me on personally — because I don’t think my job here is to promote what I like, but to help my readers build good library collections. So I’m enthusiastically recommending this album by Japanese-American multi-instrumentalist Kaoru Watanabe despite the fact that it doesn’t do that much for me. What makes it a good candidate for library acquisition, I think, is Watanabe’s highly creative approach to blending traditional Japanese instruments and musical styles with experimental jazz and free improvisation. This music is objectively impressive, not just technically but also conceptually, and it illustrates a unique approach to fusing traditional and modern music. And at times it’s gorgeous.

May 2016

Posted on


evansBill Evans
Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest (2 discs)

Pianist Bill Evans recorded only two albums with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette. One was a highly-acclaimed live set recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1968. The other was this one, also recorded in 1968, but in a studio in Villingen, Germany. This second record has never been released in any form until now, and none of these recordings has ever been heard by the public. But I don’t want to overemphasize the historical nature of this release too much, because what really makes it exceptional is the content: Evans is in absolutely peak form here, and his interaction with Gomez and DeJohnette rivals the near-telepathic connection he enjoyed with his classic early-60s trio that included bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motion. To add to the pleasure, the recorded sound is exquisite: warm, close, and intimate — slightly dry but not at all claustrophobic, like a really nice pair of soft wool socks that fit perfectly. I really can’t emphasize enough how fine Evans’ playing is on this set — I own a lot of his work, and I would put this album in the very top tier, right alongside the 1961 Village Vanguard material. Strongly recommended to all libraries.


hoffmeisterFranz Anton Hoffmeister; Carl Stamitz; Michael Haydn
Viola Concertos
Andra Darzina; Urban Camerata
CPO (dist. Naxos)
777 986-2

The viola is one of those forgotten instruments, kind of like alto singers in the choir: it never gets to play the melody, and its parts are always kind of hidden in the middle of the chord. But it has a beautiful voice — less resonant and boomy than a cello, less trebly than a violin — so when a composer is kind enough to let it take center stage for a moment, it’s always worth taking note, and these three viola concertos from the classical period are wonderful. That’s partly because the three composers featured are somewhat hidden gems themselves, and partly because Andra Darzina coaxes such beautiful and bittersweet sounds from her instrument. Everyone is playing on modern instruments here. Highly recommended to all classical collections.

whispersHenryk Górecki; Nikolai Korndorf
Whispers of Titans
Goeyvaerts String Trio
Challenge (dist. Allegro)

This album features two works by acclaimed figures of 20th-century modernism: Polish composer Henryk Górecki and Russian composer Nikolai Korndorf. The pieces could hardly be more different: Gåorecki’s Genesis 1: Elementi per tre archi is strictly serialist in nature, harshly astringent and forbidding in tone. Korndorf’s In Honour of Alfred Schnittke is tonal and harmonically minimalist (indeed, its opening movement consists entirely of notes within a single unchanging chord), though not without its own difficulties, particularly when the harmonic comity of the earlier movements collapses into dissonant and sorrowful pieces during the final section. All of this knotty and challenging music is delivered with convincing power by the always-excellent Goeyvaerts String Trio.

lupusManfred Barbarini Lupus
Cantus coagulatus
Ensemble Ordo Virtutem
Musiques Suisses (dist. Naxos)
MGB CD 6286

Listening to this disc of distinctly late-Medieval-sounding music, one is apt to suspect that the life date provided for its composer (ca. 1560) is a misprint — surely these settings of the Mass and the Divine Office can’t be products of the same period in which composers like Palestrina and Tallis were working? But in fact, Manfred Barbarini Lupus was composing in a deliberately backward-looking style that reflected the religious politics of the time as much as an aesthetic gesture. Apart from the significant pleasures of the music itself, this aspect of its cultural context makes this disc a smart acquisition for comprehensive classical collections.

regerMax Reger
Music for Clarinet and Piano
Alan R. Kay; Jon Klibonoff
Bridge (dist. Albany)
Rick’s Pick

To my ears, anyway, the achingly beautiful and bittersweet chamber music of Max Reger is absolutely perfect for the clarinet, so this gorgeous program of three sonatas and two miniatures is just what Herr Doktor ordered. Clarinetist Alan R. Kay plays with all of the wise and sensitive phrasing and all the limpid beauty of tone one would hope for, and pianist Jon Klibinoff is every bit as good. The recording acoustic is dry but not claustrophobic, and basically every aspect of this album unites to create an exceptionally lovely listening experience. Strongly recommended to all libraries.

towerJoseph Bertolozzi
Tower Music: Bertolozzi Plays the Eiffel Tower
Innova (dist. Naxos)
Rick’s Pick

Some time back, composer Joseph Bertolozzi wrote a piece of music made up entirely of sounds created by striking parts of New York’s Mid-Hudson Bridge. His second work in that vein involves the Eiffel Tower. After negotiating the labyrinthine politics involved in creating any piece of art featuring the Eiffel Tower, he was given ultimately given free rein to climb all over the monumental structure, hitting it with various mallets, sticks, hammers, and even a large log suspended from straps. He recorded the resulting sounds — 10,000 of them — and then whittled them down to the 2,800 that are used as a sort of virtual keyboard to create the nine-movement work presented on this disc. None of the recorded sounds was electronically altered or manipulated in any way; however, they are layered and ordered in such a way as to create music that sometimes evokes gamelan, sometimes minimalist electronica, sometimes Japanese noh drama, sometimes military drumming. Melodies are few and far between (understandably enough), but the timbral and rhythmic variety is more than sufficient to hold your attention. Any library supporting a program in music composition should absolutely acquire this album.

mozartWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Kurfürstin-Sonaten, KV 301-306
David Grimal; Mathieu Dupouy
Label-Hérisson (dist. Allegro)

This recording of six sonatas for violin and piano is partly about the music (which, having been composed by Mozart, is immediately and brilliantly attractive) and partly about the instruments themselves: David Grimal is playing a 1710 Stradivarius violin, and Mathieu Dupouy is playing another wonderful museum piece, a Gräbner pianoforte built in 1791 and currently housed in the Musée de la musique in Paris. This piano’s sound is noticeably different from that of a modern piano, it having been built in a German style that predates the use of Viennese hammer action. While both musicians are excellent, what’s perhaps most rewarding about this album is to listen carefully to the sound of the piano and to Dupouy’s genius at exploiting its unique tonal characteristics.

boccheriniLuigi Boccherini
String Quartets, op. 26
Ensemble Symposium
Brilliant Classics (dist. Naxos)

Although the recorded sound is a little bit thin for my tastes, this is a thoroughly charming account by Ensemble Symposium (on period instruments) of some lesser-known chamber works by Luigi Boccherini — and the first recording to bring all six of these string quartets together on a single program. Boccherini may be most famous for his string quintets and his cello concertos, but his string quartets (of which these are only six of nearly a hundred he produced) are tons of fun as well, and the playing on this album is very good.

debussyClaude Debussy
Chamber Music
Kuijken Ensemble
Arcana (dist. Naxos)
A 392
Rick’s Pick

From music of the late 18th century played on modern instruments, we shift to music of the early 20th century played on period instruments. If you never thought you’d see the names “Kuijken” and “Debussy” on the same CD package, well, here you go. And honestly, it’s pretty awesome. The “period” instruments that the group is using are mostly pretty indistinguishable from modern classical instruments, except perhaps for the piano, which is a turn-of-the-century straight-strung Erard. The program includes a great assortment of Debussy’s chamber works: his first string quartet; sonatas for violin and piano, cello and piano, and flute, viola, and harp; and the famous Syrinx for solo flute. Unsurprisingly, the playing is exceptional throughout.

vizzanaLucrezia Vizzana
Componimenti Musicali
Musica Secreta
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKD 071

This collection of motets constitutes the only known example of a 17th-century nun publishing her own music, which makes the disc interesting for historical reasons alone. But the music itself makes it worth purchasing for any library with an interest in Renaissance music. Imagine if Hildegard von Bingen and Claudio Monteverdi had collaborated; what you’d get might sound like this: solo and duo female voices with austere accompaniment delivering intensely devotional songs that would sound nicely at home if incorporated into Monteverdi’s Vespers. Musica Secreta perform these pieces beautifully.


newzionNew Zion
Sunshine Seas
Rare Noise
Rick’s Pick

We open this month’s Jazz section with an album that fits that category, but just barely. Pianist/guitarist Jamie Saft’s New Zion trio (which features Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista on this album) has always pushed genre boundaries of various kinds, and here they blend jazz, samba, reggae, dub, and batucada drumming to very fine effect. The album title is apt: this is strange and sometimes sonically challening music that never fails to have a smile on its face and would at no point sound out of place booming out of a portable stereo on the beach. Very, very nice.

juttaJutta Hipp
The German Recordings 1952-1955
Jazzhaus (dist. Naxos)

The Jazzhaus label’s Lost Tapes series continues with this recently-unearthed batch of live and studio recordings made by the young pianist Jutta Hipp in Germany between 1952 and 1955. She was immensely talented, but by 1958 she had left the jazz world behind and moved to Brooklyn, where she worked as a seamstress and artist and then, in retirement, as a dollmaker. She never recorded again. This collection opens with a rather desultory blues number but then becomes much more interesting as it moves through a rambling series of standards that find Hipp in a variety of small-combo settings, most notably featuring tenor saxophonist Hans Koller; when he and Hip are playing together it sounds a bit like siblings saying the same things in different languages. Probably not an essential purchase for every library, but jazz collections should give this one serious consideration.

bernardWill Bernard
Out & About
Rick’s Pick

I’ve been keeping an eye on guitarist Will Bernard since his days with the outlandishly wonderful T.J. Kirk (a jazz quartet whose entire repertoire consisted of tunes by Thelonious Monk, James Brown, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk). His latest album finds him leading a quintet on an all-original program of deceptively straight-ahead-sounding modernism: while you’re snapping your fingers to the uptempo swing of “Redwood (Business Casual)” try following the chord changes; while luxuriating in the gentle warmth of the midtempo “Homebody,” try figuring out what time signature(s) it’s in. The whole album’s like that, and it’s great.

grooveGroove Legacy
Groove Legacy
GLCD 0001

Personally, I tend to prefer funkiness to funk — I like the funk, that is, as a property more than as the thing itself. But this septet of Los Angeles studio pros has convinced me that Crusaders-style instrumental jazz-funk is probably worth more of my listening time than I’ve accorded it in the past. When real professionals get together to have fun, the results tend to be very, very listenable, partly because the way you get to be a pro is by making people want to listen. The guest turns by Robbern Ford and Larry Carlton don’t hurt, either.

mixonDanny Mixon
Pass It On
No cat. no.

There’s something about Danny Mixon’s playing, something particularly joyful and rhythmically variegated, that led me to look up his bio to see whether he grew up in New Orleans. He didn’t (he’s from Brooklyn), but this album still makes me think of Canal Street and Jackson Square. Anyway, this is not jazz for someone on the hunt for new ideas: it’s a celebration of tradition, or of a variety of traditions: stride and bop and boogie-woogie and even jazz-pop. It maybe tells you something about this album that it opens with a take on “Blue Monk” and then wends its way, eight tracks later, to a mellow invocation of Joe Sample. Along the way you’ll hear tunes by Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, and Duke Ellington as well. It’s kind of a strange mix, but a very enjoyable one.


thompsonTeddy Thompson & Kelly Jones
Little Windows
Cooking Vinyl
Rick’s Pick

If you miss the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, and if you’ve been in-the-know enough to be following the parallel careers of Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones, then there’s a good chance you’re already dancing around in anticipation of hearing this album that they’ve made together. Almost every line is sung in harmony; the tunes hark back to the 1950s and 1960s in every good way possible, and sometimes the lyrics are hilarious. The album only lasts 26 minutes, which would normally preclude it from getting a Rick’s Pick, but since every second of those 26 minutes is pure bliss I can’t bring myself to penalize them.

mcraeKelley McRae
The Wayside
No cat. no.

Kelley McRae is a very fine singer-songwriter who collaborates with her husband Matt Castellin to create quiet, reflective pearls of neo-folk loveliness on this, her fifth album. In terms of volume, none of these songs rises above a gentle murmur; as for tempo, well, there’s not much — all of the songs sound like they were performed by people sitting on a couch or in a rocking chair on the front porch. Which is not to say that they’re laid-back, exactly: listen to the words and you’ll hear a lot of worry and longing. But it’s expressed so gently and softly that you might easily mistake it for peace unless you listen closely.

nachmanoffDave Nachmanoff
Spinoza’s Dream

Singer-songwriter albums with philosophical themes set alarm bells off in my head, so I confess I approached this one with a bit of trepidation. But Nachmanoff approaches those themes with humor and subtlety, generally opting for communication rather than for showing off how smart he is. He also has an impressive stylistic range, jumping from quietly sprightly folk-pop to Tin Pan Alley jazziness to bluesy rock and back again in the space of the first four tracks. And here’s a fun pop history nugget: the session players on this album are the same guys who played on Al Stewart’s 1976 hit “Year of the Cat.”

katerKaia Kater
Sorrow Bound
Rick’s Pick

This is a deeply haunting album by a young woman who plays clawhammer banjo and sings both original and traditional songs about death, loss, sewing, and love — themes older than folk music itself and probably as old as human language. Kater herself is barely out of her teens, which somehow makes her delivery of these old songs and ancient themes even more cool and unsettling. Her rendition of “En Filant Ma Quenouille” is possibly more affecting than that of the McGarrigle sisters; her take on “West Virginia Boys” is both beautiful and unutterably bleak. Recommended to all folk collections.


darwisParra for Cuva & Senoy
Project: Mooncircle
Rick’s Pick

Project: Mooncircle is one of very few labels whose output I always want to hear. Not everything ends up rubbing me the right way, of course, but such a strong preponderance of its releases are both ravishingly beautiful and rhythmically compelling that I now find myself drawn to the brand as if by a talisman. If you want to know why, check out the latest from Parra for Cuva & Senoy, a full-length album inspired by the concept of ascetic Muslim monks called darwīš. You won’t hear any muezzin chants or even very much in the way of obvious Middle Eastern elements at all — just richly atmospheric, sonically detailed, gently propulsive slices of sun-drenched electronica that will leave you feeling uplifted and refreshed. Highly recommended to all collections.

stapleThe Staple Singers
Amen!/WHY (reissue)
Epic/Real Gone Music

This disc brings together two classic albums by famed gospel ensemble the Staple Singers: Amen! (originally released in 1964) and WHY (from 1966). Led by Roebuck “Pops” Staples, the quartet also featured his son Pervis and his daughters Mavis and Cleotha, and they were one of America’s most famous and beloved gospel groups for over 45 years; Mavis Staples continues to perform and record. Listening to these two albums from the 1960s, one is immediately struck by the predominance of minor keys and dark moods — even the uptempo numbers seem more about serious devotion and dealing with hard truths than about emotional uplift. But the songs are all beautifully arranged and powerfully sung, and most library collections would benefit from picking up this handy twofer.

emmyEmmy the Great
Second Love
Bella Union
Rick’s Pick

When a song is called “Hyperlink” and its chorus goes “Love love love/Love is the answer,” you know you’d better check the lyrics more carefully before deciding what the song is really saying. And sure enough, the next line in that chorus is “Oh but I am a comfortable liar.” And there it is, a microcosm of this whole album: soft and simple dream-pop songs that hide occasional barbs that keep everything more interesting than you might suspect it to be at first listen. The thing is, the dream pop is so narcotically attractive that you might not even notice the barbs until you’ve swallowed them. Very highly recommended.

popgroupThe Pop Group
For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (reissue)
Freak (dist. Redeye)

1980 was a high-water mark for extremely politically engaged punk rock, and quite a few bands (especially British ones) were putting out albums of abrasive and jaggedly funky songs in packages that included crudely photocopied lyric sheets adorned with gruesome black-and-white photos of atrocities. Compared to, say, Crass, the Pop Group were positively mellifluous; compared to Gang of Four, they were more politically in-your-face (which I realize may be hard to believe). Bandleader Mark Stewart would go on to form New Age Steppers and, later, Maffia with a couple of former members of Pop Group and bring his aggro-political stylings to a more dubwise context; he continues to inveigh against the system as a solo artist. This is the first time this genuinely important (but, it must be said, ultimately kind of tiresome) album has been reissued in any format.

infosocInformation Society
Orders of Magnitude

Well, isn’t this fun: a covers album from one of the foremost electropop bands of the 1980s. What makes it extra fun isn’t just the band’s expert arrangements and production, but even more so it’s the repertoire they’ve chosen to cover: everything from fairly obvious choices like Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Heaven 17’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” to much — much — less obvious selections including the “Heffalumps and Woozles” song from Disney’s Winnie the Pooh adaptation and “Capital I,” a favorite from the children’s TV show Sesame Street. There’s stuff from Fad Gadget and Snakefinger, too. If your patron base includes a significant number of people over age 45 who still have creative haircuts, this album is for you.


evasalinaEva Salina
Sings Saban Bajramovic
No cat. no.

Saban Bajramovic is a legend of Balkan Romani (Gypsy) music, the composer of hundreds of songs that remain hugely popular throughout the Balkan diaspora and particularly in New York. That’s where singer Eva Salina hails from, and for this tribute album she has gathered Balkan and Balkan-sympathetic musicians from the ranks of bands like Slavic Soul Party!, Kultur Shock, and the Klezmatics to produce a full program of Bajramovic’s music. As one might expect, the result is by turns raucous, acerbic, and suffused with gentle longing. Massed horns and wickedly crooked rhythms abound, and Salina’s voice is a thrill.

driscollJoe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate
Monistic Theory
Rick’s Pick

This is the second outing for guitarist/singer Joe Driscoll and kora player/singer Sekou Kouyate. Both are virtuosos on their instruments (Kouyate plays a significantly modified electric kora) and when they work together their sound really can’t be called a “fusion” — it’s much more of an emulsion, one in which Driscoll’s folk/funk/hip-hop background rubs up against Kouyate’s griot-informed West African stylings to create a wildly colorful mixture of sounds and textures. It’s incredibly exciting and should find a home in every library.

akaeAkae Beka / I Grade
I Grade

Vaughn Benjamin and his brother Ron, both from St. Croix, began recording under the name Midnite in the late 1980s. In 2015 Ron left the band and Vaughn now performs under the name Akae Beka, a name drawn from the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Some things don’t change, though: the thick, dark, slow roots reggae rhythms and the chanting vocals remain in full effect, as do the intensely spiritual lyrical concerns. Benjamin’s voice can be a little bit difficult to get used to — at time it sounds as if he’s singing with strep throat. But it’s worth the effort to let yourself get drawn into these songs.

movementThe Movement
Rootfire Cooperative
Rick’s Pick

For a very different take on modern roots reggae, consider the latest studio album from a Columbia, SC-based group called The Movement. Guest artists on this one include the brilliant vocalist Elliot Martin (of John Brown’s Body) and Bermudian dancehall artist Collie Buddz, and the vibe is paradoxically both cheerful and introspective throughout. The band incorporates a wealth of found-sound samples recorded in the forest outside of their studio, but the production is so rich and densely textured that they blend into the mix organically rather than sounding like a superficial add-on. And the hooks are everywhere. Highly recommended to all libraries.

manhattanManhattan Camerata
Tango Fado Project
Sorel Classics (dist. Naxos)
SC CD 005

I’m not sure why anyone thought that blending tango and fado would be a great idea — apart from smoldering emotionalism, the two genres have little to do with each other: one is from Portugal and the other from Argentina; one is about dancing and the other is about sitting in a smoky club and listening; one is based in song form and the other in instrumental arrangements; etc. But this New York-based chamber ensemble makes it work somehow, and while the recorded sound is a bit tight and compressed for my tastes, the album is a real kick overall. Recommended to all world music collections.