Recording of the Month

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J. Gordon Holt Posted: Mar 18, 2014 Published: Dec 01, 1985 9 comments
rotm1285.p.pngRespighi: Church Windows
The Pacific Symphony Orchestra, Keith Clark conducting.
Reference Recordings RR-15 (LP). Tam Henderson, prod.; Keith Johnson, eng. AAA

Some years ago, Harry Pearson, editor and publisher of That Other Magazine, announced his intention to help finance production of a no-holds-barred symphonic recording. The only question was, who would produce it?

Reference Recordings' Tam Henderson assures me he did not have HP's grant in mind when he conspired with the Pacific Symphony's conductor to record "something" in the Crystal Cathedral, a huge barn of a place in Santa Ana, CA. When that hall, graced by a large, romantic-sounding pipe organ and superb acoustics, proved to be unavailable because of some legal wrangle, the idea of recording something big and romantic for orchestra and pipe organ refused to go away.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Feb 25, 2014 Published: Mar 01, 2014 1 comments
Keith Jarrett's gift for brilliant invention is apparently inexhaustible throughout both of these concerts, recorded five days apart in spring 1981. The combinations of lyricism, literally foot-stomping gospel, chordings and voicings alternately sumptuously lush and astringently lean, and unexpected musical destinations reached in surprising ways, are here at least as rich as anything else he's done.
Wes Marshall Posted: Feb 21, 2014 Published: Jun 01, 1986 4 comments
The four works in Private Music's initial release represent such a consistently high level of creation that it is remarkable to see them released all at once. The label's owner, Peter Bauman, was one of the founders of Tangerine Dream, the pioneering electronic music group from Germany (footnote 1). His influence infuses all the releases.
Robert Baird Posted: Jan 26, 2014 Published: Feb 01, 2014 2 comments
James Booker: Classified: Remixed and Expanded Rounder 11661-9175-1 (2 LPs). 1983/2013. Scott Billington, John Parsons, prods.; Jay Gallagher, eng.; Jonathan Wyner, transfer eng.; David Farrell, remix. ADA. TT: 68:12 Performance ***** Sonics ****½

Before anything else, there's his musicality. No one has ever played the piano like James Carroll Booker III. If the piano is New Orleans' preeminent musical instrument, then Booker is its most talented virtuoso. A child prodigy who went on the road as part of Little Richard's band when he was 14, the Ivory Emperor, the Bronze Liberace, Li'l Booker, Little Chopin in Living Color (as he was variously known throughout his life) was breathtakingly gifted.

Larry Birnbaum Posted: Dec 24, 2013 Published: Jan 01, 2014 0 comments
Various Artists: The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records 1917–1927, Volume One
Third Man/Revenant (6 LPs, USB drive). 1917–27/2013. Alex van der Tuuk, Jack White, Dean Blackwood, prods.; Christopher C. King, David Glasser, Anna Frick, remastering. A–D. TT: 4:12:39 (LPs only)
Performance *****
Sonics Historical

Launched in 1917, Paramount Records initially recorded conventional pop music, such as Arthur Fields's "Good Morning, Mr. Zip, Zip, Zip." But with the hiring of J. Mayo Williams as a talent scout and producer in 1924, Paramount became one of the leading suppliers of "race" records, as discs marketed to African-Americans were then called. For the next decade, Paramount recorded some of the most important blues, jazz, and gospel artists of the era, along with country and pop musicians.

Robert Baird Posted: Nov 30, 2013 Published: Dec 01, 2013 4 comments
Deadlines and the Dead don't mix. Let me explain . . .

Back when I was a cub reporter, green as ivy, I was, in retrospect, suckered into volunteering to review a Grateful Dead concert. I dutifully drove to the venue for the 8pm show, abstained from intoxicating substances, and was on track—until I realized that, after two hours, the band was still on just the third song. Jerry was deep into an epic, 2000-bar solo that was gaining rather than losing momentum. In Deadspeak, it was one of those nights.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Nov 18, 2013 Published: Nov 18, 1986 1 comments
666rotm.earl.jpgBERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Massimo Fraccia
Chesky CR-1.

RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No.2 in c
Earl Wild, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Jascha Horenstein
Chesky CR-2.

Chesky? Massimo Fraccia? Is this a put-on?

No, it's not. Chesky is a new record company which, at a time when everyone is predicting the imminent demise of the LP, has just launched its first two LPs and is threatening to follow them with more.

David Chesky is a young composer/musician who, despite some impressive credentials in the classical music world, remains singularly unrenowned. But he is also a musical reactionary after my own heart, who feels that all the best performances of the so-called Romantic repertoire were done years ago and will probably never be equalled. But rather than just bitch about this in record reviews, he is doing something about it, by releasing some of those early, possibly definitive performances on the best-sounding recordings he knows how to produce.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Nov 18, 2013 Published: Dec 18, 1986 0 comments
REFLECTIONS
666rotm.reflections.jpgJim Walker, flute, Mike Garson, piano
Reference Recordings CD RR-18CD.

DEBUSSY: Quartet in g
RAVEL: Quartet in F

The Cleveland Quartet
Telarc CD-80111.

What do you listen to when you've heard Reference Recordings' Symphonie Fantastique, Telarc's 1812 Overture, and Sheffield's Firebird, the last of your audiophile guests have gone home, and tomorrow's a workday but you're too hyped up to go to bed?

These.

Both are from record companies whose reputations were built on sonic blockbusters, but the subjects of this review are about as true to expectation as Mr. T flouncing about with a limp wrist.

Reflections is a program of short works for flute and piano. It's quiet, restful, and, in an age when it seems that nothing is worth listening to unless it's high-powered or "significant," this laidback program is a delightful change of pace.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Nov 13, 2013 Published: Aug 01, 1986 1 comments
886rotmjgh.1.jpgStravinsky: The Firebird (1910 Suite)
Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf
Sheffield Lab Direct-to-Disc Lab 24 (LP). Lincoln Mayorga, prod.; Doug Sax, James Boyk, engs.

For some reason, Stereophile didn't receive an early pressing of Sheffield's latest orchestral recording, their first since the Wagner and Prokofiev discs back in 1977. So, guess where my review copy of this finally came from? From Harry Pearson, that's who. How did this come about? Well, I had seen a passing comment in The Absolute Sound to the effect that HP didn't like the recording, and since I was favorably impressed with what I'd heard of it at the last two Consumer Electronics Shows, I phoned HP to ask what he didn't like about it. "Dull high end, closed-in sound, not enough spaciousness" was the reply. Thank you, I said. Several days later, a copy of the disc arrived, postmarked Sea Cliff, NY.

Thank you Harry, but I must disagree with you about this recording.

David Sokol Posted: Oct 24, 2013 Published: Nov 01, 2013 0 comments
Bob Dylan: Another Self Portrait (1969–1971): The Bootleg Series Vol.10
Columbia/Legacy 88883 73488 2 (4 CDs). 2013. Bob Johnston, Al Kooper, orig. prods.; Neil Wilburn, Don Puluse, Glyn Johns, orig. engs.; Elliot Mazer, Glyn Johns (Isle of Wight disc); Jeff Rosen, Steve Berkowitz, prods.; Greg Calbi, mastering. AAD? TT: 4:06:32
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

It wasn't until I'd read Michael Metzger's write-up of Self Portrait in "Records To Die For" (Stereophile, February 2002) that I was prompted to revisit Bob Dylan's once-critically-scoffed-at musical enigma from 1970. Sandwiched between the new country of 1969's Nashville Skyline and the decidedly folkier New Morning from late 1970, the two LPs of the original Self Portrait sounded like the work of an artist, albeit one still in his late 20s, wanting to unplug from the world and his already staggering body of work. With its quirky cover versions and unfocused song selection, it left plenty of fans scratching their heads.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Oct 24, 2013 Published: Jun 01, 1987 0 comments
Copland: Appalachian Spring (Suite), Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson, An Outdoor Overture (CD only)
Pacific Symphony Orchestra/Clark/Marni Nixon (soprano)
Reference Recordings LP RR-2 and CD RR-22CD. Tam Henderson, prod.; Keith Johnson, eng.

This is unquestionably one of the best recordings Reference Recordings has done. The sound of the LP is up-front and quite bright, giving the orchestra that peculiarly nasal quality I usually associate with small French orchestras. There is truly remarkable detail and naturalness here; I was about to write that the recording makes the orchestra sound very small and pinched in Appalachian Spring when I noticed on the record jacket that this is the "Original version for 13 instruments." Okay, so I know what it costs to hire musicians in the US, but I still prefer the version of this work scored for full, bombastic, overblown 108-piece symphony orchestra. The 13 instruments are superbly balanced, though—even the piano, which is usually (and wrongfully) relegated to behind the orchestra. About a half a block behind it.

Robert Baird Posted: Sep 25, 2013 Published: Oct 01, 2013 0 comments
The most indelicate, if not gory, term in all of music is the ever-popular "bleeding chunks." The bane of classical audiences cursed with lazy pops conductors, bleeding chunks are movements of works—or even parts of movements—strung together in that abomination known as a medley. The effect can be, I guess, soothing to those who, for example, know only a little about Mozart. But for anyone well versed in their Wolfy, these programs are jarring, and can produce involuntarily grinding of those cavity-prone back molars.
Harold Lynn Posted: Sep 18, 2013 Published: Oct 01, 1987 11 comments
Duruflé: Requiem; Fauré: Requiem
Blegen, Morris, Shaw, Atlanta SO and Chorus.
Telarc 80135 (CD). Robert Woods, prod.; Jack Renner, eng. DDD. TT: 74:23

To have two Requiems by French composers on the same disc certainly invites comparisons. Superficially similar, the works are actually quite different: both are conceived for small-scale performance, both rely on the organ, and neither places any great demands on chorus or orchestra. The differences concern mood and even intent. Fauré's Requiem, composed between 1887 and 1890, has survived all kinds of performances, both amateur and professional, without losing its ability to move hearers with its gentle hymn for the dead. The Duruflé, composed in 1947, has not achieved this kind of public appeal. A commissioned work, and not unified in style, this requiem is enjoyed by those who sing it; audiences tend to find it bland.

Margaret Graham Posted: Sep 13, 2013 Published: Jun 01, 1983 1 comments
683rotm.jpgJAMES WELCH: Magnum Opus
James Welch, Organist, and D.A. Flentrop, Organ-builder.
Wilson Audio W8111 (LP). David Wilson, eng.

Hearing this organ gives one delusions of grandeur! How wonderful to be rich as Croesus and be able to commission an organ like this for one's (baronial) home. At any rate, those of us who don't live in Seattle can hear it at home, thanks to this superb recording.

True to its title, this is as much a recording of the organ as it is of the organist. Full specifications are given on the back, and although it is not Flentrop's largest organ in terms of number of ranks of pipes, it is physically the largest: it contains a 32-foot Pedal Prestant which emits a floor-shuddering 16Hz!

Robert Baird Posted: Aug 28, 2013 Published: Sep 01, 2013 3 comments
David Chesky: Jazz in the New Harmonic
David Chesky, piano; Javon Jackson, tenor saxophone; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Peter Washington, bass; Billy Drummond, drums
Chesky JD358 (CD). 2013. Norman Chesky, exec prod.; David Chesky, prod.; Nicholas Prout, prod., eng. DDD.? TT: 69:15.
Performance ****
Sonics *****

If there's a word that describes the feeling, the vibe present throughout Jazz in the New Harmonic, it's trance. Pianist and session leader David Chesky even uses it without prompting when asked how, among all his music endeavors—an album of difficult non–Joplin-like New York Rags in 2012, a children's ballet later this year, not to mention running Chesky Records—he found the time or inspiration to make a straight-ahead jazz record.

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