Recording of the Month

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Robert Baird Posted: Sep 01, 2011 0 comments
John Adams Son of Chamber Symphony, String Quartet
John Adams, International Contemporary Ensemble; St. Lawrence String Quartet
Nonesuch 523014-2 (CD). 2011. Judith Sherman, prod.; John Kilgore, John D.S. Adams, engs.; Chris Allen, Tom Gloady, Nathan Chandler, asst. engs. DDD? TT: 54:00
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

When John Adams was working on his Chamber Symphony (1992), he became aware that his son Sam was in the next room watching old American cartoons, presumably those by Warner Bros. that used music by the great Raymond Scott. Hyperkinetic borrowings from Scott's witty scores made their way into that earlier work, and now into its successor, a fact hinted at by its humorous title: Son of Chamber Symphony. There's even a moment early on in this new work when the distinctive rhythmic rumble of Scott's masterpiece, "Powerhouse," can be fleetingly heard in what is, overall, a short but very sweet triumph.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Sep 01, 2011 Published: Sep 01, 1988 1 comments
Wynton Marsalis Quartet: Live at Blues Alley
Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Marcus Roberts, piano; Robert Leslie Hurst III, bass; Jeff Watts, drums
Knozz-Moe-King (4 takes), Juan (3 takes), Just Friends, Cherokee, Delfeayo's Dilemma, Chambers of Tain, Au Privave, Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans, Autumn Leaves, Skain's Domain, Much Later
Columbia PC2 40675 (2 LPs), C2K 40675 (2 CDs). Tim Geelan, eng.; Steve Epstein, prod. DDA/DDD. TT: 117:39

Branford Marsalis: Random Abstract
Branford Marsalis, saxes; Kenny Kirkland, piano; Delbert Felix, bass; Lewis Nash, drums
Yes and No, Crescent City, Broadway Fools, LonJellis, I Thought About You, Lonely Woman, Steep's Theme, Yesterday's,* Crepuscule With Nellie*
Columbia OC 44055 (LP), CK 44055 (CD*). Tomoo Suzuki, eng.; Delfeayo Marsalis, prod. ADA/ADD. TTs: 58:46, 74:10*

Harrison/Blanchard: Black Pearl
Terence Blanchard, trumpet; Donald Harrison, saxes; Cyrus Chestnut, piano; Reginald Veal, bass; Carl Allen, drums
Selim Sivad, Black Pearl, Ninth Ward Strut, Infinite Heart, The Center Piece, Somewhere, Dizzy Gillespie's Hands, Toni, Birth of the Abstract
Columbia FC 44216 (LP), CK 44216 (CD). Tim Williams, eng.; George Butler, prod. ADA/ADD. TT: 53:09

"Jazz isn't dead—it just smells funny," said Frank Zappa in 1974. Back then, in those dark days of Fusion, one could be forgiven for thinking that jazz's greatest years were over, that the form had died, or at least mutated enough, in its wooing of the huge, bucks-wielding rock audience, to be unrecognizable, or at least unlovable. Then, in 1982, fresh from Art Blakey's band (Blakey remains a seemingly bottomless well of fresh young talent; Harrison/Blanchard, too, worked with him), Wynton Marsalis's eponymous debut LP was released. This was possibly one of the most important jazz releases of all time, not so much because of its musical content as its stylistic choices: intelligent, hard-edged, fully fledged acoustic jazz in the style of Miles Davis's second great quintet. Marsalis, in fact, used most of that quintet on half of that release, the other half his new band of Kirkland, Watts, Moffatt, and brother Branford.

Robert Baird Posted: Aug 03, 2011 0 comments
Bon Iver: Bon Iver
Jagjaguwar 52135 (CD). 2011. Justin Vernon, prod., eng.; Brian Joseph, eng.; Nate Vernon, Andy Immerman, asst. engs.; Greg Calbi, mastering. AAD. TT: 39:28
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Many, though certainly not all, musicians of most genres dream of composing, crafting, birthing a hit record—one they will forever be known for, and that will make them enough money that they'll never have to sleep on another hard floor or friend's stained couch as long as they live. Very few fulfill this dream, and those who do often don't know why or just how it happened.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Jul 29, 2011 Published: Oct 15, 1988 0 comments
Lyle Lovett: Pontiac
MCA/Curb MCA-42028 (LP), MCAD-42028 (CD). Willie Pevear, eng.; Tony Brown, Lyle Lovett, prods. DDA/ DDD. TT: 35:41

Jesse Winchester has been silent for seven years now, and we needed some mint-julep–voiced cowboy to write and croon such smooth, fluid, irresistible songs, no sharp edges and none needed, thanks. Thank God Lyle Lovett stepped in; we could have done much, much worse.

Robert Baird Posted: Jul 06, 2011 2 comments
Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What
Hear Music HRM-32814 (CD; the LP comes with a voucher for hi-rez downloads). 2011. Paul Simon, Phil Ramone, prods.; Andy Smith, eng. AAD? TT: 38:15
Performance ****½
Sonics ***½

"Love & Blessings"? "Questions for the Angels"? It seems that Paul Simon, who will turn 70 in October, has begun to ask life's Big Questions in preparation for his own exit. Yet in this case, seeming is not reality, and at 69, Simon has returned to his polyglot musical influences (that he may or may not have heisted...but that's an argument for another day) to fashion a startlingly powerful collection of songs that successfully mix the jaunty near-danceability of his world-music adventures with serious lyrics about impending death, the vagaries of love, and, especially, the many unknowables contained in the word God.

Thomas J. Norton Posted: Jun 30, 2011 Published: Nov 15, 1988 0 comments
A useful test CD has recently come my way, courtesy of the Stereophile editorial staff in Santa Fe (a copy was provided to each of the contributing equipment editors). Digital Test was produced in France by Pierre Verany (PV.788031/788032, 2 CDs), and is distributed in the USA by Harmonia Mundi. It provides a wide variety of tests and useful musical selections, but the subject of special interest here is its test bands for evaluation of laser-tracking and error-correction capability.

There are two interrelated parameters which, in the absence of drop-outs or information gaps—we'll get to them shortly—can affect the ability of a player to track the CD "groove" (or "whorl," as the quaintly translated disc booklet calls it): linear "cutting velocity" and track pitch. The standards for the first establish a range of 1.2 to 1.4 meters/second (the rotation speed of the disc varies from 500 to 200rpm from the inside to the outside of the disc to maintain this linear velocity); for the second, the spacing between adjacent tracks, from 1.50 to 1.70 micrometers (µm).

Robert Baird Posted: Jun 08, 2011 0 comments
Jordi Savall: Dinastía Borja
Music by Guillaume Dufay, Josquin Des Prez, Lluis del Mila and others Jordi Savall, viola da gamba, director; Hespèrion XXI, La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Alia Vox AVSA 9874A/C (3 SACD/CDs). 2010. Jordi Savall, prod.; Toni Figueras, recording coordinator; Aline Blondiau, Nicolas de Beco, Dominique de Spoolberg, Olivier de Spoolberg, recording assistants. AAD? TT: 3:43:19
Performance *****
Sonics *****

As is usually the case, a recent performance at New York's Lincoln Center by Jordi Savall, his instrumental ensemble, Hespèrion XXI, and his choir, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, was a triumph—his impeccably researched and realized early music had the crowd on their feet. In lesser hands, such exotica as old-world Spanish music influenced by indigenous forms from Mexico would have trouble drawing a paying crowd, let alone filling Alice Tully Hall; but Savall's unique vision has rescued and revitalized obscure musical forms aplenty, from the medieval, renaissance, and baroque periods. Along the way he's also managed to record notable versions of more popular works of the standard classical repertoire, such as the Mozart Requiem, and J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.

Richard Lehnert Posted: May 31, 2011 Published: Dec 01, 1988 1 comments
CHARLIE PARKER: Bird (Original Soundtrack)
Charlie Parker, Charles McPherson, alto saxes; Red Rodney, trumpet; Monty Alexander, piano; Ray Brown, Ron Carter, basses; Charlie Shoemake, vibes; John Guerin, drums; others
Columbia SC 44299 (LP), CK 44299 (CD). Bobby Fernandez, Neal Spritz, engs.; Clint Eastwood, Lennie Niehaus, prods. ADA/ADD. TT: 41:21

Unlike Round Midnight, which encased Dexter Gordon's Bud Powell character in a soft-focus, romanticized, soundstagily mythic NY/Paris jazz juncture that never quite was (Herbie Hancock's music direction was deliberately inauthentic for that or any time or place other than the film studio), producer/director Clint Eastwood's labor-of-love Bird attempts to place Charles Christopher Parker Jr. squarely in the bebop world he created. The modern musicians he "plays" with here blow strictly in that tradition, accompanying Parker's solos, as peeled off the original Savoy, Verve, and home recordings with audio wizardry (massive EQing, dynamic noise filters, etc.).

Robert Baird Posted: May 06, 2011 1 comments
The Twilight Singers: Dynamite Steps
Sub Pop SPCD 844 (CD). 2011. Greg Dulli, prod.; Brenndan McGuire, Ben Mumphrey, Steve Nalepa, Mike Napolitano, others, engs. AAD? TT: 43:03
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Unleash "Retarded," the unforgettable first track of Up In It (1990), the Afghan Whigs' first Sub Pop album—the one with the eerie stitched-up hand on the cover—and immediately the madness seeps out. No one has ever done the angry leer and tormented spat quite like AW singer/songwriter Greg Dulli. As the charismatic leader of one of the nastiest, hardest-edged live acts ever to prowl a 1990s indie-rock stage, he and the Whigs were one of the Yo MTV 120 Minute generation's most striking acts—one that combined buzzy guitar thunder with odd but welcome leanings toward classic R&B that persist to this day in the Twilight Singers. The assault of the Cincinnati-based Whigs was led by Dulli, a seemingly normal Ohio boy whose unhinged wailing, self-flagellating lyrics, and shrieking, Cobra-like stage persona made him a rock star: dangerous candy for the girls, unhinged fury for the fellas.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Apr 28, 2011 Published: Jan 01, 1989 1 comments
BOBBY KING & TERRY EVANS: Live and Let Live!
Rounder 2089 (LP), CD 2089 (CD). Larry Hirsch, eng.; Ry Cooder, prod. AAA/AAD. TT: 44:42

If you've heard a Ry Cooder album in the last 12 years, you've heard Bobby King and Terry Evans—they're the gorgeously voiced gospel/R&B singers who've backed up Ry while he's learned to sing in public—and from whom he can't help but have learned a lot. To crib from the liner notes, King is from a Louisiana gospel background, while Evans sang R&B in Mississippi. Their music together is a seamless blend of the best of both sides of the churchyard gate, smack dab in the middle of the strongest undercurrents of American music. Virtually every tune is a gem, but "Let Love Begin," so warm and lovingly sensual it'll melt your speakers, and the best version I've ever heard of "Dark End of the Street," are instant classics. "Saturday Night" has a hint of sprung Cajun rhythm, and "Let Me Go Back to the Country" has that vital feel of a pick-up band one by one sitting down to sit in, music made for the sheer joy of singing and playing. Only "Bald Head," another misogynistic Cooder tune, falls flat, though not for lack of trying by King & Evans.

Robert Levine Posted: Apr 08, 2011 1 comments
MOZART: Piano Concertos 22 & 25
David Fray, piano; Jaap van Zweden, Philharmonia Orchestra
Virgin 5099964196404 (CD). 2010. Etienne Collard, prod.; René Möller, eng. DDD. TT: 66:04
Performance *****
Sonics *****

From 1782 to the end of 1785 were successful, fertile years in Vienna for Mozart. He was sought by the aristocracy and the upper classes as a pianist, teacher, and composer. Throughout this period—and the following year, during which he ran out of money—he composed piano sonatas, songs, marches, wind serenades, a horn quintet, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, arias, quartets, works for violin and/or viola, horn concertos, the C-minor Mass, symphonies 35, 36, and 38 (37 was written by Michael Haydn), piano concertos 14–25, Le Nozze di Figaro, and dozens of other works.

Les Berkley Posted: Mar 30, 2011 Published: Feb 01, 1989 0 comments
RAMEAU: Works for Harpsichord
Albert Fuller, harpsichord
Reference Recordings RR 27 (LP), RR 27-CD (CD*). J. Tamblyn Henderson, Jr., prod.; Keith O. Johnson, eng. AAA/DDD. TTs: 57:45, 63:57*

I have to admit that I gave Reference Recordings' last Baroque release somewhat short shrift: I was disappointed enough in the performance that even KOJ's usual superb recording was insufficient to redeem things. Here, however, Albert Fuller (who was also present the last time out) is in fine fettle, giving as good an account of these works as we could wish. Clearly he is more sympathetic to Rameau than he seemed to be toward Bach; the French emotionalism of the former is apparently more in accord with the performer's personality. I still enjoy the rendition given by a young Trevor Pinnock in the mid-'70s (Vanguard VSD 71271), and you will find the roots of Fuller's style on the old Bach Guild releases of Gustav Leonhardt, but the present recording stands on its own merits musically and is orders of magnitude better sonically than any of the previous versions. Fuller also sticks to real English in his liner notes, which he most emphatically did not do on the previous RR disc.

Stephen Mejias Posted: Mar 07, 2011 1 comments
Wyatt/Atzmon/Stephen: For the Ghosts Within
Domino DNO271/WIGLP263 (CD/LP). 2010. Gilad Atzmon, prod.; Robert Wyatt, Jamie Johnson, Philip Bagenal, engs. ADD? TT: 56:13
Performance *****
Sonics ****

For the Ghosts Within marks my introduction to the wonderful world of Robert Wyatt. It happened in Denver, Colorado, at around 1am, several hours after the first full day of the 2010 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I'd taken a break from posting blog entries to flip through the November 2010 issue of my other favorite magazine, The Wire. There, on p.11, I saw a neat, simple ad that offered little more than an album's intriguing cover art: stencil-like cutouts of three figures that seem meant to represent the album's three musicians, though these figures are almost entirely stripped of human form, reduced or distilled to their musical functions—as if the players are their instruments. Drawn by the rich colors and provocative imagery, I went straight to Domino Recording Co.'s website and listened to "Laura," track 1 of For the Ghosts Within. (Like so much of the album, "Laura" was completely new to me, but I have since learned that it is the title song from the 1944 film Laura, composed by David Raksin, and given fine treatments by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Julie London, among others.)

Richard Lehnert Posted: Mar 04, 2011 Published: Mar 01, 1989 0 comments
KEITH JARRETT: Dark Intervals
Keith Jarrett, piano
ECM 1379 (837 342-1, LP; -2, CD). Kimio Oikawa, eng.; Manfred Eicher, prod. DDA/DDD. TT: 58:22

After a five-year hiatus in which he explored jazz standards, classical music, the clavichord, and the unclassifiable Spirits, Keith Jarrett has returned, however briefly, to the form that gained him his widest reputation: solo piano improvisations. But with a difference—only a single LP this time (instead of two, three, or ten), that LP composed of eight short sections, each with a title. This is a far cry from unbroken piano improvs spanning three LP sides, titled only with the name and date of the venue.

Robert Baird Posted: Feb 15, 2011 0 comments
Markus Schwartz, Haitian Rada & Petwo drums, miscellaneous percussion, loop sampler, conch, vocals; Jean Caze, trumpet, flugelhorn, conch, vocals; Monvelyno Alexis, electric guitar, percussion, vocals; Paul Beaudry, double bass, percussion
Soundkeeper SR1002 (CD). 2010. Barry Diament, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 43:16
Performance ****
Sonics *****

Think of flat, one-dimensional downloads of soulless, AutoTuned music that sounds more manufactured than played. Then feast on this.

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