Recording of the Month

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Robert Baird Posted: Feb 03, 2012 1 comments
Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis
Atlantic/Analogue Productions APP 8214-45 (two 45rpm LPs). 1969/2011. Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin, prods.; Ed Kollis, eng.; Kevin Gray, 45rpm mastering. AAA. TT: 76:40
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Coaxing a singer to "stretch" always sounds like a good idea—that is, until the singer is standing in the same recording booth used by Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, and suddenly her confidence, never brimming to start with, drops through the floor and she can't or won't sing a note. Add to this that Dusty Springfield was already a sticky perfectionist who'd self-produced most of her records and wasn't happy with the songs to be recorded—despite the fact that most of them were straight out of the Brill Building—and you have the recipe for an all-time classic record, right?

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jan 30, 2012 Published: Apr 01, 1988 0 comments
Beethoven: Sonata No.32, Op.111; Sonata No.21, Op.53 ("Waldstein")
Tibor Szasz, piano
Bainbridge BCD-6275 (CD). Leo de Gar Kulka, eng. & prod. DDD. TT: 58:03

Mozart: Piano Concerto No.13, K.415; Overture to Lucio Silla, K.135
Jeremy Menuhin, piano; George Cleve, 1987 Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra
Bainbridge BCD-6273 (CD). Leo de Gar Kulka, eng. & prod. DDD. TT: 36:58

Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky, Lieutenant Kije
Andre Previn, Los Angeles Philharmonic
Telarc CD-80143 (CD). Jack Renner, eng.; Robert Woods, prod. DDD. TT: 63:37

Rachmaninov: Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op.19
Steven Kates, Montagnana cello; Carolyn Pope Kobler, Bösendorfer piano
Bainbridge BCD-6272 (CD). Leo de Gar Kulka, eng. & prod. DDD. TT: 40:42

The Sounds of Trains, Vols.1 & 2*
Bainbridge BCD-6270, -6271* (CDs). Brad Miller, eng. & prod. DDD. TTs: 60:45, 50:14*

If you read my article in these pages about recording the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railway steam trains (January 1987, Vol.10 No.1), you may recall the mention of Colossus. Colossus is the name of a new digital recording system which designer Lou Dorren claims to be different from every other digital system in several ways, none of which has ever been disclosed to us. I had a chance to listen to some tapes made on it shortly after writing the C&TSRR article, but since they were made with a completely unfamiliar microphone (Mobile Fidelity Productions of Nevada's own design) and featured mainly the sounds of trains, airplanes, and other sources of potential ear damage, I couldn't really tell anything about the recording system, except that it had the kind of low end I expect from any respectable digital audio. A sonic evaluation had to wait until I heard Colossus on more familiar terms—that is, with music recordings. Now, that time has come.

Robert Baird Posted: Dec 29, 2011 Published: Jan 01, 2012 2 comments
Tom Waits Bad As Me
Anti- 87151-1 (LP). 2011. Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan, prods.; Julianne Deery, prod. coord.; Karl Derfler, eng.; Zack Summer, asst. eng. ADA? TT: 44:37
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

They only come out at night. Or when recession, wars, and gridlock rule. On Bad As Me, Tom Waits's first record of new material since 2004's Real Gone, things having gone bad all over gives his uniquely American narratives a fresh resonance: "Well we bailed out all the millionaires / they got the fruit, we got the rind / and everybody's talking at the same time / everybody's talking at the same time." ("Talking at the Same Time"). But lest anyone get the idea it's all politics and no licentiousness, the next track, "Get Lost," dives deep into loopy rockabilly slap beats as two of the three stellar guitarists who dominate this album, Marc Ribot and David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), conjure a twitchily convincing froth over which Waits revels in the simpler pleasures of Wolfman Jack and "real tight sweaters."

Richard Lehnert Posted: Dec 29, 2011 Published: May 01, 1988 1 comments
Ry Cooder: Get Rhythm
Warner Bros. 25639 (LP). Ed Cherney, eng.; Ry Cooder, prod. TT: 40:43
John Hiatt: Bring the Family
A&M SP5158 (LP). Larry Hirsch, eng.; John Chelew, prod. TT: 45:26

There are a few white men in American music—Delbert McClinton, Jerry Jeff Walker, John Fogarty, Van Morrison, Joe Ely, and Steve Earle all come to mind—whose music is consistently true, believable, honorable, and unpretentious. Ry Cooder has been one of those names since his solo debut in 1970; with Bring the Family, John Hiatt's must now be added to the list.

Bring the Family is what Robbie Robertson's overrated new album should have been (sorry, Gary Krakow): simple, strong, mature, its feet rock-solid on the ground. "Thing Called Love," in fact, sounds much like the album The Band might have made between The Band and Stage Fright.

Robert Baird Posted: Dec 01, 2011 1 comments
Bill Frisell All We Are Saying . . .
Bill Frisell, guitar; Jenny Scheinman, violin; Greg Leisz, pedal steel guitar; Tony Scherr, bass; Kenny Wollesen, drums
Savoy Jazz SVY17836 (CD). 2011. Lee Townsend, prod.; Adam Blombert, prod. asst.; Adam Munoz, eng.; Greg Calbi, mastering. AAD? TT: 68:12
Performance ****
Sonics *****

How do you escape the pressures that come with making a record of well-known John Lennon tunes, many of them from archetypal Beatles songs? Convene a quartet of longtime bandmates, each a skilled instrumentalist with whom you've played this material before—albeit not in a while—and just hang loose, let the ideas flow, and jam up beautifully recorded, feel-no-heat-from-the-classic-originals versions whose rough charms somehow seem exactly right. Oh yeah, and bring in pedal-steel wizard Greg Leisz to put an evocative, legato tang on the whole thing.

Robert Hesson Posted: Nov 21, 2011 Published: Jun 01, 1988 5 comments
Songs My Mother Taught Me
Arturo Delmoni, violin; Meg Bachman Vas, piano
Kreisler: Tempo di Menuetto; Brahms: Hungarian Dance No.1; Valdez: Gypsy Serenade; Paradis: Sicilienne; Sarasate: Romanza Andaluza; Massenet: Meditation; Tartini: Variations on a Theme of Corelli; Smetana: From the Home Country; Gluck: Melodie; Vieuxtemps: Romance "Desespoir"; Faure: Apres Un Reve; D'Ambrosio: Canzonetta; Mendelssohn: Song Without Words ("May Breeze"); Kreisler: Sicilienne et Rigaudon; Dvorak: Songs My Mother Taught Me
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFCD 877 (CD), North Star DS 0004 (LP). David Hancock, eng.; Bruce Foulke, prod. A-D. TT: 52:51

Here, at last, is one huge exception to the "Rule": an outstanding musical performance superbly recorded. Songs My Mother Taught Me is the product of a love affair between violinist Arturo Delmoni and the almost defunct practice of programming only short pieces in recitals. Delmoni's aim was to recreate that lost practice, and the result is stunning.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Oct 31, 2011 Published: Nov 01, 2011 1 comments
1111rotm.jpgBruckner Symphonies 4, 7, 9
(Finale of 9 completed by Carragan, ed. 2010)
Gerd Schaller, Philharmonie Festiva
Profil PH11028 (4 CDs). 2008/2009/2011. Ememkut Zaotschnyj (4, 7), Lutz Wildner (9), prods.; Sandro Binetti (4, 7), Herbert Fr ühbauer (9), engs. DDD. TTs: 65:43 (4), 64:52 (7), 83:41 (9)
Performance *****
Sonics ***** (4, 7), ****½ (9)

These performances were recorded at the Ebrach Festival, held annually in the small town of Ebrach, Germany (an hour's drive north from Nuremberg or west from Bayreuth), in the former Abbey Church of Ebrach, which comprised a Cistercian monastery (now a prison) and a vast gothic cathedral built in the 13th century which now serves as the parish church. Many hear the phrases "festival orchestra" and "live recording" and expect the worst: flawed documents of underrehearsed performances by hastily convened pickup orchestras in venues not designed for good sound, and plagued by coughs, sneezes, scraped chair legs, the inadvertent rustlings of hundreds of attendees, and a level of applause that might not conform to the response of the listener at home.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Oct 27, 2011 Published: Jul 01, 1988 1 comments
788rotm.jpgWynton Marsalis: Baroque Music for Trumpets
Vivaldi: Concerto for 2 Trumpets, RV 537; Telemann: Concertos for 3 Trumpets, in B-flat and D; Pachelbel: Canon for 3 Trumpets (arr. Leppard); M. Haydn: Concerto for Trumpet; Biber: Sonata for 8 Trumpets & Orchestra
Wynton Marsalis, piccolo trumpets; Raymond Leppard, English Chamber Orchestra
CBS M 42478 (LP), MK 42478 (CD). Bud Graham & Steven Epstein, engs.; Steven Epstein, prod. DDD. TT: 47:18

There are very few musically satisfying compositions for solo trumpet. A great deal of the standard repertoire is Baroque, and that primarily of the Paradestuck (parade, or showoff piece) school. Of Wynton Marsalis's five Masterworks releases, at least three fall into this category, the present one most of all. There are gimmicks galore here, of composition, arrangement, and recording—Wynton Marsalis, genius of all trades, overdubbing himself ad infinitum through digital wizardry. The fact is, given the music, such an approach is probably the most appropriate; certainly no one listens to the Biber Sonata for 8 Trumpets for profound spiritual insight, and none of this music was written to stretch the boundaries of anything but the trumpeter's chops. In the recording of such antiphonal works, the 18th century's version of "special effects" or "stereo spectaculars," it makes sense that the soloists seem as telepathically in tune with one another's playing as possible. So why not use the same single player?

Robert Baird Posted: Oct 06, 2011 0 comments
1011rotm.jpgTom Harrell: The Time of the Sun
Tom Harrell, trumpet, flugelhorn; Wayne Escoffery, tenor saxophone; Danny Grissett, piano, Fender Rhodes; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums
High Note HCD7222 (CD). 2011. Tom Harrell, Wayne Escoffery, Angela Harrell, prods.; Joe Fields, exec. prod.; Mike Marciano, eng. AAD? TT: 62:12
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Trumpeters use their horns to search for truth. At least that's the folk tale. Somehow, that pure, ringing tone that most strive for at some point in their career—think Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis—suggests a quest for deeper knowledge, something closer to the heart. In effect, trumpeters play a knife—a blade that can cut through nerve, bone, and sinew to that heart; to realizations, we'd like to think, that force them to be honest.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Sep 29, 2011 Published: Aug 01, 1988 0 comments
888rotm.jpgJane Siberry: The Walking
Reprise/Duke Street 25678-1 (LP), 25678-2 (CD). John Naslen, eng.; Jane Siberry, John Switzer, John Naslen, prods. DDD. TT: 53:03

I came to Jane Siberry's music pretty late in the game. This is her fourth album, and the third released by a major label—No Borders Here and The Speckless Sky were released by Open Sky/Windham Hill a few years ago. Hadn't heard 'em (footnote 1). Didn't need to. On the basis of The Walking alone, it was clear Siberry is one of the most important singer/songwriters we've got.

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.

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