1993 Records To Die For Page 5
THE COMMITMENTS: Original Soundtrack
MCA MCAD-10286 (CD only). Paul Bushnell, Kevin Killen, Alan Parker, prods.; Kevin Killen, eng. AAD. TT: 46:54
Corey Greenberg's definitive review of this soundtrack ends with a Perot one-liner: "buy it or stay white and slow." I agree. Next to Richard Thompson's Rumor and Sigh, one of my R2D4 picks last year, The Commitments is a CD I could not do without. Why? Its rendition of Soul is deep, solid, and driving. Best is 16-year-old lead singer Andrew Strong, who knows the music, has terrific phrasing, great pitch, and an impossibly cool, raspy voice that sounds like a young Joe Cocker. Catch the raspiness of Strong's voice belting out "Guess you got to put your flat feet on the ground" in the chorus of "Mustang Sally." Here is Strong at his best, with the total Commitments sound---deep bass, great horns, "A REAL DRUM IN A REAL ROOM," pulled together by a rhythm tighter than Scrooge's fist. (XV-1)
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony 6, The Age of Gold(Suite)
Leopold Stokowski, Chicago Symphony
RCA Red Seal LSC-3133 (LP only, nla). Howard Scott, prod.; Paul Goodman, eng. AAA. TT: 49:44
Shostakovich's Symphonies 5 and 6 marked a change in style from his earlier works, perhaps a result of Stalin's censure of his music in 1936. Stokowski's conducting is taut, powerful, and highly dramatic without being bombastic, yet full of room-filling, voluptuous orchestral tone. On a full Quad ESL-63/SW-63 system, the orchestra's soundstage seems limitless; one swims in instrumental sonorities, the warmth of the celli, and chamber-style textures. The soprano saxophone in the Age of Gold suite is stunningly three-dimensional and vividly clear. This is fresh, invigorating music, and a great example of Stokowski's energy, clarity, and orchestral command.
DIXIE DREGS: Night of the Living Dregs
Capricorn CPN 0216 (LP, nla), Polydor 831 411-2 (CD). Ken Scott, eng. & prod. AAA/AAD. TT: 34:37
Night of the Living Dregs embodies everything I love about the Dixie Dregs: innovative compositions, virtuoso playing, and an energetic chemistry between musicians. This all-instrumental album, half of which was recorded live at the 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival, captures this unique band during a transition from their two previous records to their later, more produced efforts.
More than any other Dregs record, Night makes the best use of violinist Alan Sloan's talents, and epitomizes the unmistakable sound of his and lead guitarist Steve Morse's intricate dual leads. These musicians' extraordinary talent is abundantly evident on such essential Dregs tunes as "Punk Sandwich," "Country House Shuffle," and "The Bash." Moreover, the sound is excellent: dynamic, immediate, and not overly processed. There aren't many albums I listen to as enthusiastically 14 years after first hearing them as Night of the Living Dregs
RED RODNEY: Then and Now
Red Rodney, flugelhorn; Chris Potter, alto & tenor sax; Garry Dial, piano; Jay Anderson, bass; Jimmy Madison, drums
Chesky JD79 (CD only). Bob Katz, eng.; David Chesky, Bob Belden, prods. DDD. TT: 74:36
With Then and Now, trumpeter and flugelhorn player Red Rodney brings bebop classics of the 1940s to a 1990s audience. Working out on tunes like Charlie Parker's "Marmaduke" and "Confirmation," Red and his band give a new feel to old classics while remaining true to the originals.
What's special here are the empathetic ensemble playing and brilliant solos, particularly by Red and young alto player Chris Potter. Potter is the surprise of this set, playing with a skill, exuberance, and maturity that mark him as one of the most exciting new jazz talents of recent years. Of all the forms of musical expression, there is nothing quite like hearing a technically skillful and musically inspired player exploring the envelope's outer edge during a solo---especially in straight-ahead bebop. Then and Now virtually bursts with great solos---check out Rodney on "Congo Blues," and Potter on "Marmaduke."
This record won't let you your foot sit still; the musicians' enthusiasm is that infectious. And to top off such great music, Then and Now has some of the best sound ever captured on a jazz recording. A real treat. (XVI-2)
IVES: String Quartets 1 & 2
Concord String Quartet
Nonesuch H-71306 (LP). Marc J. Aubort, Joanna Nickrenz, eng. & prod. AAA. TT: 47:09
Both my selections share the merit of portraying the timbres of string instruments in striking fidelity. Recorded by the distinguished team of Aubort and Nickrenz, the Ives quartets project an almost tangible realism. The excellence of the recording job is matched by the performances of the Concord Quartet, whose fervent, inspired playing fully realizes the transcendent beauty of the music. A CD has been issued of these performances, but I haven't heard it. The original recording is so good, though, you'd like to think it would take a conscious effort to do it any real harm.
SHOSTAKOVICH: Viola Sonata, Op.147
Fedor Druzhinin, viola; Mikhail Muntyan, piano
Melodiya/Columbia Masterworks M 35109 (LP). I. Veprintsev, Y. Kokzhayan, prods. AAA. TT: 62:51
This affecting sonata was Shostakovich's final work, and it achieves a superbly bittersweet emotional quality within the composer's pungent idiom. That Druzhinin and Muntyan avoid the extremes of sentiment to which this work can easily be taken is to their credit. Indeed, the composer dedicated the sonata to Druzhinin, and he may be presumed to offer the definitive interpretation (allowing for the attendant dangers that presumption brings). The playing is never unduly lugubrious, and even achieves a warm patina of wit in the second movement. Melodiya's recording is absolutely remarkable in its rendering of timbres and hall perspective.
J. Gordon Holt
BERNSTEIN: West Side Story
Original cast recording with Carol Lawrence, Larry Kert, Chita Rivera, Art Smith. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by Jerome Robbins.
Columbia LP OS-2001 (LP, nla). Goddard Lieberson, prod. AAA. TT: 57:00
This 1957 Broadway musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet is hardly modern now, yet its story of young lovers starcrossed by ethnic (rather than family) rivalries is as timeless and as moving in 1992 as it was in Shakespeare's day. And the score is, to my mind, the best thing Bernstein ever did.
This original-cast recording is a far more exciting performance than the much newer, overengineered DG release conducted by the composer. (That one, which features "modern" sound and a stellar cast of operatic performers who were clearly more concerned with purity of tone than passion of performance, is as soulless as it is slick.)
Of course, true to Holt's First Law (the better the sound, the worse the performance---and vice versa), the sound is appropriately mediocre. (Judging by the record number, it may even have been Columbia's first "operatic" stereo LP.) But the soon-to-be-released Super-Bit-Mapped Sony CD (CK 32603) should be a lot better.
COPLAND: Symphony 3 Music for the Theatre
Yoel Levi, Atlanta Symphony
Telarc CD-80201 (CD only). Jack Renner, eng; Robert Woods, prod. DDD. TT: 65:05
Okay, so music editor RL included this in his first R2D4 list (January 1991), but it's such an outstanding achievement that it doesn't deserve to be forgotten now that it's over two years old. It is, in fact, the only symphonic recording I can think of that truly meets all three of the impossible requirements for a listing here: stellar, definitive, world-class performance and sound. What more could anyone ask? (XIII-3, XIV-1)