1996 Records To Die For Page 16
MISSA LUBA: An African Mass
Muungano National Choir, Kenya; Boniface Mganga, conductor
Philips 426 836-2 (CD only). Job Maarse, prod.; Pieter Boer, Martin Dubbeldam, engs. DDD. TT: 49:54
Missa Luba, An African Mass, does in an African context what Misa Criolla did with a South American accent. My first recording of this work, also on Philips, dates from the '60s---but I can't find my copy. It's a definite buy if you see it as a used LP, in spite of not-so-great sound.
Despite the Kenyan origin of this new version, it has an energy strongly reminiscent of the masses I attended in Nigeria when I lived there (1969-71). The sound is excellent, though not of the same demo-disc quality that the modern Misa Criolla achieves. (As some of you might remember, I strongly recommend the old version of Misa Criolla, Philips PCC 619, over the modern version; the energy level and sense of authenticity are much higher, and you don't have to put up with an opera singer as the lead tenor.)
While recommending African records, I can't resist mentioning Heavy on the Highlife! on the Original Music label (OMCD012). The sound is only adequate, but the energy is super. It perfectly captures Nigerian nightclub music from the time I was there---and, for all I know, the present as well.
SONNY STITT: Sonny Stitt Blows the Blues
Sonny Stitt, alto sax; Lou Levy, piano; Leroy Vinnegar, bass; Mel Lewis, drums
Classic Records/Verve MG VS 6149 (LP only). AAA.
You can write my theoretical and historical knowledge of jazz on the head of a pin and still have room for the US Constitution. Still, you'd have to be deaf and ignorant to miss the genius in this album, originally released in 1960. The title could just as well be Sonny Stitt Sings the Blues---his alto sax is that plangently vocal. There's real joy in these blues, particularly "Hymnal Blues" and "Frankie and Johnny."
Sound quality is sensational in terms of accurately capturing the voices of the instruments, particularly Stitt's horn. Dynamic range is remarkable. Imaging consists of bass and drums in the right speaker, piano in the left, but there's a great sense of space around Stitt himself (I feel like a philistine even mentioning sound). I can't imagine the person who won't get a kick out of this LP.
Speaking of Verve reissues, Gerry Mulligan's and Paul Desmond's Blues in Time is another fabulous release, on Mobile Fidelity vinyl (MFSL 1-241): More relaxed, just as cool.
BRUCKNER: Symphony 9
Gerd Albrecht, Czech Philharmonic
Canyon Classics EC 3690-2 (CD only). Tomyoshi Ezaki, prod. DDD. TT: 60:30
Have you ever felt all the great Bruckner conductors were dead? In the Ninth Furtwängler is essential despite ye olde sounde, while the "modern" era has been dominated by Walter's recording---a great combination of sensitivity and earthiness marred only by a sluggish scherzo. Here, though, we have a recent recording I am enthusiastic about. Albrecht and the Czech Phil. may not be names associated with Bruckner, but this one gets it right with convincing tempos and great sonics, particularly in the always critical brass/orchestral balances. This is my No.1 choice: a no-brainer.
PURCELL & BLOW: Songs & Instrumental Music
Christine Brandis, soprano; Mary Springfels, gamba; Nicholas McGegan, Arcadian Academy
Harmonia Mundi 907167 (CD only). Robina Young, prod.; Paul F. Witt, eng. DDD. TT: 75:55
I found more competition for the second spot, but one relistening to "Fly Swift, Ye Hours" sealed the decision. As I pointed out in last September's issue, Brandis is simply wonderful in this repertory. Her clear instrument includes a great trill and all the agility required, but more important is her ability to characterize convincingly. The recital is nicely broken up by instrumental selections: two sonatas and a pavan, all by Purcell. Balances favor the singer, but not objectionably so. Sonics are bright and clear without sounding dry or too close. (XVIII-9)