2001 Records to Die For Page 3
LOS LOBOS: Kiko
Slash 26786-2 (CD). 1992. Mitchell Froom, Los Lobos, prods.; Tchad Blake, Paul duDre, Wendy Thompson, Kevin Killen, John Paterno, engs.; Bob Ludwig, mastering. AAD. TT: 52:37
Album after album, Los Lobos had already proven itself one of the most versatile and original bands in the history of American pop music. But on Kiko the magic clicked like never before, resulting in an album on a level of timelessness with "Strawberry Fields" and Pet Sounds. With a surreal palette of instruments and equally dreamlike lyrics, this 16-song collection takes on homelessness and insanity, religion and tradition, infidelity and pain in the guise of bluesy tunes, rockers, folk music, and earnest, idiomatic homages to an assortment of Mexican traditions. Come hell or high water, in whatever recording format time may bring us, Kiko will always be in my short stack of personal favorites. (XV-11, XVII-2, XXI-2)
ARVO PÄRT: Alina
Vladimir Spivakov, violin; Dietmar Schwalke, cello; Sergej Bezrodny, Alexander Malter, piano
ECM New Series 1591 (CD). 1999. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Markus Heiland, eng. DDD. TT: 51:24
Now and then you hear a piece of music that reminds you what music should be but too seldom is: simple, direct, and heartfelt. Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in the Mirror) is that in every sense: a soft, graceful, suspended melody over a quietly gleaming triadic background. Calming, soothing, removing of cares, it is a piece that invites, and here receives an expressive subtlety of touch. Vladimir Spivakov's lyrical violin barely speaks at times, yet, like the faint glow of a candle, illuminates the arpeggiated latticework. Alina presents three performances of Spiegel im Spiegel—two by Spivakov and pianist Sergej Bezrodny, and one in an arrangement for cello and piano with cellist Dietmar Schwalke and pianist Alexander Malter. All three show what great artistry can bring to the simplest works. The title work, performed twice by Malter, is also a thing of meditative beauty and quiet introspection that invites a variety of reflective interpretations.
ORNETTE COLEMAN: Sound Museum: Hidden Man
Ornette Coleman, alto sax, violin, trumpet; Geri Allen, piano; Charnett Moffett, bass; Denardo Coleman, drums
Harmolodic/Verve 314 531 914-2 (CD). 1996. Denardo Coleman, prod.; Gregg Mann, eng. DDD? TT: 50:49
It is well known that Ornette Coleman made recordings in the late '50s and early '60s that changed jazz forever. What is less known is that he's still at it. In 1996, after wasting precious years on his ill-conceived electric group, Prime Time, Coleman returned to acoustic jazz with Sound Museum: Hidden Man, a work of fearless freedom and the most serious discipline. Coleman's voice on alto saxophone is painfully beautiful in its plaintive nakedness. Geri Allen on piano (the first piano in a Coleman band in 35 years), Charnett Moffett on bass, and Ornette's son Denardo on drums all participate in creative discourse on the highest level, without external rules. (XX-2)
BOBO STENSON TRIO: War Orphans
Bobo Stenson, piano; Anders Jormin, bass; Jon Christensen, drums
ECM 1604 (CD). 1998. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Jan Erik Kongshaug, eng. DDD. TT: 54:38
Bobo Stenson is among the two or three greatest living jazz pianists, but, at least in the US, almost no one knows it. The proof of Stenson's brilliance is all over War Orphans: his astringent, proprietary lyricism; his lines paying out in endless revelations of invention, yet always resolving into purpose; the dramatic poise of his flawless timing. And Stenson's concept of group form completes the liberation of the piano trio begun by Bill Evans. Anders Jormin and Jon Christensen soar and dive and freely wander, defining in the moment their relation to the whole. The sound of War Orphans ranks with the best work of the masterful engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug.
RAY BROWN TRIO: Soular Energy
Ray Brown, bass; Gene Harris, piano; Gerryck King, drums; with Red Holloway, tenor sax; Emily Remler, guitar
Concord Jazz CCD-4268 (CD). Carl E. Jefferson, prod.; Phil Edwards, eng. TT: 51:50
Halfway through my mental deliberations and the down-selection process for picking my R2D4s, a light went on in my brain: Instead of deciding which CD or LP I couldn't live without, why not just acknowledge one that I actually don't live without?
Every review, every setup and optimization procedure—indeed, just about every listening session I conduct—includes the Ray Brown Trio's Soular Energy. It's an amazing collection of jazz standards played by Brown, Gene Harris on piano, and Gerryck King on drums, with killer cameo performances by Red Holloway on tenor sax and Emily Remler on guitar. This disc has it all: wonderful, accessible tunes, great arrangements, virtuoso playing, superb, rich sound, a deep and open 3D soundstage—you name it. It's one of those discs that everyone likes and that makes any system sound its best. What's more, there are layers upon layers of detail and nuance, so any improvement renders the disc new and magical again. The standard CD sounds great, as does the original Concord Jazz LP, but to really appreciate the performance, beg, borrow, or steal a copy of the German Bellaphon LP reissue and cue it up on one of today's top turntables. Fantastic!
CLARK TERRY: One on One
Clark Terry, trumpet; Monty Alexander, Gerri Allen, Kenny Barron, Tommy Flanagan, Don Friedman, Benny Green, Sir Roland Hanna, Barry Harris, Eric Lewis, John Lewis, Junior Mance, Marian McPartland, Eric Reed, Billy Taylor, piano
Chesky JD198 (CD). 2000. David Chesky, prod.; Barry Wolifson, eng. DDD. TT: 66:08
One on One is a collection of duets pairing jazz trumpet legend Clark Terry with a Who's Who of jazz pianists, ranging from Monty Alexander to Tommy Flanagan and Junior Mance. The performances are relaxed and natural, feeling more like an after-hours jam session than anything else. Playing after playing, I've never failed to be completely drawn in, to feel less a spectator than a part of the event. The sound is wonderful and natural as well, combining a disarmingly natural frequency balance with a laser-sharp reproduction of inner and low-level detail and the ambient environment. The only hitch in the proceedings is that, in nearly every cut, the perspective on Terry's trumpet and the piano are quite different. The piano is very closely miked—large, dynamic, and immediate. Conversely, the perspective on Terry's trumpet is much more distant—the transients are softer, the image is smaller, and the surrounding space is much more clearly defined. The discontinuity is a bit jarring for a soundstage fanatic like me, but nonetheless, the performance and incredibly natural portrayal of the individual instruments make this a disc that spends a lot of time in my player, and one that I'd hate to live without. (XXIII-9)
THE MOST HAPPY FELLA: Studio Cast
Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser
John Owen Edwards, National Symphony Orchestra
CDJAY3 1306 (3 CDs). 2000. John Yap, prod.; Jonathan Allen, Troy Halderson, engs. Dolby Surround. TT: 2:50:04
Guys and Dolls is undoubtedly Frank Loesser's most popular musical, but many musical theater fans, myself included, consider The Most Happy Fella to be his masterpiece. The score is eclectic, the pop style of "Standing on the Corner" juxtaposed with the Broadway brassiness of "Big D" and the operatic grandeur of "My Heart Is So Full of You." The music rises to great emotional peaks, and only the most hardened cynic can remain untouched by this story of the Napa Valley winegrower and his mail-order bride.
Leading the cast as Tony is the distinguished Canadian baritone Louis Quilico, renowned for his Verdi roles. Quilico died recently, and The Most Happy Fella is a poignant memorial to his artistry. As Rosabella we have Emily Loesser, the composer's daughter, whose mother, Jo Sullivan, originated the role. Emily does her parents proud, singing sweetly and with emotional involvement. Jo Sullivan herself was consultant to the recording project, and still sounds great in "Wanting to Be Wanted," one of the bonus tracks. John Owen Edwards conducts with his usual assurance. The Original Broadway Cast recording on Columbia remains a classic, but the new one matches it in musical terms, has a considerable amount of extra material that was cut from the show prior to Broadway, and is superior sonically.
PATRICIA O'CALLAGHAN: Real Emotional Girl
Patricia O'Callaghan, vocals. Robert Kortgaard, piano; others
Teldec 8573-81390-2 (CD). 2000. Omar Daniel, Richard Fortin, Eitan Cornfield, Howard Hughes, prods.; John Bailey, David Prine, engs. TT: 55:16
Patricia O'Callaghan is a young soprano whose background includes classical vocal training as well as singing in rock bands. The first time I heard her was when she was the guest artist in a concert by Bryn Terfel in Toronto's Roy Thompson Hall, holding her own in operatic duets with the illustrious Mr. T. Real Emotional Girl presents her in a cabaret repertoire of songs by Leonard Cohen, Kurt Weill, Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, and Leonard Bernstein, as well as some French chansons. She sounds completely at home in this varied material, with a natural rather than a "produced" sound, only her easy high notes giving a hint of her classical background. She has a lovely voice, but approaches each song as an opportunity to tell a story rather than just make pretty sounds—the fact that she does make pretty sounds in the process is incidental. O'Callaghan is given sensitive piano accompaniment by Robert Kortgaard and, on some tracks, by an instrumental combo that supports her with sympathetic arrangements—except for "Lucky to Be Me," which features some dissonances that were not part of Bernstein's original and that I found quite annoying. Good, ungimmicky sound.