2013 Records To Die For Page 4
Prokofiev: Excepts from Romeo and Juliet
Erich Leinsdorf, Los Angeles Philharmonic
Sheffield Lab SL25-SL26 (direct-to-disc LP). 1977. Lincoln Mayorga, prod.; Doug Sax, prod., eng.; Bud Wyatt, eng. AAA. TT: 57:12
Direct-to-disc recordings were a revelation when they first appeared. I had never before heard such consistently rich and differentiated musical timbres or dynamic range from an LP, and they became the main reference recordings for my earliest audio reviews. As with many audiophile releases then and now, direct recordings most often featured single artists or small ensembles. Sheffield Lab's releases of Erich Leinsdorf conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in works of Wagner and Prokofiev were early exceptions. Though I love both recordings, it is to the luxurious sound of the excerpts from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet that I return again and again. The dynamics and orchestral color are incredibly moving, making it the most involving of Sheffield's direct-disc recordings.
Saint-Saëns: Symphony 3, "Organ"
Charles Munch, Boston Symphony; Berj Zamkochian, organ
RCA Living Stereo LSC-2341 (LP). 1959. Richard Mohr, prod.; Lewis Layton, eng. AAA. TT: 52:33
This 1959 recording remains one of my indispensable favorites for its ability to re-create in my listening room the massive power and deep-bass range of a pipe organ accompanied by a full orchestra. Designed by G. Donald Harrison and built by the Aeolian-Skinner Company, the great organ of Boston's Symphony Hall was installed just 10 years before this recording was made. The deepest pedal notes in Saint-Saëns's Symphony 3the 36.7Hz low D-flats at the end of the first movement, and the 32.6Hz low C's at the end of the second"provide the rock-solid foundations on which the whole towering [symphonic] structure is securely based," as R.D. Darrell says in his liner note. No other recording quite yields the sustained musical power or clearly delineates descending scales as this one does, making it easy to determine a subwoofer's pitch definition, and its ability to create "room lock" in my large listening room. (XVI-6)
Be-Bop Deluxe: Axe Victim
EMI LC 0542 (CD). 1974/1991. Bill Nelson, Ian McClintock, prods.; Mike Ross, Pete Silver, Rod Harper, Steve Nye, engs.; John Leckie, mix. AAD. TT: 61:24
Going to high school in California in the mid-'70s, we had our fantasies of what post-Beatles England was all about, based entirely on import records found at the local vinyl shop: Bowie, Mott, and Roxy at the glam end of the store; ELP, Yes, Genesis, Camel, Floyd, and Crimson over in prog; Purple and Zep in heavy metal; and then the bands that didn't quite fit, like Sparks and 10cc. One album that evoked England especially well for me was Be-Bop Deluxe's first, from 1974. In the middle of side 2 is "Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape," an underrated classic if there ever was one, and the rest of the Bowie-like album bristles with Bill Nelson's fiery, proggish guitar work. Be-Bop Deluxe would soon leave behind all glam pretense, but for this one moment, they typified the England of my dreams . . . until the Sex Pistols came along and changed it all again.
Pierre Favre: Singing Drums
Pierre Favre, drums, gongs, crotales, bowed cymbals; Paul Motian, drums, gongs, crotales, calebasses, rodbrushes; Fredy Studer, drums, gongs, log drums, bowed cymbals; Nana Vasconcelos, berimbau, timpani, conga, water pot, shakers, bells, voice
ECM 1274 (CD). 1984. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Martin Wieland, eng. AAD. TT: 41:14
In an attempt to have an album featuring notable drumming or percussion for this year's picks, I narrowed it down to a handful of choices: Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (sure, why not? the hater line forms to the right), Gamelan Pacifica, Marc Anderson, and this one on ECM. Instead of a frenzied, bombastic demo de force drum disc for audio shows, Favre assembled a team of able texturists who know how to weave acoustic sounds and beats into a dreamy, meandering path through a sonic forest brimming with exotic wildlife. As is typical for an ECM production, there's plenty of space around the instruments, and the recording is gorgeous and detailed.
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong: Ella and Louis
Ella Fitzgerald, vocal; Louis Armstrong, vocal, trumpet; Herb Ellis, guitar; Oscar Peterson, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Buddy Rich, drums
Verve MGV-4003/Analogue Productions AVRJ-4003 (2 45rpm mono LPs). 1956/2011. Norman Granz, prod.; Val Valentin, eng.; George Marino, remastering. AAA. TT: 54:06
The most delightful jazz vocal recording of all time, now enshrined in 45rpm, 200gm vinyl from Chad Kassem's Quality Record Pressings, and it's a jaw-dropper. The piano sounds a little hooded, but Ella and Louis are 3D-palpable; they're in the room, or you're in their room. Ella breathes air; when Pops sings down low, your hair stands on end. A jazz-critic friend likened it to "an acid trip." It costs $50: a bargain at twice the price. (XIX-3, XX-2, XXII-2, XXII-9)
Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden: Jasmine
Keith Jarrett, piano; Charlie Haden, bass
ECM 2165 (CD). 2010. Keith Jarrett, prod.; Martin Pearson, eng. DDD. TT: 62:30
A gorgeous set of standards, a salve for the soul, and the sound is vivid, intimate, transparent; every detail is etched in time. It's a low-key work, not as virtuosic as either master's best, but there's a warmth and an airiness that are transcendent. I have played this disc many times late at night, to set the world right, which it does on a level of Bill Evans's Waltz for Debby. And though my tone might suggest otherwise, it's not at all sentimental or corny. (XXXIII-8)
Betty Carter: Inside Betty Carter
Betty Carter, vocals; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Harold Mabern, piano; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Roy McCurdy, drums; unknown piano, bass, drums on previously unissued tracks
Capitol CDP 7-88702-2 (CD). 1964, 1965/1993. Alan Douglas, prod.; Michael Cuscuna, reissue prod.; Bill Schwartau, Bob Lifton, engs. AAD. TT: 45:43
Betty Carter, who manipulated her lush, acrobatic voice with a gymnast's skill, joined Lionel Hampton's band in 1948, the year she turned 19. She was a lifelong jazz purist, a true disciple whose uncompromising style kept her on a thorny career path, and even led her to record exclusively on her own label for two decades. Carter won recognition, and Verve reissued some of her 1970s and '80s BetCar albums, but she's among the top handful of jazz singers, and deserves more. Here she tears through the lyrics of "My Favorite Things" the way a 10-year-old rips wrapping off Christmas gifts, and when she fills with ecstasy each phrase of "This Is Always," I know my passion for her isn't, to borrow from that song, "a passing glow, a moment's gladness." No, "it's love." Betty Carter has "tied a string around my heart." (XXIII-2)
Kathleen Ferrier: Bach, Handel
Kathleen Ferrier, contralto; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult
London 433-474-2 (mono CD). 1952. AAD. TT: 48:07
The English contralto Kathleen Ferrier, whose voice was memorable for its depth and poignancy, made a late professional debut at a village church when she was 25, then rose from that humble stage on angel's wings. Benjamin Britten composed for her. Bruno Walter conducted when she sang Mahlerseparate Decca and EMI sets marking the 2012 centenary of her birth include their collaborationsand noted that his greatest musical experiences were knowing Ferrier and Mahler, "in that order." Britten said, after hearing her perform Handel's Messiah in Westminster Abbey, "The music sailed across vast spaces with a confidence and beauty that I think I'd never heard before." On this CD, the selections from that popular oratorio resound with her power and her glory. One aria alone, "He was despised," explains why she was idolized in England by the time cancer took her in 1953, when she was just 41.
Peter Brötzmann Octet: Machine Gun
Peter Brötzmann, tenor & baritone saxophone; Willem Brueker, Evan Parker, tenor saxophone; Fred Van Hove, piano; Peter Kowald, Buschi Niebergali, bass; Han Bennik, Sven Johansson, drums
Free Music Production FMP0090 (LP). 1968/1972. Peter Brötzmann, prod. AAA. TT: 37:05
A manic, frenzied, frenetic, and explosive record from an octet that's so loose they're not afraid to be tight. When I first heard Machine Gun, in the 1980s, I couldn't believe it was recorded in the '60s. Machine Gun sounded as fresh as anything I was listening to at the time, which included Einstürzende Neubauten and :zoviet*france:. The fury begins with the first notes and doesn't abate until the last. This is improvisation at its most inspired, and music at its most primal.
Mal Waldron with Eric Dolphy & Booker Ervin: The Quest
Mal Waldron, piano; Eric Dolphy, alto saxophone, clarinet; Booker Ervin, tenor saxophone; Ron Carter, cello; Joe Benjamin, bass; Charles Persip, drums
New Jazz NJLP 8269 (LP). 1961. Rudy Van Gelder, prod. AAA. TT: 41:28
A beautiful, quiet, composed, and introspective record from a sextet that's so tight they're not afraid to be loose. I discovered The Quest while browsing through the stacks at Other Music, a favorite NYC record shop. When I first played it, its sheer beauty amazed me. I shot off an e-mail to friends, and it turned out that The Quest was a favorite of theirs as well, which led me to start a blog where we would continue to share music. The Quest changed my life. Listen closely and it may change yours.
Phil Austin: Roller Maidens from Outer Space
Epic/Laugh.com LGH 1151 (CD). 1974/2003. Phil Austin, prod.; Oona Elliott, Michael C. Gwynne, engs. AAD. TT: 45:52
Phil Austin is a member of the Firesign Theatre, and his contributions to the creations of that unique audio troupe of metaphysical clowns were always, to my ear, the most darkly brilliant. Roller Maidens from Outer Space is Austin's sole solo album, released in 1974 and almost immediately out of print. It's a surreal farce about the main characters of I Love Lucy and The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, here thinly disguised as Oooh Juicy! and The Regular & Ethyl Show. They've hired, from his own series, the noir-ish Dick Private to investigate their mounting suspicion that there might be A World Elsewhere, beyond the TV set(s) in which they all live. Meanwhile, the hapless jock of a local Christian TV station attempts to navigate Pledge Week as he plays songs that continue the plot(s) in ways of their own ("Come on, Jesusshow yourself!"), constantly prompted by an exasperated engineer not nearly as off-mike as he thinks he is. Dick Private descends into a hellish nightmare world that references Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow in an unprecedented attempt to make it across The Channels. It's also about the Watergate hearings (this was 1974), the Second Coming (Jesus returns as the brother of a certain Cuban sitcom star), feminism, the transmigration of souls, and the end of the world. It's also a country album. In his four songs, Austin sends up Elvis, Jerry Reed, Doug Kershaw, and Kris Kristofferson, his comedic and dramatic timing is inerrant, and the songs ain't bad. This audio phantasmagoria's many kaleidoscoped stories do not easily give up their secrets, but each hearing reveals more; Austin's cultural criticism is biting but never bitter, and the result is a sense of delighted wonder at human existence itself. The three other Firesigners appear in various parts, along with many others, and the album is beautifully produced, with great sound. Available only from www.laugh.com.
Beatrice Kay: The Naughty Nineties
Columbia/Master Classics CL 868 (mono CD). 1940/1950/2011. No prod., eng. listed. AD. TT: 44:11
I've loved Beatrice Kay since I was five or six, and have wanted to list The Naughty Nineties ever since I compiled the very first "R2D4," for the January 1991 issue. Originally released in two albums of Columbia 78rpm shellacs in 1940, reissued on LP in 1950, and then out of print for well over half a century, the 16 tracks are finally available again. Brooklyn-born Kay (19071986) came up through vaudeville, musicals, and touring stock companies, and had minor careers in radio, films, and TV. She specialized in music-hall songs and parlor ballads of the turn of the century, first at Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe and then in these recordings. Here are "Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl," "What You Gonna Do When the Rent Comes 'Round," "Oceana Roll," "My Mother Was a Lady," "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee," "A Bird in a Gilded Cage," "Don't Go in the Lion's Cage Tonight," and many more, half of them written by Albert Von Tilzer (who wrote "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"). Kay twists the originally earnest sentimentality of some of these songs in ways unimagined by their composers, the intentionally funny ones have never been more so, and for better or worse, the burnt cork of minstrel shows is always at hand. She was an absolute master of comic timing and musical phrasingI've listened to this record hundreds of times over the last 60 years, and am still hearing nuances never noted before. Kay sang in a uniquely thick, creamy, powerful belt with perfect control of dynamics and pitch; the joy she took in sending up these old songs is palpable in every track. And the accompaniment by the Elm City Four (a barbershop quartet) and "an orchestra under the direction of Ray Bloch," who I presume wrote the arrangements, are period perfection. The album is available only through Amazon.com as a made-to-order CD. The album sounds better than it ever has, with caveats: It was clearly burned from a somewhat worn LP that was itself transcribed from 78s in 1950. No information is supplied other than a list of song titles, but contact me at email@example.com; I'll send you a pdf of everything I have, including the anonymous but elegantly amusing original liner note. The Naughty Nineties has given me more fun and delight than any other album I have ever owned.