April 2012 Record Reviews: Streamed Selections
Stereophile is not all about reviewing hi-fi, and thanks to our all-knowing and thrill-seeking Music Editor, Robert Baird, we cover exciting new releases in each monthly issue for you to consider on your hi-fi escapades. In this post, I listen to all records we reviewed available on streaming services MOG and Spotify from our April 2012 issue, provide my own two-cents, and link to the playlists from the two services. With a premium account, one can stream at 320kbps Ogg Vorbis files from Spotify, and MOG users can stream 320kbps MP3s for free!
While I had originally planned to share these monthly playlists via Spotify, I hit a few roadblocks that led to the creation of a partnering MOG playlist featuring different music selections. Spotify does not offer 320kpbs streaming for free accounts, so while I was able to listen to the Stereophile April Record Reviews playlist via my personal premium Spotify account, I risked readers without a premium Spotify account not being able to hear the playlist at the highest resolution possible. Thus, a MOG playlist felt justified. Although, I am out of free listening for this account. (MOG can you hear me?) Maybe by sharing this playlist, I’ll earn more free streaming.
Availability of the records we reviewed varied between the two streaming services. While Tord Gustavsen Quartet’s The Well, our April Recording of the Month, was previously on Spotify, it mysteriously disappeared shortly after I started this project, which reinforced the choice to provide a MOG playlist. MOG mistakenly lists this record as by the Tord Gustavsen Trio.
The MOG playlist starts with the Gustavsen Quartet’s “Suite” that barely breaks loose from the chains of its slow and beautiful tension. Tenor saxophonist Tore Brunborg blooms like an evening primrose from the warm moonbeams of Gustavsen’s rich piano chords. Brunborg’s melody is both active and passive, climbing for each redemptive note yet accepting a complacent existence in a drawn-out and simple melody, an existential melodic affair. Jarle Vespestad’s spacious and syncopated drums pull back the beat, making Brunborg’s quest all-the-more challenging to reach the top of the mountain.
On Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk’s French Impressions, I select the Allegro Molto passage from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Sonata No. 1 For Violin and Piano in D Minor, Op. 75 featuring blazing speed from violin-wonderboy Joshua Bell accompanied by Denk’s delicate piano-work. Bob Levine also found this passage “spectacularly played” in his review for our April issue. This is followed by a powerful rendition of Cesar Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major: Allegretto Ben Moderato.
The double-five star rating Daniel Buckley endows Winging It for both performance and sonics is spot on! A collection of John Corigliano’s piano works performed by Ursula Oppens and Jerome Lowenthal, this linked playlist includes Corigliano’s Chiaroscuro, a piece where two pianos perform tuned a quarter-tone apart, and Fantasia on an Ostinato. The first section of Chiaroscuro ,“Light”, sounds like someone stumbled into an abandoned mansion and chanced their fingers across the keys of a dusty piano, and grows from “Shadows” into the third section, “Strobe”, which echoes of amber plains and grassy hills fertilized by Aaron Copland’s majestic ideas of melody, reinvigorating romantic idealism in 21st Century music, also pursued by Corigliano’s stark compositions. The Fantasia on an Ostinato reminded me of Chopin’s Prelude No.15 in D-flat Major, except rather than let his ostinato build build into beauty like Chopin’s, Corigliano lets it crumble to remind you that beauty is bittersweet.
Finally, Bob Levine reviews Lisa Smirnova’s performance of Händel for her recording, The Eight Great Suites. As Stereophile Editor John Atkinson walked into my cubicle one day while I was listening to this record, I asked him, “Why is Händel so boring?”
JA gasped, “Händel’s not boring! He created the first form of classical music accessible to the masses!”
Händel’s Prélude from Harpischord Suite Set I No. 3 in D Minor spoke to me the most and provides a brief yet elegant ending to the MOG half of this playlist.
Conveniently, the albums available on Spotify from our April Record Reviews fell in the Rock/Pop and Jazz categories, while MOG selections fell largely in the “classical” category, minus the Gustavsen Recording of the Month, which fortunately contained equal emotional weight as the classical selections maintaining consistency between the playlists.
I found it difficult to just select a few tracks from The Songs of Bob Dylan: Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International by the collective Chimes of Freedom, an all-star assortment of pop, rock, and jazz musicians of all walks. Selections include Patti Smith (“Drifter’s Escape”), Pete Townshend (“Corrina, Corrina”), and Bettye Lavette (“Most of the Time”). The guitarist on Lavette’s recording uses a tremolo effect that washes the volume of his guitar up and down, the kind of effect that rewards a hi-fi with swift dynamic response from soft to quiet, but on the other hand, this recording is a little compressed. Charlie Winston’s rendition of “This Wheel’s on Fire”, one of my personal favorite The Band/Dylan numbers written by Danko and Dylan (R.I.P. Levon Helm), starts questionably bare but kicks into the hard-stomping groove that makes this tune so addictive, particularly so for this speedy rendition. Ziggy Marley’s refreshing take on “Blowing in the Wind” breathes life into a jaded classic. Pop-star Natasha Bedingfield’s version of “Ring Them Bells” is surprising and fun, and Billy Bragg’s “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” ends in lush Grateful Dead-like vocal harmonies.
I could keep going on and on about this tribute record. The Kesha cover is included just for kicks. Would love to hear what y’all think about it.
Following the Dylan tribute record is Golden Gate Groove’s The Sound of Philadephia: Live in San Francisco 1973. The Philly Sound is not a foreign one to the Stereophile staff. In our September 2008 issue, Robert Baird interviews Gamble and Huff, the founders and main producers at Philadelphia International Records, and in our 2011 Records to Die For, I selected Jerry Butler’s Ice on Ice. This record recaptures the wonder of the luscious Philly Sound in a show hosted by the late Don Cornelius. Billy Paul’s “East” has an ethereal beginning that would reward any hi-fi and grooves through some socio-political awareness as only Paul can do, and the Three Degrees “Dirty Ol’ Man” tells audiophiles to keep their hands to themselves.
I did not particularly care for the record Unlock Your Mind by the Soul Rebels that NOLA-lover John Swenson reviews, my first notes being, “Corny Stevie Wonder after-birth.” But people eat the placenta in some cultures, right? My Stevie Wonder association with the Soul Rebels was confirmed when I saw they included an all-horn cover of “Living For the City” on the record, not included in this playlist.
Finally, Nate Radley’s The Big Eyes is an absolute joy for guitar lovers. A stark contrast from Kurt Rosenwinkel, who has been my primary recent guitar listening. While Rosenwinkel adventures on free-flowing terrain of scales and arpeggios in whatever direction he wishes, Radley focuses on modal development of a theme. While Rosenwinkel leaves Earth and you are never sure if he is coming back, Radley plays from his home-base in order to reference outer space. “January” is bluesy, jazzy, and tugs on hearstrings without being mawkish. “Archipelago” is unabashed alternative jazz rock. “Ascent” features delicate off-beat spacing between notes and Latin-infused palm-muting: I’m in love.
Albums reviewed in our April issue not featured on these playlists include: J.S. Bach St. John Passion performed by the Portland Baroque Orchestra, Monica Huggett as conductor; Dirty Three Toward the Low Sun; West Montgomery Echoes of Indiana Avenue; and Paul Motian The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note.
To read the complete reviews on all of the albums on these playlists and in our April 2012 issue, download the digital edition here.