The Fifth Element #41 5 & 4-Star Lists of Recordings
David Lovell, Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK
Dear John Marks, You have set a fascinating challenge. You state that the ability to engender a passionate response means more to you than other more intellectual justifications. I suggest that both attributes are needed to whittle the list down to mere 12. Writing from across the pond may I give you an outsider's take on US musical culture that is significant in terms of impact, enjoyability and accessibility? I agree with many of your choices; some with modifications, but feel that you have omitted some significant aspects.
1. Roy Harris: Symphony 3
Agree entirely with your choice. The DG CD issue 419780-2 is "all-American," with Bernstein conducting the NYPO as it also includes the 3rd symphony of another important American composer: William Schuman.
2. Rosalyn Tureck playing Bach
Representative of her many recordings is: Bach: The Great Solo Works, Vol.2, CD VAIA 1051. Tureck is probably the American who has made the greatest contribution to the performance of Bach, not only directly but through her teaching and general proselytising. Her interpretations were both perceptive and entertaining.
3. Big Bill Broonzy
An unadulterated example of something entirely American — 12-bar blues. More dramatic than Lee Hooker, and the roots from which grew R&B, rock etc etc. Big Bill Blues on Vogue LAE12009 LP or CD reissue.
4. Louis Armstrong Hot Seven
Given a really good HiFi system (LP or CD) I can see little difficulty in appreciating how revolutionary this music was. Try "Potato Head Blues" to hear the astonishing power and lyricism of Armstrong's improvisation.
5. Duke Ellington Blanton-Webster Band: Never No Lament
Agree entirely that the Ellington band of the Blanton era was probably his best. The range and quality of composition and improvisation is huge: Jack the Bear—Blanton, Concerto for Cootie—Cootie Williams, Harlem Air Shaft, etc.
6. Charlie Parker
Because jazz is the prime, completely original, form that America has contributed to musical culture, I would include the father of modern jazz. Listen to "Ko Ko" or "Bird Gets the Worm" from the Savoy recordings 1945–48; seamless rewriting within improvisations.
7. Miles Davis/Gil Evans
I support your choice of the Miles Davis Porgy and Bess, but feel that the Miles Ahead album provides an even better example of Gil Evans talent for writing and arranging diverse material in a fashion ideal for jazz improvisation (compositions include ones by Brubeck, Gershwin, Weill, Ahmad Jamal, JJ Johnson, Carisi and Delibes). On top of this are the superb improvisations of Davis.
8. Alison Krauss
I can see why you chose Willie Nelson but I'd suggest a better alternative: the live recording in Louisville of Krauss with Union Station. Not only are there some good stories here from Krauss, but in addition there are superb contributions from Bales, Block, Douglas and Tyminski.
9. Steely Dan: Aja
Agree with your assessment.
10. Jackson Brown
Listen to Lives in the Balance for evidence of the quality of this singer-songwriter.
11. Joni Mitchell: Court & Spark
Agree with your assessment, but are you cheating? She hails from Canada!
12. John Philip Sousa
How did you miss this? For an outsider these marches are characteristic reminders of sporting and military events in the USA. OK they are written to a formula, but they are consistently original and fun to listen to.
Dennis Hardin, Indianapolis, Indiana
Here's my list:
1. Gershwin: Complete Works for Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony/Slatkin
2. Edwin Hawkins Singers: Oh Happy Day
3. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Will the Circle Be Unbroken
4. Allman Brothers Band: Live at Fillmore East
5. Bob Dylan: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
6. Robert Shaw Chorale: Stephen Foster Songbook
7. Glenn Miller Orchestra: In the Digital Mood
8. Ella Fitzgerald/Count Basie: On the Sunny Side of the Street
9. Morten Lauridsen: O Magnum Mysterium
10. Preservation Hall Jazz Band: Songs of New Orleans
11. US Marine Band: Sousa Marches
12. Copland: Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, Billy the Kid, Fanfare for the Common Man, New York Philharmonic/Bernstein.