Recording of the Month

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Robert Baird Posted: Jun 23, 2014 Published: Jul 01, 2014 7 comments
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Texas Hurricane
Epic/Legacy/Analogue Productions AAPB SRV33-BOX (6 LPs, 331?3rpm). 1983–1991/2014. John Hammond Sr., orig. exec. prod.; Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Hammond Jr., Richard Mullen, others, orig. prods.; Richard Mullen, James Geddes, Lincoln Clapp, others, orig. engs.; Chad Kassem, reissue exec. prod.; Ryan Smith, remastering. AAA. TT: 3:55:20
Performance *****
Sonics *****

He was the shining star the blues world had always dreamed of: the rare performer who could break through to the musical mainstream. Yet alas, he flashed across the musical heavens and was gone far too soon, dying in a helicopter crash in August 1990, at the age of 35. That Stevie Ray Vaughan's reign as blues-guitar hero was brief but incendiary is driven home yet again by this spectacular new boxed set from Epic/Legacy and Chad Kassem's Analogue Productions label.

Robert Baird Posted: May 22, 2014 Published: Jun 01, 2014 0 comments
The link between jazz and the works of Igor Stravinsky is well known. In Conversations with Igor Stravinsky, his landmark 1959 collaboration with Robert Craft, the composer mentions jazz artists like Art Tatum and Charlie Christian. The fact that Stravinsky was captivated by the improvisational freedom of jazz and its insistent, inventive rhythms makes all his work, especially Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), a natural for jazz players to play and quote from, and over the years they have more than obliged.
Robert Baird Posted: Apr 22, 2014 Published: May 01, 2014 1 comments
WANTED: Jazz Hero. Must be willing and able to bring stunning new creative energies to a musical genre in danger of becoming stale and repetitive. Must be comfortable with a Marsalis level of celebrity. Saxophone or trumpet players preferred. Old men need not apply.

In 2011, jazz prayers were answered with the release of When the Heart Emerges Glistening, a brilliantly inventive mainstream jazz album led by Ambrose Akinmusire, a photogenic, 28-year-old trumpeter from Oakland, California. The young man had lots of fresh ideas, speed and dexterity to burn, and a unique tone, the combination of which brought back a flood of memories: Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Pops.

Robert Levine Posted: Mar 26, 2014 Published: Apr 01, 2014 3 comments
Beethoven: The Symphonies and Reflections
Symphonies 1–9; works by Giya Kancheli, Misato Mochizuki, Raminta Šerkšnyte, Rodion Shchedrin, Johannes Maria Staud, Jörg Widmann
Mariss Jansons, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Christiane Karg, soprano; Mihoko Fujimura, mezzo-soprano; Michael Schade, tenor; Michael Volle, baritone.
BR Klassik 900119 (6 CDs). 2013. Wilhelm Meister, prod.; Ulrike Schwarz, Peter Urban, Sunao Shimazaki, engs; Mechtild Homburg, Elisabeth Panzer, Bernadette Rüb, asst. engs. DDD. 6:27:31
Performance ****
Sonics *****

These live performances of Beethoven's nine symphonies were recorded mostly in Tokyo's Suntory Hall, October through December 2012 (except 3 and 6, recorded in Munich's Herkulessaal); the ancillary material—the Reflections of this set's title—are works by contemporary composers commissioned by conductor Mariss Jansons and recorded in Munich and Tokyo in 2008, 2009, and 2012. Intended as homages to Beethoven (as if he needed any), they are supposed to reflect what these composers feel Beethoven might be writing if he were alive today. Each new work is meant to denote an aspect of a specific symphony, and the CDs are (mostly) arranged so that we can hear each after the symphony that inspired it. Some of these pieces are daring and innovative, and add value to these marvelous performances of the symphonies themselves.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Feb 25, 2014 Published: Mar 01, 2014 1 comments
Keith Jarrett's gift for brilliant invention is apparently inexhaustible throughout both of these concerts, recorded five days apart in spring 1981. The combinations of lyricism, literally foot-stomping gospel, chordings and voicings alternately sumptuously lush and astringently lean, and unexpected musical destinations reached in surprising ways, are here at least as rich as anything else he's done.
Robert Baird Posted: Jan 26, 2014 Published: Feb 01, 2014 2 comments
James Booker: Classified: Remixed and Expanded Rounder 11661-9175-1 (2 LPs). 1983/2013. Scott Billington, John Parsons, prods.; Jay Gallagher, eng.; Jonathan Wyner, transfer eng.; David Farrell, remix. ADA. TT: 68:12 Performance ***** Sonics ****½

Before anything else, there's his musicality. No one has ever played the piano like James Carroll Booker III. If the piano is New Orleans' preeminent musical instrument, then Booker is its most talented virtuoso. A child prodigy who went on the road as part of Little Richard's band when he was 14, the Ivory Emperor, the Bronze Liberace, Li'l Booker, Little Chopin in Living Color (as he was variously known throughout his life) was breathtakingly gifted.

Larry Birnbaum Posted: Dec 24, 2013 Published: Jan 01, 2014 0 comments
Various Artists: The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records 1917–1927, Volume One
Third Man/Revenant (6 LPs, USB drive). 1917–27/2013. Alex van der Tuuk, Jack White, Dean Blackwood, prods.; Christopher C. King, David Glasser, Anna Frick, remastering. A–D. TT: 4:12:39 (LPs only)
Performance *****
Sonics Historical

Launched in 1917, Paramount Records initially recorded conventional pop music, such as Arthur Fields's "Good Morning, Mr. Zip, Zip, Zip." But with the hiring of J. Mayo Williams as a talent scout and producer in 1924, Paramount became one of the leading suppliers of "race" records, as discs marketed to African-Americans were then called. For the next decade, Paramount recorded some of the most important blues, jazz, and gospel artists of the era, along with country and pop musicians.

Robert Baird Posted: Nov 30, 2013 Published: Dec 01, 2013 4 comments
Deadlines and the Dead don't mix. Let me explain . . .

Back when I was a cub reporter, green as ivy, I was, in retrospect, suckered into volunteering to review a Grateful Dead concert. I dutifully drove to the venue for the 8pm show, abstained from intoxicating substances, and was on track—until I realized that, after two hours, the band was still on just the third song. Jerry was deep into an epic, 2000-bar solo that was gaining rather than losing momentum. In Deadspeak, it was one of those nights.

David Sokol Posted: Oct 24, 2013 Published: Nov 01, 2013 0 comments
Bob Dylan: Another Self Portrait (1969–1971): The Bootleg Series Vol.10
Columbia/Legacy 88883 73488 2 (4 CDs). 2013. Bob Johnston, Al Kooper, orig. prods.; Neil Wilburn, Don Puluse, Glyn Johns, orig. engs.; Elliot Mazer, Glyn Johns (Isle of Wight disc); Jeff Rosen, Steve Berkowitz, prods.; Greg Calbi, mastering. AAD? TT: 4:06:32
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

It wasn't until I'd read Michael Metzger's write-up of Self Portrait in "Records To Die For" (Stereophile, February 2002) that I was prompted to revisit Bob Dylan's once-critically-scoffed-at musical enigma from 1970. Sandwiched between the new country of 1969's Nashville Skyline and the decidedly folkier New Morning from late 1970, the two LPs of the original Self Portrait sounded like the work of an artist, albeit one still in his late 20s, wanting to unplug from the world and his already staggering body of work. With its quirky cover versions and unfocused song selection, it left plenty of fans scratching their heads.

Robert Baird Posted: Sep 25, 2013 Published: Oct 01, 2013 0 comments
The most indelicate, if not gory, term in all of music is the ever-popular "bleeding chunks." The bane of classical audiences cursed with lazy pops conductors, bleeding chunks are movements of works—or even parts of movements—strung together in that abomination known as a medley. The effect can be, I guess, soothing to those who, for example, know only a little about Mozart. But for anyone well versed in their Wolfy, these programs are jarring, and can produce involuntarily grinding of those cavity-prone back molars.
Robert Baird Posted: Aug 28, 2013 Published: Sep 01, 2013 3 comments
David Chesky: Jazz in the New Harmonic
David Chesky, piano; Javon Jackson, tenor saxophone; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Peter Washington, bass; Billy Drummond, drums
Chesky JD358 (CD). 2013. Norman Chesky, exec prod.; David Chesky, prod.; Nicholas Prout, prod., eng. DDD.? TT: 69:15.
Performance ****
Sonics *****

If there's a word that describes the feeling, the vibe present throughout Jazz in the New Harmonic, it's trance. Pianist and session leader David Chesky even uses it without prompting when asked how, among all his music endeavors—an album of difficult non–Joplin-like New York Rags in 2012, a children's ballet later this year, not to mention running Chesky Records—he found the time or inspiration to make a straight-ahead jazz record.

Robert Baird Posted: Jul 23, 2013 Published: Aug 01, 2013 4 comments
For all those who hold dear the notion that jazz has seen its best days—that, like classical music, it now lacks star power (no more Birds, Mileses, or Coltranes on the marquees), has already said much of what it had to say, and what's left is merely esoteric noodling or soulless bop-by-rote mopping up—there is Terence Blanchard. Once the archetypal sideman, this New Orleanian contemporary of Donald Harrison and Wynton Marsalis has become a successful leader. His poise, generous spirit, and workaholic lifestyle —not to mention his instantly recognizable trumpet tone—have quietly made him one of the leading figures in today's jazz mainstream.
Robert Baird Posted: Jun 24, 2013 Published: Jul 01, 2013 0 comments
Pedrito Martinez: Rumba de la Isla
Pedrito Martinez, vocals, congas, chekere, cowbell; Niño Josele, guitar, clapping; Alfredo de la Fé, electric violin; John Benítez, acoustic & electric bass; Pirana, cajón, clapping; Román Díaz, batas, cajón, spoons, vocals; Xiomara "La Voz" Laugart, Abraham Rodríguez, backing vocals
Calle 54/Sony Masterworks 8876 540607 2 (CD). 2013. Nat Chediak, Fernando Trueba, prods.; Jim Anderson, eng. DAD? TT: 50:20
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

Cross-cultural mashups are all the rage. There's the BlueBrass mix of New Orleans brass band and bluegrass, reviewed in this issue. The Border Music project mixes David Hidalgo's Norteño/East L.A. rock with Marc Ribot's downtown New York jazz. Here, conguero Pedrito Martinez, born in Cuba but based in New York City, successfully crosses Afro-Cuban rumba with Andalusian flamenco to celebrate the work of flamenco composer and singer Camarón de la Isla. Born José Monje Cruz, de la Isla is probably best known outside Spain for his collaborations with guitarist Paco de Lucía; together they made nine records, and toured extensively throughout the 1970s. De la Isla died in 1992 at the age of 41.

Stephen Mejias Posted: May 29, 2013 Published: Jun 01, 2013 2 comments
Though classically trained in flute and exceedingly capable on a wide range of other instruments, including drums, trombone, piano, and various electronics, Aidan Baker is best known for his work on acoustic and electric guitar. A perusal of his unofficial discography on Discogs.com reveals some 80 full-length albums, and another couple dozen singles, EPs, and compilation credits. Beyond merely prolific, Baker's recorded output is profound—and nearly impossible to chart.
Robert Baird Posted: Apr 29, 2013 Published: May 01, 2013 0 comments
Doug MacLeod: There's a Time
Reference RR-130 (HDCD). 2013. Doug MacLeod, Janice Mancuso, prods.; Keith O. Johnson, Sean Royce Martin, engs. DDD? TT: 58:00
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Like a lot of other once-pure forms of American music, the blues today has become a swirl of influences, mixing folk, rock, rhythm & blues, and even Latin flavors into a music that its aficionados—that fervent contingent known as "blues nuts"—have grudgingly accepted as being a part of the music they adore. But if blues fans thought Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan muddied the wellsprings of the Devil's own music, it'll be only a matter of time before rappers mix blues in with their beats, and then—horror of horrors!—dance music begins to "borrow" from da blues. Rather than resist these changes, blues fans should willingly embrace any new energies brought into the music; rather than ruin, these fresh ideas and passions may actually revitalize a musical form that many already see as a museum piece.

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