Recording of the Month

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Robert Baird Posted: Mar 16, 2015 4 comments
Sasha Matson: Cooperstown: Jazz Opera in Nine Innings
Julie Adams (Lilly Young), soprano; Carin Gilfry (Jan Green), mezzo-soprano; Daniel Favela (Marvin Wilder), Daniel Montenegro (Angel Corazon), tenors; Rod Gilfry (Dutch Schulhaus), baritone; Jason Rigby, saxophones; Russ Johnson, trumpets; Sean Wayland, keyboards; Rich Mollin, double bass; Gernot Bernroider, drums; Sasha Matson, conductor
Albany TROY1553/54A (2 CDs). 2015. John Atkinson, prod., mastering; Mike Marciano, eng., mix; Bill Schnee, Kenton Fukuda, engs. DDD TT: 101:63
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

A jazz opera about baseball? Uh-huh. Sung in colloquial English? A recording produced by the editor of this magazine? Sounds like the kind of situation where I should have nodded politely and just said No. What about ethics—all the folks who already think that review-based outlets like Stereophile are bought and paid for? Pony up and we'll write you a rave, right? Well, no. Absolutely not. But—Recording of the Month?

Robert Baird Posted: Feb 24, 2015 Published: Mar 01, 2015 4 comments
Estrella Morente: Amar en Paz
Estrella Morente, voice; Niño Josele, guitar
Calle 54/Sony Music 88875011922 (CD). 2014. Fernando Trueba, prod., exec. prod.; Nat Chediak, exec. prod.; Jose Luis Crespo, eng.; Jim Anderson, mix; Alan Silverman, mastering. DDD? TT: 66:29
Performance ****
Sonics ****½

What makes a great singer great is a magical combination of virtuosic physical skills with mental and emotional powers of interpretation that allow you to hear and feel a lyric's subtext: the emotions the songwriter hoped to evoke by a turn in the melody.

Robert Levine Posted: Jan 28, 2015 Published: Feb 01, 2015 0 comments
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Greer Grimsley, Wotan; Alwyn Mellor, Brünnhilde; Stefan Vinke, Siegfried; Stuart Skelton, Siegmund; Stephanie Blythe, Fricka, Waltraute; Margaret Jane Wray, Sieglinde; Richard Paul Fink, Alberich; Dennis Petersen, Mime; Wendy Bryn Hammer, Freia, Gutrune; Daniel Sumegi, Fafner, Hagen; Andrea Silvestrelli, Fasolt, Hunding; Markus Brück, Gunther; Mark Schowalter, Loge; others; Seattle Symphony Orchestra & Seattle Opera Chorus, Asher Fisch
Avie AV2313 (14 CDs). 2014. Evans Mirageas, prod.; Rick Fisher, mastering. DDD. TT: 14:35:33
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Judging from the pictures in the booklet accompanying these 14 CDs, Seattle's "green" Ring was quite beautiful. What we have to go by is audio only, but even without the visuals, it's very impressive.

Is there a movement toward de-monumentalizing the Ring? The Frankfurt Opera's (on Oehms), recently released on CDs and DVDs (different performances), is similar: the accent is on the behavior and interactions of those who inhabit the world of the Ring. The orchestral emphases are on transparency, not bombast.

John Swenson Posted: Dec 22, 2014 Published: Jan 01, 2015 1 comments
Bob Dylan and the Band: The Bootleg Series Vol.11: The Basement Tapes Complete
Columbia/Legacy 88875016122 (6 CDs). 2014. Garth Hudson, orig. eng., tape restoration; Jeff Rosen, Steve Berkowitz, reissue prods.; Jan Haust, reissue prod., tape restoration; Peter J. Moore, tape restoration, remastering; Mark Wilder, prod., add'l. mastering. A-D? TT: 6:27:56
Music *****
Sonics ***

The Basement Tapes are, as musician and archivist Sid Griffin writes in the liner notes, a kind of Rosetta Stone codifying the interface of myths, folktales, and song stories that inform the restless spirit of Bob Dylan's work. All the ingredients of American folklore, from blues and gospel to country, R&B, and rock'n'roll, went into this home brew distilled in the Catskill Mountains by Dylan and the Band over the course of these sessions.

Robert Baird Posted: Nov 25, 2014 Published: Dec 01, 2014 4 comments
James Brown: Love Power Peace: Live at the Olympia, Paris, 1971
Polydor/Sundazed 5470 (3 LPs). 2014. James Brown, prod., mix; Ron Lenhoff, eng., mix; Bob Irwin, mastering. AAA.? TT: 92:50
Performance *****
Sonics ***½

In the one scene in the new James Brown biopic, Get On Up, that's actually about his music, JB, who began his career in music as a drummer, tells his horn section to "sound like a drum." It also shows him being dictatorial and harsh, traits that contributed to his losing several bands' worth of key musicians over the years. Perched on the edge of such a precipice were the shows in Paris, at the Olympia Theatre, in March 1971, one of which was recorded by King Records.

Thomas Conrad Posted: Oct 27, 2014 Published: Nov 01, 2014 1 comments
Henry Mancini: Music for Peter Gunn
Steven Richman, Harmonie Ensemble/New York (22-piece orchestra)
Harmonia Mundi HMU907624 (CD). 2014. Steven Richman, prod.; Adam Abeshouse, prod., eng., mastering; Bill Siegmund, asst. prod., ed.; Andy Rider, eng. DDD? TT: 51:04
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

To get the full benefit of this album, you must be old enough to remember 1959. Detective shows were the rage. Your parents let you stay up for Richard Diamond, Private Detective, starring David Janssen, and Peter Gunn, starring Craig Stevens. They were the first TV dramas with their own original jazz soundtracks. Pete Rugolo scored Richard Diamond. The RCA LP of Henry Mancini's music for Peter Gunn was a smash. It was on the Billboard charts for two years, and in 1959 won the first-ever Grammy for Album of the Year.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Sep 26, 2014 Published: Oct 01, 2014 4 comments
Bruckner: Symphony 9
Claudio Abbado, Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 479 3441 (CD, 48/24 download from HDTracks). 2014. Georg Obermayer, prod., ed.; Urs Dürr, Toine Mertens, engs. DDD. TT: 63:09
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

This performance of Bruckner's last, all-but-finished composition was recorded at the last concert conducted by Claudio Abbado. It is a fitting final statement by an interpreter of unparalleled sensitivity, intelligence, and taste.

The Ninth is no serene work, and Abbado's earlier recording, with the Vienna Philharmonic, is a darker, more intensely driven vision of Bruckner's fight to live long enough to complete his most profound, most ambitious composition. The difficulties of that double struggle are evident throughout the three movements Bruckner completed (Abbado never conducted a completion of the nearly finished Finale), and in 1996 in Vienna, those struggles seemed the story Abbado wanted to tell.

Robert Baird Posted: Aug 21, 2014 Published: Sep 01, 2014 0 comments
Amy LaVere: Runaway's Diary
Archer ARR 319611/2 (LP/CD). 2014. Luther Dickinson, prod.; Kevin Houston, eng., Daniel Lyon, asst. eng. ADA/ADD. TT: 38:27.

"It's not your average gal that drinks bourbon neat, walks around with a pocket atlas and drives a big white gear van. I thought she was charming and awfully funny."

Talent and humor has never been a problem for Amy LaVere. Not long after high school she led Last Minute, a Detroit punk band. When we next hear of her, she's in Nashville as part of a husband-and-wife folk/country duo, The Gabe and Amy Show, who released a single, "Blankets of Love," b/w Johnny Cash's "Big River."

Robert Baird Posted: Jul 21, 2014 Published: Aug 01, 2014 0 comments
The Black Keys: Turn Blue
Nonesuch 7559795555 (LP/CD/HDtracks download). 2014. Black Keys, Danger Mouse, prods.; Kennie Takahashi, eng.; Collin Dupuis, Geoff Neal, Bill Skibbe, asst. engs.; Tchad Blake, mix. TT: 45:09
Performance ****
Sonics ****

There was a time when calling the Black Keys "sexy" would have been thought perversely stunted, given that they were a two-man, raw-as-hell, blow-me-down, frat-rock grinder that jammed and pounded and convinced everyone that their version of Tony Joe White's groove was something new and revolutionary.

Robert Baird Posted: Jun 23, 2014 Published: Jul 01, 2014 8 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.

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