Recording of the Month
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Recording of the Month
Richard Lehnert Dec 26, 2012 Published: Jan 01, 2013 2 comments
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Birgit Nilsson, Hans Hotter, Wolfgang Windgassen, George London, Gustav Neidlinger, Gerhard Stolze, Gottlob Frick, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Kirsten Flagstadt, Set Svanholm, James King, Régine Crespin, Christa Ludwig, many others; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Georg Solti
Decca 0289 478 3702 2 (17 CDs, 1 BD, 1 DVD). 1958–66/1997/2012. John Culshaw, prod.; Gordon Parry, eng.; James Lock (1997), Philip Siney (2012), remastering. ADD. TT: 14:36:56 (Ring only)
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Gramophone called it "the recording of the [20th] century"; Stereophile named it No.1 of the 40 essential recordings of all time. Fifty-four years after the first Rheingold sessions, there is still nothing like this history-making first studio recording—by conductor Georg Solti, the Vienna Philharmonic, and producer John Culshaw—of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, originally taped and released on LP from 1958 to 1966. The unsurpassed quality of singers and orchestra, Solti's astonishing ability to tell a dramatic story in music, the epic scope and sweep of work and performance—and the sound, as much a wonder for our own time as half a century ago—make these recordings seem more precious, their combinations of qualities less likely to ever be repeated, with every passing year.

Recording of the Month
Robert Baird Nov 29, 2012 Published: Dec 01, 2012 4 comments
David Byrne & St. Vincent: Love This Giant
4AD CAD3231 (LP). 2012. David Byrne, Annie Clark, prods.; Patrick Dillett, John Congleton, asst. prods., engs.; Yuki Takahashi, Jon Altschuler, asst. engs. DDA? TT: 44:23
Performance *****
Sonics ****

The world's Web-based culture has progressed to the point that you don't need to be in the same room, or even the same general region, to be inspired by or collaborate with someone else. Ideas can fly back and forth for years across time and distance. By all accounts, the Internet played a key role in the creation of this sparkling and unexpected bit of funky world pop. This pair of wonderfully hard-to-define talents, who over a three-year gestation period seem to have found a glorious common ground for songwriting and harmonizing, has succeeded in fashioning an utterly original shard of brass-band-meets-layers-of-drum-programming, all of it overflown by the delicate voice of Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, and the recognizable keen of the Talking Heads' former big-suited frontman, David Byrne.

Recording of the Month
Robert Baird Nov 02, 2012 0 comments
Albert Lee: Tearing It Up
AIX Records AIX 85054 (BD). Mark Waldrep, prod.; Mona Waldrep, exec. prod.; Dominic Robelotto, assoc. prod., eng., BD authoring. DDD. TT: 100:00
Performance *****
Sonics *****

"From a layman's perspective, I'd listen to the 'Audience' mix on my first bourbon and the 'Stage' mix on my second."

Ahh, yes, out of the mouths of . . . audiophiles . . . who like good booze!

Lacking a 5.1-channel surround-sound rig at home, I enlisted the able assistance of "Music in the Round" columnist Kalman Rubinson, who then convinced his son-in-law, Michael Schechter, source of the above quote, to host us for an evening of listening to and watching the Blu-ray disc Tearing It Up, a new set by the incomparable English country-rock guitarist Albert Lee, recently released by AIX Records.

Recording of the Month
Robert Baird, Kalman Rubinson Sep 25, 2012 Published: Oct 01, 2012 1 comments
Patricia Barber: Nightclub & Modern Cool
Nightclub
Premonition 90763-1 (2 LPs). Patricia Barber, prod.; Michael Friedman, exec. prod.; Jim Anderson, eng.; Bob Ludwig, mastering; Doug Sax, mastering (LP). AAA? TT: 51:20
Performance ****
Sonics *****

Modern Cool
Premonition 90761-4 (BD-A). Patricia Barber, prod.; Michael Friedman, exec. & surround prod.; Jim Anderson, eng. & surround eng. Robert Gatley, asst. surround eng. ADD? TT: 67:49
Performance ****
Sonics *****

Much as the music world at large supremely values so-called original compositions (as if . . . but then that's a discussion for another day), it takes a special talent to make a song written by someone else—in common parlance, a cover—your very own. Take Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Alfie," from the 1966 film with Michael Caine in the title role. Recorded for the soundtrack by Cilla Black, and later cut by everyone from Babs and Bill Evans to the Delfonics and Sarah Vaughan—not to mention a pair of laughably bad versions from Cher—the song is nothing if not overexposed. Bacharach's own soaring arrangement for the film sticks in the world's collective head. For lesser performers, that alone would be more than enough to keep them well clear of trying to cover it.

Recording of the Month
Richard Lehnert Aug 28, 2012 Published: Sep 01, 2012 0 comments
Jarrett, Garbarek, Danielsson, Christensen: Sleeper
Keith Jarrett, piano, percussion; Jan Garbarek, tenor & soprano saxophone, flute, percussion; Palle Danielsson, double bass; Jon Christensen, drums, percussion
ECM 2290/91 (2 CDs; hi-rez FLAC files from HDTracks). 1979/2012. Manfred Eicher, prod., mix; Jan Erik Kongshaug, eng., mix. ADD. TT: 106:56
Performance *****
Sonics ****

Keith Jarrett's American quartet (with Redman, Haden, Motian) was prolifically inventive. His Standards trio (Peacock, DeJohnette) continues endlessly rich and ebullient at the end of its third decade. But Jarrett's Scandinavian quartet of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, drummer Jon Christensen (both Norwegian), and bassist Palle Danielsson (Swedish), was something else again. Each player's technical mastery, combined with their collectively perfect attunedness to one other, an apparently effortless intimacy of interplay that sounds telepathic, made them special even in a career as brilliant as Jarrett's—who wrote his best tunes for this band.

Recording of the Month
Robert Levine Jul 25, 2012 Published: Aug 01, 2012 0 comments
Joplin: Treemonisha
Anita Johnson, soprano; AnnMarie Sandy, mezzo-soprano; Chauncey Packer, Robert Mack, tenors; Edward Pleasant, high baritone; Darren Stokes, Frank Ward Jr., basses; others; Paragon Ragtime Orchestra and Singers, Rick Benjamin
New World 80720-2 (2 CDs). 2012. Judith Sherman, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 99:06
Performance ****
Sonics *****

The great ragtime composer Scott Joplin had grander ambitions than just the magnificent miniatures for piano he's famous for. When he died, in 1917, he had spent much of the previous 10 years polishing and campaigning for his full-length opera, Treemonisha, the piano-vocal score for which he had published in 1911. Joplin had studied classical composition and notation with a German scholar who had happened to settle in his hometown of Texarkana, Arkansas; lore has it that Julius Weiss gave young Joplin lessons in exchange for Mrs. Joplin's services as a laundress. Treemonisha is through-composed, with sophisticated harmonies clearly influenced by European teachings, but it also incorporates early-jazz beats, proto-blues sounds, odd syncopations, occasional Victorian-type ballads, African-American folk and pop music, and moments that recall field hollers and revival meetings—in short, all of the music of the Black experience in America is represented.

Recording of the Month
Robert Baird Jun 28, 2012 Published: Jul 01, 2012 0 comments
Bill Evans: Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of the Gate
Bill Evans, piano; Eddie Gomez, bass; Marty Morrell, drums
Resonance HLP-2012 (2 LPs/2 CDs, HDTracks 24/44.1k download). 1968/2012. George Klabin, exec. prod., mix, sound restoration; Zev Feldman, prod.; Fran Gala, mix, sound restoration, mastering. ADA/ADD. TT: 49:12/40:50
Performance *****
Sonics * to ***

Complain if you will, analog lovers, about the evils of digital technology, but in one area there isn't a whiff of argument: the esoteric pursuit of rescuing live recordings with marginal sound. Without question, manipulating ones and zeros has cleaned up a lot of nearly unlistenable bootlegs. This bit of buried treasure, while never unlistenable, has been rendered in sound that is, at times, very good. The two-star sonics rating, which may seem shocking for a "Recording of the Month," is an average—while the sound quality rates a single star in the opening, it's nearly up to four stars by Disc 2. The long-ago sounds of these two live sets of the Bill Evans trio playing mostly standards, recorded in a long-gone Greenwich Village club, Top of the Gate (it was literally above the better-known Village Gate jazz club), are, if not the holy grail, then a very gilded cup.

Recording of the Month
Robert Baird May 29, 2012 2 comments
Krzysztof Penderecki/Jonny Greenwood
Threnody for the victims of Hiroshima, Popcorn Superhet Receiver, Polymorphia, 48 Responses to Polymorphia
Aukso Orchestra, Penderecki, Marek Mos, conductors
Nonesuch 530223-2 (CD) Filip Berkowicz, Michal Merczynski, prods. Barbara Orzechowska, associate prod. Ewa Guziotek-Tubelewicz, Pitor Witkowski, engs. Performance ***** Sonics *****

For the past two decades, the "C" word in classical music— crossover—has been a bone of both hope and contention. Lured by the supposed riches that lurk amongst classical fans who want to slum it and popular music fans with upscale intellectual curiosities, artists from Caruso to Domingo to Joshua Bell have given in this concept in search of a success to mostly disappointing results. And then of course there's humble Gordon Sumner (aka Feyd Rautha Harkonnen) who blithely smeared his meager powers onto the work of poor John Dowland in Songs From the Labyrinth—an apt title if ever there was. In 2010 the great Renee Fleming, no stranger to taking risks and a jazz singer during her college years, dipped her toes, fairly disastrously it turns out, into the classical/rock crossover pool with Dark Hope, a record whose title again seems to carry a less than promising message.

Recording of the Month
Thomas Conrad May 01, 2012 0 comments
Ryan Truesdell: Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans
Ryan Truesdell, conductor; 35 musicians including those mentioned in text, plus: Scott Robinson, Charles Pillow, reeds; Greg Gisbert, trumpet; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Romero Lubambo, guitar; Lewis Nash, drums
ArtistShare AS0114 (CD). 2012. Ryan Truesdell, prod.; James Farber, eng. DAD. TT: 74:18
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

It is dreamlike when the opening track, "Punjab," begins so softly, with the tapping of a tabla. Exotic woodwinds, perhaps English horn and bassoon, murmur in the left channel, whisper in the right. It is dreamlike because Gil Evans died in 1988, yet this unfamiliar music sounds like him, and when suddenly that deep, solemn brass figure looms out of the right channel, it could only be him. More instruments enter, and more motifs, with brighter colors from alto saxophone and flute. Like all the greatest Gil Evans music, "Punjab" creates its own world of high drama and mysterious allusion. It belongs in the exalted company of such Evans masterpieces as Out of the Cool and Sketches of Spain. And it is new.

Recording of the Month
Richard Lehnert Apr 04, 2012 0 comments
Tord Gustavsen Quartet: The Well
Tord Gustavsen, piano; Tore Brunborg, tenor saxophone; Mats Eilertsen, bass; Jarle Vespestad, drums
ECM 2237 (CD). 2012. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Jan Erik Kongshaug, eng. DDD. TT: 53:19
Performance *****
Sonics *****

The first time I heard J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier, I heard an endless sameness, lovely but undifferentiated. Only over many hearings did each pairing of prelude and fugue begin to emerge from the background, as what Bach did in each iteration of the same received form began to be revealed as an inexhaustible richness of difference. Gradually, I was learning Bach's musical language; only then did I begin to get an idea of what he might be saying.

Recording of the Month
Robert Baird Mar 01, 2012 0 comments
Anthony Wilson: Seasons Anthony Wilson, Steve Cardenas, Julian Lage, Chico Pinheiro, guitars
Goat Hill Recordings 003 (CD/DVD). 2011. Anthony Wilson, prod.; Todd Whitelock, eng.; Damon Whittemore, asst. eng.; Kevin Gray, mastering; George Petit, live sound assistance; Steve Becker, Chris Scarafile, cameras. AAD? TT: 63:35
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Halfway into the interview in his management company's offices, as Steve Earle literally squirmed in his seat, I got the distinct impression that he had somewhere else to go, something more important to do. Turned out he was anxious to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibition Guitar Heroes: Legendary Craftsmen from Italy to New York. Suddenly, instead of talking about his career, he was rhapsodizing about the jazz-guitar luthiers—John D'Angelico and James D'Aquisto—whose work was being exhibited, and a display that featured one of the four guitars known to have been made by Antonio Stradivari.

Recording of the Month
Robert Baird Feb 03, 2012 1 comments
Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis
Atlantic/Analogue Productions APP 8214-45 (two 45rpm LPs). 1969/2011. Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin, prods.; Ed Kollis, eng.; Kevin Gray, 45rpm mastering. AAA. TT: 76:40
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Coaxing a singer to "stretch" always sounds like a good idea—that is, until the singer is standing in the same recording booth used by Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, and suddenly her confidence, never brimming to start with, drops through the floor and she can't or won't sing a note. Add to this that Dusty Springfield was already a sticky perfectionist who'd self-produced most of her records and wasn't happy with the songs to be recorded—despite the fact that most of them were straight out of the Brill Building—and you have the recipe for an all-time classic record, right?

Recording of the Month
Robert Baird Dec 29, 2011 Published: Jan 01, 2012 2 comments
Tom Waits Bad As Me
Anti- 87151-1 (LP). 2011. Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan, prods.; Julianne Deery, prod. coord.; Karl Derfler, eng.; Zack Summer, asst. eng. ADA? TT: 44:37
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

They only come out at night. Or when recession, wars, and gridlock rule. On Bad As Me, Tom Waits's first record of new material since 2004's Real Gone, things having gone bad all over gives his uniquely American narratives a fresh resonance: "Well we bailed out all the millionaires / they got the fruit, we got the rind / and everybody's talking at the same time / everybody's talking at the same time." ("Talking at the Same Time"). But lest anyone get the idea it's all politics and no licentiousness, the next track, "Get Lost," dives deep into loopy rockabilly slap beats as two of the three stellar guitarists who dominate this album, Marc Ribot and David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), conjure a twitchily convincing froth over which Waits revels in the simpler pleasures of Wolfman Jack and "real tight sweaters."

Recording of the Month
Robert Baird Dec 01, 2011 1 comments
Bill Frisell All We Are Saying . . .
Bill Frisell, guitar; Jenny Scheinman, violin; Greg Leisz, pedal steel guitar; Tony Scherr, bass; Kenny Wollesen, drums
Savoy Jazz SVY17836 (CD). 2011. Lee Townsend, prod.; Adam Blombert, prod. asst.; Adam Munoz, eng.; Greg Calbi, mastering. AAD? TT: 68:12
Performance ****
Sonics *****

How do you escape the pressures that come with making a record of well-known John Lennon tunes, many of them from archetypal Beatles songs? Convene a quartet of longtime bandmates, each a skilled instrumentalist with whom you've played this material before—albeit not in a while—and just hang loose, let the ideas flow, and jam up beautifully recorded, feel-no-heat-from-the-classic-originals versions whose rough charms somehow seem exactly right. Oh yeah, and bring in pedal-steel wizard Greg Leisz to put an evocative, legato tang on the whole thing.

Recording of the Month
Richard Lehnert Oct 31, 2011 Published: Nov 01, 2011 1 comments
1111rotm.jpgBruckner Symphonies 4, 7, 9
(Finale of 9 completed by Carragan, ed. 2010)
Gerd Schaller, Philharmonie Festiva
Profil PH11028 (4 CDs). 2008/2009/2011. Ememkut Zaotschnyj (4, 7), Lutz Wildner (9), prods.; Sandro Binetti (4, 7), Herbert Fr ühbauer (9), engs. DDD. TTs: 65:43 (4), 64:52 (7), 83:41 (9)
Performance *****
Sonics ***** (4, 7), ****½ (9)

These performances were recorded at the Ebrach Festival, held annually in the small town of Ebrach, Germany (an hour's drive north from Nuremberg or west from Bayreuth), in the former Abbey Church of Ebrach, which comprised a Cistercian monastery (now a prison) and a vast gothic cathedral built in the 13th century which now serves as the parish church. Many hear the phrases "festival orchestra" and "live recording" and expect the worst: flawed documents of underrehearsed performances by hastily convened pickup orchestras in venues not designed for good sound, and plagued by coughs, sneezes, scraped chair legs, the inadvertent rustlings of hundreds of attendees, and a level of applause that might not conform to the response of the listener at home.

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