Recording of the Month

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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.

Thomas Conrad Posted: Mar 28, 2013 Published: Apr 01, 2013 3 comments
Around the last decade of the previous century, something significant happened in jazz. Suddenly, many of the best players were no longer Americans. Actually, it was not sudden. It was a gradual flowering that achieved critical mass and could no longer be overlooked.
Robert Baird Posted: Feb 26, 2013 Published: Mar 01, 2013 1 comments
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell: Old Yellow Moon
Nonesuch 534285-2 (CD/HDTracks download). 2013. Brian Ahern, prod.; Donivan Cowart, eng.; John Baldwin, Noland O'Boyle, asst. engs. AAD? TT: 41:04
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

A recent survey of my teenaged nephew and his friends turned up a number of musical trends both predictable and surprising. It sent them into paroxysms of disbelief and laughter when the old-man uncle asked whether they liked any guitar bands, like, say . . . Green Day. Guitar bands, to say the least, ain't cool. Pop-oriented hip-hop artists like Wiz Khalifa are. So are white, pop-rock "country" singers like Jason Aldean, whom teenaged boys, even in the age of piracy, continue to spend money on, be it downloads or a CD to rip.

Robert Baird Posted: Jan 30, 2013 Published: Feb 01, 2013 2 comments
Clifford Brown/Max Roach: The Clifford Brown/Max Roach Emarcy Albums
Clifford Brown, trumpet; Max Roach, drums; Harold Land, Sonny Rollins, tenor saxophone; Richie Powell, piano; George Morrow, bass
Mosaic MRLP 3004 (4 LPs). 1954–56/2012. Bob Shad, orig. prod.; Michael Cuscuna, reissue prod.; Ryan Smith, remastering. ADA.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Trumpeter Clifford Brown's death in a car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on June 26, 1956—his second wedding anniversary—set up an eternity of unanswerables headed by the belief, among many, that had Brownie lived, his star would now be as high as or higher than that of Miles Davis.

Richard Lehnert Posted: 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.

Robert Baird Posted: 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.

Robert Baird Posted: 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.

Robert Baird Posted: 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.

Richard Lehnert Posted: 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.

Robert Levine Posted: 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.

Robert Baird Posted: 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.

Robert Baird Posted: 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.

Thomas Conrad Posted: 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.

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