Jordi Savall: Dinastía Borja
Music by Guillaume Dufay, Josquin Des Prez, Lluis del Mila and others
Jordi Savall, viola da gamba, director; Hespèrion XXI, La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Alia Vox AVSA 9874A/C (3 SACD/CDs). 2010. Jordi Savall, prod.; Toni Figueras, recording coordinator; Aline Blondiau, Nicolas de Beco, Dominique de Spoolberg, Olivier de Spoolberg, recording assistants. AAD? TT: 3:43:19
As is usually the case, a recent performance at New York's Lincoln Center by Jordi Savall, his instrumental ensemble, Hespèrion XXI, and his choir, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, was a triumphhis impeccably researched and realized early music had the crowd on their feet. In lesser hands, such exotica as old-world Spanish music influenced by indigenous forms from Mexico would have trouble drawing a paying crowd, let alone filling Alice Tully Hall; but Savall's unique vision has rescued and revitalized obscure musical forms aplenty, from the medieval, renaissance, and baroque periods. Along the way he's also managed to record notable versions of more popular works of the standard classical repertoire, such as the Mozart Requiem, and J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.
The Twilight Singers: Dynamite Steps
Sub Pop SPCD 844 (CD). 2011. Greg Dulli, prod.; Brenndan McGuire, Ben Mumphrey, Steve Nalepa, Mike Napolitano, others, engs. AAD? TT: 43:03
Unleash "Retarded," the unforgettable first track of Up In It (1990), the Afghan Whigs' first Sub Pop albumthe one with the eerie stitched-up hand on the coverand immediately the madness seeps out. No one has ever done the angry leer and tormented spat quite like AW singer/songwriter Greg Dulli. As the charismatic leader of one of the nastiest, hardest-edged live acts ever to prowl a 1990s indie-rock stage, he and the Whigs were one of the Yo MTV 120 Minute generation's most striking actsone that combined buzzy guitar thunder with odd but welcome leanings toward classic R&B that persist to this day in the Twilight Singers. The assault of the Cincinnati-based Whigs was led by Dulli, a seemingly normal Ohio boy whose unhinged wailing, self-flagellating lyrics, and shrieking, Cobra-like stage persona made him a rock star: dangerous candy for the girls, unhinged fury for the fellas.
MOZART: Piano Concertos 22 & 25
David Fray, piano; Jaap van Zweden, Philharmonia Orchestra
Virgin 5099964196404 (CD). 2010. Etienne Collard, prod.; René Möller, eng. DDD. TT: 66:04
From 1782 to the end of 1785 were successful, fertile years in Vienna for Mozart. He was sought by the aristocracy and the upper classes as a pianist, teacher, and composer. Throughout this periodand the following year, during which he ran out of moneyhe composed piano sonatas, songs, marches, wind serenades, a horn quintet, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, arias, quartets, works for violin and/or viola, horn concertos, the C-minor Mass, symphonies 35, 36, and 38 (37 was written by Michael Haydn), piano concertos 1425, Le Nozze di Figaro, and dozens of other works.
Wyatt/Atzmon/Stephen: For the Ghosts Within
Domino DNO271/WIGLP263 (CD/LP). 2010. Gilad Atzmon, prod.; Robert Wyatt, Jamie Johnson, Philip Bagenal, engs. ADD? TT: 56:13
For the Ghosts Within marks my introduction to the wonderful world of Robert Wyatt. It happened in Denver, Colorado, at around 1am, several hours after the first full day of the 2010 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I'd taken a break from posting blog entries to flip through the November 2010 issue of my other favorite magazine, The Wire. There, on p.11, I saw a neat, simple ad that offered little more than an album's intriguing cover art: stencil-like cutouts of three figures that seem meant to represent the album's three musicians, though these figures are almost entirely stripped of human form, reduced or distilled to their musical functionsas if the players are their instruments. Drawn by the rich colors and provocative imagery, I went straight to Domino Recording Co.'s website and listened to "Laura," track 1 of For the Ghosts Within. (Like so much of the album, "Laura" was completely new to me, but I have since learned that it is the title song from the 1944 film Laura, composed by David Raksin, and given fine treatments by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Julie London, among others.)
Sun City Girls Funeral Mariachi
Abduction ABD 045LP (LP). 2010. Alan Bishop, prod., eng.; Scott Colburn, Randall Dunn, engs. AAA. TT: 37:12
There are musicians for whom fame and fortune hold no allure, whose goal is to fulfill a more esoteric vision. Nearly 50 albums and 25 years ago, three mad punk polyglots, their brains baked by the Arizona sun, and all of them in love with the Middle EastNorth Africa axis of what, in the 1980s, was ineptly titled "world music," decided to make music without borders. With no fear of influences and no burning ambition for commercial success, they zestfully and successfully mixed comedy, noise, Zappa, Beefheart, Middle Eastern drones, jazzy horns, psychedelia in all its forms, film composer Ennio Morricone's inventive moodiness, Indonesian Gamelan mojo, lots of real and made-up languages, and, yes, some actual singing. Rougher in the beginning, the records began to sound better as time went on.
Having a long career in the temporal world of indie rock, as the Posies have, has its drawbacks. Before I wrote this review, someone sent me a quote about Blood/Candy from the all-powerful world of Internet music criticism, where speed trumps knowledge. "A collection that's thankfully a world away from their largely charmless and invariably dull nineties output for Geffen."
Johnny Cash: American VI: Ain't No Grave
Lost Highways/American Recordings B0013954-02 (CD). 2010. Rick Rubin, prod.; David Ferguson, eng.; Greg Fidelman, Jimmy Tittle, Paul Fig, Dan Leffler, asst. engs. AAD.? TT: 32:23
London Concertante: Piazzolla and Beyond
Works by Astor Piazzolla, David Gordon, Adam Summerhayes
London Concertante; Adam Summerhayes, dir.
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907491 (CD). 2009. Chris Grist, prod.; Matt Butler, eng. DDD. TT: 52:01