Recording of the Month

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Robert Baird Posted: Aug 18, 2016 3 comments
Van Morrison: . . It's Too Late to Stop Now . . . Volumes II, III, IV & DVD
Exile/Columbia/Legacy 88875134742 (2 LPs, 3 CDs, 1 DVD). 2016. Van Morrison, Ted Templeton, orig. prods.; Donn Landee, orig. eng.; Myles Wiener, Biff Dawes, Jack Crymes, Gabby Garcia, asst. engs.; Guy Massey, new remix; Andrew Sandoval, compilation prod.; Vic Anesini, remastering. ADA/ADD? TT: 3:33:58
Performance *****
Sonics ****

In the otherwise silly 2002 film The Banger Sisters, one line has always stood out. When the children of a groupie turned suburban Phoenix housewife (Susan Sarandon) question Suzette (Goldie Hawn), who's still living the groupie lifestyle, about their mom's hidden past and how she knows about the Doors, there's this exchange:

Daughter: "How would she know about Van Morrison . . . all of a sudden?"

Hawn: "Jim Morrison, not Van Morrison. Jeez."

John Swenson Posted: Jul 12, 2016 2 comments
Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow: Andando el Tiempo
ECM 2487 (CD). 2016. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Stefano Amerio, eng. DDD. TT: 47:19
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

Resistance is futile. From the moment she dropped out of high school in Oakland, California and headed for New York, nothing was going to stop Karen Borg, the daughter of a church organist, from evolving into one of the most influential jazz composers of her generation in her new identity as Carla Bley. While working as a hat-check girl at Birdland, she met the brilliant avant-garde pianist Paul Bley (1932–2016), married him in 1957, and kept the surname when, in 1964, they divorced. She began composing during that period, transforming the music she'd learned from her father into a jazz language rooted in the numinous depths of devotional music, but capable of the free expression absorbed from compatriots of her husband such as Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus.

Robert Baird Posted: Jun 14, 2016 Published: Jul 01, 2016 1 comments
Allen Toussaint: American Tunes
Nonesuch 554644 (CD). 2016. Joe Henry, prod.; Ryan Freeman,, eng.; Wesley Seidman, Monique Eveleyin, asst engs. ADD? TT: 49:31
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Phife Dawg, Merle Haggard, Dan Hicks, Ernestine Anderson, Lonnie Mack, Maurice White, Blowfly, Otis Clay, Steve Young, George Martin, Keith Emerson, Henry McCullough, Prince. Was there a genre or subgenre of music that did not grieve in the closing months of 2015 through spring 2016—a period that must rank among the most devastating ever for the loss of important and influential songwriters and musicians?

Robert Baird Posted: May 17, 2016 Published: Jun 01, 2016 3 comments
Esperanza Spalding: Emily's D+Evolution
Concord 7238281 (LP, 24/96 FLAC from PonoMusic). 2016. Esperanza Spalding, Tony Visconti, prods.; Kyle Hoffman, Tim Price, engs.; Martin Cooke, Kyle McAulay, Erin Tonkon, asst. engs.; Paul Blakemore, mastering; Rich Costey, mix. Mario Borgatta, mix assist. DDA? TT: 43:41
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

It may have started back in 2011, when the crowd at the Grammy Awards let out a collective "Who?" as Esperanza Spalding was named Best New Artist, an award almost everyone had thought would go straight to Justin Bieber. Spalding was the first jazz artist ever to win that award.

The resulting notoriety took the jazz bassist and singer, who'd lived almost entirely in the rather insular world of jazz, by surprise. A child prodigy who played violin at five, and soon after learned oboe and clarinet, Spalding sings in Portuguese, Spanish, and English, and became one of the youngest teachers in the history of her alma mater, Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music.

Robert Baird Posted: Apr 21, 2016 Published: May 01, 2016 0 comments
Emitt Rhodes: Rainbow Ends Omnivore OVLP-163 (LP). 2016. Chris Price, prod., eng.; Pierre de Reeder, Kyle Frederickson, engs.; Nathan Flom, Emitt Rhodes, Emeen Zarookian, add'l. engs. ADA? TT: 37:01 Performance **** Sonics ****

"A few shows here, a few shows there—Emitt eventually found himself without a label, and his career came to a halt," reads the biography on EmittRhodesMusic.net. "He had had enough. He was 24."

Go on, admit it: Everyone loves a disappearing act—the plight of the unjustly snakebit, the ghostly casualties of a business that markets creativity but doesn't respect it. Hawthorne, California native Emitt Rhodes, onetime drummer for mid-'60s SoCal garage band (and later Nuggets staple) Palace Guard, and later the cofounder and leading force of L.A. psychedelic pop band Merry-Go-Round, went solo in 1969.

Thomas Conrad Posted: Mar 22, 2016 Published: Apr 01, 2016 5 comments
Avishai Cohen: Into the Silence
Avishai Cohen, trumpet; Bill McHenry, tenor saxophone; Yonathan Avishai, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums
ECM 2482 (CD). 2016. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Gérard de Haro, Nicolas Baillard, engs. DDD. TT: 53:08
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

In the new millennium, no country other than Cuba has exported more important jazz musicians to the United States than has Israel. But even though the Israeli jazz phenomenon has been much discussed in the jazz press, critics have been late to recognize that Avishai Cohen is one of the best trumpet players alive. Cohen has two siblings who also play jazz, and his charismatic older sister, Anat, who has been winning major jazz polls on clarinet for several years, gets most of the attention in the family. And then there is Avishai's name problem: One of the best-known Israeli jazz musicians, a bassist of the same name, got to New York first.

Robert Baird Posted: Feb 23, 2016 Published: Mar 01, 2016 1 comments
The Beach Boys Today!
Analogue Productions AAPP064 (LP). TT: 27:35
Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)
Analogue Productions AAPP065 (LP).
TT: 27:44
Both: 1965/2016. Brian Wilson, orig. prod.; Chuck Britz, orig. eng.; Mark Linett, Alan Boyd, stereo mixes; Kevin Gray, mastering. ADA.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

It's a classic case of addition by subtraction. On December 23, 1964, on a flight from Houston to Los Angeles, Brian Wilson had a panic attack—or, perhaps, a full-fledged nervous breakdown. Two more such episodes followed in quick succession, and Brian realized that he could no longer tour with the Beach Boys. At first, Glen Campbell was brought in to replace him in the band's touring edition, until Bruce Johnston permanently took his spot. In an interview conducted by Earl Leaf, quoted by Tom Nolan in the October 28, 1971, issue of Rolling Stone, Wilson had this to say about his decision:

"I told them I foresee a beautiful future for the Beach Boys group but the only way we could achieve it was if they did their job and I did mine. They would have to get a replace ment for me ... I didn't say 'they' I said 'we' because it isn't they and me, it's 'us.'

Robert Baird Posted: Jan 28, 2016 Published: Feb 01, 2016 2 comments
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters
John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, tenor saxophone; McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, Art Davis, bass; Elvin Jones, drums
Impulse! 80023727-02 (3 CDs). 1965/2015. Bob Thiele, orig. prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, orig. eng.; Harry Weinger, Ashley Kahn, reissue prods.; Kevin Reeves, reissue mastering. ADD? TT: 2:43:31
Performance *****
Sonics *****

While every jazz fan has his or her favorite period of John Coltrane's career—the promising Prestige years, the "hits" on Atlantic, the single knockout punch of Blue Trane, his lone album for Blue Note—nearly everyone agrees that the intensely realized vision and sonic charms of A Love Supreme make that album his masterpiece. The recordings Coltrane made for his final label, Impulse!, at first swung between more free jazz outings like Impressions (1963) and more conventional recordings, such as duet albums with Duke Ellington and Johnny Hartman (both in 1963). A Love Supreme (1965) was his most coherent artistic statement, one grounded in his love for God, and embodying an affirmation of the power of love over dissension and division. The album also marked the beginning of Coltrane's final two years, in which he would relentlessly plumb new depths of meaning in his music, and hone an ever more assaultive, angular sound that seethed with emotion and an endless stream of ideas. The strident, dissonant, refractory music that followed A Love Supreme, and now known as his New Thing, remains controversial.

Robert Levine Posted: Dec 15, 2015 Published: Jan 01, 2016 0 comments
Verdi: Aida
Anja Harteros, Aida; Eleonora Buratto, High Priestess; Jonas Kaufmann, Radames; Ekaterina Semenchuk, Amneris; Ludovic Tézier, Amonasro; Erwin Schrott, Ramfis; Marco Spotti, The King; Chorus & Orchestra of Santa Cecilia Academy Rome, Sir Antonio Pappano
Warner Classics 0825646106639 (3 CDs). 2015. Stephen Johns, prod.; Luca Padovano, Giancarlo Ianucci, Claudio Emili, Marco Emili, engs. DDD. TT: 2:26:45
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

It has been a long time since we've had a big-budget, studio recording of Aida; in fact, the last was from 2001, and it was awful—conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt's attempt to present an intimate (read: "miniaturized") reading of the score, a sort of period-instrument approach with small-voiced singers. In all, Aida has been taken on nearly 30 studio outings (the first was in 1928), and there are "private" and video versions. This is one of the best, with what might arguably be the finest cast one can assemble today.

Art Dudley Posted: Nov 18, 2015 Published: Dec 01, 2015 3 comments
Joanna Newsom: Divers
Drag City DC561 (LP/CD). 2015. Joanna Newsom, prod.; Noah Georgeson, prod., eng.; Steve Albini, eng.; John Golden, mastering. ADA/ADD. TT: 51:56
Performance *****
Sonics ****

It's hard to imagine a more auspicious debut than Joanna Newsom's The Milk-Eyed Mender (Drag City DC263): Her songs on that 2004 release were imaginative, memorable, and almost uniquely literate, and her performances of them—she sang as distinctively as she wrote, and on most of them, her full-size Lyon & Healy concert harp was the sole accompanying instrument—were effective and thoroughly charming. At the age of 22, Newsom had created one of the most original pop records in memory.

Robert Baird Posted: Oct 20, 2015 Published: Nov 01, 2015 2 comments
Various Artists: Hommage à Eberhard Weber
Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek, Gary Burton, Scott Colley, Danny Gottlieb, Paul McCandless, Michael Gibbs; SWR Big Band, Helge Sunde, conductor
ECM 2463 (CD). 2015. Martin Muhelis, concert prod.; Doris Hauser, Volker Neumann, Boris Kellenbenz, Pete Karam, Manfred Eicher, engs. DDD? TT: 69:48
Performance *****
Sonics *****

There once was a joke about how technology would someday replace troublesome musicians: Instead of putting up with drummers being late to gigs, keeping irregular time, and stealing everyone else's girlfriends, a trouble-free robot could take over. It seems that some of those predictions have come true. This single disc documents two concerts held in Stuttgart, Germany, in January 2015, to celebrate the 75th birthday of hometown German jazz electric bassist Eberhard Weber, who has been unable to play since suffering a stroke, in 2007. Via tape loops and video samples of Weber playing, he nonetheless played a large part in his birthday celebration, particularly in the concerts' centerpiece, Pat Metheny's 30-minute "Hommage," a rare example of Metheny writing for big band and a tour de force of Weber's distinctive playing.

Robert Levine Posted: Sep 22, 2015 Published: Oct 01, 2015 3 comments
Mahan Esfahani: Time Present and Time Past C.P.E. Bach: 12 Variations on "Les Folies d'Espagne." J.S. Bach: Harpsichord Concerto in d, BWV 1052. Geminiani: Concerto Grosso in d (after Corelli). Górecki: Harpsichord Concerto. Reich: Piano Phase for Two Pianos (harpsichord version: Esfahani). A. Scarlatti: Variations on "La Folia."
Mahan Esfahani, harpsichord; Concerto Köln
Archiv Produktion 4794481 (CD). 2015. Christoph Classen, prod.; Michael Morawietz, eng. DDD. TT: 73:45
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

This razzle-dazzle release is remarkable on several levels, and I wouldn't be surprised if it converted harpsichord haters to harpsichord hipsters. Iranian-American harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, stealing a quote from T.S. Eliot about the relevance—or irrelevance—of time and (while he's at it) the harpsichord, here presents the instrument in works written for it in the 17th and 18th centuries, interspersed with pieces by two 20th-century composers. (The album's title references these lines from Eliot's Four Quartets: "Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past.") Esfahani's argument holds water: bringing an "olde" instrument into the present with unflinchingly contemporary music turns this debut solo-recital disc into a splendid event—and, yes, proves that baroque music, with its repeating patterns, can make a fine pairing with minimalism. It's all far less jarring than you might think, and does provoke thoughts about the slippage of time.

Thomas Conrad Posted: Aug 25, 2015 Published: Sep 01, 2015 19 comments
Maria Schneider Orchestra: The Thompson Fields
Maria Schneider, composer, arranger, conductor; 18-piece orchestra
ArtistShare AS0137 (CD). 2015. Maria Schneider, Ryan Truesdell, prods.; Brian Montgomery, eng. DDD. TT: 77:25
Performance *****
Sonics ****

The world's leading figure in orchestral jazz has not released a jazz recording in eight years. In her liner notes, Maria Schneider says, "This album was funded by my ArtistShare fan base. Making a recording like this is becoming increasingly difficult and would now be impossible without the generous support of my many participants."

Today, big jazz bands rarely tour. Some are stable entities, but on a part-time basis. Most, like Schneider's, come together for projects, then go their separate ways. Yet against all odds, large-ensemble jazz survives because no other format offers its range of expression and its power.

Robert Baird Posted: Jul 21, 2015 Published: Aug 01, 2015 1 comments
Sly and the Family Stone: Live at the Fillmore East, October 4th & 5th, 1968
Epic 88843023712 (4 CDs). 2015. Sly Stone, orig. prod.; Bob Irwin, reissue prod.; Vic Anesini, mastering. AAD? TT: 3:27:31
Performance *****
Sonics ****

The first thing you hear is not Sly Stone's keyboards or harmonica. Not Freddie Stone's guitar. Not Greg Errico's amazing drumming. Not Larry Graham's slapping bass. Not the voices of Rose Stone (also keys) and Cynthia Robinson (also trumpet). Not Jerry Martini's saxophone.

No. The first thing you hear is pure energy: the nuclear reaction of musical power that Sly and his Family Stone generated onstage on two October nights in 1968 at the Fillmore East. James Brown and his band(s) had nothing on these seven. This is prime Sly, when the band was still hungry, before the hits, before his life spun out of control, the music suffered, and the family split.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jul 14, 2015 Published: Mar 01, 1982 5 comments
82award.250pr.jpgElgar: Orchestral Works
Falstaff, The Sanguine Fan, Fantasia and Fugue in c (transcribed from J.S. Bach), excerpt from The Starlight Express
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 2-501 (half-speed–mastered LP, pressed in Japan, 1981). Originally released as HMV ASD 2970 (LP, 1974). Reissued as EMI CDM 7 63133 2 (CD, 1989). Christopher Bishop, prod.; Christopher Parker, Stuart Eltham, engs.

We have never before bestowed an award on anyone for anything. We felt obliged to do it on Mobile Fidelity for their remastering of the EMI Elgar Falstaff recording because it is the first time to our knowledge that a single classical release has combined a performance and a recording which are both good enough that neither need be done again. Our congratulations to Mobile Fidelity's Gary Giorgi. Now, let's have some more, from Mobile Fidelity or any other source. We have more awards to hand out when and if.—J. Gordon Holt

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