Recording of the Month

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Art Dudley Posted: Nov 18, 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

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jul 08, 2015 Published: Apr 01, 1982 1 comments
482rotm.promo250.jpgWilliams: Suites from Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra, Zubin Mehta.
Mobile Fidelity MFSL-C.008 (cassette).

Originally released on London Records, then re-released with better sound on a Mobile Fidelity disc (now a cutout), these are stunning performances of these popular film scores, rivaling the composer's own performances of them. (Composers aren't always the best conductors of their own music, but John Williams is one who is.)

Sonically, this is simply a tour de force: Without a doubt the best commercially made cassette I've ever heard (and I've heard a lot of them). Last month, I expressed some doubt that the high end on any cassette could rival that of a half-speed LP and, indeed, there is a softening at the top on this cassette, when compared with the Mobile Fidelity disc. But the truth of the matter is that the cassette's high end is substantially more natural than that from the disc, which was one of Mobile Fidelity's first and had a slightly steely edge to it.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jun 30, 2015 Published: May 01, 1982 2 comments
666shefdrum.jpgThe Sheffield Drum Record
Improvisations by Jim Keltner and Ron Tutt (drums)
Sheffield LAB-14 (LP) (1981). Reissued as FIM DXD 001 (CD) (2010). Bill Schnee, Doug Sax, prods.; Lincoln Mayorga, exec. prod.; Steve Haselton, Bill Schnee, engs. TT: 13:49.

There was a time when drum records were as common as records of steam locomotives and thunderstorms. It has been so long since anyone has tackled any of them that a lot of technology has gone over the dam, but they are precisely the kind of program material which illuminate the state of the audio art like nothing else. Thus, Sheffield's Drum Record emerges as a landmark—a technological tour de force that should discourage anyone else from issuing a similar disc until the state of the art advances by a few more years.

Robert Baird Posted: Jun 23, 2015 Published: Jul 01, 2015 1 comments
Vivaldi: L'Estro Armonico: 12 Concertos for Violins, Op.3
Rachel Podger, Bojan Cicic, Johannes Pramsohler, violin; Brecon Baroque, Rachel Podger
Channel Classics CCS SA 36515 (2 SACD/CDs). 2015. Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, prod.; Jared Sacks, eng.; Ernst Coutinho, asst. eng. DDD. TT: 96:54
Performance *****
Sonics *****

It's no big secret that classical music is in trouble. At a time when selling a few hundred CDs will land you squarely in the upper reaches of the classical music chart, and the venerable New York Philharmonic faces an unsettled future in terms of its endowment, future conductor and hall renovation, many say that what the genre most lacks are genuine shining stars. It's been a long time since maestros like Leonard Bernstein or Georg Solti trod the boards, or a brilliant instrumentalist like Jacqueline du Pré became a celebrity and attracted the attention of a larger public that then might actually buy a record or attend a concert. In 2015, building an audience is classical music's central dilemma—so having a dominant player like baroque violinist Rachel Podger is a much-needed development. It's a sign of our fragmented times that a baroque violinist, rather than one who concentrates on the classical and romantic repertoire, has now become a leading light in the classical world.

Margaret Graham Posted: Jun 16, 2015 Published: Jun 01, 1982 0 comments
682rotm250.jpgMichael Murray: Encores à la Française Works by Couperin, Dupré, Gigout, Franck, Widor, J.S. Bach, Vierne, Lemmens
Organ at Symphony Hall, Boston
Telarc Digital DG10069 (LP), 80104 (CD, released in 1990). Robert Woods, prod., Elaine Martone, assistant prod., Jack Renner, eng. TT: 65:46 (CD).

This is another winner. Michael Murray's superior performances are or should be well known to all by this time. This recording of Encores in the French style covers a wide gamut of registration and mood, ranging from the large and full-blown sonorities of Franck's Pièce Héroique, the Toccata from Widor's Organ Symphony 5, and Vierne's Final from the Symphony 1 in d to the light and nimble Scherzo of Eugene Gigout and the technically demanding Musette by Marcel Dupré.

Robert Baird Posted: May 21, 2015 Published: Jun 01, 2015 0 comments
José James: Yesterday I Had the Blues, The Music of Billie Holiday
Blue Note B002283102 (CD). 2015. Yoshihisa Saito, exec. prod.; Don Was, prod.; Chris Allen, eng., mix. DDD? TT: 49:33
Performance ****
Sonics *****

Unlike the conundrum of today's country music, whose lyrics celebrate family and tradition even as the country-music community ignores and disrespects the giants of the music's past, jazz and rock have for the most part remembered and celebrated their musical pioneers and game changers, and the singular, monumental virtuosity of artists like Billie Holiday.

Margaret Graham Posted: May 13, 2015 Published: Jul 01, 1982 0 comments
Paul Winter: Callings
The Paul Winter Consort: Paul Winter, soprano sax, E-flat contrabass sarrusophone, conch shell; Nancy Rumbel, oboe, English horn, C contrabass sarrusophone, double ocarina; Eugene Friesen, cello; Jim Scott, classical and 12-string guitars; Ted Moore, timpani, surdos, berimbau, caixixi, pao de chuva, ganza, gongs, cymbals, triangles, handbells, whistles; Paul Halley, pipe organ, harpsichord, piano.
Recorded with the 3M Digital System in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City. Paul Winter, prod., Dixon Van Winkle, Chris Brown, engs. Additional recording by Richard Blakin and Mickey Houlihan. CD mastered by Clete Baker.
Living Music Records LMR-1 (LP). DAA. Living Music Records LD0001 (10488 00012-6) (CD). DAD. TT: 49:42.

It is hard for me to be objective about a record such as this. My very being responds to it, not only to the music but to the ideas and feelings behind it. Fortunately for me, this happens to be an excellent recording, with some extraordinary low end on it, so I need not compromise either my critical faculties or my sentiments.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Apr 15, 2015 Published: May 01, 2015 5 comments
Bruckner: Symphony 8
Rémy Ballot, Upper Austrian Youth Symphony Orchestra
Gramola 99054 (2 SACD/CDs). 2015. John Proffitt, prod., eng.; Richard Winter, prod.; Rémy Ballot, Matthias Kronsteiner, eds., mastering. DDD. TT: 103:44
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

This performance of Bruckner's greatest, most generous work, his Symphony 8, took place in August 2014 in the basilica of St. Florian, the Austrian monastery where Bruckner was schooled and served as organist. It was taped before an audience, directly above the crypt in which Bruckner is buried. The band was the Upper Austrian Youth Symphony Orchestra: 130 players, average age 17, conducted by Rémy Ballot, a student of the late Sergiù Celibidache.

Margaret Graham Posted: Apr 02, 2015 Published: Aug 01, 1982 0 comments
Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No.6 Op.82
James Boyk, piano
Performance Recordings PR-3 (LP). James Boyk, prod., Michael Fraser, eng., Doug Sax, mastering eng.

James Boyk has become something of a phenomenon. Not only is he a Professor of Music (at Cal Tech) who teaches how to listen to reproduced sound and writes articles about sound reproduction (for New West magazine), he is also a virtuosic pianist who produces perfectionist-caliber recordings of his own recitals. This recording, Mr. Boyk's third LP (footnote 1), is of one of Prokofiev's later works, and is a magnificent piano recording. Much credit must be given to both Mr. Boyk and his recording engineer, Michael Fraser. The instrument seems to be right in front of one, with as accurate a sound as any piano reproduction I have heard. It is interesting to note that the recording was made with ribbon mikes (the legendary Coles 4038s, perhaps?) and all-tube electronics "from mike to grooves."

Robert Baird Posted: Mar 16, 2015 Published: Apr 01, 2015 5 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?


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