Music and Recording Features

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Anne E. Johnson  |  Jun 04, 2021  |  2 comments
Not even a pandemic lockdown could keep Rhiannon Giddens from seeking new projects. Between making a new album with her partner, Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, and engaging in strategic planning in her new role as artistic director of the Silkroad Ensemble, the musician and activist seems as busy as ever even if she rarely leaves her house.
Fred Kaplan  |  Jun 03, 2021  |  2 comments
A review of the Archie Shepp/Jason Moran duet album Let My People Go, in the April issue, may have startled some readers. Shepp is a tenor saxophonist known for tearing across the fiercest climes of the avant-garde (his seminal album is called Fire Music); yet at 83, he's playing standards, spirituals, and slow blues. In fact, Shepp has been exploring such traditional terrain for several decades. So—for the debut of an occasional column on underappreciated albums, artists, genres, and labels—let's shine some light on Archie Shepp's ballads.
Ken Micallef  |  May 05, 2021  |  4 comments
In her reworking of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from my Friends," on the 2018 tribute album, A Day In The Life: Impressions Of Pepper (impulse records), Brooklyn guitarist and composer Mary Halvorson reinvents both her instrument and the song.

Most baby boomers can hum the tune of the Beatles' classic, from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, in a handful of notes. It might take longer to recognize Halvorson's joyous, angular version. A master of jazz phrasing, guitar technique, avant-garde discourse, and effects pedals, Halvorson bends the Beatles song to her 21st century will.

Sasha Matson  |  Apr 08, 2021  |  1 comments
The Harry Smith B-Sides
Various Artists
Dust-to-Digital Records DTD-51 (4 CDs). 2020. John Cohen, April Ledbetter, Lance Ledbetter, Eli Smith, prods.; Michael Graves, audio mastering and restoration.

Few music anthologies have been as influential as Harry Everett Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music (Smithsonian Folkways SFW 40090), which was first released in 1952 as an 84-track, 6-LP set. Without it, it is possible that many of the musicians represented would have languished in obscurity—including such artists as Mississippi John Hurt.

Thomas Conrad  |  Mar 11, 2021  |  5 comments
Full Disclosure: All jazz writers fantasize about owning a jazz label. These fantasies persist even in our post-CD, download era, when the record industry as we knew it has been laid to waste. It is reasonable to speculate that, as a reader of this magazine and therefore a music junkie, you may have had an entrepreneurial record label fantasy or two of your own. For us, it should be interesting to hear from Mark Feldman, because he actually did it. In fact, he did it twice.
Phil Brett  |  Feb 04, 2021  |  2 comments
Make More Noise! Women in Independent Music UK 1977–1987
Various artists. Various producers.
Cherry Red Records. CRCDBOX99. 4CD set and book.
Music *****
Sonics ***

The title of this set—4 CDs and a book—comes from British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst's call to arms for women to fight for their rights: "You have to make more noise than anybody else," said Pankhurst, who died in 1928.

The first words you hear on Disc One of Make More Noise! are sung by Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, who was born almost 100 years after Pankhurst and died a decade ago, in 2011: "Some people think that little girls should be seen and not heard." This opening lyric, from the song "Oh Bondage Up Yours!," is followed by a raw sax solo by Styrene's bandmate Lora Logic.

Phil Brett  |  Jan 06, 2021  |  2 comments
I remember when I first heard that David Bowie had died. I was half-listening to the radio as I prepared for work. I was stunned. I just looked at my partner. To my surprise, a tear ran down my cheek. I had always been rather sniffy about people who got emotional when famous people died, people they had never met, who had never heard of them, who had lived lives of wealth.
John Swenson  |  Dec 10, 2020  |  6 comments
I've just recently finished reading guitarist/vocalist Walter Lure's autobiography, To Hell and Back. Walter has a great story about his days in Johnny Thunders's Heartbreakers and his own Waldos. Until he died in late August, you could still hear him playing with the Waldos and running periodic tributes to Johnny. But he also took some space to write about his first band, a hard-rock dance band called Bloodbath that pounded the risers in the North Bronx at the dawn of the 1970s.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Dec 08, 2020  |  27 comments
How to explain the power that trained operatic voices hold over many of us? For me, the pull began days after I was born, when acoustic 78s of tenor Enrico Caruso and coloratura sopranos Amelita Galli-Curci and Luisa Tetrazzini played in the background. There was something about the way the dramatic-to-the-core Caruso sang, as if his life depended on it, while the high-flying coloraturas skipped lightly through impossible strings of notes. It moved me like little else.
Sasha Matson  |  Nov 05, 2020  |  2 comments
Marty Krystall is a musician's musician, highly regarded and known to his peers in the LA music world as a triple-threat wind player equally adept at jazz, classical, and in the studio. He is also an audiophile, a recording engineer, and a record company owner, having created the K2B2 label with bassist and colleague Buell Neidlinger in 1979.
Jim Austin  |  Oct 21, 2020  |  3 comments
Last month, I received so few vinyl reissues that I had to invite a guest writer—jazz critic and political commentator Fred Kaplan—to fill in. Fred had managed to grab an early copy of the excellent Analogue Productions 45rpm reissue of Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival. I didn't get mine until a week or so after his review was submitted.

This month, I have a tall stack to choose from, so I'll mention several.

Ken Micallef  |  Oct 08, 2020  |  3 comments
"The data lords are gathering data and giving it to organizations that then manipulate us with the things they know about us, things that we don't even know about ourselves," says five-time Grammy Award–winning composer, conductor, producer, and band leader Maria Schneider. "They give our data to any company that'll pay for it to manipulate you, specifically targeting your vulnerabilities. It takes away freedom of thought, a true discourse where people are thinking for themselves. Count me out."
Fred Kaplan  |  Sep 22, 2020  |  11 comments
The late pianist Bill Evans may be the most reissued jazz musician in the catalogs of audiophile record labels. There are reasons for that: He played standards, mainly ballads (many audiophiles shun the avantgarde), almost never in groups larger than trios (stereo systems often do best with small-scale ensembles). Whether by design or chance, his best recordings were miked by superb engineers. Perhaps because of that, proprietors of high-end labels have cherished Evans's music with heightened passion.
Thomas Conrad  |  Sep 04, 2020  |  2 comments
An outburst of saxophone flurries sits you straight up in your chair. The tone is rich but with a cutting edge.

It has to be Rudresh Mahanthappa. The riveting cry of his alto saxophone is one of the most recognizable sounds in jazz.

But those darting runs coalesce into Charlie Parker's "Red Cross." So it can't be Mahanthappa, can it? He has made 15 straight albums of original music. He doesn't do covers, right?

Ken Micallef  |  Aug 05, 2020  |  16 comments
On iconic singer-songwriter James Taylor's 20th album, American Standard, the lanky crooner adapts the classic American songbook to his easy-rolling musical ways. The result is an American mixture of timeless songcraft.

Where some popular singers use the songbook canon to increase record and ticket sales, Taylor has no need to change himself or increase his audience. He's as comfortable as any man can be, having sold many millions of records the world over for almost 50 years.

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