Recording of the Month

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Anne E. Johnson  |  Apr 20, 2022  |  4 comments
John Mellencamp: Strictly a One-Eyed Jack
Republic (16/44.1 stream, EMI/Qobuz). 2022. John Mellencamp, prod.; David Leonard, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

You might think an artist with 22 Top-40 hits would identify his winning formula and stick with it. Instead, John Mellencamp's long career has been a tale of determined development and often improvement. On his latest album, the 70-year-old Indiana native has nestled deeper into his rural Midwestern roots, eschewing rock defiance for folk philosophy. The result is a powerful baring of the soul, which, to many Americans, will also be a glance in the mirror.

Fred Kaplan  |  Mar 24, 2022  |  5 comments
Cécile Mclorin Salvant: Ghost Song
McLorin Salvant, vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano, Fender Rhodes; Aaron Diehl, piano, pipe organ; Paul Sikivie, Burniss Travis, bass; Alexa Tarantino, flute; Marvin Sewell, guitar; James Chirillo, banjo; Keita Ogawa, percussion; Kyle Poole, drums; Daniel Swenberg, lute, theorbo; Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
Nonesuch (LP, CD). McLorin Salvant, prod.; Todd Whitelock, Patrick Dillet, Chris Muth, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Starting with her out-of-nowhere triumph at the 2010 Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition and continuing with the release of four albums including three Grammy winners, Cécile McLorin Salvant, still just 32, has been raising eyebrows and neck hairs for a dozen years. She reigns as the supreme jazz singer of our time, ranking among the best of all time. More remarkable, she keeps getting better, and, rarer still, she keeps evolving, expanding her repertoire of styles—which was vast from the start—without losing a wisp of her deep blues, swing, precision, wit, operatic range, or storytelling drama.

Anne E. Johnson  |  Feb 17, 2022  |  2 comments
Bill Callahan And Bonnie Prince Billy: Blind Date Party
Drag City Records (16/44.1kHz FLAC, Qobuz; also available on LP, CD, and cassette tape). 2021. Bill Callahan and Bonnie Prince Billy, prods.
Performance ****
Sonics ***

Bill Callahan and Bonnie Prince Billy—the latter is a stage name for Will Oldham—did not set out to make an album together. They were just trying fill the long pandemic months with music. In 2020, they started singing other people's songs together, broadcasting them to fans via Zoom. They recorded the tracks, choosing a different guest musician to contribute to each song. Eventually they amassed recordings of enough covers, plus reimaginings of some original works, to create this album for Drag City, where they're both signed artists. It's an endlessly interesting and clever project, full of musical exploration. Some of the covers nearly outshine the original versions.

Tom Fine  |  Jan 26, 2022  |  10 comments
The Doors: L.A. Woman (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
Elektra/Rhino R2 659055 (3CD/1LP). 2021. Bruce Botnick/Doors, prods.; Botnick, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

The Doors flew like a comet across the rock/pop universe, running only four and a half years and six studio albums with lead singer/poet/shaman Jim Morrison. L.A. Woman, their last album, marked a hard turn back to the rock and blues basics from whence they sprang in 1966 as a hot bar band on Sunset Strip. It is a masterpiece, a hit out of the gate that has grown in stature over time. Morrison took a sabbatical shortly before its release, decamped to Paris, and died there as this record climbed the charts.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Dec 14, 2021  |  5 comments
Sofia Gubaidulina: Dialog: Ich und Du; The Wrath of God; The Light of the End
Vadim Repin, violin; Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Andris Nelsons, cond.
Deutsche Grammophon 4861457 (auditioned as 24/96 WAV). 2021. Everett Porter, Bernhard Güttler, prods.; Porter, Sebastian Nattkemper, Benedikt Schröder, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

At 90 years of age, Sofia Gubaidulina has honed her musical language amidst conflict. Since 2003, the profoundly religious, visionary, and visceral Russian composer has written three huge, prescient works that depict in musical terms a standoff between God and humankind. All receive their world premiere "live" recordings in this sensational-sounding, system-demanding outpouring from Andris Nelsons and the venerable orchestra that Felix Mendelssohn once led, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig.

Kurt Gottschalk  |  Nov 24, 2021  |  6 comments
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle
Impulse!/UMe (CD B0034290-02, LP B0034291-01, download). 2021. Ravi Coltrane, prod.; Kevin Reeves, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ***½

John Coltrane's career as a bandleader can be divided, with haphazard tidiness, into three periods. His so-called classic quartet with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones, which deserves every bit of its legendary status, dominates the 1962–1965 middle section and encompasses Coltrane's greatest achievements. Before that was the ramp-up and after lay the free jazz experiments.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Oct 26, 2021  |  9 comments
J.S. Bach: Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, Vols. 1 and 2
Zuill Bailey, cello
Octave Records OCT-0008 (Multiple formats; auditioned as DSD64). 2021. Five/Four Productions, Ltd.: Thomas C. Moore, prod.; Robert Friedrich, eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

Why is Stereophile publishing its fourth review (at least) in three years of a recording of Bach's Six Cello Suites? Partly it's because the suites, which were composed ca 1720 but remained in obscurity until a young Pablo Casals rediscovered them in a secondhand sheet music store in Barcelona in 1890, contain some of the most joyous, moving, and profound music in the Western classical music canon. It's also because these two volumes, which present Grammy Award–winning cellist Zuill Bailey's second recorded exploration of the suites (the first was on Telarc more than two decades ago), abound in astoundingly beautiful musicianship illumined by fresh insights and superb engineering.

Fred Kaplan  |  Sep 23, 2021  |  3 comments
Various Artists: Kimbrough
Fred Hersch, Helen Sung, Craig Taborn, Dan Tepfer, Gary Versace, piano; Ben Allison, Jay Anderson, Rufus Reid, bass; Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, guitar; Ted Nash, Joe Lovano, Danny McCaslin, Scott Robinson, Alexa Tarantino, Immanuel Wilkins, reeds; Dave Douglas, Kirk Knuffke, trumpets; Ryan Keberle, trombone; Olivia Chindamo, vocals; Billy Drummond, Clarence Penn, Matt Wilson, drums; 44 others.
Newvelle/Bandcamp. Elan Mehler, prod.; Marc Urselli, eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

Frank Kimbrough was one of the most beloved figures in jazz and the most puzzlingly unsung among the great jazz musicians of our time. When he died on December 30, 2020, at the age of 64, there was much mourning among his colleagues—which explains why, over a three-day period this past May, it was possible to corral 67 of them to cover 58 of his compositions, without pay, for this download-only album. The proceeds will fund a scholarship in his name at Juilliard, where he taught. The good cause aside, the $20 download charge is crazy cheap for five and a half hours of music from some of New York's finest jazz musicians.

John Swenson  |  Aug 19, 2021  |  1 comments
Big Chief Monk Boudreaux: Bloodstains & Teardrops
Whiskey Bayou Records WSK 1006 (CD). 2021. Tab Benoit, Rueben Williams, prods.; Steven Stanley, Michael "Boxy" Howell, Benoit, engs.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

The Africans brought to the Americas to be sold into slavery were denied every vestige of their past except their memories. And yet, they preserved their rituals in dances, songs, and stories, playing the sacred rhythms that accompanied those rituals on whatever found objects they could use to fashion beats. The customs of American peoples from various African regions have been traced to specific destinations in colonial outposts in research detailed by scholars such as John Storm Roberts in Black Music of Two Worlds and Ned Sublette in several of his African-diaspora studies.

Thomas Conrad  |  Jul 22, 2021  |  3 comments
Francesco Cafiso: Irene of Boston
Cafiso, alto saxophone; London Symphony Orchestra; four others
EFLAT EF0003 (CD, available as download, LP). 2020. EFLAT, prod.; Riccardo Piparo, Mat Bartram, Francesco Lupi, Roberto Romano, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

The first time I heard Francesco Cafiso, I thought I was hallucinating. It was 2005. I had flown to Australia from Seattle to cover the Melbourne Jazz Festival. Cafiso appeared the first night. He was 15. He played the most outrageous bebop I had ever heard outside of Charlie Parker records. I thought I was delusional from jet lag.

John Swenson  |  Jun 16, 2021  |  1 comments
The Who: The Who Sell Out
Universal 7711420 (5 CDs, 2 7" singles). 1967/2021. Kit Lambert, Pete Townshend, prods.; Damon Lyon-Shaw, Jon Astley, Andy MacPherson, other engs.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

This 5-CD box-set version of The Who Sell Out is the latest iteration of a 54-year-old work-in-progress. It contains an unrivaled wealth of recorded information covering the period between the Who's second album, A Quick One (Happy Jack in the US), and the monumental rock opera Tommy.

Kurt Gottschalk  |  May 11, 2021  |  1 comments
Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble: NOW
International Anthem Recording Company IARC0039 (LP, download). 2021. Damon Locks and Black Monument Ensemble, prods.; Alex Inglizian, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

In its sixth year, International Anthem seriously stepped up production. 2020 saw the Chicago label releasing a fast succession of rewarding albums, including a standout disc by Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker and adventurous jazz by Rob Mazurek and the collective Irreversible Entanglements.

Dan Ouellette  |  Apr 22, 2021  |  4 comments
Daniel Lanois: Heavy Sun
eOne Music EMC-CD-28392 (CD). 2021. Daniel Lanois, Wayne Lorenz, prods.; Daniel Lanois, Wayne Lorenz, engs.; Noah Mintz, mastering.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Daniel Lanois may not be a household name as a solo artist, but over four decades he has gained great notoriety as a producer. After serendipitously catching Brian Eno's attention with his homespun recording projects in the late '70s, Quebec-born, Ontario-based Lanois became protégé and then partner to the ambient/pop tastemaker; together, they innovated sonic techniques and worked with such off-the-radar experimental jazz artists as soft-pedal pianist Harold Budd and fourth-world trumpeter Jon Hassell.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 18, 2021  |  5 comments
Žibuoklė Martinaitytė: Saudade
Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, Giedrė Slekytė, cond.; Gabrielius Alekna, piano.
Ondine ODE1386 (24/96 download). 2021. Aleksandra Kerienė. Vilius Keras, prods.; Evelina Staniulytė, Aleksandra Kerienė, Vilius Keras, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

Might this recording be too "out there" for some? I spent hours mulling alternative recommendations, my favorites being accordionist Ksenija Sidorova's captivating Piazzolla Reflections and cellist Nicole Peña Comas and pianist Hugo Llanos Campos's beautiful new recording of Latin American music, El Canto del Cisne Negro. Either would have been accessible in more obvious ways than Saudade, a collection of four recent orchestral and chamber works by Lithuanian composer Žibuoklė Martinaitytė.

Tom Fine  |  Feb 16, 2021  |  11 comments
Black Sabbath: Paranoid Super Deluxe
Rhino/Warner Records R1 556692 (5 LPs). 1970/2020. Rodger Bain, original prod.; Hugh Gilmour, reissue prod.; Barry Grint, LP mastering eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ***

The reviewer venturing to identify the birth bed of heavy metal music risks wrath. So be it.

The heavy metal genre has many roots. The idea of power chords and music centered on ominous, mythological, and vaguely threatening lyrics goes back centuries; consider the use of European church music in various eras to literally scare the hell out of believers. But heavy metal as we know it started 50 years ago with Black Sabbath's Paranoid.

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