Recording of the Month

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Robert Baird Posted: May 16, 2017 2 comments
Dominic Miller: Silent Light
Dominic Miller, guitar; Miles Bould, percussion
ECM 2518 (CD). 2017. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Jan Erik Kongshaug, eng. DDD? TT: 41:06
Performance *****
Sonics *****

It was a pairing that seemed right from the very start: ECM's founder, Manfred Eicher, a man renowned for having an unmatched ear for talent and exacting sound-engineering skills; and guitarist Dominic Miller, an internationalist who was born in Argentina, raised in Racine, Wisconsin, and now lives in Provence, France, and who's spent more than 20 years playing and writing with Sting. Along the way, Miller has been a hired guitar slinger with everyone from the Pretenders and Chris Botti to Rod Stewart and Plácido Domingo. He's made 13 solo records, has recorded the music of J.S. Bach on guitar, and says his favorite album is Deep Purple's Made in Japan.

Robert Baird Posted: Apr 20, 2017 1 comments
The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin
A&M/Intervention SP 4175 (LP). 1969/2017. Larry Marks, prod.; Henry Lewy, prod., eng.; Kevin Gray, remastering. AAA. TT: 35:24
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

The International Submarine Band, the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and finally, just Gram Parsons. He was a Snively on his mother's side, scion of a vast citrus-growing fortune. A trust-fund baby who, unlike most of the struggling musicians he hung out with, could go to a bank and withdraw large amounts of cash. When he was 12, two days before Christmas, his father killed himself. Seven years later, on the day he graduated from high school, his mother finally drank herself to death. He lasted one semester at Harvard before becoming a denizen of Los Angeles, and eventually a powerful force in the Sunset Strip music scene.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Mar 22, 2017 11 comments
Bruckner: Symphony 9: Completed Version
Gerd Schaller, completion & conductor, Philharmonie Festiva
Profil PH16089 (2 CDs). 2016. Lutz Wildner, tonmeister; ambitus Musikproduktion, engs. DDD. TT: 84:37
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Between 2007 and 2016, Gerd Schaller recorded all 11 of Bruckner's symphonies with the orchestra he founded, the Philharmonie Festiva. In the November 2011 issue I reviewed his 2010 recording of Symphony 9 with William Carragan's completion of the Finale, left incomplete (if perhaps not uncompleted) at Bruckner's death. Six years later, in 2016, with the same orchestra and engineer, and in the same hall—a vast cathedral in Ebrach, Bavaria—Schaller recorded his own completion of the Finale.

Robert Levine Posted: Mar 14, 2017 2 comments
Aside from the overnight sensation (after a career of more than a decade) of Beverly Sills at the New York City Opera as Cleopatra in Julius Caesar, the 1966–1967 opera "news" in New York was the Metropolitan Opera, newly opened at Lincoln Center. The 10 broadcasts included here feature some singers who still have no equals. In addition to seven starrily cast favorite operas and the premiere of Marvin David Levy's fine Mourning Becomes Electra, there were Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra, composed to inaugurate the new house; the Met premiere of Richard Strauss's 1919 masterpiece, Die Frau ohne Schatten; and the first production in 20 years of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes, with the incomparable Jon Vickers essaying the title role for the first time.
Robert Baird Posted: Feb 14, 2017 3 comments
Jimmy Scott: I Go Back Home: A Story About Hoping and Dreaming
Eden River ERR-LP-01 (2 LPs). 2016. Ralf Kemper, prod., mix; Geoff Gillette, James Caruso, Sean O'Dwyer, Robert Kirkpatrick, engs.; Phil Ramone, mix prod.; Lawrence Manchester, Veith Semrau, mix. DDA? TT: 56:58
Performance ****
Sonics ****

In 1992, just before Christmas, I sent out 24 copies of Jimmy Scott's newly released CD, All the Way, to friends, musical and otherwise. Most did not respond, but the eight or ten who did were on fire. "What is this?" "Who is this?" "How did I not know about this woman until now?"

Robert Baird Posted: Jan 17, 2017 5 comments
The Band: The Last Waltz 40th
Rhino RR 273925 (2 CDs). 1978/2016. Robbie Robertson, prod.; Ron Fraboni, John Simon, co-prods.; Terry Becker, Tim Kramer, Elliot Mazer, Wayne Neuendorf, Ed Anderson, Neil Brody, engs. ADD? TT: 2:09:11
Performance *****
Sonics ****

To clear the air, if not the sinuses, let's dispose right now of the traveling-booger-matte controversy. If Robbie Robertson and the late Levon Helm are to be believed, in The Last Waltz, Neil Young performed "Helpless" with a very suspicious chunk of something hanging out of one nostril. When Young and his management became aware of the problem, the offending object had to be excised from the film stock using a matte laboriously inserted into every frame. At least, that's how the juiciest legend from one of rock's most legendary performances is usually told.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Dec 15, 2016 2 comments
Keith Jarrett: A Multitude of Angels
Concerts: Modena, Ferrara, Torino, Genova

Keith Jarrett, piano
ECM 2500–2503 (4 CDs). 2016. Keith Jarrett, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 4:57:19
Performance *****
Sonics ***

In the best of Keith Jarrett's long-form Concert recordings—Bremen Lausanne, Köln, and most of all Bregenz München and the monumental Sun Bear—one hears the evolution, over unbroken spans of as long as 45 minutes, of a beginning musical germ. A mere rhythm or broken chord or simple cadence or single note, sometimes a full melody exquisitely arranged, opens what seems an infinite world of musical ideas, channeled or happened on or willed up out of the moment, then explored in depth and at length, all flowing into and out of each other—and into and out of jazz, blues, gospel, folk, Middle Eastern, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th-century styles (Ives, Bartók, Stravinsky). One gets the impression of a musician who has heard and played every kind of piano music there is and who, on a given evening, serially or simultaneously plays any and all of it. No one else has ever done anything like it.

Robert Baird Posted: Nov 15, 2016 3 comments
John McEuen: Made in Brooklyn
Chesky JD388 (CD). 2016. John McEuen, David Chesky, prods.; Norman Chesky, exec. prod.; Nicholas Prout, Mor Mezrich, Max Steen, engs. DDD? TT: 65:03
Performance ****
Sonics ****½

The invite from David Chesky was simple enough: "Hey Robert, John McEuen, David Bromberg and a lot of other people are going to make a record in this abandoned church that a friend of mine owns in Brooklyn, you wanna come by?" Knowing the resourcefulness, not to mention good ears, of David and Norman Chesky, owners of Chesky Records, I soon arrived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to find Stereophile contributing editor Herb Reichert munching on cookies and listening through headphones to what was going into the computer. Ahh, that freelancer lifestyle.

Robert Levine Posted: Oct 20, 2016 5 comments
Martha Argerich: Early Recordings
Beethoven: Piano Sonata 7 in D, Op.10 No.3. Mozart: Piano Sonata 18 in D, K.576. Prokofiev: Toccata, Op.11; Piano Sonatas 3 in a, Op.29 & 7 in B-flat, Op.83. Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit, Sonatine.
Martha Argerich, piano
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5978 (2 mono CDs). 2016. No prod. or eng. credits given. ADD. TT: 2:10:50
Performance *****
Sonics ***½

There is no dearth of recordings by the great Argentine pianist Martha Argerich—over 150 are listed in her discography—and here, in honor of her 75th birthday, are two more discs, comprising previously unreleased material. Argerich has been playing publicly since she was eight years old; in 1957, she won the Busoni and Geneva competitions and continued to concertize, but it was not until she won the Chopin Competition, in Warsaw, in 1965 that she began to become a household name (in pianist-loving households). There is a rumor that she has never given a bad concert or made a poor or uninteresting recording; this new set does nothing to contradict it.

Robert Baird Posted: Sep 22, 2016 3 comments
Nels Cline: Lovers
Nels Cline, electric & acoustic guitars, lap steel, effects; Charles Pillow, C & alto & bass flutes, oboe, English horn, B-flat clarinet, alto saxophone; Steven Bernstein, Taylor Haskins, others, trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone; Julian Lage, guitar; Yuka C. Honda, celeste, Juno 60; Devin Hoff, contrabass, bass guitar; Alex Cline, drums, percussion; Kenny Wolleson, vibraphone, marimba, percussion; Michael Leonhart, arr., conductor; many others.
Blue Note 8002505102 (2 CDs). 2016. David Breskin, prod.; Ron Saint Germain, eng. DDD? TT: 90:02
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

There's an old saying about music written for films and the stage: It's so lush and tuneful that it's almost too schmaltzy to be heard without accompanying visuals. Add to that the suspicion that many so-called "out" jazz cats—guys with outsize reputations as loud, atonal shredders of the brainiac variety, blinding talents who prefer endless effects and generally play unhinged and far away from the melody—are really, under all the noise, big softies. There you have the story of Lovers.

Robert Baird Posted: Aug 18, 2016 4 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 2 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.

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