1993 Records To Die For Page 10

Allen St. John

THE CLASH: London Calling
Epic E2 36328 (LP), EGK 36328 (CD). Bill Price, eng.; Guy Stevens, prod. AAA/AAD. TT: 65:56

This is no record to die for, it's a record to live for---a first-round desert island draft choice. Watch for the plane, pogo amid the palms to "Death or Glory," and wonder why Ginger brought all those clothes for a three-hour tour. Angry and hopeful, London Calling marks the finest moment from The Only Band That Mattered (for a little while, anyway). And, I contend, the sound is reference quality. If you're auditioning a new component with "Clampdown" and you get the sudden urge to put on James Newton Howard and Friends, put away your wallet! Reproduced properly, it'll raise more than your hackles.
YO LA TENGO: Fakebook
Restless/BarNone 7 72641-1 (LP), -2 (CD). John Siket, eng.; Gene Holder, prod. AAA/AAD. TT: 44:22

Fakebook is why CD players have repeat buttons. Every time I drop it in the drawer, the Lay's Potato Chip Syndrome takes over: I can't play it just once. I reviewed this inspired collection of bizarre covers in Vol.14 No.6, but I like it even more now. Emily Hubley and Ira Kaplan assembled this semi-acoustic set with Greil Marcus intelligence and a Lester Bangs sense of humor. Who says that John Cale and Cat Stevens can't coexist on the same album? The sound is as fine as the music, lush and lovely pure analog with no stupid tape tricks. A near-perfect record. (XIV-6)

Michael Ullman

Duke Ellington & Orchestra; Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet; Jimmy Rushing, vocal; Jimmy Jones, piano
Columbia CK 40712 (CD only). Larry Keyes, digital eng.; Irving Townsend, prod. ADD. TT: 49:38

His most consistent years may have been earlier, but Ellington continued to make thrilling, irreplaceable music into the '60s. Thus, my choices for "Records to Die For" this year are two Ellington discs. I couldn't choose between them. Jazz Party was recorded during two days in 1959. As usual, Ellington had an innovative idea: two of the pieces here are recorded with a choir of percussionists, including timpanists. Then Ellington recorded his "Toot Suite," a succession of charming small-scale themes beautifully crafted to demonstrate the talents of key bandmembers. There's more: moving sinuously through "All of Me," the ineffably poised Johnny Hodges exploits all his tones, from a purr to a near bark. Ellington then invited visitor Dizzy Gillespie to solo on Billy Strayhorn's "U.M.M.G.," and leads a thrilling jam-session blues, calling on blues-shouter Jimmy Rushing, Gillespie, and on his band for an exuberantly informal blues that seems to unite the best of Ellington, Kansas City blues, and bebop in one multi-colored tapestry. Recorded in early stereo, with clear separation and an upfront sound.
DUKE ELLINGTON: And His Mother Called Him Bill
RCA 6287-2-RB (CD only). Ed Begley, Walt P (sic), engs.; Brad McCuen, prod. ADD. TT: 61:35

The "Bill" of the title is Billy Strayhorn, the composer often called Ellington's alter ego. That may be because he had so little ego of his own: though he was the composer of "Lush Life," "Chelsea Bridge," and "Take the A Train," Strayhorn spent much of his career helping Ellington compose and arrange pieces that the bandleader then made famous. But Ellington loved the man he called "Sweet Pea," who had died just before these 1967 recording sessions, and his tribute album, composed entirely of Strayhorn compositions, is heartfelt. The highlights include the Johnny Hodges solo on one of Strayhorn's last pieces, "Blood Count," the smoothly swinging "The Intimacy of the Blues," and a touching piano solo by Ellington. Ellington played one take of "Lotus Blossom" alone when the band was audibly packing up and celebrating behind him. It's a uniquely personal gesture, made in a typically offhand way. Strayhorn deserved the love and the attention that this warmly recorded album offers him

Peter van Willenswaard

NINA HAGEN: Nunsexmonkrock
German CBS 83136 (LP). US Columbia CK 46993 (CD).

Nina Hagen was born in what used to be East Germany and received an education there as a classical soprano. She went into pop music, however, and became a pain in the ass for the authorities. After she escaped to (or was expelled to) West Germany, she recorded this record in 1978. She went completely out of her mind, doing everything which had until then been impossible, in text and music (and life). In my opinion, she never equaled this level in subsequent recordings. The texts are outrageous, anarchistically poetic, with sentences that hit like hammer blows. In the fifth song, "Naturträne," she uses her classically trained voice, but in a way God must have forbidden; it both hurts to listen to this and is highly emotive. Sound quality is impeccable, and rarely matched in the world of pop music.
MOZART: Bassoon Concerto; Oboe Concerto in C, K.285d
HAYDN: Oboe concerto

Thom de Klerk, bassoon; Leo Driehus, oboe; Bernhard Paumgartner, Vienna Symphony
Philips 835266AY (LP). AAA.

Mozart wrote this bassoon concerto for a gay friend who was a bassoonist so he could for once perform as a soloist. The music is very, very tender, an expression of love and care, and de Klerk submits his fabulous technique to the emotion of the composition. The backing given by the Vienna Symphony (Austrians, like Mozart!) is exactly what you could wish. This record moves me deeply.

Sound quality is good, with a lot of ambience, but playback of this LP is as difficult as with the Janis/Rachmaninoff Mercury I mentioned last year. Yes, this is a 1959 recording.

Barry Willis
Three things stand out when you look over R2D4 to date: 1) There's no accounting for taste. 2) The number of obscure (read: impossible to find) recordings. 3) The obvious omissions. Where is Orff's Carmina Burana? Where is West Side Story? Why has no one mentioned Nat King Cole or Julie London? How about Brubeck's Take Five? Why no Victoria de Los Angeles, no Ray Charles, no k.d. lang? Why Why Why no Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East? Most of these omissions will correct themselves as the years roll by, but at two entries per writer per year, it's going to take a very long time.

Four of these selections were originally purchased in vinyl. Once I acquired the CDs, I stopped playing LPs. I will always play (and buy) old LPs because they will never be reissued as little silver discs, but I no longer seek new ones, because they have one fatal flaw: surface noise. No matter how well-cared-for, vinyl always deteriorates. What does an LP sound like after 100 plays? After 500? CDs may not be perfect, but at least they're not made worse by the very use for which they were intended.

KIT McCLURE BAND: Some Like It Hot!
Redhot Records Rh 9001 (CD). Richard Tyndall, Kit McClure, prods.; Jerry Gottus, eng. ADD. TT: 62:14

This all-female big band may make you wish your volume control had an extra notch or two: huge sound, consummate musicianship, tremendously showy presentation, and tons of fun! This act is way up there on my "must see" list.
Columbia CK 36264 (CD). Leonard Cohen, Roscoe Beck, Sharon Robinson, Michel Robidux, prods.; Ian Terry, Francois Deschamps, Jean-Jacques Peruchon, Roger Guerin, Billy Youdelman, Leanne Unger, engs. AAD. TT: 40:59

Godfather to countless art-rock bands and now in his fourth decade of rendering his dark visions to a perspicacious public (his 1966 novel Beautiful Losers ranks as one of the Great Works), Cohen here offers, in a strong, emotionally resonant voice, a subterranean panorama: from the horrifying humor of a terrorist's anthem ("First We Take Manhattan"), to a celebration of futility ("Everybody Knows"), to a wistful, romantic evocation of late-Victorian Vienna ("Take this Waltz," with a cameo appearance by Jennifer Warnes). Where do old songwriters go to die? A hundred-storey nursing home called the "Tower of Song." (XI-12)
THE JUDDS: Christmas Time with the Judds
RCA/Curb 6422-1-R (CD). Brent Maher, prod., eng. No SPARS. TT: 29:27

Christmas classics down on the farm by two truly gorgeous voices; Wynona's and Naomi's honest, heartfelt harmonies soar above the instrumental backing of an all-star cast of Nashville masters. Buy this disc now! Then play it year 'round. I do.
JOE SATRIANI: Surfing with the Alien
Relativity 88561-8193-1 (LP), -2 (CD). Joe Satriani, John Cuniberti, prods.; John Cuniberti, eng. No SPARS. TT: 38:13

Guitar God Satriani blazes like the sun on this all-instrumental album, which contains some of the greatest power-rock ever recorded on planet earth. Had a rough day? Try a little "Ice Nine." Gearing up for battle? "Crushing Day" will put you in the mood. Young and in love? "Always With Me, Always With You" will have you dancing like Baryshnikov.
CHRIS SPHEERIS: Desires of the Heart
Columbia CK 40478 (CD). Chris Spheeris, prod.; David Vartanian, eng. AAD. TT: 46:04

All sugar and no substance makes listening to most New Age music like eating a meal of candy. Desires is an exception; Spheeris acknowledges the importance of the shadow as well as of the light. Beautifully recorded, well-balanced, uplifting, moody, and full of longing, this music is the perfect accompaniment for late, late nights.