1997 Records To Die For Page 11

Richard J. Rosen

JOHN COLTRANE: My Favorite Things
John Coltrane, soprano & tenor saxes; McCoy Tyner, piano; Steve Davis, bass; Elvin Jones, drums
Atlantic 1361 (LP). Nesuhi Ertegun, prod.; Tom Dowd, Phil Iehle, engs. AAA. 1961. TT: 41:26
JOHN COLTRANE: The Heavyweight Champion---The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Rhino/Atlantic R1/R2 71984 (12 LPs, 7 CDs). 1995. Nesuhi Ertegun, prod.; Joel Dorn, compilation prod. ADA/ADD. TT: 4:78:34

The title track of My Favorite Things is easily one of my fav---well, you know. Who else could take such an unlikely, sickly-sweet standard and turn it into something so deeply soulful? Play it for your friends who don't like jazz. Everyone knows the song, so everyone has the reference tools required to make the exquisite beauty almost instantly accessible. As a special bonus, for the rest of your life, whenever you hear the tune, it will no longer be "that song by Julie Andrews," but "that thing Coltrane does." Isn't that enough? Oh, and you may as well get the Rhino boxed set, on vinyl if you still can---you'll be needing it. (Heavyweight Champion, XIX-3)
THE METERS: Look-ka Py Py
Josie JOS-4011 (LP), Rounder 2103 (LP/CD). Allen Toussaint, Marshall E. Sehorn, prods. AAA/AAD. 1970. TT: 31:21

I can't even think about this record without shimmying my shoulders. This was the second LP from one of the great session bands of the '60s and '70s, back when they were tight, tight, tight. Kinda like New Orleans' answer to Memphis's Booker T. & The MGs, they're the band on the greatest albums by the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, and just about any cats of distinction from the Big Easy you might care to name. The Meters bridge the gap between traditional New Orleans music and modern funk. Original vinyl is about as rare as an uncorrupted Louisiana politician, but the Rounder reissue sounds fine. Think of it as instant bons temps rouler.

Kalman Rubinson

JORDI SAVALL: La Lira d'Esperia
The Medieval Fiddle, 1100-1400
Jordi Savall, lyra, rebec, violes; Pedro Estevan, percussion
Auvidis/Astrée E 8547 (CD only). 1995. Anne Fontigny, Manuel Mohino, prods.; Nicholas Bartholomee, eng. DDD. TT: 54:53

I have long been a fan of Jordi Savall's music-making, and this disc is a distillation of his skills, knowledge, and sympathies. He has arranged a series of suites, from Italian and Spanish sources, to represent the music of Hesperia, the ancient Greek name for Italy and the Roman name for Spain. The pieces are lovely, ranging from the reflective to the joyful. Playing reproductions of period instruments, Savall and his engineers permit us to hear the distinctive resonances of each---the bite of the bow, the accenting percussion---with revealing but natural clarity. Perfect music for a quiet, but certainly not sleepy, evening.
OPENING NIGHT: French Overtures & Ballet Music
Lowell Graham, American Promenade Orchestra
Klavier KCD-11049 (CD only). 1993. Harold Powell, Jack Stamp, prods.; Bruce Leek, eng. DDD. TT: 58:44

The premise here is that theater music was written to be performed by 40-50 musicians, not by a symphony orchestra of 100+. From the lyric opening of Mignon (Thomas) through the rollicking conclusion of Orpheus in the Underworld (Offenbach), we hear these chestnuts with fresh ears, thanks to the bracing performances. Bruce Leek's engineering continues his impressive series with Klavier, offering the bold re-creation of a pit orchestra with a small band of virtuoso strings and heroic winds and brass. Imaging is explicit, and the bass remarkably solid. As the liner notes say, "Sit back, close your eyes, and listen as we tranport you back in time to a Paris opera house for a festive 'Opening Night.' "
ALKAN: Piano Music
Grande Sonate, Op.33; Sonatine, Op.61; Barcarolle, Op.65 No.6; Le Festin d'Esope, Op.39 No.12
Marc-Andre Hamelin, piano
Hyperion CDA66794 (CD only). 1995. Andrew Keener, prod.; Tony Faulkner, eng. DDD. TT: 69:39

Hamelin's playing is so astounding that I gasp for breath every time I listen. He plays this demonically difficult music with such assurance and éclat that one can approach the spirit behind Alkan's explosions of notes. The opening Grande Sonate depicts "Les Quatre Ages" of life, and so begins in zesty youth. With each movement, as age succeeds age, Hamelin's uncanny control conveys the progressive slowing. There is no let-down in the other pieces, and the program ends with a vigorous and flexible Le Festin d'Esope. The well-known Faulkner/Keener team have provided a clean, fairly reverberant sound. It is natural at reasonable levels, but what a blast when you turn up the wick!
ARNOLD: Arnold for Band
Jerry Junkin, Dallas Wind Symphony
Reference RR-66CD (HDCD only). 1995. J. Tamblyn Henderson, Jr., prod.; Keith O. Johnson, eng. DDD. TT: 66:24

I hesitate to include this because audiophiles already acclaim Arnold's Lyrita recordings, and his Tam O'Shanter on the RCA (and now Classic Records) Witches' Brew LP. (If you didn't know these, then I slipped in a few extra R2D4s over my limit!) Well, folks, this is more good stuff. In addition to band arrangements of the English and the Four Scottish Dances, I particularly relish the witty Padstow Lifeboat and the riotous and gripping Tam O'Shanter. This sonic spectacular demonstrates the benefits of HDCD processing, and contains delightful music played with power and finesse. If your woofers can handle it, turn it up and revel!
Americus Brass Band, Plenty Coups Singers
No label, no number (CD only). 1996. Michael L. Masterson, prod.; Bryan Shaw, eng. DDD? TT: 62:36
(Available from the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, 720 Sheridan Ave., Cody, WY 82414. Tel: (800) 533-3838.

Available only from the sponsoring historical society, this re-creation of turn-of-the-century theatrics is introduced by Buffalo Bill himself, and features razor-sharp resolution of brass, winds, and percussion played with precision and verve. It offers the music of the popular (1887-1906) shows, from "The Star Spangled Banner" through marches and two-steps, traditional airs, Handel, Offenbach, authentic and pseudo-Indian pieces, and concludes with a solemn tribute to the soldiers of the Civil War, "Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground"---all accompanied by fascinating brochures and photos. This is a rare disc that can give you a wonderful sense of times long past through the open window provided by dedicated artists and pellucid sonics.

Jonathan Scull

In memory of Fred Sonic Smith.
Arista 18747-2 (CD only). 1996. Malcolm Burn, prod.; Lenny Kaye, prod., eng. Pat McCarthy, John Agnello, Roy Cicala, mix; Mastering by Greg Calbi, mastering. AAD. TT: 55:58

I love Patti Smith. (Kathleen first, of course.) Then Laurie Anderson. I was electrified by Patti's performance with such notables as Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass at the Tibet House benefit this past Winter. She was...resplendent. Visceral, yet spiritually way out there.

The booklet artfully displays her poetry. I imagine the pages, enlarged, hanging in a SoHo gallery. The music is powerful and compelling; I can't remember when last I paid such attention to lyrics. Play "Wing" and try to stay composed. "Raven" picks you up and leaves you smiling, happy inside. Don't miss this album. A consummate work of art. (XIX-9)

LOU REED: Set the Twilight Reeling
Warner Bros. 46159-2 (CD only). 1996. Lou Reed, prod., mix; Steve Rosenthal, eng., mix; Bob Ludwig, mastering. ??? TT: 50:56

Another album whose booklet is the key. It's encased in a deepest-blue jewel case, making all behind it dark and mysterious. The true life and color, when unfurled, are shocking. We're not talking wussy lyrics, either. Try this on for size: "I was thinking of things that I hate to do /...Something fatter and uglier than Rush Rambo / Something more disgusting than Robert Dole / Something pink that climbs out of a hole / And there it was---sex with your parents...motherfucker."

Say no more! Fantastic album, perfectly terrific sound, vintage Louis, and even a touch of backing vocals by girlfriend Laurie Anderson. So, lemme ask you...what's not to like? (XIX-5)