1997 Records To Die For Page 8

Barbara Jahn

PROKOFIEV: Romeo & Juliet, Op.75; Cinderella, Opp.95 & 97; 3 Pieces for Piano, Op.96
Frederic Chiu, piano
Harmonia Mundi 907150 (CD only). 1996. Brad Michel, eng.; Robina G. Young, prod. DDD. TT: 64:22

If you've always considered the piano to be a percussion instrument, then this disc will make you think again. Admittedly Prokofiev made these transcripts and was a stunning pianist with a reputation for "steel fingers, steel wrists, steel biceps, [and] steel triceps" that wasn't totally unfounded, but you'll find none of this here. Frederic Chiu is living Romeo and Juliet's anguish, and the seductive, haunting emotion he draws from the piano is easily as emotive as the full tonal palette of the symphony orchestra. So, not only will you be excited by the sheer virtuosity of this artist, but you'll also be amazed by the range of expression and concentration he can command...and Harmonia Mundi has captured this subtlety to perfection. What more can I say but I hope you'll be tempted to give it a try?
FALLA: Nights in the Gardens of Spain
ALBENIZ: Rapsodia Espanola Op.70; Concierto Fantastico Op.78
TURINA: Rapsodia Sinfonica Op.66

Jean-Francois Heisser, piano; Jesus Lopez-Cobos, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne
Erato 0630-14775-2 (CD only). 1996. Jean-Martial Galaz, eng.; Jean-Pierre Loisil, prod. DDD. TT: 70:00

You can almost smell the heady perfume of these Nights in the Gardens of Spain; you can virtually hear the Andalusian peasants singing in the Rapsodia Espanola; and, if you're willing, Turina will lead you by the hand through the beauties of his countryside under a starry sky. And when you've tired of basking in the luxury of such exotica, you can listen to Albeniz speaking a foreign language in his Concerto's escape from all things Spanish. All this, captured in the finest 20-bit resolution, is the stuff of pure fantasy, with more than a little provocative persuasion thrown in to help things along. If you need to relax and escape for a while, go on...pamper yourself. (XVIII-9)

Muse Kastanovich

SOUNDGARDEN: Badmotorfinger
A&M 75021-5374-2 (CD only). 1991. Soundgarden, Terry Date, prods.; Terry Date, eng. AAD. TT: 57:49

Matt Cameron's drumming is reminiscent of Will Calhoun's (Living Colour): a sonic boom with the dexterity of a hummingbird. Chris Cornell has one of the best voices for hard rock ever. Kim Thayil's and Cornell's guitars have that chunky drive like Metallica's. Ben Sheperd's bass locks in with it all perfectly. Not to mention their kickass songwriting abilities. I used to play a cassette of this album over and over in the car---unusual behavior for me. Normally I get bored listening to the same music, playing those albums I haven't heard in the longest time. But this is one of those rare ones that is just so incredibly good that it has to be played every day for a couple of weeks!
SUZANNE VEGA: Days of Open Hand
A&M CD-5293 (CD only). 1990. Anton Sanko, Suzanne Vega, prods.; Hugh Padgham, mix; Patrick McCarthy, Geoff Keehn, engs. ADD. TT: 45:52

Choosing only two albums was turning into the assignment that would never end, so I let the sound quality do the choosing for me. This disc is a shining example of how to correctly record a rock band (some of the songs are more acoustic). It is realistic, present, dynamic, instrumentally and spectrally well-balanced, with both a quick edge and a velvety smoothness similar to live music. These wonderful and rare qualities would be wasted, however, if the music didn't give you goosebumps. I have long been a fan of Suzanne Vega's incredible compositions, voice, guitar playing, lyrics, and choice of band members. She has a focused fire in her eyes when she performs that mesmerizes, as if she were peering directly into your psyche, looking for something. This is indeed one of her best albums.

Richard Lehnert

THE BAND: The Band
Capitol CDP 7 46493 2 (CD only). 1969. The Band, John Simon, prods.; Joe Zagarino, Tony May, engs., mix. AAD. TT: 43:56

The Band's second album is a perfect integration of rock'n'roll, rock, r&b, blues, hillbilly, rockabilly, country, and folk music, and it sounds even better now than it did in 1969. It's a people's history of America in music, crafted with enough road-seasoned love, joy, and talent that you'll never mistake it for a lesson. "We wanted...a kind of woody, thuddy sound," says Robbie Robertson. They got it---even the electric instruments sound as if they saw duty in the Civil War. And chops alone will never create voices like those of Helm, Manuel, and Danko, let alone the magic of their blend. The CD sounds better to me than my 27-year-old-but-still-pristine LP: some more clarity, but not at the expense of The Band's autumnal, sepia-toned warmth. One of the top five rock albums of all time.
EMILY BEZAR: Moon in Grenadine
Emily Bezar, vocals, piano, electronic keyboards; Morris Acevedo, guitar; Andrew Higgins, bass; Steve Rossi, drums. With: Chris Grady, trumpet; Dave Barrett, tenor sax
DemiVox DVX699 (CD only). 1996. Emily Bezar, prod.; Bob Hodas, Mike Cresswell, engs., mix. HDCD. TT: 64:27

"Not for everyone," I cautioned in my review of Bezar's daunting debut CD (May '94). But Moon in Grenadine's textures are a bit less dense than Grandmother's Tea Leaves' brilliantly deployed keyboards, string quartets, and avant-garde electronics, and Bezar has a band now---really a jazz quartet. Her voice veers from childlike intimacy to womanful operatic cry, and her piano chops are awesome (she's conservatory-trained in both). Songs never go where you think they will ("Rain in Calgary"), and her lyrics make up in hothouse imagery what they lack in straightforwardness. Think Amos or Bush backed by Zappa ("Gingerbread") and you'll be right, if not nearly right enough. Bezar's intelligence is overwhelming---there's enough richness, rigor, allusion, and surprise here to keep you thinking till next year. A bit of digital harshness, but otherwise Moon in Grenadine sounds far better than Tea Leaves---which missed being Recording of the Month by just that much. (XVII-5)