1998 Records To Die For Page 10

Markus Sauer

World Circuit/Nonesuch 79478-2 (CD). 1997. Ry Cooder, prod.; Nick Gold, exec. prod.; Jerry Boys, eng. AAD. TT: 60:06

Ry Cooder has long been a champion of the world-music movement (which now seems to have lost much of its momentum). Talking Timbuktu, his collaboration with Ali Farka Touré, is an old favorite. In 1996, he went to Cuba to record three albums with local musicians. All are excellent, but Buena Vista Social Club is probably the best: mature, joyful, with a nonchalant mastery of rhythm, color, and occasional irony.

The sonics show off the virtues of simplicity: put the musicians in a studio, set up some microphones, and start the tape rolling. The result is great transparency, and even the percussion---always difficult to record---works well. (XXI-1)

EN VOGUE: Funky Divas
Eastwest America 7567-92310-2 (CD). 1992. Thomas McElroy, Denzil Foster, prods.; Steve Counter, Michael Semanick, Neil King, Ken Kessie, engs. ADD? TT: 62:10

Wanna show off your system to nonaudiophiles? Here's what I use: pure energy from the finest blend of female voices since the Supremes. This record features the group's biggest hit so far, "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)." Almost all the songs hold to the same standard, with only the cover of the Beatles' "Yesterday" failing to hit the spot for me. Two Curtis Mayfield songs work much better.

Totally artificial sound, of course---everything is souped-up, manipulated, and otherwise played around with---but the percussion has bite, the horn section has a very satisfying power, bass is sometimes over the top but has tremendous drive. If this record doesn't start at least some parts of your body moving, you're probably dead.

Richard Schneider

WAGNER: Die Walküre
Jon Vickers, Siegmund; Gre Brouwenstijn, Sieglinde; George London, Wotan; Birgit Nilsson, Brünnhilde; David Ward, Hunding; Rita Gorr, Fricka; others; London Symphony, Erich Leinsdorf
London 430 391-2 (3 CDs). 1962/1991. Erik Smith, prod.; Kenneth Wilkinson, eng. ADD. TT: 3:36:17

The talk of the town this season is Decca/London's re-remastered Solti Ring. But here's a neglected, underrated treasure by one of the great Wagnerian casts and conductors, and a superbly poised and polished LSO. One of the vintage Wilkinson "Decca tree" British Living Stereos, recorded in the spacious acoustics of London's Walthamstow Town Hall by Kenneth Wilkinson, this Walküre is an installment in a Ring that might have been, but was not to be. Vocally, orchestrally, and sonically, this stand-alone Walküre provides an alternative to the better-known preferred versions, and belongs in every Ring collection.

Don Scott

LANGLAIS: Suite Médiévale, Cinq Méditations sur l'Apocalypse
Bruno Mathieu, organ; Grand Orgue Cavaille-Coll de la Cathédrale de Saint-Brieuc, France
Naxos 8.553190 (CD). 1995. Pierre-Louis Carsin, prod. DDD. TT: 65:36

The first selection, Celui qui a des orielles, qu'il écoute ("He that hath ears, let him hear what the spirit saith unto the churches"), comes from Revelations 2:7. The opening fugue of this section is not only symbolic of Christ's injunctions to the seven churches through St. John, but serves as a revelation of blockbuster audio as well: let the audiophiles also hear. This cut is a force-and-might performance by Bruno Mathieu that, if played at realistic levels, will show up an audio system's every quality or shortcoming. Its fundamentals in the lower reaches require finesse in bass response, yet they are not hyped in the recording EQ to unbalance the superb performance. The cathedral's acoustics are well preserved in the recording, and also demonstrate a system's ability to re-create correct vertical and horizontal placement of a soundstage: reverberations should be heard from the hard walls, ceiling, and floor.

La cinquième trompette (The Fifth Trumpet) is another acoustic treasure---a musical portrait of the violent fate awaiting those who do not wear the seal of God on their foreheads. Yet the energetic performance is not filled with the harshness associated with non-harmonic-related compositions designed for sonic bashing. Other selections on the disc are rather bland and uninvolving. Overall, a good test disc.

Jonathan Scull

Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, piano; John Heard, bass; Louie Bellson, drums
Pablo 2310-896 (LP). 1983. Norman Granz, prod.; Val Valentin, eng. AAD? No time listed.

Like most of you, I crave recordings that strike a special chord within me. The Timekeepers does it every time. I find myself humming my all-time favorite, "Rent Party," while schlepping hither and yon about town. The vibe is soporific: Basie is all delightful sketches, Peterson counters with pointillistic, filigreed detail. The music is warm and welcoming, the quartet always in a perfect state of syncromesh. It really doesn't get any better than this.
SATIE: Satie
Mari Tsuda, piano
JVC JVCC-6506-2 (CD). 1996. 20-bit K2 Super Coding. Tomoo Nojima, prod.; Yasuhisa Takashima, eng. DDD. TT: 59:37

After Poulenc, Erik Satie is my favorite of "Les Six Francais," who caroused and composed in turn-of-the-century Paris. The liner notes quote the film director Jean Cocteau: "Satie was always his purest self....He does not cover his talent with any garment or decoration. For his music, the most discreet and modest act is for his talent to walk calmly naked." There is truly something for everyone on this recording. Ardent fans of Satie's palpable music will eat up the entire disc. Fabulously recorded and mastered, Tsuda's virtuosity is as elegant and playful as the music itself.