1998 Records To Die For Page 13

Michael Ullman

WES MONTGOMERY: The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery, guitar; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Albert Heath, drums
Riverside VDJ-1538 (CD). 1960. Rudy Van Gelder, eng. ADD. TT: 44:19

This 1960 session represents, to my ears, the pinnacle of Wes Montgomery's jazz-playing career. He solos with quirky passion on the uptempo "Airegin," his chordal second chorus sounding like an apt complication of the texture rather than a virtuoso's trick, as it sometimes did later. Montgomery's blues playing has never sounded better than on his "West Coast Blues," which he introduced here, and on the wonderful "D-Natural Blues," where he yields---in a perfectly seamless, thrilling transition---to the equally talented Tommy Flanagan. My LP of this session (recorded by Rudy Van Gelder) had a bit more presence than the current CD, but I still have no problem recommending The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery in any format.
Wayne Shorter, tenor sax; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Herbie Hancock, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Elvin Jones, drums
Blue Note CDP 7 46509 2 (CD). 1964. Rudy Van Gelder, eng. ADD. TT: 42:13

I've felt, at best, ambivalent about the recent playing of Wayne Shorter, so it was good to go back to this 1964 session with its all-star cast introducing a group of Shorter compositions, including "Witch Hunt," "Speak No Evil," "Infant Eyes," and "Wild Flower," that have since become contemporary jazz standards. In 1964, of course, Shorter, Hancock, and Carter were members of the Miles Davis Quintet. I would say that they were feeling their way toward a new style here, except that the style is already there. Shorter's pieces combine an apparent simplicity with occasional unexpected harmonic twists that test even the best musicians. They're challenging and, especially in the case of "Infant Eyes," touching. I remember Miles Davis commenting on a Freddie Hubbard record from about this time, that Freddie needs to be challenged to play well. He is challenged here, and, like the rest of the quintet, he plays beautifully. Rudy Van Gelder's the engineer again, providing a clear, upfront sound that I have always found comfortable. (XX-9)

David Vernier

Warner Bros. 1473-2 (CD). 1962/1989. Albert B. Grossman, prod.; Bill Schwartau, eng.; Peter Yarrow, Lee Herschberg, remix engs. ADD. TT: 34:46

A folk record, eh? Well, this isn't just any "folk record." Most people don't realize that the PP&M catalog almost died with the digital age: In the mid-'80s, Warner Bros. planned to let these popular and influential recordings---recordings that helped define an era---fade out of existence. "No audience," they said. Following an interview with Peter Yarrow, I launched a national letter-writing campaign. Hundreds of impassioned responses poured in. This, and the fact that PP&M continued to sell out dozens of concerts each year, could not be ignored by the all-wise executive minds, and now we have all of the group's recordings on CD. Moving is one of the best, not only because of the music, but---and most people don't know this, either---the configuration of voices and instruments, and the excellent condition of the original three-track masters, enabled Yarrow and Lee Herschberg to produce scrupulous remixes that are astonishingly fresh, present, and vibrant.
JOHN RUTTER & THE CAMBRIDGE SINGERS: There is Sweet Music: English Choral Songs, 1890-1950
John Rutter, The Cambridge Singers
Collegium COLCD 104 (CD). 1986. Jillian White, prod.; Campbell Hughes, eng. DDD. TT: 56:20

There's no substitute for Bach, and there's likewise no substitute for English choral music, especially when sung by one of England's top choirs. What more beautiful expression of beauty itself, of nature, or of art is there in the a cappella repertoire? And what better way to express such beauty than with these heavenly voices? Charles Stanford's "The Blue Bird" is reason enough to own this disc and never part with it. The program's remaining 52 minutes offer more sublime music by Britten, Delius, Elgar, Grainger, Holst, and Vaughan Williams. (XIV-1)

J.P. Wearing

BERLIOZ: Requiem, Grande Messe des Morts
With: Funereal & Triumphal Symphony
Ronald Dowd, tenor; Wandsworth School Boys' Choir; London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Sir Colin Davis
Philips 416 283-2 (2 CDs). 1970/1986. ADD. TT: 2:07:00

Berlioz's Requiem requires over 100 strings, 20 woodwinds, 12 horns, 8 sets of timpani, and at least 200 singers, so live performances are rarities. Catch one if you can. Davis' recording is, however, an excellent substitute. Davis feels Berlioz in his bones, and captures all the requisite gloire and the long lines of music. None of the intimate moments are lost either. All the forces are in near top form, and though the '70s sound is a mite grainy, it's still acceptable. Just listen to the brass choirs in the "Dies Irae"---if the apocalypse isn't like this, it'll be more than disappointing. (XI-3)
HANDEL: Messiah
Dorothea Röschmann, soprano; Susan Gritton, soprano; Bernarda Fink, contralto; Charles Daniels, tenor; Neal Davies, bass; Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
Archiv 453 465-2 (2 CDs). 1997. Christopher Alder, prod.; Jurgen Bulgrin, eng. DDD. TT: 2:12:19

There are too many lawyers and too many Messiahs, but dang it, sometimes you simply need one. Ever since Handel kept tinkering with the original, Messiah has come in variable versions. McCreesh uses a late (1754) version, authentic instruments, and scaled-down forces performing in period style. The result is ear-openingly fresh, nonreverential, yet thoughtful. It displaces every ploddingly turgid "Victorian" performance, and challenges other recent authentic recordings. McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort know their stuff, and soprano Susan Gritton is stellar in a clutch of good soloists. The sound is transparently crisp and open. This new Messiah reinvents Handel's message, yet paradoxically demonstrates why it's remained so popular.

Barry Willis

STRUNZ & FARAH: Americas
Mesa R2 79041 (CD). 1992. Jorge Strunz, Ardeshir Farah, Kathlyn Powell, prods.; Terry Becker, eng. DDD? TT: 49:07

Ritmo del alma y corazon. Rhythm of the soul and heart: there is no better description of this music than this line from the title track. Backed by eight master musicians, Strunz and Farah display incredible virtuosity in this celebration of the Spanish guitar. Seductive melodies, intoxicating rhythms, and excellent recording quality make this disc ceaselessly compelling. Americas has been in heavy rotation en mi casa since the first time I heard it more than three years ago. It will be three years from now, too.
Madeleine Peyroux, guitar, vocals; Marc Ribot, guitars, banjo, dobro; Vernon Reid, guitar; James Carter, saxes, bass clarinet; Marcus Printup, trumpet; Regina Carter, violin; Charles Giordano, keyboards, accordion; Cyrus Chestnut, piano; Greg Cohen, bass, marimba; Steve Kirby, bass; Kenny Wollinson, drums, percussion; Leon Parker, drums
Atlantic 82946-2 (CD). 1996. Yves Beauvais, Greg Cohen, prods.; Michael Krowiak, Michael O'Reilly, engs. DDD? TT: 39:39

Madeleine Peyroux's personal myth is that she grew up in Athens, Georgia, the town that gave the world R.E.M. and the B-52's, but had no experience of early jazz until she moved to France with her family when she was 16. Street performers there introduced her to the music she performs so lovingly on Dreamland. Acknowledging the influence of Bessie Smith, and sounding like the reincarnation of Billie Holiday, Peyroux pours herself into great old tunes like "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" and "Walkin' After Midnight." Not to be missed on this HDCD: the luscious "La Vie en Rose."