1998 Records To Die For Page 8

Keith Moerer

TOOTS MAYTAL: Toots in Memphis
Mango CCD 9818 (CD). 1988. Jim Dickinson, prod.; John Hampton, eng. ADD. TT: 43:57

Maytal is widely revered as a reggae pioneer, but he's also a Caribbean cousin of Otis Redding and Al Green, as he proves on this collection of '60s and '70s soul covers. Sly and Robbie anchor the rhythm section of a crack band that also includes guitarist Teenie Hodges and Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns. Together with Maytal, they reinvent Redding's "I've Got Dreams to Remember," Green's "Love and Happiness," and eight other classics, among them "Hard to Handle," "It's a Shame," and "Freedom Train." The result isn't pure reggae or unadulterated soul, but a hybrid as powerful as both at their best.
Slash 26786-2 (CD). 1992. Mitchell Froom, Los Lobos, prods.; Tchad Blake, eng. ADD. TT: 52:35

The pride of East L.A. could easily have settled into the lazy, provincial groove of hometown heroes. But with producer Froom's encouragement, Los Lobos exploded all conventions in their one true masterwork. Their Latin roots are obvious, and so is their encyclopedic knowledge of American blues, rock, and soul. But they don't stop there, tossing South African mbaqanga into the mix of "Wake Up Delores," and fearlessly experimenting every step along the way. Every time I listen, I wonder how Froom managed to fit all those weird, wonderful sounds into songs deeply rooted in the past but perfectly tailored to the future. (XV-11, XVII-2)

Thomas J. Norton

CASPER: Original Soundtrack
Music by James Horner
MCA MCAD-11240 (CD). 1995. James Horner, prod.; Shawn Murphy, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 73:15

While this is not James Horner's best score, it is relatively original and inventive (the composer has a tendency to shamelessly rip off his own prior work). There is, as is typical of soundtracks, a fair amount of repetition, but this is a long CD, and there's plenty here to savor. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is the music---not the (good) special effects or the story line---that "makes" Casper.

But the star attraction here is undeniably the sound quality. No one is doing a better job today at recording a symphony orchestra (and I include here engineers working in straight classical recording) than music-scoring mixer Shawn Murphy, particularly when he works, as he does here, at the Todd-AO scoring stage in Los Angeles. The sound is wonderfully atmospheric, a little more distant than some might like, but with a beautifully layered depth, realistic soundstaging, and phenomenal bass---all characteristic of Murphy's work. And for those into video, the score on the laserdisc (the standard or, particularly, the DTS version) sounds very nearly as good as on this CD---not as common an occurrence as you might think. This is, in fact, one of the best-sounding films---and laserdiscs---ever made.

Dan Oullette

Gianluigi Trovesi, alto sax, alto clarinet, bass clarinet; Pino Minafra, trumpet, prepared trumpet, flugelhorn, didjeridoo, voice, noise; Rodolfo Migliardi, trombone, tuba; Marco Remondini, cello; Roberto Bonati, Marco Micheli, acoustic bass; Vittorio Marinoni, drums; Fulvio Maras, percussion
Soul Note 121231-2 (CD). 1992. Giovanni Bonandrini, prod.; Giancarlo Barigozzi, eng. AAD? TT: 58:46

You don't think of Italy as a place where a jazz masterwork could be conceived and recorded. But saxophonist-clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi has bucked the odds and delivered a brilliant collection of tunes that are aptly described in the liner notes as teeming with "various episodes and atmospheres." The music is a rich mix of Italian folk, Balkan rhythms, and classical sensibilities melded with several jazz varietals (from Dixieland swing and bebop ad-libs to full-gusto free blasts). An inspired composer with a singular voice, maestro Trovesi leads his top-notch octet through remarkable musical journeys that are exhilarating, somber, and whimsical (and, at times, even hilariously slapstick). Surprises jump out around every bend on this Soul Note debut of one of jazz's best-kept secrets.
Elektra Asylum 61854-2 (CD). 1995. Daniel Lanois, prod.; Malcolm Burn, Mark Howard, Trina Shoemaker, engs. DDD? TT: 53:05

Bonafide country music superstar Emmylou Harris has recorded superb albums throughout her career, but none comes even close to her masterpiece, Wrecking Ball. Harris' achingly beautiful vocals and producer Daniel Lanois' signature rootsy atmospherics make for a perfect marriage. The songs, treated to an alluring blend of country and pop, are gems. In addition to covers of tunes by Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and Neil Young (who duets with Harris on the compelling title track), there are deeply moving renditions of numbers written by an all-star cast of women singer-songwriters, including Anna McGarrigle, Lucinda Williams, and Gillian Welch. Toss in a few originals by Harris and Lanois, and you have a classic disc that doesn't wear out its welcome. (XVIII-12)

Wes Phillips

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

We declared BVSC "Recording of the Month" only last month, but it is also clearly one for the ages. The expressive, natural sound is a huge plus---engineer Boys has brilliantly captured the sound of instruments and vocalists in a gloriously ambient space, but the disc's real appeal is the joyous music-making of the stellar cast of Cuban musicians.

The disc really ought to be subtitled The Good Old Stuff. Producer and musician Ry Cooder focuses on the older Cuban forms---dances and sones---that date back almost to the Spanish-American War, and the musicians he has chosen to bring the music alive have, in some cases, been performing these works since WWI. As a result, the disc has the comfort and ease of an old acquaintance---and a mellow, smoldering virtuosity that simply must be heard to be believed. (XXI-1)

Begoña Olavide, vocals, salterio, quanun, dulcema; Ramiro Amusategui, oud, saz; Carlos Paniagua, quanun, darbûga, târ, bendir; Pedro Estevan, darbûga, bendir, cajon, târ; Felipe Sanchez, Daniel Carranza, vihuela
M•A Recordings M042A (CD). 1996. Todd Garfinkle, prod., eng.; Begoña Olavide, Carlos Paniagua, prods. DDD. TT: 52:09

Mudéjar is an Arab word referring to the fusion of Christian and Moslem styles that existed in Spain after the reconquista, and is primarily used in descriptions of architecture or the decorative arts. Olavide and company, however, make a compelling argument for its application to their material---all harvested from 15th- and 16th-century Castillian collections of the vihuelistas, but possessing many melodic elements and rhythms that are obviously Arabic.

Furthermore, as performed here, these works clearly yearn for a lost perfect world. Even without reference to the lyrics, no one could be unaware of this collection's sense of loss. Hearing them, it is overwhelming: "The wives wash themselves with lemon water / I wash my wretched self with grief and sorrow..."; "Friends, you must know of a new misfortune / Ferocious Christians have seized Alhama / ¡Ay de mi Alhama!" But all is not dolorous: Olavide's incredibly rich, warm voice, her instrumental prowess on salterio (psaltery), and the adept accompaniment of her fellow bandmembers all give this disc a fullness that transcends its mournful subject matter.

Producer/engineer Todd Garfinkle manages, as usual, to capture the sound of voices and instruments in a very reverberant space (the monastery at Santa Espina, Valladolid) with an almost scary precision. Instrumental timbres are natural and crisply articulated, but Garfinkle's mastery is in the presentation of space---the interaction between instrument and room here is almost preternaturally sublime.