1998 Records To Die For Page 9

Richard J. Rosen

SPEEDY WEST & JIMMY BRYANT: Stratosphere Boogie: The Flaming Guitars of Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant
Razor & Tie RE 2067 (CD). 1995. Ken Nelson, prod.; Steve Hoffman, mastering eng. AAD. TT: 36:25

They've been referred to as "Leo Fender's test pilots," and it's easy to hear why. These breakneck virtuosos of steel guitar and guitar, respectively, musically embody the term "electric." The cuts are rare Capitol sides over 40 years old, originally recorded by Ken Nelson---one of the most brilliant producers of country, and of music, period. The baton was taken up by modern engineer Steve Hoffman, who makes all those DCC releases sound so great. Few can come to the plate with the two strikes of both "digital" and "reissue" already against them, and knock 'em out of the park as consistently. Lonnie Brownell and I never got tired of playing this record at the '96 WCES. Everyone who heard it liked it, and no one noticed that it's mono. It's super, it's sonic.
RAHSAAN ROLAND KIRK: I, Eye, Aye: Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, 1972
Rahsaan Roland Kirk, tenor sax, manzello, stritch, clarinet, flute, nose flute, siren, other stuff; Ron Burton, piano; Henry "Pete" Pearson, bass; Robert Shy, drums; Joe "Habao" Texidor, percussion
Atlantic/Rhino R2 72453 (CD). 1996. Joel Dorn, prod.; Steph Sulke, eng.; Gene Paul, mastering eng. ADD. TT: 48:49

Everyone should know Roland Kirk's music. Someday, everyone will. Despite such obstacles as lifelong diabetes, childhood blindness, and mid-career strokes, Kirk developed an unparalleled musical sensibility and a vibe of sheer positivity. The master of several wind and reed instruments, he would play two or more of them simultaneously---a completely different melody on each---while employing breathing techniques that allowed him to play non-stop. Rather than a technical oddity or out-jazz fringe player, Kirk was eminently musical and accessible, equally at home playing free improvisations or Burt Bacharach tunes. This recent CD from Rhino is as close as we can get to experiencing the musicianship, spontaneity, and humor of his legendary live presence.

Kalman Rubinson

MAHLER: Symphony 6, Kindertotenlieder
Thomas Hampson, baritone; Leonard Bernstein, Vienna Philharmonic
DG 427 697-2 (2 CDs). 1989. Hans Weber, prod.; Hans-Peter Schweigmann, Karl-August Naegler, engs. DDD. TT: 115:10

While some feel that Bernstein's approach to Mahler is overheated, I find it impossible to resist the passion and impact of this performance of Symphony 6. The live recording is not of the highest sonic quality, but somehow the steeliness in the strings and the billowing bass seem appropriate to Bernstein's heart-on-sleeve interpretation. Barbirolli (EMI) may be more tragic, Boulez (DG) more transparent, and Zander (IMP) more balanced (in performance and recording). Nonetheless, this recording never fails to grab me and fling me headlong into a roller-coaster ride through hope, disillusionment, and catharsis. And, oh, that ending!
SCHUMANN: Symphonies 1-4
With: Overture, Scherzo, & Finale, Op.52
Roy Goodman, The Hanover Band
RCA 61931-2 (2 CDs). 1994. Andrew Keener, prod.; Tony Faulkner, eng. DDD. TT: 2:13:55

This is a complete winner. Although touted as the first original-instruments recording of these symphonies, no listening accommodations are required. The performances are vigorous yet flexible, offering an exciting alternative to Szell's classic readings. Keener and Faulkner have achieved a most natural balance of orchestral sound and ambience, far in advance of the somewhat blowsy renditions of this group on the Nimbus label. Listen to the precise antiphonies in the brass, the sweet clarity of the strings, and the resonant timpani, set in a spacious ambience that hides no detail. Or, better yet, just let the music sweep you away. (XVIII-12)
STRIKE A DEEP CHORD: Blues Guitars for the Homeless
Various Artists
Justice JR 0003-2 (CD). 1992. Randall Hage Jamail, prod.; various engs. AAD/ADD. TT: 51:52
25% of the profits from this recording will be donated to the National Coalition for The Homeless.

This CD contains many fine performances, but what makes it special are the opening and closing cuts. In "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?," Dr. John and Odetta create a powerful epic of the down-and-out. In "America the Beautiful," Odetta's spiritual-tinged rendition is counterbalanced by Dr. John's rolling, bluesy piano. Both performances are strongly supported by John Campbell (guitar), Rufus Reid (bass), and Will Calhoun (drums), and captured in startlingly realistic sound. Used as demos, they never fail to induce rapt attention, even in the most raucous places (WCES?). Irresistible.

Robert J. Reina

Nonesuch 79415-2 (CD). 1997. Wayne Horvitz, prod.; Roger Moutenot, eng. AAD? TT: 63:05

Bill Frisell is the most significant electric-guitar voice of the last decade. His moody, tense melodies and loose, woodwindlike phrasing identify him whether he's swinging be-bop changes or blasting electronic laser beams. Nonesuch felt his style would fit in a country/bluegrass format, so they hooked Frisell up with some of Nashville's top players for a single session of largely acoustic instrumental folk tunes. This masterpiece shows that the cerebral Frisell can switch to playful country without altering his individuality. Amazingly, the level of communication between these musicians suggests a much longer association than one gig. The rich, warm, closely miked sound is Frisell's best to date.
DINO SALUZZI: Cité de la Musique
Dino Saluzzi, bandoneon; José Saluzzi, guitar; Marc Johnson, bass
ECM 1616 (78118-21616-2, CD). 1997. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Jan Erik Kongshaug, eng. DDD. TT: 60:26

In his dark and pensive compositions, Argentine composer Dino Saluzzi fully exploits the dynamic contrasts and polyphonic timbral subtleties of the bandoneon (a cousin of the accordion) without resorting to ethnic stereotypes. Saluzzi's best work makes his instrument's broadly spaced dissonant chordal voicings the centerpiece, thus maximizing the tension and drama he extracts from the bandoneon. Although this latest recording deviates from the typical Saluzzi orchestration (he shares the spotlight with his son, guitarist José Saluzzi, with bassist Marc Johnson serving as fulcrum for the trio), Cité de la Musique is an excellent introduction to the oeuvre of this jazz master. Sound is typical top-rate ECM.

George Reisch

THE LA'S: The La's
Go/London 828 202-2 (CD). 1990. Steve Lillywhite, prod.; Dave Charles, Donal Hodgson, Mark Wallis, engs. AAD. TT: 35:10

For years I've been hoping The La's would make another record. Rumor is that mastermind Lee Mavers is holed up in his native Liverpool, conjuring more perfect pop songs. But nothing's happened (despite Oasis' claim to have picked up where The La's left off). Except for the closing song, "Lookin' Glass," which is a bit overproduced and ponderous ("Turn the pages over, turn the world around"), these songs sound better to me all the time. The single "There She Goes" is a paradigm of less-is-more songwriting, and somehow conveys the exact sound of a longing, desperate sigh. "Timeless Melody" is just that.
THE DB's: The Sound of Music
I.R.S. 42055 (LP). 1987. Greg Edward, prod.; Spike, Dave Wolk, engs. AAA. No time listed.

R.E.M. got money and fame, but the real talent in the legendary Athens, Georgia college-rock scene of the early 1980s belonged to another band that found its name in a psychology textbook---Peter Holsapple and the Db's. In place of Michael Stipe's obscurity, Holsapple writes simply about interesting people. And he's funny: "I don't care about love and death, I just wanna catch my breath" ("Any Old Thing"). My favorite is "Never Before and Never Again," sung by Holsapple and guest Syd Straw about two lovers recoiling from a disastrous affair. If Plato was right that there exists a heavenly realm filled with perfect, unchanging objects, this duet is up there (filed under "Song"). Everything about it---instrumentation, arrangement, performance---is as natural, obvious, and inevitable as the lesson these two bruised souls come to learn: "Never be lovers before you are friends." Unfortunately, The Db's didn't know this one: "Never Release a Record Before an Audiophile Gives It a Listen." The Sound of Music is only barely listenable, but I'd still D4 this R.