1999 Records To Die For Page 4

Howard Blumenthal

BENNY CARTER: 'Live and Well in Japan!
Original Jazz Classics OJC 736 (CD). 1978, 1992. Benny Carter, prod. AAD. TT: 42:00
A good old-fashioned jazz album, handsomely recorded at Tokyo's Kosei Nenkin Hall. This is visceral, smiling jazz, a taste of swing and big-band, some improvisation, and always attentive trading of ideas between alto saxman Carter and his cronies, notably Budd Johnson (tenor and soprano sax). The 10-piece band performs just four numbers, reaching out to the crowd and making a deep impression. Best is the Louis Armstrong medley, with Carter showing off on trumpet. The opener is the old Johnny Hodges tune, "Squatty Roo," and the closer is Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got that Swing)." No big surprises here. Just smiles.

SOLAS: Solas
Shanachie 78002 (CD). 1996. Johnny Cunningham, prod.; John Anthony, eng. DDD. TT: 54:45
One of my favorite loudspeaker test recordings (for its bodhrán, or Irish drum, and its fine fiddling), this CD inevitably raises the question "What's the name of that CD, and where can I buy one for myself?" Like any good Irish band, Solas mixes up songs, reels, airs, and jigs, zigging from tear-jerker to fast dance and back again. It's the airs that get me every time. Seamus Egan's sparse guitar running scales, vibrating the whole room, Winifred Horan yearning on her fine fiddle—"Crested Hens" causes me to drift off and dream. The best track's probably the opener, a drinking song called "Nël 'Na Lá." Egan's a mighty fiddler, but vocalist Karan Casey often steals the show. An ideal entry point for Irish music, and a CD that soundly breaks through the stereotypes.

Lonnie Brownell

RUBÉN GONZÁLEZ: Introducing . . . Rubén González
World Circuit/Nonesuch 79477-2 (CD). 1998. Nick Gold, prod.; Jerry Boys, eng. AAD? TT: 45:55
Cuban pianist Rubén González was 78 years old when this, his first album as a leader, was released in '97. The nine cuts reveal an agile, playful musical mind, and fingers that have total command over his axe. By turns soulful, rhythmically compelling, and beautiful, his playing is often dazzlingly virtuosic, but never at the expense of the song. González is teamed with a troupe of fellow master Cuban musicians—veterans (like González) of the Ry Cooder-led Buena Vista Social Club sessions who sound as if they've played together forever. (Informally, at least, they probably have.)

In the liner notes, Cooder calls González a cross between Thelonious Monk and Felix the Cat. Like Felix, González has a bottomless bag of tricks, but he's too smoothly melodic to be compared to the angular Thelonious; Art Tatum (but with more discipline) might be more apt.

I feel like donning a Panama hat and lighting up a Cohiba Robusto every time I play this; it's a lot cheaper than flying to Havana—oh, and it's legal.

MARC RIBOT: Marc Ribot y los Cubanos Postizos
Atlantic 83116-2 (CD). 1998. JD Foster, prod.; Andy Taub, eng. AAD? TT: 46:41
Guitarist Marc Ribot is usually associated with modernistic hepcats like Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, and John Lurie, but here he's put together a band of "Prosthetic Cubans" for a tribute to the late Cuban bandleader/composer/guitarist Arsenio Rodriguez (in whose orchestra Rubén González played in the '40s).

This CD is an excellent choice for your next tropical-flavored pool party. It's steamy and sexy, sometimes slightly kooky, but cool and understated (and respectful of the music)—all at the same time. Ribot's guitar playing is precise yet warm, and the small ensemble (bass, drums, percussion, occasional organ) creates a dark, groovy atmosphere that goes equally well with Mai Tais and Manhattans.

Unlike the aforementioned González disc, Los Cubanos Postizos may not make you think you're in Cuba, but it will make you thank your favorite deity that the place that cooked up such spicy musical flavor still exists.

Daniel Buckley

WENDY CARLOS: Clockwork Orange: Complete Original Score
Wendy Carlos, synthesizer
East Side Digital 81362 (CD). 1972/1998. Rachel Elkind, prod.; John Romkey, Wendy Carlos, engs. AAD? TT: 46:56

Within days of buying my first DAT machine in 1989, I transferred Walter (now Wendy) Carlos' Clockwork Orange score from the pristine second copy of the original LP (Columbia KC 31480) I'd kept locked away since the '70s.

Worlds away from the official Warner Bros. soundtrack album, this 1972 release—just reissued on CD for the first time in extraordinarily detailed 20-bit remastered form—featured the "Switched On Bach" synthesizer pioneer at the peak of her artistry, realizing both featured classical standards (the second and fourth movements of Beethoven's Symphony 9, Rossini's La Gazza Ladra overture, and Purcell's Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary), and some of the most tightly conceived and powerful originals of the day. Only snippets of this music found its way into the film.

The reissue also includes two substantial works that didn't fit on the LP: the Strawbs-like "Orange Minuet," and "Biblical Daydreams," which accompanies Alex's fantasies of Christ's persecution.

The focal point of the CD, however, is Carlos' 13:50 "Timesteps"—an organic, transfiguring electronic minidrama that captures the book's and the film's insistent rhythms, menacing power, and dark, schizophrenic undertow. (XXI-2)

ALAN HOVHANESS: Mysterious Mountain
Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
RCA 61957-2 (CD). 1957-58/1995. Richard Moore, prod.; Lewis Layton, eng. ADD. TT: 63:36

You can flush the handful of recordings of Alan Hovhaness' Mysterious Mountain that have appeared since Fritz Reiner and the CSO's 1958 traversal of the thrilling score. None can match the incomparable drive and taut, sleek lines of this white-hot performance.

The four-movement work runs the gamut from noble, quasi-sacred atmospheres to a rip-roaring double fugue with more whip strokes than the Spanish Inquisition. The orchestration is as original and compelling as the score's epic overall architecture.

The bad news is the sound. While there's plenty of presence and in-your-face power, there's also a constant hiss that is very distracting in the score's softer passages. That said, the performance more than makes up for the flawed sonics, and equally potent performances of the fill-up works (Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé Suite and the Divertimento from Stravinsky's The Fairy's Kiss) make this a must-have record.