2001 Records to Die For Page 4

Shannon Dickson

Patricia Barber, vocals, piano; Charlie Hunter, 8-string guitar; Michael Arnopol, Marc Johnson, bass; Adam Cruz, Adam Nussbaum, drums
Premonition/Blue Note 5 27290 2 (CD). 2000. Patricia Barber, prod.; Michael Friedman, exec. prod.; Jim Anderson, eng. DDD. TT: 51:29

Patricia Barber has achieved legendary status among jazz lovers and audiophiles alike, and for good reason. Her last four albums are ubiquitous favorites whose artistic and sonic prowess could be heard wafting from any number of rooms at past CE shows. While all of Barber's discs are unmistakably hers, each has distinctive traits that make it at once familiar yet fresh.

I almost passed on selecting this disc for my R2D4 contribution, if only because I'd be surprised if at least one of my cohorts hasn't duplicated the effort. (My close runner-up was Emmylou Harris' Red Dirt Girl, Nonesuch 79616-2, described spot-on by Robert Baird in the October 2000 Stereophile.) Nevertheless, Nightclub has become my favorite of the five Barber discs I own, making it too hard to exclude. Even though this is a studio recording, the song selections and the "feel" of the arrangements convey the essence of the late-night live Chicago club scene that inspired Barber's talent. Top-flight session work by the likes of Arnopol, Johnson, Cruz, Nussbaum, and Hunter blend seamlessly with Barber's deft piano and seductive vocals, creating the perfect accompaniment for a cozy evening by the fire.

KENNEDY & JAZ COLEMAN: The Doors Concerto
Orchestrated by Jaz Coleman
Kennedy, Violin; Colin Downs, classical guitar; Than Quang Hai, Dam Tranh, Chris Goody, percussion; Prague Symphony Orchestra; Petr Pycha, assistant conductor; Peter Scholes, conductor
Decca 289-467-350-2 (CD). 2000. Jaz Coleman, prod.; Rupert Coulson, Nick Wollace, engs. DDD. TT: 67:31

I stumbled on this gem while trolling the bins of my local Tower Records: what a score! Jaz Coleman defines the muse that led to this work: "The music of the Doors always suggests a spiritual journey and several events transpired convincing me of its magical properties....I felt that the ornate form of the music, with its long instrumental passages, lent itself to be arranged as a violin concerto." If Coleman was to capture the essence of Morrison and company within the structure of a (somewhat loosely defined) violin concerto, a truly incandescent and free-spirited violist was required; hence, the choice of Kennedy. Coleman had Kennedy firmly in mind before he arranged nine Doors classics. The synergistic, even inspired, performance of the Prague Symphony Orchestra ensured that Kennedy's legendary emotional fireworks and virtuosity would be well complemented, and the recording quality is vivid, to say the least.

More often than not, such crossover concept albums fail to translate to the listener. Not so here; I found myself reaching for this disc with increasing frequency. The CD is dedicated as an offering of redemption and grace to all those who fought in the Vietnam War, and several of the tunes are colored by Southeast Asian hues. The project also received a hearty endorsement from surviving Doors John Densmore, Robby Krieger, and Ray Manzarek. If, by some chance, the Doors' music never lit your fire, give this disc a listen. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Dan Durchholz

LL COOL J: Mama Said Knock You Out
Def Jam/Columbia CK 46888 (CD). 2000. Marley Marl, LL Cool J, prods.; Bobby "Bob Cat" Ervin, asst. prod.; Marley Marl, David Kennedy, "Doc" Rodriguez, George Karras, engs.; DJ "Clash," Everett Ramos, Scott Canit, asst. engs. AAD? TT: 61:44
This shouldn't be read as a backhanded compliment, but Mama Said Knock You Out is a hip-hop album the whole family can enjoy. It's street enough to be credible but it's "clean" as well—you don't have to be too embarrassed to play it in front of your kids. LL hits hard on cuts like the thundering title track and "The Boomin' System," yet provides plenty of pop pleasure on the irresistible "Around the Way Girl" and "Jingling Baby (remix)." "Don't call it a comeback," indeed—LL has stayed atop the rap game longer than anyone, and earns enough favor with Mama Said that we can almost forgive his starring in any number of bad TV shows and movies.

FRANK ZAPPA: The Yellow Shark
Ensemble Modern
Barking Pumpkin R2 71600 (CD). 1993. Frank Zappa, prod.; Spencer Chrislu, eng. DDD. TT: 72:00

Frank Zappa's orchestral music is often viewed with equal disdain by classical devotees who deem him a smart-assed dilettante and rock fans who just don't get it. Further resistance may have been caused by Zappa's cold and sometimes clinical solo renderings of his compositions on the Synclavier. Here the Ensemble Modern brings pieces like "The Girl in the Magnesium Dress" and "Ruth is Sleeping" to life at last, and updates old favorites like "Dog Breath Variations" and "Be-Bop Tango." The Ensemble's furious take on "G-Spot Tornado" is simply breathtaking. (XVII-2, XVIII-2)

Michael Fremer

ENO: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
Island ILPS 9309 (UK LP, op), EGCD 17 (CD). 1974. Brian Eno, prod.; Rhett Davies, eng. AAA/AAD. TT: 48:21
Stepping out briskly from the androgynous decadence of Eno's murky solo debut, Here Come the Warm Jets (the title refers to being urinated on), the disciplined, hospital-corner musical lines and vaguely militaristic story of the follow-up, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), were an unwelcome shot of cold water in the face of some fans back in 1974. Much of the music had an appropriately "uphill" quality to it, propelled by Phil Manzanera's nervous, jagged-edged guitar. While the record was a critical success, even the adventurous segment of the music-buying public stayed away.

Over the years, the fan base for this still fresh-sounding record has grown. Songs like "The Great Pretender," "Third Uncle," and especially the fever-pitched "The True Wheel," with its Velvet Underground underpinnings, have been absorbed, covered, quoted, and re-invented by a few generations of rockers. Sooner or later it will end up on your turntable or CD player. Better sooner than later, and better on original UK vinyl, if you can find it.

VARIOUS: The Songs Lennon and McCartney Gave Away
EMI NUT 18 (import LP, op). 1979. Colin Miles, comp. prod.; var. engs. AAA. TT: ca 60:00
It's 2000 and the Beatles are once again #1 on the charts, so it's the right time to name as an R2D4 this fascinating compilation of 20 mostly very early songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney but never officially performed by the Beatles. Catchy tunes like "From a Window," "Bad to Me" (Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas), and "World Without Love" (Peter and Gordon) should be familiar to most listeners. Cilla Black's "Love of the Loved" was a Beatles demo for Decca, but the group never re-recorded it for Parlophone/EMI.

These tunes reveal Lennon and McCartney wearing their influences on their sleeves: "Hello Little Girl" (1963, The Fourmost) hints of the Four Seasons, while "That Means a Lot" (1965, P.J. Proby) has a distinctive Bacharach/David cast, as does "It's for You" (1964, Cilla Black), a "power waltz" that presages the sophistication to come—and "Hold On" is drawn directly from the Buddy Holly songbook.

Some songs, such as "Tip of My Tongue" (Tommy Quickly) and "Like Dreamers Do" (The Applejacks), were meant to be recorded by the Beatles but were instead, at Beatles manager Brian Epstein's request, given to other groups in the Epstein stable. The Peter and Gordon tunes were given away because Paul was dating Peter Asher's sister, Jane. Still others, such as Cilla Black's "Step Inside Love," were custom-written for the performer, though Lennon and McCartney did precious little of that. The oddest title is "Penina," sung by one Carlos Mendes, which annotator Tony Barrow thinks Paul gave away in 1969 while on vacation in Portugal.

Barrow's liner notes, while as fascinating as the music, strike the only false note: He calls the Bee Gees/Peter Frampton Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie "highly successful."

Larry Greenhill

ETTA BAKER: Railroad Bill
Cello Music Maker/Sire 91006-2 (CD). 2000. Timothy Duffy, prod., eng.; Kurt Lundvall, eng. AAD. TT: 47:58
My brother-in-law, who spends much of his free time attending live blues concerts in the Carolinas, gave me this album. Etta Baker was 87 this year, and has spent most of those years in Morganton, North Carolina. The liner notes state that she is the "premier woman Piedmont blues guitar instrumentalist." I don't doubt it. I never tire of listening to this purely instrumental CD. Recorded entirely at Baker's home, it even includes the sounds of a finch that flew into her living room for a spontaneous duet on "Carolina Breakdown." Railroad Bill is my favorite for differentiating fine loudspeaker systems. One expensive full-range, dynamic loudspeaker re-created a three-dimensional image of Baker's guitar in my listening room, only slightly blurring the plucked strings' metallic sheen and the soundboard's dark, rich wooden resonance. A new hybrid electrostatic speaker system heard at CES produced a richer blend of the sounds and masked the strings' energy. I was left wondering which listening session—different rooms, different speakers—had been more accurate to the master tape. Baker's rendition of "I Get the Blues When It Rains" transfixed me with the rich harmonies of the guitar's metal strings.

Patricia Barber, vocals, piano, Hammond B-3; John McLean, guitar; Michael Arnopol, bass; Eric Montzka, Ruben P. Alvarez, percussion
Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2 (CD). 1999. Patricia Barber, Michael Friedman, prods.; Jim Anderson, eng.; John Larson, Tom Reinholdt, asst. engs. AAD? TT: 58:11

"Barber ain't your father's Oldsmobile," crowed Chip Stern in his January 2000 "Recording of the Month" review of this live album. CS crowned Patricia Barber "a master deconstructionist with a propensity for sustaining musical moodscapes in a rich narrative style with an ironic, languid, Raymond Chandler kinda film-noir edge (by way of brand-new-used Annie Ross)."

I totally agree. The extraordinary ambiance and tonal values on this CD—recorded live at the Green Mill in Chicago—have made it a permanent part of my six-disc portable pack for reviewing equipment and visiting CES shows. I'm struck by Barber's "smoky, world-weary" voice and the "combustible and painterly" energy of her band, to use Chip's words. The pulsating stand-up bass on "Use Me" vibrates all my cabinets. "Like LJ" is stunning in the drive, impact, and pitch definition of Michael Arnopol's string bass, Ruben Alvarez's bongos, and Eric Montzka's drum kit. No matter how many times I listen, Companion remains fresh and intense. (XXIII-1)