2002 Records To Die For Page 3

Lonnie Brownell

BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD: Buffalo Springfield
WEA/Rhino R2 74324 (4 HDCDs). 2001. Buffalo Springfield, prods. AAD? TT: 4:14:50
Unless you're a diehard Buffalo Springfield fan, this is overkill. Then again, for those who aren't, buying this may convert you, as it did me. I regularly listen to disc 4, which contains their first two albums, Buffalo Springfield and Buffalo Springfield Again—it's great in the car. The first three discs contain almost every studio recording they ever made in their short two-year history, in chronological order, which provides an historical and developmental perspective. What they reveal is an impossibly mature band (considering the ages and experience of the members) that produced an astonishing array of music—most of it good, much of it great. Neil Young's work is the most varied and interesting, ranging from heartfelt pop like "Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It" to the odd jumbled suite of "Broken Arrow." Stephen Stills' tunes ain't bad either—"For What It's Worth" and "Bluebird" belong near the top of any list of all-time pop-rock tunes. Sonically, this HDCD release is a treat—bravo to Rhino and the Springfields for doing the reissue thing right.

STEVE EARLE: Transcendental Blues
E-Squared/Artemis CD 751033-2 (CD). 2000. Steve Earle, prod.; Ray Kennedy, prod., eng.; Patrick Earle, asst. eng. DDD? TT: 49:54
One thing that Steve Earle and his musical cohorts transcend on this album is stylistic pigeonholing. Arena rockers ("All My Life"), hook-filled pop ("I Can Wait"), tender ballads about love and death ("Over Yonder (Jonathan's Song)"), Celtic stomps ("The Galway Girl"), bluegrass rave-ups ("Until the Day I Die"), and a host of others that are a little bit country, a little bit rock'n'roll ("Wherever I Go," "When I Fall")—Transcendental Blues has it all. With such a diverse stylistic mix, one could expect that some of the songs would be less fully realized than others; fortunately, Earle is well-schooled in all these forms, so it all works. His lyrics tell affecting stories of lovers, losers, and hard livers (often as not, the protagonist is all three at once). Soundwise, besides the intentional distortion on the Big Rock Sound tracks, the whole album has a tendency to be a bit bright and edgy, perhaps owing to Earle's admitted love for early-generation solid-state recording equipment. But don't let that slow you down one nanosecond from checking this out—the quality of the material transcends any minor audiophilic shortcomings. (XXIII-9)

Dan Buckley

BEETHOVEN: Symphony 5
Carlos Kleiber, Vienna Philharmonic
Deutsche Grammophon 447 400-2(CD). 1996. Werner Mayer, prod.; Hans-Peter Schweigmann, eng. ADD. TT: 35:10

Any notion that Beethoven 5 is a warhorse ready for pasture disintegrates in the wake of this white-hot performance from the late analog era. It's music both the Vienna Philharmonic and Kleiber have in their blood. The orchestra has played it almost since it was written, while Kleiber is the son of Erich Kleiber, whose earlier traversal of the Beethoven symphonies stands as one of the best of the 1950s. Still, this is a case of going back to the score, minding all the repeats, and taking the dramatic pages to their incandescent limits. The current pairing on a budget-priced single disc with Kleiber's Beethoven 7, nearly as compelling, makes it the one to rock your neighbors' world with. (X-4)

WENDY CARLOS: The Well-Tempered Synthesizer
Music of J.S. Bach, Handel, Monteverdi, Scarlatti
Wendy Carlos, synthesizers
East Side Digital 81612 (CD). 1969/2001. Rachel Elkind, prod.; Wendy Carlos, eng. AAD. TT: 48:10

Wendy Carlos' electronic orchestrations had reached a state of high art by the time of this follow-up to Switched-On Bach. It features music of Monteverdi (excerpts from Orfeo and the 1610 Vespers), Handel (Water Music excerpts), Scarlatti (Sonatas K.430, 455, 465, 491), and J.S. Bach (Brandenburg Concerto 4). They are at once startling and curiously appropriate, capturing without imitation the sweep, gesture, and weight of the acoustic instruments they replace. But it's the depth of the performances that makes this disc an enduring classic. While still grappling with her imitations of the human voice, Carlos captures Monteverdi's grandeur and nobility as had few in all the early-music movement. Her Scarlatti sparkles, scampers, and parades with utmost charm and style. (XXIII-3)

Jason Cohen

Heyday HEY29-2 (CD), Penelope.Net PH08 2000 (CD). 1993. Penelope Houston, prod.; Howard Johnston, prod., eng. ADD. TT: 47:15
Penelope Houston once fronted San Francisco punks the Avengers and remains best known in underground and European circles, but her incisive songwriting and sparkling voice is such that she deserves to be considered a peer of Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco. The Whole World is a torch-tinged collection of melodic folk-pop, with haunting chamber arrangements (including clarinet, autoharp, standup bass, and bouzouki) that underscore Houston's plainspoken vocal beauty and twofold killer instinct—when it comes to hooks and heartbreak, she goes for the throat. Think Lucinda Williams ca "Passionate Kisses," or a less-produced version of Rosanne Cash's Rhythm and Romance.

THE MEKONS: Fear and Whiskey
Sin SIN001 1985 (LP), Quarterstick QS80 2002 (CD). 1983. Mekons, prods.; John Gill, eng. AAA/AAD? TT: 35:13
In which our British punk rock art-school Marxist heroes hire fiddler Susie Honeyman and former Pretty Things guitarist Dick Taylor, sum up American country music in three words or less (does "and" count?), sneak in a shot at US imperialism ("Trouble Down South"), and generally set the template for 17 more years of sweaty, brainy, visceral, funny, impassioned, outraged, and political rock'n'roll, from the gypsy jig of "Flitcraft" to the anthemic crunch of "Hard to be Human" to the power-pop waltz of "Last Dance." All closed out with a cover of "Lost Highway," natch.

Thomas Conrad

AHMAD JAMAL TRIO: Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961
Ahmad Jamal, piano; Israel Crosby, bass; Vernel Fournier, drums
Chess GRD2-813 (2 CDs). 1958-1961/1998. Dave Usher, Leonard Chess, Paul Gayten, prods.; Malcolm Chisholm, Ron Malo, engs.; Orrin Keepnews, reissue prod.; Erick Labson, reissue eng. ADD? TT: 2:11:17

This obscure, graphically challenged, odd little reissue is a true find. Its 32 tracks contain most of Ahmad Jamal's finest recorded work. All of this material was recorded live, in nightclubs, and some of it comes from albums that were hugely popular in their day, like Jamal at The Pershing. Yet much of it has been unavailable for years. The sound quality is good enough to bring those long-gone nights alive. If there were any cold hearts in those chattering crowds at the Alhambra and the Blackhawk, they were melted by the irresistible charm of Jamal's tickling right hand on tunes like "Moonlight in Vermont." But Jamal also commanded a repertoire of harmonic substitutions, manipulations of space, exquisitely controlled tension and release, signature vamps, riffs, and tag endings, from which he crafted three-minute symphonies like "Billy Boy"—treatises on group form that changed jazz.

Keith Jarrett, piano; Gary Peacock, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums
ECM 1360/61 (2 CDs). 1988. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Martin Wieland, eng. DDD. TT: 98:15

Over the past 30 years, Keith Jarrett has released 46 albums as a leader on the ECM label. Of these, the best are the 12 recorded with his "Standards Trio," and of these, the best is Still Live. Jarrett and Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette flow from Richard Rodgers to Oscar Hammerstein to Harold Arlen to Keith Jarrett to spontaneous free interpretive variation to Charlie Parker and back again, until it no longer matters where Johnny Mercer leaves off and this trio begins, because it is all one tribal dance. On this night in 1986 in Munich's Philharmonic Hall, Jarrett broke through to The Light. After "When I Fall in Love," you wonder that he ever found it necessary to play the piano again. (XI-8)