2002 Records To Die For Page 5

Larry Greenhill

EVA CASSIDY: Live at Blues Alley
Eva Cassidy, vocals, acoustic & electric guitar; Keith Grimes, electric guitar; Lenny Williams, piano; Chris Blonde, bass; Hilton Felton, Hammond organ; Raice McLeod, drums
Blix Street G2-10046 (CD). 1996. Eva Cassidy, Chris Biondo, prods.; Roy Battle, eng.; Uncle Punchies, mix; Robert Voslien, mastering. AAD. TT: 57:35

Eva Cassidy was a natural talent who learned vocals singing harmony with songs on the radio; she was never married and had no children; she won awards for multiple vocal categories; she was praised in Time, People, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post; and she died of melanoma at 33, leaving behind four albums, a cult following, and multiple websites. Julia Kellen of the Tribune said, "Certain voices get under your skin, like a letter opener does the flap of an envelope. Your soul is exposed. All your secrets tumble out. Her voice is lilting and husky, a thing of steel and gossamer. Hearing her sing, I wanted to change the locks on my doors; that's how vulnerable she made me feel." Joan Anderman of the Boston Globe said she was "Judy Collins, Aretha Franklin, and Diana Krall rolled into one." It didn't take me long to agree. I was transfixed by her musical range, power, phrasing, and slow, controlled delivery of T. Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday." She reinvented Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and wiped away my memory of Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World," replacing it with something more lyrical, less sardonic, and more hopeful.

Columbia ASC 67912 (SACD). 1997. James Taylor, prod.; Frank Filipetti, prod., eng., mix. DDD. TT: 64:49
The effect of this SACD in multichannel mode is startling. In "Anana," just before the music begins, someone yells "Erotic!" from the right surround channel in a flat, hollow voice. James Taylor? In "Up from Your Life," my SACD player's bass-management system focuses the bass below 120Hz to the subwoofer into a massive, growling, shuddering force that's tighter than I'd heard from the CD version, and that seems to lift me with its energy. On "Gaia," the soundstage has huge width and depth that seems entirely natural. Taylor's voice is light, airy, well-defined, and rich in natural timbre, with an open, extended, effortless quality that has remarkable smoothness and liquidity. The effect is revelatory, and captured best in Taylor's lyrics for this song: "We reached the tree line and I dropped my pack / sat down on my haunches and I looked back—down—Over the Mountain; helpless and speechless and breathless."

Jon Iverson

NUGGETS II: Various Artists
Rhino R2 76787 (4 CDs). 2001. Gary Stewart, Alec Palao, prods.; Bill Inglot, eng. A?D. TT: 5:04:32
Consider this set the 1960s alternate-music universe that could have been. The facts: 109 mod, flower-power, psychedelic, garage, British R&B, freakbeat, and twee-pop songs from anywhere but the US (whose bands were documented extensively in the original Nuggets set), recorded between 1964 and 1969. More than 1000 songs were rejected before final selections were made after an all-night shouting match. As it says in the liner notes, "We collect records so you don't have to."

A sticker on the wrapper proudly proclaims "No hits contained in this box," another way of saying you'll never hear a single one of these carefully selected tunes on a Clear Channel oldies radio station—an important endorsement if I ever made one. Still, these are all great works of pop art, every last one. If you like early Kinks, Who, Beatles, Stones, etc., then Nuggets II will light you up. As for the sound, where else can you find, in one place, more than 100 unique experiments in how to record guitars, drums, and vocals?

JIVERSON'S 2001 R2D4 MIX CD: Various Artists
2000-2001. ?DD. TT: 73:42
For my second R2D4, I'm thinking, what the hey, this is the 21st century—the technology exists to make a more potent music mix than any single disc I've heard all year. So I ripped (full bandwidth and no MP3 compression, of course), sequenced, crossfaded, and burned (those with hard-disk-based systems can simply arrange their playlists accordingly). The result is 74 minutes of carefully sequenced demanding sonics and exotic music which, if you follow the simple recipe below, can be yours. (Note to record companies: No copyrights were hurt or injured in the making of this disc.)

We start with Jon Hassell's shadowy "Amsterdam Blue (Cortege)" from the Million Dollar Hotel soundtrack (Interscope 314 542 395 2). Three beats of silence, then "Exile," from TUU's moody, exotic One Thousand Years (Waveform 01101-2). This crossfades into the first two tracks from Sigur Rós's stunning Ágaetis Byrjun (Pias A1-2) from Iceland, which, if this were a just music world, oughta be bigger than anything Radiohead has released in the last two years.

Crossfade into two nicely rendered electronica works, "Schoenberg" and "George," from John Metcalfe's The Inner Line (Black Box BBM1053), which crossfades into "Vilderness 1" from the most recent Nils Petter Molvaer CD, Solid Ether (ECM 1722). Then comes "Virus B," from Jah Wobble and Bill Laswell's Radioaxiom (Axiom/Palm PalmCD 2073-2), which fades nicely into "Lam Bane Xoc," highly processed and satisfying Laotian music from Jah Wobble & The Invaders of the Heart's Molum Dub CD (30Hertz HZCD12). This is followed tightly by "Gud Fella," from Ethiopian female vocalist GiGi's self-titled disc (Palm Pictures PalmCD 2068-2).

We slow down the tempo a little with "Silbabiedju," from Cugu, the most recent CD from Finland's Wimme (Northside NSD 6048), and wrap up with "Sambasunda," a new bamboo gamelan selection from Rough Guide to the Music of Indonesia (World Music Network RGNET 1055CD).

Hyperion Knight

Haydn: Andante & Variations in f. Liszt: Sonetto 104 del Petrarca, Berceuse, Valse Oubliée, Sonata in b. Schubert: Three Impromptus.
BBCL 4078-2 (CD). 2001. Markus Karl Stratmann, Marcus Herzog, prods., engs. ADD. TT: 67:22

BENNO MOISEIWITSCH: Great Pianists, Vols.1 & 2
Benno Moiseiwitsch, piano
Vol.1: Brahms: Händel Variations. Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition. Schumann: Kinderszenen.
Vol.2: Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No.2, Concert Etude in f, Liebestraum. Mendelssohn: Scherzo in e, Songs Without Words Nos.3 & 22. Wagner-Liszt: Liebestod, Tannhäuser Overture. Weber: Invitation to the Dance.
Naxos 8.110668, 8.110669 (2 CDs, available separately). 2001. Ward Marston, prod., eng. ADD. TT: 2:35:20

While Clifford Curzon (1907-1982) was best known as a classicist, familiar to listeners for his probing performances of Schubert, Beethoven, and Brahms, he also played and recorded a good deal of Liszt. Nothing he did in the studio, however, revealed the incredible fire and passion in his Liszt playing in this recital from 1961, transferred from a BBC broadcast taped at the Edinburgh Festival. Despite minor memory glitches, the structure and whimsy of the Liszt B-Minor Sonata have never been more finely wrought, each passage flowing seamlessly into the whole. And while Curzon the intellectual brings rare insight to these familiar works, his electricity from the very opening measures of Liszt's Petrarch Sonnet is a side of his playing largely unknown before BBC Legends brought it to us.

Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963) is a name not as familiar to many collectors, and these two new Naxos releases should help correct that injustice. Moiseiwitsch was one of the very greatest pianists: a virtuoso, a colorist on the level of Cortot and Horowitz, and, above all, an elegant musician. Vol.1 contains three large-scale works, and it is a revelation to hear a romantic artist at work in a piece like the Brahms Händel Variations. Instead of a square, rigorous study in theme and variations, we hear a protean, poetic ballade, with every phrase inviting the next. While a modernist could argue with this approach in Brahms, it is quintessential in the Liszt and Wagner of Vol.2. No library is complete without Moiseiwitch's thrilling readings of Wagner's Liebestod and Tannhäuser Overture in transcriptions by Liszt. Most, if not all, orchestral performances pale by comparison.

Richard Lehnert

J.S. BACH: Morimur
Partita No.2 in d for Solo Violin, BWV 1004; 11 Chorales; Chaconne from BWV 1004 and "Auf meinen lieben Gott" realized by Helga Thoene for solo violin & four voices
Christoph Poppen, baroque violin. The Hilliard Ensemble: Monika Mauch, soprano; David James, countertenor; John Potter, tenor; Gordon Jones, baritone
ECM New Series 1765 (CD). 2001. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Peter Laenger, eng. DDD. TT: 61:42

Morimur, our "Recording of the Month" for January 2002, hit the top five list somewhere between Enya and Britney Spears—an amazing achievement for a recording of music by J.S. Bach that makes no concession to pop or crossover sensibilities. These are remarkable performances of a clutch of chorales impeccably sung by the Hilliard Ensemble, and the Partita in d for Solo Violin in a standard-setting performance by Christoph Poppen. The disc is built around a "realization" of the Partita's monumental Chaconne in which supposed allusions to various Bach chorales are sung along with the violin part. Regardless of what one might think of that, everything else about this disc—music, performances, sound—is of standard-setting quality, and Poppen's performance is a revelation that makes this most "absolute" of music sound even more so. (XXV-1)

KEITH JARRETT: Sun Bear Concerts
Keith Jarrett, piano
ECM 1100 (6 CDs). 1978. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Okihiko Sugano, Shinji Ohtsuka, engs. ADD. TT: 6:37:46

Keith Jarrett's monumental Sun Bear Concerts is not in the same sonic league—the master tapes have deteriorated somewhat since their first release on 10 LPs in 1978—but the music is as astonishing as Morimur, if in very different ways. Recorded at five concerts given in a two-week tour of Japan, all presented here unedited, Sun Bear is Jarrett's major statement in the wholly improvised solo-piano concert form, which he invented and which almost no one else has even attempted. The inevitable longueurs are few—mostly, one can only marvel at Jarrett's bottomless flow of invention, his astonishing technical facility and grace, his fully felt inhabiting of every note, and his refusal to honor the usual borders between classical, pop, jazz, blues, gospel, folk, and modal music. Instead, he discovers the human heart at the core of every music. Listening to all of Sun Bear is like listening to Wagner's Ring: one emerges a different person from whoever it was who cued up disc 1, track 1. (XIV-7)