2006 Records To Die For Page 2


Atlantic Jazz 8920-2 (CD). 1959/1989. Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, Nesuhi Ertegun, prods.; Bob Porter, reissue prod. AAD. TT: 57:55

T-Bone Blues is a rare exception to the rule that artists' rerecordings of their own hits don't measure up to the originals. First released in 1959, it reprises such 1940s classics as "Mean Old World," "T-Bone Shuffle," and the inevitable "Call It Stormy Monday." Blunting the raw edge and dropping the swing feel of his earlier recordings, Walker finds a mellower groove, with longer guitar solos and better sound. Chuck Berry and B.B. King both copped their styles from T-Bone, and there's no better way to learn blues guitar than to strap on your axe and play along.

Fanía CDF 325 (CD). 1964/2000. No prod. or eng. listed. AAD. TT: 32:14

This seminal album helped launch the salsa revolution a decade before the genre acquired that saucy sobriquet. A Dominican-born New Yorker, Pacheco formed his Cuban-style conjunto and recorded Cañonazo for the newly founded Fanía label in 1964, featuring Puerto Rican–born singer Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez. Covering Cuban oldies by the likes of Sonora Matancera and Felix Chappottin, the group can't match the richness of the originals, but on such irresistibly propulsive tracks as Cheo Marquetti's "Pinareño" and Reinaldo Bolaños's "Fanía" (for which the label was named), the music has a dance-floor authenticity all its own.


KRUDER & DORFMEISTER: Kruder & Dorfmeister Session
Studio K7 K7073 (2 CDs). 1998. Peter Kruder, Richard Dorfmeister, prods., engs., mix, remix. DDD. TT: 2:00:56

Viennese mixmasters and sound sculptors Peter Kruder and Richard Dorfmeister specialize in the deepest of chill, the downest of tempos, the coolest of vibes. What takes K&D's work to another level of excellence is its astonishing sound quality. These spaced-out tracks feature enormous soundstages, deep bass that will tax nearly any amplifier and speaker, and clarity that is nothing short of mind-blowing. The remix of Bomb the Bass's "Bug Powder Dust" is a perennial system-busting favorite in my house. K&D's remixes are for when the party is over and some serious relaxation is in order. This masterpiece of chill is the coolest of cool. (XXIII-2)

BANTOCK: Orchestral Music
Hebridean Symphony, Celtic Symphony, The Witch of Atlas, The Sea Reivers
Vernon Handley, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Hyperion CDA66450 (CD). 1993. Martin Compton, prod.; Tony Faulkner, eng. DDD. TT: 73:30

I adore English orchestral music, and if you do, too, this disc merits the highest possible recommendation. Bantock's music stands at the crossroads of dramatic High Romanticism and the chromatic adventurousness of early Schoenberg, but has the limpid loveliness typical of the pastoral school of early-20th-century English composers. The Celtic Symphony is breathtaking, and the other pieces aren't far behind it. Exquisitely recorded by Tony Faulkner, this is one of the most natural-sounding CDs I own. All that needs to be said about this disc is that, after hearing it, John Atkinson had to find a copy for himself. (XVI-2, XVII-2)


ALIA MVSICA: Bestiario de Cristo
Alia Mvsica; Miguel Sanchez, dir.
Harmonia Mundi HMI 987033 (CD). 2003, no prod., or eng. Listed. DDD. TT: 67:02

Alia Mvsica is a Spanish vocal and instrumental ensemble founded in 1985, led by Miguel Sanchez, and specializing in medieval music. Bestiario de Cristo contains works drawn from 13th-century codices depicting animals symbolic of Christ or the Catholic Church. The music, predominately two-voice polyphony, has a crystalline purity that is timeless and haunting. The singing is impeccable, the level of artistic accomplishment world-class; kudos to Sanchez for his research into and discovery of these compositions.

The recording is chock full of reverb and ambience; played over the proper system, it can transport your thoughts to another time. The reproduction of depth is vast, the vocalists positioned well behind the speakers. The sense of the walls and boundaries of the venue, whether real or manufactured, are very clear. (I was fooled by another Harmonia Mundi CD that I could have sworn had been recorded in a cathedral. It was Skywalker Ranch.)

MEL TORMÉ & GEORGE SHEARING: The Complete Concord Recordings
Mel Tormé, vocals; George Shearing, piano
Concord CCD7-2144-2 (7 CDs). 2002. Various prods., engs. ADD. TT: 5:49:06

I had a handful of Mel Tormé records from the 1950s and 1960s and loved them. I knew about the Concord sessions but had shied away because they were not from Tormé's "golden age." Bad move—unbeknownst to me, these are more definitive and desert-islandish than anything else he recorded, and represent the absolute best of the male jazz vocal genre. This seven-CD set contains all of the Concord releases, including the excellent live recordings from the Peacock Court in the InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco Hotel, and Charlie's Georgetown Club in Washington, DC. The songs range from standards to Tormé's own favorites. If you've ever fallen in love and lost that person, "How Do You Say Auf Wiedersehen?" will melt your heart. The recordings are show-stoppers, with minimal miking and uncompressed dynamics. The brilliant interaction of Shearing's piano and the extraordinary delicacy of Tormé's inner vocal range is perfectly captured, along with the shadings of Shearing's piano. The background ambiance and applause add to the 3-D effect, and there's so much detail that you can easily hear the piano's pedals before a key is struck. This set belongs in every audio- and music-lover's collection.


RY COODER: Chávez Ravine
Perro Verde/Nonesuch 79877-2 (CD). 2005. Ry Cooder, prod.; Rail Jon Rogut, eng. DDD. TT: 70:16

Even for Ry Cooder, who has made a career of bringing bygone days back to life on a pan-global scale, Chávez Ravine is a high-water mark. Part history, part fantasy, the CD tells the story of Los Angeles' Chávez Ravine—an old Mexican barrio torn down by the city, allegedly to make room for a low-income housing project but in fact to build Dodger Stadium on. One is musically transported to the days of the Pachucos (Zoot-Suiters) and hears the voices of residents, bulldozer drivers, city thugs who tried to paint caring people as commies, and folks nostalgically looking back at the place they called home. It is the last recording (and a great one at that) for both "the father of Chicano music," Lalo Guerrero, and Pachuco legend Don Tosti.

THE GUN CLUB: Fire of Love
Slash 23935-2 (CD). 1993. Chris D., Tito Larriva, prods.; Pat Burnette, Noah Shark, engs. ADD. TT: 40:29

I used to come back from hearing the umpteenth Vivaldi Four Seasons or Handel's Messiah with the overwhelming urge to shoot smack and make all that gaudy horseshit shrink to a vanishing point in the rear-view mirror. But since I can't stand needles, I turned to the Gun Club's Fire of Love as the antidote to all things tidy and trite, with dependable results. This is dangerous, naughty, lashing, slashing stuff with no regard for proper vocal intonation, let alone respectable morality. If you need to lose the use of your hair, the Gun Club is the drug! Shoot straight into your ears. Rinse. Repeat.


BOB FLORENCE: Friends Treasures Heroes
Bob Florence, piano
Summit DCD 430 (CD). 2005. Bob Florence, prod.; Rich Breen, eng. DDD. TT: 56:05

I was at a party once that Bob Florence also attended. Very late, he wandered over to the piano in the living room and began to play songs—"Emily," "Laura"—quietly, to himself. People gathered around. It was all quite magical. I never expected there would be a recording exactly like that night years ago: just Florence, softly searching through the past and favorite songs that melt into one another, the mood not once broken. He doesn't play "Emily" on this disc, but two other examples of shameless Johnny Mandel romanticism intermingle here: "A Time for Love" and "The Shadow of Your Smile." It is very late but no one is leaving.

BUD POWELL: Eternity
Bud Powell, piano
Piadrum 0402 (CD). 2004. Jessica Shih, prod.; Francis Paudras, eng. AAD. TT: 44:15

The critic J.B. Figi once said that Bud Powell's landscape was "leaden earth, thorn trees, frozen earth .†.†. and in the center of that blasted heath, Bud, a gnarled gnomic tree through which the wind twists song." Eternity comes from home tapes made in Paris by Powell's protector, Francis Paudras, between 1961 and 1964. It delivers the leaden earth of Powell's spiritual landscape with chilling truth. Haltingly, ponderously, Powell chips away at silence. It is not exactly music because there is not the distancing from human suffering that art is expected to provide. But what are we to call what the wind twists through him if not song?


Mady Mesplé, Lakmé; Charles Burles, Gérald; Roger Soyer, Nilakantha; others; Orchestra & Chorus of the Opéra-Comique, Paris; Alain Lombard. Seraphim SIC-6082 (3 LPs). 1973. AAA. TT: 2:37:12

A French opera about a doomed love caught between the British and Indian cultures may seem an inherently bad idea, but Lakmé is wonderful, and this 1973 performance by a French cast, taped in Paris's Salle Wagram, is one of the most successful opera recordings I've heard. Some prefer Joan Sutherland's spectacular 1967 version, but I believe that Mady Mesplé's lighter touch better fits the role of the virginal princess. The rest of the cast is strong, and Alain Lombard's conducting is dramatic without being overstated. The original LPs sound best, but the CD reissue is lovely as well.

AC/DC: Back in Black
Remastered 25th Anniversary Edition
Epic EN 90828 (DualDisc, DVD-Video). 1980/2005. Robert John "Mutt" Lange, prod.; Tony Platt, eng. AAD. TT: 42:00

For a lot of us, AC/DC's Back in Black is a cultural icon—we remember where we were the first time we heard it. The album came as a complete shock. AC/DC was stagnating, we were losing interest, then lead singer Bon Scott died, and .†.†. well, no one expected much. Instead, they unleashed a lightning bolt, one of the best rock albums ever made. The sound of this 25th Anniversary Edition is arguably as good as the LP's, and for once, the extras—the flip-side documentary DVD and, on a second DVD, AC/DC's videos—are almost as good as the album itself. (XXVIII-2)