2007 Records To Die For Page 8


BEETHOVEN: Variations
33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli in C, Op.120; 32 Variations on an Original Theme in c, WoO 80
Robert Silverman, piano
Stereophile STPH017-2 (CD). 2006. Robert Silverman, prod.; John Atkinson, prod., eng., digital editing, mastering; Graemme Brown, Ray Kimber, Brett Terry, engs. DDD. TT: 68:03

Any new recording by Robert Silverman is an event worth celebrating, but his traversals of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and 32 Variations on an Original Theme are worthy of a national holiday. Boldly assertive, Silverman's playing seems to echo the prickly composer's voice in his Heiligenstadt testament: "I am bound to be misunderstood; for me there can be no relaxation with my fellow men, no refined conversations, no mutual exchange of ideas. I must live almost alone, like one who has been banished." Despite some HF nasties audible at extreme volume levels, the sound lives up to the playing. (XXIX-5)

JOHN COLTRANE: One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note
John Coltrane, tenor sax; McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums
Impulse! 238002 (2 CDs). 2005. Allan Tucker, mastering eng. AAD. TT: 85:37

Jazz fans, 'fess up: Who among us wouldn't take a time machine back to hear the Coltrane Quartet live at the height of its career? One Down, One Up transports us to March and May of 1965. In a perfect world, we'd sit in for the entire sets—"A Love Supreme" begins during Jimmy Garrison's solo 35 minutes into the song, before giving us 28 minutes of 'Trane playing hard. Of course we want it all, but what we get is pretty special. The band is on for both sessions, especially Tyner, and other than a few dropouts, the sound is very good.


RADIO I CHING: Last Kind Words
Andy Haas, soprano & alto sax, fife, morsing, live electronics; Don Fiorino, guitar, lap steel, banjo, lotar; Dee Pop, drums, percussion
Resonantmusic 002 (CD). 2006. Radio I Ching, prods. DDD. TT: 58:48
Available from www.downtownmusicgallery.com and www.cdbaby.com.

If done right, innovative arrangements of cover tunes can be more satisfying than original works, and the jazz trio Radio I Ching does it right. These virtuoso multi-instrumentalists attack a broad range of genres centered around a core of saxophone, guitar, and drums. Masters of impressionistic texture, they delicately morph their takes on tunes ranging from Duke Ellington to Dr. John to Charlie Haden to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The results are far from what the original composers intended but are quite accessible, regardless of your musical leanings. Full disclosure: I play in another band with Radio I Ching's guitarist, Don Fiorino.

WEATHER REPORT: Forecast: Tomorrow
Columbia/Legacy 82876855702 (3 CDs, 1 DVD). 2006. Bob Belden, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, prods. (CD); Westdeutscher Rundfunk, prods.; various engs. (DVD). AAD. TT: 3:43:43

Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter's Weather Report was the longest-lived of the jazz fusion bands that spun off of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. Although the band's sound evolved over its 15 years and many personnel changes, the quality of their output was consistently high, which can't be said of other, shorter-lived bands of Davis disciples that followed parallel tracks in the 1970s. This three-CD boxed set is a chronological "greatest hits" of the Weather Report oeuvre, plus some unreleased tracks and special surprises. Also included is a DVD of a concert filmed for German TV in 1978, during their strongest period of live performance. I'm amazed at how fresh and captivating this music sounds, 21 years after the band's breakup.


Harasimowicz-Haas, Pasiecznik, sopranos; Rehlis, alto; Zdunikowski, tenor; Tesarowicz, bass; Polish Radio & National Philharmonic Choirs, Cracow Philharmonic Boys Choir, National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Krzysztof Penderecki
Polskie Radio PR SACD 1 (SACD). 2006. Andresej Lipinski, eng. DDD. TT: 49:51
Available from www.lipinskirecords.com.

This is a major recent work written and conducted by a living master. It is dramatic and engaging, with a mix of tonalities and melody that is both modern yet immediately comprehensible. Even though the two-channel tracks are excellent, they cannot adequately approach the demonstration quality of the phenomenal multichannel mix. This landmark recording captures with stunning clarity and presence one orchestra, three choirs, five soloists, and "a band playing on a distant back balcony," all performing in a large, reverberant monastery church. The dynamic range is extremely wide, the ambience is pervasive but never masks the details, and the performance is simply inspired. It's a great and nearly overwhelming experience every time I play it.

Rhino 08122 74722 2 1 (8 DualDiscs). 1977–1988/2005. Talking Heads, Andy Zaks, prods.; E.T. Thorngren, Jerry Harrison, multichannel remix; Ted Jenson, mastering. Full list of contents at http://talking-heads.net/brick.html. ADD. TT: 451:00

Talk about a blockbuster! Rhino has underwritten the remixing of the Talking Heads' entire discography in 24-bit/96kHz multichannel sound and reissued it on eight DualDiscs. Bonus tracks have been added to the DVD-Audio and CD sides, including multiple video tracks with alternative takes. They've packaged the results in a classy white plastic brick, each disc retaining its original artwork. The previously unreleased material and alternate takes are fascinating, but the reason to get Brick is the consistently successful and thrilling multichannel mixes, which are the best I've heard. The surround effects are not distracting but part and parcel of the presentation—the thrust of the music is always up-front, while the surround channels immerse the listener in an aural context that is supportive and expansive. Beyond that, the clarity, in two or 5.1 channels, is such that even those intimately familiar with the original editions will hear this music completely anew.


THE BAND: Music from Big Pink
Capitol 72435-25390 2 (CD). 1968/2000. John Simon, prod.; Don Hahn, Tony May, Rex Updegraft, Shelly Yakus, engs.; Cheryl Pawelski, Andrew Sandoval, Dick Hirthe, reissue prods., compilers; Dan Hersch, remastering. AAD. TT: 74:05

There is a distinctly American flavor to the 11 songs that comprise the debut album of the mostly Canadian The Band. Part of that is the behind-the-scenes presence of Bob Dylan, who wrote and cowrote songs, painted the cover, and bestowed on the group an instant karma. The Band, an almost perfect ensemble, with no lead instrument or voice, and with sometimes coarse, loud harmonies careening off the sophisticated arrangements like a pinball machine, didn't last long. But the music here is rootsy and familiar and yet mysterious and eternal. Even today, Music from Big Pink retains its otherworldly qualities; it is still delightfully strange. (XIII-5)

DAVE ALVIN: Ashgrove
Yep Rock 2075 (CD). 2004. Greg Leisz, prod., Mark Linett, eng. AAD. TT: 52:18

Whether Dave Alvin is reflecting on his own career or recounting the tale of "Everett Ruess," the teenage journal-writing drifter who disappeared in the Utah badlands, Ashgrove is Alvin at his literary, storytelling best. He takes us deep inside his characters—the backsliding Vietnam vet of "Black Sky," the desperado chasing his ex across the Southwest, a neglected boy taking refuge in his transistor radio, a man hallucinating in a hospital bed—from a novelist's point of view. "You give your dreams away as you get older," he writes in "Everett Ruess." Ashgrove is where a lot of those dreams went. (XXVII-9)