2009 Records To Die For Page 6


BANTOCK: Omar Khayyám
Catherine Wyn-Rogers, mezzo-soprano; Toby Spence, tenor; Roderick Williams, bass; BBC Symphony Chorus, Stephen Jackson, choirmaster; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Vernon Handley, conductor
Chandos CHSA 5051 (3 multichannel SACD/CDs). 2007. Brian Couzens, prod.; Ralph Couzens, eng. DDD. TT: 2:51:31

Orientalism always exercised a tremendous pull on the British imagination, and here are nearly three hours of settings—as lush and suggestive as an Alma-Tadema nude—for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, of verses by a medieval Persian poet. Granville Bantock's Omar Khayyám (1906–09) is contemporary with Schnberg's Gurrelieder and Debussy's Le martyre de Saint Sébastien, and it displays the same late-Romantic, fin-de-siècle, overripe opulence. But comparisons to late Elgar, early Strauss, and even Mahler are not out of line either. The scale and scope are such that at times I looked up, expecting to see a David Lean film. I mean that as praise. Plaudits to Chandos for pulling off such a gigantic undertaking as this world-premiere recording—and on SACD, no less.

ISLANDSMOEN: Requiem, Op.42
Hilde Haraldsen Sveen, soprano; Marianne Beate Kielland, alto; Ulf Oien, tenor; Trond Halstein Moe, bass; Norwegian Soloists' Choir, Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra; Terje Boye Hansen
2-L 2L36SACD (multichannel SACD/CD). 2006. Wolfgang Plagge, prod.; Hans Peter L'Orange, Stale Hebek Ødegården, engs. DDD. TT: 50:56

Sigurd Islandsmoen (1881–1964) wrote his Requiem, Op.42, in 1935–36. The work had its premiere in 1943 and was briefly popular in Europe in the post-WWII period, but by 1960 it had vanished. Although the melodic material comes from Norwegian folk songs, the Prelude sounds like vintage orchestral Elgar. Islandsmoen, who studied with Reger, handles his materials and forms deftly. This requiem is more energetic than down in the dumps; the choral sections with organ fills (Islandsmoen was an organist) are particularly rewarding. Norway's own 2L label provides world-class sound in this world-premiere recording; the multichannel program is said to place the chorus behind you. A wonderful rediscovery.


Salsoul SAL 2-400 (LP). 1975. Rene Lopez, Andy Kaufman, prods.; John Laico, Don Puluse, Lou Waxman, engs. AAA. TT: 60:17

I remember the day my uncle Edwin introduced me to these guys. I was in the middle of a deep, deep obsession with New York City salsa, and thought I had a pretty good grasp on things. I'd become familiar with the rhythms and the progressions, I knew the percussionists and the brass sections and the soneros. But then I heard "Anabocoa," and everything I thought I knew about salsa was obliterated. In Grupo Folklorico, a collection of New York City's most versatile and accomplished Latin jazz musicians come together to explore the roots of salsa, and to honor the traditional musical forms of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Africa. In "Anabocoa," bassist Andy Gonzalez enters with a slow and simple four-note riff. He plays it just twice before the song suddenly erupts into a furious and maddening groove. About three minutes in, Manny Oquendo fashions what might be the most powerful timbale solo ever captured on tape—it's the sound of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Africa, New York City, the oceans, the mountains, and the whole damn world coming together to celebrate life. Everything there is to know about everything is banged out in those perfect strokes. Musical genres and cultural boundaries are erased, leaving only concepts in unity. (XXI-2)

John Handy, alto saxophone, saxello, flute; Michael White, violin; Mike Nock, piano; Bruce Cale, bass; Larry Hancock, drums, tambourine
Columbia CS 9689 (LP). 1968. John Hammond, prod.; Stan Tonkel, Martin Greenblatt, engs. AAA. TT: 44:38

We were hunting for lost treasures at the Princeton Record Exchange. I pulled Projections from the heavy, crowded stacks . "Know anything about this?" I asked John. "Nope, but it looks cool," he replied. On the cover, John Handy stands alone, dead center, impeccably and flamboyantly dressed in a bright red shirt, red and black striped tie, light gray suit jacket, pink pocket square, black slacks, and pointed leather boots. His head is cocked ever so gently to the left, and his sax hangs from his neck to rest comfortably across his torso. His right hand is held at shoulder height, and between two fingers he balances a lit cigarette; his left hand is poised at his waist. Dude looks satisfied—as if his band has just got finished whipping your silly ass from New York to Japan to Brazil and right down to your own front porch, got you all curled up into a blissed-out ball of so much useless flesh with all their violent plucks and thunderous attacks, searing solos, seductive melodies, free-jazz explosions, and bossa nova sway, and left you dumb and wondering and begging: Why the hell have I never heard of these guys before, and where, please, can I get some more—like now, fast?


Warner Bros. K66088 (2 LPs, original UK edition). 1979. Fleetwood Mac, prods.; Richard Bashut, Ken Caillat, prods., engs.; Hernan Rojas eng. AAA. TT: 74:06

The record-breaking global success of Rumours doomed its much-delayed, way-over-budget follow-up. Tusk was criticized as overblown, self-indulgent, and lacking direction, all of which had some truth. But it has weathered well. Revisited 30 years on, it's a mostly delightful if disparate collection of high-class AOR that's worth a place alongside the Beatles' "White Album" or the Stones' Exile on Main Street. I can't speak for the remastered CDs, but system improvements now cut through the overproduction that made the original vinyl confusing, allowing fresh enjoyment of these fine songs and subtle, complex arrangements.

ENNIO MORRICONE: The Soundtracks: 75 Themes from 53 Films
Déjà Vu Definitive Gold 5X031 (5 CDs). 2007. No recording details available. TT: 3:56:15

Everyone's music collection should include some Morricone. The music establishment might sniff at film soundtracks, but in my opinion they'll be remembered long after most "serious" modern music is forgotten and ignored. Morricone, especially when helping director Sergio Leone reinvent the Western, is a great innovator, adding wit, charm, and tension in his unusual use of voices, whistling, and strange instrumentation. Although I bought an LP of the original soundtrack album of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly back in the 1970s, finding a good collection proved difficult—until I discovered this Italian compilation, which, at $20 for five CDs, is also a bargain. Hours of Googling have failed to find any provenance whatsoever, though the scores, different from the performances on my OST, have presumably been rerecorded—and to a very high standard.


JACOBITES: Robespierre's Velvet Basement
Secretly Canadian SC55 (2 CDs). 1985/2002. Bob Lamb, prod., eng.; Nikki Sudden, Dave Kusworth, prods., remastering; John Rivers, remastering. AAD. TT: 95:00

Rock writers generally don't get groupies, but sometimes our proximity to rock stars makes the notion theoretically . . . achievable. When Nikki Sudden's post–Swell Maps outfit, the Jacobites, issued their second LP in 1985, yours truly was so smitten by the British group's edgy blend of the Rolling Stones, the Velvets, and vintage blues that I wrote a hyperbolic 1000-word review. Five years later, Sudden comes to town on a rare US tour and, remembering my name, greets me like an old friend. In the dressing room after the show, I'm guzzling his Jack Daniel's and watching him paw a local groupie known as the Dragon Lady. Noting my apparent envy, Sudden leans over to whisper in the ear of another lissome lass who'd come backstage. She promptly gets up, walks over, slides onto my lap, and begins, ever so delicately, to nibble on my earlobe . . . (XXIV-2)

U2: War
Island/UME B0010949-02 (2 CDs). 1983/2008. Steve Lillywhite, Bill Whelan, prods.; Paul Thomas, Kevin Killen, engs.; Cheryl Engels, Arnie Acosta, remastering (overseen by The Edge). AAD. TT: 111:27

This edition of the 1983 album War, part of Universal's ambitious overhaul of U2's back catalog, boasts a bonus disc comprising a dozen remixes, rarities, live tracks, and B-sides. It's the significance of the original LP, however—key cuts such as the soaring anthem "New Year's Day" and the violin-fueled swooner "Drowning Man," and notwithstanding the glammy rocker "The Refugee"—that gives the record its lasting resonance. War decisively catapulted the Irish band to international prominence. Me too, in a sense: after witnessing the opening date of the US War tour, I was inspired to start a U2 fanzine, and began to gradually develop sufficient chops and reputation to turn professional journalist. Now you know who to blame.