2010 Records To Die For Page 7


HETH AND JED: Between the In and the Out
Space Rock SR-65092 (CD). 2005. Jed Weinstein, prod., eng.; Heth Weinstein, Jamie Cardiloro, prods. DDD? TT: 37:01

Weinstein brothers Heth and Jed (www.hethandjed.com) write catchy pop love songs with infectious melodies and subtly sophisticated harmonic structures that allude to an intellectual depth that grabs the mind and soul equally. The pair's greatest strength is their ability to formulate and elaborate electronically manipulated electroacoustic arrangements that echo early Brian Eno as much as the folk singer-songwriter genre. In the live shows I've attended, these arrangements are cannily replicated by Heth's solo acoustic guitar and more than a dozen effects pedals, with a little support from bassist brother Jed.

JON HASSELL: Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street
Jon Hassell, trumpet, keyboard; Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche, violin; Eivind Aarset, Rick Cox, guitar; Jan Bang, Dino J.A. Deane, live sampling; Jamie Muhoberac, keyboard, drums; Peter Freeman, bass, percussion, guitar; Helge Norbakken, Pete Lockett, drums; Steve Shehan, percussion
ECM 2077 (CD). 2009. Manfred Eicher, Jon Hassell, prods.; Gerard de Haro, Nicholas Baillard, engs. DDD. TT: 63:55

This recording is the culmination of all the ambient music composer-trumpeter Jon Hassell has been writing over the last 25 years. Here, the foundations or "continuo" are the sampled acoustic and electronic textures that provide the tapestries that support Hassell's simple melodies for electronically altered trumpet. Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche's Indian-tinged violin provides counterpoint for that trumpet, and Peter Freeman's woofer-busting bass anchors it all. Nor is this recording mere studio trickery—in a stunning and dramatic performance of these works I recently heard at Carnegie Hall, the ensemble pretty much replicated this recording. (XXXII-4)


STRAUSS: Eine Alpensinfonie, Macbeth
Marek Janowski, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Pentatone PTC 5186 339 (SACD/CD). 2009. Job Maarse, prod.; Mark Donahue, Dirk Sobotka, Ray Clover, engs. DDD. TT: 69:13

Strauss's orchestrations of his tone poems are often massive, but their internal precision requires the performers to carefully balance the inner voices in order that the resulting sound be delicately tempered. A similar burden falls on the shoulders of the recording team, who must capture a huge dynamic range while sacrificing none of the fine-grained detail. Here's how it's done. The Pittsburghers play better than I've ever heard them on recordings (where their legacy is impressive). Janowski balances the forward thrust of the narrative while paying careful attention to the jewels he uncovers along the way. The recording team has captured a live performance in Heinz Hall without confining the dynamics or losing any of the luscious instrumental tone of Eine Alpensinfonie. This has been a go-to composition for generations of audiophiles, and this recording takes the cake for ours.

HAYDN: Violin Concertos 1 & 4
MOZART: Sinfonia Concertante, K.364

Rachel Podger, violin; Pavlo Beznosiuk, viola; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Channel Classics CCS SA 29309 (SACD/CD). 2009. Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, prod.; C. Jared Sacks, eng. DDD. TT: 67:43

Rachel Podger's recording of Vivaldi's La Stravaganza (Channel Classics CCS SA 19503), a wonderful union of great art and superb recording, was a revelation to many and a Baroque spectacle. Since then, Podger and engineer C. Jared Sacks have released a slow but steady stream of lovely recordings. This one, however, stands apart for its nearly perfect sound and superb music-making. As with the Vivaldi, Sacks has captured a small ensemble with exquisite detail and a judicious but satisfyingly warm bass. Some reviewers have thought the bass excessive, but the bass is most prominent through the least of my systems, and perfectly balanced through the best. Podger and violist Pavlo Beznosiuk perform Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante as if conjoined souls, easily edging out, in delicacy and stylishness, the team of Julia Fischer and Gordan Nikolic (SACD/CD, Pentatone PTC 5186 098). And Podger's soloing—and conducting—in the Haydn concerti are models of style and charm. Just brilliant.


RY COODER: Chavez Ravine
Nonesuch 79877 (CD). 2005. Ry Cooder, prod.; Rail Jon Rogut, eng. AAD. TT: 70:08

Crazy concept: A 15-song historical narrative about the destruction of a Latino barrio in 1950s L.A., "where the sidewalk ends" to make way for Dodger Stadium at Chavez Ravine: a sleazy tale replete with cool cats, AM radios, ward heelers, a touch of McCarthyism, backroom deals, bulldozer operators—even a Space Vato in a UFO. Even crazier: Tell that story through the prism of the conjunto, R&B, soul, and jazz grooves of that lost world remade by Little Willie G, Lalo Guerrero, and Don Tosti. It's a true tale genuinely worth telling, and it's Ry Cooder's peculiar genius that he can narrate this peculiar yarn and make you shake your ass off while you listen. (XXIX-2)

BOB DYLAN: Modern Times
Columbia 8287687606 (CD). 2006. Jack Frost, prod.; Chris Shaw, eng. AAD. TT: 63:53

On one album, the most varied musical styles of Dylan's career—equal parts Bing Crosby, Tiny Tim, Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Chuck Berry—with lyrics that at times play off obscure poems written during the Civil War. It's perhaps a mellower bard ("my cruel weapons have been put on the shelf"), a fellow now ready to admit that "I'll be with you when the deal goes down." But there's just no way to stop chuckling when you hear Dylan scratch out the phrase "the buying power of the proletariat's gone down," or know what he means when he drawls, "I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows." Modern times, indeed.


MAHLER: Symphony 8, Adagio from Symphony 10
Erin Wall, Elza Van den Heever, Laura Claycomb, sopranos; Katarina Karnéus, Yvonne Naef, mezzo-sopranos; Anthony Dean Griffey, tenor; Quinn Kelsey, baritone; James Morris, bass-baritone; San Francisco Symphony & Chorus, San Francisco Girls Chorus, Pacific Boychoir; Michael Tilson Thomas
San Francisco Symphony 821936-0021-2 (2 SACD/CDs). 2009. Andreas Neubronner, prod.; Peter Laenger, eng. DSD/DDD. TT: 83:35

With eight strong vocal soloists, three large choruses, and a huge orchestra going full blast, live recordings of Mahler's Symphony 8 are an equal test for conductors, performers, engineers, and systems—just holding the whole thing together is quite a challenge. Michael Tilson Thomas does far more than that, communicating Mahler's oft-ecstatic heavenly affirmations with eloquent poetic force. His soloists, save for the growling James Morris, are astounding in their vocal beauty. After the exultation of Symphony 8, the cry of pain at the heart of the wrenching Adagio of the unfinished Symphony 10 opens another doorway into Mahler's epic swings between ecstasy and despair. A recording to live for.

HANS HOTTER: The Great Bass-Baritone
Music of Bach, Brahms, Loewe, Schubert, Schuman, Strauss, Wagner, Wolf
Hans Hotter, bass-baritone; Gerald Moore, piano; many other accompanists
Icon/EMI 2 64901 2 (6 mono/stereo CDs). 1947–58/2009. Walter Legge, Walter Jellinek, prods.; various engs. ADD. TT: 7:23:05

The undisputed Wotan of the electrical era, Hans Hotter's fame rests on far more than Wagner. For more than 50 years, he wielded his magnificently resonant bass-baritone with eloquence. Equally famed for his grandiose pronouncements as for the lightness he could bring to intimate lieder, Hotter's capacity to convey wisdom, compassion, and suffering transcended the vocal limitations that grew more pronounced with age. These performances of Bach, Brahms, Loewe, Schubert (including the famed 1954 Winterreise with Moore), Schumann, Strauss, Wagner, and Wolf, recorded between 1947 and 1958, magnificently convey Hotter's ability to speak from his heart to yours. No translations, damn it, not even on the Web.


DreamWorks B0000896-12 (CD). 2003. Marius deVries, prod., eng.; John Holbrook, Bob Ebeling, Jack McKeever, Andy Bradfield, engs. AAD? TT: 58:51

Three years before returning to the scene and courageously reconstructing Judy Garland's classic 1961 Carnegie Hall concert, Rufus Wainwright created this gem of his own. A remarkable album that feels like the soundtrack to a gripping Broadway show for the new millennium, Want One is steeped in vulnerability, sexuality, romanticism, hope, and curiosity. Many of the songs, such as "I Don't Know What It Is," with its slow build and lyrical nod to Garland herself, are propelled by Wainwright's driving piano playing and have the melodic grandeur of classic late-1960s Beatles and Beach Boys. Really! And his voice, a supple tenor, is a thing of beauty. The supporting cast of musicians includes guitarist Charlie Sexton; drummer Levon Helm; Wainwright's mom, Kate McGarrigle, on banjo and accordion; and sister Martha Wainwright. Wainwright's dad, Loudon III, doesn't perform, but makes a cameo in the lyrics of the final song, "Dinner at Eight," about a tense father-son dinner date years earlier. It's provocative and emotional, and very different from the twisted song inspired by breastfeeding that illustrious Dad wrote and recorded, in 1971, about his then-baby son: "Rufus Is a Tit Man."

Dos 7002 (CD). 1993. Tom Canning, prod.; Dave McNair, eng. AAD? TT: 43:11

Austin's Turner Stephen Bruton was always something of a well-kept secret among connoisseurs of hip, contemporary American music. A stellar songwriter, storyteller, and guitarist with a keen wit and an openhearted spirit, he produced memorable albums by the likes of Alejandro Escovedo, Marcia Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Hal Ketchum, and Chris Smither. And for decades, as a touring musician, he performed with Kris Kristofferson and Bonnie Raitt. But T.S., who succumbed to cancer last May, also made some wonderful albums of his own. What It Is, his first, is a five-star showcase of his myriad talents, from electrifying Keith Richards–esque playing on "This Train Is Gone" to heart-wrenching vocals and slide guitar on his breakup tour de force, "Getting Over You," a song lovingly covered by Willie Nelson with Raitt herself. That songs on What It Is, like the gorgeous "Too Many Memories," have also been recorded by such A-listers as the Highwaymen (Kristofferson, Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings) and Patty Loveless is yet another testament to Bruton's craftsmanship and timeless good taste, which are everywhere on this masterpiece.


Charlie Haden, bass; Carla Bley, piano, arr.; Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; Chris Cheek, Tony Malaby, tenor saxophone; Michael Rodriguez, Seneca Black, trumpet; Ahnee Sharon Freeman, French horn; Curtis Fowlkes, trombone; Joe Daley, tuba; Steve Cardenas, guitar; Matt Wilson, drums
Verve B0004949-02 (CD). 2004. Charlie Haden, Carla Bley, Ruth Cameron, prods.; Gerard De Haro, eng. DDD. TT: 68:57

Thirty-six years after their first Liberation Music Orchestra recording, Charlie Haden and Carla Bley again collaborated to strike one more cultural blow against the empire. From Vietnam to Iraq, one constant is that these musicians spoke out, and once again, they did so eloquently. The entire band played as if their lives hung in the balance. Bley's arrangement of the "America the Beautiful" suite, combining the original with Gary McFarland's interpretation, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and Ornette Coleman's Skies of America, is one of the great moments in jazz history. Bley conducted, but Haden was, as ever, the human metronome, his bass swaying back and forth like a maestro's baton as he propelled the pulse of this music as only he can. This is the sound of heroism. (XXVIII-9)

BOB DYLAN & THE BAND: The Basement Tapes
Columbia/Legacy B001NERPHS (CD). 1975/2009. Bob Dylan, The Band, prods.; Garth Hudson, eng. AAD? TT: 76:04

How can something that existed for years only as myth prove so powerful a reality well after its time? Released nearly a decade after it was made, and now freshly available in a digitally remastered version, these sessions paved the way for the entire range of what is now known as Americana, and are arguably the greatest performances not only of The Band but of Bob Dylan as well—great not in some concert-setting sense, but great in the sense of music as the carrier of archetype, the moment when dreams overtake consciousness, the blink of an eye when the fiddle is played by the spirit of the ancestors. Outside of time. Channeling field hollers, blues, gospel, and back-porch performances by unknown hillbillies who worked off the tuning produced by a bottle of moonshine and barefoot girls dancing a hoedown in the dust. Music for falling from a rope swing into a cold mountain lake on a hot summer day.


SIBELIUS: Symphonies 5 & 7
Paavo Berglund, Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Finlandia 0630-17278-2 (CD). 1997. Pekka Savijoki, prod.; Onno Scholtze (Sym. 5), Tony Faulkner (Sym. 7), engs. DDD. TT: 52:56

I often attended concerts of the Philadelphia Orchestra when I was living there and Eugene Ormandy was principal conductor. (We had Ormandy almost every week. He liked to stay home.) Throughout his career, Ormandy championed the music of Sibelius—his late RCA recordings of Symphonies 4 and 5 have been reissued by ArkivMusic.com, duplicated from Japanese remasterings. But here's a real find: Paavo Berglund's out-of-print Finlandia release of Symphonies 5 and 7, to which I was introduced by John Marks. Smaller forces lead to great clarity—open, airy, fresh orchestral textures. The playing is as bracingly crisp and clear as glacial runoff . . . or that other Finlandia (the vodka). I've discovered the rest of the cycle, which I saw selling used on German Amazon.de (ASIN of the four-disc set: B000024725). Symphonies 3 and 4 are revelatory, in the way light shines through the darkness.

CAMBRIDGE SINGERS: Lighten Our Darkness: Music for the Close of the Day, including the Office of Compline
Music of Bourgeois, Byrd, de Victoria, Guerrero, Handl, Lassus, Mundy, Rachmaninoff, Rheinberger, Sheppard, Tallis
John Rutter, The Cambridge Singers; with John Harte, reader; Simon Wall, precentor
Collegium COLCD 131 (2 CDs). David Millinger, prod.; no eng. credited. DDD. TT: 100:15

I first heard this elegiac but uplifting choral-works compilation at John Marks's place, through Harbeth P3ESR speakers driven by Luxman's Neoclassico 10Wpc tube amp and matching solid-state CD player. It sounded divine there, and just as heavenly in my own living room with my Harbeth Compact 7 ESW speakers. I could play the Byrd setting of "Oh Christ who art our light and day" daily. For me, these discs get at the heart of religion: they are about spirit, that which lifts us higher. Meanwhile, down to earth, do your speakers—does your system—do ambience? Here's how I sometimes close the day without mixing a Finlandia Martini . . . or banish the darkness without turning on the lights.

John Atkinson's picture
Interesting thread on our website forum in response to this year's feature: http://www.stereophile.com/content/records-die-2

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

soulful.terrain's picture

Excellent to see the Complete Columbia Album Collection on this list.

xenomanic's picture

Hey Jon or anyone. I can't find the 20/20 album anywhere. I would settle for even AAC 256 files. There should be a place you can download it. Any ideas?

Olliecat70's picture

I live in Pinehurst, NC and I'm hving difficulty locating a store where I can purchase classical CD's.  Any suggestions?