2015 Records to Die For Page 2


Reid Anderson: The Vastness of Space
Reid Anderson, bass; Andrew D'Angelo, alto saxophone; Bill McHenry, tenor saxophone; Ben Monder, guitar; Marlon Browden, drums
Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 096 (CD). 2000. Reid Anderson, prod.; James Farber, eng. DDD? TT: 64:35

Before he rose to jazz renown as bassist of the Bad Plus, Reid Anderson put out two keeper Fresh Sound albums and then this, a quintet session that should rank as a classic of turn-of-the-millennium New York jazz. Two tracks, "Prehensile Dream" and "Silence Is the Question," became Bad Plus numbers. Others—"Foxy," "The Enthusiast," "The Owl"—are rock-inflected anthems with a direct and inescapable lyricism, but also an element of raw free jazz. Anderson wrote in his liner note: "I find that having a tune called 'Foxy' is good for the image of this band." Too bad this band has been forgotten.

David Kikoski: Dave Kikoski
David Kikoski, piano; Essiet Essiet, bass; Al Foster, drums
Sony Epicure EK 64441 (CD). 1994. David Kikoski, Michael Caplan, prods.; Jim Anderson, eng. DDD? TT: 60:19

David Kikoski, piano demon and former Roy Haynes sideman, had a one-album fling with a major label while in his early 30s. The translucent light-green tint of the jewel case, the abstract graphic design, the crude handwriting of the booklet: all seemed to promise that the music would stand apart as well. It does. Playing mostly originals, as well as a heart-stopping "Giant Steps" and a poetic "Long Ago (And Far Away)," Kikoski soars to the skies, his inconceivable chops never obscuring his melodic subtlety. Al Foster swings like mad while supplying a funky lilt in "E," "B-flat Tune," and "The Shadow." (XVIII-2)


Antônio Meneses & Maria-João Pires: The Wigmore Hall Recital
Schubert: Arpeggione Sonata, D.821. Brahms: 3 Intermezzi, Op.117; Cello Sonata 1, Op.38. Mendelssohn: Song Without Words, Op.109. J.S. Bach: Aria from Pastorale in F, BWV590.
Antônio Meneses, cello; Maria-João Pires, piano
Deutsche Grammophon 4790965 (CD). 2013. Matthias Spindler, exec. prod.; Renaud Loranger, prod.; John Fraser, recording prod.; Daniel Kemper, Andrew Mellor, engs. DDD. TT: 76:36

It has been more than 25 years since I last heard a performance in London's Wigmore Hall, but this recital, recorded in concert there and recommended by Sam Tellig, transported me back to one of my favorite venues for listening to chamber music when I lived in the UK. Sam described the Schubert "as one of the finest performances ever released of the Sonata for Arpeggione," and yes, it is. Antônio Meneses, cellist with the Beaux Arts Trio from 1998 to 2008, rejoices in the melodic richness of Schubert's writing for the arpeggione, a fretted, six-string instrument similar to a viola da gamba but tuned like a guitar that was briefly in vogue in the early 19th century. Meneses plays an arrangement for cello, of course, and also turns in a soul-stirring reading of the Brahms E-minor sonata for that instrument. But the highlight on this album, for me, is Meneses's accompanist, Maria-João Pires, whose performance of the three Brahms Intermezzi, Op.117, has displaced in my affections my own recording, Intermezzo, of Robert Silverman performing these delicate piano works (CD, Stereophile STPH003-2). I have been a fan of Pires since her early digitally mastered Mozart recordings for Denon in the 1980s; she exposes the emotional depths in these superficially simple works.

Moving Hearts: The Storm
Tara 1304 (LP). 1985. Dónal Lunny, prod.; Andrew Boland, eng.; Connor Barry, John Grimes, asst. engs. AAA/AAD. TT: 37:47

This instrumental album, mixing traditional Irish melodies and instruments with a rock rhythm section, was in constant rotation in the mid-1980s, but I hadn't listened to it in years. It was my 2012 purchase of an Ayre Acoustics QA-9 A/D converter, which triggered my transferring to 24-bit/192kHz PCM many of my favorite LPs, that caused me to dig out The Storm from the darker recesses of my shelves of vinyl. Mixed at Dublin's famed Windmill Lane Studios, the album's marriage of two apparently disparate families of instruments works superbly well. The rock rhythm section adds a propulsive groove, and the use of such "alien" melody instruments as bouzouki, saxophones, electric guitar, and bass clarinet adds to the appeal.

The musical form is generally that of Irish traditional music, with different double-time reels cascaded and repeated. The opening cut, the 13-minute "The Lark," for example, comprises seven sections in different but related keys: "The Lark in the Morning," "Earl the Breakfast Boiler," "O'Broin's Flightcase," "In the Mountains of Holland," "Oh Hag! You've Killed Me," "Peter O'Byrne's Fancy," and "Langstrom's Pony." The opening fades in over an ostinato D-major riff on marimba, with punctuating synthesizer chords and bass-guitar notes joined by drums, and then with Davy Spillane introducing the first theme on low whistle, joined by Declan Masterson on Uilleann pipes. A modulation to A takes us to a new melody, which is where the work stays, despite excursions to E, G, and back to D, while increasingly complex instrumentation and doubling of the melodies builds tension. And with a peak–loudness ratio of 20–25dB, this is not only a musical masterpiece but an audiophile one as well!


Skull Snaps: Skull Snaps
GSF GSF-S-1011 (LP). 1973/2009. George Kerr, prod.; Ed Stasium, eng. AAA. TT: 30:71

Donald Byrd: Places and Spaces
Blue Note BN-LA549-G (LP). 1975. Larry Mizell, Fonce Mizell, prods.; Jim Nipar, Steve Maslow, Val Garay, engs.; Jeff Hawks, asst. eng.; David Hassinger, remix. AAA. TT: 32:81

Go ahead, admit it: Many of us harbor the same secret, and while the objects of our affection may differ, the process is the same. No, I'm not talking about uppers, downers, or sidewayers (eg, tequila). I'm speaking of the world of satisfying your whims on eBay, specifically the quest for old vinyl.

Funk LPs of the 1970s are a constant simmering obsession with me and many others. And while well-known masterpieces like Funkadelic's Uncle Jam Wants You or One Nation Under a Groove are of course great, it's the obscure titles, the one-offs, the out-of-print records, the bands that made a single great album and vanished, that are the holy grails that inspire delicious multi-year hunts.

One hard-to-find classic that's well known among deejays is the self-titled sole album by Skull Snaps, a short-lived, New York–based funk outfit. Originally released in 1973 on GSF Records, Skull Snaps in VG or better condition routinely sells in online auctions for upward of $500. It was reissued on CD in the UK by Charly in the 1990s, and there have been three recent LP reissues, all on GSF: on black vinyl (2005), red vinyl (2009), and remastered in a set of two black LPs (2011) that has become as rare as the original pressing. The sound is typical early-'70s analog: warm in the extreme, but lacking some of the detail that comes from more careful recording in a more exacting studio.

While Skull Snaps will never be a landmark of music history, it's enjoyable and enthusiastically played, with fairly hard-edged horns, wah-wah pedal funk, and vocals that make up in eagerness what they lack in pitch control. What really makes this a Record to Die For are the rhythms and drum patterns that have been sampled by the hip-hop world (Gang Starr, Ol' Dirty Bastard, etc.) to the point where tracks that used samples from this album are themselves now sampled. While "Didn't I Do It to You" leans toward Marvin Gaye, without Gaye's vocal gifts, "It's a New Day" is classic high-steppin' funk, with a tambourine, vocal, and drum break. Great cover art and the D°a de los Muertos image inside.

While it was made by a jazz artist (albeit one who'd strayed into R&B/fusion) and released on Blue Note, Donald Byrd's Places and Spaces is also funk, but of a more polished and polite variety. For the jazz police, this record and several others made by Byrd and producer Larry Mizell in this period, particularly Black Byrd (1973), are nothing short of heresy. And while it may have also been one of the gateway records to that horribly banal strain of jazz that forever poisoned the musical sense of the word smooth, this is a Blaxploitation soundtrack taken to new heights. The modus operandi is simple: raise up a groove, repeat a line or two of vocals here and there, and provide lots of space underneath for Byrd to burble away on flugelhorn. "Wind Parade" and "Night Whistler" (love the titles!) hone this formula to a fine edge. Well recorded and as yet unremastered, Places and Spaces is short and joyous and so much fun!


Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage
Herbie Hancock, piano; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; George Coleman, tenor saxophone; Ron Carter, bass; Anthony Williams, drums
Blue Note 4 95221 2 (CD). 1965. Alfred Lion, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng. ADD. TT: 42:03

Hancock's fifth album as a leader (not his first, as its title implies) is a modern-jazz classic, three of whose five Hancock compositions—"Maiden Voyage," "The Eye of the Hurricane," and "Dolphin Dance"—have become standards. Featuring Miles Davis's band from 1963–64 with Freddie Hubbard in place of Davis, it scintillates with post-bop energy. Hubbard is brash, Coleman Coltrane-esque, Carter buoyant, Williams dazzling, and Hancock vividly impressionistic, dancing deftly over the keyboard with a light and luminous touch. Every tune is a winner, but the often-covered title track, a modal masterpiece built on four suspended chords, stands out. (XX-9)

Barrister: New Fuji Garbage
GlobeStyle CDORBD 067 (CD). 1991. GlobeStyle, prods.; David Young, eng. AAD? TT: 57:13

Despite the late Sikuru Ayinde Barrister's announcement here that "I'm taking my sound to European countries / I'm taking my sound to America," fuji, the style that he originated in the late 1960s and that has since become the most popular musical genre in his native Nigeria, has yet to catch on in the West. Combining his Islam-inflected singing with keyboards, steel guitar, and some dozen percussion instruments, Barrister fashions hypnotic grooves from multilayered Yoruba rhythms. The first of his albums made expressly for CD, this one revisits Barrister's multiply recorded anthem, "Fuji Garbage," adding a steel-guitar quote from Jimmy Cliff's "Rivers of Babylon."


Doctor 3: Doctor 3
Danilo Rea, piano; Enzo Pietropaoli, bass; Fabrizio Sferra, drums
Jando MPR 59 CD (CD). 2014. Fondazione Musica per Roma, prods.; Massimo Aluzzi, eng. DDD? TT: 54:25

Many jazz musicians now draw on popular culture for repertoire, but no one does it with the melodic grace of Danilo Rea. Sometimes he barely decorates a song, as in "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." He hesitates over it, thoughtfully arrays it, and renders its question, its plea, its vulnerability, as universal to the human condition. "Hallelujah," Leonard Cohen's masterpiece, has received many fine interpretations. They now sound like the works of children—the adult version is Rea's. A hush falls over "Hallelujah." He marks out the song almost painfully, one necessary note at a time, as if finding it deep in himself.

Ambrose Akinmusire: When the Heart Emerges Glistening
Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpet; Walter Smith III, tenor saxophone; Gerald Clayton, piano; Harish Raghavan, bass; Justin Brown, drums; with Jason Moran, Fender Rhodes
Blue Note 70619 2 (CD). 2011. Ambrose Akinmusire, Jason Moran, prods.; Dave Darlington, eng. DDD? TT: 53:43

Ambrose Akinmusire is the most important artist to enter jazz in the new millennium. This is the record that started the buzz, recorded when he was 28. The opening track, "Confessions to My Unborn Daughter," demonstrates trumpet chops in the general vicinity of Clifford Brown. But Akinmusire's technique enables his wild imagination. His song forms and solos honor the jazz tradition by exploding it with shattering free ascents, juxtaposed jagged shapes, cryptic mid-narrative digressions, ecstatic cadenzas, misshapen notes, and apocalyptic codas. Ballads like "Henya" burn even hotter than the screamers. And everyone in the band is a badass.

dalethorn's picture

Some nifty selections here - Molly Drake no less! And some new ones to look up.

Edit: I buy almost any kind of music, if I get a hot tip on something good that I can sample first. Most of what I buy based on Stereophile features is classical. I have a lot of jazz genre recordings, but rarely buy anything based on a Stereophile review. Jimmy Scott was featured just after he died at the age of 88. Many times people say that it's the music that matters - not so much the sound quality. But when the recording people put out a remastered album like Jimmy Scott's with attention to getting the best possible sound from it, that's where it really counts.

volvic's picture

- Sam described the Schubert "as one of the finest performances ever released of the Sonata for Arpeggione," - Really? Even better than the Rostropovich/Britten recordings from 1968? Will have to take you up on that and purchase the Meneses/Pires CD.

Great selection, concur on the Peter Grimes a great recording, thought the Britten/Pears was the standard but loved this recording with Sir Colin Davis after recently finding it......I miss Sir Colin Davis.

JDDisantis's picture

Its not that I have a problem with it but I am a little suprised that nothing really out there was listed, like Flying Lotus's You're Dead! Its a very good mix of fusion jazz, electronic, and rap and I thought it was to die for, not just because the album is titled You're Dead. I would've liked to see some more out there stuff, some fresh new "hip" stuff for the younger audience, even Aphex Twin. Just my opinion.

Jon Iverson's picture
Do my Shpongle or Entheogenic picks count?
JDDisantis's picture

Haven't heard of them but i will definitley give them a try

michaelavorgna's picture

I enjoy the Flying Lotus album and if I had heard it in time, I would have included D'Angelo's "Black Messiah".

JDDisantis's picture

Heard of Thundercat? If you like vocals that have R&B elements and such but also enjoy fantastic bass playing and an occaisional trip in a beat production from Flying Lotus, give Stephen Bruner (Thundercat) a listen. His Apocolypse album is one of my all time favorites and his last song "A Message For Austin//Praise The Lord//Enter The Void" is an amazing live peice set made to memorialize the passing of one of his best friends, Austin Peralta.

michaelavorgna's picture

But I will check him out, thanks.

Alan Tomlinson's picture

Who Are You(which is a damn fine album) was the last Who album with Keith Moon drumming, not Who By Numbers.


Alan Tomlinson

Littlefire 1974's picture

Hey Alan, thank you, I stand corrected, sort of. Keith passed away 9/7/1978 and Who Are You debuted on the Billboard LPs chart dated 9/9/78 (two days later). But it was released on August 18, so in fact Who By Numbers wasn't the last to be released before Keith's death. But I didn't mean to imply that WBN was the last album with Keith drumming. The great Mr. Moon is obviously all over Who Are You.

carlosgallardo's picture

In the internet era, why you don't put a sample of the records to listen to ?
I really trust your words, but I trust my ears more.

John Atkinson's picture
carlosgallardo wrote:
In the internet era, why you don't put a sample of the records to listen to ?

Copyright issues make hosting samples problematic. We have thought of providing Spotify or Tidal links. Maybe next time.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

John Atkinson's picture
If you go to the Stereophile Facebook Page - www.facebook.com/stereophilemag - David Solomon of Tidal has listed Tidal links to all the recordings we recommend.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Anon2's picture

Thanks for the insightful recommendations. A recent Stereophile review of new recordings led to a very rewarding SACD purchase a couple of months ago.

I can vouch for the CSO Scheherazade recording. It is among the very best recordings of this work. For those who are CD/SACD purchasers, you can get this recording of Scheherazade along with the fascinating and rare recording of the Song of the Nightingale by Stravinsky.

Other great recordings of Scheherazade include the 1990 recording on Telarc with Sir Charles Mackerras. The 1960s BPO recording on DG with Herbert von Karajan has the most riveting first 2 minutes of the 3rd movement I have heard. If you can find it (either on LP or CD) there is a superb Scheherazade with Leopold Stokowski directing the RPO, also on RCA.

DG, on its Virtuoso series, re-released a very strong rendering of this work with the Orchestre de l'Opera Bastille, directed by Myung-Whun Chung. This issue has an excellent Firebird Suite to round out the CD.

This article's recommended recording of Scheherazade is a stand-out. It is among the best recordings of the work. It is also among the best recordings and performances we have from the grand epoch of RCA Living Stereo, Fritz Reiner and the CSO.

It is unfortunate, despite its very worthy CSO Resound series of recordings, that we no longer have the voluminous output of recordings from the CSO that this great ensemble churned out during the eras of such great conductors as Fritz Reiner, Jean Martinon, Rafael Kubelick, Carlo Maria Giulini, Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, and Pierre Boulez.

Nonetheless, Bernard Haitink has produced some recent recordings on the CSO Resound series that will stand among the other monumental achievements of this ensemble's vast recorded legacy.

volvic's picture

Can't argue with those recommendations. Try also if you can find the Kondrashin on Philips as well as the MSO with Dutoit from the early 80's. I also have the Stokowski with the LSO which is also a fine performance and a few months ago editor Atkinson said he loved the Beecham version which I also have and forgot how lovely that performance is. Guess I have way too many versions. Great performances all.

Anon2's picture

Perhaps it's not on the official best-of-Scheherazade lists, but a surprise discovery was the recording made with the NYPO directed by Yuri Temirkanov. This is an early 1990s recording on RCA Red Seal.

While we are on the subject of Yuri Temirkanov, we should also mention the very excellent recording he made, also on RCA Red Seal, of the Rachmaninov's 2nd Symphony with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic (recorded in Henry Wood Hall).

From the same early 1990s time frame, there was an equally excellent recording of Tchaikovsky's complete Nutcracker, directed by Yuri Temirkanov and the Royal Philharmonic. Again, the recording is was made by RCA Red Seal. This recording may only be available in the used market on amazon.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

So much retread, except ... Hal, by Yasmine Hamdan, on Ya Nass, is like sun breaking thru a wall of stale predictability.

RCA Scheherazade, Maiden Voyage and Best of Spencer Davis, really? How old are you people, 103? I never ever buy music based on a review, having been burned umpteen times -- reviewers are such constipated bugs. But, believe me, Ya Nass is new and original. The tune Hal is outstanding.

Hal by Yasmine Hamdan was the ONLY bright spot in Jim Jarmusch's latest, Only Lovers Left Alive (not recommended). She appeared on BBC's Later with Jools Holland (also not recommended -- what can one expect from Squeeze's keyboardist but pop pap?). Nevertheless, some people are noticing -- she's broken thru the wall of noise.

Have long ago moved away from "world music." But this is different. This is soul music, which, btw, is no longer made in the US, blacks having sold out and gotten rich, e.g., Nicki Manaj and Kanye West.

Some heartbreak here.

damir's picture

I am sorry to say this but you guys listen to some of the most boring, simpleton and pompous music I have ever listened to.

Thanks to Spotify I was able to listen to most of your recommended music. It was cringe worthy. Things you write about some of it... Are you guys all high when you do your reviews?

The music you listen to plain sucks and most of it would sound ok even on lowest quality HiFi equipment.

Leonard Cohen, Coldplay, Neil Young... and that's it. Then again, Coldplay?!

Everything else was... godawful.

People, do you even know there is so much more to music than those plain and boring old recordings?!

You need new blood, ASAP!

Those were not records to die for, those were records one would die of.

John Atkinson's picture
damir wrote:
Thanks to Spotify I was able to listen to most of your recommended music. It was cringe worthy. Things you write about some of it... Are you guys all high when you do your reviews?...The music you listen to plain sucks...

Perhaps your self-awareness needs tweaking, damir. Your taste in music is your taste, period, It is neither better nor worse than anyone else's.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dalethorn's picture

I don't often find something to purchase from the pop music reviews, or even jazz reviews in spite of my growing jazz collection. But the old mostly-forgotten reviews of interesting and lesser-known classical recordings have been a treasure trove. I'd bet there are others who've found the same, in those other genres as well.

damir's picture

I'm not talking abut music tastes.

I am talking about:

1. Quality of the production
2. Quality of musicianship
3. Literary merit
4. Level of induced emotional response
5. Level of induced rational response

Most of those songs have abysmal production quality, lyrics you could laugh at, provoke zero emotional response and for sure offer nothing that would make you think.

They are useless to evaluate HiFi equipment.

Comments like "Oh yes, this song sounds wonderfully layered" while listening to a recording of a pop song from 60's remind me of 10.000 USD network cable snake oil talk "Oh yes, those bits and bytes flow much nicer now, my music is wonderful!"

You really should get some new blood. There is real, wonderful music out there, produced in 2015 that offers all you would need to really evaluate HiFi equipment. At the same time, you would connect with the potential customers that don't live in the past.

Spotify offers your customers to listen to the same songs your reviewers were using while evaluating equipment. I am not the only one that said "What in a world is he talking about? This song is rubbish, there is no production or art value in it to be able to discern anything meaningful."

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Go for it, damir. These crusty old snobs need a bit of shaking up. They prattle, for instance, about the wonderfulness of "old" music. Gee, how deep. I know the music of Thomas Luis de Victoria, Ellington of all eras, etc. I probably know more JS Bach than most here. Most reviewers and posters have nothing to teach me, or anyone else. They're smug and dull. Like I said, I never buy music on the basis of reviews, having been burned umpteen times. Instead, I look at lists like these merely out of curiosity and to learn about music which I'm not familiar with. Of course, pseudohip bugs always list obscure, worthless music, just so they can be one up over everyone else.

One thing I cannot stand are jazz snobs or classical snobs. I can''t stand snobs who put down George Jones or Patsy Cline.

Mindless pop drones outnumber all other forms of life on the planet, even cockroaches: Jackson Brown, really? Do we need to hear STILL more about the Who, possibly the most overexposed pop group, after the Beatles?

And why is there so little depth here in the blues (the real blues, not Keb Mo), the motherload of American music?

Personally, I don't give a flying rat's a$$ about sound quality. It's the music that matters, above all else. It's a mere incidental bonus if the sound is good. For instance, my favorite version of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is the one recorded by Tureck for Decca in the '60s, which has loud tape hiss. Schnabel's Beethoven Sonatas, recorded in the mid 1930s, is desert island music for me. By comparison, the highly lauded RCA's and Mercury's are mostly dreary pop classical.

Taste and discernment matter. Just watched the Grammys (DVR), to see what's up with commercial pop. You couldn't ask for a more blatant example of music in which taste and discernment DON'T matter.

PS. Don't see how you could sample all the music on Spotify, as you claim. Arvo Part, Fur Anna Maria, for example, is not available there.

PondWatcher's picture

Editors!!! Rejoice in the irony!!!!

Anon2's picture

Stereophile recently gave a review of a superb 21 year old pianist. There was also a review of a very youthful European guitarist. Another story featured a young manufacturer of string instruments.

There is no anti-youth bias in the greater body of Stereophile's music industry assessments and reports. There is equal weight given to the up-and-coming and to the established in its pages.

These young performers are but two examples of young performers--more youthful, I'd bet, than a couple of our "youth-oriented" commenters on this discussion thread--to be found if one would bother to delve deeper into Stereophile's website and magazine.

If these performers are playing 100-200 year old music, then that's simply a testament of the success of the genres and composers of the music that they perform. A perusal of the wider music industry press and recordings would demonstrate no shortage of young people devoting themselves to "old music." Asia, a youthful and up-and-coming continent writ-large, exemplifies these trends in music (Western and Eastern).

Meanwhile, I'll look for the fountain of youth, and keep reading Stereophile's superb assessments of MANY types of recordings. It's good that some of us are paying attention to Stereophile's overall track record, and not throwing some rhetorical bombs towards one review of very context-specific recordings.

Stereophile, keep up the good work with your music review. We'll take the "signal to noise ratio" in its appropriate measure on some of the less-enlightened comments found underneath your reports.

PredatorZ's picture

Arg, count me out if you think coldplay is worthy of recommendation, pure pop drivel, the writer lost all credibility for me at that point. To each his own obviously, and I am sure the boys in coldplay have some fans, but not me, no not ever. Almost worthy of my subscription cancellation, why support a magazine with views so opposite of my tastes. I only have a few bands I truly hate, and these gents are at the top of the dung heap for me. Give me some Patricia Barber or Lamb of God, Ill throw extra ducats they're way before I would torture myself with trifle pop. Sorry, had to vent.... a paying customer !