Records 2 Live 4 2023 Page 5

Ken Micallef


Various Artists: Kaleidoscope: New Spirits Known & Unknown
Soul Jazz Records SJR LP 455 (LP). 2020. Various producers and engineers.

Whereas the US jazz scene often seems to focus on tradition and to prioritize rhythm over melody, UK jazz has weaker ties to the past and seems freer to reinvent the genre. This three-LP set is the best UK-jazz overview I've heard, spanning sounds from trumpeter Matthew Halsall's surreal levitations and vocalist Yazmin Lacey's ethereal soul to Hector Plimmer's electronic pulsations and keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones's profundity. Excellent production(s), copious liner notes, 45rpm single included.


Hatis Noit: Aura
Erased Tapes ERATP152LP (LP). 2022. Robert Raths, prod.; Francesco Donadello, eng.

Japanese vocalist/composer Hatis Noit creates melodies, rhythms, countermelodies and counterrhythms, background vocals, arrangements, and entire productions. Her vocal layering and manipulations can sound like butterflies or banshees, meditations or maelstroms. At its core an experimental work, Aura conjures up a haunting, surreal otherworld that is fully immersive and revelatory. Incorporating operatic enunciation, and the occasional coyote yelp, within peaceful perambulations, Aura drenches the listener in a river of tranquility.

Julie Mullins


Various Artists: Club Africa 2: Hard African Funk, Afro-Jazz, and Original Afro-Beat
Strut STRUTLP007 (2 LPs). 2000. Russ Dewbury, compilation.

Prepare for pulsating, driving energy. This gem lives up to its title: You can imagine the sweaty, dusty, dance-floor scenes. Searing-hot horn and sax squeals punctuate deep funk and jazzy vibes in a relentless rhythm fest. Start to finish, this compilation packs a punch. No filler or lightweights here, only the heaviest grooves, handpicked by Russ Dewbury. This high-octane music mixes a tasty, heady cocktail of jazzy, funky rhythms spiked with sharp horn blasts and sass with flutes and talking drums. Most tracks were cut in the early '70s, so yes, there's wah-wah pedal. Production is solid.

I bought the CD before hearing any tracks and later purchased the two-LP version, which I prefer. I was familiar with Fela Kuti's catalog, for example, but he doesn't appear here. Other big names are included, from Nigeria, South Africa, Mali, and the US: Hugh Masekela, Ginger Johnson, Roy Ayers, Manu Dibango, et al. A choral a cappella call-and-response intro sets up Letta Mbulu's impassioned vocals on "Mahlalela." In one inspired, free-spirited moment, she suddenly pitches up into a higher register. Masekela's "A Long Ways from Home" brings mellower acoustic guitar jangle and a quasi-highlife vibe with brass. Club Africa 2's rhythms sound solid enough to sit on. But you wouldn't be sitting; you'd be dancing, moving, nodding your head, or tapping your foot to these infectious grooves. This is exuberant music in the extreme—hard funk for hard times.


Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow
Jagjaguwar JAG331 (LP). 2019. John Congleton, prod., eng., mixing; Greg Calbi, mastering.

Multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Van Etten's star has risen higher in recent years, but this album became her breakout—a sleeper hit with a sort of lo-fi feel. (Some critics and hipsters were already paying attention, though.) At once revealing and mysterious—an eerie, organ- and synth-soaked atmosphere permeates the album—this music haunts me. Van Etten's vocals, often understated, and plaintive piano playing maintain a compelling raw naturalism. Tracks like "Comeback Kid" seem uplifting and ominous in equal measure. "Jupiter 4"—named for a Roland synthesizer model heard on this and other cuts—sustains that sense of foreboding, adding theremin to a wash of droning synths and guitars. Something's stirring, rumbling beneath the surface. Is it pure reflection? We get glimpses: Her singing feels real, even-keeled—then she suddenly wails out a climactic line on "Seventeen." The opening track, "I Told You Everything," takes on added depth and potency given the abusive relationship she's spoken publicly about. But the album's downcast moments don't linger; she moves on and lightens up with catchy hooks, dispelling darkness. Van Etten's songwriting and performance remain personal and heartfelt without devolving into overwrought confessional territory. The album's simmering intensity draws me in more with each listen.

Dan Ouellette


Herbie Hancock: River: The Joni Letters
Herbie Hancock, piano; Wayne Shorter, soprano and tenor saxophones; Lionel Loueke, guitar; Dave Holland, bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums; Norah Jones, Tina Turner, Corinne Bailey Rae, Joni Mitchell, Luciana Souza, Leonard Cohen, vocals.
Verve 0602517468344 (LP). 2007. Herbie Hancock, Larry Klein, prods.; Helik Hadar, eng.

Remarkably (but deservedly), this—a jazz record—won the 2008 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. (The last time this happened was in 1964!) Hancock assembled his Joni Mitchell friends for this album to pay passionate tribute to her multifaceted folk-meets-jazz songbook.

Co-produced with Larry Klein, the two-LP River: The Joni Letters samples from the broad range of Mitchell's brilliant career. Hancock offers a tender instrumental rendering of "Both Sides Now," from her singer/songwriter beginnings; hints at her breakthrough jazz-inflected period, with Norah Jones singing into the depths of "Court and Spark"; and playfully accompanies Leonard Cohen on his whispery poetic weave "The Jungle Line." The highlight in this collection is Mitchell's poignant autobiographic tune "The Tea Leaf Prophecy," with tenor-saxophone support from Wayne Shorter.

Hancock steers into the standards zone with fine instrumental versions of Duke Ellington's "Solitude" and Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti," perfect interludes in this Joni Mitchell celebration.


Mary Halvorson: Amaryllis & Belladonna
Halvorson, guitar; Adam O'Farrill, trumpet; Jacob Garchik, trombone; Patricia Brennan, vibraphone; Nick Dunston, bass; Tomas Fujiwara, drums; the Mivos Quartet (Olivia De Prato, Maya Bennardo, violins; Victor Lowrie Tafoya, viola; Tyler J. Borden, cello).
Nonesuch 075597912708 (LP). 2022. John Dieterich, prod.; Chris Allen, eng.

Mary Halvorson is an unorthodox guitarist with a new voice. She delivers strong attack, dry sound, experimental forms, and luscious lyricism. She is keen to preserve the acoustic nature of the guitar, although she does use amplification and octave-pedal effects. For the past decade, she has been captivating listeners with a series of projects of exceptional beauty and breathtaking magic. Halvorson's two-LP, two-suite debut for Nonesuch, Amaryllis & Belladonna, is a gem of architectural forms that reflect the opportunity to evolve a new language of jazz.

On Disc 1, Amaryllis, Halvorson showcases her new sextet and collaborates with the Mivos Quartet, a New York–based ensemble specializing in contemporary music. She opens Amaryllis with the kaleidoscopic "Night Shift," which begins with her swing around vibraphonist Patricia Brennan—the first time she has incorporated the instrument into her work. The dynamism then builds with a charged fury of horns, featuring trumpeter Adam O'Farrill and trombonist Jacob Garchik. The finale, "Teeth," offers a sonic surprise, with Halvorson unleashing a flurry of octave-pedal effects from far-left field.

On Disc 2, Belladonna, Halvorson turns the focus fully to the string quartet, creating a completely different soundscape. The pensive opening track, "Nodding Yellow," exhibits a fascinating interplay between the guitarist and the quartet. An equally mesmerizing conversation between the guitar and strings is displayed in the closing title track.

In both recordings, Halvorson delivers bent chords, luscious lyricism, perplexing guitar lines, and delicate percussive plucks. You sense playfulness in the collection, but a dark side too.

Herb Reichert


And This Is Maxwell Street
A Studio IT production: Rooster Records R2641 (3 CDs). 1998. Ian Talcroft, Colin Talcroft, Allan Murphy, prods.; Ian Talcroft, mastering.

Chicago 1964. Maxwell Street's open-air market is the place where the folk and spiritual music of European settlers and African slaves got plugged in and amplified. They weren't imitating rock music; they simply needed to project their narratives into the thick, wide-street crowds, above the din of sirens and elevated trains, and collect donations. The power for their sidewalk performances came from extension cords rented from shop owners.

This three-CD set features 30 of likely hundreds of tracks recorded with a single microphone on a Nagra III recorder for Mike Shea's 1964, unnarrated, 16mm documentary And This Is Free: The Life and Times of Chicago's Legendary Maxwell Street. It also includes a full CD of interviews Michael Bloomfield conducted with itinerant blues singer/electric guitarist Robert Nighthawk.

Besides the gleaming, brain-scratching sound of Nighthawk's guitar, this album features the wildest, rawest, most-inspired performances I've heard from harmonica masters Carey Bell and Big John Wrencher. It also features the intense dance gospel of Carrie Robinson. These live-from-the-sidewalk tracks deliver more authentic coming-at-you-hard blues than you could ever get from a studio recording.


Skip James: Devil Got My Woman
Vanguard Records VSD-79273 (LP). 1968.

Two Sunday nights ago, I played this 1968 recording on a friend's fancy hi-fi, and he swore his speakers never sounded that good.

Devil Got My Woman presents some of the purest blues sound ever pressed to vinyl, but also what I consider the finest, most preternatural Delta-blues singing. Accompanied by Skip James's Django-level guitar playing and Fats-level keyboard work, this is soul-stirring music made on earth and worth dying for.

Kalman Rubinson


Schnittke/Silvestrov/Shostakovich: Outcast
Schnittke: String Quartet No.3, Silvestrov: String Quartet No.1, Shostakovich: String Quartet No.8, Op.110.
Matangi Quartet. Northstar Recording MTM04 (DXD 5.1 Download). 2022. V.O.F. Matangi, prod.; Bert van der Wolf, prod., eng.

Described by Matangi as "an ode to musical troublemakers and outsiders," these quartets by Soviet-era composers reflect their struggles.

Schnittke's String Quartet No.3 (1983) is impressively wide-ranging, with mournful reflections scattered throughout. Not happy music but deeply touching and spiritually cleansing. And the balance and immediacy of sound in this recording enhances this experience. Silvestrov's First String Quartet (1974) is a bittersweet lamentation in one extended movement (25 minutes). Shostakovich's powerful Eighth String Quartet (1960), the most familiar of the three quartets on this recording, has a dramatic sweep that rivals Schubert's Death and the Maiden quartet but decidedly in 20th century terms. Most performances of this work emphasize anguish; the Matangis add resistance and let in a welcome bit of hope.


Beethoven: Symphonies 1–5
Le Concert des Nations orchestra, Jordi Savall, cond.
Alia Vox AVSA9937 SACD (3 SACDs). 2020. Manuel Mohino, SACD recording, editing, and mastering.

Recorded in 2019 as part of a planned release of all nine Beethoven symphonies, this set of the first five was released in 2020. (Symphonies 6–9 were released in 2022 due to delays incurred by the pandemic.) These recordings are the culmination of extensive preparation work, which included re-examination of Beethoven's notes and months of rehearsals. The result is a revelation: Almost every note and turn of phrase is heard anew, in fresh orchestral colors. There is clarity, pace, and weight, all in good measure, even to the ears of this inveterate Beethoven listener. The sound is outstanding, and the acoustics of Collegiate Church of Cardona Castle (Catalonia) are wonderful.

Since acquiring this set, I have done the unthinkable and played it through in one sitting. Many times.

ChrisS's picture

Say no more.

Jazzlistener's picture

Star Wars fan, my vote would have been for R2D2 - Records to Dance To. :)

cognoscente's picture

Crossover by Dua Saleh *

Greenzone 108 by Greentea Peng *

Forbidden Feelingz by Nia Archives *

Air by Sault *

A Light For Attraction Attention by The Smile *

Push the Sky Away by Nick Cave & Bad Seeds ***

The Specials by The Specials **

Shiva Feshareki: Turning World by Shiva Feshareki *

Itemporal by Sarah Davachi/Ariel Kalma ***

Bloom by Areni Agbabian ***

Combination of recent releases (*), rediscoveries (**) and delayed discoveries (***)

Lars Bo's picture

Thanks, Kalman - the Matangi Outcast recordings are really something.

Another recommendation of the Ukrainian Silvestrov: His "Silent Songs" w. Yakovenko/Scheps, on ECM (cd only). It must have been less than a spotless reel-to-reel used in 1986 in Moscow, but humanity and emotions are grippingly authentic.

volvic's picture

Kudos to Ms. Johnson for mentioning the extraordinary Pérotin recording from the Hilliard Ensemble. It is a mesmerizing performance that doesn't’ get the due or mention it deserves. Well done!!!

Some great recommendations from others here as well, question! Do I need another Beethoven series and a period performance of Mahler’s 4th?

Kal Rubinson's picture

Some great recommendations from others here as well, question! Do I need another Beethoven series.....

I own multiple sets of the Beethoven symphonies as well as many individual symphonies but I nominated the Savall Beethoven set (Syms 1-6) because I believe you do.

Poor Audiophile's picture

for me!

volvic's picture

Will let my fingers do the clicking and add it to the pile.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Considering the cost and despite my enthusiasm, I still recommend that you sample it on-line before making such an investment.

volvic's picture

I always do, but everyone is quite enthusiastic about these recordings, so just might take the plunge. Then again, everyone was enthusiastic over Hogwood's Beethoven cycle which doesn't really work after the 4th, but this could be different. The problem for me these days is lack of space in the ever shrinking Manhattan apartment.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

That's what I began to do after two Gramophone reviewers chose Savall's Beethoven 6-9 as their favorite recording of the year.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I was disappointed with the 6-9 as a set.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Hi Kal,

I haven't had time to listen to more than a few bits. Far more on my plate than anyone of normal appetite should dare attempt to consume in one sitting. It's on the list... the very long list. Until then, I greatly appreciate learning your opinion.


volvic's picture

Will start with the 6-9 set.

Kal Rubinson's picture

FWIW, 1-5 were recorded as the culmination of a deep immersion (described in the booklet) into the scores and the context in 2019, prior to the Pandemic. It was released in 2020. The 6-9 set was recorded in 2020 during the Pandemic which deeply intruded itself into the process and delayed its release until 2022. It is no wonder that the results are not as good as the earlier ones made in better times and without Pandemic constraints.

You can have my 6-9 set if you want it. It's good, such as it is, but not outstanding and not an urgent recommendation. My R2L4 recommendation was for only the 1-5 set.

volvic's picture

Just read about the recording timeline this morning and the obstacles the pandemic threw at the whole recording process. A shame. I will listen to it but not keep it; I will purchase my copy if I like it. Thanks for offering.

volvic's picture

Hello JVS, Happy New Year! I don't stream, for many reasons, so that option is out for me.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Hmmmm. Manhattan apartment, eh? Mebbe just borrow mine to decide. ;-)

volvic's picture

Many thanks for offering; too kind. I suspect we're not that far from each other; I'm in the UES. I will take the plunge and purchase. Just listened to his 9th, a live performance and was deeply impressed. I will be purchasing. Will revert when I listen to them.

Kal Rubinson's picture

ok's picture doesn't mean that much to us grownups anymore.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Then, why are you here?

ok's picture

it still means a lot :)

Kal Rubinson's picture

Hmm. OK.