Recording of the Month

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Robert Baird  |  Oct 17, 2017  |  1 comments
Ahmad Jamal: Marseille
Ahmad Jamal, piano; James Cammack, double bass; Herlin Riley, drums; Manolo Badrena, percussion; Abd Al Malik (track 4), Mina Agossi (track 8), vocals
Jazz Book/Jazz Village [PIAS] JV 33570142.43 (2 LPs). 2017. Ahmad Jamal, Seydou Barry, Catherine Vallon-Barry, prods.; Vincent Mahey, eng. ADA? TT: 59:33
Performance *****
Sonics *****

While cities like New York, Detroit, and Philly all get more press for their jazz history and connections, Pittsburgh has a rich history as the birthplace of many notable swing and bebop jazz players. Bassist Ray Brown, drummers Art Blakey and Jeff "Tain" Watts, tenor saxman Stanley Turrentine, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, and the one and only Billy Strayhorn, famed collaborator of Duke Ellington and composer of "Take The 'A' Train," all came from The Burgh.

Robert Levine  |  Sep 19, 2017  |  11 comments
Eriks Ešenvalds: The Doors of Heaven
The First Tears, Rivers of Light, A Drop in the Ocean, Passion and Resurrection
Dr. Ethan Sperry, Portland State Chamber Choir; various instrumentalists
Naxos 8.579008 (CD). 2017. Erick Lichte, prod.; John Atkinson, Doug Tourtelot, engs. DDD. TT: 58:52
Performance ****
Sonics *****

Latvian composer Eriks Ešenvalds has been making quite a name for himself in choral music. He teeters gingerly between consonance and dissonance, and varies intimate whisperings, the strength of forces—sometimes a solo soprano over the chorus; sometimes a solo vocal quartet; sometimes exquisite, silky smooth legato singing by the entire chorus—with wise, spare use of instruments.

Robert Baird  |  Sep 12, 2017  |  3 comments
Doc and Merle Watson: Bear's Sonic Journals, Never the Same Way Once: Live at the Boarding House May 1974
Owsley Stanley Foundation (7 CDs). 2017. Hawk, exec prod.; Starfinder Stanley, Jeffrey Norman, Pete Bell, project coordinators; Owsley Stanley, orig. eng.; Jeffrey Norman, CD mastering, tape archivist; John Chester, Jaime Howarth, digital transfers. ADD? TT: 5:33:17
Performance *****
Sonics *****

The late Owsley "Bear" Stanley spent his life raising consciousness. Whether it was mixing up jars of LSD, building his famous Wall of Sound PA system for the Grateful Dead, or supervising the creation of an incredible library of live recordings, Bear Stanley was after a certain purity, a higher level of quality, epiphanies.

Robert Baird  |  Aug 17, 2017  |  1 comments
DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield: Hudson
John Scofield, electric guitar; Larry Grenadier, bass; John Medeski, keyboards; Jack DeJohnette, drums.
Motema CD-228 (CD). 2017. Hudson, prods.; Scott Petito, eng.; Beth Reineke, asst. eng. DDD TT: 69:92
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Sometimes, a successful recording is not about the material, the studio, the producer, or even the players involved. Sometimes, it's about a shared feeling that grows among the players and conjures a groove. Grooves can be hard to find, especially among accomplished players recording together for the first time who have styles, ideas, and egos of their own. But once achieved, this invisible bond, this feeling of being in sync, should sound easy—as if there's nothing to it. It's this sort of natural, authentic pace and feeling that makes Hudson, the first recording from the quartet of Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski, and John Scofield, such a success.

Robert Baird  |  Jul 25, 2017  |  9 comments
The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: Anniversary Edition
Parlophone/EMI PCS 7027 0602557455328 (4 CDs, 1 BD, 1 DVD). 1967/1987/2009/2017. Giles Martin, prod.; Sam Okell, mix; Jeff Jones, exec. prod.; Jonathan Clyde, Guy Hayden, project prods.; Matt Mysko, Greg McAllister, mix assts.; Miles Showell, Sean Magee, mastering; Matthew Cocker, transfer eng.; James Clarke, audio restoration. ADD? TT: 3:23:11 (CDs only)
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Even VIP visitors to Abbey Road studios are allowed to only peer down a dimly lit hallway to the vault where the Beatles tapes, arguably the UK's most valuable crown jewels, are meticulously stored. Given the value of the band's recorded legacy, it was only a matter of time before even Macca, who over the years has made cryptic and patently false statements about scraping the bottom of the barrel, would get behind new stereo mixes and the long-awaited official release of alternates and outtakes. While the three double-CD volumes of Anthology contained some of this material—and bootlegs had the rest—the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: Anniversary Edition is a welcome and wonderful conglomeration of music and information, old and new, about this landmark recording.

Robert Levine  |  Jul 13, 2017  |  3 comments
Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonata 2, Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Six Moments Musicaux
Evelina Vorontsova, piano
STH Quality Classics CD1416092 (CD). 2017. Paul Steverink, Boudwijn Zwart, prods.; Jaco van Houselt, eng. DDD. TT: 74:42
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

This is Russian-Dutch pianist Evelina Vorontsova's second recording; the first was in 2002. Born in 1972, she took fourth prize in the Rachmaninoff Competition at 18, and second prize at the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition two years later; in 2006, she won second prize in the International Piano and Orchestra Competition in Cantù, Italy (at which there was no first prize awarded). Judging from this CD and its very challenging program, she is a remarkable talent; one wonders why she is not more famous and signed to a major label.

Robert Baird  |  Jun 13, 2017  |  3 comments
Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo': TajMo
Concord CRE00432 (LP). 2017. Taj Mahal, Keb' Mo', prods.; Zach Allen, John Caldwell, Alex Jarvis, Jesse Nichols, Casey Wasner, engs.; Ross Hogarth, mix; Richard Dodd, mastering; Bernie Grundman, vinyl mastering. AAA? TT: 45:20
Performance ****
Sonics ****

The blues, that wonderful basis of so much American popular music, has for many listeners grown a bit stale and old-fashioned. It's not much of a draw outside bar bands, and other than Alligator Records, most of the biggest blues labels have folded or gone dormant. Losing many of the music's first- and second-generation practitioners hasn't helped.

Robert Baird  |  May 16, 2017  |  2 comments
Dominic Miller: Silent Light
Dominic Miller, guitar; Miles Bould, percussion
ECM 2518 (CD). 2017. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Jan Erik Kongshaug, eng. DDD? TT: 41:06
Performance *****
Sonics *****

It was a pairing that seemed right from the very start: ECM's founder, Manfred Eicher, a man renowned for having an unmatched ear for talent and exacting sound-engineering skills; and guitarist Dominic Miller, an internationalist who was born in Argentina, raised in Racine, Wisconsin, and now lives in Provence, France, and who's spent more than 20 years playing and writing with Sting. Along the way, Miller has been a hired guitar slinger with everyone from the Pretenders and Chris Botti to Rod Stewart and Plácido Domingo. He's made 13 solo records, has recorded the music of J.S. Bach on guitar, and says his favorite album is Deep Purple's Made in Japan.

Robert Baird  |  Apr 20, 2017  |  1 comments
The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin
A&M/Intervention SP 4175 (LP). 1969/2017. Larry Marks, prod.; Henry Lewy, prod., eng.; Kevin Gray, remastering. AAA. TT: 35:24
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

The International Submarine Band, the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and finally, just Gram Parsons. He was a Snively on his mother's side, scion of a vast citrus-growing fortune. A trust-fund baby who, unlike most of the struggling musicians he hung out with, could go to a bank and withdraw large amounts of cash. When he was 12, two days before Christmas, his father killed himself. Seven years later, on the day he graduated from high school, his mother finally drank herself to death. He lasted one semester at Harvard before becoming a denizen of Los Angeles, and eventually a powerful force in the Sunset Strip music scene.

Richard Lehnert  |  Mar 22, 2017  |  11 comments
Bruckner: Symphony 9: Completed Version
Gerd Schaller, completion & conductor, Philharmonie Festiva
Profil PH16089 (2 CDs). 2016. Lutz Wildner, tonmeister; ambitus Musikproduktion, engs. DDD. TT: 84:37
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Between 2007 and 2016, Gerd Schaller recorded all 11 of Bruckner's symphonies with the orchestra he founded, the Philharmonie Festiva. In the November 2011 issue I reviewed his 2010 recording of Symphony 9 with William Carragan's completion of the Finale, left incomplete (if perhaps not uncompleted) at Bruckner's death. Six years later, in 2016, with the same orchestra and engineer, and in the same hall—a vast cathedral in Ebrach, Bavaria—Schaller recorded his own completion of the Finale.

Robert Levine  |  Mar 14, 2017  |  2 comments
Aside from the overnight sensation (after a career of more than a decade) of Beverly Sills at the New York City Opera as Cleopatra in Julius Caesar, the 1966–1967 opera "news" in New York was the Metropolitan Opera, newly opened at Lincoln Center. The 10 broadcasts included here feature some singers who still have no equals. In addition to seven starrily cast favorite operas and the premiere of Marvin David Levy's fine Mourning Becomes Electra, there were Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra, composed to inaugurate the new house; the Met premiere of Richard Strauss's 1919 masterpiece, Die Frau ohne Schatten; and the first production in 20 years of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes, with the incomparable Jon Vickers essaying the title role for the first time.
Robert Baird  |  Feb 14, 2017  |  2 comments
Jimmy Scott: I Go Back Home: A Story About Hoping and Dreaming
Eden River ERR-LP-01 (2 LPs). 2016. Ralf Kemper, prod., mix; Geoff Gillette, James Caruso, Sean O'Dwyer, Robert Kirkpatrick, engs.; Phil Ramone, mix prod.; Lawrence Manchester, Veith Semrau, mix. DDA? TT: 56:58
Performance ****
Sonics ****

In 1992, just before Christmas, I sent out 24 copies of Jimmy Scott's newly released CD, All the Way, to friends, musical and otherwise. Most did not respond, but the eight or ten who did were on fire. "What is this?" "Who is this?" "How did I not know about this woman until now?"

Robert Baird  |  Jan 17, 2017  |  5 comments
The Band: The Last Waltz 40th
Rhino RR 273925 (2 CDs). 1978/2016. Robbie Robertson, prod.; Ron Fraboni, John Simon, co-prods.; Terry Becker, Tim Kramer, Elliot Mazer, Wayne Neuendorf, Ed Anderson, Neil Brody, engs. ADD? TT: 2:09:11
Performance *****
Sonics ****

To clear the air, if not the sinuses, let's dispose right now of the traveling-booger-matte controversy. If Robbie Robertson and the late Levon Helm are to be believed, in The Last Waltz, Neil Young performed "Helpless" with a very suspicious chunk of something hanging out of one nostril. When Young and his management became aware of the problem, the offending object had to be excised from the film stock using a matte laboriously inserted into every frame. At least, that's how the juiciest legend from one of rock's most legendary performances is usually told.

Richard Lehnert  |  Dec 15, 2016  |  2 comments
Keith Jarrett: A Multitude of Angels
Concerts: Modena, Ferrara, Torino, Genova

Keith Jarrett, piano
ECM 2500–2503 (4 CDs). 2016. Keith Jarrett, prod., eng. DDD. TT: 4:57:19
Performance *****
Sonics ***

In the best of Keith Jarrett's long-form Concert recordings—Bremen Lausanne, Köln, and most of all Bregenz München and the monumental Sun Bear—one hears the evolution, over unbroken spans of as long as 45 minutes, of a beginning musical germ. A mere rhythm or broken chord or simple cadence or single note, sometimes a full melody exquisitely arranged, opens what seems an infinite world of musical ideas, channeled or happened on or willed up out of the moment, then explored in depth and at length, all flowing into and out of each other—and into and out of jazz, blues, gospel, folk, Middle Eastern, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th-century styles (Ives, Bartók, Stravinsky). One gets the impression of a musician who has heard and played every kind of piano music there is and who, on a given evening, serially or simultaneously plays any and all of it. No one else has ever done anything like it.

Robert Baird  |  Nov 15, 2016  |  3 comments
John McEuen: Made in Brooklyn
Chesky JD388 (CD). 2016. John McEuen, David Chesky, prods.; Norman Chesky, exec. prod.; Nicholas Prout, Mor Mezrich, Max Steen, engs. DDD? TT: 65:03
Performance ****
Sonics ****½

The invite from David Chesky was simple enough: "Hey Robert, John McEuen, David Bromberg and a lot of other people are going to make a record in this abandoned church that a friend of mine owns in Brooklyn, you wanna come by?" Knowing the resourcefulness, not to mention good ears, of David and Norman Chesky, owners of Chesky Records, I soon arrived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to find Stereophile contributing editor Herb Reichert munching on cookies and listening through headphones to what was going into the computer. Ahh, that freelancer lifestyle.

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