Recording of the Month

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Jason Victor Serinus  |  Aug 13, 2019  |  0 comments
Patricia Barber: Higher
Patricia Barber, piano & vocals; Patrick Mulcahy, bass; Jon Deitemyer, drums; Neal Alger, acoustic guitar; Jim Gailloreto, tenor saxophone
ArtistShare AS01712 (CD). 2019, Patricia Barber, prod.; Martha Feldman, assoc. prod.; Jim Anderson, rec. and mixing eng.; Bob Ludwig, mastering eng. DDD. TT: 55:18
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

As a singer and writer, Patricia Barber has never been easy to define. In the audiophile world, she's too often defined—and her brilliance obscured—by her ubiquity at audio shows and her regrettable membership in a sorority of generic, well-recorded "female vocalists." But in what idiom?

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jul 18, 2019  |  5 comments
Henry Brant: Ice Field
Cameron Carpenter, organ, San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas, Edwin Outwater, Conds.
SFS Media SFS 0075 (24/48 WAV). 2019. Jack Vad, prod, and eng.; Roni Jules, Gus Pollek, Jonathan Stevens, Denise Woodward, supporting engs.; Jack Vad, Mark Willsher, John Loose, Atmos post-prod. DDD. TT: 24.31
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Even though Henry Brant's mind-boggling Ice Field for orchestra and organ won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2002—the year after its premiere—and years later was revisited by the San Francisco Symphony, for which it was commissioned, no recording format has succeeded at capturing its musical and spatial wonders. Until now.

John Swenson  |  Jun 20, 2019  |  1 comments
Herbie Hancock: Takin' Off
Herbie Hancock, piano; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone; Butch Warren, double bass; Billy Higgins, drums.
Blue Note Records 84109 (LP), 1962, 2019. Alfred Lion, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng.; Don Was, Cem Kurosman, reissue prods.; Kevin Gray, reissue eng. AAA. TT: 39:01
Performance ****
Sonics ****½

From 1962 until now, and counting all formats except downloads, there have been no fewer than 62 releases of Herbie Hancock's debut album, Takin' Off—more than any of his other albums except Maiden Voyage (1965) and Head Hunters (1973). This issue's Recording of the Month comes from an ambitious project referred to by Blue Note Records as the Blue Note 80 Vinyl Reissue Series, which is distinct from the company's Tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl Reissue Series, described in Sasha Matson's interview with company President Don Was in the May 2019 Stereophile.

Jim Austin  |  May 16, 2019  |  0 comments
Etienne Charles: Carnival: The Sound of a People, Vol 1
Etienne Charles, trumpet, percussion; Brian Hogans, Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; David Sánchez, tenor saxophone; Sullivan Fortner, James Francies, piano, Fender Rhodes; Alex Wintz, guitar; Luques Curtis, Russell Hall, Ben Williams, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; D'Achee, congas. With: Claxton Bay Tamboo Bamboo, Laventille Rhythm Section, other percussionists.
Culture Shock EC007 (2 LPs). 2019. Etienne Charles, prod.; Glenn Brown, Christian Burkett, David Darlington, Mark Wilder, engs. DDA. TT: 67:20
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Etienne Charles, the Trinidadian trumpeter, percussionist, and Guggenheim fellow, has a knack for album concepts. His 2013 album, Creole Soul, starts with an incantation from an actual Voodoo priest and goes on to cover Creole-influenced tunes from Bob Marley and the Mighty Sparrow. Thelonious Monk is also in the mix, with his "Green Chimneys," which features a calypso melody Charles speculates Monk first heard in New York's San Juan Hill, a Caribbean neighborhood where Monk lived for a while.

Thomas Conrad  |  Apr 18, 2019  |  2 comments
Francesco Diodati Yellow Squeeds: Never the Same
Francesco Diodati, electric & acoustic guitar, gongs; Francesco Lento, trumpet; Glauco Benedetti, tuba, valve trombone, flute; Enrico Zanisi, piano, Fender Rhodes, synths; Enrico Morello, drums, gongs
Auand AU9080 (CD). 2019. Francesco Diodati, Marco Valente, prods.; Stefano Del Vecchio, Roberto Lioli, engs. DDD. TT: 44:24
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

Guitarist Francesco Diodati is one of the freshest voices to enter jazz in the new millennium. If this news comes as a surprise, you probably live in the US. A disproportionate amount of the innovation and energy within America's only indigenous art form now comes out of Europe. Most of the American jazz community has not gotten the memo.

Jon Iverson  |  Mar 12, 2019  |  3 comments
David Crosby: Here If You Listen
BMG 538431461 (LP), 538429532 (CD), none (FLAC 24/48). 2018. David Crosby, Michael League, prods.; Fab Dupont, prod., eng., mix; Josh Welshman, eng.; Greg Calbi, mastering. ADD/DDD. TT: 45:08
Performance ****
Sonics *****

In 1967, the year the Byrds would fire him, David Crosby sits in a room—a small space, from the sound of it—with a cheap microphone and a recorder of dubious merit. He's improvising some jazzy, open-tuned acoustic guitar strumming, adding nonlexical vocables on top. He then files away the resulting tape—clearly ahead of its time and of no use to his bandmates—for 50 years.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 05, 2019  |  2 comments
Vivaldi: Arias
Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Matheus Ensemble
Decca 002932502 (24/96 download, CD). 2018. Arend Prohmann, prod., ed.; Philip Siney, eng.; Claudio Becker-Foss, asst. eng. DDD. TT: 58:27
Performance *****
Sonics ****

Stereophile occasionally awards a Joint Recording of the Month, and Cecilia Bartoli's second recording of Vivaldi arias deserves no less.

Though we don't know over how long a period Bartoli recorded this album's 10 tracks, she finished the project with Jean-Christophe Spinosi's Ensemble Matheus, a baroque group, in 2018, when she turned 52. I defy you to hear any trace of age in her voice. The singing is limpid and seamless, with rapid, wide-spanning coloratura runs flawlessly dispensed, and the longest of long-breathed lines produced with little to no apparent effort.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Feb 19, 2019  |  1 comments
Hespèrion XXI & Jordi Savall: Ibn Battuta: The Traveler of Islam 1304–1377
Music of Afghanistan, Bagdad, China, Granada, India, Mali, Morocco, more
Alia Vox AVSA9930 (24/88.2, 2 SACDs). 2018. S.L. Sonjade, prod.; Harry Charlier, Manuel Mohino, engs. DDD. TT: 2:27:04
Performance *****
Sonics ****

Sixty years after Italian explorer and merchant Marco Polo chronicled his journey to Asia, Tangier-born Abu Abdallah Ibn Battuta (b. 1304, d. 1368–1377) spent close to 30 remarkable years traveling to what were then the four corners of the earth. Following the words of Muhammad, Prophet of Islam, to whom is attributed the dictate "Seek knowledge even unto China," Ibn Battuta was only 21 when his desire for knowledge and learning propelled him on a quest far longer and wider-ranging than Polo's.

Sasha Matson  |  Jan 15, 2019  |  31 comments
The Beatles: The Beatles—50th Anniversary Edition
Apple B0028831-01 (2 LPs). 1968/2018. George Martin, orig. prod.; Geoff Emerick, orig. eng.; Giles Martin, reissue prod., remix; Sam Okell, reissue eng., remix; Miles Showell, mastering. ADA. TT: 93:27
Performance *****
Sonics *****

The Beatles, aka the "White Album," was first released on November 22, 1968. On November 9, 2018, in honor of that event, Apple Corps Limited issued the new 50th Anniversary Edition. My comments here refer to listening to the two-LP edition of the newly remixed The Beatles, pressed for Apple by Quality Record Pressings. Also included in three other varying editions are 27 of what are now known as the Esher Demos, 50 out-takes and alternate takes, and a 5.1-channel hi-rez surround mix on BD.

Richard Lehnert  |  Jan 03, 2019  |  2 comments
Bruckner: String Quintet (arr. for Large Orchestra), Overture in g
Gerd Schaller, arr., cond.; Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Profil PH16036 (CD). 2018. Milan Puklický, prod.; Jan Lzicar, eng. DDD. TT: 57:12
Performance ***
Sonics ****

Bruckner & Mahler: String Quintet (arr. for Chamber Orchestra) & Symphony 10: Adagio
Peter Stangel, arr., cond.; Pocket Philharmonic Orchestra
Edition Taschenphilharmonie/Sony ETP008 (CD). 2017. Sebastian Riederer von Paar, prod., eng., ed. DDD. TT: 59:12
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Bruckner's only mature chamber work, the String Quintet in F, has long sounded to many less like chamber music than like a Bruckner symphony squeezed into far smaller form. It's long, follows Bruckner's version of classical symphonic form, and is as meticulously composed and as contrapuntally intricate as his far larger-scaled symphonies. Like many of those, it has an alternate movement, an Intermezzo. In tenderness and poignancy, the Quintet's warm Adagio is close enough in depth and quality to its counterparts in Bruckner's symphonies 00 through 5 that it now exists in at least 11 arrangements (none by Bruckner) for string orchestra; three of those, the most popular being Hans Stadlmeier's, include the Quintet's three other movements.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Dec 18, 2018  |  0 comments
Joyce DiDonato: Into the Fire
Works by Heggie, Strauss, Debussy, Gruber, Lekeu
Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Brentano String Quartet
Erato 573802 (24/96, CD). 2018. Jeremy Hayes, prod.; Steve Portnoi, balance, mastering. DDD. TT: 77:38
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

On the 2017 Winter Solstice, the astounding Joyce DiDonato—the coloratura mezzo-soprano from Kansas who zips through impossible runs of Rossinian roulades faster than anyone can shuck corn—took a break from opera to present a song recital in London's famed Wigmore Hall. With Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's moving song cycle Into the Fire as its centerpiece, this live recording of DiDonato with the Brentano String Quartet confirms that she is a song interpreter of rare distinction.

Richard Lehnert  |  Dec 11, 2018  |  1 comments
Keith Jarrett: La Fenice
Keith Jarrett, piano
ECM 2601/02 (2 CDs). 2018. Keith Jarrett, prod.; Martin Pearson, eng.; Christoph Stickel, Manfred Eicher, mastering, exec. prod. DDD. TT: 97:47
Performance *****
Sonics *****

This July 2006 concert, performed in Venice's Gran Teatro La Fenice, is Keith Jarrett's seventh recording of the shorter solo-piano improvisations he's explored since the early 2000s, after chronic fatigue syndrome robbed him of the stamina needed to improvise for unbroken stretches of nearly an hour. Despite their many high points, none of its six predecessors—Tokyo Solo, Radiance, Carnegie Hall, Testament, Rio, Creation—matched the cumulative power and depth of his best long-form improvisations: Köln, Sun Bear, Bregenz München, Paris. This one does.

Thomas Conrad  |  Nov 19, 2018  |  8 comments
Wolfgang Muthspiel: Where the River Goes
Wolfgang Muthspiel, electric & acoustic guitars; Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpet; Brad Mehldau, piano; Larry Grenadier, bass; Eric Harland, drums
ECM 2610 (CD). 2018. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Gérard de Haro, Nicolas Baillard, engs. DDD. TT: 48:15
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Wolfgang Muthspiel of Austria has been active and respected on the European scene for 30 years. But like so many of the best European jazz musicians, he began to get famous only when he began recording for ECM: His Travel Guide (2013) and Driftwood (2014) were endorsed by critics and embraced by guitar junkies.

Richard Lehnert  |  Oct 30, 2018  |  4 comments
J.S. Bach: Six Suites for Viola Solo, BWV 1007–1012
Kim Kashkashian, four- & five-string violas
ECM New Series 2553/54 (2 CDs). 2018. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Judy Sherman, eng. DDD. TT: 2:22:35
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

Little is known of the origins of the Solo Suites, usually performed on the cello. No manuscript in Bach's hand survives, and in the copy produced by his second wife, Anna Magdalena, markings for slurs, articulation, and dynamics are sparse even by baroque standards. The suites may actually have been composed for the violoncello da spalla, an instrument smaller than the cello but larger than the viola, and played while held on the shoulder (some modern players use a neckstrap). But what are problems for the musicologist present a world of latitude to the interpreter, in this case master violist Kim Kashkashian, who takes full advantage of them.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Oct 18, 2018  |  0 comments
Bernstein: Arias and Barcarolles
Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano; Ryan McKinny, bass-baritone; San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas
SFS Media SFS-0073 (24/96 download). 2018. Jack Vad, broadcast & mastering eng., postprod.; Jason O'Connell, post-prod. DDD. TT: 32:54
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

Why name this short digital download or streaming–only release of a live San Francisco Symphony performance from 2017—its native 24/96 PCM broadcast sound is a notch lower than the best-recorded titles in SFS Media's series of Davies Symphony Hall broadcasts— as our "Recording of the Month"? Because, as the centennial of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) draws to a close, this new recording of his eight Arias and Barcarolles from conductor Michael Tilson Thomas—whom Bernstein asked to play piano alongside him when the original version of the cycle, for four voices and piano four-hands, premiered in New York City in 1988—is definitive and essential listening.

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