Recording of the Month

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Jon Iverson  |  Jun 12, 2018  |  6 comments
Steve Tibbetts: Life Of
Steve Tibbetts, 12-string guitar, piano; Michelle Kinney, cello, drones; Marc Anderson, percussion, handpan
ECM 2599 (CD). 2018. An ECM production; Steve Tibbetts, eng.; Greg Reierson, eng., mastering. DDD. TT: 50:40
Performance *****
Sonics *****

The sound of Steve Tibbetts's guitar music is unique—one need hear only a measure or two of his new album to identify the distinct tang of his playing. Common wisdom is that a guitarist's sound is in the hands and fingers, but Tibbetts has another trick: his weathered, 50-year-old Martin D12-20 12-string acoustic guitar.

Robert Baird  |  May 18, 2018  |  3 comments
Brad Mehldau: After Bach
Brad Mehldau, piano
Nonesuch 7559-79318-0 (CD). 2018. Robert Hurwitz, exec. prod.; Tom Korkidis, prod. coord.; Tom Lazarus, eng., mix, mastering; Brad Montgomery, mix. ADD? TT: 69:24
Performance *****
Sonics *****

That American jazz pianist Brad Mehldau has made a recording of J.S. Bach's music should come as no great surprise to anyone who's followed his extraordinarily varied career. In many ways, it seems a natural progression.

Having become one of the most important jazz pianists of this century, and dabbled in classical-flavored music, film scores, and even performances of popular music (by Oasis Soundgarden and Nick Drake, to name just a few of the artists he's covered), Mehldau has finally gotten around to recording this album of five pieces by one of the greatest keyboard improvisers in history. Mehldau's method here is to play a more or less straight version of a Bach prelude or fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 846–893, followed by his own "After Bach" reimagining of the same piece.

Robert Levine  |  Apr 20, 2018  |  2 comments
Monteverdi: Vespers 1610
Joanne Lunn, Esther Brazil, sopranos; Amy Lyddon, Rory McCleery, altos; Joshua Ellicott, Matthew Long, Nicholas Mulroy, Peter Harris, tenors; Peter Harvey, William Gaunt, bass; Dunedin Consort, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts; John Butt
Linn CKD 569 (2 CDs). 2017. Phil Hobbs, prod.; Robert Cammidge, eng. DDD. TT: 94:00
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

As the old joke does not go, How do you get to the Papal Chapel? Audition, audition, audition. There you are, gifted and, for the early 1600s, relatively famous. You practically invented opera. You've worked for years at what seems a cushy job as the court composer to the Dukes of Gonzaga in Mantua, but you're underpaid, and feeling as if you need and deserve more. And so you self-publish, under the title Vespers 1610, a 90-minute collection—psalm settings, a motet, a hymn, a Magnificat—that highlights all of your compositional gifts.

John Atkinson  |  Mar 20, 2018  |  29 comments
Radka Toneff & Steve Dobrogosz: Fairytales: Original Master Edition (MQA)
Odin LP03 (original LP, 1982); Odin CD9561 (24-bit/48kHz MQA-encoded FLAC file; Tidal Masters stream; hybrid MQA-CD; original sample rate 192kHz; 2017). Arild Andersen, prod. (1982, 2017); Andreas Risanger Meland, exec. prod. (2017); Tore Skille, Tom Sætre, original engs.; Svein Vatshaug, Rune Sund Nordmark, recorder restoration; Thomas Baårdsen, Geir Iversen, digital transfer of original tapes; Morten Lindberg, Peter Craven, Bob Stuart, digital restoration; Erik Gard Amundsen, technical advisor. DAA (original LP); DDD (MQA). Except: "My Funny Valentine," ADA (LP), ADD (MQA). TT: 40:11
Performance ******
Sonics ******

"See her how she flies . . ." When I first heard that lyric, from Jim Webb's "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress," sung by a hauntingly fragile woman's voice and supported by a sparse yet lyrical piano accompaniment, at an audio show in 1983, I got chills. Who was this empathetic singer? Back in my cabaret-musician days, more than four decades ago, I backed so many singers with beautiful-sounding pipes but who didn't seem to comprehend the meaning of the words—yet this unknown woman directly communicated the song's emotion.

Robert Baird  |  Feb 13, 2018  |  8 comments
Willie Nelson: Stardust
Columbia/Analogue Productions AAPP 116-45 (2 45rpm LPs). 1978/2017. Booker T. Jones, prod.; Donivan Cowart, Bradley Hartman, engs.; Bernie Grundman, mastering. AAA. TT: 43:28
Performance *****
Sonics *****

In Nashville in the early 1960s, Willie Nelson hit his low point. He'd failed at singing and writing country music, and one snowy night, after a liberal drowning of his troubles at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, he decided to totter outside and lie down in the middle of Lower Broadway. In subsequent retellings of the tale, he's always maintained that he wasn't trying to kill himself. For that, he had a pistol.

Robert Baird  |  Jan 18, 2018  |  21 comments
Chopin's Last Waltz
Chopin: Ballade 4 in f, Op.52; Fantasie in f, Op.49; Mazurka in c-sharp, Op.63 No.3; Mazurka in f, Op.68 No.4; Nocturne in E-flat, Op.62 No.2; Prelude in c-sharp, Op.45; Valse in A-flat, Op.64 No.3
Robert Silverman, piano
IsoMike 5606 (LP). 2017. Available from Acoustic Sounds and other on-line retailers; DSD files available from NativeDSD, www.nativedsd.com. Ellen Silverman, prod.; Ray Kimber, Aaron Hubbard, engs. DDA TT: 50:05
Performance *****
Sonics *****

At the 2017 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Ray Kimber was beginning to feel a little antsy. He'd just released his first LP, Chopin's Last Waltz, an all-Chopin program performed by pianist Robert Silverman, and while being part of the rush to re-embrace vinyl sounds great, pressing your first-ever long player can be a bit nerve-racking.

Robert Baird  |  Dec 21, 2017  |  12 comments
In 2010, down in the East Village, on Delancey Street, at the NYC debut party for Robert Plant's Band of Joy, the assembled rock press, assorted hangers-on, and wannabe VIPs patiently sipped drinks as we waited for the guest of honor. Suddenly, with no fanfare or even announcement, he stepped out of a closet or secret passage of sorts into a roomful of astonished smiles. He'd been there all along.
Robert Baird  |  Nov 14, 2017  |  1 comments
Christian McBride Big Band: Bringin' It
Mack Avenue Mac 1115 (CD). 2017. Gretchen Valade, exec prod.; Christian McBride, prod.; Todd Whitelock, assoc. prod., eng.; Timothy Marchiafava, asst. eng. ADD? TT: 68:59
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

As musical movements go, rock and jazz seem to be running out of new ideas, most of the stylistic pathways in both genres having been explored to their logical conclusions. In rock in particular, every stream of inspiration has been followed past its headwaters, every droplet of inspiration wrung from established forms.

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  |  4 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.

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