Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Danny Kaye
"The Best of Danny Kaye"

This 2-LP set is beautifully presented on the Decca label with technicolored LP labels and a mini-booklet inside the gatefold.

I don't recognize any of these songs from any of his movies, but they're entertaining none the less, with Mr. Kaye putting on different hats as the music dictates.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Laredo, Solow, Parnas, etc.
"Music from Marlboro: Ravel"

This album includes both Ravel's piano trio and sonata for violin and cello.

The performances were captured live at recitals at the Marlboro festival, but they don't sound like many "live" classical performances; here the production is thoughtful and the recording is balanced and even.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Dead Weather
"Sea of Cowards"

Jack White, discontent with ever being stagnant, welds this new ensemble together out of spare body parts and puts himself in the role of motorizing the band with his drumming.

This is the Dead Weather's second album, and I believe it is infinitely better than their first. The first wasn't bad, but I think the band just hadn't quite figured out how they could combine their musical sorcery most effectively yet.

This album is dark, sinister and is one of the hardest rocking albums of the last couple of years. Jack White's drumming is yet another opportunity to show the rest of music how it should be done.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Harry Nilsson
"A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night"

Harry Nilsson made this American jazz standards album in 1973, before such a project existed (and was ripped off by every rock n' roller bored with their current occupation.)

His voice is beautiful and the arrangements are really top-notch (Sinatra arranger Gordon Jenkins loaned his talents.)

Dionne Warwick

Released in 1969, this was Ms. Warwick's first departure from working with Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Meant to highlight the singer as an R&B singer instead of the soft pop she had become famous for when working with Bacharach (and perhaps tying her back to her "black" roots) this is a cover of a lot of "pop-y" R&B-y standards made famous by the likes of the Everly Brothers, the Rascals and the Beatles.

Not making too much of a break from her musical traditions, however, make the arrangement and production on this record pretty soft around the edges.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Emerson String Quartet
"Shostakovich: String Quartet no. 10"

Composed in 1964, this quartet is deceptively deep despite its brief length (22 min.)
Written for the Beethoven Quartet (as many of his late quartets were) the 10th quartet retains some of the whimsy of his middle quartets but begins to turn in tone and timbre towards the more introspective commentary that becomes familiar in his late quartets.

This is also more homework for future music-learning.

Kronos Quartet
"Gorecki - String Quartets no. 1 & 2"

Recorded in the early 90's and released in 1993, this CD, along with Dawn Upshaw/David Zinman's recording of Gorecki's third symphony pushed Gorecki's music into the American consciousness.

I'll admit, this is partially homework. I'm considering learning the second string quartet soon and I wasn't familiar with it at all.
It's equal parts serialism and minimalism; certainly not everyone's cup of tea, but it is a striking work, and Kronos gives (of course) a haunting, incredible performance on this recording.

Some would say Gorecki is the Bruckner of our age, and I think that means his music will come to an even greater appreciation as the decades progress.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Haitink, London Philharmonic
"Shostakovich: Symphony no. 7 "Leningrad"

A four-sided LP is needed to contain Shostakovich's mammoth 7th symphony, universally rearded as a "war symphony" and the composer's response to the siege of Leningrad during World War II.

The symphony starts in such a sweeping, dramatic way it's hard to believe it's Shostakovich. Still, it would seem that Shostakovich had a unique motivation when writing the work. Regardless of his personal beliefs of and censorship by the Soviet government, the struggle against the Nazis was a universal one, and Shostakovich sought to unify energies against the great evil of the 20th century.

The B-52's
"The B-52's"

The debut from the New Wave Surf Rockers, this album was released in 1979, well before their biggest hit, "Love Shack." For me, that's just fine, as I prefer the unadulterated New Wave bent this album takes.

Combine this sensibility with the beehive-wearing party-chic timbre and you have something that can only be out-weirded by the vocal stylings of Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson.

I love this album.

Nickel Creek
"This Side"

Nickel Creek's sophomore album is more of the beautifully crafted pop-jazz-bluegrass fusion that has earned the group legions of fans worldwide.

There's no real clear distinction from one album to the next for me. Some people want to say that Nickel Creek explored more specific genres from one album to the next, but for me each album is just a continuation of the band's exploration of their genre-blurring talents.

This album is wonderful to listen to. Carefully recorded and mixed, its like candy to the ears.

Burt Bacharach
"Greatest Hits"

I have about three "greatest hits" albums by Mr. Bacharach. I don't suppose they all need to stay, but every time I start listening to one of these records I'm reminded of why I love his music.

For starters, there's the production: this record was released on A&M, and you can hear the smokey smooth Herb Alpert influence, the hollywood strings and soft jazzy sentiment.

The arrangements are just so pleasing to listen to. The strings are full of tiny harmonies that attract the ear and point to new harmonic ideas, the jazz combo gives a (then) contemporary drive.

...and then there's the songs, many of which I knew before I knew Mr. Bacharach. The songs are timeless, even if they are cheesy, and will be listened to, covered, sampled and remembered along with the greatest of the 20th century.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Before we go any further, I must call attention that we've now passed the most previously prolific year for posting on Turtles n' Cream. Go me.

Amy Winehouse
"Back to Black"

Without devolving into jokes about the untimely demise of Ms. Winehouse, its worth mentioning the impact that this album made on the public consciousness when it was released in 2006.

Complete with her beehive-toting Suicide Girl persona, Amy Winehouse thrust a musical style back into the spotlight. Erroneously, of course, the young public perceives that Ms. Winehouse invented this style of music.

This album suffers from the traditional big-label problem: a couple of stellar radio-friendly hits and then several songs that you've never heard of before.

I think we owe Amy a debt of gratitude. Because of her trailblazing, bands like Sharon Jones & the Dapkings, Charles Bradley, Lee Fields, the Budos Band etc. have found much much larger audiences as a new generation of listeners discover old-school funk and soul.

For that alone, Ms. Winehouse, I am indebted to you.

Chilingirian Quartet
"Korngold: String Quartets 1 & 3"

Recorded in 1976, this CD release of two of Korngold's quartets was surely a labor of love at the time. Korngold and his music was often overlooked for the decades immediately following his death. His work in Hollywood gave him the reputation among many reputable musicians for being a "film composer."

These quartets tell a different story, however. They are perhaps not as inventive as Bartok, but they pull from a compelling assortment of influences. They remind me a lot of intricate Prokofiev quartets, alternating between complex technical work and open, sonorous folk-like melodies. I very much want to learn these quartets now.

Miles Davis Quintet
"Miles Smiles"

Released in 1967, this was recorded with Davis' "second great quintet" lineup that included a young Herbie Hancock on piano.

It's remarkable how quickly the New York jazz scene evolved from Davis' records in the 1950's to 1967 where the exploration of tolerances is pretty obvious.

There's something about listening to jazz on vinyl that makes me feel better than everyone else...

Jarre, London Philharmonic
"Lawrence of Arabia Soundtrack"

In the spirit of the great film soundtracks, this score is both sweeping, dramatic and colorful.
We have John Williams to thank for saving the symphony orchestra's role as the primary tool of choice for films. When 'Lawrence' came out it was still in its heyday, and this soundtrack is probably as remembered a part of the film as Mr. O'Toole's eyes or the 65 mm super panorama filming.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Led Zeppelin
(CD + Vinyl)

It's hard to point to a "best" Zeppelin album. I'm sure people have their favorites, but their first six albums are all such monoliths in the hard rock canon they should all be put in one box set when compiling the "desert island" list.

Includes the hits 'Ramble on,' 'Moby Dick,' 'Whole Lotta Love' and much much more!(!!)

It's a testament to the abilities of the band that when it came to hard-riffing grooves I've never heard another band that locked in like the combo of Page, Bonham and Jones.

Richter, Leinsdorf
"Brahms: Piano Concerto no. 2"

Recorded only days after Richter's debut in Chicago in 1960, this recording was done in one day.
The back jacket is bubbling with praise and hyperbole for Richter's reception in the US. The short version: Richter is very good, and it's neat knowing just a piece of the back story of what went into this recording.

I have a mono pressing, which is interesting to hear, and further reinforces a growing sentiment that the advent of stereo was more of a push by salesmen eager to sell twice as many loudspeakers as they had been.
There's a beautiful, delicate clarity to this recording that I don't often hear done any better.

Tokyo String Quartet
"Schubert: Death & the Maiden, Quartettstatz"

The Tokyo String Quartet was my first truly professional quartet concert that I saw. At the time they were still 3/4 of their original members with Peter Oundjian playing first violin.
Since then I've always regarded the Tokyo quartet as one of the finest quartets of their generation. Whether this could really hold true in a more mature analysis, I don't really care to know.

This performance is great, of course, but the recording itself is puzzling. Either there's something wrong with my stereo this morning or there's a very "covered" sensibility to the record, which makes it feel as though half of the recorded range is being dampened.
This record came out in 1983, (simultaneously available on chromium-dioxide cassette!) and I fear that at the dawn of the age of widespread digital recording the production considerations for analog formats like vinyl were being pushed aside.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Flaming Lips
"The Soft Bulletin"

The Flaming Lips' ninth album could still be considered their first breakthrough work. It's probably the first album that most fans know about.

The Lips have never been concerned with making music that anyone really wanted to listen to, and its a refreshing change. That being said, I don't always want to listen to the Flaming Lips, and unless I'm in the mood for their weird boingo sensibilities the music rarely moves me.

This is, in many senses, as good as they've gotten so far. The songs are sprawling, but remain memorable. The production is cacophonous, but remains hooky.
Steve Drozd is the unrecognized backbone of the Flaming Lips. His drumming on this record is some of the funkiest, driving beats that really can't be over-emphasized in its importance to the band.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Imai, London Philharmonic
"Walton Viola Concerto, etc."

An imported Chandos recording, this features (in addition to the viola concerto) Walton's suite for string orchestra and his Hindemith variations.

I almost exclusively own this recording because of Ms. Imai's recording of the viola concerto. One of the pillars of viola literature, the Walton is the most traditionally romantic work in the instrument's canon. Ms. Imai's interpretation shows why she's a hero of the instrument.

Mark O'Connor

An album of duets, this is Mark O'Connor playing classic instrumental jazz tunes along with the artists who made them famous including Jean-Luc Ponty, Charlie Daniels and Stephan Grapelli.

If I'm not a fan of synthesizers and electric pianos you can imagine my attitude toward electric violins.
It's an interesting concept, but its execution is probably only for more hardcore O'Connor fans than I.

Four Tet

Kieran Hebdan's alter-ego's 2003 album drove me many a mile across an otherwise boring stretch of Northwest Ohio.

I can't quite remember where I first heard Four Tet's music, but I'm pretty sure it was the song "My Angel Rocks Back and Forth" which led me to finding this, a whole album of trippy, compound-meter "folktronic" wanderings.

Mr. Hebdan considers his music a blend of electronic and acoustic influences and for me it's a good recipe. Too little drum beat or mandolin and things are lost in a digital soundscape.

Lionel Hampton

This is a collection of many jazz standards released later in Hampton's lengthy career (1977) but it doesn't seem that much changed in Mr. Hampton's recipe.

I first encountered Lionel Hampton as a co-star in the Danny Kaye film "A Song is Born" which also starred the likes of Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. I've found a few records of his over the years; like many of them, they've not really been listened to.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Herbie Hancock
"Future Shock"

Mr. Hancock's musical evolution ever continues. This foray (from 1983) features the hit "Rockit" which the most casual listener will recognize from its heavy sampling in pop culture and music.

This album is a funky, jazzy moog-infused synthesized trip; there's nothing wrong here, but my batting average with overtly sythensized music from the 80's remains unbroken: I'm not feelin' it, yo.

Lee Fields & the Expressions
"My World"

Another Daptone release, Lee Fields favors a softer, more melancholic soul than his fellow Daptonian musicians. There are fewer upbeat numbers, but each tune is still seeping with a heavy languish and sweat-soaked yearning.

As usual, the record sounds great.

Andres Segovia
"Segovia and the Guitar"

I'm discovering a new love for records of a certain age.

After the age of 78's (those heavy, brittle shellac 12-inch discs that held about 15 minutes of music) and before the age of the Beatles there was a high-water point where recording capabilities met reproduction capabilities. The result are some of the most beautiful recordings I've heard. Thus far they've been by artists like Sinatra and the Dick Clark Five, but classical music perhaps benefited the most. A well-preserved album from the Mercury or Decca label will bring huge amounts of money, and not just for their beautifully thought-out full-color jackets, picture sleeves and heavy vinyl discs. The recordings themselves are some of the most beautiful I've yet to hear.

This particular disc has collected some dirt and could benefit from a careful cleaning, but even the occasional pop and crackle can't distract from the beautiful playing and wonderful recording.

Some of these are Segovia's own transcriptions of Josquin and Scarlatti. If Primrose elevated viola artistry to the public consciousness then Segovia did the same for classical guitar.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Them Crooked Vultures
"Them Crooked Vultures"

This goes into a sad collection of records that I shouldn't have bought on vinyl. Wolfmother's "Cosmic Egg" is another.
The reality is that these successful bands, signed to big labels, don't mix their album for a vinyl release, but put the same mix they release on CD out on vinyl. The result is a very compressed, thin sounding record.

The music is much more interesting and compelling than most, (thanks to the musicians in the room) but I was so distracted by the disappointing sounds coming from the record that I must officially put this album in the "Better Bought on CD" category.

The Ventures
"$1,000,000,000 Weekend"

If I had to file this stylistically in my collection it'd go right next to the prime-era Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. There's something that just sounds "right" about these recordings.
They're fun to listen to, they're oddly contemporary and yet sublimely innocent. You can just see a bevy of teenagers twisting in their parent's basement to the hi-fi playing the Ventures' instrumental covers of mop-haired Beatles tunes.

The Ventures remain the world's best-selling instrumental group which is no small accomplishment. I'm less familiar with anything they've done past the 60's-70's, but even then their sensitivity and creativity was enough to get you to listen to their version of "Respect"

Monday, February 13, 2012

the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
"Show Your Bones"
(Vinyl + CD)

The YYY's second full-length album was released in 2006. To date, I believe this their high-water mark. Of course when you've only released three albums, its not too hard to make that decision.

They considered this a re-invention of their sound; I consider it an evolution of their debut album's sound. The sound is leaner, tighter and meaner, but it's still very much the Yeah Yeah Yeah's.

I rocked this album a lot in 2006-2007. After hearing it again I remember why.

Ray Charles
"Spotlight on Ray Charles vol. II"

These aren't necessarily the best recordings, (the vocals are actually awful) but it does capture a young Ray Charles presented by the Pickwick label in a cherry-picked example of the "new sounds" in country and blues music.
These aren't the most high energy songs, so it makes me think that this record was pointed towards older, white buyers who had the option of also buying "spotlight" records for artists like Sammy Davis Jr, Noro Morales, the Dorsey Bros. and David Oistrakh.

The Beatles
"Let it Be"

Released as the Beatles' final album, it was actually recorded before much of the session work for 'Abbey Road,' but regardless of these semantics, 'Let it Be' has become known as the Beatles' bittersweet swan song.
This is a Captiol re-issue with Phil Spector's production.

I think the sadness of the Beatles' end overshadows this record unfairly. There are a lot of good songs and despite the melancholy timbre there's no reason this shouldn't be a welcome addition into any Beatles fan's collection.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Chet Baker
"The Best of Chet Baker Sings"

Chet Baker's career as an emissary of West Coast 'cool school' jazz is only partially reflected in this collection of songs. Even more absent is a sense of the tumultuous personal life that followed him around in the coming decades.

All of these songs were recorded between 1953 - '56, right around the time when he found fame while teaming up with Gerry Mulligan.
While known principally as a trumpet player (which he does on this record) there was a time where he was known as a jazz crooner, covering standards with a very mellow, gentle touch.

This career ambition was never received well by the hardcore jazz followers, but I, for one, think they're pretty nice and are the perfect way to spend a sunny morning.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Heifetz, Piatigorsky, Primrose, Pennario
"Franck - Quintett, Brahms Sextet"

Part of a lengthy series of recordings that began as Heifetz and Piatigorsky enjoying playing chamber music in their own homes eventually led to the inclusion of other great recording artists of the early 20th century.

The Franck quintet isn't as famous as his quartet, but it's a notable work. The real fun piece (for me, anyway) to hear is the Brahms sextet which features some of the gnarlier writing for viola in romantic chamber music writing.

Leontyne Price, Andre Previn
"Right as the Rain"

In college I was presented with the notion that the American songbooks were quickly being adopted by my generation's opera singers as part of the canon of literature. As it turns out, this is kind of an old idea.
This record, released in 1967, is exactly the sort of thing that we've seen in the last couple of decades from the likes of Sylvia McNair and Thomas Hampson.
Broadway standards are wrapped in new arrangements by the always-terrific Andre Previn and vary from full orchestral scores to solo piano.

I'm not the biggest fan of Ms. Price's voice, but I can appreciate the project.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Peggy Lee, Quincy Jones
"Blues Cross Country"

Peggy Lee records a jazzy blues record with Quincy Jones arranging and conducting the orchestra.
Released in 1962, this conception of the blues is very 'big band' still and very 'white friendly.'
Quincy Jones gives a big, splashy treatment to the backing ensemble.

Aside from that, I don't have too many hard opinions about this record. Sinatra and Ella did this style of music much better.

Ormandy, Philadelphia Orchestra
"Sibelius: Symphony no. 2"

Considering the renewed interest in Sibelius' music over the last decade (and the rising popularity of modern Finnish proponents like Osmo Vanska) Sibelius has developed his own flavor and distinct treatment.

Ormandy's treatment of Sibelius' second symphony feels a little Germanic, in all honesty.

Also, I'm curious to listen and compare more of Ormandy's recordings with other contemporaries. The choice to record the winds closely creates a distinct, artificial blend of colors that would be impossible to recreate in live performance. An interesting choice.
It's been a long weekend. Being sick hasn't helped. Here we go:

Radio Moscow
"Radio Moscow"

The debut album from Iowa's psychedelic rock trio Radio Moscow is a lot of fun and demonstrates one thing that the 21st century has been good at thus far: regurgitating the greatest from yester-year for a new generation of listeners.

There isn't anything that Radio is doing that wasn't done by Cream, the Experience or Zeppelin. But it's nice to hear a good version because, after all, the music was better then.

This band was discovered by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and this album was produced and engineered by Auerbach.
The band even released this album on Alive Naturalsound, the same label that the Keys released their debut.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Jimmy Witherspoon
"Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival"

Recorded live in 1960, this shows a very jazzy Witherspoon bluesing it up with the likes of Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Woody Herman etc.
There was no rehearsal for this set - according to story Jimmy Witherspoon walked on stage with the musicians who had played before him and shouted "Down Home in A-flat!" and away they went.

It's pretty cool to have this sort of performance on record like this.

Jonathan and Darlene Edwards
"Sing-Along with Jonathan & Darlene Edwards"

Let me just start by saying that I'm really happy to find out this is a parody record.

When the needle dropped on this record I was in shock. Perhaps Darlene Edwards was the daughter of a label owner, so convinced of his daughter's talent that he shamelessly promoted this record...?

Thankfully, this record is a tongue-in-cheek response to the popular Mitch Miller records that were making their way onto many hi-fi's in the 1960's.

This album should more accurately be considered "the art of the screw-up." Both Darlene and Jonathan Edwards (the tin-eared alter-egos of Jo Stafford and Paul Weston) are fumbling through this record, Jonathan letting his hands consistently stray from their targets on the keyboard and Darlene has a remarkably consistent half-tone flat sense of intonation.

Stafford and Weston won a grammy in 1961 for their "Jon and Darlene in Paris" album. This follow-up features album artwork by Jack Davis (of MAD Magazine fame) that has perhaps made this album more famous than the music on it.

Friday, February 03, 2012

"Pierrot Lunaire"

Schoenberg has come to represent an entire generation of early 20th-century musical thought; in the wake of symphonic behemoths like Mahler and Bruckner Schoenberg (along with Berg and Webern) offered a completely contrary attitude towards art music.
Among Schoenberg's works perhaps none is more indicative of this "new direction" than 'Pierrot Lunaire', a song cycle (of sorts) which features a mixed instrumental ensemble and vocal recitation all about the clown Pierrot and his companion, the moon.

Its not a piece of music for everyone. I'm pretty sure my dad would be running for the hills.
This particular recording is useful, however. Recorded in 1942, Schoenberg himself is conducting the ensemble.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Hollies
"Greatest Hits"

One of Britain's big 60's pop groups. They got their start alongside the Stones and Beatles but took a very different track.
Graham Nash had an early start in this group before his work with Crosby, Stills & Whomever, etc...

Most of the songs on here I knew from a distant fondness for 'oldies' radio stations, and they're still just as enjoyable.
Ah, for a day when the pop music actually used melodies...

The Cleveland Quartet
"Beethoven String Quartet op. 130 & Grosse Fugue"

This is part of the older generation (Weilerstein) Cleveland Quartet's Beethoven recordings. For the life of me I still don't know if this quartet recorded Beethoven's early quartets or not.
Their playing is magnificent; I'm certainly partially biased, having studied chamber music with Peter Salaff for four years, but beyond this, the Cleveland Quartet has always been marked by sparkling, intimate and nuanced performances unlike any other quartet.

Beethoven was going all prog rock with his quartets by the time he made it to his opus 100's. The form becomes secondary, movements begin to sprawl and I think it is a very good barometer that when you understand and appreciate Beethoven's late quartets you've reached a modicum of understanding of classical music.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Steven Isserlis, Peter Evans
"Martinu: Cello Sonatas"

I don't know these pieces very well, but the little bit of Martinu I've played tells me that these pieces were constructed using a lot of Martinu's favorite toys: rhythmic interplay and poly-melodic writing.

Isserlis lends his inimitable energy (which is lessened when you can't actually see him,) and the recording itself is really very nice.


Bjork was being weird before being weird (musically) was cool.
This album (her second) was released in 1993 and is largely a collection of love songs.
This album provided a couple of Bjork's hits including 'Human Behavior' and 'Big Time Sensuality' but aside from these well-known songs much of this album descends into free-form house and groove patterns that doesn't leave too much to hang onto.

Oscar Peterson Trio
"West Side Story"

Covers of some the best music from the last fifty years by one of the best jazz combos of the last fifty years. What more needs to be said?

This is an original Verve pressing that's been scuffed pretty badly in places, so this may have to be reserved to play on my back-up system so I don't risk bouncing my Grado Gold off of a pothole.

But otherwise, it's cool, baby, cool...