Sunday, September 30, 2012

Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck
"Music for Two" (CD)

Keeping with his own tradition, Edgar Meyer toured the nation with Bela Fleck giving performances of all of the music from "Music for Two" before going into the studio and laying down final, polished versions of these songs. 
It's a good strategy: find out what works and get some burn-in time while building an audience for this unusual blend of classical, bluegrass, folk and jazz.

If there is a bigger name in this genre-bending field than Meyer it is Fleck, and the two seem very relaxed around each other.  Taking time to play off of the others' strengths, both superstars whirl around the other, showing off their skillz with original tunes and (unusual) covers of baroque works.
The Pretenders
"Learning to Crawl" (Vinyl)

I reviewed the Pretenders' debut album here a bit ago.  It narrowly avoided down-sizing, mostly thanks to its song-writing.  Such is my growing distaste for the glossy veneer of 80's record production that both of their records in my collection made it onto the "may go" pile. 

Oddly enough, this album also will live to die another day. Yes, I'm not a fan of the super echo ladeled onto every instrument, but there's just something about the songs that seem worthwhile.

I know I'm setting the New Wave fans into a frenzy right now, and that's okay.  This is my blog, not yours.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The White Stripes
"Under Blackpool Lights" (DVD)

Okay, yes, this is a concert movie, not an album. 
Okay, yes, this is NOT what we are doing on this blog.

But it's my blog, and I get to change the rules whenever I want.

Besides, how much more closely tied to the mission of this blog could I get and still be "off topic?"  My favorite band playing my favorite songs.  Close enough.

Future kiddies will be welcome that the White Stripes recorded themselves in January of 2004.  It captures the White Stripes doing what they do best: playing live.  Yes, their albums sizzle with earnest frenzy, but when playing live this boils over into a blistering rage of distortion and chaos. 

I'm sure there are old people who think "this is rock n' roll?! sounds like noise to me..." and they'd be right.  This is obscenely noisy music.  And that is exactly what the people needed/wanted.

Friday, September 28, 2012

King's College Choir, Bowman, Ledger, etc.
"Bernstein: Chichester Psalms" (Vinyl)

Leonard Bernstein enjoyed rare celebrity status for a classical musician in the 20th century.  As conductor of the New York Philharmonic and composer, ("West Side Story") Bernstein walked comfortably in many different shoes. 

This work, commissioned for the 1965 Three Choirs Festival in Chichester, was scored for an unusual combination of instruments including strings, three trumpets (not two,) three trombones (not five,) two harps, percussion, organ, chorus...oh, and a counter tenor.  In case you're not aware, a counter tenor fills the shoes previously occupied by the castrato.  Since we're not so much into doing that these days, they've found other ways of solving that problem.

I began listening to this record thinking it was a contender for the very worst sounding recording I owned, but after realizing the unusual group of musicians it uses, I'm not sure there is a good way of recording this work.  The strings are very quiet, the organ sounds like they used a microphone pressed against the opposite side of a cathedral from the pipes, the harps are very closely, deliberately miked and both the counter tenor soloist and chorus sound like they might have their backs turned to the microphone.

So, I ask those multiple recording engineers who regularly scour my blog, how would you handle that circus?
James Brown
"20 All-Time Greatest Hits!" (CD)

Having collected five or six different albums by James Brown, I now realize the challenge presented to anyone who wants to create a "best of" collection.
Brown's unique brand of energy does not translate well to traditional studio recording.  Either you have a fifteen minute drum break (B-side of "Funky Drummer") with James chanting "funky drummer" over the beat, or you get tight instrumental riffs and Brown audibly dancing around the microphone.

To capture on one album the energy, the soul and the fire with which Brown's band played is no small feat.  To see James Brown live in the 1960's would surely be one of the most memorable concerts of my life; to hear it on a recording is a distant consolation prize.  This album does the best one could do under these circumstances.  It has all of the "hits," capturing Brown's band at its tightest and funkiest while not resorting to live concert recordings.  If you were compiling a desert island list, I would strongly suggest this gets put on it.
The Heavy
"The House That Dirt Built" (Vinyl)

More of a collection of influences than its own "thing," "The House That Dirt Built" is a fun collection of unfocused tunes.

Propelled by the success of the radio hit "How You Like Me Now?" (which is actually where I first heard them: as the soundtrack to some Kia car commercial) the rest of the album lacks the same propulsion and wanders from one recycled genre to the next; all equally interesting but all equally out of place.

I'm listening to this on my "mid-fi" which does little for clearly distinguishing one noise from the next, so it's unfair to talk about the production of this album; it'll have to get spun on the SOTA for a more honest assessment.
Benny Goodman
"B.G. in Hi-Fi" (Vinyl)

I first encountered Benny Goodman in a Danny Kaye movie called "A Song is Born" which also introduced me to the likes of Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton.  It was also where I had my as-of-yet unrealized dream of learning to play boogie woogie piano.
That's quite a lot for a single movie.  And to think that Goodman, who played one of the long-haired classical-turn-jazzer professors in the film, was already world famous by the time that movie was made.

From his infamous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert (which will be reviewed here at some point) to his integrated jazz combos, Goodman was ahead of the curve when it came to doing what needed to be done, both musically and culturally.

This album was released in 1954, is a collection of swing tunes including "Stompin' at the Savoy" which instantly transport anyone within it's listening radius to another time and mood.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Dave Brubeck Quartet
"My Favorite Things" (Vinyl)

Friends know of my personal affectation for Mr. Brubeck.  No, it has nothing to do with a deeper technical understanding or philosophical agreement with his approach to jazz.  He's simply one of the few jazz greats I've had the honor of playing with live in concert.

Ever since then, I've enjoyed his recordings in a more personal way. (Starting with "Take Five" and working outwards...) This album was in a long line of albums released in the 60's by the classic Quartet line-up which included Paul Desmond on alto sax (my fav.)

This is Brubeck & Co's take on the Richard Rodgers songbook.  Some of the most famous tunes are here ("My Favorite Things") but also some lesser known works (to me) including "Circus on Parade" which was a Doris Day tune from something called "Jumbo."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

John Coltrane
"Giant Steps" (CD)

Coltrane's fifth album was also one of his break-throughs.  Released in 1960, this album is where Coltrane showed off "Coltrane changes" which is still a gauntlet that young jazzers must master when learning jazz improvisation.

There really isn't anything quite like having jazz playing on the hi-fi. I don't care who ya are.
An Die Musik
"Dohnanyi & Martinu: Chamber Music"(Vinyl)

The Musical Heritage Society (now known as Passionato) was like a jelly-of-the-month club; members (willing or otherwise) would receive recordings in the mail.  The bad news: they all looked like leftovers from Soviet newsprint.  The good news: often times the performances and the repertoire was world class.  You just had to be bored enough one day to pick up this bland, lifeless looking record and will yourself to put it on the turntable.

This particular recording will stay with me because having recordings of both Martinu's "3 Madrigals for violin & viola" and Dohnanyi's "Serenade for violin, viola and cello" are not terribly easy to come by.  They're both really fun, entertaining works to both perform and hear, but they're just off the everyday radar for most listeners.

Canned Heat
"Cookbook" (Vinyl)

In my humble opinion, one of the most important things to happen to American music in the 1960's was the resurgence in popularity of the blues.   While many different musicians are given credit for bringing this music to the world's awareness again (Keith Richards, Jimmy Page,) neither the Stones or Zeppelin was as devoted so purely to playing this music as Canned Heat.

Taking their name from a reference to a Tommy Johnson tune (recorded in 1928) these boys believed dearly in preserving the blues as a musical style and expression.

Probably known most today for their captured performance at Woodstock, this collection is much of their "hippiest" best, drenched in flower power and fuzzy guitars.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Warren Zevon
"Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School" (Vinyl)

Musicians are always eager to embrace new technological advances in recording capabilities.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago about my fondness for Zevon's "Excitable Boy" in contrast to his 1986 album "Sentimental Hygiene" which I mostly lost interest in due to its glossy "80's veneer" of production.

This album fits somewhere in between those two albums.  Sadly, I am not terribly attracted to any of the songs on this album; "Play it All Night Long" is the only hit that came off of this record that I've heard otherwise.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Roberta Flack
"Quiet Fire" (Vinyl)

Released in 1971, this was Roberta Flack's third album.

What begins with a funky, afro-beat romp ("Go up Moses") quickly turns to Flack's cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

There's no lack of space for Roberta to stretch out and enjoy a melody.  I must say, I'm not particularly keen on her voice and she seems a little self-indulgent when it comes to her arrangements and how they serve her interpretations.

Shelley Berman
"Outside Shelley Berman" (Vinyl)

This spoken-word comedy album shoots straight out of the 60's night club culture when you still had to wear a fedora to set foot outside on a Saturday night.   Cigarette smoke clung to everything and a neck tie was a necessity.

Despite this very "grown up" sense, this album is squeaky clean, making jokes the way it was always done "back in the day," playing with the audience's intelligence rather than insulting it.   Comparing Mr. Berman's opening bit is about Kafka, it would seem we've come a long way when Louis C.K. opens a stand-up special exploring the shock effect of the words c***, f*** and n*****.

Warren Zevon
"Sentimental Hygiene" (Vinyl)

I am a big fan of Zevon's earlier "Excitable Boy"-era songs.  In fact, the album "Excitable Boy" (released in 1978) plays mostly like a greatest hits record of Zevon's output.   That's why exploring other regions of his output is tinged with apprehension for me.

Still, Zevon is held in such high regard by generations of music-makers and so its impossible to discount the importance of what he offers.  On this album (released in 1986) he's joined by a backing cast including Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers,) Michael Stipe and Bob Dylan.  Some fellows you've maybe heard of...

That being said, I just don't think this ranks real high on the creative-o-meter for Zevon. There's a reason it's been sitting in my "maybe" stack for a while.
"Out of Exile" (CD)

In 1997 Soundgarden broke up.
In 2000 Rage Against the Machine broke up.

In 2001 Chris Cornell joined Tom Morello & co. to form the first highly anticipated rock supergroup of the 21st century.

Too bad it pales in comparison to its ancestors.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate what these guys were trying to do.  I just don't think they ended up doing it that well.  Audioslave's debut album (reviewed earlier in this blog) was criticized for being "that Soundgarden singer being backed by Rage" and then this album showed off an ensemble that had "found its own voice."

Well, I don't really care.  I would (and do) listen to both my Soundgarden and Rage albums before my Audioslave records on a 5 to 1 ratio.

Two of Audioslave's albums have been sitting on my shelf for at least five years.  I've given them a very fair chance.  I don't think I need them any more.
Jack White
"Blunderbuss" (Vinyl)

I (finally) acquired this album to physically hold in my hands.  Now, following the strict set of self-imposed rules, I can actually do a write-up about this record.

Released in April 2012, this is probably the most recent album I now own.  It only took me five months to get it from mp3 to vinyl.

Jack White said in interviews at the time that this album was made up of songs that "didn't fit anywhere else."  (He was referring, of course, to any of the 85 different bands he records with.)
My first listen to this record was lukewarm, but it has crawled steadily under the skin. By now I've probably listened to this album 15 times front to back.   It may not be my favorite from Mr. Gillis, but it has already proven that it's not going away.
John Browning, Leonard Rose, George Szell
"Barber: Piano Concerto, Schuman: A Song of Orpheus" (Vinyl)

In honor of my second performance of this work next week, (my first being with John Kimura Parker with the Delaware Symphony) I had to dust off this recording.

This could be considered the definitive recording; it is the first one.
There certainly isn't any fanfare on the jacket.  I'm not sure if it's because of some aesthetic choice to be minimalist, or if the recording was rushed onto the shelves without adequate time to pretty up the cover.  Either way, I've landed my hands on a mono pressing of this which, considering its age, could be very desirable depending on the methods with which they originally recorded the orchestra.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Trio Italiano d'Archi
"Beethoven: String Trio op. 3" (Vinyl)

This Deutsche Grammophon box set includes all five string trios that Beethoven wrote.

The string trio never has really received composers' careful attention like the string quartet has.  There are some obvious shortcomings with this ensemble, but it has made the output by composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert particularly valuable to those musicians who choose this vehicle.

Beethoven's first string quartets are op. 18 - this trio, op. 3, dates much earlier in his compositional life.  While there's debate as to how seriously the work should be taken, (the liner notes with this album call the work merely "transitional,") its value to the oeuvre is high as one of few high-profile works written for the string trio.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Travelling Without Moving" (CD)

Guinness regards this as the best-selling funk album in history.
Arguments about musical labels aside, it's amazing to consider that during a point in the 90's this style of music was not only popular, but best-selling.

Equal parts jazz, disco, funk, pop and world, Jamiroquai stands in a unique column with only a few other bands that I regard as being unique to their time.  If they were 20 years earlier they probably would've enjoyed some success during the age of disco balls.

I first heard of Jamiroquai from some weird cellist kid that I went to music camp with.  He was always wearing Bob Marley t-shirts and beanie caps.  At the time, Jamiroquai was actually popular.  I wonder if he's still listening to them?
Dorati, Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra
"Bartok: Second Suite for Orchestra op. 4"

One of the true joys of finding recordings such as this on dusty record shelves is that often times, for whatever reason, they have never left the sleeve very often.  Perhaps they thought it would sound more like that Respighi work they liked, or someone told them it would be reminiscent of "Swan Lake."
However it turns out, when a recording doesn't get listened to much over the past 60 years it ends up in my hands in near-pristine condition.  For an original mono pressing of a Mercury recording, this is no small accomplishment.

I'm not familiar with this work; it was an earlier composition for Bartok: written during his Hungarian folk music gathering phase with Kodaly and then revised slightly in 1943, this recording features those revisions.  Bartok had just finished writing his "Concerto for Orchestra" in 1943, so his compositional style had grown quite substantially since the near-romantic stylings of some of this work.

The Minneapolis Symphony, talked about as a "stepping stone" for soon-to-be great conductors like Mitropoulos and Ormandy is helmed by the Hungarian Dorati and sounds refreshingly loose.  The violins aren't terribly together and small rhythmic and intonation errors have been preserved for all time.   It's a noteworthy item on this record as we have become so accustomed to sanitized "perfect" recordings.
In an age before editing and with repertoire that was surely unfamiliar to most people, a precise, exacting recording would have been nearly impossible.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

This is the 200th post of the year! I honestly didn't expect this to endure this long.  I must be really bored...

The Buffalo Killers
"Let it Ride" (Vinyl)

Coming out of the sleeve on a bright red vinyl record, this album was released in 2008 on the Alive! label and was produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach.

This band made up of shaggy, long -haired chubby boys from Cincinnati that seem to have no knowledge of what year it is.
With vocal harmonies that sound Cream-esque and a guitar sound that creates so much distortion it could knock your beer can over, the Gabbard brothers (plus drummer Joe) are writing songs for themselves to enjoy.  There's no pretense that they will be famous; just the knowledge they these steeped-in-southern rock tunes are exactly the sort of relaxed, harmonized tunes these boys want to be playing.
Marriner, St. Martin-in-the-Fields
"Bach: Brandenburg Concerto no. 6" (Vinyl)

Of the six Brandenburg concerti that Bach wrote, this one may have the most unique instrumental arrangement.

Featuring two violas as the solo voices, there are no violins in the ripieno, but instead two viola de gamba and no wind instruments.

This makes the timbre of the piece markedly different than his other concertos; not only does the entire work have a more luscious, dark sound, but the first movement is written in a very close canon between the two solo voices which gives the work an impression of a very ornate, highly organized wall of polyphonic sound.

Sir Neville Marriner has been at it for a long time with those boys with the funny sounding orchestra name (Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields) and you can see why.  For the solo parts on some of the more well-known concertos he collected the talents of Henryk Szeryng and Jean-Pierre Rampal.

Monday, September 17, 2012

This is my 260th album write-up! According to my remedial mathematic prowess I'm roughly 13% of the way on my journey.
Oh dear.

"Demon Days" (CD)

Damon Albarn's second outting with his all-virtual rock sensation was its biggest commercial success to date.

In my opinion, the Gorillaz have been on a set trajectory since their debut.  Their first album was terrific.  Their second less.  Their third forgettable.

This does have some monster hits on it, however.  Whether it be the radio hit "Feel Good Inc." or "Dirty Harry." (Although I'll still pick "Dare" every time.)

The fabricated persona of the Gorillaz reached its zenith with this album.  Their tours became technological tour-de-forces with projected 3D images of 2D, Noodle, Russel and Murdoc synchronized to the live performance.

The Gorillaz may be more of a foreshadowing of the future than we realize.  In an age when 2Pac can be resurrected at whim, what's to stop other virtual performances from becoming the norm? I can hardly wait to see the Beatles on their reunion tour.
Kurt Masur, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
"Brahms: Symphony no. 3" (Vinyl)

It occurred to me while traipsing around the living room in my underwear dancing to "Strange Brew" (see earlier post) that I hadn't heard Brahms' third symphony in a while.  I performed the fourth last season and am constantly learning excerpts from his second symphony, but the third has been off the longer.

The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra has one of the best names in the industry and the thrill of getting to say "Brahms by Kurt Masur with the Leipziger Gevanthausen Orchester" in your finest German accent is seconded only by listening to Krafwerk's "Autobahn."

Obviously this is a marvelous recording and I have nothing useful to say.

"Disraeli Gears" (Vinyl)

Entire books have been written on this band and on their break-through album, Disraeli Gears.  I'll spare you another lecture.

In 1967, when this album was released, Led Zeppelin and the Stones were reigning lords of heavy rock.  Along comes this superband of miscreants headlined by Eric Clapton and some of the best riff-centered rock was born.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Herb Hall Quartet
"Old Tyme Modern" (Vinyl)

Recorded in one day in 1969, this is an album by names now forgotten but Herb Hall was highly regarded during the Harlem jazz years.  For whatever reason, time passed him by. Mostly.

Then, in his seventies, they recorded this album full of jumpin' "old" style jazz tunes that are reminiscent of Dixieland and Bee Bop.

I don't know why this took so long for me to pull this off the shelf, but I always felt compelled: with a photo like that on the cover, it just had to be good.  It is.
Original Theatrical Cast
"The Wizard of Oz - Original Soundtrack" (Vinyl)

This is the original soundtrack from the 1939 film starring Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley and Frank Morgan.
What's odd about this recording is that it sounds exactly as if it were ripped from the film reel and slapped onto vinyl.

I'm accustomed to soundtracks being a collection of music used in the film that is usually beautifully presented, mixed and engineered in precise ways.  This record sounds more like someone held a tape recorder up to the theater loudspeaker and watched the entire movie.

Also, there is dialogue in between the songs which help tell the story, but it does make this less a "soundtrack" and more of a book on tape.

Still, what better way to start a morning when you have to go play a three-hour opera and then have an additional two and a half hour rehearsal in another state after that?!  We're not in Kansas any more...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

El Rego
"El Rego" (Vinyl)

Part of the Dap-tone label's ongoing crusade to bring the world some of forgotten names in funk and soul, "El Rego" is a kind of greatest hits collection from one of the biggest names in afro-soul that you've never heard.

Recorded in the 60's and 70's, these songs sound like they were taped in dusty basements and tents with only the barest of recording necessities.  Out of tune and only ever slightly together, Rego's band, the Commandos blazes through its tunes with the precision of a mule-drawn rickshaw.

None of this can distract from the simple enjoyment and infectious groove these African musicians are slapping together.   You can read more on El Rego at the Dap-tone website:
"Guero" (CD)

Beck's sixth album (wow, he's been around even longer than I thought) was released in 2005, just in time for my last year of graduate studies.  This CD pumped my car all across Cleveland and often the first memories of these songs are different routes I would take across the city on my way to various shenanigans.

Viewed as a return to "Odelay" style music-making, Beck hit several greatest-hit style buttons with the tracks on this album. Beginning with "E-Pro," probably Beck's most radio-friendly hit to date, he travels through several channels with songs like "Girl," "Hell Yes" and "Go it Alone."

Ever the chameleon with his too-cool-for-school mentality, it is not my favorite Beck album, but I won't hold it against anyone who say its theirs.
"Comfort Eagle" (CD)

Released in 2001, this album is definitely old news, but its Cake's unorthodoxly cool plaid-clad fedora-wearing hipster ethos that seems to keep this album near the top of my stack.

I first encountered Cake after hearing "The Distance" from their 1996 album "Fashion Nugget." It made the rounds in my college dormitory and was a favorite.

The off-the-wall kindasorta Ska vibe that Cake channeled was already passing by the time "Comfort Eagle" came out, but that didn't seem to phase Cake at all who knew that when you have a good thing, you don't mess with it.

Chunky bass lines congeal with drum hooks to create the bedroom for everything from lyrics about opera singers, Rick James and brass riffs.  Always a ton of fun; I hope it always feels this ageless.
Talking Heads
"Remain in Light" (CD)

Released in 1980, this was the Heads' fourth album.  It was produced with the help of long-time conspirator Brian Eno.

Living and growing up in a post-Heads era, it is hard to understand the impact this album had on music since its repercussions have extended so widely.    Eno's use of recorded and looped accompaniment figures were revolutionary at the time, but are so day-to-day now it's hard to imagine the listener's initial reaction to such new sound making.

This is deservedly considered one of Talking Heads' best works. In addition to having a couple of their biggest hits on it, "Remain in Light" showed the way forward through the use of technology and world influences that has altered music-making for the last thirty years.

Yefim Bronfman, Essa-Pekka Salonen
"Bartok: The Three Piano Concertos" (CD)

Like Spielberg and Hanks, Bronfman's relationship with Salonen and the LA Phil has been well documented.  Literally.

This is a release on Sony's budget "essential classics" label which is one of the things that concerns musicians today: with such an extensive, wonderful back catalog of recordings, why would one buy a new recording of Beethoven 5 for $20 when you can get Solti's for $7?

Anyway, I haven't made it past Concerto no. 2 yet, but Bronfman has carved a niche for himself performing the giants of the 20th century literature.  Whether it be the weighty Bartok 3, (which Bartok completed for his wife to perform after his death) or his recording of Shostakovich's second concerto which was used by Disney in the film "Fantasia 2000," Bronfman's skills are perfectly lent to creating a tone and texture with these works.  Couple this with an ability to point out musical gems as they pass by and you have the perfect pianist to navigate a listener through these beautiful works.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Various Artists
"The Royal Tenenbaums - Original Soundtrack" (CD)

Wes Anderson's soundtracks have gained as much notoriety as his camera stylings.  This is easily explained, of course, his films sound and look unlike anything else in the mainstream cinema today.

If watching an Anderson film is like looking at dusty Cousteau reels then listening to an Anderson film is like wandering through your great-grandmother's Edison cylinders.

Beautifully produced, this album is a collection of original and collected works from such wide sources as Nico, Ravel and Mark Mothersbaugh (a personal favorite.)

While this soundtrack didn't launch any careers (think: Life Aquatic's Seu Jorge) it is the soundscape for  what is (arguably) Anderson's best film.
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Dutoit, Montreal Symphony Orchestra
"Ravel, Honneger, Francaix: Piano Concertos" (CD)

I have the honor of performing with the inimitable Leon Fleischer this next week. (Some of his recordings will be reviewed on this blog eventually.)  We will be playing Ravel's "Concerto for Left Hand" which has one of the more unique stories in musical lore.

In prepping for those rehearsals, I dug out a recording of the Left Hand Concerto for some study.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet looks like a former Gerber baby. His face is always placed prominently on whatever recording he's released and, in this instance, he has surrounded himself by an all-French cast to accomplish a recording of two prominent French piano concertos (and two lesser known ones.)

I always admire Ravel as an orchestrator.  It is impossible to listen to or play Ravel's music without losing track of where one instrument's duties end and another begins.  A fan of combining sounds in new ways, Ravel is regarded as one of the finest orchestrators to ever live and his treatment of a one-handed piano concerto is further proof of this.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Juilliard Quartet
"Dvorak: American, Smetana: 'From My Life'" (Vinyl)

Dvorak's "American" quartet is arguably one of the most recognizable and performed string quartets in history.
When a Quartet chooses to record this work, it must do so knowing it will be forever compared to other famous examples.

The Juilliard Quartet, amongst the greatest of American string quartets, records one of the most memorable "Americans" on this album.  Their performance is spot on, sprightly and sparkling.  

Raphael Hillyer (violist) is amongst my very favorite players.  His performances on the highlight melodies in both the Dvorak and Smetana are keynote moments.
Count Basie & His Orchestra
"Chairman of the Board" (Vinyl)

I'm not exactly sure what this means; internet searches have done little to explain to me why every online image of "Chairman of the Board" was a Roulette Records release and my pressing was released on a label called Emus.
I will speculate that this was an international release and this record was originally purchased somewhere outside of the United States.  Until I learn otherwise...

Recorded and released in 1959, this is prime-time Basie swing.  The firs time I heard "Boss in Hoss' Flat" Jerry Lewis was mugging to it in one of his films.

Is there a better way to start a grey morning?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Electric Light Orchestra
"Greatest Hits" (Vinyl)

I seem to be on a prog-rock kick.  Between Yes and ELO we're definitely mining the rock phase when classical music was melded with Rhodes and Fenders.

The songs here are all well-known.  Radio-friendly juggernauts of the mid-to-late 70's that will have the majority of Americans tapping their steering wheels and whistling their favorite licks.

Perfect for cleaning the apartment.  I guess I'd better get the vacuum out...

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Eagles
"The Complete Greatest Hits" (CD)

One of the world's biggest selling acts, the Eagles have the US's all-time best selling record ("Greatest Hits 1971-1975") and one of the all-time most respected records ("Hotel California.")

So how does band exist between a place of nearly legendary fame, where every karaoke bar in the world hears a cheer the minute "Hotel California" begins to play and obscurity for almost the rest of their output?

I'm not a big fan of the slow-rolling alt-country rock.  Whether it be Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt or the home-fried flavor of the Eagles, I can find a better place to hang out.
So what makes these guys so important? I know some of the songs, but I can't say I enjoy any of them particularly.

Maybe this goes in my column of "music that is popular but I won't understand why."

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Ulrich Koch, Maier, Beyer, Blees & Collegium Aureum
"Stamitz: Concerto for Viola and Sinfonia Concertante" (Vinyl)

In a blind pull from the record shelf, I have selected the Stamitz viola concerto, one of the first legitimate solo works for the viola that has endured.  While still considered a student work, the concerto is gaining ground as one of the key representatives of classical writing in the viola canon.

Ulrich Koch was a huge standard bearer for the viola in Europe.  His name appears not only on recordings but also at the top of works of music that were dedicated to him.   On this recording Koch plays a candenza in the first movement that I'm unfamiliar with; it is certainly not the standard one that is published in the music.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Beaux Arts Trio w/ Kim Kashkashian
"Faure: Piano Quartet no. 1 & Piano Trio op. 120" (CD)

One of the most venerable piano trios of the 20th century, the Beaux Arts Trio concertized for 53 years before retiring due to extreme old age.

Even more amazing was that one pianist, Menahem Pressler, performed with the ensemble for that entire time.  Both cello and violin positions were handed off to younger, capable players over the years, but Pressler remained unchanged.

The line-up on this recording, (released in 1990) is of Pressler, Ida Kavafian and Peter Wiley (a cellist I later got to observe working as cellist with the Guarneri Quartet.)  They are joined for Faure's first piano quartet by a 28-year old Kim Kashkashian, at the time enjoying a blossoming career on the recital/concertizing circuit due to recent wins in international viola competitions.

I once performed Faure's piano quintet and must acknowledge that I don't routinely encounter repertoire from Faure that I don't enjoy, so this album, while maybe not the most grab-you-by-the-seat-of-your-you-know-whats is full of music that one could spend a good amount of time learning.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

"Fragile" (Vinyl)

Straight outta the time capsule, 1971's "Fragile" is progressive British rock at is strongest.  Complete with sprawling epic rock sagas ("Roundabout,") folksy acoustic numbers and synthesized covers of Brahms (ala ELP,) this is setting the groundwork for Spinal Tap.
If it weren't done in such earnestness it would be easy to laugh at.

As it is, this album is beautifully crafted with production detail that I've experienced on only a handful of albums.   Yes, it's sprawling and indulgent, and that's large part of what makes it fun.
Yehudi Menuhin, Rudolph Barshai
"Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante, Haydn: Concerto in C major" (Vinyl)

Menuhin, one of the most prolific recorded violinists of the 20th century, pairs up with famed Russian violist for a recording of one of Mozart's great concerto works.
I finally listened to this because I'm learning the work; it seemed as good a time as any to see as many different performances as possible.
The truth is this isn't one of my favorites. Menuhin's playing has always bothered me.  Somewhere between his tone production and his vibrato there lays a sliver of annoyance that I've never really been able to shake.
The performance between these two musicians is fairly unmentionable, I'm afraid.  There is a casual, not-very-rehearsed air to their performance which is fine for a festival performance, but for committing to a record, not so much...

Monday, September 03, 2012

Amadeus Quartet
"Mozart: Early String Quartets" (Vinyl)

One of yesteryore's prominent quartets, the Amadeus Quartet enjoyed its moment in the spotlight during the 60's and 70's.
Lately, however, they have fallen out of the spotlight and, while still regarded amongst those who know, have been relegated to the "budget collection" of CD releases as record labels re-re-release their back catalogs of classical recordings.
Now you're more likely to encounter the Amadeus Quartet as part of a "complete string quartets of Mozart" for $50.

The first violinist, Norbert Brainin, is not amongst my favorite players; I find his color to be too shrill and brittle for my taste.  But, I am a violist.  What do you expect?

Ike & Tina Turner
"What You Hear is What You Get" (Vinyl)

Released in 1971, this was by no means the first live record for the infamous Turner duo.  (It was, in fact, their 9th.)

Sizzling with energy, it covers the gambit of Ike & Tina's hits while also enjoying the benefit of a live audience at Carnegie Hall that was enjoying the ride as much as the musicians.

Tons of fun; this has to rank high(er) on the list of over-priced records I've found in thrift shops that really paid off.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Loggins & Messina
"Best of Friends" (Vinyl)

One of the happier "accidental" projects, Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina found themselves working together on Loggins' debut for Columbia records with Messina as producer.
Near the end of this project they realized that Jim Messina had contributed so much to the music that it had become Loggins and Messina.

This best-of album, released in 1976, is a laid-back collection of L&M's biggest hits including House at Pooh Corner, Your Mama Don't Dance and more.  Their music is uniquely identified by the well-played assortment of acoustic "folk" instruments they bring into the studio with them.  Songs like Vahevala will momentarily break down into free-form jam sessions.

It doesn't possess as strong center of gravity, but it is a lot of fun to listen to.  Perfect for reclaiming your apartment from the dust bunnies...