Friday, March 29, 2013

"The Second" (Vinyl)

Released in 1968, this was (believe it or not) Steppenwolf's second album. Steppenwolf is today known for a couple of hits, one of which originates on the second side of this album.  "Magic Carpet Ride," along with "Born to be Wild" have remained staples in classic rock stations everywhere and (hopefully) have been keeping the Steppenwolf boys fat off of royalties ever since.

I've always had a thing for Steppenwolf, and I'm not exactly sure why. There are better bands, most of the time there are better songs, there are better singers.  So what it is it about this group that grabs the ear?

I'm inclined to think it's a low end theory.  Steppenwolf was held up/together by Rushton Moreve (bass) and Jerry Edmondton (drums.) The sound is a tasty blend of groove and gravitas that I seem to find irresistible.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Keith Jarrett
"Standards: Vol. 1" (Vinyl)

Released in 1983, this album received lukewarm reviews from critis citing Jarrett's rudimentary improvisations.  I thought singing along with your piano playing was something only Glenn Gould got away with, but apparently you can do it with jazz pianists too as long as you seem slightly unhinged.

Standards these tunes definitely are (selections from Kern/Hammerstein, Rodgers & Hart) and Jarrett is joined by Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. 

My jazz deficiency is showing.
Sam Cooke
"The Best of Sam Cooke" (CD)

Mr. Cooke is another one of those rare musicians (that sounds suspiciously oxymoronic) that has influenced countless other musicians to follow in his footsteps.

Beyond his musical influence, he is often cited for breaking color barriers in the music business in much the same way Harry Belafonte did.

More to the point of this blog, his voice is like glazed honey.  There's just nothing about it that ever becomes wearying to the ear.  And with classics like 'Chain Gang' and 'Twistin' the Night Away' it's also a trip down memory lane.  If you're old enough...
Chuck Berry
"The London Chuck Berry Sessions" (Vinyl)

Released in 1972, the album cover betrays the topical tastes of the early 70's.  In short, the Beatles' 'Yellow Submarine' had passed through briefly before this album artwork was created.

The problem with early 'classic' rock n' roll artists is their music only existed on 45 rpm singles and was not released on tradition 12" vinyl for years after their initial release.  In the 1950's and 60's when many of Chuck Berry's most influential rock n' roll songs were recorded and released, they were sent to radio stations as singles and it was the only way for you to listen to it at home.  It wasn't until years later that artists like Berry (and others) made formal recordings in the studio.

The music on this album isn't quite the vivacious, spirited music we quickly associate with Mr. Berry.  Rather, it's an album steeped in the Blues and treated with the deliberateness of a middle-aged man.  To date, this is Chuck Berry's highest-charting, best-selling album of his career.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ormandy, Philadelphia Orchestra
"Dvorak: 'New World' Symphony" (Vinyl)

Ironically, the Philadelphia Orchestra had a picture of New York City's skyline slapped on the cover of the album.  I wonder who was in charge of that?

Billed as Dvorak's Symphony no. 5 'From the New World' as were many older recordings, (for a reason I can't learn right now) this is most commonly known as Dvorak's ninth symphony. 

Considered to be amongst the composer's best symphonic works, it is often recorded and bundled with his seventh and eighth symphonies.  The ninth is certainly his most famous symphony with melodies that would be recognizable by the masses.

The Philly Orchestra sounds great on this recording, particularly fiery, lush strings that embody the character perfectly.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Newsboys
"Take Me to Your Leader" (CD)

Released in 1996, this was as much my high school soundtrack as anything else was. (Anyone else recognize the Evangelical upbringing?)

The Newsboys have been a fixture in Christian rock music since the early 90's when they arrived from New Zealand.  Alongside dcTalk and Audio Adrenaline they represent the trifecta of relevant music-making in the Christian hemisphere during the past couple of decades.  

This album was already their sixth release, but it many respects it was only their second album to US audiences.  Cheeky and fun, the album highlighted the band's ability (even willingness) to have fun while making their music while still getting their message across with their witty lyrics.

The album's packaging and design was one of my early favorites for its whimsical and fun design; a marked difference from so many Christian artist's approach. 

This contains one of my favorite Newsboys' song; tucked near the end of the album is a very powerful tune-long musical crescendo "Lost the Plot."
Jascha Heifetz, William Primrose
"Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante" (Vinyl)

Another recording of Mozart's unique concerto (technically a concertante) for violin and viola, this one featuring two of the early 20th century's most famous recorded artists.

This a re-release of an older RCA shaded dog and it's intention is to highlight Heifetz as the premiere performer (the other side of the record also has Glazunov's violin concerto on it) but the earlier recording has both Primrose and Heifetz's name on the cover.  The image on this recording is of an older Heifetz; certainly much older than he was when the recording was made.

They take some brisk tempos, my friends!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sly & the Family Stone
"Greatest Hits" (Vinyl)

The influential funk/soul/R&B/psychedelic band from San Francisco was an embodiment of the tumultuous and revolutionary 1960's that saw civil rights, anti-war movements and gender segregation come under scrutiny in America.

Considered an influence by many important musical acts of their generation (and subsequent ones) they enjoyed prominence from 1967 to 1983.

This album, released in 1970 features the hits from their three previously released albums, 'Dance to the Music,' 'Life' and 'Stand!' Remarkably, one of the band's most important albums, 'There's a Riot Goin' On' was to be released in 1971.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Destroyer" (Vinyl)

Well, here's an album I never thought I'd find in my stacks.  Not because I'm uptight, but I've just never been a fan of the glam spectacle arena rock that KISS built.  It dramatically places style over substance for my taste.

Still, you can't deny KISS' success and the rabid devotion of the KISS army.  'Destroyer', released in 1976, was the band's fourth album and heralded their arrival as kings of arena glam rock.  The album artwork (by artist Ken Kelley) helped to create colorful, larger-than-life imagery that the band would exploit and ride to the bank for the next decade.

As far as the music goes, I've never regarded KISS as an innovative band; heavy rock, metal, glam, etc. has all been done better by other groups than KISS.  If you weren't able to see the band I wonder how many would recognize many of the tunes on this album.
Robert Shaw, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
"Haydn: The Creation" (CD)

While not as famous as Handel's 'Messiah' or Bach's 'St. Matthew's Passion', 'the Creation' certainly stands amongst the most important oratorios ever penned.

I played this work about a year ago and was eager to learn why Haydn is still regarded as a master of his craft.  In my mind he's always overshadowed by Mozart, yet his impact on the craft is indelible.  Why?

Well, beginning with the overture (which depicts the shapeless void before creation) we must admit that Haydn is a master a text painting and the "sturm und drang" effects which cause so many tonalities and pitches to grate against each other while we wait for God to speak the world into existence.

The performance is done in English on this recording with a libretto done by Robert Shaw himself.  Shaw's seminal recordings with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus have set the benchmark for many of our modern interpretations of choral works.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lynn Harrell, James Levine
"Schubert: 'Arpeggione' Sonata" (Vinyl)

A few weeks ago Lynn Harrell announced to the world that he was selling his 1720 Montagnana cello, an instrument he has performed with for 50 years.

Also, considering that I had the privilege of performing Dvorak's cello concerto with Mr. Harrell last season (he did not bring 'Monty') it seemed timely to listen to Lynne Harrell play one of the more famous works for cello and piano.

The melodies in Schubert's 'Arpeggione' sonata are easily recognized.  Even if the composition's namesake is an obsolete fossil, the music, (able to be performed on the modern viola or cello) has endured as one of Schubert's more popular chamber works.

The piece has its downfalls, in my opinion, but in the hands of masters like Harrell and Levine it is elevated from the ranks of amateurs and we are reminded why Schubert is regarded as a master of his craft.

I was browsing the stacks at the Electric Fetus records in Minneapolis when some particularly funky rock came over their Polk Audio Monitor 10's.  My first thought was that this was a new collaboration between the Black Keys and (*insert rapper here*) re: Blakroc, but I found out that it was something much more obscure.

MFSB, or Muthafunkinsonofabitch for the layman, was a group of rotating session musicians in Philadelphia's recording studios during the 60's and 70's.  There's so little written down about this ensemble because they only convened to record 45's that were never released officially.

It's safe to say the music on this CD is something of a rarity.  While the timbre of the music has enjoyed a renaissance lately, I think it's very good to have the source material close at hand.

"Antibalas" (Vinyl)

The Afro-beat orchestra released their most recent album in 2012.  Calling it a return to their beat-centered roots, the album only slightly modifies their recipe from past outings.

With the increased notoriety of the Dap-tone family of artists the Antibalas stand poised to gain attention in their own rite (albeit more difficult for the vocal-less, ensemble cast production.)

I am digging the album, but I've always enjoyed the group's close knit ties to the traditional music of Africa.  With only minimal interference the continent's music takes shape into the funkiest musical traditions here in America.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Jacques Loussier
"Play Bach No. 1" (Vinyl)

The first time I encountered a jazz combo pirating classical music was only a few years ago with the Minneapolis-based the Bad Plus.  While they initially cut their teeth on covering Nirvana and Pink Floyd tunes, complex classical works by Stravinsky and Ligeti began creeping into some of their recordings.  I thought this was a marvelous idea.

As it turns out, Mr. Plus was not the first guy to think of this.  I'm not that naive, of course, but I had never heard of Mr. Jacques Loussier and his career-spanning fascination with jazzing up the compositions of J.S. Bach.

I must admit to a certain confusion.  If you type the album title into an image search there are fifteen different releases of this music.  I found this UK Decca at a shop in Minneapolis.  It was released in 1965, and, unlike this photo, contains organ preludes and fugues.

Unlike the Bad Plus, there's less cross pollination of the source material.  Monsieur Loussier will play a bit of Bach, and then the combo will break in with a little bit of jazz.

I will be keeping my eyes out for more of these records - there are many to find.  (There are five albums in his "Play Bach" series alone.)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Alabama Shakes
"Boys and Girls" (Vinyl)

I picked this up this weekend in the Big City after catching just a few notes of the Shakes' performance on Saturday Night Live.

The Alabama Shakes are new to the scene (formed in 2009) and this, their debut album was nominated for Best New Artist in the 2013 Grammy Awards.

Carried along by the weight of a few singles, 'Boys and Girls' heralds the arrival of Brittany Howard, the inimitable lead singer and guitarist whose voice will become a force in the future decades.  We will hear a lot of her in the future.

The ingredients are all here.  This could be a monster success.  However, with this album, I find their songwriting just a little undercooked.  This band is one that I will be eagerly waiting for their next project and see where they head next.  With this kind of firepower, it's a shame to not resort to a few explosions...
Original Broadway Cast
"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" (Vinyl)

This broadway musical originally opened in 1961 and then many of the original cast members reprised their roles in the 1967 film version, including Robert Morse as J. Pierrepont Finch.

The story follows a young window washer who finds the aptly titled manual "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" and goes on to become chairman of the World Wide Wicket Company within a matter of days.

The music and lyrics are fun, but they're not on par with the Rogers & Hammerstein tunes that we consider part of the American musical tradition.

I really like the 1967 film adaptation for its funky futuristic office spaces that are a cartoon version of the age's fascination with 'modern' architecture and styling.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
"Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste" (Vinyl)

This austere album cover speaks volume to the music (and the attitude towards it) inside.   Released in 1970, ASMF (a much needed anagram for the lengthiest of all orchestra's names) was in the midst of a flurry of interest in "contemporary" composers' music although in 1970, this piece was already over 30 years old.

Bartok wrote his "Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste" in 1936 and is considered by many (perhaps alongside his 'Concerto for Orchestra') as his crowning achievement.

I'm doing a little forward-listening.  Should my employment be the same next season, this work is slated for performance.  I'm very excited to get a shot at this work.  Easy it is not, but well worth the blood and sweat to attempt it.
Burt Bacharach
"Plays His Hits" (Vinyl)

Burt Bacharach is a musician's musician.  His catalog of songs reaches as far as Stevie Wonder or Bob Dylan.  They remain uniquely his, fashioned in his own inimitable way.  If I was going to be known as a songwriter, I think I'd choose Bacharach's output as my own.

This recording was released on Kapp.  I'm confused as to its origins, as there is an album called "Hit Maker!" with identical artwork that features much of this music in a different track order.
Regardless, the music on this album was tuned for 'mature' ears with Bacharach leading the orchestra and chorus. Solo vocals are not performed by anyone of notoriety (unlike Dionne Warwick or Tom Jones, who made many of Bacharach's tunes big hits.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Deep Purple
"Machine Head" (Vinyl)

Released in 1972, this album is cited amongst the influential albums in the development of heavy metal.
Perhaps more than their music, their image as a bunch of dark, long-haired fellows did more to create a mystique that would evolve into the habitat of metal.

This album includes the band's biggest hit, 'Smoke on the Water' and a lot of Hammond organ fed through a Marshall half stack.

I'll have to give this a few more listens, because unlike Sabbath's 'Paranoid,' this is the first time I've ever heard this album in its entirety.  It's a little premature for me to hint at it's importance to me.
Daniel Majeske, Robert Vernon, Christoph von Dohnanyi
"Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante" (CD)

I just found this recording a few weeks ago.  I believe this is a re-bundling of previously released Cleveland Orchestra recordings.  Everything on this album fits the bill of "lite fare."  In addition to the Sinfonia Concertante there's a recording of the flute and harp concerto and the ever popular 'Eine kleine Nachtmusik.'

Majeske and Vernon's performance is relaxed and singing. Vernon particularly does so many things that I recall from studying under him that it's a refreshing reminder to hear his approach.   "Don't stop the sound!"

The orchestra backs the soloists expertly, as one could expect.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Michael Jackson
"Thriller" (Vinyl)

In celebration of this weekend's concerts where we played four hours of MJ's biggest hits, I thought it'd be notable to hear the original master perform these same songs.

'Thriller' remains the biggest selling record of all time.  Estimates suggest 60 million copies of the 1982 album have been sold worldwide.  It also obtained a record-setting eight grammy awards that year.
Seven songs on the album were released as single, and all of them charted in the top 10.

I think it's safe to say there might not be another album on the planet with as much notoriety as this one.

Jackson teamed up with producer Quincy Jones (who also produced 'Off the Wall') and gave birth to some of the most famous pop songs ever recorded including "Beat it," "Billie Jean," "PYT" and "Thriller." ...and that's only half of the songs you'd recognize from this album.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto
"Getz/Gilberto" (CD)

As best I can tell, this is where "the Girl from Ipanema" came from.  One of the most influential jazz tunes ever written was brought to the world's attention because of Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto.

Reading the liner notes with this (beautiful) re-issue I can't believe that this stuff was written in 1996.  Amongst author Doug Ramsey's more notable quotes: "Gone was the era when good music and popular music were often the same.  It was not, for instance, 1938...or even 1946."
Mr. Ramsey's distaste for Elvis Presley certainly puts him in a small group of people who would argue the merit of that new invention the kids call rock n' roll.

Anyway, this ablum is a perfect example of "cool school" jazz.  Gilberto's recording of Jobim's (now) standard "Ipanema" is captured in its "textbook" form with the husband and wife pair of Joao and Astrud Gilberto.  Astrud was not a singer, but Getz wanted her to sing the English translation of the lyrics over the objections of Jobim and Joao.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Maazel, Cleveland Orchestra
"Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring" (Vinyl)

In honor of the 100th anniversary of 'Rite' I thought it'd be fun to hear this recording - it was found within the last year but I've still yet to hear it.  To be fair, I've collected about ten recordings of this work.  It was exceedingly popular to record during the 60's and 70's.  Any major orchestra had its own recording of it.

This recording was made on May 14, 1980.  There are uniquely detailed notes about the recording process on this LP jacket; testament to Telarc's uncommon recording practices.  Amongst their philosophies: once appropriate microphone placement is achieved, no further adjustments are made during the session.  All dynamic and balance choices are in the hands of the maestro.

As a result, this recording has an uncommon warmth and blending to it. While many of the Cleveland Orchestra's recordings were done in the Masonic Temple during this era, this recording was made on stage in Severance Hall.  There's something that feels very comfortable about how the musicians play, as though they know exactly how they sound when at home on their own stage.

Perhaps it's just my own ears wanting it to be true, but I feel some of the magic that makes the Cleveland Orchestra what it is was captured on this album.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Aaron Rosand
"...Plays the Music of Pablo de sarasate" (Vinyl)

Mr. Rosand, having now celebrated his 85th birthday, is best known today for a revival of interest in romantic music for the violin.   Remarkably, that's a distinction that was over 40 years ago.

American violinist Aaron Rosand has not been remembered amongst the great European names in concert halls.  Perhaps it is because he's American that his talent was not recognized.  As it is, the playing on this record is fantastic and beautifully captured.

Rosand played the 1741 "ex-Kochanski" Guarneri 'del Gesu' for decades (auctioning it in 2009) and you can hear the quality of the instrument coming through decades later through this record.

Sarasate's music is most often (today) the technical showpiece for a young talent eager to impress.  This recording might be the first time I've heard this music played in a way that truly impresses as much with the music as it does the technical pyrotechnic.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Leonard Bernstein, Concertgebouw
"Mahler: Symphony no. 9" (CD)

This recording was made during the Concertgebouw Orchestra's summer festival in 1985.  It is a live recording.  Such statements like that make me sick.  These guys sound really good.

Bernstein recorded an entire Mahler cycle with the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam over the later course of his career.  Deutsche Grammophon released all of these recordings.

Mahler's ninth symphony was the last one that he completed before his death.  He would finish an Adagio for a tenth symphony, but Mahler's inability to surpass the ninth symphony was viewed as an omen by a generation of musicians who still lived in the shadow of Beethoven's monolithic symphonic contribution.

I may be performing this work this upcoming season, so I'm doing some preliminary listening to find out how big of a mountain lies in front of me.
Beastie Boys
"Ill Communication" (CD)

The fourth album from Brooklyn's own Beasties was released in 1994.  Hopefully by this point any talk of the Boys as being purely party rockin' frat boys had been put to rest.

For a while I've regarded 'Hello Nasty' as my favorite Beasties album, but I've also regarded their instrumental-only 'The Mix Up' as some of the funkiest tunes made lately.  After giving 'Ill' a closer listen, I feel its genealogy is very in line with the 'Mix' that would come over a decade later.

The Beasties are unafraid of blending a plethora of styles and influences together; even during this age, it was uncommon for such diverse flavors to be combined into a single stew.

Bolstered by hits like "Sabotage" (which received a well-deserved introduction to a new generation of listeners with J.J. Abrams' use of it in the 'Star Trek' re-boot) the album was both critical and commercial success.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Dubinsky, Berlinsky, Yedlina
"Shostakovich: Piano Trio  no. 2 op. 67" (Vinyl)

Shostakovich's works for chamber ensemble (whatever they may be) are always very personal in nature.  The string quartet was one of his favorite mediums for conveying his responses to life as he encountered it.

This piano trio (1944) is a particularly haunting work that completes an orbit through all of Shostakovich's recipes, from stark, austere melodies to rhythmic, bounding joyousness.  In the final movement he uses a melody that he would recycle in his famous eighth string quartet (1960)  and use to great effect.

The musicians on this ABC Westminster/Melodiya album are a mystery to me - it is very uncommon to have a recording made by anyone not billed as an established ensemble.  The fact that all three musicians are billed individually on both front and back of the LP jacket is something I've never seen before.  There's virtually nothing about them online.
Pablo Casals, Alexander Schneider, Mieczyslaw Horszowski
"Schumann: Piano trio no. 1 in D minor" (Vinyl)

A sturdy, gold label Columbia masterworks LP commemorating a summer performance of Schumann's piano trio in D minor.

Often times I'm underwhelmed by Casals' recordings, but I'll attribute that as much to the primitive recording technology as I will to Maestro Casals' musicianship.
This recording, however, was masterfully done.  The performance is captured and the energy sizzles.  As seldom as I listen to these recordings, I should be proud to possess several of these recordings.  They are truly historical records of one of the early 20th century's great musical figures.
The Beatles
"The Beatles" (Vinyl + CD)

Entire books have been written about the Beatles' eponymous ninth double-LP album which was originally released in 1968.

The stark album cover is their most ground-breaking (though probably not their most memorable) and symbolized the disjointed, dysfunctional nature within the band at the time they recorded the album.

While their greatest achievement still lay ahead (1969's 'Abbey Road') the "white" album is often cited by musicians to be amongst the most influential bodies of work the Fab Four ever put out.

Personally, it's among the column of Beatles' music that I'm least familiar with.  Yes, I'm familiar with the highlights like 'Back in the USSR' and 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' but there are so many songs on the four sides of this album - it's worth listening to over and over again.

Some days this vinyl neuroticism pays off: I found a vinyl copy of this guy in a Goodwill for 70 cents.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Charles Munch, Boston Symphony
"Brahms: Symphony no. 1" (Vinyl)

Brahms' least known symphony (to me) is beautifully captured on this RCA shaded dog record.   I find so few of these records that don't look like hockey pucks.   Whether it's because of record changers or decades of misuse, to find one of these records in truly playable shape is a red-letter day.

This is also a mono pressing, so if I had to estimate I would say this is from the mid-50's.

The Cleveland Quartet
"Brahms: the Complete String Quartets" (Vinyl)

Another visit to my favorite quartet.  I daydream about showing up at Mr. Salaff's door with this record for him to sign his autograph across his afro.

This is an homage of sorts to the performance I have to give tonight.  Tonight will be the concert where I would have performed Brahms' first string quartet if life hadn't altered our plans.

To commemorate the occasion, I'm listening to this quartet's interpretation of Brahms' quartets.  Considering I've listened mostly to the Tokyo Quartet's recording over the last several months, this recording is notable in a couple of ways: they are unafraid of stretching some tempos luxuriously to bask in a moment.  They also plunge head-first into some of Brahms' more frantic, rhythmic writing in a way that sounds like controlled chaos.  Exhilarating is as appropriate a word as alarming.  What fun!
38 Special
"Special Forces" (Vinyl)

Continuing through the stack of vinyl I found last week...

A band I know nothing of beyond their name, but I vaguely associate with Skynyrd. Which turns out to be acceptable, since Donnie Van Zant is the lead singer of 38 Special and his brother Ronnie was the original singer for Lynyrd Skynyrd before his untimely death in an airplane crash.

This album doesn't contain any music that I know personally.  There's a persistent vein of southern-fried rock throughout the album, even though this is supposed to have been released (in 1982) during the group's mass-appeal arena rock era.

I don't think this will be a keeper...
"Dreamboat Annie" (Vinyl)

The debut album from Canadian sister & co. Heart was released in the U.S. in 1976 and was carried on the success of the singles "How Deep it Goes" and "Magic Man."

The album showed off a unique recipe of hard rock, guitar riff-driving and folk influence that hadn't really been heard before.

The most noticeable thing about Heart is Ann Wilson's deep-throated vocals.  They're often in the same register as many of her heavy rock male counterparts, but the timbre is completely different.

I'm enjoying this album much more than I expected to.  The album cover is a little ABBA, so I'm excited to hear so much Zeppelin.
Eddie Money
"Where's the Party At?" (vinyl)

Released in 1983, this was Eddie Money's fourth album.

I've always enjoyed Eddie Money's tunes in a way that is uncommon for me and my general attitude towards 80's plasticky rock n' roll.
Huey Lewis breaks tradition, and I was prepared to welcome another into the fold when I found a few of Mr. Money's albums in a recent stash that I uncovered while thrifting.

Sadly, this album is pretty lifeless. According to some brief reading online, Eddie doesn't feel that differently than I do.