Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Peter Gabriel
"Security" (Vinyl)

Released in 1982, this early all-digital recording was Gabriel's fourth eponymous album but was released under the title "Security" in the US.

Roughly five years after his departure as Genesis' frontman, Peter Gabriel was busy at work innovating and exploring new modes of music-making.
The use of sampling and loops on 'Security' marked an early predecessor of electronic music forms that have since gained popularity amongst musicians like Bjork and Imogen Heap.

Arrau, Haitink
"Beethoven: Piano Concerto no. 2" (Vinyl)

Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau recorded the cycle of Beethoven's five piano concertos three times during his illustrious and lengthy career. I'm not sure where this recording falls in the chronology, but it did win a Deutscher Schallplatten Preis.

This is the most recent Beethoven cycle I have pulled from the mountains of vinyl refuse.  I think this is cycle number six.  I could spend a few days listening to nothing but Beethoven piano concertos.

I'm sure I, like most ears, are mostly familiar with Beethoven's last concertos (nos. 4 and 5) so I'm trying to make a deliberate effort to familiarize myself with the rest of his concertos. It's early opus number (op. 19) indicates it was a youthful work. (In fact, Beethoven was only seventeen when he wrote the work.)
Sonic Youth
"Rather Ripped" (CD)

I was working in my basement for a couple of hours today and was listening to the old iPod I keep down there.  Akin to a musical time machine, I could ask myself "what was I listening to in 2008" and this machine would know the answer.

I'm pleased to say I had some good taste in 2008 with listening to Sonic Youth's 2006 release, 'Rather Ripped.'
This was their fourteenth album (out of sixteen released to-date) and last on the Geffen label.
Perhaps some of the most consistent rockers in modern history, Sonic Youth has been turning out classic rock albums since 1988's 'Daydream Nation.'

Its too bad that Sonic Youth is currently on a hiatus with no definite plans to reunite.
The Raveonettes
"Lust Lust Lust" (Vinyl)

Released in 2008, this was the third album released by the noisy Danish duo.
Recorded exclusively by Wagner and Foo without the efforts of any studio musicians, this is a fuzzy romp through post-punk rock n' roll.

Imagine, if you will, an electric guitar with full amplifier distortion being recorded through a stairwell.  That gives you an idea of the sonic tapestry the Raveonettes were after.  There are a couple of catchy riff-driven numbers, but they also explore soundscapes with gentle melodies nestled on top.
Stephane Grappelli, David Grisman
"Live" (Vinyl)

Recorded on September 20th, 1979 at the Berklee center in Boston, it was then released in 1981.

Grappelli's distinctive jazz fiddling styles are complemented by Grisman's eclectic mandolin playing and backed by other greats like Mike Marshall (mandolin) and Mark O'Conner (pictured in the gatefold playing guitar.)

It would take an artist of Yo-Yo Ma's stature 20 years later to raise the profile of this genre-blurring music with the likes of Edgar Meyer and Mark O'Conner, but new audiences would discover the pioneers of Grisman, Grappelli and Ponty.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sarah Vaughan
"The Lonely Hours" (Vinyl)

Released in 1964, this is a breezy collection of so-called saloon songs and standards was arranged and conducted by Benny Carter.

This Roulette album is in surprisingly good shape; it makes me think it was seldomly played (if ever.)   I found this record in a used CD shop in Toledo when they were getting rid of their vinyl for 50 cents a piece.  Some of my best pieces of jazz came from that sale.  If I could go back now, knowing what I know now, I probably would've filled the trunk of the car.
Pierre Monteux, Boston Symphony
"Tchaikovsky: Symphony no. 6 'Pathetique'" (Vinyl)

Although most images online are for an RCA "Living Stereo" pressing, I have an earlier shaded dog in mono.

Tchaikovsky finished his final symphony in 1893.  He also led the premiere of the composition.  This is considered the last of Tchaikovsky's greatest three symphonies (the others being his fourth and fifth.)

This recording is beautifully captured.  It reminded me that I need to replace the belt on my SOTA.  Sustained pitches have become a bit warbly...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Portsmouth Sinfonia
"Plays the Popular Classics" (Vinyl)

Leave it to the art students.
It took art school to give us Captain Beefheart.
It also took an art school to give us the Portsmouth Sinfonia.
When you actually learn about the idea, it's intriguing: an orchestra that anyone can join regardless of ability or talent.  The only rule: you can't intentionally play badly.  The result: hilarious renditions of the classical playbook that quickly developed a cult following.

Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of them.  It took the Portsmouth Sinfonia's notoriety on YouTube for me to hear of them.  By that point the orchestra had already been defunct for 30 years, but its charm is timeless.

The concept behind the orchestra got attention from actual musicians, including Brian Eno, who joined the orchestra and actually produced this, their debut LP.  It was released in 1974 and was followed by a few additional releases, but the orchestra hung up the baton in 1979.

If ever there was a reunion tour begging to happen, this is it.
The Vienna Octet
"Beethoven: Septet in E-flat op. 20" (Vinyl)

One of the more oddly-shaped ducks in Beethoven's canon, the septet (scored for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double bass) helped a young Beethoven gain popularity.  Its form is unconventional, resembling a serenade rather than a traditional four-movement work and it is a work of substantial length (also uncommon for the medium.)

This composition was re-arranged by Beethoven himself into his opus 38 piano trio and later Toscanini had a chamber orchestra perform with similar instrumentation.

All of this history aside, I've never heard this composition before today.  It's a youthful work from the revolutionary composer and its unusual shape has probably ensured it rarely makes it to the performance market.
Stevie Wonder
"Signed, Sealed & Delivered" (Vinyl)

Stevie Wonder's twelfth album was released on Motown in 1970.  This album includes the monster title track that may be his most well-known track.  In addition, it includes his R&B cover of the Beatles' "We Can Work it Out" and Wonder's other hit, "Heaven Help Us All."

As a child of my age, it is with a certain embarrassment that I admit that I learned of many of Wonder's songs (also the Supremes and Temptations) because of the Claymation television specials involving the California Raisins.  At least those Raisins had excellent taste in music.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pierre Monteux, Boston Symphony
"Stravinsky: Petroushka" (Vinyl)

I found an RCA Victor shaded dog release of this recording while digging through one of the largest record collections in the midwest.  If you're ever in Iowa, check out Kanesville Kollectibles.  It's unreal.

This recording has been released a thousand different ways on multiple labels, but I believe this to be near the origin of this particular recording.  The music recorded is Stravinsky's revised 1947 score so at that point, this music was still "new" to both audiences and performers.
That shows in this recording. The music feels unfamiliar and the orchestra stumbles over passages that are well-worn grooves to orchestras today. Tempos are also slower than what once commonly hears now.  It is an education to listen to such a recording.

I've been gone for a while, but I'm happy to get back into it as quickly as I can.  A lot of new listening material has been picked up over the past several days; my destination crawls ever further away...

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Mahavishnu Orchestra
"Birds of Fire" (Vinyl)

For some reason, one will invariably only be aware of what is happening during one's conscious existence.  Meaning, we're blissfully ignorant that musical exploration into genre-bending ensembles was taking place decades before I was born.

This album, the second released by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, was released in 1973.  After this album there was a major personnel upset, so you could consider this album to be Mahavishnu 1.0.

Bandleader John McLaughlin wrote all of the music on this album and is featured on a (legitimate) double-neck guitar.  Also making notable entries into musical history: Jerry Goodman on electric violin and Jan Hammer playing the Moog synthesizer.

Officially, this would be called jazz fusion, but once you're in the middle of this record you realize everyone here is enjoying their music immeasurably; there's no need for classification.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Stevie Wonder
"Down to Earth" (Vinyl)

Mr. Wonder's sixth album was released in 1966.  At the time, he was still a youthful sixteen years old.  This album is said to have signaled the change from teen pop music to mo-town hit-maker.  Perhaps in no small part due to his change in voice, having gone through puberty.

This is a little early for the golden era of Stevie Wonder, but it's still amazing to see such an artist's early output still outpaces the best many others can do.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Pierre Boulez, Cleveland Orchestra
"Debussy: Images for Orchestra" (Vinyl)

Debussy wrote this three-movement work as sort of series of postcards of memories and travels between the years 1905 - 1912.
Debussy originally conceived the work arranged for two pianos, but later orchestrated it for full symphony.

This particular copy of Boulez's recording with the Cleveland Orchestra came out of a library sale in college. The catalog stickers are visible in the upper left corner of the image.  Surprisingly, the record is in good shape.  Perhaps this means no one listened to this recording all that often...

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Fiction Family
"Fiction Family" (Vinyl)

The lovechild of Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman and Nickel Creek's Sean Watkins, this one-off album was released in 2009.

Or at least, I thought it was going to be a one-off.  Between the busy schedules both members keep they found time to recruit a drummer and bassist into the fold and record and release a second album, 'Fiction Family Reunion' which came out in early 2013.

What I enjoy about these side projects is the relaxed easy-going sense. You don't feel there's any pressure to write the kind of music that fans expect from Switchfoot or Nickel Creek.  Here they can write exactly what they want and trust that true fans will find their music appealing.

I remember reading an interview with Jon Foreman when Switchfoot was just beginning to take off.  He talked about how he wrote a song in 20 minutes and that was how most of the songs on Switchfoot albums came to be.  While this is a talent, and I regard Foreman's writing to be amongst the most tuneful, pleasant songs I know of, there's also an inherent shallowness that comes from a process that doesn't involve a lot of soul-searching.

This music is fun to listen to, relaxed and intimate feeling, but I don't believe it will climb beyond a footnote in either musician's careers.
The Beatles
"The Beatles Again / Hey Jude" (Vinyl)

Currently out-of-print and identified by two different titles, The Beatles Again (as my record identifies itself) was a 1970 release of non-Capitol issued singles and B-sides.  In fewer words, this was the first time that American audiences had heard some of these career-spanning hits by the Fab Four.

An interesting retrospective, this album opens with 'Can't Buy Me Love', 'I Should Have Known Better' and then begins an unveiling of everything the Beatles accomplished in their six-year adventure.

Released during the tumultuous end of the Beatles' time together, this album was sandwiched between the release of 'Abbey Road' and 'Let it Be', mere months before they caleld it quits.

I have an older, Apple pressing of this record which has the album titled "the Beatles Again."  I'm not sure if that makes this a UK release or an early North American release since it's not on the Capitol label.
Stephen Bishop, Colin Davis
"Bartok: Piano Concerto no. 2" (Vinyl)

Released in 1968 (I believe) this features a young Stephen Bishop (perhaps only 28 at the time of the recording) at home with Sir Colin Davis and one of the British orchestras that welcomed Mr. Bishop with open arms.
Stephen Bishop has fallen out of household use lately; I'm not sure this isn't the first time I've encountered his playing.

Bartok wrote his second piano concerto for his wife to perform.  It was completed in 1931 and has been regarded as amongst the hardest works in the repertoire. A 'simplification' of Bartok's compositional style, he intended for the work to be more accessible than his first piano concerto.

The album cover of this Philips record is indicative of the attitude and thinking towards "modern" music at the time. Colors are prismatic and there is a great deal of fractured line and angle.  To embrace Bartok's music (even in the 1960's, some 30-40 years after its composition) was to think forward to the future.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

The Rolling Stones
"Some Girls" (Vinyl)

I can't call myself a huge Stones fan.  There were so many better acts during the 60's and 70's whose music speaks so much more powerfully than the Stones.   Yet, one can not discount their influence on their own and subsequent generations of music-making.

The Stones definitely had a 'golden period' in which their output is still regarded as important and ground-breaking.  What began in 1968 with 'Beggar's Banquet' and carried through five albums until 1973's 'Goat's Head Soup' was then interrupted by a string of hit-or-miss albums with the word 'dinosaur' being flung around to describe the band.

This album showed a return to the straight-ahead bluesy rock n' roll that made the Stones famous and included the singles 'Miss You', 'Beast of Burden' and 'Respectable.'

The iconic album artwork originally featured female models on the original pressing, but the label had failed to acquire permission to use their likenesses, so these (highly sought-after) early pressings were pulled off of shelves and the band members' images replaced them.
Bobby McFerrin
"Simple Pleasures" (Vinyl)

Released in 1988, the lead-off track from this album, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" probably crossed the line into annoying due to extreme overexposure.  A commercial break-through, that single won McFerrin a triple platinum-selling album, multiple Grammy awards and household recognition.

McFerrin's unique multi-tracked vocal stylings were featured by Bill Cosby and Ocean Spray, but none of this should diminish the phenomenal talent that is Bobby McFerrin.  With an exceptional vocal and musical range, McFerrin is able to mimik and accompany himself with a library of doo-wops, hand slaps and an uncanny ear.

Since this age, McFerrin has set up shop as an educator and conductor, regularly appearing to speak on music and improvisation, sharing his talents while helping the rest of us that we are capable of more than we think we are.
"Super Trouper" (Vinyl)

Released in 1980, this was ABBA's seventh studio album.
Carried on the strength of the title track single and "Winner Takes it All" the album was a smash hit in the UK.  This album was unleashed during the US's disco backlash so the undertones are a bit more radio-friendly pop than dance-worthy disco ball.

As always, the album is beautifully produced, polished to a glossy shine.  Aside from the couple of big hit singles on this album, I'm not familiar with any of the music on this album.
Rosemary Clooney & the Hi-Lo's
"Ring Around Rosie" (Vinyl)

A collection of jazz standards receive an interesting make-over on this Columbia six-eye.  Tunes like 'Moonlight Becomes You' are very well known, so they are playfully arranged with Rosemary Clooney's vocals and the backing harmonies of the Hi-Lo's (who haven't enjoyed the same notoriety since their time as Ms. Clooney.)

This record is in great shape; perhaps it wasn't listened to a whole lot during its first owner's time. There's very little reason for that not to happen though.   This was originally released in 1957.
William Steinberg, Pittsburgh Symphony
"Beethoven: Symphony no. 4" (Vinyl)

It's been a rocky spring so far; schedules will level out and we'll be back on track.  I hope.

Beethoven's fourth symphony is one of his works that gets lost in the shuffle. Sandwiched between his revolutionary 'Eroica' and seminal fifth symphonies, the fourth suffers from a low-profile next to its neighbors.

It is no less a work, of course, but it just isn't performed as often.  I will get to perform this work next year so I dusted off this box set of the complete Beethoven symphonies recorded by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  Released in 1966 on ABC's Command Classics label, the cover touts the master recorded on 35 mm magnetic film; all of the accoutrement of a high-fidelity recording experience.

This cycle, released alongside so many other great titans of the late 20th century (Szell, Ormandy, Solti, Karajan) can be lost in the shadows, but it's a very capable set.  It would be a shame.