Monday, July 29, 2013

Beaux Art Trio, George Pieterson
"Brahms, Beethoven: Clarinet Trios" (Vinyl)

Among the catalog of odd chamber music composed, the clarinet trio is a funny bird that has enjoyed attention by two of music's greatest titans. Brahms wrote his trio for the clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld (to which the two sonatas and clarinet quintet are also dedicated) and Beethoven indicated in his score that the two higher voices in his trio could be played either by violin or clarinet, or by a bassoon or cello (respectively.)

Brahms' work benefits from being amongst his late output, emerging from retirement to compose these works for Muhlfeld while Beethoven's work is relatively early in his development.  The imaginative and creative use of instruments seemed to be a trademark of Beethoven's phase as a developing composer. (Think: septet)

The performance here is beautiful.  Bernard Greenhouse and Pressler are as wonderful as in any Beaux Art recording. I am able to learn little about George Pieterson except of his one-time position with the Royal Amsterdam Concertgebouworkest.
Otto Klemperer, New Philharmonia Orchestra
"Beethoven: Symphony no. 7" (Vinyl)

Angel packaged some beautiful, resilient vinyl back in the day.  This cycle of Beethoven's symphonies, which dates from the late 50's enjoyed protection inside thick cardboard sleeves which are the sturdiest I've seen (next to older Everest recordings.)

Klemperer was personal friends with Mahler and probably only three handshakes away from Beethoven himself.  Regarded as one of the best conductors of the 20th century, he did not enjoy a particular notoriety in the United States (overshadowed by the superstar status of Bernstein, Ormandy and Szell.)

His tempos in this recording of Beethoven's 7th are deliberate, bordering on slow compared to the sometimes frantic tempos I hear today.  There is a control and sublime wisdom that comes through in this performance.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Al Kealoha Perry

"Favorite Instrumentals of the Islands" (Vinyl)

Sometimes I just pick up a record not so much for its content, but because of when it was produced.  Often times, the quality of the recording and production is worth the 25 cents.

At some point in the 50's and 60's, along with Latin bands, America had a taste for the exotic.  Perhaps they didn't realize by this point, Hawaii was part of America and therefore not terribly exotic any more.


This album, (claiming to have been recorded on the beaches of Waikiki) is two sides of languid, relaxing pedal steel and ukelele strumming, no doubt intended to call to mind the soft rushing of waves as they lapped against the shore, the undulating hula girls and the mild weather.  It's all very beautiful, I suppose.  I may not keep this one around...

The Allman Brothers Band
"Eat a Peach" (Vinyl)

Released in 1972, this was a difficult period for the Southern Rock legends.  Following the break-through success of the band's "Live at Fillmore East" the band returned to the studio to record the tracks that would become "Eat a Peach" when slide guitarist Duane Allman was killed in a car accident.  Some tracks were re-recorded, some were added in homage to the bandmember's death.

This album is full of the country-fried Southern rock and improvisations that the band became famous for.  While the band carried on after Duane Allman's untimely death, it was these early records for which they are still most highly regarded.

I'll consider this part of the Saito Collection (which I'll hopefully refer to again and again.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Paul Simon
"Graceland" (Vinyl)

This was a monster hit in 1986 when it was released.  Not only did it clean up the Grammy awards for "best" everything, but it's subsequently been included on many "best of" or "greatest ever" lists.

1) This is a beautifully recorded record.  There is an uncommon range of musical textures and instruments included on this record, and they are all captured beautifully, creating a tapestry uncommon to pop records of any age.

2) This record made music in a new (and still unique) way. Combining a diverse range of musical styles, this record (in my opinion) took the mold of hip-hop music and applied it to a completely unexpected genre.  Sampling from a plethora of musical cultures (Zydeco, African and Caribbean drumming, Ladysmith Black Mambazo) and then crafting his light-hearted lyrics on top of it, Paul Simon created a whole new musical language.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Howlin' Wolf
"The Howlin' Wolf Album" (Vinyl)

The Rolling Stones were part of the British Invasion in 1964.  Among other things, the Stones brought with them a revival of interest in American Blues music.  Suddenly musicians like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf had people's ears in ways they hadn't in decades.

Chess Records decided to experiment with "contemporizing" the traditional blues sound with Hendrix-inspired psychadelic rock arrangements of the music of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.  Both blues legends were brought into the studio to re-record their popular tunes with a backing ensemble of musicians.
The stories persist that Howlin' Wolf strongly disliked the sound that was achieved with these "updates" of his music and didn't regard the music as the blues.

The album artwork has to rank high on the frank honesty scale.  It was a lesson in marketing: don't use negativity to sell.
Original Soundtrack
"The Muppet Movie" (Vinyl)

If there was a soundtrack to my youth, this would make the shortlist.
This film is older than I, but it was ubiquitous with my upbringing.  (Having parents who were huge fans of 'the Muppet Show' helped)

Not being the most attentive listener when it comes to lyrical content, I was shocked when I realized how many lyrics I knew from these songs.  Finally, decades later, the songwriting teams that crafted tunes for the films and television (including Sesame Street) are beginning to get credit for the genuinely good songs they wrote.  Yes, they're goofy and mercilessly innocent, but the music was part of the 'song and dance' idea that Jim Henson wanted. These songs lend as much character to the film as any of the actors that brought the Muppets to life.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fitzwilliam Quartet
"Shostakovich: String Quartet nos. 1, 2" (CD)

The Fitzwilliam Quartet has the distinction (from only basic research) of having recorded the first complete cycle of Shostakovich's string quartets, plus having given the western premiere of his three final quartets.

The quartet was founded in 1968 while students at Cambridge and were befriended by Shostakovich during a visit by the composer to New York.  Their recording of his 15th string quartet was personally supervised by Shostakovich himself.

Their playing is markedly different from how many quartets would perform today.  The first violinist on these records takes a striking, almost offensive approach, removing what we would consider "beauty" from his approach to the music and instead tries to translate Shostakovich's emotional grappling with more visceral, violent techniques.  Its a nice change from so many quartets that can play everything well, but often say anything unique.
The Cleveland Quartet
"Beethoven: String Quartets op. 18 no. 4, 5" (CD)

I played a movement of op. 18 no. 4 a few weeks ago as part of a summer music festival.  As usual, when it comes to Beethoven string quartets, these are my go-to recordings.  (That may be because they're the only recordings on my iPod, but we won't trifle with the details.)

Bill Preucil has logged some of the most impressive, effortless sounding performances I've ever heard.  I've had the privilege of performing with him in a performance of Mozart's fourth violin concerto and his ability to make these notes sound so weightless and buoyant is amazing.

This entire cycle of Beethoven's string quartets I regard to be amongst the best.  By the time the Cleveland Quartet recorded them, the ensemble was a well-oiled, well-rehearsed machine very comfortable in its own skin.  While their cycle recorded with Weilerstein (and Martha Strongin-Katz) is also important, I'll always have an affectation for this particular incarnation.
Soul Coughing
"Irresistible Bliss" (CD)

Released in 1996, this was the New York-based "slacker jazz" trio's sophomore album.

While not quite as organized or clear in concept when compared with the preceding "Ruby Vroom," "Irresistible" lacked nothing in the weirdo department.  Full of bizarre samples and deep bass lines, the whole disgusting sundae was topped by Doughty's trippy lyrics.

While never a mainstream success, the single "Super Bon Bon" did continue their moment of fame amongst the college radio circuit.
Four Tet
"Pause" (Vinyl)

Normally an act that I would keep on CD, I found a few of Four Tet's albums on vinyl on one of my trips to New Orleans and I couldn't help picking up one.

The "folktronic" artist (otherwise known as Kieran Hebden) released his second album in 2001. The only other album I own (to date) of his was his fourth, released in 2003.
Not much changed between these two albums.  Tet possesses a rare ability to stretch the listener's tolerances without ever losing our interest.  Any time concepts may become too thin he is ready to step in with a meaty drum loop to ground everything again.  I look forward to exploring more of Mr. Hebden's works.
Billy Vaughan
"Plays" (Vinyl)

Released in 1959, I have a Dot recording in stereo.  I've seen numerous versions of this album, which I think speaks to a wild success for Mr. Vaughan and his orchestra.

Vaughan was one of the big names in the easy-listening orchestral world.  While others cut their teeth arranging and conducting for the likes of Sinatra etc., Vaughan's compositions almost always featured instrumentalists and his popular arrangements of well-known tunes became world famous.

This record always jumps out at me in record bins because of the brilliant orange cover and (not surprisingly) the Eames plywood chair Mr. Vaughan is resting on.
Big Brother & the Holding Co.
"Cheap Thrills" (Vinyl)

Robert Crumb's distinctive style makes this one of the most eye-popping covers I own.  I would say Cream's 'Disraeli Gears' is a close second.
I found a sealed re-release of the monophonic pressing which the jacket gushed as being "extremely rare." More impressively, the price was quite reasonable.

This album, released in 1968, was the band's second to feature Janis Joplin as lead vocalist.
I also have Joplin's "Pearl" on my shelves and while that is often cited as her most famous work, (it was released posthumously) Joplin's vocals on this album are some of the most remarkable I've heard from 60's rock n' roll.  She is in full banshee wail, her distinctive raspy harmonics giving the sense of a full-out scream even when she's whispering.
Woody Herman
"Twelve Shades of Blue" (Vinyl)

Released in 1955, this Columbia six-eye was a fun find.  Sometimes its good to find records that remind me why this hobby began in the first place.

Woody Herman's orchestra is in full-swoon with twelve songs that all mention the color blue in the title.  There have definitely been thinner concepts for an album as the tone is decidedly laid-back, perfect for that cheek-to-cheek dancing I've heard so much about.

Average White Band
"Soul Searching" (Vinyl)

Well, we lost a month.  It was as bad as I expected...

Back to it!

'Soul Searching' was AWB's fourth album and was released in 1976 and their third release for Atlantic records.

Sticking to their strengths, this album is full of funk and soul that rivals any of the greats.  Not bad for a bunch of white boys, right?