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Index to All Issues

 

Music Reviews

 

YellowJackets

Twenty Five

Heads Up DVD HUDV 7112

 

0

5

Performance

*

Sonics

*

Twenty-five years and five personnel changes later, the easy to love Yellowjackets jazz quartet celebrates their silver anniversary with an excellently recorded. two-disc package that includes a live audio CD plus a DVD. The latter is packed with three and a half hours of surround sound concert footage plus interviews and archival material. The bulk of the material consists of the group's most popular tunes, newly contemporized for changing tastes.

The Yellowjackets, it must be noted, are not the most enthralling musicians to watch. Hence any number of close-ups, fades, and pans are included in an attempt to add visual interest to the rather static players. I'd expressly avoid the absurdly pretentious, out of character introduction to the interviews that features black and white profiles of each band member gazing straight ahead and then up to the stars, interspersed with shots of the universe from afar. The music, however, is a thing apart. It may not stimulate the deeper cavities of your brain, but the Yellowjackets create lively, amiable jazz filled with good energy.

 

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Peter Lieberson: Neruda Songs

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Boston Symphony Orchestra, James Levine

Nonesuch 79954-2

 

0

5

Performance

*

Sonics

*

Expansive in concept, magnificent in execution, Peter Lieberson's just-released Neruda Songs (Nonesuch) speak of the unfathomable mysteries of love and death. Written for his wife, the great mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, the settings of five of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's 100 Love Sonnets were inspired by the love the two shared for each other.

Although Peter decided to set the songs in August 1997, a month after he and Lorraine fell in love, he first began to compose the music in 2005, as Lorraine was entering her final year of illness. True to his path as a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, he works within a spare, sensuous aesthetic that revels in the flesh while honoring the godliness within and beyond. Aware of his wife's soul-tugging vocal and interpretive strengths, he takes us on a unique, multi-dimensional journey, made all the more poignant for its acknowledgment of the fleeting.

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson premiered the five Neruda Songs with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in LA in May 2005, subsequently performing them with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under James Levine in Boston and New York. This recording, culled from the Boston performances of November 25-26, arrives on the heels of a Grammy nominated all-Lieberson CD (Bridge 9178), far more generous in length than Nonesuch's 32 minutes, that includes Lorraine's live 2004 Ravinia Festival performance of Peter's Rilke Songs. Both recordings serve as enduring testaments to her communicative mastery.

A little over seven months before her death at age 52, Lorraine's warm, velvety voice glows with inner strength and health. As always, her ability to sing with unadorned, naked honesty is a thing of wonder. At the conclusion of the final song, as Lorraine sings in a sliver of a voice that love is like a long river, only changing lands and changing lips, the breath stills, and the heart opens.

 

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Peter Kater

Elements Series: Fire

Real Music RM 4003

 

0

5

Performance

*

Sonics

*

Beyond Earth, Air, and Water, it is Fire, one of the four CDs that comprise Peter Kater's "Elements Series" that received a 2007 Grammy nomination for Best New Age Album. Although the first track, "Eternal Sunshine," is a bit straight-ahead treadmill, the other compositions, including "The Way Home," "Twilight," "Hearth Fire," and "Afterglow," possess an uncommon, serene beauty. It's music that makes you want to slow down, pause, lie on your back, and gaze up at a literal or metaphorical sky filled with stars. Kater's all-acoustic flights, featuring his piano joined by Ludvig Girdland's soulful violin and Paul McCandless' rich treasure chest of penny whistles, oboe, English horn, and soprano sax, make one forget about the dross of war. Fire instead purifies, preparing a place of wonder and appreciation where sundry politicians and superficially pious men in robes seem like needless distractions from that which is enduring and true.

 

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Ska Cubano

Ay Caramba!

Cumbancha CMB CD1

 

0

5

Performance

*

Sonics

*

Fun, fun, fun. The inspiration to adapt ska, an infectious, upbeat style of music that originated in Jamaica in the 1960s, to the indigenous rhythms of Cuban music birthed from the mind of Britain's Peter A. Scott. Heading to Santiago de Cuba with Natty Bo, a popular London DJ and vocalist, the two happened upon a superb mix of Cuban musicians, among whom was vocalist Beny Billy. Returning to London, Natty Bo drew together leading exponents of Cuban and Jamaican music to create Ska Cubano. The music on their debut disc is wild, irresistibly danceable, and celebratory from the get-go. You'll hear elements of salsa, mamba, son, and reggae. But mostly you'll feel joy. Don't miss "Big Bamboo," a song in Jamaican-inflected English that one-ups Mae West's pistol in your pocket metaphor.

 

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Little Richard

Little Richard/Here's Little Richard

Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2028

 

0

5

Performance

*

Sonics

*

In the olden days, it is rumored that a certain pre-pubescent adolescent on Long Island used to drive his mother out of the house by playing Little Richard LPs at top volume. (His mother may have screamed that he was driving her crazy, but hindsight suggests that the damage was already done). Now, 50 years after Richard Penniman's eponymous debut platter forever changed the course of rock 'n roll, his first two albums reappear on a single ultra high-resolution monaural Super Audio Compact Disc (Mobile Fidelity).

Not even working from the original masters, which produces better sound than on the '50's LPs, can alter the fact that the sonics are far from the highest fidelity. (Hey, two of the tracks were recorded in an unknown radio station). Yet not even occasional tape saturation when he lets loose can detract from Little Richard's high, give-it-all-you've-got state.

Including such classic hits as "Good Golly, Miss Molly" and "Tutti-Frutti" (the demo tune that won Little Richard a recording contract and hinted at his conflicted sexual orientation), "Keep A Knockin'," and "Ooh! My Soul," this fabulous disc gives us the fabulous Little Richard in his prime, as he sings, screams, and yelps as if his life depended on it.

 

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Quartet San Francisco

Ltigo

ViolinJazzRecordings JCCD104

 

0

5

Performance

*

Sonics

*

Rarely does a self-produced CD of so-called "classical crossover" receive two Grammy nominations. But such is the deserved fate of the second CD from Quartet San Francisco (www.quartetsanfrancisco.com), the Bay Area Ensemble that, only three years after its inception, captured both the Special Prize and the Grand Prize at the 2004 New York City International Tango Competition, sponsored by the Argentine Consulate.

Why tango is considered "crossover" rather than simply classical must have to do with its danceability and powers of seduction. While it may lack snob appeal and airs of the cloister, it certainly lacks not for sophistication. Especially in these hands, the music is irresistible. Take, for example, Hernandez' "Cachita," Chick Corea's "Armando's Rhumba," or one of the most famous tangos of all time, Matos Rodriguez's 1917 classic, "La Cumparsita." The titles may not be familiar, but there's a good chance that, if you've heard a fair share of tango, one of these tunes is already inscribed in your memory.

Tango San Francisco seems to have tango in its blood, swinging and slinking through the notes with considerable flair. The contrast between the unbridled optimism of "Cachita" and the refined melancholy of Astor Piazzolla's mysterious Nuevo tango, "Melodia en La Menor" could not be greater. Piazzolla in fact makes his insinuating presence known three times, as do two decidedly non-Latinos, Leonard Bernstein (in an arrangement of West Side Story's "Cool" by Turtle Island String Quartet founder, David Balakrishnan) and the quartet's first violinist Jeremy Cohen, who in "Crowdambo," pays homage to his late teacher, Anne Crowden, founder of Berkeley's Crowden School of Music for children and young adults. There's so much unexpected beauty in this music. Wonderfully recorded – one of its Grammy nominations is for Best Engineered Album, Classical – with the bonus of John Santos' percussion on three of its sixteen tracks – this CD is destined to spend more time in your player than on the shelf.

 

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Hossein Alizadeh & Djivan Gasparyan

Endless Vision: Persian and Armenian Songs

World Village 168047

 

0

5

Performance

*

Sonics

*

This exquisite musical meeting of Iran and its northern neighbor Armenia proved far more audacious than initially anticipated. When Persian master Hossein Alizadeh (b. 1951) and Armenian virtuoso Djivan Gasparyan (b. 1928) collaborated on several joint concerts in the summer of 2003, they never expected to encounter government opposition. The concerts themselves, performed before enthusiastic crowds of thousands in the serene outdoor environment of Tehran's Niavaran Palace, went off without a hitch. Afterwards, however, Iran's Ministry of Culture, which must approve all audio recordings before they are released in that country, delayed the album's release for two years because Alizadeh had invited one of his longtime pupils, the female singer Afsaneh Rasaei, to perform onstage in the otherwise all-male Hamavayan Ensemble. At last available in Iran and the United States, this exceptional meeting of Iranian and Armenian musical traditions has been honored with a 2007 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional World Music Album.

"The music of Iran and Armenia is a language shared between the two nations," says Alizadeh. "It's a mirror reflecting history in each phrase." A musical crossroads between three peoples -- Armenian, Azeri, and Persian -- it reflects the existence of a large and vibrant Armenian community within Iran since the early 16th century.

Both musicians have become well known to American audiences. The mournful sound of Gasparyan's duduk, a traditional Armenian double-reed woodwind, has been heard in soundtracks to Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ and Gladiator, and in artistic collaborations with Peter Gabriel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Kronos Quartet. The younger Alizadeh, who received his second Grammy nomination for the two-CD set Faryad, frequently tours the U.S. as part of the trio Masters of Persian Music. He has also written scores for some Iran's best-known "new wave" films, and contributed to the development of the shurangiz, the new six-stringed plucked lute he plays on the album, whose timbre is a hybrid of the traditional Iranian tar, setar, and tanbur.

The album's seven selections includes Hossein Alizadeh's "Birds," a 22-minute setting of a contemporary Iranian poem; Djivan Gasparyan's short improvisation, "Armenian Romances;" "Sari Galin," a traditional Armenian song known to most Iranians; and "Tasnif Parvaneh Sho" a setting of an ecstatic love poem by 13th century homosexual mystic Rumi. The music is oft plaintive, reflecting a depth of experience and wisdom that renders the pronouncements of clerics and politicians petty and irrelevant. On every track, Alizadeh and Gasparyan's soulful flights transcend boundaries of culture and the mind.

 

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Arvo Part: Da Pacem

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Harmonia Mundi USA HMU 907401 (also available in SACD format)

 

0

5

Performance

*

Sonics

*

Most deserving of its 2007 Grammy nomination, this ethereal recording of sacred choral music by Estonian composer Arvo Part (b. 1935) expands far beyond its digital confines. Thanks to the fabled Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, conducted by longtime Prt collaborator Paul Hillier, Part's music resounds with timeless reverence. The voices, sometimes accompanied by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent's organ, ring on forte passages, elsewhere floating hushed, transporting tones. Toward the end of the 13-minute Salve Regina, written five years ago, the organ's exquisitely spare triads chime with Part's characteristic "tintinnabuli" (from the Latin, "little bells"), a technique used in most of his mature works. Dopo la vittoria is at times quite animated; in one section, the men voice the melody while the women comment in counterpoint, imitating the back and forth of Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine singing a hymn to the Holy Trinity. You may not be into religion – I'm certainly not – but the faith that resounds through Part's music will for many speak a pantheistic language.

 

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Franz Schubert: String Quartets 'Death and the Maiden' * 'Rosamunde'

Takacs String Quartet

Hyperion CDA67585

 

0

5

Performance

*

Sonics

*

The sharp opening chord of Schubert's string quartet 'Death and the Maiden' strikes right through the heart. Written in 1824, the year after the 27-year old composer exhibited the first symptoms of syphilis, it is a work of utmost resignation and despair. With his youth seemingly behind him, and protracted suffering lying ahead, Schubert poured his heart out in both this, his 14th string quartet, and his 13th 'Rosamunde' quartet written the same year.

Why listen to a work filled with such pain? On one level, Schubert's grief is so personal, so exposed, and so free from denial that his suffering speaks to all. Yet, by venting his grief while simultaneously acknowledging the infinite beauty in life with every note, he miraculously transcends suffering to embrace a higher or at least equal truth about the human condition. Life may be filled with suffering, but it is also filled with beauty worth rejoicing. So this music seems to say.

Some have called the Takacs String Quartet the greatest string quartet in the world. Regardless of the truth of that statement – there are so many criteria involved in the judging that the assertion ultimately seems beyond the point – they certainly seemed unequalled when I heard them perform the 'Death and the Maiden' Quartet No.14 in D minor live some years back. Now, with veteran San Francisco Symphony principal violist Geraldine Walther replacing their former violist, their new recording that pairs Schubert's 'Death and the Maiden' and 'Rosamunde' string quartets retains if not magnifies the same impact. The essential interplay and cooperation between viola and cello that make the slow movement of 'Death and the Maiden' sing with such devastating eloquence are reinforced by the heart-breaking sweetness and forceful cries of first violinist Edward Dusinberre. These are great musicians, with veteran second violinist Kroly Schranz and cellist Andres Fejer equally eloquent. (Fejer's cello is especially clear in the second movement). The performance is riveting, as shattering as it ultimately uplifting.

If the 'Rosamunde' quartet represents a gentler excursion into melancholy, it is no less filled with beauty. Here again, the extraordinary oneness between the members of the quartet enriches musicianship as thought through as it is alive to every moment. What keeps the playing fresh is the tension, the constant interplay of pitch, rhythm, and nuance that declares Schubert's emotions as real and relevant today as they were close to two centuries ago.

 

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Meg Rayne

Open Up to the Spirit

Unity on the River Records

 

0

5

Performance

*

Sonics

*

I have lots of sympathy for independent musicians, being one myself. But few of their CDs make the grade. Meg Rayne's is different. When she sings "Open Up to the Spirit" to a classic upbeat country/gospel melody, her energy is so positive that you immediately sense that she's not just another folk singer going through the motions. Siinging her own songs, Meg's "Still Small Voice" and "Prayer Changes Everything" are the real thing. Her somewhat throaty voice, pushed on top, may not rival the clarity and freedom of some of the greats in their prime, but it's quite lovely, and ideal for her subject matter. If you're looking for songs of faith with a distinct New Age tint - songs that you'd be happy to play at a Unity service or sing with friends - give Meg a listen.

 


- Jason Victor S
erinus -

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