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More jazz than not.

Copland: Motets; Durufle: Gregorian Motets; Messiaen; O sacrum convivium; Tallis: O sacrum convivium; Tavener: Song for Athene; Vaughan Williams: Mass in G Minor Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chamber Chorus/Norman Mackenzie (Telarc SACD 60654)

All of the music on this beautifully performed and recorded release is religious music, but music lovers and audiophiles should find this an enjoyable and rewarding release even if they are not devout believers. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chamber Chorus ranges in size from about 40 to 60 voices, depending on repertoire, and can sound big or small depending on the demands of the music.

I have long been a fan of Vaughan Williams's Mass in G Minor. Although Vaughan Williams professed agnosticism, much of his music expresses emotion and longing that sound as though they must have religious underpinnings. His Mass often gets paired with other English religious pieces, such as the Howells Requiem; it is interesting to have it included on a disc with several other pieces, and I particularly enjoy the way the producers framed to program by beginning and ending with a modern and historical setting of the same text, O sacrum convivium. All in all, this is a wonderful recording that I recommend quite highly.

Golijov: Ayre; Berio: Folk Songs Dawn Upshaw, soprano/The Andalucian Dogs (Deutsche Grammophon B0004782-02)

This is another of those recordings that I simply loathed upon first hearing. It just sounded awful to me, all wailing and straining for effect. What had they done to the beautiful voice of Dawn Upshaw?

Fortunately, I let my feelings simmer for a while, then tried the recording again. And again. Soon, I was hooked--this is a delightful recording of energetic music. Yes, the music by Golijov does vary all over the place, from Arabic- to Spanish- to simply crazy-sounding, but as you come to hear how much fun Ms. Upshaw is having singing this stuff, you begin to have fun listening to it. The music by Berio is more straightforward, but not without its strangeness quotient; strange also it was to realize how much the voice of Ms. Upshaw sounded in places like that of Judy Collins. Who'da thunk it?

No, this is not music for the faint of heart, I would estimate that at least 90% of those reading this review would hate it. Not just dislike it, but HATE it! So, no, I am not recommending this to everyone--only to a few of you. You know who you are.

Manu Katche: Neighbourhood (ECM 1896 B0005921-02)

Manu Katche is a drummer who has appeared on several ECM releases; as far as I know, this his his first effort as a leader. He has assembled quite a band, including veteran sax man Jan Garbarek, notable trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, and two members of Stanko's band, Marcin Wasilewki (piano) and Slawomir Kurkiewicz (bass). All the music was composed by Katche, which might lead you to expect driving music, heavy on rhythm and popping with power, but that is not the case. Instead, the music is richly lyrical, with nice contributions by Stanko and Garbarek and solid support from Wasilewki and Kurkiewicz.

Those who tend to shy away from contemporary jazz might find this recording a pleasant surprise, richly rewarding with its melody and expression, yet with enough energy and passion to please real jazz fans. This is not "lite jazz." It is enjoyable jazz, well-played and well-recorded, which should appeal to a wide cross-section of listeners.

Paul Motian Band: Garden of Eden (ECM 1917 B0006065-02)

Veteran drummer Paul Motian has put together an unusual septet with two saxophonists (Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby), three guitarists (Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder, and Jakob Bro), a bassist (Jerome Harris), and drums (Paul Motian). Of the 14 cuts in this collection, half are by Motian, two are by Charles Mingus ("Pithecanthropus Erectus" and "Goodbye Porkpie Hat"), and one each is by Thelonious Monk ("Evidence"), Jerome Kern ("Bill"), Charlie Parker ("Cheryl"), and bandmates Cheek and Cardenas.

Although there are times when the mixture of instruments weaves a thick sonic tapestry, for the most part that arrangements are relatively spare. The arrangements often tend toward the dreamlike, with sounds morphing into each other. Still, Harris and Motian provide a rhythmic underpinning, so things are kept from getting overly nebulous. If what you want from a jazz septet is crisp, driving melodies with plenty of forward propulsion, you will have to look elsewhere; but if you favor dreamlike sonorities and rich colors, you may well find this music quite to your liking. This is clearly not jazz for everybody, but those who do enjoy such music will find plenty to like.

Jaco Pastorius Big Band: The Word Is Out! (Heads Up HUCD 3110)

Bands that carry the name of departed leaders are often called "ghost bands." Here we have a ghost band named after someone who in his brief lifetime was known not so much for leading a big band as for playing in a small ensemble, Weather Report. Jaco also played some with Pat Metheny, and even with Joni Mitchell (if you have ever get a chance to see the Shadows and Light concert video, you will see Jaco hogging the spotlight to the point that one of the Brecker Bros. looks to be ready to clock him over the head--it's hilarious, but sad).

There is plenty of fun music on this release. With living bass players such as Richard Bona, Mark Egan, Gerald Veasley, Israel "Cachao" Lopez Jr., Victor Wooten, Jimmy Haslip, Jeff Carswell, and Will Lee underpinning the arrangements with Jaco-style fluid bass runs, there is plenty of musical color and energy. The final cut takes the ghost band concept a step further, with Jaco himself playing the bass part in the form not of a spectre, but rather a studio tape. If you are fan of big band music or of Jaco Pastorius, the The Word Is Out! is a recording you will definitely need to put on your want list.

Terje Rypdal: Vossabrygg (ECM 1984 B000597502)

Long-time readers will no doubt recognize the name of guitarist Terje Rypdal, who has appeared as both leader and sideman on seemingly countless ECM recordings over the years. He is joined in this live recording by Palle Mikkelborg (trumpet, synthesizer), Bugge Wesseltoft (electric piano, synthesizer), Stale Storlokken (Hammond organ, electric piano, synthesizer), Marius Rypdal (Terje's son) (electronics, samples, turntables), Bjorn Kjellemyr (electric and acoustic basses), Jon Christensen (drums), and Paolo Vinaccia (drums).

As soon as the opening notes of this set come out from your speakers, you will be transported back more that three decades as you hear the sounds of that famous Miles Davis album, Bitches Brew. Amazing! What Rydal has done is composed a jazz set that pays tribute to that classic Miles album, yet sounds fresh and new, which is not an easy feat.

Trumpeter Mikkelborg plays some Miles-like licks, but again, it never sounds as though the band is simply trying to imitate that sound. Rypdal still sounds like Rypdal, playing high and mysterious notes that float and linger, and his son Darius supplies some contemporary-sounding samplings that bring the proceedings into the 21st century. What this music does accomplish in to recreate the way Miles's band would establish a pulse--not just a beat, not just a rhythm, but a living pulse--and build everything up from that. Again, about the only word I can think of is, "amazing." I would never have thought that Terje Rypdal, of all musician I could think of, would put together an amazing tribute to the music of Miles Davis, but he has done just that.

If you were ever a fan of Bitches Brew, you really must audition Vossabrygg. That title, by the way, translates into "Vossa Brew." An amazing, intoxicating, and satisfying brew it is.
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Title Annotation:THE MUSIC
Publication:Sensible Sound
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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