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Our favorite things: recordings.

Once again, we have asked our staff to pick their 10 favorites from among the many recordings they have encountered, employed, and enjoyed during the past year. We think you will agree that this is quite an eclectic list, and we hope that you find it entertaining and useful. Enjoy!

Steve Baird

My favorite non-classical release of 2004 is Bill Berry's Shortcake album (PA-004) available in vinyl only from Dennis Cassidy's Pure Audiophile label. I reported on this recording this past summer in issue 100. This is a limited edition heavy vinyl 2-LP set available from any of the audiophile mail order companies. Cassidy & Company have done an excellent job in bringing back the breath of life that Phil Edwards had given it for Concord Jazz back in the Seventies. Since it is a limited edition I recommend that you get this one before it's gone.

Speaking with my audiophile/music-lover voice, the year was one of my most eagerly anticipated in recent memory. Having considered Sony's new Super Audio CD/Direct Stream Digital medium as an improvement over PCM in 2001, much of my attention has been directed to learning of and sampling many of the reissues of vintage jazz and classical music that have been perennial favorites of mine as both a lover of great music and sound. In this regard, the past year brought us many reissues from all of the great jazz labels--Fantasy, Verve, Blue Note and Concord among them. In the classical realm, the great Living Stereo recordings from RCA and now the Mercury Living Presence icons have made their debuts. There were lots of classic rock reissues in multi-channel too, but I have been reluctant to try more than just a couple of these for reasons of personal taste. In many cases involving these reissues, audiophiles were given their first opportunity to hear these recordings in multi-channel sound. This development has been a welcomed one for many audiophiles, yet there are still some of us who hang on to the conventional two-channel playback mode loyally, and are not inclined to take the financial plunge to add three more speakers to our listening rooms.

Despite my eager anticipation, I must confess that I have been disappointed in many of the new SACD/DSD reissues I've sampled. The RCA Living Stereo SACD and Fantasy jazz releases were among those that disappointed me most. The good news is, though, that for SACD enthusiasts 2004 couldn't have ended on a more positive note. For as much as I was disappointed in those from RCA, I can't praise the Mercury Living Presence SACDs enough. I find these to be the most natural sounding of the reissues to come out this year, and they all receive my heartiest recommendation. So far I've sampled six of the ten titles currently available, and each of these has shown me some benefit over their PCM reissues of a decade ago. Classical music lovers will recall that Wilma Cozart Fine, who had been involved in the original recordings decades earlier, oversaw the conversion of these to CD. The results were then among the best analog-to-digital releases to emerge (and still are), but these new DSD issues demonstrate well just how limited the CD medium actually is in terms of its resolution and microdynamics.

Universal Music Group, present owners of the Mercury catalog, had the good sense to leave well enough alone, so the Fine-authorized versions from the Nineties appear on the CD layers of these hybrid disks. I verified this on three of these by comparing my CD versions with the CD layers on the new disks. In general, the new SACD conversions offer a greater sense of space, texture, dynamics and transparency than the earlier CD reissues. Here are some brief comments on each of the ten released so far.

Suppe & Auber Overtures, Paray/Detroit Symphony, MLP 470-638-2. This is, perhaps, the best sounding of the five MLP titles I have heard so far. The orchestra is spread deep and wide across the sound stage, with a transparency that offers a palpable aural glimpse into each of the sections. Tonal balance is superbly linear, and the dynamics are exceptional. If I were recommending only one of these titles, I would have a difficult time deciding if it should be this one.

Stravinsky: Firebird (complete), Song of the Nightingale, Dorati/London Symphony, MLP 470-643-2. If there is a better Firebird on record, I haven't heard it. I have Stravinsky's own performance of this on a Sony SACD, but the tape for that performance a suffered much damage; this one sounds as good as it always has. The SACD recording is a bit more open and ambient than the earlier CD.

J. S. Bach: Six Suites for Solo Cello, Janos Starker MLP 470-644-2 (2 disks). Were it not for the fact that many audiophiles prefer orchestral music to solo works (with piano accompaniment), Starker's reissue would receive my highest recommendation of these ten. The acoustic is nearly perfect; the performances are second to none. Since it is a two-disk set the price is double that of the other releases.

Hanson: Symphonies 1 (Nordic) & 2 (Romantic), Hanson/Eastman-Rochester, MLP 475-6181. Tape hiss is unexplainably not so prominent as it is on the CD layer. I would have thought the opposite would be true.

Chabrier: Espana, Suite Pastorale, Fete Polonaise et al, Paray/Detroit Symphony, MLP 475-6183. If the Suppe recommended above were rated 100 for sound quality, this one would be too. What I said above goes for this one too. Since they are both Paray/Detroit recordings the sound quality is almost the same.

Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture, Le Coq d'Or Suite et al, MLP 475-9194. The sound on this one is equally superb, but I have always been partial to Boult's performance of the Russian Easter Overture for Decca. This recording is deserving of its many accolades from critics nevertheless.

The following items have not been auditioned, but are listed for your reference.

Respighi: Ancient Dances and Airs for Lute, Dorati/Philharmonia Hungarica, Mercury Living Presence (hereinafter MLP) 470-637-2. This one has been backordered from my supplier, but the reports on its sound are excellent.

Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos 2 & 3, Byron Janis (piano), Dorati/Minneapolis Symphony, MLP 470-639-2. I have not ordered this one, but reports are that this disk will malfunction on some Sony SACD players; other brands appear to play the disk as intended. I recommend that the reader wait for a second pressing of this title if he/she owns a Sony player.

Fennel Conducts Sousa, Fennel/Eastman Wind Ensemble, MLP 475-6182.

Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez et al, The Romeros (guitars), Alessandro/San Antonio Symphony, MLP 475-6184.

I am happy to receive comments or questions regarding Super Audio CD or the recordings discussed in my columns. My email address is stevegbaird@cox.net.

Kevin East

In a year during which the presidential election was allegedly decided on "moral values" and the mounting chaos in Iraq invoked stoic denial among the nation's leadership, I found myself silently thanking the gods for the messy pandemonium of rock'n'roll, preferring a frank admission of life CAREENING MADLY OUT OF CONTROL! over the self-conscious byproduct of cultural polarity. Despite the earnest efforts of the record company suits to foment a predictable uniformity of taste and product consumption, rock simply insists on being the multi-cultural bad boy, the imp on the block that no one can tame. And just when you think you've got him under lock and key, your windows get soaped, the elm tree TP'd, or the flivver egged. Hail, hail, rock'n'roll.

My Top Ten or so; Carousel Corner review issue in parentheses.

Guster, Keep It Together (No. 100). When your 11-year-old asks, "Dad, is that Guster?", you know (a) you're raising the kid right, and (b) you've sure been playing the CD a lot.

Fountains of Wayne, "Welcome Interstate Managers" (No. 100). Again my 11-year-old paves the way, "Can I play 'Stacy's Mom' again, please?" Now you know who owns the real musical brains in our house.

The New Pornographers, Electric Version (No. 100). My copy's missing. I have a sneaking suspicion that my mother-in-law found it and trashed it. Pornography, indeed! And with an 11-year-old in the house! Okay, that was unfair. It's just lost. (I know she did it ...)

Mary Chapin Carpenter, Between Here and Gone (No. 101). My buddy, Ricky the Roughrider, said something about Mary Chapin Carpenter being on a tough streak what with a couple of loser albums in a row. It was either laugh or deck him. So I decked him.

Los Lobos, The Ride (No. 101). I just program out the Costello track.

The Dandy Warhols, Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia (No. 101). If you truly believe that the nation has misplaced its moral compass, whatever you do, don't buy this disc. Just don't go there. No, really. The rest of you: have a blast ...

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, Streetcore (No. 102). What it's all about. The gentle paean to John Lennon, "Johnny Appleseed", is worth the price of admission.

J.J. Cale, To Tulsa and Back (No. 102). In spite of being "the source" for too many others, Cale's center is immutable.

Bill Frisell, Unspeakable (No. 102).

The Hives, Tyrannosaurus Hives (No. 102). Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, ladies and gentlemen ... Howlin' Pelle Almqvist!

Franz Ferdinand (No. 102). Ferocious band; great disc.

The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow and Oh, Inverted World (No. 102). You have to hear these to believe them.

Spinning Jennies, Stratosphere (No. 102). In memoriam.

Calexico, Feast of Wire (No. 102). Odd, eclectic, utterly compelling.

The Subdudes, Miracle Mule (No. 102). Black gospel done well by white guys.

Tift Merritt, Tambourine (No. 102). Okay, this one's too heavy on the hype, but she's got great pipes, good material, and a crack band.

Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News. See review this ish.

R.E.M., Around the Sun. See review this ish.

Bjork, Medulla. See review this ish.

Scissor Sisters. See review this ish.

The Finn Brothers, Everyone Is Here. See review this ish.

Howard Ferstler

Here are a few of the recordings that tickled my fancy this past year. With some of the staff-picks contributions I have done in the past I selected recordings that, first and foremost, offered demo-grade sound. However, this time I also selected recordings that are musically rewarding enough to warrant me listening to them for musical values as well as sonic excellence.

Bach, J.S.: Six Suites for Solo Cello. Sergei Istomin, cello. Analekta 3114 (2-disc set).

As I have noted in some of my previous reviews, when one wants a solidly musical recorded presentation of the cello, particularly the solo cello, it is very important to have flat, clean response in the middle-bass range. If your speaker/room package can do this, this disc will reward with sound that is demo grade and a performance that is demo grade, too. (The Allison IC-20s in my main system are designed to generate flat bass input to the listening room and the Dunlavy Cantatas in my middle system are electrically equalized to pull off the same thing.) As I stated in my earlier review of this set, Istomin plays two different cellos during this series, and each has a wondrous sound. The overall effect is quite close up, and you can occasionally hear the performer moving about in his seat and also clearly hear the bowing strokes.

Biber, Heinrich: Harmonia Artificioso--Ariosa; Tam Aris Quam Aulis Servientes. The Rare Fruits Council. Naive/Astree 3002 (2-disc set).

Biber was a major composer in his time (the late 17th century), and was also known as a peerless violinist. The works performed in this set highlight his compositional talent with great skill. The recording does the music total justice, particularly when it comes to delineating a clean string tone. As usual, the sense of live-music hall space and soundstaging was enhanced by proper DSP ambiance synthesis.

Haydn, Joseph: The London Trios. The Camerata Koln. CPO 920.

This ensemble specializes in period-instrument presentations of music written during the baroque and late-baroque eras (with a strong emphasis upon the works of Telemann). Consequently, this movement into the more "modern" works of Haydn is a step forward in time for them. They do a first-class job here, with the smallish period-instrument sound working quite well with music of this scale. The sound was particularly good when played back on the Dunlavy Cantatas in my middle system.

Mendelssohn, Felix: Complete Piano Trios. Trio Parnassus. MD&G 303-1241.

Actually, these are not the complete trios, because only two are here and Mendelssohn composed three. However, the third was penned when the composer was only eleven years old and some of it was based upon parts of Mozart's Requiem. In any case, the material on this disc is superbly performed, and the recording is demo grade all the way. Better yet, I got exceptional imaging and soundstaging when I applied the Classical/Opera DSP mode available from the Yamaha RX-Z1 receiver in my main system.

Paisiello, Giovanni: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 4. Collegium Philarmonicum Chamber Orchestra, Francesco Nicolosi, piano. Naxos 8.557031.

This is pleasant, light-duty classical music that will appeal to anyone who appreciates music by Haydn or the earlier Mozart. The recorded acoustics are on the dry side, but with proper DSP ambiance applied the result is very fine, indeed. With detail revealing speakers like the Dunlavy Cantatas in my middle system, the recording was very clean, detailed, and well imaged--and superior in terms of center, phantom-image focus to what I could get in straight-stereo form from the Allison IC-20s in my main system. Highlighting again the advantages of employing a center channel to derive a proper central image, the diffuse characteristic was easily stabilized when I engaged the Dolby Pro Logic II circuitry in the main system.

Telemann, Georg Philipp: Recorder Concertos. The Parley of Instruments. Helios 55091. (Originally released as Hyperion 66413 in 1989.)

An example of superb engineering work by Tony Faulkner, this is a sensational recording of music by one of the western world's greatest composers. With good DSP ambiance applied (in this case, by both the Yamaha RX-Z1 receiver in my main system and the Yamaha DSP-A1 in my middle system), this release sounds better than just about any surround-sound mastered recording I have heard.

Telemann, Georg Philipp: Chamber Concertos. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, with Sara Cunningham, viola da gamba and Marion Verbruggen, recorder. Harmonia Mundi 907093.

Recorded over a dozen years ago, this is another Faulkner-engineered recording that like the one above exhibits a wide, subjectively close-up soundstage that will appeal to some listeners (those who prefer the close-up seats at live performances) more than others. Except for a bit of hall-induced rumble (heard only with superb main speakers or superb subwoofers), this is demo-grade sound of demo-grade music. It responded particularly well to DPL II ambiance extraction in my main system for a great surround effect.

Telemann, Georg Philipp: Concertos and Chamber Music, Volume 2. Musica Alta Ripa. MD&G 309-1250.

OK, we all know I like Telemann. This is volume 2 of a two-part series, with this issue concentrating on five ensemble works that highlight the strings. The music is superb and the recording does it justice. As with just about every acoustic-instrument recording I have auditioned over the past few years, this material sounded more realistic with proper DSP ambiance applied than when listening to in straight stereo form.

Telemann, Georg Philipp: Six Trios, 1718. Camerata Koln. CPO 957.

Yep, Telemann again. He may not be as well known as Bach, but his instrumental music is easily as solid as anything Bach produced. As I noted in my earlier review, the music on this disc has to be head to be believed. It is chamber music at its highest level, and the period-instrument ensemble is as polished and professional as one could imagine. The sound is equally superb, with near perfect soundstaging, depth, detail and spaciousness, and with a good mid-hall to close-up listening perspective. This is a demo-grade disc by any two-channel audio standard. Apply some good DSP ambiance embellishments and it equals any 5.1 release out there.

Les Violons du Roy: Celebration. (With one previously unreleased exception, these are musical excerpts from the Dorian catalog that includes material by Handel, J.S. Bach, J.C.F. Bach, Vivaldi, and Mozart.) Dorian 90024.

While still employing modern instruments, the fifteen-piece Violons du Roy ensemble specializes in baroque and classical chamber music and performs in a way that reflects the techniques of those eras. The performances are superb, and the sound is demo grade, with some of the most refined soundstaging you will encounter. That soundstaging became even better, with a better sense of hall space, too, when I applied some Dolby Pro Logic II surround manipulations.

Vivaldi, Antonio: Concerti for Fagotto e Oboe. Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca, with Sergio Azzolini, bassoon, and Hans Peter Westermann, oboe. Opus 111 30379.

The bassoon brings out the best in bass accuracy from really fine loudspeaker systems, properly sited. Speaker/room combinations that lack body in the middle bass (or do not employ equalization to counteract mid-bass power suckout) will not do material like this justice. In addition to the wonderful bassoon and oboe tonalities, this release has a very good solo-instrument focus from the sweet spot, particularly when the main speakers are Dunlavy Cantatas or their imaging equal. The focus becomes even better when the derived L+R part of the program is routed to a good center speaker via a good DSP steering function.

James Frane

Julie London's Calendar Girl/Your Number Please (EMI 7243 8 59959 2 7) is a CD combining the songs from the two LPs of the same names. All of the songs were recorded between 1957 and 1959, when she was at the height of her long career. She was born Julie Peck in 1926, made her first movie at the age of 18, and didn't start her singing career until 1956. Julie became well known as a singer with her first hit, "Cry Me a River." Her own style and warm, textured voice are easily recognized. The 38 songs on this CD are a combination of hits current at the time plus old favorites and standards. The tunes from Calendar Girl are related to the months as the album title suggests, such as "June in January" and "September in the Rain".

The Jacques Loussier Trio hales from France and has made a number of albums of the past 4+ decades in soul, jazz, swing, baroque and other styles. The trio comprises Jacques Loussier on piano, Vincent Charbonnier on bass, and Andre Arpino on drums. The Best of Play Bach (Telarc Surround SACD 63590) is a technically updated and enhanced version of their 1996 album of the same name. This super audio CD is in multi-channel surround when played on an SACD player, but is compatible with all CD players (a non-SACD, surround capable player will provide stereo [two-channel] playback). The essence of this album style is an improvisational jazz interpretation of several JS Bach compositions, including "Prelude No. 1 in C major," "Air on a G String," and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." The first time one hears Bach as jazz can be a little unsettling, but I've found it grew on me--this is not my only CD by this group. In surround mode using my home theater system, there was added spaciousness compared to stereo. The sound of the dipole rear speakers is all reflected, and their volume setting is low, so they provide enhanced spaciousness without becoming a localizable sound source. This surround CD provided a good sense of being there.

The Dave Brubeck Quarter's Jazz at Oberlin (Fantasy F-3245 OJCCD-046-2) is neither a new recording nor a new release. The recording was made on March 2, 1953 at Oberlin College's Finney Chapel, and has since been identified by some as significant in bringing jazz into the mainstream of music. At the time, Oberlin jazz performances had been limited to dances, rather than being presented as a concert for listening. This monaural live recording lasts just under 40 minutes, and features Dave Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on sax, Ron Crotty on bass, and Lloyd Davis on drums. Although we've become accustomed to hearing music recording in stereo or surround, this monaural presentation is still very involving. The tunes are "These Foolish Things," "Perdido," "Stardust," "The Way You Look Tonight," and "How High the Moon."

The Searchers (named after the John Wayne movie) have been making music since the 1960s. There have been a couple of personnel changes over the years. Their SACD release The Collection (Fidelity AFZ018) is a dual-layer hybrid disc that can be played in stereo on a two-channel CD player, as well as in surround sound when an SACD player is used with complementary 4 (or more) channel system. This 41-minute compilation covers 17 of their recordings from 1963-1966 and all tracks are identified as being from the original master tapes. Playing the CD on my SACD player with a surround system added realistic spaciousness to the sound.

The Legendary Pablo Casals (EMI Classics 7243 5 67008 2 6) has nearly 69 minutes of superbly played (of course) and well recorded Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Born in Spain in 1876, Casals is reported to have first heard a cello when he was 11 and chose to study this instrument instead of the organ, piano, and violin his father had been teaching him. His first solo recital was at the age of 14. Referrals and invitations led him to perform in several venues, both as soloist and in orchestras. He also became a composer and conductor of note. This album contains J.S. Bach's Suite No. 1 in G major for unaccompanied cello, Beethoven's Cello Sonata No. 3 in A major and Minuet in G major, and Brahms's Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major. It is a monaural recording (ADD) is of very high quality, with no ticks, pops, hiss or other distractions. The label references the years 1930-1938, making the recording sound quality all the more remarkable.

Tierney Sutton's Dancing in the Dark (Telarc Surround SACD-63592) is a hybrid multi-channel CD compatible with all CD players. Ms. Sutton is a relatively new jazz artist. She attended the Berklee college of Music on a scholarship and began her professional career in 1999. This 2004 release was inspired by Sinatra's music and contains 55 minutes of superb performances of such standards as "All The Way," "Fly Me To The Moon," and "Where or When." I was not familiar with Ms. Sutton before I heard this album, but I have become a fan. She brings a warmth and depth of tone combined with precision of expression that breathes life into the music. I predict Ms. Sutton will go far in her career She is accompanied by Christian Jacob on piano, Trey Henry on bass, Ray Brinker on drums, with orchestra conducted by Christian Jacob.

Vince Guaraldi and Bola Sete's From All Sides album (Fantasy OJCCD-989-2 (F-8362)) give excellent performances of Brazilian music in this relatively short (~39 minutes) CD. Brazilian guitarist Sete moved to San Francisco in the 1960s and the two became acquainted while Guaraldi was with the Cal Jader band. They are accompanied on this album by Fred Marshall on bass, Jerry Granelli on drums (except on tracks 3, 4 and 8, where Monty Budwig is on bass and Nick Martinez in is drums). The coordination and interplay between piano and guitar are brilliant.

Three for All (Blue chip BC4000-2) by the Theo Saunders Trio features Theo on piano, Chris Symer on bass and Michael Stephans on drums playing 11 standards. The group got its start in 1985 in Santa Barbara, and Three For All is the third of their albums. The interaction and support between these three, whether on the slow and melodic "Cry Me A River" or the lively presentation of "Come Rain or Come Shine," results in a cohesiveness sound.

The Best of Paul Desmond (Epic/Associated ZK 45484) has solo and accompanied recordings of one of my favorite artists. All of the cuts were recorded in the early to mid '70s. Everything I have ever heard from Desmond, whether as a solo, performing as part of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, or with other artists, has been excellent. I own several of his albums, and while I am more attached to some than others, I enjoy them all. This album is high on my list.

Greg Koster

Last year I recommended everything in the RVG series of Rudy Van Gelder remasters on Blue Note, and since I believe that you should "eat your own dog food" my purchases over the last year have included many RVGs.

The other big category is CDs on sale at intermission during jazz concerts. Support your local starving musician!

Finally, this year's group has some misses along with the hits, as I've reached the stage of rounding out my CD collection with those artists and albums that are recommended as "good for you." I think next year I'll go back to a steady diet of chitlins and gravy ...

Art Blakey--Indestructible (Blue Note RVG 80915)

I love drummers. Even though I've never played drums, I admire their energy, stamina (everybody else gets to lay out sometimes) and, often, lyricism. And I've heard a lot of great drummers. But the best has to be Art Blakey because not only was he a great musician, he also ran the Jazz Messengers "University," which trained several new generations of young lions.

Pair him with the great recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder, and you can't go wrong. Get Rudy to remaster the recording at 24 bits for CD, and you're really cooking--as with this set from 1964 that includes Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton, and Reggie Workman. See what I mean about training the young lions? Enjoy.

Lou Donaldson

--A Man with a Horn (Blue Note 21436)

--The Natural Soul (Blue Note 42307)

--Live on the QE2 (Chiaroscuro 366)

More and more of the jazz greats of my youth are passing on, but Lou Donaldson is still alive and kicking at 79, performing a strong set at our local jazz society this fall. Lou came up through the Jazz Messengers and has always kept the course straightahead--"no fusion or con-fusion" as he disses Kenny G.

Here are three fine examples of Lou's groove. A Man with a Horn includes five previously unissued cuts from 1961 with Jack McDuff (it seems there's always an organ on a Lou Donaldson CD), Grant Green and Joe Dukes, as well as four selections from a 1963 session with Irvin Stokes, John Patton (organ), Grant Green and Ben Dixon. The Blue Note Connoisseur series provides 24-bit SBM remastering, although not by RVG himself. This is an unusual set for Lou as the tunes are mostly ballads. The strong groove is still there, just more mellow.

The Natural Soul is a 1962 set with Tommy Turrentine, Grant Green, John Patton and Ben Dixon that shows Lou's other, funky, side. Even "Love Walked In" gets a nice up-tempo beat, but the mood is summed up by "Nice 'N' Greasy," which is still in Lou's current repertoire. RVG's 24-bit remastering showcases the traditional clear and lean Blue Note sound.

Live on the QE2 shows that Lou Donaldson hasn't lost anything to the passage of time. The set includes "Marmaduke," a Charlie Parker classic that Lou throws out as a challenge to any fusion wannabees. Lou sings on a couple of blues tunes, and Nicholas Payton sits in on a couple of tunes along with the regular band of Dr. Lonnie Smith (organ), Randy Johnston and Danny Burger. The recorded sound is a little bass-heavy but captures the feeling of a jazz club.

Duke Ellington

--The Private Collection, Vol. 1: Studio Sessions, Chicago, 1956 (Saja 91041)

--Such Sweet Thunder (Columbia 65568)

Duke Ellington is like spinach: he's clearly one of the all-time greats so I feel I ought to like his stuff, but I'd sure rather have some Count Basie sweet potato pie! Some of Duke's recordings really grab me--especially Ellington at Newport 1956--but most are near-misses like these two.

Royalties from his hit songs allowed Duke to finance private recording sessions, and the Vol. 1 Studio Sessions are reputed to be the best of the series--but it never really swings.

Such Sweet Thunder shows the other Ellington mannerism: the pretentious suites that comprised much of his later composing.

I keep hoping to discover more Ducal jewels, but I think I should just play "Jeep's Blues" and hit the repeat button.

Herbie Hancock

--Maiden Voyage (Blue Note 95331)

--Empyrean Isles (Blue Note 98796)

These two albums, from 1964 and 1965, remain at the top of Hancock's discography. One of my earliest CD purchases was his greatest hits compilation, which was largely mined from these two sets--but here they are in much clearer RVG remasters and in the original album format.

Maiden Voyage is the choice item, with the title tune and "Dolphin Dance" as jazz classics.

Empyrean Isles introduced "Cantaloupe Island."

Together they provide a full picture of Hancock's amazing mastery even in his mid-twenties.

Illinois Jacquet

--Illinois Jacquet (Columbia 64654)

--Lionel Hampton Reunion at Newport 1967 (Bluebird 66157)

We lost Jean Battiste Illinois Jacquet this year, which sent me in search of something to round out my collection of his recordings. I found two, although they are both hard to find.

Illinois Jacquet is a 1962 recording of a small big-band, and is probably Illinois' best record. Columbia doesn't make any claims for the original Epic recording or the remastering, but the sound is full and clean.

The Lionel Hampton Reunion set fits here because of Jacquet's solo on "Flying Home," but it's also a great retrospective of Hamp's career with an 18-piece band of alumni from his bands over the years. The recording is a little bright and thin but the music is clear and these cats really swing.

These may be hard to find--try EBay or the used section of Amazon.com.

Houston Person--To Etta with Love (HighNote 7127)

Houston's annual visit to the Presbyterian Jazz Society of Mt. Vernon, NY, brought this new CD (with original 24-bit engineering by Rudy Van Gelder) of songs associated with Houston's longtime musical partner Etta Jones. Mostly ballads, this set showcases Houston's gorgeous tenor tone in a relaxed after-hours set.

Jimmy Smith--The Sermon! (Blue Note 24541)

You can never have too much Hammond B-3, and there's no one better to play it than Jimmy Smith. This 1957-58 recording must have stretched the limits of LPs, since the title track is 20 minutes long. The RVG edition makes it sound brand new. Jimmy jumps right into the preaching groove and never lets up, with support from an all-star "choir" including Lee Morgan, Lou Donaldson, George Coleman, Kenny Burrell, Art Blakey, and others. Let the church say "Amen!"

Karolina Strassmayer--Klaro! (KS 4445)

Every January the jazz society features a split bill of two emerging artists. I wished the Klaro set would go on all evening, so I made sure to pick up the CD at intermission. Strassmayer is a young woman with great looks and a mean axe or three (alto, tenor and flute). Klaro, the band, also includes John di Martino, Thomas Bramerie and Drori Mondlak--and Klaro, the CD, also includes Ray Vega and Wycliffe Gordon on a couple of tracks each. Straightahead jazz is safe for another generation.

This may be hard to find. You can get it at: www.klaromusic.com.

Mike Torsone--City Slush (Torsone 9286304162)

When I wrote above that you can never have too many Hammond B-3s, I was thinking of last winter's Organ Jazz Festival at Lehman High School in the Bronx. Mike Torsone is both a fine jazz organist and a skilled B-3 restorer. He set up the festival stage with two B-3 consoles, one mated to a pair of classic Leslie speakers and the other to a pair of modern speaker towers, so each musician could tailor the sound to his own style.

Mike's style is high energy swinging that emphasizes both the percussive punch of the Hammond attack and the lyricism of the vibrato on held notes. His taste covers a wide range--the last three cuts switch from "Secret Love" to "Yardbird Suite" to "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"--but it all swings and it all works.

This may be hard to find. Call Mike at (845) 471-8685.

Lennie Tristano--Lennie Tristano/The New Tristano (Rhino 71595)

If Duke Ellington is spinach, Lennie Tristano has the reputation of brussels sprouts--music consciously purged of emotion, carefully thought out and intricately constructed. Sounds deadly, but Lennie has always been listed as one of the greats and this new CD combines two of his best LPs which are described as the inspiration for Bill Evans' Conversations with Myself. It is deadly. Buy Bill Evans instead.

Gary Lea

Martin Tillman--Eastern Twin--Rounder Records

Martin Tillman is not a name that would be familiar to many music lovers, but many have heard his music. The Swiss composer and world renowned cellist has established himself as one of the most sought after soundtrack composers and has carved out a reputation for his experimental acoustic and electric cello playing. His avant-garde styling is creating a strong following in the movie industry. To his credit are compositions for the films Pirates of the Caribbean, Cold Mountain, Something's Gotta Give, Hannibal, The Ring, and most recently the score for Michael Mann's movie Ali. This CD collaboration with Hans Zimmer on keyboards is simply one of the most fascinating collections I have run across in quite a while. Mixing strings, keyboards, and guitar to unusual and memorable effect this is a CD that never gets stale or boring. Of special note, the selection "Odessa" is perhaps the most haunting, painfully sad, and moving pieces I have ever heard. When an instrumental song can conjure up visions of loss so great it tears at your soul you know you have found a composer worth listening too.

Joss Stone--The Soul Sessions--S Curves

Joss's debut album takes the listener back in time to the power days of '70s soul and R&B. Her voice is smoky and powerful and delivers with a punch that can only come from having "been there". Therein lays the hook. There is no way that this 16-year-old white girl from England could have been there! The album comprises mostly covers of older, lesser known R&B standards juiced up for the new millennium. That is a risky thing to do for a veteran but for a freshman attempt, well that takes some stones (pun intended). To her credit she has some great veterans helping her along in Betty Wright, Timmy Thomas, and Willie "Little Beaver" Hale bringing some serious credibility to the session. In this day and age where we are subjected to a proliferation of pop divas, hip hop bling masters and alternative rock wannabes this is a refreshing break and one that, we can only hope, grows significant legs. Check out "The Chokin Kind" and the White Stripes' "Fell in Love with a Boy".

Acoustic Alchemy--Radio Contact--Higher Octave Music

I have long been a fan of Acoustic Alchemy's Nick Webb and Greg Carmichael. First hearing them in the late 80's when they release Red Dust and Spanish Lace. I was saddened when founder Nick Webb lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 1998 at the age of 43. He was trying to finish the groups 10th effort, Positive Thinking. Although he did not play on the tracks his writing was evident and perhaps some of his best. When a group loses a founding and pivotal member it is hard to continue the synergy. I was very skeptical of what would happen with the group after such a loss. Radio Contact is the group's third post-Webb effort and it solidifies the post-Webb Alchemy as a continued force to be reckoned with. With Miles Gilderdale taking over for Webb, the group has soldiered on and actually expanded in a way that many would not have seen in 1998. They continue in the vein that has made them so popular but have branched out and added electric guitar, more keyboards, and with this effort, vocals.

Standout tracks are everywhere in this effort. From the the opening "No Messin," which is one of the snappiest little tunes they have produced, to "Venus Morena," there simply is not a bad tune on this album. Oddly enough, one can still hear the influence of Nick and I am sure the band meant it to be that way.

Peter Frampton--Now--Frampton Records

OK, I admit it. This is a nod to my college days when Frampton Comes Alive ruled the world. I was a Frampton fan, though, long before the glitzy pop rock of that album. From his efforts with Steve Marriot and Humble Pie, to his Frampton's Camel material I always liked Peter Frampton. Yes I own most of those albums and they are still very playable. His signature guitar playing and ability to write some beautiful hooks captivated me years ago. And who among us does not like the idea of a fallen Rock God getting back up and making a triumphant comeback? I had the pleasure of meeting Peter at a Musician's Friend store opening roughly six years ago and was captivated by his honesty and candor regarding his past problems and how he learned from them and allowed them to forge his future direction. What is amazing is just how sharp his skills have gotten in the golden years. Anyone who has seen the video Frampton-Live in Detroit will attest. This latest independent release is full of signature riffs and the indelible writing style that is Frampton. Many of the songs are a throw back to the '70s and that is fine by me. Of special note are the tracks "Love Stands Alone" and George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." The latter of those tracks is clearly the best turn on that classic that I have ever heard. Don't be afraid of your past. Own up to the joy we all shared with "Do You Feel Like We Do?" and take a listen. This album just makes you feel good!

Rooney--Rooney--Geffen

Rooney is a five-piece rock band of young men hailing from Los Angeles. Their music is a blatant lift of artists spanning from the sixties to the present day. They do have a distinctive style, but their sound has been compared to everything from The Beatles to Oasis. I have even stated that at least on the song "My Blue Side" they sound like The Amboy Dukes meet The Beach Boys. Rooney manages to capture elements from the past four decades and make them sound modern today. That is no small feat. The song "Stay Away" is a well crafted pop song with a bit of an edge. It is one of those songs that have you humming the chorus the entire day after hearing it one time.

Jacintha--Lush Life--Groove Note

Born Jacintha Abisheganedan, the Singapore born and raised singer and actress has been carving out a name for herself in the classic torch singer style for the past ten years. Many audiophiles are familiar with her latest works, Songs for Ben and Lush Life. The latter of these is truly her most fully developed effort. The songs are mostly slow tempo melodies and they require a very finely crafted style to pull them off in the way she has. Jacintha credits a vast variety of influences that include Stevie Wonder, Sergio Mendez, Karen Carpenter, and Barbara Streisand with Streisand being her strongest influence. It is that mixed bag that creates her signature sound. She has a velvety voice and subtle style that simply draws the listener in. It belies the fact that she possesses a voice so powerful hat could take down a building. She simply chooses to seduce rather than mount a full-scale assault on the listener, proof that restraint can be a very powerful force when exercised correctly. This effort combines string-infused arrangements done in the minimalist tradition of Nelson Riddle and creates a sense that the listener is sitting in a smoky cabaret mere feet from the microphone. The delivery is that intimate. The album opens with "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and takes the listener on a wonderful ride straight to "Smile" and all the tracks in between. You want to sit back in your listening chair and feel close enough to reach out and grab the hand of the singer? This is a recording you will not want to miss.

Spyro Gyra--Deep End--Heads Up

This represents the 27th release for legendary Spyro Gyra sax player Jay Beckenstein and friends. I first became aware of Spyro Gyra as a post-high school fledging and talentless guitar player. I have grown up with this band and have never tired of listening to their music. The group has thirty years on and The Deep End is as fresh sounding to me as their self-titled debut album. Oddly enough, according to Jay, the name for the band came about as a joke when he suggested that they call the band Spirogira, which was the name for an algae that he remembered from high school biology. In essence it is "pond scum." That hardly describes the amazing music this group has produced over its lifetime. This group was the first jazz oriented group that caught my fancy and it has been a great long term relationship since. The Deep End has some real standouts from the perspective of sonics and readers will notice that it has become a staple of mine for reviews, especially the tracks "Chippewa Street" and "Monsoon." For those who have not listened to Spyro Gyra this is a great starting point.

Johnny A--Sometime Tuesday Morning--Aglaophone/Favored Nations

This album fuses blues, rock, pop and jazz to create a little sonic wonder. Described in the press as "an ethereal wonder ... a must-have guitar album." it has become on of my favorites. Whatever your particular flavor of preference: jazz, blues, country, rockabilly, surf--just name it. Johnny's solo debut displays an incredibly diverse range of technique. There are a dozen instrumentals that span a grand canyon of styles from cool bebop, finger styling, to pure rock n' roll. This is music for an open minded listener begging to be taken on a long journey down the open highway. Covers like Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman" and the Beatles "Yes it Is" will be familiar to most and they are faithful renditions. Peppered around those are some real great instrumentals like the title track "Sometime Tuesday Morning". Relatively unknown five years ago his ever increasing visibility and recognition as one of America's premier guitarists has been born out by the release of the Gibson Johnny A. signature guitar. A musician cannot get a better endorsement than one of the largest manufacturers in the world creating a signature guitar in his honor. This collection of songs reinforces just why Gibson sought to honor Johnny.

A Girl Called Eddy--A Girl Called Eddy--Anti

Erin Moran is the front for this group and the one who carries the nickname Eddy. She pens songs that say to the listener, "This is what I like and I don't really care who approves." Steeped in a style reminiscent of the '60s, with no apologies, this is a lush CD that is a simply entrancing listen. The track "Somebody Hurt You" just suffers so exquisitely for every broken heart ever endured. With a voice that sits somewhere between Karen Carpenter and Martha Davis of the Motels, Erin is a singer who does not rely on vocal gymnastics to capture your attention. She simply sings with poise and determination to share with you her inner most feelings. While most songs on the recording are exceptional there are some misses. With lyrics that seem somewhat contrived at times, cuts such as "Little Bird" do not measure up to the rest of the material. Overall though this was one of the most engaging recordings to grace my listening room this year. Check it out and enjoy it for yourself.

Queen Latifah--The Dana Owens Album--Universal

If anyone had told me a year ago that I would not only enjoy listening to a Queen Latifah album but that I would actually shell out my hard-earned money to buy one I would have throw down $100 that it was not going to happen. I also would have been a $100 poorer. The title of the album comes from Latifah's given name of Dana Owens and she acquits herself smartly on this jazz and soul infused effort. While I am not a big fan of hip-hop, I have been a fan of her movies and she did an admirable turn in the movie Chicago. To hear this transition should not have taken me by surprise but it did. She tackles some interesting cuts here such as "I Put A Spell On You" and does a very credible job. Other tracks such as "California Dreamin" do not translate quite as well but overall the recording is very satisfying and is my dark horse pick for the year.

Tom Lyle

Last year I read how Karl went through his collection to see what CDs he had gotten the past year. I thought I would try that this time. The first thing I noticed was the huge amount of new vinyl and CDs I acquired in just one year. I don't have a problem, do I? I would be the first to realize if I did, right? Anyway, not all that I'm writing about here has been released this year, but it's what I got this year.

Classic Records has been reissuing some excellent vinyl. I picked up a few RCA Living Stereo and Mercury Living Presence classical titles to help complete my collection. I didn't need many; I have just about all of them. I'm not going to get ones I'm not going to listen to; I'm not a "collector" of records and CDs. I'm a listener. Even if it's expensive, I think Classics' reissue of Paul Paray conducting Ravel on Mercury I picked up is worth it because it is such good music. Yes, they sound quality is fantastic, but it helps that the early 1960s Detroit Symphony on this record plays so well.

On their rock front, I picked up Peter Gabriel's latest album Us. The reviews haven't been so great regarding this release, many complain that although there are great sounds and singing on the album there just aren't any "hits" among his inventiveness. Maybe that's why I like it so much compared to his other recent releases. It is much less "pop," and still retains the PG sound I like so much. It's more like his older stuff, and that's a good thing.

I completed my collection of Led Zeppelin's first five albums. I really have to hand it to Classic, they did a killer job with the Zep--I couldn't have asked for any more than these amazing sounding 200-gram pressings. I must have heard these albums a thousand times, and to hear them with so much of their original glory restored is amazing. Sure, Jimmy Page remastered them on CD to what were supposed to be the definitive versions, but to have it done totally in the analog domain--the way it was recorded--sounds much better.

The biggest surprise of the year was their reissuing of Performance: Rockin' the Fillmore by Humble Pie. Last year it was in my picks of one of the greatest hard-rock records of all time. I didn't think it too obscure, it is popular in certain circles, but I never thought this Eddie Kramer-engineered classic would be get the re-mastering it deserved--much less the royal treatment it received. It is one of my favorite acquisitions of the year. It's another album I must have heard a thousand times now done correctly, right down to the last speck of Marshall-stack/Les Paul guitar grind.

Going through my CDs I realized that there were far too many new titles to list them all, let alone make it easy for me to choose just a few for inclusion in my year end picks. Would it be too predictable of me to choose Bjork's Medulla (on vinyl, of course), Sonic Youth's Sonic Nurse (also on vinyl), or Miles Davis's six-CD box set of the Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965? Probably. Or how about Jimi Hendrix's Hear My Music and Live at Berkeley? Or his band mate Noel Redding, s Experience Sessions? But this is what I got, and this is what I've been listening to. The Bjork certainly isn't her best, but she should be praised for stretching the limits of what is possible within her musical sphere, without totally reinventing herself. This a cappella album is very enjoyable, and with the help of computer programs (as usual), it's amazing what's accomplished. The new Sonic Youth doesn't contain any surprises, but they're still one of the only bands with the guitar/drums/vocals line-ups that I still listen to that have been around since the old days. I buy all of their stuff without even thinking about it. I guess it's a good album, but then again, I don't think they have made many bad albums. And this one is as good as any. The Miles Davis box set I've been wanting for a while, but I was finally able to find a used copy for a fraction of its original rather costly asking price. It features my favorite of his bands, the classic quintet that was with him from 1965 through 1968. It's a great recording; I just wish Tony Williams's drums were a bit louder. Even though they haven't been together for too long when this set was recorded, it smokes. The Hendrix and Redding stuff was released recently by the Hendrix-family-controlled label, Experience Hendrix. They are all from the original master tapes, and have some very high quality material on them. I buy every Hendrix release I can get my hands on, but when they are released on this label I know I'm going to get something good. I wasn't disappointed. The Berkeley set is also on the DVD, which I got, and watch every once in a while. It brings back some good memories of seeing it at the midnight shows in theaters in the 1970s.

I guess the only surprise picks of the year, or I guess it shouldn't be a surprise to those who know of my wide-ranging tastes, are the releases from the White Stripes, Elephant, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs first album. I guess I might have picked them up after I read Kevin East write positively about them. But I heard about them before that, and heard a couple of cuts on the local college radio station, too. For modern pop music, they have their moments--more than enough to keep them both in my CD player quite often. I freely admit I'm an old fogey, and there is no way I find the current crop of musicians anywhere near as talented as those from the days of yore. But I still like lots of what I hear from both these bands.

At first I didn't like The Bad Plus's These Are the Vistas as much as the hip jazz critics did. I think they might have liked them because they thought that they might inject some mainstream popularity back into the genre. But I have to admit it is pretty darn good, and I'm glad I finally picked it up. The close mic'ing of the instruments and the rock-style mix probably had lots to do with why I ended up liking it so much, and probably why tons of other folks like it, too. It's not every day that a piano trio from the Midwest gets signed to Columbia Records.

Of course I got the final installment of the Ligeti Project released on Teldec, Volume V. It isn't nearly the best, they even admit in the liner notes that they're minor pieces. But I had all the other four CDs of this otherwise fantastic series; I might as well complete my collection. I also purchased far more Mahler than any normal person ought to, and my favorites of the year were Gilbert Kaplan's Second Symphony on DG, and Benjamin Zander's Third on Telarc. And when I totally want to zone out, I throw on the newly acquired disc of Bang on a Can performing Phillip Glass. I saw them in concert this year, and that's probably why I picked up this one and some others. But I like the Glass one the best.

I know, that's more than 10 picks, but I'm too embarrassed to let you know how many I left out.

Thom Moon

Standing in the Shadows of Motown--Deluxe Edition (Hip-O/Motown 440 066 365-2)

At the beginning of the video, one sees on the screen, "This unheralded group of musicians played on more number ones hits than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined--which makes them the greatest hit machine in the history of popular music. They called themselves the Funk Brothers."

If you have any love of 1960's American pop music whatsoever and you have not seen "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," run, do not walk, to your video store and get it. It tells the story of the guys who were never (at least 'til the very end) ever credited on a Motown record. They just hung out in the makeshift Motown studio dubbed "The Snakepit" and created some of the greatest music ever recorded.

The video tells their story in their own words, with some great anecdotes and a lot of reminiscing. And, it has them backing current-day singers in recreations of some great Motown hits: "Heat Wave" with Joan Osborne, "Do You Love Me" with Bootsy Collins, "Reach Out, I'll Be There" with Gerald Levert and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" with Chaka Khan and Montell Jordan.

But the "deluxe" in the Deluxe Edition is a second disc: original instrumental tracks from the Motown archives. Basically, you're down in The Snakepit with the Funk Brothers themselves.

As the accompanying booklet says, "Here's where the undeniable grooves are born; where there are no singers and, often, except for producer and engineer, no one else but the core band. Close your eyes, open your ears and hearts, and imagine yourself on the floor of that converted garage."

Listen to "Standing in the Shadows of Love" minus the Four Tops. It's a studio full of players: three guitars (Robert White, Eddie Willis, Joe Messina), two keyboards (Earl Van Dyke, Johnny Griffith), bass (the one and only James Jamerson), drums ("Pistol" Allen) and two percussionists (Eddie "Bongo" Brown, Jack Ashford). And that percussion beat that you've always heard but never quite figured out? Producer Brian Holland (Holland-Dozier-Holland) says it was drum sticks hitting a tambourine from which the bells had been removed, but Jack Ashford swears it's sticks hitting a briefcase. I side with Mr. Ashford.

Another standout is "You're My Everything" that breaks the disc 2 mold a bit. This one is just the bass line of James Jamerson and the vocals of the Temptations' Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin. The producers included it because:

"... it points out how Jamerson influenced not just the rhythm section, but vocal arrangements. Its inclusion evolved from the indulging of a curiosity 10 years ago: to hear how Kendricks and Ruffin handled the lead vocal hand-off. Jamerson was punched in only to anchor the rhythm. The few people in the studio were stunned: Jamerson and the Temps cut their parts more than two months apart, yet their interplay is breathtaking."

And breathtaking is truly the word! I, too, was blown away by the interplay. And the whole two-disc set has many moments closely approaching that one. The set has redoubled my appreciation of and awe for the people who made the hits at Motown.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown has become my favorite CD set. If you grew up listening and dancing to Motown, or if you love the Motown Sound, this is a must--have. Motown fans such as I have much for which to thank the originator of the whole "Standing" project, Allan Slutsky.

Check it out. You'll be pleased you did.

Roy Nakano

Okay, this is not exactly a list of the top recordings issued in 2004. So, here's something I'm more qualified to judge: The best recordings I acquired in 2004. Mind you, these are not all 2004 recordings. A few of these date back some years. If you already have them, all the more power to you. If not, these recordings (17 discs altogether) have my recommendations.

Loretta Lynn: Van Lear Rose--Hands down, the best record I've heard in 2004. Who would have guessed that putting The White Stripes' Jack White (as producer) together with Loretta Lynn would yield such a sweet blend. Too country for rock stations and too much rock for country stations, but these autobiographical songs (written by Lynn) provide some moving images of the life and times of this coal miner's daughter.

John Coltrane: The Classic Quartet: Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings--The impact of hearing Coltrane's celebrated work under the Impulse! label--all rolled onto this eight-CD collection--is nothing short of staggering. Of note, the sound quality is a quantum leap over my LP collection.

Faces: Five Guys Walk Into A Bar ...--For one brief moment, this may have been the greatest live rock act around. Their records never quite captured the spirit of their performances--until now. Faces keyboard player Ian McLagan is responsible for putting together this four-disc collection of live performances, studio chatter, alternate takes, and greatest hits. The combination makes this an endearing and outstanding collection.

Brian Wilson: Smile--The story behind this album is now a part of rock 'n roll folklore. Brian Wilson finally completed the legendary album that was suppose to come out some 38 years ago. His voice may not be as young as it once was, but good use of modern recording technics mitigates this problem remarkably well. Listening to Smile is like discovering an old treasure chest in an attic. From a sound quality standpoint, this one is superior to any of the records released by the Beach Boys.

Yardbirds: Birdland--Like Brian Wilson with Smile, two of the remaining members of the Yardbirds, Jim McCarty and Chris Dreja, set out to capture the best of their era. On Birdland, they perform their most well-known songs--only now with greater proficiency than ever before. They get considerable help from fellow musicians Jeff Beck, Slash, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Steve Luthaker, Brian May, Jeff Baxter and others. Again, the sound quality is a revelation.

Beastie Boys: To the 5 Boroughs--Hip-hop stations in L.A. talk about the Beastie Boys like founding fathers, or gods from another era. With To the 5 Boroughs, the Beaties show that they haven't lost their touch. Some of the voices have matured, but that just adds edge to their music. The Beastie Boys have not forgotten their New York roots--and it's proudly displayed in To the 5 Boroughs.

Gwen Stefani: Love, Angel, Music, Baby--This album is like musical candy, but what a tasty assortment it is. The emphasis is clearly titled toward dance and party, with a strong 80s flavor. Stefani has help from Dr. Dre, Andre 3000, the Neptunes, Linda Perry, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, as well as her No Doubt bandmate (and ex-boyfriend) Tony Kanal--and it pays off in a superior collection of tunes.

Karl W. Nehring

Eberhard Weber: Selected Recordings (ECM :rarum XVIII, B0001804-2)

This compilation includes more than 70 minutes of gently tuneful, compelling music. For this album, Weber has chosen cuts from some of his albums as a leader and others where he was a sideman. Listening to this recording, which features Weber in a variety of ensembles, you can hear a consistency of style, and you can hear the focus at times being placed up on the sound of the bass, but always in service of the musical whole, never in service of making Weber himself seem like the center of attention. If you are planning on taking any long drives, this music is great for just cruising and musing.

Jan Garbarek: In Praise of Dreams (ECM 1880 B0003025-02)

As the title implies, this music is a bit dreamy sounding, but it never sounds light or inconsequential. Although it is clearly Garbarek's music (his sax is usually in the lead, and he wrote all the compositions), the interactions with violist Kim Kashkashian are what make this music fly. They seem to have a synergistic relationship, Garbarek drawing out the classically trained Kashkashian and encouraging her to improvise, and Kashkashian inspiring Garbarek to give his music substance, while percussionist Manu Katche provides solid rhythmic support.

Radiohead: OK Computer (Capitol CDP 7243 8 55229 2 5)

It took me a long time to enjoy this recording, but once I finally stopped trying to listening to it as a rock album (i.e., trying to pay some attention to the lyrics and their meaning) and started listening to it as pure music, with the voice being just another instrument, I was utterly captivated (I also began to really enjoy their more recent release, Hail to the Thief, which I find manically meditative). Last year, Christopher O'Riley's True Love Waits, his set of piano transcriptions of Radiohead music, made it into my list; to be honest, that CD is still one of my ten favorites of the year, but I will cheat a bit by merely mentioning it here and saving an extra slot for my list of 10 for lucky number 11.

Jennifer Higdon: Concerto for Orchestra; City Scape Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Robert Spano (Telarc CD-80620)

Concerto for Orchestra is in five movements, and yes, the orchestra does get a bit of a workout, with various sections being featured at various junctures. The woodwinds are given plenty to do, but then again, so are the brass, and the strings, and the percussion. The end result is an energetic piece that is enjoyable to listen to. City Scape is intended to be a musical portrait of Atlanta. Its three movements are titled "Skyline," "river sings a song to the trees," and "Peachtree Street." Higdon's music seems to have great charm, and it reflects joy in music-making. It is exciting to see a new composer starting to come into her own, and it is exciting to see a company such as Telarc willing to take a chance in releasing a recording of someone many music lovers have doubtless never heard of.

Jon Balke and Magnetic North Orchestra: Diverted Travels (ECM 1886 B0003220-02)

I had enjoyed a couple of previous releases by Balke some years ago; it was quite a nice surprise to have a new recording come out this year. Quirky stuff, but lots of fun.

Richard Stoltzman: Spirits (BMG Classics 09026-68416-2)

Yes, this is an older recording, but I played it this year about as much as anything else in my collection, and in some stressful times, of which there were plenty in 2004, the wonderful melodies and the beautiful clarinet playing of Mr. Stoltzman really soothed my soul. This could well wind up on my ten-best list for each of the rest of the years of my life.

Choying Drolma/Steve Tibbetts: Selwa (Six Degrees Records 657036-1104-2)

A Tibetan nun and a Minnesota guitarist team up once again to produce a recording that is haunting and powerful. Unless you've heard their previous recording (Cho, Hannibal HNCD 1404, you've never heard anything quite like this--and you're missing something quite special.

Beethoven: Complete Music for Piano and Violoncello Andras Schiff, piano/Miklos Peronyi, violoncello (ECM New Series 1819/20 B0003389-02)

It is humbling but inspiring to contemplate how many different styles of music Beethoven was able to master. Here is music for the combination of piano and cello, and what wonderful music it is! (Now perhaps you can see why in my review of Brian Wilson's Smile, I could not abide declaring the ex-Beach Boy a genius. Beethoven was a musical genius. Brian Wilson is a musically gifted eccentric.)

Los Lobos: Live at the Fillmore (DVD)

I loaned this to my son and have not yet been able to get it back; thus the lack of precise information in the tagline. To be honest, I am not even 100% sure that the title is correct, but if you look for it at your multimediamegaplex, or in the Web, you will find it with the information I have given you. In any event, these guys rock, and the video production is refreshingly ungimmicky. (If my son is reading this, will he please bring my video back?)

Glass: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3 Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/ Marin Alsop (Naxos 8.559202)

Long-time readers doubtless know that I am not a big fan of Philip Glass, but this Naxos CD provided me a nice surprise this year as I found myself enjoying both works and playing the CD often. However, when I went to pull up this disc to listen to it recently, I could not find it anywhere, so it may be quite a while before I listen to it again. In a year with more exciting classical releases, this disc probably would not have made it into my list, but in 2004, Glass made it into my list and Mahler did not. Now that's a strange year indeed!

Tom Nousaine

The one recording I purchased in 2004 that I'd highly recommend is Ray; Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Atlantic/Rhino/WMG 76540). It has 17 of Ray Charles's more memorable tracks, some of which date back to the early '50s with Recording Engineer Legend Tom Dowd at the controls. The performances and quality of those now-ancient recordings are nothing short of phenomenal.

There is a good sampling of both the Atlantic and ABC recordings of Charles at his greatest and with Dowd working his way through mono to multitrack production. Ray is regarded as a genius because his early work still sounds fresh today although the CD and the movie make it clear that Ray Charles never had a hit record after the mid-70s although he never stopped touring. I had the opportunity to see him live twice in this decade (Soaring Eagle Casino, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, and outdoors at the Muskegon, Michigan, 4th of July Extravaganza, which featured Cheryl Crow last year) and I'm so glad that I took it.

I was astonished to learn that Ray Charles was only 73 when he died, which means he was born in 1930 and making serious music in his teens. If you didn't get a chance to see the film when it was in theatrical release I'd say you missed a great thing. The performance footage was incredible, although there were no "new" recordings in the film. I never once doubted that Jamie Foxx really was Ray Charles and that the actors weren't Ahmet, Tom Dowd, Fathead Newman, Jerry Wexler, Cookies, etc.

John J. Puccio

Adams: Shaker Loops; The Wound-Dresser; Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Nathan Gunn, baritone; Marin Alsop, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.559031.

Adams' music has a wonderful forward momentum, and in Shaker Loops, especially, a strong rhythmic beat. Naxos engineers capture all of the shaking and trembling and pulse of the music, much of it percussive, in one of their very best recordings.

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7. Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra. JVC JMCXR-0006.

The performance is outstanding in almost every way. It embraces passion, white-hot fury, forward impulse, and excitement in equal measure, perhaps only just missing out slightly in the ultimate lyricism of the dance. Now, factor in JVC's superb early stereo remastering, and you have a disc that goes immediately to the head of the class. Expensive but worth it.

Chopin: Waltzes; Impromptus. Arthur Rubinstein. RCA 82876-59422-2.

When discussing the great pianists of the twentieth century, no one could fail to mention the name of Arthur Rubinstein. There are no better recordings of the Waltzes, the album has been remastered and sounds better than ever, it now includes as a bonus Chopin's four Impromptus, and the disc is offered at mid-price, which is a bargain.

Hansson: Lord of the Rings. Virgin Silence 72438 12061-6.

Believe it or not, there really was a Lord of the Rings before Peter Jackson. In 1969 Swedish composer and organist Bo Hansson recorded what would become a minor cult-classic LP, music inspired by Professor Tolkien's trilogy. This is still what I think of when I consider music for the story.

Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 99-104. Sir Thomas Beecham, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI 7243 5 85513-2 (2-disc set).

Time was, you couldn't bring up the late Haydn symphonies without mentioning Sir Thomas Beecham. The symphonies were among his treasures, and he spent a lifetime playing and perfecting them before recording them in stereo late in his career in 1959. Beecham brings to the performances his usual joyous, cheerful mood plus a touch so light you can feel the music wafting out of the speakers, floating out the window, and into the breeze.

Honegger: Symphony No. 3; Pacific 231; Pastorale de'ete; Rugby. Takuo Yuasa, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.555974.

Performances and sound are top-notch for this recital of Honegger orchestral music. It's a buy that's hard to resist, especially if you've always wanted a topflight "Pacific 231," possibly Honegger's most-famous work, but haven't cared to pay full price. The sound is nothing short of terrific. While I noted a touch of congestion in the loudest passages, it's very impressive sound for the five bucks invested.

Mozart: Symphony No. 41 "Jupiter"; Schubert: Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished." Eugen Jochum, Boston Symphony Orchestra. DG 469 798-2.

Quite simply, THE best recordings of the "Jupiter" and "Unfinished" Symphonies ever put to disc. And though made in 1973, as of this writing the CD is still not available in the U.S. Injustice prevails. I found my copy from a German record shop through a Google search. Available first in German and Japanese pressings, maybe it will be available in the States by the time you read this.

Mozart: Requiem. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Concentus Musicus Wien. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 82876 58705 2.

Harnoncourt produces a ready answer to those who would suggest that nothing new can be done with an old warhorse. His performance is vibrant, spirited, emblazoned with fiery color, his orchestra and soloists encouraged to produce an impassioned response.

Paganini: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; 24 Caprices; Rossini Variations; The Carnival of Venice. Michael Rabin, Yehudi Menuhin, Frank Peter Zimmermann, and Salvatore Accardo, violin; Sir Eugene Goossens, Alberto Erede, and Franco Tamponi, conductors; Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. EMI Classics 7243 5 75332-2 (2-disc set).

Michael Rabin recorded his remarkable performance of Paganini's First Violin Concerto in 1960. Imagine my surprise and delight to discover that this first-time transfer of Rabin to CD also sounds magnificent! In fact, in many ways it surpasses the Perlman edition. But like Jochum's magnificent "Jupiter" and "Unfinished" Symphonies mentioned above, as of this writing the EMI set was not available in the U.S., only in France. Look for an import service.

Rhapsodies: Music of Liszt, Enesco, and Smetana. Leopold Stokowski, RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra. JVC JM-XR24019.

Not only is it still the finest "Moldau" I've ever heard, but Smetana's Bartered Bride overture and the Hungarian and Roumanian Rhapsodies by Liszt and Enesco that accompany it are red-blooded, exciting, romantic, and heart-wrenchingly beautiful by turns. JVC's new remastering of the disc in their XRCD series of audiophile discs is expensive and offers short measure for the money, but because I consider this album one of the finest ever recorded, I'm crazy enough to spend almost anything on even presumed improvements.

Strauss: The Strauss Family. Willi Boskovsky, Johann Strauss Orchestra of Vienna. EMI 5 86019 2 (six-disc set).

I read somewhere that the performers in his orchestras didn't particularly like working with conductor Willi Boskovsky, but he fashioned some of the most beautiful recordings of the Strauss family music ever made. For fans of Strauss and/or Boskovsky, this is an indispensable set at a remarkable price.

Suppe and Auber Overtures. Paul Paray, Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Mercury SACD 470 638-2.

This hybrid Super-Audio disc of overtures from Suppe and Auber is probably the best you can find; maybe the best you will ever find in this repertoire. Paul Paray's 1959 performances are not just lively and spirited, they are exciting, exhilarating, and intoxicating. Moreover, they sound better than anything done today in the digital medium, the dynamics, frequency range, orchestral spread and depth, and transparency all shining through brilliantly.

David Rich

It is the 100th anniversary of Dvorak's death, which gives performers a valid reason to program more of his music. It is unfortunate that we do not see Dvorak programmed more frequently; without a doubt, he is among the top five underappreciated masters. Nonetheless, his discography is substantial and with this review, I recommend CDs ranging from mid-priced to bargain-basement. All recommendations are of good quality, with some achieving reference quality.

Typically, Dvorak suffers from the greatest-hits list syndrome. As a result, many of his finest works have gone unnoticed. That applies to the String Quartets more than anything else. The Prague String Quartet (DGG 463 165) offers a definitive version of the complete cycle. These are great performances recorded by DGG in good, though somewhat bright sound. I still use it as a test disk. The last five quartets are substantial works. The middle five are excellent, including some themes that Dvorak appropriated for other, better known, pieces. The Cypresses are also not to be missed. The early four quartets are an acquired taste and demand stamina from the listener (e.g., #3 lasts over an hour). In any case, DGG gives the set away for less than you could assemble the final five quartets at this level of performance--it is indispensable to anyone's collection.

Dvorak also expanded the quartet form to three String Quintets and a Sextet. One of the Quintets adds a double bass as the fifth instrument. This Quintet is a great conduit to gauge how well your system handles bass--does the double bass blend with the quartet or does it take on a blurry acoustic of its own? Philips serves up all the Quintets and the Sextet with members of the Berlin Philharmonic Octet members in a bargain two-CD package (PHI 462 284).

Symphonies 5 and 6 are almost as remarkable as the overplayed 7 and 9. Number 8 may be the greatest of all of them. London has the best performance by Kertesz and the London Symphony Orchestra (LON 430 046). The sound is still demo quality '60s Decca. For Symphonies 4-6, try Phillips (PHI 446 530) with Rowicki and the London Symphony. Rowicki is a hidden gem of a conductor and his set challenges Kertesz' for benchmark status. I am not a fan of the oft-recommended Kubelik set. The complete Rowicki is available in three, two-CD sets (Symphonies 1-3 on PHI 446 527 and 7-9 on PHI 456 327). Also excellent and dirt cheap are 7-9 with Dohnanyi conducting the Cleveland Orchestra (LON 452 182). Finally, Angel (ANG 85702) offers (at a thrift-shop price) the finest performance of the 5th Symphony with Mariss Jansons and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. He makes such a strong case for the work that you might wonder why it is not programmed as frequently as the 9th Symphony.

After completing his symphony cycle, Dvorak wrote five extraordinary tone poems, which are rarely performed. Four of these are based on ghoulish Czech fairy tails, although these stand up in their own right to virtually every other orchestral work. Chandos commits itself well (CHA 2403) with Jarvi and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The reverberant Chandos sound on these disks is better than the sterile sound they produce on their $25 SACDs.

Several of the Slavonic Dances are popular, but you really need them all. Szell and Cleveland Orchestra is the standard choice (SNY 89845). CBS thinks the sound is so good that they have re-issued it on SACD. Save your money and buy the regular CD at 30% of the price. Once you have your arms around the Slavonic Dances, segue to the less extroverted, but still wonderful, Legends. I can find no bargain-priced CD of performances I know for this work. It is included on Rowicki double set of the last three symphonies discussed above. There are also three more ambitious works titled Slavonic Rhapsodies. Although not the strongest of his output, budding Dvorak aficionados should seek out the Slovak Philharmonic on Naxos (NXS 8.550610).

Moving back to chamber music, I highly recommend the piano and strings repertoire with Rubinstein and the Guarneri Quartet. These two CDs are at the upper-end of middle price range; the set, however, is well worth the money simply to hear the beautiful ensemble between the then-young Guarneris and the great man of the piano (RCA 63066 and RCA 63067). As a bonus, you also get the Brahms and Schumann Quintets, which should be cornerstones of any chamber-music collection. I have not heard the latest re-issues, but the earlier CDs were re-mastered by Max Wilcox, who was responsible for the original recordings of the Rubinstein/Guarneri collaboration in the '60s. There is an anecdote dating to the Guarneri's first concert that claims Max ran backstage ahead of the Columbia producer so he could sign for RCA.

Dvorak wrote four Trios for Piano & Strings. With its seven movements, the Dumky Trio is unique among the genre. The Dumky form is not a native Czech form, but was purportedly proposed to Dvorak by Janacek. The lyricism of the earlier trios bears a Brahmsian influence. The Third Trio is significantly better than the first two in my opinion. Ma (cello), Ax (piano), and Kim (violin) collaborate on a vibrant cycle and the disc's sound is close to reference (SNY 44527; somewhat higher than mid-price).

With the exception of the Cello Concerto, Dvorak's solo concerti are typically not considered showcases for budding virtuosi. Nonetheless, more mature artists have recognized their virtues. For example, Rudolf Firkusny championed the Piano Concerto throughout the latter stages of his career. His last recording with Susskind and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra makes a strong case. Originally in a Vox Box of the complete concertos, it is now available from the ultra-bargain basement Brilliant Classics (BLC 99763). For less than $12 you also get spirited performances of the Violin Concerto (Ruggiero Ricci) and the Cello Concerto (Zara Nelsova). While many Vox recordings did not have the best sound, Vox recordings of the Saint Louis and Utah Symphonies have always been considered very special. I do not have the latest release on hand, but can testify to a great experience in multi-channel from an earlier Vox CD re-issue.

Dvorak wrote his piano works with the amateur player in mind. The popular Humoresque from the set of eight is way overexposed; it really should be listened in the context of the whole set. The eight Humoresques are coupled with the Poetic Tone Pictures on a Supraphon CD (SPR 3399). The artist is the impeccable Radoslav Kvapil. If your interest is sparked, the complete piano works can be had on three more CDs under Kvapil, who recorded the first complete set of the piano works. Firkusny on Vox (out of print) is the only performance of comparable stature. The recording engineer is challenged to properly size of the piano for these miniature pieces.

Robert Shaw's final recording with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus was fittingly Dvorak's Stabat Mater. On two CDs now priced equivalently to one, there is also a bonus Shaw interview. When first released, this disc was playing all over the high- end rooms of the Consumer Electronics Show. While you cannot count me in as a Telarc groupie (edgy, hidden by blur) the sound is good enough to capture this early work. This was one of Dvorak's breakthrough pieces to international fame. Be warned: it is no Carnival Overture, but a moody work that only migrates from its slow tempo in the last movement. Needless to say, Shaw is a master at whatever he touches. Less well known is Dvorak's Requiem. It lacks the Sturm und Drang of Verdi or Berlioz, but that was never Dvorak's idiom. Kertesz, with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Ambrosian Singers, conducts the work for all its worth and the warm pre-digital Decca sound (DEC 468 487) captures the music's essence. As a bonus, the two-CD set has a definitive performance of the Symphonic Variations.

Speaking of the Carnival Overture, Dvorak cognoscenti have been hiding the fact that this is one-third of a three movement work. The whole thing is available on a Naxos (8550600) CD with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Stephan Gunzenhauser. The other two overtures will amaze you.

New full-priced CDs worth the full price.

Moscow String Quartet, Beethoven String Quartets Op 74 and 95 Finer Arts Classics (FA 96004-2).

With the complete string quartets by Alban Berg and Vlach selling in the vicinity of $40, a full-price entry better have something special to say. The Moscow takes its time with Beethoven. For example, the Serioso (op. 95) is much less driven, but some new depths may be exposed. The U.S. managing agent for this group describes these performances as paralleling Furtwangler. Whatever the influence, these performances are very personal and while the quartet may not be slaves to the score, the result will provide new insights to this familiar work.

The recording was made in Amsterdam's Channel Classics studio, which has gained a reputation for excellent multi-channel work. The sound is truly excellent on this stereo CD, if not the best possible. It is the performance that you are purchasing and the sound quality does not get in the way of the performance.

Jerusalem Quartet, Haydn Quartets Op 64 no 5, Op 76 no 2 and op77 no 1 Harmonia Mundi (HAR 90.1823)

This disc is a fine introduction to the Haydn quartets. The whole cycle covers twenty-two CDs and you can have them all for about eight times the price of this one; although, it might be worth splurging $250 to secure the legendary complete set by the Tatrai String Quartet. With the intense competition of 50 years of recordings, it is near-impossible for a young quartet to set itself apart when playing Haydn. These performances are first-rate and may come close to the best of what you will hear from active quartets. The CD's sound is absolutely transparent and free of brightness that often creeps into string-quartet recording as engineers negotiate between close microphone placement for detail and more distant placement that is more natural, but overly reverberant. No edgy violin tone here, but no excess reverb either. Of course, no matter how good the microphone setup, the string players must be capable of producing an edge-free sound. The Jerusalem were trained half a world away from Julliard and it shows But please note it does not mater where they put the microphones if the musicians value precision over sweetness of sound. No matter how much you pay for your CD player, the brighter, dryer string sound of the Emerson Quartet is not going to metamorphose into the string sound of the Jerusalem. No single approach can convey all the aspects of a fine work of art. Nonetheless, some approaches, like the Jerusalem's, are more audiophile-friendly than others.

Dvorak Piano Trio #4 Op 90 (Dumky) and Mendelssohn Piano Trio #1 Op 49 [Gryphon Trio Analekta FL 23110]

This is a worthy introduction to the romantic piano trio repertoire, though be forewarned that you can get equally strong performances of the complete Dvorak and Mendelssohn piano trios for the cost of this disk. The Gryphon Trio is, however, unique among the crowded field of piano trios in that their sound combines the precision of the Julliard School with the more personal and relaxed sound of the best old-world trios. I call it the mid-Atlantic school of chamber-music performance. The Borealis string quartet, also of Canada, has a similar sound. Their first CD (Skylark Music SKY0304) offers a striking version of the rarely recorded Opus 80 Mendelssohn String Quartet in F minor (a great test disk for upper midrange problems in speakers), but the flip side is a repertoire staple (Beethoven String Quartet in C major) and not competitive with other full-priced versions of this work.

Returning to the Gryphon Trio, the engineers work magic on this disc to deliver a natural sound provided you have good (which does not translate to expensive) speakers. Listen to speakers without flat response and you will wonder what is so special about the CD. The disc really likes to be reproduced in synthesized five-channel. With matched speakers, including the center channel, the speakers disappear and one senses that the artists are right there in the room.

This is a CD that lets you enjoy the music. The sound is good enough not to obscure the performers' interpretation; the players have worked things out well enough that it sounds as fresh and natural as the composers intended.

Schoenberg Verklarte Nacht Op 4, Richard Strauss Capriccio and Metamorphosen Concertante Chamber Players Kleos (KL 3111)

Concertante is a New York based ensemble of seven talented core string players. They specialize in the performance of larger string chamber works. Their uniformity of performance is impossible to achieve with a quartet and guest artists. Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble is the only group that comes to mind that matches this magical sound in this genre (recall their Mendelssohn Octet).

Do not be scared of the Schoenberg. This work is in the world of post-Wagner harmonies, embracing broad tonal themes. Once heard in a performance of this quality it is not soon forgotten. Musicologists use Opus 4 to suggest that Schoenberg had pushed tonal music to its boundaries, and the transition to atonal music was the clear next step. Here, in the 21st century, it is clear Schoenberg got it wrong about harmony, but his step into atonal music did change the world. It cleared the concert halls and put a divide between the composer and audience that precipitated the decline in interest in classical music for the last fifty years.

The Strauss Metamorphosen is his musical response to the destruction of concert halls in Munich at the end of the Second World War. In most performances, the work is scored for 23 strings. Concertante unearthed an earlier version for string septet, and offers fresh insights into music's flow that are often obscured by the standard, complex orchestration of 23 independent lines. On the other hand, the composer's desperation is lost in this more transparent version.

The recording is excellent. Only as I write this did I discover that the recording was produced by Max Wilcox, the same giant who worked with Rubinstein and the Guarneri. His key talent is not microphone placement, but rather his ability to relax the musicians in the foreign surroundings of the recording studio. Thus, the warm sound of the recording may have as much to do with the musician's trust in the producer as it does with microphone placement.

Our way or the highway: full-price recording of repertoire unavailable at any other price point

Nikos Skalkottas 36 Greek Dances. BBC Symphony Orchestra with Nikos Christodoulou conductor BIS (CD 1333/1334)

If you listen to classical radio enough, then you probably know a couple of these. Andre Kostelanetz recorded five of them in 60s and the LP got plenty of airtime. Given the absence of a CD transfer, these works are rarely heard nowadays. Were they played, I suspect the station's phones would light up with eager callers asking: what was that and where can I get it. Having to say it is out of print creates no friends for the station. The Greek Dances have direct analogs to the works of Arnold, Bartok Brahms, and Dvorak. As one would expect, not all 36 are equally strong, but the majority are mini-masterpieces. Skalkottas wrote primarily in an atonal idiom of his own development. The second work on this CD is characteristics of the style. To me, his language washes over you without leaving much behind. He has to come to terms with the modal nature of the music in the dances, allowing the works to be highly approachable even if some dissonant chords show up occasionally.

The nonconventional orchestration leaves no doubt that it is deeply infused with the Greek folk tradition. Mid-20th century aficionados will feel at home with the complex rhythmic complexity of the folk dances. The previously recorded dances are some of the up-tempo members of the set. The majority of the 36 are in a slower tempo that invokes a suggestion of songs instead of dances. Skalkottas ties it all together in a rendition that sometimes follows the original material closely and at other times uses it as a starting point for his own development.

It is impossible for me to expound on the music's essence because they are so original, yet so accessible. The CD is indispensable for anyone interested in modern classical music. That said, the interpretations of this set fall flat. The tempos are dramatically slower that what has been recorded before, including the first complete set of these played by a lackluster orchestra in poor recorded sound, but under a very dedicated conductor whose father knew Skalkottas. That first set came in at 90 minutes for all 36 and the set under review is at 110 minutes. I learned these works from that long deleted recording, so I know how much life has been drained at the slower tempo. Unfortunately, since most have no access to this earlier material, the tempi may not be disconcerting. Those who are familiar with the Kostelanetz will understand the tempo problems in the three dances he recorded and wish CBS had not typecast him as a pops conductor and let him record more of this work.

From its start, original recordings on BIS sounded great, but had a sonic stamp that spoke of the label's origins as a one-man operation. Now that it has grown, the productions are outsourced with very good internalized sound.

Any limitations of this recording should not deter you from adding it to your collection as fast as possible. A totally new sound palette with unforgettable themes and rhythms awaits. This is the must-have release of new music this year.
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Date:Apr 1, 2005
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