Music Review

Grammy Video of the Day: Buddy & Jim - "It Hurts Me"

Though Buddy and Jim -- by Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale -- didn't win Best Americana album at the Grammy's last night, this was tops on my ballot. Here's a track -- "It Hurts Me" -- from that wonderful album.

ANNIVERSARIES: Klaus Nomi Born 70 Years Ago

The one-of-a-kind New Wave singer Klaus Nomi was born Klaus Sperber in Bavaria on January 24, 1944. Though his career effectively lasted just five years and he had no hits, he became a beloved cult artist and introduced people outside the realm of classical music to the glories of opera through stunning, highly stylized performances that crushed genre boundaries in a way that the many more calculated "classical crossover" acts since have been unable to achieve, no matter how many more records they may have sold.

Some sources say Nomi (adopted as a stage name as an anagram of "omni") was "classically trained" (though that could just mean piano lessons); Kurt Loder, writing for MTV, calls him "a true, if untrained, countertenor." (A countertenor is basically a male alto.) He did, in his youth, work as an usher at the German Opera in West Berlin, and informally sang there for an audience of his fellow workers. He would also sing opera arias in Berlin's gay nightclubs. In 1972 he moved to New York City; he achieved his breakthrough in 1978 as part of New Wave Vaudeville, a variety show put on by habitués of the downtown New/No Wave scene. Fortunately, there is video of this performance, in which he sang "Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix" from the opera Samson and Delilah by Camille Saint-Saëns: Read more »

Song of the Week: The Rooks - "Twister"

From NYC, here's the new single from the agit-soul of The Rooks. Currently touring on the East Coast.

Steve's Favorite Jazz Historical/Reissue Albums of 2013

Yes, there's a big disparity in the lengths of these reviews. It's not intended to slight albums 2-4; they all gave me great joy, and, I am sure, will continue to. But the scope of the first box set here is vastly broader, and thus each ensemble featured on it requires explanation. And of course I assume you're familiar with the styles of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Keith Jarrett.

1. William Parker: Wood Flute Songs (AUM Fidelity)

Eight discs proving that Parker is not only the supreme bassist of the current avant jazz world, he is also a fine and prolific composer and leads some of the scene's greatest bands, most notably on these 2006-2012 concert recordings his quartet with alto saxophonist Rob Brown, trumpeter Lewis "Flip" Barnes, and drummer Hamid Drake, who are at the core of every band featured here. Read more »

Steve's Favorite Jazz Albums of 2013, Part 1

I have already discussed seven new releases and one compilation in my article on the Jazz Artist of the Year, Matthew Shipp. Here are my other favorite new albums from the jazz world in 2013. Most surprising for me is the number of vocal albums, because I'm very particular about jazz singers and dislike most of them. So coming from me, the praise for the jazz singers listed here is really saying something.

1. Andy Bey: The World According to Andy Bey (High Note)

Andy Bey is my favorite living jazz singer, and he's not recorded nearly as often as his talents deserve. Now 74 years old, he has only recorded 11 albums in the course of a 50-year career (one a concert album I've never actually seen). In comparison, Kurt Elling, 46 and active for 18 years, has already made 10. It had been six years since Bey's previous album, and he's been living HIV-positive since 1994, so I was worried. Thus, the appearance of this album was both a relief and a pleasant surprise. Read more »

Jazz Artist of the Year: Matthew Shipp

Last year I started anointing a Jazz Artist of the Year after a spurt of six Ivo Perelman albums that would have dominated my best-of list if not set apart. I've done it again because once again there was an artist so prolific AND so good that he was again worth noting separately. Though pianist Matthew Shipp only released one album as a leader in 2013, he was a prolific collaborator, especially with Perelman. And it has been many years since Shipp was a 'sideman'; he is an equal on these projects.  Read more »

Video of the Week: PT Walkley - "Don't Forget About Me"

Puppet phobias aside, here's a wonderful new video -- directed by Jade Harris -- for a terrific new tune from NYC-based singer/songwriter PT Walkley. "Don't Forget About Me" is the first single from his soon-to-be-released long player Shoulders and will be released on 2/18/14.

Steve's Favorite New Classical Albums of 2013

As always, there are biases at play here; my greatest interests are symphonic music, choral music, and piano music, so that's what comes my way most often. There are some paired reviews; the ranking of the second of each pair might not be the true, exact ranking, but it works better from a writing standpoint this way. 

It is not easy, at this point in recording history, to match the giants of the baton in a Brahms cycle, but Chailly has done it (this is my fiftieth Brahms cycle, and I have more than another fifty Brahms Firsts, and upwards of thirty each of the other symphonies outside those cycles, so I've got some basis for comparison).  Read more »

Steve's Favorite New Rock, Soul, and Electronica Albums of 2013

My alienation from current pop is almost complete; the only 2013 Top 40 material I enjoyed enough to play repeatedly was Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, from an album released in 2012. So I am officially a cranky old fart. But there are more and more of us, and maybe fellow COFs will find this list useful. By the way, crossing that border of alienation made me think more than ever that saying my lists are of the "best" albums is nearly absurd, hence the new headline.

1. Wire: Change Becomes Us (Pink Flag)

This is my favorite Wire of this century thanks to more emphasis on Colin Newman's brooding. When allied to their chugging motorik beats, it's irresistible to me. There are still some uptempo burners that recall their beginnings in punk, and some more whimsical though still musically solid songs, but it's Newman's dark musings that made me play this repeatedly. Read more »

Yusef Lateef R.I.P. (February 11, 1920 - December 23, 2013)

Yusef Lateef, who died on Monday after a bout with prostate cancer, was a devout Muslim who did not like his music to be called jazz because of the supposed indecent origins and connotations of the word (although those origins are still debated). He preferred the self-coined phrase "autophysiopsychic music." Furthermore, his music encompassed an impressively broad range of styles, and the only Grammy he won was in the New Age category -- for a recording of a symphony. Think about those things amid the flood of Lateef obituaries with "jazz" in the headline.

That said, certainly Lateef's own musical origins indisputably revolved around jazz. Growing up in Detroit, a highly fertile musical environment in the 1930s and beyond, Lateef got his first instrument, an $80 Martin alto sax, at age 18. Within a year he was on the road with the 13 Spirits of Swing (arrangements by Milt Buckner). Read more »

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things - Best of 2013

One of my most diversified year-end lists yet -- rock, electronica, jamband, prog, pop, R&B. I didn't really think I'd even find 10 albums that could hold my attention start to finish, and believe me, I tried to listen to most of my fellow critics' top ten titles and could barely get through most of their selections top to bottom. Okay, so there may have been some overlapping, but very little. Here are my top tens of favorite CDs and singles in some kind of non-numerical order. (Well, actually, the number of plays on my iTunes player.)

1. Laura Mvula: Sing to the Moon (Columbia)

A Mercury Prize music nominee in the U.K. and rightfully so. Slightly left of center, but accessible in a sweeping film noir soundtrack meets Nina Simone kind of way. Joyous tone poems with gorgeous vocals (and ethereal background vocals) and Gil Evans-inspired orchestral arrangements that leave you breathless. Works as background, foreground, and sharing-with-your-lover music. Just can’t shake free from her spell…

Read more »

Yet Another List of Classical Christmas Albums

Working on yesterday's article about recent classical Christmas albums and looking back at my original Christmas album article got me thinking about old favorites I hadn't included in my 2005 article. Here they are. It says something about their popularity that they have all stayed available, in some cases for decades.

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On Yoolis Night
(Harmonia Mundi)

This gorgeous collection contains Advent and Christmas music from 13th through 15th century English sources -- with one piece traceable all the way back to the 5th century. The ethereal beauty of these devotional antiphons, motets, carols, etc. is about as far from the usual hackneyed Christmas carols as one could get. Some of the Latin texts are familiar (Hodie Christus natus est, Ave maria, Videntes stellam), but this is largely fresh, relatively unexplored repertoire. Read more »

More Classical Christmas Music

It's been eight years since I wrote about my favorite classical Christmas music. So here's a look at some of the finer Christmas releases since then. As before, I try to spotlight some less familiar Christmas music while still including old favorites.

Monica Piccinini/Christina Kuhne/Ursula  Eittinger/Alberto ter Doest/Thilo Dahlmann/Cologne Academy/Michael Alexander Willens
Francesco Durante: Neapolitan Music for Christmas II
(cpo)

I've got to get my hands on vol. I, because this is wonderful. Durante (1784-1755, an almost exact contemporary of J.S. Bach, was considered one of the greatest church composers in Naples at that time, and also taught such future famous opera composers as Pergolesi and Paisiello (Durante was himself a student, in Rome, of Pasquini). Read more »

John Lennon Tribute - NICOLAS JAAR - OUR WORLD

In case you missed the tragic anniversary of John Lennon's death on Dec. 8th... to honor him, DARKSIDE's Nicolas Jaar released an hour-long mix called "OUR WORLD" via his Other People label. Worth the listen.

Video of the Week: Nick Cave - "Higgs Boson Blues"

Prowling the stage like a black jaguar, Nick Cave, backed by his equally menacing Bad Seeds, display the full range of their musical agility on this new video. From his latest effort, Push The Sky Away.

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