Music Review

400-Year-Old Venetian Vespers Revived

I Fagiolini/Robert Hollingworth: 1612 Italian Vespers (Decca)

Here's a gimmick I can get behind. Last year, I Fagiolini's Decca debut presented the first recording of Striggio's Mass in 40 Parts and was quite successful by the standards of Renaissance choral albums. In a world where conductors record the same symphony four or five times, focusing on "new" old repertoire is quite refreshing. For their follow-up, the group and founder/director Robert Hollingworth give some more major works their recording premieres, this time focusing on Venetian composers on the cusp between the Renaissance and the Baroque.

Souther Rises Again

J.D. Souther
Studio 201
July 21, 2012

Fans of '70s rock know John David "J.D." Souther's work even if they don't recognize his name. Linda Ronstadt, always good with a bittersweet ballad, made several of his highlights of her mid-decade LPs. Fellow Detroiter Glenn Frey and Souther hooked up again after both had moved to Los Angeles, and this eventually led to Souther co-writing several of the Eagles' biggest hits.

Funky Chicagoans Reframing Miles Davis & Radiohead

Corey Wilkes: Kind of Miles: Live at the Velvet Lounge (Katalyst)

These are not quite new releases (copyright 2011 and 2010 respectively), but they're new to me, and new enough that, in combination with their sterling quality and unjustly low profiles (outside Chicago, that is), a review seems eminently deserved. They are linked by more than the label releasing them (Chicago-based Katalyst Entertainment specializes in Chicago-linked jazz performers, both new releases and reissues). There's the Miles Davis repertoire reflected in the album titles, and three-quarters of Spero's band -- him, trumpeter Wilkes, and bassist Junius Paul -- is half of the sextet on Wilkes's album, with Spero's electric keyboards integral to the sound of both groups.

Long-Absent Free-Jazz Gem Reappears

Marzette Watts: Marzette Watts & Company (ESP-Disk')

In the brief period when I did a little work for ESP-Disk', this was the album the most people (especially record store owners and musicians) enthusiastically nominated for reissue. And now, here it is!

This album is distinguished by a number of factors, not least the fact that this is its first issue on CD in the U.S. (a few European reissues are in inferior sound). Recorded on December 8, 1966, it was Watts's first session as a leader (though, not released until 1971, it was his second album to appear, following a now-rare Savoy LP). Watts (1938-1998) never made any more albums after those two, alas, nor did he record as a sideman, though he appears in the credits on some albums from the free jazz scene as the engineer.

Steve's July Rock Review Roundup

Asia: XXX (Frontiers)

That title's not triple-X as in porn, it's Roman numerals marking this supergroup's thirtieth anniversary (though I bet the confusion will increase this page's hits). Yup, three decades ago, "Heat of the Moment" was a massive hit. However, critics have tended to dislike Asia, either for dealing in pop rather than the glorious prog-rock of its members' previous bands -- Yes, ELP, and King Crimson -- or (if said critics are on the other side of the great divide) as dinosaurs still too proggy for naysayers in the post-punk era. Not this critic, through; I have always enjoyed John Wetton's voice, layered vocal harmonies, and melodic sense in every context, and never found Geoff Downes's keyboards and catchy songwriting/production the sacrilege that purist proggers did. 

Another Great Album from Chris Smither

Chris Smither: Hundred Dollar Valentine (Signature Sounds)

Surprisingly, this is the first album in Smither's nearly five-decade career to consist entirely of his own songs. It includes new versions of two older ones, both of them dark. The oldest, "I Feel the Same," is a concisely heart-wrenching breakup song that's been covered by Bonnie Raitt, Candi Staton, Esther Phillips, and more, but sounds best in Smither's bleak reading. "Every Mother's Son," about vigilante terrorists, is even more chilling: "You know you made your son Joseph a dangerous man, / He's gone to town and bought himself a gun [….] Vengeance is mine, he said, come join the fun, / He looked more like a Judas on the run." 

ANNIVERSARIES Composer Frederic Mompou Died 25 Years Ago

Born in Barcelona on April 16, 1893 to a Catalan lawyer and his French wife, Frederic (a.k.a. Federico) Mompou was educated in Paris. Shyness kept him from a career as a pianist, though while at the Paris Conservatory, he studied piano with Isidor Philipp, among whose teachers were Saint-Saëns and Chopin's best student, George Mathias. Though he was initially influenced by Fauré's music, by the time Mompou arrived in Paris, the Impressionists reigned supreme, and that style profoundly shaped his own compositional evolution. (For that matter, Philipp was a friend of Debussy's and often played his piano music.) After a long dry spell as a composer, and the Nazi invasion in 1941, Mompou returned to his native Catalonia (the northeastern-most region of Spain), where he lived for the rest of his long life. 

Reunion of Famous Sons

Ravi Coltrane/Matthew Garrison/Jojo Mayer
David Fiuczynski Quintet
ShapeShifter Lab, Brooklyn
June 8, 2012

Saxophonist John Coltrane’s saxophonist son playing with the bassist son of Coltrane Quartet bassist Jimmy Garrison might impress cynics as a gimmick, but everyone who heard the fireworks their ad-hoc trio (and, eventually, quartet) set off at this concert knows that it’s as far from a gimmick as can be. It is, instead, two friends who have known each other since childhood taking advantage of their deep rapport to create a music of intuitive reactions that is a very modern descendent of what their dads were doing half a century ago.

ANNIVERSARIES: Mahler's Ninth Symphony Premiered 100 Years Ago

Written after Gustav Mahler had been diagnosed with a life-threatening heart disease, his Ninth Symphony -- the last the composer completed-- has been widely interpreted as reflecting that knowledge, but of course there are many reactions produced by the prospect of death. The lengthy first movement is a meditation on the mysteries, terrors, and -- yes -- consolations of death. Leonard Bernstein, who never shied away from romanticizing biographical details, proclaimed the asymmetrical rhythms at the beginning to be a portrayal of the composer's irregular heartbeat.

New Top Choice for Bach Motets

Conductor John Eliot Gardiner's superb and detailed notes for this release (on his choir's own label) open with this bold statement: "Bach's motets constitute the most perfect, and in some ways the most hypnotic, set amongst his works." They were not even remotely conceived of as a "set," however -- unlike, for example, the sonatas and partitas for violin, or the cello suites, or the Well-Tempered Clavier, the motets were created independently, over the course of many years, probably (and in some cases, certainly) for specific occasions. However, in a way that actually helps make Gardiner's case, because their resulting variety of style and structure is attractive.