Music Review

Best Classical Recordings of 2010

Freire_ChopinThere are inevitable biases in best-of-the-year lists, and I want to acknowledge mine up front: I am most interested in the piano, choral, and symphonic literatures. I’m happy to listen to other things, but those are what I seek out, vastly tipping the balance in their favor. I know it shows. Another note: while old material can be included, it has to have been released for the first time -- so no reissues or compilations here.

Captain Beefheart Album Survey, Part 4

shiny-beastA couple of years ago, I was surveying Captain Beefheart albums here and got through the first seven. I always meant to finish; his death jolted me back into action. You can catch up with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 as well.

Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (Warner Brothers) Coming after some unsuccessful commercial compromises, about which the less said the better (Unconditionally Guaranteed and Bluejeans & Moonbeams yield one good track each, maybe two if you're generous), this 1978 album was a significant comeback.

ANNIVERSARIES: Beethoven Born 240 Years Ago

beethovenWe don’t know for sure what day Ludwig van Beethoven was born, but it is documented that he was baptized on December 17, 1770. Like practically everything about his fascinating life, this has been studied in detail and speculated over. Some folks say that he was probably baptized the day after he was born, and they thus insist that he was born on December 16. Whatever. What is not disputed, even by those who don’t like his music (John Cage and Glenn Gould are two examples of great musicians who considered Beethoven’s influence malignant), is that Beethoven was one of the most revolutionary and influential composers in history.

Jim Morrison: The Admiral's Anarchist Son

jim_morrisonHad he not overdosed in Paris in 1971, Jim Morrison would have been 67 years old this December 8th. The legendary star of The Doors called his childhood "an open sore," and told his band that he was an "orphan." Later they discovered he had a mother after all. In 1967, she was sitting in a front row seat her son, "The Lizard King," had reserved for her in the Washington auditorium. During the show's climactic number, "The End," he sang "Mother, I want to…" then barred his teeth and snarled "FUCK YOU!" He refused to see her again. Nor did he ever again see his father, a Navy admiral. "Father?" he sang in "The End," "I want to KILL YOU!"

Springsteen's Promise Well Worth Keeping

Bruce_Springsteen_The_PromiseBruce Springsteen: The Promise (Columbia) After breaking through with Born to Run in 1975, Bruce's change of managers left him mired in a lawsuit that prevented him from following up until 1978. But he wasn't sitting around twiddling his thumbs for three years. Nope, he was prolifically writing songs and recording them. This two-CD set, subtitled "The Lost Sessions: Darkness on the Edge of Town," has 22 of them. There's also a three-CD/three-DVD version that includes a remaster of Darkness on the Edge of Town, The Promise, and three DVDs of rehearsal, recording, and concert film, including a 2009 concert of Darkness and a complete 1978 Houston show. But kudos to Bruce for giving fans a cheaper way to get the previously unreleased tracks without having to re-buy Darkness.

Jazz Guitar Hero

Joe_Morris_CameraJoe Morris: Colorfield (ESP-Disk) Joe Morris: Camera (ESP-Disk) Though he's only 55 years old, Joe Morris is more or less the elder statesman of free jazz guitar at this point. It's a combination of a long and prolific career (around 30 albums in 20 years), an immediately distinctive sound and style that will rarely fool anyone in a blindfold test, and seemingly a complete lack of musical compromise (and not only have there been strangely few guitarists in the genre, the late Sonny Sharrock is the only one who was even briefly as prolific and prominent within the scene as Morris, though Tisziji Munoz is also in the discussion). Throw in Morris's completely reliability of standards -- everything he's ever released is excellent -- and his name on an album is practically a guarantee of quality. These two are no exception, and with their less common instrumentation offer welcome variety.

Dylan's Diamonds in the Rough

Witmark_Demos Bob Dylan: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (Columbia) The ninth volume (available as two CDs or four LPs) in Columbia's never-miss Bootleg Series of Dylan rarities is the first one where the historical value sometimes outweighs the musical pleasure, since he coughs between verses of "Blowin’ in the Wind," forgets everything after verse one of "Man on the Street," and so on. Nonetheless, this set of 47 lo-fi singer-with-guitar (or piano) tracks recorded for his music publisher is absolutely riveting listening for anyone with more than a casual interest in Dylan, not least because there are 15 songs here not on any other official Dylan album (there have been bootlegs).

John Lennon and the Immortal 9

Lennon_GruenOn October 9th, Yoko Ono, in honor of what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday, will light his Peace Tower in Iceland, and perform a memorial concert. The number 9 always had profound significance for John, especially after first meeting Yoko at a London art gallery on November 9, 1966. His second wife was a serious student of the occult and of Cheiro, the father of modern numerology. Like John, she too identified herself as a Number 9 person, the sum of the numbers of her own birthday on the 18th (of February, 1933). Cheiro stated that 9 represented creative, universal consciousness. He characterized Number 9 personalities as fiercely independent, energetic, strong-willed and domineering, often subject to great struggles in youth, but great success later on.

ANNIVERSARIES: Tom Waits Released Rain Dogs 25 Years Ago

Tom_Waits_Rain_DogsTom Waits: Rain Dogs (Island) When Tom Waits changed from Elektra/Asylum Records to the Island label, he changed his music too. His first Island release, 1983's Swordfishtrombones, ditched the over-obvious boozy humor and winking lounge music in favor of more alienated, bluesy, percussive production full of unexpected angles. (This direction had been foreshadowed on a few tracks on his 1980 LP Heartattack and Vine).