No Waste Land

(For the season, and my Winter Fundraiser, I’m reposting some old favorites.)

TVLhires2.jpg

The first step to getting a handle on your problem is to admit you have one. It’s okay, know that you’re not alone. Certainly not. You are not the only person who has ever been in a band, or yearned to be in one. You are not the first person who wanted to make music but also wanted to impress girls, or guys, and wanted that maybe more than the music itself. You are not the only person who saw someone sing, wield the guitar, pound the drums onstage, who wanted to be up there, or on the screen in a video, wanted to feel that thrill and power of performing, of becoming a synthesis of your true self and your dream self and being adulated for it. And it doesn’t matter what kind of band you were in, or wanted to be in, or what bands you and your friends listened to, there was always some song or record that you loved that you weren’t supposed to love, weren’t supposed to think was cool. Those songs overtook you with a sweet insidiousness and before you could gather your superego and place yourself firmly in your public persona and shrug off “Babylon Sisters” when it came on over the car radio, or the video for “Faithfully” when it’s slot turned up on the MTV rotation you found yourself singing along, unselfconsciously, to “If You Leave Me Now.” Yeah, the ladies love Cetera, so you love Cetera.

William Britelle loves Cetera. Well, I don’t know for sure that he personally loves Cetera, but on his new release, Television Landscape , he loves Cetera, and he loves Prince and Yes and The Beach Boys and XTC and Cat Stevens and Toto and ABC and Ultravox and Tears For Fears and Boston and The Tubes and, if I may be so bold, he loves him a little bit of Styx too (and I love him for that, because the first LP I ever bought was The Grand Illusion , and I’m not ashamed to admit it). He loves rock and pop music and this spectacularly great CD is all about that love that dares to speak its name. He loves the idea of being, and of actually being, a pop star. So few of us become that, but we can bask in the glory that he so generously shares with us, as sympathetic equals, and that sentiment is the fundamental thing that makes him a star and this record so magnificent.

The music tells the tale. And here I must take up a gentle argument with the publicity materials and the critics who have accepted them without thinking and listening; to call this, as they have, a mixed-genre concept album that reconciles the music he cherishes and the music he enjoys (redundant), and to more than hint that it is somehow a classical (even indie-classical) recording, makes a case the music cannot support and also fails to credit how great the music truly is. This is pop music through and through, from a musician who (like most musicians) listens to, works with and loves a great variety of music. Nigel Tufnel may have been heavily influenced by Mozart and Bach, but his ‘Mach’ piece “Lick My Love Pump” was nothing but rock and roll. Music is a product of its influences, and the production of it may mean writing out every note on staff paper, but songs about pop culture ennui and unrequited crushes on stars with four-four backbeats, prog-rock dueling riffs and shredding guitar solos are pop music. The concept album is a pop music creation, thanks to Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle, but using orchestral instruments, as Riddle and Brittelle do, and writing sophisticated song structures and arrangements, which Brittelle does beautifully, just show how broad, varied and wonderful pop music can be. No one can seriously argue that Painted From Memory is anything other than pop music, or that the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Apocalypse is classical music, so give Brittelle credit for what he actually has done. There’s no shame at all in being a pop star, only glory.

And what a glorious record Television Landscape is, musically and lyrically. The attention getting song is “Sheena Easton” (currently a free download, along with “Dunes of Vermillion”), with Brittelle singing unnervingly about how cold it is outside her house. What exactly is he doing there? He’s proclaiming his love for the former ingenue from Scotland, a sugary pop singer not completely or convincingly transformed into a sex pot by Prince. She brought on more than a few wet dreams with “Sugar Walls” and appearances on Miami Vice , and then . . . well, pop fame can be evanescent. But a young man listening to Prince at the time might remember those leg warmers, those pastels . . . It’s glorious to be young, it is. The moments when burgeoning physical life and possibility meet with the simple and powerful revelations of insight, sympathy and belonging to the world, when we find that book or that song or that girl or boy who say the thing to us that we’ve been thinking all along, those are moments when we are conscious of our becoming persons, of seeing a bit of our future in the distance, and pop music captures that indescribable feeling in our hearts better than anything else. The songs that have meaningful power for us in those moments, the time we were caught in the rain, the time we stayed up all night, the time she rested her head on our shoulder when we were in the back of the cab, are cemented forever in our souls. Once we are closer to becoming what we are, those epiphanies are fewer and more subtly textured, but those memories we keep in the songs in our souls never go away, and those songs always remind us, with great pleasure, of those moments and how wonderful they felt. The brilliance of “Sheena Easton,” with it’s power ballad opening, Marc Danciger’s soaring guitar, the horn accompaniment that Peter Cetera made possible, the children’s choir (!) singing the refrain ‘Sheena Easton be my mother/and I’m going off to Miami,’ is that even if you never thought much of Prince or Sheena, Brittelle fools you into feeling like you did, he gets you feeling like you were as lost in the dream of stardom as he was. There is no higher achievement in art than the artist making you feel exactly what he means.

In case this sounds like it may be ponderous or pretentious, it’s not in the least. Brittelle is not an ironist, he’s sincere and completely unselfconscious in his love for pop music and youthful radiance. When he proclaims to Sheena that ‘after all I am just a man of flesh and bone/and the truth is not kind,’ he’s not thinking that it’s funny when James Brown speechifies into the mic, he’s thinking that it’s fantastic, and he’s going to do it too. It’s the attitude that freely admits that when Journey does a power ballad, they really know how to do it, and that a power ballad is an objectively good thing. And it is. Mock the clothes and hair and musical style if you wish, and you don’t have to love Journey, but self-actualization demands giving credit where it’s due:

Yes, the song is full of standard, unsurprising pop gestures. Call them clichés, because that’s what they are. But music is made mostly of clichés, and they work, whether it’s the piano and Steve Perry’s voice building up to the expected climax of volume and activity, or the perfect cadence at the end of the first eight bars of the opening of a Haydn String Quartet. Television Landscape is full of clichés, ones that work musically – they fill the moment with what it needs and bring that one to the next – and emotionally; they are the elements that connect us to the pleasures we’ve had in the clichés of our past, and with them we share the pleasure and love Brittelle has for all the music in his life that brought him to this record.

“Hey Child” and “Pegasus in Alcatraz” are essentially prog-rock instrumentals, full of complex contrapuntal playing, sectional changes, grooves, instruments trading off solos. In “Hey Child” and “Dunes of Vermillion” he makes heavy use of AutoTune, again, not to mock others who use it but because it sounds good, and it’s what a pop star does. The sequence of songs is carefully and effectively made. Musically, there is a subtle but clear link in the guitar riffs heard at the beginning of “Dune,” “Sheena” and “Pegasus,” which rounds off what sounds like a first section, followed by the calming respite of the regretful ballad, “Halcyon Days.” It’s through this second part, through the vibrant “Wasteland,” the punk rumba of “Rio Rio,” the soft rock of “Eyes Of The Ocean,” the slow burn of “Television Landscape, and orchestral and choral resolution of “The Color Of Rain,” that it’s possible to chart an abstract journey from an imagined apocalypse to a state of hope, but it’s pop-apocalypse; the interior, emotional desolation of yearning for love, belonging, success, the things that seem so close yet just out of reach when we’re young, the trials of disappointment and disillusion, then the reminder that a song can save your life, or even just a moment of it. Because that’s where the record starts, and even with an album full of intelligently sensitive lyrics, a full orchestral sound and scope, a collection of great, classic pop music gestures in the spots where they make the most sense, the greatest and most powerful truth is in these words at the start:

Every night I watch cartoons until 5am

drinking orange juice on a brown couch smoking cigarettes

and waiting for something to happen

Those three lines encapsulate about a million pop songs and about ten million years of the accumulated Romance of youth. Alright, this is life I’ve found myself in, now where do I go, what do I do? Well, become a pop star, of course.

[paypal_button hosted_button_id=”XQ4RKEY869EJG”>

Be a regular supporter
Reader : $1.95 USD – monthly
Patron : $5.95 USD – monthly
Philanthropist : $10.95 USD – monthly
Medici : $15.95 USD – monthly

Advertisements

Best Music 2012: Outside-The-Lines

There are times when you put a CD into your computer to rip it into iTunes, and it shows up in your library as the genre Unclassifiable. The databases behind iTunes are pop oriented so they’re easily confused by something that might need an artist and a composer in the tables. But there are times when the music has a slippery style, with familiar elements but a quality that can’t be succinctly pinned down. That’s when music is often at its best.

Genre categories are both meaningless and useful: they tell us little about the music but give us a way to frame the idiom. This is a list of music from this year that I think is great but that doesn’t either fall into the large categories of jazz and classical. There are familiar pop styles, and it’s something like the “beyond’ category that downbeat magazine has us critics vote on. In my case, this is music that I tend to listen to with broadly similar ears, with the expectation that there’s going to be the type of direct, physical impact that is an essential part of good rock music.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=thbicibl-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B008DWFZOI 1. Tin Hat, the rain is handsome animal. The artists formally known as the Tin Hat Trio, augmented with great Bay Area clarinetist Ben Goldberg, have put out a record of songs (with instrumental interludes) that set poetry of e.e. cummings. The poet’s work has been popular with twentieth century composers, including John Cage, Ned Rorem, Leanord Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Luciano Berio; a formidable group of and an equally formidable body of work. It may initially seem unfair to add this record to that company, but I’m sure the legacy of those composers will survive, because these are the finest settings of cummings I have ever heard. This is a record of vernacular art songs, a rare combination of coherent poetic abstraction, musical lyricism and a physically pleasing and exciting sound. Any reader not familiar with Tin Hat should not imagine the music as stiff and structurally complex. These are songs in the pop sense but with the highest musical and intellectual sophistication: counterpoint, swinging tango rhythms, hot solos and plangent emotionalism. Smart, strong and often deeply beautiful, especially “Buffalo Bill,” which has the power of a rock anthem, with Carla Khilstedt singing from new heights of richness and confidence. Not only the top recording on this list, but the best recording I heard of any kind in 2012, bar none. Fantastic in every way.

2. The Crooked Jades, Bright Land. A very close second. One of the finest bands in the country, their new record is on the same high level as 2010’s exquisite Shining Darkness. Bluegrass of a very free style, with more than a little post-punk rockabilliy, the band makes music that carves out paths to the future, which is sorely needed in a landscape of indie-groups enthralled by a mythical past of ‘authentic’ white roots music. Bluegrass itself is a synthetic style that was created in the middle of the last century, and that is the true roots of American musical culture, creating something out of nothing other than the confidence that anything is permitted. By writing their own material and seeking to discover the things that might be possible, Compared to the wan ‘lite’ beer of their idiomatic peers, Wilco, this band is fine, high-proof rye whisky with a dash of tabasco. One of the great American bands and an excellent record.

3. Elliot Sharp’s Terraplane, Sky Road Songs. Simply no drop-off in achievement with this modern blues record, which I admit is in this arbitrary spot to satisfy a vague notion of fairness, as Sharp has a record in my top ten jazz list and will have one in my top ten classical list as well. Modern in the same way that Bright Land is modern: music that has a foundation of a familiar, even clichéd style. but is made by terrific musicians who also know how to play, and love, rock and jazz and funk and punk and even experimental music. The music has Sharp’s rare balance of muscular power, wit, love and irreverence and absolute clarity. There’s a great, satisfying swagger to the playing, a lot of it coming from Tracie Morris’ hard-edged vocals. Excellent as well.

4. Iron Dog, Interactive Album Rock. This trios’ previous record, field recordings 1, showed up unbidden in my mailbox a year or so ago. That this is the first I’ve written about it is because of how unusual and strong it is, and the excellent of the new disc has confirmed and clarified my initial response. This is an improvising group, with Sarah Bernstein playing violin and singing, Stuart Popejoy on bass guitar and Andrew Drury at the drums. They play with a specific kind of freedom, unchained by pop and even jazz notions of melody, harmony and phrasing, but their is a structural and sonic focus, a point, to every sound they make, and that point usually goes straight for the gut. It’s clear they listen closely to each other and think both quickly and imaginatively, and it’s also clear that they absolutely know what they are doing and what they indeed, there’s no existential angst. But this is all fancy talk, you have to hear this for yourself, because the music they make is a platonic ideal of experimentalism and punk-rock attitude. They start where Sonic Youth leaves off, and actually they start far beyond where Sonic Youth leaves off. Some of the most exciting and accessible abstract music you’ll find.

5. Neneh Cherry and The Thing, Cherrything. A close companion in a way to Interactive Album Rock, further proof that avant-garde jazz musicians (see: Don Cherry, Lester Bowie, Conjure) make the best pop music. A set of mostly covers that put the originals to shame: there is literally no comparison between the electronically overproduced pop and the gutty, sweaty, swaggering, sexual swagger of Neneh and the raunchy, raucous funk of The Thing. A dangerous record for dangerous times that are normally inundated with the safest kind of faux-transgressive pop.

>

6. Public Image Limited, This is PiL. My feelings about this great new PiL record are much like the ones above, just replace the sex with a deep and necessary irreverence for the faddish musical consumer product that is the commercial arm of the ruling Establishment class. Music for those disaffected but still with hope and determination, tinged with adult loss and regret, built on that classic heavy beat.

7. Luce Trio, Pieces, Volume 1. John Potter’s Downland Project CDs have always beguiled and frustrated me. I love the tradition of idiomatic improvisation, and the possibility of approaching Dowland’s songs as if they are ‘tunes,’ with a fine singer and musicians who can do creative things within the possibilities of Elizabethan forms, yet with a modern sensibility, hints at a new universe of music-making. The results are constantly disappointing, though, as Potter, Barry Guy and the rest end up indulging in little more than atmospherics — they sound like a band that’s faking it. The Luce Trio is not faking it. This seemingly modest record is a real accomplishment, and the difference is that this group understands the music they are playing, whether it’s Bach or John De Lucia’s originals, and they maintain a clear musical focus. The players are secure in their idiomatic styles and say things that are surprising and make sense. Instead of wallowing in an infantile enthrallment to Bach, they make Bach new.

8. Maya Duneitz, John Edwards, Steven Noble, Cousin It. An appropriate bookend to the Iron Dog Interactive, this is another disc of refreshing, surprising improvisation. Acoustic where the other is heavily electric, and with a quiet and impish sense of subversion as opposed to aggressive iconoclasm. It sneaks up on you quickly and grabs your attention with it’s spaciousness, focus and wit. Admirable in every way.

9. William Brittelle, Loving the Chambered Nautilus. You can call this contemporary classical music, and you would be right, but I like this disc a lot, and I like it on this list even more because Brittelle is so interested in, and successful at, setting up the context of a formal and stylistic convention for his work and then demolishing that context before he gets to the final bars. Full of life, intelligence and questions, it’s out-of-the-ordinary music. And there’s a good song too.

10. Tim Hecker/Daniel Lopatin, Instrumental Tourist. A given for fans of both these musicians — and I’m a fan — this is a wonderful record of electronic music. The structures and abstract and without beats, but full of pulsations and physically palpable sounds. Each is an accomplished solo artist already, and they each bring a particular quality to this collaboration beyond their distinctive sonic signatures: Lopatin adds the plangent melancholy, and Hecker the sensation that the sounds begin in your brain-stem and explode, slowly, outward.

[paypal-donation]

Notes From Underground

Then I should have chosen a career for myself, I should have been a sluggard and a glutton, not a simple one, but, for instance, one with sympathies for everything sublime and beautiful.

The new disc from Henry Threadgill and Zooid is out this week, give it a first listen at NPR. Call it jazz, blues, rock, R&B, it’s great, modern music.

Destination: OUT, one of the most important jazz sites on the inter-tubes, is six years old, and they’ve refreshed their raison d’être, their “Beginner’s Guide to Free Jazz.” Words and music and ideas, check them out.

The big show this week is the New York Philharmonic in a 360 degree setting at the Park Avenue Armory, where they will be playing music that makes use of space: Mozart, Ives, Boulez and Stockhausen’s fearsome Grüppen. If you want to experience it but can’t attend, Q2 Music will stream the audio on selected dates in July, and my friends at medici.tv will offer a free webcast of the event, starting July 6.

The great contemporary composer, Henri Dutilleaux, won the inaugural Kravis Prize from the NY Phil, and has done a great thing by sharing the proceeds with Franck Krawcyz, Peter Eötös and the Talea Ensemble’s Anthony Cheung, asking each to write a new work. And Sean Shepherd, with whom I share an enthusiasm for Lutoslawski, is the deserving Emerging Composer for the new season. The Philharmonic currently has an emotionally committed but intellectually ambivalent relationship with new music, and this moves the head closer to the heart.

And speaking of the Talea Ensemble, their recording of music by Fausto Romitelli is out next month, and I’m anticipating this as one of the best releases this year. Save your pennies for it, especially by skipping the Fiona Apple’s over-hyped and disappointing new record.

John Zorn frequently frustrates me, but I do dig his Moonchild band, and Phil Freeman’s review has me wanting the new one, and may have you wanting it too.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=thbicibl-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B007WB5CPS Bill Britelle’s Loving the Chambered Nautilus is out on disc copy, dig the title track here (free download), and dig him, Tune-Yards and The Yehudim this Saturday, for free, at the World Financial Center.

Last year, the Dallas Symphony premiered Steven Stucky’s Aufust 4, 1964, and their recording is out now.

As an addendum to my posting on Debussy, Onyx is releasing Pascal Rogé’s collected recordings on July 10.

Attention To Pay

If you don’t feel like showering me with dough during this stretch of Spring blegging, perhaps you’d might direct those dollars towards two of my favorite musicians, both of whom have performances over the next week.

William Brittelle, who previously has made mad and magnificent pop music, has a new chamber music disc coming out next month called Loving the Chambered Nautilus, and he’ll be presenting some of the music with ACME at the Kitchen, this Friday and Saturday. I’ll have more to write about the release after he and I sit down for an interview/play-date, but I can tell you that it is a set of brightly exuberant pieces, written with skill and verve and, like his previous work, both embracing the chosen idiom and undermining its tenets with a creative sense of glee.

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/v=2/album=1504536060/size=venti/bgcol=FFFFFF/linkcol=4285BB/

You can pre-order the music here during his fundraising release and, for a variety of amounts, garner some extra Brittelle-swag. Go indulge.

You also have two chances to see Ken Thomson and his group Slow/Fast, who are playing at Korzon Conception series on May 15 at 9mp and at Barbes on Saturday, the 19th at 6pm, each show is a bargain at $10. While I will be missing both (i’m attending City Opera and Cecil Taylor’s performance at Issue Project Room on those dates), I can tell you that this group’s set at Music at First in December of 2010 was one of the best jazz shows I’ve seen in recent memory, and the concentrated energy the live setting brings out just enhances Thomson’s smart compositions. The music is a true blend of sophisticated structures and muscular playing. Go, and tell me how it is.

Top 10 Musical Events 2010

IMG_1587.JPG

1. A Quiet Place at City Opera: I can think of nothing that better represents the purpose, importance and specialness that is New York City Opera. It’s one thing to resurrect and present a forgotten or neglected work, and there is an inherent curatorial interest in that. But to take a reviled work and, through imagination, commitment and professional quality, demonstrate that it is a work full of greatness. This production was one of the most gripping operas I’ve seen, and the only music drama I’ve experienced that is so personally immediate and real to it’s contemporary audience.

2. The 2009 Blip Festival: Of all the musical subcultures simmering just below popular perception, this is the liveliest, most interesting and sheer fun. Punk rock energy and irreverence with space helmets, Gameboys and both an underlying sweetness and a dance aesthetic. These shows were not only incredibly fun, but the most was, for the most part, great. Blippy, crunchy sounds, pithy tunes and real and imagined memories of adolescent play. Look for the return to NYC this spring.

3. Ken Thomson & Slow/Fast at Music at First: I love Thomson’s new CD, and the live show was even better. The power and energy that the band develops was gripping and moving. Well beyond the standard of a jazz gig.

4. The Rite of Spring, Valery Gergiev and New York Philharmonic: There were pieces played during the Russian Stravinsky Festival that I actually like better, but this performance of the Rite was a kind of orchestral playing that is truly rare, right at the razor’s edge of complete chaos.

5. Persephassa, Make Music New York: Rowing around in a boat on Central Park Lake with Anthony Tommasini, on a beautiful summer’s day, listening to Xenakis. Thank you, Aaron Friedman and Make Music New York.

6. William Brittelle’s Television Landscape at The Bell House: Before Brittelle put out the greatest pop record of recent years, he played one of the greatest pop shows, complete with the kind of gestures that make it all work on stage. Someone get this man a keytar.

7. The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble plays Satoh, Xenakis and Kotik: This is a concert that still haunts my memories. The S.E.M. Ensemble is so deeply inside the masterpieces of modern and experimental music they play, and Kotik’s repetitive, hypnotic works to Gertrude Stein are tremendous masterpieces. Also, kudos to Conrad Harris for playing the violin better than I though humanly possible.

8. Christine Schäfer singing Crumb and Purcell at Zankel Hall: She began slowly, but this dialogue across the ages between two masters of song was breathtaking and spine-tingling in equal measures.

9. Music from The Arctic Circle, with the Kronos Quartet, at Zankel Hall: Because we all need a lot more hard core accordion playing in our lives. I mean that.

10. Darmstadt Institute at Issue Project Room: I hear and see a great deal of brand new music, and also a lot of the now institutionalized masterpieces of the post-WWII composers, like Ligeti, Xenakis and Boulez. In comparison, this series of shows at Issue Project Room challenged every assumption about how art is made and thought about, and was a necessary reminder that great work has been, and is being, done at the limits of what we think is possible, and that we still need to spend a great deal of time and thought to catch up to it.

The Big City is taking a brief Christmas break, although there will still be new posts up on the tumblr side. Before the end of the year, though, look for a review of a good handful of vocal recordings, a Dig This on Arvo Pärt, and a piece on 2010’s musical Man of the Year.

Best to all

2010 Top 10

Of all the music, of all kinds, released this year, these are my favorites, in alphabetical order:

Die Zauberflöte, MozartRené Jacobs, conductor, Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin, RIAS Kammerchor; Daniel Behle, Marlis Petersen, Dainiel Schmutzhard, Sunhae Im, Anna-Kristiina Kaappola, Marcos Fink

René Jacobs has finished his series of recordings of the mature Mozart operas with this superb and wonderful Magic Flute that is easily one of the finest ever made and also the most constructively unique. Among period instrument and performance styles, Jacob’s work stands out from his peers via the orchestral sound he develops, his non-dogmatic way with singers and his attention to a dramatic ideal. He, perhaps, has a point to prove, but it’s not about the proper way to recreate Mozart, it’s about the proper way to present a staged drama entirely in an audio format. His achievement in this is both so full and also so natural and subtle that it almost escapes notice.

Jacobs is undemonstrative as a conductor, so it’s worth pointing out how fine the fundamentals of the recording are, the kinds of things that a conductor is responsible for preparing before the curtain lifts or the disc starts spinning. In an era in which both modern and period orchestras sound very much like each other, the sound Jacobs gets – woody, warm, with crunchy brass, a pleasingly brittle power – is remarkable for it’s color, sensuousness and intimacy. The singing is excellent throughout, and again notable for its naturalness in what is an unnatural form. All the voices are terrific, especially Behle as Tamino, Petersen as Tamina and Schmutzhard as Papageno. They not only sing the music but inhabit the characters. Jacobs maintains a relaxed sense of phrasing even at the fastest tempos (his Allegro in the Overture is incredibly fast) and so the singers always sound like they have something to say, articulating the notes and words clearly. Behle is especially fine. He shines in the company of his peers, who include Fritz Wunderlich and Nicolai Gedda. While those other two great singers draw you to the beauty of their voices and their singing, Behle sings with equal musicality and better characterization; it’s not him but Tamino we hear, the music and the things he thinks and feels.

And this, what makes this such a great recording, and a great opera recording, is the overall focus on the drama. It’s what Jacobs has done throughout his series, which is now one of the great documents of recorded music. There is something he does that I have not heard on any recording, studio or live, before; during the stretches of dialogue he has moments of continuo playing and snatches of song and vocalization from some of the other characters in the scene. This is scintillating, it makes the listening experience vivid and, in the audio dimension, integrates the spoken drama into the sung dialogue. But the overall thing, the subtle and profound feature that illuminates his care and musical intelligence, is to contain the entire recording within the frame of a story. Die Zauberflöte is Mozart’s story, and Jacobs and musicians tell it to us with love and dedication, they give us Mozart. It’s pretty simple, really. This tale is one of the great works in Western art music, it needs little more than skillful, sympathetic telling. This is as skillful and sympathetic as it gets, and that fundamental simplicity clears away what now seems like a burdensome legacy of demonstrative, self-involved performances.

Double Sextet/2×5, Reich – Eighth Blackbird and Bang On a Can

The first piece won the Pulitzer, and it’s a great example of late period Reich. 2×5, however, is even better, a complete knockout that shows the composer’s previously hidden prog-rock roots – maybe even he doesn’t know about them? – in a bright, chiming mesh of polyrhythms with such appeal that there’s some danger one’s dancing limbs will draw and quarter the listener. What a way to go.

I’m New Here – Gil Scott-Heron

The return of Gil Scot-Heron to active music is noteworthy in itself. That the result is the finest record from this great and important artist is a bit mind-boggling. The balance on this disc between modern R&B, the tragedy of worn out lives and the lyricism of life itself is impossible to describe and impossible to miss.

Katrina Ballads – Ted Hearne

This continues to excite and satisfy with the way Hearne harnesses anger and indignation into focussed, powerful, smart and incisive musical expression. Deeply impressive both as a work of composed music and a performance.

Mahler Symphony No. 1 – Netherlands Symphony Orchestra

Mahler Symphony No. 2 – Simon Rattle

Mahler Symphony No. 4 – Phillipe Herreweghe

Discussed here.

Radif Suite – Amir ElSaffar and Hafez Modirzadeh

My top jazz recording of the year.

Reservoir – Isabelle O’Connell

A great recording that does everything a recital of new music should do, present the pianist’s musical intelligence, taste and skill. The set of pieces O’Connell has chosen is wins through both variety and quality, they are exceptionally well made works from a group of composers who all have distinctive voices. And her playing is fabulous, technically precise, physically powerful and so very musical.

Television Landscape – William Brittelle

A great work of long form pop composition, a great record, and a great listening experience, something that connects the mind’s memories to the culture at large in a moving, beautiful way.

Honorable Mention:

Cortical Songs, Cathedral City, sweet light crude, Good Things, I Learned The Hard Way, Lift, Another Lifetime, City Noir, Puer Natus Est, Ombra Cara, Glass Violin Concerto No. 2, Solo, Chill Morn He Climb Jenny, Beethoven: Complete Piano Concertos, Stravinsky: The Fairy’s Kiss, Jeremy Denk Plays Ives, For 2 (Alva Noto), Farad: Vocoder Music 1969-1982, Écailles de Lune, Grinderman 2, Into The Trees, Ya-Ka-May, Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique

UPDATED: Can’t forget Tweet-Tweet!

Read About It In The Sunday Papers

Two reasons to look at today’s Arts and Leisure section: A nice, enjoyable article on William Brittelle , who’s CD is awesome and who’s upcoming show will be awesome too, and A well-done story on an upcoming reality show where, since one of the characters gave my dog some love on Smith street, you might get a chance to see everybody’s favorite ham, Arlo. ReadyForHisCloseup Now, cue Joe Jackson: [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnaUL8OpBck&hl=en_US&fs=1]

Two reasons to look at today’s Arts and Leisure section:

  • A nice, enjoyable article on William Brittelle, whose CD is awesome and who’s upcoming show will be awesome too, and
  • A well-done story on an upcoming reality show where, since one of the characters gave my dog some love on Smith street, you might get a chance to see everybody’s favorite ham, Arlo.

ReadyForHisCloseup

Now, cue Joe Jackson:

lg-share-en.gif