by: Hobert Taylor
The Catalyst Quartet: Bach / Gould Project - Bach-Goldberg Variations & Glenn Gould String Quartet # 1 - (Azica Records)
First...it is daring and revealing to arrange the Goldberg Variations for string quartet, and this young ensemble is dedicated to the magical art of coherent and courageous application of the group mind one finds in fine performance. Taking Glenn Gould's deeply symbiotic approach (Gould to Bach, Catalyst to Bach through Gould) they use Gould's approach to the Goldberg Variations as a starting point. To my ear their primary inspiration seems to be Gould's later recording (1981) as opposed to the energetic 1955 version. Long lines and and a slightly slower and meditative approach predominate the transcription (exception being #30). While there is none of the Gould singing in the background, I still heard his voice in the mix.
Also on this disc there is a rare recording of Gould's String Quartet # 1,
an excerpt of which can be found in the wonderful film "32 Short Films About Glenn Gould. The piece treads between late romanticism and 20th century modernism... and is often referred to as "Schoenbergian". The fugues are enthralling, and Catalyst's performance is edgy, (strong drones, jagged intonation).
Bach to Moog - Craig Leon/Jennifer Pike/Sinfoietta Cracovia - (Sony Classical)
Fifty years after Robert Moog invented his synthesizer and forty seven years after the platinum selling release "Switched On Bach" as performed by Wendy Carlos, Craig Leon updates the concept of the marriage of new musical technologies and Baroque music. Two major differences between the current and earlier recordings are, the evolution of the instrument itself, and the accompaniment of traditional instrumentation on the recording. On the newer disc the synthesizer's voice is fuller, less trebly in the timbre, less like a glass harmonica, and the string sound feels more "natural". Also, in the earliest recordings of the synthesizer technological limitations required each "voice" to be recorded separately making multi-tracking an arduous and time consuming task. Current recordings have more cohesion. This difference is augmented by the addition of the violin soloist Jennifer Pike and the occasional addition of a small string section, the Sinfonietta Cracovia. Included on the disc are excerpts from a violin partita and a violin sonata, the Toccata and Fugue, Brandenberg #4, and Aria from the Golderberg Variations.
This rendition will probably seem less jarring to traditionalists and facilitate integration of this approach to the music into the mainstream.
Fannie Lou Hamer - Songs My Mother Taught Me - (Smithsonian Folkways)
Fannie Lou Hamer was a no non-sense political and civil rights activists who during the 1960's challenged and chided the racist community in her native Mississippi as well as the leaders of the Democratic party, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, for not doing enough to bring justice to the black and the poor. She is most famous for heading up a rump delegation to represent Mississippi at the Democratic Convention in 1964 that almost got seated. The outcry arising from the speech Hamer gave at the convention, describing her hardships as a sharecropper and her near fatal beating for attempting to register voters, was a major impetus for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Hamer was not only a powerful speaker and adroit political organizer, she was also a singer. She used her music, the folk songs handed down to her from her family and community, as tools to motivate and inspire. Many of the hymns and folk songs are lightly coded references to the contemporary struggles of dis-enfranchised and oppressed people.
Taken from field recordings made in 1963 that had a limited release, this CD is an important historical document, but it also a moving and beautifully performed collection of songs, sermons and speeches and an important addition to the KUCI library.
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell - The Traveling Kind - (Nonesuch)
Harris and Crowell are a couple of old friends and troubadours, the traveling kind. They are emblematic of the term Americana, contemporary in their attitudes and styles yet steeped in American folk traditions as well.
This CD, produced with a deft and subtle touch by Joe Henry, is bursting with well written, gently ironic, quietly self aware, and humorously self deprecating songs. Highlights for me include the up tempo tunes "Bring It On Home To Memphis", "The Weight Of The World", the glorious country duet (think George and Tammy) "You Can't Say We Didn't Try", the ghostly "Higher Mountains" (Emmylou at her ballad singing best which is just about better than anyone else), Rodney's high and lonesome inflected "Just Pleasing You" and the small moments of revelation born from the memory of an old photograph in "Her Hair Was Red".
Gypsophilia - Night Swimming - (Forward Music)
Ok, gypsy music, Klezmer, cumbia, rock guitar, and reggae all get together for a good time party. Sometimes this has a Tiajuana Brass feel... like those stereo demonstration records of the early '60's. a little this, a little that. It's ear candy, nothing profound and sort of fun. I like "Long Shadows" (gypsy), the skew blues "Deep Water", the cartoon soundtrack "Dirty Circus", "RITIB (Right In The In Between)", and the delicate and wonderfully arranged "Night Falls And You Need Company".
Leonard Cohen - Can't Forget - (Columbia)
These recordings taken from Cohen's last world tour break no new musical ground... but as settings for his powerful and subtle poetry they work. Taken from sound checks as well as live performances Cohen's songs are full of memories and quiet humility ." I can't forget, but I don't remember who", he sings.
A treasure. My faves, "Light As The Breeze", "Night Comes On" ( a classic), "Joan of Arc", the up tempo (for LC), "Got A Little Secret" , "Choices", and the nice live speech "Stages" about the ages of a man.
The Weather Station - Loyalty - (Paradise of Bachelors)
This is an alluring and hypnotic stone cold folk record like early Joni Mitchell. "Floodplain" is a good example of what singer/songwriter Tamara Lindeman does so well. Supported by a steady snare beat and rolling finger picking, lyrics full of faultlessly conversational prosody and a comforting voice float overhead like a long lost kite. The poetry and storytelling is top knotch. This takes a few hearings to get all that is going on. Pick your own faves. Great late at night with headphones.
Morning Bear - Celeste - (Self Released)
Earnest and simple plain folk songs. Love, sorrow, appropriate and resonant metaphors and a seductive campfire voice make this easy on the ears. "Celeste" and "Growing Up" are very nice.