Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ten Recordings You Should Listen To - #10

Adam MacDougall has been with PMAC since just about the beginning. Our first piano instructor and currently Chair of the Piano Department, Adam is an accomplished teacher and enjoys a wide variety of recordings. As we reach the tenth faculty list, we beginn to see some repetition - sometimes artists, sometimes the exact album. But Adam also offers a unique contribution, one that I'm surprised none of the first nine posters (including myself) had on their list: an album by The Beatles. Here is his list, done in David Letterman fashion - a countdown beginning with number ten:

10. Dave Matthews Band - Crash

This pretty much supplied the soundtrack for my college years, and even still, it never gets old. DaveMatthews is such a brilliant songwriter, and his band is so tight.

9. Muse - Absolution

I was blown away by this album the first time a friend played it for me. They have a unique sound that is beyond description.

8. Glenn Gould - Bach Preludes and Fugues, WTC Book I
When people think of Glenn Gould's recordings of Bach, they generally think of The Goldberg Variations, but I have found his interpretations of the Preludes and Fugues to be even more surprising and inspiring.

7. Pink Floyd - The Wall

This was the first CD I ever bought, and every time I listen to it, I get something new from it. It is a shame nobody makes albums like this anymore.

6. James Levine/Chicago Symphony Orchestra - Brahms' German Requiem

James Levine, Kathleen Battle, Hakan Hagegard, and the CSO perform this mammoth work with such subtle grace. And as far as requiems go, Brahms' blows Mozart's away.

5. The Beatles - Revolver

The Beatles have been one of my favorite bands for as long as I can remember. This album may not be as popular as Abbey Road or Sgt. Pepper's, but it should be. Who can resist the feel-good optimism of "Good Day Sunshine" or the compelling political commentary of "Taxman?"

4. Martha Argerich - Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3/Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1

This recording would have been amazing even if it hadn't been live--the fact that is elevates it to the realm of miraculous. Argerich's playing is so energetic and exciting, nobody with ears could avoid being moved.

3. The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow

Unlike every other fan of The Shins I know, I did not first hear of them in the movie Garden State. I was actually given "Chutes Too Narrow" as a gift, and I became an immediate fan. The music is mellow and upbeat, and the lyrics are strikingly original.

2. Ben Folds Five - The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
Ben Folds Five, contrary to what the name implies, is actually just a trio, but you wouldn't know it by hearing them. This was the first album I ever heard by BFF, and I immediately fell in love with their unique guitar-less rock sound, as well as Ben Folds' clever lyrics.

1. Evgeny Kissin - Chopin Ballades, Berceuse, Barcarole, and Scherzo No.4
What can I say? My favorite pianist playing some of my favorite pieces by my favorite composer. Need I say more? The highlight of this recording is the F minor Ballade (track 4), but every track is amazing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ten Recordings You Should Listen To - #9

While Jon Roth has taught trombone, trumpet and other low brass instruments at PMAC for the past four years, he recently decided to leave his faculty position to take on the assistant conductor position with the Seacoast Wind Ensemble. He is also the band director and music teacher for the Kittery elementary and middle schools. He is a wonderful musican and teacher and we will miss him dearly. We will, however, continue to collaborate - and our next event is a combined concert with PMAC's New Horizons Band (for adults) and the Kittery Middle School Band at the Kittery Middle School's Holiday Concert in December. Though he is leaving us, he did take the time to give us his ten picks. Here they are:

1) New Queen's Hall Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth, conductor - Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Greensleeves

Features several of Vaughn Williams' incredibly beautiful melodies in powerful arrangements.

2) Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 1

There are several great recordings of this sometimes overlooked symphony. One of the best examples of late Romantic music.

3) Chicago Symphony Orchestra, George Solti, conductor - Johannas Brahms: German Requiem
Great choir, great orchestra, great music.

4) John Rutter: Requiem

Several different recordings available. It's fun to compare and contrast the way Brahms and Rutter use the same latin texts in different ways. Also I highly recommend the requiems of Faure, Mozart, and Andrew Lloyd Weber (I'm not particularly morbid, I just like requeims).

5) The Central Band of the Royal Air Force - British Music for Concert Band

If you like concert band music it doesn't get any better than this. All of the early 20th century band classics are here by Holst, Vaughn Williams, and Percy Grainger.

6) John Williams and the Boston Pops - Bernstein by Boston

Some of Bernstein's best Broadway show music in classic 'pops' style.

7) Maynard Ferguson - Chameleon

It's not always in tune or particularly musical but if you like your jazz big, bold and dog whistle high this recording is for you!

8) Chicago - Chicago Transit Authority

The rock group Chicago's first album. Nothing comercial about this music. You can't dance to it but there's plenty of soul, gritty guitars, and tight brass. From the era just before disco ruined rock and roll.

9) Bruce Springsteen - Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ

The boss' firstalbum. An old favorite.

10) The Choir of Winchester Cathedral - Christmas Fantasy

If I could only take one Christmas album on a desert island this would be it. Well worthchecking out.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ten Recordings You Should Listen To - #8

Nicole Hajj teaches piano and voice at PMAC. Her list reflects her love for jazz, especially with exquisite vocals. And the cover of album #10 shows the famous Green Mill bar in Chicago, where Al Capone once was a regular and where one of my pieces for solo oboe was once performed on a winter Sunday afternoon. Here's her list:

1) Dianne Reeves - The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughn

Most amazing, most innovative vocal album out there. Reeves is a genius and this CD also features the arrangements of one of my favorite producers, Billy Childs. Reeves sense of phrasing is perfection and her powerful vocals leave you breathless. This woman could sing the phone book and still blow me away. Be prepared to have the most thrillful listening experiences of your life!

2)Steve Stevens - Flamenco-A-Go-Go

This is a perfect example of guitar virtuosity and musical creativity at its best. Stevens completely redefines Flamenco with this CD and it will leave your jaw in your lap. The cd as a whole is definitely not background music, as it will cause you to stop whatever you are doing. If you're wondering what you get when you combine a rock/punk/new wave guitarist with latin/flamenco/world beat style, you get this: the most original and provocative ideas matched with Stevens patented playfulness and staggerinly proficient technical skill.

3) Jamie Cullum - Twentysomething

This young artist always leaves me speechless when I try to describe him. He is a jazz musician, with the energy of a rockstar, but also extremely sensitive when he needs to be. He not only breathes new life into old standards, but has some incredible original pieces as well. Although the cd is fantastic, nothing compares to seeing him live.

4) Victor Wooten - Yin-Yang

Wooten, originally from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, has got to be the best electric bass player to ever live (and yes, I know who Jaco is). This album is a very bold 2-disc project. The first disc is instrumental and it is quite amazing, realy exhibiting Victor's musical genius, technical brilliance and outstanding collaboration with many other great musicians. The second disc is a vocal set, which doesn't hold a candle to the first disc, but is worth a listen if only to see just how versatile this artist is.

5) Tom and Joy - Antigua

This album is a smooth, sophisticated mix of samba/acid jazz alternated with traditional bossa nova performed by two talented cousins from Paris, France. This cd was given to me from my father to "expand my horizons" and I have been in love with "Jazzanova" ever since. Put this cd on and be instantly swept away to the French Riviera or the Brazilian sandy beaches.

6) Frou Frou - Details

Frou Frou, now known as Imogen Heap, is best known for her song "Let Go" from the movie, Garden State. I bought this cd for this song alone but then realized that every song is obsession-worthy. It's virtually impossible to blend pop, electronica and ambient music this seamlessly. If this cd doesn't make your ears tingle, you must be deaf. Even though this disc is amazement from beginning to end, "Let Go" is by far one of the most beautifully written songs in any genre ever created.

7) David Foster - The Symphony Sessions

I've been listening to this cd since its debut over 15 years ago and it is still in my top 10 of all time. Exquisite compositions combined with genius keyboard artistry of producer/pianist David Foster. This is some of the most beautiful music ever written and truly is a collector's item.

8) Bebel Gilberto - Bebel Gilberto

This is a bossa nova lover's delight. Bebel is the daughter of latin jazz legend, Joao Gilberto. It is a very classy mix of latin jazz and electronica, performed with lots of sophistication and sexy, breathy alto vocals.

9) Raul Midon - State of Mind

Midon is an incredibly gifted guitarist/vocalist who blends soul and R&B with latin and jazz flawlessly. Midon's style, melodies and subject matter are comparable to the great Stevie Wonder, but with a more modern, urban twist. Every person for whom I have played this cd absolutely loved it and the bought it. It is a very bare bones production as to not cloud the listener's perception of the major raw talent.

10) Kurt Elling - Live in Chicago

This is an excellent jazz vocal album. His influences ranging from bop to Coltrane and beyond, Elling is versatile and technically very strong, and really hip! He has mastered the art of vocalese to a tee and this live set features his vocal improvisations at their best. In my opinion, there is nothing more exhilarating in jazz than the capture of the excitement of a live performance. Kurt Elling is taking up the torch from his mentors, Mark Murphy and Jon Hendricks, and carrying on the tradition of vocal jazz with this incredible live cd. And I always think jazz is not complete without the clinking of cocktails glasses in the background.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ten Recordings You Should Listen To - #7

Voice and piano instructor Judy McCann has been with PMAC from nearly the beginning. Her list is wonderfully diverse, and includes one of my favorite Stravinsky works (see #5). And make sure you note her clever choice for #6. I'm not sure she realized she cheated by including 11 albums, but I couldn't imagine which one to cut, so here are all of them:

1) Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks - Striking It Rich

A San Francisco band that broke up in 1974, Dan Hicks' style was to combine jazz, swing, folk, and a little bit of country, producing snappy and cleverly original music like no other. Each song has a distinctly different flavor, and his lyrics are filled with humor. Behind the entertainment value of this recording lay some outstanding musicianship.

2) Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass - Take Love Easy

Intimate, elegant, and simple. Just Joe on acoustic guitar, and Ella singing in her natural, fluid style, jazz standards such as "Lush Life," "You're Blase," and "A Foggy Day."

3) Aretha Franklin - Lady Soul

Enough said.

4) The Black Eyed Peas - Monkey Business

Present day, double espresso, James Brown kind of funk. Well produced and beautifully arranged, the rap lyrics are honest and socially conscious.

5) London Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas - Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms

Dynamically diverse, exuberant, haunting, this piece is a demonstration of Stravinsky's Neo-classical phase, around 1930. The orchestra is made up of largely wind instruments, two pianos, and a choir. No strings and no clarinets. He selected various texts from David's Psalms in the Old Testament, sung in Latin. Highest mastery of composition, in my opinion.

6) Take 6 - So Much 2 Say (1990)

No instruments, except for the human voice, these six men beautifully and poignantly interweave multiple levels of harmony with mind blowing precision and accuracy. I L-O-V-E U and Come Unto Me are memorable.

7) Renee Fleming - Renee Fleming

Not since Joan Sutherland have I heard a voice as remarkable as Renee Fleming's. She possesses a combination of agility, power, and range with a roundness and beauty of tone. And, she has pathos. This recording is made up of exquisite arias by Puccini, Verdi, Bellini, Massenet and Bizet. Listen, and sing along!

8) St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin - Ralph Vaughn Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

A fantasia is a musical composition with its roots in improvization, so it seldom resembles textbook rules of musical form. This piece contains recurring motives, and then travels seamlessly through variations on that motive. This particular recording is played by a string quartet, and sounds haunting, mystical, and folk-like. Very lovely.

9) Pascal Roge, piano - After the Rain...The Soft Sounds of Erik Satie

Although the title sounds a bit cheesey, it accurately fits the whole feel of this recording.

10) Joni Mitchell - Court and Spark

11) Julia Faulkner, Soprano, Anna Gonda, Alto, Camerata Budapest, Michael Halasz - Giovanni Pergolesi's Stabat Mater

Stabat Mater means steadfast mother, and the twelve solos/duets take the listener on the journey with Mary as she watches her son die on the cross. Heart wrenchingly beautiful, the composition paints the tears and pain of the moment using suspended dissonances and overlapping voicing. Perfect for Lent.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Ten Recordings You Should Listen To - #6

Chris Weisman teaches guitar, music theory, improvisation and composition at PMAC. He is the director of the New Horizons Blues Band and also directs the summer Rock Camp. He offers up the following:

1) Caetano Veloso - Joia

1975 minimalist spatial compositions in the stereo field creating a MAXIMUM clarity-of-sense of that field, and tossed off will the ease of evening corn husks, a beach pebble into an expanse of black-invisible sea. Brazilian. Read his book Tropical Truth.

2) Wayne Shorter - Atlantis

Right in the sweet spot of wrong careerwise (1985), the cover features a colored-pencil drawing of him with a tanktop and a mustache. Some songs use computers but the band is so advanced in this same gross direction that you feel its office-white presence throughout. AND as if those facts alone weren't tanlalizing enough, the music is utterly alien and pleasurable and soaring, a soprano lazerbeam riding the crest of a morphing conch shell which itself rides a morphing wave of digital-era bad taste. Conceptually of coarse. One song has singing!

3) Roswell Rudd - Flexible Flyer

Made in Maine I think, 1971. Sheila Jordan singing in weird microtonal Worldesque ways (Eastern? Native American?) and absolutely KILLING. Roswell plays Earth Trombone (weird Tom Waits hasn't co-opted this gut yet) and sings some too and the piano player (just a regular jazz guy) brings the most beautiful tune ever: Waltzing in the Sagebrush.

4) Kurt Rosenwinkel - East Coast Love Affair

A luminous genius with some taste problems. Changing Jazz Guitar is boring but this guy does far more, I believe he plays things no one's heard, more science fiction alien rays I guess, pointing to an enchanted future of sound. Pre-Vervecareer (over now) recording of a set at Smalls in 96 (seems like yesterday!). Possibly the worst upright-bass-through-an-amp sound in history. You can hear Kurt singing (unamplified) and encasing the guitar lines in a pink auracloud, something he later augmented with a lapel mic and way-too-much Line 6 delay.

5) Prince - Parade

The 1986 soundtrack to Under the Cherry Moon. This falls right between Around The World In A Day and Sign O' The Times, his other best albums. This music is somehow EVERYTHING but at the same time really specific. Clare Fischer does strings and does a lot with harmonic clashes (against music already dense with more-SIMULTANEOUS-than-contrapuntal ideas) that somehow sound like the warm winds of whereever the movie is shot. More Future Tropical, I guess that's the style I like.

6) Steve Lacy and Don Cherry - Evidence

1962. One of my 2 favorite improvisers (Jarrett's the other), this was the first Lacy album I bought after I heard him in Austin Texas at the Continental Club (Tecate please) a few years before his death and had my life changed. Suberb free architecture (he knows harmony SO MUCH DEEPER than the chord thinkers) all placed perfectly in a field with THE MOST POSSIBLE SENSITIVITY to rhythm on a micro level. Don't understand Cherry yet but I believe in him.

7) Keith Jarrett - Spirits

1985. My favorite album. There were real creeks and bent bird notes and dreamcatchers catching wind of a new direction in South Jersey in the heart of the 80s. Call it New Age if you want, but if Spirits is New Age then I am, my heart is in there. Overdub cassette homerecording of states of consciousness achieved after Jarrett cancelled all his gigs (classical, solo piano improvisations) and Native American spirits passed through his body in his barn studio. Lots of drums, flutes, recorders, singing, a little piano and even a little guitar.

8) Robyn Hitchcock - Eye

Steel string, voice, some overdubs of both plus a little piano, real spare but without the headphone-dimension soundworld of Joia. These are post Syd Barrett songs that are often too wacky for hipsters' taste (I think they like The Soft Boys though). He also overdoes 1966-Dylan vocal mannerisms. It's perfect for me though, the Cureheads (they called themselves "The Minions of Darkness") showed him to me in high school because I was a Syd freak. The cover is mostly green with an eye on it. From the cool year 1990 when my style was already a lot like his and became even more so.

9) Donald Fagen - The Nightfly

I LOVE Steely Dan but this is almost better. There seems to be confusion about whether the album is from 80, 81, or 82 but in my mind it's definitely from 80. It's about the sci-fi future from the perspective of a kid in the 50s (Fagen was). It's a sad and beautiful album that lives in the glossy imageworld of the soundfuture that Fagen helped make real much to many's chagrin but not mine AT ALL (see Atlantis).

10) Kurt Weisman - Spiritual Sci-Fi

The title kinda' says it all doesn't it people? George Lucas coined the phrase the "used future" when working on his movie Star Wars. Tools people haven't even thought of yet look beat-up or already broken and used for parts in Kurt's studio. One of the masterminds behind the loveforce (now defuct materially but not spiritually) Feathers. It'll be out on Important Records sometime soon. I'm on it.