Best Of 2005
As Chosen By Editor Steven R. Rochlin
It brings me joy to announce our Best Of 2005 Blue Note Music Awards. Last month we announced our Blue Note Awards for equipment (seen here). From 2004 until November 2005 Enjoy the Music.com® has reviewed well over 150 music discs. Classical music editor Wayne Donnelly and his excellent staff of writers deserve a special thanks for continually providing us with truly impressive reviews. Enjoy the Music.com® now present to you our choices for Best Of 2005 Blue Note Music Awards. And the winners are:
African Heritage Symphonic Series, Volume 3
Michael Abels: Global Warming (1990)
CD Number: Cedille CDR 90000 066Each of the three discs of the African Heritage Symphonic Series, with Paul Freeman and the Chicago Sinfonietta, has its treasures, notably William Grant Still's tuneful and moving "Afro-American" Symphony in Vol. 1. But Vol. 3 contains three exciting pieces, brilliantly recorded. Michael Abel's Global Warming alternately portrays a bleak future (eco-disaster) and a joyous one (a multicultural jamboree, with a surprisingly apt combination of an Irish jig with a sinuous Middle Eastern tune). David Baker's Cello Concerto is moodily atonal yet subtly jazzy: a fascinating sonic world to explore. And William Banfield's Essay for Orchestra, dominated by winds and percussion, packs a lot of drama into10-1/2 minutes, with engagingly tricky rhythms. Joe Milicia
Ludwig van Beethoven
LP Number: Classic Records Columbia MS 6036
This is my pick of the historical re-issues. Bruno Walter in his Indian Summer, blessed with a hand-picked orchestra picked from the studios of Hollywood, produces a thrilling performance on this Classic Records 200g vinyl offering. Walter truly inhabits this music which proceeds organically with a sustained level of inspiration. The sound is fairly rough but the music is magical. Phil Gold
CD Number: Zig-Zag Territoires ZZT 040401
Astounding really fabulous music-making by a wonderfully imaginative and fluent performer. Couperin's music is often enigmatic and elusive, and this performance brings it to life in a way that nobody has done before. I might have said incredible, but the wonderful thing is that Blandine Rannou's novel approach to this music makes it more convincingly genuine than I've ever heard.
The sound is luscious and rich. The instrument has a very wet-sounding, reverberant tone. It may take a little getting used to. A really fine, neutral playback system should clean up the sound quite a bit.
A stunning recording. Enjoy this music. David Cates
Spectrum Concerts Berlin: Janine Jensen (violin), Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer (clarinet), Bernard King (horn), Daniel Blumenthal (piano)
CD Number: Naxos 8.559173
Over the course of the year, I've reviewed many large-scale orchestral works by Nineteenth-Century European composers, but none of those has produced the shock of discovery I felt when listening to this recital of chamber music by a living American, John Harbison. Though Harbison himself is often associated with large-scale works (symphonies and operas), the three compositions on this disc are deliberately limited in terms of both duration and instrumentation. The longest section of any of these three works clocks in at 4m35s, and most are much shorter than that. Nine of the sixteen variations are just under or over a minute.
And yet for all the leanness and severity of means that he employs, the music sounds rich and expressive throughout. Here, as in a good poem, compression equals intensity. One marvels at both the emotional range and the probing psychological depth of this music. For those who have thus far avoided Harbison's work, this provides an invaluable introduction. The music is thoroughly engaging from first note to last, and played with authority and conviction. For me, the very good sound only seals the bargain. Max Westler
Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony; San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Vance George, choral director; Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano; Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano
SACD Number: SFS 821936-0006-2
MTT seems to conceive the symphony's drama as inward and psychological almost disembodied. From the opening notes, his phrasing suggests psychological restlessness and spiritual yearning rather than earthly conflict. I find this approach interesting, but not totally convincing. ; MTT's nervously fleet traversal of the first three movements initially struck me as too rushed, although with repeated hearings I'm getting more comfortable with the tempi.
But beginning with the fourth-movement "Urlicht" contralto solo, all reservations vanish. The eloquence, spirituality and sheer vocal beauty of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson is incomparably moving reason enough in itself to acquire this performance!
As the fourth movement flows without pause into the finale, this performance's grip never eases. Time and again, I emerge from the final notes as if from a dream, so deeply does this magnificent recreation affect me.
The performers are above reproach. Kudos to Ms. Liebeson, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, the superb San Francisco Symphony Chorus and choral director Vance George. And the San Francisco Symphony again proves itself a great Mahler orchestra, rendering with precision and feeling the line and phrasing demanded by Michael Tilson Thomas. I know of no performance not even my beloved Klemperer that exceeds the power and emotional catharsis of the last two movements.The sound is clean and detailed, impressively spacious and with superb dynamic range, from intimate piano passages to the stupendous fortissimo climaxes. Wayne Donnelly
SACD Number: Channel Classics CCS SA 1980
This disc has accompanied me to a number of HiFi shows this year. The music is dazzling and the performances quite outstanding. It also sounds quite different on each system I've played it on, which makes it a valuable reviewer's tool. The Katona twins show perfect ensemble and are responsive to the rapid mood changes in Piazzolla's music, while exhibiting no signs of strain. Art that conceals art. Phil Gold
The Steve Reich Ensemble
CD/DVD Number: Nonesuch 79662-2
The most interesting disc I reviewed this year is Steve Reich and video artist Beryl Korot's Three Tales, a work for musical and vocal ensemble, taped spoken word, and video. A kind of "musical photojournalism," it uses a sophisticated weaving of music, spoken commentary, and documentary film, to explore the impact of twentieth-century technology, from the fiery crash of the zeppelin Hindenburg in1937, to the testing of atomic bombs over the Bikini Atoll in 1946, to the cloning of "Dolly" the sheep in 1997. It is a piece that is simultaneously thoughtful, provocative, and musically and visually stimulating. I think it points the way to the sort of multimedia fusion of the arts that will characterize this century's performance culture. John Shinners
This particular 45 rpm vinyl pressing is filled with everything from upbeat Salsa and Mambo numbers to lovely, flowing Latin melodies. Even if you aren't a hardcore Jazz or Latin Jazz fan, you'll find this music extremely inviting. The sound reproduction on this 45rpm pressing is truly jaw dropping. Scott Faller
Esbjorn Svensson Trio
Represented by ACT and Diesel Music in Europe, EST is huge. These guys have been playing together for over a decade! Over half of their albums have won the European equivalent of our Grammies and won Best International Artist at the BBC Jazz Awards in 2003. They are continual chart toppers in the Jazz categories, again, all in Europe. These guys are so different that they defy classification. To think that they are rat holed in the Jazz genre isn't quite accurate. At times, these guys are as intense and edgy as any quality Rock and Roll band, yet Esbjorn and company can step back into the traditional sound of Jazz based piano trio without skipping a beat. Just when you think you have them figured out, these guys will jump forward and hit you with a sound and beats that are reminiscent of Trance and Chill Out music. Scott Faller
Nat King Cole
CD/DVD Label: EMI/Capitol
Nat King Cole is a highly esteemed vocalist from an era gone by and this set offers 28 prime tracks from the Cole catalog. I can remember my parents playing this music and singing along to it. Now my children have the privilege of discovering this timeless music as well. All 28 tracks on this immense collection are pieces of music to be enjoyed again and again as Cole combined pop and jazz in a way that crossed over beautifully. His voice was smooth, relaxing and distinguished. He may have left us but he did leave behind a slice of heaven for us to enjoy while we are still earthbound. Keith "MuzikMan" Hannaleck
Various Bob Dylan
Releasing Bob Dylan's entire catalog on SACD may finally put the SACD format into the "must have" category. Some of these releases are only two-channel, while others offer both a two-channel and multi-channel mix. Since I have original vinyl LPs in my collection as well as CD copies, I was able to compare them all. The verdict? SACDs offer far more than merely old wine in new bottles; they make most of the earlier versions of Dylan's recordings sonically obsolete. The surround sound mix on the Blonde On Blonde SACD does have some distracting elements. I'm not sure I like having the organ and celesta tracks coming from the rear channels on "Temporarily Like Achilles." Fortunately on most cuts the rear channels only supply some ambience and spatial expansion. Purists should opt for the two-channel mix to avoid sonic peek-a-boo surprises. The SACD of Blood on the Tracks makes the spatial differences between the selections that feature just Bob and his guitar with Tony Brown's bass, verses those cuts with a full band far more striking than on the LP or CD. The Bob and Tony duet cuts, such as "Buckets of Rain" and "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" sound fantastic so natural you'd swear you were in the room with them during the session. If you are a Dylan fan, a rock fan, or any kind of modern music fan, you need these new SACDs. Steven Stone
CD Number: Compass Records 7 4356 2
Odds are you have never heard of Andrea Zonn. The daughter of Paul Martin Zonn, chair of musical theory and composition department at the University of Illinois, Andrea grew up surrounded by music and began playing violin at the age of 5. Love Goes On delivers suave sophisticated sonics with complicated mixes that retain the instruments' individual voices within complex musical textures. With superb songs, expertly arranged and performed, delivered with great feeling and musicality. In the end the only disappointing thing about Love Goes On is to realize that it's Andrea Zonn's only solo release. Steven Stone
Gary Husband's Force Majeure
DVD Number: RSJ Groove Productions
Force Majeure is an awesome combination world of jazz-fusion talent. Joining him on this entertaining two DVD set are a few of the heavyweights of the jazz-rock-fusion world, Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Jerry Goodman (violin), who played with revered Mahavishnu Orchestra and John McLaughlin. Live At The Queen Elizabeth Hall-London is an amazing work of genius in progress and I cannot say I have ever witnessed anything like this before. I noticed subtle nuances such as Husband coaxing an unusual sound from his drums by licking one finger then running it down a drumhead. Everyone performs commendably during this performance. This is a real treat for fans of jazz-fusion and progressive rock. The music is complex, mesmerizing and above all original and unique. That fact alone should have you seeking out this DVD set immediately. Keith "MuzikMan" Hannaleck