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A. Everard (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Apr 20, 2017
The Texas-based choral ensemble Conspirare here performs musical director Craig Hella Johnson’s first major composition, a full-length concert piece about the murder of Matthew Shepard. A gay student at the University of Wyoming, in 1998 Shepard was kidnapped, beaten and left to die tied to fence in a field, his funeral later picketed by the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. Drawing on Shepard’s own journals, contemporary sources and musical snippets from the Bach opening to ‘Frère Jacques’, the piece evokes the senselessness of the crime. In its scope, structure and power, this is a modern oratorio, albeit as grounded in country music as it is in the sacred tradition.
A. Everard (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Apr 15, 2017
The concepts of down ’n’ dirty blues and fine sound don’t always go hand in hand, but that’s certainly the case with this set from singer/songwriter/guitarist Lance Lopez and producer/bassist Fabrizio Grossi. Of course, it helps if you can pull in the odd guest artist, and here they’re of the calibre of Warren Hayne, Walter Trout and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. However, it’s not a case of ‘sling in a flashy trademark solo’, as each meshes seamlessly into the band’s sound. As Grossi puts it, ‘It’s not a guest record, those guys are part of our family and just happened to show up on that song’.
A. Everard (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Apr 10, 2017
This set by German trumpeter and vocalist Till Brönner will neither set the world alight nor challenge any jazz preconceptions, as it’s very much on the safe ground some hundreds of metres back from the cutting edge. If that’s damning with faint praise, so be it: this is a selection of familiar standards covered with a combination of breathy brass and easygoing vocals, set against assured accompaniment and fine production. Brönner’s keen musicianship is matched by pianist Larry Goldings, guitarist Anthony Wilson, John Clayton on bass and drummer Jeff Hamilton, and the whole thing was produced at LA’s Ocean Way by Ruud Jacobs, creating a flawlessly easy sound to match the album’s subtitle, ‘Music for Peaceful Moments’. It may well be a bit too formulaic for some ears – so high marks for technical, if notched down a little on artistic, presentation.
C. Breunig (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Apr 05, 2017
96kHz/24-bit, FLAC; CDA68133 (supplied by www. hyperion-records. co. uk) Vol 1 in this survey of the major solo piano works was my Sep ’16 Album Choice.
A. Everard (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Mar 25, 2017
Guitarist Cline says ‘I have been dreaming about, planning, and re-working my rather obsessive idea of this record for well over 25 years’, and hopes it ‘offers something of an update of the “mood music” idea and ideal, while celebrating and challenging our iconic notion of romance’. Fortunately this package, arranged and conducted by trumpeter Michael Leonhart – who also plays as part of the large ensemble featured – isn’t quite the slushfest that description might suggest. Instead, its combination of original pieces and arrangements both gives Cline’s guitar room to manoeuvre and manages to evoke the emotions intended, (albeit on the lush side at times, though well-served by an excellent Blue Note production job). Yes, the sound is occasionally a bit on the easy-listening side of neutral, but won’t test your speakers’ dynamics or trouble the neighbours.
A. Everard (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Mar 20, 2017
Jazz/classical crossovers are nothing new, but this set by Norwegian saxophonist and composer Marius Neset pulls off the trick better than many: there’s not any sign of the usual car-crash or shoehorning here, but rather a fine combination of the jazz ensemble and the London Sinfonietta’s instruments. The music itself is by turns slow and lyrical and hard-driving, making use of everything from the Sinfonietta’s woodwinds to the crisp pizzicato strings, and the ‘band’ is clearly up for the challenge’s of Neset’s dense, busy writing. If there’s a criticism it’s that there often seems to be too much going on, and ideas tumble out and are replaced almost before they can be established, let alone developed – but a masterful recording makes the most of everything from lush strings to the taut, jerky rhythms. Here’s a crossover well worth closer inspection.
C. Breunig (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Mar 15, 2017
Apart from the Roman trilogy – ‘Pines’, ‘Fountains’ and ‘Festivals’ – The Birds and the Ancient Airs And Dances arrangements (these two popular Dorati/Mercury recordings), Respighi’s music is pretty much a closed book to most collectors. This fourth Neschling/BIS programme brings a late-romantic, shrewdly orchestrated symphony, seen as too Germanic when premiered in 1915, and a characterful overture derived from music for an unsuccessful opera (although recorded by Hungaroton). Although overwrought in parts and certainly overlong for what it has to say, Sinfonia Drammatica proves a likeable piece and it certainly sounds lush in the spacious Liège concert hall. About 8m into (ii) you get a foretaste of ‘Pines Of Rome’.
C. Breunig (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Mar 10, 2017
Glazunov’s romantic concerto provides a balm after the terrors and intensity of the Shostakovich: held back from performance until Stalin’s dictatorship was over. There was far slighter music by that composer – ‘Romance’ from The Gadfly – in Benedetti’s 2012 Decca collaboration with the Bournemouth Orchestra and its Ukranian chief conductor, The Silver Violin. Here, she rises to the challenges of music written for Oistrakh, whose 1955 New York benchmark recording is now on Sony. There’s something of a Heifetzian concentration in her playing (and the coupling sounds even more like a live performance) so it’s a shame she’s given full stage width for the long cadenza and we briefly get a ‘wrong end of a telescope’ effect as the Burlesque opens, although the ear quickly adapts.
A. Everard (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Mar 05, 2017
Sometimes things come together to create something special, and that’s definitely the case with this set by Danish bassist Jasper Høiby, perhaps better known as part of jazz power-trio Phronesis. In that set-up Høiby is part of the engine-room; here he’s given the chance to spread his wings rather more as performer and composer, not only showing just what a fine bassist he is but also writing tunes both intriguing and entirely catchy. Placing himself at the heart of a quintet comprising the trumpet of Laura Jurd and saxophonist Mark Lockheart, with fine work by Will Barry on piano and Corrie Dick wielding the sticks, Høiby never falls into the bass-player’s trap of putting himself out in front. This is an ensemble set, superbly recorded and with real impact and insight to underpin its fine musicianship.
Anton van Beek  |  Feb 20, 2017
Coming to this album with no knowledge of who or what Monkey House were, I played it through the first time with a nagging feeling that it sounded very familiar – or at least very like something familiar. Reading a little of the background cemented that feeling: this set led by Canadian singer/songwriter/producer Don Breithaupt has definite overtones of ‘the album Steely Dan never made’, from its brass arrangements and backing vocals to the sound of the guitars. This is hardly surprising as guitarists Elliott Randall and Drew Zingg are both part of the current Dan line-up, and trumpeter Michael Leonhart their current musical director. Recorded at Toronto’s Drive Shed studios, this set may not be as musically inventive as prime Dan, but the sound is big, lush and constantly interesting – and that’s not just for those nods and hints along the way.
A. Everard (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Feb 15, 2017
From the off, this set by bluegrass/New Grass mandolin player Sam Bush explodes with the kind of authenticity sorely missing from Cyndi Lauper’s recent ‘Detour’ into country. The tongue is firmly out of cheek here, and instead we get realism thanks to Bush’s rootsy approach to the heritage of American acoustic music. It’s a wonderfully upbeat and affirmative set, from the ever-so-slightly funky ‘Everything Is Possible’ to the defiant ‘Carcinoma Blues’. Meanwhile, the instrumental track ‘Greenbrier’ finds Bush and his band working out with almost quartz-locked precision and superb interplay, and the quieter ‘It’s Not What You Think’ is simply beautiful, and almost classical in its scoring and performance.
C. Breunig (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Feb 10, 2017
Available in various formats, with sample tracks at www. 2l. no, this Mozart album has featured as a reference in more than one HFN hardware review, and was this year remastered in conjunction with Bob Stuart using MQA technology. It is certainly a fine production with stable balances, an intimate scale, realistic string timbres and just a hint of decay as movements end.
C. Breunig (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Feb 05, 2017
This is a programme for the adventurous listener: three works for string quartet all written when the composers were young (respectively 23, 20 and 21). Adès’s seven-movement Arcadiana has a lot of sliding up the notes with simultaneous pizzicati and bowing. This independence of the string parts it has in common with the 10 Preludes by the Danish composer Nørgård. He is of an earlier generation (born 1932) and in fact Hans Abrahamsen was a pupil of his.
A. Everard (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Feb 01, 2017
This is the big-label debut by the young Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, some of whose work may be familiar from recordings on the enterprising 2L label – for example, the ‘Ubi Caritas’ opening this set is also available as on his Piano Improvisations album [2L-082]. A former Classic FM album of the week (but let’s not hold that against it), this set sees Gjeilo’s work performed by some top-notch singers in the form of Tenebrae and Voces 8, with the strings of the title provided by the London Chamber Orchestra and the piano by Gjeilo himself. It’s a programme of unmistakably Nordic music, ranging from the sacred to the secular, and is treated to a wonderfully detailed and ethereal sound well-suited to the content, especially in the tracks evoking the landscape so familiar to the composer. Yes, perhaps it’s somewhat ‘classical-fusion’, but it’s definitely hugely enjoyable.
A. Everard (Music); P. Miller (Lab)  |  Jan 01, 2017
Undiscovered for almost 50 years, this recording is as remarkable for its sound as its provenance. In fact it’s the only studio recording made by the short-lived trio of Evans, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette, and was recorded just a few days after the well-known live set was captured at the 1968 Montreux Jazz Festival. German jazz producer Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer took the trio into his studio in Villingen, in the Black Forest (hence the subtitle, The Lost Session From The Black Forest), and this set was recorded between tour dates. However, contractual matters at the time stopped the set being released, and nothing happened until the tapes were re-discovered in 2013.

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