Music Reviews by Bob Oxley, March 2008

      Date posted: March 16, 2008


I will go into detail about some CDs sent to me for review, but first, let me briefly let you know what I am currently listening to: In Rainbows by Radiohead. It really is a great record from every point of view. Each cut is a sound picture. The engineering, especially of the bottom end, is spectacular. If you have the downloaded version, go to the store and get a full-bit, proper copy. It’s worth it.

Another CD that has received much praise and that I love is On the Other Side by the Tierney Sutton Band (Telarc SACD-63650). Sutton is the real deal and considers herself a member of her band, not a singer with a band behind her. The TS band is a quartet or quintet depending on whether there are one or two bassists in action. On a couple of cuts on this CD (and may I say, when they performed in Los Angeles over New Year’s), the band became a sextet with the addition of trumpeter-vocalist-jokester Jack Sheldon. Sheldon is now in his late-seventies and, at least for short sprints, still has it all, including his trademark luscious tone on ballads. Exceptional performances, great songs, great sound, need I say more?

Tierney Sutton

On the other side, contemporary serious music, I am becoming more and more attracted to the music of the contemporary American composer George Crumb. Crumb was born in Charleston, West Virginia in 1929 and I have learned his music is widely performed. I had never heard a note of it until I picked up a First Edition CD (FECD-0008) of his music.

It is no wonder he is popular. His compositions are accessible, engaging, and very well made. I have to confess that his use of sound, especially percussion, gladdens my hi-fi addicted heart. Much of his music is available on the Bridge label but I have heard just a few works. I can easily recommend Vol. 4 of The Complete Crumb Edition (Bridge 9105), especially Zeitgeist and Music for a Summer Evening for amplified pianos and percussion.

However, when itcomes to one of Crumb’s most performed pieces, Echoes of Time and the River (Echoes 2) I have to go back to the First Edition disc. I have two versions only by chance, but thank heaven this is so. Were I to have heard only the performance on Bridge 7194 by the Warsaw Phil. conducted by Thomas Conlin I likely would never have come to admire the work as much as I do. The First Edition CD is the one to have and it also includes a thrilling performance of Variazione.George Crumb

With respect to River, Herbie Hancock, The Joni Letters (Verve B000979102), I don’t know, I have mixed feelings about this disc. Of course, the fact it won best record at the Grammies is wonderful. It will bring a few more into the jazz fold. Good. There are two or three fine cuts and several that go by without causing much offense, but I just don’t understand the cloud of gloom that hangs over it all. Why so many draggy tempos? Nefertiti is one of Shorter’s best tunes and was a highlight of the recording by the same name made when he was playing with Miles Davis. Here it never gets off the ground.
There is no doubt this is a great band, Hancock on piano, Wayne Shorter, tenor saxophone , and Dave Holland, bass being the big names. But the song selection is a bit curious. There are two simply wonderful vocal performances: Norah Jones doing Court and Spark and Tina Turner with Edith and the Kingpin. I would love to have either one of them do a complete recording of Joni Mitchell’s songs. The choice of Corinne Bailey Rae to sing Mitchell’s great, simple song, River, defies reason. What should have been the album’s high point is a complete letdown.
To hear Shorter these days is always special. He is a master who has come to feel comfortable with “less is more”, paring down his solos and background interjections to musical stabs that are delivered in a tone that is dense, layered, and as individual as your fingerprint. The recorded sound is clear and has lots of presence, so I think the disc is worth having, but just.

Joni Letters

Other Reviews.

Quantum Mechanics, Music of Jeffrey Ryan

Bellatrix, Annalee Patipatanakoon, violin

Quantum Mechanics, Scott St. John, A.P., violins, David Harding, viola, Roman Borys, cello

ecce homo, S. St. J., A.P., violins, D.H., viola, R.B., cello, Penderecki String Quartet, David Young, string bass Gary Kulesha, conductor
, Susan Hoeppner, alto flute, A.P., violin, S. St. J., viola, Erica Goodman, harp

Poison Wind, Erica Goodman, harp, Beverly Johnston, percussion

Two by Four, B.J., marimba, S.H., flute, Richard Thompson, clarinet, Linda Bronicheski, horn, Norman Engel, trumpet, A.P., violin, S. St. J., viola, Roman Borys, cello, D.Y., bass Gary Kulesha, conductor Centredisques CMCCD 12206 ( )

It seems as if an active and varied use of percussion has come to define 20th century music. The amazing Scottish-born artist Evelyn Glennie is at the centre of much of it because her stunning musicianship has inspired so many contemporary compositions. In Canada, Nexus were percussion pioneers and had many works written for them, and since then Beverly Johnston has established herself in the front rank. On this disc Johnston mostly plays marimba, a gorgeous sound.

Poison Wind with Johnston and Erica Goodman is a highlight on a recording that is as good as any I have heard as I seek out more contemporary music. Jeffrey Ryan was born in Toronto and grew up in Fergus, Ontario and had a close association with Music Toronto while it was a force in the community. His music is very exciting, with superb attention to rhythm and the sound potential of the instruments. His compositions engage heart and mind in a most satisfying way. You can’t ask for more than that.

Quantum Mechanics
The performances have an air of authenticity that leaves me incredulous at the thought they might ever be equalled, let alone, bettered. They are from concerts staged in 2005 and early 2006 before the quietest audiences I have ever (not) heard. The recordings are of demonstration quality and everyone involved deserves congratulations.

Beethoven String Quartet in A, Op.18 #3; String Quartet in A Min., Op.132 Stravinsky,

Three Pieces for String Quartet Rorem, String Quartet #4 Scearce, Quartet #1, Y2K The Fry Street Quartet,
Kimber Recording FSQCD3

Haydn, String Quartets, D Min., Op9 #4; F Maj., Op77, 3
The Fry String Quartet, Kimber Recording Barcode 2644155801

To begin with, these discs don`t have conventional label information, and as they were recorded by Kimber Kable’s Ray Kimber with his IsoMike system, I think of them as Kimber Records. As you can see one has an identifying number, the other doesn’t, so I’ve given the barcode number.

Audio Ideas editor Andrew Marshall, has dealt at length with the IsoMike and talked about these CDs. Therefore I will refer you to for more details. AM sent these hybrid SACD/CDs along to me to find out what I think of them.

I’m very glad he did. To begin with, these are the most natural recordings of a string quartet I have ever heard. From the booklet photos of the sessions I expected a more set back and spacious sound. In fact, the perspective is as if I were sitting about a dozen rows back with the players on a plane just behind the speakers. I don`t have any sense of a microphone being present. The sound is truly first class with super fine detail but never etched or edgy.

All this would be for naught were the performances not up to snuff. They are, all the way through. The players have a real sense of Haydn’s style, reminding me of a line from a review in the long defunct E.M.G. Monthly Letter: “The [Haydn] quartets need great artistry of a special kind, comparable in innocence with the music”. The Fry Quartet have been prize winners at the Banff International Competition, played in major New York venues and in 2002 were appointed Faculty Quartet in Residence at Utah State University. Happily, they bring the same a sense of style to the early Beethoven Quartet that they revealed in their Haydn. If you are most familiar with the later quartets, you will find Op.18 #5 very rewarding.

It is obvious by now that Kimber has succeeded in doing what a number of specialist audio labels have not, that is, producing great performances and repertory that really counts. In that department, the Beethoven Quartet, Op.132 speaks for itself and it is a great performance. The timbre of the instruments is clearly caught with the changes in bowing as the Fry Four carry on a quite serious conversation that is made all the more interesting by the subtle shading of their playing so perfectly caught.

The Stravinsky string pieces are suitably angular. Ned Rorem wrote his Fourth Quartet in ten movements, each bearing the title of a painting by Picasso. They do not necessarily sound like the paintings (and I am not sure what that would mean anyway). J. Mark Scearce is new to me but the excellent notes tell us that, while he had been busy composing during his first forty years on this side of the green, this was his first string quartet and it was inspired by the millennium. While I will not be going back to it as often as the Beethoven, it is rewarding to have the chance to hear it and the Rorem.

Danse Savage, Coleen Athparia, piano Centrediscs CMCCD 11706

Colleen Athapria lives in Calgary. She is one of the foremost pianists there, with a special interest in contemporary music. This recital of music by Allan Gordon Bell, Allen Rae, Mark Hand, John Abram, Quenten Doolittle and Kelly-Marie Murphy is a pleasure to listen to from start to finish. If use of percussion defines contemporary music, so does dramatic use of rhythm and what better instrument than the piano to render them both, and so much more.

An interesting feature of Danse Savage by Allan Bell is the part of the work where Athparia is free to improvise. Allen Rae was born in Baltimore, Alberta, that is. He studied at the jazz school, The Berkley in Boston and at the Toronto Conservatory so we can expect jazz flashes amidst the relative decorum of the concert hall. His Take Back the Ring is, to loosely paraphrase the always thorough CMC booklet notes, accessible, adventurous, emotional, and intelligent. Mark Hand graduated from his home town university, U of Manitoba in Winnipeg with a gold medal in music. His atonal Integration is a fresh and stimulating piece of business.

And so it goes with this beautifully performed and produced album of contemporary piano music. In no small measure contributing to its success is the very fine recording of a magnificent instrument, a Fazioli F308. It is one of only 40 anywhere (Angela Hewitt has one) and a gift of an anonymous donor to Calgary’s Mount Royal College Conservatory. Should you be even casually interested in the repertoire (mostly Canadian), you will be richly rewarded listening to these performances.

Bob Oxley.

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