Lou's Reviews

CD Review by Lou Wigdor

Picks of the Year2002

What do Patricia Barber, Luciano Berio, and Buddy Miller have in common? Well, they’re all on this list... 

Alison Krauss + Union Station—Live (Rounder)

Alison Krauss + Union Station—Live (Rounder)Rounder’s holiday season gift—a  two-disc concert CD at under $20—finds Alison and the band in top form, which is to say as good as music making gets.  I prefer this release to her studio albums because of its intense live edge. (The band is so good that multiple studio takes must often prove superflous.) Alison and Jerry Douglas consistently excel up front. That’s the way it should be: they’re both world-class players. And then there’s Alison’s stunning soprano. It’s a truly singular gift. 

Mariza—Fado em mim (World Connection)

Mariza—Fado em mim (World Connection)The late Amalia Rodrigues finally has a worthy successor. Hearing Mariza for the first time on her debut CD is revelatory. She has the entire package: a stunning voice, innate musicality, and—crucial to Fado—an ability to navigate the fine line between passion and restraint. Just as remarkable, she shows no trace of anything mechanical; it’s as if her art is as natural as breathing. Expect Mariza—a transplanted Mozambiquean living in Portugal—to win this year’s vaunted BBC world music award for best newcomer.

Arvo Part—Orient Occident (ECM)

Arvo Part—Orient Occident (ECM)During the past three decades, the Estonian composer has distinguished himself as one of the planet’s leading spiritual forces in music. But he’s typically conveyed those aspirations through a relatively spare orchestral/choral palette. This triumphant CD expands his orchestral/textural resources, even introducing Middle Eastern elements on the title track. The outcome is convincing and illuminating. Is this the beginning of a new musical odyssey for Part? 

Wayne Shorter Quartet—Footprints Live!  (Verve)

Wayne Shorter Quartet—Footprints Live!  (Verve)Wayne’s first fully acoustic album since the late 1960s was well worth the wait. Four masters of improvisation and ensemble unity breathe intense creativity into seven  Shorter standards. The rhythm section of John Pattitucci and Brian Blade couldn’t be better, but  the cornerstone of the quartet is the consistently interactive relationship between Shorter and pianist Danilo Perez. Both thrive on chromatically polyglot fluency, jagged rhythmic passages, and gorgeous lyricism. And both can transmute chromatic and rhythmic angularity into ravishing beauty on a dime.  

Patricia Barber—Verse  (BlueNote/Premonition)

Patricia Barber—Verse  (BlueNote/Premonition)If, like me, you value Patricia Barber’s evocative, quirky song writing, you won’t be disappointed here. For the first time in her career, she has penned an entire album, in this case ten gems that consistently resonate with freshness and inventiveness. This, her  seventh CD, has a wonderful “live” sound--Michael Arnopol’s bass and Joey Baron’s drums were recorded up front with Ms. Barber’s voice and piano. Neal Anger adds harmonically challenging guitar playing and Dave Douglas, who was a significant presence on Ms. Barber’s standout disc, Modern Cool, returns to up the voltage on this exceptional recording.

Glenn Gould—A State of Wonder: The Complete Goldberg Variations (1955 & 1981) (Sony)

Glenn Gould—A State of Wonder: The Complete Goldberg Variations (1955 & 1981) (Sony)Record companies have become  the planet’s compulsive recyclers. Being green is compelling when you’ve sunk your costs decades ago. In this reissue, however, every minute is justified. Hearing the two Bach performances in tandem at their sonic best—one at the beginning and the other at the end of Gould’s  recording career—reveals two startlingly different  windows into one of the 20th century’s great pianists/musical minds. A third disc adds 1955 Goldberg recording session outtakes and asides, as well as an  interview with the enigmatic pianist following the 1981 session. Amazon.com lists the three disc-set  $19.95—a steal for this bona fide desert island accessory. 

Luciana Souza—Brazilian Duos (Sunnyside Communications)

Luciana Souza—Brazilian Duos (Sunnyside Communications)In each of the twelve songs on this ravishing disc, the versatile Ms. Souza  teams up with one of three different guitarists (including her father, Walter Santos).  The result is one dialog after another of striking musicality and intimacy. The songs—by  Luis Gonzaga, Djavan, Jobim, her parents, and others—reveal  Luciana as a master of  color and nuance.  That goes double time for rhythm: her voice traverses time with the grace of a master dancer. Last summer, Souza—frequently associated with jazz—revealed  another side of her versatility, singing alongside Dawn Upshaw and others at Tanglewood in Oswaldo Golijov’s riveting La Passion Segun San Marcos. 

Steve Earle—Jerusalem (Artemis)

Steve Earle—Jerusalem (Artemis)Not quite on a par with the eclectic Transcendental Blues or the desert island classic, Guitar TownJerusalem is still a formidable accomplishment. In large part, it’s  Steve Earle’s ambivalent take on current socio-political concerns, including American hubris, threats to civil liberties and human rights, economic injustice, and patriotic gore and other varieties of testosterone toxicity. The CD’s widely discussed track, John Walker’s Blues, is a strikingly successful endeavor in multi-textural musical layering—an avenue that Steve should continue to explore in future outings.  Nearly all of the CD’s tracks resonate with energy and bite, aided and abetted by Steve’s emphatic guitar work. Ultimately, you  can take Steve Earle out of Guitar Town, but you’ll never take Guitar Town out of him. 

Luciano Berio—Voci (ECM)

Luciano Berio—Voci (ECM)The new-music disc of the year. Violist Kim Kashkashian brilliantly elucidates  Berio’s inspired incorporation of Sicilian folk influences into the CD’s eponymous orchestral work. Building on an essentially atonal scaffolding, Berio explores, celebrates, deconstructs, and reframes his Sicilian folk resources with nonstop ingenuity. Sicilian folk themes receive equally masterful treatment in the CD’s  two other compositions, Naturale and Sicilian Folk Music (the latter which employs folk singers on tape). 

The Silk Road: A Musical Caravan (Smithsonian Folkways)

The Silk Road: A Musical Caravan (Smithsonian Folkways)The “other” Silk Road Project release is the best one-stop shopping we’ve ever had for field recordings of Silk Road virtuosi. The two-CD set’s forty-seven well-recorded tracks highlight awe-inspiring masters of the Armenian duduk,  Azerian saz,  Iranian ney, Chinese pipa and guquin,  Kyrghiz kormuz,  Kazakh dombra, and dozens of other instruments. Kudos to  ethnomusicologists Ted Levin and Jean During for the compilation’s pithy annotations and judicious selections—many recorded by them in the field. 

Buddy Miller—Midnight and Lonesome (High Tone)

Buddy Miller—Midnight and Lonesome (High Tone)Buddy Miller returns to the top of his game with this latest release, recorded—where else?—in his living room in Nashville. His marital and musical partner, Julie Miller, contributes several new songs, including the album’s terrific title track. Emy Lou Harris joins Buddy for a vocal duet of Jessie Winchester’s  A Showman’s Life, which rivals in poignancy  their memorable duet, Cruel Moon, on his album of the same name. Miller also  makes his own powerful  spiritual statement, Water When the Well Is Dry, which  shares the intensity of his wife’s best work. And from time to time, he takes the weight off the listener with  humorous romantic tracks, including the Miller&Miller sparker, Little Bitty Kiss.   What sort of miscreant would take issue with  a line like,  You can stick a feather in my cap and call it matrimony ?

©2003 by Lou Wigdor

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