News Column

Listening Post [Buffalo News (NY)]

November 3, 2013

YellowBrix

: Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Motorhead, Wynton Marsalis, JoAnn Falletta, Ferruccio Busoni and Christmas music

Blues

Eric Clapton, "Unplugged: Deluxe Edition" (two CDs/one DVD; Warner Bros.). A must-have for Clapton heads, this expanded edition of the hugely successful "Unplugged" album offers a number of extra takes, as well as tunes that didn't make the cut on the original release, among them "My Father's Eyes," "Walkin' Blues" and "Worried Life Blues." If you already own the original, the bonus material and the inclusion of a DVD of the original 1992 performance warrant the extra purchase. If you don't, well, this is Clapton at his laid- back finest, playing some gorgeous, emotion-soaked acoustic guitar and singing with an assured elegance throughout. OmegaOmegaOmegaOmega (Jeff Miers)

Pop/Folk/Jazz

Van Morrison, "Moondance: Deluxe Edition (four CDs, one Blu-Ray Audio; Warner Bros.). Be forewarned - Van Morrison is furious about this release, a greatly expanded take on his classic "Moondance" album. So if you're planning on having Van over for dinner and drinks any time soon, be sure to take this one off the shelf and hide it under your bed for the evening. Van is known to be a bit of a grump, after all. With or without his blessing, the deluxe "Moondance" is what it is - a worthwhile investment only for completists, composed as it is of alternate take after alternate take (after alternate take) of songs that are rightly revered as among the finest the Irish Bard has ever written. Do we really need to hear eight alternate takes of "Into the Mystic"? Or eight sketches of "Caravan"? Probably not more than once. These are fascinating as works-in-progress, but the final versions of the songs that were ultimately chosen for the original "Moondance" album are the superior ones. The Blu-Ray Audio disc with a full 5.1 surround sound representation of the original album is the real golden ticket here. a beautiful package, but required listening only for the most devout Van Morrison fan. OmegaOmegaOmega (J.M.)

Metal

Motorhead, "Aftershock" (UDR). It defies logic that Motorhead's 21st studio album, "Aftershock," is as good as it is. The band has been insistently plowing the same furrow for just about 40 years and, like AC/DC, has never messed with the formula too much. You'd think Motorhead would have "run out of idea" by this point. And yet, "Aftershock" is full of fire and fury and, in Motorhead terms, finesse. It breaks through your front door and smacks you in the face with opener "Heartbreaker," an absolute riff-tastic tour de force, and proceeds to rather tunefully bludgeon you into submission over the course of the following 13 tunes. Motorhead is, of course, the brainchild of hard rock icon Lemmy Kilmister, and it is indeed Kilmister's beautifully overdriven Rickenbacker bass and snarling wheeze of a voice that leads the charge throughout "Aftershock." But guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee are the finest fellow travelers he has had at his side since the original Motorhead lineup, which featured Fast Eddie Clark and Philthy Animal Taylor. The highlights: "Heartbreaker," "Silence When You Speak to Me," "Going To Mexico," "Paralyzed," instant Motorhead classics, all. OmegaOmegaOmega[1/2] (J.M.)

Jazz

Wynton Marsalis, "The Spiritual Side of Wynton Marsalis" (Sony Legacy). Don't let the title fool you into thinking you're being dragged to church in itchy, starchy clothes. It's a lot more joyful than that. What it is amounts to Sony combing all its vast Marsalis archives (and remember how unique that label/artist relationship once was) for samples of Marsalis' religious and spiritual compositions that could stand alone if arbitrarily put together in one anthology. The result is a dandy one, even if it's always a problem that Wynton the composer could never be Duke Ellington no matter how hard he tried. He can still play brilliantly and employ every ounce of New Orleans within for crazy uptempo gospel stomping and then, for authenticity to the max, ask Marion Williams to sing Thomas A. Dorsey's "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" with pianist Eric Reed and Cassandra Wilson to sing "Oh What a Friend We Have in Jesus" with Reed. The anthology isn't an unfailing triumph, but it works splendidly in its scattershot way. OmegaOmegaOmega (Jeff Simon)

Classical

John Knowles Paine, Symphony No. 1, "The Tempest" and "As You Like It Overture" performed by the Ulster Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta (Naxos). Nothing our estimable maestra can possibly do and no orchestra she could possibly do it with will ever change the essential 19th-century German academicism of these works by John Knowles Paine, "one of the Boston six" important for establishing a symphonic tradition in American music. Unfortunately, Paine, for all his academic skill, is far less interesting than other "Boston sixers" Arthur Foote, Amy H. Beach and Edward MacDowell - not to mention the truly important symphonists to come quickly after - Charles Ives and Charles Tomlinson Griffes. He was a great teacher at Harvard and a great crusader for his art in a less-than- congenial America. Falletta and her Ulster forces do superbly, but the music remains an antique and a relic that doesn't really belong in the living room, no matter how much it's polished. **[1/2] (J.S.)

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Busoni, Late Piano Music performed by Marc-Andre Hamelin (Hyperion, three discs). One of the great classical piano sets of the year by a pianist universally known and cherished for tackling the most challenging possible repertoire and giving definitive and near-definitive performances of every bit of it. In the case of Ferruccio Busoni, he was the immensely prolific composer who was among the great late 19th- and early 20th-century virtuoso pianists whose music not only made modernism possible but in its own yearnings and experimentations still sound as fresh to us in the 21st century as yesterday. We're talking about Liszt, Alkan, Scriabin and Busoni whose music is, in some ways, the least known of his peers. That's because there is an enormous amount of it. You don't realize it until you listen to this and discover, amid its immensely high quality, such passing fancies as "Greensleeves" variations in his "Turandot" suite and "Carmen" references in his sonatinas, along with the kind of ultra-chromatic stretching of tonality that Liszt and, especially, Scriabin would be justly revered for. Busoni's adaptations of Bach and Bach-like counterpoint never collapse into arid Reger and his virtuoso works are often thrilling. A terrific three-disc collection of piano music magnificently played. OEOEOEOE (J.S.)

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Stopping By performed by Kyle Bielfield, tenor, Lachlan Glen, piano, and Michael Samis, cello (Delos). One theme of this CD is a trio of treatments of Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." There are settings by Samuel Barber, John Duke and Ned Rorem. What a pleasure it is to hear them, because we all read this poem in school, at least we used to. And it lends itself well to song, with the line "He gives his harness bells a shake." It's fun to hear how the three composers handle that line. In Barber's song, you hear a musical jingle over the entire stanza. John Duke gives it a witty quick toss, probably more what Frost was envisioning. Ned Rorem has gentle repeated, rhythmic octaves. Listening to these songs, small and contained, made me think of looking at three different Christmas cards. They are all kind of alike, but with different details. This is a generous collection of 28 songs. Some of them are forgettable, little more than recitative. But there is a lot to enjoy. I liked the lyrical songs by Amy Beach and Charles Griffes. Copland's "Simple Gifts" and "Long Time Ago" - everyone loves them, and once you hit the two Stephen Foster songs, "Beautiful Dreamer" and the very Victorian "Gentle Annie," you just want to hear them again. (Well, I did.) Barber's "Sure On This Shining Night" is famous. The disc ends with "Dream With Me," a lovely song by Leonard Bernstein, complete with cello. Bielfield sings the songs with affection and clarity. Stop the presses! OmegaOmegaOmega (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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Eaken Trio, "Most Wonderful Time" (Con Brio Recordings). The Eaken Trio, a piano trio together for 27 years, has a knack for Christmas music. Their "Home For the Holidays" CD was nominated for a Grammy, and they have performed two "Home For the Holidays" shows on NPR. They also do more serious classical repertoire, but it's clear they enjoy not only the melodies but the potential of Christmas carols. Christmas carols, having survived through the centuries, have good bones. They're strong. You can improvise on them, rearrange and reharmonize them, do what you want with them, and people will still recognize them (in most cases, anyway). "Most Wonderful Time" has 16 arrangements mostly by Mike Garson. It's more creative than you would expect. "Away in a Manger" reminded me of Mark O'Connor and his wistful Appalachian fiddling, and so did the medieval carol "We Wish You A Merry Christmas," turned into an enchanting, nostalgic waltz. "O Holy Night" shines in an arrangement that brings out its elegant operatic proportions, and there's an arch, jazzy "Jingle Bells." Only a couple of numbers fly off the rails - not bad for a Christmas disc. Most of it's good. There are even a few surprises: three klezmerlike Hanukkah numbers and Edward Elgar's romantic "The Snow." OmegaOmegaOmega (MKG)

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