The Rolling Stones - A Bigger Bang: This album literally pisses me off: when I put it on I get in the kind of irritable mood that makes you itch all over (curiously I find the first disc of Live Licks soothing and spirit-refreshing). Looking at George's old review he seems to say that since the Stones put out so much good music in the past, they're entitled to some grade inflation on this thumpingly bad album, their worst of their post-'60s career. Far too many of the songs are single-hook wonders, for better or for worse ("Streets of Love" falls into the latter category; "Laugh, I Nearly Died" is zero hooks, and it's the worst track. Shave off a minute and you have an ordinary shitty ballad; as it is it's an atrocity). Really, "Oh No Not You Again" and "Look What the Cat Dragged In" are the best tracks. "Dangerous Beauty" sucks and rips off "Living Loving Maid" -- but hell, I'm not going to go track-by-track. Just be assured that they all have something that sucks about them and this album is overlong at 65 excruciating minutes. There's also "Sweet Neocon", which actually isn't the worst track on here, if just because he rhymes "Halliburton".
The Rolling Stones - Live Licks: Done well. The first disc (of the bigger hits) is good when you're in the mood, as is the second (of more obscure stuff). Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes, you don't. Ten minutes of "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" jammery is reason to prefer the second, but the first is very satisfying as well.
The Rolling Stones - Blue and Lonesome: There are three fast tracks here and the first two of them are pretty good. TBH blues contends with reggae for the most boring genre and this album is a pretty dull affair, though it's a reasonable length and not at all a bad album to go out on, if they don't record anything again. Mick has a grainy effect on his vocals throughout which could be annoying if it didn't just fit; also if I'm not mistaken I heard some tape hiss in the fadeouts so perhaps they bowed to today's trends and made it an analog recording. This album isn't that great to listen to but it's pretty good background music, and with that -- my Rolling Stones survey is over.
Louis Armstrong - Hot Fives & Sevens
Count Basie & Lester Young/Benny Goodman & Charlie Christian (know nothing about this one. Not a proper album)
Miles Davis - The Complete Birth of the Cool
Miles Davis - Sketches of Spain
Thelonious Monk - Genius of Modern Music, Vol. 2 (early recordings, c.1950. Have Vol. 1)
Thelonious Monk - The Complete Live at the It Club
J.S. Bach - Sonatas and Partitas (Nathan Milstein)
Haydn - Piano Sonatas 20, 30, 31, 32 (Jenő Jandó)
Haydn - Heiligmesse, Nelsonmesse, Kleine Orgelsolomesse, Theresienmesse (soloists, Rundfunkchor Leipzig; Staatskapelle Dresden/Sir Neville Marriner)
Schoenberg - Fünf Orchesterstücke; Cello Concerto; Moderner Psalm; Variations for Orchestra (Sinfonieorchester des Südwestfunks/Michael Gielen)
Louis Armstrong - Hot Fives & Sevens: Some great tracks, some not-so-great; it's not the groups' complete recordings (the slipcase reads "complete" but I looked it up and the Hot Five alone made like 150 recordings, unless that's bad info) but it's complete enough to include both "S.O.L. Blues" and "Gully Low Blues" right next to each other: they're the exact same song but with different lyrics. This set is renowned for the quality of its sources and transfers and I have no complaints there. But there's just so damned much of it -- I've gotten through the first two (of four) discs and it's 46 tracks already -- so it's hard to keep all the tracks straight and even to remember how many of them go. The best you can do is to create mental "landmarks" in the tracklisting for one reason or another and then become familiar with the tracks around them. Still, when it's on I like it a lot. This is probably in the public domain but the liners are very good and the sound quality of official releases generally is superior.
RELISTEN: "John Lewis" - Jazz Abstractions: It's striking how "Abstraction" is basically just a freely atonal/expressionist piece that could be a good back door to classical music: it's not that different from some Webern -- certainly not very jazzy at all -- and from there there are a number of ways one could go. I used to prefer the "Django" variations but this time around I was drawn to the "Criss-Cross", which is more subtle and, perhaps, more inventive (bought an early-'50s recording on Genius of Modern Music Vol. 2 -- otherwise have it only on the Columbia album. Can't wait to hear the early one).
RELISTEN: Charles Mingus - Pithecanthropus Erectus: This album needs to be heard over at least decent headphones or speakers. When I first got it I was playing most things on the CD player of my clock radio, and it didn't fare too well. Over my current setup (iPod, CMoy head amp, Sennheiser HD-600s) I really enjoyed this. "A Foggy Day" is for sure the weak link; the sound effects and gimmicks get really old after the second hearing or so, even if the first was on a shitty clock radio, and the first saxophone (a tenor, I think?) is really elliptical on top of it so it's just a mess. I hated "Love Chant" first time through; now it's a marvel of thematic efficiency. Also never noticed that the title track is palindromic, though I think it's supposed to be programmatic in four progressive parts. Whatever. One of my better Mingus albums.
Max Roach - M'Boom: This is the NASCAR of jazz albums: it's great to have on in the background of a nap, just as car racing on summer afternoons. I had listened to it only once before and thought its concept (a percussion -- tuned and untuned -- ensemble) was better than its execution, and it probably wouldn't be very enjoyable to actually sit and listen to: the compositions, though mostly good, tend to be long and very repetitive -- but this gives you lots of good grooves to drift in and out of consciousness to. For sheer tone color it can't be beat.
J.S. Bach - Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin (Yehudi Menuhin)
J.S. Bach - Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin (Itzhak Perlman)
J.S. Bach - Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin (Nathan Milstein): This has basically turned out to mirror my recordings of the cello suites: an old recording (Menuhin, Casals), a later-generation recording (Perlman, Rostropovich), and an old warhorse as a reference (Milstein, Fournier). There's really not much to say about the Milstein other than it's excellent and well-judged, always dignified; it's a classic for a reason. Of all of them I think my *favorite* (not "the best") would be Perlman. He falters at times but his rendition of the first partita is nothing short of a revelation: the pairs of works are played without break and each is a totally coherent whole, turning it truly into a work of four contrasting movements, each in two contrasting parts. His transition from gigue to chaconne in the second partita is also terrific (no break, but totally natural-sounding). He's less coherent in the fugues. The episodes are great but sometimes he doesn't connect them convincingly. The mid-1930s Menuhin set is outdated. The playing is often beautiful and the loure in the third partita is ravishing, but it's not very satisfying and sonically it's pretty rough.
Berg - Chamber Concerto (Sviatoslav Richter/Oleg Kagan; Chamber Ensemble of Moscow Conservatory/Yuri Nikolaevsky): You'd think Trung would be all over twelve-tone form: it's the ultimate unity-in-diversity, more so than sonata form. I bought this record some ten years ago and made it through about five minutes -- I literally felt like I was going insane -- and transferred it a couple of years ago, never giving it a real listen until now. Only in the rondo finale really does the work really transcend the form's limitations (a lot of the adagio falls victim to its inherent risk of episodism) but it's never unlistenable or tedious. It's amazing how one tone row can be turned into a 42-minute opus. Not Berg's best but worth hearing at least once.
RELISTEN: Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel) (The Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell)
RELISTEN: Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel) (The Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy)
RELISTEN: Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition (piano version) (Sviatoslav Richter)
Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition (piano version) (Alfred Brendel)
Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition (Emerson, Lake & Palmer): The Richter recording is rightly famous. Just electric throughout, the music is very much alive. Brendel treats it almost like a museum piece, that can be played flawlessly and powerfully, as if trying to tap into the music's latent color and grandeur that Ravel brought out, but it lacks the spark of life. (It's played so well that I recommend it anyway; after all, most piano recordings are more or less staid). As for the ESP travesty of an... interpretation: hey, if it got anybody to check out the original, and especially if it got anyone to get into classical music more deeply, it's justified its existence.
Verdi - Un Ballo in Maschera (Placido Domingo, Martina Arroyo, Piero Cappuccilli; New Philharmonia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti): This opera had a certain draw to me; I once owned a second recording but threw it out when I culled my vinyl collection a few years ago (was in too poor shape to donate) and I regretted it -- it's had a certain mystique ever since. Definitely proof that you should give a new work or recording a try: it took a little effort to get into it (the big Verdi first-act tenor aria is a little subpar here) but, although this is a second-tier Verdi opera, it's abundant with great melodies and characters. Arroyo is generally good but I'm not feeling her "ma dell'arido stelo divulsa" -- could be that it's a lackluster performance or, more likely, it's just that I don't like the kind of slow soprano aria that just lazily wallows in sound. Fiorenza Cossotto is a fine Ulrica.
RELISTEN: Verdi - Rigoletto (Sherrill Milnes, Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti; London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Bonynge)
Verdi - Rigoletto (Robert Merrill, Anna Moffo, Alfredo Kraus; RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Georg Solti): Although I'd recommend Il Barbiere di Siviglia this is a fine place to start in the world of opera, and the Bonynge is a fine recording. Pavarotti is absolutely terrific in both voice and dramatic sense; he makes the Duke come alive. The Solti is also a good version, but with a few reservations: first, the sound quality sucks and is flat and lifeless (comes from squeezing a two-hour opera onto four sides of vinyl instead of the standard six, I guess) and, worse, Alfredo Kraus is a pretty crappy Duke. His voice is good, if a little lightweight, and he seems oblivious to there being drama going on. The Duke of Mantua -- the PUA sex-addict douchebag kind of character -- can't be lightweight. It's a shame, because Moffo outsings Sutherland and Robert Merrill is as good a Rigoletto as Sherrill Milnes (darker voice and more personality). With these defects the Solti is harder to recommend.
No LP transfers!
H.G. Wells - Complete Short Stories: Been a bit busy to do much reading. More than anything Wells is at home in creating things and exploring the concept and their potential than he is telling a good story ("The Land Ironclads" or whatever it's called is a prime example). When he does tell a good story it's usually a very good one; when he just invents something for the reader it can be at the very most just interesting. I'll keep on reading this because I really do enjoy the good stories, but I see how it could help to anthologize them a bit better.