Paul McCartney - McCartney: George Starostin has a point when he says that certain artists' music bears their own stamp (extending to crappy Rolling Stones albums). I only had to give this one one listen before looking at the WRC reviews -- by "WRC" I mean just Starostin and John McFerrin, and John doesn't have a McCartney page -- and I basically agree. This is a kind of Smiley Smile of an album where even the throwaway tracks have something going for them. Ultimately it feels less than the sum of its parts (I can't imagine paying for this album, much less full-price) but basically everything except "Kreen - Akrore" and "Oo You" are at least decent. I've never liked "Maybe I'm Amazed" but that one has enough clout for me not to say that it sucks and hey, I don't much like "Heroes and Villains" either. Some tracks sound an awful lot like the Apples in Stereo.
Paul McCartney - Ram: George notoriously rated this one very highly; I'm going to hold off on reading his review until I've posted this. Basically this isn't appreciably better than or even that different from McCartney, with the throwaway stuff just more developed. It's hit-and-miss: a great album has no place for "3 Legs" or "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" (or "Monkberry Moon Delight", or, or...). Favorite tracks are "Heart of the Country" and "Smile Away"; the latter is a typical dumb Paul rocker but has a delicious doo-wop chorus and overdriven-bass accompaniment. Linda can't sing but for some reason I really dig her on "Long Haired Lady". It's a Shaggs-worthy vocal and that's endearing. I don't see the fuss about this record but it's not terrible by any means: just what McCartney would have been with more care.
Louis Armstrong - Hot Fives & Sevens: Discs three and four. I didn't listen to the third disc much but the fourth is great, though it didn't seem that way at first -- sure it has four Ken Burns tracks, but it also has four songs with alternate versions and by all appearances it was scraping the bottom of the barrel. No worries. Two of the pairs of alternate takes have both a vocal and an instrumental version and there's no need to decide between them. The second "Rockin' Chair" is kind of pointless but I've come to like that song; they also make a good marker because the tracks between the two aren't up to the rest of the disc. I'm only familiar with "I Ain't Got Nobody" from David Lee Roth's "Just a Gigolo" -- are the two songs related or are they just mashed up?
Chet Baker - Chet: Concierto led me here, both for "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and for Baker's presence on that album. My second listen (as in second time I spent some time listening to it) was very enjoyable: the first time through I had trouble following a few tracks (I can have trouble picking out slow melodies, in whatever genre); whether through familiarity or an improved attention span I'm now able to enjoy the whole album. Its downside isn't the tempos or the sameiness, but that it highlights just how damned formulaic a lot of these jazz standards are. Nothing enough to sink the album. I couldn't hum more than two or three tunes if you paid me, but maybe future spins will fix that.
Count Basie & Lester Young/Benny Goodman & Charlie Christian: This is quite the curious item. It's a Japanese release and ostensibly was put out by CBS/Sony, though I've found literally nothing about it with the catalogue number. It has no title beyond the performers, and no notes or personnel are given (though the music is obviously from different sessions -- large and small groups, live and studio, etc). Each performer, Count Basie and Benny Goodman, get eleven tracks; Lester Young plays on Basie's and Christian plays on about half of Goodman's (there's a prominent vibraphone part in the latter -- Lionel Hampton?). Charlie Christian's parts (when they appear) aren't always prominent: on two of them he merely doubles the vibes, and there's the oddity of a vocal "On the Sunny Side of the Street" on which he appears not at all. The music is okay (sound is decent) but this really is an enigma. It seems like a slap-together-public-domain-tracks-and-release-them release but it purports to be official.
Miles Davis - The Complete Birth of the Cool: On one level, the studio half -- this is the complete Birth of the Cool, comprising the original studio sides plus a bunch of live tracks -- is a very sophisticated easy-listening album, looking forward to Miles Ahead. The live stuff is hit-and-miss, but the final "Budo" has a wonderful extended passage for alto and baritone sax, and "Darn That Dream" smokes the studio take. The sound is grainier in the live stuff, though, and Symphony Sid keeps popping up; the studio half is like sinking into a comfy armchair. Funny; I listened to this the first time the same day I digitized Lohengrin: a contrast, to be sure. I generally like light music and besides, that's not all that's here. The use of an alto (Lee Konitz) and baritone (Gerry Mulligan), with the trombone (several) for a middle voice, is curious; another curious feature is that there's a French horn in the lineup that is inaudible throughout.
Miles Davis - Sketches of Spain: To begin with, "Will o' the Wisp" and "Pan Piper" are pleasant enough, but not something to put this on just to hear. (Earlier I had savaged "Solea", calling it a waste of twelve minutes, Ravel's Bolero minus the crescendo. I've since seen my folly, which changes the complexion of the side and thus the album.) That leaves "Saeta" -- ####ing fantastic, a long cadenza over a drone and percussion; jazz needs more drones -- and "Concierto de Aranjuez" to pick up the slack. Ultimately how I feel about this album will be how I feel about "Concierto". It's much more faithful to the Rodrigo (which is below in the classical section) than Jim Hall and is great at times and adrift at others. I do like the overall vibe of this record. Stupidly wide dynamic range: to hear the soft parts well you need to set the volume at a level that will rape your ears in the loud parts. Dynamic compression can be a good thing. (I've ended up liking the Concierto movement very much -- if I'm in the mood -- and I was wrong about "Solea" not sucking.)
Bill Evans - Interplay: "You and the Night and the Music" led me here, from Chet. This is a very satisfying album; "When You Wish Upon a Star" might be his weakest Disney tune but other than that it's all pretty good. Evans proves himself a good accompanist and he seems to be developing chemistry with Jim Hall even this early. Best moment is the whole second half of "I'll Never Smile Again", starting with Hubbard's solo followed by the ensemble hot-potato. Not a classic but very enjoyable.
Jim Hall - Concierto: The Rodrigo concerto led me here. Taken as the first four tracks (the two non-alternate-take bonus tracks excluded) it's a good enough album. Obviously the original Conicerto de Aranjuez adagio isn't a funky workout (listening to this again after a long time it's surprising how fusion it is) and it's a fine thing to hear it as one. The first side, which I never gave a lot of time to nor haven given much credit, is about as good as the second: that is, not a classic, but nice when it's on. Quite the lineup, by the way.
Wes Montgomery - Smokin' at the Half Note: Came here for "If You Could See Me Now", from Chet. There's not much to say about this album. It rules.
Haydn - Piano Sonatas 20, 32, 31, 30 (Jenő Jandó): I sometimes run into the problem with Classical-era music where I zone out and either nod off (if I'm tired) or ruminate over my day (when I'm not). This is especially so in the expositions, especially repeated as they usually are; the modulations in the development usually bring me to my senses. This was the case with this disc. The performance is fine and the music is very good; that's about all I can say for this (at least until I listen to it again, but it's not very high on my to-relisten list.)
Haydn - Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1 (Nos. 39, 47, 31, 49) (Jean-Efflam Bavouzet)
Haydn - Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2 (Nos. 48, 32, 50, 19, 20) (Jean-Efflam Bavouzet): Well no trouble here paying attention. Bavouzet's interpretations are very vital and extrovert and well-proportioned; three of the four Jandó sonatas are played here and are gripping. I see they're up to volume eight in this series now (I bought these two when they came out but never really listened to them). The caveat -- and it's a big one -- is that Bavouzet repeats the development and recapitulation in every sonata-form movement, potentially stretching a taut five-minute track to a bloated eleven minutes. It notably hampers one's enjoyment.
Mascagni - Cavalleria Rusticana (Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Rolando Panerai; Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Milano/Tullio Serafin)
Mascagni - Cavalleria Rusticana (Agnes Baltsa, Plácido Domingo, Juan Pons; Philharmonia Orchestra/Giuseppe Sinopoli): The La Scala version is terrific. I bought the Domingo record to have a stereo version with modern production; it's not awful but Callas is a much better Santuzza and Ronaldo Panerai (who otherwise I've never heard of) is perfect, in voice and in dramatism, for Alfio.
Rodrigo - Concierto de Aranjuez; Villa-Lobos - Guitar Concerto (John Williams; English Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim): Listened because I just got Sketches of Spain and it features an adaptation of the Aranjuez adagio. Not much familiar with either work. Both are noticeably "Iberian" (though on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Rodrigo Spanish and Villa-Lobos Brazilian) and the guitar parts are more quintessentially classical guitar than the other works I've heard (Italian and German, much of which is transcribed lute music). Both are centered around their slow movements, which are as long as the outer movements put together. I think I like the Villa-Lobos more: it's more romantic whereas the Rodrigo can be kind of dry, and the slow movement (with cadenza) is even better than the Aranjuez. Played only once before, in digitizing the LP.
Verdi - Otello (Mario del Monaco, Renata Tebaldi, Aldo Protti; Chorus and Orchestra of L'Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome/Alberto Erede)
Verdi - Otello (Plácido Domingo, Renata Scotto, Sherrill Milnes; National Philharmonic Orchestra/James Levine): A ####ing masterpiece is what this is. Took some time for the music really to get to me more than the action: you keep hearing of these approving crowds at operas' premieres but I'm never able to absorb them the first go-round. But as I said, once it sinks in it hooks you good. The Domingo version is easily superior (Sherrill Milnes was born to sing Iago), and there's clear delineation between parts of high and low musical interest: the fidelity of the sound and the fact of its being stereo also are going for it. In addition Mario del Monaco (as Otello) is *loud* and shouty which, if not ruins, detracts from any scene he's in. In the Levine the orchestra can overwhelm the soloists at times. (Any comparisons are moot because I don't think the Tebaldo/Del Monaco ever made it to CD. It's a 1954 mono recording: just the kind of disc that would be supplanted a few years later with a stereo one, and probably a better one, to boot).
Vivaldi - Concerto for Diverse Instruments, three others (soloists; New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein)
Vivaldi - Four concerti for different instruments (soloists; Austrian Tonkünstler Orchestra, Vienna/Edgar Seipenbusch)
Vivaldi - Five concerti for diverse instruments (soloists; Chamber Orchestra of the Saar/Karl Ristenpart)
Vivaldi - Concerto for 2 mandolins; piccolo concerti (Orchestra dell' Accademia dell' Orso/Newell Jenkins)
Vivaldi - Concerti a cinque (Secolo Barocco)
Vivaldi - Trio and solo sonatas (Melodiya recording)
Vivaldi - Gloria, Kyrie (soloists; Robert Shaw Chorale and Orchestra/Robert Shaw)
Voříek - Piano Works (Radoslav Kvapil)
Wagner - Overtures/Preludes: Der Fliegende Holländer, Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger, Tannhäuser (Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Eugen Jochum)
Wagner - Overture/Venusberg Music (Tannhäuser), Magic Fire Music (Die Walküre), Siegfried's Rhine Journey (Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch)
Wagner - Prelude and Love-Death (Tristan und Isolde), Prelude (Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg), Tannhäuser Overture (The Cleveland Orhestra/George Szell)
Wagner - Brünnhilde's Immolation Scene (Götterdämmerung); Wesendonck Songs (Eileen Farrell; New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein)
Wagner - Tannhäuser (Paris version) (René Kollo, Helga Dernesch, Hans Sotin, Victor Braun; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Georg Solti)
Wagner - Lohengrin (Jess Thomas, Elisabeth Grümmer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gottlob Frick; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Rudolf Kempe)
Wagner - Tristan und Isolde (Birgit Nilsson, Fritz Uhl, Regina Resnik, Tom Krause, Arnold van Mill; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Georg Solti)
Walton - Violin, Viola Concertos (Yehudi Menuhin; New Philharmonia/London Symphony Orchestra/William Walton)
Walton - Belshazzar's Feast (John Cameron; Roger Wagner Chorale; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Roger Wagner)
Shakespeare - Othello: Read this after listening to the opera. I had read it before, but whether it was assigned or for pleasure, I don't remember, but it's been many years. The opera omits the first act altogether and moves the Willow Song from Act III to Act IV (corresponding to acts IV and V in the play), where there's not a great deal of material to hang the music on (there's also a long setting of the Ave Maria, and an instrumental passage where Ot(h)ello enters the bed-chamber.) Otherwise the libretto is very faithful to the Shakespeare. In reading this I was reminded that there are fairly difficult passages that the editor has to paraphrase and, as with classical literature, different manuscripts give different readings and there are several corruptions, even from the earliest copies. The play is great, duh.
Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream: I had a side's worth of Mendelssohn (not just the overture and wedding march) but like an idiot I threw it away when paring down my unruly collection (the solution to this is just to get another shelf). Still, the musical connection is there as with Othello. It's entertaining, and Act V is almost laugh-out-loud funny: and I almost never actually LOL. Good stuff.
Shakespeare - The Merry Wives of Windsor: Another musical Shakespeare play, this time Verdi's Falstaff, considered one of his greatest works but I don't hear it; it'll take some more listens. Maybe in the future. The play is pretty good. (The opera also incorporates elements of Henry IV and is much more loosely based on the Shakespeare than is Otello.)
H.G. Wells - Complete Short Stories