Alice Cooper - A Fistful of Alice: Good live album, but only one CD. Better than the single-LP Alice Cooper Show, I guess.
Alice Cooper - Brutal Planet: The first thing that hits you is that this album is loudness-warred to hell. No matter; this is one of his best and freshest in a long time; there are religious-themed lyrics but they're not preachy as on The Last Temptation, and the songs are much better than that one. (I had read somewhere that Cooper is a lifelong Evangelical -- and certainly in the early '80s when he was kicking alcohol -- so I'm not sure why that part of him would come out so strongly in this period.) It's his strongest set of songs in some years: very modern sound but classic Coop too.
Alice Cooper - Brutally Live: Well this is finally a good-length Alice Cooper live album, 96 minutes as ripped from a DVD. You always hear about the Coop's live shows, going back to the '70s, but AFAIK the only live albums have been single-disc affairs (single-LP for The Alice Cooper Show, single-CD for A Fistful of Alice) -- maybe because it's missing the visual element a recording would seem inadequate. Well this isn't. This is in a whole different league, and it's great. I downloaded it without knowing that it was the soundtrack to a DVD but it doesn't make much of a difference except for a stretch in the middle that's no worse than what's on most live albums. Includes most of Brutal Planet.
The Jazz Butcher - Big Planet Scarey [sic] Planet: Well I was wrong about this one the first few listens. This album seems to be their Big Serious Statement, on their fancy new record label -- even lighter stuff like "Bicycle Kid" has a bitter, sarcastic purpose, though we all hated "that kid" -- but it's not unrelentingly bleak or even unamusing. The problem is the production (very 1989, with loud bright everything) and the mix (the vocals, singing pretty good lyrics, are buried). It's curious how all of their vocal samples are American (on a few different albums, too). If you're into late '80s/early '90s (indie) guitar rock, there's a lot to like about this album; there's plenty of jazz butchery left. Just don't make it your first. (If you're not feeling this album, sit through to the end: the last few tracks are some of the best on the album.)
The Jazz Butcher - Condition Blue: Yes, as far as I know this is named for the Cream song (it's *code* blue in the hospital, right?). Only three of the nine tracks (and only one of the first seven) are under 6:09 long, and pretty static, and you really need to let this play a few times before you try to get into it. Once it gets under your skin it reveals some of Pat Fish's loveliest melodies; the songs are long, yeah, and sometimes Fish seems infatuated with hearing himself talk -- which is understandable given he wrote the album after a bad breakup, à la Hissing Fauna (that's the only thing the two albums have in common) -- but #### it, this is a dope album. The last two tracks are shit: a five-minute dirge for solo guitar and atmospherics; and a throwaway instrumental. "Racheland" would be better if the vocals weren't washed-out and echoey. I'd still put this towards the bottom of their output; it's not one bit the best place to start with this artist.
There are a few famous artists that I know -- or have heard -- almost nothing by, so I downloaded a few of their biggest albums and am going to give them at least the once-over. I suspect the window for getting into these bands closed decades ago but for musical literacy's sake, why not?
The Band - Music from Big Pink: My dorm-floor-mates in college would blast "The Weight" over and over again -- it was also in a truck commercial at the time -- and I came to hate it. I had meant to breeze through these albums but this took a couple of spins to like (the first time I shut it off before the end of the first track which, you've got to admit, is an unorthodox choice of an opener.) It isn't really my thing at all and it's so, so serious, but hey, it's not half-bad! It drops off a bit towards the end (really after "Long Black Veil" -- which I've heard in a Johnny Cash version -- it starts to sound samey, so I guess the whole second side? I just spun this for the third time and it gets better every spin) -- I say, it drops off towards the end (ed: no it doesn't. This album is a grower.) but that could just be stylistic sameness or simple unfamiliarity, in the staid folk-rock way.) I've never heard the Basement Tapes and don't really know the Dylan songs. I even like "The Weight" now.
Big Brother & the Holding Company - Cheap Thrills: I've heard Joplin's "Mercedes-Benz" used unironically in a Mercedes commercial and it was nails on a chalkboard -- by this, I mean Joplin in general, not this band. Thumbs down. The best thing about the album (other than the cover) is the guitarist in the left channel; it's heavily distorted and gives a great kick in the ass like the kid on "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida". Joplin herself ranges from good ("Piece of My Heart") to not-at-all-my-thing ("Turtle Blues") to unbearable ("I Need a Man to Love"). I guess in a way (saying this knowing ####-all about female singers) Joplin was a victim of her own success in that she's so influential that it doesn't sound at all fresh, so imitated and so hackneyed that it feels like nothing special. Maybe. You can hear her in basically every rock-chick singer since. There was a good article somewhere that argued that '60s rock is no longer enjoyable, per se, but is reference music, or an historical document, more appreciated than loved (see: '50s rock and oldies). I'd have to find it, but upon some thought it has a point.
Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsodies (Roberto Szidon)
Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsodies (Michele Campanella): These are probably the only recordings of the Rhapsodies I'll ever need. I first got into the music with the Campanella recording, which is mainly because long sets of pieces are easier to absorb over six LP sides than the two CDs (Szidon, which actually is the earlier recording). The first rhapsody is totally unlike any of the others; it's long and meandering and mostly without high or low points. It does pick up in the last few minutes, but stylistically and formally it stands apart. The rest are on balance really enjoyable works, but with a few notable exceptions the rest seem kind of interchangeable. In general the Rhapsodies drop off in quality somewhere around #15, but I couldn't tell you exactly where. I'm really glad to have made this acquaintance BTW.
Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsodies 1-6 (orch.) (Philharmonia Hungarica/Willi Boskovsky)
Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsodies 1 & 2 (orch.); Enesco - Roumanian Rhapsodies 1 & 2 (Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy)
Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsodies 5 & 6 (orch.); Enesco - Rumanian Rhapsodies 1 & 2 (Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Vladimir Golschmann (Enesco), Anatol Fistoulari (Liszt)): Someone took six of the best Hungarian Rhapsodies and had them orchestrated, and it's in them rather than the piano originals that you usually hear this music. It's a lot of fun to compare the originals to the orchestrations, but this just doesn't hold your attention for long. The R(o)umanian Rhapsodies are all right, very pretty, especially the second. Enesco had some prominence mid-century but you never hear about him or his music anymore. For some reason his name now is spelled Enescu, and his country Romania; they've had the Latin alphabet for a few centuries now but are still figuring out what to call themselves.
Liszt - Harmonies du soir (Waldesrauschen, Sonnet 104, Valse oubliée, Ballade No. 2, Au lac de Wallenstadt, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 3, Consolations (S172), "Harmonies du soir" from the Transcendental études) (Nelson Freiere): Can't say I've ever heard of Freire before, but this is an attractive little recital album, this. I already had everything except for the ballade on other recordings, but these are well-executed, poetic; the sequencing in particular is amazing, with most of the tracks flowing seamlessly into the next. That ballade is no great shakes, by the way (I didn't know he wrote one ballade, much less two); it's a long dramatic piece that doesn't hold my attention for the whole 14 minutes so I could be totally wrong about everything I just wrote. Freire plays all six Consolations and listening to the album he obviously knows this music forward and backward and loves it. As a bonus the disc is about an hour, a reasonable length.
Mahler - Symphonies 1-9; Symphony No. 10: Adagio; Kindertotenlieder (New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein): I'm not going to be updating this one every time. This is Bernstein's '60s stereo cycle which I have two recordings from on vinyl (the Fourth and Fifth). A bit odd that Das Lied von der Erde wasn't included, but I dunno if it was part of this cycle to start with. I'll be listening to this over some time: it's a 12-CD set, and I've got a 6-CD set of the Shostakovich string quartets to go. More jazz albums but the two stacks should last around the same amount. The original liner notes are reproduced... but only on the backs of the mini-LP sleeves so they're useless. WTF, Sony.
Stan Getz & João Gilberto - Getz/Gilberto: Are there any big albums I have yet to hear? Rhetorical question. Anyway this is some of the greatest background music ever, and it's just as good with closer listening. I thought I hated "The Girl from Ipanema" but I had only heard the single version, without João -- great singer, BTW, though with limited range and he gets monotonous towards the end, a little suspiciously chilled-out -- and it's got a "Start Me Up" effect, where I thought I hated a song until I heard it in proper context and over good headphones/speakers. Portuguese sounds like Spanish with a French accent -- lots of nasals; where you see "ão" it's for an original "n", like João (John), coração (I'm guessing = corazón = heart), São Sebastião (San Sebastian). Getz is good, too; this is one of those discs where both headliners are important to the music and it's hard to separate the two. For some reason the CD includes the album both in mono and in stereo, which is kind of silly since the album was originally recorded in stereo so the mono cuts would seem superfluous -- I guess the CD was released pre-computer-audio so you can't just fold down the output. Recommended.
Grant Green - Street of Dreams: The four Green albums I have (Idle Moments, Matador; a late '60s compilation called Mellow Madness) have been totally different, with a completely different vibe and instrumentation. This one is in the form of an organ trio, or whatever you call the guitar/organ/drums combo, plus Bobby Hutcherson. The album consists of four extended grooves, with plenty of spotlight on Green -- as chilled-out as ever, rhythmically on the spot -- and organist Larry Young. I'm not sure where the bass comes from. Normally the pedalboard is a lower extension of the manuals, but it sounds like an outright bass instrument on this album (and on others: not that it really matters). Hutcherson is a major player on some of the tracks, but not others; the standout track is "Lazy Afternoon" which, if I'm not mistaken (and I probably am), is in 5/8 and has a nice gently galumphing rhythm. The vibraphone parts might be the best on the disc. Probably my favorite Grant Green album so far but, as I said, they're all pretty different from one another.
Herbie Hancock - Inventions & Dimensions: What a weird album. It looks like a piano trio plus "Chihuahau" [sic] Martinez on congas and bongos but, like the second violist in a string quintet, the extra guy has outsized influence: yet the intricate percussion really is unsuited for a piano trio album: it's just too busy. I think I like this album more than I actually do (is there a word or expression for this?) There are magical moments in every cut; personal favorite is at about the five-minute mark of the very first track, when everything is going quiet and it seems like it's to fade out, before Paul Chambers barges in full force. "Jack Rabbit" features a cool percussion break that might succeed Max Roach's "All Africa" on mixes. The closer actually is the best song on the album: it's actually a dumb gimmick track but it's pulled off way better than that sounds. Another of those Blue Note 75th-anniversary LP reissues that are cheap, while the CD release is OOP and ridiculously priced. The album is great to smoke to.