R.E.M. - Document: R.E.M.'s black album? Sounds different from anything they'd done yet, with modern 1987 production, for better or for worse. On the one hand, it's more listenable than the earlier record, which tend to be Johnny One-Note with the washed-out vocals; on Document, all the songs are distinctive, none outright grating. First big htis: I had no idea "The One I Love" is this old (always thought it was early '90s) and of course "It's the End of the World..." is *everybody's* favorite song at some point in their musical journey. The second side is more diverse and listenable than any of the albums thus far, though "distinctive" isn't necessarily "better"; the record is okay, but more important, the band that did Murmur inter alia was finally presentable. It didn't take three spins just to tell the songs apart this time round. The early discs do have a certain charm about them and have much great music.
R.E.M. - Green: You can tell this was imagined to be on vinyl, in 1989, because the big single opens the second side. Or imagined to me on tape -- yeah, I guess that would make more sense. That big single has never been one of my favorites just because it's so monotonous and repetitive. The rest of the songs: "Turn You Inside Out" is cringy fun; "Stand" is the most musically fun on the album. The hidden track is better than several songs on the actual album. I had heard of "Hairshirt" but wasn't sure it was a single or anything, or what the other single on the album actually was. It's pretty. Not four-minutes pretty, and Michael Stipe isn't the most emotionally resonant guy, to say the least (the reserve is part of his persona). In general this is kind of a middling album with good songs, but not one great one. The sound hasn't progressed past Document. The next one is the major label debut, right? That's what sucks about having a downloaded copy: you can't tell the record label at a glance. If only there were some way or engine to search the information superhighway. Did you know that Walmart sells a 32-count package of Frigo string cheese? It's sweet and nasty, but at $8.88? Don't tempt me. Why is it called string cheese?
R.E.M. - Out of Time: Every time I go into one of these albums, I tell myself, "#### me, this is just not the band for me. It's more similar to DMB than to anything I really dig. Maybe I should just stop after Up." But then a few listens later its pleasures start to make themselves known. The opening "Radio Song" seemed really cringy; there's also the presence of "Shiny Happy People", with its dismal reputation; I've heard a lot of "Losing My Religion", though not as much as most people here, I guess. But the guitar tone, the subtle melodies, a wonderful instrumental: well I'll be damned. For those of you who like listening to a song's arrangements, Out of Time is a gold mine. Strings on a good many tracks, organ on others, organ and harpsichord together on yet another. That's arguably a more compelling way to listen than the purely musical content. BTW I really don't get the heat over "People". It's kind of annoying but it's not that bad, and it features the chick from the B-52's.
Antonio Carlos Jobim & Elis Regina - Elis & Tom: This is a lot more like it after being let down from the Arthur Verocai album. Interestingly, it's not at all a light pop album as the (wonderful) opener suggests; it has a lot of more serious and more passionate slower numbers. Some of these are just a minute or two long but Regina is wow. Favorite tracks are "Aguas de Março" (the opener) and "Chovendo na Roseira", probably just because I've heard them both before; they're also the two peppiest and most complete songs. The second side is the better.
Jimmy Smith - Organ Grinder Swing: Much different from Home Cookin', which I got at the same time (one more Smith to go). This is the mother####ing blues, complete with someone -- Jimmy? -- annoyingly moaning and vocalizing over the whole damned album. (If it is Jimmy, I've never heard him do this at all otherwise). Unfortunately the second side is a bit of a letdown; it's a nice thought, but "Greensleeves" doesn't work at all as jazz, let alone eight minutes of it. That kind of drags down the rest of the side. "Satin Doll" is a nice closer but to think what it could have been! The album is too stylistically monotonous, is only a trio (with Kenny Burrell and a drummer I've never heard of), and there's that "Greensleeves" to deal with.
Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery - The Dynamic Duo: Three Smith discs in this HAUL, three totally different albums: one soul-jazz, one blues, and this third, big band, arranged and conducted by no other than Oliver Nelson: when I first put the disc in and got several minutes of big-band stuff, without guitar or organ, I had to eject and check the CD to make sure it was the right one. Most of the disc is actually a trio of Montgomery, Smith, and some schlub drummer I've never heard of; the orchestral parts are just in the dramatic moments, typically at the beginning and end of the track. It's well judged. Wes is the highlight of the disc: sometimes I think the organ isn't for me, however cool it may sound (one of those instruments that you can kick back and relax or groove to). The men do work well together, irrespective of the big band, which you'd think would cramp their style. Yes, the album ends with "Baby It's Cold Outside", but it's tolerable (especially minus the vocal). "Night Train" sounds very familiar, as if used in a movie. I think it was used at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance (the tune, not this recording), but I could be wrong. Best track is "James and Wes", eight minutes of straight pumpin' and cookin' with no band.
Stanley Turrentine - Salt Song: The follow-up to the funky Sugar, but not sounding a whole lot like it. It's hard to say *what* it sounds like: stylistically, it's all over the map from the gospel of "I Told Jesus" to the Latinish "Storm". It never satisfyingly quite gels, but there's a lot of good music here. Turrentine, sometimes with a seemingly smooth-jazzish tone, is joined in the forefront by Eric Gale on guitar; honestly, I prefer Gale's contributions: they're limpid and soulful and all of that, and are tonally darker than Turrentine's bright brassy saxophone. Yeah, there are "strings and voices" as noted in the personnel list, but the "voices" are, best I can remember, confined to "I Told Jesus" and are totally appropriate. The strings are in a few places, most noticeably in "I Haven't Got Anything Else to Do", a very pretty little ballad that threatens, but never quite succeeds, to disintegrate into schlock. The title track comes off best. If you like the fusion Stanley from Sugar, give this one a try. Just remember it's a bit of a hodgepodge.
Ben Webster - Stormy Weather: A live/bootleggish one, from 1965 Copenhagen; there are some Danish musicians (at least one: check the bassist Nils Henning Ørsted Pedersen! He's not bad.) Excellent sound quality, as good as a commercial recording. Mostly standards, per usual. There are a couple of throwaway fast numbers, but the heart of the set is the mid-tempo and slower. "Londonderry Air" is very pretty and "Mack the Knife" really cooks (a non-throwaway faster number, with the melody stated only at the beginning and end, and then the return is in a different key.) You get the feeling that the two originals are just so they'd have something fast to play; the rest are, for the most part, sultry slow burners. Best song is the title track. The album is shorter than it seems (~55min) but that's no knock against it. This, being 1965, would seem to be far after Webster's prime, but it pleases, especially for the price.
Sonny Clark - My Conception: I've played this a few times now and haven't had an idea of what to say about it. This is a 1959 album with Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, and Art Blakey, and all these notables turn out some of the most generic jazz you've ever heard, on par with a lot from that time, though it's not bad stuff at all. Curiously, the closing title track is the only slow one; the others range from a walking tempo to quite quick, the lack of a slower number being to the album's detriment. I'm listening to Hank Mobley play on "Blues Blue" and yeah, it's quite the solo (and the song is one of the better on the disc), but there's something about this album that just doesn't add up, is kind of slapdash. Actually the album reminds of Open Sesame by Freddie Hubbard: six tracks, a few highlights but not much to come to the ball for, high quality playing.
Shostakovich - Piano Quintet, Trio No. 2 (Borodin Trio et al): I've given this a lot of listens but still don't want to move on. I've heard of the Quintet, but haven't heard it despite having (on computer) a copy. It would seem to be in a kind of divertimento construction, with Prelude/Fugue/Scherzo/Intermezzo/Finale titles. Really I like the work a lot: it's deeper and with more feeling with richer harmonies than I was expecting. The trio was good but suffers from second-on-the-CD syndrome. I've ordered another recording of it with Christmas money (didn't think that through; just realized I hadn't picked up any Shostakovich from the record store this time so I made that a priority when ordering). I'll have a better idea of the work than when the other one comes.
Widor - Organ Symphony No. 4, Guilmant - Organ Sonata 1, Roger-Ducasse - Pastorale in F (Joseph Nolan): Organ music parted ways with the musical mainstream the last century-plus, producing a whole world of composers that many listeners have never heard of -- Vierne, Alain, Messiaen, Duruflé, César Franck, the like, the best-known probably Charles-Marie Widor. I have some organ-recital albums from the '60s and '70s (even then I don't know much) and a much-recorded favorite was the Toccata from his Organ Symphony No. 5. It's not a symphony with organ à la Camille Saint-Saëns, but a symphonic work for organ. Its predecessor leads off this disc. The Fourth symphony is a disappointment, whose many lengthy quiet sections feel like lacunae at normal listening levels (the scherzo is very lively music, but played so quietly!) The third and fourth movements are barely audible, a chasm between the opening toccata and fugue and the later movements. OTOH, the Guilmant sonata had me glued to the stereo. It's basically like a piano-sonata-plus. The concluding Roger-Ducasse Pastorale seems like an odd way to go out, as a gentle pastorale gives way to other sections. I had a hard time with this CD at first, but as I listened more closely I feel it a bit more. I may actually revisit this one.
Widor - Organ Symphony No. 5; Vierne - Carillon de Westminster (Simon Preston, Westminster Abbey): The organ symphony is much better than the Fourth. There are a lot of quieter passages, but here you can actually hear them. The second movement, a soft "allegro cantabile" (curious), is done perfectly, melodically as well as dynamically. There are some excellent slow movements, all leading into the Toccata on so many organ-recital programmes. It's hard for me to evaluate such an unfamiliar genre as latter-day organ music, but it all comes off brilliantly. The Vierne is unfortunately a toss-in, a fantasy on the world-famous "clock" tune, if perhaps just to tie in with the Westminster connection. I'd have preferred something more substantial from such an eminent composer. (If you're reading this, have you ever actually had a clock that chimed the hours to that tune? We had one in the living room that you had to wind up every few days. Like having fires in the fireplace, and chopping the wood for it, this is a nice memory of the "old-school"/antique-shop stuff typical of my upbringing. See also: our church. I mean, High Anglican, not fundamentalist.)
Bruckner - Symphonies 1-9 (Kölner Rundfunk Sinfonie-Orchester/Günter Wand): Widor ended the last HAUL (and Webster ended it for jazz). This would be an excellent box with nine discs in slipcases and a nice booklet. Well there's no booklet: it's just nine slipcases and nine discs, with only bare-bones information, nothing else in the box. This will take time to get through.