Album Reviews

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Michael Fremer  |  Sep 18, 2020  |  27 comments
The big Bob Dylan knocks are that he’s a serial plagiarist, a user, a manipulator and most damning of all that he’s “inauthentic”. Joni Mitchell is reputed to have said about Bob “….he’s borrowed his voice from old hillbillies. He’s got a lot of borrowed things. He’s not a great guitar player. He’s invented a character to deliver his songs. It’s a mask of sorts”.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 17, 2020  |  5 comments
There’s no better time than now to release a live performance of Civil War era “lifeline” spirituals dedicated to Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave herself, who is best known as an “Underground Railroad” organizer personally responsible for smuggling to freedom hundreds of slaves, first to the North and then after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 that allowed the recapture of freed slaves in non-slave states, to Canada.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 09, 2020  |  13 comments
Miles Davis's second collaboration with arranger/orchestrator Gil Evans (and the first recorded in stereo) is arguably the duo's best effort—a majestic, moody re-working of George Gershwin's classic folk opera recorded in three summer of 1958 sessions at Columbia's 30th street studios.

Michael Fremer  |  Sep 03, 2020  |  8 comments
This agreeable set of standards sung by Louis Armstrong backed by the Oscar Peterson Quartet, then consisting of Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Louis Bellson recorded at the then new Capitol Studios, L.A. in 1957 but not released in stereo until 1959, was a follow-up of sorts to the highly successful Norman Granz-produced Ella & Louis (Verve MGV-4003) recorded August of 1956.

Like this set, there Armstrong and Fitzgerald were backed by the Oscar Peterson Quartet, but with Buddy Rich drumming instead of Louis Bellson.

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 27, 2020  |  10 comments
While you wait for that soon to be released Coltrane Ballads reissue, do yourself a favor and pick up tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath’s worthy final recording. The younger brother of MJQ bassist Percy Heath passed away at age 93 January 19th, 2020 at home in Loganville, Ga.

Heath was as well-known as a composer and arranger as he was as a performer. He began as an alto saxophonist, emulating Charlie Parker but soon switched to tenor to get out from under Bird’s plumage.

Michael Fremer  |  Aug 25, 2020  |  7 comments
Last year, producer Lee Townsend brought guitar-great Bill Frisell’s trio, fresh off the road and shortly after concluding two weeks at The Village Vanguard where almost 60 years ago another famous trio made an indelible record or two, into Tucker Martine’s Portland, Oregon studio for three days of recording.

The result is a first for Frisell—a trio recording with long time accompanists, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston that is simultaneously densely packed with musical ideas and yet throughout, window wide open to the spaces between the notes.

Evan Toth  |  Jul 30, 2020  |  5 comments
This year, Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks’ 1994 project, Orange Crate Art, turns 25 years old. To celebrate, Omnivore Records has reissued and remastered the album and brought attention and care to a somewhat disremembered historical artifact created by two musical luminaries. Of note, Omnivore’s campaign is the first time this album has been released on vinyl.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 28, 2020  |  13 comments
This previously unreleased March 9th 1959 session recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack home studio is a “must have” for Blue Note “completists”, especially for those with an affinity for car and plane crash videos. If you are just getting into the rich Blue Note catalog, your money is best spent elsewhere as this session, despite the stellar group, often sounds listless and forced. Grooves get glossed over in favor of speed.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 24, 2020  |  7 comments
Suave, swinging and exuberant, Michael Weiss’s self-produced Soul Journey sounds something like a big band playing on a Blue Note Records date, but it’s really a small ensemble making like a big one thanks to Weiss’s deft, harmonically-rich, rhythmically neck-snapping arrangements and free-spirited yet tightly drawn, well-meshed performances by the three man veteran horn section of saxophonist Steve Wilson, trumpet and flugelhorn player Ryan Kisor and trombonist Steve Davis.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 16, 2020  |  2 comments
Southern "New Age" is a new musical sub-genre for me, but if this is a typical example of it, y'all can be sure I'm on board. Luke Schneider coaxes from the 1967 emmons push-pull pedal steel guitar (named for the pedal steel guitar great, the late Buddy Emmons) cosmic otherworldly, uplifting heavenly sounds that instantly engage the head and message the heart.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 03, 2020  |  47 comments
What better time than during a period of self-isolation and social distancing could there be to explore Bach’s “Suites For Unaccompanied Cello”? Arguably, there’s no finer recorded performances than the ones Janos Starker performed for Mercury Records April 15 and 17, 1963, September 7-8, 1965 and December 21-22, 1965 (though some may prefer other performances by Casals, Rostropovich, Yo-Yo-Ma, etc.). I'm not here to argue with you. The finest version of these historic recordings, is without a doubt, this latest one from Analogue Productions and the sound is unassailable.

Malachi Lui  |  Jul 01, 2020  |  188 comments
No matter your (likely misguided) opinion of him personally, Kanye West is indisputably one of the greatest artists of all time. While in certain occupations others come close, only Kanye has the wide scope and collaborative energy to succeed in everything. Whether it’s music, fashion, or film, he enlists world-class multimedia artists’ assistance, precisely executing most media (except opera). As the man himself said in “Kids See Ghosts,” “[I] don't like being less than any a competition in any of my professions/So I gotta guess then, I gotta stay the best man/What else you expect from, uhhh, Mr. West man?” He lives up to his word; despite the often delayed and cancelled album releases (through online groupbuys the material eventually leaks), within a matter of time he accomplishes everything he talks about. Currently, he’s working on a budget clothing line with Gap (fulfilling his 2015 promise to make YEEZY garments affordable), IKEA-type affordable housing developments, and creating American jobs through prison reform systems. His wide range of artistic disciplines and personal achievements make him without question “the greatest artist resting or alive.”

Evan Toth  |  Jun 29, 2020  |  2 comments
Great music doesn’t exist, nor is it created in a vacuum. It evolves from years of being influenced by composers, performers, producers and genres. We don’t reward musically mediocre derivatives; rather, we celebrate musicians who manipulate their favorite influences to create a composite that results in something new and exciting— like Black Pumas’ music.

Jeff Flaim  |  Jun 26, 2020  |  4 comments
Avant-garde trumpeter Jaimie Branch has a lot on her mind; racism, love, compassion and the state of our union. Tackling these issues is not an easy task, especially for someone who plays instrumental music. On FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise, her second album—recorded live over a few nights at London’s Total Refreshment Center—the New York based musician delivers a passionate, searing set of tunes.

Michael Fremer  |  Jun 24, 2020  |  16 comments
Billed by his label as a “long lost masterpiece by Neil Young”, referred to by fans as “one of Young’s mysterious, great ‘lost albums’” and described by Young himself as “the one that got away”, Homegrown was recorded mostly between late 1974 and early ’75, with one track from late spring ‘74 and another from late summer of that year.

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