February 1, 2010

Tina Brooks: True Blue
Audio Wave AWMXR-0004
Format: XRCD

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Hot on the heels of the well-received Music Matters Blue Note LP series comes this effort from Robert Bantz (of Elusive Disc), Alan Yoshida, and Joe Harley to create the digital equivalent of those vinyl discs. Using JVC’s XRCD process, of which Yoshida is the master, Audio Wave has spared no expense in recreating a deluxe package that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard on a CD. From the initial set of four releases, I took a closer look at Tina Brooks’s only officially released album, True Blue. Almost as if he knew this was his only shot at fame, Brooks, together with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Duke Jordan on piano, Sam Jones on bass, and Art Taylor on drums, plays his heart out on the tenor sax. Just listen to how emotionally and deeply he digs in with his beautiful, keening tenor sound during "Theme for Doris." But it will be the sound as well as the performance that will have you sitting up to take notice. If you ever thought Red Book CD couldn’t deliver the sonic goods, then you haven’t heard one of these discs. I have SACDs that don’t sound as good. Tone, timbre, space, and soundstaging are all here in spades. These XRCDs are to digital what the Music Matters LPs are to analog -- examples of what’s possible with superior tracks and lots of TLC. . . . John Crossett

Missy Andersen: Missy Andersen
Main Squeeze Records MS 1201
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

One of my complaints about current blues and R&B recordings is that they try to update the genres, injecting busy guitar solos or a glossy sheen and missing the essential simplicity that once made the music so compelling. That’s never the case with Missy Andersen’s self-titled debut, which shows a full grasp of the understated elegance that made Stax/Volt, Hi Records, Goldwax, and other southern soul labels so great. Andersen announces both her seriousness and her abilities by opening the disc with a crack version of O. V. Wright’s "Ace of Spades." You’ll spend only a few seconds thinking about the original before you bow to Andersen’s mastery of the tune. She brings the same sure touch to "I Can’t Stand the Rain" and "Tell Mama" and to the two songs she co-wrote. The band, led by her husband Heine Andersen (on guitar), appears to be Danish (the disc was recorded in Copenhagen), but their firm, tasteful support might leave you thinking they’re from Muscle Shoals or Macon. Heine Andersen is a soulful blues guitarist who never overplays, and Robbie Smith’s horn sound is warm and natural. At just over 32 minutes, Missy Andersen is way too brief. Otherwise, it’s a winner. . . . Joseph Taylor

Iver Kleive: Organ Music from Troubled Water
2L 66
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

This amazing album is like no other I’ve heard. Rather than categorizing it as movie music, let’s call it music from a movie. The film, released in 2008 and directed by the noted Norwegian filmmaker Erik Poppe, is called Troubled Water. It’s the story of Jan Thomas, a man who has spent eight years in prison for killing a young boy. On his release, he secures a position as a church organist and falls in love with Anna, the church’s pastor. The script becomes a double narrative when the murdered child’s mother shows up at church and recognizes Jan. Since Jan is an organist, much of the soundtrack is organ music. It was entrusted to organist and composer Iver Kleive, who, in addition to composing his own music and selecting a few other pieces, arranged everything from baroque music to Paul Simon’s "Bridge over Troubled Water." It may sound hokey on paper, but the way Kleive plays it, the tune becomes an intense spiritual experience, creating almost unbearable tension and a cathartic release into stillness. The rest of the album runs the gamut from classical to jazz and blues, with music that’s conciliatory, majestic, and reverential. You’ll also find surprises like Liv-Benedicte Bjørneboe’s "Allegro," which bumps merrily along with more than a passing resemblance to Danny Elfman’s music for The Nightmare Before Christmas! The performances were all recorded at Bergen Cathedral, and the sound, which is rich, spacious, and detailed, is some of the best of an organ you’ll ever hear. Try Kleive’s own "Toccata," which starts with the bright, reedy pipes bustling away in the mid and upper range for a few minutes and leads to a striding bass theme on the pedals that will give your subwoofer a run for its money. In fact, it’s a good piece for testing how focused the bass in your system really is -- every note should have a clean and clear attack. It’s not just about a lot of bass but about quality bass. . . . Rad Bennett

Various Artists: Joyful Noise
I Grade Records IGCD020
Format: CD

Musical Performance ***
Sound Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***

Jamaica isn’t the only Caribbean island producing powerful roots reggae music these days; since 2001, I Grade Records, based in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, has been spreading the message of Rastafari through righteous music with a roster of up-and-coming, talented reggae artists from around the globe. On January 12th, I Grade released this compilation album of various artists, featuring 16 lyrical lions backed by four alternating instrumental riddims, or rhythmic themes. While four essential rhythmic patterns comprise the instrumentation throughout the disc, not all tracks sound alike, mostly because of the expressive delivery that each artist brings to the mix. Heavy emphasis on the horn section brings a heightened urgency to the overriding messages of faith, equality, and positivity that span the album, though the acoustic levels tend to play it safe, if not somewhat predictable, throughout. The Nazarenes, out of Sweden via Ethiopia, contribute the excellent, uplifting "Everlasting," while Guyana’s Jahdan Blakkamoore urges for equal rights in the ghetto on "Red Hot." The band Midnite, native to St. Croix and one of the more recognizable artists in this otherwise underground group, has collaborated for years with I Grade on various compilations and contributes two of the heftiest tracks on the disc with "Judgment in Measure" and "Deep Tangle Roots." Let those who have ears celebrate this joyful noise, and trust I Grade to deliver real roots music with a positive message and an undeniably good groove. . . . Shannon Holliday

Jethro Tull: Their Fully Authorised Story
Image Entertainment ID48511SDVD
Format: DVD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ***1/2
Picture Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

The cover of Jethro Tull’s first album, This Was, shows the band in makeup that made them look like old men. The musicians interviewed in Jethro Tull, part of the series of Classic Artists DVDs released by Image Entertainment, have caught up with that photo, although only Glen Cornick, the bassist on the British band’s first three records, has kept his hair and general hippie appearance. Guitarist Mick Abrahams has a full head of hair, but it’s short and he now looks like a burly union official. Abrahams left Tull after This Was, and the band’s next album, Stand Up, was jazzier, less blues influenced, and heavier. Martin Barre has been the guitarist since then, and he’s been a constant in a band with many musical and personnel changes. Their Fully Authorised Story documents the life of an unpredictable band that has changed musical direction with almost every album. Among the interviewees are Chris Wright and Terry Ellis, who started Chyrsalis Records and indulged Jethro Tull’s musical and album-cover whims. Ian Anderson, the band’s leader, takes full responsibility for Tull’s musical curiosity. The DVD is honest about the lukewarm critical reception of some of the group’s LPs and the sometimes difficult decisions about lineup changes. It also captures a time when bands developed their chops and musical ambitions during grueling tours, and when record companies let them freely develop their ideas. Some of the older footage, and even some of the recent interviews, look odd, as if they were unnaturally enhanced in an attempt to increase their clarity. Regardless, it’s a fascinating and solid documentary about a good band’s history. . . . Joseph Taylor