Songs (American Recordings/Columbia)
Rubin producing Neil Diamond quickens the pulse of those who
value the notion of Americana. God knows Diamond, one of the
last exponents of Brill Building craftsmanship, fits into
the Americana concept; God only knew how well he would do
under Rubin, who gave Johnny Cash his last, and arguably best,
lease on musical life in the ’90s.
Rubin and Diamond work well together. 12 Songs sounds
great—even the sappy tunes. There are especially creative
touches, like the celesta that launches the gorgeous “Save
Me A Saturday Night,” the organ that cushions “Man of God”
and, in the deluxe version, the Brian Wilson overdubs that
make the second take of “Delirious Love” so intoxicating.
Rubin has set Diamond’s reassuring voice in spare settings
that showcase his penchant for drama and ascension. Most songs
build predictably; from “Kentucky Woman” on, Diamond has deployed
a winning formula, captivating the listener with the contrast
between his plainsong, plaintive style and lush, driving arrangements.
Unlike his earlier work, however, 12 Songs stresses
leanness; even “Captain Of A Shipwreck,” the most “Spanish”
tune here, is acoustic and easy and minimalist. It’s also
Other tunes don’t fare so well lyrically, like “Hell Yeah,”
the terminally vacuous “We” and “I’m On to You,” a song in
which Diamond seems unwilling to act his age. Otherwise, 12
Songs wears well, confirming Diamond’s position as one
of rock’s most enduring guilty pleasures.
Italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini
Six Brandenburg Concertos (Naïve)
With hundreds of recordings of these works flowing in and
out of print, it would seem to be enough. But classical musicians
aren’t daunted by such statistics. Rinaldo Alessandrini claims
a kinship with Bach because of the composer’s indebtedness
to Italian musical forms and stylings, and turns his small
ensemble loose on these pieces with an impressive sense of
brio, enhancing their lean sound with quick tempos and a relentless
sense of pulse.
These pieces are fairly indestructible, and have survived
recordings by vast orchestral forces as well as plodding zombie
walk-throughs. From the first bars of the Brandenburg Concerto
No. 1, here performed by 13 players including a high-pitched
piccolo violin, the mood is merry and infectious—that’s
what this should sound like, you’ll say.
Or you should say. Although original-instruments forces have
been pushing versions like that of the Berlin Philharmonic
out of the catalogue, this one is leaner and grittier still
than, for example, the recent set by Philip Pickett and the
New London Consort. And while those are not necessarily commendable
attributes, the Concerto Italiano recording also makes sure
that these pieces sing.
As the accompanying DVD of the recording sessions shows, Alessandrini
is a dedicated firebrand of a musician, and brings a wholehearted
belief in his mission to these works. Although I’m not fond
of some of his choices—his version of the well-known cadenza
to the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 gets too self-conscious
in its pauses—they still are valid choices to make.
Besides the DVD, the set has a couple of other bonuses: The
original, shorter, virtually unknown cadenza to the BC5, along
with Bach’s resetting of the first movement of BC3 in his
Cantata No. 174, filled out with many more wind instruments.
The Brandenburg Concertos should be a fundamental ingredient
of any music collection, and this set is an excellent choice
to occupy that spot.
Progress (Pi Recordings)
Fieldwork are a collective ensemble of a sort who first came
into their own in the ’60s. Scenes coalesced in New York City,
Chicago and St. Louis, and with the advent of loft venues
in the ’70s, places like New Haven. The trio have been an
especially rich format, allowing three voices to remain distinct
while sympathetically addressing the sound as a whole. Fieldwork
are a worthy successor to the legacy of Air and the brief
but bracing tenure of Oliver Lake’s trio with Pheeroan ak
Laff and Michael Gregory Jackson. Anchored by pianist Vijay
Iyer, now the only original member, this is the trio’s second
offering. With a busy schedule of diverse solo and collaborative
projects, Iyer has been clear in his commitment to maintaining
an equal voice for all three members, in terms of the writing,
arrangements and soloing. In addition, each of them write
in ways that reflect a desire to bring forth important contributions
from the others. On saxophonist Steve Lehman’s “Media Studies,”
the piano’s angular chordal patterns define much of the shape
of the piece. Drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee’s “Gaudi” charges
forward like an engine of majestic and regal bearing, with
the full assault of all three members making it ascend daringly,
like its namesake’s Barcelonian spires.