Best Music Of 2002 Awards
by Wayne Donnelly
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Aimee Mann Lost in Space
CD Stock No.: SuperEgo Records/United Musicians SE-007
This is my favorite pop/rock vocal album of the year. Mann's very perceptive, beautifully crafted songs cover the landscape of sexual politics among the young and hip -- and does it well enough to appeal even to geezers like me who are neither.
Lost in Space is her finest CD, just edging out her 2000 sleeper Bachelor No.
Mann's low-key vocals, delivered with impeccable diction and uncannily brilliant phrasing, make these songs sound fresh even after repeated hearings. Her great gift as an interpreter, I think, is her ability simultaneously to be both ironic commentator and participant in her song-dramas. Mann is probably too smart to reach mass popularity, but her work is rewarding to those who seek her out.
Patricia Barber Verse
CD Stock Number: Premonition/Blue Note CD 72435 39856 2 2
After four long years of waiting, Patricia Barber gives us her first album of all-original songs. Since her 1998 masterpiece
Modern Cool, the live Companion and the superb standards collection
Nightclub have provided musical nourishment, but this is the one we've been waiting for her.
No other jazz artist I know can match PB's sensitivity to and command of language. The songs on Verse have the elusiveness and allusiveness, the ambiguity, the command of metaphor, the resonance of meaning, and, importantly, the
sound of poetry.
The sound on Modern Cool is founded on Barber's powerful piano and the authoritative bass of Michael
Arnopol. Verse, also recorded by engineer Jim Anderson with Barber producing, paints a very different sonic picture -- lighter in texture and somewhat more transparent. PB plays piano on only about half the songs, and the instrument is mixed further back than on
Modern Cool. But what we get is choice. I especially like "If I Were Blue," which features only the piano and Neal Alger's sensitive guitar. Dave Douglas's terse, evocative muted trumpet, so valuable on
Modern Cool, is again featured on Verse. This guy can say a lot with only a few notes, but when he gets a chance to stretch out -- as in his solo on "I Could Eat Your Love" -- he dazzles.
Arnopol, Alger and drummer Joey Baron are in great form throughout, and the arrangements are intricate and imaginative.
I consider this the jazz vocal recording of the year. (Click
here to the original complete review.)
Johan Sebastian Bach: Harpsichord Concertos. Richard Egarr, harpsichord; Academy of Ancient Music, Andrew
Manze, Director. 2 CDs
CD Stock No.: Harmonia Mundi HMU 907283.84
These seven solo concertos plus the "Triple" Concerto are by turns genial and fierce, simple and sophisticated -- and bursting with melodic and harmonic intervention. They liberated the harpsichord from its traditional continuo role to solo status, and their fast-slow-fast structure became a template for the great majority of keyboard concertos.
We find wonderful examples of Bach's brilliance in reinventing his own work. Both BWV 1057 and BWV 1058 elicited double takes on my first hearing. After some head-scratching, I recognized that they were the fraternal twins of, respectively, the
Fourth Brandenburg Concerto and the Violin Concerto In A Minor. Listening alternately to those pairs of compositions proved not only pleasurable but also instructive, illuminating Bach's methodology.
These concertos are rarely performed in public. Large halls and large modern ensembles would overwhelm the harpsichord. I have heard performances transcribed for piano, but such performances -- and many "authentic" recordings -- spotlight the solo. The harpsichord may have been liberated from the
continuo, but here it assumes a concertante role -- peer among equals. With no more than ten musicians playing at once, Bach's counterpoint and melodic part writing emerge with glorious clarity.
Harmonia Mundi delivers a perfectly appropriate acoustic. There is a touch of reverberation, and the somewhat distant
mic'ing illuminates the relationship of harpsichord and tutti. We have here a rare nexus of scholarship, virtuosity, exuberance, taste and sonic brilliance. This set makes a good case for the harpsichord concertos as worthy peers of the
Brandenburgs, and I expect it will long reign as the definitive recording.
Bruce Springsteen The Rising
CD Stock No.: Columbia CK 86600
The Rising reminds us that 9/11 was more than acataclysm claiming over 2000 people -- it was thousands of cataclysms, and the victims number far more than the dead -- families, friends,
neighbors... and all who value life. Bruce's work frequently expresses his feelings about social and political issues. He speaks through the lives that inhabit the songs.
Bruce's depiction of the consequences of 9/11, and the hate and mistrust that underlie relations between the U.S. and Arab countries, is told through personal, intimate songs, metaphor and allegory. The songs express loneliness and loss, optimism, even flirtation. Even the songs that unequivocally evoke 9/11 ("Into the Fire," "The Rising,") unfold through the eyes and emotions of individuals.
Images of rain, clouds and storms appear throughout. Blood imagery evokes in different contexts death and destruction, revenge -- or human connection. But the most potent metaphor is the kiss, which we find in almost every song. For Bruce, the kiss represents romance, physical love -- but also forgiveness, understanding, redemption.
Building on Max Weinberg's rock-solid drumming and Garry Tallent's agile bass, Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren deliver killer rhythm and solo guitar. Bruce contributes economical but passionate solos, and I get a chill of pleasure from Danny Federici's B3 fills, or Roy Bittan's poetic keyboards -- and Clarence Clemons' stirring saxophone.
Much credit goes to producer Brendan O'Brien, whose imagination and taste yield the album's rich textures and sonic variety. Even with the complex arrangements, Bruce never has to shout or strain -- he can concentrate on expressiveness and interpretation.
The Rising is a masterwork. Eschewing knee-jerk jingoism and hate-mongering rhetoric, Bruce offers compassion, understanding and hope.
(Click here to read complete review and