As Chosen By Editor Steven R. Rochlin
It brings me joy to announce our Best Of 2006 Blue Note Music Awards. Last month we announced our Blue Note Awards for equipment (seen here). From 2005 until November 2006 Enjoy the Music.com has reviewed well over 150 music discs. Classical music editor Wayne Donnelly and his excellent staff of writers deserve a special thanks for continually providing us with truly impressive reviews. Enjoy the Music.com now present to you our choices for Best Of 2006 Blue Note Music Awards. And the winners are:
CD Number: Eleven Thirty Records 7003The sound on Blood of the Ram has as much eclecticism as the music itself. Sometimes the mixes are lush multi-layered sonic confections, while other times the sound is so raw you wonder if they used anything more sophisticated than a Dixie cup and a string. Music has powerful medicinal properties. Any time I begin to slip into a depression over the seemingly inexorable homogenization of contemporary music, I just slap Blood of The Ram on my CD player. This disc gives me hope that our musical future may be something other than a large beige blotch upon the cultural landscape. You need a copy of Blood of the Ram; otherwise you will be ethnocentrically doomed. Steven Stone
CD Number: New West Records NW 6050What makes Randall Bramblett so special? Every time I hear Thin Places I'm struck by his amazing combination of infectious melodies, insightful and personal lyrics, and tight arrangements. Every song comes across like a rare gem set in a perfect piece of jewelry. Trying to fit Bramblett's music into a particular genre presents a daunting challenge. Adult rock? Too limiting. Roots rock? It's far more sophisticated than that. Singer-Songwriter? The music has too much energy for this category. No, the best description I can come up with is to call it "killer contemporary." Steven Stone
John Lowell & Ben Winship Growling Old Men
CD Number: Snake River Records SSR-018The sonics on Occupational Hazards demonstrates how good a recording can sound when you use simple recording techniques and top-shelf gear. On the opening of "Georgia Buck" you can hear John and Ben waiting out a thunderstorm raging in the background. I love stuff like that. I have a simple crucible for a must-have CD; if when I put it on I have to stop whatever I'm doing and grab for an instrument, it qualifies. Occupational Hazards stops me in my tracks whenever one of its cuts comes around on my i-tunes player. Killer stuff. Steven Stone
Twilight of the Romantics
CD Number: Cedille CDR 90000 088The two works on this CD are lightweight compared to Brahms' masterpieces for clarinet of a few years earlier, and they have Brahmsian echoes throughout. But both the Quartet and the Quintet are delightful works: charming, lyrical, with moments of deep feeling. Clarinetist Kathryne Pirtle plays with the kind of tonal beauty and rhythmic impulse needed to "sell" these neglected works to a new generation of listeners, admirably supported by her fellow players and Cedille's first-rate sound. Joe Milicia
CD Number: Cedille CDR 90000 072Cedille provided a feast of clarinet music for fans of Paul Hindemith and of chamber music in this 2003 release. The Sonata is a masterpiece, with its witty scherzo and finale, its intensely emotional slow movement, and fascinating contrapuntal interplay between clarinet and piano throughout. The Quartet is an early, somewhat brash and thorny work, while the Quintet, a fairly long work in Hindemith's unmistakable mature style, richly rewards repeated hearings, giving the lie to critics who claim the composer's music is dry and astringent. The Chicago Symphony's John Bruce Yeh and the other Chicago musicians are in excellent form throughout. Joe Milicia
CD Number: Telarc SACD 63611 2
The sound on this hybrid disc is some of Telarc's best: a marvelously broad and deep soundscape, rich instrumental color, and thrilling dynamics. The combination of great sound and inspired interpretation moves this recording to, at least, my co-favorite with Wild and Fiedler. Bravo Telarc, for one of your best recordings ever. Get it!
Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky: Suite No. 3 in G, Op. 55
SACD Number: Pentatone PTC 5186 061 (Hybrid disc)In Tchaikovsky's Third Suite, there are four movements: a graceful, flowing andante; a charming, but reflective waltz; a lively, effervescent scherzo; and as finale, an ingenious and surprising set of variations, twice as long as the other movements and often programmed by itself. In Jurowski's hands the second movement waltz is more restless than melancolique, the march that forms its central section full of longing. The playful scherzo is intense and energetic. But it is in the final variations that Jurowski sweeps the field. I've never heard this music played with more life-affirming swagger and electricity.
The "Divertimento" makes a logical pairing: The Fairy's Kiss is Stravinsky's homage to Tchaikovsky. Jurowski emphasizes the goofy instability of a score that tries to fuse Stravinsky's cool, spiky neoclassicism with Tchaikovsky's warm-hearted melodic invention. Jurowski reminds us of just how much fun this music is, how full of surprises.
Twenty-eight-year-old Vladimir Jurowski has taken musical London by storm. He is now the music director of the Glyndebourne Festival, a very prestigious post, and next year, even more impressively; he will become music director of the London Philharmonic, where he has been principal quest conductor since 2002. Max Westler
CD Number: EMI Classics 3 40238 2Not even Leonard Bernstein is more successful than Bertini in communicating the essential character of each of these works. This set is an altogether remarkable achievement for a conductor who led such a low-profile career (especially when compared to Bernstein). Throughout, there is an urgency, a refreshing sense of directness and honesty, that make these familiar scores sound newly minted. Max Westler
SACD Number: San Francisco Sym.SACD 821936-0009-2With its unwieldy five-movement structure and wildly varying mood swings, the Seventh is Mahler's most problematical symphony. Michael Tilson Thomas applies his profound understanding of the composer's idiom to produce a sense of coherence and emotional impact that elude many competing versions. This account of the Seventh is one to treasure; it demonstrates once again that Tilson Thomas and his San Francisco players are bred in the bone to play Mahler.
Both the SACD and the Red Book stereo sound on this hybrid CD are spectacular. In SACD, the balance among the orchestral forces is lifelike - totally thrilling in the finale and the sense of dimension across the stage is very convincing. This sonic depth is apparent; for example, in the way melodies pass from instrument to instrument in the Scherzo. Like the other works in the San Francisco's Mahler survey, this is a live recording, but there is not the faintest hint of audience noise. John Shinners
CD Number: Columbia 2876 87606 2Modern Times is not just a Blue Note for 2006, but must be counted an instant classic, a must for all Dylan fans. This is a Dylan who not only writes better lyrics than all comers, you can actually hear them and make sense of them. His deep growl has never been better captured and his backup band is strong, giving him the kind of support he needs to bring out the best in each song. Don't miss "Nettie Moore," "The Levee's Gonna Break" and "Ain't Talkin," a track to do Leonard Cohen proud. There's life in the old dog. Take this one home. Phil Gold
Ludwig van Beethoven
CD Number: ABC 980 046-5This set of the Beethoven Piano Concertos does not justify a Blue Note award on artistic grounds alone, but I commend it to your attention because it showcases the spectacular new pianos developed by Stuart & Sons of Australia. The high octaves have never before achieved such outstanding clarity and sustaining power, while the range of color available is unprecedented. This enables a new approach to playing this familiar music, one perhaps closer to the style of performance of Beethoven's day. My complements to the Australian Broadcasting Company for their enterprise in publishing this and the partnering Complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas [ABC 465 077-2]. Phil Gold
Available now for the first time on CD, this is the first of three cycles of the Shostakovich Quartets that the Borodin Quartet have recorded for posterity. Although the set is incomplete (Shostakovich was still writing when the set was recorded in the late sixties) this is the one to get. Authority is stamped all over the playing, and indeed the Borodin Quartet studied these works with the composer himself. The Quartet's first violin and leader Rostislav Dubinsky moved to America before the second complete cycle was recorded in the eighties. The level of musical achievement, both technical and interpretive, is without parallel and the music is surprisingly approachable. Phil Gold