Monthly Archives: March 2015

Lush, Brazilian Jazz from Eliane Elias

Eliane Elias has had a career peppered with success. She’s recorded for major labels like Blue Note, RCA, RCA Bluebird, and ECM. She’s been nominated for many awards and won quite a few. Now she records for Concord, and Made In Brazil, which streets on March 31, is her third album for that label.  It’s a masterpiece and proof that Elias is the best Brazilian vocalist in the world. Her voice has darkened beautifully to become a perfect instrument. Always sure of pitch and having an innate sense of rhythm, she’s an effortless performer; her singing seems as natural as breathing. But it doesn’t stop there – Elias is also a pianist of considerable merit, writes appealing and significant songs,  and pens just-right arrangements.

Elaine Elias Made in Brazil

For Made in Brazil, Elias has surround herself with magnificent talent. Take 6 contributes sumptuous vocals to a stunning version of Jobim’s “Aguas de Marco,” while its lead singer, Mark Kibble, also adds his talent to “Incendiando” and the playful “Driving Ambition,” both with music by Elias and lyrics from Elias and her husband, bass player Marc Johnson.  Roberto Menescal adds vocals and guitar to two of his compositions – “Voce” and “Rio.” Though all of the vocals and instrumentals were recorded in Brazil (a first for Elias since she moved to the United States), strings were added from a session in London . The mix of all this talent by Pete Karam is masterful. The sound is warm and lush but important details always emerge with great accuracy and no strain. Eliane Elias has been nominated 5 times for a Grammy award. Listen to Made in Brazil and you’ll hear another nomination knocking on the door.

Blu-ray for Cult Films

We live in a wonderful age of film restoration. It’s easy to understand why films such as Citizen Kane, Don’t Look Now, and All About Eve receive refurbished pictures, reconstructed soundtracks and loads of extra features.  Through the wonder of Blu-ray and HD television screens, we probably see classic movies as well as when they were originally released. In between then and now they’ve been shown in torn and tattered prints, interrupted by car commercials, and worse. Taking that into account we see classic films better than those who were stuck with the in between times. But what about cult films? These have usually hung on in VHS quality prints and worse, unless they were produced by a major studio. But when they were released, many of them enjoyed photography and processing equal to their A-quality cousins. Well, rejoice fans of cult films! MVD Entertainment Group has begun releasing films from Arrow Films (UK) to a North American audience. The latter vows a “major investment in restoring original material through modern techniques”

Day of Anger

Day of Anger, starring Lee Van Cleef and Giuliano Gemma is my pick as best of the first group, which also includes Mark of the Devil and Blind Woman’s Curse. It’s a spaghetti western about corruption as an aging gunman (Van Cleef) teaches an enthusiastic young man (Gemma) how to follow in his trade.  It was directed by Tonino Valeri, who was a former assistant to Sergio Leone, the grandaddy of the genre. Van Cleef had scored in For A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, so stayed in Italy to film a number of westerns. Arrow’s print is spectacular, wide screen (Techniscope) with gorgeous color and razor sharp definition.  There are three interviews, one with Valeri, another with screenplay co-writer Ernesto Gasdtaldi, and an extensive one with Italian Critic  Roberto Curti. There are also three trailers in the bad quality we used to expect for this sort of film, which make one so very grateful for the new print and transfer. Next up for MVD/Arrow: Massacre Gun, a violent yakuza yarn which will be released with copious extras. Note: Each set also includes a DVD but the producers have given us so much quality that it’s the Blu-ray you want to see.

Light, Airy Brahms

If we only go by his four symphonies, one is liable to think of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) as an uber serious composer who never had any fun. Ah, but we must remember that Brahms came to symphonies later in life and before that there’s a wealth of music that speaks of a younger, amiable musician who wrote some very charming works. Among these are the two serenades for orchestra, Op. 11 and 16. These works show an influence of Haydn and Mozart and are melodious diversions to be treasured like a memorable summer day.  From the opening horn call of the first serenade, one is aware of being in some pastoral, fantasy realm, where peasants are happy and dance a lot. The first serenade is bright and airy, he second a bit more autumnal since it is scored for an orchestra without violins, forcing the larger violas to take the string section’s melodic lead.

Brahms Serenades Chailly

Despite the somewhat stern pose on the cover, conductor Riccardo Chailly brings charm and grace to both serenades on his new  Decca CD release.  To my ears the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchester is one of the best sounding ensembles in the world, playing and recording in a hall that sounds simply wonderful, no matter the recording label or engineers.  Chailly’s tempos are on the fast side, but don’t seem particularly rushed, just very buoyant, even bubbly at times.  The virtuoso winds of the orchestra shine, the strings are warm yet airy, and the basses have good, unexaggerated bite. Whether playing softly or on a stentorian bent, the horns add touches of gold to the proceedings.  I would like to also recommend the recording by the London Symphony under Istvan Kertesz for a slightly “larger” sound, also on Decca, an embarrassment of riches for that label. You can find this version on Amazon.com at bargain rates.

Two New Hot Jazz Piano CDs

I’ll give you full disclosure. I receive around 40 new jazz recordings a month, mostly indie projects. About 88 percent of these have something to do with the piano. I hear a lot of very good players. If I heard them at my local pub, I’d be thrilled. But most of them tread safe, established paths. I long for something new and inspired. This month I received two totally different recordings, each unique and different, that fill the bill.

Janioce Friendman

The fist was from CAP and Janice Friedman. It’s a live recording from Jazz at Kitano in New York City and features the Janice Friedman Trio (Friedman on piano, Victor Lewis on drums, and Ed Howard on bass). The program is a mix of tried and true (“God Bless the Child,” “My Man’s Gone Now,” “Curacao”),  underplayed standards (“Half and Half”), and original compositions (“Get Set,” “Ripplin'”). Friedman’s style varies, depending on the tune, but with enthusiasm, optimism, grace, and virtuoso chops, she nails every piece on this disc, as do her partners. She sings wonderfully well on three cuts, and her version of “God Bless the Child” is distinctive and appealing. I also liked her non vocal version of “My Man’s Gone Now,” which is very rhapsodic in her lush arrangement. The audience is enthusiastic and quite when they should be, too, and the recording is bright and chipper.

Peace in Time Steven Feifke

Peace in Time, from pianist Steven Feifke, is an entirely different program. The group is larger, a septet, and the textures are naturally thicker. Feifke has programmed three familiar classics – “Evidence” (Thelonious Monk), “Nica’s Dream” (Horace Silver), and “Autumn in New York” (Vernon Duke) – alongside his own compositions. His style is bold, often jagged, assured, dramatic, and dynamic. Feifke’s only 23 but he tempers the undeniably attractive brashness and confidence of youth with unusual maturity. His ensemble is top notch, too, with special mention going to Benny Bernack on trumpet and Flugelhorn. His solos on “Autumn in New York” are inpisred. My only suggestion is that Feifke and his friends experiment with recording. The sound here is a bit congested at times and the string bass lines not sufficiently focused and defined.  Brilliant playing like this deserves better engineering.

Two French Charmers

I received two Cds of 19th century French music this month, each a winner in its own way, one with reservations, one with none. That latter one is on the Naxos label and is the first installment of a three-disc set covering the complete symphonies of Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921).  It contains two very early works, the first and second symphonies, with the symphonic poem Phaeton as  filler. The orchestra is the Malmo Symphony Orchestra and the conductor is its current music director, Marc Soustrot. Saint-Saens was a child prodigy; his first

Saint-Saens Soustradct

symphony was written when he was but 17 and the second when he was in his twenties. Both have a youthful vigor and jubilant charm that are captured perfectly in Soustrot’s precise and lyrical readings. The colorful Phaeton receives possibly its best performance ever. This will be a series to savor and the other discs in it are eagerly anticipated. Excellent, full-bodied yet refined sound.  You can find this appealing disc at Amazon for only $4.95 used.

Moscow born Valery Gergiev is the current music director of the London Symphony Orchestra and I have found his work with it  to be varied in quality.  There’s nothing spotty about his Berlioz Harold in Italy, however. Viola soloist Antoine Tamesitt is exceptionally eloquent and Gergiev subtle in a reading that

Berlioz Gergiev

might not plumb the depths but makes the surface sound pretty wonderful. Part of this effect is due to the LSO Live recording, in which the upper strings are sweet and airy , reminding one of thefabled analogue recordings from RCA Living Stereo. This is the point in the review to stump for LSO Live. This label’s SACD recordings are all excellent; if you like the sound, and who wouldn’t, you can rely on it from release to release. They are hybrid multichannel discs and the CD layers are not bad, but adding the center and rear channels of the SACD layer are like applying a magic wand to something that’s already great. Primrose and Munch remain my favorite recording of this work, but this one will be listened to again. The filler piece, La mort de Cleopatre is made dreadfully dull by singer Karen Cargill and Gergiev.