"Christmas with The Washington Chorus"

November 2010

201011_washingtonchorusVivid Voices and Blazing Brass Combine for a Thrilling Holiday Recording

Dorian Sono Luminus DSL-92117
Format: CD

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

This is one of the most exciting big-chorus holiday recordings I’ve heard in a long time, and it’s not from the UK or Germany; it’s from this side of the pond. The performers are the Washington Chorus, the Whitman Choir, the National Capital Brass and Percussion, and organist John Bohl, all conducted by Julian Wachner, the director of the Washington Chorus. This is a downright thrilling disc, full of energy, drive, and astounding virtuosity. There are readers everywhere who find the sound of a large chorus with instrumental accompaniment the most exciting thing in music. They won’t be disappointed with this disc, and it might even create some new converts to the genre.

Most of the big carols are here -- “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “Joy to the World,” and “The First Nowell,” mixed in with lesser-known classics like “Un Flambeau,” “Sing We to the Merry Company,” and “Good King Wenceslas,” the latter in an electrifying arrangement with dizzying trumpet swirls that are played to perfection. The other carols are heard in stunning arrangements as well, most with brass, but some with chorus alone, or chorus and harp. I was very taken with Glenn Rudolph’s “The Dream Isaiah Saw,” which closes the concert and makes very effective use of the timpani. The recorded sound is resonant and spacious but not at the expense of detail. The sounds all ring true, from delicate harp accompaniment to full chorus, resounding brass, and thunderous organ. Pretty good for a live recording (yes, there is applause but not until the very end). If you’ve been waiting for a new choral album to add to your holiday collection, this is it!

Be sure to listen to: Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” the concert’s encore piece. It’s often played in a stately tempo bordering on the funereal, but here it’s vivid and fleet, the brass playing the instrumental parts so well that you can easily forgive the lack of strings. It times out at 3:59 with applause. “Hallelujah” indeed! If you hear nothing else new this holiday season, hear this!

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

Esperanza Spalding: "Chamber Music Society"

August 2010

201008_esperenzaEsperanza Spalding’s Music Successfully Channels Exciting New Crossover Directions

Heads Up HUI-31910-2
Format: CD

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

Young Esperanza Spalding is a triple-threat artist. She’s an accomplished acoustic bass player, a virtuoso jazz singer, and an adept songwriter. And on this exciting and appealing CD, she often displays all three of her talents at once. The album’s basic idea was to combine a jazz trio (Spalding, pianist Leo Genovese, and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington) with a string trio made up of violinist Entcho Todorov, violist Lois Martin, and cellist David Eggar. The six players are augmented from time to time with another percussionist, as well as guitar and backing vocals. The result is a new direction for jazz that should also please listeners who like classical, folk, or world music.

The music is kaleidoscopic -- essential and alive, lush and lean, sweet and sultry, and simple and complex. Spalding brings new life to “Wild Is the Wind” and “Inútil Paisagem” by going to the heart of each piece, separating the elements and reweaving them in her distinctive and seductive style. Her voice can be simple and sweet (“Little Fly”) or insistent and cutting (“Really Very Small”). It’s an instrument that seems to have no restrictions of range or timbre, and it does exactly what she wants it to do. Though every track exhibits emotion and warmth, there’s always a consummate intellectual guidance system calling the shots. Spalding’s backup musicians sound more like collaborators who complement and expand her verve rather than taking a back seat, and the rich, full, and singularly focused close-up recorded sound makes everything clear to the listener’s ear.

Spalding is not yet 30, and she’s already on a course to become one of the hallowed greats of jazz. Get the CD and hitch a ride.

Be sure to listen to: The introduction to “Winter Sun” is delicately layered for Spalding’s bass, the piano, the string trio, and wordless backing voices. Superb engineering gives full support to make this track a moment of beauty and musical magic.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

John Escreet: "Don't Fight the Inevitable"

June 2010

201006_johnescreet2Jazz Tone Poems of Searing Intensity Sizzle on John Escreet's Second CD 

Mythology Records MR0007
Format: CD

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

Escreet's music is inventive, powerful, and even frightening at times. Throw in his virtuoso playing and it seems that the overused adjective awesome has found a worthwhile use. His backup band, the John Escreet Project, comprises musicians (David Binney on alto saxophone/electronics, Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Matt Brewer on double bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums) who keep up with him not as background but as co-conspirators, and the ensemble's hair-raising virtuosity is breathtaking.

There's a sixth voice in "Charlie in the Parker," as a recording of Parker's spoken voice has been woven into the track: "Music is basically harmony, melody, and rhythm; people can be descriptive in all kinds of ways." Parker was instrumental in changing the face of jazz, and his inclusion here is a tribute to innovation and an affirmation that Escreet will keep its torch burning. The recorded sound is full and appropriately reverberant without losing any detail, and that's no small accomplishment since there are a so many subtleties here that could easily get lost in the often cacophonous mix.

Be sure to listen to: The striding opening and chord progressions of the first cut, "Civilization on Trial," which might remind the astute listener a bit of John Carpenter's Halloween score. That reference is quickly banished by an insistent rhythmic motif but then reappears under a new guise. For once the opening track on an album really sounds like a curtain raiser.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com