Tim Mahoney Band: "Shine Through"

January 2013

Shine ThroughAmiable Music from Minnesota

Self released
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

This CD came to me in such plain guise that I assumed it was a first effort from some teen or college guy trying to get a foot in the door. The jacket is single-fold cardboard and lists just tracks, band members, and recording studio, along with a brief note of gratitude: "Thank you to all the fans and family and friends that keep me inspired to keep singing. I'll keep singing." Heartfelt, just as the album turned out to be.

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The Summarily Dismissed: "To Each!"

January 2013

To Each!Brassy Swagger from a Sophisticated New Band

Laureniac Song
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Ari Shagal has made my January zing, brushing away gray skies, chilly winds, and pitifully short days with her bold, brash, electrifying album, To Each! Shagal channels Laura Nyro, Donald Fagen, jazz in general, Broadway, and a lot more, and she proves to be a triple-threat performer, singer, and composer/arranger.

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Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship: "Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey"

December 2012

Song of SimeonOne of the Best Jazz Holiday Albums Ever

Self released
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

Jazz albums of holiday music are usually an improvised mishmash of secular tunes, with one or two religious ones thrown in. Song of Simeon is something entirely different -- a cohesive album that tells the story of Christ's birth using familiar carols and songs while giving them new jazz rags to wear.

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Dallas Wind Symphony; Jerry Junkin, Conductor: "Horns for the Holidays"

December 2012

Horns for the HolidaysReference Recordings Makes a Holiday CD for Audiophiles

Reference Recordings RR-126
Format: HDCD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

During the month of December, just about every high-school band in the land will play a holiday concert. Many college organizations will follow suit. But recordings of seasonal music by concert bands and wind ensembles are extremely rare. For the life of me, I can't even think of one off the top of my head.

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Jacqui Sutton: "Notes from the Frontier: A Musical Journey"

November 2012

Jacqui SuttonLet Me Introduce You to Frontier Jazz

Toy Blue Typewriter TBTP002
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

The beginning of Jacqui Sutton's second album starts with disjointed cello chords as other instruments join in with jagged attacks. What is this, the beginning of some newly discovered work by Béla Bartók? Then Jacqui's voice, rich as honey and smooth as silk, enters with the familiar tones of "Summertime," and suddenly we're in Gershwinland, even though the dissonant staccato notes persist underneath the familiar tune.

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Barluath: "Source"

October 2012

Barluath: "Source"An Auspicious Debut Album from Scotland

Nimbus Alliance NI6206
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Barluath is a Scottish folk band composed largely of students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, located in Glasgow. Through an arrangement with Nimbus Records, the Conservatoire has been releasing recordings of its virtuoso wind ensemble and compositions by some of its student composers. This is the Conservatoire's first disc of a pop nature, and it's a total success.

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Letizia Gambi: "Introducing Letizia Gambi"

September 2012

Letizia GambiNeapolitan Songstress in a Strong Debut Album

Jando Music 2012
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

Arriving with a heavy-hitting roster of class-A musicians as backup, Introducing Letizia Gambi has hit US shelves with almost no fanfare. And that's a shame, because you shouldn't miss hearing this auspicious debut. Letizia Gambi is a young Italian singer who was born Neapolitan but grew up partly in northern Italy. Her style is rooted in Neapolitan music, but she's eclectic, making musical excursions into jazz, pop, Björk, even Prince. She studied musical theater in England and has sung in West Side Story, and she earned a master's degree at Milan's International Jazz Academy.

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Fiona Apple: "The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do"

June 2012

The Idler Wheel . . .Fiona's Back and Discordant As Ever

Clean Slate/Epic 197863
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Fiona Apple's long-awaited fourth album is many things, but conventional isn't one of them. A thoroughly original work, The Idler Wheel . . . is unfiltered and raw in all the right ways. From start to finish, Apple unabashedly unleashes herself on listeners with a characteristic frankness, reflecting heavily on past romances and her deep-seated insecurities. It would have been easy for such subject matter to be rendered in a trite, angst-ridden manner, but Apple's tenuously rich falsetto allows the music to take on a multifaceted feel, with "Left Alone" teetering between moments of confidence, frustration, mania, and resignation.

The quality of the performance would be for naught if the production's craftsmanship weren't equally accomplished. Instrumental accompaniment is usually sparse, letting Apple's vocals remain the focus of the listener's attention, and the fleeting moments of harmony and lack of consistent musical meter only further this aim. There's no sense that Pro Tools has over-processed the proceedings with too many digital filters, as the entire soundstage is often utilized to great effect, with easily discernible instrument character and spacing.

More an evolution than a departure from her past releases, this outing offers nuances and maturity that warrant several passes. It's unlikely that a single song off of The Idler Wheel . . . will become a hit single, but taken in aggregate, the collection is worthy of serious consideration.

The CD by itself comes in off-white, heavy-stock paper packaging that seems more vintage than brand new. The liner notes are rich with Apple's hand-written lyrics and stylized illustrations. While I partook in the CD alone, there are two other, more expansive releases of The Idler Wheel . . . The first is a 180gm LP that also comes with an MP3 version, and the second is a CD/DVD box set that includes a fold-out album poster and a DVD featuring footage of five live performances from the 2012 SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas.

Be sure to listen to: While many of the tracks are noteworthy, the propulsive quality of "Hot Knife" (track 10) makes it a rhythmic, toe-tapping good time. Its fun, playful tone is something of a reprieve from the rest of the album's more melancholic feeling, and a fittingly more upbeat conclusion to what is arguably Apple's best album yet.

. . . Hans Wetzel
hansw@soundstagenetwork.com

Susie Arioli: "All the Way"

June 2012

All the WayWarm and Welcome Collection of Standard Ballads

Jazzheads JH 1192
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

One introductory guitar chord and Susie Arioli gets right to "My Funny Valentine," everyone's favorite jazz tune, and nails every romantic note of it. It's an attention-getting intro to one of the best albums of pop and jazz standards that I've heard in nearly a decade. Sets like these used to be commonplace from the likes of Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney, but it’s been some time since I heard a CD like this. The album is totally enjoyable from beginning to end and put together without a single misstep. Arioli and her band come across like pros.

Arioli is not a fussy singer; she is an exacting one, who miraculously makes her precision seem effortless and spontaneous. There's little fiddling around with the melody -- no scat, no potentially embarrassing hijinks, and no hysteria. She just knows the songs inside out and sings them with her lovely, warm alto and diction that makes every word important and understandable. That last part is of particular interest to me, as I seldom hear it. Arioli caps off a word with a delicate but precisely placed final consonant that gives everyone a full measure of the vowel before it. It is absolutely not any distortion of the rhythm, which is rock solid; it’s something more subtle, mysterious, and rare.

Her choices of material, which include "Time on My Hands," "All the Way," "Here's That Rainy Day," "There’s a Lull in My Life," "Come Rain or Come Shine," "When Your Lover Has Gone," and "Time After Time" are unabashedly retro ballads that have been recorded dozens of times. Guitarist Jordan Officer did the arrangements, as he has for all of Arioli's albums, and he plays some memorable interludes. Other great sidemen hold forth too, such as François Stevenson on vibes, Carmeron Wallis on sax, and Jérôme Dupuis-Cloutier on trumpet. Montreal is Arioli's home base, and the city's Spectra Musique partially funded the album.

The recording is warm and spacious, but I could have used a little more transparency and a better-focused bass line. The bass sound is balanced properly, but you can't always hear that initial attack of the string that holds down the rhythm section. Other than that, this set is as near perfect as can be. Arioli has won awards in Canada and France, and it's about time others knew about her. She's well worth the attention.

Be sure to listen to: Track 3, "Here's to the Losers," uses an entire saxophone section (three tenors and a baritone) in addition to the guitar, drums, and bass, and it has a simply delicious retro feel to it. "When Your Lover Has Gone" utilizes the same forces, while other songs use smaller yet equally effective combinations.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

Georg Breinschmid: "Fire"

March 2012

FireBreathtaking Virtuoso Playing from Brein’s Café

Preiser Records PR 91203
Format: CD

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

The word that best describes Georg Breinschmid's music making is virtuosic. When you start casting around for other descriptives, there are so many musical styles in his work that no one word gives an accurate picture. Before playing the music he does now, Breinschmid played bass with classical orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, and he has brought some of his classical training to his new ventures. Jazz is the umbrella, and tumbling out from beneath it are elements of polka, waltz, musette, Wienerlied, czárdás, and samba.

Only a real virtuoso could pull this off so successfully, and Breinschmid makes his acoustic bass produce sounds I never thought possible. He tosses off rapid passages with the aplomb of a diva nailing a coloratura aria. He is working with two groups on this disc: one is Brein’s Café, a trio with Frantisek Janoska on piano and brother Roman Janoska on violin; the other is a duo with singer and trumpet player Thomas Gansch. Breinschmid can be really funny as in "Jazz-Gstanzln," a song about a waiter wanting to play jazz: "I slice sausages up into decograms every day there and wistfully think about Chet Baker." If you speak German, you'll probably find these vocals even funnier. Translations are provided for the lyrics but not for all the spoken intros.

No translation is needed for the virtuoso instrumental pieces like "Schnörtzenbrekker" and "Nóta/Csárdás." The latter has Roman Janoska fiddling like a fiend bent on breaking every speed record in the book. And you know, I think he does. There are mellow moments, too, such as "Sweetie," written, the notes tell us, for Breinschmid's girlfriend.

The recordings are exceptionally clean and well balanced, especially when you consider that most of them were made on location and live. Give this virtuosic and zany disc a listen. Oh, it also comes with a four-track bonus disc, so in keeping with the artist's sense of humor, the spine lists it as 1 1/2 CDs. The thank-you notes credit Thomas Edison for "great lighting."

Be sure to listen to: Track 6, "jaBISTdudenndeppat," which tackles some pretty crazy time signatures like 25/16 and 15/8, contains a crazed reference to Beethoven's 9th Symphony like you've never heard it. Irreverent? Maybe. Effective? Most definitely!

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com