December 17, 2017
Welcome to the SFCV 2017 year-end roundup of recordings released this year by local artists. Our list isn’t limited to classical music: We’ve embraced everything from Baroque music to experimental guitar improvisations to jazz to Celtic, folk, blues, and bluegrass. Nor can we claim that our roster is comprehensive — there’s far too much great music being made in the Bay Area for us to include everything — but we've provided a solid sample of the area's musical wealth.
We offer this listing with no editorializing or reviews: Blurbs are drawn primarily from artist and label promotional materials. Album titles are linked to sites with more information and purchasing options. We hope you find something new and interesting as you peruse the listing. Take a chance and enjoy the diversity of sounds available here. There is so much great music here that we aren't able to hear or review over the year, and this is one way for us to catch up. Visit us on Facebook to add your comments and suggestions, and please share this with your musical friends.
Marin musician Kyle Alden’s latest disc offers acoustic-based originals, Irish and American folk songs, and newly composed Irish and old-time melodies. The award-winning singer/songwriter has appeared on stages throughout the U.S. and Ireland. His Songs From Yeats’ Bee-Loud Glade — a collection of 13 originals inspired by poems of W. B. Yeats — garnered international acclaim. In addition to his solo work, Alden is a highly regarded instrumentalist adept at fiddle, mandolin, and guitar. He performs throughout the Bay Area on his own and with several roots-based bands, and he is frequently tapped to accompany many of the world's top purveyors ot Irish traditional music.
Born and raised in Oakland, California, Ambrose Akinmusire is hailed by NPR Music as “one of the most talked-about names in contemporary jazz.” The 35-year-old trumpeter has proven himself an artist of rare ability and wide-ranging aesthetic interests on his previous Blue Note albums When the Heart Emerges Glistening (2011) and the imagined savior is far easier to paint (2014). With his expansive new double-album, Akinmusire reaches a new pinnacle: he and his longtime bandmates Sam Harris (piano), Harish Raghavan (bass), and Justin Brown (drums) join a distinguished strata of jazz artists who’ve made live recordings in the hallowed Village Vanguard venue.
Among the most compelling and mysterious of Bach’s sacred works are his motets for double chorus. Composed for special occasions, these mesmerizing and ethereal works rely on the human voice, in its multifaceted splendor, to provide the color palette, melodic movement, harmonic textures, and, of course, the message of the text. Seven motets are presented, inlcuding “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied,” “Fürchte dich nicht,” and “Komm, Jesu, komm.” This collection of Bach’s motets, including some frequently overlooked works only recently attributed to Bach, is a banquet of sublime vocalism.
I Get a Kick presents adventurous new takes on 10 classic tunes written by Cole Porter for stage and screen, performed by jazz singer and award-winning poet Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) on her sixth record and first for Jazzed Media. This distinctive homage should appeal to fans of vocal music, jazz and the Great American Songbook. It was co-produced by Grammy-nominated James Gardiner, and features renowned Bay Area jazz players Mike Zilber, John Santos, Ben Flint, Frank Martin, Fred Randolph, Troy Lampkins, Jeff Marrs, Alan Hall, and Paul Van Wageningen.
The Bow Ties play bluegrass infused with the aggressive spirit of the original masters. The band has the precision and quality to captivate a listening audience, and a unique drive that can rowdy up any dance floor. Band members include Northern California Bluegrass Association’s five-time Guitarist of the Year, Yoseff Tucker, along with Billy Moore on banjo, Jan Purat on fiddle fiddle, mandolinist Andrew March, and Zach Sharpe on upright bass. The combination of these talented musicians offer a refreshing, exciting and meticulous bluegrass experience.
Three old friends reflect and rebound among various touchstones of “space music,” and project themselves into new and unexplored sectors of the genre. Chris Muir and Henry Kaiser have been playing together for over 40 years, and at the end of CD 1 is one archival track of them playing their arrangement of Bela Bartok’s Violin Duo #36, transformed into cosmic guitar music. Many curious musical juxtapositions are to be found on this album, such as: What would Frank Zappa playing with Robert Fripp, and Don Buchla sound like? How about Keith Jarret playing with Pete Cosey, and Conlon Nancarrow at a guitar tribute to Ligeti? Everything here is in the spirit of all surprises — all fun, all the time.
Ben Goldberg School
This new release — the first by Ben Goldberg School — was actually recorded in January 2012, right before Goldberg got to work on Orphic Machine. You can hear some of the same repertoire that went into Orphic Machine, as well as themes and ideas that were incorporated. Ben Goldberg plays the clarinet with Kasey Knudsen (alto saxophone), Jeff Cressman (trombone), Rob Reich (accordion and piano), David Ewell (bass), and Hamir Atwal (drums).
This four-CD box set encompasses a kaleidoscopic spectrum of Terry Riley’s cross-genre compositions at the piano and eight world premiere recordings of commissioned works in honor of his 80th birthday. Highlights of the solo piano works by Riley include his monumental Keyboard Studies and first commercial recording of Two Pieces. Riley’s four-hand works, recorded with Regina Myers, include “Cinco de Mayo,” “Tango Doble Ladiado,” and more. The commissioned works by Samuel Adams, Danny Clay, Christine Southworth, Dylan Mattingly, Gyan Riley, Elena Ruehr, Keeril Makan, and Pauline Oliveros complete this beautifully conceived tribute to Terry Riley.
The East San Jose rundown of Chris Cain’s youth was a full cross-pollination of influences. Cliff Coulter and Robin Ford. Los Tigres del Norte and Smith Dobson. Tons of bars and clubs. Arturo’s Tropical Village, The Starlight Ballroom. Twenty Grand. Hell, The Saddle Rack! Everybody played everything, everywhere, all the time. Chris Cain didn’t come out of this scene- he was born into it. He plays guitar and sings like a bird. But he also plays piano (like Ray) and alto sax (like Ray). And here he does it all.
Bay Area musician and lauded sound engineer Tesser Call describes her new release as "Scottish bagpipe music with a twist." The first twist is that most of the music hails from sources beyond the highlands — Ireland, Wales, New Orleans brass band music, and even the Carmina Burana manuscript. Call performs on the highland pipes, Scottish smallpipes, and tinwhistle, with Brian Walker on octave mandolin, Shira Kammen on vielle, Will Wheeler and Hanneke Cassle on fiddles, Deirdre McCarthy on bodhran, among other.
San José guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Tommy Castro and the Painkillers — bassist Randy McDonald, keyboardist Michael Emerson and drummer Bowen Brown — have played hundreds of shows to thousands of music lovers, always leaving audiences screaming for more. All of Castro’s albums are filled with original blues, soul, and West Coast rock. Each song on Stompin’ Ground shows a slightly different side of his multifaceted musical personality. Billboard says the band plays “irresistible contemporary blues-rock” with “street-level grit and soul.”
Charmas’s Songs of the Sea blends vocal music from old Celtic tallships and Afro-Carribean port towns with modern American/Canadian “sea music” and traditional Celtic melodies. Lead vocalist Aaron Clegg speculates that sea music could be humankind’s first “world music,” because of sailors being the first to deliver various cultures' music back and forth across the oceans. Traditional sea chanteys, Celtic boat songs, maritime folk songs from America's East Coast and Canada, funny sailor songs, liquid melodies played on fiddle, flute, and highland bagpipes.
Oakland pianist Monica Chew’s new release features Janacek’s In the Mists, Bartók études, Messiaen’s Le Baiser, Toru Takemitsu Rain Tree Sketches, and Scriabin’s 4th Sonata and op. 16 Preludes. Monica created this program as an excuse to learn Janáček’s In the Mists, a poignant manifestation of grief. The Bartók études, though not explicitly programmatic, feel at times like a meditation on love and mortality. The line from Bartók to Messiaen is a short one. The last three sets sound as though written by “brothers from another mother.” Rain Tree Sketches surely inhabit a neighboring space-time universe as the Messiaen and Scriabin pieces that bookend the program and hint at the sounds and colors of the next century.
Nightshade captures Andrea Claburn’s eclectic musical sensibility and original musical vision while remaining squarely in the jazz idiom. As sole producer/arranger, she assembled a band that could expand and contract as each arrangement required, and as a result, the album has both instrumental variety and a cohesive sound. Featuring an all-star lineup of Bay Area players including Matt Clark (piano), Sam Bevan (bass), Alan Hall (drums), Terrence Brewer (guitars), Erik Jekabson (trumpet & flugelhorn), and John Santos (percussion), the songs are wide-ranging and adventurous.
San Francisco vocalist Sandy Cressman made a name for herself as a true devotee of Brazil’s greatest contemporary composers, interpreting songs by post-bossa masters like Milton Nascimento, Hermeto Pascoal, Gilberto Gil, and Filó Machado in Rio-accented Portuguese. The friendships forged with Brazilian and Brazilophile musicians during her musical travels course through her new album, a project that marks a major new chapter for Cressman as a tunesmith. The CD features such notable musicians as drummers Dennis Chambers and Celso Alberti, guitarist Ray Obiedo, and horn players Harvey Wainapel, Jeff Cressman, Natalie Cressman and Eduardo Neves.
Del Sol Quartet’s latest album features the world premiere recording of Terry Riley’s Dark Queen Mantra, a new quintet by the groundbreaking musical explorer, written for Del Sol and Terry’s son, guitarist Gyan Riley. Stefano Scodanibbio’s Mas Lugares re-imagines Monteverdi Madrigals, taking these masterpieces of Renaissance polyphony to new sonic landscapes. Del Sol also illuminates the gently shifting tabla rhythms and melancholy jazz harmonies of Riley’s quartet, The Wheel & Mythic Birds Waltz.
The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Wrath is the second studio release by Dialectical Imagination, the piano/drum duo of Eli Wallace and Rob Pumpelly. This album is a companion to their first release, The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Rapture. Eli and Rob have developed a unique form of musical expression they call “ecstatic music” which radically integrates the creative spirit of free-improvisation with the structural integrity of composition.
The trio comprises Harry Liedstrand on fiddle, guitar, and vocals, his wife Cindy on guitar, and Terry Barrett on mandolin and fiddle. The group showcases traditional fiddle tunes and songs learned from four outstanding Central Valley musicians: Kenny Hall, Otis Pierce, Ron Hughey, and John “Dad” Crockett. They present some of their more obscure, undocumented tunes as well as some familiar favorites. All the music on this collection springs from these traditional musicians who lived and performed in the San Joaquin Valley of California from 1919, when the Crockett family arrived in Fowler, to 2013 when Kenny Hall passed in Fresno. This selection of unique tunes will provide a glimpse of the rich musical heritage that comes from California’s San Joaquin Valley.
duo B. — Lisa Mezzacappa and Jason Levis
duo B., the San Francisco Bay Area improvising and composing ensemble of acoustic bassist Lisa Mezzacappa and drummer/percussionist Jason Levis, is a musical think tank of grand schemes and impossible scenarios. For its latest project, duo B. has embarked on a journey in long-form improvisation, an exploration of the musical vision of master improviser, pianist Cecil Taylor, reimagined for bass and drumsThe duo spent months transcribing, notating, playing along with, de- and re-constructing, learning and unlearning, and in all kinds of ways trying to inhabit Taylor’s musical universe.
The Big Fun Trio (Elvin on guitar and vocals, Willy Jordan on cajon and vocals, and Bob Welsh on guitar and piano) forges a new blues and R&B sensibility, colored by the distinctive, stripped-down instrumentation and shot through with Elvin’s exuberant, down home vibe. There are seven Bishop originals here (including a remake of the title track from his Ace In The Hole release), plus Lightnin’ Hopkins’s “Honey Babe,” Fats Domino’s “Let The Four Winds Blow,” Sunnyland Slim’s “It’s You, Baby,” and Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now.” Charlie Musselwhite, Rick Estrin and Kim Wilson guest.
Aladair Fraser has fostered legions of Bay Area Scottish fiddlers through his tireless teaching, encouragement, and the example of his forceful musicianship. His musical partner, Natalie Hass, has brilliantly reimagined the nearly lost tradition of cello accompaniment on traditional tunes. On this, their fifth album together, they stray from the highlands with a mix of original compositions and forays into the fiddle music of Scandinavia, Spain, and France. For the most part they hew to the tried and true duo but are joined briefly by two special guests, fiddler Brittany Haas (Natalie’s sister) and pianist Dave Wiesler.
Singer-songwriter Diane Gameros writes, “The songs in Arrullo are songs from my childhood. These songs lull me and take me back to the times when my big Mexican family would gather in my grandparents’ home. I can still hear it all: the voices of my mother and grandmother singing in the living room; the strum of my uncle's guitars, and their voices harmonizing to my grandmother’s melody; the uproar of happy kids dancing to the tunes; the uneven rhythm of my own guitar; the faraway sounds of dogs, cows, and chickens accompanying our music from a distance. This album is an homage to those times, to my abuelita’s living room, to the farm life, and to the country that showed me the magical beauty of family and traditions.”
Composed during a year spent traveling the Continent, this collection of original tunes presents a personal and contemporary gloss on traditional cultural genres. Letters from Abroad is informed by music of the Old World, from lively Celtic jigs and lyrical airs, to French cafe and Viennese waltzes, klezmer, and more. Goess on violin, viola, and piano, and Lindemuth on whistles and whatever else he can lay hands on, are joined by luminaries of the traditional folk, dance, and other Bay Area scenes, including Doug Young, Rebecca King, Daniel Schoenfeld, Patricia Ross, Charlie Hancock, Olivier Zyngier, Suellen Primost, and Maurette Foster.
Explore rare compositional gems for the flute and piano by Walter Gieseking and Carl Frühling, a contemporary work by Grigory Smirnov, and a classic by Franz Schubert. This album is the first of five CDs listed in the 2017 Want List by Fanfare magazine critic, Dave Saemann: “Goldsmith possesses a lovely tone and radiant musicality that bring to life what might be considered obscure corners of the flute repertoire. In her hands the music of Walter Gieseking and Carl Frühling take on a poetic dimension one hardly would have expected.”
This recording represents more than the English cycle of the same name: It depicts the ethos of the music, poetry and, perhaps, of Hahn himself. From the musically admired and respected artist early in his career, to the cantankerous, troubled adult, longing for companionship and wishing to live in an earlier time and culture, these songs also serve as an aural exposition of his life. Baritone Zachary Gordin and conductor/pianist Bryan Nies first collaborated on a tumultuous production of Puccini’s Tosca. Years later, they have forged a musical synergy and passion for sharing music from composers with compelling stories to tell through song.
Happiness! came about in serendipitous fashion. On June 13, 2016, Green was performing with his trio mates, bassist David Wong and drummer Rodney Green, at Kuumbwa Jazz Workshop in Santa Cruz, California. Green captured the evening on his Sony PCM-M10 recorder and the results astounded the pianist and he knew that it was something that he wanted to release. Unlike prior recordings on Sunnyside, Happiness! is entirely devoted to interpreting the music of other composers whose work fits within the arc of jazz classicism that Green holds dear. The recording conveys the energy generated by the ensemble in front of an enthusiastic and appreciative audience.
Choro is one of Brazil’s earliest popular musics, similar to jazz, reflecting the melding of African rhythms with a melodic and harmonic structure closely resembling Baroque music. Bay Area-based Grupo Falso Baiano’s Depois features covers of Brazilian choro classics, original compositions exploring a variety of Brazilian rhythms. With Zack Pitt-Smith, reeds, Brian Moran, 7-string guitar, Jesse Appelman, mandolin (bandolim), and Ami Molinelli, percussion, and special guest vocalists Moyseis Marques and Ana Carbatti (each from Rio de Janeiro) on a handful of sambas.
The Ethiopian-born, Oakland-based songwriter, vocalist, and bandleader melds East African music with orginal sounds in an intimate, rhythmically charged body of songs recorded in Addis Ababa, Los Angeles, New Orleans and San Francisco. The album is built on Meklit’s jazz-steeped working-band featuring bassist Sam Bevan, drummer Colin Douglas, and Marco Peris Coppola on frame drum tupan and other hand percussion. Meklit accompanies her translucent, soul-sated vocals on guitar and the six-string krar, an Ethiopian lyre, while Howard Wiley provides pleasingly pungent counterpoint on tenor and baritone saxophones.
This collection of two saxophone-piano duo sessions features eight rarely-performed standards plus four original compositions performed in a straight-ahead, gimmick-free style with a relaxed, intimate, after-hours feel. This is also the fifth collaboration between Heckman and Clark and is perhaps the most intimate and reflective sides of their playing to date. The additional space created by the absence of bass and drums sets the stage for creative explorations of mood and textural nuance which might not have been achieved in a standard quartet/quintet setting.
Northern California’s HowellDevine became the first blues band Arhoolie Records signed in 27 years. Triple threat Joshua Howell (slide guitars, harmonica, voice) and percussion savant Pete Devine (drums, washboard), plus snappy doghouse bassist Joe Kyle Jr. deftly mix sinuous Delta/country blues with wildly syncopated rhythms to create a rollicking present day sound from the past. HowellDevine breaks from the norm, providing rich and complex textures integral to the music rather than simple backing for a soloist. The result is a sound which stands in stark contrast to the typical blues heard in bars these days and would more likely be shaking the floors of a Southern juke joint some 70 years ago. Howl is their fourth release.
Judi Jaeger and Bob Reid are Jaeger & Reid, a contemporary Acoustic Folk/Americana duo from the San Francisco Bay Area. Their debut album is a collection of original songs and lovingly refreshed tunes written by others. The title tune was created when Malvina Reynolds gave her lyric to Pete Seeger to set to music. Written 50 years ago, the song is still an apt reminder of our precarious condition as we struggle to find ways to live together on our planet. The pair offers these intelligent songs with luscious harmonies, rich acoustic accompaniment, and engaging vocals presented in a contemporary folk style.
Erik Jekabson is a well known Bay Area musician who's played trumpet in many groups, including: Galactic, John Mayer, and most recently alongside Kamasi Washington in Throttle Elevator Music's latest release. Here, on nine new compositions, Erik is stepping into his own sound with a powerful quintet that features saxophonist Dave Ellis (Charlie Hunter Trio), guitarist Dave Mac Nab, bassist John Wiitala, drummer Hamir Atwal. and percussionist John Santos also joins on congas for two tracks.
Evening Star is Kitka’s much-anticipated sequel to Wintersongs, an album praised by NPR as “a refreshing spin on traditional seasonal choral music ... thoroughly marvelous!” Evening Star’s 22-track playlist includes sacred and secular pieces inspired by cosmic wonders and earthly rituals of the winter season. This collection features meticulously researched and creatively arranged songs sung in Bulgarian, Russian, Romanian, Georgian, Yiddish, Latvian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Mingrelian, Svan, Laz, and Greek, interspersed with sonic surprises guaranteed to delight the ear and stir the soul.
When Nonesuch Records celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014 with festivals at London's Barbican Centre and New York's BAM | Brooklyn Academy of Music, Kronos Quartet joined forces with four labelmates — Sam Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens, and Natalie Merchant — to perform a concert entitled Folk Songs. With Doug Petty as producer, this release features studio recordings of those collaborations, embedding the largely traditional tunes in contemporary arrangements by Donnacha Dennehy, Jacob Garchik, Nico Muhly, and Gabriel Witcher.
With this self-titled follow-up to her solo debut, AJ Lee continues to expand her range of artistic expression, paying tribute to some of the founding voices of California cosmic country sound, including Gram Parsons, Merle Haggard, Herb Pedersen, Gillian Welch, and Bob Dylan. Working for the second time with producer Jon Abrams and his hand-picked California country veterans, AJ chose songs that cut right to the soul. What stands out on these six songs is her amazingly mature gift to interpret a story, and to flesh out the emotion of a great song.
The Lowell Trio consists of Janet Popesco Archibald, oboe and English horn, Emil Miland, cello, and Margaret Fondbertasse piano. Archibald and Miland have been members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra for over 28 years, and Fonbertasse is the faculty accompanist at Skyline College. Their concerts explore the connections between classical music and other genres of music such as folk, pop and jazz, and the new CD features a retrospective of favorite works from the group’s many concerts over the past 10 years. Selections include works of Bach, Wagner, Morricone, Rodrigo, and Paul Desmond, to name a few. The group is donating all proceeds from CD sales to the John Muir Land Trust in Contra Costa County.
Pickers of traditional-styled blue grass music are always paying tribute to their musical heroes. Matt & George have chosen songs learned from their (mostly early, local) bluegrass heroes for this album celebrating the band’s 10th anniversary. Still playing with all original members, the group performs traditional bluegrass the old fashioned way, into a single microphone, and they deliver a fast-paced, show featuring hot instrumental licks, sweet vocal harmonies, and a tight rhythm section.
Described as “a retrospective celebrating 45 years of genre-bending iconic mastery,” Morning Sun traces McCandless’s musical journey with the Paul Winter Consort. Winter notes, “With this anthology, I set out to gather a treasury of Paul McCandless’s masterful playing and found that it also became, quite unintentionally, a retrospective of the Consort – the most extensive yet done. Listening through the entire album, I am thrilled with every note.”
Lisa Mezzacappa’s avantNOIR is a suite of compositions for jazz sextet based on noir crime fiction — classic works by Dashiell Hammett set in San Francisco, and later works by Paul Auster that are part of his New York Trilogy. Mezzacappa probes the psychological depths of these stories, creating musical profiles of characters like Big Flora from Hammett’s The Big Knockover, and Daniel Quinn from Auster’s City of Glass. She also uses clues from detective’s cases — addresses, aliases, phone numbers, hotel rooms — and translates them into musical structures, melodies and rhythms. The result is a contemporary jazz gem influenced as much by Charles Ives and Pierre Boulez as by Eric Dolphy and Henry Threadgill. Four and a half stars in Downbeat Magazine.
Glorious Ravage is an evening-length song cycle for large ensemble and films by San Francisco Bay Area composer and bassist Lisa Mezzacappa. The work takes as its inspiration the writings of lady adventurers near the turn of the 20th century, who trekked to the wildest parts of the earth to discover, escape, and lose themselves. The ensemble features fourteen virtuoso instrumentalists from the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California, plus versatile Brooklyn vocalist Fay Victor.
Jazz vocalist and composer Jacqui Naylor’s Q&A is a unique jazz duo album with multi-instrumentalist, arranger and co-composer, Art Khu. The duo is best known for their work with their full quartet over nine recordings, combining jazz, soul, rock, and original music in new ways, but on Q&A they have created an intimate jazz experience with fresh surprises. Original songs, “This Is How It Starts” and “Here We Are At Last,” speak to the duo’s long-time collaboration, and sit comfortably next to jazz classics like “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Moonglow.” and “Time After Time.” Naylor’s uniquely identifiable voice and Khu’s ability to weave seamlessly in and out of her phrasing is evident throughout.
Negative Press Project is “a (scalable) seven-piece electro-acoustic jazz/indie-art rock inspired original music collective directed by Ruthie Dineen and Andrew Lion.” Their new recording interprets songs from singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley, drawn primarily from his Grace album, including “Mojo Pin,” “Last Goodbye,” and “Eternal Life.” Musicians on the two-CD set include Dineen on piano, Lion on acoustic and electric bass, Lyle Link on tenor saxophone, Luis Salcedo on guitars, Chris Sullivan on alto saxophone, among others.
Marla Fibish and Bruce Victor play Irish traditional music, mixed with a few newer compositions in traditional forms, by others and the duo. Their interpretations feature the tones and textures of our instruments in various conversations and combinations on mandolin, mandola, cittern, and guitar. The mostly instrumental project also includes a few songs — a traditional ballad, a new ballad based on a true and tragic story by a contemporary Canadian songwriter, and a Khalil Gibran poem that they set to music.
Acoustic folk duo Paper Wings sets the soaring vocal harmonies of Emily Mann and Wilhelmina Frankzerda against a rotating instrumental lineup of banjo, guitar, and fiddles. These two blossoming songwriters have a unique way of weaving traditional music in to their thoughtfully crafted songs leaving you feeling nostalgic and exhilarated. Bluegrass Unlimited writes, “Simply crafted and executed, these songs bring an innovative and timeless sound to their music. Paper Wings will be a new addition to fans of old-time and traditional stylings.”
Fulfilling a life-long fascination with myths and legends, tenor Nicholas Phan pairs with pianist Myra Huang for Gods & Monsters, an album exploring great Austrian and German Romantic composers’ meditations on the title subjects and their fellow-fantastical creatures such as witches, knights, and kings. The album was recently nominated for a Grammy Award and was chosen by Spotify as one of the Top Classical Albums of 2017. Read SFCV’s profile of Nicholas Phan here.
freeHorn is an album of three shape-shifting chamber works. The textural, ever morphing freeHorn, performed by an octet of mixed instruments, and the pulsing electric guitar duo ii-v-i modulate between three different natural harmonic series, providing intriguing musical outings that are somewhat adrift from the tempered tunings that most of us are accustomed to. The short third track, minmaj, another duo for electric guitars, is Polansky’s unusual “translation” of Carl Ruggles’s 1921 brass piece Angels. The three works are performed by the composer in the company of a group of Bay Area composer-performers.
This solo debut features rousing fiddle tunes, contemplative improvisations, ingratiating melodies, and one baroque masterwork. In keeping with the “dialogues” theme, there are duets with three musical partners — jazz bassist Paul Keller, classical guitarist Jason Vieaux, and fiddler Jeremy Kittel. The centerpiece is Price’s reworking of Bach’s Partita No. 2 for Unaccompanied Violin that integrates improvisation, a tradition that has all but died out in the performance of baroque music. There are also two extended improvisations with Jason Vieaux, both titled “Dialogues,” as well as the Brazilian flavored, “Marcha,” a set of contrapuntally intricate fiddle duets, and an original “Lullaby,” inspired by the work of Robert Schumann.
Mason Razavi is a jazz guitarist, composer/arranger, educator, and recording artist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. His albums have earned praise from critics while charting in the U.S. and receiving radio play internationally. Described as a "thoughtful player and composer that offers the listener an introspective experience of deeper meaning" by Jazz Times, he maintains a busy performance schedule and has played on numerous stages from small clubs to theaters and festivals. All About Jazz writes about his latest disc, “It lends the impression of two albums in one, the first an amiable post-bop quartet session, the second a well-spoken mini-big band accompanied by a four-piece rhythm sectio . . . it seems to work well, thanks in large measure to Razavi's engaging compositions and arrangements.”
Composer John Glover and librettist Kelley Rourke's opera Lucy takes as its subject the fascinating and thought provoking story of a chimpanzee raised by a human family in Oklahoma in the 1960’s as part of research into both human and primate behavior and psychology. This recording features poignant performances by baritone Andrew Wilkowske and the REDSHIFT ensemble with Glover conducting.
Innovative new-music trumpeter Stephen Ruppenthal commands attention right out the gate. Or perhaps, more specifically, he commands it right out the “NGate,” the subtitle of the opening track on his Ravello Records debut. The album contains world premieres of five pieces for trumpet, flugelhorn, voice, and crotale, composed specifically for Ruppenthal by Allen Strange, Bruno Liberda, Elainie Lillios, and Brian Belet. What sets Ruppenthal’s expressive trumpet performances apart is the way they’re informed by digital sound processing and interactive electro-acoustics. The combination of organic and synthesized sounds come together to form a cohesive sonic landscape steeped with an edgy, introspective feeling throughout
Grammy-winner violinist Mads Tolling, six-time DownBeat International Critics Poll Winner guitarist Mimi Fox and nternationally acclaimed bassist and composer Jeff Denson are an all acoustic group defying categorization. They developed the Sgt. Pepper Project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of the groundbreaking Beatles album. DownBeat writes, “Reinventing the songs on the album is a daunting task, but this San Francisco trio pulls it off with a combination of masterful musicianship and innovative arrangements that combine elements of jazz, pop, country, rock, swing, and world music. 4 stars!”
San Francisco Symphony, winner of numerous awards for its recordings of the complete cycle of Mahler symphonies, now offers Robert Schumann’s four symphonies. Conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, these performances from the 2015 and 2016 seasons reflect what MTT said about the project: “Like so much classical music, Schumann’s is a preserve for endangered emotions. He’s talking about wistfulness, whimsy, ardency, longing, setting off recklessly in conflicting directions, losing your way, or just mulling things over ... Schumann moves between many sound worlds in these symphonies. Some sections are truly massive and proclamatory. Other parts are soloistic or chamber-like.” The four works, written between 1841 and 1851, are: Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major, Opus 38, “Spring”; Symphony No. 2 in C major, Opus 61; Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Opus 97, “Rhenish”; Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Opus 120. — Janos Gereben
Vallejo-based gospel sensations the Sons Of The Soul Revivers is led by Walter Morgan Jr., and his two brothers Dwayne and James Morgan. Formed in the 1970s to continue the vocal quartet tradition that their father, Walter Sr., and his brothers started with the original Soul Revivers in the 1960s, the younger group has performed with a “who’s who” of gospel music, including Shirley Caesar, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, The Rance Allen Group, The Pure Room Jubblies, The Soul Stirrers, and their all-time favorite group, The Fantastic Violinaires. The group initially came to national prominence with the release of their debut album, It Should Have Been Me. Their newest album was recorded live in Marin County at a roadhouse renowned for booking the top Bay Area roots artists.
Known for his wry-to-romantic songwriting and self-proclaimed “Supercalifornographic” Americana music, veteran Bay Area artist Maurice Tani churns out memorable musical narratives about life on the left coast. Much of Tani’s compositions are written for female vocalists, but for his Little Village debut, he vows to sing them himself. Much of the material highlights broken hearts, moving away to exotic places to escape romantic demons, and the stories of fictional characters. His music is California country rock rooted in the traditional Bakersfield style of music.
Communiqué is the long-awaited follow-up to Suzy Thompson and Del Rey’s Hen Party (2010). This CD will make you pleased to have ears as Matt Weiner on bass accompanies Suzy singing and playing fiddle and guitar with Del on guitar, ukulele and vocals. In these bluesy, ragged, jazzed-up tunes from Ma Rainey covers to fresh original songs, you’ll hear that the great tradition of acoustic, people-made music is alive and well.
Trio Da Kali is a Malian griot ensemble committed to preserving their timeless repertoire that is now endangered in contemporary Malian music. Brought together in 2014 by musicologist Dr. Lucy Durán as part of the Aga Khan Music Initiative's third collaboration with Kronos Quartet, the trio comprises incredibly gifted musicians from celebrated hereditary musical families in Mali: balafon player Fodé Lassana Diabaté, bass ngoni player Mamadou Kouyaté and singer Hawa ‘Kassé Mady’ Diabate. The album features the quartet and trio performing together Malian griot songs, as well as adaptations of two American gospel songs, in arrangements by Diabaté, Durán, and Jacob Garchik.
The Alameda-based Up and Down describes itself as a “six-piece East Bay Americana brewery band. Acoustic instruments played aggressively: fiddle, mandolin, standing drums, acoustic bass, banjo, acoustic guitar. Outlaw country, punkgrass, traditional rock and roll, Irish drinking songs. Covers and originals. Upbeat, fun songs that will make you stomp your feet and spill your beer.” Their live shows draw enthusiastic crowds who dance, whoop, and sing along. Their third recording features all-original material. Digital download only.
This dynamic project is performed and presented by Rick Vandiver’s contemporary electric jazz trio “Vandivier,” which features bassist Dan Robbins and drummer Lorca Hart. Guest Kenny Corso adds some tasty guitar work to track six, “Luscious.” On Under One Roof, Vandivier illustrates his personal experiences as a family man and highlights the highs and lows that can come with that role. Understanding that each family is totally unique, he portrays all of the wild, wonderful, challenging and sublime dimensions of his distinctive household and hopes that each of his listeners can then “resonate with the feelings expressed in this kaleidoscope of emotions and moods.”
Vitamin Em celebrates funk, jazz, R&B, soul and fiddle music with verve and enthusiasm in their debut CD, Shake it Up. The title refers to the band’s lively cover of Paul Taylor’s “Shake it Up, Baby,” and also reflects the eclectic mix of musical styles on the album. Vitamin Em puts an interesting and creative spin on the music of Tower of Power, Blood Sweat and Tears, Väsen, and Duke Ellington to name a few, as well as offering originals. Band members Matt Szemela, Phil Brezina (violins), Emily Onderdonk (viola), Joseph Hébert (cello), Dan Cantrell (accordion), and Paul Hanson (bassoon), are joined by a host of guest musicians, and the result is gutsy, spirited and truly joyful, and fearless improv abounds.
Voices of Music, directed by Hanneke van Proosdij and David Tayler, has just released on CD our live concert recording of the Christmas Vespers of Alessandro Grandi. In 1630, the last year of his life, Grandi published the music for his Vespers in Venice. In addition to the CD, there is a complete video of this work available on YouTube, as well as an extensive accompanying lecture by musicologist Jeffrey Kurtzman. This is the world premiere of this important musical work from the time of Monteverdi, performed on original instruments. Featured on this recording are soloists Laura Heimes, Jennifer Ellis Kampani and John Taylor Ward.
Volti’s professional singers, under the direction of founder and Artistic Director Robert Geary, are national leaders in the discovery, creation, and performance of new vocal music. They are the first ensemble to have won the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music six times. In this recording they introduce 21st-century works they commissioned from American composers of dazzling range and diversity. “We invited five of our favorite composers to write something for us. This is what happened.” Composers include San Francisco’s Mark Winges and Berkeley’s Robin Estrada, as well as Shawn Crouch, Stacy Garrop and John Muehleisen.
A unique and ambitious recording project conceived and organized by Oakland-based vocalist/flutist/drummer/producer Jeff Weinmann, Alma Matters reflects the vibrant cultural diversity of the San Francisco Bay Area, and features some of the region’s artists who have become leading voices in contemporary music. It’s a collection of songs “with a message” interspersed with grooving, African- and Latin-infused instrumentals whose horn-laden melodies call out and unfold over a thick layer of drums and percussion. Weinmann is joined by a who's who of Bay Area jazz talent.
Classic soul music from a collaboration between septuagenarian singer Wee Willie Walker and the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra. Although Walker recorded several sides for Goldwax and Checker labels in the ’60s in Memphis, he lived in Minneapolis and was rarely heard outside of Minnesota. He has been recording again in recent years, and after a six-decade career, the current release is his first as a songwriter. Eight originals such as “Hate Takes a Holiday” and the title track are paired with classic covers, delivered in classic style with the singer supported by San Francisco guitarist Anthony Paule, a supple horn section, and a rock-solid rhythm section.
Windy Hill is a high-energy San Francisco-based bluegrass band performing both original music and an array of bluegrass and country covers. Starting as a group of high school friends from Silicon Valley, Windy Hill has transformed over the last five years into a top-notch, authentic bluegrass band. Three-part harmony, lonesome duets, Appalachian fiddle, banjo breakdowns, gospel quartets, honky-tonk sorrow, blues mandolin, archival knowledge, and original material all combine to create their vision for bluegrass music and it’s future. Their latest album features 13 originals from banjoist and founding member Ryan Breen and guitarist Thomas Wille.
A tribute to saxophone giants by one of California's leading saxophonists Michael Zilber — called “One of the best players and composers anywhere, period” by David Liebman — this CD is written in homage to John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Dave Liebman, Michael Brecker, Sonny Rollins, Paul Desmond, and Joe Henderson. The recording features New York jazz greats Dave Kikoski on piano, James Genus on bass, and Clarence Penn on drums.