Sound Recordings

Joe Alterman
Give Me the Simple Life
Miles High Records

Pianist Joe Alterman was a student at New York University in 2010 when he met tenor saxophonist Houston Person at a master class. Houston was impressed enough that he gave Alterman his business card, and ended up conducting weekly mentoring sessions by phone. Two central pieces of advice were these: never forget that audiences are there to enjoy themselves, and never lose touch with the blues or you’ll sound like you’re practicing. One thing led to another, and in September of 2011 Alterman found himself in the studio with Person, drummer Herlin Riley, and bassist James Cammack recording a set of out-of-the-ordinary standards and two originals. Alterman has clearly taken Person’s advice to heart: this is rock-solid, approachable, stratight-ahead jazz whose complexity and adventurousness will be apparent only to those who listen very closely and notice subtleties like the unusual comping choices Alterman makes on “Pure Imagination,” or who are paying enough attention to be startled by the high-octane funkiness of his take on “Georgia on My Mind.” Interestingly, the two blurbs provided in the press materials both focused on Alterman as a person, and on the quality of his heart and his vision. That might seem like mere puffery or even irrelevence, but if you listen to this album you’ll see why the artists who were quoted felt the need to comment on his inner self: there’s a generosity of spirit and a sweetness to his playing that make this album an unusually special listening experience. Grade: A

Indigenous Resistance
Dub Reality

Here’s how Indigenous Resistance defines itself: “INDIGENOUS RESISTANCE is a revolutionary musical collective creating crucial pan global collaborations between indigenous cultures from the jungles, favelas and barrios with those in the industrialized world who work their musical magic in mixing studios and on laptops. IR releases are completely autonomous self-funded works achieved through barter, little money, but an abundance of commitment and co-operation.” Okay, then. For the potential music buyer, this kind of language raises an inevitable question: which comes first for these folks, the music or the message? If the latter, then one might understandably be tempted to just raise a fist in solidarity and take one’s money to greener musical pastures. But as it turns out, this shadowy collective appears to be just as interested in creating brilliant grooves as in promoting social justice. Don’t take my word for it: notice that on this album, collaborators include the brilliant Deeder Zaman (formerly of Asian Dub Foundation), producer Adrian Sherwood (mad mastermind behind the On-U Sound project), guitarist Skip McDonald (Tackhead, Little Axe), and Dr. Das (also of Asian Dub Foundation). It’s hard to tell who are the charter members of the group itself, which I’m sure is intentional, although guest singers and instrumentalists are diligently credited. As for the music, be prepared to hear a bracing mix of <i>bahia</i> drumming, jungle and reggae beats, Latin funk, and techno, most of it wearing its politics lightly and all of it doing so very groovily. In addition to this full-length album, the Indigenous Dublands EP is well worth seeking out, as is the “Krikati” maxi-single titled Direct Action DubmissionsGrade: A-

Various Composers
L’Italie Renaissance
Doulce Mémoire / Denis Raisin Dadre
Naïve V 5303

This budget-line boxed set (it lists at $35, but you can find it for $28 or so) is really just a set of batched-together reissues, and a rather strange one at that: while five of its six discs do focus on music of the Renaissance period from musical centers of Italy and offer a wide variety of sacred and secular songs and instrumental compositions, the most beautiful disc is a paradoxically luscious account of a rather stark setting of the Lamentations for Holy Saturday by Cristobal de Morales–a Spanish composer who spent ten years of his career in Rome but has always been more closely associated with his home country (as a predecessor to Tomás Luis de Victoria) than with Italy. In any case, if you’re looking for an affordable overview of the music of the Italian Renaissance performed by a world-class ensemble of singers and players, you simply can’t ask for a better one than this set. In addition to the Morales disc mentioned above, it includes a program built around the theme of Leonardo da Vinci as a musician (he was an accomplished player of the <i>lira da braccio</i> and apparently a composer, although none of his works have survived), collections of secular songs from Naples and Venice, a program of songs and instrumental pieces commissioned by Lorenzo de Medici, and a set of basse dances, ricercars, pavanes, and other dance pieces based around the themes of Baldassar Castiglione’s <i>Book of the Courtier</i>. It’s hard to resist characterizing Doulce Mémoire as the ensemble version of the Renaissance Man: equally adept and pleasing as instrumentalists and singers, equally comfortable performing the most solemn sacred music and the most lighthearted secular fare. Grade: A

Mr. Vegas
Sweet Jamaica
My Music

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence, celebrated dancehall singjay Mr. Vegas has self-released a very fine two-disc set that showcases (on disc one) original songs in a classic dancehall style (including his radio hit “Bruk It Down”) and a second disc containing classic examples of pop reggae from the 1960s and 1970s (“Sweet and Dandy,” “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”) along with original songs in vintage reggae style and a few slightly strange adaptations of roots classics–such as  a new arrangement, with new lyrics, of “Johnny Too Bad,” rendered here as “Say Yuh Bad.” There are guest appearances from Shaggy, Luciano, and even veteran deejay Josie Wales, and the rhythms are provided by an A-list roster of producers including Sly & Robbie and Steelie & Clevie. Mr. Vegas’ singing voice is high-pitched and sweet, his chats are nimble and clever, and there are really no weak tracks here–an impressive feat for a 31-track, two-disc album. Highly recommended. Grade: A

– Rick Anderson

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