Sound Recordings

Barker & Baumecker
Transsektoral
Ostgut Ton
OSTGUTCD22

There’s an awful lot of German in the colophonic information above, and I’m fully aware of the popular belief that when German artists and German record labels get together to make electronic pop music, the results can be less than listener-friendly. This may be an unfortunate cultural stereotype, but too many German artists (I’m looking at you, KMFDM) seem intent on confirming it. So to those who may be looking askance at both the artist/title information and the rather foreboding cover image of wolves on the hunt, I want to say: give this album a chance. Sam Barker and Andreas Baumecker have put together a program that explores and pushes the boundaries of a variety of techno styles and subgenres–and if they generally do so in a way that feels fairly serious, the music is never forebidding or harsh, nor does it ever feature the sounds of marching jackboots or of people shouting in German (I’m looking at you, Laibach). Instead, you get intriguing explorations of glitchy broken-beat funk (“Trafo”), drifting ambient (“Sektor”), richly spacious electro-dub (“No Body”), and a sort of mutant soca/dubstep fusion that ends up sounding like dance music for people with one leg shorter than the other (the charmingly titled “Buttcracker”). The program signs off with the strangely lovely “Spur,” which pulses without pounding and surges gently on an ebbing and flowing tide of emotionally resonant chord changes. To my mind, the album’s weakest moments are those that indulge in the thumping, four-on-the-floor beats of traditional house music–but others will surely disagree with me on that. A very strong effort overall. Grade: B+

Correatown
Pleiades
Highline
HL013CD

Correatown is a pretty sly name for a band, all the more so because its frontperson is a singer-songwriter named Angela Correa, an impressively prolific young woman with five albums and two EPs to her credit–along with several musical appearances on film and TV soundtracks and the full score to a feature film. But for someone with such impressive credentials, Correa tends to make charmingly low-key pop music. On Pleiades, she is quite open about her influences: there’s more than a hint of Ronnie Spector-era girl-group in the layered vocals and big, reverb-drenched sound of “Play,” while “Shine Right Through” sounds like an attempt (less successful) at a Carpenters tune. None of this detracts in any way from the songs’ attractiveness; originality is overrated in pop music, and Correa strikes a very nice balance between drawing on familiar sources and making something new from them. She also niftily demonstrates that simpler is sometimes better: “Sunset & Echo,” with its gentle but relentless repetition of the phrase “quiet nights,” builds something big out of something very small, while the dreamy “La Serena” gathers admirable momentum and intensity while describing a lovely and basic circle of chords. Every once in a while, the sweetness does dissolve into gauziness and/or a sort of meretricious 1960s nostalgia–”Isomer,” for example, does both, in sequence. But the overall impression this album gives is that of an artist with a rare gift for turning a memorable melody, an enviable pile of vintage 45-rpm singles at home, and a wide-open heart. Recommended. Grade: A-

John Luther Adams
Four Thousand Holes
Stephen Drury; Scott Deal; The Callithumpian Consort
Cold Blue Music
CB0035

This disc features two pieces by John Luther Adams; the first (commissioned by pianist Stephen Drury) is the title composition, and is written for piano, vibraphone, and “electronic ‘aura’.” The second, scored for a variety of pitched and unpitched bells, chimes, and vibraphones, is titled … and bells remembered…. There are no real liner notes and virtually no information is provided about either composition, although the composer does include a single sentence about the first composition in which he tells us what any listener would know immediately upon listening: that he has “limited (himself) to the most basic elements of Western music–major and minor triads and four-bar phrases.” The effect of Four Thousand Holes is minimalist in its harmonic development–there is little, if any–and its aural impact is a bit like that of listening to a very large set of wind chimes: simple, consonant chords are struck constantly, but at seemingly random rhythmic intervals, and although there are moments when the chords seem to move in a coordinated way, there is little sense of purposeful movement and certainly no tension or release. Thus, although the music is highly consonant, it doesn’t come across as particularly tonal. That said, it’s very lovely and if listened to at low volume, it provides a fine soundtrack for relaxation. … and bells remembered… has a similar air of harmonic stasis and is more spare and open in its instrumental textures. If anything, it is even more attractive and enjoyable, but it creates an even more unsettling impression of having been created by random patterns of air rather than by the intentional choices of a composer and a group of musicians. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, if you’re of a mind with John Cage on these matters. But most people aren’t. Grade: B

Claude Debussy
Children’s Corner; Suite Bergamasque; etc.
Angela Hewitt
Hyperion
CDA67898

She didn’t explode onto the world stage in the dramatic manner of a Lang Lang, nor does she bring with her the frisson of eccentricity that made pianists like Glenn Gould or Friedrich Gulda fascinating to so many. But over the past several decades, Angela Hewitt has steadily built a major international reputation the old-fashioned way: by demonstrating not only technical mastery of her instrument, but a highly unusual breadth of range and the uncanny ability to get at the expressive heart of whatever she plays, whether it be Bach‘s Well-Tempered Clavier or Schumann‘s piano concertos. Having caught my ear some years ago with her recording of Bach’s partitas for the keyboard, she has now won it completely with this sensitive but robust recital of piano works by Claude Debussy, the master of classical impressionism. It includes such familiar fare as Children’s Corner, the Suite Bergamasque, and the Deux Arabesques, along with several other suites and miniatures, but Hewitt brings a fresh ear and a captivating touch to these well-known works. This is music of delicacy but not flimsiness, and Hewitt senses perfectly how to communicate both the robustness of the musical thinking behind these pieces and the elegant lightness with which it was meant to be conveyed. Grade: A+

– Rick Anderson

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