Sound Recordings

Victor Rice
Dub Discoveries from Version City

Ska (the galloping, upbeat precursor to reggae) has enjoyed periodic surges of popularity in the United States, always followed by long droughts of popular and commercial disinterest. The most recent big wave came in the late 1990s, and it led to the rise of ska scenes in several metropolitan areas, notably New York City. Although the scene eventually dried up, a couple of elements remain defiantly vibrant, most impressive among them the Stubborn Records label and the coterie of musicians that orbits around singer, producer, multi-instrumentalist and label head Jeff “King Django” Baker and his Version City studio. While the label’s output has understandably slowed, it continues to produce some of the most impressive ska, reggae, and rock steady releases in the United States. Perhaps the most exciting of them in recent years is this collection of dub remixes by Victor Rice, long the Version City house bassist and a very fine producer in his own right. Here he takes classic tracks from the Stubborn vaults and subjects them to the kind of dub treatment that will make you think it’s 1977 all over again: analog delay, spring reverb, tastefully sampled vocal snippets, and an aural soundstage as big as all creation. If you’ve been thinking that dub had lost its way and become little more than sonic gimmickry and generic remixology, pick up this gem of an album and have your faith restored. Grade: A+

Philippe Rogier
Music from the Missae Sex: Missa Inclita Stirps Jesse & Missa Philippus Secundus Rex Hispaniae
Magnificat; His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts / Philip Cave
Linn (dist. Naxos)
CKD 387

One of the most beautiful discs to cross my desk this year is this stunner from the vocal ensemble Magnificat, accompanied by His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts. The program they’ve selected celebrates the 450th birthday of Philippe Rogier, a composer of Franco-Flemish birth who spent his tragically brief career–he died in 1596 at age 35–in the court of Spanish king Philip II. Though he composed hundreds of works, only a few remain in two volumes, one of which is the posthumously-published collection Missae Sex. The two parody Masses that form the core of this recording are both from that collection, and the first is presented alongside the previously-existing motet (“Inclita Stirps Jesse,” by Jacobus Clemens non Papa) from which its basic melodic structure is derived. This practice, the “parody Mass,” is one that Rogier brought with him to Spain from his homeland, where it had been perfected by such illustrious predecessors as Josquin Des Prez and Johannes Ockeghem. The second piece is based on a more unusual source: a melody derived from the letters in the phrase “Philippus Secundus Rex Hispaniae.” Interspersed with the Mass sections are a motet of Rogier and two organ solos by Antonio de Cabezon. The singing by the Magnificat ensemble is absolutely first-rate, as is the playing of His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts, and the sound quality on this hybrid Super Audio disc is both warm and brilliant. Very highly recommended. Grade: A+

And by the way, speaking of the Franco-Flemish masters: in the February 2012 issue of MMM, I strongly recommended the first two volumes in the ongoing series The Leiden Choirbooks, a projected six-volume set that will include, on twelve discs, selections from the six choirbooks saved from the Pieterskerk in Leiden during the sacking of Catholic churches in 1566. The third volume has now been released, and is every bit as wonderful as the first two.

Bruce Forman Trio
B4Man Music

This is one of the prettiest, most swinging, and most tasteful guitar trio albums I’ve heard in a long time — and I listen to a lot of guitar jazz. Forman doesn’t usually play in this format; the previous album on his self-run label was a wonderfully bop-inflected Western swing outing with his band Cow Bop, and he has also done quite a bit of soundtrack work.But on Formanism, he and his cohorts (bassist Gabe Noel and the exceedingly tasteful drummer Jake Reed) sound as if they’ve been doing this constantly for years: they play standards like “I’ve Told Every Little Star” and “Flamingo” with the kind of love and attention you might lavish on a beautiful new discovery, and they play Forman originals (notably the bossa-flavored “Sea Sweet” and the punningly-titled bebop workout “Obstacle Chorus”) with a slightly baffling blend of offhanded virtuosity and tasteful care. The biggest challenge with a program like this lies in making such fundamentally straight-ahead material sound fresh and new, and Forman does it beautifully. Grade: A

Silkie & Quest
Dubstep Allstars, Vol. 09
Tempa (dist. Forced Exposure)

England’s Tempa label has been at the forefront of the dubstep movement for years now, and as the influence of that movement continues to grow and the music insinuates itself more and more pervasively into the popular culture, Tempa’s Dubstep Allstars series grows in significance even as the quality of releases continues to be (inevitably) spotty. The newest instalment in the series is a continuous DJ mix program put together by production duo Silkie & Quest, and while it’s not exactly revelatory–one waits in vain for a track that will either serve as an archetype of the genre or point to new horizons for it–the collection does bring together an enjoyable list of tracks that offer a good overview of the current, slightly schizoid state of the dubstep art. Swindle’s “Belfast” points up dubstep’s debt to drum’n’bass; Quest’s own “Somewhere” takes the four-beat rhythm of classic house and subsumes it in a dark and murky wash of dubwise atmospherics; the ubiquitous Skream makes an appearance with “Filth,” nicely remixed by Silkie. If you want a pleasantly cranium-jarring listening experience or you want to practice your one-leg-shorter-than-the-other dance, this disc will serve very nicely. Grade: B

— Rick Anderson

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