Wednesday, August 8, 2012

And now for something completely different: a selection of new CD releases to challenge your ears this summer

Our family avoided the very height of the vacation season and headed for Greece at the end of June. But before heading off I searched for new music to fill my iPhone but only found a few interesting new releases (Ravi Coltrane).

But upon returning I was delighted to find a number of good new CDs had been released which was all for the best since Greece provided its own soundtrack.

So here are a few thoughts on what has been playing on my desktop and iPhone of late. But be forewarned, none of these releases are of the pop variety.

This is about as close to "popular" as I get: the new release from Ravi Coltrane, Spirit Fiction. The first CD released by Coltrane on the Blue Note label, Spirit Fiction has been getting quite a bit of press and very positive reviews.

For me, this is a CD that shows the growing maturity of the artist and it is interesting that it would appear on Blue Note, a label that seems to me to be in another "Liberty Music" phase (the time in the early '70s when the label seemed to lose its way).

Here is a Stereophile review from Fred Kaplan.

Ravi Coltrane – Spirit Fiction: Blue Note Records, iTunes, Amazon.

For the past six months I've been playing a lot of music by a Galician pianist by the name of Abe Rábade. Rábade was born in Santiago de Compostela and studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. I'm always on the look out for new jazz and felt like a fool for not having heard of this brilliant musician before this last year.

Rábade is not only a very good improviser, but is a very creative composer and arranger – his larger ensemble CDs are well worth searching for.

His new trio release, A Modo, with Pablo Martin Caminero (bass) and Bruno Pedroso (drums), is made up of seven complex and challenging pieces that will reward careful and repeated listening.

A look inside Amazon or iTunes shows absolutely no reviews and that is truly a shame – but that there are few reviews in the jazz press probably reflects the state of that institution rather than the quality of this music.

If you venture to acquire A Modo you should also check out one of his two ensemble CDs, Open Doors or Ghu!, or Nordestin@s, a CD of Galician traditional music.

Abe Rábade – A Modo: Nuba Records, iTunes, Amazon

If you love classical music, especially 'period' music, you are very familiar with Jordi Savall. His discography begins in the late sixties and is filled with an incredible range of music from medieval to Mozart.

Lately Savall has been releasing CDs in the form of projects of interest to him. Released on his own label, these projects are published as two and three CD sets complete with liner notes that can sometimes reach over 400 pages thanks to extensive histories and the inclusion of multiple languages.

His latest release, Jeanne D'Arc - Battles & Prisons, is a more modest collection compared to previous such projects. But Jeanne D'Arc is important if only for the fact that features Montserrat Figueras in one of her last recordings before her death earlier this year.

Savall describes his project CD this way: "Our CD-books are characterized by their presentation of a selection of music and texts which bear a direct relation to certain specific moments in history, a history to which we endeavor to give a spoken voice - in this case, that of Joan and her contemporaries (witnesses and inquisitors at her trials) - and its corresponding soundtrack.­"

Savall's CD projects can be difficult to buy here in the U.S., and often quite expensive. My suggestion is to buy direct from the label. If one is committed to downloading, though, be aware that while the Amazon download is only $8.99 none of the supporting material is included. The iTunes download costs more, but at least includes some digital booklet material, though not all of the notes.

Hespèrion XXI, Jordi Savall & Montserrat Figueras – Jeanne D’Arc - Batailles & Prisons: Alia-Vox, iTunes, Amazon

The Italian group Gatto Marte released its first CD in 1997, Danae, and while all their recordings are worth checking out, none seemed to me to quite hit the highs found in that first release.

But the group's latest CD, Marte Sulla Luna, may well be their best. It is certainly their most mature and interesting work in quite a while. The group is not exactly your standard rock ensemble: Maximilian Brooks, piano, Nino Cotone, violin, Pietro Lusvardi, double bass, and until the last CD, Giuseppe Brancaccio, bassoon.

Progarchives lists Gatto Marte is RIO, a label that has lost its original meaning and now just means complicated, avant garde rock. The label doesn't really fit Gatto Marte who are much more classical oriented, mixed with a little jazz.

The good news for those willing to venture out and check out new music is that iTunes has seven of the CDs available for download, as does Amazon. Finding that first CD, Danae, may prove a challenge, however.

Gatto Marte – Marte Sulla Luna: Self-released, iTunes, Amazon