30 December, 2011

CD Recommendation: Popular

CD Recommendation: Popular

For this audiophile, it seems something nice always happens at the end of the year. Yesterday I borrowed several items from the local library, and I am happy to report that I have discovered two wonderful singers and re-visited two old favorites.

Stunning New Voices
Remember the early years of "fusion", "one world" and "New Age"? Well, I have to say towards that end some current efforts are much more sophisticated than those from earlier times.

Previously Jon Balke's work on ECM did not really impress me, but Siwan, the 2009 collaboration with Moroccan musicians and singer Amina Alaoui strike me as a superbly worthwhile effort. Grant you, I have always had fondness and admiration for Arabic music and tradition (not the gender issues and political stuff) , and this re-creation adds to it. Amina Alaoui sings in several languages, and her voice is wonderful sultry, yet strong. Balke and the band deliver great atmosphere and the recording is impeccable. For once, the ECM booklet is not empty or full of BS, instead with useful notes and lyrics. Imagine, poems by not one but two deposed and imprisoned poet-kings! A resounding success. A youtube clip of what to me is the most Arabic cut, Ya Safwati, is included below.

Less innovative is the collaboration between Afro-Spanish "flamenco" songstress Buika and Cuban jazz pianist and bandleader Chucho Valdes. The songs are a tribute to the great Spanish diva Chavela Vargas. I must say Buika's voice is at least as distinctive, if not more so, and I enjoyed the album immensely. This is not a voice for those couch-potato audiophiles who listen to bland female singers (the majority). This is a woman on fire here! The old songs are impeccably and tastefully rendered by the band. Those who like the sound of the old Trios Los Panchos will find much to like, though Buika's voice is far removed from, say, their collaborator Eydie Gorme. Below I have embedded 3 youtubes of the title song El ultimo trago, Spanish for "the last drink", meaning the last breath: the CD recording; live; and as originally interpreted by Vargas.

Old Favorites
Some silly audiophiles only buy old versions of CDs. While it is true some older issues sound better than later generations, one should not be categorical about this. When it comes to pop, many new re-masterings sound distinctly better.

I enjoyed this seminal Cat Stevens album more than the old LP I had. The sound is rich and full, the songs timeless. Salute to the tillermen of audio remasterings!

The Beatles Mono Masters delivered awesome mono sound quality that allows one to focus on the music. Never before had I been more aware of the rhythmic swagger of this band! This 2-CD set is from genuine mono masters. This wikipedia entry explains the difference of this set from Past Masters. Highly worthwhile!

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