by Oliver Amnuayphol
What a fine year in music for classical and jazz: We were lucky enough to have a veritable plethora of oustanding releases from both the new school and old guard of both genres--so many of them that I had a very tough time narrowing the list down to just 10 combined. Had I more time, I could've easily created a list each for both classical and jazz. Nevertheless, here are the ones that stood out the most:
10) Lang Lang, Liszt: My Piano Hero (Sony Masterworks): Add equal parts composing genius and virtuoso playing and you get Lang Lang's latest showstopper. Lang Lang has always been a polarising pianist, but here his originality and expressiveness do justice to the original "rock star" virtuoso who was Franz Liszt. Best of all, it's available on vinyl and sounds absolutely wonderful as such.
9) Harry Christopher's The Sixteen, Palestrina, Vol. 1(Coro): Praise be to the angels we have heard on high: The Sixteen have finally released a full Palestrina album, and it was definitely worth the wait. Here the Sixteen gloriously honor Palestrina's polyphonic masterpieces, imbuing every piece with perfectly blended melodies, beautiful sonorities, and soaring harmonies. Not to be missed if you're a Palestrina fan, or of Renaissance liturgical music in general.
8) Jordi Savall/Monserrat Figueras, Monteverdi- Arie e Lamenti (Alia Vox): How fitting that the two guiding lights of pre-classical music have also created the best early music album of the year. Here Figueras' voice, though mildly weathered with time, is still beauty incarnate, and Savall's instrumental prowess is always mesmerizing. Indeed, great music like this can only be born from a love for the music being made, and Savall's and Figueras' love of early music was only eclipsed by their love for each other. Sadly, Ms. Figueras recently passed away from a year long illness, leaving the world a much poorer place.
7) Gretchen Parlato, The Lost and Found (Obliqsound): No doubt, Parlato is one of the most inventive vocalists around, expressive like no other. Her soft-spoken style just begs you to listen a little closer, and she infuses every track here with a thoroughly modern and unique vibe. Her accompanying musician's are just as freely creative yet remain firmly rooted in jazz fundamentals and improvisation. Definitely the best vocal jazz album of the year.
6) Hans Kennel & Bruno Spoerri, Dusty Vibes (Sonorama): Since Kennel and Spoerri spent their careers plying their trade in Europe, most hardcore jazz fans have never even heard of these two. And what a crying shame that is: The tunes here, aired on Swiss radio over 40 years ago, swing as hard as anything heard stateside at the time. A great snapshot of what good jazz in Europe was like in the '60's. And bonus: Also available in glorious vinyl.
5) Alexandre Tharaud, Scarlatti (Virgin Classics): I must admit I never heard of Tharaud before I found this album, and boy am I glad I found this one. There's a keen sensitivity to the way Tharaud interprets Scarlatti, particularly his minor sonatas; listen to how Tharaud creates cascades of pellucid, symmetrical melodies with a touch of warmth--like softly melting icicles on a brisk, sun-kissed winter morning. A stellar album.
4) Hilary Hahn/Valentina Lisitsa, Charles Ives - Four Sonatas (Deutche Grammophon): Adding this album might be a bit like cheating, since nearly every Hahn album belongs on a given year's "best of" list. Still, there's a conversational interplay between Hahn and Lisitsa that really lets the dissonant magic in these Ives sonatas shine through, and the pair do a fine job of capturing the lighter, more lyrical sides of these compositions. Indeed, dissonance never sounded so harmonious.
3) Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra, Hothouse Stomp - Music of 1920's Chicago and Harlem (Accurate Records): One listen to Hothouse Stomp and you'll be longing for Prohibition-era hooch and speakeasies. Carpenter and his orchestra have nailed the feel of the roaring 20s, and every musician here is ferociously wailing his (or her) heart out as if it were for the last time. If your musical tastes lean towards the dance-friendly jazzy, or blues-drenched and blearly (or really, anything in between), this album is a must.
2) Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms, Spacer (Delmark): Not since the great Bobby Hutcherson has there been a vibraphonist as uniquely talented as Jason Adasiewicz. There's a bit of the avant-garde vibe to his, um, vibes as well, with an intensity few jazz musician's of any instrument can match. Thankfully, there's plenty of that intensity to go around on Spacer, rhythmically underpinning every piece with a propulsive, forward momentum for Adasiewicz' glistening, angular solos. Without a doubt, the year's best jazz recording.
1) Helene Grimaud, Resonances (Deutche Grammophon): If I had to pick only one contemporary classical pianist to listen to for the rest of my days, it would be Grimaud, hands down. One listen to this album and you'll quickly understand why: Like every other Grimaud recording I own, each piece here sounds utterly and fantastically dramatic without the slightest hint of virtuoso showmanship. How is this even possible? I can only guess it's because of her innate confidence to play the music with her emotions first, and to take creative chances few others would dare. And holy cripes does she ever deliver. Grimaud's renditions of Bartok's Roumanian Folk Dances in particular are astounding. If you took away all the other "best of's" I picked this year and left me only this one, I would still be perfectly content. Most definitely, indubitably, positively, the best recording of the year.