Ophelie Gaillard – J.S. Bach: Cello Suites pour violoncelle seul BWV 1007-1012 (2011) [Qobuz 24-96]

Ophélie Gaillard – Bach: Cello Suites pour violoncelle seul BWV 1007-1012 (2011)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 136:57 minutes | 2,17 GB
Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz.com | Digital Booklet
Genre: Classical

The Bach Cello Suites are an iconic monument of the literature with which any serious cellist must grapple. Performances can vary from the metronomically precise just-play-the-notes approach to the other extreme in which a player’s idiosyncratic interpretations are so pronounced that they become the center of attention rather than Bach’s sublime music. This 2010 version is French cellist Ophélie Gaillard’s second recording of the suites, the first made a decade earlier when she was in her mid-twenties.

For the most part Gaillard’s take on the music (like that of most sensible cellists) lies somewhere in between, but with some movements closer to the eccentric end of the spectrum. Gaillard’s technical fluency is unimpeachable. Her intonation, even in the most outrageous multiple-stop chords, is impeccable. She plays with a ripe, absolutely luscious tone that may not suit the taste of the most fervent period performance devotees but that would likely elicit wonder from just about everyone else. Her use of vibrato is circumspect and period-appropriate. She is scrupulous about observing repeats and her use of ornamentation is elegant and understated. The fluidity and unself-conscious physicality of Gaillard’s playing keeps the listener aware that except for the preludes, this is sunny, dance-based music. Her handling of the faster movements is especially delightful; the Gigue from the Second Suite and the Bourées from the Fourth (among many others) are just plain fun. It’s in some of the preludes where the idiosyncrasies of her interpretation may lose some listeners. The Prelude to the First Suite, consisting entirely of sixteenth note figures, is an interpretive challenge and it’s one of the movements to which performers have applied the widest range of rhythmic freedom. Gaillard puts heavy emphasis on the downbeats and frequently sustains them for twice their written length, and she brings a similar approach to the Prelude of the Fourth Suite. Depending on the listener’s perspective, her playing of these movements may come across as either expansively elastic or weirdly distended.

A factor that’s almost inevitably an issue in recordings of such intimate music for solo string instruments, and sometimes string chamber music, is the clear audibility of strings slapping the soundboard and the player’s breathing. In almost any live performing situation, these would not be heard because those sounds don’t tend to carry, and an audience member sitting even in the first row would be unlikely to notice them, so a recording is an unfortunately unnatural way to experience this music. The extraneous sounds are only minimally distracting here; Gaillard’s breathing, while not annoying or always audible, can sound labored, as if she were working very hard, and that seems to contradict the apparent ease and flexibility of her playing. Otherwise, the acoustic is very fine, with a detailed, spacious, and nicely resonant ambience.

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New York Philharmonic Orchestra – Waltz Masterpieces (1959/2013) [HDTracks 24-192]

New York Philharmonic Orchestra – Waltz Masterpieces (1959/2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/192 kHz | Time – 36:59 minutes | 1,13 GB
Official Digital Download – Source: HDTracks.com | Digital booklet
Genre: Classical

Raoul Poliakin conducting the Stadium Symphony Orchestra of New York (pseudonym of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra). Features famous waltzes by Weber, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, and more…

With the exception of the march, no musical form exerts such universal power over the listener as does the waltz. The lure of its three-quarter-time sorcery will soon have an audience swaying in its seats or dancers gliding and twirling across the ballroom floor. What is more, the waltz has held this magic power for more than a century and a half; and though the world is not nearly as waltz-crazy as it was during the latter half of the nineteenth century, it will still respond with genuine warmth whenever a waltz is played.

Actually, none of the waltzes in the present collection were originally intended for ballroom use, though at one time or another, all have served that purpose. The two Tchaikovsky waltzes were written for the ballet; the waltzes by Richard Strauss were compiled from an operatic score, and those by Weber and Johann Strauss, Jr., were first introduced in the concert hall.

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Nina Simone – Little Girl Blue (1958/2013) [HighResAudio 24-192]

Nina Simone – Little Girl Blue (1958/2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 44:54 minutes | 947 MB
Official Digital Download – Source: HighResAudio.com | Digital Booklet
Genre: Jazz

Little Girl Blue is an artistic statement by jazz virtuoso Nina Simone that reinvents a wide variety of compositions. Simone’s combination of classical training, smoky-alto vocal delivery and the influence of modern jazz make her a novel and inspiring jazz singer and instrumentalist.

Little Girl Blue was Nina Simone’s first recording, originally issued on the Bethlehem label. Backed by bassist Jimmy Bond and Albert “Tootie” Heath, it showcases her ballad voice as one of mystery and sensuality and showcases her up-tempo jazz style with authority and an enigmatic down-home feel that is nonetheless elegant. The album also introduced a fine jazz pianist. Simone was a solid improviser who never strayed far from the blues. Check the opener, her reading of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” which finger-pops and swings while keeping the phrasing deep-blue. It is contrasted immediately with one of the — if not the — definitive reads of Willard Robison’s steamy leave-your-lover ballad “Don’t Smoke in Bed.” The title track, written by Rodgers & Hart, features “Good King Wenceslas” as a classical prelude to one of the most beautiful pop ballads ever written. It is followed immediately by the funky swing in “Love Me or Leave Me” with a smoking little piano solo in the bridge where Bach meets Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons. It’s also interesting to note that while this was her first recording, the record’s grooves evidence an artist who arrives fully formed; many of the traits Simone displayed throughout her career as not only a vocalist and pianist but as an arranger are put on first notice here. “My Baby Just Cares for Me” has a stride shuffle that is extrapolated on in the piano break. Her instrumental and improvising skills are put to good use on Tadd Dameron’s “Good Bait,” which is transformed into something classical from its original bebop intent. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” feels more like some regal gospel song than the Rodgers & Hammerstein show tune it was. Of course, one of Simone’s signature tunes was her version of “I Loves You, Porgy,” which appears here for the first time and was released as a single. Her own “Central Park Blues” is one of the finest jazz tunes here.

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New York Trio – The Things We Did Last Summer (2002/2010) [e-Onkyo 24-96]

New York Trio – The Things We Did Last Summer (2002/2010)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 59:56 minutes | 1,36 GB
Official Digital Download – Source: e-Onkyo.com | Front cover
Genre: Jazz

Also known as the New York Jazz Trio, this combo is a studio-only group who specialize in recording classic standards in a straightforward, post-bop style. The New York Trio features three gifted musicians who are firmly established on the East Coast jazz scene. Pianist Bill Charlap is a member of the Phil Woods Quintet, has accompanied the likes of Tony Bennett, Benny Carter, and Gerry Mulligan, and has recorded a handful of well-received albums for Blue Note as a bandleader. Bassist Jay Leonhart has recorded as a headliner since 1983, while also making a name for himself as a vocalist and songwriter as well as backing up Marian McPartland, Louie Bellson, Lee Konitz, and many others. And drummer Bill Stewart had handled demanding gigs with a variety of musicians, including jazz guitarist John Scofield, funky sax man Maceo Parker and R&B legend James Brown. They make this record for the Japanese market.

The relaxed tone of this album is set from the beginning, with Bill Charlap’s quiet, spare solo reading of “The Shadow of Your Smile.” On the next track, the others join in for some mellow and friendly swinging: Jay Leonhart’s big, fat bass grounds Charlap’s dreaminess, while Bill Stewart, who’s left his sticks at home for this date, brushes up the tempo with subtlety and style. This release offers thoughtful solo piano (also on “Mona Lisa”), slow, romantic ballads (“How Long Has This Been Going On,” “Paper Moon”), and tasty mid-tempo treatments (“As Time Goes By,” “When Your Lover Has Gone”). While there are no barnburners, the heat rises to a steady simmer on “You’d Be So Nice…” and “How High the Moon,” where the players are audibly enjoying themselves. Leonhart’s solos are consistently interesting, drizzled with wit, and the ever-lyrical Charlap provides rarely heard verses to six of these nine classic tunes. The album will lease those who like their jazz served straight up and pared down to essentials; its simplicity is deceptive, given the level of expertise and feeling throughout.

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Modern Jazz Quartet – The Sheriff (1964/2011) [HDTracks 24-192]

The Modern Jazz Quartet – The Sheriff (1964/2011)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/192 kHz | Time – 30:42 minutes | 1,23 GB
Official Digital Download – Source: HDTracks.com | Front cover
Genre: Jazz

The Modern Jazz Quartet plays a selection of original compositions and riveting standards on their release, The Sheriff. The album is infused with Latin and bossa nova rhythms. The work features four pieces by pianist John Lewis, including the blues-driven title track and the hauntingly beautiful “In a Crowd.” The quartet also performs works by Heitor Villa-Lobos (“Bachianas Brasileiras”) and Luiz Bonfa (“Carnival”). The quartet’s rich melodies and harmonious playing are strong and compelling.

Recorded in 1963, The Sheriff features the Modern Jazz Quartet in fine swinging form. The program is not as sharply focused as on some of the earlier Atlantic releases, but it is compelling nonetheless. There are four originals by pianist John Lewis, including the fleeting, bluesy title cut, and the moody, spacious “In a Crowd,” — originally composed for the 1961 film A Milanese Story. Its stepped-up time signature and series of phrases played by Milt Jackson grounds the tune in blues, but Lewis’ solo feels more like a solo trumpet breezing through the center. The set includes Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras,” a classical piece the quartet first performed with guitarist Laurindo Almeida. Bassist Percy Heath is stellar here, playing both arco and pizzicato and alternately moving the work forward with deftness and precision. Lewis and Jackson engage in gorgeous counterpoint throughout. It’s knotty, but exotic and beautiful. Another Latin-based work here is Luiz Bonfa’s brilliant “Carnival,” which closes the set. Jackson’s melodic interplay with Connie Kay’s brushwork is subtle and rich, moving through a series of verses before Jackson takes it to the blues in his solo. Lewis keeps the pulse as Heath underscores the backbeat.

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Modern Jazz Quartet – Blues On Bach (1973/2011) [HDTracks 24-192]

The Modern Jazz Quartet – Blues On Bach (1973/2011)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/192 kHz | Time – 41:41 minutes | 1,46 GB
Official Digital Download – Source: HDTracks.com | Front cover
Genre: Jazz

Blues on Bach is the genre-defying album by The Modern Jazz Quartet comprised of vibraphonist Milt Jackson, pianist John Lewis, drummer Connie Kay and bassist Percy Heath. The diversified album is a combination of original blues compositions and works by Bach adapted with bluesy melodies. This hi-res remastering lends new clarity and depth to one of the most legendary quartets.

This album has an interesting concept, alternating four original blues with five adaptations of melodies from classical works by Bach. The Modern Jazz Quartet had long been quite adept in both areas, and despite a certain lack of variety on this set (alternating back and forth between the two styles somewhat predictably), the music is largely enjoyable. Vibraphonist Milt Jackson, pianist John Lewis (doubling here on harpsichord), bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Connie Kay were still all very much in their musical prime during the 21st year of the MJQ’s existence.

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Miles Davis – Miles Davis Volume 1 & 2 (1985/2013) [HDTracks 24-192]

Miles Davis – Miles Davis Volume 1 & 2 (1985/2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/192 kHz | Time – 87:18 minutes | 1,88 GB
Official Digital Download – Source: HDTracks.com | Digital booklet
Genre: Jazz

Miles Davis’ recordings from the years of 1951-1954 are often overlooked for a number of reasons. Davis had a somewhat erratic lifestyle at the time, and these recordings do not feature the first ‘classic’ quintet. Even though Davis did not record nearly as often as in later years, what was recorded is quite outstanding.

Volume 1:
Miles Davis’ recordings of 1951-1954 tend to be overlooked because of his erratic lifestyle of the period and because they predated his first classic quintet. Although he rarely recorded during this era, what he did document was often quite classic. The two sessions included on this CD (which includes three alternate takes) are among the earliest hard bop recordings and would indirectly influence the modern mainstream music of the 1960s. The first session features Davis in a sextet with trombonist J.J. Johnson, altoist Jackie McLean, pianist Gil Coggins, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Kenny Clarke; highlights include “Dear Old Stockholm,” “Woody ‘n You,” and interpretations of “Yesterdays” and “How Deep Is the Ocean.” The remaining six numbers showcase Davis in a quartet with pianist Horace Silver, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Art Blakey, really stretching out on such numbers as “Take Off” and “Well, You Needn’t.” However, on “It Never Entered My Mind,” Davis’ muted statement (his only one on this set) looks toward his treatments of ballads later in the decade.

Volume 2:
Like Miles Davis, Vol. 1, this set features arrangements in the order that they were recorded. (Vol. 2 contains the second Blue Note session, while Vol. 1 focused on the first and third.) This 1953 date was the most inspired, overtly beboppish of Davis’ three Blue Note sessions — an ambitious showcase for modern jazz’s greatest composers (J.J. Johnson, Ray Brown, Bud Powell, Jimmy Heath, Walter Fuller, and Dizzy Gillespie), and a remarkable rhythm section (drummer Art Blakey, bassist Percy Heath, and the obscure pianist Gil Coggins). A dynamic front line of Davis, trombonist J.J. Johnson, and the bassist’s brother Jimmy Heath on tenor saxophone, gives each tune big-band weight and texture. J.J. Johnson’s lilting “Kelo” and tragic “Enigma” proceed from the orchestral tradition of Birth of the Cool, and his taut, velvety, tenor trombone counterpoint contrasts nicely with Davis’ burnished mid-range and brassy cry. Tenor man Jimmy Heath seems to take the Basie and Gillespie big bands as the jumping-off point for his jazz classic “C.T.A.,” and ends his own solo with an affectionate nod to Lester Young. Davis’ ballad turn on “I Waited for You” is one of his most alluring performances, while his effortless swing on “C.T.A.” and “Ray’s Idea” sums up his innovations in blues phrasing. But his solo and arrangement on “Tempus Fugit” are simply transcendent. This Bud Powell anthem for modernists generates a challenging set of symphonic variations, driven along by the emotional intensity of Art Blakey. The joy with which Davis and Blakey morph between swing and Afro-Cuban rhythms, blues, and bop phrasing, is what jazz is all about.

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Mattias Wager, Anders Astrand – Live At Vatnajokull: Improvisations (1998/2013)[Opus3 DSD128]

Mattias Wager, Anders Åstrand – Live At Vatnajökull: Improvisations (1998)
DSD128 (.dff) 1 bit/5,64 MHz | Time – 56:52 minutes | 4,7 GB
Official Digital Download – Source: DSDFile.com | Front cover
Genre: Classical

If you are wondering what prompted an organist and a percusion/marimba/vibraphone player to journey to Iceland to make a recording with improvised music and a special arrangement of Maurice Ravel´s Bolero, then perhaps the word inspiration could be the most succinct answer. It is this which gives rise to the expression “inspired performance” which can certainly be applied to this recording.

A number of contributing factors have combined to create the ambience in this recording of what is in effect a musical journey through or over the magnificent Icelandic nature, particularly the gigantic Vatnajökull glacier which covers a number of volcanoes, and from which this CD derives its title, the cover picture was taken during a volcanic eruption in 1996.
Further sources of inspiration were derived not only from the outstanding beauty of the Hallgrims Church with its wonderful acoustics, but also the superb Klaus Flugel organ which was completed in 1992. Small wonder that Mattias and Anders were able to give the “inspired performances” heard in this recording where their outstanding musicianship has been set free to explore the myriad possibilities which are an intrinsic part of performing improvised music.

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Mathias Landaeus Trio – Opening (2010) [e-Onkyo 24-176,4]

Mathias Landæus Trio – Opening (2010)
FLAC (tracks) 24-bit/176,4 kHz | Time – 56:15 minutes | 1,95 GB
Official Digital Download – Source: e-Onkyo.com | Digital booklet
Genre: Jazz

One of the burgeoning Swedish jazz musicians, pianist and composer Mathias Landæus plays intelligent, hard hitting jazz with a dose of humor. Landaeus was born in Sweden in 1969, and was initially influenced by Bill Evans, Swedish folk music, Weather Report, and the occasional jazz musicians he saw traveling through the area.

This recording is absolutely exceptional and quickly became one of my references. The effort that Todd Garfinkle puts into the recording process is apparent as soon as you hear the first note being played. There is a truly stunning sense of space and natural instrumental decay that transports you to the recording venue. The music is very engaging as well, unlike so many other “audiophile” recordings which have content that is often musically not up to the standards of the recording. If you have a DAC that supports the 24 bit/176.4 kHz format you really have to hear this title in all its glory. It is well worth the asking price to hear such excellent music so well performed and recorded, to be able to appreciate the level of sonic performance that your system is actually capable of reproducing.

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Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get It On (1973/1998) [HDTracks 24-192]

Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get It On (1973/1998)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/192 kHz | Time – 31:49 minutes | 1,23 GB
Official Digital Download – Source: HDTracks.com | Digital booklet
Genre: Funk, Soul

The most commercially successful album of Marvin Gaye’s career, Let’s Get It On also stands among the artist’s most critically acclaimed work. The record–the best selling soul album of 1973–reached #2 on the Billboard Chart and yielded three massive singles: “Let’s Get It On”, “Come Get to This”, and “You Sure Love to Ball.” The album was included in Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004.

After brilliantly surveying the social, political, and spiritual landscape with What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye turned to more intimate matters with Let’s Get It On, a record unparalleled in its sheer sensuality and carnal energy. Always a sexually charged performer, Gaye’s passions reach their boiling point on tracks like the magnificent title hit (a number one smash) and “You Sure Love to Ball”; silky and shimmering, the music is seductive in the most literal sense, its fluid grooves so perfectly designed for romance as to border on parody. With each performance laced with innuendo, each lyric a come-on, and each rhythm throbbing with lust, perhaps no other record has ever achieved the kind of sheer erotic force of Let’s Get It On, and it remains the blueprint for all of the slow jams to follow decades later — much copied, but never imitated.

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