SoundStage! Music Online Editor's Pick Archives
November/December 1999

Al DiMeola - Winter Nights
Telarc CD-83458, 1999

SnapShot! Rating:
***1/2

A holiday album with New Age influences, Winter Nights showcases Al Di Meola on percussion, keyboards, multi-string harp and other instruments including, of course, acoustic guitar. There are a few recognizable numbers here, including "Scarborough Fair" and Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street," but the most involving music comes in the form of originals by Di Meola and Roman Hrynkiv, whose playing on the bandura, a stringed Ukrainian folk instrument capable of great subtlety, adds to the mood here. The wall-of-strings sound that Di Meola and Hrynkiv achieve is well served by a lush Telarc recording that isn’t unnaturally atmospheric. Here the musicians are very whole and present, enhancing the mind-expanding and ethereal music....Marc Mickelson


Ray Brown Trio with Guest Singers - Christmas Songs
Telarc CD-83437, 1999

SnapShot! Rating:
***

This collection of well-known Christmas songs performed by the Ray Brown Trio and sung by the likes of Diana Krall, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Etta Jones and Vanessa Rubin somehow avoids staleness, probably because the musicians aren’t afraid to poke and prod the songs to unveil new facets or push them in new directions. "Away in a Manger," opens the disc and sets the tone, breaking into gospel wailing -- and placid serenity too. Diana Krall does "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and it’s nothing special, overloaded with scat as it is. The sound is very good, sweet, typical of Telarc. If you want a safe disc to play at your Christmas get-together, one that everyone will enjoy because they will know the songs, this is it....Marc Mickelson


The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas
DCC/Artanis ARZ-103-2, 1999

SnapShot! Rating:
***

This gold DCC remaster reminds me of the music from so many Christmas specials burned into my memory from childhood -- stars walking through indoor sets arm in arm and mouthing the words to carols as fake snow falls. However, my cynicism is tempered here by the touch of Nelson Riddle, who keeps the music, heavy on strings and oboe as it is, tasteful, if a bit too eager to please in spots. The songs are mostly unknown to me, and there are equal helpings of the Sinatra "kids" -- Nancy, Tina and Frank Jr. -- and the Chairman himself. The highlight of the disc is "The 12 Days of Christmas," which ends the whole thing with a familial bang. It’s complete with made-up lyrics that outline the gifts given to "my loving dad," like golf clubs, Meerschaum pipes and pairs of cufflinks -- the trappings of show-biz success. And when dad comes in on day 12 to finish up, the family that performs together spreads some Christmas cheer too. If this sounds kitschy, it is -- and I love it!...Marc Mickelson


Aztex - Short Stories
HighTone HCD8106, 1999

SnapShot! Rating:
***

It’s no surprise that Aztex is the product of Buda, Texas, a small town south of Austin. There’s a smart, south-of-the-border feel to much of Short Stories, spiced as it is with the Tejano accordion playing of Joel Guzman and the bilingual vocals of Sarah Fox -- husband and wife. If you like Los Lobos, you’ll find something to like here. The opening track, the Carnivale-like "Why Don’t You Love Me?," and "Amorique" are two very high high points. But there are a few clunkers too, like the version of Joe Ely’s "Maybe, Maybe," which is very pedestrian, as is "It’s a Mystery." Aztex does its best work with high energy and an urban attitude, when they let their strong influences and tendencies rework the material they choose. Short Stories is a CD that you'll want to program -- skipping some tracks and listening intently to others....Marc Mickelson


Gerry Mulligan and Thelonious Monk - Mulligan Meets Monk
JVC XRCD JVCXR-0032-2, 1997

SnapShot! Rating:
****

Lyrical describes this collection of instrumental duets from 1957, the pairing of hard-bopper Thelonious Monk with Gerry Mulligan being closer to a dream team than an odd couple. The songs are more Monk’s material than Mulligan’s, but the two musicians work well together, trading riffs and even improvising in unison in spots. The recording is early stereo all the way, Monk in the left channel, Mulligan, bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Shadow Wilson in the right. This either/or perspective aside, the sound is clear and sweet, typical of the XRCDs I’ve heard. The disc includes alternate takes of "Decidedly," "Straight, No Chaser" and "I Mean You," but so does the regular-issue CD....Marc Mickelson


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