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Reviews Written by
William Burn "gingerburn" (Nottingham, UK)

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Return Of...       /Grp
Return Of... /Grp
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £15.16

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A welcome return, but not quite a return to form, 1 Feb. 2008
This review is from: Return Of... /Grp (Audio CD)
The 1970s were a nervy time for jazz: Miles was making electric albums with rude words in the title, Weather Report were producing strange aural soundscapes, and up in New York a bunch of young men with terrifying techniques and amplifiers were scaring the living daylights out of anyone who happened to cross their paths. They were the Brecker Brothers, formed by the brothers Randy (on trumpet) and his tenor-playing brother Michael. Their music was fast, funky and great fun, and perhaps best described by the title of their live album "Heavy-Metal Bebop". But, as is the nature of these things, the group disbanded in the early '80s, and the two men went their separate ways. Both made tons of money playing as session men on other people's albums (and produced some excellent music), and Michael recorded a series of excellent solo albums that were much closer to what one might call "jazz" than the Brecker Brothers material.

But, as is the nature of these things, a record company had the bright idea that, in 1992, the Brecker Brothers might re-form, and get some albums together, and this, The Return of the Brecker Brothers, was the result. And far from mimicking the headlong blowing madness of the seventies, this is a much more urbane affair, drawing together everything from African sounds to abstract funk influences. The opening number - Song for Barry - is a highlight in terms of the originality of the material, and Above and Below demonstrates a much more jazz-led approach to the work, with some great synth playing. Spherical is an exciting tune, and Michael's muscular, light-speed tenor is demonstrated to the full.

Having said that, there are some really dire numbers which go little further than providing a hip-hop loop for the brothers to blow over (King of the Lobby is awful, and Randy's comic vocal on That's All There Is To It does no-one any favours).

So this isn't a classic album, treading as it does a slightly unsteady path between lift-music and great arrangements, but it does provide some very enjoyable music. If you want my advice, get their follow-up album Out of the Loop, or, even better, go for the really early 70s stuff like East River, which has aged much better than this.

Anita O'day Swings Cole Porter With Billy May
Anita O'day Swings Cole Porter With Billy May
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £10.72

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Swinging and great fun, 31 Jan. 2008
Anita O'day is one of those jazz singers whose career never quite hit the heights of the greats (think Ella, Lady Day, Sarah Vaughan), but whose contribution to the music is considerable. Early records show a young woman with a big, powerful voice, and this later offering provides just as much punch, but with more finesse and style. The repertoire is great - all the classic Cole Porter songs are here - and the arrangements swing all the way. It's hardly revolutionary stuff, but then it is a hugely enjoyable jazz record that has given me several years of listening pleasure.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 7, 2013 3:12 PM GMT

Madrigals for a Tudor King
Madrigals for a Tudor King
Price: £12.03

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good singing indeed, 10 Jan. 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This disc has appeared on the Obsidian label, new to the music marketplace in 2007, but their first few offerings have been very well received in the press. Reading a little between the lines, it seems that Obsidian is the means by which Alamire, also a new entrant to the cut-throat world of early music, can get their recordings out into the wide world, but it would be entirely unfair to accuse this of being a vanity project: these are serious records of serious music for serious listeners, exploring parts of the repertoire that are poorly represented on disc.

This is not, however, to suggest that the music is of that variety which, when first you hear it, causes you to think "now I see why this has been left unrecorded for so long." It must be admitted that there is occasionally a habit among aficionados of square notes and Latin texts to confuse new discoveries with quality, but in this case the repertoire being presented is of genuine worth, and it is given sensitive and thoughtful performances.

Verdelot belongs to that generation of composers which have come somewhat into vogue in the past three or so years among the early music scene, as he lived between the two apparent golden ages of Renaissance music: those of Josquin and Palestrina. Both of those seams have been heavily mined by every ensemble out there: The Clerks Group have made outstanding discs of Josquin, Obrecht and Ockeghem; the Tallis Scholars have made Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli their own; and the Cardinall's Musick have given Byrd a truly memorable series of recordings. The period around 1520-1550, at least for music from Continental Europe, however, has been a little overlooked: in England the last of the great Catholic composers were enjoying their polyphonic heyday (think Taverner, Sheppard and Ludford), and much has been recorded from that time, but on the continent it is only really Gombert and Morales who from this period have attained any real fame in the modern era (and Gombert was only dragged out of the specialists' clutches by the Tallis Scholars in their relatively recent disc of his Magnificats.) As such, it would be fair to say that Philippe Verdelot's name is one which, although known to many who perform and listen to early music, is not rated alongside greater luminaries of his age.

And that is not to say that he deserves to be considered an equal to Tallis or Josquin, but that he wrote some very fine, very moving music which is very enjoyable indeed to listen to when sung by a good group such as Alamire. These madrigals are all very short (the longest is just over three and a half minutes) and set texts in Italian by Petrarch, Machiavelli and other lesser known writers. Some are for six voices, but most bring together fewer singers to the accompaniment of lute or harp. This allows for a very pleasing diversity of moods, sonorities and textures, demonstrating expressive solo singing and some expert ensemble work.

Alamire clearly are well-worth looking out for, especially if they continue producing discs of this interest and quality. A very worthwhile addition to your collection.

Cowon IAudio A3 60GB Portable MediaPlayer
Cowon IAudio A3 60GB Portable MediaPlayer

37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expensive, but exceptional, 1 Jan. 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Rocking in at almost double the price of the most expensive iPod, this most recent portable media player from Cowon would seem to have an almost impossible task if it is to win hearts, minds and customers away from Apple's all-conquering mp3 player. Its strength, however, comes from the fact that it deliberately avoids taking Apple on at a game they've got pretty much stitched up, and offers features and functionality that make the iPod look like nothing more than a beautifully presented toy for grownups.

Cowon have never been big in the UK market, but they are hugely popular in the US and Asia, and are widely regarded as manufacturers of very high quality products aimed at "serious" users. The a3 fits this model in every way, offering functionality that requires a degree of learning to make the most of, but the flexibility and quality are outstanding.

What attracted me to this player is the sheer range of formats (both music and video) that it supports, and the simplicity of using it. It requires no specific software to use (unlike the distinctly clunky Creative Media Browser or the appalling iTunes), and is customisable in almost every possible way. The sound quality is brilliant: I used to own an iRiver H320 which beat any iPod in terms of sound, yet this, when listened to through my Sennheiser PX100s, offers spacious, lively sound with excellent bass and clear treble. I have tried it with everything from heavy-duty drum'n'bass through to Grieg songs for soprano and piano, and it is perfectly comfortable with all of them.

Another important feature for me was the recording function this offers. For a brief period I owned a Creative Zen Vision:M, which offered a record function, but only through the dreadful built-in microphone. I recently recorded a rehearsal of solo voice and piano using a Sony microphone in FLAC (lossless) format (a range of mp3 formats are also available) and the results were terriffic. And what's more, this machine can record video too! I've not had the chance to try it, but one needs only to plug a TV or DVD into the machine and it will record and encode the file (at a range of different qualities depending on your needs).

Playing this lot back is a pleasure in the simplicity of the interface, which is mostly controlled through a small "jog-lever". There are four buttons, three of which offer different functions according to the context (which is always clearly displayed at the bottom of the screen). And this brings me on to the screen. It is quite simply outstanding. It is large, clear and bright, and can be read easily from any angle, so when it comes to viewing photos or films it really is excellent.

This is not an iPod killer, and never sets out to be, but rather an excellent piece of equipment for people who take listening to, watching and recording media seriously.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 17, 2009 6:36 PM GMT

Song of the Black Swan
Song of the Black Swan
Offered by Spindleworm
Price: £6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent disc, 28 Dec. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Song of the Black Swan (Audio CD)
I first encountered these performances on Radio 3, where I was impressed by the beauty of line and musicality of the playing by both Blake and Webb. Listening to the whole disc has confirmed these impressions, and given me the great pleasure of an hour or so's utterly charming music.

All but two of the works are arrangements from other sources, including some song adaptations, and the results are sensitive and musically very satisfying. As Webb remarks in her liner notes, the sonorities of the two instruments are "obviously complimentary", yet the two performers have achieved a rich range of textures, dynamics and moods across the 19 tracks on offer. Above all, though, there is none of the aggressive quality which a piano can bring to music in this performance, and the abiding impression is one of calm reflection, even in the more lively pieces.

It is frequently the case that arrangements of famous works are looked at askance by "serious" classical music fans, yet this disc presents works from composers as diverse as Lennox Berkely, Gershwin and Debussy in a new and excellent way.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 4, 2014 7:11 AM GMT

The Cambridge Companion to John Donne (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
The Cambridge Companion to John Donne (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
by Achsah Guibbory
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.48

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent overview, 28 Oct. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The Cambridge Companions series really is a godsend to anyone looking for a well edited, thorough, and yet also manageable guide to an author's output, and this Companion to John Donne is as good as any I have used to date. The 16 essays cover all the ground one would expect of a volume such as this, including a useful biography, and thematic overviews of the main areas of his writing. The quality of the contributors is very high indeed (only Judith Sherer Herz, in her postmodern take on "Reading and rereading Donne's poetry", allows herself to slip into the jargon (and consequent sloppiness of thought) of Lit.Crit.

There are, however, some gems on offer here, and the book is worth the purchase alone for A.S. Byatt's wonderful meditation on Donne which concludes the volume. Somehow it seems right that the final word on a great poet should be given to a writer of great sensitivity and thoughtfulness, rather than an English Professor with a sharpened pen and a department to run.

This is clearly aimed at undergraduates and above: if you are doing Donne for your A-levels then I suggest the York Notes volume would suit you better, but for anyone studying or teaching the great man, this is an indispensable starting point for reflection and research.

by Annie Proulx
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not perfect, but imaginative and striking, 28 Oct. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Postcards (Paperback)
Some people really do not like this book. Some have given it one star in a review, and others have complained that it does not stand up next to Proulx's much more famous "The Shipping News", yet I feel moved to come to its defence. This is Proulx's first novel, and, for those who do now know the storyline, it begins with the collapse of a family unit on a small farm and goes on to chart the progress (in inverted commas) of the members of that family across the geography and time of the United States in the 20th century.

The fiercest accusation levelled at this book is that it lacks a plot, and I would be inclined to agree, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, I often find that otherwise good books are spoiled by their plots, and many of my favourites have no plot at all. This is an episodic, thematic approach to writing, but one could argue that this is perhaps closer to how we experience the world than a meticulously planned thriller which leads you by the nose to its ravishing conclusion.

Proulx does take a gloomy view of the world in this book, but again that is to be applauded, but that places it in a very fine tradition of American writing (think of how relentlessly depressing "The Grapes of Wrath" is, and that book is twice as long as this). It is not perfect, and it needs to be read quickly for it not to become slightly tiresome, but it is a fine, and adventurous piece of fiction.

Cookin' With The Miles Davis Quintet (Remastered)
Cookin' With The Miles Davis Quintet (Remastered)
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £17.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful music, 28 Oct. 2007
1956 was a good year for Miles Davis. In two days in the studio he fulfilled the requirements of his contract with Prestige, and produced four brilliant albums to boot. The band - the first "great quintet" of Davis, Coltrane, Garland, Jones and Chambers - was playing supremely well, and the material was an exciting mix of perfectly-delivered standards and newer jazz compositions.

It would be wrong to argue that any one of the four albums recorded in 1956 (the others are Relaxin', Workin' and Steamin' all "with the Miles Davis Quintet") is better than the others, as each demonstrates moments of inspired genius in different ways, but this is for me one to which I turn more frequently than the others. There is one obvious reason for this, which is Paul Chambers' bass playing on "My Funny Valentine", yet the overall effect is important too. This feels like a club set, with its mix of easy swing and straightahead workouts, and the final pairing of Tune-Up and When Lights are Low works brilliantly.

As I suggested in my review of Relaxin, this is an album that every lover of jazz music simply must own, but its appeal will stretch far beyond this one corner of the musical world. Anyone with a serious interest in music will find here imagination, musicianship and playing of the very highest order, and one of the great albums of the 20th century.

Relaxin' With The Miles Davis Quintet
Relaxin' With The Miles Davis Quintet

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Iconic, and rightly so, 27 Oct. 2007
This is one of four albums recorded in a remarkable two day session when Miles was working to finish a contract with Impulse records so that he could start a more lucrative deal with Columbia. He had four discs left to make, so he simply took his band into the studio and recorded non-stop.

This description may make the results seem underwhelming, but one or two caveats should be made: firstly, the band ought to be described. This was the first of Miles' two great quintets, featuring John Coltrane on tenor, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums. It is perhaps no exaggeration that Coltrane, Chambers and Jones were each the finest performers on their respective instruments, and Garland was himself a very very talented musician indeed.

And the nature of the session left its mark on the performances. Whereas Miles' later albums would each bear the mark of a distinct artistic project, these were as close as it is possible to get to "live" studio performances of the repertoire that this group played day in, day out. As a result there may be less sense of breaking new ground, there is a terrific sense of five men working in absolute harmony with one another, interacting on a level that defies rational explanation. The playing is quite simply phenomenal, from the swinging opening number through to the headlong drive of "Oleo" and the charming "It Could Happen To You".

This is an album that every lover of music should own. Fans of jazz music must have a remarkable document in the history of a one of the greatest groups in the history of the genre. Everyone else will be getting a disc of wonderful, exciting, thrillingly played music that represents a true genius at work. To coin a phrase from M&S, this is more than just jazz music: this is a masterpiece.

Debussy, Dutilleux & Ravel: String Quartets
Debussy, Dutilleux & Ravel: String Quartets
Price: £8.96

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent repertoire played by an excellent ensemble, 26 Oct. 2007
This review must, I suppose, serve two purposes. If on the one hand you do not know the Ravel or Debussy string quartets, buy this cd immediately. This is music of the highest quality, written by composers at the height of their powers, which demonstrates their unique gifts for melody and colour.

For those who might be comparing different discs, then I can make the same recommendation as above, and without the slightest reservation. The Belcea Quartet are one of the most talented new groups performing this repertoire, and they are rapidly establishing themselves as serious competition for the older and more famous groups out there. This is an excellent performance.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 18, 2011 11:10 PM GMT

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