Morton Feldman

Crippled Symmetry: at June in Buffalo

[Frozen Reeds]

3 stars (out of 4)

The eternal paradox of Morton Feldman -- wit, troublemaker and experimentalist whose music partakes of a stillness and beauty unlike that of anyone else -- is writ large on this disc recorded live at a 2000 June in Buffalo Concert in the University at Buffalo Art Gallery. The instrumentation of the trio of some of Feldman's favorite solists can't help but be a wee bit chilly -- flute, glockenspiel/vibraphone and piano.

But, as always, the contemplative sonority of the music seems to come from someplace high up and far off but mysteriously healing to the human spirit.

While all of that is going on, flutist Eberhard Blum's notes on its composition and performance are replete with Feldmanesque anecdote: that, for instance, its predecessor "Why Patterns," at a length of a half hour, was a mere "minuet" in relation to Feldman's next trio. After Blum asked him to write the trio for himself, percussionist Jan Williams and pianist Nils Vigeland, Feldman regaled him, during composition, with Transatlantic phone "lectures on his new discoveries regarding patterns and imperfections in handmade antique rugs." In its first rehearsal, the ever-visual Feldman described the figure made by the trio performing his composition as "like a butterfly."

If you can think of music whose soft sounds are like the sonic equivalent of antique rug patterns and the patterns on butterflies wings, you can imagine the haunting sound of "Crippled Symmetry."

To have experienced this amazing musical career in such quantity during some of his most adventurous years was an amazing privilege of life in Buffalo.

-- Jeff Simon



Richard Strauss


Felicity Lott, soprano and Graham Johnson, piano

[Champs Hill Records]

3 stars

The beautiful, sensual early songs of Richard Strauss just make you want to tip your head back and shiver. And Dame Felicity Lott's voice is perfect for them. It's a marvelously clear soprano, and it just soars. I found myself anticipating the high notes, knowing how lovely they would be.

The problem is that Lott -- and even the eminent Graham Johnson -- come up short in the emotion department. Maybe it's the old "no sex, please, we're British" thing, but they take pretty much the same approach to all the songs, whether they are lullabies or raging declarations of love.

Continuing to gripe, the packaging is cumbersome. The songs should be listed on the back of the CD case, and the texts should be numbered so you can find the one you want. Other than that, this CD is set up creatively, with songs sorted into categories such as "Nocturnes and Fantasies," "Flowers," "Valedictions and Lullabies," and "Girls In And Out Of Love."

-- Mary Kunz Goldman



Bernard Hoffer

MacNeil Lehrer Variations and other works


3 stars

You don't really have to have been much of a watcher of MacNeil Lehrer to know its theme as if it were as familiar to you as your spouse's voice. That's the nature of television themes, even to shows we almost never watch.

It turns out that its composer, Bernard Hoffer, has written a devilishly witty, evocative and often quite beautiful set of variations of a motto that could sound so fragmentary and so trivial on the air but so substantial and and pivotal as the thematic center of eleven variations for orchestra.

Along with a good performance of his MacNeil Lehrer variations by the RTE National Symphony, conducted by Richard Pittman, this volume of Hoffer's impressive work includes his "Elegy for a Friend," "Elegy for Violin and Orchestra" and "Symphony Posette-Dart."

This is uncommonly well-made music with a popularity potential for the concert hall that's nothing if not unusual.

-- J.S.



Keith Jarrett

Sleeper: Live in Tokyo

[ECM, two discs]

4 stars

Q: When is a previously unissued 33-year-old jazz masterpiece, one of the great jazz recordings of 2012?

A: When it's the magnificent disc titled "Sleeper" which Keith Jarrett's "European Quartet" recorded in Tokyo on April 16, 1979. This is not only the finest disc I've ever heard from Jarrett with Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen, it's as great as any saxophone quartet disc in Jarrett's entire recording career.

And thereby hangs a tale. It seems that ECM's founder, the immensely influential Manfred Eicher, has been searching through the ECM vaults in the years following the crucial label's 40th anniversary in 2009. In the immensity of unissued recordings by Jarrett (to go along with immensity of those issued), he found this, a stupendous performance of exquisite melody and formidable rhythmic power.

The revelation on "Sleeper" (and it's all of that multiplied times 10) is drummer Jon Cristensen who, on the disc's opener "Personal Mountains," gives one of the great drum performances on any Jarrett quartet disc. And considering that we're talking about a composer/pianist who has spent the lion's share of his recording career with one of the great drum masters, Jack De Johnette, that's quite an achievement.

Both Jarrett and saxophonist Jan Garbarek are transcending themselves all through these Tokyo performances.

It's melodically exquisite and rhythmically extraordinary. To say that there is no jazz being recorded today that seems to come anywhere near it is merely to say what everyone knows -- that jazz doesn't quite have the presence in 2012 that it had when Jarrett was already more than a decade into one of the greatest careers of the last jazz half century.

-- J.S.



Maybach Music Group

Self Made Vol. 2

[Maybach Music Group/Warner Bros]

3 stars

Rick Ross is as audacious a businessman as he is a rapper.

Not only because the Maybach Music label owner has been giving sacks of cash to exotic dancers in strip clubs across America to promote this compilation's bouncing first single, "Bag of Money." Ross understands how to showcase his label's roster without fearing they'll best the boss. He's looking to sell records by Maybach signees like Meek Mill, the controversial Philadelphia MC who, when not busy fighting Drake's battles with Chris Brown or arguing with preachers over risque lyrics, is releasing his MMG debut in August.

While Ross saves the ego for his forthcoming album, "God Forgives, I Don't" (on the rival Def Jam label), he's got plenty of boastful brio to go around on "Bury Me a G," his crackling duet with T.I., and guest bits littered throughout SMV2 like the crunching "Black Magic," with Philly's Mill.

Some of the album's best moments focus on singsongy rapper/crooner Omarion and Washington MC Wale. Their sweet-and-sour pairing on "M.I.A." is a sure-fire soul-hop hit if ever there was one. Still, Maybach is an exclusive gang, and hip-hop's mob mentality is made fluidly funky on the team effort "This Thing of Ours."

-- A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer