“Nuggets: Original Artifacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968” (Rhino/Elektra). It came out in 1972, and it’s been blessedly reissued reasonably often since then – 1976, 1998, now with compiler Lenny Kaye (and fellow traveler of Patti Smith) giving us his newest cogitations on this “story of a transition period in American rock and roll, of a changeling era which dashed by so fast that nobody knew much of what to make of it while it was around.”
The British Invasion happened. And Americans woke up and listened. If you think “psychedelic era” denotes the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” or the advent of Pink Floyd, forget it. This is music in the wake of the Beatles full of garage simulations (The Beatle-esque “Lies” by the Knickerbockers from New Jersey, the Dylanesque “A Public Execution” by Mouse – real name Ronny Weiss, the Stonesish “Don’t Look Back” by the Remains from Boston, the Yardbirdsian “Psychotic Reaction” by San Jose’s Count Five, “Moulty” by the Barbarians long rumored to be an early incarnation of The Band). Yes, Virginia there really were rock groups called Chocolate Watch Band, The Magic Mushrooms and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators even though the music is so often pure AM-radio. It’s loaded with rock history – The Blues Magoos version of John Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road,” The Leaves’ musically tight and vocally loose “Hey Joe” and, yes, “Baby Please Don’t Go” by the Amboy Dukes, whose guitarist was the musically glorious and now-politically dreadful Ted Nugent. You want paleolithic Todd Rundgren? Try “Open My Eyes” by the Nazz.
Let’s just say it remains great fun and essential to any pop music collection and leave it at that. Always good to have a new incarnation back. Perish the thought of it ever disappearing. Four stars (Jeff Simon)
Scott Healy-Glenn Alexander Quartet, “Northern Light” (Hudson City). An instructional tale: This was recorded unedited in 1991 by Conan O’Brien’s pianist Scott Healy, guitarist Glenn Alexander, bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Jeff Hirshfield. And then it was promptly forgotten for over two decades until the guitarist brought a cassette (yes, a cassette) of the session to play for his students at Sarah Lawrence College “and they sort of went nuts on it.” So he wrote to Healy “We did this thing 20 years ago but it really held up,” whereupon Healy listened and agreed, saying “I don’t know if I can play that well now.” Imagine when Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays were at their freest and most intuitive together and you’ll have an idea of what this sounds like – and why it’s always a good idea to revisit things you’ve forgotten about for 20 years. Three stars (J.S.)
The Clayton Brothers with Wycliffe Gordon and Stefon Harris, “The Gathering” (ArtistShare). Spirit they’ve got. If you listen to the ensemble playing of the openers “Friday Struttin’ ” and “Tsunami” – not to mention the jagged accompaniment to some of the soloists – you wonder whether the tunes are a tiny bit of an overreach for the musicians involved or whether there just wasn’t enough rehearsal time to make everything optimal. On the other hand, there’s enough zest in this bunch to keep the disc more or less on track even when the sound of the ensembles (and I don’t mean just the intentional second intervals either) is a good deal less than ideal. Alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton at his best sounds sometimes like the middle distance between Cannonball Adderly and Eric Dolphy.
And it’s hard not to feel affection for guys who will play a tune like “This Ain’t Nothin’ But a Party” deliberately based on an Eddie Harris/Les McCann groove – especially when they’ve got friends like Wycliffe Gordon on it. ∆∆ (J.S.)
Brahms Quintets Op.34 and Op. 115 performed by the Tokyo String Quartet with pianist Jon Nakamatsu and clarinetist Jon Manasse (Harmonia Mundi); Gabriel Faure, Quintets with Piano Op.89 and 115 performed by Eric LeSage and Quatour Ebene (Alpha). Romanticism German and French style played by ensembles of uncommon dedication. Decidedly the lesser in terms of performance is, oddly, the Tokyo String Quartet with guest pianist and clarinetist respectively in Brahms’ Quintets from 1864 and 1891. The playing is adequate, certainly, but not first-rate as it ought to demand. Sublime in both music in performance, on the other hand, is pianist Eric LeSage and the Quatour Ebene of Faure’s Piano Quintets from 1906 and 1921. Only 15 years separate the two Faure quintets (where almost 30 separate the Brahms piano and clarinet quintets) but the performance gulf between the renowned Tokyo Quartet and the lesser known Quatour Ebene is substantial. Three stars) for Brahms, four stars for Faure. (J.S.)
Benjamin Britten, “A Ceremony of Carols,” St. Nicolas, the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, the Holst Singers, the City of London Sinfonia, Stephen Layton, conductor (Hyperion). The Ceremony of Carols is a known treasure – you have probably heard at least pieces of it. Here it is sung by a boys’ choir, though Britten originally intended the songs for girls. It’s enchanting, particularly the lullaby “Balulalow” and the bouncy “Wolcum Yole!,” so evocative of medieval tradition. It’s nice, too, how it is framed by Gregorian chant. “St. Nicolas,” a cantata about the patron saint of children, is more self-conscious – pretentious, I want to say.
It’s hard to follow “A Ceremony of Carols.” But it has its moments of sweetness. “The Birth of Nicolas,” set to an oom-pah-pah waltz beat, is a delight with its changing colors. In the song, you hear Nicolas grow up. The 50-minute work is a showcase for Britten’s creativity. There is imaginative, sometimes jazzy use of piano and piano duet, and hale choruses that can make you think of his operas. Three stars. (M.K.G.)
Bach, Brandenburg Concertos, Oregon Bach Festival Chamber Orchestra, Helmuth Rilling, conductor (Hanssler Classic, two discs). There is nothing like when you can get Bach really rocking, the strings and flutes churning like a locomotive, the harpsichord acting as percussion. Without doing anything special, this orchestra and conductor get it right. The music’s light and good-humored and does not sound overly thought-out as a lot of latter-day Baroque performances do. It’s all very merry and bright. If I understand the label right, this was released earlier, in 1994. It’s worth enjoying all over again. Four stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)