Bob Dylan, “Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): The Bootleg Series Vol. 10” (Columbia/Legacy, two discs). It tells us an awful lot about Bob Dylan that his “Bootleg Series” releases are often much stronger, more cogent, and more coherent than the original albums he culled their raw materials from. The latest in the series, “Another Self Portrait (1969-1971),” is the 10th installment, and quite possibly the most revealing yet. The collection - twin discs, or a deluxe four-disc package that adds Dylan and the Band’s performance from the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969 - covers one of the most contentious periods in Dylan’s career. Most of the material comes from sessions surrounding those that yielded the albums “Self Portrait” and “New Morning,” two of the most reviled in Dylan’s canon. These were the releases that created such an uproar among Dylan’s ’60s fanbase - folks who expected him to continue to be the “voice of a generation” as the country readied itself for several more years of Vietnam and an often debilitating post-’60s ennui. Dylan, following his near-mythical motorcycle accident and retreat to Woodstock, N.Y., wasn’t having any of it. He was more concerned with clinging to his wife, his children, his new home, whatever privacy he could finagle for himself, and what little remained of his sanity after spending the better part of a decade being treated more like a Messiah than a man. So rock’s great poet stopped writing songs, for the most part, and started digging into the folk song catalog, covering tunes from the past that amounted to trifles when compared to the head-spinning brilliance of his mid- to late-’60s work. For “Self Portrait,” Dylan tracked tunes primarily with the minimal accompaniment of his own acoustic guitar and subtle accompaniment from guitarist David Bromberg and keyboardist Al Kooper. Then he sent these raw tracks to producer Bob Johnstone in Nashville, for some sweetening. Dylan didn’t bother to show up for these overdub sessions, which in effect ruined the original recordings by crafting maudlin, syrupy string arrangements and run-of-the-mill extra instrumentation. Disc one of this new collection presents the original, unadorned demo recordings for the first time, and goes a long way toward rescuing “Self Portrait” from history’s dung heap.
Disc two does essentially the same thing for “New Morning,” the follow-up recording which represented Dylan’s return to songwriting. It concludes with a soul-stirring take on one of Dylan’s brightest gems from this period, the defiantly hopeful, though still world-weary “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” This is of course all must-have material for Dylan-heads, but it is also revelatory historical data - proof that Dylan could be his own worst enemy, certainly, but also proof that Dylan knew what he was doing when he purposely destroyed his stature as the world’s songwriting savior. He was, after all, simply seeking a new morning. ∆∆∆∆ (Jeff Miers)
Marcel Tyberg, Symphony No. 2 and Piano Sonata No. 2 conducted by The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta, conductor. With pianist Fabio Bidini. (Naxos). Made possible by the support of Buffalo’s Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies, this disc is the latest development in the orchestra’s eventful exploration of the music of Holocaust victim Marcel Tyberg. There is the Symphony No. 2, which the BPO premiered at Kleinhans Music Hall in spring 2011. And new to me was the Piano Sonata No. 2, played here by Fabio Bidini, a gifted soloist with a good track record with the BPO (he accompanied the orchestra on last year’s Florida tour). The piano sonata, in F sharp minor, was, for me, the revelation. It contains beautiful writing. Just as Tyberg’s symphonies have you thinking of Bruckner, the piano sonata calls to mind other greats of the 19th century tradition. The passionate slow movement, with its rich resonances and two-against-three rhythms, clearly echoes Brahms. The galloping figures in the Scherzo are more like Schumann. Tyberg does not have these composers’ nobility of melody, and the movements do not have a lot of emotional contrast. But his ideas grab and keep your attention (good thing, because the sonata is over a half an hour long). The figures and harmonies, meanwhile, are a pleasure to hear again, high praise. He understood the piano and the music is masterly. Bidini handles its challenges with grace. The symphony also engages you, first with its passionate opening movement, then with its pastoral Adagio. The Adagio lived up to my memories of the Kleinhans performance, when I found it very affecting. As in the sonata, the music is a sensual as well as intellectual pleasure. There is lovely writing for strings. It is all natural and unforced. For me the adventure was hearing, again, the last movement, which begins with caressing quiet and builds to real power and surprise. (There is one moment of shock that I remember loving at Kleinhans.) It was clear that Tyberg was inspired by dark music of the past, from Mozart through Brahms and Bruckner. How lucky we are that Tyberg’s scores, safeguarded by family friend Dr. Enrico Mihich, ended up in Buffalo. I am also grateful to Herman Trotter, now News classical music critic emeritus, for encouraging Falletta and the orchestra to pursue this project, this exploration of the music of a forgotten master. The whole world wins. ∆∆∆½ (Mary Kunz Goldman)
The Rascal and the Sparrow, performed by Antonio Pompa-Baldi, piano (Steinway & Sons). This year marks the 50th anniversary of the deaths of two celebrated figures of Parisian music, the composer Francois Poulenc and the singer Edith Piaf. A connection between them inspired this album. Poulenc titled his Improvisation No. 15, written in 1959, “Hommage a Edith Piaf.” It’s a melodic, beautiful little song, and pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi saw it as proof of how Poulenc must have admired the diminutive singer known as the “sparrow.” That inspired this album, a collection of Poulenc piano pieces and solo piano transcriptions by Italian composer Roberto Piana of Piaf songs. The reason for the CD might be a stretch, but the music is lightly appealing – fun, you could almost say, because it has a nostalgic salon sound. The Piaf transcriptions, including famous numbers like “Hymn to Love” and “La vie en rose,” are skillfully done so they don’t sound trite or New Age, always a risk in such an endeavor. There are a lot of wistful waltzes, like “Un grand amour” and “Berceuse.” The liner notes point out links between Piaf and Poulenc, real and imagined. This is a sweet, offbeat addition to the Steinway & Sons CD line. ∆∆∆ (M.K.G.)
The Brussels Jazz Orchestra Featuring Joe Lovano, “Wild Beauty” (Half Note). One of Lovano’s best discs in the past decade. What is all too often the case with Lovano is this: What carries his discs is the ultra-professional club jazz tenor professionalism of the musician from Cleveland and not one of the most creative and ambitious idea men in all of jazz (a natural jazz disc producer if ever there was one). This one – a collaboration with composer/arranger Gil Goldstein – is close to stupendous, not least for the passion of Lovano’s playing and the excellence of his Belgian instrumental contributors who are virtually new to us here. Lovano has always understood how extraordinary jazz can be when soloists and composer/arrangers are on equal footing (one of his more significant partners was Gunther Schuller). The disc is dedicated to his late mother who “was born and lived her life in Cleveland but her heart and soul were with her Sicilian roots and her family.” A hearty blend of art, roots and autobiography. ∆∆∆½ (Jeff Simon)
Geri Allen, “Grand River Crossings: Motown and Motor City Inspirations” (Motema). When Geri Allen was growing up in Detroit, she says, “the face of the music curriculum of the Detroit Public Schools was revolutionizing the world from the basement of Motor City up. Kids like us were changing the world talents crafted and honed in those schools.” On this not-quite-solo recital of jazz piano, you won’t necessarily recognize her version of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” or Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown,” but you’ll fall under Allen’s solo piano spell anyway. The great Detroit trumpet player Marcus Belgrave – who brags of being the last survivor of Ray Charles’ band – plays on three tunes and tenor player David McMurray (not to be confused with David Murray) plays on Holland, Dozier and Holland’s “Itching in My Heart.” A deeply poetic, sensitive and beautiful tribute to Detroit’s soul and culture. ∆∆∆½ (J.S.)
Gregory Porter, “Liquid Spirit” (Blue Note). A musical brother of Kurt Elling and a musical cousin of Curtis Stigers, Gregory Porter has, with maximum velocity, helped populate the ranks of male jazz singers as convincingly as the ranks of female jazz singers have been bursting since Diana Krall. If you want calisthenics and arena charm, you go to Michael Buble concerts (with one coming up locally any minute). If you want the starkest possible drama since Billie Holiday, you go to Andy Bey. But when it comes to jazz soul without Lou Rawls’ suavity and a singer as comfortable with songs by Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln as “The In-Crowd,” Porter is unfailingly brilliant. And lest you think Gregory Porter is, in any way, kidding or frivolous about his blues/jazz/gospel vocation, listen to “Musical Genocide” (“I do not agree/This is not for me/No, musical genocide. I will not commit nor will I submit to/ musical genocide.”) ∆∆∆½ (J.S.)