Chucho Valdes & The Afro-Cuban Messengers – Border-Free (2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96kHz | Time – 01:10:33 minutes | 940 MB | Genre: Jazz
Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz | © JazzVillage
Recorded: Abdala Studio, Havana, Cuba and in Comanche Recording Studio, Málaga, Spain, in December 2012.

Border-Free is a companion piece and a doubling-down on Chucho Valdés’ magnificent Chucho’s Steps album from 2010. Valdés has retained most of his Afro-Cuban Messengers (although the drummer and bassist are new, the percussionist, vocalist/bata player and trumpeter return), pays tribute once again to family members and key historical musicians and cultures, and reprises the previous album’s virtuosic hopping and condensing of genres.
But where Chucho’s Steps included a dedication to Chucho’s son, Julian, Border-Free includes tributes to his grandmother (“Caridad Amaro,” which concludes with an excerpt from a Rachmaninoff concerto she liked); his mother (“Pilar,” which interpolates compositions from Bach and Miles Davis that she favored); and his famous, recently departed father, Bebo Valdés (“Bebo,” which, despite the small ensemble, evokes Bebo’s Sabor de Cuba Orchestra from the ’50s).
While Chucho’s Steps featured an overt tribute to the Marsalis family, Border-Free actually brings saxophonist Branford Marsalis onboard for three songs, an inspired addition that bears fruit within the ’50s Cuban ambiance of the Bebo homage and the Afro-Arabic gnawa music of “Abdel.” As its title implies, Border-Free also ups the ante in terms of genre hopping and swapping. Along with the aforementioned forays into Euro-classical, Arab, old-style Cuban and postbop stylings, the centerpiece of the record is the 12-minute “Afro-Comanche,” featuring percussion and chants and dedicated to the mixed heritage Cuban offspring of the Comanches who were deported to the island in the 19th century.
But above all, Border-Free, like Chucho’s Steps, is carried forth on the crests of Valdes’ piano. The notes pour out like a force of nature, conjuring the nightclub and the conservatory, bop and clave, concerto and danzón via heart, hands and soul. The opening number, “Congadanza,” is the musical equivalent of a waterfall kicking up a rainbow in its mist. At 71, he’s found another gear these past two records. –Britt Robson, JazzTimes

(more…)

Bela Bartok – Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta – Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop (2012/2015) (2xHD)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/192kHz | Time – 1:07:07  minutes | 2,24 GB | Genre: Classical
Official Digital Download – Source: HDTracks | © Naxos
Recorded: Meyerhoff Hall, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, from 2nd-4th October, 2009 (tracks 1-5), and on 3rd, 4th and 6th June, 2010 (tracks 6-9)

Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, one of his greatest works, was written in the United States after the composer was forced to flee Hungary during World War II. It is not only a brilliant display vehicle for each instrumental section but a work of considerable structural ingenuity that unites classical forms and sonorities with the pungency of folk rhythms and harmonies. Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta explores darker moods through a score of marvellously poised symmetry.
This release follows Marin Alsop’s ‘riveting’ (Gramophone) Baltimore Symphony recordings of Dvořák’s symphonies.
This has long been a popular coupling of works by Béla Bartók, but this new release rides on the crest of a wave of previous successes and will occupy a leading position amongst the competition on the quality of its recording and performance. Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra have a synergy which has made their Dvořák symphonic recordings sound ‘as fresh as when Dvořák put pen to paper’ (BBC Music Magazine on the Symphonies 7 and 8, NBD0010). Of Dvořák’s New World Symphony (8570714) BBC Music Magazine also wrote, ‘it is rare to be able to say that a performance forces one to listen to a work anew, but this is exactly what Alsop’s reading achieves.’

(more…)

Kalevi Aho – Piano works – Sonja Fraki (2015)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96kHz | Time – 73:22 minutes | 1,12 GB | Genre: Classical
Official Digital Download – Source: eclassical.com | © BIS Records AB
Recorded: January 2013 at Nya Paviljongen, Grankulla, Finland

Known particularly for his orchestral output – 16 symphonies and 21 concertos to date! – the Finnish composer Kalevi Aho was recently described in Gramophone as having ‘a strong claim to the title of greatest living symphonist’. But as followers of the ongoing releases of his music on BIS will know, Aho has also composed a large number of works for smaller forces – quartets and quintets, duos and solo pieces. On the present disc, the Finnish pianist Sonja Fräki presents his output for solo piano, comfortably fitting on one disc, but nevertheless spanning some 30 years of a long career. The disc in fact opens with Aho’s earliest published work, the Nineteen Preludes from 1965-68, written before the composer had begun any formal studies of either composition or the piaNo.There is even a first version of Prelude No.8 dating from 1963, when Kalevi Aho was in his early teens and was just beginning to teach himself the piano, writing music intended mainly as practice pieces for his own use. Since then Aho has composed for other budding pianists – the Two Easy Piano Pieces for Children and the Sonatina – but as in much of his other music, the works for piano display his characteristic fascination with the virtuosic and technically brilliant side of music-making. On the present disc, this quality comes to the fore in the Sonata, with its sparkling first movement and percussive, toccata-like second movement followed by a searching Tranquillo molto, characterized by a trill which continues almost without interruption throughout the movement. Commissioned as a set piece for a piano competition, Solo II is likewise a challenge for any pianist, and forms part of a series of big (roughly ten-minute) solo works for various instruments, of which several have been recorded by BIS.

(more…)