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Listening Post: Tribute to Jackson Browne, Schubert, Brahms, Seattle Symphony


Various Artists, “Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne” (Music Road). The obvious question that comes to mind is, what took so long? Jackson Browne has been making all but peerless albums of singer-songwriter fare for some 40 years, and his influence is celebrated every time some new songwriter is hailed as being emblematic of the “Laurel Canyon era,” that time in the early ’70s when a sleepy hillside outpost of greater Los Angeles became a workshop for mellow but incisive post-folk writing. Yet “Looking Into You” is the first Browne tribute collection to see the light of day. The 23 songs covered here stick fairly close to Browne’s original script, which is as it should be. Heavyweight contemporaries bow to kiss the ring, among them Don Henley, (a spot-on, emotionally invested take on “These Days”), Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, (a giddy “Linda Paloma”) and Bonnie Raitt with David Lindley (a lilting “Everywhere I Go”). However, standouts come via unexpected interpretations, principal among them Bruce Hornsby’s rootsy interpretation of the undervalued Browne gem “I’m Alive.” Browne’s gift has always been an ability to marry beautiful melodies to poetically compassionate lyrics. Thus, “Looking Into You” was going to have to be understated and subtle to be true to its honoree. Happily, it is. ΩΩΩ (Jeff Miers)


Schubert, The Late Piano Sonatas performed by Paul Lewis (Harmonia Mundi, two discs). One of the great recent classical recordings. Paired here with British pianist Paul Lewis’ 2012 recording of Schubert’s Piano Sonatas D.959 and 960 are new recordings that complete the pianist’s magnificent performance of Schubert’s Late piano sonatas: performances of the Sonatas D. 784 Op. Posthumous 143 and D. 958. It is, of course, the resounding tragedy of Schubert that calling some piano sonatas “late” Sonatas is so provisional when you’re dealing with a composer who was only 31 when he died. Here is what Lewis told Listen magazine editor Ben Finane about the departures on these works: “There is no precedent in his music for what the language becomes – that sense of austerity, sparseness, hopelessness, terror even! It’s something completely new … I think he suddenly he had an acute awareness of his own mortality as a young man – still in his twenties. The fact that his musical language changed so abruptly – most of what he wrote after that period seems a lot more interesting than what came before. There’s a depth and darkness and ambiguousness.” All of which is immensely affecting in these performances by a pianist whose Schubert and Beethoven are equally among the recorded piano achievements of our time. After his Beethoven cycle, says Lewis, he wanted to return to Schubert’s “smaller scale” and it’s brilliant. ΩΩΩΩ (Jeff Simon)


Johannes Brahms, String Quintets No. 1 and 2 performed by The Takacs Quartet, with Lawrence Power, viola (Hyperion). A friend and I got to joking around recently about how some people “get” Brahms and some people do not. If you are one of the listeners who thrill to his music, this album is for you. The Takacs Quartet, brimming with passion and purpose, bring out the aspects of Brahms that his fans love and his detractors puzzle at – the nobility, the resonant harmonies, the ecstatic outpourings of sound. The musicians of the Takacs Quartet are not strangers to Buffalo. In 2010, the group played on the Buffalo Chamber Music Society series, and News Critic Emeritus Herman Trotter remarked at one point on their relative darkness of tone. There is some darkness on this disc – and you want that in Brahms – but there’s also depth, and a feeling of enjoyment, as if this fine and regal music is to be savored. Which it is. The Quintet No. 2 is a particular joy with its ringing opening tones and yearning Adagio, showing the Takacs’ blissfully quiet high treble tones. But the less-heard Quintet No. 1 is also irresistible with its ecstatic melodies. ΩΩΩΩ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


The Seattle Symphony, Ravel Orchestral Music and Saint Saens Third Symphony; Henri Dutilleux, Symphony No. 1, “Tout un Monde lointan,” and “The Shadows of Time;” Ives, Symphony no.2, Carter “Instances” and Gershwin “An American in Paris” all performed by Seattle Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ludovic Morlot (Seattle Symphony Records). A new label devoted exclusively to the Seattle Symphony and its music director Ludovic Morlot begins with these three discs, two of which convey the problem of transferring the program requirements of live concerts to disc. Only the disc devoted to three works by Henri Dutilleux, with whom Morlot has had a relationship since being a student at Tanglewood in 2001, devotes a whole disc to one composer. In the American disc, Ives’ Second Symphony certainly belongs with either Elliott Carter’s last orchestral composition “Instances” or Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” but not really both. It makes for an all-American disc that, however well-played, is ungainly for disc listeners. Slightly better is the pairing of Ravel’s most famous orchestral works (“Rapsodie Espagnole,” “Pavane pour une infante defunte” and “Alborada del Gracioso” with Saint-Saens’ organ symphony. Fortunately, all performances are excellent, however awkwardly programmed as single coherent discs. ΩΩΩ½ for Ives etc. and Ravel etc., ΩΩΩ for Dutilleux. (J.S.)


Tatiana Parra and Vardan Ovsepian, Lighthouse (Parra/Ovsepian). Gorgeous. Tatiana Parra is a 30-something Brazilian singer who, according to most sources, has been performing since she was five years old (commercials, jingles and the like) and is an old hand at performing in just a duo with a pianist. Ovspepian is a pianist born in Armenia, educated in Estonia, Helsinki and Boston’s Berklee School and now living in California. Their duet together on Brazilian music and original music of their own is quite marvelous. The clarity and precision of Parra’s voice is close to astonishing, especially when you can hear that there is nothing the slightest bit academic about it. Almost the same could be said here about Ovsepian’s piano playing. It’s available from Ovsepian’s website and it’s a complete delight. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)


The Jimmy Giuffre 3 &4, New York Concerts (Elemental, two discs). A rare and important jazz performance from 1965 but, at the same time, something of a disappointment. Jimmy Giuffre was one of the most important jazz experimentalists of the mid-’50s and early-’60s. It could be argued though that by the time these previously unreleased live performances were recorded in 1965, he was, understandably, well into a “lost decade” that was undocumented. The music here on these two discs is post-John Coltrane and post-Ornette Coleman avant-gardism by a truly great and formidable jazz clarinetist and saxophonist (tenor and baritone). Its experimentalism, to be sure, but not entirely in a language that was Giuffre’s own. The Jimmy Giuffre Three of the ’50s was a sublime folk-influenced trio that used Jim Hall, at first with bassist Ralph Pena and then with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. Its proof of huge jazz propulsion at low volume without a drummer makes the music eternally fresh and winning. His Giuffre Three with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow from the early ’60s was expressionistic, classically influenced and quite different but equally formidable. By 1965 here, Giuffre’s virtuosic playing (He’d been, by then, a professional musician since the ’40s) is never less than interesting, whether in trio with bassist Richard Davis and drummer Joe Chambers or pianist Don Friedman, bassist Barre Philips or Chambers again on drums. But Giuffre had, far too soon, adopted unconvincing sonic experimentation for his default genre and abandoned a natural exquisiteness that would return to jazz very shortly in the music of ECM, especially by Keith Jarrett. The music is from the archives of George Klabin, the engineer and producer whose newly released vintage discs on Resonance are some of the treasures of our era of jazz. A valuable pair of discs but frustrating too. ΩΩΩ (J.S.)

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