Yes, yes, yes.
Some people might think first about music as two single-named pop divas -- Beyonce and Adele -- duking it out at February's Grammy Awards.
And then there are those of us who still can't get it out of our heads that music is something to which, on its most basic level, money and fame are irrelevant. It can so often just be about a musician and his relationship and his instrument.
Take, for instance in this holiday season, the piano. Israeli pianist/conductor Daniel Barenboim first hit the money and fame branch of music as part of whole generation of dazzling classical virtuosos--violinists Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman and Barenboim's late wife, the magnificent and now legendary cellist Jacqueline DuPre. Barenboim's life and fame are now so much wedded to conducting the world's premiere orchestras--on for instance young violinist Lisa Batiaschvili's performance of the Tchaikovsky and Sibelius Violin concertos IDeutsche Grammophon)--that the piano seems secondary.
But on his new disc "On My New Piano" (Deutsche Grammophon), you have something rare and wonderful personally to make a gift of for a classical listener: the great lifelong virtuoso playing a piano on whose design and construction he collaborated with a Belgian instrument maker. The program he performs is designed to show off just how marvelous and versatile an instrument can be when it comes from a musician as much as an instrument maker.
The repertoire couldn't be more technically varied: Scarlatti, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Wagner/Liszt. (Granted, no Prokofiev or John Cage but hey.) They call the instrument the "Barenboim." He plays it with justifiable pride. It sounds wonderful.
Other music to celebrate and give this holiday season:
Bach, "The French Suites" performed by Murray Perahia (Deutsche Grammophon, two discs.) Bach is what Perahia played during a frustrating period in which he had a hand infection that wouldn't heal for a long time. This disc celebrates the pianist's robust and sublime return to performing strength.
Keith Jarrett, "A Multitude of Angels" (ECM, , four discs). On the four discs of this, which the jazz piano legend calls "the pinnacle of my career," you hear him in Italy in 1996 playing the last of his uninterrupted solo recitals. It is different in kind from most of the earlier music on which he re-created the art of jazz piano. This music, then, is not something whose nature we are likely to hear again. An extraordinary thing, therefore.
Bobby Previte, "Mass" (RareNoise). The music of the remarkable drummer/composer from Niagara Falls is going through a truly phenomenal period. This is a heavy metal mass which can somehow incorporate the music of his old beloved Renaissance composer Guillaume Dufay and his newly beloved composer, 20th century master Olivier Messiaen. Marvelous in every way.
John Scofield, "Country for Old Men" (Impulse). One of the year's wittiest titles. Personally, I think the Grammy people might have nominated this record just in tribute to its cleverness in the jazz guitarist's visit to country repertoire named after the Coen Brothers' movie version of Cormac McCarthy's novel. The music, though, is that good.
It has been a great year for jazz orchestras around the world. Among them:
Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble, "Monk Dreams, Hallucinations and Nightmares" (Red Piano).
Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, "Make America Great Again" (Troubador Jazz). The feistiest, most playful and wittiest wise guy of the Marsalis Brothers proves that he's ready for the sociopolitical era to come.
Billy Hart and the WDR Big Band, "The Broader Picture" (Enja) The lavish and gorgeous palette of the European jazz orchestras is a world away from what jazz, in the Depression, thought of as "Big Band Music." That is hopelessly dated. This is an expansive world of sound that I think is too beautiful to ever date.
And finally in a world where Bob Dylan can actually be given a Nobel Prize for Literature (and decline to show up to accept it), how great a gift is the third volume of "The Randy Newman Songbook" (Nonesuch) which is just the singer/songwriter alone at the piano singing as sardonically as possible about a country he has always uniquely understood.