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We'll depart from our customary CD review format this time to publish some short takes on our last-minute recommendations for holiday giving or getting. Most of these CDs have been made by artists who live and work among us here in NC, folks who enrich our lives all year long. If the holidays are times for friends and family, these members of our extended artistic family should be just the ticket. Your purchases help support the musicians and in one case a most worthy charitable cause, too. And all will give pleasure. Enjoy!
Elmer Gibson, piano. Jazz Ornaments: 8 holiday tunes. Kumekucha Records KR-0406 (© 2006) (35:27) $14.00 plus shipping from http://cdbaby.com/cd/elmergibson4.
The legendary Elmer Gibson is one of the Triangle's greatest jazz figures, and his genius shows in these fine takes on some familiar tunes – "Jingle Bells," "Good King Wenceslas," "O Christmas Tree," "Christmas for You and for Me," "Wassail, Wassail," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Deck the Halls," and "Hey, Hey Yo." The CD is short, but its source explains all – these cuts all began life in 2000 as single items for mp3.com but are now collected and issued in one convenient place. The sound is more than acceptable. Music lovers who have heard Gibson's art in clubs or backing up major visiting artists or with, say, the Triangle Youth Philharmonic will know immediately how important this release is and how much charm and delight it will provide.
Elmer Gibson, piano. The Reach of Memory: 12 solo compositions. $18.50 plus shipping from http://cdbaby.com/cd/elmergibson3.
This much more substantial contribution to the jazz piano discography encompasses a dozen works, in some cases markedly inspired by other, earlier artists, all filtered thru Elmer Gibson's unique musical prism. There's a major bonus, too, in that $5.00 from the sale of each CD goes to the Eastern NC Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. The cuts – "Changes," "A Pisces Moment," "Jus' Teasin'," "A Place on High," "Pee Wee's Blues," "In a Monkish Mood," "D.S.U.," "Quiet Please," "Look Back Tomorrow," "A Distant Voice," "Shadow of Doubt," and "Song for Melnese" – reward repeated listening, revealing more and more of their inner selves with each repeat. The sound is good, the music is full of insights and often deeply moving, and this is warmly recommended, not just for seasonal listing but also for year-round pleasure.
Note: These Gibson items are available in Raleigh at Quail Ridge Books and in Durham at Off Beat Records.
Anita Burroughs-Price, harp, with Brian Reagin, violin, Bonnie Thron, cello, and Donna Jolly, organ. Healing Touch: Music by Bach, Rowland Huw Prichard, Fauré, George Hugg, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers, Massenet, Marcel Grandjany, Saint-Saëns, & Thomas A. Dorsey, plus Irish and Gaelic melodies, "There is a Balm in Gilead," & the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria." $19.00 + $2.00 shipping, available from http://www.anitaharp.com/.
Few artists have more active outreach programs than Anita Burroughs-Price, who takes her harps everywhere to provide what this CD's title so aptly suggests. Her music ministry, for want of a better phrase, has brought solace and hope to countless people, and this splendid recording shows why. There's much to be said for the healing and consoling powers of the harp, and Burroughs-Price is one of our leading players, so while this is not particularly seasonal, it will help listeners through the holidays and in all other seasons of the year as well.
Kate Steinbeck, flute, & Byron Hedgepeth, percussion. Light in the Corner: Music by Lou Harrison, Howard Hanson, Bach, and others. © 2004. $15.00 plus shipping, available from http://cdbaby.com/cd/hedgepeth. For more information, see http://www.lightinthecorner.com/cd.htm.
This is not your typical flute recital, nor is Kate Steinbeck your typical flutist. She's become a major presence in North Carolina, thanks to her concerts throughout the state and her leadership of the annual Keowee Chamber Music Festival in our mountains. Byron Hedgepeth, of Black Mountain, plays percussion plus marimba and vibes. This CD invites repetition and will fascinate and amaze for its many unusual and haunting sounds.
Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, Eric Stark, Artistic Director. From East to West: A Festival of Carols: Music by Dan Locklair, John Gardner, Frank Burch Brown, Bob Chilcott, and others. © 2006. $18.00 plus shipping, available from http://www.indychoir.org/.
This is an admirable collection of some unusual carols, admirably sung by an outstanding choir and variously accompanied, but the chief attraction for Tar Heels may well be the title track, "From East to West," composed in 2003 by Dan Locklair, distinguished Composer in Residence at Wake Forest University. Locklair's choral – and organ – works continue to impress, and this stirring work, which is among his very best, sets the tone for the rest of the recorded program. Its disc-mates are of comparable worth and beauty, and the recording serves as a fine reminder that there is great choral singing all over this land.
Triangle Brass Band, Michael J. Votta, Director. March Madness: Marches from around the World. $17.00 from http://www.trianglebrass.org/ or $15.00 at TBB concerts.
This fine collection of marches really do come from "around the world" – the composers include Hosay, Sousa, Fucik, Hall, Van der Roost, K.L. King, Shostakovich, Hanssen, Texidor, Goodwin, Coates, Byrd, and Willson. The performances by our own Triangle Brass Band, which this season celebrates its 20th anniversary, are superb in every respect, and the sound, engineered by Dwight Robinett, is startlingly realistic. Not all the pieces are, strictly speaking, marches – Shostakovich is represented with some march-like folk dances – but the set is welcome on several levels: these works are not often found on recordings, particularly of this quality; and the CD serves as a wonderful souvenir of the TBB's 20th birthday year.
Dave Brubeck:  Nocturnes. John Salmon, piano. Naxos American Classics 8.559301 (55:21). Recorded 2005 at the School of Music, UNCG, Greensboro. $8.99. http://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.559301
This latest addition to Naxos' growing discography of music by Dave Brubeck sheds new light on the pianist and composer, who is surely among our nation's most effective and successful "crossover" artists. It helps that the pianist in this case is John Salmon, whose exceptional technical skills and artistic understanding make him an ideal Brubeck interpreter, one who has earned the praise of the master himself. These short nocturnes – the longest, "Koto Song," is only 5:31 in length, and most are less than 2 minutes – cover an astonishing amount of territory, as Brubeck explains in his own program note. The sound is as good as the music and the playing, and even dyed-in-the-wool Brubeck fans will find much to cherish in these generally intimate, often autobiographical pieces.
Note that this is Salmon's second Brubeck CD for Naxos. The first, also recorded at UNCG, includes the Chromatic Fantasy Sonata, five pieces from "Two-Part Adventures," "Tritonis," "Rising Sun," and a short work dedicated to the pianist, "The Salmon Strikes." It's available on Naxos 8.559212. And while on the subject, Brubeck's The Gates of Justice is available on Naxos 8.559414. This choral work, a cantata based in part on Jewish texts, is part of the Milken Archive series of recordings. The performers include the Dave Brubeck Trio, bass-baritone Kevin Deas, Cantor Alberto Mizrahi, and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society.
Ben Johnston: String Quartets Nos. 2, 3, 4 & 9. Kepler Quartet. New World 80637-2 © 2006. $15.99 plus $4.00 shipping, available from http://www.newworldrecords.org/.
Ben Johnston's music has been heard in North Carolina and should be better known here, for he is one of our nation's greatest and most innovative composers and he's a long-time resident of Rocky Mount. Still, it took a Wisconsin-based young quartet, the Kepler Quartet, to take up the cause of his string quartets, beyond single recordings here and there. This is the first volume of several that will document Johnston's work in an integral set. The composer is working with and encouraging the players, and music lovers must be grateful for their collective efforts. These are not easy-listening pieces – the works are mostly in "extended just intonation," thoroughly explained in notes by Bob Gilmore, whose scholarly work has also embraced Johnston's mentor and teacher, Harry Partch. That said, Johnston's language can be readily appreciated by those whose inquisitiveness has led them to Partch or Ruggles or Ives. Here's hoping that resources are found to complete this project; those who might wish to assist may contact the Kepler Quartet via the ensemble's website at http://www.keplerquartet.com/.