Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this music junkie as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. Compact Discs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no files.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Bert Kaempfert & His Orchestra - Dreamin' & Swingin' Christmas Wonderland (2001)


German import

Originally released in 1963 under the title Christmas Wonderland:


Kaempfert had a #1 hit in early 1961 with a tune titled Wonderland By Night, so from a marketing perspective, it made sense to release another album with the word "wonderland" in the title. This remastered CD edition was released in 2001 with 8 bonus tracks. From Kaempfert's website:
In the same year as the Christmas production, Bert Kaempfert arranged and composed some other songs so as to add to the festive mood of a musical journey during Christmas time and end with strong emotions and Bert’s version of Sentimental Journey. This is how the original album CHRISTMAS WONDERLAND has become the present album DREAMIN’ & SWINGIN’ CHRISTMAS WONDERLAND.
It's studio orchestra music in the same easy listening vein as Lawrence Welk and quickly takes one back a few decades. There's a couple of Kaempfert originals, including Jingo Jango (see personal memory below), but mostly old favorites such as Winter Wonderland, Sleigh Ride, White Christmas, etc. I've often written that I spend much of my time each December chasing Christmas nostalgia and memories of childhood holidays. This album is perfect for such mind wanderings and could only be improved upon by a roaring fire and a beverage of choice. That could be because the music reminds me a great deal of the soundtracks from the classic Rankin-Bass animated Christmas specials like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) and Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town (1970). Pairs well with some Ray Conniff Christmas music from the same time period.

Press of the time:
  • Billboard: "Happy sounds abound"
  • CashBox: "Kaempfert has included a warm selection of happy yuletide items and dishes them up in his distinctive melodic style."


Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Tracks: Most tracks are in the 2 - 2½ minute range and very upbeat - originals like Jingo Jango and Toy Parade are pure joy. And while Children's Christmas Dream drags on a bit, there's nothing I want to skip when I'm in the mood for such music.

Bonus tracks: The eight bonus tracks are pleasant enough, but there's certainly nothing Christmasy about them, from the titles to the instumentation and arrangements. Not bad, but unecessary for your holiday enjoyment.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: In 1979, when I was in eighth grade, I played trumpet in the middle school band. For the Christmas concert that year, the band director, Mr. Curtis, had us perform Jingo Jango and that was my first exposure to the tune. I liked the thing but never heard it much after that performance. When Napster hit big around the turn of the century, I may or may not have downloaded a copy of the Kaempfert original - I admit to nothing. I purchased this disc solely to have a copy of that tune but it turns out I like all the holiday cuts here.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Zero 7 - Simple Things Remixes (2001)


I was unaware this remix album even existed until I saw it in the 50¢ used bin. I love the original Simple Things album so why not? Unfortunately, all this thing really did was send me scrambling to spin my Simple Things CD. These aren't bad tracks and at times I find myself dancing along, but I prefer the originals.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Tracks: 32 minutes.
  1. Distractions (Bugz in the Attic Remix)
  2. In the Waiting Line (Dorfmeister con Madrid de los Austrias Dub)
  3. Destiny (Photek Remix)
  4. Distractions (Madlib's Ynq Remix)
  5. End Theme (Roni Size's Tear It Up Remix)
  6. Destiny (Music Video)
The better tracks are 2 & 3. Track 4 is interesting in that it is a dance remix in three, which makes it seem unsteady throughout and that's good enough reason to take a pass on it. Track 5 is a DnB mess that renders the source material unrecognizable. Perhaps that was the point.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None

Previously revisited for the blog:
Yeah Ghost (2009)
The Garden (2006)
When It Falls (2004)
Simple Things (2001)

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Ralph Towner & Gary Burton - Matchbook (1975)


I wish I could remember where I got the recommendation for this CD so that I could thank them or give them proper credit because this thing is fantastic.* One of the most quiet, relaxing CDs I've come across in the past few years. The music here could almost be termed "folk-jazz-classical fusion" without being New Agey. The duo performs works that are peaceful but always hold one's interest. Towner's acoustic guitars play perfectly off Burton's vibes on these nine tracks. A line from a feature on Burton in the November 20, 1975 issue of DownBeat magazine simply describes the album as "a friendly exchange of ideas with guitarist Ralph Towner, an instrumentalist whose style bears many surprising similarities to Gary’s" and that's a great analogy - more like a conversation between the two.

Recorded in Germany on July 26 & 27, 1974, when Towner was 34 years of age and Burton was 31.

Also the first ECM CD I've ever purchased that was packaged in a bi-fold cardboard slip cover instead of a proper jewel case. This 2019 reissue is part of the ECM Touchstones releases.

Reviews/ratings:
  • Billboard: "a pure delight"
  • Walrus!: "This is fine modern, improvisational chamber music."
  • DownBeat (★★★★★): "coerce[s] so much rapt, meditational attention from the listener that one has no choice but to be strongly affected."
  • High Fidelity: "This is an album for making love, for making peace."
  • The Rolling Stone Jazz & Blues Album Guide (1999): ★★★★
  • The Virgin Encyclopedia of Jazz (1999): ★★★★
  • The Penguin Guide to Jazz (5th ed., 2000): ★★★

Album chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200: did not chart
  • Billboard Jazz: #35
  • Record World Jazz: #34

Tracks: It's all beautiful so don't skip anything. My top picks today are Icarus, Aurora, the serene album opener Drifting Petals, along with the two covers: Some Other Time from the musical On The Town and Charles Mingus's Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. The latter of those two concludes the album and leaves you wanting more.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Gary Burton Quintet - Whiz Kids (1987)
Ralph Towner - Solo Concert (1980)

*I believe it was from some random, online list of jazz albums that also included Paul Desmond's 1962 album Desmond Blue, but I've long since forgotten which website. Of course, Desmond Blue will appear in this space at a later date.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Various Artists - The Traditional Sounds Of Christmas (1992)


A reissue grouping of three previously released albums, put together by the GSC Music label. In fact, it appears they just took the leftover, unsold CDs and put them in a bulky three-fer jewel case with minimal listings (below) and no liner note booklet. The 'traditional' part of title rings true even if the 'Christmas' part just misses: the newest tune in the compilation is Leroy Anderson's 1948 piece Sleigh Ride and that's a winter snow song not a Christmas song. The rest of the tunes are older - some several centuries older - and mostly feature somewhat yule-ish lyrics. Perfect for your next church choir Christmas party.


YULETIDE CLASSICS (1988)
12 tracks, 41 minutes


This appears to be a compilation CD and it's included in a compilation. The instrumental orchestral pieces lean a little too much toward Mantovanian/Muzak arrangements, but I nevertheless enjoy the mix of orchestras, chorus, church organs, and brass ensembles, especially highlights from The Messiah.

Tracks:


AN OLDE-FASHIONED CHRISTMAS (1987)
20 tracks, 52 minutes


An odd pairing of timbres. Tracks alternate between choral and brass arrangments. With the exception of Silent Night, the choral work is mostly full throttle and that lack of subtley and variety gets old very quickly. In contrast, the brass arrangements are lively, tasteful, and quite enjoyable. And if you're looking for a track that has both brass and voice, fuggitaboutit.

Tracks:


A CLASSICAL CHRISTMAS (1988)
16 tracks, 52 minutes


This wild compilation is the best of the three discs. Orchestras, a capella choirs, brass quintets, even a jazzy trio of electric piano, acoustic guitar, and flute. Some big names here - Bernstein, Ormandy, Previn, Szell - alongside the likes of The Texas Boys Choir and Rita Ford's Music Boxes. I'm not a fan of operatic sopranos warbling carols atop dense orchestrations and there's a couple of those. But there's enough variety here to keep things interesting plus near the end we hear to Julie Andrews sing the seldom-heard French carol Patapan in a sixtieslicious arrangement, and that's a real treat. I'll even excuse the inclusion of The Hallelujah Chorus (I'm just nit-picking because that chorus closes the Easter section of the oratorio, but I understand the attraction as a stand alone piece as there's no denying it's a masterwork).

Tracks:



Personal Memory Associated with this CD: So many of these old hymns take me right back to my carefree school days; as much comfort can be found in those memories as is in these uplifting lyrics.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Boston Pops - Joy To The World (1992)


At first glance, this seems to be a typical pops orchestra/chorus Christmas release, but I found it different than most for 3 reasons:
  1. The inclusion of a medley of seldom-heard carols written by Alfred Burt (1920 - 1954), which I've loved since I first heard them in the early 1980's (track 7),
  2. a medley consisting of traditional holiday music from other lands (track 10), and
  3. John Williams works in three of his own compositions written for the popular 1990 movie, Home Alone (tracks 5, 6, & 9).
There's also a little cheese included in the form of Robin Williams delivery of 'Twas The Night Before Christmas while the program ends with some standard Christmas Concert repertoire: a sing-along medley for maximum audience participation.

Tracks:
Highlights are tracks 1, 7, 8, 10, 12, & 13. I seem to be partial to the medleys today.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: My father was a huge fan of The Boston Pops as long as I can remember - ever since the days that the group was led by Arthur Fiedler. I inherited this and many other Boston Pops CDs upon his passing and, serendipitously, the lead track here, a popular medley arranged by Leroy Anderson, was usually the first bit of Christmas music I heard each year as a child when my father would turn on his "Christmas Mix" reel-to-reel recording when it was time to decorate the tree.


I was teaching middle school band when this CD was released and am amused to see the Home Alone tracks because of my students' affinity for that movie. At some point in October, I started handing out Christmas music to the students for possible inclusion in the band's concert in December. If the music was heard in the Home Alone movie (Carol Of The Bells, Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree, White Christmas, etc.), students would scream "That's the song from Home Alone!" as if they had just discovered penicillin. I'm fairly certain most had seen the movie dozens of times on VHS. All these years later, I still don't think I've seen the thing.

Previously revisited for the blog:
By Request (1987)

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Acoustic Alchemy - Red Dust & Spanish Lace (1987)


Note: this release was originally purchased as a cassette tape, later replaced by a CD.

Another one of those albums that I must have played quite a bit when it was first released and then slowly forgotten during my transition from LPs/tapes to CDs in the late '80s/early '90s. I say that because I was instantly (re)familiar with all the cuts and found myself humming along on first spin after rescuing this disc from the 50¢ clearance pile. The album is a pleasant but innocuous blend of smooth jazz, new age, instrumental pop, and world music from a duo whose previous gig was in-flight entertainment for Virgin Airlines. From the Nick Webb's liner notes:
I had always wanted to form an instrumental band since I saw "Pentangle" in the early 70's. The acoustic guitar had always been my first love and when I teamed up with classical/flamenco guitarist Simon James things started to take some shape. Since neither of us had any hang-ups about musical barriers, we found we were writing duets of all kinds of musical styles. An album and a single later Simon drifted away to pursue a classical career and I began working with my present partner, Greg Carmichael. Greg brought fresh inspiration and new ideas and before we knew it we were working our passage to the States, performing on Virgin Airlines as "in-flight entertainment." Our travels took us eventually to Nashville and to a meeting with Tony Brown at MCA who commissioned us to make this album for the Master Series. The material on the album represents a wide variety of styles-rock, jazz, flamenco, folk and almost everything in between. The artistic freedom allowed us by the label meant that I could employ the multivarious talents of John Parsons to produce the record. Incidentally John is a superb guitarist in his own right. ln short I had the chance to do everything I’d ever wanted but as the old maxim goes “never believe what an artist says-only what he does" or as Donald Fagen once said, "l cried when I wrote this song-sue me if I play too long."

lf The Oxford English Dictionary definition of alchemy, is "pursuit of the transmutation of the baser metals into gold" and acoustic is "pertaining to sound" then "Acoustic Alchemy" must surely mean "the transformation of musical instruments into something more than the sum of their component parts."

lf our basic ingredients began with 2 acoustic guitars then who's to say where it might end.
I can't believe he fell back on the old 'dictionary definition' shortcut, but at least he threw in a Steely Dan lyric.

The album was issued as part of the MCA Master Series, a short-lived New Age record series under the MCA label that issued its first set of releases in March 1986 and ceased in 1990 when MCA purchased GRP Records and many of the Master Series artists moved to the GRP label, including Acoustic Alchemy.

Album chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200: Did not chart
  • R&R Jazz Radio National Airplay: #14


Tracks: My top picks are Mr. Chow and One For The Road.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I was unfamiliar with Acoustic Alchemy until my newlywed wife and I heard the lead track from this album, Mr. Chow, on the radio sometime in 1989. Most likely heard on KOAI 'The Oasis' 106.1 FM.


We both liked the song so I bought the tape. I was teaching high school jazz band that year (and had absolutely no business doing so) and as part of the class, I would make mixtapes of different sorts of jazz, trying to expose the students to as much music as possible. It was my hope that they'd listen to some of the music outside of school. I have no idea whether they did or not, but I'm pretty sure Mr. Chow was on one of those tapes.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Arcanum (1996)
Blue Chip (1989)

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Christmas Music For Trumpet And Organ (1990)


Baroque music arranged for trumpet and organ. Not your typical Christmas release, to be certain. Mostly Bach along with a few contemporaries and students. Various organists perform while half the tracks feature Ludwig G├╝ttler on trumpet. Since the tunes aren't very familiar, this disc isn't a common request around here during the advent season.

Performances are good, but I'm disappointed the organ(s) and cathedral(s) aren't mentioned in the liner notes. I like that sort of minutia.

Tracks:
  1. Sleepers, Wake, The Voice Is Calling - Ludwig Krebs
  2. How Beautifully The Morning Star Shines - J. S. Bach
  3. Jesus Christ, Son Of God - Bach
  4. Sleepers, Wake, The Voice Is Calling - Bach
  5. Come Down From Heaven, Jesus - Bach
  6. Good Christian Men, Rejoice - Bach
  7. How Beautifully The Morning Star Shines - Georg Friedrich Kauffmann
  8. Voluntary - Sir Walter Galpin Alcock
  9. Glory to God In The Highest - Bach
  10. No Greater Love - Krebs
  11. I Come From Heaven - Bach
  12. German Christmas Concerto - Michel Corrette
The final track also features the "cornos da caccia" ("hunting horn") which could be described as a valveless French horn.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None.