The Arctic Monkeys' second EP is anchored by "The View from the Afternoon," the only song here to show up on their 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, but the remaining four songs are strong, barbed, guitar rock that would've felt at home on the finished album. First up is the gnarled, nasty "Cigarette Smoker Fiona," which gives way to an effective showcase of Alex Turner's lyrical side on "Despair in the Departure Lounge," whose sparseness and distortion suggests a demo. "No Buses" trumps "Despair" due to its litheness -- this is the band at their swinging '60s best, only all the allusions are casual -- while the five-minute workout of the title shows the group's facility with syncopated rhythms and multi-tiered structures. It's not as heavy as the Humbug that would come later, but it points in that general direction.
This may be Freddie Hubbard's finest moment as a leader, in that it embodies and utilizes all of his strengths as a composer, soloist, and frontman. On Red Clay, Hubbard combines hard bop's glorious blues-out past with the soulful innovations of mainstream jazz in the 1960s, and reads them through the chunky groove innovations of '70s jazz fusion. This session places the trumpeter in the company of giants such as tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Lenny White. Hubbard's five compositions all come from deep inside blues territory; these shaded notions are grafted onto funky hard bop melodies worthy of Horace Silver's finest tunes, and are layered inside the smoothed-over cadences of shimmering, steaming soul. The 12-minute-plus title track features a 4/4 modal opening and a spare electric piano solo woven through the twin horns of Hubbard and Henderson. It is a fine example of snaky groove music. Henderson even takes his solo outside a bit without ever moving out of the rhythmatist's pocket.
"Delphia" begins as a ballad with slow, clipped trumpet lines against a major-key background, and opens onto a midtempo groover, then winds back into the dark, steamy heart of bluesy melodicism. The hands-down favorite here, though, is "The Intrepid Fox," with its Miles-like opening of knotty changes and shifting modes, that are all rooted in bop's muscular architecture. It's White and Hancock who shift the track from underneath with large sevenths and triple-timed drums that land deeply inside the clamoring, ever-present riff.
Where Hubbard and Henderson are playing against, as well as with one another, the rhythm section, lifted buoyantly by Carter's bridge-building bassline, carries the melody over until Hancock plays an uncharacteristically angular solo before splitting the groove in two and doubling back with a series of striking arpeggios. This is a classic, hands down.
It's not too often anymore that we get a world premiere recording of a work by a composer as well-known and widely performed as Hindemith. The circumstances surrounding the recording as well as the artist make this album a real find. Composed in 1921 for wealthy pianist Paul Wittgenstein, Hindemith's Klaviermusik mit Orchestra, Op. 29, was one of several compositions for left-hand only that Wittgenstein commissioned from the likes of Britten, Prokofiev, and Ravel after losing his right arm in WWI. Unlike these other compositions, Wittgenstein never performed Hindemith's piece, did not allow others to perform it, and did not allow it to be published. Only after several machinations following his death was the work finally available in 2002. This Ondine album features legendary pianist Leon Fleisher, who himself lost the use of his right hand for some four decades, with Christoph Eschenbach leading the Curtis Symphony Orchestra. Why Wittgenstein never performed this piece is even more a mystery after hearing it; Wittgenstein must have known what Hindemith's music was like, and there are no real departures from the type of music Hindemith was composing at the time.
Fleisher's performance is exactly what one might expect: electrifying. His earlier mastery of the other works for piano left hand make him the perfect performer for this composition. He brings forth an abundance of engaging rhythmic diversity, textural change, and musical energy. The students of the Curtis Symphony Orchestra do honor to Hindemith and Fleisher in their own careful attention to detail. The album also includes Dvorák's Ninth Symphony. While well-played, it certainly offers nothing new or innovative and is largely just filler compared to the importance and interest surrounding the Hindemith.
As its title suggests, Die Große Weihnachtsparty (The Big Christmas Party) is a Christmas-themed album on which Matthias Reim covers several seasonal classics in his trademark schlager rock fashion -- including "Oh, du Fröhliche," "Jingle Bells", "Kling, Glöckchen, Klingelingeling," and "Oh Tannenbaum." The album also features a German-language cover of Wham!'s "Last Christmas" (called "Letzte Weihnacht") with lyrics by Reim and Joachim Horn-Bernges, and a new song written by Reim himself ("Wo Bleibt der Schnee").