- Miles Davis: Miles In Tokyo — Aside from the fact that it's Miles, I was interested in this album because it also features saxophonist Sam Rivers, who studied under Hovhaness, a composer I really like (and who I wouldn't have thought likely to be connected to jazz). It's the only Miles album with Rivers, who was a little too free jazz for Davis's comfort (and who was quickly replaced by Wayne Shorter), but regardless of how Miles felt about their chemistry, the album smokes.
- Art Farmer/Gigi Gryce: When Farmer Met Gryce — Gigi Gryce is another saxophonist who studied under Hovhaness. This is a pretty sweet album, too.
- The Benzedrine Monks of Santo Domonica: Chantmania — a silly novelty record parodying the craze for Gregorian chant (so it's already pretty dated) with pseudo-medieval covers of popular songs (Smells Like Teen Spirit, theme from The Monkees) and ending with "The Monks' Vow of Silence" (a track with no sound at all). Pretty stupid, really, but good for a laugh. And hell, it only cost two bucks.
- Ars Subtilior: Dawn of the Renaissance — a collection of ars subtilior and other late ars nova songs (motets, chansons, etc.). I really like early polyphony, because it's so intricate and so different from what came later. Plus, I just think isorhythm is a nifty technique.
- Buxtehude: Organ Music Vol. 4— From Naxos. Dietrich Buxtehude was the great German composer of organ music before Bach. Greatness is to be found here. Although he's been overshadowed by Bach, he still measures up quite nicely. If you like the sound of the pipe organ, you're missing out if you haven't heard this stuff.
- Conlon Nancarrow: Player Piano vol. 1: Studies 1-12 — One of the things that inspired this shopping spree was a bout of Wikipedia-surfing that got me interested in prolation canons. These are canons in which different voices play the same melody at different speeds (roughly speaking), and are reputedly very hard to write. Nancarrow is a composer who wrote almost entirely in this form, for player piano because his music is impossible for a single pianist to play (even versions for piano duo are reductions). I'd heard of him before, but had never heard his music, so I was curious. Frankly, I'm not impressed. One of the things I like about fugues and canons is the clarity of structure. But Nancarrow's pieces are so busy that it's impossible to even pick out the main theme. It ends up sounding like a bunch of thrashing about on the keys.
Not a hit.
- Bach: The Art of Fugue/The Musical Offering (Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner) — It's hard to go wrong with Bach. My suitcase full of standard repertoire (which I received from the Chronicle's classical music critic back when I worked there) lacks these works (it's got the Brandenburgs and the Goldberg Variations, and a bunch of organ works, so it's not really hurting for Bach, and they needed to leave some room for other composers!). I am a sucker for Baroque counterpoint.
- Ockeghem: Requiem / Missa Prolationum — Naxos again. And another target of my search for prolation canons. Ockeghem's Missa Prolationum is a complete Catholic mass consisting entirely of prolation canons! And unlike the Nancarrow, it's very clear. This is a fantastic work. Just beautiful.
- Arvo Pärt: Tabula Rasa — Besides the title piece, this also contains two versions of Fratres (one for violin and piano, with Keith Jarrett (!) on piano, the other played by the 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic), and the Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten. The latter was the piece I was looking for specifically: it contains a prolation canon (two, actually). I'd only heard Pärt's Kanon Pokajanen before, but it has the distinction of being the only piece of music to make me spontaneously burst into tears in the record store (no mean feat, considering the lyrics are entirely in Old Church Slavonic!), so I was very interested in this. It did not disappoint. I am now convinced that Pärt is one of the all-time greats.
- Górecki: Symphony No. 3 (London Sinfonietta) — I can't recall why I was looking for Górecki, or even if this is the piece I was looking for specifically, but I'm glad I picked it up. Possibly by following links from Pärt. The third symphony is actually a symphony/song cycle: each of the three movements has lyrics. I'll definitely be listening to this again soon. Plus, it was only $5.
- Honegger: Honegger Conducts Honegger — Another name I'd heard but whose work I hadn't. This is a collection of various pieces (Pacific 231, Rugby, Prelude to the Tempest, Cello Concerto, etc.). I knew that many Hollywood film-music composers studied under postwar European modernists, but here you can really hear the connection: Pacific 231 and Rugby in particular sound like they could be on the soundtrack to some late '40s-'50s black and white classic.
- Thelonius Monk Quartet: Monk's Music — Another appearance by Gigi Gryce, this time of course in Monk's band (alongside Art Blakey, Coleman Hawkins, and John Coltrane!). I haven't listened to this all the way through yet, and I was kind of distracted when I was listening, so I really haven't formed an opinion yet. Stay tuned.
- Don Ellis Orchestra: Music from Other Galaxies and Planets: Featuring the Main Title from Star Wars — I'm a Don Ellis fan. I was sure this album would never get released on CD, because the general consensus is that it was terrible (Don agreed; it was basically a contractual obligation album, and the label insisted that he do a version of the Star Wars theme, since Star Wars had just become big). So when I saw it on the racks at Rasputin's, I had to pick it up. The general consensus is right: this is bad. But not bad in a grating way. It's just cheesy as hell. The feature track in particular is almost as lame as the notorious disco version of the theme (this fusion-funk take verges on disco itself). So naturally, I got a huge kick out of it. I probably should have spent my money on a copy of Live At Fillmore (my only copy was transferred to CD from a slightly worn LP by a friend, back when it looked like they were never going to make an official CD release), but whatever. It's silly fun.
- Sam Rivers: Fuschia Swing Song — I was really impressed by Rivers on Miles in Tokyo, so on a later trip I picked up this album, which is highly regarded. As band leader, he gets to cut loose in his free jazz style here without being reigned in by Miles. His style is to play "inside-outside": seamlessly shifting his improvisations between playing "inside" (harmonizing in traditional fashion with the melody) and "outside" (free jazz). It's wild and fascinating.
- The Unknown Lover: Songs by Solage and Machaut (Gothic Voices) — More ars subtilior, since I liked what I'd heard on the omnibus CD. This is actually a recording of the complete extant works of Solage (10 songs, and 2 more anonymously written songs attributed to him on stylistic grounds), the most prolific composer of the ars subtilior, along with several songs by Guillaume de Machaut (his better known predecessor in the ars nova). I need to listen to this again. The songs tend to blend together, and since they alternate between Solage and Machaut, if I don't pay attention to the begnnings and endings I lose track of who is who and what is what. Fumeux Fume Par Fumee does stand out as pretty amusing: it's a parody of a group of smokers (since this is before contact with the New World, it isn't tobacco, but either hashish or opium) that imitates the effects of the drug on the singers. You don't have to know medieval French to get the joke.
- Gubaidulina: The Deceitful Face of Hope and Despair; Sieben Worte — An impulse buy. I'd heard good things about Gubaidulina on the Unknown Composers Page, so I picked this up. It's not really to my taste, and didn't hold my interest. Not my kind of moderism.
- Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra) — Found in the used bin at The Musical Offering (a great little classical CD shop slash café). I was curious about Berlioz: all I knew of him was the last two movements of the Symphonie Fantastique (the March to the Scaffold and the Dream of the Witches' Sabbath, both of which are common "spooky classical" Halloween music). I'm kind of glad I didn't pay full price. Maybe the performance just isn't up to snuff, but this just didn't grab me. I was ready to like it, too. I've never been as big on the Romantics, and I don't know why.
I was also looking for a recording of the 14 canons on the Goldberg ground (BWV 1087) by Bach, a kind of appendix to the Goldberg Variations (one of them is a prolation canon!). But the guy at the Musical Offering ran a search for me, and it seems like no recordings exist, or at least are in print. I find this disturbing. I mean, it's by Bach, and nobody's recorded it?