Initially conceived as a moral and artistic response to human suffering, violinist Edna Michell's Compassion also became a touching tribute to her mentor and source of inspiration, Yehudi Menuhin, on his death in 1999. The 15 compositions commissioned by Michell for the project revolve around the themes of suffering and charity in fairly abstract or suggestive ways, with few programmatic, religious, or political points made beyond the allusive titles. As a practical matter for curious listeners, this CD is a comprehensive sampler of contemporary musical trends, and the leading lights of two generations of composers are generously represented in the CD's 80 minutes. Established figures such as Karel Husa, Lukas Foss, György Kurtág, Hans Werner Henze, Wolfgang Rihm, Philip Glass, John Tavener, Steve Reich, and Iannis Xenakis share the program with rising composers Shulamit Ran, Chen Yi, Yinam Leef, Betty Olivero, Poul Ruders, and Somei Satoh.
Selfless is an exploration of catharsis and the escape from entrapments of subjectivity and solipsism, guided by Cousin’s renunciation of any ‘original’ playing or recording of his own, while celebrating intimate community and inter-subjectivity through solicitation of private voice recordings from close friends: Natalie Reid recites her own poem on the hypnotic “Observer (Natalie’s Song)”; Ogun Afariogun (aka Tide Jewel) contributed a freestyle rap recorded and sent by phone on “Yung Wether (Ogun’s Song)”; Ayuko Goto (aka Noah) provided a sound file of whispers for “Empathy (Ayuko’s Song)”; “Dissociation (Kyla’s Song)” is entirely constructed of vocals by Kyla Brooks (aka Nag). The rest of the album’s 12 songs explore a gamut of strategies ranging from the textural, beatless, Satie-inflected opener “Song Siènne” to the pulsing ambient-industrial techno of “Cinema Without People” and “Abjection”, and the kinetic, deconstructed IDM-electronica of “Aesthetics Of Disappearance” and “Agnosia”.
After the expanded instrumental scale and sonic experimentation of Court & Spark and The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell reverses that flow for the more intimate, interior music on Hejira, which retracts the arranging style to focus on Mitchell's distinctive acoustic guitar and piano, and the brilliant, lyrical bass fantasias of fretless bass innovator Jaco Pastorius. Known for his furious, sometimes rococo figures beneath the music of Weather Report, Pastorius is tamed by Mitchell's cooler, more deliberate ballads: these meditations coax a far gentler, subdued lyricism from Pastorius, whose intricate bass counterpoints Mitchell's coolly elegant singing, especially on the sublime "Amelia," which transforms the mystery of Amelia Earheart into a parable of both feminism and romantic self-discovery. This isn't Mitchell at her most obviously ambitious, yet the depth of feeling, poetic reach, and musical confidence make this among the finest works in a very fine canon.
Hancock's 2007 album, "River: The Joni Letters" won the 2008 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, only the second time a jazz album has won the award. Any doubts about the incongruity of jazz icon Herbie Hancock covering singer-songwriter extraordinare Joni Mitchell will be obliterated on the first journey through RIVER: THE JONI LETTERS. For starters, the premise is not especially incongruous. Hancock has had a long, adventurous career in which he's traversed genres and masterfully blended styles, while Mitchell has always been deeply influenced by jazz as both a composer and a singer. RIVER features many of Mitchell's finest songs, stunning in their own right and reinterpreted beautifully by Hancock, plus a stellar assortment of musicians and guest vocalists.