SANTA FE DESERT CHORALE Hail Cecilia (Mesa Bluemoon) Hail Cecilia, recorded under the baton of new Santa Fe Desert Chorale director Joshua Habermann, documents the 2009 summer season of the chorale, a group of 24 professional singers who travel from around the United States to perform together in town. The musical selections are all over the map and include settings of Shakespearean sonnets, Old World Spanish motets, and prayers to St. Francis. The group is known for its rich sound and consummate musicality, and the recording offers evidence of a consistent and sumptuous blend. The sonic bloom on the CD reflects the acoustics in the three historic churches in which the chorale performed: the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Loretto Chapel, and the Santuario de Guadalupe. Habermann was able to produce gorgeous pianissimos from the group, which has only six voices per section, but the fortissimos frequently lacked power. The choice of choral literature could perhaps be better suited to the strengths of the musicians. The men, in “Christus Resurgens,” arranged by Michael McGlynn, offered a handsome, brotherly 12th-century Irish chantscape with drum accompaniment. “Hymn to St. Cecilia,” a Benjamin Britten piece set to a poem by W.H. Auden, shows the chorale at its best, nimbly handling complicated vocal lines and coming together to offer tone and harmony that is music sacred and modern all at once. — Michael Wade Simpson
NORDIC CONNECT Spirals (ArtistShare) Here is Nordic Connect’s second disc for ArtistShare, a label on which recordings are funded by fans. Foremost in this quintet, which features players of Scandinavian descent, are trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and her sister, saxophonist Christine Jensen. Ingrid has gained renown as a member for the past decade of the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Christine has several albums as leader, including a new jazz-orchestra release.
Spirals reflects the band’s evolution since 2007’s Flurry — including “insight into the band’s Nordic heritage as they tour the lands of their ancestors and see how their roots effect the band’s energy, musical choices and who they are,” according to ArtistShare. On the opener, “Travel Fever,” Ingrid Jensen’s trumpet enters a tick-tock groove established by pianist Maggi Olin and bassist Mattia Welin. The song offers hearty unison and solo work by the sisters and an electric-piano solo reminiscent, in its bright colors, of Chick Corea. “Song for Inga” and “Ballad North” begin placidly and dirgelike, respectively, but similarly blossom into more exhilarating levels. On the loose, livefeeling “Earth Sighs,” with the saxophonist on soprano, the band works itself up to a Nordic cacophony. “Castle Mountain” is a highlight, not least because of the strong work by Welin and drummer Jon Wikan. The closer, “Brejk a Leg,” with Olin on electric piano and synthesizer, is dynamic and heady. A fine set.
— Paul Weideman
LOWER DENS Twin-Hand Movement (Gnomonsong) Maybe you saw Jana Hunter when she performed at Backroad Pizza a few years back. It was a good venue for her, as she was an acoustic folkie at the time. Some might even have called her “freak-folk,” lumping her into that short-lived subgenre. I’d choose the term “bedroom folk,” as her records often had a homespun, DIY feel. Regardless, she’s out of the bedroom and no longer doing anything that’s folk. Lower Dens is her rock band, and the group’s first album is a dizzying set of Sonic Youth-ful, Mazzy Star-lit shoegaze. It ebbs and flows between raging guitars to slower, drunken washes of sound. And while the songs range from two to four minutes long, the band is in no rush, often setting the mood with booming drums and resonant guitar tones, before Hunter’s vocals enter. Her singing is undeniably sultry, although I wish I could understand her better. On one highlight track, “I Get Nervous,” the melody is formed from the haze of a dream, slowly building and then evolving into a casually cool rumination on — well, I’m not sure what. Nonetheless, the mumbled lyrics are part of the point, helping to create a rich, disorienting atmosphere. It’s a compelling beginning to a second career for Hunter, and I hope she keeps that acoustic guitar in its case for a while. — Robert B. Ker
‘Twin-Hand Movement,’ the first album from Lower Dens, is a dizzying set of Sonic Youth-ful, Mazzy Star-lit shoegaze.
LES JACOBINS Aux Armes, Citoyens! (ATMA Classique) As we rush to the barricades for our Bastille Day celebrations (no Royalists invited), we ought to have a soundtrack. One could hardly do better than a recent release from the Canadian wind ensemble Les Jacobins, an impressive period-instrument sextet of clarinets, horns, and bassoons that specializes in overlooked music of the French Revolutionary era. Most of the items on this CD are by François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829), a long-lived and influential figure who managed to thrive before, during, and after the fighting; his biographer Claude Role noted that he flourished “under four kings, six years of revolution, the Consulate, the Directorate, and the Empire, not to mention two Restorations.” Here Gossec is joined by such contemporaries as Étienne-Nicolas Méhul and Charles-Simon Catel. None of these pieces rival the works being produced at the time in Vienna (say, by Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven). Still, much of this music reflects the earnest, vigorous spirit of the French Revolution, nowhere more than in La Bataille (1794), in which Gossec depicts a military encounter, from the summoning of the troops to the eventual victory. The ensemble’s director, bassoonist Mathieu Lussier, rounds out this collection with a set of his own arrangements of popular songs and ceremonial pieces from what Dickens called the best of times and the worst of times, including settings of such familiar items as “Ça ira” and “La Marseillaise.” —James M. Keller