If you're planning to give the gift of music this holiday season, but are overwhelmed by all the choices available, help is on the way. Weekend Edition Sunday music director Ned Wharton, creator of the Director's Cuts series, is back with his annual gift guide. He's surveyed the 2007 releases, and has these suggestions for the jazz, rock, classical and world music fans on your shopping list.
Traffic and Weather: The New Jersey band Fountains of Wayne took the pop world by storm a few years ago with the racy song "Stacy's Mom." The band's latest record is as strong as anything it has put out. Like modern-day Edward Hoppers, songwriters Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood paint scenes of urban life that jump off the canvas, creating perfect pop miniatures.
Proof of Youth: If you're shopping for music for the younger set or simply for the young at heart, how about this exuberant release from The Go! Team? Mastermind Ian Parton is obsessed with the idea of melody and catchiness, and boy, are these hooks catchy. It's a lo-fi affair, layered with samples from tutorial films, found sounds, hip-hop beats and schoolyard shout-outs, but what could become chaos leads to loads of fun.
Hey Hey My My Yo Yo: Don't forget to stock up on some party music as New Year's comes 'round. The Danish group Junior Senior definitely has an '80s sound. Danes have been partying to this CD since 2005, when it was released abroad, but this year a label picked it up to share the joy with us here in the States.
The Essential Capitol Collection: They called her the "Queen of Swing" and the "First Lady of Las Vegas" — Keely Smith and her husband Louis Prima won a Grammy nearly 50 years ago for the song "That Old Black Magic."
Feedback [Nitin Sawhney Remix]
Techari Remix: For the world-music fan on your shopping list, check out Barcelona's Ojos de Brujo. Last year, the band brought us Techari, a fiery fusion of flamenco and hip-hop. This year, the songs have been shaken and stirred for a set of Techari remixes. Most of the remixes are trippy amped-up versions of the originals, but one cut actually morphs the music away from the dance-floor sound for an ethereal, piano-backed version of the song "Corre Lola Corre."
You can buy Techari Remix directly from Six Degrees Records.
Sky Blue: There is just no substitute for a beautifully packaged and recorded CD. Sky Blue from the Maria Schneider Orchestra comes with two booklets: one focusing on Schneider's compositions with pictures of sheet-music scribblings that trace the genesis of each piece. The other is a scrapbook of photos from the recording session, with shots of an all-star band including sax players Steve Wilson and Donny McCaslin, pianist Frank Kimbrough, singer Luciana Souza, guitarist Ben Monder and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen.
You can buy Sky Blue only through Maria Schneider's ArtistShare website.
Concerto for violin & orchestra ("The Red Violin")
The Red Violin: In a classical vein, one of the most beautiful and haunting melodies ever written for the violin came not from centuries past, nor was it written for the concert stage. It was written for a film, The Red Violin. American composer John Corigliano's music was played by violinist Joshua Bell, and now, the film music has been shaped into a full concerto. The premiere recording finds Marin Alsop conducting the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
String Quartet in F major "The Moose", S. Y2K
The Jekyll & Hyde Tour: Also in the classical realm, let's see... does P.D.Q. Bach count? He's the long-lost member — well, nonexistent member — of the Bach family. The Jekyll & Hyde Tour comes from Peter Schickele, professor of Musicology and Musical Pathology at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople.
The Shades of St. Germain
Rose Window: Here's some music that seems to fit the spirit of the season — it wasn't written for any particular tradition or religion or ritual. In fact, this music is purely improvised by Linn Barnes, who plays the lute, and harpist Allison Hampton. The Washington-based duo of Barnes and Hampton found themselves on holiday in Paris, where they rented an apartment on the Left Bank, not far from the church of St. Germain des Pres. They asked the priest if they could record and perform an impromptu concert in the space, and he agreed. The CD Rose Window also includes their performances at St. Sulpice. It may have been recorded in a Christian setting, but the music seems appropriate for many moods of the season: the festival of lights, Christmas, 12th night, the winter solstice, or any time the snow sparkles on a clear, cold night.