Compilations are highly useful in understanding the works of the inexhaustibly tuneful British composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695). He had a few big hits, like the Funeral Music for Queen Mary (which is included here) and the opera Dido and Aeneas (which isn't). But much of his best music is scattered around in small bits, residing within genres that are rather odd from today's perspective. Purcell spent much of his short adult life as a theater composer, and his incidental music, for example, is filled with perfect miniatures…
The Bluiett Baritone Saxophone Group strikes again. Four baritone saxes make for quite a wall of low-register sound, and every quartet member but Bluiett – Patience Higgins, James Carter, and Alex Harding – doubles on bass clarinet. In Carter's case, make that contra-bass clarinet, an instrument that can cause the room to shake. Since the horns have the bass function covered, all that's needed are drums; hence the presence of trapsman Lee Person and percussionist Kahil El'Zabar.
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.
Not that this artist isn't pretty cool; far from it. Credited either as Bob Hardaway or Robert Hardaway, he spent much of the 20th century at the top of the studio musician scene in Los Angeles, playing a bewildering array of woodwind instruments — even bass clarinet, English horn, and alto flute — on a tall stack of records that stylistically give the impression of having been snatched at random out of a burning used record store, the Partridge Family, Dinah Washington, Bonnie Raitt, and his efforts with the Eddie Shu/Bob Hardaway Jazz Practitioners among them.
Tom Paxton's first two studio albums, Ramblin' Boy (1964) and Ain't That News! (1965) are combined on this European two-fer CD, and they blend easily into one long album of Paxton's initial batch of songs. Growing up in Oklahoma from the age of ten, Paxton was steeped in the folk tradition of Woody Guthrie while also boasting a college education that introduced the brainy comic tone of Tom Lehrer to his work and a stint in the Army that made his critique of the American military closely observed.