It should be noted that we have not listened to every 2007 release - there are thousands. These recordings represent the best the publisher and staff of Stereomojo have enountered in 2007. Unlike other such lists, recording quality and sonics play a large part in our awards. Full, in depth reviews of all of these (and many more) will be published when we add our Music Reviews section in the coming weeks as part of our completely redesigned website. The new Stereomojo will include many new features and much improved navigation and readability. Several of our loyal readers will be asked to Beta test the new site before publication. If you have any suggestions or requests, please write us right away. We listen to our readers!
Best Sound 2007
If we had to pick one recording that was the most outstanding and significant it would be this one. 100 Khz, 24-bit resolution from a regular Redbook CD. This is not a SACD and requires no special player or decoding. JVC has upped the ante with their latest generation mastering process, surpassing their XRCD24 technology.The sound quality of these 16 selections from various artists from Winston Ma's FIM label is stunning with no digital artifacts. Even smoother and less edgy than SACD with a sound that rivals great vinyl recordings on a good turntable. This is simply the best sound available on regular CD. We can't wait to hear future releases. Read our review here.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra follows the success of the London Symphony by issuing their own house recordings. It follows their inagural Mahler 3rd from 2006. The sound and Haitink's performance are both first rate. Available in CD, SACD or download.
Dallas Wind Symphony - Jerry Junkin, conductor
Mary Preston, organ
Reference Recording RR-112
A sonic spectacular akin to Reference Recording's popular Pomp & Pipes releases. Huge dynamics and lots of floor shaking 20Hz woofer workout bass. But it's much more than just a demo disk. The musical selections and musicianship is top notch and it's not all pure bombast, there is a lot of beauty here, too. HDCD is alive and well at RR and better than ever.
GARDEN OF DREAMS
Music by David Maslanka
Dallas Wind Symphony — JERRY JUNKIN
So you think no good classical music has been written since 1800? We think this proves that wonderful composers are still with us. The music has an old heart but a contemporary spirit and is full of beauty, power and huge dynamic leaps. Perhaps this is what Rimsky-Korsakov might sound like if he was composing today.The Grammy's got this one right as it is nominated for Best Engineered Album.
Donald Runnicles/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
An album of works by Britten, Davies, Elgar, MacMillan, and Turnage
The album opens and closes with Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March Nos. 1 and 4, among the most beloved and famous of all British compositions and reflective of Britain’s love for formal ceremonies and colorful ritual. With the other four works on this disc – Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Three Screaming Popes; Sir Peter Maxwell Davis’s An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise featuring bagpiper Scott Long; James MacMillan’s Britannia; and Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20 – this recording presents a microcosm of the vigor of contemporary music emanating from Britain. Telarc's sound keeps getting better and better. Available in CD or SACD.
Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Vol. II
Hyperion Records CDA67605
If you are not familiar with this Canadian pianist, you should be. She is considered one of the foremost interpreters and performers of Bach ever.
However, her genius does not stop with Johann which is made very evident in this 2007 release of Beethoven's best sonatas. Angela was Gramophone's Artist of the Year in 2006 and Queen Elizabeth recently made her an Officer of the British Empire. She simply does not sound like anyone else and her technique, especially her tone and control of inner voicings is unmatched. She brings a freshness to the old masters while maintaining a deep respect for traditional interpretations. If you are a fan of classical piano, you MUST hear her.
Hyperion's sonics are are exemplary and it helps that Angela plays the incredible Fazioli piano.
HERBIE HANCOCK - RIVER
Verve - Catalog # 00602517448261
Herbie is not only a master jazz pianist, he has a unique ability to bring together groups of individual musicians to create something much greater than the sum of their parts. Jazz has always been about collaboration, but Hancock takes it to a new artistic level with the songs of Joni Mitchell. This is actually a much better album than Joni's own "Shine" which was released the same day. Herbie brought in Wayne Shorter (saxs), Dave Holland (bass), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) to lay the foundation of unique instrumental colors, textures and chord voicings for the jazz combo cuts and for the vocalists Norah Jones (perhaps her best performance on Court and Spark), Corinne Bailey Rae, Tina Turner and Leonard Cohen and Joni herself on "Tea Leaf Prophecy". While the songs here will sound familiar, Herbie has recontexturalized all of them, recasting them in new frameworks, arrangements and chord progressions. Like Angela Hewitt, he plays the Fazioli. Perhaps his Masterpiece - so far.
ATTENTION SCREEN - LIVE AT MERKIN HALL
Excerpt from James Darby's coming full review
I'm not a big fan of the Ornette Coleman school of free jazz. I have listened to it, studied it and played it in my jazz studies in college.
Free Jazz is not illegal downloads of Miles Davis records, rather it is a style of jazz where there is no preconceived or arranged structure or ideas. No chord charts. No tune. No nothing. A jazz ensemble just starts out with someone's musical idea, riff, or sometimes, just a noise. From there it's just pure improvisation, with the goal of each member of playing off each other's ideas and hopefully coming up with something musical. At best it can be intriguing and listenable or at worst (which is most of the time) a cacophony of harsh, discordant, pretentious noise. What we have here is neither cacophonous or pretentious, just some rather accomplished, but not superstar, musicians having fun with different riffs, grooves, styles and even brief melodies. Sure there is some meandering while they try to come together in one mind, but there is no grandstanding or some effete sax player trying to prove how many ugly noises he can elicit from his horn. There are tone clusters, but they are not the central focus and the guys mostly try to stay somewhere close to a common key signature, something that true free jazz eschews. They also have the excellent taste of keeping their explorations to around ten minutes per tune. Moods range from dreamy to slammin' rock and cookin' jazz. Dan Florino plays several guitar-type instruments from acoustic and electric guitar to a lotar (Morrocan guitar) and ukulele. Chris Jones handles the bass (fretless of course) duties while Mark Flyn rattles the drums which are tuned more for rock than they are jazz. For the most part, the guys stay within themselves except for moments like Bob Reina at about 7:30 into the first cut where he commits as many clams (flubs) as clean notes for a few moments. Reina is clearly the jello that serves as the binding agent for the quartet and does a good job in doing so.
If there is a star here, it has to be Stereophile editor John Atkinson's recording. He produces perhaps the liveliest "live" sound to be found anywhere. Bear in mind that he had no more idea where the music was going than the players - loud or soft, fast or slow or who make take the lead or drop out completely at any moment. Managing uncompressed or limited, ungated levels like this is nearly impossible in a live concert session. There are a few noticeable pot twiddles, but his manipulation never gets in the way. The vast dynamic swings he captures are incredible and nothing ever gets buried or too spotlighted. If you want to see if free jazz might be something you'd like to explore, this is the perfect place to start.
RUMBA PALACE - ARTURO SANDOVAL
Cuban born and protege of Dizzy Gillespie, Arturo defected to become one of this country's great treasures. He now teaches at Miami University in Florida and has opened a latin jazz club on the international playground South Beach called, amazingly enough, Rumba Palace. Now in his late 50's, he shows no sign of losing his pyrotechnic, stratospheric, lightening chops and deep understanding of what makes jazz, and this case, latin music so great. Backed by an all latin small big band (nine players that sound like 30) this collection is smokin' hot. That is, when it's not being beautifully lyrical and sensitive. Telarc has captured yet another great jazz hero along with McCoy Tyner and dave Brubeck, among others.They have also captured the fire and sonic heart and soul of this music. In a long line of great recordings, Sandoval has gone home and produced a recording that may be his finest.
RANDY CRAWFORD & JOE SAMPLE - FEELING GOOD
Pra Records 1701163
All audiophiles know Joe Sample. His recordings like Carmel and Rainbow Seeker were early Mofi selections. Randy and Joe go way back to the Crusader's days when they scored a hit with "Street life". This album is the culmination of years of friendship and musical kinship. Randy's jazzy, gospel inflected, smooth and sassy just has to be heard. She doesn't indulge in Maria Carey fits of melissma, she has nothing to prove. She's much more like Diana Reeves blended with a little Nina Simone and Ella.She's smooth, but this ain't no vapid smooth jazz junk, just two excellent, brilliant musicians in their prime having a great time. There are classics here like "But Beautiful" and the best rendition of "When I Need You" ever - including the original by Leo Sayer, but there are also tunes like "See Line Woman" and "Love Town" that are so sexy they make Sade seem like Karen Carpenter. Sample comes up with some of the most unique grooves and hooks we've heard. Consummate taste rules the day. If you have an affection for female vocals, this is one you should check out. The audio quality is far above average as well.
BEST ROCK & POP
THE SHINS - WINCING THE NIGHT AWAY
Label: Sub Pop. Catalog number: SP 705
Sure. You know this came out on CD, but did you know it's also available on vinyl? For 13 bucks brand new? That's the version we reviewed before this became the huge hit that it did.What we have here is an indie rock LP that real adults just might be able to enjoy. There are real melodies and harmonies and the lead singer, James Mercer, can actually sing! On pitch and everything. This is not some teen angst, filled with rage against everything effort. You won't want to go to your local high school and shoot it up if you listen.You may just discover that there is some real talent out in rock land. Of course, if you are a devoted chamber music enthusiast, this still might not appeal to you, but if you like a little more fuzz guitar and studio effects, you owe it to yourself to at least listen. Of course, the LP smokes the CD.
THE BEAUTY ROOM
Okay. This is not a 2007 release. It was released in the UK as "Beyond the Infinite" in '06. But imagine this: take some Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, throw in some Steely Dan (and a whole lot of warmth), Brian Wilson and the Beachboys minus the surfing style, garnish with a smidge of America, Sting and Joni Mitchell and you have this amazingly fresh, gorgeous recording. It was recorded on the same analog mixing board as "Dark Side of the Moon" and it was available in a two-LP edition. Good luck finding one.This is not 70's retro at all. It uses some tasty electronica along with lush strings at times and 5 part vocal harmony. Again, the lead singer has a real voice and can use it very musically and thus real adults will like this.
CELTIC WOMAN - A NEW JOURNEY
This should more accurately be named "Celtic Women" because there are actually six Gaelic lasses featured on this disc - five of whom sing like angels and one who sets fire to a violin with her incredible technique and musicality. The women prove that melodies can actually be sung on pitch as they all show the propensity to nail each syllable in the dead center of the pitch, and over an extreme range to boot. And it's not accomplished through electronic pitch correction in a studio - they do it in live concert as well as I witnessed when they appeared locally. They are backed by a huge cast of orchestra and chorus that includes a large array of percussion instruments with liberal use of enormous bass drums that will tax any subwoofers. The music is lush, beautiful, fun and up lifting. If you love female vocals like we do, this is a must listen.
JENNIFER WARNES - FAMOUS BLUE RAINCOAT
20TH ANNIVERSARY ADDITION
If you have read any of our shootouts, you will see that there are many Jennifer Warnes fans at Stereomojo as her songs are frequently used as reference music.
The original release of Famous Blue Raincoat twenty years ago was an immediate audiophile favorite, particularly on LP. Not only because of the outstanding sonics, but because the music was hypnotic as well. Warnes interprets the songs of master song writer Leonard Cohen in breathtaking style.This new addition is completely redone and re-mastered by Paul Grumman who did the original. The updated CD sonics are superb. This deluxe new reissue contains four previously unreleased songs and a 24-page booklet with rare photos from Warnes' personal collection.