Cellist Yo-Yo Ma has long been a giant in the classical world, though he has also made a number of recordings with musicians who play other styles. This holiday disc doesn't exclusively stick to traditional Christmas songs, but covers a wide scope of material in a very ambitious manner.
Two records now available as a single CD, these really show off Yo La Tengo's ability to create musical extremes. New Wave Hot Dogs has the firm pop sense and strong songwriting of the debut, but President Yo La Tengo offers up a little more free-form skronk in the ten-minute live version of "The Evil That Men Do," a gloriously squalling, over-the-top crash-and-bash session which proves how liberating and fun sonic dissonance can be. Just in case you don't like that sort of thing, "Evil" also shows up as a straight-ahead folk-rock track. This is a great collection of material that, as well as anything else they have recorded, gets to the heart of what makes this band tick.
This release celebrates and commemorates Yo-Yo Ma's 30 year recording career with Sony Music. Created with the full participation of Yo-Yo Ma, 30 Years Outside the Box, is the definitive collection of this iconic artist. The box set contains every original album Yo-Yo Ma has recorded including 2 discs of rare and never before released material.
The prize here is the Rachmaninoff cello sonata, a warm, hyper-Romantic musical tapestry that gives both the pianist and cellist a major workout. Ma is a superb chamber-music player, as is Ax. Both offer the kind of artistic give-and-take that a great performance of this music requires, while neither weighs the music down with excessive indulgence. The Prokofiev, a very different sort of musical beast, is a much lighter work, but it's done no less well. This is one of Ma's best chamber-music discs.
While it is pleasurable to hear three of the world's best-known virtuosos playing together with such extraordinary sympathy and enthusiasm, the actual performances by violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and pianist Emanuel Ax on this disc of Mendelssohn's two piano trios are merely so-so. Each alone sounds marvelous Perlman with his sweet intonation, Ma with his lyrical phrasing, and Ax with his sonorous tone but together they are not quite the sum of their parts.
As a cultural ambassador to the world, Yo-Yo Ma has immersed himself in the native music of many countries and taken away charming souvenirs of his musical explorations that he shares openly and without affectation. The chief characteristic of Ma's approach is his showcasing of other talents, with a modesty and generosity on his part that makes these performances all the more appealing.
After the elegant, introspective romantic narratives of And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out and the beautifully crafted but restrained pop textures of Summer Sun, it was hard not to wonder if Yo La Tengo was ever going to turn up the amps and let Ira Kaplan go nuts on guitar again. For more than a few fans "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind," the opening cut from YLT's 2006 album I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, will feel like the reassuring sound of a homecoming – ten minutes of noisy six-string freak-out, with James McNew's thick, malleable basslines and Georgia Hubley's simple but subtly funky drumming providing a rock-solid framework for Kaplan's enthusiastic fret abuse.
New Jersey indie rockers Yo La Tengo had already been slowly growing into their sound for over a decade by the 1997 release of their revelational eighth album, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. Their guitar-based pop was steadily finding its legs before this, as the band moved toward increasingly dreamy productions on albums like Painful and Electr-O-Pura. The 16 tracks that made up the ambitious and epic I Can Hear the Heart found the group stretching out their whispery vocals and deceptively straightforward pop approach to encompass a variety of unexpected styles. This meant softly wandering guitars and steadfast drums twisted out of their indie rock trappings and morphed into adventurous Krautrock jams like "Spec Bebop," haunting, harmony-driven psych-folk like "We're an American Band," and even a playfully naive take on bossa nova with "Center of Gravity." As for the blissed-out melodic noise pop Yo La Tengo had been working on for the majority of their existence, this was one of the band's finest hours.
After years as one of indie rock's standard-bearing groups, Yo La Tengo surpasses itself with And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. A culturally literate, emotionally rich album, on songs like "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House," "The Crying of Lot G," and "The Last Days of Disco," it alludes to The Simpsons, enigmatic author Thomas Pynchon and independent films while exploring the comforting, confining, complex aspects of relationships. "Our Way to Fall" sets Ira Kaplan's recollection of falling in love to a dreamy, down-to-earth backdrop of gently brushed drums, luminous organs and vibes; "The Crying of Lot G" transforms the syrupy sweetness of '50s ballads into a monologue about a relationship's shortcomings.