When the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields began to popularize Vivaldi's music in the 1970s, it was on the cutting edge with its light, warm chamber orchestra sound, burnished to technical perfection yet sounding completely different from its symphonic cousins. Now, a recording like this one, with star violinist Joshua Bell, sounds conservative in comparison with young bucks like Fabio Biondi on the historical-performance side or even the young Dutch firebrand Janine Jansen. This big-budget (by classical standards) release is the kind of thing you don't see so often now, with a big poster showing Bell carefully decked out in a partially undone tie, as well as individual full-color cards reproducing, in Italian and English, the descriptive seasonal sonnets that provide the program for the four concertos. It could have collapsed under its own weight, but Bell pulls it off. Conducting the Academy strings himself, he forges tight, not-overly-sweet recordings of Vivaldi's four familiar concertos, with a nice contrast between orchestra and solo that showcases his easy, compelling agility and his Heifetz-like sharpness and brilliance.
Producer Jerry Wexler puts the earthy vocals of Maggie Bell in a beautiful setting here. She stretches John Prine's "Souvenirs" to the max with Steve Gadd ably assisting by splashing the drums as deep as Bell's vocals. Her uptempo version of J.J. Cale's "After Midnight" is more captivating than Eric Clapton's; she oozes that Etta James sexuality while Reggie Young throws some tasty guitar into the semi-calypso groove. Bell's identity is unique on much of the material, but a couple of tunes have her paying tribute to some of her sisters. The title track, "Queen of the Night," is drenched in gorgeous harmonies by the Sweet Inspirations and is pure Genya Ravan, but conversely, the cover of "A Woman Left Lonely," embraced totally by Janis Joplin on Pearl, is a sweet vocal and totally alien to how Joplin ripped the song to shreds so wonderfully. It works on an entirely different level on Queen of the Night – Bell's voice is an instrument that slips into different styles on a moment's notice.
John Surman is an exceptionally versatile musician and his instrumental prowess has been showcased in many contexts. Yet his solo albums may be the best sources for insights into his melodic imagination. If you want to understand the wellsprings of his creativity, the solo albums are the place to go; “Saltash Bells” ranks with the best of them. This time around the compositions were inspired by the West Country of John’s English childhood, memories of special places – and sounds. The title track refers to the echoes of bell ringing from Saltash church resounding around the Tamar River valley, at the border of Cornwall and Devon. “Whistman’s Wood”, meanwhile, evokes the mysterious petrified forest of Dartmoor … And so it goes, ancient haunts inspiring vivid new music.
Harpmaster album for sale by Carey Bell was released on the JSP - label. HARPMASTER is a compilation of BBC radio sessions and previously unreleased material. Harpmaster buy CD music Contains 12 tracks. Personnel: Carey Bell (vocals, guitar, harmonica); Lurrie Bell (vocals, guitar); Norman Beaker, Richard Studholme, Pete Allen (guitar); Steve Bell (harmonica); Dave Bainbridge, Jack Hills (piano, keyboards); Geoff Nichols , Tim Franks, James Bell (drums). Liner Note Author: John Stedman. Photographer: Brian Smith.–by cdUniverse