Music News 12/14/23




LONG STORY SHORT: WILLIE NELSON 90: Live the Hollywood Bowl (Sony Legacy, 2 CDs & 1 BluRay, $37.98) – On April 29 and 30 this year, a lollapalooza of artists came together to celebrate Willie Nelson. They sang for, and with Willie, featuring songs from all phases of his career. The guests included Keith Richards, Snoop Dog, Neil Young and Stephen Stills, Tom Jones, Chris Stapleton, Billy Strings, Dave Matthews, Miranda Lambert; Kris Kristofferson & Rosanne Cash, George Strait, Beck, Avett Brothers, the Lumineers, Dwight Yoakam, Ziggy Marley, Bob Weir, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones & Allison Russell,  Lyle Lovett, Jack Johnson, Leon Bridges & Gary Clark, Jr., Tyler Childers, and Booker T. Jones. 




SWEENEY TODD: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: 2023 Broadway Cast (Arts Music, 2 CDs, $26.98) – Director Thomas Kail’s revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd starred Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford. The cast recording features Jonathan Tunick’s expansive 26-player orchestration from the original production. 





Two music writers whose work I always look at are Chris Richards in the Washington Post and Giovanni Russonello in the New York Times. I look forward to their end-of-the-year lists for selections I might have missed.  

Here are three albums they wrote about: 


Enji, ULAAN (Squama, $23.98) – As Chris wrote, “extraordinary story, extraordinary music”:  a Mongolian music teacher, Enkhjargal Erkhembayar, who went to Germany and started singing jazz. “Her new ballads feature a drummer and clarinetist from Brazil, allowing Enji to sing her native melodies with a bossa nova tenderness.” 


Jonathan Suazo, RICANO (Ropeadope, $15.98) – Boston saxophonist Jonathan Suazo leads (in Gio’s words) “a steel-toed Laint orchestra replete with hefty vocals, a forceful horn section and…no fewer than seven percussionists playing Dominican and Puerto Rican instruments.” 


Jaimie Branch, FLY OR DIE FLY OR DIE FLY OR DIE ((WORLD WAR)) (International Anthem, $16.99) – Trumpeter and vocalist Jamie Branch leads her trumpet-cello-bass-drum quartet, in an album recorded just before her death last year. 

As Gio writes, “It would be hard to imagine a more rousing and generous parting gift. Branch was a declarative trumpeter who had only recently embraced her unrefined-but-rewarding singing voice.” 





BECOMING ELLA FITZGERALD (Norton, $40) by Judith Tick has just been published. To quote John Szwed’s blurb: “Judith Tick…uses new research and keen musicology, and brings forth a revealing and fully convincing portrait of Lady Ella as visionary, social activist, and still-modern singer.”  


Listen to two historic live recordings released in the last year and a half:  


LIVE AT MONTREUX 1969 (Mercury, $16.98) – At the iconic Swiss jazz festival with the Tommy Flanagan Trio. 


ELLA AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL: The Irving Berlin Songbook (Verve, $14.98) – From August 16, 1958, the only live performance of one of Ella’s famous “Songbook” albums, with the orchestra arranged and conducted by Paul Weston.