Brett Dean is not shy about revealing what his music is ‘about’. Whether inspired by certain individuals (as in Epitaphs), or by an ecological or human disaster (as in his String Quartet No. 1, on the now all too topical plight of refugees), Dean’s works are usually – perhaps invariably – driven by extra-musical narratives. Rather than tease out any innate structural puzzles or tensions, his music typically falls into short little dramatic narratives – no movement on this disc lasts as long as eight minutes, many of them rather less than five. The most obviously successful work here is Quartet No. 2, ‘And once I played Ophelia’, effectively a dramatic scena. Its soprano soloist is no mere extra voice (as in Schoenberg’s Second Quartet) but the leading protagonist. Allison Bell’s genuinely affecting performance is backed by the Doric Quartet’s expressionist scampering and sustained harmonies, the strings occasionally coming to the fore in the manner of a Schumann-style song postlude.
The great bluesman B.B. King, who died in 2015, was one of the few artists whose every note was of interest. This 25-track CD of mostly previously unissued recordings are drawn from his sessions for Modern Records between 1954 and 1962. Be Careful Baby is a rare thing a B.B. King song that has never been released before in any version, while two tracks appeared on Ace's 2014 RPM compilation Speak Easy. The version of Catfish Blues is from a completely different session to the familiar issued version and from B.B.'s commentary appears to be the version he played on the road. There are many comments from B.B. and the band which provide an insight into the recording process and B.B.'s relaxed and informal manner in the studio. The CD ends with a previous unheard interview, recorded backstage at the Fillmore Ballroom in San Francisco with radio station KSAY at the 10/10 spot on your dial. All tracks are from the original master tapes.