The goal: to raise money for the fight against AIDS. The high concept: to match some of the most exciting performers in hip-hop (the bands Digable Planets and Us3, bassist-rapper Me'Shell NdegeOcello and others) with some of the finest performers in jazz (including saxophonist Joshua Redman, trumpeter Donald Byrd and keyboardist Herbie Hancock) and create a benefit CD of jazz-rap songs. The result: a landmark album that brilliantly harnesses the fire of rap and the cool of jazz, transcending genres and generations.
What did Ludwig van Beethoven's symphonies sound like in Beethoven's day? John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique try to show us by using gut-stringed fiddles, valveless horns and other period instruments, and by adopting brisk tempos. To listen to this electrifying set is to rediscover these revolutionary compositions in all their terror and wonder.
The producer known to all as Babyface was everywhere this year, producing and writing hit songs for Boyz II Men, Madonna and Aretha Franklin, among others. But he's done some of his finest work with the vocal trio TLC. Their latest collection of slinky, saucy Pop/R&B tunes has pushed them to the top of the charts.
This wide-eyed, waiflike folk singer from Texas - picture Emily Dickinson with a guitar - has long been a cult favorite. She breaks into the mainstream with this moving, semiautobiographical cycle of lost loves and missed opportunities, all the while smiling through her tears.
In an era of cookie-cutter virtuosos, the Ukrainian-born Richter is the the last of the larger-than-life pianists, brilliant and willful. This magnificent 21-CD collection, culled from unreleased tapes covering a span of 25 years, proves he is one of the great artists of the age.
Charged by rock 'n' roll but grounded in the blues, this quartet, based in Columbia, South Carolina, makes music with frat-party swagger, but the band's lyrics address such serious topics as the death of a parent and the racial implications of flying the Confederate flag. The rough, commanding voice of lead singer Darius Rucker, at left, makes it all work.
Marsalis' lush, undulating jazz composition, performed at Lincoln Center this April and broadcast on National Public Radio, captured the pain of American slavery in piercing trumpet peals and the joy of liberation in the playful bleats of trombones. The three-hour big-band piece featured singer Cassandra Wilson, who, with her performance in Fields and the success of her transcendent album Blue Light 'Til Dawn, came into her own this year as the reigning queen of jazz.
A wondrous collection of crunching rock and dreamy ballads, heartfelt confessionals and political declarations. There's no arguing that this youthful band of Irish rockers, led by singer Dolores O'Riordan, is maturing gracefully.
Krzysztof Penderecki may be better known, but Lutoslawski, a composer of uncompromising integrity, was the dean of contemporary Polish composers. He died in February, but his work lives on in these splendid readings by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Particularly noteworthy is the Fourth Symphony, Lutoslawski's last and most moving orchestral essay.
Do you like playing your car stereo so loud that cars in back of you flash their lights? If the answer is yes, then Green Day is for you. If no, then here's a gift you can give to your younger relations that will make them all think you're incredibly cool. While the raucous, cathartic songs of this Berkeley-based punk band are adolescent and snotty, they're always laughing with you, not at you or are they? The best rock CD of the year.
The Three Tenors II
To vary Marx's formulation slightly, history repeats itself - the first time as an enchanting evening of song, the second time as an example of extreme bad taste and lazy greed. What was wonderful in Rome in 1990 was awful in L.A. as Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras sight-read their way through arias and show tunes on a set that included a waterfall. And no, the Brindisi from La Traviata - the sequel's intended Nessun dorma - did not fly to the top of the charts.
From Time Magazine, Inc.
December 26, 1994