New albums from Hebe Tian, Houston Person and Ron Carter, and more

On the album cover, singer Hebe Tien is pictured ironing clothes. In the pages of the lyric booklet, she paints her nails and does a yoga stretch.

The prettily coloured and carefully styled images of the most successful solo member of the popular Taiwanese girl group S.H.E were taken by award-winning Slovakian photographer Maria Svarbova. In other words, the singer's fourth album might be about the quotidian, but there is nothing perfunctory about it.

Ren Jian Yan Huo (Every Day Is A Miracle) is a good example of this.

The phrase "bu shi ren jian yan huo" is used to describe someone who is not quite of this world. So I was expecting something ethereal- sounding, but Tien ventures into upbeat electronica territory instead.



    Hebe Tien

    HIM International Music

    3.5/5 stars

Defying expectations is a good thing and so is sounding different from everything else on the radio, which bodes well for Tien.

The tempo slows down on Useless as her voice casts a languid spell and then gently hits the high notes as she croons a series of zen koans: "Uselessness is useful or completely useless, what's the difference?"

Working with a wide range of musicians here - from China's Lan Xiaoxie (lyrics for Useless and others) to Singaporean newcomer Boon Hui Lu (music for Every Day Is A Miracle and Your Body Speaks) - she produces an eclectic, electronic collection that will liven up your day.

Boon Chan

Saxophonist Houston Person and bassist Ron Carter have teamed up once more for an intimate duets album. This aptly named offering lines up a solid series of standards that purists will adore. Rather than a flashy big bang, this is a series of intimate conversations that sparkles.

  • JAZZ


    Houston Person & Ron Carter


    4/5 stars

On first pass, the delivery sounds straightforward. But it is a deceptive simplicity borne of the musicians' long familiarity with the melodies and technical mastery of their respective instruments.

Just listen to Carter's fat basslines anchoring Person's softly burnished tones on But Beautiful, each luxuriating in the other's pauses and filling in the spaces with thoughtfully considered notes. Or their sprightly hop-skip- jump take on Blue Monk, the one slightly uptempo number on the whole album.

Pay attention to Carter's adroit blue notes on Young And Foolish and Person's beautiful rubato lines in I Did Not Know What Time It Was. Every quiet note is captured by veteran sound engineer Rudy van Gelder and the album is calibrated so beautifully, it sounds like you are sitting in the musicians' living room, listening to them spar with one another with conversational ease.

A hushed album that demands the listener's full attention.

Ong Sor Fern

Everybody loves encores, those tasty little morsels of music performed at the end of a formal programme in a concert (or a recital in the case of soloists). Often spontaneous and unannounced, these come as delightful surprises, which sweeten the deal and send everyone home happy.



    Denis Matsuev, piano

    Sony Music 88875189262

    5/5 stars

Russian virtuoso Denis Matsuev has more than several of these up his sleeves and his anthology has a decidedly Slavic slant.

Those who attended his concert with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Esplanade in 2014 will remember Anatoly Lyadov's delicate Musical Snuffbox, contrasted with the Grigory Ginzburg's maniacally charged transcription of Grieg's In The Hall Of The Mountain King from Peer Gynt.

Those were the "easier" ones, compared with Vladimir Horo- witz's Carmen Variations or Rossini's Largo Al Factotum from The Barber Of Seville (Ginzburg again). Of a less frenzied variety is a selection from Tchaikovsky's The Seasons (the popular Barcarolle and Autumn Song among these).

A true rarity is Rachmaninov's extroverted Fugue In D Minor, written as a teenager. In Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, Matsuev elects to play his own cadenza, a jazz improvisation in the truest sense, after which one will leap from the seat and shout "Bravo".

Chang Tou Liang

Whoever would have thought that the sultry tango, once the dance of bordellos, would some day be elevated to a concert hall classic?



    Barcelona and Catalonia Symphony/ Jose Serebrier

    BIS 1175

    5/5 stars

It took several decades and the efforts of one Argentine Astor Piazzolla to bring that kind of respectability. He gets pride of place with the popular Oblivion and Tangazo, this anthology's longest piece, which builds from Bachian slow boil to toe-tapping rhythmic climax.

Uruguay-born conductor Jose Serebrier, also a composer of repute, adds his own Tango In Blue and Casi Un Tango with cor anglais solo, both receiving world- premiere recordings.

Serebrier's wife, soprano Carole Farley, joins in with Kurt Weill's Matrosen-Tango (Sailor's Song) from Happy End and the tango- habanera Youkali, which oozes sensual appeal on every turn.

There are also contributions to the form by Igor Stravinsky, Samuel Barber, Erik Satie and Morton Gould, all of which are different in many ways.

Danish composer Jacob Gade's Tango Jalousie is an acknowledged classic and the album closes with Gerardo Matos Rodriguez's La Cumparsita. The Symphony Orchestra of Barcelona and Catalonia have this elusive idiom in their blood and the flavour is infectious.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2016, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe