A listicle about what I've been listening to recently is about the lowest hanging fruit I could possible find, but I need to get the ball rolling on this site!
Bill Withers—Grandma's Hands (Live at Carnegie Hall)
I went to Ghana a few weeks ago and forgot to load my iPhone up with music, so I was "stuck" with what I had already downloaded. Thankfully, Bill Withers' 1973 Carnegie Hall concert was among that small library. It was hard to pick just one song from the album, but Grandma's Hands stood out to me not only because of the performance but also Withers' hilarious introduction. The other standout (among an entire album of standout cuts) is his anti-war song I Can't Write Left Handed.
Terry Riley — Shri Camel
A good friend introduced this album to me during my New England Conservatory days and I've come back to it regularly ever since. I've long since lost the physical album (and, more importantly, the liner notes), but for me it's always been a series of meditations. Terry Riley is probably best known for In C, a mix of minimalist but the most striking thing here isn't the minimalist aesthetic or improvisatory nature, but the calmness that results from his use of just intonation ( a tuning system that is often associated today with Indian music and which must have, in the mid-70s when this work was created, taken significant time programming synthesizers).
Mystikal — Big Truck Driver
This is my favorite song from Mystikal's 2001 album Tarantula. The album was introduced to me by my good friend, Richard Stone, while I was a freshman or sophomore at NEC. Rich knew as much about music as anyone at the conservatory, especially Russian classical music, but also contemporary art and pop, so when he shared this with me it became one of the first (of many) rap albums I listened to with a critical ear. Rich passed away a while ago, but I'm pretty sure if I asked him he'd say that he liked it because of the rhythmic intensity and complexity, as well as the phat beats. I think I agree.
Richter — Clair de lune (Debussy)
The first time I listened to this specific recording was on a good friends deck on a beautiful summer night, drinking scotch (Lagavulin) and looking at the stars. What I love about this specific performance is the way his incredibly patient use of space and pacing contrasts with the heaviness of his actual playing. I think Bernstein would have the maturity to create the space, but I never heard this kind of power out of him (when he played the piano, although he certainly achieved that as a conductor.
Bernstein/Vienna — Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn (Brahms)
Bernstein had a long, special relationship with Vienna that produced a number of exceptional recordings and performances (perhaps none more remarkable than Bernstein eyebrows). Bernstein has such command, not only of the orchestra but of the structure, pacing and personality of Haydn's music. More than any other classical composer, Haydn injected a playfulness into his compositions that Bernstein dials into more than anyone else.