Randy Yau

I loved compilation albums long before the iPod transformed my music collection (and I bet yours, too) into an encyclopedic "various artists" archive.

A decade ago, most everyone I knew avoided "comps." Well-intentioned benefit discs and artist tributes usually tanked. But comps do more than open an avenue to discover new artists: The best commemorate a label's bold vision (e.g., the avant jazz Red Hot on Impulse!) or, like lowercase 2002, offer a snapshot of an emergent genre. And though I hated Ken Burns's mediocre and musically bigoted documentary Jazz, the accompanying Ken Burns Jazz CD series yielded solid and easily recommended anthologies of Miles, Monk, Coltrane, and other innovators. You can get 'em used for dirt cheap on Amazon.

Of course, dumb comps like Debussy for Daydreaming still sell by the truckload. The glut of collections in all genres makes compilations a risky proposition, even in experimental music, where new discs let listeners compare and contrast unknown artists with better-known names.

Released by Elevator Bath, A Cleansing Ascension celebrates the local label's 10th anniversary with an alluring set of experimental, brooding atmospheres. The fine disc mingles several revered artists, notably Tom Recchion of the pioneering Los Angeles Free Music Society, and Francisco López, with emerging figures including Matt Shoemaker, Keith Berry, Adam Pacione, and Jim Haynes.

I'm enamored with every track on the disc, especially "Waning Ataraxia," in which Shoemaker congeals undulating drones into an anxious nocturne. I also adore the blasé drum machine that permeates Recchion's "Drift Tube," and how Dale Lloyd insinuates hushed, quasi-binaural static in "Our Morphosis."

In their respective pieces, Haynes and Rick Reed bend swerving drones into complex ambiances. The raspy tones of Haynes's "Like a Thief in the Night" throttle and hum like some mysterious vintage device gone awry. As if dowsing with synthesizers, Reed employs blatantly bent tones that careen throughout "The Fiery Sound of Light," which eventually dissipates into lovely, vinyl-like pops embedded within phased pulses. Label honcho Colin Andrew Sheffield contributes his trademark layers of invisibly looped stringlike sounds in the lush "For Today."

Earlier this summer, I ran into Sheffield, who noted that the disc is not a retrospective, but a collection of artists currently involved with the label. A clutch of them—Reed, Lloyd, Shoemaker, Pacione, and the Bay Area–based Haynes—perform live this Saturday. Don't miss it. recommended

Elevator Bath celebrates its 10th anniversary Sat Aug 16, Fourth floor Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 789-1939, 8 pm, $5–$15 sliding scale donation.

Thurs 8/14

GRETA MATASSA

One of our burg's finest jazz vocalists, Matassa is a connoisseur of forgotten tunes; her 2007 disc, The Smiling Hour (Origin), recasts the antique Victor Herbert clinker "Indian Summer" into a strutting swing tune. Matassa's sassy, agile phrasing and pliable hornlike scatting would make Ella Fitzgerald, one of Matassa's idols, proud. Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave, 547-6763, 5:30–7 pm, free with museum admission.

BEN HEPPNER

The signature Wagnerian tenor of our time gives a recital. On the program: Richard Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, surprising morsels by Liszt (including Die Drei Zigeuner), and "Dem Unendlichen" by Schubert as well as songs by Henri Duparc, Luigi Denza, and others. Perennial Seattle Opera conductor Asher Fisch accompanies Heppner at the piano. McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St, 389-7676, 7:30 pm, $45–$250.

JAZZ: THE SECOND CENTURY

The second installment of this Earshot Jazz project showcases the exploratory Tony Grasso Saxophone? Quartet! The group's unusual punctuation alludes to the presence of a single trumpet among a trio of saxophones. Expect fun, rambunctious polyphony, spirited unisons, and delicious chords splaying out in strange directions. Fourth floor Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 547-6763, 7:30 pm, $10.

NICO MUHLY

A protégé of Philip Glass, this New York–based composer makes music that is spare yet melodically rich, as if John Adams decided to revise a sheaf or two of Brahms's chamber music. I like Muhly's 2007 disc, Speaks Volumes (Bedroom Community), not only for the music, but for his use of close-up micing and compression—tools that conservatory-trained composers have waited too long to explore. Two Muhly compadres, Doveman, who under a cease-and-desist threat yanked his cover album of the Footloose soundtrack, and Sam Amidon, round out this triple bill. The Triple Door, 216 Union St, 838-4333, 7:30 pm, $15.

METHFEST

I'm always surprised by the complaints about this annual festival's moniker, but then again, I remember when meth was a genteel club drug quaffed nasally by elegant goths, not the common, corrosive substance it is today. This three-day convocation features noise, grind, black metal bands including Herpes Hideaway, grind duo Sean (who aim to make "piano lessons a threat again"), the Sunken, and Trash Stratum. Through Sat Aug 16; see www.myspace .com/pcnw for details on additional venues and times. Rendezvous, 2318 Second Ave, 441-5823, 10 pm, $5.

Sat 8/16

KIDNAPPING WATER: BOTTLED OPERAS

Performed throughout the month at local rivers, lakes, fountains, ravines, and other waterways, Byron Au Yong's cycle of site-specific operas mingle traditional operatic voices with water-based percussion. On Sat Aug 16, bass-baritone David Stutz and percussionist Stuart McLeod perform at sites in Des Moines and Burien. On Sun Aug 17, Emily Greenleaf and McLeod venture to Kubota Gardens, Coleman Park, Seward Park North Beach, and other locations in south Seattle. Check www.hearbyron.com for maps, times, and directions. Various venues, various times, free.

INTERNATIONAL WAGNER COMPETITION

Richard Wagner (1813–1883) had no pity for singers. The mastermind of the mammoth Ring cycle and a slew of other great operas (Parsifal, Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger) demanded greater volume and stamina from the voice than his fellow composers, which explains why so few singers do well with Wagner. Here, contestants from England, Australia, Germany, South Africa, and the United States sing selections from various Wagner operas for two $15,000 prizes. McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St, 389-7676, 7:30 pm, $45–$150.