Most archival recordings of classical and jazz performances could be stickered "For Fans Only," but two recent discoveries should not only appease the diehards but satisfy newcomers as well. A lucky find at the Library of Congress has unearthed a lost gem, At Carnegie Hall (Blue Note), a live 1957 recording of Thelonious Monk's quartet with John Coltrane. One of the most under-recorded and intriguing groups in jazz, the album finds Monk and Coltrane in fine form sailing through many of Monk's signature pieces, including "Monk's Mood," "Evidence," and "Blue Monk." A master at making tunes that are at once courtly and full of funk, Monk is full of pep, jabbing piano chords around Coltrane's commanding saxophone leads. On "Nutty," Monk chases Coltrane's lusty, loquacious solo with running trills that chirp alongside the song's sunny melody. True, there's no "Round About Midnight," but the melancholy two-step of "Crepuscule with Nellie" fills in just fine as Monk punctuates a slightly dissonant down-home blues with stuttering asides. Coltrane, a veteran of rhythm and blues bands, mopes and lopes along, shadowing Monk perfectly. The sound is mono, but fear not; the instruments come through clearly in a well-recorded vivid depth of field.
And though an alert ear with a quality stereo can discern passing motorcycles and the single clank of a distant dumpster closing, I still recommend Steve Reich and Musicians, Live 1977 (Orange Mountain). Through incessant repetition and layering, Steve Reich's music of the 1960s and '70s transmutes urgent rhythmic riffs into emphatic melodic lines that reflect his early interest in John Coltrane, Igor Stravinsky, and West African drumming. Stocked with good stereo recordings of Reich's "hits" up to that time—Six Pianos, Violin Phase, and part four of Drumming—along with the lesser-known "Pendulum Music" and Music for Pieces of Wood, this disc crackles with the propulsive drive so essential to Reich's music. The best track, Six Pianos, comes off better than the slightly slower, kinda sterile studio recording on Deutsche Grammophon. "Pendulum Music," a feedback piece that entails suspending a microphone over a speaker and releasing it to swing like a clock pendulum, sounds suitably feral. It matches the rowdy version by Sonic Youth on Goodbye 20th Century (SYR) and betters the honking bloops on the 1999 Wergo recording by Steffen Schleiermacher's group ensemble avantgarde.
I'm also digging a pair of discs by two near-invisible (at least in this town) masters, Michael Torke and Salvatore Sciarrino. Torke's An Italian Straw Hat (Ecstatic) updates the gallant brio of 1920s neo-classical ballets like Les Biches by Darius Milhaud. It's delightful fun and finds new, fertile ground in resolutely tonal music. Sciarrino, by contrast, is a wizard at transforming nonstandard instrumental techniques into enigmatic sound worlds. His spooky Tre notturni brillanti (1974–5) opened up new sonic territory for the solo viola. Sciarrino's latest disc, Fiato (Stradivarius) collects four chamber works from the 1980s. All of them chart a barren landscape of gasping wind instruments (clarinet, oboe, trumpet, bassoon, and flutes), suffocating whispers, and nervy silences.