Various Artists: Red Hot + Bach

Various Artists
Red Hot + Bach
(Sony Masterworks)
3 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

The Red Hot Organization has been releasing AIDS benefit compilation albums since 1990’s Red Hot + Blue introduced the concept with a set of wildly diverse Cole Porter covers. Since then, over a dozen further releases have trickled out on various labels refining and expanding the concept with cover discs dedicated to the music of everyone from Duke Ellington to Fela. And while AIDS is no longer the headline grabbing ailment it used to be, the company continues its valiant efforts to eradicate it and educate the public about safe sex with this new collection based on the music of Bach.

As with the others, it’s an eclectic offering as Bach’s music gets run through a variety of mindsets including jazz (Gary Bartz and Ron Carter), experimental classical (Kronos Quartet), modified bluegrass (Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile), world music (Mia Doi Todd), electronic, and plenty of off kilter, even dissonant chamber music. Similar to previous Red Hot + catalog entries, you’ll need a wide open palette to enjoy it all and while a working knowledge of Bach isn’t a prerequisite, it helps the listener appreciate how creative and boundary pushing many of these versions are. And with 19 tracks running over 75 minutes — the deluxe edition adds ten more including excellent selections from indie hip hopper Prefuse 73 and more dynamic work from Kronos — there is an awful lot to absorb.

It’s a challenging, often difficult and at times maddeningly sprawling collection that by trying to be attractive to many different tastes won’t appeal to everyone. But if you’re ready to strap in for the ride, there’s likely something that will attract any serious music lover even, or perhaps especially, those who wouldn’t know Bach from Beck.


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