Sunday, March 26, 2017

Original Broadway Cast Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

   In the history of musical theatre, projects winning best position were always connected with some historical changes or social issues. In fact this refers to any work of art especially when it’s a narrative one. The tension between political or economical process and particular moment in the life of a hero is the energy moving storytelling from oldest times. When on one stage takes place music and story, dance and theatre, whole production needs to be concentrated – the scene works as a focusing lens. With this presumption we need to take into account also artistic qualities, good music, sense of humor and breathtaking dance scenes. Commercial success was always connected with various factors, but most efficient was its impact and popularity. Phonographic recordings played significant role as a step to wide promotion of any work. During first decades such albums were main step outside the Broadway where music has a chance to find new listeners. Not only blockbusters were released as musical recordings. For those with higher budget LP records or CD albums were sometimes a second chance to find its way to listeners.

Hair • The Original Broadway Cast Recording (1968)


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Shakatak — Night Birds

In seventies all styles of popular music were the subject of deep change. Although many kinds of jazz and rock were still continuing artistic quest in old directions, the wide public and main labels were choosing more dance and rhythmic kinds of music. After fell all bastions of intellectually ambitious jazz and progressive rock, after jazz rock gave ways to fields of popular instrumental music to disco, it became clear music is a kind of product. This was the great time for many musicians. After years of some strange ideas basing on invention value, commercial kinds of music gave musicians many chances to develop their virtuosity being a primary quality and a source of recognition. That was the background for the new wave of bands and musicians playing various kinds of smooth jazz mixed with elements of disco, rhythm and blues, or some local folk traditions. One of most popular in Europe was English band Shakatak.

Shakatak – Night Birds (1982)


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chick Corea — The Mad Hatter


   In the middle of 1970’s decade Chick Corea was one of best recognized musicians on jazz scene. He was appreciated as pianist, composer, arranger, improviser and leader. He was known for his band and artists he played with. But first of all he was famous for his own style. Since his first fusion experiments in late sixties, Chick Corea was artist connecting and melting Spanish music idioms with elements of jazz genre. First great work, opening the sequence of such productions was Stan Getz’s Captain Marvel recorded in 1972 where Corea composed almost complete material. Musicians involved in recording sessions with Stan Getz, the same time were creating first album of Return to Forever – the band aiming to take vanguard position in jazz-rock of seventies. 
   Time spend with Return to Forever was this period when Corea has focused on symphonic type of arrangement. This was idea clearly taken from progressive rock. In 1976 composer of La Fiesta published groundbreaking double LP album My Spanish Heart where he developed great new vision of Latin jazz. Two years later in 1978 Chick Corea released next album experimenting with jazz-rock and fusion genres, combining jazz elements with progressive rock ideas. Titled The Mad Hatter this was a concept album with lyrics written by Gale Moran and clearly connected by some symbolic, graphic and narrative ideas with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. And the tendency of creating intricate concept albums with plenty of references was further evidence for strong bonds between fusion jazz and progressive rock.

Chick Corea — The Mad Hatter (1978)

   Chick Corea released The Mad Hatter album in 1978. It was recorded in Kendun Recorders studios in Burbank with jazz line-up and chamber sections. Jazz section were Joe Farrell (tenor saxophone, flute, piccolo), Herbie Hancock (electric piano), Jamie Faunt, Eddie Gómez (basses), Steve Gadd, Harvey Mason (drums) and Gayle Moran (vocals). Brass parts were played by Stewart Blumberg, John Rosenburg, John Thomas (trumpets) and Ron Moss (trombone) and string section was Charles Veal and Kenneth Yerke (violins), Denyse Buffum and Michael Nowack (violas), Dennis Karmazyn (cello). The leader himself played piano, electric piano (Fender Rhodes), synthesizers (Mini-moog, Poly-moog, Moog 15, Moog Sample & Hold, Arp Odyssey, Oberheim 8 Voice, Mxr Digital Delay, Eventide Harmonizer) and percussion (African shaker, marimba, cymbal and cowbell. He was also composer and arranger.
   As it has been indicated above, main contribution of progressive rock into jazz-rock crossover style was symphonic narrative and orchestral structure of arrangements. One of consequences of this attitude was concept album idea, which was not used before but so often convention in mainstream jazz. Chick Corea as pianist and composer was always closer to classical music than rock, especially in his sound ideas. In his albums he was constantly developing structural means giving in result various kinds of closed compositions and cycles. This feature played decided role also in construction of The Mad Hatter album. It is so rich in qualities, ideas and conceptions, fragments of modal improvisations are entwined with modernistic chamber arrangements and neoclassicist elements of compositions, it’s just perfect subject for structural analysis. Nonetheless all of these make this album more ambitious than it was acceptable in 1978. Four stars is lowest grade for such ambitious and well done project. Fifth star I am giving for my personal reasons - it was just one of my high-school favorite albums.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Yevgeny Mravinsky conducts Symphony Pathétique


   In history of culture we have many mysterious phenomenons giving scope to our imagination. Facing chef-d'oeuvre we can’t rationalize all of its qualities, so we are mythologizing the story of its creation or just seeking any reason to explain its uniqueness. One of such masterpieces is Symphony B minor, Op. 74 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The work has been called Symphony Pathétique by composer’s brother Modest, and approved by composer himself. This emotional work was intended as program symphony, A Programme Symphony was even its projected name, but composer decided not to reveal the program as it was too much private, as Tchaikovsky wrote “suffused with subjectivity”, so he decided to leave it without any comments.
   Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote his 6th Symphony in February and March 1893 and orchestrated the work in the summer of the same year, although there are some rumors connecting this composition with his death assuming he committed suicide. The official cause was cholera, and the idea of connecting Symphony Pathétique with his death is again testimony of our inability to accept some phenomenon exceeding our understanding. Facts are simple and still significant. He died three months after he finished this composition. October 28th, he conducted the premiere of this symphony in St. Petersburg, and after first performance he said: “Something strange is happening with this symphony! It's not that it displeased, but it has caused some bewilderment. So far as I myself am concerned, I'm more proud of it than any of my other works”. Nine days later, November 6th, 1893 he died.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky - Symphony Pathétique - Yevgeny Mravinsky (1956)

   The same city Tchaikovsky premiered his last symphony, 63 years later was the scene of unforgettable recording session when great performance of this work was captured. This was the time of growing recognition and interesting focusing on Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and its artistic director, conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky. Series of great premiere performances including symphonies by Dmitri Shostakovich, international fame was already huge, even if conductor was traveling reluctantly and did not like recording sessions. As conductor he devoted his career to orchestra, to create its artistic profile and to build technical possibilities. The results of his work were astonishing. Precision of articulation and sound of Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra was recognized as one of most characteristic achievements of Russian universal musical culture, as well as Tchaikovsky’s symphonic music, especially his last symphony. The only reason this recording has few releases, definitely not as much as it deserves, was its monophonic technology, which as the moment was out of date already. Despite of this, published by Deutsche Grammophone Gesellschaft it remains one of most significant recordings of this symphony.
   Symphony Pathétique belongs to core repertoire of symphonic orchestras and with huge range of possible readings and interpretations it’s good to know some essential and most meaningful renditions. The one that can play referential role and one of most famous is monaural recording made by Yevgeny Mravinsky with Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1956. What tells the difference between this and many other performances is intensity of musical action. Every phrase of this recording is clear and strong sentence of the whole story which is the 6th Symphony in itself, although devoid of program, it remains a strong narrative construction. Profound and expressive, perfect in every moment, this album is document of artistic potential of the Leningrad Philharmonics one decade after the war. And this is the reason to see such recordings as corner stones of the orchestra’s and conductor’s fame. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Captain Beefheart — Strictly Personal


   In the history of rock music Captain Beefheart can be seen as an enfant terrible of experimental subgenres. From his debut he was one of most influencing figures, although his impact on various groups of musicians and listeners was varied. Acclaimed by critics, but generally unpopular in wide audiences, inspiring for many musicians and worshiped by group of fans, Captain Beefheart was highly creative, unconventional though he was using his creative ideas and in quite a traditional way being a kind of scarecrow for opportunists and conservatives. Although whole of his output is noteworthy, especially his early albums have the power of revolutionizing shape of rock and roll culture. But still these first experiments are in close bonds with deep stream of folk blues and traditional music.
   After successful debut album Safe as Milk, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band became product of show business and had to play according to its rules. It was a part of the system to focus the style of the band in one of most popular sub-genres to better reach the target group. Material recorded initially in October 1967 for Buddah Records but it was rejected for its noncommercial character. Producer Bob Krasnow decided to publish the album in his own label Blue Thumb and finally Captain Beefheart’s second album was recorded at Hollywood Sunset Sound Studios in last week of April 1968 and was released in October 1968. Producer of the album added some trendy effect like extended phasing and reverb to make Magic Band sound more psychedelic.
   While transferring new album to another record company the primary concept of the album has been matter of change. Initially it was called It Comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper and cover design of Strictly Personal is a kind of remainder for this idea. What happened Buddah Records executives didn’t approve artist’s work was their disapproval for Don Van Vliet’s experimental attitude towards music. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band came from social activism aiming to be radical artistic movement and expanding the boundaries of popular music beyond jazz or even contemporary artistic music. Debut album Save as Milk was compromise from both sides, but after it was published, artists work on more clear and advanced ideas while company was counting on reduction of risk and waiting for more moderate songs.

Captain Beefheart — Strictly Personal (1968)

   In 1967 executives of record company discarded the work done by musicians. After successes of Trout Mask Replica (1969) and Lick My Decals Off, Baby (1970), parts of 1967 autumn sessions were published in 1971 by Buddah Records as Mirror Man album produced by Bob Krasnow. During 1967 autumn imbroglio some ideas of sound structure had changed, but the personnel recording Strictly Personal remained unchanged. Ry Cooder left the band after Save as Milk. He was replaced by Jeff Cotton. This way Magic Band lineup had stabilized in 1967 with Alex St. Clair and Jeff Cotton (guitars), Jerry Hendley (bass), John French (drums) and Don Van Vliet (vocal and harmonica). This lineup stayed until 1970 when Jeff Cotton suffered in argument and left the band. This was moment when Don Van Vliet was experimenting with social engineering of the band, depriving musicians of sleep and food.
   Eight songs of Strictly Personal program is a collection differentiated and giving clear picture of band’s artistic explorations. Some ideas are more surrealistic than famous Trout Mask Replica masterpiece. While other Capt. Beefheart’s recordings in this period were based on traditional folk blues roots, ideas of Strictly Personal are more abstractive. Unofficial sixth band member was Bob Krasnow who edited bands recordings changing its initial sound and adding some alienating effects to make it sound closer to psychedelic bands. Even black and white photography of the band inside gatefold cover show masked band. In these outfit they look so strange, it is hard to determine if this is allusion to cheap science fiction movies or surrealistic vision of some archetypical characters of popular imagination.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Diana Krall • Christmas Songs


   Diana Krall is recognized as one of best jazz singers in last decade of 20th century and first decades of 21st century. Born and raised in Canada, married to English singer and songwriter Elvis Costello, since the beginning of her career she is one of stars of international fame. After studies in Berklee College, Krall debuted in 1993 with album Stepping Out recorded in trio with acoustic bass player John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Her acoustic style and contemporary interpretations of standards from American songbook were in straight connection with tradition tracing popular music history through artistry of post-war popular songs to its sources in 1920’s. Her sparing piano style was also the element perfectly in style audience was demanded. Repertoire and interpretations made she was considered as continuing Nat King Cole tradition. And she was casted in this role from the beginning of her career.
   When she published her first album, she became immediately famous as a revelation of vocal jazz and traditional pop music. Big audience at the end of 20th century was surfeited with digital culture covering human presence with any kind of sound glut. She was well prepared but still emotional, competent but natural and her singing was as much jazz as popular, charm and melodious as for popular music but conscious of consequences of every move and firmly bounded with harmonic changes as in jazz world – she was just the one many were waiting for. Her nicely deep contralto and simple piano style occurred to be perfectly adequate to smooth jazz, bossa nova and traditional popular music.

Diana Krall • Christmas Songs (2016 release)

   Big success of Canadian pianist and singer was connected with wide social process of changing the attitude towards jazz and traditional popular song. Five Grammy Awards and eight further Grammy nominations gave her position of international celebrity, so common for popular music stars and so much unusual in jazz world. From 2002 Diana Krall is published by Verve Records. In 2005 this label released Krall’s first and so far only album for Christmas. This was also her first studio album with big band. And it’s not an accident that the band was Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra – the band of two musicians she was recording starting her career. With 23 musicians of the Orchestra singer and pianist sounded still perfectly in her style.
   The repertoire of this record is convincing set of most popular Christmas songs. From Jingle Bells and Let It Snow, through Christmas Time is Here and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, to White Christmas and Sleigh Ride – all 12 songs are creating nice collection of season blockbusters. Smoothly jazzy interpretations are showing her deep and warm voice in these holiday songs. In series of perfectly produced orchestrations these songs sound surprisingly fresh. Arrangements are based on modern big-band style and studio features. Although deep rooted in traditional style, Krall is singing with strong interpretative impact, giving listeners one more opportunity to listen these old hits in contemporary outfit. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Alexander von Zemlinsky • Lyrische Symphonie op. 18 • Bernhard Klee


   Orchestral cycle of songs was undeniably one of greatest achievements of musical culture in romantic period. Although its formal idea has long evolution between early romantic songs, late-romantic cantata and postromantic symphony with vocal parts and various works for voice and orchestra, it was late Romanticism when development of symphonic cycle of songs resulted as independent form. Best examples were all cycles of orchestral songs by Gustav Mahler and cycles like Vier letzte Lieder by Richard Strauss, or Gurre-Lieder by Arnold Schoenberg. From perspective of symphonic cycle also symphonies by Gustav Mahler played significant role for numerous references to romantic song forms. In this context special role played Das Lied von der Erde as it was the synthesis uniting symphonic cycle of songs and romantic symphony. Lyrical Symphony composed in 1923 by Alexander von Zemlinsky belongs to most famous implementations of this idea.
   Composer, conductor and teacher, Alexander von Zemlinsky was one of key figures of Viennese culture in last decade of 19th and first decades of 20th century. Born in Vienna in multicultural family, Zemlinsky started composer’s career as student of Johann Nepomuk Fuchs and Anton Bruckner. He was composing in postromantic style, continuing the style of Johannes Brahms, whom Zemlinsky personally met and who gave young composer strong support. At the turn of the century he was part of Vienese modernistic movement with Gustav Mahler who conducted premiere of his opera Es war einmal. These two were connected on private level since Mahler married Zemlinsky’s beloved Alma Schindler. Alexander von Zemlinsky was close friend and brother-in-law with Arnold Schoenberg who was his student of counterpoint and long time co-worker. One of Zemlinsky’s pupils was Erich Wolfgang Korngold, recommended him as infant prodigy by Gustav Mahler.

Alexander von Zemlinsky • Lyrische Symphonie op. 18 • Klee (1981)

   The list of Zemlinsky’s works includes songs, symphonic, chamber and piano music and eight operas and stage works like Ein Tanzpoem (Dance Poem) and Mime drama Ein Lichtstrahl (Ray of Light). Completed in December 1919 one act opera Der Zwerg (The Dwarf) was his reaction for breaking engagement by Alma Schindler. Probably the best-known works by Zemlinsky are compositions for voice and orchestra: Waldgespräch with words by Joseph von Eichendorff, Sechs Gesänge after poems by Maurice Maeterlinck Op. 13, Symphonische Gesänge Op. 20 to the lyrics by afroamerican poets and Lyrical Symphony Op. 18. Symphonic intensity and power of poetry gave all modernist composers wide means of expression.
   Most popular work by Alexander von Zemlinsky was Lyrical Symphony for baritone, soprano and orchestra in Seven Cantos to Texts by Nobel’s Prize laureate Rabindranath Tagore. It was written in 1922 and 1923, and lyrical cycle was set of seven poems translated by Hans Effenberger. Baritone and soprano voices take their own parts in narrative, creating dramatic tension. The main composer’s idea was to place these songs into cycle corresponding with formal scheme of symphony. But final effect is closer to symphonic poem, including cantos which can be understand as consecutive images of mystical voyage and developing symbolic vision of human faith. Performance of Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted by Bernhard Klee features baritone Dale Duesing and soprano Elisabeth Söderström. Recording was made between June 30 and July 2nd, 1980 in Berlin, Jesus-Christus-Kirche and published next year in Dusseldorf by Schwann Musica Mundi label.