Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Tom Robinson Band — Power in the Darkness

   In the time of violent unrests, when constitutional rights are trampled by armed forces, politicians are staying against people, companies still are creating growth of public debt, and corporative mass-media false picture of reality, only arts and music can remind you what an honest world should look like. For some it will be a moment of rest, momentary relief in pain, but in many cases, it is powerful exposure of common concerns and dreams. To understand it, you don't need any special competences, this is publicly open message. Position of rock music comes from it is impact in actions against Jim Crow laws and imperialistic wars, like the one against Vietnam. Action was considerably strong and gave impulse for huge wave of counterculture movements. Position of rock music from 1960's was one of most significant effects of this process.
   In second half of 1970’s the era of disco was in full swing, big part of rock music looked like already historic genre. Pop rock as more entertaining and ideologically indifferent was in raising trend. Many artists were repeating earlier achievements in various subgenres, expanding them with some fashionable improvements, and gaining success. In late 1970’s most respectable subgenres of rock show some rebellious ideas, and most popular among them was punk rock. Its rhythmical, harmonic, and instrumental simplicity one could understand as weakness, but in fact these elements serve just as background for lyrics. Punk was more counterculture movement than just a genre and besides musical characteristics most significant feature of punk rock was its political commitment. 
Tom Robinson Band — Power in the Darkness (1978)

   Many bands in UK were playing syncretic rock with elements of new style recognized as punk and more traditional hard rock, glam rock, and various pop music styles. One of these bands was Tom Robinson Band, also known under abbreviation TRB. Band was established in 1976 by Tom Robinson, singer and songwriter, gay rights activist. He started his own band as singer giving performances on early London punk scene. He invited his friend Danny Kustow as guitarist, by add in music paper they have found drummer “Dolphin” Taylor, then by next audition they found keyboardist Mark Ambler. Tom Robinson decided to play bass guitar himself. Punk rock was politically engaged in general, but Tom Robinson band was more radical than others although their music was not so defiant as The Clash or Sex Pistols.
   TRB played much more complex and sometimes moderate version of punk rock gravitating towards new wave.  Based on rock rhythms it sounded modern and fashionable. Their started with hit song 2-4-6-8 Motorway – it was 1977 hit picking 5th position on UK Singles Chart – which together with B-side anthem I Shall Be Released it should be considered as a classic punk rock single. After this success in May 1978 EMI released Tom Robinson Band’s debut album Power in the Darkness. As punk rock album it is unusually rich as a variety of elements coming from every corner of rock and various pop music traditions. And it’s still interesting showing in original version some ideas that became fruitful in punk rock in 1990’s.

Tom Robinson Band — Power in the Darkness (1978)

   From the starting moment TRB were sympathizing with Rock Against Racism movement, which was supported by Tom Robinson from the beginning. The cover graphics of the album was the same raised fist as they used as band’s logo. No wonder debut album of TRB was created as a contribution to Rock against Racism campaign. Information about campaign on album cover includes short manifesto: “We want rebel music, street music. Music that breaks down people’s fear of one another. Crisis music. Music that knows who the real enemy is”. UK edition had 10 songs; in most local editions 2-4-6-8 Motorway song was added. US edition was 2LP with many bonus tracks. In UK and European editions part of the album cover was the LP size stencil showing raised fist and ring with name of the band.
   Not only rebellious ones, but most of popular culture artists have generally pro-equality and against- attitude. Although exceptions happen and many artists are testing random kinds of rebellious ideas, good majority is oriented towards values typical for open society, including anti-totalitarianism and advocating full rights for minorities. This direction is common in attitudes of most significant artists. They are saying about what is close to their social and individual interest, sometimes even putting their relations into risk. But experience shows those who are trying to support their careers with hate speech usually do not deserve attention.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Folk Festival – Songs from the deep of social history


   Song can be understand as a base of musical expression and position of music in communication system. As the form of musical experience, song was always fundamental part of any culture. While developing forms of music through the eras were expanding and complicating, in folk music this form rooted in communication mechanisms, language and symbolic gestures, was flourishing with creative ideas and current content but remaining purest and uncontaminated form. The tradition of telling various stories with poetic text was common for most cultures all over the world. With rhyme, rhythm and with melody even legends and fantastic tales sounded more realistic. Basing on formal foundations song became a vehicle for ideas of great importance. After industrial revolution society became more independent and, from this moment onward, popular song played the role of common practical set of ideas.
   The new world society was in quite different situation. New waves of immigrants were coming with fresh energy and some basic musical culture, but mainly without education or cultural competences. The economy of this form and the power of impact were primary reason for connecting song with social behaviors and beliefs in migrating society, patriotic feelings or protests injustice, war or inequity. So country music was as much adequate as it was for social layer without structural rating system.
   Since the beginning of popular culture era, songs were the tools for disseminating various ideas, step by step taking position of main form in spectrum of musical culture. This process can be observed almost in every area, it can last decades, or centuries. In American society after 2nd World War, with domination of English language, in place of different singing and telling traditions, appeared limited number of forms and worldwide recognizable authors of songs. As this massive cultural change came with domination of American politics and economy, so significant part of globalizing culture was common American English music and literature including folk and country music.

Various Artists – Folk Festival (1960?)

   Country ballads, folk rock, protest songs and popular folk songs were extremely popular and in every catalogue such music existed as a section of rich selection. Elektra Records was founded in 1950 with idea to publish folk songs and in next two decades it became major label specialized in all kinds of folk songs. In mid 1950’s their catalogue was already a rare collection of great singers, so they started to publish compilations of different style songs. In 1956 Elektra published Folk Sampler with 18 songs and in 1961 this compilation was reedited and titled Folk Festival. Next compilation of 15 songs was published under the same title and republished few times in licence edition. One of them was Vintage label operating in Germany (Vintage F50002). There were few other versions, but none of them contained any information about the year of publication.
   The album is one of dozens alike. Such compilations of popular folk songs were in sixties common way to earn some extra money from albums already sold. The program includes stars from the label's stable, from Judy Collins, Brownie McGhee, Rod McKuen and Theodore Bikel, through The Dillards, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Ed McCurdy and Oscar Brand to Odetta and Pete Seeger. Interesting choice of songs (and two instrumental pieces by Glen Campbell) – for newbies the opportunity to check, for those who like American folk music, a chance to have more comprehensive overview. For the lack of thrill, two and a half of stars only although every distinguished artist alone deserves more.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Joni Mitchell — Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter


   One of songwriters and great folk-rock singers who reached great worldwide fame as performing artist is representative of great Canadian American tradition, bright stage personality and guitarist Joni Mitchell. She is famous as singer and well known as performer, but her creative effort in songwriting was on the first place from the very beginning. With strong roots in folk and folk rock, she was close to jazz scene as well. She started as songwriter and folk clubs singer in sixties, her debut album Song to a Seagull was produced by David Crosby and released in March 1968 by Reprise label. She was author of all songs, singer, played guitar and piano in all accompaniments and designed album cover. Bass guitarist Stephen Stills played only one song but became her constant coworker and playing much more on her next albums. Releasing every year new album in five years she became an icon of folk rock.
   Shortly after Mitchell’s first folk rock records reach commercial success, she started to widen stylistic attitude. Consequently, her name was increasingly falling into category of jazz vocalists. It’s interesting process she was keeping the same position towards popular ballad and narrative poetry of rock songs changing only some elements of her musical style. In early seventies it was still somehow risky idea to get against actual trends. Folk rock albums made her famous, so experiments with other styles could eventually cost her losing some of her fans. So, she was moving to folk and jazz crossover in a mild way, adding more and more interesting musicians, and staying herself the same artistic personality. She was recording and touring with super league of jazz musicians. As time goes by she had considerably more listeners on jazz and some other ambitious genres of rock and pop music, but she was still associated with folk rock.
   After the end of Vietnam war in seventies, with social change driven by economic crisis, many artists were searching for new solutions of art representation as a space for culture discourse. This perspective was perfect for continuing some trends popular in sixties. Renewed ideas were consumed as backward wave of folk music. Joni Mitchell as many others was still on top of popularity. It really didn’t matter how innovative she was and how far her new songs were behind borders of the style, she was still considered as folk singer. Like she was intending to confirm this stereotype, in many performances she was still a singer with a guitar, or even a bard with natural vocal technique and nice melodies. Sometimes it had to be a real challenge to reach it in such natural way, and many of her project were stylized to fulfill this idea. This tendency was present in live performances while not clearly visible in Mitchell’s studio recordings, where she was more ambitious on intellectual and artistic level.

Joni Mitchell — Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977)
   One of her best works, published in December 1977 double LP album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter was also the one scandalously underestimated. Recorded for Asylum label in London, New York and Hollywood with huge group of musicians and various arrangements. Definitely, most significant element besides of Joni Mitchell’s voice and guitars was sound of Jaco Pastorius’ fretless bass. As a sideman he gave this music electrifying power of jazz phrasing, finding perfect balance with leader’s voice. In late seventies his sound was iconic element of Weather Report sound. Musicians from this band were saxophonist Wayne Shorter, percussionists Manolo Badrena, and Alex Acuña. Others were also known for their contribution in fusion jazz guitarist Larry Carlton, percussionist Airto Moreira, movie music composer, pianist Michel Colombier, lead singer from funk band Rufus Chaka Khan and drummer John Guerin known from early Frank Zappa’s albums.
   Restricted use of jazz idioms on Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter was visionary. It sounded like jazz moved back to it’s popular music roots. Even in simple songs, for example in Jericho, where Jaco Pastorius bass and Joni Mitchell’s guitar with drums by John Guerin and bongos by Don Alias create thick and intensive instrumental layer. In this fabric soprano sax by Wayne Shorter is so discrete and colorful as it sounds like just extra sound dimension. This corresponds with unusual melody, full of unexpected changes, based on irregular, free verse poetry. It gives a mind-blowing effect. In opposite example Paprika Plains we receive expanded composition spanning whole side B of first LP. Similar group of musicians (except absence of congas and Joni Mitchell plays piano) and symphony orchestra orchestrated by Michael Gibbs gives this composition solid formal frame. Even final jazz solo by Wayne Shorter runs with the whole composition like a cadenza. The other side of musical experience are The Tenth World and Dreamland, both featuring essentially percussion band. For experimenting with styles, balancing ambitious musical creations with intense poetry this album deserves four stars. I am giving four and a half for personal input of Jaco Pastorius – this is one of his best accomplishments.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Monteverdi – Madrigals – Leonhardt



   Claudio Monteverdi was born in Cremona, traditional musical centre of Northern Italy. In 16th century newborn children were baptized as soon as possible, so his baptism day, May 15th, 1567 is widely recognized as a date of his birth. He was composer of two eras, starting his career in late Renaissance style and continuing his work in early Baroque. And it’s hard to overestimate role Monteverdi played as creator of new musical idioms and establishing new forms. He was one of first composers who were developing the idea of opera as combined music, poetry, dance and theatre, and the first one who wrote opera L’Orfeo being regularly played. His late works Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1641) and L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642) remain in common repertoire giving him position of first composer with significant position in the history of opera. These two works, written by composer in his seventies, are considered as his crowning achievements. He died in Venice in 1643.
   Crucial moment in his artistic career was publishing in 1605 his fifth book of madrigals Il quinto libro de madrigali a cinque voci, where he switched main style of musical composition. He resigned of earlier rules of polyphony with strict counterpoint and equity of voices – which he called prima practica. In place of these he used counterpoint more freely with hierarchic voices. These features help him create music with more dramatic emotional shape. In next four books of Madrigals Monteverdi established foundations for the new style. Every book gave new solutions to the problem of relation between lyrics and musical form. Choices of works from Monteverdi’s Libri are common part of musical life, what can be observed in concert programs and record catalogues.

Claudio Monteverdi – Madrigale – Gustav Leonhardt (1979)

   Among many productions some are really significant. Meaningful moment in performing and recording Monteverdi’s music was change from romantic visions of ancient music to historically informed and methodically conscious interpretations. One early examples of such attitude is album called Madrigals (Madrigale in German) published in 1980 under SEON/RCA label. This is one of late issues in catalogue of SEON label, which in 1978 moved from Phonogram to RCA. Recording sessions took place in Haarlem (Holland, Netherlands) in September 1979. Performers were Dutch singers Marjanne Kweksilber (soprano), Marius van Altena (tenor), Michiel ten Houte de Lange (tenor) and Floris Rommerts (bass) and great countertenor from Belgium, René Jacobs. Artistic director was Gustav Leonhardt, who played harpsichord and conducted the ensemble.
   Program of this album was composed with carefully selected madrigals from Monteverdi’s last four books of madrigals. First position of this anthology is four-part Lamento d’Arianna (Libro 6). Second dominant of the programm is three-part Lamento della Ninfa (Libro 8).  Madrigals are often versions of opera arias and duets. Opening second side madrigal Bel pastor (Libro 9) is dramatic scene for two voices where shepherd is seducing shepherdess. This madrigal written to the text by Ottavio Rinuccini was probably a scene from one of lost pastoral operas. Such procedures were normal behavior not only in 17th century. Whole program of 15 madrigals shows also some stylistic dependencies towards earlier style. Monteverdi was using various stylistic means, sometimes even facing to older manners just to give his oeuvres most lucid, credible shape. Such perspective was also shown in collection set by Gustav Leonhardt bringing a lot of musical experience and some further evidences of composer’s greatness.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Keith Jarrett — Treasure Island

April 30 - INTERNATIONAL JAZZ DAY celebrated under the auspices of UNESCO since 2012


   From the beginning of his recording career Keith Jarrett was musician of huge possibilities. As multi instrumentalist he was playing piano, harpsichord, pipe organ, soprano saxophone, flute, recorder, harmonica, guitar, bass guitar, drums and various percussion instruments. He was also songwriter and singer experimenting with popular song. As composer he was developing some creative continuations of third stream idea. He was as well stylistically versatile as a performer, playing not only various styles of jazz, but also folk rock and giving well established performances of baroque, classical and 20th century music. The catalogue of his albums is huge both for its volume and variety. Considering Jarrett’s achievements in jazz as main stream of his activity, it’s still not easy to point an outward direction or style for whole of his work. Probably the best answer would be defining own style as weave of personal tendencies and generation knowledge, the value system and music technology. And with every expression of these qualities Jarrett’s individual style looks more consistent.
   Keith Jarrett was associated with Impulse label for two years, and in such short period he recorded four albums starting with Fort Yawuh, (rec. live February 24, 1973), continued with Treasure Island and concluded with two albums recorded during one session October 9-10, 1974: Death and The Flower (released 1975) and Back Hand (released 1974). Second album recorded for Impulse was studio recording. Sessions took place in Generation Sound Studios in New York City on February 27 and 28, 1974. Treasure Island was recorded with Dewey Redman playing tenor saxophone, Charlie Haden playing bass, Paul Motian playing drums with guest performances of guitarist Sam Brown (in Treasure Island and Sister Fortune). Apart piano, Keith Jarrett played soprano saxophone in Angles (Without Edges). In effect is affordably inexpensive session gave results of widely developed project.

Keith Jarrett — Treasure Island (1974)

   The idea of Treasure Island was to melt various directions of contemporary jazz, including fusion and soul jazz, funk and free jazz, progressive and popular music. Such attitude was young Jarrett’s idée fixe; he was expanding stylistic frontiers beyond any borders. The more contradictory these currents were, the more interesting was stylistic background and its final effect looked better. Like in treasury found on tropical island we have everything precious in one coffer, here we have various elements of tradition closed in one program. And the best feature is the structure of this album – all compositions are complementary and every element is perfectly set with the others. Sad and joyous, light and heavy moments are balanced and magnificently displayed. If he didn’t develop his own stylistic way, this could be Jarrett’s style as well.
   Interesting mistake happened in my copy of Treasure Island. It is European edition re-released by Impulse in February 2016. The second side of the record contains one more track: Sister Fortune which is last song on B-side, has been cut two times – at the beginning of this side and at the end. Maybe it was intended action to give listener a chance to listen this nice piece in better quality, maybe it was calculated as a provocation showing how passive listeners we are. Whatever it was, it would be nice to read publisher’s information on this. Considering musical quality this album deserves four stars for originality and strong position in early discography of great pianist.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Mstislav Rostropovitch conducts Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6 'Pathetique'


   As one of great personalities in music of second half of 20th century, Mstislav Rostropovitch was versatile artist of many qualities. His cello virtuosity and interpretative skills made his name widely recognized as soloist and conductor. Starting from 1962 stage of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in Gorky Opera (today Nizhni Novgorod) he was active also as opera conductor. In 1967 he was conducting Eugene Onegin at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. From 1977 he was director and conductor of U.S. National Symphony Orchestra in Washington. As Russian patriot, born in Baku, son of Polish noble descent father, he was known for his civil courage and rational views. Year after year he was increasingly famous not only, in musical circles but also for his political attitude. His human rights advocacy was appreciated and rewarded with many awards and orders, especially in post-soviet time. Awards he received show, how unique person he was, for example Stalin Prize in 1951, Lenin Prize in 1964 and Medal of Freedom from President of USA in 1987. His position in musical culture and in 20th century social history is indisputable.
   Starting from his student times, when he quit Moscow Conservatory as a gesture of protest against dismissal of Dmitri Shostakovich form professor’s post he was supporting towards the opposition. In time of cold war he was openly opposed against political control over Soviet Union citizens especially artists and intellectuals. In August 1968 while playing in London at The Proms he made clear gestures of solidarity with Prague Spring. Developing his artistic career, he had more possibilities to fight for freedom of speech and democratic values. He was supporting many dissidents, among them Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was his long time friend. In seventies, after he was banned from official musical life in Moscow, in 1974 he left homeland and four years later he was deprived of citizenship. He remained in exile for 16 years. In 1989 when Berlin Wall was falling down, he gave improvised concert. In 1990 his citizenship was restored and his return was seen as a manifestation of new era in Russian history. He was active in social life also later years; in 1991 he was supporting Boris Yeltsin during coup d'état attempt.

Mstislav Rostropovitch • Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony 'Pathetique' (1977)

   In mid-seventies Mstislav Rostropovich recorded complete six Symphonies by Peter Tchaikovsky with London Philharmonic Orchestra for His Master’s Voice label of EMI Records Ltd. This English production with addition of the Manfred Symphony op. 58 was published in 1977 by EMI branch offices all over the world. In England it was available as complete of 7 LP records in the box, but for various markets it was also released apart. It was possible to buy standalone symphonies or the whole cycle promoted in various collections and club editions. Next year EMI released record with Tchaikovsky’s two orchestral fantasies Romeo and Juliet and Francesca da Rimini. These recordings were reissued by EMI as 5CD set in 1995. Although all of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic works are eminent achievements, the whole series most featured are last symphonies, especially Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 ‘Pathétique’ which was last great work composed by Peter Tchaikovsky, premiered only nine days before his death.
   Recording session for Symphony ‘Pathétique’ took place at Kingsway Hall in London during three days September 13th to 15th, 1976. The place was known for its perfect acoustic space for orchestra sound and it was heavily used for recording sessions with London Philharmonic Orchestra (280 recordings) and London Symphony Orchestra (421 recordings). When London Philharmonic Orchestra was recorded Tchaikovsky under the baton of Rostropovich, it has 44 years of recording experience with Kingsway Hall. The orchestra in Pathétique sounds perfect as in organic unity. Rostropovich’s recordings were made during the years Bernard Haitink was on the post of principal conductor (1967-1979) so the period was propitious for plastic and massive sound of late romanticism. With this orchestra Russian artist found great partnership to create sophisticated performances of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, thus the interpretation idea is rather balanced than dramatic, closer to classical spirit, although composition by itself is dramatic and narrative-like in post-Romantic manner. This credible performance uncovering lots of inner beauty demands some friendly attention.

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 processes and particular moment in the life of a hero is the energy moving storytelling from oldest times. When in short period of time and on one stage takes place whole story, with music, acting and dance, whole production needs to be concentrated – the stage 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 to any place 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.
   Every period has its stories, songs and hit musicals. When there is such need it could be more conservative, in other moments radical or even revolutionary. Music, arts and letters were always synchronous with deep needs of at least some significant part of the society. In second half of 1960’s postwar stability for great part of society was seen as no longer a value. Young, well educated Americans perceived it as a stagnation atoned with unacceptable price of deaths in Vietnam and social inequality. Rebellious behavior and riots were side-effect of young counterculture. In couple years young minority became power enough significant to reshape official culture. This process was background for probably most ambitious musical project of the era. Breaking many taboos Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical became famous as the voice of young Americans in late sixties.

Hair • The Original Broadway Cast Recording (1968)

   The power of Hair is in its creation of collective hero. The idea of the story was developed by Gerome Ragni and James Rado using method described as “non-book” and based on free notes and snippets as base for creation series of stage situations like pagan rituals, happenings, street demonstrations, theatrical equivalent of human be-in and scandalous performances. In many parts this non-book script has references to works by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, with famous citation “What a Piece of Work Is Man” from Hamlet (Act II, scene 2). After many rejections from Broadway producers, Ragni and Rado found support from Joseph Papp who had choose this work to opening run for his Public Theatre. Premiere took place in October 17, 1967. This was also first non-Shakespearean venture by Papp who was New York Shakespeare Festival founder. Second off-Broadway production was Cheetah stage in December 1967. Both were enough successful to be continued in Broadway.
   For Broadway stage authors made some changes, adding final song Let The Sun Shine In (yet another reference to Hamlet). Nonetheless Papp decided to drop his support for this production. Opened in April 1968 Hair stage had 1 750 performances and pave the way for international recognition of this musical. The same year London West End stage of Hair had 1 997 performances and the consequence of this success were dozens of productions all over the world. In 1979 United Artists premiered film adaptation of the musical directed by Milos Forman. This moment became one of highest achievements in history of musical movies, although only stars were actresses playing the role of Sheila Franklin – Diane Keaton in Broadway cast and Beverly D’Angelo in the movie. Original Broadway cast recording had sold in three millions of copies. The record published by RCA Victor label became great success and was charted on 1st position of Billboard 200. Considerig its position in the era, the album along with others recordings is worth to remember, significant document of its time.