Friday, December 31, 2010

Captain Beefheart – Unconditionally Guaranteed

First of two commercial albums made by Captain Beefheart for Mercury Records in 1974 was Unconditionally Guaranteed released in April 1974. With following album Bluejeans & Moonbeams, recorded in August and released in November, this pair established most criticized group of Beefheart’s works. Although main idea of this productions was to show more soft and popular picture of Beefhearts music, no commercial success has been reached by these albums. They are example of big record company’s weakness and misunderstanding cultural niche’s needs. Captain Beefheart was extremely disappointed. After album was published, he encouraged buyers to “take copies back for a refund”.  
Due to legal issues, artist didn’t have a chance to decide on his music. Made out of Captain Beefheart’s sight this album became the beginning of serious crisis in artist's biography. The era of freaking out in sixties has gone without any alternative idea. Psychedelic and surrealistic formulas has no chance to exist in main stream pop music, in developing in Europe glam rock these elements became a kind of unimportant ornament. In 1974, the year of ABBA European and world triumph, for large audience the style of sixties was obsolete and sometimes just pathetic. In later recordings Don Van Vliet came back with his school friend Frank Zappa (Bongo Fury) and signing his own name (Shiny Beast and Ice Cream for Crow), but there was no new opening. Beefheart appear more fragile than average artist in show business and unable to fight against disco and commercialization of rhythm and blues music.

Captain Beefheart – Unconditionally Guaranteed (1974) 

Even if Don Van Vliet called it “horrible and vulgar”, Unconditionally Guaranteed is almost successful compromise between radical vision of RnB and musical genres popular in 1970s. The complete set of Van Vliet’s songs could be quite impressive if they were realized more firmly, with this rhythmic precision and more determined articulation we know from his previous albums. The performing style we known from his earlier recordings had gone. And what we got, can convince, the contract with Mercury was violation of Van Vliet’s artistic personality. One look into record cover gives explanation of the mood concurrent to the creation of this record. Distance and mockery were arrays contradicting to previous Van Vliets attitude. Some men in Mercury didn't take the trouble to understand more than customers' expectations.
Question is how much Captain Beefheart was guily himself. Musicians were disappointed, the known from Trout Mask Replica, guitarist Zoot Horn Rollo and bassist Rockete Morton came out of The Magic Band. At last line up of The Magic Band was always rotating. It was Captain Beefheart who tried to hit the market and hoping to convince wider group of consumers. In effect, he lost reliance of his fans. And this makes him totally responsible for the final effect. No matter he credited his wife Jan Van Vliet and producer of the album Andy Di Martino as coauthors of all songs. In such moments one have to admit, sometimes is better to refuse than publish anything.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Concert of the Century at Carnegie Hall

Maybe the worst moments in the history of Carnegie Hall came in the 1970s. Since first decades of 20th century many things were changed – cinema, radio, television, popular culture and mechanical reproduction of sound made many forms of social activities obsolete. Many were convinced Carnegie Hall waits for the fate of many similar institutions and its bankruptcy is inevitable. The idea of collecting founds for help to the most remarkable musical institution in New York came from Isaac Stern. Great violinist called together his friends, the best musicians of this time, to commemorate the past and to help revitalizing the Carnegie Hall by giving special presentation in its auditorium.
Celebrating the 85th Anniversary of Carnegie Hall on May 18, 1976, musical society with Carnegie Hall Endowment Found produced great concert event with participation of great musicians. Artists invited to this project were in close relations with the place and its history. In program of this concert listeners can hear and see Leonard Bernstein with the Members of the New York Philharmonic, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Vladimir Horovitz, Yehudi Menuhin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Issac Stern and The Oratorio Society directed by Lyndon Woodside. Also Martina Arroyo has been invited, but the star had to cancel her appearance due to accident. 

Celebrating The 85th Anniversary of Carnegie Hall

This special event, advertised The Concert of the Century, was recorded live and published in CBS Masterworks series (79 200). Two records, leaflet with lyrics of Schumann’s Dichterliebe and poster in red gatefold cover were the hit in following season of 1977. There was also a special edition of this album, printed in limited issue of 1000 numbered copies with large photos signed by artists and biography of every soloist, the program of the concert and essay on history of Carnegie Hall – all in red calf portfolio and marbled slipcase. In 1978 this album won the Grammy Award as Best Classical Album of the year. It was the third prize in this category in the career of Thomas Frost, producer of this album.
Special program assorted for this celebration include a number of works that became the base for individual and collective exposition. And everyone can find here something enjoying to himself. Beethoven’s „Leonore” Overture No. 3 in solid sound and natural expression of New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein was the single symphonic piece in this program. Strong and emotional Pezzo Elegiaco from Piano Trio A Minor op. 50 by Peter Tchaikovsky was performed by Vladimir Horowitz, Isaac Stern and Mstislav Rostropovich. Also Rachmaninoff's Andante from Cello Sonata G Minor Op. 19 (Rostropovich and Horowitz) was example of perfect playing.
The cycle of songs Dichterliebe Op. 48 Robert Schumann composed for the lyrics by Heinrich Heine. This is one of most exacting romantic song cycles. And Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau maintains it with purity and lightness. His conception is clear and his voice sounds perfect in pair with accompanying him Vladimir Horowitz. Also Bach’s Concerto D Minor for Two Violins BWV 1043 with Yehudi Menuhin, Issac Stern and Leonard Bernstein playing harpsichord and conducting orchestra can satisfied the connoisseur. But what gives the listener the vision of the whole evening? When after Tchaikovsky’s Pater Noster sung by The Oratorio Society directed by Lyndon Woodside, in performance of Alleluia from Handel's oratorio The Messiah the whole collective of soloists engaged in this evening joined the choir. And even if it looks like an occasion to listen to Horowitz, Bernstein and Stern singing along, it is worthy to remember this recording as an perfect example of promoting a social activity.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Captain Beefheart – Bluejeans & Moonbeams

Captain Beefheart or better we should say Don Van Vliet is the personality occupying more than one level of creative efforts not only in performing arts. He was influential person in American fine arts market. Being a child prodigy in sculpture, authoring a great bunch of recognized and highly valued works of visual arts he is known all over the world under his stage nickname Captain Beefheart. He is recognizable worldwide as bluesman, vocalist and harmonica player and the leader of his own group – The Magic Band. His records are the most radical and modern continuation of delta blues and progressive rock implementations of folk blues and roots music from American heritage. Except his avant-garde accomplishments, courageous experiments with linguistic poetry and deconstructing popular music, except he has overcame postmodern dilemmas yet in end of ’60s, sometimes he was just a pop blues singer.
Captain Beefheart came out from electric folk blues. One of  his masters was Howlin’ Wolf and this is why Beefheart’s Magic Band ’60s recordings – Safe as Milk (1967), Strictly Personal (1968) or Mirror Man (1971) sound like they were continuation of electric blues style. Some of his works, especially Trout Mask Replica (1969) sounded more like protopunk or progmetal and they were as progressive as they can be, which means they never have too many listeners. After series of radical recordings Don Van Vliet decided to issue two records in quite popular, rhythm and blues style. It’s just like he wanted to say something less comprehensive and of general meaning for people who don’t have enough nerve to listen Ella guru while keep on driving.

Captain Beefheart – Bluejeans & Moonbeams (1974)

The 1974 record Bluejeans & Moonbeams was an opportunity to show the new face of the artist, more popular and society oriented. Don Van Vliet sings and plays harmonica. The Magic Band were Dean Smith on guitar and bottleneck guitar, Ira Ingber on bass, on keyboard instruments Michael Smootherman, Mark Gibbons, Jimmy Caravan, on drums Gene Pello and on percussion instruments Ty Grimes. Also in Observatory Crest played basist Bob West and some musicians sang back vocals. Cover painting and concept author was Don’s cousin Victor Haydon, aka The Mascara Snake.
The concept of this program is close to popular rhythm and blues productions of early ’70s. Altough author of most songs was Don Van Vliet, there are two covers – Same Old Blues by J. J. Cale and Captains Holiday by The Tractors. Back vocals, soft and mild accompaniments, simple harmonics, schematic rhythm section and permanent weakness of instrumental solos makes this record little off the Beefheart's style. Some critics say it is „the worst Beefheart album” (Justin Sherill) and „you can live without this one” (Graham Johnston), but this opinions seem to be little too anachronistic. It’s good to remember this record was made in time of winding down the progressive scene. Even the greatest musicians like Frank Zappa, Robert Fripp, groups like King Crimson, Soft Machine, Pink Floyd or Yes had this time their worse moments. Some progressive musicians resigned or turn back to the straight rock. Only great personalities were able to resist and reconfigure their art to meet expectations of ambitious listeners.

*   *   *
Saturday evening, sitting in the café and talking about next year festival, I received a text message that was so urgent in its simplicity, I found it more as a kind of illusive provocative artifact. It just said „Beefheart is gone” so my friends and me, we were quite unable to understand this simple information. Maybe we were thinking, we all are dying with every minute and nobody will be eternally alive. Every obituary says more about living  itself than about those who are gone. I am aware this short remembrance says more about me, than about the artist or even his record. And I hope it is understandable, while it is not only about myself but also about whole group of my friends. Next morning I was so unsure of what happened, I took a record with the first song  of Captain Beefheart which came to my mind. It was Further than We’ve Gone – the second song from the B-side of the 1974 Virgin record Bluejeans & Moonbeams. Unexpectedly, this song revealed a quite new denotation. And this is what gives poetry its point.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Krzysztof Penderecki - Polish Requiem

In late 1970s it became clear that Krzysztof Penderecki has turned to neoromanticism. The public opinion received this turn as a meaningful gesture towards tradition and against progress-focused contemporary culture. The profound meaning of this attitude was strongly visible in the era of changes, when political and economical stabilization in end of decade has run to an end. In Poland, after strikes, the rise of Solidarity and political collapse of the system, a quite new context for new music was established. And social acceptance of new traditional style was bigger than anybody could expect.
Two months after victorious workers’ strikes, Penderecki received historical order. The monument of shipyard workers killed in 1970 was going to be unveiled in Gdansk December 1980. For this ceremony composer wrote Lacrimosa. After the death of the Polish primate cardinal Stefan Wyszyński in May 1981, in few hours Penderecki wrote Agnus Dei for choir a cappella. It was performed for the first time during the funeral in St. John Cathedral in Warsaw. These pieces became the two parts of his newly planned work. The next two movements which the composer wrote for the cycle were Dies irae, devoted to 40th anniversary of Warsaw Uprising, and Libera me, Domine in memoriam of Katyń victims.  The premiere performance of the complete Polish Requiem took place in Stuttgart, September 28th, 1984 under the direction of Mstislav Rostropovich.

Krzysztof Penderecki - Polish Requiem

In April 1985 Polish Requiem has been recorded in Center of Arts in Katowice. Performance was successful and was recorded under the direction of Antoni Wit, who was an alumnus of Krzysztof Penderecki's composition class. The performing team was the best possible of this time. Soloists Jadwiga Gadulanka, Jadwiga Rappé, Henryk Grychnik and Carlo Zardo, two Krakow choirs: Radio-Television and Philharmonic and Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice joined the top quality performing body. Dramatic tension and monumental construction of the Polish Requiem are features which made impact on public acceptance.
Musical form of Polish Requiem is in close relations with the order of missa pro defunctis. Traditional construction of mass for the dead was based on contrasting comparison of lamentations alternated by dramatic movements pointing visions of the last judgment. Krzysztof Penderecki gave this composition clear message. The most dramatic and moving fragment of the whole cycle is Recordare where lyrical lamentation in Latin is sung along with Polish supplication Święty Boże, Święty mocny (Holy Lord, Holy and Mighty). This culmination point is so much affecting on listener because of the double musical narration. Themes to the Latin text and Polish religious song come together in form of passacaglia. The supplication I have mentioned before is based on Polish religious song which is singing while the moments of peculiar threat. The same motive returns in final part Libera animas and it is clearly a prayer for his country.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers Live at Kimball’s

   Transmissions and registrations of live performances were factors that made jazz so perfectly fitting for the radio and gramophone records. Since first live appearance in 1954, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers were registered on dozens of great live recordings. At this point it is good to recall one of first live recording commercially published in history of the jazz. It was A Night at Birdland from February 1954, signed The Art Balkey Quintet, with Horace Silver, Clifford Brown, Lou Donaldson and Curly Russell. For series of historic Jazz Messengers’ live gigs, becoming one of basic lines in the history of modern jazz, we should include this live recording of evening at Kimball’s in San Francisco on April 13, 1985. This time Art Blakey was in sextet with trumpeter Terence Blanchard, alto saxophone player Donald Harrison, pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Lonnie Plaxico and Jean  Toussaint playing the tenor saxophone. As more than dozen Jazz Messengers lineups before it was again the group of young and very young musicians – three of them were 25, Blanchard was 24 and Miller was 30. Record was published in 1986 by Concord label (CJ-307). 

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers Live at Kimball’s

   The unquestionable star of Messengers was always Art Blakey. His drive, magnetism and artistic attitude was so attracting for musicians playing with Messengers, it became legendary. In 1885 he was 66, but thank to his young friends he was still active and creative musician. His solo in Jody is so vital as it can be definition of modern jazz drumming. His great intuition helped him to choose the best young personalities. This lineup has two highly promising young artists: pianist Mulgrew Miller and trumpet player Terence Blanchard. And both of them could be easily called the leader of this incorporation of Jazz Messengers idea.
   Mulgrew Miller is very flexible artist. The performance published on this record has been recorded when he was at his thirties. Still young but yet independent, possesing technical knowledge but still creative.  Maybe this is why his piano technique was so close to the masters techniques, especially to the one by Oscar Peterson but in the same moment so personal and searching. Even at this point Miller’s playing was slightly more modal and harmonically progressive. Miller’s solo in Jody makes good work for the whole Messengers’ performance. Profound sound and subtle phrasing gave him position of the starring pianist and maybe the proper place for him was to be the leader of the Messengers. On second side of the album he plays solo Old Folks, and in You and the Night and the Music he is joined by basist Lonnie Plaxico and Art Blakey. Third song of the B-side, Polka Dots and Moonbeams is opened by solo Terence Blanchard, the theme is played by duo – trumpet and piano, and then with whole section. Stable, well build trumpet solo leaves no doubts – Terrence Blanchard is a star of this formation. And he really is, playing prodigious and with unforgettable sound. 
   In last piece, written by former Messenger Jackie McLean bop theme, Dr. Jekyl, whole sextet is back to a main stream of hard bop. Literal citation of Giant Steps in Donald Harrison's alto-saxophone solo once again points for the main idea of this music. And Mulgrew Miller gives next great brilliant solo in his style somewhere between Oscar Peterson and McCoy Tyner. After all, one can wait for the closing solo by Blakey but after short reprise this track comes to the end. First it can be a little bit disappointed but then we can ask if this wasn't the sign of the time.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jazz Inspired Piano Compositions

Decades before jazz became ambitious and sophisticated stream of music for connoisseurs, when it was still a dance style strongly linked with night life and casinos, some composers pay attention to possibilities of improvisation as a medium forming an expression. One of greatest composers, Maurice Ravel was under great impression of technical and artistic possibilities he found in new dance music. In 1975 the leading Czech label Supraphon published the double album of piano music influenced by jazz. The collection of works by nine composers in interpretations of five pianists was a kind of the homage to inspiring power of early jazz music. Program of this album has been recorded in performances by Peter Toperczer, Jan Vrána, Emil Leichner, Jan Marcol and Miloš Mikula.

Jazz Inspired Piano Compositions

The French composers took place on the opening of this collection. Claude Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk (No. 6 from Children’s Corner Suite) is well known as semi-popular piece. In context of popular European dance music remain two cycles: Eric Satie’s Jack in the Box and Georges Auric’s foxtrot Adieu, New York! Also the cycle of Jazz Piano Preludes by George Gershwin, though it is still deep-rooted in romantic ideas, gives quite new glance to the bounds of early 20th century concert music with the jazz. In style of French composers remains works by Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff. And he is the only author presented by two cycles: Esquisses de jazz and Rag Music
Connecting to ideas draw from jazz music gave hope of reviving music in times of anti-romantic breakthrough. Almost ideal example is Suite “1922” op. 26 by Paul Hindemith. Interesting solution of creative dilemmas is the cycle Four Piano Blues by Aaron Copland. It has been based on a few idiomatic motifs, thus harmonic language is free of function tensions. Connection with blues in title of Copland’s cycle refers to emotional contents and characteristics of this style. Modern in style and in formal foundations are also Préludes by Bohuslav Martinů and American Suite for Two Pianos by Emil František Burian. These two Czech composers are closer to after-war jazz and third-stream experiments.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Art Blakey & The New Jazz Messengers – Buttercorn Lady

   The great legend of modern jazz, be-bop drummer and stage personality Art Blakey has a great gift to find extremely talented musicians. Maybe it has something to do with luck but one can explain it in more rational way as attracting young musicians by creative personality of the leader. No matter how we try to rationalize this phenomenon, the fact is The Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and later The New Jazz Messengers was the place for developing their musical ideas for more than sixty musicians, whom Messengers gave the solid base to successful future. Leading his band mostly as a classical quintet lineup with trumpet, saxophone, piano and double bass but sometimes as sextet with trombone or guitar, Art Blakey has an idea of encouraging young artists, thus his band outlast for more than three dacades. 

Art Blakey & The New Jazz Messengers – Buttercorn Lady

   Recorded live in January 1966 and published the same year by Limelight (LS-86034), The Buttercorn Lady is much more than one of dozens of Art Blakey’s Messengers records. The first reason is the unique lineup with young jazzmen Chuck Mangione and Keith Jarrett. Short period of their service in Blakey’s quintet was surprisingly fruitful. Mangione is skillfully hard-boping and lyrical, Jarrett is amazingly classical in technique and in harmonic style. This attitude shortly had to become a standard as a new sensitivity in ’60s and later. Frank Mitchell is playing tenor saxophone with imagination and efficiency. Basist Reggie Workman and Art Blakey are in close connection as good rhythm section. Six pieces – three pieces on every side of the record – can convince this was great jazz event. And thanks to the record it still is. Original edition was extremely hard to buy so it was in next years reissued by label Tripp Jazz (TLP 5505). 
   The opening tune is the real jewel thus probably gave the title for whole album – bright and full of warm feelings with surprizingly light Jarrett’s solo, Buttercorn Lady is like a virtuoso miniature, short and intense. Complex and vibrant solos give second piece Recuerdo a listener a chance to enter into the atmosphere of Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach in January 1966. In The Theme, which is closing the A-side, trumpeter and saxophonist are holding the theme in dialogue and punctuating over the piano solo. Last piece on this side is the brace with the first tune at once an example of unique understanding and natural collaboration between Mangione and Mitchel and again short but still fresh and witty solo of Keith Jarrett. Second side is more hard-bop but still incorporating some brilliant ideas. Solos are as serious as good. In Between Races Mangione has a chance for solo improvisation in extremely hot style while in My Romance he plays lyrical and poetic phrases. He uses wide range of trumpet expression. Blakey is more modern than anytime before. In Secret Love musicians one more time confirm their possibilities of building deeply sensible, narrative and meaningful vision.