Monday, January 31, 2011

Keith Jarrett – Sun Bear Concerts

   In 1973 Keith Jarrett started giving big concerts without playing any standard melodies, using totally improvising melodies and passages and creating unique compositions in deep emotional interaction with the public. Jarrett’s improvisations became unexpectedly great triumph when published on records. His first fully improvised double LP The Köln Concert sold in 3,5 million copies became best-selling solo album and best-selling piano album in history of jazz. The major Keith Jarrett achievement in solo totally improvised public performance is published by ECM in 1978 10 LP box titled: Sun Bear Concerts – Piano Solo – Recorded in Japan. 
   The album is edition of documentary material recorded live during his Japanese concert tour in November 1976. Ten records in box made of recycled paper assemble documentary of five concerts – every gig on two records – Kyoto (Nov. 5th), Osaka (Nov. 8th), Nagoya (Nov. 12th), Tokyo (Nov. 14th) and Sapporo (Nov. 18th). While box is made of beige „trash-paper”, records are in dark blue-grey cardboard blank covers and accompanied by insert in very same cardboard cover, containing inside black and white photos and Gertrude Stein’s sentence „think of your ears as eyes”. A lot of space and carefully chosen photos made booklet essential attachment to this edition.

Keith Jarrett – Sun Bear Concerts (1978)

   Sequences of chords and figurations, themes raising from simple motifs, transforming into riffs and ostinati creating background for next level of melodic patterns – almost totally free flow of ideas and emotions with full control of harmony and melody characteristics – this is what makes Jarrett’s world so exciting. Every concert of 1976 Japan tour has it’s own unique style, and every one is breaking through the principles of jazz forms. In opening Kyoto concert Jarrett stays still on solid ground of American jazz and gospel tradition. Osaka concert is founded on more popular melodic and rhythmic patterns. This parts can be perceived as continuation of the same attitude he show almost two years earlier in Cologne. The same one may say about Nagoya presentation, but here pianist is much deeper in his lyric dominant and dramatic climax.
   Last two concerts are based on contradicted principles. Tokyo concert with its poetic visions and lyrical themes can be example of rising Jarrett’s style. Melodic invention predominates this lyrical idea which in final part of Tokyo concert gives almost visual effect. Recorded four days later Sapporo appearance shows modern, more progressive face of the artist. He is breaking his own esthetics and falls at the end into strongly syncopated rhythms and expressive dissonances. After he drop out classical form of theme with cycle of variations, Keith Jarrett’s improvisations are romantic in its core. They are closer to romantic fantasies than jazz formations. His unusual musical visions evoking pictorial or even dramatic associations, and this is what makes them so much involving for wide public. Booklet for Sun Bear Concerts was the place the sentence „think of your ears as eyes” appeared for the first time in such musical context. And there is no reason to believe this connection is accidental.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Keith Jarrett – The Köln Concert

Keith Jarrett is quite unusual jazz musician. He is playing with equal easiness modern jazz, popular ballads, Handel Suites for Keyboard, Preludes by Shostakovich or Mozart piano concertos. He is probably the most flexible jazz piano player in music of some more than last four decades. But what makes him so precious is his freedom of improvising. Almost irresistible, natural flow of musical ideas and technical accuracy made him great sideman for Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Jack de Johnette, Jan Garbarek and many others. Since 1967 he was recording some music under his own name – first album in trio with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian was Life Between the Exit Signs issued in 1967. 
First albums were sometimes just test pieces like the one recorded in 1968. It was rock album Restoration Run where Jarrett plays many instruments and sings. The same year 1968 Atlantic Records published Somewhere Before – live recordings of the trio. In less than ten years pianist became famous. Playing in cocktail clubs of Boston in 1963, in November 10th, 1971 Keith Jarrett record his first studio solo album Facing You published by ECM. This record became the first in the series of studio solo projects in next years, including recordings on piano, clavichord and organ.

Keith Jarrett – The Köln Concert (1975)

Although studio solo albums had very good ratings from critics, this part of Jarrett’s discography was not very best in selling. Maybe it was too ambitious, maybe intellectually over-exacting.  But the real pianist’s success came with live solo albums, especially the very first The Köln Concert. Recorded at the Cologne Opera House on January 24th, 1975, appearance was organized by youngest German promoter Vera Brandes. She selected for Jarrett performance Bösendorfer 290 Imperial, the biggest and most powerful piano build for Ferruccio Busoni in 1900 and in seventies still only piano with 97 keys (8 full octaves). Due to mistake of stagehands only piano set for this evening was Bösendorfer baby grand used for rehearsals and in very poor condition. Artist was decided to cancel the concert, and only enthusiasm of 18-year-old Vera Brandes save this event. Risky undertaking became the great success for artist, promoter and for ECM Records.
Having at his disposal such inefficient instrument, pianist concentrate on rhythmic sturdy ostinatos, sometimes more rock than jazz. Upper registers were so tiny, he was restrained to the middle. It is in fact a series of free improvisations, easily flowing from one pattern to another, guiding listeners through various emotional stages and glimpses. A little bit more than an hour improvising concert from Cologne Opera House became famous. In subsequent years double LP published by ECM Records was sold in 3,5 million copies. Final fragment of the concert was later called Memories of Tomorrow and covering as regular Jarrett’s composition. The entire concert was published in authorized transcription for piano and in recording of transcription for guitar by Manuel Barueco were also available. Keith Jarrett agreed to publish transcription with clause, that notation is only approximate representation of music and main source for studying his improvisations are recordings. Time is also subject of a change.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Eschenbach, BSO & Ozawa – Beethoven's Emperor Concerto

Among many musical projections some don’t even have anything unusual but still are nice and enchanting. Even pieces of minor importance can be revealed in surprising light. But it is worth to remember the great works give artist more chance to realize any vision they need. There are dozens of perfect performances of every great 19th century composition and Fifth Piano Concerto E-Flat Major op. 73 (also known as Emperor) by Ludwig van Beethoven undoubtedly is the one of most inspiring works in classical catalogue. And as the pure consequence of its value, Emperor Concerto is played by almost every notable pianist.
Between great renditions, one of the best and totally underestimated is modest recording made in 1974 by Christoph Eschenbach with Boston Symphony Orchestra led by Seiji Ozawa. Born 1940 in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland), heavily experienced in his childhood, Christoph Eschenbach was studying and developing his musical career as pianist and conductor. Numerous successes he achieved as a pianist, winning competitions, concerting and recording with the best orchestras. In 1964 he signed a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. Being concerting pianist he started conductor apprenticeship with George Szell. His mentor was Herbert von Karajan.  Today he is prominent personality in musical world. He is known mainly for his conducting skills as a leader of orchestras, anyway thank to recordings we can recognize him also as the master interpreter of the piano music.

View of Heiligenstadt on Emperor Concerto cover 

Eschenbach’s interpretation is more profound in style and more stable in construction than vast majority of others. In it’s formal credibility it can compete with famous recording of Emperor Concerto by Glenn Gould and Leopold Stokowski. Christoph Eschenbach is achieving this effect by accuracy of phrases and precise graduating dynamics over the span of the whole work. The side effect of such assumption is elevation of opening cadenzas. Orchestral exposition has its peasant joyous enthusiasm while piano came with more solemn second exposition. What is happening later is a consequence of this contrariety. Transformations in development lead to reprise with series of cadenzas where orchestra and piano are consolidating and gathering strength.
Because he is consistently balancing proportions between precision and expression, the second part Adagio un poco mosso is more elegiac than dreamy. Still strong, even in pianissimo it is soulful vision of the middle part. Concluding Rondo is opposite to the first part. This time roles of soloist and orchestra swung aside. The piano is joyous and vigorous and orchestra gives him foundations and support. Again comparing to Gould’s recording, Eschenbach and Ozawa are accenting perfectly sixth to eighth, while Gould and Stokowski loosing accent, let themselves fall into straight waltzing. And this is why without doubts I am choosing this recording. Boston Symphony Orchestra sounds like one instrument and Seiji Ozawa with Christoph Eschenbach are the pillars of perfect lineup. Soulful and perfect rendition of piano concerto that is one of the best in history of music.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Balinese Gamelan – Music from the Morning of the World

Folk music from all over the world was mainly recorded subject in early times of phonograph. The possibility of  preserving sounds became the foundation for totally new methodological approach in ethnomusicology. For more than half of the century these recordings were known only for researchers and students. Popular 78 rpm records we used for mainly for popular music. In second half of XX century improving technology of 33 rpm, microgroove, long playing, high fidelity and then stereo record made possible to use this medium for wider spectrum of purposes. When vinyl records become popular, it was inevitable to spread catalogue to the whole spectrum of musical culture and even much more. This was one of steps of the information revolution.
In 1967 New York label Nonesuch published first recording in the legendary Explorer Series. The next seventeen years under this label occurred a real revolution in the way the musical culture can be perceived. Field recordings made in Asia, Africa, Americas and Eastern Europe by remarkable scholars, gave the listeners new perspective of seeing musical (and not only musical) heritage, and making possible the next step in the history of humankind. In 1977 some of Explorer Series recordings have been choose for golden record with samples of musical sounds and send into space on aboard of the Voyager.

Balinese Gamelan recorded by David Lewiston

The first record published in Nonesuch Explorer Series was outstanding compilation of Balinese music, especially the gamelan orchestra. Published under the meaningful title Music from the Morning of the World, record became famous and has great impact on popular culture. The program of this album came from the material recorded in Bali by British musicologist David Lewiston. He also wrote cover commentaries to the whole collection and to every piece.
Commemorating crucial meaning of this record in 2008 the National Recording Preservation Board has selected it to the National Recording Registry, which groups records that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” for American cultural heritage. Music from the Morning of the World is undoubtedly bearing title. This synthetic presentation of Balinese musical heritage was one of very few settling the breakthrough in thinking about musical past. Of course one LP is too short to record panoramic view of the whole culture of any nation. Trying to obtain this aim Lewiston made an inspired choice and his first success he continued with next compilation of Balinese music Golden Rain (1969).
Among many sound checks and musical artifacts album presents excerpt from one of most unusual musical miracle play – The Ketjak Dance also known as The Ramayana Monkey Chant. In pure form it is a religious ceremony but as folkloristic spectacle it has variety of symbolic and narrative content. With its roots in sanghyang this trance ritual chant can be proof of vitality of cultural archetypes. Included on two Lewiston’s compilations, in next years ketjak became important trace in popular culture – quoted in movies (Fellini’s Satiricon, Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple) and pop music (Manhattan Transfer's Soldier of Fortune, Faith No More's Got That Feeling, Mr. Bungle's Good Bye Sober Day). In Ron Fricke’s movie Baraka (1992) the scene of the ritual is marked out as one of most significant motif.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Maurizio Pollini – Chopin 24 Preludes Op. 28 – studio recording

Winning Chopin’s Piano Competition in 1960 Maurizio Pollini has an opportunity to instantly became a prodigy of world’s piano artistry. After Warsaw triumph he played Chopin’s Concerto E Minor in La Scala with Sergiu Celibidache. But he was still very young, so he focused on developing his technical and musical skills under supervision of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. In sixties he increasingly performed contemporary music. His succesive appearances in London and Berlin (1963) were important but it was his debut in Carnegie Hall Nov. 1st, 1968 became the second turning point in his career. Next year he recorded his first album for Deutsche Grammophon with Three Movements from Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Prokofiev’s Sonata No 7.
Fourteen years after he won Grand Prix in Chopin’s Competition, 1975 Maurizio Pollini recorded in studio complete cycle of Chopin’s 24 Preludes Op. 28. It was his second Chopin album for Polydor and the Deutsche Grammophon label (2530550) and in the series of recordings published with clear intention to contain complete composer’s output. Before Preludes Pollini recorded Etudes (1972) and after this the same company issued Polonaises (1976) Sonata B-flat Minor (1986), Ballades (1999) and Nocturnes (2005). In 1976 LP edition of 24 Preludes played by Maurizio Pollini has been awarded Grand Prix du disque in Paris.

Maurizio Pollini – Chopin 24 Preludes Op. 28

Despite his unquestionable art of sound he is still proceeding the perfection in creating his modern vision of reading historical works and attempted to balance of intellect and emotions in ideal musical interpretation. Perfect articulation and time discipline were the basis for whole series of absolute performances. He was one of the very few artists who were equally good in carrying out music of past and presenting deeply intellectual interpretations of contemporary works. Thus he became well known and esteemed performer of wide spectrum of piano music by Chopin as well as Stockhausen. One of highly appreciated and awarded recordings was Complete Piano Works by Arnold Schoenberg (1975 for DGG, Gran premio del disco „Ritmo”).
In conversation with Carsten Dürer, the editor in chief of PIANONews, Maurizio Pollini pointed the „incomprehensible greatness of the Preludes: each of them has its own character, and yet as a cycle they are inconceivably self-contained in terms of their overall message”. In 1960 Pollini gave well balanced performance in Warsaw which was live-recorded and published 20 years later. In the 1975 recording every piece of the cycle has been perfectly set as an element of the bigger whole and simultaneously closed in it’s individual form and character. Every phrase and every note serve as vehicle for emotions much deeper than pure exaltation. Pollini’s  rendition of 24 Preludes is the phenomenon comparable in it’s meaning to historical recording of Goldberg Variations by Glen Gould.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Maurizio Pollini - Chopin 24 Preludes Op. 28 - live recording

Maurizio Pollini was born in Milan in 1942 in family of the famous modern architect Gino Pollini. Until he was 13 he was studying in the class of Prof. Carlo Lonati, and as 17-year-old in 1959 he finished studies in class Prof. Carlo Vidusso in piano department of Milan Conservatoire. The same year he won the second prize of International Music Competition in Geneva (1st was not awarded). Next year he became the winner of Grand Prix in Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw. Later he continued the master studies with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.
Recorded live in Warsaw during Chopin Competition auditions, the cycle of 24 Preludes Op. 28 has been published in 1980 by Polskie Nagrania (SX 1896) as an archival footage. Performance presented in Warsaw was great achievement of young pianist. Being eighteen, he had surprisingly mature style and deeply intellectual rendition of each prelude and the cycle as a whole. Artur Rubinstein, one of best interpreters of Chopin’s music and the honorary chairman of the jury said about Maurizio Pollini „that boy can play the piano better than any of us”.

Pollini plays Chopin 24 Preludes Op. 28

Pollini played Chopin’s Opus 28th in the manner of Twentieth Century modern esthetics with full intellectual control of every perimeter like it was Webern or Nono. It is like uncovering the construction and matter of every Prelude. Pure and straight emotions and perfect balance of every piece. Collecting the cycle of 24 Preludes Maurizio Pollini made this appearance legendary. Measure of his artistic responsibility is the dozen years of distance to the studio recording of Chopin’s PreludesUntil his next performance of this cycle, Warsaw live recording was one of the most conscious-controlled recording of Chopin's work in the history of music.