Monday, February 28, 2011

The Clash – London Calling

   The band was good from its very beginning. Almost as any other punk rock band, rebellious against anything before them, early The Clash was one of many renegades in mid-seventies London scene. They started after nearly one month rehearsals, supporting Sex Pistols in the Black Swan in Sheffield July 4, 1976. Three musicians were the core of the group since it’s very beginning – guitarists Mick Jones and Joe Strummer, the bassist Paul Simonon and all three were vocalists. In best period of The Clash history the fourth was Nick „Topper” Headon, experienced drummer with jazz and rock past who can also play keyboards and guitars.
   Passing over fashion and style issues, punk ideology was a mix of antiestablishment attitude, anti-consumerism and do-it-yourself ethics code. These elements were clear factors of early Clash productions. After information of The Clash signed a £100 000 contract for CBS Records in January 1977, many of their fans consider their subversive ideas were only a pose. As Mark Perry wrote „Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS”. Ironically this contract was highly unfavorable for musicians who had to pay for everything including tours and recordings expenses. 

The Clash – London Calling (1979)

   Every mayor recording company is trying to have a real impact on musical style, especially by forcing artists to play for wider public and in easier to accept way. This is why CBS made The Clash less noisy and in some parts even popular. In effect third album of The Clash, London Calling was the first musicians enter to main stream of media and public life. And if it was punk, it was more in ideas than in music. The Clash, promoted as „The Only Band That Matters”, turned to political criticism. Opening this 19 song, double LP album, Joe Strummer song shows the capitol of Britain in the center of conflicted world full of drugs, economic and racial abuse. Strong rock 4-beat marching rhythm with foreground bass and call „to the faraway towns, now that war is declared and battle come down” was maybe more dismaying for establishment than earlier noisy but still dancing punk songs. It was also inspired by accident happened March 1979 at Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania. Nuclear disaster fears were common after this incident in time of The Clash first US tour.
   Some parts of the album are politically set, London Calling, Spanish Bombs was song about civil war in Spain in 1939, Lost in the Supermarket about unadaptation and poverty of ordinary people or Revolution Rock which was intended to close the album with almost a program words „Revolution rock it is a brand new rock”. There are also a lots of rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, ska, and pure punk numbers which set the balance of this album. Like Brand New Cadillac, a Vince Taylor’s 1959 song which comes as the next song after London Calling, or Rudie Can’t Fail with horn section and elements of pop, reggae and even soul music.
   Last song of the album, Train in Vain was added to the program in last minute so it is listed on fourth side record label but absent on cover and inner sleeves track listings. This straight rock ’n’ roll piece sung by Mick Jones published in America as single, hit Billboard’s US Top 30 while in Europe fans of the group were singing along London Calling. First song of the album, published also as a single reached 11 place on English charts.
   Photography of Paul Simonon smashing Fender Precision Bass on the stage of New York Palladium September 21st 1979, became the famous rebel rock artifacts. Graphic project of the sleeve was a cliché of legendary Elvis Presley’s debut album cover from March 1956. Dynamics of Presley’s and Paul Simonon photos are readable and clearly show what is the matter of continuation in rock history and what has been changed during 20 years of rock culture revolution.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Daniel Barenboim – Mozart Piano concertos C Major KV 467 and B flat Major KV 595

   After decades of formal and artistic development, when baroque concerti for various keyboard instruments became in Classicism piano concerto, composers understand among many instruments only piano can compete with symphonic orchestra. Successively as orchestra was bigger and stronger in its symphonic power, group of solo instruments was smaller. Concerto for piano and orchestra was always a royal form in creative output of Mozart. Mozart was always searching any possibility of expanding orchestra personnel and intensifying sound possibilities. During his Vienna period he realized some ideas he can’t express in form of symphony, he can as well put into form of piano concerto. It was possible by overtaking by piano a great part of musical narration.
   This strategy has significant consequences. As it was expressed by Cuthbert Morton Girdlestone in his monograph Mozart et ses concertos pour piano (Paris 1939), in his concertos from major Vienna period, Mozart emancipated the orchestra, transforming concerto into voluminous container for variety of emotions and matters. Great examples of this process one can find in piano concertos No 20 D Minor KV 466, No 21 C Major KV 467, No 23 A Major KV 488 and last Mozart’s No 27 B-flat Major KV 595. But it is worth to remember, these are only most popular and every piece of the whole cycle has its unquestionable value.
   In next decades the formal solutions of classic era were adopted by composers creating pre-romantic concertos. Romantic transformations of introduction into orchestral exposition has it’s source in concerti written by Mozart in strictly classical style of Vienna period. The same with romanza in middle part or concerto. Later composers strengthen virtuoso position and domination of individual romantic artist over musical form but these ideas were more relevant to the way of understanding musical work than to building performance or composing in well balanced form.

Barenboim playing Mozart

   Born in Argentina, Daniel Barenboim started his career as a prodigious child. In 1954, when he was only 12 years old, his performances were published on record for the first time. In the age of 14 he graduated Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome. First period of his great artistic achievements was cooperation with The English Chamber Orchestra in 1960s. And one of best projects of this time were concerti by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart recorded for EMI. He was playing piano and conducting orchestra from the keyboard. First pairs he recorded were Nos 20 and 23 (ASD 2318), then Nos 13 and 17 (ASD 2357), Nos 21 and 27 (ASD 2465) appeared in 1969. The same year EMI published Mozart’s Requiem recorded under Barenboim’s direction.
   Published by EMI – His Masters Voice label, recordings of Mozart’s concerti became Barenboim’s pass to the history. His legendary Mozart has nothing to do with popular way of defining classical style by shallow gesture. In C Major Concerto he is building consequent, well balanced form. Allegro maestoso presents the heights of classical style, which he balance in Andante when raising one of most charming themes in whole Mozart’s work. Quite as much touching as enigmatic middle part of Concerto No. 21 opens wide space of new sensitivity, and the best way to close it in three part form is to make rondo Allegro vivace assai condensed and expressive the way closer to Beethoven than Haydn.
   In Concerto C Major both cadenzas has been written by Daniel Barenboim while Concerto B-flat Major lasts with ones Mozart composed himself. Emotionally deep and still not conventional, interpretations based on inner energy driven by themes and harmonic turns are exceeding stylistic choices. Despite its emotionality, these performances are much more intellectual than many cold refined ones and sill they are competitive to many romantic renditions. This record is undoubtedly one of pillars supporting the great legend of Daniel Barenboim.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew


When we meet great artist we always have problem with comprehending his work – the bigger he or she is, the worst problem have anyone who tries to capture in words his individual experience. When Miles Davis (1926-1991) was active musician and artist, standard procedure in writing about his music was to observe small range of his work, for example any of his records or concerts and asking why this comes after another or what can it means in context of something he did before. And it was quite satisfied job because every record of this artist was full, uncompromised statement of artist’s will. Critics had a lot of work to do. But after artist is gone in uproar of eternal jam session, we have different standpoint on his work. It’s complete in new meaning, now in every element of his output we see a piece of the whole and now we can fully understand how great musician he was.
Month after In a Silent Way has been released, in the end of August 1969, Davis back to the same CBS 30th Street Studio in New York. And while in previous album base was still quintet from Filles de Kilimanjaro augmented occasionally with few more pianists and guitarist, the Bitches Brew ultimately ends Davis' quintets era. All instruments except trumpet were multiplied, on reeds played Wayne Shorter (soprano sax) and Bennie Maupin (bass clarinet). The rest was huge rhythmic section with three drummers Lenny White, Jack de Johnette, Charles Alias playing congas and drums (only in Miles Runs the Voodoo Down) and percussionist Jim Riley playing shaker and congas, bass player Dave Holland with Harvey Brooks on Fender bass, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul and Larry Young on electric piano and John McLaughlin on electric guitar – in many parts all of them playing simultaneously. John McLaughling is playing rhythmic passages, but in some parts he is folowing also modal improvisations and melodic patterns. In many fragments his guitar is standalone as much as Wayne Shorter’s soprano. Thus these two artists play the role of counterpointing Davis' phrases, almost the same way as John Coltrane and Julian Adderly did in the Kind of Blue sextett.

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew

Such setting allowed this section to found the new kind of sound and rhythmic intensity, clearly different from mainstream, cool jazz or hard bop. It was closer to psychedelic funk-rock, sometimes called acid-rock which is suitable especially for its trance elements adopted by Davis in 1969. With loosely constructed wide phrases he was building emotional tension without dividing improvisations into traditional choruses. In fact some compositions still preserve traditional model – for example in Spanish Key – but even close up with traditional forms can't change the general aspect of motif and phrase repeatability. This way he gave pre-ambient sensation of time and space continuance. But internally this music is diverse and highly expressive. In short piece on the 3rd side titled John McLaughlin Miles Davis even did not appear. Next side trumpet is predominating and in end piece of the album, Wayne Shorter’s Sanctuary, Davis played one of greatest cool solo ever.
The lineup recorded in studio was filled out by producer Teo Macero, and once more, just like proceeding In a Silent Way, recorded material was mixed and dubbed, using multi-tracking and tape loops. Inspired by works of studio composers from Experimental Music Center Columbia-Princeton and many other experiments of 1940s and 1950s, using fragments of recorded music, sometimes in very small particles, Macero created construction of whole pieces, building them in the way, musicians never heard while playing. This innovative approach decided Bitches Brew is one of turning points in history of XX-century music. Released in April 1970 and sold in more than half million copies, Bitches Brew became one of greatest Davis’ successes. It was also great achievement of musicians involved in this project, deciding for what they were doing in next dacade.
Not only music has changed, gatefold sleeve designed by Mati Klarwein clearly indicates counterculture of late sixties as reference for intellectual attitude. Headline on the sleeve, over main tittle says: „Directions in Music by Miles Davis”. Literally the same as it was in released January 1969 Filles de Kilimanjaro. And connection between these records is clear. The process of revolutionary transition from opposed modal and cool jazz into fusion of these traditions which started in 1968 when he recorded the Filles de Kilimanjaro in Bitches Brew had fulfilled. Modern jazz of 1960s gone away and future never looked as cool or modern as it once happened. Some modern jazz lovers did not accept these changes and criticized records from electric period of Miles Davis, but the fact is, society has changed and shortly nothing was the same as usual.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The West Side Story Soundtrack

Every genre and form in history of music had its own moments of expansion, when creative impact and strength of expression is recognizable and legible for a wide society. There should be need to learn contemporary art. No one did learn to understand sonata in times of Mozart or to hear swing bands in 1940s. But what was once a natural formula, what was the message fully relevant to common sensitivity, after years can occur nothing more than an empty formula of strange gestures. Among many forms musical theatre (in English as well as in many other languages called just musical) is one of most capacious. It’s more loose than opera or operetta, more dramatic than vaudeville or extravaganza. And the quality of every living form is its permanent changing. Musicals of sixties were at least so much distant from fifties than fifties from forties. 
It is normal, in any dynamically changing reality always happen some unexpected turns up and down. It is quite a rule every decade has few significant musicals, like Show Boat in 1927, Anything Goes in 1934, Oklahoma! in 1943, Fiddler on the Roof in 1964, Cabaret in 1966, Hair in 1968 or Chorus Line in 1975. But one musical produced on Broadway in 1957 was quite unique phenomenon. It was West Side Story written by Arthur Laurents with Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and music composed by Leonard Bernstein. While Stephen Sondheim was young lyricist, other two were experienced authors. Bernstein had his big success in musical theatre before – it was On the Town from 1944. Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, musical West Side Story beat all expectations. In few years it was produced as a movie and became world class hit on many theatres and pure musical arrangements including composer’s own symphonic version. Until today this is evergreen of many theatres all over the world.

West Side Story Soundtrack

Cinematic version of this musical made Bernstein’s score extremely popular. In 1957 record with songs from original Broadway cast was published by Columbia Records. Company initially refused this edition because of “depressive and difficult nature of the score”. Due to success of the original cast recording and first jazz versions of musical songs recorded in 1959 by André Previn, the soundtrack from the movie West Side Story was issued without delay in 1961. Published under headline The Original Sound Track Recording this record is unquestionably top hit in the history of musical soundtracks. 
This is also a document of its time. Synopsis of the story and many photos from the movie can give an idea of how good is the movie, just like CBS editors believe records buyers need some encouragement to go to the theatre. However it is impossible to find any information about real voices of Maria and Tony. Songs of Maria, who was played in the movie by Natalie Wood, were dubbed by Marni Nixon. The same with Tony’s played by Richard Beymer but singed by Jimmy Bryant. Some subtle changes in text were added just to fit songs to movie narration. For example in original version of I Feel Pretty from West Side Story of 1957 we can hear:
I feel pretty, oh, so pretty,
I feel pretty and witty and bright!
And I pity any girl who isn't me tonight.
While in recorded three years later movie version, lyrics are:
I feel pretty, oh, so pretty,
I feel pretty and witty and gay!
And I pity any girl who isn't me today.
Some people ask if this change was effect of any kind of censorship or strange definition of political correctness but the probable cause was  that in stage and movie versions the same scenes were just happening in different times. By the way, in 1961 the word gay was still synonymous to happy or joyous. And this is how Natalie Wood looks in this scene and how Marni Nixon sounds. Of course we can use the word bright as well. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Géza Anda – Mozart Piano concertos G Major KV 453 and C Major KV 467

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote twenty seven piano concertos and almost every one of them can be seen as masterpiece of classical music. Besides his great contribution in every genre of musical creativity, this is piano concertos where we can follow the process of crystallizing his symphonic style and building the equilibrium between band and soloist’s individuality. Mozart’s concerti for piano from Vienna period have both so much of symphonic touch, that comparing them can clearly show, composer realized in this form some concepts of creating structure of orchestral sound and establishing new relations between instruments of the orchestra and soloist. 

Géza Anda – Mozart Piano concertos – Elvira Madigan 

Géza Anda was one of most respected Mozart interpreters of his times. Born in Budapest in 1921, he was student of Ernst von Dohnányi and Zoltán Kodály at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. He started his career winning 1940 the Liszt Prize. One year later he astonished musical world with his congenial interpretation of 2nd Piano Concerto by Brahms. Wilhelm Furtwängler called 20 year-old pianist „troubadour of the piano”. 
Since his first contract, Géza Anda was recording mainly for Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft. For this label he recorded as first pianist in history the full cycle of Mozart’s piano concerti. In studio performances recorded between 1961 and 1969 Anda played with Camerata Academica des Salzburger Mozarteum which he conducted himself from the keyboard. Maybe this is why sometimes orchestra plays less vigorous and without so much emphasis then on many other known performances. Anda’s rendition convince, this can be a real virtue, giving piano more place for sedate interpretation.
Maybe the best selling from complete set of Géza Anda’s Mozart concerti was the one of 17th Piano Concerto G Major KV 453 and 21st Piano Concerto C Major KV 467. This album has been featured as recording used in soundtrack to Swedish movie Elvira Madigan. In 1968 cover of this record has been changed, showing Pia Degermark in the boat scene. Great international success of Andante from Piano concerto C-dur used in movie as a love theme, decided of whole concerto's nickname – Elvira Madigan. Dreamlike theme of this movement, especially in Anda's moderate performance became real hit of late sixties and early seventies, strengthening romantic legends on Mozart’s music. Album was prized Grand prix du disque in Paris. It is worth to remember cadenzas to Concerto G-dur were written by Mozart himself, but in 1st and 3rd part of C-dur Concerto the record includes original cadenzas by Géza Anda.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Zappa / Beefheart / Mothers • Bongo Fury


   There are many good live recordings by Frank Zappa and his bands. Definitely it is hard to count every great gig played by successive groups in the span of more than quarter of the century. And it was always a question, which one is best to take first. Almost ultimate choice is Bongo Fury, recorded in Austin, Texas May 20 and 21, 1975 and released October 2, 1975. This is album, mainly covering recordings of two concerts, that can be seen as a turning point both in Frank Zappa’s and Captain Beefheart’s career. 
   The place of the concert was quite magic. Despite its ugliness and poor acoustics, its worth to notice, the adopted old military depot, named Armadillo World Headquarters, became main music and entertainment center in Austin during the seventies. In early years it became the center of hippie culture, because of inexpensive tickets, tolerating using of the marijuana and no police raids. These freedoms established an asylum for any kind of the audience, especially for the counterculture and progressive music, but in second half of decade jazz concerts and pop music events were also located here. Conforming didn’t save the Austin’s concert center. December 31, 1980 it has closed and torn down to make place for office building of One Texas Center. 
   Zappa was playing in Armadillo not for the first time, but in 1975 it happened to be the place for the breakthrough change in Zappa’s career. It was the last time Zappa played with Mothers in its early seventies line-up with Tom Fowler on bass and George Duke on keyboard instruments. Some of them he will play again after years – Bruce Fowler came back in Broadway the Hardway and Napoleon Murphy Brock in some albums in forthcoming years, including Thing Fish where he played the role of Evil Prince. In Austin concert and main part of Bongo Fury for the first time appeared as a member of Zappa's group Terry Bozzio – long time drummer and frontline personality on numerous Zappa’s records. In two studio songs on drums was still playing Chester Thompson – drummer of last Mothers line-up featured on Roxy and Elsewhere and One Size Fits All.

Frank Zappa & Captain Beefheart - Bongo Fury (1975)

   Bongo Fury was also last time Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart appeared together. Two great artists, personalities and friends, made outstanding performance. For Don Van Vliet it looked like trying to comeback into the mainstream of progressive music. Which itself in 1975 was on its way to change. Two songs credited as his works are in fact melodic recitations of his poems - Sam With the Showing Scalp Flat Top (ended with refrain Bongo Fury) and Man With the Woman Head. Despite this Captain Beefheart sings with great blues feeling. He is also playing saxophone and harmonica like old delta blues recordings in Smithsonian archives. 
   Even if most of pieces was composed by Zappa, Beefheart’s contribution is huge. His vocals in Debra Kadabra, one couplet in Carolina Hard-Core Extasy, phenomenal narrative singing and harmonica solo in Poofter’s Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead, and so on in every consecutive piece of this album. And there is a quite vocal personnel – singers are Frank Zappa, George Duke, Napoleon Murphy Brock and Denny Walley. But hearing the voice of Captain Beefheart in first part of Advance Romance, there can be no doubts about who is leading this spectacle. Great stage personality and outstanding artist!
   Zappa is quite out of any trend he was before or after. His solo in Carolina Hard-Core Extasy gives foretaste of next ten years of jamming documented in numerous live recordings and two huge collections of guitar solos, beginning with Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar in 1981. The Bongo Fury album shows one more time Zappa as great leader who can stand down and give place for concurrent musicians. Two studio recordings and some overdubs were recorded one year before, January and February 1974 at The Record Plant in Los Angeles. No matter what part of his work you like best, rock, orchestral, social or political satire, comedy or electronic, Bongo Fury belongs to most important albums by Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and musicians of the Mothers group.