Thursday, March 31, 2011

Herbie Hancock – Quartet

After successes of 1976-1979 four VSOP albums, Herbie Hancock was engaged in different projects and stretching his art in many directions. Looking for most appropriate setting he was playing in many line-ups, solo, in duets, trios and in electro-funk formations. While planning 1981 tour, the group occurred hard to reunite. Wayne Shorter remain focused on his own projects and he was still  hardly engaged with Weather Report. Freddie Hubbard was playing and recording under his own name. In general this was fruitful period for creative work of all VSOP members. Planning concert tour in Japan Herbie Hancock reunited with Ron Carter and Tony Williams, the two musicians he was recording with also in trio and had engaged young, 20 years old trumpet player Winton Marsalis. With this quartet, sometimes called VSOP quartet, Hancock played tour and recorded on July 25th, 1981 in Tokyo CBS Sony Studios the new album. Under title Herbie Hancock Quartet double record set has been released in 1982 as 34th album in Herbie Hancock’s discography.

Herbie Hancock – Quartet

Themes choose for this session reveal musicians’ intention. Most of them are compositions by group members, Hancock, Carter and Williams. Leader’s theme The Eye of the Hurricane, has been previously published on two Herbie Hancock’s milestone album Maiden Voyage from 1965 and VSOP Tempest in the Colosseum album from 1977. Played by quartet without saxophone, in fast tempo and sharp articulation sounds even much extremely technical and expressive. Recorded program in some parts refers directly to legendary Miles Davis Quintet where three musicians of the 1981 Herbie Hancock Quartet had their great part. Two themes were part of Miles Davis 1967 Sorcerer album – The Sorcerer by Hancock and Pee Wee by Williams. Another two themes were hard bop Thelonious Monk standards – Well You Needn’t and Round Midnight, known for uncountable records and live performances.
It’s significant, during one day session Wynton Marsalis has been able to prove he was the rising star of modern jazz. To be absolutely honest, his improvisations in some moments are showing determination of young musician to take advantage of a chance but generally he is musically ad intellectually focused on improvisations, group collaboration and his trumpet sometimes sounds just visionary. From driving hard bop phrases in Well You Needn’t to lyrical and fragile proportioning sound in Round Midnight, his playing is full of nuances, using incredibly diversified sound and progressions perfectly fitting Hancock’s harmonic ideas.
The quartet is playing absolutely phenomenal, every instrumentalist is virtuoso and creates meaningful part of the whole. In Ron Carter’s A Quick Sketch continuity and space gives near trance feeling and perfect timing. There is a whole bunch of magical moments in this album - Williams solo in The Eye of the Hurricane, likewise Marsalis solos in Pee Wee and in I Fall in Love Too Easily are just wonderful. Hancock is playing magnificent blend of hard bop and his own idiomatic and inimitable passages. And as leader he is in high disposition, giving musicians full possibilities to spread their wings.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Los Romeros – Rodrigo Concerti

   Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999) who was also virtuoso pianist, could be seen as versatile composer, but guitar was an instrument playing featured role in his creative output. No wonder, born in Valencia composer biggest part of his works set for instrument inevitably linked with Spanish culture. He studied composition under Paul Dukas in Paris. Because he lost his sight in early childhood, he was composing using Braille. It’s interesting he didn’t play this instrument himself. Among many Rodrigo compositions for guitar, highest acknowledgement he owes to concert works for 1, 2 or 4 guitars and orchestra. This was his royal gem since first, written in winter 1939 in Paris – Concierto de Aranjuez. Three movement concerto in neoclassical style is supported by deep emotional contrasts and firmly accented rhythmic structures, but first of all middle part – Adagio remains in memory as sorrow and noble dialogue between guitar and wind instruments. This fragment is one of most popular compositions in last century history of music. Among many renditions one of most important was Miles Davis and Gil Evans recording in Sketches of Spain (1960). Davis said „That melody is so strong that the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets”. 

Los Romeros – Rodrigo Concerti

   Second popular work by Rodrigo is Fantasía para un gentilhombre composed in 1954 for Spanish virtuoso Andrés Segovia. In it’s formal shape this work has some analogies with the suite. Four movements of this composition are stylized Spanish dances – villano, españoleta, dance of axes and folk dance from Canary Island. In first movement Villano y Ricercare, the second episode is based on short, two-bar phrase repeated in form of ricercare. In this part as well in next movements composer used material from Gaspar Sanz composition. Despite name and formal construction, Fantasía para un gentilhombre sill can be seen as concerto for guitar and orchestra because of strong concerting factor and relations between soloist and orchestra. 
   Concierto Andaluz for four quitars and orchestra has classic three-part structure with opening Tiempo de Bolero. This work was commissioned by Spanish virtuoso Celedonio Romero (1913-1996) and dedicated to him and his sons. Composed in 1968 has its premiere the same year, November 18th in San Antonio, TX. Celedonio Romero and his three sons constitute the famous guitar quartet Los Romeros called „The Royal Family of the Guitar” which became famous performers of Joaquín Rodrigo works. 
   Members of the family were also addressees of Concierto Madrigal completed in 1968 and premiered in Los Angeles in 1970 with Pepe Romero and Angel Romero as soloists. The name of the work came from anonymous Renaissance madrigal Felices ojos mios. Formally it is suite sustained of variations cycle, what helped this concerto freed itself from more usual forming. Double LP set of Los Romeros playing complete works by Joaquín Rodrigo has been published by Philips. Edition contains recordings from two sessions. Concierto de Aranjuez and Concierto Andaluz were recorded in 1968 by Angel Romero and Los Romeros with San Antonio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Victor Allessandro. Concierto Madrigal played by Pepe Romero and Angel Romero with Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Neville Marriner has been recorded in 1975 and Fantasía para un gentilhombre played by Pepe Romero with the same orchestra and conductor has been recorded in 1976. Both records, one with San Antonio Symphony and one with St. Martin and Marriner are classical examples of virtuosity and musical competence.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bloomfield / Kooper / Stills – Super Session

   One of all time legends of blues and psychedelic rock of late sixties is Super Session album recorded for Columbia in 1968 by Al Kooper and musicians he hired especially for this occasion. He did this with Mike Bloomfield, born in Chicago, one of greatest masters of blues guitar for two decades before his premature death at the age of 37 in 1981 and Steve Stills, born in Dallas blues and folk guitarist and singer, well known for his work with Buffalo Springfield, group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and numerous  performances. It’s interesting Bloomfield and Stills didn’t meet in studio while recording this album.
   The history of Super Session is one and only. In spring 1968 Kooper proposed Bloomfield to record together. They knew each other from sessions to Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and some other projects. Kooper always was under great impression of Bloomfield playing. This was the period Bloomfield’s band Electric Flag was breaking-up and guitarist was tired of endless quarrels, rivalry and ready to draw out from the group he created himself. He agreed to have joint session with Kooper who earlier left Blood, Sweet & Tears, just after their debut album. In may 1968 Al Kooper, working this time for Columbia, appointed studio for two day session. He picked also two members of Electric Flag, pianist Barry Goldberg and bass player Harvey Brooks. Quintet was completed by well known session drummer Eddie Hoh. First day they recorded five songs, but morning of the second day, when all came to the studio, Bloomfield didn’t show up. Looking for substitution Kooper called Steve Stills whom he also highly esteemed. May 6, 1968 in Long Beach Arena Stills gave final concert with his group Buffalo Springfield and was in moment of changing plans.

Bloomfield / Kooper / Stills – Super Session (1968)

   First day quintet led by Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield recorded five tracks for A side, mostly straight 12-bar blues like opening the session Albert’s Shuffle, a classic Chicago style blues credited both Kooper and Bloomfield. After few minutes of guitar exposition, we have great organ solo ended with some dialogs with guitar. Stop written by Jerry Ragovoy and Mort Shuman, is once again instrumental blues with two leaders’ improvisations. Men’s Temptation by Curtis Mayfield is rather soul than blues. Sung by Al Kooper it gives some rest in the middle of blues jam. First day of the session were recorded also His Holy Modal Majesty, which is rare example of psychedelic blues and classical electric blues Really – both compositions by Bloomfield and Kooper.
   While first side of the Super Session album is blues, the B side is more rock and folk rock. Electric version of It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry, remains about Dylan controversial appearance in Newport Folk Festival with Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield in supporting band. Highest point of second day session was Donovan’s Season of the Witch, 11 minutes song with extended vocal and instrumental improvisations by Al Kooper. Willie Cobb’s You Don’t Love Me is distorted psychedelic blues that few years earlier could be seen as scandalous. In the Harvey’s Tune a kind of short epilogue, composed by Hervey Brooks saxophone melody with horn section sounds clear and remains emotionally closer to jazz than to any other genre. Horn section was arranged by Al Kooper and recorded later to make sound of the album more reach and to meet actual trends in blues band sound.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Karl Böhm – Beethoven’s 5th Symphony C Minor op. 67

   One of most acclaimed European conductors in second half of 20th Century was undoubtedly Karl Böhm. Born in Graz he started studying law, and just after received doctor degree, he turn to musical studies in Graz conservatory. In 1921 Bruno Walter engaged him to Bavarian State Opera in Munich. Later he worked with orchestras in Darmstadt, Hamburg and in 1934 he become the head of Semper Opera in Dresden, where he replaced Fritz Bush, who was dismissed as anti-nazi opposition. After the war and two year denazification ban he was active in Vienna Philharmonic, Salzburg Festival and Staatskapelle Dresden. Debut in Metropolitan Opera in 1957 opened new chapter in his career. For the next two decades he became most credible interpreter of classical period symphonic and opera works. 

Beethoven 5th Symphony in Karl Böhm Ausgabe

   Recorded in 1970 Beethoven’s 5th Symphony became one of his best achievements. There are many qualities causing this rendition is an obligatory position in Beethoven’s catalogue.  In predominant part of Allegro con brio he can be seen as too conservative, raising solid construction in steady tempi and consequent dynamics he is telling us about Beethoven’s music enough to stay focused but nothing more than it was already said. But in recapitulation he intensifying expression and bursting out with Manichaean vision where can be no place for hesitation. This make Andante con moto flowing softly with such subtle energy.
   Charming and calm second part finds reflection in Allegro, where light articulation helps to animate fugato theme. It looks like Böhm is stopping emotions for the moment when Finale explodes in triumphal exposition. Total control makes extreme expression didn’t force classical phrase. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is sounding classical and light. And this is obviously the secret of the artistry.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Frank Zappa • MOTHERS • Just Another Band from L. A.


   After few good years of playing and recording with Mothers of Invention, came weariness and disappointment. In December 1971 took place two accidents that changed life of Frank Zappa and career of the group. First took place in Casino de Montreux, where during the concert one member of the public shot the flare causing the fire and burning the building „to the ground” with all they had on the stage. One week later, using rented equipment Mothers were playing in London Rainbow Theatre. A guy from the audience pushed Zappa from the scene to the orchestra pit. The rest of the group were convinced Zappa had been killed. Falling to concrete floor Zappa broke his leg, and had many serious injuries. For months he was confined on the wheelchair what makes impossible cruising or playing live gigs. Due to crushed larynx his voice pitch dropped down a third. 
   What looks like the bad luck, gave musicians a chance to summarize their achievements and regroup to deal with some new plans. First album produced in period of Zappa’s restricted activity was live recording from concert on August 7, 1971 in Pauley Pavilion, widely known sport arena of UCLA in Los Angeles. Frank Zappa and Mothers incorporating three members of The Turtles were playing 7 persons show – Frank Zappa played guitar and sung, Mark Volman and Howard Keylan were singing leading parts, Ian Underwood was playing woodwinds, Aynsley Dunbar – drums, Don Preston – keyboards and Jim Pons on bass guitar who was also singing. 
   New album came March 26, 1972 with Cal Schenkel’s cover including some „intentionally” graphic references to the Uncle Meat and Ruben and the Jets covers. The full title of this work spells: „Was MOTHERS Just Another Band from L. A. – RIFA”. But it’s hard to decide the first words are  „Las Mothers” or „Was Mothers”. There are many different explanations of „RIFA” comment or sign under the title and no one is convincing. Graphic clues are more legible. The group in the car is easy to recognize, and the leader is laying on the rear seats with his head and plastered leg outside side windows of the car. His guitar is erected pushing out through the car’s roof.  

Just Another Band From L. A.

   The most significant part of this album fulfilling the whole A side was 24-minute composition Billy the Mountain. It was shortened version of wider concert event which was parody of rock operas. Growing popularity of projects like Tommy by The Who was the sign of this time but sometimes they gave nothing more than bunch of simple songs illustrating the main and in most cases trite story. Based on expanded song structure, where some episodes added between iterate parts. It’s construction has characteristic features of ritornello form. Billy the Mountain is also continuation of Zappa’s idea of conceptual album he developed in the mid-sixties. Composition is a masterpiece of satirical rock narrative form. In original concert version Billy the Mountain was more than half hour gig, but for LP edition Zappa cut it to fit in one LP side. In abbreviate form composition is 24:42 (in remastered CD reissue 24:46). In 1991 double CD album New York Fillmore East performance of Billy the Mountain recorded June 5-6, 1971 is 30:26 long. 
   The matter of this composition is the story of mountain Billy and his wife Ethell, who was a tree growing off of his shoulder. They were living in Los Angeles area until the day Billy received royalties for posing for the postcards. Billy decides to take a vacation and move with his wife to New York with first stop in Las Vegas. Demolishing everything on their route Billy and Ethell became the sensation in tabloids. After flattening of test stand and rocket sled in Edwards Air Force Base, Billy’s destructive power became attractive to military forces, so he received note he has been drafted. Ethell doesn’t agree, so she has been called a communist practicing witchcraft. To stop Billy comes new hero, man with secret briefcase Studebacher Hoch. Intensification of surrealistic connections to popular culture give this part character of satirical extravaganza leading to final where Studebacher Hoch staying on the Billy’s jaw is threatening Billy and Ethell. Billy laughs and Hoch falls what is leading to the moral: „mountain is something you don’t want to fuck with, don’t fuck around”.
   Some songs played August 7, 1971 in Pauley Pavilion were skipped, especially some known from previous 200 Motels album published in October 1971. Four songs from B side of Just Another Band from L. A. are just perfect life performances of Call Any Vegetable – extended version of song from 1967 Absolutely Free album with improvised scenic dialogues of Frank Zappa, Mark Volman and Howard Keylan, Eddie, Are You Kidding? – song referring to local commercial, Magdalena – bitter satire on Canadian maple syrup worker trying to incest his teenage daughter and Dog Breath known from 1969 Uncle Meat album but here in daring, internally diversified interpretation which is much more lyrical and expressive than before. Although during concert in Pauley Pavilion musicians played many more songs, the whole record should be listen as complete set and remains one of best Zappa’s recordings – no matter live or studio ones. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Isaac Stern – Bach Violin Concerti

   Isaac Stern is one of very few greatest violinists of XX century. He started very early as 15 years old, debuted with San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Monteux playing Saint-Saëns’ 3rd Violin Concerto. As world known virtuoso he confess in his style he was follower of Nathan Milstein and Arthur Grumiaux to whom he owed his sublime phrase, both elegant and emotional. He is well known as performer of main works of classical and romantic repertoire, but he was also known for his visionary renditions of contemporary works by Barber, Bartók, Bernstein, Dutilleux and Stravinsky.
   He is not only virtuoso and groundbreaking interpreter of most advanced violin literature. After he made an entrance in some movie and television projects he became popular among people who did not attend to listen professional music. One of his highly recognizable showing in popular culture was recording of violin music for the movie Fiddler on the roof. In fact in this and other movies he was only dubbing actors playing the role of violinist. He show himself in 1999 movie by Wes Craven Music of the Heart where also Itzhak Perlman and Guarneri Quartet can bee seen. Naturally he was featured in numerous documentaries and concert recordings. In 1997 main hall of Carnegie Hall was named Isaac Stern Auditorium to commemorate the leading role of violinist in rescuing this institution from demolition.

Isaac Stern in Bach's Concerti

   Concerti by Johann Sebastian Bach recorded in February and June 1966 are Concerto for Violin and Strings A Minor BWV 1041, Concerto for Violin and Strings E Major BWV 1042 and Concerto for Violin, Oboe and Strings C Minor BWV 1060. The double concerto was played both by violinist Isaac Stern and oboist Harold Gomberg. The A Minor Concerto Stern played with strings of London Symphony Orchestra conducted by soloist himself. In the next two concerti soloists were accompanied by musicians of New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein, who was also playing the basso continuo parts on harpsichord.
   Published by CBS, record with three Bach’s concerti shortly became the milestone in traditional way of reading the greatest works of baroque era. Rooted in romantic esthetics, widely vibrant phrases and strong dynamics made this music more intention of twentieth century vision than eighteenth century representation. The question of difference between Stern’s renditions and later models of reading baroque music is baseless. And even if one can ask how much these interpretations made possible the revolution of original instruments and new technical attitude of seventies and beyond, there are no controversy between the opposites. Decades after performances we can admit all were wrong as well as all have right for their mistakes. Creating work of art can’t be safe or easy. Especially if it looks like that.