Friday, September 30, 2011

Chaka Khan – I Feel for You

Chaka Khan is one of most distinct personalities on American scene in seventies and eighties. Her career in entertainment was spectacular sequence of successes while her style encloses various styles of pop, jazz, funk, soul, disco and R&B which became her basic genre assignment. She was leading vocalist of Rufus band from the very beginning in 1973 to the last album Stompin’ At the Savoy – Live ten years later. Simultaneously from 1978 she was publishing her own albums. Her first solo album Chaka with Michael and Randy Bracker, David Sanborn, Airto Moreira, George Benson, Anthony Jackson, Whitney Huston, Luther Vandross and large group of session musicians exploded as an instant success. Opening song I’m Every Woman became Chaka Khan’s hallmark hit. The same year she was featured performer of Stuff Like That by Quincy Jones and next year she recorded with Ry Cooder for his Bop Till You Drop album.

Chaka Khan – I Feel For You (1984)

Recorded in 1984 I Feel for You was sixth solo album of Chaka Khan and her first production after separating with Rufus band. Comparing this set of songs to her earlier records, it looks like artist was searching for wider and more elastic style with principle to last enough clear to be compatible to pop music but still deeply expressive. Solution she found was crossover somewhere between soul singing, jazz phrasing, popular dance rhythm intensity and density of big band orchestrations. Her new style sounded like it was strictly connected to songs of Prince and Stevie Wonder and shortly gave her position of a big star of pop and R&B in eighties. For almost decade pop charts appeared her new frontier.
Success of this album came with three elements, beautifully written songs, powerful vocal parts of diverse expression and new sound structures. Thank to the state of the art electronic equipment and instruments like Synclavier, the most advanced synthesizer of the decade, new way of recording and organizing musical material and new vision of sound was totally different than before. The accompaniment is not organized in lineup anymore. Various instrumental parts are assembled more like in symphonic music which is different than rock and roll, pop or jazz groups traditions. We can hear even Stevie Wonder playing harmonica in tittle song. Producers carefully chose program with some covers of Prince and Burt Bacharach songs. And every element gives space for vocal extravaganza. Even after three decades of modern production in pop music, this record remains exceptional, it can amaze and is still worth of consideration.

Harnoncourt and Leonhardt conduct Bach’s Osterkantaten

There are no doubts Johann Sebastian Bach was greatest composer of European music ever known. Building his output almost exclusively on demand, he made synthesis of all genres and techniques used before. Only one form of music was beyond his reach. He never received an order for dramma per musica. And in 17th and early 18th century works, especially operas were composed only on request. Nevertheless Bach shifted his operatic ambitions into his oratorios and cantata works, carrying dramatic action with pure musical agents. Using only church music resources he created highly legible and clear language based on musical rhetorical means and measures strengthening the emotional expression.
Since his music was rediscovered in romantic era, Johann Sebastian Bach for more than a century was the composer who was increasingly recognized as genius who made the formal synthesis of all achievements of the previous music. In 1985 many record labels seized the opportunity of 300 anniversary of the birth of the great cantor from St. Thomas church in Leipzig and made special editions of his works. One of panoramic projects for Bach’s birthday celebration was Teldec Special Edition 1985 „300 Jahre J. S. Bach”. The fifth volume of the series was double album with set of five cantatas for Easter – numbers 4, 6, 31, 66 and 134 in Schmieder’s Bach Werke Verzeichnis. As signed two great personalities, Nicolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt – conductors famous for performing music of the baroque period on original instruments.

Harnoncourt and Leonhardt - Bach's Easter Cantatas

Published by Teldec in Direct Metal Mastering technology album is mostly some kind of collection of older recordings from seventies. There is one newly recorded Cantata 134. Double album is divided between two conductors. First LP featuring Gustav Leonhardt conducting instrumental group Leonhardt-Consort, choirs Collegium Vocale working under direction of Philippe Herreweghe and Knabenchor Hannover leaded by Heinz Hennig includes two cantatas BWV 66 and 134. Second LP contains three cantatas BWV 4, 6 and 31 conducted by Nicolaus Harnoncourt with baroque orchestra Concentus musicus Wien, choirs Wiener Sängerknaben and Chorus Vienensis working under direction of Hans Gillesberger. The core group of soloists is mutual for both records – Paul Esswood (alt), Kurt Equiluz (tenor) and Max van Egmond (bass). In Cantata BWV 134 this group was augmented by soloist of Knabenchor Hannover Sebastian Hennig (sopran) and René Jacobs (alt). The same happened in Cantata BWV 31 with soloists of Wiener Sängerknaben and Siegmund Nimsgern (bass). Beautiful, perfectly tuned up voices, forced in timbre and pitch and totally new sound of baroque music.
This recordings were a part of quiet revolution in art of performing the old music. The top indication of new style was use of original instruments tuned in one of original tempering systems. But this was only surface of deeper changes. When whole sound and metric system has changed, ideas of reading and constructing the work need to be redefining. This is why conductors were the most important artists in these recording sessions. Of course there is always a personal imprint in such complex work as cantata. And obviously these conductors and bands are different. Leonhardt aims to the vision of ancient, raw, so much emotionally clear as sometimes rude musical seting of Bach’s work. Harnoncourt creates equilibrium of historical aesthetics and contemporary sensitivity. While Leonhardt goes towards reconstruction of historical music, Harnoncourt builds more readable parallel of old music for today’s listener. Both represent highest level of musical artistry due to the nature of composers creativity. Different personalities and one ideology to make old music alive, sounding the way it sounded 300 years before and agitate as strongly as it was in Bach’s in early 18th century.

Antologia del Bel Canto

Opera can be treated as complex form of musical work created since the fall of Renaissance to contemporary music. Opera can also be seen as the great idea of narrative art which has the zenith of its popularity in romantic era, but considering new music and new theatre settings of older compositions, after 400 years of history opera is still alive and developing. But for real opera lover a scene or a borders of a performance are the universe containing greatest stars we can imagine. Beautiful voices of bel canto era, great appearances, acting possibilities are only starting point to achieve the devotion of opera lovers.
There are a lots of great recordings which can give some light on vocal artistry in first decades of 20th century. And one of best compilations is 5 LP album Antologia del Bel Canto presentata da Giuseppe Di Stefano. Outstanding artist, according to many the last great tenor in history of opera, Giuseppe di Stefano chose 50 artists in 51 arias and one duet. From legendary Metropolitan Opera primadonna Adelina Patti singing dramatic aria from La Sonnambula to Maria Callas performing with Giuseppe di Stefano Duet from 1st Act of Manon Lescaut. Only two artists are presented in two arias, Francesco Tamagno and Enrico Caruso. Francesco Tamagno one can hear in aria Niun mi tema from Otello – this interpretation he was instructed personally by Giuseppe Verdi.

Antologia del Bel Canto

Enrico Caruso, one of greatest singers in recorded history of music left many exceptional recordings. His compilations deserve the separate place and more attention. In Giuseppe di Stefano’s Anthology Caruso is presented in two fragments. Vesti la giubba from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci and Jacques Halevy’s La Juive aria Rachel, quand du Seigneur la grâce tutélaire are crown recordings in Caruso’s collection. Phenomenal voice and great artistry are tangibly present in this recordings.
It is hard to mention all 50 singers, but the collection was set up as respectfully and exactly so this anthology can be perfect start to establish collection of records of greatest voices. The list of great singers immortalized on vinyl records is very long. The best has their own recitals, sometimes in song repertoire, sometimes with most popular operatic arias and spectacular scenes. Tradition of recording best arias is much longer than history of recording opera as complete performance or even highlights. Analog cylinders time of playing was 2-4 minutes and later 78 rpm records maximum time was only 3-5 minutes per side. Early recording technology made possible only short pieces. And still these noisy, narrow band recordings can amaze by power of artistic personality and abilities of great voices.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic

The band Steely Dan was founded by two friends Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Both were musicians and co-leaders of the group, together they were co-authors of great amount of songs. Best feature of the band was it’s jazzy harmonics and perfect sound precision with multidirectional influences aiming to the wide synthesis of American music. It was few years before in late Seventies American super group Steely Dan became as much disappointing for some rock-fans as great hope for popular music. Soft rock songs often with sarcastic lyrics combined with jazz, jazz-rock and elements of funky was their mark of identification. After success of their third album which was one of most perfect productions in rock history, musicians suspended concert tours for many years, focusing on studio recording, but 1974 album was really hard to conquer.

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic (1974)

The third album of Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic became greatest success of the group. Reaching position in first ten of the charts record went gold and then platinum. The song opening this album – sung by Donald Fagen Rikki Don’t Lose That Number – was introduced by riff taken from Horace Silver’s Song for my Father – perfect idea for straight connection with jazz tradition. It was not the only jazz connection of Pretzel Logic – for the end of A-side musicians played instrumental cover of swinging twentieth’s standard East St. Louis Toodle-Oo composition by Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley. Opening reverse side Parker’s Band was a kind of jazz-rock tribute to great improviser. But next song Through with Buzz is pearl of creative jazz-rock harmonization. Even elements of country music in With a Gun or polyphonic instrumentation of Charlie Freak can be the part of the play.
Shortened versions of first and third (Any Major Dude Will Tell You) songs from Pretzel Logic were published as a 7” single and became the hit of summer 1974, reaching number 4 on Billboard hits chart. And Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 all time greatest albums gives for Pretzel Logic 385 position. It’s worth to understand what makes this record so unfading and still much worth to listen to. Donald Fagen, Walter Becker and 17 other musicians created great album with lots of courage to mix every possible, alive and worthy ideas and unify them in one musical work. This idea was mutual for many artists in midstream of fusion music in Seventies but Pretzel Logic gives it new shape enough close to jazz, rock, soul, progressive and pop music.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ricardo Muti – Beethoven – Symphony No. 7

Nine symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven belong to the group of highest accomplishments in the history of European musical culture. Therefore every one composition from this collection is played constantly anywhere in the world. The symphonies are not the cycle. Every one has it’s own idea and unique character, sometimes it is obvious, sometimes enigmatic and all are bonded by person of great composer. Consequently it is hard to point the best interpretation. After hundreds and thousands of performances, Beethoven’s symphonies are still a real challenge for artists. One of great conductors who recorded unforgettable Beethoven’s renditions is Ricardo Muti. He recorded complete cycle with Philadelphia Orchestra which he was leading for twelve years 1980-1992. Among many later recordings, early recording from 1979 deserved the special place it occupies on the record shelf. This is debut recording with the orchestra, has great idea of the work and incomparable sound. It was published under Angel and EMI labels.
During the 1970s when Muti was principal guest conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra, naturally he was also the Philly’s featuring artist, both on concert events and recordings. This position is commonly treated as a kind of qualifying period and after Eugene Ormandy in 1980 officially retired, Muti succeeded him as Musical Director for next 12 years. Ricardo Muti is great conductor in the style of old masters of the baton. He understands the weight of artistic responsibility when working with full symphonic and performing big works for thousands of listeners. His career can be seen as he is the same kind of personality as Arturo Toscanini. He is not finishing his job until piece of art is completed and self-referenced.

Ricardo Muti – Beethoven – Symphony No. 7 (1979)

One can have totally different idea of interpreting some opus, but when listening to his interpretation it is hard to avoid the impression this is the only well-founded attitude towards the work. Seventh Symphony is rhythmically strong, swinging and emotionally pronounced work. While many conductors try to calm down natural expression of this work, in his 1979 recording Ricardo Muti gives perfect example of interpretation following composers ideas. And this is not the same interpretation as included in recorded in forthcoming years the nine symphonies complete. Sound is much more natural and still every nuance is greatly audible.
The recording session took place in historic place called the Met Church, former place of the Metropolitan Opera House in Philadelphia. Opened in 1908 opera house seated 4200 patrons every one of whom had perfect sight to the stage and was biggest concert hall in the world. In first 3 dacedes it was opera house, later it was used as a hall for various entertainment undertakings, cinema and sport venues,  as ballroom and since May, 1954, it was used as a church.
Today building located at 858 North Broad Street, the major arterial street of the Pennsylvania capital, is used by Holy Ghost Headquarters Revival Center at the Met, consecutive religious institution which tries to raise founds for renovation of the historic building. The legendary hall has near-perfect acoustic conditions. In 1978 and 1979 EMI used The Met Church for recording with The Philadelphia Orchestra marking records as „The new Philadelphia Sound”. In 1979 orchestra started recording using digital technology and this changed the approach to acoustic matters. Change doesn’t mean made obsolete. Listening 32 years after recording The Philadelphia Orchestra sounds astonishingly modern and alive. The sound space effects are more natural than from any studio processing. And maybe this is why vinyl records have still their power of making listeners happy.