Monday, October 31, 2011

Santana – Abraxas

The second album of Santana group has been released in September 1970, a little bit more than a year after their debut album. On the new album Abraxas, group still presented quite new face. Their sound, rhythm and style were real groundbreaking combination so shortly it has been named just „Santana style” and copied by many other groups. The beginnings of the style came from San Francisco fusion joining the psychedelic rock of the sixties with some idiomatic motives of latin jazz and rhythmic patterns of salsa, blues and gospel. A lots of inspirations gave this music great variety of meanings and the tittle „Abraxas” shines a light  for connections to esoteric, even some sort of Gnostic ideas.
Literary inspiration of the title came from Hermann Hesse’s novel Demian and short fragment is cited on the back side of the cover: „We stood before it and began to freeze inside from the exertion. We questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it: We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas...”. Directly related to this inspiration is cover art featuring Mati Klarwein’s 1961 painting Annunciation. This cover design and Hesse’s works became inspiration for whole generation.
Sound profile of the group in Woodstock era was presented on first two albums. It can be considered in four main aspects – rich and tense guitar solos by Carlos Santana, rhythm and blues Hammond B-3 organ played by Gregg Rolie, vocals in San Francisco psychedelic style and huge rhythm section of bassist Dave Brown, drummer Mike Shrieve plus two conga and percussion players Mike Carrabello and José Chepito Areas.

Santana – Abraxas (1970)

Characteristic feature of first Santana line-up’s music is that nothing is fully obvious. Rhythm section based on sharp, energetic percussion drive by Shrieve’s drums and steady, sometimes even lazy Brown’s bas guitar makes a lots of crossing and syncopated structures but isn’t apparently Latin kind of rock or all the more jazz-rock. It would be enough interesting if it was attempt of being somewhere between styles and cultures. The same with the harmonic structures which sound quite progressive yet they are predominantly blues with some straight adds.
Guitar solos by Carlos Santana were unprecedented in rock music contribution to the style of the group and its true hallmark. His precise and bright sound was counterbalance for dark vibrating Rolie’s Hommond. Clear and very precise guitar phrases became the center of musical narration. Although guitar was in center of rock since it’s very beginning, this kind of playing was something new and original. Great hits of this album were Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen by Peter Green and Gabor Szabo or Oye Como Va by Tito Puente but revolutionary number one hit for decade occured Carlos Santana’s Samba Pa Ti – nice and easy piece with charming phrases and carefully slow and mild accompaniment. It is one of most beautiful melodies in history of rock music, used in endless repetitions and covers. José Feliciano even sung this theme with his own words. In a short time this tune became obligatory for young guitar players and every high school party. On the opposite side of the Santana group’s style was situated Gregg Rolie’s Hope You’re Feeling Better with fiercely intensive rhythm section and one more great guitar solo.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bernstein conducts Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique

   Leonard Bernstein, composer, pianist, conductor and teacher was one of brightest persons in second half of 20th century. He was famous even among people who didn’t ever visit any philharmonic hall. As an orchestra conductor Leonard Bernstein was expert of extended symphonic forms. In many visionary interpretations he was able to balance individual emotionalism and stable construction. And under his direction orchestras always played on the top of their possibilities. The real greatness of his artistry we can appreciate while listening records with New York Philharmonic, orchestra which he was musical director for 11 seasons (1958-1969).
   Leonard Bernstein was conducting New York Philharmonic much longer before and after his term of office. Since unrehearsed and spectacularly successful debut in 1943 he was working with this orchestra regularly until last years of his creative life. And he left dozens of outstanding recordings made with New York Philharmonic. Especially as musical director of the orchestra he recorded every major work from Philharmonic repertoire. The material he worked on during rehearsals immediately after public presentation was recorded in CBS studios. And CBS was his primary label these years, later in seventies and eighties he recorded mainly for Deutsche Grammophon with various orchestras and wide range of repertoire.

Leonard Bernstein - Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique (1987)

   Composing Symphony no. 6 in B Minor op. 74, Peter Tchaikovsky has suffered from serious depression. There are even presumptions about last symphony he finished was illustration of composer’s suicide plans but with lack of evidence or indications such ideas must remain in the realm of speculation. Such conjectures have emerged as a response to the extremely emotional nature of the work. Four part construction with widely expanded first and last parts and with as much characteristic fragments as Adagio lamentoso in final movement it was ideal fodder for imagination.
   This meaningful symphony was called „Патетическая” after opinion by his brother Modest. Russian title means „passionate” and traditionally is accepted worldwide in French translation as „Pathétique”. Composer considered to call it „Programme Symphony” but finally he rejected the idea because he wanted to keep his outward ideas in secret and he didn’t want to encourage conjectures on this field. Qualities of the work makes us think composer’s decision should be respected.

Leonard Bernstein - Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique (1987)

   Leonard Bernstein recorded Symphony no. 6 in B Minor „Pathétique” with New York Philharmonic Orchestra in August 1986. It was live recording of the concert performance in Avery Fisher Hall. This rendition can be seen as a best probe of conductor’s possibilities in eighties. In this recording he achieved the effect of sublimity and nobility, characterizing only these musical works which are devoted to the final decisions on moral and philosophical questions. The first movement is opening with pianissimo possibile giving artists best start posision to create differentiated and complex part. Middle parts are just complete for filling the emotional and imaginary span of the work. It’s worth to pay attention to the 3rd movement Allegro molto vivace, powerful but still subtle. And the answer for the questions of the beginning is given by finale part of the symphony. Experienced conductor is aware of the rules, genius can follow universal path focusing emotions of every receiver. And Leonard Bernstein gives listener a chance to see it from highly captivating perspective. Thus the Bernstein's interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique reveals its inner beauty so well.

Stanley Clarke – Find Out!

   Born in Philadelphia, Stanley Clarke is one of most prolific jazz musicians of last four decades. He is known mainly for his double bass and bass guitar virtuosity and for his contribution as a member of Return to Forever one of most famous band in history of fusion jazz. In fact he is multi-instrumentalist, composer writing for film and television and musician playing all kinds of music from jazz and funk, through R&B to rock (esp. with The New Barbarians) and pop songs where he even sung. Many of his seventies and eighties recordings published as high-impact hit recordings later were underestimated or forgotten just because they are dance and popular songs with some short solos only.
   He became bass player by coincidence. He was late in school when instruments were assigned for students and when he at last came only double bass was available. Results he shortly achieved were astonishing and he continued to learn in Philadelphia Musical Academy. After graduation in 1971 he moved to New York where he was playing with great artists – Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Gato Barbieri, Joe Henderson. In 1973 he joined new project by Chick Corea – super group of fusion Return to Forever. And this band became greatest achievement for all its musicians, even if it was only a small amount of their creative output. After years in reunion concerts – like in 2008 during Montreux Jazz Festival – this group gives instrumentalists a chance for expanding individual creativity with fully synergic cooperation.

Stanley Clarke – Find Out! (1985)

   Naturally there were also other musical and creative projects. Some of them were highly popular and then rejected. Most of all this applies to the disco era. Many great musicians tried to find perfect connection between dance music, possibilities of new electronic instruments and jazz idiom. It was like a next step after fusion music. Many other musicians were on the same way, trying to actualize the idea of more popular jazz. An like many musicians these times, Clarke was experimenting with styles and genres, working on ambitious projects as well as popular music for high-volume issues.
   As the artist who is really concerning about being understand for listeners, Stanley Clarke get closer to popular music. Few of his records should be treated as pop or disco concession, although it is still perfectly made music with many solutions these time can be seen as revolutionary. One of many was Find Out! – fourteenth album by Stanley Clarke published by CBS in 1985 under Epic label. He is playing bass guitar with driving energy and sings in a way eighties were fitting on. It is connected with albums recorded together with George Duke as Clarke/Duke Project which were even closer to glitter rock and disco.

Stanley Clarke – Find Out! (1985)

   Find Out! is few years later and more homogenous. This can be seen as advantage and as a result of musicians selection. In contrast to Clarke/Duke Project this group is much smaller.  The Stanley Clarke Band was only four musicians – Clarke playing basses and guitars, drummer Rayford Griffin, and playing keyboards Robert Brookings and Sunnie Paxton. Other musicians were keyboardist Pat Leonard, Pulinho da Costa playing percussions and guitarists Eddie Martinez and Raymond Gomez. Maybe songs are not so well written, but in instrumental pieces he gave some beautiful Clarke’s solos. Maybe vocals are not enough spirited. There are also discreet references to modern jazz and deeper drifts. Like in introduction to rap cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. where leader’s bass guitar gives some links to Jimmy Garrison’s tradition. It is hard to resist the impression that the music in the future will be more appreciated.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eric Ericson – Virtuoso Choir Music

It is quite easy assumption that legendary choirmaster and conductor Eric Ericson is a successor of great Swedish tradition of the joint singing. Sweden has always lively musical culture – both folk and artistic. And great choirs were natural element of musical live in the country where basic form of prayer and social behavior across centuries was singing. Conducting the choir is never the same as conducting the orchestra. Choirmaster is more teacher than conductor and best choirs are always connected with best leaders.
One of best choir conductors of 20th century is Eric Ericson. Born in 1918 he was studied in best conservatory in Sweden - Stockholm Kungliga Musikhögskolan and after graduating he improved his skills abroad in Switzerland, Germany, England and USA. From 1951, for forty years he was principal conductor of Sangsällskapet Orphei Drängar in Uppsala University (before Ericson the chief of this famous male choir was Hugo Alfvén). On initiative of Eric Ericson in 1951 was established also Swedish Radio Choir for which he was choirmaster until 1982.

Eric Ericson – Virtuoso Choir Music (1978)

There is a lot of recordings made by choirs conducted and mastered by Eric Ericson. His name is featured as choirmaster of vocal ensembles in numerous recordings of other conductors. Among many records of Ericson’s choirs one set is exceptionally rich. It is released by EMI in 1978 set of 4 LPs entitled Virtuoso Choir Music (Virtuose Chormusik). The choirs immortalized on these records are Swedish Radio Choir and Stockholmer Kammerchor. Vocal perfection and flexibility, dynamic precision and scale of expression of two choirs lead by Eric Ericson make this album everlasting testimony on music potential of the seventies.
Huge program of this album comprises mainly works of 20th century composers. There is variety of highly exacting works by modern French composers – Epithalame by Andre Jolivet, 7 Chansons by Francis Poulenc, 5 Rechants by Olivier Messiaen, Ariel’s Choir from Shakespeare’s „Tempest” and „Messe” by Frank Martin. Only German composer is Richard Strauss presented in two choral works: Die Göttin in Putzzimmer with lyrics by Friedrich Rückert and Der Abend to poem of Friedrich von Schiller. Contemporary music is present in three compositions from ItalyIl coro delle malmaritate and Il coro dei melsmmogliati by Luigi Dallapiccola and Tre composizioni corali by Ildebrando Pizzetti and one Swedish work Elegi by Lars Edlund.
Early music works are represented by Claudio Monteverdi’s Sestina „Lagrime d’amante al sepolcro dell’amata” and Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium, first sung by Stockholmer Kammerchor, second by Swedish Radio Choir. Perfection of sound required in contemporary works and discipline of early music mark out the space for vocal artistry of Eric Ericson’s choirs.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Santana I

   Since the beginning San Francisco has been the cultural and intellectual center of American West. Especially in postwar era this metropolitan city was radiating with creative ideas and outstanding personalities. One of most respected musical names came out from Bay Area in late sixties and increasingly popular until today is Santana, even if average listener doesn’t associate this name with the city. Some people confuse the name of the group with the name of its leader who recorded also independently as Carlos Santana, who has formed in 1967 as Carlos Santana Blues Band. Santana’s songs performed by the band were the ticket to the world of universal appreciation.
   And name of Santana shortly became one of most recognizable names in musical business. Success did not come right away. After their first audition Chet Helms, who was a cultural figure in San Francisco of the hippie era, stated that there is no room on rock scene for the Latin rock. He advised Santana that it would be better if he can keep his work with the dishes in Tick Tock’s Drive-In.
   Two years later musicians were appointed to play Woodstock festival and CBS, anticipating their success recorded in May the debut album of Santana and in one month finishing editorial process. Santana performed August 16, the second day of the festival, for huge crowd. The result was almost instant success of the debut album released shortly after festival, picking at number 4 on Billboard 200. Although first single Jingo didn’t met supposed feedback, second single Evil Ways was included in U.S. Top Ten. After thirty years Santana hits 150th position in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 500 greatest albums of all time.

Santana (1969)

   End years of sixties decade were the time when revolutionary recordings and artistic events were released almost every month. And it’s really hard to say if the first Santana album could be heard without Woodstock connection. But after festival announced as „3 Days of Peace and Music” even subtle association with this event gave the album power of political statement. Santana’s music was strongly connected with Mexican rhythms and melodic idiom and in context of antiwar and antiestablishment demonstration new idea o cross-cultural connection has the power of demonstration for freedom. And this is primary value fusion music has its roots. Later the idea of music based on explicit cross-cultural or multicultural links has been called „world music” and specific sound of Santana group was copied by dozens of other groups and musicians.
   Instrumental composition Waiting opens A-Side with great organ solo by Gregg Rolie and guitar solo by Carlos Santana, making basic exposition of group’s style. And since this very first piece it’s more fusion music than just Latin rock. All elements from Afro-Cuban beat to sharp, electrizing dialogue between soloists are melted in the whole which is almost homogenous. And almost gives some place for individual character of every artist.
   In Evil Ways we have another solo sequence, blues organ and ecstatic guitar are enriching this hit song. Some songs are clearly following the psychedelic style of San Francisco, like Shades of Time where only thick Cuban percussion section makes listener remember he is listening modern Latino rock. The same in Persuation where vocals and solo instruments are is perfectly in style of late sixties rhythm and blues. There is also piece perfectly fitting white blues of late sixties Just You Don’t Care with great solos and vocals of Santana and Rolie.
   What characterizes this music is explosive emotionalism and trance rhythmic continuity. This are very clear factors in completely instrumental Savor, for ending album Soul Sacrifice and partly vocal Jingo. Also in Treat after blues piano introduction group is creating strong rhythm line. This way of playing in upcoming years was treated simply as Santana style. And the first album of the group together with Santana’s performance in Woodstock were just fragments of basic floor for fusion music and crossover developing in next decades.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Herbert von Karajan – Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony

Symphony in F Major, commonly known as Pastoral Symphony was finished in 1808 and premiered together with composers Fifth Symphony during one concert in Theater an der Wien, December 22nd, 1808. And this is not by coincidence these two works are so close. Ludwig van Beethoven begin to compose his Sixth Symphony in 1802. He was under great impression of just premiered oratorio Die Jahreszeiten by Joseph Haydn. Since we know he was wandering on every occasion by the rural outskirts of Vienna, it can be confirmation of his deep love to the nature and straightforward country living. And this affection made him try to render the beauty of countryside in series of symphonic visions.
Invoking most obvious situations, imitating sounds of nature and suggesting emotions he achieved much more than programmatic instrumental music. Formally it is first symphony of this kind in the history. It has five movements instead of four which we know as a rule according to classical principle. Composer gave series of tittles suggesting matter of every part and forming a kind of story beginning with arrival to the country, admiring idyllic scenes, surviving the storm, feeling gratitude and happiness.
He made this external program the most readable layer of his work but composition was constructed consequently as a symphonic cycle. Even if it is composed of five parts, fourth part is a kind of introduction to the real finale. This movement titled by composer as Gewitter, Sturm can be also seen as a second part of the scherzo which would be then consisted of two contrasting episodes. But the first option is more likely because of lack of final cadence in fourth movement of this symphony.

Herbert von Karajan – Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony

Beethoven was intentionally searching for best dramatic solution in frame of classical symphonic form. Scherzo in Pastoral Symphony has two trios what can be taken from idea of the rondo form balancing sonata rondo form in closing part of the work. Theodor Adorno considered this to be a pattern referred to by Anton Bruckner in his scherzos. Nevertheless three last movements are connected together and played attaca as one movement. And whole symphony is enough universal in it’s idea and realisation to be listen just as a symphonic cycle. And maybe this is why composer said it is „more the expression of feeling than painting”.
Among many phenomenal renditions of this work one is special. Recorded in 1962 with Berliner Philharmoniker and first published in 1963, Herbert von Karajan’s interpretation of Sixth Symphony is rare example of perfection. Every phrase appears, resounds and ends with soft coherence. And even if we would find somebody who can’t understand sound painting effects, emotional substance of this music should be build the inkling of future happiness. This kind of attainment is always dependent of the orchestra highest artistry but person determining the final vision of the work is a conductor. And Karajan was always personality with clear creative vision of final work and complete skills to achieve his aim.
In discography of Herbert von Karajan one can find almost every great composition from the history of orchestral music, but his privileged position was based on master interpretations of greatest nineteenth century symphonies. His cycle of Beethoven’s symphonies recorded in 1961 and 1962 was internationally acclaimed and in next decades published in many series of Deutsche Grammophon. This edition was released in series Accolade in 1978 for English market and marked conductor’s position in Great Britain.