Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pinchas Zukerman & Claude Bolling – Suite for Violin and Jazz Piano

Twentieth century French music holds special position of many avant-garde directions. From late romanticism composers in France were developing their original language and style. It is hard to imagine Eric Satie, Maurice Ravel, Gabriel Faure or Olivier Messiaen on the ground of any other culture. It’s also interesting how jazz interfered with French popular and artistic music. Paris was first stop on continental Europe for big tide of American musicians looking for better life in Old World. This bring a lots of inspiration for musicians of various genres and styles. Some jazz ideas one can find in Darius Milhaud’s scores. The other perspective was French jazz connected to traditional concert music – Jacques Lousier Trio playing jazz versions of history music and Claude Bolling composing music connecting jazz style with academic methods of composition.
Claude Bolling is jazz pianist, renowned composer of movie music and a real institution in crossover between jazz and popular classical music. He created his own style of music sharing traditional melody and coloristic harmony with syncopated rhythm, making music mutually in jazz and classical style. His works were original solution of the dilemma and some kind of opposition to Gunther Schuller idea of third stream music. One of first greatest Bolling’s successes was Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio recorded in 1973 with Jean-Pierre Rampal. After this composition Bolling received an order for similar Suite for great young virtuoso of violin and viola, Pinchas Zukerman. He was one of prominent soloists in seventies and eighties, equally perfect in classical concert repertoire and in chamber music but primarily valued as a performer of eighteenth century concertos. On his level of perfection he can play popular melodies or jazz or anything else. He is versatile and has good sense of humor – this kind of distance helps when comes to play music of non classical genres. In 1979 CBS released Suite for Violin and Jazz Piano with Pinchas Zukerman playing volin and viola. Jazz Piano Trio was exactly the same as before: Claude Bolling was playing piano with section of bass player Max Hediguer and drummer Marcel Sabiani.

Claude Bolling – Suite for Violin and Jazz Piano (1979)

However beginning fragments opening Romance are closer to impressionism than any other fragment of Bolling’s work, the first two parts of the suite – Romance and Caprice – confirm romantic background of this cycle, even if later come some twentieth century inspirations. Free flowing of melodic ideas, contrast between emotional depth and brilliant virtuoso effects should not be misleading – this is much closer to parlor music of 19th century than anything else. Impressionistic direction has its clue as well. Finally post bop jazz harmony has more to do with musical coloristic than with chord progression. Harmonic sense was always strong point of Claude Bolling’s musical temperament. His second side was jazz emotionalism, sometimes maybe even a kind of loose posing taken from fifties bebop club sessions. Fragments of stride piano in Bolling’s compositions are always decided and full of energy. Gavotte begins as stylized court dance but gradually comes to intense polyphonic expression. In Tango Zukerman plays viola, his soft pizzicato is dark and sensitive. Piano plays in higher register with staccato giving taste of virtuoso passages.
Slavonic Dance has all the characteristics of excellent composition. Romantic violin and jazz piano are opposition, a clear drive section and dialogues between the instruments being straight variations are the hallmarks of this great part. Ragtime gives this cycle great impact of marching rhythm and some loosely  phrases in trio segment deepen its intensity. Valse Lente begins with charming lightness of violin phrase and nice accompaniment. In trio it goes a bit too far towards café lounge, even if it’s still nice composed and well played. Hora after first episode which is too much heavy, gathers pace and gives violinist chance for brave passages and some precision articulation. This is not the level of Paganini or Sarasate virtuoso requirements but in this kind of crossover it could be quite impressive. I could, were it not that in many passages one can hear that Zukerman has a large technical reserve but he still plays holding his breath. 

Dakota Staton – The Late, Late Show

It is fascinating how many great artists does not fit in the prevailing style. If anyone of them can move their activity in time, he or she could become a star. Sometimes they lack happiness. For those not fully realized artists includes Dakota Staton (1930-2007) quite popular jazz vocalist of late fifties and sixties. Thank to beautiful warm voice and real touch of class she was priced as jazz singer along with her acclaim in popular music. But her success was lasting for slightly short period and was limited only to the years she was active on US scene. 
Born in Pittsburgh she begun to sing and to dance as a child. She started career at seven, singing in trio with her sisters. After sisters got married, she continue solo shows, attending to Filion School of Music. In late forties she joined to Joe Wespray’s big band. After several years singing in clubs of Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland and St. Louis, she went to New York where in Harlem club Baby Grand she was discovered by Dave Cavanaugh, a producer for Capitol Records. In next years Capitol released many singles making her recognizable soft jazz singer in second half of fifties. Critical and musical circles reception was very good and in 1957 Capitol Records published her debut album The Late, Late Show. This album became her greatest success peaking number four in 1957 on Billboard pop charts.

Dakota Staton – The Late, Late Show (1957)

Recorded for Capitol Records February 28th and March 2nd 1957 the The Late, Late Show album was composed to deliver the perfect vision of singers technical and artistic possibilities. Accompanied by band arranged by Van Alexander with Hank Jones on piano artist recorded twelve songs, mostly well known standards, sometimes in quite original renditions as Summertime, Misty or My Funny Valentine.
This vinyl recording is hiding delicious and refreshing voice from the era of great jazz divas. The foundations of her style are firmly sustained, almost non-vibrating precise intonation and delicate and fast vibrato on ending phrases longer notes – a manner  well established these time. But she is flexible in emotional spectrum fitting somewhere between Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. Sometimes her interpretations sound too much deep like she was trying to mark it isn’t only the matter of popular song. Original and chilling interpretation of Moonray with some kind of dark aura and superb scat singing solos shows her as artist of deep possibilities.
George Shearing said, “Dakota is dynamic! To hear her sing for the first time is to joyously discover one of the finest jazz singers of our day.” And next year Dakota Staton recorded with Shearing album Dynamic! The power of her personality is moving in the final blues Ain’t No Use. She put here full scale of artistic resources from timid and discreet mannerisms to full scale vocal expression and great dialogs with trumpet of Jonah Jones. Ten years earlier this one song would be enough to give her prominent position. In fact twenty years later this kind of music was back on the stage. She has not enough luck, in mid-sixties she moved to England and in next decades she was recording turning to blues and gospel, but she never repeated the success of her first album.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue


Looking for the one record which is substantial to music history of last century, for the recording of best quality of music and perfect in performing, creative and enough modern to affect next generations but still clear and readable to almost every listener, the only choice should be Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. This album belongs to the group of rare events giving modern jazz the position of artistic music. And it is strained with creative intensity, exactly the same way the most important works in human history always been. No wonder this record occupies highest position in every ranking, receiving complete collection of stars and hundred percent grades in any serious critical set. With more than four million copies sold, what means quadruple platinum, this is best selling album in Miles Davis discography and in history of the jazz. Many listeners believe it was also the first jazz recording exceeding limitations of harmonic progressions and initiated era of modality opening the way to free jazz and avant-garde of the sixties and beyond. And in fact they are almost right, it was not very first modal jazz recording because it really opened a new chapter in history of jazz.
Recorded in New York 30th Street Studio during two sessions March 2, and April 22, 1959, and released August 17, the same year, Kind of Blue was based on best musicians marking new directions in modern music. Despite revolutionary content of this album, the group was continuation of experiences with sextet Miles Davis recorded many times during previous years. Basic lineup was the same as recorded one year earlier 1958 Miles album. Front line of the group formed by leader Miles Davis with two saxophonists Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and John Coltrane has its counterpoise in rhythm section of Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums and merging these positions piano played by Bill Evans. During April 2nd session the lineup of Davis’ sextet was playing with two changes. In Freddie Freeloader Bill Evans was replaced by pianist Wynton Kelly and Blue in Green was recorded by quintet without Adderley.

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (1959)

This album was different from the very beginning. Many Davis’ albums are monumental in idea or in realization. The end of fifties and beginning of sixties was the time for great constructions he made with orchestral arrangements by Gil Evans. Many of groundbreaking records were billed as a culmination of many years’ developments. In Kind of Blue modest title shows prudence and distance to theoretical matters of new music. Just like he was not sure of the new artistic and theoretical ideas joining Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales, Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization and new possibilities of modal improvisation opened in John Coltrane’s and Miles Davis’ recordings in late fifties.
Although Kind of Blue was not the first modal recording, this is premiere program entirely founded on the idea of creating improvisation on the scale basis and developing improvisation from the scale inner tensions. Such approach was not quite new. It was presented in many folk cultures, in blues and in early jazz but it was never so much complex or consequent. Modal jazz was also the best way of leaving major-minor harmonic systems. On Kind of Blue modal scales occurred in rich and varied contexts, some were consisted on cycle of two or more modes – So What was based on two modes, Flamenco Sketches on five scales; some are standard 12-bar blues played in expanded modes (Freddie Freeloader) or even in 6/8 time (All Blues). Every improvisation was built on its own logic. Julian Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane and Miles Davis are improvising in wide opening space of new possibilities. And this was in fact the best feature of this record. Freedom musicians gain with this new idea was liberating and inspiring giving jazz whole spectrum of new energies.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

James Levine – Carl Orff – Carmina Burana

Between post romantic expressionism and 20th century avant-garde there were only few composers looking for more natural and clear methods of creating music. Among them was Carl Orff who experimented with mediaeval and renaissance technical constructions, combining its straightforwardness with folk music traditions and simple rhythmic intensity. He was one of 20th century most famous composers and teachers for developing one of widely recognized methods of musical education. How it has often happened in the twentieth century, he owes its fame to one work only. This one is scenic cantata Carmina burana premiered in 1937. Later Orff composed two similar works Catulli carmina (1943) and Trionfo di Afrodite (1953) establishing three part cycle called Trionfi. He is also author of didactic Musik für Kinder and many dramatic works in type of cameral opera or musical on religious and secular subjects from Orpheus (1924), through Die Kluge (1943) to De Temporum Fine Comoedia (Play of the End of Time – 1973).
His creative talents he demonstrated in childhood. He was composing songs and writing children plays. Developing for his personal interests he was also studied natural history focusing on entomology and collecting insects. Born in Munich in 1895 in family of military traditions, he was serving in artillery and during World War I he suffered serious wounds. After the convalescence he back to his before war activities. Learning composition on his own he studied works of classical masters and style of highest rated contemporary composer Richard Strauss. He was forced to solve crucial dilemmas of modern art and living in reality of nazi Germany. And he achieved success both in music and in teaching, even if he is commonly known as composer of one cantata and constructor of the set of instruments called by his name Orff Set.

James Levine – Carl Orff – Carmina Burana (1984)

Orff’s cantata was set mostly to the text in Latin with small parts in Mittelhochdeutsch and Occitan. Work full title is in Latin: Carmina Burana: Cantiones profanæ cantoribus et choris cantandæ comitantibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicis. Great success of the work gave composer enough self-confidence to state in letter to his publisher everything he composed before is obsolete and this is the first composition he is reopening catalogue of his works. Power of this music, which sometimes was described as modern primitive, lays in organic relationship between poetic, sometimes naïve and sometimes sardonic texts, emotionally clear and strong melodies, power of choir sound and instrumental, more percussive than symphonic accompaniment. Of course final shape of the work depends of performance style. Good example of American school of reading Orff’s works is the one by James Levine.
In opposition to many European renditions, American artists in most cases are choosing more symphonic and grandiose way of performing Carmina burana. They smoothing the archaic contours of instrumentation and enhancing the expressive layer of the work, and thus form more traditional piece, which is closer to solemn oratorio or even opera than mediaeval mystery. But it’s still beautiful and thrilling. This one of best American-way-performances of Orff’s cantata is 1984 rendition by James Levine conducting Chicago Symphony Orchestra and two phenomenally sounding choirs, Chicago Symphony Chorus and Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus. Trio of great singers – perfect, deep and warm soprano of June Anderson, characteristic, cold, sometimes sounding really ironically tenor of Philip Creech and strong baritone of Bernd Weikl with powerful acting background gave this performance narrative power in best style of modern music.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kurt Eichhorn – Carl Orff – Carmina Burana

Romantic ideologies initiated the interest in folk culture so the estimate to the achievements of past eras. Zeal with which ancient stories had been valued gave them position of Wisdom texts. This mechanism had striking continuation in twentieth-century art, especially in German-speaking countries and in the works associated with the expressionist style. One of the works, have made most success was Carl Orff's cantata Carmina burana. The text of the work originated in Middle Ages but its idea was purely romantic. In 1847 German philologist Johann Andreas Schmeller published the choice of wandering scholars poetry titled Carmina burana. The cycle of songs by anonymous authors of 13th and 14th century has been collected by Benedictine monks in Monastery of Benediktbeuren and occured priceless testimony of late mediaeval culture. In 1935 composer Carl Orff with the philological help from Michel Hofmann selected 24 texts from Schmeller’s edition and arranged them into libretto of cantata, next year the composition was ready and June 8, 1937 in Frankfurt Opera work has been premiered.
First stage performance of Carmina Burana was set in decorations designed by Ludwig Sievert. According to his design stage was stylized to imitate mediaeval church presbytery. Gothic choir stalls looked as it were authentic, but in the place of main altar Sievert placed gigantic wheel of Fortune. This scenography was trying to suggest listener main ideas of Orff’s cantata. Both in lyrics and in music mixing religious sublimity, emotional freedom and liberal sensory decided about unique style of this work. A subtle allusion to the wheel of fortune and some reminiscence of premiere setup one can find in design of maybe first really loud and acclaimed staging after the war. It was made by Helmut Jürgens for Munich Prinzregententheater in season 1959/1960. And this project was used as cover design of the record published in 1973 under the Ariola-Eurodisc label.

Kurt Eichhorn - Carl Orff's Carmina Burana (1973)

One of the best Carmina burana ever published on records is the rendition executed on July 1973 in Munich. It is quite an opposition to most frequent romantic-style, highly elevated in volume, expression and emotional meaning performances. Does not mean that something is missing here. Selectivity of the sound, ideal articulation and rhythmic perfection gives this rendition the full spectrum of emotional and semantic contents of the work. Conductor of this performance, Kurt Eichhorn did an excellent job. He connected individual tendencies into bunch of heterogeneous expressions but building them into one dramatic musical narration.
Traditionally there is trio of beautiful solo voices of soprano Lucia Popp, tenor John van Kesteren and baritone Hermann Prey. But this record features also sextet of male voices tenors Karl Kreile, Anton Rosner, Heinrich Weber and basses Paul Hansen, Günter Häussler, Josef Weber. Nice and perfectly sound two choirs Der Chor des Bayerishen Rundfunks and Der Tölzer Knabenchor. Undoubtedly the orchestra has done stunning work. Musicians of Münchner Rundfunkorchester found their place both in various cameral lineups and in luscious orchestral tutti parts. Balancing between expression of individuality and power of massive cooperation helped artists reveal how colorful and complex this score can be. I don’t have any idea if composer himself was engaged in preparing the recording but simple fact he was close in geographic and social meaning had to affect the record image of this work.