Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Etta James – Deep in the Night

Among many blues and soul singers the real prominent personality disposing the voice of unusual power was Etta James. She was influencing rhythm and blues, gospel and jazz singers for almost half of the century. Her rich sound and bright personality were always clearly pronounced, defining the boundaries of vocal expression. First period, singing as a child prodigy in St. Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles and beginnings with doo-wop in San Francisco was her starting point. Being fourteen she was auditioned by Johnny Otis and started to sing with his patronage. He helped her sign first record contract with Modern Records until 1960, when she sign with Leonard Chess contract for Chess Records.
Two Chess decades were the times of her greatest successes – she lasted with the company until 1978 recording 13 albums for Argo label, later for Cadet - both were subsidiaries of Chess Records. In the beginnings she was recording in duets with Harvey Fuqua and his group The Moonglows. Single hits in duet with Harvey Fuqua Spoonful and If I Can’t Have You became immediate hits. Leonard Chess discovered a singer’s talent and was able to manage her career in such a way that she could take advantage of crossover possibilities. In 1961 she recorded debut album At Last! And this was real beginning of her brilliant career. Her discography comprise 31 albums but real title for her phenomenal fame were singles reaching total number of 58. Many of them long standing hits like cover of Baby, What You Want Me To Do by Jimmy Reed she recorded in 1964. This is perfect example of classic singing lady blues.

Etta James – Deep in the Night (1978)

Released by Warner Bros in 1978 Deep In The Night was last album Etta James recorded for Chess Records. This album perfectly sung by Etta James and set by the band and backing vocals is made out of classical blues and soul hits. Some rock ballads have been arranged to be more blues. The program of the album includes Laying Beside You by The Tamlins, Piece of My Heart from Janis Joplin repertoire, Alice Cooper’s song Only Women Bleed, The Eagles 1975 hit Take it to the Limit and Deep in the Night known from Sarah Vaughan rendition in 1971 Inner City musical, strong, almost rock version of known from numerous renditions Lovesick Blues, beautiful version of gospel song Strange Man by Dorothy Love Coates, Sugar on the Floor by Kiki Dee, Sweet Touch of Love by Allen Toussaint and her own classic from 1968 Blind Girl.
The ten songs are mostly arranged in blues style with firmly accented rock, soul and gospel backgrounds. It’s interesting how much her blues roots occurred universal language on every style from soul to funk and from blues to rock and jazz. Title song, closing A Side Deep In The Night in Etta James interpretation with its perfect sound, lyrics, piano and strings arrangement and natural expression has huge thrilling potential. Thank to this recordings her voice still sounds young and beautiful. It is worth to remembering this way, especially since the memory is the only justice we can afford. Etta James died January 20, 2012 in Riverside, just five days before her 74th birthday losing the battle with disease she was fought last years.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jan Krenz – Berlioz – Symphonie fantastique

Hector Berlioz was not the first romantic, but he was the creator, who broke the schematic solutions of classical forms and redefined the nature of a symphony orchestra. Apart from composing, Hector Berlioz was the author of numerous essays, in which he focused on the various musical issues. He is also well known as the author of important idea of orchestration and Grand traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration moderns which was in fact both the manual for instrumentation and probably most comprehensive textbook on possibilities of musical instruments. And this was fundamental work for composers of late Romanticism and twentieth-century modernity. Among many composers who studied Berlioz’s treaty were Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. From academic point of view, as much significant as this treatise was Symphonie fantastique – the perfect example of romantic program symphony.
This symphony was one of the cornerstones of Romantic music. Being the model realization of program symphony, it is also an example of excellent symphonic structure, which did not follow the plan drawn up by the Viennese classics. Instead of it was based more on the narrative potential of the expanded symphony orchestra. Especially impressive is the cast of brass section (4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, ophiocleide and serpent – these two in modern scores had been substituted by 2 tubas) and enlarged group of percussion instruments. The symphony was premiered in December 1830 in Paris Conservatoire but after many performances in the years 1831-1845 Berlioz made many revisions trying to build perfect work. In 1931 Hector Berlioz composed sequel of this work Lélio, ou le retour à la vie Op. 14b for speaking actor and orchestra.

Jan Krenz – Berlioz – Symphonie fantastique (1983)

There are plenty of great performances and editions giving Symphonie fantastique preferential position in romantic music catalogue. Their diversity testifies to the universality of presented drama and the adequacy of the means of expression. Interesting rendition of Symphonie fantastique was recorded by Jan Krenz with Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra and published by Polish label Polskie Nagrania – Muza in 1983. This performance is rather deep and bitter than nice or easy, sometimes it’s even raw with modern kind of romantic pathos. Jan Krenz, widely known in Poland and abroad conductor and contemporary composer, led his own, intensively emotional and personal interpretation of this great symphony. It is steering in direction of increasing dramatic contrasts between positive emotions and moments of rough visions and despair. 
Krenz recording has pure musical meaning. But the album is witnessing Polish history in its own way. Recorded in Warsaw May 24 to 27, 1980, three months before Solidarity revolution, has been published three years later after one year of freedom, the state of war and enforced stabilization thereafter. Deeply emotional recording gives image of hope and perplexity that tore the Poles in 1980, but 1983 edition’s cover shows only a bouquet of roses, like publisher have the intention to reduce unstable emotions and preserve them on the level of individual exaltation and ritual practices.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Georges Prêtre – Berlioz – Symphonie fantastique


   Hector Berlioz was prominent personality in Romantic music and probably most influential nineteenth-century French composer. Two hundred years after his birth, he is best known for great orchestral works in which he created new constructive principles of great musical work: program symphony Symphonie fantastique, concertante symphony Harold en Italie, Roméo et Juliette (symphonie dramatique), La damnation de Faust (légende dramatique). For this improvements he is known as a pillar of Romantic style in symphonic music. He was prolific composer also in a field of opera and religious music. Widely known operas are Benvenuto Cellini and Les Troyens. One of most popular works is Grande messe des morts, also known as Requiem, and  but he is also author of Messe solenelle, Te Deum and oratorio L’enfance du Christ. He is also remembered for many choral works and solo songs.
   Unlike many composers sticking to the traditional style of French music, Hector Berlioz was the artist who linked the composing achievements of the French school to the different accomplishments of German and Russian composers. His importance transcended national school of French music, becoming in his life span the core of the development of nineteenth-century music. This was sufficient reason for many artists to focus on Berlioz’s works, especially on his supreme work, Symphonie fantastique. Full title of this work is Symphonie fantastique: Épisode de la vie d'un Artiste...en cinq parties op. 14 and exactly as it is said in title this Fantastic Symphony is a narration in five movements revealing episode from the life of artist. Much evidence indicates that the hero of this symphony was the composer himself. His beloved was Harriet Smithson, actress and wife of Hector Berlioz.

Prêtre – Berlioz – Symphonie fantastique (1969)

   Structure of Symphonie fantastique is fulfillment of romantic ideologies. The same as in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony five movements of the symphony are five episodes from artist’s life. He is daydreaming about romantic love (1. Rêveries – Passions), trying to lose obsessively recurrent thoughts of dreamy love in play at the ball (2. Un bal), and dream of living in the countryside (3. Scène aux champs). These visions occur to be only introduction to hallucinations after suicidal attempt of poisoning with opium. The hero seems to have killed his beloved, was tried and now is led to the scaffold (4. Marche au supplice). This movement ends with artist’s death and the vision of his head bounced down the steps. Final part of the symphony is a vision of witches’ sabbath with beloved one (5. Songe d'une nuit de sabbat). In last vision cited motive of mediaeval sequence Dies irae has been joint with the diabolic dance of the witches.
   Recording made in 1969 by Georges Prêtre conducting Boston Symphony Orchestra is perfect example of interpretation driving towards equilibrium of contradictory emotions and joining narrative turning points with distance of symphonic medium. In fact this is the idea of romanticism prevailing in twentieth century. Such assumption can lead to interpreting symphony with classical distance or with illustrative manner. In first case effect is tending to Brahms’ symphonic, in second to Liszt’s tone poems. Prêtre aims structural idea and illustrative meanings, and on both levels he constructs dramatic idea of the symphony. Boston Symphony sounds in this recording unbelievably clear and so is the overall idea of the composition. It was fourth recording of Symphonie fantastique in the history of the orchestra – earlier recordings were done with Serge Koussevitzky in 1943 as pirate recording, and twice official with Charles Munch in 1954 and 1962. Four years later the same composition Boston Symphony Orchestra recorded with Seiji Ozawa, but this is quite a different story.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Frank Zappa • Sleep Dirt


   Four months after premiere of Studio Tan, January 19, 1979 next Zappa’s album Sleep Dirt has been released by Discreet Records (DSK 2292). For customers this looked like continuation of previous publications and maybe new series but this time Discreet Records label was totally controlled by big record company and three albums delivered to Warner Bros were treated as a legally secured debt. Zappa has treated these recordings rather as lost and not fully edited. But from today’s point of view this three albums should be treated more as the series of recordings establishing new position for composer’s creative output. In late seventies Zappa was already a well-known artist, so it was no surprise that the company has struggled with the artist to gain control over the largest possible amount of his music. In fact this became first commercial success of Zappa’s instrumental music and at Billboard’s North America Pop Albums Chart Sleep Dirt reached 175 position.
   Sound and constructive ideas of Sleep Dirt were something new, maybe not revolutionary but quite different than music dominating on earlier records. After all these albums merging satiric song, rock and fusion jazz, Zappa played some more abstract music of pure aesthetic meaning. This album has relatively fresh shape even in comparison to Studio Tan, which in fact was evolution of 200 Motels and Billy the Mountain ideas. After narrative Greggeary Peccary and two orchestral compositions from Studio Tan, second album was example of more jamming than symphonic attitude. What was the intention it's clear considering this album was titled by Zappa as Hot Rats III. Violating contract, company changed the album title. In effect program of Sleep Dirt was the cycle of instrumental works for various groups, from guitar duo with James Youman to compositions played by Mothers group with some extended sound structures developed through the multi-track recording, but not connected by title to earlier Hot Rats music. Republishing this album Zappa didn’t changed the title.

Frank Zappa – Sleep Dirt (1979)

   The meaning of the title was not clear for many listeners. Especially with the creature getting up from bed shown on Gary Panter’s cover painting. Taken from 1971 Japanese movie Godzilla vs. Hedorah, in seventies Hedorah a.k.a. “Smog monster” was symbol of pollution. It was clear reference to Zappa’s works from his first movie attempts to Cheepnis, song known from many concert events and 1974 double album Roxy and Elsewhere. In Zappa’s individual style combining pop culture artifacts and surreal imagination was one of distinctive features. Most convincing explanation of this title is an assumption that Zappa refers to popular description of excretions and contaminants gathering in the corner of an eye during sleep, also called „sleeping dirt”. This is reasonable clarification since the title track has something of a dream at the edge of sleep and wakefulness. This inspired miniature is sound simple but is organized in impressionist way, thus may evoke early 20th century music with its power of unreal expression. At the end, when sounds of accompanying guitarist James Youman has weakened Zappa asked “You getting tired?” and Youman answered “No, my fingers got stuck”.
   Material for Sleep Dirt was recorded by group of musicians in various configurations. All of them are well known from Zappa’s previous records. As always the core of the group was Frank Zappa playing guitars, keyboards, percussion instruments and programming synthesizers. His companion were playing keyboards George Duke, Ruth Underwood with variety of percussion instruments, bassists James Youman and Patrick O’Hearn and drummer Chester Thompson. This album was something distinct from the recordings for which listeners were previously accustomed.

   From opening composition Filthy Habits showing soloing Zappa with accompanying bass player Dave Parlato and drummer Terry Bozzio. In this trio Zappa was featured artist playing guitars as well as some keyboards. Strong guitar phrases over steady ostinato has its role in preparing the ground for Zappa’s improvised music which blossomed few years later on Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar triple album. In next two pieces Zappa switches to easy jazz, even piano bar style, but these are only externals. In fact Zappa was constructing this compositions from elements of jazz style, exactly the same as he was doing in his debut album.
   Patrick O’Hearn played perfectly musical bass parts in Flambay and Spider of Destiny and this was beginning of his fruitful collaboration with Zappa. In fact he was not new on music scene, after private studies with Garry Peacock he was playing in San Francisco jazz groups with best artists - Charles Lloyd, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Joe Pass, Woody Shaw, Eddie Henderson, and Bobby Hutcherson. His bass has great jazzy sound, perfect articulation and was recognizable for his own style. He has his own contribution to the success of Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar. It’s easy to find the foretaste of this work in the closing composition of Sleep Dirt album The Ocean Is the Ultimate Solution were Zappa shows with Patrick O’Hearn playing bass and Terry Bozzio playing drums. In Zappa’s intention this was probably an answer for Filthy Habits, but this time it’s much more than jamming. Whole piece sounds perfectly different – unless first trio was rock, this is jazz.
   This recording was republished in 1991 with drums overdubs by Chad Wackerman and some instrumentation changes. Songs Flambay, Spider of Destiny and Time is Money were originally composed for abandoned 1972 musical Hunchentoot. Digital versions of this songs had been enriched by vocals by Thana Harris. Although well written and perfectly performed, for many listeners this version was just surprise. Once more Zappa’s works occurred beyond the boundaries of fashion and style.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Frank Zappa • Studio Tan


   After splitting with manager and long-time associate Herb Cohen, Zappa signed a contract with Warner Bros. Soon it became clear that this company also treats Zappa with the superiority of ownership, as yet another star on their already considerable constellation. After Warner Bros pressed for changes in Zoot Allures which was primarily intended as double LP album and then rejected Läther project. In short time list of corporation abusive decisions was long sufficiently to make artist quit. But the company used legal tricks to demand four additional albums. This may be the cause Zappa lost his heart to the greatest projects of mid-seventies. As a result of censorship imposed by the label, full versions of Zappa’s records saw daylight after years, Zappa in New York on double CD in 1991 and Läther on triple CD after artist’s death in September 1996. Zappa delivered recordings demanded by the company. Tapes with recordings did not contain complete information, what made the three albums released by Warner Bros appeared with no cooperation from artist side.
   Three albums Warner Bros decided to release under Discreet label is a series made against artist will, regardless or maybe even malice. First album was Studio Tan, released September 15, 1978. Cover including only information on tittles was decorated with painting by Gary Panter – this cover, just like next two projects for the records Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites was next cause of resentment. And although Zappa didn’t accepted this works, he decided to publish them as covers to CD edition. Zappa was deceived and wounded pride did not allow him to work, even if the price was losing control on some of his best compositions, but that’s another story.

Frank Zappa – Studio Tan (1978)

   The reasonable attitude is to formulate a different question, why the record company did not try to communicate with the artist to achieve adequate quality of his recordings publication. Position of company clerks can be explained only by hostility of decision makers. Greggery Peccary filling Side A of the record has been brutally faded out. Thanks to full version published in 1991 as The Adventures of Greggery Peccary by Barking Pumpkin Records it’s easy to find, fading this work just few bars before the end was completely unjustified. The removal of the final part from this piece ruined its formal stability. But what do you expect from people who have rejected one of the major projects of the seventies progressive rock.
   Material appeared in Studio Tan was intended as a part of Läther album where it has been included 18 years later. This four compositions were recorded in various moments by musicians who worked with Zappa in previous years, but core team was Mothers of Invention lineup featuring Frank Zappa singing and playing with George Duke, Tom Fowler, Chester Thompson and Ruth Underwood. Whole staff had over 30 musicians and some of them played in Zappa’s bands during tours in past years and many were just studio musicians. Absolutely unique artist, first one in the group of four trombonists, Bruce Fowler is known from more lineups and numerous recordings with Frank Zappa (since Over-Nite Sensation in 1973) and Captain Beefheart (since Shiny Beast in 1978) and many others jazz and progressive bands in over forty years of artistic activity. Some artists were famous for different kind of musical activity, like Don Brewer, the drummer of Grand Funk Railroad, who in Let me take you to the beach played bongos and like Emil Richards who was famous from fifties percussionist and member of both lineups of Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra.
   Text of this dramatic work continues satirical style of older compositions. Frank Zappa since his protest songs in the sixties has the clear tendency to comment the political and social realities. This attitude blossomed with both satirical and serious artistic expressions. In sixties and eighties he was more specific in his criticism, while in seventies his works were dominated by surreal sense of humor. This character corresponds with instrumental works from Side B - Revised Music For Guitar & Low Budget Orchestra and REDUNZL – somehow ironically undermining too serious style of progressive music in late seventies. This was also characteristic feature of instrumental tracks provided on the next two albums ending story of Discreet Records.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wodiczko Conducts Stravinsky

In 1930 Igor Stravinsky composed Symphony of Psalms. It was first in the series of his three symphonies. Decade of twentieth in Stravinsky’s work is often described as neoclassical phase of his creative development. And this was main direction in the time he intended to write symphony. He felt he was able to renew as the idea of musical construction and as medium for deep emotional and philosophical meanings. So when he received a commission for composition devoted to 50 years anniversary of Boston Symphony Orchestra he chose form of symphony. This time, after decade of experiences with neoclassical style, symphony was for Stravinky the leading idea of classical balance and intellectual plenitude. 
Trying to accomplish his idea, Stravinsky referred to the primary area of European culture, which implement the most important axiological problems. So he turned to religious tradition and used in his symphony some short fragments taken from Psalms in Latin – 38th Exaudi orationem meam, Domine, 31st Expectus expectavi Dominum, 150th Alleluia, laudate Dominum. Composed of universal religious phrases but exceeding any denotation Symphony of Psalms is unique piece of work. Stravinsky was intended to wrote for male singers but it was resulted by assumption of the work. Composing Symphony he expanded vocal group to the mixed choir with the proposition to use boys instead of female singers. Symphony of Psalms is unbelievably condensed, polyphonic work for choir and orchestra. Three movements of the symphony are linked to a form of organic unity, where polyphonic elaboration is discreet and integrated into a significant musical and verbal structure. The effect is profoundly moving, inventive and solemn.

Igor Stravinsky - Symphony of Psalms, Firebird Suite - Wodiczko (1973)

Although the Symphony of Psalms is one of the greatest works in twentieth-century music, this work has never been appreciated according to its artistic value. Otherwise than ballet music which was always Stravinsky’s specialty. Compositions for scene, connected to visual and dramatic case were more readable, thus even some difficult musical fragments were much closer to the public acceptance. His ballet music was always sounded quite well as concert pieces, even though many complicated passages and fragments were difficult to common concert audiences in first half of 20th century. Giving his first great ballet more chance for concert performances, composer set three suites in 1911, 1919 and 1945. The first great success, Firebird ballet music owes its success to the 1911 Firebird suite which was perfect orchestral music as well. This value was clearly part of composers idea fulfilling in his subsequent ballets, increasingly more compact and condensed.
These two great works, Symphony of Psalms and Firebird suite were first phonographic presentation of Igor Stravinsky’s music in Poland. Album was recorded in 1971 for main Polish label of this time Muza – Polskie Nagrania. Both performances were conducted by Bohdan Wodiczko and both were played by Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra – today Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice. Since 1935, when this orchestra was founded by Grzegorz Fitelberg and after war outbreak this institution was one of leading orchestras in Polish music. Recording Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms Wodiczko was artistic director and first conductor of the orchestra. Performing set was been augmented in Symphony of Psalms with vocal part sung by The Cracow Radio Choir (led by Adam Pałka). Album has been published two years later and in October 1973 awarded with prize of Polish musical industry „Złota Muza” 1973. This award was well deserved. The inclusion of two works of Stravinsky is as fresh as deeply thought-out and related to the essence of the great composer's music.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Stravinsky Conducts Symphony of Psalms & Symphony in C

One of most influential composers in 20th century was admittedly Igor Stravinsky, widely known for his revolutionary ballet works for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, but for musicians known more as one of rarest visionaries of modern art and first after Johann Sebastian Bach who tried to make synthesis of music as a whole. His foundation was Russian music, Igor Stravinsky (Игорь Фёдорович Стравинский) was born in Oranienbaum in Russia in 1882. His famous ballets commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev were his first step to international recognition – The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and Le sacre du printempts (1913) – and highlights of the first, Russian phase in his stylistic experiments. The Rite of Springs became famous for riots during premiere, as the answer to explicit dance style, primitive scenario and rhythmical expression exceeding far beyond conventional ballet music. 
In twenties composer turned to historical styles and using old or unorthodox methods of composition he entered his music to the neoclassical phase. Spanning for more than 30 years, this direction in Stravinsky’s creative output was as much differentiated as fruitful. This phase in Stravinsky’s creative output was multidirectional, considering works in classical and baroque style, jazz and archaic modes of expression and works of various purposes. Center position of Stravinsky’s neoclassicism occupy traditional forms, operas, ballets, Symphonies, Cantatas and Concertos. Two symphonies of special meaning – Symphony of Psalms composed in 1930 and Symphony in C premiered in 1940 – were recorded as conducted by Igor Stravinsky and published together on opposite sides of one record. 

Stravinsky Conducts Symphony of Psalms (1964)

Stravinsky was the type of artist continuously trying to improve his compositions. He didn’t consider his works as close, so when he conducted or recorded his works he was often making some editorial changes. And he recorded almost every work he composed. Many of his compositions have two or more phonographic renditions. Between 1928 and 1967 he recorded for Columbia Records (later CBS Records) which was his main label, although in forties there were also numerous performances recorded in Los Angeles for RCA Victor. Symphony of Psalms he recorded three times, shortly after premiere in 1931 with Alexei Vlassoff Choir in Paris, 1946 with Columbia Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra & Chorus and March 30, 1963 with Festival Singers of Toronto (led by Elmer Iseler) and CBC Orchestra in Toronto. Symphony in C he recorded twice, first time with Cleveland Orchestra in 1952, and second time with CBC Orchestra, December 2-3, 1964 in Toronto.
CBS Records album features Stravinsky as composer and conductor and includes perfect renditions of latest recordings of the two previously mentioned symphonies. Igor Stravinsky was also author of back cover notes. This recordings are some kind of standard performing of Stravinsky’s music. In Symphony of Psalms he is building perfect balance between choir and orchestra. Melting together human voice, wind and brass instruments gives this music unique aura of great passion and wide opened space. And this makes Symphony of Psalms so unprecedented composition in the history of music. Symphony in C in composers rendition comes with a lots of rhythmical emphasis. Some construction ideas connected to papa Haydn school solutions are not really too much obvious. Well established tempos, precise articulation and lots of expression gives this music clear modern characteristics.