Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Simpsons – Sing the Blues

   It is hard to find somebody who doesn’t know The Simpsons. This satirical comedy is broadcasting since 1989 setting at that time many records. It has also its place in history of popular music. The creator of Simpsons’ galaxy Matt Groening is declared fan of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart (not only in private), and there are clear references connecting this series with Zappa’s works. Matt Groening made his work enough capacious for all musical connections from phenomenal Danny Elfman’s music in opening sequence of family presentation to albums with songs associated to the series. It is quite normal the history of longest running cartoon series is full of different publications, books, t-shirts, posters and of course records. Discography signed by The Simpsons lists seven albums – two studio albums, four soundtracks and one compilation.
   The Simpsons were also presented on five singles. First single was Do the Bartman (1990) peaking number one on many hit lists. This song written by Michael Jackson and Bryan Loren and due to legal issues Michael Jackson was not credited. Information on Jackson’s contribution was revealing by Matt Groening in 1998. This single was in stock outside US only. Michael Jackson was great fan of The Simpsons. He took part in one episode and wrote song Happy Birthday Lisa (this song was published on 1997 cd Songs in the Key of Springfield). Next single Deep, Deep Trouble (1991) had moderate success but still was selling well. Both were accompanied by music videos. These two and next God Bless the Child presented songs from album released in 1990 The Simpsons – Sing the Blues. This was the debut album by The Simpsons and only this one was released on vinyl.

The Simpsons – Sing the Blues (1990)

   The idea of this album was created by David Geffen, founder of Geffen Records. Songs written for Simpsons characters and sung by voice actors to traditional blues and pop tunes had been recorded in September 1990 and released simultaneously on album, single and music video in December the same year. Most characteristic and popular voice of Bart gave this character and voice of Nancy Cartwright featured position. He was the one who sung both of hit songs. It is hard to omit the presence of Homer (Dan Castellaneta) and Lisa (Yeardley Smith). Homer shows with guest starring B. B. King in Born under a Bad Sign. Many evergreens have are revealing in new cover like Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll as  (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell) and God Bless the Child in Lisa’s version – which was also promoted as a single but didn’t achieve any bigger success.
   The first album of The Simpsons occurred a real hit. Double platinum in US and gold in UK and high positions in charts all over the world show the impact of television powered popular culture. Success was so spectacular, other companies become to publish similar records with songs of this kind, but this was not only idea which made The Simpsons first cartoon performers in history of music. The way it was made, the moment the recording was released and unique mixture of naivety and sarcasm, humor and doubt, all this convince there is no coincidence. It is clear extension of great characters. In main part these songs lyrics are talking about things seen in the series.
   This record is a perfect example of light and shade in cooperation between artists and music business. No wonder The Simpsons sing the blues. And they do it with a great style though most of instrumental accompaniments are painfully schematic. Opening B-Side Lisa asks for live musicians in place of samples. And she receives some samples again, only this time better imitating sound of traditional band. Mechanically repeated sound patterns and plastic keyboards on some tracks can be tiring. Of course there are beautiful exceptions, like all the instrumental sounds in Born under a Bad Sign, where we have B. B. King guitar and The Tower Of Power horn section. The same section and harmonica solo by John Sebastian moves accompaniment in Moanin’ Lisa Blues. Other examples are Dr. John’s piano solo in Randy Newman’s I Love to See You Smile, guitar solos by Joe Walsh or saxophone solos by Tom Scott (tenor), Doug Norwine (baritone) and Kim Richmond (alto). Generally the things saving this album are well written songs, original voices of actors and nice collection of guest musicians’ performances. Not a must have but still sometimes nice to remind.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Vivaldi & Purcell – Kramer vs. Kramer Soundtrack

   Since very beginning of the cinema, music has very special place in the movies – first as life performances in silent film era, than as fixed track leading emotions and helping to understand narration. There were many different strategies and plenty of methods to build sound layer of cinematic work. And exactly as on other fields, fashion is changing but best ideas return periodically. One of oldest and most common ideas is to use a selection of most popular music. It is not difficult to make it with a success. Existed and known music has its common context and is easier to understand. This is main aim of giving such illustration in movies. Sometimes music builds more complicated relations with movie narration. In this case soundtrack works as a contrapunctus in obvious opposition to the main story.
   The story of Kramer family is the story about dissolution of marriage. This would be story like many others, but whole case is complicated by Billy, son of the couple. They fight on custody giving clear evidence love can be fast way to disaster. Director of the movie, Robert Benton recalled during shooting in New York the crew was listening baroque music played this moment at the park. This atmosphere was something that perfect fitted to the mood of the movie. Baroque music by Purcell and Vivaldi lent this drama lot of “cool air”, making it more clear and obvious.

Kramer vs. Kramer Soundtrack (1980)

   Baroque Suite from Kramer vs. Kramer is opening by Allegro from Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in C Major for Mandolin, Strings and Harpsichord abridged and transcribed for Mandolin and Guitar and played by Scot Kunney and Frederic Hand, who was also the author of arrangement. Featured artist of this selection is Raymond Leppard leading The English Chamber Orchestra. This is main interpreter of this performances and basic band sounded in this selection. Many fragments were taken from works by Henry Purcell, sonatas and Suite The Gordian Knot United. Featured soloist is John Wilbraham in Purcel’s Sonata D Major for Trumpet, Strings and Continuo. Smooth and warm sound of his trumpet is perfect for baroque music.
   Second orchestra is The New York Sinfonietta conducted by Max Goberman. This band is presented in two complete works by Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in C Major for Mandolin and Harpsichord and Concerto in G Major for Two Mandolins, Strings and Organ. It is worth to remember the performances of three soloists – Sol Goichberg and Mary Zelnicki on mandolins with Eugenia Earle on harpsichord and organ. Orchestra plays with discipline and great sense of Vivaldi, with transparent but still massive sound. All music comprised by the movie soundtrack and album released by CBS Masterworks label can be seen as an illustration of human yearning for happiness, balance and sense of security – all this made by expressive, touching music in best performances. Isn't this what we really need?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bohuslav Martinů – String Quartet No. 7 and opera fragments

   The first and still most comprehensive presentation of Bohuslav Martinů’s oeuvre was series of records published by Panton label. Fifth and last record program has character of additions - it comprises String Quartet No. 7 and fragments of last two operas Greek Passion and Ariadna. As a kind of bonus producers placed recording of Martinů’s voice made in May 1946. This recording features composer talking about his escape from Europe and first steps in US artistic life is nice. The series of records with selected Martinů’s music was starting level for next recordings in eighties. Of course the leadership has been lead by Czech artists. 
   Bohuslav Martinů was one of most consequent composers of neo-classical style in 20th century. Basing on ideas of Igor Stravinsky he started to develop his own style in thirties and shortly he became one of key neo-classical composers. Unlike Stravinsky who was permanently experimenting with various styles, Martinů didn’t turn out of his style so his later compositions were almost always in deep relations with neoclassicism. And he achieved interesting results also in his late works. In his chamber music this direction was clear and presented to his last works. In 1947 Bohuslav Martinů composed last of his seven string quartets and dedicated this work for his wife. Subtitle of String Quartet No. 7 given by composer is Concerto da camera. In three-part construction he concluded brilliant formation and compact exposure of neo-classical ideas with modern harmonic substance. 

Bohuslav Martinů – String Quartet No. 7 (1979)

   String Quartet No. 7 interpreted by Talich Quartet (Petr Messiereur, Jan Kvapil, Jan Talich and Evžen Rattay) is perfect example of highly inspired, perfectly outfitted work of mid 20th century modern music. Fragments from last two Martinů’s operas are hardly different although still related to neoclassical ideas. Composed in late fifties Greek Passion (1956-1959) and Ariadne (1958) are presented in short fragments – duo of Katharina and Manolios from Greek Passion and Ariadne’s Lament are presented by Alena Miková, Ivo Židek and Nad’a Šormová with Prague National Theatre Orchestra conducted by Václav Neumann. The cover art of whole series were paintings of Czech artists who were friends and coworkers of composer. This album exposes The Return of Theseus by Josef Šima, painting connected by subject with suitable Ariadna fragment.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Parker, Gillespie, Powell, Roach, Mingus – Jazz at Massey Hall

   Probably the best parts of Charlie Parker’s discography are recordings of his live performances. Between many of his phenomenal recordings some are really best pretenders to be considered “the greatest jazz concert ever”. One of them was really sold under this slogan. It was album published in 1953 called Jazz at Massey Hall. It is 4th album in catalogue of America Records (6053). It is recording of public concert which took place in Massey Hall Toronto on May 15, 1953. The lineup of this concert was a real all stars quintet consisted of best jazz musicians not only this time – Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach. This recording became immediate success. It was republished in many editions as a vol. 4 of Parker’s series under the Saga Eros label (ERO 8031), as Charlie Parker All Stars Jam under Jazz World label (JW 77007) and in many other editions.
   This was the highest moment for compliance of bebop. After the radio ban was ended in 1945, bebop became fast growing wave of new culture. It was much more than new style only. The post-war shock leading to a different perspective not only on society, economy, and politics but also in the music has made new attitude possible. What was hipster before the war, become intellectual and socially radical in early fifties. This was new space for avant-garde searching’s for new means of expression. What is important, this time there was no place for empty aesthetical gesture and artists were trying to create their own vision of human condition. Some of most radical musicians have seen their destiny in modern jazz, which was freeing this time from dance music. Charlie Parker and musicians playing in his All Stars were avant-garde of this trend.

Charlie Parker – Jazz at Massey Hall (1953)

   The interesting feature of this recording is Parker’s instrument. In Toronto he played on Grafton saxophone – plastic instrument patented in 1945 and produced through the fifties in London. In May 1953 Parker in radio broadcast explained he was looking for different sound. In fact he was bound by the contract not to play any other instrument during concerts in US, so performance in Toronto was challenging opportunity. And generally the instrument sounds very good, sometimes maybe it’s too dark, but this can be an intentional effect. Parker was not quite happy with it and sold this instrument in pawnshop. In 1994 it was bought in Christie’s auction for £ 93500 and now is in possession of American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, the hometown of Charlie Parker.
   Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie are soloists in long term artistic partnership. They complement each other in how they sounding, how they create solos and build emotional impact. This time there were no division on melodic instruments and rhythmic section, whole group was creating musical narratives. Since Perdido, where loosely constructed, full of invention solos played Parker, Gillespie and Bud Powell, Parker and Gillespie play with dialoguing half improvised sections. And this is exploding in quite modern way in Salt Peanuts. After Parker-Gillespie duo play, Powell plays solo and then Max Roach has his legendary drums solo. All the Things You Are is beautiful opposition to energetic program of this concert with beautiful solos and even improvising correspondence with soloing Mingus. Phrases in Parker’s solo can be seen as his revelation.
   Bud Powell and Max Roach played beautiful solos in Wee – both are hot and modern. The same one can say about first solo in Hot House played by Charlie Parker with strong emotional background. After this solo Dizzy Gillespie played more intellectually and with some distance – then Powell gave his show with virtuoso discipline, subsequenced with next perfect solo by Mingus. His double-bass solo in Hot House was quite rare this time. Last solos on this album are just revelation of something would happen in later years. Every one Parker, Gillespie and Powell played their solos like they were just opening for next decade, for hard-bop and free, for Coltrane and Coleman. Auditorium reactions for Powell’s solo show how this message was clear in 1954.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Charlie Parker – Live Performances


   Jazz is undoubtedly the musical symbol of 20th century. It is considered as an expression of collective self as much as movies and culture of mass production. Among many phenomenal jazz performers only few became legends of 20th century. Otherwise than in cinema, where visual image constitutes a product, in music value comes out of musical creativity but popularity is build in most cases on different kinds of narration. Most effective since romanticism were stories on premature death. Sometimes this kind of legend gives only short life but when it concerns composer like Mozart, Schubert, it is only pretext for real recognition of great personality. This is also the case of iconic modern jazz artist Charlie Parker. Known also under his nickname Bird (shortened form of Yardbird), Parker died before reaching 35 years of age.
   Even 57 years after Charlie Parker’s death his musical heritage is still considered as a turning point in the history of jazz. He was the one who fully expressed young generation’s point of view and broke bonds with swinging and dancing music of prewar orchestras. His improvisations were more freely, passing altering chords in virtuoso passages and fast tempos. His improvised choruses have clear intellectual distance and flexible, sometimes even abstract emotional significance. The typical band had changed. Modern jazz combos’ lineups were reduced to saxophone and trumpet, piano or guitar, bass and drums, sometimes with second saxophone or trombone. This gave totally new sound and much wider space for improvisation. And while theme has became to be only a starting point, improvisation was more and more important, becoming the central topic of every performance.

Charlie Parker’s – Live Performances (1978)

   The history of creating bebop style is in fact hard to trace. There are almost no recordings of early concertos in clubs. Some tracks remained only as radio recordings of live performances. These recordings were compiled on two Charlie Parker’s albums published by ESP label in 1972 as Live Performances and in 1973 as Broadcast Performances. These recordings have been published in various sets and selections. In 1978 Live Performances vol. 1 has been republished in Poland by Polskie Nagrania. First volume of Parkers radio broadcasting recordings has special feature. Opening A-Side Tiger Rag was recorded September 20th, 1947 by legendary Barry Ulanov’s All Stars Modern Jazz Musicians where Parker played together with his long time trumpet partner Dizzy Gillespie, clarinetist John La Porta, pianist Lennie Tristano, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Max Roach. 
   The main part of the album is the seven recordings of Charlie Parker All Stars from Royal Roost club in New York. Two sessions were taken December 11th and 25th, 1948 – first lineup with Miles Davis (Groovin’ High, Big Foot, Ornithology and Slow Boat to China) and second with Kenny Dorham (Half Nelson, White Christmas, Little Willie Leaps). The rest of musicians in both quintets were Charlie Parker, pianist Al Haig, bassist Tommy Potter and drummer Max Roach. Program of second volume were live recordings of both lineups of Charlie Parker All Stars from Royal Roost from September 4th, 1948 and January 1st, 1949. Technical quality of this recordings sometimes can be little disappointing, especially when it is limiting the information about interpretations, phrasing, articulation. But this is still a chance for getting to know the real beginnings of modern jazz.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky conducts Suites by Bach-Mahler and Janáček-Talich

   Gustav Mahler remains one of the greatest creators of symphonic cycle. He has completed development of the symphony form, and led it to the final results. In his works he was referring to folk and historical music, but one source of influences was always on top. This was work of Johann Sebastian Bach. Mahler was keen of musical output of the author of Kunst der Fuge. He was considering of connections between his own style and Bach’s creative attitude. He has to say that „in Bach, the vital cells of music are united as the world is in God”. It is interesting how much Mahler is Bach alike. The same what was Bach’s Kunst der Fuge for baroque polyphony, Mahler’s works mean for 19th century form of symphony. 
   In 1909 in New York, working on his Ninth Symphony, Mahler compiled and rearranged Suite consisting of four parts taken from two Bach’s Orchestral Suites. Some critics say this work remains one more Mahler’s sketch of symphonic cycle, but it was more his contribution to the promotion of great baroque composer in symphonic repertoire. In first decades of 20th century there were not too many baroque works in repertoire of symphonic orchestras. And what was even worst, there were virtually no orchestras specialized in playing baroque music. This was cultural background for many arrangements of baroque music, and many of this was just automatic transcriptions.

Rozhdestvensky – Suites by Bach-Mahler and Janáček-Talich (1977)

   Mahler was aware of difficulties and esthetic problems he has to solve. He wrote: “Instead of genuine Bach we are often offered a mere skeleton. Performers simply throw away the chords which make the music so rich and full of substance, as if Bach had written the bass part without any sense and purpose. But it must be played, and what a tremendous roar is produced then by the surging waves of chords!” Development of period instruments performances caused that not only pure transcriptions but also the creative developments of composers like Mahler and Busoni became rarely performed. It is worth devoting more attention to the album recorded in 1977 by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky with Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1984 this album has been republished in US as audiocassette by Vox/Turnabout label.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fiddler on the Roof – The Original Broadway Cast Recording

   One of most successful musicals in the history of musical theatre was Fiddler on the Roof, joint work by composer Jerry Bock, lyricist Sheldon Harnick and writer Joseph Stein. First stage production by Harold Prince in Imperial Theatre has been directed by Jerome Robbins and won nine Tony Awards. This production as first musical in the history exceeded three thousands of performances and gave record rate of return – $1 574 for every invested dollar. Since its premiere on Broadway in 1964, depicted in New York Times as “filled with laughter and tenderness”, triumphal march of the work begun. In next two decades this musical became basic repertoire position on the scenes around the world. The crowning achievement was the success of movie adaptation produced and directed by Norman Jewison.  
   The story was originally was titled Tevye, as it was based on Sholem Aleichem’s story Tevye the Milkman (טבֿיה דער מילכיקער). The definitive title Fiddler on the Roof has been taken from Marc Chagall painting The Fiddler and symbolizes power of survival in hostile environment and permanent unbalance. One can say this is the very beginning of identity discourse in pop-culture and early example of redefining history of roots and family myths. There are also indications this is only 21st century point of view and in sixties the story has been understand rather as a history of father’s love, which led him to accept daughters will, even if their choices were unacceptable. The classic conflict between generations can be seen more universally, as a contrast between modern culture and limitations in religious and traditional way of living. It was the clearest perspective to interpret this text in sixties and seventies.

Original Broadway Cast – Fiddler on the Roof (1964)

   Since introduction of long playing gramophone records, important element of Broadway premiere became original cast recordings. Opening September 22, 1964, Fiddler on the Roof became the great success, and it was strictly connected with RCA Victor LP released at the same time in mono and stereo and produced by George R. Marek. This gramophone record can be great document of Fieddler on the Roof first stage performances. Main character Tevye was sung by Zero Mostel and maybe he sounds little bit naïve but this magnifies the touching empathy of heroic attempts to understand and his wise decisions. This attitude makes Tevye maybe closer to the hero of Sholem Aleichem’s story than any later production.
   Zero Mostel and Maria Karnilova who has played his wife Golde are perfect pair. Both won Tony awards for best acting. Roles of three daughters played Joanna Merlin, Julia Migenes and Tanya Everett and the second; Hodel was debut role of Julia Migenes, great opera singer known from Carmen movie and Paris world premiere of Angels in America by Péter Eötvös. Noteworthy singer is young revolutionary Perchick played by Bert Convy. After half year this performance still sounds perfectly and it is hard to believe almost 50 years passed by. Among many versions and performances the first is always worth to remember. This album is not only the nice piece of musical art but also a perfect document of the time its sound and feeling.