Sunday, June 30, 2013

Return to Forever – Where Have I Known You Before

   In the history of jazz-rock groups many bands were unstable. In many bands successive amendments were the result of driven by their leaders an artistic exploration of balance and means of expression. Changes of lineups and styles were somehow characteristic feature of many groups, even these most favored. One of the most reputable was Return to Forever, the group with few consecutive lineups and only two constant musicians Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke. Both are brilliant, phenomenal and creative. After first two albums recognized as acoustic period of the band history, later albums had been recorded by electrified band with drummer Lenny White. Fourth album of the band comes with next change, new guitarist was 20 years old virtuoso Al Di Meola.
   Recorded during summer 1974 in New York Record Plant Studios this was consecutive production by Chick Corea developing his fusion style with Return to Forever being after Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy one of best recognized bands of electric jazz. Although Where Have I Known You Before is completely instrumental album, the title was connected to the poem by Neville Potter who was Chick Corea’s friend and long time Return to Forever contributor as lyricist. The whole poem has been placed on back of the cover and the poet was listed as author of album cover concept.

Return to Forever – Where Have I Known You Before (1974)

   Creating Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy Chick Corea has opened new perspective of bands formation and the new chapter in history of the fusion music. Whole album consists of five band pieces and three short piano compositions in a kind of intermezzos with titles referring to Potter’s poem – Where Have I Loved You (Danced with You / Known You) Before. It’s interesting how close he get to progressive rock sound and structures. Opening composition Vulcan Worlds gives great sequence of solos. These could be considered as the best improvisations of the album. Full synergy sparkles in Al DiMeola solo – between improvising guitarist, and Stanley Clarke phenomenal bass walking. In The Shadow of Lo improvising dialogue takes place between DiMeola and Corea with bass playing ostinato based walking and powerful drums. 
   The idea of transcending previous visions is in the center of interest. The culmination of the program is Beyond the Seventh Galaxy, the composition closing first side of the album. Powerful unisons, rhythmic intensity and electrified sound are basis for brave passages cumulating energy of new style. This kind of structures with leading Minimoog and ARP Odyssey motifs became the hallmark of Chick Corea electric bands in 70’s and 80’s.

Return to Forever – Beyond the 7th Galaxy (1974)

   Opening second side of the record Earth Juice is risky experimenting with disco beat. From first bars it sounds like making joke of dancing music. Musicians were trying to build collective improvisational structure. Maybe it was somehow creative but after years it’s just boring. This double-beat pulse is not quite obsessive but too simple anyway. 
   Opposite mood shows Where Have I Know You Before, third Corea’s composition for acoustic piano referring to Potter’s poem. This is a reminiscence of impressionistic piano music. A kind of continuation of ideas exposed in this short work made Corea his electronic solo introduction to last piece of this album. The Song of the Pharoah Kings is fully developed idea of electric jazz-rock defining distinctive Return to Forever style. Stanley Clarke solo shows the new frontiers in jazz electric bass. Overall this album is strong statement and after 40 years it can still be a blockbuster. Four stars even if this is definitely not the best album of Return to Forever.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Patrick Moraz – I

   The pioneering and most creative period in progressive rock history was a span about six years around 1970. After great success of progressive rock groups in early seventies, market demanded more records and concerts while musicians were more and more exhausted. This was the time many musicians started independent projects in various settings. And probably the clearest was turn made by members of Yes. The great success of the band in first wave of progressive rock gave musicians series of long lasting tours with meticulously prepared shows. After Yes released Relayer album, group activity was suspended and musicians decided to release solo albums. During this time all five members of the band (Jon Anderson, Steve Hove, Patrick Moraz, Chris Squire and Alan White) had authorized projects signed with their own names.
   Patrick Moraz was the member of Yes group for less than two years period only. In fact it was time from beginning of Relayer sessions in August 1974 to early 1976. So when he started recording sessions for his own album, he was still the Yes keyboardist. Before his debut LP has been released he quit the band. The original title of the project was I – on the cover graphics, the ridge, labels and notes, even in The Story of I printed inside, small letter “i” designed in characteristic “pin” shape was clearly the title. During next years it became personal logo of Partick Moraz. The I album was also by many listeners considered as self titled. For more convenience in later CD editions album has been called as The Story of I – according to title of the original story published inside the gatefold cover of LP edition.

Patrick Moraz – I (1976)

   As composer and arranger Patrick Moraz gave this album the quality of original concept and consequent finishing. He played vast variety of keyboard instruments, marimbaphone, many additional percussion instruments and alpine horn. The sound of the album is filled with leading singers John McBurnie and Vivienne McAuliffe, many additional singers with Veronique Mueller and The Children of Morat, guitarists Ray Gomez and Auguste DeAnthony, bass player Jeff Berlin and Jean Ristori playing double bass and cello. The augmented group of percussion instruments recorded with more than dozen percussionists of Rio de Janeiro, Rene Moraz and Jean-Luc Bourgeois. On side A of the album featured drummer was Alphonse Mouzon, while on second half of the record drums were played by Andy Newmark.
   Great musicians, especially drummers playing with natural expression are a kind of counterweight for intellectual complexity of this work. From formal point of view, this is precisely made composition in cyclic form of suite type. Patrick Moraz made new and very personal vision of synthesis comprising all individual and universal ideas. It was quite a challenge for progressive rock musicians since late sixties. In seventies this was the area of exploration for different world music artists. Patrick Moraz balanced his own crossover style connecting elements of jazz and rock, world music and classical formal discipline, popular and experimental, semantic and structural. Motoric intensity in some parts generates more fusion jazz than rock associations and reminds of some earlier folk rock ideas, especially these of trance and rhythmic energy advantage. Four stars for idealism and consequence.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Gérard Souzay in Franz Schubert’s Winterreise

   The art song, in German called “Lieder” or in French culture named “mélodie” is probably most characteristic form of romantic music. It was composed yet by many composers of classical era, but even very interesting results achieved by Ludwig van Beethoven can’t change romantic assignment of song form. One of greatest song composers was Franz Schubert who created new formal shape for songs as romantic form. And songs are the most characteristic part of Schubert’s creative output. Although he was active in all forms of musical composition, Lieder became main medium for his creativity.
   The idea of romantic song, the practice of setting songs for stage performance aims the cycle of songs the upper formal structure. In Schubert’s creative output there are two cycles composed as a whole works, Die schöne Müllerin op. 25 (D. 795) and Die Winterreise op. 89 (D. 911), both basing on lyrical poems by Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827) and both referring to the hero’s dramatic condition after heartbreak. Third Schubert’s cycle Schwanengesang (Swan Song) was collection set by publisher after composer’s death. It was made probably just for profits, as previous cycles were selling out very well.

Gerard Souzay - Franz Schubert - Die Winterreise (1983)

   One of well established and executed performances of Schubert’s Die Winterreise is the rendition by Gérard Souzay and Dalton Baldwin. Gérard Souzay (1918-2004) was famous interpreter of French mélodie and chanson. He was valued lyrical baritone with perfect sense of style and clear narrative possibilities. A long list of his records comprises some about 750 titles. He was priced for songs of French composers Ravel, Fauré and Poulenc. Sometimes he was also criticized for his style as bourgeois. When asked to clear his performing ideas he said: “For me music is limpid and speaks for itself. I can only offer my emotions when I sing”. This attitude is giving his performances more universal and readable shape.
   From 1954 Gérard Souzay was performing and recording with collaborative pianist Dalton Baldwin. As wrote Roger Dettmer in, Gérard Souzay’s “presence onstage was elegantly handsome” and his artistry “quietened even chronic coughters”. In 1977 Gérard Souzay and Dalton Baldwin had recorded complete 24 songs from Winterreise for Pathe Marconi EMI, in 1983 has been reissued in the USA under the Musical Heritage Society label. Nice sounding voice helps him develop chamber emotions and narrative track of sad romantic storyline. This rendition is perfect example of creating the cycle as one piece out of consecutive poetic scenes as layers and accumulating emotions of every next song. Three and half of star for clever “bourgeois” style and high vocal culture.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hermann Prey – Auf Flügeln des Gesanges

   Hermann Prey was one of greatest German singers of 20th century. His lyric baritone was perfect for performing artistic song which was main part of Prey’s rich repertoire. He was also known for his opera appearances, especially for the roles requiring acting talents and virtuoso vocal technique like the unforgettable one of Figaro in TV movie of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia made by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle in 1972. Since he was known as gifted singer with beautiful voice, he was appearing as well in oratorio as in more popular repertoire. But he was remembered mainly for his Lider recitals. So the hallmark of his discography are perfect renditions of songs and song cycles.
   Collection of Herman Prey’s song recordings were published by Philips in early 70’s. The series Lied Edition Prey comprises 27 discs in four boxes from Minnesang to contemporary music, from Walter von Vogelweide and Oswald von Wolkenstein to songs composed by Giselher Klebe and Friedrich Gulda. In the series there were also published two albums with highlights Zum Lob des deutschen Liedes and Auf Flügeln des Gesanges with songs of German romanticism.

Hermann Prey – Auf Flügeln des Gesanges (1974)

   Under the title inspired with Heinrich Heine’s poem and Felix Mendelssohn’s song, Philips published album of romantic songs recorded by Hermann Prey for this label. Choice comprises four songs by Franz Schubert with Der Pilgrim to the poem by Friedrich von Schiller, three songs by Robert Schumann to poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Joseph von Eichendorf and Hans Christian Andersen – brave performance of Der Spielmann. Second side is opening with title song Auf Flügeln des Gesanges by Heinrich Heine and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, then come Im Rhein by Heinrich Heine and Franz Liszt, Lied des Mephistopheles from Goethe’s Faust composed by Richard Wagner, In der Ferne written by Peter Cornelius to his own words, and recital close two songs by Johannes Brahms and three songs by Hugo Wolf.
   Piano accompaniments were played by Karl Engel (Schubert), Leonard Hokanson (Schumann, Wolf) and Gerald Moore (Mendelssohn, Liszt, Wagner, Cornelius, Brahms, Wolf). Hremann Prey’s renditions are natural and unforced, subordinated to musical and artistic ideas of each song. He interprets music and words trying to catch them as the entity of the message. In fact romantic artistic song is called with German term Lied, and this is somehow honoring this phenomenon. Based on great poetry of 18th and 19th centuries and perfect music elaborations of romantic composers, these songs are complete artistic expression and in Hermann Prey interpretations they shine as jewel in the crown of romantic output. Four and half jewels in five jewel scale.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ralph Towner – Solstice – Sound and Shadows

   Ralph Towner is one of most characteristic and most versatile and creative musicians. Trained as classical pianist, composer and multi-instrumentalist, he is recognized mainly as guitarist in jazz, fusion, world music, crossover and third stream with more than 50 albums signed with his name or with the name of Oregon jazz group. From his very beginnings he was strongly connected with world music ideas and he made his first creative steps in 1960’s in famous Paul Winter Consort. With three friends of this ensemble, bassist Glen Moore, Paul McCandless playing whole variety of woodwind instruments and Collin Walcott playing table, sitar and percussion instruments, in 1971 Ralph Towner formed quartet Oregon joining jazz with world music.
   As jazz guitar player Ralph Towner created his own style, which is very modern but still readable, intuitive and recognizable. He is playing unplugged in classical way and nylon strings giving his music softness and chamber qualities. For this sound he is sometimes qualified as chamber jazz performer. All Ralph Towner’s albums were recorded for ECM what is significant choice. Of course there are serious stylistic reasons he recorded for Manfred Eicher’s label. And from the other hand some elements of Towner’s style became one of pillars of the ECM sound.

Ralph Towner – Solstice / Sound and Shadows (1977)

   Sixth Ralph Towner’s album, Solstice / Sound and Shadows was recorded in February 1977 at Talent Studio in Oslo. Personnel of this album were the same musicians who were featured on Solstice album recorded two years earlier in December 1974. Members of the quartet were Ralph Towner was playing 12-string and classical guitars, piano and French horn, Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones and flute, Eberhard Weber was playing bass and cello and Jon Christensen was playing drums. This quartet, sometimes called Solstice can be contemplated as a kind of alternative version for Oregon formula. With all differences and full spectrum of quartet possibilities and individual qualities of four artists it is different implementation of the idea. Perfect cooperation with drummer gave this album drive and intensity showing “between the lines” as equilibrium between change and persistence.
   The music recorded on second Solstice album is more abstractive, and more intellectual. And it’s worth to notice these recordings are only Towner’s albums with Jan Garbarek and Eberhard Weber. Wide open space of meaningful silence between sounds and shapes is almost visible in opening piece Distant Hills which was dedicated in the memory of great choreographer and dancer Charles Weidman. Died in 1975, he was pioneering modern dance in America. Garbarek playing tenor saxophone with clear, natural sound is still in his early, expressive phase. Soprano sax parts and flute in Song of the Shadows are clearer and almost classic in purity of the sound. It was also perfect moment for Eberhard Weber. Four extremely creative artists with the leader who built this album so much visionary power, there was no place for anything more on one of most minimalistic covers in ECM’s catalogue. On five-star scale this album is in vicinity of four and half constellations.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Lucio Battisti – Ancora tu

   Song is a connection of music and poetry – there’s no need to remind, this is cliché, even if some people still can’t understand this simple combination. But in Italy these two elements are entwined in one of a kind pattern. Every Festival of Sanremo shows a bunch of great songs based on perfectly balanced lyrics and music, where lyrics sound like music and melody speaks like words. One of greatest Italian songwriters was Lucio Battisti, brightest star of Italian music in 1970’s well recognized both internationally and in Italy. His long time coauthor was Mogol, master Italian lyricist who set new standards in pop music genre.
   Lucio Battisti as a musician and as a singer was one of most ambitious but still popular artists in Italian pop music of late 70’s and up to 90’s. In 1960, as seventeen-year-old young man, he started playing guitar with various bands and writing songs. He was working as a musician and composer mainly in Italy but also in Germany and UK, where he became familiar with new sound of blues, and folk rock. Songs of Bob Dylan, The Animals, Rolling Stones and Jimmy Hendrix became his inspiration so later he was able to spread some new ideas in Italian pop rock. He wrote many songs for different bands and singers, including non-Italian bands like The Hollies with Graham Nash whom Battisti wrote song Non prego per me.

Lucio Battisti – Ancora tu (1977)

   As a composer and singer, Lucio Battisti was interpreter with vibrant stage personality and huge creative potential. After in 1966 Ricordi released his first single Per una lira, Battisti met most famous lyricist in Italian popular music Mogol. They formed successful authors’ duo. In his discography one can find many good examples of breaking the barriers and opening for new frontiers and challenges. Born in 1943 artist was a type of shy person. He was always feeling better in studio than in front of the public, so he almost withdrawn when he reach the top of his musical career. He was giving public performances seldom, composing and recording much less than before his great success. He died in Milan hospital in 1998. He is remembered most of all as a talented composer of popular songs, pop rock and disco music.
   Probably the strongest influence on public opinion had television programs. Television and radio programs were promoting his songs and creating image of Italian star. His progressive rock recordings were never as popular as his disco music. The program of Ancora tu, which was subtitled as the greatest hits selection comprises 10 popular songs taken from 3 previous albums. From 1972 album Il mio canto libero (La luce dell'est, Il mio canto libero, Luci-ah), from 1973 album Il nostro caro angelo (La collina dei ciliegi, Il nostro caro angelo, Prendi fra le mani la testa) and four songs from 1976 album Lucio Battisti, la batteria, il contrabasso, eccetera (Ancora tu, Un uomo che ti ama, Dove arriva quel cespuglio, Il veliero). No songs from 1974 Anima latina progressive rock album and other ambitious projects. Ancora tu, as a nice set of disco and pop music songs can be easily overestimated, but it still deserves for three stars.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weill

   There is a kind of presumption, the great composer should be comprehensive in forms and in designation of his works. Maybe nobody express this explicitly, but composers focused on one type of musical output are often marginalized in history of music. In 20th century there were many composers who limited their activity to one or two kinds of works with few exceptions. Specialization became common attitude after the First World War, and many composers who in fact were creative in different kinds of musical activity were reduced to one characteristic kind of works. Next step was to manipulate public mind and create one hit stars. The one who was always associated only with stage music was Kurt Weill, composer who in fact was author of numerous instrumental works. His catalogue comprises stage and concert compositions, some symphonic (symphonies, suites, concerto), some chamber (string quartets), popular and artistic songs – some in Lieder cycles, some alone, many in stage music.
   Before fragments of stage music by Kurt Weill became popular as standalone songs he was known mostly of his stage music. Most popular were stage works composed to Bertold Brecht’s dramas in Weill’s original style. The two plays written together with Brecht Die Dreigroshenoper (The Threepenny Opera) and Aufstieg Und Fall Der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny) are probably the best moments of Kurt Weill’s fame. These songs of poverty and injustice in industrial society were parts of two most successive stage works. Weill had written the score to catch the sound of the vaudeville and tiny theatre orchestras. In their works Brecht and Weill were presenting deep trauma and absurdities of human existence in the world full of hostility and predatory instincts. All of this criticism was sublimed into modernist esthetics laying on gestures of decadency and social criticism. And Kurt Weill’s wife and life partner actress and singer Lotte Lenya made them sound deep and truthful.

Lotte Lenya singt Kurt Weil (1955)

   Lotte Lenya was artist who recorded first recital of Weill’s songs and her performance was basic reference for the style of interpreting and social understanding of this music. It is still open question how much the after war atmosphere of anticommunist hysteria made Weill’s music banned. Anyway in 1955, five years after composer died, society was tired of one way tendency. This was great moment for Lotte Lanya’s album, which was published in Europe but in short time recognized in US. Some of these songs, like Surabaya-Johnny or Alabama-Song became jazz standards and then popular music hits.
   The first long playing album with recital of Kurt Weil’s songs comprised dozen songs from his stage and concert works. Whole material was divided as in pre-war cabaret performance into four three-song sets. First three opening the album are Moritat, Barbara-Song and Seeräuber-Jenny from Die Dreigroshenoper, Weil’s most successful stage work written together with Bertold Brecht. Also the opera accomplished two years later in 1930 Aufstieg Und Fall Der Stadt Mahagonny was great achievement of Weil-Brecht duo. From this work three songs were included in the program: Havanna-Lied, Alabama-Song, Wie Man Sich Bettet. These two were great successes of both Brecht and Weill creative output.
   Between Dreigroschenoper and Mahagony authors duo wrote in 1929 comedy Happy End from which were taken three songs opening second side of the album Bilbao-Song, Surabaya-Johnny and tango Was Die Herren Matrosen Sagen. Next song Vom Ertrunkenen Mädchen was from Das Berliner Requiem, the 1928 cantata to the text of Bertold Brecht. Last two songs of the album Lied Der Fennimore and Cäsars Tod were taken from Der Silbersee, the play by Georg Kaiser. This three-act play with music and songs by Kurt Weill was premiered February 18th, 1933 simultaneously in Leipzig, Erfurt and Magdeburg and banned by Nazis two weeks later after only 16 performances. This was the basic choice of songs marking Lotte Lenya’s strong impact on popular culture.