Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon

   There is blurred border between European psychedelic and progressive rock. Many artists starting in late sixties with psychedelic songs and endless jamming became progressive in turning of seventies. Characteristic feature was changing improvised passages into wide composed structures in type of suites. Among bands making this turn possible was Pink Floyd. And after Ummagumma (1969) and Atom Heart Mother (1970) Pink Floyd was widely recognized as progressive rock band. Experiments with new electronic sounds and complex constructions were characteristic feature of their music. Well prepared continuation of these albums was released in 1971 album Meddle with over 23 minutes long composition Echoes filling the entire B-side of the album. After these classic progressive albums, Pink Floyd released in 1972 Obscured by Clouds, album being in some parts the soundtrack to film La Vallée, by Barbet Schroeder.
   Next, eighth album of the band was the next attempt to solve the dilemma between the depth of thought and readability. And this time artists found perfect balance joining together rock explicit and capacity of the ambiguity. The project known as The Dark Side of the Moon is almost a model realization of concept album. It shows the portrait of young people condition in sixties and early seventies with their needs and fears. It includes clear critical view of economic reality in post prosperity era. Clear elements of social and political criticism are strongly connected to everyday situations and common experience. Thus the symbolic picture shows suggestive elements of universal story every listener can understand on his own way. Connections can be trace through all of the material, continuity and associations are present in every layer of the work, in lyrics, in composition, in performance, in graphic design.

Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

   Many elements decided The Dark Side of the Moon is perfect work comprising many elements of reality and reflecting consciousness of more than one generation. Unlike some previous albums there were also more songs in typical verse form with compact well written solos. At first sight it was set of songs with instrumental parts, and then there have come the presence of more qualities of the work. Next listening was showing some more semantic and structural layers with creative work of every member of the band, Roger Waters, Richard Wright, David Gilmour and Nick Mason. With background vocals and singer Clare Torry who co-authored with Richard Wright famous vocalize The Great Gig in the Sky; the whole work has rich and dense character. This was needed since structures were simplified. And the work was done by one more creative musician, engineering the recording Alan Parsons. He did outstanding job, opening whole new era of recording. Besides he was creative musician of his own which demands a dedicated post on this blog.
   The main power of The Dark Side of the Moon is its conceptual unity and diversity of artistic resources. Symbols, graphics, poster, lyrics, postcards, instrumental solos of band members and sideman Dick Parry, whose tenor saxophone solos in Money and Them or Us set the new trend of jazz sounding tenor saxophone in rock music. Maybe this is why this album became immediately a success, giving the band instant fame and taking place on charts for record period of 741 weeks from 1973 to 1988. In effect none of previous listeners was disappointed and many new listeners were convinced and start to buy other Pink Floyd albums. The Dark Side of the Moon became iconic album of seventies and a kind of great synthesis of intellectual and artistic issues in European rock music. Five stars rating is provided for the few productions like this.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Charlie Parker – Jazz Tracks


   Today is the anniversary of the birth of the great musician, one of most famous figures in history of jazz. After II world war jazz changed its character, from utilitarian, predominantly dance music, it changed after war into a part of existential lifestyle, fashion and clubbing in Paris. This was the moment jazz become fully autonomic part of musical culture with its own means of expression and deep semantics. Primary importance had Parker’s solutions in the way to improvisational freedom of modern jazz. He started the renewing jazz esthetics by turning to blues and breaking swing forms with emphatic, emotional changes in melodics and rhythm. In his improvisations he was as brilliant as original.
   Born August 29, 1920 in Kansas City, Charlie Parker was saxophonist who revolutionized modern jazz as improvised music, changing creative patterns, and has left imprint of his own creative personality in every theme he composed, every improvisation he recorded. He has set his own tracks, which became the basic tracks for next generations of jazz musicians. Charlie Parker lived only 35 years but his achievements are more important than of any other alto saxophonist in his generation. Early Parker recordings from the era of 78 rpm records were the subject of deep concern in next decades. These tracks were constantly republished in sixties and seventies in various settings and programs on LPs, later on CDs. One of such editions is the choice of top creative performances released in Jazz Tracks series by Bellaphon label (BJS 40174) in 1977.

Charlie Parker – Jazz Tracks (1977)

   Base for Bellaphon edition were 78 rpm recordings from 1947. Most of them are live recordings taken during four gigs of shorter than three months period of autumn 1947. Three songs (Bongo Beep, Klactoveedestene, Dewey Square) are recordings of Charlie Parker’s Quintet with Miles Davis (tp), Duke Jordan (p), Tommy Potter (b) and Max Roach (dr) and another four songs (Air Conditioning, Quasimodo, Craseology and Bird Feathers) were played by the same lineup plus J. J. Johnson (tb). These sessions were well recorded giving adequate image of what musicians intended to fit in three-minute recordings. It is interesting fact in these 7 recordings there’s only 12 seconds of difference between shortest (2’54”) and longest (3’06”).
   On the opening of second side are some recordings from Carnegie Hall concert September 29th, 1947. Parker played here with Dizzy Gillespie (tp), John Lewis (p), Al McKibbon (b) and Joe Harris (dr).  Two pieces A Night in Tunisia and Groovin’ High are roughly divided into two parts each. The technician did this in the way he has to. Having one recorder he just muted Parker’s solo in A Night in Tunisia (one of most inspired moments on this record), changed plate and started at the beginning of Gillespie’s solo. In Groovin’ High the same was done much better, during the bridge between Bird’s and Gillespie’s solos. The fate of other two was even worst. Parker’s Confirmation was brutally muted with no continuity, the same with Gillespie’s Dizzy Atmosphere cut just after trumpet solo. The last three tunes (The Song Is You, My Funny Valentine, Cool Blues) are outtakes from Carnegie Hall presentation September 25th, 1954. Parker was playing there in quartet with John Lewis (p), Percy Heath (b) and Kenny Clarke (dr).
   There are two major mistakes in the program of the album – opening piece is listed both on back cover and on label as Bird Feathers, while in fact the recorded tune is Bongo Beep. The same comes with No 6 listed as Bongo Bop which was Bird Feathers. Maybe somebody just switched these pieces, but in this case the one didn’t see the difference between Bongo Bop and Bongo Beep. And these are definitely two different themes, and both are beautiful, light and witty with original and unique Bird’s touch. Despite some editorial mistakes and faults, this record is still worth to remember. Jazz collectors were given here with 14 classical Bird recordings of unbelievably witty and light solos. Three stars for the whole album should be fair. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hampton Hawes Quartet – All Night Session

   Since the swing era, importance of piano was continued to grow. In the beginnings it was part of rhythmic section. Later in be-bop and hard bop harmonics was increasingly complicated and after discovering of modal scales piano has becoming more and more independent base for musical construction. This is why there were so many great pianists in modern jazz era and every played his own way. One of most influential was Los Angeles artist Hampton Hawes (1928-1977). One of modern piano explorers, he was in opposition to traditional jazz piano school of Errol Garner or Art Tatum, totally different of classical and smooth jazz piano by Dave Brubeck. He was somewhere between Oscar Peterson’s vitality and Lennie Tristano’s distanced calm. He was probably closest to modern harmonic and rhythmic tense of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. His improvisation has more alto saxophone as piano characteristics, what can be related to his playing with Charlie Parker, being one of his earliest artistic experiences.
   He was remarkably gifted and very unfortunate artist. His generation was exploring possibilities of modern jazz and freedom of drugs and alcohol but also suffered of consequences. Many died prematurely, some lost their direction. Hampton Hawes was among these severely experienced by the use of the drugs. When FBI arrested him for possession of heroin, he was at the top of his career. They hoped to force him to betray the names of dealers. When he refused, he was put on trial and sentenced for 10 years in prison. For artist in prime time of his career it was like the life sentence. But Hawes didn’t give up, looking for his chance and watching in TV president’s address, he believed this is his opportunity. John F. Kennedy gave him second chance, and Hawes was able to take advantage of president’s help.

Hampton Hawes – All Night Session (1958)

   He has back to touring with successes, playing electric piano and organ, experimenting with funk and fusion jazz. He also wrote autobiography where he explained the myth of drugs role in improvisation and creativity. He was again on top, playing creative music and widely recognized as master of jazz piano, but still most notable results were these he achieved before he was under arrest. One of his best recordings is the series of three numbered albums released in 1958 by Contemporary label under the same title All Night Session and featuring Hampton Hawes Quartet. As title says, all three were recorded during one night session in the night of November 12th and morning of November 13th, 1956 in Contemporary’s studio in Los Angeles. November 13th was Hampton Haves birthday. He was 28 years old. All session was played with the same lineup: Hampton Hawes, piano; Jim Hall, guitar; Red Mitchell, bass and Bruz Freeman, drums. The repertoire was list of 16 compositions mainly standards like Jordu, Groovin' High, April in Paris, Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me and Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, with classic improvisations, sometimes with jamming interactions between musicians.

Hampton Hawes Quartet - Takin' Care
   In late 50’s Hampton Hawes was in the frontline of modern jazz pianists. Although he was Los Angeles born and living, his style was related more to East Coast nerve and syncopated phrases than to West Coast style. Decade after president’s pardon, he was widely recognized and very popular but his style was closer yet to mainstream. In his career Hawes was playing and recorded with many great musicians like Charles Mingus, West Coast trumpeter Shorty Rogers, saxophonists Wardell Gray (in Wardell Gray Sextet), Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Criss, Art Pepper, guitarists Barney Kessell, Jim Hall. His most successive projects were Hampton Hawes Quartet with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Buz Freeman and Hampton Hawes Trio with bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Donald Bailey. There was also Hampton Hawes All-Stars featuring Harry Edison (tp), Sonny Criss (as), Teddy Edwards (ts), Bobby Thompson (g) and Leroy Vinnegar (b) – this project was presented in Jazz on Stage TV series and one album Memory Lane Live published by Jas Records.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Pierre Boulez — Boulez Conducts Debussy


   Claude Debussy was gifted artist and complex person, he was brilliant, creative, and innovatory composer and man disobedient to common rules. In effect he lived in complicated social relations what had caused many controversies. More far was his life from bourgeois life style, the greater honors and appreciation surrounded him. His long time friend, composer Ernest Chausson protested against Debussy’s libertarian habits and finally terminated friendship. Few years later in 1903 Debussy was made Chevalier of National Order of the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration of Republique Francaise. His creative output in last years of his life has decreased because of his illness (cancer diagnose in 1909). He remains one of most significant composers of modernity, leading figure of musical impressionism (he was rejecting such designation with impatience), one of greatest composers in the history of French symphonic music.
   Pierre Boulez in his note to Debussy symphonic album points La Mer is Debussy’s most popular and most accomplished symphonic work. The suite of three sketches La Mer could be considered as the definition of impressionistic style in symphonic music. Since the work is masterpiece of subtle suggestions, it is not quite programme music. It's just like transcription of the sea into formal musical language. There is no story, even no pictures, just unclear clues, catchy emotions, some onomatopoeic hints, and continuance understood as idea of the ocean. This music builds discreet play of senses more than the pictures, but it is also a formal three-part construction with scherzo-like middle part Jeux de vagues, with more dramatic first and third movements. Circulation of motifs gives this work cohesion and once more feeling of continuity.

Pierre Boulez — Boulez Conducts Debussy (1967)

   Two symphonic pieces by Debussy included on second side of the album are connected by the fact both were ballet music for Vaclav Nijinsky. Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) a symphonic poem from 1894 inspired by the poem of French poet Stéphane Mallarmé was choreographed and performed by Nijinsky in 1912 as L'après-midi d'un faune. This is one of most popular works of this era. The last position in the program is Jeux, the ballet music commissioned by Diaghilev in 1912. Precision of performance, colorful orchestral sound, clear vision of works are features makes this recording a reference for many future artists.
   The album was recorded in London Barking Town Hall in 1966 and published by European division of CBS. The history of this edition shows quality and importance of rendition by Pierre Boulez. First recordings were released by European CBS divisions, in 1966 in Germany (92 786), in 1967 in UK (72533), in 1968 in France (S 75 533), than in US (CBS 32 11 0056). The album was highly praised by critics and awarded with Deutscher Schallplattenpreis. The next year album was issued by Columbia Masterworks (MS 7361), and many times later it was republished in various Columbia and CBS series, also in license editions all over the world. After just few months the recording became classic in different license pressings and masterworks series. Later it was also transferred to CD and published by CBS Masterworks in 1987. Five star performance as it is the base for Boulez high position as interpreter.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cyprien Katsaris in Brussels

   In the crowd of distinguished pianists of the last decades, one has a special position founded on the excellent technique and creative approach. Cyprien Katsaris is the artist with modern sensitiveness for musical semantics and formal construction, gifted with capability to narrative shaping interpretations. This born in Marseille, French-Cypriot pianist is exceptional phenomenon in concert and recorded music. His competence comprises the whole range of pianistic tradition. But what makes him really great artist is a special and very deep understanding of the romantic spirit. His recordings of Liszt, his Chopin recitals, and his virtuoso performances of symphonic works in romantic transcriptions make perfectly clear he is congenial interpreter of Liszt and Chopin music.
   Shortly after his 15th birthday, he debuted in Paris Théâtre des Champs-Élysées performing Liszt’s Hungarian Fantasy which is composer’s arrangement of Hungarian Rhapsody No. 14 for piano and orchestra. The first decade after Cyprien Katsaris’ debut was the time of establishing his virtuoso position and performing experiences of concert pianist. His position has been confirmed by many awards in renowned competitions in 70’s. Among the probably most significant is the title of Prize-winner at the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Competition 1972 in Brussels. For this extremely difficult competition he prepared ambitious program. Recorded June 6th, 1972 in Brussels and published by Decca album is valuable document of young Katsaris live performances. 

Cyprien Katsaris in Brussels (1972)

   The Decca album is convincing the virtuoso efficiency and ideal sense of style are qualities he presented since his earliest recordings. It’s significant he chose two sonatas by two composers he consecutively recorded in next decades. The two are also totally different musical worlds Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ferenz Liszt. Mozart’s Sonata B-flat Major KV 333, known also as No. 13, was composed probably in 1783. This three part work is perfect classical style performed with intellectual distance and clever distance. Sweet, well modeled phrases show the perfect balance of interpretation as well as one side of young Katsaris. Last part Allegretto grazioso includes few moments giving artist a chance for expressing some more emotional and personal content than most of classical sonatas. And Cyprien Katsaris made use of this possibility.
   The second side of the record is also the second side of pianistic universe. Sonata B Minor by Franz Liszt is not only one of most difficult works for performing but also for interpretation. Cyprien Katsaris played this huge work with bravery, giving show of piano artistry. Climax of Sonata B Minor in Katsaris interpretation is one of most haunting moments in romantic piano music. This shows how much 21 years old pianist can be mature. He perfectly controlled the sound, tempos, and dynamics and built musical constructions of perfect stability. He was also brave presenting his own renditions. Many evidences one can find in the way he interprets Sonata in B minor by Franz Liszt. These early recordings prove the main value of Katsaris recordings was always the power of his vision and ability to make it universally human experience. This is worth four and a half stars for brave and noble performances opening phenomenal development of this artist.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

E. T. A. Hoffmann – Symphony E-flat Major

   The romantic era was starting more as the intellectual movement of disappointment with the ideas of the Enlightenment than a new artistic style. In music the pre-romantic period was still strongly based on traditional harmonics and fixed in classical era forms, and yet some story concepts and content ideas were completely different. The new era came first as a revolt in literature. One of prominent artists of this era was E. T. A. Hoffmann. His original names were Ernst Theodor Wilhelm, but he changed third name into Amadeus because of his deep dedication to musical genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Although he felt primarily to be musician, he was one of most influential writers of romantic era. He was active mainly as an author of stories with strong imaginary impact, sometimes considered as pioneering of the genre of fantasy and horror. Under influence of his works were Edgar Allan Poe, Howard Phillips Lovecraft and many others.
   Born 1776 in Königsberg, E. T. A. Hoffmann was person of many talents and vast horizons. He was working as a lawyer, publishing writer and active as a musician, music critic and composer. He was competent violinist, harpist and pianist, what reflected in a number of chamber works, but despite his hopes he never became a conductor. He composed dances, Große Fantasie and five sonatas for piano, Grand Trio, Harfenquintet, some canzoni, religious works as Messa d-moll (1805) and Miserere b-moll (1809), Symphony E-flat major (1806). His most valued oeuvres are the numerous works for stage, especially Undine which clearly influenced the development of German romantic opera. While working in Warsaw, he initiated the Music Society organizing concerts from 1805. He was also known for his sympathy with cats.

E. T. A. Hoffmann – Symphony E-flat Major (1984)

   As a composer E. T. A. Hoffmann was strongly influenced by Viennese school. He was focused on music created by W. A. Mozart. Probably all stylistic similarities to works of twenty years older composer were Hoffmann’s deliberate choice. His musical beliefs, just like his contemporaries were limited by classical idea of balance between emotional and intellectual content of musical work. And Mozart was perfect embodiment of this idea. E. T. A. Hoffmann wrote his only symphony probably in time he was working as government official Płock or in Warsaw. Symphony was finished in 1806 and few times placed in concert programs of Musical Society. Original features of this work were irregularities of periodic structures and emphatic meanings augmenting emotional content of the work. His symphonic music is written efficiently and economically. It uses any means of expression and proves talent and skills of the composer.
   First recording of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Symphony take place in Berliner Jesus-Christus-Kirche 160 years after composers death in August 1982 with Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under the baton of Lothar Zagrosek. It has been published together with symphonic fragments from operas by Schwann – Musica Mundi (42 097 6). The opera overtures on side two are, three fragments of Die lustigen Musikanten (The Merry Musicians) – Overture I, Interlude and Overture II. There is also Overture from Undine recorded in February 1982 by the same orchestra conducted by Roland Bader. Sound is perfect, renditions inspired with best romantic visions, edition made on professional level. Four stars for the promise of the restoration of the position corresponding to the value of this music.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley

   One of greatest saxophonists in 50’s and 60’s, Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley (1928-1975) was in the very narrow group of artists creating modern jazz improvising methods, taking part in extraordinary ensembles and recordings inspiring other artists. Although he was one of most creative musicians, in opinions of many he remained in a second row of avant-garde – known and remembered mostly as a contributor and collaborator in genius of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. This unjust rating comes probably from the fact, the first period of ‘Cannonball’ musical development was in Florida, far from biggest centers and mainstream media. Julian and his brother Nat were living in Tallahassee, where they were playing with Ray Charles in early 40’s. Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley was very popular in Florida – not only by nickname, which originally was “cannibal” for his unbridled appetite – but this fame has no impact in New York.
   The time Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley came to Big Apple, ten years after the end of the war New York was the scene of dynamic cultural changes. Also in jazz, be-bop was evolved to cool and hard bop, and later into free jazz in different variants. While others were establishing new directions and styles, the same time many musicians were still developing traditional swinging style with subtle new harmonic and rhythmic improvements. And as these styles were continuation of be-bop, the stream was created mainly by musicians who were known for their earlier cooperation with Parker and Gillespie – with the stress on the word “known”. The musical scene was pretty crowded and that’s the only reason quintets led by Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley never achieved the success they deserved.

Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley

   In series of Everest Records Archive of Folk and Jazz Music, aiming to publish authentic performances from 78 r.p.m. discs, there was one compilation album of Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley. It’s generally poor edited, giving some misinforming notes about whole series, even artist’s name is misspelled in the title and on the ridge of the sleeve. In linear notes it has the correct form. The program of the album is compilation of two late 50’s recordings. Four pieces out of five came from 1959 album Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago. Opening piece Wabash is taken from February 1959 session with John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. Complete album was released by Mercury as Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago. Next is perfectly different The Tune of the Hickory Stick – the last piece on Jump for Joy album released by EmArcy in 1958. Closing the A-side You’re a Weaver of Dreams and two pieces of B-side (Stars Fell on Alabama and The Sleeper) are taken again from album of Cannonball Adderley Quintet recordings of 1959.
   The one exceptional recording in this choice is The Tune of the Hickory Stick, recorded in August 1958 with Emmett Berry on trumpet, Bill Evans on piano, Milt Hinton on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. Ambitious arrangement for strings, guitar and jazz quintet by Bill Russo is a kind of link between cool jazz experiments and popular jazz traditions. While this composition is a kind of refreshing moment, other four pieces are classic presentations of hard bop style. Perfect solos by leader, John Coltrane, Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers can be seen as a clear expression of modern jazz ideas. Two pieces are recorded in quartet with solo saxophone: in Stars Fell on Alabama Adderley and in You’re a Weaver of Dreams Coltrane only. Closing this record John Coltrane’s The Sleeper is a symbolic point of these two artists were together, later every one was continuing his own voyage. The music deserves five stars but considering poor level of edition the record is two and half star only.