Thursday, October 31, 2013

Herbie Hancock – V.S.O.P.

   After 15 years of intensive musical activity Herbie Hancock was as much respected artist so the program of Newport Jazz Festival contained a special evening dedicated to his music, was termed as “Retrospective of The Music of Herbie Hancock”. In the age of 36 he was already a giant of modern jazz. Concert presented by George Wein was in fact not quite a retrospective. It featured three Hancock’s bands. First was a quintet with musicians Hancock played from early days of his career. Later this band continued and was called V.S.O.P. Quintet. Second was introduced as Herbie Hancock Sextet, but in fact it was Mwandishi Band. Third was the most recent project, representing current trend in Hancock’s music. Indeed, in 1976 The Headhunters was most popular of all Hancock’s bands. On liner notes Herbie Hancock wrote himself, he concluded this concert was so much one musician tribute, but enabling bigger group of musicians to play together.
   The whole program of this evening has been recorded by CBS and published as the double album under the title V.S.O.P., but this time it was only title of the album signed by Herbie Hancock. Next Hancock’s album was titled The Quintet and signed by V.S.O.P. ensemble. So can be stated this live album gave its name to the band. Two records covering the concert performance are perfect passage through modern jazz and great documentary of Hancock’s artistic achievements. From hard bop and modal jazz quintet, through early fusion sextet to the funky, intensively rhythmic trance music of Headhunters band.

Herbie Hancock – V. S. O. P. (1976)

   Serious shape of Herbie Hancock’s music, its natural flowing connected and interwining with different traditions takes its sources from modern jazz of the 50’s. This is still significantly connected with the idea of music as most efficient language for emotional and spiritual communication. It could be observed on every moment of this recording. When after Piano Introduction Herbie Hancock is joined by Ron Carter and Tony Williams it’s like initiation into the mystery of musical value system. This way Maiden Voyage continues with series of solos by Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and the leader of the quintet called later V.S.O.P. Next theme Nefertiti is like small jazz interlude before filling the entire second side Eye of the Hurricane.
   The same serious attitude one can find in funk recordings. Opening 4th side Hang Up Your Hang Ups with modal solos of Bennie Maupin on tenor saxophone and Herbie Hancock on electric piano is nothing else than modal jazz amplified with new rhythmic intensity. Power of rhythmic funk continuity based on section Paul Jackson (bg), James Levi (dr), Kenneth Nash (perc.) and two guitarists: Ray Parker jr. and Wah Wah Watson, shows new trance idea of modal jazz. Second record of the album was also the second part of the show. The idea was to show the newer trends in Hancock’s music. But it was the revival of oldest band and the Eye of the Hurricane, what became the start of a real new chapter of Herbie Hancock’s career. After the first fascination with the sound and rhythm of funk, in second half of the decade there was high time for the return of well known forms of jazz expression.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

André Previn Plays

   Any attempt to comprehend his achievements at a glance leads to the conclusion, André Previn is a rare phenomenon. As the one of most versatile musicians ever, André Previn is a perfect example of an artist combining creativity and great competence in remote areas of musical activity. He is perfect crossover artist. As a pianist, conductor and composer he achieved successes on many fields of artistic and popular music. He was awarded 4 times with Academy Award for movie scores and 11 times with Grammy Awards including 2010 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
   André Previn was born in Berlin in the family of lawyers and musicians in 1929 or 1930. The year of his birth is unsure.  There are also unconfirmed reports he is distant relative of Gustav Mahler. In 1939 his family fled from Germany and settled in Los Angeles where five years later he became naturalized US citizen. He completed his education in Beverly Hills and taking private lessons of conducting from Pierre Monteux. In mid 50’s he became his career as a jazz pianist, performing and recording successfully with many popular musicians. The same time he started writing music for cinema. As he started to compose as a student one decade earlier, his pieces were astonishingly fresh and mature. 

André Previn Plays (1970)

   In his twentieths André Previn was active as performing and recording jazz pianist. He was active in West Coast area and this milieu gave his music special, smooth characteristic. Easy listening kind of jazz became popular yet before the be-bop era. It was not defined as the style, it was rather the answer for demands of wide circle of listeners. The hotter was dominant style; more listeners were tended to buy jazz with popular music touch. Reaction for be-bop was cool jazz style, so after free jazz and hard-bop came fusion and funky was balanced by soul music. And when fusion became too hot, smooth jazz was the rest for many. This process made Previn’s old recordings re-editions almost permanently alive.
   In June 24, 1953 André Previn recorded some pieces of Fats Waller. Pianist was performing in trio with Buddy Clark on double-bass and Shelly Manne on drums. These recordings were published in 1958 by Tops Records (L 1593). Probably material of 1953 sessions was joined together with pieces recorded in other terms and locations. This is probably why there are no informations on musicians, time and places. Only in liner notes it was closed in one statement: “Supported by an excellent bassist and drummer in this swinging tribute to Fats Waller, Previn is wholly at ease with the songs of the master”.
   In 1964 album was reedit and published as André Previn Plays by Fidelio label (ATL 4118). Sequence of songs was the same with only one piece withdrawn – Steeling Apples. Fat Waller’s name was omitted in title and in credits. Six years later in 1970, this album was republished by Crown label (CRS 2004). Complete set of Previn’s Waller recordings was published in 1982 on compact cassette by Orchid Music. The performance is perfect, worth more than four stars and the whole album is nice to listen. Although these recordings didn’t push jazz to a new direction, it is still worth to remember. Overall I’m giving three and a half star.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stokowski conducts Handel and Bach

   During the early music period conductor was not a necessary person. Some gestures needed to start and finish together were given by the leader of the ensemble, who often was also the composer of a work and musical entrepreneur. Conductor became common person in classical music, after transition from baroque orchestra to classical symphonic orchestra. Substantial difference was not in set of instruments, but in the musical texture. Since in Mannheim school musical sentences were divided into small motifs and performed by different instruments, there was someone needed for every such moment, especially in symphonic forms. The result was the emergence of further opportunities and the development of massive symphonic sound in late romantic music. Performance of romantic music without a conductor was unthinkable, and for most symphonic music since Beethoven it would be a catastrophe. And these were circumstances of raising the role of conductors in modern concert life, up to the rank of the creator equal to composer.
   Among legendary conductors of 20th century one of most respected artists was Leopold Stokowski. He was born in 19th century, most probably in 1882, but he himself was giving different dates and places of his birth – from Cracow to Pomerania. However there are documentary evidences he was born in London. He studied in Royal College of Music since he was thirteen. After receiving Bachelor of Music degree in 1903, he immigrated to New York in 1905 and three years later he started conducting Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He was thirty years old when in 1912 he became director and conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Four years later he led Philadelphia Orchestra and Choruses during sensational American premiere of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand.

Leopold Stokowski conducts Handel and Bach (1977)

   Most striking feature of the Stokowski’s craft was conducting without a baton, in the choirmaster manner. He was explaining this way he is able to shape the sound more effectively. Indeed, his interpretations were famous for superior sound quality. Starting from positions of English romanticism, he was one of the most important conductors giving baroque music its modern quality. In fact he was under the strong influence of English performing tradition. In opposite to other countries, in England baroque music was alive, and compositions of Georg Frederic Handel were constantly in school teaching and in concert repertoire. This was great basis for Stokowski’s artistic development. And recordings of Handel’s most popular compositions belong to his great achievements.
   Georg Frederic Handel’s suites were always Stokowski’s showpiece. First recordings of these works he made on shellac discs in 1934. In 1962 with RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra he recorded the two Handel’s suites and album published by RCA became one of best sellers. In 1977 RCA label published double album of two baroque giants in series titled “Meister spielen Meister”. First record is Georg Friedrich Handel’s Music For The Royal Fireworks and Water Music Suite. Perfect renditions with clearly stable strings and bright brass were exemplary orchestral performance. The same with second part of 1977 album, it was 1975 recording of Johann Sebastian Bach transcriptions: Chaconne from Partita No. 2 D Minor, Preludio from Partita No. 3 E Major, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 D Major, Fuge G Minor (Kleine) BWV 578, Sinfonia from Kantate Ich steh’ mit einem Fuß im Grabe BWV 156, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme BWV 645, Komm sel’ge Ruh BWV 478. This time perfect sound was receoived from London Symphony Orchestra. The same 1977 was the year great conductor passed by. Transcribing baroque music for symphony orchestra was one of Stokowski’s achievements, but this demands at least new post.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Albert Schweitzer spielt Bach

   Intuition tells, beauty, goodness and truth are the values that are interrelated. However, they are irreducible and specific, which makes it difficult to find the characteristics that bind them together. Connection between beauty, truth and goodness is the question of believing, not the matter of rational inquiry. However, such belief in the ethical dimension of beauty is present in the judgments of many artists, including the quotes posted on this blog. This compound was confirmed by many people. One of perfect exemplification of dedication for basic values was life of Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), who was musician, philosopher, theologist, priest, teacher and medical missionary in Africa.
   Since he withdrawn from earlier activities, his great achievements in music, musicological books and great performances of organ music were sometimes underestimated. In fact he was still giving organ concerts and musicological readings just to collect money for the hospital in Lambarene. Many of his recordings were re-published in various choices. One of such reedited recordings was published by East Germany label Eterna in 1980. Recordings show performances on organ in Günsbach. Albert Schweitzer played program of four preludes and fugues E Minor BWV 533, A Minor BWV 543, C Minor BWV 546 and C Major BWV 547. The featured Bach’s composition is Toccata and Fugue D Minor BWV 565. Whole program was recorded with greatest respect for the natural style, the same Albert Schweitzer was known as its first proponent.

Albert Schweitzer spielt Bach (1980)

   Schweitzer’s life can be seen as the process of ultimate connection of all these values. Observing his story from intellectual positions, it is really hard to understand some of his decisions, his determination and attitude. But considering it as the process of developing complete and comprehensive personality, his vision of meaning in all possible aspects are the one worth of study. Maybe this is the only way to show there is no need to reduce or to analyze any values, maybe in the center is always human being and all values are only aspects of his attitude. In this case, different values would be just different exemplifications of choices oriented for altruistic achievements or selfish benefits.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Marcel Cellier – Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares

   Music was always memorized as a part of cultural tradition. Since migrations and culture clashes start threatized the preserving abilities of social memory, in different cultures musicians and scholars tried to find the way to perpetuate the endangered part of the heritage. Traditional music notation as we know it was only one of many possible systems. It was build during centuries and than it was shaping the way of musical thinking. This was one of processes divising and differentiating musical culture into official, professional music and folk, pop, unprofessional but living musical element. The invention of phonographic recording had revolutionary consequences. Since this moment music could be recorded in full of its complexity. One of pioneers of comparative ethnomusicology Erich von Hornbostel was using recorded material in his research, using modified notation and working on transcriptions of recorded music.
   Phonographic recordings gave researchers new possibilities. Preserved performances were subjects of multilateral analysis and comparisons. One of them was Marcel Cellier, Swiss organist and ethnomusicologist. He extensively researched and recorded Romanian music. He discovered Gheorghe Zamfir giving him chance to start his international creer. The next field of Cellier’s research was Bulgaria. In 1975 small record label Disques Cellier published first collection of recordings made by its founder and owner. It was the first presentation of Bulgarian folk singing outside Bulgaria and in very short time it become an international success, giving Marcel Cellier Grammy Award and Academie Charles Cros Grand prix international du disque.

Marcel Cellier – Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares (1988)

   First album of Marcel Cellier’s recordings was released in 1975. The program contained 13 folk songs recorded by Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir with soloists Yanka Rupkina, Kalinka Valcheva and Stefka Sabotinova. His second collection released in 1988 was effect of 15 years of research of Marcel Cellier. After great success of this choice, Swiss ethnomusicologist started collecting next album. This time the album program was set of various recordings. Marcel Cellier took songs mainly from Bulgarian Radio archives, recordings were made in 50’s to 80’s. For these listeners who didn’t bought first album, the same year Discques Cellier had published double album. Cover was the copy of first album design but inside were two records set of 29 Bulgarian folk songs.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Giuseppe Verdi Festival


   Among many musical theatre composers the two dominated the opera scene in 19th century were Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner – both were born the same year and this was the only common point of these two. Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) was a child of the era. He was composer of extended romantic style with tendencies to popular music and in later works to the post-romantic ideas, partly as reaction to Wagner’s drama. He is probably most celebrated composer of the century. Main part of his work consists of nearly three dozens of operas and revisions. He has written also some songs and sacred works with highly valued Requiem. Although shortly after his death he was detronised by Giacomo Puccini, he should be remembered as the greatest opera composer of opulent era. 
   There are thousands of Verdi recordings, from life performances and complete opera albums to fragments in recitals of many composers and performers. And it’s negligible if there is full Verdi’s work or only short fragment. One of features of composers output is this simple fact, every work has highlights playing the role of hits in romantic music culture. No wonder there are many concert programs and records showing only these fragments. One of such was Verdi Festival published as the Capriccio Club Edition in 1985 with fragment of Giovanni Boldini’s famous portrait of 71 year old Verdi. This is very well pressed, introducing quite good performances and well edited choice, so it deserves three and a half of the five star scale.

Giuseppe Verdi Festival (1985)

   The Capriccio Verdi album is very good starting point for somebody who needs short introduction to best achievements of Giuseppe Verdi. It’s opened with La forza del destino overture in nice rendition of Budapest State Opera Orchestra conducted by Trikolidisz Karolosz. Than come full version of Va pensiero choir from Nabucco and ballet scene from Aida performed by London Symphony Orchestra with Laurence Siegel and Di quella pira from Il trovatore sung with brave by Ludovic Spiess. Second side comprises Intermezzo from La Traviata again with Budapest Opera and Karolosz, gypsy chorus from Il trovatore performed by Chor und Orchester Der Staatsoper Berlin conducted by Otmar Suitner and two fragments from Don Carlos – duet of Don Carlos and Rodrigo Carlo Bergonzi and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, air Ella giammai m’amo sung by Nicola Rossi.
   Second record of the album starts with Triumphal March from Aida continued with Zitti, zitti, noviamo a vendetta from Rigoletto and soldiers chorus from Il trovatore. These fragments were recorded by ensemble of Staatsoper Berlin under Otmar Suitner. In this choice there have to be some arias and great vocal performances. Nicola Herlea in Di provenza il mar from La Traviata, Eva Marton sings Pace, pace from La forza del destino and Sylvia Sass with Giorgio Lamberti duet from Ernani. The fourth part concluding the choice comprises three spectacular arias: Cortigiani from Rigoletto sung by Nicola Herlea, Mia madre aveva una povera ancella from Othello perfectly exposed by Anna Tomova-Sintov, and Studia il passo from Macbeth performed by Boris Christoff. These fragments are framed by Prelude to 3rd Act of Aida (Staatsoper Berlin, C. Litvin) and Matador Choir from La Traviata (Opera Bukarest, J.Bobescu). I have to admit it's quite a nice program for birthday celebration.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage

   Herbie Hancock is one of most restless spirits, constantly changing bands, styles, even genres. He is constantly alternating, trying different strategies and playing with various lineups. Sometimes he is playing popular dance music, sometimes mainstream and in fact all this comes from ultra modern attitude. And in contrary, his place on the jazz scene as the pianist, arranger and composer is perfectly steady, which is side effect of quite traditional mastery. In fact artist established his position in his twentieth and since these times all possible critics and listeners reactions are just repeating all over the same lists of compliments and doubts. He is the kind of musician who is taking seriously all kinds of music, even those which most listeners see as nothing but dance music. For half of the century he was featured artist on many directions of jazz and popular music.
   Herbie Hancock’s ideas were one of strongest factors during construction of the post-bop style. His intuition and technique were legendary. In effect his compositions with its coloristic use of harmonics and sound sensitive arrangements became famous and many pianists were just copied his style in arranging and improvising. As always the quintessence of great artist’s personal style is unmistakable, although during passing years he has more and more followers. What could be the trademark of this artist is his modernity and restraint. He was never too much radical, always remembering there is also a mainstream jazz with choruses and harmonic changes. This attitude has its root in early recordings of Herbie Hancock as a leader. One of them is fifth Hancock’s album Maiden Voyage. It has been released by Blue Note (BST 84195) in 1965 and became an instant classic.

Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage (1984)

   There are many reasons for the Maiden Voyage should be considered as an album of rare quality both in Herbie Hancock’s discography and in best achievements of the whole genre. First of all, this is concept album what makes it a quite unique phenomenon. Although it can be considered as clear instrumental jazz, five compositions are thematically homogeneous, telling about the sea voyage, playful dolphins, struggle for survival and trying to catch impression of the sea in its continuing change. Composition of this album is connected to the idea of historic illustrative, programmatic music and probably closest references for Hancock’s music are Debussy’s piano pieces with impressionistic harmonics. Author of all compositions was Herbie Hancock. On first side including Maiden Voyage, The Eye of the Hurricane and Little One, improvisational fervor is still in the frames of hard bop style. Hancock mitigates Hubbard’s expression and Coleman is usually closer to mainstream than others. In The Eye of the Hurricane he played beautiful Coltranean solo.
   Freddie Hubbard played with bravely expressive sound and harmonic freedom. His trumpet sounds closer to free jazz than George Coleman’s tenor saxophone. While Hubbard is explicitly avant-garde, Coleman is playing post-cool soft phrases with mild sound. Tony Williams is doing best drumming ever. His work should be listening as teaching project for jazz and orchestral drummer. And with Ron Carter he created best section ever. Most progressive piece of the album is opening second side Survival of the Fittest – the rare example of breaking barriers. In Dolphin Dance Hancock is back to his jazz style with distance and graciousness. His solo is just like new definition of jazz. There can be no doubts, this record deserves full set of stars. It could be listen again and again.