Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Bebop Era in CBS Jazz Masterpieces series


   The era of deep political and economic crisis was also the crucial moment in the history of 20th century music. Many historians see this movement as an effect of 2nd world war, but its range shows it could have been a reaction for wider cultural processes including rise of totalitarian regimes and social crisis changing traditional social preferences. In fact, late 30’s and early 40’s marked the dark period of European history, were even dance music was in shade of marching bands. On the other hand, those were the years of great changes in American culture. Participation in war, economic boom and redefinition of world politics were the background of various social movements marking the general change of American and global culture. It was also the turning moment of great change between traditional and modern jazz – first bebop, than hard bop and cool jazz, the outburst of new tendencies rapidly reshaped great part of musical culture.
   The bebop style became recognized as a new style in early 1940’s, although some elements of this trend were presented earlier in Kansas City school and in some swing big bands during 1930’s. Many big bands especially from Kansas City metropolitan area were evolving new style and played music including elements of the new style. Unlike swing and earlier styles being offshoot from popular dance music, in bebop era jazz became genre of artistic. In place of dance structures with improvised choruses typical for swing music, bebop introduced more free style of improvisations based on harmonies and some variations loosely connected to the theme. Fast tempos and virtuosity didn’t left too much place for doubts – main purpose of this music was just to create listener’s impression. Such attitude makes bebop closer to idea of concert music than traditional Dixieland hot style.

Jazz – The Bebop Era (1987)

   The compilation of bebop masterpieces remastered from original analog tapes is a try to comprise the vast spectrum of most creative jazz recordings from 1942-1951. The long list of few dozens of albums in CBS Jazz Masterpieces series presents best albums published as re-editions of complete remastered recordings. Some compilations were made to show best of CBS artists, like Louis Armstrong, Count Basie or Billie Holiday, some are dedicated to one type of recordings, vocalists, combos or big bands. One of such editions is compilation showing most representative bebop era recordings. It’s needless to say, with just one LP is just impossible to fulfill such promise. But still this selection of 14 tracks can be both informative and nice to listen.
   One can find here selected recordings of artists forming foundations of new style and late masterworks like classical live performance of Ornithology by Charlie Parker Quintet with Fats Navarro, Bud Powell, Curly Russell and Art Blakey in Birdland, June 30th, 1950 or 'Round Midnight played by Charlie Parker & The All-Stars with Gillespie, Powell, Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes in Birdland, March 31st, 1951. The perfect example of full-blown bebop style is Double Date recorded by legendary band Metronome All-Stars (band traditionally assembled of winners in annual Metronome magazine readers poll) with solos by Billy Bauer (g), Lennie Tristano (p), Serge Chaloff (bs), Lee Konitz (as), Buddy DeFranco (cl), Kai Winding (tb), Stan Getz (ts), Dizzy Gillespie (tr), Eddie Safranski (b) and Max Roach (dr). In fact whole of this short piece is a series of virtuoso solos connected by few bridges. Arranged by Pete Rugolo this was small musical jewel joining jazz with elements of contemporary classical music. The same artists besides Dizzy Gillespie were played in No Figs. The harmonic progression of this tune is based on the same sequence as Donna Lee. Choruses here are longer and slower tempo gives a chance to react on fellow musicians solos. Both tracks were recorded January 10th 1950. Great stuff in every phrase!

Metronome All-Stars – Double Date / No Figs (1950)

   Every track of this collection is worth of noteworthy. With hard to find recordings of orchestras led by Cootie Williams, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Claude Thornhill, Chubby Jackson and Elliot Lawrence, with Dizzy Gillespie’s All-Stars and Metronome All-Stars album brings whole league of unforgettable artists. Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke, Lennie Tristano, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Tadd Dameron, Woody Herman and arrangers Gerry Mulligan and Gil Evans are most recognizable but there are many others. Great solo of Miles Davis in Don’t Blame Me played with Tadd Dameron Quintet at the International Jazz Festival May 8th, 1949 in Paris. Great musicians are merged with perfectly bebop themes starting and ending with two Thelonious Monk’s themes Epistrophy recorded by Cootie Williams & His Orchestra, and 'Round Midnight recorded by Charlie Parker & The All-Stars. Four stars for good taste, quality of remastering and edition deciding every position in CBS Jazz Masterpieces series has its place in good collection.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Boots Randolph – Boots with Strings

   Saxophone was one of most featured instruments of 20th century. First in marching orchestras, than as a rare solo instrument with symphonic orchestra, later in dancing bands of late 1930’s, after the war saxophone was promoted to be one of most influential instruments of modern jazz. The same time giants of bebop, cool, free jazz and fusion were developing expressive and artistic possibilities of saxophone family, generations of saxophonists in popular music were expanding sound and stylistic perspectives of their instrument. After period of great expansion in jazz, in short period of time saxophone sound became basic source of expression in dance and popular music. In late 50’s and early 60’s sound of saxophone was common part of almost every band playing dance music. One of great saxophonists in popular music was Boots Randolph.
   Boots Randolph (1927-2007), born Homer Louis Randolph III in Paducah, Kentucky, was one of most influential saxophonists in pop music, one of originators of Nashville sound, many years contributor of Chet Atkins and Elvis Presley recordings. He was learning various instruments, in school mainly trombone, later tenor saxophone. During war he joined army band where he learn enough to be semiprofessional musicians in postwar years. He was playing various local bands in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, until he met famous country mandolin player Jethro Burns, who introduced him to some producers in Nashville and arranged his contact with Chet Atkins. This was beginning of Randolph’s career as saxophonist melting popular music and soft jazz with country music. 

Boots Randolph – Boots with Strings (1966)

   Carefully composed program of 12 hit songs, arranged with strings in best taste of popular music of early 1960’s, makes this album interesting document of its time. From The Shadow of Your Smile to Unchained Melody, with The Beatles’ Yesterday and Michelle, movie blockbusters like Days of Wine and Roses or Moon River – every track had the chance to be remembered. Boots Randolph played it with great sound of new Mark VI Selmer saxophone and in perfect arrangements. Material was recorded in Nashville Fred Foster Sound Studio and Hollywood Western Recorders.
   More ambitious than saxophonist’s earlier recordings, Boots with Strings was also the first successes of artist. Published in late 1966 it was noted on 1967 charts and peaking US albums on 36 position, US Jazz Albums – 3 and R&B Albums – 21. This commercial success was preceded by 1966 single The Shadow of Your Smile. It is interesting how much his sound is associated with popular music of sixties. Boots Randolph was most famous for his 15 LP albums and some singles, many of which were best selling, but he was also active as a sideman in various occasions. For decades he was only saxophonist of The Nashville A-Team, group of more than four dozens of session musicians who were heard on numerous albums of some greatest country stars. This makes his sound is so well remembered. Two and half of star for the album, mainly for exemplary culture of sound and model arrangements.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Gustav Mahler – Das Klagende Lied

   The early Mahler’s cantata Das Klagende Lied has been composed between 1878 and 1880 to the original text written in 1878 by composer himself, when he was only 18 years old. In this three part cantata he was following the story known as German fairy tale Das Klagende Lied (The Song of Lamentation) published by Ludwig Bechstein. Other version of this story was published as folk tale Der singende Knochen (The Singing Bones) in famous collection of brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. This early work is highly important because it is already containing some consistent characteristics of Mahler’s personal style. Its epic impetus, its spiritual and physiological dimensions are announcing the modernistic turn happening in next decades.
   The epic dimensions are the basis for Mahler's imagination and music. Since his very first compositions he was aiming to create big cyclic forms and wide narrative structures constructed in suggestive context. There is no coincidence he had started with songs and the greater part of his songs was written to his own lyrics. Even in his fully instrumental works he has always great mimetic potential, using some elements of sound painting with orchestration imitative effects and powerful extensions of audible space. These two categories – space and time – in Gustav Mahler’s music are elements occupying privileged position. And in best of his works this pair was elevated to some kind of cosmic and eternal groundwork of the world. These qualities are determining metaphysical profundity of Mahler’s work.

Gustav Mahler – Das Klagende Lied (1970)

   Such narrative vision of Mahler’s music was strongly expressed feature of performances by Pierre Boulez. Elements of this attitude are related to those presented in his legendary interpretations of Richard Wagner’s music. In Mahler’s songs and symphonic works Boulez found perfectly clear and universal language of storytelling. It is connected straight to conscious realizations of Berlioz ideas of orchestration. Two decades after Das Klagende Lied was composed, in 1899 Gustav Mahler made himself revision of this cantata. Whole first part was omitted. In 1970 Boulez recorded shorter version of Das Klagende Lied for CBS with Grace Hoffman (mezzo-soprano), Evelyn Lear (soprano), Stuart Burrows (tenor) and The London Symphony Orchestra Chorus led by Arthur Oldham and The London Symphony Orchestra.
   After release of Das Klagende Lied recording (CBS 72773), Boulez recorded first part of original composition Waldmärchen and Adagio from Symphony No. 10 (CBS 72865). Later both recordings were published on double LP edition (CBS 77233). The first LP of this final album comprised parts 1 (Waldmärchen) and 2 (which was part 1 of revised version). It was pressed and sold with cover and inlay with complete information and texts for Das Klagende Lied in 1899 revision. The catalogue number was still 72773. There was no information about Waldmärchen part, which was on 1st Side of the record. This is strange such mistake was not noticed. Maybe it was policy of the producer – listeners who bought Waldmärchen and Das Klagende Lied still had to buy double LP to complete this cantata. Strange behavior for leading company but still three stars for great performance.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Henry Purcell – Dido and Aeneas

   Henry Purcell was undoubtedly one of best composers in 17th century. As leading English born composer of his time, he was also the one of most popular British composers ever. Position he achieved he owned to his perfectly balanced techniques, stylistic connections with Italian and French Baroque music as well as his individual melodic talent. He left numerous works although he lived only 36 years (1659-1695). He was writing music as a boy, but his earliest known compositions he wrote as eleven years old. He wrote odes, anthems and incidental music. Great collection of religious music, some songs, stage music and instrumental pieces. His operas and masques were famous and gave him privileged position and good reputation. He wrote King Arthur (1691) with great success and  The Fairy-Queen (1692) which was an adaptation of Shakespearian A Midsummer Night's Dream. After composer death the score of this composition was lost for two centuries. In year of his death, he composed The Indian Queen. All these works were semi-operas. The one who made him famous was Dido and Aeneas.
   Chamber opera Dido and Aeneas was Purcell’s only all-sung opera. It was composed in 1680’s to libretto by Nahum Tate. The first known performance was in 1688 in Josias Priest’s girls’ school in London, which is the source of usual to this opera woman cast, so different from typical baroque casting rules. Also the plot of the libretto was not telling the strict story from Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid. The love between Dido, the Queen of Carthage and Aeneas, the Trojan hero has here an allegoric shape alluded to current political situation in England. In Nahum Tate’s libretto significant role was given to Sorceress and witches, who were not present in Virgil’s story. Here they are allegory of Roman Catholicism and its machinations in England. Dido, who represents people of Britain, became the main character of the opera. Simple means and powerful emotional impact makes this tragic story universal story of love, treason and renunciation.

Henry Purcell – Dido and Aeneas (1968)

   In recording history of Dido and Aeneas there were lots of realizations, and frequently they were the subject of artistic variability. Esthetic ideas, changing over the decades, make collection of different renditions especially interesting. And what is characteristic, this opera in different perspectives is still convincing as a complete and universal work. It’s because Purcell’s style is clear and supports musical universality. Of course most appreciated performances are in accordance with actual trends. But sometimes it can be enriching to remind oneself older recordings and observe how time has changed our point of view. One of the best between historical performances of Purcell’s opera is Charles Mackerras 1967 recording for Archiv Produktion. Monteverdi-Chor Hamburg and NDR Chamber Orchestra are steady base for whole performance with Tatyana Troyanos, Barry McDaniel, Sheila Armstrong, Patricia Johnson, Margaret Baker, Margaret Lensky, Paul Esswood and Nigel Rogers.
   Charles Mackerras (1925-2010) was conductor widely recognized for his Purcell and Haendel interpretations. He conducted Dido and Aeneas with Janet Baker during 1966 Glyndebourne Festival and next year between September 30 and October 4, he recorded this great rendition in Hamburg Eberthalle. Starring in this cast Tatyana Troyanos gave one of most powerful, deeply dramatic performance of Dido. Interesting fact is Paul Esswood performance as Spirit. Famous countertenor was present here four years before his formal debut in Messiah for the BBC in 1971. Also Sheila Armstrong and Barry McDaniel have been recorded in great shape. On the cover of Archiv re-edition Dido and Aeneas painted by Guido Reni ca. 1630. This is nice album and very good rendition, traditional and well balanced, with sustainable choirs and great solo vocal performances. One of these you at least once ought to hear. Three and a half star with no hesitation. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Isao Tomita – Firebird

   Electronic music was discovered in early postwar years and developed in some laboratories. Since these centers were operating rare and extremely expensive equipment, they were based in public institutions, mainly in university and radio experimental studios. High costs made electronic music a new frontier for avant-garde composers but it was totally out of reach for private studios. Until late sixties when appeared the revolutionary modular synthesizer controlled with the keyboard. Its creator Robert Moog created increasingly advanced versions of his synthesizer from 1964 to 1969, pending his original solutions with series of US patents. This monophonic small instrument was first electronic instrument popular in private use of musicians. One of first famous musicians was Japanese composer Isao Tomita also known just as Tomita.
   Isao Tomita was born April 22, 1932, and spend his childhood in China. In 1955 after graduating history of art in Tokyo Keio University, he began working as composer of soundtracks for television movies and shows. Although composing orchestral music, he was active mainly on the field of music and sound effects production for animated movies. He was also interested in new technologies and became one of founders of TAC Group – famous Shibuya-Tokyo studio of animation and computer graphics. In late 60’s, already recognized in Japan, composer started experimenting with electronic music. Isao Tomita purchased Moog 3 Synthesizer and build his home studio for creating his own visions of electronic renditions of classical masterpieces. This was pivotal moment for new instrument. The same time in March 1968 Wendy Carlos released in USA his first album of Bach’s music renditions on Moog Synthesizer Switched-On Bach. Published by Columbia Masterworks records by Wendy Carlos also played their role in promotion of synthesized electronic sound.

Isao Tomita – Firebird (1975)

   Tomita started publishing his electronic recordings in 1972 with Switched-On Rock (as Electric Samurai) where he played popular rock songs with electronic sounds. This was clear reference to Carlos’ album. This wasn’t his debut, earlier, in 1966 he released recording of symphonic poem Jangaru Taitei based on music to the movie Jungle Emperor. He was still in searching stage, when in 1974 he published his fourth album Snowflakes Are Dancing with impressionistic electronic versions of Claude Debussy’s compositions, and hit the jackpot. He received four nominations to Grammy Award, and started recording electronic renditions of orchestral works. Next albums recorded for RCA Red Seal became Tomita’s best  achievements. After success of Debussy’s music he specialized in late 19th and early 20th century compositions like Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky (1974), Firebird by Stravinsky (1975), The Planets by Holst (1976), Daphnis et Chloé by Ravel (1979).
   He executed The Firebird Suite and all these recordings with Moog synthesizer and multitrack studio tape recorders. Technique was much easier than in earlier studio music. He was recording whole sequences and bring them together on analog tracks, with possibility of panning them in stereo or quadraphonic space. Recording Firebird he used 5 recorders with main 16-track Ampex MM-1100 with tape speed 76 cm/s. This four-episode suite took A-side of LP. On B-side artist of artificial sound placed his renditions of Dubussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bare Mountain.
   Today old analogue synthesizers sound closer to classical profoundity than to any kind of avant-garde or experimental music. It is consequence of massive using of synthesized sounds in various genres of popular and utility music. Although in this early era articulation was in many cases based just on envelopes and sound harmonics were rather poor, so sometimes they sound like organs expanded with new electronic voices, these recordings were sparkling with novelty. This fascinating world of unlimited sound possibilities was open for the future, which very soon have to turn back to tradition. This is the document of historic hope for unrestricted development. Two stars for vision and realization.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Frank Zappa • Freak Out!



   Frank Zappa’s debut album turned out to be a breakthrough determining the direction of popular music development in late 1960’s as well as in next decades. In the years prior to the recording sessions, Zappa wrote some music for the movies with Run Home Slow soundtrack. He was also the author of several musical experiments, sometimes promising but never successful. What has not brought him recognition became creative workshop. Anyway, steeped in rhythm-and-blues and anarchistic freaks cultural movement, young artist never dreamed to become a star of popular music. His ambition from the very beginning was to be a “serious” composer. In fact this was the purpose from the moment Zappa as a 14-year-old bought his first album with music by Edgar Varese.
   When MGM Records signed a contract producers were convinced that this is just one more rhythm and blues band singing easy-digestible, unsophisticated songs. The recordings were made at the turn of 1965 and 1966. As managers had expected, recorded material included a number of tracks resembling contemporary pop songs. Tracks like Wowie Zowie or You Didn’t Try to Call Me might actually appear on many other albums recorded at this time. Some songs, like I Aint Got No Heart or Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder though thematically linked to the popular sentimental songs, in fact, were a perverse mockery of their style. Zappa in his songs even ridiculed the mother’s love, however, it was part of artistic vision of social problems. What's more, he was able to enter into the manufacturer's requirements enough part of his own vision to make the album instantly famous. Production which, according to the manager had no commercial potential, soon became a legend.

Frank Zappa & Mothers of Invention – Freak Out! (1966)

   Even if album title Freak Out! was suggesting something different, there were many serious texts on double LP. The very first song starts with apostrophe “Mr. America, walk on by your schools that do not teach / Mr. America, walk on by the minds that won't be reached / Mr. America try to hide the emptiness that's you inside”. In the third song when the value and durability of reality is questioned, as the chorus returns the question: “Who are the brain police?” – this way social criticism packed in naive melodies and ironic sentimentality distinct from standard hippie hits. But this was the result of a compromise between Zappa’s ambitions and expectations of managers.
   Luckily he succeeded in persuading MGM Records to produce the double album. The second disc contains three songs that were not songs anymore. The first of them, Trouble Every Day is maintained in the nervous rhythm description of social media and the political reality of the sixties. Last two pieces are avant-garde compositions: Help, I'm a Rock (Suite in Three Movements – Okay to Tap Dance, In Memoriam, Edgard Varèse, It Can't Happen Here) and The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet (Unfinished Ballet in Two Tableaux – I. Ritual Dance of the Child-Killer, II. Nullis Pretii – “No Commercial Potential”). Both are minimalistic constructions, based on the motoric rhythms, precussion effects and vocal manipulations with lots of improvised material. And needless to say it was possibly here, where Zappa’s experimenting pays its debts.

Frank Zappa – Help I'm a Rock (1966)

   The first Frank Zappa’s album signed as band The Mothers of Invention became a turning point in the history of popular culture. First of all, it has changed the approach to the musical forms of rock which has greatly contributed to development of progressive rock. Freak Out! broke the customary standards of the record companies. While concert music and jazz for years were setting their own standards, the popular music was recorded in the mid-sixties still using a simple rule: on the beginning of both sides were placed radio or single hits and every side was filled with a few songs more. No one had ever worried too much if songs were connected in any reasonable statement. These principles were used in all styles of popular music from country, through pop, to rhythm and blues, soul and rock. And Frank Zappa released some fresh ideas in music business.
   Soon after June 27th 1966 when Freak Out! was published, concept albums and more or less conceptual double albums with improvisations and experimental fragments of rock performers begin to appear. The time was high, four months after Freak Out! The Kinks released Face to Face (October 1966), in December 1966 The Beatles begin recording sessions to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and in October 1968 were released In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson and Ummagumma by Pink Floyd. The cover of Zappa’s first album was part of artistic vision associated with its content too. Also this was beyond the standards of record production. Freak Out! was the beginning of the revolution, which in a few years has changed the image of music for decades. Absolute full scale five stars for the album, the music and the value.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Masters of tenor saxophone – The Savoy Sessions



   When young Antoine-Joseph ‘Adolphe’ Sax was learning flute and clarinet he noticed some limitations of wind instruments both in sound and in technical issues. Working in his father’s workshop he was designing new solutions in various wind instruments. He was 15, when he took place in competitions exposing constructions of flutes and clarinets crafted him and as 24 years old he reported his first patent for mechanical improvements giving bass clarinet better intonation and technical possibilities. Later, when constructing new instruments, he was trying to merge strong sound of brass with precision and velocity of woodwinds. In June 28, 1846 he patented saxophone and presented whole range of saxophone family from subcontrabass to sopranino. Adolphe Sax was also successful creator of brass instruments, the whole saxhorn family as well as some less popular instruments like saxtromba or saxtuba. But his highest achievement was saxophone, the instrument setting the sound of 20th century.
   First position taken by saxophone at once was marching music. This gave instrument popularity and big number of specimens, although this kind of popularity didn’t change too much. Visible sign of marching bands career is E-flat and B-flat pitch although in early years there were concert soprano and alto saxophones in C. The demand of various military and civil bands was so high, after one decade of selling his instruments he was hired as the saxophone teacher in Conservatoire de Paris. But great career of saxpophone begins almost half century after Adolphe Sax died (1894), in big bands of swing era. Powerful sound of saxophone sections was perfect element in band sound and in late thirties and early forties the body of great saxophonists show solo possibilities of the instrument. In orchestras of Duke Ellington (Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster), Count Basie (Earle Warren, Lester Young and Herschel Evans), Cab Calloway (Illinois Jacquet and Ike Quebec), Fletcher Henderson (Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins).

The Tenor Sax Album – The Savoy Sessions (1977)

   Tenor saxophone is associated with jazz more clearly than any other member of the saxophone family. Soprano and alto saxophones are widely used in 20th century concert and popular music. Baritone and bass are presented mainly in orchestras, other members of family, sopranino, sopranissimo, contrabass and subcontrabass are in use rarely in saxophone groups and in symphonic orchestras for the sound possibilities as coloring means in modern music. Tenor is more powerful in dynamic and sound harmonics than alto and has more virtuoso capabilities than baritone. In effect this instrument became iconic for jazz in forties and fifties as well as for popular culture in sixties. And since forties every decade brings bunch of great saxophone masters giving new original sound, new style and new soul for improvised music. From the first generation of great tenor saxophonists jazz tradition was constructed by studio and live recordings.
   The Tenor Sax Album from 1988 is 2LP album of Savoy Records published in 1977. It comprises swing and bebop recordings of five masters of tenor saxophone, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Illinois Jacquet, Ike Quebec and John Hardee. Recordings were made since 1944 in period of five years with the exclusion of Coleman Hawkins session that took place in Chicago May 27, 1954. The first session presented on Savoy album was Ben Webster Quintet in March 13, 1944 with only one but beautifully rendered tune Body and Soul and Ben Webster Quartet recorded April 17, 1944. In both Ben Webster was playing with pianist Johnny Guarnieri. In quartet played also bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer David Booth, in quintet they were supported by Teddy Walters on guitar, Billy Taylor on bass and Cozy Cole on drums.

Ben Webster – Body and Soul (March 13, 1944)

   Four tracks recorded August 7, 1945 by Ike Quebec with Johnny Guarnieri, Bill De Arango (g), Milt Hinton (b) and J. C. Hears (dr) are interesting examples of full-blown swing style with transition elements that were common in bebop music. With six tracks album presents recordings of saxophonist John Hardee, one of popular soloists in late swing era. His recordings were done with Joe Jordan (tr), Billy Kyle (p), John Simmons (b), Cozy Cole (dr) and with Milt Page (org), Billy Taylor (p), John Simmons (b) and Shadow Wilson (dr). He was one of tenor sax players who were experimenting with sound expression in times bebop was born. In this style of early bebop era are also eight tracks recorded 7 and 8 of January 1946 by Illinois Jacquet (1922-2004) with Emmett Berry (tr), Bill Doggett (p), Freddie Green (g) and again John Simmons (b) with Shadow Wilson (dr). Last seven tracks are recordings made in 1954 by Coleman Hawkins whose great personality and iconic sound being a milestone in history of jazz saxophone. As other albums in series of The Savoy Sessions, this is re-edition of material published on early and very hard to find Savoy records. Musical and technical qualities of this album make its worth at least three and a half of star.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Otto Nicolai and Felix Mendelssohn – Motets and Psalms

   During romantic era religious music was not as much widespread as in earlier periods. Many composers work for church order and number of religious compositions was still very high. What has changed, was rising of the whole movement of music played in public concerts and in private ground. Religious compositions were still great part of musical culture, even if they had to share its position with growing popularity of secular music. Composers who were engaged on posts of organists or church choir directors were often obliged to write some new works. Sometimes such position was synonymous with honorary achievement, especially in 19th century when new economic relations were intertwining with old aristocratic structures. History of Felix Mendelssohn and Otto Nicolai employment in Berlin Cathedral allows seeing in a new light some episodes of music history in romantic era.
   Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was appointed in 1842 by King of Prussia Friedrich Wilhelm IV to be Prussia general music director and Cathedral Choir conductor. He was not satisfied with this work and kind of music he was obliged to compose. In his opinion composing music as “integral part of worship (…) rather than merely a concert with more or less devotional aura” was difficult and didn’t give him artistic freedom. After Mendelssohn’s death his post was proposed to Otto Nicolai. This was idea of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV who was under deep impression of two Nicolai compositions Pater Noster and Festive Church Overture “Ein feste Burg is unser Got” played in Königsberg during 300 years celebration of Albertus University. In 1847 after his contract with orchestra in Vienna has end, composer was called to Berlin and appointed to the post of conductor of Royal Cathedral Choir and musical director of Royal Opera House.

Otto Nicolai and Felix Mendelssohn – Motets and Psalms (1983)

   Many romantic composers Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Otto Nicolai but also Fanny Mendelssohn, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Eduard Grell and Heinrich Dorn were pupils of Carl Friedrich Zelter, composer, conductor and teacher, master of Berlin musicians in early romantic period and friend with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. His formal discipline has influenced the romantic style in various ways. Mendelssohn, Nicolai and Grell were composers associated with Protestant church. Meyerbeer and Dorn were opera composers. Heinrich Dorn (1804-1892), born in Königsberg, composed opera Die Nibelungen before Wagner thought about this theme. He was also teacher of Robert Schumann and staunch critic of Wagner’s music. Otto Nicolai (1810-1849) who was also born in Königsberg was known as opera and symphonic music composer, partly thanks to his most popular work – German opera Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, but his professional biography was connected to posts as church organist in chapel of Prussian Embassy in Rome and choir director in Berlin Cathedral.
   Religious music in romantic era was vivid part of artistic life. Church compositions and music played during services was mandatory part of culture. Choice of romantic religious works for choir recorded in March 1983 by Studiochor Essen under direction of Konrad Haenish was published by Aulos label. The colloction was limited to two masters leading the choir of Berlin Cathedral in 1840’s – Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Otto Nicolai who was placed on directors post in last year of his life. Designated as Psalmen und Motetten der Romatik program of this album has been divided into two sides. First side comprises four works by Mendelssohn: Der dreiundvierzigste Psalm op. 78 Nr. 2 “Richte mich, Gott!”, Mittenwit im Leben sind op. 23 Nr. 3, Herr, nun lasses du deinen Diener ub Frieden fahren op. 69 Nr. 1 and Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt op. 69 Nr. 2. Second side comprises three compositions by Nicolai: Der 97. Psalm “Derr Herr ist König” for mixed choir, Der 31. Psalm “Herr, auf Dich traue ich” for 8-voices mixed choir and Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe for two 4-voices mixed choirs. This recording is perfect example of romantic unaccompanied choir music and an evidence of great choral culture in first half of nineteenth century. Three and a half of the star for performance, recording and edition.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Alma Mahler-Werfel – Complete Songs

   Importance of song in societal life was an effect of many factors. Probably most important was its semantic value which was derivative of song lyrics. Most appreciated songs and song cycles were composed to cycles of poems of best romantic poets. Most of them were great poets like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexander Pushkin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Heinrich Heine, Théophile Gautier, Wilhelm Müller, Adelbert von Chamisso, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph von Eichendorff, Friedrich Rückert. We can recall many other famous names of great poets. Even if some of them are forgotten or underrated like Alois Isidor Jeitteles, author of texts to Beethovens cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved) or Mathilde Wesendonck who’s poems has been used by Richard Wagner in famous cycle called Wesendonck Lieder, their contribution in building romantic imagery was huge. 
   Some composers used biblical texts – like Johannes Brahms in his famous cycle of Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs) where he uses verses from Ecclesiastes, Sirah and 1st Epistle to the Corinthians. Others were writing lyrics on their own – sometimes with astonishingly good results like Gustav Mahler in his well known cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Many song cycles were composed to the collection of one poet’s works, others to choice of texts by various poets. There are many different strategies but main ideas are almost the same – all composers wish to create perfect connection of sound and meaning. One of romantic song composers was Alma Mahler-Werfel.

Alma Mahler-Werfel – Sämtliche Lieder (1986)

   When Gustav Mahler discovered musical works of his wife, he was shocked and ashamed. It was undoubtedly reason of deep frustration to remember eight years earlier he rejected her compositions without any checking. He compiled choice of five songs and published it as Fünf Lieder in 1910 in Universal Edition. Authors of these songs were Richard Dehmel, Otto Erich Hartleben, Gustav Falke, Rainer Maria Rilke and Heinrich Heine. After publication she composed more songs and in last months of his life Mahler edited next cycle Vier Lieder of two new and two older songs, this time only contemporary poets Otto Julius Bierbaum, Richard Dehmel and Gustav Falke. This cycle was published four years after Gustav Mahler’s death in 1915. On the cover was graphic by Oskar Kokoschka.
   Alma Schindler was famous of her beauty and selfconfident. After Gustav Klimt, Alexander von Zemlinsky and Gustav Mahler with whom she was married, Kokoschka was Alma’s next love. Although she was his muse this temperamental relationship has no chance. After parting with Kokoshka she composed next few songs, and one was composed to poem Der Erkennende by Franz Werfel. She was totally captivated by this poem, but at this moment she was already a month after her wedding with Walter Gropius. Two years later she begin affair with Werfel and in 1920, after divorce with Gropius, she started living with Franz Werfel, whom she married nine years later in 1929. Fünf Gesänge were published in 1924.
   Album with songs by Alma Mahler-Werfel in performance by soprano Izabel Lippitz and pianist Barbara Heller was great exposure of forgotten composer. Recorded for Classic Production Osnabruck in 1986 was complete presentation of composer’s works only for the moment. In 2000 next two songs for voice and piano were published. First was composed to Rilke’s poem, author of the second remains unknown. There are many new recordings of Alma Mahler’s songs, but in fact Lippitz-Heller rendition still sounds perfect. Songs mainly in form of through-composed lied are subtle and balanced, rhythmically are subordinated to inner rhythm of the lyrics. Modest cover is focusing our attention on the inside. Three and a half stars for perfect performance and for possibility to hear such talented composer. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Godley & Creme – Snack Attack

   The one and only artistic project known as Godley & Creme has its own history in which various and contradictive elements connected as processes were oscillating like waves. After periods of great creativity they were producing some more schematic, popular songs and later again were back to experiments mixing sounds and structures of progressive music and popular culture. The two former musicians of 10cc – soft rock super group of 1970’s – the duo of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme was from its beginning determined by some esthetic ideas and market segment. If most of rock songs have its formal extensions in jam-like improvisations, in smoother songs of art rock main narrative means were lyrics and arrangements. And main ambition of Godley & Creme duo was to look for new means of expression while many of their listeners were old 10cc fans.
   Unfortunately their most ambitious project Consequences become instant failure. Critics were negatively oriented towards musicians whom they blamed for breaking down the 10cc. Public was rather disappointed with a three record concept album with only few songs. In such situation shortly after debut they withdraw from radical ideas of their first album. In second album L Godley & Creme have showed some balanced songs in original polystylistyc arrangements. Third Godley & Creme album Freeze Frame from 1979 was even bigger success being a reference to old 10cc style. In next LP published in 1981 Ismism, Godley & Creme had run some of their L ideas again. Nine songs, with extensively discursive texts as much poetic as ironic and original sound solutions, makes Godley & Creme fourth album potential blockbuster.

Godley & Creme – Snack Attack (1982)

   And in fact this album was their greatest success, even bigger than Freeze Frame. In European charts of 1981 two singles from Ismism were relatively high, peaking in UK chart on 3rd position in September 1981 (Under your Thumb) and 7th position in November 1981 (Wedding Bells). Whole Ismism album was peaking 29th in UK album chart. Ballades and narrative songs with strong rhythmic and instrumental background were in some cases clearly in New Wave style. These songs were perfectly matching tendencies in popular music of 1981, where harsh post-punk sounds (Snack Attack, Joe’s Camel) and dance rhythms (Ready for Ralph) were often reduced to synthpop (The Problem). Sarcasm can be sparkling idea of narrative, almost short story lyrics (Lonnie) but in fact satire never bites too much and sometimes changes into touching factor (Wedding Bells). Some songs are reviving clichés of early sixties (Sale of the Century), in some this playing with tradition shows quite new sound of saxophone riffs which in next decades would be back in various contexts. Played by Bimbo Acock saxophones are on featured position in Ready for Ralph and Lonnie. Most interesting narrative piece is closing album The Party, continuing ideas tested on L album and in style of radio play, this is again a reason for appreciating Godley & Cream ideas.

Godley & Creme – Ready for Ralph (1981)

   The Ismism album was recorded at Godley & Creme’s Lymehouse Studios in Leatherhead, during two months April and May of 1980 and published more than a year later in October 1981. In UK it was released with nice concept cover where names and title were made out of holes punched through the white cardboard cover and visible through these holes contrasting colors of inner sleeve. In later editions cover was black and dots were printed rouge and white. And such clear idea was overwhelmed by one of the ugliest covers in the whole history of 12 inch vinyl records in American edition of this album. Even the title Snack Attack was horrific in its insolent simplicity. Thirty two years later it is still hard to understand who and why decided to publish this interesting record in US in such a horrible shape. Maybe it was a kind of revenge for economic liberalism, maybe a kind of distorting mirror of American dream, but whatever it was, even in early 1980’s this was just ugly, being definitely very bad front for product containing such intriguing music. Three and a half star for Ismism and whole star less for Snack Attack horrible cover.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Shel Silverstein – Freakin’ At the Freakers Ball

   American continent is home for many great poets. Not only English language poets, although the language of Walt Whitman, after 20th century US supremacy is now probably most powerful of all American literary traditions. Poetic jokes and playing with the words is an old English tradition and since 19th century this is the part of poetic art associated with children books. Maybe it is because playing with form can be extremely helpful in learning, or it can be also the effect of children’s ability to use language in creative, unusual way. One of original, powerful personalities in American joking poetry was Shel Silverstein. He was poet and singer, cartoonist and screenwriter, songwriter and author of children’s books. His books were sold in 20 million copies with translations on 30 languages.
   His poetry is often based on sounded context of his own style, basing on conversational language, catching paradoxical ideas and trends of contemporary culture. In many poems and songs he used a lot of slang and controversial elements with economical form which was engaging the reader with his specific sense of humor. While he was author of some verses and comic books suitable for children, he was also published many precarious poems and songs, some may call obscene but still clear in intention and master in choice of measures. He made 16 albums of songs and was quite popular in musical market. And his most famous achievement was 1972 album Freakin’ At the Freakers Ball.

Shel Silverstein – Freakin’ At the Freakers Ball (1972)

   Shel Silverstein’s poetic and lyric style was full of ironic energy. His texts were often based on situation joke of putting the reader in an emergency position. Creating uncomfortable plight by combining elements that do not match, he forced reader to look for solution, when was almost certain he have to fail. When at last author gives his own and unexpected solution he makes reader to laugh of relief. Sometimes even lauder than he was intended to. Like in poem What Did? he is provoking to reaction with unexpected point of view when playing with rhymes, words and sound: What did the paper say to the pen? / I feel quite all ‘write,’ my friend. But when reader accepts this situation, poet raises it to the next level of grotesque: What did the teapot say to the chalk? / Nothing, you silly . . . teapots can’t talk! This is some more than just the clever method of a joke.
   And what was sometimes biting criticism, in another occasion became lyrics of original songs. The ninth Silverstein’s album Freaking at the Freaker’s Ball was legendary collection of satirical songs definitely “not for children”. Songs like Stacy Brown Got Two or Polly in a Porny in 1972 were perfect examples of crazy era of liberal America, some others like I Got Stoned and I Missed It or Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out had clearly moral context. And it was an element of social criticism in years before it was frozen by economic crisis and smashed by pandemia of AIDS. This half poetic, half derisive content was rendered as rhythm and blues, funky, popular songs with background of good party sound produced by Ron Haffkine and played by Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show. This record was not the part of creative music of any sense. It is well done project with good texts and music showing the style of the era. Two stars for music are not enough. We need to add two more for satirical content, so it deserves four stars considering satirical qualities.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Robert Schumann – Dichterliebe and Liederkreis

   Song cycle was undoubtedly the crowning artistic form in early romantic music, in the times of growing importance of bourgeoisie and in consequence the great social change of culture and music. Most popular romantic cycles of songs were composed by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Hector Berlioz and later by Johannes Brahms, Hugo Wolf, Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler but there were many more composers all over the Europe and Americas. Even in late romanticism, when symphonic poem became trendy the idea of cyclic musical form based on song was alive. New cycles of songs were still created in the twentieth century but rather for public performances since there was no longer social background for societal performing practice. 
   This high artistic position of song cycle was also preserved by social practice. While in many homes of 19th century singing was common activity, wealthier part of societal life was animated by professional and semiprofessional private concerts. Romantic song was form derived both from earlier aria da capo and from the idea of a narrative ballad so significant in folk music and in romantic ideas. Based on romantic song form, song cycles were heard only during very special evenings, as requiring professional shape of singer and accompanist. Such singing performances were central event in many societal occasions.

Robert Schumann – Diechterliebe and Liederkreis op. 24 (1965)

   After his marriage with Clara Wieck, Robert Schumann has devoted almost exclusively to one type of musical works and for one year he was consecutively composing song cycles. One of very first in this Liederjahr series was Liederkreis op. 24, cycle of nine songs to poems by Heinrich Heine. During the same ‘year of songs’ Schumann composed his most famous cycles Liederkreis op. 39 (to poems by Joseph von Eichendorff), Frauenliebe und –leben op. 42 (to poems by Adelbert von Chamisso) and Dichterliebe op. 48 cycle of sixteen songs to texts taken from Lyrisches Intermezzo by Heinrich Heine. Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love) became one of most popular cycles in history of the genre. One of best recordings awarded with Orphee D’or was 1957 recording by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Jörg Demus for Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft and published with 6 Songs by Johannes Brahms (18370). This recording was reedited in 1965 with Schumann’s Liederkreis op. 24 (LPM 39 109). This way two song cycles by Heine and Schumann were bound in one album.

Robert Schumann – Die alten, bösen Lieder (1957)

   Last song of the Dichterliebe cycle (No 16) was also the last poems of Heinrich Heine’s Lyrisches Intermezzo (No 65). In this song called Die alten, bösen Lieder (The Old Bad Songs) poet says it’s time to bury old bad songs with angry and bitter dreams in great and heavy coffin which could contain all his love and suffering. This form of poetic imagery shows how much romantic poets were reliant of folk inspirations. Comparing to other romantic composers, Schumann gives piano more autonomous role in creating emotional narration and in construction of the composition. One of effects was two minute piano coda in last song of the cycle, where he gives an instrumental commentary to the song.
   As love was main thematic background of whole romantic culture, song merging poetry and music was perfect construction for emotional content. While many songs and musical compositions were devoted to different feelings and stories, in cycles of songs love is dominant theme. It can be brotherly love or parents’ love to children. But what makes this subject so significant from social point of view, love is an element of personal freedom or expression of rebellion against unjust societal rules. This was one of elements in cultural movement strengthened the position of new social force which has changed the history of whole human civilization.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Giuseppe Sinopoli conducts Unfinished and Italian

   Romantic symphony was not as much popular as in 18th century, but it was powered by completely different idea of music piece. The evolution of symphony in classicism was the transition from idea of universal construction without qualities to the medium carrying the universal truth. In romantic era this form became a container for more specific contents. In first half of 19th century, before symphonic poem was invented, symphony was the best vehicle for composer ideas. Allowing themselves to be carried away with emotional reactions, composers portrayed different states of mind and even narrative components in program symphony. What is interesting, later in post-romantic music idealistic striving for universality of symphony will return with redoubled strength.
   The two of perfectly romantic symphonies are Symphony No. 8 in B Minor D 759 “Unfinished” by Franz Schubert and Symphony No. 4 in A Major, op. 90 “Italian” by Felix Mendelssohn. Each one could serve as apotheosis of extreme feelings – on one side is awareness of inevitable death and on the other unbridled joy of life. It’s worth to mention in romantic era these emotions were not distant, sometimes even not separated. And it is perfect opportunity to hear interpretation of these two works presented by conductor who has the chance to commented musical structures and his idea of rendering these works of romantic music. The artist was Giuseppe Sinopoli and was recorded with Philharmonia Orchestra for Deutsche Gremmophon in 1983. The album was published next year. On enclosed inlay was published the conductor’s essay and cover featured Johann Heinrich Schilbach’s watercolor.

Giuseppe Sinopoli conducts Schubert and Mendelssohn (1984)

   In essay Dream and memory in Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Sinopoli focuses on esthetic meanings and structural significant features of this famous symphony. Giving some concepts how one can find a deeper message in symphonic music, he concludes: “The musical meaning seems […] to be guaranteed by what Adorno calls ‘an ontology of form’ that can function as a stabilizer of ‘epic tendencies’. And yet it is not so much a question of guarantees and reductive stabilizations of the musical meaning by the form (which would once again imply a classicistic interpretative reading of the symphony) as of a fixing or immobilization of the form by that Inhalt (content) that visit it. The magical consequence of this encounter is the sound of the symphony, which is wholly Schubertian and wholly individual”. Accordingly to this opinion, Sinopoli interpreted ‘Unfinished’ Symphony from whole new perspective. Sound and rhythmic patterns occur to be meaningful; he is decoding melodic as narrative motives by following strictly dynamics and tempos.
   With no essay, the same method could be adopted to Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony. Sound qualities, articulations, tempos and dynamics show opposite side of romantic soul. Even calm mood and praying reminiscences of Andante con moto (composed in D Minor) are unable to change the impression of rejoicing ubiquitous in this symphony. The moderate drama of development part is nothing more than contrast to show the joy, serenity and light of the A-major work. Dramatic lineaments of finale Saltarello in minor key (A minor) show how effective contrasts can be. The two symphonies are clearly the pair of oppositions, even if joy is not as emotionally clear as grief and mourning, understand as “the cultic celebration of loss (…) of some good”, as Sinopoli defines it in his essay. This rendition can be breaking point for anyone who is willing to understand romantic symphony and this is worth the four and a brighter half on the five-star scale.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Steve Hillage – Green

   In 1946 story Del rigor en la ciencia (On Exactitude in Science) Jorge Louis Borges wrote about the extravagant absolute cartographic idea taken from Chapter 11 of Sylvie and Bruno Concluded by Lewis Carroll. Constant advancement in cartography was leading to establish the map of empire as 1:1 exactly image of whole country. In Lewis Carroll’s book farmers protested and conception was abandoned. Borges led this crazy idea to an absurd. No matter how crazy it sounds, scientific idea of exactness is a kind of surrender. There can be no other activity when scale of collecting objects is full and perfect. Just in contrary any science or art are effects of reduction which is elementary rational process. History as well consists of simplifications. Its quality is to integrate and shrink all elements to the common denominator. But observing development of such processes is easy to forget there are powerful phenomena with strong cultural effect even in the background of noisy fame.
   After great wave of progressive music in late sixties and early seventies, popular music was dominated by dance music, which had strong support from big media companies. In binary oriented social opinion, the opposite place took punk rock in Europe and rap in America. Progressive trends in rock and jazz were probably more productive than ever, while relevant public was diminishing old bands were still active and new artists were starting. Before they languished in a niche or made concessions to popular music, musicians were trying to find some social support in political involvement or social criticism. Also this strategy was not enough effective. Growing disillusionment of young generation has been taken by rushing movement of punk rock bands. One of strong tendencies in late seventies was futuristic vision of music connected to electronic instruments and new sound possibilities, sometimes mixed with political ideas of social changes.

Steve Hillage – Green (1978)

    This movement, we can consider it as the second wave of progrock, was the background for many interesting projects giving musicians some new artistic perspectives. And this is where Steve Hillage started his solo career. He was already well known artist, guitarist with 10 years stage in bands of Canterbury scene, where he studied at the University of Kent. He was playing in Uriel (aka Arzachel), Egg, Khan and legendary progressive formation Gong. His first record Fish Rising (1975) signed with his own name he recorded with Gong musicians. Next two albums he recorded abroad, in Woodstock – L (1976) and in Los Angeles – Motivation Radio (1977). Both were very well received in England peaking respectively 10th and 28th positions in UK album charts. His fourth album Green (1978) was third of his most successful works from commercial point of view. Recorded in Surrey December 1977, overdubbed and mastered in London during first two months of next year, album hit 30th place in the UK chart, where was listed for 8 weeks. It was also return to older Hillage style. In closing fragment of second side, The Glorious Om Riff which was remake of Master Builder from Gong album You (1974) he is at his best.

Steve Hillage – Activation Meditation / Glorious Om Riff (1978)

   Steve Hillage’s guitars are perfect and creative, and so the whole material on Green sounds so unbelievably fresh like it was recorded now. Probably this is why so many listeners compare Steve Hillage to Frank Zappa – the number of musical ideas contained in this album would be enough for whole discography of many infamous rockers. But they never will be present here, and it’s not just because I don’t have their records. Some of them are racists, others are drug addicts, pedophiles, thieves, forgers, politics beating their wives and children. Rock isn’t complicated music, but as any good music does, it should purify. And no, I don’t believe anybody with fingers sticky of dirt can clean young minds. The map metaphor, crucial in the history of ideas can be connected to history of music, which is in fact the same. Even if some people are fully convinced this is just collection of random elements which we have to categorize and close into jars. The fact some historians are just building catalogues is an effect of malfunction in the system of academic promotion. But this is the theme for another occasion.
   Although old riffs can be refreshing, return to improvised style of early seventies with its trance repeating structures was tantamount to resignation of style proposed in previous recordings. Typical for the strophic construction were harmonic modulations and rhythmic changes. In improvised fragments, especially these created on the basis of rock riffs, expression was made in process of more natural buildup. Instead of unexpected turns, emotions grew gradually. Strong rock riffs and guitar are present from the very beginning in Sea-Nature. And it is continued to first side conclusion Palm Trees (Love Guitar). Second size is organized in a similar manner with great closing guitar extravaganza. Another issue is some kind of minimalism in melodic lines and original harmonics. A lot of electronic sounds and ambient type of arrangements were in 1978 something plainly new. With Miquette Giraudy playing ARP and EMS synthesizers, Joe Blocker on drums and basist Curtis Robertson jr, Steve Hillage and coproducer of the album Nick Mason Steve Hillage made one of milestones in history of progressive rock. Four and half star for the record – a must have in every progresivist collection.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Charlie Parker – Ballads and Birdland

   Much part of music techniques, but it concerns also other fields of artistic work, was focused on giving possibly objective vision of reality. In invention of printing (1492) first aim was number of copies, but some kind of side effect was the spelling and semantic discipline. In history of fine arts this tendency has an effect in inventions of colors and geometric perspective. Famous camera obscura technique was predecessor of photography or in fact it was photography where human was active agent before invention of chemical processing. In music the history of notation was also connected the developing process of changes. After invention of photography art has changed. It took off the reality imaging, but as before it was based on talent to compose good, stable or dynamic picture, it was mixing realism with symbolism and building narrative composition. In effect phonographic records in early 20th century as the photography in 19th century created fast esthetic change. Arts and music has been released of its mimetic aims and instrumental adequacy. 
   Probably the main genre where music has changed rapidly was jazz, and the crucial moment was bebop, the first moment jazz became avant-garde art over its starting dance usage. The recording technique generated the change and ironically new phonographic industry has missed the moment the bebop was born. Leading artists were recording sweet dance hits for years while their live performances were known only for small club audience. This underground spirit was probably most powerful jazz legend, giving it more than esthetic context. And in fact jazz in 1950’s was more political issue than any other part of artistic activity. 

Charlie Parker – Ballads and Birdland (1952)

   Although mainstream companies had been forcing easier, softer touch of jazz music, some independent producers were recorded and in next decades publish unique materials in small, private companies. One of such records was Charlie Parker’s New York club recordings from 1950 and 1952. Originally album was produced by Mark Gordon for Klacto label in 1968 and then reissued by ZuZazz Records in 1988 in mid-price series. Album comprises recordings made during four evenings. First side is 5 songs played in Birdland. First two (Ornitology and 52 Street Theme) Charlie Parker recorded in September 20, 1952 in quartet with Duke Jordan – piano, Charles Mingus – bass and Phil Brown – drums. Next set of three songs (How High the Moon, Embraceable You and 52 Street Theme) is unique document of Charlie Parker and Modern Jazz Quartet meeting at Birdland November 1, 1952. Parker’s alto sounds together with Milt Jackson – vibraphone, John Lewis – piano, Percy Heath – bass and Kenny Clarke – drums. All of them were known for their recordings with Parker, but not as a band.
   Second side presents two Café Society recordings. First set is Bewitched, Summertime, I Cover the Waterfront, Gone with the Wind, Easy to Love and 52 Street Theme recorded May 23, 1950, second comprises 52 Street Theme, Just Friends and April in Paris recorded last days of the same month. Both were recorded by the same quintet Charlie Parker – alto sax, Kenny Dorham – trumpet, Al Haig – piano, Tommy Potter – bass and Roy Haynes – drums. As it is document of jazz history, it is worth to remember the 1952 Birdland announcements are by Bob Garrity, while 1950 Café Society the host was Charlie Parker. Parker’s improvisations exceeded traditional melodic, harmonic and rhythmic patterns. He returns to root functions of music elements making it the way known from folk music. How this was is possible? After half century of recorded music, it was question of time when musicians will free of notation patterns. This is what has changed performed music. The way of listening changed the way of understanding and creating music. Every new medium sooner or later becomes a technique of an art. And art is a technique ruled by an esthetic idea, isn’t it?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sergei Rachmaninoff – Symphony No. 1

   Sergei Rachmaninoff owes his fame to his piano concertos. His 2nd and 3rd concertos are probably most praised compositions for grand piano and orchestra. One may add the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. 1st and 4th concertos are not so popular. He was also recognized composer of symphonic and choral works, artist well known for his recordings and very popular virtuoso pianist. Even though he was not adequately valued for big part of his works, he remains one of most popular composers of 20th century music. His three symphonies were never as much popular as concerti, but in last decades of 20th and first decades of 21st century these great scale postromantic compositions are present in wide symphonic repertoire. So even if someone doesn’t like sound recordings, all three are not difficult to find in concert programs.
   Born in 1973 Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff – in his native language Сергей Васильевич Рахманинов – was one of the greatest romantic composers at the turn of the 20th century. But even seventy years after his death Rachmaninoff is the reason of some artistic controversy. He was extremely popular for his concertos and highly rated for performing skills. Although many historians were hostile about his style, seeing his music as it was just a continuation of Tchaikovsky and Borodin style. It is misconception, in fact Rachmaninoff’s style was criticized as too much modern, and this criticism pushed him to rejection of his 1st Symphony D Minor op. 13. In effect he lost his self-confidence, ceased composition and started to perform and conduct. Later the manuscript of the score disappeared and he did not return to the case of the bad luck numbered opus.

Sergei Rachmaninoff – Symphony No. 1 (1967)

   The irony of fate is later criticism of Rachmaninoff’s style as too much traditional. It was already time of growing interest on contemporary, intellectually arranged music and novelty of new concepts. And young Rachmaninoff was rather radical in experiments in his own way. In his first symphony he portrayed platonic love to Anna Lodyzhenskaya, giving dedication with initials A. L. and the same Biblical motto as Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina “Vengeance is mine; I will repay”. Other characteristic feature was using of motive from Dies irae sequence as one more reference to unrequited love. In cover notes Nicolas Slonimsky written Rachmaninoff destroyed the manuscript. Almost fifty years later, two years after Rachmaninoff died, in 1945 orchestral parts of Rachmaninoff’s 1st Symphony were discovered in archive of Leningrad Conservatory. Reconstructed and premiered in Moscow the same year Symphony was received with great success. Nicolas Slonimsky wrote: “Rachmaninov was dead, but he would probably have appreciated the irony of the resurrection of his youthful work”.
   Rachmaninoff’s 1st Symphony is great piece of romantic music. Starting with short solemn introduction Grave, it bursts with energy Allegro ma non troppo theme. Initially bright, after some modulations it changes into elegiac and then tragic, contrasted with melancholic second theme. Introduced by the violins Moderato is composed in gypsy scale which could be a reference to Anna Lodyzhenskaya, who was Romani descendant. This is only beginning of narration, continued in ironically dramatic scherzo Allegro animato. Third part Larghetto is the contemplative moment and a background for strong finale Allegro con fuoco.
   There are many great performances of this Symphony. Most appreciated were made by Vladimir Ashkenazy with Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, Kurt Sanderling with Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Lorin Maazel with Berliner Philharmoniker. All emotional depth of 1st Symphony was also perfectly rendered by the Philadelphia Orchestra and its conductor Eugene Ormandy in 1967. The Philadelphia Orchestra was the first orchestra Rachmaninoff has conducted during his emigration. It happened in December 1939 and it was the first time since his last Russian concert in January 1917. Rachmaninoff was recording his piano concerti with Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokovsky and Eugene Ormandy. Eugene Ormandy was also conductor of premiere performances of 3rd Symphony A Minor op. 44 and Symphonic Dances op. 45, late Rachmaninoff’s symphonic works.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ludwig van Beethoven – Lieder verschiedener Völker

   Strong position of artistic song in romantic culture, its complex relations with folklore sometimes obscures predominant role of the folk song in classical period. In instrumental music of this period folk tunes were the main source of melodic invention, covering dance and cantilena formations. This was intellectual effect of Enlightenment turn to laic, secular traditions and pre-romantic judgment on value of folk culture. This presumption was strengthened in late classicism, and one of apostles of merging folk traditions with artistic music was Ludwig van Beethoven. The great composer was known for his symphonic pieces and sonatas, while dozens of his songs remain unpublished. This is why so many of Beethoven’s pieces are signed by WoO – (Werke ohne Opuszahl – Works without opus number).
   Many cycles of Beethoven’s unedited songs in different catalogues or even various editions of the catalogues have different numbers. That is why there’s no such cycle as 27 Lieder verschiedener Völker (Songs Of Various Nationalities) WoO 158/1, although Eterna edition show such number for the cycle and even catalogue number. Under this number in Hans Halm and Georg Kinsky catalogue we can find only 23 Lieder verschiedener Völker WoO 158a (23 Songs Of Various Nationalities) and indeed first 23 songs from the record are the set of the cycle. After comparison of first 23, we should ask where the other four songs are. And this question is not quite easy to answer. Of course we can find the songs in catalogue of Beethoven’s compositions.

Ludvig van Beethoven – 27 Lieder verschiedener Völker (1973)

   Number 24 is Non, non, Colette with information it’s Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Air of Colin from Le Devin du Village. Full title of this song is Non, non, Colette n’est point trompeuse and it can be find in Halm and Kinsky catalogue as 2nd song in the cycle 6 Songs Of Various Nationalities WoO 158c. Numbers 25 and 26 are two songs from Austria written in March 1820. They are present in catalogue by Willy Hess under Nr 133: Das liebe Kätzchen and Nr 134: Der Knabe auf dem Berge. Last song is present in Halm and Kinsky catalogue Air Français WoO 158d. These four songs are supplement to the cycle of 23 Lieder verschiedener Völker WoO 158a. In catalogue by Halm and Kinsky there are much more arrangements of folk songs from various European cultures. Why in complete edition of Beethoven’s works these four were connected to the cycle of 23 remains unknown, but one can guess it is justified by the origin – the first part of WoO 158 is collection of continental folk songs, just like the four added songs. The last song Air Français is just the melody, text is unknown, so it is played by oboe.
   Most widely represented is Tirol with 5 songs, then go Russian and Spanish culture with 3 songs each, later Polish and Portugal with 2 songs. Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine are presented with one only song. Different voices are Renate Krahmer (soprano), Ingeborg Springer (mezzo-soprano), Eberhard Büchner (tenor) and Günther Leib (baritone). There are voices of members of Radio Choir from Leipzig under direction of Horst Neumann and accompanying instrumentalists Kurt Mahn (oboe), Werner Pauli (guitar), Eva Ander (piano), Reinhard Ulbricht (violin) and Joachim Bischof (cello). Recorded in May and July of 1972 album is rare document of old, traditional style of song performing art. Interesting for its idea and for history of composer who was more European than most Europeans can understand, it deserves two and a half star for its uniqueness.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Lol Creme & Kevin Godley – L

   One of most significant and recognized duos in progressive rock history is assuredly Godley-Creme. During 11 years of the collaboration they recorded seven albums, numerous singles and music videos. Lol Creme and Kevin Godley were playing together years before they started the duo. Their professional paths had intertwined since end of fifties, through rock and roll decade when they were members of The Magic Lanterns, than in 1970 they played in Doctor Father and Hotlegs. And in 1972 together with Eric Stewart from Hotlegs and Kevin Godley’s school friend Graham Gouldman (in mid-sixties both were playing in The Mindbenders) they started official history of 10cc – a supergroup from Stockport active in soft rock and art rock genres.
   Lol Creme and Kevin Godley started their duo career with triple-LP album Consequences in 1977. Despite many great ideas and improvements in technology of sound recording, project of two artists, formerly musicians of 10cc, met with vast criticism. Not disheartened with malevolent opinions, artists take most common objection concerning the length of album and produced the very next year album L as concentrated, 34 minutes long collection of seven songs. But despite production changes, more consistent, clear content and less extravagance, music of Godley-Creme duo still met hostility of critics and second album became commercial failure.

Lol Creme & Kevin Godley – L (1978)

   Second album was recorded in Surrey Sound Studios Leatherhead Surrey between March and June 1978. Reactions on Consequences were already known, and as we know it was disappointing for artists. As before entire material for this album was recorded by two multi instrumentalists – Kevin Godley on drums and a wide range of percussion instruments, Lol Creme played keyboards, bass and various types of guitars including gizmo, drums, and both were singing. The exceptions were saxophone parts played by Andy Mackay and Jonathan Handelsman. There was also Paul Gambaccini recorded the voice of Bad Samaritan in The Sporting Life. Album was dense and consistent in musical action and lyrics. Its creativity has expressed in freedom and joy of experimenting with forms of popular and rock music.
   All material has been composed and written by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme. The songs of L have strong multilayer musical and word structures. Sometimes these are poetic visions sometimes an utterance on social issues, and all songs are perfectly joining deep lyrics with musical artistry, meanings with rich, constantly changing points of view. This is polystylistic, complex structure rather draining from popular culture, than creating pop music. And it shows reference to Frank Zappa was not an accident. In fact the idea of building music using pop culture material, not only songs but also commercials and common sounds, all mixed in massive arrangements, with Godley’s marimba and melodic percussion was very much close to some ideas of Over Nite Sensation and late projects of Mothers of Invention.

Lol Creme & Kevin Godley - Punchbag (1978)

   This is perfect case of two creative musicians trying to find their own receipt for progressive, ambitious music, basing on soft rock, clear for all and deep for insiders. And in fact they found it in self-irony, originality and quality of musical material. There remains an open question on how much irony soft rock public can tolerate. Anyway they didn’t buy, critics didn’t want to speak about. Nobody clearly demands artists should have the one and only destination. It’s clear Godley-Creme albums were poorly received because some 10cc fans just can’t forgive they are no longer in the band. It’s significant the best position on charts they had with 1987 compilation Changing Faces where duo songs were placed together with 10cc hits. On the other hand no songs from L album were taken.
   The story of Godley-Creme duo can be regarded as a clear case of non-musical grounds in musical business. Both were talented musicians thus anyway they were appreciated – especially for their contribution in soft rock, for pioneering new ideas of music visualizations, for producing great music videos. For many first albums of Godley-Cream duo are just some eccentric music, a kind of side path of musical evolution. Maybe some critics were biased as if they could not forgive parting 10cc. I think this is also a story of misunderstanding artistic ideas by the public demanding more trendy songs than inspiring artistic expression. Business and art are fundamentally different and duo Godley-Creme should be considered as the art work first and foremost. And I’m pretty sure with passing time there will be increasing number of those who think so. Four stars and I hesitate whether to add a half.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Polish Jazz vol. 45 – Complot of Six

   The first wave of modern jazz in Poland was an effect of fast transition from traditional forms modeled on Dixieland patterns to cool and hard bop harmonics and sound constructions. The generation of musicians born before the war and starting their musical activity in 1950’s has been called Polish school and started great tide of jazz in culture of 1960’s. In the seventies, when most jazzmen in the world explored possibilities of fusion music, many artists were trying to connect still bearing hard bop with funk rhythms and short rock phrases. This direction was expanded by some well known artists as well as youngest Polish musicians. And this was a phenomenon one can call the second wave of Polish jazz school. It was not only the issue of generation adherence, although comprising mainly these musicians born after the war and grown up in admiration to the legends of Polish jazz scene. 
   Wrocław was interesting jazz scene with festival of young talents “Jazz nad Odrą” and many active musicians. With Cracow and Warsaw it was one of three most powerful jazz centers in Poland. In Wrocław atmosphere of creative ferment, ensembles were formed and disappeared, giving place to the next generations of bands. The same musicians played in various groups and artistic projects. One of such groups was Spisek sześciu (Complot of Six), one of most popular fusion bands of mid seventies in Poland. It was established in 1972 and made its debut on Jazz nad Odrą festival in 1973. Band was awarded and took place in Jazz nad Odrą 1974 contest winning 1st prize. The same year 1974 Spisek sześciu played in Prerov (Czechoslovakia) where musicians won gold medal and European Extra Class Band designation.

Polish Jazz vol. 45 – Complot of Six (1975)

   After an instant success the new sextet from Wrocław was invited and played in festivals Jazz Jamboree in Warsaw and famous Spanish festival in San Sebastian. But the top achievement of the group happened to be the only album recorded in Wrocław in March 1975 for Polskie Nagrania. It has been published as volume 45 of Polish Jazz series. Musicians were playing as Spisek sześciu in next editions of Jazz nad Odrą in 1975 and 1976 and many other events. But in 1976 the band broke down and three of them started new jazz-rock group Crash. Composer of whole material was leader Włodzimierz Wiński playing tenor and baritone saxophones. Members of the ensemble were trumpet player Zbigniew Czwojda, trombonist Leszek Paszko, pianist Bogusław Razik, bass guitarist Andrzej Pluszcz and drummer Adam Bielawski.
   Program of the album is eclectic choice of jazz-rock and fusion jazz pieces. Improvised fragments are closer in some parts to rock solos than to jazz. First side is one wide expanded cyclic composition Visions which comprises three episodes constructed as a suite. Set in trendy directions between free jazz and progressive rock, this almost 20 minutes composition was primarily planned as title piece of the whole album. Maybe its title Visions was worn out too much and title of the album has left eponymous. Second side program are three compositions in clear jazz style, basically consisting of themes and improvised choruses. These compositions are Amorphous, With Salt and Pepper and Epitaphium. The sextet played presumably on traditional instruments, only exceptions were bass guitar, sometimes playing with expressive distortion and Fender electric piano. Yet its sound was very far from acoustic jazz. This is very interesting album full of fresh ideas and very good trumpet improvisations. Three and a half on the five stars scale for good position in history of Polish progressive music.