Friday, January 31, 2014

Lol Creme / Kevin Godley – Consequences

   When in 1976 soft rock super group 10cc has split as a consequence of some kind of artistic disagreements, musicians of the band parted into two fractions. One part was the trio continuing working under the name of the band. Second was the duo Kevin Godley and Lol Creme who had focused on progressive art-rock project which result was their first album published the very next year. They were active in years 1977 to 1988 and became known as Godley & Creme. The duo recording seven innovative studio art-rock albums melting rock, pop, cabaret, jazz, country and every possible connection in semi popular, semi progressive vision of specific sense of humor and creative attitude in every aspect of musical production.
   Godley & Creme first project and main reason of breaking with 10cc was triple LP album Consequences released in 1977 in box cassette with booklet inside. Providing detailed information on project development edited in fanzine style with lots of photos and illustrations 20-page insert was written by Paul Gambaccini. Black lacquered box with elegant typography in gold and as Phil McNeil called it “tasteful picture of a cloud formation resembling a monstrous face” from the very beginning strived to display it as one of most ambitious concept albums in the history of rock. This was the main feature critics saw as opposite to unsuccessful musical content.

Lol Creme / Kevin Godley – Consequences (1977)

   Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, multi-instrumentalists experimenting with gizmotronic, the electromechanical bow effect for guitar, recorded all essential tracks of this album. Both artists focused on studio possibilities, building music with multitrack recording and melting instrumental phrases with sound effects and noises at Strawberry Studios in Stockport and The Manor in Shipton-on-Cherwell, Oxfordshire for 18 months. This was nothing new, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells was already a classical album and many artists since sixties were experimenting with tape – one of first orchestral multiplication was Frank Zappa’s Uncle Meat. In 1976 problem was not “how”, but “what” to do in rock composition.
   Lol Creme and Kevin Godley collaborated with very few artists. As guest stars they hired Mel Collins and Sarah Vaughan. Mel Collins played soprano and tenor saxophones tracks in When Things Go Wrong. Guest appearances gave some new perspective as in Lost Weekend where the elements of gospel style choir are mixing with jazz vocal performance by Sarah Vaughan. Constructing complex narrative and musical structure artists hired Peter Cook who wrote dialogues and gave great gig playing different characters. His half comic performance has cabaret impact but in some parts it looks as it steals the show, making music weaker. Following critics, artists decided to publish two year later one LP compilation album Music from Consequences.
   As in many parts musical textures are perfect continuation of what Creme and Godley were doing as half of 10cc group, the end result ensures that sometimes the better, the worse – the excess of ambition often leads to the disclosure of weaknesses and to the moment when even best intentions have contrary effect. After four decades this album turns out to be worth listening. Not for old jokes, but for gentle musical changes defining the time and narratives, giving feeling of steadiness under every transitory moment. Quoted review by Phil McNeil in New Musical Express wrote at the end: “against my better judgment, I find myself enjoying it” and this shows subversive sense of the whole project. This album is perfectly made and ambitious attempt to go beyond the limitations of soft rock – two and half stars, full two for the album and a half for rising of Godley & Creme in next decade.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Donald Fagen – The Nightfly

   The musical scene in seventies was complicated with rise of fresh waves and plenty of old concepts. As rock in its progressive subgenres was still aroused, pop-rock and jazz-rock were keeping their positions, and new ideas were emerging with speed of angry punk riffs and with power of new electronic sounds. Full spectrum of styles between musical experiments and easy listening was the scene for many bands playing all kinds of sound, forms and attitudes. One of them was Steely Dan, the band founded by two friends Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. The ideas were continued by Donald Fagen after Steely Dan was disbanded in 1981 and his first solo album was The Nightfly, a clear display of new frontiers in popular music. The New Frontier was one of hit songs.
   Relations between words and harmonics, culture of sound and bold arrangements made this music revolutionary. First reason was entire new technology of digital process is studio recording. Giving new possibilities in composing and mixing tracks, it was a challenge for artists recording at the moment, and Fagen was not only one musician testing himself in new technology, but the results even 32 years later are still impressive. From the other hand, the year after breaking the band was good moment for recapitulation of artist achievements. And last but not least, after decade of creating sound of Steely Dan, came the time for shifting Fagen’s artistic development into new level. All of his albums had such character, and were issued at intervals of about 10 years.

Donald Fagen – The Nightfly (1982)

   Also the personnel changes during recording songs for The Nightfly album could be seen as a sign of summarizing attitude of the artist. There were some about two and a half dozens of musicians engaged. Many of them were known as sidemen from Steely Dan’s records, like guitarists Larry Carlton (The Royal Scam, Gaucho), Rick Derringer (Countdown to Ecstasy, Katy Lied, Gaucho), bass guitarists Chuck Rainey (Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied, Aja, The Royal Scam, Gaucho), Anthony Jackson (Gaucho),  drummers Ed Greene (Aja) and Jeff Porcaro (Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied). Even famous jazzmen brothers Randy Brecker playing here trumpet and flugelhorn and Michael Brecker were recording on Gaucho, the last Steely Dan’s album preceding The Nightfly. Probably the greatest new arrival was Marcus Miller playing with strong jazz feeling. His bass guitar driving in Maxine, The Nightfly, and The Goodbye Look is just unmistakable.
   In Maxine close harmony voices are accompanied with perfect jazzy-style arrangement and Michael Brecker’s tenor solo, which is the great example of new pop-rock-jazz crossover. Everything here is organic and transparent, even if elements were taken from distant genres. In 1982 it was the turning point, not only in technical context, but first of all in social and cultural perspective. The debut record of Donald Fagen was recorded in years 1981 and 1982 in New York Soundworks Digital Audio/Video Recording Studios, then in Masonic temple of Village Recorders in Los Angeles and later back in New York Automated Sound Studio. It was produced by long time Steely Dan producer Gary Katz and released October 29, 1982. Certified platinum in US and UK, this album influences many trends in next decades. After thirty two years this music sounds still as fresh as new. I’m giving four and half star to express my strong belief this album is still a blockbuster.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Karajan conducts Ravel and Debussy

   Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy were artists who have created new, revolutionary music in the time of decline the romantic era. As prominent composers, they have been jointed together by historic moment, cultural circumstances and artistic attitude. Both were musical rebels although private reasons of every one were quite different, both became the most prominent composers in antiromantic movement and last but not least, both are included to impressionism as major figures of the style. Despite many differences between them, the two composers are often shown together in one philharmonic evening, radio program or one record. And most frequent program of such exposure was always, two symphonic poems by Debussy and one or two of symphonic works by Ravel. Programs based on Ravel’s Bolero and La Mer by Debussy are always best choice.
   Bolero by Maurice Ravel was commissioned by dancer Ida Rubinstein and choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska. Premiere took place in Paris Opera on November 22, 1928. Next year New York premiere was conducted by Arturo Toscanini and in 1930 four gramophone recordings were made under direction of Piero Coppola, composer himself, Serge Koussevitzky and Willem Mengelberg. After first reactions composer was surprised this uncomplicated work achieved so huge success, and he was criticizing his own work for lack of musical development. He called this work “one very long, gradual crescendo”. In classical symphonic categories, repeating two melodies changing leading instruments and accompanied instruments is neither original nor capacious idea.

Maurice Ravel – Bolero,  Claude Debussy – La Mer (1979)

   With its simplicity and expression, Bolero is work of genius. Written in C Major, ¾ time, based on ostinato rhythm of bolero, repeating by snare drum and sequentially joining instruments it is perfect vehicle for imagination. Two themes are following in repetition 18 times in more and more massive orchestration. Both themes are diatonic, although with modal shift in the second theme to Dorian mode, which gives some kind of moving impulse. Impressionistic sound sensibility gives best orchestras a lot of room to maneuver. It’s hard to find anyone more promising than Herbert von Karajan, one of best conductors ever. In Herbert von Karajan’s brilliant career complete set of great symphonic repertoire was performed and recorded many times in span of six decades. Some blockbusters and most popular concert pieces were just symphonic fragments from stage music. And Maurice Ravel’s Bolero was probably the piece most admired ever. And one of most reliable interpretation was recorded in 1966 by Herbert von Karajan with Berliner Philharmoniker where he was principal conductor from 1954 to 1989.
   In 1965 Karajan recorded with Berliner Philharmoniker program of three great impressionist works – on A-Side La Mer by Claude Debussy and on B-Side Ravel’s Suite N° 2 from «Daphnis Et Chloé» and Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft 138 923 SLPM). One year later, in 1966 Karajan recorded with the same orchestra album with Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition in Ravel’s brilliant orchestration and Bolero (DGG 139 010 SLPM). In 1979 recordings from those albums were base for new compilation of most popular works by Ravel and Debussy. Besides Bolero, program of this record includes La Mer and Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, two symphonic poems by Claude Debussy, defining musical impressionism more specifically. The new set of old recordings was published in budget series Resonance (Deutsche Grammophon 2535 351). The dance nature of these compositions was shown in an impressive cover art.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rozhdestvensky conducts Bruckner’s Fourth

   Symphony was pure classical form, perfectly matching enlightenment ideas with its formal balance and clear emotional rhetoric. After Beethoven’s improvements it became suitable container ready for romantic ideas. The augmented construction where minuet has been replaced with scherzo has still had a great potential for developing expressive and rhetoric means. And next generations in 19th century music have adopted this symphonic idea of forming and rebuilding construction of symphony. They gain excellent results giving different and new directions for French symphonic music, Austrian and German symphonies or Russian symphonic movement in romanticism and then in 20th century music. One of highest achievements as composer of full-blown romantic symphonies was Anton Bruckner.
   Anton Bruckner was born in 1924 in Ansfelden near Linz in the family of village teacher. He started school as 6 year old and his first teacher was his father, then he continued education to be an organist. When Anton Bruckner was 13, his father died, so was send to school in Augustinian monastery in Sankt Florian to be a choir boy, and to learn to play organ and violin. And, and from his early years he was an organist and a teacher of village schools. As composer he started career in his twenties, but real progress he made as 30 year old. He showed his Missa Solemnis and was accepted to be a student of famous music theorist Simon Sechter. Twenty years later, in 1974 he started to compose his fourth symphony, finishing first version in 1980. 

Anton Bruckner – Symphony No. 4 (1985)

   Symphony E-flat Major No 4 „Romantic” is probably most popular work by Anton Bruckner. On the list of his symphonies it is certainly the most commonly performed and recorded one. His nine accomplished symphonies are numbered from No. 1 to No 8. There is also an early „student” symphony called „00” and Symphony No. 0 D Minor (Die Nullte) which has been rejected by composer and thus numbered as Zero. Last of his great works, Symphony No. 9 D Minor remained unfinished. Many of his symphonies had different versions, because he was reworking most of his symphonies many times. This lack of clear decision and between concurrent releases was called The Bruckner Problem. One of such works was the Symphony No. 4. It was so frequently edited, with composer’s revisions it was known in seven versions and six versions were separately published. 
   But there was one more version of Bruckner’s Fourth. When Gustav Mahler was preparing in 1895 premiere in Hamburg, he cut some parts and rearranged the symphony by changing orchestration, giving the form and a whole sound more transparent and polyphonic character. And in Mahler manner it really sounds different, yet great in terms of symphonic form. Once more Anton Bruckner appeared as consequent continuator of the traditions of Austro-German Romanticism and talented follower of symphonic ideas derived from Beethoven's works. In 1984 great Russian conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky became the head of newly established ensemble, The USSR Ministry of Culture Orchestra. With this orchestra Gennadi Rozhdestvensky recorded in 1984 complete of Bruckner symphonies, published as a series of albums very next year. He choose Mahler’s version and it is probably the one and only recording of this beautiful version. Two composers presented in this solo work are both great and despite the difference somehow similar. Great version and great rendition both deserve more than four stars.