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.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Georg Friedrich Händel – Italian Solo Cantatas

   Baroque was an era of the opulence. Music in 17th and first half of 18th centuries was the scene of many processes changing culture for good. In fact this time was so much filled with artistic accomplishments and creative talents, the baroque become synonymous with plenitude. Some composers were specializing in specific genres or forms of music, but in most cases it was natural aspiration to work on full range of musical means. The same situation was with Georg Friedrich Händel who was one of best and most comprehensive among Baroque composers. Although he is remembered mainly for his oratorios and operas or organ concertos, he was active and successive as orchestra music composer, chamber and solo instrumental and vocal works. Apart he was competent and gifted composer of any baroque form, he was absolute master of narrative forms, where lyrics were interacted with music and voices build narratives in conjunction with instrumental layers.
   Georg Friedrich Händel was composer of three cultures, he was born and learned in Germany, then studied composition in Italy and lived in England. It is really difficult to assess which culture was dominant. He was born in Halle in 1685, the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. From his beginnings he was linked to most massive forms of baroque stage music, opera and oratorio. He was only 17 years old when according to his father’s will he started in Halle University jurisprudence studies. The same time he was working as church organist and one year later he started to work as violinist in Hamburg Oper am Gänsemarkt. Thank to contacts with Johann Mattheson and Christoph Graupner, he composed his first two operas Almira and Nero – both were staged in 1705, when Händel was only twenty. Here in Hamburg Opera he met Gian Gastone de' Medici who invited him to Florence to compose opera in Italy. Next step in composers career was work in Italy, Florence, Rome, Venice and Naples.

Ton Koopman – Händel – Italian Solo Cantatas (1978)

   During his Italian period Händel was developing his possibilities in dramatic and narrative musical forms. He was composing operas and oratorios, both religious and secular music. In short period 1706-1709 he composed hundred secular cantatas, 72 Italian cantatas for solo voice with figured bass and 28 with obbligato instruments and continuo. Cantata was form perfect for composers training because it was much easier to perform. But these cantatas had also impact on Händel’s career, for this was the one of highly valued forms when it comes to employment on the composer of the court post. In baroque music cantata was playing the same role as madrigal in 16th century and Italian composers had great achievements in the field. Earlier Händel was under influence of Giovanni Bononcini whom he met as 13 years old when he made his debut on the court of Frederick I of Prussia in Berlin. In Rome he was learning from Luigi Rossi, Giacomo Carissimi, Alessandro Stradella and particulary Alessandro Scarlatti, who composed over 600 cantatas.
   From great series of Händel’s Italian solo cantatas, four were taken for album published in 1978 in Telefunken collection Das Alte Werk. Artists were singer Marjanne Kweksilber and the ensemble Musica antique Amsterdam conducted by Ton Koopman. The choice of four cantatas comprises Pensieri notturni di Filli: Nel dolce dell’ oblio HWV 134, cantata for soprano, recorder and b.c., composed in Rome between 1707 and 1709, Un’alma innamorata HWV 173 from May-June 1707, Filio d’alte speranze HWV 113 written in Florenz in 1706 and Armida abbandonata: Dietro l’orme fugaci HWV 105, composed May-June 1707. Authors of poetry in these cantatas remain unknown. In this historically informed performance radical style of phrasing define an esthetical perspective of interpreting dramatical and lyrical fragments. Beautiful, clear soprano of Marjanne Kweksilber gives one of best performances of Händel cantatas.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Easy Rider Soundtrack

   Cinema works the same way as literature, both are narrative arts and both depict time and social environment. Sometimes movie plays a major role in social life and passes with the dilemmas of the era, sometimes it stays as the voice in universal discourse and can be heard for years. Some films work both ways and these we recognize as master achievements. One of such movies is without any doubts Easy Rider, produced by Peter Fonda, directed by Dennis Hopper. Fonda and Hopper were playing main characters Wyatt and Billy. The third great actor of the movie was Jack Nicholson in the role of the lawyer George Hanson. As voice of the generation, Easy Rider is clear example of the road movie. And like many movies of these times, it was driven by drug poetics and counterculture ideas. In 1969 those were the factors connected with instant success. I was critical towards American tradition; it was anti-Western and anti-frontier demystifying. Heading opposite direction than history of the American nation, from West to East, Wyatt (Captain America) wanders back to the sources.
   What makes this movie unique is a connection of strong cultural discourse and social criticism with aspirations of young Americans. Director of the movie Dennis Hopper said “Easy Rider was never a motorcycle movie”. Exactly the same way as Vanishing Point was never a car chase movie and Last Tango in Paris was not an erotic movie. It’s worth to notice, Easy Rider was not about drugs as well. Hopper in his explanation stated: “A lot of it was about politically what was going on in the country”. But politics is always behind the social issues and freedom has its price. The trip taken by the heroes is just as in every good road movie the trip into deep of self. The chase for American dream occurred to be the road to nowhere or to the series of disappointing close-ups of miserable life in the best case. This movie corresponds with Medium Cool, one another critical picture of American dream done in 1969 by Haskell Wexler. In both cases the footage creators are dealing with music, making it a part of the drama. And music accompanies the pictures, enhancing the story with deeper sense of cultural and social background.

Easy Rider Soundtrack (1969)

   There is no information about music in movie credits. It is significant fact. In 1969 nobody was willing to sign by his name a soundtrack made as collection of best record – this credit was reserved just to composers and musicians who really made music in the movie. So this is a choice made by producer and director. But such a decision also has its means. Despite of this, the soundtrack for Easy Rider was more than just a collection of rock songs. Before such collections become popular in seventies, in late 1960’s it was not very common practice, and different as in forthcoming years these songs were used as the element telling the story. Carefully selected songs and instrumental fragments correspond with main ideas, illustrate emotions, and enhance the impact of some scenes. And most of all, this soundtrack is the part of the message exactly the way rock music was part of life for entire generation. The same was modern jazz in late fifties. The radical change of music in Easy Rider soundtrack shows the way rebellion goes. From naïve Wasn’t Born to Follow by The Byrds and hippie communes on the West, to industrialized East with disturbing instrumental music of Flash, Bam, Pow by The Electric Flag which trance motoric rhythm can be seen as heralding postindustrial rock.

The Electric Flag - Flash, Bam, Pow (1967)

   Whole soundtrack album is ten songs credited to various performers. General line draws from Steppenwolf’s The Pusher and title credits sequence Born to Be Wild and The Weight by The Band (soundtrack album covers this song by Smith), through If you Want to Be a Bird by The Holy Modal Rounders and Don’t Bogart Me by The Fraternity of Man, to Jimi Hendrix Experience’s If the Six Was Nine. There are also The Electric Prunes’ composition Kyrie Eleison Mardi Gras and two ballads It’s Alright Ma and Ballad of Easy Rider sung by Roger McGuinn. All these songs had strong cultural and historic context, but Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf become the anthem of the post-hippie generation.
   Some songs were not included in soundtrack album. The popul song Let's Turkey Trot by Little Eva is just the part of the bar interior characterizing esthetic and social contrasts. Many musical elements are just parts of background, like songs heard on the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Grass. One fragment which exclusion is hard to accept is musical fragment corresponding the drive through industrial landscape. It is mentioned before Flash, Bam, Pow by The Electric Flag, the music used two years earlier in Peter Fonda’s movie The Trip. In fact this is one of most emphatic moments of the movie thank to context and to the music. Unlike many other movies of this time, Easy Rider was truly and explicitly critical against traditional hierarchical society but also against hippie culture, against drugs and alcohol, against xenophobic stereotypes, against inequity and against hate. And the greatness of this movie is the story of the voyage can be taken as viewer’s personal experience. There are many keys to the truth and music is the best one.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Witold Małcużyński – Tchaikovsky – Concerto B-flat Minor op. 23


   One of best pianists in 20th century Poland was Witold Małcużyński (Malcuzynski, Malcuzynsky, Malcuzinsky), pianist whose career was temporarily suspended by 2nd world war, but flourished in 50’s, giving him master position in Poland and internationally recognized authority in romantic pianism. He was famous as interpreter of Fryderyk Chopin’s music and great performer of romantic concertos by Liszt, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. He has recording contract with Columbia Records but his recordings were also published by EMI and Angel Records. Before the war he was supported by Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Later as he was recognized worldwide, Małcużyński was able to continue some activities also on diplomatic field. He had contribution in returning to Wawel Castle in Kraków collection of works of art saving from the war in Canada. 
   He was born August 10th 1914 in Koziczyn (now Kazokine near Švenčionys – Lithuania) and since the age of 5 he was learning piano. As 15 years old he was accepted into Warsaw Conservatory where he studied in classes of Jerzy Lefeld and then Józef Turczyński. He graduated with honors in 1936 and the same time became laureate of fifth prize in International Music Competitions in Vienna. Next year he won third prize in Third International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. In 1938 he moved to Paris for invitation to study in Paris with Marguerite Long and Isidor Philipp. In September 1939 after Germany attacked Poland, he joined the army and thank to Ignacy Jan Paderewski was incorporated as a member of artistic corps. After Germans captured Paris, he fleed to Portugal, and in October 1940 he moved to Argentina. Two years later he moved to USA and after the war he back to Europe and settled in Switzerland.  

Witold Małcużyński - Tchaikovsky - Concerto B-flat Minor (1961)

   He was one of these intellectuals who delayed their comeback to Poland for political reasons. As one of most successful Polish artists, after his return to Poland in 1958 Witold Małcużyński was celebrated as a national hero. He was frequently performing and recording artist, unquestioned authority in artistic style, member of jury in Long-Thibaud-Crespin Competition in Paris (1946, 1955, 1960, 1965, 1977), Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Brussels (1960), Magda Tagliaferro Competition in Paris (1960) and International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw (1960, 1965, 1975). He was performing with Paul Kletzky, Serge Koussevitzky, Pierre Monteaux, Fritz Reiner, Artur Rodziński, George Szell and giving recitals of Polish music. In 1961 Witold Małcużyński recorded two great romantic piano concertos – Concerto No. 1 B-flat Minor by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Concerto No. 3 D-Minor by Sergei Rachmaninov.
   Performance of Tchaikovsky's Concerto B-flat Minor op. 23 with Polish National Philharmonic Orchestra, the orchestra Małcużyński made debut with, were symbolic return to his beginnings. Pianist is main artist of this performance. Orchestra is following him with necessary precision, which is part of great contribution of conductor Witold Rowicki. The sound of orchestra is even but sometimes little too flat, just opposite to the sound of the piano exploding with colors and emotions. Such difference was probably the effect of sound producer decisions. Maybe orchestral sound was suppressed to enhance the effect of the piano. Recording with Polish National Philharmonic Orchestra under direction by Witold Rowicki was great achievement of artists and one of mandatory item in every Polish records collection. This performance was recognized as perfect interpretation and reprinted many times in Poland and other countries. Four stars for great performance.