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!

X CONGRESS OF ZAPPOLOGY – OLSZTYN DEC 20th, 2014

★★★★★

   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.