Monday, October 26, 2015

Genesis — Selling England by the Pound

★★★★★

   Sometimes poets and artists can predict the future. And in general visions they can do it with higher accuracy than any division of political or social analytics. The power of artistic exploration and its universal perspective lasts in some aspects of such prophecy remaining relevant even many years later. Competent songs readers and listeners can interpret these visions in any historic situation creating a chance for impact on real history. Even if most of predictions were just exaggerated critiques of actual trends. Although such idea of half-abstractive criticism can be easily found in progressive rock lyrics, most of songs are more poetic and contemplative visions of human relations in this world. This attitude is quite understandable considering rebellious roots of rock music. From its very beginning ambitious part of popular music was part of public scrutiny and this means it had to express criticism and objection against establishment and any form of official politics. This can be applied for the whole genre of progressive rock and especially for early creative activities of Genesis band.
   In early seventies, after Trespass in 1970, Nursery Crime in 1971 and Foxtrot in 1972 classical progressive rock band Genesis was on steady raising trend. The lineup of the band was stable since Nursery Crime sessions, public perception of recordings and concerts was well and reviews of their productions were enough enthusiastic to plan ambitious projects without any hesitation. But 1973 occurred to be the turning point for general conditions of rock and popular music market. Especially progressive rock was the scene of deep change. More and more small labels we concentrated in record companies being enough powerful to run their own politics. In the pursuit of profit they pressed for more popular and attractive forms of musical entertainment. The same 1973 listeners were already weary of long and complicated compositions of post psychedelic music, they were demanding melody based and not too long songs with understandable lyrics. This moment was good for progressive rock bands promoting the idea of concept albums including songs that were enough attractive to be played by the radio.


Genesis — Selling England by the Pound (1973)

   For Genesis nothing has changed. The band played smaller song-like pieces from the very beginning. When other bands were looking for their way out of style based on long suites and improvised psychedelic forms, for Genesis it was the time for continuations and recapitulations. They were in good positions as artists fulfilling their creative ambitions, as well as best selling stars with lots of freedom. Even if they felt this state is temporary only. In August 1973 they recorded album Selling England by the Pound – next set of extended songs merging social, economic, cultural and political criticism on loosing English culture values for domination of American popular culture. It was combining poetic lyrics and syncretic musical style connecting rock with some fusion extensions, folk and traditional music. In 1973 five musicians of Genesis were enough trusted to play songs dealing with major civilization issues and cultural changes. The title of the album, Selling England by the Pound, was a reference to Labor Party slogan.
   Probably these sound structures and relations between instruments are the most interesting element of 1973 Genesis style. It was far from typical rock elaborations of these times. Music for Selling England by the Pound was written together by all members of the band: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford. Arrangements of instruments and creative use of their possibilities made Genesis’ music rich and musical narration colorful with lots of progressive style elements like changes of time signatures, various tempo and harmonic sequences. The use of every instrument is more variable and functional than in texture representative for classical rock. It’s like in symphonic orchestra where various instrument parts are united in one structure. One of most interesting example for such approach was nine and half minute long Firth of Forth composition. This symphonic factor is widely presented on Selling England by the Pound album determining Genesis was one of foremost bands in symphonic rock subgenre which is now considered synonymous with progressive rock or art rock.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band • Trout Mask Replica

★★★★★

   As Frank Zappa mentioned in his Real Book, under the ground of California rock scene in sixties, there was many independent musicians driven by ideas of progress and creative spirit. About many of them nobody remembers, but those who were putting their creative contribution in next decades, are now recognized as classics of California scene. Musicians and sound technicians led experiments with new sound and formal elements, trying to invent new possibilities of expression. One of most famous was Don Van Vliet known as Captain Beefheart who was combining raw blues vocal techniques with blues and rock, to create his unique vision of music. It wasn’t rock, although in 1980’s some authors were trying to place Captain Beefheart’s music in proto punk context. It wasn’t even blues, even if he made some efforts to make us think so. This music was his own mixture of avant-garde, blues, modern jazz and rock with citations from popular culture and artistic music, so probably progressive rock is most appropriate category.
   The problem with categorization of Captain Beefheart music is its changeability. He was using some different idioms giving some chances for various interpretations. Most complex and artisticly independent is Captain Beefheart’s third  album. In August 1968 and March 1969 Captain Beefheart recorded material for double LP album produced by his friend Frank Zappa. Released June 16, 1969 album Trout Mask Replica is absolutely the one of crowning moments in history of both progressive rock and experimental music. Whole musical material was created and rehearsed in one year period. Album has benn produced by Frank Zappa and published under Straight Records label being companion to Bizarre Records, the pair of companies for publishing more mainstream or more experimental musical projects. In fact Trout Mask Replica, although published by Straight Records, remains most unusual and un-straight album in both collections.

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band — Trout Mask Replica (1969)

   The raw sound of and complex rhythmic patterns are most characteristic elements spanning to whole material of this album. Although in 1969, during recording Trout Mask Replica album raw sound was Captain Beefheart’s hallmark, this was first time when production was precisely connected with musical contents. In some parts minimalistic effects and atonality, in others folk blues and free jazz ideas interlock in multidimensional fabric. The precision of this band was legendary in next decades until digital recording technologies made possible similar effects. Most of these elements and ideas in 1969 were not new, but its combination was definitely fresh and for many listeners just shocking. This was time of dividing rock music into more popular, commercial popular music and progressive trends with plenty of formal ideas. As Frank Zappa proposed Captain Beefheart possibility of recording album with complete artistic freedom, this album become perfect example of expanding frontiers of rock and blues-rock genre.
   As a project of Captain Beefheart this was most ambitious and consequent undertaking. The line-up of The Magic Band was refreshed, all musicians’ names were replaced with nicknames. Drummer John French was called Drumbo, guitarist Jeff Cotton was covered under pseudonym Antennae Jimmy Semens, guitarist Bill Harkleroad was noted as Zoot Horn Rollo, playing bass guitar Mark Boston was under name Rockette Morton, and cousin of the leader, bass clarinetist Victor Hayden was The Mascara Snake. This unconventional way of presenting the band was consequence of earlier trend which result was nickname Captain Beefheart Don Van Vliet owed to Frank Zappa. Many uncredited musicians were taken from Zappa’s band Mothers of Invention, bass guitarist Roy Estrada, pianist Don Preston, saxophonists Ian Underwood and Bunk Gardner, trumpet player Buzz Gardner. Zappa himself is heard as speaking voice of engineer, but he was uncredited as engineer neither. Five stars with no redundant comments.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Adam Harasiewicz plays Fryderyk Chopin

★★★★★

   Monitoring musical activity in first postwar decades one can get the impression it has more spirit than before or in later decades. There were many new ideas and interesting personalities. Almost every kind of musical activity had its findings. One of revelations in European piano music was Adam Harasiewicz. He started learn piano relatively late, as 10 years old. When he was 15 he won Young Talent Contest in Rzeszów, one year later he took part in qualifications to International Chopin Competition and 2 years later he started to study in Zbigniew Drzewiecki class. In 1955, still as a student of Cracow Music Academy, Adam Harasiewicz won 1st prize in 5th International Fryderyk Chopin Competition. He was 23 and great solo career was already opened.
   Chopin Competition, extremely challenging for young artists, this time was probably most difficult monographic contest in the world. From the other hand, it was festive event covered with live radio transmissions, press and public attention as rare phonographic editions. Wining this festival was tantamount to start great international career. As triumphant of in 1955, Adam Harasiewicz had opened almost all possibilities in musical world. Two years later he was awarded for his artistic achievements with Harriet Cohen Foundation Medal. In 1960 he played two Chopin’s concertos with Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra under Stanisław Skrowaczewski as inauguration of 150 anniversary of composer’s birth in United Nations Organization in New York. The same year he received gold medal of Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s Foundation in New York.

Adam Harasiewicz — Fryderyk Chopin's Piano Conerto No. 1 (1958) 

   Developing his international virtuoso career Adam Harasiewicz specialized in Chopin’s music. He was extensively touring with concertos and recitals. As Chopin’s Competition winner he wrote recording contract with Philips and in late fifties he started to record consecutive albums with Chopin’s compositions. Whole collection was completed in early seventies and published as 14 LP cassette with complete set of Chopin’s works. Earlier material was published as various recitals under Philips and Fontana labels, like Grosser Chopin Abend mit Adam Harasiewicz. He recorded in October 1958 in Vienna both Chopin’s concertos with accompaniment of Wiener Symphoniker conducted by Heinrich Hollreiser. From this recordings Philips released album Galaconcert with Piano Concerto No. 1 E Minor Op. 11 and solo works: Polonaise A-flat Major Op. 53, Valse E-flat Major Op. 18 “Grande valse brillante” and Ballade F Major Op. 38. This is the more interesting, it is one of his early recordings.
   The album is perfectly done as a program, as a recording and as an edition. After over a half of the century we can easily trace pianist’s interpretative ideas. Adam Harasiewicz is great partner to the orchestra when he shows his ability to differentiate phrases by color of the sound in whole Concerto. His interpretation of Allegro maestoso is powerful of decided sound and color capacity. In Larghetto he is aerial and singing, and orchestra is following him with stylish receptivity. Last movement is triumph of piano active narration, sparkling with nuances and brilliant ideas. This Rondo is great even if orchestra in few moments sounds too much undecided and weak. Adding mini solo recital producer was trying to create a kind of addendum. Although no supplement to Chopin’s Concerto E Minor is needed, these three pieces were carefully chosen to show Adam Harasiewicz’s art in various contexts. Solemn and brightly clear Polonaise A-flat Major, perfectly articulated and clear of exaltation, consequent like an etude Grande valse brillante, poetic and dramatic Ballade F Major — all Harasiewicz’s glances have the power to surprise and to show Chopin as composer exceeding the boundaries of early romantic style. Five stars as always when perfect music meets perfect performance.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Music on court of Leopold I

★★★

   Before Vienna became great musical center of international importance, it was one of many European capitals with more or less active musical life. Musical traditions of other major centers of the continent were deeper, more fruitful and long lasted. The sovereign who changed Austrian capital into biggest center of European music in 18th century was Leopold I (1640-1705), Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary and Croatia, King of Bohemia. He was one of greatest emperors in Europe. He was well educated in free arts, fluent in many languages, especially interested in music. He was prolific composer of Italian and German oratorios, masses and motets as well as instrumental music. Personal experience with music and professional skills helped him create musical center on his court, which consequence was development of progressive music in Vienna in next centuries.
   In series Musik in alten Städten und Residenzen by Electrola-EMI, volume Wien — Am Hofe Leopolds I published in 1964 was strong program that help to understand musical experience of Viennese composers in time of Leopold I. It is known how strong position of composers from abroad was, mainly French and Italian in 17th century Europe. In Vienna strongest influences had French and Italian composers so natural presence of Georg Muffat, Giovanni Legranzi in Vienna, as well as music by Frescobaldi and Corelli and many others. In late 17th and early 18th century this process was developing into creating generations of Viennese composers, and in classical period most famous generation of composers we know as First Viennese School.

Wien — Am Hofe Leopolds I (1964)

   Some elements of cyclic forms of late baroque instrumental music can be traced as antecedent to classical sonata form. The assumption to show this as continuous process is present in the program of the album. From symphonias from Concentus musico instrumentalis 1701 by Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741) symbolically begins the process of constructing new form for 18th century music. Two of these works opening both sides of the album: Sinfonia II with elements of suite and Sinfonia VII where dominant are elements of sonata a tre. Various cyclic forms of the period show most famous Vienese composers of the Leopoldus I era Giovanni Legrenzi (1626-1690), Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704), Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (1623-1680). Musical picture of the time is completed by Regina coeli a 5 was composed in 1655 when he was 15 years old.
   Album of Music on court of Leopold I was recorded by “Concentus Musicus Wien” Ensemble für Alte Music working under direction of Nikolaus Harnoncourt who was playing here on tenor and bass viola da gamba. Alto part in Regina coeli by Leopoldus I was sung by mezzosoprano Jeanne Deroubaix. This collection of stylish and competent performances is part of great series presenting centers of 17th and 18th European music. In early 1960’s this was a new perspective. In less than decade it turned out to be opening of new receptivity on early music and Harnoncourt’s Concentus Musicus Wien became one of most appreciated bands. Four stars for all these qualities looks decently.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fuse One — Fuse One

★★★★

   In late seventies, when fusion music was still noted as a top style for musical quality and for various technical reasons, jazz-rock and other ambitious genres were losing their previous substantial positions for disco and other popular genres. Many formal ideas were checked in jazz arrangements and used in best pop productions as many jazz musicians were working as session men for studio productions. Although jazz and rock were more and more marginalized, becoming niche styles, musicians were still trying to find a new way to take previous social positions. In the end of seventies jazz was no longer trendy. Even the name “jazz” was gradually omitted. Traditional meaning of the band also had changed and many professional musicians were playing in various groups and orchestras as well as many were hired for studio recording or touring with pop music performers.
   In such situation in April 1980 group of prominent jazz musicians started recording sessions in Evergreen Studio and Westlake Audio with engineer Tom Vicari. The producer Creed Taylor, founder of CTI Records, ask Rudy Van Gelder to work on his new project so he was the engineer of May and June sessions that have been being taped at Van Gelder's Studio in Englewood Cliffs. The project was called Fuse One. This was not a traditional band, rather studio all-star band without constant line-up. Cover note about project said: “Fuse One is conceived as a forum in which major contemporary musicians perform according to their own musical disciplines and interact without the constraints that accompany leader responsibilities. Each player brings in new compositions and ideas”. 

Fuse One — Fuse One (1980)

   It’s meaningful the word “jazz” is not present at any point of this album. And only jazz connection are musicians' names. Just like the genre was out of date. Tendency to cross the borders of styles and play music more open way was presented the style of presented compositions, rhythmic and melodic idioms shown in solos and arrangements. These elements can convince this is an all-star project. And stars engaged in the project were really bright. Saxophonist Joe Farrell, guitarists John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell and harmonica player Hugh McCracken, acoustic piano, synthesizers and Fender Rhodes piano players Ronnie Foster, Victor Feldman, Jeremy Wall, Jorge Dalto, bassists Stanley Clarke, Will Lee, drummers Tony Williams, Lenny White, Ndugu Leon Chancler and percussionists Paulinho Da Costa, Roger Squitero – all performers were playing with discipline and straight sound.
   Generally music of Fuse One is fusion with elements of smooth jazz. Themes are melodious, rhythms are decided, arrangements are easy and solos are restrained. Most pieces are conventional joyous jazz typical for fusion jazz light music. These are Ronnie Foster’s Grand Prix and Stanley Clarke’s Sunshine Lady. In Double Steal by Jeremy Wall and Taxi Blues by Stanley Clarke popular music of disco era is augmented by electronics and by harmonica in Taxi Blues with strong rock solo by Larry Coryell. Most popular Waterside is just an arrangement of The Moldau theme by Bedrich Smetana made by Jeremy Wall. Two interesting pieces composed by John McLaughlin are postmodern To Whom All Things Concern and referring to Spanish traditional music Friendship. Electric sound and strong rhythmic patterns are foundations to this exposure. Three and half of star for perfect performance.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Peter Gabriel — So

★★★★★

   Probably the most interesting feature of popular music is its force of inspiration. In history of music most creative personalities and ideas came out of popular genres, from folk music or various kinds of utility music, from wedding dances to mourn songs. In times of mass culture, when unified product is as much indistinct as universal, it’s getting harder to find popular music which is still able to conduct valuable ideas and artistic qualities. While in seventies many ambitious performers were so much popular as they were just the voice of people, in eighties most popular were those who expressed nothing beyond politics of big record companies. However, from this rule, as always, there were some exceptions. And between these rare artists who were developing independently one of most creative was Peter Gabriel, singer, composer, songwriter and charismatic stage performer.
   For almost 20 years Peter Gabriel was successful progressive rock composer and singer. He was one of founders of Genesis, the band he was member from 1967 to 1975. In 1977 he started solo career with series of eponymously titled albums. These recordings made him recognized artist in early eighties. After four albums called by fans accordingly to sleeve design “Car”, “Scratch”, “Melt” and “Security”, in 1986 Gabriel published album titled So, which was his first non-eponymous but still called with anti-title. This record became great success giving artist fame and triple platinum in GB and five platinum certificates in US. Album win place in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 1986 and 1987 there were five singles released. First single Sledgehammer reached top position on Billboard Hot 100 and its characteristic video won ten MTV Video Music Awards. In next decade it was still in everyday program of MTV and other musical TV stations. 

Peter Gabriel — So (1986)

   As many earlier Gabriel’s albums So was recorded in artist’s home studio at Ashcombe House. It’s understand important role in creative process played studio equipment, two 24 track analog Studer A80 recorders and Neumann U47 microphones for vocal recording. The band was recording on one machine listening to demo version prerecorded by Gabriel on second one. Peter Gabriel was playing legendary Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 analogue synthesizer, groundbreaking Fairlight CMI and even its competition New England Digital Synclavier was used in last track of second side. And otherwise than in eighties pop music these state of the art electronic instruments were just addition to great set of instruments. Among studio performers were Tony Levin, Bill Laswell and Larry Klein on basses, David Rhodes, Daniel Lanois and Nile Rodgers on guitars, L. Shankar on violin, Wayne Jackson on trumpet, trombonist Don Mikkelsen, saxophonist Mark Rivera and additional keyboardists Richard Tee and Simon Clark. Dominant instrumental group were percussionists: Jerry Marotta, Manu Katché, Stewart Copeland, Djalma Correa and Jimmy Bralower.
   The instrumental parts in this perfectly composed and recorded music are appropriate frame for vocal production. Gabriel recorded all lead vocals and some backing vocals. He invited whole bunch of great singers. Kate Bush was featured in Don’t Give Up and in This is the Picture featured artist was Laurie Anderson, who is also co-author of this song. Many vocals created space in song In Your Eyes where one can hear voice Youssou N'Dour and backing vocals by David Rhodes, Michael Been, Jim Kerr and Ronnie Bright. Different backing vocals of P. P. Arnold, Coral Gordon and Dee Lewis were recorded in Sledgehammer and Big Time. The effect is astonishing collection of songs based on strong rhythmic and melodic factor. One of most recognized progressive rock musicians created album fitting to popular music expectations. The recording sessions lasted for almost a year from February to December of 1985. Officially album was released May 19, 1996. Three decades passed from this moment had changed many elements of music market. Album So remained Gabriel’s greatest achievement while it’s most popular of his albums. As this release had changed standards of popular music, the only grade can be complete set of five stars. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Richter and Karajan play Tchaikovsky's Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor

★★★★★

   Romantic era was the period known for industrialization, developing big cities and railway transportation, deep social changes and great technical improvements. In the same 19th century position of arts, literature and music has changed, and artists win privileged position. Musicians were no longer treated as servants, and best virtuosi were worshiped as messengers of the gods. This was the setting for developing the new attitude to a musical form. Among many classical and romantic forms of musical works the one which became most capacious was concerto, especially piano concerto, which finally conquered popularity of violin concerto. 
   Most popular piano concertos of the era became landmarks of the style, after Beethoven’s symphonic concertos, after spectacular brilliant concertos of Hummel, Weber, Field and Chopin, romantic composers have wide perspective of change and various possibilities for constructing new forms. Variety of formal solutions show possibilities of various relations between piano and orchestra and various number of movements – from 1 part in Liszt’s 2nd Concerto (in fact it is in 6 connected parts), 2 parts in big variety of constructions by many composers, 4 parts in Liszt’s 1st Concerto, all four Concertos by Henry Litolff, Brahms’ 2nd Concerto and many more. There were also experiments with different forms, e.g. theme with variations and in effect concerto in 11 parts like 1st Glazunov’s Concerto or 13 parts like in 2nd Concerto by Zygmunt Stojowski. In this wide and differentiated movement Piano Concerto No. 1 B-flat Minor by Peter Tchaikovsky looks as traditional as conservative.

Richter and Karajan in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 (1963)

   What makes Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto so great and unique is invention of its themes and strong formal construction, natural meanings and powerful expression based on perfect compromise between classical idea of form and romantic spirit. This work is so clear in formal idea and so consequent in its simplicity, it can give listening pleasure even in average performance. But only well balanced renditions can grasp all of its intellectual and emotional subjects. Paradoxically this balance happens to be harder to achieve for artists of best qualifications. And these who were trying to overcome this condition were loosing natural musical sincerity and credibility.
   Among many great performers of this concerto was Svjatoslav Richter, who played it with strong, clear and decided phrases, almost as he was trying to restrain some emotions expressed by accompanying orchestra. But trying to stop Berliner Philharmoniker under Karajan always was an impossible task. Great orchestral phrases and vividly alive orchestral sound are about to dominate whole performance, what makes Richter to match. In final effect rendition is full of energy covering structural qualities. Whole work is too much unequivocal. Despite perfect work of pianist this performance’s worth is only four stars.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Ralph Vaughan Williams — Riders to the Sea, Magnificat

★★★★

   Modern era in musical theatre is probably the best time for traditional opera. For about a century historic works are preferred by audience and by artists. Directors of opera and choreographers are searching for forgotten works while forgetting contemporary masterpieces. This phenomenon has been intensified with the decades. Composers found some solutions like festivals and commissioning system giving them chance to hear and see their works, but such successes as those of romantic composers could not happen anymore. And yet, despite such experience, despite problems with production and money, 20th century musical stage occurred to give opulence of great works. One of composers active in opera genre was Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). His six operas were not successful at once but were important at least as a part of author’s stylistic development. It is significant, the most successful opera by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Riders to the Sea duration is 35 minutes only.
   The synopsis of Riders to the Sea is as simple as short. Based on play by John Millington Synge is the story of passing by, mourn and vanishing. Maurya, Irish mother who lost four sons, father and husband in the sea, during the show is losing her last two sons. This story shows some tendency in works of Vaughan Williams who was interested in creating music full of dramatic tension. Written in 1927 opera was revised in 1932 and premiered in 1937. Years between the wars were fruitful in Vaughan Williams’ creative life. In 1932, the year he closed working on Riders to the Sea he composed also Magnificat. He was sixty years old and his personal composing style was in best shape.

Vaughan Williams — Riders to the Sea, Magnificat (1972)

   In sixties and seventies music of Ralph Vaughan Williams was well presented in United Kingdom and USA. Many EMI recordings were published by Angel label for US market. The same happened with Riders to the Sea release by EMI in 1971 and by Angel in 1972 with painting Queen Maeve walked upon this strand by Jack Butler Yeats as cover art. Both compositions presented on EMI 1971 album Riders to the Sea and Magnificat for contralto, woman’s choir and orchestra are works of middle period in Vaughan Williams creative life. This was time of balanced use of most innovative techniques for strong emotional content. Both compositions are musical pictures of mother’s pain and have similar dramatic sense. Elegant distance and clear sincere expression show noble and honest nature of Vaughan Williams’ music.
   Album was recorded in 1971 with Ambrosian Singers and Orchestra Nova of London. Featured contralto Helen Watts recorded both works. In Magnificat she performed solo, in opera she sung role of Maurya. Other parts in Riders to the Sea were sung by Margaret Price (Cathleen), Norma Burrowes (Nora), Benjamin Luxon (Bartley) and others. Both works are presenting perfect, performed with lots of space and culture of sound, these recordings are basic for Vaughan Williams discography. This is substantially the merit of conductor of these recordings Meredith Davies (1922-2005) who was known for his devotion to English modern music, he was renowned especially for his performances of works by Benjamin Britten, Frederic Delius and Ralph Vaughan Williams. He conducted also premiere recording of earlier Vaughan Williams stage works – Sir John in Love, a four-act opera based on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. Four stars.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Stanley Clarke — School Days

   Stanley Clarke was one of youngest stars of jazz in seventies. He debuted in 1966 and when in 1976 he published his fourth solo album School Days, he was already noted as the best electric bass player and one of most influential artists on fusion jazz scene. Three prior albums gave him position of independent artist and classic of fusion jazz. He was famous as virtuoso for his innovative technique and wide creative horizons. Suggesting in the title and cover graphics a retrospective look to the past, maybe frolicsome reference to theoretical foundations or even some basic musical ideas, he made School Days one of most popular and influential albums in the history of bass centered recordings. And he achieved this position before he turned 25. In his rich discography one can find many great albums but it was School Days that became so popular and influential.
   Perfect equilibrium between virtuoso exhibition, creative invention and popular trends is what made this record so important. From the other hand, on earlier and later albums qualities of Stanley Clarke’s playing are always on constant, highest level. Maybe School Days just hit the moment? Whatever it was, in mid seventies Stanley Clarke’s records were bought not only by jazz audience. Album was recorded in June 1976, most of material at Electric Lady Studios in New York City, and last song Life Is Just a Game at A&M Studios in Los Angeles. Stanley Clarke’s solo in Life Is Just a Game and improvisation in duo with Billy Cobham was one of highlighted moments in fusion jazz legends. Over thirty musicians, new sound of electronic instruments, new rhythmic and emotional density and perfect arrangements were enormously attractive. Album was best seller and had peaked on 2nd position of Billboard Jazz Albums.

Stanley Clarke — School Days (1976)

   Title song opens first side, School Days with straight riff and cheerful theme with background voices by Clarke. In central part nice spatial effect based on strings gives space for electric bass solo expressive and consequently developing main riff motive. Coda with phrase sung by Clarke changes this short perspective giving a kick to next track. Quiet Afternoon is so much natural from formal point of view, it can be used as improvisation workshop for students. This is just theme and improvisation on background of bass and drums (Steve Gadd) with Clarke overdubbing himself with piccolo bass guitar especially build for artist what was officially mentioned in credits. Solo on piccolo bass Clarke played in third track The Dancer. Last song on first side has thicker facture, with synthesizers (David Sancious), two percussionists (Gerry Brown, Milton Holland) and guitarist Raymond Gomez. It could be seen as an answer for opening song, not only because of its joyous mood.
   Second side starts with beautiful acoustic ballade played by Clarke on upper bass with the bow, and with great pizzicato improvisation with elements of classic guitar technique. Playing the same on guitar would be a certificate of virtuoso level, on double bas it was just breaking the boundaries. As a counterweight acoustic guitar solo by John McLaughlin is based on sound nuances and acoustic effects impossible to execute on any other instrument. This perfect duo only accompaniment is conga and triangle played by Milton Holland. Great inspirational moment. This beautiful, reserved and magic composition is like an interlude leading to next track Hot Fun which again has more rhythmic and dance intensity, and beyond where all accumulated energy finds an outlet — to a grand finale and the only song with lyrics Life Is Just a Game. Lyrics are short but sung with nice voice. This conclusive composition is space where three basses played by Stanley Clarke are interfered with great solos by George Duke (keyboards), Icarus Johnson (guitar) and rousing drums by Billy Cobham. Power of great soloists was multiplied by string and brass orchestra of 23 members. For such nice and powerful piece of joyful music four stars is just rigorous rating.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Breakout — Karate

★★★

   Blues in Western Europe was known a long before rock music had happened. English bands playing blues standards became the first force of rock movement in sixties. In East European countries blues was known mainly as American folk music, it was played more as a kind of exercise for jazz than stand alone repertoire. In sixties, after first wave of East European rock, based predominantly on rock and roll and some elements of local folk traditions, appeared deeper interest on blues and blues-rock. In seventies next generation of independent East European rock music expressing more complex emotionality was based on stylistic solutions of British blues school, these bands gradually evolved to their own ideas of blues-rock and folk-rock.
   One of very first was Polish band Breakout formed February 1st, 1968 in Rzeszów. In fact first period in band’s history was more rock than blues, but already in these early recordings some ideas of blues were clear. The founder of the group Tadeusz Nalepa (1943-2007) became godfather of Polish blues scene. Breakout was his most famous bands although it wasn’t the only one. In 1965 he started his first band called Blackout performing songs and original songs in style of early pop rock. Nalepa was composer and lyrics came from poet Bogdan Loebl. After this group was transformed into Breakout, the style begun to change, but authors were still Nalepa and Loebl. Breakout was disbanded in 1983, but next decades Tadeusz Nalepa was reactivating band on many occasions. As his name was almost synonymously associated with this band, one of later bands was called Nalepa-Breakout. 

Breakout — Karate (1972)

   The first decade in history of the band was the period of most progressive projects. This was the time of creation blues-rock scene in Poland. During five years between 1969 and 1974 Breakout published seven studio albums. Fifth album Karate was ambitious attempt to repeat success of third album Blues published one year earlier. The lineup of Breakout was smaller than on earlier albums, including Jerzy Goleniowski on bass guitar, Józef Hajdasz on drums, Tadeusz Trzciński on harmonica and Mira Kubasińska playing maraca and leader Tadeusz Nalepa who was singing and playing guitars.
   In main part this album continues the style of earlier recordings. All songs were written by Bogdan Loebl and composed by Tadeusz Nalepa. There are two hits: Nocą puka ktoś (Someone Knocks at Night) and Rzeka dzieciństwa (River of Childhood). Album Karate became even bigger success, giving some examples of blues-rock instrumental improvisations for the first time in Polish rock. Title song is instrumental composition alluding to jamming riffs in style of American blues-rock bands. Solos by Tadeusz Trzciński and Józef Hajdasz on drums were something new in Polish rock. This one was a clear sign of band’s aspirations to evolve in more progressive direction. Four stars for overall effect and importance in Polish blues.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Günter Wand — Anton Bruckner — Symphony in C Minor No. 8

★★★★★

   After great century of radical artistic experiments and many new ideas in music esthetics, old symphonic form in its late romantic shape still remains most significant form in repertoire of every philharmonic orchestra of civilized world. These works are demanding highest quality, quantity, space and volume of orchestral sound. Most popular and are symphonies by Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvořak, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler. Symphonies of these and many other composers are basic repertoire of musical education and every symphonic orchestra. Some esthetic ideas, especially those which are understanding history of musical forms in categories of progress, indicate symphonies by Bruckner and Mahler as the greatest achievements in 19th century history of this form. Especially these two composers are great symphony innovators and their cycles of symphonies are milestones in the history of music.
   As far as Mahler’s symphonies were instant hits, symphonic works by Bruckner were somehow neglected. Although historians of music were talking about both composers in the same breath, in modern times critics and artists were paying more attention to Mahler, considering Bruckner’s symphonies as too much of formalistic and academic. This situation had changed in last decades of 20th century, when many great artists tried to revive interest in Bruckner’s legacy, especially symphonies. From contemporary the point of view these refreshed symphonies showed how attractive is late romantic symphonic music and how much potential it has. In sixties and seventies these works were in repertoire of every ambitious conductor and orchestra. Following these phonographic editions some conductors took on the challenge to record complete set of Bruckner’s symphonies.

Günter Wand — Anton Bruckner — Symphony in C Minor No. 8 (1979)

   One of conductors famous for achieving best results in this challenge was Günter Wand (1912-2002) conductor and composer famous throughout postwar decades for his work on post of music director in Cologne Opera. Born in Elberfeld (today part of Wuppertal), he started his career in the age of twelve attending production of Johann Strauss operetta The Gypsy Baron in his native city. In his twenties he took his first post as music director of city theatre in Allenstein (today Olsztyn) where he founded first orchestra and gave many successful productions of operas by Bizet, Verdi and Wagner. His great career started in 1939 when he started work as conductor of Cologne Opera, after the war he took the post of Generalmusikdirektor what was associated with the position of 1st conductor for both of the Cologne Opera and in Gürzenich Orchestra. In late 1970’s Günter Wand recorded with Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester complete sets of symphonies by Franz Schubert and Anton Bruckner. In 1980’s he was conductor of NDR Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg and made new series of recordings. In last years of his life he made recordings of selected Bruckner’s symphonies with Berliner Philharmoniker.
   First recording of Bruckner’s symphonies with Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester was great artistic success of Günter Wand, who was known for his reliable and amenable attitude to historic works. Since he was convinced the first interpreter’s obligation is to reveal composers intention and to create musical performance as close to original as possible, he was ideal conductor for bringing new works or establishing new standards for known compositions. Wolfgang Seifert called Wand “one of the most unusual and independent interpreters”. For Bruckner’s symphonies Wand’s performances were the act of pure congeniality. This is one of three Bruckner’s symphonies in this key – the same first two symphonies. Recorded in 1979 Symphony in C Minor No. 8 was probably the most difficult challenge. This mighty work (here 83 minutes) is great construction of absolute music. Although there are no reasonable programmatic explanations of this symphony, later it was nicknamed ‘Apocalyptic’. Recorded with WDR Orchestra, album shows great scale of sound and expression of Bruckner symphonic form. This great achievement deserves five stars.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Richter and Rostropovich Play Concertos by Robert Schumann

★★★★★

   Romanticism was artistic and intellectual movement of various directions and currents. One of dominants of the era was social and philosophical background of artistic activities. This was not new idea, but in prior eras it was always limited to one clear idea and all answers were already known. The one and only question was about how to render idea to find full understanding of listeners. In romanticism many composers were searching for new, more capacious musical construction and a new shape of musical forms. One of such ambitious composers was Robert Schumann (1810-1856), who was experimenting with new forms and trying to renew some classical ideas. He started as music critic and he was always aware of the possibilities and importance of meaning in absolute music. Most famous examples are his cycles of piano miniatures, cycles of songs and four symphonies. Also at least two of his concertos are concert favorites.
   Robert Schumann started composing piano concertos when he was twenty, but results disappointed him and in effect he criticized the idea of the form. In 1828 he worked on piano concerto in E-flat major, next year he tried to compose concerto for piano and orchestra in F major, then in 1839 he wrote one movement of concerto in D minor. When he was thirty, he wrote Fantasy in a Minor for piano and orchestra which became the first part of Piano Concerto in A Minor Op. 54, finished in 1845. His next concert pieces were Konzertstück for Four Horns and Orchestra Op. 86 and Introduction and Allegro Appassionato for Piano and Orchestra Op. 92, both composed in 1849, Cello Concerto in A Minor Op. 129 from 1850 and three concert works from 1853: Fantasy in C for violin and orchestra Op. 131, Introduction and Allegro for Piano and Orchestra Op. 134 and Violin Concerto in D minor.  Both concertos in A Minor are definitely most famous of Schumann’s concertos.

Richter Rostropovich Schumann - Concertos (1961, reissue 1971)

   Piano Concerto in A Minor is great success of Robert Schumann and His idea of emotionally driven concerto being continuation of Beethoven’s symphonic concerto and antithetic to concertos of Schumann’s contemporaries. The compact shape, fresh and clear melodic invention and construction subordinated to the clear dramatic idea are features of this work. The 1958 interpretation by Svjatoslav Richter (1915-1997) is probably the best rendition of Schumann’s Piano Concerto ever. Richter as virtuoso pianist had technical excellence and intellectual base sufficient to create great works of art. What makes him unique is his possibility of profound emotional connection with the composer’s idea and with listener’s sensibility. He communicates not as middleman; he is the fully proficient element of this process. His vision of Schumann is touchingly simple, like he was just playing notes finding them instinctively their natural place. Orchestra of Warsaw National Philharmonic conducted by Witold Rowicki sounds very good, with lots of space for soloist and well balanced proportions.
   Cello was one of instruments Schumann have studied in his youth, so he knew possibilities and limitations of the instrument enough good. But his idea of joining soloist with orchestra was rather to create emotional dramatic tension in musical narration than conventional piece in concerting style which he had so much criticized. He wrote concert in three united movements with concise solos and considerate answers in orchestral parts. In effect Cello Concerto in A Minor Op. 129 is Schumann’s great achievement and one of the best cello concertos ever. Its cheerful feeling, slide along and flowing action, reducing make it invariably great position in concert repertoire. Interpreted by Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007), one of best cellists recorded ever, Schumann’s Concerto sounds perfect, light and meaningful. Accompanied by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Rostropovich’s 1961 brilliant performance shows charm of Schumann’s Cello Concerto. Many qualities mentioned on Richter’s interpretation of Schumann’s Piano Concerto and Mstislav Rostropovich’s rendition of Cello Concerto in A Minor Op. 129 have their counterpart in each other. No wonder Deutsche Grammophon joined these two recordings in one album in 1961 and republished it in 1971. Five stars for these breathtakingly performances is quite natural rate.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Maanam — Maanam

★★★★

   Rock music from its very beginning was rebellious form of music culture. It was element of new generation group identity in sixties and probably most universal way to protest against war in Vietnam and politics. When older generations were losing their radical views, next generations were coming with new subversive powers. Behind the iron curtain it was even more complicated by political and propaganda context of any element of cultural activity. Original rock music was a phenomenon mobilizing whole generations against some specific ideas; in countries of East Europe it always had antiestablishment and antigovernment overtones. That’s why rock was so unpopular in official media and why so many young people were interested in progressive rock music which was combined radicalism and artistic sophistication. In late seventies it was still more popular than punk rock which was too much nihilistic for moods in seventies. In eighties whole situation has changed. But there were musicians who fill the wind of change earlier than whole society. One of such bands was Polish new wave band Maanam.
   Future avant-garde of new wave in Poland, Maanam started as alternative duo MaM of two guitarists Marek Jackowski and Milo Kurtis. They were playing improvised mystic world music based on oriental elements. In 1976, after Kurtis started to play in Ossian, Marek Jackowski with John Porter and singer Kora Jackowska started to play under the new name Maanam – Elektryczny Prysznic (Electric Shower). This was already the rock band and its music was increasingly radical. Three years later in 1979 Maanam debuted in new line-up with Kora and Marek Jackowski with bassist Krzysztof Olesiński, guitarist Ryszard Olesiński and Ryszard Kupidura. The same year Maanam recorded their first single with Marek Jackowski’s evergreen Oprócz (Except). Next year band made their sensational debut in Opole Festival in June 1980 achieving great triumph and repeatedly encored in gala concert transmitted by national television in prime time.

Maanam —  Maanam (1981)

   The legendary presentation in Opole was the moment new band took privileged position in Polish rock music. Two songs Boskie Buenos (Buenos Aires) and Żądza pieniądza were shortly issued as official single and one of consequences was immediate record contract. In August 1980 the band started recording debut album in Studio of Polish Radio Station in Lublin. During two weeks session (August 25th to September 10th) band had changed drummer. Four songs were recorded with Ryszard Kupidura and next five with new drummer Paweł Markowski. In song Biegnij razem ze mną (Run with Me Together) alto saxophone solo was recorded by famous Polish jazz musician Zbigniew Namysłowski. This made Maanam position prominent for the decade; even if there were more popular rock bands like Perfect, or closer to new wave and synth pop like Republika, Maanam was the only successful band balancing these styles.
   This unique feature makes Maanam the most significant band of eighties in Poland. It was recognized not only in Poland, but also in many other European countries, especially in Germany. Prominence of the band had its source in numerous musical qualities and in social recognition of the band. Maanam’s music was original connection of rock in its rebellious shape with some elements of punk rock which was rebellious as well and discipline giving songs compact form. This was outlined by straight, energetic instrumental rock riffs with short, strong solos and by poetic, surreal atmosphere, based on lyrics by Kora. The independent position of Maanam was partly created by extravagance and eccentric behavior of vocalist. In 1980 it was something new in Poland. The fact band was widely recognized was also a significant factor. The style of debut eponymous album is interesting implementation of new radical sound in Polish music and basis for the new Wave movement in eighties. Four stars for historic position of this debut. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Flora Purim and Airto Moreira — The Magicians

★★★★

   In the years of fusion and jazz rock explosion some new trends and styles were seen as next stage of modern jazz with new melodic and rhythmic idioms, new sound and different formal solutions. Those were the times when popularity was not in contradiction with ambitions and number of copies sold was not the measure of quality. Those years names of Flora Purim and Airto Moreira were definitely at the top of jazz celebrities’. They were playing and singing with many greatest artists. Later this popularity helped them to achieve good position in jazz and to continue their careers with smooth jazz. In their discography many records are made with greatest artists of last half of the century, but best known part of their catalogue are mutual recordings signed by both or by one of them.
   Observing habits and social values in artistic circles one can find interesting feature connecting jazz rather with classical music than with rock or more popular genres. Jazz musicians often play with members of their families while rock musicians in most cases were separated musical career and their families, sometimes even hiding family life out of fans sight. No such politics in jazz. Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, the two Brasilian jazz musicians are probably most famous marriage in the history of jazz, although marriages of jazz artists were quite common since early jazz and through all later decades. They were active long before their US debut, but their international fame begins with groundbreaking recordings with revolutionary electric Miles Davis band (Moreira) and with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever (Moreira and Purim). Contribution to artistic qualities of these bands and to whole fusion style was proportional to their fame.


Flora Purim and Airto Moreira — The Magicians (1986)

   Most albums Flora Purim and Airto Moreira (or just Airto) have ever recorded, they were doing together. Many issues were signed mutually by both or they were taking part in each other’s projects. Optimistic, light mood was a kind of original temper in their early works in eighties became main movement in smooth jazz. One of their popular releases of these years was The Magicians album. It was recorded in March and April 1986 at Les Gonk Studios in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara Studios in Santa Barbara and Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. Flora Purim once again confirmed she was number one vocalist of fusion jazz era. Melodious phrase, deep and subtle voice, wide spectrum of expression means with some fusion electronic modifications, everything natural and tasty. In the title song main vocal was recorded by Airto Moreira, who once again occurred to be quite competent singer. This song opening the second side of the album is new version of classic Airto’s song written by Egberto Gismondi and Airto Moreira and published on 1975 album Identity.
   In 1986 everything was softer and easier. It is striking even if quite understandable – times have changed and music has to fit. Nine relaxing songs covering span between Latin jazz and funky, mainly in samba and bossa rhythms, with perfect solos of keyboardists George Duke, Marcos Silva and Kei Akagi, guitarists Ricardo Peixoto, Larry Ness, David Zeiher, Jeff Elliott on trumpet. Whole list of performers was much longer including drummers supporting Moreira, Celso Alberti and Tony Moreno, four bass players Gary Brown, Bob Harrison, Keith Jones and Randy Tico, vocalist Kenny Loggins, trombonists Daniel Reagan and Rolando Gingras. Featured position had saxophonist Mary Fettig. She played some great solos on tenor, alto and soprano saxes. The sound of this San Francisco born saxophonist, perfection of phrase and construction of solos made Mary Fettig third hero of this album. Four stars to avoid frustration of underestimating good crossover between smooth jazz and popular music.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Aaron Copland — The Tender Land

THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF THIS RECORDING SESSION
★★★★★

   American classical music has a long history dating back to the hymns of First New England School, Justin Morgan and William Billings, which is considered as first original music in United States. But still in romantic era European music was dominated on New World scenes, although many composers, like famous pianist from New Orleans Louis Moreau Gottschalk, were trying to find original idiom of new society. It’s interesting some idea of musical picture of America came from Czech composer Antonin Dvořak. While in literature and fine arts Americans were already proud of internationally acclaimed artists, music was still in strong dependence of its European roots. In 20th century changing economic position of the country gave music more possibilities to develop original American music. In early 20th century creative activity of many composers let them achieve artistic independence of European trends and styles and create idiomatic American music. Most active composers of this generation were George Gershwin, Charles Ives and Aaron Copland who was called “truly American composer” and “the Dean of American music”.
   Aaron Copland was prolific author of works in various genres and utilizing different styles of modern music to create works being vehicle of his views and ideas. He was also pianist, conductor, educator and music critic. Born in Brooklyn November 14, 1900, he grew up in conservative Jewish family of Lithuanian origins. He had a lot of opportunities to deal with different musical activities, with religious, popular music and with regular music lessons since he was seven, as all of his siblings. The key role in musical education played his mother Sarah Mittenthal Copland who was herself singer and pianist. As 11 years old he wrote his first sketches of opera libretto with 7 bar theme, but to be a composer he decided four years later after concert of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Polish composer and virtuoso. In his high school years he was learning piano with Leopold Wolfsohn, but his later and more formal education with Rubin Goldmark gave him basic knowledge in theory of music, harmony and composition and let him start his studies in Conservatoire de Paris in class of Nadia Boulanger. 

Aaron Copland — The Tender Land (1965)

   After three years in Paris, where he started to write critics (first was on music of Gabriel Fauré), Aaron Copland back to New York where he devoted himself to composing. He befriended with artists and was introduced into intellectual circles. He was under influence of esthetics of American modernists, some progressive social ideas, he was impressed by Alfred Stieglitz and photographer Walker Evans, famous for his photographic documentary on effects of Great Depression. These ideas inspired young artist who focused his full time creative activity on social issues. In 1945 Copland’s intention to write musical based on Erskine Caldwell’s Tragic Ground was officially announced. It was planned as socio-economic drama on “poor white trash” with farcical elements. Copland written some music, but finally the project has been abandoned. Nine years later when Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II commissioned composition for anniversary of the League of Composers, Copland used parts to create two-act opera on related content and title The Tender Land. This work was premiered April 1st 1954. One year later, May 20th 1955, three-act version of opera was premiered in Oberlin Conservatory of Music — this time Tragic Ground fragments were completely cast away.
   Both versions of the opera were poorly received. In 1958 Aaron Copland compiled suite for orchestra, but opera was still not accepted. First successful production took place in 1965 as a part of French-American Festival. July 28 composer conducted concert version of this opera with New York Philharmonic and singers of Metropolitan Opera: Joy Clements as Laurie, Clarmae Turner as Ma Moss, Norman Treigle as Grandpa Moss, Richard Cassilly as Martin and Richard Frederics as Top. This performance was enough successful for Columbia to arrange three days later recording session in Manhattan Center. Recorded again under Aaron Copland’s baton the abridged version of The Tender Land was published as one of significant albums in contemporary American music. After a half of the century this album sounds as clear and fresh as it was recorded in any moment between. In 2000 Sony republished this historic recording on compact disc. Four stars for artistic and historical position of this album.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mozart — Requiem — Herbert von Karajan

★★★★★

   The story of one significant element can be nice perspective to see the whole. The same way performing Mozart’s Requiem and positioning this work in public memory can be interesting survey into dynamics of the western culture of last two centuries. This legendary work was performed as classic position with developing knowledge on how it should be executed to find most effective proportions or reinterpreted to find what we have lost from original Mozart’s idea and what just part of performing tradition is. Some information on next generations’ attitude against classicism can be traced by analyzing various attempts of completing the full cycle of this funeral mass. Phonographic recordings technology delivered many records being plentiful source for such research, but its accessibility changed the rate of cultural transformations.
   In the fast growing market of classical recordings in late fifties and early sixties basic works were recorded by many orchestras creating the catalogue of most expected monuments of music history. Mozart’s Requiem was one of most popular works every label ought to have in print. In catalogues of most active record companies there were more than one recordings of this popular work. One of famous renditions was published by Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft in 1962 and was signed by one of most active artists of this time, Herbert von Karajan. This is also one of most milestones in the career of the conductor. Recording session of Mozart’s Requiem took place in 1961. Herbert von Karajan conducted Berliner Philharmoniker, the orchestra he was leading from 1954 and Wiener Singverein working under direction of Reinhold Schmid. Soloists were soprano Wilma Lipp, alto Hilde Rössel-Majdan, tenor Anton Dermota and bass Walter Berry. Organ parts were played by Wolfgang Meyer.

Herbert von Karajan — Mozart — Requiem (1962, reissue 1977

   Recording Requiem with Berliner Philharmoniker Karajan had already huge experience leading most demanding works. He was famous for his interpretations of large-scale works including groundbreaking performances of Richard Wagner’s operas at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. In his early fifties he was one of most recognizable European conductors but it was his recordings in next decades what made him one of the greatest conductors ever recorded. In Requiem recorded for DGG he created vision of most romantic, dark reading of Mozart’s missa pro defunctis. Fragments finishing this work set by Franz Xaver Süssmayr are repeating musical material from those composed by Mozart. This makes the work more cohesive but also makes its cyclic construction less ranging. The most common way of challenging this deficiency was to reduce emotions to the level referenced to absolute forms of classical era. But this was also the way to skip all composer’s ideas and aspirations. Good conductors were always trying to conciliate elements of the cycle by bringing them together and differentiating as contrasting parts of the cycle. Herbert von Karajan made it in most exquisite manner, balancing elements of this work architecture to achieve effect of perfect classical form, but at the same time creating great amount of formal energy by enhancing powerful contrasts and creating solemn, grave mood with perfectly matched tempos.
   Few years ago I’ve led the cycle of lectures as part of master class for graduates of musical universities. As one of subjects of the history of musical culture course was lecture about history of performing and interpretative priorities traced on basis of recorded music. I’ve analyzed eight various performances of Mozart’s Requiem fragments. I chose only really best ones. And as an experiment, choosing fragments not shown during analysis, I have asked listeners which performance is closest to their idea of Mozart’s work. More than 80% of the group pointed Karajan’s recording as the most appropriate performance of Requiem. I’ve been repeating this experiment with various sets of performances in next year’s few times, always with the same result – Karajan’s 1961 recording in some groups was chosen unanimously. New esthetic trends are highly appreciated, but talking about one definitive rendition listeners still choose most traditional, solemn and profound performance ever. It says by itself. This version is already the element of cultural heritage. The only appropriate rate is five stars.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Colosseum – Colosseum Live

★★★★


   The history of progressive rock is full of bands creating ambitious musical projects, merging music with valuable poetic lyrics with elements of avant-garde theatre. Many of them gain considerable popularity in late sixties when antisystemic sentiments focused public attention on any kind of alternative art. This wide social appreciation faded out with the end of the era. The highest bar was to find the point of equilibrium between rock and jazz and to create music that can be interesting for jazz and rock worlds. This was midmost idea of jazz-rock genre started from both directions. Jazz and rock provenience was popular music. But jazz parted earlier and for more than two decades was considered to be fully artistic domain. Rock was more inceptive but many rock musicians still have complexes of popular and utility music. It had a lot to do with aspirations of rock music to connect with more intellectual, more ambitious jazz. Such great bands as Nucleus or Soft Machine had their specific positions in jazz-rock because of clashing together rock sound or rock patterns with the idea of improvisations.
   The legend of jazz-rock history, English band Colosseum found different solution. They back to the roots of rock and jazz and started from the elementary blues ideas. Connecting blues and gospel elements with rhythms of popular blues occurred to be simple and efficient. The idea came from sixties, when two founders of Colosseum drummer Jon Hiseman and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith were playing in legendary Graham Bond Organization. The list of blues experiences of Heckstall-Smith is much longer. Before Colosseum saxophonist was playing with Alexis Korner and John Mayall in their groups Blues Incorporated and Bluesbreakers where future Colloseum saxophonist again played with Jon Hiseman. Together with Tony Reeves, the bass player they’ve met during sessions to legendary Bluesbreakers album Bare Wires, in September 1968 they have started Colosseum. To the first line-up the band recruit two more musicians: organist Dave Greenslade and guitarist Jim Roche, who was shortly superseded by James Litherland who was one year later replaced by Dave ‘Clem’ Clempson.

Colosseum – Colosseum Live (1971)

   Colosseum was supergroup from the very beginning and there is no surprise the history of the band, although full of creative achievements, was not too long. In first two years of existence group recorded four studio albums and in March 1971 one live album released in September the same year. Publication of the album Colosseum Live was closing moment in three years history of the band. In 1975 Jon Hiseman established changing whole lineup new formation called Colosseum II, playing more fusion style jazz-rock. This group was disbanded in 1978. In 1994 Colosseum reunited in its 1971 lineup. After Dick Heckstall-Smith’s death, his place in the band took Barbara Thompson. Culmination of first period was Colosseum Live, one of most illustrious live albums in history of progressive rock and blues-rock. Although it’s impossible to spread this rate to jazz-rock because this is exactly the qualities most jazz live recordings have. But there is also regularity: in some way this album has mixed jazz emotional posture with blues-rock sound.
   Without considering relations between members of the band and the public, this phenomenon couldn’t be understood. This powerful and intense music has its source in sequence of rhythmic patterns, although every member of the band has equal contribution in final creation. Atmosphere of concert event Mach 18, 1971 at Manchester University was so unusual, the band decided to repeat concert for free five days later. Both shows were recorded and with fragments of March 27, 1971 at the Big Apple Club in Brighton published as double LP album. In a way the success of this album was the success of most intensive contact with the listener while every musician has widest artistic freedom. It was the moment of establishing classic Colosseum lineup: Dave Greenslade (organ, vibes), Dick Heckstall-Smith (saxophones), Jon Hiseman (drums), Mark Clarke (bass, vocals), Dave "Clem" Clempson (guitars, vocals) and Chris Farlowe (vocals). Its idea remains to nineties and returned with reunited band as it was most remarkable achievement in every member's careers. For this kind of success four stars is quite well-founded rate.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Polish Jazz vol. 36 – Michał Urbaniak – Constellation In Concert

★★★★★

   In the seventies jazz musicians in Poland were in very good professional position. It was less than twenty years from the moment jazzmen came out of the underground and since sixties they were known as new generation of musicians creating independent culture in Poland. With Polish jazz series successively the name “Polish jazz school” gained the right of existence. Shortly this description became a quality mark in many cities and festivals of West Europe and all over the world. No wonder Polish musicians were playing in many countries, collecting more and more artistic experiences and valuable professional contacts. Although European musical market was wide open for any interesting phenomenon from behind the iron curtain, major challenge for all jazzmen was still America, the homeland of jazz. Many classical musicians from Poland were playing overseas before the war. Most famous was Ignacy Jan Paderewski who was piano virtuoso, composer and politician. The first Polish modern jazz musician who played in 1958 International Newport Band was saxophonist Jan “Ptaszyn” Wróblewski. In sixties and seventies Polish jazzmen achieved series of successes. One of first who decided to stay in America for good were Michał Urbaniak and Urszula Dudziak.
   Michał Urbaniak is one of most creative musicians in Polish jazz. He is also one of most successful and the one who made violin featured jazz instrument in Poland. With three years younger Zbigniew Seifert they were the two violinists from Poland achieving great international recognition. And what is characteristic, both were playing saxophones as well. Maybe because saxophone was instrument clearly associated with jazz while violin were always link to folk and classical traditions. Starting his jazz career Michał Urbaniak was playing soprano, alto and tenor saxophones. In 1962 Urbaniak was touring in USA with Andrzej Trzaskowski’s The Wreckers. In mid-sixties he was playing in Scandinavia with Krzysztof Komeda, where he started his own band with Urszula Dudziak and Wojciech Karolak. This was the beginning of and Michal Urbaniak Group, Constellation and Fusion groups.


Michał Urbaniak – Constellation In Concert (1973)

   After return to Poland in 1970, Urbaniak formed his own group. This was the moment he introduced electric violin, playing on traditional violin with electric pick-up, and later changed it with specifically designed five string violin and early model of violin synthesizer. In 1971 during Montreux Festival Michał Urbaniak was awarded Grand Prix and scholarship of Berklee Collage of Music. But ultimately he didn’t start to study in Boston, signing contract with Columbia Records and touring with great fame in Europe and USA. In May 1973 at Warsaw Philharmonic Michał Urbaniak with Constellation gave historic concert recorded by Polskie Nagrania. This occurred to be farewell concert of Michał Urbaniak with his wife Urszula Dudziak for Polish audience. In September 11, 1973 they emigrated to US. Fragments of Constellation Philharmonic Concert were published the same year by Polskie Nagrania as volume 36 of Polish Jazz series. Album Michał Urbaniak Constellation in Concert was among the top of the best Polish fusion productions.
   The band included five musicians and every one of them was already fully formed artistic personality. The leader of the Constellation Michał Urbaniak was playing violin. He was also composer of whole program. His solo in the introduction to the Bengal, more than 17 minutes suite opening the album is great evidence of his remarkable individual style. The way he introduced the theme of Bengal played with vocalize by Urszula Dudziak, elegance and expression in his improvisation showed great individuality of international scale. After Urbaniak we have solo of inspired improviser organist Wojciech Karolak (Hammond Organ and Farfisa), and Fender piano short improvised intro by Adam Makowicz, narration takes Urszula Dudziak singer being the undeniable discovery of this era. She gave in Bengal whole show of her voice and instrumental possibilities, first with discrete piano by Adam Makowicz, then with funky collective improvisation by Adam Makowicz, Wojciech Karolak and Czesław Bartkowski, who played improvised drums solo followed by the main theme reprise.
   The first complexe composition shows full possibilities of the Michał Urbaniak Constellation. In next some ideas were developed. The same spirit of collective improvisations can be heard in next two compositions Spokój (Calm) and Lato (Summer). In Spokój inspirations have more contemplative character, while Lato is full of vibrant, warm atmosphere. The formal idea of Seresta is remaining somehow much wider form of Bengal. Especially interesting is culmination in improvisation of Wojciech Karolak and Adam Makowicz, where two keyboardists meet in dialogue giving great example of musical cooperation. The last composition titled just Theme is like coda corresponding with introduction to the Bengal and closing whole album with natural baracket. Altough this is live recording, it sounds more like studio album. Full control over elements of the form, variety of artistic attitudes, perfect comprehension of each member’s intentions and diversity of solo performances make this band exception on early seventies’ jazz scene. All these qualities are audible on this album and worth four stars grade.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Christopher Wood & Lawrence Leonard – Harpsichord Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach

★★★

   In first decades recorded music was not covering whole spectrum of musical culture. The first lineament deciding on selecting music to production was its popularity. No wonder popular music in catalogues of almost every record company was major part. Romantic music, especially opera was present seldom and early music become market career long after there was technical possibilities. In 1959 Forum label which was designed as a Division Of Roulette Records Inc. published series of LP’s with most popular historic repertoire. In this collection prominent position was music by Johann Sebastian Bach. Three albums with Bach’s seven harpsichord concertos recorded by harpsichordist Christopher Wood and Goldsborough Orchestra conducted by Lawrence Leonard were numbered as 3rd, 4th and 5th record in the catalogue: F 70003, F 70004 and F 70005. This was interesting idea to start such label by Roulette Inc. especially this was still growing market with huge potential. American label recorded material in Europe and find European artists.
   Soloist of these recordings was Christopher Wood (1911-1990) prolific composer and comprehensively educated musician active as a performer and as a teacher. His compositions were not published – the only exception was his Piano Sonata No. 3 published in 1943 by Oxford University Press in 1943. As harpsichordist he played a role in the period of early music revival. He started as chorister at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. He studied in Magdalene College, University of Cambridge. He was studied piano with Adelina de Lara, a pupil of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms and harpsichord with Rudolphe Dolmetsch and Dorothy Swainson. He also studied conducting in Salzburg Mozarteum with Clemens Krauss, Bruno Walter and Herbert von Karajan. In years 1947 to 1967 he was member of the staff of Trinity College of Music where he taught piano, harpsichord, orchestration, harmony and counterpoint. Later he was involved in various forms of adult education. His recorded performances were Bach’s harpsichord concertos for Forum in 1959 and Handel’s harpsichord suites recorded for Saga label two years later.

Christopher Wood & Lawrence Leonard – Bach – Concertos (1959)

   Lawrence Leonard (1923-2001) was conductor, cellist, composer, teacher and writer, music director of Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, author of some original works as well as arrangements of Machaut's Grande Messe de Notre Dame in 1972 and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for piano and orchestra in 1977. Work with Goldsborough Orchestra was his first big experience as a conductor. He was also author of Concise History of Music from 30,000 BC to the Millennium. The foundation of Goldsborough Orchestra was significant moment in evolution of postwar English culture. The ensemble was established in 1948 by conductor Lawrence Leonard and Arnold Goldsbrough (1892-1964) who was organist, harpsichordist, conductor and early advocate for history performance practice. The objective of artistic activity of the Goldsborough Orchestra was to perform baroque music in possibly reliable style. In 1960 when orchestra introduced to the repertoire some non baroque music, its name has changed and since then is known as English Chamber Orchestra. Cooperation with Benjamin Britten, playing many premieres of his compositions made this ensemble probably most famous chamber orchestra in the world.
   Three albums with seven Bach’s harpsichord concertos published in 1959 by Forum label are rare document of sound of this orchestra in period of its exclusively baroque activity. It is played with extreme attention, neatly enforced clear phrases without vibratos and with most reasonable articulation. In 1959 it was not usual sound, most popular way to play baroque music with sound means of romantic style. Although in “Billboard” journal it was rated only with two stars, professional critics were more gracious. In “Hi-Fi Stereo Review” from December 1959 Warren DeMotte described it as “an achievement of which to be proud” pointing its straightforwardness, good balance and an antique flavor. More than half century later this recording sounds clearly and surprisingly modern. And three stars look much more adequate rate for its quality.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Pierre Boulez — Boulez Conducts Ravel

★★★★✰

   In preclassical music functions of composer and conductor were connected with musical profession. There were no conductors famous in contemporary meaning of this word because institutions playing music for open public were quite rare and better part of music was performed under supervision of composers. Most active musicians have to know not only how to write, but also how to teach and how to perform musical works. After classicism, when symphony orchestra was born, and later in 19th century, when performing historic works became main element of concert life, professionalism of the orchestra was subordinate to skillful leading. The result of changes was a specialization of professional musicians in precisely defined fields of musical activity. Many composers were still using their knowledge and skills performing as artists, soloists and conductors. It is significant it was only 19th century when division for creators and performers had started. And still many great musicians were composing music, sometimes with success, as well as many composers were great performers and interpreters of other composers’ works.
   One of first great composers and at the same time one of first internationally famous conductors was Gustav Mahler. As a composer he was developing postromantic musical forms and intentionally creating expressive means of orchestra. He was also one of those modern conductors who worked on sound qualities and expressive possibilities of large symphonic orchestra. After phonographic industry changed mechanisms of musical culture, many artists become more famous for conducting music of other composers than for their own works. For example almost forgotten composer Bruno Walter or recognized and well remembered composer Leonard Bernstein, both were so successful as performing conductors and their fame effectively hidden their creative works. The opposite position occupies Krzysztof Penderecki who is competent conductor but best part of his fame he achieved as a composer. One of greatest examples of balanced combination of various types of musical activity in second half of 20th century is Pierre Boulez. Being one of most significant composers of modern music he is also remarkable conductor, famous for numerous performances and recordings.

Pierre Boulez — Boulez Conducts Ravel (1971)

   As a conductor Boulez revealed masterly abilities to reach the essential idea of other composer’s works and display it with elegant distance. He was focusing especially on these composers who were creating modern musical language of symphonic sound and forms of high complicity. As much appreciated by critics and public for his perfectly balanced, elegant and gentle renditions of most complicated works in postromantic and 20th century music literature, he was specialized in recordings of Mahler, Wagner, and big symphonic repertoire of 20th century. A special place in Boulez performances was always taken by music of French composers, Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Manuel de Falla, and Edgar Varese. Every of these composers had monographic album conducted by Boulez. Four years after successful album Boulez Conducts Debussy and two years after Boulez Conducts Debussy, vol.2, CBS produced first choice of Ravel’s works. It was recorded with Cleveland Orchestra which he served in 1970 to 1972 as musical advisor. In Daphnis & Chloé choral parts were performed by The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus working under direction of Margaret Hillis.
   The first choice of Ravel’s symphonic works comprises Daphnis & Chloé: Suite No. 2, Pavane for a Dead Princess, Rapsodie Espagnole and Alborada Del Gracioso. The program was set to show most characteristic features of Ravel’s style. Merging elegance and richness of musical impressions Boulez had interpreted Ravel’s music in explorative and refined way. His renditions revealed profundity of composer’s personality and enhance the emotional nature of musical structures. Especially Daphnis & Chloé was master recording. Although the 1971 album Boulez Conducts Ravel was successful release, it was reissued only once in 1973 in the series Collection Grands Interprètes by France division of CBS. The same time in US division of the company produced series of consecutive recordings under the same title. In 1973 Boulez Conducts Ravel Vol. 2 comprising Le Tombeau De Couperin, Valses Nobles Et Sentimentales and Une Barque Sur L'Océan recorded with New York Philharmonic Orchestra, in 1975 Boulez Conducts Ravel vol. 3 with the program of La Valse, Meneut Antique and complete ballet Ma Mere L'oye. The same 1975 CBS released album of complete ballet Daphnis et Chloé recorded with New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Camarata Singers. And this edition was titled Boulez Conducts Ravel as well. Four and half stars for Boulez-Ravel-Cleveland album – this is fully well-founded rate.