Saturday, February 28, 2015

Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges – Black Composer Series vol. 1

   Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1739-1799) was one of first known classical composers of African origins. In earlier generation we know the other two: Brazilian composer of religious baroque music Inácio Parreiras Neves (1730-1791) and Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780), who was English composer, actor and writer. But it was Chevalier de Saint-Georges who was the first successful and recognized composer of African ancestry. He was also famous as virtuoso violinist. His composing style was compared to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn and for the reason of clear classical style he was called “le Mozart noir”. He was also successful fencer and boxer developing his leadership abilities and a military career during the French Revolution. He achieved the rank of colonel and became a commander of ‘La Legion De Saint-George’ which in fact was his own army forces. He was also active member of Masonic lodge and a favorite personage in social spheres of the capital of France.
   Born in Guadeloupe as a son of wealthy planter and African slave, when he was 7 year old his father took him to France for a military education. In 1766 he became gendarme du roi (officer of king’s guard) and a received the title Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Probably he studied violin since his early childhood. There are no indications for his studies in music but his achievements and performing skills prove he was learning for years. When he was 25 years old he was already recognized as violin virtuoso and Antonio Lolli (1725-1802) composed for Joseph Bologne two concertos. Two years later François Gossec (1734-1829) dedicated him Six Trios. In next few years he became sensation as an author of his own compositions. He composed at least 6 opera comiques, songs, arias, canzonettas, 14 violin concertos, 8 symphonies concertantes, 2 symphonies, third symphony has been preserved only in piano reduction, sonatas for various instruments and 18 string quartets.

Black Composer Series vol. 1 (1974)

   For many years compositions of Chevalier de Saint-Georges were neglected, even if remembered, not mentioned enough. Real interest for his works grew up in first decade of 21st century when some recordings were released and his music was played by many philharmonic orchestras. One of earliest editions was an album of profiling selection of this composer published by Columbia Masterworks. Its program comprised four pieces, Symphony No. 1 in G Major, Op. 11, No. 1, String Quartet No. 1 in C Major, Op. 1, No. 1, Symphonie Concertante in G Major for Two Violins and Orchestra, Op. 13 with soloists Miriam Fried and Jaime Laredo. Scene from Opera “Ernestine” sung by Faye Robinson closes this choice with strong dramatic impression. The String Quartet was played by The Julliard Quartet. All other selections were played by London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Freeman.
   Perfect renditions show classical style of Joseph Bologne as balanced and inventive. Nice and modest style of classical forms was perfect for his scope of expression. In particular Symphonie Concertante shows original and gentle personality. More comprehensive formal approach one can find in String Quartet. This significant presentation of Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ music had been released in 1974 as the volume one of the Black Composer Series. Whole project was supported by The Afro-American Music Opportunities Association, the organization established in 1969 as an institutional assistance for creative activities of black composers and performers. The idea of collection was to publish comprehensive set of composers with African roots and their music from classicism to contemporary. This ambitious project featured also Afro-American soloists and conductors. For the first album of this great series we need to draw three and a half stars.

Friday, February 27, 2015

SBB – Nowy horyzont

   After great success of their debut album, SBB became instantly one of the most popular rock bands in Poland and soon also in other countries of Central Europe. In years 1974 and 1975 trio recorded for Polskie Nagrania material for their second album. Its title Nowy horyzont (The New Horizon) clearly shows ambitions of the band, which was familiar with various techniques of avant-garde rock styles and ready to record original creative music. In late sixties this was the best starting point for international career of the band, but in 1975 progressive rock was not as much offensive. Many eminent bands were about to get stuck in the niche and contemplate of old schemes or repeating some old ideas. In this situation SBB, one year after their debut, published first studio album full of fresh, sometimes raw sound.
   In contrast to previous recordings The New Horizon had allowed to articulate the creative personality of each musician. Józef Skrzek as leader of the band, singer and multiinstrumentalist plays bass, piano and moog synthesizer. His personality echoed in whole SBB music not only because he was the one who composed main part of recorded music. Jerzy Piotrowski was probably the most famous member of the trio, admired as virtuoso drummer, he was remembered as versatile rock drummer and his solos were the model for next generation of drummers. Antymos Apostolis played strong guitar riffs, precomposed solos and some improvisations basing on rock and jazz-rock patterns. He was competent and fast learning, probably most promising guitarist of Polish rock in seventies.

SBB – Nowy horyzont (1975)

   Program of SBB’s first studio album comprises two suites. First side is the cycle of four compositions connected by solo piano impressions. Opening tracks Curtain Raiser and A Flash are short instrumental pieces basing on ostinatos and increasingly growing tension. If these two short compositions are close to progressive rock, the third called The New Horizon is developed and complex in constructional and technical perspectives. From rhythmic point of view it has more jazz-rock features than rock patterns. Closing this cycle is a psychedelic-like narrative called A Ballad about the Five Hungry Ones with fine sound experiments by Antymos Apostolis who is playing guitar with the violin bow and distortion sound effects.
   The second side contains one composition Freedom with Us merging guitar sound experimenting, piano impressionistic harmonies contemplations and colorful drummer accompaniment. Themes are more melodious and solos more elaborate in first episode, in middle part Piotrowski pushes the rhythmic intensity with powerful energy as a background for some great trading between Apostolis and Skrzek. After short heavy fragment Skrzek plays piano impression finishing with Chopin’s Prelude E Minor Op. 28 No 4. This unequivocal gesture shows moment, which Polish rock reached in 1975. After early phase of experimenting, musicians were ready to make the first summary and open to some new frontiers. That’s what the title The New Horizon really was about. Giving with some hesitation four stars, I am sure this was significant album in the history of Polish and European progressive rock.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Theodore Bikel – Songs Of A Russian Gypsy

   Russian romance is the world for itself. The stages of development since early romantic songs to 20th century romance could be characterized as different subgenres and styles. Russian lyrical poetry, with many poems of best Russian poets, connected to the musical form derived from classical or folk tradition created autonomous phenomenon of Russian romantic song tradition. And one of the best parts of Russian song tradition is romance. There are many subgenres of romance since, most significant is classical romance (klassicheskiy romans) which was composed by professional composers and performed by professional artists. Very popular subgenre was also gorodskoy romans which was written by professionals but performed and spread as folk music. On base of gorodskoy romans and Russian folk songs in middle of 19th century had formed gypsy romance. Depending on source other subgenres like kazachiy romans or zhestokiy romans. The romance tradition had an impact on many other song genres, Russian chanson, blatnaya pesnya or Odessa beat.
   Extremely popular in Russian society, serving basic musical and poetic language formulas, romance has clear impact on many other genres and different social groups. It was one of the foundations for creativity of multinational society. But wide audience remembers and appreciates romance contribution of Gypsies. First as the source of musical inspiration for Russian composers, than as a chance for the Roma people to earn better as musicians and mark their presence in Russian music and society. Gypsy romance is significant part of Russian tradition, so it is in constant use as a set of universal musical and performance idioms. It could be considered even as a kind of style designation. Emotional intensity of minor key melodies, combination of melodiousness and declamatory, accompaniment of guitar and Russian accordion (bayan) with vocal melody in bass, this kind of romance was most characteristic and most popular.

Theodore Bikel – Chants Russes Tziganes (1958)

   There were many famous performers of Gypsy romance, and only some of them were recorded and published in 20th century. A bunch of romances was in common use. Some of these most popular were sung also in other languages. One of performers was Theodore Bikel. Born in Vienna actor and singer became famous for his perfect performances of Yiddish theatre and folk songs. He was singing in Yiddish, Hebrew, German, English, Russian and other languages. As 14 years old he emigrated from Europe and lived in Israel. In 1954 he moved to USA and one year later debuted with an album Israeli Folk Songs published by Elektra. This label was his long time support, releasing his records from 1955 to 1968. In 1958 Elektra published five albums with various repertoire. One of 1958 titles was the album Songs of a Russian Gypsy. It was also published as the license edition of Mode disques label in France as Chants Russes Tziganes
   The program of this collection shows 14 popular songs. From Beryuzoviye Kalyechke, classical Yekhali Tsigane and most famous Dve Gitari, with some characteristic songs like Kagda Ya Pyann and instrumental dances like Svyetit Myseats and Karobushka, lyrical and love songs Kak Stranno and Nichevo, Nichevo, Nichevo are main current of this collection. The second side is opening with blockbuster Chto Mnye Goyre. This part presents love songs of both Gypsy and Russian folk tradition Dyen i Noch and Metyelitsa, full of sadness Snilsya Mnye Sad, and characteristic gypsy romances Karabli and Sudarinya, closing this program with a convivial verve. This three star recording is worth remembering. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Organ Music at the Cathedral of Oliwa

   Pipe organ is a specific instrument. A biggest, with one of longest presence in the history of music and relatively most expensive instrument, it certainly demands an attention. It’s dating back at least to 3rd Century B.C. no wonder historical and cultural position of organ music is a subject of continuous research. Complexity of the instrument makes insufficient our studies of composed music. We need to know technical conditions of the instrument and cultural environment of creative activity. This is what gives best organs positions of musical centers. When Johann Sebastian Bach was developing his skills, he wandered to Lübeck where Dietrich Buxtehude was organist in Marienkirche with two of most famous instruments in history. Maybe not as famous, but nevertheless significant center of religious and organ music was Cistercian Abbey of Oliwa (since 2 centuries Oliwa is a district of Gdańsk city), known for its original instrument.
   There are two instruments in Oliwa Cathedral, small organ from 1680 and great organ, with one of largest organ cases in the world constructed by Johann Wilhelm Wulff in the period between 1763 and 1788 with 83 registers and 3 manuals with mechanical tracker action. Both instruments, the small one in south wing of the transept and the great organ, were constantly being improved and reconstructed. In 1790 Friedrich Rudolf Dalitz moved console from the middle nave to north wing of matroneum, in 1863 Friedric Kaltschmidt rebuild whole instrument giving it romantic layer and in 1935 Gdańsk organ builder Joseph Goebel extended console to four manuals and rebuild traction to electro-pneumatic with wind chests. After 2nd world war, partly destroyed instrument was repaired by Fryderyk Szwarc from Kartuzy and in 1955 reconstructed by Wacław Biernacki from Cracow. Next rebuilding in years 1966-1968 was made by Zygmunt Kamiński enterprise from Warsaw.

Organ Music at the Cathedral of Oliwa (1966)

   In effect of all improvements the great organ in Oliwa has 96 registers, console with five manuals and pedalboard. Since 1935 it was connected with the choir organ and has electric tracker action. Furthermore old choir organ constructed in 1680 by Johann Georg Wulff in 2003 was exchanged with Emanuel Kemper 17-pipe organ. Now it has mechanical traction and is still connected with great organ. Jerzy Kukla replaced new choir organ putting it in 17th century organ case. This is one of the best and the biggest organs in Poland, no wonder it had so many reconstructions. Prominent position has its advantages. Organ in Oliwa Cathedral were recorded many times, and every record is a document of the sound possibilities and has historic meaning. Recordings from late 1950’s and early 1960’s show sound possibilities of great organ before its reconstruction. The collection of archival recordings published by Polskie Nagrania (XL 0299) was released in 1966, just before reconstruction of great organ.
   Program of this record has been composed probably to show the possibilities of the instrument from different points of view. Three organists play repertoire of different eras and styles from renaissance to contemporary neoromantic organ music. Bronisław Rutkowski recorded Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV 565 by Johann Sebastian Bach, Offertoire sur les grands jeux by François Couperin and Improvisation on the Theme of the Song “Holy God” by Mieczysław Surzyński. Feliks Rączkowski played his own Improvisation on the Theme of the Christmas Carol “In the Calm of the Night” and Polish Fantasy “Christmas Eve at Wawel Cathedral in Cracow” by Feliks Nowowiejski, postromantic composer famous in organ world for his virtuoso solo works - organ symphonies and concertos. Closing composition was Fantasia quator vocum by Polish renaissance composer Walenty Bakfark. It was recorded by Joachim Grubich. This documentary recording is still considerably interesting for artistic content and esthetic quality. The sound of great organ is clear and powerful, worth of two and half of the star.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

SCB – Giulio Caccini – Le nuove musiche

   After two centuries of developing renaissance polyphony, in late 16th century music technical merits dominate over emotional representations. Some Italian composers looking for more clear and affective  expression find solution in some ideas of Greek music as well as in folk tunes. In Florence and other cities many composers tried to organize their works in new way. From ancient culture came the idea of monody, solo singing accompanied by kithara. The same source gave new connection of music and theatre called opera. The idea of opera created in Florentine Camerata was the most significant novelty of new style at least from listener’s point of view. But real revolution took place in technical change of polyphonic structures into monody accompanied with basso continuo. This was pure consequence of polyphony development, but in effect it rapidly changed the face of music. The first monody collection was Le nuove musiche by Giulio Caccini (1551-1618) published in 1602 in Florence.
   Giulio Caccini, also called Giulio Romano for many years he spend in Rome, was a singer and a lutenist, but in history of music he is one of composers in late renaissance and early baroque era. First he was composing in traditional polyphonic style of Renaissance music. Influenced by intellectuals from Camerata circle, he had participated in coining new ideas during discussions in Florentine house of Giovanni Bardi. His friendship with Jacopo Corsi and Vincenzo Galilei had its artistic consequences and at the turn of the century Giulio Caccini started to compose musica in stile representativo, which he was calling style moderno and it was merely the same as Monteverdi’s seconda practica. Giulio Caccini sung these works accompanying himself on the theorbo. In 1600 he decided to publish cycle of his songs, in February 1961 engravings were ready, but printer Giulio Marescotti died and release was delayed to 1602.

Montserrat Figueras & SCB – G. Caccini – Le nuove musiche (1984)

   Madrigals and canzonas by Giulio Caccini mark the birth moment of the baroque style. Composer used in this cycle solo voice accompanied by chords. Whole cycle comprises 12 madrigals and 10 canzonette. The book was called Le nuove musiche and was significantly different from earlier works. Musical style was different, what was clearly shown in composer’s preface, even the idea of madrigal was other than before, although the general theme of songs was love. All songs were about love showing it in two emotional perspectives, elegiac expression of rejected lover in madrigals and happiness of fulfilled love in joyful canzonette. Many madrigals were composed to lyrics by Ottavio Rinuccini, Florentine poet and first opera librettist. In 1614 Gulio Caccini published in Firenze his second collection of madrigals Nuove musiche e nuova maniera di scriverle. One of his followers was his daughter Francesca Caccini (1587-1641) whose fame was as high as her father. She was extremely talented person, composer and poet, lutenist, singer and music teacher, one of most active women composers in 17th century. Her 16 stage works were predominantly based on homophonic texture with occasional use of counterpoint technique.
   In 1984 Deutsche Harmonia Mundi published an album with a choice of compositions from two books by Giulio Gaccini. Sung by Montserrat Figueras accompanied by four instrumentalists, this recording is valuable example of modern esthetics of performing ancient music on original instruments. And somehow it was the beginning of beautiful career of this singer. Playing lute and baroque guitar Hopkinson Smith, Robert Clancy with baroque guitar or chitarrone and Xenia Schindler playing diatonic harp are performing chord accompaniment. Playing viola da gamba by Barak Norman (London 1697) Jordi Saval is aiming to his first success. These recordings are effects of both artistic intuition and musicological research. Perfectly recorded and pressed in direct metal mastering technology gave this piece of vinyl almost alive sound. Schola Cantorum Basiliensis was founded in 1933 by Swiss conductor Paul Sacher. The founding idea of this teaching and research center was to create modern artistic and intellectual movement for performing music from Middle Ages to Classicism. This album is just perfect in artistic and technological quality and unique in covering significant moment of music history. It deserves complete of five stars.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Chick Corea – Tap Step

   Born in late sixties from modal jazz and harsh rock sound, in the seventies jazz rock was evolved from early sound experiments and rhythmic patterns to firmly conventionalized set of means creating whole new vocabulary of jazz. First were derived from the sixties idea of fusion between totally different worlds of musical sensitivity. Last was the collection of sound and rhythmic patterns presented on albums and concerts of dozens of performers. One of musicians who took part in jazz rock revolutionary forms of jazz-rock was Chick Corea. But he was too much creative to reside in style losing its creative momentum. In 1978 Corea had disbanded Return to Forever, but still working with its musicians he was experimenting with various line-ups and forms.
   Chick Corea was searching for best possible vehicles for his musical ideas. He always was creative, but this moment was the moment of almost complete creative freedom. No matter it was the time of Return to Forever, his Elektric Band or Akoustic Band, he was working on solo albums, various duets, jazz combos or bands with various musicians, even some recordings with symphonic orchestra and repertoire of purely classical music. The same year, in 1978 he published three great albums made with extended personnel (The Mad Hatter, Secret Agent, Friends) and double live album with Herbie Hancock In Concert. Next year he released three albums (one solo, and two in duets) and in 1980 five albums (two live recordings). These albums as well as disbanding Return to Forever can be seen as effects of Corea’s explorations. 

Chick Corea – Tap Step (1980)

   One of most significant tendencies in Chick Corea’s creative history were his experiments with various line-ups after Return to Forever. And Tap Step album was project characteristic for this period. And it was not understand by many critics, what was also typical for the moment. The open idea of this album shows various attitudes, from dance music to modal jazz and back to rhythmic and melodic diversity. It was published in 1980, two years after what was then considered as artist’s extreme activity. Variety of musicians and arrangements suggests album could be a compilation of different recordings, but nothing of the kind was happened here. Recording sessions took place in Love Castle Studio in Los Angeles between December 1979 and January 1980. Those, who looking for jazz solo players, shouldn’t be disappointed. Joe Farrell’s tenor and soprano saxes are part of sound specific for this period. Hubert Laws on flute and Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and Also Al Vizzutti on trumpets and flugelhorns made strong appearance.
   Album is just bursting with ideas. Main contrast lies between rhythmicity and melodiousness. The title speaks for itself. As samba rhythms and cover photo of pianist with surdo drum show, percussion was the main part of featured band. Four drummers Airto Moreira, Laudir Oliveira, Tom Brechtlein and Don Alias are appearing in different settings. In The Slide Chick Corea played with all four percussionists and two bassists Bunny Brunel and Jamie Faunt and this track is undeniably rhythmic culmination of the album. Rhodes electric piano with its percussive sound emphasizes this effect. In opening Samba L.A. four vocalists Flora Purim, Gayle Moran, Shelby Flint and Nani Villa Brunel create main line of musical crowd. Lyrical and narrative soprano by Gayle Moran gives The Embrace power remembered from My Spanish Heart and The Mad Hatter. Beautiful title track Tap Step is so fresh in sound we can forget it’s quite traditional in its construction. Solos by Al Vizzutti and Joe Farrell are just perfect. Just as acoustic piano solo by Corea in Magic Carpet or his Rhodes piano and Moog synthesizer solos in The Slide. For these solos and for synergic teaming of all musicians this album is worth much more than in reviews repeated without listening. These four stars counts as a masterpiece.

Monday, February 9, 2015


   In Poland just like in any other East European country all genres of western popular music, including jazz and rock, in first decade of cold war were officially prohibited. Later they became conditionally acceptable but not supported and criticized from time to time as elements of hostile way of life. After jazz had emancipated from its early underground forms, some cases of dance and pop music in late fifties and rock in the end of next decade gained their secondary position in musical culture. In late sixties some forms of progressive rock music had emerged as well. Those times jazz had already secure position of artistic genre so at first progressive rock music was connected mainly to jazz-rock. Musicians playing any kind of blues or psychedelic rock were experimenting with some progressive ideas. In 1971 in Siemianowice Śląskie musician Józef Skrzek, singer and multi-instrumentalist formed Silesian Blues Band, known under acronym as SBB, which shortly became the legend of underground blues rock in Silesia. Józef Skrzek was singer, playing bass and keyboards. The musicians of the band were guitarist Antymos Apostolis and drummer Jerzy Piotrowski.

SBB (1974)

   First step in the career of the band from industrial region of South Poland was common project with Czesław Niemen, who was already a number one star in Polish rock. Musical experiments were great part in musical experience of young generation. After recording four albums with Czesław Niemen, in 1973 they parted ways. Trio from Silesia started to work on their own career. The next step was concert tour as SBB. Promoting SBB in Poland and Germany as progressive rock band they found new meaning of the acronym: Szukaj, Burz i Buduj (Search, Break & Build). The person who found new motto was Franciszek Walicki, he served as the manager, wrote some lyrics and helped musicians to find their scenic image.
   Fragments of two concerts played April 18th and 19th in Students Club “Stodoła” in Warsaw were published the same year by Polskie Nagrania as first album of the group. Constructed in wide forms, improvised in best part, trance and contemplative music was as much heterogeneous as different were artistic personalities of the trio members. From electrified blues to electronics and from acoustic mainstream harmonic and repetitive rhythmic structures to ambient sounds and electronic experimenting with musical space, this was music giving young people a chance to find their own esthetic experience. Published in last of summer 1974 debut album became famous in few months. Autumn of the same year it was out of print and sold on the black market at significantly higher prices. From this point on SBB was the most famous band of Polish progressive rock.

SBB - Odlot (1974)

   First album of SBB consists of perfectly compiled material from two full time live gigs. To show whole spectrum of artistic possibilities editor had used syncretic structure building music which at the time was even hard to call. Józef Skrzek in opening words to the public says “the band wants to introduce the music”. And it was not an act of conceit. At this moment for a young leader it was really hard to find a name comprising all genres musicians were trying to embody in their music. From blues-rock to jazz-rock and progressive rock, in program of first edition listeners found only small fragments of concerts, but these musical collages were enough to earn the position of groundbreaking album in the history of Polish rock. Fragments were connected in two suites Odlot (incl. song Odlecieć z wami) and Wizje (incl. song Erotyk). And such crossover compilation was in Poland most powerful idea of fusion in Polish rock of 1974. No wonder this four star album holds its special position in the history of Polish progressive rock.