Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Chick Corea – Return to Forever

   In 1972 ECM Records published new album of Chick Corea – Return to Forever. Partners of the leader were vocalist Flora Purim, saxophonist Joe Ferrell, bassist Stanley Clarke and percussionist Airto Moreira. The new jazz band took its name from the title of the album and shortly became one of best recognized ensembles of fusion jazz. Releasing of this record was one of groundbreaking moments in history of jazz. The unpretentional cover is showing lonely bird flying over the sea surface. It was like an opening of the new space – everything in this album was fresh, open and promising. When ECM published Chick Corea’s album Return to Forever it was 22nd album in catalogue of this small and ambitious label. And Chick Corea has brought a sizeable contribution into production of early ECM label. In 1971 Manfred Eicher’s recording company published Corea’s solo Piano Improvisations vol. 1, album A.R.C. by trio Corea, Holland and Altschul and double LP Paris Concert of Circle. Next year ECM published two albums by Chick Corea: Piano Improvisations vol. 2 and Return to Forever.
   The breaking moment of Chick Corea’s career was in the beginning of the seventies. He was ready to start the whole new idea of fusion, connected to Mexican folk music and Latin trends in American rock. In the moment of creating the new band, called after the title of first album, Return to Forever, Corea was involved in new project where he was composing for Stan Getz. This moment was connected to the history of ECM as well. The rest is the great story of contemporary jazz, famous jazz-rock band and the company established and run by Manfred Eicher. In fact this early Return to Forever survived only first year and shortly was replaced by the new band with Corea and Clarke as only musicians common to both line-ups. Manfred Eicher’s ECM became most famous recording company in European jazz. The name of the company was abbreviation of Edition of Contemporary Music and simplicity was the hallmark. Jazz, world music and contemporary music were main directions. And in Corea’s recordings all directions, jazz, world music and the contemporary music were linked.

Chick Corea – Return to Forever (1972)

   The moment was special. Even if it looked like only two days of session enough to create the whole new idea of jazz fusion. Tendency was already visible, after Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, jazz was wide open for new crossover idea giving the possibility of joining jazz, rock and elements of various traditions. Chick Corea has prior experiences playing with Miles Davis recording above-mentioned albums as well as Water Babies (recorded in 1968 and released 1976), Filles de Kilimanjaro and some live gigs edited later and also known from records like Black Beauty – Life at the Fillmore West or Miles Davis at Fillmore – Life at the Fillmore East. In 1970 he started work with avant-garde group Circle with Anthony Braxton, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul recording for ECM Records.
   In February 2nd and 3rd in 1972, at A&R Studios in New York City had met Chick Corea, bass player Stanley Clarke and percussionist Airto Moreira. They had already plans of recording session for Stan Getz new album Captain Marvel, where Corea was composer. For his new band Corea invited Moreira’s wife Flora Purim and Joe Farrell, saxophonist who’s first two albums Corea was involved as composer and pianist. These five musicians created band of legendary sound. Although they recorded only two albums, in various lineups they were working in future Corea’s bands and many elements of this experience influenced next productions. A lot of space between notes, light vocal themes perfectly performed by phenomenal Flora Purim, rhythmic intensity of Latin motifs, all in this album works for its historic position. Chick Corea as the author of whole concept and all four compositions was undoubtedly the hero of this project. He decided to start the band and the band was one of most famous bands in history. And the record is full five of five stars tray, just must have for every self-respecting jazz listener.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Rhapsody! – Dorati & The Detroit Symphony

   In the history of romantic music the rhapsody is interesting example of form based on free invention and one more connection between popular and artistic music. It was rooted mainly in virtuoso phantasia. Improvisational attitude in romantic period was common part of musical techniques. Most improvisational type of composition was phantasy and there were lots of various forms of phantasies. Probably most popular among them was rhapsody. Free flowing form of rhapsody characterizes often changing, emotionally differential character of the music. It was composed mainly as instrumental work, although the name came from ancient Greek ῥαψῳδία which means epic song. Thus stylistic and thematic base for romantic rhapsody was always a folk song. Early rhapsodies were composed mainly in phantasy style, later it was resembled more song form. As it was so much popular in romantic culture, dozens of composers have written rhapsodies. Most famous rhapsodies start from 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies by Franz Liszt, and were often mimicked by other composers.
   The cycle of Liszt’s rhapsodies, a virtuoso solo piano pieces is rarely performed as complete program for its technical difficulties. In his rhapsodies Liszt uses Hungarian folk tunes, mainly heard from Hungarian Roma bands, with elements of Roma improvisational style, characteristic rhythmic and harmonic idioms of csardas and verbunkos. Some more popular rhapsodies are played often, especially Rhapsody No. 2 for many listeners became a synonymous for rhapsody at all. Three decades later composer arranged them for orchestra. Rhapsodies were composed by Johannes Brahms (Two Rhapsodies Op. 79), Claude Debussy (Première rhapsodie for clarinet and piano and Rhapsody for alto saxophone and orchestra), Bela Bartok (Rhapsody No. 1 and Rhapsody No. 2 for violin and piano), Sergei Rachmaninoff (Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op. 43), George Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue), Ralph Vaughan Williams (Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 for orchestra) and many others. 

Antal Dorati &The Detroit Symphony – Rhapsody! (1979)

   In April 1978 Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Antal Dorati recorded four rhapsodies of various composers. Antal Dorati was great conductor as orchestra leader, as performing and recording artist. His discography is the great collection of consecutive albums with various orchestras. In years he was working with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, he recorded with this ensemble as well. After albums with symphonic music by Peter Tchaikovsky and Bela Bartok he recorded album Rhapsody! – a choice of four rhapsodic pieces for orchestra. Three of them were connected to Central European and one to West European folkloristic patterns, all showing how different the cultural context of rhapsody can be. The first is Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 op. 11 by George Enescu, most famous composer of Romania. Then one can find orchestral version of Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt - almost an obvious choice. Second side program is Slavonic Rhapsody Op. 45 No. 3 by Czech composer Antonin Dvořak and Rhapsodie Espagnole by Maurice Ravel.
   The Rhapsody! album was published in 1979 under the label of London Records Inc. Recording sessions took place a year before, in April 1978 at United Artists’ Auditorium in Detroit. Designed in Spanish-Gothic style this hall for more than two thousands viewers was one of most beautiful theatres of USA. When in 1976 furniture was sold out, the main hall was used for symphonic recording sessions as its acoustics proved to be ideal. In years 1978 to 1983 Detroit Symphony Orchestra have placed all recording sessions in this place. The sound of orchestra is deep and clear, with short but steady response and rich color. Orchestral sound and rhythmic intensity gave these compositions great outfit. Especially Ravel’s Rhapsodie Espagnole founded on colorful orchestration provided for the band lots of chances to build visionary and deeply emotional performances. For Detroit Symphony Orchestra playing symphonic rhapsodies in spirited interpretations of Antal Dorati adequate appraisal is four stars.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Robert Shaw conducts Stravinsky and Borodin

   The very first commercial album recorded digitally in the history of phonographic industry was The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky and Overture and Polovetsian Dances from Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin recorded by The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Robert Shaw. Recording session took part June 19 & 20, 1978 with Soundstream Digital Recording System for the Telarc label. Those times Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was a rising star of American music, one of most interesting young orchestras recording in seventies and eighties. This was the best time in history of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra working this under direction of Robert Shaw. 
   Although officially Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1945, for more than two decades it was not known to wide public, while consequently building its condition under direction of its founder Henry Sopkin. In 1967 for the post of music director was engaged Robert Shaw. As a choirmaster he started his career in 1941, establishing in New York City the Collegiate Chorale. He was known for his significant role as the founder and a conductor of professional Robert Shaw Chorale. As he was preparing choirs for Arturo Toscanini he became almost instantly famous as the choirmaster. Arturo Toscanini recommended him saying: “In Robert Shaw I have at last found the maestro I have been looking for”. Robert Shaw Chorale was professional ensemble. With this chorale Robert Shaw was working in New York for almost two decades (1948-1965) and made great series of recordings for RCA, receiving Grammy for Bach’s Great Mass in B Minor (1962) and for Handel’s Messiah (1966).

Robert Shaw – Stravinsky – The Firebird (1978)

   Two years after famous choir was disbanded, in 1967 Robert Shaw took up the post of music director in Atlanta. In 1968 ASO became full-time, 52-week orchestra. Two years later director Shaw founded Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. In 1975 Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus made its debut with 2LP album Christmas with Robert Shaw. Consequent work on repertoire and extensive guest performances gave artists from Atlanta prominence and quality. In late seventies well informed listeners knew this orchestra is one of the best – especially for Shaw’s recording experience. This is probably the reason Robert Shaw recorded the first digital album in the USA. 
   The sound of the orchestra is perfect. Shaw’s interpretations were generally focused more on sound than on structures. This performance of The Firebird suite in 1919 version, recorded with enhanced trebles and basses, was so much different, this recording was quite a surprise for listeners knowing sound of earlier recordings of Igor Stravinsky’s suite. The new kind of sensitivity was probably even more readable for young people and Shaw’s recordings enjoyed a good reputation. Second side comprises two fragments from Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin. The sound here is more colorful than expressive, sound space is unbelievably wide and deep. The famous choir in Polovetsian Dances shows its power in clear beautiful recording. Four stars for pure musical qualities and a half star for historic position.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Maurizio Pollini – Anton Webern: Variations Op. 27; Pierre Boulez: Second Piano Sonata


   Pierre Boulez born March 26, 1925 in Montbrison, Loire is one of the greatest composers of contemporary music. He is also great interpreter of 19th and 20th century, especially big forms of late romantic music, well known for inspired recordings of symphonies of Mahler and Bruckner and Wagner’s operas and great collection of 20th century classics, Debussy, Stravinsky, Bartok, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern and Varese. He was a student of Olivier Messiaen where he had learned twelve-tone technique and later continued his experiments being considered as one of post-webernian serial style composers. Creative activity of Pierre Boulez continues from 1940’s. He composed numerous works – giving his contribution in integral serialism, aleatoric music and electronic music, he created one of the best collections of contemporary music of seven decades.
   Second Sonata for Piano by Pierre Boulez, finished in 1948 when he was 23 years old, is famous as consequently creative and extremely difficult piano piece. The main composer’s idea was to give the twelve-tone series “a functional meaning, a motivic and thematic meaning in relation to certain functions which they had to assume in the work”. He merged techniques of serialism with his own idea of developing series of intervals into linked motives. This idea of evanescent thematism is the base for first movement Extrêmement rapide (Extremely fast). Second movement Lent (Slow) is a variation form on very large scale of changing elements and sustained material. Third movement Modéré, presque vif (Moderate, almost lively) is merging elements of variation and scherzo. Fourth movement Vif (Lively) is constructed in two parts – a slow fugue distracting in abstract formulas and fast part which in decided motives find formal balance without closing thematic material.

Pollini – Webern Variations, Boulez Piano Sonata No. 2 (1978)

   The whole Second Sonata for Piano in composer’s own words was an attempt of destroying the classical form. Pierre Boulez wrote it was his only work related to a historic form, noticing: “I have always found a form which was conceived along with the idea itself”. It’s interesting from the point of view of musical forms history, how creativity was defined by relation to the forms. In great album of Maurizio Pollini Second Sonata for Piano has been paired with Variations for Piano Solo, Op. 27 by Anton Webern. This short, three-part, six-minute only composition is an example of emerging serialism. Composed between October 1935 and November 1936 Variations reveal transition to late period of Webern’s creative work. This compact, tight and consequent work is based on one series, contrapuctal canonic work and clear methods of manipulating the series, its inversion and retrograde. Its complex and concise form was a model for whole generation of composers after war.
   These two works, Variations Op. 27 by Anton Webern and Piano Sonata No. 2 by Pierre Boulez are substantial for serialistic music. These two works were finished in span of 12 years. Those years comprised 2nd world war, Holocaust and atomic bomb first use. It was crucial moment not only for 20th century music. Both are significant as the formal method and as esthetic tendency. Recorded in virtuoso, perfectly interpreted and played performance of Maurizio Pollini it was published by Deutsche Grammophon in 1978 (2530 803). It is one of the best albums in collection of contemporary classics. And complete five stars is only a small justice for Pollini’s renditions of these works. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Procol Harum – Procol’s Ninth

   In the history of progressive rock, Procol Harum is one of bands forming basics of the genre. Their first hit single A Whiter Shade of Pale made them instantly famous, but when they achieved success, it had promoted also the way of creating relations between rock and various elements of historic genres and styles. In late sixties this was only a kind of the idea but later was associated with intertextual relations between rock and historic music of other centuries as it had happened in jazz 20 years earlier. This idea of connecting various musical worlds was common feature for various projects by Procol Harum.
   This first Procol Harum song had used in organ accompaniment stylization of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Air from Orchestral Suite No 3 in D Major. The single had been sold in over 10 million copies. Although Procol Harum was the band often referencing to some elements of classical or baroque style, they were still much closer to blues and soul and in consequence strong R&B roots decided of their clear rock designation. This band has always their own way of creating music in progressive rock or symphonic rock style. When other bands were constructing big cyclic forms, Procol Harum were playing songs looking for deeper connections with past styles and genres.

Procol Harum – Procol’s Ninth (1975)

   One of band’s characteristics was its creative style. Every album was a kind of surprise for listeners, while in fans’ opinions every next record was expected to be something like one of their earlier achievements. Published in September 1975 Procol’s Ninth was intended as great musical victory. The band’s lineup was without changes since Grand Hotel. The core was authoring duo Gary Brooker (composer, piano, vocals) and Keith Reid (lyrics), but the sound of the band highly depended of four musicians: B.J.Wilson (drums), Chris Copping (organ), Alan Cartwright (bass) and Mick Grabham (guitar). And the sound of this album can be a model of art rock quality, discrete yet expressive rock sound and simplicity of song form.
   Opening song Pandora’s Box was old Brooker and Reid song from the band’s better days. This song released on single was last Procol Harum’s hit. In program of the record 8 original songs of Gary Brooker and Keith Reid and two covers (I Keep Forgetting by Leiber/Stoller and Eight Days a Week by Lennon/McCartney). The intention was clear. The band was trying to find formula for success in harder than ever before popular music market. Indeed the record promoted with concert tours was successful. Later it was somehow overlooked and forgotten, but it still is interesting. Very well written and sung songs sound clear and have the ability to focus attention. Four stars not only for progressive rock fans.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Gato Barbieri In Search of the Mystery

   Gato Barbieri is one of most recognized jazz musicians of seventies and eighties. He became famous for his own characteristic sound of tenor saxophone. It happened before he achieved international fame for his great music for Bernardo Bertolucci’s film Last Tango in Paris, but it was this very movie where his husky expressive timbre became recognizable for millions. He was noted for his music and featured in soundtrack saxophone sound and this achievement became success guiding him to different fields of musical creativity. Long before this moment he was a musician and improviser, who was known for expressive, powerful timbre of his tenor saxophone.
   Leandro Barbieri, known as Gato (meaning “cat” in Spanish) was born in 1932 in Rosario, biggest city of Santa Fe Province. Many of his family were musicians so he was aiming to be the professional artist from his early years. He was playing clarinet, but after he heard Charlie Parker, he switched into alto saxophone. In late fifties he was playing in Buenos Aires with his coeval pianist Lalo Schifrin. In 1962 they played in Rome. He changed into tenor saxophone and started playing with Don Cherry. Later he moved to USA, and played both free jazz and fusion basing on Argentinean tradition. This was the time when he was building his great expressive sound. He was developing some technical ideas of late John Coltrane and sound of Pharoah Sanders. 

Gato Barbieri In Search of the Mystery (1967)

   His debut recording was Menorama released in private pressing in 1960. Then he was published in on Don Cherry records Togetherness (1965), Complete Communion (1966), Live at Jazzhus Montmartre 1966 (1966) and Symphony for Improvisers (1966). In 1967 he was one of side musicians on Gary Burton A Genuine Tong Funeral and two albums of his own In Search of the Mystery released the same year and Obsession, released much later. The style he was playing during these sessions was clearly free jazz with some late John Coltrane and post modal idioms. He is playing with great volume and with wide spectrum of sound. The band of In Search of the Mystery could be the classic free jazz instrumental staff: Gato Barbieri on tenor saxophone, Calo Scott on cello, Norris Jones on bass and Bobby Kapp on drums.
   Late sixties is the time of his own successful album In Search of the Mystery and successful cooperation with leading avant-garde artists Don Cherry, Carla Bley, Michael Mantler, Alan Shorter, Dollar Brand, and Charlie Haden. It’s interesting considering his later career. Six years after In Search of the Mystery he won Grammy for music to the Last Tango in Paris. Starting from radical jazz, he developed huge and powerful sound which became his trademark. After he was hired to write music for cinema, popular tunes and smooth jazz style made him one of most famous musicians from Argentina. This is quite an achievement since this country has a lot of great musicians, poets, writers and artists. Three stars with a half.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Szell conducts Wagner – Great Orchestral Music from “The Ring”

   In the history of culture some artists were always confined to one kind of activity. Although most composers were many-sided, there were always musicians who limited their activity to narrow stream of formal or functional output. They were producing just the kind of work as an answer to social order. In 19th century with the division of labor came specialization and competitiveness. Composers started to follow their most successful works. From formal and social point of view Richard Wagner was such an artist. Miscellaneous works he composed in first years of his life did not bring him any success, so he had specialized in opera and musical drama. This was consistent with his idea of dramatic aspect of music theatre. He became famous as the great reformer in the field of opera.
   Opera in 19th century was extremely popular genre. One of effects of this success was many orchestral fragments of operas were included in concert repertoire as symphonic pieces. Especially popular were fragments of Richard Wagner’s works. Powerful orchestrations and elements of illustrative means are characteristic style features of this composer. Preludes and overtures from his early operas and symphonic images in later composed dramas, all fragments of Wagner’s instrumental music on the span next century became popular concert pieces. It was also the element of orchestra sound display. One of Wagnerian features was characteristic form basing on crescendos which he used in overtures and in many scenes. One of best choices showing Wagner’s music was Great Orchestral Music from “The Ring” published in 1982 in CBS Great Performances series (MY 36715).

Szell – Great Orchestral Music from “The Ring” (1982)

   Although this album was reissue of previously published recordings, this edition became very popular in eighties. It shows most famous excerpts of four dramas cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen shortly mentioned as “The Ring”. Opening fragment is Entrance Of The Gods Into Valhalla from Das Rheingold, followed by Ride Of The Valkyries and Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre. The closing piece of the first side is image of virgin wood painted with orchestral sound in Forest Murmurs from Siegfried. These excerpts show how powerful can be music creating imaginary. The program of this album is concluded with two fragments From Götterdämmerung. In Dawn And Siegfried's Rhine Journey orchestra exposes once again a crescendo with characteristic Wagner’s impetus and whole story is closed with Siegfried's Funeral Music And Final Scene from fourth part of tetralogy. Strong, powerful orchestral sound meets subtle, fine and precise fragments. Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell sounds perfect and Wagner’s music let it show its sound possibilities.
   The Great Orchestral Music from “The Ring” choice has its own history. It was recorded at Cleveland Severance Hall in 1968 and published for the first time as Columbia Masterworks’ album Great Orchestra Highlights From “The Ring Of The Nibelungs” (MS 7291). It was highly appreciated and included in various medley editions of Wagner’s Greatest Hits. In 1973 it was included as third record of Columbia album Wagner Orchestral Music by George Szell an Cleveland Orchestra (D3M 32317) and in 1990 complete program of “Ring” excerpts was included in CBS compact disk compilation Wagner Without Words (MDK 46286) with Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and Prelude to 1st Act of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. These recordings are the perfect example of great symphonic renditions of Wagener’s music, republished so many times, these tracks became standard way of understanding the orchestral imagination by Richard Wagner. Four stars is clear bargain for these still living performances.