Thursday, April 30, 2015

Weather Report – Mysterious Traveller

April 30 - INTERNATIONAL JAZZ DAY celebrated under the auspices of UNESCO since 2012

   Considering the leading role of various jazz ensembles of the seventies, it is reasonable to believe the paramount band in fusion jazz was Weather Report. It has longest period of activity, unlike John Mc Laughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters or Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, Weather Report has more than one leader, the style of the band was the most varied in different moments and it comprised widest inspirations of jazz, rock, funk and world music. And what is most momentous, Weather Report was more than any other of mentioned bands related with all style. It was continuing the sound of first Miles Davies’ electric band; it was connected with structures of modern jazz, world music, funk and rock.
   Through the 16 years of Weather Report’s history band has published 16 official albums (13 studio and 3 live). Constant activity required many changes of style. As two leaders, Wayne Shorter and Josef Zawinul were playing through all band’s history, and drummers were changing frequently, the best way to set the activity of the band into periods is to focus on bassists, the third most regular position in the band. It can be divided into four periods depending of presence of bass players: Miroslav Vitous years (1971-1973), Alphonso Johnson years (1974-1976), Jaco Pastorious years (1977-1981) and Victor Bailey years (1982-1986) being the final period in the history of the band.
   After great success of first Weather Report album, after spread of new fusion sound, band was changing its direction. First turn in the history of Weather Report was parting with Miroslav Vitous after three studio records and one album of live recordings (Live in Tokio). Fifth Weather Report album under somehow symbolic title Mysterious Traveller was a sensation of 1974 music market. Clear and transparent, alive and energetic, many dimensional yet focused, this music has potential to inspire and to answer the question of possible development of fusion jazz, although this was still the time the style was specified as jazz-rock. This was also first Weather Report album with new bass player.

Weather Report – Mysterious Traveller (1974)

   The Mysterious Traveler can be seen as an attempt of refreshing the idea of fusion by resumption the late sixties idea of style synthesis and improvising freedom. Compositions of this album are more open and unfinished than before, loosely in formal attempt, but more free in pure musical and dancing context. In 1974 this was like fulfilling the idea of fusion, not just between jazz and rock, but between jazz and all genres of popular music, with special feature position of R&B. Funk syncopation and rhythmic ostinatos gave these compositions character and drive as was remembered from Miles Davis first electric albums. The sound space was expanded by lots of rhythmic instruments, electronic effects and human voices. Five vocalists (Edna Wright, Marti McCall, Jessica Smith, James Gilstrad and Billie Barnum) have their part in Nubian Sundance only, but as it was first and longest track, it dominated whole album with powerful audacity and intensity.
   The narration was dominated by funky compositions of A-Side: Nubian Sundance and Cucumber Slumber, and ethnic framework of 2nd Side: Mysterious Traveller and Jungle Book. These compositions were divided by three compositions American Tango, Blackthorn Rose and Scarlet Woman. First pair has its contrast in American Tango where band appeared for the last time with Miroslav Vitous. Its style is connected with Sweetnighter compositions, although it is also related to the actual direction. After four records strengthening position of Miroslav Vitous, this was first of three records with Alphonso Johnson playing bass guitar. The sound of the band was broaden by the drummers Ishmael Wilburn, and Dom Um Romão playing percussion and additional musicians in some tracks only: drummer Skip Hadden, and percussionist Ray Barretto, Meruga, Steve Little playing timpani, Isacoff playing tabla and Don Ashworth playing ocarinas and woodwinds.
   The same relation can be noticed in Scarlet Woman, nice continuation of firmly established Weather Report style composition. Between these layers and sections the real pearl is Blackthorn Rose, a chamber duo of Wayne Shorter and Joseph Zawinul, beautiful example of responsive improvising. In a way Mysterious Traveller album is an evidence of searching for new directions. It had some transition moments of references with the earlier era of the band but the power of compositions are taken from lots of creative ideas. Five stars for one of iconic albums of the seventies. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Michael Franks – Objects of Desire

   The jazz culture from the very beginning was a phenomenon rising on popular dance and song models, functioning and developing as a popular music in particular social environment, then established as an artistic quality in specific circumstances of modern change of the western civilization. Popular song melodies were among most active elements of early jazz. Melodic shape, textual references and some pure musical meanings associated with rhythmic patterns and harmonic changes were usual base for improvisation. Even modern jazz drew its energy of popular songs and melodies. For many of the post jazz generation it was real sensation some standard themes, before used in improvised music, were popular songs and hits of earlier decades.
   When in late seventies era of fusion was about to end and the period of neo classical jazz was not clearly visible, many musicians were trying to find some new inspiration in popular and artistic song. One of singers of this period was Michael Franks, musician from southern California (born in La Jolla, Sept. 18th, 1944). He became famous as one of most active songwriters in pop and jazz crossover, recorded by dozens and esteemed for his own albums with leading musicians of jazz and smooth jazz, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, Michael and Randy Brecker, Wilton Felder, David Sanborn and many more. His songs were recorded by jazz and popular artists, The Manhattan Transfer, The Carpenters, Diana Krall, Shirley Basey and Ringo Star. Over a dozen albums (recorded mostly for Warner Bros. Records) is coherent series documenting the development of Michael Franks songwriting and performance as a very individual jazz style.

Michael Franks – Objects of Desire (1982)

   Michael Franks’ discography can be seen as a kind of timeline for the progress of his songwriting and performing possibilities, but first of all these consecutively created albums are a beautiful collection of great songs, well written and performed, ready to give satisfaction even to a demanding listener. In this consequently build collection seventh album is somehow unique. Michael Franks’ Objects of Desire was written and recorded in 1981. Warner Bros. Records published it in 1982 simultaneously in US, Canada, Japan, Germany, Spain and RPA and on various carriers LP, CD and Compact Cassette. It looks like this one was intended to be a blockbuster. The number of musicians was bigger than ever and album was built in series of sessions in different studios. And the results were encouraging.
   This Objects of Desire is somehow a concept album. It shows nine songs about values and desire, but as these desired objects may be different. It’s like the picture from the cover, Two Tahitian Women by Paul Gauguin, which shows man’s objects of desire and can be considered as the object of desire itself. Emotional relations from love to jealousy show the space for Franks’ songs. They have outstanding musical setting. Natural melodic lines economically correspond with lyrics, and its soft jazz arrangements open wide space for great solos. Many perfect saxophone solos played by Michael Brecker (Laughing Gas), David Sanborn (Tahitian Moon, Love Duet), Lawrence Feldman (Flirtation), and few dozens of great session musicians gave this album lot of space. The same with singing performances: Bonnie Raitt’s voice in Ladies’ Nite is electrifying and finds its reflection in Franks’ vocal. One another example of great voice communication is Love Duet where Franks sings with Renee Diggs. Such culture of sound was always domain of professional artists only. Here it starts to be art for itself. Four and half of stars for perfect creative work.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gary Graffman and George Szell play Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concertos No. 1 & 3

   Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev, born April 23rd, 1891, was one of the greatest composers in first half of the 20th century and the leading figure of neoclassical style. For his symphonic and ballet music he was internationally recognized but earlier big steps toward success were his concertos. First violin concerto and three piano concertos he composed before he turned 30. After the First World War and revolution of 1917, he decided to build his career abroad, living in USA, Germany and in France. His name in Russian original: Сергей Сергеевич Прокофьев, was into transcribed into different languages in accordance to phonetics so people know him in various spellings as: Serge Prokofieff, Sergei Sergejewitsch Prokofjew or Sergei Prokofiev. His fame is so widespread that, regardless of spelling, everyone knows who we are talking about.
   His emigration has more artistic venture than political choice. In fact his migration was authorized by Soviet government. In 1920’s he was traveling in Americas and Europe as conductor and pianist but first of all he was active as composer and was trying to promote his works. In fact these journeys were not quite a good period for his creative activities. In time of economic crisis possibilities of artistic development were increasingly limited, and as one of exiles he was not feeling happy. He decided that he should return to his homeland and in 1936 he moved to Moscow for good. And how conducive for his creativity was this decision shows the list of his works in late thirties.

Gary Graffman and George Szell play Sergei Prokofiev (1976)

   In Sergei Prokofiev’s creative output concertos are highly appreciated. These works as well as symphonies and solo sonatas decided of his neoclassical style, although he was also criticized as too much formalistic thus undemocratic and not socialist. He finished 9 concertos and concerting pieces, two concertos for violin and orchestra, five piano concertos, concert for cello and Symphony-Concerto for cello and orchestra. The Concertino for cello and orchestra has two versions because it was finished independently by Dmitry Kabalevski and by Vladimir Blok. The Piano concerto No. 6 Prokofiev started in 1953 remains unfinished. Significant part of his work are nine sonatas for piano (next two remained unfinished). These work and many piano miniatures are great part of modern piano literature.
   The two pieces representing early period of Prokofiev creative work – Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major Op. 10 and Concerto No. 3 in C Major Op. 26 – belong to the group of most famous piano concertos of 20th century. Gary Graffman made recordings of these concertos in March 1966 with George Szell conducting Cleveland Orchestra. These recordings were published together with Piano Sonata No. 3 in A Minor Op. 28 recorded in December 1962. The repertoire of this album Graffman has already recorded – Concerto No. 3 in 1965 with San Francisco Symphony under Enrique Jorda and Sonata No. 3 in 1956 for RCA. Also Szell has great experience with Prokofiev’s music – he recorded 1st Piano Concerto in 1963 with Rudolf Serkin. The album released by CBS in 1976 is a powerful exposure of most popular Prokofiev’s concertos. These perfectly adequate performances can be a reference for understanding Prokofiev’s works. Five years later this album was reedited in CBS Great Performances series. As it is compilation of previously published recordings, it deserves four stars for great interpretation and clear sound.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Anna Moffo In Great Duets From Opera

   Anna Moffo was one of the greatest opera stars in the era of stereo hi fi vinyl records. Besides few early recordings for EMI like Coloratura Arias she recorded with Colin Davis in 1959, she was recording for RCA. Exclusive contract with RCA, for many artists would be fulfilling of their dreams, but Anna Moffo was already primadonna of best opera houses all over the world. And this cooperation of star and label of the stars* resulted in a series of great recordings in sixties. She was recorded with Italian orchestras conducted by Tullio Serafin, Fernando Previtali, Erich Leinsdorf, Franco Ferrara, Georg Solti, René Leibowitz, Leopold Stokowski, Fausto Cleva, Renato Fasano, Georges Prêtre and Francesco Molinari-Pradelli. The list of great singers she worked with is much longer. One can judge it from double LP selection published by RCA in 1975 as Anna Moffo in Great Duets from Opera.
   All recordings were taken from RCA recordings. Program starts with 1957 recording of Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly (scene from 1st Act) with Cesare Valletti and Rome Opera Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. The same orchestra and conductor took part in of Puccini’s La bohème 1961 recording. This time her partner in Act 1 was phenomenal Richard Tucker in role of Rodolfo. In scene from 3rd Act Moffo and Tucker are supported by soprano Mary Costa (Musetta) and baritone Robert Merrill (Marcello). B-Side of first record brings fragments of three operas: Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Jules Massenet’s Manon recorded with The RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra and Chorus under direction of René Leibowitz, and Massenet’s Thais recorded with new Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Julius Rudel. In Manon Lescaut Anna Moffo was dialoguing with Flaviano Labo, in Manon she was singing with Giuseppe di Stefano and in Thais with Gabriel Bacquier.

Anna Moffo In Great Duets From Opera (1975)

   Third side comprises two scenes from Lucia di Lammermoor. Anna Moffo partners are tenor Carlo Bergonzi (Elgardo) in scene from Act 1, and baritone Mario Sereni (Enrico) in scene from Act 2 of Gaetano Donizetti’s masterpiece. The RCA Italiana Opera Chorus and Orchestra were conducted by Georges Prêtre. These recordings were made in 1965. Last side comprises fragments of two operas by Giuseppe Verdi, La Traviata in 1960 recording with Rome Opera Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Fernando Previtali, and 1963 recording of Rigoletto with The RCA Italiana Opera Chorus and Orchestra under the baton of Georg Solti. In La Traviata part of her partner Alfredo was sung Richard Tucker and in Rigoletto Robert Merill (Rigoletto), Alfredo Krauss (Duke), Mario Rinaudo (Ceprano) and Piero di Palma (Borsa).
   This choice of these fragments is clear. Although she was perfect in solo arias, the highest power of her opera performances is in dramatic scenes. She is not only beautiful voice singing, but also a responsive interpreter who can establish synergic relation on the scene. She is playing the stage role in depending of partner’s reactions. This album shows best sides of Anna Moffo. She was great bel canto singer, but even better dramatic performer. Perfect voice and appearance were the reason she was called La Bellissima, and by many she is still considered as most beautiful singer ever. In conclusion it’s worth to notice four stars is maximum for compilation album. Not only this album, also complete works she recorded are operatic must have.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Peter Schickele — An Hysteric Return P. D. Q. Bach at Carnegie Hall


   Peter Schickele is American composer and educator, internationally famous under his comic pseudonym P. D. Q. Bach. He composed music as the fictional composer, created character and the story being a parody of classical music historic narratives. He was composing joking music in the name of P. D. Q. Bach and continued this project for over forty years since first presentation took place in New York Town Hall in 1965. Second stage production was live recording of concert performance in December 1966 at Carnegie Hall published as the first gig by Vanguard (VSD - 79223) and titled An Hysteric Return P. D. Q. Bach at Carnegie Hall.
   Production had the size of a full artistic event. Performing team was quite numerous as it is customary in orchestral and oratorio presentations. Professor Peter Schickele, who gave a lecture, was playing bicycle, windbreaker and tromboon – a combination of trombone and bassoon. The Royal P.D.Q. Bach Festival Orchestra was conducted by Jorge Mester. The Okay Chorale worked under direction of John Nelson. Singers were Lorna Haywood (soprano), Marlena Kleinman (alto), John Ferrante (tenor) and William Woolf (bass). Solo performers were also Maurice Eisenstadt (bagpipes) and Robert Lewis (balloons).

Peter Schickele — P. D. Q. Bach at Carnegie Hall (1966)

   As an illustration of the sense of humor it is worth to cite the program of the record. Side One of the album includes Oratorio — The Seasonings, S. 1½ tsp. by P. D. Q. Bach. Movements of this composition are: Chorus “Tarragon of virtue is full”,  Recitative “And there were in the same country”, Duet “Bide thy thyme” (for soprano, alto, slide whistle, windbreaker and tromboon), Fugue for Orchestra, Recitative “Then asked he”, Chorale “By the leeks of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept”, Aria “Open sesame seeds” (for bass with kazoos, windbreaker and slide windbreaker), Recitative “So saying”, Duet “Summer is a cumin seed” (for soprano, alto with slide whistles and shower hose), Chorus with soloists “To curry favor, favor curry”.
   Side Two includes “Unbegun” Symphony by Professor P. Schickele (3rd and 4th movements only) and Pervertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons, S. 66 by P. D. Q. Bach in five parts: Allegro moulto, Romanze II (Adagio Sireno), Minaret and Trio, Romanze I (Chi Largo) and Presto Changio. References to American history and geography are clear. The whole project was designed as an amusement to music lovers and connoisseurs. The cover contains A Quick and Easy Guide to the “Unbegan Symphony” where composer shows sources of citations and references to historic works. And it should be admit that the number of quoted works is imposing. Although today it would be hard to find audience with adequate level of musical expertise, it is still interesting document of musical culture in the sixties. Three stars for some pleasing memories of the era which is so much past.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – The Complete Masonic Music

   One of interesting facts in biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is his relation to freemasonry. He was known as active member of the lodge, but in 18th century Europe it was not uncommon. In peak moment of Enlightenment it was really hard to find somebody who was publicly active and did not belong to any freemasonic tribe. In fact almost all significant composers of classical and romantic periods were freemasons. But in case of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart it was somehow unique. He was devoted to promote in his works freemasonic symbols along with values such as truth, morality and brotherly love. He was recollecting ideas of freemasonry in significant part of his works, also these which were not intended for use in lodge. Probably the most famous example is the opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), where Mozart along with librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, who was his lodge brother, created allegoric vision of mankind progression from animalism, through fallacy of religious beliefs, to Enlightenment and rationalism.
   The intellectual content of The Magic Flute is clear, but since sometimes references are much more discrete it is hard to clearly assess many of Mozart’s works as Masonic. The method of selecting works to the collection called Die komplette Freimaurermusik (The Complete Masonic Music) was to take into account only works used in loge or composed for loge commission. Published in 1968 by FSM double album was published the same year also in US under Turnabout label and republished under FSM Vox label (FSM 33 006/7) in 1992 as CD. Unlike some earlier productions, the collection of Masonic music conducted by Peter Maag was definite and complete. The idea was to publish all Mozart’s music connected to Masonic rites by its origins or by tradition. The collection is arranged chronologically.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – The Complete Masonic Music (1968)

   The collection is arranged chronologically. Oldest piece is Psalm 129 “De profundis clamavi” for choir and orchestra KV 93, composed in 1771 when Mozart was 15 years old. Second position is song for tenor and piano O heiliges Band der Freundschaft KV 148, composed in 1772. These early works were composed not for Masonic order but later were adopted for use in the loge. The same with Graduale “Sancta Maria, mater Dei” KV 273. First three recordings on first side of first record were composed before Mozart has become freemason, next few works were clearly written by commission. Canon and Adagio F Major KV 410 for two basset horns and fagot and Adagio B-flat Major KV 411 for two clarinets and three basset horns. Next side is clearly music of freemasonry, two cantatas “Dir, Seele des Weltalls” KV 429 and “Die Maurerfreude” KV 471, Masonic song “Die ihr einem neuen Grade” KV 468 and Maurerische Trauermusik C Minor KV 477 famous as one of the best classical funeral music – all are compositions written intentionally for loge in Vienna.
   Second record comprises series of Masonic lodge vocal music, songs and cantatas and two famous instrumental compositions – Adagio and Fugue C Minor from String Quartet KV 546 and Adagio C Minor and Rondo C Major for Flute, Oboe, Viola, Cello and Celesta KV 617. Peter Maag who was member of Great Loge “Mozart” has prepared these performances for 1966 jubilee celebrations. Singers were tenor Kurt Equiluz, boy soprano Franz Ellmer, tenor Rudolf Resch and baritone Leo Heppe. The main piano and organ accompanist was Kurt Rapf. In chamber performances participated violinists Paul Roczek and Peter Katt, viola player Jürgen Gise and cellist Wilfried Tachezi, flutist Herbert Weissberg, oboist Manfred Kautzky, clarinetists Alfred Rose and Josef Ortner, basset horn players Richard Schönhofer, Erich Webner and Horst Hajek and peter Maag playing celesta. In cantata and orchestral music attended Choir and Orchestra of Wiener Volksoper conducted by Peter Maag. This is unique complete with deep cover information. Five stars, one for information content and four stars for artistic quality of this double album.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Billie Holiday – Broadcast Performances


   Billie Holiday was first great jazz vocalist. Many believe she is the greatest jazz vocalist ever. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 7th, 1915 as Eleanora Fagan, she took her name after  her father, a jazz guitarist who left her and her mother whom he never marriage. Her childhood and youth were extremely difficult, she experienced attempted rape, work in a brothel, heroin addiction – she was living on the edge being poor teenager as well as famous artist. She was complex but free and honest. In her own words, “I never hurt nobody but myself and that's nobody's business but my own”, we can feel the same personality as in 1939 song Strange Fruit.
   She was active in era of swing, bebop and cool, and recognized by every era style setters she was one of modern musicians showing interpretative skills and great sensitiveness over the borderlines. She became first vocalist in history of jazz who was conscious partner to instrumentalists. Her style, the way she was using voice and interpreting music created whole new spectrum of musical phenomena in more than two decades from late thirties to her premature death in 1959. She was swing era singer with some elements of modern jazz, especially cool style looks close considering the way she was restraining her improvisations to interpretative changes of melodic motifs only.

Billie Holiday – Broadcast Performances (1975)

   In series of archive recordings ESP Disk published in 1973 third volume Broadcast Performances 1956-1958. Material of this album was republished two years later in Poland, giving Lady Day first phonographic presentation in Eastern Europe. This Polish edition under the national label of Polskie Nagrania (SX 1269) was titled eponymously Billie Holiday. One small change in program was moving last song from second side When Your Lover has Gone (rec. in Newark, NJ July 25th, 1958) to the end of first side. This changed chronological order of original album. Performed during the same radio broadcast Moaning Low and Don’t Explain are ending the second side of the record.
   Opening second side Fine and Mellow is groundbreaking take recorded in New York City December 8th, 1957 for the telecast The Sound of Jazz. This recording shows solos of three great tenor saxophonists Ben Webster, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, trombonist Vic Dickenson and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. This song gives a chance for some solos showing how alive was jazz in 1956, decade after swing ended with bebop and in time of cool and hard bop new perspectives.

Billie Holiday - Fine and Mellow (1957)

   Publishing this choice of broadcast recordings as first record of Billie Holiday for East Europe was reasonable choice. After 1956 artist was at the peak of her career. The autobiography of Billie Holiday Lady Sings the Blues was in print, she was recognized and had position of a prominent jazz singer. Nevertheless she was famous for popular song recordings. In 1956 and 1957 Billie Holiday was singing with the band of great musicians who generally were: Doc Cheatham and Roy Eldridge (trumpets), Vic Dickenson (trombone), Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young (tenor saxophones), Gerry Mulligan (baritone saxophone), Danny Barker (guitar), Mal Waldron (piano), Milt Hinton (bass) and Osie Johnson (drums). According to, basic band was expanded also by trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen, pianist Count Basie and some other musicians.
   As the defect of this edition we may consider the lack of information about places and time of recordings. Only songs published in different takes has information on month and year of recording. And such information can be interesting for the listener. For example session recorded October 27th, 1956 comprises four songs Nice Work If You Can Get It, God Bless the Child, Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone and Don’t Explain. And every song is interpreted in style slightly different than others. It’s highly interesting how singer and arranger of Gershwin’s Nice Work made it tended to cool jazz style. It is worth to remember these broadcast performances were in many cases improvised. Art Farmer who hosted Billie Holiday four times in 1958, announced his Jazz Party as “uninhibited, most inspired and most unrehearsed American jazz”.
   Excluding mentioned above Fine and Mellow, complete second side was recorded during life broadcasting sessions in July 1958. It is possible in these songs Lady Day sung with Buck Clayton and Charlie Shavers (trumpets), Georgie Auld (tenor sax), Tyree Glenn (trombone), Harry Sheppard (vibraphone) and Mary Osborne (guitar). The album of broadcast recordings presents Billie Holiday as active performer, jazz interpreter, and great artist. Though her voice was not as clear as decades earlier, it sometimes sound tired and aged, the more authentic these takes are, and more moving they are. Three and half of star with strong tendency for more.