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.