Saturday, December 31, 2016

Captain Beefheart — Strictly Personal


   In the history of rock music Captain Beefheart can be seen as an enfant terrible of experimental subgenres. From his debut he was one of most influencing figures, although his impact on various groups of musicians and listeners was varied. Acclaimed by critics, but generally unpopular in wide audiences, inspiring for many musicians and worshiped by group of fans, Captain Beefheart was highly creative, unconventional though he was using his creative ideas and in quite a traditional way being a kind of scarecrow for opportunists and conservatives. Although whole of his output is noteworthy, especially his early albums have the power of revolutionizing shape of rock and roll culture. But still these first experiments are in close bonds with deep stream of folk blues and traditional music.
   After successful debut album Safe as Milk, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band became product of show business and had to play according to its rules. It was a part of the system to focus the style of the band in one of most popular sub-genres to better reach the target group. Material recorded initially in October 1967 for Buddah Records but it was rejected for its noncommercial character. Producer Bob Krasnow decided to publish the album in his own label Blue Thumb and finally Captain Beefheart’s second album was recorded at Hollywood Sunset Sound Studios in last week of April 1968 and was released in October 1968. Producer of the album added some trendy effect like extended phasing and reverb to make Magic Band sound more psychedelic.
   While transferring new album to another record company the primary concept of the album has been matter of change. Initially it was called It Comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper and cover design of Strictly Personal is a kind of remainder for this idea. What happened Buddah Records executives didn’t approve artist’s work was their disapproval for Don Van Vliet’s experimental attitude towards music. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band came from social activism aiming to be radical artistic movement and expanding the boundaries of popular music beyond jazz or even contemporary artistic music. Debut album Save as Milk was compromise from both sides, but after it was published, artists work on more clear and advanced ideas while company was counting on reduction of risk and waiting for more moderate songs.

Captain Beefheart — Strictly Personal (1968)

   In 1967 executives of record company discarded the work done by musicians. After successes of Trout Mask Replica (1969) and Lick My Decals Off, Baby (1970), parts of 1967 autumn sessions were published in 1971 by Buddah Records as Mirror Man album produced by Bob Krasnow. During 1967 autumn imbroglio some ideas of sound structure had changed, but the personnel recording Strictly Personal remained unchanged. Ry Cooder left the band after Save as Milk. He was replaced by Jeff Cotton. This way Magic Band lineup had stabilized in 1967 with Alex St. Clair and Jeff Cotton (guitars), Jerry Hendley (bass), John French (drums) and Don Van Vliet (vocal and harmonica). This lineup stayed until 1970 when Jeff Cotton suffered in argument and left the band. This was moment when Don Van Vliet was experimenting with social engineering of the band, depriving musicians of sleep and food.
   Eight songs of Strictly Personal program is a collection differentiated and giving clear picture of band’s artistic explorations. Some ideas are more surrealistic than famous Trout Mask Replica masterpiece. While other Capt. Beefheart’s recordings in this period were based on traditional folk blues roots, ideas of Strictly Personal are more abstractive. Unofficial sixth band member was Bob Krasnow who edited bands recordings changing its initial sound and adding some alienating effects to make it sound closer to psychedelic bands. Even black and white photography of the band inside gatefold cover show masked band. In these outfit they look so strange, it is hard to determine if this is allusion to cheap science fiction movies or surrealistic vision of some archetypical characters of popular imagination.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Diana Krall • Christmas Songs


   Diana Krall is recognized as one of best jazz singers in last decade of 20th century and first decades of 21st century. Born and raised in Canada, married to English singer and songwriter Elvis Costello, since the beginning of her career she is one of stars of international fame. After studies in Berklee College, Krall debuted in 1993 with album Stepping Out recorded in trio with acoustic bass player John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Her acoustic style and contemporary interpretations of standards from American songbook were in straight connection with tradition tracing popular music history through artistry of post-war popular songs to its sources in 1920’s. Her sparing piano style was also the element perfectly in style audience was demanded. Repertoire and interpretations made she was considered as continuing Nat King Cole tradition. And she was casted in this role from the beginning of her career.
   When she published her first album, she became immediately famous as a revelation of vocal jazz and traditional pop music. Big audience at the end of 20th century was surfeited with digital culture covering human presence with any kind of sound glut. She was well prepared but still emotional, competent but natural and her singing was as much jazz as popular, charm and melodious as for popular music but conscious of consequences of every move and firmly bounded with harmonic changes as in jazz world – she was just the one many were waiting for. Her nicely deep contralto and simple piano style occurred to be perfectly adequate to smooth jazz, bossa nova and traditional popular music.

Diana Krall • Christmas Songs (2016 release)

   Big success of Canadian pianist and singer was connected with wide social process of changing the attitude towards jazz and traditional popular song. Five Grammy Awards and eight further Grammy nominations gave her position of international celebrity, so common for popular music stars and so much unusual in jazz world. From 2002 Diana Krall is published by Verve Records. In 2005 this label released Krall’s first and so far only album for Christmas. This was also her first studio album with big band. And it’s not an accident that the band was Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra – the band of two musicians she was recording starting her career. With 23 musicians of the Orchestra singer and pianist sounded still perfectly in her style.
   The repertoire of this record is convincing set of most popular Christmas songs. From Jingle Bells and Let It Snow, through Christmas Time is Here and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, to White Christmas and Sleigh Ride – all 12 songs are creating nice collection of season blockbusters. Smoothly jazzy interpretations are showing her deep and warm voice in these holiday songs. In series of perfectly produced orchestrations these songs sound surprisingly fresh. Arrangements are based on modern big-band style and studio features. Although deep rooted in traditional style, Krall is singing with strong interpretative impact, giving listeners one more opportunity to listen these old hits in contemporary outfit. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Alexander von Zemlinsky • Lyrische Symphonie op. 18 • Bernhard Klee


   Orchestral cycle of songs was undeniably one of greatest achievements of musical culture in romantic period. Although its formal idea has long evolution between early romantic songs, late-romantic cantata and postromantic symphony with vocal parts and various works for voice and orchestra, it was late Romanticism when development of symphonic cycle of songs resulted as independent form. Best examples were all cycles of orchestral songs by Gustav Mahler and cycles like Vier letzte Lieder by Richard Strauss, or Gurre-Lieder by Arnold Schoenberg. From perspective of symphonic cycle also symphonies by Gustav Mahler played significant role for numerous references to romantic song forms. In this context special role played Das Lied von der Erde as it was the synthesis uniting symphonic cycle of songs and romantic symphony. Lyrical Symphony composed in 1923 by Alexander von Zemlinsky belongs to most famous implementations of this idea.
   Composer, conductor and teacher, Alexander von Zemlinsky was one of key figures of Viennese culture in last decade of 19th and first decades of 20th century. Born in Vienna in multicultural family, Zemlinsky started composer’s career as student of Johann Nepomuk Fuchs and Anton Bruckner. He was composing in postromantic style, continuing the style of Johannes Brahms, whom Zemlinsky personally met and who gave young composer strong support. At the turn of the century he was part of Vienese modernistic movement with Gustav Mahler who conducted premiere of his opera Es war einmal. These two were connected on private level since Mahler married Zemlinsky’s beloved Alma Schindler. Alexander von Zemlinsky was close friend and brother-in-law with Arnold Schoenberg who was his student of counterpoint and long time co-worker. One of Zemlinsky’s pupils was Erich Wolfgang Korngold, recommended him as infant prodigy by Gustav Mahler.

Alexander von Zemlinsky • Lyrische Symphonie op. 18 • Klee (1981)

   The list of Zemlinsky’s works includes songs, symphonic, chamber and piano music and eight operas and stage works like Ein Tanzpoem (Dance Poem) and Mime drama Ein Lichtstrahl (Ray of Light). Completed in December 1919 one act opera Der Zwerg (The Dwarf) was his reaction for breaking engagement by Alma Schindler. Probably the best-known works by Zemlinsky are compositions for voice and orchestra: Waldgespräch with words by Joseph von Eichendorff, Sechs Gesänge after poems by Maurice Maeterlinck Op. 13, Symphonische Gesänge Op. 20 to the lyrics by afroamerican poets and Lyrical Symphony Op. 18. Symphonic intensity and power of poetry gave all modernist composers wide means of expression.
   Most popular work by Alexander von Zemlinsky was Lyrical Symphony for baritone, soprano and orchestra in Seven Cantos to Texts by Nobel’s Prize laureate Rabindranath Tagore. It was written in 1922 and 1923, and lyrical cycle was set of seven poems translated by Hans Effenberger. Baritone and soprano voices take their own parts in narrative, creating dramatic tension. The main composer’s idea was to place these songs into cycle corresponding with formal scheme of symphony. But final effect is closer to symphonic poem, including cantos which can be understand as consecutive images of mystical voyage and developing symbolic vision of human faith. Performance of Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted by Bernhard Klee features baritone Dale Duesing and soprano Elisabeth Söderström. Recording was made between June 30 and July 2nd, 1980 in Berlin, Jesus-Christus-Kirche and published next year in Dusseldorf by Schwann Musica Mundi label.