Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chick Corea — The Mad Hatter


   In the middle of 1970’s decade Chick Corea was one of best recognized musicians on jazz scene. He was appreciated as pianist, composer, arranger, improviser and leader. He was known for his band and artists he played with. But first of all he was famous for his own style. Since his first fusion experiments in late sixties, Chick Corea was artist connecting and melting Spanish music idioms with elements of jazz genre. First great work, opening the sequence of such productions was Stan Getz’s Captain Marvel recorded in 1972 where Corea composed almost complete material. Musicians involved in recording sessions with Stan Getz, the same time were creating first album of Return to Forever – the band aiming to take vanguard position in jazz-rock of seventies. 
   Time spend with Return to Forever was this period when Corea has focused on symphonic type of arrangement. This was idea clearly taken from progressive rock. In 1976 composer of La Fiesta published groundbreaking double LP album My Spanish Heart where he developed great new vision of Latin jazz. Two years later in 1978 Chick Corea released next album experimenting with jazz-rock and fusion genres, combining jazz elements with progressive rock ideas. Titled The Mad Hatter this was a concept album with lyrics written by Gale Moran and clearly connected by some symbolic, graphic and narrative ideas with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. And the tendency of creating intricate concept albums with plenty of references was further evidence for strong bonds between fusion jazz and progressive rock.

Chick Corea — The Mad Hatter (1978)

   Chick Corea released The Mad Hatter album in 1978. It was recorded in Kendun Recorders studios in Burbank with jazz line-up and chamber sections. Jazz section were Joe Farrell (tenor saxophone, flute, piccolo), Herbie Hancock (electric piano), Jamie Faunt, Eddie Gómez (basses), Steve Gadd, Harvey Mason (drums) and Gayle Moran (vocals). Brass parts were played by Stewart Blumberg, John Rosenburg, John Thomas (trumpets) and Ron Moss (trombone) and string section was Charles Veal and Kenneth Yerke (violins), Denyse Buffum and Michael Nowack (violas), Dennis Karmazyn (cello). The leader himself played piano, electric piano (Fender Rhodes), synthesizers (Mini-moog, Poly-moog, Moog 15, Moog Sample & Hold, Arp Odyssey, Oberheim 8 Voice, Mxr Digital Delay, Eventide Harmonizer) and percussion (African shaker, marimba, cymbal and cowbell). He was also composer and arranger.
   As it has been indicated above, main contribution of progressive rock into jazz-rock crossover style was symphonic narrative and orchestral structure of arrangements. One of consequences of this attitude was concept album idea, which was not used before but so often convention in mainstream jazz. Chick Corea as pianist and composer was always closer to classical music than rock, especially in his sound ideas. In his albums he was constantly developing structural means giving in result various kinds of closed compositions and cycles. This feature played decided role also in construction of The Mad Hatter album. It is so rich in qualities, ideas and conceptions, fragments of modal improvisations are entwined with modernistic chamber arrangements and neoclassicist elements of compositions, it’s just perfect subject for structural analysis. Nonetheless all of these make this album more ambitious than it was acceptable in 1978. Four stars is lowest grade for such ambitious and well done project. Fifth star I am giving for my personal reasons - it was just one of my high-school favorite albums.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Yevgeny Mravinsky conducts Symphony Pathétique


   In history of culture we have many mysterious phenomenons giving scope to our imagination. Facing chef-d'oeuvre we can’t rationalize all of its qualities, so we are mythologizing the story of its creation or just seeking any reason to explain its uniqueness. One of such masterpieces is Symphony B minor, Op. 74 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The work has been called Symphony Pathétique by composer’s brother Modest, and approved by composer himself. This emotional work was intended as program symphony, A Programme Symphony was even its projected name, but composer decided not to reveal the program as it was too much private, as Tchaikovsky wrote “suffused with subjectivity”, so he decided to leave it without any comments.
   Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote his 6th Symphony in February and March 1893 and orchestrated the work in the summer of the same year, although there are some rumors connecting this composition with his death assuming he committed suicide. The official cause was cholera, and the idea of connecting Symphony Pathétique with his death is again testimony of our inability to accept some phenomenon exceeding our understanding. Facts are simple and still significant. He died three months after he finished this composition. October 28th, he conducted the premiere of this symphony in St. Petersburg, and after first performance he said: “Something strange is happening with this symphony! It's not that it displeased, but it has caused some bewilderment. So far as I myself am concerned, I'm more proud of it than any of my other works”. Nine days later, November 6th, 1893 he died.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky - Symphony Pathétique - Yevgeny Mravinsky (1956)

   The same city Tchaikovsky premiered his last symphony, 63 years later was the scene of unforgettable recording session when great performance of this work was captured. This was the time of growing recognition and interesting focusing on Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and its artistic director, conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky. Series of great premiere performances including symphonies by Dmitri Shostakovich, international fame was already huge, even if conductor was traveling reluctantly and did not like recording sessions. As conductor he devoted his career to orchestra, to create its artistic profile and to build technical possibilities. The results of his work were astonishing. Precision of articulation and sound of Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra was recognized as one of most characteristic achievements of Russian universal musical culture, as well as Tchaikovsky’s symphonic music, especially his last symphony. The only reason this recording has few releases, definitely not as much as it deserves, was its monophonic technology, which as the moment was out of date already. Despite of this, published by Deutsche Grammophone Gesellschaft it remains one of most significant recordings of this symphony.
   Symphony Pathétique belongs to core repertoire of symphonic orchestras and with huge range of possible readings and interpretations it’s good to know some essential and most meaningful renditions. The one that can play referential role and one of most famous is monaural recording made by Yevgeny Mravinsky with Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1956. What tells the difference between this and many other performances is intensity of musical action. Every phrase of this recording is clear and strong sentence of the whole story which is the 6th Symphony in itself, although devoid of program, it remains a strong narrative construction. Profound and expressive, perfect in every moment, this album is document of artistic potential of the Leningrad Philharmonics one decade after the war. And this is the reason to see such recordings as corner stones of the orchestra’s and conductor’s fame.