Sunday, July 31, 2011

Larry Coryell - Lady Coryell (Vanguard - VSD 6509)

Larry Coryell is a talented guitarist with a background in various music genres and various drugs. However, due to his talent and openness to different genres, he is quite a guitarist whom you don't know what he'll deliver. With his talent, it mainly delivers nice surprises.

Lady Coryell is the first album of Larry Coryell as a band leader. Actually it is rather an interesting album based on several issues. The first one is, the album is more like a collective of Larry Coryell's works in the sense that the tracks go between Blues Rock, Southern Rock, Improvisation, Blues and Jazz. Either he didn't have his mind set on a particular style or he just let it go. Another option is that he was 25 years old when this album was released and he really didn't have a clear cut idea about where he was heading. Therefore he just made up a general idea about who he is.

Even though the album itself is directionless, his guitar playing is certainly the opposite. He is a goddamn versatile guitar player who plays hell of a good guitar. I was stunned starting with "Sunday Telephone" and the similarity of Stephan Malkmus from the beginning of the track. I mentioned Malkmus due to the logistical fact that I like him a lot. From then on, we venture into Southern Rock with quite the weakiest link in the album, "Love Child Is Coming Home". Another is the Blues gone bad "Cleo's Mood" where his improvisation didn't do the best for the track. The alternative take of the track (Which is not on the vinyl) is better to be honest. On the other hand, the Jazz part of the album is supported by two important names from the John Coltrane Quartet, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones.

Apart from the musical beauty of the album, there is an unfortunate fact that Larry Coryell tried to sing on 3 tracks on the A side which made life a little frustrating. He has a untaimed voice that may not be best for singing. He could have done a much better job by sticking similar to the B side where it is all instrumental.

This album is tempting in the sense that it captures the first steps of the virtuoso guitarist as well as his first album. It withholds a couple of thrilling solos which clearly shows why he has partnered later on with the household names John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia. You don't get teamed up with those guys and create something ordinary. He may have been later replaced by Al Di Meola due to his drug addiction, but hey, who does not have weakness after all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Giacomo Puccini - Manon Lescaut, Callas, Di Stefano, Fioravanti, Teatro Alla Scala, Serafin (EMI - 29 0041 3)

I owe my love of opera totally to my mother whom started taking me to the opera house when I was 7 years old. I was thinking quite radically at that time concerning opera since they were not singing in my own language and I had no idea what they were meaning, but I was stunned by the sheer strength of their voices as well as the stage preparation. However, all the program details we received consisted of only a brief explanation of the story and not the translation of the libretto. This I believe is the biggest mistake our opera house had.

Manon Lescaut is the opera of Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) whom most opera lovers know quite well due his series of frequently performed works like Tosca, Turandot, Madama Butterfly and La Boheme. He is regarded as continuity of Italian opera after Guiseppe Verdi, but his style has more resemblances to Richard Wagner.

Manon Lescaut is an opera based on the story of Abbe Prevost. The libretto was written by 5 different librettists and therefore none have been credited officially. Manon Lescaut was the third opera of Puccini and it was the first one to earn him fame in Europe. It is also among the most performed operas in the world still. However, there are two more operas based on the same story one with the same name and the other named just as Manon by Jules Massenet. Both were written before Puccini's version. I have no single idea why a story attracted this much of an interest in the views of composers apart from the fact that it has intrigue and human weaknesses in its plot which are by and large the most compelling points of operas.

This version that I have listened was recorded in 1959 and involves a giant cooperation under Tullio Serafin where Maria Callas performs as Manon Lescaut, Giulio Fioravanti as Lescaut (Her brother) and Giuseppe Di Stefano as Des Grieux (Her lover). It was performed in Del Teatro Alla Scala Di Milano as usual for Serafin himself. The record I have is a digitally mastered version of the original, yet still mono and is dated 1982. Sorry to have limited sources to search and buy the original version.

Maria Callas can be listened in a very strong performance throughout the 4 acts even though as standard, she is at her best in the 4th act. She performs with such ferocity and poetry at times that you don't miss not being there as you can directly imagine yourself sitting in the opera house. Giuseppe Di Stefano makes a powerful Des Grieux and compelling, but I have received comments that Pavarotti's performance was at a much higher level. That I shall see listen later on some day.

It is the second opera that I'm listening at home (The first was Madama Butterfly by Puccini again) and I should admit the first one went on with a little confusion on my part due to it being my first apart from an opera house. I needed a little time to adjust my perception and fuel my imagination, but it didn't take long with the libretto in hand. Opera recordings with librettos are a great help to humanity who don't have the knowledge of Italian or German in their portfolio. I am still in my warming stages of opera listening at home and it will take some time until I take on the daring Wagner's Ring cycle. That will be a true trial of my in house opera listening skills.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Toru Takemitsu - Corona / For Away / Piano Distance / Undisturbed Rest (Headline/Decca - Head 4)

Toru Takemitsu is one of the pioneers in modern Japanese classical music and probably is the most well known. He can be listed in the realism branch of modern classical composers along with Luigi Nono even though they have a pretty distinctive approach in the beginning phases of their careers with Nono concentrating heavily on industrialization and sociology (Due to his communist background) while Takemitsu is more involved with nature and finding out what nature sounds like.

The A side of the record is Corona - London Version which is in mentality quite similar to the 1950's approach of John Cage on silence. According to Takemitsu, silence is the most natural sound. However, he has another interesting view that since imagination is the basis of all pieces written, they can only sound natural. Of course this piece was written in 1962, before musique concrete was evolved with total fruition to the main stage.

During the piece, and to be honest the whole record, sound structures are based on textures which is the main developing point of Takemitsu's career. Corona can be described as his best work on textures and this really shows off during the performance. Based on his idea, several sound structures formed by textures can meet and get separated at any given moment with being accompanied by irregular silences. What I am listening can very well be the forming grounds of today's electro acoustic or drone sounds including Fennesz himself. The piece is based on 5 textures of which are articulation, vibration, intonation, expression and conversation. The performer (Pianist) in this case is Roger Woodward who is a well known, but out of sight Avant Garde pianist. Since the piece is totally left in his own improvisation based on the 5 textures, what we are listening is a unique example and cannot be the same of another performance of this piece.

The B side offers 3 pieces with the last one (Undisturbed Rest) being a three piece composition in itself and the earliest work on this record. This piece is unique in the sense that it is only one of the rare works where one can witness the early influences of Takemitsu with visibility. The first piece, For Away, is the composers gift to the performer under the philosophical idea of "expression of extolment and offering to the Galaxy Of Life" while the second piece, Piano Distance, has no particular meaning. Piano Distance is created on the idea of sharp and contrasted notes with the eventual feeling of crippling with anxiety.

I feel extremely unlucky to have not witnessed one of these performances of Takemitsu and I hope I'll never remain unlucky for the remainder of my life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Yardbirds - Remember... The Yardbirds (Starline - SRS 5069)

It is natural to say that of all the Yardbirds vinyls I own, this should have been the last to write about here, but life is not fair. Since I cannot go back and write about everything I own (It's too late now), it is better to write about what I bought recently and listen now.

This album is a compilation of the famous Yardbirds. Sadly enough, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton tracks are not available on the album even though their names are written on the cover. I can't know if they are really playing since there are no credit details on the back side as well. Maybe they couldn't handle the copyright issues, that I don't know. The album holds two important songs, one by Howlin' Wolf and the other harmonica master Billy Boy Arnold.

The more crucial thing about the album is that it does not fully create or show the real feeling behind the Yardbirds. This is quite frustrating for a person who would meet them for the first time. To be honest, this is the cheapest priced Yardbirds record someone can find on the net and therefore it is somehow dangerous. With this record, Yardbirds look like 2nd class Beatles, while in reality, they are far from it. Just beware, this is Yardbirds alright, but the compilation totally lacks the realism of it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Luciano Berio - Swingle II – A-Ronnie / Cries Of London (Headline/Decca - Head 15)

After maintaining an important collection of early electronic music on the floor of my living room for some time while expecting a clearance of mind to listen, I will be reviewing and sharing a couple of records from this lot. The first one is to be the work of probably the most famous Italian composer of this era, Luciano Berio.

Berio, born in 1925, studied in various schools including the mother of all Darmstadt and was a member of the composition faculty of Juillard, the mother of a lot of contemporary composers. He also headed Electro-Acoustic department of IRCAM in Paris. One person does not get to this level without being regarded as one of the best of his era.

This record dating back to 1976 includes the performances of A-Ronne and Cries Of London by the composer. These scores are made up mainly of human voices. They are vocalizations of the poem A-Ronne by Edoardo Sanguineti and several poems (I don't know the origin) based on the idea of changes of expression or meaning based on the vocalization of the person reading/talking. To be more precise, Berio wanted to capture and show the effects of vocal gestures with the basis on musical structures.

A-Ronne withholds elementary melodies as well as intonations and noise while the vocalization if free of form. Moreover, the A-Ronne poem appears to be translated into 4 languages, Latin, English, French and German, with 1 line in 1 language form. The poem is repeated several times during the piece with starting from the beginning till the end. The free formed speeches are the main harmonies forming the piece.

Cries Of London is based on comparably more understandable vocals by the listener based on the structural differences with A-Ronne. It can easily be acknowledged as operatic vocalization and is based on eight voices. It is the re-worked version of the original 1974 score which was written for the "King's Singers". In this piece (Or rather 7 short pieces), the musical structure can be grasped easier than A-Ronne due to the main differing fact that the A side was less based on music. The texts are made up of the well known selling slogans of the street sellers of Old London.

Berio's works on this record are unique in terms of their structures and quite enhancing in terms of vocalization and it's uses. It should not be mixed with today's acapella groups since the structure behind these works are immensely based on classical or pop compositions while this one is based on free floating vocalizations with musicality left to stand on the corner, watching in awe.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Om Kalsoum - El Ahaat (Sono Cairo - SC.22 152)

Here is a woman who has been "The Star of the East". She is also called the "Fourth pyramid". She has been an inspiration from such diversified artists like Maria Callas, Bob Dylan, Jah Wobble, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

It is not enough to explain her greatness that commercial microphones are not capable enough to withstand the strength of her voice. The strength of her vocal chords was extremely diverted to her exceptional command of them with the result being utterly touching and moving pieces of Arab literature being mended into musical structures. Ahmed Rami has been her collaborator in this sense with helping her to perform the poems of Omar Khayyam as well as Ahmet Rami's own poems.

Unfortunately I was unable to find the meaning of El Ahaat. I tried several translators to no good. The song is originally 41 minutes and 55 seconds and divided into two parts to be pressed on vinyl. It is extremely romantic in terms of the performance of Om Kalsoum with strength giving more way to calmness and soothing. It is not hard to imagine her on stage with her famous handkerchief in her hand, standing in front of he orchestra and being applauded by thousands who are witnessing live her monthly Thursday concert for the Egypt radio. Even though it is quite hard to find her recordings, you can still find a way to acquire them one by one (If you are a fan of Om Kalsoum, try since Americans and British people seem to be a little less interested in her than the French).

I have many of her albums as mp3s and flac, but listening her on vinyl gives the true feeling. This is not something motivational. If you ever lay your hands on one of her records and listen it raw and fresh, you'll get what I'm trying to say.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Miles Davis - Milestones.... (Columbia/CBS - 62308)

In a couple of weeks, I will be listening and writing about several Jazz records which I've bought via Ebay UK from a lady who was selling her husband's record collection. Interestingly enough, the records were relatively cheaper then normal. The records are the first presses for UK (Not US original) and even though she evaluated them very conservatively, the records are in pristine condition for their age.

The record I'm just listening is Milestones....Miles Davis, dated 1958. I find it utterly fascinating that such older records have been kept with utmost care by their owners and this has been one of the reasons I love and admire record collecting. Whenever I see a record older than I am and in better condition than I am, I respect the whole notion more. Sorry for the lack of finding a better suiting word than "notion".

I am listening to this record just on the weekend of the world premiere for "Tribute To Miles" at which Marcus Miller, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter has performed as former collaborators of Miles himself. Truly timely fashion. Unfortunately none of these names performed in the album Milestones...., but another young talent comes into play, John Coltrane.

The album is lovely. Well, that doesn't explain the whole story. I've been listening to it 3 times in a row and still can't get enough of it. You just never can get enough of a joint venture where Miles Davis is the CEO and John Coltrane is the managing director. John Coltrane takes the role of tenor saxophone in this album instead of his beloved alto, but still performs beautifully during the whole album with probably getting to the highest performance during "Milestones" (Previously named "Miles" on the CBS US first press - CL 1193). Other performers include Julian "Cannonball" Adderley on alto saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and "Philly" Joe Jones on drums.

It is a must to listen to this album which is hailed among the cream of Miles's works and is one of the four albums that Miles/Trane duo performed together with elegance. Actually after Sony acquired Columbia Records (Aka CBS), a six cd box set has been released under the name "Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Complete Columbia Recordings, 1955-1961". This is a valuable set which every Jazz lover should own. But coming back to the record, I guess I'll listen once more.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cypress Hill - Cypress Hill (Ruffhouse/Columbia - C 47889)

Listening to an album which was groundbreaking in it's time is a delicate thing. First of all, it is very hard to isolate from the later music which has developed on it. Another thing is you need to go back to the mindset of that era and try to judge it in those terms. Otherwise a music that was once mentioned as innovating can just be a standard medium quality work that you can just pass by.

Cypress Hill released their first album during a time when I was coming and going between Acid and Metal. Probably most people among my generation (Which is 2nd half 70s) was doing the same. However, then came a time when Cypress Hill blew out like a nuke and everyone was stunned. All clubs and music shops were rocking with "Insane In The Brain". Ok let's not forget another West Coast group, House Of Pain, but still, Cypress Hill was old school and still new and charming and energetic and this and that.

The LP that I bought is the debut self titled album that I really like the most. There are multiple rhythms, sound samples and basses, oh a variety of bass lines. However, the major thing this album achieved is getting up to a more wider audience and mainly including Rock and Alternative music listeners as well. They have literally paved the way for RATM to come in the future years.

When you are listening to the album, you can directly feel that many of the foundations of the music as well as the samples are extremely familiar. This is normal. This album is widely believed to be one of the most copied ones. However, I'm quite sure that you will also feel that this is somehow, someway different. There is nothing like the original. Oh, maybe only a punch hole.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ngati Poneke - Songs Of The Maori (HMV - MCLP 6187)

Ngati Poneke is a music club made of Maori tribe people from Wellington, New Zealand and it is also open to the members of Pakeha tribe. According to the back side of the vinyl, it is the oldest of its kind with worldwide recognition. It was founded in 1936 with reaching a record (Maybe) 265 concerts in one year during the WWII.

The record includes many of the famous songs of the chorus and some classics as per the explanation. From classics, I have no idea what they are meaning, but it is evident that the musical background of the natives of New Zealand go some way back.

The music is mainly made up of the chorus singing in front with very little musical elements on the background. The rhythm is either based on clapping or a sudden sharp vocals of a member of the group. It is also interesting that they have abstract rhythms both in terms of vocalization and beats. It is no wonder that 20th century classical composers have turned their faces on this and other folk musics of Asian natives (Most obvious is Balinese music).

One thing I've learned from the record is that Haka is not as we know it. Haka is a general term for the ritual dance of Maori people. Today we only know it as the New Zealand Rugby Team's before the match motivational war song. Actually, the one we know it is "Po Atarau" meaning, now is the hour. It is the farewell song of the Maori people. It is quite interesting how this farewell song turned out to be a war song.

All in all, I've bought this record with very little information and I am quite stunned at the experiences I've witnessed. I believe this can be a motivation for me to get deeper into world music apart from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Om Kalsoum, Ravi Shankar and similar world famous artists which most of us know a lot about.