Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Dizzy Gillespie is known to every Jazz listener as well as many people who are sort of familiar with this genre. He is the man who helped trumpet gain a leading role in Jazz. There were other important players before him, but none received the widespread acclaim or the influence. Just saying that Miles Davis regards him as an influence should be self explaining enough. Here is a man who is a guru of the trumpet and contributed heavily into Modern Jazz as well as Bebop. Of course most of us also know him by his puffy cheeks.
The album kicks off with two classic music variations, the first one being written by Guy Porter for a musical and the second by none other than Gershwin of course. We see the same on the B side's first track Jealousy. These give the record a true maturity in terms of the musical background and also notes the key transition that we have experienced (Not personally, rather historically) during the development of Jazz. He is crucial in this sense since his works can be described as the bridge between early Jazz and Modern Jazz.
After these on both sides, we are taken to a very nice journey along Jazz with the beautiful sounds coming from Gillespie's trompet and his accompanying orchestra. The solos are well accomplished, sharp and yet soothing for the listener. "The Sound Of Surprise" never fails to attract the attention. There is also the standard "Blue And Sentimental" without the vocals. The last track of the album also winks to the Afro-Cuban Jazz that he is somewhat thought to be the founding father.
Quarter tones rarely get any better than this.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Karlheinz Stockhausen is undisputably one of the most important composers of 20th Century as well as a highly respected theoretician. He was always brutally original in his both earlier and later works. It is discussed that his works after 1970s were more concentrated on conventially more standard grounds, but one has to listen Donnerstag Aus Licht and clearly can reject these views altogether.
Sirius is another example from the same era. It was written between 1975 and 77. It is a work for electronic music, trumpet, soprano, bass clarinet and bass. It is based on the concept of universe and nature. The composition of the work is such that it has 4 main parts, namely Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn. They are also named as Aries, Libra, Cancer and Capricorn respectively. However, based on view and performance, these can be changed with The Earth, The Fire, The Water, The Air or The Seed, The Bud, The Blossom and The Fruit. The list goes on more. Stockhausen describes this cycle as "The Wheel". Based on performances, The Wheel can start from any part.
This work was commissioned by FDR Germany for the opening of the Albert Einstein Spacearium in the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. The work has the motto "To the pioneers on earth and in space".
The music itself can at best be described as improvisation of instruments and vocalization over prepared electronic music samples. This work is rather based on theoretical grounds instead of hardcore experimentalism that could be viewed during the 50s and 60s. Another reason for the slightly milder tone of experimentalism could lie on the reality that this was a commissioned work for an opening of a Museum where viewers would not be the standard open minded audience of Stockhausen. Even as it may, this work is structurally original and strikingly experimental in terms of perspective of composition.
On this record (2 Lp) Markus Stockhausen plays the trumpet (Yes he is related, father - son), Annette Metiweather is the Soprano, Suzanne Stephens plays the Klarinette (Also translated Stockhausen's explanatory booklet into English) and Boris Carmeli is basso profundo.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Jethro Tull is remembered for their blend of Blues Rock with their British blood. Blues was already becoming a huge scene when they entered the musical scene. It all started with Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated and went on with his (And John Mayall's) help in promoting bands like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Bluesbreakers, Graham Bond Organization and the likes. Therefore when Jethro Tull came into life, they had a chance to push forward at full throttle. And they did so remarkably to become one of the most recognized bands of the genre as well as Rock itself.
It would not be really unfair to say that the key to their success was the band's founding father Ian Anderson. Anderson was heavily into the Blues explosion era during the 1960s and was doing his best to keep the first bands he started. Having seen that he cannot play as good as many of the noted guitarists of the era like Eric Clapton and Peter Green, he hang his guitar to take up the flute. This change in instrument also made a difference in the sound as well as the future music of the group. They enjoyed a very good initial career when everyone was happy (Apart from minor changes in the line up), but then came the end 1970's and Ian Anderson had a hunch to change his direction. He couldn't manage this with the current line up, let alone under the same name therefore he took up the idea of going solo with of course Martin Barre alongside. So it wasn't really a solo anyway. However, due to lower album sales of Jethro Tull, the label Chrysalis convinced the already prepared solo album to be named under Jethro Tull in the hopes of creating a Phoenix effect. So much for the high hopes.
The change in "A" is so substantial that the standard Jethro Tull fans ran away from it. And with good reason. One thing is for sure, change was there. The opening track "Crossfire" laid it all too simply to the audience. It had the feeling of Disco music more than any other sound. The keyboards were taking the front stage and the music did not have the purity of quality it had before. I mean looking back today, it is not far fetched to say that the music on the album is not very different from the Electro Disco of the Hague Concept. The guitars are missing true, but the music is quite similar nonetheless.
It is critically discussed how the bands should change or evolve themselves. One good example of this can be noted as Muse. In every new album they released, there was a minor change which inevitably led us to today and I am sure we are to see further changes coming from them. Even a Rock Symphony would not shock me if it were to come from them. They have made us acknowledge the fact that they would change something somehow. Same aspect I have already noted within the comments regarding Jefferson Airplane's "Crown The Creature". They also wanted to undergo a change, but did not do it wholly at one step. It came gradually. It may be why this actually solo album of Ian Anderson did not fit well with Jethro Tull written on it. It would have been a different solo approach whereas because of Chrysalis's demands, it became an awkward point of arrival in it's suddenness. I think I don't need to mention a similar era in Metallica's history when each of us said "What the hell is going on?".
This album can be openly classified as what Ian Anderson wanted to do personally, not Jethro Tull. One can argue that Jethro Tull is already Ian Anderson, but that is why Ian wanted to make this album solo. He knew it was way different. Actually that is what prompted this project in the first place. The feeling of needing change, the feeling of running away, maybe too cliche, but the feeling of breaking the long held chains. Unfortunately Chrysalis made a very wrong move by insisting on the Jethro Tull name. I'm sure they have regretted this after the album sales figures. Maybe they got carried away too much by the Saturday Night Fever. Who knows.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Michael Nyman is a composer who helped to shape the modern composition techniques and experimentations. It is a must to mention his name while talking about 1970 and onwards on classical music since he layed the foundations for today's young and developing composers.
Drowning By Numbers is a record that can drown you into other worlds of joy and sorrow. It drowns you into it's beauty. Even though it is a meticulously calculated experiment based on Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola and orchestra, it has such a perfectness to it that listening once can not and will not be enough.
The first idea of decomposing and recomposing of the Sinfonia Concertante came from Peter Greenaway and Nyman really jumped on the idea there and then. His first project was to concentrate on the four notes (58-61) for the movie "The Falls". For the film Drowning By Numbers, he enhanced the idea to cover the full movement and this obviously opened a whole world of opportunities to Nyman.
Even before achieving this information from the back cover of the record, one can feel a completeness, a collectiveness within the recompositions. It feels like all of them are attached to each other somehow in one way and they are a part of a greater good. Therefore, I find it extremely unjust to separate and criticize on any of the recompositions by itself. They are meaningful together even though within themselves they are immensely affectionate and profound.
Friday, September 16, 2011
There are some bands which are more or less defined by a single person. This may be the vocalist, the guitarist or the drummer etc.. Kurt Cobain is an example. Others can be noted as Tom Morello, Ben Harper, Mark Knopfler, Jack White etc. However, there are also some bands who are based on a more collective approach like Beatles, Metallica, Kronos Quartet, and Pink Floyd. These are more diversified bands which there is more than a single person directing and defining the music.
When these leaders of bands somewhat leave the stage or depart the band, there are not much to do. Some bands try to go on with extreme rare success. Mostly the result is "need to be forgotten" albums. RATM tried this after Morello departed. The result was a mere OK. He came back, life is good now. Nirvana didn't even got together since the idea of replacing Cobain was plain dumb. They went their separate ways which turned out to be a much better decision. GNR is still trying to survive after the departure of Slash and what's coming out is nowhere near the good ol' days.
Why I am pushing on with this "obvious for most" issue is that the album in question tends to be the album of The Doors after Jim Morrison hit the sack. Jim Morrison was The Doors, The Doors was Jim Morrison. With all respect to the somewhat talented Manzarek, his fight to keep The Doors alive was purely financial, nothing less. The result. Oh man. Totally embarrasing.
To be frank, I didn't listen to this album before. It's probably nobody even cared to mention. All in all, life sucks after Jim Morrison. Music is not the same. It's nowhere near. The lyrics are mere -I tried hard to seem like- Jim Morrison copies and fully lacks the poetry and imagination of him. If the band did not use the name The Doors, it would have been a little milder critic, but it's not the case. Since they wanted to benefit from using "The Doors" name on the cover, it would be only fair to judge it accordingly.
The only track that had me focused during listening was Hang On To Your Life. Apart from that one, all the others are a waste of time. It is somewhat Blues oriented or to be more precise, the basis is Blues and the road that Jim Morrison has paved on it. However, Jim Morrison's music evolved through every record and came to a point where he had a similar maturation point that Cobain also felt. On the other hand, this maturity did not even pass onto his fellow band members since it is quite evident that they went back all the way to the beginning and wrote music like teenagers. I believe these explanations will suffice to say that this is a record that you should be aware of and discard. We are The Doors fans alright, but what you have on this record is not The Doors. The real The Doors closed down shop on 3rd of July, 1971. Oh by the way, these guys went on to release another record called "Full Circle". Haven't listened to that one, but seeing from this one, I'll be more wiser not to get even close to it.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Harry James is a very talented trumpeter from the Big Band era. He was the sideman of the legendary Benny Goodman until he wanted to start his own band and went on with it from there. He split from Goodman 2 years into the band and was openly supported by Goodman himself. There was unjust criticism in the beginning saying that he was not as good as Goodman, but that is quite a little off the mark since comparing someone to the biggest name of that era is not really fair anyway.
Harry James was a good band leader and a respected musician, that's the point. He was also the first big band to open his arms to Frank Sinatra even though Harry James made an unsuccessful try at changing his name to Frankie Satin. Harry James orchestra also enjoyed the services of Buddy Rich on drums later on as well.
The vinyl I have bought around a month ago is probably a private press under the supposed label Tom. It says limited edition for collectors, the front side is quite simple with the written sheet glued to the cover and the back cover is totally empty. I don't even mention the green transparent vinyl itself. However, this is a very important recording since it captures the very first three recording sessions of Harry James and His Orchestra as well as some tracks which are yet to be released on vinyl or cd. The tracks are dated between 1936-1938 and have a superb sound quality to be honest. The record itself does not have any single dating, but based on the cover, the board used etc, my logical guess would be mid 1960s.
I have no idea if this record can be found again. I stumbled by it from a guy who sells stuff he buys from Amoeba and the price I bought is ridiculous (Luckily), but if you can find it, don't even hesitate. It is a lovely record from the Swing era which naturally I have missed totally due to age. Those good ol' times when people used to dance with Jazz.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
20th century classical music has been dominated by three countries in particular, first Austria, then France and later by America. It can justly be said that the foundations were laid by Austrians, French designed the architecture and Americans built the rest. Of course this is a very general view with missing certain particular names along the way, East Europeans, British, German and Italians. They also had effect, but not as drastic as the first three.
There are certain elements for this country wise introduction that I have made. I will get into detail with a review of itself. It will be mainly about 20th century classical music, the effects of war, politics and how these shaped the current musical world.
The reason I'm stumping onto this ground is that I will be writing about some treasures which I have recently bought. They are mainly the works of 20th century composers played by either themselves or distinguished performers.
To start with, I am listening the box set "Music For A 20th Century Violinist" by Paul Zukofsky. He is concentrated on the contemporary classical works and based on his explanation, the ones composed after 1940. I guess he tried to explain himself better by putting up a starting date. Anyway... The work of Zukofsky is supported by another important performer of these works, Gilbert Kalish on the piano.
This duo put up an extensive review of the modern composers by covering 14 names which include John Cage, Morton Feldman, Stefan Wolpe, Milton Babbitt, George Crumb and others. Harvey Sollberger appears as well and he is also the conductor for these performances.
The three records are divided into three decades of American music, 40s, 50s and 60s. The set is dated as 1974. The choices of compositions are in themselves pretty much sums up the notion of an anthology very well and developments/new ideas can easily be seen to develop between the records. The performances of Zukofsky and Kalish are extremely effective with the former creating the whole atmosphere of those years. It is a great collection for the person who is interested in contemporary classical music. I'm not saying it's the only one since I'll be listening/reviewing to a similar one by Aki Takahashi as well.
If I am to note certain compositions from this box set, Peter Mennin's Sonata Concertante, Morton Feldman's Vertical Thoughts 2, Michael Sahl's String Quartet and Walter Piston's Sonatina. However, I should certainly point out that this set has to be listened from beginning to the end as all titles are worth their place and together they give an established view. Hail to Zukofsky and Kalish while we should also thank CMS and Desto records to release it.
Friday, September 9, 2011
Soliman Gamil is an Egyptian musician. He can be named as one of the few experimentalists in the sense that he experimented with classical Egyptian music in order to create the sounds closest to Ancient Egyptian Music. He is also one of the many names that I had a chance to listen after starting to collect records on a broader sense.
The music has a true authentic feeling with obvious roots to Egypt and Middle East. Some of the instruments used are known to people interested in the region, but among these there were a number of them which I couldn't identify. With the aim being creating Ancient music, it sometimes gives the feeling of Om Kalsoum's long ballads under the catalogue name of Arabesque while some of the compositions are outright nothing like I've ever heard. The music itself is at first surprising, then soothing and later you get an overall affection.
One negative aspect of the record is that, if we can call it negative, the compositions are scattered around the record without any road to follow them. None of them leads you to the other. This creates an atmosphere of detachment from a music that can be categorized as new to a listener (Which I was actually). However, the compositions within themselves were beautifully constructed with giving enough breathing ground to each note and instrument and providing the full scent of the feeling that Gamil wanted to serve.
The collection of compositions were recorded in Cairo and released by the reputable Touch records. The record itself is quite recent (1987). They have also released some other works of Gamil later on. It is always a challenge in listening these new, far away, but yet familiar sounds. Frankly I am quite thrilled to offer you this challenge.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Motorhead holds a special place among these bands due to the fact that there was always the feeling of utmost energy in their tracks on top of the heavy metal riffs. That is also somewhat the same effect Rammstein creates within me. Metallica was more melodic, Iron Maiden even more. Yet Motorhead was pure energy. Ace Of Spades album is a true classic in this sense. It encaptures the pure essence of energy that defines Motorhead for me. It is the 5th album in 3 years during a period of rapid production for the group. This crazy period points out to an extremely colorful time for the world of Heavy Metal. So many landmark albums by several bands have been released and it is evidently not surprising to see where the energy comes from. Actually the first three tracks is more than enough to explain what I'm getting at. "Ace Of Spades", "Love Me Like A Reptile" and "Shoot You In The Back". I just named the three opening tracks, but in truth, during the whole album there is no stepping back, no second thoughts. It's all guns blazing forward. What a sheer dominance.
To be honest, there is a ciriticism of Motorhead saying that their tracks are somewhat alike. It is not that far fetched for an outsider (Or dumb) to think along these lines, but the fan of Motorhead would surely oppose to this fiercely. I am one of those. First thing comes to my mind which has a similarity is saying that Techno music sounds all the same. If you are not getting into a music, deconstructing the layers and catching nuances while listening, the same would be true for all kinds of music. Blues would be categorized as a music with slide guitar where the singer may just commit suicide any moment during the song. Never judge a book by it's cover can simply be adjusted to this also. There are always different cards in everyone's sleeve. This time it's Ace of Spades by Motörhead.
Saturday, September 3, 2011
There are some art forms which define decades or a certain era. Star Wars handled that perfectly for mid 80's which also shaked me with it's wind. Nirvana did that in early 90's. Saturday Night Fever (SNF) did the same in the end 70's. Beatles, Doors, Warhol all had their shares.
SNF changed the way people walked, defined the music they listened, styled the way they dressed, altered the way they talked. It also created an icon of John Travolta. The movie in and as of itself is not world changing, critic blazing or mind shattering. But sometimes it need not be. End 60's had the flower generation, 70's had to create something also which in turn became the disco generation. Later on end 80's created the House music phenomenon
Most of the tracks on these two records are already pretty familiar to most people. Bee Gees, Kool & The Gang, KC & The Sunshine Band are everyday groups you can hear on the radio. But the essence is that even though Disco Fever started earlier, it had a huge boost with this movie. Moreover, listening them all in order is giving you the exact feeling of what came and what was to come afterwards.
Musically I cannot honestly say that the songs are enhancing by any means. They are beautiful and fun to listen alright, but that's all there is to it. Go out on a Saturday night, dance, have fun, forget about your daily problems. It can be rightful to say that today's apolitic stance in the generations born '80 onwards lay their background in the era after mid 70's. Life was too hard thinking about all the suffering, wars, inequalities, injustices. It was time to have fun now. The problems of the world would not end by blowing your minds over it. And so they went on Saturday nights and the fever reinvented a new culture.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
I have just finished a marathon of listening. It was not just a standard musical adventure, it was quite much more than that. The records that I have listened belong to Olivier Messiaen's L'Ouvre D'Orgue De 1926 A 1951. This is a 6 Lp set which features Messiaen's performances of his own works on organ at the church of Église de la Sainte-Trinité in Paris.
Messiaen's importance in the contemporary composer class is crucial for the fact that he is one of the few composers who has connected religious belief and composition in the same pot. He has performed Sundays in the church of Église de la Sainte-Trinité for 61 years. He has been the longest player of organ in this historical church. Most of the works he has composed have one way or another a religious background or setting. However, his compositions are worlds apart from the former composers by all means. His compositions feature structurally very complex and calculated rhythms. He has drawn sounds and structures from nature and transposed these into the compositions he had in mind. The most famous of these is Catalogue D'Oiseaux for piano while Yvonne Loriod is the most famous performer for this composition. She was also the second wife of Messiaen.
There is one more thing to say about Messiaen before moving on to the records. His idea of serialism was very much respected by the eras composers and he has taught so many of the leading composers that were to shape the modern day music. Among these are Stockhausen, Xenakis, Bolcom, Grimaud, Peter Maxwell Davies and Boulez. Of course his most intimate relation was with Loriod who was his student as well, but the most controversial relationship he had was with Boulez. Boulez was a bright student of Messiaen and they lived happily for 2 years when suddenly Boulez became a hard critic of Messiaen on the basis that he was not evolving forward. Boulez went to Darmstadt after this and moved on. Quite later on Boulez sent respect to his master, but failed to conduct any of his works which still shows the anger/frustration in Boulez never quite faded.
The box set was recorded by Emi France in 1956. The only unfortunate thing about this box set is that it contains a 12 page booklet written by Messiaen. Here he gets into details (I suppose) about the origins of the tracks as well as musical explanations. And this booklet is only in French while my French knowledge really suffers after Ça-va, Bien and Et toi. I will surely get assisstance for this.
The compositions featured are; Apparation De L'Eglise Eternelle (1932), L'Ascension (1934), Nativite Du Seigneur (1935), Le Banquet Celeste (1926), 5iptyque (1930), Les Corps Glorieux (1939), Messe De La Pentecote (1950) and last but not the least Livre D'Orgue (1951).
Livre D'Orgue seems to be the most accomplished one in terms of structural developments being brought on by Messiaen, but my favorite among the compositions is easily Les Corps Glorieux. It is a long composition with 7 parts and a very impressive collection.
There has been several other releases which feature the collective organ works of Messiaen including the famous Louis Thiry's versions (I've listened that as well), but honestly I want to point that this is by far the most touching performance. These performances were recorded in 1956, but the box set came out in 1978. I currently don't know any other release of this box set prior to this, but would not be really surprised if Erato had an earlier release. Thinking how hard it was to find this box (Thanks to 1 month of research on Ebay.com, co.uk, de and fr), it should be dead hard to even see whether that one exists. Until then, I will remain a happy man anyway.