Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thelonious Monk - The Thelonious Monk Orchestra At Town Hall (Riverside - RLP 12-300)

Thelonious Monk is undoubtedly one of the most important names in the history of Jazz since you don't get many pioneers like him. Not only did he create new styles of playing and musical alterations to the genre, he also taught many young artists who came to be legends of their own. This is not an easy concept after all. John Coltrane became the man he was heavily due to what he learned from Monk and the freedom Monk explained to him while they played together. I have also reviewed the result of their collaboration. Just listening to Coltrane's earlier records and that record would be enough. Later on Coltrane went on to create his own standards and mostly paved the way for Free Jazz.

Coming back to Monk, he was a mainly "band" type of guy. He never ever did play with an orchestra before this recording. He is as always known an experimenting person and this was a direct extension of what he was doing even though it was thought to be quite a dramatic move. Monk helped change the Jazz scene from swing to Bebop and this was also a structural change in the bands. Previously we were used to Duke Ellington and his orchestra, Harry James and his orchestra, Benny Goodman and his orchestra and so on. Now there were quartets, trios, quintets. Going back to the good old days with the modern musical understanding was an interesting move.

Yet it proved to be shockingly beautiful as can be excepted of Monk. To be honest, the people in his orchestra are enough to make life easy anyway. There is Donald Byrd on trumpet, Phil Woods on alto sax, Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, and Art Taylor on drums. Each have well established solos in the album with the most striking being Phil Woods' solo on "Friday The 13th".

The tracks on the album are of course a selection. UNFORTUNATELY! The newly (2006) released CD version includes 2 more tracks which is not just in all ways. This is also a performance which should be totally released on vinyl. Maybe some day it will. The beauty of the music is capturing. Although at some points Monk returns to the quartet style of playing, the change is obvious and monumental. The orchestration is helped by Hall Overton who was a Monk follower and a very talented musician at that time.

The selection of tracks start with a 1940's "Thelonious" which was already a classic on the day of the recording in 1959. Then comes "Friday The 13th" and "Monk's Mood" for the A side. To be honest, I was out of breath and words when I was listening the new version of Monk's Mood. It is absolutely brilliant. I honestly didn't want to turn the record over. However, I never thought the B side would be the same affectionate as well. The crown of the B side is inevitably "Off Minor". You just have to listen to the depths Monk goes and the orchestration is absolutely in accordance with the state of mind Monk's in. Great piece of art. Calling it music is not doing justice. The other beauties of this side are "Little Rootie Tootie" and "Crepescule With Nellie". Both are tracks from the end 50's and show the established side of Monk.

Thelonious Monk was not an early celebrity. He was ridiculed with his "out of technique" style of playing, different approach to Jazz and personal habits. However, after 15 years of hard work and financially unrewarding times, he became everyone's man in 6 months. How this change came and went is something I don't really know (Should read a book about it obviously), but luckily it did after all. He became more productive while he was profoundly productive even before so you can imagine how he was afterwards. He was appearing at a club almost every single night of the week, was sought after and collaborated with even more artists as times rolled along. This opened him vast areas of improving and inventing. This record encapsulates just one of the "moving a step ahead" style of interactions Monk has undertaken. I will also listen and write about Monk's enormous box set of "Complete Riverside Recordings 1956-1961" sometime soon. Until then this record is enough to keep some ears happy.

To buy this record:

@ Discogs
@ Music Stack
@ Ebay

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Isang Yun - Loyang, Gasa, Réak, Tuyaux Sonores (Wergo - WER 60034)

There are certain moments when I face the hard truth that my German is basic and my French is composed of 20 words. As a record collector, these heartbraking moments tend to occur quite a lot. Especially on releases two legendary record labels, Erato and Wergo, this issue becomes a pain in the neck.

The record is question here is a release of the Korean Isang Yun on the German Wergo label. It is the first press from Germany and therefore includes only German notes. A Heliodor release of this record from UK would have been a little more helpful in this case, but hey, who's to complain.

Actually Isang Yun has been a quite silent character generally among the contemporary composers apart from one incident where has was captured in East Berlin by the South Korean agents with his wife, taken back to Seoul and prisoned. He was later tried and sentenced to death when the whole world of composers created an uprising. The names among them were politically strong names like Stravinsky, Karajan, Klemperer, Stockhausen and Ligeti. All these names had substantial force in their respective governments and their pressure/petition was granted after two years of imprisonment. Yun was exiled and banned from reentry from his native country.

Isang Yun is somewhat one of the most accomplished and underrated composers of the 20th Century. Honestly I cannot put this to the mainly more depressive type of compositions he wrote. Many of the composers of his era were already excessively depressive due to witnessing two world shattering events during their lifespans. Some even committed suicide. But I believe the depression in Yun's music comes from the fact that he was extremely far away from his homeland. The culture and the thought process were (And still are) totally different and this caused him to be more pessimistic. Interestingly we saw the opposite in the case of Stravinsky, but there he nourished from the artistic movements of the era in Paris and there was a hard fact that he was not in a culturally opposite culture. A little more liberal maybe, but in essence not too different.

Unfortunately for me, by the time I started listening his music, he had already passed away, better late than never. Isang Yun's music can be classified as emitonally depressive and expressionist contemporary classical music. Moreover, even though experimentation has been a crucial factor in his compositions, these trials do not strike you with the ferocity of Stockhausen or Kagel. His experiments are also within a certain regular scheme where the listener accepts without raising an eyebrow. On the other hand, the continuous depressive mood can be nerve wrecking at various points. The most attractive composition for me on this record has been Gasa and I am truly fascinated by it. He clearly represents a different voice among the contemporary composers and it is a delight to listen to him.

To buy this record:

@ Discogs
@ Ebay

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jo Chambers - Every Woman Will Be Free (Firebrand Records/Private Press - DMO 1020)

This is a record which I have bought as per the recommendations of the seller. Some may think this is not the most logical way of purchasing records which you have no idea about (Especially if the price is hefty), yet this guy was someone whom I've bought from for some time and he has an idea of my weird taste after all. Anyway, the result has been pure success. Of course I was not sure about the result even until listening it since this record is a private press with absolutely no related info or music about it on the web. Hell, even Wikipedia does not feature anything on Jo Chambers.

What you hear on the record is strictly Folk music with what seems to be an Irish Folk touch in it. Some of the vocals can also be tied to Psyhedelic Rock. If I need to be more precise, I can openly state that the tone of Chambers' voice and her style reminds me of Grace Slick. So now you can get the picture. She has only her acoustic guitar with her. This may of course be due to limited finances she had for this record, but all in all it created a much more effective sound than she could have wished for. What you see in her is what you get. Simple as that.

The record was made possible by nine women who leant money to Chambers. This is uniquely a self made project. She even mentions that she was shit scared during the recording. The cover picture belongs to a friend of her's and was sketched, but Chambers didn't want it to be sexually oppressive. There is no one else on the record as she plays and sings all by herself.

She mentions that her songs are an expression of her experiences in the 4 years prior to the recording.They are mainly based on an individualistic theme. Central to attention is her loneliness. She enjoys loneliness in some tracks like "It's Raining On The Boulevard Tonight" while she feels devastatingly lonely and in need of love in "Lonesome Saturday Night". As a result, I can honestly say that listening this album is opening several windows into the life of Jo Chambers. Some commercial artists always use phrases like "I found myself in this album", "This album really feels like mine" etc. even though there is always a feeling of commercialism and of course a producer behind. This album on the other hand is totally about expressing oneself. There is no producer, no one accompanying him apart from her friends during recording sessions. She plays by herself, expresses herself without anyone else telling her how to. It is pure and simple. What you listen is totally cozy, honest and sincere.

What I've witnessed was certainly not something I was expecting. It has overaccomplished what I could have ever dreamed of. It is most unfortunate that she went unrecognized yet I have a satisfied feeling that she went so. If she had received fame, she wouldn't be so sincere anymore. This album is perfect as long as it remains being the work of one truly remarkable woman with 9 others who has helped financially for it to come alive. It is the dream of someone coming true while it is my dream come true in listening an album with pure music and ideals on mind.

To buy this record:

@ Discogs
@ Music Stack
@ Ebay

Friday, December 16, 2011

Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony 1 & 2, Moscow Phil. Orch., Kondrashin (Melodiya - 65 803 9)

Dmitri Shostakovich may as well be one of the mostly misunderstood composers of all time. His tenure coincided with the most ruthless era of a country's regime. Oppression was an everyday occuring with millions dead being a statistical number. Under these conditions, he was labelled by his fellow composers as partisan, communist, supporter of the evil etc, while due to his mainly shy character, he accepted all accusations with a blank stare and unwilling resolution.

It was later on that people learned about the truths, his twice banning from composition due to him not composing based on Politburo's requests and standards. His trials for creating new ways to express himself musically all met with negative responses. He thought about running away more than once (According to records), but couldn't leave his mother land behind.

In true form, Shostakovich is probably the most established composer of the classic (Traditional) classical music works in the 20th century. While his fellow composers were trying everything new, he was confined only in traditional ways. This has put tremendous pressure on him. However, his first two symphonies on this record are totally apart from this issue since they were composed before he started to feel the chains being tied on him.

He wrote his first two symphonies when he was 19 and 21 respectively. They brought him immense fame during his early ages (Of course not to be compared with sensational Mozart anyway). Both symphonies are openly showing his eagerness in composing with full of energy style. Both symphonies are more like a shirt which someone wears while going out on a Saturday night. Everything about the symphonies seem programmed for that particular occasion. It is like Barcelona playing football. It seems preorganized, yet it is beautiful to watch. In this case, the programmed event is Shostakovich's entrance to the stage. He wanted to make a big entry and he got it.

Rhythm is fast, melodies are flamboyant, drums are aggressive. He does not hesitate. The 2nd Symphony was named after the 10th anniversary of the revolution and it is truly evident from it's massive sound. It creates a picturesque effect on the listener about that era of Russian history where everything had to be large and should show off. His standard drums vs bells style is all along both symphonies. These are truly fascinating when you think that they are beginning of one's career.

One thing that should not be taken for granted is the direction of Krill Kondrashin. He is the real expert on the symphonies of Shostakovich. Kondrashin has a personal perception of all the symphonies where he creates a different touch by taking into account the realities and stories behind that particular symphony he is conducting. When the related person is Shostakovich, there are many behind the curtain stories as well. Shostakovich told all his feelings and frustrations via his only channel, music. He shouted, objected, cried, denounced and broke all the chains with his music and that is why this record is truly important. It is showcasing the beginning of a remarkable career story told to us by an extinguished narrator.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Winter Family - Red Sugar (Altvinyl/Sub Rosa - Av032)

Winter Family is a duo made up of Ruth Rosenthal and Xavier Klaine. They have released their last 2 records via Sub Rosa which is a label that I am deeply interested in. Many of Sub Rosa releases have found their way in my collection and especially their releases of Early Electronic works are something always to look forward to.

Honestly this album was not in my priority list while I was making my last purchase from Sub Rosa, but I bought it based on the recommendation of Fred from the label. It has been much of a delight to have made this last minute addition to my order. It is quite different in many ways comparing to the Drone music that we are constantly hearing nowadays.

Drone is an alternative branch of Electronic Music which has been more or less out of the spotlights for around 8-9 years which actually started around 1960's with the magical name where you see everywhere, La Monte Young. As you can guess from the starting point, it evolved with a new stylistic exploration of minimalist music, but later developed to what it is now today. More of a gothic version of the early ones.

Today the first two names you can directly mention alongside Drone is Sunn O))) and Fennesz. However, their styles are also differentiating somewhat since one is more of a Drone Metal and the other is closer to Space Music with it's wide soundscapes. Winter Family is already really apart from them based on the fact that they created an album which involves poems in a central figure, enriching them with samples of ezan (Call for prayer for muslims), religious chants, reverend and rabbi speeches. It has a religious touch, yet even having this kind of vocals within the tracks is a keen approach. What this duo uses is actually non music material in an abstract musical environment and to say the least, they have conducted a very hard job in this sense. Of course some people might get offended these days since that is the new "thing", being a racist or a discriminator. People can't get dumber than this.

Musically Drone evidently takes up the front stage with Folk Music elements supporting. During poems, music takes a supporting role with giving enough space for the narrator to give the full emotional state. Piano is also used frequently along the narration. After the vocals come the real strength of the album which are repetitive Drone timbres which are truly effective. In "Dancing In The Sun", vocals are also used more like the early versions of Drone as another musical aspect. This is not the Monteverdian style which we are used to from Cathy Berberian, but more like Karlheinz Stockhausen's and Klaus Schulze's approach to vocals.

There are quite simplistic melodies accompanying the general flow of the album like the one we face in "Indigo Sky". The basic melody is similar to old music box melodies, but then a thunder slaps to wake the listener up and bring back to reality where Drone takes back it's position and continues advancing. This is one of the worth listening works of the year with a genuine approach to Drone and Folk Music. All we need to do is support these works and hope for more to come.

To buy this record:

@ Subrosa
@ Discogs

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Miles Davis - In Person, At The Blackhawk, San Francisco Volume I & II (Columbia - P 17383 & 17384)

Blackhawk club in San Francisco had a well earned fame with exquisite and cozy performances. Miles Davis is among the many legendary artists who has taken the stage in this club which was explained to be close to ruins even in its heydays. Nothing was as important as the music.

Maybe the true success of the club lied in this standardness. There was absolutely nothing special about here. You just came, listened and went out. Nothing fancy, nothing to distract you apart from the smokey atmosphere. They took no reservations, there were no special arrangements for anyone. They had a teenage section where they only sold soft drinks and this was closed down by the city mayor. After huge protests from the artists, jazz lovers and the media, they reopened it. This shows how crucial the club has been to the people of SF.

Many recordings have been made here and Miles Davis's is among them. Ahmad Jamal, Dave Brubeck, Cal Tjader, and Thelonious Monk are all there. However, these sessions were the first for Miles Davis to record live. The recording setup was prepared at the club next door called 211. It is clear that even he felt home there and this reflects on his performance. He is known to wander around the club while his band were into their own solos. It doesn't get more intimate than this.

Coming back to the records, it is also self explanatory since the records have been a story of success since their first release. The sound is totally raw and real. Miles Davis is trying to touch your heart and brain with his solos and guess what, he damn well does it. If you cramp up the volume which I advise feverishly, you just need to close your eyes and picture yourself there with Miles smoking, sipping champagne and throwing out one of his solos in between. His solos are even showing all signs of this character. Sometimes extremely talkative, telling long stories, sometimes sharp as his tongue can be, hitting fast and then retreating. Yet it all comes down to one thing only. You listen Miles Davis without any corrections, any studio hanky panky. Pure Miles, pure music.

There is one thing I need to add before ending this. In 2003, Columbia records released the full version of the performances of these two nights, Friday and Saturday. However, the guys in Columbia were only wise enough to release them as CDs. It takes 4 CDs to cover the whole nights and unfortunately we don't get the privilege to listen them on vinyl. This is one of the dumbest things I've seen, I'm sorry to say. They are reissuing tons of old releases and missing this one out has been a blast. I hope they'll come to their senses soon. These performances are meant to be on records.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Robert Fripp - Let The Power Fall (An Album Of Frippertronics) (Editions EG - EGED 10)

Robert Fripp is a name which you can bump into a lot if you are listening Brian Eno. The contributions of these two names to the world of music and to each other have been enormous. Moreover, the fruitfulness of both names have created such works that are totally breathtaking. Unfortunately even though I have almost all works of both artists, I have been quite lazy in reviewing any of them. Another reason was that I've listened those records long before I came up with the idea of writing this blog and since I'm still trying to catch up with the records that I've bought and have not yet listened, it will probably take some while as well.

Anyway, coming back to Fripp, there is one thing I've got to mention before I move on to the album. Fripp is a well established guitarist. Even though I don't believe in the poorly prepared lists of magazines like Rolling Stones' All Time Best Guitarists etc, even a wrong clock shows the right time twice a day. Mr. Fripp himself is among the best guitarists list with a well earned place.

Let The Power Fall is an album which was prepared along the 5 month worldwide tour of Fripp for the roadshow of Frippertronics. As you can guess from the name, this is a technique devised by Fripp himself which is itself a tape looping technique. Brian Eno was a frequent follower of this technique as can be heard from his works.

The titles on this album are named after years which are designated by the composer based on where he thinks the world will be driving to. Change is the main theme of the album and structural change can be labelled as the main sub-theme. Fripp believes that structural change is needed and this can only be achieved through behavioral change. He explains that he has observed this during the tour of Frippertronics in 1979 while visiting various cities, watching people, sitting in restaurants, cafes etc.

The music can be briefly identified as atmospheric electronic music with filtered guitar sounds acommpanying. It has a more futuristic sound which is not very surprising given the year the titles were composed. You can take A Space Odyssey, Star Wars as a starting point and other futuristic movements were following. However, Fripp directly attached a philosophical foundation to his works and moved on from there.

The album as being a Frippertronics album, is sometimes feeling like a giant loop with smaller loops in it. The main sound structure of the album doesn't change very much from track to track. However, nuances are there for a more careful listener and these small changes can be interpreted as steps for a bigger change to come. Actually when we talk about change, our main idea is a drastic development of events or behavior in our environment. On the other hand if we take nature as a basis point, change is a continuous process moving slowly, but without any break. Change takes time to be fully effective and sudden alterations are never really there to stay.

After this much chit chat, it is evident that Fripp has a picture in his mind while composing these works. Moreover, this picture is somewhat very close to what we have seen and what we are to see in the near future. Some of the changes he has pointed out have been noticed, yet some changes I believe are still going unnoticed during our fast moving and consuming lives where we are not taking a break to evaluate our surroundings. Sometimes it is better to stop and watch. Nothing is running away.