Saturday, August 04, 2007

HurdAudio Rotation: Varese, Ayler, Feldman

Edgard Varese: The Complete Works. Performed by The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and The Asko Ensemble. Conducted by Riccardo Chailly. The Decca Record Company Ltd: 289 460 208-2.

Tuning Up / Ameriques (original version) / Arcana / Poeme Electronique / Nocturnal / Un Grand Sommeil Noir (orchestral version) / Un Grand Sommeil Noir (original version) / Offrandes / Hyperprism / Octandre / Integrales / Ecuatorial / Ionisaion / Density 21.5 / Deserts / Dance for Burgess

I'm much less taken by the "filler" tracks on this "complete works" collection on this listening. The classic Varese works that are most familiar - Ionisation, Octandre, Deserts, etc. - are such monumental pieces. The gimmicky Tuning Up and the severely short Dance for Burgess feel too light compared to the dense gravity at the core of Varese's sound and aesthetic. I do enjoy Nocturnal and Un Grand Sommeil Noir, even as they strike me as aesthetically disjunct or unfinished when compared to the grand pillars of modern music that makes up the rest of Varese's creative output.

As for those pillars, they are awesome. Chailly directs some inspired, life-filled interpretations of these pieces that leave me hungry for the live experience. This is thick, dissonant music that can come off sounding clinical if the players and the conductors don't invest enough passion and understanding into this music. As a listening experience, this is less "rotation" and more gravitational pull to keep an ear dipped in this reference point. And the Complete Works is a definitive and indispensable take on one of the major figures of American 20th century music.

Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost [box set] - disc 5. 2004. Revenant Records: 213.

Albert Ayler Quintet @ Berlin Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany - November 3, 1966
Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone
Don Ayler: trumpet
Michel Samson: violin
Bill Folwell: bass
Beaver Harris: drums

Albert Ayler Quintet @ De Doelen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands - November 8, 1966
same personnel as the November 6 date.

The Netherlands date is the cleanest recording of this great quintet, with Samson's violin sounding clear and positively inspired. (It's Don Ayler's trumpet that shifts in and off mic in this recording). The European crowd seems receptive to the rough sounds of truth aggressively - and beautifully - performed on this date. And the band seems to return and magnify that energy. With some of the best live takes on "Spirits Rejoice," "Bells" and "Truth is Marching In" that I've heard, my ears are pulled to that amazing violin sound from Samson and the unbelievable interplay between all five players as they forge some amazing textures with improvisations and familiar Ayler themes woven into the mass of sound. Ayler's tenor still leads the sermon of that sound, but it's Samson's violin that elevates the whole thing to a higher plane. The roiling, simmering heat that Beaver Harris brings to this session on the drums is yet another source of admiration.

Mark Feldman: What Exit. 2006. ECM Records GmbH: 1928 B0007361-02.

Mark Feldman: violin
John Taylor: piano
Anders Jormin: bass
Tom Rainey: drums

I'm a big fan of Mark Feldman's Music for Violin Alone from 1995, particularly "Elegy." So I was particularly delighted to hear those familiar double-stops that start things off as he revisits that composition with this outstanding quartet. Tom Rainey has long been one of my favorite drummers from the "downtown" scene. Anders Jormin's improvisational talents and tone are a revelation. And this is my first chance to give British jazz pianist John Tayler a close listen. Adding the engaging charm of Mark Feldman's compositions and improvisational talent to these elite players is almost more bliss than my brain can process. But I'll gladly process it again and again.

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