Saturday, October 17, 2009

HurdAudio Rotation: Icons of American Symphonic Works and Free Jazz

Charles Ives: The Symphonies/Orchestral Sets 1 & 2. 1973, 1976, 1994, 1995, 2000. Decca Music Group Limited: 289 466 745-2.

Symphony No. 1
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Zubin Mehta: conductor

Symphony No. 4
The Cleveland Orchestra
Christoph Von Dohnanyi: conductor
Jaha Ling: second conductor
The Cleveland Chorus
Gareth Morrell: director

Orchestral Set No. 2
The Cleveland Orchestra
Christoph Von Dohnanyi: conductor

Symphony No. 2
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Zubin Mehta: conductor

Symphony No. 3 "The camp meeting"
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
Neville Marriner: conductor

Three Places in New England (Orchestral Set No. 1)
The Cleveland Orchestra
Christoph Von Dohnanyi: conductor

Is there any particular reason the Charles Ives Symphony No. 4 isn't the most revered work in the orchestral canon? It has all the substance, formal depth and psychological impact of any of the war horses. The creative and well arranged use of chorus equals - if not surpasses - the "Ode to Joy" of Beethoven's Ninth. The quarter-tone harmonies offer up a harmonic density that matches the rhythmic innovations that require a second conductor. And none of these devices slip into gimmick or superficial effect. I think that some of the resistance to a full embrace of this piece has its roots in the American-ness of its themes and its composer. Audiences of orchestral music - and lets be honest, they're a conservative assemblage by and large - are geared for Germanic heft and much less generous toward domestic accomplishments of equal quality and importance.

But time is on the side of the timeless. Audiences will lose their teeth and fade away. But the substance of these Ives symphonic works will endure and will eventually earn its own abuses of Ives Festivals equal to those afforded Beethoven, Mahler and Mozart. Fortunately, there are recordings such as these to reinforce such convictions for ears hearing well beyond what today's symphony subscription holder is prepared to accept.

Ornette Coleman: Beauty is a Rare Thing. [disc 4] 1993. Rhino Records: R2 71410.

Sessions from August 2, 1960 and December 21, 1960 in New York City
Ornette Coleman: alto saxophone
Don Cherry: pocket trumpet
Charlie Haden: bass
Ed Blackwell: drums
Scott LaFaro: bass
Billy Higgins: drums
Eric Dolphy: bass clarinet
Freddie Hubbard: trumpet

This is the disc that contains "Free Jazz." The ground breaking 1960 session that turned a double quartet loose for an extended period of free improvisation. The musicians and their ability to hear contributing to the outstanding results that have since opened up generations of players to free improvisation and ushering in a body of music that is profoundly inspiring. I notice that this session fell one day after a large ensemble collaboration with Gunther Schuller that produced an adventurous, meticulously arranged and innovative sound. There was something in the air in New York at this time that opened the minds and ears to this incredibly successful experiment. There was a willingness to mine a new sound coupled with a need to break past all rigid structural pre-meditation. So much was made possible by this music. An important touch stone buried within a box set rich with so many vibrant works from this initial period of Ornette Coleman's early sound.

Thomas Chapin Trio plus Brass: Insomnia. 1992 (re-released as disc 3 of the Alive box set in 1999). Knitting Factory Records: 35828 02482-2.

Thomas Chapin: alto saxophone, flute
Mario Pavone: bass
Michael Sarin: drums
Al Bryant: trumpet
Frank London: trumpet
Curtis Fowlkes: trombone
Peter McEachern: trombone
Marcus Rojas: tuba
Ray Stewart: tuba

All the reasons Thomas Chapin is remembered fondly documented in sound. The core trio that was Chapin's creative vehicle of soaring material combined with the arranging prowess of an expanded ensemble of brass. And there's not a weak musical link between each individual involved. The groove heavy, cathartic release of Coup D'Etat balancing well against the smooth choral arrangement of Equatoria. The two trio tracks turning inward to the core group that allowed so much improvisational freedom for every member. Music that spans an expanse that embraces whimsy and focused seriousness with the same degree of sweat. The lurching, pulsating grooves giving this sound an infectious physicality that effortlessly buoys the crackling whit and intelligence coursing through every vein of this breathing music. Heart and mind are rarely so cooperative as this.

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