Sunday, August 14, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: The Devil's Got To Burn

Myra Melford / Tanya Kalmanovitch: Heart Mountain. 2007. Perspicacity: PR03.Link
Tanya Kalmanovitch: viola, violin
Myra Melford: piano, harmonium

Nineteen pieces of striking brevity formed through free improvisation. Idiomatically, this music draws from a stream between jazz and classical without favoring one over the other. It's the striking compatibility of ear and instinct that draws these two players together and yields a music of understated gravity. "Annapurna" in particular jumps out with its interplay of viola and harmonium carving its melody and harmony out of an overlap of timbre. This is musical beauty with all the resiliency and quiet introspection of any natural wonder.

James Blood Ulmer: Birthright. 2005. Hyena Records: TMF 9335.

James Blood Ulmer: guitar, voice, flute

What James Blood Ulmer can do with a guitar is equal only to what he can do with his voice. The expressive combination of the two cuts deep. His demonic cackle in "Devil's Got To Burn" rises up from the depths of Hades. Blues so real and so informed by life's ragged experience that the air takes on a thickness with this sound. Profound and emotional with an honesty few can tolerate. James Blood Ulmer is one of the best.

Bela Bartok: String Quartets. 1992. Hyperion Records: CDD22003.
The New Budapest Quartet
Andras Kiss: violin
Ferenc Balogh: violin
Laszlo Barsony: viola
Karoly Botvay: cello

It had been too long since I last sat down with the scores for the six string quartets of Bela Bartok and took a full dose of what an intense and awesome accomplishment this cycle of pieces is. These are amazing feats of composition and each one cuts a sharp angle to reveal the inner workings of the universe. The string quartets trace the arc of Bartok's creativity over the span of his development as a composer. The first two are expressive, inventive pieces that follow up upon the Beethoven model of development with a decidedly early twentieth century twist. The middle two quartets move toward more abstraction as formal elements and pitch theory begins to enter the picture. The final two quartets are a consolidation of these early impulses with a sophisticated sense of tonality. The voyage through these works as an entirety is exhilarating. A tangible reminder of what high accomplishment in this medium sounds like.

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