Sunday, October 30, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: The People, Yes!

Johanna Beyer: Sticky Melodies. 2008. New World Records: 80678-2.

John McCaughey: musical director

Suite for Clarinet I
Daniel Goode: clarinet

String Quartet No. 1
Miwako Abe: violin 1
Aaron Barnden: violin 2

Three Songs for Soprano and Clarinet
Merlyn Quaife: soprano

Craig Hill
: clarinet

The Federal Music Project
John McCaughey: conductor

Movement for Two Pianos
Peter Dumsday, Kim Bastin: piano

Suite for Clarinet Ib
Craig Hill: clarinet

String Quartet 2
Miwako Abe: violin 1
Aaron Bernden: violin 2

Erkki Veltheim: viola
Rosanne Hunt: cello

Ballad of the Star-Eater
Merlyn Quaife: soprano
Craig Hill: clarinet

Movement for Double Bass and Piano
Nicholas Synot: double bass
Kim Bastin: piano

Three Pieces for Choir
-The Main Deep
The Astra Choir, John McCaughey: conductor
-The Composers Forum Laboratory
The Astra Choir with Kim Bastin: piano
John McCaughey: conductor

The Astra Choir, John McCaughey: conductor-The People, Yes!

Sonatina in C
Peter Dumsday: piano

The music on this double-CD collection is a shock. Hearing this amazing music, this fully formed aesthetic from a relatively unknown (but clearly significant) composer from the enormously fertile creative period of the early twentieth century American music is a reminder that there is so much music waiting to be more fully experienced and appreciated from every period. The comparisons to Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Henry Cowell and Charles Ives are easily made. Johanna Beyer is clearly in good company in that regard. But this music stands well on its own. Her string quartets are amazing. String Quartet No. 1 in particular gives several hints at avant garde directions that would come later in the century as well as original ideas that have yet to be taken up. Especially in the textures of its tantalizing and brief presto movement. The choral writing is equally grand as are her pieces for clarinet solo and clarinet with soprano. This is compelling music all around. Music that deserves to be programmed more frequently in chamber music settings.

This slice of music from Johanna Beyer also hints at the kind of impact the Great Depression had on composers during this era. The musical response is strikingly similar to the changes found in Ruth Crawford-Seeger and Charles Seeger's music at this time. A pulling away from the complexity and abstraction that marked the early works of these composers (qualities that make them so attractive to my contemporary ears) in favor of a simplicity and affirmation of the greater good. Changes that carry a particular resonance during this current period of upheaval and grass-roots protests against economic injustice. My ears find less gravity in these later works, but the emotional qualities that fuel these works are undeniable.

Leon Berben: harpsichord

The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II BWV 871-893.

Prelude & Fugue No. 1 in C major
Prelude & Fugue No. 2 in C minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 3 in C sharp major

Prelude & Fugue No. 4 in C sharp minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 5 in D major
Prelude & Fugue No. 6 in D minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 7 in E flat major
Prelude & Fugue No. 8 in E flat minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 9 in E major
Prelude & Fugue No. 10 in E minor
Prelude & Fugue No. 11 in F major
Prelude & Fugue No. 12 in F minor

The Well-Tempered Clavier is a substantial war horse in the canon of keyboard works. An iconic achievement of both Baroque style and tonal harmonic sensibility. Hearing these pieces performed on the harpsichord immerses the ears in both the antiquity and the vitality of this music.

The thing that strikes me in this particular listening is the joy. Striking in that this kind of faith oriented expression of joy is so conspicuously absent from my direct experiences with contemporary religious expression. It comes with the feeling that the connection to divinity that Bach was immersed in was somehow lost in the New World as the cultural baggage of the Puritans has persisted. One listens to the politically motivated expressions of faith in this age and hears no sense of joy. The admittedly limited exposure to church services that I've experienced is an equally joyless thing. The music of Johann Sebastian Bach is a reminder that the substance of faith is both timeless and multi-faceted in ways that have been subverted by current culture.

The George Lernis Jazz Quartet: Shapes of Nature. 2011. George Lernis: 84501-56166.

George Lernis: drums
Mark Zaleski: upright bass
Scott Boni: alto saxophone

Upon hearing Shapes of Nature one would not suspect that the compositional source for this music comes from the drummer. Percussion rarely comes to the foreground in a quartet that deftly shifts attention democratically with soloists adding fleeting layers to an ensemble sound. It is the compositions and the sound world that they explore that are at the forefront of this set. And here one can detect the aesthetic sound world that George Lernis is carving out within the creative space of these pieces. This quartet is steeped in the jazz tradition, particularly be-bop, and that is the branch that they've extended outward from. Finding new avenues through impressive alterations upon the sounds that this tradition has handed down. New scales, melodies with notes subtracted, and frequently altered meters and time changes. This elastic approach to time being the only hint that the drummer is behind the compositional scenes in this music. All of it executed with a well practiced sense of precision and musicianship. There is enough promise here that one hopes Lernis will continue to explore on this track and push this music a little farther toward unfamiliar frontiers.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Songs of Travel and Growth

Louis Moholo-Moholo/Marilyn Crispell: Sibanye (We Are One). 2007. Intakt: 145.

Louis Moholo-Moholo: drums
Marilyn Crispell: piano

I've listened to a lot of Marilyn Crispell over the years and she never fails to puncture the familiarity of her sound with elements within her improvisations that are completely new to me. This happens every time. Here is a live recording from 2008 where I was in the audience. At the time I was blown away by the kind of voice leading she was doing. It was something new in her playing I hadn't noticed before. Now as I come back to this recording for the third time or so I'm struck by the resonant spiritual connection that these two players share. Even though this is their first (and only documented) performance together.

Marilyn Crispell has mastered the almost Zen-like quality of stepping back within a performance and finding an improvised path that exists in balance with the present state of the music. Hers is a finely honed intuition that allows her to draw upon her considerable technique without smothering the creative moment. Louis

Moholo-Moholo has carved a path out of Apartheid era South Africa, through the explosive free improvisation movements of Europe and back to South Africa. That sense of returning home after a long and valuable journey comes through in his music. The connection these two master musicians made was something to behold live. This document of that meeting retains much of the glow of that performance.

Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone

In 1993, Ellery Eskelin was well on his way to becoming the most interesting improvising musician on the tenor saxophone. The material on Premonition is outstanding on its own. But if you've heard him play lately it is clear that he has grown exponentially as an artist since that time. Premonition does make a clear, declarative case for the multiple tendrils of jazz tradition that feed into his astonishingly original voice. Three original works - part of Eskelin's own "Song Cycle" followed by two by Monk and a lighter excursion through a Torres Velazquez tune. Deep roots that hardly keep Eskelin from reaching into the stratosphere with his own ideas. Premonition is a snapshot of an artist in mid growth that stands on its own as a solo recital worth revisiting.

Sanda: vocal
Shoko Nagai: piano, accordion, farfisa
Stomu Takeishi: electric bass
Satoshi Takeishi: percussion
Douglas Wieselman: guitar, clarinet
Ben Stapp: tuba

There aren't many vocalist led disc in the HurdAudio Rotation. Partly out of oversight and partly because these ears gravitate toward the instrumentalists. And frankly, I was attracted to this disc because of the Takeishi brothers in the rhythm section. So I have Stomu and Satoshi to thank for pushing me out of my comfort zone and into the gypsy songs so brilliantly realized by Sanda. Sanda Weigl has an amazing voice and an innate sense for how these songs breathe and dance. Combining her voice with this outstanding band is simply a winning concept that rewards the ears that stop to take it in. This is music with unbelievable sonic and emotional texture delivered by serious players.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Neither From Nor Towards

Marc Ducret: Un Certain Malaise. Screwgun Records: screwu 70005.

Marc Ducret: guitar

Marc Ducret has a healthy amount of crazy in his sound when he's within a group. Here he's a free range crazy guitar as he slashes his way through this live 1998 set. Somewhere along the way he powers through what has become one of my favorite solo guitar recordings over the years. Working a language of strings and electricity with a performance that stays balanced along a sense that his energetic bursts could dart in any direction at any speed at any moment for an extended period of time.
LinkMisha Mengelberg: The Root of the Problem. 1997. Hat Hut Records: hatOLOGY 504.

Misha Mengelberg: piano
Steve Potts: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone
Thomas Heberer: trumpet
Michel Godard: tuba, serpent
Achim Kremer: percussion

Misha Mengelberg draws upon a deep well of jazz history and intuition for his improvisational craft. He can be ruthlessly abstract without losing his sense of humor or even taking a turn toward swing. With The Root Of The Problem he teams up in duos and trios with Steve Potts, Thomas Heberer, Michel Godard and Achim Kremer as equal collaborators. Often times these collaborators are absent for long stretches before hitching along with the whimsical rides that Mengelberg sets out with his "roots." The collaboration between piano and tuba is surprisingly compelling in this set. The dialog between improvisers feels so natural, so unforced that it is startling to hear this music move through so many extremes. This is a dialog that bears repeated listening and keeps the intellect guessing.

Thelema Trio: Neither From Nor Towards... 2010. Innova: 752.

Ward De Vleeschhouwer: piano
Peter Verdonck: saxophones
Marco Antonio Mazzini: clarinets

Tres Danzas Episkenicas by Rafael Leonardo Junchaya
Shadowing by HyeKung Lee
The Devil His Due by Keith Carpenter
neither from nor towards (ballade) by Eric Honour
Imprevisio by Marco Antonio Mazzini
Refractions by Kevin Walczyk
Five Miniatures by Fernando Benadon

Chamber music that eschews trans-Atlantic roots in favor of a current body of music drawn from the Americas - both North and South. Featuring works by composers from Peru, Argentina and the United States, this is just a sampling of a repertoire that has yet to be fully realized. Eric Honour's neither from nor towards is strikingly beautiful and Marco Antonio's short clarinet solo Imprevisio makes dramatic use of the instrument's extreme dynamics and register. Each of these works leave an impression while contrasting strongly with the other works in this set. They also remind these hungry ears (that are so frequently gorging upon new music) that there is a great deal of music yet to be heard.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Sunday, October 02, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: Painless Dentistry

Terry Riley/Stefano Scodanibbio: Lazy Afternoon Among the Crocodiles. 1997. Pierrot Lunaire: AIAI 008.

Terry Riley: synthesizer Ensoniq TS 12LinkStefano Scodanibbio: contrabass

There are trace moments when the Ensoniq sounds thin next to the richness of Scodanibbio's contrabass. But more often than not, Terry Riley manages to coax a lot out of the synth textures and turn in an overwhelmingly pleasant duo recording. At under half an hour, this is just an EP. A full set from this pair would be hard pressed to wear out its welcome. I'm perpetually astounded at how Terry Riley makes such amazing music in spite of its multiple "flaws." His improvisational and arrangement abilities would be revered in a perfect world.

Chris Dahlgren & Lexicon: Mystic Maze. 2010. Jazzwerkstatt: 088.

Chris Dahlgren: double bass, voice narration
Antonis Anissegos: piano, wurlitzer, sampler, voice
Eric Schaefer: drums, percussion, voice, glockenspiel, sampler
Gebhard Ullmann: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet
Christian Weidner: alto saxophone

Not since Lee Konitz's superb Peacemeal have the worlds of Bela Bartok and jazz collided so agreeably. A fertile territory for cross-breeding the Hungarian folk materials, twentieth century composition technique and avant garde improvisation when none of the elements are given short shift. Chris Dahlgren sets this music in motion with a balance of reverence and irreverence born out of passionate regard for the music of Bela Bartok. Here he chooses to set the words of Bartok's harshest critics to music. Giving equal weight to the quality of the prose and the ridiculousness of their poor judgement. Dahlgren made the right call by reciting - rather than singing - these long-winded diatribes against a modernism that sounds restrained by contemporary standards. But what makes this set genuinely excellent is the tasteful arrangements of Bartok's own works and the smart musical quotations woven into the overall musical texture. It doesn't hurt that Lexicon brings a high degree of verve and proficiency to their interpretation. Setting a jazz ensemble arrangement of Bartok's 4th or 6th String Quartets is a creative indulgence that makes enormous sense. I hope to hear full arrangements of these pieces that fulfill the tantalizing promise of the single movements included on this disc.

Matt Wilson: Arts and Crafts. 2001. Palmetto Records: PM 2069.

Matt Wilson: drums
Larry Goldings: piano
Dennis Irwin: bass
Terell Stafford: trumpet

Arts and Crafts is a quartet that Matt Wilson drives as a vehicle for realizing jazz tunes. This is straight jazz and it hardly gets played more flawlessly than this. Wilson gives plenty of reason to love the tradition as this group breathes life into the many sounds that remind me why I fell in love with jazz in the first place. Then there is the final track... "All Through The Night" may be the most beautiful piece ever committed to recording. This quartet's take on Ornette Coleman's "Old Gospel" grabbed my attention. Their interpretation of Bud Powell's "Webb City" hits the target. And Matt Wilson's original tunes mine a vein lined with the sounds of Lester Young and George Gershwin. But "All Through The Night" seals the experience, leaving no doubt that this group is something special.