Sunday, September 23, 2012

HurdAudio Rotation: Jam Session for the End of Time

Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet: Way Out East. 2006. Songlines Recordings: SA 1558-2.

Wayne Horvitz: piano, electronics
Peggy Lee: cello
Ron Miles: trumpet
Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon

This recording is quietly successful on many different levels.  Offering up a collection of jazz chamber works that balance the taut, textural beauty of Wayne Horvitz's compositions against the restrained improvisational prowess of four strong musical personalities.  The first impression left by this music is the inspired instrumentation of piano, cello, trumpet and bassoon.  This soon gives way to the voices lurking behind each of those instruments.  Ron Miles bringing sour notes into a placid texture that miraculously work their way into an essential part of the sound.  Peggy Lee lending her lyrical prowess at multiple points along the cello's register.  And Sara Schoenbeck deftly weaving the bassoon between the worlds of chamber music and improvised jazz while making a strong case for the timbral addition of the double reed instrument.  But at the heart of this music is Wayne Horvitz's compositions and his deft arrangements for this ensemble.  This is what gives this disc lasting power.  The calm, and often delicately dissonant-to-consonant textures find form and take deep root with this collection.  This one is well worth multiple listens.

Olivier Messiaen: Messiaen Edition [disc 4]. 1963, 1956, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1996, 2000. Teldec Classics/Warner Classics: 2564 62162-2.

Quatuor pour la fin du Temps (1940-41)
Huguette Fernandez: violin
Guy Deplus: clarinet
Jacques Nielz: cello
Marie-Madeleine Petit: piano

Cinq Rechants (1948)
pour 12 parties vocales reelles

Solistes des choeurs de l'ORTF
Marcel Couraud: conductor

Listening to this disc is an interesting exercise in hearing both the familiar and the unfamiliar.  The Quartet for the End of Time is a deeply familiar work to these ears and yet this particular performance is new to me.  While the Cinq Rechants is something unfamiliar altogether (and composed for a capella performers, also unfamiliar terrain relative to instrumental chamber music).

The Quartet for the End of Time is an enormously significant work emanating from the darkness of the Second World War and literally composed from within the depths of despair within a Nazi prisoner of war camp.  Having heard multiple performances, it should not be surprising that the substance of this piece manifests itself in so many different ways.  And yet it is.  This particular take gives a much harder edge to the transitions within these movements than I'm used to hearing.  And while this isn't the most transcendent performance of this piece I've heard, the fifth ("Louange A l'Eternite De Jesus") and eighth ("Louange A L'immortalite De Jesus") movements come close to being the best interpretations I've yet come across.  The temptation to speed up the slow tempos on the cello and violin feature movements is resisted nicely, allowing the material to soar to the staggering heights that makes this piece so enduring.

The Cinq Rechants is a different beast altogether.  My non-French ears hear everything as sound and texture even as my mind understands that the language is an expression of faith.  The unapologetic use of twentieth century techniques and rapid changes through virtuosic passages makes for an expression of faith I can appreciate.  The depth of Messiaen's expressive and technical prowess makes for a towering presence along with a body of music that must be heard.

Miles Davis: The Complete On The Corner Sessions [disc 3]. 2007. Sony BMG Music Entertainment: 88697 06239 2.

Miles Davis: trumpet, organ
Carlos Garnett: soprano saxophone
Cedric Lawson: organ
Reggie Lucas: guitar
Khalil Balakrishna: electric sitar
Michael Henderson: electric bass
Al Foster: drums
Badal Roy: tablas
Mtume: congas
Dave Liebman: soprano saxophone, flute
Pete Cosey: guitar

There is a free flowing density to much of these sets and outtakes that makes for a big, sloppy, funky mess.  But it happens to make for a delicious, sloppy mess.  And with this third disc we come upon the session tapes for "Peace" and "Mr. Foster" where Miles Davis has carved out some introspective moments that open up the density and allow one to hear into the way individual performers explore this groove-heavy terrain.  In many ways, this box set is a glimpse into a jam session populated by serious musicians.  Long forms give way to an endless expanse.  When one steps back to take in the whole of this massive sound an attractive mood and texture takes shape as it seemingly expands toward an infinite expanse.  Individual solo lines take on an equal urgency with the pulse of this music.  The long trumpet solo on "Mir. Foster" drives home the fact that Miles Davis was still in full command of his improvisational abilities at this stage of his recording career even as he churned out reams of music that remain to be understood on levels not yet realized.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

HurdAudio Rotation: Greater than Human Scale

Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca. 2009. Domino Recordings: DN0217CD.

David Longstreth: vocals, guitar, musical direction
Amber Coffman: vocals, guitar
Angel Deradoorian: vocals, guitar
Brian Mcomber: drums
Nat Baldwin: bass
Jordan Dykstra: viola
Caleb Russell: violin
Andrew Todd: violin
Anna Fritz: cello

Since this disc last appeared in the HurdAudio Rotation this band has blown up big.  And deservedly so.  Also, I realize that they're now promoting a more recent recording that deserves inclusion in the rotation as well.  But the HurdAudio Rotation has never been about focusing on the latest, hippest thing and only occasionally finds itself ahead of the curve on that front.  This is a listening journal that attempts to forget nothing that vibrates these ear drums even with a ravenous appetite for new sounds.

That said, Bitte Orca is a stunning work of art rock that continues to leave a deep impression and give the ears plenty to discover over several listenings.  The sequence of songs is inspired.  The songs themselves offer up such unforced, fresh forms that reaffirm the potential of song in the twenty-first century.  And buried in the middle of this set is the exquisite "Two Doves" that will one day take on a life of its own once people realize the potential for reinterpreting its melodic angles.  The poetry of the words stands along side the inventive vocal parts that prove that voice has more timbral potential than merely being the focal point.  It's the fluid movement of instrumental parts and voice that carries the ears along the journey that Bitte Orca presents.  David Longstreth proves that smart can give music long shelf life.

David Byrne: Grown Backwards. 2004. Nonesuch: 79826-2.

David Byrne: vocals, nylon-string guitar, electric guitar, dobro, rhodes
Mauro Refosco: marimba, percussion
Jane Scarpantoni: cello
David Hilliard: high hat
Paul Frazier: bass
The Tosca Strings:
Leigh Mahoney: violin
Tracy Seeger: violin
Jamie Desautels: violin
Ames Asbell: viola
Sara Nelson: cello
Douglas Harvey: cello
John Mills: clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
Freddie Mendoza: trombone, euphonium
Mike Maddox: accordion
Elaine Barber: harp
Rufus Wainwright: vocals
Pamelia Kurstin: theremin
Stephen Barber: prepared piano
Tom Burritt: marimba, tympani
Karen Mantler: organ
Steve Swallow: bass
Vincent Herring: alto saxophone
Alex Foster: tenor saxophone
Gary Smulyan: baritone saxophone
Earl Gardner: trumpet
Lew Soloff: trumpet
Ray Anderson: trombone
Keith O'Quinn: trombone
Bob Routch: french horn
Bob Stewart: tuba
Barry Burns: spacey guitar, rhodes
Lisa Aferiat: violin
Greg Lawson: violin
Fiona Stephen: violin
Donald Gillan: viola
Robert Irvine: viola
Una McGlone: bass
Johnny Quinn: drums
Andy Waterworth: bass
Ross Godfrey: keyboards
Paul Godfrey: sequencing
Jon Blondell: trombone
John Mills: baritone saxophone
Steve Williams: drums
Kenny Wollesen: drums
John Linnell: accordion
Jon Vercesi: rhodes
Sandra Park: violin
Sharon Yamada: violin
Soo Hyun Kwon: violin
Katherine Fong: violin
Dawn Hannay: viola
David Creswell: viola
Alan Stpansky: cello
Jeremy Turner: cello
Shelley Woodworth: oboe, english horn
Mark Nuccio: clarinet
Philip Myers: french horn
John Patitucci: bass
Patrick Dillett: background vocals
Steve Williams: drum triggers

David Byrne's career has careened through any number of unpredictable avenues that have managed to drag one foot through accessibility and the other along an artistic fringe that have earned him a body of music that deserves respect, and more than a certain degree of love if one listens to it with the same degree of honesty that went into its realization.  Byrne has been a constant presence for these ears that have aged along the span of his creative output.  So it's a little unusual to arrive so late to Grown Backwards, taking it in a number of years after its release.  Such is the nature of musical abundance that delay is inevitable even when catching up with the musicians one has grown up listening to.

The most striking thing about Grown Backwards is that it is a relatively traditional oriented set of songs bearing the unmistakable impression of Byrne's well developed language.  It is more acoustic than the thickly (and well) produced sets found on Feelings or Look Into the Eyeball.  But it is acoustic arrangements presented with the same ear for production details found on those releases.  The quality of the Carla Bley arrangement is hardly lost on these ears.  Hearing Byrne's poetry and vocals within a bed of acoustic instruments isn't new ground for anyone who remembers Rei Momo or his brass arrangements on Knee Plays.  But this is a set of songs that darts in radically different directions.  The inclusion of opera music by Bizet and Verdi is startling.  More so for the seamlessness of its inclusion than as novelty.  The opera selections are most startling for the lack of "quirkiness" that has essentially been the hallmark of so much of Byrne's career.  It is now the sound of a proven artist with his heart well invested in his craft.  Like the rest of David Byrne's solo oeuvre, it manages to exceed already high expectations with a sound that invites a healthy range of the serious and the fun.

Iannis Xenakis: Orchestral Works - Vol II. 2001. Timpani: 1C1062.

Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg
Arturo Tamayo: conductor

Jonchaies (1977)
Shaar (1983)
Lichens (1983)
Antikhthon (1971)

These are pieces for large orchestras.  Jonchaies is scored for 109 musicians, Shaar for "large string orchestra," Lichens for 96 players and Antikhthon calls for 86 or 60.  This massing of humanity is called into the service of realizing an aesthetic that calls to mind massive forces that act upon an inner logic with indifference to human scale.  The liner notes reference the shaping of continents along geological time and the formulation of ancient languages from individual phonemes.  At times I hear the individual sounds as electrons interacting at a microscopic scale beyond the grasp of human observation forming an electrified whole.  An orchestral medium being treated as a means for realizing acoustic musique concrete.  The sweeping result is awe inspiring and one that inspires while leaving the single listener feeling small within these enormous textures.

Having a recording of this music, produced at a high quality and performed brilliantly by such a large mass of humanity is a gift that is nothing short of a miracle.  It serves as a forceful reminder of the range of expression composed for orchestra is far larger than the average season schedule would lead one to believe.  That unabashed adherence to algorithmic means and blistering dissonance has produced exhilarating gems such as these.  This is music that should inspire uncompromising composers to push toward expansive horizons in all media.  And push audiences to consider that music can be more than programmatic when taking on expressions of elemental magnificence.  This is music that is the mountains, rather than just about the mountains.  Masses of sound that speak to the austere beauty of an expanding universe from within the limited frequency range of human hearing.  Four pieces that display the kind of lasting mark Iannis Xenakis achieved in the 20th century.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Those who have followed this blog from the beginning have seen it track my movements from Seattle to Los Angeles to Baltimore to San Francisco to Chicago...

Well, I've moved again.  And it's taken a lot longer to ramp up to full blogging power with all the complexities of stacking on an additional move, immigration, new job and other life events.  But the speakers are finally plugged in and the concentrated listening/composing space is finally reassembled.  This longer-than-expected hiatus is about to end.