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.

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