Friday, August 16, 2013

HurdAudio Rotation: American Icons

Charles Ives: The Symphonies / Orchestral Sets 1 & 2. 2001. Decca: B00004TTIK

Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus
Cleveland Orchestra
Academy of St. Martins in the Fields

Symphony No. 1
Symphony No. 4
Second Orchestral Set
Symphony No. 2
Symphony No. 3
Three Places in New England

My ears were quick to tell me "it's been too long" as they drank in a concentrated helping of Ives' symphonic writing.  This truly is a cornerstone of orchestral aesthetic.  Ives had an ear for texture, for tightly weaving in a rich tapestry of Americana and the Symphony No. 4 adds an astonishing use of quarter tones smeared across multiple ensembles.  The similarities between the final movement of Symphony No. 2  and the "Putnam's Camp" movement of Three Places in New England struck a nerve on this time through.  These pieces have a sense of place even as they reach toward an impossible ideal.  The distance between the student work of Symphony No. 1 and the self-confidence of the Symphony No. 2 is astonishing.  Each one of these begs for repeated listening.

Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions [disc 5]. 1974-1975. Columbia Records.

These complete sessions are essentially a series of large jam sessions organized by Miles Davis.  The funk comes in large slabs of drums, congas and electric bass punctuated by Dave Liebman's soprano saxophone, Pete Cosey's electric guitar and smatterings of Miles Davis himself on trumpet.  The form can get fairly free and sprawling while the ears get lost in the groove.  And yet there is enormous beauty lurking in this generous expanse of material.  The start/stop textures of "What They Do" providing a nice contrast between density and individual parts for the ears this afternoon.  And the relatively short "Minnie" closing out this particular disc with a reminder of how tight Miles could make things when he wanted to.

Ornette Coleman: Beauty is a Rare Thing [disc 4]. 1959-1961. Rhino/Atlantic.

Free improvisation allows me to hear a musicians ears.  Hearing the same environment and stimulus that is feeding their own playing in the moment.  Their reactions often being a fluid balance between the internal and external sounds of a given occasion.  Free Jazz is the main attraction included on this fourth disc.  After a few tracks that sustain the raw energy of the quartet format from the first three discs of this collection we have a First Take with the Free Jazz double quartet followed by a 38-minute take on the record that helped propel an important discipline of full improvised freedom.  The collection of ears on this session is solid.  Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Scott LaFaro and Billy Higgins forming the quartet on the left channel while Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell hold down the right.  These are some impressive ears and a forceful statement that freedom can soar and freedom can swing.  Like with so much free improvisation, focused and attentive listening is enormously rewarding even if the music never explicitly demands that one pay attention.  Leaving the pleasure of hearing Free Jazz exclusively to those who make the effort to listen.  And Free Jazz is arguably more rewarding than most.

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