Adolphe Sax's Legacy

| No Comments

2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax.  This accomplished musician and engineer had already successfully refined the design of existing wind instruments when he decided to create a brand new horn as an intermediate between woodwind and brass orchestral sections.  Not coincidentally, the saxophone while classified as a woodwind, is primarily constructed of brass.  Additional goals of this endeavor were an instrument which could mimic the expressive qualities of the human voice as well as one which robustly projected its sound.  Sax obtained a patent for his efforts in 1846

There are generally considered to be nine members of the saxophone family*, from the lowest pitched, the sub-contrabass horn to the sopranissimo.  The best known saxophones are the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes.

In the minds of many, the saxophone is synonymous with jazz.  Iconic figures such as Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Charlie ParkerJohn Coltrane, Stan Getz and Ornette Coleman reinforce this view.  Each of these masters is well represented in Greenwich Library's collections of recorded music. For those of you with adventurous tastes, my colleague Everett Perdue has created an excellent list of Library cds focusing primarily on jazz musicians who explore(d) less familiar stylistic territory.

However, there is also a sizeable body of work in the classical realm which has been composed with saxophone in mind.   Almost all of these works can be found either as part of the Library's collection of compact discs, or via the streaming music service, Naxos Music Library.  You can visit NML by visiting the Library's Digital Music page.  Once there, click on the blue Naxos Music Library icon and enter your Library card number.

 

If your interest in the saxophone has been piqued, you may want to visit the Adolphe Sax commemorative display on the 2nd Floor of the Library.  There you will find CDs, DVDs and books all relating to this highly versatile instrument.

 

 

*Tinkering with the saxophone's basic design has been commonplace throughout its history.  Innovations in the late 18th century such as adding more keys, enhanced the instrument's playability.  More recently, jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk, featured stritch and manzello in his arsenal.  The former was and adaptation of an alto saxophone and the latter was a mutated saxello - itself the offspring of a soprano sax.

 


Prokofiev's ballet: The Stone Flower

| No Comments
Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was prompted to borrow the Library's CD copy of The Stone Flower (Comp Disc 781.556 PROKO), when I heard an excerpt of the ballet while listening to Naxos Music Library  The passage I encountered on NML had charmed me with its evocation of Russian folk music and I found much more of the same when I listened to the entire work.   Prokofiev was well advised to adopt a simpler more demotic compositional style for The Stone Flower as he had been upbraided for exhibiting "formalist tendencies" by Andrei Zhdanov, an influential member of Stalin's ruling elite.   

The ballet is based on folk tales by Russian author Pavel  BazhovThe story centers on the artisan Danilo's quest to view the titular stone flower, which will confer great artistic powers.  This necessitates leaving his true love, Katerina and during his sojourn, he encounters and is enchanted by the Mistress of the Copper Mountain who shows him the stone flower.   Katerina then sets out in pursuit of her lover.  Danilo is ultimately freed by the Mistress, who recognizes the depths of the couple's love for one another

 The Prokofiev score has much of the composer's wonted melodic charm.  The liner notes to the album intimate that Prokofiev's compositional powers had ebbed slightly at this stage of his career.  However, when inspiration was flagging, Sergei Sergeyevich often deployed snippets deriving from works he had previously composed.  In any event, I had no problem sustaining my interest through the entire two disc recording.  Occasionally, I would recognize these "borrowings"; but no matter, my enjoyment of the work was in no way diminished. 

The Stone Flower does not seem to have enjoyed the popularity of other Prokofiev ballets such as Romeo and Juliet, Chout and Cinderella, although it shares the fairytale ambience of the latter two.  If you have a fondness for these earlier works, the composer's gift for melody and orchestration will likely win you over in The Stone Flower.  For the recording at hand, the performance by the BBC Philharmonic, under Gianandrea Noseda, is both engaged and engaging and the sonics are up to the usual sumptuous standards I associate with the Chandos  label.

 

 

AES 2013

| No Comments

DDA Profile Mixing Console
This past Saturday, October 19, I attended the AES show at the Javits Center in Manhattan in the company of my good friend Slade Kennedy.   AES, or the Audio Engineers Society is "the only professional society devoted exclusively to audio technology".  The annual show it sponsors, which has been hosted by San Francisco and Berlin in recent years, is primarily a gathering of manufacturers of audio equipment who are there to exhibit their wares.  I should stress that this is not a forum for viewing the latest audiophile gear for your home hi-fi system but rather, an opportunity to get a leg up on developments in sound recording and sound reinforcement (aka live sound engineering). So if you are a musician who is interested in recording or performing, chances are you will find plenty of things to engage your interest at AES.  If you have the good fortune to be accompanied by someone with the breadth of expertise of Slade, who is retired Supervising Engineer, Park School of Communications at Ithaca College, you'll have a formidably knowledgeable guide as well.

Seemingly every microphone manufacturer in the business had a presence at AES this year--Advanced Audio Microphones, ADK, AKG, Audio-Technica were all there, and that's just the A's.  Stand alone digital audio work stations (DAWs) were also well represented among the vendors, for those interested in home studio setups, although the technology has become so sophisticated that many major current releases were recorded on DAWs.  At the other end of the spectrum was the Studer truck. Studer, a name to be reckoned with in professional recording desks brought a plushly appointed semi trailer filled with the company's full sized consoles, each loaded with recorded program material so it was possible for the visitor to run the equipment through its paces.  The big find for me, however, was comparatively low tech, albeit high quality.  I had been looking for microphone stands of a less flimsy construction than those most commonly available and the Triad-Orbit company's line of beautifully engineered and constructed gear was just the thing.  For a full list of exhibitors at AES, click here.

In addition to the exhibits, AES also features appearances by eminent practitioners of the audio arts such as Bob Ludwig (the Maharajah of  Mastering and three time Grammy winner) and  Bruce Swedien (5 time Grammy Winner and recording engineer for Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Diana Ross, Duke Ellington and Count Basie among many, many others).

 

 This was the second AES show I have attended at the Javits Center.  The fact that admission to the event is free if you pre-register online, was sort of reverse-defrayed for me by the overpriced in-house food concessions and a $50 charge for four hours of parking. However this should not deter you from a visit when AES comes back to the Metropolitan area if you have any interest in audio recording or live sound.  The "gee whiz" factor and friendly and informative manufacturer reps will be enough to bring me back next time around.

 


Enhanced by Zemanta

John Scofield: Uberjam Deux

| No Comments

scobaby.jpgI make a point of listening to every album John Scofield releases and his most recent offering is no exception.   If you are familiar with 2002's Uberjam, you might expect the second installment , Uberjam Deux, to be another funk manifesto with samples and programming to the fore.   While that is true to an extent, for those seeking the Scofield release closest in spirit and sound to Uberjam, you would be best served by picking up 2003's Up All Night.  "U2", on the other hand. is altogether less cybernetic sounding than its namesake and correspondingly more soulful.  The grooves are still the thing, but they tend to be slinkier and more relaxed, particularly on cuts like "Al Green Song" (natch), "Dub Dub" (ditto) "Boogie Stupid", "Scotown" and "Just Don't Want to be Lonely".  

The personnel on this album comprises John Scofield, guitar; Avi Bortnick, guitar and samples ; Andy Hess, bass ; Adam Deitch, Louis Cato, drums  and  "special guest"  John Medeski on organ, Wurlitzer & Mellotron.  Bortnick, Deitch and Medeski are alumnae of the first Uberjam disc.   A constant throughout both releases is Scofield's pungent, frequently surprising guitar playing, with trademark wide intervallic leaps, bends, dissonances and apposite noises, for lack of a better term.   Both "Cracked Ice" and "Snake Dance" feature his impressive up tempo blowing.  Avi Bortnick complements the leader beautifully with unerringly tasteful rhythm guitar parts.  The opening cut, "Camelus" is a prime example of their chemistry.   I first encountered Adam Deitch on the earlier Uberjam and was bowled over by the funkiness and precision of his drumming.   Given that both parents played drums professionally, he seems to have been predestined for eminence in (one of) his chosen field(s)*.   The other holdover from Uberjam sessions of a 2002, John Medeski , of Medeski, Martin & Woods, contributes spare but potent keyboards to many of the tracks but only takes one brief, albeit appealingly menacing, solo on "Dub Dub".

Over the years, John Scofield has given pretty free rein to his exploratory impulses and consequently touch on a wide variety of styles; from fusion, to more mainstream jazz, from N'Awlins second line funk to techno funk, as well as gospel, old school R&B and quiet orchestral settings for his more pensive guitar musings.  Then there is his work with Miles Davis, which resists easy categorization.  In this context, Uberjam Deux, while not his most innovative record, is a whole lot of fun.  Some folks might even find it to be suitable as a party disc.  It's sure to set toes a-tappin'.

 Now, can someone tell me what relation the album's cover art bears to its contents?

* Adam Deitch is also a noted record producer.


Free(gal) Music Downloads!

| No Comments

Freegal logo.pngIf you have a computer based music system at home, or if your listening is done almost exclusively on a portable device, Freegal is a great way to expand your collection and horizons.   All you  need is a library card from either Greenwich or Perrott Library, which will enable you to download up to three music files per week via the Digital Music link on the Greenwich Library website.   It is not necessary to install a download manager for this process, as Freegal works through your browser.   The music files you receive are DRM (Digital Rights Management) free MP3s and will play on iPods and Android players as well as your desktop computer.   Once you have downloaded a song, it is yours to keep.  When you reach your weekly limit, you can place additional files on your "Wishlist" for subsequent downloading. 

What Freegal offers is access to the Sony Musical Entertainment catalog.  Sony is one of the three major record labels that currently dominate commercial recorded music.  Music owned by the other two majors, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group are not available through Freegal.  Even so, Freegal is a treasure trove of music in all genres.   The roster of artists who have spent most or a significant portion of their careers linked to CBS/Columbia/Sony or currently affiliated labels, among them RCA, Epic and Arista, includes iconic figures such as Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Glenn Gould, Paul Simon,  Simon & Garfunnkel, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Barbra Streisand, George Jones, Chet Atkins, Dave Brubeck, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Bruce Springsteen,  Sly Stone, Henry Mancini, Britney Spears, Mahalia Jackson, Coleman Hawkins, Tony Bennett, Benny Goodman, Michael Jackson, Bessie Smith, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Sam Cooke, The Byrds, Tito Puente, Eugene Ormandy, Duke Ellington, James Taylor, David Bowie, Whitney Houston, Glenn Miller,  Janis Joplin and Johnny Mathis.   Virtually all of the music that these and other artists recorded for labels in the Sony Musical Entertainment catalog is available from Freegal.

If your tastes run to currently popular artists who have not yet attained the legendary stature of the performers above, Freegal enables you to download the latest recordings by, among many others, Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Adele, Marc Anthony, The Civil Wars, Chris Botti, John Mayer, Miley Cyrus, Pink, Brad Paisley, Sara Bareilles, Pitbull, Train, Mumford and Sons, Shakira, Foo Fighters, Nas, Britney Spears, Glee Cast, Harry Connick , Jr., Kenny Chesney, Kelly Clarkson, and Alicia Keys.  

If you have specific questions relating to Freegal that have not been addressed above, connect to the site from our Digital Music link and log in using your library card number.  Then click on the FAQ link at the top of the page.   Or, you can begin exploring Freegal by either browsing this vast database by genre or searching by artist, album, song title or composer, to locate music to add to your own digital collection.  Enjoy!


Hammond Soliloquy

| No Comments

A few months back I wrote a blog entitled Dave's Faves (Drum Tracks).  This time around I'd like to pay homage to some of my favorite recordings featuring (mostly) the Hammond organ. 

 My affection for this majestic instrument began before any of the tracks I will be mentioning were even recorded.   My Dad's NYC recording studio had a Hammond B3 in the 50's and 60's which I was allowed to play if there were no clients present.  I spent considerable time noodling on it; experimenting with draw bars, bass foot pedals and the Leslie rotating speaker cabinet while running through the modest repertoire of piano pieces I had accumulated as a youngster.   What fun!

A few years later, in the wake of the British Invasion, music to me was all about guitars and drums, the latter of which had displaced piano as my instrument.   Organs were part of the Rock scene, but at this early juncture they tended to be Vox Continentals and Farfisas in bands like, Paul Revere and the Raiders, ? and the Mysterians, the Dave Clark Five and The Animals.  Now, there are people who love the sound of these pretenders to the organ throne but they always sounded reedy and vaguely unpleasant to me.  A favorite epithet applied by rock scribes to the tone of these literal and figurative lightweights is "cheesy".

The first track I'm listing is the antithesis of cheesines due to the  glorious overdriven sound of Stevie Winwood's Hammond on the Spencer Davis Group's  recording of Gimme Some Lovin' COMP DISC 781.66 BOX WINWOOD  The fact that the teenage Winwood also provides one of Rock's iconic vocals on the song doesn't hurt either.

 

Cover of

Cover of Streetnoise

I think the LP that really brought home to me the expressive power of the Hammond was Streetnoise,
the 1969 release by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity. The Library no longer owns a copy of the CD but you can get a taste of Brian Auger's mastery of the organ on the ferocious Indian Rope Man, which was originally on Streetnoise and reappears on the compilation album, A Kind of Love In: 1967-1971 COMP DISC 781.77 DRISC.   Another Streetnoise cut, the band's cover of Light My Fire, is also included and illustrates beautifully the subtler side of the Hammonds emotional palette.   Mirroring the superb vocal by Julie Driscoll, Auger's playing moves from wistful, to jaunty, to ardent and back to wistful.   The late Ray Manzarek's solo on the original Light My Fire, by the Doors, pales in comparison.

 

A salutary effect of my enthusiasm for Brian Auger was my discovery of the great Jimmy Smith,

English: The great Hammond organ player Jimmy ...

who Auger cited as a major influence, as indeed he was for just about any organist with jazz leanings.  Smith's startling virtuosity is always a thrill, but one of my favorite tracks features him in the relatively subdued context of See See Rider on disc #3 of Jimmy Smith Retrospective COMP DISC 781.65 SMITH.  Here, the B-3 maestro's solo is structured around a series of soulful trills interspersed with sporadic but suitably mournful phrases.  Guitar wizard Kenny Burrell's crystalline playing provides perfect accompaniment. 

 Joey DeFrancesco, an acknowledged acolyte of Jimmy Smith, came to the attention of Miles Davis at the age of 16 and subsequently toured with the jazz giant.  If you are a fan of keyboard pyrotechnics, check outboth of Joey D's solos on Billie Jean from the Michael  Jackson tribute, Never Can Say Goodbye  COMP DISC 781.65 DEFRA.  Whew!  He's aided and abetted by Paul Bollenbeck and Byron Landham with terrific solos on guitar and drums respectively.

 Procol Harum's Mattew Fisher, whose churchly tone on Hammond graced the huge hit A Whiter Shade of Pale in 1967, uses the same draw bar settings on Quite Rightly So from the band's second album, Shine on Brightly COMP DISC 781.66 PROCO.   Here, in conjunction with another gorgeous melody and quicker tempo, the effect is stirring and regal.  

To bring things full circle I would like to return to my father, who , never at a loss for an opinion, felt roughly the same way about the Hammond organ as I feel about Voxes and Farfisas.  He believed that the pipe organ was truly the "King of Instruments" and Hammonds were mere toys by comparison.  OF course pipe organs weren't often featured in pop or jazz recordings, so his preference may well reflect  his devotion to classical music to the exclusion of most other forms.   Nevertheless, listening to Arcade Fire's song  Intervention, on Neon Bible  COMP DISC 781.66 ARCAD, it's hard to deny the pipe organ the prize for sheer sonic splendor and impact.

Inevitably, I have only scratched the surface with regard to great organ tracks and I have neglected classical organ masterpieces entirely; a topic for another blog, perhaps.  Should you be interested in pursuing jazz organ playing further, I would suggest exploring the work of some of the other greats of the genre, such as Jimmy McGriff, "Brother" Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott, Fats Waller, Larry Goldings, Larry Young, John Medeski and Richard "Groove" Holmes, all of whom you can find in the Library's collection.  If you don't have an allergic reaction to the sometimes bombastic Prog-Rock of the 70's, you might also check out the work of Keith Emerson, with Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Rick Wakeman of Yes for impressive displays of technique.


 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Many Things to Many People

| No Comments

 

P Elephant

P Elephant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At a recent book discussion group meeting, my friend Lynn shared an interesting insight relating to a passage in the novella, A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean.  At one point in the story, the narrator expresses the opinion that avid anglers seek a state of perfection in the union of their environment and themselves when they pursue their passion.  Lynn likened this pursuit to both meditation and the way some people listen to music.  I hastened to agree.   When I listen to music at home or play music with other musicians, I occasionally experience something akin to this blissful state, where everything becomes unified in the music.  The rewards of these experiences are such that I have been endeavoring to recapture them, with varying degrees of success, for my entire life.   

However, there are many other equally valid levels of music appreciation.   Many students like to listen to music while doing assignments or cramming for exams, as it helps them focus their thoughts.  Music can establish an appropriate mood for social occasions.   It can be the means of assessing the merits of  the audio gear for which you just paid a bundle.  It can accompany your workout sessions, or, heaven forbid, lengthy oral surgery.  And it can lessen the sense of solitude.

Many, if not most, of my acquaintances profess to be music lovers, including some who by their own admission are tone deaf.  It is possible that some of these folks feel there is a stigma attached to indifference concerning music, which inhibits them from acknowledging this aspect of their emotional makeup. From the historical record, however, there seem to be many more Einsteins and Jeffersons* than Ulysses S. Grants** and Vladimir Nabokovs***.

 What I find striking is the variety of ways in which people are moved by music.   If we all experienced music the same, we would all be listening to the same music.   Yet, many people whose judgment I respect, care passionately for some music that leaves me completely unmoved.  And, of course, I have enough experience of recommending music to friends that elicits only tepid enthusiasm to confirm the idea that my tastes are not universally shared.  So, in a sense, the variety of ways in which music can appeal to the listener can be a mechanism to reinforce isolation.  If your tastes become too specialized and your appreciation comes to resemble The True Faith, you may cut yourself off from much of the experience of sharing your passion with others.  An antidote to this insularity is to try and develop what is known in jazz parlance as "big ears", by cultivating a taste for as many varieties of music as possible.  I am fortunate to work in a place which facilitates doing just that.

I have a theory that as the most abstract of the arts, at least in instrumental form, music speaks to people in the greatest variety of ways.  As an undergraduate, I had occasion to visit the Rochester School for the Deaf.   At the on campus beer cellar, I was surrounded by the deaf and hearing impaired, signing animatedly while rock n' roll played over the PA system.  I can't think of a better testimony to the universal appeal of music.

*Both Albert Einstein and Thomas Jefferson were accomplished violinists.

**I know only two tunes: one of them is "Yankee Doodle," and the other isn't. - Ulysses S. Grant

***According to Speak Memory, Vladimir Nabokov's autobiography, he found most music irritating.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Naxos Music Library

| No Comments

Naxos Music Library

In the past, I have frequently reviewed CDs from the Library's collection.   This time around, I would like to switch my focus to the remarkable Naxos Music Library, a streaming music service to which Greenwich Library subscribes.   NML will provide you with access to the vast majority of music in the Western Classical tradition as well as considerable numbers of recordings in the following categories: Contemporary Jazz, Jazz Legends, Folk Legends, Blues legends, Nostalgia, World, Contemporary Instrumental, Chinese Music, Pop and Rock (mostly European), Gospel Legends, Spoken Word and Relaxation Music.  All that is required is a Greenwich or Perrott library card and an internet connection.  You will be prompted for your card number ("pass code") in order to enter the site.  It is also possible to log on directly from any public computer at Greenwich, Perrott , Cos Cob and Byram libraries without providing your library card number.   NML service is also available for owners of iOS and Android devices.

As of this writing (April 15, 2013), NML comprises 84,262 discs for a total of 1,213,697 individual tracks and an additional 1000 CD-length recordings every month.   The source of these recordings is the Naxos family of labels (currently, the world's largest catalog of Classical recordings), as well as the catalogs of scores of other companies, including industry stalwarts such as Chandos, EMI Classics, Warner Classics, Nonesuch, Erato, Bis, Nimbus and Vox,

Naxos did not become the world's largest purveyor of classical music by marketing shoddy playing by amateurish artists and ensembles.   The caliber of musicianship on these recordings is as high as that of any other classical label you would care to name, as reflected in the reviews Naxos releases receive in established periodicals such as Gramophone, American Record Guide  and  Fanfare.   And  performances by many of the marqee names  of the classical world are available in NML  such as Yo-Yo Ma, Mstislav Rostropovich, Julian Bream, Martha Argerich, Michala Petri, Itzhak Perlman, Sviatoslav Richter and Herbert von Karajan.  Furthermore, Greenwich Library's institutional subscription provides card holders CD quality streaming (128 kbps), which should satisfy any but the most  picky of audiophiles.

Once you enter the site, you will encounter a user friendly environment.   Searching is possible by keyword, composition title, composer, artist or genre and browsing is facilitated by lists of new releases, recent additions and record labels.  NML also offers a number of other useful features including a glossary of musical terms, a pronunciation guide, biographies of composers and performers, a section for juniors and the ability to create your own playlists which will be stored on the Naxos site for subsequent listening.

This all adds up to the ability to indulge your curiosity about classical music to an almost unlimited extent and explore other genres in some depth.   Just as recordings by luminaries like Placido Domingo, Jascha Heifetz or Vladimir Horowitz are available in NML, you can choose to listen to any of the acknowledged classical masterworks, or enduringly popular pieces.  However, Naxos Music Library also enables you to explore little known music from antiquity to the present and delight yourself with the discovery of treasures by musicians who have enjoyed moderate, minor and negligible levels of acclaim.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Session Players: Hit makers, not Celebrities

| No Comments

Guitar

"Session" or "studio" musicians have held a fascination for me since the late 60's.  Prior to that time, I was only vaguely aware of their existence; which is understandable in view of the fact that they generally labored in anonymity, in service of the artists whose names actually appeared on the recordings.   Theirs was a secret fraternity*, to which I first attached a name when I encountered the rather snide song, "Session Man", on the Kinks album Face to Face (1967).  The song's titular subject**is "only paid to play, not think" and "always finishes on time", with "no overtime or favors done", according to songwriter Ray Davies.  

Towards the end of the decade, however, session musicians' names started to appear in small print on album covers and liner notes; a practice that is commonplace today.  This phenomenon coincided with a realization on my part that the players whose names I encountered repeatedly as my record collection grew were probably pretty gifted and merited my admiration, regardless of Ray Davies's dismissive attitude. 

A background in jazz is common among session musicians, as considerable instrumental facility and situational flexibility are prerequisites in the pressurized environment of the recording studio.  On many top sessions, a particular musician is employed because of what personal qualities he or she is able to bring to the project.  This approach is the polar opposite of the hack who is "only paid to play not think" and represents what might be called the "Steely Dan" school of sessioneering.  Steely Dan, essentially Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, had a string of commercially successful albums in the 70's, the first two of which were recorded mostly by a core band of five members.  The balance of their 70's albums dispensed with the band concept, while keeping Becker and Fagen at the helm and featured a cadre of top rank studio musicians including Larry Carlton, Jim Gordon, Jeff Porcaro, Victor Feldman, Michael Omartian, Bernard Purdie and Dean Parks.  These consummate pros made Steely Dan albums of the period something special while burnishing their own reputations among those who care about album credits.

It will come as no surprise that session musicians tend to be associated with major centers of the recording industry, or, in the case of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, creating their own hub of recording activity based not on their location but on the sheer excellence of their musicianship.  In the 60's and 70's, Los Angeles had their Wrecking Crew, and in the 70's, the members of Stuff carved out a big chunk of New York's studio action. At various other times, Nashville's  A-Team ruled the roost in Music City, Detroit had the Funk Brothers, and Memphis boasted Stax/Volt Records with its coterie of players centered around Booker T and the MG's.

As I have found from my archaeological pursuits over the years, there are always deeper levels to explore and new and significant members of the Guild of Studio Cats awaiting to be discovered.  A case in point is guitarist Bob Bain's amazing career, which came to my attention only this month while reading a copy of Vintage Guitar magazine.  Bain, the guitarist on the "Peter Gunn" theme, perennial Sinatra sideman, Mancini's go to guy, and member of the Tonight Show Band for 22 years, was a fixture in Los Angeles studios for over four decades.   I'm sure many of the cognoscenti know his name, particularly guitarists, but his low profile among the rank and file of music fans speaks to the inherent anonymity of the musicians who have created much, if not most, of the pop music we love.

I hope I haven't offended anyone by the relatively short shrift I have given to British session musicians such as "Big" Jim Sullivan, John Paul Jones and Bobby Graham.  This simply reflects my comparative ignorance of the session scene in the U.K.  I also realize there are many other worthy musicians who haven't figured in this post.  I apologize if I have left out one of your favorites.

 *It is possible that Jimmy Page, future Led Zeppelin guitar god , was a focus of Davies's disdain in this song, as he played on several early Kinks sessions and has been mistakenly credited with the epochal solo on "All Day and All of the Night", which was actually played by Kink, Dave Davies.

**At this period, legendary Los Angeles bassist/guitarist, Carol Kaye was one of the rare exceptions to the boys only world of pop recording sessions.  Orchestral players on pop sessions were another matter however and here, women were less underrepresented.

 


Enhanced by Zemanta

Piano Music of Ernest Bloch

| No Comments

             

 Ernest Bloch

      Ernest Bloch

Visions and Prophecies   COMP DISC 786.2 BLOCH

 Margaret Fingerhut performs these selections from Bloch's solo piano oeuvre to perfection; an endeavor which is complemented by equally flawless recorded sound.   Circus Pieces, and Poems of the Sea, among other works, are not present, but this disc still represents a generous selection of the composer's output in this idiom.

Ernest Bloch's (1890 - 1959) accomplishments are many and varied.   His output as a composer incorporates several of the 20th Century's hodgepodge of styles and influences, including Serialism, quarter tone and folk-derived techniques and he exhibited mastery in each.  Perhaps his best known works, such as Baal Shem and Shelomo reflect Jewish themes.  He was also an accomplished teacher whose students included George Antheil and Roger Sessions.

Born in Switzerland, Bloch established himself as an educator in America in 1916 after the touring dance company, for whom he was conductor, folded and stranded its members in Ohio.  He returned to Switzerland in 1930 but, found himself back in the U.S., like many of his contemporaries, following Hitler's rise to power.

Visions and Prophecies leads off the disc.  Tonal in composition and contemplative in nature, the piece incorporates some truly gorgeous dissonances and Fingerhut's signature refinement of touch.  The latter benefits from the recording's marvelous engineering, which captures all the nuances the pianist deploys.

Five Sketches in Sepia  follows and the emotional tone shifts to somber, with the exception of the third piece, "Fireflies", which is livelier, though by no means manic.

At almost 23 minutes, the next work Piano Sonata, in three movements, is the longest work on the CD Here, the harmonic palette is reminiscent of Debussy, punctuated by jagged dissonances.   This is music possessed of a strong narrative sense and if the composer had programmatic intentions for the sonata, they reflect anxious and agitated states of mind.  

As befits their collective title, the ten short pieces that comprise Enfantines, are gentle, inviting, often whimsical works, without a hint of emotional turmoil that informs Piano Sonata.

In the Night: A Love Poem for Piano is appropriately nocturnal (marked lento assai) and seemingly flirts with remorse for much of its length before its shift to a major key at about the 3:40 mark.  The remaining minute or so evokes a more equivocal mental state.  Curiously, the piece closes with about 30 seconds of silence before the disc's final selection

The disc concludes with Nirvana:  Poem for Piano , an extremely hushed composition with  only  a smattering  of dynamic variation.  Apparently, the composers conception of the titular spiritual state is one devoid of affect.  Music for meditation?

This recording represents a happy confluence of Bloch's uniformly intriguing piano pieces, formidable artistry on the part of Margaret Fingerhut and terrific sonics courtesy of Chandos' engineers.   If your attention is focused while you listen you will be thoroughly engaged.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Recent Comments

  • From , "Ella & the Great American Song Book" :
    Will Teltser: Nothing to dispute in your appreciation of Ella, and the read more

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.