Morton Feldman and Samuel Beckett “Words and Music” [Naive Montaigne]

cujo   9/20/2006   A Library, CD

In 1961 Beckett wrote a play called Words And Music. In the play he scripts an abstract debate between the characters Words and Music, moderated by a third called Croak. Supposedly it’s about the Creative Process. In it, he also lays down explicit musical instructions for a score he envisioned but could not write, for example: ‘humble muted adsum? or ‘irrepressible burst of spreading and subsiding music?. His cousin wrote a score, but Beckett quickly withdrew the unsatisfactory effort from the public record. In the late 1980s, a producer suggested that Feldman, being Beckett’s musical equivalent, write a score. Beckett approved.

Unless you had the rare opportunity to hear a staging of the work, the music existed only in the your mind. Beckettheads are having an interesting time reconciling their conception of the music to this recording of Feldman’s score (which, like much Feldman, can very from performance to performance – there is another recording out from the Evergreen Review). One thing is for sure – the text gets a strained dramatic reading from Ebrahim and Lind; I nearly expected Orson Welles to drop in the studio.

Feldman’s score is typical Morty: sparse, unusual instrumentation, and quiet. Absent, however, is the dreamy trance that Feldman’s music normally puts me in; Beckett’s words absorb it all. One long track will make for difficult working into your program – fade liberally!

-Cujo, KFJC, September 2006

Haiku Review:
Feldman, meet Beckett
Sam’s radio play needs score
Morty delivers

Sofia Gubaidulina “Duo sonata/Quasi hoquetus/Concerto for Bassoon and Low Strings” [Chandos]

cujo   9/12/2006   A Library, CD

Holy flaming faggots, Batman! In 1967, Bruno Bartolozzi wrote his groundbreaking advanced technique book ‘New Sounds for Woodwind?: think microtones, multitones… By the middle 1970s, the book was translated into Russian and the technique swarmed the establishment in the form of bassonist Valeri Popov, attracting the attention of Tatar composer Sofia Gubaidulina. This disk has 3 of the bassoon works she wrote for him, played by him!

Duo sonata: Two hard, wooden, avant-garde bassoons in a slippery, sensual, kinky display of give-and-go. Listen carefully, and note again that there are only two bassoonists bumping ugly.

Quasi hoquetus: A trio for bassoon, viola, and piano. It begins with some ethereal, often tonal, mood-setting of the kind we’re used to from previous KFJC Sofia acquisitions. Very controlled swirling from the bassoon and the viola escalates, and the piano’s chorales become more insistent. The pot reaches a boil with a cascading piano, and the coda returns to the contemplative opening mood. Stay tuned for the surprise ending where the low end of the piano takes over and leads a rebellion to the happy ending.

Concerto for Bassoon and Low Strings: Again, Popov coaxes some new and lovely sounds from his instrument. In 5 movements, he battles a small army of cellos, basses, and violas. The odd movements are in sonata form, and provide for the most powerful exchanges between soloist & ensemble.

-Cujo, KFJC, September 2006

Jennifer Higdon “City Scape/Concerto for Orchestra” [Telarc]

cujo   9/12/2006   A Library, CD

A CD with two orchestral showpieces, masterfully played by Spano & his Atlanta crew, that should do wonders for Higdon’s name. If you don’t know the name already, just know that in 20 years she’ll be the reigning queen of American composition. She’s got the high profile education and she’s definitely got the chops. $5 says she wins the Pewlitt Surprise by 2010.

City Scape has lead billing. It’s an homage to the Atlanta of her youth, with fast-slow-fast movements inspired by the city’s skyline, parks, and Peachtree Street. It’s the middle movement that is the most attractive, with some confident and soaring Copland-ish writing.

The Concerto for Orchestra, like Bartok’s, has 5 movements, but the similarities end there. For example, the piece opens with bells doubled by timpanis while the strings swirl around. The 2nd movement is a lively string only affair – a pizzicato dance that slowly becomes bowed. The 4th movement is a percussion section showcase: shimmery water gong thingies, blocks, lots of wailing on drums. This leads without pause into the final movement, an accelerating roller coaster propelled by the timpani to a bring-’em-to-their-feat climax.

Everything that’s good about City Scape is even better in the Concerto for Orchestra: infectious and engaging polyrhythms, challenging instrumental writing and solos, bright climaxes. In both, there is a distinct lack of melody and formal structure (not that these are as needed in a concerto for orchestra), and after the disk has played you’ll only remember that it was a terribly exciting listen.

-Cujo, KFJC, September 2006

William Bolcom “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” [Naxos]

cujo   8/30/2006   A Library, CD

This release is superlative in all facets. It deserves your attention.

William Bolcom, a reigning dean of American composition, is only found in our library as pianist (on an album of Gershwin). We finally welcome his music to our library with his magnum opus, an award-winning recording of his complete (3 CDs) setting of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. It was recorded live in Ann Arbor in 2004 with Leonard Slatkin conducting the small army of orchestral musicians, choirs (plural!), and soloists. The usual orchestra is supplemented with a drum kit or two, some electric guitars, a banjo, and a few harmonicas… you get the idea. Performances of this piece, which took Bolcom 20 years to write, are rare and qualify as an Event. Bolcom took liberties with the order of the various songs, which have also inspired countless other artists (see albums by Greg Brown & David Axelrod, and many many individual song settings: search our library for ‘Tyger? to see one of the more inspirational of Blake’s poems).

The music is amazing. A wide variety of moods is established, most commonly a cowboy/life-on-the-plains sensibility (that’s where the banjo & harmonicas come in). Most of the singers are understandable; don’t be afraid of the tenor or soprano who unleash the unintelligible opera voice. Sometimes there’s clever melding of music to text, like the flittering fluttering of The Blossom. Most of the time, it’s simply powerful music: lyrical song passages, frantic choral passages, and sweetly dissonant orchestral passages.

Nearly all of the tracks clock in under (and even well under) 5 minutes. DJs, this is magnificent modernish classical music that fits easily into your break clock, and there’s plenty of room for creative programming. I listed a few individual highlights below, but if you don’t have time for lots of Bolcom, try playing corresponding Innocence/Experience songs (e.g. The Lamb/The Tyger, or Little Boy Lost/Little Girl Lost), try playing other pieces inspired by the same Blake poem (e.g. Bolcom’s Tyger, Tangerine Dream’s Tyger, Henry Cowell’s Tiger – search our library), or try playing 2 or 3 in a row, the music as a whole has an excellent flow. You especially can’t go wrong at the work’s climax in Part VI (Disc 3 from track 10 on), a blood-pumping finale to a landmark American work.

A few highlights to help you get started:

The Shepherd (CD 1 Tr 4): Country fiddle tune
The Little Black Boy (CD 1 Tr 6): Underpinned by a motowny electric bass and punctuated with harmonica
Holy Thursday (CD 1 Tr 11): Triumphant fanfare with the chorus
The Chimney Sweeper (CD 1 Tr 14): Cocky narration
The Divine Image (CD 1 Tr 15): Gorgeous lullabye for soprano.
Nurse’s Song (CD 2 Tr 5): Simple minstrel ballad for soprano and guitar
The Tyger (CD 2 Tr 7): For frantic narrative mixed chorus and rumbling drums
The Little Vagabond (CD 2 Tr 12): Catchiest melody of the whole set, more electric bass lines and harmonica interjections while the mezzo (Joan Morris, Bolcom’s wife) sings a carefree lilting tune.
Vocalise (CD 3 Tr 10): a capella wordless chorus, short melodic fragments interrupted with great sighs
London (CD 3 Tr 11): Terrifying vision of London, delivered ?-la-Lloyd-Weber, except better.
A Divine Image (CD 3 Tr 16): Constantly rising fragments to a calypso beat, crashing drums, triumphant finishing fanfare.

From CD 3 Tr 10 to the end is a phenomenal 30 minute block.

-Cujo, KFJC, August 2006

Willem Breuker Kollektief with Vera Miles and the Mondriaan Strings “Gershwin/Breuker/Morricone/Schlippenbach” [BVHaast]

cujo   8/30/2006   CD, Jazz

The Kollektief continues to play jazz like it’s going out of style. On this release they continue their Gershwin tribute with the Mondriaan Strings (see other Breuker CDs), offering An American In Paris, Promenade (The Real McCoy), Lullabye, and the Cuban Overture. These pieces succeed (or don’t succeed) on the same level as their previous Gershwin disk: great energy, an old school jazz ensemble, and captivating changes of mood, but underwhelming tutti passages.

There are 4 non-Gershwin numbers on the disc too. As much as I hate to pass over George, they are more interesting. Leading off is Breuker’s Sahara Sack, an elephant-borne trek through a humid northern Thai jungle. Sweat drips over distinctly southeast Asian swinging riffs, all the while Andy Altenfelder plays a delicious pachydermic trumpet . I expect Indiana Jones to come crashing through the undergrowth.

Then there’s Ennio Morricone’s Revolver (we’ve got the original in the library). What ought to be a jaunty ride peppered by fierce timpani, piano, and string attacks alternating with a smooth sax second theme instead turns out to be a frustratingly repetitive nightmare. Never having heard the original, I felt let down by the promise of the first 3 minutes. While definitely still Cool, this track maybe needs more electric/electronic sounds (there’s just a hint here and there) or a video projection of Steve McQueen, gun in hand, chasing bad guys on the 110th floor of a skyscraper that’s under construction.

Breuker’s Hallo Tokyo, Hallo Van Agt is bizarre and the least Kollektief-esque I’ve ever heard. While the ensemble weaves its way through some pentatonic world, a battery of Asian gongs are randomly struck while several people interject with wordless guttural Japanese-y interjections. An aimless shenanigan about an eccentric Dutch prime minister turned ambassador to Japan.

Von Schlippenbach’s Minor Double Blues is the most successful track on the album. On top of the infectious melody and the drummer riding the cymbal, this track has what is sorely lacking on the rest of the album: solos. When the saxophone first starts to wail, I can’t describe what a relief it was to hear after listening to the album from the beginning. But the bass solo that follows is greater; maybe the best bass solo I’ve ever heard (disclaimer: I have not heard a lot).

-Cujo, KFJC, August 2006

Note to future biographers: In case you think I slight Gershwin in this review, I note that the Cuban Overture is my favorite Gershwin, it brought me much pleasure to hear it (and the others), and that the bridge out of the slow middle movement is one of my all-time favorite moments in music.

Jenny Lin “The Eleventh Finger” [Koch]

cujo   7/18/2006   A Library, CD

It’s clear that Jenny Lin has been eating her Wheaties. Her latest recorded effort features piano works no older than 1977 and some which should require no fewer than eleven fingers and technique to spare.

Nosturnos by Arthur Kampela: A wildly seesawing ride and a barnstorming first track. See how your brain juggles the opening tarentella’s speed and metric modulation.

Etudes 16, 17, and 18 by Gyorgy Ligeti: The late Ligeti’s last three etudes are given peaceful and sufficiently mechanical readings (for him, the piano was a machine, not some Romantic expression of the voice). These are remarkable pieces written by a man who couldn’t really play the piano. Lin’s performance on #17, ‘Out of Breath?, is the best of the three.

Studio di Disabitudine by Stefano Gervasoni: An ‘anti-etude? on an oh-so-slightly prepared piano (only at the very ends of the keyboard) designed to specifically confound Lin both musically and dextrously. All attempts at useful repetition on a small and large architectonic scale are avoided; we are meant to feel ‘uncomfortable?. I suppose it works; just don’t play this enough times to get used to it! P.S.: I just said ‘architectonic?.

Detail of Beethoven’s Hair by Randy Nordschow: Much like Cage’s star chart chance works, Nordschow uses pixellated hairy excerpts of Beethoven portraits as the basis for this composition. By the way, SJSU has an important Beethoven collection and research center whose centerpiece is the lock of hair in question.

Chromatic Canon by James Tenney: A 2nd generation minimalist masterpiece, a dodecaphonic palindrome played by two pianos (Lin playing over a tape of Lin). She succeeds in milking the dissonances for maximum unsettling effect and for playing against the tape playback for an eerie slurred sound. Tenney’s music isn’t found in our library yet, but you can find his writings in the liner notes for Wergo’s Nancarrow set. P.S.: Ligeti at one point named Tenney America’s greatest living composer.

Suberrebus for Piano & Computer Processing by Elliot Sharp: Leave it to the downtown composer to breath of tonal air into the disk; this piece opens with a 2-minute double-octave fanfare on the same tone, after which Sharp begins to tweak Lin’s musical building blocks, adding some echoes, some destructive interruptions, and some steely slides. No two performances should sound alike, yet Sharp calls this instance a ‘studio ideal.’

Shiraz by Claude Vivier: An amazing journey, possibly inspired by a trip to Iran. The work’s seed is a fancy 4-note chord that grows according to the Fibonacci series, but none of this is apparent. The programme is more important and Lin presents us with a tumultuous portrait of this city of poetry, wine, and roses. P.S. Ligeti at one point named Vivier Canada’s greatest living composer. This was before Vivier was murdered in Paris at the age of 35.

3 Word Review: The Taiwanese Nightingale

-Cujo, KFJC, July 2006

Ekkehard Ehlers “Politik braucht keinen Feind” [staubgold]

cujo   7/12/2006   A Library

?Politics needs no enemies.’ This latest from Ehlers has a vaguely programmatic album title and vaguely political packaging, yet has no discernable political statements once you start listening. It treads the line between sonic experimentation and artful electroacoustic composition.

The first track, M’ander, features Burkhard Kunkel’s bass clarinet. Ehlers stacks Kunkel’s notes into slowly shifting combinations, adding a quiet factory-floor industrial wash of electronics throughout.

The second track, Blind, features Anka Hirsch five times to round out a cello quintet. The five voices are not as homogenous as in the first track, the movements differ from each other, and they compete for your attention with the electronics. While more busy, this piece is not as enjoyable as the first.

The last track, Woolf Phrase, is the pleasant surprise. It’s 21-minute near-drone of some repetetive string motifs and plucking. It’s processed to sound chimed and metallic and to give it slow throbs and drones. Gorgeous cicada-ian rhythms.

-Cujo, KFJC, July 2006

Neil Rolnick “Digits” [innova]

cujo   7/12/2006   A Library, CD

This is sampler virtuoso Rolnick’s 2nd outing on Innova.

1. Digits (11:08): Kathleen Supov? plays the piano while Rolnick plays the computer, whose only sound source is the piano, selectively looped and echoed. The piece is fast-slow-fast, rhythmic & full of repetition. The overall intent (of the sampling) is to create an impression of impossible piano virtuosity of the not-enough-fingers variety. It only mildly works on disk; this would be far more interesting live.

2 – 7. Making Light Of It: A song setting of 6 Philip Levine poems, performed by Peter Eldridge. What makes it interesting is Rolnick’s accompaniment, which may as well have been lifted from Belladonna’s record bin: musical laptop meandering that sometimes nears glitch or dance and often embraces synthy harmonies.

8. A Robert Johnson Sampler (10:00): A revisitation of one of Rolnick’s earlier works, in which the Faustian guitarist’s sounds are sampled, layered, deconstructed, processed, and reassembled in front of your very ears. Delta dental work.

9. Plays Well With Others (13:25): Ha! The Paul Dresher Ensemble performs this political satire which pokes fun at Bush & company by comparing them to rich playground bullies. Clever (if not obvious) allusions to Georgie and Dickie’s education, gay marriage, and terrorism policies are supported by a hodgepodge electroacoustic ensemble (that might be related to the California EAR?) highlighted by the appropriately childlike clarinet and marimba and instrumental ‘nanananabooboos?.

-Cujo, KFJC, July 2006

Aldo Clementi “Punctum Contra Punctum” [Die Schachtel]

cujo   5/16/2006   A Library, CD

Move over, Muzio. There’s a new Clementi in town. An 80th birthday present to Aldo from the G.A.M.O ensemble, recorded and packaged by Die Schachtel.

1. Concerto: A deconstructed and reassembled bit of Schumann, rendered totally unrecognizable as an ‘infinite mosaic? of fragments. Calling this a piano concerto is misleading – is there interplay between soloist and ensemble? If they’re not playing the Schumann bits, what strangely insistent accompaniment are they playing?

2. GiAn(ca)rlo CArDini: An uber-canon, too much information to process really, based on the pianist Cardini’s musical signature (GACAD. Think BACH, ABEGG, DSCH for other famous examples), performed on a prepared piano. At times (when the voices in the canon allow), the signature reminds Cardini of ‘I Got Rhythm?, and when it does he starts singing along with the music!

3. Fantasia su roBErto FABbriCiAni: My pick. For flute and electronics, with lots of live sampling. The soloist gradually melts into a whitewashed wall of satured flute sounds.

4. Parafrasi. You know at the very end of Holst’s Planets, when the hidden female choir sings wordlessly into the sunset? This sounds like a few seconds of that mood stretched to 20 minutes; it teeters between ethereal and maddening (I change my mind at least 4 times each listening). Constructed with a computer; it would be hard to convince a choir to sing this.

-Cujo, KFJC, May 2006

Mark Applebaum “The Bible Without God” [Innova]

cujo   5/16/2006   A Library

Applebaum is a youngish Stanford electroacoustic composer. This disc features his electriconically wired junkyard percussion instrument called the ‘Mousetrap?. Most of the performances here are improvised electro-acoustic performances on the Mousetrap and other instruments of the same family (midi-mouse, mini-mouse, micro mice…). The exceptions are the even-numbered tracks on The Bible Without God. These feature the students from his John Cage seminar performing conceptual compositions worthy of the highest Cage or Fluxus achievements. Definitely read the liner notes and back-announce for these efforts: how could you resist sharing the sheer random joy of Keys, Strings, and Pencils?

What is truly incredible about this release is that it has none of the stuffiness of your typical Variations-type Cage recordings. This is much more modern and hip: Cage played aleatory music but Applebaum and friends are playing chance music. See now, ‘chance? is a lot easier to understand, isn’t it? There are a lot more appearances of rhythms and beats and familiar electronic sounds (periodic laser gun bursts) than you’ll ever find in Cage – that’s what you get when you’re two generations removed from the master! A very warm recording with ample liner notes printed pretty in pink.

A superlative starting point for those afraid of electroacoustic chance musics, or those who once gave Cage a chance but subsequently swore off the genre.

haiku review:
The play is the thing
Joyful junior junkyard chance
Pink is the new Cage

-Cujo, KFJC, May 2006

Sun Ra “Janus” [1201 Music]

cujo   5/16/2006   A Library

Janus: Saturn’s real 10th moon was discovered in 1966, the first new moon of Saturn since 1898. A year or two later, the Ra is equipped with a Mini-Moog and recordings of the following tracks. Mere coincidence?

Island in the Sun (5:23): A relaxed Carribbean island groove; features soothing pas-de-deux between flute and clarinet. A spaced-out Folkways recording?

(total 12:52): The Invisible Shield (5:43): A wild alto solo turns on the shield. Mini-Moogs and a bassoon-french horn hybrid instrument bounce off the energized shield. This leads directly to Janus (6:59) An exploratory landscape of distorted bells, chimes, bowed bass with some Saturno-African vocals weaving in and out.

Velvet (7:22): Live recording of Spaceways-era bop.

Joy (9:15): Most excellent improvized jam, also Spaceways-era. Righteous alto sax solo (totally solo) yields to nervous ensemble jittering (check out the uneven wooden tapping noises). The contemplation is then limited to squeaky and inquisitive horns and drum set, with an unfortunate edit cutting off of the drum solo; probably best to fade down starting around 8:30. Space joy.

-Cujo, KFJC, May 2006

Roland Kayn “Cybernetic Music” [Reiger-Records-Reeks]

cujo   5/16/2006   A Library, CD

Roland Kayn (b. 1933) is a super theoretical electronic Dutch/German composer, one who draws more inspiration from linguists and information theorists than from other music or musicians. He was a Prix de Rome winner! When reading up on this guy and his cybernetic creations, I was reminded of Bischoff. He’s been releasing his complete works Stockhausen-style, that is, on his own label as 2-CD releases in limited quantity for many euros.

There are four long tracks here which would serve just as well for your grueling gravedigging time-filler as it would on the soundtrack of the latest IMAX film exploring the ocean canyons. The selections are totally wholesome and flowing. Kayn’s algorithms and autonomously-created sounds have a thoroughly analog depth to them, a refreshing full-spectrum sound and texture that can only be created electronically.

On Ready-Made I, I imagined myself hurtling at the speed of light along desert landscapes where the surroundings start to bleed in that clich’d time-travel special effect, even though the music itself isn’t fast. Ready-Made II transforms organ sounds into an insectoid maelstrom. Metrical phase play works in way into the last half, this track could easily be followed by Reich’s 4 Organs. Collage makes similar but more relaxed treatment of what sounds like a calliope. Decollage is a silent take-off over a vast port peppered with tugboats and foghorns. Halfway through things change for the noisier and this track too begins to focus a little more on rhythms & phases.

-Cujo, KFJC, May 2006

Noel Akchote (musical director), Stefan Winter (producer), & friends “Der Kastanienball (The Chestnut Ball): The Fall of Lucrezia Borgia” [Winter & Winter]

cujo   5/2/2006   A Library, CD

A ‘cabaret-opera? is what they’re calling this, and it’s a fair description. In episodic fashion, an array of players tell the story of Lucrezia Borgia, illegitimate daughter of the family whose ruthless politics in 16th century northern Italy came to define ‘Machiavellian? (her dad was ‘elected? Pope, she had 5 husbands, supposedly killed 3 of them… the list goes on). It’s in VII parts but with many more tracks. Part III, The Rape of the Virgin, is clearly the dramatic centerpiece of the work.

This particular setting of her story (and there are many, including: a Donizetti opera, which is quoted, and the 1949 Paulette Goddard vehicle Bride of Vengeance) makes her more of a victim than a player; witness her frail delivery of Over The Rainbow after being raped. Inbetween scenes, Machiavelli himself comes out and narrates in German, always over the same or similar (and some of the only original) music, a little guitar or accordion lament. ‘I’m not so sure that these tracks by themselves will be very interesting. The scenes themselves are just appropriated opera tunes (from Gesualdo, Donizetti, Offenbach, Wagner) or songs (Arlen, Spoliansky, Bach, Machaut, Stevie Wonder, Schiffer, Hatch, Schumann, Geldof, Freddie Mercury) in arrangements mostly by the pianist Fumio Yasuda, sung by the various characters: Lucrezia, her father the pope, her totally evil brother Cesare, the papal whore Giulia, and welcome appearances by Sadiq Bey and Theo Bleckmann lecturing us as Savonarola and Martin Luther. A few instrumentals are mixed in. Every once in a while Jim Thirlwell’s theremin and Steve Beresford’s electronics add a warm series of layers to the melee. A few selections track together, which is dramatically important, but makes it unfortunate if, for example, you want to listen to Noel Akchote’s opening guitar lullabye without then hearing Machiavelli bemoan in German for several minutes.

Despite the vicious subject matter, this release feels candy-coated, like a Cirque Du Soleil soundtrack (is this a W&W trademark? Those Uri Caine releases are also sickly sweet).

-Cujo, KFJC, May 2006

Harry Partch “Historic Speech-Music Recordings from the Harry Partch Archives” [Innova]

cujo   4/16/2006   A Library, CD

This should Partch some holes in our library: these 4 discs from Innova provide more Harry than you could shake a zymo-xyl at. ‘I’m thinking particularly of the Li Po settings and the magnificent Barstow, a song setting of hitchhiker’s inscriptions on a highway underpass. But there’s also much, much more.

Interspersed throughout are short recordings of Harry telling short stories or introducing the next track, and a few more of his song settings (Jabberwocky, Yankee Doodle, Finnegan’s Wake, Bless This Home).

At times he gets quite vehement in his passion for just intonation and his distaste for the western European musical tradition. A Quarter-Saw Section… on Disc B is an hour-long technical lecture with examples into his 11-limit (or more (or less)) just intonation technique, where he urges us to abolish our ‘precious misconceptions? about music. Indeed, his intonations and scales create consonances you’re probably not used to. The added benefit of this is that it also creates dissonances you’re probably not used to.

Disc C contains portions of Bitter Music, Partch’s diary from his hobo/transient days, read by Partch and occassionally breaking into short piano song fragments. For all its seriousness and reflection on depression-era American life, I can’t help visualizing it as Mr. Rogers reads On The Road. It climaxes in the 8-minute ‘December 1935’.

Capping off the extreme archival-ness of this release is a 50-minute track on Disc D called Harry’s Wake featuring candid (and poor quality) recordings of Harry tinkering at the piano (hammering out Chopin and Brahms from memory – I get the strong feeling he would have been an excellent ‘conventional’ musician; check out the cookie cutter ballad ‘While my Heart Keeps Beating Time’ on Disc 1) and friends (including Lou Harrison) reminiscing at his memorial service.

-Cujo, KFJC, April 2006

Olivier Messiaen “Messiaen par lui-meme” [EMI]

cujo   4/16/2006   A Library, CD

Time to go mono-a-mono with one of the more impressive historical artifact recordings out there.

It’s so incredible that, with all the various technologies and methods made newly available to composers in the 20th century and with the wealth of music available to listeners via recordings & kick-ass radio stations, we should be able to immediately identify a few seconds? worth of music as a particular composer’s. Such is the case within the first few chords of the first track of these 4 CDs of Messiaen’s music.

Despite his difficult music (the orchestral stuff tries even my patience at times), Messiaen is a pivotal figure in 20th century music: birdman, composer, husband, teacher, P.O.W., and devout Catholic. Above all, professionally, he was an organist. In the 1910s he studied with the two organ giants Widor and Dupr?, and he was the organist for the Trinity Church in Paris for over 60 years. That’s 60 years of Sundays spent playing Catholic masses, improvisations, and his own compositions (in that order). These 1956 recordings of Messiaen playing his own works on his own organ are revelationary.

Forget everything you knew/know about God, devotion, and spirituality. Messiaen knows more. The scriptures flow right off the page, through his optic nerve, are routed through the brain down to the fingers, onto the keyboard, and blown through the 110-year-old pipes. The sounds are mysterious, exotic, and hypnotic; they envelop you in modes of unlimited expedition, elevate you to nirvana, negate meter, and transcend dissonance. He has perfect sense of timing and unrhythm, imbuing his music with a slow throb, a deep Manaunaun-ish pulse.

The recording quality, the organ quality, and even the organist quality may not the best (those seeking hi-fi pyrotechnics should check out Latry’s Messiaen set), but how could you in good conscience pass up the real deal offered here?

Two great starting points:
CD 1 Track 1: (7:22)
CD 3 Track 4: (17:16)

3-word review: Holier Than Thou

-Cujo, KFJC, April 2006

Henri Pousseur “Acousmatrix 4 – Henri Pousseur” [bvhaast]

cujo   4/16/2006   A Library, CD

A release full of purely electronic music and manipulations from one of the founding fathers of electronic and serial music, Henri Pousseur. These were made before analog synthesizers were around, and long before there were fancy computers that made this easy. I would have no idea how to start making this kind of music.

The first track, Scambi, evokes a leaky locker room shower, with drops of water that plitsch onto the floor and the echo bounces of the walls in fluttery electronic pulses.

The next three tracks comprise Three Views of Li’ge. While all the music on this release is evocative, these tracks are the ones that seem inspired. Who knows, maybe my ears aren’t good enough to register the inspired micro-managed serial sounds on the other tracks. The inspiration is made all the more palpable by the inclusion (and subsequent destruction) of human voices on Voix de la Ville and Forges.

Paraboles-mix is a lengthy collage of some Paraboles, a series of 30-minute serial studies he drew up at Berio’s request. It starts out with a proto-disco passage of bleeps and bloops and graudally melts from one scene to another. My favorite portion is around 30:00, which approximates tides washing up on a rocky beach. More distinctively electronic bloops, squiggles, and swells close out the mix.

-Cujo, KFJC, April 2006

The Choir Boys With Strings “The Choir Boys With Strings” [pfMentum]

cujo   4/5/2006   A Library, CD

Two guests tag along for the followup to Jeff Kaiser and Andrew Pask’s original Choir Boys release (which we have in the library), but this is most unlike our more recent Kaiser adds, the triskaidekaphobic and alchemical releases. Your line up is Kaiser on trumpets and Pask on reeds (the original Choir Boys) and G. E. Stinson and Steuart Liebig on guitars (the With Strings). They all fiddle with various electronic manipulations, probably enhancing their own instruments. Nobody sings.

This album blends improvisation with hazy noise. Liebig’s contrabass guitar is a buried backbone for this effort; most of the noisish highlights are provided by Stinson’s doodling on his mostly unrecognizable guitar (like an electronically prepared guitar). His effects have as much of a voice as the various reeds or trumpet. It resists being murky filler, even as it approaches some baud-ass swirling on track 5. Kaiser’s trumpet is mostly ornamental, even when (especially when?) filtered to sound almost untrumpetlike. There are a few moments where he shines, particularly a late-night jazz club lament on track 4. Like the original Choir Boys album, a lot of vivid imagery is brought to mind upon listening, notably animals on track 2 (a donkey clarinet, guitars that morph from mosquitos to elephants).

-Cujo, KFJC, March 2006

Justine “Langages Fantastiques” [Ambiances Magn’tiques]

cujo   4/5/2006   A Library, CD

This 1994 album opens with a wailing klezmer-tinged sax solo that leads into a stumbling snowball ostinato jam. It revisits the sax solo, returns to the stumbling jam, then decides to calm down for a bit while singers sling syllables around. Then a kitten starts tap dancing on the keyboard; this turns out to be the bridge which leads back to a modified version of the jam. The track ends with the lead singer pronouncing ‘I am only an ant but also a grasshopper!?.

Expect of a lot more of this ADD-riddled frog-rock from this female quartet, a French-Canadian offshoot of Wondeurbrass. Sax, keyboard, drums, and bass. They don’t hold a single musical thread idea for more than a minute; no better example is found than the seesawing between the circus tune and the woman screeching her love for beans on Vidanges Domestiques. Most tracks feature nonsensical French lyrics; most of the rest feature gibberish syllables that approach scat. Some come off as Beat performance pieces, like Vie de Famille, where one of the girls sing-recites banal text while keyboards, sax, drums, and wailings respond with random plunking. They don’t sing great, but do they really need to? One gripe: the keyboard sounds terrible when in ‘piano? mode.

It only calms down for the final track, an accordion-backed love song for Marguerite.

-Cujo, KFJC, March 2006

Koji Asano “Suites for Violin and Viola” [Solstice]

cujo   4/5/2006   A Library, CD

The history of pieces for violin and viola goes back a long way – names like Mozart, Michael Haydn, Beethoven, Gli’re, Delius, Milhaud, and Holmboe have contributed to the repertoire, as have more recent (and more KFJC-friendly) big names like Martinu, Maderna (who we’ve recently added as composer and conductor), and Bolcom. Prolific guitarist/musician/composer Koji Asano weighs in with 7 new suites played by Kumi Nakajima (violin) and Masashi Sasaki (viola).

I don’t believe there are any masterpieces here; nevertheless, it’s good listening. It’s very meditative, but more in an academic than an Arvo P’rt kind of way. The performances benefit a great deal by being recorded in a great empty hall – an excellent and intimate way to listen to music.

There are no pyrotechnics or recognizable forms, though there are strong hints of a fugue in #2, and of a gigue (that’s fancy suite-talk for jig) on #3 and #7.

-Cujo, KFJC, March 2006

Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath “Bremen to Bridgwater” [Cuneiform Records]

cujo   3/29/2006   CD, Jazz

This is now officially the happiest album I’ve reviewed, and it’s going to be tough to knock this one off its position. There are 3 live concerts here on 2 CDs: 1 in Bremen, Germany in 1971 and 2 in Bridgwater, England in 1975. Praise be to Cuneiform for releasing these concerts. The Brotherhood was a wind-heavy big band ensemble, we’re talking old-school, Duke Ellington big, and many a British jazz career got a big lift in their lineup (like Evan Parker, who plays on concert C).

There’s an incredible exuberant vibe on these tracks, a Charlie Brown kind of innocence to it all. The music isn’t quite so simple though: all those horns get deliciously wild and crazy, and they get pushed to the brink of total chaos time and again by Louis Moholo’s drums. Right when you think they’ve played themselves to the edge and are about to take the plunge off the cliffs of insanity, they get reeled back in to the hooks to extremely satisfying effect, whether they be pounding marching band / Mardi Gras tunes (my favorite picks) or more Glenn Miller-y swinging serenades. In typical big band pianist fashion, Chris McGregor himself stays in the background, though this may be a function of the (instantly forgivable) so-so recording (the bass is also buried). Excellent liner notes. Simply tremendous; I can’t get enough.

Super Standouts: CD1 tracks 1,2 CD2 tracks 1,6

-Cujo, KFJC, February 2006

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