Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Lydian String Quartet
"Ives: The String Quartets" (CD)

Charles Ives could probably be regarded as the first unique and original American composer.
Copland canonized the language and "sound" of American symphonic music, but Ives, (who preceded Copland by roughly a generation) was the first American composer who, taking the Western European traditions of "classical" music began the process of devolving idioms and tradition, plunging head-long into the fray by stacking poly-phonic and rhythmic ideas on top of each other.

Ives' approach is still decidedly forward-thinking.  He seems unconcerned with whether or not the ear can distinguish from one motive to the next. Like a Robert Altman film, each voice is given equal prominence and attention, letting the listener decide which journey they will begin.

Study of Ives' first string quartet is necessary for its performance in a couple weeks by my ensemble.  I hope the time I have is enough to adequately absorb everything Ives wrote into this work.
At the Drive In
"Vaya" (Vinyl)

One of 3,000 10" 33 rpm pressed on hot pink vinyl (ooooh) I just found this record yesterday at my local vinyl shop.  It was picked up because of a friend's recommendation of this EP in particular after learning of my penchant for the Mars Volta.

Released in 1999, this EP featured Omar Rodriguez and Cedric Bixler on guitar and vocals (respectively) prior to the formation of the Mars Volta.

Harder-edged and more straight forward in song construction, Bixler spends a lot of time screaming ala Zach de la Roche.  You can see the seeds of the progressive metal band that the Mars Volta would become.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Post no. 300!

Harry Belafonte
"The Midnight Special" (Vinyl)

Released in 1962, its yet another beautiful collection of spirituals, folk and caribbean tunes done in Belafonte's inimitable style.

It's fun to think that this record was done without the aid of computer editing and countless re-takes.  Belafonte's ability to hold a single note without wavering, going false or losing control should be studied by pop princesses everywhere.

This recording is noted for being the very first record that (a young) Bob Dylan played on, recording the harmonica track on "Midnight Special."
Perahia, Amadeus Quartet
"Brahms: Piano Quartet no. 1 in G minor, op. 25" (Vinyl)

Released in 1990, this quartet features three members of the Amadeus Quartet joining Murray Perahia in a sizzling recording of Brahms' first piano quartet.

The members of the Amadeus Quartet had performed together from 1947 to 1987; not a bad run for getting along with the same chaps for that entire time.

The last movement of this recording is enough to set your hair on fire. If you have any.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

B.B. King
"Live at the Regal" (Vinyl)

A live performance in Chicago, captured on November 21, 1964 was released on record in 1965 and quickly became regarded as one of the greatest blues records ever made.  Making Rolling Stone magazine's "Greatest Albums of All Time" list should give a general sense of its import.  If that doesn't, then maybe being mentioned by Clapton and Mark Knopfler as a template for their own live performances might help.

This is (as the image says) a classic revisited.  In short: a re-issue of the 1965 album.  Gone is the colorful art work, which is too bad, but it does mean that other fingers undoubtedly passed this record over at the shop because it looks like some retrospective compendium of B.B. King's music rather than a note-for-note copy of the King of Blues doing his thing.
Primrose, Munch, Boston Symphony
"Berlioz: Harold in Italy" (Vinyl)

Q: What's the world's longest viola joke?

A: "Harold in Italy."

It's not really a great joke, but it's not really a great piece of music.
Berlioz wrote it for Paganini to perform in concert as a way of showing off Paganini's (apparently) endless capacity for playing anything with strings on it.
The result has been met with mixed results since it's premiere.  Paganini initially decided the piece to be too...stupid.  He later changed his mind, and like most pieces in the violists' canon, even mediocre works are held to esteem simply because repertoire choices are too remote in the 19th century.

Primrose, the great champion in raising the viola to a position of prominence in the 20th century (both Walton and Bartok wrote their concertos for him) plays the role of Harold on this recording.  That's primarily why I got it; I personally often find Primrose's playing to be dated, but as the fountainhead his work should command study.

This is a re-issue of an earlier RCA "Living Stereo" which I would love to find some day.  This is one of RCA's hefty "Gold Seal" releases, but I'm learning nothing compares with the quality and care taken for those early vinyl releases.
Three Dog Night
"Suitable for Framing" (Vinyl)

Three Dog Night's second album was released on ABC/Dunhill in 1969.  The group's trademark vocal harmonies by its three lead vocalists (the gents you see pictured on the cover) were already in full bloom.

It's radio-friendly persona is still popular on classic radio stations today, just as it was during the summer of 1970.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Eric Clapton
"E.C. Was Here" (Vinyl)

I'm back, baby!
A week feels like a long time when you look at the output on a blog like this...

Eric Clapton's 1975 album was recorded live in California during his first tour since touring with Derek & the Dominos in 1970.
It's a pitch-perfect blend (for me) of slow-moving, lava blues and hard-edged rock (ala Cream) that shows a youthful enough Clapton that we haven't resorted to the "You Look Beautiful Tonight" phase yet.  Fun.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
"South of the Border" (Vinyl)

HATB (the worst acronym I've ever unceremoniously ever come up with,) released this album in 1964. It was their third album and continued the group's evolution from Mexican to easy listening brass ensemble (forever making their later fans try and trace the etymology of "Tijuana".)

This album features many covers of popular easy listening tunes (know your audience, kids!) including the title track and "Hello, Dolly," "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and "The Girl from Ipanema."

A postcard from another era, I enjoy Tijuana Brass records because it's fun to think of a time when this was the popular music.

Lou Reed
"Rock n' Roll Animal" (Vinyl)

It would seem I've stumbled through the glam rock aisle in my collection.  With Bowie's "Station to Station" reviewed a couple days ago, I'm hitting another vein of interest.  Now all I need is some T. Rex...

This live album was recorded and released in 1973 during Lou Reed's glam rock incarnation; quite the contrast to his time with Warhol's Velvet Underground.

It's well mixed for a live album.  Vocals and (especially) guitars are brought prominently to the front to enjoy the energy between Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter.
Yo-Yo Ma, Zinman
"Barber, Britten Cello Concertos" (CD)

It's been an autumn full of Samuel Barber.  I don't think I've actually had such a high concentration of the American's works as right now. It started last week with his 'School for Scandal' overture, the Piano Concerto and then his 'Adagio for Strings' and now, next week, I'll be playing his cello concerto.

I couldn't recall if I'd ever really sat down and listened to the piece, so I made the deliberate effort yesterday and I think I'll find it to be a more fun, accessible work than the piano concerto.
Yo-Yo's recordings are always benchmarks for the repertoire (for better or worse) and this recording with David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony is no exception.

What I want to know is: does Yo-Yo slave over this music when he's learning it, or does he just pick it up and play it with the same effortlessness that he displays in performance?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

David Bowie
"Station to Station" (Vinyl)

Bowie's tenth studio album was released in1976 and heralded yet another new persona to be added to Bowie's quiver with the introduction of The Thin White Duke.

The nebulous, ever-changing, chameleonic nature of Bowie's music-making over the past forty years is just the sort of thing that rock music theorists and historians build careers trying to explain/describe to the rest of us, but the truth is Bowie's records deserve to be listened to and enjoyed for what they are.

The glam rock scene that birthed Ziggy Stardust was as much reaction to the day's climate as it was a psychological necessity.  The many faces of Bowie that followed are one person's attempt to wrestle with the ever changing meanings of what fame and attention brought him.  Much of it is off-the-wall, but Bowie was (and is) one of recent memory's most influential performance artists whose medium extends beyond the sounds coming off of their records.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

John Mayall
"Blues from Laurel Canyon" (Vinyl)

This album is an example of blue-eyed blues if there ever was one.
Every song on here is more idiomatic of the genre than the last one.
If you didn't have Mayall's picture on the sleeve you wouldn't know this wasn't some blues singer from the Mississippi delta recorded in the back of a juke joint.

It's not the tighest, most concise blues record I've heard (or own) but I think that's missing the point; it's intended to put on and let spin while you're tripping acid in your friend's basement.   Tunes blend together without any pause which marks the first time I've heard that done on a record.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Pablo Casals
"The Young Casals: Cello Recital" (Vinyl)

Pablo Casals may be the first musician of our "modern" age who received such widespread adoration and attention - before he was dead.

Musicians worshipped Casals for his music-making in the early 20th century.  To complement, he had a tale of adversity to accompany, one fraught with political unrest and restricted travel.

This led to a multitude of famous musicians forming the Casals Music Festival in Puerto Rico, Casals' home from 1956 onward.  (Prior to this he fled his homeland of Spain for Prades, France where he started the Prades Music Festival.)

Debate could continue for an eternity about the validity of Casals' cello playing when compared to today's musicians, but you can not deny the superstar status he enjoyed during his lifetime.

This recording, released in 1971 (released after his 96th birthday) is a compilation of recordings made when he was young.  Sadly, this also means the recordings are quite old and poor.

Most of this music is unfamiliar to me and I wished entire works had been included on this album instead of movements excerpted from everyone from Bach to Tartini to Popper.
Frank Sinatra
"Cycles" (Vinyl)

Sinatra (or, rather, his collaborators) had a way of evolving with the times.  While we certainly know and remember the "Capitol-era" years with Nelson Riddle and Count Basie, Sinatra continued recording for decades after this.

Don Costa arranged and conducted Sinatra's backing ensemble on this record.  It's worth noting the flower-powered, folk rock influence in Costa's arrangements.

While this is necessary for the avid Sinatra fan, I think I'll prefer to remember/concentrate on the earlier Sinatra era that made him legendary.
"Amnesiac" (CD)

Anyone who knows me (fairly) well has probably heard my theory on Radiohead.  It goes something like this:

More often than not, when people quote their "favorite" Radiohead album to me it turns out that it was the first Radiohead album they really got to listen to completely.

"Amnesiac" is my first time.  It happened during a summer music festival in Texas.  Call it the result of basting in music nerd-dom for six weeks, but I was ready to receive the musical tapestry that is Radiohead.  Everything from the opening rhythm/noise of "Pakt Like Sardines..." to the 9-beat (or 18-beat) lop-sided patterns that seemed to herald Radiohead's summit atop Mt. Weird.

This band has continued its unique vein of musical evolution and I'm eternally happy for that, but this remains one of my favorite landmarks for the band.  For a long time this was my Favorite Radiohead Album, but since 'In Rainbows' was released I have slowly been shifting that mantle.
John Kirkpatrick
"Ives: 'Concord' Piano Sonata no. 2" (Vinyl)

The 'Concord' piano sonata was brought up in music history/literature classes in school as though it was worthy of a semester's study.  While I don't discount this, I think it would take a special brand of idiot to plumb that deeply into a work of this density.

Ives is regarded as one of America's first great original musical voices. He chose the language of the European classical musical tradition, but what he did with it people are still wrestling with today.

His famous works like "The Unanswered Question," while they have lots of wrong sounding notes, are easily understood for their thematic intention.  Works such as this, the "Concord" sonata, are much denser, meatier works that even the avid listener might never encounter.

Later this year I'll be performing my first Ives string quartet.  (No. 1.) I'm curious to learn the experience of playing his music in a quartet environment.

Note of interest: John Kirkpatrick made the first recording of this work in 1945.  This particular recording uses stereo re-production, but is a re-release of the original recording.  I must say it sounds quite good for being done at the dawn of the age of modern recording.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Slatkin, St. Louis Symphony
"Barber: The Music of" (CD)

Samuel Barber was regarded by the musical intelligentsia as the musical force he was in his day.   Sadly, as is usually the case, often times these realizations are slower to come to the general public and Barber's music has steadily grown in popularity since his death in 1981.

This album (which I believe is as much a promotion of the St. Louis Symphony) features many of Barber's most famous works for orchestra including his "Adagio for Strings."
Beyond that there are also some really beautiful works that are not nearly as well known.  Barber's overture to his opera "School for Scandal" is a virtuosic tour-de-force for any orchestra just as his Essays for orchestra reveal Barber's unparalleled ability to create a haunting, memorable melody.
DC Talk
"Supernatural" (CD)

This was one formative album during my high school years.  It makes it clearer how much I was off the beaten path of "popular music" during that point of my life.

I put DC Talk (along with Audio Adrenaline and "Step Up"-era Newsboys) as the handful of genuinely creative, forward-looking Christian bands in the 90's.  Perhaps we should call this the Golden Era.   For a brief while musical tastes, capability and opportunity all met at the same time and some genuinely creative, fresh sounding music was being created by Christian artists.

Chief among these was DC Talk.  While they started out as phresh rappin' trio they blew the roof off of another level of artistry with 1995's "Jesus Freak" which showed both Christian and secular audiences that they were plumbing into new types of sound.

"Supernatural" is more diverse and polished than the grungy "Freak" and I would say is more mature, both musically and by the subject matter.   The musical range and diversity of this trio is actually remarkable and extends far beyond what most bands attempt to do on any single album project.

The production and mixing of this album is a little weak which is really its only downfall.  Listening on the Big Boy stereo feels noisy and fatiguing, a blemish on an otherwise terrific stroll down memory lane.