Friday, 20 January 2017

Bill Evans Trio - Waltz For Debby (rec. 1961, rel. 1962)

I'm not necessarily going to make "jazz piano Friday" a regular feature of this blog - far too many sonic extremities still to come for that!  But for now, for the second Friday in a row, here's one of the greatest piano trios of all time in a career-best, that would come to a tragic end only days after recording.

Scott LaFaro's death in a car accident at just 25 robbed the jazz world of one of its most promising young bass players, and this album was the second live album to be drawn from these final recordings of the trio, after the more simply descriptive Sunday At The Village Vanguard (released five months previous).  Waltz For Debby has the slight edge for me - not least because of the title track, one of Evans' most beautiful original tunes ever, named for his niece.

Waltz For Debby

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Conrad Schnitzler - Congratulacion (1987)

Must confess I didn't give this one nearly as much attention as all the others that I picked up when getting into Schnitzler - big mistake.  The stark difference in the sound can be initially off-putting if you've just become accustomed to the barely-controlled EMS-Synthi blooping of earlier albums.  But far from being "Schnitzler sells out", Congratulacion should be considered "Schnitzler tries something new" - which he'd keep on doing, right up to his passing in 2011.

In August 1986, when these 16 little minatures (none longer than 3:12) were recorded, the Yamaha CX5M was still fairly new, and notoriously difficult to program (although most of its contemporaries were too, compared to today).  Schnitzler created some great little melodies with this fresh gear, in a mostly mellow mode, letting the clean tones bubble away in an almost baroque manner.  Only the lead-in tracks (on each side of the old vinyl) are more strident, pulsing along like 70s sci-fi series themes.  The overall effect is akin to a cleaner, early-digital-era version of Switched On Bach that swaps out the warmth of the Moog for the relatively clinical (but still charming) Yamaha.


Monday, 16 January 2017

Henryk Górecki ‎- The Essential Górecki (1993 compi of works 1958-69, rec. '67/'69)

Strictly speaking, we had the truly essential Górecki just under a year ago with the premiere recording of his his 3rd symphony, but this early stuff is a different beast entirely, and well worth hearing.  I have wondered since getting this disc if anyone in 1993 was fooled into thinking it would be another nice, melancholy companion to the Nonesuch/Dawn Upshaw Third, and getting a rude awakening with what lay beneath that deceptive album cover above...

This CD, then, is Essential - in giving a neat portrait of the angry young Górecki carving out his early style in the late 50s through to late 60s.  These first four pieces were released on LP in 1967, and include the huge blocks of oddly-scored sounds collapsing into each other of Zderzenia-Scontri (Collisions) (1960), setting the stage for the Polish school of sonorism over the next decade.  Genesis II (1962) is an even more explosive work that brings prime early Xenakis to mind, with its opening air-raid glissando collapsing into scratches and scrapes before the whole ensemble kick in.
Selected Compositions LP, Poland 1967 (tracks 1-4 on Essential CD)
Refren (1965) shows Górecki's style gradually maturing, and starting to point the way towards the 3rd symphony a decade later.  Lastly, to fill out this compilation we get 27 minutes of Muzyka Staropolska (Old Polish Music) (1969), in its premiere recording - fascinating stuff, with its recurring brass fanfare glueing it together and combining old folk melodies in a great modernist whole, not unlike Three Pieces In The Old Style.

Polskie Nagrania Muza

Friday, 13 January 2017

Keith Jarrett Trio - Changeless (rec. 1987, rel. 1989)

By the late 80s, Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette had carved out their niche as the great standards trio - but in concert they were also leaving room to stretch out and improvise, whenever a particular groove led them.  Four especially inspired examples of this were collected on this album, from recordings of a US tour in October 1987; the fifteen minute Endless is generally held to be the standout, as it gradually weaves its hypnotic spell, and I'm not going to disagree.  An essential document of pure inspiration.


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Iannis Xenakis - Pléiades / Psappha (1990 compi)

Time for some totally metal Xenakis (and wooden/drum skin sounds too), in his 1979 masterpiece for percussion ensemble.  Pléiades' four movements can be performed in any order - this 1990 recording by the Swedish Kroumata Ensemble sticks to the first permutation listed here.

Given some of the sonic extremeties that Xenakis reached, Pléiades is actually quite listenable, even with the bespoke metal bars of the sixxen (six players + Xenakis) going through their paces.  Starting out sounding like Steve Reich's early ensemble practicing in a junkyard, most of the work is highly rhythmic and even has a good melodic sensibility to it.  As a bonus on this benchmark BIS release, there's a 1981 recording of Danish percussionist Gert Mortensen performing Psappha, composed by Xenakis in 1975, and with a truly memorable ending.


Monday, 9 January 2017

Van Morrison - Saint Dominic's Preview (1972)

With my trans-Irish Sea parentage, Van Morrison was always going to be part of the musical staple diet growing up - and this album remains a favourite.  Recorded in late '71/early '72 at the height of Morrison's California period, Saint Dominic's Preview is perfectly balanced between short, zippy soul/blues classics (straight off the blocks with the breathless acapella euphoria of Jackie Wilson Said) and two 10 minute+ epics.

Of the latter, Almost Independence Day drifts in a stream of Krause-synth consciousness and two chord 12-string guitar, giving it a striking resemblance to Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here title track from three years later.  But the  definite highlight of this great record is Listen To The Lion - for me, it's simply one of the greatest, most unreserved and fearless vocal performances Morrison ever accomplished.  Gives me chills every time once he really lets rip in the middle section, before things calm down again.

And all my love comes tumbling down

Friday, 6 January 2017

Gérard Grisey - Les Espaces Acoustiques (composed 1974-85; this recording '96-'98)

Been focusing on the Romanian side of spectralism up until now, so here's a back-to-basics.  Grisey (1946-1998) was one of the French pioneers of the technique, and over a period of ten years he developed the six pieces in this suite to show just how mindblowing it could sound.

Starting off with 17 minutes of solo viola being scraped to within an inch of its life, Les Espaces Acoustiques then expands its instrumental palate piece by piece.  The third part, Partiels, is possibly the most famous, and perfectly demonstrates the spectral composition techique as the low note on the trombone is dissected by sonographic analysis, and its harmonic overtones given to the other instruments.  Transitoires, for the full orchestra, is worth waiting for, with some frequencies that could shake the floor of a concert hall (love to hear this live at some point).

Disc 1
Disc 2