Jazz Review Roundup

The Cookers: Time and Time Again (Motema)

There's a personnel change for this jazz supergroup's fourth album: Donald Harrison replaces Craig Handy in the alto sax chair. Nothing against Handy, whose work I have always enjoyed, but that's an upgrade. I look forward to Harrison -- an excellent composer -- having a hand in the writing for the next Cookers album (though, who knows, he may not -- for some reason, this group has never featured even one of trumpet fixture Eddie Henderson's tunes). For the first time, here there are no tunes from non-members; the emphasis on modal post-bop is stronger than ever.  Read more »

A Comparative Listening Survey of Dvořák's Ninth Symphony, Part I

Dvořák (1841-1904), from Bohemia (at the time, part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and later in Czechoslovakia) peppered his colorful, amiable music with folk rhythms. The Ninth, subtitled "From the New World" and inspired by and written during his time in the United States, is Dvořák’s most beloved symphony and contains both Bohemian and American influences. Prompted by the current exhibit of the work's original manuscript in New York City at the Bohemian National Hall, I have followed up my review of Jiří Bĕlohlávek's new Dvořák symphony cycle box set on Decca and his concert with the Czech Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall with a trawl through my collection of "New World" recordings, selectively augmented by streaming recordings available on Rdio.com.

There is much debate concerning the materials of the Ninth. The composer himself said that its middle movements were intended to depict scenes from Longfellow's narrative poem The Song of Hiawatha, of which Dvořák was a fan long before he came here to be director of the National Conservatory of Music in 1892-95. It was in New York City, though, that he was introduced to the sound of African-American music, particularly spirituals, which his assistant and protégé, Henry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949), sang for him (songs Burleigh had learned from his grandfather, an ex-slave). Dvořák also spent the summer of 1893 living in Iowa, where he got to hear Native American music. The overlap between these two styles is the pentatonic scale, which figures in the "New World," though he stressed that he had not quoted any of this material, just embodied its feeling. It has also been said, though not by him, that part of the work's inspiration was probably homesickness for Bohemia. There is no reason why it can't be both, just as the American-inspired aspects of the symphony sit alongside obviously Bohemian elements. Read more »

Quote of the Week: Mike Nichols

"There's nothing better than discovering, to your own astonishment, what you're meant to do. It's like falling in love."

Mike Nichols (6 November 1931 - 19 November 2014), German-born, award-winning American film and theater director, producer, actor, and comedian.

Song of the Week: First Aid Kit - "America"

One of my favorite Simon & Garfunkel songs -- "America" -- gets a loving homage by one of my favorite Americana acts, the Swedish duo First Aid Kit. This is the title track from their exclusive Record Store Day 10" vinyl EP. This also collects an unreleased tune called "Brother," and acoustic versions of Stay Gold album tracks "My Silver Lining" and "Stay Gold". America will be available on Black Friday, November 28th at participating indie record all over this country.

Czech Philharmonic and Jirí Bělohlávek Shine at Carnegie

Czech Philharmonic/Jirí Bělohlávek with Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Janáček: Taras Bulba
Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2
Dvořák:Symphony No. 9, "From the New World"
Carnegie Hall
Nov. 16, 2014

Since I previewed this Sunday afternoon concert, I'll skip repeating the background information -- except to note that I've since learned this was the group's first NYC appearance in ten years -- and get right to considering the performance itself. To give away the conclusion up front, in my notes, I used the words "perfect" and "wonderful" a lot. Read more »

Dvořák, the Velvet Revolution, and the Czech Philharmonic to be Celebrated

Czech conductor Jirí Bělohlávek recently won the Antonín Dvořák Prize for his promotion of Czech classical music in general and Dvořák's in particular. At Carnegie Hall on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 16, he will actually receive the award after a concert in which he will lead the Czech Philharmonic and in a program of Janáček's tone poem Taras Bulba, Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2 with soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Dvořák's Symphony No. 9, "From the New World." Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Charles Munch Records Symphonie fantastique on November 14-15, 1954

Charles Munch was born in Strasbourg in 1891, the son of organist/choral conductor Ernst Münch. It was a musical family; Charles's brothers Fritz and Hans also became conductors. Charles studied violin with Lucien Capet and Carl Flesch and conducting with Wilhelm Furtwängler and Alfred Sendrey. World War I interrupted his musical progress; a sergeant of artillery in the German army, he was gassed at Peronne and wounded at Verdun. After the war ended, he became a French citizen.

Munch first pursued violin professionally; he didn't begin his conducting career until 1932, at age 41. He founded the Orchestra de la Société Philharmonique in 1935 in Paris, was named conductor of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris in 1938, and stayed in France during the German occupation of World War II. His conduct during this difficult period included French Resistance activities; he was awarded the French Légoon d'Honneur in 1945. Read more »

Song of the Week: Captain Beefheart - "Little Scratch"

"He had a beautiful dish on each arm!" Yeah, Don Van Vliet, bellows like it is! The aggro-avant blues poetry of Captain Beefheart with his signature harmonica wails is an out take from the new Rhino Records box set Sun Zoom Spark: 1970-1972. It collects three of his Warner Brothers albums -- Lick My Decals Off, Baby, The Spotlight Kid, and Clear Spot plus a disc of previously unreleased tracks. Out on Tuesday, November 17th. Order it today!

Quote of the Week: Richard Wright

"We certainly have an unspoken understanding. But a lot of things unsaid as well."

From interview segment of Live at Pompeii and used on the new Pink Floyd album The Endless River

Richard Wright (28 July 1943 - 15 September 2008), English musician, composer, singer and songwriter, best known for his career with Pink Floyd.

Tricky Dicky Lives Again!

Harry Shearer was recently in town promoting his new brilliantly acted and expertly executed web series -- Nixon's The One! -- about Richard Milhous Nixon. Recently, I had the chance to listen to him wax poetic about Nixon, the production challenges of the show, share clips, and ponder why only Sky TV in UK funded the series. Why no one in the US would distribute it is still mind-boggling. Shearer and his actors memorized the actually transcripts from the actual Nixon White House tapes that had been in storage in the National Archives for over 40 years. He and Nixon historian Stanley Kutler (both credited as the show's writers) poured over hundreds of hours of transcripts before committing the series to film. Thanks to our friends at My Damn Channel, here's the first episode of the six-part series co-created by and starring Mr. Shearer. In this episode, Nixon learns how the taping system works, receives some serious ass-kissing from his lapdog Henry Kissinger, lectures dairy lobbyists on how to sell milk, and orders the tapes destroyed. Not to be missed. Share it with your children. It's the history lesson that keeps on giving!

Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life Tour Kicks Off, Mostly Triumphantly

Stevie WonderSongs in the Key of Life
Madison Square Garden
November 6, 2014
 
I wasn't going to miss this one! Fortunately the cheap seats were "only" $49.50 (plus fees, of course), which for a big-ticket concert these days is actually reasonable.

ANNIVERSARIES: John Philip Sousa Born November 6, 1854

John Philip Sousa (1854–1932) was dubbed the March King. In the days when every town had its brass band and parades were major social occasions, marches were much more a part of American culture, and Sousa's music was wildly popular. He penned many instantly recognizable marches: "The Stars and Stripes Forever," "The Liberty Bell," "The Thunderer," "Semper Fidelis," "The Washington Post," "El Capitan," and "U.S. Field Artillery" are just a few of the 136 he composed. Far from being merely utilitarian or primitive, his marches are often small masterpieces, with indelible tunes, adept harmonies, and nicely contrasted trios. There is never any superfluous musical material in them -- Sousa wrote in his autobiography that a march "must be as free from padding as a marble statue."

Sousa's father was a trombonist in the U.S. Marine Band, and enlisted his son as an apprentice at age 13. Discharged at 21 in 1875, young JPS found work in the theater as a violinist and conductor (he played for Jacques Offenbach in the orchestra at Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibition and conducted Gilbert & Sullivan's operetta H.M.S. Pinafore on Broadway). In 1880, he rejoined the Marine Band as its conductor. Not a marching band per se, its main duty as "The President's Own" was to perform at the White House for parties and other events (including the wedding of President Arthur), and it played much more than marches. During Sousa's tenure as its conductor, he raised the Marine Band's standards and broadened its repertoire, including many arrangements of classical music. Read more »

Ten Must-Hear Songs for Your Fall Harvest

A rash of some cool new music to share with y'all. First up is the NOLA-based Luke Winslow-King's live take on his bluesy train chugger "Travelin' Myself" from his album Everlasting Arms. Roots-rockin' Americana that is authentic, passionate, poignant, infectious snapshots of life in this big ol' country. One of my favorite albums of the year. Out now on Bloodshot Records. Read more »

The Voices of Reason

EstroGenius 2014
4th Street Theatre
83 E. 4th St., NYC
October 2-November 2, 2014

The EstroGenius Festival, currently in its 15th year, spotlights women artists in theater. It is organized into three separate shows -- Andi’s Night, Deb’s Night, and Sarah’s Night -- that each consist of five short plays totaling about an hour and a half per "Night." At the end of a program, audience members can vote for their favorite performer, writer, and director on a ballot included in the program, and votes can also be cast for favorite play for a one-dollar donation per vote. The winning play receives a special encore performance at the end of the festival. Read more »

Why Don’t You Play in Hell?: Where’s Dante When You Need Him?

While viewing Sion Sono's Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, at times I couldn’t tell if the Japanese director was a deliciously inept fan of Tarantino and Jerry Lewis or a bizarro pro gleefully upending a genre or two or three. Not until I checked out his credits on IMDB (over 31 features), and sat down with two of his earlier features, could I assume here’s a gent at top of his game, whatever that game might be. Read more »

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