Music Review

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!

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 »

Halloween-Appropriate Compositions

I used to work at a store where some of us employees liked to dress up for Halloween. One year the young woman I worked with that day dressed in her full Goth regalia (this is someone with a spiderweb tattoo), and when one customer said to her, "I love your costume," she replied, coldly and seriously, "It's not a costume." Ever since then I have thought of Halloween as the one day each year when Goths "fit in."

From whence does "Goth" come as a description of this subculture? Not from the original Goths, Germanic barbarians who sacked Rome and later founded the kingdom that eventually became Spain and Portugal. Rather, it comes from "Gothic fiction," an English literary movement (so called in reference to the architecture of castles) that dates from Horace Walpole's 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto.

Such famed literature as Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and many stories by Edgar Allan Poe further defined the genre, which could broadly be considered a combination of Romanticism and horror, sometimes dark and brooding, sometimes darkly humorous in a parody of the genre's excesses. Read more »

Video of the Week: Ok Go - "I Won't Let You Down"

OK Go have been producing thought-provoking and exceptionally clever videos to accompany their quirky pop-rock for nearly a decade now. Not sure they even have any competition when it comes to how creative they integrate their music into a video narrative, too. This latest video for their latest video single "I Won't Let You Down" from their latest long player Hungry Ghosts puts Busby Berkeley's choreography to shame. Watch it all the way through to truly appreciate the aerial perspective. Well played, lads!

Iconoclast at Michiko Studios

Iconoclast at Michiko Studios, 10/17/14

Iconoclast -- neither the hardcore punk band nor the metal band of that name, rather the New York-based duo of Julie Joslyn (alto saxophone, violin, vocals) and Leo Chiesa (drums, keyboard, vocals) – formed in 1987 and ever since has combined avant-garde conceptualist with post-punk attitude ever since, playing at CBGB but also the European festival circuit, and making nine albums. The most recent, this year's Naked Rapture, was heavily featured when they played at Michiko Studios on Friday, October 17. Hometown shows having become more of a rarity than they used to be, I made sure to catch it. Read more »

Jack Bruce, RIP!

Bassist Jack Bruce has passed on at the age of 71 of liver disease. No one lives forever, but he will always be best known for his power trio Cream with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. I was fortunate enough to catch their reunion tour in 2005 at Madison Square Garden. I was blown away by Jack's bass playing and his strong vocals throughout. And this was a man who had survived liver cancer and a liver transplant just a few short years earlier. Certainly his legendary power trio was a tough act to follow, but Bruce has many albums in his discography both before and after his classic rock trio; not only with British blues bands such as Alexis Korner’s Blues Inc., the Graham Bond Organisation, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and Manfred Mann, but a robust solo career, too. And in 1994, in an effort to recreate the energy and excitement of Cream, he, Ginger Baker, and Gary Moore toured and released the excellent BBM album. The world has lost yet another rock icon.

Unearthed Gems from Leon Fleisher's Past

An American-born pianist, Fleisher was a child prodigy who studied with Artur Schnabel. In 1950 he moved to Europe to pursue his career, which paid off when he won the Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition of Belgium in 1952. In this time, there was an abundance of radio orchestras, and the young Fleisher was a popular guest soloist. Released earlier this year -- I've been meaning to review them for months -- the recordings here are examples.

The participants' credentials in the Beethoven, recorded in 1960, are excellent. Fleisher studied with Schnabel, who studied with Theodor Leschetizky, who studied with Carl Czerny, who studied with Beethoven; Cluytens recorded all the Beethoven Symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic starting in 1957, that organization's first recorded Beethoven cycle -- consider how much respect this implies for a Belgian-born French conductor to have beaten Karajan himself to the punch in this repertoire. Read more »

John Coltrane's Latest Offering

The question is not whether this album is good. It's freakin' John Coltrane, of course it's good (though my expectation of your agreement with that assumes that you appreciate him in free-jazz mode). It's a matter of setting up your expectations properly and prioritizing. So, although this is "the first official release struck from the original master tapes," as opposed to dingy-sounding bootlegs, you still have to be prepared for sub-par sound. This concert was recorded by the Temple radio station, apparently using one microphone up front, so the horns dominate -- though even they come and go. 

And whoever was recording it didn't get every minute; he missed the very beginning, and with just one machine at his disposal, missed the end of "Leo" when he had to change tape reels. So allowances must be made, and if you don't already have all the other Coltrane albums on Impulse!, they are more of a priority. Read more »

Song of the Week: David Bowie - "Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)"

As David Bowie and Tony Visconti continue work on a new album, the enigmatic rocker will release a career-spanning greatest hits package entitled Nothing Has Changed due out before Christmas featuring two new songs, the one above and "Tis A Pity She's A Whore," both recorded this past summer. Is "Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)" , a collaboration with jazz arranger Maria Schneider's big band, the track were Bowie finally gets his Anthony Newley meets Gil Evans meets drum-n-bass on? You decide...

Matthew Shipp, State-of-the-Art Jazz Pianist

Those who keep up with the more avant-garde end of the jazz spectrum have long known that Matthew Shipp is one of the great pianists, but he's reached a higher level of creativity this decade, most recently displayed in his two releases this year, the new solo album I've Been to Many Places and the trio album The Root of Things. Read more »

Cover Song of the Month: Arborea - "Bad Moon Rising"

Okay, so I admit that for me cover songs are nearly impossible to best. Huge props to the indie folk duo Arborea's pastoral and haunting take on '60s rock icon Creedence Clearwater Revival's hit single -- "Bad Moon Rising" -- as they remolded it in their own image. Perfect fare for a movie soundtrack. Buy it today on iTunes and Amazon!

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