McCreadie Hits the Forest Floor

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FOREST FLOOR / McCREADIE: Law Hill. The Unfurrowed Field. Morning Moon. Landslide. Forest Floor. The Ridge. White Water. Glade / Fergus McCreadie, pno; David Bowden, bs; Stephen Henderson, dm / Edition EDN1197, also available for free streaming on Bandcamp

Fergus McCreadie is a Scottish jazz pianist-composer and one of the very few Europeans accepted by mainstream American jazz publications as a “big deal.” His music combines jazz sensibilities with Scottish folk songs or folk song-like material and is very clever. Although his music generally fits the Millennials’ demand for soft, quiet, unobtrusive jazz (why they demand it, I don’t know), it is inventive and cleverly constructed. According to the publicity blurb for this album,

Forest Floor signifies an evolution in Fergus’ trio and sound… Whilst Cairn [his previous album] focused on the permanence and beauty of Scottish stone, Fergus felt that this album had a greater earthiness to it, illustrated by the changes the seasons produce on the forest floor, a perception that fed into the title, music and artwork for the new work… as he explains: ”In all my music I’m searching for an idea or a theme, that the composition and performance is based on. It’s a journey and adapts to each live performance. The recording documents the stage of that journey at a moment of time… This album has its own journey, its own destination… Forest Floor, both in its artwork and aesthetic, develops the themes created for Cairn.

The opening track, Law Hill, starts off with a very strong theme statement, played quite loudly and with a driving if irregular beat. Once McCreadie gets into the improvisation, his drummer, Stephen Henderson, plays a sort of rolling beat using press rolls to urge the music forward. The music itself is modal, using open fifths in the left-hand chording, so harmonically, at least, it is relatively simple, but even so McCreadie occasionally slips in and out of neighboring harmonies with great felicity. McCreadie also does an excellent job here in blurring the lines between the written and improvised passages, which I particularly admired. There’s also a nice passage where he briefly creates a two-handed fugue for a few bars.

In The Unfurrowed Field, McCreadie reverts to his usual, gentler style, but again tying the tune’s structure to Scottish folk song structure, again with the open harmonies indigenous to that culture. Bassist David Bowden also gets a solo on this track. He has good musical imagination but also a very dry, hollow sound which I didn’t much care for. (I’ve been too spoiled by other bassists past and present, particularly by Eddie Gomez who I once saw in person.) The overall shape of this piece is much simpler than Low Hill; McCreadie even indulges in two full choruses of the same repeated lick, possibly trying to create a hypnotic feeling, although he does gradually increase the volume in this chorus and adds some right-hand frills near the end of the second chorus, which he then moves to the left hand in the next as he expands on it with a remarkably busy yet interesting series of runs.

Morning Moon, as one might expect, is quieter still, but to his credit McCreadie really does create and sustain an almost magical mood which the subtle playing of his rhythm section does not disturb. Pieces like this, piled one on top of another, tend to get under my skin, but placing one such in the midst of what is clearly a suite of pieces provides some needed contrast. Also, a little past the halfway mark McCreadie increases the volume, possibly indicating a “burning off” of the morning moon in the sky as daybreak reaches its apex. Little touches played by the bass and drums remain subtle and continue to feed into the mood of the piece. Landslide opens with a drum solo, slightly but not overtly dramatic, before the pianist enters with a fast modal theme reminiscent of the opening track but more swinging. This time, however, he creates the illusion of double time by increasing the tempo of one hand, then the other, while the rhythm section remains constant; yet there is also an increase in speed as the “landslide” builds up and then releases itself.  The tension is temporarily relieved by a reduction of volume and an ever-so-slight reduction of tempo at the very end.

The title track, Forest Floor, also a slow piece, is one of the loveliest things on the album, a real melody that could almost pass for a Romantic classical piece. Here, Bowden plays his bass with a bow instead of pizzicato, creating a nice, rich underpinning similar to a “ground bass” in classical music. My sole complaint is that this track didn’t develop as well as the previous ones. But it’s nice in context.

The Ridge is also a slow piece, yet within its slow-moving frame McCreadie does more with it than in Forest Floor. Here he reverts to the strong influence of Scotch folk music yet also creates, slowly yet interestingly, a long-lined melody that comes to the listener almost more as a suggestion than as a demand to listen. About two-thirds of the way in, bassist Bowden suddenly switches from playing in 4 to playing in 6/8, which gives the music a nice 3-against-2 feeling. After a while, Henderson’s drums play an even faster beat, more like 12/8 or something very much like it, to increase the tension still further. A very nice piece.

White Water also opens slowly, and again just with the bass followed by a couple of cymbal washes, but then McCreadie ups the pace, again in an irregular meter and again using open chording. There’s a nice plucked bass solo played (again) in a somewhat quicker tempo with the drums, here playing on the edge of the snare, creating interesting patterns, and when McCreadie re-enters it is with renewed energy and vigor, getting into the spirit of his rhythm section. The tension then continues to build, as it did in Landslide, as the music progresses. A very creative piece and, once again, built on both Scotch folk music and classical principles.

Glade is another soft piece, this time a waltz—to my ears, more of a “pretty” piece than an effective one as jazz. This is more like cocktail-party or Ramada-Inn-type “jazz.” I could live without it, although even here McCreadie slowly increases the tempo as it moves along (but doesn’t develop much at all).

My verdict, then, is that Forest Floor is a very ingenious jazz suite with some remarkable moments but not a work of genius as its publicity (and the enthusiasm of some critics) may suggest. Clearly worth hearing except for the final piece, however. McCreadie has some very interesting ideas and, when developed to the best of his ability, makes a very positive impact on the listener.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Tigran Hamasyan Plays “StandArts”

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HOPE: De-Dah. RODGERS-HART: I Didn’t Know What Time it Was. KERN-HAMMERSTEIN: All the Things You Are.* PARKER: Big Foot.* HANIGHEN-JENKINS-MERCER: When a Woman Loves a Man. ROMBERG-HAMMERSTEIN: Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise. STORDAHL-WESTON-CAHN: I Should Care.+ AKINMUSIRE-BROWN-BREWER-HAMASYAN: Invasion During an Operetta.+ RASKIN-MERCER: Laura / +Ambrose Akinmusire, tpt; *Joshua Redman, a-sax; Tigran Hamasyan, pno; Matt Brewer, bs; Justin Brown, dm. / Nonesuch 075597911466, also available for free streaming on Bandcamp and on YouTube starting HERE.

Another name new to me is that of Armenian-American pianist Tigran Hamasyan who, according to Wikipedia, generally plays songs strongly influenced by the folk music of his native country. Here, however, is an album comprised mostly of American jazz and pop standards. The two jazz standards are Elmo Hope’s De-Dah and Charlie Parker’s Big Foot. The one original on this release is titles Invasion During an Operetta. On this release, too, his piano trio is augmented on two tracks by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and, on two others, by alto saxist Joshua Redman. In the publicity blurb for this release, Hamasyan is quoted as saying that ““With this record, I really wanted to apply different techniques and ideas I’ve developed over the years to a repertoire that I finally had an opportunity to re-visit… I love these compositions and melodies so much that, to me, it’s like Armenian folk music.”

I really liked Hamasyan’s piano style, which has a “heavy” sound to it reminiscent of American bop pianists of the 1950s and ‘60s like Horace Silver, although his musical approach is more harmonically sophisticated—sort of a cross between Silver and Jaki Byard (there’s a name you don’t hear very often nowadays). He also uses modal harmonies in his improvisations, a nod to his Armenian roots. His playing is technically secure without being simply flashy, too; he has something to say and isn’t shy about projecting it. His rhythm section of bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Justin Brown is likewise technically secure but more interested in playing unusual, contrary rhythms behind Hamasyan than of simply showing off their chops.

One can hear Hamasyan’s creative approach to these pieces clearly in his rewriting of Rodgers and Hart’s old standard I Didn’t Know What Time it Was, a piece that, even within its original configuration, had a certain modal quality about it although Hamasyan brings this out much more strongly in his arrangement. And he again fractures the time in an unusual and unpredictable manner, his solo here being surprisingly sparse although both his note choices and rhythms are constantly surprising and unorthodox. Interestingly, at one point during this performance, Brewer tosses in a few notes of the original melody in the midst of Hamasyan’s improvisation. (I was less impressed, however, by the cop-out ending in which he just has the engineer fade out.)

Joshua Redman guest stars first on the equally interesting arrangement of All the Things You Are, with its “floated” rhythm. This is created by having the bass and drums sit out on this track, thus when the leader solos he, too, sounds as if he is floating in space. Parker’s Big Foot, too, opens with no rhythm section, but they quickly come in after just a few bars, playing an asymmetric rhythm while Redman and Hamasyan establish a stronger bop beat; then the rhythm really swings behind the saxist as he takes off on a great solo, although sounding more like Phil Woods than like Bird himself. This one is less complex as a re-writing but no less effective, with the leader simply comping behind Redman as he plays two choruses before turning it over to the pianist. Here Hamasyan plays in a more linear fashion, channeling some of the great bop pianists of the past. There is some nice rhythmic complexity in the chorus with Redman playing stiff figures above the roiling rhythm.

One would scarcely recognize When a Woman Loves a Man from Hamasyan’s rewriting of it: he really changes so much around that it becomes a different composition. Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise is also unrecognizable at first with its roiling, out-of-tempo and somewhat out-of-tonality introduction, and just barely recognizable in its stop-start theme statement. Do I detect just a shade of Thelonious Monk in Hamasyan’s chord choices? Come to think of it, he might have included his reworking of one of several Monk pieces on this CD as well. By keeping the underlying harmonies so modal—yes, one might even say Armenian-sounding—Hamasyan gives an entirely different slant to this overworked chestnut, creating an almost bittersweet feeling throughout. He ends it on an unresolved chord.

One could say as much about his reworked version of I Should Care, on which Akinmusire’s haunting trumpet plays an integral part, again, in the setting and sustaining of a somewhat melancholy mood. The trumpeter even squeaks a few notes out using a half-valve (or cocked valve) effect as the late Rex Stewart perfected during his time with Duke Ellington. The apparent group piece Invasion During an Operetta is a much more modern, spacey sort of piece, difficult to describe but very intriguing to hear, with the trumpeter playing even freakier figures on this one.

By contrast with his relaxed versions of other tunes, Hamasyan’s vision of Laura is surprisingly upbeat, again with the rhythmic rug pulled out from under it as he adds beats to each phrase of the song in order to distend the musical line and incorporate his own vision. Here, Hamasyan is back into playing in his Silver-Byard mode, and quite effectively, too.

This is a simply wonderful album. Would that a couple of dozen so-called “visionary” and “genre-stretching” jazz artists out there, whose CDs reveal no such thing, would listen to it and get a few ideas on how really visionary arrangements should sound. A superb release!

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Halvorson’s Amaryllis/Belladonna

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AMARYLLIS / HALVORSON: Night Shift. Anesthesia. Amaryllis. Side Effect.* Hoodwink.* 892 Teeth* / Mary Halvorson, gtr/arr; Adam O’Farrill, tpt; Jacob Garchik, tb; Patricia Brennan, vib; Nick Dunston, bs; Tomas Fujiwara, dm; *Mivos String Quartet

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WAP 2022BELLADONNA / HALVORSON: Nodding Yellow. Moonburn. Flying Song. Haunted Head. Belladonna / Halvorson, gtr/arr; Mivos Quartet: Olivia De Prato, Maya Bennardo, vln; Victor Lowrie Tafoya, vla; Tyler J. Borden, cel / Nonesuch 075597912708 / available as a 2-LP or 2-CD set as well as available for free streaming on Bandcamp and YouTube.

Of Jazzwise’s “Top 20” jazz albums of 2022, I found 17 of them to be pretty much in-one-ear-and-out-the-other recordings, but isn’t it funny that most of their picks are on one of only three labels, Blue Note, Nonesuch and ECM, which tells you who is advertising heavily in their magazine/website. If you pay to play, you get biased “pimping” of certain records.

Nonetheless, this double release caught my ear although (as usual) I urge prospective buyers to NOT waste their money on the (cough, cough) “vinyl” release. Trust me, folks: millions and millions of jazz and classical fans did not switch from LPs to CDs just because CDs were the “in” thing back in the 1980s. I myself held out until pretty close to 1990 before I switched over because the earliest CDs had only 16-bit sound which was thinner and less rich-sounding than what we heard on LPs, but once 24-bit releases came about, the sound difference between LPs and CDs completely disappeared, and although mishandled CDs can indeed become damaged, carefully cared-for silver discs will outlive your “vinyl” for decades without picking up crackle, pops, ticks and eventually skips. It’s just a fad, and in my view it’s pretty close to being played out. I predict that by 2030 the “vinyl” fad will be over.

But I also caution against buying the 2-CD set, even though Halvorson considers these to be two quite different jazz suites and each of the two has its own separate cover art, because if you buy them as downloads you can burn both albums on one CD. Both suites put together run less than 75 minutes.

As for the music, however, it is that unusual combination of low-key and fascinating. Even from the first track, Night Shift, one hears an unusual “stutter” beat that sounds as if it is in 3 ½ rather than a straight four, and even within each bar the rhythm is irregularly distributed. In addition, her combo on this set is strengthened by the presence of trumpeter Adam O’Farrill and trombonist Jacob Garchik, two strong players who are very much “old school” jazz players: structurally interesting in their solos, but also hard-swinging. They don’t mess around. Garchik’s extended solo, in fact, tends to ignore the irregular meter and cut across bar lines with a wonderful linear style that pulls the music together rather than fragmenting still further. Patricia Brennan on vibes is more low-key but has her own way of playing a solo, using notes that are just a bit outside the central tonality yet still makes musical sense. I also loved the way the rhythm section plays together in an organic manner; none of this “every man (or woman) for himself” style so prevalent in modern groups.

Anesthesia opens completely out of tempo, like some of Charles Mingus’ pieces, and has a similar amorphic theme. Here, at least, the bass and drums do play independently of each other, a technique that Mingus also used in such pieces. The trumpet and trombone occasionally play together and at other times play at what sounds like a beat or a half-beat apart. Halvorson’s guitar rises up from the ensemble once the volume quiets down, her playing being more like gingerbread around the edges that a focused and structured solo. It’s a bit weird, but I like it! Brennan’s vibes then tinkle a bit around Halvorson’s guitar, as does Garchik’s trombone, while O’Farrill plays odd, squealing figures in the background—interestingly, recorded at a distance from the rest of the band, which puts some “space” around the piece, as if it existed in two discrete sections of the room. Interestingly, the music does eventually coalesce about a minute or so before the very end.

Amaryllis, also in an irregular meter, opens with a fast bass solo, followed by guitar and vibes as the drums fall in behind them. Trumpet and trombone play a long-lined theme over this busy undercurrent, sometimes picking up in tempo but, again, often playing against the st rhythm. Then, suddenly, everyone comes together just in time to launch an O’Farrill trumpet solo. Halvorson clearly thinks outside the box in creating her music; although it has features that reminded me here and there of other jazz composers, she is clearly working in a world of her own. Her own playing on this track is surprisingly minimal, at times bending the strings to suggest a Hawaiian guitar. This piece also ends very abruptly. Weird stuff!

On Side Effect, Halvorson uses the Mivos String Quartet, giving one a preview of what is to come in all of Belladonna. Here, they generally play staccato figures, although there are spot solos by cello and viola. Then the rest of the band comes in to expand the sonic palette, again playing in an odd meter. The only thing that bothered me about this track is that it leaned towards a rock beat, which I abhor in jazz, but Halvorson clearly keeps the music’s line and the sound textures within the jazz sphere. The impressive thing is that Halvorson is a true composer and not just a “jazz tunesmith.”  The strings also play on Hoodwink, this time opening softly and bitonally, with little “squeals” from the two violins as the music opens with strange figures. Guitar and vibes come into the picture, playing melodic, tonal and relaxed music in what sounds like 9/8 time. The drums then enter playing a sort of quasi-military rhythm as the horns play their own figures up above; then the music coalesces into its own quite unusual theme. O’Farrill’s trumpet solo sounds more like another theme than like an improvisation on the earlier one. There’s a subtle and unexpected key change in his last two bars, leading into a solo by the leader on guitar. As in her composing style, Halvorson has a guitar style entirely her own; it sounds as if it combines elements of jazz, folk music and the Chicago blues style of Elmore James. The ride-out has two bars which, curiously, sound like Strayhorn’s Take the “A” Train.

This set closes with 892 Teeth, another strange piece and one that more closely resembles contemporary classical music than jazz in its opening theme (as did some of the unusual pieces that Artie Shaw’s orchestra-with-strings played in the early 1940s). Later on in this piece, there is an extremely odd figure played by the strings (I think with microphone distortion) which creates a very odd effect. Vibes with sustained trumpet and trombone notes rides it out.

Halvorson John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Mary Halvorson (photo courtesy of John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

We then move on to Belladonna. Halvorson has described these two suites as “modular and interlocking,” On Belladonna, however, the music is much more through-composed, using only her guitar with the string quartet. Her model seems to be a combination of the string writing that Eddie Sauter did for Stan Getz on his famous Focus album: clear textures and somewhat simple rhythms, avoiding the much denser string writing of Ornette Coleman and Mingus. But clarity has its own reward, particularly when the music is as well-conceived as this. It was much more difficult for me to guess who some of Halvorson’s influences were in her composition style, although at one point in the opening track, Nodding Yellow, I was reminded of Marius Constant. Despite the relative simplicity of the string writing, all of these pieces are fare more interesting and more cohesive musically than most of what the Kronos Quartet played in the 1970s and ‘80s. (Sorry, I never did like them. For me, the Turtle Island String Quartet was the game-changer in the field of jazz string quartet writing and performance.) 

Being a suite, each of the five pieces here contrast with those before and after them. Moonburn is the simplest in structure, and for the most part sticks to one chord although Halvorson’s guitar plays passages with chord changes in it over the steady four-note drones of the strings. At times, Halvorson bends her strings in creating a semi-bluesy feel around the semi-classical structure of this piece. Flying Song is a waltz—really, a relatively simple 3/4 time piece—and although I felt that Halvorson could have done something a bit more complex and interesting with it, it works well, particularly since she allows herself much more solo space here than in most of the other tracks on this combined album. She does vary the beat, and the theme, a bit in the middle, but unlike her pieces in Amaryllis, I felt that the music in Belladonna was intended much more as ambient, creating a mood and an atmosphere rather than pushing the envelope in terms of composition. This, I felt, was even more evident in Haunted Head, where she uses a simple, repeated figure in C major as the basis for an overlay of string chords, some of them using out-of-tonality notes, over her simple guitar figures. About three minutes in, there’s a sudden key change to add interest, but by and large I was less impressed by this piece. (My regular readers know that I am not a fan of simplistic music or “ambient” jazz.) As the piece continues, however, Halvorson overlays some more rhythmically complex string figures which add interest. A bit past the halfway mark, she plays an interesting guitar solo, and this does indeed move in and out of neighboring tonalities in addition to using an intriguing “skipping” rhythm. Later on in her solo, she adds some capo slides as the music suddenly shifts from 4/4 to a sort of loping 6/8.The ending is quite abrupt.

In the final piece, Belladonna, Halvorson reverts to the kind of irregular and unusual meters she used so often and effectively in Amaryllis. This piece, in particular, came closest to my ears to the string writing that Eddie Sauter, who never received a “genius” award although he was one, used in Focus. Here, too, Halvorson splits the string quartet, playing two strings against two, and I’m not so sure that her guitar breaks are always improvised, as they sound very much like integral passages in the composition. She then continues split quartet writing which, although not technically challenging, is very tricky to line up in performance. I was, however, much less happy with the hard-rick-influenced noises at the end of this track.

My verdict is that Halvorson is an extremely unusual and highly individual composer who uses jazz as a vehicle for writing rather than her writing as a vehicle for jazz, but that’s fine with me. Just mentally add her to my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond, as one of the more imaginative “jazzical” composers of our time.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Snoozer Quinn, the “Sleeper” Jazz Guitarist

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SCHOEBEL-MEYERS-KAHN-ERDMAN: Nobody’s Sweetheart Now.* Medley: CARMICHAEL-GORRELL: Georgia on My Mind/KERN-HARBACH: You Took Advantage of Me. ROBINSON-CONRAD-LEWIS: Singin’ the Blues (2 tks).* RODGERS-HART: You Took Advantage of Me. QUINN: Snoozer’s Wanderings. Snoozer’s Telephone Blues. SHIELDS-RAGAS: Clarinet Marmalade.* GREEN-HEYMAN: Out of Nowhere. LAYTON-CREAMER: After You’ve Gone.* Medley: ROMBERG-HAMMERSTEIN: Lover Come Back to Me/JONES-KAHN: On the Alamo. BURNETT-NORTON: My Melancholy Baby.* / Edwin “Snoozer” Quinn, gtr; *add Johnny Wiggs, tpt. / WILLIAMS-PALMER: Everybody Loves My Baby. DI CAPUA-RUSSO: Oh Marie. BARBARIN: Bourbon Street Parade. NOONE-POSTON-HINES: Apex Blues. ROBINSON-CONRAD-LEWIS: Singin’ the Blues / Johnny Wiggs’ Big Five: Wiggs, tpt; Harry Shields, cl; Edmond Souchon, bjo/gtr/voc; Sherwood Mangiapane, bs; Paul Barbarin, dm / 504 Records CD 25, also available for free streaming on YouTube beginning HERE

This is the story—what little we have of it, anyway—of a reclusive musical genius from the South who, like the legendary cornetist Lee Collins, made very few records, didn’t like playing Up North, and died virtually forgotten except by the musicians who heard him in the flesh.

Edward McIntosh Quinn, given the nickname “Snoozer” because of his perpetually relaxed, almost sleepy demeanor, was born in McComb, Mississippi in 1907 but raised in Bogalusa, Louisiana. Hid head was slightly deformed at birth and he was blind in one eye. As a youth, he could play guitar, mandolin and violin, and by his early teens he was performing in vaudeville. Among the bands he played with were Peck’s Bad Boys, led by Peck Kelley, the Louisiana Ramblers and St. Louis Rhythm Kings. He might have stayed there for the rest of his career, but somehow or other he was heard by Paul Whiteman, who went absolutely crazy over his playing and hired him for his band in late 1928.

But as I said, Snoozer, like so many New Orleans-based musicians, didn’t much like the fast pace, impersonal manners and rampant racism of the North, thus he only stayed in the band for four months. Although he did manage to make a couple of records with Frank Trumbauer’s small recording band, which included Bix Beiderbecke on cornet, he never really got any solos on recordings. And this was odd because, according to what I’ve read online, Whiteman purposely did not make him play with the band because he didn’t consider him a “chord” guitarist, but constantly featured him in solo spots, all by himself. According to New Orleans saxist and clarinetist Benjie White, Whiteman also kept Quinn up all night on several occasions to hear him play even more. A few months into 1929 he had enough, quit the band, and went back to New Orleans. His replacement was the much more famous Eddie Lang who, along with his musical partner Joe Venuti, happened to be available because Roger Wolfe Kahn dissolved his “million dollar orchestra” in which they had played for three years.

Yet it was Snoozer who had the faster fingers in his solo work. In fact, according to Les Paul, Quinn was among the very first white guitarists to play entirely with his fingers, never using a pick (what is now called “fingerstyle” guitar), and had such perfect coordination that he could produce fleet solos with either hand. Like so many New Orleans jazzmen, he also had a relaxed, “rolling” beat that was different from the clipped, staccato style of New York guitarists. (In addition to White and Paul, Snoozer was also admired by another New Orleans guitarist, Frank Federico, who played behind Louis Prima with Sam Butera and the Witnesses in Las Vegas.)

You Took AdvantageSnoozer's Telephone Blues

Snoozer recorded four solos for Victor in May 1928 (Snoozer’s Blues, Tiger Rag, That’ll Get It and Rambling Blues), but they were never issued. He played with Louis Armstrong (see photo below), the Dorsey Brothers, and Bing Crosby, but never recorded with them. Admired or not, we would have absolutely nothing of Quinn’s playing on records if it wasn’t for the enterprise of trumpeter Johnny Wiggs. Born John Wiggington Hyman in New Orleans in 1899, Wiggs was influenced by two cornet players with entirely different styles: Joseph “King” Oliver, who he always insisted did his best playing in New Orleans before moving to Chicago, and Bix Beiderbecke. In 1948, Wiggs somehow raised enough money to record and issue 78s by Snoozer, who at the time was suffering from tuberculosis (which eventually killed him) and living in a New Orleans charity hospital. Wiggs made recordings of Quinn playing solos and duets with him on cornet, which he managed to issue on privately-produced 78s. These are the source of the material on this CD. Since only 12 tracks were recorded with Snoozer, this CD is filled out with five other sides made by “Johnny Wiggs’ Big Five,” on which Quinn is replaced by the quite ordinary guitarist Edmond Souchon, but these recordings are valuable for preserving the playing of the legendary Paul Barbarin on drums as well as the clarinet playing of Harry Shields, the younger brother of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s Larry Shields. Wiggs always insisted that Harry was a much more inventive jazz soloist than his more famous brother, and he does indeed acquit himself well on these five sides.

Louis and Snoozer, 1931

Louis Armstrong and Snoozer in 1931

But of course, the centerpiece of this collection is Quinn, who sounds to me as if he was alternating between a large hollow-body acoustic guitar like the kind that Eddie Lang played and an early version of an electric guitar. The latter is especially evident in his medley performance of Lover Come Back to Me/On the Alamo, where he plays on the reverb in a manner that recalls early Les Paul. But it’s primarily Quinn’s loose, relaxed beat, much more reminiscent of a black guitarist than a white one, that catches the ear. Originally, these recordings were reissued on LP by Johnson McRee’s Fat Cat label, with absolutely terrible sound: lots of hiss, crackle, and even distortion in some of the tracks. A trace of distortion remains on this CD release, particularly in the softer tracks where it was more difficult to clean up the sound, but none of them are as bad as they sounded on the Fat Cat LP.

Part of the problem in our appreciation of Quinn is that we have to “place” him in the era before Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian came along. They were the game-changers for jazz guitar; after their arrival, everyone who came before sounded somewhat less impressive, and Snoozer’s laid-back Southern style—did Whiteman really think this kind of playing was going to sell up North?—naturally sounds slightly underwhelming compared to Reinhardt’s and Christian’s high-voltage energy. Of course, it was the same way when Bunk Johnson’s recordings were released: they represented a style of jazz which had existed in the period before World War I, not the early-to-mid 1940s, when trumpeters like Howard McGhee and Dizzy Gillespie were rapidly changing the landscape and raising the bar several notches even from such former masters as Armstrong and Berigan.

Although we must give Wiggs all the credit in the world for finally recording Snoozer, it must be admitted that his own playing sounds rather leaden in rhythm when heard alongside the guitarist. He clearly borrowed some harmonic ideas from Beiderbecke, but had none of Bix’s wonderful rhythmic “lift.” He even hits a few clams, which doesn’t help his case much. Unlike Bix, Wiggs also didn’t seem to know how to end his phrases. Often the final notes or phrases of certain passages just sound wrong or out of place. In short, he was a mediocre musician playing alongside a wonderful one.

But Snoozer is consistently excellent when given the chance to spread out. His technique reminded me of a cross between Blind Blake and Eddie Lang, but with a consistently underlying smoothness all his own. On many of the tracks, his playing is mesmerizing; one gets so wrapped up in the sheer sound of his playing that it is easy to overlook the fertile imagination he displays in his solos. Pieces like Snoozer’s Wanderings and Snoozer’s Telephone Blues were completely improvised pieces that didn’t exist before the wax recorded them; the only reason the latter was given a title with the word telephone in it is that, at one point, you can hear the sanitarium’s phone ringing softly in the background. He also had no problem with the somewhat sophisticated (for its time) chord changes of Johnny Green’s Out of Nowhere. If you pay close attention, in fact, you’ll notice that Quinn creates real compositions when he played. His improvisations have a beginning, a middle, and an end to them, each chorus following logically from the one before.

For what it’s worth, Wiggs sounds better and more comfortable in the “Big Five” recordings where he is emulating King Oliver and not Beiderbecke, but he is also helped quite a bit by the superior playing of Harry Shields and the excellent rhythm section of Mangiapane and Barbarin. They’re fun records to hear if not so exceptional that you wax ecstatic over them.

Because he withdrew from the jazz mainstream so early, it’s difficult to say how, if any, Quinn’s style might have morphed had he kept his ears open to the changes in jazz guitar of the late 1930s/early ‘40s. This is clearly one of those odd jazz time capsules that occasionally emerge which give us pause to reflect on some of the ways jazz guitar developed back in an era when the instrument was still frequently butting heads with the banjo for supremacy in jazz combos and big bands. Snoozer Quinn was clearly an advance on the Eddie Lang style as well as a departure from it in terms of his relaxed, rolling beat, and it’s a shame that we can’t hear him in context with some of his contemporaries from that early era. It certainly would have been interesting.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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The 2022 “What a Performance!” Awards

WAP 2022My readers will note that this is a much smaller list than last year’s, down from 50 awardees to only 24. This is because of the declining content of most classical CDs, which just keep on recycling the same old-timey music we’ve heard for the past century and are generally not in the same ballpark with the great recordings of the past. In the jazz field, far too many musicians are taking it upon themselves to be Social Justice Warriors, which degrades and taints the content of their music. If you, as a musician, have a political agenda, the chances are very high that your music is going to wear thin after a few years when society continues to evolve. For this reason, I am generally opposed to the concept of using any music as a means of social commentary. Plus, there are far too many “jazz” albums that consist of sad, soft, drippy music. If I wanted to listen to funeral dirges, I’d go hang out at mortuaries or attend funerals of people I don’t even know just to get that “funeral vibe.”

But my awards, though not as prestigious, are much better than the Grammys because they are not politically or financially motivated. Most Grammy nominations, let alone winners, are paid off by huge bribes from the record companies, and nowadays both nominees and winners are geared towards Social Justice, not artistic excellence. If you just look over this year’s Grammy nominees in the classical field (let alone jazz), you’ll see what I mean. In jazz, the situation is even worse since no European jazz artists are ever nominees or winners of a Grammy. This leaves out a ton of great creators and soloists who I always consider when making my selections.

Be prepared for far less reviews from me in the following years. I may post up to three or four reviews a month, no more than that, since both the classical and jazz output nowadays has just become so boring and predictable. Anyway, here are my winners for 2022:

  1. Dupree Revisits Kapustin (Capriccio)
  2. Alexeev’s Superb Scriabin (Brilliant Classics)
  3. Bailey’s Bach, Take 2 (Octave Records)
  4. Lovano & Douglas Explore Other Worlds (Greenleaf)
  5. 3 of Medtner’s Songs Released (Brilliant Classics)
  6. MOPDtk “Celebrates” Disasters (Hot Cup)
  7. Billy Lester Plays From Scratch (no label)
  8. Steve Elcock’s Music: Mania, Dreams, Heartbreak (Toccata Classics)
  9. Mattei Sings Pettersson (Bis)
  10. Matthew Shipp’s Splendid New CD (ESP-Disk)
  11. Jason Palmer at Summit Rock (Giant Step Arts)
  12. Korstick’s Superb Beethoven Concerti (CPO)
  13. John Yao is Off-Kilter (See Tao)
  14. Norgård’s Complete Symphonies (Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra)
  15. Nurit Stark Plays 20th-Century Music (Bis)
  16. A New Album of Schulhoff’s Music (Delos)
  17. Edward Cowie’s “Streams and Particles” (Métier)
  18. Perelman’s Massive Sax Summit (Mahakala Music)
  19. Joseph Summer’s Brilliant “Hamlet” (Navona)
  20. Sophie Dunér: The One and Only (self-produced)
  21. Charles Mingus’ “Lost Album” (Resonance Records)
  22. Martin Skafte’s Piano Preludes (Toccata Classics)
  23. Krzysztof Meyer’s Orchestral Music (Dux) 
  24. Halvorsen’s Amaryllis/Belladonna (Nonesuch)

And that’s it until next year!

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Turkey: Johanna Sandels’ “Väsen”

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Turkey of the Month (November) AND Year (2022)!!

SANDELS: Prelude. Stugubråt. Isgång. Vulkanisk Promenad. Våg / Johanna Sandels, electronic noises & other crap / Arpaviva AV 001CS

I was afraid that I’d completely missed a Turkey of the Month for November until this gem was sent to me by email on the next-to-last day of the month. Never let it be said that there aren’t enough whack jobs out there who think that whatever noises they can fart out into a microphone isn’t great art. From the publicity blurb for this turkey:

Johanna Sandels is a quintessential multimedia artist working with sound, 2D and 3D art, and installations. The artist describes her process as translating her sculptural ideas and their physical textures into relative sonic textures. Sandels, an artist of striking originality, incorporates a visceral sense of time into both her physical and sound work. Born and raised in Lindingö, Sweden, Sandels co-founded the F4entropy collective and the Konst Kollektivet Kontakt. Sandels uses magnetic tape in her sculptures and has created a numbered edition cassette of Väsen to accompany this release.

Well, three cheers for her. If you thought Monica Pearce’s Textile Fantasies was bad—and trust me, it was—then, to quote the late Al Jolson, “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.” This so-called “music” is REALLY nothing. Just reverberant, ambient sounds produced by electronic tape, the sort of noises that engineers used to use to control electronic feedback. Väsen is nothing BUT electronic feedback. You even get electronic spits and crackles in the midst of the overblown garbage that emanates from your speakers if you have the nerve to listen to this trash. It’s so bad that it makes Textile Fantasies sound like Beethoven.

And how does Sandels justify this utter rubbish? Well, let’s let her explain:

Fascinated by the force of time and the impossibility of capturing the moment between being and becoming, I collect sounds through field recordings transforming and exploring these contrasting soundscapes. I try to sculpt a hybrid form of artificial / natural sounds linked to movement and transformations, later manipulated.

For this album and accompanying cassette, I am experimenting with the idea of traversing steered by a sonic vocabulary made up of contrasting textures, a soundscape where contrasts mark and magnify a fleeting hybrid space in between.

Resonance and the effect of a collectivity is a crucial aspect of my creative process and the ’weaving together’ of textures and different languages to nourish each element. And the way each space in which it is listened to will also impact the piece.

Sandels

Portrait of the Artist trying to drown herself

I would modestly suggest that the best “space” in which to listen to this stuff is in your bathroom when you’re constipated, sitting on the toilet, and trying to get it out. Even if these “soundscapes” will not unblock you, they will surely divert your attention while straining to poop because they really DO sound like shit. Indeed, the “soundscape” of the third track, Isgång, sounds in the beginning like a toilet flushing. Later on in this track, it sounds like a vacuum cleaner with a mute on so you don’t disturb those who might be sleeping when you decide to suck the dirt out of your head. The next track, Vulkanisk Promenad, sounds like the guys who empty my recycle bin in the back of their truck every two weeks. In fact, later on in this track, you can hear their voices (softly in the background) as they move the recycle bins onto and off their truck. WOW, what genius! I’m simply flabbergasted! Flabbergasted, I tell you!!

Such imagination and brilliance as Sandels exhibits on this album must surely be rewarded with more than a Turkey of the Month award. And so it shall be. I hereby declare this album Turkey of the Year. As bad as all the others were, this one (sorry for the pun) really does go off the deep end. It is, then, more than a mere Turkey. It is turkey served with rotten tomatoes and topped off with a bag of burning dog poop on your front porch.

In sum, this is just sound – without fury – signifying nothing. But hey, the Swedes think she’s a big deal!

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Krzysztof Meyer’s String Quartets

MEYER: String Quartets Nos. 1-4 / Wieniawski String Qrt / Naxos 8.573165

MEYER: String Quartets Nos. 5, 6 & 8 / Wieniawski String Qrt / Naxos 8.570776

8.573001 bk Meyer ï 3_EU_8.573001 bk Meyer ï 3_EU

MEYER: String Quartets Nos. 7, 10 & 13 / Wieniawski String Qrt / Naxos 8.573001

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MEYER: String Quartets Nos. 9, 11 & 12 / Wieniawski String Qrt / Naxos 8.572656

These recordings were all issued in the early-to-mid 2010s, when I was writing reviews for a noted classical music magazine, but of course I was never invited to review any of them because I was the one they constantly stuck with the piano music of Chopin and Liszt because, after all, that’s what Ladies Like Best. As a result, came to hate both composers. Overexposure will do that to you.

As for Meyer’s quartets, they are as strange, original and fascinating as most of his other music. Even the very first one, written in 1963 when he was only 20 years old,  already has his stamp on it, the same as his mature music from 20 or 40 years later. Atonality, microtonal passages, edgy string tremolos and always that undercurrent of lyricism, mark this music. Over the decades, I’ve come to the realization that those major composer who wrote string quartets often put their finest and most intimate musical ideas in them, whether they wrote only a few like Schubert and Brahms or a great many like Haydn, Beethoven and Shostakovich. After all, using only four “voices,” particularly in the format created in the 18th century where they are voiced like a “little orchestra” yet have far greater clarity and, with that, immediacy of expression, leads the listener into mental and emotional crevices that their rich, larger-formed music does not always do. In Meyer’s case, this is also partially true. He does, at least, bring us a little deeper into his creative mind because the format is much more intimate, but since he often pares down his orchestral works to chamber-sized dimensions, the creative gap isn’t as evident as it is in the case of the other composers I cited above.

Meyer does indeed think of his quartets as “little orchestras,” but since his orchestral works (as mentioned above) do not always include a great many tuttis, the same is true here. Although his personal writing style is different, there is a surprising similarity in working methods to other avant-garde composers like Harry Partch, although Partch was frequently more whimsical and even a bit more outré in expression. The first string quartet also includes a surprisingly large number of moments in which the quartet plays microtonally (i.e., sliding in pitch up and down the strings), and this, too reminds one of Partch as well as of Carillo.

I’ve not yet seen, in print or online, an interview with Meyer, but I would love to pick his brain and discover how he comes up with his motifs and themes and then how it is that he parses them, fragments them, takes them apart and puts them together again in a single movement or an entire composition. There is, however, a good clue to this methods in a quote from him in the liner notes for the first four quartets:

Applying various techniques is for me only a means to composition, and it is by no means an exaggeration … to say that I enter some regions of my inner soundscape using any technical means available [bold print mine] and that I will still arrive at a result that I had aimed at from the start, regardless of the means applied.

As for his affinity for this form, he picked this up as a young boy thanks to the fact that he came from a wealthy family geared to high culture:

When I was a little boy, I had a chance to listen to chamber music concerts that were regularly organized at my home. Probably these first impressions fundamentally shaped my interests and principles … My musical homeland is the chamber music of the Viennese Classic, ex tended by the most splendid of twentieth-century musical worlds –Bartók’s.

In any event, he is clearly so far above the average run of composers nowadays that he might as well be in a universe all by himself, the way Igor Stravinsky was for most of his life. This is not, however, to say that Meyer—like Stravinsky—doesn’t occasionally have weaknesses. In Stravinsky’s case, it was sometimes a matter of trying to be too “cute” in the way he put things together (such as in Pulcinella, La Baiser de la Fée and The Rake’s Progress, although I love the latter). In Meyer’s case, it is sometimes (but happily, not often) a matter of his being too abstract in the way he puts his pieces together…his Fifth Symphony is a good example of what I mean. Yes, he is a musical genius; I don’t question that for a second after hearing his music; but even so, I, as a listener, reserve the right to accept or reject the results of his genius as I hear them.

Being written so close together (1963, 1969, 1971 & 1974), these first four quartets naturally share a great many stylistic and structural similarities. Although the music of No. 2 is clearly different from that of No. 1, and the same with Nos. 3 & 4, the lay listener can very easily hear, for instance, the one-movement Quartet No. 2 almost as an extra movement of Quartet No. 1 etc. In these early years, I think, Meyer had not quite yet developed his other compositional “voices,” thus the similarities are stronger than the differences. But isn’t that true of all composers? After all, the six quartets that make up Beethoven’s Op. 18 all tend to sound of a piece, too. And yes, there are clearly moments in Nos. 2-4, such as the loud, fast passage in No. 2 where the quartet suddenly rise up (unusually for Meyer) en masse to play a loud, fast, emotional passage that almost sounds like a bitonal hoedown, where he does indeed give us something different, not heard in the others.

And of course, the impact that any music, but particularly music of this complexity, makes on you is due in large part to the performers’ approach to it. Thankfully, the Wieniawski String Quartet, consisting of two somewhat older (viola & cello) and two somewhat younger (the violinists) members, seems pretty locked into this music and dedicated to presenting it in its best light. Need I say that, considering the ultra-Romantic composer they are named after, I an very proud of them for this? We clearly need many more modern-day classical performers whose repertoire is at least half modern music, and by modern music I mean anything written since 1960, not before it!

Meyer’s sense of drama was already honed to a fine point by the time of the third quartet (1971); note, for instance, the superb manner in which he builds tension using nothing more than a repeated sequence of string tremolos (at different volume levels) in the last movement of this piece. And the fourth quartet is an entirely different kind of piece, much more fragmented in its use of notes, more atmospheric and less structured. It reminds me of the kind of music that Leif Segerstam was writing at about this same time, but in a sense I think that Meyer’s early music was an influence on Segerstam rather than the other way around.

The problem with this group of CDs as a “set,” even though I realize that each disc was issued separately, is one in common with dozens of such collections of composer’s quartets, sonatas or symphonies, a lack of chronology—in this case, after the sixth quartet, a disc which, you can tell by its catalog number, was actually released first. I really do wonder at the intelligence of those in charge who decide such things, as most of the time these works fit quite easily in chronological order on sequential CDs. In this case they don’t, though—CD 3, containing quartets Nos. 8-10, would have to run over 87 minutes, so in this case I forgive them. Still, you really should listen to the complete set in sequence, as it shows you how Meyer continued to develop and expand his style to incorporate other “voices,” and no leap forward is quite as dramatic as that from the fourth to the fifth quartet.

Here, in 1977, we are in the midst of Meyer’s fully mature style, manipulating the thematic material in such a way that it morphs and grows, each succeeding section feeding off the one previously, creating, in the end, a unified whole. The pace of the fifth quartet also slows down considerably as you progress through the movements. By contrast, the opening movement of the Quartet No. 6 uses a great deal of syncopation, almost but not quite in a jazz-like manner, which the Wieniawski players capture to perfection. In the second movement of this quartet (“Prestissimo”). Meyer sets up fast violin passages that almost simulate a hoedown; the figures they play almost suggest little animals scurrying around in the dark. Yet, in the slow third movement, he reverts to long-held notes with several pauses thrown in to interrupt the flow of the music, once again suggesting a mood rather than a taut structure…and yet, later on in this music, there is more scurrying of a slightly different kind, along with bent notes. Curiouser and curiouser! There is also some very strong syncopation in the second movement (“Furioso”) of the Quartet No. 8.

Despite what he claims is his natural affinity for quartet writing, Meyer has often taken his sweet old time producing several of his later works in this genre. After the flurry of the first four quartets, written within a decade, the others followed in irregular spurts: No. 5 in 1977, No. 6 in 1981 and No. 7 in 1985. The latter reflects his later style, which uses more lyrical (albeit bitonal) melodic lines which in turn leads to a greater unity of the material at hand. This work is indeed very close to Bartók, even though Meyer moves further out of the tonal center in his most complex and dramatic passages. Writing in longer lines, for him, also means writing in a slightly more conventional rhythm, which again makes the music just that more accessible to the average listener. Thus it makes some sense (though not a lot) that Naxos chose to release Vol. 2 (Quartets Nos. 5, 6 & 8) first with Quartets Nos. 9, 11 & 12 second, this one (Nos. 7, 10 & 13) third and the more abstract first four quartets last. Heaven forbid that you should shock listeners into listening to music that doesn’t follow established patterns!

The Tenth Quartet also has strong echoes of Bartók, or even a bit of Shostakovich, but here Meyer is freer with his manipulation of both themes and rhythm in the development sections. At times in the first movement, for instance, quirky little motifs bounce around from instrument to instrument, creating a “sort of” hocket effect but not quite. The “Allegro assai” portion of this quartet becomes quite complex indeed, pushing the players to the limits of their abilities to interact with rapid figures which sometimes are at odds with one another rhythmically. By this time (1994), too, Meyer’s music began to take on the atmospheric quality—quite different from his earlier “atonal ambient” style—that would mark much of his later output. The 13th and (so far) last quartet (I can’t believe that Meyer doesn’t have a 14th quartet up his sleeve, yet to be produced) is the most involved and complex structure of the entire series, very much like some of Beethoven’s last three quartets—and not really all that far removed from Beethoven in its harmonic daring, though of course Ludwig was close to 100 years ahead of his time in that respect. Also like one of Beethoven’s late quartets, Meyer here created a world within a world where every note and gesture combines together to create a unified microcosm of sound and emotion. This is truly a masterpiece that you need to hear and not just read about; the music is so compact that even trying to describe one portion of it as it flies by your ears can’t possibly do justice to the whole movement in which that moment occurs.

The “last” CD, however, backs up a bit, starting with the Ninth Quartet from 1990, a work that looks back a bit to Meyer’s style of 1963-72 as well as incorporating a few (but very few) ideas from Benjamin Britten, particularly the open fifths. But it’s really all his style despite the use of a few ideas from Britten—note the high, whistling violin figures in the vigorous and somewhat ominous-sounding first movement. It is in the second movement that we hear Meyer’s later, more lyrical style coming to the fore, with the viola and one violin playing the melancholy theme in the opening measures. The third movement is nearly all pizzicato figures, some of which run over each other. The 11th Quartet, dating from 2001, seems to combine both of Meyer’s basic styles, the knotty and the lyrical, in a well-crafted series of theme expositions and developments. This is especially evident in the slow section, which passes for a second movement, where Meyer introduces cute little pauses in the music to interrupt its flow when you least expect him to.

The last quartet in the series as presented here is the 12th from 2005, surprisingly (for Meyer) a nine-movement work lasting nearly 40 minutes. Here, as in the 13th Quartet, he creates a work which again bears some resemblance to Beethoven’s late quartets in both mood and structure, i.e. the juxtaposition of contrasting moods, going (for instance) from the pensive first movement to an almost violent second. I won’t spoil the surprises in the rest of the quartet for you, but remember what I said: it’s very much modeled on late Beethoven.

Krzysztof Meyer is clearly one of the greatest of living composers, a man who knows how to construct music that is modern harmonically and rhythmically yet which, more often than not, also touches the heart. It’s a shame that his scores are not nearly as well known as they should be. Hopefully these reviews I’ve written will open the door for you to explore his wide and varied output.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Krzysztof Meyer’s Chamber Music

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MEYER: Canzona for Cello & Piano. Imaginary Variations for Violin & Piano. Moment Musical for Solo Cello. Misterioso for Violin & Piano. Piano Trio / Poznań Piano Trio: Laura Kluwak-Sobolewska, pno; Anna Ziółkowska, vln; Monika Baranowska, cel / Naxos 8.573500

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MEYER: Piano Quartet. Piano Quintet* / Silesian String Qrt; Szymon Krzeszowiec, vln I; *Arkadiusz Kubica, vln II; Łukasz Surnicki, vla; Piotr Janosik, cel; Piotr Sałajczyk, pno / Naxos 8.573357

Having been impressed by Krzysztof Meyer’s Sixth Symphony and Piano Concerto, I decided to investigate other pieces by him, and boy, have I found a lot! About the only piece I didn’t like was his Fifth Symphony—just too fragmented for me, and it says nothing—but much of his other music has impressed me so I’m going to review it.

Meyer clearly has his own way of writing music, and what impressed me the most was that he does not have but one “voice” as a composer. The Canzona for cello & piano, for instance, opens quite lyrically and tonally, although you can tell from the ominous single bass notes played by the pianist under the cello’s opening statement that this is not a “song” that is all sweetness and light. There is at least a shade of darkness to this canzone, and as we move from the lyrical opening to the quicker, busier middle section, Meyer has the cellist alternate between bowed and pizzicato figures, which adds another shade of uneasiness to the proceedings. Before we even reach the halfway point, in fact, the music becomes even faster and louder, with the cellist playing edgy bowed figures that are quite menacing indeed, being in a minor mode. It’s quite a piece, with Meyer packing quite a bit of emotion and darkness into a mere 10 minutes’ worth of music.

Meyer had this to say in the liner notes about his Imaginary Variations:

this composition is structured in a similar way to Classical variation form, and the audience can hear the constant changes to the musical ideas. In reality, however, the twelve short sections of the work are not true variations, even though they display some connections and similarities.

This work is, on the whole, more atonal than the Canzona but not at all in the 12-tone style; rather, it combines tonal and atonal elements although leaning more towards the latter, and the tempi and rhythms of these “imaginary variations” are different enough from each other to make the piece interesting as well as attractive. In one “variation,” Meyer has the violin play some atonal pizzicato figures against the pointillistic piano part, both in an opposing rhythm to the other. By contract, the next one is quite lyrical; then he changes things once again. By contrast, the Moment Musical for solo cello is primarily edgy with occasional lyric moments. Darkness is again a feature of this piece, almost ferocious at times in its fast bowed passages. Needless to say, Meyer’s Misterioso lives up to its name, with the violin snaking its way through the music like a malevolent spider.

Of course, the Piano Trio is the fullest piece on this CD, and here Meyer combined a number of his trademark sounds and techniques while still respecting the older piano trio form. One strange feature of this piece is its edgy “slow” movement, titled “Andante inquieto,” in which he almost makes the menacing cello tremolos sound like a sort of alien raccoon waiting to attack you in your basement. The “Allegretto capriccioso” consists of soft, bouncing violin pizzicato in minor modes set against occasional piano thumps and sinister held notes by the cello.

Moving on to the piano quartet and quintet, one hears a similar manipulation of the musical material and again the music vacillates between tonal and atonal (sometimes simply bitonal). The quartet is unusual in that it was written as a single movement lasting nearly 25 minutes. The notes tell us that musical unity is given to this work via a process of constant variation, but of course whatever a composer does from a technical standpoint is only of interest to a musician or a musicologist. It’s how the music sounds to you and affects you that counts, and Meyer frequently scores over his colleague and teacher Penderecki because his music is more understandable to lay listeners as well as not always trying to sound ugly all the time. As Rafael Kubelik once said, he was suspicious of any music that was just an intellectual exercise because it didn’t touch the heart. Meyer’s music does both. I also love the way Meyer introduces complex cross-rhythms and syncopations in his music, which sometimes fool the ear.

I was also surprised, in the piano quintet, by his using sliding microtones in one passage of this first movement, which reminded me of Julián Carrillo. Meyer is clearly a versatile composer who thinks outside the box. Being the longest work of those included in this review, it is, of course, a much more complex piece, but again the point is the feeling and emotion he pours into his work and not just the medium which carries it. Meyer is clearly a great composer, and it’s a shame that his work isn’t half as well known as Penderecki’s outside of his native Poland.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Lars Lindvall’s Evolving Jazz Visions

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WOOD / LINDVALL: A Walk in the Forest 1 & 2. A Decision 1, 2 & 3. Move With the Energy 1 & 2.* Light Flight 1 & 2. Still 1 & 2. Walking Towards Home / Lars Lindvall Tentet: Lindvall, tpt/Fl-hn; Wege Wüthrich, cl; John Voirol, oboe/sop-sx; Otmar Kramis, bs-cl; Andreas Tschopp, tb; Francis Coletta, gt; Christoph Stiefel, pno/synth; Wolfgang Zwiauer, bs; Thomas Weiss, perc; *add Richard Dobrowski, tpt & Robert Morgenthaler, tb / self-produced CD, available for purchase or streaming HERE on Bandcamp

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NOW OR NEVER / CD 1: LINDVALL: Hunting. Wake Up to Beauty and its Nuances. Bigband 44. Inside Joy With Ears. With Joy. Hallelujah. Beyond Hunting. Beyond 1 & 2 / Lars Lindvall, Wolfgang Zumpe, Mike Maurer, Jonas Winterhalter, Christoph Mahnig, tpt; Lukas Wyss, Lukas Briggen, Christoph Huber, Christian Kramer, tb; John Voirol, sop-sax; Natthias Kohler, a-sax; Christian Schütz, t-sax/sop-sax; Wege Wüthrich, t-sax; Otmar Kramis, bar-sax; Franz Hellmüller, gt; Fred Lang, pno; Hagen Neye, bs; Jan Schwinning, dm. / CD 2: LINDVALL: Evolving & Dissolving Modes, 1-4. Beyond 3 / Same as CD 1, but add Lindvall, didgeridoos/nord lead 3/ableton live/trumpet-effect-shapes; Christian Muthspiel, tb; Jay Clayton, voc; Gregor Hilbe, dm; Teerth Gonzales, perc / self-produced CDs, available for purchase or streaming on Bandcamp: CD 1, CD 2 (rec. 2016)

Lars Lindvall is a 60-year-old Swedish jazz trumpeter-composer who looks a lot like Elvis Costello and clearly lives in the world of his own imagination. He contacted me by email (his email only included his first name) and asked if he could mail me some CDs from Sweden. Since I now have highly unreliable mail delivery at my home, thanks to President Trump installing a moron as Postmaster General who took away postal workers’ ability to use electronic sorting and other such things, I asked him if he could simply email me MP# files, cover art and booklets for me to audition and see if I’d like to review them.

I waited a week for him to answer. When he didn’t, I wrote him again. That’s when he told me he wasn’t sure if he had the sound files on his computer but directed me to his Bandcamp pages, where I was able to audition the music.

My regular readers know that I am generally not a fan of “ambient music,” be it jazz or classical, because such pieces generally don’t have anything interesting in them. But much of Lindvall’s music is different. As a trumpeter, he clearly models himself after Miles Davis, playing a few sparse notes rather than rapid streams of them. He is talking to you, not trying to impress you with his chops. Furthermore, his music is…well. weird. It takes its own circuitous routes as it tiptoes through the tulips of your mind. In this respect, it reminds me of some of innovative music of the old “cool school” of the 1950s, for those of you who remember (or have even heard) the music of Tony Scott and Chico Hamilton (or even Miles Davis himself). Thus I decided to review the second and third of the three albums he sent me links to, and here they are.

Neither album is new; in fact, they were released a decade apart. Wood came out in 2006 and Now or Never in 2016. Lindvall’s own description of the Wood music will give you a glimpse into his mind:

In February 2003, I started to write the wood music. My aim was to develop a series of musical pieces reflecting different energies which I have been discovering in my life. To use simple melodies, sound textures & grooves supporting those energies to be felt by the listener…We had the opportunity to perform the “Wood” program at different venues in Switzerland during 2004 and 2005. During that time I recorded all horn tracks, guitar and bass. Piano and percussion were recorded at the Radiostudio in Zurich.

Now you are a part of it! (To) Be taken and moved (by it) is the only way to be part of the journey. the music needs to be dreamt, to be trusted and to be brought to life. Listen, sing, dance and, most importantly, enjoy.

Yes, indeed. Be prepared to ride the Starship Lindvall to the Wood Galaxy.

A Walk in the Forest 1 opens with solo trumpet, very much à la Miles: theme statement, after which the synthesizer comes in behind him with a (very) sustained E-flat major chord. This them moves seamlessly into part 2, when the trumpet and some of the winds come in, still with the synth holding that E-flat chord. It is music that develops slowly, but it does develop, eventually changing harmony beneath the clarinet solo, producing music that is not all that far removed from the French impressionists. Little double-time figures by other winds change it still further as the drone stops, followed by a bit of conga-style drumming and an entirely new theme played in the trumpet’s mid-range by Lindvall. Slow-moving it may well be, but it’s also very creative. By the time we reach the clarinet solo, it has assumed a sort of Middle Eastern belly-dancing beat. Beneath its slow-moving pace and development, this is a real composition: it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, always moving in its relaxed way to another way station. Christoph Stiefel contributes an excellent piano solo to the mix as well.

A Decision opens with an 11-second bongo drum solo, tracked separately on the album, before the very spacey theme, set to an irregular meter, moves in. Once again, the music is both fascinating and well structured and here, again, Lindvall uses a Middle Eastern sort of beat. This is really cool stuff! In A Decision Part 2, we hear another change of theme and meter as well as an excellent guitar solo by Francis Coletta…with NO ROCK BEAT!! (Let’s hear a collective cheer or an “Amen”!) Another thing I noticed was that, as the music evolved, little motifs and.or rhythms flowed from one section to the next. The final section of A Decision is an a cappella trumpet solo played through a reverb tunnel with a little drums. Weird but effective.

And yes, these pieces do tend to make up a suite, tied together by some common beats and keys but with each section being somewhat different. I could give further details on all of them but this would spoil the fun of discovery for the new listener. As Lindvall said, you have to come to the party, each in your own way.

Despite his using six brass and wind instruments, Lindvall also keeps his scores uncluttered. The textures are transparent, revealing all the little details inside the music that might otherwise be lost had he scored them more like an orchestra. This, too, enhances one’s enjoyment of the music.

Lindvall goes even further, however, in his enthusiastic promotion for the double-CD Now or Never, calling it “essential music for big band—a document of the times!” Lindvall also defines it as “a culmination of Lars’ musical output.” Well, if course it’s a document of the times…every recording documents the time spent in the studio at that moment in time. But let’s see if it’s essential, shall we?

Hunting clearly has a vibe similar to the Wood music, except that the opening theme is more fragmented, with space in between phrases. The orchestration is also richer, using a bit more brass, and when the music finally gets going, using a simple but attractive riff, it is scored a bit heavier than Wood. The music is still interesting, and Lindvall continues to develop his themes, but it has a more overt quality about it at times and some of the solos are more aggressive. To a certain extent, this music reminded me of the high-quality big band scores written in the 1970s and ‘80s by Toshiko Akiyoshi, still one of the most underrated and neglected jazz composers of all time. Indeed, as the baritone sax solo on this track continues, it increases not only in volume but in tempo until it, and the band, sound very much like the Akiyoshi-Tabackin Big Band.

In Wake Up to Beauty and its Nuances, Lindvall reverts to his spacey side, opening with a soft trumpet solo accompanied only by guitar, and even when a slow rhythm suggests itself, he is underscored by bowed bass and the orchestra’s textures are soft-grained. Yet again the volume increases, falls back, then increases again as the music develops, but these volume swells are less frequent than in Hunting and, by and large, the music is gentler. About two-thirds of the way into it, in fact, we again hear that quasi-Middle Eastern rhythm that permeated the music of Wood, and from that point on the piece is quiet and restful.

But if this piece has the delicacy of a Gil Evans score, Bigband 44 is a jazz samba more reminiscent of the jazz of 20 years later (’64). After an excellent piano solo introduction by Fred Lang, soft brass mixtures (again reminiscent of Gil Evans) move in to introduce the theme, followed by a mellow tenor sax statement against guitar counterpoint. This one is largely interesting ensemble figures interspersed with nice sax solos.

Inside Joy With Ears returns us to some of the spacey music of Wood, opening with sparse trumpet figures played against guitar, bass and drums, all playing discretely and not at all together behind Lindvall. In time, this quiet little melee between these three rhythm instruments becomes a quiet brawl, but Lindvall just calmly keeps interjecting his odd little improvised figures. Eventually, however, the rhythm recedes, all but the guitar drop out, and Lindvall sails along over the guitar (and then later, the bass playing an odd funky little figure underneath) before Lindvall returns, this time with some trumpet growls thrown in. A very strange track!

The other pieces vary somewhat, alternating fast and slow numbers appropriately, sometimes capturing some of the flavor of Wood and at other times creating its own vibe. And once again, I hesitate to spoil the surprise of much of this music for listeners. Just take my word for it, it’s all worth listening to.

Ah, but then there is the second CD in this set, which consists of only five tracks: the very long (almost a half hour) Evolving & Dissolving Modes I, the fairly long (around 13 minutes each) Modes 2-4, and the short conclusion (1:30) of Beyond. This is much more “out there” music, with Lindvall often switching from trumpet to didgeridoo, a female vocalist (Jay Clayton) injecting occasional sung notes or short whoops), and much more amorphic music. In the liner notes, Lindvall explains that he conceived CD 2 as “more of «the never ending story» of nature, with its moods and yearly patterns. Nature has always been my most important inspiration. Especially I had the Swedish grey light in mind, which mostly can be experienced in fall and the early winter season – a thousand of different nuances of grey, without being heavy or depressing.” So there you go.

The music is, for the most part, very slow indeed, and the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern rhythm is also back. Leave it to Lindvall to combine ideas from Aboriginal, Arabic and Swedish culture and pour them into a primarily Western musical mold. After the halfway point, however, the music becomes more and more tonal and Western in concept, which for me, personally, was a mistake. It should have kept probing and changing. After a dead stop, which feels like the finale, we get a fairly long coda, and this is more daring harmonically.

Part 2 is a shade faster, and after a while the drums enter to give the music a little more of a kick. This caravan is a little peppier and more wide awake than the first one. Some of the scoring for the trumpet section also includes a certain amount of bitonal harmony, which also adds piquancy to the proceedings. Part 4 is the swingingest of the entire set as well as the most harmonically adventurous.

But again, I don’t want to give too much away since Lindvall has little (and large) surprises in store for the listener in every track. No, it’s not a towering masterpiece, but it’s certainly creative and absorbing, well worthy of the time you spend listening to it, and it does create an hypnotic sound environment that you can feel comfortable in.

Just remember Lars Lindvall’s motto:

You are not dancing. LIFE IS DANCING YOU!

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Krzysztof Meyer’s Orchestral Music

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WAP 2022MEYER: Piano Concerto.* Symphony No. 6, “Polish Symphony” / *Pavel Gililov, pianist; Great Polish Radio & Television Symphony Orch. of Katowice; Antoni Wit, conductor / Dux 1898

Here is a recording of works by 79-year-old Krzysztof Meyer conducted by 78-year-old Antoni Wit. I don’t know enough about the Polish classical music scene to know whether or not Wit is the “dean” of Polish conductors, but he’s certainly been around a long while and his recordings of works by Szymanowski, Górecki and other composers are often considered benchmarks in those works.

Meyer writes in a style that uses Eastern modes and modern rhythms. You might almost call him a modern-day Szymanowski except that, with his stronger rhythms and more brilliant orchestration, his scores do not have the exotic Impressionist feeling of his predecessor. After a slow, mysterious opening, the piano concerto’s first movement reels headlong through a number of short-breathed, almost fragmented motifs and themes before receding in both volume and pace for an equally eerie middle section. The piano soloist does not play virtuoso showcase music, but rather fits into the overall fabric of the music as just another part, but this, too is fascinating to hear. It is almost as if the piano were another section of the orchestra for Meyer to play against with the others. There’s a touch of George Antheil about this music that intrigued me, and Meyer varies his music so much that you never lose interest in what’s going on.

The second movement sounds like a play on a short rhythmic theme which starts in the high winds, moves around the orchestra a bit, and then disappears to allow a second, faster, quirkier theme to take hold. Once again, the piano acts as commentator and interlocutor rather than providing musical “answers” to the mysterious goings-on around it. At the three-minute mark, the orchestra plays some “ta-daa!” type chords, signifying that things are wrapping up, but they’re not! On the contrary, the pianist suddenly emerges playing a swinging, jazz-based solo before the movement ends in earnest.

The third movement is the slow one, played mostly by soft strings with, again, a mysterious feeling about it. The last movement begins with loud, sharply-attacked open F chords which launch a scurrying theme which the piano gobbles up and carries on its back for some time. This movement, too, has a whiff of Antheil about it. Eventually, however, it becomes a riot of loud, fast running motifs in minor modes, something like a modern version of Berlioz’ “Witches’ Sabbath” from the Symphonie Fantastique.

Meyer’s Sixth Symphony, which he dedicated to conductor Antoni Wit, was written in 1981 “under the impression of the declaration of martial law in Poland.” He also used “well-known Polish songs in all movements except the second,” but none of these were Polish songs that I heard as a child. (My grandparents came from Poland and my father spoke Polish.) The first movement is almost like a funeral dirge, using slow, sad, broken melodies, later interspersed with fast minor-key flurries from the violins and interjections by muted trumpets. Later on, however, there is a ferocious, almost savage break-out by the orchestra, with sharp flute and piccolo motifs stabbing through the massed sound of the other sections.

The fast and relatively short (7:07) second movement opens with scurrying, out-of-tonality violin figures with interjections by the flutes and other strings, but there is nothing jolly about this music. At about the halfway mark, the volume increases as the trumpets have their say as a section, followed by more scurrying (this time much more aggressively) by the strings, winds and brass, including trombones and tuba. The tone of the slow third movement is set by plodding pizzicato from mid-range violins and violas while a clarinet, backed by percussion (mostly chimes), plays a strange, amorphous theme. This movement, too, eventually explodes in a riot of massed sound, with the snare drum playing a melancholy funeral beat behind it. The final movement opens up as a mad, headlong rush through ungraspable, amorphic themes, but then turns into a “Funebre” section to its conclusion.

What a fascinating CD! For me, this was an introduction to Meyer’s music, and you can bet that I’ll be investigating more of it.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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