Kurtág Reaches the Edge of Silence

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WP 2019 - 2THE EDGE OF SILENCE / KURTÁG: Scenes from a Novel.2-4 3 Old Inscriptions.1 S.K. Remembrance Noise.2 Attila Jószef Fragments. 7 Songs, Op. 22.3 Requiem for the Beloved.1 A Twilight in Winter Recollected 2,3 / Susan Narucki, sop; 1Donald Berman, pno; 2Curtis Macomber, vln; 3Nicholas Tolle, cimb; 4Kathryn Schulmeister, bs / Avie AV2408

This CD picks up where the previous Kurtág disc left off, with more music for soprano accompanied by violin, cimbalom and bass, but here also in two works by piano. American soprano Susan Narucki appears to have a richer, warmer voice that Viktoriia Vitrenko but the same high level of musicality. Her Hungarian diction is not quite as clear as Vitrenko’s but, thankfully, Avie has actually included the lyrics to these songs (with English translations) in the booklet. With the lyrics to follow, you realize how well Kurtág matched the mood of the poems to music—although, as both Leonard Bernstein and Arturo Toscanini said, music is just what it is, even if it is tied to words. The very last piece in the first cycle is surprisingly lyrical and lovely.

And once again, Kurtág keeps the backing to his vocals light: piano in two pieces, but otherwise violin with either cimbalom or bass, and in a few pieces the soprano sings a cappella. At the beginning of 3 Old Inscriptions she even has to whisper a few words before opening up the voice. Yet oddly, although Kurtág asks a lot of his sopranos, he never really abuses the voice. He does not write odd or extraordinarily wide-ranging intervals for his singers, but keeps the tessitura in one part of the range or the other for long stretches of time. Interestingly, S.K. Remembrance of Noise opens with the violin playing the same chord with sustained tone that opens the Stravinsky Violin Concerto. Coincidence?

The Attila Jószek Fragments are the only pieces on this album that are sung completely a cappella, and Narucki handles this challenge with ease. In this piece, however, Kurtág appeared to be less interested in matching music to words as in the other pieces; his music here is more abstract, conveying in some sense the abstract quality of Jószef’s words, such as the examples below:

For seven – I ask myself –
\will you give six, pray?
I’m playing. The merit is
his who was able to play.

Girls’ knees stalk our predatory eyes
and in my fury I could kill a fairy,
though for this leaky, foundling life,
it isn’t – I admit – worth killing.

Kurtág imparts a surreal feeling to the 7 Songs, accompanying the voice solely with the cimbalom. Although the music is atonal but not microtonal, there’s a certain Harry Partch-like feeling about them.

We end this collection with A Twilight in Winter Recollected, in which the soprano is accompanied by violin and cimbalom. The music here is more rhythmic than usual for Kurtág but not conventionally melodic; it often sounds as if the singer and the instrumentalists are operating on different planes, only occasionally coming together in concord, yet the vocal line is more curved and the singer’s legato maintained.

Another outstanding album of Kurtág’s music, brilliantly sung and played.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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György Kurtág Creates Scenes

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WP 2019 - 2KURTÁG: Scenes from a Novel. 8 Duos for Violin and Cimbalom.+ 7 Songs.* In Memory of a Winter Evening. Several Movements from Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s “Scrapbooks.” Games, Book 7: Hommage à Berényi Ferenc / Viktoriia Vitrenko, sop; David Grimal, vln; Luigi Gaggero, cimb; Niek de Groot, bs / Audite 97.762

György Kurtág, who celebrated his 93rd birthday this year, was a close friend of György Ligeti in Hungary during the late 1940s, studied with Max Deutsch, Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud, but also claims that “my mother-tongue is Bartók, and Bartók’s mother-tongue was Beethoven.” Partly due to the Soviet occupation of Hungary he was a late bloomer, coming to prominence in 1981 with his Messages of the Late Miss R.V. Troussova for soprano and chamber ensemble.

The opening Scenes from a Novel for soprano, violin and bass clearly show his eclectic approach. At different moments the music sounds like Ligeti, Bartók (particularly the folk influence in the second piece) Messiaen and Milhaud, yet it is all in a very personal style that is clearly modern Hungarian and not really too close to that of the French composers. Sadly, the booklet provides no texts or translations for any of the songs, and for once not even The Lieder Net Archive provides much help, so we just have to guess at the content of the lyrics. The booklet provides only a small hint as to their meaning: “The main theme of these songs seems to be that of fading (sinking and losing consciousness; a threadless labyrinth without maze nor Ariadne; the scent of a hyacinth …) contrasted with the final image, ‘in crescendo,’ of a snail climbing … the Mount Fuji.”  But Viktoriia Vitrenko is clearly a top-drawer soprano with a clear, pure voice under perfect control with crisp, clear diction and great expression. We Westerners must, however, judge these songs solely by their musical content, and they are, as I say, varied and interesting. The seventh song, titled “Rondo,” includes some extraordinary vocal effects in which Vitrenko repeats a four-syllable motif on rapidly paced notes that leap upward and down again into her upper register, and in the ninth, “Hurdy-gurdy waltz,” she is required to sing off-key against the repetitive accompaniment of violin and bass. A real tour-de-force!

The 8 Duos for Violin and Cimbalom are very impressionistic music, using microtones and violin portamento to create a unique atmosphere. Kurtág uses the cimbalom as a tuned percussion instrument, almost as if it were a marimba, while much of the violin’s music is placed very high up in its top register. Next up are the 7 Songs, in a similar vein to the first set (and again without texts) except here with the cimbalom accompanying the singer instead of violin and bass. In Memory of a Winter Evening (also listed as Winter Sunset) combines the soprano, violin and cimbalom. Several Movements from Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s “Scrapbooks” is for soprano and bass, and here Kurtág again pushes the singer’s voice into different modes and shapes not normal for a regular “opera singer.” (No conventional high operatic soprano I know of would ever get through this music without musical and vocal mishaps.) The only real difference here is that the text is in German (again untranslated) instead of Hungarian.

The finale on this CD, the Hommage à Berényi Ferenc from Book 7 of his suite Games, is here transcribed for the cimbalom which in this case plays much like a piano. It’s slow, atmospheric music, not terribly far from late Bartók or early Ligeti, and is fascinating to hear.

This disc is utterly riveting from start to finish. Great job!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Gazarian Conducts Frid

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WP 2019 - 2FRID: Concerto for Piano, Viola & Strings.* Symphony No. 3 for String Orchestra & Timpani. 2 Inventions for String Orchestra / *Isabelle van Keulen, vla; *Oliver Triendl, pno; Georgian Chamber Orch. Ingolstadt; Ruben Gazarian, cond / Capriccio C5353

In this new CD, conductor Ruben Gazarian conducts the still-rare instrumental music of Grigory Frid (1915-2012), best known for his 1968-69 opera The Diary of Anne Frank. His music has been likened to that of Shostakovich, but to my ears it is actually closer to that of Ligeti or even Weinberg, being moodier and having much more unusual chord positions which makes the harmony more fluid. From the slow, mysterious opening of the Concerto for Piano, Viola and Strings (1981), it is evident that Frid used the instruments—including the solo violist—to create a dark mood rather than projecting bright, flashy sonorities as Shostakovich did with regularity. Moreover, the strings, playing softly in the background, are scored in close seconds or perhaps even closer than that, sustaining long, unusual chords as a backdrop to the soloist. The piano plays sparse single notes, mostly in the bass line, as a sort of sad commentary on the proceedings. Both soloists play with tremendous sensitivity—they almost have to, in music like this—even in the quicker second movement. “Quicker,” however, is a relative term. The tempo is doubled from the first, but the dark mood continues unabated and, in fact, the movements are linked. Here the pianist switches from single notes to an ostinato rhythm, playing repeated chords with occasional interjections of quarter-note triplets against the meandering viola line. The celli in the orchestra now play pizzicato and the other strings, now scored a bit more conventionally harmonically, play louder and often more aggressive phrases as the tempo increases more and more. The emotion ramps up almost to the breaking point around 4:40 but then falls back at 5:07 to a slow interlude, again with close seconds in the strings as the soloists continue their meandering in the foreground.

I say “meandering” only because the music is not conventionally developed, any more than Weinberg’s was. Despite the occasional feeling that the soloists are somehow lost in their own world, Frid actually does create a musical progression, just a very slow-moving one. The long (17:19) “Sostenuto” last movement is by far the deepest and most complex, with an actual melody suddenly emerging from the viola line around the four-minute mark as the pianist continues to ruminate in the background with slow single notes and occasional chords. By the midway mar, the music has risen to an almost screaming climax with the strings and soloists hammering away on ostinato figures. But of course it falls back again, this time to even sadder laments. Eventually, the viola plays repeated sustained notes with the strings as the music fades into oblivion.

By contrast, the Third Symphony begins with energetic if somewhat menacing figures played by the strings with sharp timpani whacks in the background. In this work Frid used his forces in a more rhythmic manner, creating repeated syncopations which he moves through various figures played by the orchestra. His development also seems to be more rhythmic than thematic, with the short motifs bounding around as the movement goes on. As in the case of the concerto, the second movement follows without a break, the mood and structure very similar here to the concerto except without soloists. Yet I hasten to point out that, although Frid used similar devices, he did not repeat the same patterns over and over, but rather varied them in the musical progression. A good example: the last movement, an “Allegro energico,” uses rhythmic motifs similar to those in the Concerto but distributes the beats and accents in an entirely different manner. These are interesting pieces.

The 2 Inventions for String Orchestra (1962, originally for piano) are much more tonal works, the first in C# minor and the second in F major, which bear a similarity to Samuel Barber’s works, except that the slow-moving cello line in the first is more continuously contrapuntal than Barber. The first, with its elegiac mood, might be viewed as his “Adagio for Strings” while the second, with its dramatic opening and fast-moving perpetuum mobile rhythm, is actually more similar to Bartók.

This is quite an interesting CD and a real ear-opener for me!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Julio Botti Presents Jazz-Tango Fusion

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JAZZ TANGO FUSION / PIAZZOLA: Imagenes. Libertango. Michelangelo 70. Chin Chin. BOTTI: Tango Blues. Upper West. Melodia para Agustin. ZIEGLER: Celtic Feast.* Milongueta* / Julio Botti, t-sax/*s-sax; Eduardo Withrington, Hammond B3 org/Fender Rhodes pno; Andrew Baird, Juampy Juarez, gtr; Tiago Michelin, dm / Zoho ZM 201907

I’m very picky when it comes to Latin jazz. I tend to gravitate to the most creative exponents of the genre; much of it sounds the same to me; but Julio Botti takes a very fresh look at this music in this CD, playing his tenor sax fairly low in its range and relatively softly and adding some very interesting counter-lines in the piano/organ parts. He also breaks up the rhythm in interesting ways, as one can immediately hear in the opening. Astor Piazzola’s Imagenes.

The music creates a warm ambience but is not “ambient jazz.” There is a great deal of substance here, and he makes these pieces come across with structure in the form of theme-and-development. Indeed, the subtlety of his small band sounds like a modernized version of the Stan Getz style of the early 1960s. As Imagenes progresses, Botti plays with more edge to his sound yet continues to retain a warm ambience, and during the more adventurous parts of his solo drummer Tiago Michelin plays some very complex figures.

Botti’s original tune Tango Blues is up next, a piece that mixes Latin rhythm with a blues feel. Eduardo Withrington’s Fender Rhodes solo is also quite imaginative, with unusual upward leaps and a sort of serrated feel to the line. I was again impressed by Botti’s control of his horn: he knows how to elicit interesting lines and phrases without overdoing the “outside” elements of his playing. Just as he rewrote Piazzola’s Imagenes, he also makes something much more interesting of the same composer’s Libertango than most musician do, taking it at a relaxed 4 with just a hint of Latin rhythm, again broken up by drummer Michelin, whose subtle yet complex playing also makes up for the lack of a bass. Guitarist Juampy Juarez is one of those soft players, but his solos are interesting and primarily jazz and blues influenced, which I liked very much. The same composer’s Michaelangelo 70 is transformed into a sort of 5/4 piece with irregular distributions of the meter. Again, innovative and interesting. Juarez’ guitar solo here is also much bluesier.

The listener should not take the title of Pablo Ziegler’s Celtic Feast too literally, as once again the music is transformed into something quite different, again with an irregular meter. On this one, Botti plays soprano rather than tenor sax, to good effect and Withrington switches to the Hammond B3 organ. Yet another Piazzola piece, Chin Chin, comes up next, here converted into a sort of funky medium-uptempo piece with accents on the off-beats. Curiously, Botti almost makes this one almost sound like a hora, at least until the middle section when the tempo is suddenly relaxed and slowed down for the leader’s tenor solo over Fender Rhodes. Juarez also plays a fine solo on this one.

Ziegler’s Milongeta is played in a medium-slow 3, again with Botti on soprano. This one, too, slowly decreases in tempo until it almost stand still, then picks up again for some nice Fender Rhodes fills and a lovely improvisation by the leader. This is followed by another Botti original, Upperwest, played in a combination Latin-bop style, and the leader gets a tremendously interesting and well-developed solo, later playing a nice chase chorus with Juarez.

The closer is a ballad by Botti, Melodia para Agustin, taken at a slow 4 and featuring his tenor in a mellow mood. The melody line is not a memorable one but I liked the way he introduces a break-up of the melodic line in a rhythmic fashion.

Quite a nice album, then: soft but not mushy jazz, imaginatively arranged and creatively played!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Gaponenko Pays Homage to Vienna

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HOMMATE À VIENNE / C. SCHUMANN: Scherzo, Op. 10. Romanzen, Op. 11. SCHUBERT: Ungarische Melodie in B min. Impromptu in B. MOSCHELES-HUMMEL-KALKBRENNER-X. MOZART-LISZT-SCHUBERT-UMLAUF: Variations on a Theme of Diabelli. BEETHOVEN: Polonaise in C, Alla Polacca. R. SCHUMANN: Faschingsschwank aus Wien / Elena Gaponenko, pno / Oehms Classics OC 1707

Elena Gaponenko, the extraordinarily talented pianist/cellist, here displays her keyboard skills in an homage to her adopted city of Vienna—a place where, for centuries, the most high-minded in art music has rubbed elbows with lightweight musical fluff. Gaponenko focuses her skills on the lightweight music of the city in this release.

Up first is Clara Wieck Schumann in a couple of pieces that she wrote before she married Robert. I’ve mentioned several times before that I’m not a Clara Schumann fan. I find her music generally light in character and, though skillfully put together, not particularly interesting, but in this case it is a triumph of performance over material. Gaponenko does her level best to make something of the Scherzo, particularly its slow middle section, which she plays with loving care and a superb legato. She also performs miracles with the equally slight Romanzen, giving them the kind of meticulous care that one normally brings to the music of her husband.

The particular Schubert pieces chosen here also fit into the charming-but-lightweight category. yet once again I was struck by Gaponenko’s artistry. She plays these pieces in the old-fashioned way, with subtle but noticeable rubato and a care in phrasing that many modern pianists overlook. The Impromptu is one of Schubert’s better pieces in that vein, fairly lengthy and we;;-developed, and Gaponenko plays it well.

Next we get a real rarity: some of the “Diabelli Variations” that everyone else except Beethoven wrote: Ignaz Moscheles, Johann Hummel, Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Xaver Mozart (Wolfgang’s son), Franz Liszt, Schubert and Michael Umlauf. Among the others missing here are Czerny, Moritz, Lannoy, von Mosel and Sechter, but we don’t miss them very much. Gaponenko has a ball with this music, leaning into the waltz’s quirky rhythms to emphasize its klunkiness. Moscheles’ variation is charming but predictable, Hummel more complex in the bass line, Kalkbrenner more dramatic in its gestures, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart (to give him his full name) much more florid and old-fashioned (Gaponenko plays this with a bit of humor), Liszt already sounding like Liszt at eight years old (he transposes it to the minor and fills it with dramatic gestures and plenty of notes), Schubert retains the minor key feel and imparts some genuine feeling to the music. Umlauf wraps things up with a charming and technically adroit variation.

So as not to leave Beethoven out in the cold, we next get his Polonaise in C, Alla Polacca, which begins with an odd, out-of-tempo introduction before we get the strict polonaise tempo. Once again it’s a fairly lightweight piece, also played with charm.

We end up our visit to Vienna with Robert Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien. Clearly the one real masterpiece on this album, it is played with energy and drive, as Schumann usually should be. Indeed, I was fascinated by the way Gaponenko could change her pianistic “profile” to accommodate this piece in an entirely different vein from the rest of the program, proving once more what an interesting interpreter she is.

This, then, is a nice album for relaxed listening (normally not my thing) with a couple of nice surprises.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Villari and Voulgaridou Shine in New “Cavalleria”

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MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana / Alexia Voulgaridou, sop (Santuzza); Marina Ogli, sop (Lola); Angelo Villari, ten (Turiddu); Devid Cecconi, bar (Alfio); Elena Zilio, mezzo (Mamma Lucia); Cristina Pagliai, mezzo (A Woman); Florence May Festival Chorus & Orch.; Valerio Galli, cond / Dynamic CDS7843 (live: February 2019)

For someone of my age group, it seems like only yesterday that the “operatic twins” Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana formed a near-perennial double bill in the opera houses of the world, but time and political correctness have split them asunder for some time now. And this is for the better, I think, because neither of them really have music so substantive that they can withstand annual hearings multiple times.

Of the two, Leoncavallo’s opera is the one that was always deemed the more theatrically effective (particularly the last scene with its commedia dell’arte imitation) whereas Mascagni’s was deemed the more musical and well-written, but of course this is relative. In terms of musical sophistication, Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz is the better opera, but Cav is the more gut-wrenching story. In retrospect, one understands why Lola was looking for a little love outside of her marriage to the brutish muleteer Alfio, but to think that the town Casanova would be the one to be faithful to her was surely a pipe dream. Moreover, it was equally inevitable that Alfio would kill Turiddu once he found out, so where’s the surprise there? Yet there is some effective music in the opera, pride of place going to the extended Santuzza-Turiddu duet which I still think is the best piece in the entire opera.

In this new recording from Dynamic we see how the digital age has sped up the process of recording and issuing complete operas. Here we have a live performance from the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino recorded in February and issued on CD in June. That’s FAST! But of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so they say, thus I was skeptical about the musical results until I heard it.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. Baritone Devid Cecconi has an appropriately dark tone for Alfio but, in his entrance aria, an inappropriately uneven vibrato (read: flutter or wobble) that mars his delivery, but so do a lot of other Alfios whose names happen not to be Robert Merrill, Ettore Bastianini or Pablo Elvira, and at least Cecconi’s voice straightens out its unnerving flutter in time for his big duet with Santuzza. Soprano Marina Ogli also has a flutter, one with more space between the flutters, but her part is brief and doesn’t matter much.

Voulgaridou

Alexia Voulgaridou

Some listeners will also surely object to the rapid vibrato of Greek soprano Alexia Voulgaridou as Santuzza, but to my ears it is no more objectionable than that of many an Italian Santuzza of the past, i.e. Lina Bruna-Rasa who is in my view the most intense interpreter of this role on records. Unfortunately, both of Bruna-Rasa’s surviving recordings of this opera were conducted by Mascagni himself in old age, and in his latter years the composer tended to drag his own music out beyond acceptable limits. Voulgaridou’s performance is also very well nuanced in places, something you would not expect of a Santuzza.

Valerio Galli, a name unknown to me, is a relatively young (I’d say mid-‘30s to judge from his photo) man born in Viareggio who directs the Florence May Festival. His conducting lacks a little of the frisson one got in the past from such maestri as Fausto Cleva or James Levine, but he still leads a musically accurate, taut performance. None of his singers hang onto their high notes until they run out of breath, thank God, and he pulls the musical structure together quite well.

Angelo Villari

Angelo Villari

And now the best news: tenor Angelo Villari is a real find, a singer with a bright, gleaming tone who does not force his tones. His singing reminded me of Harry Theyard in the role. He sounds like the arrogant hotshot that Turiddu thinks he is, and his duet with Santuzza strikes sparks that I haven’t heard since the 1959 Met performance with Giulietta Simionato and Jussi Björling. (And believe me, folks, that was SOME performance of the duet.)

In fact, it is the theatrical feeling of this whole enterprise that, for me, puts it over the top of any recording of the opera I’ve heard. Yes, Bruna Rasa and Beniamino Gigli were a dream team in the 1940 recording, but Mascagni’s sluggish tempi were painful to hear. Björling and Ettore Bastianini were superb as Turiddu and Alfio in the 1957 recording, but Alberto Erede was himself a bit sluggish and Renata Tebaldi was about as exciting as a lump of Swiss cheese. Renata Scotto and Pablo Elvira were wonderful in the 1970s recording led by James Levine, but then you got stuck with the strained, muddy-sounding tenor of Placido Domingo. So, on balance, this is now my favorite recording of Cavalleria.

There are many nice touches in this performance, such as the long, slow crescendo that Galli achieves in “Ineggiam, il Signor non è morto,” and I was both astonished and pleased that the audience did not applaud at the end of “Voi lo sapete,” because it is much more theatrically effective when the music moves without a pause into the duet with Turiddu. In addition, this performance of the Santuzza-Alfio duet “Turiddu mi tolse l’onore” is the most exciting I’ve ever heard, bar none.

And, as a final compliment, WOW has the Florence May Festival chorus and orchestra improved over the years. Just turn back the clock to that Tebaldi-Björling recording to hear how scrappy they were in 1957. Here, they are world class, and that’s saying quite a lot. Give some credit to Galli for that.

Enough said, I think. This is a surprisingly great Cavalleria Rusticana, well worthy of your attention and purchase.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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If Older Jazz Musicians Came Up Now…

As a critic, I receive a lot of “onesheets” and other publicity blurbs for the jazz artists I review, and you simply won’t believe how much purple prose and superfluous bullshit they’re full of. Yes, the same goes for modern classical musicians, but I’ve always thought of jazz as “the casual art” and therefore not in need of knowing what the musicians’ pedigrees are. But apparently that’s no longer the case. Nowadays jazz musicians are expected to have advanced degrees in music, a string of competition awards and, of course, the usual blather about how he or she is “one of the greatest [fill in the blank] of their generation”—as if they would belong to a different generation where they’re considered mere mortals and not towering geniuses.

Being a mischief-maker at heart, I began thinking what it would be like if some of the great jazz musicians of earlier times, whose work was judged by how hot they were and mostly by a jury of their peers (other jazz musicians), were coming up today, and how their albums would be marketed. Below are some examples.

NEW THOMAS WALLER ALBUM SPOTLIGHTS KEYBOARD SKILLS
FATS SAYS, “I’M NOT JUST ALL JOKES AND FUN”
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

Waller

Thomas “Fats” Waller, the well-known jazz band leader (the award-winning “And his Rhythm”), has just released a new four-disc set focusing on his piano prowess. Waller, a pupil of James P. Johnson among others, began playing piano at age six and was a professional organist by age 15. At age 18 he was recording such established classics of the literature as Muscle Shoals Blues for OKeh and the best-selling piano roll, Got to Cool My Doggies Now. He has been hailed in both his home country and Europe as one of the most accomplished technicians of his day. Longtime songwriting partner Andy Razaf has described him as “the soul of melody.”

In this all-new collection, Mr. Waller presents not only five established classics of jazz literature but also three original compositions of his own, of which Viper’s Drag draws particular attention not only for its two different tempi but also for its allusion to “viping,” which is Harlem slang for smoking a marijuana cigarette.

“I sure had fun makin’ that album,” Waller is quoted as saying. “It’s a killer…a killer, I tell you. Yas, yas!”

Preview copies sent to radio stations have shown that Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now is a particular favorite with audiences. Several listeners have contacted the stations declaring it “a solid sender.”

Mr. Waller is available for interviews on this set and its music in between bouts of drinking.

 

CHARLES BARNET AND HIS ORCHESTRA RELEASE “MURDER AT PEYTON HALL”
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

Murder BarnetCharles Daly Barnet, that well-known tenor saxophonist and bandleader, has just issued a new Bluebird record of which he is very proud, Murder at Peyton Hall. Although Mr. Barnet attended private boarding schools, thanks to the munificence of his grandfather, Charles Frederick Daly, the well-known banker and vice-president of the New York Central Railroad, Mr. Barnet wishes his audiences to know that the title does not refer to a real murder, particularly not at his boarding schools.

Mr. Barnet is probably best known for his Bluebird recording of Cherokee, which became so popular that he had to make it his orchestra’s theme song, but assures us that Murder at Peyton Hall is an even wilder piece. “It’s real hotshot jazz,” he relates.

After an explosive introduction played by drummer Cliff Leeman, acknowledged by experts of rhythm as “Mr. Time,” on rimshots, there is a scream that may startle some listeners. This is followed by the rhythm section, Mr. Barnet on tenor saxophone and the trumpets playing the simple melody before it is developed in muted-growl fashion by Billy May. Later on, there is a brief but excellent electric guitar solo by that modern master, Anthony “Bus” Etri. Mr. Etri is a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks and has been playing guitar since he was 12 years old.

 

FRANK TESCHEMACHER RETROSPECTIVE RELEASED
COLUMBIA RECORDS HONORS LATE CLARINETIST IN NEW REISSUE
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

Teschemacher

Missouri native Francis Teschemacher, who became known in the late 1920s and early ‘30s for his sizzling hot clarinet solos before his accidental death at the age of 25, is memorialized in this new four-disc album from Columbia Records.

In addition to playing clarinet, Mr. Teschemacher was also trained on the banjo and violin, occasionally even playing solos on the tenor saxophone. His work, however, was not universally hailed by jazz aficionados, largely due to his limited exposure on records and his instrumental tone, which has alternately been described as “fugitive” (by those who liked him) and “squawky” (by those who didn’t). Nonetheless, his style of improvisation was in large part influenced by the late jazz cornetist Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke, and he himself is credited with being an influence on our current “King of Swing,” Benny Goodman.

It is indeed sad that none of Mr. Teschemacher’s recordings were made under his own name. All those that we know to exist, including the titles in this set, were made as a sideman with other musicians. Some of the tunes in this set were made with “McKenzie and Condon’s Chicagoans,” a band name improvised for the recording session, while two others were made under the direction of the well-known jazz cornetist Ernest Loring “Red” Nichols, whose father was a college professor and also a leader of a local concert and marching band.

These recordings, particularly when played at loud volume, are certain to delight hot jazz fans and make the neighbors call the police.

 

BLUE NOTE RELEASES IMPORTANT NEW JAM SESSION DISC
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

Port of HarlemBlue Note, a new record label in the jazz community, has just released an important 12-inch disc combining the talents of famed swing trumpeter Frank Newton with noted blues-boogie pianists Albert Ammons and Meade “Lux” Lewis. On the “A” side of the disc, Mr. Newton, who hails from Emory, Virginia, is heard in concert with four other well-known swingers: trombonist J.C. Higginbotham, whose playing is often described as being in the “gutter” or “groove”; Ammons, hailed in major press venues as a king of blues and “barrelhouse” piano; rhythm guitarist Teddy Bunn, universally recognized as a superior timekeeper; and drummer Sidney Catlett, known to the jazz fraternity as “Big Sid.” The musicians have named their group the “Port of Harlem Jazzmen” in honor of that section of town in which most Negro musicians live in New York City.

Mr. Newton’s trumpet style has been described by major jazz scribes as “lyrical” and “highly swinging.” On the flip side of the record, Mr. Newton is heard with Meade “Lux” Lewis (author of the famous Honky Tonk Train Blues) playing his own composition, After Hours Blues. This is an innovative new composition full of interesting and advanced “blues” devices.

Those wishing to contact Mr. Newton can write him c/o the New York City Communist Club, of which he is a charter member.

 

DJANGO REINHARDT TO RELEASE NEW DISC, “SWING 42”
FAMED GUITARIST PLAYS WITH JUST TWO FINGERS ON HIS LEFT HAND
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

Reinhardt Swing 42The famed French Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt [pronounced “Zhan-gu Rey-nart”], who plays with only two fingers of his left hand due to a caravan fire in 1928 that burned that extremity and left irreparable damage, is proud to announce the impending release of his newest recording, “Swing 42.”

Since this is one of his first recordings to be released without his longtime musical partner, the highly skilled jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, Mr. Reinhardt wanted to make it clear that his new combination with a clarinetist replacing Grappelli came about due to circumstances beyond his control. “When we go to England in 1939,” he states, “Stéphane decide to remain when I go back to Paris because he see war coming. Me, I don’t care much. I drink, I smoke, and I play guitar. Is enough for me.”

Yet the inclusion of the highly trained clarinetist Hubert Rostaing is also a nod to one of Mr. Reinhardt’s favorite American musicians, Benny Goodman. “I hear Benny make records with Charlie Christian on guitar,” he said. “Christian very good but I play better. I play better than any two other guitarist.” Rostaing, who is classically trained, graduated from the École de Clarinette in 1937. He tells us that he hopes one day to write classical music and film scores.

Mr. Reinhardt retains ties here to his earlier “Quintette du Hot Club de France” by including that group’s bassist, Emmanuel Soudieux, and his cousin Eugène Vees who also played rhythm guitar with the Grappelli version of the Quintette.

The other new member is the drummer, Pierre Fouad, who is an Egyptian prince. His playing is greatly admired by both Parisians and his fellow-Egyptians, although other Muslim countries consider him an infidel and have declared a fatwah on him for playing jazz.

 

DIZZY GILLESPIE BAND SCORES SOLID HIT WITH “OOPAPADA”
BEBOP TRUMPETER AND CULTURAL ICON ALSO SINGS ON NEW DISC
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

GillespieFamed bebop trumpeter John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, also known as a high fashion setter in the jazz world for his costume of striped trousers, zoot suits, beret and goatee, is proud to announce the release of a new original composition which he wrote in conjunction with musician-composer Babs Brown.

“’Oopapada’ is a new kind of piece,” Mr. Gillespie tells us. “It doesn’t just have a good bop rhythm, but also a memorable melodic line, and since the lyrics are pretty much just scat syllables, everyone can feel comfortable singing along.” As if to prove his point, Mr. Gillespie sings the vocal refrain himself on this new RCA Victor record, accompanied by master singer Kenneth Hagood, who graduated from Juilliard with a degree in voice. “Kenny and I really goof good on this disc,” Mr. Gillespie added.”Heck, even the RCA dog, Nipper, joins us on this one.”

The “B” side of this magnum opus is none other than that well-known instrumental feature of the Gillespie band, “Ow!” Quoth the Bard of Bop: “I figured that with such a complicated title on side A, I wanted to let the public be able to pronounce the title of at least one song on the record, and I couldn’t think of anything shorter than ‘Ow!”. Originally, the title was just ‘O,” but Gil Fuller, our arranger, told me that if I left it that way, someone would be sure to think that I was writing pieces named after letters of the alphabet, and I didn’t want to mislead my fans.”

Both sides have been hailed by those disc jockeys who have already heard them. Famous jazz DJ and live broadcast host “Symphony” Sid Torin has described it as “real hot s**t. Dizzy just slays me with this kind of stuff.”

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Exploring Tubby Hayes

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THE VERY BEST OF TUBBY HAYES / SILVER: Opus de Funk.1 HARRY SOUTH: Message to the Messengers.2 BERLIN: Cheek to Cheek.3 HAYES: The Serpent.3 MONK-WILLIAMS-HANIGHEN: ‘Round Midnight.1 HAYES: The Monk.3 HARBURG-LANE: If This Isn’t Love.3 FULLER-GONZALEZ: Tin Tin Deo.1 NOBLE: Cherokee.4 TERRY: Pint of Bitter.5 HAYES: Down in the Village.6 STITT: Stitt’s Tune7 / 1Tubby Hayes Qrt: Hayes, t-sax; Harry South, pno; Pete Elderfield, bs; Bill Eyden, dm. 2Quintet: add Dickie Howden, tpt. 3The Jazz Couriers: Hayes, Ronnie Scott, t-sax; Terry Shannon, pno; Phil Bates, bs; Bill Eyden, dm. 4Jazz Giants: Bobby Pratt, Stan Roderick, Eddie Blair, Jimmy Deucher, tpt; Keith Christie, Don Lusher, Jimmy Wilson, Ray Premru, tb; Hayes, t-sax; Johnny Scott, pic; Alfie Rees, tuba; Terry Shannon, pno; Jeff Cline, bs; Bill Eyden, dm. 5Hayes, t-sax; Clark Terry, tpt; Edie Costa, vib; Horace Parlan, pno; George Duvivier, bs; Dave Bailey, dm. 6Tubby Hayes Quintet : Hayes, vib; Deucher, tpt; Gordon Beck, pno; Freddy Logan, bs; Allan Ganley, dm. 7Tubby Hayes & the All-Stars: Hayes, t-sax; Rahsaan Roland Kirk, t-sax/ manzello; James Moody, t-sax; Walter Bishop Jr., pno; Sam Jones, bs; Louis Hayes, dm.  / Acrobat ACMCD4374

Ernest “Tubby” Hayes (1935-1973) was one of England’s finest bop tenor saxists, a man who could play with the best musicians, but he wasn’t quite as well known in America as his friend and colleague Ronnie Scott. These sessions were made in several venues: live in New York or at Ronnie Scott’s Club and studio sessions for Decca and Philips, all between 1955 and 1962.

Aside from Scott, I didn’t recognize any of the British musicians’ names on these sessions, but I perked up seeing the inclusion of trumpeter Clark Terry, tenor saxist James Moody and particularly the brilliant Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The presence of pianist Walter Bishop Jr. and drummer Sam Jones on the latter session tells me that this was probably a New York blowing date. The program consists of three Hayes originals, a piece by Clark Terry and a large selection of jazz and pop standards.

Hayes combined the fast, lean, Charlie Parker-influenced lines of Sonny Stitt with the fill-bodied tone of a Coleman Hawkins. His playing was fluid and fluent; he had plenty of drive and a good amount og imagination. Unlike Stitt, who basically did a Bird imitation on tenor, Hayes was more individual in his approach. In the opener, Horace Silver’s Opus de Funk, the British rhythm section of pianist Harry South, bassist Pete Elderfield and drummer Bill Eyden play together as a crisp unit. In the second, South’s Message to the Messengers (perhaps a reference to Art Blakey’s band), the excellent Dickie Howden, who played for a time with Johnny Dankworth’s big band, is added on trumpet. Here, Hayes adds a few bluesy turnarounds at the ends of phrases reminiscent of other ‘50s tenor saxists. Howden plays a nice muted solo here, a bit in the Dizzy Gillespie vein. South also contributes a nice, relaxed, mostly single-note solo, adding chords in his second chorus. Elderfield’s bass solo is somewhat metronomic and functional but fills in well.

Cheek to Cheek features both Hayes and Ronnie Scott, who open the track as a duet. Here, the rhythm section is more explosive than in the first two tracks. Although I’ve heard Scott in the past, I can’t say that I’m so familiar with his style that I could tell him from Hayes, but the blistering solos are superb. The same group also plays Hayes’ original The Serpent, a quasi-samba piece with an attractive melody. My guess is that the first solo, which has more of a Stan Getz-like sound, is probably Scott, while the second, fuller-sounding one is probably Hayes.

Hayes really projects his big sound on Monk’s ‘Round Midnight, to good effect. I was also particularly impressed with Hayes’ original, The Monk, which is about as good an imitation of Thelonious’ writing style as I’ve ever heard. Interestingly, pianist Terry Shannon switches to celesta on this track, and is very good both behind Hayes and in his own solo. The Jazz Couriers return for a superb rewriting of the old Lane-Harburg tune If This Isn’t Love, some of it in 3 and some in 4. Once again, Hayes and Scott play together in thirds and unison. I’m pretty sure that all the tenor choruses before the piano are by Hayes and the half-chorus after is by Scott.

The Hayes quartet returns for a great run-through of Walter Fuller and Luciano Gonzales’ Tin Tin Deo, introduced by the Gillespie band in the late 1940s. Hayes’ solo on this one is particularly outstanding, played mostly in double time and displaying some really outstanding musical ideas, building and building on them as he progresses. Cherokee is played by a 14-piece orchestra which called themselves The Jazz Giants; the rhythm section is peppy enough, although drummer Bill Eyden clearly lacked the power to really propel such a band the way American drummers could. The real propulsion comes from the very energetic trumpet section and Hayes himself, who dominates this track and does almost as fine a job as Clifford Brown on his Paris big band session version of this tune.

Pint of Bitter features Hayes with an American group consisting of Clark Terry, Eddie Costa, Horace Parlan and George Duvivier. It’s a nice, relaxed jam on a Terry original tune. I’ve always been amazed at how Terry could elicit such a peculiarly “chubby” sound from his instrument, but he was consistent at it for 60-odd years. Hayes plays a nice, relaxed double-time solo, and I was particularly delighted to hear the way Duvivier propelled the ensemble as well as the soloists. Parlan contributed a nice, quirky piano solo on this one as well.

On Down in the Village, Hayes switches from tenor sax to vibes, and he’s excellent on that instrument as well. This is a Hayes original, mostly in 4 but with a bridge in 3. Jimmy Deucher, another fine British bop trumpeter, also contributes an excellent solo, and Freddy Logan is a terrific bassist and Allan Ganley is a splendid drummer.

The last track is a real treat, combining Hayes with not one but two great American saxists, James Moody (who I managed to hear in person once) and Rahsaan Roland Kirk (who I missed seeing in person but saw a couple of times on TV). Stitt’s Tune is a blistering-fast romp, not much to it in terms of musical construction but a great vehicle for jamming. All three saxists play well, but unless I’m much mistaken Kirk only gets a half-chorus between Moody’s and Hayes’ much fuller solos.

Tubby Hayes was clearly an outstanding jazz talent, one who American listeners should get to know better. This album makes a great introduction to his work.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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The Medici Quartet Plays Shostakovich

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SHOSTAKOVICH: 2 Pieces for Octet.* 2 Pieces for Quartet. Piano Quintet in G min.+ String Quartet No. 8 / Medici String Quartet; *Alberni String Quartet; +John Bingham, pno / Nimbus NI7109

This is a reissue of 1986-88 recordings by the Medici Quartet, considered a first-rank unit in England between their founding in 1971 and the serious illness and retirement of one of their founding members in 2007. The first thing that strikes your ears at the beginning of the early (Op. 11) string octet is the strong emotion of their playing; the second thing is their use of rich string vibrato, nowadays considered to be virtually verboten in the classical music world regardless of the period of music you’re playing.

I was struck also by the much more Russian formality of this work, Despite some harmonic touches that would make you think of later Shostakovich, you’d scarcely recognize the composer from this piece—until you reach the second movement, the opening of which has Shostakovich’s fingerprints all over it. The combined Medici and Alberni Quartets play it with tremendous energy as well as precision.

The two pieces for string quartet happen to be the Elegy from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and the well-known Polka from his ballet The Golden Age. Both are played well, the latter with a nice, sprightly sense of humor.

In the Piano Quintet, the Medici strings are joined by pianist John Bingham, a pleasant player but not one who will grab your attention as much as Medici’s playing. They’re on two different wavelengths, which is unfortunate. It’s a good performance but, because of Bingham, not a great one. Yet they do play the slow second movement together very well, Bingham being led by the string quartet into giving a bit of feeling to his playing, and I loved the way the quartet laid into the syncopated figures in the third.

Medici’s performance of the eighth string quartet is simply wonderful: deeply felt without incurring bathos and beautifully phrased. It makes you wonder what a complete cycle by this group would have sounded like. The second movement has a blistering intensity matched by few others, and the “Allegretto” scampers along with great felicity.

So there you have it. A mostly very fine collection of performances, but unless you’re a Medici Quartet collector, not a really vital disc.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Lafayette Gilchrist Plays with Dark Matter

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WP 2019 - 2DARK MATTER / GILCHRIST: For the Go-Go. Child’s Play. Dark Matter, The Love Bind. Spontaneous Combustion. And You Know This. Blues for Our Marches to End. Old Whale Bones. Happy Birthday Sucker. Black Flight. Greetings / Lafayette Gilchrist, pno / Lafayette Music CDS 005

Lafayette Gilchrist, longtime pianist for saxophone legend David Murray (whose music I generally like very much), has an outing here in what is his second solo CD. I immediately liked the opener, For the Go-Go, which sounds like a cross between boogie woogie and Professor Longhair’s “rolling” New Orleans beat. Gilchrist adds his own touches, however, including unusual stresses on the third beat of each measure by hitting that chord with extra volume. He develops the simple theme slowly and gradually, adding something a little different to each chorus as it goes along.

Child’s Play is a slow number with slight blues allusions in it as well as a running, single-note bass line that becomes more complex as the piece progresses. Judging from these first two tracks (I hadn’t heard him before), Gilchrist seems to be a pianist with a limited technique but a very fertile imagination who can take the simplest building blocks and create a beautiful structure out of them. The title track, Dark Matter, is a rollicking piece in medium tempo with a sort of minor-key blues feel to it. Once again Gilchrist makes something interesting out of very little, piecing little rhythmic blues licks together to form a composition.

The Love Bind begins as a ballad, but by the 35-second mark, Gilchrist is pounding the bass in a funky kind of groove. Spontaneous Combustion also begins in a ballad mode, which surprised me considering its title, but it, too, soon moves into more rhythmic territory, with Gilchrist improvising simple but effective bluesy lines and chords above a pounding, repeated low bass pattern. Towards the end, Gilchrist suddenly downshifts the tempo to play a more lyrical chorus before returning to the pounding rhythm of the opening.

And You Know This follows a similar pattern: the slow, out-of-tempo introduction, followed by a hard-driving, bluesy tune which is developed. In this case, however, the principal theme is rather funkier than its predecessors. Blues for Our Marches to End consists of a simple but catchy rolling bass riff over which Gilchrist plays a different but equally catchy chord sequence. At the five-minute mark he again shifts gears to a Professor Longhair boogie-shuffle, but just temporarily before moving into more complex improvisation, then back to the rolling bass line for the ride-out.

Old Whale Bones is one of the most interesting pieces on the album, one in which Gilchrist plays single notes in both hands against one another contrapuntally, creating interesting figures as he goes along. Yes, he does toss a few chords in, but the unusual single-note style of the bass line continues for the most part and creates an interesting tension with the right hand.

I got a laugh out of the title of Happy Birthday Sucker, which starts out with a very brief snippet of the “Happy Birthday” song but then goes into blues territory before turning into a blues, then into a hard-driving funk piece, albeit with moments of relaxation here and there. By contrast, Black Flight is more lyrical, almost lovely, its simple but effective melody developed well, while ironically, the closer is titled Greeting, This is another simple tune made complex by Gilchrist’s use of various devices in the bass line against the loping right-hand figures. This is also the most harmonically interesting piece on the album, using out-of-tonality chords and chord positions as the piece progresses. At around 2:54, he indulges in some nifty cross-rhythmic patterns across both hands, then slightly increases the tempo for some contrapuntal development. A bit of stride piano makes its appearance at 5:38, followed by some Monk-ish figures.

Dark Matter is an album in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A strange but rewarding listening experience!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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