Revisiting the Jean Goldkette Band

Goldkette band

A rare photo of the Goldkette band featuring arranger Bill Challis, who is at the far left in this picture. Drummer Chauncey Morehouse is fourth from the left; next to him are clarinetist Don Murray and C-melody saxist Frankie Trumbauer, followed by Doc Ryker and goofy-looking Bix Beiderbecke. Trombonist Bill Rank is second from right and the “King of the Hill,” bassist Steve Brown, sits on the hood of the tour bus.

In the America of the 1920s, the absolute top band in the nation was that of Paul Whiteman, the prematurely balding former violist who somehow managed to leapfrog a bevy of name bands, including several that were superior to his (Isham Jones, Don Voorhees, Roger Wolfe Kahn) by virtue of his uncanny promotional skills. By convincing whitebread America that he had “made a lady out of jazz” by hiring classically trained musicians and dressing up his arrangements with echt-classical touches, Whiteman was simply the most powerful name in popular music during the Roaring Twenties and even into the early 1930s. What bothered a lot of people, myself included, was that he really did know what was good and bad in music yet deliberately chose to push the ersatz version over the real thing—even when he had legitimate jazz musician in his orchestra.

goldketteThanks to the presence of those real jazz musicians, Whiteman made roughly three dozen pretty good to excellent records in the period 1927-1936, but the heavy balance of ephemera and pretentious junk have tarnished his name and reputation. No such stigma, however, applies to the dance/jazz orchestra led by the somewhat shadowy and elusive Jean Goldkette (1893-1962), a Jewish-German immigrant from an old circus family who passed himself off as a French classical pianist from Valenciennes. As researcher Anthony Baldwin discovered when delving deep into the Goldkette family history, their family name had originally been Hasloch, but since their circus act was called “Goldkette” or “The Golden Chain,” they eventually changed their surnames to that. Yet despite his German-Jewish ancestry, Jean spent most of his childhood in Greece and Russia where, as a child prodigy, he studied piano at the Moscow Conservatory. Since his family emigrated to the United States in 1911, six years before the Communist Revolution, I’m surprised that they didn’t just pass themselves off as Russian, but apparently a French background just seemed much more lofty in terms of culture.

After performing in a classical ensemble in Chicago from 1912 onward, Goldkette joined Edgar Benson’s dance orchestra and became hooked on American popular music. The chronology is sketchy as to when he arrived in Detroit and leased the Graystone Ballroom, but apparently he picked up the business end of the music industry quickly and deftly. He became co-director of the Detroit Athletic Club for more than 20 years, then became co-owner of the Graystone with Charlie Horvath, who played in his orchestra during its early years. Yet by 1924 this immigrant with the Heinz-57 background not only managed to direct a first-class band which already included such soon-to-be-famous names as Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Chauncey Morehouse and (briefly at that time) young Bix Beiderbecke, but he also managed to wangle a Victor recording contract.

This was no small feat. Any number of dance orchestras who were not working in such large cities as New York, Philadelphia or Chicago would have sacrificed their lead trumpeter with a knife in order to get a Victor contract…yet here was this good musician but not a jazz musician (he never actually played with his bands or even directed them…he just owned them and occasionally posed for photos with them) suddenly being put on a par with Whiteman. But not really. No matter how big the Goldkette band’s reputation grew, they were always considered by Victor to be no more than a “useful” band that could help push the popular song hits of the day. On many of their records, they didn’t even appear on both sides of the disc. Their last and (by their own opinion) greatest record, Clementine (From New Orleans), was the B side of a record that featured the far inferior orchestra of one Jack Crawford.

DinahBut it wasn’t until January 1926 that the Goldkette band started to become a great jazz orchestra. That was the month that bassist Theodore “Steve” Brown, the younger brother of New Orleans trombonist-bandleader Tom Brown and a former member of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, recorded the first “slap bass” solo on records. This was on their recording of Dinah, an electrical recording that still featured the old acoustic “batwing” Victor label (the company didn’t switch over to the more familiar “scroll” label, with the designation “Orthophonic Recording,” until the spring of that year). Although Brown played a bowed, two-beat bass through most of the recording until he got his pizzicato solo, it was the first white dance band record to suggest that a new type of beat was on the way—a beat that would eventually become swing.

Goldkette’s Graystone orchestra moved from the promise of a new jazz style to delivering it to their dancers and listeners when Bix Beiderbecke and arrange Bill Challis joined them later that year (probably around April). We all know how great and innovative Beiderbecke was, so I need not say much more at this point, but Challis was, so far as the public was concerned, a mysterious and shadowy figure, though musicians certainly knew who he was. Dazzled by the playing of Brown, Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer and clarinetist Don Murray, Challis created an entirely new “book” for the band which focused on their playing, but ironically Bix wasn’t allowed to solo at all or even lead the brasses on any of their recordings until October of that year.

My Pretty GirlThe reason was Edward T. King, known in the trade simply as Eddie King, a former percussionist and marching band leader who had moved up the ranks since 1905 to become a well-known and respected recording supervisor. The problem was that King didn’t like jazz improvisation, which he considered “degenerate,” and Bix Beiderbecke was the particular bane of his existence. Unfortunately, the Goldkette band got stuck with King on the majority of their recordings and so were forced not only to dilute their own arrangements with trite dance band clichés but also to record a high number of stock arrangements of popular songs, among them Gimme a Little Kiss, Will Ya, Huh?, Sunny Disposish’, I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover and In My Merry Oldsmobile, few of which showed how well the band could really play. In addition, King insisted that they record with a number of subpar, unswinging vocalists, such as the Keller Sisters (Taddy and Nan) who teamed up with a guy named Frank Lynch to form a trio, as well as such leaden singers as Irving Kaufman, Frank Bessinger, Billy Murray and Lewis James. From a commercial standpoint, King did the right thing; these records far outsold the few good ones the band made, mostly in those rare sessions when the jazz-loving Nathaniel Shilkret or Leonard Joy worked as recording director. Yet somehow, Eddie King usually got the last word on what was released, with the result that, as Goldkette band members complained in a Metronome magazine article around 1940, the Goldkette band was “the best in person but the worst on records.”

ClementineAside from the campy vocal on Sunday, the band was fairly proud of that recording because Bix, Brown, and Murray dominated the final chorus which really swung, but the only other recordings they thought represented them well were My Pretty Girl, Slow River and their very last Victor disc from September 15, 1927, Clementine (From New Orleans), a collaborative arrangement that they felt was their best record ever. Yet even in some of those poor records there were moments where you could tell that there was a superior jazz band hidden beneath, such as the last chorus of Merry Oldsmobile where Bix and Brown really get going, or on Look at the World and Smile where it was Joe Venuti’s turn to interact with Brown. It helped greatly whenever Eddie Lang and/or Venuti participated because they, like Beiderbecke and Brown, already had an advanced concept of jazz swing. By 1926, the duo was contractually obligated to Roger Wolfe Kahn’s society orchestra, but were allowed to make records on the side, and for whatever reason, after their 1924 records made in Detroit, the Goldkette band only recorded in New York. On one of the records the band approved of, My Pretty Girl, they didn’t like the first take because it sounded too stiff, so they re-made it. On the second take, the band sounded much looser; Brown played four-to-the-bar instead of two-beat behind the band, and Don Murray’s clarinet solo was much less stiff and more relaxed. But in the final ride-out, Bix failed to attack a key note as strongly as he did in the first take, so that was the one chosen for release. Luckily, you don’t have to take my word for any of this. The Goldkette band’s complete 1924-29 recordings are available for free streaming on the Internet Archive by clicking HERE.

Small wonder that, when the Goldkette band played a rare “battle of the bands” with the highly touted black band led by Fletcher Henderson at the Roseland Ballroom in New York, in late October 1926, the Henderson musicians were caught completely off guard. Cornetist Rex Stewart remembered it well. He and his bandmates played a set of their hottest tunes, supposing that these “white cornballs from the sticks” could never come close to their playing. As a little joke Trumbauer, who was the de facto leader of the band, kicked off the Goldkette set with the then-popular Spanish tune Valencia, played in 6/8 time. The Henderson musicians felt sure that they had them beat; but after Valencia the band swung into My Pretty Girl (yet to be recorded at that time) and wiped the smiles off all of the Henderson band’s faces.

Stewart never forgot the experience, particularly Beiderbecke who, as he put it, “blew us all away.” In a paper written on the Goldkette band by Russell B. Nye, Stewart is quoted as saying that “It was, without any question, the greatest in the world…the original predecessor to any large white dance orchestra that followed, up to Benny Goodman.”

Frustrated by what they viewed as Victor’s subversion of their true greatness, the Goldkette musicians, headed nominally by Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke, recorded a few of their better arrangements in reductio, without Steve Brown and with reduced forces (sometimes with no trombone at all, and often with only two reed players) for the OKeh label. Under Trumbauer’s name they recorded Clarinet Marmalade, Riverboat Shuffle, Ostrich Walk, Singin’ the Blues and Way Down Yonder in New Orleans. Under the name “Bix and his Gang” they recorded Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down, Goose Pimples and Sorry. The records swung at times because Bix drove them hard, but without Brown and the rest of the band there were just too many elements missing.

Goldkette band 2

A famous candid shot of the band members rehearsing at a railway station. One can easily recognize Howdy Quicksell on banjo, Beiderbecke on cornet and, behind him, clarinetist Don Murray and bassist Brown.

But like so many businessmen of his time, Goldkette’s over-spending and over-speculation led to great financial losses. By the time the band recorded Clementine, he had put them on notice; by the end of November 1927, they all got their release. Beiderbecke, Trumbauer and Brown were immediately offered jobs with Paul Whiteman, but they refused, preferring to play more jazz-oriented charts with bass saxist Adrian Rollini’s orchestra at the New Yorker Hotel. Unfortunately, a kitchen fire destroyed the band’s book and some of their instruments in November, so the trio of stars were indeed swallowed up by Whiteman.

Beiderbecke stayed, on and off, into 1929, but his alcoholism made him less and less dependable and eventually Paul had to send him back to Iowa to sober up. Trumbauer stayed with Whiteman into the mid-1930s, but Brown left after recording with Bix on Tom Satterfield’s terrific arrangement of From Monday On on February 28, 1928 because he could see that with Whiteman it wasn’t just a case of playing drippy arrangements on records but also in his live performances, night after night after night. Brown returned to Detroit where he gigged around, eventually forming his own band, but this band was never recorded.

Goldkette, meanwhile, built up another band, which started recording–ironically, also for Victor—in June 1928, continuing (with another change in personnel) until June 1929. There were some excellent jazz musicians in those last two Goldkette bands: trumpeter Sterling Bose, trombonists Pee Wee Hunt (later a star with the Casa Loma Orchestra) and Vernon Brown (who later played with Goodman), New Orleans clarinetist Volly de Faut, and yes, Steve Brown again on bass. Eddie King was still supervising the recording sessions, the songs became ever sappier and the parade of sub-par male vocalists continued. Yet it was during this time that Goldkette also began managing two other bands, an all-black outfit nominally headed by William McKinney and a group called the Orange Blossoms which by 1930 morphed into the Casa Loma Orchestra.

McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, as they were called, featured such superb jazz musicians as trumpeter John Nesbitt, trombonist Claude Jones (who later played with Louis Armstrong), and the band’s heart and head, alto saxist-arranger-sometimes singer Don Redman, who defected from the Fletcher Henderson band to join McKinney. Interestingly, this band was allowed to play “hot” for their Victor recordings. Why? Because they were a “Race” band that appealed to the African-American market. Goldkette kind of got even with Eddie King by combining musicians from both the Cotton Pickers and his current Graystone Ballroom band to make a few discs, but these instances were rare. The best of their combined efforts was My Blackbirds are Bluebirds Now (November 23, 1928).

Goldkette gave up bandleading after the demand for the Cotton Pickers died down and the Orange Blossoms turned into the Casa Loma Orchestra, but continued investing in leasing and managing ballrooms, including the Mosque Theater in Newark, New Jersey in the late 1930s. He went bankrupt twice but managed to pay his debts and keep on rolling. In 1959, by which time Enoch Light’s Grand Award Records was producing a steady stream of super-high-fidelity recreations of “Roaring ‘20s” music in new arrangements, Victor beckoned Goldkette back to put his name on an RCA Camden LP titled Dance Hits of the ‘20s in Stereo (and of course, there was also a Dance Hits of the ‘20s in Hi-Fi for people who didn’t yet own a stereo system). This album contained two great tracks: an amplified version of Dinah which did not contain a slap-bass solo but which had some wonderful cross-voicing of the saxes over the trumpets and a fine trumpet solo over a brass “cushion,” and a new stereo version of My Pretty Girl, pretty much using the original arrangement though, again, with some excellent saxophone lines added to the ensemble. Unfortunately, the rest of the album consisted of eight prosaic and uninteresting arrangements of songs the Goldkette band of the ‘20s had never played or recorded, such as Charleston, Varsity Drag, Who?, Blue Skies and Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey, in surprisingly unimaginative arrangements by none other than Sy Oliver. But those 1959 recordings of My Pretty Girl and Dinah are gems, and one of the few examples we have of Chauncey Morehouse playing drums on stereo recordings.

Goldkette died in 1962 and so there the story seemed to end, but posterity hadn’t counted on the tenacity of Bill Challis to set the record straight. In 1974, Challis entered into an agreement with the small but respectable Monmouth-Evergreen label to record recreations of his great Goldkette scores, but the company strung him along for months before abandoning the project. The full story is told in Chapter XIII of my online book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond, but the short version is that Challis, all excited, had contacted the surviving members of the original Goldkette band—pianist Paul Mertz, trombonists Bill Rank and Spiegle Willcox, drummer Chauncey Morehouse and violinist Venuti—and all had agreed to participate before the deal fell through.

Goldkette ProjectIn 1986 trad-jazz bass and tuba player Vince Giordano, whose Nighthawks were a fixture in retro jazz festivals, apparently stepped into the picture to help Challis make his dream a reality. They signed a contract with the equally small Circle Records company, assembled an all-star band which included trumpeters Spanky Davis and Peter Ecklund, famed Beiderbecke imitator Tom Pletcher on cornet, Herb Gardner and Spiegle Willcox, the only former Goldkette band member still alive at that time, on trombones, the redoubtable Bob Wilber on clarinet and alto sax and the great guitarist Frank Vignola, among others. Yet since a band of this magnitude and star power cost money to rehearse and record, and Circle didn’t have a huge budget to work with, the sessions were set over a couple of days to make the whole album. They were professional enough to do a good job on the charts, but not quite up to some of the blistering tempi that the original Goldkette band took, thus some of the performances (particularly Ostrich Walk, Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down and Riverboat Shuffle) were played quite a bit slower than on the original recordings. In addition, Circle’s engineers recorded the band in an extremely dry, dead-sounding acoustic, which dulled the impact of both the brass and reeds and gave a lethargic sound to the whole project. Fortunately, all of the charts Challis had on hand, including My Pretty Girl in which he was one of three arrangers and Clementine in which he had no part, were recorded. Sadly, the full band arrangements of Sorry, Goose Pimples and Way Down Yonder in New Orleans seem to have disappeared.

img20201011_14292078But Challis was at least satisfied if not thrilled with the results (he is listed as co-conductor of the band with Giordano on the album credits) and, happily, modern audio editing technology makes it possible for us to hear these recordings in as close to the original Goldkette band sound as possible. I increased the tempo of those sluggish recordings to match what Trumbauer and Beiderbecke did with reduced forces in 1927, brightened the treble by 4 db, and added some reverb to restore a more lifelike sound. The only tracks on the album that I chose not to include were Clementine and My Pretty Girl, which to my ears did not sound as authentic in rhythm as the performances by the Bratislava Hot Serenaders in the first or the 1959 Goldkette remake of the second, as well as the second medley of I’d Rather Be the Girl in Your Arms-Idolizing-Sunday because I didn’t feel that it worked very well musically. But what I have fixed up sounds remarkably good, although—and I say this in full knowledge of how well Venuti, Lang, Bix and Brown could swing back in the day—the 1986 band as a whole swings somewhat looser than the original 1926-27 band. You can access the full program by clicking HERE.

This is, to my ears, the best representation in modern stereo sound of what the Jean Goldkette Orchestra must have sounded like on that October day in 1926 when they faced off against Fletcher Henderson’s hot jazz maniacs. No wonder Rex Stewart was impressed.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Myriam Leblanc Sings Vivaldi


VIVALDI: Il Farnace: Gelido in ogni vena; Da quell ferro che ha svenato. Ercole sul Termodonte: Zeffiretti, che sussurata. Il Giustino: Vedrò con mio diletto. Bajazet: Sposa son disprezzata. Arsilda, Regina di Ponto: Ben conosco a poco. All’obmra di sospetto. Sonata in A min.: Preludio-Largo (harp solo). Sonata in C min., RV 53 / Myriam Leblanc, sop; Ensemble Mirabilia: Grégoire Jeay, fl; Antoine Malette-Chénier, triple hp; Marie-Michel Beauparlant, cello / Analekta AN 2 9137

It’s not so much that I hate Vivaldi’s music; on the contrary, he was a technically fine composer and wrote some fine and interesting scores. The problem I normally have, particularly with his vocal music, is that the singer(s) normally just sing the notes—with dazzling technique, of course—but don’t make any attempt to interpret the words, some of which are quite moving and even haunting.

To her credit, however, the young Canadian soprano Myriam Leblanc, a graduate of McGill University and Artist-in-residence of the Atelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal, does just that in these little gems from the Vivaldi catalog. Those listeners expecting just another “bird of passage” will, I think, be quite surprised by her singing. Like the great, groundbreaking British soprano Emma Kirkby, Leblanc has all the goods—a high, pure voice with an unlimited top range, outstanding musicianship and style—but also a desire to make the words count. In the opening aria on this recital, for instance, “Gelido in ogni vena” from Il Farnace, the soprano sings:

Like ice in every vein,
I feel my blood flow;
The shadow of my lifeless son
Fills me with terror.

And to worsen my agony,
I see that I was cruel
To an innocent soul,
To the heart of my own heart.

These are not words to be rattled off like an automaton, and Leblanc does her level best to inform them with a feeling of pathos without resorting to melodramatic histrionics…and she succeeds very well.

Perhaps her decision to have these arias accompanied not by a full orchestra, but by a trio of flute, harp and cello, is part of what helped her to achieve this intimacy, but you still have to give her credit for choosing to at least try to interpret the words and not just sing them. This approach takes away the “flashier” side of Vivaldi and concentrates on something he is not always given credit for, his tenderness.

The aria from Il Giustino (“I will see with joy / The soul of my soul / The heart of my own heart / Full of content”) is a rare happy piece, set to a fairly lively 6/8 jig. By contrast, the upbeat lyrics of “Vedró con mio diletto” from Il Giustino are at odds with the rather sad, slow, dirge-like melodic line. This was not, I think, one of Vivaldi’s better inspirations, but it’s not too bad.

In “Da quell ferro che ha svenato” from Il Farnace, the tempo is rather quick while the words are somewhat deep:

From that iron which has made
My wretched bridegroom bleed
I learned cruelty.

Beholding a son so wan
And laved with my blood,
I forgot pity.

But at least he was smart enough here to use a minor key, which helps.

The aria “Sposa son disprezzata” from Bajazet, the only Vivaldi opera of which I own a complete recording, is unusual in that the composer changed tempi and accents to highlight the shifting moods of the lyrics, which focus on the protagonist’s love for her cruel and unfaithful husband. Here Leblanc is a little less word-specific in her reading of the aria, but close enough to make it an interesting performance.

There are two purely instrumental pieces on this CD, the “Preludio—Largo” of the Sonata in A min., RV 32, and the complete Sonata in C min., RV 53, which is oddly broken up. The “Largo” is on track 6 while the rest of the sonata is on tracks 9 and 10. These are played well, and contribute to the intimacy of the album, though they do point up Ensemble Mirabilia’s rather cold, bloodless performing style. Fortunately, Leblanc’s voice helps them come to life when she is singing with them—which, thankfully, is most of the time.

In addition to the various opera arias, she has also included the cantata All’ombra di sospiro, which closes out the CD. It’s pretty music that, in this case, doesn’t really match the words or the mood of the text very well: the music is chipper while the words reflect on a woman’s mistrust in her affection for men.

All in all, however, this is a very interesting CD. Perhaps the casual listener will be less titillated than normal by this recital, since most of the arias here are, as noted above, somewhat slow music which accompanies rather sad lyrics, but for me this is what MAKES this album. Any well-trained voice can rattle off the Baroque fiddlybits of Vivaldi’s (and Handel’s) virtuoso arias,  but it takes an artist to do what Leblanc does here. This is singing that is almost on a par with the legendary soprano Bethany Beardslee’s interpretations of 18th-century music.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Haimovitz & Kodama Play French Music


MON AMI, MON AMOUR / POULENC: Cello Sonata. FAURÉ: Papillon. Après un rêve. MILHAUD: Élegie. L. BOULANGER: Deux pieces pour violon et piano (arr. Haimovitz). N. BOULANGER: Trois pieces. RAVEL: Kaddish. DEBUSSY: Cello Sonata / Matt Haimovitz, cel; Mari Kodama, pno / Pentatone Classics PTC 5186816

Before getting into the music on this CD—which is all fine music by composers I admire in one way or another—I feel the need for a few words on the packaging and promotion of this album. Dig this blather, folks:

The vibrant, expressive musical palette of cellist Matt Haimovitz and the graceful insight of pianist Mari Kodama exquisitely meld in MON AMI, Mon amour. Cello and piano remain in constant, colourful conversation for rarities by sisters Lili and Nadia Boulanger, in Debussy’s neo-Baroque Sonata, and in the effervescent world of Poulenc’s Cello Sonata. Ravel’s poignant Kaddish and Milhaud’s hopeful Élégie, composed at the end of World War II, round out a program which, even in times of darkness, never loses sight of its joie de vivre. Two Fauré gems are included, the virtuosic Papillon and the breath-taking Après un rêve, with its longing for a mysterious night and an elusive, ecstatic love.

Now, what has this nonsense have to do with the music? None of this music means anything what is claimed in the above paragraph, any more than the first movement of the Beethoven Fifth Symphony had anything to do with V for Victory or the William Tell Overture had anything to do with the Lone Ranger (or Tonto, for that matter). I would have thought that this kind of promotion went out the window in the mid-1970s, which was pretty much the tail end of the Hippie Era, but no. Pentatone would doubtless have marketed this CD through Reader’s Digest if that magazine was still a constant in American homes.

The music, however, is terrific, particularly the brisk, lively Poulenc Sonata which opens the CD. Both Haimovitz and his accompanist, Mari Kodama, are passionate and both play with a gorgeous tone. This is a splendid reading of this still-underrated work, and I was glad to hear it.

This is followed by Fauré’s lively Papillon or Butterflies, a difficult piece to play lightly on the cello. Haimovitz comes close to pulling it off, although I think he could have lightened his tone just a bit more. He is perfect in tone and weight in Milhaud’s little-known Élegie, however, a fine piece that is not quite as elegiac as its title might imply. It is written in a medium tempo and in the major, and its melodic line, though somewhat nostalgic, is not all that wistful.

Wistful, however, is the right word for Lili Boulanger’s Deux pieces pour violon et piano, played here in a transcription for cello by Haimovitz. Although I prefer the violin original, this is a very fine performance that draws attention to her Debussy-inspired period (although, for a composer who died so young, her “periods” were rather short). Nadia Boulenger, who gave up composing when her sister Lili died, contributes a nice if somewhat derivative set of three pieces, also in the Debussy-Ravel style. The lively third piece, “Vite et nerveusement rythme,” is by far the most original of the three.

Ravel’s famous Kaddish follows, a deeply felt performance, after which we get the crème de la crème, the Debussy Cello Sonata. I was absolutely captivated by Haimovitz’ performance; he doesn’t just play the notes, he inhabits the music to the point where it almost sounds as if he himself had composed it.

The closer is a cello classic, Fauré’s Après un rêve, and this, too, Haimovitz plays with great feeling. In closing, I should point out that this CD is a collaboration between Pentatone Classics and Oxingale Records, the latter named after a quote from Voltaire when he heard one of the greatest cellists of his day: “Sir, you have made me believe in miracles; you turn the ox into a nightingale.” This CD is clearly a gem.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Schlippenbach Plays “Slow Pieces for Aki”


SCHLIPPENBACH: Haru No Yuki. Improvisations Nos. I-X. Torso. Tell You. Cleo. Naniga Nandemo. A-Blues. Blues b. I Told You. Dydo. Frage nicht. Zycado / Alexander von Schlippenbach, pno / Intakt CD 346

Avant-garde jazz pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, who has been married to equally avant-garde jazz pianist Aki Takase since the 1970s, presents here a program of slow pieces dedicated to her.

The music herein is not only slow in tempo but also slow in its development. Schlippenbach uses a great deal of space between notes and selects them carefully. The end result is, surprisingly, more tonal than usual for him, and although none of the music is sentimental in nature it’s obvious how much he loves her.

Indeed, it’s almost impossible, without looking at your CD player, to tell where one track ends and the next begins. These pieces all gravitate towards a tonal center of Eb, and although they are different in their progression the recital almost sounds like one continuous piece that evolves from track to track. Which doesn’t mean that the music is monotonous, only that it all has a common thread. There are, however, several tonal detours through bitonality, though never to the point where they are abrasive.

My general feeling about it is that it sounds as if Schlippenbach were sitting at a keyboard, ruminating as he creates, taping the whole session and then editing what he liked into a sort of suite. Because so much of the music depends on space and often on the suspension of long tones. it seems to be dominated by calm although, as in Improvisation II, Schlippenbach occasionally increases or even doubles the tempo. Improvisation III is much more animated than any of the preceding works, while Improvisations V and VII come the closest to jazz rhythms.

The meditative quality of the music is perfect for early morning or late evening listening.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Czech Musicians Play String Sextets

cover UP0223

what a performanceSCHOENBERG: Verklärte Nacht. TCHAIKOVSKY: String Sextet in D min., “Souvenir de Florence” / Jan Mráček, Markéta Vokáčová, vln; Kristina Fialová, Karel Untermüller, vla; Petr Nouzovský, Ivan Vokáč, cel / ArcoDiva UP0223

This CD presents six musicians from the Czech Philharmonic, all of whom appear on the cover to be relatively young, playing Schoenberg’s classic early work Verklärte Nacht and the much more Romantic-oriented Tchaikovsky Sextet, “Souvenir de Florence.”

In a way, this album presents in microcosm the dilemma that encompasses 80% of all modern-day classical releases: to wit, the constant repetition of older works which have received a multitude of outstanding recordings in the decades and, by now, in the full century past. As it turns out, these young musicians’ reading of Verklärte Nacht is wonderfully intense, one of the best performances I’ve ever heard, easily as good if not better than the one by the Schoenberg String Quartet in their superb set of the complete Schoenberg String Quartets on Chandos. But what if it wasn’t? And believe me, most of these new recordings you see flooding the market of Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Debussy etc. just aren’t worth more than a cursory listen.

I suppose that, because I’ve had such a wide exposure to not only all kinds of music of all genres but also to a wide range of classical music (including much more modern works than most people will listen to) and, more importantly, an extremely wide range of performing styles dating back to the end of the 19th century, I just have a more informed view of things. Moreover, in classical music performance one doesn’t really have that much latitude in terms of interpretation or style. One must judge a performance not only by the score but, as B.H. Haggin pointed out, by how far away from the score a performer may be allowed to go without distorting or harming the music. A very few number of performing geniuses came along in the 20th century who had their own way of hearing/looking at music, and they made a tremendous impact. In the past 30-odd years, I would say that only a handful of performers deserve the term “genius” applied to then, and unfortunately the ones I admire the most never seem to record half as much as All The Others.

In a sense, this discussion applies very much applies to the musicians on this disc. Note that they do not perform regularly as a sextet; they just happened to get together to make this recording. But I will tell you confidentially that, as a rule, I gravitate towards Hungarian, Czech, Russian and often Polish performers because they tend to have more intensity in their work almost by birthright. A few Italians also do, though less in recent years than in previous decades. Riccardo Chailly, one Italian conductor whose work I generally admire, has been around for so long now that he’s almost at the age that Toscanini was when he left the New York Philharmonic in 1936.

But to get back to this particular CD, what struck me other than the music style were two things: 1) the consistently bright timbres of these six musicians’ instruments, and 2) the effortless manner in which they mesh together as a unit. The second of these undoubtedly stem from their experience within the Czech Philharmonic, where section playing is an art unto itself. I’m wondering if they plan to perform more as a group now that the Coronavirus pandemic has pretty much closed down live orchestral performances. It would make sense if they do. They’re certainly very good musicians, each of whom has a distinct musical personality yet who as a unit come together in an extraordinary manner.

I’m sure that some listeners will feel that their music-making is too intense, but I would have to disagree. Schoenberg, believe it or not, was a very emotional and passionate person who always wanted his music to be performed with feeling, even when it was not 100% score-accurate. His own recording of Pierrot Lunaire tells us as much. And heaven knows that Tchaikovsky wore his heart on his sleeve a wee bit too much at times, though he was a conscientious composer who always tried to write music that was technically correct yet original in form.

And, believe it or not, it was the Tchaikovsky performance that impressed and startled me the most. I’m used to excellent performances of Verklärte Nacht, but to hear the way these musicians tear into Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence” will pin you to the wall. It’s so intense that they almost make Tchaikovsky sound like Dvořák or Martinů, and that’s really saying something. I half-expected them to be quite good in the Schoenberg, but this was an absolute revelation to me. As in the case of the Schoenberg piece, they bring out the inner voices with an almost unbelievable 3-D quality. This is music-making at the very peak of perfection, both technically and interpretively.

This is clearly one of those discs that you really need to hear to fully appreciate how good these musicians are, and in a way it’s sad that they aren’t a regularly formed group because, in a way, I think this will hurt them in terms of record sales and promotion. But WOW, what a terrific disc!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Dausgaard’s Fantastic Strauss & Scriabin

cover SSM1025

what a performanceSTRAUSS: Also Sprach Zarathustra.* SCRIABIN: Symphony No. 4, “The Poem of Ecstasy” / Seattle Symphony Orch.; Thomas Dausgaard, cond / Seattle Symphony Media SSM1025 (live: *September 14, September 21 & 23, 2019)

Well, cut off my legs and call me shorty.

I’ve been waiting 35 years to hear a performance of Also Sprach Zarathustra as great as the one that Klaus Tennstedt conducted with the Cleveland Orchestra back in 1985, and longer still to hear a commercially issued recording as good as the one that Fritz Reiner made in 1954 (not the 1960 remake) for RCA Victor.

And here it is.

I was already picking my ears up during the flashy and famous introduction, with its famous organ chords, pounding tympani and trumpet fanfares, but I wanted to wait to hear the rest of the piece. EVERYONE conducts the opening well, even Karajan with the Vienna Philharmonic, which was the recording that Stanley Kubrick used for his movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, but one past that opening the energy level drops and so does one’s interest in the piece.

That wasn’t true of the 1954 Reiner recording, it wasn’t true of Tennstedt’s 1985 Cleveland performance, and it’s not true of this recording, which as coincidence would have it stems from a live performance—and only one, not two where they could splice out the parts they didn’t like—from September 14, 2019.

Dausgaard is so good in this piece that, once he sucks you in, you’re hooked until the music ends 32 minutes later. No, it’s not quite as fast as the 1954 Reiner recording, but that’s OK. He hits on all cylinders and lets none of the important passages—or any passages in the score, for that matter—pass by unnoticed. And WOW are the sonics great!!! This is nearly as good in terms of hall ambience and orchestral clarity as Thierry Fischer’s great recording of the Mahler Eighth with the Utah Symphony. It’s a sonic blockbuster in addition to being a truly great performance.

Like Reiner and Tennstedt, Dausgaard doesn’t just approach this music as a blockbuster. He is as interested in bringing out the work’s structure as in digging into its emotional appeal, and in this, too, he succeeds handsomely. And if proof be needed that nowadays even symphony orchestras from less glamorous cities can play on a level that was one thought reserved only for the biggest and most “important” orchestras in America (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland, Los Angeles), this is it. I could not hear a single section, or spot soloist, that did not play up to par. At only one spot did I feel that the microphones did not pick up a section of the music clearly enough, and that was at the swirling, rising string figures in “Der Genesende” (track 7). Otherwise, all is perfection, and I DO mean perfection. This is an Also Sprach for the ages.

To say, then, that I was breathlessly waiting to hear how he conducted Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy would be an understatement. This was also well conducted and beautifully played, but I hope that conductor Thomas Dausgaard will forgive me for saying that the performance is not quite as good as the one Riccardo Muti recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra. But if it isn’t quite as good as Muti, it is considerably better than anyone else’s, and, considering the popularity of this piece that’s saying quite a lot. Once again, Dausgaard pulls the work’s structure together, and that in itself is quite an achievement (except for Muti, only Leopold Stokowski comes close), and once again the sonics are unbelievably spectacular—in fact, much better than the somewhat constricted sound that EMI gave to Muti (made in 1990, still the early years of digital recording).

The bottom line, then, is that this is clearly one of the finest classical recordings of the year, and one that I think would be on my Desert Island list.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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The Eric Ineke JazzXpress Plays Bird

cover Challenge CR 73512

WHAT KINDA BIRD IS THIS? / PARKER: Relaxin’ at Camarillo. Steeplechase. Ah-Leu-Cha. Parker’s Mood. Merry-Go-Round. Bongo Beep. Stupendous. Au Privave. DAVIS-RAMIREZ-LEWIS: Lover Man. BEETS: Birdie Num Num. What Kinda Bird is This? KLENNER-LEWIS; Just Friends / The Eric Ineke JazzXPress featuring Tineke Postma, a-sax / Challenge Records CR 73512 (also available for free streaming on YouTube)

The late jazz critic Ralph Berton, my personal friend for the last 20 years of his life, one said to me that he always wondered why no matter how much certain artists loved and emulated Charlie “Bird” Parker, no one really sounded like him. The answer, he felt, was that they always miss the bluesy “grit” in Bird’s own playing. They get the notes and the style right, but performing his music at a remove always seems to eliminate the energy that went into its original creation.

If that was true of the excellent studio band known as Supersax back in the 1970s, it is also true of this new release by drummer Eric Ineke and his JazzXpress. It’s not that the performances aren’t good—they clearly are—so much as that they present Bird’s music without Bird’s feeling. And it’s not really a matter of tempo or accent, although the drummer on the original recording of Stupendous has a bit more variety in his beat than Ineke does. There’s just more energy in Parker’s original recordings than in anyone’s remakes.

With that being said, the JazzXpress is clearly a world-class jazz band and does its job with love and energy. And, if nothing else, it reminds us just how innovative Parker’s music was, coming as it did out of the Swing Era but redistributing the beats in the rhythm to produce an entirely new form of jazz music. Parker and Thelonious Monk were the twin geniuses who influenced whole schools of jazz musicians in the decades to come, with Dizzy Gillespie in the #3 spot.

The principal soloist in the role of Bird here is Tineke Postma. She does a good job by and large, but gets no closer to Bird’s real style than did Sonny Stitt or Phil Woods during Parker’s own lifetime. Parker, who was emulated by several alto players, one complimented the late Lee Konitz for not trying to sound like him. Konitz’ line was, “I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the only reason I didn’t play like him was that his shit was too hard for me to play!” Parker’s “shit” is quite obviously not too hard for Postma to play, and to her credit there are moments here and there where she captures some of the edginess of Bird’s own playing, but just not consistently enough to hit the mark squarely.

I might also add that the JazzXpress’ rhythm section plays a beat much closer to swing than to bop, despite the fact that three different pianists are used (Peter Beets, Rein de Graaff & Rob Agerbeek). On Lover Man, one of Bird’s worst but most popular records (he made it while having a nervous breakdown, just before going into Camarillo State Hospital in California to wean himself off heroin), Postma plays with just bass and drums to excellent effect, and it is here, as well as in Parker’s Mood which is a quartet performance, that she comes the closest to sounding like Bird without copying anything from his original solos.

And yet, as I say, it’s great to make oneself relisten to Bird’s music. Even the new pieces dedicated to him, Birdie Num Num and What Kinda Bird is This?, sound so much like older bop pieces that you just fall into believing it. Ah-Leu-Cha is one of the most energetic performances on the CD, with a great solo by trumpeter Ian Cleaver.

In toto, then, a very nice album, certainly worth hearing once, but not something you’ll go back to as much as Parker’s own recordings.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Fiona Boyes’ “Blues in My Heart”

FR-740 cover

BLUES IN MY HEART / BOYES: Blues in My Heart. She Could Play That Thing. I Let the Blues In. Have Faith. Honey You Can Take My Man. My Say So. Two-Legged Dog. That Certain Something. Hokum Rag. Hotel Room. LEADBELLY: Pig Meat. KID BAILEY: Rowdy Blues. G. DAVIS: Mean Blues. R. HODGES: Angel. J.B. LENOIR: Mercy. T. JOHNSON: Canned Heat / Fiona Boyes, gtr/voc; Kaz Dalla Rosa, harmonica; Gina Woods, pno; Paula Dowse, dm.perc / Reference Recordings FR-740

Sometimes, I’m lucky enough to “discover” a great talent before most other have heard of him or her—such was my luck with conductor John Nelson, soprano Kathleen Battle and a few others—but because I am not for the most part a blues aficionado, I sometimes come late to the party. Such was the case for me with Ottilie Patterson, the astonishing Irish blues singer who could hold her own with the best black artists, and now such is the case with Fiona Boyes.

The great Australian blues guitarist-singer has been around since the mid-1980s, when she won (to her surprise) an “open mic” amateur night at a Melbourne pub and has been a major performing and recording artist since the early 1990s, often with her own all-woman Mojo Blues Band. I had seen this album in the Naxos New Release catalog but passed it by because of my bad experience with far too many female “jazz” and “blues” singers who whisper their songs in a sexy come-hither style which completely turns me off. But when I saw this album listed on the Naxos Jazz Music Library, I clicked on it and took a chance—and boy, am I glad I did!

Boyes, who plays both acoustic and electric guitar, covering pre-war Delta blues, single-chord Mississippi Hills, Piedmont finger picking, New Orleans barrelhouse and Texas swing styles, is the real deal. Famed blues and rock pianist Joe “Pinetop” Perkins (1913-2011) once said that Boyes was “the best gal guitarist I heard since Memphis Minnie.” The comparison is fully justified and, on this CD, she sings one song dedicated to Minnie (She Could Play That Thing).

But if she’s been playing and recording professionally for 30 years, why is this album designated a “20th Anniversary Edition”? Because, as it turns out, these recordings were made in two days during September 2000 for Blue Empress Records. And it’s a honey of an album. I listened to a few of Boyes’ other albums on Reference Recordings, and one thing I didn’t care much for was that they had a bit too much reverb for such an intimate form as vocal and blues guitar. This one has crisp, clean sound, which helps one appreciate Boyes’ artistry in better detail.

Boyes plays acoustic guitar exclusively on this album, but that’s fine by me; except for Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Elmore James, I’m not really big on electric blues guitar. It also surprised me, as a newcomer to her, how many songs she writes herself. On this particular album, only six songs were written by others, and on some of her other CDs nearly every song is written by Boyes.

As in the case of Ottilie Patterson, it’s not just that she sings (and in her case plays) the blues but that she manages to do so in a style that sounds black. This is no mean feat. I’ve heard several white blues singers and/or guitarists who never get the loose feel of black performers, but Boyes could fit right in with the best of them. She alternates between chords and a walking bass line with consummate ease, there is nothing “precious” or artificial-sounding about her performances. She can also modulate her voice between a rather sweet sound and one with plenty of gravel in it. Like Patterson, her sense of rhythm sounds perfectly natural, not forced. Small wonder that she won that open-mic amateur night way back when. The audience was probably floored by her.

And, I might add, she sounds American in every respect. If you can detect any trace of an Aussie accent in her singing, I’d like to know about it. For those of you who hold a condescending view towards the best blues artists, I’d like to hear you try to do it. I’ll bet you $20 you’d fall flat on your face. It’s not at all easy to play and sing like Fiona Boyes, to have all that talent and technique and make it sound as simple as falling out of bed. There are plenty of videos on YouTube by white blues artists who have the technique but not the looseness, or have the looseness but not the right style. Everything has to work together in order for your performances to click as perfectly as hers do. For an ideal example of what I mean, listen to Honey You Can Take My Man. Not even Leon Redbone, who was awfully good, sounded this loose and natural when doing blues tunes.

If I weren’t so late to the party, I’d definitely give this my “What a Performance” award. It’s that good.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Catherine Sikora in Paris

Things to Do in Paris

THINGS TO DO IN PARIS / SIKORA: Jeu de Paume. Wallaby Visit. Victor’s Arena. Forest Walk. Meet Me in the Courtyard / Catherine Sikora, t-sax; Ethan Winograd, dm / private release, available on Bandcamp (live: Paris, fall 2014)

SANCTUARY – SOLO IN PARIS / SIKORA: Sanctuary / Catherine Sikora, t-sax / private release, available on Bandcamp (live: Paris, August 2, 2020)

These two recordings give further evidence that Irish-born saxist Catherine Sikora is one of the premiere improvisers of our time, an artist of uncompromising invention as well as one who always plays from her heart and soul. Indeed, I have told her via e-mail that her music touches me in a way that most modern jazz rarely does because there is something very earthy, almost sensual about her playing, and these recordings only confirm that feeling.

Things to Do in Paris comes from a session taped six years ago but just released now. As in most of her impromptu improvised solos, Sikora plays with form and shapes; she relates certain inspired figures to each other, thus managing to create a feeling of continuity throughout each piece. Drummer Winograd is a fine player who primarily adds color and a variety of asymmetrical rhythms to each piece as it is created.

Because it is improvised and largely bitonal music, it is difficult to describe in words, but by and large Sikora plays mostly “inside” while projecting the feeling of “outside” jazz via her deep knowledge of harmony. She also spices up her playing with a number of coloristic devices, among them growls, buzzes and moments when she seems to be playing her tenor on the edge of the mouthpiece, all of which holds the listener’s attention. I was particularly struck by Wallaby Visit with its fast eighth-note figures which she connects, slows down and expands upon in a most brilliant fashion. Indeed, I liked it so much that I played it twice. By the five-minute mark, Winograd is very much a partner in creation, matching Sikora’s unusual rhythmic patterns perfectly or, at times, playing against them.

But then, listen to Victor’s Arena and you’ll know what I mean when I speak of her earthy, sensual playing. No other living saxist can compare to what she does here, and it is the very sound of her instrument that adds to the feeling. In each of the previous recordings by her that I’ve reviewed, there hasn’t been one in which I have not felt an almost personal connection to her playing. Is she trying to communicate with each and every listener through her music? I don’t know, but even if it is just that she is trying to express herself, she is doing do in a way that achieves the same end. It also amazes me how many different rhythms and figures she can come up with. I sometimes wonder if she’d do the same thing within the confines of a structured song. I think she would.

In Forest Walk, Sikora seems to be purposely going outside her comfort zone to play rasping, edgy figures. This must be one sinister forest she’s walking through! And there are some hesitant moments in this forest walk, as if neither she nor Winograd are certain where to place their next step, yet they always manage to move forward. The finale, Meet Me in the Courtyard, has a looser, funkier feel to it thanks to Winograd’s excellent drumming.

The long, improvised solo Sanctuary is another thing completely. This is slow, rapt, deeply personal music, as close to raw expression as one is likely to get. And believe it or not, Sikora actually does more things with her tenor here than on the whole of Things to Do in Paris. I urge you to listen very carefully to this long (24-minute) solo, for despite its generally slow pace there is more going on than in an entire hour-long album from many another sax player. Once again, Sikora manages to both create and connect different improvised figures, and to a certain extent she is freer without a drummer because she now needs no other musician to “follow” her or “support” her in what she plays. My late, dear friend, jazz critic Ralph Berton, never understood long a cappella saxophone solos like those that Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins recorded, but to my mind they were utterly brilliant and forerunners of what Sikora does here. No, her playing is not as “outside” as that of Ivo Perelman, but it doesn’t need to be. She is perfectly expressive in what she does, in fact even more personal in expression than Perelman. He does indeed play even wilder music, but wild is not necessarily a personal expression. If nothing else, Sikora is extremely personal, even intimate, in every note and phrase she plays.

These two releases are yet further laurels in Sikora’s crown. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that she isn’t the best living female saxophone player in jazz.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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François Lana’s “Cathédrale”

10 - Lana - Cathedrale

CATHEDRALE / LANA-IANNONE-BURGOYNE: Chaos Momentum. Cathédrale. LANA: Hillness (Tribute to Andrew). Der Turm. Divertissement. Black Socks, No Sugar. Weird Stuff. Nocturne / François Lana, pno; Fabien Iannone, bs; Phelan Bourgoyne, dm / Leo Records CD LR 884

François Lana is a French modern jazz pianist who has been working with this trio format for some time. According to the promo sheet for this release—but not in the liner notes of the CD—“each piece is inspired by a different jazz great, be it Thelonious Monk, Andrew Hill, Paul Bley, etc.,” but “this is not the music by the jazz colossi, it’s rather that their music” inspired them to “catch the spirit of the music rather than the notes.” According to the notes, Paul Bley inspired Divertissement, Herbie Nichols Der Turm and Andrew Hill inspired Hillness.

Taken on its own merits, however, the music contained herein is archetypal free jazz: an amorphous, hard-to-grasp pulse, with the drummer consciously working against rather than with the rhythm of the piano and bass, and the pianist playing any manner of freely inspired licks and chords while the bass works its way behind it. One feature that I found interesting was that Lana’s piano has a particularly bright sound, almost like a church basement upright or a spinet, which I found interesting. The opening track, Chaos Momentum, certainly lives up to its name, though there are moments of repose towards the end. This and the closing track, Cathédrale, were written by all three members of the group, while the remaining tracks were written by Lana.

I would guess that Hillness was inspired by Monk; it clearly sounds like a Monk tune, with its odd but not too outré harmonies and “Monkish” rhythm, yet in the booklet it says “for Andrew,” which I would assume is Andrew Hill. Lana comes as close to sounding like Monk himself as any pianist, American or foreign, I’ve ever heard, and this composition is wonderfully composed and laid out, showing that Lana can also think and play “inside” jazz when he wants to. In the booklet, Lana writes (in French, here translated):

Music is spirituality.
To surrender to it makes it possible to experience a deep feeling of truth. It then soothes, for a moment, the fundamental anxiety that inhabits us.

To my ears, the following selection, Der Turm, also has a Monk-like feel though the tempo is much faster. It is an excellent piece which is taken apart in the middle section before being reassembled for the finale. By contrast, Divertissement is a slow piece, a ballad in tempo but too unusual in form and structure to be defined as such. Here, the members of the trio really listen to one another and follow each other’s impulses with alacrity. Lana mostly ruminates here, often but not always finding really interesting and lyrical ways of continuing the musical discourse.

Black Socks, No Sugar opens with a loping, somewhat awkward bass lick which is then picked up by the piano in the bass line as the drums enter behind them and Lana’s right hand plays very high-lying chordal interjections. The tempo slowly and slightly increases as the odd, slightly menacing minor-key lick continues and then disappears as the trio starts to swing, though it continually returns as a sort of dark-sounding leitmotif. A very strange piece, which at the 2:38 mark suddenly shifts in rhythmic accents, then slows down to a crawl before the solo bass enters and the tempo picks up again.

Once again, the designated honoree of Weird Stuff doesn’t match the aural connection. This piece sounds, to my ears, exactly like a Herbie Nichols piece (for those of you hip enough to know Nichols’ marvelous Bartók-inspired music), yet the notes claim that it was Der Turm that was inspired by Nichols, giving no designation to this piece at all. But if this doesn’t sound like a performance by the Herbie Nichols Project, at least until the drum solo that temporarily drives the tempo into double time, I’ll eat the CD.

Nocturne is a really strange piece, opening with Lana playing repeated upper-register D-flats, before moving into a sort of medium tempo with drummer Bourgoyne playing an odd sort of shuffle beat under the piano (now playing a repeated chord) and bass. Somehow or other, the trio has also managed to make this piece sound as if there is some extra, other-worldly ambience going on in the background. And then, suddenly, at the 2:48 mark it changes to a sort of 12/8 for a while. I really liked this one a lot for its utter originality.

The album’s closer, Cathédrale, has an ominous ostinato drum pattern that propels the stark, dark music in the direction of atonality. Lana’s piano is so “wiry” here that it almost sounds like a clavichord or a “harpsipiano.” Yet it’s more of an ambient piece than one that really develops. The booklet tells us that its working title was Half Speed.

This is an excellent and eclectic album that will catch your attention and hold it throughout the entire program. Not a single piece is either too hard to grasp (if you have a musical mind) nor uninteresting. Lana has produced a truly great CD here, which I highly recommend.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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