Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Happy 90th Birthday, Dave Brubeck!

Today Dave Brubeck turns ninety, and jazz fans everywhere are celebrating. And so is his record label. Along with the new Legacy of a Legend compilation just released today (which we haven’t heard yet, at least in this particular configuration – Brubeck handpicked the tracks to coincide with the new Clint Eastwood-produced documentary Dave Brubeck: Legacy of a Legend), Sony has released two new box sets containing five albums each from his classic period in the 1950s, many with his quartet featuring Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright and Joe Morello. The first set collects the “Time” albums: Time Out, Time Further Out, Time Changes, Time In and Countdown: Time in Outer Space. The second is more eclectic: the solo Brubeck Plays Brubeck; the lush, richly orchestrated, vastly underrated Brandenburg Gate Revisited; the irresistibly romantic Jazz Impressions of New York; the live set Jazz Goes to College, and the covers album Gone With the Wind.

They’re also all downloadable from the usual places. But for the fan who who’s not willing to settle for an mp3, who insists on getting the bonus tracks (among them an irresistible It’s a Raggy Waltz from a period Carnegie Hall concert on Time Further Out, and a couple of surprising outtakes on Time In), what are the options? At this point in time, vinyl copies of the more obscure of these albums are hard, sometimes impossible to find, and sell for collector prices. The obvious questions is, are these box sets worth it?

Surprisingly, yes. Take Brubeck Goes to College, for example. The 1954 album was recorded in mono, with the audience mixed higher than would have been usual, one suspects, because it was being marketed as a party record to what was felt to be an unsophisticated college crowd. This digital version is a vast improvement, benefiting not only from an overall reduction in extraneous noise but also a welcome bass boost. Then there’s Brandenburg Gate Revisited. One of Brubeck’s early third-stream albums, a majestically symphonic reworking of several of his most popular themes, it wasn’t well-received at the time, didn’t sell well and was out of print for a long time, making what vinyl that remains ridiculously pricy. A side-by-side comparison reveals the new remastering job to be a resounding success: it has the seamlessness of a vinyl record. The rest of the digital versions hold their own as well. And you have to salute the idea of marketing all the Time albums together: it’s a time warp more than anything else, a journey that might be sentimental to some and great fun for those who revel in the music of the Mad Men era but weren’t there to enjoy it the first time around.

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December 6, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/6/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #785:

The Abyssinians – Satta Massagana

One of the deepest, darkest roots reggae albums you’ll ever hear, the oldest singles on this 1993 reissue date back to 1969. Best known for their hit Satta Massagana – the “national anthem of reggae,” a song whose producer failed to see its potential until it topped the Jamaican charts two years after it was recorded – Bernard Collins, Donald Manning and Lyndford Manning distinguished themselves with their eerie close harmonies and fondness for murky minor key grooves. They mix up the socially conscious anthems like Declaration of Rights, Black Man’s Strain and African Race with haunting, gospel-inflected numbers like Abednigo and The Good Lord along with ominous orthodox Rasta themes such as Forward Unto Zion, I and I, Peculiar Number and the organ-fueled Reason Time. The group called it quits in the late 70s, reuniting improbably twenty years later and proving they hadn’t lost a step; their 1999 comeback album suffers from overproduction but also has plenty of good songs. Here’s a random torrent.

December 6, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kathleen Supové’s Piano Threatens to Explode

A titan of the new music community, Kathleen Supové has been a go-to pianist for important, innovative composers since the 80s. Her latest album The Exploding Piano – her first since 2004’s stunningly virtuosic Infusion – is characteristically eclectic and cerebral. Where much of Infusion weaves a dizzying lattice of textures, this one – except for the final, practically 25-minute cut – is more direct and more of a showcase for Supové’s legendary chops. Except for that final cut, the electronics here are pretty much limited to lightly processed sound and the occasional loop.

Missy Mazzoli’s Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos is the opening track, replete with Mazzoli’s signature traits: terse, richly interlocking melodies, counterrythms, and hypnotically circular motifs. It’s a tribute to the great adventurer, imagining her riding across her adopted Sahara Desert on horseback, reflecting on the comfort of her early life inVienna high society as bits and pieces of Schubert’s A Major Sonata float to the surface. And then the melody spreads away from the tonic, insistent forte chords create a Radiohead-inflected swirl against a repetitive loop, and the flood that will kill her at age 27 is upon her. It’s as poignant as it is intense.

Michael Gatonska’s A Shaking of the Pumpkin is meant to illustrate activity in the insect kingdom, alternating low rumble with judicious righthand melody and a lot of sustain that finally reaches a roar – and then goes on and on, A Day in the Life style. The placement of a bass drum under the piano lid enhances the boomy sustain of the low tonalities. It ends with a series of muted thumps – a pedal springing back into place? Shots? A salute?

Anna Clyne’s On Track is a launching pad for Supové’s trademark deadpan wit. Inspired by a spoken-word quote from Queen Elizabeth about how quickly circumstances change (which recurs as a sample here), it walks resolutely until the Mission Impossible theme appears for an instant, insistently in the left hand. Eventually Mission Impossible will casually interrupt the busy, rippling melody again and again until it finally shuts it off cold. Dan Becker’s circular Revolution illustrates a Martin Luther King speech (sampled here) using the story of Rip Van Winkle as a parable for how America is sleeping through a revolution. It’s a duet between Supové and a prepared Disklavier (a sort of digital player piano with strings modified to produce what amounts to a percussion track here). After running a series of widening circles, Supové finally breaks free of the rhythmic stranglehold – a hint, it seems – and then lets the melody fall away gracefully as it winds down to just a few repetitive, increasingly simple chords.

Supové’s husband Randall Woolf’s intense, bristling, bluesily magisterial suite Adrenaline Revival was the highlight of Infusion. Here, he’s represented by Sutra Sutra, a long work punctuated by many spoken word passages which reach to string theory as an explanation for both life and matter: as expressed here, vibration is everything (which for a musician it pretty much is). But in less than a couple of minutes, the genuine plaintiveness of the melody is subsumed by all the psychedelic effects and a whispery crash course in subatomic physics. It would be a treat to hear just the piano all the way through. Supove has been busy this year – her performance at the new music series at Brooklyn’s First Presbyterian Church was a 2010 highlight – and her Music with a View series coming next spring at the Flea Theatre is always chock-full of surprises.

December 6, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment