Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Two More Unlikely Gems from the CTI Archive

The reissues keep coming from the CTI vaults. Creed Taylor’s influential 1970s West Coast jazz label may be remembered for fusion, but the fact is that they put out some amazing albums. The highlight of the latest batch is Freddie Hubbard’s improbable 1971 First Light, with George Benson, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira, Phil Kraus on vibes and Richard Wyands on keyboards plus an orchestra. Something this casually lavish could only have occurred in the 70s – especially for a jazz trumpeter who wasn’t likely to sell ten thousand albums. Did anybody make money on this project? Doubtful. But it was worth it many times over. After all the mysterioso atmospherics fade down, the eleven-minute title track is essentially a two-chord vamp over a tense son montuno beat: Hubbard works it thematically and judiciously, pretty remarkable considering that you can practically smell the ganja wafting from under the door at Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey studio. The orchestra’s thousand butterfly wings flutter, announcing choruses and solos, Benson goes lickety-split to bring the energy up a notch and turns it over to Hubbard until it’s obvious that he’s out of gas.

The cover of Paul McCartney’s odious Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey is deviously funny, Hubbard distancing himself from the cloying opening riff at the first turn and turning it into a diptych of one-chord funk jams, Benson unable to do much with it so he hits the same riffs again and again. If you ever suffered through the original in the supermarket or via lite FM radio, the trick ending will make you laugh. It’s amazing how they take Henry Mancini’s Moment to Moment and mix funk, a boozy ballad vibe and an orchestra; the cover of Yesterday’s Dreams is the piece de resistance here, done as brooding bossa nova, orchestra magically interpolated with big swells at just the right moments. Leonard Bernstein’s Lonely Town gets a subtle 1971 LA noir treatment; the rest of the album includes both an outtake (another vampy one, Cedar Walton’s Fantasy in D) and an expansive 1975 live take of the title track with Carter, DeJohnette and not Eric Gales on guitar, as the liner notes indicate, but an uncredited and quite agile Rhodes player.

Another choice pick from the CTI vaults is George Benson’s Beyond the Blue Horizon, also from 1971. It’s a similarly unexpected treat: a Hammond B3 album that’s about as far from Breezin’ as…hmmm, Kind of Blue is from Bitches Brew. Here Rev. Benson is backed by Clarence Palmer on organ plus a rhythm section of Carter and DeJohnette. They take So What as a swinging shuffle, Benson running through the raindrops, Carter bobbing and weaving as DeJohnette works an almost martial beat. Luiz Bonfa’s The Gentle Rain is bossa as Jimmy McGriff might do it, Palmer’s swift, brooding intensity shifting it to more of a tango before the storm subsides and Benson reemerges with a smile.

The rest of the album is Benson originals. All Clear has a warm, grazing-in-the-grass soul groove, followed by the atmospheric, catchy, gently swaying Ode to a Kudu. The last, Somewhere in the East, is a real eye-opener, probably the most “free” that Benson has ever been captured on vinyl, Carter’s steady groove anchoring Carter and Benson as they hammer and bend, sometimes atonally. Three outtakes are included as well: All Clear done more as a straight-up B3 shuffle; an even more ethereal guitar-and-drums take of Ode to a Kudu and a surprisingly straightforward Somewhere in the East: it’s something of a shock that this jaunty swing version, with its biting, rumbling outro wasn’t chosen for the album instead. Both of these are back in print, for a long time let’s hope, on CTI Masterworks.

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May 5, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Isabelle Demers Plays a Stunning Program at Trinity Church

Equal parts lightning and enlightening, organist Isabelle Demers showed off both her supersonic chops and insightful wit at her concert today at Trinity Church. She opened with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Major, BWV 54. It was the last one he wrote during his time at Liepzig, and as Demers mentioned, there’s definitely a sense of the sun coming out. And, “It gives your feet a rest,” Demers laughed: there’s very little for the pedals, very atypical for Bach.

James Blachly’s Meditation on Captain Kidd was next. Moving from otherworldly atmospherics to dramatic and wamly melodic, and then back again, it gave Demers the chance to showcase some of the organ’s upper-register stops that aren’t typically heard by themselves in most standard repertoire. She noted wryly that the real Captain Kidd was once a prominent member of Trinity Church: like a lot of other bad guys, he gave a lot of money to the church but not for altruistic reasons. Henry Martin’s showy Prelude and Fugue in E Major, which followed, was all endless volleys of B-A-C-H references, bluegrass riffs and rapidfire rivulets: it was breathtaking to watch Demers play, but not so much to hear.

The high point of the concert was Demers’ own transcription of selections from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. The opening Street Awakens scene, where the characters are introduced, and the gently disheartened Romeo at the Fountain (before Romeo met Juliet) were understatedly graceful, Demers playing as if for dancers. The balmy Madrigal, Romeo chatting up Juliet on her balcony gave no indication of the eerie intensity that was to come with the twisted music-box ripples of the Morning Serenade, more of a dirge or contentious wake than any kind of serenade, and arguably the high point of the entire suite. Demers closed with the lickety-split, atonally-spiced fight scene where Romeo decides to avenge Mercutio’s death – “If it sounds like wrong notes, it’s not me,” Demers told the crowd – and then the macabre martial theme Duke’s Command, a staple of a million horror movies. She closed the program with fellow Canadian Rachel Laurin’s Toccata from her Symphony No. 1, whose lickety-split staccato created a tremolo effect it was so fast, but Demers made it seem almost nonchalant. Without losing momentum, it shifted from ferocious apprehension to a simple, memorable Romantic theme: it made a good conclusion to a fascinating concert. There was an encore, too! Unfortunately, this being the middle of the day, we had to stay on schedule and missed it.

May 5, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/5/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #635:

Mr. Airplane Man – Moanin’

Boston duo Mr. Airplane Man started out in the late 90s as a two-woman Howlin Wolf cover band. By 2002, when they put out this one, they were one of the best garage rock bands on the planet. Guitarist Margaret Garrett and Tara McManus – who often played a Casio while drumming – beat the White Stripes to the guitar-and-drums thing by a couple of years, and were many leagues above them. Lo-fi but richly tuneful and often haunting as hell, the album opens with the punk blues Like That, the hypnotic title track and the gorgeous 60s garage-pop of Not Living At All. The shuffling Highway 61 blues Somebody’s Baby, the stomping riff-rock of Drive Me Out and the popular Jesus on the Mainline follow that. Then they do the dark, scurrying Uptight and a tensely suspenseful version of the Wolf’s Commit a Crime. The three classics here are noir rock masterpieces: the brooding Very Bad Feeling, the wickedly catchy Sun Sinking Low and the fiery, chromatic Podunk Holler, ending with the slow, meandering W*Nderin’. The whole album is streaming at deezer; here’s a random torrent via Oh Robot.

May 5, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment