02_nat_king_coleThe Forgotten 1949 Carnegie Hall Concert

Nat King Cole

HEP Records CD 91

David Lennick, local music collector and archivist has, since the 90's, made a living restoring archival recordings. Recently he came up with a winner - a November 4, 1949 recording of Nat King Cole and his trio at Carnegie Hall, never issued until now.

Irving Ashby, guitar, Joe Comfort, bass and Jack Costanzo on bongos make up the trio and the programme consisting, for the most part, of familiar material flows along as smooth as silk with Cole's smoky voice making each song sound as if it were written for him. At the time the group was touring as a double bill with the Woody Herman Orchestra which plays on the last cut on this CD.

The concert was recorded on acetates, a not uncommon practice at Carnegie in those days. Bass and guitar are somewhat underrecorded, not the fault of the restoration process, and I would have liked to hear more of Nat Cole the pianist, but it does not take away from the overall feeling of being present at a pretty special event.

Congratulations to everyone involved in making this performance available. If you are a fan of Nat King Cole, and who isn't, you will want to add this one to your collection.

This CD is on HEP Records based in Edinburgh, Scotland, owned by Alastair Robertson. The label has a catalogue of historically significant recordings which can be accessed at www.hepjazz.com.


03_one_takeOne Take Volume Four

Joey Defrancesco; Robi Botos; Vito Rezza; Phil Dwyer

Alma ACD11912 www.almarecords.com

One Take is exactly what it says - a freewheeling session of straight ahead jazz with no rehearsal, no edits, no overdubs - just four masters of their craft blending their skills together to create almost an hour's worth of high octane jazz.

Reticent, never - fiery, always and they take no prisoners when the music starts. Everybody is at the top of his game, although as a saxophone player I feel I have to single out the playing of Phil Dwyer who couldn't play poorly even if you paid him to. Over the years he has developed a maturity and depth in his playing which make him stand out in any musical setting. Having said that, every player on the session puts his stamp on the music and you just know that to hear this band in a live setting would be an experience to remember

It's a well balanced programme, ranging from a lyrical reading of the Dorothy Fields, Jimmy McHugh classic Tenderly to a roaring version of Broadway by the team of Wilbur H Bird/Teddy McRae/Henri Woode. All four musicians are well-known to Toronto audiences, Rezza and Botos being very active on the local scene. DeFrancesco is a frequent winner of the Downbeat Critics' Poll, while Dwyer spent 15 years in Toronto before moving to Vancouver Island.

So take five and give “One Take Volume Four” a listen.

 



04_John MacLeod CD

Our First Set

John McLeod's Rex Hotel Jazz Orchestra

http://www.johnsjazz.ca/

In my column last month I suggested that there are three ingredients to look for in jazz - swing, melodic content and a knowledge of the roots. You don't have to look any farther than this excellent CD. John MacLeod is one of the most committed and complete musicians I am privileged to know and his dedication and musical philosophy are stamped on this programme of originals and great standards. Four of the originals are by John with additional contributions from Gord Sheard and Mike Murley. Add three superior standards, one of them arranged by Rick Wilkins, and you have one of the most rewarding albums I have heard this year. It also serves to underscore just how many great players we have in this city. Featured soloists include Andy Ballentine, Joey Goldstein, Terry Promane, David Braid, Perry White, Jon Challoner, Brian O'Kane, Alastair Kay, John Johnson and Mike Murley. The rhythm section is rounded out with Jim Vivian and Ted Warren giving a great foundation for this star-studded musical organisation.

I can't choose favourite pieces from the album. There are so many gems.

This is not a recording you will listen to once and put on the shelf. It deserves repeated playing and will give pleasure many times over.



01_dickenson_gallowayPerhaps it belongs on television’s Antiques Roadshow. It’s a valuable slice of Canadian jazz history – a treasure trove in fact. Thirty-seven years ago saxophonist Jim Galloway played with American trombonist Vic Dickenson at a long-gone Toronto venue, Daniels. The show was recorded by Hogtown’s voice of jazz Ted O’Reilly, who stored the tapes – and now they’ve been transcribed. The result is Vic Dickenson Jim Galloway - Live In Toronto (Castor Records 11 001 www.jimgalloway.ca), which is pure delight, Galloway on his straight soprano for once (and occasionally baritone sax) matching wits with the king of growls, smears and all-around soft-toned, fluent wit. Backed by warhorses Ron Sorley (piano), Danny Mastri (bass) and George Reed (drums), the session is relaxed, yet swinging, from the first notes of Sonny Boy to the last of Just You, Just Me. It’s fabulous mainstream jazz, with journalist-drummer Paul Rimstead in for three of the dozen tracks. Happily Galloway sounds today much like he did then but everyone who heard Dickenson live misses his earthy playing with its immediately recognizable sound. The leaders both understand the blue notes and tasteful lyricism, and each gets his own stylish feature, Dickenson singing with his horn on Manha de Carnaval and Zing went the Strings of my Heart and Galloway, wry and charming as ever on baritone with Solitude. This great record shows how the wisdom of age trumps the pretentious audacity of much jazz youth.

02_lina_allemanoTrumpeter Lina Allemano is at the forefront of free jazz innovation and glides appealingly on Lina Allemano Four - Jargon (Lumo Records LM 2010-4 www.linaallemano.com) with regular colleagues Brodie West (also sax), Andrew Downing (bass) and Nick Fraser (drums). The leader composed all seven songs, the opening Cannonball Adderley Tattoo not soulful but surging over churning bass and stimulating rat-a-tat drums. The quartet treats time like a toy, sampling all possible permutations. West’s tart tone and distanced viewpoint suits Wayne’s Shorts a nod to Shorter’s mysterious writing and playing while Sling Slang is almost hard bop, textures colouring a sparse theme with uninhibited horns scrambling over an undulating rhythmic landscape. Water is wistful fragments, the title tune channels another altoist (Ornette Coleman) before sliding into dissonance and feverish feeling, while fresh emotional tempests and pungent probing conclude the session which, unfortunately, is far too short – just 40 minutes.

03_peripheral_visionDrummer Nick Fraser is also hard at work with new band Peripheral Vision, co-led by bassist Michael Herring and guitarist Don Scott, whose debut album is the self-titled Peripheral Vision (Step3 Step3-001 www.peripheralvisionmusic.com). This outfit produces jazz for this century, often fiendishly challenging musical structures, intricate forms that might seem relatively simple but in fact are a dense thicket of tricky harmonies, demanding melodies and punishing rhythms. However, along with tenorman Trevor Hogg, the band shapes interesting paths along the divide between inside and outside playing. All the tunes are by the leaders, whose influences are catholic – pop, rock, classical and more. Treehouse exploits fascinating motifs, Lot offers eerie moments over walking strings, and all the material has something to say, propelled with elegant momentum and hearty rations of dynamic interplay despite constantly shifting moods. Alongside the contemplative melody making there’s passages that crackle with intellectual energy, Herring anchoring the tapestry and pulsating where it counts and Scott all serpentine fluidity. Concert Note: Peripheral Vision is officially released Dec. 2 at Trane Studio after a 14-venue tour.

04_dickinson_quinlanA pair of Toronto veterans show how duo recordings should be executed and presented on Brian Dickinson Ted Quinlan - Around The Bend (Addo Recordings AJR004 www.briandickinson.ca). Pianist Dickinson and guitarist Quinlan are a classy double act who clearly think about every minuscule detail of their craft, delivering superior jazz and an extraordinary rapport that’s never undermined by abrasive competition – almost one body, four hands. Eight of the 10 cuts are originals, plus there’s Monk’s classic Monk’s Dream and a spin through the love scene theme from the movie Spartacus. The protagonists say (in the liner notes) that playing in twos is scary but liberating, with unique challenges. It’s like an extended conversation between two friends and that a duo session is like getting to know someone personally and musically. Amen to that. Such professed togetherness is illuminated here to telling effect, with labyrinthine ideas tossed back and forth whatever the context. It’s a faultless performance, highlights including the opening title piece, the bright ballad Pastiche, the chirpy Rockin’ At The Hillside and Limbo.

05_herskowitzMontreal-based Matt Herskowitz is an imaginative artist whose tastes spill over conventional boundaries, as Andre Previn and Dave Brubeck have demonstrated. His Jerusalem Trilogy (Justin Time JUST 239-2 www.justin-time.com) hauls world music, particularly that of the Middle East, into the jazz orbit. The leader calls it 21st century chamber jazz. It’s a risky notion, but the Herskowitz trio plus violinist Lara St. John and cellist Mike Block, lesser guests and a string quartet on one track (with some through-composed music) make the idea work. Main mealtime item is the three-part Jerusalem Suite with fine use of flowing runs and counterpoint while tunes like the klezmer-styled Gottingen and the note-heavy Prokofiev’s Revenge celebrate the fusion of differing styles and cultures. Only preference for electric rather than acoustic bass jars proceedings.

06a_canefire06b_jive_bombersThree other Canadian discs caught my ear this month. Canefire’s Pandemonium (www.canefire.ca) is splendid Caribbean jazz featuring steel pans, The Jive Bombers Jump (www.thejivebombers.ca) has a gaggle of Toronto stars blasting their way through jump blues and more and Montreal electric bassist Alain Caron is at his funkiest on the nine quartet tracks of Sep7entrion (www.alaincaron.com).

06c_alain_caron

Boxed sets of recorded music have long been a holiday gift favourite. But sophisticated music fans won’t settle for slapped together “best of” collections. However, well-organized boxes of improvised music which collect multiple CDs for specific reasons, should impress any aware music listener.

01_Braxton_HemingwayAnthony Braxton/Gerry Hemingway’s Old Dogs (Mode Avant 9/12 www.moderecords.com) for instance is another instalment in the ongoing recorded history of multi-reedman Braxton. The four CDs feature him and percussionist Hemingway, an integral part of the reedist’s bands from 1983 to 1994, but who has rarely played with him since that time. Each 60-minute inventive Invention was recorded in real time without edits or alternate takes. Extrasensory cooperation is demonstrated as Braxton moves among seven saxophones and Hemingway a percussion collection. Should Braxton’s soprano saxophone obbligato turn staccato and superfast, Hemingway responds with centred vibraphone pings plus affiliated marimba pops. If subterranean contrabass saxophone tongue stops and watery glottal punctuation raucously sound, then abrasive ruffs on ride cymbals and drum rims produce nearly identical timbres. Hemingway’s percussion command is such that in a heartbeat he can produced a tone midway between that of a dumbeck and a set of tin cans to contrast with the reedist’s irregular tonguing; then as swiftly bring his entire kit into play using press rolls and ruffs to replicate foot-tapping swing that complements Braxton’s rare forays into masterful, story-telling runs on tenor saxophone.

02_brotzmann_osloAnother masterful saxophonist is German tenorist Peter Brötzmann. He never does anything by halves and Chicago Tentet +1’s 3 Nights in Oslo (Smalltown Superjazz STSJ197CD www.smalltownsuperjazz.com) consists of five CDs. No essay in self-aggrandizement, three of the discs feature band subsets. The two CDs featuring the ensemble are filled with the palpable excitement from 11 players collectively honking, fluttering and snorting. There’s space for all, with saxophonists Brötzmann and Mats Gustafsson creating reed gymnastics that encompass fortissimo runs, nephritic split tones and glottal punctuation. Contrapuntal brass layering melds Per Åke Holmlander’s elephantine tuba snorts, gut-bucket slurs from trombonists Jeb Bishop and Johannes Bauer, as drummers Paal Nilssen-Love’s and Michael Zerang’s flams and cymbal pressure chug underneath. Although it may seem that harmonies created by yapping horn blasts and polyrhythmic string friction from bassist Kent Kessler and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm are opaque, the band has such control that the climax isn’t blood vessel bursting flashiness, but contrapuntal divisions exposing every texture. Two smaller groupings stand out. The tenor saxophone battle between Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee allows undulating trills to bring needed balance to the duo’s initial ghostly shrieks and altissimo split tones. Elsewhere, Bishop, Bauer, Holmlander and McPhee on pocket trumpet, meld such extended techniques as metal buzzes, pedal-point burbles and peeping lip trills without losing chromatic mooring.

03_Riviere_PoolSimilarly the three CDs which make up Rivière Composers’ Pool - Summer Works 2009 (Emanem 5301 www.emanemdiscs.com) are divided among sessions by a quartet of Americans, bassist Kent Carter and woodwind player Etienne Rolin, and Germans, violist Albercht Maurer and clarinettist Theo Jörgensmann, plus trio and duo interaction. What’s instructive is how the musicians’ smaller meetings suggest ideas that eventually coalesce into the title suite. On the successive Music for a Ghost Story and Dance to This, Jörgensmann/Carter/Maurer build up wide-ranging modulations into a capriccio-like showcase including Jörgensmann’s flying glissandi, Carter’s string slaps and Maurer’s portamento runs. These movements are put to good use during the CD-length suite. From the exposition, where Rolin’s broken-octave basset horn extensions, chanter-like respiration from Jörgensmann’s clarinet, high-energy viola lines and sul tasto bass runs expand the theme, the variations cycle through quartet, trio, duo and solo episodes. If the clarinet outputs altissimo screeches, it’s calmed by Carter’s sul tasto stops; while speedy violin glissandi set the stage for mid-range reed licks. Putting aside bel canto or dissonant timbres, the climax downshifts to clarinet glissandi which push all into a gentling, diminuendo finale.

04_sun_raThe wild card in this group is Sun Ra’s three-CD set of The Heliocentric Worlds (ESP-Disk 4062 www.espdisk.com). It confirms the composer/pianist’s legacy as an avant-garde Duke Ellington. Key players, such as saxophonists Marshall Allen and John Gilmore, plus Ra himself on pioneering electronic keyboards, solo impressively. Not only does the re-mastered 1965 set contain a recently discovered third disc, but each CD includes bonus material: a documentary film, a photo archive and contemporary writing. Like Ellington, Ra’s intricately shaded and organized arrangements create symphonic timbres with only 13 musicians. Phantasmagoric and polyphonic, extended tone poems like The Sun Myth are shaped by full-band expressions plus harmonies which contrast tuned bongos and sul ponticello bass thumps, or elsewhere contrapuntal saxophone vibrations and boogie-woogie piano runs. While The Cosmos takes its shape from call-and-response horn work, on other tunes Ra’s musical alchemy encompasses formalist piano tones, chalumeau bass clarinet smears and frenetic trumpet triplets.

Each of these attractively packaged boxed sets demonstrates how expansive musical quality can be presented in an intelligent fashion. And each – or all – would make a fine addition to your CD collection.

03_cassandra_wilsonSilver Pony

Cassandra Wilson

Blue Note 509996 29752 2 3

“Silver Pony” is the latest in a long line of releases in the varied oeuvre of singer Cassandra Wilson. Getting a new Wilson disc made me feel a little like a kid on Christmas morning, but this wasn't exactly the pony I was expecting to find under the tree. Wilson is at her best when she takes rock and pop tunes and, along with her always innovative band mates, reworks them into atmospheric beauties. Her version of Neil Young's Harvest Moon from the Grammy-winning “New Moon Daughter” with Toronto guitar alchemist Kevin Breit, being a prime example. While “Silver Pony” has a few studio-recorded trademark Wilsonisms - like the funky Forty Days and Forty Nights and Watch the Sunrise, a duet with John Legend — what dominate the album are the live tracks. With many of the songs weighing in around the seven-minute mark and extended soloing from piano player Jonathan Batiste, drummer Herlin Riley and guitarist Marvin Sewell, there's a lot of hay to chew on. Wilson's voice is as deep and nuanced as ever and the interplay between the musicians is a lesson in developing ideas on the fly. Anyone who likes their tunes in nice, neat A-A-B-A packages should probably hitch their wagon to some other horse, but if you want to hear veteran performers giving free rein to their creativity, saddle up and ride.


02_duo_pipa_violinAlong the Way - Duo Pipa & Violin

Liu Fang; Malcolm Goldstein

Philmultic PMPCD809 www.philmultic.com

This double album reflects what appears to be a mini trend: skilled performers of disparate instruments and music genres who once never would have thought of sharing the same stage, coming together in collaborative un-scored improvisation.

 

The violinist Malcolm Goldstein (b. 1936) is an American born composer and violinist, specialising in free improvisation. Active in the new music scene since the early 1960s, he has developed a totally individual and original approach to violin playing, one which on first hearing sounds distinctly unorthodox. Goldstein’s approach is not to make the violin sound as it “should” in a conventional sense, but to explore making music on it from scratch. Far from being a naïf however, his approach is solidly rooted in the 20th century avant-garde music mainstream and also in Eastern European violin playing traditions.

 

Based in Montréal, the pipa soloist Liu Fang (b. 1974) has shown a commitment to crossing boundaries. Having obtained a solid foundation on her plucked lute-like instrument at the Shanghai Conservatory for Music, she has performed throughout the world and released 10 albums. In addition to her repertoire of Chinese traditional music Liu Fang has also embraced the culture of her adopted homeland. Her premieres of works by Canadian composers including R. Murray Schafer and José Evangelista demonstrate that. Along the Way is the latest installment of what she calls her “Silk and Steel” projects in which she collaborates with leading non-Chinese musicians from various traditions.

 

These two master musicians first performed together in 2003 and their years of mutual respect and musical understanding is audible on this album. They seem to be aiming to create 15 very different nature-referenced soundscapes in their improvisations. On track 1, CD 2, the predominant mood is dramatic, while on others it ranges from furious to quiet and silent, to sections sounding disputatious, furious, even bellicose. The dominant texture however is an eloquent musical dialogue with occasional virtuoso flourishes on both instruments; some on the violin would not be out of place in a European 20th c. concerto.  Make no mistake, this is sophisticated, richly layered music

 



04_katrina_songsKatrina Ballads

Ted Hearne

New Amsterdam Records NWA011 www.katrinaballads.com

With events such as Richard Nixon’s China visit the subject of modern operas, why not 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which nearly destroyed New Orleans? That’s what composer Ted Hearne has done with this 70-minute song cycle. It’s scored for five singers and 11 musicians, including horn and string ensembles and a rock rhythm section.

Winner of many awards since its premiere at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, Katrina Ballads is a mature work that belies Herne’s age of 28. Witty as well as inventive, the libretto consists of vocalized versions of transcribed sound bites from New Orleans residents, reporters and officials. Almost every track is given a finer point by the arrangements which adapt variants of notated, jazz, and pop musics to the program.

There are many standouts, including Herne’s zippy and jivey repetition of George Bush’s infamous “Brownie You’re Doin’ A Heck of a Job”; and “Barbara Bush”, where the ex-First Lady’s saying the underprivileged don’t mind uprooting is mocked straight-faced by mezzo-soprano Abby Fischer accompanied by faux C&W fiddling and honky-tonk piano. There’s poignancy as well. “Hardy Jackson” sung by baritone Anthony Turner is a parlando lament for a victim’s missing wife. There’s also tenor Isaiah Robinson’s fully orchestrated gospel-like recasting of the statement that George Bush didn’t care about black people by rapper “Kanye West”.

Impressively as well, Turner and soprano Allison Semple’s musical recreation of an interview between “Anderson Cooper and Mary Landrieu” is an operatic-style recitative highlights swift-tongued talents, while cracklings with the reporter’s indignation towards the platitude-spouting Louisiana senator.



01_cadenceSpeak Easy

Cadence

Independent CD-3 (www.cadence-unplugged.com)

How is it that four men with no instruments play trumpet and snare so well? Is it not enough that the bang-on vocals and supremely crafted a capella arrangements and retro-stylings transport us nostalgically back to that era so cleverly reproduced on the “Hi-Fi” cover?  Seriously, I’m thinking of asking these guys (who, by the way, offer school workshops) to teach our kids how to play an instrument without having to shell out the dough to purchase one! It’s easy to see why they have performed alongside Bobby McFerrin as well as being nominated for a couple of Junos and playing sold out concert halls across the land.

This album mixes new interpretations of classic Cole Porter, Van Heusen/Cahn, Lerner/Loewe with some great original tunes and even innovative arrangements of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Paul Simon tunes. Don’t know if they’ve got some Louis Jordan songs up their sleeves but their keen sense of humour and rollicking fun remind me a lot of his good-time musical characterizations. All four, holders of music degrees (York, McGill), obviously studied History of the Rat Pack and its influence on social strata as well as Toward an understanding of be-bop cool.



01_dg__111Deutsche Grammophon has issued Volume 2 of their Collector’s Edition celebrating their 111 years of leadership in the recording industry (DG 4779142, 56 CDs). The discs are presented in a cube shaped box that matches the first volume of 55 CDs issued earlier this year. Available space makes it impossible to list the contents or even the artists. Sufficient to say that this is a treasure house of superb recordings of desirable repertoire, both familiar and slightly obscure, from complete operas, Carmen and La Traviata, symphonies, concertos, instrumental recitals, vocal recitals, and the list goes on. DG’s top instrumentalists, singers, orchestras and conductors artists are all here, from Abbado to Zimerman. Each individual disc is sleeved in the original cover-art and the 140 page enclosed booklet includes complete contents and recording data. Retailing at about $2.50 per disc, this limited edition compact box that is much, much bigger on the inside, is rather difficult to resist. Check complete contents at www.deutschegrammophon.com.

02_solomonJust when we thought that there were no unreleased Solomon recordings, AUDITE has licensed 2CDs worth of recordings made in Berlin by the RIAS on February 23 and 24, 1956 (Audite 23.422). Solomon, for those who are unfamiliar with the name or his superlative musicianship, was a child prodigy (so who wasn’t, I hear you say) who continued to grow to become a supreme interpreter of Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, and Chopin. He toured North America in 1955 with recitals of works by Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, and Schumann. In this recording we hear two Beethoven sonatas, no.3 and The Moonlight, Schumann’s Carnaval, Bach’s Italian Concerto, Chopin’s Fantasie op.49, Nocturne op.9 no.1, and the Scherzo no.2 op.31. Three pieces by Brahms conclude this two hour recital, two Intermezzos and the Rhapsody in B minor, op.79 no.1.  Exactly two hours of insightful interpretations played with ardour, elegance and panache (in the nicest sense) re-affirms Solomon’s place high on the honour role. After suffering a stroke during recording sessions in October 1956, he left the stage and lived until 1988 cared for by his wife. The liner notes have a mini bio and an appreciation of the pianist who, quite literally, became a legend in his own lifetime. Considering the artist and the repertoire, this is set to treasure.

03_richterThe year was 1960. The long awaited arrival of Sviatoslav Richter on the North American concert scene was greeted with excitement and enthusiasm. He was already an iconic figure and remains the most idolized cult figure of classical piano to this day. A new release from DOREMI (DHR-7972/3, 2 CDs) brings us for the first time his historic debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing the First Beethoven Concerto and the mighty Brahms Second. This extraordinary concert was broadcast across the continent and can now be heard on CD for the first time in lucent, dynamic sound. It is thrilling to hear the resplendent Boston Symphony, “The Aristocrat of Orchestras,” in its heyday under the energetic Charles Munch accompanying Richter who was in top shape, technically and artistically. Also included is the Saint-Saëns fifth piano concerto with the legendary Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Kiril Kondrashin from 1955 in a performance second to none in my memory. From the year before the Beethoven Piano Concerto No.3 with Witold Rowicki and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra is a classic, stylistically pure performance.

04_arrauClaudio Arrau established himself as one of the very top classical pianists of all time. Almost 20 after his death he remains on the short list of critically acclaimed, elite pianists of the 20th century. His repertoire highlights were from the late classical and romantic eras, notably Brahms and Beethoven. Arrau probably led the field in live performances of the two Brahms Concertos, of which he made many esteemed recordings. Into the 1960s Arrau was still a titan of the keyboard and at the full technical and interpretative powers. He played both concertos in a memorable concert on May 31, 1968 in Moscow accompanied by Gennady Rozhdestvensky and the USSR TV and Radio Large Symphony Orchestra. Melodiya engineers were on hand to document this special event, subsequently issuing a limited edition of two stereo LPs. DOREMI has resurrected and restored these obscure recordings on a two CD set (DHR-7890/1). These are towering performances distilling the late pianist’s lifetime of devotion to this repertoire and his total understanding, absorption an insights supported by an empathetic conductor and his orchestra. They are heard in splendid stereo sound thanks to Melodiya’s engineering and DOREMI’s transfers. Two Beethoven sonatas, nos.13 and 26, from the same Moscow visit fill out these two discs.

05_karajan_beethovern9In November 1977, Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra toured Japan. They opened with the Brahms Symphonies in Osaka from, including the Violin Concerto, the Double Concerto and the Second Piano Concerto. Their last concert there ended with a Karajan speciality, Ein Heldenleben. In the Fumonkan in Tokyo they performed the nine Beethoven Symphonies and two concertos with Alexis Weissenberg on six consecutive evenings. Tokyo FM has issued the nine symphonies on five CDs derived from their masters recorded in concert. The soloists in the Ninth Symphony (TFMC 0029) are soprano Barbara Hendricks, alto Heljä Angervo, tenor Herman Winkler, and bass Hans Sotin. The chorus is from The Tokyo University of the Arts. The sound in all nine is exemplary, quite perfect with enormous dynamic range and clarity, easily capturing the identity of every instrument. In the Ninth the tiers of sound of orchestra and choir alike are inspiring. These performances, all nine without exception, are a triumph for Beethoven.  They do not represent a looking back at Beethoven but the promethean Beethoven’s declaration of independence without any pussy-footing at all from conductor or orchestra. In the Ninth, the soloists are really into it, while the choir is plainly elated and elating. To my mind, in every respect, this set is in a class by itself, eclipsing the other Karajan cycles and also those I have heard from other conductors. I bought my set from HMV Japan www.hmv.co.jp. Check Classical and then Karajan.

Let me begin by thanking David Schreiber for his feedback on Janos Gardonyi’s guest editorial about on-line shopping and digital downloads last month. Mr. Schreiber rightly suggests caveat emptor in regards to MP3s, which are compressed files with resulting loss of information. MP3 technology provides convenience and portability, but compromises sound quality, much the same way that cassette tapes did versus LPs, and will not likely satisfy the audiophile. A quick check with Wikipedia tells us that there are three basic kinds of audio file formats: uncompressed files such as WAV, AIFF and PCM; formats with “lossless” compression such as FLAC, MPEG-4, Apple Lossless and Windows Media Player Lossless; and formats with “lossy” compression such as MP3, Vorbis and Musepack. As always, the onus is on the consumer to do the research and decide to what extent to accept compromise for the sake of convenience and economy.

As the year end approaches and the holiday season along with it, rather than focus on just a few discs here I want to briefly mention a number of seasonal titles and other special gems which I think will be of interest. I expect you will see full reviews of the latter items in coming issues, but let’s begin with the seasonal releases. Top of the list is In Midnight's Stillness - St. Michael's Choir School (www.smcs.on.ca). This wonderful collection of Christmas fare is conducted by Jerzy Cichocki, Caron Daley and Teri Dunn and features guest performances by the True North Brass. The choirs are in fine and festive voice as I’m sure they will be at the annual Christmas Fantasy performances at Massey Hall on December 10 and 11.

On Noèl - Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà (Analekta) Dubeau and her wonderful baroque string ensemble provide a musical tour and celebration of the Nativity which covers three centuries and takes us to Finland, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, Russia, the USA, Mexico and Canada. Of special note is Kelly Marie Murphy’s lush and haunting impression of the Huron Carol.

On a completely different note, jazz pianist Oliver Jones, singer Ranee Lee and the Montreal Jubilation Choir provide a joyous and exuberant take on the season with A Celebration in Time (Justin Time). A highlight for me is the island rhythms of Gras Bondye/Seigneur J’élève Ton Nom featuring the Daphnée Louis Singers.

And there is one last Christmas disc to mention, which was not yet in hand at the time of writing, but I am going to go out on a limb and recommend it anyway, because how could you go wrong with Monica Whicher and Judy Loman? Lullabies and Carols for Christmas (Naxos) features Loman’s arrangements for soprano and harp of such traditional favourites as the Coventry Carol, In the Bleak Mid-Winter; Bulalow, In Dulce Jubilo, and the Wexford Carol along with seasonal solo harp pieces by Britten and Tournier.

We have recently received several boxed sets featuring Canadian artists that are particularly worthy of mention. The first is a six CD collection of the art songs of the late 19th century Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko. This is the second instalment of the Ukrainian Art Song Project (www.uasp.ca) following on the 2006 release of the songs of Kyrylo Stetsenko. The idea for the project dates back to 2004 when bass baritone Pavlo Hunka came to Toronto for the lead role in the COC’s production of Falstaff and was adopted as a native son by the Toronto Ukrainian community. Lysenko (1842-1912) is considered the father modern Ukrainian classical music and this impressive set, accompanied by a 200 page book of libretti, translations, biographies and notes, includes 124 of his 133 known art songs (the other nine have been lost). Recorded in Glenn Gould Studio the other singers involved in the project are all well known on the Canadian opera scene including Elizabeth Turnbull, Benjamin Butterfield, Michael Colvin and Robert Gleadow, with pianists Albert Krywolt, Mia Bach and Serouj Kradjian, flutist Doug Stewart and cellist Roman Borys. Mykola Lysenko’s Art Songs will enjoy a gala launch at Koerner Hall on December 5 for which Pavlo Hunka will be joined by Monica Whicher, Kristina Szabó and Russell Braun.

Robert Silverman’s most recent recording project is a seven CD set of the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas for the audiophile isoMike label (www.isomike.com). These hybrid discs include CD stereo, SACD stereo and four channel surround sound capability. We’ll have a full review of this set in the February issue but I wanted to bring it to your attention in time for holiday shopping

The last set I will mention is a 15 CD collection of Angela Hewitt’s complete Hyperion recordings of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. With almost 18 hours of music by this renowned Bach interpreter priced at about $100, this would make a great addition to anyone’s collection.

I have also elicited the help of several of my colleagues to bring to your attention a number of items we missed this year which had we unlimited space and resources would certainly have found their way into these pages. Geoff Chapman tells us that although his mandate is Canadian jazz, there’s a plethora of great jazz created elsewhere. Here’s a few titles that really caught his attention: Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green - Apex (www.pirecordings.com) - A brilliant alto sax collaboration between a hot newcomer and a hardy veteran with stellar band. Vijay Iyer - Solo (www.vijay-iyer.com) – An ace pianist pays extraordinary contemporary tribute to his inspirations. Jason Moran - Ten (Blue Note) – The best piano trio outing for eons in a crowded field. Wadada Leo Smith – Spiritual Dimensions (www.cuneiformrecords.com) – This double-CD illuminates the avant-garde trumpeter’s mastery of free jazz. Yehudi Menuhin & Stephane Grappelli - Friends In Music (EMI) – A delightful 4-CD reissue of virtuoso violinists covering the musical waterfront.

Terry Robbins found three titles of particular note: Beethoven String Quartets Vol.4 (Virgin Classics) - A mixture of early, mid and late quartets, including the profound C sharp minor Op.131, superbly played by the Artemis Quartet. Rodion Shchedrin - Chamber Music (ARS MUSICI) - Works by the contemporary Russian composer (who plays piano for two of them), highlighted by Dmitry Sitkovetsky's tremendous performance of the Bach-inspired Echo-Sonata for solo violin. John Corigliano - The Red Violin Concerto (Naxos) - Another superb disc in the Naxos American Classics series, with the terrific Michael Ludwig, concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and the BPO itself under JoAnn Falletta recorded in their Kleinhans Music Hall home.

Richard Haskell took particular delight in a new recording of Rachmaninov - Piano Concertos Nos.3 & 4 (EMI Classics) - The pairing of Leif Ove Andsnes with the London Symphony under the direction of Antonio Pappano is sublime. Andsnes’ performance is bold, expansive, and technically brilliant, while Pappano coaxes a warm and lyrical sound from the orchestra. And Daniel Foley found in Messiaen: Livre du Saint-Sacrement (Naxos) exceptional performances by Paul Jacobs of Messiaen's towering final contribution to the organ literature; a massive work that demands close attention to fully absorb its theological and programmatic intent.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: The WholeNote, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, www.thewholenote.com, where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for on-line shopping and additional, expanded and archival reviews.

David Olds, DISCoveries Editor, discoveries@thewholenote.com

HOLIDAY  BOOKS

Here are some terrific books from this year that would be of special interest to music lovers, even if they are not directly about music

Cage: Six Paintings by Gerhard Richter by Robert Storr (Tate Publishing)

The catalogue of a show at London’s Tate Modern that featured a suite of massive paintings by one of the greatest painters of our time, Gerhard Richter. They were directly inspired by the music of John Cage. This hefty catalogue includes essays along with splendid reproductions of the paintings themselves.

Diaghilev and the The Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909 – 1929 (V&A Publishing)

A collection of extraordinary historic photos and essays cataloguing a recent show at the Victoria & Albert Museum about  impresario (and so much more) Sergei Diaghilev, along with the composers, like Stravinsky, Ravel, Prokofiev and Debussy, painters like Picasso, and dancers like Nijinsky he worked with to create ballets for his company, Les Ballets Russes.

The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett (faber and faber)

A new play by Alan Bennett (Beyond the Fringe, The Madness of George III) featuring a discussion between Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden about life, sex and basing an opera on the novella Death In Venice by Thomas Mann (who happened to be Auden’s father-in-law). Although such a conversation never actually took place, Auden did write the libretto for Britten’s earlier opera Paul Bunyan. This ranks with the very best plays about music  like David Pownall’s  The Composer Plays (Music to Murder By, Elgar’s Rondo, Elgar’s Third, and especially Master Class) and Tom Stoppard’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (which has a part for symphony orchestra, written by André Previn).

The Jazz Loft Project by Sam Stephenson (Knopf)

A selection of photos and transcripts of conversations taken from the 40,000 photos and 4,000 hours of audiotapes of conversations and jam sessions made by photographer W.Eugene Smith between 1957 and 1965 in his New York loft. They were discovered eleven years ago by Sam Stephenson, who has put together this remarkable volume. Along with musicians like Thelonious Monk, Zoot Sims, and Paul Bley, a young Steve Reich was a regular for a few years.

Playing (Less) Hurt: An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians by Janet Horvath (Hal Leonard)

Wise and detailed advice for performers who have been injured or want to avoid being injured, as well as musicians and music-lovers who want to investigate the physical demands of playing an instrument. Horvath is  a Toronto-born cellist who plays in the Minnesota Orchestra.

Safe Passage by Ida Cook (Harlequin)

The extraordinary memoir written by the younger of two intrepid British sisters, Ida and Louise Cook, who managed to turn their passion for opera, and numerous friendships with opera singers, into a means of rescuing dozens of Jews from persecution and death by the Nazis. This memoir is published by Harlequin because Ida was a successful writer of romance novels.

Sketches from Here and There by A.J. (Jack) Diamond (Douglas & McIntyre)

A collection of vibrant watercolours, featuring buildings and other man-made structures, by architect Jack Diamond, who designed the Canadian Opera Company’s Four Seasons Centre. Diamond is currently working on the new Mariinsky Opera House in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats by  Pannonica de Koenigswarter (Abrams)

The quirky vision of Pannonica de Koenigswarter, a member of the British branch of the Rothchilds, who abandoned her life as a baroness to move to New York and become friend, muse and supporter of  jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker.  In two leather-bound Hermès notebooks she recorded the answers she received to the question, “If you were given three wishes, to be instantly granted, what would they be?”. This fascinating book includes responses from the most notable jazz musicians of the time, as well as photos.

p65aVictor Feldbrill: Canadian Conductor Extraordinaire

by Walter Pitman

Dundurn Press

432 pages, photos; $40.00

Canadian conductor Victor Feldbrill has lead so many premieres of Canadian compositions and promoted so many Canadian works around the world that his impact on music in Canadian has been immeasurable, as Walter Pitman shows in this thorough biography. Pitman, who has chronicled the lives of Canadian musicians, takes a close look at what motivated Feldbrill to support Canadian composers and performers so unreservedly, even when it created difficulties for him. “His position”, writes Pitman, “was that if the music itself had integrity and was skilfully written, it must be played.”

By all accounts, Feldbrill was an accomplished conductor in all kinds of repertoire. “Why then”, asks Pitman, “weren’t orchestras from around the world clamouring for his services?” Placing value on “competence, reliability and collegiality”, Feldbrill avoided the “wildly entertaining, shocking and melodramatic” styles of conductors who stamp their personalities on their interpretations. But because he was reluctant to impose a personal vision, he didn’t generate the kind of charisma that makes a conductor get noticed.

What’s more, Feldbrill stayed in Canada. There’s a crop of younger Canadian conductors today, like Yves Abel, Kwame Ryan, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Julian Kuerti, who have achieved remarkable success. But they are all pursuing their careers outside Canada.

Pitman has done extensive interviews with Feldbrill, who was born in Toronto in 1924, as well as with musicians who worked with him. He has also made full use of letters and archival documents. He is, however,  more concerned with how Feldbrill was able to accomplish what he did than with matters of musical interpretation. A discography and a list of his premieres would have been useful  to document the “incredible history of composition” that Feldbrill’s performances and recordings of Canadian music represent, especially since many of the recordings are unavailable today. Even what Pitman calls  Feldbrill’s “crowning achievement”, his recording of Harry Somers’ seminal opera, Louis Riel, is difficult to come by. But Pitman’s engaging, detailed biography goes a long way to illuminate the history of Canadian composition that they represent. And it has a particularly lovely back cover – a lovely portrait of Feldbrill, baton in hand, painted by his grandson, Benjamin Koffman.

p65bListen to This

by Alec Ross

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

381 pages; $31.00

In his first book, The Rest Is Noise, music critic Alex Ross took an ambitiously sweeping approach to the whole history of 20th century classical music. His new book, Listen to This, is just as ambitious, as the title makes clear.  But this time, happy to leave loose ends and open questions,  he offers a collection of articles about specific musicians. Most of these pieces first appeared in Ross’s column in The New Yorker magazine. They seem to have been chosen not because they are his best, but because they offer a sampling of the broad range of music and musicians that Ross feels passionate about, from Brahms to Björk.

Ross’s goal here is to knock down the walls separating different types of music. Discussing Björk, he depicts a musical utopia where ‘the ideologies, teleologies, style wars, and subdivisions that have so defined music in the past hundred years slip away”. So he focuses on the musicians and music that inspire him. There’s the ‘free-wheeling spirit’ of early music performers like Richard Egarr, and the joy that the St Lawrence Quartet takes in ‘the act of connection” . There’s the rock group Radiohead, who practices “a new kind of classical music for the masses”. Then there’s Brahms, whose Intermezzo op 117 no 1 is, he writes, “the music that you will hear when you die”.

“I approach music not as a self-sufficient sphere but as a way of knowing the world", writes Ross.  There is something infectious about his enthusiasm for such a broad range of genres when, in a discussion of the history of the chaconne, he moves effortlessly from classical music into the realms of blues, jazz, and pop. As an attempt to show how  these various genres are all related, Listen to This was not thoroughly convincing. But as a compilation of terrific pieces on various musicians by the best music critic in North America, it’s a stand-out – especially once the headache-inducing dust-jacket is removed.

Fortepianist Richard Egarr is performing a program of Mozart  and Haydn with Tafelmusik at Trinity-St. Paul’s from Dec. 1 to Dec. 5.

p66Finishing the Hat

by Stephen Sondheim

Knopf

478 pages, photos; 46.00

When songwriter Steven Sondheim turned seventy, he made a list of his favourite songs written by other song-writers. He called it Songs I Wish I’d Written (At Least In Part). This year, for his eightieth birthday, he has put together this collection of his own songs, or at least the lyrics. This includes lyrics for his own shows like A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, as well as shows from earlier in his career when when he worked with composers like Leonard Bernstein for West Side Story, and Jule Styne for Gypsy.

Between the lyrics for each song he has written, including drafts and alternates, Sondheim adds choice comments about the songs and the shows they’re from, as well as the actors, directors and producers who worked on them.  Along the way, he discusses – not uncritically - song-writers of the past. These include his two favourites, Harold Arlen and Jerome Kern, as well as his beloved mentor Oscar Hammerstein II, who became a surrogate father to him.

Sondheim’s witty and poignant lyrics make terrific reading. Without the music to share the attention, you really notice how much the expressiveness of his songs is due to his brilliant use of language, especially his intricate and unusual rhymes. Even though songs like Send in the Clowns and I’m Still Here have become standards on their own today, Sondheim emphasizes how important it is for him that his lyrics enhance the dramatic action of the shows they’re in. So even one of his favourites songs, Multitudes of Amys, ended up being cut from Company when the story-line was changed.

It’s tempting to see Sondheim himself in his characters, with their longings, regrets, and cynicism. But, as Sondheim reminds us, he does not create the characters in his shows – that’s for the book-writer. “The only song I’ve written which is an immediate expression of a personal internal experience is Finishing the Hat,” from Sunday in the Park with George. It’s a song about artistic expression. But even though he used it as the title of this volume, it’s not included here since it’s from a show written in 1984, three years after the cut-off date for this collection.

Sondheim’s life and work have been extensively documented in books and recordings. His own recorded commentaries featured in the recent revue Sondheim on Sondheim cover some of the same material as Finishing the Hat. But so far, this wonderful book is the closest thing to an autobiography Sondheim has written. Fortunately he promises a second volume.

Stephen Sondheim will be introduced by Des McAnuff and interviewed by Robert Cushman on the stage of the Princess of Wales Theatre on December 6 at 8.00

McAnuff’s production of Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum opens there on Dec. 15

Sondheim’s song-list has been published in the new edition of Mark Eden Horowitz’s Sondheim on Music (The Scarecrow Press)

I’d like to begin this month by welcoming two new reviewers to the WholeNote family. Singer/songwriter Bill MacLean is no stranger to reviewing in his capacity as Entertainment Editor with the Beach Metro News, and you can read his take on Adi Braun’s maiden voyage into singer/songwriter territory in our Pot Pourri section. Sharna Searle is a pianist with a Music History degree whose subsequent Law studies and call to the bar in both British Columbia and Ontario has left her hankering for an artistic outlet. You will find her impressions of Ian Parker’s (yes, of that Parker family) ATMA recording debut in concertos of Ravel, Gershwin and Stravinsky with the London Symphony Orchestra in Early, Classical and Beyond.

fialkowska_chopin_concertosMy own choice recording this month is another disc of piano concertos on the ATMA label, featuring Janina Fialkowska. Last month’s review of Fialkowska’s “Chopin – Études, Sonatas and Impromptus” erroneously stated that these were new recordings postdating her recovery from the cancer which affected her left arm (not the right arm as stated). In fact that 2-CD set was a 2010 repackaging in honour of Chopin’s bicentennial of recordings made in 1997 and 1999 before she was afflicted with the devastating illness. Fialkowska’s outstanding Chopin performances with Tafelmusik last month are testament to the fact that she has indeed overcome her cancer and that her exceptional abilities remain intact, as is the recording of both Chopin Piano Concertos with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bramwell Tovey (ACD2 2643). Recorded live in the Orpheum Theatre in March 2010, there is an energy and élan to these performances which literally jumps out of the speakers. The warmth and depth of sound capture the music in all its grace and grandeur and none of the nuance is lost. Fialkowska and Tovey are both in their element here and together they bring out the best in the members of Canada’s third largest orchestra, much to the delight of the enthusiastic audience. In fact they are so enraptured of the performance that even listening on my full frequency range headphones I was not aware of their presence until they burst into applause. With this latest release ATMA is proving itself a truly trans-Canadian label and with the sheer number and diversity of recent releases, as reflected in the following pages, confirming itself as a label of international importance.

There are a number of other discs I would have liked to tell you about this month, but they will have to wait until December. After lamenting the demise of the record store as we know it with some colleagues I was taken to task by reviewer Janos Gardonyi who chastised me for not embracing the brave new world of the internet and the wealth of retail possibilities to be found there. I subsequently invited him to write the following guest editorial, a layman’s guide to shopping on the World Wide Web.

We welcome your feedback and invite submissions. CDs and comments should be sent to: The WholeNote, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourage you to visit our website, www.thewholenote.com, where you can find added features including direct links to performers, composers and record labels, “buy buttons” for on-line shopping and additional, expanded and archival reviews.

discoveries@thewholenote.com

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