John McLaughlin and the “Tonight Show” Big Band: “Cherokee” (1986)

There’s not too much to say about this… the music so confidently speaks for itself.

I first became aware of John McLaughlin upon seeing and hearing his third solo album My Goal’s Beyond. Woober Joobers. I had never heard an Ovation “Roundback” guitar before; and the fact that the original LP album cover showed McLaughlin’s meditation room (and a portrait of his guru, Sri Chinmoy), intrigued me.

Years later, attending Vanderbilt Law School, at an overstock sale at the University bookstore, I bought a book of Meditations by Sri Chinmoy; and: it cut me to the quick.

Quoting from memory: Chinmoy stated that Jesus knew in advance and even predicted that Peter would deny him three times.

But: Chinmoy goes on to say, Jesus chose no one else as the Rock upon whom He would found his church. Continue Reading →

Joel Fredericksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich: “Requiem for a Pink Moon”

Photo Thomas Zwillinger, courtesy of Harmonia Mundi.

Joel Fredericksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich: Requiem for a Pink Moon
CD Harmonia Mundi HMC 902111 (recorded 2012)
(No high-resolution download available, apparently.)

Joel Fredericksen, bass voice and lute; Timothy Leigh Evans, tenor voice and drum; Domen Marincic, viola da gamba; Axel Wolf, theorbo and archlute; producer and engineer not credited.

Back in December, in my coverage of the Wilson Audio/MSB event at Fidelis AV in New Hampshire, I mentioned how the late-stayers were moved by the cuts I played from Joel Fredericksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich’s Elizabethan Nick Drake tribute Requiem for a Pink Moon. You could have heard a pin drop. If that album is unknown to you, here’s a brief précis:

The idea of classical bass singer Joel Frederiksen and Ensemble Phoenix Munich’s putting together an early-instruments Elizabethan tribute album to Nick Drake might strike you as daft, as it did me. But, it works. It’s the real deal. There was a melancholic plaintiveness to Drake’s music that is not at all far from the Elizabethan temperament. Frederiksen of course sings both beautifully and un-selfconsciously. But what makes this recording one of the most affecting I have heard in years is that the interleaving of Elizabethan laments and parts of a Gregorian Chant Requiem Mass with Drake’s songs makes such a powerful connection to the universal human experiences of loss and grief, and not just to one particular artist or album. Buy one for yourself, and buy several to give as gifts.

Continue Reading →

Sir Colin Davis: “Nimrod” from “Enigma Variations” (Elgar)

I am working on reviews of new-ish recordings of Edward Elgar’s two published symphonies, so, this video of Sir Colin Davis with an unidentified orchestra playing the slow variation from the “Enigma” Variations is timely. (My guess as to the identity of the orchestra is that it is the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, judging by the façade pipes of the organ. I also deduce that the movement was played as an encore… .) I was privileged to hear Davis conduct Elgar’s masterpiece The Dream of Gerontius twice, twenty-five years apart, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. There is no question that Davis was one of the most important Elgar conductors of the modern era. His live “Enigma” Variations recording with the London Symphony is available on SACD for only $14.99; the CD is $9.99. The “Enigma” Variations is one of those pieces that should be part of everyone’s cultural awareness.

# # #

Sara Mingardo, Andris Nelsons, Lucerne Festival Orchestra: Brahms, Alto Rhapsody

Johannes Brahms’ Op. 53 Alto Rhapsody (1869) for female solo voice, male chorus, and orchestra neatly divides into three parts: Yearning, Striving, and Imploring Divine Aid.

Brahms wrote the Alto Rhapsody as a wedding present for Robert and Clara Schumann’s daughter Julie. One cannot help but think that Brahms chose Goethe’s craggy text as a self-portrait hiding a declaration of love.

The Alto Rhapsody has always been very well-represented on recordings. My fave rave is Dagmar Pecková with Jirí Belohlávek and the Prague Philharmonia, in a 2-CD set that includes some very fine Wagner and Mahler. Above we have a very fine version featuring Italian contralto Sara Mingardo with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and (surprise, surprise) Andris Nelsons, rounding out our unofficial Andris Nelsons Brahms week here at The Tannhäuser Gate. This video is from a concert that includes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 and Serenade No. 2. The DVD is here and the Blu-Ray here.

# # #

The John Mayer Trio: “Axis: Bold as Love” (Jimi Hendrix)

I am a bit of two minds about this video. I’ve had a positive impression of John Mayer ever since I happened across his Room for Squares CD (Sony CK 85293), which I wrote about in Stereophile in 2003, thusly:

Rock singer-songwriter-guitarist Mayer is often compared to Dave Matthews, but for me
his combination of bedevilment over the fair sex, wry wordplay, smooth arrangements,
and low-key vocal delivery strongly calls to mind Michael Franks’ early work.

So, I start out predisposed to whatever John Mayer feels like doing at any time–even though I have not been wowed by all of it. Therefore, to hear him in the “Rock Power Trio” format with totally committed bass player and drummer is good, and to hear them cover one of Jimi Hendrix’ strongest self-penned numbers is even better. Continue Reading →

Keith Jarrett Trio “My Funny Valentine” (Rodgers and Hart)

According to pop-song authority Mark Steyn, there exist more than 100 recordings of Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine“—by Chet Baker. Baker recorded the song as a trumpeter with Gerry Mulligan in 1952, re-recording it as a vocalist in 1954, a breakthrough performance that has been widely anthologized. I gather that for the remainder of Baker’s checkered career, audiences continued to demand it, because his last recording of it was in 1985.

The 1937 musical Babes in Arms (set in the imaginary town of Seaport, Rhode Island) is famous not only for “Valentine” (the name of the male romantic interest the song is sung to) but also the standards “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Where or When.” Less well known but equally significant is that the show included a “dream ballet” by George Balanchine.

The song starts in C minor, and in emotional tone is both pensive and a bit anxious. The girl knows that her guy is a bit of a ditz, but the idea of losing him upsets her no end—the climax comes on the words “Stay, Valentine, stay.” Standout versions include those by Anita O’Day; Miles Davis; and Bill Evans with Jim Hall. And, of course, Keith Jarrett, here with Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock.

# # #

Gilad Hekselman Trio: “Eyes To See” (Hekselman)

I last featured Gilad Hekselman in some lovely electric-guitar J.S. Bach. Here he is now in a trio (Gilad Hekselman – guitar; Joe Martin – bass; Marcus Gilmore – drums; and special guest Jeff Ballard – drums), in a pensive modern mood, shot in pensive black-and-white. No need for much commentary from me; the lovely music making speaks for itself.

Gilad’s album Homes is here. Just buy it!

# # #

(A James Dean slideshow over) Thomas Stewart, “Wotan’s Farewell” from Die Walküre, Act 3 (von Karajan, 1967)

Richard Wagner is certainly a problematic character, historically, musically, and ethically. The short answer is that bad (or at least morally compromised) people can make great art. Wagner’s stated aim was to destroy the established order and to transform established social relationships. (That’s why Wagner’s personal behavior often involved sexual betrayals.) Wagner himself wrote:

I will destroy each phantom that has rule o’er men. I will destroy the dominion of one over many,
of the dead o’er the living, of matter over spirit; I will break the power of the mighty, of law, of property.

— (Richard Wagner: “The Revolution.” Printed in Volksblätter No. 14, Dresden, Sunday April 8, 1849.)

Ironically enough, Wagner’s stunning success as a composer of music dramas was quite dependent upon the generosity of the newly rich (who craved the social prestige that came from being associated with a celebrated composer), and later, the patronage of the nobility. So much for overthrowing the established order—at least in the real world. Continue Reading →

Morten Lauridsen, “O Magnum Mysterium” (Kings College Choir)

Not all the great music has already been written. Nor is it the case that in order to be great, music must have been written more than 100 years ago. A prime example is Morten Lauridsen’s Nativity motet “O Magnum Mysterium.” Yes, the overall style pays tribute to historical forms; but, there is a ray of modern light, as the composer explains here.

Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” is one of the most oft-performed classical compositions of the 20th century. The reasons why should become obvious upon listening.

Wishing all a Merry Christmas.

# # #

Gilad Hekselman: J.S. Bach, Invention No. 4

Hmm, I seem to be in a bit of a Bach groove, with my last couple of Music-Video Friday posts (here, and here).

From far out in left field, or at least, from NYC, here’s Israeli jazz-guitar virtuoso Gilad Hekselman, playing what appears to be a free transcription of J.S. Bach’s Two-Part Invention No. 4, BWV 775, in the violinistic key of D-minor. I say free transcription, because I think that, having to play both parts with only open strings or the frets reachable from one position at a time, he did not have available two extra fingers to play the long trill you might remember from the legendary Glenn Gould piano recording. I particularly like his non-frenetic tempo, and restrained dynamics. Gilad Hekselman‘s website is here.

# # #