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Volume 17 Issue 9 - June 2012

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2009, becoming

2009, becoming asignificant memberof the intensely creativecurrentBrooklyn scene. Hisgroup Avi Granite’sVerse is heard to fineeffect on SnowUmbrellas (PetMantis Records PMR008), with Granite’scompositions ranging from song-like effusionto knotty kernels of possibility. Thegroup —trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist JerryDevore and drummer Owen Howard —has adistinct personality, a transparency in whichbass and drums are as prominent in the mixas guitar and trumpet, and there’s a sense ofgroup dialogue around rhythm, a constantweave of ricocheting short phrases. It’s agenuinely contemporary sound, movingfrom pensive introspection to moments ofwonder, whether it’s Granite’s glassy, sparklinglines bubbling up through the mix orAlessi’s sudden spears of sonic colour.Ottawa trumpeterCraig Pedersenopenly acknowledgesthe inspirationsfor his quartet, mentioningJohn Zorn,the AACM, OrnetteColeman and DukeEllington. Listeningto Days Like Today (www.craig, I’d opt for the original Coleman group,Pedersen’s band of trumpet, alto saxophone,bass and drums favouring expressive intensityand strong rhythms. The parallelis clearest on pieces like Little Bird, whichsways to a Tex-Mex rhythm, but there’s moreto Pedersen than just influences. The Baron(an allusion to Charles Mingus?) has a mutedtrumpet sound that harkens all the wayback to the 1920s, while Points from Centreis a blast of overblown trumpet and drumthrashing that dramatically pushes the envelope.They’re all part of Pedersen’s methodologicalspectrum. The group empathyand first-rate performances by saxophonistLinsey Wellman, bassist Joel Kerr and drummerMike Essoudry testify to the quality ofthe Ottawa free-jazz community.Something in the Air | Solo StrategiesSolo playing has always been themake-or-break yardstick for pianists ofany genre. That’s solo playing not playingsolo, an important distinction whichdifferentiates between exhibiting showybreaks and having an overall musical planfor the mini-orchestra that is at his or herfingertips. The solo challenge is more pronouncedfor improvisers sinceeven if they’re interpretingcompositions, originality is theparamount concern. These challengesdon’t prevent pianistsfrom trying their hands at solosessions. But it’s instructive tonote that the memorable ones,such as the piano dates here by anAmerican, a Canadian, a Catalanand a Russian, use different strategies to attainmatchless quality.Agustí Fernández’s El laberint de lamemòria (Mbari Musica MBARI 04 www.mbari is the closest to what manyexpect from a solo recital. That’s because theBarcelona-based pianist, best-known forhis improvisational work with experimenterssuch as bassist Barry Guy, based the 14ruminations which make up this programon 20th century Spanish so-called classicalmusic. The originality results becauseFernández doesn’t play any of that music butinstead offers interpretations birthed fromKEN WAXMANcareful, repeated listening to many of thosecompositions. Fernández’s magisterial elucidationsinclude such chamber music staplesas subtle dynamic shifts and exposing waterfallsof carefully positioned notes, but he isn’tlimited to flourishes. A kinetic piece such asCatedral for instance may have metronomictheme elaboration, but his touchis such that soundboard echoescontinue to ring long after syncopatedoctaves flash and flow.More moderated tunes such asTonada which melodically echoboth Hatikvah and Sometimes IFeel Like a Motherless Child useboth strains to never slip intobathos while sustaining a delicateinterface. Balanced precisely, L’esmoldornot only proffers a baroque-like series ofgentle key strokes, but contrasts them withkalimba-like string strokes. Also for everybouncing theme exposition or instance ofbreezy swing, Fernández brings a tougherstance to other tracks —or as contrast onthe same ones. For instance his measured,mandolin-like strums on unwound treblestrings during Pluja Sorda are coupled withrepeated key slaps, with the narrative becomingmore staccato as sympathetic rattlesand rumbles move past the strings andsoundboard and begin reflecting the timbresfrom key-frame wood.To see how Canadian Kris Davis, American Denman Maroney and Russian-American Simon Nabatov overcome similar challenges see the continuationof this review at June 1 – July 7, 2012

Old Wine, New Bottles | Fine Old Recordings Re-ReleasedBRUCE SURTEESFor some time now, Toshiba EMI has beenremastering existing stereo recordingsfrom EMI into SACD s that have been thebuzz in audiophile circles around the world,in spite of the very high price tag. Moreexpensive yet are the SACD remastersprocessed and marketedby Esoteric, selling for around a disc. Both companies dotheir conversions in Japan fromthe “master tapes” owned byEMI, Decca and Sony. EMI has thereal masters in its Abbey RoadStudios in London and utilizesEMI technology for the HighDefinition Sound reissue series. Theprocess consists of painstakinglycomparing the original analogproductions to determine the correctequalization and play-back curvesto ensure a truthful realization of theoriginal sound of the analog originals.This multi-step process is describedin the notes that are bound intoindividual hard cover art booksinto which the discs and originalproduction documents, in fullcolour, are reproduced. They aredistributed by EMI Canada andsell for domestic prices. So far,there is no duplication of albums.With one exception the discsare stereo hybrid SACD/CDs. Iwas intrigued by the concept ofan SACD version of an originalmonaural recording, in this casethe famous Debussy’s CompletePiano Works played by WalterGieseking (509999 559172, 4discs). Although it should nothave been, what I heard wasa complete surprise. Frombetween the speakers came thefamiliar sound of Gieseking’s piano, as freshas it was when he recorded these works inAbbey Road’s Studio 3 between 1951 and 1954when he was acknowledged as the supremeinterpreter of Debussy’s piano works. It wasa thorn in the French psyche that a Germanpianist eclipsed their own as the greatDebussy interpreter. How appropriate thatthese treasured performances are includedin this first release of the new reissues.Bruckner’s Eighth and Ninth Symphoniesare heard in recordings from 1963 and 1961with Carl Schuricht conducting the ViennaPhilharmonic, recorded in the Musikverein(509999 559842, 2 discs). Schuricht wasa consummate Bruckner conductor longbefore the composer became fashionable,amply demonstrated in these two powerfulreadings.It has been a few years since I heard thefollowing symphonies under the baton ofOtto Klemperer and I had remembered themas, well, a little stodgy. Mozart: The LastSix Symphonies with the Philharmonia andthe New Philharmonia (509999 559322, 3discs) and Mendelssohn’s Thirdand Fourth Symphonies plusSchumann’s Fourth Symphonywith the Philharmonia (509999559102, 2 discs). Mozart’s scoresmight seem to be weighed downby a modern orchestra but thatwas the fashion until recently.Klemperer hears it the “old”way and, in fact, makes areasonably good case for thepractice. The Mendelssohnsare well sprung and theSchumann is quite convincing.The recordedsound is true to the originals…only cleaner.This first release wouldnot be complete withoutJacqueline du Pré’smost famous recording,the Elgar CelloConcerto under thedirection of Sir JohnBarbirolli who alsoconducts Elgar’soften sublime songcycle, Sea Pictureswith Janet Bakerat her very best(509999 559052, 2discs). The seconddisc is all Delius;the Cello Concertowith du Pré, Songsof Farewell and ASong Before Sunriseall conductedby Sir Malcolm Sargent.The disc is a treasurethat should be gracingevery collection.Sviatoslav Richterplays piano concertosby Dvořák, Grieg andSchumann conducted byCarlos Kleiber (Dvořák)and Lovro von Matacic. Hereis Richter in his prime (1976 and 1974) andthe emerging Carlos Kleiber yet to hit the bigtime (509999 559892, 2 discs). Powerhouseperformances from Richter in all three withmatching support from his conductors.Pianist Georges Cziffra truly was a legendin his own lifetime. He was simply untouchablein Liszt’s keyboard extravaganzas andEMI recorded him extensively including the12 Transcendental Etudes and the completeHungarian Rhapsodies, in addition to TheMephisto Waltz No.1 and Gnomenreigen.Recorded between 1957 and 1975 in the SalleWagram, Paris, assembling and issuing themin this series was a stroke of genius (50999955962 2, 3 discs).Giuseppe di Stefano sounds very fresh singing33 Neapolitan Songs, recorded in Milan in1953 and 1961 (509999 55926 2, 2 discs).In his early years, could any singer topthe late Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in SchubertLieder? Every month, music lovers everywherelooked for new releases. He was incomparable.Selected recordings from 1955through 1959 appear on an invaluable collection,newly prepared for this series (509999559692, 4 discs).And one more: the Beethoven TripleConcerto with David Oistrakh, MstislavRostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter conductedby von Karajan in Berlin plus, fromCleveland, George Szell conducting Oistrakhand Rostropovich in the Brahms ViolinConcerto and Double Concerto (50999955978 2, 2 discs).These reissues are a perfectexample of the art that concealsthe art, as there is absolutely noevidence that there have beenadjustments in the sound of theoriginals. Maybe their motto isDo No Harm.Complete recordings ofGotterdammerung on LP dateback to a special performancecentred around the renowned,now legendary, soprano KirstenFlagstad who had been theWagnerian soprano, recognizedin opera houses aroundthe globe. This was a concertproduction intended as a farewellperformance recorded inthe studios of Norwegian Radio, themissing passages being recorded twomonths later and a virtually completeversion prepared for commercialrelease by Decca. Set Svanholm is theSiegfried with an impressive Egil Nordsjøas Hagen, supported by a first class castwith the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra,the Norwegian State Radio Orchestraand a studio chorus all conducted by ØivinFjelstad. Naxos has thankfully returned it tothe catalogue in a newly restored four CD set(8.112066-69). This is a full-scale productionwith much to offer and little or nothing tocomplain about. In crystal-clear, distortionfreemonaural sound with fine presenceand ample dynamics, this is a full-bloodedrealization of the closing chapter of Wagner’sultimate music drama, the ever fascinating,incomparable Ring cycle.June 1 – July 7, 69

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