1 year ago

Volume 27 Issue 4 - February 2022

Gould's Wall -- Philip Akin's "breadcrumb trail; orchestras buying into hope; silver linings to the music theatre lockdown blues; Charlotte Siegel's watershed moments; Deep Wireless at 20; and guess who is Back in Focus. All this and more, now online for your reading pleasure.

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arco bass line and fragmented slurs and slides from the saxophonist swirl through multiphonic vibrations to eventual reed/keyboard harmony. Each composition is geared to individual quartet members’ skills, with tracks fully defined when all kick in after an individual’s introduction. Distinctive motifs like the drummer’s sophisticated slapping, the bassist’s double-stroking ostinatos, the reedist’s outputting of gentle or strained tones and piano motifs that can be delicately cooperative or contrapuntally challenging, are all part of the mix. It also means that Sassoon has created a spectrum of group music that highlights her writing skill. If Sassoon had to cross the Channel to establish herself in Berlin, other Berlin improvisers come from even farther afield. Vibraphonist Emilio Gordoa is Mexican and the cooperative GRIFF trio (Inexhaustible Editions ie G25 features Danish bassist Adam Pultz Melbye who also resides in Berlin and Austrian pianist Ingrid Schmoliner, who so far, still lives in Vienna. With the pianist mostly dedicated to plucking, pinching or stoppering the instrument’s internal strings and Gordoa clanking, rasping or slapping his instrument’s metal bars, the harmonies produced are, in the main, percussive. Currents of sound refract among all three when the bassist adds string pops so that timbres become threatening rather than tuneful. Yet when bell-pealing-like vibraphone tones and dynamic keyboard patterning intersect, reflective lyricism is also present. Making effective use of silences – there’s no sound on the concluding Moss Rock until keyboard chops and vibe reverb are heard two minutes in and the exposition still proceeds with many pauses – the unique set-up also infers extended sound colours. This occurs when Schmoliner’s assembly line of echoes and clinks meets up with equivalent patterning from vibe reverb with the motor switched off. While some sequences are taken staccato and allegro, coordination is most notable on Bell Skin, as a polyrhythmic climax is attained by blending metal bar thwacks, double bass string buzzing and prepared piano string shakes and clatters, completed by a coda of paced ringing of single vibraphone notes. Another Berlin-based international group is the Takatsuki Trio of Finnish bassist Antti Virtaranta, German string player Joshua Weitzel and Japanese pianist Rieko Okuda. On At KühlSpot (577 Records 5874 the trio is joined by Berlin alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard for a single, almost 39-minute improvisation. Without needing a percussion instrument, Virtaranta’s authoritative string pulse and Weitzel’s creation of dobro-like clanks from the three-string shamisen or authoritative guitar strums, provide enough rhythmic frails to back the pianist’s metronomic rumbles and staccato stabs as well as the saxophonist’s inventive trills, squalls and flutters. With bass strokes keeping the exposition linear, Okuda has latitude to circle in and out of supplemental melodies and occasionally strum internal strings. Meanwhile Eberhard’s theme reconstitution sometimes takes the form of aviary peeps, flutter tonguing or altissimo split tones. At points these unroll in one direction as the pianist moves in another. With concise snatches of reed lyricism sometimes bubbling to the surface, uncommon connections are made between them and bass-emphasized piano pulses. Doubling the tempo at the halfway point with galloping piano lines and crammed reed note spewing, variations solidify and return to the initial theme. Timbres from each quartet member then subtly combine for a formal ending signified by a thick double bass thump and guitar clanks. Not all Berlin improvising is acoustic as Das Kondensat 2 (Why Play Jazz WPJ 057 shows. Created by three veteran German players, who now live in Berlin, Gebhard Ullmann soprano and tenor saxophones, looper and sampler; Oliver Potratz, electric bass, bass synthesizer and analog effects; and Eric Schaefer with drums and modular synthesizer, multiply the number of sound sources available. During 2’s 11 tracks, the trio members are able to straddle the boundaries among solid beats, adept electronica and free improvisation. While a couple of the tracks vibrate with atmospheric buzzes where voltage overlay leads to crossover shakes, alliances with tougher material is evident from Pendulum, the second track, on. As the bassist and drummer actualize a tough funk beat with string buzzes and solid cymbal taps, the saxophonist barks and bites wavering reed elaborations as circular tongue fluttering and irregular vibrations validate a link to energy music. That connection is proven on the separated I Was Born in Cleveland, Ohio (Part 1) and I Was Born in Cleveland, Ohio (Part 2), where the voice of tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler, the Ohio city’s most famous free jazzer, introduces the music and is heard faintly in the background as Ullmann’s tenor saxophone spews a variety of altissimo screams, triple tonguing and choked vibrations, while the others create a churning backbeat. Although (Part 2) adds higher-pitched reed squeaks and programmed wiggles beside percussion snaps, a calmer interlude on (Part 1) references Ayler’s spiritual side. Most of the other tunes migrate to a sophisticated form of fusion with designated bass thumb pops and fuzztones and a resonating backbeat. Yet Schaefer’s skill at switching to Latin rhythms or propelling tunes with only drum stick whacks, plus Potratz’s single string emphasis and broken chord advances negate any resemblance to heavy metal. Similarly, while the band’s use of swirling electronics adds a layer of oscillating textures that thicken the narratives, Ullman’s insertions of nasal slurs, tone flutters, whistles and squeaks roughen the expositions enough to confirm the non-simplicity of the playing and writing. While improvisers keep arriving, Berlin has been attracting musicians from elsewhere for decades. But now players who are more recent settlers get to exchange ideas with older residents who they may formerly have only known by reputation, even if they’re from the same country. That’s the situation on Swinging at Topsi’s (Astral Spirits AS 176 which assembles three Swedish improvisers. One of the pioneers of free jazz, drummer Sven-Åke Johansson has been a Berliner since 1968. Bassist Joel Grip made the move early in this century; while guitarist Niklas Fite, who is also 52 years younger than Johansson, was only visiting. Transparently descriptive, the CD title reflects exactly what transpired on this club date. As a coda to their extended improvisations, the trio members take on two familiar standards in full, lilting swing-era mode with Johansson vocalizing on Isn’t It Romantic and Out Of Nowhere. Jumping forward eight decades, the group adapts the flow that comes from consistent rhythm guitar strums, forceful double bass thumps and subtle percussion chromaticism to make the two extended improvisations cadence carefully as well as highlight exploration. Resounding drum rattles and cymbal swishes allow Grip to explore below-the-bridge thwacks when he isn’t timekeeping and Fite to insert unexpected frails and runs when he isn’t fastened on a rhythmic function with flat top twanging. Interestingly, Set 1 is tougher and livelier than the second one, as the guitar moves between spidery and solid comping and the percussionist alternating between barely-there drum top rubs and sudden rumbling explosions. While he has his share of lyrical pulses and lacerating string set probes, Grip maintains the pulse that logically bonds the improvisations and bleeds their textures into those of the subsequent pop ditties. Over the years Berlin has been the centre of many, mostly political situations that have drawn it in many directions. The direction it has established now though is as a haven for improvised music. 56 | February 2022

Old Wine, New Bottles Fine Old Recordings Re-Released BRUCE SURTEES Opening the newly released Mariss Jansons – The Edition (Chor & Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks BR Klassik BRK900200 brk900200) was like opening a jewel box of wonderful gems. I thoroughly enjoyed discovering all of them, both performances of repertoire with which I was already familiar and newly discovered works. As we have come to expect from this source, the sound quality is astonishingly good. Audiophiles will be especially pleased. Mariss Jansons was born in Riga, Latvia on December 1, 1943 during the time of the Nazi occupation. His mother, Iraida was Jewish and had been spirited out of the Riga Ghetto for the delivery of her son. As the Nazis had murdered both her brother and her father, leaving the ghetto was a necessary precaution. Jansons’ first violin teacher was his father, Arvids, who played in the Riga opera and was also assistant at the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra to Evgeny Mravinsky and Kurt Sanderling. Jansons also studied piano and conducting at the Leningrad Conservatory, and later in Austria with Hans Swarovski. He studied with Karajan in Salzburg in 1969 and two years later won second prize in the Karajan Conducting Competition. Karajan later invited the young Jansons to become his assistant in Berlin but the invitation was intercepted by Soviet authorities. Jansons did not become aware of that missed opportunity until many years later. In 1979, Jansons became music director of the Oslo Philharmonic where he remained until 2000, despite a near fatal heart attack in 1996 while conducting La Bohème. The orchestra and conductor finally parted company over his long-running dissatisfaction with the poor acoustics of the Oslo Concert Hall. He was principal guest conductor with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1992. He was appointed director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1997 with a three-year contract to be renewed yearly, but instead in 2002, he gave two years notice. He followed Ricardo Chailly as music director of the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in 2004. Jansons inherited a flawless orchestra, admired around the musical world from the reign of Willem Mengelberg (1895 to 1945) and continuing through those who followed. Jansons’ refinement of their sound was subtle but noticeable to the extent that Gramophone magazine’s international panel of music critics declared that this orchestra was now “The World’s Greatest.” Jansons had also been associated with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bayerischen Rundfunks) in Munich, founded by Eugen Jochum in 1949, now one of the very best orchestras anywhere. When he decided to cut back his conducting commitments due to age and ill health, he was forced to choose between the Concertgebouw and the BRSO. Surprising some observers, he chose the Bavarians. In retrospect, and based on this new 70-disc set, his years in Munich amounted to his Golden Age as one magnificent performance followed another. The box contains 57 CDs, 11 SACDs and two DVDs. That’s a lot of music that would take more than two 40-hour weeks to hear and see just once. As to be expected in collections such as this, there are acclaimed performances of all the symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, Bruckner’s numbers three to nine and Mahler’s one through nine. The performances chosen are as fresh as paint and the result is often to take pause and play it again. As an example, Beethoven’s Third Symphony is no stranger to these ears and hearing it is not the experience it once was. However, hearing the Eroica from this set was an unfamiliar experience akin to synesthesia. I was drawn in and somehow was among, but not one of, the players. Upon replay there was still the persuasive illusion of being there. Richard Strauss is well represented with thrilling versions of Don Juan, and fresh sweeping performances of the suite from Rosenkavalier, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Ein Heldenleben, not to mention Burleske, Tod und Verklärung, Four Last Songs (with soprano Anja Harteros), Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche and the Four Symphonic Interludes from Intermezzo. Tchaikovsky has six works in the big Jansons box: Symphonies Four, Five and Six; Francesca da Rimini, Overture to Romeo and Juliet and a complete performance of his opera, Pique Dame. Not related to Pyotr Ilyich is Alexander Tchaikovsky, a Russian composer born in 1946 whose Symphony No.4, Op.78 for tenor, choir and orchestra provides a workout for everyone, particularly the percussion. This could be a new modern favourite. Another perfect example of new life in old favorites is Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No.3, the “Organ Symphony.” From the exquisitely hushed opening to the grandeur that follows, one’s attention never wanders. Throughout the rest of the recording the organ does not dominate but is omnipresent. In the last movement, where the organ can often swamp the other instruments, there is beautiful restraint and space to appreciate the rest of Saint-Saëns’ famous score. The organist is Iveta Apkalna who is also the soloist in the impressive Poulenc Concerto for Organ, String Orchestra and Timpani. Another welcome work by Poulenc is his Stabat Mater for soprano, mixed chorus and orchestra along with Arvo Pärt’s Berliner Messe for chorus and string orchestra and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. The Stabat Mater by Dvořák is also included. The Symphonie fantastique would seem to be a natural for Jansons. We are gifted with excerpts of rehearsals for the enormously powerful performance of the complete work to be found elsewhere in this collection. Jansons addresses the orchestra in German only but there is no mistaking what he is telling the players, and exactly what he wants to hear from them. On the second of the three rehearsal discs we hear the Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony and on the third, Jansons at work on Till Eulenspiegel. I believe that listening to these rehearsals before the complete performances may well enhance the pleasure in hearing how the passages undertaken fit into the whole. Of course, in a collection of works by 42 composers there are more treasures that require an honorable mention, including a video of an in-concert Gurrelieder with my favourite Wood Dove, Mihoko Fujimura, who is also heard in other works in this set. Other astonishing performances include the Verdi Requiem, Rite of Spring, Petrouchka, Firebird Suite, Rhapsody in Blue and a powerful Pictures at an Exhibition. This unique collection includes a 72-page LP-size fine-art booklet containing details on every recording and tributes from Jansons’ colleagues. It’s a really beautiful addition to this very impressive package. In all, this is a thoughtfully curated selection that highlights the great conducting performances with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus spanning Jansons’ distinguished career with them between 2003 and 2019, the year of his death ( February 2022 | 57

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2020)

Volumes 16-20 (2010-2015)

Volumes 11-15 (2004-2010)

Volumes 6 - 10 (2000 - 2006)

Volumes 1-5 (1994-2000)