Adams Boxed Set Listening Party

John Adams

Collected Works Boxed Set

40XCDs

Nonesuch

 

What a seventy-fifth birthday present. Today, Nonesuch releases John Adams Collected Works, a 40-CD compendium of his recordings for the label and a few from other imprints. 

 

The curation of the set has thoughtful touches. It begins with Harmonielehre, the 1985 recording by Edo de Waart that began Adams’s association with Nonesuch and ends with a live recording of the same work by the Berlin Philharmonic, which released its own Adams boxed set a few years back (well worth seeking out). There are extensive liner notes, with essays by Timo Andres, Nico Muhly, Jake Wilder-Smith, Julia Bullock, and Robert Hurwitz. 

 

Adams continues his creativity apace. Accordingly, space has been left in the box for future recordings.

 

From 12:00 PM to 12 AM (EDT), listen to excerpts from the boxed set here



The Soft Hills “Tea Time” (Video)

The Soft Hills (singer/songwriter Garett Hobba) will release the album Viva Chi Vede via Black Spring Records on July 22nd. “Tea Time” is the first single off of the album, with a charming, traveling circus inspired video that pairs nicely with the psych-pop vibe of the single.

Garett Hobba

Jah Wobble Records Ukrainian Anthem (Benefit)

Renowned bassist Jan Wobble (PIL) has joined with Ukrainian musicians to create a dub remix of the Ukrainian National Anthem. All proceeds will benefit Ukrainian Refugees. Please donate if you can.

<a href=”https://jahwobbletheukrainians.bandcamp.com/track/ukrainian-national-anthem-in-dub”>Ukrainian National Anthem In Dub by Jah Wobble &amp; The Ukrainians (featuring Jon Klein)</a>

LYRICS     
Ukraine’s glory has not perished, nor her freedom gone
Our strong people, once again, fate will smile upon
All our enemies will soon disappear like dew in the sun
Then, once more will we be free, in the land we call our own
Body and soul we will lay down for our freedom
And the world will know that we are people of the Kozak nation

CREDITS
Produced by Jah Wobble and Jon Klein
Mixed and arranged by Jon Klein
Jah Wobble – bass
Jon Klein – guitar, keys and programming
‘The Legendary’ Len Liggins – lead vocal, backing vocal, violin
Peter Solowka – acoustic guitar, backing vocal
Paul Weatherhead – backing vocal, mandolin
Stephen ‘Mr Steff’ Tymruk – accordion
Jah Wobble cover photo by Paul Cliff
Video by Jon Klein and Rebecca Walkley; editing by Jon Klein

Ethan Iverson on Blue Note

Ethan Iverson

Every Note is True

Ethan Iverson, piano; Larry Grenadier, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums

Blue Note

 

Pianist Ethan Iverson received an excellent birthday present today: the release of Every Note is True, his debut recording on Blue Note Records. Since departing the Bad Plus, Iverson has worked on a number of projects as a composer, taught at New England Conservatory, written insightful criticism and pedagogical articles on his blog Do the Math and for other publications, and collaborated with musicians such as saxophonist Mark Turner, drummer Bill Hart, and trumpeter Tom Harrell. Followers of these activities will note that the pianist’s encyclopedic explication of the jazz tradition in his writings has mirrored trends in his recent playing. 

 

Iverson, ever unpredictable, takes a different approach on Every Note is True. Apart from a single tune, “Blue,” by drummer Jack DeJohnette, all of the compositions on the recording are originals by Iverson. Many resume a connection to the rock-inflected jazz he made earlier in his career. Not one to attempt to remake the past, Iverson has selected collaborators who are two of the best known players in jazz, DeJohnette and bassist Larry Grenadier. The absence of covers – a Bad Plus staple – and presence of fulsome swing from his current collaborators allows Iverson the opportunity to blend multiple approaches into a compelling amalgam distinct from his previous work. 

 

A couple of imaginary theme songs populate the recording. “She Won’t Forget Me” is likened by Iverson to a rom-com theme, although I have never heard a rom-com theme with as zesty a solo. The album itself starts with a quirky vocal number, “The More it Changes,” a commercial sounding song featuring overdubs of a number of Iverson’s friends, Sarah Deming (who wrote the lyrics), Alex Ross, and Mark Padmore among them, who sang their parts remotely. Brief enough to leave a listener just enough time to scramble to their playlist and settle back in their seat, it is followed by the avowedly not soundtrack-related “The Eternal Verities,” a sequential tune with a little chromatic twist as it turns around. Grenadier’s playing embellishes the changes and adds countermelodies that interlock well with the spacious solo that Iverson provides. A coda brings the progression to a sideways yet satisfying conclusion. 

 

“For Ellen Raskin” is dedicated to one of Iverson’s favorite children’s authors. It is a gentle jazz waltz with bluesy inflections and deft use of hemiola – moving from 3/4  to 6/8 – to give a little Brahmsian nod to the proceedings. “Had I but Known” is an uptempo tune with sequences of dissonant intervals and polychords in the bridge that allow for a suave extrapolation of Fats Waller’s language and voicings. Particularly persuasive is “Had I but Known,” which is through-composed rather than primarily improvised. It combines a balladic cast with tart melodic punctuations and Ivesian verticals. 

 

Iverson admired DeJohnette’s “Blue” when he heard it on John Abercrombie’s 1978 ECM recording Gateway 2. With powerful fills from the drummer, Iverson’s interpretation revels in the tune’s unadorned triads, particularly the one at the close that receives an expansive arpeggiation. Whereas jazz chords usually contain more than just the triad, with 6th, 7ths, 9ths and more added to harmonies, using a bare triad in the right context buoys the connection that Iverson is making throughout Every Note is True between commercial pop, rock, and jazz.

 

“Merely Improbable” presents a more traditional structure, providing a chance for Iverson and company to play rhythm changes, variants on the chord structure of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” that populate countless standards. As with the other compositions here, at three and a half minutes the run-time is relatively lean; I would have been happy to hear the trio stretch it out. “Praise Will Travel” is an ebullient piece performed with a tight groove offsetting florid soloing. Titled after an Agatha Christie story, the album closer “At the Bells and Motley” is a jaunty blues that demonstrates the trio’s simpatico interaction. Here we get the longed-for jam, with nine minutes of subtle shifts of emphasis and piano solos that build from restraint to sly quotation to gestures writ large and back again. Excellent solos from Grenadier and DeJohnette as well.

 

Every Note is True is an auspicious label debut that demonstrates the imagination, breadth, and wit of Iverson’s playing while maintaining a spirit of enthusiastic collaboration. Highly recommended. 

 

-Christian Carey

 

Moog Celebrates Herb Deutsch at Ninety

On Wednesday, February 9th, Herb Deutsch turned ninety years old. Deutsch has been an icon of sound synthesis both as a composer and hardware designer. One of the inventors of the first Moog synthesizers, he designed the keyboard interface that served as the basis for countless synths that followed. Moog Music is using this auspicious occasion to kick off GIANTS, a series of films about synth pioneers. In the video below, Deutsch describes his life, musical inspirations, and the early days of creating versatile hardware to perform and record electronic sound. 

 

After the film about Deutsch, you will soon be able to view a number of films that celebrate pivotal figures in electronic music on Moog’s YouTube channel. Future episodes will feature Suzanne Ciani, Bernie Krause, and Daniel Miller. Alongside the recent Sisters with Transistors documentary, the documentation of electronic music’s early luminaries is a welcome opportunity to reassess its legacy. 

On a personal note, as a fellow Long Islander, Deutsch’s long tenure at Hofstra University and co-founding of the Long Island Composer Alliance helped to provide many events that opened my ears to the possibilities of sound, and for that I remain ever grateful.

 

Celebrating Mendelssohn with Piano Music

Celebrating Mendelssohn’s Birthday with Piano Recordings

 

February 3rd is Felix Mendelssohn’s birthday. To celebrate, here are two reviews of recent recordings of piano music by the composer.

Felix Mendelssohn

Complete Music for Solo Piano, Vol. 6

Hyperion CD

Howard Shelley

 

Pianist Howard Shelley has been making his way through the compendious catalog of Felix Mendelssohn. The latest entry in his complete set, Volume Six, contains several well-known favorites as well as gems without opus numbers. If one has the impression of Mendelssohn as a neo-Mozartean composer of grace without the oomph of a creator like Schumann from the Romantic generation, the powerful Reiterlied presents a different side of the composer, as does his Sonata in B-flat Major, which should be programmed far more than it currently is. The Fugue in E minor reminds one of Mendelssohn’s affinity and advocacy for Bach’s music. Shelley makes the case for versatility in Mendelssohn but retains the quintessentially burnished and characterful nature of his “Songs Without Words” in recordings of two of the books of this collection. A lovingly crafted addition to what is becoming a benchmark complete works edition.

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Complete Music for Piano Solo

Hänssler Classic 12 CD boxed set

Ana-Marija Markovina

 

Ana-Marija Markovina has released her Mendelssohn cycle all at once in a well-appointed 12 CD boxed set. Where Shelley brings out the luminous qualities of the piano works, Markovina is a classicist, creating interpretations that are lucidly detailed. I am particularly fond of Markovina’s playing in the sonatas and fugues, where she reveals the architecture of these pieces with abundant clarity.

The pieces without opus number, including fragments and juvenalia, are spread throughout the collection rather than put in an appendix. At first, this may seem surprising, however it is an excellent way to measure Mendelssohn’s prodigious development. The composition teacher in me immediately thought of using the fragments and short pieces with students, asking them for Mendelssohnian completions as assignments; they are ideal models. It is wonderful that both pianists have taken on this project, as there is ample room for their distinctive approaches.

 

-Christian Carey

 

Michael Gielen Edition Volume 10 (CD Review)

Michael Gielen Edition Volume 10: Music After 1945

SWR Sinfonieorchester, Michael Gielen conductor

SWR 6xCD boxed set

 

The tenth and final boxed set in SWR’s Michael Gielen Edition spotlights his considerable contributions to post-1945 concert music. Seven hours of live recordings of music by European avant-garde figures Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, György Ligeti, György Kurtág, Jorge E. López, Maurizio Kagel, and Bernd Alois Zimmerman and Americans Morton Feldman, John Cage, and George Crumb. Gielen’s own compositions are featured as well. Gielen (1927-2019) may not have been prolific, but proves to be a fine composer, one whose works should be considered for programming more regularly. Vier Gedichte von Stefan George (2010) (“Four Poems of Stefan George”) finds the SWR Vokalensemble joining a chamber segment of the SWR Sinfonieorchester in a performance that displays the virtuosity of both groups to excellent advantage. Pflicht und Neigung (1988) (“Duty and Inclination”) is imaginatively scored for a sinfonietta sans strings, with muscular percussion writing, crystalline wind chords, and eruptive brass lines.

 

As the previous nine boxed sets of the Gielen Edition attest, he was a conductor who excelled in many different eras and styles of music-making. Still, Gielen’s championing of contemporary music is legendary, as are some of the performances included here. Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Requiem für einen junge Dichter (1969) (“Requiem for a Young Poet”) has a particularly dark history that lends to the already harrowing nature of the work. Both the narrator, a pivotal performer in the piece, and Zimmermann himself committed suicide shortly after the Requiem’s premiere by SWR and Gielen. It has been widely debunked that Mozart was “writing his own Requiem,” but can one say that of Zimmermann’s riveting piece? Gielen reportedly wasn’t so sure. Ligeti’s Requiem (1965) is another selection that is a standout, with radiant singing of its tight clusters and affecting emotive delivery. Instead of the dizzying polyglot assemblage of myriad texts in the decidedly secular and even nihilistic Zimmermann piece, Ligeti uses portions of the Catholic Requiem liturgy as part of his postmodern setting. George Crumb’s Star Child (1977) is another textual amalgam, with references to Gnostic concepts of Advent and Apocalypse. As so frequently in Crumb’s work, his attention to declamation is only matched by imaginative and exquisitely detailed scoring.

 

Having recently finished Nono’s collected writings, it was particularly wonderful to hear these fine recordings of his music. In the book, Nono mentions working out complex canons with Bruno Maderna as a focal point of his training, which he deploys here in Variazioni canoniche. His signature orchestral work, No hay caminos hay que caminar (1987) (“Walker, there is no path yet you must Walk”), and A Carlo Scarpa (1984), dedicated to the famous twentieth century architect, also represent Gielen’s staunch support of and insights into Nono’s work.

 

Kurtág’s Stele (1994) is the piece that elevated his compositional career, and it remains one of his most durable works; SWR provides a rendition that could be the benchmark for a long time to come. Ein Brief (1986) (“A Letter”) by Mauricio Kagel is a piece for mezzo-soprano and orchestra that features angular vocalise and Schoenbergian harmony; it reads like an enigmatic sequel to Erwartung.

 

The artistic breadth and consistently superior musicality of this set are extraordinary. Given their archival nature, listeners may be surprised at the fidelity of the recordings. Details are clear, and dynamic range is tremendous; the disc containing the pieces by Lopez even includes a warning to be careful of the dynamic extremes of the piece when choosing a volume level. The selections by this composer are all premiere recordings. Born in Cuba and an emigree to the United States, Lopez has for some years been a citizen of Austria, flying under the radar of much of the American musical establishment. His formidable scoring and the aforementioned extremes navigated by his music may also play a role. These prove to be right in Gielen and SWR’s wheelhouse; they make a case for Dome Peak (1993) and Breath-Hammer-Lightning (1991) as compelling works that deal with a gargantuan spatial aesthetic.

Two of Pierre Boulez’s most important orchestra pieces are included here, Rituel in Memoriam Bruno Maderna (1975) and movements from the seemingly ever enlarging Notations (recorded in 1990, with an additional portion added in 2003). Rituel incorporates expressive gestures and formal bearing; it was truly a turning point piece for Boulez. Notations was a touchstone work emblematic of the composer’s willingness to build up and revise fragments of material throughout his lifetime. It is masterfully scored and tailor made for a detail-oriented Gielen. Once again, SWR displays extraordinary fluency in densely complex music.

 

The late Feldman piece Coptic Light (1985) clocks in at nearly a half hour, which is short by the composer’s standards. It is still one of his most impressive essays, requiring 106 musicians to create a kaleidoscope of colors, staggered entrances, and off-kilter near repetitions. The Gielen set closes with another New York School piece, the totemic Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1958), an audacious open form piece in which the conductor is literally a time-keeper, using his hands to indicate positions on the clock to move through the piece’s sections. The soloist’s part, written on single sheets, can be assembled in any order. Despite all of the chance procedures at work here, the SWR and Gielen understand the performance practice surrounding Cage’s output well, making clear that they are as equally at home in American experimental music as they are the European avant-garde. Highly recommended.

-Christian Carey

 

January 7: Premiere at soundON Festival

NOISE Ensemble

This Friday, January 7th at 7:30 PM, cellist Franklin Cox premieres my In Nomine as part of the soundON Festival at the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library in La Jolla California. The festival runs from January 6-8 and features the NOISE Ensemble performing a number of new works as well as pieces by established composers. For more info/tickets, see their website.

Program note:

The In Nomine melody, taken from the Benedictus in John Taverner’s Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas, was one of the most famous bases for English consort music in the Renaissance. Numerous composers incorporated both its melodic material, derived from plainchant, and the harmonic framework of the mass movement in their settings. More recently, a Kairos recording featured new settings by a number of Second Modern European composers. It was in this spirit that I chose to create my own In Nomine for cellist Franklin Cox, who has premiered, composed, and chronicled so much of importance in Second Modernity. The piece begins by lining out the tune. Gradually, microtones, rhythmic talea, and chromaticism derived from rotational arrays complicate the material to create a post-millennial set of variations. In Nomine was composed for Franklin Cox in June 2021.

I am at work on a second In Nomine setting, this one for bass clarinetist Benjamin Fingland and cellist Caleb van der Swaagh.

-Christian Carey