There isn’t a single focus or overall theme on this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, East Broadway Rundown time—but I think the music’s good enough to stop by for: first a set of jazz newcomers who recorded notable albums this year—Alfredo Rodriguez, Oran Etkin, Melissa Aldana et al—and then a kind of mournful song-set built around a performance of Jeff Buckley’s Grace—live on TV, four-piece band, no tricks and yes he could really sing like a soaring angel contemplating his oncoming death unbothered. The brackets are two of the stunningest melodies I know, Purcell’s Dido’s Lament and Buxtehude’s Klag-lied, and after a dazzle of D-minor Bach, Jacob Druckman and an orchestra wish Nor Spell Nor Charm trouble his friend Jan DeGaetani’s lully-lullay, and please annul her early death. Maybe the show does have a theme: Herbie Nichols is up next, and his successor Andrew Hill, then along comes maybe the most famous early death of all. I’ve been featuring Mozart piano concertos to close recent shows but this time I got distracted by the extraordinary brilliance of his String Quintet in D, the fifth of the six he composed, less famous than the G-minor but I think the stunner of the set: for most of its length it sounds like Beethoven’s Late Quartets decades before the fact. The canonical recording is by Grumiaux & Co. but I found even more to love in a recording by the Zukerman Chamber Players. I can’t say enough about the glories of this music, so I’ll let words fail and just hope you lend an ear.
Sometime in the mid-1980s, when I was working on a profile of Jack DeJohnette, I got to watch Herbie Hancock in action at a recording session at the Power Station. It was an all-star Michael Brecker date, and Brecker, Jack, Charlie Haden, and Mike Stern or was it Pat Metheny did a lot of waiting around while Herbie showed up late, greeted everyone with his customary grace and politesse, dropped a Buddhist book on the control room table, then had to make a couple of long phone calls to the Coast. Pianist Don Grolnick was the producer, so he was able to take the band through the chart of the first tune, but then there was some more waiting around while Herbie disappeared to who-knows-where. Finally he ambled into the studio proper, took a first polite peek at the score on the Steinway’s music rack, and then the band hit the uptempo labyrinth of the tune. Herbie had the first solo and entered with a quick handful of notes, peeked at the score again, played a longer variation of his opening phrase and then sailed his thematic material into the heart of the music like a Cunard liner impersonating a cigarette boat. The whole band sprang to life and there were gasps in the control room. No one could quite believe the sudden wealth of inventiveness pullulating from the keybaord, and no I can’t play it for you on this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Power Station time—because Grolnick, expecting a mere runthrough, didn’t turn the tape recorder on, thereby missing maybe 20 minutes of unrepeatable amazement. HH is much in evidence lately, with Harvard lectures and a new memoir and all, so the show presents a scattering of his music—he’s done so much it’s impossible to do more than that in two hours—with breaks for his worthy constituents Johann Sebastian Bach and Duke Ellington; and for a couple of funny Herbie Hancock stories I lacked the nerve to tell in full detail, but I trust you to get the pernt.
I wonder what it must be like to record a gobsmacking masterpiece version of Embraceable You and then tell the man you’d like to do another take. Well, you’d have to be Charlie Parker I guess, with a little phrase running through your head. Or maybe Bird had the idea handy, had been thinking about it, time to give it a try. This week’s Updoc—8PM on Friday and noon next Tuesday, 125th Street time—opens with the ‘lesser’ masterpiece version and then waxes philosophical through a saxophone set featuring Ornette Coleman (on the same tune); Stephen Riley; Dave Liebman in a blazing duet with Bob Moses; Julius Hemphill; and Arthur Blythe playing Monk. Then our contemplation switches to one of Leonard Bernstein’s finest early scores—for violin, strings and percussion—based on Plato’s Symposium on the varieties of Love: I found the Bernstein/Kremer version floridly overexpressed and made a date with Hillary Hahn when she was only twenty, chaperoned by David Zinman and some guys from Baltimore. After that, a jawdropping Sonny Rollins trio from Paris in 1965 can’t get started but knows three little words, and once you’ve cranked your jaw back into place and retrieved your eyeballs from the far side of the room, philosophy recommends a Mozart piano concerto to calm you back to a cast of mind in which you can contemplate all the varieties of Love now echoing in your soul. Murray from the Bronx delivers. Perahia, I mean. That’s him now, ringing you like a bell.
When Jack Bruce died at the age of 71 the other day, the grief and praise were equilateral—I didn’t hear sectarian sniffing about rock thisaway and jazz thataway from anyone anywhere: seems he was loved in all departments for his rock heldentenor, his bravura bassplaying in any number of idioms; and that indicates general recognition of the power of music pouring out of the man. Next week Kip Hanrahan, who worked with Jack on a number of projects over a thirty-year span, will clock in with a show more deeply felt and informed than anything I can provide, but I thought I’d get a memorial set in anyway—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, off-Broadway time. There’s some Cream and Lifetime but more than half of it scattershots Jack’s work with Hanrahan. There was not much precedent for the singing Kip asked Jack to do—unrhymed poetry of extreme intelligence, powerfully sexual, political and confessional while also lifting the lid on minds and souls all over the modern world, plus Latin percussion as not heard before, plus advanced jazz musicians finding their freedom in the mix—but Jack absolutely nailed it, then lifted it skyward. Sorry Kip but I have to say it: overall it’s one of the major accomplishments of modern American music. (And for my Mistake of the Week I kept saying Belfast instead of Glasgow.) Then it’s okay to present the brilliant young pianist Igor Levit taking leave of late Beethoven for Bach’s Partitas; he was Schnabelescent with LvB and I hear Lipatti this time out; but the cat can play and it’s a pleasure to hear a Bach pianist who doesn’t try to sound like Gould. Then two more from Branford at Grace Cathedral, chased though not chastened by Trane, and last another Mozart piano concerto, in which apparent thematic simplicity yields a dialogue of beauty and grace that is balm from Gilead and if you tilt your head just right will tell you everything you need to know.
I have the feeling I’m behind the curve on this one, and that a lot of my listeners have heard Flying Lotus, aka Steven Ellison, before I did; but at least once I heard his new album, some kind of funky tour of the Bardos called You’re Dead, I put a bunch of it on the first available Updoc—8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday. It’s his sixth record, he’s 31 years old and is related to the Coltrane family, and he composes, plays, assembles, mixes, and yes, raps, gets Herbie Hancock to collaborate, and doesn’t sound much like anyone else out there. I know, doesn’t sound like Updoc’s usual fare, and that’s good, even if after it we get onto Christopher Rouse’s pull-no-punches Concerto Per Corde, a 1990 an orchestral recomposition of his 2nd String Quartet, and then there’s a mostly ballad jazz set featuring Branford Marsalis live and unaccompanied at SF’s Grace Cathedral, more Haden-Hall and Barron-Holland duets, and before Carl Nielsen’s imposing 5th Symphony rattles the rafters with echoes of war—it premiered in 1920, when the echoes hadn’t faded—and sounds the prayerful longing for peace that drew many composers at the time, darkly though not entirely without hope. After that Sonny Rollins and Philly Joe Jones trade witticisms that provide a smile at the exit.
When the temperature outside cools down, the body may seek escape southward but the soul, it seems to me, orients itself to the north and begins to contemplate the areas of human experience corresponding to the cold and hard; at least that’s what happens to my listening habits, and this week I got as far as Finland, that nation of a mere 5.3 million souls contributing a disproportionate wealth of sound to first-rate modern ‘classical’ music. First Finn up on this week’s show—8PM on Friday and noon next Tuesday, NY Rangers icetime—is Kajia Saariaho’s Oltra Mar (Across the Sea) with its ice-crystal textures wrought in orchestra and chorus. Later on there’s Magnus Lindberg’s Violin Concerto, which proceeds from icy altitudes toward melodic shelter, and in between the two youngsters the Papadaddy of Finnish music: Jean Sibelius represented by a towering performance of his tone poem The Oceanides. But that’s not all, folks: there’s jazz and more: newly released tracks of duet performances by Charlie Haden and Jim Hall in concert and by Kenny Barron and Dave Holland in the studio begin and end the show, with interstitial stuffing from Jason Moran’s newish tribute album to Fats Waller, the haunting though unhaunted voice of Aoife O’Donovan has me in its spell, twice, and then there’s some new Prince with his shadowband 3rdEyeGirl. You can’t ask for more than that, and if you can, I’d need more than two hours to answer you, so please set yourself down and take what you can get, with the blessing.
There are moments of high drama in Mozart, but apart from the operas his is most often a music of unbounded felicity, and in rounding off recent shows with his piano concertos I felt that I was soothing any breasts the preceding music may have savaged; but then I heard from a great listener and musician whose name I will not mention—Kip Hanrahan—asking Mozart? Bach and Beethoven, sure, but Mozart? Then he rummaged through the adjectives I’d left behind looking for an answer. When I was a lad of twenty-and I was a Trane-Mingus-Stravinsky-Bartok kind of guy who likewise wondered why Mozart’s pretty music, diminutive between Bach’s all-encompassing polyphony and Beethoven’s revolutionary breaking of chains, should be so revered. Then I read Robert Stone’s novel A Hall of Mirrors, starring an alcoholic ex-classical clarinetist, and decided that if someone hip as Stone loved Mozart that much there must be something to it, and I resolved to study classical music until I figured out what it was. On this week’s show—Friday at 8PM, noon next Tuesday, Carnegie Hall time—I read aloud a gorgeous passage about Mozart from Stone’s novel, followed by the piece in question, the Clarinet Quintet, hoping to persuade anyone out there that in this heavy world transcendent bliss is something not lightly to be refused. Having set a pattern, I then read aloud a stunning passage from Thomas Powers’ recent, uneven novel Orfeo depicting the premiere performance of Messiaen’s Quartet For the End of Time in a Nazi POW camp, also featuring a clarinet (Richard Stoltzman, in place of Sabine Meyer on the Mozart). That should answer all relevant questions except for one thing: I framed and intermissed the show with Duke Ellington tunes featuring Barney Bigard, Jimmy Hamilton and Russell Procope, and even the immortals know there’s nothing else even close to good as that.
300 is a totemic number because we have ten fingers and three hands and drive Chryslers and Mercedes, but that doesn’t mean the 300th iteration of Updoc—8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday, Chrysler Building time—has any special significance, though I felt compelled to do some especially subtle and intricate programming for the event, then decided Naah, why not just play some music that means a lot to be, my sort of fallback kit, music central to my experience of everything; so the show starts with the tune that opened the first Updoc several centuries ago: the speedstreak 14-minute Sonny Rollins version of 52nd Street Theme played by the trio that was my first experience of hearing Sonny Rollins live, at the Five Spot in 1964. A year later, though you won’t have to wait that long, the John Coltrane Qyartet played a version of Impressions at the Half Note across town—is this the most intense music played by anyone anywhere ever? A searing Mravinsky reading of the Shostakovich Sixth Symphony does not ease things up much, and Miles Davis keeps most of the pressure up. The rest of the show is Beethoven’s 13th String Quartet with the Grosse Fuge finale, as played by the Takacs Quartet, and although pressed for time I air a bit of my interpretation of the piece in the intro. It’s revolutionary, but fortunately Beethoven is deaf. All this music stands by me, and will sit beside you nicely, I believe.
This week’s show opens with some of the freshest mainstream jazz-blues tenor playing I’ve heard lately, and yes it’s sometimes Rollins-inflected, from a player name of Nir Naaman, out of Israel, backed up by a band of American aces like George Cables, Marcus Printup and Greg Hutchinson; and their Ohali Blues seemed an excellent way to start off Updoc’s 299th show—8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday, Manhattan Felafel Time—but the show’s main business moves on to the music of two recently deceased luminaries, Kenny Wheeler and especially Milton Cardona. Kip Hanrahan did an all-Cardona show earlier this week, from the heart and inside the scene, since Milton was one of Kip’s key collaborators on his musical enterprises. Kip said it all, or most of it, certainly more than I can, but I still wanted to play a couple of sets from Cardona’s leader projects on America Clavé, and I did; also slotted in what I think is an interesting compare-contrast with vintage Cecil Taylor, and followed Cardona’s Santeria music with contemporary American composer Christopher Rouse’s orchestral portrait of a Russian woman he did not choose to name, though the alternately lyrical and hard-edged drama of the piece, Odna Zhizn (A Life), tells quite a story on its own. I’ve been wrapping a lot of recent shows up with Mozart piano concertos and this one’s no exception: No. 26 in D-major, Murray Perahia—Murray from the Bronx—playing and conducting and bringing Mozart’s emotional subtext further forward than most do, while retaining the necessary sublime delicatesse. This show’s mixology is unusually stimulating, I think. What the heck am I gonna do for Updoc 300?
Okay, I flunked Collage but aced Music Appreciation. And Glenn Gould sang funny, as catching the start of this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Carnegie Hall time—will confirm as he croons, with piano accompaniment, while working out his interpretation of Bach’s Partita No. 2; but then he finds his way, the voice desists, and awe might be an apt response to what happens then. This tracklet is followed by Gould’s classic studio recording of the piece, and this is succeeded by an exceptionally lo-fi recording of the John Coltrane Quartet—pre-Elvin Jones, with Pete LaRoca on drums—working out its interpretation in a Philly nightclub of My Favorite Things a few months before the famous recording. Five years later the classic Quartet was playing Afro-Blue in Paris, and by the miracle of modern bootlegging we can listen in; and I didn’t mean to make things difficult for the Charles Lloyd Quartet by playing a concert clip of theirs right after: Lloyd is in more bustling, brawling form than usual, and Keith Jarrett, after a dauntingly virtuoso start of his solo . . . well, I say it in the intro on the show. Meanwhile the great pianist Leon Fleisher, having recovered the use of this right hand after decades of a debilitating nerve disorder, doesn’t have to play left-hand-only anymore, but his recent such recording of a piano transcription Bach’s solo violin Chaconne inspires a different but no less powerful awe than the dazzling Mr. Gould; after which Updoc’s perusal of the Mozart piano concertos takes up Annie Fischer’s performance of No. 20 in D-minor. You want to know what dark and stormy sounded like before Beethoven and the Romantics? The great melodist Mozart finds no better way to begin this concerto than with a series of deep orchestral grunts. After the resolution, we are lost in the stars with Kurt Weill and Heather Masse and Dick Hyman and nuff said.