Spring fever? I dunno, but I was so tired this week I couldn’t come up with any kind of thematic connection so I just programmed a lot of great music on this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Random Brooklyn time—and that might work: a lot of Mingus in the first set, also featuring Jocob Do Bandolim (thank you, Brad Maestas), Tinarwien, some atmospheric orchestral Ligeti, Tim Warfield’s new Monk album, and some medium-wacky Tyondai Braxton. Then, for no reason but that the performance by Marta Argerich, Claudio Abbado and the Berliners sounded so effervescently alive, a piano concerto by Prokofiev. After that I just wanted to hear Clifford Brown and some other people remembering Clifford Brown. Will that do?
When I was a wee child growing up, pianos frightened me. First there was their gleaming, toothy look, something that might chomp a wee child any minute, and then a sonic harshness due, as I would later understand, to the unnaturalness of evenly tempered tuning, its systematic unrelation to the true harmonic series that is a constituent principle of our universe even unto our trees and genes and bodies—a difficulty my ears would eventually overcome thanks to blues inflection and Rudy Van Gelder’s flattening of the piano sound on Blue Note and Impulse records, so that nowadays I can levitate to the sound of a well-played eighty-eight: Keith Jarrett, Steve Kuhn, Angela Hewitt, any number of wizards wielding their felt-tipped hammers on the copper-tinted carbon steel. Joe Zawinul even got a bent all funky sound out of the Fender Rhodes, though Jarrett couldn’t do it, for all the brilliance of his work with Miles, basically because he hated the technology. Kuhn, whose piano touch is more exquisite than almost anyone’s, did wondrous things in his brief foray into Fender country, before returning to proper piano radiance. It is a puzzlement. Bach is greatest when heard in the more natural Werckmeister-3 tuning for which he composed but comes out perfect almost no matter how, as when Angela Hewitt has a go at his Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue; and Mozart, who also composed for W-3, opens a window on the true sublime even when subjected to even tempering—try Anderszewski’s extreme interpretation of the stormborn C-minor concerto. Then check out how perfection sounds with its geometry bent all funny by Thelonious Monk. You can do all this, easy, on this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8 PM and noon next Tuesday, Steinway showroom time—on taintradio dot Duck Dodgers in the 24th & ½ century, though watch out for Piano-Mouth, he might be hiding anywhere.
Even in the early days, when you could say, Okay those are his Bill Evans roots, now here come the chromatic extensions out of Paul Bley, soon we’ll have rolling blues and gospel with heavy borrowings from Abdullah Ibrahim, and this part tells us how much he’d like to play with Ornette Coleman, there was never any doubt that we were listening to anyone other than Keith Jarrett: everyone has to come from somewhere, but his signature was clear from the beginning. Now that he’s turning 70 on Friday—a very young and healthy looking 70—it’s not only clear that he has never stopped developing and refining his art since then but that he won’t be any crankier now than he was at 35. Keith, we love you anyway. Updoc goes almost but not quite all-Jarrett this week—8 PM on birthday Friday and noon next Tuesday, Delaware Water Gap time—with some choice trio tracks, early stuff from his stints with Art Blakey and Charles Lloyd, and large stretches of music from the two new CDs ECM has put out for the occasion: a superb solo piano set, one of his best ever, culled from a number of concerts played in 2014, and another disc with two major 20th-century piano concertos. Jarrett is surprisingly flatfooted on the Bartok 3rd, metronomic without lightness or lift, but he plays the hell out of Samuel Barber’s vastly American 1960 concerto, when I was surprised that with his small hands he could play it at all. The piece is owned by the massive John Browning, but I actually prefer Jarrett’s full-bodied but more modestly scaled outing for now. An astounding performance of Shostakovich’s darkly enigmatic 2nd Cello Concerto by Truls Mørk with Mariss Jansons and the LPO was meant to accompany the Bartok but takes a haircut from the Barber instead. Then it’s back to the KJ3 for the finish. I had a front-row seat at the Standards Trio’s first gig at the Vanguard, and when Jarrett came onstage with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette he whispered, so quietly that only they and I could hear him, “Let’s not play.” Oh Keith, let’s not stop.
I’ve broken bread and spilled beer with him, plus he has his own show on taintradio, so it would only be logrolling and puffery if it weren’t for the fact that there isn’t an atomy of aesthetic or moral compromise in my assertion that Kip Hanrahan is making some of the most intelligent and impassioned music of anyone anywhere, and that I’d like to serve up a tranch of his work so that you might hear it and consider chipping or kipping in to the fundraiser he’s got going—via his Facebook page or indiegogo.com—in order to record some new music for the first time in years and get it out there for us all. So this week’s Updoc—8 PM Friday and noon next Tuesday, Off-Broadway time—after starting off with new and newish music from burnout reedmen Kamasi Washington and Gilad Atzmon respectively, serves up about forty minutes of Kip Hanrahan’s life and thought. An early breakthrough album’s title, Desire Develops an Edge, says a lot about the highly charged nexus of love and sex and intellect and world and quest, frequently inflected by umbral looming geopolitical realities, that Hanrahan has achieved. I first encountered him in the late 1970s in the backstage shadows of the New York Public Theatre’s jazz series where, in one of the smartest moves anyone made at the time, he began to see a place where the avant-gardish jazz of the time might meet the Latin percussion he’d heard growing up in the Bronx, and that he might even write a nightborne singable poetry that could stitch those elements together in a way that those elements had yet themselves suspected—a strong beginning for a musical idiom that has enriched itself in passage through mixed countryside along its evolutions toward the sea. It has passed your town along the way, and you’ll probably catch sight of yourself in it. The show eases off, or doesn’t, with the sound of brilliant women singing: Rhiannon Giddens, Joanna Wallfisch, Aoife O’Donovan, Lena Chamamyan, the Wailin’ Jennys, and Dom La Nena: all in all, not 2 bad a 2 hoursworth, with days and nights of blue luck inverted included gratis.
Rhiannon Giddens seems to have arrived with the Spring, and now she’s everywhere amid the blasts and blossoms, stunning audience and host alike with her solo rendition of Odetta’s Waterboy on the Letterman show, headlining a country-gospel concert at the White House, profiles on PBS and NPR—seldom have the changing seasons witnessed such a rollout for a first solo album, her Tomorrow is My Turn, produced by T-Bone Burnett for Nonesuch; but in radical contradistinction to a music industry more notable for its industry than its music rolling out ubiquitous armies of promotion for ephemeral crapola, Giddens’ is a voice scaled not only to stun a waiting nation but embrace it, from hillbilly music to classic country to gospel declamation through uncountable gradations from darkest brown to pinkest white: a major talent has arrived, and her Macarthur genius grant will follow next year—you heard it here first, where all Updoc can do, Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Capital of the World Daylight Savings Time, is build a couple of vocal sets around her music buttresed by new releases from Nellie McKay, Lainie Cooke, Cassandra Wilson and a belated celebration of Billie Holiday’s centenary. And that’s not all, folks: we’ve got two long selections from Charles Lloyd’s celebratory Wild Man’s Dance. More than any other of John Coltrane’s epigones, Lloyd has long been drawn to Coltrane’s higher lyrical flights of the spirit, and while in the past it may have been convenient to think of Lloyd as Coltrane-light, nowadays there are so few players with any audible notion of their notes referring to anything greater than their notes that Lloyd brings not only a sense of meditation and celebration but a feeling of relief.
Second attempt to air this show in which: Updoc’s ace programmer decided to take the week off, sort of. Well, when you program a complete Mahler symphony, especially his longest, you’ve pretty much got your two-hour slot aced for the week—not that that was his motivation! No, his ear got hooked by last week’s alternation of Mahler’s 3rd excerpts and bebop alto: those selections were from Jascha Horenstein’s great version; this time he’s moved on to Claudio Abbado’s radiant conduction of his last, greatest orchestra, the Lucerne Festival guys and gals with whom he Blu-rayed probably the finest Mahler cycle anyone has achieved. Check this vast, nutty, pantheistic extravaganza out Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, six-hours-behind-Lake-Lucerne time: it’s pure entertainment, and the programmer has left a lot of explaining for the annotator to do, so if you enjoy classic radio-baritone announcing there’ll be plenty of it. He has to link the Mahler with the finisher, Sibelius’ last symphony, the 7th, in a sweeping live performance of Simon Rattle with the Royal Copenhagen (Konigslige Kapel) bunch, and he goes the “the two symphonies prominently lift adjacent phrases from the last movement of the Brahms 1st” route, which doesn’t really tell us much, so he fills in with the better-known meeting of the two composers in 1907, when Mahler, having just finished his Symphony of a Thousand, spoke of trying to include the whole world, and Sibelius, having recently completed a 3rd Symphony in which he pared away received romantic rhetoric and set sail for the eventual destination of the one-movement 7th, finished his drink and grumbled about the condensed concentration of thematic material. It works both ways, especially in performances as fine as these. Next week we’ll make with the bebop, once these polarised symphonic apotheoses get digested. (Repeat “polarised symphonic apotheoses get digested” three times fast and call me in the morning.)
Updoc’s ace programmer decided to take the week off, sort of. Well, when you program a complete Mahler symphony, especially his longest, you’ve pretty much got your two-hour slot aced for the week—not that that was his motivation! No, his ear got hooked by last week’s alternation of Mahler’s 3rd excerpts and bebop alto: those selections were from Jascha Horenstein’s great version; this time he’s moved on to Claudio Abbado’s radiant conduction of his last, greatest orchestra, the Lucerne Festival guys and gals with whom he Blu-rayed probably the finest Mahler cycle anyone has achieved. Check this vast, nutty, pantheistic extravaganza out Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, six-hours-behind-Lake-Lucerne time: really, it’s pure entertainment, and the programmer has left a lot of explaining for the annotator to do, so if you enjoy classic radio-baritone announcing there’ll be plenty of it. He has to link the Mahler with the finisher, Sibelius’ last symphony, the 7th, in a live performance of Simon Rattle with the Royal Copenhagen (Konigslige Kapel) bunch, and he goes the “the two symphonies lift adjacent phrases from the last movement of the Brahms 1st” route, which really doesn’t tell us much, so he fills in with the better-known meeting of the two composers in 1907, when Mahler, having just finished his Symphony of a Thousand, spoke of wanting to include the whole world, and Sibelius, having recently completed a 3rd Symphony in which he pared away received romantic rhetoric and set sail for the eventual destination of the one-movement 7th, finished his drink and grumbled about the concentration of thematic material. It works both ways, especially in performances like these. Next week we’ll make with the bebop, once these polarised apotheoses of the symphony are digested. (Repeat that clause three times fast and call me in the morning.)
It’s a good thing the show is called Updoc, because I have no thematic rationalization for spending over an hour of this week’s installment—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Midtown Manhattan time—alternating bluesy burning alto saxophonists like Charles McPherson, Sonny Criss, Jackie McLean, Oliver Lake and John Carter with nearly tempoless songs by Gustav Mahler, apart from whim and a hankering to alternate two kinds of intensity, the intensely motional and the still. But anyone attempting to find a plot in it shall be shot. As for Roscoe Mitchell’s nearly nonexistent bass recorder piece called, of all things, This, from Jack DeJohnette’s season-defining CD Made in Chicago, well, all I can say is that it’s there too. The rest of the show is taken up with the slow last movement of Mahler’s expansive Third Symphony, an exalted hymn to nature and God that actually achieves an appropriate sublimity. I obsessed over finding the right performance and ended where I began, with Jascha Horenstein’s still unsurpassed recording from the early ‘70s. One contender, inevitably, was Claudio Abbado’s much more recent and far higher-fi performance with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, one surprise of which is that it was 39 minutes long as compared with Horenstein’s 23: the surprise being that Abbado, at nearly twice Horenstein’s length, doesn’t sound any slower at all; and I understood this as a tribute to Horenstein’s mastery of tempo, in which he seems to be moving forward and holding back at the same time, which is an indication of the kinds of magic that can be achieved at the summit of the orchestra conductor’s art. The real difference between the Horenstein and Abbado interpretations is that Abbado delivers a more humanly expressive sublimity and Horenstein something more like heaven itself; and this is fitting, since Mahler, who was a control freak in his lifetime, said that after he was gone he’d like it if people conducted his music as they saw fit, anyway they saw it. May a thousand adagios bloom, in an infinite spiritual springtime, and may it please.
This week’s selection from Jack DeJohnette’s season-making Made in Chicago record is a Muhal Richard Abrams piece called Jack 5 that is often as spare and stark as classical Japanese music and features some of the most oblique time-playing I’ve everh heard, and a lot of Henry Threadgill. It’s a marvel, but this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Brooklyn not Chicago time—leads off with Esa-Pekka Salonen’s orchestral salute to the goddess of night, Nyx, a virtuoso score of such richness and fun that I just had to use it as a curtain raiser. Later on, we’re back to jazz and duets, David Murray with Milford Graves and Jack, respectively, and Joe Lovano with the magisterial and gentlemanly Hank Jones. Which leads us back to the piano sonatas of Franz Schubert—last week’s sonata in A must have been habit-forming—this time the composer’s last, #21 in B-flat, which he premiered a few weeks before his death via syphilis at the age of 31, alas. The performance is by Sviatoslav Richter, the piano titan whose centenary year this is, and he slows the opening movement far enough down to provide the link to Beethoven’s late sonatas; but where Beethoven’s mystical inwardness leads him into further thematic compression, even at his most expansive, Schubert’s depth-dive opens the music outward into the epic scope of an inward Odyssey. To follow Richter on this journey is an extraordinary privilege that invites deep listening. Another thing to remember about Richter is that he needed to keep a red plastic lobster close to him at all times, and since it was never visible in concert we must assume that he hid it in his piano bench. This is a studio recording, so he might have been happy to have it where he could see it as he played. Takes all kinds, I guess.
I first saw Jack DeJohnette shortly after he came to New York, at Slug’s with a John Gilmore band, on a collapsing drumset lent him by Roy Haynes, and he was a helluva drummer who sounded mostly like a follower of Tony Williams, then brand-new with Miles Davis; and then Tony Wiliams ambled in and sat in and fairly dusted Jack DeJohnette from Chicago; but Tony at age 18 played about as well as he ever would, while Jack put himself through maybe the most extraordinary development and evolution any drummer ever has, refining his musicianship and addressing every single element of his style and the possibilities of what Art Blakey called a “bastard instrument”, and these days watching and hearing him play makes me wonder if this is what it would have sounded like if Johann Sebastian Bach had been a drummer. Jack’s new album with an avant-garde Chicago cohort is one of the big events of the season, and Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Slug’s Saloon time—plays two more cuts from it, and the prominence and excellence of Muhal Richard Abrams’ contribution prompted intermissions from Bach and Schubert. The rest of the show is taken up with Jack playing with Miles Davis’ so-called “lost” quintet, one of the most intense bands ever to play anything, so please do tune in for the virtuosity, the taste, the touch, the lightningflash, the thunder, the delicate details turned out in the midst of a firestorm, the wit, the brilliance, the uncanny ear and comprehensive conception, the Sonors and Sabians and supernatural sapience of the one and only Jack DeJohnette from Chicago. Yes!