It’s finally warm enough here on my Brooklyn ranch to feel that spring has sprung, so why not, on this week’s Updoc, Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, local time, renew the earth and sacrifice a virgin with that old cut-up Igor Stravinsky? Ezra Pound called artists ‘the antennae of the race’ before he started picking up some bad signals himself, so we really shouldn’t blame Igor for World War One and a century of mass sacrifice when he was only picking up signals already blowin’ in the wind. I usually intend to program the Bernstein version of the Sacre and end up playing the nearly identical but more recently recorded Gergiev, but this time I went back to the source and put the composer’s own brisk, swift, no-nonsense version on the show. But it got me thinking about this music that gets us all charged up and exhilarated and ends in human sacrifice, and I started to wonder if there was some other music that spotted sweeter possibilities tumblin’ in the last century’s breeze. Louis Armstrong seemed a good place to start, and that got the show to Ellington after a few stopovers en route. On Stravinsky’s return, the closing ‘Laudate’ of his Symphony of Psalms seemed so gloomy in its praise that Updoc blew those blues away with the finale of Charles Ives’ 4th Symphony, in which the hymn ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ has never seemed more present-tense. And no, they didn’t bust Stravinsky in Boston in 1940; he was new in-country and had to register a lot, also get written permission to use the octatonic scale in public. Tune in and bring a daisy.
Whatever I had in mind for this week’s show—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday—much of it got pre-empted as soon as I got hold of The Complete Sun Ship Session, by the John Coltrane Quartet: August 25 1965 at RCA Studios rather than at Van Gelder’s, and some of the time Trane stretching the band to its limits, which soon would not be enough for him. The show starts off with three complete alternate takes and ends with a fourth: the greatest band I’ve ever heard on one of its last days. It would have been cruel to follow up those three takes with someone else’s jazz, so I was happy to find Anders Hillborg’s orchestral composition Eleven Gates before moving on to a set alternating Lucky Thompson and Benny Golson. Before returning to Coltrane, there’s the youngish American composer Kevin Puts, whose name I have trouble getting around on-air for some reason, and his fine piece for string quartet, Dark Vigil, which doesn’t sound too dark to me but is vigilantly played by the Ying Quartet. Some Bird and Lucky Thompson for farewell, and do come by, especially if you haven’t heard the Sun Ship alternates yet, and soar aloft with them.
I’m not sure what I had planned for this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM, noon next Tuesday, Brooklyn Dodgers time—but when an (actual) friend asked me on Facebook about something I might or might not have written about Beethoven, the question sent me back to the Late Quartets, for the first time with access to the Takacs Quartet’s 2005 recordings, and suddenly there was no other music as compelling and deep and meaningful, so I’m passing the savings along to you. The Takacs recordings fully earn their place among the all-time great ones, and the show will feature Opus 130 with the Grosse Fuge finale, and the C#-minor quartet that was Beethoven’s own favorite: a profound work front and back, but the Takacs performance finally let me hear the lightness at its heart. We raise the curtain with a late-period work that doesn’t sound like one, The Consecration of the House overture, and manage to squeeze in Artur Schnabel’s unsurpassable 1932 recording of the penultimate piano sonata, Opus 110. Deaf as at least a couple of posts, out of fashion, suffering from lead poisoning he got from his favorite pewter mug, this man somehow wrote his greatest music, unlike any other, that sounds us to the center of our being. Bring some Milk Duds or something.
I’ve played a lot of Lester Young on the show—that would be Updoc on taintradio.org, Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, NY Uptown time—but have been inexplicably remiss re Nat King Cole, who was, moreover, a friend of my father’s; so it’s make-up time this week, with selections from their 1946 Verve recording in a trio with Buddy Rich and a few cuts from Cole with his trio and on his own. The man had such impeccable style and class. Also onboard: a new CD from Robert Hurst featuring Branford and Tain and Glasper and Maupin and more, and a recent one from pianist Donald Brown featuring Ravi Coltrane. Also Jennifer Higdon’s rip-roaring tour de force of a Concerto for Orchestra, a lithe little Piano Trio from Judith Weir and, most exquisite of all, a setting for voice and orchestra by Henri Dutilleux of a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo. Dew Drop Inn.
Back to a mostly jazz show on this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM, noon next Tuesday—featuring some new and newish releases from Ben Wolfe, Ulysses Owens Jr. and Chris Potter among others, but I was particularly pleased to unearth a track featuring Lucky Thompson on a little-known Art Blakey record from about 1970. Most people know Thompson, I’d guess, from his swing-to-bop tenor work on a few sessions with Charlie Parker, but in later years he favored the soprano saxophone, of which he was a major master. He lived in Europe for many years, came back to the States and Los Angeles and wound up homeless and living on the street due to the fortunes of war and the gradual encroachment of senile dementia. Last year I learned from Branford Marsalis that he was found, rescued, and given a home by some real L.A. angels, though toward the end he had no memory of having played music. “Did I do that?” he’d say when played one of his records. I’ve played the hell out of his album Lucky Strikes on the show, and I’m only playing one Blakey track this week—so good it could make even Lennie Tristano smile—but I thought I’d relate the story here. There’s Tristano too, two versions of the Miserere, one ancient and the other contemporary, and the show rounds off with two orchestral pieces by Takemitsu with links to Finnegans Wake. A way a lone a last a loved a long the
Opening theme: Art Ensemble of Chicago: The Ninth Room; Tutankhamun (Black Lion)
Terry Riley/Kronos Quartet: Salome Dances for Peace [title tune] (Nonesuch)
Okay, I admit it, the photo was irresistible. But so is Leos Janacek’s second string quartet, Intimate Letters, the outpouring of a heart on fire; which sounds like young man’s stuff, but he wrote the piece at 74, in the last year of his life, in tribute to a long-running Platonic relationship with a woman forty years his junior, and when it’s not some kid but a master musician at the height of his powers pouring it all out, you just have to hear it to believe it. Conveniently, it’s the first piece on this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM, noon next Tuesday, Brooklyn Brewery time—in a live performance by the Alban Berg Quartet equal to the composer’s genre-busting passion. After that, we stick around eastern and central Europe for the duration. Szymanovski’s Stabat Mater is another composition with the power to stun; I picked Simon Rattle’s performance for its sheer beauty rather than chill you with all-Polish authenticity. Then comes the first act of Janaeck’s last, Dostoevskian opera with its cheery depiction of Siberian exile, and we mellow out with Bohuslav Martinu’s 6th and last Symphony with all its fantasy and uplift. Back to jazz next week, but for now raise a glass to these guys who lived offside the grand historical narrative. It’s beyond my powers to tell you how great this music is, so just check out the show and drink it in.
Opening theme: Art Ensemble of Chicago: The Ninth Room; Tutankhamun
Johann Sebastian Bach/Monteverdi Choir/English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner: Herr, unser Herrscher; St. John Passion
Johann Sebastian Bach/Chorgemeinschaft Neubeuren/Orchester der Klangverwaltung/Enoch zu Guttenberg: Kommt ir Töchter; Matthäuspassion
Arnold Schoenberg/ Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Kent Nagano: Friede auf Erden; Die Jakobsleiter
Erik Satie/Choeur René Duclos/Jean Laforge: Messe des Pauvres; Satie: Ballets, Piano Works & Rarities
Arnold Schoenberg/James Johnson/SWD Radio-Symphonie/Michael Gielen: Kol Nidre; Mahler – Schoenberg – Kurtag
Mavis Staples/Lucky Peterson: Go Down, Moses; Spirituals
Arnold Schoenberg/John Shirley-Quirk/BBC Singers, Chorus, Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Boulez: A Survivor From Warsaw; Schoenberg - Das Chorwerk
Johann Sebastian Bach/Collegium Vocale La Chapelle Royale/Philippe Herrweghe: Cantata BWV 78 “Jesu der du meine Seele”; JS Bach: Trauerode
Johann Sebastian Bach/Michael Chance/Monteverdi Choir/English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner: Agnus Dei, Dona Nobis Pacem: Mass in B Minor
Charlie Haden/Hank Jones: Go Down, Moses: Steal Away
Opening theme: Art Ensemble of Chicago: The Ninth Room; Tutankhamun
Dave Douglas: Be Still My Soul, High on a Mountain, God Be With You, Going Somewhere With You, Barbara Allen; Be Still
Benjamin Britten/Cor Infantil Amics de la Unió/Josep Vila I Jover: A Ceremony of Carols; There Is No Rose
Lee Morgan: Search for the New Land [title tune]
Lisa Bielawa/Carla Kihlstedt/Colin Jacobsen/Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose: Double Violin Concerto; In Medias Res
Paul Moravec/ Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose: Northern Lights Electric [title tune]
Yunus Balçıoğlu: Akşam Ezanı (Hüzzan); İstanbul Ezanları
Golden Gate Quartet: Go Down, Moses; The Golden Era
Out theme: Ollabelle: Riverside; Riverside Battle Songs
There’s only one piece on the show this week—that would be Updoc on taintradio.org, 8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday—and that would be Terry Riley’s maximalist string quartet Salome Dances for Peace. She used to dance for John the Baptist’s head but this is a more redemptive gig: better late than never. Riley usually gets a pat on the head for having helped bring on the Minimalist Age of Serious Music with his In C—a piece I rush to turn off before it can drive me up the wall—but is generally denied the cultural cachet enjoyed by his contemporaries Steve Reich and Philip Glass because he typically prefers improvising to composing, dresses like a hippie and wears a scraggly beard and smiles too much. David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet did a fine thing in convincing Riley to compose this piece in the late ‘80s; he worked on it for two years, the Kronos recorded it in ’88 and it won a Grammy the following year. It’s a richly textured, exciting work, vital in all directions, and I think a terrific way to spend a couple of hours, without commercial interruptions or even a station ID. I’ll do some complicated programming next week, I promise, but this week invite you to ride this breeze with me. There’s something eye-catching about the album cover too. Must be that shade of red.