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!
There’s been some talk on both sides of the Pond lately about how Thomas Adès, now 44 years old, is not only the finest composer working in England but the era-defining composer in the world at large. I don’t know about that: he’s certainly got the chops, but I can think of other musicians of comparable depth and expertise who have a broader range of expression; I am pretty sure, though, that his Totentanz, for orchestra and two voices, is the strongest score I’ve heard from him. It will have its American premiere in the next couple of months but this week Updoc has the jump on that—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Carnegie Hall time. Based on a destroyed frieze in a bombed-out cathedral and sung in German, Totentanz, while not a pastiche, seems to recapitulate in reverse Germanic music’s understandable concern with death over the last century, beginning in the approximate idiom of Schoenberg and Berg and ending with late Richard Strauss and, in the last notes, Mahler. For all its footnoting, for me it has the ultimate impact of a masterpiece. It also led me, via an association of ideas I’ll make clear on the show, but also because of the impact of Joanna Wallfisch’s stunning new album, to consider a style of singing, usually but not exclusively done by women, that instead of projecting a personality seems to function as a pellucid mirror to the potential of the music, the musician, and the person listening, and we go the rounds with vocalists from Jo Wallfisch and Jo Stafford to Valerie June, Aoife O’Donovan and end on the summit with Shirley Horn. The show concludes with a first taste from Jack DeJohnette’s big new album with old AACM confrères like Roscoe Mitchell and Muhal Richard Abrams. I’m susceptible to the classicist critique that when jazz omits swing and blues feeling the heart goes out of the music—and there are a lot of supposedly mainstream players out there who can’t swing and ain’t got the blues—but something else goes out of jazz when all the rules are laid down and known, and DeJohnette’s new record brings back the sound of surprise bigtime and on an extraordinary level of achievement. All in all, it’s a really big show.
Orrin Keepnews’ (and Bill Grauer’s) Riverside Records never developed a trademark sound or style the way Blue Note did, and looking back, prompted by Keepnews’ death on March 1 at the age of 91, I was most struck by his steady, evidently unshakeable devotion to a series of deeply original artists. Riverside’s first record had Thelonious Monk playing Duke Ellington, and althogh Monk wasn’t exactly unrecorded in the early 50s—the pioneering Blue Notes still sound avant-garde, and the Prestige trios definitive—Keepnews set out to develop an audience for Monk that would stay with him for the rest of his life. Check the photos for the company Keepnews kept—Bill Evans cloistral trios, Cannonball Adderley’s mainstream preaching, Wes Montgomery’s thumb—all featured on this week’s Updoc, 8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday, Sonny Rollins Bridgetime. When Keepnews signed Rollins to the successor label Milestone in 1972, Sonny had come and gone from the jazz scene so many times most people weren’t sure he was still around. Rollins’ first Milestone record was a great one (we feature its Skylark) but then Keepnews stuck with him through the desperately uneven records Rollins seemed determined to make even as people returned from his live performances muttering about religiious experience. It took a while, but Rollins rebuilt himself into the most comprehensive improviser in the history of the music and the records eventually caught up with him. The jazz world is not exactly free from personal sniping, but I’ve never heard anyone speak of Orrin Keepnews without complete respect for his high intelligence and his devotion to the artists he loved best. The rest of the show takes up the cause of a young up-and-comer name of Beethoven, who will have to get along without so sage a guide, but I have the feeling that his career will work out. Did you hear it here first?
Clark Terry was welcome everywhere and I don’t think that will have changed now. The only difference, perhaps, is that the limits will be gone. Just to think of him is still to more than smile. To think of him in passing is to stop passing and to enter a an intermission of the heart. Updoc did an almost all Clark Terry show not too long back, and now that he has moved on to other venues at the age of 94, the show reprises some of that and adds a few new tunes, Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, New York City Mumbletime. And then? Well, there was an article about the British composer Thomas Adès in the Times, his general stunningness and his influence on contemporary musicians of all kinds, so the show reprises what is evidently his signature work, his symphony in all but name, Asyla, and chases it with one song from mandolin wiz Chris Thile’s band The Punch Brotherss and one from Gabriel Kahane. This was to have been a longer segment of tribute and emulation, but CT’s departure intervened. In compensation there’s a song composed and sung by Joanna Wallfisch from her forthcoming CD The Origin of Adjustable Things. It stunned me with its intelligence and intimacy when I heard it on Bob Rogers’ show last week and it may well stun you now. The world just keeps on blossoming with fresh new work, doesn’t it, even before the rites of spring have begun to stir. While it’s still cold out, Updoc shivers to a finish with Jean Sibelius’ symphony in all but name, The Lemminkainen Suite (Four Legends from the Kalevala): our hero romps with the maidens of Saari, descends into the underworld, then joyoussly returns to hear Clark Terry and the Duke Ellington Orchestra puckishly lead the mortals up and down, up and down, in a dream of summer immune to mortal chill.
I’ll try to break it to you gently, but if you want to hear my impression of the dovecall of the European wood-pigeon you’ll have to wait until the end of the show—8-10PM Friday and noon to 2PM next Tuesday, NYC urban pigeon time—when I perform it, possibly in too low a key, in reference to the climactic theme of Sibelius’ 3rd Symphony, which in my opinion he lifted from a local Finnish specimen, without attribution. At least the Canadian TV Western, Bordertown, that lifted the opening theme from that same Sibelius symphony and orchestrated it in a manner suggesting Mike Post in his Rockford period had the good grace to say so in the credits. All three versions will be on offer toward the end on the show, which opens with the music of the late and well-loved Butch Morris. I’ve seen other musicians—Roscoe Mitchell and Karl Berger for two—lead large improvising ensembles in a manner approaching Morris’ ‘conduction’, but no one employed it as extensively or for that matter as internationally as he, shaping music out of the air of the moment with a highly cultivated vocabulary of gestures, with or without previously composed material offered into the whirlwind: a music that could play fast and loose even when it was slow and brooding. The show starts off with The Long Goodbye, not the John Williams tune wittily deployed in the Altman movie of that name, but Morris’ own memorial piece for pianist Don Pullen, and after some torch ballads, one of them featuring a Frank Sinatra at once definitive and phony, Butch Morris music resumes with his three-movement Conduction #31. After that you can sing along with Cecil Taylor and Max Roach until Sibelius skiis into the border town all the world’s music lives in, and sampled for you here.
It is, it isn’t, it is, it’s not. Well, if it’s not another Lee Konitz show, how come there’s so much Lee Konitx in it—at 8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday, Greenwich Village time—can you tell me that? Well, things sort of fell out that way because there were a couple of Konitz tracks I didn’t get to on last week’s real Lee Konitz show and I wanted to catch up. But then Konitz’s . . . um . . . aesthetic indeterminacy kicked off a number of associations and suggested interesting contrasts and—yes, okay, aesthetic whateveracy I said is probably not the ideal phease. I read an interview the other day in which Konitz said that he likes to come to a gig ready but not prepared—which is pretty much how I do this show—so why wouldn’t I go from Konitz the Saxophonitz on a ballad to the piercing music of Himalayan and Ladakhi double reeds? Natural high-mountain music, a world in which the veil of air is thin and the next world is just a breath away, whether via vision or a misstep on the scree. Besides, this music comes courtesy of my colleague Brian Cullman, who is curating the immense catalogue of David Lewiston’s extraordinary recordings of music from almost everywhere, and once we’ve travelled that far among the reeds, why not Akagündüz Kutbay, Djivan Gasparyan, Ornette Coleman visiting Joujouka, Paul Desmond, Iqbal Jogi, Julius Hemphill, Anthony Braxton, Branford Whatsisname, but how come I left out Bismillah Khan and what is Dutilleux’s 1st Symphony doing there? We’re lost in the stars. Big stars, little stars. Whisper not. Or whisper. Come as you are.