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.
The photo has nothing to do with the music; I just felt like looking at it. This week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Lower East Side time—features a lot of music one correspondent has written to say she finds it hard to understand without context, but I like Wadada Leo Smith’s ambitious new Great Lakes Suite, without understanding what it has to do with the Lakes individually or all together. Smith’s heraldic trumpet in a band featuring Henry Threadgill, John Lindberg, and a drummer named DeJohnette is enough setup for me. A friend recently sent me back to John Coltrane’s Concert in Japan and he was right: Yamaha’s gift of two alto saxophones put a less lethal weapon in Pharoah Sanders’ hands and give Trane a new wing to soar on: Peace on Earth is Coltrane at his most rapturously and romantically hymnful. Lately I’ve been changing the pace with Mozart piano concertos, especially since coming upon the series by Mitsuko Uchida, Jeffrey Tate and the English Chamber Orchestra, who this week deliver bliss upon bliss on one of the two concertos Mozart composed in the minor mode. Some avant-garde free-jazz types find Mozart the difficult one to get—all that beauty and elegance and mercy and poignancy and wit—but they can get him here. Marilyn Crispell in duet with Louis Moholo and the Art Ensemble in both whispering and screaming mode round out the show and this text is long enough. Hello, I must be going.
I end up doing more memorial shows than is comfortable, but it’s happening in the jazz world: a magnificent generation in its seventies and eighties is filing out of the room—we keep tremulously awaiting Who’s Next—so it’s a pleasure to report on someone who didn’t die. Despite a Farewell To note on Facebook, the cellist Abdul Wadud is still bowing and plucking among us. I programmed Dogon A.D., the Julius Hemphill classic to which Wadud contributed so much, anyway, and followed it up with another classic of that jazz generation, the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s People in Sorrow, which I’d almost programmed on Malachi Favors’ birthday, and mine, the week before. Both pieces were recorded during the period in which Wynton Marsalis and Ken Burns declared jazz to have been dead. These are some fine zombies. From there this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Doggone Brooklyn time—moves on to Bartok’s sonata for solo violin, its daddy the Bach chaconne, and Beethoven’s always disturbing Grosse Fuge, but herewith Updoc breaks new ground: my deejay announcements were made while lying on the floor of an overbooked Amtrak train headed for NY from RI, and then later from a seat, with side-commentary provided by two guys from Luxembourg and a lady from New Rochelle—and this in the quiet car! For the past few months, Kip Hanrahan has been doing the most adventurous show on taintradio or for that matter anywhere, but has he done this? There were people stepping on me, when the show must go on. Yo, Kip: this is a thrown gauntlet, man. I have raised the ante. Your move.
Not much thesis left—Monk’s harmony plus arpeggiating tenorist equals sheets of sound—in this week’s Thelonious Monk-John Coltrane followup show—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Five Spot time—but I did want to get to some of the live tracks from Carnegie Hall and the Five Spot that didn’t air last week. The atmosphere gets very complex and crowded with those guys playing together, and last week I skipped to later Trane and a Mozart concerto for a breath of different air. This week I wanted to hear women sing: Nellie McKay, Nina Simone, Blossom Dearie, Shiela Jordan, Laurie Anderson, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Stacey Kent, Abbey Lincoln and of course Lady Day, among others still. Miles Davis drops in too, and so might you. You’re most welcome.
There’s a general notion that when John Coltrane kicked his heroin habit in the spring of 1957 he pretty much turned into Superman, and that notion is generally correct; but while working on a book project, with discography in hand and music in ear, I’ve done a lot of close, nerdic listening and come up with some interpretative detail, and I wanted to air some of my Tranespotting’s results on this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Five Spot time. The upshot is that Trane’s epochal six-month gig with Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot was crucial to everything he would play in the future: hardly earthshaking news—my friend Mike Zwerin was there almost every night and told me that ‘everybody’ knew this was the biggest thing to happen in jazz since Bird—but there’s always something new to learn about an event of such scope. You can tell from Coltrane’s first recording after getting well—his eponymous leader date for Prestige—that he’s no longer a brilliant but somehow impaired player: his sound has doubled in strength and his lines don’t break when they head for the sky; but a couple of months later he’s in trouble and faltering on the great Monk’s Music “little red wagon” date, and there’s the rumor that Monk’s callout “Coltrane, Coltrane!” was meant to pull the relapsed junkie from his nod to the microphone; but I side with producer Orrin Keepnews, who said that Monk was making sure of the solo order. What happens to Trane on Epistrophy and Well You Needn’t is Monk showing him how much he still had to learn, and Monk throws a wealth of inconvenient chordal architecture at the tenorist to prove it. How quickly Coltrane assimilated the lesson led to the complexification of his already arpeggiated style and to those famous sheets of sound. Tune in and see how; though don’t worry, I’ll keep the chatter brief and let your ears find their way (the book pages look like something by David Foster Wallace). Anyway, after a lot of Coltrane intensity we cool off with a Mozart piano concerto and then join John Coltrane, appropriately, in saying Dear Lord.
One of the things I like best about Judith Weir’s music is that there’s only music in it: no dogma, no extraneous rhetorical gestures, no showy displays of compositional chops . . . you know what I mean: she’s pared it down to the essential, purely musical statement and that’s aplenty. I’m reminded of Sibelius’ claim to be providing pure spring water; Weir is in the same business. The sixty-year-old composer, raised in England but of Scottish origin, was recently made Master of the Queen’s Music—the musical equivalent of Poet Laureate—the first woman to hold that position, so this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Niagara Falls time— celebrates her with three pieces: a piano concerto, a string quartet, and her wonderful orchestral composition The Welcome Arrival of Rain. The rest of the show falls in line with modern melodic mostly non-abrasive music like Orion and the Pleiades by Takemitsu, Zemlinsky’s Sinfonietta, and the papa-daddy of the idiom, Jeux by Claude Debusssy—cooling summer music, it seems to me; in any case the kind of thing I’ve wanted to listen to this week. Come by for a sip if you like.