Paco de Lucia could bring his duende to jam with jazz musicians and make his flamenco as nuevo as he damn well pleased because his command of the traditional idiom was well-night absolute: he had the wealth of technique needed to both express and contain the wealth of passional fire without which flamenco has no reason for being. Only great power can keep the music from exploding, and only great artistry keep it alive. Paco de Lucia was able to keep himself alive until last week, and all Updoc can do is play some of his music in tribute—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Nueva Yorktime. Gustav Mahler died a hundred times in his songs and symphonies, never more calamitously than in his Sixth, but there is also a lot of light—lucia—in the live performance of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and Claudio Abbado. There is even a kind of triumph that is not death’s but life’s; and an old partisan of Jascha Horenstein has to admit that Abbado’s Lucerne Mahler symphonies constitute the finest such cycle he has ever heard. Actually, I wanted to program the Lucerne Seventh this week but couldn’t find a version with good audio, or one of the Third; but this Sixth is so much more than a machine to grind down human hope that it will do just fine and won’t harm a soul. Like the departed Paco, it is now and forever of the Light.
Some of the old Romanov Tsars were so heavily into Sonny and Trane that they couldn’t abide Stan Getz at all, but most of us keep a warm place in our hearts for the man whose name, allegedly, was Dizzy Gillespie’s two-word answer to the question Can an evil person make beautiful music? I myself was present at a Birdland table Getz visited to chat with John Coltrane, who, after Getz was modest about his own playing—“I’m not doing much, John, what are you doing here?”—told him, “I always love what you do.” Then Alice Coltrane poked Getz in the belly and told him he was getting fatter. Everyone in the club was staring our way. I was eighteen years old, there by chance and speechless, and didn’t see any Romanov tsars or usurpers, but can offer on this week’s show—Updoc, 8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday, Birdland offstage table time—a suite from the Eddie Sauter-Stan Getz score for the cult classic film Mickey One, also Stokowski’s orchestral suite from Moussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Christopher Rouse’s Oboe Concerto, some small band Getz and a Terry Riley piano suggestion that we should be kind to each other. Including saxophone players and Russians and the rest of us.
All right, Sid Caesar’s Cool Cees and Progress Hornsby sketches weren’t the hippest jazz humor ever, but he played tenor well enough to have toured with Claude Thornhill and he was doing jazz humor on mainstream television in its early Golden Age—sometimes even working in a drug reference: “I think I might be in daanger.” Larry Gelbart wrote the sketches with Sid, and when a mother with a nearsighted child wrote to complain about Cool Cees’ mockable bottle-thick glasses, they changed his name to the unimprovable Progress Hornsby. Okay, Sid Caesar in various guises accounts for less than ten minutes of this week’s show—that would be Updoc, Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Birdland time—and you will laugh out loud. I grew up on his comedy and still love him like the kid I was at the time. Otherwise this week, seasonal Vivaldi, Sylvie Courvoisier, Kip Hanrahan, Astor Piazzola, two raucous cuts from Pat Metheny’s new Unity Band CD, and a stunning French horn concerto by Thea Musgrave. And as always, hail Caesar, and this time, farewell.
The major obstacle to the great Jean Sibelius-Stephen Riley saxophone concerto project seems to have been the fact, contrary to the photographic evidence, that they were never at any point alive at the same time, so Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, New York Astral Fluxtime—has had to settle for a couple of tracks from Riley’s brilliant new album, Lover, and a performance of the Sibelius Fifth Symphony with that old darling Herbert Von Karajan conducting Britain’s Philharmonia Orchestra in a better performance of the piece than he ever managed with his hometown Berliners. What else we got? Danilo Perez’s new Panama 500 album, a knockout Azeri jazz pianist, Simone Dinnerstein’s superlative new recording of Bach’s two and three part Inventions, Bartok at his most celestial, and to set an impeccable seal atop the whole, Ben Webster. Hard to find a better beast than that, this tough winter. You really must go? Baby, it’s cold outside.
Vibes. What a cool name for an instrument, or anyway it seemed especially cool to me when I first stumbled into jazz at the age of thirteen sometime in the last century. In the right hands it’s a pretty cool instrument now. Warren Wolf is cool with Aaron Diehl’s sometimes MJQish quartet and Jason Marsalis is cool and sometimes algebraical with his own band, and the show—Updoc, Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, NYC Percussion time—slips in some Bags and Hutcherson for context, and swears it’ll get to Joe Locke next time, while too late I realize I could have programmed some of that Coltrane/Milt Jackson record along with the couple of Atlantic Trane sides I did slot in; and Updoc also confesses that a lot of the show is given over to Andrzej Panufnik’s Symphony Elegiaca and to the sometimes jazz-inflected British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage’s major new orchestral symphony in all but name, Speranza, a hymn to hope invoking Israeli and Palestinian and Armenian music among much else; indicating that the vibes may be good by the end but that there is a long way to go.
Updoc was glad to hear that Terry Lyne Carrington won a Grammy, at that strange and unpredictable event, for her variations on the Ellington-Mingus-Roach classic Money Jungle, not only because a Grammy will likely help her get through the undergrowth, but for purely musical reasons too; so the show—Friday 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Wall Street time—toggles back and forth between the original and the tribute, with stops en route for Blue Mitchell, François Couperin, Jason Marsalis, Jane Ira Bloom . . . Continuing last week’s tribute to Claudio Abbado, his irresistible conduction of Schumann’s Second Symphony is also on board and, in recognition of the Arctic Effing Vortex, Robert Spano and the Altlanta Orchestra beat the traffic freeze to deliver a really notable performance of Jean Sibelius’s late evocation of the northern Finnish forests, Tapiola. That is not a pudding, but it’s a fine accompaniment to the big chill, which is easing off a bit here in NYC and I hope chez vous too.
Claudio Abbado, who moved on to other worlds at the age of 80 just the other day, had an illustrious international conducting career for decades, and one might have thought the climax of it would be his assumption of the leadership of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1989 but 1) Herbert von Karajan was a hard act to follow, and 2) Abbado seemed to do his best music-making after quitting the Berliners’ active leadership for reasons of health. After surviving radical cancer surgery, he conducted a number of orchestras superbly, most of all the Lucerne Festival Orchestra he’d assembled around the nucleus of his Mahler Youth Orchestra by adding to it scads of international star soloists and section members. His live Lucerne recording of the Mahler 9th takes up most of the airspace on this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, New York Philharmonic time—and should stun everyone who listens to it. Abbado’s Lucerne Mahler cycle is one for the ages, and may never be surpassed: it’s on DVD and Blu-ray, not CD, and it’s up on youtube again: catch it while you can. Updoc is audio only, but we also have a Mozart piano concerto with Abbado and Pires, and only a very few words about a man who was well-loved both musically and personally, and who achieved miracles with that Swiss-based orchestra, until just the other day.
On this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Broadway time—I’ve taken advantage of the season to raid the ten-best lists of a number of jazz critics to the tune of Cecile McLorin Salvant, Eric Revis, Matthew Shipp, Aaron Diehl and some others, but thought it would be best to start out startling you with some music that startled me when I first heard it: Grá agus Bás—what?—by Donnacha Dennehy—who? Grá etc. means Love and Death in Gaelic, Dennehy’s an Irish composer born in 1970, and while his orchestration betrays traces of American minimalism the striking thing is the unexpectedly full-throated Irish traditional voice of Iarla O’Lionárd brilliantly set against the bowing and piping of the Crash Ensemble under Alan Pierson. It’s enough to stand you up or make all fall down, and it will be ringing in the chambers of your memory through the ten-best jazz stuff, and some Saariaho songs, and Buddy Bolden’s Blues: a dream you may not step out of even when Braxton plays the tune of that name in duet with Dave Holland. So wind up the family cyclotron, sit yourself down a spell, and a warming drink will not go amiss this time of year.
I always enjoy listening to Yusef Lateef, whether in Eastern-exotic mode or up-the-middle swing-based tenor or something in between or elsewhere entirely, and he seems to have lived a rich 93 years until just the other day. I’m starting to dread doing yet another memorial show as a great irreplaceable generation wanes, but not when the music’s this good to listen to for any reason at any time. This week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Eastern-exotic Brooklyn time—also spends time with Marty Ehrlich’s splendid new large ensemble album, Bach played in his original tunings and otherwise, solo piano from Aaron Diehl and Geri Allen, and musical champagne for the new year in the form of a Mozart violin concerto. I also found a copy of my old out-theme from Jazz Live Radio at KGNU in Boulder, from back in the day. Hope John Stark listens in for a short dose of Dudu Pukwana. And for Yusef—a loose translation of the Divine Name he took as his own—the Pleasant, the Subtle, the Delightful; not to mention what he could do on a blues with Mingus.
Opening theme: Lester Bowie: Almost Christmas ; All the Magic
1. William Byrd: Mass for Five Voices; Stile Antico
2. Ludwig Von Beethoven/Zinka Milanov/Kerstin Thorberg/Koloman von Pataky/Nicola Moscona/BBC Symphony Orchestra/BBC Choral Society/Arturo Toscanini: Missa Solemnis; Toscanini: Beethoven Missa Solemnis, Symphony No. 7; Mozart Symphony No. 35
3. Mike Westbrook/ William Blake/Phil Minton: The Fields, I See Thy Form; Glad Day: Settings of William Blake
Out theme: Lester Bowie: Almost Christmas ; All the Magic