Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic recorded what is probably the dominant modern interpretation of Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps in one session in Brooklyn at the Hotel St. George in January 1958—just listen to how closely the contemporary go-to recording by Valery Gergiev follows it—and it’s probably still the most exciting version on record (if you want something different, try Fischer/Budapest). No orchestra had sounded anything like Lenny’s Phil—so vigorous and American and bursting with muscle—and Stravinsky himself said “Wow!” when he hard them play his piece (though of course, it being Igor, his single syllable was not unironic). The recording was remastered a couple of years ago, reissued with Gray Foy’s wonderful cover art, and it strips away reverb and reveals fresh detail, perhaps at the price of some harshness. I would have used it on the show—Updoc, 8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday, Hotel St. George time—but the version I have access to had little quarter-second gaps between the fourteen tracks, so I went with the 1993 digitation, which still rocks the house just fine. For the rest of the show I rounded up some usual suspects: seasonal tunes you’d expect from Miles and Brownie, Sarah Vaughan and Julie London both hung up the most, Bill Evans, Astor Piazzolla, Django . . . Then back to Lenny and the Phil, appropriately manic fit to burst on Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony. It’s been a long tall bitch of a winter here in New York and the new season needs all the boosterism it can get.
This week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday—starts out with a trinity and ends up pentagonal; first some Sonny Rollins left out of last week’s love fest, then the most intense bootleg recording of the John Coltrane Quartet with Eric Dolphy I’ve ever heard—an Impressions that must have had a pentecostal flame bright above it for the horns to be speaking in tongues like that—and finishing with a cut from the new Miles Davis release of the complete concerts from the Fillmore East in 1970. After that it was advisable to dial things down a bit, with Tore Takemitsu’s orchestral piece A Flock Descends Into the Pentagonal Garden, a pause for breath and a sip of water. After that a few French songs, a Gypsy improv, and Tony Bennett wandering the Street of Dreams. More Takemitsu, this time on traditional Japanese instruments, until Branford Marsalis restores our heartbeats with The Flaming Sword. This might be one of the rites of spring. Tu-wit, tu-wu.
Sonny Rollins’ Roadshows Vol. 3 is coming out in the first week of May, but for some of us the anticipation is too much to bear, so this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM, noon next Tuesday, East Broadway Rundown time—is another Sonny Rollins love-fest. But wait: I didn’t go to the record collection but trawled through concert videos and bootlegs for terrific lesser-known material, and found it. Most of the concerts are from the ‘80s, with bands of varying quality but Sonny radiantly melodious, and there’s a 22-minute St. Thomas from the quartet with Ornettists Don Cherry and Billy Higgins, an outtake from the 1962 live date that yielded Our Man in Jazz: Sonny more staggeringly formidable, less grandly joyful than he would be twenty years on, but you’ll feel plenty of glow nonetheless. Since even Sonny Rollins needs a break from Sonny Rollins now and then, Updoc takes one with the Mt. Everest of piano sonatas, Beethoven’s Hammerklavier, the power tool he used to break through to his late-period music. It’s played for us by the phenomenal youngster Igor Levit, who has the whole gigantic thing working in all its parts. Then back to Rollins playing The Tennessee Waltz, engulfing the melody in his bear-hug, undaunted by obvious sentiment and arcane technicalities alike: he’s as broad as a mountain range, as fine as sunlight, and an apparently endless source of deep-delved joy.
Sonny Rollins’ Roadshow Vol. 3 is coming out in the first week of May, but for some of us the anticipation is too much to bear, so this week’s Updoc, Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, no foolin’—, 8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday, East Broadway Rundown time——is another Sonny Rollins love-fest. But wait: I didn’t go to the record collection but trawled through concert videos and bootlegs for terrific lesser-known material, and found it. Most of the concerts are from the ‘80s, with bands of varying quality but Sonny radiant, and there’s a 22-minute St. Thomas from the quartet with Ornettists Don Cherry and Billy Higgins, an outtake from the sessions that yielded Our Man in Jazz: Sonny more staggeringly formidable, less grandly joyful than he would be twenty years on, but you’ll feel plenty of glow nonetheless. Since even Sonny Rollins needs a break from Sonny Rollins now and then, Updoc takes one with the Mt. Everest of piano sonatas, Beethoven’s Hammerklavier, the rock drill he used to break through to his late period music, as played by the phenomenal youngster Igor Levit, who has the whole gigantic thing working in all its parts. Then back to Rollins playing The Tennessee Waltz, embracing the melody in his bear-hug, undaunted by obvious sentiment and arcane technicalities alike: he’s as broad as a mountain range, as fine as sunlight, and an apparently endless source of deep-delved joy.
Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique is the looniest piece in the 19th century orchestral canon, but Updoc doesn’t think that most performances, like the go-to recording by Colin Davis and Concertgebouw, are loony enough, so this week’s show—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday—goes with John Eliot Gardiner and his brash Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, its smaller forces, original instruments (including a serpent), bold textures and unvibrato: what a wake-up call, march to the scaffold, Dies Irae, opium hallucinations and all. What a blast. Then we cool off with Scarlatti, who sounds as brilliant as Bach but somehow without the universal-intellect-thing, and as usual Updoc clocks in late for a holiday, with the traditional ballad Finnegan’s Wake and James Joyce himself lilting on about Anna Livia. For closers, okay, there’s this kid of 27, Igor Levit, who plays the late Beethoven piano sonatas as if he’s Artur Schnabel recorded in a modern studio; which raises the question, is it an interpretation or a Xerox? Well I’ll tellya, Sonata #31 Opus 110 is one of the greatest pieces of music there is, and the kid plays like a dream and the fi is hi, and that will do for now. I know, where’s the jazz? It’s in there somewhere, I’m sure of it. Maybe it’s the cat blowing serpent.
“This symphony evokes the most primal sources of life and the wellspring of the life-feeling; that is, what lies behind all human, animal and plant life, as we perceive or live it. Once more: music is life, and like it inextinguishable.” The Danish composer Carl Nielsen said that about his Fourth Symphony, “The Inextinguishable”, composed in the middle of the First World War, while Europe was tearing itself to pieces; which helps explain the hard-edged, combative nature of the piece, thrillingly performed by Osmo Vänskä and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. But don’t be alarmed: this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, NYC Subway time—begins with twenty-some minutes of a serenely beautiful raga by Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha & Co. There’s also a set featuring selections from pianist Eric Reed’s solo gospel album to ease the questing heart, and the soul-stirring voice of the Cuban bolera singer Argelia Fragoso. Then back to the rigors of history with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Sixth Symphony, written just after World War Two under the atomic cloud: this is not the music of the pastoral old duffer in baggy tweeds. This is a great muscian’s testimony of his time, which is still ours: Syria, Ukraine, Istanbul—those birds in hand are getting a lift in Kuşadısı—lots of places where all prayers should be for peace first of all.
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.