Rafi Zabor’s Updoc, Fri 3/25 & Tues 3/29


I missed Cecil Taylor’s 87th birthday by almost two weeks—oops, but isn’t it fine to see so many jazz lives run at length rather than surrender prematurely to the rigors of the trail? The great Ernestine Anderson just left town at a comparable age, so that her midway intermission from the scene now seems but a brief pause in a majestic career; so, beginning with her, welcome to a Catchup Ball Special on this week’s Updoc, Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Washington Square Park, Northwest Corner time. With the onset of spring and the wealth of gesture Taylor derived—especially once he discarded set tempos and made his phrasing itself the muscle of his music—from the birdsong piano works of Olivier Messiaen, I thought I’d start off with an early example of the French master’s practice before opening the gate to Taylor’s solo-piano Garden and a quartet Unit piece. That led me to realize that I’d been listening to Messiaen all wrong for years, and that my disinclination to incline his way had to do not only with an incompatability in my preference in tone-colors but a hankering for high-modernist developmental logic that was increasingly alien to his work: never moreso than in his late, open-form, American-outdoorsy From the Canyon to the Stars, a piece that strikes me now as sufficiently plumb wonderful to excerpt on the show. As for the rest of it, Yevgeny Svetlanov conducts the USSR Symphony Orchestra in this week’s rendering of Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps, and what strikes me most about it is not some obvious Russianness but Svetlanov’s fluent sense of tempo—the rhythmic shifts feel breath-natural, with no sacrifice of precision—and his delineation of individual voices in the orchestra: we all know that Soviet ensembles either lack or didn’t try for the sectional creaminess of the capitalist competition, but the strandiness of the brass and especially the strings and woodwinds here seem an intentional branching back to the music’s folk roots. Stravinsky always denied that there were old Russian melodies in the Sacre, but he was lying through his dentures; Svetlanov doesn’t put up any billboards of peasant life, but he gets at something central I haven’t heard before. Stravinsky said that there “isn’t any room for soul-searching in the Sacre”. This performance doesn’t search but, springlike, finds it in the natural course of things and keeps going deeper.

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