Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

As a preview of what will likely be the final installment to the War of the Romantics series, here is the Sonata for violin and piano by Richard Strauss. Since most people view Strauss as a composer of tone poems, operas, and horn concertos, it is hard to grasp that he also composed a violin concerto, a string quartet, a cello sonata, and this piece. These are just a few of his lesser known works.

This was written while Strauss was 23 years old, at aproximately the same time that Brahms was writing his violin sonatas. It has the same melodic beauty as any Brahms sonata, but it shows some characteristics of Strauss in its structure and key (it seems as if Strauss was obsessed with the key of E-Flat, not a common key for violin music).

This piece is unfortunately played far too rarely. So, for a lover of Milstein, Stern, Oistrakh, and Menuhin like me, it was disappointing to find only one CD with the Strauss sonata and concerto on it. This is not to demean the great playing of Sarah Chang on this recording, I'm just disappointed that there aren't more out there. However, this CD does a good job of showing what a wonderful piece this is.

Sonata for Violin and Piano in E-Flat, Op. 18

Sarah Chang- Violin, Wolfgang Sawallisch- Piano, EMI Classics

Monday, February 27, 2006

War of the Romantics, Part II: Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Though he only lived one year longer than his hero Beethoven, he conservatively used classical forms, and he held Mozart in high regard, Franz Schubert is generally considered a Romantic composer, one of the first. He was only 31 when he died but had already made a great impact in the fledgling Romantic world. In his later works, Schubert's harmonic innovations- modulating to seemingly unrelated keys and using more experimental harmonies- paved the way for later Romantics. But Schubert's most important contribution was the concept of thematically linking a piece or a set of pieces together; in other words, going beyond the idea that each piece was a seperate entity that existed independently of anything else. Wagner and Liszt will pick up on this... more on that later, though. His Wanderer-Fantasie (1820) for piano is an example of this; it is a virtuostic sonata in cyclic form, based on an earlier song of Schubert's, with the theme recurring throughout the piece. The Wanderer is a character found in various Schubert pieces who can never seem to find happiness; perhaps it represents Schubert himself.

Schubert was most prolific in his songwriting for voice and piano, and Franz Liszt famously transcribed many of his songs for solo piano. This disc also includes four Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs, showing the brilliance of both composers.

A late-period fantasy by Brahms is also on this CD, but I won't talk about that. Much more on Brahms soon.

Evgeny Kissin- Schubert, Liszt, Brahms
(Kissin was still in his teens when he recorded this, but he is excellent)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

War of the Romantics, Part 1: Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

This is the first post in a new feature, War of the Romantics. The Masterfade crew will attempt to illustrate the rift in classical music in the 19th century between the Conservatives and the Radicals, the Brahmsians and the Wagnerians, the Leipzig school and the Weimar school, and we'll post some really good music along the way.

There is nowhere better to start than Beethoven, the cause of the war. Beginning as a high-quality Mozart imitator, Beethoven soon came into his own as a composer, and by the 1820s was making some of the most incredible music ever. His piano sonatas, string quartets, and symphonies set a new standard that composers strove to approach for decades.

Whether Beethoven himself was Classical or Romantic is debatable, but it is clear that he aimed to take music down a new road. After his death, people had different ideas about exactly what road he was taking, and thus began the war.

In my opinion, Beethoven ceased to be a Classical-era composer with the composition of his 13th string quartet with the Grosse Fuge. Anything as complex, difficult, and emotional as the Great Fugue cannot possibly be considered Classical. The Grosse Fuge, the massive double fugue of the final movement of the quartet, was so radical that Beethoven had to replace it with a movement that was easier to digest for the crowds of the time. After being exposed to the dissonances of 20th century music, I still find the Fugue harder to listen to and pick apart, even after several listens.

Juilliard String Quartet- Beethoven string quartets 13 and 16

More listenable but still very ahead of their time, Beethoven's late piano sonatas are things of perfection. The form of the piano sonata was all but abandoned for years after Beethoven's death; his were too intimidatingly flawless.

Beethoven Late Piano Sonatas

Stay tuned for part two, and see who carried on Beethoven's legacy.

Feedback? Requests? Feel free to comment.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Keith Jarrett (1945 - )

Some might say that it was George Gershwin who best merged jazz and classical music, but I believe Keith Jarrett did a much better job. As regular readers might know, Keith Jarrett was my longtime favorite jazz piano player until recently, when Brad Mehldau took the throne. (Scroll down for my earlier post on Brad Mehldau and pick up his album "Day is Done;" it's one you don't want to miss.) Keith Jarrett has and always will be known as a jazz pianist, but I think at heart he's more of a classical guy, really.

Jarrett always hated amplified instruments, leading him to quit his organ and electric piano position in Miles Davis' 1970 "Cellar Door Sessions" group. Starting in 1983 and continuing to this day, Jarrett plays with drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Gary Peacock; a trio well respected both for their interpretations of jazz standards and their free-jazz group improvisations. Where Keith Jarrett really shines, however, is in his solo piano work.

Jarrett would walk onstage, sit down on a piano, and begin to improvise. He believed that he played best when he had no preconceived plan of what to do; at one concert, after walking onstage and taking his seat, Jarrett reportedly sat with no idea what to play for minutes as his audience grew more and more restless. Finally, someone shouted "D sharp!" and with a "Thank you!" Jarrett began to play. Some might call his solo piano recordings jazz, but I am hesitant to do so, mostly because they follow a much more baroque structure and rarely "swing." Often, his work will achieve an Indian drone-like quality, somewhat like the best minimalist pieces. Essentially, what Jarrett has done is revived the tradition of improvisation in classical music that pretty much died with J.S. Bach.

The "Paris Concert" is possibly the best example of his baroque tendencies; the first piece, titled simply "October 17, 1988" - the date on which it was performed - is essentially a 40 minute baroque improvisation. The remaining two tracks are just as good but more modern sounding.

Paris Concert

The "Koln Concert" is probably Jarrett's most popular and well-known piano work. It's less classically structured than the Paris concert, but I still wouldn't call it "jazz," at least not in the traditional sense I understand the word today. It was the first Keith Jarrett record I ever heard (a real vinyl record, to boot), and largely responsible for my discovery of jazz music; if this was jazz, where could I get more? I had never heard anything like it and was so moved that I bought every Keith Jarrett album I could afford off Amazon.com.

The Koln Concert

Try not to be put off by Jarrett's moaning, grunting and howling; some find it ruinous to the music but I find it kinda charming. If you're a fan of classical, minimalist, jazz, beautiful, or mesmerizing music, you'll want to check out Keith Jarrett.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)

Antonin Dvorak was a master of the melody; many say that he had the most natural talent for writing a good melody since Schubert, or even Mozart. If you hear any of his pieces even once, chances are you'll remember the theme well. His cello concerto (1895), which did more for the cello as a solo instrument than any piece before it, is no exception. I heard its first movement years ago, recently acquired a recording of my own, and remembered the theme note for note. Dvorak decided to write a cello concerto while working at the National Conservatory in New York. After hearing his friend Victor Herbert's second cello concerto, he realized the possibilities of such a piece, and immediately wrote his own. The piece was a great success from the start, with Dvorak's aging mentor Johannes Brahms saying "Why on earth didn't I know that one could write a cello concerto like this? If I had only known, I would have written one long ago!"

Yo Yo Ma plays both the Dvorak and the Victor Herbert cello concertos on this disc. Don't dismiss the Herbert just because he wrote a lot of crappy operettas like Babes in Toyland. Herbert was a cellist himself and knew how to write well for the instrument; it's a legitimate and underrated piece.

Antonin Dvorak and Victor Herbert: Concertos from the New World

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It makes us happy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Going from Bach, to the Minimalist composers, to Segovia, and now to Tchaikovsky is evidence enough that we want to expose people to all kinds of classical music. Sticking to one period of music is foolish, as you would be missing out on sooo much good music. Our goal is to get all kinds of music out to you guys, and so far, i think we are doing a pretty good job.
That being said, I have to be honest and say that when I listen classical music, I listen mostly to stuff from the Romantic Era. Romantiscm was all about the feeling you get from the art; not so much its practical purpose. This is especially present in Romantic Music, with it's smooth, flowing, and emotional melodies that captivate almost anyone who listens.

Among my favorite works not only of the Romantic Era but of classical music as a whole is the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major. He combines beautiful melodies and virtuosic violin to create amazing piece and an amazing listening experience. About a year ago I had the privilege of seeing Joshua bell play this concerto live,and it was one of the best concerts I've seen in awhile.

Anyways, ill try to keep up and post every few days. This week has been a busy one.

As always, I hope you Enjoy it: Violin Concerto In D

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

It is hard to give an overall description of Mahler on a post like this, so I'll focus on the basics of his style, as well as the piece that is now uploaded (hopefully more will come later).

Mahler was the ultimate German late romantic. He based most of his ideas off of earlier romantic composers like Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Bruckner, etc. and took them to the maximum level possible. His harmonies are far more modern, and the size of his works is far more immense than his counterparts, but his music is still rooted in the ideals of the Romantic Era.

His most well known works are his nine symphonies, and the third is an example of the massive scale that Mahler symphonies have both in physical size and in the amount of music performers must play. The 1st movement is posted, and it is the half-hour introduction to a two-part, six-movement symphony that lasts over an hour and a half. Mahler wrote what each movement is supposed to represent:
1. What rocks tell me, 2. What flowers tell me, 3. What animals tell me, 4. What man tells me, 5. What angels tell me, 6. What love tells me (love he believed to be a "supremely transcendental force")
The symphony contains a large string section along with 8 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, flugelhorn, 2 sets of timpani, 2 harps, various percussion instruments, alto solo, and boys chorus (voices are only in 4th and 5th movements), not to mention the large woodwind section. The brass is featured throughout, especially in the opening unison horn call, and a trombone recitative later on. Though a half hour epic about rocks may not seem exciting, it truly is.

Mahler- Symphony No. 3 in d minor, 1st movement

New York Philharmonic-Bernstein, Deutsche Grammophon

Allen Ginsberg and the Kronos Quartet

2006 seems to be a great year for anniversaries. Mozart's 250th, Shostakovich's 100th, and of course, the 50th anniversary of the publication of Allen Ginsberg's epic and extremely important poem Howl. Howl was obscene, controversial, and as it turns out, timeless. It brought the Beats to national consciousness and foreshadowed the turmoil of the sixties.
This disc, Howl U.S.A., is perhaps one of the most unique and interesting in my collection, more important as a historical document than as a piece of music. It features the famous avant-garde chamber group The Kronos Quartet accompanying Ginsberg himself reading Howl. The music was written by Lee Hyla. The Kronos never steals the show, instead providing creepy and violent reactions to Ginsberg's reading, sometimes synching up with Ginsberg's profound words in powerful ways. Howl would be more than satisfactory for a disc, but Kronos also impressively backs three other spoken-word works. The most interesting is a darkly humorous accompaniment to a sample taken from a presentation to the American people by J. Edgar Hoover. He "assures" us that the FBI is "as close to you as your telephone" while the Kronos imitates air raid sirens.

Kronos Quartet- Howl, U.S.A.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Andres Segovia (1893-1987)

Sadly, our minimalist parade stops here, but stay tuned. There are minimalists awaiting you in the future.

Few soloists in any instrument stand as tall over the others as Andres Segovia. Few can debate that he wasn't the greatist classical guitarist of all time. His lifelong ambition, according to Wikipedia, was to "elevate the guitar from a gypsy dance instrument to a concert instrument," and he succeeded in doing so; the classical guitar is now a widely accepted performance instrument. Segovia, besides brilliantly transcribing pieces such as Bach's violin partitas, helped revolutionize the actual design of nylon-stringed guitars to produce more volume. This album has no typical flamenco or Spanish guitar; rather, it's a collection of transcribed Romantic pieces by Mendelssohn, Debussy, Grieg, and many others. The transcriptions, mostly from piano, are pulled off very nicely, and Segovia plays, as always, with virtuosity and emotion. It makes for a serene, beautiful, and calming listen, and any fans of classical guitar or Romantic music should give it a try.

Andres Segovia- The Segovia Collection, Volume 9- Romantic Guitar

Terry Riley

Since we're on a roll already, might as well go for the minimalist triumverate. Here are links for two lesser-known works by Terry Riley, most famous for In C. If you've never heard of Riley, you've probably heard his influence in The Who's keyboard work- it's not a coincidence they named that song Baba O'Riley. He also wins the award for Best Composer Facial Hair. Riley began his minimalist work back in the 50s, but also branched out into other types of music. He was among the first to experiment with tape loops, and makes use of electronics in many of his works. Riley also brought improvisation back to classical music, which was all but extinct since the baroque era. The first of these two albums, La Secret de la Vie (1975) shows many of Riley's influences, including jazz, Indian, and even some blues. And while you can see the similarities between Philip Glass and Steve Reich's albums, I am reluctant to group this album with them. Riley's instrument of choice in La Secret de la Vie is the organ, sometimes with tabla, saxophone, or synthesizer accompaniment, sometimes with tape delay. The second album, No Man's Land (1985), is much more closer to the conventional definition of minimalism. Riley likes the piano on this one, but the tablas and sitar can be heard on almost every track, along with some voice and what sounds like electronically altered instruments.

La Secret de la Vie

No Man's Land

Seth Says: Here's Terry Riely's "In C," performed by the Bang on a Can All-Stars. The way this piece works is interesting: 53 simple phrases, all in the key of C, are slowly rotated in and out by the musicians at their own pace and choosing. So, In C is really little more than an outline for the music, and therefore every performance of it is different.
In C

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Philip Glass

Perhaps it's unprofessional of me to post about another giant of minimalism on the heels of Steve Reich, but Phillip Glass is agruably the OTHER greatest living composer, and is equally responsible for modern minimalism. His music, though technically in the same genre as Steve Reich, sounds strikingly different. Phillip Glass takes a few chords, a rhythmic pattern, and a simplistic melody and repeats them, in a sort of droning "theme and variations" structure. Some people find him boring, but there are many who find his works beautiful and thought-provoking. Personally, I can't get into his more experimental works - like arpeggiated fifths for almost 30 minutes - but his best records achieve a sort of lyrical hypnotism; the melody is repeated so many times that it's almost shocking when the variation comes.

Here is Glass's "breakout" record; the one most people are familiar with and a cornerstone of the minimalist movement: Glassworks

This is my favorite Philip Glass album, just him and a piano. I had the good fortune of seeing him perform several pieces from this album live. Solo Piano

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Steve Reich (1936- )

The greatest living composer and one of the founders of minimalism, Steve Reich's music is never as, well, boring, as Philip Glass, in my opinion. Instead of endless repetition with a few arpeggiating variations, Reich takes a pulsing, staccato beat and subtly makes it grow with slowly shifting meters, chords, and instrumentation. If you're familiar with Sufjan Stevens (if not, see Seth's post), Reich is his major classical influence. In Reich's most famous work, Music for 18 Musicians (1974), considered the definitive minimalist piece, he creates amazing, hypnotic soundscapes with conventional instruments. A cello, a violin, three female voices, three marimbas, two clarinets, four pianos, two xylophones, a vibraphone, and maracas are able to collectively sound like something Radiohead made on a computer. And Music for 18 Musicians is a great piece to begin exploring the minimalist genre with; it is nowhere near as repetetive as other pieces. Reich himself says that the first five minutes of the piece had more harmonic movement than any other piece he'd written.

Steve Reich- Music for 18 Musicians

(Thanks to themiserablist for the music)

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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Like Sam said, all that can be said about Johann Sebastian Bach has been said. However, I thought I might say some of these things again. Robert Schumman once said of Bach: "Music owes as much to Bach as religion to its founder." No statement could ever be more true. Bach's music is the epitome of perfection, balance and order. He wrote with a melodic genius that captivates almost anyone who hears his music. The Chiaccone from Bach's Partita No. 2 in D Minor is no exception. It amazes me that a solo piece for violin can deliver such an intense feeling of excitement and passion. If you don't believe me, click below and experience it for yourself.

I wont be posting single tracks all that often, only when I come across pieces as special as this one. Check back soon for more of Bach's solo pieces, both cello and violin. I think you will find, if you haven't already, that his music is some of the greatest ever written.

Here it is: Partita No. 2 in D-minor/V. Ciaccona


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Art Ensemble of Chicago

I'm sorry to say that I actually know very little about The Art Ensemble of Chicago - my exposure to them has consisted entirely of one recently acquired album and Wikipedia - but I can tell you this much: The Art Ensemble of Chicago is an avant garde jazz group known for their experimentation with non-traditional jazz instruments. The one album I own, Les Stances a Sophie, features vocals by Fontella Bass, timpani, flute, African and symphonic percussion, vibraphone and bagpipes. The first track, "Theme de Yoyo" is amazing; it's like a funk anthem of the 70's mashed with the screamy saxophone solos of late Coltrane. The bass thumps, the horns scream, Fontella Bass wails, and the song moves from grooving solid to avant-garde intensity seamlessly. The album was originally recorded as the soundtrack to director Moshe Misrahi's movie of the same name, but was never used in the film. It's a good thing the music was never discarded, because this is an album that fans of more experimental jazz will not want to miss.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Regarded by many as one of the best (second only to Mozart) child prodigies who have ever lived, Felix Mendelssohn began taking piano lessons and composing at a very young age. Phil G. Goulding, in his book "Classical Music", ranks Mendelssohn as the 11th greatest composer of all time. Generally, Mendelssohn's music is not extremely passionate, instead it is elegant, melodic, and to many people, flawless.

Here's what The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music says about Mendelssohn's Music:

"With its emphasis on clarity and adherence to classical ideals, Mendelssohn's music shows alike the influences of Bach (fugal technique), Handel (rhythms, harmonic progressions), Mozart (dramatic characterization, forms, textures) and Beethoven (instrumental technique), though from 1825 he developed a characteristic style of his own, often underpinned by a literary, artistic historical, geographical or emotional connection; indeed it was chiefly in his skilful use of extra-musical stimuli that he was a Romantic."

While he wrote a lot of great stuff, today I want to share my personal favorite, his 2nd String Quartet. So sit back, click on the link below and enjoy classical music at its greatest.

String Quartet No. 2

By the way, thanks to Sam and Seth for letting me Join this Blog.

Nick Drake (1948 - 1974)

Many of you, the readers of this blog, come here because you share our love of classical and jazz music. From time to time, though, I'll be taking the liberty of featuring an artist I think is especially deserving of attention, whether he be classical or not. So with that, allow me to introduce Nick Drake. My hope is that those of you who find this blog looking for Nick Drake will take the time to download a classical album or two, and those of you who find this blog looking for Debussy will take the time to download some Nick Drake or Sufjan Stevens.

Before his tragic and early death from an anti-depressant overdose, Nick Drake was one of the most creative guitar players of the 60's and 70's folk scene. His innovative tuning and technique made his guitar sound more like a string quartet than a simply-strummed voice accompaniment. He was an incredibly shy person; he avoided playing live and even recorded facing the wall to escape eye-contact. Only making three proper albums before he died, Nick Drake's music is sincere and beautiful, and should be heard by everyone.

Nick Drake's last - and best - album: "Pink Moon" (The files are in AAC; I hope that dosen't bother anyone)

Requests or feedback? Leave a comment or email the Masterfade team at grangpamoses@gmail.com

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Overshadowed by Mozart's 250th, this year is also Dmitri Shostakovich's 100th birthday. Shostakovich was one of the most brilliant composers of the past century, and his normal composing style- always seemingly on the verge of descending into atonal chaos, but ultimately staying intensely tonal- is instantly recognizable. Living and working in Soviet Russia, where he was constantly pressured to write tributes to Stalin and the gang, could have been creatively crippling. But he was able to subtly and sarcastically undermine their authority until Stalin's death, when he was given more creative freedom. Although he is very well known for his symphonies, he was also an amazing chamber music composer. In honor of his birthday, I will eventually post all 15 of Shostakovich's string quartets, which are the best since Bartok's. Today, we will begin with two Shostakovich links: His relatively straightforward but mature first quartet (1935) and, in response to a request, a little-known, very funny and parodic opera called Cheryomushki.

Shostakovich Quartet 1- Fitzwilliam Quartet

By the way, all of the quartets are recordings by the Fitzwilliam Quartet, who worked with Shostakovich himself and premiered at least one of his quartets.

Cheryomushki (English version)- Pimlico Opera

Requests? Feedback? Feel free to leave a comment.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

I think that everything that ever needs to be said about Bach has been said, so I'll go right to introducing the CD. Die Kunst Der Fuge, or the Art of the Fugue, is one of the last things Bach ever wrote- some say he dictated the unfinished last section from his deathbed. Bach's farewell work is a flawless example of what he did best, with everything unnecessary kept out. This set of pure fugues is not typical Bach; it was meant for students of music, not for churches or kings. Therefore, there are no flowing pretty melodies. There were not even instruments assigned by Bach to the four parts; the string quartet is an obvious choice for modern performance, though the second violin occasionally must play viola so it can reach all the notes Bach wrote. These fugues are examples of counterpoint at its absolute perfection. The basis for every fugue in the set is just one 8-note theme, but it is sped up, slowed down, inverted, reversed, and everything in between. And the Art of the Fugue is about as daringly dissonant as music got, at least until the mid-1800s. Die Kunst der Fuge is a must-have for any Bach fan, or for anyone interested in music composition at all.

Juilliard String Quartet- Die Kunst Der Fuge- Discs 1 and 2
New link- this one'll work.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Andrew Bird

As you can tell, Masterfade is, or at least tries to be, a very diverse and eclectic blog. Finding a single artist that best defines our blog's 'sound' is near impossible, but we believe the best match is Andrew Bird. A classically trained violinist, Andrew went on to fiddle for the neo-swing band The Squirrel Nut Zippers, and then went solo. His latest album, Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs, has about as many influences as Masterfade; quirky Beck-esque lyrics, creative arrangements, lovely string interludes, and a couple jazzy violin solos are packed into this little CD. My (Sam's) favorite song on this disc is (surprise) Masterfade, and Seth's is the more upbeat A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left. Download one of the best albums of 2005 below, and you can decide your favorite for yourself.

Andrew Bird- Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs


Apparently, the first album linked to was missing tracks 5 and 6. The link above now leads you to the full album, but here are those two tracks for those of you who already downloaded the partial album.

Measuring Cups (Track 5)

Banking on a Myth (Track 6)

Classical requests? Feel free to leave a comment.

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

My personal favorite of the Russian composers is also one of the most outstanding composers of all time: Peter Tchaikovsky. His life was one big tragedy; Tchaikovsky was homosexual, and he was tormented by this from adolescence until it drove him to attempt suicide. But, like many of the masters, he was able to translate this anguish into intimate and beautiful music. Included on this disc is his popular piece, Serenade for Strings (which is my favorite Tchaikovsky piece) and the Mozartiana Suite. This fairly obscure Tchaikovsky work is based on melodies from his hero, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but the orchestration and harmony is distinctly Tchaikovsky; it's the best of both worlds. The last movement, in theme and variations form, has an extended virtuostic violin solo that reminds me of his earlier violin concerto. As a bonus, the disc also includes his moving Elegie for Strings and two movements from his ballet The Sleeping Beauty.

John Doig, Scottish Chamber Orchestra- Tchaikovsky Serenade and Mozartiana Suite
Alternate download if the other one's acting slow-

If you have comments, requests, etc. leave a comment or email me at grandpamoses@gmail.com
And be sure to visit our friends Regnyouth (all kinds of rock) and Charivarious (jazz, rock, hip-hop)

Brad Mehldau

Unseating the great Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau has recently become my all-time favorite jazz pianist. His style is actually quite similar to Jarrett's; they share the same meditative tendencies and some of the same rhythmic patterns. Bill Evans is another pianist Mehldau is often compared to. You can hear Mr. Evans from time to time in Mehldau's chord voicings: dense, but never so dense as to overwhelm the melody.

Though Mehldau draws heavily on his influences, he has a sound all his own. The most striking aspect of his playing, in my opinion, is his left hand technique: a near-constant avalanche of sound, a little like the old "stride piano" technique - think Ragtime on speed. When he really gets going Mehldau can sound chaotic and urgent, but rarely will he abandon the basic structure of the song and head off into avant-garde territory; you can always hear where Mehldau is going.

The bassist and drummer he regularly plays with, Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy respectively, form the Brad Mehldau Trio - an amazing group not just for their musical talent, but for the songs and artists they choose to cover: Radiohead, The Beatles and Nick Drake on almost every album.

There's a lot of Beatles covers out there, but "She's Leaving Home," off their latest album "Day is Done," kicks the pants off 'em all. You can almost hear the lyrics as Mehldau plays.

A Radiohead cover, from the album "Largo:" "Paranoid Android."

From the album "Places:" "Los Angeles II" This is a great example of that persistent left hand I was talking about.

"Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover," from "Day is Done" is an unusual cover: the melody doesn't properly come in until the end. Perhaps my favorite Mehldau Trio track, it's worth the wait; when everything finally kicks in I can't help but dance.

Here's the full album "Day is Done," if you're already familiar with Brad Mehldau or were just really impressed with the sample tracks.
*** I fixed the link; now it's on rapidshare and should work just fine ***

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Impressionists: Debussy (1862-1918) and Ravel (1875-1937)

Claude Debussy (left, with an excellent beard) and Maurice Ravel were at the forefront of France's Impressionist movement of about 1890-1920. This era, although one of the shortest in musical history, brought us beautiful, adventurous, and intelligent music. As Stravinsky, Schoenberg and company veered into complete dissonance, the Impressionists stayed tonal but tested the limits of scales and harmony like no one else before. Many of the great jazz pianists and soloists (especially Bill Evans and Django Reinhardt) studied these guys religiously for their unique chords and daring melodies. One of the first great pieces of the Impressionist era was Debussy's only string quartet (1893,) which marks the breakthrough of Debussy as we know him. Whole-tone scales are used with other uncommon modes throughout, and the slow movement is one of my favorites in the quartet repertoire. Maurice Ravel's quartet (1903) is on here too- you might recognize the second movement, full of pizzicato, from The Royal Tennenbaums.

Emerson Quartet- Debussy and Ravel String Quartets

**By the way, if anyone has any classical requests, I will try to fulfill them. If you want me to post a certain composer, piece, etc., just email me at grandpamoses@gmail.com**

All Things Go

Sufjan Stevens (pronounced SOOF-yan) has recorded some of the best music in the last decade. Intimate and charming, sometimes veering dangerously close to cutesy territory, his music is easy to fall in love with. Sufjan is hard to classify; his instrumentation is acoustic - pianos, banjos, and guitars - but often an oboe, flute, or orchestra will carry the countermelody. It's far from minimalistic, but his melodies and song structures remind me of the repetitition of Phillip Glass' music. His lyrics are hopelessly corny and nostalgic, yet poingient and unexpectedly religious.

Sufjan has undertaken the ambitious task of recording an album for every US state. So far, he's done Michigan and Illinois, with Rhode Island rumored to be on the way.

This song, from his CD "Greetings from Michigan" is one of my very favorites: "Romulus"

If Sufjan had a single, "Chicago" would be it. It's his most popular song, and though it's no longer one of my favorites, I think that's more because I listened to it every day for three weeks in my dance class than anything else.

The song "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!", from his little-known Christmas CD, is the best example of Sufjan's unique style. It's all there: the banjo, the waltz time, the lilting chords, the cute yet affecting lyrics, the christian imagery.

John Wayne Gacy, Jr., from the album Illinois, is one of the most beautiful and disturbing songs I've ever heard. Wikipedia John Wayne Gacy, Jr. if you don't know anything about him before you download the song.

The next song is great, but Sufjan has this thing with song titles; they're either perfectly normal or so long as to be beyond ridiculous. Example: "The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders: Part I: The Great Frontier/Part II: Come To Me Only With Playthings Now", and if you think that's long, it's nuttin' compared to this one: "The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, 'I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue To Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!'" It takes longer to scroll through the title on my iPod than it does to play the song.

I think we'll see Sufjan again on this blog, but that's all for now, folks.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Open the pod bay doors, Hal.

Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of those love-it-or-hate it movies, and the soundtrack is very much the same. Combining the simple, bouncy waltzes of Johann Strauss, the dramatic Wagneresque music of Richard Strauss- no relation to Johann- and the very difficult and avant-garde contemporary music of Gyorgy Litegi makes for an uneven, but enthralling, listen. Litegi's contribution "Adventures" is meterless, keyless, and involves harsh barks, pants, and laughs from the chorus and sparse, angry, commentary from the orchestra. It's unlike anything else out there, and needs to be heard. Litegi's other piece on the disc, "Atmospheres," is atonal droning that becomes more and more powerful until it reaches a severe climax. It had me rocking back and forth in my chair, holding my head from the sheer intensity of the piece. There's also an audio compilation on the disc: sort of a "best of Hal 9000."
(This is not a complete disc because I left out the pieces that were repeated on the CD.)

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

One thing that this beautiful Internet severely lacks is classical music. Many of my posts will focus on introducing some of my favorite pieces and composers to y'all.
As of now, I have been listening to Robert Schumann's piano quintet nonstop. This is considered by many to be the first great piano quintet, and one of the landmark pieces of the Romantic era. Schumann is relatively unknown and very underrated, but he was the man who discovered Brahms and was a
major influence on late Romantics and modern music in general. Schumann was a tormented, depressed, and literally insane man (he died in a mental institution,) and he was able to channel all his desperate feelings into this piece perfectly. Listen to the second movement in particular for beautiful harmonies, powerful melodies and poignant interplay between the piano and the strings. It also doesn't hurt that one of the best string quartets is teamed with the top-notch pianist Emmanuel Ax in this recording.

Schumann piano quartet and piano quintet- Emmanuel Ax and the Cleveland Quartet

Sun Ra, Al Kooper, and Batman?!

Found this little gem on the interweb today, on the radio station WFMU's blog, concerning an old "Batman and Robin" record released back when the TV show was going strong:

"The music on the LP was credited to "The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale," but in fact the band was one of the greatest uncredited session combos of all time, including the core of Sun Ra's Arkestra and Al Kooper's Blues Project. To keep the music licensing fees to a minimum, all the tracks were based on public domain items like Chopin's Polonaise Op. 53, the horn theme from Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and the love theme from Romeo and Juliet..."

All the pieces are all avaliable for download here, but make sure to get "Robin's Theme." It's the only track with vocals, and so far as I can tell the only lyrics are: "Robin HEY I said-a-Robin HEY!"