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Christopher Forbes "weirdears" RSS Feed (Brooklyn,, NY)
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Moby Dick
Moby Dick
DVD ~ Gregory Peck
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17 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Who IS this Ahab?, March 18, 2005
This review is from: Moby Dick (DVD)
I saw this movie last weekend, coming fresh from my second reading of the book, a reading that was twice as powerful as the first time I'd read it in college. I was expecting a good experience, though with the date of the movie I was prepared for some deviations from the novel. I was not expecting what I recieved in Huston and Bradberry's redaction of the plot.

Moby Dick is probably an unfilmable novel, but the scenes of action and the details of the 19th century whaling trade make it understandable that a director would try anyway. And Huston and Bradberry start off well, collapsing some of the sprawling episodes in the beginning of the novel to one place and time. You lose nothing by keeping all the action in New Bedford and indeed the opening gains a bit in power. However, even here there are some serious missteps, such as allowing for a glimpse of Ahab walking the streets of New Bedford. In the novel Ahab is only talked about, not seen, for the first 100 pages or so. This helps to keep tension around the character growing, so that when he does appear he is as much myth as man. It also parallels the greater absence of the title character, who of course never appears in the flesh until the last three chapters of the novel.

Once we get aboard the Pequod, the script loses faithfulness in ways that are quite harmful to the suspense of the plot and to the philosophic issues dealt with in the novel. Ahab appears too frequently, especially at the beginning...and only his monomanical speeches are kept. The more soul revealing soliliquies that make Ahab such a haunting and paradoxical character in the novel are excised and Ahab becomes all rage, more monster than man. This does a severe violence to Melville's character and his development. It's little wonder that Gregory Peck felt he couldn't bring this character to life in the movie....there's no real life in the writing.

The deviations from the novel are legion. The meetings with other whaling ships, which help to shape the legend of the White Whale in the novel, are cut down to two meetings, and not even two of the most important. The character of Flask is given short shrift...while Stubb's humor is never very evident (a fault of the actor as much as the script). Starbuck comes across as an office clerk rather than a brave, careful, and ultimately moral and nobel man. Pip is almost completely elided, which robs Ahab of some of his most touching and humanizing scenes. And though the removal of Fedullah, the satan figure of the novel, perhaps makes things a bit more realistic, it also makes the ending deeply problematic and makes the Corpusants scene lose symbolic power and Zoroasterian philosophical overtones. Even the Symphony chapter, which is included here in truncated form, is so truncated that you don't have time to fully see Ahab's humanity almost come back and most viewers probably never realize that Starbuck in this scene has almost convinced Ahab to give up the whale.

But most tragic and disturbing is the fact that Huston and Bradberry determine to show us Moby Dick too early....before the Pequod's meeting with the Rachel. Though I understand the need to telescope the three days chase at the end of the novel into one extended scene, by adding this earlier sighting, the power for the final confrontation with the Whale is destroyed and we never get that wonderful scene where the White Whale is first spied swimming in divine beauty. This image is perhaps one of the most important in an image ladened novel, and losing it weakens the identification of Moby Dick with God and with disinterested Nature, which is beautiful and terrible at the same time in Melville's world.

The primary problems I think with the movie reside in the screenplay, but there are also many problems with casting. Peck actually does a fine job with material that just isn't nuanced enough. He makes as much as he can over Ahab's few human moments, but they occur way to late in the movie to help us feel anything but empty for Ahab. Richard Baseheart is woefully miscast as Ishmael, impressing us less as the highly educated underachiever of Melville, and more of a straight out rube. Queequeeg is just way too old and way too stiff for his part. Stubb lacks humor and Starbuck seems more like Captain Bligh than like Melville's hero. Even the best things about the movie...the whaling scenes, leave us with a sense of incongruity. Whaling looks like jolly fun, while Melville makes it abundantly clear that it is life and death business.

So, even with the best of intentions, Huston is unable to deliver a movie that has any of the real impact of the Melville story. I am actually rather certain that noone can capture it in it's full power and nuance. However, I hope that in the future a director like Peter Weir, who's Master and Commander showed him capable of understanding the unique atmosphere of windpowered sailing, and who's Gallipoli showed him sensitive to the poetry in basic stories of survival, might decide to try his hand at the book. There's still a good movie to be made of this book, even if it can't include everything the author could.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 25, 2010 6:38 AM PDT


Moby-Dick (Bantam Classics)
Moby-Dick (Bantam Classics)
by Herman Melville
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $3.22
258 used & new from $0.01

133 of 147 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Approaching Melville with Fear and Awe, March 16, 2005
I find the prospect of reviewing this book quite daunting. Melville didn't write a typical novel in Moby Dick, even by his own standards. And reactions to the work are passionate and passionately divided, even to this day. Setting sail in this Melvillian squall is a difficult prospect, but despite my hesitations, I'm going to give it a go and say that, despite it's many technical flaws, Melville's book is the touchstone for American literature, much as Ives' music is the touchstone for American composition. Melville managed to find a voice that was distinctively "New World" and yet also universal enough to speak to the existential questions that have plagued humans since we first turned our heads to the sky to ask "Why".

Some things are truly subjective....such as book reactions. The issue with Melville in general is that he is a flawed genius. Moby Dick is not a perfect book in the sense than a Henry James novel might be perfect. It's not even as tight as Dostoevsky...and he's no model of literary tightness. I think when people have trouble with Moby Dick it's because that for them, the flaws outweigh the virtues....

The book is a stylistic hodgepodge, and this is probably exactly what makes it difficult for many readers. It starts out as a plain sailing yarn, much like Melville's earlier Typee or Redburn...or Richard Dana's Three Years Behind the Mast. But then it changes into a philosophical drama with many, many "informative" chapters that can at times read like a whaling primer rather than a novel. And the drama part is one part sea adventure and two parts Shakespeare....add to that a constantly changing philosophical view (God, as personified by Moby Dick and by other things, can be seen in the book as wholly good, Good but permitting evil, evil itself, good but locked in a battle with an equally powerful evil force, or finally completely indifferent to humans.)

I think for people who have trouble with the book, if Melville had taken just one of these tacts the book would be much easier to read and less littered with flaws. However....for me at least....I recognize those flaws and find the power in the book despite them...and perhaps even because of them. In a sense to me, Melville was using the Pequod as a symbol for all of the human world, and his radical stylistic inclusiveness IS actually exactly to the point of the book. Everything in humanity is included in the book, as all of human endeavor is essentially an existential quest for meaning in the face of an unknowable God (at least unknowable in any normal human sense)...and we bring everything, warts and all.

The character of Ahab can also be a stumbling block for readers. He is clearly monomaniacal, and for many, that singleminded desire for revenge obscures his greater humanity. The key to understanding Ahab though is to realize that he does indeed go through a change in the book. He begins as a man obsessed with revenge to the exclusion of human values....but he is also still capable of commanding love and respect from his crew. Even Starbuck, who most actively opposes Ahab, to some extent still loves the man and when given the opportunity to kill him and save the crew, Starbuck can't bring himself to do so. The tenderness in Ahab is shown in his relations to Pip, the addled cabin boy, but also peaks through briefly in the encounter with the Rachel, where Ahab almost gives into the pleas of the bereaved Captain who has lost his son to Moby Dick, and more fully in the marvelous "Symphony" chapter, where Ahab and Starbuck find a rare moment of communion in the beauty of nature and in their shared love of home and family. But despite all, Ahab can't let go of his quest to grapple with the bigger issue of good and evil that the whale has come to represent to him. It has become a compulsion with him and a fatal one.

One suggestion for reading this book is to read the Shakespearean chapters aloud. Much of the nuance in the characters of Starbuck, Ahab and Stubb is lost unless you bring the language to life. Melville's language is grand and was meant to be heard out loud. Another strategy is to view the John Huston film. Though the movie is deeply flawed, hearing Gregory Peck declaim Melville's lines helps to bring the character to more vivid life.

A final note on editions of this work. I have several and most of them are pretty equal in terms of the quality of the text. The Modern Library has the added benefit of Rockwell Kent's masterful woodcut illustrations. But to actually read the text I find the Bantam Mass Market edition is my favorite. The introductory note is excellent, and the book is stuffed with afterword material, including Melville's letters to Hawthorne while writing the book, contemporary press reviews of the work, and several excellent modern essays which help with understanding the greater issues behind this deeply moving and important work of American fiction.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 10, 2013 6:27 PM PST


Owner of the Riverbank
Owner of the Riverbank
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Price: $6.88
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Orchestral Cecil, July 19, 2004
This review is from: Owner of the Riverbank (Audio CD)
Just when I think I've got a hold of Cecil Taylor and I can predict where he's going next he develops a whole new direction that opens up new vistas. Taylor's work through the late 80s and 90s often began to sound distressingly familiar. Part of the problem was that much of the recorded material was done during one year and released by FMP slowly through the 90s, giving too much weight to a particular period of the pianist's development. Also, loosing Jimmy Lyons in 1987 was a particularly difficult blow to Taylor, one that forever would change his music. But Cecil is nothing if not resourceful and a genius. This disc represents a new high in his output, and a rare recorded example of his large group work.
Recorded in Italy in 2000, Owner of the Riverbank is one of Cecil Taylor's most ambitious scores. It was concieved for the Italian Instabile Orchestra, an ensemble of 18 improvising wind, string and brass instruments. Percussion includes not only standard trap set, but orchestral percussion including timpani. The liner notes describe the rehearsal process for the concert and represent probably the best description of Taylor's working processes that I've ever read. Taylor doesn't work from a traditional score, nor does he work from a traditional composer's ideas of authority and control. A score by Taylor is a blueprint over which members of the ensemble add their own personality and ideas. Yet, each moment of this work is dominated by Cecil's presence and signature ideas. From this vague and unstructured beginning the final product ends up sounding intricately structured, with suggestions of chord changes, predetermined scales, and even a number of almost Ellingtonian melodies welling up out of the general chaos.
Owner of the Riverbank also features a more extended use of orchestral color than is evident from many Taylor CDs. The opening of the work is extraordinary, featuring a delicate, chamber ensemble of strings, percussion and piano. Though Taylor is known for his thunderous percussive technique on his instrument, his playing also features moments of extreme delicacy and lyrical effusion. The piece builds from this extended opening, breaking into thunderous waves of sound and then gelling into broad melancholy melodies, particularly effective in the unison trumpet line about a third of the way through the piece.
Large group Cecil can be bewildering for a first time listener. Even for those of us who are seasoned Taylor afficienados the large group work on disc can be forbidding. Having recently seen one of Taylor's big band concerts at the Irridium, I realized that the visual element in this music is extremely important. When attending a live concert of this music you can choose what lines to follow by focusing your eyes on certain players and letting the rest of the sound wash over your ears....or you can open your focus to the caterwaul. Either way, a Taylor performance is interactive and the visual is an important tool
to make this journey. Fortunately, this CD includes a short video segment that helps achieve at least a little of this effect. From what is evident in the video, the live performance must have been a truly spectacular experience.
All in all, this is one of the best Cecil Taylor releases of the past ten years, and along with Taylor's duo with Mat Manieri, recently released on Bridge records, is the harbinger of a major new period in the composer's development. (This is also confirmed by several recent live performances Cecil has given around New York and environs.) This should not be your first Cecil album. The work from 60s on Blue Note is much better as an introduction to the Taylor style. But this is a wonderful disc for CT fans, and a source of endless fascination. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on this disc. It's worth it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 22, 2009 3:24 AM PST


Edgard Varese
Edgard Varese
by Alan Clayson
Edition: Paperback
41 used & new from $1.46

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I'm Still Waiting for a Varese Biography!!!, July 6, 2004
This review is from: Edgard Varese (Paperback)
The English-speaking music world has been waiting for a comprehensive biography of musical maverick Edgard Varese for nearly a century. Varese is probably the only important contemporary composer who has never been the recipient of scholarly attention. So imagine my delight when I picked up this book on a recent trip to St. Louis. Finally, the English biography of the elusive composer that I'd been waiting for! Unfortunately, after reading the book, I'm still waiting for a good book on the composer.
This book, written by rock biographer Alan Clayson, is the single worst musical biography I've ever read. Clayson is better known for his tomes on the Beatles, including the popular Backbeat, which told the story of the Beatles' early years in Germany. Unfortunately, he brings the same gossipy qualities and rock-magazine journalist prose to this enterprise and the results are really poor. The facts of Varese's life are basically not very exciting. Like most composers, Varese's profession was solitary and, in his case, marked by extended periods of inaction. Clayson is reduced to creating imaginative scenes and undocumented reactions in an effort to "spice" up the biographical skeleton. He also injects his own opinions into the narrative liberally, ascribing to Varese contempt for more popular composers like Copland that is not bourn out by the facts. And he reserves a chapter and a half for Frank Zappa, a figure that, though he was indeed a great proponent of the composer, never met the man.
All of this would be merely annoying but could be justified if Clayson had anything of interest to say about Varese's compositions. After all, the most interesting thing about a composer is always the music. But Clayson is mind-numbingly braindead when it comes to speaking about music. There is no analysis of the works in question. Rather, Clayson is given to speaking in purple prose about his dubious impressions of the compositions. Ameriques in particular is subjected to ridiculous treatment, as Clayson blathers on about "the otherworldly deliberation of a dream's slow motion in its paranormal and fragmented mindscapes of frontier forts and wide white spaces on a map of emptiness." Often, Clayson seems proud of his musical ignorance, as he ridicules theorists subjecting works like Density 21.5 to analysis, as if the desire to study a seminal modern score is somehow base.
The shame of it is that Varese is a composer that is endlessly fascinating, even given his very small surviving output. No follower of the "isms" of the 20th century, Varese made his own way, and indeed proved prophetic. He was an early and enthusiastic pioneer in electronic music and predicted the day when performers would be replaced by machines capable of directly communicating a composer's thought to an audience, something that, for better or worse, is increasingly common in these days of MIDI. And his attitude toward music as organized sound has had wide-ranging influence in the world of 20th century composition and even experimental rock. All of this is makes the composer a fruitful subject for a comprehensive biography. Someday, someone with ability will attempt the biography I've been waiting for. Until that day, Clayson's book is all we've got. My suggestion is to be patient and don't waste your money on this drivel.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 26, 2011 8:16 PM PDT


No Title Available

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Believe the Hype!, June 12, 2004
This restaurant has long been a staple of the Union Square dining area, an area packed with some of the finest restaurants in New York. That the USC is still enormously popular after many years of operation says something about the experience at this wonderful little treasure.
Recently four of us went to lunch at the cafe to celebrate an occasion. The event could not have been better. The room was bright and charming, and not overly crowded or noisy, though I understand that dinner can get loud. Our server, Olivia, was perhaps the best waiter we've yet had in New York. She was friendly, efficient and funny. Her recommendations were superb.
I started with a chilled watercress soup with lemon creme fraiche. The bitterness of the watercress balanced nicely against the cream in the soup. Others at our table had the lovely lobster risotto and the taglietelle with a tomato sauce with succulent shredded pork. The main dishes were equally wonderful. I opted for the special, broiled stripped bass on a bed of grilled vegetables with a wonderful tomato sauce that didn't have a hint of acid. Though the dish was not virtuoso, it was exquisitely prepared and delicious in its simplicity. The tuna burger was also terrific, a slab of shashimi grade tuna served with a wasabi sauce and pickled ginger. And desserts were also wonderful; a banana tart that was light and flavorful, a marvelous key lime tart, and a very good cheese plate all accompanied by some fine dessert wines.
The lunch lingered on for almost two hours and yet there was not a hint of rushing in the service. Plates were only cleared when every diner was finished and we were allowed to stay and chat as long as we wanted. It was truly a marvelous dining experience.


Nu Bop
Nu Bop
Price: $17.48
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not Nu and Not Bop, April 22, 2004
This review is from: Nu Bop (Audio CD)
The problem with labels that are "artist run" is that often the artists are tempted to release material that just isn't ready for public consumption. Particularly if the "artist label" has the backing of a bigger company and major distribution the temptation to release too many albums can be rather great. This recording, released as part of Shipp's self-curated Blue series on Thirsty Ear, is a project that should never have seen pressing. The idea isn't bad, the compositions aren't bad, the individual playing isn't bad, but taken all together the album is an underdeveloped mess.
I have had my struggles with Shipp as a musician. I've never been sure if my lack of enthusiasm for the pianist is real or the product of my own envy, as Shipp is my exact contemporary and plays my instrument (and is much more wildly successful than I am). In fact, concern about my own motives in accessing Shipp has kept me from reviewing any of his work until now, and from reviewing David S. Ware's CDs. I was afraid I would be unfair. However, I've come around to Shipp as a pianist, finding much more to admire in his chunky blend of 60s post-bop and avant-garde than I had first thought. And he has the good taste to surround himself with excellent musicians. This date is basically the David S. Ware rhythm section, with the addition of Daniel Carter on several cuts and programmer Chris FLAM. The attempt is to update the 60s avant-garde sound of the Ware group with heavy hip-hop beats, drum programming and post-production effects.
This attempt fails, basically because Shipp and company don't adapt for the new style. Drum programming is locked in step. Jazz groups aren't. As a result, when Parker and Guillermo Brown mix up the funk rhythms, creating the kind of excitement one would expect from two groove masters, their natural deviations from the mechanical beat pull away from the drum programming. It's messy and effectively creates moments of anti-groove in music that is attempting to be groove music.
When Miles Davis merged jazz with rock in the 70s he rethought both genres. The electronics weren't just tacked on to the old Miles Quintet sound. The sound itself adapted to the new medium. Similarly, when Miles added go-go and hip-hop sounds to his late groups he approached the music in an integrated fashion. This is exactly what Shipp and company doesn't do on this CD. The electronics remain an afterthought. Take them off the disc and you'd have a pretty standard Shipp CD, not much different from Pastoral Composure. The programming at best adds nothing to the CD and at worst gets in the way of the musicians. This is most obvious on the heavy hip-hop tracks, but even on Nu-Bop which features a heavily processed Daniel Carter, one can't help but ask what good any of the processing is doing to the overall group sound.
The album isn't devoid of good spots. Shipp takes a lovely solo piano turn in ZX-1, though some of the processing effects can be a bit distracting. I'd much prefer to have heard the piano without so much artificial reverb and chorus effects. X-Ray is another Carter feature, this time on flute and without Shipp's piano. The piece is lovely, though again, the processing doesn't do much to help things. I'd rather hear Daniel without the delay. And many of the compositions are quite good, particularly D's Choice, which is one of the most engaging Shipp pieces I've heard. Unfortunately, the gimmicky program tracks mar it. Nu Abstract is the closest the CD gets to truly integrating the musical and electronic ideas. It's a spacey tone poem, featuring well though out programs based on Parker's bowed bass from FLAM as well as processed inside the piano effects from Shipp.
But the good spots on the CD don't negate the impression of a work-in-progress that should have stayed in the can until the new elements were more thoroughly digested. All reports I've heard say that Shipp's later attempts at this jazz-electronica mix have been more successful and better integrated. I hope so. I will give them a listen, though maybe I will borrow them from someone first. Because if they aren't significantly more integrated more discs in this vein will be a complete waste of money.
Not recommended.


Best of: Irakere
Best of: Irakere
Offered by Media Medley
Price: $11.98
29 used & new from $0.48

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Live Cuts are Astounding!, April 20, 2004
This review is from: Best of: Irakere (Audio CD)
The American debut of the pioneering Cuban group Irakere was steeped in much more than music. The product of a slight thaw in Cuban-American relations during the Carter administration, the group's triumphant live performances in New York in 1979 were released by Columbia with much hype and fanfare. Rightly so, the music was electric. After the initial buzz some members of the group defected and became high profile jazz musicians, particularly Paquito D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. But these defections meant the end of the group as it had been constituted in 1970's Havana. Bandleader "Chucho" Valdez stayed in Cuba, with several other members while the defectors went on to have high profile international careers.
Irakere hasn't been killed by these changes. The group is still vital and touring consistently. But the 1970s group still kinds the musicians at their most creative and vital. This CD contains some studio cuts from the period, along with most of the band's live Columbia album. It is worth getting, just for the live cuts, which are phenomenal. However, the studio cuts have dated rather heavily. Irakere was, along with Los Van Van and many other groups, the foremost exponent of the Cuban son style, which mixed electronics, disco and funk grooves, with salsa, Afro-Cuban and jazz to create a seminal fusion style. While the salsa and Afro-Cuban elements are in no way dated, the disco element really is and probably detracts from some of the cuts on the album. Still, even with dated elements, there is a fire in the group that is undeniable.
The liner notes claim that the disc is made up of two separate live gigs with slightly different personnel. However, this is almost definitely a mistake, as Gira Gira, Claudia, Anunga Nunga and many other cuts are clearly studio creations. The studio work is uneven. Particularly difficult to listen to is Anunga Nunga, a blatantly Cubano-disco cut that is almost embarrassing now, 30 years later. The vocals sound like the worst Hispanic lounge lizard stereotype you could imagine. Though other vocal tracks in the studio fare a bit better, none of them escape the patina of age, and the listener who lived through the 70s and survived may find himself a bit disoriented, and perhaps wondering, "Did I ever really like this sound?" It is much the same as looking at old high school year book pictures with brushed velvet three piece suits or Farrah Fawcet hair styles and trying to remember why you thought that would be a cool look for you!
However, the live stuff more than redeems the album. Irakere was, and still is, an astounding live band. The arrangements are complex, multi-layered and often played at blinding speed. The band seems to be able to turn on a dime, moving from disco to Afro-Cuban chants with no difficulty at all. In Jorge Varona, Sandoval, D'Rivera and Carlos Averhof the band had one of the tightest horn sections around, with musicians who were able to execute complicated charts with the energy of solos, and who were each amazing improvisers. The rhythm section was even more dense, with Enrique Pla and Carlos Morales setting up a firm drum and bass foundation over which the guitar and three percussionists would weave dense polyphony. Dominating all the proceedings is the virtuoso piano and keyboards of Jesus "Chucho" Valdez, perhaps the most amazing pianist Latin America has ever produced. The cuts are spectacular, from Ilya, which begins as a disco funk number and ends in a vital Afro-Cuban chant, to the marvelous Adagio on a Theme from Mozart which features D'Rivera on an astounding saxophone solo, to the most impressive work the group ever recorded, the Misa Negra, which takes it's rhythms and general shape from the sacred music of Santeria and creates a work that borders on the ecstatic. This performance alone is worth the price of the CD.
I do have some gripes. First of all, almost the entire live CD is represented on this disc, so why they chose to leave out one cut, I'll never know. One more live cut and less of the disco studio stuff would have been a wonderful thing for this disc. Also, the liner notes leave a lot to be desired. The track information is demonstrably wrong. The studio cuts are listed as live cuts, and the live cuts are listed with a much smaller band than played on them. This is demonstrated on Ilya, on which Carlos Averhoff introduces the whole band and the line-up does not match the liner notes at all. The written notes too abound in mistakes and gushy prose, something that other releases in Columbia Jazz's Contemporary Masters series don't have to contend with. And the interspersing of the studio and live cuts is frustrating as well. But all that aside, I still have to warmly recommend the album for the live material, which is not available in any other way currently and is some of the best Afro-Cuban jazz that exists. The live cuts would merit 5 stars...or even six if I could go that high. However, subtract a star for the studio cuts and shoddy package material.
If you find you like the Irakere selections, try the band's newer albums too. Babalu Aye is wonderful, as are the numerous live recordings. The band looses Paquito and Arturo, but the energy, passion and drive of Valdez continue to ensure that they are going strong well into their third decade!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 28, 2016 3:38 AM PST


On The Corner
On The Corner
Offered by MEGA Media
Price: $9.49
112 used & new from $0.50

142 of 146 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Prototype for Trance and Techno, April 16, 2004
This review is from: On The Corner (Audio CD)
People tend to focus on certain albums of Miles' discography as their "line in the sand". Because the trumpeter's career was dramatically divided into distinct periods and even micro-periods there are a number of places where certain listeners can say, "this far but no farther." I know people whose love of Miles ended with Night at the Blackhawk, or Miles Smiles, or Bitches Brew. My own ended with The Man With the Horn. But perhaps one of the most controversial love-it-or-leave-it albums in Miles' discography is On the Corner. Looked upon as a sell-out in the 70s, even by those who loved the electric bands, this album has been vilified ever since. However, a careful re-examination thirty years later reveals an album that was radically ahead of it's time, though not perhaps even a jazz album anymore.
On the Corner was one of the last albums Miles did with his rotating, multi-layered electric bands of the early 70s. The albums after this would delve into avant-rock-funk of the Agharta period, before Davis took his complete hiatus and suffered his mid 70-s breakdown. Assembled for this disc is a typical conglomeration of the jazz-rock stars of the 70s, including Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock on electric pianos, John McLaughlin on guitar, three drummers including both the marvelous Jack Dejohnette and Billy Hart. Along with these luminaries were Dave Liebman and Sonny Fortune on saxes, fat funk grooves by Michael Henderson, Colin Walcott on electric sitar and Badal Roy on tablas. This lineup is probably the most complexly layered group Miles had in the electric period, and the inclusion of Indian instruments gave the album a world music groove that was years ahead of its time.
Most of the criticism that has been lobbed at this album has to do with the fact that, in many people's estimation it's not a "jazz album". What is meant by this is not always clear, and an old refrain that is leveled at just about every album considered a departure from the "tradition". There seems to be some complaint that On the Corner is devoid of improvisation. This is not true. In fact the album is one long improvisatory jam. What it doesn't have is a clear head-solos-head structure. Rather, the rhythm section provides a dense polyrhythmic carpet over which the horns solo in an extended manner. Also, Miles continued his trend toward significant post-production work in the mixing of the album. As a result, much of the improvisation by the band is used as source material for further creative manipulation, through electronics, and through other post-production effects. The result is a mix which is trance-like, hypnotic and a precursor to the trance and techno albums of Aphex Twins and others from the 90s. To jazzers, this post-production work signaled a retreat by Davis from the studio-as-club-date attitude of most traditional jazz sessions. But to my mind, this shows that Miles and company had really thought through the nature of electronic music. Rather than just playing on electric instruments and adding some bleeps, bloops and funk grooves to what was basically a 1960s jazz album, Miles added electronics idiomatically, creating a new art form in the process. Miles' jazz fusion of this period cannot be compared to his work in the 50s or 60s. It's a completely different animal that functions by different rules.
This is not an album that you can speak about in cuts. There are pre-composed pieces, and probably some pieces that were composed after the fact, by splicing together tracks and grooves and giving them shape. But each separate piece tends to blend into the next, prefiguring the DJ jams of the 90s. The result is funky and infectious, but also hypnotic. On the Corner may be demonized by traditionalists, but Miles was saying something here, and it's something that still bears listening to, after thirty years. Miles' music of this period is not dated badly at all and still has implications for younger musicians. Approach this as a sonic experience and not as a jazz album and you will be pleasantly surprised.
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Machaut: Messe de Notre Dame
Machaut: Messe de Notre Dame
19 used & new from $5.93

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Missing Link Between Paris and Tunis!, April 5, 2004
The Early Music field is full of schisms. What once seemed like a monolithic movement, dedicated to challenging the hegemony of 18th and 19th century classical music in the concert hall has turned into a vigorous section of the musical market in its own right. And, as a field that is equal parts musician driven and musicological, it is inevitable that there should develop schisms around points of interpretation. This particularly CD is the product of the very well-researched theories of Marcel Peres. Peres, taking his cues from the historical record, has created a performance of Machaut's historically important and very beautiful Mass and restored the art of ornamentation, microtonal inflection, just intonation, and rhythmic flexibility that reflects at least one of the dominant vocal styles prevalent in 14th century church music. The results have been controversial ever since the release of this CD in 1996.
Machaut's Mass is perhaps the most famous product of the late Middle Ages. It is the first complete setting of the Ordinary of the Mass ever produced by one composer. What is not clear is whether the work was just a collection of separate Mass movements that Machaut assembled for an occasion, or if they were originally intended to be performed together. Machaut uses a wide variety of polyphonic techniques in this work, from long melismatic textures to almost chordal writing. He ingeniously varied his given material, Gregorian chant which is placed in the lowest voice. Machaut shows a new concern for the combination of vocal textures that was not present in the works of earlier polyphonic composers. In a deeply felt performance, this work never fails to sound ancient, and surprisingly fresh, no matter what the approach taken by the ensemble.
The approach toward this work is what distinguishes the present disc from its competition. The best renditions that I own, the Taverner Consort on EMI and the Hilliard Ensemble on Harmonia Mundi take a very respectful and conservative approach to the score. There are differences between them in details, as source material in this work can vary wildly. But both sing exquisitely and with an ear for accurate just intonation. Both also take the work at a good clip, giving the piece a forward drive and rhythmic intensity that is wonderful to hear. This recording is nothing like them!
Peres approaches the work from almost as an ethnomusicologist. Vocal tone is nasal and throat and chest driven. It has the tone of an Arabic muezzin chanting the call for prayer. In addition, the score is used as a framework for extensive improvisatory ornamentation, often with scoops, vibratory ornament and microtonal inflections. The result is much closer to the sound of the choral music of the Caucasus, the singing in Orthodox Churches and most especially, the chants of Sufis in Moorish Spain. This concept can be justified I think in the historical literature and musicologically. Moorish influence on Western Europe cannot be doubted, particularly in architecture and in instrument development. Instruments that make their first appearance in the Middle Ages, like the lute and the viol almost certainly came into Europe via Spain and North Africa. The Arabic influence on education and the arts is widely acknowledged. Why should it not be the same in the field of music? I believe that Ensemble Organum makes an impressive case for the school of thought that believes in Islamic influence on the rise of polyphony in the west.
Of course, all of this would be moot if the CD were poorly executed. The good news is that this CD is a spectacular rendition of the Machaut work. Peres and company choose to present the piece in its greater liturgical context, alternating the polyphonic Ordinary with plainchant sections from a set of Marian Propers. The approach to the chant is similarly ornamented and microtonal. Setting the Mass in its context is not new, Andrew Parrott pioneered this in the 1980s. But in the present CD, the polyphony comes naturally out of the plainchant texture rather than sounding like the intrusion of a later age, as it can with a more traditional performance. Also, given the high emphasis on ornament, the work could sound like a fantasy on Machaut rather than an interpretation on the work. Comparative listens to a more conservative rendering indicate that Peres and Ensemble are fairly faithful to the original scaffolding. This is clearly Machaut's work, not the performers. But the rendering is a fascinating glimpse into what the composer may have actually intended with his groundbreaking work.
The sound of the CD may be difficult for those used to a more contemplative reading of the Mass like the Hilliard's. The vocal quality too will take some more traditional lovers of Medieval music back. But I find the spectacular ornamentation of moments like the In Terra Pax, which is breathtaking, to more than make up for any weaknesses in the disc. And the vocal quality is no stranger than that of the Bulgarian Woman's Choir. I would suggest however, that if you are not familiar with the Machaut Mass, that you get another recording, preferably the Taverner Consort or the Hilliard Ensemble in addition to this one. The comparative approach on this work is essential to understanding both the framework of the Machaut piece and the incredible power and freedom of the present recording.
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Freedom Suite
Freedom Suite
17 used & new from $3.79

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As Astounding as the Rollins Original, March 30, 2004
This review is from: Freedom Suite (Audio CD)
Remaking a classic disc is always a dicey prospect. Inevitably the project has the aura of a tribute album and comparisons to the original flow naturally and are usually not terribly flattering. It is particularly difficult to attempt such a project when the subject of the project is a figure of the monumental stature of Sonny Rollins and the work you are redoing is one of the most impressive and ambitious of the tenorman's works of the 50s. That David S. Ware has managed to turn in an individual performance with this material would be astounding enough. That he has created a disc that lives on its own, without needing the references to the Rollins disc is a major achievement.
Rollins' original Freedom Suite was released in 1958, at the height of the saxophonist's most creative period. The album was one of Rollins' first studio trio albums, and conspicuous for it's lack of a harmonic instrument. The way from the original Freedom Suite to the work of Ornette Coleman in the 60s was just a short jump indeed. Ware has taken the compositions from the first and most ambitious cut on the album and arranged them for his quartet, one of the finest working ensembles in free jazz today. The Rollins' heads are rethought, playing up their similarity to the compositions of Ornette Coleman and other great jazz composers of the 60s. Shipp is given material that compliments the original compositions while keeping the harmonic structure open. He is back to his best style of playing, highly intellectual and "constructivist" blocks of sound. It is a welcome return from his ill advised dabbles with electronica. Parker of course is a wonder...as always. There is no finer bass player working today. His tone is as substantial as a redwood an his musical energy fairly pulses through the speakers. The grooves that he locks down with Guillermo Brown are infectious. Brown is uniformly good, though has never to my ear reached the heights of inventiveness that Susie Ibbara brought to the group
Ware is amazing on this album. It is the complete return to form from the post-Ayler wonder that was hinted at on Corridors and Parallels and a much fiercer performance than his work on the Sony albums. Ware's tenor is gigantic in sound. He has a sharp edged tone that own not a little to Sonny Rollins, but his approach to improvising is closer to late Coltrane and Ayler. He seems to live somewhere in between the conventional western tempered scale and the pure sound of Ayler. It's a fascinating and very individual approach to the instrument and the results are always arresting and often reach the transcendent. Soon into the work you forget the references to the Rollins original and accept the album on its own terms.
The only down side of this recording is the length. Ware, Shipp and others of their circle have moved to shorter albums in recent years. I'm not sure if this is conscious or unconscious, but this album clocks in at just less than 40 minutes. This is probably understandable, given the nature of the project, which is tightly focused around the Rollins composition, yet it is noticeably short and of course, the price is not reduced accordingly. This to me is a small quibble. The music on the disc more than makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. But the trend should be noted and probably arrested if possible. Continued short album times will do very little to build the kind of audience that Ware and his group deserve.


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