Friday, November 30, 2012

Weekly CD Recommendations 11/30/12

A new series designed to force me through all the 'new' CD's I promised myself I'd listen to since last year. I'm scheduled to catch up to my current list sometime around mid 2015. Probably won't subsume the Friday playlist, but it will be in addition to it.

(out of four)


Gary Clark Jr.: The Bright Lights EP - Four tracks - each as different from one another as the seasons. Echoes of rock’n roll, rock, blues, jazz, hip-hop, and soul bounce off of one another in that manner which reminds you that good musicians borrow, great musicians steal. Like me, Gary Clark was born to one of the first American generations that has too much history, but Clark clearly knows what to do with it. 

Gustavo Dudamel: Bruckner/Sibelius/Nielsen - I am a Dudamel believer. It would be stupid to pretend that he is a mature conductor, and equally so to pretend that all that attention can’t hurt his talent. Like Valery Gergiev before him, Dudamel has an eccentric kind of talent, all the moreso for his hailing from such a remote place to classical music traditions. He will never have a ‘by-the-book’, rigorously intellectual, approach to conducting one gets from Daniel Harding or Vladimir Jurowski. Instead, he is a conductor solely concerned with drawing players and audiences in and inspiring commitment from them. Ultimately this, and not clarity of beat or intellectual rigor, is what separates great conductors from competent ones. For all the enthusiasm of the players, Dudi’s interpretations of four of the greatest symphonies from Northern Europe can be sloppy at the seams. Who cares? Mastery will come with the inevitable re-recordings. As it stands right now, among the conductors of my generation whose performances can leave audiences feeling utterly speechless: so far there’s Gustavo Dudamel, there’s Andris Nelsons, and then there’s everybody else.


Keith Jarrett: Rio - Keith Jarrett is one of those artists who are both amazing and less amazing than they seem. His music is a miracle unique to modern times - fully articulate long-form pieces that are completely improvised at as he plays, with melodies, harmonies, and rhythms are rarely if ever planned in advance at his solo concerts. But if they were not improvised, the albums would be considered decent, rather generic (soft-bop?), and hardly justifying Jarrett’s enormous flights of ego. Like so many members of the first ‘post-Jazz’ generation, he’s nearly as much a classical musician as he is a jazz one, and his music has reflections within it of the Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Shostakovich he’s also recorded. In practice, his music sounds like far more like a mixture of Debussy, Rachmaninov, and Bill Evans - only not as inspired as any of them. To invite such lofty comparisons is not to oversell them. But I never cease to be impressed by how much musical sense Jarrett can get out of so little planning.

Now Ensemble: Awake - Steve Reich meets Mingus. Against this group is the fact that I would not have known that this music was by half-a-dozen different composers had nobody told me. The music would be considered in a uniform style even for a single composer. But the fact remains that this octet of Yale grads found a formula that works pretty brilliantly. This is ‘new new music’, with the foreground between classical and non-classical music increasingly blurred. The counterpoint, the rhythmic drive, and the virtuosity on display here are truly startling, but what ultimately makes it work is the harmonic simplicity of the work in which everything stays on the same patterns (cantus firmus?) and builds truly effectively to climaxes. I haven’t been impressed by the work of a number of composers on this album before, but if they worked as a group for the rest of their career together, they would be superb.

Bon Iver: Bon Iver - The backlash against the hype is completely understandable. The overemphasis on electronics, the pseudo-sensitivity of the lyrics, the annoyingness of fans, etc. But Justin Vernon is a real musician with a real ear. How many songwriters write arrangements this gorgeous, or this fascinating? Justin Vernon should probably just ditch the whole folk rocker act and try to compose something, because he does have real talent for things that are a bit wasted on his genre.

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