Liszt in the Catacombs

At Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn last night, I heard Jenny Lin and Adam Tendler perform the cycle Harmonies poétiques et religieuses by Franz Liszt as part of the series The Angel’s Share,  produced by Death of Classical and Green-Wood, curated by Andrew Ousley.

After gathering at the cemetery entrance, Ousley took us on a long walk through darkening shadows. It felt like the beginning of a horror movie, as if only one of the audience was going to return from the torments awaiting the unsuspecting participants.

The concert space in the catacombs is more or less ground level, giving the feel of a chilly mausoleum.  It’s a tiny space; too small, really, but since we were enclosed in stone, the piano resonated in a wonderful fashion. I have rarely had such an immediate sonic experience at a piano concert.

Only two of the set Harmonies poétiques et religieuses are heard frequently, “Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude” and, especially, “Funérailles.” Lin played both to the hilt; I suspect she’s had “Funérailles” in her repertoire a long time. (You could hear the audience catch their breath after the famous furious left hand octave cascades.) While the rest of the cycle may lack the immediate appeal of the two “hits,” it’s all great music, surprisingly experimental, at times oblique, and always perfectly made for the instrument. I’ve never had the opportunity to listen to the whole work in one sitting before, and now realize that this massive collection has a powerful through-line and must be one of the most successful piano cycles lasting longer than an hour.

Tendler and Lin traded off movements and turned pages for each other. Both are virtuosos who sang the lyrical melodies and hammered out the climaxes as required. All and all, an unforgettable evening. The concert repeats tonight and tomorrow.

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Common Practice

ECM 2643 is Common Practice, the Ethan Iverson Quartet featuring Tom Harrell, Ben Street and Eric McPherson.

Official Blurb:

The latest ECM album to feature pianist Ethan Iverson – following last year’s duo recording with saxophonist Mark Turner, Temporary Kings, and two lauded discs with the Billy Hart Quartet – presents the Brooklyn-based artist at the head of his own quartet in a program of standards and blues, recorded live at Manhattan’s famed Village Vanguard. Iverson’s quartet for Common Practice features as its prime melodic voice the veteran Tom Harrell, who was voted Trumpeter of the Year in 2018 by the U.S. Jazz Journalists Association. Iverson extols the quality of poetic “vulnerability” in Harrell’s playing, particularly in such ballads as “The Man I Love” and “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” two of the album’s highlights. Common Practice also courses with an effervescent swing, thanks to the top-flight rhythm team of bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric McPherson, whose subtle invention helps drive Denzil Best’s bebop groover “Wee” and two irresistibly bluesy Iverson originals.

Produced by Manfred Eicher — Liner notes by Kevin Sun — Recording Engineers: Andreas K. Meyer, Geoff Countryman and Tyler McDiarmid.

Special thanks to Anthony Creamer.

Thanks also to Angela Harrell, Jed Eisenman, and Deborah Gordon. The disc is dedicated with sincere love and respect to the late, indomitable, wonderful, sorely-missed Lorraine Gordon, who caught an early set of this group and approved of the sounds.

Photo of Sun’s liner notes:

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Press:

Wall Street Journal. (Common Practice – Wall Street Journal.)

AllMusic.

Extensive review by Jonathan Wertheim, linking the disc to DTM (he’s not wrong LOL)

NYTimes Playlist:

Russonello

Marlbank.

(Related DTM: Interview with Tom Harrell.)

Two ECM records in two years! I’m very proud of both, not the least because I am the accompaniment for Mark Turner and Tom Harrell, musicians who I wish to emulate more and more.

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Harold Mabern R.I.P.

Harold Mabern’s name ended up being slightly incorrect on his birth certificate. It actually was “Harold Will Burn.”

A major legacy. Just a few things that come to mind:

I wish I had seen at least one of the early ’80s nights at the Village Vanguard with George Coleman and Mabern, when these two master Memphis musicians were at their peak of ferocious virtuosity and they were playing to a small group of select NYC initiates…

…Still, three summers ago I saw Mabern play “Just One of Those Things” with Eric Alexander in Chicago as fast as you could count it, and Mabern could still swamp the rhythm section with cascades of perfectly organized sound.

The best Mabern-led record I know is Straight Street, a fantastic trio date from 1989 with Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette that gets the most out of all three players.

One of Mabern’s best compositions is “The Beehive,” immortalized in a smoking rendition with the Lee Morgan Quintet Live at the Lighthouse with Bennie Maupin, Jymie Merritt, and Mickey Roker. (Off on a tangent: There is current amount of handwringing about the participation of African-Americans in “Classical Music,” for example a viral think piece by Joseph Horowitz, “New World Prophecy.” I’m sympathetic to Horowitz’s perspective here (I also admire Horowitz’s criticism in general), but I also wonder why the best American music academics and music students don’t seem to spend more time deciphering what the hell goes into the profound intellectual and virtuosic elements of something like this performance of “The Beehive.” In a way, if Live at the Lighthouse isn’t “classical music,” then nothing is “classical music.”)

The lore goes that Mabern knew every standard and many pop tunes after 1970, including most of Stevie Wonder.

His teaching at William Paterson made a profound impression on several of my peers and friends. The truth will set you free.

I hosted a lively roundtable with Joanne Brackeen, Kenny Barron, and Mabern at the 2018 Jazz Congress. Many people have told me this was an unusually successful panel, and perhaps it was. Mabern was in fine form and played a soulful blues in G at the end. The event starts 25 minutes in.

Trio Tour with Two of the Best

+ tour with Joe Sanders and Jorge Rossy — a recent collective of unrestrained souls

September 11 – Jimmy Glass, Valencia
12 – Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen
13 – Jazz Summer meeting, Lugano
14 – Jazzclub Unterfahrt, Munich
15 – Pizza Express, London
17 – Porgy & Bess, Vienna
18 – Jazz Dock, Prague
19 – Blue Note, Milano
20 & 21 – Duc des Lombards, Paris

Iverson Sanders Rossy 1Iverson Sanders Rossy 3Iverson Sanders Rossy 2

[Photos by Alessandra Freguja]

If you come to a gig, please say hi!

I Like Harmony

I’m having a rather blissful time listening to the CD American Dream, compositions of Scott Wollschleger played by Bearthoven, a bonafide “piano trio” comprised of Karl Larson, piano, Pat Swoboda, double bass, and Matt Evans, percussion. “Gas Station Canon Song” is for quiet solo piano, “We See Things That Are Not There” is for hesitant piano and vibes, and the dramatic centerpiece “American Dream” is for the complete trio. The performers are all great and the production is top-notch. Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti contributed helpful liner notes.

Sometimes I worry just a little bit about the direction of “post-minimal” American “classical” music, especially if there are “indie” or “rock” references. Of course there are good things, like Caroline Shaw’s Partita and John Luther Adams’s Become Ocean, and I wrote about Michael Gordon’s Sonatra for the New Yorker Culture Desk, but just last week I was at a concert where the minimalist works went over big with the audience yet left me cold.

Wollschleger is “process” oriented, the harmonies and melodies repeat and mutate over time, but the raw materials are notably compelling. Possibly Morton Feldman is Wollschleger’s biggest influence. If you like Feldman, get hip to Wollschleger right now

I admit Scott is also a friend, today we walked in the park together.

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Tales of Fantasy and Wonder (Ursula K. Le Guin + Terrance Dicks)

In Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1971 science fiction novel The Lathe of Heaven, a future Portland, Oregon is redrawn according to the dreams of a gentle man who doesn’t want to hurt anybody. Sometimes I worry that old-school SF novels will bore me with endless world-building, but The Lathe of Heaven is earthy and direct, packing a wallop more like a great SF short story.

Mark Turner loves the book so much he named an album for it. My wife Sarah Deming was on a Le Guin kick recently, and read The Lathe of Heaven after I told her Mark was a big fan. She loved it as well, so I finally came to my senses and read it for myself. Highly recommended.

To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven. — Chuang Tzu 

A 1980 PBS production has a cult following. Sarah told me I would dig this made-for-TV movie because, “It’s like old Doctor Who.”  Yeah, the PBS translation is also great, and apparently Le Guin approved of it as well.

Speaking of: Doctor Who fandom has been processing the death of Terrance Dicks last week. Dicks was the script editor for the Jon Pertwee era and wrote a few classic stories of the Tom Baker era including Robot, The Brain of Morbius, The Horror of Fang Rock, and State of Decay. With that, he is in the pantheon for Doctor Who fans already…but there’s also his work offscreen. It is quite extraordinary how so many of us read so many Dicks novelizations for Target Books in the late 70s and early 80s.

I’ve copied the following list of off the Tardis Wiki. The books I read as a boy are in bold.

Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion
Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks
Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen
Doctor Who and the Giant Robot
Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons
Doctor Who and the Planet of the Spiders
The Three Doctors
Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster
Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks
The Revenge of the Cybermen
Doctor Who and the Web of Fear
Doctor Who and the Planet of the Daleks
Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars
Doctor Who and the Carnival of Monsters
Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth
Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos
Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius
Doctor Who and the Planet of Evil
Doctor Who and the Mutants
Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin
Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang
Doctor Who and the Face of Evil
Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock
Doctor Who and the Time Warrior
Death to the Daleks
Doctor Who and the Android Invasion
Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear
Doctor Who and the Invisible Enemy
Doctor Who and the Image of the Fendahl
Doctor Who and the Robots of Death
Doctor Who and the Destiny of the Daleks
Doctor Who and the Underworld
Doctor Who and the Invasion of Time
Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood
Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara
Doctor Who and the Power of Kroll
Doctor Who and the Armageddon Factor
Doctor Who and the Nightmare of Eden
Doctor Who and the Horns of Nimon
Doctor Who and the Monster of Peladon
Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child
Doctor Who and the State of Decay
Doctor Who and the Keeper of Traken
Doctor Who and the Sunmakers
Meglos
Four to Doomsday
Arc of Infinity
The Five Doctors
Kinda
Snakedance
Warriors of the Deep
Inferno
The Caves of Androzani
The Mind of Evil
The Krotons
The Time Monster
The Seeds of Death
The Faceless Ones
The Ambassadors of Death
The Mysterious Planet
The Wheel in Space
The Smugglers
Planet of Giants
The Space Pirates

I can’t remember how I got the money to buy all those books from the Little Professor Bookstore in Menomonie. I was definitely helping keep them in business:  they’d be sure to stock a copy of each one as it came out because they knew ol’ Ethan would be around to grab it before too long.  The books weren’t expensive — under two dollars each, I think — but my parents were broke and I didn’t have much of an allowance. H’mm. I must have saved up any holiday gift money from relatives, plus one summer I mowed the grass at cemeteries with my Dad.

At any rate, any dedicated reader of DTM knows I can be obsessive about collecting information. The work of Terrance Dicks was one of my first “projects.”

These novelizations are not for adults, and truthfully when I’ve looked at one or two recently I can’t quite see why I loved them so much as a child, either. It’s still easy for me to enjoy the prose of brilliant young-adult stylists Ellen Raskin or Daniel Pinkwater (two others I joyfully read as a boy), but Dicks is just getting the job done in brisk and competent fashion.

As with so many dusty artifacts of pop culture, the first high romance must have been a convergence of time, place, and something in the air. Tom Baker says that Doctor Who fans, “Are in love with their own vitality,” and I guess rolling up to the Little Professor to buy Terrance Dicks was a vote of confidence in myself.

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When I was “done” with the series, I donated my Terrance Dicks collection to the school library. Yep, that’s tape on my glasses. 

Matthew Guerrieri tribute.

Elizabeth Sandifer tribute.