Norman Simmons

The great Norman Simmons has passed on at 91 years of age. Good obit by Nate Chinen at WBGO.

Simmons was best-known as accompanist of singers; video of “If I Had You” with Joe Williams is typically flawless — and then Simmons even sings.

A 1995 interview with Michael Woods is well worth exploring. Among other things, Simmons talks about learning Avery Parrish’s “After Hours” early on. The more I learn about this music, the more I’m convinced “After Hours” is key repertoire.

I briefly reviewed one excellent Simmons disc, I’m….the Blues, in my haphazard survey, “52 Pieces of the Puzzle.”

Carla and other matters

Best of birthdays to the mother of us all, Carla Bley. Carla is 85 today.

A few years ago I wrote an overview for the New Yorker Culture Desk.

On DTM there’s an interview — this one is pretty great, if I do say so myself.

There’s always more to hear. Currently listening to the 1983 session Dreams and Stories by great guitarist Rodney Jones with a notable rhythm section: Kenny Kirkland, Marc Johnson, Jeff Watts. Kirkland and Tain get into it every piano solo.

DTM wins Blog of the Year from the estimable JJA. Also nice to see Kevin Whitehead win the Lifetime Achievement Award; he deserves it, and — for whatever it is worth — is certainly an influence on my own prose style.

RIP Curtis Fuller. A key presence on so many classic records. I know the work with Art Blakey best: Those Messenger records featuring Fuller are numerous and wonderful, a peak in the music, and deserve a serious critical overview. Many people like Free For All, but I grew up with Caravan. The best appraisal of Fuller that I’ve seen is in Mark Stryker’s Jazz from Detroit, which includes material from an interview. Stryker’s memorial thread on Fuller is excellent.

I live-tweeted the Joel Ross & Immanuel Wilkins duo set from the Village Vanguard.

Contemporary Composition (Lowell Liebermann, Thomas Adès, Matthew Aucoin, Timo Andres, Chris Cerrone, Scott Wollschleger)

(The streamed record release of Wollschleger/Larson Dark Days is tonight. Timo Andres plays a solo recital at Bargemusic on May 21.)

Lowell Liebermann has a new record out: Personal Demons, a true surprise, a meaty double CD of piano repertoire, including by composers other than Liebermann. What? I’ve long admired Liebermann’s attractive music but had no idea that he was such an amazing pianist.

Gargoyles is Liebermann’s most popular piano piece, played by superstars like Stephen Hough and Yuja Wang. I love Apparitions even more, a mysterious set of pianistic puzzle boxes graced with a thrilling harmonic sensibility.

The recital ends with one of Liebermann’s gorgeous Nocturnes.

Interspersed between the original works are servings of comparatively unfamiliar pieces by Liszt, Schubert, Miloslav Kabeláč, and Busoni’s epic Fantasia contrappuntistica. The thoughtful liner notes explain Liebermann’s relationship to these “personal demons” and even offer valuable editorial insight dealing with the very manuscripts from Schubert and Busoni.

Fantasia contrappuntistica requires virtuoso technique and utter belief in the music’s rather strange message, where blocky triads and chain thirds introduce pages and pages of counterpoint that starts “like Bach” before going slowly off the rails…although unfortunately it never gets that abstract, either. I’m a big Busoni fan but don’t automatically rank Fantasia contrappuntistica as his best piece. Still, the simple fact that someone as worthy as Liebermann is making a passionate case for Fantasia contrappuntistica is very intriguing. I’ll keep listening!

One possible record to pair with Personal Demons is Piano by Thomas Adès, which (like Liebermann’s recital) includes some exceptionally rare pieces alongside something by Busoni. (In what is surely a heretical view, I’d argue that the instantly charismatic Sonatina No. 3, “ad usum infantis” makes a better case for Busoni than Fantasia contrappuntistica.)

Matthew Aucoin (born 1990) is following in the pianist/opera composer line of Adès a bit. Not too much of Aucoin’s output can be heard on record yet, but I’m very impressed with the substantial middle movement of Its Own Accord, with Keir GoGwilt on violin and the composer on piano. Yeah. More of this, please.

Aucoin is also writing about music at the New York Review of Books, including the major essay A Dance to the Music of Death on the topic of recent work of Adès, including The Exterminating Angel and Totentanz. An illuminating read. Later this year, Aucoin’s book The Impossible Art: Adventures in Opera will be published by Macmillian.

Then there’s Timo Andres, a true polymath, a man whose profound excellence in diverse fields — composer, pianist, home studio tech, engraver of scores — is almost upsetting. His latest YouTube marvel is Honest Labor.

Most DTM readers are jazz people, so be sure to check out Honest Labor, which is as if Keith Jarrett could compose a mathematical process piece in real time, with sonorities ranging from the most basic to the most esoteric.

The Andres solo recital at Bargemusic on May 21 will include repertoire by SouthamRoremDebussy, Ellington, and Schumann.

I was at Andres’s house the other day, learning more about Dorico, my recently-purchased music notation program. (Asking Andres about Dorico is like asking Coltrane about Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns.)

Compared to the kind of composers I’m discussing on this page, my own music is fairly simple to write and play. Still, I may have to check out Andres’s book recommendation Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide To Music Notation by Elaine Gould. If Timo Andres swears by this book, it must be good.

Andres is a featured performer on Christopher Cerrone’s new record, The Arching Path. Cerrone’s disc is notably well-produced, and the amount of sonic detail to be heard on the title suite is stunning. The aesthetic is pure, almost child-like. I need to check my expectations at the door and go on the journey. The rewards are considerable if I am patient enough.

These sounds are already cinematic; when there is percussion and computer added, as on Double Happiness, it becomes even more like exquisitely superior soundtrack music. Funny to think that something like Double Happiness and Mario Davidovsky’s various Synchronisms are more or less in the same electroacoustic “family.” Too bad those older thorny composers like Davidovsky rarely had producers that focused on recorded sound in the manner of The Arching Path

Timo Andres, Chris Cerrone, and Scott Wollschleger are friends, and reportedly go out to epic Italian dinners together and argue about music for hours. I know Wollschleger’s music best; I immediately loved those unpretentious but unpredictable harmonies, something of Thelonious Monk meets Morton Feldman.

Wollschleger’s pianist is Karl Larson, and they have a new album out together, Dark Days. It’s really an amazing listen. The title track is short, subtle, grim and weird. It’s almost “not music,” but it is music. The record release concert is being live-streamed tonight from Roulette.

Gil Coggins Website

Recently learned of an important website dedicated to the great under-recognized jazz piano master, Gil Coggins.

Thanks to Sam Kulok for putting this together. The poetry and comments from Wilfred Coggins are valuable as well.

Gil Coggins plays behind one of Miles Davis’s greatest early ballad performances, “I Waited for You.”

James Primosch RIP

Sorry to hear of the passing of composer James Primosch. His memorable “Contraption” is played to hilt by Ryan MacEvoy McCullough.

Primosch was an occasional DTM reader and offered a few helpful suggestions over the years. When I finally heard some of his music, I was impressed enough to add “Contraption” to the marathon overview Write it All Down.

From an email exchange:

Iverson: “I particularly enjoyed your fast music, It seems to me that many modern composers can’t write fast and danceable music, but “A Gracious Dance” “Gigue” and “Contraption” [all from the set Pure Contraption, Absolute Gift] were great! If my own language was closer to this I’d def be analyzing “Contraption” to see how you got those sounds, that’s a wonderful 21st century novelty rag.”

Primosch: “Yeah, the fast music thing can be a problem. I remember in a lesson with George Crumb 40 years ago when he said how hard it was to write fast music that didn’t sound like it was stealing from The Rite of Spring. The piece he was working on at the time, his four-hand piano piece, does have some Sacre-esque moments.”