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Category: musical thoughts

Saturday, April 18th

never enough

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Piano sonata K.281, 0:00; Variations on “Salve tu, Domine” K.398, 21:14; Variations on “Unser dummer Pöbel meint” K.455, 29:51; Fantasy K.397, 44:27; Piano sonata K.310, 50:52), Robert Schumann (Arabeske op.18, 1:14:05; Toccata op.7, 1:21:05); Emil Gilels (1916-1985, piano), live, Moscow, 1970

 

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lagniappe

musical thoughts

Mozart was a kind of idol to me—this rapturous singing . . . that’s always on the edge of sadness and melancholy and disappointment and heartbreak, but always ready for an outburst of the most delicious music.

—Novelist Saul Bellow1915-2005

*****

random sights

yesterday, Oak Park, Ill.

Wednesday, February 19th

sounds of New York

Herbie Nichols Trio (HN, 1919-1963, piano; Al McKibbon, bass; Art Blakey, drums), “The Third World” (H. Nichols), 1955

 

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lagniappe

random sights

other morning, Oak Park, Ill.

*****

musical thoughts

Thank you all for listening. Your open ears, open minds, and open hearts are essential to resisting the gathering darkness of our times.

—composer John Luther Adams, 2/18/20 email

Wednesday, January 29th

what’s new

Max Richter (1966-, compositions, piano, keyboard) with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (Clarice Jensen, cello & artistic director; Ben Russell, violin; Laura Lutzke, violin; Isabel Hagen, viola; Claire Bryant, cello), “On the Nature of Daylight,” “Vladimir’s Blues,” “Infra 5,” live, Washington, D.C., 1/22/20

 

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lagniappe

musical thoughts

I’m very interested in the idea of a piece of music being a place to think.

—Max Richter

*****

random sights

yesterday, Oak Park, Ill.

Saturday, December 21st

never enough

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), String Quartet No. 13, excerpt (Mvt. V, Cavatina), 1826; Guarneri Quartet

 

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lagniappe

musical thoughts

During a fraught 17-day stay in the hospital because of post-surgical infections 10 years ago, Beethoven’s Cavatina furnished the only moments during which I was released from suffering.

—Susan Gubar, “When Music Is the Best Medicine,” New York Times, 9/26/19

*****

random sights

yesterday, Chicago

Thursday, August 22nd

MCOTD Hall of Fame

Morton Feldman (1926-1987, MCOTD Hall of Fame), For Christian Wolff (1986); Eberhard Blum (flute), Nils Vigland (piano, celesta), 1992

 

It can be hard to recall, after an hour or two, what the world sounded like before this began.

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lagniappe

listening room

Clear, open, luminous: pianist Aki Takahashi’s recently released recording of For Bunita Marcus (1985), available on Spotify, is one of the finest renderings of Feldman’s unique sound-world that I’ve ever heard.

Monday, April 8th

Why not start the week with a trip to Haiti?

Val-Inc (AKA Val Jeanty), live (studio), Haiti (Le Studio, Port-au-Prince), 2018

 

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lagniappe

musical thoughts

Sounds shape reality.

—Val Jeanty

Thursday, March 28th

sounds of Chicago

John Cage, Solo for flute, from Concert for Piano (1958); Eric Lamb, flute (International Contemporary Ensemble), Chicago, 2012


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lagniappe

musical thoughts

Music is theater for the ear. Take this performance. The phrasing, the interplay between sound and silence—this unfolds like something by Beckett.

Wednesday, March 20th

voices I miss

Leroy Jenkins (1932-2007), violin, live (“Lush Life” [B. Strayhorn], “Keep on Trucking, Brother (A Message to Bruce)” [L. Jenkins], “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” [Trad.]), New York, 1977

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lagniappe

musical thoughts

A jazz musician playing alone is like a tightrope walker working without a net. Playing a music of rhythmic verve, he lacks a rhythm section. Playing a music of spirited interplay, he lacks the company of others. And when the musician’s instrument happens to be the violin, he’s working not only without a net but without a tightrope.

The violin lacks all the advantages of the one instrument with a long-standing tradition of solo jazz performance, the piano. Where a pianist can play more than one musical line at a time (accompanying herself with her left hand, for example, while “soloing” with her right), a violinist can’t. Where a pianist can readily play complex chords, a violinist is limited to four strings and beset by innumerable fingering problems. And the range of pitches available to a violinist is only about half that available to a pianist. When a jazz violinist steps onstage by himself, he either falls flat on his face or, defying the conventions of gravity, flies.

Last Friday at HotHouse, jazz violinist Leroy Jenkins not only flew but soared. A dignified man so diminutive that he makes a violin appear large, Jenkins focused the listener’s attention not on what was absent—other musicians, multiple lines, an expansive tonal range—but on what was present. His concert provided a response of sorts to the familiar Zen koan: What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Playing for a small but attentive audience, the longtime associate of the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians—who hadn’t performed here for several years—displayed a powerful and original musical vocabulary. Just as a poem forces one to consider language word by word, a solo jazz performance forces one to consider music sound by sound. And that was how Jenkins constructed each of his pieces: sound by sound.

He began most of them with a simple melodic statement that sang. Then he would veer off into gradually accelerating repetitions of two-, three-, and four-note patterns. Unlike a horn player, he never had to stop for breath, so these patterns could go on and on. Out of them would emerge long, winding bursts of melody, like swallows taking flight through a swarm of bees. Then Jenkins would return to repeated patterns, steadily building the intensity until he reached a climax and suddenly stopped.

The narrative structure of many of his pieces was thus not unlike that of a sexual encounter. But the steadily mounting intensity was invariably coupled with precise articulation, lucid organization, and exquisite control. When near the end of his set Jenkins rocked back and forth like a man possessed, his seemingly unshakable control of his instrument only heightened the dramatic impact.

A master colorist, Jenkins called forth a seemingly limitless array of sounds, from singing to fluttering to stinging to rasping to wheezing. But what was ultimately even more impressive than the variety and virtuosity of his playing was its logic and coherence. And unlike some jazz musicians, whose solos can be neatly divided into segments “inside” or “outside” normal harmonic and tonal conventions, Jenkins’s playing was all of a piece.

Jenkins’s HotHouse set readily calls to mind Richard Goode’s magnificent recent performance at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall of five Beethoven piano sonatas. Neither musician spoke a word to the audience, but neither seemed remote. Both played so wholeheartedly that they virtually disappeared in the music. Both are virtuosos who put their virtuosity entirely at the service of the music, never exploiting it simply for effect. Both played music that often pitted a coming-apart-at-the-seams emotional intensity against an ultimately prevailing clarity and order. Perhaps one day, solo jazz concerts of the caliber of Jenkins’s will be met with the same degree of anticipation and excitement that performances of Beethoven piano sonatas by artists such as Goode typically receive today.

—Richard McLeese, “Flying Solo,” Chicago Reader, 10/27/1994

*****

art beat: other day, Art Institute of Chicago 

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), The Bedroom, 1889

Tuesday, March 12th

basement jukebox

Jackie (AKA Jacqui) Verdell (1937-1991), “Why Not Give Me a Chance” (J. Verdell), 1962

 

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musical thoughts

I also considered Jackie Verdell of the Davis Sisters one of the best and most underrated female soul singers of all time.

—Aretha Franklin (1942-2018), Aretha: From These Roots, 1999

Thursday, January 24th

This I could listen to all day.

Morton Feldman (1926-1987, MCOTD Hall of Fame), Palais de Mari (1986); Blair McMillen (piano) and Ryan Olivier (video processing), live, Philadelphia, 2014

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lagniappe

musical thoughts

My obsession with surface is the subject of my music. In that sense, my compositions are really not ‘compositions’ at all. One might call them time canvases in which I more or less prime the canvas with an overall hue of the music.

—Morton Feldman, “Between Categories” (Give My Regards to Eighth Street)

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random sights

yesterday, Oak Park, Ill.

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