Tag Archives: 1920s

[165] Enrico Caruso – 21 Arias

1 Jan

Here it is, folks. The recording that killed my desire to keep blogging for more than three years.

165 caruso

A name so huge, singing music so immense, that I couldn’t fathom why it was leaving absolutely no impression on me. Was I tired of the weekly deadlines? Did I not like classical vocals as much as I thought I did? Did I just run out of time?

Four years ago I was in the thick of a Masters degree. Three years ago I took on a new improved role at work. Two years ago my daughter, now 10, hit an age where we could play the kind of boardgames together that I love to play.  It seems, in hindsight, that something had to give, and 1,000 Recordings was it.

So are we still blaming Caruso?

Caruso is certainly not the reason I am coming back to the blog. I’m writing again, at least, I want to be writing again. I had an agent request a query and the first 50 pages of My Messy And Magnificent SciFi Thing (working title) and realized that the most recent polish was another thing that fell by the wayside a couple of years back. Flexing my writing muscles on a weekly basis can only be a positive thing. And while I was thinking that I should start writing again I ran across a CD, bought more than two years ago in anticipation of reviewing it for the blog: Ray Charles – Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music.

I realize I still want to discover it.

Not just listen to it. I want to hear it, examine it, explore it and share it. And a peek at other albums upcoming reveal favorites like Johnny Cash and Tracy Chapman, as well as names I feel I should know more about, like Neko Case. And to get to them I have to get through a few hundred words on Caruso.

I queue up 21 Arias on my ubiquitous Spotify app and hit play.

The recording quality is . . . strange. Caruso sang over a century ago and these recordings were originally made on wax. They have been remastered and restored, and the result is a sound that is more modern than it should be, yet still ever-so slightly off to the contemporary ear. I believe that, in part, it was this juxtaposition which initially put off my tired ear.

The arrangements are beautiful, the singing pleasing, and many of the songs are ingrained into my pop culture consciousness. But even as a vocalist, it is not clear to me why Caruso is considered the best ever. He can belt, he has enormous range, and there is emotion, at least in an operatic, melodramatic sense. So, as I realize I have said before during the course of this endeavor, the recordings make me wish I could watch the performance in context, could see the action and follow the story.

That said, I am no longer left with the feeling of nothingness which led to my hiatus. I let the music play, again and again, and it washes over me in warm waves. I am engaged, listening, thinking about what I am hearing, and it was this sensation I had lost when last I heard these tunes. I am once again eager to be immersed in sounds outside of my everyday, to hear something absolutely different to the 90s rock and 80s pop, with the occasional shining gem of new music (often by one of those 80s or 90s artists I so gravitate towards) that I quickly and comfortably default to.

Caruso is never going to be a favorite of mine, but I am glad to have given him a second chance, to spend a week or so with him, and to share my thoughts with you. For these reasons, I return to 1,000 Recordings to endorse Tom Moon’s recommendation, relieved and excited to be back in the saddle again.

Next Time: Pablo Casals – Bach: Cello Suites Vols. 1 & 2

Owned before blogging? No. (12 of 165 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No. (21 of 165 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (138 of 165 = 84%)

[161] The Original Carter Family – 1927 to 1934

13 May

Country music, perhaps even America as we know it, would be profoundly different without The Carter Family.

carter-family-original-162-l

Cataloging and recording the songs handed down the generations throughout the South, A. P. Carter preserved a legacy and honed a sound which is still relevant and recognizable today.  The range of musical ground covered is dizzying, well over five hours of songs of praise, of despair, of celebration, of love, of longing.

Spiritual or sea shanty, ballad or barroom romp, each song is anchored by a metronomic rhythm section usually consisting of nothing more than a single guitar which lays down an unbreakable beat.  Over this foundation, fascinating story songs unfold, cleanly melodic and enhanced by close harmony whenever a chorus rolls around, by strict unison singing elsewhere.

For nearly ninety-year-old recordings, the sound quality here is quite astounding.

I love the way just two voices and one guitar can fill a room.  I love the sheer quantity of found music in evidence here.  I love that I can enfold myself in the sound that  Johnny Cash and June Carter (and a multitude of others) heard, that so inspired them to create music of their own.

And I hate how often otherwise open-minded people will casually admit that “I like all kinds of music except Country . . .”

Next Week:  Elliott Carter – Symphonia

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 161 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 161 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (135 of 161 = 84%)

[130] Big Bill Broonzy – The Young Big Bill Broonzy, 1928-1935

2 Oct

Only able to find this one on cassette, there is a nostalgia even before I hear the first guitar stabs.

broonzy-big-bill-130-l

From the very first it is the sweet and smooth vocals, masterful and assured interplaying with the guitar in complex and beautiful ways, which captures my attention.   It take a while to notice the busy-lazy technique on the strings, which is the truly inspiring takeaway.

Sometimes urgent and hectic, at other times longing and laid back, the guitar leads the way, setting the tempo as well as the mood.  The old-time vibe is heightened by the crackle and hiss of the transfer to tape, the effect being so much more than the collection of its simple parts.

You can hear the rhythm of the train running over the track, the chugging driving forward motion of every song.  Broonzy’s guitar is both rhythm and lead section at times, holding everything together while at the same time offering ragtime flourishes that are a delight to hear.

It never reaches the fire and passion of early Rock and Roll, but it is no stretch to imagine that Chuck Berry heard Broonzy play and borrowed a riff or two.

It is an interesting production decision to order the tracks not chronologically, but almost by recording quality.  Midway through Side B, on the earliest tracks from 1928, the transfer noise becomes far more noticable.  This could have prevented me from properly engaging if the album had been chronological, if this were the quality I had first heard.  That it occurs once I am fully committed and enjoying the ride means that I do not really notice it for the first few plays.

It just makes me wish I could have heard Big Bill live . . .

Next Week:  Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers – Any Other Way To Go?

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 130 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 130 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (106 of 130 = 82%)

[103] Blind Blake – Ragtime Guitar’s Foremost Fingerpicker

27 Mar

The hiss and pop heard in the transfer of these recordings from wax give the music a fragile air, a feeling which is intensified by the clean single guitar notes, yet utterly at odds with the solid, seemingly indestuctible structure which these individual notes construct.

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This juxtaposition can be seen again and again throughout the 60-plus minutes  of . . . Fingerpicker.

There is a joy mingled with hopelessness and resignation.  There is the feeling of a great host of players, even when it is just Blake’s guitar and voice.  And when piano or the occasional horn join it, the results sounds like a carnival, but the focus is always on Blake, his unassuming vocals and his inexplicable fingers.

Blake’s voice is evocative without melodrama, sketching the melodies that anchor each piece as his fingers fly over the guitar doing all of the rest of the work.

The guitar in Blake’s hand has a kind of relentlessness, almost like a force of nature. The impression given is that, once started, nothing can stop the music that is captured here.

On the up-tempos the notes fly by like a stampede, brushing everything in their path aside.  In the slower numbers it feels like molten lava oozing out of a volcano, inevitable, unstoppable.

Despite the decades, the sound of the Blues here is instantly recognizable – “One Time Blues” feels like the embryo of “Sweet Home Chicago” – and Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s line (from Starlight Express) applies as often as not:

The first line of the blues
Is always sung a second time
I said the first line of the blues
Is always sung a second time
So by the time you get to the third line
You’ve had time to think of a rhyme.

But what elevates Blind Blake into the rare air of the 1,000 is his virtuoso guitar work.  He manages the impressive feat flawlessly of making the highly complex look effortless.

Such talent is timeless, therefore always worth celebrating and exploring.

Next Week:  Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 103 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (16 of 103 = 16%)
Recommend? Yes. (85 of 103 = 83%)

[78] Bix Beiderbecke – Singin’ The Blues, Vol. 1

3 Oct

Bright and breezy, light and crisp.  Listening to these wonderful 90 year old tunes feels like Fall.

Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Eddie Land and co.

Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Eddie Lang and co.

Once more, I initially feel at a loss to explain why this selection of tunes pleases me so when a similar collection from Sidney Bechet left me unmoved.  Perhaps I am unfairly comparing the recording quality, which is noticeably poorer in the case of Bechet.  Maybe I prefer the freedom, the looseness which is more noticeable in the Beiderbecke sides.

Whatever the reason, Beiderbecke and his ever changing cast of accompanying musicians grab my ear and my heart from almost the first note, dovetailing effortlessly with the beautiful Fall weather outside my open window.

The more I listen however, the more I come to realize that there may be another, deeper reason for my connection to this sound.  While I am not certain that it was ever actually Beiderbecke that he played, this sound strongly reminds me of the music that I often heard – between 40s standards and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas – whenever my Grandpa was around.

It is a good memory.

Beiderbecke’s coronet dances up and down the scale, darting in and out of the structures built by the rest of the band.  Although recorded around the same time as Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens, the power of those legendary horns are replaced here with a playfulness that is infectious – a complement, not a challenge.

Here is a sound that is easy to love, instantly accessible, endlessly listenable, and a perfect soundtrack for when the season begins to turn.  That it also reminds me of my beloved Grandpa is just gravy.

Next week:  Harry Belafonte – Live At Carnegie Hall

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 78 = 12%)
Heard before blogging? No. (12 of 78 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (63 of 78 = 81%)

[72] Ludwig van Beethoven – Archduke Trio / Kreutzer Sonata

22 Aug

I press play, and immediately my senses are overwhelmed by such beautiful melodies, the seamless transitions between piano and strings trading those melodies back and forth.

Archduke Trio / Kreutzer Sonata

Archduke Trio / Kreutzer Sonata

It is like a private conversation, overheard in passing that the listener can’t help but eavesdrop on – you want to hear what each has to say, what interesting tidbit comes next, how the others will react.

Moon makes it clear that, impressive as the composition of these works undeniably are, it is the performance of the Trio that elevates this particular recording.  Three friends and virtuoso soloists – Thibault, Casals and Cortot – had been playing together for two decades when these takes were captured in London in the late 20s.

You can hear the chemistry, the affection between the performers, not to mention the long years of history and practice which brings an immediate familiarity to each tune.  Everything is so intricate – lines overlapping, tempos and moods constantly shifting – but the sound remains effortless.

Nothing is allowed to interfere with the pleasure of experiencing, or performing, the music.

It quickly occurs to me that the “Archduke” excites me at least as much as anything else I have discovered over the last 15 plus months.

It is unusual for me to be so moved by instrumental music – it is usually a lyric that makes my heart grow three sizes – but the Scherzo second section of the “Archduke” at times leaves me with a swell in my chest and a catch in my throat.

Here is another example of why I picked up Tom Moon’s book, why I started this blog in the first place.  Of course I have heard Beethoven’s work before, but I have only ever scratched the surface – the “Pastoral”, the “Fifth”, the pieces that are used at all times and in every place.  I needed an excuse to actively dig deeper for the quality I knew must be there, and this first of six choices does not disappoint.

Six for The Beatles and six for Beethoven. Seems appropriate for such giant names.

Next Week:  Ludwig van Beethoven – String Quartets, Opp. 131 & 135

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 72 = 13%)
Heard before blogging? No. (11 of 72 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (58 of 72 = 81%)

[70] Sidney Bechet – Ken Burns’ Jazz

8 Aug

Timing is everything, and it may be that the timing of my coming to Sidney Bechet has done him no favors.

Ken Burns' Jazz

Ken Burns’ Jazz

At this point in my journey, I have already declared my love for the far more experimental Jazz titans like Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill and Albert Ayler.  That is not to say I haven’t greatly enjoyed some more traditional voices – Adderly, Armstrong and Baker come to mind – but at least on this recording I am not hearing anything that excites me.

I actually went back to the previously named artists in the midst of listening to Bechet, trying to pinpoint why it was that I enjoyed one so much more over another.  And the answer that seems to make most sense to me is “timing . . .”

Would I be raving about the old-fashioned sound of the recordings here if I had heard them earlier in the 1,000?  Would the sound of the clarinet and soprano sax have moved me more if I hadn’t already been wowed by Louis and Chet?

Of course it is impossible to know for sure.

There is nothing at all wrong with the sounds on this career spanning disc – Ken Burns always does his homework – and I spent a pleasant enough week or so with it playing in the background.  But unlike most of the Jazz that has opened my eyes and widened my pallette, Bechet never emerges from the background to the spotlight, never makes me stop what I’m doing to groove with him for a while.

It is possible, even likely, that I do not quite grasp the importance of Bechet’s sound.  Or maybe I just don’t appreciate the Soprano as much as I do the more familiar Alto or Tenor sax?

Whatever the reason, it is time for me to leave Sidney Bechet behind for now . . .

Next Week: Beck – Mutations

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 70 = 13%)
Heard before blogging? No. (11 of 70 = 16%)
Recommend? No. (56 of 70 = 80%)

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