Tag Archives: Germany

[156] Can – Tago Mago

8 Apr

Another week, another mish-mash of an album, cramming all sorts of sounds and feelings into its experimental 1970s frame.  (That’s five consecutive albums full of experimentation, for those keeping score at home.)

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This time it’s German Rock.  This time I love it.

There are the sweeping prog-rock jam tracks, noodling and soaring for minutes on end.  There is the borrowed punk attitude, at times so necessary in life, put to excellent use here as a sort of color commentary.  There is the ponderous, goth-flavored epic “Aumgn”, so effective that my wife and daughter requested I turn it off since (and I quote), “It’s freaking us out.”

Unlike moments over the last weeks where the experimentation has been too extreme, too uneven, Can manage to create a homogeneous sound from all the diverse parts, resulting in an album that (when my girls aren’t around) I want to listen to from beginning to end.

There is plenty that is familiar here, more than enough influences in common with the rock I already know and love from the UK and the US of around this era.  When the guitar solos you can hear Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry.  In the layers of sound, with the raw vocals buried way down in the mix, it is not a stretch to intuit the inspiration of the more out-there Beatles moments.  The jam band tracks even have a Jazz tinge, following the idea wherever it leads, allowing each band member the opportunity to solo in the spotlight.

Surprisingly I find that the discords – the at times almost atonal vocals – do not grate.  Rather they act as a pleasing counterpoint to the tightly coiled rhythm that rules every track.  The driving, endless beats remind me of nothing so much as Harry Connick Jr.’s wonderful attempt at a Rock album, She.

Yes, I acknowledge what a weird combination I am juxtaposing here – experimental German Rock of the 70s and popuar US Jazz of the 90s.  But just humor me.  Play Can’s “Halleluwah” (all 18 minutes of it) then follow it up with Connick’s “That Party”, and see whether I’m onto something, or just plain crazy.

I’ll accept either answer.

Next Week:  Nati Cano’s Mariachi los Camperos – Viva el Mariachi

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 156 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 156 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (130 of 156 = 83%)

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[154] Uri Caine – Urlicht/Primal Light

25 Mar

Klezmer or Classical?  Jazz or German?  Secular, Religious, or just a hot mess?  This is one of the most wide-ranging, eclectic, schizophrenic albums I have ever heard, and I think I like it.

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It’s all over the place, with sections of Free Jazz chaos prompting people to ask me to turn it off, and others of haunting vocal chants which inspire people to ask me to turn it up, followed by  hectic accordions and showbiz piano sections keeping me and everyone else who hears it on their toes.

Somehow it is all tied together – presumably by the guiding mind behind each changed (at times tortured) composition, Gustav Mahler.  I’ll never know for sure, though, as don’t think I would recognize “a piece of Mahler’s” outside of this decidedly non-traditional setting.

The big brassy horns are reminiscent of so much of the Jazz – both experimental and traditional – I’ve been enjoying over the last 3 years.  The piano and drum solos are a pleasant and unexpected diversion.  But is the shift of gears into whirling Klezmer and later the familiar strains of Cantors praying – at times accompanied by crazy syncopated rhythms – which ensures my attention is constantly returning to this vast and varied soundscape.

I’m curious to hear the original, untainted Mahler pieces.  But not interested enough to actually, you you, seek it out and listen to it.  It appears to be the mystery as much as anything that I am drawn to.

Yes, there are moments where it sounds like the 14 piece band happened to be tuning up while the mic was live.  No, there really isn’t a cohesive sound on display.  But I don’t care.

I kind of love it.

Next Week:  Camaron De La Isla – Le Leyenda Del Tiempo

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 154 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 154 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (129 of 154 = 84%)

[124] Johannes Brahms – The Four Symphonies

21 Aug

I listened to these pieces for 14 hours yesterday.

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And while I did at times notice moments of elegance and interest, at the end of the day the whole thing just washed over me unlike waves on a beach.

Yes, unlike – the beach is gradually changed by the water.  I was not.

Perhaps, once more, it is timing.  These large, abstract pieces fare poorly in comparison with the stunning and intimate piano and cello pieces just past.

Or perhaps it is just my mood.  Maybe I’m not feeling symphonies today, or at least not ones which I do not recognize.

And this is the final straw – this lack of recognition, the fact that after hearing each piece half a dozen times and more, I do not find myself humming passages, am not anticipating favorite moments as I did throughout the Beethoven Symphonies, both familiar and new to me.

In picking this Recording for the 1,000 Tom Moon praises the subtlety of the composition and performance.  I guess sometimes I don’t want subtlety.

Sometimes I just want to be hit in the head.

Next Week: Johannes Brahms – Violin Sonatas, Opp. 78, 100, 108

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 124 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 124 = 15%)
Recommend? No. (102 of 124 = 82%)

[87] Alban Berg – Wozzeck

5 Dec

Spiky, angry, atonal and loud.  But, oh my is this fun.

Hamburg State Philharmonic conducted by Ingo Metzmacher

Hamburg State Philharmonic conducted by Ingo Metzmacher

I just can’t take my focus away from these performances while they play.  I understand that there is a plot here, that the eponymous soldier is not so slowly, not so subtly going mad, but it doesn’t matter.  I am listening to this for the pure physical sound alone.

There is not a single note, not a moment’s interval that is expected, and the vocalists deliver this unbelievably difficult score with passion and precision and power.

And did I mention volume?

The voices are rich and nuanced and beautiful – this is hugely important since the melodies (for want of a better word) are complex beyond the point of comprehension, harsh and intentionally hard to penetrate.  The enjoyment comes here from the performers rather than, as is perhaps more traditional, from the music.

The constantly surprising next note is what engages.

Here is another recording (like Spiritual Unity in the Jazz world) where I can understand someone not enjoying the experience, but where everyone should absolutely give it a chance, if only to see where the outer limit of their tolerance for discord might lie.

There is something refreshingly arbitrary about when I feel the need to recommend a recording, when I do not.

While there have been many, many albums on the list that are simply wonderful and should be a part of any musical vocabulary as well as a handful that I would not wish on anyone ever, there have also been an unexpected number that live in a fascinating grey zone.

This is not my favorite sound.  I am not humming the tunes as I go about my day, not desperate to get home and share it with my girls.  But there is something exhilarating about discovering this something new, something other, an excitement that has not always been present when Tom Moon has eased me out of my comfort zone and into the unknown.

Why here and not elsewhere?  I am honestly not sure I can articulate it.  But I promise to keep trying . . .

Next Week:  Alban Berg – Violin Concerto

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 87 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (12 of 87 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (70 of 87 = 80%)

[77] Ludwig van Beethoven – 9 Symphonies

26 Sep

Tom Moon has saved the best for last when it comes to his Beethoven selections.

David Zinman and The Tonhalle Ochestra Zurich

David Zinman and The Tonhalle Ochestra Zurich

There was an initial appearance of a cop-out in choosing a box set of all 9 symphonies as a single recording – if this is a legitimate strategy then surely Queen’s 40th anniversary Box Set containing all of their albums must be included? – but the performances here are coherent and complete, and of course the music is sublime.

Also, I had forgotten how short a single symphony tends to be.

Throughout the 4 hours of this 5-disc set both composition and delivery is dynamic, inventive and thoroughly engaging – the tempo and mood, volume and color is constantly shifting.  I am utterly engrossed, no matter how many times I listen, no matter how familiar the tune.

Although perhaps I should not be, I am surprised that I have heard every one of these pieces before, not just the 6th, 7th and 9th which I could identify before pressing play, and the 5th which is ingrained into the musical consciousness of the entire Western world and beyond.  Everything here is a part of my musical history, heard on radios and televisions throughout my formative years through to today.

And there is a reason that these perfectly formed, 30 minute masterpieces are so ubiquitous, that the name Beethoven is perhaps the most familiar in Classical music.   These symphonies truly are that special.

There are some technical reason why this particular box set was chosen over the multitude of other recordings cut over the decades.  The orchestra here is working from a newer, perhaps more accurate score, playing at the faster pace that it seems Beethoven intended.

But I am quite certain that any number of “lesser” recordings would have moved me as much.

Over and over I find myself wallowing in a melody, enjoying a pretty line, revisiting well known phrases which trigger a multitude of sense memories.  I smile often while these symphonies play.

And the extended explorations of melody through repetition, through rhythm and structure, capture both my imagination and my intellect.

Beethoven is as masterful painting in broad, powerful musical strokes as he is creating quietly reflective internal moments.  Although I do so love the loud, brash movements it is the contrast with the meditative ones that elevate the whole to well earned world class status, and which leaves me wanting more.

Next week:  Bix Beiderbecke – Singin’ The Blues, Vol. 1

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 77 = 12%)
Heard before blogging? Yes. (12 of 77 = 16%)
Recommend? Yes. (62 of 77 = 81%)

[75] Ludwig van Beethoven – The Five Piano Concertos

12 Sep

There is *a lot* of music here.

Rudolf Serkin and the Bavarian Radio Orachestra

Rudolf Serkin and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra

The first section of the first Concerto – No 1 in C – is bright and lively and tons of fun with energetic runs up and down keys.  During the solo piano sections there are moments that, like during The Well Tempered Clavier, seem almost like exercises, but they are so amusing and engaging that you can’t help but smile, and follow where the stream of notes carry you.

It is almost a disappointment when the orchestra returns.

The melodies have a simplicity to them, without a feeling of staleness or overfamiliarity.  All of the complexity seems to be saved for the rest of the instruments, although perhaps it only seems this way thanks to the effortlessness of Serkin’s playing.

There is already plenty to explore and enjoy, and I am only into the first Concerto.

I can’t tell if Concerto No 2 in B flat is less interesting, or if I’m just having trouble maintaining focus.  It is certainly pretty, and once more I am more interested in the solos than the orchestral sections.

I understand the reasoning behind Moon’s selection – a unified take on one section of Beethoven’s work by one soloist, one conductor, one orchestra – but I am not immediately convinced that I needed to hear the whole thing, that each Concerto captured here is all as essential and necessary as the next.

What begins to win me over is the immense sense of fun – Serkin is so obviously enjoying himself that the orchestra and audience can’t help but feel it too.

With Concerto No 3 in C minor, Beethoven continues to require that his pianist range all over the keys in fascinating runs and chases – always highlighting the journey and to hell with the destination.

I find that I am enjoying this flamboyant, show-offish exuberance.  I am not a dancer, but the C minor makes me want to move, to emote, to express.

I am somewhat surprised that – once again – that I do not recognize anything here.  The radio in my childhood home was often set to Classical stations and my Grandpa’s record collection was full of Classical recordings, yet none of the Beethoven I have encountered over the past month has rung any significant bells of memory.

It begs the question, would I recognize these pieces if and when I encounter them again in the future?  Would I even necessarily know them for Beethoven?

Just how superficial has my exploration been?

At the very least I am learning to recognize the parts that make up a Piano Concerto – the frisky opening, the more langourous middle section, and the almost triumphant finale.

Until, of course, Beethoven departs from convention with Concerto Nos 4 and 5.

By the time we reach Concerto No 4 in G major I’ve somewhat lost interest, am running out of steam even if Serkin and company certainly have not.

“The Emperor” – Concerto No 5 in E flat – drags my attention back where it belongs.

I’m almost certain I’ve seen Tom chasing Jerry around to this one, and even if I haven’t the impression is still strong of hectic, manic motion paired with brief, contemplative moments.

It is wonderful.

Despite all of the preceding paragraphs, the previous weeks of discussing Beethoven and others, I am more or less faking it when it comes to Classical music in a way that I am just not with the Rock and Pop, even the Jazz and World recordings.

But while I don’t truly understand Classical structure and composition, I do have a well defined sense of what I like, and it creates a sort of internal heiarchy in place of any concrete logic.

So I can say that I enjoy these Piano Concertos far more than anything I heard by Bartok, but would choose to listen to Martha Argerich’s renditions of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3 over Serkin’s Beethoven performances.

Something to do with the immediacy and vitality of the Argerich recording.

As I said, all very internal and imprecise.

I have always been a musical nomad, a jack of all genres, and this project seems to be reinforcing that sense.  There is something I love in every genre, just as there are gaping holes in my knowledge of each genre.

And I am OK with this . . .

Next Week: Ludwig van Beethoven – Piano Concertos Nos. 4 and 5

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 75 = 12%)
Heard before blogging? No. (11 of 75 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (60 of 75 = 80%)

[53] Bartok – Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra / Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 6

11 Apr

I’m sorry. I tried, but I just don’t seem to like the music of Bela Bartok.

Ferenc Fricsay

Ferenc Fricsay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a shame, because the premise of this particular album is fascinating – one of the last recordings of Ferenc Fricsay, a giant of a conductor, leading the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra through a performance of some of the last works of Bartok and Tchaikovsky.

But where much of the Classical music Tom Moon has exposed me to has inspired and engrossed, I have simply found nothing through three Bartok recordings to grab hold of, to sink my teeth into.

I’m sure there are Bartok fans who will roll their eyes at my naivite, shake their fist at my heresy.  Who knows, Moon might be foremost among them.  But as I keep discovering through this fascinating journey – “the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum . . .”

By the time we reach the Tchaikovsky here, my attention has already waned, my interest is elsewhere, no matter how many times I play through.  Hopefully my experience will be different 15 years or so from now when I reach Tchaikovsky in the T’s where he belongs, rather than this teaser all the way back on Bartok’s coattails.

It is the nature of the way I am tackling the list that when I run into an artist that Tom Moon chooses multiple albums from, if I do not enjoy them as much as him I am stuck for weeks trying to hear what it is that he hears. 

On the other hand, when that artist is a revelation, I encounter weeks of unexpected bliss.

So what’s next?  I’m ready to hear something different, and some obscure Opera followed by classic big band swing ought to do the trick.

Next Week: Cecilia Bartoli – the Vivaldi Album

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 53. 4%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 53. 8%)
Recommend? No. (41 of 53. 77%)

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