Woody Herman: Ebony Concerto

Emigrating to the U.S. during World War II, the world's foremost composer found himself financially strapped. Grateful for whatever commissions came his way, Igor Stravinsky accepted one from Woody Herman's Herd, renowned for raising musical hell. Stravinsky met this manic opportunity with unexpected restraint. "He wrote the quietest piece he ever wrote in his life," said Herman, disappointed. The elements are characteristically Stravinsky—undercurrents of throbbing, choppy syncopation; a short, keening clarinet/trombone duet urged on by tom-tom and trumpets. His circumspection, however, failed to satisfy the overheated demands of postwar jazz. Too bad. Ebony Concerto is a fascinating, enduring curio.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments


Stan Getz: I'm Late, I'm Late

In 1961, Focus session hadn't acquired today's weasel connotations, but instead described the recording of Eddie Sauter's suite for tenor sax and orchestra. Its sprightly opening reminds highbrows of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936), and to us lowbrows suggests the White Rabbit in Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951). Stan Getz's completely improvised playing on two 4-minute takes proved so remarkable, they were spliced to form a continuous 8-minute track. The violins/viola ensembles are ragged in spots, and Stan's reed balks twice, but Roy Haynes's drumming is superb, and Getz is, as usual, sublime. A very important date.

October 30, 2007 · 0 comments


Miles Davis: Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)

    Miles Davis, photo by Herb Snitzer

Concierto de Aranjuez (1939), directed its composer, “should be only as strong as a butterfly, and as dainty as a veronica.” Twenty years later, butterfly Davis and veronica Evans pollinated the greatest jazz-meets-classical flowering ever. Evans's orchestration is stupendous, but Miles's playing—alternating trumpet (first open, later Harmon-muted) with low-register flugelhorn—transcends even that for hushed, goose-bump drama. "Everybody in the whole studio," participant Elvin Jones recalled, "including engineers, janitors, and everyone else—they were just awed. And it was because Miles rose above himself. It was one of his greatest performances. I thought it was magnificent.” It still is.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments


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