Claire-Marie Le Guay’s Gentle and Perceptive Bach

Bach again, really? I am reviewing too much Bach. But then again, can anybody have too much Bach? Probably not. To be fair, it took me a while to really appreciate Bach. In my youth, I barely listened to him, and my handful of experiences playing him myself made matters worse (I was never a good piano student, to lazy to practice). I assume the beauty and clarify of Bach is something that really needs to grow on you over time. In my thirties (I’m now in my forties) i started realizing that I started to listen more and more to Baroque music, and particularly Bach. It wasn’t a conscious choice, it just happened naturally. And today I literally just can’t get enough (ha, do you have Depeche Mode playing in your head now as well? I do every time I write this phrase in English).

Claire-Marie Le Guay

I must admit I hadn’t noticed her before this “Choc” by Classica some months ago, released on Mirare in 2015. But then I saw her teachers included Alicia de Larrocha and Andreas Staier, I got curious. She has won several competitions and has notably quite busy doing chamber music.

Her Bach album

Claire-Marie Le Guay - Bach Mirare 2015

As usual, when a French magazine reviews a French artist and sells him or her as “the best thing since sliced bread”, I usually take it with a grain of salt. But when I checked out this particular album, I just had to get it pretty much immediately. And this in spite of me being more and more skeptical about Bach on a modern Steinway. What sets this album apart is her touch. Delicate, almost caressing. Bach can be quite tough sometimes, or mechanical, if played by the wrong musician. None of this is here. And in spite of all this gentleness, the music is fully there. You don’t miss any single counterpoint turn in the beautiful Italian Concerto, and even the Chromatic Fantasia BWV903, which sometimes can be a bit academic, is just drawing you in.

Overall rating: 4 stars (I hesitated a long time whether I should give 5 stars, but somehow my subconscious tells me only harpsichord Bach should get the best possible rating, which is probably bullshit)

You can get it here as CD and here as download

Nina Revisited… or I’d Never Have Thought I’d Ever Mention Usher On This Blog

Hommage albums are all the rage. After the brilliant Autour de Nina (reviewed here), I was nevertheless kind of curious about the new album Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone.

0886445281262_600

Well, obviously when I saw that artists like Usher participated (who really represents to me everything that is wrong about today’s top 40 radio “soul”), I kind of assumed I’d hate this album, so I declare openly in front of the jury my potential bias.

But then I figured, what the heck, so far every single album review I’ve done was four or five stars, so I finally felt obliged to also show to you what it is I actually don’t like.

Nina Revisited….

This album is a very good example.

Usher’s version of My Baby Just Cares For Me is massacring this song, which to be fair, was never particularly good in the first place (the producers forced Nina Simone at the time to add it as they felt there were too many ballads on her debut album Little Girl Blue), but at least it can be pleasing and swinging. It is nothing like that here, just brainless drum-computer-plus-overproduced-synthesizers elevator music.

Nina Simone Little Girl Blue 1958 Bethlehem

So why bother mentioning this album at all on my blog? Why waste my energy? Well, because there are actually a handful of tracks on this album that are quite enjoyable.

First of all, Ms. Lauryn Hill does a really good job on Feeling Good; this could even become my favorite version of this feel-good (sorry for the pun) song, and Wild in the Wind is also pretty well done. She shouldn’t have done Ne me quitte pas, but then again, Nina shouldn’t have done either. If you don’t know it, please do yourself the favor and check out Jacques Brel’s original. Once you’ve heard this, you’d wish nobody ever bothered to cover this song with a horrible English accent in the first place.

Alice Smith’s version of I put a spell on you is actually quite interesting, although far from Sophie Hunger’s brilliant version on Autour de NinaGregory Porter’s version of Sinnerman is at least as enjoyable as Keziah Jones. And finally, Lisa Simone’s I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl is decent background music.

Overall rating: barely 3 starsEDIT: Nah, the couple of decent tracks on here doesn’t make up for the unbearable garbage of some others: 2 stars. 

Do yourself a favor and only buy individual tracks here!

Music That Gives My Readers Goose Bumps – part I

My rather spontaneous post about  my top 10 music that gives me goose bumps inspired by Cosi Fan Tutte turned out to be my most successful post by far.

I’ve received a lot of feedback on different social media sites and fora, it would be too much of a pity not to share this, as there is excellent stuff in there I could have mentioned myself. Listed below in random order. I’ll quote the source’s avatar name in brackets, and my little personal comment (if any) right next to it.

To make these posts manageable I’ll only list 10 per post. Again, source are all publicly available Youtube links.

Expect more to come.

By the way, I’d really appreciate hearing more from you, this has been extremely fun so far!

Mozart: Piano Concerto no. 21 – Andante (GuidoF) – oh yes absolutely, this piece I’ve even added to the soundtrack of my own wedding video.

Bach’s b-minor mass (GuidoF) – sure, I’ve already posted about it here.

Ravel: Ma Mère l’Oie (SonnetCLV) – Ravel really has extremely touching moments

Berg: Lulu’s death (Albert7) – I’m not a Berg fan across the board, but this is beautiful

Verdi: Don Carlo – Et giammai m’amo (GuidoF) – among my favorite Verdi operas as well

Vivaldi: Gloria RV589 (accwai) – Yes yes yes, can’t be bothered with most of Vivaldi, but this one is great!

Scarlatti: Sonata K213 (accwai) – In a recent twitter conversation with Jens F. Laurson (@classicalcritic) he seemed shocked by my somehow dismissive comment here about Scarlatti leaving me cold. Well, he has a point, and I’ve since changed my mind. This is another case in point.

Bantock: Celtic Symphony (Metairie Road) – have to admit had never heard this before, but beautiful

Brahms: Alto Rhapsody (Andolink) – I doubt Andolink has read my blog post about it, but he recommended exactly the same Herreweghe recording – nice.

http://www.talkclassical.com/38978-music-gives-me-goose.html?highlight=goose

Bach: Largo from the Double Concerto BWV1043 – oh yeah, this needs a future blog post.

That’s all for today, as said before, more to come! And please, give me more!

Edgar Knecht – Dance On Deep Waters – Transforming  Traditional Songs into Jazz

To me, Jazz Piano Trio is just an outstanding art form, as already discussed on my previous post on Keith Jarrett’s’ Standards vol. 2.

Actually, Standards fits nicely into a number of trios/albums that have shaped and influenced this particular art form. You could start this lineage with Bill Evans first trio, then move on to Keith Jarrett’s Standards trio, and somehow the third level of evolution came with the late Esbjörn Svensson and his trio. He clearly innovated the trio on many fronts.

Many of today’s piano trios would be unthinkable without EST. And we are very lucky that this art form is not only still alive, but thriving.

About 18 month ago I started a thread on another forum on that topic, called “Are we living in the Golden Age of the Jazz Piano trio?“. This thread has now answered the question I was asking with more than 300 posts today and has become an amazing (if unsorted) list documenting how much is happening around us right now!

Edgar Knecht

I want to start writing about some of the artists I mentioned or discovered on this thread. Let me kick this off with my most recent purchase, the 2013 album Dance On Deep Waters from the German Edgar Knecht, on Ozella Music. I actually start with a tricky example, this trio is actually a quartet as it includes a percussionist. But well, it is close enough.

Edgar Knecht Dance On Deep Waters Ozella Music 2013

As you can see from the thread, I was actually introduced to this artists (and many other discoveries) by the forum member Elvergunn, who seems to be even more obsessed than me in finding new artists.

(Little side note: The internet is really such a great place for music, you can exchange with music lovers in the entire world, you find stuff that you would have never found in your local record store, and you can all download it in minutes to your computer thanks to the rapidly multiplying specialized online shops, but let’s close the parenthesis here).

Edgar Knecht in my mind is all about melodies and creating a very particular atmosphere. He takes simple music, from German folk songs to even Brahms famous Lullaby “Wiegenlied” and transforms it into something very special. The only little issue I have with this album is that sometimes you’d like a little bit more diversity in terms of approach and style. But I suppose you can’t have it all.

That said, I find this album very enjoyable and keep going back to it quite regularly right now.
My rating: 4 stars

You can get it here as download and here as  CD.

Bach’s Goldberg Variations and The Brilliant Pierre Hantaï

The Goldberg Variations

I’ve already mentioned the written about the Diabelli-Variations, this K2 of the piano variation catalogue. Now I’m attacking the Everest, and all this without Sherpa.

Well to be fair, all I need to do is write about it, I wouldn’t be able to play any of them beyond the Aria in any case. So probably no Sherpa needed.

What makes the Goldberg-Variations so special? I still have a hard time putting my finger on it. Obviously, you’ll have heard it in a gazillion of movies, whenever the director want to portrait a hero as particularly intellectual, the Goldberg’s come up sooner or later. Hannibal Lecter may only be the most prominent of them. In any case, there is something just extremely fascinating how Bach takes this extremely simple melody and deconstructs it 32 times, in an almost analytical cubist way.

Glenn Gould – yes, there’s him, too

You can’t write about the Goldbergs without mentioning Glenn Gould, one of the first pop stars of the classical world (2M copies sold may not impress Madonna, but still). He recorded the variations twice, once in 1955, really helping this work to become world-famous, and once again in 1981. Fans have been arguing forever which version is better. Personally, I prefer the 1981 version, that said, the Goldbergs are somehow really something I appreciate much more on harpsichord. Plus, his humming with the music, I kind of tolerate this with Keith Jarrett, but for classical music it is really annoying.

Anyway, enough ink has been spilled on these, let me go to my personal preferred artist for these, Pierre Hantaï. (If you prefer the Goldbergs on a modern piano, check out Angela Hewitt, Andras Schiff, or Murray Perahia).

Pierre Hantaï

Hantaï is a French harpsichord player and conductor who has worked with all the great masters of baroque, from Gustav Leonhardt to Sigiswald Kuijken to Jordi Savall. Unfortunately, he records way to rarely, so you will find only a handful of albums from him. This probably hasn’t helped his international reputation, he seems to be still relatively unknown in the non-French speaking world. This is a real pity.

PIerre Hantai Goldberg 1992 recording, Naive reissue

Given how few solo recordings he’s made, you’ll be surprised to see that he has recorded the Goldberg variations twice, in 1992 (recently re-released on the Naïve label) and in 2003 on the Mirare label.

Pierre Hantai Goldberg variations Mirare 2003

Which one to get? Honestly, I don’t know, and I’m going to bail out and say, if you can afford it, both. Both are performances that trump pretty much all of what I’ve heard elsewhere. 1992 is occasionally more energetic, 2003 more reflective, but both are just superb.

In the booklet to the 2003 edition it is mentioned that the Goldberg’s are a work that “he’s played more often than any other since childhood”. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers has written about the 10,000 hours it takes to truly master something. While this claim has recently been challenged, I suppose this is still one of those examples of this rule.

My rating: 5 stars for both

You can find the recordings here and here as downloads and here in physical form (1992 recording only, the 2003 seems to be harder to find on CD).

Keith Jarrett’s My Song – I Really Shouldn’t Be Liking This Album

Keith Jarrett again

Time for another post on Keith Jarrett, given that he prominently figures in my blog’s subtitle. I’ve also mentioned My Song is my recent Songs That Give Me Goose Bumps post .

Jarrett is obviously one of the most brilliant artists in the Jazz world. So why do I say I shouldn’t like this album? Well, two things: a) I love most of Jarrett’s solo albums from the 1970s (the obvious Köln Concert, the Sun Bear Concerts, Bremen/Lausanne), but I find his regular 1970s Jazz albums, very much hit and miss to my taste (with significantly more misses than hits). This is not a particular Keith Jarrett problem, but more my personal problem with the 1970 Jazz scene overall.

Furthermore, I’m not a big fan of Jan Garbarek . Most of the albums I’ve heard of him leave me rather cold and slightly bored. No judgment implied here, just personal taste. (A notable exception is the recently released 2009 Dresden live recording).

My Song

Keith Jarrett MySong_600

So how come this 1977 album is among my absolute all-time favorites? Well, to be fair, one thing that plays in its favor is the fact that this was my first ever Jazz album. Before buying this at the age of 18 or so, Jazz was weird people playing weird music in my mind.

And then I heard this album: amazingly beautiful melodies, very simple and straightforward arrangements. I couldn’t really believe this was what Jazz was all about. So I copied the vinyl on compact cassette (quick history lesson for my younger readers, google it for your general education, this is what MP3s used to look like) and played it in the car radio over and over and over.

Usually, with stuff I used to listen to a lot during my youth I’ve outgrown it by now. Not this album though. There is a timeless beauty in the melodies. All original compositions by Keith by the way.

My preferred song is the eponymous title song, which is one of my preferred melodies of all times (you can hear the crowd cheering when Jarrett plays this as an encore on the Carnegie Hall solo concert, see also the above mentioned post for a Youtube clip).

The other favorite is the relatively short Country, where Jarrett introduces the theme, before Garbarek get’s to take it over. The rest of the album is very nice as well, with the exception of the slightly random (to my ears) Mandala. All the rest, after all these years, I can still listen to over and over and over again. A rare achievement.

My rating: 5 stars

If you want to buy it, the recent 2015 remaster available in 24/96 and 24/192 is of astounding quality. It’s rather expensive, but you could never guess listening to it that this recording is nearly 40 years old. This was originally recorded and mastered in Oslo by Jan Erik Kongshaug, a true recording magician.

You can find it here and here.

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (5): Wayne Shorter – Adam’s Apple

Wayne Shorter

Why did I wait so long, you may ask? Why write about 4 other guys before Wayne Shorter, the absolute heavyweight among the Jazz Messengers Alumni, the only one (to my knowledge) that is still alive and playing?

The guy who got a letter of recommendation by saxophone god John Coltrane to join the Jazz’ Jupiter (big boss of the gods) Miles Davis. Who helped kick off (sadly to my mind, but who am I to judge) the Jazz-Rock and Fusion movement with the group Weather Report he co-founded, and even played with the Stones at some point?

Well, don’t know really. Two issues come to mind: a) respect: what can I still say about such a genius that hasn’t been said before (didn’t stop me in the other posts you may argue, and you’re right). b) choice: So far in my little series on the Jazz Messengers I’ve always picked one, the most enjoyable album, only. That was still kind of doable with the other 4 guys I’ve mentioned here, but which one do you choose for Wayne? At least 3 albums spring to mind that need to be mentioned!

You know what, I’ll just take the liberty (it’s my blog after all, I can do what I want, ain’t it nice?) and do several posts about Wayne, each one with one of my favorite albums.

Adam’s Apple

Wayne Shorter Adam's Apple

Why start with Adam’s Apple? Well, alphabetically it comes first.

No, just kidding, even easier: It is simply the album that got the most plays of all Shorter albums in the last five years. Computer audio is amazing, I not only know what you did last summer (sorry for the stupid movie pun), but thanks to iTunes I can be my own personal NSA and check what I was listening on November 4th, 2011, 8pm for example (Ton Koopman’s Bach cantatas vol. 6, if you’re interested).

Back to Adam’s Apple. I mean, look at the rhythm section, there’s another genius, Herbie Hancock on piano. He’s probably the key reason why I like this album so much. Also, in spite of being released in 1966 (usually a bit “late” for me), it is still very much a proper hard bop album, no fusion or other on here.

And then there are two songs that are worth highlighting as I can’t get enough of them. First there is the title track, it is just swinging and grooving as hard bop should be. Even the guys a blue note tell me on this album Shorter “finds the Groove”, check out this link, it’s got interesting background info on the album.

And then there is the magical (to me) Footprints. Apparently it is not a Jazz waltz (the experts tell me, as this is 6/8 and not 3/4, plus the song keeps changing meter), but still I’d put in one line with the great Jazz Waltzes I really appreciate (probably I need to write another top ten list here). On top of that, Herbie Hancock’s playing here reminds me a lot of Maiden Voyage. 

In short: I really hesitate between 4 and 5 stars here. On one hand it’s Shorter, and has two outstanding songs, on the other hand some of the other songs are not at the same level.

Well if I have to decide: 4 stars in total. 

You can find it here and here. I strongly suggest you go for the recent 24/96 remaster if you care about sound quality (skip the more expensive 24/192), as it is significantly better than the RVG remaster CD released in the 2000’s.