Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Big 5 0

This post marks the 50th upload on this blog, so I made a little mix to celebrate. I'm a fan of long mixes, so this one is over an hour long (but short enough to fit on a CDr) and on top of that it's full of long selections. Most mixtapes only use short cuts, either songs that are short to begin with or excerpts of longer songs. My main beef with even the best of mixtapes is that they are only conducive to radio style listening, they don't let you get too deep into the long jams. If you feel the same way and like jazz, you will probably like this.

Thanks to all the listeners. I have no plans to slow down any time soon, so stay tuned and enjoy.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Piet Noordijk Kwartet: Loverman, 1982

It's been a couple of months since I posted a good old-fashioned straight ahead jazz album, so here's a lovely effort by a quartet featuring three Dutchmen and a German, recorded live in 1980. The grooves on the A side are especially slick. All the musicians play beautifully on this one and Noordijk (who passed away in October) in particular kills it on a couple of solos. However, it was the great Cees Slinger who stood out to me as the anchor of this album. Slinger, who died a few years back, not only played piano on this album but arranged all the songs. Slinger's work is known and appreciated in some jazz circles, but in my mind, the recognition that he received stateside never matched his creativity in playing and in arranging, (his album Live at the North Sea Jazz Festival is a noteworthy example of the latter.)

I'd be curious to hear how well known Slinger is in Europe, but in any case he is a member of the generation of European jazz musicians whose contributions to the genre have been severely underappreciated in the U.S. Unlike so many American listeners, a lot of the American jazz greats viewed a number of Western and Northern European countries as significant sites on the jazz map. American jazz musicians toured Europe routinely and some even relocated to Europe permanently to live there as ex-pats and make their mark on the European jazz aesthetic by playing with local musicians. Slinger was apparently well acquainted with the American circuit; All About Jazz credits him with playing alongside Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Knepper, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy Heath, and Archie Shepp, among others.

It's impossible to say exactly which musical trends the Americans brought across the pond and which ones they brought back to the States as a result of their international collaborations, but there is no question that trans-Atlantic listening was a major part of jazz even from the decades immediately following the genre's inception. Early on, a lot Black musicians liked playing in Paris because they were treated less like second class citizens there. And from some time in the 20th century through to the present day, European governments have been very supportive of creative music compared to the U.S. government, giving out grants for compositions, performances, and travel much more readily. These factors and the general enthusiasm that so many Europeans have historically felt for jazz made the continent a much more comfortable environment for the music, and even today they say that it is much easier to live as a jazz musician in Europe than in the U.S.

The thing that I wonder about is why European jazz fans seem to know so much more about American jazz than Americans know about European jazz. Obviously, the music was born in the States and many of its major innovations occurred on American soil as well, but I get the sense that European collectors are generally more dedicated to seeking out the deeper, rarer jazz recordings from all around the world. Is it a different attitude towards the arts in general? A different culture of music listening? Either way, I'm always grateful to hear new material from the European masters, especially because in the absence of a lot of information about their careers, every recording feels like a window into a different world.

Piet Noordijk: alto and soprano saxes, percussion
Cees Slinger: piano and arrangements
Rob Langereis: bass
Evert Overweg: drums

No Problem by Easyjams

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Paganini String Quartet: Debussy Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10; Lees Quartet No. 2, 1957

Today I bring you the next installment in my quest to discover classical music: Debussy's String Quartet in G Minor played by the highly respected Paganini String Quartet. This was the only string quartet that Debussy ever wrote, although the liner notes mention that he intended to compose another. The music on this record is incredibly beautiful; it is full of passages featuring Debussy's characteristic whole tone scale, but it also shows a mastery of harmony, rhythm, and dynamics. The rich timbres are as much a credit to the musicians (and apparently the instruments as well) as to Debussy, but the richness and beauty of the composition itself could have only come from the mind of a great master. To date, I would rank this as my favorite of the classical records in my collection.

The quartet does not actually feature the great virtuoso Paganini, but all four musicians, Henri Temianka, Gustave Rosseels, Charles Foidart, and Lucien Laporte play on Stradivari instruments previously owned by Paganini. The sound quality of the disc is high and the instruments sound very pure, but the fact that the quartet chose to base their image and name on their Stradivari instruments got me thinking. Is the Stradivarius sound really so unapproachably unique, and if so, are his pieces truly superior to those of all the other artisans who have ever produced instruments in the violin family? I understand that there is little consensus on this issue in the classical world, and I therefore wonder if it would be appropriate to draw a parallel between the Stradivari issue and the audiophile movement. There are some music listeners who insist that they can tell the difference between audiophile recordings and their less extravagant counterparts, but I for one have always been a little skeptical of just how superior audiophile recordings really are to the human ear. First of all, most audiophiles have had years of listening practice to make their ears more discriminating. Second of all, most of them tend to have unreasonably expensive sound systems, so it seems to me that to the degree that audiophile records do sound better, the difference is only perceptible on prohibitively expensive equipment. For all practical purposes, then, the difference is negligible. Finally, although this suspicion doesn't prove anything, I would be curious to hear how these listening experts would fare in a pepsi challenge type exercise. I once heard that if you play the exact same recording on the exact same gear for the same person at two slightly different volumes, most respondents will confidently answer that the louder of the two clips had a higher quality sound. In any case, whether or not the uniqueness and perfection of the Stradivari sound are overstated, this record should be a treat for all lovers of deep music.

Debussy- Movement II- Scherzo by Easy Jams

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Folklore Peruano Vol 2: Various Artists

This collection of huaynos features twelve songs by five groups, probably recorded some time in the 1970's. The huayno is a type of Peruvian music strongly associated with the indigenous people of the Andes and especially with the countryside. Today, a more electronic genre based on huayno structures called the technocumbia has emerged, but conventional huaynos use acoustic instruments, most notably the charango, a plucked string instrument similar to a mandolin and typically include a spoken introduction. This album's focus is love songs, many of which contain strong expressions of Peruvian identity in their lyrics. Some of the artists on this album, like El Jilguero del Huascaran, received wide critical acclaim while Los Hualaychos del Altiplano de Puno yielded no results in a google search.

My first exposure to huayno was through a song on a UNESCO CD called Peru: Music of the Indigenous Communities of Cuzco, which I've posted below. While all the songs on the Folklore record are sung in Spanish, Languilayo Qochachapi is sung in Quechua, the most widely spoken native language of Peru and one of the original languages of the huayno. The singer is eight years old and the instrumentals are a little bit less polished, but the song is incredible. As professional recording artists, the bands on Folklore followed the example of Latin American musicians from all over by turning their regional folk music into something more widely palatable and salable but (many would argue) no less true to its roots. On the back cover, the Odeon label brags that "with this disc, we bring you these artists' best recordings, giving you the exact flavors of the different regions of the Peruvian mountains."

It seems like because the bands on this album don't sound like amateur village bands, the record could sell better, but for the same reason the label had to emphasize the record's authentic qualities. This is a trend that I have noticed in the marketing of so-called folkloric music. People tend to believe that in order to find the ultimate expression of a region's music, the music must be realized in a more formal setting by musicians whose high levels of technique allow them to treat the music with a certain kind of respect. The struggle over the right to claim authenticity is an aspect of many kinds of music, especially those treated as expressions of ethnic or national identity .

I had a hard time figuring out more about this album though. Do the artists and the label identify the music more as a national music than a local music? The song Serrana y Bien Peruana posits a correlation between Andean and Peruvian identity, but is this a different kind of Peruvian identity than say that of a LimeƱo urbanite? Could the label be at odds with some of the artists on this point? By compiling songs in Spanish rather than Quechua and pointing out that the disc contains exemplary performances of all the regional styles, (which is of course impossible in such a small collection,) Odeon claims the music as the property of broader Peru by treating the regional styles as puzzle pieces that fit into a national genre, varied but strongly related. Are these songs huaynos reinvented for an urban setting, even if that setting is Cuzco rather than Lima?

Papayita Verde by Easy Jams

Languilayo Qochachapi by Easy Jams