Archive for the 'CD review' Category

My Definitive (more or less) Missing 10

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

My choice of the top 10 albums that weren’t included on the HOF/NARM list:

  • McCartney, Paul McCartney
  • The Forgotten Arm, Aimee Mann
  • Tim, the Replacements
  • East Side Story, Squeeze
  • Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello and the Attractions
  • Sandinista!, the Clash
  • Hard Rain, Bob Dylan
  • Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen
  • Jesus of Cool, Nick Lowe
  • A Ghost is Born, Wilco

Mildred Couper: “Xanadu” and “Dirge”

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

I’ve been listening to Zeitgeist‘s recordings of Mildred Couper (1887–1974) over and over and over again lately.

Ruth Crawford Seeger: String Quartet (1931): III. Andante

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

The third movement of this string quartet is nice and eerie. It mainly consists of the two violins (I think; I’m not sure) weaving two haunting, sinuously dissonant, sort of atemporal, melodies. Later the viola and cello join in and things get a bit more organized sounding (as they all sort of go tumbling down to earth and then scatter again). But the part with just the violins is the part I really like. Perfect Halloween music. Or for any other time.

This is on a CD called Portrait on Deutsche Grammophon. The String Quartet is performed by Marijke van Kooten, violin I; Heleen Hulst, violin II; Karin Dolman, viola; and Hans Woudenberg, cello.

“Workingman’s Blues #2” by Bob Dylan on Modern Times

Monday, September 11th, 2006

“Ring! Ring! It’s 7 AM!
Move yourself to go again.”
—The Clash, “The Magnificent Seven”

When you’ve got 20 years of working behind you, and another 20 to go, and it seems like a “long way to go, a hard row to hoe” (in the words of John Lennon), this is a good song to listen to:

“Now the place is ringed with countless foes,
Some of them may be deaf and dumb,
No man, no woman knows
The hour that sorrow will come.”
—Bob Dylan, “Workingman’s Blues #2”

“Rain” by The Beatles (Past Masters, Vol. 2)

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

“Rain” was the B-side of “Paperback Writer” (and is maybe a bit obscure). This song has the best rock drumming of all time. (It also has a great bass part.)

“sdaeh rieht edih dna nur yeht semoc nair eth nehw”.

STEVE REICH: Tehillim (1981), performed by the Schönberg Ensemble. (Part 4)

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

Part IV: Fast

Tehillim ends much as it begins with the ensemble taking a backseat to the contrapuntal voices. However, in Part IV, in contrast to Part I, the counterpoint is much more dense and intricate.

Overall, Tehillim is a great work; I love counterpoint and melodies and this is as good as almost any. It also has that lovely medieval cathedral-like sound. But, I think Early Works is probably more important and even better. Early Works (“It’s Gonna Rain” and “Come Out”, especially) had (and have) things that I haven’t heard anywhere else. And there is music in “It’s Gonna Rain” and “Come Out”. Both have intricacies and subtleties that make for interesting repeated listening. They’re not just concept pieces in which, once you’ve heard the concept, you say, “that’s nice”, and move on.

STEVE REICH: Tehillim (1981), performed by the Schönberg Ensemble. (Part 3)

Sunday, September 3rd, 2006

Part III: Slow

In Part III, the melody in the voices becomes darker. There are two alternating groups of voices: the second of which sing in response to the first. The ensemble in this section has a more traditional classical sound than that in the earlier parts. In Parts I and II, the ensemble outlines the harmonic changes, almost like a jazz pianist or guitarist comping. In this part, the arranging for the ensemble (except for maybe the percussion) sounds like that of a traditional orchestral work.

STEVE REICH: Tehillim (1981), performed by the Schönberg Ensemble. (Part 2)

Saturday, September 2nd, 2006

Part II: Fast

In Part II, the voices sing in unison, rather than in counterpoint. The voices continue to develop long flowing melodies without much repetition. Also, there is a brief section in which the ensemble plays a melody rather than just its usual accompanying harmonic emphases. The syncopated rhythms of the percussion sound a lot like those in “Clapping Music”.

The melodies in this part don’t have so much of the church sound that is present in Part I. From listening to Early Works, there was no reason to think that Reich might have a gift for melody, but this part shows that he indeed does.

STEVE REICH: Tehillim (1981), performed by the Schönberg Ensemble.

Friday, September 1st, 2006

Tehillim is a work for voices and ensemble.

Part I: Fast

Part I is nice contrapuntal music for mainly female voices. The backing ensemble is sparse; there are percussion parts played throughout much of it and other very brief sections where instruments emphasize the chord changes. While the vocal parts are reminiscent of medieval church music or maybe Bach, the instrumental ensemble’s backing is much more like that of popular music than it is of classical music. It starts and ends with a single female voice singing a nice extended melody. In the middle, many parts sing contrapuntally with the repetition characteristic of Reich’s earlier work.

STEVE REICH: Early Works. (Part 4)

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

“It’s Gonna Rain” (1965).

Like “Come Out”, this work is derived from a tape loop. It has two parts, each based on a separate speech loop. The first part (which actually contains the “it’s gonna rain” phrase) is okay, but the second part (which talks about flesh melting off of hands and God sealing the door so the sinners can’t enter) is the really good part, and it’s that part that I’ll discuss below.

This is one scary piece. Until I looked at the dates on the CD, I thought this was the latest of Steve Reich’s process music works, because it sounds, to me, like the apotheosis of that style. It not only sounds like the Flood or the Deluge or even the Apocalypse, but like Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” burning and gnashing their teeth in the flames of Hades. I’m talking about the latter part of the piece where the original speech has broken up and morphed into something far more frightening than some street preacher who you can shrug off while you continue your shopping in Union Square (where the source tape for this was originally recorded). The truly frightening thing is that all the sounds in this piece are implicit in the original tape of the street preacher.

One night I was listening to this piece and it reminded me of a part in the book The Exorcist. I mean the section where top linguistic scientists at the Vatican analyze the tapes of the possessed girl Regan and determine that she’s actually speaking backwards! (This was much scarier in the book than my description of it.) You get the feeling that if you ran all Steve Reich’s processes in reverse on this piece that you wouldn’t get the original street preacher’s text back, but, perhaps, the voice of Beelzebub speaking and telling us what’s really going on. And that’s probably far, far from the tony stores and tourist trap bars surrounding Union Square.