Thu. Oct 22nd, 2020

Music Review | 1980-4

Classical Corner

Flutist Harold Jones treated his audience to a wonderful afternoon of music at Alice Tully Hall recently. His program included works of Johan Quantz, Jindrich Feld, Pierre Sancan, and Robert Holmes, whose unfamiliar names let you guess the program would hover in the realms of sometimes atonal contemporary music.

Jones is an excellent flutist. He took the Presto of the Sonata No. 4 for Flute and Piano, by Quantz a bit too fast, which caused the rhythmic flow to be interrupted. The balance of the program, however, was smooth sailing. Feld’s sonata, although atonal, was most compelling and displayed a delightful sense of humor. Pianist Pauline Lederer handled this challenging sonata beautifully, as she did the rest of the program. Not all was alien to the average musical ear. The Gaubert Troisieme Sonate, for instance, was much more on the melodic side, exhibiting warm, Debussy-like qualities.

Jones’s performance also featured the works of Norman Dello Joio, Pierre Sancan, Robert Holmes, and ended with a thrilling baroque work by A. Bazzini entitled La Ronde des Lutins.

Triad Presentations Inc., presented Jones in concert. The organization was founded in 1971 by Marion and Clarissa Cumbo, who endeavor to encourage and expose competent black artists who otherwise might not have the opportunity to present their craft in concert.

Upcoming classical events to mark in your calendar include soprano Jessye Norman’s recital at Avery Fisher Hall, Sunday, April 13 at 3 pm and fellow soprano Shirley Verrett’s vocal presentation at the Chamber Music Society, Lincoln Center, Thursday, April 24.

Records

Stevie Wonder’s latest opus, Secret Life Of Plants, is probably the most eclectic piece of music currently on the market. Wonder, like never before, has borrowed and incorporated a maze of musical styles ranging from West African, to Asian to jazz and hard rock.

Just to set the record straight, so to speak, this album is the least commercial of all his works and not nearly as ear catching as his Songs In The Key Of Life. You will not be humming too many tunes from this album.

I would hate to call this album a mixed bag, but in the final analysis, it is. The opening music, Earth’s Creation, is strictly Moody Blues — monumental chords, explosive effects, in short, a wall of sound. He then seques into some more rhythmic patter and finally soothes our ears with the ballad Same Old Story, before treating us to Venus Flytrap and the Bug, an outrageously jazzy piece of musical parody.

Much of Stevie’s plant music is reminiscent of San Francisco flower power days, and as such leans toward retrogression instead of innovation. But there are some positive sides to picking from the past. Stevie has included a touch of J.S. Bach, whose bass counterpoint dominates Ecclesiastes, one of the album’s most relaxing cuts and my personal favorite.

The album is definitely worth a couple of extra listenings before an opinion is formed. Even though the concept may appear to meander to the ears of the uninitiated, it is a challenging production that could work well with the visual affects of blossoming flowers — the original intent of the compositions were to provide background music to a movie by the same name that never got off the ground.

Toward the end of the two-record set, Stevie offers a reprise of his musical garden path, again relying on those domineering tonal waves that I’m sure I’ve heard on early Pink Floyd recordings. Some may call it requiem music and it may well be. If so, I’d say it sounds like a requiem for the Phantom of the Opera who was lost in Outer Space.

While this album may not match the commercial success of previous productions, Stevie Wonder fans may find solace in the fact that Ludwig Van Beethoven’s last compositions, especially his Ninth Symphony were criticized when first composed. So it may take some time for Stevie’s musical plants to germinate and grow in the minds of the record-buying public. Down the garden path he led us not. We’ll see.

Stevie Wonder: Secret Life of Plants—Tamla T13-371C2

There has been a rash of live albums inundating the market recently, and one not to be left out, Teddy Pendergrass has joined the pack with a double live venture, From Coast to Coast — unfortunately, this one’s the worst of all the live albums. It’s poorly engineered, narcissistic, self-serving and dull. But that’s not to necessarily say Teddy can’t sing. Because he can. But his pandering to the swooning females who crowd his concerts seems to substitute for true showmanship. I think he’s playing a game that is getting sillier and sillier. Whatever magnetism Teddy may have on stage, you won’t find it on this album. There’s no special something coming from his drab vocal delivery. Even his medley tribute to Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes is poorly arranged and comes across more as a throwaway than a serious retrospect.

Side three, recorded at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, is technically far superior to the Philadelphia Shubert Theatre sequence. At least the troubadour sounds close up a bunch of trite interviews on the fourth the audience, that spice of a live recording.

It beats me why his producers slapped a bunch of trite interviews on the forth side, interspersed with some new, rather run-of-the-mill material. Teddy’s interviewer, Mimi Brown, from a Philadelphia radio station, is coy and plays the role of the infatuated female that the image makers behind the Pendergrass craze are seeking to sustain. I mean, what kind of interviewer would ask, ‘‘Teddy, how do you like your eggs?’’ Ugh.

The album’s producers, alas, made one more grave mistake. They fade out after almost every tune and bring in the next song with a bang. That, my dear Watson, is a cardinal sin that breaks the continuity and spirit of a live performance and defeats the whole purpose.

Teddy Pendergrass: Live From Coast To Coast—Philadelphia International KZ2-36294

It is rarely advisable to heed the blurb of record company execs who laud their own product on album liner notes. But in the case of Hiroshima’s debut album by the same name, Arista Senior Vice President, Larkin Arnold, has hit the nail on the head. Hiroshima, he writes, drives you, but in a soothing, relaxing way. It is music which will always be perfect for certain moments in your life…for those quiet, thoughtful moments…that we all need in life.

Hiroshima has constructed a large, bright mirror reflecting the rich diversity of contemporary, youth-oriented American music, crossing every conceivable color line. Their warm blend of jazz, rhythm and blues, pop rock and MOR is enchantingly woven together against a backdrop of subtle oriental instrumental coloring. The group uses the ancient Japanese koto, a 13-string traditional instrumental first imported to the island empire from China circa 800 A.D.

There’s also a splash of oriental percussion to add a uniquely folk-oriented flavor. Their music doesn’t force itself on you; it eases up to your senses with the utmost care and compassion — A human compassion that finds its fulfillment in the soft, delicate vocals of Teri Kusumoto, whose lush, yet delicate phrasing is music to the ear.

Perhaps the essence of Hiroshima’s musical purpose is summed up in the philosophy that went into choosing the name of the group of third generation Japanese Americans. Says group leader Dan Kuramoto: “We’re atomic age kids. Hiroshima was a situation where they dropped the ultimate kind of destructive weapon. But there’s a city there today. And that’s the whole point: the spirit of people.”

That spirit radiates unfalteringly on both sides of this album — a spirit that finds its realization in the common cultural bond of America’s youth, more powerful than all the weapons of mass destruction built and stockpiled since 1945.

Hiroshima: Hiroshima — Arista AB 4252

Down the Pacific coast from San Francisco, in the teeming metropolis of Los Angeles, Millie Jackson, the music comedy genius from New Jersey, has recorded a long-awaited two-record live album at West-Hollywood’s Roxy Theatre. This production should leave little doubt in the mind that Jackson is on her way to becoming a musical and comedy phenomenon.

The album’s subtitle, uncensored has been slapped on simply because Millie talks to you as if you were sitting in your living room — no holds barred. Hers is the language of the common person (which means most of us, if we strip away the paraphernalia) — refreshingly unpretentious — that offers mainly common sense solutions (like, why didn’t I think of that) to everyday problems, mainly of the heart. Millie is levelheaded and hilariously funny in her frankness.

Up until now, Jackson’s high quality of professionalism, her originality and sense of reflective values, have not been reproduced effectively on vinyl, even though her studio albums are standouts. Now she has bridged the gap between the stage and the studio, and on this live outing, her husky voice not only pours out feelings of love, rejection, revenge and solitude, but offers optimism and the power to overcome.

Every attempt to have an interplay with the audience succeeds. She holds you in the palm of her hands, strokes you gently, bounces you around and finally, leaves you limp.

All of you long hair music lovers, take heed. Millie has a special treat for those of you who hide her albums and display the works of Bach and Chopin to impress visitors. Although she says she’ll take the sales anyway she can get them, she has retaliated with the Phuck U Symphony, a choral opus with just a touch of Beethoven’s Fifth, that sent the Roxy crowd into a frenzy. Also there’s a special tribute to all you Sweethearts out there, that will throw you from your chair rollicking onto the floor. Get the album and find out what I mean. This one’s hot! hot! hot!

Millie Jackson: Live and Uncensored—Spring/Polydor SP2-6725

Jazz

The Great Jazz Trio, featuring Hank Jones, Ron Carter and Tony Williams offers us Jones, one more time, with his smooth, apparently effortless style. Carter and Williams dialog eloquently, and the recording comes off well, including the crispness of the drums and the warm pulse of the bass. This musical menu features, Lush Life, Wave, Carter’s 81 (a classic of Miles Davis’s ESP record) and Harmone, a Jones original with a samba-like flavor, on which Williams has a feeling reminiscent of Brazilian drummer Portinho. There’s also a great Williams composition, Mr. Biko, with some nice harmonies. All in all, this album contains solid music which will never go out of style.

Hank Jones/Ron Carter/Tony Williams: The Great Jazz Trio—Inner City 1C6030

Eddie Daniels is a studio beast who has been on just about everybody’s session but his own. Now we have him center stage with the album, Morning Thunder, 0ne of his many claims to fame has been his long tenure with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Band, and his revolutionary use of the clarinet where a saxophone had been called for. Justice is done, with this album, to both Daniels and his clarinet. And, as the liner notes hasten to tell us, he does not sound like Benny Goodman! Jorge Dalto, Steve Gadd, Nicky Marrero and Buddy Williams produce some buoyant, happy sounds, sometimes a trifle too commercial for my taste. Daniels coaxes a ripe, woody sound from his clarinet and Good Morning Bahia and Forget the Woman, stand out as two of the best compositions on this album.

Eddie Daniels: Morning Thunder— Columbia 36290.

Cedar Walton
Cedar Walton

Cedar Walton, who deserted Brooklyn for a sunnier homeland on the Pacific Ocean, is sending warm currents back to his friends in the East with his new album, Soundscapes.

If you’ve wondered whatever happened to Leon Thomas, well, you’ll find him here, along with Al Foster, Bob Berg, Freddie Hubbard and ace percussionist Ray Mantilla, to name only a few sidemen. This excellent and happy session shows Cedar Walton in fine form as a composer, pianist and arranger. Latin America, which features flutist Emanuel Boyd has strong salsa undercurrents. Naturally is another delightful track. Everyone’s up to par on this album.

Cedar Walton: Soundscapes — Columbia JC36285

Synchronicity, recorded live at the Nuremberg East-West festival in 1978, offers us some of the best of two worlds. Pianist Walter Norris feeds the listener lightning lines and layers of intricate changes, while bass player Aladar Pege roams up and down the bass line with a big, lyrical sound, and remains unfazed by Norris’s rhythmical excursions. This is difficult music. No steady beat to lull the nerves here. But it develops the muscles in the brain.

Walter Norris/Aladar Pege: Synchronicity — Inner City IC 3028

Some good bebop-inspired piano work is the highlight of Paws That Refresh, by Jimmy Rowles, Rowles is a veteran of the club scene, but somehow seems to lack emotional depth. Buster Williams and Bill Hart are at their brilliant and versatile best. Duke’s DooJi, (from Duke’s Far East Suite) is the most interesting track, with unusual harmonic shadings.

Jimmy Rowles: Paws That Refresh —. Choice CBS 1023.

On Stage

Prince’s New York debut at the Bottom Line was both a pleasure and a big disappointment. The 19-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist is riding high on the crest of the success of his first smash single, I Wanna Be Your Lover. Throughout the entire set, Prince and his five-member back-up band showed off a powerful and loud rocking guitar dominated sound, that is conspicuously downplayed on his second album release Prince. However, against the increased amplification of the band, Prince’s light and sometimes trite falsetto voice did not fair well, as it was often strained and drowned out. Even more pronounced than on his debut album, all of the original material in concert suffered a loss of musical impact from repetitious sameness.

In a visual and lyric attempt to meld early 1970s glitter rock with today’s rock/disco/punk, the band was on the decidedly sleazy side. Clad only in knitted dancer leg warmers to the thigh, and a pair of scant leopard print jockey briefs, Prince looked anything but appealing. Insulting the taste of the audience by constantly inquiring between songs ‘‘are you wet yet?” — coming across as egotistically pretentious. A majority of the evening’s material dealt with sexually blatant themes, from the reorientation of a lesbian on Bambi, to the overly obvious and obnoxious Head, about a bride who indulges with another man on her way to the altar.

The total effect of Prince’s act was decidedly more seamy than erotically steamy, and a royal quaalude to sit through.

In an effort to give Studio 54 a shot in the arm while owner Steve Rubell is doing time, the controversial disco nitery has begun to feature live entertainment as a new mid-week midnight policy. Ironically, the policy was inaugurated by Chuck Berry, who himself was recently released from jail after trouble with the Internal Revenue Service. The evening was also the last before the club’s liquor license was revoked.

The premiere was a special ‘‘invitation only” main event drawing an elite group of spectators. When Chuck Berry took to the stage almost an hour late, he didn’t seem to be too well rehearsed, nor as ready to rock and roll as one might expect. During the first fifteen minutes, Chuck spent more time tuning his guitar than he did entertaining the restless crowd. When he finally warmed up, Berry announced he would take another fifteen minute break to change guitars. Although it was exciting to see this living legend play his classic tunes, ranging from Nadine to Mabeline, he could have had much more significant impact had he just tightened up his act and delivered some of the raucous charisma that once made him a star, instead of ramble around on stage.

At this point, Berry’s act is strictly nostalgia.

As for the newly dried Studio 54, you can expect hip flasks to come into vogue soon to give the place a disco/speakeasy ambiance.

Fat Tuesday’s jazz club recently presented vibraphonist Milt Jackson, considered by many to be the ‘‘keeper of the flame” in his genre. Jackson was aided by sidemen Cedar Walton (piano), Ben Riley (drums), and Sam Jones (bass). Jackson has a highly innovative quartet, which raised the intensity level in the subterranean grotto nearly beyond the Third Avenue Street lights. Jackson’s multi-rhythmic riffs and Walton’s expressionistic style, gave the crowd more than they had anticipated.

If Fusion jazz and blues are your preference, try Tramps, at 125 East 15th Street, a rather earthy club known for its arresting acoustics and casual crowd. Pocket Rocket Blues Band was recently showcased. The band, with its ever screaming harmonica, ran the gamut of highly electric blues, from a nervous upbeat chase to an almost mellow Basin Street hangover.

Tom Browne, an extremely gifted trumpeter, was recently at Seventh Avenue south, the hot spot for jazz on the West Side. Brown has put together some of the best young talent on the East Coast for his creative and inspiring sets. He has also broken another equal opportunity employment barrier, hiring several gifted female jazz musicians, including Lysette Wilson (piano) and Carole Steele (congas), who add much to an already multi-styled group.

Jazz lovers from the outer boroughs don’t always have to come to Manhattan to enjoy good music. Geralds, at 227th Street and Linden Blvd, in Queens, can boast of a booking program to rival any Manhattan nitery. With its famous copper penny bar, it is rumored that the legendary Babe Ruth often washed down all those Yankee franks at this Cambria Heights club. Geralds’s special calling is also to instill an appreciation for the black jazz musician, Lenny White and Tom Brown are but a couple of the musicians who launched their careers here. Bill Saxton recently brought his quintet into this club, showing off a tight musical entity that still worked independently. Pianist Mulgrew Miller seemed to have a knack for picking out all the pretty chords, while the other players ran through jazz standards with spontaneous and modest virtuosity.

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