Hank Jones, Messiaen and the Blues

More brief takes on some CDs:

Unknown-2Hank Jones: Tiptoe Tapdance. Complete Original Trio Recordings. Whether it be solo performances from the 70s (Tiptoe) or trio recordings from the fifties (with colleagues including Kenny Clarke, Elvin Jones and Oscar Pettiford among others), Hank Jones always exudes class. His touch is more mellow than percussive; and he prefers rich, thoughtful harmonizations to flashiness. The repertoire on Tiptoe Tapdance includes some spirituals and hymns, repertoire that Jones would revisit on his superb albums with Charlie Haden, Steal Away and Come Sunday. (I prefer Steal Away, the sequel is sometimes a little too straight in its arrangements for me.)

Unknown-1Messiaen: Et Expecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum; Chronochromie; La Ville d’en haut. The Cleveland Orchestra, Pierre Boulez. One of the applied music instructors at my undergraduate school, Cleveland State, worked as an auxiliary player with the Cleveland Orchestra, and was on the Boulez/Cleveland recording of The Rite of Spring done for Columbia. He told me it was the only record he ever made of which he was truly proud, and one can hear why: I wonder how many people at that time (1969) had heard The Rite played with such uncanny clarity, power, and precision. Decades later, those same qualities are present in this disc of Messiaen orchestral works played by the same forces. Chronochromie (the title refers to time and color) is of its time (1959-60) in its dense orchestral effects while remaining unmistakably Messiaen. This book led me to want to go back to the later Messiaen pieces like La Ville d’en haut. This relatively short work is attractive but doesn’t break new ground. Expecto is more direct in its discourse than the other pieces on this disc, and retains its stark, even alarming power.

UnknownThe Best There Ever Was: The Legendary Early Blues Performers. This is a compilation of recordings of rural blues from the ’20s and 30’s. The artists include names that I have heard of, like Skip James, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Son House, but there are some artists previously unknown to me here as well, like Furry Lewis, Garfield Akers, and Memphis Minnie. We have been trained to think of the blues as a 12-bar form, but you will find plenty of examples of other patterns here, including some that are quite irregular, changing phrase lengths from chorus to chorus. I’m afraid my reaction to the album was of more respect than love – some of the recordings are perhaps better appreciated by connoisseurs who are better informed about this music than I. Still, I don’t think you can get a full sense of what the blues means, and what it can be, without experiencing the rough eloquence of performances like these.

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