Thursday, June 26, 2008


The Guardian has this week been giving away a series of booklets (also viewable online) featuring "great lyricists". I'm an enthusiast for both Morrissey and Joni Mitchell (pictured), of course. Dear old Bob Dylan has to be in there, too -- even though he can't sing for peanuts (and still, oddly, has a great voice). I'm less convinced by Chuck D. But Leonard Cohen is on the way, apparently. That will please my wife.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Reviewing the new album 'Spring is Here (Shall We Dance?)' in The Guardian, John L. Walters has its creator well summarised: "Django Bates's music... revels in its complexity like a brainy kitten with a ball of fibre optic cables. But within his own parallel universe (aka Denmark's Rhythmic Music Conservatory), Bates has reduced his simmering brew to its necessary components: sneaky, snarky basslines, asymmetric patterns that groove, sweet vocal melodies, as well as passionate ensemble writing with a sense of humour that redrafts Charles Ives, Spike Jones and Frank Zappa for the age of Britain's Got Talent. Yet Bates is serious too, with such inventiveness, mastery of orchestration and flair that he runs rings around his contemporaries in every genre." [Label: Lost Marbels, 2008, £12.99]

Sunday, June 22, 2008


I'm pleased to see that Sam Wollaston of The Guardian also liked the Berlin Philharmonic programme the other night: "The Berlin Philharmonic is like one of those amazing swarming flocks of starlings, made up of individuals yet able to suddenly morph into a single being, with one brain, operating in extraordinary telepathic unity. Except that they make a nicer noise than starlings. A flock of nightingales then, if such a thing existed."

What pleasantly surprised me was his predilection for Adès (pictured). As soon as I saw the composer's name, I expected the usual "modern music is noise" stuff which you even get from savvy media people these days - those who pride themselves on their cultured taste in theatre and literature, but for whom the world of music ended in the nineteenth century or with the arrival of rock'n'roll. Sam, however, writes: "The Thomas Adès piece they play is eerie and beautiful, and looks fiendishly difficult to play, even for these guys. Then, when they play Beethoven, you can see them relax; they could do this all day, with their eyes closed. They don't even need Sir Simon, who goes and sits down in the auditorium."

The composition concerned, by the way, was Asyla, which was premiered in Symphony Hall, Birmingham in October 1997 by Simon Rattle's previous outfit, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the 1997 BBC Proms. I was there, I'm gratified to say. This work also received the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition in 2000, making Adès the youngest ever to receive that prize.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


There was a great documentary film on BBC1 last night, in the Imagine series, looking at Simon Rattle and the legendary Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on tour across Asia - including China, South Korea, Hong Kong... and Taiwan, where, incongruously, they were greeted like teen rock stars. Rattle was eloquent as ever, you gained some insight into the inner machinations of what is probably the best-oiled (and distinctly un-mechanical) musical machine in the world, and it was a joy to see them struggling in rehearsal with some fiendishly difficult Thomas Ades. The instrumentalists provided much of the commentary themselves, talking about what it means to be a musician and the impact it has had on their lives and relationships.

One felt for the young woman on probation, evidently a stellar player in any other context, who didn't make the final vote to get into the BPO. The ruthlessness and ego, as well as the tenderness and passion, of the outfit was all-too-evident. There were telling psychological as well as musicological insights. SR has done a good job pushing the boat out and conserving the tradition of one of the world's great musical institutions. The ghost of Karajan was, of course, at this feast. But the focus was elsewhere, and this Asian encounter was magical and revealing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


The tragic death of the 44-year-old pianist in a diving accident has robbed the world of a sensitive and interesting musician. The Esbjörn Svensson Trio, founded in the early 1990s, played an unclassifiable brand of music which incorporated elements of jazz, art rock and minimalist classical music in constantly varying proportions. Here's an accompanied EST with Round Midnight.

[273.1] CULTURE IS

"The biggest obstacle to understanding a work of art is wanting to understand." (Bruno Munari)

"Culture is what we are not, enabling us to understand what we are." (Lauren Laverne)

Friday, June 13, 2008


I'm looking forward to seeing the Steve Howe Trio doing two sets at the legendary Ronnie Scott's Club in London on Saturday night (15 June 2008). I see that my friend Henry Potts is quoted at the end of the website write-up on the impending gig. Ironically, due to schedule issues, I may miss the concert at the Phoenix Theatre in Exeter (18 June) where I live. The Trio, who re-arrange some of Howe's eclectic compositions and move his guitar stylings ever more in a jazzward direction, may do some more touring this summer - since the planned 2008 Yes tour in the US, marking the progressive rock band's 40th anniversary, has been cancelled due to singer Jon Anderson's ill-health.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Here's a lovely performance, from the 1950s, of Messiaen's 'Le Banquet Celeste', recorded at Washington's National (Episcopal) Cathedral of St John the Divine.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Return to Forever, the electric jazz-fusion outfit pioneered by keyboard polymath Chick Corea (pictured) burned brightly between 1972 and 1977. I first discovered them via the late Derek Jewell's valuable 'Sounds Interesting' programme on BBC Radio 3 - one of the the doyen classical station's earlier ventures in the rock and jazz direction. RTF split in '77, reformed on a one-off basis in 1983, and are now making a re-appearance across the world -- or at least, the Atlantic. The only UK concert is at Indigo2 in London (the smaller venue attached to the 02 Arena). Intriguing. But as tickets are £40 plus a variety of charges levied by sole agent, the lamentably greedy Ticketmaster, I fear I shall give it a miss.

Miles Davis’ electric bands in the late ‘60s (featured on albums such as In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew) served as the incubator for several pioneering fusion bands, including Tony Williams’ Lifetime, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter’s Weather Report and, of course, Corea’s legendary Return to Forever, whose life span stretched across three different versions of the band.