Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kurt Weill and Gil Evans

As a new email from the Kurt Weill Foundation reminds us, that 65-years-dead composer's music still has surprises in store and even premieres awaiting performance... and so... the American premiere of The Road of Promise, a concert adaptation of his lengthy, unappreciated theatrical pageant (from 1937 or so) The Eternal Road, will occur early in May. Meanwhile, Weill's greatest champion among Jazz musicians--that would be Gil Evans--continues to have his say, three decades after Evans closed the keyboard and relinquished his baton. To put it another way, young arranger/conductor Ryan Truesdell is back with a new (second) CD of previously unknown/unrecorded big band arrangements by Gil; titled Lines of Color, this one was taped live in New York City last year and is co-issued now by ArtistShare and Blue Note.

I wrote extensively about both Weill and Evans and their remarkable, long and
winding careers a few years ago--an eclectic five parts dividing, sort of, as three for Weill and then two more for Evans, and each part set up as an independent essay. Since the five appeared piecemeal and separately but do have some significance in the annals of Modern Music, I'm re-calling them all now for an encore; I hope some other readers will enjoy discovering their convoluted stories.

Part One is a disguised Introduction to the European years, but including 40 or so photos of Weill LPs. Parts Two and Three take up Weill's career in America (on Broadway and off) together with his burgeoning impact on Jazz. Then Evans assumes the lead in the Fourth and Fifth sections. Finally, as a bonus and sort-of Sixth Part, comes a follow-up essay/review of 2012's "new" (but also old) Evans album, which of course also featured Weill--and which later won the Big Band Grammy award.

Centennial was a suitable conceptual name for that release, but for some unexplained reason this new one is called Lines of Color, its exterior offering an abstract pretty picture on the front cover, tiny print obscuring Evans' name, and no identifying photo of the man. Commercial this packaging isn't--Blue Note was just asleep at the switch--which is really too bad because the music is terrific, another excellent selection of previously unrecorded charts dating from the Thornhill Orchestra days up to Gil's more experimental bands of the 1960s. Centennial had
top session players and the thrill of important historical discovery; this one has the sound of a crackerjack Jazz orchestra working live, its creative engines firing on all cylinders.

Some long numbers revive and/or revise previous Evans tracks; "Time of the Barracudas" and "Davenport Blues" crackle authoritatively with dramatic solo work from trombonist Marshall Gilkes, tenor saxman Donny McCaslin, and trumpeter Mat Jodrell, while "Concorde" and the medley ("Easy Living/Everything Happens to Me/Moon Dreams") play the master's measures either more lightly, or layered more intricately. That last is certainly one of the album's highlights, with pianist Frank Kimbrough and tenorist Scott Robinson quietly leading the charts.

Other tracks sound like what they are, Claude Thornhill specialties from the early Forties ("Gypsy Jump") to the post-Bop Fifties ten years later ("How High the Moon"), two of them yet meriting special mention--"Greensleeves" for its one-take trombone solo by Gilkes, eradicating memories of Kenny Burrell's feature (on his 1965 album with Evans, Guitar Forms), and a chipper little ditty called "Sunday
Drivin'," dating from 1947 but featuring current band vocalist Wendy Gilles, which could have been a hit back then, and sounds like a radio-ready theme song right now.

One last note: conductor-visionary Ryan Truesdell once again provides exceptional annotation, and on "Moon Dreams" he writes convincingly about the Impressionist classical influences on Evans (Ravel, Prokofiev, et al), some of whom found a spot in Weill's wheelhouse as well... or at least that's still my Impression.

Monday, April 6, 2015

10 Ways of Losing Track of a Rock 'n' Roll Song

This is a book review of sorts. I don't know Latin any more than I know German. Caveat lector.

1. "It's only as important as your life." So claimed Van Morrison quoting James Brown, the hardest working man in show business--never caught with his pants down or even split, a becaped crusader of grit 'n' soul always on his toes and maybe yours too, sucking every cubic centimeter of air from any room he occupied. If you still can't breathe, recite "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" 13 times and then mutter, "Uncle."

2. Walt Whitman was a nurse. Emily Dickinson was a recluse. They met serendipitously in Ralph Waldo Emerson's daylight basement. "I need some Transcendental work," she said. "Where's Waldo?" responded Walt.

3. Inspired by ein sonnen haus of Son House,
the Viennese Secessionists chose to paint
with schadenfreude, but also Freud
in shades, filling every inch of canvas
with 33-and-a-third degrees of die blauen.

4. I ate the big bowl of borscht. Forgive me, but the gruel was not only good, it was Beat.

5. In the still of the guitar drag, she was crying, waiting, hoping to shake some action. "To know him is to love his transmission," she said. All I could do was cry out, "This magic money changes everything! That's momentarily what I want."

6. "Anthemic" as a term in rock criticism had no meaning until Jimi Hendrix digested his Wheaties on July 4, 1969. Sadly, he still thought six was nine and so missed his golden opportunity. Ninety-nine and a half wouldn't do.

7. So much depends
upon his readers
possessing the full
complement of kunst
und kultur
arcane to be obscure

8. Joe Strummer channeled Robert Johnson to write "Train in Vein," but Sid Vicious couldn't remember which needle to insert in the tone-arm.

9. The day the music died, eight-and-a-half-year-old Billy Jim Murray bounced his bicycle through frozen flower gardens around Willamette. He was dispirited... seeking earthly confirmation of that infamous airplane crash. He wished he lived in suburban Lubbock, or Shreveport, or Cincinnati, anywhere but the northwest environs of Chicago. That'll be the day, he thought, the dark day I light out for the territory ahead...

But you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Except maybe in this case. Because 34 years and 9 days later, Bill as "Phil""--brother under the fur to stuck-in-his-rut groundhog "Punxsutawney Phil"--did that time warp again for the first time.

How could any fan of rock 'n' roll not feel the chill that touched their heartbeat that day (and everyday one re-views the music of film)? Yes, unseen but present in fraternal dispensation, and sharing the stage with both of the on-air Phils, were the
high harmonies of Graham Nash, the lyrical tenor solos of Stan Getz, and the émigré exhilaration and despair of ex-patriate James Joyce--but couched in the elegant twists and repeats of Homeric prose slimmed down to the scale of a groundhog. It took Bill/Phil another 8 years, 8 months and 16 days to get life, love, and his weather forecast exactly right.

And if that don't change your way of seeing and hearing, buddy, you ain't got that mood indigo.

10. Ike Zimmerman is to Robert Zimmermann as Bob Dylan is to Dylan Thomas as Thomas Aquinas is to Greil Marcus Aurelius.