Archive for the Music Category

One Hundred Years of Ella Fitzgerald

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on April 25, 2017 by telescoper

This morning Radio 3 reminded me that the great jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald was born exactly one hundred years ago today, on April 25th 1917. She passed away in 1996, but her legacy lives on through a vast array of wonderful recordings. I couldn’t resist marking the anniversary of her birth with this track, which I hope brings a smile to your face as it does to mine every time I listen to it. This track won her  Grammy award for the best vocal performance that year, which is pretty remarkable because she forgot the lyrics to the song! Besides this, there’s a lot of other great stuff on the album Ella in Berlin (including more improvised lyrics and some sensational scat singing on How High The Moon) so if you’re looking to start an Ella Fitzgerald collection this is a great place to start.

Mack the Knife had been a huge hit for Louis Armstrong in 1956 and then again for Bobby Darin in 1959. By all accounts Ella was prevailed upon to add it to her repertoire for live concerts. She wasn’t that keen but  reluctantly agreed. Obviously however she wasn’t so  enthusiastic as to actually learn the words! On the other hand, when you have a wonderful voice and an amazing musical imagination, who needs the words? Ella not only made up some lyrics herself on the fly, but also threw in a rather wonderful Louis Armstrong impersonation for good measure. Enjoy!

 

 

Recycled Bach

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on March 31, 2017 by telescoper

I had the office to myself this morning so I was listening to Essential Classics presented by Rob Cowan on BBC Radio 3 earlier on. During the course of the programme he pointed out that Johann Sebastian Bach was not averse to a bit of recycling and gave the following example. I’m sure that everyone has heard of Bach’s Mass in B Minor (BWV232), which is widely regarded as one of the greatest works ever composed in the entire history of music.

However, although this work is often depicted as a kind of culmination of Bach’s career as a composer and it wasn’t completed until 1749 (the year before Bach’s death), many sections were in fact recycled from much earlier compositions.

For example, give a listen to this. It is the Aria Ach, bleibe doch, mein liebstes Leben from the Cantata Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen (BWV11), often called the Ascension Oratorio, which was first performed in 1735. Apart from the fact that it sets a different text in a different language – the B Minor Mass is a setting of the complete `Ordinary’ of the Latin mass – and there are one or two musical differences here and there, this is instantly recognizable as an earlier incarnation of the sublime Agnus Dei from the B Minor Mass..

Oh, and if you’ve got half an hour to spare you could watch this video of a sparkly and sprightly performance of the entire cantana.

 p.s. It’s Bach’s birthday today: he was born on March 31 1685.

 

 

We’ll Be Together Again

Posted in Jazz, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 29, 2017 by telescoper

So, we’ve come to it at last.

At 12.30 BST the Prime Minister’s letter invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be delivered to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. This will begin the process by which the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. It also begins the process of dismantling the United Kingdom itself. Scottish independence is now an inevitability as is, probably on a slightly longer timescale, the reunification of Ireland.

I am sad beyond words that this country has taken this path to self-destruction, but can only hope that we eventually see sense and change or mind at some point in the next two years, or return to the fold at some later stage.

No artist was better at conveying a sense of tragedy and loss through their music than Billie Holiday, and here’s a track by her that perfectly expresses my feelings at this bleak time:

No tears, no fears
Remember there’s always tomorrow
So what if we have to part
We’ll be together again

 

 

Tim Garland Electric Quartet

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on March 27, 2017 by telescoper

Time for  a quick report on a superb concert I attended on Friday evening, at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, by the Tim Garland Electric Quartet. I don’t get to hear anything like as much live jazz as I would like to, but did manage to get my act together in time for this one.

The band consisted of Tim Garland (tenor & soprano saxophones and bass clarinet, Jason Rebello (keyboards), Ant Law (acoustic and electric guitars) and Asaf Sirkis (drums and other percussion). Although named the ‘Electric Quartet’ it turned out to have a larger acoustic component than I expected, because Jason Rebello had clearly taken a shine to the splendid grand piano that had been provided and did much of his work on that rather than the synthesizers and other electronica he had brought with him. I think the music we heard therefore had a different flavour from similar concerts they have been doing around the country, echoing the words of Shelly Manne (about jazz musicians): “We never play anything the same way once.”

Here’s a little intro to the band I found on Youtube:

As well as being a very fine soloist and bandleader, Tim Garland is also a prolific composer and many of the pieces played at this concert were his own original compositions. My favourites of these were the hauntingly evocative Tyne Song (written in celebration of the town of my birth, which brought a tear to my eye) and The Eternal Greeting , which is from the band’s latest album One. They also played lovely versions of two familiar jazz standards, Good Morning Heartache (made famous by Billie Holiday) and the Miles Davis & Bill Evans classic Blue in Green. The programme was very varied, with middle-eastern, classical and flamenco influences, as well as the Jazz/Rock Fusion of the 80s, and the overall standard of music exceptionally high and with a wonderful sense of freshness and sponteneity. Tim Garland also introduced each number in a very engaging and laid-back way, pointing out little items of interest about the music.

I loved every minute and it served to remind me how much I love to hear live jazz. I must make more of an effort to get to concerts. And if you haven’t had the chance to hear this band, do go and hear them – they’re terrific!

At the end of the gig, as an added bonus, the members of the band appeared in the foyer to sign CDs. I had the chance to thank them for the wonderful performance and also now have a signed CD of Songs to the North Sky.

Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra with Angela Hewitt

Posted in Music with tags , on March 4, 2017 by telescoper

Yesterday evening I rounded off a busy week with yet another visit to St David’s Hall in Cardiff for another in their international concert series featuring visiting orchestras.

This time it was the Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra, under conductor Yutaka Sado.

They opened their programme with a piece which has been a favourite of mine since I first heard it as a schoolboy, the Hebrides Overture by Felix Mendelssohn, s piece which is evocative of the changing moods and colours of the sea. 

The orchestra was then joined by star piano soloist Angela Hewitt in the first half for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, which she played with her customary poise and precision to rapturous applause from the audience. We even got an encore, in the form of a short solo piece by Bach (the composer with whose music her name is most closely associated). I couldn’t quite place it, but it might have been from one of the English suites, no Welsh suites being available.

After the break it was time for another very popular classic, the Symphony No. 9 by Antonín Dvořák (“From the New World”). It may be a well-known piece, but the performance was very fresh and invigorating. We got an encore in the second half too: the exuberant overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

It was rather conservative programme, perhaps, but hugely enjoyable nevertheless. These pieces are old favourites because they’re good, and stand up well to repeated listening especially when played by a top-notch orchestra like the Vienna Tonkünstler!

Maleem Mahmoud Ghania with Pharoah Sanders

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on March 3, 2017 by telescoper

And now for something completely different.

I heard this on Late Junction on BBC Radio 3 earlier this week and thought I’d share it here as I loved it so much for its infectious energy. It’s from an album called The Trance of Seven Colors by Moroccan-born Gnawa musician  Maleem Mahmoud Guinia in collaboration with the great American tenor saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders. You can listen to the whole album here, but the following is the track I heard a few days ago, which is called La Allah Dayim Moulenah. Enjoy!

 

 

 

St David’s Day at St David’s Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on March 2, 2017 by telescoper

Just a quick post to mention that I celebrated St David’s Day yesterday by going, appropriately enough, to St David’s Hall in Cardiff for a special concert by the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales with soloists Rebecca Evans (soprano), Joshua Mills (tenor) and the very youthful Charlie Lovell-Jones (violin). The scheduled conductor, Gareth Jones, was indisposed so his place was taken by Adrian Partington (the Artistic Director of the BBC National Chorus of Wales).

The programme was entirely Welsh in origin and had a strong emphasis on vocal music, including many pieces I had never heard before, including songs by: Meirion Williams, Dilys Elwyn Edwards, R.S. Hughes, Idris Lewis, Joseph Parry, Evan Thomas Davies, Haydn Morris and, of course, Ivor Novello. There were also some instrumental pieces, including a cracking performance by 17-year old Charlie Lovell-Jones, of the Allegro movement from Sarakiz by Karl Jenkins.

The concert ended with a singalong, led by the chorus and soloists, of traditional Welsh favourites such as Sosban Fach, Calon Lân, Myfanwy and Cwm Rhonnda either side of a rare foray into the English language for We’ll Keep A Welcome In The Hillsides.  I was surprised to discover that Calon Lân is only a little over a hundred years old. I thought it was much older than that, but it’s still a lovely song (or hymn, really, as that’s what it is).

And of course no St David’s Day celebration would be complete without a rousing rendition of the Welsh National Anthem  Hen Wlad fy Nhadau (Land of my Fathers). Here’s a photograph of the closing scene. Note that the two vocal soloists had changed into Welsh Rugby Union shirts for the singalong part!

Here’s a picture of the closing stages, courtesy of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales twitter account.

st-davids

Four of us from the Cardiff University School of Physics & Astronomy attended the concert and we’re all in the picture. Bonus points if you can identify us!