Archive for the Music Category

A Musical Memory: Mabel’s Dream

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , , , on November 7, 2019 by telescoper

So that’s that. The funeral is over. We all said our goodbyes, and there many tears.

My Mam chose the music for her funeral a long time ago, and the piece that was playing as we arrived in the West Chapel of the West Road Crematorium was one that I wrote about about a decade ago, so I thought I’d indulge myself by posting here the version we heard today.

Years ago my Mam told me that she heard the tune Mabel’s Dream played on the piano by a friend of the family by the name of Johnny Handle. Best known as a folk musician (and founder member of a well-known band called The High Level Ranters) he is also a music teacher and musicologist with a wide range of interests in music. I read somewhere that this lovely tune was originally written by Jelly Roll Morton and performed by him on solo piano, but by far the most famous recording of Mabel’s Dream was made by King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago in 1923. This was the band that the young Louis Armstrong belonged to before going on to make the classic Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, one of which I posted a bit ago. It’s interesting how different the earlier band sounds: with two cornets (King Oliver and Louis Armstrong), clarinet (Johnny Dodds), and trombone (Honore Dutrey) playing together virtually all the time except for short improvised solo breaks. King Oliver usually played lead cornet, at least in their earlier recordings, with Louis Armstrong playing a decorative counterpoint around him rather like a clarinettist might. Later on, they swapped leads freely and completely intuitively producing a sound that was entirely unique.

The ensemble playing is intricate, but the band had no written music, preferring to work exclusively from “head” arrangements. Their music is consistently delightful to listen to, with a succession of marchy themes that makes it impossible not to want to tap your feet when you listen to them.

Over time, this classic type of polyphonic Jazz- derived from its New Orleans roots – gradually morphed into musical form dominated by much simpler arrangements and a succession of virtuoso solos. This change was also reflected in the differing fortunes of Louis Armstrong and King Oliver. The former went on to become an international celebrity, while the latter lost all his savings when his bank went bust during the Wall Street Crash.

Considering the relatively brief time that they played together, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong made an astonishingly large number of astonishingly beautiful records, including this one which I’m posting here to show that as well as many other things my Mam had great taste in Jazz.

Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child – Archie Shepp & Horace Parlan

Posted in Jazz with tags , on November 3, 2019 by telescoper



Uri Caine’s Mahler

Posted in Music with tags , , , on October 18, 2019 by telescoper

And now for something completely different. I have recently been listening a lot to a fascinating album Urlicht by jazz pianist and bandleader Uri Caine in which he re-imagines the music of Gustav Mahler with a small band to wonderful effect. The music he produces is not only influenced by jazz but full of references to klezmer music and (to my ears at least) redolent of the music of the Weimar era. I confidently predict that many Mahler fans will absolutely hate this, with its pared-down arrangements and roughness around the edges, but I find it very refreshing. Anyway, you can decide for yourself whether you like it or not. This is Uri Caine’s take on the Funeral March from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5:

Dinner with Wagner

Posted in History, Opera with tags , , , on October 13, 2019 by telescoper

Before dinner with the RAS Club on Friday evening I was looking through the display cabinets at the Athenaeum and saw this, the record of a dinner involving a member and guests on 23rd May 1877. The member was electrical engineer, businessman and Fellow of the Royal Society Carl Wilhelm Siemens and among is guests was Richard Wagner:

Dinner started early and was evidently a lengthy affair, much like Wagner’s operas!

That reminds me of a famous review of one of Wagner’s operas by a critic who clearly wasn’t a fan.

Parsifal is an Opera by Richard Wagner that starts at half past five. Three hours later, you look at your watch and it’s quarter to six.

P.S. There is a photograph taken of Wagner (whose 64th birthday was on 22nd May) during his visit to London in 1877:

Blind Man, Blind Man

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on October 9, 2019 by telescoper

I heard this on the radio the other night and thought I’d share it here as it’s been a very busy day and I haven’t got the energy to do anything else. It’s from My Point of View the second album Herbie Hancock made for the Blue Note label and was released in 1963. This number is quite reminiscent of the 16-bar blues Watermelon Man, the big hit from his first album but this one has a relaxed soul jazz groove all of its own, backed by straight eights played by the 17-year old drummer Tony Williams and there are nice solos by Grant Green on guitar, Hank Mobley on tenor and Hancock himself on piano.  Donald Byrd plays trumpet on this track, but doesn’t take a solo.


Dido’s Lament – Jessye Norman

Posted in Opera with tags , , on October 1, 2019 by telescoper

I found out this morning that the wonderful Jessye Norman passed away yesterday at the age of 74. It’s impossible to post an adequate tribute in words to such a stellar artist so I’ll just post a clip of her, not in one of the big operatic number by Wagner or Strauss with which she was probably most strongly associated, but in a piece from a different era altogether:  Dido’s Lament by Henry Purcell. It seems to be an apt choice at this sad time.

R.I.P. Jessye Norman (1945-2019).


Between your love and mine

Posted in Music with tags , , on September 22, 2019 by telescoper

Yesterday, 21st September 2019, would have been Leonard Cohen‘s 85th birthday, which made last night’s performance of Between your love and mine at the National Concert Hall in Dublin an especially moving occasion.

The piece – a Requiem by Leonard Cohen, rather than a Requiem for Leonard Cohen – was created by John MacKenna who, in the summer of 2016 approached Leonard Cohen with the idea of creating a requiem in memory of young people who had died tragically, and for those grieving for them. It roughly follows the liturgical form of the Requiem mass but with text and music provided entirely by Cohen. Leonard Cohen – a Jew who had embraced Buddhism – often referred to Catholic themes and imagery in his songs and poems so the work is in no way a contrivance but has a compelling unity and honesty about it.

The first `hymn’ Come Healing sets the tone:

And let the heavens hear it,
the penitential hymn,
come healing of the spirit,
come healing of the limb.
Behold the gates of mercy
in arbitrary space
and none of us deserving
the cruelty or the grace.

Some of the songs were unfamiliar to me, but there are some of Leonard Cohen’s famous songs in Between love and mine, including Anthem and If it be your will. There are three principal vocalists: Katie Jacques, Shane Sullivan and Eric Butler. The latter in particular gave a superb performance demonstrating wonderful versatility in his voice, including a passable reference Cohen’s own deep tone (that someone once described as `like a boulder rolling down a granite tunnel’) but also deploying his own natural register to powerful effect, especially in Anthem where he summoned up his thundercloud in fiery tenor tones. Three backing singers, two readers (including John MacKenna) and a small band of strings, keyboard and drums make up the cast of this intriguing and emotionally powerful work.

Naturally, given the theme, it was a sombre performance but at the same time very uplifting. Leonard Cohen may not have been there in the flesh, but he was certainly present in spirit. In more ways than one it felt like he was the host.

And those who dance, begin to dance,
those who weep begin
and “Welcome, welcome” cries a voice
“Let all my guests come in.”