Monday, August 22, 2016

J. Blake Fichera, Scored to Death, A Conversation with Some of Horror's Greatest Composers

You no doubt have a favorite horror film. And as you think back to it you may also recall some of the music that was a part of it. Virtually everyone remembers the shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho and the screeching violins Bernard Herrmann wrote for it. Yet many of us are ignorant of the intricate interactions both technically and aesthetically that go into the creation of effective soundtracks for a great horror film.

J. Blake Fichera, a horror film fan, film music commentator and musician, has gathered some of horror's most prolific living soundtrack composers, some 14 in all, and interviewed each individually on his art, on what it takes to put all together in a finished product designed to scare the hell out of you.

The substantial dialogs are now out in a fascinating, provocative and entertaining 356-page book entitled Scored to Death: Conversations with Some of Horror's Greatest Composers (Silman-James Press, paper, $19.95).

Each composer tells a bit about what got him started as a soundtrack composer, the creative process of making a great soundtrack, his interaction with directors, producers, sound-effects people and other key personnel, time frames, budget considerations, personal idiosyncrasies and the various stages of composition that take place.

The changing role of technology over the years, both in audio production and synchronization are key themes as well. How much of the music is extensively mapped out in terms of timing? What is the role of the director in the ultimate outcome? What has happened as composition essentially went from a demo tape, a rough score or a simple live piano demonstration in the old days to the ability now to lay down a live, multi-track demo directly onto a copy of the digital film? How has the expectations of directors changed over the years?

All this and very much more is what makes the book great. The recollections of the composers on specific films and how the end result was reached is the most interesting part of the book, I would say. But it is fascinating as well to take in the particular influences a composer has had in his work and how he uses them, whether it be rock, electronic synth music or avant garde modern classical, or you-name-it, and the spectrum of inputs one can get from a director, whether it be vague impressionistic thoughts or very specific directions.

It's one of those books that virtually reads itself. You find yourself drawn into the subject and the pages turn quickly.

Scored to Death stands out as a lively set of insightful interviews that in the end gives you a very good idea about how the music comes to be and its function in the making of a modern horror film. I recommend it highly.

No Coming, No Going, The Music of Peter Kuhn, 1978-79

Peter Kuhn, reedman extraordinaire, was poised to become a major star in the firmament of free jazz in 1978-79. Personal problems got in the way and he disappeared from the scene. Now he is back, healthy and strong.

This issue, No Coming, No Going: The Music of Peter Kuhn, 1978-79 (No Business 2-CD) is for CD 1 a WKCR broadcast of Kuhn on B-flat and bass clarinet, Denis Charles on drums, William Parker on bass, Toshinori Kondo on alto horn and trumpet and Arthur Williams on trumpet that became the album Livin' Right. It was out for a time back then on Peter's own label--and it is great to be able to hear it again. I would venture to call it a forgotten classic of the era, a marvel for all concerned.

The music is a series of three well conceived Kuhn compositions, with some very swinging Denis Charles and fundamental William Parker. On top of that everyone gets a chance to have their say here but ultimately Peter stands out with the three horns together doing some excellent collective improvs as well.

The second disk consists of an extended duo recording of Peter on B-flat and bass clarinet and tenor sax and Denis Charles on drums. It was a 1979 concert at the New England Repertory Theater in Worcester, Mass that was broadcast at the time on WCUW.

This is a creative two-way effort as interesting for what Denis was doing (he was a great drummer!) as well as what Peter conjured out of his horns.

If Livin' Right is the more exciting of the two, the second CD is nonetheless a very nicely done gathering of the duo and a documented revelation of the extended artistry of Peter and Denis in those days.

I most certainly recommended this one for your new thing collection. Peter was doing important work.

Happily there is a brand new New Business album out with the latest music from Peter and a trio that I will cover in a couple of days!


Thursday, August 18, 2016

d'une rive a l'autre, sylvain guerineau, itaru oki, kent carter, makoto sako

If a well-chosen international quartet playing cutting-edge free jazz sounds interesting to you, d'une rive a l'autre (Improvising Beings ib47) is a new release you should consider.

Each artist in the quartet has honed his sound over the years. The four make a grand noise together in five well-paced segments. The band is comprised of Sylvain Guerineau on tenor sax, Itaru Oki on trumpet, flugelhorn and flutes, Kent Carter on double bass, and Makoto Sato on drums.

There is inspiration to be heard throughout. The band has a real feel for dynamics, so that you get a spectrum of sounds from the introspective to the stormy.

It is a commonplace to expect a band like this to listen, or conversely to NOT listen to one another. The album gives you interactive interplay and a four-way independence at times for a varied and absorbing result.

No doubt, all four give us some of their most considered work here. It's avant improv that goes its own way and does it with maximum creativity.

Kudos to the quartet and for Improvising Beings for putting this out! Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Naftule's Dream, Blood

Today we have a shining beacon in the "Radical Jewish" music realm, as John Zorn so aptly puts it. It is the sextet Naftule's Dream and their very lively new album Blood (Naftule's Dream Recordings 103). What we have is a absorbingly original hybrid of avant jazz composition and improvisation that has a healthy Klezmer-Yiddish-Jewish component and a little of the heft of rock.

The players and their instrumentation form the principal foundation for this musical mix. Glenn Dickson is on clarinet and channels modern and Klezmer elements; Gary Bohan is on cornet and has much to do with the sound color of the ensemble; Michael McLaughlin is a key element on accordion; Andrew Stern gives the ensemble a rock and explorative edge; Jim Gray has a vivid lower presence on tuba; and Eric Rosenthal does a fine job on the drums.

The compositions are intricate and involved and are critical to the sound of the band. McLaughlin contributes five of the nine, Glenn Dickson pens three, Bohan gives us one. The "Jewish Tinge" is pretty much out front throughout, and that combined with a modern small-big band fullness. Add to that an improvisatory edginess, and intermittent helping of rock heaviness and mellifluous compositional prowess and you have a band to reckon with.

It's one of those albums that stays in your mind after a while. The band stands out with a great set! Check this out.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Denny Zeitlin, Solo Piano: Early Wayne, Explorations of Classic Wayne Shorter Compositions

When a jazz composer's work sounds as fresh as ever decades after being written, that is a sign of the lasting value of the music. The beautifully creative pianism of Denny Zeitlin gives us some extraordinarily new life to Wayne Shorter classics on his recent Solo Piano: Early Wayne (Sunnyside SSC 1456). These are pieces that already have great cache these days, and Denny manages via  swinging, substitutions, displacement and brilliant improvisations to give us a very rewarding new take on them all.

As early as 1971 when I was at Berklee it seemed that a lot of students would pull out some Wayne classics in those impromptu sessions in the practice rooms that were so important to me in the short time I remained there. Songs like "Speak No Evil," "Nefertiti," "Ju Ju," "Infant Eyes" were sounding really great right about then and here we are some 45 years later and they still sound revolutionary.

But in the hands of Denny and a solo gig we hear them even more vividly. Of course Zeitlin has had the touch and the feel for stretching music since he first started out. And with this album he reminds us how deep he has gotten into the four-dimensional world of Zeitological piano.

All you have to do is put this CD on once or twice and I wont have to say another word. It's a shining example of what sort of brilliant things Denny Zeitlin does these days.

No kidding, just get this one and hear it. You'll be very glad you did, I think.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Arsen Petrosyan, Charentsavan, Music for Armenian Duduk

The Armenian duduk is something like a cross between clarinet, a flute and an oboe in sound, which is to say that properly played it sounds like no other. It is furnished with a double-reed and ordinarily fashioned from apricot wood.

Arsen Petrosyan is a fabulous exponent of the instrument. He gives us a program of memorable folk and composed music on his beautiful Charentsavan: Music for Armenian Duduk (Pomegranate Music CD-1929).

He is accompanied by ensembles varying from a single dhol drum, Armenian harp or guitar to a larger ensemble. His tone and phrasing are nothing short of exquisite. Arsen is a master in every way.

So stunning is the music that my mid-eastern neighbors heard me playing the album and knocked on the wall to say they loved it! Now that's a testimony and I surely agree!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Rocco John Quartet, Embrace the Change

Altoist Rocco John is a fixture on the New York scene, keeping the new new thing free flames stoked with his own brand of avant jazz. He records more infrequently than I would like, but then that makes his new releases all the more welcome.

His latest, Embrace the Change (Unseen Rain 9947), features a cohesive and compatible quartet of Rocco John on alto and soprano, Rich Rosenthal on electric guitar, Francois Grillot on contrabass and Tom Cabrera on drums. Rocco John provides the originals, attractive springboards for the often collective improvisations that make good tracks into the horizon.

Rocco John sounds quite limber and full of spontaneous musicality. So too Rich makes creative paths that go well with what Rocco John is doing. Francois Grillot is, as always, the complete bassist, whether walking or making horn-like statements. And Tom Cabrera swings and frees it all up well depending on what is needed.

It is an album that stays in the avant mode with lots of fire and ideas. It's well worth hearing, another notch in the Rocco musical belt. Recommended!