Listening Post: Keith Jarrett, Rush, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ soundtrack, John Cage - The Buffalo News

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Listening Post: Keith Jarrett, Rush, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ soundtrack, John Cage


Rush, “Clockwork Angels Live” (three CDs, two DVDs/Roadrunner/Anthem/Rounder). 2013 proved to be a significant year for the members of Rush, as well as the band’s worldwide legion of fans. This was the year that the Canadian progressive rock trio – long dubbed “the world’s biggest cult band” – was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after years of being snubbed by that particular collective. Much more significantly, it was the year that the band completed a worldwide tour behind its “Clockwork Angels” album. For the first time in its 40-year career, Rush brought additional musicians on the road, in the form of the Clockwork Angels String Ensemble, and its marathon-length twin-set performances (including one at First Niagara Center in Buffalo) featured the majority of the new material, much of it bolstered by the dynamic and dramatic string arrangements of David Campbell. The result proved that Rush was about as far from a nostalgia act as any band of its vintage could possibly get. The group’s complex, multihued compositions were delivered with power and precision, the string ensemble added additional harmonic color to the proceedings, and the set list was both ambitious and – in the case of the first half, which favored oft-overlooked gems from the ’80s – well off the beaten path. “Clockwork Angels Live” works incredibly well as a live album, in no small part due to the obvious care that went into the selection of songs and the pacing of the sets themselves. The “Clockwork Angels” material comes off as particularly strong, and in this stunning mix, one can hear quite clearly the detailed string arrangements that, at the shows themselves, all too often disappeared into the rafters of the arenas the band performs in. Here, then, is some deeply imaginative, heavy, sophisticated rock music played passionately by seasoned virtuosos. Fans will find it indispensable. Nonfans will ignore it. And guess what? That’s just as it should be. The separate DVD package features the whole performance shot in high-definition, with options for stereo and 5.1 surround sound mixes, as well as a second disc containing a tour documentary, sound check footage, rear-screen projection films used on the tour, performance outtakes, and plenty of the Monty Python-esque humor the band is known for. ∆∆∆∆ (Jeff Miers)


Keith Jarrett, “No End” (ECM, two discs). “Drums were always with me in some way,” writes Keith Jarrett in the rare notes to this new Jarrett two-disc set. “I started to play rhythms at the dinner table with celery sticks when I was three (same age as my first piano lessons.) I have always been drawn to instruments that you touch directly, without a mechanism in between. Therefore I cannot say I have ever loved the piano as much as the drums as the guitar.” So here, recorded in 1986, is what Keith Jarrett sounds like playing, in overdub, guitar, drums, bass, tablas, percussion, and recorder and, oh yes, a little piano, too, while chanting a bit in wholly invented African chants. In the 21st century, when Jarrett’s concert behavior has become as problematic, sometimes, as it has ever been (never to be forgotten, it seems to me, may be the chronic fatigue syndrome which may affect almost everything else), Jarrett, in those notes, is paying tribute to a time in the ’70s and ’80s when “the times were not as painful or one-dimensional (terrorists, Apple) … as they are now. I remember something like joy being possible, without political overtones or doctrinaire religious right should-bes. Something like freedom was not so impossible to even imagine decades ago.” What we have here, then, is Jarrett – not that unusually – paying tribute to the omni-musical Ornette Coleman aesthetic of playing everything. He is, on all his instruments, a far more palatable musician than, say, Coleman on trumpet or violin, but no one’s ever going to accuse him of rivaling his drummer Jack DeJohnette, his bassist Gary Peacock (not to mention his old guitarist friends). But all of this music, for that very reason (i.e. lack of virtuoso presence) seems, if not beguilingly thought out, lovingly produced. Even in the act of self-indulgence, Jarrett can be hard to resist. ∆∆∆ (Jeff Simon)


Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack with Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Marcus Mumford, Carey Mulligan and the Punch Brothers (Nonesuch). Because of T-Bone Burnett, the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother Where Art Thou” was, in the view of many, a good five times better than the movie. In any case, it was certainly more popular and has been more enduring. “Inside Llewyn Davis” will open nationally Dec. 6 though we may not see it then. It seems to be another in the line of Coen Brothers’ semi-jokes on commercial co-option of orthodox liberal showbiz of the past (“Brother’s” take on country music, “Barton Fink’s” take on the way Hollywood swallowed up writers like Clifford Odets). If the soundtrack here is any indication, their portrait of the Greenwich Village folk revival of the ’50s and ’60s is far more reverent, even to the point of including a never-before-released recording of Bob Dylan singing his song “Farewell,” which was intended but never used in “The Times They Are a Changin’.” Oscar Isaac plays a struggling young Ochsish or Dylanesque folk musician in 1961 and, get this, Justin Timberlake, Marcus Mumford and the Punch Brothers play his folk music fellow travelers (so does actress Carey Mulligan.) Justin Timberlake singing ’60s folk music? You bet. Now here’s the weird thing – however innocent it was, most of the music of the time didn’t sound half as joyful and sweet – at the time as this does. T-Bone Burnett, when he combines with the Coens, makes magic. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)


John Cage, Works for Two Keyboards 1: “A Book of Music,” “Music for Amplified Toy Pianos” and “Suite for Toy Piano” performed by the Pestova/Meyer Piano Duo (Naxos). Among the many theories of John Cage’s music for prepared pianos is that it began less as raw post-Cowell experimentalism than remarkably inventive practicality, i.e. it was an affordable one-musician solution to the problem of having something that sounded like a percussion chamber group accompanying a dance piece. Out of that grew wonderfully rich music for prepared pianos, including the two-piano “A Book of Music” from 1944 originally composed for, of all duo piano performers, Gold and Fizdale. Filling out the disc are Cage’s Toy Piano music from 1948 – the “Suite for Toy Piano” and from 1960 “Music for Amplified Toy Pianos.” The latter, in its aleatoric atomization and electronic additions, sounds more conventionally like “new music.” Either way, the idea of music for the “toy piano” wasn’t one of Cage’s more inspired creative notions. ∆∆½ (J.S.)


Vittorio Grigolo, Ave Maria sung by tenor Vittorio Grigolo (Sony Classical). Hunky tenor Vittorio Grigola stands out for his reverence. He grew up singing in the Sistine Chapel Choir, and he writes that this sacred music has deep, personal meaning to him. He digs deeper for his repertoire than do most tenors du jour. There is a lot on this disc I had not heard, such as Giulio Caccini’s “Ave Maria”, two prayers by Padre Giovanni Maria Catena, and another two, including a sweet “Salve Regina” with children’s chorus, by Gaetano Capocci. (There is a Via Maestro Gaetano Capocci in Rome.) It is a rather florid disc but has an alluring sincerity. And Grigolo’s voice, while occasionally overdramatic as the music demands it be, is expressive, beautiful and free. I enjoyed the curiosities. The Schubert “Serenade” arranged by Jacques Offenbach, now that gets my vote. The melody always did sound Italianate to me. Grigolo includes that song for reasons he explains. it for reasons he explains. Unfortunately, like many singers and producers, he shortchanges you with “O Holy Night,” which for some reason most people mess up. He sings it joined by Jackie Evancho. I like Jackie Evancho, but there is nothing, nothing like a tenor tackling this warhorse. Think of Jussi Bjoerling, powering through it like some kind of superhuman steam engine. Anyway, Jackie Evancho was the last person I wanted to encounter at that juncture. The rest of the album is a fine and different addition to your sacred music collection. ΩΩΩ½ (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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