Listening Post: Mastadon, Anton Schwartz and Russian classical music - The Buffalo News

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Listening Post: Mastadon, Anton Schwartz and Russian classical music


Mastodon, “Live at Brixton” (Reprise). A bone-crushingly heavy in-concert set from perhaps our finest sludge-metal/stoner-rock outfit Mastodon serves to remind us that, once a upon a time, live albums were a big deal. Time was, a live album made sense as a work in and of itself, and this was particularly the case in the world of heavy rock, where classics like Thin Lizzy’s “Live and Dangerous,” UFO’s “Strangers In the Night,” Rush’s “All the World’s A Stage,” and Judas Priest’s “Unleashed In the East” stood as high points in the catalogs of their creators, and were firm favorites with the fans. “Live at Brixton” captures Mastodon tearing through 23 tracks before a British audience that sounds like it is simply starving for the band’s blend of doom-laden riffage and prog-rock excess. The balance tilts toward the Georgia outfit’s most recent studio release, “The Hunter,” but bits of “Crack the Skye,” “Leviathan,” “Blood Mountain,” and “Remission” are celebrated as well. Throughout, the sound quality is excellent, with the perfect balance of low-end warmth and midrange guitar crunch ably serving the band’s rather massive attack. With the abundance of live material floating around the digital atmosphere these days – full shows on YouTube, bands offering digital downloads of every show on a tour, and the like – the live album has become a bit of anachronism. But Mastodon brings the heat like it’s 1977. ΩΩΩ½ (Jeff Miers)


Anton Schwartz, “Flash Mob” (Anton Jazz). To understand how utterly alive the music of Horace Silver – whose death was erroneously reported Tuesday to universal sorrow and dismay – remains you have only to listen to this new disc by 46-year old West Coast tenor saxophonist Anton Schwartz, whose compositions on it tend to be in a direct line with what Horace Silver was writing 15 years before Schwartz was even born. Listen to “Swamp Thing” here and you’ll swear it was written in obeisance to Silver by one of his ’50s contemporaries. Listen to the chordal and percussive accompaniment of pianist Taylor Eigsti, to the solos and ensemble melody statements on this disc and you’re hearing the influence of Horace Silver across the decades as direct as it could possibly be. Silver’s was the ’50s and ’60s music on Blue Note that more than anyone else (and that includes Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers) epitomized the reason why all that “soul” and “hard bop” music on Blue Note is still alive and remarkable in the musical imaginations of jazz musicians alive and working today. No matter how derivative a musician Schwartz is, though, the music on his disc here is both impressive and virtually impossible to resist. ΩΩΩ½ (Jeff Simon)


Hans Koller, “Hans Koller & Friends” (JazzHaus). Play this music from 1959 and 1960 without telling anyone who it is, and you’ll get all sorts of guesses naming truly great American jazz stars of the era. The truth is that German tenor saxophonist Hans Koller didn’t really sound like any American player at all (think of a combination Zoot Sims and Wardell Gray) and yet he was very much the equal of most of them. (That’s why Dizzy Gillespie, for instance, was delighted to have Koller do a long stint with his band) So even more famously was the great and universally revered French pianist Martial Solal. Add the presence on two cuts here of bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay and you have some vintage European jazz as loose and immensely pleasurable as any previously little-known jazz you’re likely to hear from their American contemporaries. As a disc for even the most knowledgeable jazz fans to hear in a “blindfold test” you couldn’t beat this. One in every 500 jazz fans, at best, will be able to figure out who’s playing, even though they’re enjoying the swinging high charge and melodic grace of so much of it. And, on piano, whether solo or in accompaniment, Solal was absolutely unique. ∆∆∆½ (J.S.)


In this Moonlit Night, Lieder by Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Taneyev performed by Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone, Ivari Ilja, piano (Ondine). Here’s music for the next time you are snowed in, your car in the shop, no one but you and – well, vodka, if you want to get into the spirit of things. The deep-voiced Russian barrel baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky has put together a set of 16 songs by Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Taneyev, brooding in the way only Russian songs can be. The landscape of these songs, little changing over the course of the disc, has something in common with the landscape of Buffalo – snowy nights, time to think things over at length and examine your emotions in depth. The Tchaikovsky songs remind me of his opera “Eugene Onegin,” vast episodes of Russians singing what is in their hearts. The four songs from Mussorgky’s “Songs and Dances of Death” are terribly bleak but weirdly beautiful. I always remember “Trepak,” about the old man who is drunk and lost in a snowstorm. It’s not a song you forget. The songs of Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev – who, born in 1856, is the most recent of these three composers – strike a more elegantly romantic note. songs are a little different. I like “Minuet,” about how this 18th century dance can have a bittersweet melody. It shows the understanding and affinity Russians have always felt for Mozart. There are texts and translations – most welcome, but you almost don’t need them. We speak the international language of winter. ΩΩΩ½ (Mary Kunz Goldman)


Mussorgsky, “Pictures at an Exhibition” and other works orchestrated by Peter Breiner and performed by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Breiner (Naxos). Something interesting here. The usual orchestration we hear of Mussorgsky’s magnificent solo piano piece is Maurice Ravel’s, usually considered the perfect textbook example of how to orchestrate. Here is a brand-new one by Peter Breiner available to any orchestra who wants to find a way around the old orchestral warhorse and do it a brand new way. To those of us who have always waged a secret war against Ravel’s version – as much of a recording and concert hall staple as it has always been – this, sad to say, isn’t much of an improvement. It’s still, to me, infinitely preferable as a music for a virtuoso pianist alone (hear, for instance, Richter’s astonishing live performance in some out of the way Northern clime where the audience seems to have included those suffering from every respiratory malfunction known to cold weather.) ΩΩ½ (J.S.)


Brahms Violin Concerto, Hungarian Dances, Bartok Rhapsodies performed by Leonidas Kavakos with the Gewandhaus Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly, conductor and Peter Nagy, piano (Decca). This music is perfect for the mercurial Leonidas Kavakos. (He and Chailly are identified on the front cover, rather pretentiously, by only their last names). When Kavakos played Buffalo in 2011 on the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series, his playing displayed unbelievable contrasts, especially in the close confines of the Nichols School Flickinger Performing Arts Center. He would go from an insectlike fluttering to an outpouring of bombast. He may have influenced the orchestra, because the august forces of the Gewandhaus do likewise, going from a barely audible rustle to a cascade of sound. Kavakos takes more liberties than we are used to with the tempo, doing things his own way. He doesn’t overdo it, though. His extemporaneous feel shines also in the Bartok Rhapsodies and Brahms Hungarian Dances. While some performers have irritated me with mannered takes on the Hungarian Dances, it seems he gets them right, with a brooding, romantic tone and gritty virtuosity. His Greek background might help him here because you get that sense of the music picking up speed the way the Greek dances do. He also has an unusual thin, almost whistling sound that sets him apart. In any case, I love these pieces, and these are some of the best performances of them I have ever heard. And I say that grudgingly, because one thing I have to say, I like Kavakos better on record than I did in person. Remembering his concert here, there is one thing I cannot get out of my head and that is his cold demeanor. He comes off as warmer if you are not watching him. ΩΩΩΩ (M.K.G.)

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