Disc reviews: Dragonforce, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Chick Corea, Medtner - The Buffalo News
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Disc reviews: Dragonforce, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Chick Corea, Medtner



Maximum Overload

[Metal Blade]


These guys aren’t kidding around. There was a time, a few years back, when I thought they were laughing up their sleeves, and all the way to the bank. But six albums into a very successful career, Dragonforce is kicking things up a notch. Considering how ridiculously over-the-top the band’s music already was, that’s really saying something.

If you’ve ever walked into a Guitar Center and heard a few ne’er do wells engaging in a full on metallic shred-fest, each trying to cram in more hyper-picked notes, sweeping arpeggios and chunka-chunka riffs than the other, the odds are high that you just encountered a couple of Drangonforce fans. There is no room for subtlety, delicate interplay or whisper-to-a-scream dynamics here. There are dynamics, but they simply vary between loud and louder, or uptempo and crushingly uptempo. Don’t expect any blues references, either; this is neo-classical shred married to video game soundtrack frippery, all performed with dizzying dexterity and singularity of purpose.

It will take your breath away. Is that a good thing? Depends who you ask.

The aptly titled “Maximum Overload” commences with “The Game,” an anthemic blob of spray-cheese long on bombast, but also boasting enough clutchless gear shifting to retain a sort of wide-mouthed interest in the listener. “Symphony of the Night” and “Three Hammers” are both epics nearing the 6-minute mark and stuffed to the brim with technical virtuosity.

Dragonforce does reveal a sense of humor, happily, most obviously during a disturbingly deviant (but hilarious) take on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Unless you are a staunch devotee of power-metal, “Maximum Overload” will probably get on your nerves rather quickly. But if you love this stuff, well, this is about as good as it gets.

– Jeff Miers



Kossuth and Other Works

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta



“Like a fireworks display that goes on too long” is how my colleague Mary Kunz Goldman aptly described this performance of Bela Bartok’s “Kossuth” in Kleinhans Music Hall last October. It’s a negligible hunk of unconvincing ersatz late-Romantic symphonic poetry by Bela Bartok before he actually became Bela Bartok, i.e. the Bartok we know and revere.

Bartok was 22 when “Kossuth” joined the world. The young pianist and fledgling composer was enamored of Liszt, Brahms and especially Richard Strauss at the time. His symphonic poem commemorates the 1848 struggles between the Hungarians and the Austrians which, needless to say, allows Bartok to quote the Haydn melody that became “Deutschland uber alles” with as much hackneyed out of tune menace as a really bad World War II movie score.

With some minor lacunae in the brass, the orchestra generally does well by “Kossuth.” But that doesn’t begin to bring it anywhere near the spectacular level of the BPO’s recent recording of Gliere’s “Ilya Murometz” symphony.

Bartok and Shostakovich are, arguably, the two greatest composers of 20th century modernism, despite both being a small fraction as influential as Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Bartok’s Piano Concertos, string quartets, solo piano works, “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste” and “Concerto for Orchesra” are as incomparable and as inventive as modernism ever got.

Departing concertmaster Michael Ludwig lends the disc its major distinction by brilliantly playing one of Bartok’s “Two Portraits.” The orchestra plays Bartok’s Suite No. 1 but despite the fine work by Ludwig and the orchestra in the late-Romantic sonorities Naxos seems to want from it, this music is that of a modernist genius just before genius arrived.

The BPO’s best efforts can’t make this anything other than a play that doesn’t really begin until Act II.

– Jeff Simon


Chick Corea Trio


[Stealth/Concord, three discs]


The tour itineraries included Washington, D.C.; Oakland, Calif.; Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Turkey and Japan. Chick Corea’s mates in his trio were bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. Flutist Jorge Pardo and guitarist Nino Josele joined them for two tunes in Madrid. Corea’s wife, Gayle Moran, sang “Some Day My Prince Will Come” with them in Sapporo, Japan.

What you have here, then, is Corea’s selection of his highlights of the two international tours by one of the greatest working acoustic piano trios in all of jazz proving to the world that they are, as the saying goes, all of that. (Only Keith Jarrett’s truly venerable “Standards Trio” and Brad Mehldau’s now-disbanded long-running aggregate even come within shouting distance.)

Which, if you ask me, might have been a better title for this three-disc set than the rather prosaic “Trilogy.”

There’s a lot to love – a rollicking version of Monk’s “Blue Monk” where bassist McBride parties down in a kind of cross-generational shout-out to his ancestor Percy Heath in Monk’s original recording of it. And there’s a lot that will impress – a half-hour version of Corea’s “Piano Sonata: The Moon” and a version of a prelude by the now-hugely fashionable Russian composer Alexander Scriabin that is both unafraid to be straight-ahead jazz and way too cool to be dreaded jazz/classical kitsch.

But, at the same time, there’s nothing on this collection of live concert recordings that is anything but three of the most gifted instrumentalists in jazz, understanding and sparking each other perfectly in a musical brotherhood stronger than most real ones.

I wish the disc notes had been clearer on what transpired where. And the trio’s guests in Spain seem to subtract more than they add. But if, like me, you’ve forgotten how beautifully Moran performs with her husband, listen to her performance of “Some Day My Prince Will Come” with him. She takes the song way too high, right from the beginning, making you cower in listener’s fear at the high notes to come, but she negotiates them in free-falsetto flight with joy and all the confidence in the world that the man at the piano would rather die than let her fall.

One of a good jazz season’s major sets.

– J.S.


Medtner Plays Medtner, Vol. 1



Medtner is the hip piano composer these days, up there with other thorny esoteric piano composers like Scriabin and Charles Valentin Alkan. Arcane though his music might be, though, I hope it does not offend the master’s many fans to say that it is also pleasant. His “Fairy Tales” can make you think of Schumann at times, of Chopin other times, and occasionally Rachmaninoff. Sometimes you get a klezmer sound – once, Medtner gives us what sounds almost exactly like “A fiddler on the roof ...”

Just to round out the exotic picture, these recordings were made possible in 1946 through the generosity of an Indian maharajah, and lucky we are, because Medtner plays with an attractively unassuming virtuosity and the clearly challenging music often takes on a sensuous beauty. Besides the eight short “Fairy Tales” the album includes Three Novellas, Op. 17; Three Pieces, Op. 31; “Forgotten Melodies,” Cycle I, II and III. “Morning Song,” from Cycle II, is especially lovely. The sound is clear enough throughout, if attractively muffled.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

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