Jimi Hendrix, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (Legacy 2-CD set). On July 4th, 1970, a little shy of a year after the original Woodstock Festival, Jimi Hendrix played to 300,000 people in the deep South, the largest urban audience he’d ever face. The occasion was the Atlanta Pop Festival, and a mere matter of weeks after Hendrix and bandmates Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell offered a performance balancing fire and finesse equally, the iconic guitarist would be dead. The official release of this historic gig adds some serious heft to the Hendrix canon, for this may be the finest Hendrix show to ever hit the ether. Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding was long gone by this point, and Hendrix’s old Army buddy Billy Cox was now manning the bass in a manner that deepened the groove and underscored the R&B always at the heart of Hendrix interstellar overdrive. With Mitch Mitchell, one of the greatest of the many great British drummers to emerge from the fertile ground of ’60s rock, working his jazz-inflected magic behind the kit, Hendrix was free to explore the far reaches of the sonic stratosphere, and man, did he ever take advantage of that freedom. He tears holes in the structure of “Spanish Castle Magic” with hyper-distorted bends and wah wah pedal-colored flurries of notes, marries Buddy Guy-influenced bent-string moans to the sort of way-out exploration John Coltrane was involved in during his final years throughout “Red House,” and suggests the funk-acid rock fusion he most likely would have pursued doggedly had he lived during a torrid “Room Full Of Mirrors.” There’s also a date-appropriate rendering of “The Star Spangled Banner” that rivals the ferocity of the more famous version tracked during Woodstock, and one of the strongest versions of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” to yet see the light of day. The Experience Hendrix campaign routinely drops posthumous material on the market, some of it essential, some of it less so. “Freedom” is at the top of the essential list. It’s perhaps the finest representation of peak period in-concert Hendrix in existence. ◊◊◊◊ (Jeff Miers)
Karol Szymanowski, Reynaldo Hahn, Music for Violin and Piano, Tamsin Waley-Cohen, violin, Huw Watkins, piano (Signum Classics).
It’s a good idea to juxtapose the sharp-angled, gritty music of Karol Szymanowski with the elegance of Reynaldo Hahn. Though the rather dense liner notes offer several reasons for doing so, it’s perfectly acceptable just to sit back and enjoy. The two musicians here do justice to both composers, who were contemporaries, with a generous helping of the music of both. They play Szymanowski’s fiery Violin Sonata in D Minor, followed by a lovely Romance in A by Hahn. Hahn’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in C follows, and then his Nocturne in E Flat. Szymanowski gets the last word with the Nocturne and Tarantella, Op. 28, so gripping that it left me with tarantella rhythms on my mind for some time afterward. The world likes “shuffle” mode, but I like how these pieces were arranged, and I liked them in the order given. All together the disc offers a great glimpse of the spectrum of music in the early 1900s. This duo’s last disc, by the way, was devoted to 1917 music by Elgar, Debussy, Respighi and Sibelius. I like how they approach and present repertoire that is often off the beaten track. ◊◊◊ (Mary Kunz Goldman)
Faure and Strauss, Violin Sonatas performed by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Emanuel Ax (Geutsche Gramophon). The greatest living classical virtuosos are so familiar with each other that their recordings together are more like family occasions than occupational ones. Here are two great violin/piano sonatas performed by musicians in nearly ideal attunement to one another, playing two masterful Romantic sonatas for violin and piano. The debut of Faure’s A-major violin/piano sonata no. 1 was performed by Faure himself at the piano. Faure’s teacher Saint-Saens paid this tribute to the work “in this sonata you can find everything to tempt a gourmet: new forms, excellent modulations, unusual tone colors and the use of unexpected rhythms.” Ax hears “something Schubertian” about it. Strauss, we’re told, used to brag “I may not be a first-rate composer but I’m a first-rate second-rate composer.” His music is first-rate, as is Faure’s, as are the performers and performances here. ◊◊◊½ (Jeff Simon)
DeFalla, “Complete Piano Music” performed by pianist Juan Carlos Rodriguez (Paladino Music). Juan Carlos Rodriguez smartly says that he is reminded of Ravel by Manuel DeFalla’s musical output at the piano: small, spare, always purposeful.
The earliest piece here is the Chopinesque “Nocturno” by the composer at 20. By the time 40 years later, Falla wrote “Pour Le Tombeau de Paul Dukas,” the influence of Chopin has given way to Debussy and, finally, to his-ever growing fame as his country’s most significant composer in his time. So many huge virtuosos (Rubinstein, for one, DeLarrocha, for another) have recorded great performances of his piano music that even a “complete works” designation can’t totally persuade anyone to prefer Rodriguez’s versions over one and all.
No matter. This is a very good overview of important Spanish solo piano music. ◊◊◊½ (Jeff Simon)
Various Artists, “Hommage a Eberhard Weber” featuring Pat Metheny, Gary Burton, Jan Garbarek, Scott Colley Danny Gottlieb, Paul McCandless and others (ECM). If ever there were a record label that deserved to celebrate itself, it’s ECM records, founded in 1969 by bassist Manfred Eicher.
Because of Eicher’s individual instrumental allegiance, bassists have always been prominent on ECM, all the while the label was also giving the world the greatest early music by Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny and others.
German bassist Eberhard Weber, who had a stroke in 2007 which ended his playing days, is celebrated here in two January concerts celebrating his 75th birthday. What makes this celebration of his history itself historic is that the center of the album is taken up by a superb new Pat Metheny orchestral piece using previously recorded Weber solos that amounts to Metheny’s first appearance on the label since 1984. Also taking part besides Metheny in this terrific occasion and providing suitably brilliant music are Gary Burton, Jan Garbarek, Scott Colley, Paul McCandless, Danny Gottlieb and the SWR Big Band. A major jazz disc of the season from one of the year’s significant jazz occasions. ◊◊◊½ (Jeff Simon)
Mary Halvorson, “Meltframe” (Firehouse Records). If you want to know who is, by far, the most praised of all relatively new jazz guitarists in New York, here is a revealing solo guitar recital that is a perfect chance to discover why Mary Halvorson is a specimen under glass of an artist critics can’t help swooning over a bit: neither old nor young but so steeped in the historic tradition of ambitious new jazz that her disc includes compositions by Oliver Nelson, Ornette Coleman, McCoy Tyner, Carla Bley and Roscoe Mitchell alongside those of her friends and contemporaries. You can imagine Tyner listening to her surprising version of his “Aisha” with the occasionally dumbfounded look of some people when they heard Tyner’s old employer John Coltrane.
What she does to Nelson’s “Cascades” is completely original. And who can entirely resist anyone so eager to play Carla Bley’s great old melodic tribute to “Ida Lupino?” Nevertheless, what the disc undeniably is, is an introduction to an intellectual performer with great chops, adventurous exploratory habits and the huge gift of being individual no matter what the circumstances. This, though – to be blunt – is an artist infinitely more likely to impress than to be loved. ◊◊◊ (Jeff Simon)