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Listening Post: Jazz by George Coleman, classical music by Feldman, Crumb, Prokofiev and Bartok

Jazz

George Coleman, “A Master Speaks” (Smoke Sessions).

The first time Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet – that is, the one with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams – played in Buffalo, it was at the Royal Arms and the tenor saxophonist was George Coleman, not Wayne Shorter, who later and most famously became a perfect counter-voice to Miles Davis. That Shorter was so inspired in the quintet is no reflection on Coleman who was truly great before Shorter (see “Miles in Europe,” “My Funny Valentine” and “Four and More”). Coleman’s trouble with Miles is that he was a well-traveled veteran already and, therefore, not willing to tolerate the worst kind of gamesmanship that went with working with Miles Davis. He was too old for such nonsense so he went off with Lee Morgan and, eventually, to make, with Cedar Walton, one of the classic jazz records “Eastern Rebellion.” That he is still playing superbly 53 years after that gig in the Royal Arms is remarkable. He is exceptional here. Unfortunately, the group doesn’t really match his level – not pianist Mike LeDonne or his son George Coleman Jr. on drums (his bassist, on the other hand, is Sonny Rollins’ mainstay Bob Cranshaw.) Even so, it’s terrific to have a George Coleman record again and the notes – a long saxophonists’ conversion between Coleman and Eric Alexander – are first rate.

3 stars (out of four)

Classical

Feldman, “Palais de Mare” and Crumb, “A Little Suite for Christmas” performed by pianist Steven Osborne (Hyperion). It isn’t just the ability to play Morton Feldman’s music that marks a virtuoso pianist as special it’s the desire to do so. Our luck in Buffalo in hearing Feldman’s slow, soft, visionary music for so long while he was the Varese Professor of Music at UB (his invention) doesn’t usually translate to the endeavors of a pianist like Steven Osborne, whose interest in the likes of Liszt and Alkan as well as Ravel and Beethoven Sonatas doesn’t promise affinity for a composer known to advise pianists to listen to the tone a single finger can make. But not only does Osborne prove to be devoted to Feldman he cleverly pairs him on a disc with George Crumb. The pieces performed here are Feldman’s “Intermission 5,” “Piano Piece 1952” and “Exteriors 3” all from 1952, as well as his 25-minute final piece for piano “Palais de Mari” from 1986. (He died in 1987.) The altogether more eventful Crumb works are the 1980 “A Little Suite for Christmas” and the 1983 “Processional.”

3 stars (out of four)

Prokofiev and Bartok, 1930’s Violin Concertos performed by violinist Gil Shaham, the Knights and Stuttgart Radio Symphony led by, respectively Eric Jacobsen and Steven Deneve (Canary Classics); Prokofiev, Symphonies 4, 6 and 7 and Piano Concertos 4 and 5 performed by pianists Alexei Volodin and Sergei Babayan and Marinsky Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev (Marinsky, two discs).

Some classics and also-rans of High Modernism performed by musicians close to ideal for them. The two second violin concertos from the 1930’s – Prokofiev’s and Bartok’s – are standard masterworks of modern repertoire, especially Bartok’s, one of his greatest works (and, for years, the only Bartok violin concerto until an early one was found). Shaham’s expressive warmth is every bit as ideal for Prokofiev’s melodism as you’d expect. If he doesn’t have the gypsy recklessness of, say, Stern in the Bartok, very few other violinists do either. And his decorousness and logic are virtues of their own. Gergiev’s two disc set of unfamiliar great works by Prokofiev is another matter. Though the sound is typically unspectacular for Russian recordings, one would espect Russian recordings for a Russian label by Russian musicians conducted by one of the more flamboyant around to be worthy and they are. The concertos were written in between his most popular periods. There are those who think his sixth, his greatest symphony.

3 1/2 stars (out of four) for Shaham

3 stars for Gergiev.

– Jeff Simon

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