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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

Soundtrack

Jonny Greenwood, “Inherent Vice” (Nonesuch). Because it is the first – and likely to be only – cinematic adaptation of a novel by Thomas Pynchon, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “Inherent Vice” is one of the most interesting films of the season, by far. It won’t be for everyone but especially for Pynchon readers, it is irresistible. It won’t open in Buffalo until the second week of the new year but we can see already that the combination of director Anderson and composer Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead has become one of the more impressive fillmmaker/composer tandems in current movies. Greenwood previously composed the music for Anderson’s extraordinary free adaptation of an Upton Sinclair novel in “There Will Be Blood.” You can’t compare what Greenwood does as a composer for Anderson to what, say, what Ennio Morricone did for Sergio Leone or Bernard Herrmann did for Hitchcock. In both of those cases – Herrmann’s score for “Vertigo” for instance – one has only to hear the music independently to conjure up the movie at the same time as drink in the music’s beauty. But Greenwood, especially here, fills a hugely important function. Unlike Hitchcock’s films or Leone’s, there’s nothing remotely simple about audience reactions to an adapted Pynchon novel. So much, then, is left up to Greenwood’s music to guide the audience. Though the movie is a good deal funnier than the music (sudden versions of the old hit “Sukiyaki” for instance) would lead you to believe, Greenwood’s music, quite crucially, underscores that there is something large and very unfunny about the paranoid invention that lay behind the whole tale – a mystery called The Golden Fang as evocative as The Tristero System in Pynchon’s novel “The Crying of Lot 49” and V. in Pynchon’s novel of the same name. Trying to do onscreen all that Pynchon can do in a novel – even his least difficult – is left, much of the time, to Greenwood’s score beyond Joaquin Phoenix’s bumbling and proto-comic investigations. It’s a little bit interesting on its own as music, but when you see the movie you’ll understand how important to the whole thing it is. ŒŒŒ (Jeff Simon)

Jazz

Phil Markowitz and Zach Brock, “Perpetuity” (Dot Time Records). It would certainly be an exaggeration to say that when the subject is jazz in America, Brooklyn is where it’s happening. It wouldn’t be all that much of an exaggeration, though. In this disc from Brookylyn jazz musicians, pianist Phil Markowitz and violinist Zach Brock play music with ferocious bass lines and rhythms, rough hewn playing by violinist Brock and percussive pointillism by pianist Markowitz. It’s powerful and compared to so much of the original composing being done in jazz these days, it stays with you long after the disc is over. The group is a quintet with either Lincoln Goines or Jay Anderson on bass, Obed Calvaire on drums and Edson “Cafe” Da Silva on percussion and vocals. The disc notes are without attribution but are presumably by Markowitz. He describes “Six Pack” this way “comes from two sets of major thirds that descend in half steps and then in whole steps. It is also a convenient way to purchase a beverage.” About the final tune “Ankle Biter” he writes that it’s “a contrafact on ‘Confirmation’ It could also be about puppies.” “Nebulae” on the other hand “is a stellar tribute to the infiniteness of the universe.” There’s no question how much finesse this jazz disc lacks. But when so much imagination and authority go into a current jazz disc, a good deal more finesse might very well have got in the way. This is jazz that is absolutely fresh. And, I would think, inviting for other jazz musicians to investigate on their own. ◊◊◊½ (Jeff Simon)

Classical

Prokofiev and Khachaturian, Piano Concertos performed by Nareh Arghamanyan and the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Berlin and conductor Alain Altinoglu (Pentatone). The story is that when Khachaturian asked Prokofiev to take a look at the first draft of the second movement of Khachaturian’s 1936 D-Flat piano concerto, Prokofiev drolly said “your pianist will be catching flies here.” Khachaturian revised to give him a lot more to do. The condescension that for so long greeted the composer of the wonderful ballet “Gayeneh” that gave the world the “Sabre Dance” is much harder to carry off in a new century. Khachaturian’s appeal in his best works – and his piano concerto would rate in there – is undeniable and his meld of cultural influences South of the Russian border makes his music seem much richer and more clairvoyant than it no doubt seemed in the ’40s and ’50s. When Prokofiev premiered his third piano concerto Op. 26 on an American tour in 1921, he wrote that it was understood in neither Chicago or New York but at least the Chicagoans liked it. “I have to face the truth,” wrote Prokofiev, “the final result of the season in America, which at the start held such promise for me, was a great big zero.” It has been anything but a great big zero in the history of modern classical pianism. The performances of both concertos by young pianist Nareh Arghmanyan (she isn’t yet 30) don’t partake of the fire-breathing percussive virtuosity that some pianists are delighted to bring to them – especially the Prokofiev. They certainly belong together, though, on disc when a pianist is savvy enough to pair them up. ◊◊◊ (Jeff Simon)

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Missa Conceptio Tua, Medieval and Renaissance Music For Advent, Schola Antiqua of Chicago, Michael Alan Anderson, director (Naxos). The centerpiece of this affordable celebration of early music is the world premiere of the Missa Conceptio Tua, or Mass of the Immaculate Conception, by Pierre de la Rue, who lived from 1452-1518. La Rue wrote music for some of Europe’s greatest courts of that era, and it’s interesting to listen and think, this is what Mass sounded like when Columbus was making his famous voyages. The music did not sound like anyone else I had heard. It’s polyphonic, but not in the style of Palestrina, even though it builds in the same way, as if reaching toward the heavens. They must have built music back then the way they built cathedrals, thinking of great heights. The harmonies are often unusual, and there is emphasized use of low bass voices. The disc begins with seven antiphons, glorious Gregorian chant. It includes a plainchant Alma Redemptoris Mater, from a 14th century Portuguese manuscript, sung breathtakingly by the sopranos. The disc ends with three late medieval English Carols, “There is no rose of swych vertu,” which I think I have heard at Lessons and Carols, “Hail Mary, full of grace” and the exhilarating and atmospheric “Nova, nova!” The Schola Antiqua of Chicago brings an appealing youthful sound to this ancient music of the ages. ŒŒŒŒ (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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