"Kodaly, Concerto for Orchestra and Other Works" performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and JoAnn Falletta (Naxos).
No one ever said that friendship with a genius was easy. Zoltan Kodaly and Bela Bartok were lifelong friends from the time they met. They were near-contemporaries (Bartok was a year older) and after they investigated Hungary's native folk music together, they remained devoted to it their whole lives.
Kodaly lived longer--into the late-'60s in fact. He was a bright and pleasant modernist composer by any assay. His lifelong friend Bartok, though, wasn't merely a great composer, he was one of the reigning geniuses of 20th-century music.
One of Bartok's greatest late-period works is his "Concerto for Orchestra," a masterpiece with a war-haunted slow movement and one of the most exciting finales in all of contemporary music. Kodaly's "Concerto for Orchestra" preceded Bartok's by four years but doesn't begin to be on the same level.
What is apparent throughout the newest fine disc by JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is how far from genius Kodaly was. He was a gifted orchestrator of colorful music making pleasant use of folk materials of his own and neighboring countries.
What he can't begin to do is begin to match the visionary majesty of what Bartok did in the most classical forms--piano and violin concertos, string quartets and that Concerto for Orchestra. Bartok's "Music for Strings Percussion and Celestra" was in another universe entirely from almost all of his contemporaries, including Kodaly. Falletta and the BPO are uncommonly vivid portrayers of Kodaly's rich orchestral textures. They make as fine a case, I think, as you can for him which is fine enough.
3 stars (out of four)
Mike Jones, "The Show Before the Show: Live at the Penn and Teller Theater" (Capri). Bobby Previte, "Rhapsody" (Rare Noise).
The two greatest Buffalo-raised musicians among current jazz aristocracy elsewhere are, arguably, Mike Jones and Bobby Previte, two musicians who couldn't be further apart if they tried. South Buffalo's Jones is a mind-boggling jazz piano virtuoso steeped in the hard-charging Dave McKenna-style.
Born and raised in Niagara Falls and mentored by UB's New Music guru Jan Williams, Bobby Previte has been, throughout his life, a hugely ambitious drummer/composer who has done everything from compose music for the Moscow Circus to a rock Mass. After some years where his solo piano eruptions had to compete against all manner of audience philistinism, Jones captured the affections of Las Vegas' great comedy magicians Penn and Teller. He has been, for years now, their regular pianist.
An interesting question with "The Show Before the Show" is whether it is Jones or Penn Jillette who is most indulging the other. Is it Jones being generous with Jillette's earnest contributions on bass in a duo with Jones? Or is it Jillette, whose vastly greater renown is being shared with a rip-roaring monster jazz pianist who will probably sell more records here than he ever has before? Before each Penn and Teller concert, Jones and Jillette come out for a 45-minute set as a jazz piano/bass duo.
Predictably here, the highlight of the disc is a sensational solo piano version of "Exactly Like You" in which Jones, already at race tempo, sudden starts playing utterly insane double time. Is it "showing off?" Good god, yes. It's also hilarious and glorious.
Bobby Previte's "Rhapsody" is the second part of his "Terminals" composition series. It's a sextet song cycle about the experience of being in transit in this world. It is also Previte's first ever composition with his own lyrics. It couldn't be more apropos of the modern world. "I began thinking about the fact that I come from a family of immigrants" Previte writes. "My mother was born in Sicily because my grandmother, pregnant with my mother, was denied entry into the United States and sent back."
Previte constantly pushes his talent with every new disc and even if the quality varies, his music is always creative and formidable. If he isn't up to his last two records here, it is still striking music, from its melodies to its multiphonic saxophone explosions by Fabian Rucker. Keeping up with Previte is always one of the greatest jazz pleasures.
3.5 stars for Jones, 3 stars for Previte (ratings out of four)
Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, "After the Fall" (ECM, two discs).
This 1998 performance of Jarrett's magnificent Standards Trio is being released for the first time. It dates from just after Jarrett's bout with chronic fatigue syndrome took him out of public performance for two years.
As a gingerly return to it near his home in New Jersey, he got his Olympian trio together for a concert in his nearby New Jersey Performing Arts Center. And that's where something profound and fascinating is revealed by this two disc set. Rather than those huge chordal ostinato-filled soliloquies that Jarrett has become so famous for, he stayed, in this trio concert, with complex, fleet-fingered bebop.
"I told the guys in the trio that, for me, bebop might be the best idea because, although it required great technique, I didn't think I needed to play as hard as I often did." More fingers, that is, and less forearm and shoulder. It was, for that reason, smart to release this because there's great stuff here--yes "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" but also a ripping version of John Coltrane's great bebop tune "Moment's Notice."
3 stars (out of four)