The Galaxy – the Joys of Improvisation

Statue of Johann Sebastian Bach at Musikverein.

Image via Wikipedia

It has been a while since I’ve been able to blog during the show, owing to a number of circumstances.  But most of those circumstances are resolved, and I am able to return to my former function.  Happily, I must add.

There are few things in music quite as relaxing as listening to one of the many brilliant organ pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach.  I imagine that Bach probably felt the same way about playing them, given his status as one of the preeminent keyboard artists of his day.  While many of his compositions rank among some of the greatest music in the history of Western music, one can sense his special passion for the keyboard in his writing.  Truly, when one listens so some of these works, the ebullient joy just leaps out at you.  One such example is his chorale partita based on the Lutheran hymm “O Gott, du Frommer Gott” (“Oh God, Thou Just God”).  Believed to have been initially written during his teen years, this work provides a variation for each of the song’s eight verses, then concludes with a finale, for a total of 9 variations on the original theme.

It is an interesting contrast to leap from the joyful reverence of Bach to the meditative sitar of Ravi Shankar, yet such contrasts are what we enjoy doing here on the Galaxy.  Tonight’s piece is Homage to Baba Allauddin.  I’ve been working for years to try and track down the origin of this recording, and tonight I think I’ve found evidence that suggests that the album from which this came was issued in 1981, is considered a classic (of course, this is Ravi Shankar we’re talking about), and is out of print.  The cd I have was brought to me from India by a friend, so I am grateful to have acquired such wonderful music as this.

I find myself in the mood for some Issac Hayes tonight.  So I end up with a copy of Hot Buttered Soul, and its extended-length classic “By The Time I Get to Phoenix.”  Unfortunately, I’ve not yet been able to acquire the recently issued remastered version of this classic.  It will happen.  It is just a matter of time.

Now we get to the main source of inspiration for tonight’s show (ok, I did go with a picture of a Bach statue, but it is so pretty, I couldn’t resist).  Charles Mingus is always a joy to listen to, especially live, and so is Eric Dolphy.  There are some really nice recordings that capture them combining their brilliance on the concert stage, one of them being the 2007 release of the Cornell 1964 concert.  Fables of Faubus was a song first featured on Mingus Ah Um, but that recorded version was only 8 minutes long.  Here he stretches the song out to 29 minutes, and gives quality time to each member of the band (one of his best lineups), including Dolphy, who was not present at the original recording, but who was in brilliant form here.  Note Mingus’ quote of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” during his bass solo.

After he put out his first solo album (Blue Trane), John Coltrane retreated a little bit.  But he really came into his own when he got the opportunity to work with the great pianist Thelonious Monk.  Monk was notoriously difficult to work with – some might say that he was a bit eccentric, and his songs are quite demanding for the performer, especially one who is performing with Monk.  Yet Coltrane, in the relatively short time that he played with Monk, proved to be one of the few horn players who could give the fullest voice to Monk’s compositions.  Until recently, the only live recording that captured the combination of Monk and Coltrane was the At The Five Spot set.  Happily, a supervisor for the Library of Congress stumbled upon the master tapes for this recording in 2005, and upon further investigation found that they had never been released for public consumption (and edification – this is truly some edifying music).  Truly, we are blessed – the sound quality is pristine, and the quality of the performance lives up to the talents that the performers bring to the table.  Tonight we heard the opening track to the recording, Monk’s Mood.

We close the show with some more classic concert jazz, a 1957 performance by Sonny Rollins in the horn/bass/drums format of which he was the master.  This rendition of Sonnymoon for Two, as issued on A Night At the Village Vanguard, is notable for Elvin Jones’ explosive drumming, yet one can’t exclude bassist Wilbur Ware from praise.  Of course, all of this serves to support the force of nature that is Sonny Rollins.  Brilliance on all parts.

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