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Yesterday’s post focused on the first collaborations between jazz arranger Gil Evans and Miles Davis. Of course, the ‘Birth of the Cool’ sessions were just the beginning of a beautiful friendship, from which later came some of the best and most original jazz records of the sixties — including Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain and others.

Davis’ progression towards the revolutionary early jazz fusion albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew is well-known, as is the inspiration he took from groups like Sly & the Family Stone. Less familiar is the potential collaboration between Gil Evans and Jimi Hendrix, whose music the Canadian arranger had first discovered at the encouragement of his wife. Hendrix and Evans had scheduled a meeting which never happened because of the guitarist’s untimely death in September 1970.

It’s hard to imagine what an album they may have made together would sound like — but it probably would have been awesome. Four years later Evans made an album featuring jazz arrangements of Hendrix’s songs. It’s a good record, but it will always be colored by a sense of “what if.”

gil evans jimi

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“Angel”

 

peter

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“Peter Cottontail” by Gene Autry

DSC07239In yesterday’s post about the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s groundbreaking digital recording of Appalachian Spring we mentioned that Aaron Copland himself had earlier conducted a recording of the original 13-piece arrangement of the ballet. We never loved that recording as much as the SPCO’s, but both are records we’d recommend in a heartbeat.

We also wrote disparagingly about the “Copland Conducts Copland” series but it really has less to do with the quality of the recordings than with what the period of time in his career represented. His transition traveling guest conductor was the result of his diminished inspiration as a composer. He is quoted, heartbreakingly, in Howard Pollack’s biography Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man, as saying “it was exactly as if someone had simply turned off a faucet.”

We find it sad to imagine an artist bound to his earliest works because of its enduring popularity, having never understood how for instance Bruce Springsteen can still drag “Born to Run” onto stage with any passion. Copland, in his later years, was often invited to conduct Appalachian Spring, Rodeo and Billy the Kid. For good measure also The Red Pony and Fanfare for the Common Man at times, all fine works and famous for a reason.

His late-period twelve tone compositions like the Piano Fantasy are rarely performed in the country which declares him a favorite son, just as (let’s be honest here) nobody really wants to hear songs from the last decade’s worth of Bruce Springsteen albums. This isn’t a fate which befalls all composers or all rock stars. Richard Strauss, for instance, had something of a renaissance of creativity in his seventies and eighties, composing his Four Last Songs almost in anticipation of his own passing. And until this Frank Sinatra bullshit it seemed like Bob Dylan was as creative as ever (maybe that’s the idea — you never know with Dylan).

DSC07242Anyways, every record collector in the world loves any kind of album insert, especially a bonus disc. And any music lover would enjoy hearing a favorite composer rehearse one of their most famous pieces. Columbia’s Masterworks division experimented with 7-inch inserts for a while, offering insights into the album by Leonard Bernstein or Bruno Walter, or in this case recordings of the rehearsals.

The little bonus record provides an interesting and enjoyable portrait of Copland, both as a composer and a conductor, as well as an opportunity to imagine what it would be like to revisit one’s own work decades later.

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Oh Mercy

If you were to find yourself copies all of Bob Dylan’s studio and live albums (not to mention the eleven-volume Bootleg Series) you’d need a pretty big shelf for your collection of more than sixty records. There are probably a lot of complete collections here in the Twin Cities alone, and all over the world.

We don’t have a complete Dylan discography at home, but we do have a big shelf of his albums — and we’d have a hard time choosing a favorite. Dylan’s career has gone through so many different eras, and each has its highlights. When, for instance, the Bootleg Series presented outtakes from New Morning and Self Portrait a couple years ago, we we very excited — those are two of our favorites. We posted a couple tracks here at the time.

We’re also fans of his recent albums, especially Modern Times and Tempest, and of this 1989 record which is often described as one of his “comeback” albums.

oh mercy Dylan’s ’89 affair was not the only “comeback” of the era. The same was said of several baby boomer artists — Lou Reed’s New York and Neil Young’s Freedom, for instance, and whatever Paul McCartney released that year. Like the others, Dylan balanced fresh social commentary with introspection about aging. At the time, this was lost on Gen Xers like ourselves, who were more in tune with younger artists, but we’re seeing albums like Oh Mercy become more popular with our peers as we all grow into our own time for introspection.

Oh Mercy is otherwise very different from the back-to-basics of New York and Freedom, because Dylan chose to work with producer Daniel Lanois, who at the time was best known for his work on U2’s The Joshua Tree and Peter Gabriel’s So. The result is a lushly layered landscape never before heard on a Dylan album, and a very different approach to recording his voice.

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“Political World”

Oh Mercy is the first step towards the sound Dylan would embrace ten years later with Time out of Mind (also produced by Lanois) and the several albums since (all produced by Dylan himself). You can especially hear this sound evolving in “Most of the Time,” which treats Dylan’s trademark rasp as an advantage, rather than trying to hide its rough edges through mixing, as producers had done throughout the 80s. Its a shame the same technique wasn’t used on songs like “Brownsville Girl,” the epic track stranded in the middle of Knocked Out Loaded, one of the most disappointing Dylan albums.

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“Most of the Time”

The reason we’ve been listening to Oh Mercy lately is “Ring Them Bells,” a song which seems to fit nearly any era, but especially one in which horrible things like what happened in Paris last week are heartbreakingly commonplace. Lanois lays his reverberated guitar lower on this track, on which Dylan himself plays the piano. We’ve seen Dylan on nearly every visit to the Twin Cities since Oh Mercy, but haven’t ever heard him play this song.

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“Ring Them Bells”

Most of Oh Mercy is dark and desperate, like the next song, “The Man in the Long Black Coat.” This is the mood of most of Dylan’s recent albums. Unlike some other 60s icons, Dylan has aged with grace and a measure of dignity. That’s why he can appear in a lingerie ad without seeming like a dirty old man, and its one of the reasons we’ve stuck with him through the good albums and the bad albums.

Last year a local music blog ran an interview in which some kids described a new record store as the only one in town run by someone under fifty. It stung a little, since neither of us is near fifty yet, and we both feel pretty young even though we have the trappings of older folks: two kids, mortgage, nuanced non-dogmatic views, and yes, not the same faces we had at twenty. George Carlin once commented our thirties are hard because the whole world seems to be eighteen or forty-five.

On the other side of the album, Dylan says “there’s a whole lot of people tonight suffering from the disease of conceit,” and he’s right. And you can’t let that stuff get to you, because another great songwriter, Taylor Swift, is right:

Players gonna play play play
Haters gonna hate hate hate
Baby, I’m gonna shake shake shake
Shake it off

When he recorded Oh Mercy, Dylan still had some of his best work up ahead, and also some lean years where he admits in Chronicles Volume I the songs just didn’t come as easily as they once had. That’s why he recorded those couple albums of old folk songs. The one bright spot of his mid-90s output, “Dignity,” first first appeared on Greatest Hits Volume 3 and MTV Unplugged, but the song was actually an outtake from Oh Mercy.

Tolstoy was seventy-two when he wrote Resurrection, one of the best novels we can recall reading. There’s enough examples like that to fill a motivational poster. John Glenn was seventy-seven when he went into space. He went into fucking space!

And Colonel Sanders didn’t open the first Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was sixty-five. It’s true, look it up!

222px-The_Simpsons-Jeff_AlbertsonSo who knows, maybe we’ll grow old here at Hymie’s, so long as we’re all still having fun. Who knows what the record store be like in 2050? One thing’s for sure, we won’t be here if we start to look like the guy on the left. There’s a reason Bart and Milhouse despise him.

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“Shooting Star”

There are as many as a quarter of a million records in the shop on a good day. It can be hard to choose, which is why there are also why we provide three listening stations where you can sample any of them. We appreciate very much that all of our regular customers put the records back after they listen to them, otherwise we’d have a lot of extra work to do at the end of the day.

Sometimes you get to the listening station, put the album on and realize someone has put the wrong record in the jacket. Sometimes these mismatches create the strangest combinations…

stand by your man

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mas ariba

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PHONE CALL

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Ben Weaver Buffalo LP

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xon the corner

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Can’t get enough? More mismatches here

Four of the remaining nine survivors of the USS Arizona were in Hawaii today to mark the seventy-third anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Nearly 1200 sailors died on the battleship, including twenty-three pairs of brothers and a father and son, Thomas Augusta Free and William Thomas Free.

Those interested in music may mourn the loss of the entire USS Arizona band, US Navy Band Unit 22, who had been on deck to play for the morning flag-raising ceremony. They had previously qualified for the finals in the Navy’s annual “Battle of the Bands,” and were unanimously declared the winners after the attack — the award today is known at the USS Arizona Band Trophy. It is the only such loss of an entire military band in American history.

HITH_pearl_harbor_banner

 

Much of the ships structure and armament were salvaged after the attack, to be reused in the war effort. The remains of the ship, under about forty feet of water, became the final resting place for more than 900 servicemen. Many more survivors have since chosen to have their cremated remains interred in the wreck.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the legislation to create a national monument in 1958, and the construction of the 180-foot, bright white marble structure over the Arizona was funded by private donations. Just after his two-year enlistment in the US Army, Elvis Presley performed a benefit concert at Pearl Harbor’s arena which raised $50,000.

According to its architect, Alfred Preis, “Wherein the structure sags in the center but stands strong and vigorous at the ends, expresses initial defeat and ultimate victory….The overall effect is one of serenity. Overtones of sadness have been omitted to permit the individual to contemplate his own personal responses…his innermost feelings.” You can read more about the Memorial on the National Park Service’s official website.

One of the four survivors at Pearl Harbor today is Donald Stratton, 92. He was hospitalized for over a year, with burns over sixty-five percent of his body, but re-enlisted soon after. “The good Lord saved just a few of us,” he told reporters.

ww2 songs

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“Remember Pearl Harbor” by Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra

When Napoleon’s Grande Armée entered Moscow after the bloody Battle of Borodino in September 1812, they expected to settle victoriously into a restful winter. Instead, they found a city of ruins, from which nearly the entire population had fled, taking with them any food and supplies with which to survive the winter. The Russian Army had burned much of it to the ground, and so robbed of victory, the Grande Armée began the disastrous retreat which left it decimated before reaching Poland.

The events are remembered with pride by Russians, who call the French invasion the Patriotic War of 1812. Twenty years later, Tsar Alexander I (he who had once said of Napoleon, “He or I, I or he: We cannot reign together!”) commission the construction of the Cathedral of the Savior to commemorate the triumph over the French. Decades later, its completion coincided with the 25th anniversary of Alexander II’s coronation and the 1862 Moscow Arts and Industry Exhibition — the greatest of all Russian composers, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, was asked to compose a work for the festivity. In six short weeks he had completed a score and a most ambitious plan.

550px-Cathedral_of_Christ_the_Saviour_1903Having learned his work would be performed in the open square before the cathedral, and that a brass band would be made available to him, Tchaikovsky approached the opportunity with uncharacteristic flamboyance. He arranged for the cathedral’s bells to accompany his orchestra as well, and for those of every church within earshot to join in his triumphant finale. Most remarkable of all, he arranged for the use of several cannons, which were to be wired to an electrical panel at his conductor’s stand, so that he himself could time their explosive contribution.

Yet as we have learned from Robert Burns, “the best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley.” Why Tchaikovsky’s magnificent plan went unrealized has been described by the New York Time‘s music critic Robert Sherman as “a minor Russian mystery.” It may likely have been the assasination of Alexander II in St. Petersburg, or a collapse of the composer’s enormous house of cards. The cause is lost to the past, and when Tchaikovsky was finally able to debut his Year 1812 Festival Overture in E♭ major, in a tent beside the incomplete Cathedral, it was in a simpler arrangement un-augmented by brass, bells or artillery. He would never hear his original score performed.
Tchaikovsky himself conducted the Overture at the official opening of Carnegie Hall on May 5th, 1881. He attempted to reproduce the original spectacle as planned in Berlin, but was not given permission. The earliest known recordings of the work were made in England two decades after Tchaikovsky’s death in 1893, and follow his second scoring. We are most proud to inform you that it was the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra which created the first faithful production of Tchaikovsky’s original score.

In 1954, Mercury Records’ “Living Presence” imprint recorded the Minneapolis Symphony inside Northrop Auditorium with the accompaniment of the University of Minnesota Brass Band. Upon this recording they added authentic recordings of Napoleonic single muzzle-loading cannons, recorded with the help of the Museum of the US Military Academy of West Point. A stereo version in 1958 added recordings from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon at Riverside Church in Manhattan, which includes the single largest tuned bell in the world (twenty tons!). The album is a classic and one of the finest accomplishments of the Minneapolis Symphony during the Antal Dorati period.

In 1990 the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra celebrated the 150th anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s birth by producing the Overture with the live accompaniment of cannons for perhaps the first time. Sentimental readers may be moved to learn the performance was made within earshot of the composer’s grave.

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Tchaikovsky’s Year 1812 Festival Overture in E♭ major, performed by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra with Antal Dorati conducting

1812 minneapolis

The 1812 Overture, as it is commonly known, rarely exceeds fifteen minutes — and while its production may be complex, the score follows a straightforward narrative using familiar themes. Tchaikovsky chose to use the Russian and French national anthems to represent the opposing armies as he describes the Battle of Borodino and the failed French occupation of Moscow. The celebratory climax is the celebration after the fleeing French must abandon their artillery as it becomes stuck in the freezing soil and the cannons are turned against them. The Russian anthem, “God Save the Tsar,” is played triumphantly with the tolling of the bells.Film fans might recall the moving scene in Casablanca in which Paul Henreid inspires the patrons of Rick’s Cabaret by asking the band to play La Marseillaise in response to a chorus of Nazi officers. The French national anthem became a symbol of the underground resistance during the German occupation, although in Napoleon’s day it had been banned (La Marseillaise had only a few years earlier been re-instated as the national anthem when Tchaikovsky used it in his Overture). Likewise, his use of “God Save the Tsar” falls into the classical composition equivalent of IMDB’s Goofs category. It was the national anthem when Tchaikovsky wrote the Overture in 1881, but it had been chosen in a competition held in 1833.
Another anachronism of Tchaikovsky’s score is the Russian bells themselves, which are different from cathedral bells elsewhere. Until the savage destruction of Churches under Soviet atheism, Russian bells were tolled in a manner known then as zvon. A zvonnar, or bell-toller, would move a mallet within a stationary bell, rather than the moving bells we are familiar with in here the west. The construction of the bells themselves is different: each western bells has an octave range, while each traditional Russian bell has one of a seventh, but greater subtlety in the scales of sounds produced. Most Russian bells in the zvon tradition were destroyed by the Soviets in the early 30s.
destruction-of-christ-the-savior-cathedralIn fact, the Cathedral of the Savior was destroyed by dynamite on December 5th, 1931. It took more than a year to remove the rubble which had been a Cathedral constructed over decades. The Palace of Soviets, proposed to take its place, was never completed. For a period of time the location was the world’s largest swimming pool.A second Cathedral of the Savior was built beginning in 1990, and consecrated in the year 2000. It was where Boris Yeltsin lied in state, and where Pussy Riot performed the “Punk Prayer” protest which led to their arrest and imprisonment in 2012. Theirs are rung simply moving a mallet within a stationary bell,

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