Felix's Day

Today marks the 200th aniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelsohn.  I think I have under-appreciated him through the years, in favor of some other composers who lived around the same time.  And, he is not as popular as he used to be, as columnist Norman Lebrecht has written.

Looking back on his body of work today, I can appreciate his music for its inventiveness, melody, and clean lines.  His string Octet is a really amazing piece, and seems as fresh today as it must have sounded when it was first played - when the composer was 16.  Check out the
score, in print and in the composer's own hand, courtesy the IMSLP.

Here is a nice performance, courtesy of Youtube, of his
Hebredes Overture.

pet peeves with chat/Skype

Why is it that so many are lurking these days, "invisible" on Skype or Google chat?  That is my pet peeve - when somebody is "invisible" and they want to chat with me.  From now on my policy is not to respond.  If they have a visible status as "off line", then they are off line. If you wanna chat, turn on the green light.  Otherwise it becomes a one way street "you can only talk to me when it's convenient for me to call you, don't dare think of calling me".

Less irritating is when someone has the green light on, and I try a Skype call and I get the old flusheroo (when people refuse a Skype call, it sounds like a toilet flushing).  If you aren't available to chat, then why is the green light on?  This is irritiating, but I understand, as I often walk away from my computer for a few minutes, leaving my status as green light.  But if I list myself as avaiable, I won't refuse a chat or a call outright. 

Some Jazz Albums From 2008

I think that when I first got into jazz, I made the mistake (as many do) of buying up every Miles Davis and John Coltrane album in sight, at the expense of many other artists. Later I picked up more than my fair share of Sonny Rollins CDs, and of course I had my obsession-compulsion with JJ Johnson, but still there was a lot of classic jazz I missed out on.

Lately I have been broadening my horizons a bit. If I stay up late I try to tune in to 
WBGO, which is a real national treasure. Thanks to their deep programming I have become acquainted with Oliver Nelson's classic "The Blues and the Abstract Truth", as well as Quincy Jones' big band albums from the 60's (I had thought he was just the guy who produced hit records for Michael Jackson).

And, lest we think that Jazz is dead, or just smells funny, I did pick up a few jazz albums in 2008 that were actually released in 2008.

The first I'll talk about is Larry Willis' "
The Offering".

Willis has been in the New York jazz scene for a long time, and he even played in Blood, Sweat, and tears for a spell. This record is a straight ahead jazz effort with good compositions from start to finish. The track that first caught my attention was a swinging rendition of the Theme from Star Trek (original 60's series). It works really well as a jazz tune. "Ethiopia" is a plaintive ballad that lets the bowed double bass present the melody.

Another jazz pianist that I did not know about until recently was Willis' friend John Hicks. Hicks died in 2006, and his widow, Elise Wood-Hicks, and Larry Willis put together the John Hicks Legacy Band to honor him with great renditions of his tunes on a record called "
Mind Wine".

The standout track for me is "After the Morning". The title tune also kicks off the CD with energy. I have yet to deeply explore Hicks' own playing per se (I bought a few cuts on I-tunes) but his compositions speak well of his sophisticated musicality.

Both these albums were released in 2008 and are highly recommended. However, this is by no means a "best of 2008" list. I have a lot of catching up to do with newer jazz releases!

ps - Here is a youtube video  of two Frenchmen giving a beautiful rendition of my favorite John Hicks song.


I am always a year too late finding these viral videos

I first found this by accident:


and I was fooled for about half of it, then I realized something was wrong. It's not a modern music escapde, but rather somebody overdubed new audio onto existing video. The original master was one StSanders:



he was shut down, but his videos live on



and now there are so many copycats that this has even gone over to classical!


I have to admit that this Santana bit reminded me of Surrender to the Air, an avante garde Phish side project that I saw in 1996:


I think Surrender to the Air was a bit overrated. Just a bit.

King Crimson

I saw King Crimson at the Keswick Theater Monday night, they were as good as ever, though I miss Trey Gunn. Tony Levin was adequate in covering the Trey tunes from recent years (Construction of Light, Level Five) but his tone didn't seem quite up to snuff for that material. However it was nice hearing Tony's singing voice, and some of those classic 80's King Crimson songs that really required his singing: "Three of a Perfect Pair", "Frame by Frame", and others.

I thought that the sound was ok, but the bass was kinda weak throughout, the sound guy could have done more to bring that out. They had two drummers, which caused a lot of buzz among my friends, but I thought they would have been just fine with one.

After the show I ran into Markus Reuter, all the way from Germany, which was a nice surprise. I had not seen him since 2004, and he had just been in Belgium for the tapping seminar. So for a few minutes it was nice to catch up on old times.


Concert Roundup

Well, gee where do I begin, this has been quite a concert season for ol' Ray.  I'll be seeing the NJSO do the Shostakovich #5 this week, to cap off the year.  Let me see if I can remember all the concerts/operas I saw since September:

NY City Opera doing Barber's "Vanessa" in October. 
Lidia Kaminska with her tango group at the Kimmel Center in October
NJSO playing the Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2/Dvorak Violin concerto in November
NJSO (w/Brittany Sklar) playing the Brahms violin concerto, plus Ravel and Haydn; in November
NJSO doing the Mahler #2 in November
Tempesta di Mare in January, playing music of Janitsch, "rescued by the Red Army"
NJSO doing the Sibelius #2 in February
Philadelphia Orchestra playing Holst's Planets in March
NJSO doing the Brahms #3 in March
Allentown Symphony Orchestra playing the Mahler #5 in April
Philadelphia Orchestra playing the Mahler #8 (wow) on April 30
Piffaro, the Renaissance band, playing Elizabethian favorites, May 2
Symphony in C , with Lidia Kaminska, playing the Piazzolla concert on May 3

All outstanding events!  Lidia was great last week playing the Piazzolla concerto on the bandoneon, which she had just started playing last year.  Coming from chromatic accordion, this is not a great leap, but she had to really work to get her virtuoso chops transferred over to the new instrument in just a few months time!  Bravo, Lidia!

As great as that was, the Mahler 8 was the greatest orchestral concert I have ever seen.  Eschenbach was in his element, this is the music he is meant to conduct.  All of the soloists, the choruses, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Verizon Hall itself, all were perfect.  If you don't know this piece of music, then you just wouldn't understand!  And as great as Jarvi's Mahler 2 was, (and it was great), the 8 is just on a whole other level.

So, the Shostakovich 5 will round out a fine year of concerts.  I am looking forward to Jarvi's interpretation, as he was a protege of Mravinsky, who was closely associated with Shostakovich's music and the composer himself.

See you at the hall!

Whitesnake Retrospective Day 6: 1982

Ah, dear reader, now we find ourselves in '82, at the end of our journey, and the final classic Whitesnake Album, "Saints & Sinners".  I like this album a lot, I think it is a nice return to form after "Come and Get It", the songwriting is stronger all around.  There's also more energy in the production, for example the songs run into each other without a break.  The classic lineup is heard here, but apparently Bernie Marsden left the band at some point late in the recording process, and new guitarist/vocalist mel Galley did the backing vocals.  The most notable songs here are probably the two that were re-made for the 1987 mega-platnum Whitesnake album:  "Here I Go Again", and "Cryin' in the Rain".  

The original "Here I Go Again" had a video, not nearly as famous as the one made in 1987.  In it we see Cozy Powell (but hear Ian Paice on drums) and we also can see/hear the things that made Whitesnake great, the vocal harmonies, guitar interplay Jon Lord's organ playing, etc.  I like the original version better, but I do think that the word "hobo" is a little dated.... yeah "drifter" may be an overused word but probably works better here.  Anyway, the song makes a nice farewell to the classic years.

After this, the band went through a bunch of lineup changes on its way to being the platinum selling "hair band" that Whitesnake is famous as.   On the road to 1987, they did make a fine hard rock album called "Slide it In", which I have to admit was the first Whitesnake album I ever owned.  However, it is beyond the scope of this article.  Still, let us take a moment to admire the fine shredding of guitarist John Sykes, on the song "Cryin' in the Rain", live in Rio in 1985.  It is not the same kind of band that I have been talking about these past 6 days, but I do love this video.  David Coverdale's slightly off key vocals are just proof that this is live, no overdubs.  Sykes' shredding is completely over the top, and Cozy Powell matches him note for note.  This video does not walk in the shadow of the blues, but is a guilty pleasure to watch.  John Sykes was a lone axeman on this tour, but his playing works just right here, with a little backup from an (off-stage) keyboard player.

And where are they now?  Well here is a video of David Coverdale working sometime in the late 80's, and here is some much more recent footage of Micky Moody and Bernie Marsden.  Ok, I rest my case.

Whitesnake Retrospective Day 5: 1981

In 1981, Whitesnake released "Come and Get It", which to me is the weakest of the classic albums, but it still has a few bright spots.  In general though, the songwriting isn't as good here as it was on the previous two or three albums.  The album keeps with the trend of being a little more hard edged than its predecessor, but it still has some bluesy numbers like the piano boogie "Wine, Women, and Song"*.  They did a video for "Would I Lie to You".  Standard late-70's style rock.  Ian Paice and Mickey Moody are still behatted!  Obviously we are still a long way from the hair band years here.

*this vid is from a few years later, slightly different lineup.

Whitesnake Retrospective Day 4: 1980

1980 - a new decade, but more of the same from the 'snakes.  Ready and Wiling was the first album to feature Ian Paice on drums, bringing the number of Deep Purple alumni up to three, or 50% of the band.  With this lineup they released "Ready an' Willing".  And as the cover art shows, they were a bunch of tough hombres, ready and willing to do anything!  The album kicked off with what would be old Whitesnake's biggest hit, "Fool for Your Loving".  So great in fact that a re-make was done during the hair-band years with Steve Vai.  But who cares about that, this was a catchy tune in the original version.  I love the bass line of this tune, one of my all time favorites from Neil Murray.  He takes a simple chord progression and dances around with it in lockstep with Paicey's busy drum part. (and check out his hat in the vid).

Also in 1980, they released a live album, "Live in the Heart of the City" which had several versions on LP, CD, and cassette through the years.  Even though it wasn't on the live album, here is a very nice live clip from that era of "Ain't Gonna Cry No More", which was on Ready an' Willing.  This song has everything that made Whitesnake great: Coverdale in full cry, the two guitar attack, vocal harmonies, and some tasty Moog from Mr. Lord.  Enjoy.

Whitesnake Retrospective Day 3: 1979

So, we are up to 1979, and Whitesnake's second full length album, "Lovehunter".  The album is well known for it's album cover that could have been from Spinal Tap ("Smell the Glove" anyone?).  A little less bluesy, and a little more hard edged than its predecessor, it had a few good tunes like "Long Way from Home", the title track, and "Walking in the Shadow of the Blues"*.  Pretty ballsy to sing:

"I love the blues, they tell my story
if you don't feel it you can never understand"

I suppose, coming from a working class Yorkshire background, Dave Coverdale has paid his dues.

The heavy organ is still a part of the Whitesnake sound, as is the three part vocal harmonies.  This was also the last album to feature Dave Dowle on drums, and as much as I admire and respect those who took his place, I always thought he was the Whitesnake drummer.  This was also the last Whitesnake album to feature a song not sung by Coverdale, "Outlaw", a nice Bernie Marsden tune with some Moog stylings from Mr. Lord.

next stop:  are you ready?  and willing????

*this is the oldest video I could find of this song, the drummer here is Ian Paice who did not play on the record, as far as I know.  Low audio/video quality but it shows what a fun band this must have been live.