Two music documentaries
The BBC have recently broadcast two interesting music documentaries. The series Imagine profiled Jimi Hendrix with quite a bit of footage I hadn’t seen before, and with a more thoughtful and less sensationalistic script than is usually the case when TV does Hendrix (note to TV execs: no – Jimi was not an era-defining guitarist because he twice set his Strat on fire or because he played it with his teeth). This prompted me to have another look at DVDs of Jimi at Monterey and at Berkeley in 1967 and 1970 respectively. 5.1 sound makes a huge difference to the immediacy of watching these films even on a small screen. In 1967 Hendrix looks happy and full of life; by May 1970 he looks world-weary – it is quite a contrast. When I return to Hendrix’s studio albums after watching the live stuff I’m always delighted to find his music richer, touching and more multi-dimensional than in concert where the limitations of working in a power trio are all too evident. He needed more colours to frame his music.
The other documentary was a profile of Elvis Costello. This was also interesting, though Costello is in a way quite a guarded person, and an hour wasn’t long enough to cover such a long and varied career. For me, his best work was done on his first five or six albums, and they remain hugely entertaining and full of memorable songs, with great wordplay and high calibre arrangements by the Attractions. Since then he has stretched himself as a songwriter and singer. Unfortunately, I do not think his voice is up to the demands of the more sophisticated material he does – as becomes evident when he pushes into his upper range. That said, I cannot think of many other contemporary songwriters who exhibit as much sensitivity and awareness toward melody.
I can’t believe how the time has flown by since I last posted. First, an update on my guitar album Atlantic Canticles. I’ve almost completed the recording. I’m going to have 21 tracks to choose from because another idea turned up a couple of days ago and that turned into a piece which is titled ‘Upon the Printless Sands’. I’m aiming to finish and make available the album by the end of the month. Whether I can do it we shall see …
News in the past few days of the death of Reg Presley of The Troggs. Their hit ‘Wild Thing’ 1966 gained additional fame when it was taken over by Jimi Hendrix (it was the last song he played in his set at Monterey in 1967). It’s quite possible that the song is now more associated with Hendrix than The Troggs. Hendrix’s version may have been more amped-up, but in the context of the chart pop in Britain in 1966 The Troggs’ version did startle by seeming so primitive. Its charming slightly-out-of-tune recorder solo was an early hint of the fey bucolics of the approaching Summer of Love (the recorder in popular music signalling the pastoral).
Another big Troggs hit was ‘Love Is All Around’. I’ve always been immune to this song, regardless of who does it. If you want to hear an infinitely more expressive use of a I-II-IV-V chord progression try R.E.M.’s ‘Fall On Me’.
On the subject of Hendrix it has been frustrating to read news reports of the imminent release of his ‘new’ studio album in March. In fact, almost all these songs have been issued before, if perhaps not in these exact mixes or takes. The 12 songs belong to the album Hendrix was working on at the time of his death which has been released before under the title First Rays of the New Rising Sun. Approach with caution …
King Richard III has been in the news too, since it was confirmed on Monday that DNA testing had demonstrated that the bones found under a Leicester car park were his. A cue for Supergrass’ Britpop hit ‘Richard III’, which has some unusual chord changes.
On the classical front I’ve been enjoying exploring previously unfamiliar music by the Finnish composer Aare Merikanto. I started last year with an Alba SACD of Symphony 1 and 3 (3 is superb and very accessible). I then got hold of two Merikanto discs on Ondine – Piano Concertos 1 & 2, and Works for Orchestra. The slow movements of the piano concertos are very lyrical. The latter disc has the attractive 4 minute ‘Andante Religoso’ which might make a great download if it’s available as such.
It seems that Chandos may have abandoned their cycle of Weinberg symphonies, which is a pity. Some of the missing ones (he wrote at least 22) are appearing on Naxos but not as SACDs. Another label Neos is six CDs into a Weinberg edition but some of those are live recordings and therefore vulnerable to hall noises, coughs, etc. Weinberg is not the most approachable of symphonists, and given the awful life experiences he endured in the USSR, it is not surprising that his music is often bleak. But it has a certain strength and endurance and a feeling that it is made to last, and I’ve enjoyed persevering with it even if the rewards are not immediate. He has been described as one of the three most important Russian-associated composers along with Shostakovich and Prokoviev. If you’ve not heard him the third symphony is a good place to start, along with the cello concerto, both on Chandos.