Jane Ira Bloom
You can’t beat the timing. One of the very best jazz records of the year came out just before 2013 was about to become a memory.
Not only is this one of the best jazz discs of the year, it’s, without doubt, one of the most beautiful records soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom has ever made in a recording life that has been replete with the sublime.
It is, mostly, a quartet ballad disc with bassist Cameron Brown, drummer Matt Wilson and pianist Dominic Fallacaro in the chair that had so frequently been occupied by the great Fred Hersch, who recently performed in the irreplaceable Albright-Knox Art of Jazz series.
All you have to do is hear the opening measures of the disc’s first cut, “For All We Know,” to understand that Bloom’s beauty of tone and melodic purity on this disc is almost preternaturally beautiful.
It is, nevertheless, immediately apparent that what she’s doing here is devoid of risk taking. Far from it. The way she’s bending tones into coloratura high notes on her saxophone is nothing if not risky, but she’s doing it with so much grace and plump, gorgeous tone that she is getting away with everything.
There is some uptempo playing here, but for the most part this is as exquisite as slower ballad playing gets in jazz. And no small part of it is Fallacaro, who is absolutely on the level with the best pianists Bloom ever had, and that is a kind of who’s who of living jazz pianists under age 60.
It’s long been known that Bloom is all but obsessed with NASA and what it does (it has made her its artist laureate). The title here comes from a quote from astronaut Joseph Allen: “The sun truly ‘comes up like thunder,’ and it sets just as fast (in space). Each sunrise and sunset last only a few seconds. But in that time, you see at least eight different bands of color come and go, from a brilliant red to the brightest and deepest blue. And you see 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets every day you’re in space. No sunrise or sunset is ever the same.”
Do not, for a second, think that is megalomaniacal overinflation of Bloom’s approach to the playing of some of the most beautiful ballads in the great American Songbook. It’s not.
A magnificent disc – a balladic revelation for the final weeks of the year.
– Jeff Simon
“Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg”
Featuring Gerald Finley, Marco Jentzsch, Anna Gabler and Johannes Martin Kraenzle, et al, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski, conductor
[Glyndebourne, 4 CDs]
This joyous production from the Glyndebourne Festival of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger” is very personal for me because I remember when it was streaming live on the Internet – summer 2012, this would have been – you only had a few days to watch it, and so the last night, there I was, up at 4 a.m. I will never forget how the production entranced me with its humor and humanity.
Wagner wrote “Meistersinger” in a way that brings the Middle Ages to life, and the best you can do is play it straight. Though Glyndebourne moved it into a kind of Dickensian era, it’s still the past, and it’s beautifully conceived, and it works. The central figure of the sage shoemaker Hans Sachs is extra affecting as played by the fine baritone Gerald Finley. Finley isn’t elderly. The Sachs he plays is vigorous, and you see the messiness of his life. Wagner suggests this – watching the opera, you learn that Sachs is far from perfect, that his apprentice is afraid of him because Sachs beats him, that Sachs has issues, as we would say now. In the Glyndebourne staging, you saw that he drinks too much. There are bottles in his room, and in the wistful prelude to Act 3, you see him brooding, a bottle of wine nearby, as the sun comes up.
Another singer who charmed me was Johannes Martin Kraenzle, as the oaf, Sixtus Beckmesser. The best Beckmessers, from Sir Geraint Evans to Erich Kunz, understood that the part should be human, not just a cartoon, and there is something about Kraenzle that makes you feel for him. It adds a lot to the opera.
Thinking back on all this, I wondered: How much of this magic would come across on an audio recording? I do think this production is one that should be seen as well as heard. It has so many lovely, crazy touches. On the other hand, just the luminous performance of the opening prelude embraces you with its marvelous warmth. And the production holds that momentum. It is wonderful down to the little touches – the night watchman, for instance, calling the hours and thanking God. Incredibly, the book gives you the entire libretto.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
“Harmonielehre,” “Doctor Atomic Symphony” and “Short Ride in a Fast Machine”
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Peter Oundjian
There’s an anomaly here. John Adams has said that the opening pages of his “Doctor Atomic Symphony” – which correspond to his overture to his opera of the same name about J. Robert Oppenheimer – were inspired by the music of Edgard Varese. And yet if you listen to the stark orchestral rhetoric and timpani accelerando in those opening pages, they sound as if they’re almost a direct steal from Carl Ruggles’ “Sun-Treader” (whose most passionate advocate on disc has been Michael Tilson Thomas over the years).
These, to be sure, are major Adams works for orchestra from all Adams periods – large scale minimalism a la Reich and Glass (“Harmonielehre”), post-minimalist rhetoric harkening back to the great American “maverick” composers (“Doctor Atomic Symphony”) and the “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” a surefire post-Honeggerian orchestral showpiece premiered in a performance by Thomas to give the sensation, says Adams, of “traveling in a high-performance sports car and regretting the decision to have come in.” This is why Adams is considered one of the representative American post-modernist masters.