Tethered Moon: Experiencing Tosca

Robert R. Calder

Tethered Moon

Experiencing Tosca

Label: Winter & Winter
US Release Date: 2004-03-02
UK Release Date: 2004-03-08

I had a horrible problem with this CD. One of the three musicians starts and sustains a very strange vocalisation when the musical temperature rises, an agonised groaning even uglier, though less directly harsh and less loud, than that fierce croak Bud Powell emitted all too audibly on some otherwise wonderful live performances in non-professional recordings with Johnny Griffin in France. Those lucky enough to know that particular Powell-Griffin will recoil at the thought of anything worse.

If the three musicians -- the absolutely top drawer Paul Motian on drums, Gary Peacock on bass, and the very accomplished Masabumi Kikuchi on piano -- were delivering their best efforts, why didn't somebody muffle the awful noise? Sustained often for several successive minutes, it might have inclined one or another record company executive to decree the tapes spoiled and unissuable. Failure to do so was, I am convinced, a mistake -- like the even worse failure of anybody in the studio to notice, let alone be narked enough to do something.

Kikuchi sounds something like Geri Allen has in the work he's done in Paul Motian's company. The performance of the bassist and the drummer demonstrates their remarkable interplay. This is especially true on what is here called "Ballad". Gary Peacock's bass solo is exceptional -- and all the more appealing since the moaning has for once and for a while shut up. Motian is as ever awesome. But...

Though "Ballad" was supposedly "arranged" by the pianist, his "theme" statement is no more a real arrangement than any of the innumerable performances, from Caruso to Dennis O'Neill, of Puccini's aria "E Lucevan le Stelle" from the final scene of Tosca. Kikuchi simply plays a piano rendering of the tune without words, sounding not simple and straightforward, but banal. Why?

The free improvisation which ensues is interesting enough, but is it all that different from the trio's other improvisations here? These are not founded on the melodic material of the Puccini opera quoted in various stretches by the pianist; they are sheer abstract impressions -- whether of the course of the opera, the plot, the character of the heroine, or some overall meditation on it, I don't know. Why these chunks of piano transcription, some of them plain uninspired? The contrast between one and another of these, and between any one of them and the improvised material, disturbs the concentration essential to discerning any variety among the improvisations themselves.

I do like the adaptation of the very jaunty, almost ragtime tune which opens "Part III", the fourth track on the CD. The pianist may not be doing many things to or with Puccini's original here, but he's found a neat theme should anyone want to improvise on its melody and/or harmony. On similar grounds, the brief "Prologue" had indeed raised my expectations, until it sagged into following too closely the feeling of the ecclesiastical music so important in the opera's first act. It's flatly sentimental and not right.

To say little more of the rest, track eight, called "Part IV", begins with Kikuchi playing "Recondit' Armonia", again a major aria from the opera's first act, far too straight. Yet it does move into a remarkable realisation for piano of some of Puccini's dark, concluding orchestral harmonies. Why such inconsistency? Lack of thought? Of preparation? Of concentration?

The trio improvisation which follows may have an impressive opening, but it's not clear what either that very uneven, only half-realisation of Puccini, or the start of the improvisation, have to do with what follows.

Why these uncreative chunks of Puccini anyway, when they distract from improvised material with little or no obvious relation to them? Why didn't they transmute the Puccini if they had to include it at all? There's a want of integration. Too much of the Puccini seems to be there not so much as music, but as a series of literary markers which could equally be represented by print on a label or liner.

I have a feeling several classic mistakes have been made, but -- since one of these was plainly the inclusion on the tape of somebody groaning away, quietly but irksomely insistent for much of the time -- frankly I have to admit that this music didn't have my undivided attention. I get the impression that its conception and production hadn't received enough attention in the first place. Very good in excessively separated parts.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.