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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Category: The Listening Library

The Listening Library: November 15, 2011

Andrew Hitz

Here's a sampling of what I've been listening to of late with some links at the bottom. Enjoy! Scheherezade – Chicago Symphony/Reiner

What an amazing recording of a simply stunning piece of music. This brings me back to the summer of 1998 during which I had the privilege of playing in the National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge, CO. We played this piece a couple of times that summer. It had always been one of my favorites and to finally get to perform it was a real treat. It also didn't hurt that the trombone section included both Jamie Box (Montreal Symphony) and Steve Lange (Boston Symphony). Those guys will make any tuba player sound like they know what they are doing!

The recordings that the CSO left us from the '60s and '70s are simply remarkable for both their technical facility and their artistry. The juxtapostion of power and beauty that they pull off in this recording is truly special.

Rite of Spring – London Symphony/Bernstein

It had been far too long since I had heard this piece. The raw power and drive that Stravinsky gets out of an orchestra is just awesome. I'm not sure there is any composer who gets more colors out of an orchestra than he did. He seemingly features instrument combinations that you've never heard before.

I've been on a real Bernstein kick lately. Some of his interpretations can seem a little out of left field at times but he always gets the best out of an orchestra. This is a fantastic recording. I can understand why people were so upset at the premiere of this piece. It is jarring (and in the best ways possible).

Remain In Light – Talking Heads

I had never heard this album before I saw Phish perform it in its entirety as their “musical costume” for their 1996 Halloween show in Atlanta. That performance 15 years ago changed me forever as a musician and introduced me to the amazing world of the Talking Heads. I have never compiled a list but if I were to choose 5 desert island albums this one would make the list for sure.

There are incredible textures and layer upon layer of intricate playing throughout this album. If ever there was a record that should be listened to on a nice pair of headphones this is it. This band had the ability to have no one in particular at the forefront of the music at any given time while at the same time having every member featured simultaneously. This is a very special collection of songs that I highly recommend checking out.

Phish 11/25/94 Set II UIC Pavillion – Chicago, IL

Anyone that knows me knows that I have a very serious Phish problem. They are quite simply my favorite chamber ensemble of any genre of music ever. This show is a very special one to me. It was the day after Thanksgiving my sophomore year at Northwestern and as a result I had the entire day free. Good friend and fellow musician Ben Denne and I decided that we were going to be front row for this general admission show. We got on the El at 11:00am and made our way down to the UIC Pavillion west of the loop in Chicago. We got there so early that the crowd control barriers weren't even set up yet. We had to ask a guy where to line up. He looked at us in disbelief and laughed since the show didn't start for another 7 hours! Sure enough, of the thousands in attendance we were the first two people in the building not on the payroll.

Luckily for us, we were front row on the railing for an absolutey spectacular show. The second set of this show in particular really captures the essence of who Phish are as performers. They opened the set with a cover of Deodato's version of 'Also Sprach Zarathustra'. Any time you hear a funk version of a Richard Strauss tune everyone in attendance is winning. That is followed by a very powerful version of one of my favorite tunes, Mike's Song. The incessant drive of this tune reminds me a little bit of Mahler's music.

Phish also has a very silly side and enjoy flaunting their collective sense of humor. Harpua, along with its narration, is a great example of this. And their drummer Jon Fishman's version of Purple Rain will have you laughing out loud. The first time I took my mentor, Sam Pilafian, to see Phish he commented that Fishman was one of the best showman he had ever seen in his life. Fishman knows how to work a crowd like no other. It takes some stones to cover a Prince ballad in an arena filled with people. It also helps that he has a few screws loose.

Finally, Phish is very well known for segueing from one song to the next at the drop of a dime. Many of their segues have never been practiced or even talked about beforehand. They all have an incredible “court vision” if you will and are ready to react to a musical cue, even a minute one, from any of the other members instantly. This is one of the many reasons why I refer to them as my favorite chamber ensembles of all time.

Their level of communication is one that I have rarely ever witnessed within either the classical or jazz genres. Don't get me wrong, I've seen it in other groups. The Wynton Marsalis Septet and The Kronos Quartet are two that come to mind right now. But it is sadly rare in music to find communication on this level.

Towards the end of this set we witnessed some of this magical communication when they segued between two of their songs, Weekapaug Groove and The Mango Song. This segue reminds me of Larry Bird's best no-look passes from my childhood. You can watch them over and over again and the only possible explanation is that they had been planned and practiced for months. And yet they weren't.

I feel lucky to be alive at the same time these four musicians are making music.

The Vandermark 5 – A Discontinous Line

I got to see Ken Vandermark performer a number of times during my years in Chicago. Talk about a musician who commands the room. Little did my friends and I realize when we would head into Chicago from NU to see him that one us would end up in his band some day! Dave Rempis, a sax player who I grew up with in the Boston area has now been playing with Ken for years. This quintet is the epitomy of communication.

Each song on this album is written for a fellow artist. My favorite track is titled 'La Dernier Cri (For Elliot Carter)'. I miss seeing music like this performed on a regular basis. The weather in Chicago may suck but it sure has some incredible live music.

Bill Frisell - Bill Frisell Quartet

The word genius gets thrown around far too often in music and elsewhere.  But that is exactly what Bill Frisell is - a genius.  This album is hauntingly beautiful.  The lack of any drums leaves a lot of room for spacial exploration.  The chill nature of this album would make it perfect for background music and yet the musicianship is so brilliant that it grabs your attention over and over.  There's even a little bit of tuba thrown in for good measure!

Here is most of this music on Spotify: http://spoti.fi/t1RbKs

Here is the 11/25/94 Phish show: http://bit.ly/tscPzB

Here is the CSO/Reiner recording of Scheherezade: http://amzn.to/sCzq4V

If you check any of this music out I hope you dig it! What are you listening to these days?

The Listening Library

Andrew Hitz

I am posting this from my hotel room in Taipei, Taiwan! The trip from my house in Washington DC to Taipei, door to door, was over 26 hours.  I had the chance to listen to a lot of great music on my trip and I thought I would comment on it here.  I love hearing what other musicians are listening to so I am going to make this a regular feature of the blog.  I did something similar to this a long time ago but was recently inspired to try again by the blogs of both John William Banther and Sam Davis. All of the music that I listen to, both good and bad, is data for the “tuba in my head” that Arnold Jacobs used to reference all the time.  I use every performance, regardless of musical style or what instrument is being played, to shape my next performance on the tuba.

Here is what I listened to on my day long trip to Taiwan with some brief commentary:

'The Suburbs' - Arcade Fire

This group was new to me last year. I had heard them referenced by a number of people on my twitter feed over and over again.  Since these were people who liked a lot of the same music I did I decided to give them a shot.  They are a fantastic pop/rock band from Canada that is deservedly receiving a ton of critical acclaim these days.  This album has beautiful melodies throughout, occasionally haunting ones.  It is definitely a little on the dark side of pop music but it is original sounding, very well produced and performed, and is a rare album these days that is just as strong on the second “side” of the “record” as the first.

'Orchestrion' - Pat Metheny

This is another album from 2010 that was recommended by a good friend and great music writer Sam Davis of Dog Gone Blog.  Talk about an assault on the senses.  The opening title track of this album features gentle, virtuostic lines interwoven throughout creating a thick sonic tapestry.  When music is this technically difficult the ultimate compliment I can give it is to say that is sounds effortless.  Pat Metheny, for my taste, is one of the best in the business at making amazingly difficult music sound natural.  The last 3-4 minutes of the opening track is worth the price of the entire album.

'Picaresque' - The Decemberists

Another great band that I discovered through Twitter! This was the first time I ever heard this album but it came highly recommended from a friend.  I am not a big lyrics guy but this band's music tells some very interesting stories.  Their music is a combination of folk, pop, rock and occasionally steroids.  Any band that can play such tunes with this kind of intensity and drive featuring almost no distortion at all is doing something right.  And that can be followed up by a tune with nothing but accoustic guitar and vocals. Tons of variety in both song writing and instrumentation.  If nothing else check out the track '16 Military Wives'.  This ones got some horns thrown in and an uber-catchy chorus.

'The Bends' – Radiohead

Did someone say distortion? I was evidently living under a rock when Radiohead came to prominence in the '90s which I am ashamed to admit.  I had barely heard their material until a little over a year ago.  The first album I listened to was 'OK Computer'.  There have not been many if any rock albums that spoke to me as loudly as it did on the first listen.  I was a combination of fist pumping and speachless the first time through.  I had not heard 'The Bends' until this flight and was predictably blown away.  And talk about a sonic tapestry, while completely different from the one I described in 'Orchestrion' this band has the ability to make you feel like you are taking a bath in their sound.  Thick, lush guitar licks with tons of feedback combined with brilliant song writing and the haunting voice of Thom Yorke and you get what is becoming one of my favorite bands of all time.

'Continuum' – John Mayer

I couldn't stand this guy for a long time.  Every time I heard him interviewed I cringed.  But my wife is a huge fan of his music so I was finally able to give his music a fare shake without bringing his 'tude into the discussion.  When I opened my ears I found a smoking guitar player, great singer, and even better song writer.  If you buy this album on iTunes it comes with a fascinating 10 minute video on the making of the tune 'In Repair' with one of my favorite musicians Charlie Hunter.  I dare anyone to watch that video, see the process of how the tune got written and the collaboration of the artists, and not find it pretty darn interesting.  Regardless of what you think of him as a person (there are plenty of words that come to mind that I won't print here) he is as gifted a musician as there is today in the pop world and I believe his songs will be around a long time from now.

Live Recording of Phish from 12/28/10

Anyone who knows me knows that Phish is my favorite band.  By far.  And by band I should clarify and say my favorite group of musicians playing any style of music in the world.  There artistry speaks to me like no other music I've ever heard.  This was one of five shows that the band just played over the New Years Eve period.  They are a very difficult band to sum up in a paragraph but the reason I keep coming back is that you never know what they are going to play or how they are going to play it.  This show featured a song, Harry Hood, that I have personally seen performed over 30 times in concert with each one being different.  But after playing this tune live for over two decades, they came out of nowhere with the most unique and interesting version I've ever heard.  Rather than the fluid, melodic soloing that the guitar player, Trey Anastasio, always plays this tune with he approached the solo section with a very choppy yet fluid stacatto approach which left a ton of space for the other three musicians to explore.  It is nuance like this that makes me keep coming back to this band over and over again.  As a result of Phish, I try to bring the same fresh approach to classical pieces I've been playing for years and it is always a rewarding experience.  You can buy a soundboard copy of the show here directly from the band. A portion of the proceeds goes to a fantastic charity, The Mockingbird Foundation, that donates all of its money to music education.