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Monday, February 05, 2018

A Marvelous Party

From the CD Shelf Dept.: The admirable show- and movie-centric label DRG reissued a pair of Noël Coward albums back in 2003 – albums originally recorded in the 1950s and released on Columbia, but, as I wrote below, there was more to be heard, and it finally was here.

                                                                                          

COVER ART ALONE attests to the journey these recordings have taken. Originally issued in the mid 1950s as two LPs, the first cover featured a suave, teacup-wielding Noël Coward on the Las Vegas desert; the second, created in the wake of the other’s success, relocates that image to Manhattan. Columbia later LP-issued the two as a gatefold set, with an older Coward pictured at “Firefly,” his Jamaica home; the first CD issue improbably pictured the 30s-era Coward.

The already truncated program was further shortened for a single CD. DRG now has issued the program on two CDs, both brief, with the original covers, and for the first time we’re able to hear the Las Vegas program as it was originally performed. Turns out the intro was faked and some of the songs were cut. DRG sent its engineers to the original tapes, and they’ve included all available material. Also, you’re finally hearing the whole thing in as decent sound as was possible to achieve.

As a studio recording, the NewYork set was as good as you’d get in the mid-50s, although it’s characteristically Columbia high-end harsh. The muddier Vegas recording requires a few moments of ear adjustment.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Happy Heifetz's Birthday

This blog would like to take a moment to salute the 117th or 118th (there is a small, flickering dispute out there) birthday of Jascha Heifetz. YouTube has become crowded with opportunities to see and hear him play, but how about some Paganini?

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Tangled Web

From the Smut Vault Dept.: Back in the glory days of the internet’s infancy, I wrote a computer-information column for a magazine called D-Cup, the thrust of which needs no explanation. Under the moniker “Dr. Barry Tetons,” I guided the lusty wayfarer to where the red lights shone on the information highway. This was my debut piece, from late 1995. Unlike my readers, it couldn’t be more dated. (Here's another such piece, and another.)

                                                                                       

YOU’VE HEARD ABOUT THE INTERNET. You may even know that its most passionate users are also passionate about a free exchange of ideas. What you may not know is that large-breasted, beautiful women are among those ideas, and just in case you don’t get the idea, you can get the picture – a full color, let’s-leave-nothing-to-the-imagination picture, that is.

Let me be your guide. I’ve been working with computers for a decade, and if there’s smut to be seen on the screen, I’ve seen it. I’ve taught computer beginners in classrooms but that’s far too polite and forces me to leave out the good parts. The good parts I’m going to help you find every month as we explore together.

All you need is a good computer, the right software, and a little know-how. Let’s talk first about your hardware. I’ll show you mine: it’s an IBM clone, based on a 486 processing chip. It’s got 8 megabytes of memory, and a good color monitor. That’s the basic stuff to run Microsoft Windows, and the easiest way for us peeping Toms to find our thrills is to look through Windows. You can find a system like this for well under a thousand bucks.

Friday, January 26, 2018

What You Pay For

From the Back of the Fridge Dept.: Back when I was reviewing restaurants for Albany’s Metroland magazine, we enacted a policy whereby we didn’t bother with the chain eateries. My long-ago visit to a brand-new Olive Garden, reviewed below, was one of the reasons. (But they showed up in a more recent piece about food-delivery innovations.)

                                                                                 
             

We showed up on a Saturday afternoon at quarter to five. The parking lot was packed; people waited on benches, at the bar and in a straggly line that stretched to the door. We had an event to get to and couldn’t wait. We returned at 10:30, a half hour before dinner service stops. The place was still pretty full but – except for us – it was by now exhaling customers.

The Olive Garden, which arrived in late November, is clearly a hit. And why shouldn’t it be? Under the guise of offering Italian fare, it serves the same kind of bland but over-salted cuisine that too much of America microwaves at home in the pursuit of dinner.

In other words, don’t look for fine dining here. Don’t even look for the kind of cooking that makes your neighborhood Italian eatery special. It’s assembly-line stuff. Some of it is amusingly non-Italian, like the “Italian Scallion,” a mass of fried onion pieces. Then there are items with Italian roots given an Olive Garden conversion into bar food, like the fried ravioli and mozzarella wedges that join stuffed mushrooms and fried zucchini in the Italian Sampler.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Great Vibes

From the Vault Dept.: I treasured the six-record set of Lionel Hampton’s small-group recordings that was issued in the waning days of the LP era, so it was a thrill to see these sides (and more) get the Mosaic Records treatment in the deluxe five-CD set that I reviewed below. But Mosaic licenses limited-issue releases of these sets, and the 5,000 copies of the Hampton set have long since sold out.

                                                                               

VIBRAPHONIST LIONEL HAMPTON became a sudden star in 1936 when Benny Goodman featured him in a quartet. Soon after that, Victor Records invited Hampton to record a small-group session under his own name, so Hampton brought a bunch of Goodman bandmembers into the studio and laid down four memorable tracks. A phenomenon was born.

It was hot, joyous and relatively short-lived. Twenty-three sessions over the next four years yielded about four tunes apiece. In terms of jazz interest, some are more successful than others, but even the most negligible of them are still entertaining. And the peaks are impressive indeed.

Much of the material was collected late in the LP days, but only sporadic CD issues have seen light of day. Mosaic Records’s new five-CD set collects the totality of those Hampton session, and with that company’s trademark thoroughness presents superior transfers of the original material along with all known alternate takes.

Personnel also were drawn from the bands of Duke Ellington, Stuff Smith, Count Basie and others, which benefitted from having players already accustomed to working together. Sessions in April 1937, for example, featured Ellington sideman Johnny Hodges, whose “On the Sunny Side of the Street” became a hit and has endured as a classic.

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Paradise of Borodin

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Speaking of Borodin, I found an eleven-year-old review I wrote of the Albany Symphony in which that composer’s “Polovetsian Dances” were featured – and I resisted pointing out that said dances supplied the tune for the song “Stranger in Paradise.” Despite weakening in this wise, I shall continue to resist where it matters.

                                                                                              

“A NIGHT IN OLD RUSSIA” almost certainly means a night with dsypeptic old Tchaikovsky – which can be a tuneful but melancholy visit. In his Symphony No. 4 and “1812 Overture,” however, the composer leaned, if not toward happiness, at least to states of exuberant excess.

Alexander Borodin
As performed by the Albany Symphony Orchestra last Saturday at Albany’s Palace Theatre, these warhorses sounded dynamic and fresh, and had the added bonus of a chorus in the “1812,” showcasing the distinguished sound of Albany Pro Musica.

It’s an excellent idea, combining the city’s premiere orchestra and chorus, and this time the result gave us the distinctive sound of Russian song, a flavor that pervades instrumental music of the period, but flowers to life when the human voice is included.

The first half gave us orchestra alone, beginning with the Tchaikovsky symphony. Completed in 1878, it’s a big, brassy, sometimes capricious work that nevertheless inspired the NY Post reviewer, at its 1890 U.S. premiere, to term it “one of the most ... semi-barbaric compositions ever heard in this city.”

Today it’s a work in danger of being overplayed, but ASO music director David Alan Miller made the most of its “barbarism” even as he satisfied the work’s more tender aspects. Like any good symphonic work, the piece is a journey, heralded by what the composer termed the call of Fate, realized in the brass section’s dotted-note anthem.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Amateur Photograph

Guest Blogger Dept.: Let's revisit the poetry of P.G. Wodehouse, with an piece from 1901 that reminds us how little has changed.

                                                                               

P.G. Wodehouse
The eye is the eye of a forger,
The brow is the brow of a thief,
        The mouth and the nose
        Alike disclose
A wickedness past belief.

‘Tis a visage that proves its owner
A man of the basest stamp,
        I haven't a doubt
        That he rides about
At nights without a lamp,

Or travels without a ticket,
Or visits music halls;
        His expression shows
        That he often goes
To Covent Garden balls.

And – but what is that you are saying?
Ah, horror! Can it be
        That this shocking disgrace,
        With its Hooligan face,
Is an excellent likeness of me!

-- P.G. Wodehouse, Fun Magazine, 2 March 1901