From the end of the year to the beginning of new year—feeling so many things have been halted—I pick out four albums from totally different genres, but they all give us the superb musical experience. With those fantastic albums, you can immerse yourself in the delight of music and audios.
I’m listening to Bruckner’s spectacular symphony at the beginning of the new year. It is the greatest piece among post-romanticism symphonic numbers towering over his other works with its magnificent scale. I probably began to truly understand the value of such music after the age of sixty. It is said if people became interested in something after they got old, they would have particularly strong feeling for it, and recently, I have certainly selected Bruckner’s symphony quite often when I have listened to classical music. I have enjoyed listening to many fantastic performances of “Bruckner Symphony No. 8” by Knappertsbusch and other performers, such as Schuricht, Karl Bohm, George Szell, Jochum and Takashi Asahina.
The disc is the recording of Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance conducted by Christian Thielemann in 2019. Thielemann recorded every Bruckner’s symphony with Staatskapelle Dresden, and it is said that he is planning to record all Bruckner’s numbers with the Vienna Philharmonic as well starting with the Symphony No.8 by 2024, the centennial of his birth. The performance brings out the soft timbre of the Vienna Philharmonic in the plain atmosphere rather than the rich taste or the admiration of nature. Acoustically, brass instruments are blaring out magnificently together with the beautiful sound of string instruments. They are steadily moving towards the finale. I could say that the performance which seems to be almost too beautiful presented the new standard for rendering Bruckner of our time.
Keith Jarrett is the pianist who opened up a new horizon for the whole concept of “improvised performance.” Preparing almost no music in advance and just following his inspiration, his exceptional creativity is condensed in his piano solo performance on the stage. This double album released at the end of last year was recorded the stage performance at Bela Bartok National Concert Hall in Budapest, Hungary, during his European Tour in July, 2016. It is so Keith that the performance is structured with a dynamic flow starting with modern type of music and going through melodic development, where his adventurous spirit filled with ambitions and the tranquility are mixed with each other. Every fraction of melody he plays with extreme spiritual concentration shines like a jewel.
<It’s A Lonesome Old Town> and <Answer Me My Love>, which he plays as encores, are so wistful that they almost make me cry. “Munich 2016” covering the stage two weeks later is also released, however, he has not held any concert since the spring of 2017 because he has been sick. With that being considered, we may be able to say that this is the pinnacle of improvisation he has reached.
It has already been forty years since John Lennon passed away. I cannot stop thinking that “imagine,” the masterpiece he left in 1971, keeps sending the “eternal message” to today’s world transcending time and space. The light <Imagine> casts on us is great, because the division is occurring in many parts of the world now and people are increasingly becoming frustrated amid the peril of COVID-19, which you may be able to relate yourself more easily. “Imagine” has been released in various forms, but “The Ultimate Collection,” the book published at the end of 2018, comes together with four CDs and two blue-lay discs covering rehearsals, outtakes of his numbers and interviews. With the luxurious 120-page book, you can relive the history up to the release of the album. Unless you are an outrageous enthusiast, you may not need that much details, but it is an extremely precious box set as a documentary.
What I should mention in particular is thanks to the dramatic change of sounds by remixing at Abbey Road Studios, the original atmosphere is kept as it is, but at the same time, even clearer beats are created. From the harmony of piano at the beginning to John’s singing voice, and to the beats made by the drummer, Alan White, are very vivid. Because of the clear and serene timbre, you can easily tell its difference from the CD digitally remastered in 2000. The sound of “Imagine” I listened to hundreds of times is revived as a renewed sound is also stimulating to me from the acoustic point of view.
Keeping her distinctive personality and presence inside, Melody Gardot expresses the beautiful world full of romance. With her delicate sensibility, she is mainly singing her original numbers. The voice of Melody, who has her musical roots in jazz and Brazilian music, sounds so persuasive piece by piece and appeals strongly to listeners’ hearts. Such vocal is gently wrapped around by the strings orchestra.
Although I knew I could enjoy the beautiful sound on CD, I felt like listening to her voice on the analog disc, so I got the LP. I was quite surprised that the expressive acoustic field appeared in front of me. Melody’s voice itself was so vivid that it even made me feel that the CD’s sound was so compact. The LPs reminded me of the value of listening to the analog sound. The CD (Japanese domestic version) contains 14 numbers. The LPs are released as a heavy double album containing 12 numbers. Since the key to download the high-resolution sound source was included in the package, I tried that as well. I was, as expected, able to experience the truly exquisite sound image.
Surrounded by various kinds of music from his childhood, Masamichi Okazaki joined Waseda University Modern Jazz Club. He started contributing articles to music magazines when he was a student. He covers wide range of music not only trad, modern and contemporary jazz, but also from pops to classics. He writes liner notes for CDs and LPs, and is a regular contributor to JAZZ JAPAN, STEREO, and others. He joined a big band, Shiny Stockings, as a saxophone player. He is a director of The Music Pen Club Japan (MPCJ).