Listening to “2021 Best Album” Selected by Music Magazines

February 1, 2022

By Masamichi Okazaki

At the beginning of every year, music magazines introduce many brilliant albums of the previous year, and the Best Album Award is given to the greatest album. Let's listen to the best albums selected by the three magazines: “THE RECORD GEIJUTSU,” “JAZZ LIFE,” and “JAZZ JAPAN.”

#169 Beautiful Performance as If Piano and Orchestra Assimilate

Brahms: Piano Concertos No.1 & No.2 / András Schiff Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Brahms: Piano Concertos No.1 & No.2 / András Schiff Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
(ECM → Universal Music UCCE-2095-6)

It’s been 59 years since “RECORD GEIJUTSU” started to select “Record Academy Award” every year from 1963. The one chosen for the grand prix, the prestigious award for the best classical music album, was “Brahms: Piano Concertos” performed and conducted by the pianist, András Schiff. The periods two piano concertos were written by Brahms are apart from each other, but both of them are almost fifty-minute-long masterpieces. Because they are magnificent with varied contents similar to the symphony with piano, it is quite rare that a pianist performs and conducts an orchestra.

Here, András Schiff is interpreting the music flexibly with the period instrument group, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, without being conscious of the stateliness of Brahms music. The piano made by Blüthner that Schiff is playing is the instrument of 1850, which was exactly the time Brahms composed the Concerto No. 1. The beautiful performance the piano and the orchestra seem to assimilate will continue to be listened to as the masterpiece which shed new light on Brahms’ piano concerto.

#170 Tremendously Glamorous, Beautiful, and Gentle Timbre of Alto Sax

Jazz & Bossa Live at Suntory Hall

Jazz & Bossa Live at Suntory Hall
(Victor Entertainment VICJ-61790)

This is the concert held last June by Sadao Watanabe, the sax player leading the world of jazz in Japan over half a century, commemorating the “70th anniversary of his musical activities.” “Jazz & Bossa Live at Suntory Hall,” the album recorded the live performance at Santory Hall in Tokyo, was chosen as No. 1 in “JAZZ LIFE Magazine’s Disc Grand Prix.” It was a gorgeous performance of a quintet with a 16-piece string ensemble. Accompanied by the gentle harmony created by string instruments, the tone of Sadao Watanabe’s alto sax playing the melody relaxingly was tremendously glamorous, beautiful and extremely tender.

What an austere luster! It is said that the sound produced by a musician reflects all of his life or way of life. It is beautiful music expressing straightforwardly how enriched and fruitful his life has been. At the same time, it seems that he is looking back his own career that he has devoted his life to music for a long time and showing his passion for music which never ends as he is always aiming higher. Listening to such a performance, feeling his unfailing passion, I was deeply moved. As you can tell from the title “Jazz & Bossa Live,” the performance contains standard and original numbers of jazz and boss nova. Many of his fans may nostalgically remember Sadao Watanabe who played a key roll in making bossa nova popular in Japan. It is also worth mentioning that the recording capturing the beautiful acoustic sounds of Suntory Hall is magnificent.

#171 Finding Precious Live Performance of “A Love Supreme”

A Love Supreme Live in Seattle John Coltrane

A Love Supreme Live in Seattle John Coltrane
(Impulse → Universal Music UCCI-1052)

Makoto Ozone's “OZONE 60” was the one selected for the “Album of the Year: Jazz Section” by “JAZZ JAPAN,” but since I introduced this album in my column in November last year (#160), I’d like to introduce John Coltrane’s album which was selected in the “Reissue Section.” “A Love Supreme” is said to be one of the best masterpieces by John Coltrane, the maestro of jazz tenor sax. The album contains suite-like structure consisting of four parts named Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance, and Psalm. Because of its grand scale and deep spirituality, it has rarely performed live.

According to the records currently available, it was only four times that the music was performed in front of the audience. The tape recording such a precious performance was found and saw the light of day after more than 50 years. It was performed at “THE PENTHOUSE” in Seattle in October, 1965, approximately one year from the original recordings at the studio. Thanks to the offer by Joe Brazil, who played the afternoon show on that day, it was reissued based on the tape which was miraculously retained. There are seven members: Coltrane’s regular quartet joined by Pharoah Sanders, Carlos Ward, and Donald Garrett. A short solo part called “interlude” is placed between each four parts, and the music is played intensely for 75 minutes without any intervals. I have to say that the quality of the recording with only two microphones is not the best. The sounds of some instruments are turned off or there are many balanced poorly, but such conditions included, I am overwhelmed by the extreme enthusiasm generated by the music and passionate atmosphere of the venue which I feel keenly.

About the Author

Masamichi Okazaki

Masamichi Okazaki

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).