Saturday, November 25, 2017

Classical - Jazz - Fusion, by Wiggia

This was sparked by JD's latest piece on Wynton Marsalis. We spoke about it and I came up with some items of classical music played by jazz musicians. Some are their own interpretations, some are new works, suites, some are interpretations of standard classics and some is jazz/fusion - a genre that I generally have little time for, though as always there are exceptions.

I think with jazz fusion it was simply born out of a desire by the musicians that went that way, to tap into a more lucrative market than pure jazz, and who can blame them? But much was pretty turgid stuff and musicians like Miles Davis went too far on an ego trip and produced some very strange stuff that didn’t sell and was not well received, leaving him coming back into the jazz fold.

None the less there are some works that show the sheer musicianship that exists in the jazz fraternity and over a wide spectrum of work. One of those special events was Art Tatum caught playing classical piano in someone's home and captured on a cheap tape recorder. Vladimir Horowitz said at the time he would retire if Tatum seriously turned to classical music. This came after visiting a jazz club and playing his own version of Tea for Two, something he had been working on for a while; Tatum responded with his own version and Horowitz was amazed he had played it as a straight-off-the-cuff interpretation. Rachmaninoff and Alfred Rubinstein were jazz fans and great admirers of Tatum's musicianship.

- and in ‘53 did this version of Dvorak's Humoresque:

Classical music has always had an influence on jazz as many jazz artists started out as classically trained musicians, Nina Simone being a good example. This version of Love me or Leave Me has a piano solo that is full Bach influences:

I don’t have any doubts that George Gershwin was fusing jazz and classical as far back as the twenties; this 1924 version of Rhapsody in Blue shows that mix and also shows the genius he was:

Duke Ellington did several classically inspired works of his own and interpreted this version of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, Morning Mood:

Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo got the full works from Miles Davis on his Sketches of Spain album. By any standards this is as near classical as you can get, despite the jazz influence of Davis.

An early version by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli of a J S Bach movement also is not without merit in this genre for something early - the recording is also good:

Sibelius is not an obvious choice for a jazz angle yet Wayne Shorter made this version of Valse Triste one of his best known works, great musicianship from him and Freddy Hubbard on trumpet:

There are quite a few more worthy entrants in this sector including the jazz fusion works of Herbie Hancock, all well known, but I finish with a rendition of Ravel's Bolero by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention on their last tour in Barcelona, showing they also could do their bit for fusion:

Friday, November 24, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Wynton Marsalis, by JD

Wynton Marsalis is well known as a jazz trumpet player but he is also an excellent classical trumpet player and an 'explorer' of all genres of music as can be seen and heard in the selection below.

Friday, November 17, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Dave Nachmanoff, by JD

"Not many people get to realize their early dreams - Dave Nachmanoff dreamt of working with singer/songwriter Al Stewart, and now tours as his lead guitarist and accompanist, and often as his opening act. From performing with folk legend Libba Cotten at the age of 9, to playing in a rock band with his two brothers, Dave went on to earn a PhD in philosophy and slowly build a grassroots following touring all over the US, first on his own, and later with Al Stewart. In addition to frequent touring, he is now writing and recording custom songs for people and using his recording studio to produce other artists as well. A truly independent musician, Dave's career is varied and never predictable."

Sunday, November 12, 2017

WINE: 2017 Annual Review, by Wiggia

My annual wine appraisal is due. Why? you ask; well, because I can. So if you can stay awake I will try briefly to make head or tail of the wine trends of the year as I see them and describe what is happening in general terms, plus some tips on what to buy; though as ever wine like any other beverage or food is subjective - very few people will come to the exact same conclusion of a wine's merits or otherwise.

In brief, the rise and rise of sparkling wine especially Prosecco and Cava has pushed Champagne down from its No. 1 position in this country. Rosé is still on the rise and in France more rosé is now consumed than white wine.

Spain is the largest exporter of wine, mainly due to the bulk wines from the prodigious plains of La Mancha. France still easily makes more money from wine exports than anyone else owing to their premium wine market, and the Italians make more wine than anyone else. And Sauvignon Blanc is the most popular grape variety, red or white, in the UK.

Anyone can see when trawling the supermarket shelves is that there is a push upwards in the price of wine on offer. In fairness, for years the price has been held down as the great British public refused to pay any more than £5 a bottle, but all good things come to an end and whilst the £5 bottle still exists the dearer bottles are now in the ascendant. 

The pushing through that barrier has seen some outlets overdo the quality improvement bit and I have in mind Tesco who have carried out a badly needed revamp of their wine list but have introduced ever more own label wines under the Finest label. As with all the other supermarkets it can’t be and isn’t all the Finest or anything else but you pay more for it; sadly this is a trend that is going to grow as it constrains the amount of lines they stock to ones they have control over re price. Remember, important looking labels and expensive looking bottles have no bearing on what is within.

What we are seeing Europe wide is a general reshaping of the old wine producing countries as they push back against the New World and reshape, as they must, for the New World is not standing still either. The endless planting of the major grape varieties is slowing as indigenous grapes are being rediscovered and treated with respect. Europe of course has more of these than anywhere else and is experimenting with them, as well as using different grape varieties to suit the areas that are seeing temperature rises. An obvious candidate in red wines is the re emergence of Grenache, the southern Rhone staple that is more tolerant of high temperatures than Cabernet Sauvignon, and in Spain old Grenache vineyards are now being renovated, after suffering years of neglect and being ripped up.

Probably more than any other European country, Spain  is going through or starting to institute some big changes. Among white wines, Albarino and Godello are proving Spain can produce quality white wines after years of oxidised white Riojas. The only problem with these excellent wines is the current fairly high price compared with the competition. There are also some other varieties on the rise - Verdejo, Macabeo, and others are being seen over here, welcome additions to the whites category;  reds such as Monastrell, Carinena and Mencia are already available.

In reds Rioja, as I found on my recent trip, is changing: the old guard is being challenged. There is a push for single vineyard and area status, something everywhere else has but not Rioja. A Gran Reserva achieves its status by spending two years in wood and three in bottle, but it has been pretty obvious for years that the price of some Grand Reservas on sale could never be achieved without poor quality and cheap fruit being used, so the 2 and 3 year ruling has no guarantee of quality and this they are trying to change by trying to introduce a cru class system, i.e. wineries classified by quality.
Other areas of Spain are also on the rise with good and great reds coming from Ribera del Douro, Priorat, Toro and others; even La Mancha has plans to reduce the bulk wine industry and start on quality.

Spain's neighbor Portugal has been producing better and better wines for some time now and the Port grape Touriga Nacional is proving to be as good as any in producing top class reds and they are becoming ever more available. The whites as in Spain were pretty awful but the recent examples of Vinho Verde are miles away from that era and well worth buying.

Italy like Spain has been going through a change period over a longer time. Their indigenous white grapes are commonly seen now: Falanghina, Pecorino , Greco de Tuffi, Vermentinos and more alongside the Gavis, Verdicchios, Pinot Grigio ( the ones from the Trentino area are the best) and Soaves and at last the quality is rising with all of them - a couple of Soaves I have drunk this year reminded me of how good they can be.

In Italian reds there is not so much new, rather a cementing of fairly new (to us) grape varieties such as Aglianico, the southern reds providing the best value with Nero d’Avola and Negroamaro and Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) and much more choice of the likes of Montepulchiano d’Abruzzo and Chianti and the Tuscan region. The more expensive northern enclaves of Barolo and Barbaresco produce Italy's flagship wines but choosing is difficult: price can be stratospheric but not not necessarily the content.

In France the regions outside Bordeaux and Burgundy are getting the exposure they deserve with the Rhone valley producing some wines in their lesser appelations that have come on leaps and bounds along with availability. Everyone knows Chateauneuf du Pape and Cotes du Rhone, but the likes of St Joseph , Cornas, Lirac, Ventoux and especially Gigondas have not exactly been plentiful; but that is changing. The Rhone at one time was the most sought after of France’s wines and the top Hermitage, Cote Rotie wines can hold their own with anything from Bordeaux or Burgundy, but they will never really compete as the area where they are grown is minute compared with the latter. The Languedoc and satellite areas (if I can call them that) like Costieres de Nimes, Corbieres and the rise in the quality of the those using the Carignan Cinsault and Mouvedre grapes make this a happy hunting ground for new producers who are using the good material that in many cases has always been there.
The Loire is another very large area on the up, helped by temperature rises in recent years. This area that would have good years  infrequently is enjoying better times: even the reds that can be thin and tasteless in bad years are offering something different to be tried. Red Chinon, for example, is being made to a standard way above the norm and Vouvray is very good most years, plus all the whites along this great river from the coast in starting with Muscadet have benefited from a renaissance in wine making and better weather.

I will lump the Alsace in with its German vineyards across the Rhine in saying they are still simply not appreciated for what they are and the great grape Riesling they use. For me it has always been the Pinot Gris that I have sought out from the Alsace, preferring the German interpretation of the Riesling grape, and this is another area that now seems rarely to have a bad vintage. The Riesling grape provides value for money in the hands of so many great producers - for many the Riesling is the greatest white grape. It continues to provide me with white wine on a par with and often better than white Burgundy and at a price I can afford. It was not always like that: as with the Rhone pre war, this area provided the most expensive and prestigious white wines. If you like Riesling there are now styles to suit all, and the drier styles are now superb: look out for anything with GG on the label and even the Kabinett class - they are in styles no longer in the sweet category and are amazing value.

The weather has benefited most northern wine areas and another to benefit is German red wines. Red German wines you ask? Well, yes: Spätburgunder (aka Pinot Noir) has been grown there with limited success for years but recently it has “come good” and there really are Spätburgunders to rival Burgundy and again becoming available.

Virtually no wine growing European country is not represented on the wine merchant's shelves now. Eastern Europe which has some very old vineyards has been slow out of the blocks but is starting to make a mark at this moment in time, mainly with their whites, and Greece is now full on producing some great wines from grape varieties unique to them - worth seeking out for something different and worthwhile.

As I said earlier the New World is not standing still either. Australia which started the revolution in new world wines has had to rethink not only what it grows but how they make the wine. Shiraz is still their best red but became very alcoholic and heavy to the extent that people started to turn to lighter, fresher styles and this is now being reflected in the vineyards, Chardonnay using cooler climate sites like the Adelaide Hills; the Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignons have moved up the quality ladder and Pinot Noir is being successfully farmed. New grape varieties are being planted in a country that has been quite conservative in that area.

NZ stays much the same, just starting to plant other varieties, but probably feels that their success with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir (despite my own reservations on the cheaper versions) calls for any change to be carefully thought through.

In the vineyards of the Cape in South Africa there really has been change: no longer endless Chenin Blancs at knockdown prices. A move upmarket has resulted in some cracking wines of both colours coming from there. The problem for the SA wine industry is not whether they can produce great wine but the political situation, which is worsening for farmers of all types: how long before the wineries get similar treatment?

With Christmas approaching many will be reaching for the port and sherry. Both are artificially low in price against what is in the bottle. Bargains abound, bulk sherry producers are on the floor at the moment but the better sherries have never been more plentiful in recent times. There are some amazing sherries out there if you like the stuff: spend a bit more on a bottle, you will not regret it. The same with Port: it is amazing to be able to buy a vintage Port at today's prices; such great wine at such comparatively low prices.

Cool climate vines and "terroir" are the buzz words across the wine world at the moment and nowhere is pushing the boundaries more in this respect than Argentina. Having conquered the USA with their full-on Malbecs, experimentation at altitude has resulted in many high altitude vineyards being planted, the highest commercial vineyard being at 3,111 metres. The long season and plentiful sunshine in a cool climate situation brings a whole new dimension to the wines grown like this. Again as in Chile there is experimentation with different grape varieties. In Chile they are even planting in the Atacama desert, a cool climate desert; all of this opens up the use of other areas of the world to the planting of vines.

The Americas are fast opening up with Uruguay and even Peru producing wine and Brazil has an enormous sparkling wine industry, so it will not be long before we see Brazilian “Champagne” alongside the  Prosecco and Cava.

The USA drinks most of its own wine and the cost of wines means they are not easy to source in the UK but exchange rates move in both directions and who knows when they will become easier to obtain.

Elsewhere in the world the big news is China who along with India will be almost certainly the new frontier of wine in the future. An awful lot of money is being pumped into finding the best sites for vines and the top consultants are being employed. To give an idea of the importance of this country and wine futures the DBR (Domaines Barons de Rothschild, the parent company of Chateau Lafite who have wine holdings worldwide) purchased 400 hectares in China in 2008 and the first wines will be on sale next year.

Bulk wines from the likes of the two powerhouses of this wine, Spain and Italy, plus France, Chile and Australia, account for an ever growing percentage of supermarket wines. Bulk wine by definition is any wine shipped in containers (and not in bottles or smaller packaging and bottled in the country of consumption.) Most people would never realise that the bottle they hold is from bulk shipped wine, only a small label “bottled in the UK” gives it away. The cost savings on freight and packaging, bottles, is enormous and keeps the wine price down so it is not all bad. Bulk wines currently account for something like 62% of all wines sold in the UK with 85% of all Australian wines being shipped in bulk.

In other news, cork is rising back to the top as a closure, as the cork producers fight back against the screwtop with cork closures that have managed to eliminate the spoilage compounds, above all trichloroanisole TCA. People prefer the cork as it gives a perceived indication of quality, so cork will retain the lion's share of the closure market; hat in itself is enormous -18 billion bottles of wine are produced annually and over 11 billion use cork as a closure, as against 4.5 billion using screw caps and the rest plastics. A whole science is continually going into making closures of all types better for the wine they enclose.

And finally it has become very apparent in recent years that there has been an ever increasing number of women involved in wine; from wine makers at all levels and world wide to CEOs and managers, women are now an important part of the wine industry, such as Susana Balbo in Argentina; Xandra Falco who runs the Marques de Grinon estate in Spain; also in Spain Elena Adell, chief winemaker at the giant Campo Viejo winery; again in Spain Maria Vargas chief winemaker of Marques de Murrietta; and many others in all the wine producing countries.

And finally, finally, I give you at the top of the page the granddaughter of my cousin who is a vineyard consultant: Mabel. Starting them young is definitely the best way forward. Here she is at the Sandridge vineyard in Totnes, Devon bringing in the Pinot Noir. Good girl!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Words, by Wiggia

If you stand back and look at the world today and compare with a couple of years ago you could be forgiven if you think the world has gone mad. Never across the globe has so much effort been put into raising issues that not that long ago would have been seen as tittle-tattle and ended as tomorrow's fish and chip wrappings.

It is as if the Brexit result and the nomination of Donald Trump as POTUS has energised the defeated armies of Liberalism into a mad frenzy of retribution by any method: the status quo must remain even when proved to be corrupt and failing.

More than ever before the serried ranks of feminists, activists, LGBT XXXX protesters and endless lost causes have jumped on the protest bandwagon and threatened Armageddon if they are not listened to and their claims, however unjustified, acted upon. All of this we know: it is non-stop in the media in an endless rolling news of of bigged-up tittle-tattle whilst serious matters go by the board, all being defined by these self-appointed arbiters and guardians of public morality.

All of this is now accompanied with its own language: a whole new lexicon of words and phrases are now used to describe what before was illustrated with simple English.

The list grows seemingly daily, it’s almost as though there is a prize in the junior subs office (if they still exist !) for the latest non-word or bastardised phrase. Where did it all start? Your guess is as good as mine, but the many phobias certainly were an early portent of things to come: "phobia" or "phobic" being attached to ever more groups and individuals without any real justification. It is labelling, compartmentalising of all and sundry so they can be labelled with a phobia. Of course, once handed the tag all instantly become nasty people by default.

Phrases like "safe space", "triggered", "micro-aggression" are darlings of the University campus. We have become inured to these words because they are used out of context so much. The most ridiculous is "cultural appropriation": does anyone think before using that phrase? It doesn’t seem so, being the most out of context of all the isms, ons etc.

Having said that, “white privilege” runs it close, the inference being all white people should be subservient for the perceived sins of their forebears and colonialism - as if white people are the only ones ever to vanquish and colonise.

Despite the various genders that are now perceived to be around, and the gross overuse of of associated words like "transgender" and the myriad of others that would have you believe that every other person was of a gender other than male or female, the number of these exceptions to the general rule is minute in the scheme of things. Reading and viewing the press and the way political parties cave to minorities, you would be forgiven if you thought otherwise. A good example of the nonsense of it all is the use of the word "queer", totally non PC as a description up until a year ago, but now perfectly respectable.

Currently it has ramped up to the level of threatening language and would be funny if it were not being bandied about by people who should know better. "Nazi" is used so much it has become meaningless, yet the label sticks in some cases, and the same applies to "hate crime" being used by authorities in a total overkill of language over substance. The recent shooting in Texas was described by a police officer as a "hate crime"; two years ago it would have had the correct label of "mass murder". The phrase "hate crime" almost gives the perpetrator an excuse for his crime - hate caused by… as if we should understand him and equate him with those (sicker) people who have said nasty things on the web. In the eyes of the users of the "hate crime" label there is no real difference, hate being the equaliser .

This is all not only wrong but is lazy or deliberately antagonistic. The MSM have a lot to answer for in this area, cloning the words of those groups and their Common Purpose overlords. Will it run its course and simply fade away to be replaced with another form of derogatory language? There is no sign of a slow down but things do change and the sooner the better as far as I am concerned. Oh, and I’m offended by it all and that probably makes me a racist - or does it?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Night Music: Spanish Strings, by JD

I have no idea who she is except that her name is Leticia Prados Pelet and this is as much as I could find on the web-

Catalan Briefing (alternative), by JD

As your newly appointed Catalan correspondent, I feel duty bound to bring you the latest musical news -

1. the flight of the payaso (=clown)

2. a cry for help

3. the Barcelona F.C 'himno' (played before every game in the Nou Camp)

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Catalonia - not so simple... by JD

A few more thoughts based on my reading of many of the Spanish newspapers as well as some phone conversations with friends in Spain.  My friends vary in other opinions from 'not quite reactionary' to 'not quite republican' but they are unanimous in regarding Puigdemont as deranged! This evening's news that Puigdemont thinks the Spanish government has carried out a coup d'etat against Catalonia is proof that he is living in a parallel universe...

Nice touch to have TinTin observing the landing! Elsewhere on the news pages a previous catalan leader, Josep Tarradellas,  is quoted as saying in his memoirs that 'in politics, everything is acceptable except ridicule' Once you become an object of ridicule you are finished. 

The Spanish newspapers online have readers' comments, as they do in the UK. A large percentage of those comments regard 'El Puchy' as a joke. In fact I saw in one of the papers a photograph of a Puigdemont Halloween costume complete with baggy suit and oversize 'Beatles' wig.

This scorn and contempt began after Puigdemont had called a meeting of his political party at which he was expected to announce regional elections. While party members assembled and waited for his announcement he was in a car travelling to France and, after boarding an aeroplane in Marseille, he turned up in Brussels to plead his case 'at the heart of the EU' instead of before his own people. He ran away from the conflict which he had created. At that point he lost all credibility. His own supporters were extremely angry and even called him a traitor. And then Rajoy called the election for him.

 Last week the former Spanish PM, Felipe Gonzalez, said that Puigdemont running away to Brussels was an act of cowardice. In Spanish that is a very serious accusation. You can insult a man by calling him 'cabron' or 'coño' or say he is 'de puta madre' and they will have minimal impact but to call him a coward will produce a volatile reaction because that is to call into question his manhood. Many of the online comments have reflected this view.

There have also been more than a few comments about who is paying for this long and expensive stay in Brussels. "Is it coming from an anonymous bank account in Andorra or from the famous 3%, (a reference to the backhander extracted on all public contracts in Catalonia.)"  The two previous Catalan parliamentary leaders, Jordi Pujol and Artur Mas are both currently under investigation for fraud and two of Pujol's sons have served prison terms in connection with the aforementioned 3%. So it is logical to expect that people will ask those questions of Puigdemont.

Another thing I have noticed in the Spanish press is the exasperation and irritation at how the press of other countries view Spain in terms of stereotypes; flamenco and bullfighting and sunshine and vino. But invariably they view Spain in terms of the Civil War and through rose tinted glasses. They rely on the romantic fiction perpetrated by Orwell, Hemingway and going back as far as Washington Irving. And it is very definitely romantic fiction! 
Even the historian Paul Preston finally acknowledged on ‘Start the Week’ on Radio 4 in 2012  that Orwell's book, Homage to Catalonia was about as relevant to the Spanish Civil War as Spike Milligan’s Hitler: My Part in his Downfall was to World War Two. 

The foreign press and commentators all rely on the same tired clichés about Spain: they focus on ideals instead of common sense. They are more in love with Don Quijote than with Sancho Panza. They ignore the reality and the seriousness of the current farce, a tragic farce.

"The escapade has damaged those former ministers who faced up to their responsibilities in Spain by seemingly creating a push for them to be subject to strict precautionary measures because they constituted a flight risk. Indeed, eight of them are currently being held in pre-trial custody. Puigdemont’s behavior must be entertaining for some, but it is tragic for those who were unlucky enough to be in government with him.

"The decision by Puigdemont and his ex-ministers to call themselves a government in exile is laughable in that they are responsible for nothing, in contrast with the Catalan and republican governments based overseas during the rule of Franco. They oversaw the protection of exiles, assets and archives, while also being responsible for institutional relations with other countries that recognized them."

"The comparison between the restrained 40-year resistance of the former premier of Catalonia Josep Tarradellas and the shameful adolescent blunders of his successor over the course of just one week is a sad one for both Catalonia, and for a Spain that is committed to an autonomous and pro-autonomy Catalan region."

Friday, November 03, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Mighty Northumbria, by JD

Separatism and independence seem to be the current fad. Long Live Freedonia! Long live Sloganism! Well, now is the hour! It is time to restore the ancient Kingdom of Northumbria!

And, unlike Catalonia, Northumbria has the historical legitimacy of having been an actual Kingdom with a long line of real Kings who lived in Bamburgh Castle. Time to display the heritage of music and poetry and dance.

"Dance To Your Daddy" (When the boat comes in) - embed disabled, please click for link:

Update: JD sends a bonus track...