1000 Recordings #6: All ‘n’ All Eyez on Alban Berg
Back when Critical Masses was just a pocket of gas in my overworked intestines, I had a blog called Auscultated Sixfold where I chronicled my thoughts resulting from an ambitious project to listen to all one thousand albums in Tom Moon’s 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. I only got through 90 of them between April and November of 2009. By the time we started this site the following summer, I’d abandoned the attempt. While I’m not quite ready to say I’m going to begin listening to album number 91, I have decided to lightly edit my scribblings about the first 90 and post them here for posterity.
“Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra” by Igor Stravinsky; Performed by Hilary Hahn on Brahms/Stravinsky: Violin Concertos (First Performance – 1931; Recording – 2001/Sony Classical)
An explanation: alphabetically, the 14th title on Moon’s list is “Alban Berg: Violin Concerto; Igor Stravinsky: Violin Concerto,” a disc featuring violinist Mark Kaplan with the Budapest Festival Orchestra (Lawrence Foster, cond.). I wasn’t able to easily come by this recording, so I am going with Moon’s “other interpretation” picks for both the concertos.
One of the results I hope that will come of this project is a greater familiarity and understanding of classical music. When you’re unfamiliar with a particular genre of music, a lot of it can sound the same; it’s as if your brain isn’t accustomed to hearing the differences. We’ve all heard someone dismiss an entire genre with the statement “it all sounds the same.” All classical doesn’t quite sound the same to me, but there are subtleties and differences that are lost on me still. It isn’t that I can’t enjoy classical, so much as that I need a little help to understand it.
As was the case with Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” I find it more difficult to describe my experience listening to these concertos than I would a rock album. Of the two, I found Berg’s more interesting. I’m learning a little classical music history as I go along here and I read that Berg was a student of the composer Arnold Schoenberg and in this piece, as well as many others, uses the “twelve-tone technique” Schoenberg developed. As I understand it, this technique basically approaches music composition by avoiding writing in a key, trying to balance all twelve notes. I think this must be why Berg’s piece sounds somehow different to the ear. There’s no melody.. I’m grasping for words here, but the overall effect seems more structural, less emotional… the four sections sound as if they are telling a linear story somehow. Stravinsky’s concerto, on the other hand, seems less linear and more self-referential. Less like a story, more like an impression, more emotional. I enjoyed them both, but found Stravinsky’s to sound more like I expect standard classical music to sound. Perhaps that’s just my untrained ears.
Summary of some of the facts: first hip-hop double album; recorded just as 2Pac was released from prison, a release that was arranged by Death Row owner Suge Knight as part of a three-album contract; released in the earlier part of 1996, and… later that year 2Pac was killed in a drive-by shooting.
Running over two hours, it’s amazing that there’s not a lot of filler. There’s some, to be sure, but the album is pretty consistent. It’s also a testament to the strength of 2Pac’s talent that I often found it distracting when guest artists would appear. 2Pac’s ability and personality are strong enough to carry the album and many of the guests are of sub-par ability. There’s exceptions to this: 2Pac and Snoop Dogg work well together on the single “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” for example. Instead of wanting distractions on an album this long, however, I found that I was mostly interested in hearing the main artist. I’d say Disc Two is the weaker of the two. It starts off strong with the first four tracks, including “Can’t C Me” and “Holla at Me,” but much of the rest suffers from too many guests and some tracks that are tough to distinguish from one another.
Ultimately, I’m not a huge fan of the West Coast sound. I also like the storytelling, reflective 2Pac of his earlier albums more, which was less in evidence by this point, but it’s hard not to be impressed with this accomplishment. There are tracks I really like, and I’d likely be more apt to pick them out rather than listen to the whole thing.
1977. Hardly 1% into the list and this is the second album released in that year (the first was Steely Dan’s Aja). Interestingly, I had a very similar reaction to these albums: I can appreciate aspects about them, but ultimately… not my kinda sound. That’s not 1977’s fault, however because I love The Clash, My Aim Is True, Pink Flag, Leave Home, Talking Heads, etc.
Anyway, when someone says 1970s R&B, the main thing I think of is Stevie Wonder: I love his albums from that decade. Earth Wind & Fire were contemporaries of his, peaking around the same time, but I’m only familiar with some of their hits.
All ‘n’ All is EWF’s ninth album. According to Moon, they’d been successful with radio singles, but were looking to make All ‘n’ All a cohesive album from start to finish. One way they attempt this is by the inclusion of interludes influenced by Brazilian sounds. To my ears, they were successful. As I said, I’m not familiar with the albums preceding this one, but All ‘n’ All does sound cohesive.
That said, I’m not blown away by this album. The lead singer, Philip Bailey, has an impressive falsetto, but, at least on initial impression, his voice didn’t have a lot of personality. That may sound harsh, but it struck me as kind of generic. The music was a little more interesting to me, as it draws other musical influences into their R&B/funk based sound successfully, but, ultimately, I didn’t find a lot here to keep me interested.