Monday, April 2, 2012

The Grand Talent of Scott Walker

I think I might be getting obsessed about Scott Walker. I listen to his first four solo albums from the 60s (Scott 1-4) every day, and if I don't.. Well, then I won't be too happy..

Originally, I had heard one song from Scott Walker's band, the Walker Brothers (The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore). Apart from that, I hadn't spent much time thinking about Scott Walker, or the Walker Brothers... This more recent development began when I saw the documentary film Scott Walker: 30 Century Man. The (almost) whole story was there: at first Scott Walker was in the Walker Brothers, a band that was much more popular in the UK than its homeland, the United States. Scott wrote songs for the band and soon went on to record solo albums. After that, his musical ambitions only kept growing. He is still writing new music – and he is definitely not trying to please the big buying audience anymore!

Funnily, the documentary film didn't say much about the first phase of Noel Scott Engel's musical career. Engel, as his real name is, was a teen idol way before his enormous success with the Walker Brothers. To me this is really interesting, as I might consider myself a sucker for teen idols... Scott before his grown-up career sounds quite a bit like himself, only his voice is higher. And, yeah, the music is a bit different, too...

In the mid-60s Scott joined the Walker Brothers, a band in which the members were not really brothers or called Walker. The Walker Brothers were considered to be a boy band, and its popularity was often even compared to the Beatles. The band was a popular subject of gossip and hype. It didn't take long until Scott began to feel anxious being in the band. He wore sunglasses to express the alienation he was feeling at the time.

It seems to me that it wasn't until the solo career when Scott really began to shine. The Walker Brothers performed music that had certain similar aspects to Scott's solo work but as a solo artist there was no need to adjust to the group dynamics. When Scott went solo he began a journey towards his later ambitions. At first he recorded many cover versions, including several Jacques Brel's songs. There were also original compositions right on the first album – with some extremely well-written lyrics. Scott 3 (1969) contained touches of dissonance, indicating the more experimental style that Scott was already interested in at that point. Scott 4 (1969) wasn't as big a commercial success as the first three albums but it was the first to feature only Scott Walker compositions.

Albums Scott 1-4 are in any case must-hear material. There are spectacular orchestral arrangements as well as awesome songs. Then there is Scott's personal instrument... His deep baritone voice. Scott's voice can be characterized by magnificent integrity and expressiveness. He makes singing sound so very easy with his relaxed style and natural vibrato. There is also a lot of emotion. In fact, his style is sometimes quite theatrical.

According to Scott himself, he probably would have started making experimental music earlier if Scott 4 had been more succesfull. After Scott 4 there was little progress for many, many years. Finally, in 1995 came Tilt, the first of Scott's avant garde/experimental albums. The following album, The Drift was released in 2006. These albums are surely interesting as they reveal the more adventurous, ambitious, as well as darker sides of Scott Walker. Nowadays Scott does exactly what he wants, and that is probably the ideal state of mind for a talented artist to be in.

Here is Jackie, a Jacques Brel song from Scott 2 (1968).

Sunday, April 1, 2012

An Evening with Colin and Rod

According to Rod Argent, the Zombies visited Finland last during their very first international tour back in the 60s. We will see if the band will actually return in another 50 years as promised... In any case, the present-day version of the Zombies gave a memorable and heartfelt performance in Helsinki on March the 31st.

The concert was the last of the Zombies' Scandinavian mini tour. It was especially Colin Blunstone whose presence radiated all kinds of positive feelings to the audience. Blunstone's voice was strong and soulful and when he sang more quietly he sounded exactly like himself back in the 60s! Rod Argent delighted the audience with many stories about the band's history and thoughts about the influence that the Zombies have had on pop music.

Argent and Blunstone were thrilled to be performing as the Zombies and it showed. Argent played many fabulous, long solos on the keyboard. Blunstone gave vocal performances both soulful and ethereal. Guitarist Tom Toomey, bass player Jim Rodford and drummer Steve Rodford also enjoyed being on stage and performed with style. Toomey's guitar work was definitely worth mentioning... Everyone on stage was really good!

The set was a nice cross-section of the Zombies' career, from the band's very first singles to their latest 2011 album Breathe Out, Breathe In which Argent and Blunstone were obviously very proud of. The songs sounded really good live, I must say. The most anticipated part of the set was probably the part with songs from Odessey & Oracle. All of the band's hits were also played (Tell Her No, She's Not There, Time of the Season). As a whole, the gig was a lot more than just those most influential baroque pop songs on Odessey & Oracle. It was simply great to hear Colin's solo stuff, music from Argent, and even Alan Parsons Project material! Many of the songs were not familiar to me but well... There is always time to check them out. The important part is that I enjoyed every second of the concert.

It was a great experience to see the Zombies. There are not so many 60s pop bands that come to Finland in the 2010's. I hope to see more!

The Zombies website

The (Phil)harmonic Tampere 2012 so far: From Williams to Glass

So, guess which live act I still prefer in all of Tampere and Finland? It is of course the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the very few full-size symphony orchestras in Finland. It seems that it can't get any better now. I have discovered the most skilled musicians and most appreciated works of music that have most definitely stood up well against the test of time!

Here is a small recap of what I experienced during January and February. To keep it short I haven't commented on everything.

Jan 13th: Film music by John Williams
Lead by Peruvian conductor Arturo Alvarado, the Philharmonic played an energetic, sold-out show of John Williams' best-known film music, including themes from Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, E.T., Schindler's List, and of course Star Wars. The most memorable moment to me was the theme from Jaws. Just imagine a huge orchestra playing those two notes... Gee, that was cool! I also loved Harry Potter, as well as Schindler's List which was a lot more stripped-down as a whole but all the more beautiful.

Jan 20th: Vivier, Brahms, Stravinsky
Vivier finished writing his cosmic composition Orion in 1980. Compositions as new as this are often very different from the old classics and Orion was no exception. Anything composed in the 20th century can easily be recommended to fans of progressive rock. As for Johannes Brahms, he was a composer whose music is often performed in Tampere these days. He is a popular ”old-school” guy, and piano concerto #2 was indeed a very impressive, even heavy piece of music.

Jan 27th: Olivier Messiaen: Turangalîla
This time the people at Tampere-talo were introduced to French 20th century composer Olivier Messiaen and his long ten-part Turangalîla symphony. Valérie Hartmann-Claverie played ondes martenot, the first widely used electronic instrument. The wailing sound of the instrument was indeed an important part of some of the more sentimental parts of the symphony. All in all, a lot of this piece of art was somewhat challenging to listen to. Still, somehow I got the hang of it and in the end I felt happy. It was a very rewarding listening experience. Sometimes it can be really worthwile to challenge yourself!

Feb 3rd: Sibelius, Mustonen, Prokofjev
This was the first time I heard music from Finland's most famous composer Jean Sibelius played live. Bardi op. 64 was a small, intimate musical poem. I was thrilled to feel the beautiful Finnish landscape in musical form. The main event was Olli Mustonen's first symphony Tuuri, ordered and performed for the first time by the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra, conductred by Mustonen himself. Tuuri was a charming work, composed to the famous Finnish poet Eino Leino's poetry (Helkavirret). Great music, great lyrics!

Feb 17th: Liszt, Glass, Sibelius
Liszt and Sibelius were really awesome but Philip Glass hit the jackpot with his violin concerto. It was like hypnosis. Glass's harmonies were sometimes (especially at the beginning) bizarre but mostly the music was all about stunningly beautiful, hypnotic, repeating melodies. Repetition, in general, is not the most common feature in classical music but Glass is the master of repetition. However, the music doesn't get boring at all because Glass's melodies are incredibly memorable and the mood is... hypnotic, as well as really dramatic. Listen to the concerto if you already haven't! The first and third movement are really fast and dramatic, and the second part is slow and incredibly, really incredibly touching... Oh my goodness.

Here it is:
1st mov
2nd mov
3rd mov