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CITY OF GLASS (Capitol 7243 8 32084 2 5) [compilation 1995]

CITY OF GLASS (Channel Crossings CCS 6394) [recorded 1993]

One of my early listening delights was to listen to two 10" Capitol albums of Stan Kenton's -- THIS MODERN WORLD and CITY OF GLASS. Both were the compositions of Robert Graettinger. I ranked them with my best Sauter-Finegan sides. They were atonal or polytonal, full of jarring dissonances, and thrilling to my 14-year-old soul. I played them over and over, at the highest volume my little Webcor player could manage.

Imagine my pleasure when this material was finally released on CD, forty years (or more) later -- not once, but twice!

The Channel Crossings CITY OF GLASS was the first to be released. This album, released on a Dutch-American classical music label, is most likely to be found in the classical music section of most record stores, which only highlights the essential confusion over the nature of this kind of music. Is it classical? Is it jazz? Is it a hybrid -- Third Stream Music? The album is newly digitally recorded, the performance of the Dutch Ebony Band -- a full orchestra of close to fifty musicians -- conducted by none other than our old friend, Gunther Schuller, whose own album of compositions is reviewed elsewhere in these pages, as is his reconstruction and conducting of Charles Mingus' EPITAPH.


The album is not devoted solely to Graettinger's music, although it dominates. Also represented are two pieces by Pete Rugolo and one by Franklyn Marks. These fit in well with Graettinger's music, since they had similar origins: all were composed for and first performed by the Stan Kenton orchestras of the late forties.

A year later Capitol released its CD. Here are, collected on one CD, all 63+ minutes of Kenton's original recordings of Graettinger's music, as performed from 1947 to 1953. All but the earliest are from Kenton's INNOVATIONS IN MODERN MUSIC orchestra, circa 1952. (A separate album, well worth getting if one is into this period of Kenton, is the 2-CD set, STAN KENTON - THE INNOVATIONS ORCHESTRA, which has two Graettinger pieces and the original versions of the Rugolo and Marks pieces used on the Ebony Band album.)


To understand where this music comes from one must understand Stan Kenton. A piano playing band leader, Kenton's original ambition was to be the white Duke Ellington, a course he pursued throughout the early and mid-forties. His was, nominally, a "dance band," but Kenton chaffed at such an appellation. He wanted to get out of dance gigs in ballrooms and into the prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall. To this end, he commissioned increasingly ambitious scores and compositions to intermix with the more popular novelty numbers and ballads he recorded. After rejecting an earlier piece from a rather young Graettinger, he accepted "Thermopylae" in 1947. Gunther Schuller's claims for his own 1947 piece to the contrary, "Thermopylae" is the first atonal work in jazz -- and by far the first to be recorded and issued commercially. Subsequently Kenton had Graettinger do arrangements of such standards as "Everything Happens To Me" and "You Go To My Head," but his next major opus was "City of Glass." This composition exists in two versions. The first was performed (but not recorded) by Kenton in 1948. Graettinger extensively recomposed it for the 1951 Innovations orchestra (which included a full string section), which did record it. Of its premiere performance (at the Civic Opera House of Chicago) in February, 1948, saxophonist Art Pepper said it was "a revolutionary composition, an incredible hard musical exercise; it was a miracle we got through it." Of later performances, drummer Shelly Manne said, "He tried to write electronically with conventional instruments," and trombonist/composer Bill Russo said, "A lot of those chords hurt your teeth. Especially your fillings!"

Of Graettinger's music, Werner Herbers -- the leader of the Ebony Band -- finds it "somehow comparable to ... the great works of Varese, Ives, or Schoenberg." Schuller described him as "A melodramatic post-Wagnerian, influenced by Schoenberg, Varese, or Mosolev, a pathbreaker for Ornette Coleman -- a complete original." And Graettinger himself said, "I live above the timberline." After he parted ways with Kenton in 1952, he apparently wrote nothing more, and subsequently died in obscurity.

The Capitol release is, as usual, a Michael Cuscuna production (Cuscuna oversees virtually all the jazz reissues on the Capitol and Blue Note labels, as well as the mail-order Mosaic label) -- and, as usual, is presented chronologically. This causes a problem only for "This Modern World," which has been deconstructed here. As Max Harrison points out in his informative notes, "In 'This Modern World' he took six selections that are presented here separately, in the order in which they were recorded, and reorders them in a new sequence ('A Horn,' 'Some Saxophones,' 'A Cello,' 'A Thought,' 'A Trumpet' and 'An Orchestra') in which the three solo vehicles are each followed by ensemble pieces and the latter show a rise in intensity." Here, due to Cuscuna's anality, the suite is broken up and scattered through the collection, "A Horn" appearing as the fifth track (before the complete 1951 "City of Glass"), "A Cello" as track 11, "A Trumpet" as track 13, and "An Orchestra," "A Thoughts" and "Some Saxophones" following to close out the album in that order. Why Cuscuna so often defies the wishes of the composers in the way he disassembles and reassembles suites and albums in order to achieve a rigid chronological sequence is beyond me. The man must prefer an inflexible policy to an intelligent consideration of musical values.

The Channel Crossings CD is about a minute longer (over 64 minutes long), and has the advantage of being a modern stereo recording, made from (where possible) the original scores. In addition to the Rugolo and Marks pieces (which fit in remarkably well with Graettinger's) there are three new (never before recorded) Graettinger pieces, "Graettinger #3" (1950) and arrangements of "April In Paris" (1947) and "Laura" (1948), as well as the 1947 version of "City of Glass" -- which is around eight minutes shorter than the later version -- in addition to the better-known 1951 version. This allows us to compare and contrast each version. But none of "This Modern World" is used.

Although the Kenton recordings are from forty-five to fifty years old, they sound surprisingly undated. Although obviously monophonic, they capture amazingly well the subtle textures and nuances as well as the dynamics of this sophisticated music. Channel Crossing has access to the latest in digital recording technology, but did not really take full advantage of the stereo panorama to open this music up. The dynamics are little different from Capitol's mono recordings, and the recording level is a bit muted. The net effect is no real improvement -- even in the utilization of stereo -- over the sound of the original Kenton recordings.

Kenton loved music which presented an In Your Face challenge to the listener -- bombastic, extravagant, and aurally provocative. Music which went over the top -- and beyond the edge. Far too much of Kenton's music possessed these qualities but lacked depth. Kenton could get caught up in catchy "rounds" of music which repeated and built on unusual riffs, but did not evolve, remaining in the end only riffs and nothing more. Graettinger's music went far beyond repetitive riffs, aspiring as it did to be Up There with the music of the century's greatest composers. In this it represents Stan Kenton at his finest, most ambitious and most successful.

I recommend both albums highly.

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