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April 09, 1985 - Image 6

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The Michigan Daily, 1985-04-09

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily
' hess' plays

Tuesday, April 9, 1985

Page 6

I

as complex as

its plot

By Beth Fertig
I N 1969, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber
changed musical theatre history with the
rock-opera "Jesus Christ Superstar." The
piece, swarmed in controversy, was a product
of its era which generated an enormous amount
of praise for the wealth of talent it displayed,
its sold out Broadway performances, and the
instant fame it brought to its young composers.
A decade later, Webber and Rice repeated
their success with the hit "Evita," as well as a
staging of "4oseph and the Amazing
Technicolor Dreamcoat," the light, amusing
musical they had written prior to "Superstar."
The successful team split after "Evita," and
Webber went on to compose the mega-smash
"Cats," while Rice emerges as the lyricist fora
new project in the works, titled Chess (RCA
Records). This time, his musical collaborators
are Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, of
Abba fame.,.Repeating the formula that was the
genius behind the previous mentioned works,
"Chess" can now be heard in the form of a
studio recording, which will lead to the piece's
staging on London's West End in the fall,
before eventually (if reviews are favorable)

migrating to Broadway.
Chess is a work in progress, and it
therefore deserves special consideration. The
author's note explains that there will be ad-
ditional songs, as well as dialect. However, one
can obtain a pretty fair assessment of the piece
from this recording.
Like the game of its namesake, Chess covers
a broad, intriguing network of plot intricacies;
which is possibly just too broad for a musical.
However, like the game, it is also a bit more
subtle than the average musical.
There is a synopsis in the libretto which
needs to be read at least twice before under-
standing the piece's plot. In my own, con-
siderably condensed, version, suffice it to say
that it revolves around a world chess com-
petition between an American and a Russian.
Florence, the American's partner, falls in
love with the Russian chess-player. The match
heats up, the American quits, his partner
leaves him, and the Russian defects. To make
matters worse, Florence's father played a
dubious role in the Hungarian revolution. This
becomes an enticing piece of information,

which the American uses later on both to win
back Florence, and to force the Russian to
throw an important match.
As you may gather, this is quite complicated.
The present score is, unfortunately not of a
great deal of aid in clearing up matters.
However, this is a work in progress. With the
added dialect and songs it might come across
well.
The creators of Chess are, for the most part,
concentrating on the manipulative efforts in
the players' private lives which parallel those
of their profession. Maybe cutting out some of
the plot intricacies (such as the Hungarian
episode), and relying more upon these
relationships would work better; as this is an
area that could use some work. We don't
usually see enough of the characters until they
either perform some sort of explanatory
ballad, or assault one another with verbal
abuse. Yet, these instances, and. especially the
confrontations, often work well and provide an
effective dramatic display. It's just the stuff in
between that needs some more structuring.
Tim Rice is a lyricist with a witty, uniquely
hip style. The libretto is amusing and displays

some really well crafted songs with interesting
themes. However, Andersson and Ulvaeus
have composed a score that ranges from the
threatrically dynamic, to what sounds like,
something directed more toward hit radio than
potential Broadway.
There are definite Abba influences at play,
here. This is well and good for Abba, but not
for the stage. Some of the songs are over-
produced, with their thick arrangements and
Abba-esque vocal layerings of one harmony on
top of another. Given this framework, it's hard
to believe parts, such as Florence quitting and
exclaiming, "You'll be lost without me," to this
sweet and sugary music.
However, there are true sparks flying in the
confrontations between both the American and
the Russian, as well as the Russian and Floren-
ce. In these spots, the score is wonderfully
dramatic and vivid. There are some other
terrific places, such as the eerie, contem-
plative music when the Russian and his second
discuss their plans. A little more theatrical
passion or subtlety like this would help some of
the other pieces, such as Florence's love
lament, "Heaven Help My Heart", which

sounds like straight radio Abba; or the duet she
wails with the Russian's wife called "I know
Him So Well."
These weaknesses of Chess could probably be
solved in time to make it a fairly effective
staging.,There is certainly enough talent in the
project - and this recording is a good sta'rt. I
nothing else, it has spawned a gigantic hit with
the seductively funky, "One Night in
Bangkok." And the album has been joined by
some old friends of Rice's previous projects;
such as Murray Head ("JCS") and Elaine
Paige ("Evita"). Chess' talented voices con-
tribute greatly to the characters, although
Head's powerful, raspy vocals often seem a bit
restrained.
Unlike Rice's previous works, Chess lAcks
immediate appeal. His earlier work screamed
out that it was effective drama. A listen to the
original recording of Jesus Christ Superstar
conjures up much imagery, whereas there is
very little here to provoke visualization. Chess
seems more of a studio-styled piece. One is left
feeling a bit dubious abcat the future moves of
Chess.

.
. ,
a;

Two former Abba members, Benny Anderson (seated at the piano) and Bjorn Ulvaeus (second from left), the
collaborators of 'Chess,' relate a strategy to their players. One must wonder if this record is Broadway-bound or
doomed to vinyl.
On Blue Note's jazz investment

By arwulf arwulf
78 RPM records always make me
flinch with excitement. There's
something about the aged discs, their
quaint labels and archaic thickness,
their mysterious titles and even more
mysterious personnel. Only rarely
does a 78 turn up which has been
reissued on a long-playing 33.
I have ridiculous tastes, and my
collection of little yellow kiddie recor-
ds is tangible proof of this. But I am
also hopelessly in love with Creative
Black Music, and some of the 78s I've
stumbled upon in ten years of intent
research are, to me, breathtaking
remnants of a time when Original
Boppers walked the earth in their
youthful prime, and when Thelonious
Monk was just signing his first recor-
ding contracts. To hold a Thelonious
Monk 78 in one's hands is an experien-

Series, (all double albums done in
plain brown wrappers with act on
photos and extensive liner notes)
stands as one of the finest series of its
kind ever to come into existence. The
entire series is currently out of print,
and can be occasionally found in
cutout bins in record stores. Among
the more brilliant names in the lineup
are Cecil Taylor, Herbie Nichols,
Booker Ervin, Sam Rivers, and An-
drew Hill. This was just one of several
"Reissue Series."
Recently the label has been revived,
this time in a very big way, and the
future looks bright indeed for Blue
Note. Their buttons and posters with
the Blue Note Logo can be found just
everywhere, and the ambitious
producers have gone about this
resurrection in three ways; reissues,
issues of previously unreleased
material, and new recordings, some
by die-hard long-time Blue Note
musicians, others by relatively new
artists. The effect is stimulating and
most assuring. We hope to be enjoying
Blue Note for the rest of our listening
days.
But it's an uncertain thing, this
game of add and drop, issue and
reissue; many labels, regardless of
their worth, have come and gone,
leaving only rare used copies of
weathered masterpieces where once
flourished new releases. The market
is always evolving. During the 1960's,
the major Jazz label unquestionably
was Impulse, where resided John
Coltrane in all his roaring splendor,
and it was Trane who landed Impulse
recording contracts for young Archie
Shepp and Albert Ayler, to name just
a few.
Impulse offered a very wide range
indeed, from sickeningly over-
produced kitsch to mind-boggling in-
novation. On the back of each album
the slogan proudly screamed: THE
NEW WAVE OF JAZZ IS ON IM-
PULSE! And, it seems, it was. Just
recently the entire ABC/Impulse
catalogue went poof, and were it not
for MCA, who picked it up im-
mediately, we might have had to wait
awhile for some brave corporation to
retrieve it.
Possibly the worst American label
when it comes to dropping things from
their catalogue is Atlantic. Now,
granted, Atlantic has recorded some
of the very finest sessions in the'

only to disappear once again, deleted
by the computer.
Columbia and Victor were two of
the very first record companies ever,
and for years both were cornerstones
of the American Jazz recording scene.
Columbia-has steadily grown less and
less interested in anything they
suspect will fail to realize a 1000%
profit. And their catalogue shows it,
RCA Victor, however, has come up
with a wonderful series of{ reissues,
based on their Bluebird series which
appeared in the late 1920's and ran
through the mid 50's. Artists include
Fats Waller, Tampa Red, Charlie
Barnet, Sidney Bechet, Earl Hines,
and Big Maceo Merriweather.
Victor still has to answer to the fact
that most of the reissues of V'dtor
material from the 20's 30's and 40's
come to us as French imports. Lovely
issues, priced sky high. Why must we
buy our own records from the Fxren-
ch? This is a question I seem to
ask every day of my life. It must all be
tied up in supply and demand charts
somewhere. The Japanese, of course,
have reissued every record that's
ever been made in the history of the
world and nothing can stop them now,
as any Motor City Foreman will tell
you.
The Italians, on the other hand,
have brought back into circulation
nearly everything that ever appeared
on the notorious ESP-DISK label in
the 60's; this includes many fiery per-
formances by Albert Ayler, Sun Ra,
Marion Brown and Pharoah Sanders.
Europe is also turning out its own
very special labels. The Italian Black
Saint and Soul Note issues have been
heroically consistent, and feature
many dozens of the very latest in
young (and not so young) innovators.
Up in Northern Europe, the hat/Hut
(now hat ART) company has allowed
some skyrocketing individualists to
record things in their very own way;
Jerome Cooper's solo percussion,
Cecil Taylor's live piano chiroprac-
tics, Anthony Braxton's personalized
equations of mammoth reed tangent.
This label is perhaps the very best
thing to have happened to improvised
music since Blue Note began over 45
years ago.
To learn more about the history
of the Blue Note record label,

ce which leaves the average Jazz en-
thusiast smiling with an inner calm,
and the fact that this is a Blue Note 78
has often made me press my lips to
the disc, overwhelmed as I am by the
sweet relic cradled ever, so gently in
my stubby little Polish fingers.
Blue Note.-
A company dating back to 1939, its
catalogue a stunning core sample of
American Jazz, the hauntingly
beautiful cover photos of Lee Morgan,
Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Booker
Ervin; men of incredible inven-
tiveness, their music preserved
forever on swirls of black vinyl.
The story of the Blue Note record
label is a sad one. Alfred Lion did
everything he could to make it a suc-
cess; and from those early Meade Lux
Lewis boogie-woogie piano solos to the
stunning Johnny Griffin blowing
sessions, this label was, without a

come hear Ann Arbor's hippest,

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