Well, faithful readers, it seems the recent computer meltdown was much worse than previously thought. I plugged my old drives into the new computer amd on start-up they started clicking and actually smoking. I've had my share of crashes but never seen the breath of the the devil wafting forth from my precious data like that before. This means ALL my unprocessed rips & scans are history and there were about a dozen LPs worth of 'em. Also lost all the tracks I've worked on in the past 6 months and a shitload of music & video. It took out my pro sound card too, so I'm using an old SoundBlaster Live! I had laying around...alas, ripping new material is not an option at the moment. Now before you get all uppity about backup that's the problem: my mirror drive went too. Just another reason why this is a burn, both literally & figuratively. Thankfully, there's still a few albums left in my posting buffer and I've finally gotten a chance to do a couple write ups.
So, without further ado, here we go with our fourth installment of the Moe Koffmandiscography, the title of which coincidentally corresponds quite nicely with its place in the Moe posting sequence. If you haven't had a chance to check out the others, just click on the "can con" tag at the end of the post or type "koffman" into the search box, top left.
This double-LP set is pretty rare these days yet when it does pop up, it doesn't have that high a sticker price - anywhere from $5 to $20 depending on condition. If you ask me, this one's a gold mine of samples waiting to be used and if you like your classical fused with some funky floot, you'll probably enjoy the proceedings on the whole. Now, it ain't nowhere near the funkiness of Don Sebesky or Bob James' interpolations of classical themes but Doug Riley works out some good arrangements in addition to just killing it on the Hammond and Rhodes all the way through.
Unlike most of Koffman's albums there's a pretty thorough review available online so I've taken the liberty of posting the entire write up since excerpts don't exactly do justice to Christopher Currie's analysis of the record. Keep in mind that the review is being written with a prog-rock slant (it was first posted on a newsgroup devoted to Brit proggers Yes) and some of its sweeping statements should be taken with a grain of salt since it seems sometimes he's not sure whether to be ascerbic or apologetic...
When mainstream music critics chide the progressive scene for its adaptation/bastardization of classical music, ELP's Pictures At An Exhibition is a frequent talent. The ELP work, after all, is one of the few progressive-era work to tackle (in more sense than one, of course) an established classical piece over the space of an entire album. It's also not the highest quality work that ELP ever released, making it a doubly convenient target for typecasting the genre.
I have a feeling, however, that ELP might receive a bit less attention if more critics were aware of Moe Koffman's The Four Seasons.
A bit of background information may be in order ...
Moe Koffman is a veteran of Canada's jazz/classical scene. He had a hit single in the late 1950s entitled "Swinging Shepherd Blues", and has ventured forth into the world of pop-classical/pop-jazz recordings from time to time since then. He's also, by at least one reliable account, a first-class jerk, known for hounding various players out of the Toronto music scene on the basis of personal vendettas. As drafter of Toronto's "Phantom Of The Opera" orchestral lineup, Koffman is unquestionably a man of some authority, which may explain why he's able to release novelty works as awful as Back To Bach and remain a fixture in the industry. Though a skilled flutist, Koffman therefore falls into something of an "artistically suspect" category.
In 1972, Koffman (no doubt acting under the influence of Emerson's expanding popularity) decided to create a progressive rock version of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons", with string orchestra and rock band accompaniment. For sheer preposterousness, this two-record set at least matches ELP's Pictures, and quite possibly exceeds it. Unlike the ELP set, however, this album has languished in obscurity for several years, free of both the harsh gaze of anti-prog critics and skeptical acceptance from the genre's fans. While this isn't a fundamental loss for either, an increased awareness of its presence would at least add a little more perspective into such matters.
As one might expect from a work of this sort, the music toes a narrow gap between novelty status and serious performance. The composition itself is obviously solid [the official credits are obviously a different matter], the performances are reasonable enough for the circumstances, and there's enough real music going on (from a progressive standpoint, at least) to justify most of the album. On the other hand, the project as a whole is obviously terribly contrived. If the listener closes his/her eyes and pretends that Doug Riley is actually Keith Emerson, the music often stands on its own -- there are times, however, when this facade simply doesn't work. I would be reluctant to actually recommend this album, it's ratings notwithstanding [and it certainly wouldn't hold much appeal to Vivaldi enthusiasts, save perhaps as a novelty item]; still, there is something of a strange appeal to much of the music here.
The album begins, of course, with Koffman's adaptation of Vivaldi's most famous work, the "Overture To Spring". A completely over-the-top performance, this work perhaps outdoes anything even Emerson or Wakeman could have created with the track's basic material. Horrible lounge filler interacts with actual music; a Hammond Organ appears out of nowhere at point for obvious effect -- the entire track, in other words, sums up the ambivalent relationship between tastefulness and technical skill better than ELP could have hoped for.
Many listeners probably didn't make it as far as the second track, which is a bit of a shame -- most of the album isn't quite as "in your face" about its juxtaposition of styles. "Le Reveil" is actually a semi-reverential take on the original (featuring flute and electric piano) -- the pathos doesn't come through, but it works well enough otherwise. "Nature's Banquet" (based the final section of "Spring", of course) is a jazz improvisation on the original theme, with Koffman providing a centre for the piece amid a fairly good jam performance (though perhaps the drums are a bit too heavily in the spotlight).
The "Summer" section begins with "Overture To Summer", featuring a somewhat more restrained pop-classical mix than that which began the previous side -- competent enough as a work of music, its pop stylings appear rather superfluous. Next follows "Sunshower", a rather more proggish track including a truly derivative performance from Doug Riley -- the Emerson "influence" actually becomes rather disturbing, at some points in the song. Otherwise, this work is most notable for a reverential, pastoral mid-section, which somehow doesn't really work in this context. "The Calm" and "The Storm" are, of course, related works -- the former features flute, keyboards and aquatic sounds to a limited effect; the latter features yet another Emerson-esque adaptation of the same theme. Neither work, ultimately, is an album high point.
The "Autumn" section begins in a rather unsatisfying fashion. The opening section of "Harvest Festival" is rather dubious, featuring a contrived blues-rock direction of sorts; the track eventually improves, but not enough to entirely erase the taint of its introduction. "Sleep", featuring acoustic guitar in a prominent role, is actually a decent pop- classical fusion work (Riley's piano work is notable in this context as well). "Dance Of The Leaves", meanwhile, is another jam around the ordinary Vivaldian theme -- not perfect throughout, this still includes the high point of the side.
One suspects that Koffman was running out of ideas (or time) towards the end, given that the "Winter" section is somewhat shorter than the other sides of the work. The music, too, seems a bit innocuous in relation to the rest of the work. "Icicle Bells" features a decent introduction (lead by Koffman & Riley) but flounders somewhat on the jazz section which follows. "Snowflakes", a more thoroughly jazzified piece, also falls somewhat short of a higher status. It therefore falls to "Inverno Furioso" to conclude the album on a relatively stately basis -- this work is a traditional performance of the original version (obviously re-arranged, of course), apparently included to verify Koffman's diversity in such matters.
There can be little doubt that Koffman's The Four Seasons is an imitation of British progressive styles, performed by individuals not normally known for working in the genre. Still, one could easily find worse Koffman projects to explore.As a curious detour in progressive music's development, this work has some value.
(originally posted to alt.music.yes on 28 Jan 1999)
Moe Koffman - Flute, Bass Flute, Piccolo Doug Riley - Keyboards Don Thompson - Acoustic & Electric Bass Terry Clarke - Drums Michael Craden - Percussion Dick Smith - Percussion (1) Bobby Edwards - Guitar Terry Bush - Guitar (7) Bill Richards - Violin Maurice Solway - Violin Isadore Desser - Violin Victoria Polly - Violin Adele Armin - Violin Peter Schenkman - Cello Dave Hetherington - Cello
1 - Spring: Overture to Spring (Allegro) 2 - Spring: Le Reveil (Largo) 3 - Spring: Nature's Banquet (Allegro) 4 - Summer: Overture to Summer (Allegro) 5 - Summer: Sunshower (Allegro) 6 - Summer: The Calm (Adagio) 7 - Summer: The Storm (Presto) 8 - Autumn: Harvest Festival (Allegro) 9 - Autumn: Sleep (Adagio) 10 - Autumn: Dance of the Leaves (Allegro) 11 - Winter: Icicle Bells (Allegro) 12 - Winter: Snowflakes (Largo) 13 - Winter: Invèrno Furioso (Allegro)
This one was certified gold in Canada 1972 so it's surprising you don't run into it more often up here. Until you dig it up yourself, you can grab it from Soundological's treasure chest HERE or HERE.