Saturday, January 23, 2010

Friedrich Gulda: The Complete Musician

Friedrich Gulda (piano, composer; b. 1930 - d. 2000)

Friedrich Gulda is probably more well known in classical circles for his amazing and unparalleled interpretations of Beethoven and Mozart material (definitely check out his legendary performances for Decca, Phillips and Deutche Gramophone) but he was also an accomplished jazz musician as well. I'm not going to say he was in the same arena with a Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea (whom he work with in the '80s) but he did make both jazz and classical audiences stand up and take notice of how the two genres lead and challenge the musical order or things. Throughout his classical career, Friedrich Gulda would record both studio and live jazz albums.

His classical recordings are things of beauty and for those who may be afraid of classical, Gulda might the best and most wonderful way to bring you into the fold. There are a few other pianists who could do better Mozart and Bach concertos but Gulda for me is the most inviting and heartfelt. His ability to shift back and forth through both the classical and jazz realms cause a great deal of distress among both sides of the purist aisle, resulting in the nickname, "Terrorist Pianist". Funny but thoroughly unwarranted. His jazz albums are a much more intense bebop affair. He has performed with a host of musicians, including J.J. Johnson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Dizzy Gillespie and Joe Zawinul.

One personal favourite of mine is Live At Birdland (Ermitage). Live At Birdland was recorded in '56 and is roughly the start of Gulda's jazz excursions (after his brief encounter with Dizzy a few years earlier). Gulda's playing is light and playful, almost in a Bud Powell fashion but with full command of this excellent sextet as they fire through a number of standards including "A Night In Tunisia" and "Bernies Tune." It is stark contrast to the crystalline performances of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach that was known about up to this point. A man of extreme eclecticism, Friedrich Gulda was one that never wanted to be pigeonholed, as can be seen in his performance at Birdland. If you are really interested, I would definitely recommend downloading Friedrich Gulda Live At Birdland and any of his Beethoven recordings. These will give the strong overview of Friedrich Gulda as the complete musician.

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