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by Seth Colter Walls

September 2, 2013

Classical Remix: Stockhausen Jazz

by Seth Colter Walls  |  September 2, 2013

Welcome to Rhapsody's Classical Remix Portal, which you can follow here. In every playlist, we present classical works in their original forms. Then, after each one is over, we give you an upstart musician's rethink.

Karlheinz Stockhausen has experienced a posthumous renaissance, of late. Once a toast of the radical 1960s set, the composer's conceptual eccentricities (and alien birth-origin claims) were laughed out of polite classical company during the '80s and '90s. But in recent years, his mercurial, wholly original music has thrilled new audiences. Parts of his cosmic, absurdly difficult to stage seven-opera cycle are even seeing presentations.

This same revival of esteem is also apparent in younger jazz musicians' appropriations of the composer's works. The Respect Sextet memorably arranged a few Stockhausen pieces, alongside works by Sun Ra, on a 2009 album. Even better is a 2013 release by the Bruno Heinen Sextet, which takes on all of the Tierkreis melodies. (The title is German for "zodiac," and naturally there are 12 melodies, corresponding to the star signs familiar from your local horoscope.) Originally written as brief miniatures to be housed in music boxes, the short, serial-music items were later arranged by Stockhausen for use in a theater piece -- and also published in editions for vocalists, a chamber orchestra and various other instrumentalists.

For this playlist, we're letting solo piccolo versions recorded by Roberto Fabbriciani represent each original Stockhausen melody. (The solo-instrument read helps give you a distilled sense of each one.) Then we follow each piece up with a jazz take on the same star-sign piece. Sometimes the connection is evident: Just check the original "Leo" next to the brass opening of Heinen's version. Same music, all new swing! At other junctures, as with the pianist's version of "Taurus," there's some more familiar jazz framing going on before direct quotation begins. (In the case of Heinen's "Taurus," you can hear Stockhausen's music in the piano part, starting at the 20-second mark.)

Who knew "Scorpio" could knock as hard as it does when Heinen's band takes it on? Or that "Gemini" contained the soul of a cool-jazz ballad? If it seems like the pianist has a preternatural understanding of all the compositions' various possibilities, that might be because he grew up in a family that owned four of Stockhausen's original music boxes. (His drummer even uses one of the music boxes to run the melody of "Libra" during a free-playing solo.)

In the attached playlist, we've scrambled up the sequence of the Tierkreis melodies to make for more enjoyable compare-and-contrast listening between the solo piccolo and jazz band editions, back to back. But do go all the way to the end, where we've included (in proper order) Stockhausen's own version of the Tierkreis, arranged for organ and trumpet. (Stockhausen was a prolific self-remixer.) The end of that version of "Taurus" (the fourth movement) has rousing bite, and "Leo" sounds particularly cool in that context as well. Enjoy!

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