Van Morrison


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Blowin' Your Mind (1967), 6/10
Astral Weeks (1968), 9/10
Moondance (1970), 8.5/10
His Band And the Street Choir (1970), 5/10
Tupelo Honey (1971), 5/10
St Dominic's Preview (1972), 6/10
Hard Nose The Highway (1973), 5/10
Veedon Fleece (1974), 7/10
Period Of Transition (1977), 5/10
Wavelength (1978), 6/10
Into The Music (1979), 7/10
A Common One (1980), 7/10
A Beautiful Vision (1982), 7/10
Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (1983), 7/10
Sense Of Wonder (1984), 6/10
No Guru No Method No Teacher (1986), 6/10
Poetic Champions Compose (1987), 6/10
Avalon Sunset (1989), 5/10
Enlightenment (1990), 5/10
Hymns To The Silence (1991), 5/10
Too Long In Exile (1993), 4/10
Days Like This (1995), 5/10
How Long Has This Been Going Home (1996), 4/10
The Healing Game (1997), 5/10
Back On Top (1999), 5/10
Down The Road (2002), 4/10
What's Wrong With This Picture? (2003), 5/10
Magic Time (2005), 5/10
Pay The Devil (2006), 5/10
Keep It Simple (2008), 5/10
Links:

Summary.
The most erudite contribution to reforming folk-rock came from the former vocalist of Them, Van Morrison, who quickly established himself as the most significant musician of his generation. The lengthy, complex, hypnotic, dreamy jams of Astral Weeks (1968) coined an abstract, free-form song format that blended soul, jazz, folk and psychedelia and was performed with the austere intensity of chamber music. The psychedelic and jazz elements came to the foreground on Moondance (1970), which boasted lush, baroque arrangements. Perhaps sensing the end of an era, for a few years Morrison abandoned those bold experiments and retreated to bland rhythm'n'blues songs, with the notable exception of Listen To The Lion, off St Dominic's Preview (1972). Then Veedon Fleece (1974) applied the same treatment to a pastoral, nostalgic and elegiac mood. Morrison's vocal style continued to develop towards a unique form of warbling that bridged Celtic bards and soul singers. On albums such as Into The Music (1979), A Common One (1980), A Beautiful Vision (1982) and Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (1983) Morrison employed disparate musical elements to mold compositions that are profoundly personal and even philosophical, that are both arduous meditations and elaborate constructions, that are, ultimately, more similar to classical "suites" than to pop songs. His stately odes displayed an increasing affectation, often sounding like pretentious sermons, but born out of a painful convergence of spiritual self-flagellation, tortured confession, shamanic trance, James Joyce's stream of consciousness, John Donne's metaphysical poetry and and William Blake's visionary symbolism.
Full bio.
(Translated from the Italian by Troy Sherman)

Perhaps too educated or too introverted to belong to the school of rock music, Van Morrison was one of the most significant artists of the 1970s.

Taking the cue from the most abstract songs of Bob Dylan and Tim Buckley, from psychedelic and progressive rock, from the Celtic bards and the soul singer, Van Morrison invented a new kind of singer-songwriter, one who uses the basic components of folk, country, jazz, and rhythm and blues to compose songs that are deeply personal and even philosophical. His greatest works are in fact complex, cleansing compositions that resemble “suites” more than classic pop songs.

 

Morrison’s style throughout his career ranged from the dilated mystic-soul of Astral Weeks to the baroque psychedelic-jazz of Moondance, and everywhere in between. Through his experimentation, he was seeking a form of expression that was both tragic and elegant. The mature style of his difficult moral exercises varies between the different emotions he tries to portray. Sometimes the music is confused and disorganized, a sign of the artist’s acute inner torment. Sometimes the music is dreamy, floating on improvisation and free form instruments, illustrating a shaman in a trance. At times, his music can stray to sanguinity, tenseness, or flamboyancy, all in the best tradition of cathartic soul music. In all of these cases, whatever is stimulating his emotion is in urgent need of being let loose. His musical search is a search for a new wisdom, rooted in tradition and in communion with nature.

 

Van Morrison’s roots lie in the mystical folk of Celtic legends. Tedious preparation allowed him in each of his albums to use the best poetry and jazz. Through endless musical toil, he created atmospheres full of mystery and streams of consciousness, which his supple voice masterfully dominated. His songs, created by masterful orchestration and laborious efforts to keep a consistent scene, have become the standard for the most serious American songwriters.

 

Van Morrison is also the artist who created a body of work most closely melting the guttural moans of the blues singers with the free prose of James Joyce and the flowing artistic consciousness of William James.

 

While always remaining on the border between popular music and art music, Van Morrison chiseled enormously sophisticated arrangements with intense and reckless vocals. He often gave the impression of trying to stubbornly create a masterpiece, a work so complex and deep that it would finally deliver him to posterity. Although he achieved this, he risked sounding self-indulgent and pretentious.

 

Morrison began as the lead singer of Them in Belfast (Northern Ireland) from 1964 to 1966. They were one of many white rhythm and blues bands of the era. Before Them he played guitar, harmonica, and saxophone in a combo of jazz and rhythm and blues.

 

In 1967, after splitting with Them, he moved to New York and found immediate success with the dream Brown Eyed Girl (produced by Bert Berns). The album Blowin' Your Mind (Bang, 1967) was released with Morrison’s consent, and shows him as an artist still slightly awkward. At this stage, his model seems to be an angrier, more proletarian Ray Charles. His first stream of consciousness song, T.B. Sheets, the last song on the album, proves that he wants to go beyond simple rhythm and blues, and reach into the realm of the introverted composer, high-class vocalist, and cunning arranger. At this point, these qualities are not yet blended, as if Morrison had not been able to prove the theorem, but only state the postulates.

 

The following summer, Morrison moved to Boston, and began seeking an almost magical solution to the aforementioned puzzle. Aided by a handful of jazz musicians, he recorded an acoustic themed album, entitled Astral Weeks (Warner, 1968). At times romantic, mystical, and impressionistic, this disc makes extensive use of elements of both folk and jazz. The eight pieces within are song-poems, at the same time sophisticated and suffering, and always intensely colorful. In reality, this collection of songs is a diary, an ambitious experiment of meditative and introspective music. Each song is a jumble of tormented emotions, a steam of images. Morrison’s cohorts are all experienced jazz musicians, who help him weave a carpet of velvety, twisted sounds (flute, vibraphone, bass, violin), while Morrison ennobles the soul tradition with the intermittent forays of his voice.

The title track is a cascade of internal sounds: Morrison’s voice tells a story almost without singing. The instruments are angry and sick, dreamy and melancholic, with a bass marking the dense and obsessive rhythm. The flute and petulant violin languidly dart around in turn, and the end of the song dissolves in a soft breath. Upon superficial inspection, the song could be classified as the typical “Latin Soul” of Berns, but there are too many elements out of place. The Caribbean tribalism is appeased into a resigned shuffle, the gospel yearning is taken by the wrath of street thugs, the swinging accompaniment adapts to a free-jazz mold, and the chorus is repeated aimlessly and endlessly. Beside You is a gaunt and lonely nightmare in the style of Tim Buckley. It is shouted in a cry, stretched and deformed while paranoid instruments vibrate freely and discreetly. Morrison’s voice fluctuates crazily in their chaos, but with a hysteria that is unlike Buckley. The melancholic harpsichord in Cyprus Avenue creates a fairy landscape that appears and disappears behind a lazy and seductive misty vapor. It has a velvety mixture of flute, violin, and bass that carries the music through a galloping cascade of mirages. The harpsichord urges, the voice writhes, and the violin and the viola imitate that of the LSD inspired John Cale. Ballerina is typical of the almost minimalistic harmonic technique of the disk: the romantic vibes are repeated endlessly around the mystic recitation of Morrison’s history; the violin, trombone, and the flute gradually creep, and each comes to counterpoint the vibraphone. Polyphony pushes the vibraphone to complicate its pattern, and its aforementioned partners adapt themselves to its new pattern, so that the song generates an imperceptible growth of sound. Madame George is the most relaxed and tender track on the disc, and it summarizes the dreamlike, romantic, articulate and bright language of Van Morrison. The song’s story is cradled in ethereal flute and violin duets. It is dilated by a form of slow motion psychedlia, elevating the song up to a kind of mystical stasis. But, the most rarefied song is the closer, Slim Slow Slider, whose stunning developments of jazz flute prove it to be a final short aphorism.

 

 

 

The next disc, Moondance (Warner, 1970), reaffirms that Van Morrison was in the midst of an excellently creative artistic season. The songs here are shorter and more relaxed than on Astral Weeks, and the accompaniment is more organic, compact, and straightforward. The artistic expansion due to free-jazz and psychedlia found on his second album are banned in favor of more well-mannered soul arrangements. The 12 man ensemble on this record is less classical that the previous and much more “rhythm and blues” (the “horn section” predominates over the “string section”).

This is certainly the hardest and most melodic of Morrison’s work, thanks to the immortal chorus of And it Stoned Me (an epic piano cadence, counterpointed by romantic sax), Caravan (a solid syncopated boogie), and Glad Tidings (which uses the saxophone to make a melodic counterpoint). This record is also the “jazziest,” especially with the swinging atmosphere of Moondance (with a liquid piano, ethereal flute, and scratchy sax), and Crazy Love, which is composed of the gentle caress of the night.

The total soul of the record does not overwhelm every song, as Morrison created several masterpieces in other musical contexts: see the nervous rhythm and blues of Into the Mystic, the rhythmic gospel of Come Running, the shuffling blues of These Dreams of You (with harmonica and clavinet, and a jazz saxophone solo), or the classical dance of Everyone (with baroque harpsichord and medieval flute).

Completing the record’s smorgasbord of genre (always held together by the backdrop of soul) is Brand New Day, suspended in space by nice touches and breaks and poignant vocal delusions. This song acts as something of a return to the previous record; it is an impressionistic sketch of heavenly, soft snowfall on a series of beautiful notes.

More quiet and introverted, the atmosphere of Moondance has much less to do with the spiritual nightmare of Astral Weeks, and it is in fact altogether more musical.

All of the songs on this record are arrangements composed with the utmost care, using extensive instrumentation, the vocal support of a women’s chorus, and leveraging a rhythm section infused with fierce rhythm and blues and soul. The compositions are concise and terse, almost lapidary if one takes into account the harmonic complexity. The singer’s style is fluid, intense, and passionate. His voice is seen ever-searching for emotional balance on a thin wire, moving from faint depression, to nervousness, to spirituality and mysticism. Here, the English progressive song finds its point of maximum sophistication, and Morrison qualifies as the greatest aesthete in soul music’s history.

 

The “perfect” style that Morrison struck on Moondance found the most supreme compromise between progressive and pop music to that date. After the album, Morrison, living in California, proved not too be as acrobatic, at least until 1974. The experiments that followed were disappointing. A few songs, however, proved to stick out as better than the rest: Domino (one of his classic rhythm and blues numbers), found on His Band and the Street Choir (1970), and Tupelo Honey and I Wanna Roo You from Tupelo Honey (1972), which casts an eye on country and pop. The album Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972) was slightly better, boasting Bernie Krause on synthesizer and containing Jackie Wilson Said (another classic rhythm and blues), the long Listen to the Lion (worthy of Astral Weeks), and Almost Independence Day. The somber Snow in San Anselmo and the long Autumn Song were not enough to redeem Hard Nose the Highway (1973). Morrison, now the effective “owner” of the Caledonia Soul Orchestra for backup during tours, ranged between the smooth falsetto of Curtis Mayfield and the hoarse shout of Wilson Picket. Throughout his career he has proven to be the only white man able to compete with such black vocalists, but at this point in his career he seemed to have abandoned the abstract folk-jazz projects of Astral Weeks.

 

Finally, back in his native Ireland, Morrison was able to channel his original “pastoral” inspiration of his prior masterpieces into a new introverted work, Veedon Fleece (Warner, 1974). Although it does not reach the levels of lyrical greatness, this album contains delightful serenades such as the passionate Country Fair and the long and vibrant You Don’t Pull No Punches. The mood of the album is quiet and rural, as if Morrison was seeking refuge from the urban alienation that came with his fame. The exotic Streets of Arlow and Linden Arden seem to float towards Heaven.

 

Morrison returned to California after just a few years of rest and began to play cocktail lounge jazz and rhythm and blues. Period of Transition (1977) shows his return with a great pomp of short rhythm and blues songs (The Eternal Kansas City, Heavy Connection, It Feels You Up, Flamingos Fly). Only Cold Wind in August weaves anything near his old web of emotional vision.

 

Morrison’s artistic renaissance, though, was yet to come. Later albums would portray the honest and sometimes brilliant craftsmanship of Morrison dealing fervently with more and more challenging themes of almost biblical proportions. Sadly, though, no trace of the roaring heat of his youth would remain.

 

Wavelength (1978) is a bit relaxed and dispersive; the instruments range from big band staples, to synth, to accordion. He harks back to the formal perfection of Moondance in the festive soul of Kingdom Hall, moved to possessed reggae in Venice U.S.A., danced to martial, invocative emotion in Take it Where You Find It, and shivered in the disco of Wavelength.

 

Morrison found confidence and inspiration (in the religious sense) on Into The Music (Warner, 1979), an erotic and mystical song cycle. With a mini-folk-jazz orchestra (comprised of Toni Marcus, Mark Isham on trumpets, and myriad female voices) Morrison creates mature and complex polychromatic harmonics from contaminated honky tonk (Bright Side of the Road) to commercial rhythm and blues (Full Force Gale and Stepping Out Queen) to the folk elegy (Rolling Hills and Troubadours).

The four ballads of the second side are some of the transcendental peaks of Morrison’s music. These songs float in a free-form manner, and, reminiscent of Buckley’s, Morrison’s voice flips and tumbles over a broad area of registers, while the musicians create a thick but resigned sonic background.

In Angeliou, Morrison flies on the wings of an intense emotionalism, and it is one of his vocal gems, composed of the whispers and laments of lovers, alternating with a crystal fluidity. And the Healing Has Begun is an incredible epic, and displays the more aggressive side of Morrison’s now mature vocalism, capable of giving the charge of a gospel fervor. You Know What They’re Writing About, the closer, is the album’s most mournful ballad.

 

Henceforth, his records are not easy collections of songs, but rather spiritual diaries in which the soul is torn apart by the universal themes of life and death. The music goes together more and more recklessly.

 

A Common One (1980) is anything but as bright as his previous works, as it dives into the more rarefied mysticism. The painful When Heart is Open stands alongside the ravings of Tim Buckley, and is perhaps the most haunting and withdrawn songs in Morrison’s catalogue. The fifteen minutes of Summertime in England act as a last confession before the spasms of death.

 

Beautiful Vision (1982) is too pastoral in its intent; it is as wordy as a book of sermons. But, it is also the best arranged (and most jazzy) since Moondance. Seemingly with his eyes closed, Morrison created the elegant ballads of Vanlose Stairway, Beautiful Vision, She Gives Me Religion, and Dweller on the Threshold.

 

Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983) is perhaps his most cerebral disc, inspired by the theosophy of Scientology. It is mostly instrumental, and torn between a fusion of jazz and Celtic folk. That mixture hovers majestically in the eponymous gospel chant, repeating ad infinitum the manifesto “I’m a soul in wonder…” William Blake and John Donne (Rave on, John Donne) are his favorite poets.

 

Sense Of Wonder (Mercury, 1984) was not pervaded by the visionary symbolism of the previous album, and instead returned to his favorite subject of Celtic dream blues: the wonders of love and the complex mysteries of the human soul and nature. Sense of Wonder, with gospel vocal counterpoints, rhythm and blues, and doses of Tupelo Honey, is another page in his diary of existential suffering. Tore Down a la Rimbaud continues amid symbolist poetry. Many of the songs are beautiful instrumentals (Boffyflow and Spike and Evening Meditation) related to Celtic folklore of magic and antiquity.

 

No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986), which marks an official return to his Celtic roots, refines the practice of spiritualism into calibrated pop-jazz arrangements. The elegies are even more intense and deep (In the Garden)without sacrificing the heat of the rhythm and blues (Ivory Tower).

 

Poetic Champions Compose (1987) pushes his obsessive personal odyssey through a maze of pantheistic mysticism through a catalog of intense folk phrases, permanently expanded through an emotional trance and unable to reach a climax of pathos. His lyrics here are more and more enigmatic; they are the Christian equivalent of a Tibetan guru. The transcendental spirit of this period is shown in the refined instrumental work in Spanish Steps and Celtic Excavation.

 

At this point, Morrison worked his way to the opposite end of the beginning of his career, from black soul music to white European folk music.

Forse troppo colto e introverso per appartenere alla musica rock, Van Morrison e` uno degli artisti piu` significativi degli anni '70.

Prendendo lo spunto dalle canzoni piu` astratte di Bob Dylan e Tim Buckley, dal rock psichedelico e dal progressive-rock, dai bardi celtici e dai soul singer, Van Morrison invento` una nuova figura di singer-songwriter, che usava le due componenti fondamentali del folk, del country, del jazz e del rhythm and blues per comporre canzoni profondamente personali e financo filosofiche, composizioni forbite e complesse che assomigliano piu` a "suite" classiche che a canzoni pop.

Partito dal soul dilatato di Astral Weeks, e approdato subito al barocco jazz-psichedelico di Moondance, Morrison si e` poi avventurato in territori al confine fra questi due mondi, alla ricerca di una forma espressiva che fosse al tempo stesso tragica ed elegante. Lo stile maturo di queste ardue confessioni morali oscilla fra diversi modi di comunicare sensazioni. A volte Morrison e` confuso e disordinato, segno di un acuto tormento interiore. A volte il suo canto e` trasognato, e fluttua sull'improvvisazione libera degli strumenti come quello di uno sciamano in trance. Altre volte e` sanguigno, teso, reboante, nella migliore tradizione soul. In tutti i casi lo stimolo e` il bisogno urgente di comunicare un messaggio: quello della ricerca di una nuova forma di saggezza, radicata nelle tradizioni e nella comunione con la Natura.

Le radici di Van Morrison affondano nel folk mistico delle leggende celtiche. Una severa preparazione gli permette di utilizzare al meglio poesia e jazz nei suoi pezzi, per fabbricare le atmosfere pregne di mistero e i flussi di coscienza che la sua duttile voce sa dominare magistralmente. Il canto, l'orchestrazione e il modo professionale di tenere la scena, sono diventati lo standard per i cantautori americani piu` seri.

Van Morrison e` anche l'artista che e` andato piu` vicino a fondere il lamento gutturale del blues e la prosa libera di James Joyce, due manifestazioni artistiche del flusso di coscienza di William James.

Pur restando sempre al confine fra musica d'intrattenimento e opera d'arte, Van Morrison, cesellando a dismisura arrangiamenti sofisticati, versi intensi e vocalizzi spericolati, ha dato sovente l'impressione di cercare testardamente il capolavoro, l'opera complessa e profonda che lo consegni definitivamente ai posteri, a costo di sembrare auto-indulgente e pretenzioso.

Van Morrison era stato il cantante dei Them a Belfast (Northern Ireland) dal 1964 al 1966, uno dei tanti complessi di rhythm and blues bianco dell'epoca. Prima dei Them aveva suonato chitarra, sassofono e armonica in combo di jazz e rhythm and blues.

Nel 1967 si trasferi` a New York e trovo` subito un successo di classifica con la sognante e latineggiante Brown Eyed Girl (scritta da Bert Berns). L'album Blowin' Your Mind (Bang, 1967) venne pubblicato senza il suo consenso e mostra un artista ancora impacciato. Il suo modello pare essere un Ray Charles appena piu` "arrabbiato", piu` proletario. Il suo primo flusso di coscienza, T.B. Sheets, rivela che Morrison vuole spingersi oltre il rhyhm and blues, che si tratta soprattutto di un compositore introverso, ma al tempo stesso di un vocalist di gran classe e di un arrangiatore smaliziato. Queste qualita` non sono ancora amalgamate, come se Morrison non fosse ancora riuscito a dimostrare il teorema, ma soltanto a enunciare i postulati.

Nell'estate successiva, trasferitosi a Boston, Van Morrison trovo` la soluzione del puzzle in modo quasi magico. Aiutato da un pugno di musicisti jazz, incise un album acustico a tema, diviso in due parti, Astral Weeks (Warner, 1968). Romantico, mistico e impressionista, il disco fa ampio uso di elementi folk e jazz. Gli otto pezzi sono canzoni-poesie, al tempo stesso sofferte e sofisticate, intense e cromatiche. La raccolta costituisce di fatto un diario intimo, un esperimento ambizioso di musica meditativa e introspettiva. Ogni brano e` un magma di emozioni tormentate, un flusso di immagini personali. I comprimari sono tutti esperti jazzisti che tessono un tappeto vellutato e contorto di suoni (flauto, vibrafono, contrabbasso, violino) e Morrison nobilita la tradizione soul con le sue discontinue scorribande vocali.
La title-track e` una cascata di suoni interiori: la voce che racconta quasi senza cantare, ora rabbiosa e malata, ora sognante e malinconica, il contrabbasso che scandisce un ritmo fitto e ossessivo, il flauto petulante e il violino languido che saettano a turno; con un finale che si dissolve in un tenue respiro. In embrione potrebbe essere un tipico "latin soul" di Berns, ma troppi elementi sono fuori posto: il tribalismo caraibico viene placato in un dimesso shuffle, l'anelito gospel si sposa alle invettive dei teppisti di strada, l' accompagnamento swingante si adegua al free-jazz, e il ritornello non ha fine, si ripete all'infinito.
Beside You e` un incubo scarno e solitario nello stile di Tim Buckley, un lamento urlato, teso e deforme, paranoico: gli strumenti vibrano liberi e discreti, e la voce fluttua impazzita nel loro caos, ma con un' isteria che e` ignota a Buckley. Il clavicembalo malinconico di Cyprus Avenue strania un crescendo onirico di lievi magie evanescenti, colora un paesaggio fiabesco che appare e scompare dietro i vapori di una nebbia pigra e seducente, impasto vellutato di flauto, violino e contrabbasso; la musica galoppa incontro a miraggi, con il clavicembalo che incalza, il canto che si contorce, il violino che imita la viola lisergica di Cale.
Ballerina e` tipica della tecnica armonica quasi minimalista del disco: il vibrafono ripete all'infinito una frase romantica, intorno alla quale Morrison declama la sua storia; poco a poco si insinuano il violino, il trombone, il flauto, e ciascuno entra in contrappunto al vibrafono; la polifonia spinge il vibrafono a complicare il suo pattern, ei suoi interlocutori si adeguano a loro volta al nuovo pattern; si genera cosi` un crescendo quasi impercettibile, che presto dovrasta pero` il canto stesso; e proprio allora ha inizio la dissolvenza del finale.
Madame George e` il momento piu` rilassato e tenero del disco, e ne riassume la dimensione onirica e romantica, il linguaggio articolato e luminoso, cullato in duetti eterei di flauto e violino, dilatato da una forma di ralenti` psichedelico fino a una sorta di stasi mistica. Il brano piu` rarefatto, con splendide evoluzioni jazz al flauto nel vuoto, e` pero` il breve aforisma finale, Slim Slow Slider.

Il successivo Moondance (Warner, 1970) ribadi` l'eccellente stagione creativa di Van Morrison. Rispetto a Astral Weeks i brani sono piu` brevi e rilassati, e l'accompagnamento e` piu` organico, compatto e lineare. Le dilatazioni dovute al free-jazz e alla psichedelia sono state bandite a favore di un arrangiamento soul lambiccato e manieristico. L'ensemble di dodici unita` e` meno classicheggiante e piu` rhythm and blues (una "horn section" predomina sulla "string section").
E` certamente il disco piu` melodico di Morrison, grazie ai ritornelli immortali di And It Stoned Me (cadenza epica di piano, contrappunto romantico di sax), Caravan (un solido boogie sincopato) e Glad Tidings (in cui e` il sax a fare il controcanto melodico). Ed e` anche il piu` jazz, con le atmosfere swinganti di Moondance (per piano liquido, flauto etereo e sax graffiante) e Crazy Love, carezza delicata da night.
Ma il soul "totale" di Morrison si spinge ben oltre e compone capolavori anche in altri contesti armonici, vedi il rhythm and blues nervoso e cadenzato di Into The Mystic, il gospel ritmato e festoso di Come Running, il blues strascicato di These Dreams Of You (con armonica e clavinette, e un assolo jazz di sassofono), la danza classicheggiante di Everyone (clavicembalo barocco e flauto medievale).
A completare queste armonie sospese nello spazio incantato che e` il margine di tutti i generi e di nessuno, fatte di tocchi e di pause, e di struggenti deliri vocali, e` un ritorno di sogno astrale, Brand New Day, schizzo impressionista paradisiaco con soffice nevicata di note.
Piu' calma ed introversa, l'atmosfera di Moondance non ha nulla dell'incubo soprannaturale di Astral Weeks, e` un fatto tutto sommato piu` musicale e meno personale.
In tutte le canzoni della raccolta l'arrangiamento e` rifinito con cura maniacale, facendo ricorso a una strumentazione estesa, senza lesinare i sostegni vocali del coro femminile, e facendo leva su una sezione ritmica da combo di rhythm and blues. Le composizioni sono sintetiche e concise, quasi lapidarie se si tiene conto della loro complessita' armonica. Lo stile del cantante e` fluido, sempre intenso e appassionato, teso su un filo emozionale il cui equilibrio non viene mai compromesso ne` da scatti nervosi ne` da deliqui depressi. La canzone progressiva inglese trova qui il suo punto di massima raffinatezza. E Morrison si qualifica come massimo esteta del soul.
Lo stile "perfetto" di Moondance aveva scoperto un compromesso suggestivo fra la musica pop e la musica progressiva. Morrison, adesso residente in California, non era pero` abbastanza acrobata da mantenere l'equilibrio, e negli anni seguenti, almeno fino al 1974, gli esperimenti che si susseguirono furono deludenti. A salvarsi sono alcune canzoni: Domino (uno dei suoi classici numeri rhythm and blues), da His Band And the Street Choir (1970), Tupelo Honey, I Wanna Roo You e Wild Night da Tupelo Honey (1971), album che strizza l'occhio al country e al pop. St Dominic's Preview (1972), che vantava Bernie Krause al sintetizzatore, fu un lavoro piu` serio, grazie a Jackie Wilson Said (altro classico rhythm and blues) e alle lunghe Listen To The Lion (degna di Astral Weeks) e Almost Independence Day. La cupa Snow In San Anselmo e la lunga Autumn Song non bastano invece a redimere Hard Nose The Highway (1973). Morrison, ora titolare della Caledonia Soul Orchestra, oscillava fra il levigato falsetto di Curtis Mayfield e il rauco shout di Wilson Pickett, unico bianco a poter competere con tali vocalist neri, ma sembrava aver abbandonato il progetto del folk-jazz astratto di Astral Weeks.

Finalmente, tornato nella nativa Irlanda, Morrison ritrovo` l'ispirazione "pastorale" del suo capolavoro e registro` un altro lavoro introverso, Veedon Fleece (Warner, 1974). Benche' non raggiunga i livelli lirici del capolavoro, quest'album contiene deliziose serenate astrali come l'appassionata Country Fair e la lunga e vibrante You Don't Pull No Punches. L'umore e` sereno e rurale, come se Morrison cercasse rifugio dall'alienazione urbana. Il flauto esotico di Streets Of Arlow e i giochi di piano di Linden Arden sembrano librarsi verso il Paradiso.

Morrison torna pero` subito in california e, dopo qualche anno di riposo, riprende a suonare jazz e rhythm and blues da cocktail lounge. Period Of Transition (1977) ritorna con gran pompa alle canzoni brevi di rhythm and blues fiatistico (The Eternal Kansas City, Heavy Connection, It Feels You Up, Famingos Fly). Soltanto Cold Wind In August tesse ragnatele emotive visionarie.

La rinascita artistica e` comunque alle porte. Gli album successivi tratteggiano l'onesto e qualche volta geniale artigianato di Van Morrison affrontando con fervore quasi biblico tematiche via via piu` impegnative. Della sporca ruggente foga giovanile non rimane traccia.

Wavelength (1978), album rilassato e un po' dispersivo, impiega una big band con persino synth (Peter Bardens dei Camel) e fisarmonica, e ritrova un po' della perfezione formale di Moondance nel soul festoso di Kingdom Hall, nel reggae spiritato di Venice USA, nella marziale e commossa invocazione di Take It Where You Find It, nei brividi da discoteca di Wavelength.

Morrison ritrova fiducia e ispirazione (in senso religioso) su Into The Music (Warner, 1979), un ciclo di canzoni erotiche e mistiche. Con quella che e` ormai una mini-orchestra folk-jazz (Toni Marcus agli archi, Mark Isham alle trombe, ogni sorta di fiati e voci femminili), l'irlandese compone complesse e mature policromie armoniche in parte contaminate dall'honky-tonk (Bright Side Of The Road), dal rhythm and blues commerciale (Full Force Gale e Stepping Out Queen), dall'elegia folk (Rolling Hills e Troubadours).
Le quattro lunghe ballate della seconda facciata rappresentano uno dei picchi "trascendentali" della sua musica. Queste canzoni free-form ricordano i brani liberi di Buckley: la voce di Morrison svaria su un fronte molto ampio di registri, mentre il complesso improvvisa un tappeto sonoro fitto ma dimesso. Il principio e` quello di tanta musica da night-club, ma Morrison ne fa una forma severa di "soul da camera".
In Angelou cesella, sulle ali di un'intensa emotivita`, una delle sue gemme vocali, fatta di bisbigli e lamenti innamorati che si alternano con fluidita` cristallina. And The Healing Begun, dall'incedere epico, mette invece in mostra il lato piu` grintoso del suo vocalismo, capace di infondere la carica di un fervore gospel. Chiude il disco You Know What They Are Writing, la ballata piu` funerea.

Da questo momento i suoi dischi non saranno mai piu` semplici raccolte di canzoni, ma diarii spirituali in cui l'animo e` lacerato dai temi universali della vita e della morte. La musica si fara` di pari passo sempre piu` spericolata.

A Common One (1980), tutt'altro che radioso come il precedente, si tuffa nel misticismo piu` rarefatto. La sofferta e chilometrica When Heart Is Open puo` stare al fianco dei deliri di Tim Buckley, essendo forse il suo brano piu` tormentato e introverso. I quindici minuti di Summertime In England sembrano una confessione da ultimo spasimo prima della morte.

Beautiful Vision (1982) e` fin troppo pastorale negli intenti, verboso quanto un libro di sermoni spirituali, ma e` anche il meglio arrangiato (e jazzato) dai tempi di Moondance. Morrison puo` comporre a occhi chiusi ballad eleganti come Van Lose Stairway, Beautiful Vision, She Gives Me Religion e Dweller On The Threshold.

Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart (1983) e` forse il suo disco piu` cerebrale di sempre, ispirato alla teosofia scientologica. Prevalentemente strumentale, conteso fra fusion jazz e celtic folk, si libra maestoso in Wonderful Remark e nella cantilena gospel eponima, che ripete all'infinto il verso-manifesto "I am a soul in wonder...". William Blake e John Donne (Rave On John Donne) sono i suoi poeti preferiti e vengono citati per lungo e per largo.

Sense Of Wonder (Mercury, 1984), ancora pervaso dal simbolismo visionario dell'album precedente, ritorna alla materia prediletta dei suoi onirici blues celtici: lo stupore appassionato di fronte ai complessi misteri dell'animo umano e della natura. Sense Of Wonder, con contrappunti vocali gospel e dosi di rhythm and blues alla Tupelo Honey, incide un'altra pagina del suo sofferto diario esistenziale, e Tore Down A La Rimbaud continua il suo pellegrinaggio fra la poesia simbolista, ma i numeri piu` suggestivi sono gli strumentali (Bollyflow And Spike e Evening Meditation), legati al folklore magico dell'antichita` celtica.

No Guru No Method No Teacher (1986), che segna un nuovo ritorno alle sue radici celtiche, raffina la prassi di uno spiritualismo popolare che si libra in calibrati arrangiamenti pop-jazz, in elegie sempre piu` intense e profonde, (In The Garden) senza peraltro rinunciare alla foga rhythm and blues (Ivory Tower).

Poetic Champions Compose (1987) spinge la sua ossessiva odissea personale nei meandri di un misticismo panteistico attraverso un catalogo di intense frasi folk espanse in trance emotive permanenti, incapaci di raggiungere un climax di pathos e volte ad estinguersi lentamente nel silenzio, spesso nella quiete bucolica (The Mystery). Le sue liriche sempre piu` enigmatiche ne facevano ormai l'equivalente Cristiano di un guru Tibetano. Lo spirito trascendentale di questo periodo si sublima negli strumentali Spanish Steps e Celtic Excavations.

Morrison si e` allontanato all'estremo opposto delle radici "nere" da cui ebbe origine la sua carriera, ed e` pervenuto al folk bianco della vecchia Europa.

Van Morrison's artistic career plunged again with Avalon Sunset (1989), a lushly arranged collection of gospel hymns (Whenever God Shines His Light On Me), tender pop ballads (Have I Told You Lately That I Love You) and depressed soliloquies (I'm Tired Joey Boy), and Enlightenment (1990), a nostalgic collection that downplays the spiritual component in a manner reminiscent of Al Green (Real Real Gone) and emphasizes the personal component (In The Days Before Rock 'N' Roll).

Nostalgia is also the supporting beam of the double album Hymns To The Silence (Polydor, 1991), whose sermons are musically eclectic but lyrically self-indulgent (and plain verbose). His singing is as creative as ever, but it is beginning to border on whining and the songs are full of Van Morrison-ian cliches (Professional Jealousy, So Complicated, By His Grace). Morrison is looking back (to his past) and forward (to the afterlife), but he seems to be always sinking in endless reminiscences even when his vocal acrobatics is close to grasping a dimension or two of eternity (the nine-minute title-track, the ten-minute Take Me Back) or his instrumental setting borders on chamber music (Pagan Streams, On Hyndford Street).

His senile nostalgia peaked with Too Long In Exile (Polydor, 1993), an album of favorite covers.

Days Like This (Polydor, 1995) harks back to his more conventional cocktail-lounge ballads (Melancholia, No Religion), despite the nine dreamy minutes of Ancient Highway.

After the collection of jazz standards How Long Has This Been Going Home (Verve, 1996), The Healing Game (Polydor, 1997) returned him to his usual themes and sounds (even an excursion into doo-wop, It Once Was My Life).

The Philosopher's Stone (Polydor, 1998) compiles unreleased tracks and rarities, including two of his most exuberant numbers, Naked In The Jungle and Laughing In The Wind.

Back On Top (1999) is a better version of The Healing Game, but still that kind of generic fluff, a superficial sampling of his career's styles. Goin Down Geneva and Precious Time frame the album into a nostalgic tribute to the vintage sounds of boogie woogie, rhythm'n'blues and rockabilly. Two relatively upbeat and catchy numbers (Back on Top, New Biography) seem to invite to have a good time, while The Philosopher's Stone (an allegory for the artist's quest for inspiration) rehashes his melodramatic pop/gospel/soul technique and Golden Autumn Day is the extended philosophical poem "du jour". The album's best and worst can be found in the three ornate pop serenades of In the Moonlight, When the Leaves Come Falling Down and Reminds Me of You, which bring back nightmares of 1960s' crooners but do, admittedly, innovate the genre. Morrison recycles themes of personal nostalgy, indictments of the music business and confessions of existential insecurity.

Down The Road (2002) is very light fare. There are no "deep" compositions and the sound is often as engaging as lounge-music. One is reminded of Louis Jordan's good-hearted shuffles. Except for the funky Down the Road, the album cruises in that low gear (Talk Is Cheap, Whatever Happened To PJ Proby, All Work And No Play) that ultimately sounds as intense as supermarket muzak. Morrison displays his skills at arranging in the way he employs Jazzy rhythms and horns in Evening Shadows and Hey Mr DJ, and Steal My Heart Away is one of his trademark vocal miracles; but these few moments of lucidity are not enough to justify such repeated nonchalance.

What's Wrong With This Picture? (Blue Note, 2003) is a little redundant after so many years of ruminations, but still offers moment of true enlightenment, but his autobiographical paranoia, that obsessively analyzes the life of a celebrity, leads to a ponderous concept album within the album (Too Many Myths, Get On With The Show, Goldfish Bowl, Fame) that is hardly interesting to anyone outside the Morrison family.
What's Wrong With This picture is typical of the mature Van Morrison, an impeccable juxtaposition of soaring chamber orchestration (driven by the warm buzzing of a bass clarinet and culminating in a swirl of violins) and soulful melody (reminiscent of countless Broadway show tunes, and sung with the tone of the veteran Las Vegas entertainer). It is more about elegance than passion, and aging gracefully (as a vocalist and arranger). Evening In June echoes the Latin-tinged pop of the Drifters enhanced with bebop solos of the horns.
One waits in vain for this mood to crystallize into Moondance-style melodic abstractions. The closest Morrison gets to his magnetic masterpiece is Once In A Blue Moon, a sprightly piano tune punctuated by lively saxophones and propelled by an almost frantic cha-cha rhythm. Astral Weeks is evoked by the intriguing combination of fast syncopated rhythm, paradisiac violins and elegiac mandolin in The Little Village.
But the lazy, bluesy slow-stomping Too Many Myths and the languishing Frame, instead, confirms that this is Morrison at his least spiritual and most material, earthly, bourgeois; a professional of Smoky, nocturnal atmospheres. Which is more of a distraction than an attraction: one ends up appreciating more the fervent surges of gospel-y organ that sweep the jazzy mediocrity of Gold Fish Bowl, the Al Kooper-ian organ flourishes and horn fanfares that sustain Get On With The Show, the "hard" sound (sounding almost like Colosseum) of the swinging, dancehall-oriented Whinin' Boy Moon, etc. In fact, one does not appreciate the atmosphere as much as one appreciates the details. This is carefully scored and performed music, and, in a sense, musicians' music: music for connoisseurs only.

Magic Time (Geffen, 2005) does not introduce any new element in Morrison's astral introspective folk-jazz. His paradigm is unlikely to ever change, and his metaphysical ballads (Magic Time, the waltzing Stranded) seem destined to reenact his personal calvary till the end.

Pay The Devil (Lost Highway, 2006) continues to struggle within the fundamental contradiction of his mid-life crisis: music that aims at being so profound but ends up being perceived as pleasant background.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Gianluca Mantovan)

La carriera di Van Morrison precipito' di nuovo prima con Avalon Sunset (1989), contenente inni gospel (Whenever God Shines His Light On Me), tenere ballate pop (Have I Told You Lately That I Love You) e soliloqui da depressione (I'm Tired Joey Boy), il tutto all'insegna di un arrangiamento stucchevole, e poi con Enlightenment (1990), una nostalgica collezione che sminuisce la componente spirituale come fece Al Green (Real Real Gone) a favore di quella personale (In The Days Before Rock 'N' Roll). La nostalgia domina pure il doppio album Hymns To The Silence (Polydor, 1991) i cui sermoni sono musicalmente eclettici ma liricamente auto-indulgenti (e chiaramente verbosi). Il canto e' come sempre creativo ma comincia a divenire lamentevole e le canzoni sono piene di clich‚' personali (Professional Jealousy, So Complicated, By His Grace). Morrison guarda indietro (al passato) e avanti (all'aldila') ma sembra sempre sprofondare in infinite reminiscenze pure quando le acrobazie vocali afferrano o quasi una dimensione o due dell'eternita' (i nove minuti della title-track, i dieci minuti di Take Me Back). La senile nostalgia raggiunge l'apice in Too Long In Exile (Polydor, 1993), un album di cover. Days Like This (Polydor, 1995) torna sulle piu' convenzionali ballate cocktail-lounge (Melancholia, No Religion) a dispetto dei nove sognanti minuti di Ancient Highway. Dopo la raccolta di standard jazz How Long Has This Been Going Home (Verve, 1996), The Healing Game (Polydor, 1997) restitui' i consueti temi e suoni.

The Philosopher's Stone (Polydor, 1998) comprende inediti e rarita' inclusi due dei suoi numeri piu' esuberanti, Naked In The Jungle e Laughing In The Wind.

Back On Top (1999), versione migliore di The Healing Game, rimane generico e superficiale nel campionamento degli stili. Goin Down Geneva e Precious Time rendono l'album un nostalgico tributo vintage con boogie woogie, rhythm'n'blues e rockabilly. Due numeri relativamente coinvolgenti (Back on Top, New Biography) paiono portare divertimento, mentre The Philosopher's Stone (allegoria dell'artista in cerca d'ispirazione) ripropone il melodrammatico pop/gospel/soul e Golden Autumn Day e' l'esteso e filosofico poem "du jour". Il meglio e il peggio dell'album sono le tre serenate pop In the Moonlight, When the Leaves Come Falling Down e Reminds Me of You, con gli incubi dei crooners anni sessanta ma pure innovazione. Morrison ricicla temi come nostalgia personale, attacchi al music business e confessioni di insicurezza esistenziale. Down The Road (2002) e' molto leggero. Non ci sono "profonde" composizioni e spesso il suono e' poco coinvolgente al punto da ricordare Louis Jordan e i suoi shuffle. Eccezion fatta per la funky Down the Road, l'album viaggia a marcia ridotta (Talk Is Cheap, Whatever Happened To PJ Proby, All Work And No Play) con intensita' pari alla muzak da supermarket. Morrison e' abile nell'arrangiamento di pezzi con ritmi jazz e corna in Evening Shadows e Hey Mr DJ, e Steal My Heart Away e' uno dei suoi miracoli vocali; questi pochi momenti lucidi non sono tuttavia sufficienti a giustificare tanta nonchalance.

What's Wrong With This Picture? (Blue Note, 2003) Š un poco ridondante dopo cosŤ tanti anni di elucubrazioni, sebbene offra momenti illuminanti. Tuttavia, la sua paranoia autobiografica, che analizza con ossessione la vita di una celebrit…, crea un elefantiaco concept-album dentro l'album (Too Many Myths, Get On With The Show, Goldfish Bowl, Fame), poco interessante per coloro che non appartengono alla famiglia Morrison. What's Wrong With This picture Š caratteristico del Van Morrison senile, impeccabile giustapposizione di eccelsa orchestrazione da camera (condotta dal caloroso ronzio di un basso clarinetto e culminante in un mulinello di violini) e briosa melodia (reminiscente di innumerevoli show di Broadway, e cantata col tono di un animatore veterano di Las Vegas). E' pi— eleganza che passione, e rappresenta invecchiamento con grazia (sia del vocalist che dell'arrangiatore). Evening In June ricorda il pop latineggiante dei Drifters, alleviato dai solo bebop della tromba. Ci si attende invano che questo umore si cristallizzi in astrazioni melodiche in stile Moondance. Morrison vi si avvicina in Once In A Blue Moon, con un brioso piano e vivaci sax uniti ad un quasi spaventevole ritmo cha-cha. Astral Weeks Š evocato dall'intrigante combinazione di ritmi quasi sincopati, violini paradisiaci e mandolino elegiaco in The Little Village. Per contro, sia lo stomp pigro e blueseggiante in Too Many Myths che la languidit… in Frame confermano la poca spiritualit… dell'attuale Morrison, pi— materiale, terreno e borghese; un professionista di atmosfere fumose, notturne. Il che Š pi— distrazione che attrazione: si finisce per apprezzare maggiormente l'emergere fervente dell'organo gospel che spazza la mediocrit… jazz di Gold Fish Bowl, che non l'organo alla Al Kooper e le trombe che sostengono Get On With The Show, e il suono "hard" (quasi alla Colosseum) di Whinin' Boy Moon (orientata a swing e dancehall) ecc. In effetti, i dettagli sono pi— apprezzabili delle atmosfere. Questa musica Š scritta ed eseguita con attenzione e, in un certo senso, musica per musicisti: musica per soli conoscitori. Magic Time (Geffen, 2005) non porta alcun nuovo elemento nell'astrale folk-jazz introspettivo di Morrison. Il suo paradigma rimane pressoch‚ immutato, e le sue ballate metafisiche (Magic Time, the waltzing Stranded) appaiono destinate a ravvivare ulteriormente il suo calvario personale.

Pay The Devil (Lost Highway, 2006) continua nella lotta interna alla basilare contraddizione della sua crisi di mezz'eta`: musica che vorrebbe essere profonda, ma che finisce per risultare non pi— di un sottofondo piacevole.

Keep It Simple (2008) became Morrison's first album ever to enter the Billboard's Top 10 by recapturing the relaxed atmosphere of the folk-soul muzak of Tupelo Honey.

Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl (Listen To The Lion, 2009) documents 2008 live performance of Astral Weeks album.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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