Tag Archives: 1990s

[162] Elliott Carter – Symphonia

20 May

Symphonia is a conversation between the various instruments which is difficult to comprehend but impossible to ignore.

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It is clear that there is an energetic and fascinating debate going on here, which happens to be in a language that the listener does not speak.  This in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the bright and inventive piece.

As that listener I sit back and enjoy the discussion, wondering what the topic might be, grinning as one performer or another scores a telling point.

I find myself in the same mental state that I visit when watching some of my very favorite plays by Harold Pinter or Samuel Beckett.  The call and response, the back and forth has that same wonderful rhythm as well as the absurd yet aesthetically pleasing meaninglessness which somehow sounds important or profound.

All that is missing is Beckett’s philosophizing and Pinter’s vulgarity . . .

[Long pause.]

I am reminded once again at the universal nature of music, especially instrumental music – how it is used to communicate feeling, idea, occasion.  Even when, as here, it is not understood intellectually it can still be felt viscerally, intuitively.

In instrumentation and execution, this Modern Classical piece is at times indistinguishable from experiential Jazz.  For some reason this pleases me greatly.

Next Week:  Martin Carthy with Dave Swarbrick – Byker Hill

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 162 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 162 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (136 of 162 = 84%)

[157] Nati Cano’s Mariachi los Camperos – Viva el Mariachi

15 Apr

This is not New York City Subway Mariachi.

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The music on show here has more in common with great sweeping Opera than the high energy (and high volume) cheese regularly inflicted on locals and tourists alike.  While the close, multi-part harmonies and accordion accompaniment are still present, the sound is so much richer and fuller here.  It has weight and nuance.

It is instructional as well as pleasing to hear a genuinely quality example of a genre I so easily and regularly write off as shallow.  There is emotion and technique on display – it sounds like I should be watching a heavily costumed cast performing on a proscenium stage as I listen – and if I am not following a linear storyline, well, I always did enjoy non-traditional theater . . .

It’s strange.  The instrumentation and even overall feel of this recording is comparable in many ways to recent dud, the Flamenco sounds of Cameron, but where not even the sound of fingers flying on the guitar strings could capture my attention or affection, this Mexican variation is utterly captivating.

Maybe it’s the addition of the horns?

It’s a little bit Jazz in its freewheeling joy.  A little bit Classical in its concrete structure.  A little bit the aforementioned Opera, with Latin flourishes and outsize character.

And it is all pure entertainment.

Next Week:  Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band – Trout Mask Replica

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 157 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 157 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (131 of 157 = 83%)

[154] Uri Caine – Urlicht/Primal Light

25 Mar

Klezmer or Classical?  Jazz or German?  Secular, Religious, or just a hot mess?  This is one of the most wide-ranging, eclectic, schizophrenic albums I have ever heard, and I think I like it.

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It’s all over the place, with sections of Free Jazz chaos prompting people to ask me to turn it off, and others of haunting vocal chants which inspire people to ask me to turn it up, followed by  hectic accordions and showbiz piano sections keeping me and everyone else who hears it on their toes.

Somehow it is all tied together – presumably by the guiding mind behind each changed (at times tortured) composition, Gustav Mahler.  I’ll never know for sure, though, as don’t think I would recognize “a piece of Mahler’s” outside of this decidedly non-traditional setting.

The big brassy horns are reminiscent of so much of the Jazz – both experimental and traditional – I’ve been enjoying over the last 3 years.  The piano and drum solos are a pleasant and unexpected diversion.  But is the shift of gears into whirling Klezmer and later the familiar strains of Cantors praying – at times accompanied by crazy syncopated rhythms – which ensures my attention is constantly returning to this vast and varied soundscape.

I’m curious to hear the original, untainted Mahler pieces.  But not interested enough to actually, you you, seek it out and listen to it.  It appears to be the mystery as much as anything that I am drawn to.

Yes, there are moments where it sounds like the 14 piece band happened to be tuning up while the mic was live.  No, there really isn’t a cohesive sound on display.  But I don’t care.

I kind of love it.

Next Week:  Camaron De La Isla – Le Leyenda Del Tiempo

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 154 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 154 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (129 of 154 = 84%)

[140] Jeff Buckley – Grace

10 Dec

When a cover of a song as good as Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” does not sound at all out of place on an album otherwise comprised of originals, the result is going to be special.

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The mid-to-late ’90s was a very strange time for me, musically.

I simply wasn’t actively listening to new music anywhere near the mainstream, instead only discovering new stuff in small clubs played by bands who no one but me (and just maybe the performers themselves) still remember.  Newly returned to New York City, I was working in a comic store where I either listened to my own eclectic cassettes or Classic Rock radio.  I was shooting pool in East Village bars where the jukeboxes played familiar and comforting CDs.  I was only at home long enough to catch up on sleep and write papers for my Master’s classes, playing old mix tapes or watching B5 and Sports Night reruns.

For these reason I did not encounter Grace, although it would not have been at all out of place.

If I was still a part of any scene that listened to new music back then, Jeff Buckley would have been someone I listened to.  He hits all of the accents I tend to love in my Rock – polished soundscapes, ranging vocals, power and precision in equal measure.

So it is a shame that I feel like I have missed the boat here.

Buckley just doesn’t appeal to me today the way he would have done to my 20-something psyche.  This is not to say that I do not enjoy what I hear, that I am not glad to finally have the excuse to explore out this one-and-sadly-done album.

Instead, I just have a different relationship to music today.  I don’t pore over liner notes memorizing lyrics anymore – who has time?  I don’t dance around night clubs the way I once did – much as I’d still love to go dancing, I find I’d rather be with my girls at home, playing a boardgame with one of the 1,000 recordings playing over Sonos.

I understand the hype that Buckley generated, even before his early demise.  I appreciate the craft on display, the obvious talent, the sense of history and gravity with which every song is performed.

So I feel an appropriate melancholy that I did not connect with this when it might really have affected me.

Grace is never going to be a favorite album, but it will certainly be one that I revisit, one that enters my rotation of the new discoveries which I find I want to hear again.

Next week: Lord Buckley – His Royal Hipness

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 140 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 140 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (116 of 140 = 83%)

[139] Anton Bruckner – Symphony No 7 in E Major

4 Dec

After a slow and steady build, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s recording of Anton Bruckner’s most famous work reveals a bright and uplifting composition – nuanced, layered and wonderful.

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I instantly enjoy this sound, this leisurely exploration of a melody like a sunrise.  The quality of the production and performance gives the intimacy of a concert hall through the precise wonder of hi-tech speakers or headphones.

The tempo is consistent and comforting throughout, allowing the listener to fall through the musical page and picture the personal imagery so strongly suggested by these sweeping strokes of sound.  Everything here is vibrant and lively, crisp and precise without ever losing all the joy and spontaneity you could ever wish for in a symphony.

It breathes.

Moon describes some of what is heard here as “ominous”, but the word I prefer (also used by Moon) is “thoughtful.”

Brucker allows the music and musicians the time and space to build and grow and explore, never hurrying, never stalling.  It is quite a feat, and worthy of your listening time.

Next Week:  Jeff Buckley – Grace

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 139 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 139 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (115 of 139 = 83%)

[123] Johannes Brahms – Sonatas for Cello & Piano, Opp. 38, 99, 108

14 Aug

This may have been exactly what I needed right now.

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In the midst of a hectic and at times overwhelming summer, these contemplative and compassionate tones are literally music to my ears.  Both piano and cello are beautiful in tone and melody, interacting playfully and mournfully – sometimes simultaneously.

For Classical pieces, they sound decidedly modern, the interplay seeming almost Jazz-like.

All here is grace and fluidity which clearly must be a good thing.  It is never obvious who has the lead – the two instruments, the two instrumentalists share the stage equally and effortlessly, revealing a give and take that evokes a powerful sense of balance and harmony.

And the melody!  Each tune tells a story, expressive and enveloping, with enough depth to withstand endless exploration and examination.  I may still be faking it when it comes to the Classics, but I certainly do know what I like when I hear it.

If you believe that you don’t like Classical music, if you have no idea where to start, you could do far worse than taking a listen to these accessible and hugely enjoyable tunes performed with a warmth and comfort which, to my mind, make them essential.

Next Week: Johannes Brahms – The Four Symphonies

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 123 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 123 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (102 of 123 = 83%)

[120] Boukman Eksperyans – Kalfou Danjere

24 Jul

Long ago, watching Fame on TV (whether the movie or the series I no longer remember), one of the characters said a line which has stuck with me ever since.  “Timing is everything.”

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Of course plenty of others have used the line before and since, but as if to prove the point, this particular delivery is the one that has stayed with me for decades.

Which brings us to Boukman Eksperyans.

I’m not quite sure what I would make of these light and airy, percussion driven melodies in the depth of a Winter morning, on a crisp Fall evening, or a wet Spring night.  But here and now, on a warm July afternoon, with a slight breeze and just enough humidity to let you know this could only be Summer, the rhythms and harmonies are perfect.

This is less high octane that the good Juju of King Sunny Ade, but no less pure Summer music, at home hanging in the air over a barbeque in the sun.  It is a much more modern sound, featuring plenty of history and tradition, but also fully embracing modern production techniques and influences.

So it is jarring to discover that these beautiful songs are in fact barely-veiled protest songs about corruption and lies.

Rarely has revolution sounded so sweet.

Next Week: David Bowie – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 120 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (18 of 120 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (99 of 120 = 83%)

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