Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shankar, Glass, Gould: Playlist for Beethoven's Breakfast for February 23, 2009 Mondays at 6:30 am

Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass: Prashanti and Offering from Passages (Private Music Inc.)

What a discovery! They made this CD in 1990, and I just found out about it. It's a true collaboration: some tracks are based on a Glass theme with a Shankar arrangement built around it, and some are the other way around. There are two ensembles, one led by Shankar and one by Glass. Sometimes they play separately and sometimes together. On Offering, for example, the melody is from a Shankar raga but it's played by a saxophone and there is not an Indian instrument in sight.

The notes quote Shankar remembering Paris in 1965 when the very young Glass was a student doing transcription work for a film score that Shankar was recording. Ravi recalls: From the very first moment I saw such interest from him-- he was a young man then-- and he started asking me questions about ragas and talas and started writing down the whole score....and seeing how interested he was I told him everything I could in that short time."

And Glass wrote, "It was possible to graduate from a major Western conservatory...without exposure to music from outside the Western tradition. World music was completely unknown in the mid-60's."

Glenn Gould: Partita No. 4 from Bach: Partitas No. 4, 5, and 6 (Sony)

The notes quote a writer from Bach's time exclaiming that any young pianist could easily make a name for himself by playing this new music by Bach. And some did just that, including, more than 200 years later in the 1950's and 60's, Glenn Gould, Canada's greatest musician.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bells, a Bird, and a Five-Year-Old Dancer-- Playlist for Beethoven's Breakfast for January 16, 2009 Mondays at 6:30am PST

The Hilliard Ensemble, the Talinn Chamber Orchestra, and the Estonian Philharomonic Chamber Choir under the direction of Tonu Kaljust: Litany, from Arvo Part
, Litany (ECM)

"I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, com
forts me. I work with very few elements-- with one voice, two voices. I build with primitive materials-- with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells....."

Those are the words of Estonian composer Arvo Part. Litany was composed in the early 1990s and this CD was recorded in 1996.

Paul Reddick: Morning Bell and Wishing Song from Sugarbird (Northern Blues)

When I played this on the air, I got a phone call. "Who's the accordion player?" Well, the accordion player is Garth Hudson, one of the members of The Band back in the old days. The guitarist and producer of the CD is Colin Linden.

This CD has some beautiful liner notes by Koko Bonaparte, starting with: "The songs of Sugarbird sit on the edge of the shade and flirt with the light. Light from the sun and from the mind moves across the face of these songs...." and there is more.

Paul Reddick is a Canadian songwriter, blues singer, and harmonica player. His music seems to be coming to us from some earlier time, but at the same time he is not retro, not a throwback-- he is bringing us new music, right now. Reddick is a fantastic man to watch in live performance. I have seen him twice-- once in the old hotel the name of which I have forgotten that used to be where Charlotte's used to be, in Nelson; and a couple of years ago at the Kaslo Jazz Fest. He has a way of relating to the audience and his musicians (gestures, looks, comments) that is very cool and quite
indescribable. Go see him if you can.

Maria Schneider Orchestra: Aires de Lando from Sky Blue (ArtistShare)

Maria Schneider is getting famous lately for her finely crafted compositions and arrangements for large jazz bands. Her style is her own but also reminiscent of one of her mentors, Gil Evans. In the notes to the CD she writes of a trip to Peru where she "...experienced a whole new kind of music...I'd witnessed an entire audience clapping to a kind of music called lando-- music felt in polyrhythmic patterns of 12/8 over 6/4. Though lando felt plain as day like 6/4 to me, I quickly got a big lesson in musical perspective when I saw a small 5-year-old child get up, dancing and clapping in a sinuous 12/8...."

This piece has fascinating and subtle rhythmic shifts, and lovely clarinet work by Scott Robinson.

ArtistShare is not really a record label, it's an artist cooperative with some innovative approaches to marketing and getting the music into our hands and ears-- one more interesting alternative to business as usual at the recording companies.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Cuban Odyssey, a Chant from a Holy Book, a Mozart Horn: Playlist for Beethoven's Breakfast, February 9, 2009, Mondays at 6:30 am PST

Grupo Vocal Desandann:
Nan Fwon Bwaa, Alabans, and Prizon, from Jane Bunnett: Cuban Odyssey (EMI)

This 10-voice a cappella group from rural Cuba makes music unlike anything I have ever heard from Cuba or anywhere else. They are the descendants of Haitian slaves and they sing not in Spanish or Yoroba but in a patois. Somehow their sound is both brightly innocent and solemn. These three tracks (unfortunately their only available recordings that I am aware of) are from an otherwise quite different CD by Jane Bunnett, as part of her continuing exploration of Cuban music.

Anja Lechner and Vassilis Tsabropoulos: Chant from a Holy Book, Bayaty, Prayer, and Duduki, from Chants, Hymns, and Dances (ECM)

The "unknowable" Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, as one of his students called him, was a unique spiritual teacher who founded the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in France in the 1920s. His spiritual practices were gleaned from many world religions and from his own ideas, and they included a set of dance movements to be performed to music composed by Gurdjieff and performed by his friend the pianist Thomas DeHartmann as part of a journey to higher consciousness.

The cellist Anja Lechner and pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos, on this 2001 CD, have interpreted Gurjieff's music quite freely, and for me these performances do convey the contemplative aims of their composer, but they are also emotionally rich. Who knows whether the eccentric and very particular Gurdjieff would have approved.

Hermann Baumann and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by Pinchas Zukerman: Horn Concerto No. 3, from Mozart Horn Concertos (Philips)

I love music from the baroque and classical periods written for solo wind instruments with orchestral
accompaniment. The International Horn Society says we should call it the horn, not the French Horn. By whatever name, it is a lovely and mysterious instrument and famously difficult to play. Thanks to Mozart for several horn concertos, all gems.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Gypsy Clarinet in Turkey, A Polish Refugee in Mexico, An Exuberant Trumpet, Man on Wire: Playlist for Beethoven's Breakfast, February 2, 2009, Mondays at 6:30 am PST

Anouar Brahem: Aube Rouge à Grozny, Astara, Karakoum, and Blue Jewels from Astrakan Café (ECM)

When I travelled to Greece as a young man I occasionally heard, in recorded music in cafes and in the street, an otherworldly kind of clarinet playing, very enticing, not like the usual Greek bouzouki music, and nothing like the clarinet technique or style I had learned in school. Then I travelled to Turkey and got a glimpse of the other world those clarinets were calling out from.

One of the highlights of this CD for me is the presence of Barbaros Erkose, a gypsy clarinetist from Istanbul. Even though I stopped playing the clarinet decades ago, I still understand its language. Listening to this CD and I am thrilled by the wildness and sophistication of Erkose's playing. The tone he gets on his clarinet is like nothing I have ever heard: the ones we are used to are jazz and classical and maybe klezmer, and this is none of those.

Anouar Brahem, the leader of the trio on this CD, likens his inspiration to "the tree which, while rising above the ground and taking up more space, continues to develop and dig its roots deeper into the ground," an image appropriate to his home city of Tunis, a multifaceted place with Arabic-Moslem roots and African and Mediterranean influences.

Anouar Brahem is a celebrated player of the oud, which is an Arabic version of the lute. He was born in 1957 in Tunisia and by the age of 10 had entered the Tunisia Conservatory of Music and by 15 was playing with local orchestras. Since then he has reinvigorated traditional Tunisian music and has experimented with other Arabic traditions as well, with the result today being a body of work that spans the entire Arabic and European worlds. In addition to being a solo performer with small and large groups, he has worked as an orchestra director and teacher, and has written music for film, theatre, and dance.
The third musician in this trio is percussionist Lassad Hosni.

Henryk Szeryng:
Partita No.3 E Major BVW 1006, from Bach: The Unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas (Odyssey)

The Polish violinist Henryk Szeryng became a citizen of Mexico part way through this life for some fascinating reasons.

In World War II, Szeryng, already a prominent violin soloist
in Poland and a scholar who spoke eight languages, became chief liaison officer for the Polish government in exile in London. At the same time, he gave hundreds of concerts for Allied troops all over the world. In 1942 he went to Mexico where the Polish president in exile was searching for a home for thousands of Polish refugees displaced by the war. Mexico accepted them, and Henryk Szeryng was so moved by this humanitarian gesture that he returned to Mexico in 1943, where he was offered the post of director of the string department at the National University of Mexico. In recognition of his musical and cultural contribution, he was granted Mexican citizenship in 1948.

He regularly gave concerts all over Latin America until his friend the pianist Arthur Rubenstein persuaded him to extend his solo career further afield, and this began several decades of concerts, recordings, and acclaim worldwide.

Szeryng was appointed Mexican Roving Ambassador for Culture in 1956 and Special Music Advisor to the Mexican Permanent Delegation to UNESCO. He was the first artist ever to travel on a diplomatic passport.

Henryk Szeryng died in September, 2008. His memorial website is here:

His recording of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin is one of the highlights of his career, and of this radio show. About Bach, Szeryng said, "Johann Sebastian Bach's work is a Bible. Bach is the ultimate goal, this is where everything starts and everything ends. His music brings you closer to your own spirit, even to analyzing your own spirit and soul. It has an incredible serenity. If people think that a choral or an Adagio, a Cantilena produces this miracle, I would say that even fast movements, a Presto or a quick Allegro, can make you feel more cheerful, more secure, more optimistic."

Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage from Maiden Voyage (Blue Note)

This is part two of my tribute to jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, who died recently at age 70. This classic recording from 1965 captures the essence of a certain spirit of adventure that produced effortless flight at Blue Note records in the 1960's, and it is one of Hubbard's finest performances. On this track you can hear his thoughtfulness, his exuberance, and his complete focus within the open harmonies of Hancock's new direction. George Coleman, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter shared the date.

The vinyl LP my listeners heard here is the very one I bought when Maiden Voyage was first released. I realized in the radio studio that the record doesn't sound so great any more. It's worn out. I need to buy the CD.

Aldo Ciccolini: Trois Gymnopédies from Piano Music of Eric Satie Volume 1 (Angel)

A few months ago I went to see the film Man on Wire, and last night watched it again with my daughter, and I was struck both times by how perfect this piece was for the final scenes when Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the tops of the twin towers in New York.