Saturday, August 22, 2009

Kronos, MJQ, Black Mambazo: playlist for The Open Window for August 17, 2009

The Open Window airs at (Kootenay Co-op Radio) Mondays at 6:30 am and Thursdays at 10 am

The Modern Jazz Quartet: A Cold Wind is Blowing, Skating in Central Park, Cue #9, and No Happiness for Slater, from Patterns (United Artists)

There is no photo anywhere on the internet of the original cover for this wonderful album which first appeared in 1960 and opened up a whole new window on music for me. It was one of those musical revelations you only have when you
are young. The music was much later re-released with the album cover pictured here and a different title-- the music was from the film Odds Against Tomorrow.

In the 1960's I knew this album by heart. Then after a few years I lost it and I believe it went out of print for a while and I spend decades haunted by the simple, elegant melodies until sometime in the 1990s I found a pristine-quality vinyl edition of it in a used bin in Vancouver, with the original simple black and white cover art. I paid a lot of money for it and have cherished it since.

The Modern Jazz Quartet were John Lewis, Piano; Milt Jackson, vibes; Connie Kay, drums and Perch Heath, bass. They recorded m
ostly from the 50s to the 70s. They wanted to bring jazz out of the smoky clubs and into the concert hall ( I prefer it in the clubs). They wore tuxedos and took on a sophisticated demeanor. But it was not phony, it was honest. They played elegant, stately music that still had the blues in it, but subtly.

Kronos Quartet: Hold Me Neighbor In This Storm from Floodplain (Nonesuch)

Alexandra Vrebalov, the composer of this piece, was born in the former Yugoslavia in 19
70 and left Serbia to live in the U.S. in 2007.

From the program
notes to a live performance of this piece at Carnegie Hall in 2008:

About hold me, neighbor, in this storm, Vrebalov writes:
“The Balkans, with its multitude of cultural and religious identities, has had a troubled history of ethnic intolerance. For my generation of Tito’s pioneers and children of communists, growing up in the former Yugoslavia meant learning about and carrying in our minds the battles and numberless ethnic and religious conflicts dating back half a millennium, and honoring ancestors who died in them. By then, that distant history had merged with the nearer past, so those we remember from World War II are our grandparents. Their stories we heard firsthand. After several devastating ethnic wars in the 1990s, we
entered a new century, this time each of us knowing in person someone who perished. As I write this in November 2007, a new generation of Albanians and Serbs post their war-songs on YouTube, bracing for another conflict, claiming their separate entitlements to the land and history, rather than a different kind of future, together.

“Strangely, the cultural and religious differences that led to enmity in everyday life produced—after centuries of turbulently living together—most incredible fusions in music. It is almost as if what we weren’t able to achieve through words and deeds—to fuse, and mix, and become something better and richer together—was instead so famously accomplished in our music.

…hold me, neighbor, in this storm… is inspired by folk and religious music from the region, whose insistent rhythms and harmonies create a sense of inevitability, a ritual trance with an obsessive, dark energy. Peaceful passages of the work grew out of the delicately curved, elusive, often microtonal melodies of prayers, as well as escapist tavern songs from the region, as my grandmother remembers them.

“For me, …hold me, neighbor… is a way to bring together the sounds of the church bells of Serbian orthodox monasteries and the Islamic calls for prayer. It is a way to connect histories and places by unifying one of the most civil
ized sounds of Western classical music—that of the string quartet—with ethnic Balkan instruments, the gusle [a bowed string instrument] and tapan [large double-headed drum]. It is a way to piece together our identities fractured by centuries of intolerance, and to reach out and celebrate the land so rich in its diversity, the land that would be ashen, empty, sallow, if any one of us, all so different, weren’t there.”

Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Mercy of God and Get Ready from Journey of Dreams (Warner Bros)

This 1990 album took us further into the music of the group most of us discovered on Graceland in 1986.

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