Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Music Shorts

My sidebar indicates where my musical leanings are at, and right now jazz is it.

The four albums are a mixed bag, to be sure. The Europeans tend to be freaks for formalism, a tack that often alienates the casual North American listener, but which greatly appeals to me during the Christmas maelstrom. Controlled thematic exploration, formally moderated playfulness — and yet through it all an undeniable yearning and emotional sensitivity. Greg Houben Quartet Meets Pierrick P├ędron (e) is earnestly serious about its play, while this recent discovery of an older EST recording is more lyrical — and not a little heartbreaking, when heard as a fond memory of a beautiful musician who's been taken from us.

AfroCubism is a follow-up of sorts to the Buena Vista Social Club, the out-of-the-ether sensation which can still be heard in espresso-serving cafes some 15 years later. The flacks at Nonesuch are branding this as “an album that throws the elements of Cuban and African music in the air and lets them fall in entrancing new patterns,” but as my wife astutely commented when I first played it: “That sounds like West African music.” Indeed — Malian, as a matter of fact. And in a continent that is as huge and musically diverse as Africa, the distinction is worth making.

That bit of parsing aside, the results are remarkable, particularly for listeners with an international ear. My wife's second comment was, “It's curious that this hasn't been done before, given the shared cultural history between Cuba and West Africa.” I don't know if Nonesuch is right to claim innovation quite so boldly, but the music they enabled is delightful, evocative and provocative. It is maybe worth adding, however, that if you were underwhelmed by the Buena Vista Social Club, this sequel isn't likely to make the difference for you.

This month, as I drummed my fingers and searched for something on eMusic to fill my monthly quota of downloads, I perused through the works of Vince Guaraldi, the gentle innovator who gave us the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. I picked up the various “lost cues” from the Charlie Brown shows, then added North Beach, a posthumous collection of live and studio recorded material from the late-60s and early-70s. It's all sweetly-tempered music one might expect from the man who came up with the definitive voice for Charlie Brown. On days when I'm sick of the exclusively seasonal, I'll switch my player to Artist > Vince Guaraldi > Play All > Shuffle Songs for an hour or two of unencumbered relief.

Finally, an important announcement for completists and nostalgics alike: Fusion Is . . . Barry Miles is widely available for legal download (including here). A funky staple from the late-70s and early-80s which had a very limited and extremely hard to come-by CD release a decade later — which I missed. Ah, but this technology is good for some things, yes? Now we only need to rescue a few other titles from the Vinyl Tar-Pits.

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