Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Seriously Creative Albums (Recent), Part ONE

Imagine that you are living in turn-of-the-century Paris and plan to attend a concert that evening. On the program is a new work by a composer whose last work was premiered to great approval just three years ago. A solo bassoon emerges. Rather high in its range, modal, but still melodic.

Then, all hell breaks loose.

In Stravinsky's words: “the curtain rose on a group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down.” Human sacrifice in a primitive culture? Jarring, ever-changing rhythms, a churning repetitive chord. The choreography, costumes and sets boldly dispensed with grace and beauty to emphasize awkward, primitive starkness. At first there were a few boos and catcalls, but then a storm broke as the outraged audience reacted by yelling and fighting. Diaghilev tried to quell the disturbance by switching the house lights on and off while Nijinski tried to sustain the performance as best he could by shouting out numbers and cues to the dancers, who couldn't hear the music, loud as it was, over the din. Stravinsky was furious and stormed out of the theater before police arrived to end the show. The police? Is this a political rally gone haywire or a concert? Sheesh!

Welcome to May 29th, 1913 and the premiere of The Rite of Spring in Paris. And the beginning of the 20th century and the ongoing and ever accelerating resistance of listening audiences to move forward in music.

If you are reading this, let me compliment you. You are one of those rare music afficionados that constantly looks for not only new music, but music that is different, creative, and downright interesting.

The following is a list of RECENT CDs that have inspired me to recognize their brilliance.

1. uakti-aguas da amazonia, music of Philip Glass
Basic facts:
Style-Glass meets world drums and homemade instruments that are beyond description in sound.
End result- very dreamy at times, very powerful in a quiet way, sounds like a classically trained European composer got lost in the rain forest and went tribal, but retained harmony of the West.

Uakti (wah-ke-chee) is a Brazilian group that make their own instruments ( long before the Blue Man Group, et al) to create a sound that is both earthy and ethereal. Very hard to classify.

I have only two other Uakti releases, but this 2000 collaboration with Philip Glass always seems fresh. Glass' music lifts the ensemble out of the mere "world" catagory and even elevates their odd sounding instruments beyond being short-term curiosities. Somehow Glass' music also serves to organize the album, creating a unified whole beyond the obvious theme of rivers of the Amazon, and those idiosyncratic arpeggios and repetitive figures propell the music ever forward until the last track.

I can't make up my mind whether the music is powerful or delicate. Perhaps it's both.
SIDEBAR: I played this music for some high school students during a class. Some liked it and some were totally mystified.

2. Ekova- space lullabies and other fantasmagore

Basic facts: A Californian, an Algerian and an Iranian walk into a bar and order an electronic cocktail.
End result: Electronic world that's so different.

Take an improvised language, Middle Eastern percussion with oud/guitar and blend in electronics and you have the recipe for either something really interesting or in the wrong hands, something in the dull new age catagory. Ekova makes it work and creates something new.

ekova ("Its roots are in echo, and ova, signifying the feminine side," singer Dierdre Dubois explains. "But it's not supposed to have a literal meaning, just a beautiful sound. I wanted a word I'd never heard before.") are a trio based in France, but none are natives. Dubois is from California, and Iranian percussionist Arach Khalatbari and Algerian guitar/lute player Mehdi Haddab round out the ensemble.

Dubois sings in a language of her own creation. I say language because it transcends the typical nonsense syllables like la-la, lo, lay, etc., and sort of sounds like a French-Latin hybrid.

Why does this work? Nobody know. I only know it works for me. Some people might find this approach annoying, but somehow I really enjoy the sound of the words without having to have meaning. Call me simple-minded. It's ok.

The overall effect of these disparate elements is one of lightness and deft music making. The electronics make the music veer towards laptop techno, but the colors and the mood never darken like Monolake or the vast tribal darkness of Robert Rich.

An excellent companion CD is Dierdre Dubois' first solo effort-One. It's more of a club-oriented album, but Dubois' voice is one of the best. Therefore, the 21st century disco dancey cuts like Firefly are forgiven.

This album has a cover of the classic Nights in White Satin which is absolutely sexy and then some.

And then some.

Dubois' voice is pure smoky silk. Try not to love it.

You will fail. Resistance is futile.

3. four tet- everything ecstatic

Basic facts: Everything but the kitchen sink approach to techno-ish.

End result: You'd better be in the mood for joyful chaos. This is not background music.

four tet, aka Kieran Hebdan, has made one of the freshest electronic albums to come down the pipe in years. Before I sing the praises, let me come clean.

This is a relatively new style for me. I am, after all, quite ancient compared to the age group that listens to this and similar artists. I have not heard the two previous releases which are described by reviewers on Amazon as "folktronica".

I only know one thing: me likey. I have heard those electronic artists who mimic John Cage using his random-radio-Williams Mix-chance operations approach to music making (there is nothing new under the sun, people) and sometimes those artists think that creative randomness MUST equal nihilistic darkness. Sayeth the posing artiste:
To be profound, one must be dark.

Nope. Not buying that one.

This "random" (nothing random and imprecise on this CD) approach feels so free that the thought of the wearily sincere singer-songwhiner makes the body convulse and the mind spin out of control.

No darkness here, just a roller coaster ride of random musical and "found sounds". Can chaos be more fun? Sort of like reading Dylan's Tarantula while drinking a pitcher of Mimosas.

Other awfully good records:

1.Tom Waits-Real Gone.

The shortie: Tom's on fire artistically right now leaving burning buildings in his wake.

2. brazilectro session 7-Various artists.

This series is a snapshot of one of the most exciting trends in music-the latin/electronic fusion. Never have heard a bad compilation from these people.

3. Tosca- J.A.C.

These Vienna cats have got a smooth approach to chill out that never gets formulaic or old. Electric bass and keyboard grooves are status quo, but I haven't heard a bad album yet. Tosca is a fav for sure.

4. Kraftwerk- minimum maximum

A live album from the Gods of Dusseldorf featuring the hits and more. I was very surprised when I heard Kraftie Ralf Hutter tell the BBC that playing their music before a live audience was "the ultimate for us." Me thought the studio was the place for these innovators, but these guys are having FUN doing that Krafty thing.

More to come.

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