Posts Tagged ‘New Year’

first show of the year!

January 4, 2010

Happy new year! My resolution was to launch the first show for 2010 with a non-stop parade of great grooves, old and new.

Among other things, today’s World of Music features Bob Marley’s Coming in From the Cold from his Songs of Freedom. We’ll hear a new version of the French classic, Ç’est Si Bon, and preview upcoming 2010 recordings by Angelique Kidjo, and Madagascar’s Razia Said.

World of Music is an optimistic, 2010-ready mix of blues, jazz, poetry, and world music every Monday from 3-5pm ET on the Radiator.  Online, or at 105.9FM if you’re listening in Burlington, VT.

2009 in the rearview: what’s to love in music, part 1

January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

I’ve been thinking about the fact that year-end “best of” music lists usually leave me wanting because of how tunnel-visioned they can be. When you come across a list described as “Best Songs” or “Best Albums of the Year” you can guess without even glancing at it that it will more than likely focus on pop or indie releases. They contain no jazz, no world music, not even any country or folk music “songs” – and classical or opera are definitely out of the question.

This much I know of indie/pop music from the last year: Death Cab for Cutie, Wilco, the Decemberists, Neko Case and Jonatha Brooks all have recent recordings and make for fine listening. If you’re into more adventurous sounds, you’ll enjoy the latest from XX, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bears, and the Dirty Projectors. Likewise, I’m told the new Lady Gaga recording really represents a new sound; a genuinely fresh and creative vision. I haven’t heard much of it myself yet but I’m curious, always on the lookout for a unique voice, and I will certainly check it out at some point.

For anything besides pop or indie offerings you need to move past the popular “best of” lists and find less mainstream, more specialized sources if they exist. That’s alright, I suppose, I’d rather have a good list from an expert than a few token offerings from someone who doesn’t really love the music they’re listing.

Consequently, this look back at 2009′s music may come off as somewhat unconventional. It contains music from several different genres. I don’t feel like I can call it the “best of 2009″ because I didn’t hear everything that came out last year. And I’m not going to limit the list to a number: this isn’t the ‘top 10′ or the  ‘top 50′. In fact I’m not sure right now how many recordings there will be on the final list. I’m just going to share with you some of the sounds that caught my ear over the last year, with the one provision that the recordings listed here all warranted repeated listening. In no special order, these are the recordings I loved and listened to the most in 2009:

Einujuhani Rautavaara: “12 Concertos” – I do believe that native landscape and culture can have a tangible effect on a music’s sound, and not always intentionally. The simultaneous compositional austerity and warmth of Finland’s Einojuhani Rautavaara is found nowehere more evidently than in his concertos, recently collected in the 2009 anthology 12 Concertos from Ondine Records. In each work, his great skill at manipulating a pre-determined tonal palette gives the music the lumonisity and transparency of masterful, muscular watercolors. The set includes the three piano concertos along with the concertos for harp, for flute, for violin, for cello, and – my two favorites, the Clarinet Concerto and the Concerto for (Arctic) Birds and Orchestra. There is so much to love in this rich anthology, and just when you think you’ve experienced all the 4-CD set has to offer, you can listen again and make more new discoveries.            Kailash Kher & Kailasa: “Yatra – Nomadic Souls” – If you lived in India the following sentence wouldn’t be necessary: Kailash Kher is the most popular singer in India today. His familiar beaming smile, powerful voice, supreme musicianship and magnetic personality have given him a place on the stage (leading his group, Kailasa); in Bollywood (as a top film composer); and on Indian television (as a celebrity judge on the show, Indian Idol). So why, in America, is this introduction necessary? It’s crazy to me that people around the world know who Madonna, Beyoncé, and Brittney Spears are: even if people have never heard the music from these artists, the personalities are an inescapable international pop culture ‘presence’. Conversely, American audiences are often in the dark when it comes to the superstars (not to mention the equally talented, lesser-known artists) of other countries. If you don’t already know Kailash Kher, then please let the outstanding 2009 recording Yatra – Nomadic Souls be your introduction to this fascinating musician and the fine ensemble Kailasa. The songs are traditional in many ways like their instrumentation (including tablas, oud and santoor) and their form (Sufi qwaal and Hindustani ‘classical’), and yet equally contemporary in others, like their length (shorter) and rhythmic, melody-driven lines. Yatra is an endlessly rewarding recording that balances genuine soul with popular appeal.

Kurt Elling: “Dedicated to You” – Let’s see: One of today’s most gifted and stylish singer/arrangers decides to pay tribute to monster talents John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, by re-interpreting the songs from their iconic eponymous collaboration. (Along with a few bonus tunes from the Hartman-less Coltrane Ballads release). We’ll call the result, Dedicated to You, a win/win/win with a solid chalk mark in every column. Elling does not trawl through the original lineup, track for track, note for note, nuance for nuance, in the kind of misguided “tribute” that so often comes off much more like an overly reverent excercise in faithful recreation. Elling revisits the original songs by inhabiting them, with his signature exquisite phrasing, his soaring vocal technique, and his own personal warmth as a singer. It is obvious he truly loves these songs, he loves the Coltrane/Hartman versions of them, and he loves being able to bring them to audiences in his own, fully-invested way. Understanding and appreciating your source material is a great place to come from as an artist. And it’s a great place to visit with this special, very personal recording, which as far as I am concerned can Say It Over (and Over and Over…) Again.

The Very Best: “The Warm Heart of Africa” – I was introduced to this recording by a friend, late in the year – many months after Warm Heart had been released (and more than a year after the first excited buzz about it had begun circulating on the web). My first reaction was dismay, in thinking “how did I miss this one?” and then I put that aside and let myself be carried away by the ride. And what a ride! Warm Heart lives up to every bit of its name with groovy, light-spirited funky tunes that rely on the feel and tradition of African vocals, rhythms and musical styles (highlife, in particular) fused with Western pop sensibilities. Great fun, but happily not to the detriment of quality music-making.

Renée Fleming: “Verismo” – I’d be hard put (and flat-out wrong) to describe Renée Fleming as a verismo soprano. She’s just too nice. But do I love her singing verismo arias? Yes I do! Even when she’s not given to the full range of hysteria, sobbing, and frequently guttural, more earthy sounds that characterize the style at its most fully realized. The one aria on Verismo I found myself returning to repeatedly is the hauntingly sad Sola, perduta, abbandonata (“alone, lost, and abandoned”) from Puccini’s defining opera, Manon Lescaut. Fleming gets all of that one. Along with the familiar verismo arias are several rarely heard selections, like those from Giordano’s Siberia (you’re not the only one saying “Giordano’s WHAT!?” right now), and Cilèa’s Gloria. Fleming completists will want to add this one to the collection because it’s Fleming. And, it’s good. If you’re more into the faithful rendering of the repertoire at its verismo brightest, this recording may not be the one you want. Bottom line is, this is a very nice recording with Fleming at her smoky, emotive best – verismo perfect or not.

Brad Paisley: “American Saturday Night” – Remember Brad Paisley’s “Ticks“? That’s a song that got play far beyond its targeted country music audience. The reason was its novelty, of course, but it goes beyond that. Paisley is a top-flight songwriter (and guitarist, for that matter) whose abilities shine through in funny, insightful and often poignant observations on the common things of everyday human life. He’s bold and adventurous, and his style offers a fresh perspective in an increasingly discouraging formulaic landscape of pre-fab country music hooks and hits. I’ve been listening to country music longer than any other style. I grew up on Marty Robbins and Jim Reeves and Charley Pride and Hank and Johnny and Roy and Elvis and Dolly and all the other country greats known best by a single, iconic name. With over 40 years of listening to country music (and, yes, liking it too -  if that needs to be said) I’m telling you, Brad Paisley is the real deal. American Saturday Night represents something of a change for Paisley as he moves away from catchy novelty songs and the clever rhymes to offer reflections on everything from raising kids in the 21st c. world of internet and iPods (Welcome to the Future), to the tender ballad about mature love, Then. And if you listen to country music for a flat-out good time, not to worry, American Saturday Night isn’t only about Deep Thoughts and Grown-up Perspective: the title track will be enough to keep your pointy-toed sh**-kickers tapping for a long time to come. This country girl sends up an enthusiastic “yeee-HAW!” for Brad Paisley!

Myra Melford & Satoko Fujii: “Under the Water” – I am a Myra Melford devotee. I hang avidly on her every keystroke. I devour everything she records, and follow obscure fan blogs and websites for any whiff, any unsubstantiated rumour about upcoming projects or comments on her recent performances. If you’re lucky enough, every so often an artist comes along who speaks to you on such an intense and complete level that every encounter, however brief, is a completely satisfying experience. John Coltrane and Myra Melford both do that for me. But even without that connection, I think I would have enjoyed this unusual recording for the ambition of its scope and fulfillment of that vision. Under the Water is a live collaboration between Melford and a kindred creative spirit, the Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii. Piano duos are uncommon, and that fact becomes exponential when the two performers in the duo are such uncommonly extraordinary artists as Melford and Fujii. The spontaneous, free-form recital runs the spectrum from delicate, melodic runs and lively duo interplay to dark, thumping tone clusters that act as the aural equivalent of the blackened, heavy-bottomed Cumulus of summer thunderstorms. Melford’s solo exploration, Be Melting Snow, is an inspired joyride in adept pianistic effect. Five tracks in all on this CD, it’s a journey. Prepare yourself accordingly. Under the Water isn’t an easy recording to find, but you can listen to a few samples and get a copy here at the Squidco website. (Recorded live in recital, Sept. 14, 2007 at Maybeck Studio in Berkeley, CA)

2009 in the rearview, part two coming up…stay tuned…and tell me about your 2009 favorites! Leave a comment here.

the “decade’s” best

December 26, 2009

"Father Time" engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi (circa 1470)

Is it purely pendantic? Or, a mere matter of semantics? I don’t think so.

I know it’s not that folks can’t count, and I’m convinced it’s not a simple matter of mass delusion, either. Although that explanation may actually come closer to the truth than anything else.

What else accounts for the curious phenomena of premature celebration that happens every time the calendar approaches a new decade or century (or millennium)?

Think back to the buildup to the year 2000. Yes, it was certainly something to be alive at a time when we went from noting the year in “19s” to “20s”. It felt special. It was special. But despite the misinformation that many sources kept pushing out, I hold with the camp that the year 2000 was NOT the beginning of the new century NOR the new millennium. That did not happen until the big silver ball in Times Square dropped a year later, at the start of 2001.

(Funny, but I’d swear I can actually hear the sound of eyes rolling right now! Bear with me. Please.)

So here we are at the end of 2009 and the “end of the first decade of the new millennium” lists have already started appearing, even though we still have a whole year ahead before the first decade actually ends. That’s all fine and well, in a sense – a lot of remarkable music and art has been created in the last nine years. It should be acknowledged. But before we can start creating these definitive “best of the first decade” lists, shouldn’t we give the final year of this decade a chance to make its mark first? Who knows WHAT will happen in 2010? It would be a shame to categorically exclude 2010′s contributions because all of the surveys happened a year early, here at the end of 2009.

It is a bit surprising how widespread the “2009-is-the-end-of-the-first-decade” buzz actually is among some fairly high profile media and pop culture contributors, like these:

- From WBUR, the On Point program from this past week devoted to “The End of the ’00s” (which is true, we are coming to the end of the years marked by an ’0′. That does NOT make the end of 2009 the end of the millennium’s first decade! Come on, Tom, we expect better journalism from you.)

- From NPR, The Decade’s 50 Most Important Recordings (whose introductory paragraph begins with this erroneous opening statement, “With the first decade of the new millennium coming to a close, we decided to compile a list of the 50 most important recordings of the past 10 years…” )

…and then there are also the regular ol’ “end of the decade lists”, here are a few:

- WNYC’s program Soundcheck, reviewing the Decade in Jazz and World music

- From the Guardian UK, The Observer Music Monthly’s Top 50 Albums of the Decade

- ABC News’ “End of the Decade” survey

Personally I advocate celebrating the beginning of every new year like it’s the new millennium. Calendars are just another relatively meaningless form of subjective, human-designed time management anyway, right? And life itself is reason enough to celebrate. But in the effort of consistency (and acknowledging the indisputable fact that we’ve universally accepted the Gregorian calendar to keep track of our time) I’m not sure why, as a society, we’d consciously choose to stop short on this not insignificant point of accuracy: the second millennium’s first decade does not conclude until Dec. 31st, 2010.

Best wishes to you for the new year, starting later this week, and for the start of the millennium’s second decade – when it arrives a year from now.

Afterthoughts:

  • Celebrating the start of the new millennium in 2001 may have been accurate, but you may recall it was far from being the popular position. Douglas Adams approached the topic in his own, typically wry way: check out Adams’ “timeline” of millennial celebrations.
  • As the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke would seem a natural expert on the topic. He celebrated the start of the new millenium on Jan. 1, 2001 at his home in Sri Lanka
  • Australia’s prime minister John Howard was voted “biggest party pooper of the century” by many of the country’s newspapers, when he advocated for national millennial celebrations to be scheduled for new year’s eve on Dec. 31st, 2000. Love that!

Ed. NOTE, 12/31/09: Just to be clear, the problem here is not someone stating that Dec. 31st, 2009 is the “end of a decade”. By definition, a “decade” is a ten-year period of time. Any 10-year period. Feel free to claim the “end of a decade” every Dec. 31st if you need to hang on to that milestone to create a “best of” music list, or for any other reason you choose. BUT – Dec. 31st, 2009 is NOT the “end of the first decade of this millennium“. That’s where the declamation runs an indisputable factual roadblock…we have another year to enjoy the first decade of the second millennium, so let’s just relax, hold off on the “best of the first decade of the second millennium” surveys for now and let’s see what the next year has in store for us. Around this time next year, we can take a look back with the full perspective of 10 years time and assess what the “best of” lists should hold as we review the first decade of the millennium. Happy new year!



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