Archive for April, 2009

bilingual +

April 30, 2009

One of the most meaningful concert experiences I’ve ever had was a few years ago with the LA Opera: a rare staging of Arnold Schoenberg’s unfinished operatic masterpiece, Moses und Aron. Austere and deeply stirring in its musicality, it relies primarily on text from Exodus to tell the story of the two brothers whose sacrifices and symbolic identities (of ‘righteousness’ and ‘peace’, respectively) lie at the foundation of Judaism.

"more than bilingual" exhibit brochure

"more than bilingual" exhibit brochure

The opera’s backstory is just as interesting. It’s the work of a displaced German Jew who returned to his faith in 1933 just after he finished work on the opera, even as the drums crescendoed with the advance of the second World War. It’s thought that Moses und Aron represented Schoenberg’s attempt to work out the problems of a Jew in the modern world*.

Today I visited Burlington’s Fleming Museum for “more than bilingual“, the new collaboration between poet Major Jackson and Peruvian visual artist William Cordova. There is a natural affinity in their work, and I found it to have the same kinds of dynamics at work as those in Moses und Aron. The obvious comparison here would be the juxtaposition of Major Jackson’s spoken words with William Cordova’s visual narrative, much as Moses’ spoken role in the opera is offset and complemented by the fluid artistry of Aron’s singing tenor.

But the comparison also works on another level, and that’s with the common underlying themes of cultural memory and disenfranchisement, societal labels, and racial identity.

One panel of Cordova’s 25-piece grid Sangarara is covered by the repeated single word “Landó”, the West African music/dance form that came to South America with slaves in the 1800s. The piece is paired with Major Jackson‘ s poem ‘Toro Mata‘, itself named after the classic (landó) Peruvian folksong, and referencing the makeshift instruments the slaves created to disguise their music in the face Spanish prohibition. Can’t use drums, because they’re too resonant of the African music from home? Alright then, how about a Spanish shipping crate rigged to work as a drum? Enter the cajón, the box drum that’s now a staple of the Afro-Peruvian sound.

Literature and music, words and art. Whether it’s Moses und Aron or poetry paired with paintings, there are infinite connections to be made – and found – in the name of artistic pursuit.

More than Bilingual runs through May 10th at Burlington’s Fleming Museum.


* Aaron Tugendhaft, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron

For listening:

Novalima: Coba Coba – Cumbancha, 2009

Peru Negro: Sangre de un Don – World Connection, 1999  *includes “Toro Mata”

Schoenberg: Moses und Aron – Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Georg Solti/Decca 00994102

playlist: #69 (4/27/09)-serious spring fever

April 27, 2009
World of Music
Pgm #69 – 4/27/09 – you’re feeling it, we’re all feeling it. ahh, springtime.
Listen online Mondays 3-5pm EDT at The Radiator
Nas with Youssou N’Dour & Neneh Cherry: Wake Up (It’s Africa Calling) / Open Remix / (download) – (USA / SENEGAL)
Trans-Global Underground: The Khaleegi Stomp / impossible broadcasting / Triloka 82054 – (UK)
Trapper de Trap: Mama / Muziek Voor Moeders / Parea Records 2008 – (NETHERLANDS)
Sibéba: Bötò’ï-Rito de la Fertilidad (Fertility Rite) / Hijas del Sol / Intuition Music 3178- (ECUATORIAL GUINEA)
Tito Paris: Dança Ma Mi Criola (Dance With Me, Criola) / Islands / Putumayo 129 – (CAPE VERDE)
Eastenders: Sex & Cookies / Beyond The Path / Poets Club Records 41 – (UK / GERMANY / etc.)
Angélique Kidjo: Sénié (Trad. Togolese love song) / Logozo Mango 162539918 – (BENIN)
Kora Jazz Trio: Saxy / Part III / Celluloid 6612 – (SENEGAL / GUINEA) *NEW*
Manino Garay: Poder Decib Te Amo / Que Lo Pario! / Naive 145176 – (ARGENTINA) *NEW*
Poncho Sanchez: Amor con Amor (Love with Love) / Raise Your Hand / Concord Picante 30149 – (TEXAS, USA)
Monte Negro: Give Me Love / Showdown at Cedar Street / Filter Magazine / – (LOS ANGELES, USA)
Aswad: Give A Little Love / Distant Thunder / Mango 9810 – (JAMAICA)
Ingrid Lucia & The Flying Neutrinos: Violent Love / Hotel Child / Ao! 2000 – (N’AWLINS, USA)
Paname Dandies: Je Sais Parlez aux Femmes (I Know How To Talk to the Ladies) / Le Swing de L’Escargot / Volvox Music 703 – (FRANCE)
Kirpi: The Song / Mega Hits: Rhythm Forever / Pasión Turca / promo – (TURKEY / FRANCE)
Anoo: Jos Voisin Laulaa / vol. 2 / Homerecords 2007 – (BULGARIA)
Yerba Buena featuring John Leguizamo, Celia Cruz & Les Nubians: Sugardaddy / Follow Me / Wrass 194 – (NYC, USA)
Babatunde Olantunji: Baba Jinde (Trad. Nigerian “flirtation” dance) / Drums of Passion / Columbia Legacy 66011 – (NIGERIA)
Harem III: Deshire (Desire) / Mega Hits: Rhythm Forever / Pasión Turca / promo – (TURKEY / FRANCE)
Oztara: Toi! / En Soir Soleil / / 2004 – (CANADA)
Les Orientales: Stenitek (on the “Besame Mucho” theme) / Music-Hall d’Algérie / mk2 Music 8345106342 – (FRANCE / ALGERIA)
Stan Getz with João & Astrud Gilberto: The Girl From Ipanema / Getz-Gilberto / Verve 314521414 – (USA / BRAZIL)
La Revolución de Emiliano Zapata: Nasty / Y Tu Mama Tambien-movie soundtrack / Volcano 61422-32191 – (USA / MEXICO)
Maria Del Mar Bonet: L’Amor és Mar Desfeta / World Music de Catalunya / Apecat 2005 – (SPAIN)
Chuck Bernstein: Kindred Spirits / Delta Berimbay Blues / CB 102844 – (USA)
Rosa Passos: Besame Mucho / Amorosa / Sony 92068 – (BRAZIL)
Kip Hanrahan: the September dawn shows itself to Elizabeth and her lover on East 118th street in Manhattan / All Roads Are Made of the Flesh / AMCL 1029 – (USA)
Sonia & Disappear Fear: Telepatia Sexual / Tango / Disappear 1012 – (USA)

afternoon with a griot

April 26, 2009

4/25/09-Toumani Diabaté in Burlington

4/25/09-Toumani Diabaté in Burlington

If there’s a single word to summarize the profound effect that regional culture has in shaping its native music, I haven’t found it. Not before yesterday, that is. Now I believe that influence may very well be described in the word “griot” – at least when we’re talking about music from Mali.

The warmest day of the year so far in Burlington (over 80°F – ugh) brought shoppers, cyclists, and folks of every other sun-loving pursuit to downtown yesterday. As the streets and sidewalks crawled with deliriously revitalized springtime activity, the Amy E. Tarrant gallery offered cool, quiet sanctuary to around 40 attendees with the latest in the Flynn Theatre’s ongoing series of pre-concert “INsight” discussions.

The afternoon’s guest of honor was the Malian kora master and storyteller, Toumani Diabaté. As he shared his own story over the next half hour it was readily apparent that he viewed his part of the timeline just the most recent chapter in a much longer, much more involved narrative that began with his first relatives, some 71 generations ago in the 13th c. kingdom of West Africa. Diabaté is a griot (or ‘djeli‘), a musician by patrilineal birthright. So was his father, and so is his son.

Griots are the vested oral historians of Mali, responsible for maintaining the culture as well as commenting on it, and passing on their knowledge and musical skills to the males of the next generation. In an illustration of the vital relationship between griots and their land, Diabaté raised his left hand, swept the length of his torso, and said “if West Africa was a body, the djeli would be the blood”.

The main voice of the griot tradition is the kora, a resonant, modally-tuned instrument with a light texture and fluidity often compared to a harp. With 21 nylon strings and a resonator made from the huge, bulbous hull of a hollowed-out, half-calabash – it’s a striking instrument in both looks and sound. Why is it played facing the performer, instead of outward facing listeners like other simliar instruments (the banjo, or guitar for example)?

4/25/09-Diabaté demonstrating the 'front' of the kora

4/25/09-Diabaté demonstrating the 'front' of the kora

As with most things in the griot culture, history and folklore each have a hand in informing the answer: Diabaté described the time very early in the tradition’s development when the kora was actually an instrument commonly played by the women musicians of neighboring Guinea, and how they gave one to the newly crowned Mandinka Prince in the mid-13th c. as a gift at the start of the Malian empire. Since that time it’s been an instrument handed down through the male ancestors, and it’s played facing the musician, “as if creating an intimate conversation between lovers”.

I listened to Diabaté’s solo performance yesterday afternoon (and last night at the Flynn, with his full 8-piece electrified Symmetric Orchestra) a little differently, after learning more about what I was hearing. The kora is played with only four fingers: both thumbs, and both index fingers. The other three fingers in each hand grip the long pegs on either side of the neck to keep it upright during performance. The left thumb plucks out the bass line; the right thumb plays the melody. That leaves both index fingers free to improvise over the top of the bass and melody.

When Diabaté plays with his Orchestra, the bassline of his left thumb is doubled by the electric bass; the melodic line of the right thumb is doubled by the electric guitar, and the flights of improvisational fancy allowed his index fingers is matched (and THEN some, to my ears) by the virtuosic sonorities of the group’s balafon player.

Listening to a kora under any circumstance is delightful, but seeing it being played, and understanding a little about the mechanics of the musicianship is absolutely enchanting. I hope you, too, are fortunate enough to have the opportunity sometime! More than an instrument, the kora is a chorus of voices, playing with and against each other in a strumming, thrumming, multi-layered conversation of music.

Would you expect anything less, for an instrument that speaks for over 700 years of people and their culture?

A final thought from Monsieur Diabaté: “If you can learn a song on the kora, you are a master. But you have to be born a griot.”


For listening:

with guitarist/singer Taj Mahal: Kulanjan, 1999

with trombonist Roswell Rudd: Malicool, 2001

with guitarist Ali Farka Toure: In the Heart of the Moon, 2005 (Grammy winner, best traditional world music album)

solo: The Mandé Variations, 2008 (Grammy nominee)

spring fever

April 25, 2009

2009-apr27-sibeba2Fertility dances from Togo and Ecuatorial Guinea…”Saxy”, the latest from West Africa’s Kora Jazz Trio…a “Flirtation Dance” from Olantunji’s iconic “Drums of Passion”…and, fresh from New Orleans, the sweet sounds of Ingrid Lucia and the Flying Neutrinos. You’re feeling it, we’re all feeling it. This Monday on World of Music it’s the annual “Spring Fever” show.  Listen to “World of Music” online (Mondays, 3-5pm EDT) or at 105.9FM in Burlington, VT.

pulitzers 2009

April 23, 2009

2009-apr23-pulitzer_logo1The 2009 Pulitzer prizewinners were announced this week, and Steve Reich IS one –  congratulations!

Here’s the winners list in the Letters, Drama and Music category (Check out the complete list of winners here.)

FictionOlive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (Random House)
DramaRuined by Lynn Nottage
HistoryThe Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed (W.W. Norton & Company)
BiographyAmerican Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham (Random House)
PoetryThe Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin (Copper Canyon Press)
General NonfictionSlavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon (Doubleday)
MusicDouble Sextet by Steve Reich, premiered March 26, 2008 in Richmond, VA (Boosey & Hawkes)


Also: click here to listen to Terry Gross’ interview with Steve Reich on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

so what?

April 22, 2009

milesdavis19597April 22nd, 1959: seven musicians gathered together for the second of two recording sessions at the Columbia studios in New York City. What emerged was the best-selling, and possibly the best known, jazz recording in history.

Kind of Blue mapped a new direction for the art that foreshadowed the artistic fluidity of the oncoming decade, and singlehandedly redefined Miles Davis own ‘sound’.  Leaving behind the driving, edgy hard bop style that characterized the ’50s, the sextet moved into a modal approach that gave soloists a wide open landscape for exploration, and represented “a return to melody”, as Miles once described it. Can’t argue with that, think of “So What” and “All Blues”, just a couple of the great tunes (that really are tunes, not just licks and bridges) from the recording.

Today’s the 50th anniversary of the second Kind of Blue session.

If you have the recording, give it a spin or two today and listen to it with the perspective that only five decades can provide: it may have aggravated Miles that his masterpiece was upstaged by recordings that came out later that same year (like Ornette Coleman’s Shape of Jazz to Come), but both had their invaluable place in the swiftly shifting landscape of the late ’50s.

For all the excitement and unfettered innovation that free jazz offers, it still takes a focused and fully realized artistic vision like Kind of Blue to provide the solid foundation for the kind of wildly creative musical world that developed in the ’60s.


For further reading, I recommend Ashley Kahn’s excellent book, Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece

Vermont Public Radio’s tribute to Kind of Blue airs tonight at 8pm.



Miles Davis, trumpet … Julian “Cannonball” Adderly, alto sax … John Coltrane, tenor sax … Wynton Kelly, piano (on “Freddie Freeloader”) … Bill Evans, piano (on all but “Freddie Freeloader”) … Paul Chambers, bass … Jimmy Cobb, drums


April 21, 2009

2008-oct12-27-lincolncemToday is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and as commemorations take place around the world it’s an important occasion to remember some of the extraordinary musicians of the time period. Those imprisoned in camps, like Olivier Messiaen; those who fled Europe to avoid persecution, like Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (and countless others); and the less fortunate ones who lost their lives, like Pavel Haas, Ervin Schulhoff, and Viktor Ullmann. Everyone is affected somehow by events of this magnitude. Today’s observance is a powerful reminder of that fact.

playlist: #68 (4/20/09)-heading north

April 20, 2009
World of Music
Pgm #68 – 4/20/09 – Sounds from Québec, Somalia, Mexico, Mozambique…
Listen online Mondays 3-5pm EDT at The Radiator]
Nas with Youssou N’Dour & Neneh Cherry: Wake Up (It’s Africa Calling) / Open Remix / (download) – (USA / SENEGAL)
Telmary Diaz: Que equivoca’o / A Diario / Dm Ahora! Records 2007 – (CUBA)
Baetúria: Telephone / World Music: Catalan Music / MIDEM sampler 2008 – (SPAIN)
Bole 2 Harlem: Ya Selam / Bole 2 Harlem / Sounds of the Mushroom v.1 – (ETHIOPIA)
Jake Shimabukuro: Thriller / Live / Hitchhike Records 1109 – (USA) *NEW*
The Puppini Sisters: Spooky / The Rise and Fall of Ruby Woo / Verve 10416 – (USA)
Fela Kuti: Zombie / The Best of the Black President / Universal 3145431972 – (NIGERIA)
Willie Colón: Willie Whopper / El Malo / Fania 773130029 – (PUERTO RICO)
Lila Downs: El Corrido de Tacha “La Teibolera” / Entre Copa y Copa… / EMI 34248 – (MEXICO)
Mariachi Cobre: El Súchil / Este EsMi Mariachi / Kuckuck 11105 – (MEXICO)
El Tanbura: Zayy El Nhardah (The Canal Song) / Between the Desert and the Sea / World Village 450002 – (EGYPT) *NEW*
Dobet Gnahoré: Inyembezi zam / Na Afriki / Cumbancha 4 – (IVORY COAST)
Le Vent du Nord: Vive l’amour / Québec / Putumayo 279 – (QUÉBEC)
Chango Spasiuk: La Ponzoña / Pynandí: Los Descalzos / World Village 713 – (ARGENTINA) *NEW*
The Klezmatics: Moroccan Game / Oasis World No. 4 / Oasis – (USA)
Kadda Cherif: Hadria / Echdek / Djezaïr / Naïve 36911 – (ALGERIA)
Mariza: Toado do desengano (Song of Disillusion) / Transparente / EMI 77646 – (PORTUGAL)
Eco Del Sur: Vasija de Barro / Latin American Roots / 2006 – (CHILE/COLOMBIA/ECUADOR)
Los Hermanos: Paquetá (Package) / 4 / Sony 8287617292 – (BRAZIL)
Pink Martini: Tempo Perdido / Hey Eugene! / Heinz Records 3 – (USA) * Featured at the Discover Jazz Festival, June 13th @ 8pm –
Culture Musical Club: Muziki Ni Kazi Yetu (Music Is Our Domain) / Shine! / World Village 468080 – (TANZANIA) *NEW*
Nation Beat: A Onde Tem Cerveja / Tem Mulher / Legends Of The Preacher / Modiba 7 – (USA)
Nation Beat: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry / Legends Of The Preacher / Modiba 7 – (USA)
K’Naan: Take a Minute / Troubadour / A&M 12478 – (SOMALIA) *NEW*
Tricot Machine: Une Histoire de Mitaines (A Story About Mittens) / Tricot Machine / Boite 2 – (CANADA)
Stewart Sukuma: Kadivaé Mõnõ / Mozambique Relief / Naxos World 76019 – (MOZAMBIQUE)
Black Uhuru: Trouble / Iron Storm / Mesa 79035 – (JAMAICA)

la musique québecois

April 20, 2009

2009-apr20-quebeccd1Returned to Burlington from Québec City this afternoon with about 10 minutes to spare before the start of the show…perfect! Today we’ll hear music from the province (including Le Vent du Nord and Tricot Machine) and from Dobet Gnahoré’s Na Afriki, following her outstanding performance on Sat. night at the Palais Montcalm. Somali hip-hopper K’Naan’s new release Troubadour offers some thoughtful insights into life in that country, and ukulele phenom Jake Shimabukuro puts his own stylish spin on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” from the new live recording. Listen to “World of Music” online (Mondays, 3-5pm) or at 105.9FM in Burlington, VT.

québec city, day 2

April 19, 2009

Day two in Québec city, took a tour at the Citadel mid-afternoon – wow! What a concise history of the city that was. It’s a story pretty much broken up into three periods (as illustrated by one of the our tour guides, who held up a paper timeline even as the breeze at the top of the fortress threatened to rip it right from her hands and send it over the wall into the river on the other side…): French regime,  British rule, and then the current Canadian  period. Good to take the formal tour, as it affords inside tours to several museums that are not otherwise open to the public.

Taking an early evening break now before heading back to the lower village for live music at 9pm, in one of the only places to offer that on a Sunday night –  a place called Le Pape-Georges, in the historic Place Royale district.  It promises a night of blues (à la canadienne!) and bistro fare in an atmosphere wholly unique to the port area….rough-cut stone walls, cobblestone streets, and wrought iron lamplights softly lighting the rue.

Oh, Canada !

%d bloggers like this: