trading fours: this week’s listening

“Trading fours” is an occasional series you’ll see here featuring four recommended recordings on a theme from any music genre. Leave a comment – send me your four picks, explain what the theme is and why you chose them. I’ll do the rest. (See previous post for the details on this project.)

I’ll get the series started with a set that can best be described as “Things I listened to this week”. In both of my jobs (as music director at VPR, and interning at Cumbancha/Putumayo World Music) and in my weekly show at the Radiator, I’m really fortunate to have exposure to a lot of different kinds and styles of music. As a result, the week’s listening often encompasses everything from jazz and classical to more eclectic sounds (electronic music, prepared instruments)  to new tunes from all different parts of the world. Here’s a pretty typical week of listening:

DJ Frane: Journey to the Planet of Birds

DJ Frane's "Journey to the Planet of Birds"

#1 – DJ Frane’s “Journey to the Planet of Birds” – I was turned on to this amazing, complete musical vision by a friend at Cumbancha. It’s an artfully crafted (more than 300 samples!) electronic tapestry, all on themes of birds and space and spaceflight. It even includes John Glenn’s magical “thousands of luminous fireflies” audio from that moment in February, 1962 as Friendship 7 ventured into the dark side of the planet, and Glenn saw the light particles (ice crystals) swarming his capsule. This is a beautiful recording, and a snapshot “of an era”, in a sense, even though it’s only a year or so old. Things are changing fast in the area of music rights and just as quickly it’s becoming about impossible to create a new work from sampling as liberally as DJ Frane does here.

TradingFours1-Rautavaara

Rautavaara's "Cantus Arcticus"

#2 – Rautavaara: Cantus Arcticus, Op. 61 – Early this week as I listened to DJ Frane weaving his spell with the “Birds” I was reminded of another piece, by Finnish sound master Einojuhani Rautavaara. His Cantus Arcticus, Concerto for Birds and Orchestra (written 1972) is an equally complex and enchanting work whose “samples” include shore larks, and migrating whooper swans. Sometimes I like to listen to this CD when I’m driving. Between its birdsongs and wide open sound landscapes, it has a soundtrack kind of feel. Perfect for watching nature roll by outside. (I’m not saying that it doesn’t deserve more concentrated listening as well; it does.) Bonus listening on this particular recording (with the Lahti Symphony and conductor Osmo Vanska) – the monunemtal “Angel of Light” Symphony #7, one of Rautavaara’s finest works. Outstanding.

Coltrane's "Meditations"

Coltrane's "Meditations"

#3 – John Coltrane’s “Meditations” – Following the tracks through from the opening (“The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost”), through the middle section (“Compassion”, “Love”, “Consequences”) to the end (“Serenity”) is nothing less than a full-circle spiritual reckoning. The fuller, louder and more demanding companion piece to Coltrane’s “First Meditations” (recorded two months earlier that same year, 1965), this one adds Pharoah Sanders and second drummer Rashied Ali to the classic quartet for a largely free-form exploration on themes of redemption and personal reconciliation. [PS – It’s been said before, but it can’t be said often enough: engineer Rudy Van Gelder is a genius of mythic Mozart proportions and talent.]

Kimi Djabaté's "Karam"

Kimi Djabaté's "Karam"

#4 – Kimi Djabaté’s “Karam” – From Guinea-Bissau and carrying on the centuries-old tradition of West African griots, Kimi Djabaté’s music leans heavy on the vocals in soulfully rhythmic tunes. The voice is definitely the thing with this one. It’s been riding around with me for a few weeks, but now that I’ve had a chance to really get into it, I can tell you the more I listen the more I appreciate some of the other (non-vocal) aspects of it: like the gentle, woody, melodic percussion that drives many of the songs. Like the sweetly singing kora. And the transparency of instrumental textures – you can really pick out the individual voices and follow them through each piece. Full disclosure: “Karam” will officially be released on Tuesday (7/28) this coming week. I’ve had a copy of it and I’ve been able to listen to it for a while now because I’m an intern at Cumbancha, and this CD is the first release in the new Cumbancha “Discovery” series. The further truth, though, is that I would be listening to this release and loving it even if I had no association with the label. (I would have just had to wait longer to come across it on my own.) “Karam” is special.

So there you have it, getting the conversation started with the first recommendations in the new “Trading Fours” series. Pick a theme and leave me a comment here with your top four music picks.

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