Friday, May 30, 2008

In Concert--Mishra Dreaming

Pandit Shivnath and Deobrat Mishra
The Lincoln Theatre
Mount Vernon, Washington
May 29, 2008

I do not know why it was not front page news that internationally renowned Sitarists--father and son duo, Pandit Shivath and Deobrat Mishra were making a special appearance in town. Certainly folks here could get an eyeful of positive news, of a music that spreads peace and love instead of fear, but sadly, even with the wonderful efforts of the concert promoters, Elfa Gisla and Diane Light, this concert did not receive the fanfare it so deserved. Imagine playing second fiddle to rising gas prices and other gloom.

However, for those who did attend the concert held at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Old Town, Mount Vernon, there was plenty of fanfare in the guise of fiery rhythms, and melodic phrases that brought chills to my spine due to the sheer beauty they possessed. The audience for the most part, appeared educated in regard to classical Indian music, many of them having come of age during the Summer of Love era and familiar with Ravi Shankar, probably the most famous sitarist ever.

Yet, Deobrat's introduction of the components of ragas (time of day, beat cycles, etc…) acted as a lovely refresher and prepared us for the slow unfolding of the Alap to the first and only raga, Raag Charukeshi performed that evening. While many folks enjoy the rapid notes and explosive beats that come from the faster beat cycles, the alap is a wonderful meditation that allows listeners' hearts and minds to enter the music, gently.

And with most alaps, Pandit Shivnath and Deobrat built on excitement through playful call and responses of their respective sitars--a nudge here and a smirk there. While some folks might have seen it as a competition between father and son to see who could outplay the other, I saw it as a marriage between the two instruments which seamlessly flowed into one another. And at times, the musicians amused themselves and audience members. Occasionally, an explosion of applause would reverberate through the theatre.

The visuals too added to the peaceful atmosphere--clouds of powder flying off of the tablas as tabla player Marco Zonka of Chicago prepared for a real musical workout. And Felicity Gerwing of British Columbia gracefully plucking the tamboura strings added to the poetics. Light fell onto the sitars causing the fret boards to shimmer and sparkle, as if all of this was a beautiful scene in a nightly dream. For me a concert provides both audio and visual delights, and it feels Zen like--taking each moment as it comes while allowing the music to invade every cell of the body to create wholeness. Indian Classical music possesses both the advenurous spirit of rock music without any toxic effects, and the beauty of exotic poetry.

Deobrat had mentioned that his father, who he loves so dearly is a "tiger of sitar" and in a way this appeared to be true. Just as a tiger awaits patiently for the right time to move, to pounce, and to act, Shivnath would search out the right moment and the right notes to deliver his deeply poetic expression. And this expression evolved over the course of three beat cycles, (7, 12 & 16 beats). Zonka offered steady beats throughout, never showing off, but always displaying great dexterity and assuredness. No doubt, if he had wanted to, he could have launched into a long winded tabla solo (not that anyone would have minded). However, the concert was about unity and not one musician or another outshining another. I found this refreshing.

The musicians ended with a song Dream that was composed by Shivnath. Deobrat shared his father's dream of preserving the classical Indian music for future generations and an academy that he created that bars no child, despite their class or cultural origin. This dream, like the song that flowed out of the musicians instruments, and through Deobrat's stunning vocals, dovetails other famous dreams such as John Lennon's Imagine or Martin Luther King, Jr. I Have a Dream Speech. This dream possesses a universal appeal and a selflessness that touches the hearts of anyone willing to hear it.

And by sharing this dream with others, more people will manifest their own visions, those that hide in dusty hearts, those dreams that never until now seemed possible, but seeing what another human being has done, all of a sudden seem doable. And among those dreamers, we can also include Elfa Gisla, Founder of the Conway Muse and her business/dream partner, Diane Light, a healer and colleague of The Mishras.

Having seen The Mishras perform their stunning compositions, I feel lighter and more hopeful that some day we will all be more conscious and conscientious towards the music we perform or choose for listening pleasure. That we won't play our music too loud because of a strong need to be noticed. That we won't treat music as wallpaper or as a psychological manipulative tool to sell more products or change people's thoughts against their will. That music will recall its roots when it healed, exhilarated and informed its listeners.

And besides, I would rather hear musicians who place Spirit before ego, and perform for the joy of it. In this way, joy enters all who listen and that joy seeps out into the world, healing everyone it encounters.

For information about The Mishras go to

Monday, May 26, 2008

In Review--70 Years in the Making

Sondre Bratland
This Dream We Have

Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Now in his 70s, Sondre Bratland released a new recording, This Dream We Have. The recording features simple instrumental arrangements that provide a light backdrop for Bratland's signature vocals. Bratland also surfs through a variety of musical genres which he has grown fond of over the years, ballads, folk songs, a little bit of Latin music (Dream and reality), and country western. However this CD also has been spiced with a jazz element. Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge's poems provide the text for this recording.

Multi-instrumentalist Knut Reiersrud, fiddle player Annbjorg Lien, drummer Helge Norbakken and multi-instrumentalist Matthias Eick (double-bass, trumpet and vibraphone), bring a palette of vibrant colors and textures to the recording. I Always Expect to Find features understated guitar, sultry trumpet, and the chime of vibraphone. In fact, this is the second Norwegian recording in the past weeks in which I am greeted by Eick's crystal-clear trumpet. (The other CD was Jacob Young's Sideways).

The traditional folk inspired The Bark Flute features the deft playing of fiddler Lien, who anyone listening to Scandinavian music would be acquainted. Within just the span of the first three tracks, we have already traversed from jazz to a more traditional fare. And Bratland's vocals travel through this musical landscape with surefootedness. He brings that same attribute to the remainder of this tribute recording, offering a few surprises along the way.

This year marks the centenary celebration of Poet Olav H. Hauge. Bratland's work has been informed by Hauge's poetry for many years. This elegant recording with its soulful musicianship and earnest vocals could only be seen as a compliment by any national poet. And I suppose this recording also celebrates Bratland's 70th decade and the music he has gifted his audiences with over the decades.

To learn more about Sondre Bratland's recordings go to KKV

In Review--Son Jarocho Goes Pan-American

Conjunto Jardìn
Yerba Buena

Trova Recordings

California-based Conjunto Jardìn has released its third son jarocho recording, Yerba Buena. Led by vocalists and lute-playing sisters, Libby and Cindy Harding, this group does not just deliver the traditional Mexican jarocho, but Pan-American music complete with Andean pipes on La Culebra, salsa rhythms on Fandanguito de los Muertos, and Colombian rhythms on El Ahualulco. You might not call it pure traditional, but this music is purely delightful.

La Vieja features lush call & response vocals with added guest vocalists, Mari Riddle and Ericka Verba. And following that song, is the groovy cover of Procol Harum's Conquistador with Gary Johnson's 70s psychedelic organ booming throughout. Fandanguito de los Muertos (mentioned earlier), offers two musical genres for the price of one, ending out with rousing salsa. Just as other journalists have noted, this music does present a lot of twists and turns, as well as, rhythmic excitement and a creative explosion of stringed instruments.

Rapid fire vocals are delivered amongst the traditional jarana (lute), requinto (lute), percussion and a harp (harp keyboard). Then other Latin and western instruments come on board to further embellish a warm and bright sounding production. However, the music on Yerba Buena goes down cool, smooth and easy. Perfect for hot sunny weather.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In Review---The Norwegian Musical Cure

Various Artists
Sanger Om Sarbarhet
(Songs of vulnerability)
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Music once again lends itself to healing emotional, physical and spiritual issues. Twelve Norwegian artists contribute their healing songs to the compilation album Songs of vulnerability which celebrates the 150th anniversary of the baths at Modum--a residential psychotherapy, education and research center in Norway.

"While Modum Bad specializes in helping people with psychological problems, it is also a cultural institution with a 40 year history of arranging public concerts where these two aspects of their activities are combined."

The Grand Hall and Olav's Church have served as concert venues and some of the performers that have performed in those venues include many KKV artists such as: Ketil Bjornstad, Randi Stene, Aage Kvalbein, Sondre Bratland, Tone Hulbaekmo, Elias Akselsen and Lars Bremnes… Those same artists reappear on this live recording.

Highlights include Lars Bremnes The Same Bed, Elias Akselsen's tearful, What Did You Do With Your Life, Tommy? and Anders Clemens Oien with Solve Sigerland Café, 2nd movement of The History of Tango by Astor Piazzolla. However, the entire collection is filled with sparkling gems.

According to the press notes, "Art, culture and aesthetics can be important therapeutic and nourishing factors for people suffering from mental disorders and for all people. The concerts have thus become part of a holistic philosophy behind the help offered patients at Modum Bad. As these are open concerts, they help to break down the barriers between society and the institution that treats people suffering from mental disorders."

Once again, KKV is at the helm of spreading compassion through music in the world.

Kirkelig Kulturverksted

In Review---Beloved & Deaf Beethoven

Andràs Schiff
Ludwig van Beethoven The Piano Sonatas Vol. VI
ECM New Series

Hungarian classical pianist Andràs Schiff took up the gauntlet of recording the Beethoven cycle (piano sonatas) in order. Ludwig van Beethoven The Piano Sonatas, Volume VI brings us up to the period between 1804 and 1810, during which the infamous "Appassionata" was composed. The works on this recording, Sonatas #22 through #26, explore a vast range of emotions, colors and textures--a range that seems like a piece of cake in Schiff's expressive hands.

I have reviewed volumes II and III of this series and have been astounded by Schiff's immense gift as a pianist. While he fits into the realm of virtuoso, he does not appear to be showing off. His playing is absent of bravado and full of humanity, not to mention curiosity towards Beethoven's life and music, since one informs the other. Not only that, one of my favorite things to do is to crank up the volume on these recordings so that I feel like the pianist is in the room with me playing this divine music.

Since I have already reviewed two other recordings from this series, I am going to include excerpts from those reviews here. This is one of those collections where including all the volumes in your collection is highly recommended.

Review excerpt for Volume II:

I know little about Hungarian pianist Andràs Schiff, except for his views about Beethoven's piano sonatas which appear in the liner notes of his ECM recording, Ludwig van Beethoven The Piano Sonatas, Volume II. Yet, I do not need to know anything about this interpreter of Beethoven's music in order to feel satisfied when I listen to this recording. Schiff does not just interpret notes on a score or fret about tempi, which a lot of musicians might do. He interprets and even anticipates Beethoven's contradictory moods.

It's almost as if he is channeling the composer's ghost into the room. Musical phrases alternate between a chuckle here and extreme frustration or implosive anger. Sweet lyrical passages flutter like butterflies discovering the spring sun for the first time, then are stomped on by some shaggy beasts represented by banging keys in the lower registers.

It is like I said earlier, a musician must be possessed in some way to play this music well and be fearless of the gamut of emotions of the human experience. Schiff's fearlessness serves him well in that regard, that and the fact that he had befriended one of the musical grandfathers of classical music, even to the point of second guessing the composer's intentions such as on the "Pathetique" sonata…(partial review).

Review Excerpt from Volume III:

Hungarian pianist Andràs Schiff has taken on the formidable task of recording chronologically all of Ludwig van Beethoven's 32 sonatas. Volume II of the series has already been reviewed on this site. The Piano Sonatas Volume III marries the romance of Brahms with the joie de vide of Mozart, and often times delving into the brooding territory associated with Beethoven.

We hear rolling arpeggios and trills, an intense range of dynamics, a lyrical sweetness that crosses swords with angry tantrums that are uniquely Beethoven. Allegro con brio of Sonata No. 11 B flat major op. 22, composed in 1800, features phrases that end on exclamation points, declaring their presence.

With so much passion and moodiness, a pianist or interpreter could easily overstate one's case, but Schiff, although extremely expressive, is light on the keys. He plays those exclamation points, but he also honors silence between the notes and I can feel a gleefulness leaping off this recording. His left hand and right hand are in perfect concord and the playing magical...(partial review)

Visit Cranky Crow Whole Music for the full-length reviews of these works.