Saturday, January 31, 2009

Some thoughts on arts communities, the economy...

I have been thinking a lot lately about how we have let various industries control our lives. Now the economy is crumbling, but the old economy which destroys the environment, treats people like disposable slaves and reaps a profit through sheer madness for only a handful of elites was not healthy for any of us. And certainly the planet and its other inhabitants have suffered enough under the weight of the old economy. Time to let it go and embrace the new.

It's true that the arts are suffering because of the tight-wallet syndrome. Many people consider art a non-essential, but what if we as artists treated this era as a time of community building? I am suggesting that people not run out and buy those high definition televisions, but instead turn off the television sets, forget all those computer games and gadgets, including the iPod which just isolates people from one another. Get out of the house, go to a concert, a live storytelling event or even a book signing at a bookstore. Support the musicians playing in cafes and pubs. Take the family out to arts events geared for the entire family. Get out, find out who is in your community and network. And if you are a parent, teach your children about the arts. Go to the library and check out recordings and DVDs of the arts and expose both yourself and your children to the arts.

We are embarking on a new era in which the arts (fine and performing), can be part of something larger than each of us. As a community of artists, we can brainstorm in ways to use our crafts and talent to heal communities, create opportunities for youth and adults, create buy-local incentives, create fair trade artists coops through micro credit (this is not just for developing countries), and we can combine art with green technologies, organic farming, and other sustainable practices.

Creative people are ahead of the game because we already know how to barter and trade, how to use our resources wisely and how to live simple lives. We already know how to amuse ourselves with little, see beauty where others don't and to deeply feel everything because that is how we create in the first place. We know about healing wounds through our creative pursuits and some of us are deeply spiritual feeling like we are merely vessels that the Divine does her work.

So as artists, let us find ways to join together. And for the others who think they lack artistic abilities, remove the iPods from your ears and start relating to the rest of the world. Take an inexpensive art class or pick up a used copy of Julie Cameron's The Artist's Way and do the exercises. Turn off the TV, stop wasting your time playing violent computer games and join humanity in transforming this planet back to its original glorious state. And while you are at it, sing, hum, play, dance and learn a musical instrument... If anything you will feel inspired to move beyond your little self and be part of the bigger picture.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

In review--Argentine Accordian

Chango Spasiuk
Pynandi Los Descalzos (Barefoot)
World Village

In the Americas a rich stew of indigenous, African and European music exists, and especially in South American countries such as Brazil and Argentina. While many of us have heard tango performed on the smaller version of a squeeze box (bandoneon), the standard accordion also plays its role in Argentine music. In the deft hands of Argentine accordionist Chango Spasiuk (who I first heard on the Rough Guide to Argentina several years ago), the European instrument bridges the gap between European, American indigenous and African music.

On this accordion-driven recording Pynandi Los Descalzos African rhythms support regional and European classical music, even a baroque violin appears on Mejillas Coloradas. The album is all acoustic with strings, double bass, accordion, Afro-Latin percussion, guitar and vocals on one track, Viejo Caballo Alazan. The recording features regional dance music, although more of the folkloric variety. The recording also introduces its listeners to the music of the Gaurani (an indigenous people of Argentina, known also for Yerba Mate tea).

So sit back, pretend that you are enjoying warm summery weather, drink your mate and soak in this delightful music. Of course, if you are residing in the southern hemisphere, then you can enjoy the lovely weather you are currently experiencing. No matter where you reside on this planet, this music possesses a warming effect and might even induce the urge to dance and be merry.

In review--It Takes a Village to Make an Opera

Gianluigi Trovesi
All' Opera
Profumo Di Violetta
ECM New Series

Do not let the title of Italian reedman Gianluigi Trovesi's All' Opera fool you. While operatic favorites act as the jumping off point for this Italian project, this recording feels more like falling down a rabbit hole. Baroque meets post modern and sometimes within the same track. Trovesi joined with the amateur Italian wind and percussion orchestra Filarmonica Mousike, violin-cello player Marco Remondini, percussionist Stefano Bertoli and conductor Savino Acquaviva to produce this whimsical recording.

While you will hear fragments of opera music by Rossini, Bizet, Puccini, Verdi and Monteverdi, you will also hear hints of Spanish habanera, hints of John Coltrane's Giant Steps and playful passages that recall the late Italian composer Nino Rota (most famous for his soundtracks for The Godfather and Fellini's earlier films). Trovesi proves his finesse as a clarinet and saxophone player by bridging classical, early music and jazz. The music on this recording feels holistically Italian, recalling Italian opera, Italian circus motifs and Italian cinema. But the real cinema happens when the listener allows his or her mind to wander while listening to this playful Italian village soundtrack. And meanwhile all the great opera women characters sift in and out of the room, sometimes colliding with post modern composers such as Coltrane.

The other odd aspect of this recording is that there is not a diva or leading man in sight or earshot. Even the musicians do not stay on any one piece of music long enough for this recording to act as a compilation of opera favorites. Rather than follow an obvious or even mundane route, Trovesi ingeniously captures the Italian village of his childhood where factory workers would perform opera music in amateur orchestras and workers would whistle arias from famous Italian operas. No doubt, the post war years brought American jazz, swing is mentioned in the liner notes, to the village. So all of these musical inspirations plus his own music studies in the city have contributed to All' Opera.

As far as healing potential, this music is too complex for relaxing, but if you are a musician interested in arrangement, orchestration, music history and an innovative approach to Italian opera arias, then this recording acts as dream soundtrack. What I mean, is this music provokes daydreams and even mind travel. It feels slightly nostalgic, certainly playful and brings out the inner child. As far as, active listening and passive hearing, this music demands active listening. There is too much going on musically to tune out, and I find that I feel alert listening to the music. To me it feels the same as watching a movie, only the movie is playing in my own mind.

I love innovative orchestration performed acoustic instruments so for me this CD feels like heaven, except for track #20 which is too noisy for me, with its electric cello sounding like an screechy acid rock guitar solo. Fortunately, all the other tracks satisfy my senses and leave me wanting more. I am even reminded of the Cuban-born reedman Paquito d' Rivera whose orchestra work also combines the best of jazz and classical sensibilities. All' Opera certainly is the most playful album I have heard thus far during this new year. I hope to hear more recordings of this caliber. Here's to truly adventurous music!