Saturday, June 26, 2010

In review--Heading North (edit)

My Romance
Alma Records

Canadian jazz vocalist Kristy Cardinali tackles those old jazz standards on her debut recording My Romance. Jazz standards only sound simple on the surface. The torch songs require a palette of emotions, and the voice must sing well-modulated phrasings, which is daunting even to veteran jazz vocalists. Kristy (she uses the singular name as her moniker), nails the faster numbers such as Just One of Those Things and Bye Bye Blackbird (which she delivers a breathtaking rendition), and now that I have downloaded an upgrade for Media Player, I can hear lovely nuances in her vocals.  Though I still think I've heard better interpretations of You Don't Know Me.

In fact, the best version ever I have heard of You Don’t Know Me was recorded by a jazz chanteuse from my neck-of-the-woods, Trish Hatley, granted, a vocalist that is easily twice Kristy’s age. Hatley is among my favorite singers of jazz standards along with Greta Matassa (Seattle). These 2 vocalists milk every note in the standards they perform, every nuance comes through in passionately delivered vocals. Whereas, Kristy sings the standards in a somewhat detached manner.  She would excel at bluegrass swing and classic country western tunes. Even though I enjoy listening to her version of The Beatles’ Blackbird, I wish she put more soul and ache into the song. For whatever reason, Blackbird has always sounded like an African-American spiritual to me.  McCartney's version was somewhat cheerful, but then some African-American musicians got ahold of it and added bluesy elements to it.

My Romance provides gorgeous musical arrangements and Kristy stands up well to the virtuoso piano playing of Robi Botos and the other well-known musicians on the recording such as Kevin Breit.  She exudes confidence on the faster songs, she sings in a gutsy manner and her timing is spot-on. She’s still a young performer with some growth ahead. Even Matassa and Hatley had to start somewhere and jazz vocalists know that you keep hammering away at the music until you get it right.  Some vocalists don't hammer out the classics until well into their middle age years.  Kristy definitely has musical genes coming from a family of musicians and producers.

In a few years time, if Kristy keeps at it, she’ll set herself in the firmament of young jazz performers. Taking cues from another young jazz vocalist Heather Masse (The Wailin’ Jennys) couldn’t hurt either.

Kristy's debut recording sounds pleasant and velvety even if the vocal delivery feels dry at times. As mentioned earlier, jazz standards are a hard nut to crack. Still I’d like to keep a watchful eye on this Canadian jazz vocalist and observe her talent evolve in the upcoming years. Certainly the arrangements on this album shine and its lovely to hear the musicians on this album pull it together in a polished delivery.

Friday, June 25, 2010

In review--Casals' Cello

Pablo Casals (1876-1973)
J.S. Bach Suites for Cello Volume 1
Great Recordings of the Century

I first heard about the Catalan cellist Pablo Casals in the Canadian film, 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould. The Glenn Gould character produced a radio documentary where he interviewed the great cellist. Glenn Gould did for J. S. Bach’s keyboard pieces what Pablo Casals had done for Bach’s Cello Suites and that was to remove the stigma of overly academic from Bach’s masterpieces. And in the hands of virtuoso interpreters such as Gould and Casals, the piano sonatas, and Cello Suites took on a new vivacious life. Bach’s music had been reconsidered and accepted by a broader public.

Pablo Casals was born in the Catalan region of Spain (also home of the early music interpreter/performer Jordi Savall and his family), in 1876 and by the age of 5, he showed an aptitude for music. His musical training began with keyboards, but he would later fall in love with the cello. He was performing professionally by the age of 12 when he came across the manuscript of J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites. In the liner notes Casals is quoted, “For twelve years I studied and worked at them every day and I was nearly 25 before I had the courage to play one of them in public. Before I did, no violinist or cellist had ever played the Suite in its entirety.” Another 35 years passed before Casals recorded the Cello Suites (1936).

The digital re-master of Casal’s recording sounds remarkable, given all the years that passed since the studio recording. Casal plays each suite with a different palette of emotions. The combination of Bach’s and Casal’s genius as composer and performer lend itself to a powerful musical experience. I’ve heard Yo-Yo Ma’s Cello Suites recording too, beautiful in its own right, but feels like a mere shadow in comparison to Casal’s vintage recording. And I’m sure that Yo-Yo Ma would agree, not that he’s not a virtuoso in his own right, but that one must bow to the master. Casal pioneered this work, brought it back into the public’s eye and thought of the manuscript as so precious that it took him 12 years of getting it right before he launched its haunting beauty on the public.

I could sit here and string adjectives together to describe the experience of listening to Casal’s Cello Suites. But I would rather you listen to this recording on your own. This barebones session features a man bonding with his cello and with the baroque composer Bach. The performance transcends its early 20th century studio limitations. Perhaps that is why this recording is thought of as a treasure by musicians and Bach aficionados. You can literally hear the years of sweat and toil that went into mastering these suites. Casal plays with bold confidence and he also allows the music to play itself. Listening to this recording feels deeply spiritual and even meditating for hours couldn’t take me to the peaceful place this recording takes me.

In fact, if I could own only one Bach recording, this would be the one for me. One moment it relaxes me, the next it inspires and energizes me, especially the last suite #3 (there are 6 cello suites total), which ends the recording. And I would predict that anyone listening to this recording who wasn’t previously a fan of the cello, will suddenly love the instrument with its lonely cries, breaths, and wistfulness. This is easily one of the best recordings of recording history. And a must-have CD in every collection.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In review--Recorders, Recorders, Recorders!

Maurice Steger
Giuseppe Sammartini
Sonate (for flute and bass continuo)
Harmonia Mundi (2007)

I found flautist Maurice Steger’s baroque recording Sonate (for flute and bass continuo) at the library and I’ve been listening to it often during the past 2 days. I also saw Italian baroque composer Giuseppe Sammartini listed on another CD I listened to recently so I wanted to explore his music further. His work is completely new to my ears but I love the composer’s clean, yet complex arrangements. I find Steger’s flute pierces through any chaos in my life and flute/recorder finds a home among the bassoon, harpsichord, organ, lutes, violincello, and harp that takes turns playing the bass continuo.

Steger, an accomplished flautist from Switzerland performs diverse music ranging from the baroque period to contemporary times. He performs on traverse flute and various baroque recorders, while leaving a favorable impression for the recorder. I realize that the recorder is an important player with early music, but I’ve never been fond of it, since I just recall those plastic recorders from grade school, which I will admit is a poor cousin to the exquisite recorders played on Sonate. The music on the recording ranges from playful romps to ethereal masterworks. My favorite pieces feature the flute/recorder with the harpsichord playing the bass continuo, but every piece among the 25 tracks has found a place in my heart---stunning!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Essay--Beethoven's 5th & Anger Management

Mad About Beethoven 

We all feel angry or frustrated at times.  I don't believe in suppressing anger/frustration and speaking through a tight fake smile.  I also don't feel that it is appropriate to vent anger, to rant, and to take out anger on other humans and creatures.

When we feel angry we can listen to music that matches our frustration level to help us release it safely and sanely.  We could use movement with the music, have a good cry, scream into a pillow (though some psychotherapist and metaphysicians frown on this practice), or just sit and listen to the music, allowing it to move you through your feelings.

Don't focus on what sparked your anger/frustration since that's like adding oil to a fire.  Focus on the emotions you feel and don't judge them.  Go as deep as you can within yourself and see where those emotions take you. 

While I'm sure you know of plenty of music that can go to that angry place with you, how about music that starts in that place of frustration/helplessness and eventually leads you to a triumphant place?  Beethoven's 5th Symphony does just that.

I've written a lot about this symphony on WME for good reason.  I've listened to the symphony myself when working through darker emotions and found it effective.  Here is the breakdown on the symphony's 4 movements to give you ad idea of its powerful therapeutic effect.

First Movement---Fate knocking on the door.  Da, da, da, daaa, da, da, da, daaa, sounds angry doesn't it? And the tension keeps building from that opening phrase.  Fate knocking on the door comes for a reason.  Perhaps that fate comes in the form of illness, an accident, a job loss or something else that takes you to your edge.  You find yourself alone looking in the mirror and at first you might not recognize yourself staring back.  Time to become acquainted with the real you and what makes you tick.

But hold on, just like Joseph Campbell's warrior's journey, will the hero answer the call? In this case, you are the hero and an event or circumstance beckons to you to see what you're made of.  Will you walk in integrity as you're pushed to the edge or will you just blow up and cause more damage to yourself and others?

The First Movement offers the choice between throwing a trantrum or sharpening the blade of your intellect and skills.  Is your heart in it? Can you stomach what fate has brought to the door? And so the First Movement ends with frenzied notes--chaos.

The Second Movement, Adante con moto, brings in the regal horns and romantic sweeping strings.  This represents the part of the heroes journey when he or she has come riding out of the woods into a sunny meadow.  The hero is still on the way to conquer what fate has brought to the door, but enjoys a respite.  Think of the more pastoral scenes in the Lord of the Ring series, when companions get together, drink, are merry, but also realize what dangers lurk in the future.

The Third Movement, Allegro, starts out on a playful note with a gentle call and response between the horns and the strings/flutes, but you can hear tension bubbling below the surface--it's the monster hiding beneath the deep waters of the lake or the unconscious mind, the stuff where we trip ourselves up, but at the moment, we're still enjoying a dreamy or romantic distraction.

The personality of this movement reminds me of the person that says everything is okay, but he knows, and we know, everything is not okay.  Why show such a brave face? Is this ego, pride, or concern for others? What is the cheerful act masking?  Obviously the reason for the anger still exist and must be dealt with by this point.

And if it is dealt with, then we move on to the final movement of the symphony.  This is when the hero rides his horse triumphant through the streets.  The regal horns return and offer pomp and the orchestra responds with victorious declarations.  The rush of notes leading to(unfortunately these runs skip on the CD I checked out from the library), a victorious conclusion, and you can feel it in every part of your body, but especially in the heart.

If you're honest with yourself and your emotions while listening to this symphony, you will be able to work through your anger.  If you have deeper issues, then seeking help from a certified music therapist would assist you further on your journey towards wholeness.

I once listened to this symphony when I was searching for a new place to live.  I found a possible place, but couldn't answer the knock at the door so I lost the place to someone more willing to take a risk.  I felt confident after listening to the symphony and I felt that I could manifest anything, but I was surprised when I manifested my wish quickly and I didn't act on it.

Now, I realize the power behind this music and I know what it can achieve.  It's not that anyone could take this popular symphony lightly, not if he or she gives it a good listen.  It's as if this symphony contains every event in the composer's life, events of the past, the present, and his future (as his hearing further deteriorated).  While we may never share Beethoven's fate, through his symphony we can build self-confidence, work through our anger, and emerge triumphant.

Monday, June 21, 2010

WME Tip--Balancing Doshas During Change of Season

Even if you don't know your personal dosha, we are now moving into the summer Pitta Dosha season.  And every change of season also has a strong Vata element.  So here are some musical tips to help you balance the Pitta and Vata doshas.

For Vata, remember that slow, low, repetative and warming music balances the dosha.  So here are a list of recordings that can help you in balancing this dosha.

Marjorie de Muynck, In the Key of Earth, Sounds True
Lisa Spector and Joshua Leeds, Through a Dog's Ear Volumes 1 and 2, (works for humans too), Sounds True and BARD
Dr. Andrew Weil and Joshua Leeds, Relax and De-Stress/Deep Calm, Sounds True
The Miracles (and wine series) on Kirkelig Kulturverksted (Norway,
This series includes Spain, France, Italy and the New World (cello and piano anchor the music)

Also try the Alap section of Indian ragas and you can try relaxation CDs that feature nature sounds. Vata tends over intellectualizes, gets caught up in thoughts, is windy, flighty and nervous so balancing this dosha brings peace of mind.

For Pitta (fire) we often need to cool tempers and practice patience.  The body and mind can overheat during this time, anger could explode.  So to balance this dosha, you need to choose music that reflects your current emotional state and then work from that point.

So if you are feeling particularily fiery, than start with flamenco music, some rock music, fast Latin American music, Beethoven's 5th Symphony (1st movement) or Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos 2 & 3.  You can listen to the composition section of a raga (that's the fast and fiery section).  So match your mood and energy with music and then work your way to a calming place by slowly changing the music.

You could end with the pastoral movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, the Alap section (introduction) of an Indian raga, Native American flute, Celtic harp or other relaxing music.  This way you don't shock your system with music that opposes your moods.  I find that with Pitta (I have this dosha along with Vata), you must start with the faster more stimulating music and gradually work your way to relaxing music.

Try these suggestions and let me know if it works for you.  I would love to hear your input regarding any of the tips on this blog.