Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In review--Music for Manhattan

Anat Cohen
Notes from the Village
Anzic Records

Not long ago, reed woman Anat Cohen was in Seattle. I missed her show. Then a few days ago I found her delightful recording Notes from the Village at my local library. And these notes from Manhattan’s East Village, I’m guessing, provide a global sound with everything from klezmer clarinet runs that bring pleasurable chills to my spine to Afro-Latin rhythms which kick into action halfway through the song Siboney. Cohen also pays respect to the late John Coltrane on her interpretation of After the Rain and to Fats Waller and Sam Cooke (A Change is Gonna Come).

I admit that I check recordings out from the library and then most of them are only played once and just sit on the shelf next to my player. But with Notes from the Village, I’ve listened to this recording while catching up on my work, upon waking in the morning (before I meditate), and at various times throughout the day. I’m impressed with Cohen’s talent as a jazz-world music player, her arrangements, and her original compositions. Since I grew up with all the most celebrated virtuosos, men, when I hear a women virtuoso, my heart screams, "YES!"

I see all those years where Cohen must have sat in her room practicing away and hopefully grabbing some inspiration from other women players and composers. And even if she didn’t she brings so much women power to her playing in the form of perfect timing, musical twists, and intuitive hunches with payoffs. On Until You’re In Love Again, which follows the rousing opener Washington Square Park, Cohen slows it down to a romantic, yet melancholic mood. Her clarinet just barely above a whisper laments over piano arpeggios and a kit drum played with brushes. I’m reminded of French Impressionist paintings which from far away give a sharper image, than up close because it’s how everything comes together to give us wholeness.

The pieces of this particular song come in the form of piano, guitar and clarinet solos with the song growing more passionate by the minute until Cohen’s clarinet hits full sail three quarters of the way through and then gradually descends back to a whisper. The interpretation of Ernesto Lecuona’s Siboney tells a different story—one where the American blues connects with Afro-Cuban son and Cohen’s clarinet takes on a Gershwin-like quality (think Rhapsody in Blue meets Tropicana). Also falling into a soulful vein is the cover of Sam Cook’s A Change is Gonna Come.  Her fiery sax playing on Lullaby for the Naive Ones certainly hits the spot.

There is no weak track on this album, no throwaway songs, and every song is played with sweat, gusto, and virtuosity by the entire band. Why has it taken me this long to find this CD? And why aren’t musicians shouting from the rooftops about this incredible musician Anat Cohen? Got me. But I hope that young women musicians listen to this recording and other Anat Cohen recordings for inspiration. While Coltrane, Davis, and the other jazz legends inspire us, they’ve passed on and we need some new music to keep the flame alive. Besides, I was listening to Coltrane's Giant Steps and My Favorite Things as well as, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue concurrent with Cohen's CD and I enjoyed this CD the most.

These sweet notes emanating from the East Village certainly satisfy my soul. Kind of makes me wish I was hanging out on a fire escape in Manhattan listening to great jazz and world musicians rehearsing their music. What can I say? I love this CD. And next time, Anat Cohen plays in Seattle, I’ll try my best to attend the concert. and

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In review--Norwegian Wood

Sondre Bratland and Annbjorg Lien
Kirkelig Kultureverksted

Two of Norway’s biggest musical talent, singer/balladeer Sondre Bratland and hardanger fiddler Annbjorg Lien combine their talents on Everywhere. The throaty laments of the fiddle frame Bratland’s baritone voice on this wintry album.

“For a number of years the duo of Sondre Bratland and Annbjorg Lien has been performing concerts in Norwegian churches. This CD Everywhere presents their fully ripened versions of Norwegian religious folk songs.” (Liner notes). The recording features lively and somber songs.

The Norwegian folk elements are most evident on the lilting melodies sung in Norwegian and the folk fiddling that rivals American bluegrass with its twang and twists. Both Bratland and Lien have produced several critically-acclaimed albums over the decades, though Lien is decades younger than Bratland who is a true veteran of Norwegian folk and sacred music. Lien performed with her own band for several years and I still have her Alien Live album which was released ten years ago in North American on the Northside label.

Both of these musicians know how to milk every note and to draw colors from an emotional palette. The timbres of the fiddle and Bratland’s vocals mesh well together with the fiddle playing in a singing style. Lien also lends her vocal skills on 2 of the tracks (tracks 4 and 12 for instance) joining Bratland in a duet. This nice gem would feel more at home on a blustery autumn or winter day, than it does on a bright summer morning. It’s one of those recordings that beg for hearth and home, family and comfort. And for fans of Scandinavian folk music, it’s a must for the collection. Gorgeous!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

In review--tsunami music (The Way the Wind Blows)

Laya Project

In 2004 before the tsunami hit South Asia and East Africa, animals and indigenous people fled to higher ground. There intuition had saved them from one of the greatest disasters to happen in the last decade. The aftermath brought much needed attention to the poorer communities bordering the Indian Ocean and climate change, and also exotic music that might not have been brought to the world’s attention had the tsunami not struck ground in this region of the world.

Laya Project’s Tsunami Music: Sounds Embrace Survival from the Maldives to Myanmar, from India to Indonesia, spearheaded by Patrick Sebag and project producer and director (both a documentary and double CD) Sonya Mazumdar, the repertoire here comments on the musical vastness of this planet. While the CDs contain plenty of tabla beats, Indian twang, bansari flutes etc, listeners also hear Buddhist chants, love songs for the departed, and the rich polyphony gamelan of Indonesia. The vocals of many villages and countries share their laments and hope as they rebuilt their communities and shared their culture through music. After all, music has the power to heal individuals, community, and the world as it sends out its message of love.

I was expecting a field recording that gathered traditional music from the Asian, East Asian and African villages affected by the tsunami, but instead my ears adjusted to field recordings combined with programming and orchestral arrangements. At first I didn’t care for the processed music, but after subsequent listens, I think the producers have done a fabulous job combining sounds of the modern world with traditional music. And only a few of us would pick up a field recording anyway, whereas, I admit this more modern approach will reach the ears of younger generations which include the world’s future leaders, future grassroots organizers, and future music producers.  These are the generations that need to learn about world hunger, climate change, and the economics of developing countries, not that such a hefty burden should be thrusts upon their shoulders, but that they inherit the burden regardless based on the time in history in which they were born.

Besides, the healing power of music happens on many levels, including the level of building community through music. No one is going to mistake the music on these CDs for relaxing and de-stressing music. What is offered here provides a different kind of therapy and that is the healing of an entire planet by recognizing other nations and communities through their music. And who is to say that the music provided on these disc doesn't heal the grief faced by the families who lost their homes and loved ones during the 2004 tsunami? The song In the Sky features a singer lamenting about the wife he lost (Sri Lanka) and various religious chants (Muslim, Buddhist, Christian and indigenous) on the CDs offer solace and hope.

The scope of Laya Project, both musically and socio-politically is too large to review in its entirety as are the healing results of such a project. I can only hope that the musicians on the project, who listeners might come to love, have rebuilt their lives during the past 6 years, that hearts have healed, and that this gorgeous music reaches a wider audience of caring folks.  And kudos to the caring hearts that produced this enormous project. and