Sunday, August 15, 2010

In review--Meditative Waters

Riley Lee
Shakuhachi Water Meditations
Tranquil Sounds of the Zen Bamboo Flute
Sounds True

It’s not often that a title of an album succinctly describe its musical content. Zen bamboo flute player Riley Lee’s album Shakuhachi Water Meditations actually conjures images of a flute player sitting next to a body of water with perhaps a bamboo forest responding in the background. Lee hails from the West and I’ve heard at least one of his other recordings released on Narada many years ago. I don’t fully recall his journey into Zen Buddhism or his original attraction to the Japanese bamboo flute (with origins in China), except that anyone wishing to learn this instrument must take on the role of a disciple with a Zen master and it is a years-long process. And at the beginning you perform chores for your master teacher, the flute playing comes later in the journey.

According to the liner notes, “Every shakuhachi begins as a stalk of yellow-green bamboo swaying in the wind…Although the shakuhachi has fewer finger holes than almost any other wind instrument (four in front, one in the back), it can produce an unbelievable wide range of sounds.” Lee experiments a little with this ancient instrument (hails from the eight century), in that in some instances the flute resembles instruments from Central Asia and even Scandinavia when he experiments with the flute’s rich overtones.

All the tracks prove relaxing and as the title would imply, meditative. The album lends itself well to relaxing before bedtime or waking up slowly with the music playing in the background the following morning. This is also the type of music you would want to listen to when you feel tense, coming down with a virus, or need to get your mind off of your troubles. The music can also be listened to for sheer pleasure or to take in another culture or spiritual practice. It creates stillness and does embody images of the ocean, a pond, or a still lake. In fact, I’m thinking of a beautiful lake in north Bellingham, Washington.

I highly recommend Tranquil Sounds of the Zen Bamboo Flute for hospice workers, massage therapist and other energy workers, as well as, hospital music therapy programs, and for those who meditate. Perfect for relaxation therapy and a wonderful cure for insomnia.

In review--Franco-American Vermont

Michèle Choinière
La Violette
Independent release (Franco-American folkloric)

I read the book The Town that Food Saved that focused on the food system of a village of 3,000 people, Hardwick, Vermont. The author of the book mentioned a community of French-Canadians that immigrated to Vermont to set up dairy farms during the early decades of the 20th century. While there are few French-Canadian dairy farms left in Vermont and many of the former Canadians assimilated into American (US) culture, a few diehards such as Michèle Choinière still exist. And what’s interesting about Choinière is that she collects music from Acadians, Quebecois, 20th century France and her own lineage in Vermont. She considers La Violette a dance album and sure enough, you’ll find waltzes and soiree (kitchen party) send-ups on the album.

While there isn't enough space in a CD review to delve into contrasts and comparisons between the Franco-Vermont music and Cajun music of Louisiana or traditional Quebecois fare, you’ll hear obvious connections such as a focus on waltzes (share with Cajuns), feet and spoons playing out enticing rhythms and hearty call and response vocals (Quebecois), which isn’t surprising since the Franco-Vermonters originally came from French-Canada.

Even of more importance is Choinière’s choice of songs which she collected, and her powerhouse voice that lends itself well to the Edith Piaf songs she covers on La Violette. In fact, she embodies Piaf and at times is a dead ringer for the late singer. She provides two versions of Padam, Padam—the first version features guitar and gypsy-style violin and the second her vocals are backed by Rachel Aucoin’s piano, which in itself conjures up a French cabaret atmosphere. On the Piaf song Tu es Partout the French gypsy violin returns. These aren’t the only two gems on an album filled with show stoppers.

Vive la rose features solo voice with beautiful inflections and sharp intonation. The lament sur le pont de Londres follows with its haunting and melancholic atmosphere. Aucoin’s piano contributes to the sadness with its solemn tones. But before too many tears are lost, the musicians perform a flirtatious French classic (from the 1920s) Brind’Amour. The accordion solo performed by Sabin Jacques alone has the ability to entice and with Choinière’s rousing vocals, irresistible. A rousing wedding song follows and we’re up on our feet dancing.

Listening to La Violette feels delightful, almost like a guiltless pleasure. I can hear why Choinière has chosen to preserve these songs and her heritage. I’m thankful that she has chosen to share it with us. (As I play this CD, the chickadees outside my window sing along). and