Thursday, December 27, 2012

Final Music Video Round-up--Quebec!

I'm in a winter music mood so for the final video round-up, I'm featuring traditional musical acts from Quebec.  This will keep you warm and toasty.  Don't pour too much maple syrup on this music.

1. Le Vent du Nord,

2. Matapat, (an ad for an album)

3. Genticorum,

4.  La Volee d' Castors (Flying Beavers),

5. Les Tireux d' Roches,

If you type in "Traditional Quebecois Music" in the YouTube search, many videos will come up, from the old music to the more contemporary sound.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Practice--20 uplifters

Since many of us believe that our moods and vibrations create what we experience in the outer world, I believe music plays a crucial role in uplifting our bodies, minds, and spirits.  Here are 10 musicians or bands to give you that extra kick and joy for life.

I've included links so you can sample a few of these artists on YouTube.  You should be able to find the others on YouTube too, but I'm leaving that legwork up to you.

1. Good Lovelies (Canada)

2. The Wailin' Jennys (Canada)

3. Le Vent du Nord and other traditional Quebecois bands (Canada)

4. Lura (Portugal/Cape Verde)

5. Habib Koite and Bamada (Mali)

6. Bob Marley (Jamaica)

7. Buena Vista Social Club (Cuba)

8. Playing for Change (international/several albums)

9. Mozart's operas (Austria)

10. Soundtrack for "The Sound of Music" (US)

11. Django Reinhardt and French swing (Belgium/France)

12. Paris Combo (France)

13. Paroplapi (France/Italy)

14. Soundtrack for "Calle 54" (Spain)

15. Miles Davis (US)

16. Duke Ellington (US)

17. Stevie Wonder (US)

18. The Bills (Canada)

19. Celso Fonseca (Brazil)

20. Hamilton de Holanda (Brazil)

And Putumayo compilations

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Practice--Awareness of Words & Intent

Crowd, photo by Patricia Herlevi
When I came up with the idea for this post on lyrical content and consciousness, I remembered an incident that I experienced shopping at Whole Foods Market in Seattle.  As I was making my way through the organic produce section, and then the supplement and beauty sections of the store, a rock song from the 1970s, "Smoking in the Boy's Room" blasted from the store's PA system. I even heard this song (which I never liked) while I was in the restroom.  And no, I wasn't smoking in the ladies room.

How many times do we find ourselves in a public situation where we have no control over words and music filtering into our brain, heart, and nervous system? I remember thinking about the irony of unhealthy music playing in a store that promoted its healthy lifestyle.  And yet, many so-called sustainable businesses have no clue about music consciousness. For the Whole Foods Market of that time (2005?), the decision makers did not make a connection between unhealthy music and unhealthy food or healthy food and healthy music.

Is it too much to ask for a peaceful salon? photo by Patricia Herlevi
Another incident took place at a hair design school for Aveda in Seattle.  I expected salon-style treatment since Aveda ads feature images from the natural world that give off a tranquil feeling.  But when I had my hair cut at this school, I was sat next to a wall with dryers rumbling on the other side and loud music blasting through the store.  My nerves felt so jangled that I left the school with a migraine and I felt furious so I sent an e-mail to the Aveda headquarters.  Of course, I never received a response.

You might wonder why I'm sharing these two experiences with you involving music awareness or consciousness.  And I believe that for anyone who is already musically aware could make a career out of consulting "green" businesses to choose healthier music choices.  But what I want to mention the most is how we carry these musical vibrations (healthy or non-healthy) around with us for the remainder of the day and any ill health effects we could experience.

With my first incident, the one I mentioned about Whole Foods, I ended up with an ear worm (lines from songs that repeat in thoughts) from the song that played in the store. All day, those lyrics, which I found negative and unhealthy (as if smoking is good for anyone), repeated in my thoughts for a few hours.  And no, listening to other music did not solve the problem.  If words, thoughts, feelings and beliefs shape our how we experience reality, then what were the words from that song doing towards shaping my reality?

marketplace, photo by Patricia Herlevi
Now, when we are in a public place, we have little control over what we hear.  We can do our best to block out the songs we hear, but our subconscious mind is still picking it up.  Our bodies are still resonating to the rhythms, words, and catchy melody and every cell in our body entrains to the rhythm of the song.  The vibration of the lyrics, especially the intent of the musicians also resonate with us.  And more sensitive people absorb these vibrations to their own detriment.

I suppose we can shield ourselves with light, carry certain crystals around with us, and ingest flower essences to protect ourselves.  But as songwriters and producers I believe that we need to become conscious of the words and intentions in the songs we compose and distribute among the masses.  Some musicians have produced kirtan or mantra CDs which work in a new age setting.  However, what happens when someone wants everyday words and stories portrayed in their songs, and they don't prefer new age CDs?

Trish Hatley came up with a brilliant idea by taking the teachings of Abraham channeled by Esther Hicks and combining affirmation lyrics to swing jazz.  Hatley's affirmations still have a story quality to them and are catchy in a pop music way so that these positive affirmations stick in the brain, in a good way.  The beauty of affirmations is that they create new grooves in the brain erasing old unworkable beliefs with more positive beliefs.

Granted, you can find tons of affirmation CDs on the market, but from my experience so many of them are cheesy, empty and set to synthesizer drone and programmed drums.  Personally,  I would feel embarrassed getting caught listening to any of those programmed affirmation CDs because of my background as a music researcher.  I choose to hear positive lyrics with warm acoustic instruments in a genre of musical styles.  This is why Hatley's CD works for me (Ask and it is Given, Trish Hatley).  And I would love to see traditional and other types of musicians employ positive affirming text to their songs.

And I would like to hear these songs played in public places.  Imagine what this could do to bolster health and well-being in our societies.  We can even sort through all the songs we already have with positive messages, because we have probably thousands of songs that fit this category worldwide.  We can have real music with life affirming or healthy lyrical content as we grow our music consciousness.  I look forward to this day.

For information about Trish Hatley's CD, go to

Friday, December 14, 2012

Top 7 Jazz CDs of 2012

I cut my CDs in half this year to concentrate on writing "Whole Music" (the book).  World Music recordings made up the bulk of reviews in 2012, while jazz and classical lingered more in the background.  Still, the 7 recordings below are phenomenal.

1. Fred Hersch Trio, Alive at the Vanguard, Palmetto

2. Jeff Hamilton Trio, Red Sparkle, Capri Records

3. Marshall Gilkes, Sound Stories, Alternate Side Records

4. Roberta Donnay, A Little Sugar, Motema

5. Gregory Porter, Be Good, Motema

6. Ahmad Jamal, Blue Moon, Jazz Village (Harmonia Mundi)

7. The Jens Wendelboe Big Band, Fresh Heat, Rosa Records

Honorable Mention: Lisa Dillan, Love Me Tender, Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Best book on music: Music Medicine by Christine Stevens (Sounds True)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Top 7 Classical Recordings for 2012

Since 2012 was a light year as far as reviewing jazz and classical recordings and heavier on world music recordings, this year I'm only including 7 recordings in the top classical and top jazz CDs for the year.  The Top Jazz CDs will appear a week from today.  You will also find two surprises on my list if you were expecting only European classical CDs.

1. Arcanto Quartett with Olivier Marron, Franz Schubert String Quintet op. 163, Harmonia Mundi

2. Kristian Bezuidenhout & Freiburger Barockorchester, Mozart Piano Concertos K. 453 & 482, Harmonia Mundi

3. Javier Perianes, Beethoven Moto Perpetuo, Harmonia Mundi

4. Isabelle Faust, J. S. Bach Sonatas & Partitas, Harmonia Mundi

5. La Nueova Musica with David Bates, Handel's Il Pastor Fido, Harmonia Mundi (box-set)

6. Ravi Shankar, The Living Room Sessions Part 1, East Meets West Music

7. Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat, Twinklings of Hope (Persian/Iranian classical), Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Thursday, December 6, 2012

In review--Radiant Ravi

Ravi Shankar
Tenth Decade DVD
In Concert: Live in Escondido
East Meets West

As Pandit (term of reverence in India) Ravi Shankar made his way to the concert stage, the 91 year old sitar player looked exhausted and dispirited.  Accompanied by his right-hand man tabla player Tanmoy Bose, master percussionist (also on tabla) Samir Chatterjee, student Ravichandra Kulur on bansuri flute (and percussion on one track), and another student Parimal Sadaphal on sitar, Shankar opened with the Alap to the evening raga, Yaman Kalyan.  By the time the musicians had joined in jod portion of the raga (when the tabla introduces beats), Shakar’s face emitted a rosy glow.  An hour and twenty-four minutes later as the musicians played the fiery last notes of the final raga, Ragamala, (based on an Indian folksong), Shankar resembled a new man, glowing from a spectacular performance.

The second raga, Khamaj in slow and medium tempo teen taal (or 16 beats per measure) develops into a mood-lifter halfway through with two percussionists, two sitar players, bansuri join in another spectacular performance, with the flute and sitar engaging in a playful call & response.  I thought the second raga was my favorite until I watched the final raga which in its course downstream flowed from ethereal to fiery reminding me of a calm river transforming into white rapids.  Through eye contact, Shakar engages the other musicians in musical challenges tossed like a tennis ball from one musician to the next.  And each musician knows instinctively what to play and when to build the excitement of the music into a crescendo (famous with Indian ragas). Each moment grows more intriguing and more delicious than the last one.

But prior to the feisty passages of the raga, the music slowed into an interlude where we could hear the singing qualities of the instruments basking in the glow of the evening.  Percussionists will find their thrills on the third track, Taal Vadya.  The fourth track Goonga Sitar offers a more experimental sound when Shankar gagged or muted the strings on his sitar, turning the lute into a percussion instrument temporarily.  The result proved interesting, but hardly compared to the three ragas that gave us more proof as to why Ravi Shankar, even in his nineties is one of the top ten musicians on the planet.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Practice-Music prescription for mood-lifting

photo by Patricia Herlevi
It happens to all of us.  Trying to stay in a good mood and beat the positive drum, and the blues comes seeping through the cracks.  Pretty soon, the funk gets deeper and the moods spiral downward.  Some people take pills, but for mild to moderate depression, try music instead.

Obviously, turning to music with self-defeating lyrics or a vocalist lashing out venom to his or her listeners won't uplift any moods.  Sometimes when people feel a funk coming on, they choose music that will only take them deeper into depression. However, working in increments of positivity goes a long way in battling a bad mood.

For moderate depression, you need to move to the next level which is anger.  For this you might need something along the lines of Beethoven's 5th Symphony or classic American blues (not the self-pitying blues).  But you don't want to wallow in anger to then you find music that will take you to the next level.  I recommend music with a heavy beat such as West African drums and really move that anger out of your system, send it deep into the earth and watch it dissolve in your thoughts.  When you feel the next level of frustration, just keep dancing--sweat it out and get those endorphins going.

Okay, so now you're ready for the more upbeat music.  I recommend any of the Putumayo compilations (safe territory for feeling groovy), Mozart operas or Italian comical operas can also get you going.  If you don't find show tunes too corny, then listen to soundtracks from both cinematic and Broadway musicals--sing along for fuller enjoyment.  Jazz and American classic songs such as Get Your Kicks on Route 66 or any of those tunes that Nat King Cole crooned during his day.  How about Banana Boat anyone?

It doesn't matter what songs we choose as long as we're buzzing from a good mood and feel more empowered from our choices.  I realize that severe depression is another story and it's best to consult a professional therapist (a music therapist would be ideal).  But for mild depression, the right music, a good diet and exercise usually brings relief.  I know from experience.

And here's a little sunshine to add to your journey on an upward spiral.

Don't forget to keep a music journal and write down results of songs.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

In review--The Eye of Oslo

Jørn Simen Ǿverli
Folk songs from Oslo
Kirkelig Kulterveksted

While many cities boast a monument at their center, a forested region marks Oslo’s center both geographically and for the recreational purposes.  This scenario ties into Norwegian folksongs from Oslo.  The press notes cite, “Folk songs from Oslo do not come easily to mind, even though they exist...”  Stretching the boundaries of folksongs from ones with anonymous authors of songs past down for several generations to folk songs composed by known artists, but also passed down, folksinger Jørn Simen Ǿverli joins Ǿyonn Groven Myhren (vocals on two tracks, 15 & 16), Frode Haltli (accordion) and Stian Cartensen (accordion, flute, banjo steel guitar, guitar...) on the accordion-centered Folk songs from Oslo.

The songs on the CD enchant and remind me of French bals-musette sung to the Norwegian language.  The jaunty accordion set to polka and waltz melodies sound more cabaret than folkloric.  Perhaps, this is because I have little go on besides the press notes which are the only text in English.  I would have loved to have seen English translations of the lyrics and English titles for the 20 tracks that appear on the CD, I was only given a handful.  The titles I do have include two polkas, Logger Song and The Girl from Sørkedalen.  Also we have the bouncy The Marching Competition and the ambient Moon Song.  My favorite songs are Varnise, a haunting ballad with Groven Myhren on vocals and the first three tracks. Groven Myhren reminds me of the Swedish folksinger Emma Härdelin (Triakel).  Perhaps the folksongs have an urban history, yet, I can see people of the forest pulling these songs out of a hat and singing them late into the night.  Bring on the accordion.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Top 10 World Music & Folkloric CDs of 2012

World and folkloric recordings make up the bulk of CDs I reviewed in 2012.  Because of that, I came up with two top 10 lists for World Music.  You'll find the other list on World Music Central later this month,

For the purpose of this list, World Music includes Americana and Native American along with Latin American, African, and European recordings (excluding jazz and classical).   This list is not in any specific order.

1. Antonio Zambujo, Quinto, World Village (Portugal)

2. Le Vent Du Nord, Tromper Le Temps, Borealis Records (Canada)

3, Radmilla Cody with Herman Cody, Songs for the People, Canyon (Navajo/US)

4. Lo'Jo, Cinema el Mundo, World Village (France)

5. Hijos de Agueybana, Agua del Sol, Tumi Music (Puerto Rico)

6. The Mountain Music Project, A Musical Odyssey from Appalachia to Himalaya, Independent release (US/Nepal)

7. Good Lovelies, Let The Rain Fall, Warner Music Group (Canada)

8. The Toure-Raichel Collective, The Tel Aviv Session, Cumbancha (Mali/Israel)

9. Silvana Kane, La Jardinera, Six Degrees Records (Canada/Peru)

10. Os Cempes, Tentemozo, Folmusica (Spain)

Special Mention:

Ceumar, Sons Do Brasil, Arc Music

Thursday, November 29, 2012

In review--Harps of Galicia

Rodrigo Romaní
As Arpas de Breogán

Oddly, Galician harpist Rodrigo Romaní new album As Arpas de Breogán (The Breogán Harps) arrived in my mailbox right after I completed a section in my book Whole Music on harps.  I knew that harps played a role in traditional and most likely classical music of Galicia (Spain), but I believe this is the first harp recording I’m hearing from Northwest Spain.  While Galicia has Celtic influences, the bagpipes, frame drums, and other instruments differ from Celtic instruments of the British Isles.  Galicians also have their own styles of Celtic music with distinguishing features.

The press notes tell the story of how the harp was introduced to Galician folk and popular music.  Rodrigo Romaní and lute-maker Ramon Casal introduced the harp to the University of Vigo in 1996.  Romaní who plays the roles of producer, composer, educator, conductor and broadcaster has built a solid reputation throughout Spain and with international orchestras.  On the recording The Breogán Harps, the songs possess both folkloric and classical strains; warm and soothing qualities.  But there are times, when the musicians (harp, flutes, vocals, percussion, etc) pick up the tempo such as on the danceable Rumba para Susi (Rumba for Susi).  Mí Morena falls more on the folkloric side with signature Galician vocals that stretch out the last syllable in a phrase.  However, the crowning glory on recording is the Suite in B-minor for Breogán Harps with its shimmering notes ascending and cascading.

Despite not being able to read the liner notes written in Gallego (Galician dialect), the music here sounds accessible and speaks a universal language.  Even music listeners who believe that they’re not interested in hearing harp music will find enough musical variety (harmonics and rhythms) on this recording to keep them satisfied.  Fans of Celtic music will immediately gravitate to this stunning CD.

Monday, November 26, 2012

In review--Soaring & Swooping

Songs from Tibet
Arc Music (2006)

My first encounter with Tibetan music occurred when I attended a concert featuring Tibetan Buddhist choir in 1994.  My friends and I were exploring various “new age” spiritualities and felt curious about the Tibetan Buddhist monks and the Dalia Lama.  In 1998, I saw Yungchen Lhamo perform Tibetan songs a cappella at WOMAD USA and then I saw her perform at WOMAD again in 2001.  Then in 2006, I saw performances by former Tibetan Buddhist monk-turned musical performer Nawang Khechog.  I also interviewed Lhamo and Khechog during those times.  Now, I’m introduced to a new performer to my ears, Techung, who resides in San Francisco and performs mostly secular folkloric songs with traditional Tibetan instruments, Damnyen (a long-necked lute) and Piwang (spiked fiddle).

I doubt I would have found this material on a Nawang Khechog recording which leans towards more spiritual aspects of living or on Yungchen Lhamo’s recordings which also have spiritual leanings.  Techung’s songs reflect on the traditional alcoholic drink chang and love songs.  Techung opens his 2006 CD, Songs from Tibet with Snow Lion of Peace dedicated to the 14th Dalai Lhama and the works of peaceful warriors who wield compassion as their “weapon of joy”.  The booklet contains text for each of the 14 tracks, and similarities between Rumi’s Sufi poems referring to intoxication as a spiritual metaphor comes to mind, especially on the love or courting song, Auspicious One, Melodiously Ascending.  The words, “The first round of chang did not make me drunk.  The second round did not make me drunk.  The one that is offered by the lady more beautiful than a goddess: A bowl full makes me drunk.”

Techung’s sweeping vocals remind me of Lhamo’s soaring vocals that slide up scales effortlessly. I’m reminded Peoples of mountainous regions tend to sing in a swooping manner.  You also hear similarities with traditional Tuvan and Mongolian music, especially the folkloric songs of the nomads and herders.  The long-necked lute’s jangly plucks also recall traditional Tuvan songs minus the throat-singing.  Overall, Songs from Tibet features gentle and relaxing songs.  On The Golden Drinking Bowl we also hear Tibetan flute mingling with the lute.  I enjoy the minimalist instrumental approach that emphasizes Techung’s stunning vocals and places an emphasis on traditional songs of a country mostly known for its people in exile and its Buddhist traditions.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

In review--Another round for the elephants

Thai Elephant Orchestra
Dave Soldier & Richard Lair
Mulatta Records (2000)

Thai Elephant Orchestra
Dave Soldier & Richard Lair
Elephonic Rhapsodies
Mulatta Records (2003)


Thai Elephant Orchestra
Dave Soldier & Richard Lair
Water Music
Mulatta Records (2010)

Never in my wildest imagination did I ever expect to review CDs by elephant musicians.  True elephants play music differently than humans, but when we consider that they are limited to a trunk and their front feet, the music they do make seems extraordinary.  Little did I know ten years ago, living in Seattle and testing recordings out on squirrels and crows that musicians with a scientific bent in New York were actually playing music with birds and elephants.  While there are likely animal advocates who will think that human musicians encroach upon the non-human’s space for ego gratification, I would disagree.  The musical interaction and interludes between humans and animals or humans and birds reconnect humans to nature.  It feels as if the animals are reminding us to play more. Anyone who has ever watched crows frolic would understand the need for all species to have fun.

Consider that the fourteen elephants who comprise the Thai Elephant Orchestra (Water Music) would be giving rides to tourists or lifting logs with their trunks to show off their strength (tedious and boring), if they didn’t paint (yes, the elephants paint) or play percussion instruments.  When you listen to the male elephant Jojo play his elephant xylophone on the debut CD you can hear him trumpeting in excitement.  When you watch the elephants in the documentary (check out YouTube for the 5-part documentary on the Thai Elephant Orchestra), the handlers known as mahouts can’t get the elephants to stop hitting the gongs or playing the xylophones.  Elephants are intelligent, social, and playful creatures who fight back when they feel exploited.  We have witnessed this with circus and zoo elephants, but clearly this is not the case with the elephant musicians.  The Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, Thailand offers the elephants a respite from arduous and abusive lives.  I also watched a video about a hospital for ill and injured elephants.  Again, you witness an interaction between humans and elephants, this time with the human musicians giving music therapy to elephants.

In 1999, Richard Lair (an elephant conservationist in Lampang) met with musician/science professor Dave Soldier in New York where the idea to teach elephants how to play music was launched.  First, instruments strong enough to withstand monsoon weather and the strength of the elephants were built or purchased.  Next, the mahouts and Soldier taught the elephants how to play the instruments using their trunks.  Finally, the crew and elephants produced three recordings and a documentary portraying the process.  The end results of the two recordings that features the elephant orchestra (the 2nd CD has a mix of human-made music and elephant music), sounds like musical sculptures played by elements (wind and rain).  Some of the pieces such as Thung Kwian Sunrise and Temple Music that open the first CD sound like relaxing wind chimes.  Harmonica Music (elephants blow on the harmonicas with their trunks) sounds bluesy.

The songs possess intangible qualities of love, joy, playfulness, and passion.  I’m reminded of young children in a musical jam session and I hear the same innocence with the elephants’ music that brings tears to my eyes at times.  Anyone who loves animals and feels sensitive to musical vibrations, especially percussive instruments would feel at home with these recordings.  It helps to have an open mind and heart too.  The most accessible of the CDs, Elephonic Rhapsodies plays like a music revue where Richard and David introduce each of the elephant musicians of the orchestra.  The commentaries amuse as do the elephants who do their own thing.  Produced for children and tourists (and as a fundraiser for the conservation efforts), this recording features mainly human musicians performing elephant theme songs and the Ganesha Symphony (Thai musicians) musically telling the story of the Hindu god Ganesh.  You’ll also find Baby Elephant Walk composed by Henry Mancini and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony First Movement on this CD.  Of course, I can hear that human music any day, and I prefer to listen to the elephants play instead.

I listened to the 2010 recording Water Music over headphones so I could hear the nuances.  I felt mesmerized by the music.  Since I know that elephants performed these songs, it’s hard for me not to feel some bias.  I wish that I had heard the songs before knowing the identity of the musicians.  If that was the case, I would have thought that the music came from an indigenous culture untouched by western civilization.  The instrument makers designed and constructed the instruments for Thai scales so that in itself sounds exotic.  The clanging of gongs and the vibrations from the thunder sheet remind me of temple music and others have also made that observation (as seen in the documentary and liner notes).

Featuring 14 elephants ranging from age 3 to 29, the songs sound lush with the elephants keeping good time, and weaving repetitive, yet intricate patterns.  It seems as if the elephants listen carefully and play with intent.  The Last Monsoon of Summer features gentle percussion with relaxing overtones.  A sound healer could even use this song to relax clients.  The elephant who plays the thunder sheet does seem enthusiastic, but the low vibration of the thunder sheet has a relaxing quality, especially for people with a dominant Vata dosha.  Bathing in the River features a stunning percussion groove played in an Asian mode.  Whereas, Sun Breaks Clouds sounds slightly discordant in an avant-garde manner, yet also feels festive with strains of harmonica and bubbling xylophone.  I’m reminded of Jeffrey Thompson’s brainwave CDs. 

The overall feeling is amazement, wonder and hope.  I feel humbled by this music because never in all my years of playing music did I ever play with innocence and total abandonment in the manner of these elephants.  This is heart-chakra opening music at best.

Friday, November 23, 2012

In review--Sexy, folky samba

Sons Do Brasil
Arc Music

Falling somewhere between Brazilian pop diva Badi Assad and Afro-Samba chanteuse Monica Salmaso, Ceumar brings us effervescent songs on her new recording Sons Do Brasil (Songs of Brazil).  Ceumar (a name that marries the sky to the sea), blends regional folk music with pop, jazz, and samba performed on this acoustic album.  Her lilting voices recall Badi Assad, but the instrumental arrangements, minimalistic of woodwinds, Portuguese guitar, acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, percussion, piano and violin (these instruments appear on the various tracks) recalls Monica Salmaso, as mentioned earlier.

Songs of Brazil is one of those albums where sweet revelry meets sensuality, and at times melancholy such as on the titular track, which speaks about the Portuguese “sodade” a term not easily explained in English--a longing sadness comes close.  Fans of the late Cape Verdean vocalist Cesária Evora will recognize this beautiful song.  And boy does this song set a mood!  You could have felt delight before you heard it, then bam, you’re feeling longing just like the vocalist.  The following song, O seu olhar also sets a mood, but a sensual one.  Even if listeners don’t understand a word of Portuguese, they’ll recall the first time they fell in love while listening to this tune.

Don’t let the sweet and lilting melody of Boi de Haxixe fool you because this song portrays a psychedelic trip, not that anyone would feel like they’re tripping when they listen to it.  Rosa Maria tells us about a seductive woman that combines culinary skills with witchery--the stuff of a magic realism book or movie.  With regional accordion ripping through the fast-tempo groove, we might feel like we have fallen under the spell of passion fruit.  Rosa Maria must have been some woman to inspire this fabulous song.  Boca da Noite sets a romantic mood with a dreamy slow tempo that causes the body to sway in response.  “He might blow up the earth, melt the snow just to find the ‘mouth’ he is longing for.”

The musicians put a lot of heart into each of the songs on the CD and carefully arranged each of the tracks, while creating lushness out of chamber music.  Ceumar has a voice that not only caresses ears, but seduces them.  It doesn’t hurt that she sings in a romance language that conjures the sea, sand, and the warm rays of Brazil.  Anyone who listens to this song during the colder and grayer days will chase blues away and experiences carnival dreams, if not downright sexy moments.

Monday, November 19, 2012

In review--Mozart's Starling

Kristian Bezuidenhout
Freiburger Barockorchester
Mozart Piano Concertos, K. 453 & 482
Harmonia Mundi

Within the past 48 hours, I learned that Mozart had a pet starling who he taught to sing and that the music he taught the bird to sing was Mozart’s Piano concerto K. 253.  The bird, like most of us humans could not grasp the complexities of Mozart’s compositions, much less sing it perfectly.  However, the famous Austrian composer’s student Fräulein Babette had no trouble learning the delightful concerto and performed it at a private concert in Vienna.  According to the liner notes, Mozart decided to forge a career as a freelance musician, composing for aristocratic families, performing in private homes, and teaching piano.  While this might sound arduous to a modern pianist/composer, this allowed Mozart freedom to explore his virtuosity and innovative ideas without an archbishop or emperor breathing over his shoulder.

We learn some wonderful tidbits on Mozart Piano Concertos, K. 253 and 482 with Kristian Bezuidenhout on keyboards and Freiburger Barockorchester with Petra Müllejans on first violin.  First, we learn that classical musicians do improvise or at least Mozart did.  We learn that Mozart loved birds, not only is pet starling, but also later his Papageno character in Magic Flute.  And oddly, an interlude that’s three-quarters of the way on Piano Concerto, No. 22, final movement, sounds like something John Coltrane cooked up, not that jazz existed in the 18th century when Mozart improvised and innovated.

With these enchanting piano concertos, Mozart explored sonorities, timbre, and mood swings.  It’s not uncommon for the first movement of a concerto to dance, sing, and lift up its giddy feet (and with Mozart this is often the case), then to follow that delight with the solemn second movement.  However, the second movements on both concertos border on grief and radiate a melancholic beauty.  The second movement of K. 482 features ethereal woodwinds over lamenting strings.  This movement stands alone as relaxation music and would feel at home in a massage practice.  However, do not play the final movement for massage patients unless you want them to leap of the table and start dancing.  This is what I mean by mood swings.

The recording itself sounds crystal clear over headphones. The instruments immerse every bodily cell in sheer delight.  I’m not familiar with these concertos so I can’t give details about liberties the musicians took with their interpretation. But, I enjoy this interpretation and all the heart and soul the musicians put into this performance.  Perhaps, if Mozart’s starling existed today, it would learn to sing the piano concerto from this marvelous recording.  And if Mozart existed in our time, I imagine he would hang out in the jazz clubs where musicians enjoy liberties and don’t worry about archbishops and emperors’ taste in music.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Practice--Responding to raw frequency

Birds do it, dogs do it, and children do it.  And before humans develop our analytical and rational minds, we also responded to music and sometimes without inhibitions.  Put on some Cuban or Brazilian or really, any type of music then watch what happens to a room full of toddlers.  They don't get out pens and paper, grab music theory books, or pontificate about perfect fifths.  They are the lucky ones who respond to music purely and in an uncomplicated manner.

A few years back, David Rothenberg (a musician/philosopher turned researcher) wondered why birds sing.  Yes, they sing for survival, mating, and defending of territory, but did they also sing for pleasure? Rothenberg leaned towards yes.  More recently, while reading Elena Mannes book The Power of Music--Pioneering Discoveries in the New Science of Song), I learned that Thai elephants can play music and that cockatoos among other creatures can synchronize to the rhythms of human made music.  In fact, I have felt engrossed with Mannes' book, while experiencing goosebumps at time.

Often the hard scientists, the biologists and ornithologists claim that we anthropomorphize when we say that birds or animals enjoy music and find it pleasurable.  "No," they say, "only humans have that capacity."  Basically, to me, these scientists promote this idea that humans stand at the top of all creation and no creatures has more intelligence or abilities than humans.  Humans after all, have rational thought.  Yes, like that's done us a lot of good.  When in fact, it is this rational and critical thought that leads us to feel a great deal of stress.  It's so stressful holding the world together and keeping all the non-humans in balance in aligned with human needs.

So the argument that I keep reading in book after book, is that intuition and feelings are sappy and wrong, and that we must only believe hard scientific facts.  But if we create our reality as in quantum physics, then I create a reality where animals and birds enjoy music along with humans; we chill together.  Yes, just like the original Garden of Eden before rational thought showed up.

The other argument is that humans only listen and play music for pleasure or are the only earth creature that has this unique ability.  Birds only sing to court other birds, to mate, to protect their nest and to defend territory.  They also sing for survival.  Are these scientists telling us that humans don't sing to attract mates, for survival, to spread messages or other reasons than pure pleasure?

Then why do I recall rock musicians writing songs so that they could get laid? Isn't that about attracting mates? And what about those medieval troubadours and court musicians who composed and sang songs to attract unrequited lovers? Some were even successful, until the kings found out.  And are these scientists proposing that early humans before they had language, did not sing certain songs to warn the others about predators or to defend territory? I'm just not buying that they didn't sing for those reasons.

I think it is time for humans to step down from their pedestals and admit we are not superior to the myriad of creatures that exist on the earth.  Watch the following videos and then decide which you prefer, listening to music purely for the frequencies and emotions conveyed or listening to music with your rational and analytical thoughts jamming the signal.  Personally, I think children and non-humans are the lucky ones.  Even as a music journalist I grow tired of critiquing music, of sifting through details, and asking my subjective and sometimes defensive mind, do you like this or not? After all, music is for the heart, not the brain so let's get over ourselves.

The Thai Elephant Orchestra,

BBC documentary Why Birds Sing (6 parts),

Through a Dog's Ear (CBS Early Show),

Zebra Finches playing rock guitar,

Dancing Cockatoo,

Friday, November 9, 2012

In review--Lo'Jo Returns

Cinéma el Mundo
World Village

It takes a global village to make a Lo’Jo album, but then Lo’Jo, hailing from Angers, France, feels more like a collective of nomadic musicians, than a structured sextet.  After a hiatus from North America, the French band has returned with the eclectic Cinéma el Mundo (Cinema of the World) that harks back to Lo’Jo’s Mojo Radio of the late 1990s, but minus rousing songs such as Mojo Radio and Sin Acabar.  The new album possesses a more contemplative sound and like the cinema in its title, conjures floating images.

I have yet to come across a world music act that fuses whirling circus music with traditional instruments from Africa, Asia, and Europe in the manner of Lo’Jo--“original” doesn’t come close to describing this band’s music.  I imagine any music journalist new to the scene will choke on adjectives trying to describe this band that defies any labels.  Then with each album, the musicians delve deeper into the “Lo’Jo effect” (phrase coined by me).

Alger features swirling waltz-like piano and Richard Bourreau’s gypsy violin with Denis Péan’s gruff vocals punctuating the song. El Cabo also flows to a slower tempo with a waltz-like feeling, but this time the vocalist sisters, Nadia and Yamina Nid El Mourid chip in their luxurious harmonies.  Perhaps, it is my imagination but Lo’Jo stays with a 3/4 time signature for the bulk of the recording, which creates a dreamy atmosphere that at times feels like underwater music or that I have stepped into an alternate universe.

Oh, we’re not through with the delightful surprises yet.  On Cométe Algébrique, Péan and his bandmates bring the world to us, but melding European strings with a Chinese traditional erhu played by Guo Gan and darn, if I don’t feel like I’m watching Chinese classic cinema.  The following track, Vientiane also features the Chinese effect, but with western-style vocals--comes off as exquisite.  I’m not going to describe the remainder of tracks, but I will say, Cultural Creatives, this album was made for you.  Anyone who has accumulated the global miles Lo’Jo has would also sound like a global village.  This French band has the world pulse at its fingertips along with a rainbow bridge of humanity.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Practice--Moving on, evolving upwards

photo by Patricia Herlevi, Angels in the Sky
A strange idea came up for this post.  I feel that since many people are going through divorce, separation or breakups, I'll blog on healing music for these circumstances.  And of course, you would listen to different types of music during the various stages of your soul's evolution after a breakup or divorce.  I'm including music that is familiar to most people, mainly popular types of music such as rock, jazz, show tunes, and bluegrass.

Let's start with the tension felt by a couple when separation is inevitable.  The couple has tried therapy, learned better communication skills, but the spark has left, and so have any reasons for keeping the relationship together.  This stage also reveals the inner workings of each person in the couple, if they tune into that silent space inside them.  The souls yearn for a different life, and not just the grass looking greener in the neighbor's yard.

For this stage, I recommend Carol King's Too Late

Once the couple faces the truth and goes through the excruciating separation, they begin the dark night of the soul. One person stays behind in the house that was once shared while the other moves into a new space that feels empty.  Memories of better times haunt both people, usually, and they fight the urge to return to an unworkable situation. The ego cannot just let go and ride the adventure into the unknown not yet.  However, because of the empty feeling, either person might have a sexual fling, start drinking, or look for some other mode of escape to curb the emptiness and disappointment or guilt.

Since this is still a realization stage, I'm recommending the Wailin' Jennys' Something to Hold Onto, 

More evolved souls might move through this stage quicker than others, especially people who practice self-love.  For these folks I recommend The Wailin' Jennys again, Heaven When We're Home, (this has some humor too),

Others will delve deeper into the darkest of the night.  I recommend Dead Can Dance, Host of the Seraphim (you could also substitute a requiem),  and if you don't feel this heavy of grief, then substitute Stevie Wonder's All in Love is Fair,

Now out of the denial stage, anger and outrage takes over.  Music therapists and other therapists would ask their clients to find healthy outlets to vent the anger (while replacing the removed energy with more peaceful energies).  A person could feel anger in the form of sadness too.  I recommend listening to fados, American blues, or flamenco songs.  I also recommend dancing to West African drums or some other type of music that helps the person ground themselves in reality.

Here is flamenco diva Estrella Morente singing at her father's funeral, (you can find plenty of flamenco songs on YouTube). or

Soon a light starts glimmering at the end of a tunnel.  Sparks of life emit and an inner sun warms up from the winter ice and frost.  New interests come into the person's life, maybe a new job or a new home.  New friendships are possible now as are new creative pursuits.  Rebirth is imminent.  For this moment, I recommend Cat Stevens Morning has Broken, or Edith Piaf's La Vie en Rose,

And finally after full emergence into the world, I recommend George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue,

Well, you get the picture, substitute any of the above songs to suit your needs.  And don't forget to keep a music journal.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In review--A whole lot of sugar in the bowl

Roberta Donnay
& The Prohibition Mob Band
A Little Sugar

American jazz chanteuse Roberta Donnay takes a journey through jazz history on her juicy CD, A Little Sugar.  The songs range from 1897 to present day while showing off blues, Dixieland, and swing roots.  Donnay immerses herself in the feminist sentiments of Roaring twenties and Depression Era women jazz singers, and Donnay’s softer vocals take on a gritty edge even with songs by Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael. Woman empowerment, though tongue and cheek on songs such as One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show come into play.  Playful is the right word to describe this recording and if you want sexy innuendos listen to (Tropical) Heatwave or (I Want a Little) Sugar in My Bowl.  If you look for clever lyrics, you’ll find plenty here and you’ll chuckle at the witty one-liners too.  After listening to this CD, I feel like watching Hollywood classics, even Silent Era movies.

Backed by John R. Burr (piano), Sam Bevan (bass), Michael Barsimanto (drums), Rich Armstrong (horns), Sheldon Brown (reeds and flute), Wayne Wallace (trombone) and Ed Ivey (tuba on Mama’s Gone, Goodbye and You’ve Been a Good Ole Wagon), this band has a delightful time recreating the past.  From jazz ballads such as Irving Berlin’s 1932 Say it isn’t So to send-ups such as Ida Cox’s 1939 You Got to Swing and Sway, Donnay spotlights her vocal and emotional range.  The press notes mention Donnay’s research into the history of American jazz and a few of her discoveries about the rough and tumble jazz divas of former eras.  You don’t need to know any of this history, and you’ll still feel and get the sentiments on A Little Sugar.  And since these songs go down relatively easy, you won’t need any sugar.