Friday, January 27, 2012

Immune-boosting classical music

So many times I have read studies about depression lowering immune responses and happiness boosting immunity.  I believe this is true and I believe that the pleasure of listening to delightful music enhances are immunity.  I know when I feel rundown with a cold or other infections, I bring out my favorite classical pieces.  Here is a list of 10 I highly recommend. Try them, and I guarantee you will shorten your recovery time.

1. Prelude to the Afternoon of the Faun--Claude Debussy (French)

2. Clarinet Concerto in A major--W.A. Mozart (Austrian)

3. Exsultate Jubilate--Mozart

4. Rhapsody in Blue--George Gershwin (American)

5. The Grand Canyon Suites--Ferde Grofe (American)

6. Appalachian Spring--Aaron Copeland (American)

7. Six Brandenberg Concertos--J. S. Bach (German)

8. Piano Concerto in G major--Maurice Ravel (France)

9. The Fountains of Rome--Ottorino Respighi (Italy)

10. The Swan of Tuonela--Jean Sibelius (Finland)

If you need a huge boost try the movie soundtrack for The Sound of Music or listen to Judy Garland sing "Somewhere over the Rainbow" a few times.

If you feel anger and helplessness, then listen to Beethoven's 5th Symphony which will take you from despair to triumph, if you listen to its entirety.

Monday, January 23, 2012

In Review--Jungle Sounds and Waterdrums

Oka! (Listen)
Film Soundtrack
Oka Productions

I first became acquainted with the music of the Central African pygmies (Congo, Cameroon), when I discovered the music of the Afro-Celtic band Baka Beyond.  I felt fascinated with the pygmies’ music because these indigenous people learned to make music from the natural environment of the deep forest.  From exotic bird calls, to complex poly rhythms, and vocals not easily described, the pygmies celebrate life via music.  Not only that, even with strange and exotic sounds, the pygmies’ music is accessible.

The feature film Oka! (listen), brings us hybrid music that combines a movie soundtrack with a field recording sensibility.  And in fact, the movie revolves around ethnomusicalogist Louis Sarno, a leading expert of the pygmies music.  He ignored a life-threatening illness, according to the press notes, and stayed on with the pygmies for three decades, recording their music.  In a life imitates art effort, film director Lavinia Currier teamed up with musician and engineer Chris Berry to bring us a hybrid collection of music.  Technically, Oka! isn't a field recording even though it bears the marks of one.  Berry did record the Bayaka live in their environment, performing their traditional music, even women cupping water (Waterdrum), creating a marimba-like instrument out of nature.  But this raw music is enhanced with modern sounds.  And you even hear a bit of Congolese dance music on track 12, Bokete.

In common with both a movie soundtrack and field recording, listeners are only granted snippets of these exotic voices, drums, and nature.  While Berry mentions in the press notes that he needed to enhance the raw sounds with electronics because he felt concerned about accessibility, I prefer the raw sounds in the purist form.  Then again, I’m a field recording junkie. What comes across on this splendid soundtrack is a world of sounds, we westerners have barely explored.  While we often accredit the genius status to our modern musicians, and some people consider music of indigenous people primitive, the musical connection to nature, the resourcefulness and wisdom of the pygmy musicians blow my mind. Imagine the depth of understanding of natural world it takes to create this astounding music.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

In Review--As good as it gets

Gregory Porter
Be Good

Ever so often a musician blazes their way into my life--Gregory Porter is one such musician.  Last year I reviewed his sizzling debut Water.  Like other journalists, I leaped onto the Marvin Gaye comparison bandwagon. Oh, yes, there’s much to compare between the two musicians such as powerful voices that move mountains, a storytelling gift, and delightful music arrangements.  On the sophomore CD, Be Good,Gregory roots himself deep with the African-American culture of NYC and currently resides in Brooklyn.  Listen to the rousing third track, On My Way To Harlem in Porter gives homage to Duke Ellington, Marvin Gaye and the author Langston Hughes. He croons, more or less, roars, “You can’t keep me away from where I was born.  I was baptized by my daddy’s horn.”

Porter sings from a vibrant palette and his songs range from the tender, yet ironic title track in which he waxes metaphors about lions and cages, to the sweet homage to his mother, Mother's Song.  Porter swings, croons, roars, and shifts through several mood swings throughout the duration of the recording.  Meanwhile he’s collaborating with producer Brian Bacchus, arranger and Kamau Kenyatta, and the spectacular musicians Chip Crawford (piano), Aaron James (bass), Yosuke Sato (alto sax), Tivon Pennicott (tenor sax), Emmanuel Harrold (drums) and Kenyon Harrold (trumpet).  The warm production, crisps clear horns, and tight jazz rhythm section feels inviting and nostalgic since the music reflects to 1970s jazz and soul music.

Personally, I’m enjoying this entire album from start to finish.  And on this rainy Sunday afternoon, Be Good hits the spot, leaving me in a reflective mood.  A voice and storytelling gift like Porter’s only comes around once or twice in a decade, if even.  Be Good with its mix of jazz elegance, and soulful performances might lead some music fans to shout from rooftops or at least heat up the social networks.  Be Good is so good and too good to pass by without giving the album a listen.