Friday, August 31, 2012

In review--Polyphonic Bach

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

Isabelle Faust’s new recording of J.S. Bach’s Partitas & Sonatas reveals a different side of Bach’s repertoire for a solo instrument.  Not the first time I have heard these sonatas and partitas performed on a violin, this time I hear the lush polyphony sung by this single instrument.  As one passage lingers in the air resonating, a new one superimposes over it creating a rich sonic environment.  At times, it feels like Faust’s instrument has split into two musical personalities conversing with each other.  Listening to this recording on headphones offers a musical retreat that alternates between relaxing the mind and invigorating the body.

Faust is easily one of the best violinists working today interpreting German and Austrian composers.  The violinist’s sensitivity melded with her technical brilliance wrings emotions out of every note she plays.  From slow melancholic suites to quick tempos (Sonata I Presto, Partita I Double), that fly off the strings of the violin, I feel captivated by Faust’s renderings of, I’m told, the most challenging violin music.  After all, mastering Bach’s musical architecture and virtuosic technique while bringing these sounds to modern ears, seems like an extraordinary task.  On J. S. Bach Sonatas & Partitas, we witness Sonata I BVW 1001, Partita I BWV 1002 and Sonata II BWV 1003 come to life in Kodachrome moments with dense musical tones highlighted by playfulness such as on Allemanda of the Partita. 

This is one of those recordings where investing 60 minutes of a listener’s time pays off in inspiration, clear headedness, and feeling at-one with the world.  I highly recommend Isabelle Faust’s J.S. Bach Sonatas & Partitas and I believe that it teaches the art of listening intensely to music.  I have already felt the rewards of listening to Faust’s recording several times.

In review--Free Cat Jazz

Gato Libre
Libra Records

The Japanese jazz quartet Gato Libre weds clear trumpet tones with global arty sounds on Forever.  On the opener, Moor, Natsuki Tamura’s horn recalls Fellini’s La Strada (the circus horn scenes), while Satoko Fujii’s accordion travels from distorted art jazz to lyrical Italian.  Kazuhiko Tsumura’s guitar and the late Norikatsu Koreyasu’s bass waver on the fringes, tentatively, sliding in words between the trumpet and accordion’s conversation.  The descriptor of global jazz certainly hits the mark, showing off the talents of these well-traveled players.  However, this is not a CD I would pull out when I feel tense.  The music here works best when the listener is already in a relaxed state of mind.

Court opens with shy accordion chords playing hide and seek.  Then the guitar and trumpet sneak in creating a situation of tense anticipation.  The musicians tease us with minimalistic playing in a Spartan arrangement with the trumpet carrying a lyrical melody.  On the most stunning track, Waseda, Tsumura’s guitar sounds lush in a duet with Tamura’s trumpet, sounding oddly Spanish.  However, the titular track also offers a sparkling respite with the accordion recalling Astor Piazzolla at times.  On Japan, the musicians create an impression of a placid lake while portraying emptiness performed on a bowed bass and lamenting accordion.

Even though this recording is not my cup of tea, the musicians supply us with a few sublime moments, while showing us the versatility of accordion, guitar, bass, and trumpet as they play these instruments outside the box.  No doubt, this is pioneering work by ambitiously talented musicians, but my ears are tuned to a different drummer.  Still, Forever is worth checking out.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

5 Examples of the Power of Music

Whether you're trying to heal a nation, a child, or an animal, or yourself, music offers many avenues of healing.  Visit YouTube, type in your healing music topic and watch what appears on your screen.  I will get you started with 5 videos that range from healing communities and the planet to healing dogs with behavioral problems and children with disabilities.  I hope these videos inspire you like they inspire me.  We have the power, it's available to all of us, and it's called music consciousness.
1. Christina Stevens, short documentary drum circle in Iraq

2. Joshua Leeds, Through a Dog’s Ear Project


3. Music Therapy for Children with Special Needs, BBC

4. The Singing Revolution (Estonia) documentary Trailer

5. Playing For Change movie trailer

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In review--Out of Egypt

Hossam Ramzy
Rhythms of the Nile
Introduction to Egyptian Dane Rhythms
Arc Music

Hossam Ramzy Presents
Egyptian Sufi
Sheikh Mohamed Al Helbawy
Arc Music

Hossam Ramzy’s Rhythms of the Nile goes back to 1997, but this double-CD set provides a primer for drummers wishing to check out Egyptian drums and rhythms.  The recording features two workshops that Ramzy taught for an Egyptian Dance school in London, England.  Ramzy gives clear demonstration of various rhythms, their context, and explains the different beats.  The list of rhythms include, Masmoudi, a broad rhythm used in Egypt, Fallahi used by Egyptian farmers, Zaar, which is used to drive evil spirits away complete with a ceremony, and the classical rhythm Samaai for starters.

The CD might seem out of context for a non-drummer or for someone just wanting to hear Egyptian drums.  However, I would recommend Rhythms of the Nile for anyone researching Egyptian music, belly dancers, drummers, and music journalists who cover world music.  Certainly, the recording feels more educational than entertaining, with the exception of people who enjoy lifelong learning and exploring new cultures.

While the CD Rhythms of the Nile falls mainly on the secular side of the divide, Egyptian Sufi (featuring Sufi Master Singer Sheikh Mohamed Al Helbawy), lands on the sacred side.  Joined by three Sufi vocalists, a drummer, and a traditional flute player, depending on a listener’s spiritual evolution and spiritual preference, the music presented here will either bring moments of ecstasy to the listener or cause her or him to feel restless.   Brief notes appear in the booklet that describes the history and context of Sufism and its sacred chants to get listeners primed.  I find that it’s best to listen to the chants in a quiet, relaxed space.  Either listen to the entire 12 tracks in one sitting (not recommended) or divide them into two listening sessions.  For best results, listen to the recording several times.