Friday, November 23, 2012

Music Video Round Up for 3rd wk of November--Brazil!


Since I'm currently in a Brazilian mood, here are five Brazilian musicians with diverse styles.  I don't know if you'll start thinking carnival thoughts or just feel like chilling.  Your choice.

Let's start with Badi Assad, a classical guitarist-turn-pop-diva who has her own way around this thing we call music.

1. Badi Assad,

Next let's listen to the sensual bossa nova strains of Celso Fonseca

2. Celso Fonseca,

Virginia Rodrigues has a voice that recalls opera as she sings Afro-Sambas once sung by another favorite, Astrud Gilberto, in a totally different style.

3. Virginia Rodrigues,

And speaking of the legend, here is Astrud Gilberto singing her signature bossa nova song

4. Astrud Gilberto,

Hamilton de Holanda is one of those instrumentalist that takes your breath away.  Watch him in action.

5. Hamilton de Holanda,

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,