Saturday, January 12, 2013

In review--Finger-Snapping Good

Virginie Teychené
Bright and Sweet
Jazz Village

Jazz and women musicians launched 2013 and already two weeks into the New Year, and I’ve featured several women jazz musicians.  French jazz chanteuse Virginie Teychené arrived in my life like a sweet fragrance.  The name of her latest album, Bright and Sweet tells just as much about the vocalist’s character as it does the sweet, sad, and rousing repertoire she performs.  It has taken me longer to review this recording since I wanted to learn more about Teychené and also the collection of songs chosen for this project.

A self-taught vocalist, Teychené impresses me with her vocal style range and her natural instincts as she makes her way around songs by Peggy Lee, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Abbey Lincoln, Billie Holiday, Michel Legrand/Jacques Demy, and other jazz greats from both sides of the Atlantic.  The French vocalist shapes the songs and makes them her own leading listeners to wonder if Teychené composed these songs herself.  And yet, she pays homage to jazz legends while preserving this music for future generations.

On Bless My Soul (Eddie Jefferson/Charlie Parker), Teychené sings the song in such a way that you can feel the soul and blues of an African-American singer.  With Don’t Explain (Billie Holiday), raw emotions of desperate love come through.  The syncopation of The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines (Joni Mitchell/Charlie Mingus) induces finger snapping and features a sparkling solo by trumpeter Eric Le Lann.  But my favorite song in the lot is the playful and sassy I’m Gonna Go Fishing (Peggy Lee/Duke Ellington).  I chuckle when Teychené punctuates the line, “I’m gonna go fishing or jump in a lake.” She sings with perfect diction in French, Portuguese and English too. 

It has been a long while since I have found a jazz album fun and phenomenal at the same time.  Yet, I find Bright and Sweet irresistible so it has found a home on my CD drive and my fingers itch to press the replay button.  I recommend watching this promotional video on YouTube (if you don’t know French, you can at least enjoy the music performances).

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In review--Bumble Bees and Dragonflies

Jazz/Big Band
Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra
Nineteen-Eight Records

My first musical glimpse of Japanese orchestra leader/big band composer Asuka Kakitani’s Bloom showed promise.  I admire a woman with musical ambition who leads men with horns through complex musical architecture.  However, I have had to listen to the recording in segments since I’ve not been able to sit through its entirety in one sitting.  The problem for me is not the soft wall of horns which includes a dozen or so flugelhorns, trombones, trumpet and saxophones and woodwinds thrown into the mix, but the bop saxophone solos that often ride over slightly dissonant passages, such as one-third of the way through Dragonfly’s Glasses or on the titular track.  However, I enjoy the mercurial opening of that song.  And the horn solo in Dance One with the orchestra playing lightly in the background sounds marvelous.

However, Islands in the Stream, peppered by trumpets and lots of cymbals stands out as the beauty of the eight tracks.  With a Miles Davis-like solo (played by Matt Holman), coming in at the halfway point, this track shows off Kakitani’s ear for orchestral tones and timbres.  In fact, the composer possesses a good ear for horn arrangement which she punctuates with the occasional woodwind instrument, piano, rhodes piano, drums, bass, guitar and voice on the delightful third track, Bumblebee Garden, compliments of Sara Serpa.  This song stands out as lighter in tone and more lyrical, as well as, whimsical in contrast with the other tracks.

Overall, I wonder if Kakitani is influenced by American jazz of the late 1970s (as well as the be bop era), which often appeared in movie soundtracks or television shows to heighten an audience’s awareness.  The horn washes possess relaxing qualities, but the solos, especially saxophone ones often recall Charlie Parker’s slower bop*, distracts me as a listener.  I will say this, Kakitani has created a palette of American jazz from several periods and she does have intriguing ideas, even to someone like me who still imagines “big band” from the swing era when Duke Ellington reigned and each of his soloists brought a new instrumental feature to the mix.  Now, that’s entertainment.

* Note: I’m not a fan of be bop. I like the concept, but bop irritates my nerves with its frenzied solos and hyped-up adrenaline.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Practice--Choosing appropriate background music

The Practice
The Art of Choosing Background Sounds & Vibrations

I had several conversations with an owner of a natural grocery store and the problems he ran into with choices of background music for the store.  Customers have complained about different types of music.  And from his assessment, the store owner came up with a list of types of music that annoy the customers--not something to take lightly in this competitive economy.  Latin music disturbed customers, and ditto for Southeast Asian music (no ragas please), high-pitched anything, guitars or trumpets received complaints, and the usual nostalgic rock/pop that plays in stores bothers me.  Who wants to listen to lyrical stories while shopping for groceries or trying to hold a conversation with someone they encounter while shopping?

I joined a new and fascinating LinkedIn Group on Music and Emotion around the same time I had the conversations with the grocery store owner.  And for several years my gaze has fallen on purposeful music--what purpose does common music (the music we hear on a regular basis) have besides this idea of musical wallpaper or entertainment?  Then these ideas surfaced which I quickly wrote down in my journal.  But first, I advise anyone reading this article to keep a music journal and track emotional and physical responses to different types of music.  But don’t just stop there.  Also take note of the time of day and the activities you are doing when you encounter the music.

If you do this, two things will happen.  First, you will grow more conscious of how music affects your moods and even your body’s reactions to sound vibrations.  With all the current brain-music research, you will know that your reaction to music is not your imagination.  Second, you learn that music, every type of music, has an original purpose.  The question that comes to mind is why would you listen to salsa music while shopping for groceries or browsing a bookstore in the first place? And really, the conclusion I reached is that businesses need to stay away from music with a strong beat, lyrical content, and would be better off playing nature sounds or a pleasant drone in the background.  Some experts would probably even opt for brainwave CDs, but those could be seen as manipulative on a psychological and neurological level in the wrong circumstances.

As I was writing in my journal, I asked the question, “Why do we need music played in the background of businesses in the first place?”  Music as much as we love it, has the ability to distract us and I haven’t seen any research, but I wonder if feeling annoyed by background music could elevate cortisol levels, especially if the music stresses the person out.  If a type of music is used outside of its normal parameters, does it create a distraction? I think it does.  For instance, listening to Latin American music isn’t conducive for grocery shopping.  Yes, this music, which was created for dance or other types of communal experiences (such as bonding to family, lovers, friends) or used for festivities, boost energy levels, but its polyrhythms and driving vocals aren’t conducive for concentration.

When a person is shopping for groceries, they actually need to concentrate and make decisions.  Many grocery shoppers also read labels, compare prices, decide their meals for the week, run through lists of ingredients and have many decisions to make.  They even use basic math skills to make price comparisons by volume and the analytical brain is quite active during a grocery shopping experience.  So with the mind hard at work and the person needing to focus on making the decisions, hearing dance music would feel distracting!  New age music might slow the body’s rhythm down and relax the brain, but the person could grow sleepy and feel more like meditating than getting through their shopping list.  I find that folk pop and rock music with lyrical stories also distracts the mind and diverts the person’s attention from getting their tasks done while their minds start daydreaming or experiencing emotions better left for the music therapist to solve.

photo by Patricia Herlevi outdoor market musicians

We currently think of purposeful music in the realm of healing, especially with music therapy and some types of sound healing practices. But all music has its rightful place and when played at the wrong time and in the wrong situation, could annoy a person, especially a sensitive person who is more in touch with his or her surroundings.  But how conscious is the marketplace when it comes to sound vibration and the proper use of music? Many businesses rely on piped in services produced by music companies with a royalties license, but how much to these businesses know about purposeful music or psychological effects of music, other than, it sells products? And sells products under duress or pleasure?

Did the ancient Greeks, for instance, listen to theatrical music in the temples? I think not.  And did they listen to funeral rites songs or even military marching songs during a Dionysus rite? And while this might sound obvious to the modern mind, we fail to grasp the concept of purposeful music during our own time.  We might feel distracted by salsa music while we shop, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like to dance to salsa music under the right conditions in the proper venue (an outdoor music festival or concert hall).  Salsa music with its driving polyphonic beats and rousing vocals can leave a person feeling exhausted when it’s played in the wrong circumstances.

Fortunately, we live in a time when we have the greatest exposure to a variety of music, traditions and culture. 

Unfortunately, we often listen to music out of context and wonder why it doesn’t move us or just annoys us.  We also need to hear silence once in a while because any type of music is going to offer power medicine on some level.  Personally, I wouldn’t mind shopping at a grocery store that just has the sounds of wind chimes or songbirds singing faintly in the background.  A bubbling brook would feel too relaxing, and ditto for waves on a beach. But having said that, I think this is not an easy area of research mainly because we are all different with unique tastes, temperaments and lifestyles.  If we try to please everyone’s musical tastes, we end up with boring and trite drone, not to say that drone can’t be pleasant when it comes from crystal bowls and other sound healing tools.