Saturday, October 19, 2013

In Review--Music for Us and Them

Project Them
A Jazz Collective 
Miles High Records

When veteran jazz musicians get together and collaborate, the music that results is often invigorating and in-the-moment.  Project Them, a collective (and album title), including: Bob Franceschini (saxophone and flute), Mark Sherman (vibraphone), Mitchel Forman (piano and organ), Martin Gjakonovski (bass), Adam Nussbaum (drums) and Paolo Di Sabatino (piano), contains performances where you can feel the musicians admiring and honoring each other’s talents.  They aim for a big ensemble sound with strong melodies, and intriguing musical texture.  And a track such as, Close Enough for Love, leaves a romantic imprint with its sweet use of vibraphone, piano, and a laidback rhythm section.

However, don’t think for a minute that we’re listening to “smooth jazz” here.  One listen to rousing opener, Submissive Dominants with high-end drums, driving bass and go-man-go saxophone, will leave you feeling alive and kicking.  We’re talking echoes of John Coltrane more robust moments.  Sleight of Hand also occupies wilder jazz territory with a lilting motif repeated on saxophone.  Also listen for vibraphone and piano solos on this number.  A Short Swing rides along at a medium tempo and possesses a joyful melody, played on saxophone then followed up with vibraphone.  Ma Bo’s Waltz slows it down again and here we have a whimsical and swirly melody that Franceschini’s flute launches into being.  For whatever reason, I’m reminded more of Brazilian bossa nova, than a waltz.

For these phenomenal musicians, Project Them acts as a dream manifested.  According to the liner notes, these musicians had dreamed of working together in the past, and now after years of seasoning their musical gifts, they bring it all together creating a musical project, for not just them, but for us too.

In review--In appreciation of European Art Music

Book review
How to Listen to Great Music 
A Guide to its History, Culture & Art
Robert Greenberg 
Plume Book/Penguin

I’m a music appreciation junkie and when I find a music appreciation book with a flowing narrative, theory that’s explained in a way I can understand, and biographical details of composers tossed in, I climb on board.  I have taught music appreciation courses, but my focus was on world and folkloric music.  Robert Greenberg, a composer and music historian not only teaches through the pages of How to Listen to Great Music, but he also teaches a series through his teaching company, Great Courses.

In this book, he gets us started with medieval and renaissance music and then we’re off into the baroque, classical, romantic and post modern eras--starting with Gregorian chant and landing in the terrain of Arnold Schoenberg.  We learn about fugues and musical structures from each of the musical/cultural eras as Greenberg delves into the minds and emotions of the composers. And did I say that reading this book provides entertainment too?  Greenberg has a dry sense of humor that most of us outside of the academic world get.

However, the downside of this book is that it focuses on the main composers from Italy and Austria/Germany mostly and we don’t hear about the composers from Spain, Finland, Norway, England, or the United States.  We also don’t hear about any women composers, which sadly, is usually the case with music appreciation books and courses.  Perhaps, in this regard, the book offers a jumping off point where we get the basics and then go off and explore composers not mentioned in the pages of this book such as Ravel, Sibelius, Elgar, Hildegard of Bingen and Marie de France on our own.

If you enjoy hearing more about Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Bach and the opera composers of Italy and Germany, then you’re in luck.  And Greenberg does cover the basics of culture, history and structure while placing it into context we can understand even in our fast-paced high-tech world.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

In review--Peace Again in Mali

Mamadou Kelly 
Clermont Music

We are so fortunate these days to experience music of Mali.  Given events in recent years, where Muslim fundamentalists rounded up musicians, burned instruments, and cut off hands of Malian musicians, the musical spirit of Mali continued.  These days, a fragile peace reigns in Mali and we can only wonder about the powerful role music played in keeping hope alive and bringing a sense of solidarity.

Malian guitarist and singer Mamadou Kelly brings us Malian grooves on his album Adibar.  Teaming up with Niafunke musicians that produced Ali Farka Toure and Afel Bocoum’s albums, we are reminded here of Ali Farka Toure’s snaky desert blues.  While guitar is the main instrument with Malian blues vocals, we also hear the traditional calabashes (percussion), spike fiddle (ndjarka), a mandolin-like instrument (djourkel) and bass.  The end result is chill-out music, moving at a slow to medium tempo with strains of cathartic blue notes.

All the songs feature parables or morality tales (the liner notes mention double-meanings about Mali’s recent events).  Fissa Maiga resembles a ballad and tells the story of a poor man who loved his devoted wife until he became a rich man and left his wife for another woman.  Then when he lost all his wealth and the new wife left him, his old wife took him back.  The titular track bounces along like a Taj Mahal tune.  Also included here is a tribute to the Tuareg nomads (Yelli), the Fulani Herdsmen (Sehenon Men) as well as, the hardworking poor man who artists should sing a tribute (Salamou).

If you enjoy the music of Mali, add Adibar to your collection.  May Mali continue to experience peace and may this fabulous music keep coming our way.