grand billowing gestures

by pieces of moments

It has been a restful Sunday here in Boston, gently illuminated with that extraordinary diffused light that you get to see on gray, mildly rainy days like this has been. Thunder is mumbling in the distance. These are the days when I want to drink Earl Grey tea. For whatever reason, in my mind that perfume of bergamot seems perfectly suited to rain. Maybe those citrus notes associate in my color obsessed mind with the bright green leaves popping against the dull sky. Anyway, I have none in my cupboards at the moment, so my fresh cup of pressed coffee with cream will have to do.

Yesterday I went on a bit of a minor shopping spree at my favorite local music store and stocked up on some new releases I have had on my purchase list for months. It’s been a long time since I was really excited to grab up some new cds. I stuck to my shopping list and deviated only when I saw a Deutsche Grammophon 3 disc set (two audio, one video) of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau performing everything from “Dichterliebe” (‘Im Wunderschonen Monat Mai’ gets me every time) to selected Mozart, Bach, Strauss, Debussy, Mahler…pretty much all the heavy hitters. I won’t tell you how much I paid…but it was a complete steal and I still can’t believe that little bar code. Oh, and this great DVD of Martha Argerich called “Evening Talks“. Um, and this Bud Powell disc as well…fine…three deviations. Okay, back to my shopping list: Tilly and the Wall “O“, Sigur Rós “Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust“, and Spiritualized “Songs in A and E“.

Today I have been listening to the new Sigur Rós. I had already listened to, and enjoyed, at least half the tracks on their website, but have been totally delighted listening to the entire album today. I have appreciated their work for several years (since “Ágætis byrjun”), but honestly despite the consistent beauty of each album I was getting a little bit bored. With the addition of some tunes that burst with light and color like paint balls on your clean white shirt the album contains what some of their past offerings did not – contrast. Perhaps no band does sublime quite like they do, still, and sitting here with my curtains billowing out and curling in the wind while a white seagull soars up by the dark storm clouds as the trademark vocals soar just as high is just about as good as it gets. Where is my Kleenex? Meanwhile, Nico Muhly has some commentary and provides a track sample to illustrate if you want to check it out.

I’m not going to review every album purchase, but let me just say this as well: buy the new Tilly and the Wall. I know, I know, you guys are like “sheesh, we know all about your hometown bands by now…give it a rest!” but seriously, have I led you astray before? Ever? The first time I saw Tilly was actually out here in my adopted home when they opened for Bright Eyes for a show up at Sanders Theater/Memorial Hall at Harvard. I had purchased their debut album “Wild Like Children” previously and had really enjoyed the joyful, rambunctious sound juxtaposed with some pretty angst ridden lyrics. I also enjoyed their innovation in using tap dancing in lieu of a typical rhythm section. So, when their second album “Bottoms of Barrels” came out I bought it pronto and was again rewarded. Their sound was beginning to evolve and yet remained familiar, and with this third album, “O”, I continue to be impressed with their ability to come up with fresh twists while retaining their original spirit and vibe. “O” has everything from a kind of sped up Trogg’s “Wild Thing” rhythm driven transparency on “Pot Kettle Black” to “Alligator Swing” that groves a kind of nouveau Beach Boys feel. I’m not going to spend more time talking about it…more music less talk. Just go buy it.

Finally, let me say that I have been thinking a lot more about jazz lately. I have always enjoyed it, and own a pretty solid collection of jazz albums, but the way I have been thinking about it has been evolving. In order to explain this in the most efficient manner, let me preface with saying one of the things that has always frustrated me as a pianist is my instrument’s inability to change the dynamic quality of a single note. This is because of it’s place in the percussion family. Strings, winds, brass, they all get to crescendo and decrescendo on one single note. So not fair. I have actually gone through periods where hated the sound of the piano because I was so frustrated by this fact. The piano is a relational instrument in that it relies on vertical harmonies (the relation of notes sounding simultaneously) and horizontal motion (the dynamic relation of each note to another as well as the quality of articulation of each note). There is one particular recording that has always fascinated me for the pianist’s ability to create the illusion of a single note swell over the course of five successive notes in an ascending scale; the recording is of Hank Jones playing “One For Daddy-O” with Miles Davies, Cannonball Adderley, Sam Jones, and Art Blakey in 1958. The magic specifically happens on this recording because of the tempo, which is slower than some other subsequent recordings Hank Jones made of this same tune. I don’t think 3 seconds of recorded sound has driven me as crazy as that little ascending motive. I have owned this recording for years, but only within this last couple of years really noticed what was happening on that specific track. It has since become the model for me on how to fake that sonic swell on an instrument that insists on nearly sudden death (damper pedal doesn’t count here…that’s a totally different effect) of every sound you create on it.

Additionally, on that Martha Argerich DVD there is this marvelous encore performance of the “Capriccio” from the (J.S.) Bach Partita No. 2. It’s an interpretation that I have never heard from anyone but her before. When she speaks about the Partita she mentions that a jazz musician told her that he loved her interpretation because she made Bach “swing”. It’s true, it nearly feels like a jazz musician playing it straight, but with the mentality of swing. So, I’m paying more attention to cultivating a mentality of swing.