November 22, 2010 – Walking through a bare, cold wood….

Photo of Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles, bel...

Arnold Schoenberg (Image via Wikipedia)

Beauty in music comes in many colors, just as beauty does in nature.  Sometimes we can find beauty in that which is fast-paced and loud.  Other times we find it in the delicate strains of a violin.  It is easy and common enough to find beauty in the work of American or English musicians, but sometimes an excursion to a far-away land can have worthwhile results.  While everyone loves a love song, upon occasion we can find beauty in a song memorializing a Massey Ferguson tractor.  Sometimes there is just as much beauty to be found in the journey as there is in the eventual destination.  So it pays us to keep our eyes open to the various sights and experiences as they present themselves.

We begun tonight’s show with a sampling of both studio and live recordings from the great Led Zeppelin.    It had been a while since I’ve been able to touch on some Zeppelin, so it was quite a joy to hear some this evening, with a blend of material from the mid-point of the band’s tenure, and from two of their later albums (Physical Graffiti and Presence).  Of course, there is some controversy involved with their live material, as there are accusations that Jimmy Page stitched together recordings of various individual songs from various concert sources.  With that said, the recordings as they now stand represent one of the better live bands in rock history, a rare band that could make a song live and breathe onstage.  It is unfortunate that the band has not released any of their post-1973 concerts outside of the 2003 DVD release, from which the following live clip of Achilles Last Stand comes.

The piece that I consider to be the centerpiece of tonight’s show is one that I had intended to play a few weeks ago, upon the occasion of Arnold Schoenberg‘s birthday.  Verklärte Nacht is an early work of his, written when he was 25, and was inspired by Richard Dehmel‘s poem of the same name, as well by the feelings felt by Schoenberg when he first met Mathilde von Zeminsky, his teacher’s sister, whom would eventually become his wife.  Dehmel’s poem tells an exquisite story of two people, a man and a woman involved in a relationship, walking through a cold, bare wood.  The woman tells the man that she is pregnant with a child that is not his, and expresses the remorse that the child was conceived before they had begun their relationship.  The man responds thusly:

“Do not let the child you have conceived
be a burden on your soul.
Look, how brightly the universe shines!
Splendour falls on everything around,
you are voyaging with me on a cold sea,
but there is the glow of an inner warmth
from you in me, from me in you.

That warmth will transfigure the stranger’s child,
and you bear it me, begot by me.
You have transfused me with splendour,
you have made a child of me.”
He puts an arm about her strong hips.
Their breath embraces in the air.
Two people walk on through the high, bright night.”

In this manner, the poem speaks of love that reaches beyond circumstance and transfigures two souls in its warmth.  I could not think of a more beautiful concept.  (Note: the link found in the playlist below takes you to the Wikipedia page, where the full poem, both in the original German and translated into English, is shown.)

Miles Davis had a most interesting musical career, taking major roles in the development of multiple sub-genres within the jazz music idiom.  His drive to try new things led him to be among the first artists to incorporate electronic instruments into jazz music, and almost single-handedly established the format that would eventually be called “jazz fusion” into a formidable force.  Yet his initial vision of this fusion of jazz and rock was quite a bit different than what fusion would become.  His fusion, at least initially, was far more avant garde, with dense layers of often chaotic sound.  He took his recordings, cut them up and restitched them together in the studio in a manner that was often vastly different from how they were originally recorded.  He had envisioned working with Jimi Hendrix, and might have done so if not for the guitarist’s untimely death, and he did at least a portion of his tour supporting the Bitches Brew album as an opening act for Neil Young and Steve Miller (concerts which are happily documented in recent live releases, some of which we play on the show from time to time).  While we might weep at the loss of what such a collaboration might have produced, we are still blessed with this revolutionary music.

We closed tonight’s show with a lovely set of songs from Takk, the 2005 release from the fine Icelandic band Sigur Rós.  Sigur Rós has, over the years, sung many of their songs in “Hopelandic”, which is essentially their form of scat singing (at least, that is how I define it; the titles, however, are in Icelandic).  They have a unique, otherworldly sound which can alternate between delicate, ethereal and wispy, and grand, glacial slabs that sound as big as the glaciers that dominate their homeland.  Several of these songs were also featured in Hvarf/Heim, their 2 cd EP from a few years ago, including Heysátan, an ode to a Massey Ferguson tractor.  Much of their at-times massive sound is achieved by lead singer’s Jonsi’s use of violin bow on the guitar, a technique notably used by Jimmy Page, but with vastly different results.  In the end, they have created some of the most beautiful music that I’ve ever heard.

Sigur Rós is one of those bands for whom a simple aural presentation doesn’t really do them justice.  Their live performance is something to behold.  Below you find clips of several of their songs that we have featured this evening.  Gong and Andvari are from the same Reykjavik show, while Svo Hljótt and Heysátan are from a wonderful sounding clip recorded in Italy.  Sadly enough, I was forced to miss a recent performance of singer/guitarist Jonsi in St. Louis, of which I have had excellent reports.

Composer Performer Title Genre Label
Led Zeppelin
Rock, Classic, Blues-rock
Swan Song/Atlantic, 1975
Achilles Last Stand
Swan Song/Atlantic, 1976
Black Dog
Atlantic, 2003
Since I’ve Been Loving You
Arnold Schoenberg
Concertante Chamber Players
Verklärte Nacht (“Transfigured Night)
Classical, post-Romantic Era
Helicon, 2000
Spanish Key
Jazz, fusion, avant garde
Columbia, 1970
Sigur Rós
Rock, Indie, Ambient, Experimental, Icelandic
Geffen, 2005
Svo Hljótt

One comment on “November 22, 2010 – Walking through a bare, cold wood….

  1. I’ve got a recording of Jimi w/ Chris Wood (Traffic) and Dave Palmer (Amboy Dukes) jamming… I’ve heard stuff with Steve Winwood as well. All of it’s jazzy, but doesn’t really come alive enough for me to be too interested. There’s always been a lot of talk about “hours” of tapes with John McLaughlin and Jimi, but nothing substantial ever seems to have actually surfaced.

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