The Galaxy – Exploring some edgy music

Historically, it is nights like tonight that I probably enjoy the most.  Nights when I find myself, for whatever reason (mood, inspiration, external events, pure happenstance), pushing the boundaries of my usual playlists and finding the more interesting, exotic material.  Over the course of the two hours of tonight’s show, I found myself wearing a perpetual smile, whilst sitting back and luxuriating in the moments of pure sound that filled the air this evening.

English: Ravi Shankar performs in Delhi with h...

English: Ravi Shankar performs in Delhi with his daughter Anoushka in March 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We started off with a recent recording by the great sitar master, Ravi Shankar.  This Raga Khamaj, from The Living Room Sessions Part 1 (there is also a Part 2 which was released last month), issued by Shankar’s private label East Meets West Music, is an absolutely serene, graceful piece of music.  Of course, given the skill of Ravi Shankar, even as he was well into his 90s, this is no surprise.  One doesn’t have to be Hindu to enjoy the meditative properties of his music – which is just as he had intended.  I am looking forward to hearing Part 2.

eighth blackbird

eighth blackbird

We then heard some selections from a rather interesting disc that I stumbled upon last week.  eighth blackbird (purposefully spelled in lowercase) is a Grammy-winning sextet from Chicago that specializes in new music by forward-looking composers.  From their 2012 album Meanwhile, we heard:

Frankie Yankovic

Frankie Yankovic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I am frequently given to enjoying wide musical contrasts, I followed this avant garde with some polka.  Not just any polka, but a performer long referred to a “The Polka King”.  Frankie Yankovic, from Cleveland, was a noted practitioner of the “Slovenian style” of polka.  He recorded over 200 polka recordings, and won the first ever Polka Grammy in 1986.  His stature was such that Weird Al Yankovic (no relation) played as a sideman on one of his last records (Weird Al is said to have stated that his parents had him learn accordion because “there should be at least one more accordion-playing Yankovic in the world”).  Yankovic died in 1998, aged 83.  From Frankie Yankovic and his Yanks, we heard Blue Skirt Waltz, Who Stole The Keeshka (a really fun song!), Hoop-Dee-Doo and Milwaukee Polka.

Of course, as I am given to wide degrees of contrast in my musical selections, we threw the gearshift into high gear with Free Jazz, A Collective Improvisation by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet.  The double quartet is just as it sounds – two quartets playing side-by-side, using the stereophonic effect (a new thing in 1960) to help clarify the music.  From one side you hear the combo of Ornette Coleman (alto sax), Don Cherry (pocket trumpet), Scott La Faro (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums), while on the other side you hear Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Charlie Haden (bass), and Ed Blackwell (drums).  While the concept of two quartets playing simultaneously sounds chaotic, the experience is something different.  Upon a proper listen, one may find oneself redefining the term “musical chaos”, because this wasn’t chaos.


The Galaxy – Finding a pleasurable groove


Portishead (Photo credit: LittleO2)

Several of our selections this evening defy attempts at categorization.  Such is the case with Portishead.  Superior music, to be sure, but what does one call it?  Rock?  Ambient?  “Trip-hop”?  In the end, it doesn’t really matter what we call it, so long as we listen and enjoy.  We heard:

  • Humming
  • Cowboys
  • All Mine (all three from the Roseland NYC live album from 1998)
  • Machine Gun
  • Small
  • Magic Doors
  • Threads (all from their third album, appropriately titled Third)
  • Glory Box (a request, also from the Roseland NYC album)
The Civil Wars' Barton Hollow cover

The Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We then heard a few songs from the excellent album from The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow.  I am pleased to see the May 1 announcement on their website that their hiatus, announced in November 2012, is apparently over and they have returned to the studio for what is to be a self-titled album.  So, while we patiently await this new recording, we can enjoy songs such as:

  • I’ve Got This Friend
  • To Whom It May Concern
  • Poison & Wine

We then heard some classic jazz recordings:

  • Charles Mingus‘ Haitian Fight Song, from The Clown, recorded 1957, released 1961, with Shafi Hadi, Jimmy Knepper, Wade Legge, and Dannie Richmond
  • Sonny Rollins‘ Decision, recorded and released in 1956 on Sonny Rollins Vol. 1, with Donald Byrd, Wynton Kelly, Gene Ramey, and Max Roach
  • John Coltrane and Don Cherry, with Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell, playing The Blessing.  Recorded in 1960, released in 1967 on The Avant-Garde.  An unusual recording on multiple points:
    • Coltrane and Cherry are co-leaders here.  While this is relatively early in Coltrane’s solo career, he had already recorded Giant Steps by this time, and was well on his way to establishing his reputation with his Quartet.
    • The song, like all of the others on the album here, is not a Coltrane composition, but an Ornette Coleman composition (there was also a Thelonious Monk song on the album).  The album is comprised of then-unreleased recordings, and was issued by Atlantic without Coltrane’s input or control.  Yet the recordings are of great interest to those interested in Coltrane’s development.  While there are a few other examples of Coltrane recording someone else’s compositions, these examples are few and far-between.
    • Part of the interest in this particular song comes with the fact that this was the first time that Coleman recorded a solo on soprano sax.  This predates My Favorite Things by several months.

We also heard a couple songs from the great Chicago album, Chicago Transit Authority: Questions 67 and 68, and Beginnings, before closing the show with Mastodon’s Hearts Alive.

The full, and OFFICIAL (a new thing we are doing here at WDBX), can be found here.