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.
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.
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:
- Still Live With Avalanche, composed by Missy Mazzoli.
- …à mesure, by Philippe Heurel
- Meanwhile: Incidental music to imaginary puppet plays, by Stephen Hartke – A piece in 6 movements, commissioned for eighth blackbird by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University.
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.