Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi, There Is No Other

If you haven’t heard Rhiannon Giddens yet … well, just listen:

Gifted with a glorious, classically trained voice plus extraordinary skills on banjo and fiddle, equally at home with African-American spirituals, Celtic “mouth music” and opera, Giddens is the kind of protean musician that comes along once in a generation.

Founding “postmodern string band” the Carolina Chocolate Drops, writing music for Bob Dylan’s words on The New Basement Tapes, winning a MacArthur Genius fellowship, acting in CMT’s Nashville series — Giddens has gone from strength to strength in a remarkably short time, earning every step up in her meteoric rise.  Seeing her live in the summer of 2015, I walked away giddy, as she and her band effortlessly filled a Cape Cod town hall with irresistible rhythms, utterly committed performances that ran the gamut from a tear-inducing take on Dolly Parton to funked-up Appalachian folk tunes  —  and that powerful, powerful voice.

For her third solo album (after 2015’s Tomorrow Is My Turn and 2017’s Freedom Highway), Giddens has teamed with Italian pianist/percussionist Francesco Turrisi, who  filters early Mediterranean folk music through the prism of jazz.  Recorded in Dublin, Ireland in five days with minimal preparation and few overdubs, There Is No Other soars, sears and astonishes — breaking your heart one instant, healing it and setting off fireworks of exhilaration the next, commanding your attention throughout.

Words can only approximate the sweep of traditions and times woven together here.  Folk ballads from Appalachia, Italy and England, jazz via Hermeto Pascoal (a Brazilian collaborator with Miles Davis) and vocalese pioneer Oscar Brown, classical arias by Carlisle Floyd and Samuel Barber — they’re all subsumed into the spell that Giddens (on banjo, violin and viola) and Turrisi (on piano, accordion, lute, banjo, and percussion) conjure up.  This music is warm, determined, melancholy, driven and delighted by turns, seamlessly flowing from one track to track, each its own thing, each part of a greater unity.

And Giddens’ singing — again, gorgeous beyond words.  On “Gonna Write Me A Letter” and her own “I’m On My Way”, she’s an unstoppable force of nature; on “Pizzica di San Vito” and “Briggs’ Forro”, a rippling vocal breeze above dancing beds of rhythm; on “Wayfaring Stranger” and “The Trees on the Mountains”, the cry of a broken heart devastated by life and love; on “Brown Baby” and her gospel-tinged “He Will See You Through”, the voice of maturity, determination and hard-won belief.  Nothing human is foreign to her — the wisdom of generations and the optimism of youth come together to devastating effect.

I recommend There Is No Other without hesitation — it’s one of those albums that Duke Ellington might have termed “beyond category”, resonating deeply with the core of our shared humanity.  As Giddens and Turrisi put in in their liner notes,

From the beginning of our musical partnership we have been struck with the commonality of the human experience through music; how instruments, modes, and the very functions of songs and tunes are universal from culture to culture.  There are very real and documented yet unheralded historical links between many of the instruments we play; and yet others of the connections we have here arise solely from our artistic instinct; but either way, the overwhelming feeling we have is that there is no Other.

Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi tour North America from September to November; tour dates are here.  In the meantime, listen to There Is No Other for yourself:

— Rick Krueger

Lightning Round Reviews: September 7, 2018

It’s been a busy week at the mailbox and on the doorstep.  With a clear day off, I decided to listen to all the new music I’ve received since Monday.  Capsule reviews follow the jump; albums are reviewed in their descending order on my freshly made up Personal Proggyness Perception (PPP) scale, scored from 0 to 10.

Continue reading “Lightning Round Reviews: September 7, 2018”

Moody Blues News

From the latest post on my favorite classical music blog (which also regularly includes fascinating insights regarding world music and Sufism), On an Overgrown Path:

Long Distance Voyagers is a 796 page resource book about the Moody Blues rock band. Surprisingly given the high profile of the band – they have sold more than 80 million records and were one of the pioneers of the concept album and of classic rock – this is the first major volume devoted to their oeuvre. The book is the labour of love of Marc Cushman, who is best known for his monumental books analysing Star Trek and Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space series. This latest massive volume is equally monumental – it is only volume one taking the story of the band up to 1979.

Recently I have been impressed and rewarded by several major historical books about art music icons, including the Nick Drake anthology Remembered For A While. This comes from long-established publishing house John Murray, and has commensurate high design values and sharp sub-editing. Long Distance Voyagers comes from new media publisher Jacobs Brown and suffers from the lacklustre design and lightweight sub-editing that are the hallmarks of desktop publishing. But this should not detract from what is a very rewarding document for those who, like me, underwent their musical and other rites of passage in the 1960s to the soundtrack of In Search of a Lost Chord.

Needless to say, this beauty went on my Amazon wish list immediately, with plans to purchase it Very Soon Now.  Blog author “Pliable” is a former EMI classical recording engineer, eclectic in his musical tastes and erudite in his commentary.  His pungent, all-too-sharp observations on the negative effects of social media recently prompted him to sever his links to Facebook and Twitter (a gutsy step I’ll honor by keeping this post off them).  I can’t help but agree with his lament in a previous post on the magnificent Moodies:

Gone are the days when Visconti’s Death in Venice, Ken Russell’s Music Lovers, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ and Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Pictures At An Exhibition could add a new diacritic to young lives. Instead the mantra of our digital age is ‘more of the same please’ driven by the insidious dynamic of social media approval.

Do check out On an Overgrown Path — it’s always excellent reading about music that matters — as well as Long Distance Voyagers!

— Rick Krueger

 

soundstreamsunday #109: “O Fortuna” by Carl Orff

carminaburana_wheel-1When your local symphony wants to fill seats, a good bet after the annual Star Wars night is a performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Its pop power lies in a percussion both brawny and nuanced, and the clean melodic lines of the 23 songs bracketed by the thunderous chant of the opening and closing piece, “O Fortuna.” Orff’s success with Carmina Burana (1936) made his career, but its legacy is — must be — shaded by Orff’s less than courageous behavior in the Nazi era. The piece is thus endowed with a taint, a stink, and some feel this extends to its overt distillation of Stravinsky’s thornier Les Noces (1923) into symphonic ear candy.  Historians have judged Orff’s cowardice and originality to an uncomfortable draw, but listeners remain enthusiastic, sensing in it I think the same elements enriching Orff’s and Gunild Keetman’s Schulwerk project:  a simplicity of melody empowered by a rhythmic focus accenting drama.  Smart but not brainy, easy on the digestion but also moody around the edges, maintaining enough emotional mystery to keep things interesting.

Orff’s adaptation of the Goliardic text was in itself a meditation on life’s uncertainties — his successes were few at this point — and a statement of non-conformity in a fairly heavy-handed academic music scene.  The resulting hour’s worth of songs, combining the words of punk drunk monks and a faux medieval vibe, carries an anti-authoritarian ethic embraced years later by rock.  If you first heard “O Fortuna” waiting for your band to come onstage you’re not alone.  Goths and metalheads love this stuff, and Ray Manzarek, god bless him, went so far as to actually attempt the entirety of Carmina Burana on record.  Oh, fortune, indeed….

O Fortune,
like the moon
you are changeable,
ever waxing
and waning;
hateful life
first oppresses
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
poverty
and power
it melts them like ice.
Fate – monstrous
and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is in vain
and always fades to nothing,
shadowed
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
to your villainy.
Fate is against me
in health
and virtue,
driven on
and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour
without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate
strikes down the strong man,
everybody weep with me!

There is no lack of recordings of Orff’s masterwork, and this primer by Jeremy Lee is highly recommended.  Including here the last two songs in the cycle, “Ave formosissima” building to the return of “O Fortuna,” as recently rendered live by the Munich Percussion Ensemble under Adel Shalaby.  It has a lean, un-stuffy quality that I think complements the spirit of the work.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

If you’re part of the Grand Rapids Symphony and Chorus, here’s how:

“We submitted a proposal, and Carnegie got interested in us,” [music director Marcelo] Lehninger said. “There was one specific program in the season that they really enjoyed, and they had a date available, and we could go there the week after we performed the programming in Grand Rapids. So, it was just all the stars aligning,” he laughed. “We said ‘you know what, let’s go now.’”

So a week from tomorrow, I’ll be on a plane for New York City, one of nearly 250 instrumentalists and singers making the pilgrimage.  We settle in Thursday, rehearse Friday morning, let it rip on April 20th at 8 pm, then head back home on Saturday — hopefully basking in the satisfaction of a job well done!

(And yes, everybody’s practicing, practicing, practicing these days.)

Continue reading “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?”

The Albums That Changed My Life: #9, Lutheran Mass for Christmas Morning by Michael Praetorius

by Rick Krueger

By the mid-1990s, more classical music was being recorded and released worldwide than ever before.  Sony’s purchase of CBS Records had triggered a spending frenzy, both by the new Sony Classical and its competitors Polygram, EMI, RCA and Warner.  Occasional crossover chart smashes like The Three Tenors, Henryk Gorecki’s meditative Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, or the odd compilation of Gregorian chant had a glut of major and minor orchestras, choirs and ensembles chasing the next fluke hit — usually with A&R men breathing down their necks to justify the expense.

It was a mind-boggling time to be a classical collector.  Bookstores like Barnes & Noble and appliance shops like Best Buy opened in smaller and smaller towns, with deeper and deeper stocks of CDs.  Mall chains like Discount Records followed suit, and free-standing superstores like Tower Records went even deeper.  Detroit’s local chain Harmony House had a dedicated all-classical store; nearby Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, had at least two or three at any given time.  Whether hitting 28th Street on my day off in Grand Rapids, or driving east to visit family, I knew there would be something great to find no matter where I went — I just didn’t know what.

 

Continue reading “The Albums That Changed My Life: #9, Lutheran Mass for Christmas Morning by Michael Praetorius”

The Albums that Changed My Life: #7, O Come All Ye Faithful by The Choir of King’s College Cambridge

by Rick Krueger

Hearing this album was what really confirmed me — a fourth-generation American of German ancestry and Lutheran upbringing — as a lifelong, diehard Anglophile.  As a unlooked-for bonus, it reopened a vocational path I had taken for granted, if not outright abandoned, as I trained to become a musician.

“Wait a minute,” I hear you say to the first point, “every single album you’ve written about so far is by a British artist or composer!”  Point taken.  Throw in my love for the work of Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien and Shakespeare (as well as the adventures of Sherlock Holmes), and you might consider my opening sentence an overstatement.  But hear me out.

Continue reading “The Albums that Changed My Life: #7, O Come All Ye Faithful by The Choir of King’s College Cambridge”