Beethoven No. 6 “Pastoral” Reviews

20150425_132906_001Beethoven completed Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (“Pastoral”) in 1808 writing most of it during the spring and summer, no doubt inspired by the countryside in his beloved Vienna.  It is one of my favorite works by the composer. To honor the spirit of this symphony on this fine spring day some 200 years after its first performance, I thought I would put together a list of recordings of the 6th that are of merit along with notes on the performances, recordings, and pricing.  As a bonus, I am also recommending a handful of Beethoven Symphony cycles that can be purchased at bargain basement prices for the budget minded listener.

Let me say at the outset that I purchased almost all of the recordings I reference as MP3 downloads through Amazon, not iTunes. That is to say that you might not find all of the music or the same prices on iTunes. For the “record”, I do have an iPhone and cannot purchase digital files from Amazon on it, although with an app, I believe it is possible.  I did, however, create a wish list of albums to buy and then accessed the wish list on my PC laptop and purchased the titles on Amazon. You see, I am a Windows guy mostly and until very recently had never used an Apple anything of any kind.

After carefully listening to 7 complete Beethoven Symphony cycles from the ’50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and the ‘00s, AND comparing movements of No. 6 from 9 different recordings back to back; AND after reading countless on-line reviews of what critics and devoted listeners have said about them, here are my opinions and recommendations.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral)

The following are listed in descending  order of preference:

9 Blomstedt – Staatskapelle Dresden $8.99 (1975-1980)

The Dresden State Orchestra under Blomstedt plays flawlessly but it is too bad the quality of the recording from Berlin Classics is not of the highest standards.  The sound is murky and muddled when the strings unite and the full orchestra blends.  The soloists seem to be playing muted instruments at times as if banished to the penalty box, to borrow a hockey phrase.  The pace throughout is fairly even bordering on monotony and on the slow side, similar to Bohm and Szell.  Beethoven seems to be walking with a cane taking care not to stumble on the rocks all around.  The storm in the 4th movement is somewhat agitating and reminds me of rolling through a tortuous car wash with the windows down.

8 Leibowitz – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) $2.69 (1961)

Leibowitz leads the RPO on a fast-paced romp through nature.  His tempi are nearly as brisk as the versions conducted by Krivine and Toscanini.  The storm is a cyclonic burst that sounds artificial, almost comical or melodramatic, but fun I must confess.  Like the Blomstedt recording, the orchestral soundscape here suffers from a lack of clarity at key moments.  I have not heard the original 1961 pressing from Reader’s Digest from which these have been re-issued on The Genius of Beethoven: 100  Classical Masterpieces, but the sound here is slightly distant.  However, considering that you get all 9 symphonies from a widely acclaimed set plus many other Beethoven classics for $2.69, what are you waiting for?

7 Morris – London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) .99 (1987)

Morris commands the orchestra confidently.  The pacing seems on the brisk side in all the movements as if Beethoven were on a 45-minute power walk.  The violins have a tinny, razor-like sound.  This shrillness adds a rough edge to the performance that gives it character and spirit.  However, the recording lacks the richness of sound that I prefer,  rather like skim milk in coffee – it helps to cut the bitterness, but not enough to smooth it out.  Movement No. IV is positively terrifying.  Here, Beethoven takes cover from violent lightening strikes, and tornadic winds emerging with a disheveled look but otherwise undeterred.

6 Boult – Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra of London .99 (1957)

The Boult performance of the No. 6 found on The Beethoven Big Box has grown on me after repeated listens.  The pacing is uneven and the dynamics give the piece an odd level of excitement.  The British Boult evokes a startled Beethoven who might have encountered a bear or lost his way in Epping forest, pausing periodically to check his compass.

5 Tennstedt London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) 9.49 (1984)

The LPO under maestro Tennstedt deliver a solid performance of the “Pastoral.”  Coupled with excellent sonics in a package that also includes Symphonies 3, and 8 plus the Overtures,  this is a desirable recording.  One caveat is that the storm in movement IV of the 6th is a letdown, frankly, with only a few thunderous timpani strikes. I would characterize it as a dreamy thunderstorm that produced a torrential downpour for a few seconds after which a dazed Beethoven wakes up to ask what just happened.

4 Toscanini – NBC Symphony Orchestra $29.99 (1952)

I bought the renowned ’50’s Beethoven cycle on used vinyl for $1 at a Public Library book sale in Warner, New Hampshire some 10 years or so ago.  The vinyl was in “decent” condition so to preserve it, I converted the records to MP3 files.  The sound is pretty rough because of all the pops, scratches, and skips, not to mention the original lackluster mono RCA recording.  It’s hard to get past the limitations of the recording, but if one can, the rewards are the glorious historical performances of the NBC Symphony Orchestra passionately guided and inspired by one of the greatest conductors of all time.

3 Szell – The Cleveland Orchestra $6.99 (’60s)

Szell’s version of No. 6 is almost as good as Bohm’s.  Perhaps his tempi are a bit slower and somewhat plodding and mechanical like a fine tuned march at times, but the Cleveland Orchestra play magnificently throughout.  The instruments are not as present in the soundscape as in the DG recording of Bohm and the VPO, but the sonics are clean and silky. If you want to calm your nerves, Szell may be all the medicine you need.  Even the 4th Movement is serene, never menacing, just a quick and proper no-frills thunderstorm.  At $6.99 U.S. for all 9 Symphonies, brilliantly played, this is the bargain box of the century.  One caution, as some reviewers have pointed out, the 9th is alleged to be a hybrid – starting off with Szell and ending with another conductor and choir.  I haven’t verified this yet, but even if true, it should be no reason to shy away from the set.  The complete Beethoven cycle of Szell on Sony with the full 9th, would run you $30 U.S.  Is the 9th worth 23 bucks?

2 Krivine – Le Chambre Philarmonique $11.97 (2009)

If you like period instruments, this recording is the one for you.  The tempi are faster than most, making one wonder whether they were speeded up as a result of a recording glitch; actually, the brisk pace feels quite natural.  The sound is crisp and clean.  The storm in Movement IV sounds like a twister rolling through the countryside uprooting trees and bushes in its path before petering out.  This bargain price collection of the 9 symphonies was recorded live in 2009 making it the newest and freshest among the group surveyed and highly recommended.

1 Bohm – Wiener Philharmoniker (VPO) $9.49 (1971)

This one is the gold standard. I should point out that I already had the CD in my collection, so I did my own rip.  I wanted to hear the MP3 format so that I could fairly compare the recording with the other selections reviewed, all or most of which I ONLY own digitally. Bohm’s interpretation feels the most realistic. Nothing is rushed or forced. The tempos just seem right.  The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (VPO) sounds passionate, yet controlled. The instruments blend beautifully and shine when individually highlighted. The sound quality of the recording is simply outstanding.  At 9.49 for the digital download, it is not the best bargain among the group reviewed, but it IS the one you want if you only could have one recording of No. 6.

 

Advertisements

Top 10 Albums as a Teen

2014-07-19-18-13-50

A tribute to Jobim in the Rio Botanical Gardens. His LP Wave is one of my all-time top 10. 

If you are on Facebook, as I assume most of you are, you may have seen this challenge circulating among your network of friends.  I almost posted a list myself but would have felt the need to explain my choices and in doing so would have violated the spirit of the challenge. So I’m sort of doing an end around the rules and sharing a lengthy blog post with commentary on each of my selections. So here goes and in no particular order and ALL from my high school days. I should note that my tastes have changed or expanded since high school but I still love these albums.

Again, in no particular order with some honorable mentions thrown in at the end AND no repeating artists.

  1. Jeff Beck – Blow by Blow (1975). My big sister turned me on to this album when I was probably 12, and I played it endlessly for a number of years thereafter.  “Diamond Dust” and “‘Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” are sublime tunes.  It is a guitar masterpiece and perhaps Jeff Beck’s greatest achievement.
  2.  Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced (1967).  Well, I thought of myself as experienced as a teen but little did I know what the real world would be like away from my comfort zone of home. There was nothing like him then and nothing like him now although many bands were influenced by his other-worldly sound including the Beatles who owe him a huge debt.
  3. David Gilmour – David Gilmour (1978).  This was his self-titled solo debut and what a debut.  I loved Pink Floyd then and still do, but I spun this one on my turntable more than I did The Dark Side of the Moon, which was actually the only Floyd I owned until college, although I had heard and liked many of the others including Ummagumma with its mind-altering properties that simultaneously fascinated me and freaked me out.
  4. The Beatles – The White Album. (1968). It is not my favorite Beatles’ record which would have to go to Revolver, but it was the only one I owned as a teen. It does have some great tunes – “Dear Prudence”, “Blackbird”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and is arguably one of the top 5 Beatles records of all-time. See my list of the Top 7 Beatles’ here.
  5. The Rolling Stones – Get Your Ya-Yas Out (1970). I had several other superb Stones records as a teenager, including Their Satanic Majesties Request, Goats Head Soup, and Tatoo You, but the one that stood out and that I played more than the others was the Ya-Yas record. This live album was like being in the crowd and featured some of the greatest tunes from their catalog like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Sympathy for the Devil.”
  6. Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974). I lived in a town with radio stations that never played older Genesis records, so I didn’t even become aware of the band until I heard “Follow You, Follow Me” on the radio from And Then There Were Three (1978). Over the course of my teen years, I bought every Genesis record available.  And while I loved and still love Wind and Wuthering, Seconds Out and Foxtrot, The Lamb is their masterpiece and perhaps the greatest art rock piece that was ever written and incidentally the last studio Genesis record on which the great Peter Gabriel appeared.
  7. Joni Mitchell – The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975). My dad owned Court and Spark (1974) which I liked a lot and so when Hissing was released, I bought it.  This beautifully written and recorded album has stood the test of time.
  8. Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (1973).  This was the second album I ever bought, and one of the best too.  At the time, I was too young to understand the social significance of the album with its comments on the evils of racism in songs like “Living for the City”. I did feel something of Stevie’s soul on the record and it moved me like no other music. Almost every song on the album is a masterpiece which ranks it, in my opinion, as one of the best albums ever recorded.
  9. John McLaughlin – Electric Guitarist (1978). By this time, I had become interested in jazz-rock and latin fusion and was attracted to Santana’s music. I remember buying a copy of Guitar Player magazine with McLaughlin on the cover. I had never heard of McLaughlin but was fascinated by the cover article describing him as the world’s fastest guitarist. So I ran down to the local record store and bought Electric Guitarist, which featured a duet with Carlos Santana on the tune “Friendship.” This underrated record is a seminal example of fusion.
  10. Steely Dan –  Aja (1977). This band surfaced on my radar with their smash hit, “Do It Again” from Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972). I would have been about 13 when Aja was released and remember hearing “Peg” on the radio. I bought the album just for “Peg” only to discover that all the other tunes on it were better. This is another slickly produced and beautifully sounding record that was never far from my turntable.

Honorable mentions:

  • Todd Rundgren –Todd (1974)
  • Supertramp Even in the Quietest Moments (1977)
  • Earth Wind and Fire – That’s The Way of the World (1974)
  • Crosby Stills Nash and Young –Deja Vu (1970)
  • Fleetwood Mac – Bare Trees (1972)
  • Elton John – Rock of the Westies (1975) the first album I ever bought.
  • Yes – Yessongs (1973)
  • The Who – Live at Leads (1973)
  • Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left (1969)
  • Heart – Dog and Butterfly (1978)
  • Ronnie Montrose – Open Fire (1978)

You might be interested in some of my related posts from the past…or not.

6 Songs of my life

Yes, Boston 2012

Fleetwood Mac’s Bare Trees

Records of my life

Derek Trucks Band

Wine and Coltrane

Accidental Music

Top 7 Beatles Album

7.  Let It Be (1970)

It’s a strange one with some live recordings that sounds fresh but not very cohesive. It has a few big hits including Let It Be, The  Long and Winding Road and Get Back.

6.  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

Some great tunes along with some not so great ones.  The great ones, of course, are some of their best like Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Getting Better, and With A Little Help From My Friends.

5. The White Album (1968)

The first Beatles album I ever purchased with money from my paper route.  I tell you this, the song Revolution 9 scared the hell out of me and still does.  Notable tunes include, Back in the  USSR, Dear Prudence, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Blackbird, Julia, & Revolution 1.

4. Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

The Fool On The Hill is one of my favorite Beatles tunes.  Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields Forever, and All You Need Is Love are strong contenders for my all time favorites.  And all in one package.  Amazing.

3.  Abbey Road (1969)

Here Comes The Sun and the Sun King are sublime tunes.  Come Together and Something are something too.  This album doesn’t contain hit after hit, but the great songs present are great and the album is one of the most cohesive of the lot.

2.  Rubber Soul (1965)

A bit of a sleeper on the lists, not usually ranked as high as two, but for me, it is probably the most interesting one of all.  The tracks are mostly chill but the band seems to be exploring new concepts and this keeps my attention throughout. Norwegian Wood, Michelle, In My Life, You Won’t See Me, Nowhere Man, and Girl are highlights.

1.  Revolver (1966)

After the impressive Rubber Soul, it is no surprise to me that Revolver finds the Beatles really hitting their stride.  There are no bad songs on this album and some little-known ones that are strange and entertaining like Doctor Robert.  The hits on this one remain some of their greatest tunes of all time: Taxman, Elenor Rigby, She Said She Said, Good Day Sunshine, and Got To Get You Into My Life.

Ibeyi: Soon To Be Superstars

Theatre District, Boston

Theatre District, Boston

Ibeyi means twins in Yoruba and is the name of a twin sister band who trace their roots to Nigeria and Benin through their father, the late great Cuban percussionist who played with Irakere and was best known for work with the Buena Vista Social Club.  The Diaz twins, Naomi and Lisa-Kainde, were born in Paris and spent some formative years in Cuba. They recently launched their music careers with their self-titled debut album. I was fortunate enough to catch their act in Boston, the second to last stop on their first world tour.  A mix of Afro-Cuban fused pop, European electronica and a unique blend all their own, Ibeyi brought down the house last night.

The house where the twins performed happened to be the Royale in Boston, a tiny club that seats or stands less than 1,000 people in the heart of Boston’s Theater District.  Ibeyi sports a sparse stage setup included an Akai synthesizer atop a Roland 700 digital piano for keyboardist Noami and an electronic drum machine, a cajon, a sort of drum box that is sat on and played, and a set of bata drums for percussionist Lisa-Kainde. A video screen hung in the background to project abstract black and white videos of urban scenes to accompany each song.

There was a spacious bar in the back, a small dance floor in the middle in front of the stage where most of the crowd packed and balcony seating all around for those who preferred to chill in the distance. The venue did not appear to be at maximum capacity, but the crowd, mostly Gen. X’ers and Millennials, was nonetheless enthusiastic and welcoming. I attended with my daughter, a recent college graduate, who is a big fan of Ibeyi. I was one of the oldest in the crowd, no doubt.  One funny aside, as the concert was held in the Theatre Distict, and we were running a little late getting there, we hurriedly walked up to get in line with a group of patrons who looked much older than we would have expected for an Ibeyi concert. I asked the ticket taker what band was playing and to my amusement, he said “Kraftwerk”.   We were at the wrong theater and I could not help but laugh at the thought of Mike Meyer’s SNL “Sprockets” routine. Fortunately, Ibeyi was playing right across the street and we got there just a few minutes before they walked on stage. And even though I had never heard Ibeyi’s music before, I liked their sound instantly, something I could never say about Kraftwerk.

It is hard to describe Ibeyi’s music and I am probably not doing them justice, but I can say that they harmonized, vocalized, memorialized with tributes to their late sister and father, and mesmerized with captivating beats, melodies and rhythms.  It was the kind of music that makes you move and sway but also takes you by surprise, especially the percussion work. The tunes were emotional, yet upbeat with a spirit that brought smiles to all in the crowd.  It was a night I won’t soon forget.  And I am betting that as their sound reaches more ears, their popularity will increase.  I predict stardom in the twins’ future!

Here’s their setlist from the Boston concert that I found on setlist.fm. Do yourself a favor and go have a listen!

50 or Something

324

You know you are 50 when:

You get the membership invitation to the AARP.  Funny acronym, the AARP, it’s like something a dog would say – “aarp, aarp” or a seal maybe, and it also looks and sounds  like the word harp, which is mentioned numerous times in the bible and certainly connects to aging and death.

Psalms 108:2

Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. (NIV) Awake psaltery and harpe: I my selfe will awake early. (KJV (1611))

I rather prefer the King James version which may have been the first recorded instance of the world selfie.  That aside, and even though the context here is giving praise to God, the fact is that King David, the author of this particular passage, references the act of getting up early, which is something I can’t help but do each morning.  5:15 a.m. on weekdays and 6:00 a.m. on weekends, without fail, my internal alarm strums softly not unlike the harp, or the smaller psaltery, two stringed instruments I do not own.  When I was younger, I could sleep the whole day away in a state of hibernation, but in my advanced age, I’m lucky if I get 6 hours.

And speaking of harps, there is this nugget:

Revelation 14:2

And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps.

This is what it’s like when I have to get up earlier than 5:00 a.m. and my alarm goes off. Although when I can’t find the alarm, it’s as if the harpers are thunderously harping on their harpes.

Uruguay and the U.S.

DSC_0169

You may have never considered the connection between Uruguay and the U.S. before or maybe I’m wrong and it’s all you think about.  The smartypants would say, “I know, both countries start with a U.” True, and a good connection, I’ll give you that.  Anything else?  Another wiseguy might say, “they speak Spanish and so do people in the U.S.”  And that would be true, although the brand of Spanish you hear in the States is nothing at all like what you hear on the streets of Montevideo.  As to other connections, if you’ve been following the news a little bit, you’d know that President Obama negotiated a deal with President Mujica of Uruguay to resettle 6 prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay.  And do you know why the Uruguayans agreed to resettle them?  One of the reasons is that President Mujica was once a political prisoner and felt an obligation to provide humanitarian assistance to the men.  Granting the prisoners refugee status, they are free in Uruguay to do what they please, even leave the country if they so wish. And though they seem grateful to be there, there are very few immigrants from Arabic speaking countries living in Uruguay – one estimate put the number at 300 –  and the country has no mosques.  The cultural transition may be difficult for the men, but the people of Uruguay on the balance seem to welcome their presence.

Now we don’t know the terms of the deal.  It is not known if the Uruguayans received anything in return for accepting the detainees or whether they would agree to resettle some of the other prisoners still left at Guantanamo Bay in the future. But if I were on the negotiating team for Uruguay, I would ask for two things, no three in exchange for cooperation.  1) Clean buses.  Buses spewing dirty diesel are everywhere.  The boulevards of the downtown area are caked in soot and the air is anything but bueno despite the fact that Buenos Aires is a short distance from Montevideo.  2) Better Internet for the people.  Did you know that Uruguayans have free Internet?  Sounds good, right? But there’s a catch.  It’s just 2GB of data a month.  That’s like a few google searches, browsing a couple of websites, 2 YouTube videos, 1 minute on Facebook, 10 photos uploaded and 5 minutes of a Netflix movie.  I know, I’ve been there.  3) Most Favored Wine Nation status.  Did you know that Uruguay produces some of the most interesting wines in the world grown from the tannant grape, indigenous to the country? The stuff is absolutely sublimely delicious and not easily found in the States.  Do try a bottle if you have the chance.

DSC_0369One last connection.  I didn’t know this until recently, but one of America’s greatest composers, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who I would venture that most Americans have never heard of, grew up in New Orleans, moved to Paris, came back to the U.S., traveled extensively abroad, relocated to South America under very strange circumstances, and died in Rio. His Symphony #2 is dedicated to the great city of Montevideo.

DSC_0302

Who is Alexander Scriabin?

DSC_0421 I enjoy writing about things I know nothing about.  Take wine and classical music for example.  They couple nicely.  And if you read wine tasting notes or reviews of classical music, it all sounds like bullshit meant to be exclusive and alienating.  It’s the language of snobbery, not unlike the language of academia.  It’s not meant to be read by anyone without club membership and in case you happen to slip in without your membership card, you will be outed the moment you open your mouth.  Best to stay quiet and simply look the part. To be fair, I have come to love both wine and classical music.  And if I wanted, I could become a first class snob of a journalist writing erudite wine notes and haughty classical music reviews worthy of an entry in the Wine Spectator or the Penguin Guide to Classical Music. I have even posted several tongue in cheek concert and wine reviews on this blog in years past exposing myself as the real plebe that I am.  Which brings me to my point.

Scriabin.  No, it’s not a new cholesterol drug.  Hint: Russia.  If you guessed person, you’d be right.  If you guessed Vladimir Putin’s Chief of Staff, you would be wrong, very wrong.  I don’t know what music Putin listens to, but likely not the works of Alexander Scriabin, the most famous Russian composer you have probably never heard of or if you have, only because you graduated from a music conservatory or are a classical music nut.  Scriabin died in 1915 and was free to compose as he pleased unlike Shostakovitch who came later who along with Prokofiev was subject to Soviet censors. Scriabin was in the same class as Rachmaninoff at the Moscow Conservatory and was said to be a prodigy both as a composer and pianist.  Initially, his work was influenced by the Romantics, most notably Chopin, but as he matured, his compositions became less conventional and more esoteric, even delusional.  According to his own writings documented in Schonberg’s terrific book, Lives of the Great Composers, Scriabin identified as God and tried to unify all art and philosophy into a symphonic masterpiece to be performed over the course of several days at the foot of the Himalayas with incense burning and a contraption that would convert musical notes into colors. Scriabin, it was thought, was a synesthete – he literally saw music in technicolor.  He never finished this masterpiece, but someone did for him and it can be sampled here:

Long live Scriabin!

6 Songs of My Life

My friend Pampi over at Third Eye Fell shared an NPR article entitled Tell Us The 6 Songs of Your Life. I thought it would be a great topic for a blog post but I realize now that it’s not such an easy assignment.  The thing is, I like and have liked all kinds of music depending on my moods at various stages in my life jazz, classical, electronica, blues, trip hop, lounge, alternative, ambient, dark industrial, punk, indie, new wave, rock, Latin, southern rock, soul, folk, show tunes (actually, not so much anymore – but I heard a lot of Broadway musicals on LPs growing up).  I’m pretty moody, I guess.  I could make a list of literally thousands of songs that mean something to me.  I once posted a list of the 21 records of my life, but I’ll not do a top 6 favorites, rather I’ll identify 6 songs that sort of defined me or described a state of mind at a particular stage in my life from childhood to midlife; I almost said from childhood to the Middle Ages.  I’m old, but still alive.  Yes, it’s all very self-indulgent, I know, but I can’t help myself. Enough with the introduction.  Here’s the list:

As a Kid:  Day by Day – from Godspell.  It came out when I was about 10 or so.  My neighbor whose father was a minister played the album for me one day when we were shooting pool.  I think at the time, their church youth group was performing the musical.  The version I link to above is not the original Broadway cast, but a modern one that I think is far superior.  Although a religious song that appealed to youth in ways that hymns could not, I connected to it more as a pop tune with a catchy melody and easy sing along lyrics.  As a kid, I pretty much lived day by day, not thinking too much about the past or future, especially during the summer.

Preteen:  That’s the Way of the World – Earth Wind and Fire.  The song came out when I was in 7th grade before I had developed much of a world view.  Things were the way they were because that’s the way of the world.  I didn’t have the tools to think critically about the world and my place in it.  I wouldn’t develop those tools until after I finished my formal schooling many years later.  As a 12 year old, I had very little agency but did have a vague notion of freedom that had to do with driving a tractor trailer for a living one day.

The Teen Years:  River Man – Nick Drake.  My dad turned me on to this obscure artist, obscure then, much better known posthumously. Drake’s music was dark, and full of raw emotion poetically crafted and delivered with total vulnerability.  The tune really speaks more to my dad’s life than mine and in some ways feels like a portal to his soul, may god rest it.  I’m linking also to a brilliant Brad Mehldau cover of the song.

College:  Phase Dance – The Pat Metheny Group.  I discovered Pat Metheny’s music looking through my sister’s boyfriend’s record collection.   He’s been my favorite artist ever since, Pat Metheny, not my sister’s x boyfriend.  I’ve had the good fortune of seeing Pat play live with his band and in other configurations many times.  The first time I saw the group play was in 1984 at the Student Union at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. I was one of about 100 people sitting near the stage in a metal folding chair.  I had a Minolta SLR and took flashless photos with a high speed Ilford black and white film.  See shot below from the concert.  The song was sort of a signature warm up tune they liked to play very early in a concert.   Phase Dance doesn’t have any lyrics, but the song is full of idea exploration.  Like the song, as a college student, I had  begun exploring various ideas and perspectives and quite a few mysterious isms as I pondered the meaning of life.

Pat Metheny_Fayetteville AR 1984

Post CollegeNovo Amor (New Love) – Gal Costa.  In 1990, I began dating a Chilean woman I would later marry.  She spoke very little English, and I, very little Spanish.  We somehow managed to communicate together through hand gestures, Spanglish and by exchanging notes on napkins.  One of the things we had in common was a love for Brazilian music.  We both had cassette tapes and albums by Gal Costa, Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and others.  At our wedding reception, we featured a Brazilian mix tape.

Mid Life.  The Way Up – Pat Metheny Group.  Pat Metheny is the only artist that I have seen live with each member of my immediate family separately.   My wife and I saw The Way Up tour in 2004 as an anniversary present.  It is a jazz record, but organized into four parts like a symphony.  The work is a masterpiece drawing from many musical influences including the composer Steve Reich.  As  composers, the writing duo of Pat Metheny (guitar) and Lyle Mays (keyboards) are in the same league as Rogers and Hammerstein and Lennon and McCartney.   And Metheny is a national treasure.  The music from The Way Up suite awakens my creative impulses and helps keep my midlife out of crisis.

2003_0104aniversary-school-05

Can You Learn To Like Music You Don’t?

GH CT_Concert

Can you learn to like music you hate?  Research suggests you can.  But I’m a skeptic.  Country music?  NEVER.  And I’m a country boy (of sorts), having grown up in Arkansas and having spent summers and my college days in rural NW Arkansas.  The truth is, I probably could learn to like music I hate if I tried.   According to a research study, people react negatively to certain kinds of unfamiliar music.  They may not recognize a particular chord structure in the music and simply can’t hear and process it.  Researchers argue that it’s like encountering a foreign language for the first time. In the study, subjects with no musical background took a crash course on music theory and then listened again to music they had previously rejected.  On the balance, the “trained” subjects were better able to process dissonant chords.  Now this doesn’t mean they loved the music, but they apparently understood it better which is the first step toward acceptance.

This brings me to an interesting question:  how does one acquire musical taste?  Need one be a musician to enjoy a diverse palate of music? I submit that it helps, but is not a requirement.  Think of the language acquisition analogy.  Children consistently exposed to rich inputs of multiple languages in the home or school stand a much better chance of acquiring the languages (and without an accent) than children from monolingual backgrounds.

I can trace my own musical tastes to early exposure.  Jazz.  My dad used to come home from work and play jazz records – Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck were two artists I remember.  I didn’t really like the music much as a 6 year old, but I liked my dad.  I wouldn’t begin to listen to jazz in earnest until my late teens, but my dad paved the way.  Same is true of classical music.  I didn’t like it much growing up, but it was around me all the time.  My mother was a musician and music educator – still is.  She sang in church choirs and chamber orchestras. And she played the piano, as did my sister.  They played a lot of classical music.  As a kid, I took piano lessons from a  world class bell choir instructor and arranger and church organist.  This lasted about a year because my older sister, who also took lessons, was a much better keyboardist than I – plus I didn’t like being compared to her, or to practice.  The only thing I can play on the piano today is “Strangers in the Night” (with my right hand) and I learned that by myself before I began taking piano lessons.  I daydreamed and doodled a lot during church services as a kid, but when the church organist played, often Bach, the music dramatically soared out of hundreds of pipes and caught my attention.  I didn’t begin to seriously listen to and buy classical music until my 30’s, which was right around the time the CD was starting to compete with and overtake vinyl.

Commercial radio, the Midnight Special and American Bandstand probably influenced my tastes the most as a kid.  I worked throwing a paper route and mowing lawns to feed my thirst for records – 45’s, and LP’s.  One of my first 45’s was Stevie Wonder’s “You are the Sunshine of My Life” and one of my first albums was his landmark Innervisions, which ranks up there as one of my favorite LPs.   My dad turned me onto Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake in my mid-teens.  I felt some liberation from commercial radio when my sister brought home a Jeff Beck album, Blow by Blow.  And that led to my interest in jazz rock fusion, back to Miles and on to Weather Report and Herbie Hancock.  I discovered a lot of music on my own, often quite randomly; sometimes I bought an album of an unknown (to me) artist for the cover art or photography.  This is how I stumbled across the music of the Pat Metheny Group below:

Pat Metheny_Fayetteville AR 1984

I often joke that I have musical genes but no gift.  I may have an ear for music, but apart from some piano lessons at age 7, no formal training.  I owe my ability to appreciate and understand jazz and classical music to early and constant exposure.  I am proof that an average person can learn to like music that he previously rejected. But this process takes time, in my case, it took years.  Will I ever learn to love country and folk, rap and heavy metal?  Probably not due to the lack of early and consistent exposure; respect yes, love…love is such a strong word.

Here’s another self-indulgent look at the influences on my musical tastes:

  • Rock, Pop and R&B – Commercial radio, the Midnight Special, American Bandstand, Soul Train, friends, record stores and album covers
  • Jazz – my dad, my sister, Guitar Player magazine (the John McGlaughlin edition), KUAF, and a Miles record
  • Alternative and Punk – MTV, KUAF and KRFA DJ M.A.
  • Classical – my mom, ML Thompson, church organists, music appreciation class in college (an easy A),  Menotti’s Amhal and the Night Visitors and Star Trek
  • Blues – Muddy Waters with Eric Clapton one night in Pine Bluff, Arkansas
  • Industrial, Ambient, Minimalist and Odd Sounds – the drone of the industrial strength fan on a hot day in elementary school, church organists, WZBC and the laundry room at home where I used to chill and listen to the washer and dryer.

2012 – The Year of Records

Festive Orbs

Congressional Approval Rating: 18%

President Obama’s Job Approval Rating: 54%

Unemployment Rate: 7.9%

Gas Prices (Source Gas-Buddy):  Tuscon – $2.858; Lubbock – $2.865; Little Rock – $3.068; Chicago – $3.40; Boston – $3.475; LA – $3.609;  NYC – $3.773; Honolulu – $3.918

Most expensive college:  Sara Lawrence College (not to be confused with Sara Lee) – $60,116/yr

Motor Trend 2013 Car of the YearTesla Model S – $58,000 (an all electric car) 0-60 4.4 seconds with no emissions.

Weather 2012:  (source – Dr. Jeff Masters’ wunderblog)

  • Great Drought of 2012 – driest since Dust Bowl era.  In July, 61% of U.S. contiguous land mass in drought like conditions. Mississippi River at lowest levels ever.
  • Hottest year on record.  On August 1, half the state of Oklahoma recorded temperatures of 110 or higher.  Death Valley tied record for highest low at 107 and highest average 24 hour temperature of 117.5.
  • Hurricane Sandy – largest tropical storm-force winds spanning 943 miles of coastline.
  • 28 tornadoes hit on Christmas Day breaking the previous record of 12 set in 1969.

Average movie ticket price: 2012 – $8.12; 1995 – $4.35.

Best LPs of 2012:  my picks sourced from Rolling StonesNPR and Stereophile.  26 albums, multiple genres, one playlist.  See below:  Don’t have Spotify, get it free (with ads, sorry), but it’s worth it.

12/12/12

The end of the world came and went without incident.