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.


Best of 2012


Here’s a random list that came to mind over morning coffee.  I know I’ve left some stuff out, but it also occurred to me that I need to do several lists.  This one is mostly devoted to entertainment.  I plan to post a couple of political ones too, maybe a best and worst.  I might even do a top news items one too, though it’s sometimes difficult to separate news from politics.

Best Film:  Argo (reviewed here) and then probably Lincoln, but I didn’t see it.

Best Actor:  Alan Arkin in Argo

Best Indie Film:  Beasts of the Southern Wild.  See my review here.

Best Jazz Album:  Unity BandPat Metheny

Best Rock Album:  Clockwork Angels – Rush This one got them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is their best work in their 35+ year career.

Best Musical DVD: Orchestrion – Pat Metheny.  Fascinating.  I saw him perform this in concert in 2010, reviewed here.  My words did not do it justice, but do yourself a favor and buy the DVD.

Best Classical Album:  HarmonielehreShort Ride in a Fast Machine – John Adams

Best Book:  Drift – Rachel Maddow

Best Weekend Talk Show:  Up With Chris Hayes

Best TV Show: Top Gear UK

Best Concert: Yes – Boston (the only one I saw all year)

Best Wine: Santa Cristina Toscana IGT 2010.  Sublime wime and nicely priced.

Best Commercial:  Wax Vac with best actor going to the guy who stabs his ear with a Q-Tip and yells OUch.

Best electronic gadget: Kindle Paperwhite e-reader.  I plan to review it later, but will say that it meets my expectations, which are admittedly low and I’ve managed to nearly read one free book on the thing: Nostromo by Joseph Conrad.  The Paperwhite lovingly keeps track of my reading speed and tells me how long it will take me to finish a book and how much of it I’ve read.  I’m 91% through Nostromo and have 38 minutes to go.  But the book is a slow slog and I’ll be happy when I’m done.  I like Conrad, but don’t recommend Nostromo.  I’ve downloaded lots of other free classics including Moby Dick, which may take me 8 years to read and thankfully the battery charge is said to last 8 years…or maybe its 8 weeks, I forget.  I accidentally purchased The Complete Sherlock Holmes for $2.99 after downloading a free version earlierI had this coupon from Amazon for a free download from a selection of books including the aforementioned Sir Authur Conan Doyle masterpiece illustrated, but I somehow botched the instructions and wound up buying it instead.  Now I have two Complete Works.  I have tons of other books on my wish list but I can’t bring myself to knowingly buy a book when there are so many classics for free that I want to reread, or have never read.  One thing is sure, with my Paperwhite, I’ll be reading more in the coming year and that’s a good thing.


What’s It All About – Pat Metheny’s Latest

When I heard about this one, I didn’t know what to think.  Pat playing tunes from the 60’s and 70’s, and not his own?  What?  And just Pat, sans group, trio and bots.

Wow.  Pat playing the Carpenters Rainy Days and Mondays?  I would have never admitted it until now that I used to love that song as a kid.  It’s locked into my memory for instant recall, sometimes irritatingly so.  And I would never in a million years have guessed it was one of Pat’s favorites.  I guess I thought Pat only ever listened to jazz and classical for inspiration.  Pat once admitted in an interview that he missed the whole rock-in-roll scene completely when he started playing guitar as a teenager.  However, he must have been listening to the radio a lot as a kid before he began playing guitar.  And this is evident in some of his selections on the record.  Pat’s spin on Rainy Days is nothing short of brilliant on the baritone guitar.  Pat likes to include snipits of his own work sometimes on new tunes, but on this song, he includes a phrase from Midnight Cowboy – listen for it near the end of the song.  There are some other songs along these lines that I would love to hear Pat interpret including Alone Again, Naturally and Starry Starry Night.

Chrerish.  I’m old enough to remember this song too and it’s one of my favorite tunes from the record.  Pat’s interpretation is beautiful, as you might expect – very true to the original melody playing it with the utmost respect adding only a few touches that make it his own as only Pat can do.  I cherish the song even more after hearing Pat’s version.

Garota de Ipanema.  If I had to name a favorite, it’d be this one.  I think partly because it is my favorite original tune of the lot.  Pat significantly reinvents this one as to be nearly unrecognizable from the original if you’re not paying close attention.  He uses pauses throughout which gives it a distinctly dramatic and melancholic feel. His flourish of harmonics at the end provide the song a beautifully haunting coda; there’s a longing there, as if a couple were slowing releasing a hand holding grip as they parted, knowing it would be the last time they’d ever be together.

On the Beatles tune, And I Love Her,  Pat gives an upbeat take on the original which to me had a much more nostalgic tone.  I like both versions very much.  I’d like to hear Pat’s take on Blackbird for a future recording or at least a future sound check if he hasn’t already.

There are a number of other songs on the album all equally compelling including the jazz standard ’round Midnight, that will no doubt put a smile on John McLaughlin’s face when he hears it; Alfie, the mesmerizing take on a brilliant composition by Burt Bacharach; Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence played on a 42-string Pikasso guitar and Carly Simon’s classic, That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.  Each song is beautifully interpreted and masterfully performed.

Another must buy CD from one of the great American artists of the 20th and 21st century.  Thanks Pat!

Pat Metheny Orchestrion Review Boston 5/20/2010

Orchestrion. What?  Instruments playing by themselves?  Is Pat Metheny some kind of wizard?  Well, after seeing the show at the Orpheum in Boston on May 20, I have to say he is.  A one man musical genius and madman,  touring with a bunch of robotic instruments from futuristic guitar bots and bottle organs full of mysterious liquids that looked like something you might see in a 19th century apothecary, to percussion instruments suspended in animation. And of course a player piano that inspired it all, not the one from Pat’s grandpa’s basement, but a Yamaha that actually sounded like a real keyboard and not a toy.

Pat came out and played three solo pieces; a couple of which I didn’t recognize.  He played the bizarre, but beautiful looking and sounding 42- stringed Pikasso guitar, which is a cross between a harp and guitar.  He finished the pre-set with an old tune called Unity Village, off Bright Size Life, his first recording, adding a little taste of percussion from the Orchestrion.

And a red curtain lifted, to reveal the odd assortment of instruments ready to play the Orhcestrion suite at Pat’s command.

It was a magical moment.  People clapped; I just smiled and pumped a fist.  I was ready.  And what I mean by ready is that I had done my homework.  I purchased the Orchestrion CD shortly after it was released and listened to it over and over until I had it memorized.  See my review here.  I might have been one of the few in attendance who noticed he played the suite out of sequence from the recording.  He started with Expansion, one of my favorites, which is track 3 on the CD.  It’s high energy and I thought it was the perfect beginning to the suite.  He played Spirit of the Air next, which is the last track on the CD.  It’s a tune I really dig – so cool, with a groovy baseline and hypnotic vibes.  It reminded me very much of some of the music on one of my favorite Pat Metheny Group LPs, Imaginary Day.  He played my favorite tune off the CD next – Entry Point – it has that mesmerizing Secret Story quality – very emotional,  evocative, so much so that I shed a tear.  I did.  Next came the opening track, Orchestrion, which I think was a great spot for it.  It really amped up the mood and energized the audience.  After Orchestrion, he talked a little about the project and announced what he had played so far and then finished out the suite with Soul Search, which has a minimalist motif similar to that found on The Way Up.  What amazed me about the performance was that each tune sounded exactly like the studio version.  There were a few improvised departures in the guitar work, but not much.  He actually pulled it off.  Things were about to change however, when he came back on stage after a roaring standing ovation.

The cool and unexpected treat was that Pat was in a talkative mood.  He practically gave an encore clinic, explaining how the Orchestrion worked.  He demonstrated how he built layers of sound from the different custom built instruments, all with his guitar and foot pedals, and in the process created a completely improvised – on the spot – composition.  He started with a tempo, which he thought was a little too slow, and restarted with something fast.  Then he gave guitar commands to each instrument, playing notes that the instruments mimicked until he had the desired background for his guitar improvisations.  He then played another encore which included a stunning version of Make Peace, a composition he wrote and recorded with Brad Mehldau.

I thoroughly enjoyed the concert as did my daughter.  Pat was in great form as always and played for over 2  1/2 hours.  He interacted with his band of bots with affection as if they were his band mates – there was a real connection there.  Pat has always had a way of humanizing technology dating back to his early experiments with the Synclavier and his ongoing use of the Roland guitar synthesizer, which he actually played with the Orchestrion during the encore.  I’ve seen Pat live a dozen or so times over the years, and his music is always fresh, melodic and full of surprises.   He’s one of the great artists of our time and a national treasure.  I feel fortunate to have seen one stop on the Orchestrion tour.   If you get the chance, go out and see it.  You’ll never see anything like it again – ever.

Pat Metheny – Orchestrion Review

Orchestrion. Sounds like the Pat Metheny Group, but it’s not.  Pat’s going solo on this one with a band full of bots.  And he’s touring with them too.  I’ve got my tickets for the May 20 date in Boston.

Ok, I’ve read the liner notes on the Orchestrion CD and have seen several videos of Pat explaining the concept and I understand what’s he’s done, but not how he’s done it exactly.  Briefly here, he had some instruments designed for him that are solenoid based and operate like pneumatics.  He programmed the instruments to play the compositions.  He then improvises with his guitar over the mechanical ensemble, which includes a bottle organ, basses, bells, marimba, vibraphone, drums, pianos and more.  No Lyle, Steve or Antonio.

My question.  When these bots solo on stage, do we clap? I will.

If you are reading this review, you probably already have the CD, and will instantly know what I mean when I say the music on Orchestrion is self- referential, which for me, as a Pat Metheny fan for many years, is a good thing.  I was worried that the music would be inaccessible or overshadowed by the technological aspects of the project.  Kind of like hearing the signature Synclavier when Pat recorded with it for the first time.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but over time, came to enjoy that expansive, Sun Ra type exploration.   But I was pleasantly surprised, and as is true with most of Pat’s compositions, true for me at least, with each listen, I hear more, and the more I hear, the more I like.  What is immediately noticeable are the references to other works including Secret Story, Off Ramp, Day Trip, Speaking of Now and on the last tune, a combination of the motifs in The Way Up and elements of a tune from Imaginary Day.

Orchestrion is another masterpiece and I can’t wait to watch and listen to Pat pull it off live.

Music and Mood

My musical tastes are varied and generally mirror my mood or compliment what I happen to be doing. Here’s a sample of music matched to mood or task:

Checking E-Mails: anything on beyondjazz.net

DeStressing: Brian Eno – Ambient 4: On Land

Writing, Concentration and Focus: Miles Davis – In a Silent Way

Relaxing: Chopin- Nocturnes (Complete)

Motivation: Any Pat Metheny record

Inspiration: John Coltrane: A Love Supreme; Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

Reflection: Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon

Nostalgia: Genesis – Seconds Out and the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Creativity: Bill Frisell

Pick Me Up: Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter or Herbie Hancock

Ironically, the Miles LP is entitled Relaxin with the Miles Davis Quintet, but I find the music anything but relaxing.

Productivity and Focus: Prokofiev – Piano Concertos