Posted by jeff on May 23, 2013 in A Cappella
AAVF 2013 is chronologically over, but still pumping in my veins and breathing in my soul.
It was a wonderful, educationally enriching and communally loving experience. It would be impossible to give you an overview, but I’ll try to relate to you some of my personal experiences, in hopes that the subjective view will give some sort of representative impression of what went on.
It was all pretty well organized, user-friendly. My hotel was only a five-minute walk from the site, which was a big advantage. The biggest problem was not enough hours in the day—wanting to simultaneously attend all the workshops, watch the small group and large group competitions, hear the midday concerts in the foyer, grab some food, and schmooze!!
Pre-Festival – Sono and Naura were both new for me, young Danish groups of about 20 singers, both really high quality, interesting repertoire, flawless performance, charming appearance, setting the bar high for the rest of the festival.
Friday – The Mzansi Youth Choir and the Boxettes gave two very different examples of how far contemporary a cappella can go and still knock out the crowd. The Girls Choir of Mariagerfjord were ‘just’ another one of those perfect Danish choirs.
Saturday – Since first hearing them in Vasteros in 2008, I’ve become an impassioned devotee of Vocal Line, so it was of course a really great thrill to hear them again. The combination of Vocal Line, VoxNorth and Eivør wasn’t easy for me. It was a new aesthetic, speaking in a musical language I was less familiar with. It sounds fascinating to me, and I plan on exploring it in the future (in the present, actually—I’m listening to Eivør as I write!)
Sunday – WeBe3 was a totally new treat for me, improvisation at its purest, and you know I’m a purist . The Real Group and Rajaton both gave short but absolutely first-rate sets, showed why they’re the acknowledged leaders of our cult. It’s the third time I’ve heard both, and maybe the best. Level Eleven had some high points, and promises more to come in the future.
Monday – The group that completely blew me away was Jesper Holm’s Touché, as I had never even heard them recorded, let alone live. I knew they were a 12-voice group singing Count Basie big band charts and complex Gene Puerling arrangements from Singers Unlimited. What I wasn’t prepared for was the total, absolute technical perfection Jesper has achieved with these guys. Brassier than Basie, subtler than the Singers Unlimited, and purer than Gene Puerling, their mastery of these genres was TOTAL. The delivery was crystal-clear, as pure as glacial water. Even the soloists sang with superhuman control. And I was particularly impressed by how steeped these kids are in the vocal jazz tradition. They really do know where they’re coming from. And I can only dream where they’re going. More about that below.
Reach Out and Touch a Star
Jens, Jeff, Line, Jim
It’s a strange situation at these festivals – you listen to the artist at home, think about their music; read about the upcoming concert; buy a ticket, buy a plane ticket and reserve a hotel; travel, with all the anticipation and excitement and build-up; and then an hour after the show you’re drinking a beer with the artist, with him telling you how he felt about the show. We’re used to admiring our ‘idols’ from afar. The warmth and intimacy of a festival such as this is a big part of its utter charm.
I met a guy on the train who was coming from Belgium to hear Bruce Springsteen in Denmark. They say Bruce is a really nice guy, but you’re watching him with 20,000 strangers from 3 kilometers away, with 500 armed guards in between you and him. Here, an hour after the show, you share a beer with the artist and hug him and thank him for the fine show, and he tells you how excited he was… Who de boss now?
Line Groth Riis & Anders Hornshøj, “Just Sing It”
They started with the incomparable dynamo Line Groth Riis leading 800 people singing two ultra-cool arrangements, with really fine, overpowering results. Go beat that. And that’s just for starters.
The Single Singers had to prepare four songs, three of which were quite difficult, in two rehearsals with no clear conductor. No mean feat that! It seemed quite impossible at the beginning, but somehow it worked at the end. The really great thing that happened there for me was singing Vocal Line’s version of Peter Garbiel’s “Don’t Give Up” with Jens Johansen himself conducting! So, that was a thrill in and of itself, but the really inspiring aspect was singing the song, being part of the tapestry of that beautiful, divine arrangement. I had listened to the song many, many times, but there’s nothing like singing it from within. (Guess what is going to be Song of The Week on my blog tomorrow?)
Jim Daus Hjernøe workshop
I joined five other workshops, each one an education in and of itself.
The amazingly talented Roger Treece, the man behind Bobby McFerrin’s “VOCAbuLarieS” was really pushing the envelope of grasping how rhythm and pulse work. It was sometimes a stretch to follow him, but yet a lot of fun.
Everyone was raving about Jim Daus Hjernøe’s workshop in Sweden, and I finally caught up with him here. “Rhythm and Groove” was uplifting, mind-expanding. He made so much sense out of central elements I’d never been aware of previously. I told him that in my next incarnation I want to come study in Aarhus. He responded that they have a really good remote learning program. If only I had the courage! Me, studying with these giants?
Single Singers rehearsal
I attended Katarina Henryson and Anders Edenroth’s “All Ears” workshop. I’d heard them go over the same material before more than once. And you know what? It gets better each time. Eighty strangers walk into a room, mostly fairly talented amateur singers. Then Katarina and Anders start teaching you the Art of Listening. And at the end of two hours we did a group improvisation – with our eyes closed!!! – about seven minutes of beautiful, transcendent, magical music. Just mind-boggling. Just these two hours were worth the 12-hour trip.
And Jesper Holm’s Advanced Vocal Technique. The program said ‘Harmonic complexity, swing feeling, jazz phrasing, sound and blend.’ Yes, that’s what he did. But I was reminded of the Yeats’ poem: That girls at puberty may find/The first Adam in their thought,/Shut the door of the Pope’s chapel,/Keep those children out./There on that scaffolding reclines/Michael Angelo./With no more sound than the mice make/His hand moves to and fro./(Like a long-legged fly upon the stream/His mind moves upon silence.) The absolute precision of his approach showed again that ‘God is in the details’. It was a truly inspiring workshop experience. Jesper is my new role model for doing a job well. And I’m proud to count him as a new friend.
I met SO many people—friends from Vasteros 2008, friends from Stockholm 2012, more recent Facebook friends, and new friends from Aarhus – too many to mention. I made a list of about 25 people that I had memorable interactions with, but I’m not going to list them because I know there were another dozen that are escaping my fuzzy brain, and hopefully another dozen that I’ll get to know now by writing. I did notice that the hugs have gotten tighter over the years, that each subsequent meeting with these fine people deepens the connection from the cordial to the friendly to the beginning of real involvement.
As you know, I do a lot of talking and thinking and writing about music, and I was fortunate enough to have three serious, focused, professional conversations.
The first was with Peder Karlsson. I first met Peder at Vasteros in 2008. I had brought a group from Israel and had briefly corresponded with him via email. On the first day I was nervous, confused, excited. Peder walked by, and I asked him timidly where the Whatever Room was.
I was a novice, a nobody, an attendee from afar; he was The Star. He looked at my nametag, looked at me, let out a shout of “Jeff!” and gave me a bearhug. I knew something different was going on in this community. Then in 2012, our second meeting, we became a bit friendly.
So now in 2013 I told Peder that I wanted to Skype with him about the history of TRG. He said, “Now!” For an entire morning, Peder told me about the origins of The Real Group’s music. There was a bit of an argument: I was maintaining that TRG invented our contemporary a cappella, while Peder was (over-modestly, I think) asserting that TRG drew from a number of different existing sources. In any case, we both agreed that this is fascinating piece of AC folklore, and it will be my pleasure to work our discussion into a printed interview in the near future. Oh, and now I can comfortably say that I feel Peder is a friend.
This is just one example of many–too many (and too personal) to recount here.
By the way, the origin of TRG’s music issue has riveted me for a long time and spilled over into several other conversations I had. Bill Hare had a lot of first-hand knowledge to share, and Jonathan Minkoff was gleefully maintaining that just about everything I think is diametrically opposed to the truth. Fortunately Judy Fontana was there to keep us from trans-Atlantic blows, suggesting the theory that vocal percussion was developed simultaneously on either side of the ocean. I’m gonna be thinking about that, Judy!
The second conversation was with Roger Treece, whom I’d asked in advance to meet with. I was aware of his work on “VOCAbuLarieS”, and really wanted to hear how Vocal Line was connected to that project. I also wanted to learn more about where Roger is applying his very prodigious talents these days. We had a great, honest, intimate talk which I hope to write up in one form or another (assuming that the glass of water I spilled on the table didn’t erase the file on my recorder). I sincerely hope Roger finds the perfect venue in which to work in the future, because I think his talent is unlimited and he can be a formative voice in a cappella in the next generation.
The third conversation was with Jesper Holm. I’d met Jesper very briefly in 2012, barely long enough to discover that we have a lot of overlapping interests and that I possess an obscure Singers Unlimited CD that he covets. I gladly brought it to Aarhus as an offering, looking forward to getting to know him a bit. We talked for less than an hour, but reached incredibly interesting places. We discussed the very substance of vocality, where group vocal jazz is today, and where it might go in the future. We also raised some ideas about utterly new vistas to explore, and concrete plans about how to do that. We were talking about inventing a new musical language. My blood is still pounding over that conversation. I hope that when the clouds clear, the substance remains and that Jesper sets out on that very profound journey.
What I’ve Taken Home
Oh, just so many ideas. And techniques for making better music. And exposure to new types of music. And hopes and plans for the future. And friendships. Membership in a most special community. And a whole lotta love.
I was at the original Woodstock festival. Given the choice of going back there or going to the next AAVF—no competition, man. Hands down, it’s Aarhus. Something is very sweet in the state of Denmark.
Really, I have only one serious complaint about the festival. You weren’t there, Florian. You and my old buddies Kongero and my new buddies The Swingles and my future buddies The Idea of North.
So I guess we’ll just have to make plans to meet again in Aarhus in 2015.
Please feel free to visit Song of The Week, where you’ll find lots of postings on a cappella and other musical genres.
The Real Group — ‘Nature Boy’
A cause for celebration
The Real Group, 2013
Four Swedes and a Dane recently climbed up on bar stools in a living room with a few friends in Södermalm, Stockholm. What the big deal? They’re The Real Group, the best singing group in the world; they sang ‘Nature Boy’ breathtakingly, with an exquisite lead by Emma Nilsdotter in an inspired arrangement by Anders Edenroth; it was filmed with impeccable taste; and the result is just a little perfect.
The Real Group and Contemporary A Cappella
The Real Group honed their a cappella jazz skills in the late 1980s as five buddies doing their academy studies together in Stockholm. They invented their own academic program, and a whole new take on group jazz singing. Inspired more by Bobby McFerrin’s restrained virtuosity than by Manhattan Transfer’s brash, brassy showiness, they reworked Count Basie arrangements in a five-voice context and sparked an entire musical movement, Contemporary A Cappella, with luminaries such as Rajaton (Finland), Vocal Line (Denmark), The Swingle Singers in their current very hip incarnation (UK), The Idea of North (Australia), and even obliquely Take Six (US). Here’s a SoTW I wrote about The Real Group a while back, with lots of links to their music.
The Real Group, 2013
Contemporary a cappella may be a small movement compared to hip-hop or trance, but its devotees are passionate and growing in numbers. And we all know what passionate cults are capable of. I’m flying this week to my third congregation of cultists, the second this year, at the Aarhus Vocal Festival in Denmark. As unique an experience as Woodstock was (yes, I was there—the Forrest Gump of musical fests), we hippies tended to stare at each other in bewilderment. Here it’s all hugs and grins and a sincere sense of brotherhood in harmony.
Much of this warmth is due to The Real Group themselves, because they’re warm, personable, down-to-earth people. Remember how everyone copied The Beatles’ mop tops? TRG’s modesty has become the currency of our genre.
After twenty-eight years, The Real Group is still going strong (albeit with two changes from the original line-up). In recent years they’ve moved more towards original material – for example, ‘Pass Me the Jazz’ (the next clip to be released from the same session as ‘Nature Boy’); fine as it is, it’s a special pleasure to return to the Great American Songbook and one of its more unusual luminaries, ‘Nature Boy’.
Nat ‘King’ Cole
Nat ‘King’ Cole, eden ahbez
In 1947, a short, barefoot man with shoulder-length hair on a bicycle pushed a tattered score into the hand of Nat ‘King’ Cole’s manager, Mort Ruby, backstage at a theater in LA. Cole liked the Yiddish flavor and intriguing lyrics of the little song and began playing it in his shows. It went over very well, so he wanted to record it. Go find the composer in order to get the rights to the song.
Nat Cole (1919-1965) led a very successful jazz trio in the 1930s and 1940s as the pianist. The apocryphal story is that one night a rowdy drunk insisted that Nat sing ‘Sweet Lorraine’, it caught on, and he began singing more and more. His first hit was in 1943, ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’, which Bo Diddley credited as being a precursor of rock and roll. And Bo Knows!!
In the late 1940s, Nat cemented his move from jazz piano to popular vocals – ‘The Christmas Song’ (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire), ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘Unforgettable’, ‘Too Young’ and of course ‘Nature Boy’. But first we have to find that long-haired guy.
The Family ahbez
Alexander Aberle was born in Brooklyn in 1908 to a Jewish father and Scottish mother, grew up in a Jewish orphanage till he was adopted at age 9 by a couple from Chanute, Kansas, who changed his name to George McGrew.
He worked in obscurity as a pianist and dance band leader till he got his breakthrough gig in LA in 1941— playing at a small health food store and raw food restaurant owned by a couple of German immigrants, adherents to the Lebensreform lifestyle of health food/raw food/organic food, nudism, sexual liberation, alternative medicine, and abstention from alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and vaccines.
Alexander/George renamed himself eden ahbez (‘only the words God and Infinity are worthy of capitalization’), but his friends called him ahbe. Together with wife Anna Jacobsen, their son Tatha Om and another dozen ‘tribesmen’, ahbe and The Nature Boys (recognize that name?) lived off the land in Tahquitz Canyon near Palm Springs, slept in caves and trees, and bathed in waterfalls. They prided themselves on subsisting on under $3 a week.
The Nature Boys
The Nature Boys are today widely perceived as the precursors of the Hippie movement. Except for the bathing part.
One of the other notable Nature Boys was Gypsy Boots, aka Robert Bootzin. His health food store “Health Hut” was the first of its kind in the world, a celebrity hangout in the early 1960s. He invented his own renowned garlic cheese, the natural smoothie and the organic energy bar, cheered wildly at all USC football games, marched in parades, and swung from a vine on network TV shows – Groucho Marx, Spike Jones, and (25 times) The Steve Allen Show. His non-nature buddies included Marlon Brando, Jay Leno, Paul Newman and Muhammad Ali.
Meanwhile, Nat Cole’s people finally tracked down the ahbez family, living underneath the first ‘L’ of the HOLLYWOOD sign, and acquired the rights to record the song. Nat Cole’s ‘Nature Boy’ became a megahit, eight weeks at #1 on the charts, but it turned out that ahbe had given a half dozen people different shares of the publishing rights, and he ended up with virtually nothing. (After Cole died, his wife eventually gave the rights back to ahbe in toto.)
Here’s a fascinating clip from a 1948 TV show, in which ahbe explains how he came to write ‘Nature Boy’ and then meets Nat Cole for the first time, live before the cameras. Well, kind of.
ahbe lived in relative obscurity (I guess under that “L”), eating nuts and being healthy. Incredibly (or maybe not, when you think about it), he’s shown in this photo with Brian Wilson during the recording of “SMiLE”, just before Brian’s breakdown. ahbe recorded a couple of albums including songs like Eden’s Cove, which is somewhere between Martin Denny and Wild Man Fisher. If you listen to the break at 1’10” you may really grasp the key to Brian Wilson’s mind and the meaning of the universe. As well as the taste of the garlic smoothie.
He died in 1995 at the age of 86 in a car accident.
‘Nature Boy’—The Song
The structure of ‘Nature Boy’ is quite unusual—AB:
There was a boy,
A very strange, enchanted boy.
They say he wandered very far,
Very far, over land
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he.
And then one day,
One magic day he passed my way
While we spoke of many things
Fools and kings, this he said to me:
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return.”
It’s really not much more than an extended introduction. To tell you the truth, it’s hard for me to explain its tremendous appeal.
Is it the melody? Anders Edenroth, tenor extraordinaire of The Real Group and arranger of their stunning version, says “I like to see it as a hybrid between jazz and the elastic approach of the Yiddish tradition.”
When those icy Swedes start talking about that Yiddish kvetch, I just melt. In Anders’ arrangement, after the initial AB, at 2’26”, the group opens the song into a Nordic expedition into the Heart of Yiddishism, an immaculate union of the pristine and the passionate.
Another Nature Boy
Bernard Malamud, one of my favorite authors, said “All men are Jews, though few men know it.” He explained this famous statement as “a metaphoric way of indicating how history, sooner or later, treats all men,” meaning I think that the default experience of Jews is suffering, that all individuals at some point in their lives are touched by the same suffering that has been the fabric of Jewish history. This is the background that informs Yiddish melodies.
When ‘Nature Boy’ became a hit, a Yiddish musical composer, Herman Yablokoff claimed that the melody to “Nature Boy” came from one of his songs, “Shvayg mayn harts” (“Be Still My Heart”). ahbe retorted that he “heard the tune in the mist of the California mountains.” They settled out of court for $25,000. No recording of Yablokoff’s song is known, but here’s another Yiddish song with the same title, about a blind Jewish orphan boy selling cigarettes and matches in the ghetto of Grodno during WWII to stay alive. If you look at a map, Grodno in Belarus really isn’t that far from Sweden.
ahbez et Wilson, January 1967
Or perhaps, as Anders suggests, “the enigmatic meaning of the lyrics has puzzled and attracted quite a few listeners.”
There’s something riveting about “The Little Prince”, that small, unblemished, all-knowing innocent, imparting the wisdom of the world to the rest of us. Ironically, ahbe himself later had some reservations about his own lyric: “To be loved in return is too much of a deal, and that has nothing to do with love.” He wanted to correct it to: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love, just to love, and be loved.”
It’s also interesting to note that the first two measures of the melody of ‘Nature Boy’ parallel the melody of the second movement of Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A, Op. 81 (1887). What do you have to say about that, Mr Yablokoff? Are you going to sue Dvořák?
‘Nature Boy’ – Recordings
‘Nature Boy’ clearly strikes a resonant chord. Following Nat Cole’s hit, it immediately became a fallback vehicle for unbridled emotion in the Great American Songbook.
Here’s Nat Cole’s hit version of the song, but the orchestra gets a bit carried away, and I’d recommend this live version from 1948.
Some of the notable early treatments of the song from the 1950s are those by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan (in a rare dud) and Miles Davis.
The Real Group, 2013
But the song has proven to be immensely popular in a wide variety of settings, sometimes more successfully, sometimes less so. Interesting versions that I recommend skipping are those by David Bowie (bombastic), James Brown (unfortunately I could only find an audio version), Grace Slick (in her pre-Airplane incarnation, The Great Society), and Lisa Ekdahl (no Yiddish pathos there). The great jazz singer Mark Murphy starts out great but inexplicably chooses to take the song to Trinidad (no Yiddish pathos there, either).
Two excellent vocal groups, Singers Unlimited (1975) and Pentatonix (2012), show by contrast just how fine an accomplishment is that of The Real Group.
A few versions that are worth checking out for their own distinctive merits are that by Nataly Dawn, a very talented young indie artist; and Radka Toneff, who’s always fine, but who doesn’t squeeze the song the way The Real Group’s Emma does. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise I discovered is Lizz Wright, a singer I’ve long admired, in a drum duet. I don’t know how much it has to do with the essence of the song, but it’s one fine, intense piece of music.
Two singers get special mention. Surprisingly, Cher. She sang it in a 1998 TV tribute to her late husband Sonny Bono, calling her grief “something I never plan to get over.” She’s clearly singing from the heart of her heart, and ‘Nature Boy’ is clearly a chillingly apt tribute to him.
And, unsurprisingly, the great Kurt Elling. ‘Nature Boy’ is a signature song of his. He goes through the song once in a traditional take, then flies off into spheres of unparalleled scatting virtuosity, egged onwards and upwards by pianist Laurence Hobgood, an utter tour de force. Here’s his studio version, and you can find many fine live versions here.
And just in case you’d like to join the list, here’s a karaoke version. Send in your recordings to SoTW, we’ll be glad to post them.
For my money, with all the credit to all the fine artists who’ve recorded the song over the years, I’m going to stick with The Real Group. This is what our contemporary a cappella can be: just a little perfect.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:
033: Radka Toneff, ‘The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress’ (Jimmy Webb)
063: Pust, ‘En Reell Halling’
147: Frank Sinatra, ‘It Was a Very Good Year’
Posted by jeff on May 5, 2013 in A Cappella
, Song Of the week
This week we celebrate Jerusalem Day. Albeit somewhat differently.
Anúna – Jerusalem (1993)
Anúna – Jerusalem (2002)
Anúna – Kyrie
We’re going to talk about a few dichotomies this week: snobbishness vs. enjoying oneself, Celtic vs. Nordic roots music, the authentic vs. the reinvented, and ephemeral Jerusalem vs earthly Jerusalem. Oh, and Riverdance vs. Gregorian chants, the Eurovision vs. anything else, and Arvo Part. Whew.
Let me start right out by declaring that I’m no expert on any of the above, and I’m struggling to entwine all them disparate threads into a coherent ball of a yarn. So no pretentions to authoritativeness, take it all with a pound of salt.
A few weeks ago, I tripped over Michael McGlynn (b. 1964), an Irish composer best known for his compositions for and work with his choral ensemble Anúna. McGlynn formed the group in 1987 to perform medieval Irish and European music, contemporary choral pieces by Irish composers and Irish folk arrangements. He was perceived as a proponent and renewer of Celtic folk materials, but he says “I am not actually concerned with saving Irish traditional music; I am not a traditionalist…The songs that I set are …impressions of the songs I remembered…My priority is always to create [JM: not ‘recreate’] a choral version that works.”
Anúna is composed of about 30 singers, a conscious mix of classically trained voices and amateurs. Performances are usually done by a dozen of them (depending on the compositions presented) singing a cappella in traditional costumes, lit by candles. I love the idea of a composer having his own home troupe to work with. That’s what Bach did, that’s what Shakespeare did. I’ve even done some playwriting for an existing group of actors, and I can testify that it’s a wonderful way to work, to actually know the person for whom you’re creating the persona. It’s the difference between a tailor-made suit and one bought off the rack.
McGlynn’s musical language combines the modalities and drones of medieval and traditional music while employing jazz-tinged chordal clusters and a distinctive Celtic melodic sensibility. Anúna’s sound was influenced by another roots chorus, The Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir, about whom I’ve written before. Gosh, I enjoy writing “The Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir”. The CD which exposed them to the Western World and The Tonight Show, “Mystère des Voix Bulgares” was released in 1975, but they became celebs only in the late 1980s, contemporaneously with Anúna. Something in the air, I guess. But the Bulgarians were actually performing their unique amalgam of pre-polyphonic music from the perspective of the crossroads between East and West.
Michael McGlynn (l) & Anúna
Thoroughly modern Michael McGlynn composed the music for the debut of the theatrical show Riverdance at the Eurovision in Dublin in 1994. Anúna sang the first part of the 7-minute segment, two dancers did their Irish stepdancing thing in the second, then the whole stompin’ Riverdance troupe did the third. Some say this performance put Ireland on the map, though I’m convinced it was there even before that.
For those of you from America or Mars who are lucky enough to not know what the Eurovision is, it’s an annual “musical” (I use the term loosely) competition, in which some of the most garish, tasteless, crass, offensive music of the Old World vies for dubious honors. Half a billion people watch this spectacle, and it makes me wish God hadn’t told Noah to build the ark.
McGlynn’s association with Riverdance was short-lived, but it propelled him and Anúna into the Irish spotlight. They’ve recorded some twenty albums over twenty-five years. Alongside the reworkings of older classical and folk materials have been collaborations with Elvis Costello, The Chieftans and The Wiggles. But most of their work has been in the neo-traditional vein.
Enough talk, let’s give you a sampling of some of the various styles of music Mr McGlynn and Anúna make.
Riverdance – The Rising of the Sun, Dulaman
Holy Music – The Blue Bird, Pie Jesu
Folk Music – Blackthorn, August
Gregorian – Cormacus Scripsit, Christus Resurgens
New Age – Wind on Sea
Nice mix – Kyrie
And our SoTW, ‘Jerusalem’, which first appeared on their debut album (1993) and then in a reworked version on “Anúna 2002”. It’s a lovely, ethereal piece. In the Jewish tradition there are two Jerusalems in parallel realities: Heavenly Jerusalem (literally ‘Jerusalem of above’), that of the spirit, that in which God’s very presence is palpable; and Earthly Jerusalem (literally ‘Jerusalem of below’). I think it’s pretty clear to which Jerusalem belongs this wonderful piece by Anúna.
The source for this cosmic dichotomy is Hosea 11:9: “For a god am I, and not a man – [I am] holy among you; I will not enter the city.” (כי אל אנכי ולא-איש – בְּקִרְבְּךָ קָדוֹשׁ – וְלֹא אָבוֹא בְּעִיר) In Tractate Ta’anit of the Talmud (5A), the sages wonder why God’s being holy would preclude him from mingling with Man. R. Elhanan explains: I will not enter heavenly Jerusalem until I have entered earthly Jerusalem. (אמר הקב”ה, לא אבוא בירושלים של מעלה עד שאבוא לירושלים של מטה.) This has a whole lot of ramifications in some circles. It’s saying that things have to happen down here before they can happen Up There.
It should be pointed out that this particular dichotomy was envisioned way before the appearance of science fiction. In some senses, even before science. But before we go overboard eschatologically, let’s get back to the music.
I’m suspicious of accessible music. Anything that comes from a sound-world I haven’t grown up on, if I get it at first hearing I assume it’s a fraud, that’s it’s pandering to my ears. I don’t want to have the music at ‘hello’. I want my musical borders to expand, I want to be challenged, I want to have to work to ‘get’ something new. For me that’s the case, in the extreme, with free jazz and with much classical music of the last century. That was the case with the Bulgarian ladies. It’s not the case here.
I’ve been asking some people whose knowledge and taste exceeds mine whether Anúna is divinely inspired or New Age pap. No one has been willing to climb out on that judgmental limb so far, but I’m still asking. Surprisingly, there are two kinds of music I associate with this Celtic neo-trad aesthetic which I have fewer questions about.
Up north, there’s Nordic neo-trad. I’ve written about some of this music in SoTW 071, focusing on Lyy. Nordic neo-trad sounds suspiciously like Celtic neo-trad. It’s not only because I grew up in the Midwest listening to The Four Seasons (the Frankie Valli ‘Sherry’ flavor, not Vivaldi). I’ve asked lots of people creating Nordic neo-trad if it doesn’t sound like the Celts, and they readily admit that it does, though they have no idea why. There have always been connections between the British Isles and Scandinavia, way back since the Vikings and the Saxons were wreaking havoc. But that doesn’t really explain it. The US borders Mexico, and France and Italy have had diplomatic relations since the time of Asterix, but they all have their distinctive musics.
And out east, from Tallinn, Estonia, comes God’s court composer, the divine Arvo Pärt. Like McGlynn, he composes contemporary a cappella liturgical music more akin to the early Renaissance than to typical Eurovision fare. I haven’t felt the need to ask anyone if Pärt is The Real Thing. He’s not digging up any people’s roots, he’s working full-time in the heavenly Jerusalem, whether it’s in Tallinn or Berlin.
Where does that leave us? Let’s go back to a couple of those basic dichotomies. First, the authentic vs. the processed. I’d certainly rather listen to Dylan than Peter, Paul & Mary. I’d even rather listen to Robert Johnson than to Eric Clapton’s version of him. But I will confess that I prefer Janis Joplin to Big Mamma Thornton, the Everly Brothers to the Louvin Brothers, Sam Cooke to the Soul Messengers, the Lovin’ Spoonful to Will Shade’s Memphis Jug Band,
I listen to Bach on the piano rather than on the clavicord. So what does that make me? I guess a dilettante snob trying to discover new, challenging music but yet enjoy myself. Bob Dylan said it best, in the liner notes to John Wesley Harding: “And just how far would you like to go in?” he asked and the three kings all looked at each other. “Not too far but just far enough so’s we can say that we’ve been there,” said the first chief.
I guess that makes me a Jerusalemite—feet firmly ensconsed in the ground, head if not in the clouds, at least looking up at them.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:
030: The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Women’s Choir (Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares) – ‘Pilentze Pee’
012: Arvo Pärt, ‘Cantate Domino’
071: Lyy, ‘Giftavisan’
Posted by jeff on Apr 26, 2013 in Rock
, Song Of the week
Nicky & Sheina – My Grandkids
It’s 42 days after Valentine’s Day, the perfect time to talk about couplehood. Pas de deux. Aural symbiosis. Harmony.
I could talk about what’s wrong with being alone – like Nilsson’s One.
Or I could talk about the pleasure of being together – ‘Two of Us’ of course pops into mind.
Or I might try to distill ‘twoness’. Then I’d fo’ sure share Jack Bach showing off what he can do with two lines (Invention for Piano 13 in Am, , BWV 784). And if you’d like a demonstration of how that works in human terms, here are the ladies from The Real Group singing the same piece.
Margareta & Katarina — The Real Girls
Still not convinced?
Here’s one person tangoing.
And here are two.
Ok, I can’t resist. The bustiest Beach Bingo belle went to that mouseketeertrap in the sky the week before Valentine’s day, so here’s Annette Funicello overstating the obvious.
What’s the point? David Crosby, of course. Or more precisely, “Ooh-ooh-ooh, what a little harmony can do-oo-oo.”
Jackson Browne & David Crosby — in harmony
I’m not talking holistic harmony. Take for example ‘Claudette’, written for his wife and originally sung solo by Roy Orbison, then made a hit by the sultans of symphony, Don and Phil Everly. It’s great, but it’s obvious.
I’m talking about nuance. How you can have a perfectly lovely song, just a singer and his guitar and his song and his singing, ostensibly an autonomous whole. And then along comes David Crosby (the greatest of harmony singers in rock, alongside James Taylor), adding just a pinch of a hint of an oblique juxtaposition, and– voilà–magic.
David Crosby & some other cat
The easiest harmony is for the second voice to ride on top of and parallel to the melody line, either a third or a fourth or a fifth above it. Graham Nash does that very well. David Crosby slips underneath the melody line with a disembodied voice that seems to have no presence of its own. It’s just in the air, enhancing the soloist and entrancing the listener.
He did it for The Byrds.
He did it for Crosby, Stills & Nash.
And he did it for Jackson Browne in a little gem, ‘Something Fine’.
Here’s Jackson doing the song solo (from Solo Acoustic, Vol. 2).
And here’s the original version from his eponymous album, 1972. With a little help from his friend.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like (in order of appearance here):
155: Nilsson, ‘One’
053: The Beatles, ‘In My Life’
005: Glenn Gould, Toccata in Cm (J.S. Bach)
059: The Real Group, ‘Joy Spring’
115: Astor Piazzolla, ‘Tango: Zero Hour’
111: David Crosby (The Byrds), ‘Everybody’s Been Burned’
076: Roy Orbison, ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’
162: Everly Brothers, ‘Crying in the Rain’
136: Taylor, Simon & Garfunkel, ‘Wonderful World’
072: Stephen Stills, ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ (“Just Roll Tape” demo)
The papers lie there helplessly in a pile outside the door.
I’ve tried and tried, but I just can’t remember what they’re for.
The world outside is tugging like a beggar at my sleeve–
Oh, that’s much too old a story to believe .
And you know that it’s taken its share of me
Even though you take such good care of me.
Now you say “Morocco” and that makes me smile–
I haven’t seen morocco in a long, long while.
The dreams are rolling down across the places in my mind
And I’ve just had a taste of something fine.
The future hides and the past just slides, England lies between
Floating in a silver mist so cold and so clean.
California’s shaking like an angry child will
Who has asked for love and is unanswered still.
And you know that I’m looking back carefully
‘Cause I know that there’s still something there for me.
But you said “Morocco” and you made me smile
And it hasn’t been that easy for a long, long while
And looking back into your eyes I saw them really shine
Giving me a taste of something fine – something fine.
Now if you see Morocco I know you’ll go in style
I may not see Morocco for a little while
But while you’re there I was hoping you might keep it in your mind
To save me just a taste of something fine.