Stax Records is an absolute legend, so of course this recording of this song is, according to me, the very best one out there. No doubt these guys have amazing voices, but layer them on top of some serious horns and a tight groove, and you get something on a whole other plane. This has been one of those weeks when I have really leaned on my friends and man oh man am I grateful. Happy Friday, Tune-Up fans!
Month: January 2014
Throwback Thursday: “Piano Concerto No. 1, BWV 1052, First Movement,” J.S. BachStandard
One wonders why it took me this long to play Bach, since he is one of the major reasons I adore classical music. This piece in particular makes me beside myself with happiness. It’s slightly more constrained than the Schumann piano concerto I posted a few weeks ago – far more regulated – but it still has the same fire underneath. I especially love Perahia’s interpretation here, which takes it at a wonderfully assertive clip. The slow build-up beginning at 6:02 is so exciting, and you think it’ll resolve but psych! There’s more! Oh, Bach, you card. You slay me.
Bach and Steve Reich both wrote music that satisfies the same craving: music that sounds like the part of my brain that is constantly jumping up and down, wanting to play. Putting this energetic piece on allows that part of my brain to go on a play-date, leaving the calmer, quieter side behind to get some work done in peace. Bach alone got me through about a quarter of grad school. I should put some flowers on his grave or take one of his descendants out for a beer. (Aside: how incredibly cool would it be to have a beer with a Bach descendant?)
Worldly Wednesday: “The Man in the Desert,” Yoko KannoStandard
Something wakes up, stirs, and evolves in this piece. It starts so simply but builds to a massive and complicated climax before resolving back to the six-note lilt with which it began. It’s so hopeful throughout. It feels like running your fingers over an angora blanket. (Now is probably a good time to mention that your Yankette has mild synesthesia, which is when the senses get a little jumbled and, in this case, sounds have colors and textures.) The beginning especially sounds like a convergence of Aaron Copland and Steve Reich, both of whom I love. Yoko Kanno is a modern Japanese composer from Sendai, Japan.
She is mostly known for her soundtracks to anime films and video games. This is my favorite piece of hers. I have been looking everywhere for the words. Intrepid readers, if any of you can find them, I would really appreciate it.
Termagant Tuesday: “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave To Me,” Sidney BechetStandard
Boy oh boy, this song really cooks. The drums are just a hair ahead of the other instruments, the piano is ever so slightly behind, and the resulting mismatch in tempo gives the song the sexiest syncopation this side of a liberal Joplin cover.
And the harmonies when the horns come back in at 2:51. I mean come on. Just stop it. And when Bechet lets it rip at 3:48. Listen to how the piano settles down to match the drums’ tempo to allow Bechet to get loose. This is such a gloriously American sound, a fusion of Tin Pan Alley and a New Orleans jazz funeral, with a dash of Django Reinhardt.
If you need me I’ll be in a smoky jazz club in Paris with a French 75, my man on my arm, and a whole evening of hedonism ahead.
Modernism Monday: “Giuliano’s Tune, Something, Eleanor Day’s #2,” The DuhksStandard
I feel a strong urge to post something unabashedly cheerful today to kick off the week, and The Duhks certainly deliver. The Duhks are from Winnipeg (that’s above North Dakota, for my geography-challenegd friends), but the music they make really sounds like it’s from Newfoundland, or Scotland for that matter. This song makes me want to participate in some type of organized group dancing that heavily features the swinging of one’s partner round and round. If any of you have ever been to a ceilidh (Scottish country dancing) and know the dance “Strip the Willow,” this would be absolutely perfect. Slàinte!
Sacred Sunday: “Resonemus Hoc Natali,” Anon.Standard
I am, as you’ve no doubt guessed, a big fan of early music. I love its simplicity, I love its richness, and, to me, it is very centering. Whenever things get overwhelming and I need to create an eye in the storm, I put on this piece. It sounds mysterious, and therefore timeless. Also, because its melody follows the Dorian mode, it is neither happy nor sad – which is what makes it such a good piece to listen to when you need the universe to just quit it for a second. (Quick music theory tutorial! A “mode” is another word for scale, a scale being a succession of eight notes in ascending order of pitch. What makes the Dorian mode cool is that it includes both minor and major tonalities. For example, a D scale is in the Dorian mode.)
“Resonemus Hoc Natali” is a very early example of the use of polyphony – polyphony literally meaning “many sounds,” and in more common terms, the use of harmony. Like many early music pieces, we don’t know who wrote it exactly, but we do know it hails from the old region of France called Aquitaine in the 12th century.
When the words begin to describe the reason behind God taking human form – “that he might bestow aid to the human race, the heavenly assembly is astonished at this” – the rest of the choir falls away, hushed like a gasp, to leave a singer solo to tell the story. Gets me every time.
The final reason I love early music? It’s old. When I listen to this piece, I contemplate the number of men and women over the last nine centuries who have heard it, too, and the joys and sorrows they carried with them as I carry mine. That comforting connection makes me feel immortal.
Resonemus hoc natali
cantu quodam speciali,
Deus ortu temporali
de secreto virginali
cessant argumenta perfidie.
Magnum quidem sacramentum,
mundi factor fit sic mentum,
sumens carnis indumentum,
ut conferat adiumentum,
cetus inde mirantur superi.
Post memorem redit risus,
et in terris Deus visus,
lapis manus ne precisus,
quem vidit Daniel,
quem venturum predixit Gabriel.
Hic est noster angularis,
spes iustorum salutaris,
hic est noster salutaris,
potens celi, terre, maris,
quam premebat tirannus insolens.
At this birth let us sing out
with some special song,
God comes forth today in temporal birth
from virginal mystery,
let the disputes
of the faithless cease.
Indeed the mighty maker of the world
thus is made the sacrament of the spirit,
taking on the cloak of flesh
that he might bestow aid
to the human race,
the heavenly assembly is astonished at this.
After mourning, laughter returns,
paradise is opened,
and God is seen upon the earth,
the stone uncut by human hand
which Daniel saw,
whose coming Gabriel foretold.
This is our cornerstone,
the healing hope of the upright,
this is our saving power
over the heavens, earth, and sea,
consoling by his act
those whom the insolent tyrant oppressed.
Salubrious Saturday: “Black Beauty,” Duke EllingtonStandard
Oh what bliss, what rapture, what Ellington. It’s snowy here in DC and today is going to be filled with brunch and hanging out with friends. I’m going to ask the Duke if he’d like to come, too. This piece swings and grooves and croons and is mellow without being limp. He truly is the Duke for a reason.
Funk Friday: “Chuck Berry,” Feature CastStandard
You know what Friday’s problem is? Friday’s problem is that it convinces you that the week is over at 12:01AM on Friday morning. I’m sorry, Tune-Up fans, but that’s wrongedy-wrong-wrong. But! Feature Cast has served up a tasty portion of motivation that – are you ready for this? – you can play during the day, and after the day is over. “Jump up, freak, or hustle – do what you want, but move every muscle. Ain’t no time for playing around! Only one thing to do when you hear this sound.” Consider this song the equivalent of that ever elusive day-to-night outfit that you’ve tried for years to find. I lost count of how many other funk songs this one samples. I know for sure there’s “Cissy Strut” by The Meters (that’s the “ahhhhh YAH” vocal). There are about six others, but I was too busy dancing to identify them. Party on, y’all!
Throwback Thursday: “Maestoso,” from Symphony No. 3, Camille Saint-SaensStandard
It’s the deepest, darkest part of winter. It’s cold. Spring feels like it will never come. Life is difficult in general, and sometimes really whacks one in the face. What do we do when this concatenation of suck happens? I will tell you what we do. We square our shoulders, count our blessings, tend to our loved ones, and attack the task at hand with even more zeal than before. Thank the good and gracious Whomever for music, upon which we can rely to be an indefatigable crutch. This movement from Camille Saint-Saens’s organ concerto is one of the most joyously bracing pieces ever written, and is tailor-made for those moments when you need a pep talk, and/or a sonic kick in the pants. It has it all: the alarm-clock beginning, the triumphant horns, the gorgeous melody, and the sympathetic minor key interludes that assure you that others have seen the same kind of trying times you’re experiencing, and not only lived through them, but, ultimately, thrived. It’s pieces like this that inspired me to write this blog in the first place so that I could share them.
“Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.”
Worldly Wednesday: “Otche Nash,” Nikolai KedrovStandard
I learned last night that a friend, fellow international relations scholar, and net benefit to humanity, Alex Petersen, was killed in a Taliban attack at a café in Kabul. I didn’t know Alex very well. We met a few times and were connected by our membership in Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and our mutual friends. I didn’t have to know him well personally to have been awed by him intellectually and professionally. Alex had devoted his life to the study of international relations in all its forms, and threw himself into it with ravenous abandon. That the world could lose someone so young, so accomplished, and so focused on the betterment of humanity is beyond heartbreaking. When I found out about his murder, I heard this piece in my head. It is a Russian Orthodox version of the Lord’s Prayer.
More about Alex Petersen here, courtesy of Josh Rogin.