Throwback Thursday: String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96, “American,” Antonin Dvorak

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On this day 227 years ago, George Washington was elected the first president of the United States of America.  About a century later, a man from Nelahozeves, a town in the Austrian Empire, wrote a piece of music about the country.  Clearly, the American experiment was somewhat of a success.

I don’t tend to like string quartets, but this is one of the loveliest and more fun pieces of classical music I came across last year.  The first movement’s first 12 notes will get stuck in your head for days.  The second movement (09:08) is a prime example of how to write a heartbreaking melody: keep it simple.  The third and fourth movements are cheerful and lively.  Whereas string quartets tend to make me feel claustrophobic, this string quartet feels like someone threw open all the windows on a spring afternoon.

 

 

Worldly Wednesday: “Traveller,” Baaba Maal

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Oh man – when the song fully kicks in at 1:55, I just can’t help myself.  I wish I knew Pulaar so I could sing along.  Maal, who is a genius musician and composer from Senegal, writes some of my favorite west African music of all time.  This is one of my favorite tracks of his.  This is guaranteed to turn any day into a good one.

Maal worked on this album with Winston Marshall, of Mumford & Sons, and Johan Hugo, of The Very Best.  Appropriately, this is what Maal said is the main message of the album:  “Life is travel. You are born, you come to the world, and you are traveling until the end. You never know what you’re going to get. When you travel you see that the world is quite interesting—all the different faces, all the different cultures, all the different food, all the different types of music. But it’s all human beings, and it’s all connected.”

A sentiment to remember, surely.

Termagant Tuesday: “Jumpin’ At The Woodside,” Count Basie vs. Oscar Peterson

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Welp, last night was the Iowa Caucuses.  Or, as we say in our household, “Involuntary Nap Night.”  Honest to God – we had at least 10 browsers open full of different polling data, plus NPR on the radio.  We were on it.  Tracking.  …Until I fell asleep in the leather chair.  And by 11pm I couldn’t hit the refresh button any more so I went to sleep.

But today is a new day, Tune-Up Nation, and I for one want to see another kind of battle than the one between Clinton and Cruz, or Clinton and Sanders, or Trump and the collective knowledge of mankind.  So behold the glory of Count Basie and Oscar Peterson doubling up on that old swing classic, “Jumpin’ At The Woodside.”  They’ve got my vote.

Modernism Monday: “Din Daa Daa” The Roots

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The exceptionally funky band The Roots cover the exceptionally cool George Kranz.  This track is basically a vehicle to showcase Questlove’s amazing drumming and general rhythm skills.  But I love it for its spare modernism.  It reminds me a lot of what would happen if Bobby McFerrin and Laurie Anderson got together.  It’s an amazing and fun soundscape until 3:20 when the rest of the song drops.

Worldly Wednesday: “Smeorach Chlann Domhnaill,” Julie Fowlis

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Clan Donald (also known as MacDonald), hails from the western islands of Scotland, and counts Finlaggan Castle on Islay as its seat.  The clan dates back to the 12th century and became one of the most powerful of the Highland clans in Scotland.  In this folk song, the singer praises Scotland and calls it a land of “heroes and poets,” beautiful nature, and skilled warriors.  The singer ends with his hopes that Sir James MacDonald returns from fighting for the Stuarts at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

The Battle of Worcester was the last great battle during the English Civil Wars that pitted Oliver Cromwell and his 30,000-strong army against Charles the II’s 16,000 men, mostly made up of Scotsmen. Although handily defeated by Cromwell, Charles II took back the throne in 1660 and thus began what would become known as the Restoration.

 

Hooray learning!

Hooray learning!

 

 

 

Termagant Tuesday: “Let’s Misbehave,” Irving Aaronson & His Commandeers

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Welp, we’re on Day Three of “Job?  What Job?” here in our nation’s capital.  The federal government is closed, the Senate punted votes, the House isn’t voting on anything, and we’re all still trapped inside.  Those of us who can get out rapidly discover there’s…really not all that much point, except going to a bar that’s open simply because it’s open.  Yes, it’s a little oppressive.  And now, perhaps, we can all understand why more babies are born in late summer and autumn than any other time of the year.

Sacred Sunday: “Wade In The Water,” The Staples Singers

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Sorry for leaving you stranded yesterday, Tune-Up Nation.  Chateau Yankette lost power.  It was very sad.  But we’re back up and running today, just in time to run outside and trudge through three-feet-high snow drifts just to finally get out of the damn house.  That said, the city is really beautiful in its snow blanket, and now that the sun is out, everything looks shiny and clean.  It’s also marvelously quieter than it usually is – no honking, no construction, no sirens.  It’s delightful.

 

 

Funk Friday: “Fresh Static Snow,” Porter Robinson

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IT’S SNOWING IT’S SNOWING IT’S SNOWING IT’S SNOWING IT’S SNOWING

The Feds shut down at noon today, which put everyone on the road and on the Metro at the same time, which went totally fine by the way thanks for asking (oh how it hurts to lie).  But now we are ensconced in our homes, or in the homes of our friends in my case, watching the rising snow drifts and the synchronous diminution of city activity.  So crank that bass up and let’s get down to business.

Throwback Thursday: “Northern Lights,” Ola Gjeilo

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Here in D.C., we sit in breathless, panicky expectation of a whammy of a snowstorm.  It’s been a while since we’ve gotten some serious snow, so we are all tremendously excited and choosing to express our excitement through stock-piling essentials like steamer clams, green tea mochi, and cheese doodles…and then forgetting things like toilet paper and granola.  But we got a little taste of the coming storm last night when thick, pebble-sized flakes of snow started drifting down after dark.  I shuffled home through the gentle snowfall and stood under a streetlamp for a minute.  The snow was beautiful.

Everything is quieter in snow.  Snow muffles sound – car wheels, human feet- and in so doing encourages us to keep silent.  Snow is the only weather event I can think of that makes no sound.  You can hear wind, rain, hail, sleet…but you can’t hear snow.  You’re one sense down, which naturally heightens all other senses to compensate.  And we can’t help but plug that gap with our own, very personal, feelings.  All of a sudden you want to relieve your childhood through sledding, or be a better neighbor through keeping an eye out for the homeless and getting them to shelters, or dive deep into spirituality and mysticism for which silently falling snow provides a natural backdrop.

But, there comes a point in every snowy day when you huddle for warmth and feel very much like the animal you truly are – an animal that is grateful for some shelter, and a moment of stillness in which to contemplate nature’s terrible, sacred beauty.  This is what Gjeilo’s staggeringly lovely choral piece was written to celebrate.

Pulchra es amica mea,
suavis et decora sicut Jerusalem,
terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata.
Averte oculos tuos a me
quia ipsi me avolare fecerunt.

Thou art beautiful, O my love,
sweet and comely as Jerusalem,
terrible as an army set in array.
Turn away thine eyes from me,
for they have made me flee away.

 

Worldly Wednesday: “Wondering, feat. CAPS,” Yotto

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In keeping with this week’s apparent (and accidental) Scandinavian theme, today we travel from Sweden to its erstwhile east wing, Finland.

Finland is a really neat country, a land of 5.5 million passionate and brooding people who all know how to tango.  This track, from Finland’s most exciting young electronic musician, Otto Yliperttula – aka, Yotto, is all about passionate and brooding.  Yotto specializes in deep house music and last spring joined the highly respectable house label, Anjunadeep.  Though he has arguably more popular tracks, this one is my favorite.  When the beat drops at 4:48, it’s like merging onto an empty Autobahn in an exquisitely sleek sports car.