February 06, 2004

Three and a Half Musical Moments That Bother My Cat

but all these records are heartily recommended to non-cats. Or, at least, non-cats with my tastes in music. Caveat Emptor and all that.

The moments are:
(1) The thunderstorm at the beginning of "Sidewalk Story" on The Sidewalks of New York, by Uri Caine and Tin Pan Alley;
(2) The high note in the middle of "King Porter Stomp" on Chicago Breakdown, by Thomas Heberer and Dieter Manderschied;
(3) The collective whoop in the middle of "Turtle Dreams (Waltz)" on Turtle Dreams, by Meredith Monk;
(3.5) The entrance of the saxophones at the beginning of "Rituals," on Blues for Falasha, by the Glenn Spearman Double Trio.

These moments are listed in descending order of how much they annoy my cat--which I'd guess is also ascending order of how much they'd annoy most people. More details below the fold.

The Sidewalks of New York is an "audio film" the songs of 1895-1915 played by New York avant-gardists. The performances don't send the songs up or break them down. The postmodern touches are provided by sound effects, crowd noises, snatches of dialogues, the occasional song played as if overheard from the street. Surprisingly, this audio verite intensifies the emotional effect instead of dissipating it. The thunderstorm noises also send my cat under the futon. This is not a tough, streety cat we're talking about.

Chicago Breakdown is a disk of six Jelly Roll Morton tunes, played by a German trumpter and bassist. These performances do break the songs down, with the themes emerging from out-of-tempo fantasias, and with Heberer using his trumpet for all sorts of freak noises (some not so far from the sounds New Orleans trumpeters would make). The fifteen-minute version of "King Porter Stomp" stops midway through for one of the longest, highest trumpet notes ever. My cat thinks it's an air-raid siren--the dog-whistle effect, I guess.

"Turtle Dreams (Waltz)" is, for me, the quintessential Meredith Monk piece. For eighteen minutes, over hypnotic, slowly varying organ riffs, four singers sing, chant, gibber, and moan what sounds like a dissection of the sentence "I went to the store." At one point, each in turn starts a sustained whoop--this does sound like an air-raid siren, and it does make the cat sit up.

Blues for Falasha is an intense free-jazz piece about the Jews of Ethiopia, reflecting the late Glenn Spearman's Black-Jewish ancestry. After a brief recitation, two tenor saxophones break in with some long honks that make the cat prick her ears up. The odd thing is that, of all the records I listen to of saxophonists blowing their brains out, this is about the only one that the cat even notices. I don't know why. The record itself builds up to a theatrical climax, intensely sustained--and then, for some reason, there's a two-minute drum duet that destroys the momentum. Why do drummers solo, anyway? They should be expressing themselves while everyone else is playing.

Posted by Matt Weiner at February 6, 2004 09:25 AM

We've met a few times, most notably at your going-away party and most recently at the Cage before Xmas. Yer blog is great in the way it makes me want to read and think more, at a time when I'm usually about to go to classes, maybe half of which (half of three?) invite me to do just that.

Anyway, good work. Re: Meredith Monk, do you have the Big Lebowski soundtrack? It's good for a number of reasons, one of which is the interesting number of contemporary classical, or 20th-century, or whatever composers it's got. Monk, Moondog, Erich Korngold, and of course Carter Burwell, who does all the Coen Brothers' movies. He also has a cool piece in the front of Harper's this month.

I'm so up on it. Anyway, explore at will, if you haven't already consumed these things thoroughly as I have, And keep up the good work. If I start checking out library books on the philosophy of language and if it goes anywhere, I'll remember to thank/credit you.

(On preview: is this blog coded in XML?)

Posted by: David C. Madden at February 6, 2004 09:43 AM

Good to hear from you Dave, and glad you like it. Wasn't the Big Lebowski soundtrack on the jukebox at the Squirrel Cage for a while? Of course the Gipsy King's version of "Hotel California" (feh) got more play than M. Monk. Anyway, thanks for the tip, I'll try to check it out.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 6, 2004 12:08 PM

Oh, and your guess is at least as good as mine about how this blog is coded.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 6, 2004 12:08 PM

Uri Caine - fine taste indeed! I think that Caine has done some playing with trumpeter Dave Douglas, of whom I am a massive fan. Check him out, if you haven't done so already!

Posted by: Will Davies at February 6, 2004 01:50 PM

Absolutely second the recommendation for Douglas. Somewhere I saw a reference to a new CD with Bill Frisell guesting with Douglas's acoustic/electric quintet; do you know if that's the one with Caine and Chris Potter?

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 7, 2004 05:17 PM

Yup - the album is called Strange Liberation. There are some US tour dates here: http://jazztimes.com/JazzNews/XcNewsPlus.asp?cmd=view&articleid=1181

Potter is awesome - I think he's up there with Branford and Brecker at the top of the tenor tree.

Posted by: Will Davies at February 8, 2004 05:14 AM