Oberlin Blogs

Easy Listening

March 26, 2009

Will Mason ’10

Rather than get caught up on my work, or prepare for the handful of recitals that I'll be playing in during the next two weeks, I've been using spring break to get caught up on some listening. It's easy to reach a point of oversaturation with music consumption at Oberlin, so it's nice to take time to really get to know a few albums well. Here's a sample of what I've been listening to and watching; hopefully some of it will be new and exciting to hear.

Ornette Coleman -- Trio Live in Copenhagen November 30 1965. This is a bootleg recording that a friend of mine found posted on a music blog, but it's Ornette at a prime moment. I think this is with Charles Moffett on drums and David Izenzon on bass, but I'm not certain; nevertheless, it's one of the last recordings that exists of Ornette playing with a drummer other than his son, Denardo, who has (since the age of 10!) basically been the only drummer to play with Ornette. For better or worse. This is a piece from that concert that I can't place (it may be entirely improvised). The interplay between Ornette and Izenzon's bowed bass is really wonderful, if not quite as magical as Charlie Haden's work with Ornette.

Editor’s note: the embedded file is no longer available. See Ornette Coleman (1930-2015) – Live In Denmark 1965 – Nights At The Roundtable: Tribute Edition on the Past Daily blog.

Meshuggah - Nothing. I love metal, and Meshuggah are the gold standard. This is rhythmically rich, dense music; the drummer, Thomas Haake, is probably a robot. (Actually, this sort of mathematical metal is apparently so commonplace in Sweden--where Meshuggah are from--that these rhythms are more or less internalized at an early age.) Interestingly, a lot of jazz and free improv musicians pay close attention to the music metal musicians are putting out. There's an abrasiveness to it that's really nice (made all the more so in a song like this, which eventually gives way to some really pleasant consonance--the guitar solo is over your everyday I-IV-V chord progression) but also a clear formal structure. Meshuggah's trademark, and what makes them so interesting to me, is that all of their songs are felt in 4/4 time even as they diverge into wildly complicated odd-meter subgroupings. In this song, "Straws Pulled at Random," the opening rhythm cycles as 7/4+7/4+2/4, which is equal to 16/4, which is more or less 4/4. The next section is more complicated but you can still hear a very clear quarter note superimposed over the guitar rhythm by the drums. This can be academicized further, but I like to point out that ultimately its main function is to facilitate head-banging. Right on.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Of Natural History. Okay, I still really like metal. These guys are from the West Coast and make music that veers from compelling avant-garde progressive metal to ironic genre-parody. Case in point -- this song is called "The Donkey-Headed Adversary of Humanity," and I am quite certain that the lyrical content is at least partially tongue-in-cheek. Check out the 5/8 rhythm in the second verse, with the 4:3 tuplet over beats '4' and '5'. I love songs that make odd time signatures sound perfectly logical and "normal" time signatures (or even-note groupings, like this 4:3 four-note grouping) sound jarring. (The fact that they have two drummers probably helps.) Incidentally, the violist/female vocalist is an Oberlin grad; she majored in composition. They're playing in Cleveland this April and hopefully I'll be able to make it out to the show.

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Andrew Hill - Time Lines. Andrew Hill is, at least on most days, my favorite jazz pianist of all time. Time Lines is the last album he recorded before he died, and it's phenomenally beautiful. The drummer, Nasheet Waits, is one of the best modern jazz drummers playing today and I can't think of a better fit for Hill's band. Here's a clip from a live show:

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Black Sabbath - War Pigs. Did all rock music used to sound like this? I pine for what could have been. It doesn't get more visceral than this; I'd play drums like Bill Ward for my Like Bells gigs, except I'd worry about throwing my back out or dislocating a shoulder. Yikes.

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Fennesz - Black Sea. Fennesz is an Australian electronic musician. This cd is full of wonderful textural work, which is sonically pleasing in and of itself but Fennesz also has a great ear for melody. Some really nice things unfold out of this album.

Gyorgi Kurtag - Stele. The less famous Hungarian Gyorgi, but just as masterful. Stele is a dark and gravely serious piece, and, I gather, one of the relatively few pieces Kurtag has written for orchestra. There was a profile of Kurtag a while ago in the Boston Globe. The author, Jeremy Eichler, asked the composer about Stele. "This is music, [Kurtag] said, of someone lying wounded on a battlefield. 'The fighting rages all around him, but he sees only a very clear, very blue sky.' Kurtag paused, again searching for words. 'His feeling is that nothing is as important as this sky.'" Here's an excerpt, but you can purchase the entire thing at emusic.com for cheap.

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