18/09/2020: “A Andorinha Da Primavera” by Madredeus

Madredeus could loosely be said to be a Portuguese folk band. They come from a tradition of fado music, which is a distinctive style of mixed guitar/stringed instruments, and depressing/beautiful female vocals. Take your pick.

The style is incredibly old, soaked through with centuries worth of tear-soaked tradition.

This one has a xylophone or marimba of some kind, adding further notes of pleasant but haunting contemplation.

The song has a soothing quality that is reminiscent of Muzak, or elevator music. Which isn’t to say that this song is bland – quite the contrary. It’s a very rich, full and deep song.

The piece was released in 1997 on O Paraiso.

19/11/2019: “Ambre” by Nils Frahm

Incredibly contemplative – somehow Autumnal in its wistfulness, although the album it comes from is called Wintermusik.

Released in 2009, the album is improvisational piano music for his family and friends recorded for a Christmas present in 2007. Nice touch…

15/09/2019: “8 Humoresques, Op. 101, B. 187: No. 7. Poco lento e grazioso in G flat major” by Art Tatum/Antonin Dvorak

I wasn’t entirely clear how to credit this one. The piece was composed by Dvorak in 1894, but Art Tatum’s version is very different in character – much less reverent, for one thing.

For that reason, Tatum’s version was divisive for contemporaneous critics. However, in retrospect, his key role in the creation of Jazz music has been recognised. His innovative style, ripping down the staid structures laid out before him in favour of highly idiosyncratic piano playing.

Art Tatum adds a few nonsensical flourishes in, which brighten the piece up considerably. It’s clear that his technical ability is incredible. He uses the piano like a canvas, painting huge splashes of sonic colour instead of the dainty strokes of the original. It’s bombastic and brilliant!

There’s a great argument to be made that the 1894 original arrangement has miles more class – it’s more magnificent, more serene, more beautiful.

But this version is far more fun…

The Art Tatum version played in the 1930s. It’s hard to pin it down more than that.

06/06/2019: “Ouverture No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068, Second Movement (Air On A G String)” by J.S. Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most important composers of all time, with his Baroque melodies enduring hundreds of years and still as magnificent as ever.

He wrote many pieces for piano, lutes and strings. This is the latter, written for a string quartet.

Strictly speaking, the most popular version is an arrangement by August Wilhelmj, who moved the piece down in pitch.

The song is a very moving one, alternating the shorter melodies of the violins with a longer, more drawn out finish. The way the instruments glide around each other is so masterful.

The piece is the second movement of the Overture number 3 in D major, MWV 1068, part of a suite of 4 overtures composed in the French style. An “Air” is a particular kind of instrumental song related to an aria.

Stunning.

04/03/2019: “Bird’s Lament” by Moondog

Moondog was ahead of his time in the 60s, and to be honest he’s probably still ahead of our time.

The sheer surrealist lunacy of some of his music is breathtaking, but when he makes music with easily recognisable melodies and rhythms, it’s obvious that he was a brilliant composer.

“Bird’s Lament” is a song written to commemorate Charlie Parker, the Jazz musician. It is a chaconne, which means a short, repetitive piece, and in the album is called “Lament 1”.

The piece makes good use of brass to create feeling of mystery, and was in fact covered to great effect by the London Saxophonic Orchestra.

The original is faster and more sonically diverse. It’s a serious sort of song, commemorating a death, but the variation does put you in mind of a bird.

Moondog himself was a notable eccentric, known to many as “The Viking Of Sixth Avenue” because of his habit of walking around New York in a strange Viking costume.

The Viking of 6th Street…

He was also blind from age 16, which makes his achievements all the more impressive.

“Lament 1 (Bird’s Lament)” was released on the 1969 album Moondog.

Utter genius!

02/03/2019: “Canon In D” by Pachelbel

This song is easily one of the most serene and beautiful pieces ever composed.

Written for a string ensemble, it starts with slow melody augmented by some plucking.

The thing which really makes the song so great is the way it builds in complexity, and emotional intensity.

By the climax, the song is a rousing and thoughtful exhortation to feel good and relax.

The origins of the song are in some ways lost to the mists of time, largely because it’s so old. So old in fact, that it was probably written in the late 1600s!

It is truly music of another era, but it will be just as great in another 400 years, I have no doubt of that.

It was relatively obscure, but was re-discovered in 1919 by Gustav Beckmann, and in 1968, Jean-Francois Paillard re-interpreted the piece by making it slower (among other things). This helped to cement the piece’s popularity in the modern era.

So lovely!

14/02/2019: “White Lake” by Deaf Center

Deaf Center are thoroughly Norwegian. Consisting of a duo who met in school, they make calm, collected ambient and classical music using a range of instruments and techniques.

On “White Lake”, the the main weapons of choice are piano, a plucked cello, and some textured string effects.

The song is intensely regal, with an atmosphere of chilly contemplation. The layers of the song blend into a dense fog, with the bass of the cello cutting through, and the piano piercing the veil at the top.

It’s a slow and stately piece, which relies heavily on the piano for the melody, and the piece is also coaxed forward by the bass.

The end section of the song is more macabre, with a vinyl pop effect and an ominous reverb on the cello, allowing it to dominate the soundscape like a monolith.

The song was released on 2005’s Pale Ravine, the band’s first album. The title of that album gives some clue as to the nature of “White Lake”, but in fairness, the song is never grim.

Captivating.

24/01/2019: “Jesus Was Way Cool” by King Missile

King Missile don’t seem to take themselves, or anything else, particularly seriously.

A lot of the music they make is essentially rock based, but they are just deeply different.

The lyrics tend to be more in the vein of beat poetry, with a spoken word monologue delivered in a flat tone.

“Jesus Was Way Cool” says that Jesus’ unlimited power was “cool” and that he would of been the greatest at anything he’d ever tried his hand at. Real Jesus would probably not turn “sugar into cocaine” but he could if he wanted, and this is the sort of thing the song riffs off.

The backing is a simple piano part, which is actually a wonderful piece of music on its own. The latter third of the song is the piano by itself, and it’s clear how much impact the piano adds.

The song is very sarcastic, with John Hall’s words practically dripping with a certain laconic humour. He’d had a break with religion as he grew up.

“Jesus Was Way Cool” was released in 1990 on Mystical Shit, and was one of the factors for this avant garde group getting a major label record deal.

One of the music world’s weird little gems!

15/01/2019: “Vibrations” by Mae Ji-Yoon

I have found it hard to find any information on Mae Ji-Yoon, and my knowledge of that area of the world would lead me to tentatively guess that he or she is South Korean, although the main listeners on Spotify are from Taiwan.

There’s only this song on Spotify as well, with both a guitar version and a piano version, further enhancing the ghost-like nature of the composer.

So this post will have to be constructed mainly on the musical qualities of the song. Luckily, such is the quality of the song, that this isn’t too arduous.

I will be focusing on the guitar rendition of the piece. It’s a slow, peaceful movement, encouraging reflection. The song feels quite warm, and maintains a pretty constant energy level throughout.

The notes ring out and drift like a bird sailing on air currents as the sun sets. Over a desert, just in case the picture I’m painting isn’t vivid enough.

I believe the composition was published in 2017, and the guitar version was put on Spotify on 2018.

An exceedingly fine tune!