My stock-in-trade is ideas (mostly other people’s). As reflected in the book lists I’ve posted the past few years, many of them come from reading. But books aren’t the only place I find inspiration. Art and film are important too – as is music.
For some years I’ve exchanged music compilations with friends and family at Christmas. Originally the compilations were on audio-cassettes, then on CDs; now they can be shared online. But the memory of the audio-cassette medium persists: they’re still roughly 90-minutes long; they could still be called mixtapes.
This year, Christmas came and went, and I still didn’t have a tape to share. It came together late. When I finally got things together, I thought: Why not share it more widely?
Here, then, is a track-list for the Spring.
|1. Which was the son of…||Arvo Pärt (performed by the Tallis Scholars)|
|2. Picture 1||Jack deJohnette|
|3. Jamm||Cheikh Lô|
|4. Green rocky road||Kathy & Carol|
|5. Besebara folle||Aster Aweke|
|6. Nagasaki||Django Reinhardt|
|7. Some other guy||Richie Barrett|
|8. Mademoiselle Mabry||Miles Davis|
|9. Ezekiel saw de wheel||Louis Armstrong|
|10. Redemption song||Bob Marley|
|12. Didn’t it rain||Louis Armstrong|
|13. Peace piece||Bill Evans|
Much here reflects personal interests and taste – my fascination with Africa (Aster Aweke, Cheikh Lô), with scripture (Arvo Pärt, and the tracks by Louis Armstrong), and with the great social movements and upheavals of the past century; as well as those internal upheavals of the heart and soul that we all go through. The soundtrack to those is diverse.
Below I provide some annotation – snippets of information that’s enhanced my appreciation of some of these pieces; for others I have no comment. The musicians speak for themselves.
After all, if we could say it all in words, there would be no need for music!
- Which was the son of…. Arvo Pärt (performed by the Tallis Scholars), from ‘Tintinnabuli’ (2015)
“Commissioned by the City of Reykjavík, Pärt allowed himself to poke a little fun at two idiosyncratic aspects of local life: the way family names are organized, and the way the Icelanders pronounce their ‘rrrs’. From the former came the desire, perhaps it was even a dare, to set the entire genealogy of Christ; and from the latter the stipulated rolled ‘r’ in the name of ‘Er’. The overall result is an astonishingly effective piece of writing, forced from the least tractable of texts, as witty as it is unlikely.” (Peter Phillips, 2015)
- Picture 1. Jack deJohnette, from ‘Pictures’ (1976)
“DeJohnette doesn’t play drums; he paints with them.” (Miran Epstein, 2015)
- Jamm. Cheikh Lô, from ‘Jamm’ (2010)
“Lô is a member of the Baye Fall, a movement within the Mouride Sufi order of Islam. As such, he has dreadlocks, which is part of the order’s customs. The reggae influence in his music, along with his dreadlocks, often leads to the misinterpretation that he is Rastafarian.” (Wikipedia)
“Jamm means ‘peace’ in Wolof.” (liner notes)
- Green rocky road. Kathy & Carol (composers: Len Chandler & Robert Kaufman), from ‘Back to Love’
“Len Chandler and poet Robert Kaufman penned [this song] on the bones of a traditional folk song collected in Negro Songs From Alabama by Harold Courlander.” (Dan Kimpel, 2014)
This version is by California duo Kathy & Carol, and was included in a Mojo Magazine ‘Back to Love’ compilation of tracks released by Elektra in the 1960s. Another version of the song is featured in the Coen Brothers’ film ‘Inside Llewelyn Davis’
- Besebara folle. Aster Aweke, from ‘Aster’s Ballads.’ (1995)
Aster emigrated from Ethiopia in 1981, and lives in the US. She’s among the greatest Ethiopian singers alive. Besebara folle means “a broken vessel” in Amharic.
- Nagasaki. Django Reinhardt, from ‘La Légende de Django Reinhardt’
This song, recorded in 1936, refers to the Japanese city when it was simply a place with an interesting name — before the US Air Force dropped an atom bomb on it. Django was born in Belgium, and spent most of his early life in Romani (Gypsy) encampments near Paris.
- Some other guy. Richie Barrett, from ‘Songs the Beatles taught us’
Written and performed by Philadelphia R&B artist & manager Richie Barrett in 1962; a song later covered by the Beatles.
- Mademoiselle Mabry. Miles Davis, from ‘Filles de Kilimanjaro’ (1968)
Recorded in the year of the My Lai massacre and the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. (This is the only piece of music on my tape that’s not easily available online.)
- Ezekiel saw de wheel. Louis Armstrong, from ‘Louis and the Good Book’ (1958)
“The song recounts the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel’s divine vision, at the start of the eponymous book.” A flaming wheel floating in the middle of the air. This is one of my son Asa’s favourite songs at the moment.
- Redemption song. Bob Marley, from ‘Uprising’ (1981)
Contains quotations from a speech / essay by Marcus Garvey (1937): “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery….” The song was recorded a year before Marley’s death. I learned to play this song on the guitar this year.
- Just. Radiohead, from ‘The Bends’ (1995)
- Didn’t it rain. Louis Armstrong, from ‘Louis and the Good Book’ (1958)
An account of the biblical Flood, with beautiful Gospel harmonies from 10 singers. From the same album as ‘Ezekiel saw da wheel’. Throughout this album Armstrong – “the first jazz virtuoso” – pays tribute to the roots of jazz music in spirituals as well as work songs and the blues.
- Peace piece. Bill Evans, from ‘Everybody digs Bill Evans’ (1958)
I first encountered Bill Evans through Chick Corea’s documentary series ‘Piano Legends’.