“The music that breaks your heart is the music that stays with you forever.”
- Chris Botti
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To read more quotations of the week click HERE.
“The music that breaks your heart is the music that stays with you forever.”
- Chris Botti
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To read more quotations of the week click HERE.
The back cover of the album tells the story. Miss Merchant, as she is grandly titled on the liner notes, stands alone against the house looking in the direction of the band. Her lips are drawn straight, perhaps in a half smile, but her eyes are concealed by sunglasses. A picture of a sculpted hand breaks her gaze toward the band but none of them look toward her. They know. Our Time In Eden is the last studio album by 10,000 Maniacs with Natalie Merchant as lead singer and primary song writer.
She has stated that she no longer wishes to be involved in “creativity by committee,” an odd thing for any musician or singer to say unless wishing to sing only a cappella, and particularly odd for “Miss Merchant” to say, as the band always sounded as if it was created only to back her vocals, although it wasn’t. She was the teen brought in to help with vocals who subsumed the band in her enormous talent.
It’s hard to believe that twenty years have passed since this album was released, now remastered and reissued by Audio Fidelity. And on vinyl no less. I just hope there are still enough LP turntables extant for a new generation to listen by and faithful fans to replace their undoubtedly worn originals.
“These Are Days” of course has become a classic tune, still getting radio airplay, not to mention airings at who knows how many graduations, weddings, reunions – events of all kinds that we remember or wish to. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s one of just a couple “positive” songs on an album full of angst and anger and melancholy. “How You’ve Grown” is the other. Though a bit plaintive, it still touches anyone who has or ever has had a little girl in their lives, changing, changing, changing.
“Every time we say goodbye you’re frozen in my mind as the child that you never will be again.”
Perhaps the little girl at the center of the song now has one of her own.
“Candy Everybody Wants” still snarls at mass culture and was written well before so-called reality television. “Tolerance” bemoans the lack thereof. “Gold Rush Brides” mourns the losses of pioneer women and not just the children buried beneath the prairies.
The lyrics are intelligent. Natalie (may I take the liberty of using her first name) is never shoddy in her song writing. If anything, the lyrics sometimes seem to get in the way of the music. It is rock ‘n roll, after all, isn’t it? Do you mind if we dance or is that too Dick Clark of me?
I have to be careful here. I have a son and a daughter who place Miss Merchant very high in their pantheon of musical heroes. Truth is so do I, but I feel a little bit now as I did then. Could we lighten up? Just a little bit?
Still, there is so much to like here in the Era of Bieber and a new collection of vapid boy bands. The band is tight and drummer Jerome Augustyniak plays particularly well on this album. The addition of JB’s (yes James Brown’s) Horns, Mary Ramsey’s violin on a couple songs, and other guests expanded the rather limited range of the Maniacs.
And the lyrics. Always the lyrics. Someone once said of an early collection of Hemingway short stories that they were like a scattering of fine jewels. That works for me here.
Then there’s the vinyl. How satisfying to gently place it on the turntable and even more gently lower the needle. How wonderful to listen to a great Side 1 and look forward to a Side 2. Did I even hear a small imperfection or two on one song? (I won’t say which, maybe you’ll hear it too.)
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Brian Arsenault’s new Kindle ebook,
November and Other Tales, a novella
and a collection of short stories, has
just been published. To check it out,
and read a few pages, click HERE or
on the book cover.
Keith Jarrett and Disney Hall were a perfect match Tuesday night. It wasn’t just the pristine acoustics of the hall, its warm interiors surrounding Jarrett’s solo piano. An adoring capacity house brought him back for three encores, even coaxing Jarrett to converse gently with them on several occasions.
The performance itself was a series of improvisations, in the spirit of his recent CD Rio, a 2 disc set from a live performance in Rio De Janeiro. The connection was evident in the opening piece, which began with Jarrett plucking the piano wires and tapping the frame, giving the audience a visceral feeling that they were embarking on a journey, if not into Amazonia, then at least into Jarrett’s own musical imaginings. There was a sense of taking a few bends in the river, then being untethered from workaday boundaries.
What followed was a series of musical meanderings – at one point Jarrett remarked that critics had described it as the “short new me.”
Looking through my own notes is like trying to trace back bread crumbs: “hints of blues…sentimental theme, bright riffing…subdued and introspective….elegiac…gospel-ly…sounds like Something I Should Know…” At no point did Jarrett indulge in pyrotechnics, no breathless runs through the keyboard; neither did he veer into the atonal. There was no sense of wasted chords, or even notes; he is spare without being simple. Returning to the river analogy, I felt like I was rafting down the Colorado with a guide who would say, “Let’s see what this side canyon looks like.” And off we would go, drifting along, picking up pace through the eddies, then rejoining the river, listening for rapids ahead.
There were times when I had an uneasy feel, that Something Should Be Happening. Jarrett would build tension with a dance through the piano’s upper registers, or a few impending bass notes. It seemed like a score in search of a scene. Unlike a standard tune with its familiar lyrics, improvisation leaves the audience to find its own frame of reference. And before the vague discomfort settled in, Jarrett would dart off somewhere else. After the intermission, he settled into some slightly longer themes. A bluesy, foot tapping riff energized the crowd, there were moments of gospel in a later piece that nominally closed the show.
If the second half seemed too short, the encores filled out the evening. The first one was clearly anticipated. It was a lovely elegy, ebbing and flowing, providing what would have been a perfectly satisfying end to the journey. But the audience was clearly not ready to disembark, and Jarrett returned and took them on another brief trip around the harbor. When a third encore was demanded, the pianist contemplated the situation, took a few false steps, then settled into the familiar bridge to “Over The Rainbow.”
Jarrett has devoted plenty of attention to American standards, mostly in his familiar trio format, but it is still remarkable what he can do with them. His version of Harold Arlen’s “Rainbow” was exquisite, starting with the bridge, melding it into the familiar melody, probing into the chordal structure of the piece, then returning to the theme. After an evening of exploring the uncharted recesses of his imagination, “Over The Rainbow,” was a perfect coda. The audience pulled him back for one more bow and a simple “Thank You.” Nothing more was required.
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To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.
To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.
- Mar. 27. (Tues.) Keith Jarrett Solo. It’s improvisation at its most illuminating whenever Jarrett takes one of his remarkable excursions into the world of total creative spontaneity. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000. There will also be two additional solo dates as part of this Spring tour. The first is Sunday, April 1, at U.C. Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. The second is Wed., April 4 at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center.
- Mar. 27. (Tues.) SFJAZZ Collective plays the music of Stevie Wonder. The all-star SFJAZZ Collective finds the elusive links between jazz and the the unique Wonder catalog. Valley Performing Arts Center. (818) 677-3000.
- Mar. 29. (Thurs.) Slumgum with the Bob Sheppard Trio. Cutting edge group Slumgum roves freely across territory reaching from jazz and classical to world music and wide open improvisation. They share a stage with the equally adventurous saxophonist Sheppard. Curve Line Space. (323) 478-9874. www.slumgum.com
- Mar. 29. (Thurs.) Larkin McLean. She’s a singer/songwriter with a style, an imagination and a wicked sense of humor. Click HERE to check out an iRoM review of McLean’s new CD, If You’re A Wild Girl, Say Aye. Genghis Cohen (323) 653-0640.
- Mar. 29. (Thurs.) Ute Lemper and the Vogler Quartet with Stefan Malzew. Cabaret, reaching from the decadence of Weimar to the brand new decadence of century 21, is alive and well in the musically adept persona of the gorgeous Lemper. A UCLA Live Event. Royce Hall. (310) 825-2102.
- Mar. 29 & 30 (Thurs. & Fri.) Carmen Lundy, Versatile Carmen Lundy is that rarity – an engaging jazz singer who also writes songs that often are as memorable as the standards she sings. She celebrates release of her new CD, Changes. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905
- Mar. 29 – 31. (Thurs. – Sat.) Robben Ford. His roots are firmly embedded in the blues, but guitarist Ford has also firmly established his versatility, moving comfortably across the various jazz fusion areas. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.
- Mar. 30. (Fri.) Don Menza Quartet. Saxophonist Menza is in the top echelon of everyone’s first-call list. But it’s great to hear him up front and personal, on his own, as he will be here, backed by pianist Ed Czach, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Kendall Kay. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.
- Mar. 31. (Fri.) Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble. With the Calder String Quartet. He’s one of the most creatively eclectic artists in the contemporary jazz world. And Childs is especially fascinating when he displays his far-reaching compositions for his Chamber Jazz Ensemble and string quartet. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.
- Mar. 30. (Fri.) National Children’s Chorus “Journey of Song,” The talented young voices of the National Childrens’ Chorus take on a combination of old and brand new classical works, reaching over five time periods and two world premieres. The Broad Stage. (310) 434-3200.
- Mar. 31. (Fri.) Chano Dominguez. Spanish pianist Dominguez plays a fascinating blend of jazz and flamenco via selections from his new album, Flamenco Sketches. He’s backed by Omer Avital, bass, Blas Cordoba, vocals and percussion and Dafnis Prieto, drums. Zipper Hall. A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast. (310) 271-9039
- March 31 & April 1. (Sat. & Sun.) The Los Angeles Master Chorale performs J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion. The LAMC is joined by the Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra in a performance designed to replicate Bach’s original conception. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.
- Mar. 29 – April 1. (Thurs. – Sun.) Hiromi and the Trio Project. After spending some time with Stanley Clarke, keyboardist is back on her own, showcasing her fabulous technique and free-flowing imagination, backed by bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips. Jazz Alley. (206) 441-9729.
- Mar. 31 – April 1. (Sat. & Sun,) Patrice Rushen & Friends. Expect a little bit of every kind of jazz from keyboardist Rushen and her friends, who navigate every area of the art with ease. Ndugu Chancler, Doc Powell, Everette Harp, Freddie Washington. Yoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600.
- Mar. 27 – April 1. (Tues. – Sun.) Enrico Pieranunzi Trio. Veteran Italian jazz pianist Pieranunzi – who has played with everyone from Chet Baker to Charlie Haden (among dozens of others) — offers selections from his new CD, Permutation, with Scott Colley, bass, Antonio Sanchez, drums. The Village Vanguard. (212) 255-4037.
Mar. 31. (Sat.) Andrea Wolper Trio. Still not as well known as she should be Wolper is a singer who brings songs to life, whatever their source, working in a milieu that begins with jazz and reaches out to embrace an expressive area that is uniquely her own. With long time partners Michael Howell, guitar and Ken Filiano, bass. 55 Bar. (212) 929-9883.
- April 1. (Sun.) Sara Serpa. Vocalist/composer Serpa has been described by pianist Ran Blake as “the magical voice” for a style that is opening new areas in jazz vocal improvisation. The Cornelia St. Cafe. (212) 989-9319.
- April 1. (Sun.) The New York City Chamber Orchestra and Festival Choruses. The forces of two superb ensembles combine for an Easter week performance of the Mozart Requiem. Carnegie Hall. (212) 247-7800.
By Don Heckman
Israeli singer Noa breezed into town for a too-brief, ninety minute set at U.C.L.A.’s Royce Hall last night. It should’ve been, could’ve been longer. Noa, whose full name is Achinoam Nini, is a singer-songwriter with extraordinary skills. Well-known on the international, world music circuit, she still hasn’t received the recognition in this country that her abilities deserve. Which is surprising, given the fact that she spent a decade and a half of her youth growing up in New York City (the Bronx, actually), from the age of 2 to 17.
Fully versed in American culture, she also has a rich affection for her Yemenite heritage as well as a strong connection with contemporary Israel, where she was born, and which has been her home for most of her adult life.
Although the repertoire Noa chose for the Royce hall appearance largely emphasized material drawn from her Yemenite and Israeli roots, the extraordinary quality of the performance was driven by her ability to transform the unfamiliarity of those songs beyond the specifics of language into the lyricism of emotion.
The same was true of the pieces written with her long time musical partner Gil Dor, who — along with pianist/bassist Gil Zohar – provided Noa’s sole accompaniment. Working together for more than twenty years, they write songs that possess the same sort of creative intimacy that was apparent in their onstage interaction.
Despite the relative brevity of the performance, there were many highlights. The opening numbers – Noa’s “Waltz to the Road” and Noa and Dor’s “Mishaela” were delightful scene setters. “Rachel Olah min Ha-Midbar,” a marriage of two songs, including words from the Scriptures, and the traditional Yemenite song, “Uri,” were delivered with compelling musical authenticity.
An impromptu and utterly spontaneous guitar solo from Dor testified to the breadth of his imagination. Noa adeptly played various percussion instruments throughout the show, ranging from conga-like drums and hand drums to – on the traditional Yemen song – an oil can. And a climactic number showcasing her as a drummer was a delightful display of high energy virtuosity.
The high spirited closing, “Shalom, Shalom,” underscored the pleasures of this eminently listenable evening. In her recent Q & A for iRoM, Noa spoke of her desire to perform in venues such as Disney Hall. One hopes that the folks in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Presentations office (are you listening, Laura Connelly?) will bring Noa and her gifted musical accomplices back for another, more extended offering of her memorable music.
To read the iRoM Question & Answer with Noa click HERE.
Despite the title of his performance at Disney Hall Wednesday night – “Masters of Percussion” – Zakir Hussain did a lot more than fill the stage with a company of drummers. And that’s not to say there wasn’t a lot of propulsive rhythm taking place.
Son of the legendary tabla player, Ustad Alla Rakha, Hussain has become an iconic tabla master in his own right over the past few decades, moving convincingly from Indian classical music to fusions with international jazz and pop artists.
But this night was something else. Although Hussain’s playing was as brilliantly virtuosic as ever, his goal was to introduce Indian music in a setting that would offer prime entertainment value for Western audiences easily intimidated by (or just disinterested in) the complexities of the raga and tala system. Neither raga nor tala, in fact, were mentioned over the course of a mesmerizing evening (despite their subliminal presence in parts of the music).
Instead, virtuosity was the primary item on the menu – delivered via high speed, stunningly articulate technical skills, displayed for the most part in challenging exchanges between individual musicians.
One of the high points was the warm interplay between Hussain and his younger brother, Fazal Qureshi, both tabla players, both displaying the rich musical wisdom passed on by their guru and father, Ustad Alla Rakha. As always, Hussain was simply remarkable, especially impressive with his ability to play pitched melodic bass notes (including a humorously inserted, brief excerpt from the William Tell Overture on his larger tabla drum).
Another duo – Navin Sharma, playing the dholak, a two headed drum, and Abos Kosimov, playing the doyra, frame drum – exchanged phrases with all the visceral energy of a jazz jam session. Kosimov, in particular, playing three drums simultaneously, balancing one on a finger while playing a second drum with his other hand, was as entertaining as he was virtuosic.
The performances by the ensemble’s two melody instrument artists – bansuri flutist Rakesh Chaurasia and sarangi (a short-necked string instrument played with a bow) player Sabir Khan — were extraordinary, Playing the complex melodic ornamentations of the Indian classical style with ease, they added a rich emotive contrast to the many layers of percussion sound.
Equally fascinating, T.H.V. Umashankar produced remarkable sounds, while punishing his hands, on the ghatam clay pot drum. And dancing drummer Ningomban Joy Singh was an extraordinary study in physicality, leaping and bounding across the stage while producing propulsive rhythmic sounds on small hand percussion.
The most intriguing part of the program was a collective work, featuring dancer Antonia Minnecola, one of the rare American-born artists adept at Kathak, the classical dance style of India. Based upon an important episode in the Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic, the work told the story of the kidnapping of the Goddess Sita and her ultimate rescue by her consort, god Rama.
Hussain assigned each individual musician to a role representing one of the characters in the story, with the instruction to play solo passages as their characters came to the forefront in the telling of the story. In the center of the arc of musicians, dancer Minnecola’s elegantly stylized movements were the focal point for the unfolding saga. Hussain had introduced the piece, and the way it was done, as a kind of creative experiment in the use of a percussion ensemble as a story-telling medium. And it worked.
As did everything else in this mesmerizing evening. Masters of Percussion, yes. More accurately – Masters of the Art of Music.
Israeli singer/songwriter Noa, whose given name is Achinoam Nini, makes one of her rare Los Angeles appearances on Saturday night in a UCLA Live concert at Royce Hall. Her remarkable resume encompasses performances and/or collaborations with artists reaching from Pat Metheny, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Andrea Bocelli to Lokua Kanza, Khaled and Mira Awad, to name only a few of many. As well as her musical partner of more than two decades, guitarist/producer Gil Dor. Noa has performed with ensembles ranging from a duo with Dor to the Israeli Philharmonic, in major venues throughout Europe, the Middle East, the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Japan and beyond. Through it all, she has been a tireless advocate for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
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DH: Noa, your Saturday night performance at UCLA’s Royce Hall will be one of your rare appearances in Los Angeles. So let’s get down to basics. Can you give me a little advance word about the program we’ll be hearing.
NOA: Since I do not often perform in the US and even less often in LA, I chose to take advantage of the wonderful stage I have been given to present a range of my original material in English, Hebrew and Yemenite. There will be a selection of songs from various albums made over the past 22 years of creative work with my musical director and guitarist Gil Dor. And, in addition, a special spot for ‘the Israeli songbook,’ a collection of classic Israeli songs we recorded together with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in 2011.
DH: What about the ensemble? You’ve performed with everything from a full symphony orchestra to a duo with Gil Dor. Who will be with you at U.C.L.A.?
NOA: Of course Gil Dor will be with me, playing guitar, as he has been for 22 years. We also have a wonderful multi-instrumentalist named Gil Zohar, who will play piano, bass and flute. I myself will be singing and playing percussion.
DH: An intimate, but obviously very musical ensemble.
NOA: We try to make music that stands on its own, regardless of the ensemble.
DH: Your New York appearance a couple of weeks ago was with Mira Awad, the Palestinian singer. She won’t be here in L.A. Will that – in this concert — in any way diminish the dialogues for peace which have played such a prominent role in your performances?
NOA: Mira and I have known each other for over ten years and have done many concerts together. I myself have been performing for twice as long and have collaborated with Arab artists from around the world on numerous occasions. I convey my message of peace in many different ways: in interviews, on my blog or other written platforms (social and such), through collaborations and with specific texts I write and put to music (like the song ‘Shalom, Shalom’). Having said that, I am first and foremost a singer/songwriter. I am happy for the opportunity to share my music with whoever will come out to hear us in Royce Hall.
DH: Expanding on that thought, can you say something about what brought you to the point at which your art became an expression of your belief in the changes that you feel need to take place – in the world, in general, and in Israel, in particular?
NOA: As I said in my previous answer, I do not consider my art as a platform for specific ‘political’ beliefs. My art is a study in the complexities of the diverse, ever changing human spirit. What I do is use my privileged position as a public personality whose voice is heard. In that context, I convey my message any way I can. I realized early on that as an Israeli artist I had two choices: running away from politics or tackling them. I chose the latter, and have become a sort of informal ambassador for all those people in Israel who share my views of dialogue, compassion and peace.
DH: What would you see as the ideal conclusion to your quest for change, in Israel and elsewhere?
NOA: I dream of a world driven by kindness, compassion, generosity, empathy, sharing, creativity, respect and love. A world where ‘we’ becomes much more important than ‘me,’ without compromising either. A world where religion would assume more modest proportions and serve only as an instrument of solace and enlightenment, never of self-righteousness, hatred and violence. Yes, a more modest world. A simple trip to the neighborhood planetarium will help you screw your head on straight any time.
DH: Your music reaches out to embrace many styles and genres. Has the application of your music to your desire for change in any way limited the expression of your far-reaching creative interests?
NOA: Art is always about making choices and limiting yourself in one way or another. Though I have far-reaching interests and a diverse musical and cultural palette, I do try to ‘speak a language’ — one that Gil and I have been perfecting and deepening over the years. Granted, our slightly off beat definition of ‘style’ has made us harder to market, as we do not fall squarely into any one genre. But we are very particular and uncompromising about what we do, and strive for the highest level of excellence. We’ve always said, we bow only to the God of Music.
DH: Given those creative interests, what haven’t you as yet done that you would like to do? With whom could you imagine having a satisfying musical encounter?
NOA: I dream of meeting and possibly writing/singing with my heroes: Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor. I also dream of singing at the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Palestine. I would also love to be able to bring my symphonic project to places like Carnegie Hall in New York City (my dream since childhood) and Disney Hall in L.A. But really, my greatest wish is to just keep at it, keep travelling this fascinating road of music. The journey is the dream.
DH: Speaking of traveling, you’ve had a very unusual life’s journey – so far. You lived in the U.S. from the age of 2 to 17. Basically your childhood, adolescence and teen-age years. How has that affected you, if it has?
NOA: I was very fortunate to have the childhood that I had, which was not at all simple but so enriching. I grew up in a Yemenite Israeli home, a small apartment in an old tenement building in a lower middle class Bronx neighborhood populated by every type of race and color, and studied in a predominantly Ashkenzi yeshiva. Needless to say this was a source of much confusion to my budding identity. Culture and music were everywhere, from the Yemenite songs my grandmother taught me at home to the Broadway musicals I adored, my mom’s opera obsession and trips to MOMA. I was immersed in art and culture and drank it up with thirst and passion. My parents are the most supportive loving people in the world. They drove me to piano lessons, dance class, choir practice, what not. They listened to the songs I started writing at age 8 and clapped as enthusiastically as if I were Barbara Streisand reincarnated. When I fell in love with an Israeli man — I was 16 — and asked to leave the States and return alone to Israel, they let me go, and they have been enthusiastically following my career and helping me with my three children ever since.
DH: After all that, what was it like to make the transition from essentially being an American teen-ager to returning to Israel and serving in the Army?
NOA: Israel was a shock — still is, after 25 years! — and so was the army. It was a bucket of freezing water poured over my head. I had a hard time in the military, no place for a free spirit, but I learned a lot, and after those two years I was full of ambition and energy, ready to gobble up the world.
DH: But, given conditions in Israel and the Middle East, along with the hazards that an outspoken artist who performs in public might encounter, have you ever considered relocating back to the U.S. – which could be a kind of homecoming for you – and raising your children, as you were raised, in this country?
NOA: I have considered it, but will only do so if things get really, really bad in Israel. The definition of ‘bad’ is very subjective of course, but I guess I’ll know when the time comes. For the moment, I’d rather stay in Israel, which I love, and fight for what I believe in, than replace one promised land for another…
DH: Noa, a final question about a very significant moment in your life – in many people’s lives. You were at the Tel Aviv peace rally in 1995 when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Can you say something about the impact it had on you?
NOA: I was there on stage, in one of the happiest moments of my life, performing for the many hundreds of thousands of people that had come out to encourage Rabin on his quest for peace, post Oslo [Accords, establishing the Palestinian National Authority]. Twenty minutes later, the dream was blown to bits by a mad assassin. I was so shocked and horrified. I think I haven’t recovered to this day. I pledged then to do my utmost, even at the expense of personal security, comfort and commercial success, to carry the torch that had fallen from his hand that awful night, and work for peace. That is what I have been doing, stubbornly, ever since.
DH: Thank you, Noa, for this illuminating conversation. It’s been a pleasure. I look forward to hearing you at Royce Hall on Friday night.
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To read more iRoM Questions and Answers, click HERE.