How a -great- record taught me an important life lesson

I first listened to it some years ago, not exactly sure when or where anymore. But I fell in love with it instantly, from the first hearing. I knew immediately that this was a record I could listen to again and again, without ever getting tired of it.

And so it happened. To this day, Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert remains one my favorite albums; not just as far as jazz is concerned, but from any music genre. 

What I didn’t know until recently is the fascinating story behind the making of this remarkable record.

Jarrett had originally requested a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial concert grand piano for his performance at Cologne’s Opera House. However, when he arrived at the venue (tired from not sleeping well in several nights and in pain from back problems), he was in for a surprise: due to some confusion by the opera house staff a different, much smaller baby grand piano was waiting for him instead.

Although the instrument was in quite poor condition (thin in the upper registers, weak in the bass register, the pedals not working properly), Jarrett eventually decided to go on with the concert. And in spite -or rather, because- of the adverse circumstances, he delivered an inspiring performance that later went on to become the best selling piano album of all times.

Köln was different because there was just so many negative things in a row”

Keith Jarrett

As producer Manfred Eicher, who recorded the performance, has commented on Jarrett’s magnificent playing: “Probably he played it the way it sounds now because it was not a good piano. Because he could not fall in love with the instrument, he found another way to get the most out of it.”

I think the way Jarrett managed to create something so beautiful under such unlikely circumstances can be seen as a valuable lesson – not just for pianists, jazz musicians or improvisers but for all of us. No matter how hard or unfavorable the conditions, one can always manage to make the best out of a situation. And, furthermore, even excel exactly because of the obstacles presented to him or her.

Something to ponder on next time you happen to listen to Jarrett’s inspired and seemingly effortless improvisation…

1 Comment

Filed under Various

From Iceland with love

While Kraftwerk were hitting up Paradiso for the opening night of of their epic 8-gig retrospective, a more humble event was taking place at Tolhuistuin, the vibrant new venue for arts and culture located in Amsterdam North, just opposite the city’s imposing railway station.

The line-up consisted of two lesser-known bands from Iceland, which has proved to be a consistently good source for creative new artists in constant search of diverse soundscapes.

Not just a pretty face

In 2011 Icelandic songwriter Sóley released We Sink, her first full length album, followed by Krómantík in 2014, which featured solely piano music. Having been noted for their “dark surrealism”, Sóley’s songs are characterized by strangely beautiful melodic lines and her subtle, delicate singing.

Her slight clumsiness/nervousness on stage only made her performance more attractive (at some point she asked the audience ”are you from Amsterdam?”), while her dream-like compositions (which included tunes from We Sink but also several new songs) quickly captivated the crowd and created the perfect setting for the act that was about to follow.

Low profile, high standards

Low Roar came to being after singer-songwriter Ryan Karazija moved from California to Reykjavík following the break-up of his old band Audrye Sessions. In Iceland, he recorded Low Roar’s self-titled debut album, which was followed by 0 (2014), a truly magnificent record that combines elegantly Karazija’s folk-style guitar playing and ethereal vocal lines with electronic loops and post-rock elements.

Low Roar’s silent dynamism and low profile combined with their focused, dedicated playing made for a great performance at Tolhuistuin; taking the music to various directions from reserved lyricism and atmospheric ballads to electronic and dance breaks, Low Roar offered the crowd a live show of the highest level.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a comment

Filed under Album reviews, Concerts

The ceaseless roar of a rock legend

The return of the rock god

Out of all the charismatic frontmen who rose to fame during hard rock’s golden age, Robert Plant stands out as one of the most significant and influential figures. His tenure as Led Zeppelin’s lead singer and lyricist earned him near-legendary status, while his unique singing style had a tremendous impact upon subsequent generations of rock musicians and vocalists. Besides, it was largely Plant’s looks, flamboyant appearance and powerful stage presence that gave birth to the “rock god” archetype.

Robert-Plant

Robert Plant in the 70s

But even more remarkable than Plant’s mythical stage persona has been his enduring desire to expand his musical horizons and explore new ways of expression. Throughout his solo career, Plant has experimented and recorded with several different bands (e.g. Priory of Brion, Strange Sensation, Band of Joy), while also collaborating with musicians from diverse backgrounds such as Irish folk songwriter Moya Brennan and American country singer Alison Krauss.

A sensational lullaby

Plant’s latest album Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar is not so much a solo effort as a group project with his new band The Sensational Space Shifters. In some ways, it represents a recap of his musical wanderlust over the years, bringing together Plant’s eclectic influences ranging from bluegrass and Depression-era blues to Celtic and Malian music.

Echoes of Led Zeppelin can be heard throughout the album, from the playful allusion to the riff of Nobody’s Fault but Mine in Little Maggie (performed on the one-stringed African instrument riti with its characteristic high-pitch sound) to Pocketful of Golden, which shares its opening line with Thank You (the very first Led Zeppelin song Plant wrote lyrics for). Other album highlights include Rainbow with its driving rhythm and Embrace Another Fall, where guest vocalist Julie Murphy gives a beautiful treatment of the ancient Welsh song Marwnad yr Ehedydd.

With this exciting and inspired new record, Robert Plant proves once again he’s got far more to offer than worn-out, unoriginal repetitions brimming with nostalgia. The image of the long-haired, bare-chested, blond rock god may persist, but those who have been following Plant in his sensational post-Zep shift through time and space will no doubt find Lullaby to be a truly delightful stop in this long and unpredictable journey.

Leave a comment

Filed under Album reviews

Aspects of cinematic love (and their soundtrack)

There are of course countless films that deal with love, romantic or otherwise. Some, however, have managed to capture this so popular and overused of themes in a completely new light, utilizing both image and sound in an original and captivating way.

Here are some of my favorites:

I. Silent love: Kubrick meets Schubert

Never has the art of seduction been so skillfully delivered on the big screen as in this scene from Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Barry Lyndon. Shot by using actual candlelight, not a single word is exchanged between the two lovers throughout the whole scene – some meaningful looks are enough for the romance to be born. And no other music could fit the sequence more perfectly than Schubert’s sublime piano trio with its haunting theme.

Film: Barry Lyndon (1975), directed by Stanley Kubrick
Music: Franz Schubert, Piano Trio in E-Flat, Op. 100 - II. Andante con moto

II. Wise love: The rabbi meets the airplane

There are many brilliant moments to be found in the Coen brothers film A Serious Man, however the scene where Danny meets senior rabbi Marshak is by far my favorite. It has suspense, philosophical and religious undertones, pop culture references, subtle irony as well as that unmistakable, dark Coen humor. When 60s hippie idealism meets disillusioned religious skepticism, you better find somebody to love!

Film: A Serious Man (2009), directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Music: Jefferson Airplane, Somebody to Love

III. Religious love: St. Paul meets Beethoven

I kept the best for last. Anyone who has watched Sono’s 4-hour long epic Love Exposure knows that this is no ordinary film. And this scene is perhaps the best proof: Two Japanese youngsters on a remote shore grappling with each other, releasing their sexual frustration while arguing about metaphysics. A truly explosive mix of religious fervour, existential agony and adolescent tension building up to a dramatic climax masterfully synced to Beethoven’s awe-inspiring music.

Film: Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi, 2008), directed by Sion Sono
Music: Ludwig van Beethoven,  Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 – II. Allegretto

Leave a comment

Filed under Film & Music

All of Bach, Bach for all

Bach’s complete works recorded and filmed

In September 2013 the Netherlands Bach Society, in view of the upcoming celebration for its first 100 years, embarked on a remarkable and highly ambitious project: the performance and recording of every single note penned by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Since the first recordings were made available on 2 May 2014, a new Bach recording is released every single Friday. In this way, the complete corpus of Bach’s music is slowly but surely being made available to the public through a series of excellent performances and videos of outstanding quality.

The pieces are performed in a variety of locations, always according to the nature and original intent of the music: cantatas in churches, chamber music in living rooms, and so on.

The Netherlands Bach Society

The Netherlands Bach Society is the oldest ensemble for Baroque music in the Netherlands and one of the oldest in the world. It was founded in 1921 for a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion in the Grote Kerk in Naarden and has performed the work annually since then in the Grote of Sint-Vituskerk (Great Church or St Vitus Church). It has played a prominent role in Dutch cultural life for many years, giving around 50 concerts all over the Netherlands as well as abroad each season.

 

All of Bach

You can learn more about All of Bach and check out the new recordings as they are being released on the project’s website and Facebook page.

Leave a comment

Filed under Various

Old, slow and popular

Just a couple of years after the release of Old Ideas, Leonard Cohen (who recently celebrated his 80th birthday) is back with a new album. It’s been almost 45 years since the legendary Canadian songwriter and poet embarked upon his musical career – one with much to reflect upon.

New songs for the old ceremony

'Popular Problems' was release in September 2014Popular Problems is Cohen’s 13th studio album and though the total length is just under 36 minutes, the album’s 9 tracks more than make up for its short duration.

Cohen has always liked to take his time the album’s opening track (Slow) reminds us, setting the tone for what is about to follow. Track after track, Cohen’s mature, relaxed and confident voice takes us through a musical journey of introspection and confession in what ultimately becomes a cathartic experience for both singer and listener.

Popular themes

Some of the principal themes Cohen has dealt with over the years such as love, religion, and politics are all present and treated with sincerity, humour as well as profound feeling. In some of the album’s best moments, as in the last verse of Almost Like the Blues, self-reflection, existential agony and sarcasm intermingle:

“There is no God in heaven / And there is no Hell below / So says the great professor of all there is to know / But I’ve had the invitation that a sinner can’t refuse / And it’s almost like salvation; it’s almost like the blues.”

Most of the songs feature discreet -at times almost imperceptible- orchestrations, while Cohen’s distinctive singing is surrounded by angelic-sounding choruses and female background vocals that strike a sharp contrast to his deep, hoarse voice. Besides, and not surprisingly, the album’s lyrics are of high literary quality. In fact, the words to some of the songs (e.g. A Street and Nevermind) were previously published as poems before finding their way into the album.

With Popular Problems Leonard Cohen offers us one more token of his seemingly exhaustless creative urge and spiritual yearning. And judging from You Got Me Singing, the album’s closing track, it appears the Canadian troubadour’s quest isn’t drawing to a close quite yet:

“You got me singing / Though the world is gone / You got me thinking / I’d like to carry on.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Album reviews

Instruments of sorrow

Moreover, from a musical standpoint, it is interesting to trace the direct influence of such instrumental treatments on subsequent non-folk Greek music, as in the case of Socrates and their popular song Mountains.

The clarinet’s mourning

In neighboring Turkey, the song “Yemen Türküsü” mourns the death of Turkish soldiers in Yemen during the First World War. The well known folk song can be found in several different versions, and it has been also performed by Taksim Trio, a band of accomplished instrumentalists (Hüsnü Şenlendirici – clarinet, Aytaç Doğan – qanun, İsmail Tunçbilek – baglama) that has been part of Istanbul’s diverse and vibrant music scene.

The guitar’s outcry

One of the oldest and most despondent forms of flamenco music, siguiriyas is characterized by its profound, expressive style and tragic nature. When sung, the lyrics reflect the suffering of human relationships, love and death; however, it is also encountered as an instrumental piece with great potential for emotional outlet in the hands of the capable and sensitive artist – as in this performance by flamenco composer and guitarist Manolo Sanlúcar.

Leave a comment

Filed under Various