“Like Rain it sounded till it curved/And then I knew ‘twas wind/It walked as wet as any Wave/But swept as dry as sand/When it had pushed itself away/To some remotest Plain…”—Emily Dickinson [1830-1886]
Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu [1930-1996] was musically influenced by French composer Claude Debussy [1862-1918] but his “And Then I Knew `Twas Wind” comes from a 19th century poem. It is but one of six tracks on the totally captivating and haunting Tre Voci (ECM) by Kashkashian/Magen/Piccinini.
We need more Kim Kashkashian and less Kim Kardashian in this world of ours. While the latter Kim has become a joke, the former Kim, who won a 2013 Grammy for her solo viola masterwork Kurtag/Ligeti, makes the most exquisite sound imaginable. She has now teamed up with Israel’s Sivan Magen on harp and Marina Piccinini (“the Heifetz of the flute”) for a trio debut that shatters misconceptions of what borders classical music can reach. Hey, regular readers of this column know I’m a rock ‘n’ roll guy but this is to swoon over.
Debussy’s 1915 “Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp” takes up half the CD. It was once noted that the composer’s flow incorporated an “elasticity of time.” Think about that for a moment. We’re all used to a certain predisposition to think about music as an ongoing experience, a kinetic ride that satisfies our need to comprehend. Many of my jazz friends always say, “it moves!” That’s because it’s not static like a radio station you can’t quite tune in or fixed in one frozen spot like a painting on a wall. Once you fuck with time, all of your preconceptions about music itself are thrown out the window. You’re forced to listen differently. Debussy knew this…and he took full advantage.
Sofia Gubaidulina, the only composer here who is not dead, also uses poetry as inspiration, only she goes further than Takemitsu. At the end of her “Garten Von Freuden und Traurigkeiten” (“Garden Of Joys And Sorrows”) is a recitation of a poem with vivid imagery of this particular garden. It’s short, succinct and after it is over, there is silence. A long never-ending silence. That’s because the CD is over.
Tenor saxophonist Jason Seizer’s Cinema Paradiso (Pirouet) is a synthesis of film and jazz. Nine movies. Nine tracks. Bernhard Herrmann wrote the score for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo that starts this hour. Ennio Morricone, who wrote music for all those great spaghetti westerns with a young Clint Eastwood, wrote the title track. Leonard Bernstein wrote music for Marlon Brando’s 1954 On The Waterfront. They’re all gems as performed by this adventurous, eclectic, eccentric quartet which includes pianist Pablo Held, bassist Matthias Pichler and drummer Fabian Arends. From Alien and Spartacus to “Jungle Beat” from Disney’s The Jungle Book and “Cavatina” from The Deer Hunter, great movies are usually accompanied by great scores. Seizer juggles ‘em fast and high, blowing alternately smooth and hot with a honk to his hip stance.
Donald Ray Johnson has These Blues (Mar Vista). Since the singer/songwriter/drummer moved to Canada, he’s recorded six CDs. This best-of captures him in both his worlds: blues and soul. His version of Al Green’s “Ain’t No Fun To Me” kicks things off in funky style. After two blues-drenched soul-wrenchers, he tackles the Willie Nelson hit “Always On My Mind” and makes it come out pure soul. I dug “Me And Jack Daniels” best. His phlegmy vocals on “It Ain’t Easy Being Blue” and “Last Two Dollars” bespeak his soiled elegance. Hey, anybody who played with Big Mama Thornton is good in my book!