Instant Replay: 053
Squirrel Flower — Alley Light
I have a soft spot for Americana-tinged dirges. After a quick and jagged guitar phrase, we’re plunged into the world of two people wasting away in an empty town. They’re desperate to escape, via beat-up car or lotto scratcher, and achieve their own American Dream. But the track’s sparse and reverb-washed arrangement suggests that may be hollowed out as well.
Trixie Mattel — Jesse Jesse
While we're talking about great music, we've got to mention Brian Firkus, better known by the stage name Trixie Mattel. Trixie is a drag queen, singer-songwriter, actor, comedian, and all-around artist extraordinaire. His 2020 album "Barbara" thoroughly struck my heart when it came out! It's the perfect blend of sugary pop and heartbreaking folk/country. For today, here's a song by Trixie about being in love with the actor Jesse Eisenberg:
(P.S. did you catch that the name of this blog comes up in the song?)
Daniel Hope, Zürcher Kammerorchester, Jane Berthe — Arnold Schoenberg: Notturno for Strings and Harp
As a musical form, the nocturne has received contributions from many composers since its creation by John Field and popularization by Chopin, from Tchaikovsky, to Barber, to Respighi, and many more. However, it is the lesser-known Notturno for Solo Violin, Harp and Strings by Arnold Schoenberg that is quite possibly my favorite among them. In 1896, far before his creation of the twelve-tone technique (and crucially before his wholesale adoption of atonality in his composition generally), Schoenberg composed this highly romantic nocturne as a struggling musician barely in his 20s. Its simple, pining melody in the violin is perfectly balanced by the lush yet delicate texture of the strings and harp in their accompaniment. It is a masterclass at the junction of simplicity, concision, and beauty.
Maynard Ferguson — Chala Nata
One of the most astonishing artists to ever pick up a trumpet, Maynard Ferguson got his start in Canadian big bands in the 1940s. But through the decades, it became clear that he could take pretty much any kind of music — bebop, prog rock, disco, movie soundtracks, Broadway, orchestral — and integrate it with those big band jazz roots. Sometimes the result wouldn’t stand the test of time (did I mention disco?), but he never did anything without full-on, 110% commitment. In the 1960’s he applied that approach to the music he found during his extensive concert tours and spiritual explorations in India, and it all came together in “Chala Nata,” from his album M.F. Horn. Maynard’s stratospheric range and raw power are all there, channeled through an embrace of India’s fascinating musical language, yet never at the expense of a killer groove. Another track from this album, “Macarthur Park,” has always gotten more attention, but I love “Chala Nata” for its pure ear-popping boldness.
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Manze — Ralph Vaughan Williams: Old King Cole, A Ballet for Orchestra
Making this one short and sweet. The album said "Vaughan Williams" (one of my top favorites) on it. That was enough for me. I've heard the very rich-sounding Job and Gaelic-tune-inspired The Running Set before, but this was the first time I had heard his Old King Cole. The nursery rhyme, which takes me 8-seconds to say . . . is turned into a glorious musical fairytale lasting over 20 minutes. As the days turn cooler, this album of stories is a welcome addition to the fall lineup.
Czech Philharmonic, Jiří Bělohlávek — Bedřich Smetana: The Moldau
One of my all-time FAVORITE pieces — Smetana captures the beauty and play of a river from its trickling beginnings to its mightiest flow so stunningly. It's a perfect accompaniment to a river journey or for a bike ride through swirling fall leaves. I associate it strongly with autumn, because I was lucky enough to get to play it in one of my first ever orchestra concerts, during a stellar autumnal season. I'm looking forward to driving through gorgeous New England fall this year as I listen to this piece on repeat.
Anna Meredith — Calion
Anna Meredith's 2019 album FIBS is perfect for Saturday-morning-around-the-house energy. It’s disco minimalism meets Cyndi Lauper. You'll be energized — and slightly bemused — the whole morning.
Listen to this month's playlist, and find the full, cumulative playlist here.