Friday Random Ten for Dec 22

1. **Lunasa, “Feabhra”**: My favorite traditional Irish band. These guys are *really* traditional
instrumental Irish – Uillean pipes, flute, guitar, bodhran, and bass. The pipe player is
without doubt one of the best, if not *the* best in the world. I thought that I hated all kinds
of bagpipes until I saw Cillian Vallely performing live (before he joined Lunasa).
2. **Darol Angers Republic of Strings, “Bluebird”**: A track from Darol Angers latest project. Pretty much anything Darol does is gold; this isn’t one of my favorite tracks, because I don’t
like the singer, but it’s got red-hot fiddling holding it all together, which makes up for it.
3. **Tortoise, “Unknown”**: Tortoise is another post-rock ensemble; one of the earliest ones. They’re good, but not great.
4. **Bach, “Mer Sprach: Gehet Hin” from St. Matthews Passion**: Bach is the greatest composer
who ever lived; and I think that St. Matthews Passion is his finest work. A little slice
of perfection.
5. **Harry Bradley, “Dave Maguires/Gary Hastings Reels”**: very minimal traditional Irish fluting by a master. Harry is a brilliant flautist – he knows how to play with *enough* ornamentation to really punch the rhythm, but he never plays a single note more than he needs to. These reels feature him playing with nothing but a bouzouki and a trace of bohdran backing him. And it doesn’t need any more. It’s got amazing bounce and spirit to it, played by Harry at his reedy-sounding best.
6. **Rachel’s, “4 or 5 Trees”**. One of my favorite post-rock ensembles. Rachel’s is a very
classical-leaning PRE, and everything they do is brilliant.
7. **ProjeKct Two, “Escape from Sagittarius A”**: free improv by one of the trios that made up the last incarnation of King Crimson: Trey Gunn on bass/stick, Fripp on Guitar, and Adrian Belew playing a drum synth. Wierd, but good. It’s great to hear Fripp when he’s getting way
out there; he’s often so disciplined that he holds back, so it’s amazing to hear him really
kick loose. Sure, some of it isn’t great – but some of it has a brilliance that can only come
from spontanaeity.
8. **Mogwai, “I Chose Horses”**: yet another post-rock ensemble, this one from the more rock-oriented end of the genre. This is a mellowish track from them, with a very distinctively Mogwai sound to it.
9. **Miles Davis, “How Deep is the Ocean”**. Miles Davis. What more need be said?
10. **Godspeed You! Black Emperor, “Sleep: They Don’t Sleep Anymore On The Beach/Monheim/Broken Windows, Locks Of Love Part III”**. Godspeed is the absolute unquestionably greatest of the rock-leaning post-rock ensembles. This track is very typical.

0 thoughts on “Friday Random Ten for Dec 22

  1. Keith Gaughan

    Oooh, uileann pipes can’t be compared to other kinds of pipes! They’re a far more refined kind of instrument than bagpipes.
    BTW, if you’re looking for some good postrock, listen to The Redneck Manifesto.

  2. Joe Shelby

    Do all computer and music geeks love Bach? 🙂
    I thought my attraction was due to my growing up in Episcopal churches with very Bach-loving organists, but then I discovered Hofstadter’s book and the fact that the late Douglas Adams was also a Bach lover, particularly the Brandenburgs. I find I’m in good company.
    My copy of the St. Matthews is from the Bernstein with the NYPO (on Sony), where the lyrics are sung in English.

  3. SLC

    Re Bach
    I think that the partisans of Beethovan and Mozart might take some issue with the Bach the greatest opinion.

  4. Joe Shelby

    SLC: I’m more a partisan to Stravinsky, so I could take issue with the “greatest” as well. The reality is that most of the “great” composers actually achieved their greatness by a combination of simultaneously limiting while expanding their musical vocabulary.
    They each worked within a limited form of what their predecessors did, yet showed through their composition that the limitation was not, in itself, limiting but rather freeing. It’s that case where the fewer choices one has to make, the easier it is to just *create*.
    Bach was the first great limiter in locking us down to a relatively limited tonality centered around the tempered keyboard, the 12-note chromatic scale, and the diatonic nature of tonic-dominant tonality restricting movement among chords to having to traverse circles of 5ths and 4ths, in only 2 modes (major/Ionian and minor). Compared to the freedom in following modes, or in having more notes between the octaves matching more closely the actual harmonic series, this was *extremely* limiting (and actually made it impossible to musically duplicate sounds and tones achieved in folk music – such notes naturally on the harmonic series are “blue” notes not achieved by a tempered scale).
    Yet within this very basic and restricted musical vocabulary Bach’s work demonstrates what sounds like an effortless freedom and range of material. The limitation, the reduction of choice, actually became a freedom, a freedom it would take almost 2 centuries to run its course and even today, post-Debussy, post-Schoenberg, post-Cage, tonality still has its place in modern composition.
    Similar claims of “greatness through self-imposed limitation” can be found in Mozart and Beethoven (sonatta and symphonic form), Chopin and the Strauss family (dance rhythms) Wagner (motivic development, taking theme and variation to its extreme), Debussy (whole-tone scale), and Berg (working within Schoenberg’s tone-row system, itself a self-imposed limitation required because the freedom of chromatic expression gave too much room and slowed down development due to the choices to make).
    Even Stravinsky found it necessary, after the extreme freedoms expressed in the “Russian period” ballets with all of the polytonality and polyrhythm, to create a limited-system in neo-classicism as a means to contain the number of choices available.
    So there’s the question, really – what is “greatness”. Is greatness the ability to compose in any variety and idiom, as most 20th century composers are pretty much required to do, or is greatness the ability to produce a nearly unlimited range of (well-loved and respected) works while working in intentional self-contained limitations?
    Is Bach the greater composer for his invention of the tonal system, or Stravinsky the greater for his maximizing the impact of Bach’s invention through a polytonality that still sounds “natural” for the listener (well, after one or two tries at it)?

  5. Jud

    For Bach lovers: Yeah, I know the Brandenburgs are a real Baroque/classical warhorse, but it would be hard to do Bach better IMHO than Jordi Savall’s Brandenburg set.
    BTW, saw Miles Davis in concert twice – fabulous stuff, as you might expect.

  6. Joe Shelby

    B-rock – do a little googling. It’s sometimes (likely more often) labeled Er sprach: Gehet hin in die Stadt (And He said: Go ye into the city) and it’s part 15 of Bach’s St. Matthews Passion. That he had “Mer” likely means that someone mis-entered it into CDDB or that’s how the particular CD release decided to label it. Most people don’t bother to correct their CDDB listings when they rip their CDs.
    Unless you exist in Dirk Gently’s alternative universe where Bach never happened, it does too most certainly exist.

  7. SLC

    Re Joe Shelby
    The question as to who was the greatest composer in history depends on the criteria chosen. I would argue that Mozart was the greatest because he wrote great music in many different genres. He wrote operas, symphonies, masses, concertos, etc. all of which qualify as great music. Thus, for instance, Beethoven wrote only one opera which is really second rate music and would not be in the repertoire if it had been written by an unknown composer.

  8. Joe Shelby

    And i could argue that Mozart is relatively weak as he never really “invented” anything, only applying diatonic development and strong melodic lines to fulfill their maximal potential. He was also tethered to sonata form in each of those genres, but never really invented any genres or forms. I could also argue that his concerto form over-encouraged “showing off”, and were often tailor-made to suit his ego or those of his favorite soloists rather than actually presenting strong musical line for the character of the instrument itself.
    I wouldn’t, but I could. 🙂
    I prefer Bernstein’s take that Fidelio is a “flawed masterpiece”, with the weaker supporting character music made weaker by simply having to deal with truly weaker characters; there simply wasn’t much to work with for such a (early) romantic expressionist as Beethoven was at the time. The lead roles material is, in my (and others’) opinion excellent.


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