I don’t think we give Sufjan nearly enough credit in general, but certainly we should all be bowing down on our knees when December 25 comes around.Â Simply put: Sufjan saved Christmas music.Â All of it.Â All of the familiar carols and songs, the trite lyrics, the pat harmonies.Â He redeemed them, re-invented, and glorified them.Â And all it took was a banjo and some oboes.
He also wrote some great new classics from scratch:
This is likely the best thing Menotti ever wrote.Â Pieces like The Medium and The Telephone have so many silly melodramatic moments and text-setting gaffs that they just don’t hold together.Â Amahl is simple and tunely, contains a musical setting of the line “This is my box. This is my box. I never travel without my box,” and always makes me cry right here:
I just want to clear up any understandable confusion that may have arisen over the following video:
Though lyrically I may be “untouchable” and “uncrushable”, and though I do fancy myself quite the “dapper chap”, I fear to say that “ho-slapper” is NOT in my job description.Â Alas folks, the author of this video is a different William White.Â And given my homonym’s guarantee to be here “till the end of the age of Pisces and beyond,” I thought it best to clear up the confusion right now.
Many thanks to AG for bringing this to my attention.
In other news, this list is one of the sillier things I’ve come across, well, ever.
If you happen to have read this blog in the past few months, you know that I’ve been chomping at the bits finally to see The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito), the newest feature by the great Spanish director Pedro AlmodÃ³var.Â So did I see it?Â Yes, when it FINALLY opened a few weeks ago in ‘my part of the country’ after its May premiere in Europe.Â So why have I remained mute about it?Â Well, it’s like this: after I saw it, the only thing I could think was, “I need to see that again.”
La piel had a strange effect on me.Â Though it runs for 117 minutes, when the credits rolled, I couldn’t believe that I had just finished watching an entire feature film.Â I’m hard pressed to say why.Â It’s not like the pace of the narrative was dizzying or frantic.Â In fact, when it was over, I had the distinct sense that there were many fewer twists and turns than in a lot of AlmodÃ³var’s plots.
But upon further reflection, I don’t think that’s quite right.Â The central plot of the film resolves into one stupendous twist so spectacular that it obfuscates many smaller revelations and surprises along the way.Â But that largest of revelations comes about late in the game, and it feels slow to arrive.Â Maybe the issue is that the film’s tone is so austere that we aren’t as invested emotionally in the plot’s unraveling.
But this is where it gets really tricky, because I would never say that this movie is “cold”.Â It’s not.Â It’s got plenty of deep, complex emotions (though no humor to speak of, a major departure for AlmodÃ³var.)Â And yet, when the movie was over, I felt numb, like I was coming out of a haze.Â There’s something about this film that anesthetizes the viewer to its own content, and I can’t pinpoint what it is.Â Nor do I think this is a miscalculation.Â Much to the contrary, I think this is exactly what Pedro was after.
And now I’m chomping at the bits to see it again, but it only played for one lousy week in Cincinnati.Â Jehovah only knows when it’s coming out on DVD.
Thankfully, the score is out on iTunes, and, as we’ve come to expect from Alberto Iglesias, it’s a humdinger.Â Iglesias’ talents are simply amazing.Â I don’t know how he manages to match AlmodÃ³var tone for tone in all of his movies, though, when I think about it, maybe it’s not that hard — AlmodÃ³var might be the most “musical” of all film directors.Â The emotional landscapes he chooses to explore are the very interstitial places that are usually accessible to harmony alone.
But no, Alberto Iglesias is really pretty amazing.
ps. I just found out that Dan Tepfer, who I’m mildly obsessed with because of his exquisite work on the new Bach Goldberg Variations/Variations album (which you should all buy and listen to immediately), wrote his second ever blog post on The Skin I Live In.Â It may be time to change that ‘mildly’ to ‘intensely’.Â I’ll try to keep it short of ‘unhealthily’.
This is the next step in my online conversation with Eric Benson of Inverted Garden, wherein we discuss taste, society and music from our relative perspectives as jazz and classical icons of the digital age.Â Eric’s posts are here.Mine are here.
Once upon a time, when Eric and I were both college students in Chicago, we trekked up from Hyde Park to the Chicago Historical Society for the inaugural Contempo Double-Bill.Â A Contempo Double-Bill isn’t an updated piece of Jeffersonian currency – it’s a concert that pairs contemporary classical music with jazz.
On this concert were works by George Crumb, Chen Yi, and Jonathan Harvey, along with the piano stylings of Brad Mehldau, riding high on his fame as “that jazz pianist who plays Radiohead covers.” (This was in 2004, well before every classical new music performer started doing the same.)
What I remember most about this concert is a group of four high school boys sitting right in front of us who had clearly come for the jazz portion of the evening (these were the Eric Bensons of a quarter-generation later), and that they erupted into laughter when the soprano Valdine Anderson began singing Jonathan Harvey’s “Song Offerings”.
I, obviously, was supremely annoyed, and much more so because these boys were sitting in front of us where my famed Half-Turn Glare was rendered useless.Â Looking back on it now though, it’s hard to blame them, because a) they were probably high, and b) they came to hear this*:
but what they got was this:
Of which the latter may be a perfectly interesting piece, but it’s hardly the former.Â This was a case of a classical presenting organization (and New Music, at that) carelessly assembling a double bill in an effort to draw in new audiences without in any way managing the expectations surrounding the event.Â What did Brad Mehldau’s music really have to do with any of the pieces on the program?Â Mehldau announced from the stage that he was a fan of George Crumb.Â So what?Â I like Rihanna, but people would be PISSED if they came to one of my concerts expecting to hear “Only Girl in the World”.
A stylistically heterogeneous double bill can surely work if the two musics are sharing the same conversation, which brings me to one of the best albums I’ve heard all year (thanks to Eric), Dan Tepfer‘s recent release of the Bach Goldberg Variations, in which he intersperses the Bach variations with his own improvised responses.
This isn’t Crossover – it’s just high order musicianship.Â What I found so interesting about this album is that Tepfer is able to manage three musical streams simultaneously: first, the thoughtful, affecting renditions of the Bach originals; second, the astonishing array of transformations that he works on each of these works; and third, the way in which he develops these improvisations into a new, autonomous set of musical pieces.
What’s more, it would be a mistake to call Tepfer’s improvisations “jazz”. [In a similar way, it’s almost silly to call the Bach originals “classical”, seeing as there existed no such category when Bach wrote them, not to mention the fact that they transcend any label we try to affix to them.]Â Yes, some of his variations are jazzier than others, but really, this is music about music, drawing from Ellington and Reich in addition to Bach.
So, EB: got any other great examples of successful jazz-classical collaborations (excepting the current co-blogging experience, of course)?
UPDATE, Nov. 11, 10:00 am: With 38 hours to go, this project is 75% funded(!), but I still have $1,000 to raise(!!!)Â The way Kickstarter works is that if you don’t reach your goal, you don’t get any of the money. 🙁