Baby Playlist, #5

Since it’s impossible to get everything done, I try and get one or two things done. I think I have a clever system now, where I listen to recordings out of pleasure and the need to analyze them, and also gauge the effect they have on the baby. I’m not looking for aural narcotics, but things that it seems she is hearing and focussing on, especially when she’s on the fussy side since it’s pretty tough to type with one hand . . .

Le Concert Spirituel, Au temps du Louis XV: A new release from Jordi Savall and one of his many ensembles. Savall’s work is by now a well-known quantity and he is in the interesting position for an artist where his work is expected to be exceptional and yet still surprises in that it remains, with each release, truly exceptional. A historian as much as a musician, Savall has not only given new life to a lot of old, obscure and forgotten music, but made recordings and organized performances that put that music into both time and place, connect us with the ideas in cultures that produced such works. This collection is of music from the time of the King overshadowed by both his esteemed predecessor and his disastrous successor.

The pieces, a concerto from Corelli, another and two overtures from Telemann and the “Suites des Airs á Jouer” from Rameau’s Les Indes Gallantes, are works that were performed in the Tuileries Palace, in front of Louis and aristocratic and ordinary, though connected, guests, in what were the beginnings of public concerts of the music we now call ‘classical’ in Europe. Music such as this was already connected with the court, as Rameau and others created works with support from and at times expressly for the King. The pieces are meant to entertain and impress, and because they were written by such fine composers they are also satisfying beyond the last note. Savall solos on the gamba and conducts the ensemble, which also features beautiful playing from violin soloist Enrico Onofri and Pierre Hamon, an exceptional flute traversiere player. The performances excel in both style and substance, and Savall and compatriots play with an élan that is both appropriate to the pieces and to the experience of concert making that they are recovering in memory. I rarely hear Telemann played with such purpose, and their belief in the music makes me believe more about the composer than I have previously. The Rameau is particularly zesty. Not as an ambitious as some of his previous projects, or his upcoming release, but an excellent disc of pre-Classical era music, with the usual dazzling Alia Vox packaging.

Vienna Art Orchestra, The Minimalism of Erik Satie: Originally a two-LP set released in the mid-1980s, I long ago wore down the grooves on my copy. It has since gone in and out of print on CD and is now back in print on the Hatology imprint. Matthias Rüegg has done a lot of creative work with the music of European composers, including Schubert and Verdi, but this is the high point. Satie is still one of the most original and distinctive composers, pervasively influential and, unfortunately, the victim of too much crossover New-Age treatment. Rüegg approaches the music in two ways, one is lively arrangements of some of the smaller pieces, including the Gnoissienne, the other is to use Vexations as a ground for some of his exceptional soloists, including Lauren Newton and Wolfgang Puschnig. It’s a minimal approach that suits the music, adding colors, different kinds of dynamics, the ability to sustain pitches in brass and winds beyond what the piano can do, Rüegg leaves the original material mostly intact and then makes jazz out of it via improvisation. This was a pleasant shocker when it first came out, and although there was a time when other projects, especially those of Uri Caine, seemed to leave it aesthetically obsolescent, time has been kind and the music sounds as fresh as it did in the beginning, the migration of post-Minimal composition and creative rock music to a common point seems now to be something that this disc had anticipated and surpassed almost thirty years ago.

Janus, I am not: The debut release from this trio who are built from the Debussy/Ravel instrumentation of flute, viola and harp (with additional instruments as needed), this is a focussed, accomplished release with a subtle affect; the intimate sound of the instruments, the close miking and the lean profile of the group give it a light, almost casual immediacy, but the playing and the fine choice of material develops a quiet and full power over the course of the disc. The title comes from the piece “i am not (blank),” from Jason Treuting of So Percussion, a four part work that is interspersed among the tracks, opening and closing the CD. The instruments are accompanied by the musicians’ speaking voices, taking turns with the line ‘I am not ,” and filling in the blank. It’s a bit conceptual, a bit like an alt-pop song.

The elegant straightforwardness of the piece is emblematic of the whole recording, with music from Caleb Burhans, Angelica Negron, Cameron Britt, Anna Clyne and Ryan Brown that is frequently made with a song-like structure and an immediacy of affect; the misleading casual quality. Instead of resolving to a neat end, like a pop song, each track leads onto the next, drawing the listener deeper into the music. The predominant flavor is post-Minimal repetition of short phrases, building into larger structures and longer lines, like on Ryan’s “Under The Rug,” with it’s lovely viola line and rhythmic linchpin. The sound of the group is pellucid and with a surprising muscularity that comes through in the excellent recording quality, a New Amsterdam trademark. The closing section of Treuting’s piece is an unfortunate clunker, a stiff and dull exercise in static rhythm, but the disc as a whole is beguilingly lovely and involving. A fine CD and an interesting companion to Missy Mazzoli’s recent Victoire release.

You can see Janus perform at Joe’s Pub on Friday, Oct. 29, along with Big Farm, a new music/prog-rock ‘supergroup’ acnhored by Treuting, bassist Mark Haanstra, composer Steven Mackey on his favored electric axe and the incomparable Rinde Eckert singing. i am not is out Tuesday, November 16.


Lesley Flanigan, Amplifications: Just as beguiling is this CD from sound artist Flanigan. The process she uses to make her music is worth noting, but what’s more important is the rich, beautiful, evocative sound, clearly electronic but also deeply human. The sonic profile ranges from pieces that directly display Flanigan’s voice in a style and with a set of musical ideas reminiscent of both Morton Feldman’s vocal pieces and the lovely bedroom music of Julianna Barwick, to drones that have a sensuous quality, with textures that are alternately grainy, velvety, or with the uncanny feeling, like on “Sleepy,” that they are being more felt from the inside out than heard. There’s a satisfying analog/retro flavor to the electronic sounds and that combined with the up-to-date immediacy of the recording produces an unnervingly vivid effect.

Flanigan makes this music by hand, and that’s apparent to the ear. She works directly with sound via her voice and a speaker feedback system, and that physical element reaches out to the listener. This is a dreamscape, something that lives directly in the mind’s ear. There are bits of lyrics, jarringly concrete on “Thinking Real Hard,” much truer to the aesthetic of the project on “Say You.” This is mysteriously gorgeous, powerfully effecting work, one of the most attractive and interesting recordings of the year, well worth seeking out and dedicating time to.

Ana Milosavjevic, Reflections: That same combination of physical expression and electronic processing is part of violinist Ana’s CD, a model of a contemporary musician’s recital. This is music made to deliberately evoke an artistic journey from origins/roots to discovering the essence and meaning of one’s voice. Ana begins with her own title track, sounding like the slow movement from a sonata and managing a graceful balance between classical form, folk music expression and song-like lyricism and accompaniment. She follows this with “The Spell III” for violin and electronics, from composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and programmer Brian Mohr, a slow, shimmering cascade of fragments that seem to come out of some deep, cultural memory. No matter the contemporary forms or technology, Ana maintains a direct connection to a sound and expression that have to do with the place she came from, Serbia. In the generally fraught subject of authenticity in contemporary arts, Ana is implicitly secure in what she knows of herself. She’s an impressive violinist who also shows excellent musical, emotional and intellectual taste in the material, which includes pieces from Katerina Miljkovic, Margaret Fairlie-Kennedy, Eve Beglarian and Svjetlana Bukvich-Nichols. That last piece, “Before and After the Tekke,” concludes this excellent CD by doing a superb, involving job of bringing together strands of classical, traditional balkan, European disco and dramatic musics into a dazzling, coherent whole.