If My Life Were a Movie


SoundTracks

A major turning point in my life came at age 9 when I saw the film version of West Side Story. I have since seen it over 50 times, mostly in the years immediately following this initial viewing. Without fail, I cry every time. In the fourth grade, I started the exclusive W.S.S. Club, a group of girls who would become equally obsessed thanks to my after-school prodding. We would pause the video with the dancers in mid-air for a laugh. I remember running around my suburban basement snapping my fingers and replaying the “Rumble” scene in my friend’s pool in the summers (I always got to be Riff, handing the knife to Tony as I splashed dramatically to my death). All the time we’d be singing.

Last night, I put on the original Broadway soundtrack of the show while I was making dinner. I hadn’t listened to it in probably over a decade, but before I knew it I was leaping around my small East Village apartment singing “Cool, Go, Crazy!” and “I feel stunning and enchanting.” When “Somewhere” came on, a wave of emotion overtook me and I sat on my couch—lamenting Tony and Maria’s desperate love, my lost childhood, and my burnt dinner. And when I think about the movie that will be made of my life (after I have all of my fame and glory), I don’t think about who will play me, but what the soundtrack will be. Music has shaped my life experiences as much as my life experiences have shaped the music I make.


Of the 30 recordings that we received this month, I think many of them are worthy additions to our personal soundtracks. Going through a period of introspection? How about Alvin Lucier’s Still Lives that pits solo piano and solo koto against a series of sine waves, making the harmonic beats the primary sonic material. For a more Eastern flavor, try California MIDI-raga composer Michael Robinson‘s newest recording Charukeshi, an hour-long journey into the spiritual roots of Indian classical music and for further divine observations look to Mel Graves’s Meditations on Truth, using Sufi mystic and poet Kabir for the lyrical and musical inspiration. This piece is included on the newest recording from experimental baritone Thomas Buckner. If you are looking to travel but can’t get away, take an internal journey with the help of American Works for Organ and Orchestra, including Michael Colgrass’s stunning piece “Snow Walker” which elicits the grandeur and beauty of the Arctic. The exotic music for solo flute on flutist Linda Wetherill‘s new recording will also help to spark dreams of faraway places and peoples.


For those of you in a more frenetic, urban state of mind who want to keep the energy levels high, Amnon Wolman‘s latest recording, Dangerous Bends, with its ambient noise should leave you restless. If that isn’t strong enough, the latest from experimental jazzer Roscoe Mitchell or avant-garde jazz ensemble Sticks and Stones should shake you out of your comfort zone, as they both are playing way outside. If you’re just looking for some mellow soul, superstar vocalist Nnenna Freelon celebrates the music of Stevie Wonder on her new disc Tales of Wonder.


Maybe your romantic side (as in love, not 19th-century music) has slowed you down, in which case you might prefer the lushness of Ned Rorem‘s chamber music, played on a new recording by the Gotham Ensemble. Or perhaps delicate flute and piano duets are more your style, in which case you have two options: Jeffrey Khaner playing works by composers such Copland, Piston, and Higdon or Laurel Ann Maurer performing Bloch, Cowell, and Muczynski, among others. The sensuousness of The American Clarinet might be what this sultry summer requires. Or, for a human element maybe the smoky voice of jazz singer Karrin Allyson, crooning everything from Joni Mitchell to Tommy Flanagan will be soothing. Composer/lyricist/vocalist Lenora Zenzalai Helm‘s captivating scat solos add a bit of adventure to the passionate tunes on her disc Precipice.


If it’s the heat of the weather and not the heat of love that has made you mellow, Robert Jacobson‘s Coldwater will give you all the West Coast cool you need or meditate on bassist/composer Curtis Lundy‘s Purpose. Perhaps soprano saxophonist Marion Meadows will hit the spot on the real dog days of summer like an ice-cold lemonade.


Some of you may have moved beyond chaos and heat to simple slap-happiness, or maybe you’re just someone with a great sense of humor. In that case, I highly recommend the Industrial Jazz Group’s City of Angles, on which peanut butter and bicycle wheels are used as instruments and a trombonist is also responsible for “Latin translations.” Composer Andrew Drukin’s self-deprecating liner notes (i.e. “the title ‘Pince Nez’ describes in French the thing some people do when listening to our music”) are certainly worth a read. People with a slant toward dark humor might appreciate Richard Wilson’s Æthelred the Unready, a short opera dedicated to one of England’s most bumbling monarchs. The humorous songs of Marc Blitzstein and the original cast recording of Rodgers and Hart’s The Boys From Syracuse are also supportive of a light-hearted attitude.


For the serious amongst us who enjoy a bit of intellectual stimulation in the summer, try putting your arms around George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept with two new recordings from composer/pianist Ben Schwendener, one in collaboration with fellow pianist/composer Marc Rossi and the other with his band Falling Objects. Or hear how Brian Fennelly juxtaposes hexachords and tonality on his newest recording Chrysalis. The sometimes pointillistic character of Hillary Maroon and Benny Lackner‘s complex new jazz deserves some attention from the left side of your brain, while the chamber works of Elliott Carter, played by the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, will be a perfect challenge for the hardcore scholar. Robert Morris‘s works for solo piano and guitar duo provide a double challenge, using complex theoretical structures and then applying them to the Buddhist concept of “not-self.”


And although much of patriotism of post-September 11th America and the Fourth of July has passed, there is still space for a little nostalgic pride in our country’s roots. Irwin Bazelon’s Early American Suite for the unique combination of wind quintet and harpsichord paints a quaint picture of another time in America that is as charming as Copland’s populist music. Furthermore, noted classical and bluegrass double-bassist/composer Edgar Meyer uses Appalachian string band influences in his two concertos.

Of course, all of these are simply suggestions. Give each a listen and see what sentiments they conjure. Hopefully, many of these recordings will strike a chord with you (or a tone cluster, if you’re into that…) and when you think back to the summer of 2002, some of these names will pop into your head.

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