Top five non-”American contemporary” musics? Wow, what an assignment, how to narrow it down? How can I possibly not include the female pygmy music recorded by Louis Sarno, or Harry Smith‘s Anthology of American Folk Music? Or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, for heaven’s sake? What about the guilty pleasure of Esquivel? Or Janis at Monterey?
Here goes, and people who only know my music from Voices of Light may be surprised by some of the choices.
It’s only a matter of time before John Ashcroft moves on from covering up that Statue of Justice for indecency to the banning of Don’s music. And I don’t mean that because he wrote songs with words like “Lick My Decals Off, Baby.” I mean the music itself which is made from such clangorous and obscene purity I’m still transported and reduced to tears whenever I hear it. Try Trout Mask Replica, his masterpiece, but nearly everything he recorded is brilliant. John French‘s drumming is some of the most original percussion playing around and guitarist Bill Harkleroad‘s work is what I hear when I stare at Duchamp‘s “The Bride Stripped Bare By The Bachelors, Even“—puzzling, deeply erotic, and inevitable.
I still remember the first time I heard the great master of Notre Dame, in a music library at Columbia in 1971, pinned to my chair, literally open-mouthed with awe, not believing that anything could be so beautiful. I listened to Viderunt Omnes and Sederunt Principes over and over (the Hillier recordings, maybe?) and then wandered around Manhattan for hours singing them to myself and dancing. The first great Western composer known by name. The first Western composer who understood the relationship between the dramatic and the transcendent. A composer whose rhythmic innovations prefigure the 20th century, whose use of brain-melting modal harmonies (yes, “harmony” is a poor choice of words, but what else can you call what he does? “Vertical aggregates of rapidly unfolding, range-crossing minor seconds and unresolved fourths” sounds so…so…well, you know what I mean) points to a kind of new music no one yet has fully imagined.
The Kecak, aka Ramayana Monkey Chant
Let’s put it this way: if I am not hearing the Monkey Chant after I’ve passed on from this Vale of Tears, then I’ve definitely ended up in The Wrong Place.
W.A. Mozart: La Nozze de Figaro
When he wrote Figaro, Mozart’s only goal was to prove he could write the best opera anyone had ever written up to then. He did. And he still has. Try to see it live—it’s an opera, after all. But it’s nearly as much fun to spend an afternoon reading through the score and having it unfold in your head. Still, the video (or DVD) of the Gardiner recording with Bryn Terfel is a great way to spend three hours or so.
Coltrane: “My Favorite Things”
Yeah, yeah, the know-it-alls respond, but which version, which Trane? All of them, obviously, but the last recorded one I know of, with Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Rashied Ali, and Jimmy Garrison is very, very special. Highlights that never are far from my mind: Jimmy Garrison’s gnarly, Gnawa-like bass solo prologue; Coltrane’s transition into the resolution of the tremolos as he introduces the melody for the first time; Alice Coltrane’s piano playing, like Debussy‘s Sunken Cathedral riding piggyback on the Schoemaker-Levy comet, the watery bells slowly pulling apart as the comet falls into the methane atmosphere surrounding Jupiter.
But there are so many more pieces of music I can’t dream of leaving off such a list. You’ll just have to have a 10th, a 20th, and a 50th anniversary and then maybe, just maybe, I’ll run out of desert island music.