What is “like”?

SoundTracks

Every time I see this one old friend of mine he asks the same question. “Mandy,” he says very earnestly. “Why do I like the music that I like?” Trained in math and physics and a believer that there is an answer to every inquiry, he wonders why he loves the blues. What is it about the blues that speaks to him? “I’m a relatively happy person and have a pretty good life” he says, confounded by his seemingly inappropriate fondness. At first, I would try to explain it using various theories from the scientific (We’re conditioned to respond to certain kinds of tonal progressions…) to the Freudian (Well, did your mother listen to the blues when you were growing up?) and the Jungian (Are you sure you’re happy? Maybe the blues sing to your repressed feelings of dejection…) to the capitalist (You like it because the marketers told you to.)


After several attempts at explanation, none of which satisfy him, and several rounds of beer, I throw my hands in the air and come to the inevitable conclusion: I don’t know. I don’t know why he likes the blues and I don’t know why the visceral power of three baritone saxes bellowing together over African rhythms on Bluiett‘s Blueback knocked me over. Or why Sarah Vaughan‘s rich voice and sparkling musicality penetrates right into my soul, making me dance in my chair and ponder the sad corners of my life alternately.


I was drawn into the new recording of George Crumb‘s Makrokosmos performed by pianist Laurie Hudicek by the concept—24 fantasy-pieces after the Zodiac (I have a secret passion for astrology and, of course, had to hear if certain pieces resonated with my ideas about each sign). Once I got past my superficial exploration, the archetypal mystic sounds of George Crumb—chanting, moaning, and rubbing glass against the piano strings—sent a chill down my spine, making me love it for its sheer eeriness. After adding some Gloria Coates, with her glissando-obsessed, static tone-defying fifth string quartet, and a series of percussion pieces from the ensemble Nexus, featuring the ghostly resonances of the marimba and steel pans, I was having a better time than if I was settled at home eating popcorn and watching a scary movie.


While these two composers satisfied my penchant for the mysterious, the songs of Amy Beach as performed by Emma Kirkby sparked my romantic side, enchanting me with their beautiful poetry and even more beautiful melodies. Speaking of beautiful melodies, the premiere recording of David Diamond‘s string quartets certainly has its share, although the emotional gamut swings wider, incorporating frustrated dissonance that hits the spot when the pressure of listening to 43 recordings is getting to you. And although the only memory I have of Georgia is a Stuckey’s off the interstate on my way to Disney World when I was little, I sure had an adoring picture of it on my mind after listening to the Bill Charlap Trio (with guests Tony Bennett, Frank Wess, Jim Hall, and Shirley Horn) covering a bunch of Hoagy Carmichael tunes on Stardust.


And finally, reminding me that I am still young, Mikel Rouse‘s funky and energetic Cameraworld features the latest in sampling technology, operating simultaneously in the realms of spoken word, hip-hop, intelligent dance music, and R&B. At times it sounds a lot like what was on the truly alternative radio station I listened to in the mid-nineties. It is highly addictive music and I can’t stop listening. I still don’t know why…

In any case, I encourage all of you to check out the great crop of new releases featured this month, take a listen, and figure out which ones speak to you.

Other SoundTracks This Month: