Autumn Leaves – music to rake and prune by
Reviews by Doug Heselgrave
Like every parent, I’ve become a master of multi-tasking. Last week, things hit a critical mass as the piles of wet leaves outside and unopened CDs in my office started to threaten and impinge on what was left of my sanity. So, I moved a pair of speakers out onto my deck, stacked the multi-disc player and went to work. I listened to dozens of albums while raking the leaves and pruning our apple, cherry and plum trees. The three CDs on review here have almost nothing in common with each other – except that they were each perfect in their own way for working outside to on a cold early autumn weekend.
Far from Enough – by Viktor Krauss
This solo outing from bassist Viktor Krauss – who has recorded with John Fogerty, Dolly Parton, Bill Frisell, Lyle Lovett and many others – first came out in 2004, but by some quirk of fate or scheduling, it arrived at my office just last week. But, great music is timeless and the twelve selections on this disc certainly haven’t lost any of their lustre with age. Working with a core group featuring Bill Frisell and Jerry Douglas on strings and Steve Jordan on drums, Krauss explores a wide range of musical styles and textures through the set’s seven instrumental sections. Some cuts like ‘Playground’ – a duet with Bill Frisell – and ‘Sunday Afternoon Man’ are nuanced and delicate harmonic experiments while other cuts like ‘For a Good Time’ and ‘Grit Lap’ playfully explore harder, more metallic sounds and ideas. Viktor’s sister, Alison sings on five cuts including a killer version of Robert Plant’s ‘Big Log’ that to my ears dwarfs the power of anything the two recorded for ‘Raising Sand’ a few years later.
Miho – Journey to the Mountain – The Paul Winter Consort
I’ve always hated New Age music, and the mere mention of an artist like Paul Winter is usually enough to send me running. But, I’ve been sent so many of his albums over the years, that I finally decided to give this one a chance. It might have been the overcast sky or the Canada Geese that flew over my head while Winter’s plaintive soprano sax dueted with Dhruba Ghosh’s sarangi on the Dawn Raga, but part way through this album, I put down my rake, sat at the picnic table and really started to listen carefully. I’d misjudged Paul Winter. Though I can’t ever imagine ingesting a steady diet of his graceful, perfectly counterpointed compositions, I have to grudgingly admit that there’s a lot more to his music than meets the eye. Take away the ethereal trappings of this musical journey to Shangri-la (barf) and the music is really quite challenging and engaging. By incorporating aspects of both classical and world music, Winter has raised the bar rather high for this type of record and unlike many albums in this genre, ‘Miho – Journey to the Mountain’ stands up well under repeat listenings. Better than expected, in many ways it is the perfect accompaniment to a warm fire on a cold fall evening.
Ravi Shankar and George Harrison – Collaborations
The stream of films, recordings and reissues celebrating Ravi Shankar’s 90th birthday continues apace with this new box set from Rhino Records. This collection – featuring three reissued CDs from George Harrison’s Dark Horse label and a DVD of a 1974 London concert – focuses on the relationship between the former Beatle and the Indian sitarist. The first CD, ‘Ravi Shankar’s Music festival From India’ is a wonderful recording of Indian classical music featuring some of the genre’s most celebrated players such as Hariprasad Battacharya and Allah Rakha. The 1997 release, ‘Chants of India’ is a recording of traditional vocal music recorded by George Harrison that will probably appeal more to hard core fans while 1974’s ‘Shankar Family and Friends’ is a collaboration between Shankar and western musicians associated with the Beatles including Harrison, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston and Klaus Voorman. The latter set features ‘Dream, Nightmare and Dawn’ an ambitious ballet written by Shankar that has yet to be staged. Of all the discs in this collection, this one may be of the most interest to rock music fans, but it is also the least successful of the three. Despite the fine efforts of all people concerned, the contributions from the rockers are either frustratingly tentative or overblown and distracting. Of far more interest is the 1974 concert DVD introduced by a visibly nervous George Harrison. Though the film is somewhat lacking in terms of definition and visual quality, this is more than made up for by the vitality of the performances from Shankar and friends.
Of the many reissues and collections of Ravi Shankar’s music to choose from, ‘Collaborations’ – with its varied program and informative book and liner notes – is perhaps the best place to start for people who want to give his music a try.