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Wednesday, 10 April 2013

In A Silent Way

For some reason, I’m really afraid of writing about instrumental music. Even though I really want to, basically all my posts so far have been about music that includes a singer. After confiding in my friend about this fear, he made a great suggestion: we would tell each other which instrumental album to write about on our next blog post, and just do it. It was exactly the kind of motivation I needed. So here I am, nervous and afraid, writing my very first post about a piece of solely instrumental music.


The album my friend chose for me is In a Silent Way by Miles Davis. I usually talk about the artist for a little bit, but if I wanted to talk about Miles, one whole post probably wouldn’t suffice, so I’ll make it extra brief. Miles Davis, born in 1926, was a jazz trumpeter and one of the most influential musicians in the 20th century. For 50 years, he basically kept inventing new genres and explored jazz in so many new directions (Bebop, Hard bop, Modal jazz, Fusion, Cool jazz). It’s safe to say that jazz today wouldn’t be where it is without him. If you don’t know who he is, you might want to read something about him, as he is one of the most important figures of the 20th century music. Or better yet, listen to some of his classic albums - Kind Of Blue, ‘Round About Midnight or Milestones. Keep in mind though, that that is only a tiny part of his musical career - what he’s created over the years ranges far beyond these three albums.


When I first started listening to jazz and heard about Miles Davis, I just didn’t get it why he’s supposed to be so good. Sure, I liked Kind Of Blue, but that’s about it. It was making me kind of annoyed, that everyone was praising him so much. I thought he was overrated and was frustrated that no one else saw that. Even with this opinion, I didn’t think his early stuff was bad or anything, whereas the weird fusion thingy, I just couldn’t take. His weird appearance on stage didn’t help with that. So, very early on, I decided that I don’t really care for Miles Davis and that I hate jazz fusion.
Four years of listening to jazz (but avoiding Miles and anything similar) later, I suddenly found myself getting more and more interested in Bebop, Avant-Garde, Modern jazz, all the stuff I thought I didn’t like. Just like that, Miles’ music eventually crept back to me after all that time. I gave the albums I knew, another listen and was surprised that this was the same music as the kind I used to dislike. It sounded differently. I loved it! There were so many beautiful things happening in the music and I couldn’t understand how I couldn’t hear that before. Even though I had evidence against me, I kept my skepticism against Miles.


So when my friend asked me to write about Miles Davis’ album, you can imagine how I was unsure about that. I thought to myself “how on earth am I going to write about this?? I’m probably not even going to like it”. Nevertheless, I decided that, for once in my life, I’ll get out of my own way, and agreed on the choice. It turns out, I LOVE the album! It’s one of the most intriguing things I’ve ever heard. As if that wasn’t enough of a surprise, I found out that In A Silent Way is supposed to be the first fusion album Miles recorded. . . I was confused, “Wait, aren’t I suppose to hate fusion jazz? But this sounds so good. How come?”. After a few seconds of thinking about it, the music took over and it didn’t matter anymore.


The album itself is wonderful! It’s dreamy, contemplative, other-worldly, melancholic, magical and even dark. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve always been fascinated by dreams and everything related to them. So it’s probably just me, but I feel like this whole album is about dreams, which is why I absolutely love it.
The first song, Shhh/Peaceful, starts off with just the drums, organ, piano, bass and guitar letting you look around and get the feeling of what the song is going to look like. They set the stage for Miles, and when he comes in, he glides on top of that background, as smooth as ever. Listen to his tone and articulation. He’s got such control over his instrument, it sounds like it’s not just a trumpet, but an extension of his thoughts.
The song then goes on and develops like dreams do. And you know how in dreams something’s always off and even though you’re somehow aware of it, everything feels just right anyway. Well, listen how the drums provide a really groovy and quite powerful beat, but the music itself is so mellow and gentle. At first it sounds a bit off, but after awhile it just feels right.
Another correlation between this song and dreams is how many details the sound has. No matter where you look, there’s always a detail you didn’t hear before.
The song continues making an impression like that until, just after becoming slightly turbulent, it rolls off.


At this point, I was already totally in awe, but there was another part, just as good as the first one. What a treat!
The second song, In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time, begins so darn beautifully! It sounds so optimistic and hopeful, something like a beautiful landscape after a storm. After you get a chance to really hear this gorgeous sound, the flow changes quite abruptly and they start building on top of that. It feels like this beautiful music is delicate and sensitive, since after a slight change, everything follows. I guess it sounds like, what I think a development of an idea in someone’s mind would sound like - from that first inkling to a full-blown idea. In any case, an amazing second part to this unbelievable album.


Listening to and thinking about this album was a really wonderful experience. I sat in a cozy chair, dimmed the lights and set the music to a comfortable volume. Then I listened. . . I mean really listened. I was shocked by how many things I could actually hear. If I had listened to this about a year ago, I would have thought it’s nonsense. I guess I must have had some kind of invisible earplugs in my ears.
Forty minutes of this dreamy music went by like four minutes. The whole album is filled with so many thoughts, feelings and emotions, I found myself thinking about it for some time after it stopped playing. And I love how great music inspires me to listen to even more music, which is exactly what happened in the next few days.
I suggest you give In a Silent Way a listen as well. Don’t think about it too much, just listen and let yourself feel the wonders of music.

Monday, 1 April 2013

There Will Be a Light

Two months ago I began making some decisions about my studies and consequently I was focusing on college and neglected my blog and photography. I’ve simply put it on hold. I thought I didn’t miss it that much, but then, a couple of days ago, I was reading one of my older posts. It made me remember why I started writing in the first place. I mean I enjoy just listening to music, but writing about it gives me something more. It makes me more aware of how passionate I actually am about music and I love that feeling. So here I am again, writing after a (too) long break. For the past few weeks I’ve also started doing something new - I committed to listening 2 new albums every week, which means I definitely won’t run out of stuff to write about.


Enough about that, let me talk about what I’m here to talk about. In 2004 Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama recorded an album called There Will Be A Light. It is one of my favourite albums of all time and one of the best collaboration albums I know. I’ve always been completely blown away by good collaborations. It’s simply beyond me how two groups are able to melt into one so completely so that they don’t sound like two separate groups, while at the same time, retain and show what each makes them unique. And it all fits together perfectly! It’s nothing short of magical. The reason I’m bringing this up is because the way Ben Harper and the Blind Boys Of Alabama work together on these 11 songs is an epitome of what I’m trying to say.
Before I listened to this album, I knew Ben Harper’s music as quite eclectic, but the part I was interested in was a mixture of indie, rock, folk and maybe blues, with most of his songs being introspective and somewhat melancholic. Which I love. Here are a few great songs, so you can hear what I mean.


The Blind Boys of Alabama is a gospel group that’s been active for well over 70 years now and they’re one of the best in their field. And if you’re wondering, yes, they’re actually blind (apart from one member I believe). They were performing in Ljubljana a couple of years ago and I really regret not seeing them - at that time I had no idea who they are. Now I can’t think of any other group that would make this album as powerful as it is now.


Seven of the songs on the album are written by Ben, specifically for this occasion. The rest are traditional gospel tunes and covers (keep an eye on Bob Dylan’s Well, Well, Well). The moment I heard the first song of the album, Take My Hand, I knew I was in for a treat. What an understatement that proved to be. The album is just that good!
The Blind Boys of Alabama create a basis on which Ben flourishes. They provide a background that’s rich, joyful and full of faith to his emotional, honest and heartwarming singing. Add to that a great instrumental accompaniment and you get this incredible piece of music. Here are, in my opinion, the highlights of the album:


The title song, There Will Be a Light. No words needed here. Just listen and feel it.


Powerful rendition of Well, Well, Well with some crazy guitar work on 11th commandment before that.


The a cappella song, If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again, is simply haunting. It’s amazing that a human voice without any instruments to back it up is capable of creating such an emotional work of art. Probably my favourite song of the album - the Blind Boys Of Alabama at their best, if you ask me.


What do you think? Do you love it as much as I do? Do you agree that their collaboration on this album is perfect?


Until next time...


P.S. Does anyone have any requests for what you would like to see me write about next time?