COVID Diary #3

COVID Diary #3

Attention Deficit Record Reviews

Quarantine does weird things to you. Without the normal routine of going to work in the morning and coming home at night, my days get pretty mixed up. Some days, all I want to do is sleep. Other days I get over-caffeinated and my mind doesn’t want to settle on one thing (or it obsesses over frustrations like how the Florida Unemployment web site is always crashing). Those are great days for listening to a stack of CD’s while I’m cleaning the apartment or some other neglected busy work. They are not great days for deep reflection. So today I’m going to share my attention deficit impressions of some records I liked.

Seamus Egan Early Bright THL Records

Seamus Egan has been leader of Solas, a super group on the Irish music scene. Early Bright is his second solo album in twenty years. This is a delightful collection of instrumental numbers. The record feels like Egan has pulled together Irish, Appalachian, Flamenco and film scores to create happy sounds. I know that sounds kind of sappy. Let me put it this way. When the bad news on the radio pushes me toward despair, I switch over to Early Bright and Seamus saves my sanity.

African Head Charge Drumming is a Language (1990-2011) On U Sound

This five CD collection overwhelmed me. There is more going on here than I can digest and comprehend. I’m not even going to try to talk about everything here. The quick overview is African Head Charge are a psychedelic dub collective and the discs collected here range from fairly accessible dancehall dub (Songs of Praise) to the mind-spinningly weird (Vision of a Psychedelic Africa). I’m infatuated with the most freaked out tracks on Vision and Voodoo of the Godsent. I’m drawn into the disorienting soundscapes where distorted voices, strange samples, odd effects and chants ride over solid Rasta rhythms. It reminds me of late nights in college springing this sort of stuff on my friends. They were confounded because they thought you HAD to be on acid to get into sounds this weird. I used to say it was cheating if you used drugs. However you listen to these discs, they will warp your reality, at least for a little while.

Weeks Island Droste Nouveau Electric Records

Droste is another album that takes you on a sound journey to imaginary lands. Jonny Campos is the guitarist for the Lost Bayou Ramblers. For this project, Campos plays ambient pedal steel guitar. The songs are hypnotic, with sounds ebbing and flowing like the tides on the bayou. The five songs make up a suite of wistful, distorted memories of coastal Louisiana. The songs have names like “Point Fortuna,” “Raccoon Island” and “Bayou La Chute,” which are all places that have been lost to rising sea level. I listen to these sounds and let my mind drift. I’m tempted to use Droste as my soundtrack next time I try one of those sensory deprivation flotation tanks.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra featuring Wynton Marsalis Black, Brown and Beige Blue Engine

After working though some trippy sounds, it’s kind of nice to grab some “comfort” sounds. Black, Brown and Beige is a collection of modernized arrangements of Duke Ellington tunes. Ellington, of course is a giant of jazz as a compositional art form. The big bands of the 1930’s and 40’s gave primacy to the arrangement with very structured opportunities for soloing. Black, Brown and Beige is Ellington using the structure of an orchestra suite to explore the African American experience. The suite rubbed some the wrong way when it debuted in 1943. What was Duke Ellington doing writing art music when all we want to do is dance?

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra give the ambitious composition a well polished reading. The movements are touchstones to specific periods in American history. The suite begins with “Work Song,” which opens with a brass fanfare before settling into a lazy swing tempo with the main theme being passed around in a call and response fashion. The movements reference gospel (“Come Sunday”), the African diaspora, (“West Indian Dance”) and liberations (“Emancipation Celebration”). Briana Thomas brings her rich voice to “Blues Theme Mauve.” When Black, Brown and Beige was first performed, it was inspirational as well as celebratory. We have more to celebrate in 2020, yet there is still more work to be done if we want truly live up to the credo, all men (and women) are created equal.

This quarantine is no fun, but at least I can catch up on my reading and listen to more of these releases that almost got away. I hope all of you are making the best of this weird, weird, situation. See you at the concert hall when it’s safe to go out again. ◼

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