Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Weekly Playlist - 11/20/05 (better late than never)

Susan Martinez
Sierra Maestra, Son: Soul of a Nation (Riverboat/World Music Network)
Sierra Maestra, Dundunbanza! (World Circuit)

José Antonio "Maceo" Rodríguez died on November 6th, on tour in Copenhagen following a performance. He was 52 years old. His passing was barely noted in the press, but he was one of Cuba's greatest soneros and co-founder of Sierra Maestra, the group most responsible for reviving interest in Cuban sones from earlier in the century.

I sometimes use the phrase "fall in love" when I describe music, and this is one of those times. Rodriguez' voice and Sierra Maestra remain my first love of Cuban music, equaled by my admiration for tres player Eliades Ochoa, and all of them deeply inspired by the late, great Arsenio Rodriguez (no relation). I remember the exact moment I heard Sierra Maestra for the first time in October 1994—arriving in Berlin for the first WOMEX world music conference, a friend playing a pre-release of Dundunbanza! on the World Circuit label.

Impossible rhythms came from guitars, percussion, palmas, and brass, supporting each other seamlessly. I shook my head figuring how the instrumentation could be so distinct and so impossibly intertwined. The chorus could be trumpets, congas, or human voices; the rhythm came from guitars while the skins of drums had melody, and then a piano, carrying a polyrhythm, exploded in a glorious solo. But most of all, there was Rodriguez' voice. A great sonero, his voice soared over the instrumentation, sweet, playful, eloquent, strong.

I was immediately hooked and became consumed with exploring Cuban music. Sierra Maestra's most recent US tour was cancelled due to anti-Cuban policy by our federal government, as were appearances by also recently-departed Ibrahim Ferrer (including a trip to receive his Grammy Award and perform at the awards show). But great music won't be stopped by artificial borders; in fact, music is the greatest bridge across borders, even death. Rodriguez leaves us with brilliant recordings and his legacy will live on via the musicians he inspired and influenced around the world.

Matt Orel
Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run: 30th Anniversary (Columbia).
Audio and video, though I haven't gotten through the entire video yet. Best line, toward the end of "Spirit in the Night": "Where'd my hat go?" Lori was laughing out loud at that one . . . heck, that hat should get a nomination for best supported actor.

Fred Wilhelms
Lost Country, Long Gone Thrill (Cool Grove Records, www.thecoolgrove.com)
I'm a sucker for honest music played really well, and this CD suits me just fine. Jim Colegrove is a veteran of 40+ years with bands like Bo Grumpus (they played the Café Wha? at the same time as the Castiles), and Great Speckled Bird. A lot of fun, and how can you beat "I lived fast, I lived hard, but it's too late to die young" as a lyric?

Danny Alexander
Various Artists, Masters of Horror (Immortal)
This Showtime horror series' producer, Mick Garris, says something close to my vulgar heart in the liner notes, that "horror is to cinema what rock'n'roll is to music," and the four episodes of the series shown so far and the 30 bands featured in this collection make strong cases for the ongoing vitality of both forms.

Stewart Francke
Bruce Springsteen,Born to Run: 30th Anniversary (Columbia)
Specifically, theHammersmith Odeon Concert DVD. Watching this grainy concert footage absolutely bowled me over emotionally. Not as a nostalgist; I didn't see Springsteen in concert until the '78 Darkness on the Edge of Town tour. And while I know every nook and cranny of the Born To Run album, I'd never seen the band with that much innocence, wild ambition, youthful camaraderie and just plain chops. As Bruce has straightened out his tempos and cut away at the complexity of his arranging, he's aimed straight at the heart of current age. Hell he's created the heart of the current age. But it's this period—coming out of the lanky jazz drumming of his first two records and the buoyant soul he found his identity in—that is his apex to me. The hardest rock here is probably “Born To Run” itself, and the band rolls far more than it rocks. Bruce in a snow cap, everyone else dressed as kids-just-turned-pimps; it's about the coolest thing I've ever seen. I was breathing in 1975, but hearing this music for the first time that fall helped bring me to life. My highlight is “Kitty's Back.”


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