Staff Picks: Music
Big Blue Ball began in the early 1990s as a collaborative project between Peter Gabriel and Karl Wallinger (World Party, Waterboys). The project draws from three separate recording sessions (1991, 1992, 1995) at Peter’s Real World Studios, a two hundred year old watermill in Wiltshire, UK, which has been converted to a state of the art recording studio. 75 artists from 20 countries participated in the famed Recording Weeks at Real World, with the idea of bringing artists together from a wide variety of cultures to find common ground through collaborative writing and performing. These sessions, all painstakingly recorded though without a clear project in mind, were essentially swept under the rug as other projects took priority. The tapes finally saw the light of day during a studio “house cleaning” project and were at last released just last year on Real World Records (distributed domestically by Ryko).
According to Peter, “The Big Blue Ball was a working name for a project that would pull in elements from all around the world. The title came from listening to an astronaut describe his experience of looking back at the earth. All other divisions seemed ridiculous and arbitrary, because there’s the planet, the whole thing — and that idea seemed to make a lot of sense for this project.” In an interview for NPR last year, Peter went on to add, “...there were musicians from all over the world — songwriters, poets, all thrown together — and all sorts of connections happened.”
Akin to scope and spirit of WOMAD, the result is a diverse musical landscape with a uniquely lush blend of styles – vocals (America, UK, Congo), percussion (Japan, Senegal), strings (Egypt), flutes (China), you name it — musicians from Ireland to Budapest, Alabama to Tanzania, writing and performing simply for the sheer joy of it. Funny, isn’t it? How despite our differences, we all seem to speak the same language after all? If you’re a fan of complexly layered rhythms and interestingly diverse instrumentation, you won’t be disappointed.
And if simply listening isn't enough, you're invited to add your own spin to one of the tracks from Big Blue Ball, "Exit Through You," via Real World Remixed. Simply visit the Real World Remixed site, download the specially prepared multi-track samples, add your own vocals, backing tracks, instrumentation, whatever, then upload your version back to the Remixed site for all the world to hear and comment on. What a small, flat, wonderful and exciting world it is.
Big Blue Ball
Searching through the music section at Central Library is akin to a treasure hunt – no matter how many times you’ve visited, there always seems to be something new and exciting lurking in the shadows just waiting to be discovered. Such is the case with Miles from India, a double set from last year that features the music of (and inspired by) Miles Davis performed by a cross-section of Miles’ alumni in collaboration with some of the top musicians from India. The result is (as the cover states) “a cross-cultural celebration of the music of Miles Davis.”
Miles was greatly moved by music from other cultures. Non-Western influences permeated his music at every stage of his career. Miles constantly seemed to pull new ideas and sounds from around the globe and blend them into something unique and new. From his earliest recordings with ‘Bird’ in the 40’s, through seminal sessions over the following four decades, Miles took his music to the world, then brought it back to us in ways we had never heard before (or since, for that matter). Miles in Tokyo, Miles in Berlin, in Warsaw, in Paris, in Sweden, Filles de Kilimanjaro, Agharta, Nefertiti, Sketches of Spain, On the Corner…
Miles from India is a remarkable effort. Recorded November 2006-July 2007 and nominated for a Grammy in 2008, the sessions gather more than a dozen members of Miles’ bands, including Gary Bartz, Ron Carter, Chick Corea, Michael Henderson, Dave Liebman, John McLaughlin, Marcus Miller, Wallace Roney, Mike Stern, Lenny White (you get the idea…). Add to this an all-star lineup of key players of traditional and contemporary music from India and mix thoroughly at the skillful hands of Grammy Award winning producer Bob Belden (with executive producer Yusuf Gandhi) and you get more than two hours of surprisingly essential world fusion. (There’s a good article on PRI about the project, including an interview with Gandhi.)
And the really nice thing about this set... it comes off feeling authentic and real, not like some sort of cheap imitation. In my opinion, Miles would have loved this record, and that alone should say enough.
Here’s a clip of the album's opening track, “Spanish Key,” right from Bob Belden himself. Recorded last summer in LA (at a concert produced by Yusuf Gandhi and Bob Belden), it features some hauntingly Miles-drenched trumpet by Wallace Roney…
Miles from India
My first encounter with the American composer Philip Glass was several years ago and honestly, one of shock and awe. Clearly, at the time, I wasn’t ready for his brand of repetitive music structures strung together with an odd assortment of instrumentation and vocal textures. Now several years later, Glass’ eerily minimalist symphonies, hauntingly beautiful film scores (The Hours, Kundun, Fog of War), Eastern inflected rhythms, and evocative ensemble compositions have become some of my favorite classical tracks to listen to.
John Adams is another wonderful composer whose work I’ve recently embraced. His music is often thrown under the heading “minimalism” along with Glass and notable avant-garde musicians Stephen Reich and Terry Reily. Adams’ music, like Glass’ work, tends to generate its melodic color from alterations or subtle tweaking of a foundational harmony. Both deeply expressive and at times jarringly dark, Adams' music has been both widely honored and praised for its humanist themes and boundary-expanding nature.
The Dharma at Big Sur