The Morning Exercise Music Philosophy
As a reminder to readers, therefore, the idea behind this regular column is that for most of my life I avoided classic daily physical exercise because I felt I was able to avoid it and it bored me to death. In recent years, I had a kind of flash of aged inspiration and realized that I might bore myself to death if I DON’T exercise. (No time in life for exercise? No! No time in life to NOT exercise!) That did not, however, alleviate the boredom of doing them. So it is that when not doing my nighttime exercise of riding my unicycle around the neighborhood – which does NOT bore me – or jogging – which does bore me to a degree – I do my exercises in the morning (sit ups, push ups, etc.) while listening to new (and old) CDs that I acquire from compilations of magazines, that I also occasionally buy or receive from budding musicians at open mics, or any other source.
I do not pretend to be a music critic, but simply to talk about and describe, and give my impressions of the music I listen to during my morning exercises. Keep in mind that my impressions and opinions, therefore, will have been formed while straining to reach a record number of push ups, sit ups, couch ups, stretch downs and simply catching my breath. So maybe my opinion will be warped.
The Haunting Rock ‘n’ Croon of Thomas ArloThomas Arlo is a young American expat musician who I have seen for years at the open mics, almost always playing solo with his guitar and his interpretations of cover songs – Beirut, Gainsbourg, others – in a voice part rock and part crooner, as well as his own well-constructed songs. There’s a touch of Elvis in the croon, and a touch of I don’t know what in the rock. But there’s truth to it, and an otherworldliness. In any case, when Thomas sent me the link to the songs of his first EP, called “Room,” I was truly delighted to find five recordings done in the same complete simplicity and purity of his performances at the open mics, but with some tracks having light touches of overdubbing, other musicians and instruments, and the most effective, a duet with Amélie Pagenel. I’d also seen Amélie at the open mics, but when I heard her voice here, I wondered who was this amazing singer. Thomas now seems to have disappeared to live in Greece – without a word, without a trace – but we’ve got his music here wherever else we might be in the world, and I highly recommend it. My two favorite songs are “Bolder of Men,” which is constructed in a similar way to “Sympathy for the Devil,” (and a touch of Dylanesque diction and phrasing) but is amazingly haunting. And then I like the one with Amélie, called “Either Way,” with alternating singing between the two. So go and give a listen to this great Room, by Thomas Arlo.
Paolo Alderighi and the Italian Stride PianoA few years ago, while flying from Tokyo back to Paris, I loaded my guitar bag above my seat in the Air France flight, sat down and the young man next to me asked about the guitar. We got into a conversation, and I learned that he was a pianist, Italian, and returning from a concert in Japan. We ended up talking music for most of the night flight, and I even let him hear some of mine. What I learned later was that I had been discussing music with one of Italy’s greatest upcoming jazz pianists on the international scene: Paolo Alderighi. I immediately looked him up on YouTube to hear his music, and found this amazing thing of an Italian playing that distinctive American style of jazz piano known as Stride, that arose in parts of the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s – notably St. Louis – and that he was highly respected even in the U.S., and around the world. It was only last September that I finally got a couple of his CDs, and had a real good listen. We have met several times in Milan now, when I travel there for the Grand Prix and if he happens to be in town. And since we first met, he has also had a kind of fairy tale meeting with a woman named Stephanie Trick, an American who is a world leader in the stride piano style: The two of them got married, and now in addition to playing concerts separately, they also play together in the magnificent and awe-inspiring “four-hand” mode. So I listened with great self-division as to which thing I preferred: The CD of the two of them together – “Sentimental Journey” – or Paolo’s solo album called “Around Broadway.” The former is full of punch and dazzling fireworks, while the latter takes classic broadway songs – Berline, Gershwin, Rodgers, etc. – as a starting point, and Paolo then flies off into his own bits of interpretation and improvisation. The conclusion? I love both CDs. But I am no expert at all in matters of jazz piano. So how best to describe Paolo’s music? There’s a great description on the liner notes from the respected Michael Steinman: Although some may characterize Paolo Alderighi as “a jazz pianist,” “a fine young musician,” “a gifted improviser,” his true designation is both simpler and more profound. Paolo Alderighi is an artist.
Introducing Juliette Jules – a French Teenager Gone GlobalAnd speaking of fairy tales, one of the more interesting stories – and voices – that I’ve heard recently is that of a 16-year-old French girl named Juliette Jules, who was playing songs on her guitar in a park in Paris a while back when she was overhead by a Canadian music producer. The Canadian approached her, listened, spoke, queried, whatever… and ended up taking Juliette Jules on as an artist, recording her, promoting her, and now the 16-year-old is in the midst of a fully-fledged career beginning, with great reviews from around the world for Juliette’s first EP, “Black Crow,” containing her own songs but also the Leonard Cohen hit, Hallelujah. She has been praised all over for a voice of experience beyond her years, but for me, years never matter: Only the music counts. I first listened with a sceptical ear, as someone who has attended more open mics around the world than most people, and so heard just about every form of talent that exists. (Well, not quite.) But from my immediate first impressions with an obvious comparison to Lana Del Rey, I’m picking up new sounds and impressions every time I listen. There is definitely something rich and interesting in this woman’s voice. I can’t wait to hear her live, and to see where the next batch of recordings will take us (she recorded a new series last summer). Definitely a cool story.
A Progressive 3rdegree Takes Me Back in TimeAt the beginning of the era of progressive rock, I was a fan. I listened to bands like Gentle Giant, Genesis, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Van Der Graf Generator, Yes, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, you name it. I loved it at the time because it was progressive rock music. It was taking rock into another future realm, going the next step, beyond the clichés, beyond the blues. It was adding a classical element to rock too, in fact, but in a “progressive”-feeling way. I never lost my interest in those bands, really, even if I listen to them rarely now, and have rarely listened to them for decades. So all of this is to expose my musical ignorance by saying that although I only had the vaguest idea that there was still a genre called progressive rock, it was really only in reciving an invitation to download the latest album of a progressive rock band from the U.S. called 3rdegree, which is well known in American progressive rock circles, did I realize that progressive rock had actually ceased to progress much since the days I listened to it. But that is NOT to denigrate it! In fact, if you listen to the blues, you realize that it is a style of play, and that it is made up of certain themes, styles, chords, etc., and that it has not exactly “developed” either. Great musical styles do not necessarily have to develop. So I was completely amazed when I listened to this band that has been around since 1989 was playing music that I completely understood the basis to, felt was speaking a “progressive rock language” and that I could comfortably say I knew where they were coming from. The album, “The Long Division,” (wait, what was that Pink Floyd album? The Division Bell?) just felt so familiar, yet at once different. I could understand and identify with the riffs, I could expect certain themes, knew where they came from, whatever. It was an acquired language. Now, the only thing I can say about my initial feelings about the name of this genre is that I feel it unfortunate that it was ever named “progressive,” since that indicates to me that it should be like a James Joyce situation where each novel gets totally more crazy and progressive than the next… or am I mixing up the idea of “experimental” music and writing…. Anyway, suffice it to say that I got a lot of exercise out of the Long Division and the computing I did in my head over progressive rock….
And Finally, a New Beautiful Indie Band, Called ForebearAnd finally, thanks for having got this far with me, if you did. One of the things that made me get this edition out now, was that just a couple of days ago I received an interesting email via my BradSpurgeonMusic.com site, but referring to this blog, with a few links to the debut EP of an interesting indie band from the U.S. called Forebear, inviting me to download the Forebear EP. I had nothing to listen to for my morning exercises and I immediately downloaded it, and listened. I stopped exercising for a while on a couple of the tracks to listen to the music and lyrics!!! I preferred the slightly slower, more folk-oriented songs – if you can call it folk – and especially loved the guitar on one of the tracks, which reminded me distinctly of the sound of a friend of mine who lives in LA also, and whose 1997 album, “Billy’s Not Bitter,” won an LA Music Award for the best independent album that year. There are some fabulous melodies, I really like the singer’s voice, but that ethereal guitar stuff is the winner. As are some of the lyrics, particularly this one line that really stopped me in my stride: “we are same sides of a different coin/permanently engraved with the year we were born” Just go and check out Forebear’s EP immediately.
Well, that rounds that up. Another, rather large, morning exercise crop of CDs, my ninth edition since I started doing this in April of 2013….