I am posting this from my hotel room in Taipei, Taiwan! The trip from my house in Washington DC to Taipei, door to door, was over 26 hours. I had the chance to listen to a lot of great music on my trip and I thought I would comment on it here. I love hearing what other musicians are listening to so I am going to make this a regular feature of the blog. I did something similar to this a long time ago but was recently inspired to try again by the blogs of both John William Banther and Sam Davis. All of the music that I listen to, both good and bad, is data for the “tuba in my head” that Arnold Jacobs used to reference all the time. I use every performance, regardless of musical style or what instrument is being played, to shape my next performance on the tuba.
Here is what I listened to on my day long trip to Taiwan with some brief commentary:
'The Suburbs' - Arcade Fire
This group was new to me last year. I had heard them referenced by a number of people on my twitter feed over and over again. Since these were people who liked a lot of the same music I did I decided to give them a shot. They are a fantastic pop/rock band from Canada that is deservedly receiving a ton of critical acclaim these days. This album has beautiful melodies throughout, occasionally haunting ones. It is definitely a little on the dark side of pop music but it is original sounding, very well produced and performed, and is a rare album these days that is just as strong on the second “side” of the “record” as the first.
'Orchestrion' - Pat Metheny
This is another album from 2010 that was recommended by a good friend and great music writer Sam Davis of Dog Gone Blog. Talk about an assault on the senses. The opening title track of this album features gentle, virtuostic lines interwoven throughout creating a thick sonic tapestry. When music is this technically difficult the ultimate compliment I can give it is to say that is sounds effortless. Pat Metheny, for my taste, is one of the best in the business at making amazingly difficult music sound natural. The last 3-4 minutes of the opening track is worth the price of the entire album.
'Picaresque' - The Decemberists
Another great band that I discovered through Twitter! This was the first time I ever heard this album but it came highly recommended from a friend. I am not a big lyrics guy but this band's music tells some very interesting stories. Their music is a combination of folk, pop, rock and occasionally steroids. Any band that can play such tunes with this kind of intensity and drive featuring almost no distortion at all is doing something right. And that can be followed up by a tune with nothing but accoustic guitar and vocals. Tons of variety in both song writing and instrumentation. If nothing else check out the track '16 Military Wives'. This ones got some horns thrown in and an uber-catchy chorus.
'The Bends' – Radiohead
Did someone say distortion? I was evidently living under a rock when Radiohead came to prominence in the '90s which I am ashamed to admit. I had barely heard their material until a little over a year ago. The first album I listened to was 'OK Computer'. There have not been many if any rock albums that spoke to me as loudly as it did on the first listen. I was a combination of fist pumping and speachless the first time through. I had not heard 'The Bends' until this flight and was predictably blown away. And talk about a sonic tapestry, while completely different from the one I described in 'Orchestrion' this band has the ability to make you feel like you are taking a bath in their sound. Thick, lush guitar licks with tons of feedback combined with brilliant song writing and the haunting voice of Thom Yorke and you get what is becoming one of my favorite bands of all time.
'Continuum' – John Mayer
I couldn't stand this guy for a long time. Every time I heard him interviewed I cringed. But my wife is a huge fan of his music so I was finally able to give his music a fare shake without bringing his 'tude into the discussion. When I opened my ears I found a smoking guitar player, great singer, and even better song writer. If you buy this album on iTunes it comes with a fascinating 10 minute video on the making of the tune 'In Repair' with one of my favorite musicians Charlie Hunter. I dare anyone to watch that video, see the process of how the tune got written and the collaboration of the artists, and not find it pretty darn interesting. Regardless of what you think of him as a person (there are plenty of words that come to mind that I won't print here) he is as gifted a musician as there is today in the pop world and I believe his songs will be around a long time from now.
Live Recording of Phish from 12/28/10
Anyone who knows me knows that Phish is my favorite band. By far. And by band I should clarify and say my favorite group of musicians playing any style of music in the world. There artistry speaks to me like no other music I've ever heard. This was one of five shows that the band just played over the New Years Eve period. They are a very difficult band to sum up in a paragraph but the reason I keep coming back is that you never know what they are going to play or how they are going to play it. This show featured a song, Harry Hood, that I have personally seen performed over 30 times in concert with each one being different. But after playing this tune live for over two decades, they came out of nowhere with the most unique and interesting version I've ever heard. Rather than the fluid, melodic soloing that the guitar player, Trey Anastasio, always plays this tune with he approached the solo section with a very choppy yet fluid stacatto approach which left a ton of space for the other three musicians to explore. It is nuance like this that makes me keep coming back to this band over and over again. As a result of Phish, I try to bring the same fresh approach to classical pieces I've been playing for years and it is always a rewarding experience. You can buy a soundboard copy of the show here directly from the band. A portion of the proceeds goes to a fantastic charity, The Mockingbird Foundation, that donates all of its money to music education.