Some while ago Dylan Trigg asked whether it is possible to think of musical intervals independently of spatial extensions. The short answer is yes. The long answer is very long indeed, but perhaps not much of an answer. I've been giving a lot of thought to harmonic thinking, how not to do a phenomenology of listening (*cough* Don Ihde *cough*), but I simply cannot fathom what an originary way of listening would be. Morning. An ornithologist hears a robin doing something robins do while a musician hears a bb, or the 13th harmonic of a D, which is not quite equivalent, and cognitively quite a different sort of operation. A bad example perhaps because in my experience robins don't dig anything past the 12th harmonic, whereas many musicians, Giya Kancheli, for instance, evidently do. Digging beyond the 12th harmonic is going outside the received harmonic world of the twelve-tone equal temperament tuning system--Okay, so is the 11th, but we can always fudge it and, a la George Russell perhaps, play as if our tonal system were consistent with natural harmonics. Fudging it: that's the name of the game in harmonic systems. The blue sixth (13th harmonic) is well established in several musical traditions, but I don't know of any working musical system that fully comports with the harmonic series. You always have to bend a little somewhere. The fundamental question here for me is whether the kind of musical training that enables one to identify the 13th harmonic brings one closer to the original sonic phenomenon or whether the cultural mediation involved in producing trained musicians shapes the perception of sound to such a degree that the way musicians hear things ought not be understood as primary by any stretch. This is partially moot because I believe most musicians would recognize the ratio represented by the thirteenth harmonic as a blue sixth or blue thirteenth (i.e., thirteenth tone from the tonic) before they would recognize it as a harmonic. And yet....
Enough for now. In addition to robins, I've been listening to a lot of music, going through a new batch of cd's. In the Heart of the Moon by Touré and Diabaté is as good as it gets. I have listened to a bit of kora music, live and recorded. This recording is the best I've ever heard that instrument sound, as if your head were right there in the calabash. Both musicians use harmonics to great effect, and the recording seemingly captures it all. Wow.
The first time I really listened to pianist Hank Jones was on the album Sarala which featured a kora player by the name of Djely-Moussa Condé. There's some really fine music on that album, and the whole session is exemplary of what afrojazz fusion ought to be about. A couple of years of ago I bought a Hank Jones cd and was disappointed by the shabbiness of the recording and, frankly, the listlessness of Jones' playing. It was definitely not a date worth putting on record. But one bad session was not enough to sour me on Jones. I recently picked up Joyous Encounter from Joe Lovano featuring Hank Jones on the piano. I've long been a fan of Lovano's beefy tenor sound, so the only risk I saw here was that they would be playing standards and maybe not giving it their all. As it turns out, it's solid. There's plenty of energy on these cuts, and loveliness too.
I've been in awe of Gonzalo Rubalcaba since hearing him live, oh, about ten years ago. Now this is a cat that dwells in the upper harmonic realms. I've bought quite a few of his recordings, but I haven't appreciated them all equally. The ones I like most are like Diz, because Rubalcaba can be very moody, but he also really does have exquisite time, so I prefer to hear him being moody at a furious pace. Paseo finds him with Ignacio Berroa on drums. Man, this is good stuff.
Unless you're a hardcore monkophile or jazz historian you may not have heard of Elmo Hope. A long time ago I picked up Harold Land's The Fox because it featured Hope on piano, and they played several of his compositions. It was a little disappointing. (I've never quite dug that whole Westcoast scene.) However, recently I snagged a Bluenote reissue (limited edition connoisseur cd series) called Elmo Hope: Trio and Quintet. Oh, this is it. If you dig Herbie Nichols, Bud Powell and Monk, you have to listen to this.
Labels: Dizzy Gillespie, Djely-Moussa Condé, Elmo Hope, George Russel, Hank Jones, Idhe, Ignacio Berroa, Joe Lovano, Kancheli, kora, piano, Rubalcaba, solitude, tenor saxophone, Toumani Diabaté, Trigg