Author: Anthony Puentes

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Norah Jones Live at the Baloise Session

Recognized Jazz singer Norah Jones performed at the Baloise Session music festival held in Basel, Switzerland on November 7, 2016. The concert was aired by the Arte channel on February, 2017. A fusion of styles as well as different genres were mixed in this concert highlight the vocal, piano and guitar talent of Norah. Her voice fits every genre of music and she certainly proves it by using these varieties in her live performances and recorded albums. In this particular performance, Norah uses her classical jazz style with fusions of blues and blue-eyed soul. There are also blends of country and pop in some of the pieces. Although is was not a virtuosic performance as we expect from a jazz concert, she pulled it off by the beautiful timbre of her voice, which has an excellent way of interpretation.

Norah begins the performance with “Day breaks“, a song that titles her last album released in October, 2016. A fusion of jazz harmony with a steady rock pop rhythm makes of this song an interesting piece. Perhaps the most relevant album of Norah’s career “Come away with me” have a series of songs people were expecting to hear. On the second track of this concert, she sings “I’ve got to see you again“, a fusion jazz piece that includes the mellow combination of musical factors that interpret the need to see the person she loves. A rhythm going constantly with a few syncopated chords from the piano and some motifs now and then, helps set the scene. An ambient guitar with doubles the piano solo in echo, a quiet bass almost silent, sets the platform for Norah’s voice to stand out. She puts the bluesy mellow tone in her vocal performance allowing the piece to be felt.

Jones performed other hits such as “Burn“, “Out on the Road“, “Tragedy“, “Sunrise“, “Don’t Know Why“, among others. This was a concert with moments of emotion and sparks but it was not 100% spectacular. Jones is not the most expressive person on stage which is particularity strange due to the sweetness of her voice. The other musicians were not great at all. There was no Jazz coming out of them. They sounded more like pop musicians than Jazz, which kills the flavor of it. She should’ve stick with one genre, either Jazz or Pop, but the mixture didn’t work in this case. In general it was pulled off thanks to her talent, but it could’ve been marvelous. Lots of fusions are arising nowadays, some of them work other don’t but it’s always good to explore new venues. The key element is having the right people to perform, because that will affect no matter how talent the artist is. Norah sounds way better in other performances and recordings, specially when she is accompanied by great musicians. Although this was not her best performance it does not devalue her talent. She is an amazing  singer and musician and she shines specially when the instrumentation is limited. This lets her talent blossom.

Sounds of the World: A Synthesis of World Music, Sampling and Soundscapes

Inspired by Sacred Spaces, the exhibition held in the Rubin Museum of Art NYC, which explores the soundscapes of the Himalayas including their winds as well as the soundscapes of the most high located buddhist monasteries, I decided to take further the concept presented by the exhibition and explore a few sound concepts that are shown in the world today. As a manner of execution I am also including the concept of sampling. The reason is that thanks to the advancement of sampling technology, we can experience the perception of this sounds without leaving home. In this journey we will explore not only what this particular exhibition offers, but also how the world sounds and how the people of the world transmits music. During my visit I did some sampling myself in order to capture the sounds presented in the exhibition to share with you.

I am going to divide this study in 4 parts. The first part is going to include a review of the exhibition with sampled sounds of all the recordings shown there. Secondly, we will explore the sacred sounds of the world. This is going to be in relation to people around the world, how they project music in a perspective considered by them as sacred. Next we will explore culture expression through music by quickly analyzing how people make music around the world. Lastly, we will explore 4 natural soundscapes of the world,  fascinating samples recorded in remote parts of earth. Note that every single audio, nor picture I’m sharing was not downloaded from the internet. They belong in part to sound libraries set for Kontakt, a virtual instrument that executes sampled material. These samples were rearranged, mixed and mastered by me, for the purpose of this study. So, I invite you to…

THE EXHIBITION

Not too much to see on the forth floor of the Rubin Museum, but a lot to sense. There are 4 different spaces that offers these recordings in order to sense them differently. The first one is a hallway with 2 screens projecting holograms. They have seats and headphones for people to sit, listen and watch while entering in a estate of meditation. At one end of the hallway there are 3 turntables with headphones for people to listen the recordings in vinyl.

HEADPHONES
HEADPHONES 2

VINYL

The next room is a the shrine room. This space was conditioned with elements of a buddhist prayer room. The sounds played there are the monastery sounds recorded in the Himalayas. The experience is interesting knowing that by only listening I felt cold. Maybe the sound makes that effect but it surely drives the senses to explore something different.

THE SHRINE ROOM

The most important part of the exhibition is a sound room conditioned and structured to play the sound recordings with sound proof capabilities. It offers 2 tower speakers one at each end and in between there are several studio monitors side by side playing the wind sounds. The main speakers play the soundscapes focused on closed spaces whereas the studio monitors play the open soundscapes environment.

Front speaker
back speaker
side monitors

I managed to collect high quality samples from these devices thanks to my Zoom H6 Recorder which offers top professional quality sampling. This last sample of the exhibition was recorded while I walk thru the room side by side.

Walking

Although the exhibition name is Sacred Spaces, the soundscapes recordings relate more to open spaces rather than sacred places, that is why I think the title is not completely accurate and its more relating to religious disciplines such as meditation or yoga. On the bottom floors of the museum there are exhibitions with more visual content focusing more on the sacred aspects of these asian cultures. 

HOW PEOPLE WORSHIP

The world is a fascinating venue full of color and variety. People around it have different beliefs, credos and rituals. However, the all have one thing in common and that is music. This is an important element for every human being because it’s a way of expression. There are different religious practices and there are different sacred sounds. In this section, we will explore some of the sacred sounds around the world. How people sing or chant their sacred music in order to worship what they considered divine.

First of, in North America, the Native Americans chant their war and tribal chants. The following audio was sampled from an original Native chant in the United States.

Moving next to South America, more exactly Peru, a Quechua song worshiping Pachamama of the goddess Earth. The accompaniment is not part of the traditional ritual, but is was adapted in modern rituals.

Heading East to Europe we can find the Gregorian Chants and the Mystic Songs of the Roman Catholic Church.

Moving South to Africa, the Protestant Church reaches several parts of the continent, forming choirs of worship to Jesus.

In Malawi Africa a traditional tribal chant sang by a girl.

Moving to the Middle East an Israeli woman sings a traditional Jewish Psalm.

We will end this sacred journey with a sacred mantra.

HOW PEOPLE SING

Our next journey explores how people sing around the world. Popular music differs in cultures according to customs and languages. It is amazing how music sounds different as we move from place to place, maintaining and interest and admiration. All the music around the world is wonderful.

Let’s begin at the Caribbean with a Jamaican reggae. This excerpt contains the first half with only vocals and the rest with the accompaniment. Please focus on the vocal interpretation since this study is focused on vocal interpretation and soundscapes.

Moving to the Alps in Europe where the Swedish Yodel their famous folk music.

In Bulgaria a traditional folk song.

A beautiful traditional Ukrainian waltz.

 

In North Africa, Algerian hip hop artist and rapper sings a popular Algerian hiphop song.

Moving South to Cameroon a popular song with a Bossa feeling.

In Guinea, a traditional song.

Moving to Asia, a Turkish chant.

More to the Middle East, an Irani chant.

At the Northside of Far East Asia, a Mongolian quintet performs a traditional piece with drones and vocal percussive effects.

Moving South to China a duet performs a traditional piece.

Southwest China, a Balinese traditional song performed by Philippine singer.

HOW THE WORLD SOUNDS

This was a journey of sound and music exploration focusing on the soundscapes from places considered sacred. Then there was an analysis on how people uses music to practice religion and worship, ending on an exploration of traditional and popular music in around the world. Now we will end exploring 4 different soundscapes that are almost impossible to reach. Welcome to Geosonics.  Geosonics is a sample library developed by English company Soniccouture. This library offers a huge library of samples recorded by one of the world’s leading recorders of wildlife and nature, Chris Watson. The first soundscape is ice and water. This particular example was recorded in the Icelandic glaciers south the North Pole.

Secondly, we will move north to the North Pole to catch the sounds of the polar winds.

In contrast with the freezing weather, this next soundscape was sampled in the humid swamps of Africa. The notorious sound in this example are the African frogs.

Finally, in the dangerous Australian Outback there is a system of wires of interconnection, This example shows how the wind hitting these wires make a particular sound.

 

 

 

 

Flamenco Meets Jazz

What happens when a music genre full of color, dance, movement and exoticism such as Flamenco is fusion with the complexity, syncopation and groove of jazz?

The answer is the art work of multi Grammy nominee Jazz pianist and composer Chano Dominguez.

I had the opportunity to attend one of his past presentations in New York this past month of April and it was an outstanding performance full of flavor, glamour and above all, Jazz.

In a recognition to Chano’s contributions to music, I can say that his style have had inspired great musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Paquito D’ Rivera, Chucho Valdes, among others. Chano’s style expands the boundaries of what is known as Latin Jazz which has been a style particularity derived from the Afro Cuban sound. It now reaches the old continent, more specifically Spain, to bring a new fusion of sounds which transcend a long journey from the Middle East. The gypsies from Romania traveled across Europe and settled in Spain. The cultural influence in Spain is a mixture of Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. All that combined creates what is known as Flamenco. If you want to have a taste of the Flamenco sound and visual I invite you to see Flamenco Flamenco, a film production by Carlos Saura.

At the Jazz Standard, the Chano Dominguez Flamenco Quintet gave out a series of concerts from the last week of March thru the first week of April 2017. Chano had the accompaniment of Flamenco dancer Sonia Olla, recognized Flamenco singer Ismael Fernandez who happens to be Sonia’s husband, bassist Alexis Cuadrado,  and percussionist Jose Moreno.

First of all, I want to mention the negatives. The Jazz Standard is a recognized underground club offering weekly presentations with important figures of Jazz. A good thing is that this club is one of the most affordable Jazz clubs in New York City, charging an estimate of $30 per gig. Also, they do not require the purchase of beverages of food, meaning that for only $30 anyone can enjoy a fine Jazz performance. The downside is the stage and room setup and distribution. The room is long and rectangular with a low stage. This does not allow people seating in the back to contemplate the visual aspect of the performance very well. There are also columns in different parts of the room that may block the vision of the audience depending on where they are seating on. This is an important issue, in my opinion, because in order to fully enjoy a Jazz performance it is necessary a good view specially when its a live performance. I had the chance to seat close to the stage so that made me enjoy the show a lot although the one table in front of me was a bit annoying. I guess not every venue is perfect but I’ve been in other Jazz clubs before with better setups that had allowed me to view the performance in a better way even on the times I had to seat in the back. That could be a reason why this venue is affordable, who knows.

The performance took less than an hour but it was worth it. Chano began with an improvised Flamenco tune performing only instruments with no dancing and singing. After that, all the other musicians left the stage for a solo piano series of tunes. This particular solo piano performance sounded more traditional Jazz, with a few slight touches of harmonic minor scale grooves to give the Flamenco touch. The real deal became afterwards, when the whole quintet joined (including singer and dancer). Music turned more danceable and groove once the claps joined with the frequent Flamenco shouts which are particular of the genre. Colorful harmony where presented with a few varieties from the Jazz people are used to hear. In my opinion, the difference in harmony presented in Flamenco Jazz, are the implementation of harmonic minor and phrygian concepts within the harmonic and melodic structure. One of the unique features of Flamenco Jazz is the combination of these modes and scales. We usually conceptualized Flamenco Jazz as a rhythmic fusion, however this is not the only change presented. If we talk about harmony and melody, we can see that most modes are based on scales and scales are based on pitch formulas. The most common scales are the major, natural minor, melodic minor, and harmonic minor. There are others such as the whole tone scale and the chromatic scale, but these are symmetrical in their mathematical structure. in the case of the whole tone scale there are a space of one tone or a whole tone between each pitch whereas there is a semitone space between the chromatic scale. These symmetrical formulas lacks the sense of interest but they have their function. In the case of the others, they may sound different if their functions change according to their mode. The modes used in Flamenco are mainly based on harmonic minor scales. This particular sound mostly produced on the minor third interval between the sixth and seventh degree and the half step between the seventh and eight. The phrygian mode also plays an important role in Flamenco thanks to the minor second gap between the first and second degree. This sound make an interesting approach of the first degree which is a strong tone that is followed by a half step in the second degree. We are used to hear a strong tone preceded by a weak one half step below, but in this case is the opposite. This idea makes the phrygian unique. Although the locrian mode shares the same formula in these two degrees, the lack of perfect fifth makes of it a hard to use mode. The phrygian mode has the perfect fifth.

The phrygian major mode is a common mode used in Flamenco. This is mode based on the harmonic minor scale starting at the fifth degree. All of these variations set the melodic and harmonic parameters in Flamenco. But, what if we combine modes and scales within one chord or structure to create even more exotic colors? That is what Flamenco Jazz does and the one specialty of Chano’s playing. He uses often the spanish phrygian mode. This is the phrygian mode with an extra note: the major third. We can defined this as the combination between the phrygian and phrygian major modes, a combination between a major and a harmonic minor scale. This is only one example, but there are many other combinations. One combination that I have explored myself (not sure if discovered) are the combination of the first four notes of the phrygian major mode ending with the last four notes of the harmonic minor scale. For example, if we use D, then is the last four notes of the G harmonic minor staring in D and finishing with the last four of the D harmonic minor. I don’t know what the name is but I have used it and sounds great. These are one of the points that I wanted to highlight of this performance and style. There are others like rhythm, singing and dancing but they are more familiar with the basic structure of Flamenco.

Another impressive feature that I noticed in this particular performance was the instrumentation. As we know, the most important instrument in Flamenco is the guitar. Many times there are no other instruments present when Flamenco is performed. There was no guitar present in this performance. That little but important detail impressed me a lot because when I listen to Flamenco music I always expect the sound and rhythm of a guitar. The way Chano deals with instrumentation in his performances, makes a difference but never deviates from the essence of Flamenco. This is not new since other Jazz musicians have tried before. Chick Corea is one of them. However, in the case of the others, I find them to be a lot more inclined to Jazz instead of Flamenco. I can defined their style as Jazz with touches and embellishment of Flamenco. Chano is different. He maintains balance, and the amazing thing, without guitars. You don’t want it to be too Jazz nor too Flamenco. Chano is the guy for the job.

Chano met Miles Davis way back and together they worked in a few arrangements. As a tribute to Miles, Chano featured one of Miles’ popular tunes and made it a Flamenco piece. This tune was Miles Davis’ Blue in Green. It is interesting how Chano managed the arrangements in order to make it Flamenco. It was not only a fusion of Miles melody, but it included and extra feature. Chano took this Jazz Ballad and transformed it in a Flamenco poem by adding rhythm, chords and Flamenco improvisations. Not only that, he did something that was often used since the Renaissance period. He took a poem and stocked it within the tune. A poem by Rafael Alberti, a spanish poet from the Modern Era. The result was an extraordinary romantic piece well sang by Ismael.

I want to conclude this review with one more interesting feature I noticed in this performance. It is commonly known that the Modern Era brought lots of innovations in the implementation of new sounds, new compositional techniques and new ways of performance. One of these innovations was the use of extended techniques, which is extending the performance of an instrument but making sound using other types of execution rather than the normal way of playing it. Chano used a common extended technique in modernism, applied in the early 1920s by Henry Cowell, plucking the strings of the dulcimer. In order to add the missing sound of the guitar that is mostly featured in Flamenco music, Chano plucked in many occasions the strings of the dulcimer of the piano. This added a special timbre, but it was even better to watch it live. It is one of the things that deviates from the common expectancy of a Jazz performance.

I now leave you with a taste of what I consider a great performance. Enjoy.