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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pt. Sanjoy Bandopadhyay: Hameer - An Evening in Love

I would be curious to know how common it is that someone so monumentally busy still has time to keep their chops in check and remain a master player. Pandit Sanjoy Bandopadhyay's resume reads like it was put together over the course of three lifetimes; chair of a major Indian university, head researcher, private instructor, businessman, and virtuoso performer. It is that final aspect to which we are initiated in this stunning sitar recording; "Hameer - An Evening in Love."

Pandit Sanjoy Bandopadhyay is a rare performer and a true delight to all who love Indian classical music. He is a virtuoso in every respect, capable of playing the most complicated and fast passages with relative ease - but in this recording it is his subtle lines and delicate phrasing that makes it such a brilliant work. The recording quality itself is really nice too, which makes one really appreciate the tabla player employed for the session. All in all, I have enjoyed hearing this recording over and over.

The recording is available on here 
and his website is

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bizono: New York Diaries

One thing for which I am ever grateful about YouTube (and I will never take for granted) is the related video function on the right side of whatever I’m watching. My newest stumble is the band Bizono, at this point I would really like to tell you all more about these gentleman, but sadly my internet sleuthing just hasn’t turned up very much. Obviously these guys have been around for some time (maybe not as one cohesive band) as their musicianship just screams: seasoned. If any of you readers know anything about these cats, please drop a line and let the rest of us know.

The album on which I am writing is titled “New York Diaries,” and is a soul-stirring collection of songs inspired by the author; Dorothy Parker.  The first time I heard the song “Men I’m Not Married To,” I really didn’t know what to make of it. Here were these gentlemen playing gritty musical lines and vocals  over very Broadway-musical sounding instrumentals and melodies. It was extremely catchy, to be sure – but at the same time, I just didn’t know what I was hearing.

Over the course of the next few days, I found myself humming the melody and creeping back to YouTube to hear the song again (by this time I had also been incessantly singing the song and driving my wife nuts). So I decided to find out more about these folks, which basically ended with me clicking on their website and listening to the rest of the album.

Each one of their songs is as captivating as the last; I just haven’t been able to turn it off which is pretty awful considering their link to download the album doesn’t seem to work anymore. The album is slow for the most part, it’s the kind of music you want to hear in a bar with seven of your closest friends very nearby. With its soulful guitars sometimes arpeggiated, sometimes playing heartbreaking leads, its not the kind of music you talk over. The vocalist; Hajo Winkler has a very aggressive voice, almost the kind of tone you would expect from a performer at an old-circuit poetry slam. At the same time though, he exercises incredible control over his tone and pitch making it fit perfectly into the soundscape. The drumming is very tasteful and shows up exactly when needed and hangs back when it is not. Some track also feature synthetics – such as the song: “Within My Skin.” The songs, overall, can get very orchestral at times.

I would like to think that Bizono won’t be just another fold in the overcrowded bed of music on the internet. But my inability to download the tracks or find any information on this act leads me to fear the worst. In the meantime, though, do yourself a favor and hop over to to have a listen.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review: Evan Shinners, @Bach

Is there anything new that could possibly be done with Bach? For a long time since Glenn Gould's recording of the Goldberg variations, some of us had widely assumed that the best of Bach was preserved and we could all purchase budget recordings and live our lives content.  Evan Shinners seems to have challenged that notion with his live recording @Bach, originally released in April of 2011.

I was first exposed to this album by visiting Shinners's website which plays a moody and at times playful video of the young pianist dressed up to be the rude-boy of Baroque music. From a marketing standpoint, this is a somewhat risky venture as the cut-away footage to silly dialogue and images carries with it the potential of appearing pretentious. On the other hand, it does allow some insight to an artist present in a genre which is often accused of being stuffy, snobbish and uninviting. Here we get to see some degree of eccentricity - there is a chance for genuine personality even if it is somewhat gimmick-ish.

First the technical: Shinners plays beautifully and passionately, his lines are clearly identifiable and very melodic (so very important in Bach). The more hard-nosed fans might disparage his use of the damper pedal, but it is something that I applaud. I have always felt that by the very nature of performing Bach on a piano, one is automatically doing an adaptation. Therefore; we should be willing to use the tools the piano has to offer us. That aside, there is a remarkable versatility in terms of character in this recording. From playful minuets, to more aggressive toccatas, to a very elegant allemande, everything comes out very connected yet very diverse at the same time.

Shinners does address the audience at a few points during his performance to talk about various subjects such as history and his aims in "keeping improvisation alive." This leads me to believe that the album is really meant to mirror the experience of actually being at the concert, which again is something that I applaud. In our digital age of MP3s and hit singles, it has been some time since there has been a recording released with the aim of being a complete experience.

As for recording quality, it seems to be somewhat decidedly low-fi by modern standards. In a way, this is charming for the solo piano, but the album features an ensemble concerto at the end of the performance and  something just sounds off. Everything seems to be very well-played but because the balance doesn't have that "gone over with a fine-toothed-comb" sound, it comes off a little bit like a garage recording (which works very well for a Modest Mouse track, not so much for Bach).

Overall though, I have to say that this is by far one of the most innovative Bach albums to be attempted by any artist in a long while. And, while I may take issue with Evan Shinners promotional character - I refuse to fault him for bringing something very needed to the classical world. In the end, it will be interesting to see if this gamble pays off. In the meantime - the recording (at least the piano sections) are very worth hearing and buying.

The album is available on Amazon

Perfect Songs Series: Tori Amos, Cloud on My Tongue

It isn't the first song that comes to mind when we think "Tori Amos," I know - but, I always felt that this little gem was way over-looked. The first thing that made me take notice was an otherwise diatonic progression but then the subtle introduction of the flatted sixth in the piano gives the accompaniment a pathetic/futile feeling in the most beautiful way. It is also characteristic of Ms. Amos that there can be genuine texture to the song, there doesn't always have to be bass, there doesn't always have to be complete chords - which means that when they appear it is all the more satisfying. The balance of bowed strings versus percussive piano is also something that mirrors the gracefulness of a ballerina on a tightrope. Finally, the climactic section of the song in the last 30 seconds being in such a low tessitura is something with which songwriters should take note.

Perfect Songs Series: Introduction

Its a project that I have been meaning to do for some time. Often I am trying to direct students and aspiring performers to role-models I feel would benefit their development musically. So, perhaps "perfect songs" is a little misleading, really what I want to do is create a list of works that really shine in retrospect. These pieces are exemplary not only for their technical aspects, but aesthetic ones as well. They will be forthcoming in no particular order.