Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Jaco

Like most kids from my generation, we learned the recorder from school music classes. I also took Chinese music lessons after school learning dizi and erhu, on which I could barely play a few tunes. And my mom bought me a harmonica which I enjoy its sound a lot. However, bass guitar is the first instrument that opened the door for me to play some "serious stuff", especially with other friends, and in a rock band setting. Compared to other years in high school, the last year was a relaxing one and I got to spend quite some time to have fun outside of studying. And nothing was cooler than starting a band with my buddies. I started out as a drummer which was a struggle for me. And our bassist bailed on us a lot so I was encouraged to sub for him: "it's so easy to pickup" (which was partially true as I got by with always playing the root of each chord as 8th notes for all songs!) I was already a metal head at that point and had quite a few favorite bands and their guitarists as my heroes. After starting to play bass, I felt that I have joined an even more exclusive "club", bass hero worshipers! The most heralded bass players at that time included Steve Harris from Iron Maiden. However, I got curious about the two guys who won all those magazine polls as best bass players: Billy Sheehan and Stu Hamm. Sheehan's live recording with his old band, Talas Years, was so hard to buy but I eventually get to listen to his highly regarded bass solo masterpiece: NV4 3345. And Stu Hamm's "King of Sleep" was one of the first cassettes I bought after I entered college. I dug his jazz fusion style very much. And surprisingly, at this point I still hadn't listen to any music of Jaco Pastorius, who had of course influenced most bass players after him, including Sheehan and Hamm (he mentioned how impressed he was after seeing Jaco's performance) As I became of jazz fan, it become inevitable for me to hear some cover version of Jaco's tunes, e.g. Portrait of Tracy, and then a whole tribute album. Still, to be honest, I never really tried listening to his albums, like his ground-breaking self-titled album from 1976 or "Word of Mouth" from 1981. I guess my taste is too conservative for his music. I am most familiar with his playing on Pat Metheny's debut album "Bright Size Life". And I did enjoy the playing of his son, Felix, on his lone recording with the jazz fusion group Yellowjackets. These days I am going through Jaco's live recordings with the Weather Report.

To appreciate his genius, I strongly recommend watching his biopic "Jaco" (produced by a huge fan of Jaco and former Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo) It went through his years as a talented kid to joining famed fusion group "Weather Report" to becoming one of the most highly regarded musicians  in the jazz/rock/fusion circle to his demise. Now I understood why he was considered to be the bass equivalent of Jimi Hendrix: he completely reinvented how music could be played on this instrument.

The outro of the movie included his tune "Continuum" covered by another favorite group of mine: Rodrigo Y Gabriela. I was so inspired that I had the urge to play some music (for some reason I picked up my soprano sax first probably influenced by the footages of him and his Weather Report bandmate Wayne Shorter) I found a good tab on "Continuum" here.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Akai EWI-USB Experience...... on a Mac

This post is more about computer than music. Call this my endorsement of Mac if you will. So I wrote about setting up my Akai EWI-USB on PC 1.5 years ago. Basically it worked out of the box but not that well (sound came out too late with the standard audio driver so I needed to download and installed ASIO4ALL) And to play an additional audio track from the computer (usually a backing track) I will have to use another sound card (like an external USB one) so the audio will come out from 2 different outputs, which I can live with but not ideal.

When I got my Macbook Air, this is one of the first peripherals I tried. Basically it worked out of the box. Really, no delay and additional driver/sound card is not necessary. It can play my backing track at the same time.

No wonder artists and musicians like Mac (We already knew many software developers like Mac 'coz it's running a flavor of Unix under the cover)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

2016 Ten Best Music Books

This is the list according to the Rolling Stone Magazine. Too bad I am not interested in any of them, except maybe Slim Harpo, the blues singer and harp player. He is among one of the influences of the Rolling Stones (band) whose latest release this year is a blues cover album, which I enjoy quite a bit.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Opera: L'Amour de Loin

自從上次聽完紅樓夢,已有一排無聽歌劇,幸好本地古典電台每逢週六中午會播放紐約大都會歌劇院演出的曲目,這天開車南下辦事途中聽到播出芬蘭作曲家Kaija Saariaho的作品L’Amour de Loin(英文解作Love from Afar, 我姑且譯為遙遠的他:) 和紅樓夢一樣這首算是當代作品,首演於2000年薩爾斯堡音樂節,今個月則是首次在大都會演出,好評如潮,似乎被三位女士搶了不少鏡頭,除了作曲家Saariaho,還有指揮家Susanna Mälkki及也是Susanna的女主角女高音Philips;「男子組」方面要提提黎巴嫩填詞人Amin Maalouf,本劇完整歌詞(法文原文及英文譯本)可見於此網站。對我來講本劇有以下特色:

  1. 角色數目極少。基本上只有遊吟詩人王子,他素未謀面卻慕名愛上的遙遠公主,穿梭兩者的朝聖者(女中高音),及一眾市民(合唱團)
  2. 敲擊樂被大量及出色地運用。
  3. 以法文唱出的詞。我從少就被灌輸一種想法:法文是唱歌劇最好聽的語言,更甚於意大利文,亦當然勝於「岩岩巉巉」的德語;故事背景卻是中東!
不妨試試一邊聽(Spotify link)一邊讀歌詞,相當過癮。

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Rediscovering Shoutcast

還記得多年前常常聽Shoutcast.com的不同音樂種類streaming,近幾年卻轉為從Podcast網評或雜誌認識新碟後再上Pandora,Rhapsody或Spotify聽,其實也有時覺得聽得太狹窄,上星期又想起Shoutcast這個source,除了近年聽得最多的爵士樂(包括smooth jazz),特地找點其他種類聽聽,例如Electric blues及Flamenco,以下幾個台值得推介:
今天認識了David Cobo, Eric Hansen幾位Flamenco樂手,待會上Spotify/Youtube再欣賞欣賞!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Not America

Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra has released 4 albums in the past, only when the republicans were in charge, as a form of protest. I wrote about their previous album, Not In Our Name, when Haden was still alive. And the band released a live album in 2016. That's one year too soon (in case you have been living in a bubble: the Republican nominee Donald Trump has won the US presidential election) It was my go-to album after finding out the result of the election. Awesome music, BTW.

And I was not alone! This DJ played LMO in his jazz radio program along with other tunes with a related theme. His podcast is titled "Not America." Check it out!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

紅樓夢歌劇

當年聽古典音樂,從器樂入手,從來不算太熱愛人聲,卻也因為華格納的全方位理念吸引聽了他全套指環,後來在紐約居住,更沒理由去看看那裡著名的劇團,還記得第一次奉獻了給喜劇愛情靈藥,在三藩市多年反而從未去過該市的歌劇院,只是數年前在朋友介紹下在柏克萊大學的劇院看過三藩市歌劇團演出的老少咸宜作品秘密花園,此後每年都收到新樂季的戲碼,當中不乏吸引作品,不過令我覺得非看不可的,是今季全球首演,改篇自中國四大小說之首的紅樓夢.老實說,小時候家中一早有齊四大,西遊水滸三國早就讀過,但紅樓夢文縐縐且難懂,是唯一被放棄的一本!但這本天下第一奇書就有一種特別的吸引力,為準備看劇,我一方面開始讀原著(不過在看戲前只讀到賈妃回家探親那回)另一方面查看和歌劇相關的所有資料,包括演員作曲家作詞家等等,又聽了去年預演的少許錄音(那次由女兒參加的樂團總監負責指揮呢!)

終於等到9月28日我買了票的那場!歌劇院人頭湧湧,衣香鬢影,觀眾當中不少是中國人,似乎在中文媒體中的宣傳頗有成效,故事開始大致跟從原著,石和草希望和尚幫他們完成入人世的心願,於是和尚讓他們從警幻仙子的鏡觀看人世間悲歡離合,看到由他們化身的世家子弟賈寶玉和表妹林黛玉相遇,同樣熱愛音樂詩詞的他們墮入愛河,然後出場的是來自富商薛家的另一表親淑女典範的寶釵,賈家話事人賈老太首肯雙玉戀,但寶玉母則力主雙寶配,皆因可借助薛家財力償還賈家欠皇室的債款。這一幕以賈妃回家探親作結,已預示皇上亦屬意雙寶配。

下半場賈妃失寵被賜死,賈老太病殁,寶玉母正式成為新當家,迫雙寶成親,寶玉要脅出家,其母假意讓步,在寶玉以為和黛玉拜堂之時,才發現新娘被調包;就在那時皇室派員到賈府抄家討債,因賈薛已成婚,連薛家亦一拼被抄,大家方知墮入皇上詭計,寶玉回到和尚處剃度出家,原來年輕時的和尚正是寶玉!

長篇的原著濃縮為數小時的劇情,難免會令忠實讀者感到不足,其實作曲家亦對此反應有準備,建議觀眾以一個三角戀故事看待好了。我個人認為,雖然配樂略嫌單調,多首悅耳浪漫的詠嘆調足以補足有餘。而當雙玉發現無法一起,岀現葬花吟行草書法的佈景,更添淒美。

其實以亞洲社會為背景的西洋歌劇不算新事物,兩世紀前已有蝴蝶夫人及杜蘭朵,不過改編中國文學瑰寶紅樓夢,當然又是更深層次了。值得一提的是演出現場有雙語字幕,英文的是歌詞,中文其實非直譯歌詞,倒有很多取自原著,實在有詩意,如:
一朝春盡紅顏老
花落人亡兩不知