Saturday, August 27, 2011

Baby Jenga, Chapman Stick, and a New Prog-Girl

Day/night confusion is a real problem.  Getting the Little One to sleep during the hours that she is supposed to be sleeping is an art form.  At two weeks, there is only so much you can do, so often you have to just grin and bear it, but we try to pay attention to the stimulus that seems to relax her enough to hit the event horizon.  A combination of pacifiers, rocking, wedges, and whatnot will usually do the trick.  However, due to the fear of SIDS, pediatricians seem to suggest that most babies avoid sleeping with such props for any length of time, so recently, my wife and I have taken to playing a game we dubbed “baby Jenga.”  In order to play, you take a sleeping baby with all of her sleeping props in place and then remove them one by one without waking her. 

One of the sleep props is, of course, music.  While I don’t want to “program” my child to go to sleep every time she hears a raga, the hypnotic quality of eastern Indian music does seem to lull her to an extent.  One night I tried shakuhachi music with mixed results.  Last night, though, my wife came out of the nursery and said “I think that your daughter may be more of a prog-rocker than an ethno-baby, because she really loves that Stick album that’s playing now.”

Japhlet Bire AttiasTwo weeks old and I’m already proud of her musical tastes.  The album that was playing was Mexican Stickist Japhlet Bire Attais’ psudeo-self-titled 2008 release, JBAI was exposed to many great Stick albums during the course of a study I did on the Chapman Stick community, and JBA one of my favoritesIt is a seeming mishmash of original Stick tunes, jazz standards, and covered arrangements.  Despite the variety of its track listing, however, the album coheres incredibly well due to the consistency of Attais’ Stick voice.  He subsumes his influences throughout JBA in a way that makes it a very special and, I think, unique contribution to the growing Stick repertoire. 

In addition to the obligatory unaccompanied solo tracks that are found on any Stick album, JBA also features a revolving door of support personnel, ranging from standard drum and guitar to more esoteric pairings for the Stick’s unique voice.  One of my favorites is the track What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life?, a haunting duet between Stick and bass clarinet. 

Like a lot of Stick music, JBA is too rock to be jazz and too jazz to be rock.  The instrument is often adopted by players with backgrounds in both genres, but the instrument itself is not really at home in either.  Thanks to Tony Levin’s contributions on Discipline, however, the instrument is more often associated with post-80s progressive rock.   Attais explicitly dances with this relationship on JBA, which features two arrangements that clearly connect to and elaborate on progressive rock and the King Crimson family tree.  One of these tracks is a compelling arrangement of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s Trilogy

Doing a convincing arrangement of a keyboard-based piece on Stick is a difficult endeavor, and Attias’ version is technically compelling.  On their own, ELP was an influential progressive rock band, but Greg Lake formed the band after leaving his post as King Crimson’s lead singer.  More directly, Attias also closes with a beautiful rendition of King Crimson’s Islands, the track that also closes their 1971 album of the same name.  The original prominently featured a cornet solo, while this instrumental version is a Stick and tenor sax duet.  Mel Collins (the same Collins that recently rejoined Fripp) played a significant role during that era of King Crimson, however, so the saxophone is a natural, organic choice to express the song’s melody.

Both of these tracks reference a path in progressive rock’s history that eventually meets the Chapman Stick’s in an important way.  The points that they reference, however, lie much earlier in the timeline, and the performances are excellent examples of 21st century Stick technique.  Most importantly, Attias manages to get these songs to stand alongside other arrangements with roots in other genres, unified by his idiosyncratic approach to the instrument. 

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