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Ruth Kuefler

'Wait, what genre is this?' Answer: 'Who cares?'

March 30, 2008 at 3:55 AM

I've decided my life is far too confusing at the moment to blog about. I'll probably just make myself more annoyed in the process. So I'm going to talk about something far more cheerful: music (surprise!) . . . :)

This week I went to a workshop at my school about jazz music education. Not entirely related to my performance major and my current work teaching private classical lessons, but I thought it might be interesting. And it was. Probably the coolest thing I got out of it, though, was a free CD. The guy giving the lecture gave out a free album to the person who knew the punchline to this joke: "What's the difference between a jazz musician and a pizza?" (Do YOU know the answer? ;) Anyway, so the CD he gave me is this fantastic album by the group The Unbande called Alto Logic. As you probably guessed from CD title, the band (led by former Turtle Island String Quartet member Danny Seidenberg) plays music for two violas and (get this) Chapman Stick. Mhmm . . . :) Even though I got the CD at a jazz workshop, that certainly isn't the only thing on here. There's plenty of bluesy material, but also rock, pop, classical, swing . . . it's probably the only album I've discovered that goes from Bela Bartok to Led Zeppelin within a single track. ;) It really is a great album in all respects - content, arrangements, performance. Hah, my only complaint would be that the packaging is too ugly to do the group justice! But seriously, check this out. I've been listening to it all weekend and can't put it down.

As I was listening to Alto Logic, I couldn't help thinking. Gee, ummm, how exactly would you classify this music anyway? Is it jazz, rock, classical? Yes and no. And more. The way I like to look at it is that these guys don't play one particular genre so much as just plain old good music, regardless of where it came from. And that's my favorite kind.

Here's some more of my favorite unclassifiably amazing albums:

We Just Burned This for You, by Time for Three, which is available both on their website and on iTunes (yay!). I have to thank Caeli for her great interview on these guys. That was how I first heard about them, and I've been hooked ever since. Again, they're really hard to classify. You can definitely hear their classical training come through, and tracks like Csardas and Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5 take from classical compositions pretty directly. But on the other hand, they can play a pretty wicked Orange Blossom Special. So, so much fun to listen to.

Another of my very favorite albums in this same vein (which I'm sure many of you have heard of) is Appalachia Waltz, a collaboration between Mark O'Connor, Edgar Meyer, and Yo-Yo Ma. I don't think I could ever get tired of listening to this CD. In fact, I doubt I could ever get tired of hearing its title track, one of the most beautiful melodies ever written. I've played it on my own, just from learning it by ear, but the other day I downloaded a piano trio arrangement off Mark O'Connor's website. Even with just the addition of the cello part, it was beautiful. Again, while the main flavor of this album is fiddle, there are classical, Celtic and Americana influences. Not to mention original compositions by Edgar Meyer, the bass god.

. . . who really is in a league of his own. Seriously, not only can Meyer play the bass better than anyone else alive (at least that I know of), he also plays the piano, guitar, mandolin, dobro, and banjo. Plus, he writes and arranges a lot of his own music. Just take his recent solo album. Not only did Meyer compose and improvise all the music here, but he plays all the instruments himself. And the result? Again, utterly unclassifiable. I mean, is it classical, jazz, folk, blues? Nope. It's Edgar Meyer. You just can't put a label on the guy.

Love it. :)

From Terez Mertes
Posted on March 30, 2008 at 4:01 AM
I heard Time For Three live at Stern Grove in San Francisco (Karin was there too, I think) and they were just wonderful. I was so impressed.

And Appalachia Waltz - oh, I LOVE that album! Love the sound of it all. Such an elegant fusing of music styles. And check out Classic Yo-Yo, if you haven't already - another album with a great mix of music style, and Yo-Yo plays Appalachia Waltz as a cello solo, and I have to say, it beats the trio arrangement. Just sublime. Otherworldly.

Thanks for reminding me of this great other classical-but-not music out there!

From Terez Mertes
Posted on March 30, 2008 at 4:05 AM
Oh, and BTW, Josh and Edgar have a CD much like the Yo-Yo, Mark, Edgar compilation, called Short Trip Home. It's a good one too, although not better than Appalachia Waltz. Oh, and there's Appalachian Journey, as well, same trio.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on March 30, 2008 at 4:12 AM
I love to listen to Appalachian Waltz and the other CD and focus on how the three instruments interact. Since I love to jam with other players, I get a lot out of this. There are times when the trio plays together and then each instrument takes a turn at being the primary or only musician playing, similar to a bluegrass band. I also like listening to them play with each of two very good singers, James Taylor and Alison Krauss, to hear how the instruments contribute when the singer is the lead attraction. When I listen to good bluegrass recordings, I listen mainly for the back up fiddler. His role is complex: when to remain silent; when to play along with the melody softly; when to add "boom-chick", and when to fill in with improv. These skills are useful for classical, as well as bluegrass music, because we play *with* each other. I believe in the seamless garment theory of music. We can always learn something from each other.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on March 30, 2008 at 11:44 AM
Ruth, this was wonderful, thanks! Okay, so I didn't even know what a Chapman stick was until now, but wikipedia has a good entry. I'm a little disappointed that the one arrangement of Appalachia Waltz that he doesn't seem to have available for download is violin and viola. I think that would also sound nice and I have a violist friend with whom I think it would work.
From Michael Czeiszperger
Posted on March 30, 2008 at 12:49 PM
Thanks so much for blogging about these-- I just ordered a couple of CDs. Having just sold my Chapman Stick to buy a violin, I can now nostalgically listen to some more stick music.
From Tom Holzman
Posted on March 30, 2008 at 1:22 PM
One of the great things about being at university is the opportunities it provides to expand your horizons. You should not assume anything in music is unrelated to your education as a performer, teacher, or student of music. You may become a teacher and think of your students as the next Hahn or Heifetz, while a particular student may envision becoming the next Regina Carter (jazz violin) or Boyd Tinsley (violinist in the Dave Mathews Band). Having some background in these other areas will help you be the best teacher for these students.
From Bonny Buckley
Posted on March 31, 2008 at 10:03 AM
I enjoyed your musings. Please help me out though - what is a chapman stick? We don't get Wikipedia in China. It's blocked the last time I checked. Thanks
By the way did you ever listen to East Village Opera Co? I found them by chance in a bookstore one time. Another fusion listen.
From Gareth THOMAS
Posted on March 31, 2008 at 5:10 PM
"As I was listening to Alto Logic, I couldn't help thinking. Gee, ummm, how exactly would you classify this music anyway?"

Don't you know the biggest mistake in the first place is to try to classify anything, or did you never see the "Meistersingers von Nurnberg"?

From Mara Gerety
Posted on March 31, 2008 at 11:03 PM
There's another great album, Nigel Kennedy's "East Meets East." It's basically him jamming with this Polish folk band, all sorts of Balkan madness ensues. Great stuff.

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