Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What's Going On

David Fincher’s latest movie, Zodiac is a thoroughly engaging thriller about a serial killer in the city of San Francisco during the 60’s, and 70’s. Adding the right flavour to the mood of the times, the movie is full of some great music from the shifting decades. The likes of Santana, Donovan, Miles Davis, Gerry Rafferty, Steely Dan etc are beautifully placed throughout the movie.

The usage of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) from the absolutely incredible 1971 album, ‘What’s Going On’ made me want to mention a few things about the song and the album. Why? Because it’s been inside my CD player for a couple of months now and many of my mornings begin with it and the last track (Inner City...) of the album sees me walk outside the door.

Ranked number 6th on the all time greatest albums by the Rolling Stone this creation is as relevant today as it was in 1971. With introspective lyrics on poverty, drug abuse, Vietnam war, ecological problems etc this one set a new trend in the genre of ‘Soul’. Nine tracks, one leading up to another in a song cycle manner as it ends on a reprise to the album’s opening theme. One of the best opening themes, ever!

A simple, subdued tone is held throughout, pillowed by a densely-textured instrumental and vocal backing. At first this sameness in sound persisting from one song to the next is boring, but gradually the concept of the album takes shape and its wholeness becomes very affecting.

The style is set in the first cut, "What's Going On," with its sweet horn opening theme; Gaye's soft, simmering voice reflecting in on itself beautifully from two or three tracks; the contrast of congas and strings; breaks an exciting jumble of street-corner jive and scatting.

Now about the last track...Inner City Blues. For me, it’s the finest cut. Beginning with the Bongo beats and Gayes soft Dah Dah Dah, the song sets in the mellow funk mood which always gets me moving! Lyrically, it talks about the difficult life in the ghettos of inner-city America (and that’s why it will ‘make you wanna holler’). The contrast of difficult times with the funky beat makes this one memorable, forever, reminding me of the usage of ‘Layla’ solo in Goodfellas. Taking the album full circle, the track beautifully blends into the opening theme of the first track, ‘Whats Going On’.

Pick up this one and then give it some time inside your music system to know why it’s such a landmark album. Trust me, you will get addicted to it. Below is an excerpt from the RS write up.

Producing the album amid a haze of marijuana smoke, Gaye made one intuitively brilliant decision after another -- from letting the tapes roll as his friends mingled and chatted to recording the rehearsal exercises of saxophonist Eli Fountain. When Fountain complained that he had just been goofing around, Gaye replied, "Well, you goof exquisitely. Thank you." And that's how the plaintive saxophone line that announces What's Going On came to be.

Friday, February 08, 2008

No Comments!

Because of some spooky behaviour of bloggerdotcom, readers are not able to put up comments on my last 2 posts. You can check the comments here to know what I mean.

This post is to apologize for the inconvenience caused.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Mixed emotions

Sunday evening was lucky for many reasons.

Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra was performing in Bombay after 50 years. My music loving father was in town. Mr Bojangles could manage entry passes for me and my father. And we had the experience of a lifetime.

A chamber orchestra is a smaller than the usual orchestra and largely consists of string instruments. Violin and its elder siblings.

The usually mild winters of Bombay has strangely become harsh with icy breeze these days and this Sunday evening was particularly cold with the venue being right next to the sea. But everything became comfortable once we were inside the warm interiors of the magnificent Jamshed Bhabha theatre. The promise of some great live music by the musicians from Germany was adding to the comfort. The 2 years old Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI), was also going to give a couple of performances.

Founded in 1945, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra is the oldest professional chamber orchestra in the world and hence serves as a model for others.

The conductor was a smiling, snow-bearded violinist called Benjamin Hudson and his team lovingly rendered the subtle magic of Mozart, Bach and Greig. The bows of their violins, cellos and bass danced along while their fingers danced on the string. The performing ladies looked beautiful in their gowns and the men sophisticated in their tailcoats. I kept swaying along, reacting to each and every nuance of the compositions. All along, my lips had a constant smile. Evenings like this are rare.

The SOI gave their Stuttgart partners great company but as earnestly accepted by their conductor himself; they have a lot of catching up to do.

During the 15 minutes break, we spotted Pyaarelal of Laxmikant Pyaarelal fame. Dressed in the trademark white attire, he had also come to savour the sonorous evening.

But all wasn’t as beautiful as the music of Mozart. The average age of the audience was 65. Western Classical music is turning into a dying form of art. And this is the truth all over the world. There are very few listeners of this form of music and most of them are in the later part of their lives. Hence, it doesn’t make commercial sense. Simple. Sad. Will there be similar concerts 200 hundred years from now? In Vienna...maybe. But, in Bombay, I’m not sure.

Somehow, our own Indian Classical music scenario seems to be in a better shape than this. I might be wrong.

With these mixed emotions of exhilaration and sadness, my father and I rushed back to my sisters place for dinner with some good wine. The breeze had become icier.

ps: Can you spot the snow-bearded conductor in the picture, taken on the sly? His beard looks black here because of the violin's chin rest.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Happy Fact

‘Subtle, smooth and with a pleasant maltiness combined with charred wood undertones and the natural flavour of golden barley.’

That's the description of the excellent Irish whiskey, Tullamore Dew.

Guess what its ad slogan is. ‘Give every man his Dew’. Awesome!

The fact that it’s sitting sweetly inside my cupboard is just incidental.