Anat Cohen

 

jazz review cover

Rose Dos Ventos

Rose Dos Ventos (“Wind Rose,” or weather vane) continues Anat’s kindred-spirit collaboration with Trio Brasileiro, with the album’s title hinting at the way fresh inspirations pass into their music like a breeze.

They previously paired up for the 2015 Anzic album Alegria da Casa. In the liner essay to that first album, Brazilian pianist Jovino Santos Neto wrote about how the sound of these musicians playing together transports him not to a concert hall but “to a happy gathering of friends in botequim, or corner bar in a small Brazilian town, where  everyone takes part in the roda, or circle of musicians.”

Formed in 2011, Trio Brasileiro is dedicated to performing traditional choro music as well as their own compositions that put a contemporary spin on choro. The group comprises percussionist Alexandra Lora (whose array includes the pitched “hand pan”), Douglas Lora (a member of the award-winning Brasil Guitar Duo) and Duda Maia, one of Brazil’s finest mandolinists (who plays a special 10-string bandolim on Rose Dos Ventos.

The word translates as “cry” – developed in late 19th-century Rio much like its cousin jazz in New Orleans, with Brazilian musicians combining such traditional European dance forms as the polka, waltz and mazurka with African and South American rhythms. Again, like jazz, choro became a vehicle for improvisers.

For the Rose Dos Ventos sessions, the foursome lived together for a week in Brasilia, inventing freely and recording at Maia’s home studio. They built on the more traditional choro sounds of Alegria da Casa, re-imagining the music with original compositions  by Anat and each member of the trio that incorporate far-flung influences, including from Spain (“Flamenco”) and India (“O Ocidente Que Se Oriente”) as well as the worlds of salsa (“Das Neves”) and even rock (the dramatic “Rosa Dos Ventos”).

There is plenty of effervescence (“Baião Da Esperança,” “Ijexá”) and bitter sweetness (“Teimosa,” “Pra Você, Uma Flor”), as well as lively virtuosity (“Choro Pesado,” “Valsa Do Sul”).

The arrangements are textured throughout, with Anat’s lyricism a key voice whether adding beguiling touches to “Lulubia” (“Lullaby”) or improvising “Sambalelê” as a virtual solo over a spare backdrop of percussion.

 

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Winter: An anthology for the changing seasons

 

 

Commissioned to be selective and chose writers new and old for an anthology celebrating the season of winter in poetry and prose, Melissa Harrison didn’t take any short cuts by opting for the familiar – Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, J.A. Baker – but instead created her own Rattle Bag of contributions, which makes this volume compelling reading for anyone who may feel they have read enough about winter.

What is original about this collection is not just the diversity of relatively unknown talent on show, but the quality of the work, even if the editor’s preference is for prose over poetry

There are familiar faces – Roger Deakin, John Fowles, Robert Macfarlane – though I was surprised by the omission of two contemporary chroniclers of what it means to live with and endure the split personality of winter on a day to day basis: James Rebanks, whose The Shepherd’s Life is evocative of an existence, fast disappearing, on the periphery, and Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground, a chronology of Britain’s attitude to place.

This is just one of – naturally – four anthologies, so perhaps they surface elsewhere, but I was delighted to experience new voices, and not all of them of our time, even if they are timeless. Wilhelm Nero Pilate Barbellion wrote The Diary of a Disappointed Man, his reflections on nature and the brevity of life, and the brief excerpt here captures the illuminative features of his style: ‘An Elm lopped close showing white stumps which glistened liquidly in the sun.’

The Manchester-born Anita Sethi reflects on the segueing of the self and her garden by the drawn out and patient process of cultivation. ‘The sound bubbles up as if from deep within, deep within the core of the earth, as if this tunnelling through the earth was bringing out new depths in our own selves.’

Irish readers will have been weaned on the peerless final passage of The Dead, so memorably narrated by Donal McCann in the John Houston film adaptation, but reading it again it is a wonder to behold James Joyce outdoing Yeats on his turf: ‘His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.’

Childhood and winter scenes of white landscapes seem handcuffed to our memory, and the magic and innocence and playfulness I experienced long ago in A Child’s Christmas in Wales is omnipresent in Brian Carter’s passage from Mountains of the Mind, where ‘a coppery glow lit the sky just above the sea and the sound of heavy surf carried inland to magnify the sense of isolation.’

Perhaps of all the seasons, and writers in our neck of the woods are fortunate to have four, winter is the gift which keeps giving, and never more so among each new wave of poets, crystallized by the five stanza poem by Kristian Evans from Wales.

‘When the tongue melts the thistle

in the berry’s mouth like hail,

and the fractal folds its kisses

in a locket’s lost portrait.’

Guy and Madeline On A Park Bench

 

The common thread coursing through the short but successful career of film director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) is his use of vintage jazz throughout: remarkably for one so young, his predilection is not contemporary, but harks back to the revolutionary years emboldened by Charlie Bird Parker and Miles Davis.

While Whiplash is an excoriating probe of a student drummer’s unceasing quest for perfection, somewhat aided by a punctilious, bordering on the sadistic, mentor and isn’t always easy on the eye, La La Land is anything but. Little on the surface to suggest both were directed by Chazelle, except for the homage to American jazz.

What I didn’t realise until Guy and Madeline On A Park Bench soundtrack arrived by pony express, is how it prefigures the style and tone La La Land: big band jazz and Sinatraesque lyrics.

Guy and Madeline On A Park Bench – scored by Justin Hurwitz – was Chazelle’s first film a decade ago: it was intended as his thesis and both writer and composer (who had never worked on a film before) were completely unknown.

But even then it would seem that Chazelle and Hurwitz had the Midas touch because the 13 tracks (five with lyrics by Chazelle) on

Guy and Madeline On A Park Bench already foreshadow the maturity of La La Land. There is an umbilical cord between both.

Whiplash sits uncomfortably between Guy and Madeline On A Park Bench and La La Land: it is dark, and they aren’t. However, its critical success (JK Simmons won an Oscar) gave Chazelle the leverage to make La La Land, and develop the themes he had worked on ten years earlier.

What is in evidence from the off, cue It Happened At Dawn (vocals by Desiree Garcia), is the debt of gratitude Chazelle and Hurwitz owe to Gene Kelly’s On The Town, whose opening number, like La La Land, was filmed entirely on location on the streets of a city, this time New York. La la Land also, quite blatantly and unashamedly, mimics the visual motifs of French Impressionism used by Kelly in An American in Paris.

And while jazz is pertinent to Guy and Madeline On A Park Bench and Whiplash, it has a walk on role in La La Land, a kind of scene filler to add three dimensional qualities to the one dimensional Ryan Gosling character.

La La Land takes the seeds planted by Guy and Madeline On A Park Bench and boldly and brashly achieves what Kelly original did, segueing the two streams of the American musical before Kelly arrived on the scene, Busby Berkeley’s pyrotechnics and Fred Astaire’s theatrics.

For all that, Guy and Madeline On A Park Bench is a noble endeavour: Hurwitz in the sleeve notes writes that they recorded the score with the cheapest orchestra they could find (Bratislava Symphony Orchestra), armed with only an approximation of what it would sound like from using the notation software Finale.

In other words, he learned film scoring on the job, and there are sections that don’t breathe like he imagined. But, for his minor reservations, and he was only 21, this is an enchanting recording, which is never dull because the orchestration comes with counterpoint and countermelody, and are the ideal vehicle Chazelle’s fully formed lyrics, and exuberance, for which he should be applauded.

 

Peter Bazalgette

 

The Empathy Instinct

 

Empathy, easily definable without spelling it out, is like an emotional dopamine, especially in Ireland, where we are quick to react to a stranger’s plight – such as the corpse of a Syrian toddler washed up, face down, on a beach. And, like dopamine, empathy can have a short shelf life: closing our border to the thousands of Syrian refugees who undoubtedly would prefer our green pastures than the hell of Aleppo.

Empathy, writes Peter Bazalgette, who helped devise some of the biggest entertainment shows in recent British television history – Big Brother and Ready Steady Cook – is quite simply the inclination to understand others. ‘The ability to connect with and share another’s feelings.’ Empathy, it would seem, is the catalyst which enables us to act compassionately.

We take pride in an Irish naval’s rescue mission off the coasts of Italy and Africa because we empathise and sympathise with the refugees on overloaded boats, but not sufficiently to put a roof over their heads. So, quite frankly, empathy isn’t enough. It isn’t even a solution, but it is a start.

From birth we are susceptible to emotional contagion – a baby will cry at the sound of another’s wailing – but ultimately the capacity to empathise whilst growing is affected by toxic stress – emotional abuse – or an internal pot of gold– healthy emotional development.

Visiting a hospital recently, I was struck by three pregnant patients, in slippers and dressing gowns, puffing furiously on cigarettes, oblivious to the no smoking sign and indifferent to the damage to their babies. Is it stupidity or an absence of empathy? Where is their internal pot of gold for the as yet unborn?

Bazalgette’s book, naturally leaden with the research of others, including the omnipresent Simon Baron-Cohen, is insightful on digital dystopia: one in five children in Britain under the age of eleven has a Facebook account. Digital narcissism, writes Bazalgette, is all about the individual and what they are experiencing, regardless of how it affects the feelings of others.

Research predicts that the most digitally connected – one in five of teenagers in South Korea use their smart phone seven hours a day – will suffer digital dementia: the right side of the rain remains underdeveloped, leading to a diminution in cognitive abilities.

The antidote, believe it or not, is reading: poetry, novels, the telephone directory, The Echo, The Bush Telegraph, whatever: a chapter a day keeps the doctor away. ‘The empathy instinct is an idea whose time has come,’ believes Bazalgette. ‘It could be the most valuable resource in the world.’ Thus, in the final chapter, he mounts a passionate defence of arts (and popular culture) as a means of bridging the widening empathy gap.

Demonstrative of art’s capacity as an agent of change for good is the most articulate and impressive sentence in the book, by a poet almost 200 years dead, Shelley: ‘The great instrument of the moral good is the imagination, and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause.’

In 2016, Waterstones experienced a doubling in profits in Ireland. Literature is back in fashion. Maybe the times are a changing.

Luna Pena

luna

Archivo Pittoresco

 

This collection of 13 songs, from poets and songwriters throughout the world, performed, arranged and produced by Luna Pena, an artist of many talents, foremost among which is her interpretation of the essence of a sound, its primordial growth, is a welcome and calming antidote to the rising tide of political dissonance whose aim, ultimately, is division.

It might be stretching it to say that the poems on Archivo Pittoresco espouse a soulful or spiritual inclusiveness, but certainly Pena’s singing, which sounds to the untrained ear as Portugeuse phado meets French chanson, is anything but harsh or discordant.

She can imbue the lyrical lines from a French, Spanish, Mexican, Chilean, Greek, Sardinian and English source with the rich textures of her voice and plaintive guitar: the sound is Iberian but she loves and delivers the words as well as Jara** or Piaf or Brel.

So the mood and the tempo are consistent: there is no switching of gears, no fluctuation in ambience, and while, for practical reasons, each performance is an entity within its own delineation, Pena’s concept is for Archivo Pittoresco to be a single piece.

Gifted as she is at intuitively feeling the aura and feel of a song, irrespective of the language (the Sardinian A Diosa stayed in her memory for 20 years after she first heard it), she is a purveyor of semantic flexibility, where a word is indeterminately bordered and therefore different in various languages.

Pena can tame a lyric like a wild mustang, without depriving it of its freedom: Deus E Grande could be construed as about religion in the institutional sense, but Pena draws attention to its etymological root, re-ligare, or making connections.

Archivo Pittoresco is also a musical journey by Pena intentionally tracing 19th century landscape artists who wandered intuitively and borderless, their aim no less than a collective unconscious. Jungian archetypes aside, the vocalist behind these songs is also interested in what they have in common.

Much, as it turns out. Ojos Si Quereis Vivir segues into Las Penas and Lena skilfully addresses the yin and yang of the spiritual and corporeal song lines of emotion, of love and desire.

 

 

Kenneth Clark Life, Art and Civilisation

 

 

James Stourton’s observation, quite early on in this hefty tome, that his subject’s autobiography opens with one of the most memorable sentences in English (‘My parents belonged to a section of society known as the idle rich, and although, in that golden age, many people were richer, there can have been few who were idler.’) is in danger of leaving his reader avidly hungry for more of the same.

Stourton doesn’t disappoint, and one of the many pleasures of this illuminative and frankly enjoyable biography of a man who made it his mission to bring high art to the masses – he revolutionised how exhibits were curated in the National Gallery in London and later reached a global audience of untold millions with the first genuine television documentary series, Civilisation – is the skill Clarke deployed as a critic and historian. Throughout his life, whether in his autobiography, his publications, his television scripts or his copious correspondence, Clarke was incapable of writing a dull sentence, and it is uncanny that this gene passed to his eldest son, the MP, Alan, whose fame as a diarist whilst a member of Margaret Thatcher’s government briefly eclipsed that of his father in Britain.

As an interesting aside, Alan’s observations of his parents in his three volumes of celebrated diaries could be spiteful, and nor did Clark senior come to life in Ion Trewin’s biography of Alan: Stourton’s book is both timely and welcome because it readdresses the imbalance. Observers of both Clarks, however, will wonder why Alan felt the need to look for father figures so early in his career as a writer and politician (Hugh Trevor Roper, Enoch Powell) when he would have had daily access to the most famous art historian of his day.

But Kenneth Clark, a tenacious supporter throughout his life of artists from all backgrounds, keeps his distance from his growing brood. ‘Family history has very little charm for me,’ he wrote.

An only child, Clark had little in common with his parents – a psychologist’s dream, noted David Knowles – and his three children. Nor did his wife, Jane, (who was Irish, but Stourton dismisses her background), who grew to tolerate her absent husband’s affairs with dalliances of her own, a woman temperamentally unsuited for motherhood, whose milk of human kindness was alas no match for her alcoholism.

Stourton, thankfully, is much more interested in Clark the art historian than Clark the Byronic lover of women, of whom he had many on the go at the same time, some achievement considering the many demands on his time. Yet Clark always seemed to behave as a gentleman, and not the bullying misanthrope his son could often be. And yet, what segues both, are brains to burn and prosaists of the highest order.

Once you disentangle yourself from the chilling sangfroid of family life, especially after the Blitz, there is much to admire about Clark the art historian and Clark the great benefactor: though the scion of a wealthy family, Clare could be forgiven for becoming a lazy snob, but was anything but. He knew what he liked in art – the High Renaissance – but this did not blind him to green shoots in contemporary art – he was an early and lifelong supporter of Henry Moore and Sidney Nolan – and though he made enemies when he was appointed the youngest ever Director of the National Gallery, he didn’t bear grudges.

Criticism can often blind us to the beauty and magnificence of an objet d’art, but not with Kenneth Clark. He was forever his own man: though weaned on Ruskin and apprenticed to Bernard Berenson, it was never likely that one so precocious and gifted as he would be eclipsed by a polemical sage. He had confidence in the plenteousness of his prose to see, like Blake, a world in a grain of sand. And that is his legacy: a prescient critic. In Paris, Clark gifted Picasso a book on Henry Moore, and noted: ‘He sat for the rest of the meal, turning the pages like an old monkey that had got hold of a tin he can’t open.’ Wonderful.