“…and your third record?”
Some people think I don’t like music. That’s not quite true. I listen to it, occasionally. But it is not central to my life in the way it is for others. I can go for weeks, sometimes months, without going out of my way to listen to it. But then there are a few days where I’m working to the accompaniment of an orchestra or band or solo instrumentalist (background accompaniment – usually familiar enough from days past that I don’t notice it). And then weeks more can pass with no desperate need to hear a tune. And as it’s not important to me I don’t know much about it, have huge blind spots. So bands and songs can be mentioned by my wife, or by friends, and I have no idea who they are. My wife likes Aztec this and Deacon that and the band names can be uttered and she can sing or play the songs with increasing frustration as I shrug my shoulders and offer no glint of familiarity. Other things stick in the mind. For example, I worked in a clothing factory one summer holiday, in a fish processing plant another, and in both cases was exposed to the Radio 1 playlist for the summer which played through every room from clocking in to clocking off.
In growing up there was never the urge to go to concerts. I went to the theatre a few times, and when I ended up doing my degree in Edinburgh spent time going to watch stand up comedy. But the first live music I went to see (through choice – by which I mean, not the desperate attempts to avoid pipe bands during my home town’s local gala festivities) was an opera. I’d heard James MacMillan’s Confession of Isobel Gowdie in the proms one year and saw that he had an opera (Ines de Castro) playing at the Festival theatre. My then flatmate and I got tickets, went along to watch. Among the first people we met was one of our former lecturers. He looked askance.
“What are you doing here?”
We explained, unnecessarily, that we were there to see the opera.
“Are you sure?”
We exchanged looks.
“It will be very difficult.”
I enjoyed it. Without any expectations or prior experiences the experience was visceral. The tuning of the orchestra gave a tension.
I saw a few operas – La Traviata, Die Zauberflote (you know? the one with the songs offof Amadeus), and Aida (oh poor poor Aida, a bizarre version which at one point involved some very strange goings on with car parts being transported across the stage for reasons that were not immediately apparent, and on reflection suggest that somebody had spiked my lemonade).
And as I stayed in Edinburgh over festival times ended up going to the jazz festival a few times. I saw Humphrey Lyttleton and his band, Tommy Smith with a jazz orchestra in a tribute to Gil Evans, and Jacques Loussier and his trio (an evening where each improvised piece of Bach (and that night Vivaldi) was greeted with a short red jerseyed man leaping to his feet arms aloft as if he’d scored a late winner at Hampden).
And out of festival time I saw Jan Garbarek and his quartet a couple of times, and Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Jazz Center Orchestra. Each of the names was familiar from my CD collection. Marsalis was an entertainer – engaging the audience, introducing the band, and the tunes. Garbarek was austere. Silent apart from his tenor or soprano saxophone. He was leonine, his hair swept back from his forehead, his eyes slowly checking the hall, then back to watching his fellow musicians. His playing was exquisite, seemingly effortless despite the speed of some solos. I could not work out how his fingers moved that quickly, couldn’t work out when he was taking a breath. For someone with a reputation as austere, as cold, his music had a passion driven on by Marilyn Mazur his percussionist – who moved with every sound. Her performance was physical. Compelling. Arms flexing. She was like a boxer, or a black belt martial artist. Seeming to use all of her weight with each punch of the drums.
I have a few albums by that quartet but the two performances from that night that stand out were Witchi-tai-to and Her Wild Ways. The latter was a showpiece for Garbarek and Mazur. Unfortunately, there are no live albums of the Garbarek/Mazur/Weber/Bruninghaus quartet. But when I hear the Rites And Twelve Moons albums I am reminded of the two nights seeing them.
So my third choice: Jan Garbarek group, “Her wild ways” from the Rites album.