Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jon Mendle’s L’Infidele Dusts Off Some Old Gems

Classical guitarist Jon Mendle’s new album L’Infidele is one of the most singularly enjoyable and interesting releases to come over the transom here this year. Playing solo on 11-string archguitar – a relatively recent invention devised to enable guitarists to play Renaissance lute repertoire – Mendle resurrects two obscure eighteenth-century compositions and gives a third a welcome reinterpretation. He plays with stately precision and fluidity – while the occasional torrents of notes can be hypnotic, the incisive melodies here are strong and memorable, transcending the centuries between composition and performance here. In particular, the first two pieces have a striking plaintiveness, and Mendle embraces it vividly.

The first composition is German baroque lutenist Adam Falckenhagen’s Sonata IV, Op. 1, dating from 1740. The opening largo section is wary and deliberate, enhanced by Mendle’s careful pacing – he doesn’t rubato it, which might not seem like the compliment that it is, but that’s a plus, considering how many players have decided to warp the era’s steady tempos to make them “postmodern” or something like that. Here, the additional low bass notes of the archguitar give the arrangement a piano-like tone. Mendle attacks the second, fugal movement with both smoothness and bite and spins off the rolling ripples of the finale with a deliberateness that stops a step ahead of carefree – this is a dark work.

Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach’s Prussian Sonata V begins on a similar tone, steady yet with a pensive undercurrent. The second, andante movement is essentially a diptych: a wary waltz, and a second one even slower, and yet Mendle finds room for additional dynamics. The fluid, final Allegro Assai movement lets Bach the son go to his dad’s playbook for a blend of catchiness and mathematical logic. The final work here is L’Infidele, a six-part sonata by another German lutenist, Sylvius Leopold Weiss, impressive even to current-day ears for its eclecticism. It’s easy to imagine the opening movement as a processional for organ. The second expands the theme as a waltz; the third, Sarabande movement begins slow and hypnotic, then loosens up and loses a little of its gravitas, but not much. Mendle gets to cut loose more on the final three movements: a minor-key waltz that could pass as a Bach miniature; a Musette whose courtly gentility has a hint of the woods, and the best part, the final Paysanne where Mendle gets to take it out as more of a full-fledged dance. The album is out as both hard copy and download from In a Circle Records. Mendle’s next performance is June 4 at 8 PM as a soloist with the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony performing Villa-Lobos’ Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St. in San Francisco

May 4, 2011 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Paban Das Baul – Music of the Honey Gatherers

South Indian singer Paban Das Baul has collaborated extensively with a number of western musicians and disco producers. This new album is a return to his roots, a collection of both original and centuries-old Baul music, a tradition he was initiated into at age fourteen. The Bauls are wandering minstrels with a mystical streak. Traveling the Ganges plains, they perform a spiritual purification ritual known as “honey gathering:” they play, the villagers’ spirits are raised, the musicians are given rice and beans. “Baul” is Bengali for “crazy” or “possessed,” but from the music, it’s clear that if there any spirits at work here, they are gentle and benign ones. As befits a tribe given to heavy ganja smoking, these songs go on for minutes on end. Western songwriters from Nick Drake to Devendra Banhart have drawn on elements of this stuff – you could say that it’s the original freak-folk. Paban Das Baul sings with a kindly, reflective delivery, more introspective than ecstatic, which makes sense in that he’s often encouraging the listener to look within.

The songs share a languid, swaying rhythm, the melody carried by the vocals, dotara (a five-string lute) and sometimes jews harp; often the lute doubles the vocal line. The lute playing is repetitive and ruminative with subtle changes, occasionally picking up with an incisive phrase: late 60s Jerry Garcia in paticularly pensive mode comes to mind. When the melody goes into the upper registers, the instrument resembles a mandolin. There are subtle modal shifts, but no chord changes per se. The percussion rattles along, sometimes minimalistically, once in awhile insistent. The music doesn’t seem to make any attempt to mirror the lyrics, in the case of either sadness (a breakup song), weariness (a traveler’s tale) or joy (a tribute to wanderlust and all its metaphorical implications). It’s pretty much what you would expect in late summer on the outskirts of Calcutta, heavy-lidded and absolutely hypnotic. It’s out now from World Music Network.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment