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January 17, 2011

A Jukebox of Ghosts


I've been enjoying your blog for a while so I thought I'd give you a holler. The collection of music you present is awesomely eclectic and esoteric, and your descriptions are fantastic: "It's like when you're a baby, laying in your crib, and the voice of the mighty one comes to you, and tells you you're going to live to see the death of all the world." Damn! Thank you for the endless hours of musical exploration (laced with the occasional Borges reference) you've made possible.

I started my own blog, The Vanished Hand (, back in May to explore my interest in the old, weird, and macabre, including music, poetry, photography, and anything else that strikes me. I'm just trying to let it take its own course. It is still quite young, but I thought you might be interested.

Dude. That's a fantastic new blog. I really like how you mix it up with the poetry, photography, etc, and then link these historical events to contemporary performances from a wide variety of styles. Any place that brings together sea monsters and Dock Boggs, Sigur Rós, Tim Eriksen, Mark Twain (in animated stereographic format), and boys with their heads thrown back in pangs of agonecstasy (a new word as of now) is worth my time. I haven't even read what you've written yet, and already I like it.

In fact, I've been wanting to expand a little bit from music and the occasional bit of poetry, and do some posts on art, cinema, etc. So I think I just might, spurred by your anthropoarchaic interperipheral excursions.

So perk your heads up readers: this one's a keeper.

January 13, 2011

Andrew Manze - Tartini: The Devil's Sonata

There are very few solo violin recordings. Sometimes it seems as though guitars, banjos, basses, etc were all invented for the sole purpose of backing up the violin. This is of course not true, but it illustrates my point. Having such a high range, it's difficult to make the violin produce a full listening experience. And those pieces that do so tend to require an exacting amount of virtuosity to play. Which is basically the story with these ones.

But something more is at work here than mere bravura. This is devilmusic. 18th Century devilmusic, but devilmusic all the same. Scotty Stoneman was talking to the same cloven-hoofed fiddler as Tartini. And that Prince of Darkness showed both men the same thing. He showed them that if you play two notes at the same time on the fiddle, and you play them both HARD, demons are released, in the form of bastard notes that spring from the soundboard and hover in the air, unresting, part of no melody, teasing their way into the listener's soul. And this is how the devil converts souls to his purposes. He recruits fiddlers to play music that gets people FEELING and then maybe even DANCING and before you know it, they've cast aside their harps and are enjoying this Garden of Earthly Delights, drunk on the soup of inspiration.

And Andrew Manze is probably the only classical violinist in the world that understands this, which is why he plays it like this.

So remember, it may be old, but it's still just as evil.

Tartini: Biography
by Blair Johnston
Despite Italian composer Giuseppe Tartini's important place in musical history, he remains known to most musicians only as the composer of the "Devil's Trill" violin sonata. Born on the Istrian peninsula in 1692, Tartini was the son of a minor government official in the city of Pirano (now Piran, Slovenia). Although his parents had selected a monastic life for Tartini when he was very young, in 1708 he rejected his clerical training to pursue a course of instruction in music. Soon, however, he seems to have enrolled at the University of Padua as a student of law, and was more famed during his younger days as a dueler and swordsman than as a trained musician. Despite still officially being a candidate for the priesthood, Tartini married in 1710, and, having thereby incurred the wrath of the Paduan bishop, found it necessary to hide out in the monastery at Assisi for a time. He put his time to good use: apparently he made a rigorous study of music, and by 1714 he seems to have found employment with the opera orchestra at Ancona.

Reunited with his wife in 1715, Tartini spent the next several years trying to perfect his violin technique. The legend is that he heard the virtuoso Francesco Veracini perform and resolved to live in isolation until he could accomplish the same amazing feats of dexterity. By 1720, he was engaged as soloist and leader of the orchestra at St. Anthony's in Padua. Until an arm injury in 1740 seriously limited his career, Tartini fulfilled his duties at St. Anthony's even as he built a widespread reputation as the leading violinist of his day. He made an extended visit to Prague between 1723 and 1726. Officially retiring from St. Anthony's in 1765, Tartini remained active as a teacher until a mild stroke, which he suffered in 1768, incapacitated him even further. Tartini died in 1770, the year of Beethoven's birth.

Tartini was the founder of an important school of violin playing, subsequently disseminated by such noteworthy pupils as Pietro Nardini and Johann Gottlieb Naumann. Because he did not seek fame as a composer, very little of Tartini's music was published during his lifetime. Some 135 violin concerti and over 200 violin sonatas (some of which, however, are spurious) still survive in manuscript form. A smattering of sacred vocal works (such as the Stabat Mater composed during the final year of his life) and a few sinfonias, trio sonatas, and four-part sonatas round off Tartini's considerable output. In addition to his activities as a violinist and composer, Tartini became increasingly interested in theories of acoustics and harmony as the years went by, and his 1754 theoretical treatise Trattato di musica secondo la vera scienza dell'armonia attempts to account for contemporary harmonic thinking in terms of the overtone series and to promote Tartini's own discovery of "sub-tones" in that series. Despite its lofty intentions (or perhaps because of them) the Trattato is not a particularly accurate or informative text; it does, however, provide great insight into the mind of this remarkable musician.

Some More interesting info on Tartini:
Italian violinist, composer and musical theorist, was born at Tirano in Istria on the 12th of April 1692. In early life he studied, with equal want of success, for the church, the law courts, and the profession of arms. As a young man he was wild and irregular, and he crowned his improprieties by clandestinely marrying the niece of Cardinal Cornaro, Archbishop of Padua. The cardinal resented the marriage as a disgraceful mésalliance, and denounced it so violently that the unhappy bridegroom, thinking his life in danger, fled for safety to a monastery at Assisi, where his character underwent a complete change. He studied the theory of music under Padre Boemo, the organist of the monastery, and, without any assistance whatever, taught himself to play the violin in so masterly a style that his performances in the church became the wonder of the neighborhood. For more than two years his identity remained undiscovered, but one day the wind blew aside a curtain behind which he was playing, and one of his hearers recognized him and betrayed his retreat to the cardinal, who, hearing of his changed character, readmitted him to favor and restored him to his wife.

Tartini next removed to Venice, where the fine violin-playing of Veracini excited his admiration and prompted him to repeir, by the aid of good instruction, the shortcomings of his own self-taught method. He left his wife with relations and returned to Ancona, where he studied for a time. In 1721 he returned to Padua, where he was appointed solo violinist at the church of San Antonio. From 1723 to 1725 he acted as conductor of Count Kinsky's private band in Prague. In 1728 he founded a school for violin in Padua. The date of his presence in Rome does not seem to be clearly established, but he was in Bologna in 1739. Afterwards he returned to his old post in Padua, where he died on the 16th of February 1770.

Tartini's compositions are very numerous, and faithfully illustrate his passionate and masterly styie of execution, which surpassed in brilliancy and refined taste that of all his contemporaries. He frequently headed his pieces with an explanatory poetical motto, such as "Ombra cara", or "Volgete il riso in pianto o mie pupille." Concerning that known as Il Trillo del Diavolo, or The Devil's Sonata, he told a curious story to Lalande, in 1766. He dreamed that the devil had become his slave, and that he one day asked him if he could play the violin. The devil replied that he believed he could pick out a tune, and thereupon he played a sonata so exquisite that Tartini thought he had never heard any music to equal it. On awaking he tried to note down the composition, but succeeded very imperfectly, though the Devil's Sonata is one of his best productions.

Tartini is historically important as having contributed to the science of acoustics as well as to musical art by his discovery (independently of Sorge, 1740, to whom the primary credit is now given) of what are still called "Tartini's tones", or differential tones.

The phenomenon is this: when any two notes are produced steadily and with great intensity, a third note is heard, whose vibration number is the difference of those of the two primary notes. It follows from this that any two consecutive members of a harmonic series have the fundamental of that series for their difference tone -- thus, (E/C), the fourth and fifth harmonic, produce (C), the prime or generator, at the interval of two octaves under the lower of those two notes; (E/G), the third and fifth harmonic, produce (C), the second harmonic, at the interval of a 5th under the lower of those two notes. The discoverer was wont to tell his pupils that their double-stopping was not in tune unless they could hear the third note; and Henry Blagrove (1811-1872) gave the same admonition. The phenomenon has other than technical significance; an experiment by Sir F. A. G. Ouseley showed that two pipes, tuned by measurement to so acute a pitch as to render the notes of both inaudible by human ears, when blown together produce the difference of tone of the inaudible primaries, and this verifies the fact of the infinite upward range of sound which transcends the perceptive power of human organs. The obverse of this fact is that of any sound being deepened by an 8th if the length of the string or pipe which produces it be doubled. The law is without exception throughout the compass in which our ears can distinguish pitch, and so, of necessity, a string of twice the length of that whose vibrations induce the deepest perceivable sound must stir the air at such a rate as to cause a tone at an 8th below that lowest audible note. It is hence manifest that, however limited our sense of the range of musical sound, this range extends upward and downward to infinity. Tartini made his observations the basis of a theoretical system which he set forth in his Trattato di Musica, Secondo la Vera Scienzia dell'Armonia (Padua, 1754) and Dei Principij dell'Armonia Musicale (Padua, 1767). He also wrote a Trattato delle Appogiature, posthumously printed in French, and an unpublished work, Delle Ragioni e delle Proporzioni, the manuscript of which has been lost.

Andrew Manze - Biography
by Joseph Stevenson
Andrew Manze has emerged as one of the leading violinists in the early music movement. He specializes in music from between 1610 and 1830. His education began at Cambridge, where he studied Classics. He then moved on to music studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London and at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, studying with both Simon Standage and Marie Leonhardt. Manze then joined the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, remaining there until 1993. The following year he began collaborating with harpsichordist Richard Egarr. One of their major releases presented a 1712 collection of violin sonatas by the French composer Jean-Féry Rebel. Meanwhile, Manze formed the group Romanesca, with harpsichordist John Tell and lutenist Nigel North; the trio specialized in music of the seventeenth century. In 1996 Manze was appointed associate director and concertmaster of the London-based Baroque group The Academy of Ancient Music. In the 2003-2004 season, he became music director of The English Concert.

Manze is well-known in Britain for his broadcast work. He has become a popular "presenter" on BBC radio, and made his debut with the BBC Promenade Concert in 1998. That concert was televised nationally, with Manze playing concertos by Pergolesi, Bach, Vivaldi, and Mozart, and introducing the public to the enthusiasm and directness of the new ways of performing Baroque and Classic music.

Recording for the French Harmonia Mundi label, Manze won Gramophone, Edison, and Cannes Classical awards for his recording with Romanesca of Biber's flashy and mystical violin sonatas. His playing of Vivaldi's newly discovered "Manchester" sonatas won the Premio Internazionale del Disco Vivaldi Antica Italiana. His album Phantasticus won the Cannes Classical Award and a Diapason D'Or. The later award was also given to his recording of Schmelzer's violin sonatas. Manze was named the 1998 Classical Artist of the Year.

Manze is in demand as an expert in Baroque music interpretation. He serves as a performance advisor and director for the European Community Baroque Orchestra, gives master classes, and has been visiting professor at the Royal College of Music in London. He is also a busy soloist on the international concert scene, appearing in one season with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Canadian early music group Tafelmusik, and the Berlin Philharmonic.

He is known for his freedom of ornamentation, bringing an improvisatory excitement to his concerts. Manze lives with his wife (also a violinist) in England's Cotswolds region.

More on Manze:
Andrew Manze is an internationally known English violinist whom The New York Times has called "the Grappelli of the baroque." Manze is not only a highly accomplished chamber player but associate director of the prestigious Academy of Ancient Music based in London. He shared his contagious enthusiasm with us in a break between rehearsals.

Andrew Manze mastered the violin gradually, almost as a dilettante. At the age of ten, after he had been playing the recorder for a few years, someone suggested that he should study a "real" instrument. His spontaneous choice was the oboe, but the orthodontist thought otherwise. He then opted for the practical solution of studying the violin - "the instrument in the house" (his father played it as a youngster). The school music program provided an admirable start. "By the time I was 11, I was already playing in an orchestra. I've played in orchestras ever since! At 14, I did my first international tour. When I was 18 years old, I was quite well travelled. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn orchestral technique on the spot."

His love of baroque music developed during his studies at Cambridge. Even though he was studying classics (Greek and Latin), he continued to play the violin. His friend Richard Egarr had just discovered the harpsichord. He organized a baroque ensemble and persuaded Manze to try his hand. "It was a struggle at first but I'm glad now I discovered that repertoire. Richard is still talking to me and I'm still talking to him!" he chuckles.

Other youthful encounters also transformed his life. The wife of the great harpsichordist, Gustav Leonhardt, took him under her wing. Mrs. Leonhardt, a musician herself, was "a wonderful guide," says Manze. In 1988 he met Ton Koopman, conductor of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. "It clicked right away. We appealed to one another," Manze remembers. Koopman hired Manze then and there. He made his debut with the orchestra in the second violin section, but moved quickly to concertmaster.

Manze left Amsterdam in 1993 to devote his time to conducting. He feels that freedom is a must for interpreting baroque music. "After all, when you are the first to play that repertoire, you can't ask anyone for input. The music was very much alive then and it still should be today. If a listener goes to hear a concert, we owe it to him to give a one-of-a-kind experience. If I were to play one piece the same way I did two months ago, it would be missing a key ingredient: flexibility. The performance obviously varies depending on how the musician is feeling. It should also depend on the venue you are playing in, its acoustics. It can be strongly affected by the character of the audience, how they react to the experience. For example, the German public take their baroque music very seriously, listening with great concentration. I look forward to playing in Canada, a nation I don't know very well. It's always interesting to feel, to experience an audience and find out what happens to the music as a result."

Paradoxically, the essence of baroque music is somewhat defeated by its mass popularity, Manze outlines the irony of the situation. "We're asked to play in rooms way too big for the instruments, originally designed to be played in churches or small domestic venues." He remembers the Domaine Forget concert hall in great detail, and considers it an ideal venue.

Asked why baroque music has become so popular in recent years, Manze suggested several reasons. "If the music is well chosen and presented in the right spirit, it is extremely good quality music. Bach can stand comparison to any of the major composers. The music is also extremely well structured, very melodic, entertaining and it has got drama to it." He draws a parallel with the attraction western civilization feels for novelty. "Music lovers are interested in new repertoire but they've been burnt by some contemporary music. They become wary of it. Maybe baroque music benefited from the fact that a lot of contemporary music is not accessible. It must be possible to write contemporary music which says all the things you want to say but doesn't provoke the 'yuck' feeling!"

Manze doesn't entirely reject contemporary repertoire: on the contrary, his wife is actually a specialist in this rarefied field, and the Academy of Ancient Music has interpreted John Tavener's Eternity's Sunrise (in 1998) and Total Eclipse (June 20, 2000). Tavener is one of the most popular English composers of the day, and Manze appreciated being able to ask him about specific details of interpretation. In the process, he learned that composers are generally not dogmatic. "It's cowardly to justify oneself with an 'I ought to do this.' It's like hiding on stage behind a corpse. I always imagine what the composer would say if he were there. He probably wouldn't be concentrating on my question; he probably would be amazed by the technological progress. His music would be the last thing he would want to talk about."

Manze's crowded schedule doesn't give him time for regular pupils. He enjoys master classes, however. "The questions asked by students are often the same questions I ask myself." Some of his former students have become fellow musicians at the Academy of Ancient Music, something he feels is a natural development. He speaks with great pride of "his" orchestra, which recently celebrated its 26th birthday. "The Academy of Ancient Music has achieved a great momentum. It is filled with great experience collectively. It took time to build the trust but now the musicians trust me completely. I don't quite know moment to moment what will be happening." Manze usually conducts from his position as concert master and seems becomingly modest about his personal prestige. He is looking forward to the orchestra's North American tour in November 2000.

Chamber music remains an important part of his life as a musician. He spent 10 years with harpsichordist John Toll and lutist Nigel North in the Romanesca Trio. A number of award-winning recordings came from this collaboration. Manze had to give it up in 1999, when Nigel North accepted a post at the renowned Indiana University School of Music. His friendship with harpsichordist Richard Egarr reflects a similar meeting of minds on the artistic and intuitive level. Egarr will accompany Manze in August in Bach sonatas for harpsichord obligato and violin. Manze and Egarr have been exploring the rich baroque repertoire for 16 years now. "We love to surprise one another. It keeps the experience fresh and interesting," says Manze.

Andrew Manze - Tartini: The Devil's Sonata

Year: 1998
Label: Harmonia Mundi

Amazon's Best of 1998
Violinist Andrew Manze did something truly breathtaking in 1998--he transformed the way we hear Giuseppe Tartini's The Devil's Sonata by playing it solo, without accompaniment. And we'll never hear it the same way again. It's a riveting performance, filled with as much improvisation as many jazz compositions, and yet it remains thoroughly faithful to Tartini's vision (Manze was inspired to play the work solo by the composer's own correspondence). Hands down, one of the best Baroque performances ever. --Jason Verlinde

Amazon essential recording
This is one of the craziest classical CDs you will ever hear, but the madness is inspired. Andrew Manze, following a suggestion in one of Tartini's letters, gets rid of the published accompaniment and plays these pieces on the solo violin. In the other three works he takes plenty of liberties, but in the famous Devil's Trill Sonata he embellishes, improvises, departs from the text and comes back again. The verbal description sounds like my idea of a nightmare, but the execution is so inspired that this is one of the most compelling Baroque performances ever. Whether it is "authentic" or not, I have no idea, and Manze probably doesn't either. But this is a recording you will remember. --Leslie Gerber

BBC Music (5/98, p.63) - Performance: 5 (out of 5), Sound: 5 (out of 5) - "...In the hands of Andrew Manze, ['The Devil's Sonata'] transcends its complexities to become a beautiful and compelling piece of music, closely followed by the Pastorale, with its fantastical Grave, and the other works here..."

A customer said:
If I wish to demonstrate to someone why the 'Baroque Violin' is special, this is the album I play to them. There is no 'modern' rendering that approaches it. The dynamic range, intimacy and passion inherent in this CD are incomparable. Though I am sure the adherents of Josh Bell, Sarah Chang and Vanessa Mae would hoot me down, I will assert that in musicianship and technical ability Manze is the finest violinist living. Period.

In over 20 years of pursuing the 'ideal' solo violin recording this would be my choice.

1. "La Sonata del Diavolo" in G minor: [Largo] - 6:40
2. "La Sonata del Diavolo" in G minor: Allegro - 6:09
3. "La Sonata del Diavolo" in G minor: Andante-Allegro-Adagio - 6:24
4. from "L'arte del arco": Theme and variation I - 1:00
5. from "L'arte del arco": Variations 2 and 4 - 1:08
6. from "L'arte del arco": Variations 9, 15 and 12 - 1:28
7. from "L'arte del arco": Variations 10 and 20 - 1:51
8. from "L'arte del arco": Variation 29 0:46
9. from "L'arte del arco": Variation 30 0:37
10. from "L'arte del arco": Variation 33 - 2:04
11. from "L'arte del arco": Variation 34 - 1:11
12. from "L'arte del arco": Variation 23 0:53
13. from "L'arte del arco": Variation 38 - 1:14
14. Sonata in A minor: Cantabile - 1:56
15. Sonata in A minor: Allegro - 1:56
16. Sonata in A minor: [Andante] - 4:53
17. Sonata in A minor: Giga - 2:35
18. Sonata in A minor: Aria [with variations] - 1:40
19. Sonata in A minor: Variation I - 1:18
20. Sonata in A minor: Variation II - 3:51
21. Sonata in A minor: Variation III - 1:32
22. Sonata in A minor: Variation IV - 2:42
23. Sonata in A minor: Variation V - 1:24
24. "Pastorale" for violin in scordatura: Grave - 5:02
25. "Pastorale" for violin in scordatura: Allegro - 3:30
26. "Pastorale" for violin in scordatura: Largo-Presto-Andante - 4:59

or in FLAC
mr | mp3 >256vbr / FLAC | full booklet scans

January 12, 2011


For those of you waiting on a renewal of John Roberts & Tony Barrand - Dark Ships in the Forest, the album has been re-upped, with photos of the original vinyl covers added.

And Fred Geiger - Fred Geiger is reupped here.

Is there anything else that needs re-upping?

January 11, 2011

Peter Ostroushko - Slüz Düz Music

I have already talked about Peter Ostroushko (here), so I'll keep it brief this time. This is, simply put, a totally fantastic album. One of the best I have heard in a long time. If you had to label it, you could call it 'Acoustic World Fusion' or 'Newgrass' or 'Exploratory String Band' music. Peter calls it Slüz Düz music. He plays some 'ukerish' (a combination of Irish rhythms and Ukranian melodies) tunes, some polkas, a waltz, a breakdown, a rag, and a last stand. His 'Sluz Duz orchestra' is a cast of some of the greatest pickers ever assembled: Norman & Nancy Blake, Mick Moloney, Daithi Sproule, Bruce Allard, Butch Thompson, and the entire band of Hot Rize, to name just a few.

Every note on this album sings. Every single melody line shines with the relaxed precision and care for details that comes from a lifetime of playing music. The theme is old-world meets new-world, but it isn't spelled out for you. It's just a natural fusion that occurs in Peter, being a man born of two worlds. In other words, there's nothing exotic here. Nothing sounds out-of-place. It all sounds as though it was meant to be this way. And with our cities becoming increasingly multicultural, with the emergence of the internet as a meeting ground and melting pot of divergent ideas, who's to say it's not meant to be this way?

Listen to this album, and have all doubts stricken from you. This is original music that claims its own place at the crossroads of many traditions. It is as fresh-sounding today as it was 25 years ago when it was recorded.

Peter Ostroushko - Slüz Düz Music
Original American Dance Tunes with an Old World Flavor

Year: 1985
Label: Flying Fish

1. The Last Stand - Ostroushko - 3:45
2. Friedrich Polka - Ostroushko - 3:23
3. Marjorie's Waltz - Ostroushko - 4:55
4. Fiddle Tune Medley: My Love,I Miss Her So/Farewell to Calgary - Ostroushko - 4:19
5. Burnt Biscuit Breakdown - Ostroushko - 4:55
6. Sleepy Jesus Rag - Ostroushko - 3:44
7. Slüz-Düz Polka - Ostroushko - 3:45
8. Katerina's Waltz - Ostroushko - 4:28
9. Christian Creek - Ostroushko - 4:00
10. Co. Kerry to Kiev Medley: Mcintyres Hornpipe/The Mist on the Lake/Mci - Ostroushko - 7:01

hop to the hopaks.
vinyl | mp3 >256kbps vbr | w/ scans
or for those of you who are audiophiles:
Now, in FLAC!

And I'm still looking for the following albums by him:
Peter Ostroushko - Down the Streets of My Old Neighborhood
Peter Ostroushko - Postcards
Peter Ostroushko - Bluegrass (or other albums from Lifescapes, if they're any good)
Peter Ostroushko - Coming Down from Red Lodge
Peter Ostroushko - When the Last Morning Glory Blooms
Peter Ostroushko - Peter Joins the Circus
Peter Ostroushko presents the Mando Boys
The Mando Boys Live - Holstein Lust

January 9, 2011

Debashish Bhattacharya - Live in Calcutta

More music from the best slide guitarist in the world! The last track on this album is seriously one of the best fusions of east and west that I've ever heard, with fearful symmetry to match any Fahey composition. That's all I can say!

The Jesuit maxim ‘Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man’ could just have easily have been coined in India, where the tradition of immersing children in music from birth is a natural result of them growing up within musical dynasties. In fact, Debashish Bhattacharya learnt to sing in the Gwailor classical vocal style his parents were steeped in even before he could talk. Oddly, the instrument he was first drawn to as a three-year-old was a Hawaiian lap steel guitar left lying around the house. As he recalls, “it was love at first touch.”

As a boy, Debashish learned western guitar as well as sitar, but his most rigorous training was a ten-year stint during his twenties studying with Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra, the great pioneer of Indian raga slide guitar. It was during this time that he realised his vocation would be ‘to serve as a bridge between raga’s past and future’.

Now 43, and officially a Pandit (master musician) since turning 40, he is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest slide guitarists, and has invented his own ‘Trinity of Guitars’. His Chaturangi has 22 strings, which enable it to suggest the timbres of violin, sitar, sarod and veena. The Ghandarvi is a 14-stinged guitar that can sound like a veena, sarangi, saz or flamenco guitar, and the tiny 4-stringed Anandi is basically a slide ukulele. He also has his own three-fingered style of playing which gives him an edge over others when it comes to speed and dexterity, and in 2003, he established a music school in his hometown of Kolkata.

Debashish Bhattacharya
World renowned Master of the Hindustani Slide Guitar

Debashish Bhattacharya is one of the world’s most amazing music personalities whose dynamism of artistry and creativity place him as a Genius. As a performer he is one of the worlds most powerful Slide Guitarists. He is creating a genre already in India and around the world.

As a composer he believes there is no east, and west in music, only Universal Human music which gives peace and joy to the believers.

As a creator he has become perhaps the only phenomenon in the History of World Music by creating TRINITY OF SLIDE GUITARS by name CHATURANGUI, GANDHARVI, and ANANDI.
As Debashish is perhaps the only Musician who has created such TRINITY in India too. As a recording artiste Debashish is a perfect Virtuoso matches in all the categories of Music starting from Indian Classical, Semi Classical, Folk to any Kind of World music.

Genetically Debashish carries music of his Devotee parent, who was singers by generations. His brother Subhasis is an extraordinary Tabla and other rhythm instruments. Sutapa his sister is a very popular singer who at her first abroad tour has been quiet popular in Japan And Canada.

As a disciple Debashish feels extremely fortunate to be associated with his Gurus, Pundit Ajoy Chakrabarty,the exponent vocalist and Pundit Brij Bhushan Kabra, the living legend and pioneer of Indian Classical Guitar.

As a performer Debashish began his debut at the age of four at All India Radio, Calcutta, late Ustad Karamatullah Khan of Farukhabad Gharana accompanied him on tabla was blessings from Ustadji

As he was twenty Debashish received President of India Award for wining National Music Competition of All India Radio. At his thirties Debashish has been awarded Top Grade, the ultimate honor by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of India, Prasar Bharati.

As a Classical Guitarist He is the best, as all the Gurus say today in India.

Debashish Bhattacharya visualised his customised guitar right back when he was sixteen years old. It took him the best part of two decades to solidify this fantasy into a range of axes with augmented strings, a collection that still look like guitars, but possessing trimmings that call to mind a sitar. He's added sympathetic resonating strings, raised high from the guitar body, and decorated his tuning knobs with bulbed carving. He plays with the axe laid flat, its strings caressed by a metal sliding bar. Could this be another version of the blues, to sit beside those manifestations from the Sahara and the Mississippi Delta?

Since signing to Riverboat Records, Debashish Bhattacharya's UK profile has been higher, particularly in the light of his duo disc Mahima, with serial collaborator Bob Brozman. The latter guitarist is obsessed with any string that slides, so his teaming with Debashish was almost inevitable. Now, Bhattacharya has just released his own album, Calcutta Chronicles, subtitled an Indian Slide Guitar Odyssey. It's refreshing to hear an artist verge on advising his audience not to buy the disc that's on sale at his gig. Well, not quite, but Debashish does issue a warning that it features capsule, or even compromised, versions of his crucial raga material, mentally edited for the purpose of audio home comfort.

In the onstage setting, Bhattacharya is more concerned with the expected lengthy unfolding of a traditional raga, though he's not going to take as much time to unwind as many of his peers. The average length of Debashish's journey is about thirty minutes per piece, instead of the oft-attained hour-long exploration. He drapes himself with the mantle of preservationist, viewing the old ways as being beleaguered in the face of modern technology (Bhattacharya has a curious obsession with citing GPS as the bane of the itinerant musician!). It's not that Debashish is particularly advanced in years, but he's set on preserving the ancient Indian classical system, and not just as a performer. His principle concern is that the audience needs to consciously battle, in order to find a quiet space for extended contemplation. He doesn't want you to play your disc whilst driving/eating/cleaning/procreating. He's right, of course. To solely listen requires a deliberate resolution...

Debashish is partnered by his tabla-playing brother, Subhasis, who observes silently as the opening alap is delicately formed by the sliding strings. He enters more prematurely than most, speaking with the deeply-rubbed tones of his bass skin. Debashish escalates quite quickly, plucking and picking, as he scatters single-note phrases against a backdrop of his own simultaneous jangle-cascade. It's highly intricate, and at its climax, incredibly speeding, with the pair displaying a uniquely bonded sense of improvising precision. Bhattacharya uses each of his three guitars in turn, the last being of ukulele size, and demonstrated on an even shorter piece. Close the eyes, and his sound is not so far removed from that of a sitar or veena, but Bhattacharya is nevertheless in possession of his own particular style, and has rapidly become one of the most impressive players on the Indian classical circuit.

RockOm's Tom Crenshaw had the privilege to interview Debashish in early 2008 and to witness a phenomenal concert in Savannah, Georgia, at the Savannah Music Festival, where Debashish debuted his "Song of Life" composition as performed by master guitarists Derek Trucks, Jerry Douglas, Bob Brozman, and Debashish himself. Tom remarks, "For close to ten minutes these giants of slide guitar held the audience in the palm of their hands trading licks back and forth, and singing dynamically through strings and fingers something entirely unheard-of up until that moment. I've never before witnessed or heard anything like these four masters speaking through their music in such a passionate and moving manner. There was a time when all four guitarists and the tabla percussionist were playing simultaneously and every single note, every beat made perfect sense! When the composition was over the audience erupted in a resounding, almost deafening applause. It was quite a moment- one I'll never forget!"

RockOm: I sometimes say that music is spiritual in nature- in that what flows through us musically seems to come from a higher realm. Do you agree?

Debashish Bhattacharya: No, not at all. Music is man's hard work with extreme passion. When it pleases us, it transports us to a level of the mind where we feel disconnected with all material things momentarily. If you call this spirituality, so be it. Spirituality lies in the philosophy shaping up any music and or true practice of humanity; it is not a package or brand to sell a product.

RockOm: Do you feel that your spirituality is communicated through your music and if so, how?

Debashish Bhattacharya: As I said, spirituality lies in the philosophy shaping up any music. Spirituality is also related to non-fake humanity. Of course, my music is deep-rooted in philosophy, which is why Indian classical or raga music has survived thousands of years. That so many people are learning, practicing, and listening to it all over the world is a percolation of its spirituality. My music is liked by millions around the world, so the aesthetics rooted in philosophy transcribes spiritual feelings in their minds; it is the music itself. In true presentation it shows what it is. This is a natural process of communication, but only possible in the hands of a dedicated and true artist.

RockOm: What do you think it is about music that breaks down barriers and divisions between people?

Debashish Bhattacharya: I call it emotional attachment. Subconscious self-identification with one and all. Only music evokes the realization that we are all human beings, "Brothers and Sisters," as the great Swami Vivekananda addressed audiences at the Chicago World's Religions meeting decades [ago.]

RockOm: Besides your own music, is there any one artist or album that you continually return to (more than others) for inspiration, depth, or spiritual revelation and why?

Debashish Bhattacharya: I always fall back upon Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, and Ray Charles. Why? I think they shape my thinking, intellect, heart, hands, eyes, and all organs like vitamins.

RockOm: Is there a difference between hearing music and feeling music? How do you explain this?

Debashish Bhattacharya: I think that is a radical issue, which needs to be addressed rather seriously. Do you relate to your feelings phone ringtones, horns, jingles, lounge, titillating promos, and squeaks and squirms? All that comes without philosophy of life is "passing sound."

RockOm: Just as you've invented new musical instruments to express what you hear and feel inside, what do you think future master musicians will come up with?

Debashish Bhattacharya: I have invented sounds deep rooted in Indian tradition and use them to trans-create music that is eternal. I have been able to do something though I did not have any role model in front of me. I can't say for others.

RockOm: How are we limited here in the West with regard to writing and performing music of a spiritual nature?

Debashish Bhattacharya: Try to find an answer to why you think you are limited, if you believe so. I think only then you can get your answer of the question.

RockOm: How important is it for you to "get out of your own way," so to speak, when performing? Do you lose yourself while performing or must you remain fixated and aware of what you are doing at all times?

Debashish Bhattacharya: I do not believe in talking while performing. That's not done. I am deeply absorbed while performing, as I believe that I must deliver my best to my audience.

RockOm: Is playing music similar to praying or meditating?

Debashish Bhattacharya: Yes. If one concentrates while praying will he not do so while playing music?

RockOm: Does music have the power to heal and can you give any example of healing you have witnessed?

Debashish Bhattacharya: Healing varies from person to person. Yes, many of my fans listen to a certain piece of mine, at a certain time, to feel good. That's surely healing. But a general remedy is difficult to formulate in such abstract fine arts.

RockOm: Is everyone inherently musical to some degree?

Debashish Bhattacharya: Well, not really. I know of many who are least musical but make tons of money by selling music!

RockOm: What is the most important thing we should know about you and your music, Pandit?

Debashish Bhattacharya: The most important thing about me to know is my name Debashish Bhattacharya and my music - classical raga, music of India.

Debashish Bhattacharya - Live in Calcutta

Year: 2010
Label: Rough Guide

This album is only issued as a bonus disc to the Rough Guide to India. You cannot purchase it by itself, and the rough guide isn't even half as good.

01. Raga Maru, Bihag Aalaap 13:41
02. Mahu Bihag, Jod-Jhala 9:29
03. Maru Bihag, Gat In Madhyala Rupak Tala 12:22
04. Maru Bihag, Gat And Jhala In Drut Tintala 13:20
05. Raga Khamaj, Aalaap 7:41
06. Anandam In Anandi (Raga: Mishra Shivaranjani) 7:07

slide to heaven.
mp3 >256kbps vbr | w/ cover

if any of you have Debashish Bhattacharya - Calcutta to California, I'd love to hear it.

January 8, 2011

Bali: Gamelan & Kecak

The first time I heard gamelan music, I had no idea what it was. I thought it was electronica. It literally sounded like aliens. I was very confused, and very entranced. Then gradually I heard some more, and it was totally mindblowingly enchanting. I hope all of you get to hear one of these ensembles live some time, because the overtones really really knock you out. They build up a cloud of resonant sound that is hovering, shimmering all around you, which is the context of every note that gets played. And within this soundfield, stuff gets repeated, switched around, slowed down, sped up; it creates a context for surprises. And it lulls your conscious mind while stimulating your spirit. And that's why the music is so amazingly ethereal and out-of-body.

And this is exactly the same as what John Fahey does in open tunings.

And this is not an accident.

John Fahey happened to grow up in a neighborhood that had a gamelan ensemble in a backyard. When he'd get frustrated with school or family or life he'd bugger off to the gamelan and play for a while. Wild, eh? True story.

He also was sent an early Harry Partch disc when he was young. Harry Partch was very influenced by indonesian music and gamelans in particular.

And they weren't the only ones. Gamelan music changed the way that westerners thought about music at a very fundamental level. Suddenly, there was an alternative to the the linear scale-based, chord-based, key-based, melody-based approach to music that westerners had been taking since Baroque times. Here was a music that was harmonically driven, like Medieval music, Greek music, and a few others lost to time.

If you've never heard this sort of music before, or even if you have, you owe it to yourself to give this disc a listen. And when you come down from floating 50 feet above your body, you will have been deeply healed.

A gamelan is a musical ensemble from Indonesia, typically from the islands of Bali or Java, featuring a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs; bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings. Vocalists may also be included.

The term refers more to the set of instruments than to the players of those instruments. A gamelan is a set of instruments as a distinct entity, built and tuned to stay together — instruments from different gamelan are generally not interchangeable.

The word gamelan comes from the Javanese word gamels, meaning "to strike or hammer", and the suffix an, which makes the root a collective noun.


Gamelan is a term for various types of orchestra played in Indonesia. It is the main element of the Indonesian traditional music. Each gamelan is slightly different from the other; however, they all have the same organization, which based on different instrumental groups with specific orchestral functions. The instruments in a gamelan are composed of sets of tuned bronze gongs, gong-chimes, metallophones, drums, one or more flute, bowed and plucked string instruments, and sometimes singers. In some village gamelan, bronze is sometimes replaced by iron, wood, or bamboo. The most popular gamelan can be found in Java, and Bali.

The Beliefs

In Indonesian traditional thinking, the gamelan is sacred and is believed to have supernatural power. Both musician and non-musicians are humble and respectful to the gamelan. Incense and flowers are often offered to the gamelan. It is believed that each instrument in the gamelan is guided by spirits. Thus, the musician have to take off their shoes when they play the gamelan. It is also forbidden to step over any instrument in a gamelan, because it might offend the spirit by doing so. Some gamelan are believed to have so much powers that playing them may exert power over nature. Others may be touched only by persons who are ritually qualified. In Javanese gamelan, the most important instrument is the Gong Ageng. The Javanese musicians believe that Gong Ageng is the main spirit of the entire gamelan.

Functions of Gamelan

Gamelan is a way of linking individuals in social groups. Gamelan music is performed as a group effort, and so there is no place for an individual showoff. Traditionally, gamelan is only played at certain occasions such as ritual ceremonies, special community celebrations, shadow puppet shows, and for the royal family. Gamelan is also used to accompany dances in court, temple, and village rituals. Besides providing music for social functional ceremonies, gamelan also provides a livelihood for many professional musicians, and for specialized craftsmen who manufacture gamelan.

Today, although gamelan music is still used for ritual ceremonies and the royal family, it is also performed as concert music at social and cultural gatherings to welcome guests and audiences. Gamelan is also used to accompany many kinds of both traditional and modern dances, drama, theatrical and puppetry. In modern days, gamelan can be kept in places such as courts, temples, museums, schools, or even private homes.

Balinese Gamelan music is very similar to Javanese Gamelan music. The music is in cycle too, however, it is usually faster. One of the characteristic of Balinese gamelan music is that, it has a lot of sudden changes in tempo and dynamics. Like the Javanese gamelan, the instruments in Balinese gamelan includes metallophones and gongs. However, there are more metallophones than gongs in Balinese gamelan. The metal keys in Balinese metallophones are ticker than those of Javanese. These Balinese metallophones produce very bright sound. Another characteristic of Balinese Gamelan music is the used of cymbals. These cymbals create fast rattling sound that usually cannot be found in Javanese Gamelan music.

Kecak (pronounced , alternate spellings: Ketjak and Ketjack) a form of Balinese music drama, originated in the 1930s and is performed primarily by men. Also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, the piece, performed by a circle of 100 or more performers wearing checked cloth around their waists, percussively chanting "cak" and throwing up their arms, depicts a battle from the Ramayana where the monkey-like Vanara helped Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana. However, Kecak has roots in sanghyang, a trance-inducing exorcism dance.

Kecak was originally a trance ritual accompanied by male chorus. German painter and musician Walter Spies became deeply interested in the ritual while living in Bali in the 1930s and worked to recreate it into a drama, based on the Hindu Ramayana and including dance, intended to be presented to Western tourist audiences. This transformation is an example of what James Clifford describes as part of the "modern art-culture system" in which, "the West or the central power adopts, transforms, and consumes non-Western or peripheral cultural elements, while making 'art' which was once embedded in the culture as a whole, into a separate entity." Spies worked with Wayan Limbak and Limbak popularized the dance by traveling throughout the world with Balinese performance groups. These travels have helped to make the Kecak famous throughout the world.

Performer, choreographer, and scholar I Wayan Dibia cites a contrasting theory that the Balinese where already developing the form when Spies arrived on the island. For example, well-known dancer I Limbak had incorporated Baris movements into the cak leader role during the 1920s. "Spies liked this innovation," and it suggested that Limbak, "devise a spectacle based on the Ramayana," accompanied by cak chorus rather than gamelan, as would have been usual.

As an uncharacteristically knowledgeable amazon customer has said:

In his amazing book Ocean of Sound, David Toop opens with a chapter on the meeting of western composers (especially Debussy) with the sounds of the Indonesian Gamelan (which are essentially orchestras of various sizes). Situating the nexus of much modern music in this meeting by finding strains of these sounds in minimalists like Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and John Cage, but also stretching into the filmic realms of Ryuchi Sakamoto, the electronics of Loop Guru, and the Free Jazz of Don Cherry, just to name a few he cites, Toop indicates the range of influence of this amazing music. David Lewiston's 1987 recordings on this compilation jubiliantly reflect this diversity, even in the fascinating opening track of various ensembles passing by in a parade showcasing the sounds of cymbals, gongs, drums, flutes, metallophones, wooden cowbells, and countless other mostly percussive sounds. The rest of the tracks on the CD are equally varied. The third track, for example, Genggong Duet, takes place with the Balinese Jew's Harp, and could almost sound like the electronic squiggles of some electronic outfits like mouse on mars or matmos; the fourth track, a Frog Song which is produced through a piece of palm bark and sounds like a reed instrument, could pass for a free-jazz improvisation. Another exciting highlight would be the 8th track, a Kecak piece that tells the Indian Legend of Hanuman. Familiar to anyone whose seen the film Baraka, this is a piece where a large group sits in a circle, moving, swaying, and chanting, tjak tjak tajk, in furious rhythm. Like the Master Musicians of Jajouka, whom William Burroughs called a "2000 year old rock band," this music sounds both ancient and progressive at the same time. An excellent introduction based on variety alone, but with digital recording, these sounds are surprisingly clean. For anyone curious about Balinese music, this would be a great place to start.

VA - Bali: Gamelan & Kecak

Year: 1989
Label: Nonesuch

Recorded by David Lewiston in 1987, these are fine recordings of both famous and little-heard strains of Indonesian music. In a series of recordings that include both large gamelan orchestras and small ensembles, he has captured the wide scope of the music of Bali. In addition to the gamelan works we are offered some very unique sounds: a palm bark version of the Jew's harp; a reed instrument with a distinctly "Hendrix on the bagpipes" sound. Perhaps most enjoyable is a recording of a passing parade, with various instruments, rhythms, and melodies drifting by in the sort of cacophony associated with Charles Ive's marching band works. Lewiston's offering is invaluable. -- Louis Gibson

Album Description
Bali's most popular ensemble is still the large gamelan gong, consisting of 25 to 30 musicians. The principal melody instruments are metallophones, xylophone-like instruments with bronze keys. Sets of small, tuned gong kettles provide melodic ornaments, while the penetrating bass tones of great gongs punctuate larger phrases. Clashing cymbals add to the overall glitter. A flute or stringed instrument sweetens the melody. The entire structure is supported by two drummers, who create the crucial rhythmic underpinning. The kecak is uniquely Balinese. The rhythmic interlocking "tjak-tjak-tjak-tjak," chanted by a large group of male voices, originated as the accompaniment to an ancient trance dance. It is a performance of the Ramayana, where the monkey hordes come to the aid of King Rama in his battle with the evil King Rawana. The 80 members of the Sekaha Ganda Sari are heard in this kecak performance.

by Bruno Deschênes
For many musicians, Bali is still the last paradise on Earth; their music shows an unsurpassed originality and creativeness. Still today, new pieces are being composed by Balinese composers for the different existing ensembles. This CD, produced and recorded by American ethnomusicologist David Lewiston, gives us an overview of the large variety in Balinese music, of the different types of gamelan ensembles. The first piece is the music of the opening parade of the Bali Arts Festival on June 1987 (a festival taking place in June and July of every year on the island). You hear recently created ensembles, styles, and pieces as well as older ones. Among the recent musical creations of Balinese are the kecak, a type of rhythmic vocal play with short and percussive words which are used for trance dance. This type of singing, which came to life in the 1930s, is found only in Bali and is sung exclusively by men. Quite possibly one of the best Balinese CDs available!

1 - Opening Parade, Bali Arts Festival - 12:18
2 - Gamelan Gong Sekaha Sadha Budaya - 10:41
3 - Genggong Duet - Artika, Meji - 2:33
4 - Genggong Batur Sari, Batuan - 4:11
5 - Gamelan Salunding, Tenganan - 7:52
6 - Sadha Budaya Gamelan Gong Suling - 6:06
7 - Gender Wayang: Sukawati - Balik, Loceng, Nartha, Sarga - 7:34
8 - Sekaha Ganda Sari, Bona - 8:07
9 - Gamelan Gong Kebyar Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia, Den Pasar - 12:48

we come in peace.
mp3 >256kbps vbr | w/ scans

Björn Ståbi & Ole Hjorth - Folk Fiddling from Sweeden: Traditional Fiddle Tunes from Dalarna

Brilliant strange music here. There is something so mysterious about traditional Scandinavian music. It comes in circles, but instead of the kind of circle that brings you back to the same place you started (as occurs in American, Celtic, and many other traditional dance musics), each return brings you to a new level. So essentially, it is a spiral. And there are spirals within each spiral. So really, this is fractal music, as organic as a tree's branching roots, a clouds billowing edges, or a river's forking delta.

It is cold music too. Every happy june day is still tinged with the memory of the long dark winter, and this feeling comes through in every solitary note, which maintains its loneliness even when singing the most beautiful birdsong.

Sweeden has become known for its Nickelharpa, the 19-string keyed fiddle of medieval origins. But while these recordings do not feature its sound, they always reference its church-like droning harmonies and brittle melodies.

Take a walk in the crisp winter air after listening to this music, and see if you can find the hidden flowers in the sky.

Björn Stabi probably was the first traditional Swedish fiddler to perform in the United States when he appeared in a duet with Ole Hjorth at the Newport Folk Festival about thirty years ago. Their performances, filled with sonorous harmonies and exotic melodies, were a life changing moment for many listeners. Stabi remains one of the most renowned folk fiddlers in Sweden. Bjorn Stabi's Orsalater (GIGA 35) is his first album of tunes from his ancestral home of Orsa. Apparently the project was unrehearsed, recording old tunes as they popped into his memory. There some jarring but tasty non-tempered notes, usually said to speak for the considerable age of a piece.

Björn is the current tradition bearer of Orsa's rich musical heritage. Björn was recognized as a riksspelman (Zorn Silver) back in 1961 and in 1986 he was tapped for the highest honor a Swedish folk musician can receive—The Zorn Gold. Lisa earned the Zorn Silver medal in 1999.

Björn Ståbi & Ole Hjorth - Folk Fiddling from Sweeden: Traditional Fiddle Tunes from Dalarna

Label: Elektra Nonesuch
Year: ?

For more information, please click the back cover below.

A1. Skullbräddleken - 2:30
A2. Vals - 2:54
A3. Polska - 2:10
A4. Systerpolska - 1:34
A5. Noaks Gånglåt - 3:00
A6. Säckpipslåt - 0:45
A7. Hjortingens Polska - 2:10
A8. Vallåt - 1:08
B1. Polska In G - 1:37
B2. Långdans - 1:56
B3. Polska - 2:55
B4. Gånglåt - 1:12
B5. Gråtlåten - 1:46
B6. Vallåt - 1:10
B7. Skänklåt - 1:49

Side A contains tunes from throughout the province of Dalarna (after the tradition of various fiddlers):
track A1 is a wedding-tune from Mockfjärd,
track A2 is a waltz from Orsa,
track A3 is a dance-tune from Enviken,
track A4 is a dance-tune from Orsa,
track A5 is a walking-tune from Orsa,
track A6 is a bagpipe-tune from Gagnef,
track A7 is a dance-tune from Bingsjö,
track A8 is a herding-tune from Orsa.

Side B contains tunes from Rättvik parish, Dalarna (after the tradition of Hjort Anders Olsson, Bingsjö).

vinyl, cleaned | mp3 >256kbps vbr | w/ cover

very out-of-print

Joseph Spence - Living on the Hallelujah Side

Another album from this blog's guardian angel: Joseph Spence! As I've already said all that I can say about this fountain of joy and grizzly grumbles, I'll leave it at just the pure music. Enjoy!

Joseph Spence - Living on the Hallelujah Side

Year: 1987
Recorded 1972-1978
Label: Rounder

Product Description
Joseph Spence's music is a style unto itself. Working with songs learned from hymnals, from the radio and from local tradition in his native Bahamas, Spence developed an astounding guitar style with wild, syncopated rhythms and a unique but sophisticated sense of harmony, while he casually growled out excerpts of lyrics. Spence was a major influence on Ry Cooder. These are '70s recordings made near his home in Nassau and in concert in the U.S.

Review by Ron Wynn
Bahamian guitarist/vocalist Joseph Spence's humming, flailing, sensational singing and playing combined secular flair and spiritual fervor in a manner close to that of the brilliant Blind Willie Johnson and Rev. Gary Davis. This set of 1970s performances, reissued on CD, included evocative renditions of "A Closer Walk with Thee," "More and More with Jesus," and "When the Saints Go Marching In," plus equally arresting versions of "Irene Goodnight" and the holiday ditty "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town." Spence was incapable of self-indulgence or fakery; his lines, phrasing, riffs, and solos are enchanting, while his vocal effects and accompaniment often come close to surpassing his playing. This was simply magical material, the kind that comes only from a genuine original.

A customer said:
It's almost impossible for me not to smile while listening to this wonderful record. There are many times in fact, when I have laughed with joy and amazement at the pure, unadulterated music-making of this amazing man. 'Neighbor Gone Home' and 'I'll Be A Friend To Jesus' are among my favourites here, with the latter in particular having me in hysterics when Joseph pulls up abruptly at the high notes, leaving his friend Blooming Rosalie Roberts to carry the tune. All through the album Joseph's half-sung, half-grunted, half-mumblescatted vocals (a new term that fits, I think!) are just amazing and delightful. Trust me, you have never heard ANYTHING like the singing of Joseph Spence! It is absolutely outrageous!

For the uninitiated, Joseph Spence played guitar exclusively in something called 'Dropped D' tuning, and his beautiful, syncopated Calypso fingerstyle is inimitably great. He was a gem of a musician, and a true original. Joseph was not as young as he used to be by this time, but don't let that deter you. This is a wonderful album. Check out "More and More With Jesus", "I'll Overcome Someday", or "Where Shall I Go" for some wonderful Joseph Spence guitar performances.

This album is a complete blast of infectious, wonderful, guitar-and-voice simplicity. There's some kind of joy and delight that just comes out in Joseph Spence's music. It's unique, and something hard to explain; you just have to hear him. And you MUST hear him! The Book of Proverbs says that "A merry heart does good like a medicine." With this in mind I have no hesitation in recommending to everyone a good listen to Mr. Joseph Spence. His music and his spirit will do you a power of good. Absolutely unmissable!

1. I'll Overcome Some Day 2:06
2. A Closer Walk With Thee 3:00
3. Where Shall I Go 3:20
4. I'll Be A Friend to Jesus 2:42
5. More And More With Jesus 4:08
6. Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town 2:58
7. On My Way To Heaven 2:15
8. Neighbor Gone Home 2:05
9. Jesus On The Mainline 3:58
10. Living On The Hallelujah Side 2:26
11. When The Saints Go Marching In 2:57
12. Irene Goodnight 3:06

keep on the sunny side.
mp3 vbr ~250kbps | front, back

Béla Fleck - 2 Albums

Well it's past time that this blog paid a bit of tribute to the banjo's greatest contemporary icon.

In the taxonomy of the Grapevine, there are several divisions. Roots are the foundation of our music. Fruits are the perfection of it. Seeds begin something new and Branches connect two different strands. Well first Béla became a fruit, mastering the Scruggs/Keith/Trischka style banjo styles. Then he started branching, playing jazz and Celtic music on the 5-string banjo, and doing it better than anyone before. Then he became a seed, pioneering a new bluegrass meets funk meets world music with the Flecktones. And as I watch young players like Jayme Stone and Jake Schepps take the banjo to new places, I'm realizing that their foundation is in Béla's wonderful pioneering foundation. So in time he's becoming a new root. And yet he's going on to seed many new projects as well, making new kinds of music in Africa and India and who knows where next. So while I'm sure his name is well-known by now, I thought it still fitting to present some of his earlier, less-well-known works to give a picture of his primordial fully-formed coming out (he actually was in jazz bands and a couple of great bluegrass bands in the 70s, but this is his first statement that presents the full scope of his vision).

by Sandra Brennan
Premier banjo player Béla Fleck is considered one of the most innovative pickers in the world and has done much to demonstrate the versatility of his instrument, which he uses to play everything from traditional bluegrass to progressive jazz. He was named after composer Béla Bartok and was born in New York City. Around age 15, Fleck became fascinated with the banjo after hearing Flatt & Scruggs' "Ballad of Jed Clampett" and Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell's "Dueling Banjos," and his grandfather soon gave him one. While attending the High School of Music and Art in New York, Fleck worked on adapting bebop music for the banjo.

Fleck always had diverse musical interests, and his own style was influenced by Tony Trischka, Earl Scruggs, Chick Corea, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, the Allman Brothers, Aretha Franklin, the Byrds, and Little Feat. After graduation, he joined the Tasty Licks, a group from Boston. They recorded two albums and dissolved in 1979. Afterwards, Fleck joined the Kentucky band Spectrum. That year, only five years after he took up the instrument, he made his solo recording debut with Crossing the Tracks, which the Readers' Poll in Frets magazine named Best Overall Album. In 1982, he joined New Grass Revival and stayed with them until the end of the decade. During this time, his reputation continued to grow and in 1990, Frets magazine added his name to their Hall of Greats. In 1988, one of his compositions, "Drive" (from the album New Grass Revival), was nominated for a Grammy.

Fleck, mandolin player Sam Bush, fiddler Mark O'Connor, bassist Edgar Meyer, and Dobro player Jerry Douglas teamed up in 1989 to form Strength in Numbers and record The Telluride Sessions. Late that year, Fleck was asked by PBS television to play on the upcoming Lonesome Pine Special; in response he gathered together a veritable "dream team" of musicians to form the Flecktones. The original members included Howard Levy, who played piano, harmonica, and ocarina, among other instruments; bass guitarist Victor Lemonte Wooten, and his brother Roy "Future Man" Wooten on the drumitar, an electronic drum shaped like a guitar. Though the special wasn't aired until 1992, the Flecktones recorded their eponymous debut album in 1990 and followed it up with Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (1991).

In 1993, they released their third album, UFO Tofu, which featured music blending different genres ranging from bluegrass to R&B to worldbeat. In 1995, they released Tales from the Acoustic Planet; Left of Cool followed in 1998, and Tales from the Acoustic Planet 2: The Bluegrass Sessions was released a year later. Outbound followed in mid-2000. Busy and prolific, Fleck released an album of classical pieces, Perpetual Motion, in late 2001, followed by Live at the Quick in 2002, the ambitious double-disc Little Worlds (and its truncated single-disc version, Ten from Little Worlds) in 2003, and Music for Two (with bassist Edgar Meyer) in 2004. Hidden Land, another album with the Flecktones, appeared on Columbia Records in 2006. The band released its first holiday collection in 2008, appropriately titled Jingle All the Way. The Melody of Rhythm: Triple Concerto & Music for Trio appeared in 2009 from Koch Records, which teamed Fleck with cellist/bassist Edgar Meyer and the Indian percussionist Zakir Hussain along with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra directed by Leonard Slatkin.

Official Bio:

Béla Fleck (born July 10, 1958 in New York City, New York) is an American banjo virtuoso. He is best known for his work with the band Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, with bassist Victor Wooten, saxophonist Jeff Coffin, and percussionist Future Man.

Life and early career

Béla Anton Leoš Fleck, who is named after famous Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, Austrian composer Anton Webern, and Czech composer Leoš Janáček, was drawn to the banjo when he first heard Earl Scruggs play the theme song for the television show Beverly Hillbillies. He received his first banjo at age fifteen from his grandfather (1973). He was a member of the class of 1970 at P.S. 75 (the Emily Dickinson School) in Manhattan. Later, Fleck enrolled in New York City's High School of Music and Art where he studied the French horn. He was a banjo student under Tony Trischka.

Almost immediately after high school, Fleck traveled to Boston to play with Jack Tottle, Pat Enright, and Mark Schatz in Tasty Licks. During this period, Fleck released his first solo album (1979): Crossing the Tracks and made his first foray into progressive bluegrass composition.

Fleck played on the streets of Boston with bassist Mark Schatz; and the two, along with guitarist/vocalist Glen Lawson and mandolin great Jimmy Gaudreau, formed Spectrum: the Band in 1981. Fleck toured with Spectrum during 1981. That same year, Sam Bush asked Fleck to join New Grass Revival. Fleck performed with New Grass Revival for nine years. During this time, Fleck recorded another solo album, Drive. It was nominated for a Grammy Award in the then first-time category of "Best Bluegrass Album" (1988).

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones

Béla Fleck and Victor Wooten formed Béla Fleck and the Flecktones in 1988, along with keyboardist and harmonica player Howard Levy and Wooten's percussionist brother Roy "Future Man" Wooten, who played synthesizer-based percussion. Levy left the group in 1992, making the band a trio until Saxophonist Jeff Coffin joined the group onstage part-time in 1997, eventually becoming a permanent member. His first studio recording with the band was their 1998 album Left of Cool. In 1996, he appeared on the tribute album to Hank Marvin, one of his influences, and The Shadows "Twang" playing a Shadows UK hit from the 1960s, "The Stranger".

With the Flecktones, Fleck has been nominated for and won several Grammy awards. (Cf. Grammy sections below.)

Other music and recordings

Fleck has shared Grammy wins with Asleep at the Wheel, Alison Brown, and Edgar Meyer. He has been nominated in more categories than any other musician, namely country, pop, jazz, bluegrass, classical, folk, spoken word, composition, and arranging.

In 2001, Fleck collaborated with long-time friend and playing-partner Edgar Meyer to record Perpetual Motion, an album of classical material played on the banjo along with an assortment of accompanists, including John Williams, Evelyn Glennie, Joshua Bell and Gary Hoffman. The album includes selections such as Chopin's Etude Op. 10 No. 4 in C# minor, Debussy's Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum, and Paganini's Moto Perpetuo (from which is derived the name), as well as more lyrical pieces such as the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, two of Chopin's mazurkas, and two Scarlatti keyboard sonatas. Perpetual Motion won two Grammys at the Grammy Awards of 2002 for Best Classical Crossover Album and Best Arrangement for Fleck and Meyer's arrangement of Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum. Fleck and Meyer have also composed a double concerto for banjo and bass, and performed its debut with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

Fleck names Chick Corea, Charlie Parker, and the aforementioned Earl Scruggs as influences. He regards Scruggs as "certainly the best" banjo player of the three-finger style.

Solo and with the Flecktones, Fleck has appeared at Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Merlefest, Montreal International Jazz Festival, Toronto Jazz Festival, Newport Folk Festival, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Bonnaroo, and Jazzfest, among others.

He has also appeared as a sideman with artists ranging from Tony Rice to Ginger Baker and Phish.

In 2005, while the Flecktones were on hiatus, Fleck undertook several new projects: recording with African traditional musicians; cowriting a documentary film called Bring it Home about the Flecktones' first year off in 17 years and their reunion after that time; coproducing Song of the Traveling Daughter, the debut album by Abigail Washburn (a young banjo player who mixes bluegrass and Chinese music); forming the acoustic fusion supergroup Trio! with fellows Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke, and recording an album as a member of the Sparrow Quartet (along with Abigail Washburn, Ben Sollee, and Casey Driessen).

In late 2006, Fleck teamed up with Chick Corea to record an album, The Enchantment, released in May 2007. Fleck and Corea toured together throughout 2007.

In July 2007 at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, he appeared and jammed with Toumani Diabaté, a kora player from Mali. He is also scheduled to play the 2009 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival with Toumani Diabaté.

In December 2007, he performed charity concerts in Germany to help promote AIDS awareness. His largest concert was held in Grosse Halle Bern on December 1, 2007.

On June 13, 2008, he performed as part of The Bluegrass Allstars, composed of bluegrass heavyweights Sam Bush, Luke Bulla, Edgar Meyer, Bryan Sutton, and Jerry Douglas at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.

The next day Fleck performed with Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet also at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.


Béla Fleck is often considered the premier banjo player in the world. A New York City native, he picked up the banjo at age 15 after being awed by the bluegrass music of Flatt & Scruggs. While still in high school he began experimenting with playing bebop jazz on his banjo, mentored by fellow banjo renegade Tony Trischka. In 1980, he released his first solo album, Crossing the Tracks, with material that ranged from straight ahead bluegrass to Chick Corea’s “Spain.” In 1982, Fleck joined the progressive bluegrass band New Grass Revival, making a name for himself on countless solo and ensemble projects ever since as a virtuoso instrumentalist. In 1989 he formed the genre-busting Flecktones, with members equally talented and adventurous as himself.

Throw Down Your Heart, the third volume in Béla’s renowned Tales From the Acoustic Planet series, is his most ambitious project to date. In on-location collaborations with musicians from Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal, Mali, South Africa and Madagascar, Béla Fleck explores the African origins of the banjo, the prototype of which was brought to American shores by African slaves. Throw Down Your Heart is a companion to the award-winning film of the same name, which Béla and director Sascha Paladino are currently premiering at festivals nationwide. Transcending barriers of language and culture, Fleck finds common ground with musicians ranging from local villagers to international superstars such as the Malian diva Oumou Sangare to create some of the most meaningful music of his career.

The music on the album is as adventurous and varied as anything we’ve come to expect from Béla, ranging from the tradition-based opening track, performed with a group of Kenyan women singers, to the exquisite title track, performed with the Haruna Samake Trio and Bassekou Kouate from Mali. Basseko, who comes from a long line of Griot musicians, is an incredible improvising player who plays the n’goni, the Malian banjo. The music he and Béla make together is gentle and melodic. Equally modern is his duet with South African guitarist Vusi Mahlasela, who is simply known as ‘the voice’ (and what an awesome and expressive voice he has). His music connects South Africa’s Apartheid-scarred past with its promise for a better future.

Nothing can quite prepare the listener for the sound of the giant marimba played by the Muwewesu Xylophone Group in Uganda. Says Béla, “The marimba is reassembled every day, and it seems to be played by a set group of men. Each one plays a certain musical part in the group. I think there are other people who know each of the parts in case someone is unable, or unavailable to play. Also there seemed to be kids who were being taught parts. But a spot in the primary team seemed to be a very coveted spot, and the men who played in this group were very serious and very good. The village did join in – in large numbers, singing and playing flutes and fiddles and percussion instruments. They also danced.” It’s a sound of pure joy.

Another highlight is “Djorolen,” a duet with singer Oumou Sangare, who delivers a vocal that expresses heartbreaking beauty and sadness. “As she points out in this song,” says Béla, “it is often the orphans, those who have lost their parents when they are young, who have the greatest problems in life.”

“D’Gary Jam” is a fascinating amalgam that exemplifies the spirit of the album. Béla explains, “This track started its life in Nashville. We had a great jam one day, which went for 22 minutes straight, the whole take was really cool.

This was in July, about 7 months before we went to Africa. I decided to bring the track along, and add people to it as we went, and even after the trip, a kind of science project, if you will. After things got added, I took some liberties with people’s parts and did a little audio sculpting.” Along with the great acoustic guitarist D’Gary, the track features, among others, Oumou Sangare, the legendary kora player Toumani Diabate, and Bassekou Kouyate.

As to the origins of the banjo, Béla comments, “When I went to Africa I found instruments and players that gave me a better sense of where the thing started. In Gambia and Mali in particular, I found what I was looking for!” This is especially apparent on the traditional song medley “Ajula/Mbamba,” performed by Béla and The Jatta Family from the Gambia. “The akonting could very well be the original banjo. Everyone around Banjul certainly seems to think so! Huge numbers of slaves came west from this area. We were told that the musicians were allowed to play these instruments on the slave ships, and that many lives were saved due to it.”

While many of these recordings were made in the field, in Uganda, Tanzania, The Gambia and Mali, the album is beautifully recorded. The lasting impression is that Béla Fleck has revealed many subtle facets of African music, from the fully modern to the deeply traditional. It is some of the most exciting and beautiful music he’s ever made. “[Fleck’s] reverence for his fellow players allows for the honey of the African sounds to seem that much sweeter. And the music, well…You’ll just have to hear it for yourself…”

“The banjo sheds its image as the quintessential American instrument to reveal a symbol of deep African heritage and the collective wail of the European slave trade (the film’s title derives from this heartbreaking historical chapter).” - Austin American Statesman


Béla Fleck - Daybreak

Year: 1988
Label: Rounder

Whenever I press a Bela Fleck disc into a friend's hand, I and ask them to listen to it,because Fleck is a virtuoso, a master of his instrument. Over the years, Bela Fleck continued to incorporate various styles into his recordings. 1988's `Daybreak' gives you a taste of how well-versed he is in playing other musical genres.

Bela stays faithful to his NewGrass style on `Texas Barbeque', `Twilight`, `Reading in the Dark', `Applebutter', `Dawg's Due' (a David Grisman tune); `Crossfire', and `Punchdrunk'.

There are jazz tunes: Spain'-- a few bars into it you'll recognize this Chic Corea favorite; and a honky-tonk version of Fats Waller's `How Can You Face Me Now' (with vocal).

This would not be a Bela Fleck disc few without a traditional bluegrass melody. This disc has several: `Bill Cheatham' featuring Bill Keith and Bela in a banjo duet; a joyful, bouncy version of `Silverbell` and a NewGrass-y version of `Fiddler's Dream'.

He also throws in a few Celtic songs---- 'Growling Old Man and the Grumbling Old Woman' and 'Christina's Jig/Plain Brown Jug'

For fans of his later `jazzgrass' sound with the Flecktones, `Daybreak', `Flexibility', `Old Hickory Waltz' and `The Natural Bridge Suite' (reminiscent of Stephane Grappelli/Django Rheinhart) won't disappoint.

1. Texas Barbeque - Fleck - 3:57
2. Spain - Corea, Rodrigo - 7:10
3. Twilight - Fleck - 2:01
4. Reading in the Dark - Fleck - 2:36
5. Growling Old Man and the Grumbling Old Woman - Traditional - 1:38
6. How Can You Face Me? - Razaf, Waller - 4:52
7. Bill Cheatham - Traditional - 3:13
8. Christina's Jig/Plain Brown Jig - Fleck - 3:49
9. Silver Bell - Traditional - 2:54
10. Fiddler's Dream - Traditional - 2:46
11. Daybreak - Fleck - 2:58
12. Dawg's Due - Fleck - 2:57
13. Flexibility - Fleck - 4:10
14. Old Hickory Waltz - Fleck - 4:52
15. Crossfire - Fleck - 3:25
16. Applebutter - Fleck - 2:41
17. The Natural Bridge Suite - Fleck - 6:54
18. Punch Drunk - Fleck - 2:42

mp3 160kbps | w/ cover

Béla Fleck - Crossing the Tracks

Year: 1979
Label: Rounder

by Steve Leggett
Crossing the Tracks was Béla Fleck's first solo album, released on LP by Rounder Records in 1979 (for some reason Rounder never got around to releasing it on CD until 2005), and it featured an inspired and forward-thinking string band consisting of Bob Applebaum on mandolin, Russ Barenberg on acoustic guitar, Sam Bush on fiddle, Mark Schatz on acoustic bass, and Fleck, then a 20-year-old banjo player with brilliant chops and a bebop heart. Fleck gets the bluegrass monkey off his back with the opening track, a solid version of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs' "Dear Old Dixie," and then is free to roam through a gentle and sparkling set of traditional tunes ("Growling Old Man and Grumbling Old Woman"), boogie rags (Fats Waller's "How Can You Face Me Now"), airy and elegant originals ("Inman Square" and the wonderful, endlessly shifting "Twilight"), and genre-jumping jazz covers (Chick Corea's "Spain"), all done with a bright, joyful élan, before ending things with a beautiful old-timey version of the traditional "Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow," which features vocals from Fleck's old Tasty Licks bandmate Pat Enright. In time this sort of thing would come to be known as "jazzgrass" or "newgrass," but there really wasn't a name for it in 1979, which certainly didn't stop Fleck from going there. Crossing the Tracks is full of subtle innovation, and if it doesn't seem as immediately startling as his later fusion flights, listen again. All the seeds are there.

1. Dear Old Dixie - Flatt, Scruggs - 2:39
2. Inman Square - Fleck - 4:00
3. Texas Barbeque - Fleck - 3:59
4. Growling Old Man and the Grumbling Old Woman - Fleck, Traditional - 1:41
5. Spain - Corea, Rodrigo - 7:12
6. Crossing the Tracks - Fleck - 3:38
7. Spring Thaw - Fleck - 2:27
8. How Can You Face Me Now - Razaf, Waller - 4:54
9. Twilight. 2:01
10. Frosty Morning. 2:58
11. Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow. 2:26

don't stop.
vinyl | mp3 320kbps | w/ scans

as per usual, I'm looking to complete my discography. If you have
Béla Fleck - Deviation
Béla Fleck - Double Time
Béla Fleck - Inroads
let me know!