Reflections on “Angelique Kidjo and Friends: Remain in Light” at Carnegie Hall.
As artists, our creative lives are measured in states of feast or famine.
Even in our greatest periods of flow, tabula rasa, the blank slate, lurks…
That's just the way it is, and it can affect our lives in profound and complex ways.
Most “civilians” don’t really get it.
We who experience it however, do our best to do the dance, knowing that our creative lives are often more of a tango than a ballet.
As the film Alive Inside so beautifully demonstrates, music can unlock treasure-troves of memory.
The vicissitudes of life transform us, and there are inevitably times when we feel like we’ve strayed off course.
Unlocking lost memories can right the ship.
Lately, I’ve been listening to albums that were seminal in my musical development. Very often, doing so re-connects me to certain feelings, dreams and memories I’d lost sight of.
The Pat Metheny Group’s Still Life (Talking) is one album that has had this effect on me.
It’s perfect in every way: the writing, the playing, the production (shout out to Steve Rodby), the cover art, and, most importantly, the story - told in a mere 42 minutes.
Like all of the Metheny Group’s best work, the listener is taken back to an archetypal dreamland of hope and romance.
Those feelings are what put me on the course of being a musician in the first place, and when I listen to an album like Still Life (Talking), the music somehow puts me back in touch with an inner voice - my “song”.
It’s one of the many great works of art that help me to find my center, the “me” in me.
In this New Year, here’s hoping you all can find a way to do the same, navigating the ebbs and flows of the coming year without losing sight of the “you” in you.
1) How would you describe what you were trying to do on "Home" ... particularly regarding its instrumentation and ensemble sound.
On Home, my first album as a leader, I wanted to connect to the listener with a complex but inclusive palette of sounds, moods and grooves. I wanted to produce something that would appeal to music lovers of all kinds, not just jazz aficionados. .
The groove element was the first order of business. I started playing bass because I wanted to make people dance, and I wanted to reflect that here.
I chose mallet instruments and harmonica as the lead voices for my melodies. The steel pan and vibraphone, particularly in the hands of Victor and Joe, represent a synthesis of harmony, melody and rhythm. Moreover, there’s a vocal quality in the way Joe and Victor play which I love - that seeming incompatibility of managing to “sing” by means of mallet and metal alone. It’s a testament to their unique talents, and I feel like it gives this music a special character.
The chromatic harmonica and steel pan are essentially “folk” instruments, and I like that. The former was popular in France as a more agile alternative to the accordion and the latter, as the national instrument of Trinidad, grew out of people's primal need to express themselves using what they found around them, which at the time, were steel oil containers. The steel pan is volcanic and rooted, while the chromatic harmonica is almost transcendent, soaring above the ensemble. With this instrumentation, I can take the listener on a journey from Chicago to New York, the Caribbean, Europe and back again.
Like the song “Saudade” (Sau-da-djee) on the album, whose title comes from the Cape Verdean Portuguese for a feeling of being dispossessed, this music represents my personal journey away from home as well as my dedication to the wonderful home in which I grew up and the family and friends that gave that home its glow. After losing that home, coupled with the passing of my father and brother in recent years, the urgency of paying tribute and expressing hope and joy through my music became a priority.