Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Who's setting the mood?

One of the most salient features of the best music is its ability to stike a mood, to capture a sound that reflects its time. Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" encapsulates the late 1950s cool and sets such a definitive mood, just as John Coltrane's Impulse! releases hit the mark for the 60s. Can you hear George Benson's "Breezin'" without being transported to the late 1970s?
While there's a lot of terrific music recorded today, one has to wonder if anyone is really, really nailing the sounds that will become associated with this decade in such a way.
That's the first step towards becoming a classic ...
While I don't know if they've hit the right mood yet, several new releases have powerful moods that strike me as being potential classics -- though only time will tell.
Stefon Harris and Blackout's outstanding "Urbanus" has such an amazing range of sounds that I think it may be among the most memorable for a long time. Blackout's phenomenal rhythm section -- Ben Williams and Terreon Gully -- keep a groove going that is subtle but brilliant. If you can get your ears off the melodies and solos, you'll find a rich tapestry in the background.
But that's a big "if" -- Harris has combined and balanced a potent mix of the familiar and not-familiar. Several tracks lay a Vocoder-synthesized melody over the rhythm section, with Harris and others soloing, an effect that was entrancing. Sounding at once unhuman yet warm, it's a delicious treat -- especially on Stevie Wonder's "They Won't Go."
Madeleine Peyreaux's new "Bare Bones" captures a unique mood. It's a mystical brew made with blues-based stock, with all sorts of funky flavors added. The opening track -- "Instead" -- opens with a spot-on imitation of George Harrison's slinky guitar playing (that is, the sounds he favored later, not while with the Beatles). then adds Peyreaux's melancholy and smoky voice.
It's a powerful dose which may not suit everyone, but much of it was entrancing.
Check them out and let me know what you think -- what captures your ears, or sets a mood for you?

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