Saturday, November 03, 2012

Bollywood Jazz

There are times when words are totally unnecessary. Here are two videos from this evening's MTV Unplugged featuring A.R. Rahman. These transcend genres. Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

10 Albums to Restore Your Faith in Music

A friend recently wanted to “refurbish” her library on her iPod and asked me for some suggestions. Our tastes in music have a large degree of overlap, so I set out enthusiastically, only to realize how difficult it was to come up with a finite list for great listening. At a time when not a lot of contemporary popular music seems to have a chance of surviving beyond a few years, here is a list of albums that should restore your faith in music.

1. Surprise – Paul Simon
You know the Live at Central Park Concert by heart, you use their lyrics to help you deal with daily strife, and you still hang on to the Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m. cassette that no longer plays. You will be surprised by the urban contemporary tone (without losing out on the lyricism or the wit of the older songs) of this one from Paul Simon.

2. Mercury Falling – Sting
I love everything by Sting. Almost. This album is his maturest best, balancing musical ideas with sentimentality, technology with originality, and middle age cynicism with hopeless romanticism. Two other good but relatively less popular/known listens from Sting would be All This Time which he was recording while 9/11 happened and Live at The Perugia Jazz Festival which sees him freewheeling and improvising like never before.

3. My Rock – Walk Off the Earth
New India band that I found thanks to youtube! Nice and original sound, neat covers. They only have two albums out so far, and they make for good listening. They do not strictly fall into the category of serious music, but they bring a freshness that takes you back to the time when The Beach Boys and The Beatles were putting out there initial music. Their music videos are a visual treat unlike anything you have seen before.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Music for Manic Monday Mornings

In the blogging world, Monday mornings are manic for most. If your post isn’t shipshape, you are probably racing against the clock to be able to hit publish by the time people log in to work, by the time the homemaker settles down at his computer after packing the kids and the working woman off. And then there is the mad social network hopping to get the word out. I am no different. But I am lazy. And wicked. And a hedonist.

So over the long weekend, I came up with something that this Monday morning is just right for. Music. Not a post about music but a post of music. Yes, a playlist it is. A devilish Peter Pan sort of a playlist. A journey back in time to the music I grew up with, starting from what I heard before I could decide what I would listen to, on to the music that I couldn’t avoid once I was old enough to make a choice.

Like parents, one often does not get to choose the music that shapes one’s life. It is a combination of the culture of the times, your milieu, and what resonated within you for reasons that will forever remain unclear. Enough of introduction. Lets get to the music.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Beatles Remastered: Revolver

Music has been so integral a part of my personality that there are a large number of performers and performances that I feel extremely challenged to write about. I feel that no amount of effort that I put into writing about them can ever do justice to how important they are to me. Over the years, I have gathered courage to write about some of them in the best manner I could, but they still come across as inadequate to me. The Beatles is one such musical phenomenon. Though I have attempted reviewing works by Paul and written about John and the 70s, I cannot bring myself to write about the music of The Beatles.

While browsing, I found that I had replied to a question on an audio forum a long time back, and I thought it merited a place here, since I doubt I will ever be able to reproduce the cocky clarity with which I answered. The questioner had asked whether the 2009 remaster of The Beatles' Revolver was worth buying for a fan who already has the original vinyl...

Surely one of the greatest album covers of all time, and among the top three Beatles album covers for me.

Here is my reply.

Revolver is a landmark album for The Beatles in many senses. It is a point of departure from their earlier albums and contains all original tracks and no covers. It also sees them experimenting with electronically altered sounds, and unusual instruments. It also marks the beginning of their foray into psychedelia.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Tina Turner - Simply The Best

I was really not aware of Tina Turner’s body of work or her journey as a musician and as a person when I first heard her sing Private Dancer and What’s Love Got To Do with It. I was a teenager fed on a diet of campus rock, and for all purposes, this was nothing more than glam pop pretending to be rock. Yet, something about her voice, her delivery, and the urgency of her singing made me sit up and listen to it carefully. This was at a time when other than the weekend pop time and the occasional top of the pops or Eurovision fillers on Doordarshan, all you had on music television was an hour of MTV in the late afternoon. When I first saw her perform on television, her energy and intensity bowled me over.

I grew out of my teens. Tina Turner drifted in and out of my musical horizon with Mad Max and 007 soundtracks and duets with Barry White and Bryan Adams. My growing propensity towards jazz and the blues saw her climb lower on my personal charts. As a student of popular music, I familiarized myself with her early work with Ike Turner and the Revue with masterpieces like River Deep Mountain High and of course, Proud Mary. Beyond that, I was ready to ignore her songs as ones that were going to go to the bottom of the shelf. What I could not ignore, however, was the electricity of her singing and her live performances, whether it was with Beyonce at a Grammy performance or with Cher for the Oprah Winfrey show. Of course, there were other rockers her age who were rocking too, but she was something special. I could not put my finger on it then, and I have not been able to put my finger on it now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grunge: The Unclassifiable Seattle Sound

The Operative Note embraces all genres of creative musical expression.  In this post, guest blogger Sandeep of Crack The Sky takes a look at the phenomenon of grunge, that brief period when it looked like the counter culture movement might evolve into something more meaningful. Over to the expert.


"Here we are now, entertain us!!!" -Kurt Cobain, singer and guitarist of the band Nirvana.

The Early Rumblings
For all its intents and purpose, the American underground musical movement of late 80s and early 90s known as grunge was never meant to see the light of the day. Grunge as a musical movement was never aiming to be accepted by mainstream culture, but all that changed thanks to a handful of Seattle rock bands who mixed the distorted apocalyptic chords of heavy metal with subject matter such as alienation, apathy and angst. The grunge bands of those period were fiercely independent and idealistic and they despised mainstream success. So what exactly happened that dragged the grunge movement from its underground roots to the blinding lights of mainstream music.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Bob Dylan: The Tambourine Man

Bob Dylan's 71st birthday came and went. My friends and I celebrated by watching Scorcese's documentary on Dylan's life, No Direction Home. Lou Majaw did his thing at Shillong and then some more at Mumbai. Lou has kept the annual Bob Dylan tribute concert going in Shillong for four decades now. Barrack Obama, the US President who as a young person felt the world open up when he heard Dylan sing, conferred the Freedom Medal on him around the same time, a sight as bizarre as the artiste lineup on Amnesty International's tribute album featuring nearly 80 of Dylan's best songs sung by artists from all genres.

Why am I writing this on the day that he first recorded Mr. Tambourine Man (surely one of the finest set of lyrics ever) nearly half a century ago in 1964? I write this because I feel a great sense of loss when I see how this man allowed his personal choices to stand in the way of making a real difference to the world. Of course, no one can deny that the hurricane he created with his songs has changed the world for ever and for good. However, as a lover of Dylan's work, it would be wrong of me to discount what could have been.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Robert Moog Google Doodle

The Google Doodle for Robert Moog's birthday is going to go down as a landmark, this much is for sure. It is a full fledged tone generator with all the wave modulation that one can ask for, and comes with a four track recording and playback button. And all of it with a very amazing range of controls. While modern listeners may be quick to call it a crazy squelchy sound, those of us who have witnessed the evolution of the synthesizer will be all starry eyed and ranting about this for a while.

Screen snippet of the Google Doodle for Robert Moog's 78th birthday

The app, built using the web audio research that the madmen at Googleplex have been doing for a while comes with 19 fully functioning knobs, a modulation wheel, a four track recorder, and volume control for individual oscillators. The three oscillators are paired with filters that let you tweak the attack, decay, sustain and contour, and an on/off switch for the modulation wheel. It works with a keyboard (QWERTY and the numpad) as well as with a mouse, but if you are trying to build a melody, the keyboard is the obvious choice. So, skipping the jargon, here is a Doodle that lets you create your own sound, modulate and envelop it the way you want, and then record up to 30 seconds and four tracks of it, play it back, and share it.

It took me a while (a huge while actually) to figure out all that it contained, and once I did, I was awestruck and nostalgic for quite a while. Before I return to the magic of this doodle, a quick look at the world of Robert Moog and what he did for the modern sound.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Little Boxes: Walk Off the Earth

Happy Ugadi! Greetings for the new year! Here is a small gift that is like a multimedia cup of Ugadi Pachadi.

My primary focus area over the last several years has been the re-definition of education. I believe that the crisis we are facing in almost all areas of human life is a failure of education. Somewhere in our rush to be who we wanted to be, we have forgotten what we learned, and forgotten to teach our children well. The warning signs have been around for a long time, and I don't mean just a few decades. Music has a very important role to play in this, especially in carrying the message of re-defining education to a generation that has been let down beyond belief by the ones preceding it.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Norah Jones and Danger Mouse: Little Broken Hearts

I am pretty obsessive about the work Norah Jones has done, and have little to say that is critical or negative. I have felt that way even with Feels Like Home, which I thought was a brave thing for her to have done. But then, her career has been about constantly reinventing herself, and usually in unexpected creative directions. Ms. Jones is about to do it again.

Norah Jones literally "burst on the scene" with her 2002 debut album, Come Away With Me, that won her five Grammy awards and millions of fans. It was a smooth and jazzy journey into the classical popular song format, with subtle instrumentation and arrangements that primarily showcased her voice and vocal skills. She went on to demolish this image of hers by releasing Feels Like Home in 2004, which was a “conservative” country album all the way. Not Too Late, released in 2007 introduced us to the philosopher and political Norah Jones, with all its material written by her, including songs of sorrow, songs of protest, and songs of nostalgia. Once again, it was a new foray into using contemporary formats to present the traditional song format.

The Fall, in 2009, revealed a new Norah all over again, with a new steampunk look and music videos that were meant to give competitors a run for their money. The music and the lyrics had gone urban, and the laid back languid tone was replaced with a sense of urgency that was reinforced by the slickly paced rhythm and the guitar driven structures of the songs. In between all of this, she managed to pull off amazing collaborations and side projects, working with Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, Willie Nelson and the like and keeping up her work with The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and her own side project The Little Willies.

Danger Mouse, or Brian Burton, on the other hand is a remix and hip hop artist who is half of the Gnarls Barkley duo, but whose biggest claim to fame will remain the Grey Album, a redo of the famous White Album of The Beatles. I must confess that I am not an avid listener of this genre of music, and beyond its innovativeness, I have failed to find great musical value in this type of music.

So it was a pleasant surprise to hear that Norah’s next outing was going to be a collaborative album with Danger Mouse, and it wasn’t till I heard the first single that I had any idea of what it would sound like. The Fall had seen Norah mature in style and move closer to guitar based rock without compromising on the content. She still spoke about love and loss, about ideology and disillusionment, but in a more relevant and hard hitting style. Along with it was the image makeover, that saw Norah leave her innocent country girl look behind and emerge as the strong urban woman.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Whitney Houston Dead at 48

The 54th Grammy awards show is set to become a Whitney Houston tribute evening with the death of this amazing performer who spent the last several years of her life battling drugs, a troubled personal life, nervous breakdowns, and unimpressive public performances, all of it compounded by failing health and a rapidly declining voice. The 48-year-old superstar, Whitney Houston was found dead on February 11, 2012, at a Beverly Hills Hotel. While I was looking forward to the Beach Boys reunion at the awards ceremony, it is obvious that Whitney’s death will overshadow all the excitement. This post is my tribute to an artist who lit up my teenage years, one whose songs made the pain and the joy of love and longing come alive, and one who battled her demons as best as she could.

The late 80s were a time of hope for music. The decade had generated next to nothing in new music that would stand the tests of time and the advent of music television meant that looks and moves often took precedence over content and talent. It was at such a time that Whitney Houston released her first self titled album which included tracks that would go on to be among her all time hits, Saving All My Love, Greatest Love of All, You Give Good Love, and Hold Me. Coming from a family of singers (she was the Daughter of Cissy Houston and a cousin of Dionne Warwick), with good connections in the recording industry, her debut was promoted and marketed by the best machinery one could think of, but it was her vocal talent that made listeners sit up. Here was a voice that was powerful, versatile, and soul stirring. Her persona and album covers were the type you could bring home and your mom would not disapprove. Within a few months, she was a staple of the Sunday afternoon request show on Kolkata’s favorite music show - All India Radio’s Musical Band Box.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Day The Music Died: Roots of Modern Rock

Whether you first heard of Buddy Holly from the fun stuff Weezer video that came with the Windows 95 installation disk, or whether you know about Texas because of Lubbock and Port Arthur, this post is for you. For a lot of contemporary music fans, February 3 is just another day. But this was the day that is remembered by students of modern popular music as “the day the music died” as described by Don McLean in his 1971 big hit American Pie. This was the day when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.D. “Big Bopper” Richardson died in a plane crash in 1959.

Till the time I was able to understand and appreciate the significance of Buddy Holly in the evolution of modern music, I brushed this event off as just another tragedy in the series of tragedies that lines the history of rock. I thought it was an event made famous by the song, and not vice versa. It was not till my early 20s that I began to realize why Buddy Holly was so important, and what his death meant to generations of musicians and music lovers across the world. The opinions and understanding expressed in this post are my personal ones, and it is possible that there are subjective interpretations that might not be in agreement with popularly held views. At the end of the day, I am a lover, not a forensic scientist, and love has its own way of looking at things.

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