Music can be a form of perfection - with nothing added or subtracted, flawless just the way it is.

Sun Ra

“I think of myself as a complete mystery. To myself.” -Sun Ra

(Recommended listening while reading)

One of my favorite places in the world are record stores. I love the atmosphere and the coziness they possess. To me, a record store is a magical, romantic place to be. It’s where serendipity happens daily. I appreciate the big ones as they are like sanctuaries of Music, but my heart lies with the small, charming record stores owned by lovers of Music. God knows they don’t earn a lot, but they can’t imagine doing anything else. I love how they put their heart and soul into the store and because of it, walking through it is actually so intimate. And that’s the beauty of it. Every record is there for a reason. Behind every item lies a story. Tragically though, record stores are dwindling. They’re being overthrown by internet sales and music departments in super-markets. So I make an effort to support these precious places. And that is how I came across Sun Ra (as well as many other gems). I first heard of him in a record store in Ljubljana. Then, when I was in New York I went to a very special record store in China Town and after scouting for solid 30 minutes I asked the owner to tell me more about Sun Ra and maybe give me a recommendation. His eyes got brighter (this seems to be a common reaction when asking record store owners about Sun Ra). He went on to tell me bunch of stories about Sun Ra, where he saw him live, how he got hooked, then took me over to the CD’s, where he had a story for each one.

“In some far off place
Many light years in space
I’ll wait for you.
Where human feet have never trod,
Where human eyes have never seen.
I’ll build a world of abstract dreams
And wait for you.” - Sun Ra

And that’s how I got started with Sun Ra. I didn’t immediately like him. However there’s a certain mysterious aura about him, that sooner or later draws you back whether or not you initially knew it will happen. So after being indifferent at first, I eventually found my way back, wanting to find out more and more about him and his music. I found the less I thought about what it all means, and the more I just let myself go and let the music take me wherever it may, the more I was enjoying it. I guess it’s not for everyone, but I find his music amazing.
I’m astounded by the variety of forms that music can take, all the different meanings it can hold and all the different places it can take you. To me Sun Ra showed that beautifully. He was a bottomless well of artistry and creativity.

It wasn’t until last month, that his music really hit me(and inspired me to write this post). Sun Ra left our Earth in 1992, but his Arkestra continues to perform under Marshall Allen, who used to be in the original Arkestra. Last month, they came to Slovenia to a little town called Cerkno. Cerkno is renowned for hosting many jazz artist (through the festival, Jazz Cerkno). Going there for a concert in itself is an experience - an idyllic town snuggly put between the mountains, that during the festival lives for jazz. When I got there it seemed like the whole town woke up and proceeded to the main square where the concert was held. And the warm summer night with clear skies just added to the warm, homey feeling. Then just as the stars in the sky started to show up, so did the Arkestra - shiny and bright, one by one they came up on stage. Everyone was wearing a thought-out costume, that might consist of a shimmering cape and a hat for example. They were beautiful and otherworldly.

“The outer space beings are my brothers. They sent me here. They already know my music.” - Sun Ra

Sun Ra Arkestra

Then they began to play. Suddenly it all made sense - the music, the costumes, the philosophy, everything. It made perfect sense in that moment. I’m afraid I can’t describe it. It’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself, in person. The music showered upon me and I could feel there’s something big happening in front of me. It was a combination of this cosmic music and the whole stage moving and shimmering, everyone performing being in their own reveries, while at the same time where present to what they were playing. I sat there awe-struck. The music, the philosophy had a significant presence in the square. And the concert had it all - there were chaotic moments, as there were beautiful moments. It was complete, whole and perfect. The chanting in so many songs had a special quality too. There were moments when the band stepped down from stage and went through the audience, playing, singing, which was healing. It definitely was one of those concerts, when it’s done, something deep stays with you. My hour and a half drive back home through dark roads was something special. The music was with me.

This is definitely something that is well worth experiencing in person - and you might get a chance, the Sun Ra Arkestra is pretty active. Check out their website to see when they’ll be around and go check them out. If you don’t, you can still listen to the enormous treasure of music that Sun Ra left us. Here’s a really cool guide that might help.

This was a personal post - I might write another one that’s more about Sun Ra, especially if there will be some interest.

Anyway, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

14. August 2014
Jazz Sun Ra Story

The story about discovering my passion.

WALL-E

It has been too long. I haven’t written a post for over a year. I devoted all my focus to other things in my life, but recently I found myself wanting to start writing about music again. So here I am. I’ll write one post a week from now on, so stay tuned. And please comment - feedback is always nice!

Since it’s been a while, I thought it would be appropriate to do something slightly different. This one will be a personal story. It might be a silly story, but it is actually quite important to me, so I’m going for it anyway. I wanted to tell you the story of how I discovered Jazz (and the rest of the music I listen to today).

It should be clear to anyone reading this blog that I’m really into music. To me, it’s one of the finest things life has to offer. The music I listen to and enjoy is something I identify myself with. It isn’t an overstatement to say that it’s a part of who I am. But it hasn’t always been like this.

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”― Friedrich Nietzsche

Today, it plays a big part of my everyday life. It probably does for most people, I just tend to be quite ebullient and passionate about it (why do you think I write a blog on it). It fills most of my time - music is around when I work, study or relax. I love taking time off just to put on a good record, and do nothing else at the same time. I get a kick out of reading books on music and musicians. But in the end, it’s simply about the beauty, intricacies and the sheer perfection of good music, that draws me so much.

Nowadays, I listen mostly to Jazz and Blues. Some years back, I actually thought I didn’t like that kind of music and in a lot of ways I didn’t. I felt like it’s not for me, because it’s too complicated and I would never ‘get it’. I’d be intrigued by it, but stopped myself, thinking you have to be a musician or special kind of smart, to get it.

Then one day, I watched WALL-E.

In one scene near the beginning of the movie, a song inconspicuously started playing. A lovely trickling piano sounded the room and then, the most beautiful trumpet I’ve ever heard entered with gusto. I was still not aware of an impact that this would have on me. Then, as the rich, coarse voice, full of love and romance sang ‘Hold me close and hold me fast, the magic spell you cast…’ I would start noticing something. I wouldn’t know what it was until later, but I was moved. After it ended, the music left a profound presence in the room. I was mesmerized. I kept asking myself “What was that song?”. As I’m writing this, I’m aware of the absurdity to write down such significance to WALL-E, but at that time, it was everything. Not the movie, but what it brought to me. The movie ended, and I was still just asking myself that question. I resorted to the the Internet gods, asking if they know what song it was. I couldn’t find it, so eventually I went through the whole soundtrack, until I came across the familiar sound.

La Vie En Rose.

Louis Armstrong.

Hm, I had heard of him. Well, I knew him to the extent of ‘What a Wonderful World’. And I vaguely remembered a music class in elementary school, where we mentioned him in relation to something about jazz. I was a bit surprised that this was the man behind the song. Little did I know, that this song, and this musical colossus will change my life. I Immediately looked for the song on Youtube - I had to hear this magic again. And I did. I listened to it one more time, then I started clicking through related songs. I carefully listened to every song, savoring each note. With every single song, I was taken deeper into the rabbit hole. It was like meeting someone for the first time, falling for them, and then wondering where they’ve been your whole life. I never knew I could feel such joy listening to music. Music like this was unknown to me and I was swept away.

Thus began my journey to the wonderful music of Louis Armstrong and ultimately to the world of Jazz, Blues and Soul. In the following weeks, I would continue exploring Satchmo’s music and even after the initial excitement wore off, there would be a song every now and then, that would stop me from what I was doing, and just make me marvel at the beauty. To this day, Louis Armstrong is my all-time favorite musician.

After falling so desperately in love with his music, I started doubting my previous decision that Jazz is not for me. Suddenly I was drawn to it. Most of it was still a sound I wasn’t used to, but I decided to start exploring it. I watched a great documentary - Jazz, by Ken Burns, which in turn, introduced me to many important figures of jazz history. I started listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Clifford Brown, Fats Waller, Robert Johnson and many more. I relished their music. And with every new artist, every song, every record, one thing became clearer and clearer. I found my passion.

2. July 2014
Jazz Louis Armstrong Story

Photo by Frank Stewart

Back in October 2012, in my post about Bobby McFerrin I mentioned I attended a concert in New York, but never talked more about it, so I wanted to do that now.
Last September I went on a trip through New York, Washington and my beloved New Orleans (you can check out the photos on my website). As was my wish for years, I wanted to see where jazz was born. Just days before my departure to New York, I found that Wynton Marsalis and JALC were performing with Bobby McFerrin. I had to double check, because I could not believe my eyes. I was ecstatic. Two of my favourite artists performing together?! What a way to start the trip that was already meant to be all about music anyway.
The venue - Lincoln Center in The Time Warner Center on the 60th street - was so beautiful, sophisticated and classy. Some don’t care about that, but I always appreciate a nice atmosphere at a concert. The concert’s theme was Bobby McFerrin’s biography, but I felt that wasn’t exactly the main thing of the night, it was more of a way to convey this great collaboration. I mentioned Jazz at Lincoln Center in one of my previous posts and they are truly amazing. It’s a band consisting of only great musicians and I really enjoy their sound and like pretty much anything they do. At the concert it felt like they could make anyone sound awesome, let alone Bobby McFerrin. I am a great admirer of both Bobby McFerrin and Wynton Marsalis, and this was probably one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. In hindsight I would, however, like to see Bobby do more of his usual crazy stuff and Wynton solo more. But nevertheless, the concert was magical just the way it was. The band and Bobby just clicked on so many levels and I guess that’s the result of Bobby blending in more and not doing his usual stuff to the fullest potential.
I was so thankful to be able to listen to their rich sound in person. It was so intense, I remember getting emotional and filled with such happiness throughout the concert. Ah, I can’t wait the next time I’m going to hear Wynton or Bobby live again.
I highly recommend you listen to the whole concert, I believe it’s well worth it. But if you don’t have the time, or are not interested, here are a few excerpts.

Beautiful rendition of George Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2. It’s evident right away, how well they they go together, Bobby and JALC.

Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee, and the only time at the concert where Wynton and Bobby directly interact with each other. And it is golden! If you’ll listen to only one song, listen to this one. Their duet always brings a smile on my face, it’s just soo good!!! I love it.

They performed this concerts a couple of nights in a row. I was there on the opening night and the video on youtube is from one of the following nights. There are minor differences, but there is also one major one. On the opening night, there was Paul Simon in the audience and after the intermission, Mr McFerrin called him up on stage to sing Scarborough Fair with him. At first he was really reluctant and didn’t want to come up, and we all really thought he wouldn’t. But after a lot of convincing from the audience, Paul came up. That’s right. Paul freakin’ Simon! Just when I thought the night can’t get any better… Needless to say, it was the highlight of the concert. Beautiful, magical, mysterious and heartwarming.
Here is a version without Paul, beautiful as well.

And finally some crazy Bobby McFerrin stuff - here he sings Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. I know right, who on earth sings this?
At the concert I attended, Bobby sang solo a capella version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow for encore. Genius!
I’ll say it again, I strongly recommend you take an hour and forty minutes for yourself and enjoy this beautiful performance. I think Bobby McFerrin and Wynton Marsalis have some special energy between them and you can hear it firsthand.
It’s actually one of my wishes, that they record an album together. They’re just so amazing together. Listen to a song they recorded together on one of Wynton’s albums - Baby, I Love You. The kind of chemistry they have is simply infectious.

What about you, what do you think? Thoughts on the concert, Bobby, Wynton, JALC, the post? As I always, I encourage you to share your comments.

Until next time everyone.

22. January 2014
Bobby McFerrin collaboration concert Jazz Jazz at Lincoln Center Wynton Marsalis

I’m finally writing about a band that’s not only still active but also Slovenian! Isn’t that something? But seriously, I’m actually really happy to be writing about someone I personally know for a change. Two of my good friends are in a somewhat obscure Slovenian band, called Salonski. Two months ago they released their debut album ‘Fauna’ which made me take on this post. At first I was a bit unsure how to go about it - should I try to be as objective as possible or not? In the end I decided I’m just going to write what I think and not worry about being biased (which I know I will be).

The band went through a lot of member changes through the years, but currently consists of Domen Finžgar (accordion, vocals), Ines Vodopija (piano), Jana Arlič (violin), Larisa Petrič (violin), Miha Hafner (french horn), Miha Poredoš (ukulele) and Žiga Barba (trombone).

Domen, who is the leader and the driving force of the band, never fails to amaze me. It seems creativity is oozing out of his every pore. Besides being a musician, he’s a composer (the whole album is composed by him), a great comic author and a game designer. On top of his constant artistic outputs, he’s also a hard working student of Forestry at University in Ljubljana. The variety of his interests shows that he has countless ideas and that he doesn’t want to be bound to just one way of sharing them. And it’s not just the sheer number of the projects he takes on, it’s the eagerness and confidence with which he executes them, that is impressive. Fauna, of course, is no exception. Check out his tumblr, to see and follow his other projects.

He managed to put together a great band, without which he wouldn’t be able to get his point across quite as powerfully. All of them are actually an inspiration to me - everytime I listen to the album I can’t believe that this unique piece of music was created by a group of students for whom music is just something they do on the side.

You can listen to Fauna on this link, where you can also purchase it.

From the first time I heard they’re recording an album, I could hardly wait for it and then, when I could finally give it a listen, I was thoroughly impressed. From the first few seconds of the album, when Domen’s accordion warmly backs his vocals, I was already digging it and after the whole band joins in, I knew I was in for something great. I’m glad to say, I wasn’t mistaken.

Photo by Sabina Pirnat

The album is truly amazing. Its genres range from folk, etno, doo wop to rap, cajun and tango, while its inspirations reach even broader. It’s very easy to listen to and its strongest point, I believe, is that it is so incredibly comforting. Not everything is executed with perfection and some parts are modest, but through that it shows the honesty and unpretentiousness of the whole band. They love what they’re doing and they play from their heart, which always shines through. The great, unusual instrument selection gives the album its warm sound. And I must say, no drums is a welcome change from what we’re used to hearing every day. The melodies are earthy and the phrases are often simple, but never boring or predictable. Finžgar’s vocals are raw and somewhat unpolished but sincere, absolutely convincing and warm.

As I’ve said, the range of inspirations is vast and impressive. I love how Domen in his songs takes a piece of an inspiration, blatantly uses it, but adds his own perspective and makes it completely his own. He really has a knack for combining all kinds of genres.

He says that for most compositions he originates from his accordion playing and draws from there. This makes accordion central part of Fauna, which is just great, since Domen knows how to squeeze all the good juices out of his instrument and bring out the best in it. Other instruments at times sound like extensions or assets to his own playing, and it sounds perfect - listen to Shruti Box and Early Riser. For the other part they provide a reliable background and simply weave the fabric of music, which, in essence, makes this album what it is.

The first song, ‘Ljubezen delala’ was where Domen tried interpreting the songs differently for the first time (which is why it was chosen to be the first track). He combined ‘She thinks I still Care’ and a song he and Žiga heard in Slovenian countryside, performed by a random stranger. Please listen to ‘She thinks I still Care’, just to hear how skillfully it’s crafted into ‘Ljubezen delala’.

I wanted to just mention the next song, ‘Tango za mentalno mrtve’ (Tango for the mentally dead), because of the source of the lyrics. They borrowed it from song by Gravediggaz, 1-800 Suicide (2:45). When you go through the whole album and search for all the different inspirations it’s amazing to think how they pulled it off. Gravediggaz is just one example.

And my two favourite songs (well technically, three) on the album are ‘V Calgaryu ni letališča’ and ‘Shruti Box’ with ‘Early Riser’. The first one’s lyrics are really touching and strong and the whole song is in sync with that. I’m touched every time I listen to it. ‘Shruti Box’ + ‘Early Riser’ on the other hand, are just great to listen to. I appreciate the development or the storytelling aspect to it.

At this point, I’d like to apologize to all my english speaking readers, since some lyrics are in slovene and I’m not translating them. I hope this won’t deter you from listening to the album.

I’ll finish the post here, since I don’t want it to go on for too long. I am considering writing another one about Fauna, going more into the specific songs and talking about the genius usage and blend of different inspirations in them. I’m not sure though, we’ll see.

Your comments are, as always, much appreciated. Until next time.

7. July 2013
Band Cajun Doo Wop Etno Folk Instrumental music Rap Slovenian

For some reason, I’m really afraid of writing about instrumental music. Even though I really want to, basically all my posts so far have been about music that includes a singer. After confiding in my friend about this fear, he made a great suggestion: we would tell each other which instrumental album to write about on our next blog post, and just do it. It was exactly the kind of motivation I needed. So here I am, nervous and afraid, writing my very first post about a piece of solely instrumental music.

The album my friend chose for me is In a Silent Way by Miles Davis. I usually talk about the artist for a little bit, but if I wanted to talk about Miles, one whole post probably wouldn’t suffice, so I’ll make it extra brief. Miles Davis, born in 1926, was a jazz trumpeter and one of the most influential musicians in the 20th century. For 50 years, he basically kept inventing new genres and explored jazz in so many new directions (Bebop, Hard bop, Modal jazz, Fusion, Cool jazz). It’s safe to say that jazz today wouldn’t be where it is without him. If you don’t know who he is, you might want to read something about him, as he is one of the most important figures of the 20th century music. Or better yet, listen to some of his classic albums - Kind Of Blue, ‘Round About Midnight or Milestones. Keep in mind though, that that is only a tiny part of his musical career - what he’s created over the years ranges far beyond these three albums.

When I first started listening to jazz and heard about Miles Davis, I just didn’t get it why he’s supposed to be so good. Sure, I liked Kind Of Blue, but that’s about it. It was making me kind of annoyed, that everyone was praising him so much. I thought he was overrated and was frustrated that no one else saw that. Even with this opinion, I didn’t think his early stuff was bad or anything, whereas the weird fusion thingy, I just couldn’t take. His weird appearance on stage didn’t help with that. So, very early on, I decided that I don’t really care for Miles Davis and that I hate jazz fusion.

Four years of listening to jazz (but avoiding Miles and anything similar) later, I suddenly found myself getting more and more interested in Bebop, Avant-Garde, Modern jazz, all the stuff I thought I didn’t like. Just like that, Miles’ music eventually crept back to me after all that time. I gave the albums I knew, another listen and was surprised that this was the same music as the kind I used to dislike. It sounded differently. I loved it! There were so many beautiful things happening in the music and I couldn’t understand how I couldn’t hear that before. Even though I had evidence against me, I kept my skepticism against Miles.

So when my friend asked me to write about Miles Davis’ album, you can imagine how I was unsure about that. I thought to myself “how on earth am I going to write about this?? I’m probably not even going to like it”. Nevertheless, I decided that, for once in my life, I’ll get out of my own way, and agreed on the choice. It turns out, I LOVE the album! It’s one of the most intriguing things I’ve ever heard. As if that wasn’t enough of a surprise, I found out that In A Silent Way is supposed to be the first fusion album Miles recorded. . . I was confused, “Wait, aren’t I suppose to hate fusion jazz? But this sounds so good. How come?”. After a few seconds of thinking about it, the music took over and it didn’t matter anymore.

The album itself is wonderful! It’s dreamy, contemplative, other-worldly, melancholic, magical and even dark. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve always been fascinated by dreams and everything related to them. So it’s probably just me, but I feel like this whole album is about dreams, which is why I absolutely love it.

The first song, Shhh/Peaceful, starts off with just the drums, organ, piano, bass and guitar letting you look around and get the feeling of what the song is going to look like. They set the stage for Miles, and when he comes in, he glides on top of that background, as smooth as ever. Listen to his tone and articulation. He’s got such control over his instrument, it sounds like it’s not just a trumpet, but an extension of his thoughts.

The song then goes on and develops like dreams do. And you know how in dreams something’s always off and even though you’re somehow aware of it, everything feels just right anyway. Well, listen how the drums provide a really groovy and quite powerful beat, but the music itself is so mellow and gentle. At first it sounds a bit off, but after awhile it just feels right.

Another correlation between this song and dreams is how many details the sound has. No matter where you look, there’s always a detail you didn’t hear before.

The song continues making an impression like that until, just after becoming slightly turbulent, it rolls off.

At this point, I was already totally in awe, but there was another part, just as good as the first one. What a treat!

The second song, In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time, begins so darn beautifully! It sounds so optimistic and hopeful, something like a beautiful landscape after a storm. After you get a chance to really hear this gorgeous sound, the flow changes quite abruptly and they start building on top of that. It feels like this beautiful music is delicate and sensitive, since after a slight change, everything follows. I guess it sounds like, what I think a development of an idea in someone’s mind would sound like - from that first inkling to a full-blown idea. In any case, an amazing second part to this unbelievable album.

Listening to and thinking about this album was a really wonderful experience. I sat in a cozy chair, dimmed the lights and set the music to a comfortable volume. Then I listened. . . I mean really listened. I was shocked by how many things I could actually hear. If I had listened to this about a year ago, I would have thought it’s nonsense. I guess I must have had some kind of invisible earplugs in my ears.

Forty minutes of this dreamy music went by like four minutes. The whole album is filled with so many thoughts, feelings and emotions, I found myself thinking about it for some time after it stopped playing. And I love how great music inspires me to listen to even more music, which is exactly what happened in the next few days.

I suggest you give In a Silent Way a listen as well. Don’t think about it too much, just listen and let yourself feel the wonders of music.

10. April 2013
Instrumental music Jazz Miles Davis