Since the first of the New Year I’ve been trying to decide on what music releases might have been my favorites of 2008. But as I rifled through my addled opinions, I suddenly realized I was shockingly unaware of anything going on in music in ‘08. This goes to show you how much attention I pay to the goings on around me at Amoeba. I think I need to get out of the used 45 room a bit more, though it’s hard to do … it’s like a record geek Shangri-la in there!
Between my obsession with the Presidential election, the Dodgers pennant hopes, a Top Chef / Project Runway fixation, and just being wrapped up in my own primitive world, most of my information came by way of an occasional obituary, never ending music-celeb scandal sheet fodder or random music pouring from some car pulling up alongside me at a red light. I guess I can list my favorite old 45’s I discovered this past year, but they have little to do with ’08, let alone this century. I only bought a handful of CD’s last year. A few that come to mind are the Antony and the Johnson’s CD, a Mighty Hannibal collection, and Baden Powell’s Canto on Guitar but none of them were released in 2008. I didn’t download any new music either and though I probably bought some 30 DVD’s and maybe as many as 40 books last year; once again, I’m not sure if any of those titles were actually released or published in 2008.
So then I started thinking about all the gigs and concerts I went to … and once again I drew a blank. There are years that fly by, and then there was 2008 which seemed to last only about 37 and a half hours … and I must have slept through most of it.
Then again I did have two great adventures last year. A three week tour in Italy where we played some great gigs, but more notably I ate some incredibly delicious food. And a two week vacation in Paris, which I wrote laboriously about over the holidays, where once again it was all about the food. However, during both trips there were two unusually great musical moments that came out of nowhere. Unfortunately both events are probably knee deep in that “you had to be there” category, but what the hell …
In Florence after playing a show, we were all invited to stay at a friend of a friend’s 15th century farmhouse in the hills of Tuscany, about a half an hour away. But first we had to meet our host at a club not far down the road, located in an old, abandoned Catholic church. From the outside it looked like most any other 600 year old building, inside some of the original religious elements were still intact, not many, but enough to realize that this used to be a place of worship. What really surprised me was the music; tangos and only tangos. It was a tango club. On the dance floor were the most perfectly attired, gorgeous collection of people I think I’ve ever seen gathered in one room in my life; and I looked like hell. Most of dancers moved in the traditional Argentinean or Uruguayan steps of “the forbidden dance,” and a few other couples who hadn’t yet perfected the tango just playfully toyed with the chest to chest embrace, spinning hip to hip, tearing it up in their own way. The music selection was perfect; the volume was nice and low so the conversations around us were lively and intimate. The room was pretty brightly lit so you could see the pick-ups and make-out romances at the tables along the walls. Dozens, and I mean dozens, of wine bottles were strewn around the perimeter of the dance floor. There was one helluva sensual vibe in the room. And I don’t mean that last-call-desperate-to-get-laid kind of vibe either. Anyway, I’ve always been fascinated by Tango music, from the early songs of Carlos Gardel, to the orchestras of Juan D'Arienzo, to the Nuevo Tango of Ástor Piazzolla. That night with a bottle of wine in my hand, I just sat in the corner --but not too far from the heat of the dancers -- listening to the rhythms and I was at home!
If you’ve ever taken the Metro in Paris, chances are you’ve been accosted by a musician performing on the subway train. More often than not, what the captive audience gets is a mediocre accordion or bandoneón player or some guy with a guitar singing some song you’ve heard way too many times and never need hear again, let alone a sorry ass rendition. Rarely does the music stir anything except irritation. But on this last visit to Paris we were riding on the number 8 Metro, towards Alfortville, to see some friends. An accordion player stepped on board, and instantly a slight frown appeared on practically every face but the musician’s. He stood in the center of our train, started playing, and something came alive. People perked up, turned around and actually looked him in the eyes. He was masterful. Playing a couple of jazz standards which I should know the titles of but I can never remember, his tone was insanely beautiful, simply faultless. He improvised fluidly and soulfully, without that annoying bravado street musicians might shove down your throat in order to be noticed. In a matter of moments he made something happen, an intangible skill few musicians possess no matter how trained and studied they might be. This portly, unattractive accordion player with a bad haircut had the musical equivalent of “it!" After a couple of minutes he gathered a few coins from his audience and moved forward to the next train car.