Our selections, in order:
"Niagara," a track by Third Coast Percussion from their suite Paddle to the Sea on their album of that name (Cedille).
"During peak daytime tourist hours," Wikipedia informs us, "more than six million cubic feet (168,000 m3) of water goes over the crest of the falls every minute." The music here burbles along with the joyous resonance and ping of steel drums in a subway station. I loved it, however spectacularly it fails to live up to its title.
"Pillow Talk," the opening section of Olagón: A Cantata in Doublespeak (Cedille), a 90-minute tapestry woven from texts by Paul Muldoon and music by the fiddler Dan Trueman with the vocalist Iarla Ó Lionáird, performed by the composers along with Eighth Blackbird, Chicago-based contemporary chamber ensemble extraordinaire (Cedille).
A few clues from the press release will not come amiss. "Olagón depicts—not without irony and humor—a privileged 'power couple' mired in envy, greed, and adultery, descending into criminality and addiction as Ireland's 'Celtic-Tiger' economy collapses in the early 21st century [...] Trueman's score combines elements of the traditional music of Ireland, Norway, and America with the raw urgency and sonorities of contemporary classical music. Muldoon's text interweaves verses in English and Irish Gaelic, seasoned with word-play and wit." Coming to our nine-minute excerpt cold, I scribbled myself a note: "meditative music, pensive, somnolent, drowsy, with a beat that never changes." And lo, the words pensive and drowsy floated up in the vocals, along with the phrase pills and drink. Dream time! Think James Joyce, think Finnegans Wake. A new name to me, Iarla Ó Lionáird (ear-luh o'linnard) belongs to the five-member Irish/American supergroup The Gloaming, likewise a new name to me. Their music, critics say, honors Irish tradition even as it transforms it from within. I've got to get out more.
"The Dance of the Furies" and "The Dance of the Blessed Spirits," from Gluck's stately Orfeo ed Euridice, excerpted on Journey to Mozart (Deutsche Grammophon), the latest addition to the extensive discography of the violinist Daniel Hope, serving here as soloist and leader of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra.
Typically, Hope's programming reflects at once a scholar's passions and a showman's invention, and so it does here, placing Mozart in the company of contemporaries regarded in their time as peers. Though the number of players is modest, the sting of the strings and especially the blunt force of the brass strike home in the first selection. The second pleased me less. On its own terms, Hope's transcription of the celestial flute solo was above reproach. Yet to me, it only held a candle to what was not there: the rise and fall of melody on the living breath.
"Æ Rømeser" and "Unst Boat Song," from Last Leaf, a collection of let's say subarctic folk music presented by the Danish String Quartet (ECM New Series).
Both tracks are marvels of poetic concentration, austere but not bleak, all the deeper for the palpable sensation of bow on string. In case you were wondering, Unst belongs to the Shetland Islands. It is the northernmost of the inhabited islands in the United Kingdom. A promotional website touts Unst as "The Island Above All Others," and the welcome mat is out to new residents. Last Leaf may give you ideas.
"Little Train to Heaven," from A Map of the Kingdom of Ireland (Heresy).
Richard G. Evans, guitar and Ph.D. in neural networks for robotic control, rolls out of the station to a brutal blast of static. Out on the open track, the air clears and clouds over again. A hoarse whistle is heard from time to time, and eventually we reach what I guess must be the Pearly Gates, in battered repair. Still, it's an exciting ride. Daniel Figgis, self-styled intermedia artist, assists. The balance of the album—21 tunes in all, including bonus tracks on the download—presents an omnibus of Ireland's current electro-acoustic talent.
"Madeira River," from the Philip Glass ballet score Aguas de Amazonia, in a rendition by Paddle to the Sea (see above).
An exhilarating arrangement of this music showed up on our air some time ago, performed by the Brazilian band Uakti, no longer active, which used to play on instruments of their own devising. Paddle to the Sea proves no less hypnotic, layering pattern upon luminous rhythmic pattern, cresting in a floodtide that sweeps all before it. If you sense a secret affinity to the Rheingold prelude, so do I.