The Unbearable Jazziness of Being
This CD contains compositions for two, three and four pianos. Composed in 2008, the music reflects my exploration of venturing outside the normal boundaries of Western music traditions.
1. Northern Lights. The famed explorer Robert F. Scott wrote of the aurora in the early 20th century, "The green ghostly light seems suddenly to spring to life with rosy blushes. There is infinite suggestion in this phenomenon, and in that lies its charm; the suggestion of life, form, colour, and movement never less than of mystic signs and portents - the inspiration of the gods - wholly spiritual - divine signaling." Over many centuries other observers of the aurora have reported hearing mysterious sounds during the flashing displays. Northern Lights is, in part, a contemplation of the question, "If there is music in light, is there perhaps light in music?"
2. Behind the Waterfall. H. H. The Dalai Lama told American mountaineer Ian Baker (described in Baker's excellent book The Heart of the World) about a wall painting in his private meditation chamber in Tibet that had a mural showing a "yogi meditating in front of a waterfall with a tunnel leading behind it as if into another realm." This movement beckons the listener to take a musical journey to a hidden realm behind the waterfall.
3. Romance of Andalucia. Flamenco guitars strumming wild rasgueados, gypsies, castanets, dancers and singers gather for an evocation of the spirit of flamenco music. In the 18th century Domenico Scarlatti, then later Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados and many others have brought bouquets of flamenco flowers to their keyboard works. Here the two pianos revel in memories of the fields in which the flamenco flowers still grow.
4. Catalonian Daydream. This is, perhaps, a musical reverie of a sultry summer evening in Catalonia, more than a century ago, by the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, where two lovers meet for the first time.
5. Journey to Stonehenge. Celtic rhythms, ancient themes, modal harmonies, and changing meters are woven together to take the listener into a kind of musical ring of stones.
6. With Jewelled Tears. Some spiritual traditions hold that underlying all human suffering is a kind of limitless and all-encompassing compassion that embraces and sustains life. The form of this piece is what in the baroque period was called a "double". A double is a movement that follows a dance, such as an allemande, courante or sarabande, whose form is an embellished variation of the preceding dance. (J. S. Bach's Violin Partita in B minor contains four dances each paired with its double.) "With Jewelled Tears" is a canonic double of a sarabande-like melody that remains hidden within the source material of the canon. Although the hidden melody is not played, perhaps it can be felt as a kind of compassionate presence.
7. Indra's Net I: Sojourn of the Four Rivers. "Indra's Net" is (from a traditional Western perspective) a metaphor developed by Indian and Chinese Buddhism dating back to at least the 3rd century. Throughout the universe there is said to be a wonderful net that stretches to infinity in all dimensions of the universe. In each and every "eye" of the net is a single iridescent jewel. If one looks into any one of these jewels, one will see all the other jewels of the universal net reflected within. Everything is connected, and everything is reflected into each other thing. "Sojourn of the Four Rivers" takes this concept to the level of musical structure. Each piano plays exactly the same source material as the other pianos. Yet each of the pianos assumes the character of a unique "river" of sound. The rivers start as slow moving, meandering streams of notes. They gradually meet and begin to converge. Upon meeting, the four "piano-rivers" at first clash, each ardently clinging to its identity. At last over time they fully merge and in so joining together become a broad cascading river.
8. Indra's Net II: Deluge of the Four Rivers. Indra's Net II is a highly embellished double of Indra's Net I, with the "four rivers" of music rapidly merging and then cresting into a kind of primordial sonic flood.
9. Sakura, Sakura - Introduction, Theme & Variations for Two Pianos. This piece is for three players: one player for the first piano, and two players playing the second piano. "Sakura," whose translation in English is "Blooming Cherry Blossoms," is a famous ancient Japanese folk melody. Sakura became associated in the Edo period of the 18th century with the metaphysical concept of mono no aware: the fragile delicacy of the cherry blossoms, their extreme beauty and quick death became a kind of metaphor for the ephemeral nature of human life. Our musical setting seeks to evoke all these associations of life, its transience and the bittersweet sadness at its passing.
10. The Unbearable Jazziness of Being. This piece is a kind of after-hours battle of the jazz bands. Two ensembles are trying to outdo and outplay each other. There are a series of expositions, interruptions, and escalations. The marimbaphone acts as a kind of arbiter of the vying groups. Eventually they become converted to each other's musical ideas, with some instruments switching sides and joining the opposing group. By the end they all discover a common ground and play together with an ever-increasing wildness of invention until the marimbaphone reappears and, after a brief coda, the music abruptly ends.
Music and composer's notes by Jeffrey Goodman ©2009.
Cover art by Homa Goodman © 2009. Los Angeles, California