Tuesday, March 13, 2007

12 segundos d'oscuridad -- w/apologies to Drexler

12 March 2007 (~10:00 p.m.)

The most exciting thing of the day is Jorge Drexler. He barely registered on my usually soundtrack-sensitive aural horizon even with an Oscar under his belt for Motorcycle Diaries. (Is it because I see so many fewer movies; and never watch television? (Drexler has also composed the theme for the telenovela Corazon partido.) He’s had a lot of public radio exposure lately – Weekend Edition, The BBC World, and now Nick Harcourt’s Morning Becomes Eclectic here on the Santa Monica NPR affiliate KCRW – all of it richly deserved. Why I lost track of him, post-Oscars 2005 (or 2004?) I have no idea. (I’m sure it couldn’t have helped that Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana actually sang the song on the awards show. Antonio Banderas! That’s the AMPAS for you – just hopeless.) But he’s built his career very independently. (His first record was his own production top to bottom. He had an entirely separate career from music until little more than a decade or so ago. Would you believe he’s a doc? Can you imagine having him as your ear, nose & throat specialist? Even better than a psychiatrist I had who looked like a blond Tony Perkins in his prime.) Due to any number of exigencies I am forced to forego his concert at Disney Hall and immediately swing by a Virgin store for his current CD, 12 Segundos d’Oscuridad, which sounds like the immediate aftermath of the 15 minutes of Warhol-mandated fame to which we may all eventually be condemned (or perhaps its antidote – or both). It’s 12 original tracks and one cover of an already classic Radiohead song, "High & Dry." (Am I the only person who remembers a Rolling Stones song of the same title – from (coincidence?) Aftermath?) Thoughtful, rather studied-inchoate (isn’t that the Radiohead way?) – though terrific – song; but certainly no more impressive – indeed, easily eclipsed by most of these songs. With one or two exceptions, the textures and rhythms are very simple. But the poetry of the lyrics – and Drexler’s incredibly sweet tenor voice – the straightforward sincerity of his delivery – make them soar. Take the cover as exemplar by way of exception: you hear the song fresh, as if for the first time. It’s as if the images were freshly engraved with each roll of the simple 4-note guitar figure he fingers under the melody. (I don’t think the piano parts get more complicated than a few triad chords.) The imagery of the first couple of songs has a striking resonance (consider my last few posts; cf., Irwin, etc.) made all the more poignant by the musical articulation. “Pie de trás de pie / Ira tras el pulso de claridad / La noche cerrada, apenas se abria, / Se volvía a cerrar.” (the title track). Or – “El velo semitransparente del desasosiego ("The semi-transparent veil of uneasiness")/ Un día se vino a instalar entre el mundo y mis ojos … / Yo estaba empeñado en nover lo que ve, pero a veces. / La vida es más compleja de lo que parece …” “El Otro Engranaje” (“The Other Gear”) is sheer danceable pop on its smooth surface, but what wit and insight. Or consider the incredibly beautiful songs, “Soledad, aqui estan mis credenciales,” or “Sanar” (“To Heal”) which close the disk with passion and eloquence. Drexler’s certainly the most original – and maybe the best – voice out of South America since Caetano Veloso – to whose post-bossa, post-tropicalismo pop styles he may owe more than a little as both singer and songwriter. The music isn’t quite on Veloso’s sophisticated plateau – but it doesn’t have to be. It’s an appropriate vehicle for Drexler’s melancholy (“transoceanica melancólicos”) poetry.

What a preamble to chatting about the Graves recital -- before moving from aural to visual. (Maybe Bizet's Seguedilla from Carmen -- one of the encores -- is appropriate after the fact. I have to say the de Falla Seguidilla Murciana was far more scintillating, to say nothing of an aria by Cilea from Adriana Lecouvreur.) I can't go into all this just now, though. I have to shut my eyes for a moment (to Drexler's serenade) I'll just say that Graves' 'star turns' took a back seat to the story-teller's art in her Royce Hall recital. She's a consummate theatrical artist, of course; but her special gift (aside from an amazing voice) is as a story-teller in song. She's really a story conductor. In her hands (and that rich multi-register voice), the song-story becomes a kind of orchestral production. She has an extraordinary ability to draw her audience (as if the chorus) into the narrative thread of a song -- as if making us participants, or at least direct witnesses, in the process. (I have to remind myself to talk about the Schubert (no -- it was fine, really) -- including "Death and the Maiden.") "Gira inexorable el otro engranaje, / La noria invisible de las transgresiones." I hear someone calling me.

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