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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

String of Pearls

I’ve been really enjoying the new compilation of old recordings: String of Pearls – Jewels of the 78rpm Era 1918-1951.

One of the criticisms of compilations like this is that they can easily be no more than random or loosely grouped recordings with little or no context or accompanying notes. Although I agree somewhat with that (there is still the thrill of hearing sounds that amaze and delight without any context whatsoever) String of Pearls comes with extensive notes and an introduction by the compiler Ian Nagoski.

The music is great but, as Ian notes, the 14 pieces of music encompass a myriad of stories; those of the singers and musicians and also of the people involved in recording and manufacturing the 78s that this music originally appeared on, and it is these stories that really make the record.

Ian’s opening quote...

"The role of the spiritual intermediary, like the polyphonic character of the lament, affords both license and protection to the individual. The dead may themselves lament through their intermediaries” – Gail Holst-Warhaft

...makes clear the important role of these many individuals between the original artistic creation and the effect on each listener (and v.v?).

That effect may have changed over time – the link between some of these pieces that would have been experienced directly by an audience [Pastora Pavona Cruz’ piece for a Holy Week processional with droning horns; an original recording to a local audience; the re-releasing or re-recording to an immigrant group [The Ukrainian dance recorded for a Soviet-State label and later pirated for immigrants in New York ]; and a new recording later in life in a new home [The Armenian violinist Reuben Sarkisian’s piece recorded and self-released in Fresno].

In all these many ways the people represented on these recordings are speaking to us today as we listen – either sounding otherworldly, familiar or evoking images seeded from our own past with books, film, travel etc.

The pieces range over Turkey, Serbia. Jamaica, Greece, Java, India and beyond and Ian notes that this introduction to his own Canary Records is likely to be a stepping stone to investigating in more detail the music in each performance.
Looking forward to that immensely – the next 2 releases are a Rembetika compilation and a Ustad Abdul Karim Khan compilation.

Each piece, enveloped in the quiet throb of the 78s revolving hum, reveals great detail and some amazing moments. The poise of Vietnamese Puong-Bich’s singing with the click of woodblock; the ching of hand-cymbals as Rosa Eskenazi sings (and dances?); the wonderful flowing trumpet on Lord Fly’s "When mi look upon Janie so (Water come in mi eye)"; Cantor Shalom Katz’ moving prayer for the dead of Auschwitz his voice climbing skyward at one point up-and-up-and-up; the Italian soprano Amelita Galli-Curci’s gossamer voice recorded in Camden NJ complete with factory lunch whistle in the background; the lovely tembang sunda song from Western Java; and Usted Abdul Karim Khan whose ululations bizarrely sound almost Jello Biafra-like in parts (!)

Anyway – another stellar release in conjunction our very own Mississippi Records.

posted by the timberlog at 11:47 AM

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