Those who are familiar with my classical music reviews
know that now and then I outrage purists by suggesting that a particular
classical album would make good background music or party music or meditation
music. Many of our greatest masterpieces were originally intended as
background music—Telemann’s Tafelmusik and the Serenades
of Mozart come to mind. To the intellectual Prince Esterhazy, the symphonies
of Haydn were good background music for his gatherings. I remember once
when I was doing some brainstorming with a colleague, we played Bach’s
Kunst der Fuge in the background and found that it subliminally
facilitated working out some difficult problems.
This CD is labelled "New Age" meditation
music, but was brought to my attention partly because the theme for
two of the meditations is the theme from Debussy’s Reverie. The
Gordon brothers don’t do much with it, but then neither did Debussy;
it makes a reference point for them to work away from.
Improvisation in jazz style is the easiest there is;
what amazes me most about jazz is that people pay for it, when they
could so easily learn to do it for themselves. You only have to know
one chord and any mistake you make in rhythm or harmony can easily be
worked around and into the texture. That’s why classical musicians love
to play jazz to unwind after a rigorous rehearsal day over a Mahler
or Nielsen score. Even that post-romantic arpeggiated style that cocktail
pianists do is reasonably easy; again, almost any note or beat you play
can be worked into the pattern so nobody notices if you make a mistake.
But this pure tonally white improvisation that the Gordon Brothers do
is the most difficult thing there is, and the Gordon Brothers are masters
at it. You can’t repeat yourself or it quickly becomes boring, yet a
single miscalculation and the mood is shattered and you have to start
all over again.
Background music is not wallpaper music. The Chinese
solved that problem millennia ago by inventing the wind chime. Here
the Gordons use a little wind chime wallpaper sound now and then just
to spice the mood. Mostly they use up-front the sound of flowing water
and birdsongs to establish the ambience depicted in the cover picture
of a Japanese garden in full bloom. The water sounds were recorded at
a Sierra lake a 15 mile walk from the nearest dirt road to make sure
there could be no intrusion of unwanted sounds. The birdsongs are recorded
at a nature preserve in the valley and, along with a little wind chime,
are mixed with the water sounds under the harp and flute improvisation
for a sonic picture of a pleasant sunny day in a garden. Flutist Gordon
displays a spectacular virtuoso shakuhachi flute technique that
further underscores the Zen personality of the music.
This release is a follow up to an earlier release which
I have not heard but which was a best seller.