10 Seconds: Maddalena Ghezzi
It's singer-composer Maddalena Ghezzi up next, and that's reason enough to listen to Old Stems again. After devouring these picks...
1. Sathima Benjamin - Windsong (2'10" - 2'20")
From Windsong (1986)
"From the back of the sleeve "I humbly dedicate Windsong (album) to the resilient, remarkable and courageous mothers and daughters of the struggle for peace and liberation in my homeland South Africa: To the heroine both sung and unsung"
A few years ago I put on a concert with my trio and I wanted to play songs by women composers. Meandering through the internet I found this pearl of a record. I bought it from a person in Germany and, as soon as I put it on, I was mesmerised. Everything about this record is exciting, raw, strong yet delicate. I couldn't stop listening to it. In her composition, Windsong, Sathima sings like the wind, her vocals are so powerful and gentle. In these 10 seconds, I love the way she slides across notes and add tremolos, it feels like a windsong. I also love Buster Williams' bass ostinato and improvisation, it gives an earthy vibe that contrast and complement Sathima's lines.
I turned the record and started reading about this incredible composer, not yet very recognised. She was Duke Ellington's protege, she collaborated with incredible artists among which her husband Abdullah Ibrahim.
And this brings me seamlessly to the next track, by Sathima and Abdullah's daughter: Jean Grae..."
2. Jean Grae - Crayon Ruins (1'37" - 1'47")
From Jean Grae - Gotham Down, Cycle 2: Leviathan (2013)
"From Jean Grae's Bandcamp: "Create your own reality. Change your present to change your past and your future."
To me this is a sci-fi song. And as a sci-fi lover I adore it! The song starts with the gorgeous hook when Jean's singing floats smoothly on the chords. She talks about destruction, colours, love and a sense of stillness. Then the sound of a plane, and Jean Grae starts describing an apocalyptic moment where "the city's getting gassed from below" and where "the storefronts in SoHo started to blow their windows". The section I choose brings us to "I remember thinking, I'm glad I ordered no dessert for me". I love how ordinary this sentence is and incredibly rhythmically engaging. I love how Jean Grae creates universes out of what is seemingly ordinary. Also in the section I selected, I love the sound-scaping drawing attention to the human breath and its rhythm. I don't know what the song is about, I have many ideas and the fact that there isn't a definite answer makes me come back to it over and over again."
3. Sara Serpa - Unity and Struggle (0'46" - 0'56")
From Sara Serpa - Recognition (2020)
“Unity and Struggle is the last piece of Sara Serpa's work Recognition. The album is a combination of film, music and ideas. The texts are by Amílcar Cabral from Unity and Struggle, Luandino Vieira and Linda Heywood. Sara explains that the album is about "dealing with the past, understanding the intersection between family stories and national history". Sara's family has ties to Angola where her grandfather had salt fields and where he shot the Super 8 video part of this project. I found it very powerful that "the documentary explores the co-existence of two realities: one, verbally described by the colonised, and the other, filmed by the coloniser". This project is an invitation to reflect and recognise systems of oppression that are still in place. Recognition made me reflect on my upbringing in Italy, a country that has not yet dealt with its own colonial past, and the power of the arts to shed lights on suppressed history.
In the section I selected, we hear "unities, taken in a dynamic sense, emotions". I like the idea of dynamic human interactions directed towards a common growth, a unity, and to achieve it, it is essential to look at our emotional side. I feel this concept of dynamic unity is reflected in the way Sara's voice and Mark Turner's saxophone are doubling each other and in the way the David Virelles' piano and the Zeena Parkinsharp's ostinato are interlocking."
4. Bjork - Cosmogony (3'49" - 3'59")
From Bjork - Biophilia (2011)
"In this extract, I love the sliding melodies of the voices. I adore the way Björk talks about the universe in this song. She explains the creation of the universe through myths as well as mentioning science and the Big Bang. I find the lyrics really poetic; they make me giggle a bit too. "And they say back then our universe wasn't even there, until a sudden bang and then there was light, was sound, was matter, And it all became the world we know" . I find it fun and refreshing that Björk describes the universe in such a simple way. In this track I love the brass arrangement at 3:00 - 3:10.
Biophilia, the album that contains Cosmogony, is also an educational tool for children to explore science and nature through creativity and music. As a child, I would have enjoyed science lessons much more if explained by Björk. ;) Biophilia means the love for nature in all its manifestation. I saw Björk at All Point East, it had just rained over Victoria Park, the sun was setting, the summer storm was moving north. The clouds were dark blue and light night could be seen in the distance. I felt Biophilia."
5. Pink Floyd - High Hopes (0'12" - 0'22")
From Pink Floyd - High Hopes/ Keep Talking (1994) "12
"This song reminds me of my childhood. In this extract, I particularly like the bells, the sound of the fly and the way the bells slot in rhythmically with the chords. Bells were part of my upbringing. In the summer, my grandma used to tell me to be home by 7pm and I didn't have a watch, so I relied on the bell tower. Mannnn... that 6:45 bell signalled a long run home not to get grandma crossed. I also have a great memory of a project in primary school in which I had to record the sounds around me, I was obsessed with my father's Dictaphone with small cassettes and I remember recording church bells on Sunday from my family balcony. This is a moment to which I often return in my memory, because I consider it important in my upbringing as a musician/listener.
Pink Floyd as a band was the sound of every car journey with my family. None of us spoke English but those synth sounds, bendy guitars ecc were our holiday's soundtracks. This song has a nostalgic feeling for me and so I have when I listen to it and put together those beautiful memories."
6. Bill Frisell - Throughout (3'10" - 3'20")
From Bill Frisell - Solos (2008)
"The anticipation and then...bang...the music drops. In this extract, there is a delicate bang, the music drops gently. Bill is able to create a universe with his improvisation, in which one gets lost and then, the melody comes in and one's heart blossoms with emotions.
Bill Frisell played a solo at Cadogan Hall in 2018 as part of the London Jazz Festival. I remember the atmosphere was incredible, I felt as if there was an incredible connection between Bill and us in the audience, time was still. We were transported to this other dimension...Bill accompanied the audience on a journey with a mega solo and then at some point...bang...he started playing Throughout with it's definite and well known melody. I was deeply moved by that journey and every time I listen to this track I get transported back there."
7. Matana Roberts - Kersaia (2'14" - 2'24")
From Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens De Couleur Libres (2011)
"Matana is revolutionary! I love the way they use lyrics and repetition. I like when they accent different words or syllables in each repetition, their way of enunciating lyrics has always helped me to go deeper into the text and find new nuances. You can hear what I mean in this extract: "Me to be" "free to be". In this section I love the use of French together with English. I love how different languages resonate in my mouth when I sing. I love to hear people speak in more than one language, it is like listening to two different yet connected beings. Each language encapsulates a set of emotional beliefs and feelings and they come out as sounds. I love that!
I love Matana's saxophone playing, so powerful and direct. I love their storytelling both with lyrics and music. Last but not least I love their graphic scores https://www.matanaroberts.com/archive/graphic-score-excerpts/
I enjoy going to gigs alone, it's like travelling alone, it allows me to connect with the music on a deeper and more personal level. I saw Matana in Saint Mary's Church in Walthamstow a few years ago. It was magical, they transported us in a higher place, somewhere I had never been before."
8. Meredith Monk - Gotham Lullaby (0'58" - 1'08")
From Meredith Monk - Live at Lensic Centre (2004)
"I don't really know where to start with Meredith Monk, her work is extensive, imaginative, unique, challenging, welcoming and more. I love the way my creativity is awakened every time I listen to her works. I love the way her pieces are always connected with movement, imagery and film. I find her use of voice bold and grounding.
In Gotham Lullaby, the piano part is built on repeated arpeggiated patterns, I love the way the lower two notes change while the top two notes are always repeated in the same pattern. On top of this there is her singing so free. I like her choice of syllables in particular the repeated "na na na".
Björk covered this song and Meredith loved her version, you can listen to more of their conversation here: https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/radical-connections-meredith-monk-and-bjork/ "
One more to say goodbye...
9. Jeanne Lee & Mal Waldron - Goodbye Porkpie Hat (1'01" - 1'11")
From Jeanne Lee - Mal Waldron – After Hours (1994)
"There are oh so many other songs to mention, I would like to leave you with Goodbye Pork Pie Hat here played by Mal Waldron and the mighty Jeanne Lee."