Did I see Evelyn Glennie’s television debut? Possibly. When she and I were both a lot younger, I saw this young girl playing piano on a television show. She had taken up the instrument and discovered her musical vocation just as a nerve disease was beginning to deprive her ears of the functions ears generally serve.
She might have been an inspiring local person, a strikingly attractive wee queyn (as her native dialect has it), able to play piano though apparently deaf. Unlike the German music academy haunted by a past refusal to admit Thomas Quasthoff—now one of the major baritone singers in the world—because he couldn’t play piano (his mother took Thalidomide when she was pregnant and he has no arms), one fine British college did admit the young hearing-deprived ultra-musical Glennie.
Subsequently, she has become one of the major percussionists in the orchestral field, and a great inspirer, performer, and commissioner of percussion music. She and Georg Solti and two others whose names slip my mind at the moment made an impressive recording of Bartok’s sonata for two pianos and percussion (a work whose name seems to have slipped the mind of whoever annotated this set).
At the top, she now seems to have gotten into various sorts of improvisation. Her website provides more information, including details about a line of what she and I call jewellery (jewelry to Americans)—which is already too much biography, even though this CD seems to be programmed following the lady’s international travels (well, it comes from the soundtrack of a documentary film about her).
There’s Fred Frith’s electric bass to start with, amazingly atmospheric work on tam-tam, the “found poem” of some New York City noises taken together, then Roxanne Butterfly’s tapdance with street noises and Ms. Glennie on empty cans. Cologne airport?
Drumrolls on a snare drum in Grand Central Station, NYC! The raking of gravel in a Japanese garden, and to offset that, an exciting encounter between the lady’s drums and the guitar Frith has come back to play.
Tokyo street, then a solo played with chopsticks on…it doesn’t say. Café noises, Marimba and piano and violin in Kyoto, almost conventional music. Then farm noises from the lady’s native Aberdeenshire. “A Little Prayer” improvised by herself on Marimba with Frith on guitar? Foghorns like some plaintive boat-cries. Oceandrum, thundersheet, sirtate and the sea at Santa Cruz. “In the Womb” uses (I am not making this up, any more than I invented oceandrum or thundersheet) waterphone, with sounds made by visitors in the Guggenheim museum. Is this an allusion to the ante-natal visits of future aunts to the future mother?
“Hell’s Kitchen” is the older name of an area of NYC where James P. Johnson lived, a great stride pianist and composer, close friend of Thelonious Monk, and probably comparable innovator laying the foundations of jazz. “Hell’s Kitchen” is here a clip of city street-sounds, and the river. There’s a duet with the amazing Horatio ‘El Negre’ Hernandez on his drumkit, and the lady from Aberdeenshire on sundry other drums, a marimba improvisation on Keiko Abe’s “Michi”, a visit to the Mission San Juan Bautista at Santa Cruz, and any more of this and probably some sort of poem will have written itself.
Is this succession of sounds worth listening to like you might listen to a serious musical work of the same duration? You know, I believe it is.
// Notes from the Road
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