For a pianist, is the nickname “Piano” supremely awesome or inescapably lame? I think the former, and besides: this song makes Abby happy -she is singing along with it right now, like a sugar-high child- and demonstrates forever that New Orleans music is the best, so why quibble over strangely inert monikers?
My mind is pleasantly disabled by the rhythms of autistic poet Christopher Knowles’ libretto for Einstein on the Beach. There is an amusing scene in Errol Morris’Fast, Cheap & Out of Control in which an animal trainer demonstrates how a lion stalking him is mentally overwhelmed and pacified when a chair is put in front of his face; the lion cannot focus on the four legs of the chair and immediately loses track of what he’s doing, sitting down happily on the floor.
Perhaps the combination of iterations and permutations in Glass’ music -additive rhythms, threes and fours and fives, subtractive rhythms!- and in Knowles’ words overwhelm and pacify my mind. It’s like having a migraine without the pain. This transcription is in error in some places, but it’s interesting nevertheless.
I know I’ve made it abundantly clear that I love Allen Toussaint, but this title track from his newest album really made my afternoon. I adore San Francisco, but I do miss New Orleans music quite a bit. Even if you don’t like this, I’d be surprised if you didn’t enjoy some of his earlier work I’ve posted; and if you don’t like that either, well, what can I say? There’s only so much I can offer.
Theresa Andersson is an impossibly talented multi-instrumentalist and singer who’s lived in New Orleans for a couple of decades. Her music exemplifies the value of a particular relation between an artist and a tradition, in this case the enormous tradition of New Orleans music. This tradition is both rich and daunting; it contains everything from the invention and development of jazz (and all that flows from this astonishing, epochal revolution in music) to the expression of inimitable ethnic and cultural musics to the role song plays in New Orleans culture: the jazz-funeral, the Mardi Gras parade, etc.
French Quarter, February 1981. Photo by Tom Haggerty. From Backatown.
A tradition can choke aesthetic and artistic innovation, typically by inclining audiences to measure work against a congealed history; in other words, a tradition can fall into backwards-facing aesthetic conservatism, whereas all arts require for their vitality some degree of novelty and a sense of futurity, too. Humans acclimate to meanings and forms; they stop “working” as experiences and instead become perfunctory expressions of mannered habit. Rather than opening the hearts or minds of audiences or reacquainting them with the reality in which they live, the reality inside themselves, moribund traditions allow audiences to go through motions without attention. Even a great tradition can lull us into semi-cultured sleep (or sleepwalking dance).
On the other hand: without a tradition, the arts have little orientation; every artist must invent not only her formal, aesthetic, artistic innovations, but the entire constellation of justificatory or explanatory ideas, cultural meanings, and purposes on which her art relies. Art apart from tradition requires the artist, before painting an apple pie, to invent the universe, with its possibilities and constraints. Perhaps worse, or more consequential for audiences, traditions sum the knowledge of the artists and thinkers and audiences who have come before; without tradition, we must continually rediscover what previous generations knew intuitively, knew from tradition, while discarding solutions that worked and which could have been developed, extended, combined with novel phenomena or filtered through a new artist’s self to make art that extends tradition, rather than childishly pretending not to care about it.
All of that is to say: Andersson —on both Street Parade and Hummingbird, Go!and probably elsewhere— negotiates the tension between tradition and invention perfectly. If one is attentive, one hears the syncopations and swings and shouts of raucous New Orleans street music; one hears, too, the melodic and harmonic beauty that music from the birthplace of jazz should possess. Orchestrations and instrumental performances are likewise given reach and depth by their relation to the great musicians of the city’s past and present.
Thus: some of her music has a swing to it that few contemporary artists can hope to achieve, since their rhythms are the basically-dull 4/4 rhythms commercial pop-rock has been reduced to; and there is an historical scope to her music’s aesthetic that makes its regular lyrical profundity seem natural, unaffected, appropriate. Against the larger tapestry of aesthetics and meanings, it’s easier to be serious. Connected to tradition, experiments can be bolder: there is less of an explanatory burden for deviations since foundational elements remain familiar.
But the lightness of her touch makes her music a bit like New Orleans for me: deeply moving in reflection, touching at moments, but always, always, always fun. Happiness is the point; New Orleans understands that, and that’s why its musical tradition is so wonderful. It’s insanely exciting to hear someone who seems to be as much a part of that tradition as, say, Louis Armstrong or Allen Toussaint, while still being a contemporary, recombinant, adventurous artist, singing not about dear, departed characters like Junko Partner but about love and life as they are now.
I didn’t know what song to choose; I recognize that this one is perhaps sweet for many, but I love it; other tracks may be more to your liking. Thanks a lot for the tip, Erin!
Nichts hat gerade Sinn. Ich kann nicht malen. Ich kann nicht photographieren. Ich kann nicht sprechen. Ich kann mich nicht bewegen. Ich kann nur noch hier liegen und nichts machen. In letzter Zeit bin ich ziemlich gut darin.