Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Abe Vigoda (1921-2016)


Just kidding, Abe. No matter how long you might have lived, we never would have had enough of you.

Yeah, you were in The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, but you’ll always be Fish to me.

Take care in that big squad room in the sky.

(If I could be you, I would forgo that Snickers bar and stay hungry.)

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, January 17, 2016

CD Review – Mind Heart Fingers, by Trevor Gordon Hall

The latest album from Philadelphia acoustic guitarist Trevor Gordon Hall is marketed as new age, folk, and country, but it is far more than that.
Before we get to the music, let's get to the man and his craft. Hall is no ordinary guitarist. He plays a unique, custom-designed instrument called a kalimbatar, a cross between a guitar and an African finger piano known as a kalimba, which is affixed to the top of his guitar.

This unusual assemblage allows Hall not only to generate acoustic guitar tones, but bell-like timbres as well, giving off the effect of a duo without the need for overdubs or two actual musicians.

The kalimbatar is perfectly suited to new age, folk, and county, but Hall does much more with the instrument. The technology, as impressive as it is in itself, never distracts from the striking beauty of Hall's original compositions.

And unlike a lot of new age folk in particular, Hall relies much less on repetitive patterns and locked rhythms than he does expansive, thoughtful chord structures and incisive lead phrasing. In fact, many of the tunes come across delightfully as acoustic jazz.

This is a fine guitar album worthy of attention.

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, January 14, 2016

CD (Fan) Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by John Williams

It wouldn’t be a Star Wars episode without the music of John Williams to underscore the cosmic feats of intergalactic derring-do unfolding on the big screen. The 83-year-old maestro returns with what is one of his finest scores for the legendary franchise – in fact, probably his best since Return of the Jedi.

Just like the box-office-busting seventh episode it accompanies, Williams’ new soundtrack is a brilliant blend of old and new that reacquaints us with familiar themes while taking us to new heights of thrilling adventure and emotional poignancy.

Of course, there is the classic fanfare that blasts the Star Wars logo onto the screen and into the farthest reaches of space while the famous main theme accompanies the latest text crawl, before segueing with original music into the newest installment.

As with Williams’ previous Star Wars scores, much of the incidental music is, well, exactly that, incidental. But it is much more melodic and tuneful than before, as opposed to being just abrupt and atonal, especially during scenes of action and suspense.

Highlights include musical callbacks to old friends and iconic spaceships, plus a spectacular and majestic new hero motif, which brilliantly inverts Luke’s binary sunset/Force theme from the original trilogy before soaring to a lofty new crescendo of hope, promise, and triumph.

Since Williams’ Star Wars end title music usually encapsulates the themes of the just concluded film, his closing music here is joyously exhilarating, making it the most memorable and resounding finale since Return of the Jedi.

This is one of the very few exemplary soundtracks of at least the last decade and a fine return to form for both Williams and Star Wars.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, January 10, 2016

CD (Fan) Review – Flash Gordon, by Queen

I am not at all a fan of Queen, but I have to give them props for having crafted one of the wackiest, most bonkers motion picture soundtracks ever committed to record.

Just like the 1980 film itself, the album is full of cheesy goodness, including snippets of dialogue and sound effects lifted directly from the movie. Brian Blessed’s exhilarating, maniacal intensity as Vultan, leader of the Hawk Men, is alone worth the price of purchase– for both the film and the soundtrack.

None of this insanity detracts from the music – in fact, it enhances it, and the music responds in kind. The lead vocals (on the iconic main theme and its reprise throughout), the screeching guitars, the crazy keyboards and synthesizers, the pulse-pounding drums, and the kinetic percussion all function simultaneously as both classic rock and classic kitsch – a rare feat.

I highly recommend the 1994 single CD version, which is the basic movie soundtrack; the 2011 double CD deluxe edition is really geared more toward die-hard devotees of Queen.

If you enjoy the movie, you’ll enjoy this soundtrack. If this is all new to you, but you just want to hear something totally weird and off the wall, you will not be disappointed.

--Raj Manoharan

CD Review – Ambient Alchemy, by Steven Halpern and Michael Diamond

New age masters Steven Halpern and Michael Diamond create musical magic with this delightful digital concoction, along with some help from their friend Michael Manring.

The CD contains 14 tracks of tranquil instrumental bliss, with genre pioneer Halpern laying a dense sonic foundation with his Fender Rhodes, keyboards, synthesizers, and crystal bowls, and Diamond weaving his smoldering guitar tones throughout the mystical mix. Manring chimes in on several numbers with his formidable bass.

The result is a flawless record of a dynamic trio that would be a dream to see live.

--Raj Manoharan