Week of June 26: This week, Alan Gilbert Goes To Hamburg; Iggy Pop Goes To Mali; And Radiohead Goes Back In Time.
Radiohead’s New Song Is Twenty Years Old
On Friday, Radiohead released their groundbreaking 1997 album OK Computer in a newly remastered, expanded version, called OKNOTOK 1997-2017, which finally includes the songs that were recorded for the album but not included in the original release. Radiohead fans have long been familiar with a lot of this material; the band has played a number of these songs in concerts over the years. But still, this is a pretty big deal. OK Computer was a quantum leap for the band, and now we get to hear something approaching the full burst of creativity that went into it. The track called “Man of War,” for example, is shot through with the anxiety that characterizes so much of singer Thom Yorke’s work and with the almost orchestral sweep that we have now become familiar with through later Radiohead efforts but also through Jonny Greenwood’s day job as a film composer. The new video makes explicit the play of light and dark, and between being OK and not being OK, that is so central to these songs.
Alan Gilbert’s New Job Makes Him a Hamburger
Arguably this year’s top stories in classical music have been the departure of conductor Alan Gilbert from the New York Philharmonic, and the opening in Hamburg, Germany, of the Elbphilharmonie, one of the most ambitious and advanced concert halls in the world. (It looks like the prow of an enormous sailing ship perched atop a massive old warehouse.) Those two stories are now one. In our Soundcheck podcast that we called “Alan Gilbert: The Exit Interview,” Gilbert had hinted that he had a new position lined up, but left us guessing as to what it was. Now we know: he is to become the next conductor and music director of the Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in Hamburg, Germany. To anyone who heard our interview, this will be a total non-surprise. Gilbert spoke (somewhat wistfully, I thought) about how the LA Philharmonic was revitalized by the opening of the splendid Disney Hall, while the NY Phil struggled to come up with a plan to renovate its aging hall. He then pointed out that in Hamburg, the opening of the Elbphilharmonie Hall was having a similar effect – making the city and its orchestra, renamed for the hall, a destination. “They can literally sell out the hall no matter what they program there,” he said; “so not only can you do exciting projects, you have to, because the situation demands it.” He officially takes over in 2019, but you can check out his new “office” in this only slightly cheesy 360-degree video.
Meklit’s Ethiopian-American Soul
The Ethiopian-born singer Meklit Hadero, who only uses her first name professionally, is based in Oakland and has a lot of experience playing soul, R&B and funk. But she also grew up in an immigrant family that has maintained a connection to the rich and ancient culture of East Africa, and her music is a blend of both traditions. She released her newest album, When The People Move The Music Moves Too, on Friday; the title seems to be a gentle reminder that the movement of people, even when forced by war, famine, or other forms of coercion, also results in the movement of cultures. And this has, throughout history, been a hugely positive force in the arts. Most of Meklit’s new album is in English and easily blends soul and jazz horns (from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, in fact), dance-able rhythms, and more exotic sounds like the Ethiopian krar, a traditional lyre. That instrument starts the track “Yerakeh Yeresal,” one of her occasional songs in Amharic. The song has the lilt of music traditional Ethiopian music, but also features the popular indie rocker Andrew Bird on violin. (He also whistles elsewhere on the record.)
This by the way is not the first time Meklit’s music has appeared in our weekly roundup: she is one of the founders of The Nile Project, which we’ve covered earlier.
Music of Resistance, From Mali and Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop sure has been keeping busy lately. Two weeks ago we heard him collaborating with the composer/producer known as Oneohtrix Point Never on a song for a recent film score; now he pops up on a new song from the Malian band called Songhoy Blues. They are originally from Timbuktu, but were refugees in their own country when Islamist militants declared Sharia Law in northern Mali and forbade the playing of music. Heading south to the capital of Bamako, they formed a band, and are one of the groups featured in the documentary They Will Have To Kill Us First. While Songhoy Blues is essentially a guitar rock band, the loping rhythms of the so-called “desert blues” of the western Sahara are very much in evidence here, and this song is called, simply and appropriately, “Sahara.” Iggy’s contribution isn’t necessarily, well, necessary to the song, but if it brings a few more listeners to this band, that is a good thing.
Ireland’s Crash Ensemble Plays Iceland’s Valgeir Sigurdsson
The Crash Ensemble is based in Dublin, and has long been central to the Irish contemporary scene, but their new album Ghosts includes music from America and Iceland as well. American composer Nico Muhly and Icelandic composer/producer Valgeir Sigurðsson are longtime collaborators, and co-founders of the taste-making Bedroom Community record label in Reykjavik; both are represented here. Sigurðsson, who has been a high profile producer for Bjork and the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Ros, among many others, contributes a piece called “Past Tundra,” which starts slow until it unveils its true nature about 90 seconds in: a repeating, tricky hand-clapped rhythm, which underpins what in another, more guitar-oriented setting, might well be called power chords.
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