I feel guilty. I haven’t thanked my whole collection yet. We’re back.
The Mahavishnu Orchestra
The Inner Mounting Flame
Birds of Fire
I went through a phase in high school where I wanted to listen to everything by everybody who’d played with Miles during his electric years. It’s pretty remarkable how many good projects came out of that crowd. Head Hunters is my abiding favourite. Could take or leave most stuff by Weather Report and Return to Forever. Mahavishnu sits somewhere in the middle. It’s exciting, virtuoso music that wears out its welcome on me a little faster than it used to. But without these guys I feel like black midi wouldn’t sound quite so nuts, so it all works out.
Measure of gratitude: Sizeable. Thank you.
The Complete Symphonies & Orchestral Songs (Bernstein, Vienna/NYP/Concertgebouw)
Symphony No. 4 (Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Orchestre Métropolitain, Karina Gauvin)
Symphony No. 5 (Claudio Abbado, Chicago Symphony Orchestra)
Symphony No. 5 (Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic)
Symphony No. 5 (Zubin Mehta, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra)
Symphony No. 7 (Claudio Abbado, Chicago Symphony Orchestra)
Das Lied von der Erde (Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia, Christa Ludwig, Fritz Wunderlich)
One of my regrets about working with classical music as part of my job is that I don’t come home and listen to Mahler anymore. Mahler is one of the composers, along with Chopin and Brahms, that became a favourite because he was a mentor’s favourite. His fifth was the first symphony that I collected multiple recordings of, parsing out the differences, trying to quantify how those differences changed the way I feel about the work. Gradually, Mahler’s symphonies became the first body of work in classical music that I knew as well as the discographies of some of my favourite bands. It’s a cliche, but this music contains everything. They’re symphonies that my lizard brain finds thrilling and captivating in the moment. And they give my rational brain plenty to chew on as well, and the questions it poses are just as often literary as musical. But ultimately, this is music that requires absolute attention, and I can’t offer that as easily as I could before. This music taught me how to listen. One day I’ll have the bandwidth for it again, and it’ll teach me all over.
Measure of gratitude: Fathomless. Thank you.
Al Cielo (Silvia Frigato, Sara Mingardo, Gambe di Legno)
I took this home from work, listened to it once, and can’t honestly say I remember anything about it.
Measure of gratitude: Minimal. Thank you.
Script for a Jester’s Tear
Clutching at Straws
Tell you what: I sure did have a lot of Marillion CDs, and that doesn’t sit right. These guys are second only to Dream Theater among bands I fell out of love with. In both cases, there’s music I can look back on and feel a little of the old magic. In Dream Theater’s case, Awake and Train of Thought manage to hold back the cringe just enough for me to connect. Like Dream Theater, Marillion is a heart-on-sleeve sort of band, all bad heartbreak poetry and soaring guitar. I haven’t listened to most of this for a very long time, but I can’t imagine I could still sit through Script for a Jester’s Tear or Misplaced Childhood, the titles of which tell you all you need to know. The other two albums they made with Fish as lead singer may still work. Clutching at Straws is as sincere as any of them, but its whisky-soaked one-for-the-road sentimentality is somehow more timeless. The post-Fish albums with Steve Hogarth might suit me better at this point, but I’m not sure I’ll ever find out.
Measure of gratitude: Medium. Thank you.
Standard Time Vol. 3: The Resolution of Romance
From the Plantation to the Penitentiary
When you play the trumpet you run into all sorts of opinions about Wynton Marsalis. I never really felt that strongly about him one way or the other, and maybe that’s because I mainly listened to these two slightly tepid releases. Of the two, Standard Time Vol. 3 is the one I remember more fondly. It’s just Marsalis with his father at the piano, playing ballads very competently. Still, something about it feels tacky.
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you.
The Mars Volta
De-Loused in the Comatorium
Frances the Mute
The Bedlam in Goliath
I was a very weird teenager, obsessed with early 70s prog rock in the early aughts. At the time, there were a ton of nostalgia bands trading on that sound: the Tangent, Wobbler, et al. There’s only so much of that stuff I could take before it all started to feel cheap. Where prog was concerned, the real invention was happening in metal: Tool, Opeth, Meshuggah, etc. But in retrospect, the band that best upheld the legacy of all the classic prog I loved, while bringing something new to the fold, was the Mars Volta. These guys introduced both salsa and hardcore to the formula, and it’s hard to say which was more revolutionary. The standard read on their catalogue is that Deloused is the masterpiece and they declined from there. I disagree. I’ve always been a Frances person, and I think Amputechture is profoundly underrated, maybe as good as Deloused. They lost me with Bedlam and never won me back, but those first three albums are thrilling, a super-important body of work.
Measure of gratitude: Very large. Thank you.
John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers
Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton
This is one of those albums that was lying around the house as a kid that I never really liked, but I’m glad to have had access to because it’s an important document and a cult favourite. Clapton’s a jackass and this isn’t his finest work, but it’s worth a listen.
Measure of gratitude: Middling. Thank you.
Turangalîla Symphony/Quartet for the End of Time (Simon Rattle, CBSO, etc.)
These are two of the most thrilling and radical pieces of the 20th century. Messiaen generally works best for me when he’s got big forces at his fingertips, i.e. Turangalîla and St. Francois. But the Quartet for the End of Time is undeniable, particularly the movements for solo cello or violin with piano. That music conjures a truly holy, reverent atmosphere. The effect it must have had in the concentration camp where it was first performed is truly unimaginable.
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you.
Pat Metheny Group
The Way Up
Metheny walks the same line as a lot of post-Miles fusion guys, between visionary and tacky. This meanders for 70 minutes and was weirdly ubiquitous in the music sections of department stores circa 2005. I bought it because Lyle Mays was featured in Keyboard Magazine, like a very normal child.
Measure of gratitude: Miniscule. Thank you.
Mingus Ah Um/Mingus Dynasty
The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
These are the jazz albums I love and still listen to the most. Mingus’s music is the perfect mix of headiness and spectacle. Black Saint is more thrilling than maybe any other album of its time. Mingus is one of those artists where I got really into a couple of albums and never made it further into the discography. One day I’ll make a project of it.
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you.
Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall
Thelonious Monk was one of the artists, along with Miles Davis, who made me recognize the extent to which technical limitations can be a factor in style. Misterioso was a constant presence in high school (Johnny Griffin is an underrated tenor player), and Brilliant Corners became a totem in university. I listen to less jazz than I used to, but Monk is up there with Mingus among the jazz greats that are as ingenious as composers and arrangers as they are as soloists, and that gives them supernatural staying power.
Measure of gratitude: Large, thank you.