The roots of Armenian music are ancient—and its past is told in its stories of country and city, and in its melodies and rhythms, and by the instruments—cornet, drum, cymbal—that have been found by accident or excavation, as well as in the notes others have made in texts and paintings. The music, a folk art, is yet known for its singular voice—out of many, one. Of course, a classical art—an art of notation and study, of theory and excellence—began to be born too.
David Honigmann of The Financial Times wrote of the performers Fatoumata Diawara and Roberto Fonsecaand of the audience’s affection for the two artists alone and together, and of the developing harmony of the concert, the variety of Diawara’s singing, and the delicacy and power of Fonseca’s keyboard playing. The conscientious Diawara and the experimental Fonseca brought compassion, drama, friendship, and rhythm in their creation and exploration of a shared international musical palette.
Jackie Allen has a light, sensuous, pretty voice—and that is a very good thing: her voice has personality, and is given to sensitive expression on her album My Favorite Color, a good and varied collection of songs. Consequently, Jackie Allen’s handling of a song such as Arlen and Capote’s “A Sleepin’ Bee,” about a test of love, is lively and sweet.
The rock band Rotary Downs’ album Traces is the work of a band that seems intent on suggesting consciousness—the cosmopolitan and the local, the enlightened and the deranged. Its passion is roving. Lead singer and guitarist James Marler and guitarist Chris Colombo, keyboard player and percussionist Anthony Curccia, bassist Jason Rhein, bassist and guitarist Alex Smith, drummer Zack Smith are Rotary Downs. “Orion” is fast, with light beats and expanding rhythms, fine and intense; for a song that is broadly existentialist—about individual life and the human condition.
Sometimes Shelby Lynne, a musician and visual artist, speaks as if there is a great deal to say but she is not sure whether she can find the precise word or whether her listener will understand: she can sound as if she is arriving from a very private place. Honest, eccentric.
Jose James is a wonderful singer! He is suave and thoughtful, and thoughtful yet light and sensuous, when performing “Good Morning Heartache,” a song that is part of the great Billie Holiday’s legend. Jose James has the sensuality of youth, and that gives certain songs something special—that sensuality gives him another weapon against despair, against a too predictable pathos. His mastery of “Body and Soul” is incantatory and impressive, as it is a difficult song that maintains its difficulty despite its popularity with singers.
The album Ain’t We Brothers is a collection of songs by the singer-songwriter and instrumentalist Sam Gleaves; and it contains songs of family, love, labor, community, and struggle. Sam Gleaves plays banjo, dulcimer, fiddle, guitar, and autoharp but Gleaves does perform with admired friends. With the fiddle of Tim Crouch and the banjo of Cathy Fink, Sam Gleaves sings “Working Shoes,” about a woman observing the efforts of a hardworking husband, efforts that do not change the fact of family impoverishment.
The connections between beauty and love and thought and truth are a subject that artists and lovers have come to again and again, generation after generation. “Art and morals are, with certain provisos which I shall mention in a moment, one. Their essence is the same. The essence of both of them is love. Love is the perception of individuals. Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.
Andy Bey sings and plays piano; and his album Pages from an Imaginary Life features songs that have become standards of early twentieth-century popular music and also Andy Bey’s own philosophical and spiritual musical pieces. Another composition—“How Long Has This Been Going On?”—is an intelligent song, giving eloquence to the thrill and tension of romance, of erotic adventure and tenderness, of discovery of what is possible between two people; and Andy Bey’s phrasing is full of care.
One of the most gifted and celebrated musicians of his generation, Vijay Iyer, a born New Yorker of Asian descent, an Indian-American, is a composer, musician, scholar, and communicator who has explored different musical sources—classical, popular, and folk—and varied subjects, including war.