Friday, September 19, 2008

Goin' Retro

We have two stereos in the house with cassette decks. One squeals like the breaks on a steam engine when you play a tape, and the other just won't stay running. I got bored a couple weeks ago and started tinkering with the latter. I don't think I actually did anything--it just decided to start working again.

So I dug out some of my old tapes that have been collecting dust in a box under the guest-room bed. There are a lot of tapes I haven't missed not listening to. They belong to a different me, I think. The musical Chess, for example. I used to love it. If I got depressed I'd put on both tapes and just wallow in my depression until it was gone. Now I just can't bring myself to listen to it. It's just too depressing.

There were a few tapes I thought I'd pull out again and enjoy. On the whole, meh. They just don't do it for me anymore. But there is one golden oldy that has managed to stay in style: Philip Aaberg.

He was one of the original Windham Hill stable, though I'm not sure why. He's much less repetitive and much more melodic (not to mention rhythmic) than George Winston, and much more complex than David Lanz. His music is not intellectual for the most part, at least not for me. It's almost visceral, perhaps because even on his slower numbers he endows them with incredible energy.

But then my first exposure to Aaberg was live. It was while I was in college as a music student. One of the piano teachers recommended we go, and I needed to attend a certain number of concerts per semester. When I got there I was a bit worried. Nothing but earth-toned wool and cotton sweaters. This was one of them Yuppie Hippie concerts!

And then Aaberg himself came out, and my outlook didn't improve. Boots, black jeans, and a black formal jacket painted with some sort of day-glo artwork. But then he started to play. Steinways are not light pianos (I know, I made a college career of moving them), but he made the thing shudder. I was sure the sustain pedal was going to get stomped off.

He got walls of sound out of that piano I'd never experienced before, and I'd swear he had at least fifteen fingers. I was blown away, and now I have three of his albums. They're good albums, but I still prefer him live.

His music is all over the scale, covering boogie, jazz, gospel, bluegrass, and impressionism. For me, the high point is his "Upright" album, which Aaberg calls "Windham Hill's first dance album". It does have some real barn-burners, but The Piece for me is "Slow Dance (reprise)", a solo piano meditation on an earlier ensemble piece that has infinitly more heart than the original.

My car has a cassette deck as well, so for the last few days I've been enjoying a private concert on the way too and from work. Today I'll close out my work-week with the second side of "Upright", which includes "Slow Dance (reprise)". I can't think of a better transition to the weekend.

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