Show #263: Music to Dream By

The music on this playlist is special to me, featuring timeless recordings I never tire of. They’re perfect for listening in a quiet space, for relaxation and meditation, and to dream by, too. All in all, these ten tracks have withstood the test of time, with some of them going back more than 50 years.

We begin with John Coltrane’s 1965 album Kulu SéMama and feature the track “Welcome.” This album came out shortly after 1964’s A Love Supreme. Both albums anticipated the interest in what is now known as “spiritual jazz” from artists like Kamasi Washington and Build an Ark.

A young Sarah Vaughan with Quincy Jones comes next. “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set” was written by French singer Henri Salvador, whom Jones befriended during a sojourn in Paris. The two formed a lifelong friendship. Jones brought the song back to Sarah Vaughan and provided a sumptuous arrangement.  You can hear Vaughan’s operatic gifts on this song. She had wanted to pursue a career in opera, but Vaughan’s parents couldn’t afford the tuition. Aside from Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, and Leontyne Price, there was little room for African Americans to pursue classical careers back then.

Jamie Ousley teaches bass at the University of Florida. I have admired his superb playing ever since I heard his first album, O Sorriso Dela in 2008. I love his upright bass sound, both pizzicato (plucking) and bowing. Here he performs an unusual version the American folk song “Shenandoah” with Japanese singer Nanami Morikawa.

Two more folk songs continue the thread. An 11th-century Armenian religious song “Havoun Havoun” from pianist Tigran Hamasyan with soprano Jenni Nazarian is about as lovely as any music I can imagine. The title, translated as “The Bird, The Bird was Awake,” refers to the Resurrection and is chanted during Divine Liturgy. Opera star Aida Garifullina then follows with “Alluki,” an old Tatar folk song. Garifullina hails from the Tatarstan region of the Russian Federation, located between Russia and Kazakhstan.The great Plácido Domingo called her “one of the most exciting opera divas of today and tomorrow,” which is high praise from a high priest, indeed. She is now the voice of the Vienna State Opera.

Norwegian pianist and composer Ola Gjeilo’s “Ubi Caritas” alludes to the Catholic ritual of the Monday washing of feet, with a history that goes back to Gregorian chant. I love the vocal harmonies from Voces8, and also how Gjeilo improvises the piano parts of this recent eponymously-titled Decca release.

Countertenor Andreas Scholl next sings Vivaldi’s “Cum Dederit” from the sacred music Nisi DominusCountertenor is the highest range of the male voice, sometimes sounding like a female mezzo-soprano but having a different timbre. Vivaldi’s sacred music was ahead of its time, influencing a young Johann Sebastian Bach and other contemporaries. The dissonance in this piece was radical at the time and reminds me of Philip Glass’s modern work when I listen. The rhythm sounds like a heartbeat.

New Zealand singer Kiri Te Kanawa comes from both European and Maori ancestry, and was adopted as an infant. Her rich and sensuous mezzo-soprano voice is perfect for these lovely French folksongs from the Auvergne region of France, adapted and arranged by French composer Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957). This would be a perfect starter record for people allergic to opera and art song.

Vladimir Horowitz next performs his beloved Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915)—the extremely moving “Etude in C# Minor.” I played this once on my Café LA show, and Rickie Lee Jones called in to say that she was having a hard day and that this song lifted her spirits. Scriabin is a major Russian composer but less known than Rachmaninov or Stravinsky. He wrote ten sonatas for piano, the first being influenced by Chopin, and the tenth angular and very modern. The videos below show Horowitz performing the Etude and then a later version by another virtuoso, Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin.

The final work is a duet between Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem and French pianist François Couturier, with the enigmatic title “C’est Ailleurs” (It is Elsewhere). A beautiful dialogue between Arabic and European music, this recording once again proves that music brings people and cultures together.

Rhythm Planet Playlist for 5/18/18

  1. John Coltrane / “Welcome” /Kulu Sé Mama / Impulse
  2. Quincy Jones & Sarah Vaughan / “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set” / Quincy Jones’s Finest Hour / Verve
  3. Jamie Ousley / “Shenandoah (Feat. Nanami Morikawa)” / A Sea Of Voices / Tie Records
  4. Tigran Hamasyan / “Havoun Havoun (Feat. Jenni Nazarian)” / Luys I Luso / ECM Records
  5. Aida Garifullina / “Alluki” / Aida / Decca London
  6. Ola Gjeilo & Voces8 / “Ubi Caritas” / Ola Gjeilo / Decca London
  7. Andreas Scholl and Australian Brandenburg Orchestra / “Cum Dederit Delectus Suis Somnun: Largo” / Vivaldi: Nisi Dominus / Decca London
  8. Kiri Te Kanawa / “Bailero” / Songs Of The Auvergne / Decca London
  9. Vladimir Horowitz / “Etude In C-sharp minor” / Scriabin / CBS
  10. Anouar Brahem / “C’est Ailleurs” / Le Pas Du Chat Noir / ECM Records
Banner image of Tigran Hamasyan © Vahan Stepanyan/ECM Records

(Sarah Vaughn carousel image: William P. Gottleib via The Library of Congress)