Exploring Genres


Al Jolson – Avalon

The intro shows an obvious Classical influence, not just in the instrumentation but in the chord structure as well. I’d have expected it to be more basic than this. It’s pleasant to listen as a song so it’s easy to see why it became a hit. Nothing too taxing. Straightforward Intro-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Outro format that was still being used in Punk tracks sixty years later.

Duke Ellington – All Too Soon

Much more accomplished arrangement which breaks away from the expected progression in the second bar. A far superior recording to Avalon. More challenging to listen to but more rewarding because of it. Surprisingly nice.

Denzil Best – Move (From the “Birth of the Cool” album by Miles Davis)

Really nice track only marred by the bass player apparently only knowing 4/4 chromatic scales. I know that this is just my ignorance speaking but I really feel that the bass lets down an otherwise superb piece.

Overall Response: I’ve always shied away from Jazz in the past as it has seemed too pompous, trying to be too “cool”. I’ve just never seen the point. I feel that maybe I should try a bit harder, ignoring the common perception of the genre, and check out more of the standards. I’ve also revisited Weather Report with Jaco Pastorius. Maybe this is my way in?


Wagner – Parsifal (Overture) and The whole thing

A wonderfully lush and complete introduction to this piece deceived me a bit. After the first couple of minutes it all seemed to get a bit pedestrian and, eventually, stuck.

There’s no denying that Wagner wrote excellent technical music but in this piece he never really seems to get going. I’m not sure whether he designed it as a tone poem around Eschenbach’s book or whether it was to stand alone. Either way, it seems to be a series of disjointed ideas. Eight minutes in we’re still waiting for a theme to emerge and no imagery seems to have materialised.

I’m afraid that this is the music that (non-Classical) listeners refer to when they say that they “Don’t like Classical”. It’s all a bit too easy. The Art of Fugue it ‘ain’t.

As we get into the Opera proper things start to make sense. Bolstered by the vocal storyline we’re able to set the scene and see what he’s trying to do. It’s a monumental production (running to about four and a half hours) and for that it must get credit but I can’t help feeling that he might have been better off being a little more adventurous with the harmony.

Mozart – The Magic Flute

I know that it’s easy to say “Oh, it’s Mozart, it’s going to be good” but the difference between the overtures of The Magic Flute and Parsifal is immense. Straight away Mozart gives us something to hang on to. A theme that we can recognise. As the instruments of the orchestra join in the fun we start to hear a complexity evolve. In stark contrast to the Wagner piece the bass doesn’t doggedly follow the melody, there’s some interest there and some intervals that a modern and progressive bass player would use.

This is the stuff that non-classicists SHOULD have a go at to hear interesting and accessible music. Excellent.

Rossini – The Barber of Seville

Here’s another composition which (like the Mozart) lays down the ideas straight away. As a listener I immediately felt that I was involved with the music and that the production wanted this to be the case. After the overture, the big voices kick in and even though I don’t understand the language, the vocal doesn’t detract from the music. both Mozart and Rossini seemed to use the voice as another instrument rather than having it sit atop the music.

Lovely. It seems that I do like Opera, I just don’t like Wagner.

Overall Response: This was a surprise for me as I’ve always told people that I’ll listen to most music excluding Opera and Jazz. I found the Wagner almost irritating in it’s ability to resolve but the Mozart and Rossini were splendid. I’ll be listening to more of this.


Pauline Oliveros – Bye Bye Butterfly

I really struggled with this. All I ask of music is that I can follow the threads (like counterpoint) and reach a cadence or resolution. This didn’t do it for me in as much as I didn’t recognise any melody, harmony, rhythm or structure of any sort. Again, this is my ignorance speaking but I have synthesizers with modulators. I can make noises with delay.

This sounds like the sort of thing that people say is good because they think that it’s the right thing to say. Sorry.

Sound art? Yes. Music? No. Compare it to this piece by Kraftwerk.

Steve Reich – Music for Mallets instruments Voices and Organ

I really enjoyed this work. It has everything that I need in an instrumental piece. It stands up well on it’s own as a piece of music without needing to represent anything or be a foundation for anything else (such as a vocal story).

The ostinato percussion serves the music well allowing the sung and played melodies to move in and out of focus without hindrance.

Very nice.

Philip Glass – Koyaanisqatsi: 12 – Prophecies

Exceptional. I’d not heard anything like this before and I immediately bought the album.

The simplicity of the organ part punctuated by the voices completely bowled me over. It doesn’t need anything else, perhaps defining Minimalism?

Overall Response: Of all of the genres in this list, the Minimalist movement is the closest thing to what I’d normally listen to. Unsurprisingly then, this is the one that I felt moved me most, as long as we kept within the bounds or realm of music. Recording a jet engine is no more valid than Kurt Cobain recording his dying guitar as it sticks out of the front of his amp, or, for that matter, Jackson Pollock (artfully) splashing colour over a canvas in “Number 8”. I can’t deny that the Oliveros work is Art, it just doesn’t qualify as Music.

The other two however, they really moved me. Minimalism might be my next big adventure.


Hank Williams – Jambalaya (On the Bayou)

I liked the structure of this track and the overall sound, there’s nothing challenging here at all which is probably the point. I didn’t really understand the lyric but then it’s not part of my culture.

Easy rhythm, easy melody, easy to join in to.

Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues

A much darker track compared to Jambalaya, telling the story of a man looking out at the world after being sent down for murder, hearing a train and imagining the lives of the occupants travelling on it.

The song conforms to a “standard” country formula. Jangly guitars, basic rhythm section, root and fifth bass line. Pleasant enough but not groundbreaking.

Dolly Parton – Jolene

This is much more like it. Two complex guitar parts lain over two tracks (hard left and hard right), a bass line that keeps the rhythm tight while providing harmony, lovely live drum sound with bongos in the right channel, sweeping strings and Dolly’s voice over it all.

Absolutely magnificent.

Overall Response: Country music has become more accessible over the last twenty or so years with some artists becoming mainstream. I could listen to more of this in a particular arena, just not for serious listening. At a party maybe?

The revelation in this group for me was the effort of production that must have gone into Jolene. I’ll be looking for other versions of this track to see how they measure up.

One thought on “Exploring Genres

  1. Pingback: Views on contemporary music | Music From The Present To The Past

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