What’s New for the 5th of April: Amano dark chocolate bars, Terry Gilliam’s Fisher King, Béla Bartók, Ellen Kushner on Steeleye Span, Danish String Quartet Live and Other Matters

We embrace those things that make us unique or odd. For only in these things can we locate and then develop our most individual abilities. ― Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch

Traditional Central European and Jewish comfort foods are common here in Kinrowan Hall. Mrs. Ware, our Head Cook, says ‘It’s not the sexiest cuisine in the world, but it’s so satisfying and perfect for this time of year. When Rebekah, our Jerusalem born and raised Several Annie, decided to join my kitchen family,  her knowledge of Jewish food was a decided blessing.’ And that’s how I came to be sipping on a most delightful cardamon spiced coffee along with some chocolate rugelach on this tempestuous morning weather-wise.

You’ll find several reviews of books concerning Béla Bartók, the Hungarian composer of no small repute. That’s because I’m  playing Muzsikas and Marta Sebastyen’s  Live at Liszt Academy which makes use of his compositions. Cheerful, lively music that warms the soul on this cold, blustery day. Now let’s see what else I’ve got for you this edition…

Brendan looks at Béla Bartók and Albert B. Lord’s  Yugoslav Folk Music, Volumes 1-4: ‘ Ethnomusicology — like many of the humanities — has changed a lot since the early 1940s. There is more emphasis on the content and context of the lyrics than on the morphology of the tunes themselves. Nevertheless, this is an invaluable aid to the scholar of East European music. And it is also interesting to anyone just interested in the field. Be warned, though, it’s a tough read but well worth it.’

Robert came across a couple of books on that composer he considers sadly underrated: ‘Any genuine understanding of the role of Béla Bartók in twentieth century music is contingent on knowing about the cultural context in which he was formed — or in which he formed himself, as seems likely to be the case. The understanding is two-pronged, as Judit Frigyesi, in Béla Bartók and Turn-of-the-Century Budapest and Peter Laki, in Bartók and His World, make clear.’

Warner has another offering from the Library of America: ‘The Library of America’s collection Robert Stone features three novels by the titular author. Included are Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, and Outerbridge Reach. It is an impressive little volume. Filled with extras on top of these books, the volume certainly has the production values one has come to expect from Library of America, though the novels inside present some interesting choices.’

April says that ‘I can only speak for myself as a chocolate addict, but I loosely categorize chocolate into three general categories: cheap chocolate to be scarfed as needed, mid-grade chocolate that’s to be enjoyed more slowly . . . and then there’s the really good stuff, chocolate to be savored and hoarded and mourned when it is gone. My guilty pleasure, Reese’s, falls into the first category. Ritter Sport, Godiva and Ghirardelli fall into the second. And the third … well, it’s sparsely populated, but now includes, courtesy of Green Man Review, Amano dark chocolate bars.’

Grey looks at a Terry Gilliam film: ‘The Fisher King is a modern fairy tale after the pattern of stories by authors of urban fantasy like Charles de Lint. Like de Lint, scriptwriter Richard LaGravenese gives us a story in which an indentured servant and a victim of the urban jungle are redeemed by a traditional quest, by their acceptance of roles which echo some of the deepest archetypes from our collective human myths. In this story, those archetypes are the wounded king and the holy fool. However, we also see that in this redemptive quest, the heroes must play both roles to find their Grail.’

April has a Hellboy goodie for us: ‘In the introduction to this first volume of Weird Tales, editor Scott Allie has penned a loving homage to any fan who’s ever taken up a pen or pencil to write or draw their favorite comic book characters. He indulges in a bit of hyperbole, perhaps, when he says that the character of Hellboy has probably inspired more artistic fans than any other character. However, judging by the contents of this volume, comic professionals sure have a hankering to draw Big Red. Their clamoring for a chance to draw him led directly to the creation of this series — their own outlet for indulging in their wildest Hellboy imaginations. Weird Tales, Volume One collects the first four issues of the series, with thirteen stories that differ vastly in art style, tone and subject matter.’

Muzsikás’ The Bartók Album gets an appreciative look by Brendan, who also reviewed Bartók’s  Yugoslav Folk Songs which you’ll see connects intrinsically to this recording: ‘During a recent festival in celebration of the works of Béla Bartók — one of this century’s most important musical composers — at Bard College, the Hungarian tradition revivalist band Muzsikás discovered that many people were quite familiar with Bartók’s classical compositions while being quite ignorant of the Hungarian folk musical traditions that inspired much of those compositions’.

Gary is enthusiastic about Tamotaït, the new offering from the Malian band in exile Tamikrest. ‘With rock band instrumentation that’s common the world over – a couple of electric guitars, bass and percussion – they sonically evoke the shimmering heat, lonely vistas and rolling dunes of their particular environment, while lyrically they evoke their people’s determination to live their own lives within that environment.’

And Gary says Call The Captain, the third album from the rocking country band Western Centuries, deals with weighty themes. ‘They’re singing a lot about life-and-death matters this time – religion, war, mortality in general. Maybe that’s why so many of the tracks ended up as soul songs.’

Gary also reviews one by a British ex-pat musician who makes music in Chicago. ‘There’s no way James Elkington could have known about the trauma that we’d all be feeling in the midst of a pandemic when he tracked the 11 songs on his sophomore “solo” release Ever-Roving Eye. But somehow he put out a record that is balm for the weary and fretful soul, just when we need it.’

Robert almost got lost in an album of what we can only call ‘new music’ by a duo calling itself D1V1N1T1: ‘I’ve encountered several collaborations between Canadian musician Tim Clément and other artists — readers here may remember Wolfsong Night, in which Clément and guitarist Kim Deschamps delivered a complex and multi-faceted album that stands up under repeated listenings. Clément’s latest effort is a collaboration with Ben Watson; calling themselves D1V1N1T1, the two have created Terra Divina, which they describe as “a balanced exploration of what the external world offers our soul and the introspective space of our individual acquiescence.”‘

He also found much to appreciate in the debut album by a Belgian trio, Down the Track: ‘There is, in the history of “classical” music a — call it a “genre” — of what is known as “program music” going all the way back to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (at least), and including works by such luminaries as Richard Strauss (who can forget Also Sprach Zarathustra?), Hector Berlioz, and even Beethoven (Symphony No. 6, the “Pasorale”, with a really spectacular summer storm). It was with that in mind that I approached a new album by Down the Track, Landscapes.’

Our What Not this edition is a question; to be exact, ‘What’s is your favourite Steeleye Span recording?’ Ellen Kushner, author of the Riverside series (Swordspoint, The Fall of the Kings, and The Privilege of the Sword), like everyone else favours the early albums — ‘The only one I actually owned as a teen was Below the Salt.  I played it into the ground, though, and can do all the parts on all the songs!  And then . . . Well, I don’t think I’d listened to it for 20 years, until a solo trip in a rented car last summer had me begging for anything, anything for the road from the friend I visited en route . . . On the long highway to Maine, I stuck it in the player, and was electrified.  Amazing work!  I played it over and over, singing along, marveling at the mix, until I got to where I was going.  Great album.’

For our Coda this week, Robert has come up with a choice selection: the Danish String Quartet performing a work from their album Last Leaf, a group of traditional tunes arranged for string quartet. Here they are performing ‘Æ Rømeser’  Oh, and they also do ’classical’ music.

About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I’m the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library.

I’m a violinist too, so you’ll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.

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