Sunday, November 12, 2006

Blue Mongol

Just finished an intense two weeks attending various San Francisco Jazz Festival performances. This was the best S.F. Jazz Fest yet and everyone involved deserves a lot of credit.

This afternoon's concert featured ever-creative trombonist Roswell Rudd and Badma Khanda's Mongolian Buryat Band. Their latest album is Blue Mongol.

The master musicians from Mongolia include: Badma Khanda (vocals), Battuvshin Baldantseren (flute, horse head bass), Javkhlan Erdenebal (throat singing and morin khur, a.k.a. horse head fiddle), Urantugs Jamiyan (yatag, a.k.a. zither) and Kermen Kalyaeva (dulcimer). The blend of their traditional instruments and Roswell's Kid Ory-Jack Teagarden style "tailgate trombone" proved surprisingly seamless. It all added up to an inspiring, pastoral and beautiful fusion of ancient Mongolian folk music and 20th century jazz.

One would think that trombone and throat singing might be an unlikely combination, but they are remarkably, at moments eerily, well-matched. To quote the producer of the band's recordings, Verna Gillis, "Both throat singing and trombone playing have a common source, deriving from the existence of a very strong, really low bass note called a fundamental. The trombonist and the throat singer share the task of resonating the very high overtones, resulting in a high-pitched, eerie melody—in fact, two sounds (overtones and fundamental) at the same time. The mid-ranged sounds are avoided in order to emphasize the extreme high and the extreme low. In throat singing, this gives off a very mysterious and disorienting effect, somewhat like a ventriloquist who can throw his voice so that the listener can’t believe that the sound is coming from one source. The trombone derives from the same acoustical principles: the total composition of its sound includes the extremely low and extremely high sounds. With the help of mutes and shaping the mouth cavity to emphasize the overtones, much in the same manner as a throat singer, the trombone also provides a mid range of pitches that contrast beautifully with the extremes of the throat singing. The process of musical fusion between Roswell, a legendary jazz improviser, and Badma Khanda’s folk ensemble sets up an alchemy into a new music that they have created."

I am still collecting my thoughts after attending the following wonderful festival events: a double bill of Nels Cline (the great guitarist from Wilco) and jazz giant Andrew Hill; innovative composer/pianist Myra Melford; the incomparable Alice Coltrane; and a program co-billing three jazzy Fleischer Studio cartoon classics (Betty Boop in Minnie The Moocher, Snow White and I'll Be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You) with swingin' sounds by that most bluesy of "little big bands", Lavay Smith And Her Red-Hot Skillet Lickers.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

I'm diggin' the samples of Blue Mongol on Amazon. Cool stuff.