Thursday, March 17, 2016

On George, Ravi and Antibalas

Top George, Paul, John and George Martin. Bottom George and Ravi.

I remember first hearing “Within You without You” from Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when I was a kid.  I had no idea pop music could sound so surreal.  Ravi Shankar played sitar.  The opening up of sounds offered a way of looking at the world.  They seemed to say everything is available.  And we are all connected.  Music is everywhere.  It extends through the clouds.  It is not just jazz or classical or rock and roll.  Music was changing as was consciousness.  Elton John used to ride his bike to the record store every time the Beatles made a new album.  He was blown away before he even got home with Sargent Peppers.  I had the same feeling listening.

Growing up, we used to listen to the eight track of the album driving around South Georgia.  Dad hated it.  But the rest of us adored the album and the group's embrace of the surreal. That would only continue with the Magical Mystery Tour.

Over the years, George Harrison continued to collaborate with Shenkar.  His set at the Concert for Bangladesh is still the standout.  Years before LIVE AID, the benefit concert and album seemed to offer a connection between self and other, as well compassion in action.

For a while there between six and seventh grade, I listened to a radio show called, “The Beatles: The Days of Our Lives” tracing the daily goings on for the bad from the 1960’s through the early 1980’s.  More than anything, the radio show traced the making of their music.  The story of “A day in the life” stood out.  John and Paul merged their songs, with producer George Martin fixing the tempo and key, so the tunes intersected in a cataclysm of sound – that was my favorite. It could never have happened with Martin.

This was pop music which connected ideas and world views, bridging pop and the surreal.

George Martin brought us the string quartet arrangement for Eleanor Rigby. "All the lonely people, where do they all come from," Paul lamented, accompanied by a slow sad  cello.  This was a pop music with the capacity to touch something in us, very deeply.

The other day I was at a show watching Antibalas play with jazz musicians throughout New York, linking Afro Beat with funk and jazz. Music has taken us over the world.  We can all get there. But the jazz reminds us how much of our story is inside, dancing with our bad selves.

Now George Martin and Ravi Shankar have passed.  Its time to say thank you to them for reminding us music connects hearts and ideas and minds and souls, for expanding what music could be and mean.  Thanks for the newer musicians for keeping that spirit marching forward through time.

Antibalas with Steve Bernstein

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