Cover art is handmade paper from India
Released October 25, 2019
Spirit Lady is available on myriad additional platforms.
The 100 Best Recordings of 2019 curated by Ted Gioia including Spirit Lady
Spirit Lady reviewed in All About Jazz
Spirit Lady reviewed in textura
Ted Gioia New Music Recommendation: Spirit Lady
Premiered on dublab Wednesday October 30
1. Spirit Lady (2019) 60.04
meruvina: Vox organ, tamboura, drums, cymbals
autograph score: Book 1 and Book 2
purchase Book 1
purchase Book 2
All music Composed and Programmed by Michael Robinson for performance and recording in real time without any overdubbing or added parts.
Recorded and Mastered by Catharine Wood at the Planetwood Productions studio in Eagle Rock (Los Angeles), California.
Spirit Lady was engendered most recklessly. Instinct drove me to envision an hour-long piece moving at the rapid pace of 212 beats per minute. Composing such, not to mention listening to such, seemed improbable, most music at comparable speeds lasting most commonly several minutes or more, certainly not an entire hour. But I enjoy challenging myself, and prefer to honor my musical urges, so with a slight sigh, knowing how much work would be required, set sail on my new endeavor, the score ending up with over 500 pages, including just under 50,000 notes to program with the Meruvina. Perhaps chief among the potential perils I might encounter was what instrument would be called upon to play the prime and only melodic line. Not only was the pace bracingly swift, requiring formidable articulative capabilities, there was also the lingering question of what aesthetically appropriate timbre encompassed a pitch range of nearly seven octaves while not sounding overly harsh in the upper registers where trills and tremolos occur. However, the composer in me took sway over the performer in me, deciding to grapple with such practical issues after the construction dust had settled.
In the midst of creation, I’m mostly absorbed by sensations and thoughts rather than meaning. Thus, I was stunned to recognize upon finishing composition and beginning orchestration that I seemed to be dealing with a different philosophy of form. Previously, what I’ve envisioned ideally contains a beginning that flows naturally within a long line towards the concluding moments. Now, it seemed as if the music was hastening to attempt Jim Morrison’s “break on through to the other side” concept, as if spiraling upwards rather than forward, not so much becoming as focusing on the present moment.
Such new musical terrain beckoned me to seek out a new instrumental sound, one I hadn’t used before. Amazingly, seemingly out of nowhere, to the rescue came a Vox organ embraced by myriad sixties bands, including The Doors, Santana, the Zombies, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. However, it may be that my particular coloristic usage is closest to the burning, smoldering aphorisms of Eric Burdon and the Animals.
Intertwined with the Vox organ, I summoned an Indian tamboura intoning Sadja, the chief swara of a melodic shape paralleling both pentatonic Raga Udayaravichandrika and blues songs by the Allman Brothers, myself using Just Intonation. For percussion, I added a compelling drums and cymbals ostinato voicing a nineteen beat rhythmic cycle (4-4-4-4-3) recalling the March 19 birthday of Lennie Tristano, the teacher of my teacher, Lee Konitz. (Perhaps this unusual tala enhances the musical sensation of moving upwards rather than forward.) There is a special beauty in keeping orchestrations as sparse as possible, and I love being able to settle upon what is essentially a trio of musicians, echoing both the format of Indian classical music and unusual jazz trios like Lester Young, Nat King Cole and Buddy Rich.
In fact, there are twenty engagements here, the Vox entering the percussion and tamboura vortex twenty times interspaced with the relative silence of the two adjoining entities alone. Additionally, during three separate passages percussion and tamboura pause for nineteen matras or beats, leaving the Vox organ flying alone in the atmosphere. Listening to my orchestrated composition conjured a cosmic lounge where departed musicians from jazz, rock and Indian classical music convene to share musical pleasures freed from restraints of genre and human limitations.
In Spirit Lady, I originally set out to pretty much take a running jump off of a mountain, trusting that I would somehow find a way to land. Actually, I did this very thing hiking in the Canadian Rockies one summer while a teenager. There was a large boulder at the edge of a mountain cliff dividing a formidable rushing stream into two waterfalls aptly named Twin Falls. Still can’t believe I even attempted this, but I did leap onto the boulder and back across this stream that could have easily swept me over if I missed with a friend witnessing. Getting back to Spirit Lady, I’m glad to have accepted the musical challenge rather than turning away in fear and practicality. This is one of the supreme beauties of music - how we may do things in this magical realm between the physical and metaphysical worlds that are impossible in real life due to the limitations and frailties of our bodies, such as attempting to fly.
Or in the words of William Butler Yeats: "I hate reasonable people the activity of their brains sucks up all the blood out of their hearts. I was once afraid of turning out reasonable myself. The only business of the head in the world is to bow a ceaseless obeisance to the heart."
With all the justified focus on a background of jazz and Indian classical music, my studies of Western classical music are likely the actual foundation of my music. My two favorite composers, Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven, come to mind given how both excelled in vivacious, virtuosic keyboard music. History relates how their composing and keyboard extemporizations were comparable forming an often forgotten linkage with the improvisatory nature of jazz and Indian classical music.
Spirit Lady is envisioned to be played loud, with lower listening levels providing alternate perspectives.
Indian classical music teaches how every raga has a unique rasa or mood, including varying from musician to musician and performance to performance. One may experience some of this through the varied feelings and content of Spirit Lady and my previous album, Dazzling Darkness, even though both are based upon pentatonic ragas using organ timbres with percussion ostinatos and drones.
- Michael Robinson, October 2019, Los Angeles
© 2019 Michael Robinson All rights reserved