Noam Pikelny – Waveland

This week I’ve been guest blogging over at my sister concern MusicForMy, a bespoke music service that lets you easily commission original music and unique arrangements for your special event. You can give it a look see by clicking this here sentence, but it lifts the curtain on how I go about arranging music, at least to begin with. The arrangement of music is key, in all genres. An incredible melody or wrenchingly beautiful chord progression is next to worthless if set it for kazoo and toy piano. Satisfying music needs to follow a certain logic across the genres, otherwise you just end up with confused mush. For me, the arrangement is as vital as the piece itself. Take my classical piece Farewell, Nathan Adler which exists in two versions; one for piano trio and one for symphony orchestra. Go click those links and give them a listen. Once you get past the electronic nature of the MIDI presentation (I can’t quite afford an orchestra yet) you can clearly see that changing the instrumentation immediately alters the atmosphere of the piece. Powerful stuff. Of course, talent tends to throw what rules we build for ourselves out the window. Sometimes the instrument you least expect can claw the most inexplicable wave of melancholic relief and joy once in the right hands. Sometimes you only need a banjo.

I’ve always liked the banjo, probably due to a very crappy demo of Camptown Races on my first keyboard along with an awful banjo setting. When I finally heard one for reals it was just so alien yet earthly, a bizarre hybrid of percussion and melody. I even bought one a few years ago but my playing has unfortunately never really taken off (probably because it stayed in Britain when I moved to Sweden). Noam Pikelny, on the other hand, is one of the most important pickers of his generation, cropping up all over the records of Chris Thile, Aoife O’Donovan, Steve Martin, Béla Fleck and a whole host of the great and the good of the Contemporary Bluegrass scene. Do you know the Contemporary Bluegrass scene? You should do, it is by far and away the most progressively interesting in all music; an ever-churning eddy filled with a refreshing honesty of both it’s history and the welcome disparate influences that feed it. It also has a great sense of humour running through the community, which is to be expected when Steve Martin is a member.

I’m drawn to Pikelny’s playing because of this. Because of his wit and his intelligence. Because of his skill in knowing exactly where to place that beautiful hybrid sound. Because the banjo can provide such a wealth of colour within the ensemble and he wants to show us. Waveland is almost Debussian in it’s Impressionistic chord progression, yet by setting it for banjo and banjo alone, Pikelny creates something exceptionally unique. He pushes our perceptions of the role of the banjo and hopefully by sharing it with you, you will discover the joys available when listening to the old clawhammer.

 

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