There is Magic at Your Fingers

For almost two years, some of my friends and I have been sharing music. We’re supposed to review/rate what gets shared with us, and share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

Well Tempered ClavierJohann Sebastian Bach – The Well-Tempered Clavier (1722)

I haven’t really been keeping track, but I would imagine this is easily the oldest thing that’s been shared in the past two years. Previous to this, I think the oldest album was Copland’s Rodeo in 1942. Although there were some Duke Ellington songs that same week from the late ’20s.

A little background: in 1722 there weren’t pianos and what they did have (claviers) weren’t exactly tuned like pianos. They were tuned to a specific key, which meant that to play in a different key, you either had to retune or switch instruments. Bach wanted to have one keyboard that could play in any key, so he wrote these 24 pieces (one in each key, including major and minor)(unless you count the preludes and fugues separately, in which case there are 48) to make it inconvenient to play this whole series without one well-tuned keyboard.

I never learned to play any of these (that I remember) when I was a kid, but as I listened to them, many of them sounded familiar. Spencer was right when he introduced this and said that much of this is background music. Even still, there wasn’t anything bad about these pieces. Here are some highlights:

The C minor and F# minor sets are some of the best pairs in the collection. I especially liked the Picardy third (the major resolution) in the F# minor pieces.

As a general rule, I prefer the preludes to the fugues. Not just here. In most classical music, the fugue seems to be more for musicians to appreciate the complexity of the composition rather than a general listener. The C major prelude is one of the most calming pieces of music I’ve ever heard. D major, G major, and both Bb preludes are also pretty good.

But that’s only a generalization. I liked the B major fugue more than the prelude. 3/5

From my friends:

“There is something about these classic composers that is just special. I think we have musicians today who are equally, or more, talented. But there is just a simplicity to the music (simple but not difficult or challenging) that makes it work. I’ve always liked Bach because each not is clean and not lost in the overall sound. Good album (but a bit long). It would get a 5 star from me, but it is really a greatest hits album without a common story or theme.” 4/5 – Tim

I would slightly disagree. These songs may not have a common musical theme, but they do have a common technical one.

Rush – Permanent Waves (1980)

Tim shared more Rush.

I’ve listened to this album a few times before, but it’s been a while. I’ve always felt like this album had musical cohesion, better than a lot of concept albums. Even if the individual songs tend to have a little internal wandering, there seem to be musical themes that come back throughout the album.

And I’ve always loved one of the lines from the chorus of Freewill, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” I don’t know why, but it’s been one of my favorite lyrics. It’s not especially poetic, but it has real meaning.

The only kind of lowlight was Jacob’s Ladder. It just doesn’t do anything for me. 3/5

From my friends:

“Look at you, Tim, sharing musician’s music.

I haven’t ever gotten too into Rush. Geddy Lee’s voice is just too thin and high for me to really rock out too, so I was a little hesitant going in.

I liked this a lot. I’m not sure I agree that it had “one of the strongest openings for a Rock Album” but maybe it was just because I had higher expectations. I like the second slower riff much better but its kind of a passing interlude more than a primary theme in the song. The last full minute of the song gets quite a bit more interesting as they switch to and from the reggae riff. I think Freewill was more enjoyable to me. I really liked the 5/4 time and other meters in there. My favorite thing in this album is all the polyrhythms and meter changes. Natural Science was another of my favorites. Good stuff throughout. This was the highlight of the week.

I’m going to have to get into more Rush now.” 4.5/5 – Spencer

Phish – (Hoist) (1994)

My oldest brother introduced me to Phish (and The Grateful Dead and Dave Matthews Band). They’re a jam band, so that will tell you most everything you need to know. I’ve never been a huge Phish fan, but this is my favorite of theirs partly because I think it’s their most accessible.

There are also some notable guest artists, like Alison Krauss on If I Could; the Tower of Power horn section on Julius and Wolfman’s Brother; Béla Fleck on Riker’s Mailbox, Lifeboy and Scent of a Mule; and Jonathan Frakes (also known as Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Commander William Thomas Riker) playing trombone on Riker’s Mailbox (although it’s otherwise un-notable).

From my friends:

“Let me start by saying I had really low expectations for this album. I have never heard Phish before, but know lots of people who like them and we have very different tastes. When you referenced Dave Mathews Band I really dreaded the listen (worst concert ever).

But I really ended up enjoying myself. I think I will give them another listen. The songs were creative and fun. They flowed well, but about 3/4 of the way through it seemed to lose a common theme for a while before snapping back at the end. So yeah, good album and glad I gave it a shot.” 3/5 – Tim

“That jam bands record seems kinda funny to me. Isn’t the point that they never play it the same? But its just like jazz recordings really. Why not. Listening I get the vibe these guys are quite talented players. Down with Disease had a great riff I liked. Axilla was probably my favorite track. Wolfman’s Bro was another great one. On Scent of a Mule I thought it was Ben Folds singing till I looked it up. Demand I really liked hearing the extended jam. Maybe that one was my favorite. IDK. This album was good but still, it didn’t pull me in enough to guarantee I come back.” 3.9/5 – Spencer

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One thought on “There is Magic at Your Fingers

  1. Pingback: For Every Useless Reason I Know There’s a Reason Not to Care | An American Audio-logue

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