OK. I've gotten some press lately that declares there is no discernable musical relationship to Himalayan Art on my recent CD, "Jazz Pictures at an Exhibition of Himalayan Art."
NPR claims this, and states that it "stands on its own," which is flattering, thank you:
...and a live review of our recent concert in today's New York Sun says something similar.
First, I want to answer this statement by saying: this project involves a lot of original music and a lot of visual art that is foreign to American eyes. The last thing your interpretation needs is a pre-digested formula for understanding it. I want each listener/viewer to arrive at their own relationship to the work. Let each individual's cross-associations become a pathway to understanding themselves and raising consciousness. This is why there are no liner notes on the CD, instead, only the pictures. This is why I didn't announce every tune last Friday at the Rubin Museum. With all that music and all that artwork, why do we need talking????
But since you're here...and as an intrepid internet information seeker, you deserve to be rewarded with some nuggets of knowledge, here is the the only existing "answer key" to Jazz Pictures at an Exhibition of Himalayan Art.
1. The Better to See You. This three-eyed mask stares the viewer in the face, inspiring either fear or laughter. Imagine who would wear this mask? I think it would be a rascal, a scoundrel that has questionable intentions but is still loads of fun. The music conveys this sense of personality by employing the Blues structure in unconventional ways.
2. Tonpa Shenrab. The painting is done in a narrative style. Your eye must trace the journey of the subject (the founder of the Bon Religion) through his life as he wanders through the frame. This 11-minute song depicts parts of his life that I could discern from the painting: a royal upbringing (intro), a journey (the melody), an awakening (short horn soli right before the alto solo), his teachings (solos), a struggle with a demon (trading with the drummer!) and finally an abrupt ending that you don't really see coming.
3. Blues Under the Boddhi Tree. The monk pictured becomes Stefan Schatz, our drummer. He plays this tune on a dholak, a North Indian hand drum. It's relaxed. You have to be relaxed to sit under the Boddhi Tree.
4. Buddha Shakyamuni. This statue of the founder of Buddhism sits high, calm and proud. This is specifically expressed in notes the melody, as played by the soprano. The counterpoint provided by the other horns serves to provide a challenge, then eventually, an accompaniment to the melody. The bridge is passed to the English Horn, which temporarily takes on all properties of the top melodic instrument. The solo section is only four bars long, mimicking the Buddhist concept that there are many lives that fit into one existence.
5. Arhat. In the painting, two figures are shown, one directly above the other in some sort of parallel dimension. These become the tenor and trombone. They are interchangeable. You don't know where one ends and the other begins. You don't know who's above who. They are constantly switching.
6. Chakrasamvara. In the most obvious nod to Asian culture, the band plays an entire nine-minute piece with no detectable tempo. The visual art is a beautiful red Mandala, an item to be stared at, meditated upon for hours. This is why time stands still and there is no musical tempo. Listen as Stefan paints the elements to different solos: the English horn is Wood; the trombone and flute are Wind; the tenor saxophone is Earth.
7. Rahula. This great teacher is shown meditating in perfect balance with nature. The melody shows this balance in it's relation from root to fifth: the first phrase emphasizes the flatted fifth, the second brings out the sixth. I hear it swinging like a pendulum and showing a kind of melodic balance. Abstract? You betcha. Unrelated to the artwork? NOT.
8. Just Ask. The painting depicts a teacher and student. Who better to feature than my father, a prolific teacher. The song is structured in question-and-answer form. Listen to the educational dialogue. Somehow, we manage to play five instruments in the course of this duet.
9. Whispered Tradition. The Bon religion had a school of monks that passed their teachings down orally, without ever assigning an author's name to their beloved philosophy. Two qualities stood out for me in this historical fact: the worth the assigned to their teachings, and the anonymity of the monks themselves. The golden mask chosen as the representative artwork embodies both of these elements. Listen to the horns as they pass the teachings of the Whispered Tradition amongst each other.
In conclusion, I think you'll find that this is a deeper interpretation than the one they were looking for. Yes, Stefan hits a gong or two occasionally, but it's JAZZ that we're playing and jazz that we're going to stick to. Music is associated with contexts by experience and an open mind. I see the visual to each of these every time I hear the music, just like you think of candles and cake when you hear Happy Birthday.