Everyday beauty

Thursday, April 12, 2007

April 12, 2007

Dear David,

Our dog Hank found half a rabbit buried in the mulch in front of DC's parents' house the day before Easter. DC took it as a sign. She's waiting to see what it's a sign of.

We took her parents to Barnes & Noble that night in the belief that they would enjoy the store's new system for trying out CDs. Swiping the bar code allows you to hear 30 seconds or so of the first five songs of any CD in the store. Her parents tried this phenomenon that was new to them a few times and then disappeared in the aisles of books.

Turning DC and me loose to sample music is like setting us free in an ice cream shop. DC tried out the Cuban music. She's crazy about the "Buena Vista Social Club." At first I tried all kinds of CDs, especially musicians I'd never heard of. They often were unknown to me for good reason. Then I came upon the music of Pat Metheny, a Missouri boy whose genius has so far eluded the creators of our Missouri Wall of Fame. In the 1980s I attended a concert by Metheny and Ornette Coleman at Cornell University. A New York Times review from that concert tour said the 15-minute encore, "Endangered Species," built a momentum that threatened to levitate the concert hall. The experience at Cornell was the same for me. It was the same kind of ecstasy the Mahavishnu Orchestra reached for in the early 1970s.

Metheny has made a new CD with pianist Brad Mehldau. I had never heard of Mehldau either, though he's been performing and recording for at least 10 years.

Hearing the Beatles, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen and Sarah McLaughlin for the first time are events that aren't in the past for me. They spoke in ways my body, my mind and my heart understood and still do. That was true for lots and lots of people.

Listening to Mehldau's music was a similar experience, a feeling that the way he plays the piano is somehow akin to the way I think and feel. The others were the same, a recognition of something they have in common with the rest of us but can express much better than we can.

Mehldau's playing lacks artifice. The music comes directly through him but is transformed by his intelligence and humanity.

"Blame It on My Youth," which has been recorded by Nat King Cole and many others, is the first song on Mehldau's CD "The Art of the Trio, Volume One. " His reading is elegiac. He covers the Beatles' "Blackbird," too, in a way that elevates the song's simple beauty. The whole CD's like that, the work of an artist who examines and loves old songs in ways that make them new.

One of the wonders of the 21st century is a musician's Web site. Mehldau's brims with interesting things, including liner notes and essays and articles he has written about music. He's a literate musician who composed songs to Rainer Maria Rilke's "The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God," words that yearn to lose themselves in God. More ecstasy.

Writing about art, Mehldau says: "One of the qualities of art that attracted me initially was its seemingly mystical ability to raise up the everyday experience of life and transfigure it, give it beauty. Being exposed to new music, literature, and the like was never a discovery for me. On the contrary, it was always a confirmation of something shared between myself and its creator, an overlap of sentiments, if you will."

This beauty, this ecstasy, is all around us.

Easter Sunday, DC's minister talked about waking up to your life, about not waiting but doing. Taking life by your teeth. Just like Hank had his half a Peter Cottontail.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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