Category Archives: Music

Face the Music…

In a recent article, I was asked to answer a few questions about how music and wine might interact. And I found myself unable to limit my words on the issue, even if I was primarily focused upon answering the questions. Here’s what I wrote to the author:

Question 1 – Do you think that there exists a direct relation between music and the simultaneously consumption of wine?

I am obsessed with music, such that I have music playing in my head, playing in the car or at my computer almost continuously. It sounds a bit crazy but it’s my world. I don’t generally try to match music and wine together but they seem to be able to generate similar rhythms and similar moods even if music itself seems to me to be devoid of smell and taste. Wait, that’s not true.

But music is more universal an experience than smell and taste is to me; because smell and taste are very, very specific to some particular place and time. Some music will bring me back to a certain spot at a certain date, but the stuff that I love is far more transformative.

Wine is more temporal than music, but wine has rhythm; I honestly think it does or at least it can if you have music in your head nonstop as I do.

Question 2 – Did you make correspondent experiences [by that, I think the author wanted to know if I match them up] by yourself?

In general, no, but that’s because I appreciate counterpoint more than synchronicity. So I don’t want music and wine to match up; I want them to talk to each other. They may agree; they may argue. Sometimes they don’t speak at all; they just yell past each other. That’s cool too. I like the complexity. But I listen to a fair amount of pop music (in between the Japanese noise bands, the early country, the bebop, the garage bands, the postpunk, whatever), and there is no music that corresponds to pop for me. Everything else seems to have a correlation but not pop music.

Question 3 – Would you say (or would you say not) that specific grape varieties do accord with specific styles of music?

No, it’s more a matter of style of wine. What grape you use to make it is immaterial. Of course, styles are based upon certain grapes and certain regions, but the region and style play a lot more into what describes any particular kind of music than what grape you might have used to make that style of wine. California Merlot is very, very different than Merlot in Bordeaux. White Burgundy is a different sort of animal to California Chardonnay. One is incredibly complex and even wild (think Ornette Coleman); but big, buttery California Chardonnay is more like John Philips Sousa.

Question 4 – Which style of music (or exactly: which song) harmonize best to:

Riesling – think string quartets, Baroque to 20th century. Okay, sure, there’s more to consider but I think that string quartets are a remarkable art form.

Silvaner – – I have no idea. Okay, maybe, the Velvet Underground. Attitude, attitude, rhythm and more attitude. Great lyrics too. Oops. I’m off subject.

Chardonnay – as above; it depends upon where you grow it and hence what style it is

Rosé – again, which rose? But this is as close to a boy band as any wine I can imagine.

Pinot Noir – again, which Pinot Noir? Oregon is almost muscular; sure it’s fruity, but there is a certain muscle behind it so I think Texas blues or Southern rock (maybe there’s a Kings of Leon connection I’ve never considered before). New Zealand is so delicate that it can be like a bird song; like a happy Meredith Monk tune, although I’m more in love with Meredith Monk’s wounded, unhappy songs, but that’s off subject. As with white Burgundy, red Burgundy is a wine that makes me think of orchestral music. This time, it’s not a quartet but a chamber orchestra. Sometimes it’s Vivaldi; sometimes it’s a lot more aggressive.

Syrah or Shiraz – at my own peril, I’ll ignore California Syrah (can be lovely; can be boring), Washington Syrah (which is often damned special but it’s too soon to characterize it in the way the editors are requesting) and even those marvelous examples from New Zealand, South Africa, Spain or Italy. So let’s talk that herbal, peppery fruit leathery thing that is the northern Rhone. If Parker or Dizzy had played French bistro music (dream on, Jacques Brel), they might have made these wines.

Merlot – Sure I said that wine isn’t pop music. But Merlot, like Champagne or sparkling wine, can come damned close. Merlot can produce wine that is somewhat silly, maybe even vapid, but sure of itself nonetheless, sexy, or at least about sex, youthful, and if over-confident, demanding that you take it seriously too. Like pop music. But I can also imagine Merlot as soul music; which I think of as pop with blues shined up by funk.

Cabernet Sauvignon – this is a formal music though it can be any kind of formal. Of course, you think of Bach but you also think of Astor Piazolla, another formal music straining at its limitations. Without those limitations, it would be seem untethered, ill-defined.

Grenache – nothing but folk music, though folk music from anywhere, so it could be salsa, it could be Blind Willie McTell, it could be Iraqi love songs, hell, it could be Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It could be from Cuba, from Appalachia, from South Africa, from Latvia, from Nigeria, well, you get the idea.

Sweet wine – girl bands for some of them, Christmas carols, songs of simple joy.

But maybe it was just the Riesling talking…

at a bar in Des Moines, yep, it’s the good life

Drummie ZebAt the bar sits a thin dreadlocked man; he is being gushed over by a succession of young women. He's the drummer with the Wailers, who have just left the stage on the grassy riverbank next to the hotel. In fact he's called Drummie Zeb. He's drummed for ten years with legendary bass player Family Man (Aston Barrett) who, if you don't know, would be really amazing to drum with, or scary, I'm not sure which. He's very cool with it; Zeb used to play with Kenny Chesney. Paul Simon before that.

It's all the same, he laughs, of course you play different but you have to find your thing, the thing that makes them know who you are. He says, I tell my son who is a drummer to look for the way YOU play. So then I tell Zeb about wine competitions and how it's so important for a taster to be who their palate is, not who they think it should be, not what some more important person's palate is, but who you are. Conversely, it's also important not to be an asshole about it: if everybody disagrees with you, move on and find the next good wine. It's a pretty stupid analogy and Zeb is very polite about it. He's from Virginia; maybe it's southern manners. Later I am reading that Cy Twombly thought that living in Virginia was good preparation for living in Italy: something about faded grandeur.

May 30, 2005

One of the songs I can’t identify is a beautiful swaying between a simple vocal round and total anarchy. Valerie Price and Brenna Whittaker have utterly satisfying voices, rich in any octave. It’s fantastic and haunting.

One of the last songs of the day is, once again, unknown to me, at least in this form. Valerie continues to emote as the song dies away, Lydia (accordionist) and Brad whispering light chords and just as our collective breath was to be taken away by the silence and then a drumstick scratching across the edge of cymbal (that came next), an ice cream truck drove by.

May 28, 2005

Brad Cox is a fantastic pianist and composer who lives at present in Kansas City and we are the richer for it. An afternoon concert for the Memorial Day weekend and Brad has assembled one of his large scale bands, tenor sax, baritone sax, flautist (also piccolo), drummer, stand-up bass, a gifted accordionist who plays with a band here called Tango Lorca, and three singers.

Part of the afternoon is given to re-tooled gospel tunes. As usual with Brad, there are songs I should recognize but can’t. He twists a Zeppelin tune into a signature changing nightmare. Or dream.

Brecht and Weill’s Alabama Song is delightfully recognizable. The three singers trade the verses about; it’s wonderful and silly. Since the theme of the show is war, they do a version of Randy Newman’s Let’s Drop the Big One Now.