Anodyne for the Addled Mind: Brooklyn Rider

After a weekend filled with a marathon of music (16 hours of bands young (e.g., Wye Oak & Wild Belle) and old (e.g., Iggy and Elvis Costello)) with only a short slumber in the middle, mental and physical exhaustion has caught up to me.   I use to invoke the adage that, “There will be time enough for sleeping when we’re done”, but upon reaching my mid 30s, I’ve realized the body is not an endless wellspring of energy, enthusiasm, and endurance.  Curses!   (But, gosh what a slate of bands I was able to see this past weekend; more on that later once my wits are once again about me.)

In light of all the running around, I figured I would turn towards something of the lighter and more peaceful variety, anodyne for the addled mind.  I have discussed in passing my fascination with 20th Century Classical composition in the past (see Steve Reich and Phillip Glass, etc.).  However, before I ever fell in love with the avant garde, I was an unapologetic Classicist. Unlike many fans of Classical music, my interest doesn’t stem from a childhood spent playing piano sonatas, car rides of Chopin, or weekend brunches regaled with Ravel or Bartok.  In fact, music largely was absent from my upbringing.  Through my mother I was exposed to musical theatre and the music of the Church (which contains a number of pieces composed by composers of the Western Canon, e.g., Mozart and Handel, as the churches of Europe were some of the most ardent (and deep-pocketed) patrons of the Arts from the 1400s to the dawn of the 20th Century). Perhaps my penchant for symphonies and chamber music arose from these points of entry.  Regardless, I find myself quite often on a weekend morning listening to the local Classical radio station over a cup of coffee. Or, when I need to find a place of Zen or mental tranquility, nothing quite soothes like a little Beethoven, Brahms, or Dvorak.

But, classical music still has a vibrant pulse and not merely amongst the octogenarians and serenity seeking set like myself.  Take the phenomenal contemporary quartet Brooklyn Rider.  Hailing from the borough of the same name, this group, composed of two brothers and friends, creates original compositions, reinterprets traditional pieces and explores non-Western traditions throughout their work.  It is stunningly soothing and exhilaratingly educational – if you are into discovering new worlds and traditions, as I am.

Brooklyn Rider on NPR’s Tiny Disk Concerts:

Listen to them below playing a range of contemporary and traditional songs.

  • The first piece is a gorgeous Middle Eastern infused instrumental piece.
  • It is followed by “Second Bounce” a reinterpretation of Debussy.  You’ll hear them discuss that they essentially use the piece as a “base” and then “riff” on it.  What I notice from the onset is the more playful and mirthful nature of the piece, a decidedly Eastern European character that is distinct from the often dour, dramatic and serious tenor of the Teutonic and Western Continental composers.  Unlike a good amount of Classical, this feels like music to which one would dance and frolic, like a fearless and fiery gypsy.
  • The group closes with “Ascending Bird” a piece inspired by an Iranian field recording based on their travels with the Silk Road Ensemble (a group put together by Yo-Yo Ma).  Whether a mental conscrtruct or not, the composition feels of an older time and conjures images from countless fables of the region, yet I agree with the BR that its sounds still resonate in the present.

Brooklyn Rider’s “Seven Steps” from Seven Steps

The piece I’ve been obsessed with but couldn’t find an online stream of is “Seven Steps”.  If you want to stream or listen to a snippet through an online music vendor, I encourage you to seek it out.  Or, click here to visit their site which contains links to the music as well.

“Seven Steps” is an excellent blend of Romanticism, an exploration of non-Western influences and instrumentation and a little divergence to early 20th Century American Classical composition.  In particular, about 9 minutes into “Seven Steps”, the Quartet plays a melody evocative of the work of legendary American composer (and one of my all time favorites) Aaron Copeland (famous for Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid and Fanfare for the Common Man).  In this brief one to two minutes, the piece travels backwards in time, returning almost full circle from its contemporary posture to incorporate and encompass the breadth of American 20th Century classical exploration.  It is breathtakingly powerful.

Brooklyn Rider Expose on WNYC

For additional (and more learned) expose and streaming music, check out this great piece on WNYC click here.


Please note:  All typographical, grammatical, and/or other errors of omission, along with any historical or factual inaccuracies are entirely the fault and product of the author’s exuberance that often outweighs his detail-oriented better, Super-Ego self.   Judge him not TOO harshly (because “no judgment” is nigh on impossible).

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