I was enveloped in the scent of narcissi as I walked to the mailbox yesterday evening. I had just arrived home after a fairly long day and the sheer pleasure of the wafting perfume and the beauty of the blossoms surrounded me in comfort. Narcissus Sir Winston Churchill is one of my favorites, and I intentionally planted them precisely there, next to the front walk and around the mailbox, where I could enjoy their heady fragrance daily.
The joys of the garden, the joys of music, the pleasure of living in the moment, any moment, be it brief or prolonged. These joys are such precious gifts. And often these, the most valuable gifts, are composed of the simplest things: a flower, a song. That intense pleasure of that moment in the garden reminded me of the pleasures of listening to music, of attending the Big Ears Festival, and other concerts as well; but it also reminded me that those pleasures are not always intellectual, or meditative, or even perception-altering or life-changing. Often a simple song is all that is needed to still our racing thoughts for only a moment, to bring us to the present.
There were a lot of simple pleasures at the Big Ears Festival as well. Not everything was challenging or meditative. Saturday evening there was a lovely set by Lambchop, filled with Kurt Wagner's lyrical wit, and graceful, if occasionally convolutedly poetic storytelling. The concert was even more enjoyable because it was exactly what I would hope for and was not at all surprising. But perhaps that enjoyment was amplified by the perspective-shifting set they performed with Yo La Tengo the previous evening, a set in which Wagner and Kaplan traded roles on occasion, singing each other's songs, an act that rendered those songs simultaneously familiar and unexpected.
The Lambchop/Yo La Tengo concert followed a concert by Andrew Bird, another musician with whom I was only familiar through recordings. Bird performed quite a few songs from his new album, which based on this concert appears to be far more personal, with a little less of the distance I perceived in earlier albums, in which Bird seemed to occupy the role of occasionally tortured but basically world-weary observer of life. Nonetheless, the songs were beautiful, and listening to the band live really showcased their fabulous musicianship, although I found the volume of the performance actually distracted from the songs themselves. But I think I am in the minority in that opinion, and the concert was enjoyable regardless.
After Lambchop on Saturday night there was a performance by Sam Amidon, Nico Muhly, and Nadia Sirota, which was pretty much new territory for me. I am a great admirer of Muhly, but was mostly familiar with his classical work. The concert brought a new perspective, as well as introduced me to Amidon's fabulous fiddling and wonderful renditions of both traditional and more modern folksongs.. Sirota, too, was fabulous, and there is always a sweet spot in my heart for solo viola. It proved to be a fairly intimate performance that showcased the strengths and differences in the work of three very different musicians but who also worked well together as an ensemble. The three seemed to capture that magical junction where difference comes together in unity of sound, and where distinct and separate pieces are pulled together into a coherent whole, while at the same time maintaining something of an effortless feel of spontaneity. Not an easy feat to pull off.
In fact, I was reminded of this concert when I noticed these red hunter tulips poking up in the midst of this perrenial. The plants are different, the colors shouldn't go together, and don't really, and yet together they have a charm that is not really captured in this photograph -- there are subtleties and harmonies that I can't capture on film, just as live music, and the interactions of the musicians, creates its own space, a space that can be unexpectedly beautiful.
I suppose however, the performance that resonated the most, that reminded me that I do in fact need to turn off that constant voice in my head on occasion and just let the music be present in all its joy, was the Kamasi Washington concert late Saturday night. Or was it early Sunday morning? Technically it was the latter. And I had gone home, cooked shrimp for coffee hour after church on Sunday, and even managed an hour's nap before returning downtown for the 12:30 AM concert. I was both wired and exhausted, more than ready to just float on Washington's simply joyously good-natured groove. I don't really have the words to write about jazz. But no other words were really needed. Sometimes you just don't want to have to think. Sometimes you simply need to be carried away.