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Four for Cocktails, Conversation and Dining

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So it was Thanksgiving night at our place. The whole family was over for dinner at our new house: 13 people with a very broad spectrum of (musical) tastes, ranging in age from 3 to 70. What to do about the music?

There were voices quietly agitating for the sound of the TV, others recommending the holiday music option. Both were unacceptable: Thanksgiving is just too early to bust out the Christmas tunes, which now dominate the entire month of December. Thanksgiving is a separate holiday from Christmas, and since Christmas looms over all other holidays like the sun over our solar system, we need to do all we can to protect the individual identity of poor Thanksgiving. Hence, no Christmas music.

Thanksgiving is essentially a family social holiday and nothing kills social interaction more thoroughly than TV with its audio-visual gravity sucking in all within range – again like the sun and our solar system. The visual aspect of TV conveys the critical information of a sporting event – and the program in question was football – without demanding all of the viewer’s attention, so I opted for TV on with sound down, and non-holiday unobtrusive music.

The key to “unobtrusive” music is for it to be interesting and of high quality without irritating or startling anyone, or slipping into the insipid “elevator” rut on the other side of the road. Ideally, we want a light yet rhythmic sound with a charming personality.

These selections worked very well in that regard:

Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out
Nothing gets the mood centered better than classic cool (not “smooth,” God forbid) jazz, and there isn’t much cool jazz better than Brubeck’s piano and alto sax (the great Paul Desmond) tour de force album from 1959, built around the theme of nonstandard time signatures. “Take Five” – selected by NPR as one of the 100 most important musical works of the 20th century – was the best-selling jazz single of the century and is the most famous song ever written in 5/4 time (Pink Floyd’s “Money” is a close second). “Blue Rondo A la Turk” is also instantly recognizable.

Bill Evans Trio – Explorations
Staying in the same stylistic territory, if you pared the sax out of the piano/sax/acoustic bass/drum combo, and you were very lucky, you could end up with the Bill Evans Trio, whose sparkling ease belies brilliant playing from Evans on the piano, Scott LaFaro on drums and Paul Motian on acoustic bass. Their Explorations from 1961 was just remastered and reissued by Riverside/Fantasy. This is my favorite record by the exceptional, fragile pianist.

Thievery Corporation – The Richest Man In Babylon
Moving into contemporary organic electronica, I love the new Thievery Corp (the duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton) – a sumptuous amalgam of original dub, down-beat, exotic world-beat, and ambient – this one just flows like a river and melts like cotton candy. Sleepywonder, LouLou, Shinehead, and Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini, among others, lend vocal hands.

Lemon Jelly – Lost Horizons
Continuing with organic electronica is Lemon Jelly’s new confection: down-tempo music both easy and scintillating. The duo of Nick Franglen and Fred Deakin layer loops to create sample sculptures both groovy and playful, as might appear on a stroll through a psychedelic English countryside.

In all, four hours of nourishing ambience for dining and conversational pleasure.

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About Eric Olsen