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Music Review: Harry Manx – Live At The Glenn Gould Studio

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There used to be a time when live albums were a mixture of so-so sound and versions of a performer's greatest hits peppered with extended guitar solos and the occasional drum solo. Although some groups were far better in concert than they ever sounded in the studio, recording technology was usually insufficient to capture the energy that made their performances so dynamic.

Some live recordings were worth owning as a record of an event, Woodstock for example, or because they featured one of a kind performances with combinations of performers that would never exist elsewhere like The Last Waltz, but on the whole they would quickly become boring. I remember owning any number of live recordings, even illegal bootlegs, at one time. Many of them I never listened to more than once for that reason.

These days, of course, things are a lot different as improvements in recording technology have made it possible for a recording of a life concert to have sound with as good of quality as something a band would do in a studio. So now if a performer I know puts out a live recording, I'll be far more inclined to grab a copy than I would have only ten years ago. Listening to Live At The Glenn Gould Studio, the new live CD by Harry Manx, on Dog My Cat Records, proves that live recordings not only match ones done in the studio for quality, but are finally able to capture the excitement and immediacy of a concert as well.
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The Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto, Canada, where this disc was recorded, is a live audience facility maintained by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for the recording of performances for radio and television. On occasion it's also used for live concerts by performers because of its great acoustics and the potential for making a live recording. It's a room ideally suited to those using a variety of sounds and tonal ranges in their music, as the equipment is sensitive enough, and the technicians are good enough, to not only make crystal clear recordings, but also capture the feel of a live concert.

In other words, it's the perfect atmosphere for creating a live recording of the type of music that Harry Manx performs. For those who aren't familiar with Harry's music the best way to describe it is as a mixture of traditional Delta Blues and classical Indian Ragas. He studied classical Indian music with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt during the twelve years that he lived in India, and on the completion of his studies was presented with one of the special twenty string guitar/sitar hybrids called a mohan veena, that Bhatt had built. So now, when Harry plays the Blues, he uses an instrument that allows him to combine the qualities of the two vastly different musics to create one unique sound.

If one were to think of blues in terms of the earth and Indian music as air, in Harry's music you find the meeting place between the two elements. It doesn't sound like it should work. In fact, it sounds like the worst sort of New Age nonsense when you only read about it, but listening to how he manages to get the two sounds working together you can't help but feel he's created something special. Live At The Glen Gould Studio has some wonderful examples of just how effective this synthesis of his can be.

For this concert he was joined by musicians representative of both sides of his musical make-up, with classical Indian vocalist Samidha Joglekar and tabla player Ravi Naimpally representing the East, and Steve Marriner on harmonica, Kevin Brett on guitar, and George Koller on bass from the West. With Harry as the meeting place for the two styles and the impetus propelling the performance, both sounds are constantly working with, and feeding off, each other.

For the listener the effect is akin to at one moment listening to music that is trance inducing, and then the following moment music that makes you want to get up and dance. While that may sound like you're going to be pulled in opposite directions, Harry and his fellow musicians are able to strike this amazing balance whereby the two work in harmony. Instead of being carried away by the trance like qualities of the Indian music, you are carried into a deeper appreciation of the blues by the way they are blended together.

The order of the songs in the concert and on the disc are arranged so that this effect is maximized. With the opening song, "Point Of Purchase" featuring a beautiful and haunting vocal performance from Samidha being immediately followed by Harry's version of the traditional blues tune "Take This Hammer" the relationship between the two musical style is formed right from the start. It's not until the fourth song on the disc though, that they meet in one song, and I promise you that you've never heard a version of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child (slight return)" quite like this one.

Banjo and tabla are not instruments one normally associates with Hendrix's blues/rock classic, but somehow when accompanied by electric guitar, bass, harmonica, and Samidha's vocal harmonies, it's as powerful a version of the song as any that Hendrix ever did. Hendrix recorded two versions of the song, one the popular hard rock song, the other a slow blues number, and this is a cover of the latter. There was always a heavy spiritual element to Jimi Hendrix's music, but most people never really paid much attention to it. Harry and his band not only pay attention to it, but they bring it out so strongly that one wonders how it ever could have been missed in the past.

For people who are fans of Harry Manx and have never had the opportunity to hear him in concert, Live At The Glenn Gould Studio is a disc you don't want to miss because not only is the sound quality amazing, it also captures the immediacy and intimacy of the live concert experience. For those who aren't familiar with his unique style of music, this a wonderful way of being introduced to what he does. You will hear how west and east can meet, with beautiful and harmonious results. No matter how you look at it, Live At The Glenn Gould Studio is great music. It's already released in Canada, but those in the U.S. will have to wait until March 25th, 2008 until they can get their copies.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.