Sometimes when people are being fanciful they’ll talk about a musician painting a scene with music. Usually, I think at least, they mean that the person made a piece of music that evokes an image of something in their heads. On the occasions that I’ve experienced that it’s been somewhat nebulous as it’s been more a series of impressions instead of an exact picture.
Music doesn’t work that way. It’s just not an exact enough an art form to create a concrete image. It's more an ever-shifting collection of impressions that generate a sequence of emotional responses than anything else; you’d be hard pressed to find too many examples of it ever creating static imagery.
That doesn’t mean that a musician can’t be inspired by the visual arts; the composer Mussorsgky’s Pictures At An Exhibition is probably the best known example of an attempt. However, this type of work is scarce; in fact I don’t recall any other compositions along similar lines.
That is until now, with the release of Notes On Canvas by Cuban percussionist Arturo Stable (Stable is pronounced like the English word). For this recording, which Stable has subtitled “Jazz Portraits Of My Favorite Paintings,” he selected nine works of art (after writing compositions for 20) to be represented. His object was to compose jazz tunes that would musically underscore what the colours, shapes, and emotions of the paintings said to him.
Now these are obviously going to be highly personal visions, based on his reactions to a work, so on what basis can you critique? If you know the work in question you will have your own opinions on it and it will move you in a way that may not be the same as the way it moved Arturo. But that doesn’t make him wrong, anymore than his opinion is right and yours is wrong.
The approach I took for this review was to focus on two of the works, both by artists that I’m familiar with but the specific image he chose wasn’t one I knew that well. I listened to the music first, a couple of times, and then proceed to look at the painting to see if I what I had heard jibbed with what I saw.
Anyone familiar with the work of Frida Kahlo is aware of the incredible intensity of feeling that was the hallmark of all her creations. She depicted her life in graphic detail on canvass, from miscarriages to the continual erosion of her body from polio suffered as a child and a crippling accident she had suffered as a teenager; nothing was spared. So you would expect any music based on her work to of a similar, dark intensity.