Monday, September 9, 2013

West Africa, Eastern France

Most people I know listen to music in intense bursts.  They will find a record or song they love and then listen it to it obsessively, until they either get tired of it or find something else to replace it.  This includes musicians and non-musicians, and I think it’s a beautiful way to listen because you are always listening to music that you really care about.

I’ve never been like this.  I would call myself more of a grazer.  I really enjoy hearing new music and I can get enjoyment out of listening to just about anything.   For that reason, I’m always seeking out different music from musicians I’ve never heard, or new recordings by musicians I already know and love, and I never stay put in one place too long.  However I do occasionally get fixated, and when I do it’s pretty bad.  It happened with the dirty projectors a couple years ago, it happened with that Kendrick Lamar album, it happened with Caetano Veloso and now it’s happened again…

Ghana Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Ghanaian Blues, 1968-81

I discovered this great compilation accidentally while searching for Dr. K Giyasi on spotify.  I had read about him somewhere and, like those of many African artists, his recordings are difficult to find.  But the search is often incredibly rewarding.  I was immediately blown away by this comp.

The music is not traditional highlife, but is the product of the cross-pollination of West African music like highlife and American Rock, Funk and Soul that would have been heard by African artists in the late 60’s and 70’s.  The instrumentation on many these tracks is evidence of the American influence with distorted electric guitars, synthesizers and James Brown-esque horn sections, but the incredibly sophisticated and deeply danceable rhythms are unmistakably West African.

Here’s one of my favorite tracks:

Hedzoleh Soundz are perhaps most famous for their collaboration with South African crossover star Hugh Masekela, but until I found this comp I had never heard their music.  

For me, this is good as music gets.  It has everything.  It is incredibly sophisticated and complex rhythmically, but earthy and grooving at the same time.  The music is raw and emotional, particularly the vocal performance.  The arrangement is perfect with the call and response vocal sections and the guitar interludes shaping the track.  And it has unmistakable ‘vibe.’  Maybe it’s something about the recording itself but it’s one of those tracks that you put on and the room seems to change in color slightly.  There is something magical about it.  I must have listened to this track 50 times since discovering it. 

It can be difficult to get into music that is from a culture foreign from your own, but if you are willing to go out of your comfort zone, I can’t recommend this track highly enough.  Give it a few listens and keep an open mind, and I think you’ll find this incredibly rewarding.

I’ve been similarly fixated on the idiosyncratic and delicious wines of the Jura region in eastern France.  I first tried a Jura wine at a tasting at Chambers Street Wines.  The wine was the 2004 Domaine de Saint-Pierre Arbois Savagnin.  It was funky, savory, kind of sherry-like and generally weird.  But delicious.  I had to leave for a gig right after the tasting but I caved and went back afterwards (which, embarrassingly, was completely out of the way) and bought a bottle. 

After doing some research, I realized I have come to Jura wines a little late in the game.  They seemed to have been pretty under the radar for a while, but now are well known, and getting pricier.  And sadly the Houillon-Overnoy wines, which are considered by many the gold standard for Jura wines, and which were formerly easy to find and affordable in New York, are now basically impossible to find, especially at a reasonable price. 

But there are great Jura wines to be had, and even if they aren’t under the radar anymore, they’re still just plain awesome:

2004 Domaine de Saint-Pierre Arbois Savagnin

This wine is made “sous-voile” (under veil) which means that the wine that evaporates from the barrels isn’t topped off, and instead a layer of yeast separates the wine from the oxygen in the barrel.  This most likely explains the sherry-like savory, nuttiness of the wine, which is definitely what struck me first.  But the wine also has really nice green apple and citrus fruit to it, as well as impressive acidity.  My first taste was pretty shocking but after some time in the glass, and especially on day two, the wine really comes together into a honeyed, elegant, well-balanced wine.  Very complex, a little bizarre, but ultimately delicious…

Had this with a chickpea curry dish.  I’ll admit this was a very haphazard pairing because I got home late and this was the only food I had in the house, and the only wine I had open, but it actually worked surprisingly well.  Who knew?

***Addendum: This wine also went amazingly with a BLT the next day 

2012 Domaine Tissot Arbois Poulsard Vielles Vignes

Poulsard, like savagnin, is one of the grapes the Jura is known for, and I’ve never heard of it being grown anywhere else.  This was the first poulsard I’ve ever had and it completely blew me away.  The wine is very light red in color, almost pink, like a dark rose.  The nose was very floral, but also with some red fruit, and an earthy savoriness I couldn’t pin down.  After opening there was also a chlorine-y smell, like the locker room of a public pool, but it was subtle and actually very pleasant. In case that freaks you out, it disappeared after about an hour open, but I was loving it while it lasted (could this quality be indicative of "reduction?" I've read about poulsards being "reductive" when opened, but I haven't had the tasting experience to be able to confidently identify reduction).  The wine is delicate, but also surprisingly intense.  It’s delicious but also challenging.  Its the kind of wine that is as complex as you want it to be--I could see non-wine drinkers at a barbecue or a party enjoying this wine just as much as a very serious wine nerd would. 

Drank this wine at a pretty fancy small-plate type restaurant for my birthday, and it went amazingly well with everything we had (scallops, duck, summer vegetables).  I could see this, despite its weirdness, being an extremely versatile food wine.  I think this would appeal most to white wine drinkers, or people who like red burgundy, or anyone interested in a wine that is left of center, but also incredibly drinkable and delicious--that’s always what I’m looking for anyway. 

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