Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cristian Amigo's "Kingdom of Jones" Beyond Category

Duke Ellington once said that great music is "beyond category." But if he were alive today, writing a blog on the internet, he'd be pulling his hair out. The internet and its search engines thrive on pigeonholing absolutely everything. Is it music? OK, what kind? Well that isn't always easy to put in terms of keywords. But they need that so that when somebody searches for Ugandan Traditional Tribal Music, for example, they get a ranked list of links.

Now that's fine in its own way but in the advanced worlds of modern music-making, categories that once were hard and fast seem to be breaking down. And that doesn't mean that it's all "Fusion," either.

Today's recording is a good example. Composer-conceptualist-musician Cristian Amigo has put together a program of music in his Kingdom of Jones (Innova 671) that proceeds, so to speak, from station to station, each station evoking a sound world that doesn't always easily translate into some musical category. You find contemporary improvisation, jazz and rock elements, electronics, ambient music, funk, a sort of drums 'n' bass sound, hints of electronica, hip hop inflections, a hint of world music influence, with some sampling involved, electronic collage, blues-like segments, musique concrete, new music, avant garde classical and things that combine more than one element at a time.

Cristian Amigo plays electric and acoustic guitar in parts throughout the recording, and so that's one factor that provides a point of reference. And he plays interesting things too. But the thrust of the work is contained in all the pieces and stylistic elements considered as a whole. Art imitates life, one well favored version of a world view has it. If that's so, Cristian Amigo has created the equivalent to a walk through Grand Central Station, where every imaginable sort of person may be walking by you. Would you classify the people in Grand Central Station as one sort of group? If you did, you would have to come up with generalities that are meaningless in some ways. "Travelers by train?" Mostly. But so what? I feel that way in trying to describe Kingdom of Jones in some straightforwardly ham-headed way. So I wont.

This is music. It is music that goes from point A to point B in a non-direct route through all kinds of geometric thickets. It is music that can be heard profitably many times because it is born of a complex aural orientation. It is not written out, apparently, as much as it is performed and assembled. So it is like a visual art assemblage combined with a performance piece? Not exactly.

What makes this recording worth hearing is that every piece in the puzzle somehow fits the whole; and every piece has intrinsic interest as music. There are quiet sections of dreamy contemplation. There are toe-tapping grooves, some psychedelic rock moments, sprawling but brief soundscapes, and some really interesting guitar work.

Don't expect a certain thing when you listen to this music. Take that tact and you'll be surprised and I would hope delighted with the various outcomes in any given section. Amigo makes music here that expresses a something that might not be defined in words to good advantage. It is the multiplicity of the modern experience.

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