Desert Is Singing
Sometimes just a phrase, or even a single word, is enough to spark a musical composition and/or improvisation. 'The desert is singing'--I'm not sure exactly when or how the words first came to me. It was probably close to a decade ago. At first I thought it was going to be a band name, which didn't happen. I do know that I kept the short sentence in the back of my mind, transferring it to the memo section of my electronic organizer. Whenever I got a new organizer, I would always type it in there again, without exactly knowing why. As a lifelong resident of Southern California, the strongest bond I share with my region of origin, along with the unique multicultural experience of my Silverlake youth, is that with the geography, the landscapes. I've spent countless days and nights in those environs, an urbanite refueling his spirit in nature's filling stations. So I knew that the brief sentence had a couple of meanings to me: First, it evoked the wonderful music that is unique to the desert, that wind that sings to all those who listen in short and long phrases, both symmetrical and asymmetrical. Native to the area and a musician as well, the sentence also had the additional meaning of my unwittingly being a voice for the (artificially irrigated) desert that has always been home. It sings to us, and it sings through us as well. Eventually the phrase inspired a short composition/improvisation, which then became the title of a bigger work in progress, a complete CD. While I'm a jazz musician by discipline, and a jazz violinist by lineage, descended from Stuff Smith and Grappelli plus the moderns Ponty, Shankar, Charles Burnham, and Eyvind Kang--I consider this to be an electric violin blues album. The forms (such as they are) aren't generally blues forms and other musical dialects and accents pop up out of nowhere, but it still feels like a blues CD to me. The human themes that have inspired the compositions are the same ones I figure inspire everyone else: life, death, love, yearning, loss, spirit. After being on the outskirts (sometimes even the suburbs) of the L.A. music scene for over two decades and making my debut as a leader at this juncture, I would have to be considered a late bloomer. There have been countless gigs from Madame Wong's West to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, from blues and salsa bands to symphony concerts and western swing shows. There was the avant garde collaboration with the band CPD, with whom I recorded a CD entitled 'The Process.' There have even been small brushes with celebrity, such as the years spent with the Radio Ranch Straight Shooters, with whom I appeared on the soundtracks to a David Lynch film ('The Straight Story') and a mainstream baseball flick ('The Rookie'). It's been an interesting musical journey, yet somehow I feel it's just beginning, here in the desert land of Southern California. "the Desert Is Singing" is the product of much thought and passion that melds disparate solo violin traditions to create a unique sound. The work is not mainstream and makes no attempt to pander to the flesh peddlars but instead explores new musical landscapes boldly and with great style. Influences from the great Southern Indian violinist L. Shankar to swing legend Stuff Smith to the mercurial solos of Jean Luc Ponty can be traced but Strother's sound is his own. Songs like the achingly beautiful "Soledad," the deeply evocative "Aiyana Ascending" and the title track are imbued with emotion and musical wisdom brought about by the artist's obvious love for and unending study of the violin in all it's permutations. He has taken his lessons well as heard in the Sonny Rollins-like improvisations branching off of "On the Street Where You Live" to the almost sacred sounding sweetness of "A Love Enduring." Strother has a fecund musical mind, capable of creating compositions that show respect and love for Jazz, Pop and World traditions by using their map to reach new destinations. His take on Charlie Parker's marvelous "Au Privave" and Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk" demonstrate his first love but the entire disc is as refreshing as sincerity at a Hollywood party. There may be thousands of CD's sitting untouched in record store bins but Strother's deserves a listen because he waited until he was ready and learned enough to create something true to his thoughtful vision. He has taken the words of Charles Bukowski to heart: "don't do it. Unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, unless being still would drive you to madness or suicide or murder, don't do it. Unless the sun inside you is burning your gut"
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