Christopher O’Riley Meets Nick Drake: “River Man,” “One of These Things First”

The life of the reclusive singer-songwriter, Nick Drake (1948-1974), was tragically short. Yet his influence on later artists, including Norah Jones, Beck, REM and Elton John, was extensive. The English folk rocker crafted harmonically sophisticated songs and experimented with alternate guitar tunings and cluster chords. The song, River Man, from Drake’s 1969 album Five Leaves Left has been covered by numerous jazz musicians. Set in 5/4 time, the song drifts into a melancholy and hypnotic …

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Christopher O’Riley Meets Radiohead: “Fake Plastic Trees”

The American pianist Christopher O’Riley discovered the music of Radiohead in 1997 with the release of the British alternative rock band’s landmark third studio album, OK Computer. Immediately, O’Riley was drawn to the songs’ sophisticated counterpoint and “sensual harmonies that you’d find in Ravel, a harmony, a chord that makes your hair stand on end.” O’Riley’s acclaimed solo piano adaptions of Radiohead songs are far more than simple arrangements or covers. Following the tradition of Liszt’s concert paraphrases, or …

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Remembering Alex DePue

A fatal car accident in Mexico claimed the life of the accomplished fiddler Alex DePue on Thursday morning. He was 49. Alex and his violin-playing brothers formed the popular DePue Brothers Band which specializes in “a vivid blend of bluegrass, classical, and rock genres.” Alex DePue’s rock star virtuosity is evident in this clip, which blends Paganini with Yes’ Owner of a Lonely Heart and Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal: Featured Image: Photograph by Amy E. Voigt

The Artistry of Sting: Five Great Songs

Gordon Sumner, the English songwriter and musician known as Sting, celebrates his 70th birthday tomorrow. Between 1977 and 1986, Sting was the lead singer, bass guitarist, and principal songwriter for the band, The Police. Later, his solo career blossomed. Sting’s songs are filled with fascinating harmonic complexity and depth. Here are a few examples. There are many others that are equally interesting, including the jazz-infused Englishman in New York (a track which features Branford Marsalis on soprano …

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Classic Rock: Yes’ “Shoot High, Aim Low”

Shoot High, Aim Low comes from the 1987 album, Big Generator, by the English progressive rock band, Yes.  The song is hazy, hypnotic, and sonically alluring. It drifts over an eternally reassuring rhythmic groove, laid down by Alan White (drums) and Chris Squire (bass), which emerges from the chaotic “white noise” of an orchestra warming up—an obvious homage to The Beatles. Exuberant Spanish guitar riffs punctuate warm, glowing synth tones. Occasionally, seemingly “wayward” harmonies challenge …

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Remembering Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen, the legendary virtuoso rock guitarist, passed away yesterday following a battle with lung cancer. He was 65. The band Van Halen, formed in Pacific Palisades, California in 1972, was credited with “restoring hard rock to the forefront of the music scene.” The band’s original lineup (until 1985) included Eddie, his brother Alex Van Halen (drums), lead singer David Lee Roth, and bassist Michael Anthony. Later, Sammy Hagar replaced Roth. Eruption …

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Debussy and the “Tristan Chord”

On Monday, we heard the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, a work which opened the door to the dissolution of tonality and the atonal sound world of the twentieth century. One composer who was profoundly influenced by this music was the young Claude Debussy. In 1887, Debussy called Tristan und Isolde “the most beautiful thing I know, from the point of view of the profundity of the emotion.” Yet, in a …

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