Christine Vaindirlis – Dance Mama! (Ubuntu World Music, 2009)
March Fourth Marching Band – Rise Up
Some day musicians and labels will release albums based on the energy of a particular season. Contemplative and soothing music will be released in the fall and winter months when the weather chills and sitting by a fireplace sipping hot chocolate or apple cider bodes well with simpler rhythms and melodies. Then when spring rolls around, and people toss the winter coats aside and get outside to join others, more rousing music makes sense. That’s when we would get out the jigs, reels, salsa and other dance music. It comes down to developing consciousness about how music affects the mind and body.
So why do I find myself reviewing two rousing CDs, a pan-African release, “ Dance Mama!” by Christine Vaindirlis and a marching band from Portland, Oregon when all I want to do is curl up in bed listening to Bach cantatas or Gregorian chants? Both of these recordings boast fine qualities, punched up with delicious polyrhythms, rambunctious vocals and diversity of musical styles. But I feel under the spell of the changing season and I prefer music that calms my nerves at this time. I feel like sleeping, not marching or dancing. However, if these recordings were brought to my attention in July when I felt at my peak, they would have been glued to my CD player.
Ms Vaindirlis boasts her share of talent as a vocalist and music arranger. “ Dance Mama!” has been pumped up with horns, polyrhythms and powerhouse vocals that swim their way through a variety of musical genres, pan-African (“Indaba” and “Down by the River”), sultry-smoky jazz (“Should I Make You Pay”), funk (“No More Drama”) and South African vocal harmonies (“Dance Mama!”). She even tosses in a bit of Afro-Latin salsa.
The vocalist effortlessly sails through these diverse musical styles. I envy her energy and enthusiasm, not to mention her record collection (which must contain a lot of American jazz with an emphasis on blues, New Orleans jazz and recordings from throughout the African continent). She possesses a good ear for horn arrangements and music production. No doubt we will be hearing more from this diva in years to come.
One of the strongest rhythms around is the marching beat. It falls into the category of rousing rhythms such as hip-hop, rap, and rancheras in that a listener cannot escape its spell. This might be why marching bands grab our full attention as they parade down the street or into a sports stadium, getting everyone up on their feet, swaying and clapping along to the polyrhythms played on snares, bass drums and sometimes bells. Horns pierce over the top of the rhythmic cacophony and woodwinds contribute a swirling circus feel.
But some of us unfortunately remember those nerdy marching bands from high school and middle school—you know those poor musicians stuffed into wool costumes, marching in 80 degree weather with sweat dripping down their faces. Then the tuba players and those carrying the bass drums called out for mercy and sympathy.
Ah, but this is a new era where marching bands, at least one in particular, Portland’s March Fourth Marching Band, decked in whimsical costumes and combining the circus big ring with world music sensibilities. M4, known by their fans, has the rest of us thinking or re-thinking our concept of a marching band. Heavy on the brass, bass and drums, not to mention, stilt-walkers, M4 brings the Balkans to us, then mixes it with New Orleans jazz, gospel and all things cool and groovy.
Songs such as “Dynamite,” from M4’s independent release, “Rise Up,” recalls the The Tiptons Sax Quartet (from nearby Seattle) and lumped in with the opener, “Ninth Ward Calling,” listeners might find themselves on a plane New Orleans-bound. Whereas, “Contada Ridiculata” will have us all joining the circus and “Simplon Cocek” might remind us of that overdue trip to the Balkans.
I am not surprised that M4 hails from Portland. Similar to Seattle, the Pacific Northwestern city has had its share of successful do-it-yourself music ensembles. But a marching band from a region where it rains most of the time? That must be why the band packs up its bus and hits the road. With circus motifs, musical diversity and the do-it-yourself ethic, M4 and France’s Lo’Jo would get on famously.