If you're put off by highly conceptual or outwardly
difficult art for art's sake, I advise you to stop
reading now and perhaps try looking up "pop" in the Splendid
search engine; the last time I checked, it returned 1,275 links, so you'll be in good company (and busy for a while). But for us troubled and
seeking souls, there is the music of Mel Graves.
An esoteric product of academia if there ever was one,
Graves moonlights as a tenured professor at Sonora
State University. Day of Love marks his attempt to
write an extended song cycle about love and his
wife -- but if that sounds run of the mill, then brace
yourself, because it's not.
Recorded in 1996, the album is the culmination of
thirty years' worth of Graves' musical exploration.
Ostensibly a jazz album, the disc
explores lyrical melodies and instrumental interludes
for flute and bass, with rhythms influenced by
Brazilian, African and Indian styles. However, perhaps
the most notable influence is poet Pablo
Neruda; each song is named after and constructed
around a Neruda poem, with each stanza performed in a
classic operatic croon.
As the songs take shape around the relatively
structured poems, a disjointed atmosphere permeates the
album's earlier tracks, with songs like "Morning" and
"Ardonic Angela" sounding like a
self-consciously "beat" art student spouting off
poetry with a pensive affectation of meaning. Rather
than playing with the tone of the poetry, these songs
attempt to force the verse around their preconceived
concepts -- and unfortunately, great art isn't always
receptive to lofty reworkings. However, as the album
proceeds, songs like "Body of a Woman", "Leaning Into
the Afternoon" and the disc's majestic climax, "The
Morning is Full", gradually come to parallel the
poems; every puff of the flute and pluck of the
bass could as easily be a metaphor or a rhyming
couplet. You'll appreciate it not for this inter-disciplinary
symmetry -- great art, after all, rarely colors within the lines -- but for the
relationships it illuminates. Exploration of those concepts is, of course, purely
voluntary, but well worth the effort; participative listening is rarely more satisfying.