I was taking in the Mike Webster Nonet at The Rex Hotel last week and at a certain point during his set Mike introduced a tune as follows: “I’ve been exploring a lot of different time signatures and harmonies and I thought it was time to write a simple tune.” And the tune they subsequently played was just that: simple. And beautiful. And it got me thinking—what makes music beautiful?
If I think about what music sticks with me most, it probably falls into one of two categories: it either grooves like crazy, or it’s beautiful (not that the two are mutually exclusive!). To me, beauty in music takes many forms: the way, in the middle of a complex Maria Schneider arrangement, she’ll use the simplest of major triads; the lush sounds of an orchestral string section; the brilliance of the solo trumpet in Pictures at an Exhibition; the way Ravi Shankar’s sitar somehow complements Philip Glass’ compositions; or the way Keith Jarrett plays I Loves You Porgy (or, frankly, just about anything), solo, on The Melody at Night, With You.
Does music have to be simple to be beautiful? I don’t think so. In fact, I hope not! Although some of the most beautiful musical moments happen when a piece is calm, beauty can be found in frenetic moments too. Two weeks ago, I got down to The Rex twice during the 19-8 Music Fest. On my second visit, I caught The Chris Tarry Group. During one of Dan Weiss’ drum solos I had to give up trying to figure out what exactly he was doing. He was layering rhythms upon rhythms and it looked (and sounded!) like he had five hands. Was it simple? I wouldn’t say so. Was it beautiful (and awesome and groovy)? You bet.
As I’ve made my way through the submissions for this year’s festival, I’ve been introduced to lots of new music - some very straight-ahead, some very avant-garde. What is consistent, though, is that the submissions which really appeal to me, whether “inside” or “far out”, contain beauty.
What do you think makes music beautiful? What are some of your favourite musical moments?
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