Full disclosure: my knowledge of classical music, or classically-flavored modern composition, is almost entirely limited to its intersections with pop, rock and jazz. I enjoy hanging out at those intersections a lot—Ryuichi Sakamoto, Simon Bookish, Joby Talbot’s wonderful work with Neil Hannon in The Divine Comedy, Maria Schneider’s Jazz Orchestra—but take me to the symphony for anything pre-20th century and I fall asleep. I figure that for every old master there’s a wonderful composer walking around at this very moment, unpreserved in amber, possibly even asking you for spare change, making classically-influenced but relevant music that speaks to your time. Enter Gabriel Kahane.
His latest album, distilled from a larger song-cycle and recently developed into a stage piece, is about the myths and history of Los Angeles. He left the city as a child but remained connected by a thread (his father is the long-time music director of the LA Chamber Orchestra), developing a fascination with the legends it projects and the reality underneath. The cover photo sets the tone: he’s assessing from on high, an outsider looking in at the eight million stories of the naked city (I know, wrong city) spread out below. Each song, named after a specific address, is a film for your ears, telling a story of that place in scope that ranges from intimate to cinematic. The core instrumentation is basically rock, embellished with orchestral elements, but what he does with it is something else entirely; each piece is a little symphony with its own character, the melodies, arrangements and compositions ever shifting, every note placed with care. Here’s a good example, “Griffith Park (2800 E. Observatory Ave.)”.
Buy it here.