The Big Purr : CD Review

 

Pasheen

I confess I have a particular weakness for female vocalists with low voices. It’s as if they are saying to a world that is enamored with high notes and prepubescent timbers, “tough shit.” And with a shrug of the shoulder and a gleam in the eye, they pull and tug at your groin with those low notes, rumble the rafters, and take you to places that only seem to exist in acid-washed film noir and lurid pulp novels. Pasheen is such a creature on her most recent jazz CD The Big Purr (it is tempting to suggest that the CD’s title is all about those low notes, but that’s awfully easy), and one suspects that she is clearly aware of the inevitable comparisons to sultry contraltos like Julie London, and so puts it right out there, as she does on the opening cut, So High, as if to say, “well, there’s Julie…and then there’s me.” Pasheen makes it clear that she won’t stand in anyone’s shadow, and then proceeds to blast the genre altogether with lyrics that are as playful and mischievous as they are seductive and alluring.

From the first sound one hears (the crackling of an old LP – remember those?) we are placed frankly and unapologetically in a world that could never be inhabited by the teeny-boppers who command the world’s current stage. There is wicked in every fiber of Pasheen’s voice. She is creating her world, song after song, layer after layer, paint stroke upon paint stroke, and welcoming us in, but with a “beware” sign. It’s an underground world. A world that moves at a stroll’s pace. A world of shadows and seduction. A world that almost doesn’t belong in today, but somehow equally in an era bygone and a tomorrow that waits patiently (read timelessly) until the bubble-gummers burn themselves out.

And then there’s that voice! It is textured and haunting, a lesson in the mastery of phrasing, a history rich with tales and battle scars and luscious liquored flavorings, always in impeccable control, if at moments purposely letting loose grace notes both feral and unrestrained, and with the fattest, sexiest vibrato I think I’ve ever heard. Most importantly, at least to this listener, the voice is rife with poignancy and pathos. And every bit of it works.

Pasheen seems happiest (in a lyric) when letting us know that she knows her environment, her fellow jazz players, the luminaries in the genre; and that while she most definitely celebrates them, she also takes her rightful place in the pantheon. Oh believe me, she belongs.

She has fun on cuts like Busy Man (“being a type-A over-achiever myself, I realize that I could end up in a 24-step program”). It’s a lyric that makes one chuckle, while all the time knowing full well that this Big Purr of a singer moves at a Type-A pace for NO ONE, but vamps by, daring you to come along. And so she creates contradictions that serve to remind us just how complex we human beings really are.

There is an underlying sadness in Vanity, a song about cosmetic surgery. What’s most compelling about this cut is Pasheen’s unwillingness to pick a side on the subject, but instead giving us a startling portrait of modern life’s arguably most pathological preoccupation, and that she even dares to broach such an internal-conflict topic within the jazz environment, a neighborhood, from a lyrical standpoint, that has usually been relegated to weepy love songs, clever Porter-esque turns of phrase, and comedic sexual innuendo. She dares to complicate the idiom.

If I seem to be harping a whole lot on lyric, it’s probably because I’m a vocalist too, and lyric means everything to us. But never for a minute think that the rest of the package is an afterthought. Strong melodic writing and a sophisticated harmonic environment puts these songs (more than half of which Pasheen composed or co-composed) squarely in a league with the most timeless of them.

Trumpeter Carl Saunders’ scatting, on his composition You’re So Cute, had me laughing in the jolliest way from pure joy at the fun he is obviously having, a trick that belongs exclusively and exuberantly to the jazz genre, and yet few do it well. I get the feeling this may be signature for Mr. Saunders, as he is given complete carte blanche on this cut, with Pasheen respectfully giving her colleague the floor. Takes balls to give the floor in that way, when it’s your album. But then Pasheen has a pair on her that, I dare say, rivals any of her male counterparts.

As evidenced in her tome to Billy Tipton. Her heart is practically breaking on the wonderfully odd and iconic song Cross Dress, leading us to consider a world so intolerant that it demands the Big Lie. It is equal parts shame-on-us reprimand and loving tribute to the many whose lives were relegated to the fringes. It is melancholic without ever moving into the territory of dirge-y sadness.

My favorite cut has to be the finale track, The Truth, composed by the Diva, herself, which paints a landscape of the Seek, the Search, the Path, and which suggests that this radiant singer has depth to spare, yet she keeps it light and fun: “Maybe god is a goddess in a strapless dress.” Frankly, I’m envisioning that goddess with shocking platinum hair.

She has the best of the best as her production and performance team: Co-producer Barry Coffing and engineer Talley Sherwood to start with, and a parade of some of the business’s top session players from L.A. and Houston, including celebrated woodwind player Bob Sheppard, who offers gorgeous warm-toned tenor solos on most of the tracks, and who, all, help to make every track strong and tight. Straight-ahead swing, crisp bossas, and ECM-esque rhythms create the bed for this body of work to lie on.

Pasheen straddles playfulness and pathos with equal aplomb on this recording of twelve stellar cuts, and celebrates the genre of jazz in such a unique Pasheen-only way, that one gets the feeling she loves rocking the boat of the comfortable, and shaking up folks’ worlds, all for the sake of a powerful musical moment.

Her liner notes include thank-you’s to animal rescuers and to our soldiers, which gives a clue into the passion and compassion at work in this beautiful songstress’ heart. But you won’t have had to read about it in the liner notes to feel it with every note sung.

You’ll find you need to hear The Big Purr again and again just to catch every finely layered nuance. It was a joy for this listener. Congratulations Diva!

And as always:
Create – even if you’re not an artist
Support artists – especially the independents
Live well – doesn’t take money to do it
And be whole

Pasheen:  http://www.reverbnation.com/pasheen

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

The Music of Silence: A Rumination On Meditation

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Silence is the universal refuge,
the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts,
a balm to our every chagrin,
as welcome after satiety as after disappointment.”
––– Henry David Thoreau

Silence is the language of God.  All else is poor translation.”
––– Rumi


“Silence tells me secretly everything.”
––– from “Let the Sunshine In”
by James Rado & Gerome Ragni

I’ve meditated on and off for years now.  Every kind under the sun, from mantra meditations, and pranayama-focused meditations to guided meditations and walking meditations.  And I recently looked up one day and realized that what had been a daily practice for me, or at least a weekly, had managed to fall by the wayside, in favor of work and stress and recreation, even depression-related hibernation.  Somewhere in the tapestry, one little textured patch seemed to have torn away.

As I’ve tried to get back in the practice, I’ve begun with guided meditations on CDs and tapes, and attended sangas (a community of like seekers) where the meditations were guided by Buddhist monks.  After a time, I always find myself hungry, itchy, antsy, something, and realize that what I really want to do is live in silence for a time, not fill my head with more words, more thoughts, more suggestibility.  And while I take nothing away from the value of guided meditations (some of my greatest epiphanies and satori moments for me have resulted from them), I’ve come to realize that the reason I haven’t been moving consistently enough in some kind of forward direction, neither spiritually, nor in terms of my life’s legacy and the planting of seeds; why, instead, I have felt that life lately has become simply about surviving, taking the gig that will pay this or that bill, and then counting out my pennies to figure out what I can afford to do for fun until it’s time to go to work again, and pay another bill, and every day that keeps landlords and repo men away from my door is considered a success, until it’s time to go to bed, wake up the next morning, and start the cycle over again – whew! – this is what my brain is like these days! – is because I’ve been busy, in meditation, asking for.

Everything seems to be about wanting something.  Even prayer is about asking for something.  Please God, let me ace that exam.  Please God, let me win the lottery.  I’ve loved and held tightly a mantra I composed about two years ago, and have been dedicated to chanting on my morning walks.  “Love, reign over me…” (notice The Who reference; and, as well, my penchant for replacing the word god with love…just my thing).  …Make me mindful.  Give me grace.  Deliver me from need.  Fill me with wonder.  Help me to evolve for my sake and no other.  Take care of those I love.  And those I don’t.  Compel me to live fully in my present every single day.  Yet always, steadfastly, planting the seeds and tending the ground of my purpose in my life.  And then teach me to let go, and dare to trust my very best life to keep exploding before me in a rain of light.”  And then repeat. I’m also especially self-pleased with the seemingly writerly bookends of reign/rain (a geek’s excitement).

In my newest head, I think about that mantra and I sound awfully “gimme gimme” to myself.  There’s nothing wrong with asking for guidance, help, strength, clarity, protection.  And of course, it is incredibly beneficent to ask for peace and goodwill for others.  But it suddenly hit me that while those words, and the meaning behind them, merely serve the bigger picture of digging deeper within the fibers of my being, and compelling me to move, act, charge forward in a very specific way, and therefore IS helpful, IS healing…there is still something missing.  For me.  Right now.  In this moment.  And the something, I have finally realized, is silence.  It is about not going into meditation with an agenda on my plate, but going in with a blank canvas.

This is not a revolutionary idea.  Vipassana Meditation, for example, at its basest and simplest, is this idea.  But for me, it has taken my own very specific journey for the idea to come out of the abstract and into a tangible resonance.

Approaching meditation with a blank canvas is actually quite hard to do, but I am enticed by the challenge.  Because I know that what’s on the other side is the open door that welcomes insight and answers and light bulbs galore.  In the silence – true silence – not just a cessation of talking – the world opens up.  I’ve been there.  I’ve experienced it.  Only in the briefest of instances.  But I have touched it.

The trick is to let whatever your monkey mind has got brewing just come forth.  Your grocery list.  That doctor’s appointment coming up.  Re-envisioning the argument you had with your friend, where, this time, you actually say all the right things.  Shedding songs for that upcoming gig.  Lusting over the new guy that jogs by your house every morning.  Brainstorming on how to get your book published.  Bills.  Let it all bubble up and spin into a frenzy.  Don’t fight it.  Don’t try to shoo it away.  Because even THAT is agenda.  Let it go wherever it will go.  Without the fight, and without a what-am-I-trying-to-accomplish-here? lesson plan in place, eventually the monkey matter begins to dissipate, little by little.  It loses momentum and power.  It takes time.  It takes release and a consciousness about release.

It also takes a certain amount of bravery.  Because in this modern, fast-paced, multi-tasking society of swiftly accruing noise, industry, machines, and devices which can distract humanity from the essence of life,” as the painter and poet Jean Arp once said, we’ve learned the brilliant art of tucking, of compartmentalizing the worrisome stuff, so that it doesn’t invade us too often or too harshly, and cocooning and distracting ourselves with the noise.  This is incredibly easy for me to do, because I’m a musician for my living, so I am perpetually wrapped in a blanket of pings and strains and twangs and hums and vibrations and cacophonies of toots and screeches and splats.  And that existence can equally serve to bless me with a constant, spirit-feeding music AND keep me in a comforting fog.  Inviting the silence means daring to clear the fog, and therefore can mean inviting the worrisome stuff to dance in front of you, to insist that you smell it, touch it, hold it, face it.

The good news is that eventually what begins to happen, by allowing whatever dances in front of you to do so, is that what was important simply becomes less and less so.  The mind begins to let go of its burdens.  The realities don’t go away.  Have a bill to pay?  It’s still there. But the mind’s insistence on letting it bog you down suddenly loses its strength.  And as the quiet begins to creep in, a true moment of clarity can be experienced.  A sense of being able to handle whatever comes your way with skillfulness and grace.  The detritus shows its true colors, and the truly crucial issues begin to find their answers, or at the very least begin to break themselves down in order to be examined more thoroughly.

Li Po speaks of returning to the grove.  To the music of the trees, the wind, the birds, and silence.

One thing that seems to be a recurrent theme with me is the desire to be a calmer version of myself.  I am naturally hyper.  I talk a lot.  I can’t even sit in a chair for long without changing to the other butt cheek periodically.  I cross one leg over the other, and then for the duration of my sit I constantly switch legs.  And I need to watch movies in a movie theatre, and not at home, or I will invariably stop and start the damned thing thirty times to: go wash the dishes, make that phone call I forgot about, check my email one more time, see who’s talking about what on Facebook, the list goes on and on.  And what is a two-hour movie becomes a six-hour project for me.  I long to be calmer, slower, more thoughtful, more focused, and I pray for it everyday of my life, in my own way.  “….give me grace, make me mindful…” etc.

What I am realizing today is that what I really need, in order to accomplish anything of value, personally, professionally, spiritually, is to stop asking for, and instead simply learn to quiet my mind, to silence the monkey brain, to live in the music of silence, for at least a few golden minutes every day, and dare I even think it…be at peace with being right where I am.  I believe it is there and then that I’ll start to understand so much, and will stop being in such a rush to get somewhere else.  Evolving is natural.  Needing to be any place but here is…itchy at best.

I don’t have to ask for peace of spirit.  I only need sit in silence (yes, it can even be done when the world around me is noisy).  And then let the silence speak to me.

Silence.  So simple.

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.