Saturday, February 02, 2008

Music Lost, Music Found

There's nothing more nostalgic than old music, unless it's old music that has been lost ...

For years I've been recalling an ancient recording of Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond that I used to listen to with my high school jazz buddy. We must have worn the grooves clear through that record. My favorite cut was something called "Purple Moon" in which Desmond waxed lyrical on a melody from the opening of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring -- not exactly your usual jazz standard.

It never surprised me that the cerebral Desmond would have turned to a classical composer for inspiration. But we were both puzzled by the title until Disney's Fantasia made a return appearance at the movie theaters (this was long before DVD's and even VCR's). The film includes that wonderful animation of the evolution of life with Stravinsky's score as the soundtrack, and lo and behold, when the opening refrain is heard, the screen is filled with a purple moon eclipsing the earth. Yes! It was so perfect, we were sure we had grasped the logic of the name. Desmond had seen Fantasia! And we were the only ones who had figured it out!

I owned that record for years, but somewhere along the line it disappeared and ended up wherever all lost things go. When vinyl LP's began to be reissued on CD I looked for it at music stores, but in vain. When CD's began to be sold online I looked for it there, but no luck. It didn't help that I had forgot the name of the album and could only remember that one tune on it.

Finally through eMusic, an excellent (and legal) mp3 download service, I found it again, called Moods and Grooves. It's hard to convey the feeling of satisfaction that came over me as the familiar walking bass line started and the ghost of Paul Desmond took up the horn again after all those years. Ahh.

It was also good to hear the accompanying tunes again. There were only two other tracks on the whole album. One of them, "At a Perfume Counter," took up a whole side, though it only runs about 15 minutes. It's a dazzling display of piano pyrotechnics as Brubeck shows off his big two-fisted improv style and pounds the ivory off the keys. The tune doesn't really end so much as it expires from sheer exhaustion. Wow.

This wasn't the end of my eMusic discoveries, either. When I dug deeper into Desmond's discography I found out that "Purple Moon" had been released again later under the title "Sacre Blue," a bilingual pun on Le Sacre du Printemps meeting the blues. Just think, if I'd known that I might have found it years ago. But then, maybe the discovery would not have been so sweet.

While browsing, I also located another vanished recording, Jazz Guitar Bach by André Bénichou ("and his Well-Tempered Three"), that came out when I was in college--and not only the original 13 tracks, but 12 more new ones which have been added thanks to the increased capacity of modern media. At last I can hear them again without the pops, clicks, and hisses of the beat-up old LP.

All of which serves as one more reminder of the virtues of the Internet and the digital age. No longer does anything have to become "out of print" and unavailable. Once, even some of the manuscripts of J.S. Bach were lost because the paper they were written on was thought to be more valuable for wrapping lunches. But never again. Now it's possible to preserve all the recorded performances of that music, no matter how many there are.

From now on, digitally, there will be plenty of room for it all. Enjoy the wealth.

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