By Selena Puente
Thanks to the beautiful capabilities of online streaming, a recent listen to the best classical music station there is, New York’s WQXR-FM, reminded me of the undeniable magic in George Gershwin’s masterpiece, “Rhapsody in Blue.” Gershwin described the piece as “a musical kaleidoscope of America,” and it definitely constructs images of fast-walkin’ New Yorkers bustling past one another, with scarves flying behind them and cabs blazing by like bees hovering above pavement. The most recent use of the song was in the gaudy remake of “The Great Gatsby,” where the song does not quite fit the frame of the movie. The slowness and texture of “Rhapsody in Blue” needs breathing room, and its beauty is lost when it is arranged more simply for movie music.
Songs should be able to breathe on their own, as “Rhapsody in Blue” undoubtedly does, much like another song which possesses different but similar jazz magic. The experimental rapper Flying Lotus, the stage name of Steven Ellison, released a song a couple months ago entitled “Never Catch Me” featuring fellow Californian rapper, Kendrick Lamar. It takes a lot for a hip-hop song to evoke a sense of wonder and appreciation, but this song infuses a little “Rhapsody in Blue” sound into its air-tight production. The lyrics demonstrate a deep consideration of what could happen if death catches you, and does so over precise but evocative instrumentals: “They say that Heaven’s real/ Analyze my demise, I say I’m super anxious/ Recognize I deprive this fear and then embrace it/ Vandalizing these walls only if they could talk/ Conversations don’t contemplate to my dark thoughts/ Lookin’ down on my soul now/ Tell me I’m in control now.”
The traces of jazz probably come organically from Ellison’s background. He is the grandnephew of the great jazz artists John and Alice Coltrane, and the grandson of singer-songwriter Marilyn McLeod, who is known for writing Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover.” The chance that these two songs wandered onto my radar at the same time is almost too good to be true. The video for “Never Catch Me” is also well made, and purely joyful. It follows two little kids dancing away from a funeral, and the colors and choreography blend together for a storybook-like production.
Please allow a sidetrack. My most recent discovery comes from deep in the musical woods of indie music. It’s a lo-fi band called Fox Academy, and they are associated with color as much as Gershwin is. They describe their sound as “sunrise over construction site at 5 a.m.” Their recently-released album fits the bill. Overall, the album is interesting, with its sparse guitar work and melancholic melodies. One of the main tracks, “Lavender Blood,” is not lyrically innovative, but it has a chilling power that pervades the entire album:
“Nervous demeanor/ Please makes me things cleaner/ Fill me with dirt/ Lavender is always running through my blood/ I’ve had enough I’m cold and it’s dusk.” This song is completely different, both atmospherically and instrumentally, from Gershwin and Flying Lotus, but it finishes off the other tracks like a strange little lavender mint.