As Disaster Amnesiac listens to Azure Carter and Alan Sondheim's great new CD, Avatar Woman, I keep reflecting on the concept of American Folk Music and its relevance within our culture, currently and in the past. I am also thinking of Pop, but in a way that juxtaposes the more subtle and accomplished blending of styles and influences of Pop from long ago against the more linear and ridiculous form that Pop has morphed into as time has gone on and people have seemingly stopped caring about anything but the most easily comprehended bites.
It strikes this listener that Avatar Woman is a very subtle and beautiful blending of those two elements (among many others, of course). The more overtly Pop feel of the music comes from the clearly intoned alto vocals of Azure Carter. Disaster Amnesiac hears many different influencers within her fantastic delivery: Billie Holiday, Anita O'Day, and Ella Fitzgerald, from that Golden Age of Female Vocalizing, all seem to emerge from her singing. I hear the American Pop reflections of Harry Partch and the Beats from her lyrics, ones that describe and detail the observances of the smaller, but often so much more poignant, aspects of our lives as we live them. In the perfect utopian visionary state that exists in the mind of Disaster Amnesiac, Carter would be as big a figure in the Pop vocal landscape (and the ones of Jazz and Rock, for that matter). Her incantations are mesmerizing in their subtle simplicity, so much more powerful, in their restraint, than those of whichever divas are currently being foisted upon the American public by the Big Money Music Machines of New York and Hollywood. Avatar Woman's Folk element comes not only from Carter's "humble" vision, but also from the Alan Sondheim's artful expression on any number of stringed instruments from all over the globe. He coaxes micro-tones from violin, dan moi, suraz, sarangi, electric guitar, oud, etc. The listener is treated to his subtle backing of Carter's vocals; if one chooses to focus deeper into his playing while the singing is happening, one hears his freaked out aspect. That is to say, the man has such control, he essentially sounds as he is playing completely Free (as in Jazz), even while being an accompanist. Of course, he gets plenty of time to wail and solo, and when those spaces are approached, just be prepared to listen to universes growing and collapsing within their sound worlds. Saxophonists Christopher Diasparra and Edward Schneider give earthy, inward, and rooted contributions to several tunes. The entire ensemble sound is one of controlled, focused torsion; the sounds are close, warm, intimate, even at their furthest ranges. Their control is the control of Folk musicians, working within their own worlds and owning them.
Avatar Woman is fine example of the kind of subtle blends that can so easily happen in America, if only its citizenry cared about such things en masse. Come on, my fellow country men and women, let your Freak Flags fly again!