Jackie's Baptista LP, released last year, provided this listener all kinds of contemplative, mystical insights as it blared forth from the Disaster Amnesiac personal library. I have no valid excuse for not reviewing it, but rest assured that I enjoy it immensely. A few days back I was delighted to have received her new offering, Language of the Birds, completely unexpected, in the mail box, and I most assuredly ain't going to pass up this opportunity to spiel a bit about her music.
Language starts off with the held tones of Harmonium for a Wood Thrush, in which Jackie duets with said bird, leading the listener with spare percussion and patient keys into the solitudes of their own mental forest space, should they choose to journey along. I'd recommend going, and, of course, so would the thrush, most likely. If one stays on the path of the cassette's side one, they will find themselves in the very Appalachian Country strum, reminiscent of her work in Sun Cycles, of Heralds. This tune's professions of love are humbling and heart warming. Cynics beware, it's the dreaded L word! The love one feels when spying the rising sun from a window, or perhaps when one sees that true, special person walking their way. Nothing to be cynical about there, and if you are, may you find the blessings that you need on this earth. Jackie's music could help lead the way. Next up is Door of My Heart, a cover song, borrowed from Bengali culture by way of P. Yogananda. Its reverent, very spiritual rendering, delivered with gracious simplicity and sparing restraint, gives ample proof of the talents that Jackie has. It can be said that a musician's mettle is often proved by the way in which they handle the music of others, and McDowell does so in a fine way with Door of My Heart. Speaking of simplicity, that's the name of the next tune, and its playful feel, rung out with great old organ tones, tal-inspired rhythms, and vocal embellishments that have a distinctly Indian folk music feel, has Disaster Amnesiac imagining himself strolling along a street in Mumbai and hearing its tones coming from multiple radios; Simplicity is a song with transporting whimsy.
Side two of Language continues with the Exodus of Hats Off to (Hal) Borland and its surreal poetic incantations. Jackie seems to be describing some inherent facet of creation here, some power deeper and stronger than man as she plays her harmonium, again sticking with the sustained tones to create an aura of ritual. The rite continues in the form of multi-tracked voicing with A Midsummer Day's Improv, more mysterious vibes here, with words combining and sliding off of each other, conjuring up new mental associations along the way. Isn't it the point of ritual to do just that? Language of the Birds fittingly ends with a trio of harmonium, human voice, and bird voice, McDowell returning to wordless chantings on O Orogeny Mine. The bird gets the last say here, ending the tape with a few salutary goodbye chirps to the listener as the chords wind down.
As I wind down this review, I sit and listen to my local bird friends chirping joyfully at an overnight rain, and take pleasure in the fact that bird song can be heard most everywhere. Jackie McDowell must realize this too, and often. Her musical language is becoming just as unique as those of her avian inspirations.