This post constitutes an attempt to bribe myself into writing more about music by devising a concept which involves drinking. There are a number of studies that show that music affects our perception of wine (see this article in Decanter Magazine), and there's certainly plenty of evidence that wine can affect our enjoyment of/proficiency at making and listening to music. There are certainly equivalences to be found in the effects of environment and tradition on final product, the search for individuality or the role that stylistic norms play in their creation and enjoyment. Wine is not art, though; it is a natural product, a commodity, a foodstuff. Despite that, any wine nut will extol this simple liquid's ability to achieve something beyond the functional; it shares with music the potential to be characterful, gratifying, thought-provoking, angular, boring or, (bear with me) arrestingly beautiful.
So here's an attempt to write something interesting about a wine and some music, enjoyed concurrently over an hour or so. A friend came up to me whilst I was writing my old blog posts and said "I enjoyed your last one, though I didn't understand any of it." I'm trying to be conscious not to 'review' either or to get too caught up in the technical side of things, but to just, well, drink and listen.
This wine is an unfamiliar character, raised in a familiar environment. The area surrounding Lake Garda is well known for red wines of a fairly light, sappy and bright style with a healthy bite of acidity, cherry-red colour and enough substance to hold their own with a plate of pasta or something tomato-based but not much more. The hallmarks of that part of Italy are there, with sweet red cherries and a lovely floral fragrance that is somewhere between violets and roses. However, being an obscure grape variety (and a new one to me), I'm enjoying being surprised by this slightly savoury, hedgerow-type fruit that is something like cranberry sauce or hawthorn; 'hedgerow' is one of those slightly nebulous wine descriptions you see banded about, and this one is one of those scraggly, very English examples you see in late autumn with a few barely-ripe berries hanging on.
The record is playing (I picked it after tasting the wine). I don't know it but I like it. It's familiar in some ways and unfamiliar in others. I write down, "Simple sentiment delivers the complexity on the surface". I think I mean that there is an accessibility to the feeling of the music here, if not the actual 'activity'. The whole thing in underpinned by a fundamental harmony that moves slowly and with a quite deliberate sense of consonance. At the same time, it's a bit like someone has put their record collection through a shredder and then tried to put it back together again - 'Smooth' reminds me of Paul Bley (both in early 60s mode with Jimmy Guiffre and with Paul Motian), there are little strips of Abdullah Ibrahim (Time Lines) or Monk-like phrasing at the piano (check out the piano solo on 'Ry Round 2'). All the pieces of something are there, but they're stratified, misaligned, unstitched. It's quite compelling to listen to those moments where the layers drift in and out of agreement. 'Time Lines' itself does that thing that Paul Motian's music often does for me; it feels like you're listening to objects move in three-dimensional space, each with their own gravity and momentum yet bound by some central force of time.
The wine, to drink, is perhaps a bit more generous than I was expecting. The fruit is sweet and open, with just a touch of bitterness to balance it out and less of the acidic 'tang' than some reds from this part of Italy. It's not an attention-grabber, but it's a confident and understated. It seems to fit the pace of the record, and I'm enjoying Andrew Hill's unhurried playing and the general 'unforced' sound of the piano; his tone is very calm and unbroken, even when the texture of the music is a bit more frantic. It's much more difficult music to play, I suspect, than these musicians make it sound.