Longtime visitors of this blog know that alongside book commentary, I occasionally dabble in music reviews. Those reviews were heavily context-dependent; I would hear something that was really compelling, something that drove my writing forward, that settled in my brain, giving the hamster in the wheel up there enough fuel to run his little heart out.
Such is the case with Shadow and Light, an excellent jazz record by the duo Catherine Goldwyn and Phil Lewis. (Full disclosure, Catherine is a dear friend, and mother to some of my closest friends on this here planet. Don’t let that relationship fool you, however. This is really a wonderful record, and would be so even if I didn’t know Catherine and Phil.)
Finding music to write to can be challenging. It has to fit the tone and mood of the scene just right while remaining in the background, allowing the creative part of your mind to roam. For me, that need is satisfied by a number of genres: classical, post-rock, ambient, drum and bass, and jazz. There’s a subconscious, perhaps instinctual awareness that we all have, when creating or otherwise, of when the music is right or wrong for the moment.
I can’t think of any wrong moments to enjoy Shadow and Light. It’s mellow, sophisticated, and classic. It’s also uplifting, groovy, and progressive. It’s great music to keep you on task at work, great for late-night writing sessions; it’s great everywhere. It’s great to just focus on, to be honest.
I don’t know much about the technical form of jazz, though I tried to learn about modes and improvisation at one point in time. When I hear Catherine (on piano/keyboards) and Phil (guitar) play, there’s more than just a deep knowledge of the mathematics of music. Like all great musicians, there’s personality to their playing. When they’re playing matching or harmonized leads, I get this feeling, like I can see them in the studio, looking at each other and grooving in complete sync. There’s electricity there, whether they’re playing fast or slow, improvising or bringing the head melody back in to close a tune.
From the first notes of Cold Dark Matters, the record grabs hold of me. A traditional guitar lick opens up into a heavily wah-ed rhythm, grabbing my attention and setting my head bobbing. It sets an expectation that this’ll be a proggish record, harkening back to some time in the late 70s, maybe. But it’s not content to meet my expectations—it shifts from track to track, a literal embodiment of its title, occupying the somber and elated at different times. For my part, I find that kind of dichotomy beautiful, and welcome. Since I found out about the record, I’ve noticed an odd habit develop. I’ll put on something, anything (it could be techno or ambient, Decemberists or Gojira), but within a few minutes I find myself turning Shadow and Light back on. It seems to always suit my mood. I can’t recommend this album enough to you, dear reader. It’s by great friends of mine, sure, but it’s also a fantastic record.
Shadow and Light is available on Amazon.com. You can also listen to it on your choice of streaming provider, I’m sure.