A Sweet Quasimodo Between Black Vampire Butterflies
Charlemagne Palestine

Cold Blue Music

The title obliquely sums up precisely what this recording is: Charlemagne Palestine wedged between two pianos.

Unfortunately, it is not a high quality recording of Palestine’s live performance at Maybeck Studio a year ago (January 7, 2006). On ordinary speakers, it is a frustrating listen. The pianos sound distant and one gets the feeling of watching a magic show from the theater lobby. The original recording was so poor that the editor, Scott Fraser, is actually credited as having ‘sonically repaired’ it.

Thank God for headphones, and while we’re at it, thank God for Charlemagne Palestine.

In a close listening, most of the magic is there. He begins simply, explaining to the audience that, in more carefree times, the performance would have begun with everyone being served brandy. He sings a little invocation, and then, almost mid-sentence, begins playing two E’s on the pianos.

The next half hour is a fairly predictable exploration of the two instruments. If you heard it piped into an elevator, you might think it Philip Glass’ new score for Notes on a Sunbeam. It’s pleasantly minimalist, replete with climax, but in the hurly burly of the different tunings and clashing overtones, there’s a wonderful listening experience to be had, which (if this is your thing) you’ll revisit often.

The sheer childishness of what Charlemagne does is part of his appeal. Who hasn’t banged a piano with the pedal down? The fact that he can make that universal childhood delight a compelling concert experience is somewhat mystical, and always worth a listen.

Charlemagne Palestine at the Maybeck, 1.7.06

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