Some new compact discs lend themselves to instant approving review; others, I love but have to take time to write about with proper appreciation. Their impact has to sink in.
Emily Asher‘s latest, IF I WERE A WINDOW, is one of the second kind. It’s not because I had to look under the bed to find the adjectives. Rather, it is like a slim volume of short stories with each story so full of flavor, so different from its neighbors, so that I couldn’t read them all in one sitting. The sensory offerings are so rich, each one its own multi-layered narrative, that I had to take my time and listen to at most two or three performances at a time.
If that has scared off prospective buyers (“Oh, no! This sounds like work!”) let me assure you that this recording is fun and lively and full of good surprises. You’ll be dancing in the kitchen as you carefully (with gloves) remove the seeds from the hot peppers that are going to be part of dinner.
I think I first encountered Emily a decade ago, sitting in at the Ear Inn — in itself a mark of achievement — and was delighted by this elegant young woman who got around the horn so nimbly but also understood the trombone’s less polite origins. Later, I saw her with her own Garden Party and other assemblages, and she was a charming mixture of earnestness, playfulness, and deep feeling: playing, singing, composing. As she is now.
You can read the names of the performers in the photograph below, but they are so admirable that I should write them again: Emily Asher, Mike Davis, Jay Rattman, James Chirillo, Dalton Ridenhour, Rob Adkins, Jay Lepley, Sam Hoyt. They are musical heroes to me, and if you’ve not made their acquaintance, be prepared to be impressed by them as soloists, as ensemble players, as thoughtful soulful artists.
Emily has described the CD as a mix of hot jazz and songs inspired by “the Southern Sun,” as she encountered it in her extended stay in Oaxaca, Mexico. Let us start with some Davenport-infused hot jazz:
Emily’s done a good deal to celebrate the music of Hoagy Carmichael, so I couldn’t neglect her SMALL FRY:
Those performances of venerable tunes are what I would call Old Time Modern. No dust on them but a frisky liveliness in the solos and Emily’s singing (how deftly she winks at us through the lyrics: her phrasing is a marvel) — music that says, “Come on in and make yourself comfortable.”
But Emily’s not content to sprawl on the couch and eat pistachios; she is a curious energized explorer. Here’s CHICO MEZCALERO, explication below:
This song, and several of her intriguing compositions, were inspired by her late-2019 trip to Oaxaca to learn Spanish, and they have the psychic depth of the short stories I mentioned above. CHICO MEZCALERO, “little boy mezcal maker,” came from her meeting just such a person at his family’s mezcal plant. She told Brian R. Sheridan in the August 2020 The Syncopated Times, “After I got back to New York, I was thinking about every step of how the mezcal is made — where the boy picks up pieces of the agave plant and throws them into a big smoking fire. I also thought about how his family makes their living, creating this spirit that is precious to the community there. I just sat and listened for the melody of that little boy . . . . ”
Few CDs that I know take listeners on a journey so evocatively.
Here’s Emily’s pensive hymnlike melody I find irresistible, as is its wistful title:
That melody and that performance remind me so beautifully of the Gil Evans – Miles Davis collaborations of the Fifties, and I’ve returned to this song several times in a row. I predict you will do the same with this CD and with the individual performances. They offer delightful evidence of the feathery breadth of Emily’s imaginations, the musical community she has nurtured, and the varied, rewarding results.
You can purchase the music — digitally or tangibly — here. This is a CD you won’t tire of.
And, in the name of self-indulgence, here are the Oaxaca Wanderers: I met them in 2008, and must ask Emily if she gigged with them. I hope they haven’t bought identical brightly-colored polo shirts (the band uniform with appropriate OW logo) since then.