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Musical Valium: 10 cds To Put Your Mind at Ease

Dr. Judith Schlesinger By

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[We could] keep this list growing, and turn it into the AAJ musical medicine chest...
There's not much good news out there lately. Even if you believe we'll be Kerryed out of this economic and global mess, that won't start for another ten months. In general I pay minimal attention to the news, figuring that if anything really terrible happened my friends would tell me, if they had enough time before fleeing the area. And I never watch TV news ("we distort: YOU decide"), although I know some people never miss it. Thrown into a panic by scary teasers like "mayonnaise makes you sterile — film at 11!" they feel compelled to get the whole story, or they can't sleep.

I do listen to news radio when I'm driving, however, and sometimes forget to turn it off after the traffic and weather. That's when I get the commercials that are even worse than the news, telling me where to go when I get my brain tumor, or need rehab for my stroke. There are recurring spots about people who live alone and fall, along with helpful reminders about the army of visiting nurses who wait for the day when you can no longer take care of yourself.

If you're still listening, you may hear about incontinence and impotence, heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety disorder, all of which (we're encouraged to believe) loom right around the next corner. Whatever happened to toothpaste jingles? And those catchy soda songs? Even the sewer-service company used to have its own tune. You can't sing along with these doom-and-gloom ads, which add nothing to your day but dread, and put awful new words like "mesothelioma" and "glio blastoma" into your vocabulary. Not very peppy stuff.

When all this noise puts my stress-O-meter into the red zone, my favorite recourse is music — and not just any music, but the medicinal kind I keep handy to put me back in blue and green. For the days when your own meter trembles on the brink, here are 10 CDs that are good for relieving stress and even restoring your faith in humanity. At least, they work really well for me:

  1. Jim Hall: Concierto (Sony, 1997, originally a CTI LP from 1975). The 19+ minute title track is first of all wonderful jazz, with a stellar cast including Hall, Paul Desmond, Steve Gadd, Chet Baker, Roland Hanna, and Ron Carter, all on the identical wavelength, handing splendid solos off to each other over a steady, swaying, hypnotic beat. I once asked Jim Hall about this track, which has been on "repeat" during several crises in my life, and he said many people have told him they use it for meditation. That was not its original intent, but as it turns out, the band had just learned that Desmond was dying of lung cancer, and that might've had something to do with the resulting mood of the piece. It's not depressing, however; it's heartfelt and soothing.

  2. Fred Hersch: Nourishing the Caregiver (Belle Curve, 1999) Aside from being one of our greatest jazz pianists and composers, Fred is a kind and thoughtful friend. He sent me a copy of this CD while I was nursing a gravely ill relative, and it had the same effect as a massage every time I heard it. There are 15 solo piano tracks, including two of Fred's own gems ("A Child's Song" and "Lullaby"), his familiar, stunning arrangement of "Black is the Color/Love Theme from Spartacus" and pieces by Debussy, Schumann, Thad Jones, Mozart, Bach, Gershwin, and Bernstein. The CD booklet also contains 7 pages of resources and 10 tips for caregivers.

  3. Gene Bertoncini: Body and Soul (Ambient, 1999). I find solo gutar very relaxing, and Gene's harmonies are subtle and delicious. Thirteen tracks here, each of them transcendently beautiful.

    [Other solo guitar CDs that are good de-stressors include three from the guitar label, GSP: Marco Pereira Original (2003), Serenata by Paulo Bellinati (1993), and the new Philip Hii recording of Chopin Nocturnes (2004). There there's Ken Hatfield's excellent Explorations for Solo Guitar (Arthur Circle Music, 1999) and Duet by Sylvain Luc and Bireli Lagrene (Dreyfus Jazz, 1999), which contains softly swinging versions of a wide range of tunes, from "Time after Time," and "Blackbird" to "Stompin' at the Savoy."]

  4. Charlie Haden and Kenny Barron: Night and the City (Verve, 1998). Although Haden doesn't do much here, the elegant Barron makes up for it, and the duo performances of classics like "Spring is Here" and "The Very Thought of You" are soothing, late-night company.

  5. Morelenbaum/Sakamoto: Casa (Sony Classical, 2002) — an all-Jobim program lovingly arranged for cello, piano, and vocal, and full of soft Rio moonlight. The last track is a live improv that gets a bit screechy and scary, but with fair warning, it's easy enough to hit the button and start all over; you may want to do that several times, given how calming and beautiful this CD is.

  6. Roy Powell: Solace (Nagel Heyer 2003)— a terrific trio CD; all tunes specifically written by Powell "to bring hope in a time of pain and grief." (see review on site). It most definitely does.


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