Moondog Revisited

Moondog Piano Trimba

PIANO AND TRIMBA MUSIC / MOONDOG: Für Fritz. Fleur de Lis. Barn Dance. Canon 2 Opus 67. Divisi (1st mvmt). Canons 1, 2, 4 & 6, Book II. First Look, Then Sound. Ma Petite. Caribea. Deuce 1 (2nd mvmt). Canons 5, 8, 10, 18, 22, Book III. Mother’s Whistler. I’ll Tell You a Story. Ambideque. Canons 4, 12, 16, 17, Book V. Short Spot. Mazurka. Rue Lette. The Square Monkey. Ma Petite. Archey Says / Dominique Ponty, pno; Stefan Lakatos, trimba/perc. / Shiin/Outhere 11

Twenty years after his death in 1999, we still don’t really know how to characterize Moondog’s music. That he was very serious about it is unquestionable; after his blindness at age 16, the result of an exploding dynamite cap, he was 100% committed to writing and performing his uncategorizable music, and he was taken quite seriously as a composer by such musical luminaries as Igor Stravinsky, Arturo Toscanini, Benny Goodman and Artur Rodziński. The first three of these, in fact, testified in his behalf at a trial in the early 1950s when rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey Allan Freed took to calling himself “Moondog” on the radio. He was an absolute purist when it came to writing canons; in fact, he often said that his canons were “purer” than Bach’s. Yet the extreme brevity of nearly all of his pieces—only a handful last more than two minutes, and several are shorter than that—plus the fact that he worked as a street musician for three decades, inventing and playing a bewildering array of percussion instruments (such as the trimba featured on this release)—have always made him a marginal figure at best. Add to that the fact that he dressed in bizarre clothing like a “street Viking,” recorded an album of “silly songs” with Julie Andrews and Martyn Green in the late 1950s, often appeared on the Allan Burke TV show of the 1960s complaining about conditions and politics in New York City, and that he emigrated to Germany for the rest of his life in 1974, and you have an enigma wrapped in a conundrum.

And yet the music persists because it was, and is, attractive. Its very simplicity and secure tonality make it appeal to almost anyone who listens to it. The question is, how best to perform it?

Moondog and Ponty

Moondog and Ponty

On this disc we have Dominique Ponty, a very classical pianist with a light touch suited to Mozart, playing his music with Stefan Lakatos on the trimba and other percussion instruments. To my ears, Lakatos has the proper feel for the music, exactly the right rhythmic touch to the percussion, but Ponty sounds a bit inhibited. She gets the rhythm right but somehow misses the energy that one heard from Joanna MacGregor, the splendid British pianist, on her album of Moondog pieces released several years ago by Sound Circus. Yet, on the other hand, MacGregor rearranged some of the Moondog pieces she recorded (though I very much like her arrangements) whereas Ponty, who actually played with Moondog, sticks to the scores. The one performance that I found lively in the right Moondog feel was Ambideque I.

But much of this music hasn’t been recorded before, thus the real Moondog collector will surely want it, and I can certainly recommend it for that reason. As for me, I hope that Joanna MacGregor will revisit Moondog and release another album of his music.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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