Song Of The Day 10/22/2016: Gavin Bryars & Tom Waits – “Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet: Tramp & Tom Waits With Orchestra”


Extra Long – This one's as close to a tear-jerker as this blog's likely to get. Gavin Bryars is a composer from Yorkshire, England, who started as a jazz bassist but drfited into classical and minimalist composition. He was also an experimentalist who first came to note with The Sinking of the Titanic, a piece that relied on some of the indeterminancy Bryars might have picked up from his mentor John Cage.

"Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet" is something else entirely, and since I'm in slacker mode today I thought I'd just let Bryars' website tell the story:
"In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song - sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads - and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet". This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.

"When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song - 13 bars in length - formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.

"I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp's nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism."
Bryars released the piece on Brian Eno's label in 1975, then revisited it 18 years later with a series of string variations. On today's selection he got Tom Waits to sing along with the tramp, which can only help.

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