Susan Alcorn

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"Uma Uma"
Liner notes

This CD is a picture, for what itıs worth, of where I was  physically, emotionally, and spiritually, at a certain point of time and in a certain space in August of 1999.  The songs were recorded on a hot afternoon, live within the space of a few hours.

³Umaıs River Song of Love² is actually two songs, or rather a compendium of two disparate ideas that seemed to have needed to be in the same song.  The first part is loosely based on an Indian theme; I wrote this shortly after reading the book ³A River Sutra² by Geeta Mehta.  ³Uma² is the name of a goddess; it means ³peace in the night.  In a world, a universe of notes, how can we speak of consonance or dissonance; there is sound and what we make of it.  Notes lay upon chords (which are in turn made up of notes) like  flowers on water.  Why do they float or sink?  Itıs the placement of the note in time on any combination of sounds --  a flower, a petal, a momentary refraction of light  on the water --  blue, green, or brown.
The second part of the song is, for me, somewhat of a personal anthem to the liberation struggles of Latin America, especially those of the indigenous peoples.  Iım reminded of a scene from the movie ³El Norte².  A girl returns to her home looking for her mother.  She finds only the silence of light through the open windows,  and moths everywhere.  Her mother, like all the other mothers in the village, was taken away by the army.  The forests of Guatemala are filled with the anonymous burial grounds of these silent victims of a war spawned by racism and human greed.  David Dove plays trombone on this piece and Suzie Wasserstom plays bells.

³Dancing²   I have always found inspiration in dance.  Iıve spent most of my life playing in dance halls, and I love to watch people dance.  About two years ago I was involved in a performance at MECA in Houston, Texas and immediately preceding my set was a performance of Jennifer Woodıs ³Suchhu² dance company.  I was so struck by the sheer exhuberance of the human body in motion to the sound and the beat of music, that their spirit seemed to take over the direction of this song.
Iım not really sure what else to say about this one, except that the song makes me happy, and for some reason approximates a sense of joy whenever I think of it.  David Dove and Suzie Wasserstom also played on this one.  In our discussions on the role of the bells for this part of the recording, we had an image of yak bells, and later we joked that this song should actually be called ³Dance of the Laughing Yak Bells².

³Kalimankou Denkou/Thrace² Itıs been written that the most beautiful music on Earth is that of the Bulgarian Womenıs Choir, and perhaps itıs true. ³Kalimankou Denkou²  which translates as ³Godmother Denkou² is a song of mourning for a dead husband.  When playing this, I think of the different voices of the women in mourning, the high voice being the widow, the lower one perhaps being the mother. The middle voices being . . . sisters?
³Thrace², which I  wrote years ago, is based on a G minor drone.  Bulgaria, or Thrace in the time of the ancient Greeks, was the area known for itıs great musicians. 

³Monk Medley²  What can be said about Thelonious Monk and his music that hasnıt already been written?  When I think of Monkıs music, I think of mythic buildings -- elegant, gritty, and wise structures, buildings steeped in the past, but imbued with a strange modernity (not unlike Sun Ra);  you look at these structures so solid, but so delicately balanced that you are amazed  that they donıt just fall over. And if you went inside, you would find an inner logic that had for so long evaded you.  And if  you looked out the windows, you would see the rest of the world as oddly askew.  For me, thatıs the beauty of Monk.  The first song in this medley is ³A Crepuscule for Nellie² which Monk wrote for his wife when she was in the hospital.  ³Pannonica² which has a stride feel was written for the baroness Pannonica.  I also include Dizzy Gillespieıs  ³Groovinı High² because it seemed light-hearted and joyful. I think the jazz world could use more light heart and joy.

³The Royal Road/Shambhala² is based loosely on two Indian ragas ( the ³Kalyan² which has a raised fourth and the ³Bhairavi² which is not unlike the phrygian mode in western music) and a sequence of Messaienic chords that represent a subtly rising sense of the ecstatic.  After the chords there is another  rising sequence -- this time of single notes, including a whole tone series, that represents the individualıs own path toward self-realization, liberation, or whatever.  As you reach the top, the final octave note becomes more elusive. However, when you finally touch this note, you suddenly realize, like a conference of birds, that there is nothing there but you; as the Buddha said, there is no path, ³no form, no feeling, no perception,²  and you find yourself back in the same place you started, though with a difference.

³Mercedes Sosa² is a singer from Argentina, but the term ³singer²  cannot begin to accurately describe the depth, the passion, and the love that comes from her music in the space of a line, a phrase, or a single word.  Her music reflects a sense optimism  from a generation that has seen both the best and the worst of times in South American history, from the gatherings of friends to the coups, the dicatatorships, and the massacres.  Now she sings  in concert halls throughout the world.  This song is inspired by her singing.

³The Bells of Amden (für Suzanne)²  Some time ago I was in Switzerland for a concert with a country western band from Texas, and we were guests at an old house in the village of Amden, high in the Alps. The village had two churches, and the bells would ring every hour.  I was entranced by the overtones created by these bells in the clear mountain air, and as they rang, I sat down at my steel guitar, and the first part of the song came out.  Our host on this trip was Suzanne Steiner  who made sure that we were well taken care of.  However, on the night of our concert, Suzanneıs husband was riding home on his bicycle and was killed in a collision with an automobile.  The next day, I wrote the second half.  This song is dedicated to my friend Suzanne Steiner.

³Amazing Grace²  I  think if you listen closely to the song ³Amazing Grace², you can hear the entire history of American music. You can hear Mahalia Jackson, Doc Watson, Judy Collins, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, Lloyd Green and Pete Fountain -- I also hear Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane and Maybelle Carter; David Vest and Bill Monroe; Blind Willie McTell and Charles Ives; Nina Simone; Laura Nyro and Roberta Flack -- a patchwork mosaic fed by strong earthen roots from still waters running deep. My version  was recorded overdubbing four steel guitars and one rhythm guitar.


.  .  . Finally they reached the banks of the Narmada and the Naga Baba told the child she was nearly home.
³But we must cross to the other side of the river. Then no one will be able to find you. This great body of water divides India. Even the years are calculated differently on the other bank. You will begin a new life there. I will teach you to read and write. And I will give you a new name.²
³What will you call me?²
³What does it mean?²
³It is another name for the goddess,² the Naga Baba replied, lifting her into a large, flat-bottomed ferry crowded with farmers taking their produce to a weekly market. ³ ŒUmaı means Œpeace in the night.²

--  A River Sutra  by Geeta Mehta                                         


Recorded 8/3/99 at MECA in Houston, Texas   Engineer: Tom Carter
Mixed by Susan Alcorn  Mastered at Terra Nova  Austin, Texas  Engineer: Jerry Tubb
Produced by David Wilcox, Susan Alcorn

Susan Alcorn: steel guitar  David Dove: trombone  Susie Wasserstom: bells

Special Thanks to David Wilcox, Tom Carter, David Dove , Suzie Wasserstom,
Jan Ayres, Brian Black, Kerry Ellison, Matt Rhodes, Eugene Chadbourne. MECA, the birds and cars of
Watson Street.

This recording is lovingly dedicated to my daughters Rose and Hannah.


review of performance with Peter Kowald

review w/ Pauline Oliveros

Review w/ Eugene Chadbourne



Susan Alcorn


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