Taj Isfahni - "Chekawak Va Bidad" (Brass Pins And Match Heads: International 78s)
Brass Pins & Match Heads is sourced from the 78 rpm record collection of one man, Ian Nagoski. Over the course of 13 songs, it takes in a Macedonian ballad about loneliness, a Swiss cattle-driving yodel, a Native American flute air, and a rollicking instrumental ode to appetites by Jelly Roll Morton.
What makes this more than a cool mix tape committed to wax is its embodiment of vain striving. The liner notes begin with five quotes from similarly disparate sources, amongst them a millennia-old Sanskrit aesthetic treatise, a recent ethnographic text, and a Greek dance tune not included on the record, which lay out this vanity’s dimensions. It goes like this; recorded music is usually a poor substitute for the real thing, music rarely lives up to its first task of pleasing the gods, and sooner or later, no matter what we do, we’re all going to die — only evil perseveres. And yet, in the face of near-guaranteed failure, people have spent the past century making records so achingly human in their joy and sadness, and so superhumanly virtuosic, that they spit that vanity across the yard like so many watermelon seeds and plant ‘em smack between the eyes of hopelessness.
Brass Pins & Match Heads comprises thirteen such seeds. Whether it’s Taj Isfahani spinning one vowel from one word through five or six notes, each bringing you closer to the truth of a lyric you can’t understand, or Django Reinhardt plucking out insanely confident, unerringly right notes with two and a half fingers, the instrumental skill on display here is astounding, and the emotions they summon are just a hair shy of what the heart can bear.
This is music that shows how people bore all life could deal them, and came back from the worst to love life some more. I wonder if 100 years from now data miners will glean something similar from long-corrupted mp3s?