Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sittin In The MIddle On a Sunday

In 2003, I moved to Manhattan for a few months. I was still in the process of relocating back from Ireland to the US, and I took a consulting gig that required me to be in NYC 4 days a week.

So I "officially" moved in with some friends in Tempe for no rent; and ACTUALLY lived in an apartment the consulting company paid for ($8000 a month, yikes); actually a rather nice two bedroom place, about 1100 sq feet with a real kitchen, in a nice midtown neighborhood a few blocks from where I was working.

In theory, the company was paying for me to fly back and forth every Thursday night and Sunday night/Monday morning; but most of the time I just stayed for a few weeks at a time, and came back to Phoenix about once a month or so.

I love New York a little bit at a time. Living there gets to wearing on my nerves (that wasn't the first time I'd lived in Manhattan), but visiting for a while and taking advantage of the good things about the place, is something everyone should do if they get the chance. There are few places in the world with more opportunities to eat at new and interesting (or old and wonderful) restaurants, see great live theater, comedy, arts, and live music. Every night there is always something somewhere that you're going to want to do or try (at least if you're like me anyway).

So one night, I went to this club in the village, and I was privileged to see the first public performance in NYC as a solo artist, of an amazing jazz(ish) funk(ish) flamenco(ish) guitar player and singer named Raul Midon.

Midon plays acoustic guitar with a two handed slapping and tapping style, that allows for some amazing voicings, polyrhythm, and percussive expression; reminiscent of Stanley Jordan with a latin feel... and what he does with his voice is just as impressive.

Also impressive is that Raul has been blind since shortly after his birth; along with his twin brother Marco. Raul has always studied music, while his brother has gone on to become an aerospace engineer, working for NASA. They are both ham radio operators, who speak to each other over their radios almost every night (you can hear more about that, and the interesting things they did growing up in rural New Mexico, in this fun interview with them both from the BBC)

As it turns out, Spike lee was in that club that night; and he liked what he saw, so he asked Raul to play a song for a show he was doing, based on the music from his films. Well, that worked out very well, so Lee asked him to do the theme for his next movie "She Hate Me".

Since then Raul has released two full length albums, been on Letterman, toured around the world a few times, and has become a big hit on the Jazz funk and latin jazz circuits.

I'll be honest with you; his albums (I own his first two on CD) don't have nearly the impact of his live performances. They're good, but they aren't... raw; and for some people raw is a good thing.

Midon is someone whose work is lessened by the production values of the studio, and especially by the accompaniment fill ins. Live, he plays completely unaccompanied (though from his sound you would think he had a full band); you can hear and see every breath, and watch his fingers fly, and see the feelings in his face as he sings... It's a really wonderful thing to watch a great artist transport himself to another place... and sometimes you can hang on for the ride.

One thing that Raul manages to pull off, is that he transcends his technique. All too often, the best technical players of an instrument are lacking in soul... or even if not that, their spectacular technique gets in the way of their expression. You are listening to their music, and their playing amazes you, but it also makes you focus on the fact that they are playing an instrument. With Midon, that is never the case. It's not about the technique, it's about the music.

Take a look and a listen:

The title track from his first major release (he had two limited releases prior) "State of Mind"

And the song that inspired the title of this post "Sittin in the Middle"

My fellow amateur radio operators will find a message in the intro and outro to that song.

Unfortunately, YouTube quality doesn't show off his music very well, but it's the most accessible way of introducing you. Also, none of the clips I can find on YouTube show any of his particlularly impressive instrumental work; they are all vocal performances.

Please take a listen, and if you're even somewhat interested I encourage you to find higher quality examples (his music is on iTunes, Napster, and Rhapsody, as well as on CD) ; and if you get the chance, catch a live show.

His web site, including tour dates, news, and several free song downloads, is here at

Oh, and a funny coincidence: Raul now lives in the building I lived in when I went to see him play that night in the village.