Hearts & Daggers
Miss Murgatroid and Petra Haden
File Under: Music
Alicia Rose is one talented woman. Besides being a noted photographer and photographic artist of some repute (her stunning, candy-colored promotional photos of the Decemberists, especially, stand out), Rose finds time to book the bands at Doug Fir- and in her spare time, occasionally along with Petra Haden, puts out records under the name Miss Murgatroid. Rose first blew into town in the ‘90s, discomforting numerous audiences, unfamiliar with her brand of strangely unconventional accordion work (the first time I saw her, she played Jimi Hendrix tunes on her instrument through and array of effects pedals).
Violinist Petra Haden, one third of a set of triplet girls (whom along with one of her sisters- Rachel- were members of the ‘90s LA band That Dog), is the daughter of the great jazz bassist Charlie Haden. The Murgatroid/Haden duo released a well-received album, “Bella Neurox” in 1999- though subsequently Ms. Haden was in a serious car accident, which prevented her from performing for many years. In 2003 a “benefactor” contributed enough cash for the duo to continue their very special work. This recording was long delayed- even it’s release date was pushed back several times over the past year.
But it was worth the wait. Look up “ethereal” in the dictionary. Look up ‘mesmerize.” You’ll find Miss Murgatroid and Petra Haden pictured in the captions. Clocking in at around thirty-seven minutes in length, the nine cuts presented here run by so quickly, one would think they were dreamt, rather than actually heard. The pieces create a decided mood. Eclectically celestial. Both Haden and Rose contribute mostly speechless vocals to each track- ala Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser- with much the same effect- invoking all languages, rather than none at all.
“We Formulate,” the first track, is a great example- over a slightly Middle-eastern setting, Haden chants the line “we formulate” along with numerous other non-verbal syllables. Ms. Rose provides an Astor Piazzola-like accordion background, over which Haden layers exotic violin and viola washes.
Oddly Rose’s introductory accordion on “Hummingbird” is vaguely reminiscent of that of Forere Motloheloa, found on Paul Simon’s “Boy In A Bubble,” from his Graceland album. However, the layered contrapuntal vocal tracks and Haden’s symphonic string-work take the work in an altogether different direction.
“Fade Away” calls to mind something Kate Bush might have recorded for her Sensual World album of 1989. “Baroque Lullaby” could be a soundtrack for an, as yet, unmade film- sprightly, evocative and happily dreamy. “See Me, See Me” is something Dead Can Dance might have put together- although they never would have thought of this unusual instrumentation. Not in a million years. Portland’s own Kaitlyn Ni Donovan is called to mind, as well. Very nice.
The beautiful (mostly) instrumental chamber piece “Sleeper” shimmers with the sort of arpeggiated majesty one would expect from a composition by Arvo Part- with a hint of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” occasionally creeping into the melody line, from time to time. The instrumental “Ballad for Anne Bonney” consorts with a certain piratey milieu- in keeping with its subject matter. Can an ode to Cap’n Jack Rackham and the good ship Vanity be far behind? Pirates of the Carribean, indeed!
Loreena McKnight’s (as well as Elizabeth Fraser’s) work is reflected in the beautifully evocative “Another Day,” a charmingly bittersweet number, with beats provided by “Kraqr” (possible a machine and not a person). Because of the presence of a “drum,“ this song has more forward motion than many of the others. Haden’s soaring, moaning violin squeals are an especial pleasure- while Rose consistently lays down what often sound like artful organ passages on her meager accordion.
All of the above and more. Much more. This is cerebral music for impassioned hearts. It is smartly constructed, with a certain ardent emotional zeal. Mellow, but striking. Unusual. Otherworldly. One can only hope that it is not another nine years before Miss Murgatroid/Alicia Rose and Petra Haden put together another album. This is music to think by. Music to dream by. Contemplative music by which to contemplate both the heart of the universe and the soul of a flower.